Oxford to Cambridge 'brain belt': Councils sign gagging orders

Radcliffe Camera and King's College
Image caption The proposed Oxford to Cambridge expressway has been opposed by wildlife campaigners

Three councils have signed non-disclosure agreements restricting what they can say about the planned Oxford to Cambridge expressway.

Oxfordshire County Council, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils agreed the gagging orders with Highways England.

They said the deals do not prevent them commenting on proposals for the road.

Buckinghamshire County Council and Aylesbury Vale District Council were also approached but refused to sign.

Highways England said the agreements allow organisations "to identify, develop and test potential viable route options" before putting them out to public consultation.

But campaigners who oppose the new road said they were "absolutely astonished" the councils had signed the non-disclosure agreements.

Dr Hazel Dawe, from the No Expressway Alliance, said: "Local authorities are accountable to us for the public money they spend, and the expressway is a public work, so how dare they sign a non-disclosure agreement?"

All three councils said the agreements do not "prevent the council or councillors commenting on proposals put forward by Highways England".

Image copyright Department for Transport
Image caption The proposed route will be "broadly aligned" with the proposed East-West rail route

South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse councils have both now announced they will be opposing the expressway proposals.

Vale leader Emily Smith said the non-disclosure agreement, entered into before the Conservatives lost control of the council in May's elections, would now be reviewed.

An Oxfordshire County Council spokesman said the authority had not reached a decision about whether to support building the road.

He added: "We are fully supportive of a comprehensive public consultation at the right time."

A Highways England spokesman said the road was a "once in a generation opportunity" and would bring "clear benefits to the region and the country as a whole".

The expressway is expected to take up to 40 minutes off the journey time between the A34 south of Oxford and the M1.

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