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I hope you like my new word. I just made it up. It follows a long session at the Town Council when I almost climbed up the walls with frustration at the County Council Head of Transport - Steve Howell- who kept talking about how part of the county's main strategic plan for solving the Air Quality problem in Chippy was to de-prime the A44. If he said it once he said it fifty times - de-priming was the first step to a solution. De-prime. De-prime. De-prime. Sounded just like a Dalek. Where do people find these gobledegook words I think Mr Howell made it up so I am following the fashion. De-prioritised means that they have pushed the problem of HGV's polluting our town centre - back to the bottom of the "things to do" file.

But first a quick re-cap for new readers (Annie might find it helpful too since I'm not sure she knows much about Air Quality in Chippy!) Two years ago this article was published on chippingnorton.net:

The traffic in our town is horrendous and getting worse. The Air Quality in the Town Centre is way below government standards. Nitrogen Dioxide levels are way too high. Five years ago in 2003 the Town Council proposed in a submission to the Oxfordshire Transport Review that a weight limit should be introduced through the town - to drastically reduce the number of HGVs. It included the following statement: "Chipping Norton Council are convinced that a weight restriction plus an alternative lorry route around the town remains the only viable answer". Our proposal was not accepted because it was claimed there was too much "local" traffic (exempt from a weight limit) which would make policing impossible.

In 2005 the area of Horsefair, High Street and West Street was declared an AQMA (Air Quality Management Area). Among other things this means that the County and the District together have to come up with an Action Plan telling the government how pollution levels are to be reduced to meet the required limits. After three years of measurements, surveys, another consultant brought in to advise, studies, reports, consultations (remember the list of 50 ideas which the District published earlier this year - including one-way systems and gated flows) a report was presented last week (4th September 2008) to the Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Transport. Read the quite surprisingly short report here. http://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/content/public/Resources/hlpdownloads/XT/XT-06.htm
All the different ideas which had been put forward and discussed during the consultation - including by-passes of all shapes and sizes - were thrown out . All the ideas that is except just one. A weight limit!

In September 2008 the conclusion was.... "...the option which appears to be the most suitable for inclusion in the Action Plan are measures to control lorry passage through the town. It should be stressed in the Action Plan that all of these measures will require the consent of neighbouring authorities, which cannot be guaranteed, and that the effectiveness of such measures in reducing lorry numbers is variable.The measures will require additional investigation before specific proposals can be submitted for approval. This investigation will include imposing an environmental weight limit, including the scope and extent of any limit, costs, timescales and consultation with neighbouring and other affected councils."

However getting a weight limit was not going to be simple. The recommendation said:

The most straightforward method of controlling heavy goods vehicles would be through the imposition of an environmental weight limit through the town. To be effective this would require advance warning and signing of alternative routes. For A44 traffic this could use the existing advisory route via Northleach, for traffic travelling to Banbury via A361 there are no obvious alternatives and this would need to be negotiated with the relevant neighbouring authorities. A weight restriction is already in place on the parallel A3400 through Long Compton so this route would not be suitable. A complicating factor to this is that the A44 is designated as the national Primary Route between Oxford and Evesham. While this does not preclude the imposition of a weight limit there would be a contradiction if a restriction was placed, given that Primary Routes are a major component of the National Lorry Route Network. This would be likely to place a limit on the level of compliance with any local restriction. Removal of Primary Route status from the A44 would require the designation of an alternative Oxford-Evesham Primary Route with the agreement of the relevant highway authorities and government offices. There would also be considerable cost given that this would require the replacement of green backed signs with white ones without which the change in status would not be evident to drivers. Enforcement is a considerable issue with any environmental weight limit given that the general exception for access makes identification of offending vehicles very difficult.

So two years ago it was clear that the first thing that had to be done was that Primary Route status must be removed from the A44 (or the A44 had to be de-primed as we now say) before you can even start discussing an environmental weight limit.

Two years later in late August 2010 Mr Howell and his political boss County Councillor Ian Hudspeth had been invited by County Councillor Hilary Biles to come to the Town Council to tell us about progress. It became clear almost immediately that there was no progress to report.In two years things don't seem to have progressed at all. Mr Howell said that he had checked the previous week to make sure that the County's application to de-prime the A44 had been submitted. But to his surprise he found that it hadn't been. Hilary looked absolutely furious. Clearly the script was falling apart. More than that Mr Howell explained that getting a road de-primed was virtually unheard of so we needn't get our hopes up too high. And what was now happening was that county authorities were competing with each other to offload heavy traffic on to adjoining areas so there was no co-operation any more. The alternative route signs which were fundamental to a weight limit had not been put up - indeed the alternative A361 route had not been agreed yet. There was now no money because budgets were being cut all round. Spending a fortune on changing all the A44 green and yellow road signs to "de-primed" black and white ones wasn't likely to happen. Yes there was a statutory duty to lower pollution levels but that duty was the District Council's and NOT the County's. Its not me GUV say the County. Over to you Witney, You find the money. Why had Messrs Howell and Hudspeth bothered to come at all

In 2008 your editor concluded his article as follows:

"And so they are recommending yet more investigation and consultation before actually proposing anything to government. This makes any action years away! For goodness sake Heathrow Terminal 5 was agreed faster than this. For myself I think they are just having a laugh - at our expense. Nobody has the slightest intention of doing anything about air quality in Chippy! I think both councils (County and District) believe that if the talking can be strung out long enough low emission or even electric lorries and buses will have arrived and the problem will disappear. So meantime carry on wheezing Chippy. Just don't hold your breath".

I heard nothing on Monday at the Town Council meeting to change that view. They are giving us the runaround. The talk shop continues. Air quality has been well and truly de-prioritised.

Lots more background here: