LAST week I attended a hustings in Bicester organised by the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust. The topic was the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.

This is a proposed dual carriageway to link up the areas between Culham Science Park near Abingdon and Cambridge via Oxford and Milton Keynes.

This is known as the ‘Oxford to Cambridge Brain Belt’, and is regarded by government as one of the most significant growth areas in the country due to the ‘knowledge’ industries present here. It is the reason for the ‘Housing & Growth Deal’ which Cherwell District Council approved in February.

But that poses the question; who asked us?

Since the1970s, we have seen a shift. We have moved from a dogma where the state decides everything to one where everything is decided by the market.

The country did well for a time. But this hid deep-seated problems especially the UK’s reliance on London and the South East.

Now as part of the South East, Cherwell has done fairly well. Growth in this area is high with £28,000 Gross Value Added per head. This compares with almost half that in much of the North East.

In Cherwell, despite the cuts to services we have seen here, we have actually been spared the worst of austerity.

Here, cuts in government funding equate to ‘only’ £70 per person compared to £220 per person in the North East.

But even taking this into account, there are still gross inequalities. My ward in Banbury remains among the 20 per cent most deprived wards in the country.

An issue which often goes unnoticed in the debate about our nation’s inequality is the decline of towns. The decline of traditional industries and a focus on growth in cities like London, Oxford and Milton Keynes means that places like Bicester and Banbury are increasingly satellite town.

People live there but work in these larger settlements. It is not just jobs – services are moved as well: courts, police stations or health services go from towns to places like Oxford.

Which brings us back to the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway and the Housing and Growth Deal.

As I wrote earlier, in some ways we are lucky.

We are in an area that has growth and that has not felt austerity in the way other areas have. The Housing and Growth Deal does offer the potential for jobs and investment as we go forward.

We do need more houses and especially more affordable homes. New infrastructure that improves connectivity is a good thing. Anyone who has tried to commute to Oxford via the A34 would agree.

So it is not necessarily the case that people are opposed to changes in their area which leads to more housing or development. But how about engaging them from the start? I mentioned how we went from one dogma driven by the state to another driven by the market. Well let’s move to a dogma where things are decided by the people.