THE leader of the county council has hit back at an Oxfordshire MP after she criticised the decision to drop plans for a new bike path from a key funding bid.

Oxford West and Abingdon MP, Layla Moran, last week pressed for ‘answers’ over the council’s decision to leave out the proposed path alongside the B4044 from its Housing Infrastructure Fund application in March.

But Oxfordshire County Council leader, Ian Hudspeth, accused the MP of ‘political point-scoring’ and reiterated that the path might not have met key funding criteria - potentially jeopardising the whole bid.

Addressing Mr Hudspeth in a letter last week, Ms Moran questioned again why the path was left out, pointing to a letter from transport minister Jesse Norman that said the path was ‘within the [HIF] fund’s scope’.

Read again: £102m funding bid to improve A40

She added: “Assurances are needed now from the county council that they are working hard to make the B4044 community path a reality.

“They could have easily made the case for the path’s necessity and strategic importance, as I have clearly outlined in my letter to councillor Hudspeth.

“This letter from the government has raised even more questions about why the council removed the path from its bid at the eleventh hour, and lays the responsibility at the leader’s door.

“I hope the B4044 cycle path becomes a reality and receives funding as a priority.”

Ms Moran urged the council leader to ask the government whether it was still possible to include the B4044 community path in the A40 bid.

The council previously said it was not convinced the path, which would run between Botley and Eynsham, would help ‘unlock’ new homes - a key requirement for obtaining the HIF money.

As a result, Mr Hudspeth said it would have been ‘absolutely irresponsible’ to include the cycle path in the bid.

Read again: £180m plans to improve A40 - including new park and ride

He added: “While I fully support the path, we need to make sure we get the infrastructure and funding for the A40, otherwise we’ll have another 30 years of congestion.

“Once submitted, there can be no change to the bid and it would be irresponsible for anybody to submit a bid with the potential of it failing.

“What I would ask all MPs to do is get behind my request to have this as a standalone bid. This isn’t a matter for political point-scoring.”

The path would have cost almost £15.8m if included in the HIF bid, about 13.5 per cent of the total amount required.

The scheme’s value was not a consideration in whether it met the HIF requirements, the council confirmed.

Read again: B4044 path could still go ahead despite being dropped from funding bid

Instead, the organisation hopes to develop a standalone bid, with the aim of having a ‘cost effective’ design finalised in the next financial year.

It is currently preparing a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, covering Oxford, Bicester and Didcot, which the council may expand to include the B4044 scheme. The path is included in West Oxfordshire's Local Plan, which sets out how to build almost 16,000 homes p to 2031.

A spokesperson said: “We propose to continue to develop the scheme design along the same timeframes as if HIF funding was being sought.

“Progressing the design now will ensure that a scheme for the B4044 Community Path is ready to submit to future funding opportunities as they arise, where the scheme meets the criteria.”

He added: “Throughout this process we will keep stakeholders engaged and seek their views as the design work progresses.”

Read again: Work to improve cycling in Oxford taking place

Campaign group Bikesafe has long argued the road is unsafe for non-car drivers and wants a designated path connecting Botley, Farmoor and Eynsham.

The group has previously raised £150,000 and commissioned its own studies and designs to show the viability of the 5km path.

It is currently holding ‘regular’ meetings with councillors to look again at the bike path proposals.

Chairman, Ian Leggett, said: “We’re completely puzzled why Oxfordshire County Council pulled the path.

“At a time when you’ve got everyone talking about climate emergencies and children going on strike, we’ve got to change the way we plan and live in our country.

“If the council wants to create a leading county where people want to live they’ve got to invest in green infrastructure.”