Residents to join cross-party group to tackle Wokingham’s traffic woes

RESIDENTS will be invited to join a new cross party group designed to look at Wokingham’s traffic woes.

The new cross-party panel will be set up in result of a debate held at an extraordinary meeting of Wokingham Borough Council held on Friday, January 19 at the Shute End offices.

The decision was made unanimously, following a debate by councillors on the issue, which was  held in response to a petition about Wokingham’s traffic misery, signed by more than 2,200 people.

Resident Clive Chafer presented the petition at November’s council meeting, triggering the debate. At Friday’s meeting, he introduced the discussion, making the case for taking action.

“Residents are expressing extreme frustration, this [signing the petition] was a cry of outrage and pain at what they felt Wokingham was becoming,” he explained. “Within three days the petition had 500 signatures.”

He cited the problems with Finchampstead Road and the town centre as two examples of the borough’s traffic issues.

Some residents had reported that it had taken them 45 minutes to drive from Finchampstead Road to London Road, while pollution levels had soared over the the permitted European Union maximum for carbon dioxide.

With the new houses being built there would be “a conservative estimate of 1,000 extra vehicles disgorging on to the Finchampstead Road. There is no provision for extra capacity,” he said.

Mr Chafer also called for radical changes to the town centre – “pedestrianisation is the only answer”, he said.

He called on the changes to be made to Peach Street, Denmark Street and Broad Street.

“We cannot make the town centre an attractive place to shop if it’s clogged with traffic,” he said.

But to achieve this dream, he pointed out that “it requires additional road capacity outside the centre”.

He said that bypasses would need to be built and proposed an extension to the new Southern Distributor Road to Handpost Corner which would “run mostly through woodland”, and a second bypass from Barkham Road to Woosehill.

“It’s not pie in the sky,” he promised.

“Let’s make working and shopping in Wokingham a pleasure again,” he concluded, to muted applause from the councillors.

Cllr David Lee, in his capacity as Executive Member for Strategic Highways and Planning, was the first to respond, saying that he wanted to see a progression and that a message needed to be sent to the Government over the issues.

Independent councillor Gary Cowan felt that the regeneration works left the town centre “looking like a crime scene”.

Next to speak was Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, who blamed traffic issues in her Hillside, Earley ward on Reading Borough Council. “Much of this additional traffic on the borough’s roads has no need to be in the town but is simply passing through because of constraints introduced by our neighbouring authority,” she said.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Clive Jones congratulated residents on signing the petition. “I am delighted that you have all taken such a strong interest in the traffic problems in the town,” he said, adding “No doubt this has come about from you frustration and disappointment that up until now the council and in particularly its ruling Conservative group have totally ignored you.”

He also warned that the “so-called distributor roads are not fit for purpose, they are too narrow and are really residential wards”.

Cllr David Sleight warned that buses were not the answer, despite the borough having “two very good bus companies”, but addressing the bottlenecks of Winnersh Crossroads and Wokingham town centre was what was needed.

He said that Mr Chafer’s suggestion of bypasses were addressed by the new distributor roads and improvements to the railways will “give Wokingham a metro-type service of seven trains each hour to Reading”.

Labour councillor Andy Croy said that the idea of pedestrianisation was spot on.

Earley councillor David Chopping said that although the petition referred to Wokingham town, the issue of congestion affected the whole borough, adding that traffic modelling was being carried out regularly.

“We have not ignored the problem,” he said.

Former executive member for highways, Cllr Malcolm Richards, said that we had to look at the whole picture, including the “enormous amount of development going on” and the issues caused by “old narrow roads, especially in the town centre”.

Hawkedon Ward councillor, Michael Firmager, said that roads in his Earley ward do clog up, “Roads in Earley, like elsewhere in the borough were never built to take the level of traffic they currently do. The level is certainly going to get worse, as will the levels of pollution”.

Cllr Richard Dolinski said: “It’s not just improving the roads but reducing the problem”, adding that in his Woodley ward a cycle path was being constructed that would help people to get to the nearby railway station without using the roads. “I think that makes sense,” he said on encouraging people to get out of their cars. “We have the power to make changes.”

Summing up, council leader Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor thanked Mr Chafer for an “eloquent” speech.

Mr Chafer was given a moment to conclude.

“Thank you very much for your general support. I don’t think there are simple solutions, but it’s important to have a vision of where we want to go.

“Finchampstead Road is already over capacity. We have to deal with the situation we have. We can’t do this by thinking of buses and cycling. Would you want to cycle on Finchampstead Road in rush hour?”

He added: “We have to do that with vision, that’s what I’m asking for here. Take a long term view of what we want for Wokingham.

“Let’s have an idea of where we want to go and let’s save Wokingham.”

Proposing that the council set up a cross-party working group to “discuss all current highways plans”, Cllr David Lee said: “We would also propose that it includes a small number of residents who have shown a great and constructive interest in highways issues. The working group should also have one highway officer in attendance.”

The proposal was backed by Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Lindsay Ferris who said that his party had been pushing for such a forum for a “little while”.

“[This is] one of the hottest topics in Wokingham,” he added. “The inconvenience to residents and costs to local businesses cannot be underestimated and cannot be allowed to continue in what has been a totally disorganised and chaotic way these past months.”

To chuckles, he concluded, “Even the Prime Minister had to get out of her car and walk to get to Shute End.”

All attending councillors voted for the motion and the cross party group will now be set up.

Phil Creighton

Editor of The Wokingham Paper, and has worked in local journalism for more than 20 years including the Wokingham Times, Bracknell Standard and Reading Evening Post. He's also written for computer magazines, The Baptist Times and, to his delight and probably not yours, interviewed several Doctor Whos.

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