A GROUP of residents fighting to save a green lung have accused two councils of hiding vital documents from the public.
On Monday, Reading Borough Council will hold an exhibition in Wokingham to showcase its plans for a new bridge to be built over the River Thames at Thames Valley Park. The single-lane road will run alongside the Kennetmouth horseshoe bridge, which is a listed structure, and be used for buses only.
Wokingham Borough Council has already given approval for a 277 space park and ride car park on land by the Wokingham Waterside Centre, despite local opposition including Earley Town Council.
The project is a collaboration between Reading Borough and Wokingham Borough Councils and Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
They say that the plans will reduce bus journey times from Thames Valley Park to Reading’s railway station by up to 15 minutes during peak periods – although the only buses that currently use this route are the Orange 13 and 14s that go to Woodley, a shuttle bus to Thames Valley Park from the station and services that connect Reading to Twyford.
Freedom of Information requests refused by councils
Campaigners from SOAR (Save Our Ancient Riverside) said that the councils have refused to release documents relating to the plans despite Freedom of Information requests being made to both councils. They argue that Government guidelines state that commercial confidentiality should not be used when a council is the source of a planning application.
They have submitted a complaint to the Information Commissioner after their Freedom of Information request was turned down by both councils and they say that this is now being investigation.
SOAR adds that the joint draft business case has been withheld from councillors who do not sit on the Berkshire Local Transport Board (BLTB) and from the public.
The decision for external funding will be made on Thursday, July 20 at the BLTB meeting in Slough. SOAR said that parts of these meetings are held behind closed doors, with press and the public excluded. The campaigners also said that the business case for the £31.5 million park and ride project will only be published five days in advance, limiting time for public scrutiny.
However, Wokingham Borough Council disputes the group’s claims.
A spokesperson for the council confirmed that a Freedom of Information request was received but couldn’t release the information requested.
They said: “At the time of the request the business case was not yet signed off and was therefore still subject to change and was not, at that time, in the public domain. For this reason the council were unable to issue the business case and our response reflected this. Once the business case is finalised it will be made available online.”
Coal Woodland under threat in plans say SOAR
The Park & Ride plans are controversial because they take green space away from residents who live in nearby Newtown or use the Riverside area for leisure activities. The bus lane and bridge is planned to pass through the Coal Woodland at Kennet Mouth, despite its listing by Reading Council as an area of protected open space.
SOAR argues that Wokingham Borough Council should have investigated whether the Winnersh Park & Ride, also off the A329m, could be expanded, citing its links to Winnersh Triangle’s railway station, offering a Park and Rail solution.
Reading Borough Council’s planning manager’s concerns
They also highlight concerns raised by Reading Borough Council Planning Manager Kieran Roughan earlier this year.
He said of the plan: “It is the formal Opinion of the Local Planning Authority that in various respects, the issues and recommendations set out in the above mentioned Scoping Report are deficient and the scope/coverage of the document proposed is incomplete.”
And the bus lane will also have an adverse impact on the natural environment of the River Thames according to the Reading Borough Council’s tree officer.
SOAR said: “The development will include the loss or harm to over two acres of the Coal Woodland and the semi-natural habitat adjacent to the Thames.”
Green party release ‘secret’ video of plans
Green Party campaigner Kizzi Johannessen has released a video she claims the council have been keeping secret showing what the Thameside road would look like when completed and has urged residents to sign a petition against the plans.
She said: “Over 100 trees, including some over 200 years old, would be chopped down and it is estimated that almost a hectare of land will be flattened. The Coal Woodland will be all but destroyed. Even Reading Council’s own Planning team have heavily criticised the scheme’s planning documents and said it will result in massive loss of green space.
“I urge Reading and Wokingham councils to properly consider the real alternatives – ones that might actually reduce traffic on the London Road – such as a town centre workplace parking charge. Better use should also be made of existing facilities.
“A second level could be put on the recently moved Winnersh park-and-ride and a tidal flow bus lane should be further investigated for London Road. There is huge opposition to plans to build the road by the Thames in east Reading.”
However, Wokingham Borough Council said that the video was just a “concept idea”.
The spokesperson said: “It has not been produced by Wokingham Borough Council and is not directly related to Wokingham’s Park and Ride scheme, although it does include an early indication of a potential park and ride site.”
And Reading Borough Council said that the video was several years old and does not reflect the plan which they are submitting for approval.
A spokesperson pointed out the detail within the Video does not accurately represent the East MRT proposals the Council is now promoting for the following reasons:
- It does not clearly show the MRT route will be restricted for buses only. In particular when the route leaves Napier Road to the west and the transition from the A3290 to the east.
- It shows a two-way carriageway for the entire length of the route, whereas the latest plans reduce the width of the carriageway to a single lane when the route heads over the Kennet and Avon Canal near the Horseshoe Bridge. Buses on this part of the route will be required to give way to one another.
- It does not show the segregated cycle route and footpath which are a fundamental part of the current scheme.
- It shows a multi-storey park and ride scheme at the eastern end, whereas Wokingham Borough Council are promoting a surface level Park and Ride and recently gained Planning Permission for such a scheme.
- It shows traffic lights controlling Reading Bridge Roundabout which is not being promoted as part of the current scheme and the bus lane on the approach to the roundabout is not in the correct position.
- It does not show the landscape mitigation measures which are being proposed as part of the current scheme.
SOAR’s funding concerns
SOAR has produced a graphic showing where the money for the project will come from. They estimate it will cost £31.5million to create the park & ride on the woodland and create a single lane bridge over the River Thames.
Consultation events next week
Launching the consultation events, Cllr Tony Page Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said: “The scheme is a vital first element of developing a public transport corridor between Reading, Wokingham and Bracknell, and would link to the preferred location for the Third Thames Crossing. It is our intention that any Third Thames Bridge will include dedicated public transport provision to link to park and ride sites north and south of the river.
“The East Reading MRT proposal will help to manage and accommodate the very substantial growth planned over the next 20 years in the Wokingham area, and reduce the impact of this growth on residents in Reading.”
Reading Borough Council was contacted for a response to SOAR’s claims ahead of publication.
More reading …
- The exhibition will be held at Wokingham Waterside Centre from 2pm to 7pm on Monday, with a second taking place on Thursday, July 13 at Reading Town Hall at the same time.
- The planning application will be made available on Reading Borough Council’s website, http://planning.reading.gov.uk
- The meeting of the Berkshire Berkshire Local Transport Body will be held at 4pm on Thursday, July 20 at The Curve, William Street, Slough SL1 1XY.
- The petition organised by the Green Party can be signed at http://bit.ly/soarpetition
- When you buy your Wokingham Paper, you can read our editorial on page 15