Reading’s New Bridge to Go Ahead
Tonight at the Reading Borough Council Planning Committee meeting the decision was made to go ahead with the new pedestrian/cycle bridge over the Thames. The bridge is something which I am proud to have been instrumental in delivering. Back in 2010/11 when the Conservative-led coalition ran the Council we put together a bid to the Government’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund to design a new bridge. The Labour administration continued where we left off with a second larger bid which won the money to build it. It is worth stating at this point that not a penny of Reading Council Tax revenue will be used to build the bridge.
The intention was always to deliver a high quality design which provided an attractive and safer route across the Thames. The chosen local is to the east of Fry’s Island and the west of Reading bridge. The design has gone through several iterations, ending up with a suspension bridge with a single support pole location to the north of the river in Christchurch Meadows. The route links two existing cycle paths and the long term plan is that the bridge will continue through the current Southern Electric site and link directly into the new Northern Concourse of Reading Station but for now the bridge has to take a right-angle turn to the left on the southern bank to feed onto the existing towpath cycle route. People will then pass through Norman Place, across the new crossing and into the Station, or turn onto Vastern Road.
I have received a lot of representations about the plans, and have met with many different people and groups who have a wide variety of views on the proposed design and location. The main concerns were about the proposed shared use surface and whether it is wide enough to cope with the likely usage of both pedestrians and cyclists. There were also concerns about the flow data used by the designers to come up with the plans.
For a long time I have advocated segregated cycle paths where possible but in this case it was neither possible nor recommended by the Department for Transport guidance nor the cycling charity Sustrans. Taking into account that the bridge links two existing shared-use paths I accepted that this was the right thing in this case. The issues around capacity and width were made to me by a number of people (and Reading Cycle Campaign reps). I raised these with the Head of Transport who assured me that not only was the final design width in excess of the DfT recommended minimum but that it had sufficient capacity to cope with likely future growth. The flow data issue was partly tackled by conducting an additional survey which did show higher numbers than the original figures used but not sufficient to justify a redesign. All of these points were comprehensively addressed in the update report which was provided to committee members before the start of the meeting.
There were a good number of members of the public present at the meeting, some of whom seemed to be anti the whole concept of a bridge and others who wanted technical changes. The anti case was not helped by some who suggested that the bridge would destroy the existing children’s play area or even the whole of Christchurch Meadows! Committee members were also not impressed by repeated shouting from some members of the public in the rear of the chamber. Green Cllr Rob White had requested to speak but failed to show up at the meeting.
At the last Planning Committee meeting I stated that (like Cllr Page) I would withdraw from any vote on the matter as I had already publically stated my strong support for the bridge. I therefore listened to the applicant’s presentation, the opponents’ presentation, and the transport officer’s report before I followed Cllr Page’s comments with my own and then withdrew from the meeting. I understand that following my departure, Green Cllr Melanie Eastwood, who had seemed to be a confrontational mood, began repeatedly interrupting other committee members before shouting that the meeting was a sham and announcing her resignation from the committee. Since she has rarely ever turned up to the committee in the past I don’t think we will notice her absence in the future!
The Council has been operating under very tight criteria to deliver the bridge by March 2015 when the money has to be spent in order to comply with the DfT terms under which the money was awarded. Unfortunately some of the antis give the impression that they would rather have no bridge if they cannot have exactly what they want. Inevitably there is some compromise between the needs of cyclists, pedestrians and other users but this will be a fantastic new addition to Reading’s transport infrastructure, providing a safe new way to cross the river avoiding the existing choke points of Reading and Caversham Bridges. It is an additional route and not a replacement for either of the two existing bridges. It is also a significant investment by central government in making Reading a more attractive and sustainable place to live.
I look forward to using the bridge in the summer of 2015.
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