COUNCILS have agreed to share their traffic data in a bid to decide whether there is a need for a third bridge over the Thames in Reading.
The agreement was made at a summit in Westminster on Monday co-hosted by Henley MP John Howell and Reading East MP Rob Wilson and attended by representatives of a number of councils.
The meeting was prompted by the recent traffic problems caused by the closure of Sonning Bridge due to flooding and the closure of Whitchurch toll bridge for refurbishment.
Each council representative had five minutes to present its views before there was a general discussion.
Reading, Wokingham and Windsor and Maidenhead borough councils are in favour of a new £100 million crossing while Oxfordshire County Council and South Oxfordshire District Council are concerned about the extra traffic it would create north of the river.
It was agreed that council officers would work to address the concerns of the Oxfordshire councils and they in turn agreed to share their traffic data.
Mr Howell called the discussion “well-mannered”.
He said: “Having heard the case put forward by Reading Borough Council, it is clear that they have a long way to go in convincing us that we would benefit from a bridge.
“However, the meeting agreed to share information on traffic data. This will enable us all to see exactly what the situation is. Clearly the situation is exacerbated at present with the closure of Whitchurch Bridge due to repairs and Sonning Bridge due to flood water damage on the approach road.
“However, it was made quite clear that a bridge needs to be justified in the good times as well as the bad.”
Mr Howell said he was concerned there had been little talk of infrastructure which would be “critical” on the Henley side of the river should a bridge be built.
He added: “This would add considerably to the cost and so in my view must be taken into account at the start.”
Mr Wilson said: “For the first time, we’ve been able to get all the local councils to agree to share their information and work together to take the much-needed idea of a third Thames bridge forward. This is a big step in the right direction.
“With all the relevant information in one place, work can start on coming up with practical solutions to deal with the issues and concerns that some people have about the possible knock-on effects of a bridge in parts of South Oxfordshire.
“A third bridge across the Thames is vital. The traffic gridlock caused by the recent closure of a small bridge in Sonning has been a massive inconvenience for local people in my constituency and a waste of time and money for businesses. In addition, cars sitting in the traffic with their engines on is awful for air pollution.
“Residents of Caversham and east Reading have been suffering with these issues for many years. Getting a new bridge built and getting it right will be a ‘win-win’ for both our local economy and environment.
“The task now is for the council officers to scope out the extent of the areas affected by any bridge by the time we meet again so we can quickly move on to modelling the likely traffic impacts and look at any mitigation measures if they are needed. I have every confidence we can make progress.”
The summit also included representatives of the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, which is tasked with deciding what the priorities should be for investment in infrastructure in the area, and the Department for Transport.
The LEP said business strongly supported the need for a third bridge as a priority.
There will be a follow-up meeting in early June.