Friday, 10 July 2020

Third crossing ‘irrelevant’ when virus crisis is over

Third crossing ‘irrelevant’ when virus crisis is over

A COUNCILLOR says the proposed third Reading bridge has been made “irrelevant” by the coronavirus pandemic.

David Bartholomew said the effect of the global crisis would change working patterns in the future, making traditional commuting less frequent.

Speaking at a virtual meeting of Peppard Parish Council, he said: “In light of substantially changed working patterns, it would make a
re-evaluation even more important.

“I think that we’ve had a big mood swing in favour of cycling and pedestrians and we should be thinking more about public transport, cycling and sustainable methods of traffic.

“A whacking great mile-long bridge for cars across the Thames is more irrelevant than ever as far as I’m concerned.”

The bridge would go from the A4155 near Playhatch to the Thames Valley Park on the east side of Reading, spanning a distance of a mile over Caversham lakes.

Berkshire councils are in favour of the £150 million crossing, saying it would ease congestion in and around Reading. However, councils in Oxfordshire say it would create more traffic on the north side of the Thames without any mitigation measures being proposed.

The two counties’ MPs are similarly divided on the issue, which has been debated for decades.

Councillor Bartholomew, who represents Peppard on Oxfordshire County Council, was asked by Councillor Sue Rowland if the virus had “killed” the proposal for a third bridge.

“We can always hope,” he replied. “It has certainly killed the meetings. There was meant to be a high-level meeting with the MPs in March and that was postponed.”

He also criticised Reading Borough Council for its approach to the project and its engagement with the county council.

“Reading have a habit of moving ahead without properly engaging with us,” he said. “They always accuse Oxfordshire of not being co-operative but they’re very prone to shooting ahead and doing their own thing.”

In February, Henley MP John Howell called the business case for a third bridge “utter rubbish” after Wokingham Borough Council, which supports the scheme, submitted a strategic outline business case to the Department for Transport and asked infrastructure group Balfour Beatty to produce a feasibility study.

Mr Howell said there was no point building the bridge unless the road structure on the Oxfordshire side was taken into account and urged the borough council to develop detailed costings and assessment of the road network.

Meanwhile, residents of Caversham are concerned their interests are not being considered as part of transport planning by Oxfordshire County Council.

They say the highways authority’s local transport and connectivity plan does not mention the problem of congestion in the area.

The council is aiming to reduce congestion across Oxfordshire by promoting more walking, cycling and public transport. It also wants to make urban spaces greener and improve air quality by decreasing traffic.

Caversham and District Residents’ Association has welcomed this but members are concerned these aims only apply to residents in Oxfordshire and not them, even though traffic enters Caversham from its border with Oxfordshire and crosses Caversham Bridge over the Thames to Reading.

Helen Lambert, who chairs the association, said Caversham experienced heavy congestion and poor air quality. She also criticised the council for its opposition to the solution of a third bridge.

She said: “We applaud the high environmental standards to which Oxfordshire aspires for its own residents but it is inconsistent and unacceptable — one might even say hypocritical — that it does so while not only ignoring how its own traffic damages such standards for Caversham residents but resolutely opposing any means of relieving that situation.”

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