Saturday, 04 July 2020

Parishes to launch joint fight against orbital road scheme

A PROPOSAL to build an orbital road through South Oxfordshire could terrify lovers of the Chilterns, say councillors.

Reading Borough Council’s idea is part of its 2036 transport strategy, which is out for public consultation until August 30.

The road would begin by the A4074 near Cane End and run past Kidmore End, Chalkhouse Green and Emmer Green before joining the proposed third bridge across the Thames near Playhatch. It would then connect to the M4 via the A329(M).

There would be park and ride sites near Cane End, Emmer Green and Playhatch.

The proposal is designed to reduce congestion in Caversham and Reading and the council says it is in line with its declaration of a climate emergency.

But local councillors and parish councils say the plans are unacceptable, particularly as they follow decades of arguments between the Berkshire and Oxfordshire councils over the proposed river crossing.

Leigh Rawlins, who represents the Sonning Common ward on South Oxfordshire District Council, told a virtual meeting of Sonning Common Parish Council: “I think they were toying with the old Reading golf course as one of the park and ride sites. Another one would possibly go down in the Playhatch area, maybe south of the A4155, and again possibly one at Cane End.

“They are deliberately vague because they don’t have control of the land and they’re not in a position to say it shall be here but they obviously have some ideas in their mind.

“In some ways I don’t think the park and rides are the worst of it. The worst would be the bridge and the north orbital link road together.

“This would cost about £250million in my estimation. They’re not going to get that past the Treasury without building thousands and thousands of houses to tick the Treasury boxes.”

Fellow ward councillor David Bartholomew, who also represents the Sonning Common division on Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, said the borough council’s idea had come “out of the blue” and was “deeply worrying”.

He said: “They say Oxfordshire doesn’t
co-operate but then we try to co-operate and Berkshire just goes off and does its own thing. The document talks about a new Reading orbital route, which may strike terror into the hearts of lovers of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”

He encouraged councillors to respond to the consultation along with neighbouring parishes and also to give their views to the county council.

“The key issue is that it would all take place on South Oxfordshire land,” said Councillor Bartholomew.

“There may be strong views on that and I hope you’ll respond to the consultation. This has now moved into a new league altogether with this new Reading orbital, so I think parishes should get together and decide how they feel about it.”

He also suggested the new road could be an attempt by Reading to extend Berkshire’s boundary into South Oxfordshire, adding: “This is just speculation but they might say this orbital road is the natural county boundary.”

Carole Lewis, who chairs the parish council, agreed to work with other councils on a joint response.

Kidmore End Parish Council is also opposed to the proposal. Speaking at a virtual meeting, Councillor John Swift said Reading council was determined “to drive a major highway through the countryside and parishes of South Oxfordshire”.

He continued: “This council can’t simply let this pass without our responding to the consultation in one way or another.

“We believe that the voice of this council will be heard more effectively if we combine it with other affected parish councils.

“The view that we’ve formed is that in addition to expressing opposition to the third bridge and the north orbital route, we should identify what we regard as the causes of congestion in the Caversham area and come up with some recommendations as to how that congestion might be alleviated.

“The greater the co-operation we can have between parish and district councils to formulate some positive ideas, the greater that impact we might have on finally putting to bed this concept that only a third bridge and this north orbital route will solve the problems of Reading Borough Council.”

The council has written to its counterparts in the neighbouring parishes of Sonning Common, Binfield Heath, Mapledurham, Eye & Dunsden, Peppard and Highmoor suggesting forming a joint response to the consultation.

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