Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Fresh calls to widen toll bridge approach

NEW calls have been made for an approach road to Whitbridge toll bridge to be widened.

Residents say that pedestrians are at risk from the traffic and people have already been clipped by the wing mirrors of passing cars.

The pavement on the Pangbourne side is so narrow that drivers veer too close to it when a vehicle is coming the other way.

The Whitchurch Bridge Company, which owns the private crossing, wants to widen the carriageway but West Berkshire Council, the highways authority, says the road safety benefits must outweigh the potential impact on the rural surroundings.

The work would involve cutting down four trees owned by the Boathouse Surgery in Pangbourne, which planning officers say are an important part of the Grade II listed bridge’s setting.

The company has already ruled out building a path through this area because that would involve felling even more trees.

It is asking residents for details of incidents and near-misses, including dates and times, so that it can try to convince the council of the seriousnesss of the problem.

The company previously reported 16 incidents in a year to the council but was told this was only anecdotal evidence.

Company secretary Geoff Weir said: “This first came up before we rebuilt the bridge in 2013 so we acknowledged it was a problem and made provision for the widening as part of that work.

“We also made budgetary provisions when we last increased our toll in 2014.

“It has been slowly knocking along in the background ever since but we’ve had pre-application advice from West Berkshire Council that made quite clear it wouldn’t get permission unless we could justify it on building conservation grounds.

“It is a narrow road so cars sometimes come round too quickly and we do have a few records of accidents but we can’t just go by what people are claiming on social media.

“There has been a sign up since 2012 urging people to report accidents but they hardly ever do.

“We obviously don’t want accidents to happen in the first place, which is why we’re always urging people to take care on that pavement, but in the event that anything does happen they should let us know right away.

“We understand that it’s quite an emotive issue and that people don’t feel safe but, quite honestly, there is absolutely no point submitting a planning application when we’ve been told outright that it won’t be approved without stronger evidence.

“We’ve met members of Whitchurch Parish Council to discuss it and we understand each other’s positions well. We have not abandoned the work but we have to address these planning matters before we take it further.”

Parish council chairman Jim Donahue said: “We want it to be widened and we will make sure the company is doing everything it can.

“There are concerns about the amount of money it will cost and also the planning [procedure].

“We have said we will do everything we can to help on the planning side.”   

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