"The Ashridge Interchange Movement ('AIM') is a non-party
organisation that exists to promote the
History - A329 Relief Road Inquiry, Week 3
Berkshire County Council Minutes:
Wokingham Times Articles, 1968-9, by subject:
Wokingham Times Articles, 1971-5, by subject:
public inquiry into the A329 Relief Road was held at The Pavilion, Woodley Park,
Haddon Drive, Woodley, opening at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, October 21st
1969. This report covered the end of the third week of the proceedings.
From the Wokingham Times, November 20th 1969:
At Woodley, the inquiry into the M4 link road proposals is drawing to its close. During the four weeks of the hearing of evidence and views and opinions there has been a detailed examination of the factors involved in providing new routes for getting by road from "A" to "B".
The opportunity to state their case has been seized by many people, representative of a wide cross-section of the community. Neither daunted nor intimidated by the prospect of cross-examination by those skilled in the art, the man-in-the-street has been able plainly to state his case.
Full credit for his patience and understanding in handling the inquiry must go to the Government-appointed inspector, M. G. S. McIntire. To many attending the inquiry some arguments have been long, even tedious. Repetition was often inductive of yawns. Yet throughout, Mr. McIntire remained alert, seeking clarification of a point where necessary, ensuring always that he was fully conversant with situations being put to him in great detail. This was an arduous task, well carried out impartially. For this, Wokingham should be grateful.
Although the conduct of the inquiry was often informal, it retained a certain seriousness reminiscent of a court of law. This was apparent when Mr. McIntire told a witness: "It would be a good thing if you gave a little credit to those trying to better traffic conditions in this part of the country. They are doing their best and that should be remembered". Thus was informality kept in check; a reminder that much was at stake.
‘We are honestly scared about possible death or injury:
Residents in Emmbrook are very worried about potential increases in traffic flows through the area generated by the proposed M4 link road system. This was stated this week at the public inquiry into the proposals by Mr. Roger Ballaster, secretary of Wokingham Joint Residents’ Association and chairman of Lowther Road Residents’ Association.
A Wokingham petition bearing 4,215 signatures urging the Minister of Transport to reject the proposals was presented. Mr. Ballaster said Emmbrook today had serious traffic problems which had been brought to the notice of Wokingham Borough Council. Yet this traffic was comparatively light.
"We are honestly scared about possible death or injury. I have three little children and am terrified about the damage that even one car can do. We are prepared to take 10 minutes longer to reach the motorway and have 10 years more life."
He said it was inevitable that the proposals would result in heavy flows of motorway-generated traffic using roads already inadequate for their present purpose. It was acknowledged by Berkshire County Council, Wokingham Borough Council and all residents that Emmbrook had serious traffic problems. "All the published plans must aggravate these traffic problems and our submission is that the lives of children and old people should not be placed in further jeopardy by such plans as have been published.
Cross-examined by Mr. Arthur Mildon, counsel for Berkshire County Council, Mr. Ballaster agreed that he wanted both sections of the link road to be built at the same time and for the Ashridge Intersection to be deleted. His association was realistic about Forest Road and expected it to be closed.
Mr. Mildon: "It is important from your point of view that the county council’s road should be built at the same time as the ministry road and you do not want the county council to take time re-thinking the Ashridge Interchange".
Mr. Ballaster : "We can only concern ourselves with plans already published. We would settle for the removal of the Ashridge Interchange if it would remove the threat to our children, our old people and our homes".
Asked by Mr. Mildon if a link between the A329 and Ashridge would meet his objections, Mr. Ballaster said the county council had not discussed this or agreed it. Asked if were there no facilities at Ashridge more traffic would use the A329, Mr. Ballaster replied: "Yes, but that is an ‘A’ road and some of the roads in Emmbrook are ‘B’ or even ‘D’ ".
Presenting the petition, Mr. Michael Russell, chairman of Wokingham Joint Residents’ Association, said residents were disturbed and very concerned because it had become evident that there would be a two-year gap between the completion of the link road and the completion of the county road. Even when the relief road was completed, Ashridge Interchange would do little to alleviate additional heavy traffic through Wokingham.
It would endanger the lives of 2,000 school-children and the very existence of Ashridge would increase traffic hazards in the whole area. It meant the creation of a situation as dangerous as Russian roulette. Public reaction was so strong that it had been expressed in a petition. He said that signatures had been collected from 63 per cent of households in the area.
Asked by Mr. Mildon what proportion of the signatures was obtained before the public inquiry Mr. Russell said it was difficult to say. "But the majority – more than 75 per cent – before the start of the inquiry."
Mr. Mildon: "So they would not have had the advantage of knowing that there was no intention of driving a road through the centre of Wokingham? It is implicit in the request that you understood the intention was to drive a road through the centre of Wokingham?
Mr. Russell: "We have not defined the centre of Wokingham".
Mr. Mildon: "People were being asked to sign. This was intended to convey that a road was likely to be extended due south. That is what you were inviting signatories to understand, that the town would be cut in two?"
Mr. Russell: "Yes".
Mr. Mildon: "That is not the intention, as we have heard in the course of this inquiry".
Mr. Russell said it was residents’ view that access at Amen Corner and Loddon Bridge to the link road would be adequate for Wokingham’s needs.
Mr. Mildon: "People were invited to sign a petition that if an interchange was provided between Amen Corner and Loddon it would have an adverse effect on traffic in the town and on amenities?"
Mr. Russell: "Yes".
Mr. Mildon: "So, people signed it with that belief in mind and that they were being threatened by a road dividing the town in two?"
Mr. Russell: "Yes". He said he did not agree that the only practical place where an interchange could be placed was at Ashridge.
Mr. Mildon: "If you assume that there should be an access, where would you suggest it should be put – if it were right to have one?"
Mr. Russell: "We are not traffic experts and we cannot offer suggestions without the advice of technical resources".
Mr. Mildon: "You cannot put the Ashridge Interchange further west because of engineering considerations, and if it were further east, it would interfere with existing residential development. Where would you put it? It comes to this: those that you represent and those invited to sign do not want an interchange between Loddon and Amen Corner?
Mr. Russell: "Yes". He added that the solution they were looking for was getting traffic to the motorway without cluttering up the town centre.
Mr. Mildon asked if those represented by Mr. Russell thought there should be a south-east and south-west by-pass of Wokingham. "If it were the case that there was not sufficient demand and that costs were not relevant to the need, should an alternative be sought? It has been suggested by county council that these py-passes are impractical. There is no demand and they would be very expensive. If so would you feel that some alternative solution be sought to take traffic from the south to the relief road? County council officers are satisfied about this; are you suggesting that you have any evidence to the contrary?"
At this point, the Inspector conducting the inquiry, Mr. G. N. McIntire, referred to the conferences being held at the witness table by Mr. Russell, Mr. Ballaster and Dr. Michael Crowe, chairman of the M4 Action Committee. "There are three of you there, a little meeting and the answer comes. It is not really good enough. It would be much better if the answer came direct. I am not complaining very strongly, but it is just wasting time".
Mr. Mildon then concluded his cross-examination by saying "How much worth should be ascribed to this petition? How much thought has been given by those putting it forward?"
Giving his own views on the proposals, Mr. Ralph Smith, of 198 Finchampstead Road, Wokingham, said that before this Ashridge Interchange was constructed a proper traffic picture should be prepared as to the probable consequences to Wokingham of such a construction.
‘Act as a magnet’
The layman’s view was that it would act as a magnet to traffic for traffic coming from the south of Wokingham. This traffic would pass up the A321 Finchampstead Road, into the town and then have to pass through the town centre to get to or from the interchange. The roads to do this were well-known to be narrow, as were the pavements.
"In my view Ashridge Interchange is totally unnecessary. Villages and towns to the south of Wokingham, south of Crowthorne and Sandhurst, can equally well get to the motorway via Amen Corner. On the other side villages such as Arborfield, etc., can easily get to the Loddon Bridge junction via the B3030. If the Ashridge Interchange is constructed traffic from this area will be tempted to use it instead of the other two interchanges, thereby bring motorway traffic through the heart of the town".
He said that prior to the inquiry no plan had been produced showing how the Ashridge Interchange would be connected up "long term" to the centre of Wokingham. "Now that such a plan has been produced, I consider it to be unsatisfactory. It may be years before it is constructed. It has been stated that there is no money to do this work in the foreseeable future. It merely transmits the traffic problem further to the south to Wellington Road, Finchampstead Road and Barkham Road areas".
It was his opinion that to get traffic from the south to the motorway it would be better to spend the money on making a new by-pass from Handpost Corner to Amen Corner, avoiding the town built-up area completely as suggested by the M4 Action Committee.
Mr. Smith asked what were the planning proposals in broad outline for the future of the south of Wokingham? If there was to be development there, it would create an increased traffic flow which would be served by a new by-pass rather than trying to take it through the town to Ashridge. "Once Ashridge is constructed, we shall be committed for all time to the Ashridge route. We have been told by the county council that although they have published maps for the proposed future of South Earley, Woodley, etc., they cannot do so for Wokingham until the outcome of the inquiry is known. But until the planning future for Wokingham is established, how can the Minister decide on the Ashridge question?"
Evidence on behalf of residents in Commons Road, Emmbrook, was submitted by Mr. J. A. Clark and Mr. M. J. Page.
Their aim, they said in a written statement, was to ensure that any final decision affecting Commons Road was taken with the full knowledge of local conditions. "We hope that no plan in connection with Ashridge will get past the planning stage unless it provides a proper link with the A329 and has associated with it some traffic management techniques and/or road alterations which will ensure control of the amount of traffic passing the schools. In our view traffic problems associated with large numbers of children in a small area require the segregation of children and traffic. The County Surveyor’s Department agrees there is congestion outside these schools and this week the Education Authority has announced that Emmbrook Secondary School is to be extended."
They asked Mr. S. G. Walters, superintending engineer, south-east road construction unit, if it were likely that Ashridge would be built without a proper access to the A329 being constructed at the same time. And a special study being made of traffic problems in Emmbrook. Mr. Walters replied: "I have already said that I considered that a link from near St. Paul’s Church to Glebelands Road/Milton Road would provide a reasonable way of getting from the A321 to A329 and that a traffic management scheme would be introduced into the Emmbrook area".
Asked what was meant by "traffic management techniques", Mr. Walters said: "Doing whatever is necessary in the complex to determine how it would be used by through traffic. The object would be to keep traffic out of the roads (in Emmbrook) and was a matter for the Borough Council.
Mr. Norman Preston, chairman of Earley Parish Council, said his council had been shocked when in June 1967 it had read in the local press of proposals for a link road to cut through Woodley and Earley. Berkshire County Council had said that a line parallel to the railway had been chosen to avoid duplicating a line of severance through the area.
"We argued, and still do, that the combined effect of a railway and motorway will result in a veritable chasm of separation through the parish and that the ill effects of noise and fumes will multiply. Earley is essentially a pleasant residential area with 11,600 parishioners living in owner-occupied houses. We believe that it is quite wrong morally, logically, ethically and mathematically to propose to construct a motorway through such an area resulting in the demolition of many houses along the line and widespread deterioration in living conditions for all property owners near the line. We oppose the link road scheme because we believe that it is wrong, because we believe there is a better one – the northern route".
Mr. Preston said the parish council originated an alternative scheme and supported the work and proposals of the Joint Steering Committee of Woodley and Earley residents, particularly its alternative route. "It has been able to do what we could not do and what we believe has never been done satisfactorily – to evaluate the alternative northern route. We believe that this evaluation proves effectively and convincingly that there is no alternative but the alternative".
A request that the Ashridge Interchange be "removed completely and permanently" was made yesterday by Wokingham M4 Action Committee at the enquiry into the M4 link road system proposals. It was one of four submissions put forward by the committee’s chairman, Dr. Michael Crowe. He asked the inspector conducting the inquiry to recommend to the Minister of Transport that:
Dr. Crowe said it was essential that the A329 Relief Road be built at the same time as the Ministry section linking the Winnersh Interchange to the A321. Failure to do this would cause up to 30,000 vehicles per day to be sucked through the town centre. The Ashridge Interchange as it was planned did not relieve Wokingham’s traffic problems and it should be completely removed from the proposal.
"We believe that the access points at Amen Corner and Loddon Bridge will be adequate until a full Land Use Transportation Study has been done and new proposals had been presented". He said there were wonderful opportunities for planning a future Wokingham that would be a model town in the 21st Century. This opportunity should not be squandered. "We suggest that the town continues to expand in annual rings but this time we must take the demands of motor transport really seriously. We see an exciting possibility of Wokingham becoming the modern equivalent of an old walled town".
"Motorways are already planned for the north, east and west walls, and the southern section should now be planned. The motorway bridge across the A329 to the east and west will be the modern gateways to the town. The plan of the town would resemble a cart-wheel from the air.
"The hub would be the pedestrianised town centre surrounded by a completed inner distributor road and attendant car parks. The spokes would be the existing town roads and the outer rim would be the new motorway wall allowing through traffic from any direction to bypass the town while allowing easy access to trunk routes for the town’s residents and industry".
Dr. Crowe and the committee welcomed the major part of the proposals. Easy access to the M4 from access points at Amen Corner and Loddon Bridge was bound to bring an increased prosperity to the town.
The A329 Relief Road would provide a welcome northern bypass but the committee regretted that the Winnersh Interchange had to take up so much good farming land and the Forest Road had to be cut. It understood that this was necessary to avoid two six-lane highways meeting at a three-tier interchange. He said that on the assumption that the Ashridge spur was the first section of a limited access M3-M4 link road through the town, Wokingham Society proposed a possible alternative and had it been costed by experts. This was a south-east bypass passing through scrubland and would not cause such a wholesale disruption of the community as the county council route.
"We believe it would have a better cost/user benefit return and could be built in one section for a quarter the cost of the link from Ashridge through the town." Referring to talks the committee had with the chairman of the County Highways Committee and the deputy county surveyor, Dr. Crowe said they had admitted that the Ashridge Interchange did nothing to help the Wokingham traffic problem which would be chaotic. But they felt it would be chaotic even if it were not built. We came away thinking that they had been helpful but totally unrealistic about the Wokingham problem. It was clear to us that they had not had the time, the money, nor the staff to look at the problem from Wokingham’s point of view."
The Travers Morgan report, he continued, checked traffic on only one of the nine roads serving Wokingham and its estimates for the town must be discounted. He drew attention to an "error" in the figures in the report and said: "Such an error causes us to doubt the whole set of figures. Very serious implications follow from this. The county council has based its whole planning strategy for Wokingham on these figures. If these figures have been discredited, which we contend, then the whole county council case for the need for Ashridge is demolished".
He said the feed roads from Ashridge Interchange joined a road linking them with Twyford and Wiltshire Road at "T" junctions. Traffic making for these roads had to use narrow winding residential roads that would have to be improved at the Wokingham ratepayers’ expense. "The plan is as destructive as a plan to take a bull into a china shop. Wokingham as we know and like it would be bulldozed out of recognition. In opposing the proposals we are trying to avoid public money being spent on what we are convinced is a bad scheme. Once the concrete is laid the whole thing becomes a fait accompli. We hope it is agreed that we are trying to find the best solution to the problems before irrevocable planning decisions are taken. We stress that the outcome of this inquiry will dictate the road pattern in the region from now on. It also affects the thousands of people whom we represent who have put their life savings into houses in Wokingham. We represent ourselves so that you can judge the depth of our concern. It is usually said that the Englishman’s home is his castle. Not so in this case, it seems".
During the morning the Inspector said to Dr. Crowe, who raised a point from the spectators’ position: "I am getting a lot of repetition from Wokingham. This is a free world and I can’t stop anyone saying what he wants to say. Repetition some times wearies the soul and it is wearying my soul to some considerable amount".
The inquiry continues today.
[Text box:] ‘ "Lollipop" woman stresses dangers’:
The trials and problems of a "lollipop" woman were outlined at the inquiry by Mrs. Sandra McIntosh, of Toutley Close, a school road safety officer. She said the road at the infant and junior schools in Emmbrook was 18ft wide. "I have to push the children back with my lolly stick when two large vehicles are passing in the road. Otherwise the children would get their feet run over".
[Photo captions:] Mr. Roger Ballaster (left), chairman of Lowther Road Residents’ Association, holds a street plan of Emmbrook, which he submitted at the inquiry. With him are Mr. Michael Russell, chairman of Wokingham Joint Residents’ Association, and Mr. Fred Attridge, treasurer of the association.
Over 4,000 signatures were obtained in the Wokingham area to a petition rejecting M4 link road proposals. It was presented at the inquiry by Mr. Michael Russell, chairman of Wokingham Joint Residents’ Association.
From Wokingham Times, November 27th 1969:
‘M4 inquiry was misled, say traders; Inaccuracy could put other evidence in doubt’:
A claim that Dr. Michael Crowe, chairman of Wokingham’s M4 Action Committee, gave misleading evidence at the public inquiry into the proposed M4 link road system has been made by Wokingham and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce. The Chamber secretary, Mr. Michael Drury, said yesterday: "Dr. Crowe told the inspector conducting the inquiry that our membership was 23. Doubtless the inspector will consider whether this inaccuracy will cast doubt on other figures submitted by the committee".
In his evidence Dr. Crowe referred to a leaflet which showed the costing of a possible alternative route for an M3 – M4 trunk road. He said: "The leaflet was handed to each of the interested authorities and no one was able to give us a satisfactory alternative explanation. Not even the spokesman for the 23 traders who have already given their evidence at this inquiry".
"This", said Mr. Drury, "is sheer nonsense so far as actual Chamber membership is concerned and shows a serious lack of attention to detail in the committee’s preparation of its evidence on a subject of vital importance to Wokingham. It is all the more surprising in light of my cross-examination by Dr. Crowe earlier in the inquiry. Then his attempts to discredit the chamber were interrupted by the independent inspector, who obviously recognised the value of the Chamber’s statement".
Mr. Drury added: "This attempt by Dr. Crowe to discredit the views of the town is all the more deplorable because of the trust implied in public inquiry proceedings when evidence is not taken on oath".
Membership of the Chamber recently increased from 75 to 80 following the broadening of its base to include industrialists. Five industrial companies became members last week and more are expected to follow.
Describing the chamber’s comment as "nit-picking", Dr. Crowe said, "As I recall, Mr. Drury claimed at the inquiry to have in the region of 80 members. The committee has a list, an up-to-date list, and we calculate 65. When we asked at the inquiry how many were at the Chamber’s meeting Mr. Drury said 25 people were present. I asked him if there was a unanimous vote and he said: Two were against supporting the proposals. Thus 23 actively voted. This came out at the inquiry".
Dr. Crowe said that at the open meeting of the M4 Action Committee, which was attended by some Chamber members, there was no supporting evidence for the Ashridge Interchange. We are accurate in our statement. The inspector knows that Mr. Drury claims to have 80 members. At the time of the inquiry there were 210 who could be members. If the question is considered on a one man one vote basis their support of the county proposals is 23. This compares with 4,215 who have actively signed their names on a petition rejecting it".
‘People better off with link roads’:
Most people in Wokingham and Woodley would not be worse off if the opposition to the M4 link road proposals was rejected. This was said by counsel for Berkshire County Council, Mr. A. Mildon, in his summing up yesterday at the public inquiry. "On the contrary, they would be better off", he said.
Referring to the M4 Action Committee, Mr. Mildon said Dr. Crowe and others had demonstrated clearly that their concern was to keep M4 traffic out of Wokingham. "This cannot be done without ringing the town with by-passes which is impracticable in the foreseeable future. An interchange connecting with the A321 is essential to relieve the town centre of the worst effects of this traffic and to relieve the A329 between the A321 and Loddon Bridge.
"That we say will benefit most of the people of Wokingham. However, most of the traffic using the Ashridge Interchange is likely to be generated in and around Wokingham town centre". Mr. Mildon reminded the inspector of evidence given by Wokingham’s Chamber of Trade strongly opposing the view that the Ashridge Interchange should not be built. The industrial estate was to the south west of the town and without Ashridge industrial traffic would have to pass through the town.
Ashridge was not only for through traffic but for Wokingham traffic as well. This, he said, was a commonsense view by the Chamber. A good deal of time had been spent in the course of the inquiry to investigate the problems of Wokingham and Woodley. "But this is not an inquiry into their problems, but an inquiry into the traffic needs of the South East Reading area. The population of Wokingham and Woodley, although an important element in the community, are but two groups out of all the people who will be involved by the decision which is taken by the Minister as a result of this inquiry.
"One must remember all the time to consider the greatest good of the greatest number and if while doing that one can improve the lot of the people of Wokingham and Woodley, so much the better".
He said that in the council’s view their solution would achieve the main object of the exercise and at the same time bring great benefits to the people of Wokingham and Woodley in a way which the policies advocated by the objectors would not. He added that the resources of the county council had been deployed on the problem for many years.
"They have considered nine alternative routes and that consideration involved aground survey of each route and an assessment of the construction and land costs of each in turn and of the numbers of houses directly and indirectly affected."
Thanks are due to Surrey and Berkshire Media, owners of the 'Wokingham Times', for permission to reproduce these articles. Note that microfilm copies of these newspapers can be viewed at both Wokingham and Bracknell Libraries.
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