"The Ashridge Interchange Movement ('AIM') is a non-party
organisation that exists to promote the
History - Building the A329(M) and afterwards
Berkshire County Council Minutes:
Wokingham Times Articles, 1968-9, by subject:
Wokingham Times Articles, 1971-5, by subject:
The A329(M) opens in stages - and the Ashridge Interchange is proposed once again
This brief summary takes key dates during construction and opening of the four junctions on the A329(M), quoting from all relevant articles from the 'Wokingham Times' from 1971 to 1975, some of them written by reporter Quentin Falk, who later became known as a distinguished film critic. Thanks are due to Surrey and Berkshire Media, owners of the 'Wokingham Times', for permission to reproduce these articles. If time permits, further articles will be transcribed in an effort to give a picture of the changing mood in these times.
The M4 from Maidenhead westwards through Berkshire was built during 1970 and 1971, while Phase 1 of the A329(M) covering the section north of the M4 and down to the Twyford Road at Ashridge was planned to take another year or so. Local residents were in for a shock when what they thought was a temporary closure of the B3034 Forest Road in Hurst was actually permanent.
On 23rd December 1971, a brief news item reported ‘M4 opened yesterday’ as follows:
The final stage of the motorway linking London with Bristol and South Wales was opened yesterday. But until the interchange at Winnersh is opened, motorists from Bracknell will have to join the motorway at the Holyport interchange near Maidenhead, and Wokingham drivers will have to travel to the intersection at Shinfield.
[Note: Junction 10 was originally and confusingly referred-to as the 'Winnersh interchange', because it is partially located in the parish of Winnersh]
Late in 1972, tragedy occurred when a bridge span over the River Loddon collapsed when concrete was being poured, and the newspaper reported in detail on 26th October.
In September 1972, Wokingham's one-way system was extended to include Wellington Road and Station Road, but this experiment was abandoned in November, as reported in Berkshire County Council committee minutes. That Autumn, Berkshire County Council moved to open a temporary link to the A321 on Twyford Road at Ashridge, on road safety grounds, thanks to Reading Road's reputation as 'Murder Mile'.
The Wokingham Society and others were unaware of the road safety statistics that justified opening the temporary link, and in late January 1973 attempted to stop it from being opened until Phase 2 was completed to Amen Corner. However, the link did open, on January 30th, along with the junction at Winnersh leading to the Loddon Bridge Roundabout on the Reading Road.
A week after the opening, the Road Research Laboratory asked volunteers to help in a survey of users of the M4 and the A4. Despite the smooth opening of the temporary A321 junction, Residents' Associations again voiced their concerns. The local MP, Bill van Straubenzee, reassured his constituents that construction of Phase 2 of the A329(M) would start in August, and he explained why he didn't support the last-ditch attempt to delay opening of the temporary link as follows:
"I am bound to say that from personal observation, questioning a considerable number of people, and reading the local Press it seems to me that the fears and anxieties of those who were originally opposed to the opening of the link road have not been justified. Furthermore, I do have to remember that a very large number of my constituents positively want to reach the M4 at the earliest convenient opportunity, and many of them bought their houses in and around Wokingham on that assumption."
By May, Bell Foundry Lane, which had not been built for heavy motor traffic, was beginning to deteriorate, and Wokingham Borough Council proposed closing it to through traffic. After protests, they proposed making it one-way - until it was pointed out that the two farms on the lane would then be forced to send their tractors, combine harvesters and muck-spreaders along Peach Street, so it remained two-way. Eventually, a few days before the A329(M) was finally opened to Amen Corner and the temporary A321 junction was removed, Bell Foundry Lane was closed to all traffic so that it could be rebuilt.
From mid-July to late August 1973, a Public Inquiry into the proposed Woosehill development was held, provoking strong feelings. The Inspector heard appeals from the Consortium (which included the County Council) and three other developers who planned exits from the estate onto Bearwood and Barkham Roads. At this Inquiry, the logic for a single exit from the development was revealed by a chartered surveyor acting for the County Council as follows: 'Mr. Foreman said he was against the proposals by D. J. Hands, P. H. Smith and Watson “because they would increase the loading on King Street Lane and the traffic signals at Winnersh cross-roads. Barkham Road is already at its maximum capacity, so that any more traffic would overload it possibly by 50 per cent”.' The clerk for Winnersh Parish Council amplified this point, saying, 'From every count, Barkham Road, leading as it does to the overloaded level crossing at the station, seems to be ruled out'.
As the Woosehill Public Inquiry closed, the paper carried several letters on the subject of the A329(M). One, from Mrs. Macphail of the local branch of the C.P.R.E., repeated the scare that the Ashridge Interchange was the start of a dual-carriageway link through the town to the Finchampstead Road and through Finchampstead Ridges to join the M3. Another was from Mr. Feather of Woosehill Lane, who was in favour of making the Interchange permanent. He was backed up by another resident who lived off Wellington Road, who stated:
"Closing the present access will entail substantial detours for a large proportion of local residents. From the centre of Wokingham a motorist heading for London will have to make a large zigzag east to Amen Corner and then back again to the motorway. This will add four to five miles to a single journey, up to ten to a return one. Even on the modest basis of 1,000 vehicles per weekday, this amounts to some three million wasted miles per annum!"
Arguments for and against keeping the Ashridge Interchange rumbled on for many months. Several people, including the Wokingham Times' own reporter Frank Emery, made the point that the massive detours would add many miles and many minutes to the average journey, though the Wokingham Society estimated the extra time as only 'five minutes'. The local County Councillor Ken Johnson was certain that the impending Woosehill Inquiry report would automatically mean that Ashridge would be required in some form or another. The local population was gradually becoming more reliant on their cars as the Alder Valley bus service became increasingly erratic.
Meanwhile, the much-delayed remainder of Phase 1 of the A329(M) to Sutton's Seeds roundabout on the A4, was opened on Valentine's Day 1974, but for the first few weeks only one carriageway of the viaduct over the River Loddon was available while construction of the other was completed.
In April 1974, the Government Inspector who held the inquiry into the Woosehill development finally gave approval. He regarded the one main access from the site is referred to as being "perhaps revolutionary in concept", but he didn't propose an alternative. There was an outcry by residents' associations and the C.P.R.E. predicting massive traffic jams, and Wokingham's County Councillor K. W. Johnson said:
"In my opinion, the decision also makes the provision of a permanent link onto the A329M inevitable, probably at or near the previously-proposed site of the Ashridge Interchange, with consequent re-organisation of the adjacent local roads to feed into the IDR. Without such provisions the situation in Wokingham will be intolerable long before the development is complete".
Construction of Phase 2 of the A329(M) progressed smoothly, and by the start of November 1974, the newspaper announced that the road was to be opened 6 weeks early, which it did, on 21st November. The newspaper celebrated with an advertising feature. Within weeks, traffic on the A329 east of Amen Corner had increased by 50%. (The original intention had been to continue the A329(M) south-east towards the M3 and M25 under the designation 'M31', but this was later scaled down to become the dual carriageway south of the railway line toward the Twin Bridges junction).
By Spring 1975, the County Council published its plan for the Wokingham Inner Distribution Road, aiming to 'pedestrianise' Peach Street - but also to open the Ashridge Interchange. According to the Wokingham Times of 15th March:
"They justified the re-introduction of the Ashridge scheme by saying that it would attract traffic on to the motorway and would relieve the presently overloaded A329. East/west through traffic will use the A329(M), they say"
and it quoted the assistant county surveyor as follows:
"We had this dreadful problem of a developed area with railway lines cutting across and we had to try to find a road pattern that would not obliterate the town. The first thing was to get through to the public is that the A321 was not being used as a link road between the M3 and the M4. We were also very concerned about the poor access to Wokingham from the north/south direction across the railway line, where there are two low bridges and a level crossing. This is patently not satisfactory. But our most important concern was traffic in the town centre. Everyone is dissatisfied with Peach Street as it stands at the moment."
Thus, it appears that the A329 Reading Road and London Road were already "overloaded" in 1975, despite the A329(M).
The newspaper's editor predicted "it will start an unholy war between the planners and local amenity societies, to name but a few, and disturb the peace as well as destroying the homes of quite a number of people."
The Chamber of Trade didn't want a pedestrian-only town centre, while a resident of Glebelands Road said: "Although the closure of the access has added 20 minutes a day in travelling time for me – at a cost per annum of £40 in running costs and a loss of 1½ per cent of my life – I am more than prepared to accept this sacrifice to be free from the rumble of heavy traffic at all hours, and the worry of accidents to my children". (He didn't take account of the disturbance he would cause along a much longer stretch of Rectory Road, Wiltshire Road and London Road on his way to the Coppid Beech roundabout.)
In a letter on 10th April, a resident of Woosehill Lane put a counter-argument: "It is interesting to consider how Winnersh residents might feel when they have two motorways cutting through their area and it is suggested that the heavy traffic along the Reading Road should be perpetuated. After all, the A329(M) was described as a "relief road", presumably to Winnersh also."
He was in favour of the Ashridge Interchange: "With its provision, traffic from south and west Wokingham, including the new Woosehill development, would be able to use the A329(M) to reach the M4 or Reading without being a nuisance and danger to residents along Reading Road or shoppers at Winnersh." (In 1975, the Sainsbury's superstore was still 20 years off).
In May, Wokingham District Council reacted with a five-point plan, one of them being: "Any dual carriageway link to Glebelands Road should be considered part of a link to the A329(M) and phased accordingly." [NOTE: In our view, any 21st-Century link should be directly to the Reading Road - and should avoid feeding traffic directly into the town centre.]
In June, the County Council's Surveyor pointed out that: "In addition to reducing traffic on the A329 in Wokingham, an A321/A329(M) link would considerably reduce traffic on Forest Road to the benefit of rural communities in the area", and the threat of through traffic in residential Emmbrook and West Wokingham. "If problems of this type develop, traffic regulations could be introduced to restrict such movement." [Note: We would want the link, preferably in tunnel, to go direct to the Reading Road avoiding residential areas as much as possible.]
Although the County Council's Environment Committee voted 10-7 in favour of the full scheme, the Wokingham Society and others continued to voice opposition to the Ashridge Interchange but support for an IDR.
Many houses were later demolished to make way for the IDR, but the legacy for the 21st Century is that Wokingham now has a string of car parks to the south of Peach Street and Denmark Street, but no IDR and no fully-effective by-pass for either Wokingham or Winnersh. In between, Woosehill's traffic has nowhere to go except along the Reading Road.
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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