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History - Woosehill Inspector's Report four decades on
Berkshire County Council Minutes:
Wokingham Times Articles, 1968-9, by subject:
Wokingham Times Articles, 1971-5, by subject:
The Woosehill Planning Inspector's recommendations had been published in late March 1974. What is the situation four decades on? How do his two main predictions fit with current traffic flows?
1. Ashridge Interchange
One junction that rarely seems to cause its own congestion is the Woosehill Roundabout. However, things are different at other points on the Reading and London Roads. As noted earlier, the Inspector foresaw problems concerning access to the M4: "With the predominantly east-west axis of vehicular flows, due to the location of major employment centres, I feel that the situation on A329 could become increasingly acute after A329(M) is completed to Amen Corner, particularly as it is proposed to close the link with A321 to the north of the town. It would mean a large proportion of locally generated traffic would have to travel a fair distance to one end or the other of the A329(M) - and mostly along A329 - in order to reach the M4 motorway."
In recent years, we have seen both the Reading Road through Winnersh and the London Road towards Coppid Beech struggling to cope traffic at most times during the day, and particularly at peak times.
The Inspector had made a major assumption about the plan: "As the development would be phased over 8 years this would provide time in which to rectify such defects including improvements to the local road pattern." He added later: "I am sure that the county council's transportation studies, in conjunction with the Planning Area 8 Study, would examine this problem and the need to accelerate the provision of an inner distributor road so that the town centre could be pedestrianised as early as possible. In this connection, I inspected the town centre on a Saturday morning and, although it was crowded, I found it to be no worse than many other towns of comparable size and better than some." Unfortunately, since then the local councils have forgotten about this key assumption - and perhaps the Inspector should have seen the town centre during morning and evening peak flows rather than on a Saturday morning.
Current plans for the North Wokingham housing development are to create a junction between the Distributor Road and the A329 Reading Road just south of the M4 bridge, seen on a quiet day in this view. It can already take half an hour in the peaks to get from Wokingham to Winnersh Crossroads.
At the northern portal of the bridge will be another junction for the planned Winnersh by-pass, with all of the traffic controls that will be required. There's already an air quality monitoring site at this point, thanks to the pollution both from the M4 and from the traffic congestion on the A329. Is the bridge wide enough to cope with the demands of two major junctions at either end, or will there be permanent gridlock?
Regarding traffic east of Wokingham, there are similar problems. Distributor roads from both the South Wokingham and North Wokingham housing developments are to funnel traffic onto the A329 London Road before it meets the already-congested Coppid Beech roundabout, which is currently being widened in an attempt to cope with the extra traffic.
Our proposal for a new link road, the 'Emmbrook Way', was based on firm commitments made by Wokingham Borough Council Executive members on 2nd June 2011. Answer after answer to public questions about The Emmbrook School made clear the Council's intention to close the school on the grounds that it was vulnerable to flooding, and that it was not fit for purpose without large sums being spent on it. This selection of quotes shows that the intention was to concentrate on a large new school in the Arborfield Garrison area (the full document can be downloaded here):
Despite all of these statements, the Council then abandoned plans
for the large school
near Arborfield and spent millions on The Emmbrook School.
However, circumstances changed again, and a large school
near Arborfield was finally approved in March 2015.
Therefore, is The Emmbrook School safe from closure in the medium
term - and if not, can the land be used to provide the least
damaging road link from Matthewsgreen to the Reading Road?
2. Station Link Road
The Inspector was very dismissive about the Station Link Road, and recommended: "Particularly it would be wrong to inflict an unrestricted extra volume of traffic on to Barkham Road in view of the level crossing difficulties, which have no foreseeable solution, and the fact that the road is already operating at about its theoretical capacity".
The Inspector was happy for the Woosehill development to rely on
a single spine road that linked to the A329 Reading Road but
without an exit onto the Barkham Road. We've suffered ever
since, because there's no alternative route from Barkham Road
to Reading Road in Wokingham except via the Station Level Crossing
without a very wide detour via Bearwood Road and Winnersh.
Work started on rebuilding Wokingham Station in 2012, and the new building was first in use in October 2013, several months before the official opening ceremony. The Station Link Road has taken far longer to complete, and has caused traffic congestion for many months, with the Station Road and Wellington Road being closed for three months while the complex traffic controls have been put in place.
A copy of a map showing the original plan for the Station Link Road
has survived thanks to former County Councillor Ken Johnson,
and is shown below (click on the image for a higher resolution copy).
At the time the map was drawn, the station still had goods sidings on both sides of the through tracks but they were removed soon afterwards. The 1969 plan was for a dual carriageway link road with apparently little provision for car parking, but since then the demand for car-park spaces has grown steadily. The 420-space car park had been known to fill completely on a week-day, even before construction started on the new station building and link road. Now that the parking areas have been split into two, we now have a dangerous situation whereby commuters parking opposite the station building have to cross an A-road to get to their train in a hurry; the two flows don't mix.
The Woosehill Inspector was not alone in condemning the combination of a Station Link Road plus the Station Level Crossing. In 1994, the new 'Wokingham Town Centre Management Initiative' commissioned a report from Colin Buchanan and Partners on how to improve the town centre, and the report was reviewed in the Wokingham Times on 1st September 1994, as shown on the right (click on the image to get a larger-scale version).
The article headed 'Ban vehicles from town centre and pedestrianise Market Place' contained this quote: "Berkshire County Council's plan to build the Wellington Road / Reading Road link is criticised for doing nothing to address the town's traffic problems and does little to solve environmental issues".
Unfortunately, the report on which this article was based has been lost - because there is no longer a Town Centre Management Initiative. Instead, we have a Wokingham Town Centre Regeneration plan that retains through traffic in the town centre and builds on much of the only remaining piece of public open space at Elms Field - and is still reliant on the Station Link Road.
The complex system of traffic lights at the level crossing is designed to get the traffic waiting to cross the railway moving as soon as the barriers are opened. However, it assumes that all of the traffic flows follow a smooth pattern - but no work had been carried out to see whether the train traffic flows are uniform or not. On 1st June 2011, Steve Bacon spent the morning and evening peak periods (between 6:45 a.m. and 10 a.m., and between 4 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.) recording the 'barrier down times', and noted that these down-times are anything but uniform, as shown below. The report is available as a PDF file.
On any given day, there are periods when the barriers are down for 7 minutes or more. Both South West Trains and First Great Western are planning additional services, which will increase the frequency of extended down-times:
The Station Link Road now looks like a short-term fix which ignores both rail traffic growth and road traffic congestion from new housing sites, and which had been condemned by experts many years ago as unsuitable.
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