1. IT IS NOT A MASS RAPID TRANSIT (MRT)
Reading council have repeatedly attempted to mislead the public into believing that the MRT is
“a segregated bus, pedestrian and cycle route from the east to the heart of the town centre”Jo Lovelock, Letter, Reading Chronicle
This simply isn’t true. MRT’s are typically light rail totally segregated from road space and traffic – they move large volumes of people reliably and quickly.
The East Reading MRT however is half a bus lane. Once off the flyover, buses using the MRT would merge onto Napier Road – a single lane carriageway which, at peak times, is already congested with cars and lorries. The proposed bus services would share this road space and would add to, not reduce, existing traffic congestion.
At the end of Napier Road, buses would then have to feed onto one of the most congested roundabouts in Reading and during rush hour periods, buses would become stuck in rush hour traffic. Equally there would be a pinch-point for buses coming off Napier Rd onto the MRT, causing more tailbacks and traffic delays outside Tesco.
There isn’t even provision for a segregated cycle lane or pedestrian footpath along Napier Rd stretch of the scheme. The cycling and walking aspect is included simply to justify the scheme – there is already a pleasant and safe route along the Thames path, which unlike the MRT, is totally segregated from traffic (see reason 2).
This incomplete bus lane cannot be described as segregated and consequently the scheme cannot be considered to be either rapid or reliable. The scheme is not fit for purpose and the council are misleading the public in order to promote through a scheme that does not fulfill its own criteria.
2. VASTERN ROAD ROUNDABOUT WILL BE MADE EVEN MORE DANGEROUS BECAUSE OF THE MRT
Vastern road roundabout is already an accident black spot with multiple serious collisions over the last 5 years. Cyclists are particularly vulnerable and official records show 19 cyclist casualties in three years. As the Reading Cycle Campaign say these figures should be generating urgent action by Reading Borough Council, but instead they are pushing the £31m East Reading MRT scheme, which will only make things worse:
1. Phase 2 of the MRT will shave the radius between Napier Road and the south bound arm of the roundabout beneath the railway bridge forcing space for yet another bus lane.
2. There is no provision for a segregated cycle lane on Napier Rd. By Peter Brett’s own modelling more cyclists, pedestrians and buses who will come off the MRT flyover, they will then merge into a shared lane on Napier Road, before hitting Vastern roundabout, adding to an already congested and dangerous area. Despite this obvious risk no investigation has been completed into the impact the MRT will have on casualty numbers.
3. LACK OF EXCHANGE LAND AND CONTRAVENTION OF THE NATIONAL PLANNING POLICY FRAMEWORK.
Even if the council did follow due process, the scheme would mean the loss of public amenity space with no exchange land being offered.
The loss of open space resulting from the proposed development will not be replaced by
“equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality in a suitable location”
as required by the National Planning Policy Framework.
The application contravenes the Reading Borough Council’s own Sites and Detailed Policies Document which states that:
[trees are] important in maintaining and enhancing biodiversity, in absorbing carbon and in helping to adapt to climate change.”
The loss of at least 766 trees – with only 77 onsite replacements – will not only be devastating to plant and animal life but will have a detrimental impact on air quality.
5. INACCURATE AND OUT OF DATE ASSESSMENT OF ALTERNATIVES ALONG THE EASTERN CORRIDOR.
The last data analysing traffic flow on London Road was in 2015 and showed falling numbers of traffic due to changing work and shopping trends. Meanwhile digital signalling on the railway line means that the council’s assertion that the corridor is at capacity is untrue.
There are cheaper, non environmentally destructive and more cost-efficient alternatives which should be considered and implemented.
What analysis the council has carried out states that the MRT will actually INCREASE traffic on London Road.
7. CONTRAVENTION OF LOCAL AND NATIONAL PLANNING POLICY REGARDING GREEN SPACE.
The development would destroy important green open space contrary to national and local policy. Reading Core Strategy Policy CS37 (pg 86) says:
“Planning permission will not be granted for any development that would detract from the character or appearance of areas designated as a Major Landscape Feature. The designated areas are: The Thames Valley; The Kennet and Holy Brook Meadows;”
8. NEGATIVE IMPACT ON PUBLIC MENTAL HEALTH.
The development will adversely affect the physical and mental health of local people. Some will stop using the affected area, some will make less use of it, and those who continue to use it will enjoy less benefit. The application fails to assess the mental and physical health implications of the loss of green space.
9. CONTRAVENTION OF LOCAL PLANNING POLICY REGARDING BIODIVERSITY AND WILDLIFE HABITAT.
The Environment Agency states the scheme contravenes the following policies:
- CS8: Waterspaces (pg 39),
- CS36: Biodiversity and Geology (pg 84),
- EN11: Waterspaces (pg 47),
- EN12: Biodiversity and the Green Network (pg 48).
- CP7 – Biodiversity (pg 45),
- CC03: Green Infrastructure, Trees and Landscaping (pg 9),
- TB21: Landscape Character (pg 57) &
- TB23: Biodiversity and Development (pg 60).
10. POOR VALUE FOR MONEY AT A TIME WHEN THERE IS NO MONEY.
The stated aims of the scheme are to improve traffic flow and air quality in East Reading. The scheme will cost upwards of £31.5 million* with £4.9 million coming out of local government funds. And what return do we get for this? The council’s own documentation states that the scheme would have a “negligible” and “not significant” impact on congestion and air quality, whilst as stated in point 4, the net loss of 689 trees will have a detrimental impact on air quality.
The council should be considering progressive, cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly alternatives such as the low emission zone proposed by Reading Friends of The Earth which would pay off its £400k price tag within a year and would reduce congestion by up to 30%.
*£31.5 million doesn’t include the planning costs. We have submitted a FOI request to find out the amount spent so far, and we expect it it to be a large sum for the three rounds of plans and consultation completed to date.