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Steve Bacon says "Replace the Station Level Crossing once and for all"

April 15, 2011 7:00 AM

The news that BAA has abandoned its Airtrack plan for a Reading - Wokingham - Heathrow rail link should be a wake-up call to Wokingham Borough Council (WBC), says Steve Bacon, candidate for Barkham Ward. The reason given is that there are too many level crossings on the route and not enough funds to replace them all. If the Airtrack plan is later resurrected, then WBC will have permanently prevented the Station Level Crossing from being replaced, thanks to its short-sighted Station Link Road scheme. "This is madness", he adds.

Steve says that it's good news the Government has provided funds to remodel the Station. However, they should be put to better use than an ineffective Link Road that keeps the level crossing in place, with a complex traffic light system and one-way systems that will frustrate motorists. It's common knowledge that the barriers regularly stay down for more than 5 minutes, thus building-up traffic queues on Station Road back to Broad Street, paralyzing the town.

The Link Road is planned to pass from Wellington Road to Reading Road near St. Paul's Church, past the station. However, it will mean the loss of many of the 400+ station car-park spaces, and will mean that there is no room to replace the station buildings at their current location. They will have to be moved further up the platforms in the Reading direction. "This won't help rail commuters", says Steve.

WBC has admitted that the level crossing can be replaced by a nearby bridge, but at a cost. Steve says that the benefits of closing the level crossing permanently far outweigh the extra costs. There's room on the Station Industrial Estate in Oxford Road to create an incline, then a bridge over the railway, emerging at the same point in Reading Road as the planned Link Road. The company created to redevelop the town centre, Wokingham Enterprises Ltd. (WEL), could be used to finance and redevelop the industrial estate, and then sell it on. "Why use such a key site for light industry when it could be the location for an hotel or flats?" asks Steve. "Wokingham already has an industrial area in Molly Millar's Lane".

Steve points out that the Garrison SDL will generate thousands of extra peak-hour traffic movements to Wokingham, and the only way there is along Barkham Road and the level crossing. He's looked into the history of an earlier housing development at Woosehill, where the Woosehill Planning Inspector's Report ruled in 1974 that there should be no exit from Woosehill onto Barkham Road, which he said was already at capacity because of the level crossing (click to download the document). The Inspector also ruled that an appeal for 122 houses on Folly Court should be refused, again because Barkham Road couldn't take the extra traffic thanks to the level crossing. He recommended that an institution such as the GDBA should take it over instead. However, the Guide Dog centre has now closed, and in recent weeks we have heard that Folly Court will now be replaced by 66 houses. Folly indeed.

Steve, a former Chairman of the Planning Committee on the council, says: "If anyone reads the Inspector's conclusions, they would be in no doubt that he would have wanted this restriction removed whenever possible". The fact that the Council has allowed development after development without doing so is bordering on negligence. "Now is the time to plan to replace the level crossing with a bridge, before the deluge of traffic from the Garrison site hits Barkham", says Steve.

THEY SAID IT COULDN'T BE DONE (1):

For many years, Steve had asked Berkshire County Council to remove the serious bottleneck at Arborfield Cross with a proper junction, but the County Council insisted that it was impossible to replace the mini-roundabouts that resulted in long traffic jams through the village.

In 1995, Steve took a 24-hour video traffic census at the junction, and proved that there was a major traffic flow from Eversley Road towards Winnersh and the M4.

When funds were made available by the Penrose Park development, the roundabout was finally completed.

"It works so well that there are rarely long tail-backs on the Eversley Road", said Steve.

THEY SAID IT COULDN'T BE DONE (2):

When Steve first moved to the area in 1974, he regularly used the Ashridge Interchange junction on the A329(M) just south of the M4. However, when the A329(M) was finally extended to Coppid Beech, he couldn't understand why this useful junction was removed. He later found out that there was a mass public protest driven by fear and uncertainty in the late 1960s. This made the Ashridge Interchange a taboo subject, despite the massive savings in mileage that it would achieve against the long detours via Winnersh or Coppid Beech to get from the town centre to the M4. "The lack of an interchange at Ashridge means that Reading Road and London Road are clogged with rush-hour traffic that shouldn't be there", argues Steve.

When the Core Strategy was first formulated in 2005 , no mention was made of the Ashridge Interchange. Instead, there was to be a duplicate Northern Distributor Road, taking up valuable green space. Steve set up the 'Ashridge Interchange Movement' with local road campaigner Les Roland, and funded a web-site to document the history of the local road network and the advantages of Ashridge.

"Why travel more than 5 miles from Shute End to the M4 when it could take less than 2 miles?" he asks. The massive Woosehill development should have been connected to Ashridge, but the original plans got lost in time. "Instead, Woosehill residents all have to use the Reading Road via heavily-congested Winnersh to reach the motorway", he points out.

The campaign has been a success, because WBC is now including the Ashridge Interchange as a possible solution for the North Wokingham SDL. In addition, the planned move of Emmbrook School to Finchampstead creates an opportunity to complete a link from the Reading Road to Ashridge without badly affecting Emmbrook residents.

STEVE'S LINKS WITH BARKHAM:

Steve has lived in the area for nearly 37 years, but with a gap of 2 years in Stuttgart, Germany. On his return, he rented a house on Elizabeth Park for 6 months until his house became vacant again. He knew the roads of Elizabeth Park well, having spent some years in the 1990s driving the Playbus to Junipers.

Steve had been a Governor of Arborfield, Newland and Barkham C.E. Junior School for nearly 20 years, representing the Church. For much of that time, he was also co-editor of the monthly "Talking Point" newsletter delivered to all houses in Barkham.

He is webmaster of Arborfield Local History Society, and has documented many events in Barkham on the web-site including the plans for the Basingstoke to Wokingham Railway. He found local newspaper reports from 1895 that recorded local people's frustration with the station level crossing, and their hopes that a new railway would mean the level crossing's removal. "Over a hundred years later, and we're still waiting", Steve points out.