HAD IT gone ahead, Wokingham Borough Council would have been accused of signing away rights to determine where new roads and transport links would go.
And the plans include an aspiration to build an unspecified link between the M4 and M3 going through Shinfield and Swallowfield. No further details have been made available at this stage, meaning information about the proposal is vague, but it would turn the borough into “an enormous rat run” a councillor has warned.
It comes as Wokingham Borough Council revealed plans to build 15,000 homes in a new eco-market town in nearby Grazeley.
It is possible that the A33 could be upgraded at this point into a motorway, similar to the A329(M) and then extended into Basingstoke. It would mean building on country land.
Last Thursday evening, an Individual Member Decisions meeting had been scheduled at the Shute End offices of the council. In it, a member of the council’s Executive committee would have been expected to approve the Transport for the South East (TfSE) Transport Strategy consultation documents.
This would have given powers to TfSE that would include being consulted on new rail franchises before the tendering process is launched, having a “strong, formal role” in rail investment, roads investment “over and above which is available to individual constituent authorities”.
It would include “seeing the power … to construct, reconstruct, alter, improve or maintain roads” that would “overcome the need for complex ‘back-to-back’ legal and funding agreements between neighbouring authorities”.
And TfSE would have powers to create “regionally significant road schemes that cross constituent authority boundaries that otherwise might not be progressed”.
With public transport, TfSE would have powers to appoint bus franchises and smart ticketing.
However, it would not seek to take on any consultation function that a local authority such as Wokingham Borough Council would run, or be responsible for routine maintenance of local roads.
The Transport for the South East board comprises representatives from the public and private sectors including local authorities, business groups, protected landscapes and national delivery partners. It is chaired by Cllr Keith Glazier, leader of East Sussex County Council, and his deputy is Reading Borough Council’s deputy leader, Cllr Tony Page, who championed the single track bus lane bridge over the historic Kennetmouth/River Thames, which Wokingham Borough Council’s planning committee twice rejected. Cllr Page was also one of the leading voices behind a £14 million plan to turn Reading’s IDR into a one-way system in 2006.
There are no representatives from Wokingham on the board, but it does feature councillors from across the south, including Kent, Hampshire, Success and the Isle of Wight.
A consultation was held last autumn, but it was not widely publicised. It closed last Friday. Roadshow events were held in Reading, Woking, Canterbury, Brighton and Southampton. TfSE said that more than 300 people attended one of the events – an average of just 60 people per venue.
At the time, Cllr Keith Glazier, chair of Transport for the South East, said: “Balancing the needs of the economy and the environment is the single biggest challenge we face. But, if we get it right, the prize is huge.
“Our strategy sets out a future for the South East that is better for people, better for business and better for the planet.
“We’ll more than double the South East’s economy, creating an additional 500,000 jobs, boosting quality of life and access to opportunities for everyone and cutting the region’s carbon emissions to net-zero.
“To make this happen, we need to work together as one region.”
Documents published by Wokingham Borough Council in response to the consultation reveal that had it signed them last week, it would broadly support the policies: “Wokingham Borough Council strongly agrees with the need for South East to become less dependent on London and develop its own successful economic hubs, as it will not only provide more, better jobs for our residents,” it notes.
WBC’s documents also indicate qualified support for the link between the M3 and M4: “Wokingham Borough Council strongly supports the need to improve bottlenecks on orbital links particularly around the M3/M4 link, to alleviate congestion and improve capacity on our road networks, for instance improvements to the A329(M)”.
“Wokingham Borough Council strongly supports the need for improved road and railway links through increased investment,” it adds.
And it also calls for a third bridge over the River Thames, something not mentioned in the TfSE report.
However, the meeting was cancelled.
Cllr John Halsall, leader of Wokingham Borough Council, expressed concerns over the consultation and the lack of time that councillors had had to examine the documents: they were notified of the consultation by email sent out on December 19 – a week after the General Election and days before the Christmas break.
He said: “The IEMD for the Transport for the South East Transport Strategy was delayed as the executive member was called away on business.
“Other members did not have sufficient time to familiarise themselves with the strategy for the council to be able to respond within the required timescales.
“The strategy sets out a vision for the future transport network in the South East. All ideas in the strategy, if they are to move forward, would require significant research on viability, sustainability and environmental impact and would include extensive consultation.”
In a letter to The Wokingham Paper this week (see page 18), independent councillor for Arborfield, Cllr Gary Cowan, also expressed his concern: “Wokingham Borough Council failed to engage residents in the South East Transport Strategy Consultation which is another serious threat to our community. Simply put the consultation favours transport improvements linked to employment and both are linked to even more houses.”
Wokingham Liberal Democrat spokesperson for highways and transport, Cllr Paul Fishwick, said: “I have a meeting with council officers today (Thursday) and the strategy is one of the items on the agenda.”
Labour group leader on Wokingham Borough Council, Cllr Andy Croy, felt that action needed to be taken now to avoid any link road being built between the M4 and M3.
“That’s how these plans work,” he said. “It starts with a vague plan that sets the snowball rolling, the next version goes further and the logic will be that it was on the last plan. It is introduced in incremental amounts.
“It’s important to stamp it out at this stage. Vague plans at the early stages cause all the damage.”
He added: “Building a link road from the M4 to the M3 will just increase traffic and turn the borough into an enormous rat run. This plan must take into account that building more roads will fuel demand for more houses.
“I’m not surprised that the Tories didn’t want to sign up (to the TfSE). It means signing up to more roads, new motorways and a third runway. It will contribute to the urbanisation of our borough. It will be electorally disastrous.
“Getting people out of cars and on to public transport is the only proven way of tackling congestion and reducing carbon emissions.”
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