TYPICAL ways of getting to school include walking, cycling, and catching the bus or train. But not for pupils of Bohunt School.
Since September 2016, some of their students have been travelling to school in a taxi — paid for by Wokingham Borough Council.
This would still be happening now, if the coronavirus pandemic had not hit the country.
The reason for the taxis is simple. Students cannot cross their road to catch the bus — it is too dangerous.
For more than two years, residents of A327 Reading Road have been campaigning for a reduced speed limit, road safety measures and a safe crossing for local school children.
The street is checkered with a history of accidents and the most recent crash was on Friday, May 29, when a van’s door was ripped off with the impact.
The campaign for a safer road began with a series of complaints in 2018, which grew into a petition presented to Wokingham Borough Council in March last year.
But 15 months later, there have been no improvements to the road safety.
Instead, Wokingham Borough Council launched a borough-wide speed limit review.
Road resident Gareth Rees, who has spoken on behalf of the community at many council meetings, told Wokingham.Today: “More than 80% of the road residents signed the petition. But it has generally been ignored. We’re asking for a reduced speed limit from 40mph down to 30pmh — and there’s evidence of cars going 90mph along the road.”
Mr Rees added: “Residents have highlighted concerns to the council and Thames Valley Police since March 2018.
“Since this time there have been a number of accidents, one with a BT worker and another on Friday, May 29 at the dangerous junction at Park Lane.
“The last accident could have been prevented with a reduction of the speed limit before the bend into our street.”
The stretch of road in question is 500 metres long, but mostly straight — something Mr Rees said encourages speeding and “dangerous overtaking”.
And one smaller section of the road is already 30mph, towards Eversley.
Mr Rees added: “WBC commissioned an independent safe routes to school review for Finchampstead.
“This highlighted several safety concerns with Reading Road, including the walking route, pick up and drop off locations for Bohunt School and the 40mph speed limit on Reading Road. But no improvements have been made to date.”
The current spot where children are expected to cross the road to catch their bus is a 40mph bend with a busy T-junction. A location that already bears the mark of a crash, with dented bollards along the pavement.
Since September 2016, some children have been driven the two-mile journey school in taxis funded by the council for their own safety.
Zhenya Thornhill, whose son is in Year 7 at Bohunt School, hoped he would be able to cycle to school when they moved to the area.
She said: “We moved here for the school, and I would love him to be able to cycle or walk there but it’s just not safe — even crossing the road.
“In April last year, before he started we started asking what the options were. We heard about the taxis and requested one. We were sent to the school, then the council, then the school.
“And finally in August, we got a letter from the council to say he was eligible for the taxi.”
She added: “In December, we were told the taxi would be stopping, but enough parents wrote letters and they reinstated it.
“In winter it’s so dark, it wouldn’t be safe.”
Alison Smith, whose son also attends Bohunt School said one of her biggest worries is the amount of lorries driving “so much faster than the speed limit”.
She told Wokingham.Today: “The traffic on this stretch of road is horrendous. This road is used as a trade route — so much of the traffic includes lorries, skip and car transporters all weighing several tons and that would be catastrophic if involved in an accident.”
And Claire Pascall, whose daughter has been driven to Bohunt school via taxi since September, said she hopes two safe crossing points will be built on the road.
She told Wokingham.Today: “The ideal scenario would be to get the speed limit down to 30mph. Although there is no street lighting, this is a residential road.
“Then I’d hope they put two safe crossings for each school bus stop location. One at the Tally Ho pub, and the other at Horns Farm.”
She added: “It’s not safe walking to Bohunt, once you’ve passed Park lane there’s no footpath. Even down Reading Road, the number of HGVs are intimidating.
“And the curve on the road is a bit of a blind spot. It’s risky, especially if the weather is bad and the visibility poor. They come down so fast, and the traffic is relentless in rush hour. It can take me 10 to 15 minutes just to pull out of our driveway.”
Rita Carr, an elderly resident of the road, said she feels they’ve been “forgotten” when it comes to road safety.
The 72-year-old told Wokingham.Today: “In the village they’ve got a 30mph limit, and I’m glad for them, and pleased they have. But we just feel forgotten.
“We quake at the speeds of some Neanderthal boy racers, the other day they probably went past at about 60mph.
“And the noise from it all drives my husband, Les mad. We can’t open the windows at the front of the house. And our property quakes with the vibrations caused by large, over-laden lorries.”
Now, Mr Rees is calling for “some form of plan” to improve the road, and said there has been a “lack of transparency on an expected timeline” for this.
He hopes the latest crash is enough to motivate the council, and speed up the decision making process.
“A car pulled out of Park Lane and hit a BT van driving from Arborfield ripping the door off it,” he said. “The driver of the car said he looked both ways and the van came out of nowhere.
“The van driver said he was not speeding and doing 40mph when he came around the bend.”
In November last year, Mr Rees and 35 residents of the road met with Martin Heath, traffic management, parking and road safety team manager at the borough council to agree four actions.
These were to contact Thames Valley Police about reducing the speed limit, to erect poles on the straight section of the road for temporary Speed Indicator Devices (SIDs), review the proposal for a pedestrian crossing or pedestrian refuge island and review other suggestions in the petition.
Now, Mr Rees is concerned the council is “backtracking” on previous agreements.
In an email, Mr Heath said: “Whilst we shall certainly be looking to utilise interim speed management equipment, such as the SIDs devices we discussed when we met a few months ago, progress on the implementation of any engineering measures will be subject to the priority determined by safety rating assessment, as informed by collision history records.
“At the moment, the route has a generally good road safety record and we will continue to monitor for any deterioration in safety for those living on the route and those using it.”
Mr Rees challenged Mr Heath on Wednesday, May 20, asking: “Are you now saying that you are not planning or considering implementation of measures as suggested and agreed in the November meeting last year and February this year? Please can you clarify as this sounds like a backwards step on an issue which has been highlighted for nearly two and a half years.”
But clarification has not yet been given — six weeks after the question was posed.
Cllr Prue Bray, Liberal Democrat lead for children’s services said the borough council was not taking a holistic approach to the issue.
She told Wokingham.Today: “Part of the problem is that the home to school department wasn’t part of children’s services.
“At the moment, the council is conducting a home to school transport review. Now the department falls under children’s services, it enables them to look at the issues better.
“What’s infuriating is how long it takes them to act on this.
“I’m not in the administration so I can’t guarantee anything, but we need to sort this out, it’s taking too long.”
Cllr Andy Croy, leader of the Wokingham Labour group said: “As a borough we need to be putting pedestrians first, if we’re serious about more people making journeys by foot or cycle.
“There should be no road in our borough that’s too dangerous for children to cross.
“And this is a road that’s mainly being used to travel through the borough to Camberley.
“If it’s too dangerous for children to cross, it can’t be a route that encourages cycling either.”
Cllr Croy added: “The south of the borough needed a new school. But this is a transport issue that affects children across the area, such as Nine Mile Ride too.”
Cllr John Halsall, leader of Wokingham Borough Council, said: “From September 2016, the council provided transport for a number of pupils at Bohunt School who were entitled to free home to school transport under the council’s home to school transport policy, due to concerns raised about the safety of their walking route to their allocated bus stop.
“Following an initial safety assessment, some walking routes were deemed acceptable.
“The council notified the affected parents that their door to school transport would be ending and that those pupils would now need to walk to their allocated bus stop to catch the council bus service to the school.”
He added: “The parents raised a petition which was submitted to the council.
“The council commissioned an independent assessment of the safe walking route for these pupils from their homes to their allocated bus stop.
“The report was completed in April 2020 and has been shared with the petitioner.
“The council is currently reviewing the report and will contact all of the affected parents with the outcome prior to September.”