East Reading MRT Revised Plans

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The proposed bus, cycle and pedestrian link from Tesco on Napier Road to Thames Valley Park was a prominent issue in the local elections, particularly in its immediate neighbourhoods in East Reading.  Intriguingly, a whole series of revisions to the plans were published the day after the polls closed.  One might instinctively assume this must be cynical timing to prevent “bad news” being released to voters before the election, but I think it is probably more accurately explained by the “purdah” rules that prevent policy announcements in the run up to elections.  In this case, I think the changes would have been positively received by those closest to this issue, and in my view, make the case for this new infrastructure even more compelling.  

Here are the main changes, with quotes from the application documentation:

  • Narrowing of the road by 1m

The viaduct has been narrowed by 1m for a short section to the east of the River Kennet, where the viaduct is at its closest point to the towpath and River Thames to the north. This in turn reduces the total width of the proposed footway and cycleway for a short section from 5m to 4m.

The width of the main public transport carriageway remains unchanged. The viaduct has been narrowed along this section in order to position the structure further away from the river edge and towpath, and to thereby reduce potential amenity impacts on users of the towpath and river.

  • At the Tesco end, the road is positioned closer to the railway line

The route alignment to the south of Tesco and west of the River Kennet has been amended as a result of the proposed 132kV SSE cable underground diversion and the removal of overhead pylons. This will allow the route alignment to move further south away from Tesco and The Coal woodland, thereby reducing potential impacts upon local biodiversity and trees.

  • Tesco to lose a few parking spaces

A number of replacement car parking spaces, which were originally proposed to aid compensation for those lost within the Tesco car park (July 2017 Submission), have been removed. This comprises the loss of 30 spaces, a further 19 spaces compared to the July 2017 Submission, thereby representing a very minor reduction in the overall number of parking spaces within the car park. Site observations and a meeting with Tesco confirmed that their car park was not fully utilised.

  • Trees preserved as a result of the above

824 sqm of semi-natural habitat previously proposed for replacement car parking in July 2017 Submission will be retained and protected within The Coal, Kennetmouth and Kings Meadow East LWS. An additional 28 trees will also be retained. As such, the amended scheme now results in the total loss of 58 trees and planting of 77 new trees.

  • Change of design of the ramp up to the bridge

The viaduct will be constructed with a central single-column design, instead of the originally submitted two-column design in the July 2017 Submission, along the length of the viaduct east of the River Kennet. The concrete columns will flare out to support steel beams which have in turn been moved further under the viaduct to enhance the sense of openness.

The proposed single columns are considered to be more elegant and reduce the footprint, compared to the two-column design in the July 2017 Submission, as well as create a sense of increased openness for towpath users. This design also facilitates use of a narrower pilecap which allows sufficient space for the proposed 132kV SSE cable underground diversion.

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Originally proposed outline in light blue
  • Lighting changes

The proposed lighting on the viaduct has been amended from the high-level column lighting in the July 2017 Submission to continuous low-level LED linear lighting within the upper rail of the northern parapet on the viaduct and bridge, facing southwards (i.e. away from the River Thames) to light the pedestrian / cycle way only.

This will reduce potential landscape and visual impacts of the structure (compared to the submitted design) and provide adequate lighting levels to illuminate the proposed footway/cycleway and minimise light spill from the structure on to surrounding habitat.

  • Prominent Willow Tree now to remain

The July 2017 Submission has been amended to include retention of the Willow tree east of the Kennet Mouth (T88). This amendment is facilitated by proposed amendments to the column design referred to above.

  • New mooring platforms and planting

Three timber mooring platforms are proposed as part of the riverbank enhancements (alongside the marginal shelf landscaping improvements). These would be new river elements which will provide additional short-stay mooring facilities, which are lacking in the area.

The mooring platforms and the new riverbank edge would help to improve the interface of the site with the River Thames and enhance people’s experience of the edge of the River Thames in this location.

  • Mosaic retained

The existing mosaic will be carefully lifted, repaired and reinstalled into a new area, which is more visible to passers-by.

New seating would be provided at the relocated mosaic and near to the location of the timber mooring platforms, where enhanced views of the river may be enjoyed.

You can view the planning documents at the latter end of the list of documents on the application: http://planning.reading.gov.uk/fastweb_PL/detail.asp?AltRef=171108

My own analysis of these changes is that they collectively amount to a significant change.  The plans were originally submitted last July.  Planning can be a bit of a game, and sometimes applicants return with pre-meditated amendments to appease opposition with a “compromise” they always wanted.  I don’t think that’s the case here.  The plans were submitted nearly a year ago – a charade could have been played out much quicker.  We have to consider the possibility of a legitimate process where campaign groups and official bodies have raised concerns leading to improvements to the plans!

The council’s press release ascribes the amendments to “extensive consultation with statutory consultees and feedback received through the statutory planning process.”  I think that means, in non-statutory terms, that the locals kicked up a proper fuss and we’ve gone away and tried harder.  Whether the campaigners feel this new plan meets their needs is up to them, but I think they’ve been successful in so far as that we’ve seen so many alterations.

Clearly, a significant development is that the overhead power lines and pylons will be replaced with underground cables.  Ironically, the removal of the unsightly wiring will come just a couple of years after Network Rail have installed their own unsightly overhead lines just a few yards away.  But it does free up the crucial space to retain trees. With so many parties involved: the power companies, Network Rail, two councils, the environment agency… I can only imagine how complicated pulling together a scheme like this must be.  Hopefully, they’re almost there, because Reading needs some serious investment in infrastructure.

The other evening I was driving (evil me, I know) around Sutton’s roundabout, and I saw a Thames Valley Park shuttle stuck stationary on the junction just queuing for the privilege of inching down London Road.  The bus was full with standing passengers – a really poor commuting experience.  Without a fast public transport link, it must raise questions about the sustainability of Thames Valley Park (TVP) – home of Microsoft and Oracle – as a blue chip business base.

Yes, you could opt for a “stick” approach of congestion charging, but that would hammer town centre business and retail.  We need the “carrot” of attractive public transport before resorting to that.  This new link would be used by more than TVP office workers.  It would serve park and rides, and also potentially a Woodley express every 15 minutes.  The way to make public transport more attractive is to increase frequency and reduce journey times.  This will do both.  Other new bus routes would surely follow.  Furthermore, the link would be suitable for a tram (or modern equivalent) upgrade extending down the A3290 hard shoulder to Winnersh Triangle.

Let’s think further ahead.  Even if Uber takes over and becomes the dominant mode of transport, the lack of road capacity into town would still constrain access.  The park and ride by the river could be re-purposed as an “Uber station” with taxis dropping off and picking up, with fast buses/trams into town every couple of minutes.  However you look at it, this route will play a crucial role sustaining TVP, but more importantly to me, it will enhance access to the town centre from the outskirts of town.  Ultimately, having more people with easy access to town will sustain and enhance job prospects, retail, leisure and culture.  If you want your new theatres, favourite shops, leisure facilities, restaurants, cultural events… then you need efficient, convenient, and ideally green transport to get to them.  And that’s what the East Reading MRT will do.

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East Reading MRT Revised Plans

34 thoughts on “East Reading MRT Revised Plans

  1. East Reading Guy says:

    ‘’…….a Thames Valley Park shuttle stuck stationary on the junction just queuing for the privilege of inching down London Road…….’’

    Problem is I’ve also seen said bus on quite a few occasions – and watched it drop (and pick-up going out) at Cemetery Junction, along Kings Rd, Prudential, and near the town – so it would still need a bus to accommodate those passengers even if they have one that uses this MRT system?

    So more buses – not less!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Certainly some services would need to remain along London Road – I should have acknowledged that. I don’t know how many physical buses are needed for the every 6 minutes service – must be at least six. If the MRT reduces time by a third you could free up two of those buses. You could use those for the via London Rd route, or one for that and one extra for the MRT to get to every 5 minutes. Caution top-of-head maths, but I think I’m being conservative with those estimates!

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      1. Is 10 bph service proposed for the MRT? I would be surprised if Thames Valley Park and the small park and ride would fund that. I recall take Transport for London think 6 ph is the absolute minimum for a transport service to be used on a ‘turn up and ride’ basis, like the Underground is. So maybe 8 ph would be more realistic. You don’t want too many buses as then the costs drive up ticket prices.

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  2. pw says:

    I meant to say ( above) “With plenty of room at Winnersh for the Parking and an alternative route possible for the Ride – between the railway lines from the Sutton Roundabout”. Anyway – all pretty academic now !

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    1. Thanks PW. I saw your alternative route suggestions. I suspect it might be more expensive to build with more turns also making it less conducive to tram upgrade later on. But good thinking.

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  3. Looks a very good job by all involved, both the campaigners and the planners and proposers. I’d love to see the back of the ugly pylons too.

    I hadn’t realised quite how much habitat had been originally proposed to be destroyed, so I’m very pleased by these changes. The new viaduct design is imaginative and much more sensitive.

    I want to call you out on one point though, RoT. “Yes, you could opt for a “stick” approach of congestion charging, but that would hammer town centre business and retail.” No, it wouldn’t, just as it didn’t in central London. But it would provide the funding necessary for infrastructure like this, light rail, and segregated bike lanes. The money has to come from somewhere, and central government (beyond the tiny capital project pots paying for part of the E and S MRTs) and borrowing aren’t options.

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    1. Thanks Dan. Interesting point on congestion charging. I feel that London already had fantastic public transport options when the charge came in, so people could more easily switch. I fear a similar approach here would send discretionary trips, e.g. shopping, to other more car friendly centres. But appreciate your point on funding, which is why the government cash for this scheme is so welcome!

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  4. Chris H says:

    The congestion charge in London only operates inside the Inner Ring Road. A Reading equivalent (inside the IDR) would cover such a small area that it would hardly be worthwhile. And it obviously couldn’t cover any larger area because the road network in Reading has no middle- or outer ring road.

    I still think this road should be open to motorists, at least travelling eastbound towards the A329(M). I believe this is a wasted opportunity but it is better than nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tamzin says:

    I have reviewed the revised Tree Schedule 766 trees will be felled. 77 new trees being planted in no way makes up for this devastation. I will be submitting an objection about this today.

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      1. Tamzin says:

        Hi yes sure. 58 refers to 22 tree groups and 36 trees. The tree schedule in the Arboricultural Impact Statement lists out all of the trees and tree groups along with a count of the trees in each group. If you add up the trees in the 22 tree groups you get the the picture. I can send you a doc that explains it further. Btw the tree groups aren’t groups of small saplings. As an example 1 group is 3 mature Hornbeams another contains 55 Silver Birch all many times taller than me.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Tamzin says:

    Hi Reading-on-Thames. Can you direct me to document in the planning application that states “As such, the amended scheme now results in the total loss of 58 trees and planting of 77 new trees.”?

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    1. it was the original covering letter, which looks like it was replaced when some extra documents were added. The most similar quote (from the press release notes to editors) now says:
      “The amended scheme now results in the total loss of 58 tree features (36 individual trees and 22 tree groups) – the vast majority trees in tree groups that will need to be removed are low quality, low life expectancy and / or, young small trees. The removal of invasive non-native species, selection tree management and native understorey planting will improve the quality/growth of the existing (and remaining) woodland. 77 new trees, plus 4 trees off-site will be planted. This compares to the previous figure of a loss of 83 tree features (53 individual trees and 30 tree groups).”

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      1. Tamzin says:

        It is interesting that the original letter was replaced. The key here is the term ‘tree features’. this appears to have caused a lot of confusion. In the application it is used to refer to individual trees and/or group of trees. The Aboricultural Impact Statement lists the individual and groups of trees to be felled. If you add up the trees in the 22 tree groups you get to a total of 1049 trees. However, some of the groups will be partially felled so if you remove those groups from the calculation and add the individual trees to be felled you get a minimum number of 766 trees that will be lost. I am not sure if I can add links here, but I am happy to send you a document and spreadsheet so you can check for your readers.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Reading General says:

    I still don’t think this scheme is currently the right way to spend the money, I would rather see perhaps the front gardens (more drives) of houses and premises along the London Road purchased for road widening and bus lanes along the section between Sutton Seeds and Cemetery Junction. This would benefit more bus users,while not requiring duplicate routes to serve both roads and not push more buses through an already at capacity Town Centre. This scheme will be of greatest benefit to the Railair coaches, but these may be replaced in a few years by the Heathrow western rail project. This leaves the Thames Valley Park buses, which as already stated above, currently pick up at stops between town and Sutton Seeds and then the Winnersh Triangle Park and Ride, which use the Eldon Road and Huntley and Palmer’s stops also, although admittedly probably less people use those two stops on the Park and Ride than the amount who board the Thames Valley Park buses.So some will miss out i guess, mainly the residents of the inner east part of town when it comes to services.
    I think our current services all across town should see money spent on their corridors before the town ends up with more problems that couldn’t be predicted. Bus stop reductions to make them evenly spaced and improvements to the stops approach and size so more than one vehicle can use them at a time would be worthwhile and speed up transit. Bus lanes at other key areas around the town also, and if they must build a bridge for buses, how about one from the end of Whitley Wood Lane to meet up with the little used bus lane in the middle of Junction 11. Then you could extend the short 5 and 6 routes across to the new housing at Three Mile Cross, Spencer’s Wood and Shinfield. Now that would be worth spending money on.

    Still a great, and informative blog.

    Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks RG. Thoughtful as always. I’m not sure this is the era for mass compulsory purchase of homes – I think that would be met with more local opposition than the proposed scheme, and would probably work out similarly expensive.
      You might be onto something with your Whitley scheme!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Randall Slick says:

      With respect, Reading General, I think you’re missing a key point. Widening London Road is only ever mentioned because Reading’s third bridge is ignored. Why should the inhabitants of London Road, many of whom are tenants, suffer because of wider nimbyism?

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  8. Reading General says:

    I was thinking more 80 or so front gardens to benefit hundreds if not thousands of transport users rather than lose the riverside to a bridge that may be lightly used. If built, i do hope that there is some large benefit that hasn’t been spotted. If office parking was charged for, or even the removal of some parking at Thames Valley Park we might manage some amount of modal shift, but i can’t see them letting go of any parking, especially as it’s not covered by Reading Borough Council.

    Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Randall Slick says:

      Alas, there’s that 19th Century bridge in the way. We could demolish and replace, but look how long Cow Lane has taken. Easier to extend the A329(M) into Oxfordshire.

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      1. Reading General says:

        Not quite 19th century, I’m sure it was an arch to begin with, so much like the Oxford Road railway bridge probably a replacement from early 1900’s.to 30’s. I would say that replacing this over bridge would be a far easier job to do than the cow lane version as roadway doesn’t need to drop. Persuading Network Rail would be the hard part, i should imagine that both Reading proper and Reading over the border councils would have to find most of the funding for because i think the boundary here is the railway line but one of them already has funds available to build a flyover at Kennet Mouth.
        I’m sure bus lanes would be possible in each direction along the popular stretch without borrowing any of the park side pavement, if the front gardens were used along with better general traffic management on the Shepherd’s Hill side of the bridge. Two fast dual carriageways with overtaking traffic becoming a double lane road with right turns is part of the problem, too much capacity on on side leading to too little on the other side. Calming Shepherd’s Hill down could solve part of the problem also it could lead to one side of the carriageway becoming a dedicated bus road all the way up to the Shepherd’s house pub for a much better mainline bus service (or more) to Woodley and beyond.
        Car parking would be the biggest problem to overcome by Reading council, but the terraces on the southern side of London Road have never had the choice to park hence i believe a small price to pay for the better of thousands.

        Cheers

        Liked by 1 person

      1. thanks Pauline. Not denying my articles are my own opinions, although I always try to back up with facts where possible and allow (and encourage) comments from others with different views. The local press articles you’ve linked to both contain incorrect images. One shows the bridge with a lorry on it – this was presumably created by someone opposed to the scheme and is very misleading because it has never been proposed to allow lorries. The other hasn’t been updated to include the changes to the scheme that I’ve listed here – retained willow, removed pylons, bridge narrowing and retreating 1 metre etc. So I do have some accuracy on my side!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Randall Slick says:

    With regard to the following:

    READING-ON-THAMES SAYS: thanks Pauline. Not denying my articles are my own opinions, although I always try to back up with facts where possible and allow (and encourage) comments from others with different views. The local press articles you’ve linked to both contain incorrect images. One shows the bridge with a lorry on it – this was presumably created by someone opposed to the scheme and is very misleading because it has never been proposed to allow lorries. The other hasn’t been updated to include the changes to the scheme that I’ve listed here – retained willow, removed pylons, bridge narrowing and retreating 1 metre etc. So I do have some accuracy on my side!

    It is so good to know that someone in Reading has time for integrity and journalism. Sir, or Madam, I salute you, as should the populous of our town.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Anonymous says:

    I think if you want to analyse the traffic on the London road and bottle necks i think you should have a look at the bottle neck on this road heading west to Southampton and silver street street at rush hours as it is one way and even though it has three lanes it can be grid locked. I think the new proposal would help both people traveling from east reading and west reading and complete a ring road in itself and it should be called a relief road or even an additional IDR if it was to connect Tilehurst et al industrial estate to the Microsoft campus, Sutton’s business park and the A3290, if you going to do a job you may as well do it properly and have a two way double road with cycle path and pedestrian path too if the corresponding connecting roads will accommodate them too. It would seem stupid seeing as they have opened access to HGV under cow lane not to go ahead with it now for someone who wants to walk their dog lol

    I think that they should get rid of the foot bridge their completely add a simpler footbridge pass to the proposed transport bridge and make it a mass transport bridge for HGV’s, cyclists, pedestrians and cars as the HGV’s travelling west have to come off the IDR and manoeuvre around Bedford junction on the oxford road not very easy or practical looks more like getting a car to turn around on a toe path this path would make heavy goods vehicles journey west a lot easier and free up traffic. I think it would also open up a lot of trade and business with new links and paths for heavy goods to get to new areas and easier too. Fair enough it might take them on a more scenic route but it outweighs its benefit of traffic and congestion with the amount of road works it can only alleviate it I guess.

    Allowing cars and HGVS on the new bridge would solve a lot of traffic and congestion problems and seem a total waste of the cow lane development as it would also provide an alternative route for heavy haulage vehicles and not just buses but coaches coming off the A3290 to have a heavy goods Route all the way from Tilehurst to the A3290 will only serve to relieve a lot of traffic and from my little experience traffic has increased so much that there are probably more cars in reading then people-have you not seen it backed up from town all the way up the Tilehurst road to the top of honey end lane at rush hour in the morning before by prospect park?, I got off the bus and walking was quicker!!

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  11. Anonymous says:

    Also with the reading central trsin station development with the underpass opening and new bus drop off it would I think 🤔 increase use of public transport both from people traveling eastbound to town and west to town and reduce traffic opening up another direct passenger bus route. That’s my two sense. Don’t be a bunch of plebs and postpone this as it would be a wasted effort on the part of the other developments in the area and take your time to design it properly for a HGV and bus route might need to change some round abouts but on the grander scale of the developments it’s nothing really.

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  12. Why build an MRT when you could apply for funding for a 3 lane Third Thames Bridge with bus lanes in both directions? RBC and WBC both need to start pushing for it ,even going all the way up to the Secretary of State if they have to. Perhaps they should put in a bid for funding but with sweeteners for SODC, e.g the bridge having a toll for SOV’s with 50% of the profits going straight into SODC’s coffers and paying for a complete modernization and refurbishment of the road from Playhatch to Henley?

    Liked by 1 person

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