AN ENHANCED planning application to create a new fast track segregated bus, pedestrian and cycle route between east Reading and the Town Centre has been submitted.
The East Reading Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) application has been revised following a period of public consultation earlier this year and feedback received from Wokingham Borough Council’s Planning Committee.
The proposed scheme now includes the addition of planters beside the viaduct parapets containing ivy, or a similar plant, to spill over the deck to provide ‘greening’ of the upper deck of the structure. This corresponds with Wokingham Borough Council’s updated proposals for the new park and ride site at Thames Valley Park, which has a retaining ‘living green wall’ as part of the scheme.
In addition, other enhancements included as part of the original planning application also remain. These include the installation of three timber mooring platforms alongside a marginal shelf landscaping improvement at the riverside to provide additional short-stay mooring facilities which are lacking in the area. These platforms will be located within a newly created marginal shelf area with riverside planting.
Under the viaduct, areas of marshy wetland and grasses will be created, providing an area for seasonal flooding, and a diverse marshy habitat, which will include planting the locally-occurring Loddon Lily. This will allow the area under the viaduct to remain open and unfenced which will create a feeling of space under the viaduct.
To further mitigate the visual impact, the width of the viaduct has been reduced by 1m at its closest point to the River Thames, creating a more open aspect and increasing sunlight on the towpath. The support structure has been reduced to single columns along the length of the viaduct, further increasing the sense of openness for towpath users. The existing mosaic will be restored and relocated into a more prominent location and information and storyboards will be introduced to the riverside to provide further information for residents and visitors of the history of the area. There will also be a number of enhancements to both King’s Meadow and Hills Meadow, including planting of four black poplar trees within King’s Meadow.
The proposed East Reading MRT would provide a direct new public transport, walking and cycle link between Reading Town Centre and Thames Valley Business Park, the new Thames Valley Park and Ride and a network of other park and ride sites in Wokingham and local services from Woodley, Wokingham and Bracknell. It would be a new public transport link for buses, pedestrians and cyclists only, and could also be used for possible future light rail, driverless pods, or other schemes as technology evolves. Private vehicles and taxis would not be permitted to use the route. Instead it would help to provide a quick, easy and direct route with more reliable journey times for public transport, as a viable alternative to the private car.
The sustainable transport route would run parallel to the Great Western mainline, connecting to Napier Road and linking with the Napier Road underpass, which Reading Borough Council opened in 2015. The route would be extended near Tesco and on to the Kennetmouth, where a new single lane bridge would be constructed next to the existing railway bridge over the river.
The business case for the scheme demonstrates a high value for money and has been independently approved, demonstrating key benefits which include:
• A dedicated bus route away from congestion with more public transport capacity and faster and more reliable bus services
• Journey time saving for bus services using the route of 6 to 13 minutes in the peak periods.
• An expected increase in public transport patronage of 15% compared to the future without the scheme
• A new direct cycle route that is lit, segregated, low gradient, with low levels of traffic, and does not flood
Councillor Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:
“The revised East MRT application includes visual enhancements which further reduce the impact of the scheme on the riverside setting.
“The scheme has been amended following a period of public consultation and the improvements are in addition to other changes made to the original scheme which include reducing the width of the structure at its nearest point to the Thames, the installation of three timber mooring platforms and the creation of marshy wetlands under the structure.
“This may be a revised scheme but is important not to lose sight of the major public transport and other environmental benefits of the original scheme which remain the same. This is a new public transport, cycling and walking route which will offer people travelling between Reading and Wokingham quicker bus journey times, more public transport capacity a new segregated and lit cycle route. It will also help manage levels of congestion and air quality to mitigate the thousands of new homes which will be built in the area over the next few years. Without this scheme roads in East Reading would have to face even worse congestion and pollution. The solution is to develop new public transport alternatives that offer a faster alternative to tens of thousands of new car journeys.”
The enhanced East MRT scheme can be found online at http://planning.reading.gov.uk/fastweb_PL/welcome.asp via the Council’s planning portal by searching for application number 181822. People can respond as part of the normal planning process by providing comments via the portal.
Current timescales are that the scheme will be considered by Wokingham’s Planning Committee in early 2019 followed by Reading Borough Council’s Planning Committee shortly afterwards.