REDUCING congestion, improving air quality and encouraging even more people to switch to sustainable modes of transport are the three key objectives of a new local transport plan for Reading, designed to help it cope with future growth.
With the town’s last Local Transport Plan now seven years old, Reading Borough Council is updating and refreshing its vision to enable it to develop new schemes and to identify and bid for future funding opportunities.
Reading’s economic success and excellent transport links make it an attractive place to live, work and visit. The town is home to a large number of international and blue chip companies, demand for new homes has never been higher and it remains a key shopping and leisure destination in the region. While welcoming this success, it means Reading faces a significant challenge of coping with future growth.
The development of a 4th Local Transport Plan for Reading will allow Reading Borough Council to build on major transport schemes already delivered, or in train. These include 1,000 new park and ride spaces at Mereoak and Winnersh, new transport interchanges to the north and south of Reading Station, Christchurch Bridge, the Council’s new pedestrian and cycle bridge over the Thames, and dedicated new public transport routes to the south and east of the borough.
Central to Reading’s new Local Transport Plan will be a new Car Parking and Air Quality Management Strategy which would be based on up-to-date information on commuter travel and parking in the borough, and the impact on congestion and pollution levels in the town. A comprehensive borough wide survey of commuter movements and parking would take place in the Autumn to inform the future strategy.
A report to Reading Borough Council’s Policy Committee on Monday July 16th will outline the proposals for a new Local Transport Plan for Reading. The full report can be found at: http://www.reading.gov.uk/media/9102/Item-12/pdf/item12.pdf
As part of the development of a new Local Transport Plan, the report proposes initial feasibility studies on a number of possible schemes. These include a Workplace Parking Levy which would largely follow the model already in operation in Nottingham; a Clean Air Zone / Low Emission Zone; road charging and a package of complementary measures which could include traffic management, access restrictions, park and ride, Mass Rapid Transit and bus priority, public transport information, ticketing improvements and walking and cycling improvements.
The position of key employment sites partly outside Reading, like the University and Green Park, or Thames Valley Business Park, located entirely outside of the borough, means officers would also start early discussions with Wokingham and West Berkshire Councils.
A key additional recommendation in the Policy Committee report is that Reading Borough Council officers continue discussions with Oxfordshire and South Oxfordshire about their potential housing sites located immediately to the north of Reading, a third river crossing and possible measures to manage potential displaced local traffic.
Councillor Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:
“The new Local Transport Plan for Reading will have three key aims – improving air quality, reducing congestion and encouraging more people to switch to sustainable transport.
“Reading is without rival in the Thames Valley region in terms of employment and as an attractive place to live, work or visit. With that success however comes population growth, demand for housing and more large businesses relocating to the area. All of this places huge demands on infrastructure and the limited road space in Reading. It is essential we now plan for future growth by developing at new schemes and bidding for more investment in sustainable transport options.
“The Council has had some considerable success in encouraging the use of alternative forms of transport – particularly public transport, walking and cycling. For example, bus use in Reading has increased by 30% in just seven years. The Council owned bus company also continues to be at the forefront of technology using low emission buses.
“We now need to build on that in a new Local Transport Plan. A key element will be developing a new Car Parking and Air Quality Management Strategy which will reflect up to date information on commuter travel and parking and the obvious impact on Reading, both in terms of congestion and the health of local residents.
“The Council will look closely at demand management measures already in operation in other parts of the country and the benefits or otherwise of introducing such schemes in Reading. With Government funding unlikely, a key consideration will include using income generated by any demand management scheme to fund other transport improvements, whether that be a Low Emission Zone for Reading, new park and ride facilities, further developing the case for a third Thames Bridge, more investment in public transport and much-needed investment in better road surfaces in Reading.”
In common with most successful towns and cities, transport emissions have long been the main source of pollutants in Reading. Increases in population, large new housing developments on the outskirts of town and businesses relocating to the area have all fuelled car use. Reading’s location next to the M4 also encourages car travel. Reading is unlikely to be able to meet the identified transport, growth and air quality challenges without additional methods of managing traffic growth.
Other cities have previously introduced demand management schemes in order to address the twin issues of congestion and air pollution. Examples include Nottingham City Council, who became the first local authority to successfully introduce a Workplace Parking Levy in 2012. Nottingham’s scheme works by annual charge being imposed on employers with more than 10 workplace parking spaces. In order to support small business, employers with 10 or fewer liable workplace parking spaces do not pay the charge.
Since Nottingham, a number of other Local Authorities have begun investigating the option, with Oxfordshire County Council having progressed furthest. The London Mayor’s transport strategy published in March this year also strongly supports Workplace Parking Levy as a means of reducing congestion and improving air quality.
In London a congestion charge was introduced in 2003. It works by individuals being charged daily for entering a set charging zone. In addition, the London low Emission Zone was introduced in 2008 with the aim of reducing the exhaust gas emissions of diesel-powered commercial vehicles by charging vehicles that do not meet a set emission standard.