The Third Reading Bridge debate has ebbed and flowed over the years. The fact there has been little news over the last 18 months has led people to believe the issue has gone away – it hasn’t. Before I update readers on the latest situation, I will re-cap on the background for the benefit of those who may have recently moved into the area.
Location and Traffic Route
On the Berkshire side, the bridge would be connected to Reading’s Inner Distribution Road (IDR) and the M4 via the A3290 & A329(M).
On the Oxfordshire side, the bridge would land on the A4155 opposite Caversham Park Road.
HGVs and cars arriving on the Oxfordshire side would have three main onward options:
- Along the A4155 through Shiplake into Reading Road/Duke Street in Henley.
- Along the B481 through Sonning Common, Rotherfield Peppard, Highmoor, Nettlebed and Watlington.
- Along the A4155 into Prospect Street, Reading.
Historically, bridge supporters have stated this will get 55,000 cars a day out of the centre of Reading.
A Sonning Common Parish Councillor jokingly, but perhaps with some prescience, commented to me that the proposal could effectively turn the B481 into the A481(M) as it would become the de facto link between the M4 and the M40 (see map).
Recent project history
In 2015, Oxfordshire and Berkshire parties agreed to undertake a traffic modelling study to understand the traffic impact of the proposed bridge. With no political input from Oxfordshire, the traffic modelling study was morphed by the Berkshire parties into a Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC), of which the traffic modelling study was merely a subsidiary part. Even before the SOBC was completed, Berkshire applied to central government for funding to take the project to the next stage (Outline Business Case). The bid was unsuccessful at that time.
The SOBC was completed in May 2017. Its findings were welcomed by Berkshire proponents but attracted limited challenge by Oxfordshire councils, which had little interest in the project. The cost of building the bridge was estimated at £110m. Critically, this excluded the cost of mitigation measures in South Oxfordshire.
The project stalled in early 2018 when the proponents were unable to identify funding of £750,000 to develop the Outline Business Case.
The proposal has recently gained new momentum and the situation can be summed-up as follows:
- A major commercial organisation is currently preparing a ‘Buildability’ report on behalf of Wokingham BC and this is due at the end of this month.
- Reading BC has confirmed the bridge is one of its top transport priorities in its Draft Local Plan.
- A new government organisation called Transport for the South East (TfSE) is applying to come into being in the near future and it shares the ambition with Reading to create the crossing.
- Oxfordshire County Council has objected to the scheme proposals as they stand because the now £125 million costs have been significantly underestimated and mitigation measures for the South Oxfordshire road network have been neither specified nor costed – and these costs would be considerable.
- The Bridge Steering Group (led by local MPs) may reconvene in the autumn.
My view is that proponents of the scheme must be compelled to agree that the bridge and mitigation measures are one project and that to leave mitigation measures as a minor detail to be followed up at a later date is a deeply flawed and disingenuous position to take.
I urge concerned readers to write to John Howell MP expressing their opinions about the situation: email@example.com
Cllr David Bartholomew
County Councillor for Sonning Common Division, comprising:
Binfield Heath; Bix & Assendon; Eye & Dunsden; Harpsden; Highmoor; Rotherfield Greys; Rotherfield Peppard; Shiplake; Sonning Common
District Councillor for Sonning Common Ward, comprising:
Binfield Heath; Eye & Dunsden; Harpsden; Shiplake; Sonning Common