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Welcome to gridlocked (South) Wokingham!

Updated: Jan 18

Shown below is a composite image put together from a satellite photo of the Hall Farm area with the proposed Loddon Garden Village Strategic Development Location (LGVSDL) superimposed on it.

Two major roads run through the site, where it is proposed to build around 4,500 houses, the M4, shown on the map in green, runs though the site West to East, and a proposed new road, running North to South through the site, is shown on the map in red. The two "No Entry" signs on the map are either end of Mill Lane, Sindlesham, closed to traffic due to flooding.

If you travel through or live in this part of Wokingham you are almost certainly aware of the severe traffic problems caused by, on top of the flooding, the sheer volume of traffic.

School holidays will temporarily ease the problem by taking the "school run" out of the equation, but inconveniently parked vehicles and unexpected road works are a perennial part of any journey around Wokingham, along with other seasonal issues such as ice on the road.

Maybe the driver was distracted by another vehicle, or a wild animal running out into the road, or maybe they just braked when they shouldn't have. Whatever the reason, it did not end well for the car, the hedge, or the field. It was also bad news for the poor driver, who I sincerely hope was not too badly shaken or hurt.

My point is that this is a dangerous stretch of road. Accidents have occurred at this exact same spot before. It also often grinds to a complete standstill because it cannot cope with the traffic on it at peak times, and it runs along the Southern edge of the LGVSDL between Arborfield and Sindlesham.

The B3030 Mole Road will presumably be expected to take a big increase in traffic, both during construction of the houses (proposed to take place over 30 years) and then after they are built. 4,500 houses multiplied by the average number of cars per household in the UK (around 1.2 nationally, more locally) gives a ball park figure of some 5,400 additional cars being driven in this vicinity. Given how dangerous the roads in this area already are, is this really a good idea?

No doubt Wokingham Highways and Planning Officers will argue that the new road shown in red above, connecting the junction of Reading Road and Observer Way in the South with the B3270 Lower Early Way in the North, will be intended to relieve traffic congestion. But the traffic is not going to magically evaporate at either end of the new road, it will simply join the traffic already on what are currently very busy roads.

To be fair, WBC are trying to get a grip on the situation. You can participate in their latest consultation, the revised Local Transport Plan, available here:

I urge you all to read and to respond to the consultation, it at all possible, before it closes on 23rd February. Meanwhile, here are some “highlights”.

“We're updating our Local Transport Plan, an official document guiding how we improve footways, cycle lanes, roads, bus services and other ways of getting around for years to come.

This will offer more chances to leave the car at home, especially for shorter journeys, helping us to reduce air pollution and tackle the climate emergency while helping you to live more healthily”.

This is, in my opinion, terrific news. Speaking as someone who lives without access to a car most of the time, I welcome the news that the road I live on (the aforementioned B3030 Mole Road) may get a footpath, or a bus service, or even a safer road for cycling on. Sadly, none of these things are included in the plan.

“Residents in the generally rural areas of South Wokingham and including the larger settlements of Arborfield and Finchampstead show a more diverse range of travel destinations when compared to other parts of the borough and a more limited range of public transport options. The Leopard bus route connects Arborfield to Wokingham and Reading via Finchampstead and Shinfield. The frequency of this service was reduced to hourly following the COVID-19 pandemic, but a growing population along the route will provide new travel demand to support increased bus service frequency”.

So, our bus services are severely reduced, but if we could only accept several thousand more houses (and therefore many more cars) we might see some improvement? Local buses are being squeezed like never before! Services have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and It's not just a lack of local control and cash that's to blame. Our local bus services are often cancelled due to a severe lack of drivers. Have a look at this screen shot from an interactive map on the Friends of the Earth Website showing bus service frequency as it was in 2023, compared with how it was back in 2010.

Hmmm. Bus services down by 73.6% does not sound too healthy. Maybe I can catch a train? Well, my nearest station at Winnersh has no car parking whatsoever, and is nearly 2 miles away. No footpath most of the way there and no street lights either. If I can get to the station unscathed my next problem is catching a train. Travel by train, however, is also getting harder:

“We have a situation where the railways are costing more than ever before, fares are higher than they've ever been, and yet cancellations and delays seem to be higher than they've ever been before as well. A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, the rail industry membership body, said that the long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on staff numbers, as well as extreme weather events and rail strikes, were to blame.”

Cycling then! Surely that is the answer to getting around Wokingham. Well, speaking from personal experience, yes and no. Putting aside the fact my first electric bike was stolen within 24 hours of my buying it, my new electric bike is great. (At age 67 I am not one of those Lycra clad enthusiasts you see out in swarms on a sunny Sunday).

If there was a way to put more cycle lanes in, possibly more people would try cycling? But with the English weather creating its own difficulties, not to mention the hills, measures such as cycle lanes, bus lanes, Ultra Low Emission Zones and speed cameras, designed to make our roads safer, are often also intensely irritating to car drivers, creating their own mini traffic jams wherever they are installed. Nor are they anywhere near my route to the station.

That leaves “Shanks’s Pony  as the default mode of transportation then. Slow and steady for sure, with very few emissions 😉 But not much good for most of us beyond the 20 minute limit, and definitely not with anything heavy or bulky to carry.

Introducing the 20-minute neighbourhood, where all our needs are within 20 minutes walk! But even these marvels of the imagination, much beloved of modern town planners, are now mired in controversy and conspiracy theories. However, leaving aside the "sinister plot by the deep state to curtail our freedom to travel" is such a place even possible to build? More to the point perhaps, is the proposed LGVSDL such a place?

This diagram of a “20 Minute Sustainable and healthy Community” is taken from a brochure for the LGVSDL shown to Wokingham Borough Councillors last year.

Interesting then to compare the diagram above with the one below from the Town and Country Planning Association in their guide to the 20 minute neighbourhood.

Spotted the difference? Well among other changes “Local food production” has morphed into “Grow the local economy”. Which is unsurprising given that the LGVSDL proposes to build 4,500 houses on over 550 Hectares of what is currently open countryside, much of which is farm land. Given the current issues of food insecurity facing us here in the UK this might strike some as positively foolhardy?

But the University of Reading are keen to promote the “local economy” which is clearly more important than locally grown food, right? Presumably this also means residents of the LGVSDL jumping into their cars to drive to the nearest supermarket so they can buy their imported food, lovingly wrapped in extra carbon footprint? Who needs Net Zero when you're raking in the cash?

But to return to the 20-minute neighbourhood concept, let’s look at the proposals for the LGVSDL “Community infrastructure” shown above. Lots to take in but look very carefully and hidden among all the shops, gyms, parks, play areas, library and museum you may spot a brand new medical centre, and we all want one of those in our neighbourhood, don't we?

The recently built Arborfield Green SDL was also promised a medical centre, many years ago now, along with a shop, a community centre, a sports centre etc. Sadly, although the long awaited shop, and community centre are finally approaching realisation, the medical centre never materialised. This is for the simple reason that developers have no control over the Clinical Commissioning Group (now known as Integrated Care Boards) who made it clear that a lack of doctors cannot magically be fixed by developers wanting to sell houses.

All those sports fields and gyms? How is that promise working out for the residents of Arborfield Green? As for all the promises of Banks, Post Offices and Libraries, if these are closing down in our existing town centres, why would anyone seriously propose opening new ones?

The probability remains that this will be just another commuter belt dormitory village, where people will come to live but not to work. People living here will not all be employed locally, most of them will be trying to get to the M4 at Junctions 10 and 11 for travel to London or West Berkshire or jamming the A329 to get to Bracknell or Reading. Because that is where most of the employment that initially attracted these new residents to the area is located.

But these houses, and attendant extra cars are not to be spread evenly across the Borough.

The precious "Green Belt" parishes in the North of Wokingham are to be kept house free?

Welcome to gridlocked (South) Wokingham.

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