Meeting documents

Tuesday, 20 January 2009



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Division(s): Sonning Common, Goring, Henley South, Henley North & Chilterns







Report by Head of Transport




1.                  Reading Borough Council is one of a handful of Local Transport Authorities that is applying for Transport Innovation Fund money.  Reading is seeking a Central Government contribution of £275 million to a total package of £300 million for transport improvements in the Reading Urban Area over the next 10 years. 


2.                  Oxfordshire County Council and other neighbouring transport authorities have been invited to engage with the process of determining the package of transport measures that will form the TIF bid for the Reading area.  This would allow OCC to put forward appropriate schemes for inclusion within Oxfordshire as part of the overall package for TIF funding but also to ensure that Oxfordshire’s interests are effectively represented as the transport strategy is developed.


3.                  Oxfordshire’s participation in this process would in no way commit the Council to supporting any of the measures that Reading BC may ultimately wish to include in its TIF bid.


4.                  Reading is a significant destination for South Oxfordshire residents, with more than 3,000 residents commuting daily into the borough (see Annex 1) (download as .doc file).  Most of these drive but approximately 500 travel by train, particularly from Didcot and Goring.  Another 150 travel by bus, half of them from Sonning Common. 


5.                  Congestion into Reading is a significant problem and has led the Borough Council to develop a range of transport schemes over the last few years, some of which have been locally contentious.  This culminated in a decision to appoint an Independent Transport Commission (ITC) to consider a wide range of issues.  The ITC reported in the summer of 2008 and its recommendations were broadly accepted by Reading BC.  The proposal to submit a TIF bid has emerged from this process.


Key elements of the TIF proposal by Reading BC


6.                  Reading BC has carried out significant investigation, analysis and assessment work in recent months and Annex 2 (download as .doc file) shows the preliminary outline of proposed expenditure in and around the Reading Urban Area.  This includes a base package of £78 million, mainly for improved bus services but also travel planning and cycling.  The largest element is for bus based mass rapid transit (the MRT package) with £153 million towards track and vehicles (including park and ride) for Phases 1-6 south of the Thames.  There is a £21 million rail package, mainly for upgrading the Reading-Basingstoke Line.  Finally, there is the £48 million Third Thames Crossing package which covers bridge construction and MRT Phase 7 (including park and ride) north of the Thames.




7.                  Whilst the Government’s Transport Innovation Fund provides substantial funding for public transport and other improvements, it comes with a requirement to investigate, as part of the package, demand management measures that include road pricing.  Reading BC has stressed that the majority of the funding through TIF would be up front ahead of any charging regime and that we are not being asked to sign up to charging, but to accept that this needs to be investigated as part of the TIF funding arrangement.


8.                  Discussions to date on the type and application of a charge suggest that this would be confined to a morning peak-hour inbound only cordon charge but the details of this are still to be determined, much further down the line.  What is clear though is that the boundary of the charging zone will not extend beyond Reading BC’s area into Oxfordshire. 


Third Thames Bridge


9.                  Oxfordshire County Council and South Oxfordshire District Council have for many years been involved in discussions with Reading Borough Council and other neighbouring authorities about the possibility of a third Thames crossing in the Reading area.  The County and District Councils have long been opposed to this as merely increasing capacity could lead to an increase in traffic through South Oxfordshire.  The ITC suggested that a bridge be managed through tolling and that overall additional capacity across the Thames should benefit public transport, cycling and walking.


10.             In June 2004 Council adopted a motion by Councillor Peter Skolar in the following amended form: ‘This Council confirms its opposition to any third Thames bridge in the Reading/Chilterns area that would significantly increase car movements in southern Oxfordshire but recognises the need to find, in partnership with other relevant authorities, a solution to the existing bottlenecks’.  OCC can therefore engage in discussion with Reading BC in the knowledge that it has a strong policy position in place.


Park & Ride


11.             Earlier work on park and ride, following the Cross Thames Travel Study in the late 1990s, identified the corridor from Henley as the most promising for a park and ride site on the outskirts of Reading north of the Thames.  However, the A4074 corridor was also seen as beneficial in reducing congestion into Reading.  In engaging with Reading BC on this it will be important to ensure that any Park & Ride proposal avoids undermining improvements to bus services on the same corridor and addresses other concerns from the local communities in South Oxfordshire.


Public Transport


12.             Improving public transport forms a major part of the bid, especially through the Mass Rapid Transit investment.  Within South Oxfordshire, recent OCC-funded frequency enhancements to the conventional bus service on the Wallingford-Reading route (to half hourly, hourly evenings and Sundays) should be seen as representing a minimum level of service for this route and those to Sonning Common and Henley.


13.             Recent accessibility modelling has identified some of the smaller settlements in this part of South Oxfordshire as lacking the specified level of public transport accessibility.  TIF could also be an opportunity to improve rural accessibility to services – a key Local Area Agreement (LAA) indicator.  Improved bus priority is also important so that buses can avoid congestion in Caversham and provide a more attractive alternative to the car; this will also improve accessibility by improving journey time and reliability for bus travel.


14.             The scope to improve rail services depends on a number of planned rail developments.  The upgrade of Reading Station should improve reliability and may allow direct Oxford-Reading-Gatwick trains, improving opportunities for local journeys between Didcot and Wokingham.  The service from Henley to Twyford could be improved to half-hourly, perhaps with some direct Henley-Reading services.  The possible extension of Crossrail from Maidenhead to Reading and the possibility of electrification to Oxford are other factors that could have implications.


Other issues


15.             A study of options to develop cycle routes into Reading from Sonning Common and Henley would also be helpful in identifying the scope for new travel opportunities in the context of access to Reading.  So would the previously identified link between Wallingford and Cholsey Station.


16.             A further issue of importance to Oxfordshire is that of increased HGV flows on the A4074 between Reading and Wallingford at night when there is less traffic and this route becomes faster than the signed alternative via the M4 and A34. 


Liaison Arrangements


17.             Reading Borough Council needs to agree a package of proposals with neighbouring Local Transport Authorities who will be affected in order to submit a business case to the Department for Transport in March 2009.  Annex 3 (download as .doc file) shows Reading Borough Council’s letter to Oxfordshire County Council inviting our participation in the process through the TIF Partner Authority Members’ Liaison Group.  Annex 4 (download as .pdf file) shows the draft Terms of Reference for this body.


18.             Engaging in discussion with Reading BC to develop the TIF bid appears to offer the County Council the best opportunity to understand and influence the emerging proposals and to identify risks to and opportunities for South Oxfordshire.  Formal engagement in this process includes having access to the technical and transport modelling data as this work progresses and the opportunity to include transport improvements outside the Reading boundary to be funded by TIF. 


19.             South Oxfordshire District Council would not be represented directly but the County Council would liaise closely in order to ensure that the District Council’s concerns were properly taken into account.  It is understood that the District Council is willing to engage with the TIF process in this way.


Effect on Corporate Policies and Priority Themes


20.             Reading’s TIF proposals would improve transport choice and value for money for those using non-car modes but motorists would pay more, though there might be congestion benefits.  It is too early to assess these impacts until the options have been modelled.  The proposals should support Oxfordshire County Council’s priorities of Environment and Climate Change and Healthy and Thriving Communities.  It is too early to assess the full impact on the Council’s priority theme of World Class Economy.


Legal Implications


21.             Any changes to bus services or fares will need to comply with relevant legislation.


Equality and Inclusion Implications


22.             Access to a range of jobs and facilities is important, particularly as the recession bites and people need to find new employment or training.  Reading’s plans for lower bus fares are likely to be based on concessions for those less able to pay (e.g. young people, unemployed) and it is important that disadvantaged South Oxfordshire residents can share in these.


Sustainability Implications


23.             While the car is the main mode of transport for commuters to Reading, the highest numbers of car commuters are from wards with direct rail and bus links to the town.  This suggests that there may be potential to switch to improved public transport or park and ride.  However, this will probably require better onward links to non-central destinations in the borough.


Risk Management


24.             The main risks are additional traffic in South Oxfordshire and poorer access to jobs and facilities in Reading.  However, there are also opportunities to improve bus services and develop park and ride and improved cycle routes.  Participation in the TIF process offers the best opportunity to manage these risks and opportunities.


Financial and Staff Implications


25.             It is difficult to be definitive at this stage but the following circumstances seem likely.  Oxfordshire County Council would not share in the revenue from any charging system as the charged area would not include any part of the county.  We would, however, share in the TIF funding from Government towards transport improvements within Oxfordshire (e.g. bus, park and ride, cycling) but would be expected to find a 10% contribution towards these.


26.             Staff input will be needed to work with Reading Borough Council and neighbouring authorities, particularly in understanding the traffic implications for Oxfordshire of the various elements of the TIF package.  Further staff (or consultant) input will be needed in developing transport improvements within Oxfordshire (e.g. bus, park and ride, cycling).




27.             The TIF proposal by Reading BC is a very significant bid for transport investment in the town.  Clearly elements of what might form the final submission will affect Oxfordshire, some positively, some negatively.  OCC has been invited to participate in the process of determining an appropriate package of transport improvements and officers consider it advantageous to the interests of the County to engage in this process.


28.             Oxfordshire would benefit from improved bus services and new cycle routes into Reading and participating in the liaison arrangements allow this to be put forward as part of the Reading package.  Measures that might bring disbenefits can be effectively challenged and resisted if appropriate.




29.             The Cabinet is RECOMMENDED to:


(a)               agree that the Cabinet Member for Transport should represent Oxfordshire County Council on Reading Borough Council’s TIF Partner Authority Members’ Liaison Group; and


(b)              support the principle of the TIF bid by Reading Borough Council to secure transport improvements into the town, including from Oxfordshire, acknowledging that this does not commit this Council to support any specific measures.



Head of Transport

Environment & Economy


Background papers:            Nil


Contact Officers:                   Peter Mann Tel; 01865 815479

                                                Owen South Tel: 01865 815735

January 2009

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