On Monday 24th October, MP for Reading West Alok Sharma and Tilehurst Councillor Sandra Vickers held a meeting with Reading Borough Council (RBC) to discuss two transport-related issues: the new car parking charges in the Dunstall Close and Recreation Road car parks in Tilehurst and the route of the number 33 bus which runs through Tilehurst.
The meeting, which took place in the Civic Centre, was attended by local Tilehurst businesses, representatives of the Tilehurst Globe and residents. Business representatives included Janet Carr of Warings Bakers, Geoff Foley of C&G Hardware and Roger Kent of N G Kent & Sons. Tilehurst Globe was represented by Jenny Cottee and Liz Ellis. Westwood Glen residents attending included Pat and Ian MacDonald, Peter Marsh and Dorothy Wood, Felton Way residents included Vivien and Trevor Aitken, and Cromer Close residents included Lualhati and Michael Perry.
At the meeting, RBC was represented by Pat Baxter, Head of Transport, and Councillor Tony Page, Lead Councillor for Transport. Reading Transport was represented by Chief Executive James Freeman.
The first issue taken up at the meeting was in respect of car parking charges in Tilehurst. The Tilehurst representatives made it clear that they want to see the first hour free parking reinstated and that the revised conditions with only half an hour free parking is not satisfactory and does not provide enough time for residents, particularly those who are elderly, to do their shopping, banking and other activities and then return to their car within the half-hour period.
At the meeting on 23rd August organised by Alok Sharma and Sandra Vickers at which the issue of car parking charges in Tilehurst was discussed, the Chief Executive of RBC assured traders that the Council would come forward with alternative charging proposals which could include an extension of the charging hours for the car parks and also the restoration of the first hour free parking. Despite this assurance, alternative charging proposals were not forthcoming at the time.
However, at yesterday’s meeting, the Council was persuaded to have a discussion with NCP about a set of alternative proposals, each of which would potentially see the one hour free parking restored. Pat Baxter assured the meeting that RBC would speak with NCP in the next week to agree on these alternative proposals, which would then be communicated within three weeks to local traders who will provide feedback to the Council on the proposals. The expectation is for the implementation of a potential new charging structure in 5-6 weeks.
Alok said: “I was very pleased with the constructive tone of our dialogue with the Council. I do think they have finally understood the strength of feeling in Tilehurst over this issue and the negative impact it is already having on our local businesses which are part of the very lifeblood of the local community. I am looking forward to the alternative proposals from the Council and NCP in the next couple of weeks and I want to assure all of my constituents that I will keep this issue at the top of my agenda until we have achieved a satisfactory result for Tilehurst.”
Geoff Foley of C&G Hardware said: “It was a fairly positive meeting but I still feel that it is a case of RBC/NCP against the local community and traders, rather than the Council supporting us instead of a large company. The revenue and jobs created by the locals is obviously not regarded as that important by the local Council otherwise they would have listened to us more in the past before making any changes. I thank Alok for his very much appreciated support on this matter and I am sure we all look forward to a swift response as promised by the members of RBC.”
Janet Carr of Warings Bakery said: “The Council seemed receptive today, but that was also the case during the meeting in August. I would be very happy to see the first hour’s free parking reinstated and I know our customers feel the same way. To sum up, I am cautiously optimistic!”
Jenny Cottee of Tilehurst Globe said: “I found it an excellent workman-like meeting well supported by up-to-date information about both issues. I left feeling confident that a better charging regime for car-parking will emerge. The situation regarding those who have lost out on the re-routing of the 33 is more problematic.”
The second issue discussed at the meeting was the route of the number 33 bus in Tilehurst. The route of the 33 was changed at the end of September and no longer includes the Westwood Glen/Chapel Hill loop. Residents explained that many people from the local area covered by this loop rely on this service, especially elderly people who are not able to walk up and down the hills which form part of the route. Residents were also unhappy that the changes were decided and implemented without consultation of the travelling public and with little publicity. They suggested that a possible solution would be for alternate buses to include the Westwood Glen/Chapel Hill loop in their route, which would still provide local residents with a service.
Whilst James Freeman indicated that he understood the residents’ concerns, he stated his belief that the 33 bus has the best chance of continuing to run as a service only if it continues on the new route. Mr Freeman also stated that RBC offers the number 28A Community Link bus which includes the missing loop of roads in its route. The residents, however, seriously questioned the use of the 28A bus which only runs twice a day.
Councillor Page stated that bus routes can be changed, but that RBC would have to consider the financial viability of a route as well as information on passenger numbers in making any decision to alter a route.
In relation to the issue of the number 33 bus, Alok said: “Local residents are clearly very concerned about this change and, unfortunately, we ran out of time at the meeting and therefore were not able to reach a satisfactory conclusion on next steps in this process. The meeting did agree that we should hold another session to discuss the specific issue in relation to buses and we hope to organise this very shortly.”
Dorothy Wood, Westwood Glen resident, said: “The meeting left the issue of the number 33 bus route entirely unresolved, and our concerns remain. It is essential to have a more in depth meeting with James Freeman to clarify the residents’ views and explore more options which the time constraints of today's meeting did not permit.”
Vivien and Trevor Aitken, Felton Way residents, said: “Our thanks and appreciation to Alok and Sandra for arranging this meeting at such short notice. We look forward to the next meeting when outstanding issues surrounding the rerouting of the number 33 bus service can be comprehensively discussed to reach a solution that will provide a service that meets the needs of local residents and the financial viability of the route.”
Pat and Ian MacDonald, Westwood Glen residents, said: “The bus aspect of the meeting was shortened and Mr Freeman managed to monopolise that part of the meeting restricting our chance to fully explore all the options. It also gave the impression that he was not open to any suggestions that we might make to enable him to continue to raise revenue and residents to have a satisfactory bus service! From our point of view, the meeting was a starting point!”
Lualhati Perry, Cromer Close resident, said: “I felt that the gentleman representing the Reading Bus company did not really want to hear our point of view by quoting statistics on how well it has improved the number of passengers since they re-routed the number 33 bus. From my point of view, I cannot understand why the bus can't turn to Westwood Glen and pick up passengers from up the hill and then turn right again at the bottom of Chapel Hill and continue to go up to Turnhams Farm. It is easier to walk on the even ground for those who use the bus stop on Lower Elmstone Drive than to walk uphill or downhill when you are carrying something, especially if it is raining or snowy. For myself, I work night duty as a nurse at the RBH and there have been occasions when I have had to use the bus to go to work and come home in the morning. Walking that extra distance when I have been on my feet for 12 hours is really hard. I hope that they will reconsider and incorporate Westwood Glen into the bus route.”
Photo: (left to right): Trevor Aitken, Pat MacDonald, a Normanstead Road resident, Dorothy Wood, Vivien Aitken, Ian MacDonald, Cllr Sandra Vickers, Peter Marsh, Alok Sharma, Janet Carr, Lualhati Perry, Geoffrey Foley, Roger Kent and Michael Perry.