The Labour administration in charge of Reading Borough Council has devised plans to make changes to the road network to encourage bus use.
The changes involve creating bus lanes in two stretches of London Road, two stretches in Oxford Road, and stretches in Bath Road and Southampton Street.
The project has been enabled after the council received £26.3 million from the government to improve the bus network in 2022.
In order for it to go ahead, the lanes needed to be approved by Reading Borough Council’s traffic management committee, where councillors clashed over traffic queues caused by the changes.
RBC lead councillor for climate strategy and transport John Ennis admitted that the changes will cause traffic queues, but the scheme has been designed to encourage people to change their journey habits.
He also argued that the new bus lanes are aimed at meeting the council’s net zero emissions targets and tackling poor air quality.
Cllr Ennis (Labour, Southcote) said: “It’s an excellent project. These ideas haven’t been plucked out of the sky, they are aimed at how we can tackle poor air quality.
“The way to defeat that is to enhance our public transport, that is the way to do it.”
Cllr Sarah Hacker (Independent, Battle) agreed, stating that she has to clean her windows that are ‘thick with grime’ coming from car engines.
She said: “Unfortunately it will be awkward and uncomfortable but it’s absolutely necessary.”
The most controversial change is turning one of two inbound traffic lanes in London Road between Liverpool Road and Cemetery Junction into a bus lane.
Cllr Rob White (Green, Park), the leader of the opposition cited council traffic modelling that the change would increase the morning traffic queue by 176 cars and the evening queue by 107 cars.
Cllr White said: “This is approximately a doubling of both of those traffic jams.”
He added that the Greens supported “five out of the six bus lanes proposed”, calling for a decision on the London Road bus lane to be deferred.
Cllr Raj Singh (Conservatives, Kentwood) pointed out that the majority of respondents to a statutory consultation objected to the changes.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service counted 116 written objections to the London Road bus lane between Liverpool Road and Cemetery Junction, with 45 written submissions supporting the change.
The majority of these were supportive, on the condition that motorcycles should be able to use the lane as well as buses.
Opposition councillors were accused of vote chasing and lacking leadership in their criticisms.
Cllr Will Cross (Labour, Redlands) said: “We’ve seen vote chasing, we’ve seen a lack of leadership and we’ve seen naked populism.”
Meanwhile, cllr Ennis called the Greens and the Conservatives “two cheeks of the same backside.”
In a vote, all Labour members, cllr James Moore (Liberal Democrats, Tilehurst) and cllr Hacker voted for the bus lanes, with cllrs Singh, White and cllr Kathryn McCann (Green, Redlands) voting against them at the meeting on Thursday, January 11.
The projects to establish the lanes can now begin with the following hoped for completion dates:
- London Road between Liverpool Street and Cemetery Junction – May
- Oxford Road outbound between Zinzan Street and George Street – April
- Southampton Street inbound between Pell Street and The Oracle – September
- Oxford Road outbound between Pangbourne Street and Norcot Junction – November
- London Road inbound between Sidmouth Street and London Street – December
- Bath Road outbound between Circuit Lane and Granville Road – September 2025.