Tuesday, 19 April 2011

STATION ILL

And so it begins...

The closure of Station Hill to through buses is another sad and sorry legacy the town has inherited from the miserable excuse of an administration that was Labour.

Let's be clear about this. The decision was made by Labour without any regard to the impact this would have on bus services or public transport. They didn't even have the decency to take into account the bus company's opinion before making the decision. Sure it was cloaked in "consulation" but the option to reverse the closure was never on the table. It was a fait accompli.

In August 2008 it was Reading Transport Limited's policy to push for an integrated transport interchange. I attach a paper produced by RTL discussing its response to the Station Hill1 proposals. It clearly sets out the case for a fully integrated transport interchange and why failing to do so would be folly.

In February 2009 the board were informed that Station Hill would be closed. There was no opportunity for the company to change this decision. That was it, end of discussion.

At this point the bus company as a wholly owned part of the council really had no choice but to make the best of a bad situation because at this point the council's plans would decimate the network. For example, they had laughable plans for buses to wait in King's Meadow/Napier Road during the standing time that is required to allow late running services to catch up on the timetable.

And when is an interchange not an interchange? When it is designed by Reading Borough Council. Their original proposals had the even more ludicrous plan of having three interchanges! Highways ovbiously uses a different meaning for the word interchange... or bus shelters as the rest of us would call it.

During a full council session when Lib Dems objected to the scheme in its current form, Tony Page tried his usual weasel tactics by trying to imply that as a member of the RTL Board I had agreed with the decision. Balderdash. The board minutes clearly show that I objected to the closure. I made representations to Highways. It was a lie to imply otherwise but a standard tactic from him to obfuscate the facts.

Since 2009 an enormous amount of work by Reading Transport has gone into trying to sort out the pigs breakfast left by Labour, spurred on by the experience of what happened to Newbury Buses during the extensive work in Newbury's Market Place which wrecked the town centre traffic and had a severe impact on bus services which Newbury buses have never really recovered from. If the new layout ends up with a half workable system, then the credit must go to RTL who have put a massive amount of work into changing the Council's plans from their half-baked fag packet plans.

The question I asked was who exactly was it who was behind this initiative? Everyone has been remarkably coy about admitting to making such a bold decision.
  • The land is not in the Sackville Properties redevelopment area.
  • It was also not owned by Network Rail whose land stopped at the perimeter of the station.
  • It was in the interests of the council as the owner of Reading Buses to create an integrated transport hub.
  • The road at Station Hill is fully under the control of Reading Borough Council.
So who exactly did decide to shut the road?

No-one will admit to it. However, I was told that Sir John wanted a continental style pedestrian piazza to deliver passengers direct into his development and a source in the council told me: "What Sir John wants, Sir John gets." Now there is nothing wrong with a developer asking for such things. What is wrong is a council that cravenly bends over backwards to fulfil the developers wishes without due regard to the best interests of the town.

So whose interests was screwing up the bus network and throwing away the once in a generation chance for a properly integrated transport hub?

Using Occam's Razor, the only sensible conclusion that can be drawn is that the Labour administration was so desperate for the millions of Section 106 cash from Sackville to fill the hole in their general finances that they were prepared to sell the future of integrated transport for present and future generations down the river. No-one has ever come up will a plausible alternative suggestion.

If an application for a whelk stall comes up for Broad Street, I hope that the licensing committee refuse the licence if the proprieter is one Mr. A.W. Page. He is not a fit and proper person to run one, let alone a town like Reading.

1 RTL Station Hill Consultation Response March 2007

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