Friday 13 March 2015

Timing of Reading Bridge's total temporary Closure should be rethought

At Traffic Management Committee last night my Conservative colleague Cllr Ed Hopper raised concerns about Reading Borough Council's (RBC’s) recent announcement that Reading Bridge will close completely for two weeks during GCSE and A Level exams, shortly after the General & Local Elections. 

Earlier calls from Rob Wilson MP highlighting the risks of significant impact upon students had been derided by RBC's deputy leader Cllr Tony Page and last night was no different.  Responsible parents have a valid concern and it is disgraceful that Cllr Page should dismiss out of hand these parents’ plea to rethink the closure dates.

Ed told the committee it simply isn’t possible to close Reading Bridge without having a huge impact on traffic across Reading, pointing out that a closure should not be considered in the run up to Christmas, over the Reading Festival period, or during the public examination season.  Ed supported Rob Wilson MP’s call for the closure works to be re-scheduled, stating that Cllr Page shouldn’t play roulette with young people’s future.

As any parent who has teenagers (like me) knows, biologically they find it difficult to get up in the morning.  They need a lot of sleep.   Add to this the uncertainty of how long their journey to school will take and it is easy to understand parents’ concerns.  The home to school distance at secondary level far exceeds the usual 2 miles to a primary school.  One teenager from my road travels 5 miles across town to Maiden Erlegh so would face a 1¾ hour walk, according to Google Maps, to sit her A levels.  The ReadyBike scheme isn’t comprehensive enough to enable exam entrants to jump on a bike during the bridge closure, even if all of the teenagers were road safe.

It seems that Reading's Labour administration, in its haste to avoid closing the bridge in the run up to the General Election, has failed to take into account the serious consequences students may have to endure.  It is ironic therefore that Cllr Page attacked Rob Wilson MP for “electioneering”.

If students arrive late, they will not be allowed to sit their exam.  I’d have thought my opposite number Labour’s Education man, Cllr John Ennis, would be concerned by teenagers’ results being impacted, but I haven’t seen any statement.  The exam results will have a bearing on the rest of these teenagers’ lives so it seems foolhardy for the Labour administration to plough ahead regardless with the total closure of Reading Bridge.

[Reading Bridge is scheduled to be closed from 18 May for two weeks.]