Campaigners warn 1,000 trees at risk if transport plan goes ahead

River Thames
A campaign group says that around 1,000 trees are at risk from plans to build a single lane bus lane over the River Thames as it meets the Kennet. The land straddles the Wokingham and Reading borough borders

MORE THAN a thousand trees could be felled to build a park and ride by the River Thames in Earley.

That’s the warning from a campaign group which claims a bus lane connecting with the site on the River Thames would “devastate” the area.

The Berkshire Local Transport Board has approved the £24m scheme for the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) which will include a new bridge to be built over the River Thames at Thames Valley Park. Project partners include Wokingham and Reading Borough Councils.

Officials figures suggest only 86 trees will be lost but campaigners claim the figure is “absolutely wrong”.

The single-lane road will run alongside the Kennetmouth Horseshoe bridge which is a listed structure, and be used only by buses.

Now, campaigners from SOAR (Save Our Ancient Riverside) have submitted a Tree Protection Order (TPO) on two willow trees they say would be felled to make way for the project.

The group argues that out of a total of 1,500 trees, more than 1,000 are identified for felling: two-thirds of the total.

Of these trees, 27 species will be felled including legacy trees and trees classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened.

The total lifespan of the trees is estimated by SOAR to be 40,075 years.

John Sharpe, from SOAR, said: “We fear over a thousand trees will have to be felled, not the 100 suggested.

“While a TPO won’t necessarily prevent planning permission we hope it will force councillors to accept the devastation that the MRT will cause.

“This scheme has been opposed by groups such as the environment Agency, Reading Sports and Leisure and the Wildlife Trust. In addition, over 3,000 people have signed a petition and there are two hundred objections alone against the park and ride.

“Despite all this, and despite the Berkshire Local Transport Board not considering any suitable alternative, they seem determined to press on with a scheme that will devastate the area.”

Mr Sharpe said local people had fought off plans for roads along the historic River Kennet for the past 50 years and this latest project he said would not make a “serious reduction” in traffic volumes.

“An environmental statement by the consultant’s Peter Brett Associates, showed that while on some roads there could potentially be a small reduction of journeys, there are other roads that would see an enormous increase.

“This project will not be a great benefit to the people of Wokingham, but just a concrete disaster that will devastate an historic location.”

SOAR also plans to referring the council to the Local Government Ombudsman for deliberately misleading the public with misinformation and attempting to push through a scheme over which they themselves hold the authority to approve its go-ahead.

Wokingham Borough Council has confirmed it has received applications to make tree preservation orders for trees along the River Thames.

Clare Lawrence, assistant director – place based services for the council, told The Wokingham Paper: “We’ve received two requests to make Tree Preservation Orders. One relates to two willow trees and one to Hawthorn trees.

“In line with national planning practice guidance, the council will consider whether it’s in the interests of the area to make TPOs.”

Meanwhile, Reading Borough Council said in a press release: “The amended scheme now results in the total loss of 58 tree features (36 individual trees and 22 tree groups) – the vast majority trees in tree groups that will need to be removed are low quality, low life expectancy and / or, young small trees.

“The removal of invasive non-native species, selection tree management and native understorey planting will improve the quality/growth of the existing (and remaining) woodland.

“Seventy seven new trees, plus four trees off-site will be planted. This compares to the previous figure of a loss of 83 tree features (53 individual trees and 30 tree groups).”

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