CONSTRUCTION of a new bridge over the railway in Wokingham will go ahead but work must continue on whether it will be accessible to all residents.

The Tan House bridges are made up of a permanent bridge and a temporary one at the point where the rail line splits between the South Western Railway to Bracknell and the Great Western Railway to Crowthorne.

Recently, approval of a replacement bridge was held up after neighbours and councillors raised alarm about its lack of disabled access.

While the proposed bridge, a plan submitted by Network Rail, still does not have disabled access, Network Rail has agreed to work with Wokingham Borough Council to provide ramped access for the bridge in the future.

At a planning committee meeting, Councillor Imogen Shepherd-DuBey (Liberal Democrats, Emmbrook), speaking on the behalf of Wokingham Town Council, said:  “If we can get ramped access and if Network Rail is willing to work with us that would be great.”

She also reiterated a point that the bridge should be made of something other than perforated steel – as this steel can make cleaning graffiti off it ‘extremely difficult’.

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Alex Cran, from Wokingham active travel community hub (WATCH), urged the council to push for ramps to be built, in part so that cyclists, wheelchair users and those with prams could use it as well.

He said: “As someone who believes in local democracy, it was heartening to see so many object to the bridge in its current design, despite being told this was a done deal, that the council had no power to oppose.”

A petition against the design gained over 300 signatures before it was submitted to Network Rail. Mr Cran praised the positive engagement between the council and Network Rail on Friday, February 3.

If the council can obtain land, funding and planning by August, Network Rail can install ramps to make the bridge more accessible.

Addressing the committee, Mr Cran said: “I call on you the councillors and your relevant officers to pull out all the stops to work with Network Rail on what sounds like a very tight timescale to make this happen and get the bridge that Wokingham residents need and want designed and built.”

Bracknell News: A view of the permanent Tan House Bridge with the multi-storey car park in the background. Credit: Wokingham Borough CouncilA view of the permanent Tan House Bridge with the multi-storey car park in the background. Credit: Wokingham Borough Council

Nathalie Wilson said: “I spoke at the last meeting because of how strongly I feel about the necessity of a safe accessible lower pollution route from the south into the town centre.

“As a resident I felt very supported by councillors at the last meeting, and by deferring your decision you’ve made already made a difference.

“You have our best interests at heart, and I thank you.”

Network Rail’s plan was left unadapted as a Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) it submitted stated that it does not need to provide ramps, in part because none exist on the bridge currently.

But part of the bridge is a temporary structure.

Nathalie Wilson criticised the EQIA, arguing that it should not be based on the current temporary provision.

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Cllr Rachelle Shepherd-DuBey (Liberal Democrats, Winnersh) said: “All public projects should be accessible to all residents of Wokingham not just residents who are normally able, this is not the right thing to do.

“I don’t care if the equalities act says something or another, I think it’s the wrong thing to do.”

Ultimately, the replacement bridge was approved, with only cllr Rachelle Shepherd-DuBey abstaining. It was approved on the provision that Network Rail and the borough and town councils work together to deliver ramped access.

The bridge plan was discussed at a planning committee meeting on Wednesday, February 8.