LEADING councillors have defended “ill thought out” bus and cycle lanes on the A4 as the petition is heard at a full council meeting.
A fiery debate took hold of a Slough council meeting on September 24 (Thursday) when the petition – which has garnered over 7,000 signatures demanding the bus lanes between the Huntercombe roundabout and junction five of the M4 are abolished, was heard.
The initial conception of the experimental bus and cycle lanes on Bath Road was to encourage people to actively travel or use public transport in the hope of cutting congestion and air pollution.
Graham Berridge, who started the petition, criticised the scheme – which was funded by the government’s active travel fund – for being “ill thought-out” and “severely impacting the lives” of the Slough people.
He said: “I understand the sentiment of the air pollution issue – but all you’ve done is increase the air pollution.
“Now that schools have come back and the traffic is getting back to normal, it basically means we have more congestion because people are sat in their cars not being able to get anywhere.”
Mr Berridge added the lanes are “dangerous” for cyclists as they are adjacent, without segregation, to the road where cars will have to be “very vigilant” when pulling out from junctions.
He said: “The council needs to think about this and do better. It’s not good enough.”
The lead member for transport and environmental services, councillor Robert Anderson (Labour: Britwell and Northborough), presented the data on traffic congestion and air pollution during the experimental trial.
During lockdown, air quality improved compared to last year where July and August had the lowest air pollution on record, according to Cllr Anderson.
The data showed despite the recent 80 per cent of traffic returning to the A4, air pollution has still decreased compared to the same period last year.
He said bus timings and their punctuality on the A4 have also “improved” by a third overall.
The leader of opposing Conservatives, councillor Wayne Strutton (Haymill and Lynch Hill), scolded the council for the data measurements used as they “do not really reflect the changes” occurred since Covid-19.
He claimed some of the monitoring systems “weren’t working” and evidence couldn’t be provided.
“It really shows the fact that this council rushed in with this bus and cycle lane scheme without thinking about the implications of what was to come up,” the Tory leader said.
He added: “I think the total disregard this council is showing by using the data in the manor that it has by comparing this year with last year and not looking at where the real implications are going to lie.
“The fact that, actually, our air pollution now is higher than it should be if we didn’t have those bus lanes in place now.”
Cllr Anderson responded: “I understand people don’t like statistics when it doesn’t prove their case – but by simply saying you don’t believe the statistics or you don’t think it’s relevant to quote them, I’m not sure how else you manage things other than by using statistics.”
Councillor Dexter Smith (Conservative: Colnbrook with Poyle) argued these bus lanes are not only “damaging Slough” at a time of economic recovery – but it’s also “dissuading” people from visiting the High Street.
The leader of the council, councillor James Swindlehurst (Labour: Cippenham Green), disputed that and said: “City for Centres data shows on their website that about 80 per cent of people have returned to the Slough High Street about a month or two ago. Those figures are a close 100 per cent now.
“So, we are seeing more shoppers that used to be there back. If not more.”
He reiterated that this is an experimental scheme to see what it will be like “under-pressure” where changes will continue to happen following the data and feedback received to form a final policy.
Cllr Anderson remarked once government launches the green number plate vehicle scheme, fully electric vehicles will be allowed to use the lanes.
He also said the council can’t add more bus services as the government doesn’t allow councils to run their own like Reading does and subsidising private companies “isn’t a long-term solution”.
A motion was brought forward by Cllr Anderson for the experimental bus lanes to be scrutinised at a joint neighbourhood and community services scrutiny panel on October 22.
It was approved with a majority of Labour and Independent councillors voting for the motion.