Whitchurch Bridge rebuilding plans fail to improve pedestrian safety

You may have already seen the planning applications (here and here) for the rebuilding of the Whitchurch toll bridge. If you have you’ll notice that they have not properly addressed pedestrian safety at all. Given that this is the only realistic opportunity for the bridge company to address this matter for the next 130 years you would hope they would. When the last bridge was built there were only around 10,000 cars in the whole of England.

The Bridge company have purposefully limited the planning application to only include the bridge between the abutments and have explicitly excluded the bridge approaches. Geoff Weir, the local Bridge Company Secretary, has stated that they don’t see the need to improve the approaches. I suggest that maybe the Bridge Company doesn’t want to see the need. (see the Henley Standard article here).

The Whitchurch Bride Act 1792 states that the Bridge company shall provide a “safe and commodious for the passage of travellers, cattle, and vehicles”.

Now you have to question whether the Bridge company is legally allowed to collect tolls on a bridge that does not provide a safe passage for pedestrians (travellers) ? After all, this is their remit.

Clearly the bridge is not safe for pedestrians. There have been numerous reports of accidents involving pedestrians (myself included) on the bridge and you only have to look at the bent railings on the Pangbourne approach to see how many collisions there have been.

I believe that there are those calling for the pavement to be relocated to the east side of the bridge and to drop the pavement on the south approach into the neighbouring car park area on the other side of the railings. Personally I think this is an excellent idea. It would give pedestrians the ability to walk into Pangbourne without having the cross this busy road and it mitigates the risk of pedestrians being hit by bridge traffic approaching the Bridge from Pangbourne on the blind bend. It also removes the need for pedestrians to cross the road at the toll booth.

If you want to do something about this may I suggest several avenues:

  • Write to your local MP (on both sides of the river)
  • Let the Bridge Company know what you think on this matter.
  • Write to South Oxfordshire District Council, Oxfordshire County Council and West Berkshire Councils.

Please also take a look at the news articles and information on the village website regarding this matter.

Greedy Bridge Company Hikes Discounted Toll 3 years Early

The Whitchurch Bridge Company are increasing the bridge card discounted toll to 20 pence as of 1st March 2010. This is 3 years earlier than their own recommended proposal (see ‘Option 3 – Recommended Proposal’ page 13) which was presented to the Inspector and the Public Enquiry in June 2009. The increase was proposed to be gradual starting at 13.89 pence per crossing in 2009 reaching 20p in 2013 as shown below from their proposal at the Public Inquiry:

How long till it is 30p or more?

On a BBC Radio Berkshire interview on Feb 16th, Geoff Weir actually had the audacity to blame the Tollfreeze organisation for the early toll increase because of the cost of the public inquiry even though the Bridge company knew how much the inquiry would cost before they actually proposed this gradual increase at the very same inquiry. And regardless of the fact that in the case of the Whitchurch Toll Bridge it only takes a single written objection from a member of the public to invoke a public inquiry. It will be interesting to see if the directors take yet another dividend this financial year.

So there we have it; The Whitchurch Bridge Company, as usual, tells the public one thing and then does whatever suits them. They cannot even honour their own proposal. Another absolutely disgraceful example of highway robbery by our ex-Whitchurch Village Parish Council chairman, Geoff Weir and his greedy bridge company.

But don’t fret! If you wish, you can pay £18 per month and get unlimited crossings by car. So at least now the highway robbery is capped at only £216 per annum - almost twice what you’d pay for a small car in road tax to use the rest of the UK road network.

So, please, take action. Please sign the on-line petition and write to your local MP, Oxfordshire County Council, and the Department for Transport to ensure they know your views on this deceitful, untrustworthy sham of a company.

TollFreeze calls on Oxfordshire County Council to step in and take over the toll bridge. They are the only ones with statutory powers to act, yet they do nothing.

Whitchurch Bridge Toll Protest

photo by Hayly Dowsett

photo by Hayly Dowsett

There was a fantastic turn out this morning between 8am-9am. Around 30-40 people turned up (and one troll) to protest the new 40p cash toll and to publicise the new petition to get Oxfordshire County Council to use their powers under the Highways Act to remove the toll from Whitchurch Bridge. There was an overwhelmingly positive reception from the bridge users and well over 250 people had already signed the petition online/by text/on paper within the first few hours of its launch!

If you haven’t already done so please sign the petition on-line.

There was excellent press presence with BBC South TV and the Henley Standard both sending journalists and video cameras for interviews. There has also been much telephone follow-up and we expect good newspaper coverage this week. BBC Radio Oxford interviewed a protester for around 5 minutes live on-air this morning on their morning show.

Sign the Petition

The online petition has been launched to call on Oxfordshire County Council to use their powers under the Highways Act to remove the tolls from the Whitchurch Bridge.
Please encourage all those who care about the excessive toll rises to sign it. You can sign the petition here.

Tolls rise to 40p

Today we heard that the toll will rise to 40p, as requested by the bridge company.  The full inspector’s report is posted on this site.   Although we succeeded in getting many of our points across, we were hamstrung by the current law, which, in the words of the inspector, is “illogical”.  Why is this?   Basically, the more the bridge company messes up in rebuilding the bridge - the worse their planning - the higher the cost of reconstruction - the current law says that they are entitled to make MORE not less money from the bridge.

The current law, as he inspector said himself, is”illogical”.  But in the end he had to follow that law.  And so the bridge got its way.  Again.  As a result, the bridge company will gain with a massive increase in the value of their shares.  They have a way to make free money, guaranteed by law, so they do.  We estimate as much as 56.7% return per year.

I agree with those objectors who recognised the illogically of a company becoming more valuable as its principle asset nears the end of its life and when the cost of its replacement is escalating, but the fact of the matter is that this is a consequence of the amendments made by the 1988 Act which effectively values the right to provide and operate the crossing.” - Inspector’s report from inquiry

Who could stop this?  Oxfordshire County Council.  They have the power to stop it now.  Law exists that will let them take over the bridge and make it like all the other hundreds of bridges they do look after.   But they won’t.  They sit on their hands.  Easier to do nothing.

If you don’t like the increase, write to them now.  Write to keith.mitchell@oxfordshire.gov.uk - leader of the council.  Ask him:-

1. Why won’t the council step in and remove the toll from this bridge, like all the hundreds of tolls that were removed from the county  in the 1870’s.

2. Why his bridge department continue to make money advising the bridge company, whilst all the rest of us have to pay the higher toll.

3. Why his bridge department have given such bad advice, that the estimated cost of construction of the bridge has more than trebled in a few years, far too late for the tolls to pay for it without this massive increase.

We will continue to work to remove the toll from this bridge.  Please help us in any way you can.

Please sign the petition to call on Oxfordshire County Council to use their powers under the Highways Act to remove the tolls from the Whitchurch Bridge.

Inquiry Held - in 2 months we will see

Well the Inquiry was held.  We had a intensize 2 days and both sides put forward their best case.  We do feel we got a fair hearing and the Inspector guided us to procedure.  However, I do feel the odds were heavily against us.  WBC had a barrister.  I got a little tired of his patronising attitude at times, but generally he was good.  We suffered by not being able to afford a barrister.  Pearl Slatter expressed it best: we were David against Goliath.

This is what we said.   We now need to wait and see what the Inspector and then the Minister says.  I wouldn’t like to bet any more than a bridge crossing on the result.   I do think we have a real chance at getting something.

Thanks to all that worked for this Inquiry.  We really hope it is worthwhile.  At the very least we have made a very clear mark in the sand.

Inquiry Dates. Please put Tue 2nd June in your diary.

Please put the morning of the Tuesday 2nd June in your diary NOW!!!!  We need you to come along to the opening of the inquiry.

We now have the dates for the public inquiry.  Tuesday and Wednesday the 2nd and 3rd of June.   It will be at the Elephant Hotel in Pangbourne.   Please try to come along for the opening on the Tuesday at the very least.  A good chance to represent the strength of feeling to the inspector.

If you wrote a letter of objection you have the right to speak too - and cross examine the other witnesses.  We are not clear of the precise details of this yet.   The Department for Transport say that they won’t send out official notifications until 4 weeks before the inquiry, even though they have fixed the date since March.  We believe in giving you as much notice as possible.

The person who is the “Programme Manager” for the inquiry is Geoff Weir - the spokesperson and Company Secretary of the Bridge Company.  If you want to ask about the inquiry you could try asking him.  He is supposed to act of behalf of the DfT as an impartial arranger.  The DfT say there is no conflict of interest here.

270 Official Objections

270 of you took time to write and object to the Department for Transport against the toll increase.  Fantastic.  A huge number for such a rural area.  Thanks so much.  They all help.

Public Inquiry ordered

The Minister for Transport has ordered a public inquiry into the Whitchurch Toll Bridge and the latest toll increase application.  This follows the successful campaign by TollFreeze.com.  We thank everyone that wrote letters of objection to the minister.  Also thanks to MPs John Howell and Martin Salter, and Pearl Slatter of SODC, for their support.

This is just the first stage of our campaign against the toll increase.  We may have won the first battle.  We must now double our efforts to make the inquiry count.  More news on this site as it comes in.

Last chance for your view to count - plus Xmas Quiz

You’ve missed the last posting day before Xmas. But, still worth posting it off.  Likely it will still count if there just after Xmas.  Every objection counts. Read the debate here then write your letter here.

If you’ve already sent one then thanks a lot.  Have an extra mince pie and glass of port.  And look forward to 2009.

For Christmas fun, we have just dug out the archives a list of the promises the WBC made in return for Whitchurch on Thames Parish Council not objecting to the Whitchurch Bridge Act 1988.   Can you guess which former Parish Councillor, now WBC spokesperson, announced he had won the following “formalised assurances” from the WBC:

  1. WBC would publish their accounts
  2. The parish would always be involved in full consultations before toll increase applications
  3. A time-based season ticket would be introduced, to help people that cross several times a day.

First correct answer wins another mince pie.  For bonus points, how many promises were kept?