AN ‘UNACCEPTABLE’ 16-week closure of a busy walkway under Reading Train Station to allow for upgrades, has been slammed by the Liberal Democrats.

Reading Borough Council’s Labour administration announced that the passageway will close on Tuesday, May 7, for improvements that will raise the roof and officially authorise cyclists to use the route for the first time.

The closure begins at 7am that day and lasts until Tuesday, August 20.

While welcoming the project, the Liberal Democrats have called the impact of the long closure ‘unacceptable’ as they claim the diversion route is ‘four times’ longer than the subway route.

The diversion takes people on a diversion using Station Road and Trooper Potts Way, and underneath what the Lib Dems call ‘the filthy, loud and cramped Vastern Road underpass’.

READ MORE: Much awaited improvements to station underpass begin soon 

Therefore, the Liberal Democrats are calling for a shorter, cleaner, diversion route for all, using the Reading station overbridge, and a shorter period of works to reduce the risk of clashing with Reading Festival.

Henry Wright, local election candidate for Abbey ward, said: “There is finally light at the end of the tunnel for improvements to the Reading Station underpass, however the diversion and closure show, once again, Reading Labour’s disdain for walkers and cyclists, and users of the town centre.

“The length of this closure and the unpleasant diversion route would never be foisted upon motorists in the same way.

“I am demanding the council think again – reduce the length of the closure and put in place a much nicer diversion route for visitors and residents of Abbey ward alike.”

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Jo Ramsay, election candidate for Thames ward, added: “16 weeks is a shockingly long period for the tunnel, which is now a main thoroughfare for pedestrians and cyclists, to be out of action.

“The council needs to explain what work is planned in there and work with the contractors to minimise the time the tunnel is out of action for residents north and south of the river.”

Reading Chronicle: Jo Ramsay Lib Dem candidate for the Thames ward for the 2024 local elections. Credit: Reading Lib DemsJo Ramsay Lib Dem candidate for the Thames ward for the 2024 local elections. Credit: Reading Lib Dems

Meanwhile, Peter De Boiserie – the election candidate for Emmer Green – called the duration of the project and its £400,000 cost ‘incomprehensible’.

Mr De Boiserie said:  “The slightest delay with this project will mean it will clash with Reading Festival and cause unprecedented amounts of chaos around the station.

“I urge the council to review this and try to reduce the time and cost of this project as much as possible – and create a better alternative diversion route away from the dangerous Vastern Road underpass.”

Reading Chronicle: Peter De Boiserie, Liberal Democrat candidate for Emmer Green ward in the 2024 local elections. Credit: Reading Lib DemsPeter De Boiserie, Liberal Democrat candidate for Emmer Green ward in the 2024 local elections. Credit: Reading Lib Dems

Any free usage of the station overbridge suggested by the Liberal Democrats would require the cooperation of Network Rail and rail operators, as it is only accessible for train ticket holders.

Furthermore, there may be a concern that train fare dodgers could take advantage of any opening of ticket gates to allow people to use the bridge.

Responding to the Liberal Democrat arguments, a council spokesperson said: “This long-awaited project involves the removal of low-hanging tiles whilst protecting service ducts, improving headroom clearance for users,  repairs to floor and wall tiles, improvements to the approaches and signage, repairs and replacement of any lighting and, finally, a deep clean.

“The work will enable the removal of a historic cycling ban and deliver yet another key strategic cycle route through Reading, linking to Christchurch Bridge and Caversham.

“When complete, the underpass promises to offer a significantly more attractive and welcoming route for residents.

“As previously publicised, an alternative would have been to maintain partial access at most, but not all times, which would have meant an extra 10 weeks of disruption, £176,000 of additional costs and would have meant the project would not have been completed before the arrival of Reading Festival.

“Following careful consideration, the Council chose to reduce the period of disruption to residents and a timetable which allows work to be complete before Reading Festival. In an ideal world, work would have begun earlier however it was delayed following negotiations with Network Rail on final designs, which are now complete.

“We fully appreciate the obvious inconvenience the temporary closure will cause. The Council did everything possible to convince Network Rail to allow residents to use the station as a diversion overbridge as a cut through, however the Council’s request was declined as it would allow travellers access to platforms without payment of fares. Network Rail has however agreed to allow disabled users through the station.

“For other users, the fully signed diversion route is the quickest way available to navigate the closure.

“We ask residents to bear with us while these important improvement works take place.”