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Thursday, 21 September 2017

Mapledurham Playing Fields: Why Making an Exception is Right for Our Community

Two buildings are needed urgently for our community: a permanent home for The Heights school and a refurbished/rebuilt Pavilion.
Proposed school shown outlined in red

A consultation on two proposals is closing on Monday 25 September.  Only the school bid is fully funded and will deliver both buildings.  This in a nutshell is why I am supporting building the school on a corner of Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF).  

For those simply wishing to access the information and fill out the online consultation, this is the RBC web link.   If instead you are happy to give your permission for the form to be completed on your behalf in support of the school, type in your details here.  Further information is also available http://gettingthebestformpf.org/

If you are still unsure how to respond, the bid for the school comes with £1.36 million from the Education Funding and Skills Agency which must be invested solely on the MPF Trust.  Part of the money will be spent on restoring/rebuilding the Pavilion, with the balance being used to enhance other MPF recreational facilities, potentially broadening its sporting appeal whilst making the land more sustainable.

Naturally many residents instinctively are against anything being built on MPF.  After all, the land was left in Trust for recreational purposes for the benefit of the inhabitants of Reading Borough and the Parish of Mapledurham.  However residents were consulted on 5 possible sites for The Heights and MPF came top.  The school will take up less than 5% of MPF at the same time as injecting much needed funding into the MPF Trust.  This will enhance and conserve the rest of MPF. Big community events, footballers and other sports groups will continue to have many acres of playing fields to use.

MPF is protected from development in the Local Plan and by national planning law.  It would continue to be just as protected regardless of having the school built on a corner of it.  To give even more reassurance, question 4 of the consultation should be ticked as it asks if the Trustees (ie Reading Borough Council) should take steps to impose a legal restriction on the remainder of the Ground (MPF) in order to ensure that it can only be used by the Charity for recreational purposes in the future.

An alternative "Fit4All" proposal has been put forward by a local community group called the MPF Action Group (MPFAG) which set up the charity Mapledurham Playing Fields Foundation.  This is an ambitious proposal with very optimistic projections of income growth alongside insufficient cost allowances. The works to restore/rebuild the Pavilion would be phased over time which means user groups’ return would be delayed. There are no guarantees as to when or if the money needed would be available: the plan may not be fundable and it is reliant on Reading taxpayers providing an ongoing subsidy.  Lastly, the group is against the school being built on MPF so the Fit4All proposal does not provide the required primary school places.

As shown I believe the choice is clear: the only way for our community to have both its needs met is to support the school proposal which also will greatly enhance the amenity value of MPF.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

M4 Closure between Junctions 12 and 13 this Weekend

From 9 pm Friday, 31 March, the M4 will be closed between Junctions 12 and 13 until 6 am Monday 3 April 2017 for bridge refurbishment works.

Highways England's contractors, Kier, have written to me in my capacity as a local councillor so I can alert others.  Diversions will be in place via the A4 through Newbury, Thatcham and Woolhampton.  Kier is encouraging people to consider the following alternative options:

  • From west to east and vice versa A339 and A33 or the A404, M40, A34
  • From the north the M40 and A404
  • From the south the M3 and A33

Significant delays are expected during the weekend.

If you have any questions or you'd like to know about the work in more detail, please log your enquiry through Highways England's customer control centre:

Phone: 0300 123 5000
Email: info@highwaysengland.co.uk
Post: Highways England, Bridge House, Walnut Tree Close, Guildford, GU1 4LZ

Monday, 23 January 2017

Mapledurham Pavilion: One Year on from Closure

Saturday 21 January marked a year since Reading Borough Council (RBC) closed the majority of Mapledurham Pavilion to the public.  In advance of this unwelcome anniversary the Warren and District Residents Association (WADRA) sent me a letter urging me to take the following action immediately:
  • Request RBC to prepare Tender Documents for the refurbishment work, based on recent survey works
  • RBC to invite Tenders for the work from local contractors asap
I copy below my response to WADRA:

Dear Robin

Thank you for your letter dated 19 January 2017.

It is highly regrettable that the main part of Mapledurham Pavilion has been closed to the public since 21 January last year.

You will be aware that on numerous occasions I have highlighted at public RBC meetings (Policy Committee and MPF Sub Committee) the huge difficulties/inconvenience this is causing User Groups.  I have repeatedly stated the User Groups’ request for the Pavilion to be refurbished/rebuilt as soon as possible.  In answer to your two questions, back in March 2016 I formally asked Cllr Lovelock, Leader of RBC: 

  • To ensure that there was no further delay in rebuilding and reopening the Pavilion for RBC to undertake the preparatory work including obtaining the necessary permissions to allow tenders to be advertised in 3 months’ time to implement the rebuilding of the Pavilion in partnership with WADRA
  • Advertise tenders immediately it is clear that the Pavilion will be unaffected by proposals from the EFA
  • This preparatory work should be undertaken within RBC’s revenue costs and not charged to the capital fund allocated for the rebuilding
However, my request for the above three points to be added to the Policy Committee’s recommended actions was not granted at that time.

Moving forward to 15 December 2016, you may remember as you were present that at the last MPF Management Committee meeting, RBC’s report to the Sub Committee for 20 December was discussed (Agenda item 5, Pavilion’s condition and the draft accounts).  Grant Thornton stated that RBC’s Property Services had been commissioned to reassess the options and costs for refurbishment and/or partial rebuilding of the Pavilion.

I would draw your attention to paragraph 4.7 where the report stated that “the affordability of this work [complete refurbishment or partial rebuilding] will not be known until this assessment is undertaken and the funding is limited to the £85k currently in the Council’s capital programme.  It is believed WADRA’s position remains that they are unwilling to release funds until any proposal from the EFA to build a school on the Playing Fields is rejected”.

My recollection of the Sub Committee’s outcome was that the following action was agreed: “That a decision is made on either refurbishing or replacing Mapledurham Pavilion after both the implications of any proposals from the Education Funding Agency, or other parties, are considered and affordability established”.  In other words, the go ahead was given for officers to prepare tender documents for the refurbishment work.

Agreement needed to prevent further delay

I hope you will agree with me that as soon as RBC’s Property Services have prepared the specification and other necessary documents in order to be able to let a tender for the refurbishment/partial rebuilding of the Pavilion there should be no delay.  Also that there should be a commitment that RBC’s Section 106 monies and the fund raised monies in WADRA’s bank account will be released so that works can commence.

In order to release the community funds explicitly raised for the refurbishment/rebuilding of the Pavilion, please will WADRA’s committee reconsider its decision to withhold these funds until the EFA’s proposal is ruled out?  Officers in the past have made it clear that RBC’s £85k is an insufficient amount in itself to pay for the minimum works necessary to reopen the Pavilion.

I look forward to hearing from you once you have consulted your committee.

Kind regards 

Isobel

Friday, 23 December 2016

Suffering from Interference of your TV Signal?

In the last week Virgin Mobile has been installing new 4G equipment by the A4074 near the junction with Woodcote Way.  It has caused TV signal interference for a resident of Regency Heights who has Freeview (it is not a problem for TV's using satellite or cable providers, eg Sky).
Pixelation which can happen because of  TV
signal  interference

Apparently this is a well-known problem. The signal to TVs and Freeview boxes can be blocked by these 4G mobile signals as the 800 MHz frequencies used are next to the frequencies used for Freeview.

Although it is irritating, the good news is that you can get the problem sorted for free.

The company www.at800.tv has information to help you diagnose for yourself whether it is likely that your TV signal is suffering because of interference from a mobile phone mast.  Alternatively you can ring them for free from a landline or mobile on: 0808 13 13 800.  If necessary they will send out an engineer who will check whether you need to have a filter and install one as appropriate for FREE!

Monday, 12 December 2016

To Proceed or Not to Proceed: EFA's Proposal for Part of Mapledurham Playing Fields

To proceed or not to proceed: That is the question.  It will be debated in public on Tuesday 20 December by the Trustee of Mapledurham Playing Fields at 6.30 pm in Reading Borough Council's Bridge Street council chamber.

Late today, Monday 12 December, Reading Borough Council (RBC) published the Education Funding Agency's (EFA) updated proposal to build a permanent home for The Heights primary school on 1.231 acres to the side of Mapledurham Pavilion.
Proposed Site Plan, by David Miller Architects

The newly renamed "Mapledurham Playing Fields Trustees Sub Committee" (which has delegated authority to discharge RBC's functions as charity trustee of the Charity) is meeting on 20 December. The main agenda item is to decide whether to either reject or accept the EFA's proposal subject to conditions (and of course subject to planning permission).

Here is an extract from the recommended action:

2.3 That the Sub Committee resolves that EITHER:
(A) Taking into account the Property Report, the Amenity Report and the legal advice and other information set out in this report, the EFA offer as it has currently been articulated in the Heads of Terms is not in the best interests of the Charity (ie because it does not enhance the amenity value of the Ground) and should not therefore be proceeded with any further; OR

(B) Taking into account the Property Report, the Amenity Report and the legal advice and other information set out in this report, the EFA offer is, subject to contract, capable of being in the best interests of the Charity (ie because it is considered to be capable of enhancing the amenity value of the Ground) and should therefore be pursued in line with the Heads of Terms, subject to any conditions recommended by Officers and which are adopted by the Sub Committee (and any other conditions the sub-Committee thinks are appropriate and necessary).

The papers can be downloaded from RBC's website and details about attending the meeting or watching it using RBC's webcasting service can be found on the same page.

As usual I will be attending and addressing the Sub Committee on behalf of Mapledurham ward residents and the MPF Management Committee so once you have read the documents please let me know your thoughts so I can represent your views.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Why WADRA's Committee Needs to Change its Ways

In October the Warren and District Residents’ Association (WADRA) held its AGM. Several WADRA members have asked me to publish my speech.

In summary, speaking as the Mapledurham ward councillor/chairman of the MPF Management committee/and a WADRA member myself, I made the following points including some questions:

  • WADRA’s 2002 survey of members showed 93% supported restoration of the Pavilion
  • WADRA has raised over £45,000 since 2002 to refurbish/rebuild the Pavilion
  • I believe the vast majority of WADRA members still have the shared goal of refurbishing/rebuilding the Pavilion
  • With the closure of a large part of the Pavilion (January 2016) and the delays associated with awaiting the outcome of the Education Funding Agency’s (EFA) proposal to build The Heights School on part of MPF, tempers in the community have been fraught 
  • Each and every one of us has the power to put a stop to the EFA’s proposal being divisive by accepting and respecting other people’s views; cutting out the personal insults and being polite to each other 
  • The MPF Management committee’s powers are so restricted it is unable to get on with the refurbishment as this is outside of its remit
  • There are mixed views amongst WADRA members, some for/against/undecided about the EFA’s proposal
  • WADRA’s committee however, currently is only representing the view of those opposing the proposal and therefore it is behaving like an action group: not a residents’ association
  • If WADRA is to continue it must represent the views of all its members, ie be inclusive
  • Why has WADRA’s committee unilaterally decided to withhold the fund raised money from being used to refurbish/rebuild the Pavilion if the EFA’s proposal is accepted? [See letter]
  • Surely WADRA’s committee must be prepared to work with RBC, the EFA, the school and elected members should the EFA’s proposal proceed?  If not, then many feel the time has come for this local community to set up a new residents’ association which will do so
Meantime the Pavilion continues to be battered by the weather and RBC regularly monitors its condition. This morning (21 November) I inspected the Pavilion accompanied by a Parks department officer after which a list of the latest remedial works needed was given to the Property Services department. 

The Pavilion's refurbishment remains on hold as RBC (Trustee of MPF) decided it would not spend money on this pending the outcome of the EFA's proposal.  WADRA's committee doesn't want to use the fund raised money held in its bank account until such time as RBC agrees a proposal from "Fit4All" which excludes the school from being built on part of MPF.

However our community urgently needs the refurbishment/rebuilding of the Pavilion to recommence and a decision on the EFA's proposal to be made. 

Thursday, 17 November 2016

"Day Burning" Street Lights

Government funding of £6.9m from the Department of Transport’s Challenge Fund is being used by Reading Borough Council towards upgrading the town’s street lights to energy efficient LED lanterns.

Here in Mapledurham Ward most recently some lanterns in Hewett Avenue, Woodcote Way, Silverthorne Drive, Fernbrook and Wincroft Roads have been upgraded.  (Columns in a good condition are not being replaced, nor lanterns which were already LED.)  

Last week I noticed and reported that lanterns in Hewett Avenue were continually on.  This was, I'm told, because the Mayflower Nodes (fixed on top of the lanterns to transmit to a Submaster which controls the on/off function and light level) needed to be connected to a Submaster. Today a Submaster was put up in the Woodcote Road which should, after 24 hours, control the new lanterns in this area.

If however you see one of these new LED lanterns shining during daylight hours after tomorrow (18 November) lunchtime, do let me know so that I can inform the council to ensure the full financial saving is made from this Government funding.