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Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Thank you for re-electing me

My apologies for the silence over the last few weeks.  The run-up to the Local Elections was extremely busy, after which I needed to catch up with everything else.

The turnout here in Mapledurham Ward of 45.21% was the highest in all of Reading Borough.  Nobody took the opportunity to stand for democratic election on a “No school on Mapledurham Playing Fields” ticket.  Candidates from the Greens, Labour and Lib Dems stood against me but I was re-elected with 53% of the vote.  The full Local Election results for Reading Borough can be read here.

Thank you to everyone who supported me.  I will continue to work hard for Mapledurham Ward residents on council-related matters.  The biggest issues facing our community for which solutions need to be found are: 
  • A permanent home for The Heights primary school
  • A refurbishment/rebuild of Mapledurham Pavilion
  • Improvements to road safety in Caversham, in particular the Highmoor/Albert Road junction and Prospect Street’s zebra crossing

Thursday, 31 March 2016

EFA's Proposal for The Heights on Mapledurham Playing Fields

Extract from The Heights School's March Newsletter
The Education Funding Agency's (EFA) preview and public consultation events earlier this month were well attended.

Lots of residents and users of Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF) came to look at & discuss the EFA's proposal of where to build The Heights primary school.  In particular people spoke about the outlined area of Trust land in the preliminary layout proposal, as well as what possible benefits could be part of the EFA's formal proposal for the wider community.

As regular readers will be aware, the siting of The Heights primary school's permanent home is a widely debated issue in the community.  No matter what your views, the EFA would like as many residents as possible to fill out their consultation form, so please make time to respond.

The deadline is Monday 4 April 2016.

I remain neutral on where the school is built for two reasons: (1) I am on Reading Borough Council's (RBC) Planning Committee and (2) As the elected councillor for the area it is my job to represent the views of all residents.  It was clear at the previews and public consultation events that there were mixed views: Some residents were pro the school, some were opposed to any Trust land being built upon, whilst others were wishing to see exactly what the EFA's formal proposal will be to Reading Borough Council (the Trustee) before making their minds up.

Caversham and District Residents Association (CADRA) is also remaining neutral as their committee recognises the fact that their members have mixed views.  I agree with CADRA's stance.  I hope that the Warren & District Residents Association's (WADRA) committee will rethink their approach which has been to align with the MPF Action Group (MPFAG) against the school being built on MPF thereby leaving some WADRA members feeling marginalised.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Caversham Heights Without Post Office Services

The Post Office failed to get its services up and running inside Conisboro Stores on 22 March as
originally planned.  Having closed the much loved, dedicated post office counter inside the Woodcote Way shop on Monday 21 March and stripped out the equipment, PO customers have been left high and dry.

PO customers have been forced to get in their cars or jump on a bus to a post office elsewhere and as yet I have had no response back from the Post Office as to when post office services at the shared counter in Conisboro Stores will be up and running.

This is extremely frustrating for residents, especially since there was such overwhelming opposition to the Post Office's proposed move of postal services from Woodcote Way in the first place.

Update
If, like the local business people who have contacted me, you too are being inconvenienced you may wish to make a formal complaint to the Post Office, in which case you can do so here.

The Conisboro Stores manager thinks it unlikely that the Post Office's engineers will be able to carry out the necessary recalibration until Thursday at the earliest and services may not be working until Monday (4 April).

In the meantime the queue in the Post Office down in Caversham has been tailing outside, one frustrated would-be customer told me!

Further Update
The Post Office has informed me that postal services are up and running now in Conisboro Stores (Friday afternoon, 1 April)

Friday, 4 March 2016

Breaking: Temporary Closure of Mapledurham Pavilion Extended

Pavilion - taken a while ago
This afternoon Reading Borough Council (RBC) published a report to its Policy Committee which recommends the continued closure of Mapledurham Pavilion.  Here is the report.  

As blogged on 21 January, RBC’s administration announced its decision to temporarily close the Pavilion pending a detailed structural survey.  RBC estimated that this would be for a period of 6 weeks.  The decision followed the recommendation of an earlier survey which raised safety concerns about bowing of the southern external wall.

Today’s news of the prolonging of the temporary closure was communicated to User Groups by RBC this afternoon.  I too wrote to the users and as readers may be interested, here is what I said:

“I know your respective groups have all been inconvenienced by the temporary closure of the Pavilion, for which I am very sorry.  I appreciate that the news of the continuing closure is most unwelcome.

“As chairman I have called an urgent meeting of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Management (MPFM) Committee to discuss the report going to Policy Committee, Agenda item 8, a link to which is: http://www.reading.gov.uk/article/8775/Policy-Committee-14-MAR-2016

“MPFM Committee meeting
The MPFM Committee meeting will be in the Civic Centre at 8 am on Thursday 10th March.  You are welcome to attend as long as you register your wish to attend with Nicky Simpson by noon on Wednesday 9th March so she is able to check that there is sufficient seating and that your name is added to the attendees list.  This will ensure that security will let you into the building (which doesn’t open until 9 am) when you press the intercom at the building’s main entrance. 

“In order for the meeting to finish in time for people to get to work I will not be allowing observers to speak.  If there are any questions you would like considered, please notify me by noon on 9th March.

“Policy Committee meeting
Members of the public are allowed to attend Policy Committee which will take place on Monday 14th March at 6.30 pm.  I will be addressing the committee on Agenda item 8 as MPFM’s chairman.  Simon Hill in Committee Services is the Policy Committee’s administrator to contact if you have any queries, his details are on the same link mentioned above.”

For those interested, here is the detailed structural report referred to in RBC's Policy Committee report.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Should Cycling Be Allowed in Broad Street, Reading?

Reading Borough Council has launched a three-week statutory consultation today on whether cycling should be allowed along the whole length of Broad Street.
Jenny Rynn & me, Broad St, 2012

This follows an informal online consultation a couple of months ago, the results of which showed majority support for the proposal.  However, there was criticism from residents as the consultation wasn’t well-known about - apart from the cycling fraternity – and the results were questioned.  One of my residents who has eye-sight problems has contacted me already, very concerned by the proposal.

I must put my hand up and say that I am a cyclist however I don’t mind walking my bike across or along Broad Street.   Perhaps I would feel differently though if I was always on my bike (which I’m not) and used it to commute.

Back in 2012 when my friend Jenny Rynn was Mayor of Reading I accompanied her on an invitation from Guide Dogs for the Blind to try walking blindfold along Broad Street.  It gave me a completely new perspective, highlighting just how scary it is to have to rely on your other senses in this busy pedestrianised road. To read about my experience here’s the link.

Getting back to the statutory consultation, if you would like to voice your views do email highway.objections@reading.gov.uk or write to C J Brooks, Head of Legal and Democratic Services, Reading Borough Council, Civic Offices, Bridge Street, Reading, RG1 2LU.  You can read more about the consultation by going to: www.reading.gov.uk/cyclingconsultation

Update: On 10 March RBC's Traffic Management Committee agreed to leave the cycling ban along part of Broad Street in place as the results of the statutory consultation were so close. Personally I'm pleased by the result as I believe it is the safest option.  

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Post Office's Decision for Caversham Heights

The Post Office announced today that they are ploughing ahead with their proposed move of the post office from the Woodcote Way News shop despite massive public opposition. 
Protest last year outside the Woodcote Way PO

Their press release admitted that there was “a large amount of feedback…the majority” of which “was opposed to the move of the branch from its current location”.

Through conversations with the Post Office however I’ve learnt that usually there is little opposition to such proposals.  This makes the Post Office’s decision to plough head in this case all the more surprising given the strength and number of objections mustered by my campaign - over 900 supporting my petition and 91 residents writing to me with their strong objections.  Only four Mapledurham Ward residents told me they actually supported the proposal, one of whom understandably gets fed up of people parking for the Woodcote Way shop which is by his home.

Laura Tarling from the Post Office has agreed to meet me on 24 February to discuss the decision. I will be asking her why the Post Office disregarded the robust objections and huge public opposition.  Also I’ll be pushing for the retention of the post box outside the Woodcote Way shop together with its current collection times and asking how they intend to tackle the accessibility and security issues (amongst others) raised in my detailed submission of residents’ objections.

If readers have any other specific question they would like me to put to the Post Office please email me: mail@IsobelBallsdon.com before the 24 February.

Thank you to everybody for supporting my campaign: I am sorry we were unsuccessful. The Woodcote Way’s dedicated post office counter will close on 21 March at 5.30 pm with the new shared counter in Conisboro Stores offering post office services opening on 22 March at 1 pm. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Mapledurham Playing Fields: Should some residents be banned from observing meetings?

At the last meeting of the Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF) Management committee on 19 January 2016 there was a debate over whether observers “who openly advocate breaking the Trust" should be allowed to attend. 

Reading Borough Council's minutes of this meeting have not yet been formally agreed by the committee, however when they are I will link to them here.

I argued that it would be undemocratic and discriminatory to introduce such a ban, not to mention impossible to manage, and I am pleased to report that my colleagues Cllrs Hopper and Skeats agreed with me.   The demand (I’d received several emails from the Users’ Group representative in advance of the meeting to introduce this ban) flew in the face of the transparency I have promoted since taking on the committee’s chairmanship.  The vote went 1:3 with 1 abstention.

Next I tabled a motion that any member of the public be allowed to observe these Management meetings so long as they give me, as chairman, written notice in advance (so I can ensure there is sufficient space) and observers do not disturb proceedings.  My motion was agreed 3 with 2 abstentions.

I am well aware that residents opposed to The Heights primary school going on part of MPF, because of the land having been left in Trust for the benefit of everyone living in Reading and the Parish of Mapledurham for recreation, have extremely strong views, which I respect.  However there is a democratic process by which this legal issue will be determined.

For the avoidance of doubt for readers generally, I am keeping an open view about the Education Funding Agency's anticipated proposal to build a permanent home for The Heights on part of MPF so that I can fully participate in the decision making process.  This will enable me to speak up on behalf of all residents in Mapledurham Ward having first fully assessed the pros and cons of the proposal, tempting though it might be to ignore the tiny minority who try to smear my reputation.  

Update on temporary accommodation for user groups:  All but one user group are back up and running having been displaced from the Pavilion whilst the building is shut for a detailed survey. I have been told that the user group still without accommodation should be restarting this coming week once the council has reopened a building at Caversham Court.