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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.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Prospect Street Zebra Crossing Safety Campaign

Cllr Claire McDonald, Ed Hogan and me by the zebra crossing
Cllr Claire McDonald and local resident Ed Hogan have been leading a campaign calling on Reading Borough Council (RBC) to urgently review the safety of the zebra crossing in Prospect Street.

This follows a serious incident on 11 January when a woman walking across the zebra crossing was knocked down by a van.  The woman was rushed to hospital with life threatening injuries.

I've been supporting my Conservative colleagues' campaign which has amassed over 1,250 signatures to date.  It is staggering just how frequently vehicles are seen failing to stop for pedestrians trying to, or actually walking over, this zebra crossing - several times every day.  

If you share our concerns and agree that the safety of this crossing needs an urgent review, please take a minute to read and sign the petition.

Simple measures that wouldn't need a long-drawn out consultation like proper lighting and raising the crossing up onto a table would dramatically improve visibility.  Such measures would just need the will of the Labour-run council to take immediate action.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Woodcote Way Post Office Update

Protest in December
Thank you to the nearly 1,000 residents who have signed my petition, written via email or letter, stopped me in the street or invited me in to tell me about their objections to the Post Office’s proposal to remove the dedicated post office counter from Woodcote Way.

I submitted a detailed objection listing the arguments against this flawed proposal to the Post Office in the hope that it be scrapped.  In total 903 people signed the petition (paper + electronic copies) and 91 sent me their objections by letter or email. I captured these objections in a spreadsheet which, together with the petition, I enclosed with my response. 

The Post Office is currently, as explained to me by the responsible External Stakeholder Manager, analysing the consultation responses before coming to a final decision.  Their main focus is trying to overcome accessibility issues.  I was informed that a meeting was taking place yesterday to look at the accessibility of Conisboro Stores, where postal services are proposed to go behind a shared counter.

I believe there are significant issues which cannot be overcome and I have worked hard putting together the evidence to substantiate this commonly held view.  A powerful fact is that even those for whom postal services would be much closer to their home objected because of the fundamental flaws with the proposal.

The consultation result is expected imminently and as soon as I hear I will spread the news.

Friday, 22 January 2016

More Detail Behind Temporary Closure of Mapledurham Pavilion

As anticipated there has been considerable interest in the temporary closure of Mapledurham Pavilion and the impact on users.  

Finding alternative available accommodation in the area is challenging as community space, as anyone who has tried to book space will know, is well-used and always in high demand. This highlights, if ever it were needed, the huge importance the Pavilion plays for our community.  Residents of all ages benefit from organisations from babies to retired residents.  

What happens next hangs on the results of the intrusive survey which RBC has commissioned.  For information, here is the latest response provided to me by Reading Borough Council:

Dear Cllr Ballsdon 

You requested a brief history of the latest inspection of the hall.

Following a report that the roof was leaking into a store the building was visited by the Corporate Clerk of Works within Property services to arrange repairs.  While there on the Thursday 14th January he was concerned about the cladding on the interior of the south facing wall which looked insecure. Given the use of the building and possibility of large panels becoming dislodged and exposed finger traps etc he raised his concerns with the Programme Manager within the Council’s Leisure and Recreation Team the following day (Friday 15th). A meeting on site first thing on Monday was agreed to assess the situation.  At that meeting it was agreed to seek specialist advice as they could not tell the condition of the structure below and there may be some flexing in the wall.

Advice was sought from the Property Services Manager who recommended engaging KRP consulting engineers who have previous knowledge of the facility.

The Clerk Of Works met KRP at Mapledurham on Tuesday 19th January.

On the 20th January the engineer fed back his observations recommending the closure of the facility. This was in the form of an email not a formal report as the extent of inspection was limited in both time and ability to access supporting sub structure. However from what he was able to establish from his initial inspection he made the following recommendation.

“We consider that progressive deterioration has most likely occurred, particularly to the timber framed structural elements, primarily as a result of damp ingress, although we cannot identify the extent or rate of progression.

In view of these uncertainties, for Health & Safety reasons, we suggest that the building be taken out of use until the intrusive investigation is carried out, the extent of the defects identified, and a programme of remedial works undertaken”.

The hall was then closed on the 21st January. It was also decided that a detailed intrusive survey was required and that KRP be commissioned to undertake this work to produce a report to allow the council to identify the best way forward. This is being arranged for the six week closure which will likely include scaffolding parts of the building to access roof voids, removal of some cladding and necessary reinstatement of damage caused during the survey.

As the service manager for Leisure and Recreation I was aware of the progress of these events and made reference to the inspection at the management meeting on the evening of the 20th.

Kind regards

Ben Stanesby

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Temporary Closure of Mapledurham Pavilion

Mapledurham Pavilion
BREAKING News: This afternoon a decision has been taken by Reading Borough Council (RBC) to temporarily close Mapledurham Pavilion.  The Pavilion is, like the Mapledurham Playing Fields themselves, held in Trust by RBC.

User groups are being told that an independent structural engineer has recommended the temporary closure as bowing is clearly visible on the southern external wall.  It is anticipated at this stage that the closure will be for approximately 6 weeks.

Please note that the Football and Tennis clubs will both be able to continue to run as normal as the changing rooms and Tennis club area are unaffected.

As Chairman of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Management committee I was informed of the decision.  I have asked RBC questions about the help that will be provided to users to find alternative accommodation but also about the cost of repairs; who and when a decision is likely; and at what level a tipping point is likely to be reached to make major works necessary.

I have asked that RBC issue a press release, put up notices on the Pavilion and keeps me updated.

Friday, 18 December 2015

MidWeek coverage: Woodcote Way PO Campaign

The MidWeek Chronicle this week had a two page spread (top half) on my campaign to retain the dedicated post office counter in the Woodcote Way Post Office.

Unfortunately though since June several roads in the area no longer have this free newspaper delivered so lots of residents will have missed the coverage.  However I managed to get a pdf from MidWeek and here is the link

Monday, 7 December 2015

Protest held outside Woodcote Way Post Office

Today over 25 residents & I congregated outside the Woodcote Way Post Office, voicing our objections to the local media about The Post Office’s proposal to do away with the shop’s dedicated post office counter.  The Woodcote Way Post Office works very well: Residents want The Post Office to just leave it alone!

As the local councillor for the area, I have been inundated with emails, letters and phone calls from residents appalled by what is deemed a short-sighted, unpopular plan.

I have just launched an online version of the petition (hard copies inside the shop on the post office counter) which you can sign here.

The Woodcote Way Post Office is well used and even with its dedicated post office counter with Satheech (the postmaster) and his wife serving, customers often have to queue as they attract a lot of business.  It seems a nonsense to do away with this dedicated post office counter.

Postal services would be moved to Conisboro Stores where all customers would have to use the one counter by the shop’s front door, whether buying groceries, newspapers, confectionery or accessing postal services.

If you would like to have your say, quote the branch code: 148939 and either fill in the online consultation or if easier email Will Russell, The Post Office’s Regional Manager at:  comments@postoffice.co.uk  Please copy me in so I can update you on this campaign at: Isobel.Ballsdon@reading.gov.uk

Look out for coverage from today on: BBC South, the Reading Chronicle and GetReading. BBC Radio Berkshire covered the protest on its lunchtime news.

Thank you to everyone who came along for your support!