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Sunday, 9 May 2021

Thank you Mapledurham Ward residents for re-electing me

Thank you very much to Mapledurham Ward residents for re-electing me to serve a further term as the local councillor.

The turnout was 55.15% (the highest in Reading) and more than half of those who voted backed me, for which I am very grateful. 

Thank you also to the huge number of people who have congratulated me since the Count. Receiving this recognition of my work for our community means a great deal to me.

I love helping resolve residents' council-related issues, it doesn't matter how mundane or complicated, do get in touch: Isobel.Ballsdon@reading.gov.uk 

Do send me an email if you'd like to receive my e-Newsletter.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Unlit traffic island concerns on Upper Woodcote Rd

As regular readers of my blogwill know I’ve been keeping a close eye on the construction of The Heights school and the associated works at Mapledurham Playing Fields.

The damaged sign on part of the traffic island

Following concerns about the yet unlit pedestrian traffic island on the A4074, as well as repeated requests for the introduction of a 20 mph limit, I’ve just received the following response from RBC’s Highways:

“I confirm that I’ve been in contact with the contractors today and have agreed that the barriers previously erected on the island be removed so as to not obstruct visibility of the reflective keep left bollard. The developer will also be arranging for additional signage to be placed in advance of the island to warn of the new road layout ahead.

“The pedestrian refuge island is to have an additional illuminated keep left sign erected facing each direction it given delays to the electricity connection, this has not been possible as yet.

“I will be pushing the developer to get this installed as a matter of urgency to reduce the risk of collisions. The crossing will also remain closed until this time.

“In relation to the introduction of a 20 mph speed limit on the Upper Woodcote Road, it would not be possible to include this retrospectively as a requirement of the planning permission for the school.or Highways work agreement, but this could be proposed to the Traffic Management Sub-Committee as a potential scheme in the vicinity and then possibilities investigated by officers.”

I’m a bit busy today as it’s the Elections so I won’t post more. It’s given me the chance though to rest my feet whilst writing on my mobile!

Sunday, 2 May 2021

The Heights school's opening pushed back to September 2021

The Heights primary school has announced that sadly the DfE has pushed back the school's planned opening at Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF) to September 2021. 

This is a huge disappointment to the children, families, staff and governing body who had been gearing themselves up to move in after half-term this June. It too will be a big disappointment to the residents who live by the temporary building off Gosbrook Road. 

The benefits though are that by September the school will be complete and fully functioning, as should be the surrounding works to MPF.

Kier, the DfE's contractors have cited the following reasons for the delay to completing the build:

  1. Delays in arranging connection for all the utilities
  2. Progress being hampered severely by the temporary closure of the access which significantly impacted deliveries of both labour and materials
  3. Covid-19 social distancing and working hours restrictions have meant they cannot increase labour to levels needed to claw back time lost due to reasons 1 and 2 above
  4. An area in the car park/Early Years Play Area that subsided. This was only discovered when the additional welfare units were removed. An independent report has been commissioned to establish the reason, but quite extensive additional groundworks may be required.
I do not as yet have further information about reason 4 above, but am pressing to find out more as this will be of particular interest to some of my residents.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

A4074 highways safety works for The Heights at MPF, Upper Woodcote Road

Highways works are ongoing to improve pedestrian safety on the A4074 / Upper Woodcote Road in preparation for The Heights school relocation to Mapledurham Playing Fields after half-term.

View up A4074 towards access (24 April)

Following the reopening of the Pavilion's car park, I've received complaints from residents about the latest highways works. I hope the information I've managed to put together from my various requests for information are helpful.

Lack of notification of highways works

I am sorry and disappointed residents were not notified in advance of the current highways works as those next to the works all should have been, out of common courtesy. The Department for Education (DfE) or their contractors, Kier, should have contacted you and other stakeholders to explain what they were about to do and provide timescales.

Timescale of restrictions

I've been trying to find out for how much longer the works and traffic management (ie the temporary lights) are likely to be in place. I had hoped a meeting between the DfE, Kier and Reading Borough Council's (RBC) Highways would have taken place today (27 April). I'll update this post when I have confirmation.

Speed camera

Following RBC consulting Thames Valley Police, it has been necessary for the speed camera to be relocated to avoid the introduction of the school 'keep clear' restriction. I believe this is so that the speed camera's white lines for measuring vehicle speed do not conflict with the zigzag and 'keep clear' markings.

RBC officers have told me the speed camera's new location, after the access to the Pavilion and school, will result in vehicles slowing down as they pass the entrance and approach the camera. They've added that the sight of the zebra crossing and school keep clear restriction should also help advise drivers of the increased pedestrian movements and therefore slow their speed accordingly.

Officers have added that were the speed camera to be located prior to the school it would need to be located 46m east of the proposed 'keep clear' restrictions which would be approximately 63m from the Pavilion / school entrance and is therefore likely to lead to some drivers accelerating as they pass the school.

The speed camera's location does not require planning permission. The decision ultimately is for Thames Valley Police as the infrastructure belongs to them.

Pedestrian refuge

The proposed pedestrian refuge island is to aid pedestrian movements to and from the school / playing fields and this has been designed to ensure that 3m wide lanes are provided in both directions complying with National Standards and that the island is sufficient in size to accommodate a person waiting with a bicycle and /or an increased number of pedestrians.  To achieve this the carriageway width has been increased by 22cm on both sides to provide a taper around the pedestrian refuge island. The granite sett kerbs have been replaced with standard kerbs to ensure that the pedestrian refuge crossing facility can be provided.

Zebra crossing

An assessment undertaken at the planning application stage identified that a signalised pedestrian crossing was not justified and therefore any request for this by the Council would not have met the relevant tests to secure planning obligations.  The scheme does include the provision of a zebra crossing on Upper Woodcote Road east of the proposed school entrance, which was secured through the planning process.  A zebra crossing is regarded as a controlled crossing facility and will aid the movements of children and parents to and from the school in a safe and efficient manner.

Width concerns of access junction's bell-mouth

Having watched vehicles turning in and out of the newly constructed junction bell-mouth, I raised concerns with RBC about the width. I've seen vehicles fail to stay to their side of the access road. The Highway Authority's view is that the current conflict is because of the works not yet being complete. They have reassured me that an officer is overseeing the works to ensure the access road has been constructed to the correct width and officers will request the developer include signage (if possible) so that vehicles exiting the site keep to the left as much as possible.  

Road safety audit

The Heights School proposal has been assessed by Highway Officers and is deemed to meet the appropriate design criteria and standards with a Road Safety Audit being undertaken for the proposed Highway works which found no fundamental concerns with the scheme.  I was asked by a resident why Hewett Avenue, rather than the A4074, had been designated as the access to the school. The RBC response was: it is accepted that Hewett Avenue may be a quieter road in terms of traffic flow however, the Council can only assess the proposals that are submitted at the planning application stage.

A review of the roads will be undertaken by RBC once the school is occupied. It will establish whether changes to the speed limit are required and assessing what parking restrictions may need to be implemented as a consequence of the school opening.

Officers have advised that should a speed reduction be proposed it is likely that this would be in the form of a 20 mph zone which would require the need for physical speed reducing measures, ie speed cushions, chicanes, etc in order to have a direct impact on slowing vehicles. Officers point out that this would have resulted in increased costs for the DfE and also would not have met the planning tests. Any such proposals for a 20 mph speed limit would need to be put forward to the Network Management team for review.

Inspection of highways works

RBC have assigned an officer from Highways to inspect the works to ensure that it is complete to the required standard, should this standard not be met the works would need to be rectified.  In most cases it would not be the developer that would have to pay for the items to be rectified but that of the contractor undertaking the works and therefore there would be no additional public money spent to facilitate this.

Consultation

RBC are having to wait until after the Local Elections before they can go out to consultation on highways works. This is far from ideal but it is not possible to circumvent purdha rules.

I will update this post when I have further information, particularly on when the temporary lights will be removed. 

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Site visit inside The Heights' new building at Mapledurham Playing Fields

On Friday 16 April John Hempton, Kier's Project Manager, kindly showed me around The Heights primary school's new building at Mapledurham Playing Fields.

Pavilion's car park reopened to public 19 April

The Pavilion's car park has been transformed. Though not completely finished, it looks amazing. As of Monday 19 April the majority of it was reopened to the public, so everyone can see for themselves. It is being block paved - a huge contrast to the old, pot-holed, uneven surface! 

It also serves as what is known as a SuDS (a sustainable urban drainage system) meaning rain drains straight through it.

View from 1st floor room of the Main Hall
Standing outside the hoardings around the school's site, you simply can't get an accurate spatial awareness. However once inside the school's grounds, the space is astonishing. 

Even though the school is a few weeks away from completion, I could sense what a wonderful building it will be for our west Caversham community. It's amazingly spacious, especially when you consider its small footprint. 

The southern staircase benefits from great views of the playing fields, as does the wonderful main hall. It feels fantastic. It has a dramatic high ceiling with expansive, south-facing windows and doors out towards the playing fields. You can get a bird's eye view of the main hall from a first floor room which gives a great alternative perspective. What a contrast from the temporary buildings!

One of the classrooms
The impressive kitchen units are in situ next to the hall and the serving area is coming together. The lift is to be installed imminently, the floors are all prepped, classrooms are being approved for painting and the multi-use games area (MUGA) is being started on this week. It is all coming together so quickly now. 

It was lovely hearing John's enthusiasm for what he and his team are delivering. He reckons the school will blow the children's minds and he's not wrong. They are going to absolutely love it.

Monday, 19 April 2021

Enabling works for opening The Heights at Mapledurham Playing Fields

The Heights primary school at Mapledurham Playing Fields opens after June half-term. I had a look around it on Friday 16 April but haven't yet had time to share my photos. The parking area in front of the tennis courts and the majority of the area in front of the Pavilion has now opened as per Kier promised schedule.

In the run-up Kier, the DfE’s contractors, have got permission from the Trustees for two items detailed below the image to enable the paved access route from the car park to the playing fields to be completed on time to be available for public use when the school opens.

















  1. Temporary heras fencing to replace hoarding line whilst Kier construct the paved access ramp into the playing fields between the school and Pavilion
  2. Temporary relocation of some welfare units onto a small area of grass at the rear of the Pavilion until 7 June
First item
Kier are going to replace the hoarding located between the school and Pavilion with a temporary heras fence, but 2m to the right of the hoarding‘s current position to allow them to construct in a safe manner the access ramp and connect it to the breedon gravel footpath next to the children’s play area.

This work will be of direct benefit for MPF users as this paved access route is for everyone coming and going from the Pavilion car park directly into MPF to all the facilities such as the children’s play area and breedon paths for walking, cycling and running.

Second item
Due to Covid-19, Kier had to increase the number of welfare units on site for their workforce to comply with Covid-19 construction regulations. These welfare units are on the external areas within the school’s external area for the school pupils’ Early Years outdoor space and the staff car park. 

There is no other space to relocate the welfare units within the school’s grounds so Kier asked to re-site them within the car park. Officers and I were opposed to this. Instead the Trustees, officers and I have agreed that Kier may use a small part of the area of grass at the rear of the Pavilion which will be heras fenced (see above plan and photo below).

This area is currently not used as the Pavilion is closed due to Covid-19 and may not be fully open for the next period.

Access to the paved area at the rear of the Pavilion will be maintained. However there will be a short period when Kier complete the paving outside the football changing rooms when this side of the Pavilion will not be available. Kier will confirm the actual dates.

Other related news
The Council’s contractor, Agripower, are scheduled to return on Monday 24 May to install the secondary sand grooves drainage to cross connect with the installed primary drainage in the 30,000m2  of new sports pitches. As this is ‘tractor and sand groove machine’ operation, it is not envisaged to erect any heras fencing or barriers during this work as it is comparable to tractor grass cutting or pitch slitting operations that take place across the parks and regularly occurs within the need for additional barriers. The area will be able to be walked on soon after the sane grooves are installed. A temporary compound to store the sane will be located in the grass area next to the tennis courts and pavilion.

This work will take up to 3 weeks to complete (weather dependent) and the area will be available for use after the works are complete.

I'll share my photos of how the school is coming along shortly. In the meantime do contact me if you have any questions on the enabling works detailed above.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Delays on A4074 Friday 9 April 2021 on Oxfordshire/Reading border

Tomorrow, Friday 9 April, temporary traffic lights will be put in place on the A4074 Upper Woodcote Road by the Oxfordshire border from 8 am until 8 pm. 

Although I have been chasing for this last section of the A4074 (between Shepherds Lane and the county border) to be completed since October 2020, I was only notified by the council this afternoon.

Please allow extra time as delays are likely. 

NB the temporary lights by the turning for Mapledurham Pavilion on the A4074 are still in place, but at least drivers can avoid this section more easily. 

UPDATE: The western end of Shepherds Lane is closed too so there is no access from it to the A4074.