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.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Boundary Review 2016: Impact on Mapledurham Ward

You might like to have your say in a consultation which proposes to change Mapledurham Ward from coming within the Reading East parliamentary constituency (currently served by Rob Wilson MP) to moving to the Reading West seat (currently served by Alok Sharma MP).

As background, The Boundary Commission for England have produced their initial proposals to reduce the number of parliamentary constituencies and to move boundaries in order to make constituency sizes more closely aligned with each other.

The number of English seats has been reduced from 533 to 501. The number of seats in the South East region has been reduced from 84 to 83.  The Commission’s proposals are available on their website at

The Commission have started a 12 week public consultation period on their proposals, and have invited the public’s views. This period will end on 5 December 2016.

In 2017 there will then be a further four week consultation period following the publication of all representations and the transcripts of the public hearings. A further 8 week consultation period will follow any revised proposals in 2017.

The most local public hearing is being held on Monday 24th October (10am-8pm) & Tuesday 25th October (9am-5pm) in Oxford Town Hall, St Aldate's, Oxford, OX1 1BX

If you are unable to attend, you can submit representations in writing:
Online: Visit the website and fill in the online form
In writing: Send representations to: Boundary Commission for England, 35 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BQ

Website for the Boundary Commission for England:

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Green Waste Tax Imposed with no Consultation

At last night's Policy Committee, Reading Labour Group forced through the introduction of an annual fee of £50 for green waste wheelie bin collections, effective from 1st April 2017. (Residents will still have to pay the initial fee for a green wheelie bin, currently £36.10)

Labour showed themselves up for the hypocrites they are by failing to consult residents. Surely it would have been prudent to gauge public reaction by putting forward a choice of proposals to test the water? This would have enabled a much better informed fee level to be set, which in turn would have helped to take residents with the council, encouraged people to continue recycling green waste and thereby minimised the dropout rate.

Reading's Labour administration ignored the experience of another borough council which back in 2011 introduced a similarly large annual fee, resulting in a dramatic initial 60% reduction in users which picked up a bit but still saw a 36.67% reduction. Labour also ignored following Bracknell Forest's successful example of bringing in a £25 fee which resulted in no reduction in users.

Why did Reading Labour not broaden the scope of their report to Policy Committee to include the consequential costs to all of Reading's residents of an increase in green waste being dumped, either in landfill (grey) wheelie bins or fly tipped around Reading? These considerations were ignored yet could far outweigh the new income from Labour's annual charge from landfill tax and officer time clearing up future fly tipping.

My Conservative colleagues on Policy Committee voted against the £50 charge, but Labour's large majority rammed it through regardless.

Here is a link to the report.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Summer Re-surfacing Works' Schedule

Reading Borough Council’s annual summer road resurfacing is due to begin on Monday 8 August.

The only road in Caversham Heights on the list scheduled for resurfacing and traffic management is the Upper Woodcote Road in 2 sections: Richmond Road to Woodcote Way and Blagrave Lane to house no 188.  The road is due to be closed 3 days 9.30 am to 3.30 pm 9th August to 11th August.  The whole project is expected to last four weeks, weather permitting.

Advance notices will be in place in the days before work on a road begins. Notification letters will also be delivered to nearby residents and businesses affected, detailing the length of the works. Signed diversions will be in operation when road closures are required.
In some instances, temporary parking restrictions on roads other than those mentioned in the list below will be necessary for the work to be carried out as quickly and safely as possible.

The full list of roads scheduled for resurfacing and traffic management required is as follows:
  1. Beresford Road (Rail Bridge to Barnwood Close and Portman Road between Beresford Road and Ashmere Terrace). Roads closed for 2 days 8.00 am to 8.00 pm 8th August to 9th August
  2. Upper Woodcote Road (2 sections Richmond Road to Woodcote Way and Blagrave Lane to house no 188). Road closed 3 days 9.30 am to 3.30 pm 9th August to 11th August
  3. Kings Road (Duke Street to Watlington Street). Road closed 3 days 8.00 am to 8.00 pm 11th August to 12th August and 15th August.
  4. Basingstoke Road (Craddock Road to Winchester Road). Lane closures 1 day 8.00 am to 8.00 pm 16th August
  5. Caversham Road (Abattoirs Road to Northfield Road). Road closed 3 nights 7.00 pm to 1.00 am 17th August to 19th August
  6. The Forbury Road (Valpy Street to Abbots Walk). Road closed 2 nights 7.00 pm to 1.00 am 22nd August to 23 August
  7. Kings Road (Gas Works Road to no 179 Kings Road). Lane closures 5 nights 5.00 pm to 1.00 am 29th August to 2nd September and 5th September
  8. Caversham Road (Thames Avenue to Brigham Road). Road closed westbound 1 night 7.00 pm to 1.00 am 6th September
  9. Northumberland Avenue (Canterbury Road to Cressingham Road). Road closed 2 days 8.00 am to 8.00pm 7th September to 9th September
NB: All programmed dates are subject to change depending on weather conditions

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Heights Sub-Committee Decides to Investigate Further the EFA’s Proposal

View across Mapledurham Playing Fields
from the Pavilion
At last night's "The Heights Free School Sub-Committee" meeting a decision was taken to investigate further the EFA’s proposal to purchase a leasehold interest of a small portion of Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF) on which to build a permanent home for The Heights primary school.

The whole meeting was recorded on RBC’s webcast and can be viewed here.

Over 30 questions from the public had been tabled but there was only time for 11 of these to be put to the committee within the allotted half hour time slot.  Residents used their democratic right to grill the new chair, Cllr Debs Edwards, on many aspects of the proposal and how her committee was going to conduct itself.  Cllr Edwards answered the questions, sometimes deferring to the legal advice provided by Chris Brooks, RBC’s Head of Legal, sat next to her.

Immediately after the public questions, Mr Brooks was invited to provide the committee with his legal advice on the report.  He stated that this was the start of a statutory process and that at each stage a report would be brought back to the Sub-Committee and the common thread that will run through the decisions is that the Sub-Committee must act in the best interests of the charity.  Mr Brooks clarified the reason why the Sub-Committee could contemplate a proposal, which on the face of it to "perplexed" objectors challenged the Trust, by explaining: 
“there is a possibility that the outcome of this proposal may well be in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the charity [see * below].  By that I mean that the facilities that are to be provided, the money which would allow improvement for example of the recreation ground, those are matters that the councillors have to consider and do so with an open mind.  And the advice that I have received and I’ve given myself is:- to arbitrarily reject the proposal without considering it fully would actually be not acting in the best interests: But that might actually seem perverse to some people, but nevertheless that is the position that myself and my expert legal advisers have advised the Sub Committee.”
This was followed [at about 32 minutes in] with five minutes “in favour” of the EFA’s proposal split between Dan Pagella (a Trustee of The Heights) and Kerry Parr (a parent of The Heights); five minutes “against” from Martin Brommell (chair of the MPF Action Group) and finally a speech  from me on behalf of Mapledurham Ward residents and Users of MPF. 
Copy of my speech to the Sub-Committee

A synopsis of which is: I declared that the majority of my community is supportive of The Heights going on a small part of MPF; that the MPF Action Group campaigned unsuccessfully against my re-election because I refused to join their fight against the school going on MPF; that MPF Action Group represents only a small minority of the community (otherwise I would not have been re-elected because of remaining open-minded about the EFA’s proposal’s potential benefits to the MPF Trust).  On behalf of Mapledurham Ward residents and MPF users I asked the Sub-Committee to acknowledge the need to bring back the Pavilion’s facilities as soon as is possible; and to please support the popular view as well as the legal advice of Chris Brooks, that the best interests of the Charity would be met by considering the EFA’s proposal in more detail.

The Committee then asked questions of Mr Brooks and put their views to Cllr Edwards [at about 37 minutes in].  This enabled Mr Brooks to inform the committee of the answer to one of the unasked questions (tabled by Robin Bentham, WADRA’s chairman) which essentially asked whether the listing as an Asset of Community Value of the Pavilion together with its entrance and car park could prevent the EFA from buying a landlocked part of MPF.  Mr Brooks informed the committee that this would not impact on the future use of the land as a Free School. 

The meeting finished with a recorded vote, with all members deciding to support the EFA’s proposal being further investigated.

*  Since posting the above account I was contacted by Mr Brooks. Having considered his statement (quoted above) he has informed me that he should have been more specific and not added the reference to the beneficiaries. I am happy to clarify the legal point at his request that the Trustees act in the best interests of the Charity.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Action Against Idling Engines in Taxi Ranks

At Tuesday's full council meeting on behalf of a Mapledurham Ward resident I raised concerns about the pollution caused by idling diesel engines in taxi ranks.

I am pleased to say that Cllr Tony Page acknowledged the problem, agreed to look into the matter and bring back a report to the appropriate committee later this year.

GetReading coverage can be read here.