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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.  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.

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. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

BREAKING: RBC publishes EFA’s proposal to build The Heights on part of MPF

After business hours today (29 June) Reading Borough Council published a report detailing the Education Funding Agency’s proposal to build The Heights primary school on part of Mapledurham Playing Fields.

A public meeting of The Heights Sub Committee will be held on 12 July 2016 in the Civic Centre. The full agenda can be accessed here.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Highmoor/Albert Road junction: Outcome of last night's meeting

Faded/broken white stop line at junction
Last night local campaigners, CADRA (Caversham and District Residents Association) and Conservative councillors all spoke against the council’s proposal to change priorities at the Highmoor/Albert Road junction at RBC’s Traffic Management Sub Committee meeting (see my last post for further background).  I am pleased to report that the locally unpopular proposal was not agreed.  

The persuasive arguments against the proposal had Cllr Tony Page (committee chair) announcing his view that a decision to change the priority should be deferred before he had even asked the views of the committee members. 

Campaigners' outstanding frustration was Cllr Page’s refusal to instruct officers to repaint the white stop lines at the junction, despite requests from locals, my colleagues Cllrs Ed Hopper, Claire McDonald and me to immediately improve visibility of the signage at this tricky junction.  As you can see from this photo, what is meant to be a thick white line beyond the STOP is faded and broken. Officers committed only to inspect it.

What the committee did agree was that RBC officers would work with representatives from CADRA and HARC (Highmoor Albert Residents Campaign) to bring back a proposal which hopefully will gain local support in September.

You can watch the meeting proceedings of last night's meeting on RBC's webcasting. You can forward to the relevant sections which are 1a for questions followed by presentation of the petition and 7 for the public speaking, report and debate. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

RBC Pushes for Change of Priority at Dangerous Crossroads

Reading Borough Council (RBC) officers are recommending a change of priority from Albert Road to Highmoor Road at this local crossroads where numerous accidents have happened, the last of which on 14 May caused the tragic death of a 72 year old pedestrian.

Strength of feeling demonstrated by over 50 gathering
to protest with just a couple of hours' notice
RBC’s Traffic Management Sub Committee’s public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday 15 June), agenda item 7, the report sets out the officer preference to change the priorities as “This option is by far the most cost effective solution…[it] can be delivered without any further legal process so it is the easiest and quickest option to deliver...it is worth reducing the impact of the very restricted visibility within the Highmoor Road”

However RBC’s report admits that “This option does not change the visibility problem and relies on Albert Road drivers obeying the stop signs and giving way to crossing drivers from Highmoor Road...it has its limitations and does not meet the wider concerns of the original petition”.

View north up Albert Road. Photos by Tell Tails Photography
The Highmoor Albert Road Campaign (HARC), formed by local residents, is calling on RBC to improve safety of this dangerous junction.  They’ve carried out a survey of over 100 local households close to the junction to find out from a choice of 5 alternatives whether there is a popular option. The result is 90% of 134 households are in favour of option 1: A raised table designed to slow down the approaching traffic from all four directions.

RBC’s preference to change the priority of the traffic dates back to January 2015 when officers first made the proposal.  Back then residents, local Thames Ward Cllr Ed Hopper and I (Mapledurham Ward) all spoke against it.  A survey I took had 84% of households opposed to a change of priority.

I am canvassing opinion again (see my post detailing the outcome of January 2015 meeting) and would be grateful for feedback before tomorrow evening’s meeting so that I can speak up on behalf of my electorate.  Please email me: Isobel.Ballsdon@reading.gov.uk mobile: 07717 292003 or drop a letter through my door: 10 Fernbrook Road.  Thank you.

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.