Tuesday 28 June 2011

Report into Section 106 Accountability

This Thursday (30 June) the Audit and Governance Committee will have its inaugural meeting at which the long awaited results of an external investigation into Reading Borough Council’s management of Section 106 developer contributions will be discussed.  You can read the Committee report here, pages 11-16

Back in November 2009 Conservative councillors raised concerns with the then Director of Planning over the lack of accountability and the need for a robust system to handle Section 106 developer contributions (S106).

Investigations revealed that the then Labour-run administration had little interest in how S106’s were recorded or allocated, that departments had wildly varying standards of recording these financial contributions and that a number had been misused. S106’s are given to the council by developers to deal with the impact on the local community surrounding each development. Examples of how S106’s may be used legitimately are: increasing the capacity of the local school, providing new benches or play equipment to the nearby park - thereby reducing the extra pressure and making the development sustainable.

Under last year’s Conservative-led administration a new single system of properly recording and tracking S106 contributions was introduced. Following a lengthy internal investigation, my paper entitled RBC’s Usage and Accounting of Section 106 Receipts, and our Coalition partner's - the Lib Dems' - support, Council officers agreed to call in an outside team from Wokingham Borough Council for an independent investigation into past practices and to make recommendations for the future. The report makes a number of “High Priority” recommendations to address the failings of the earlier Labour administration, some of which our local Coalition administration had implemented already.

The meeting starts at 6.30 pm in Kennet Room at the Civic Centre.  The public are welcome to attend.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Lollipop Person Needed

Due to the Oakley/Kidmore Road lollipop lady's relocation abroad, a replacement lollipop person is needed by Caversham Primary School.

In June 2009 local parents supported by Rob Wilson MP, Cllr Richard Willis and me, campaigned for improvements to children's safety at the junction.  We asked the Council to introduce a school crossing patrol.  You can read the Reading Post's coverage here.

Two parents addressed TMAP, the Council's transport committee, reinforcing the message that urgent action was needed.  As a result of the campaign, funding was given for the installation of signs and flashing lights, together with a salary for a term-time lollipop person.

If you are interested, please apply by 30 June to this job advert.  Do pass this on to anyone else who may like to do this very rewarding community job.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Vandalised BT Telephone Kiosk

The red telephone kiosk on the 90 degree bend where Albert Road becomes The Mount was vandalised 3 weeks ago.  I reported it to the Council asking officers to inform the relevant BT Department.

I received acknowledgement from RBC this morning that BT has been informed. 

BT has said they will repair the smashed windows, but haven't said exactly when the work will be carried out.

I am fond of the old-style kiosk, but do wonder how well used (for its intended purpose) it is, given that most people have a mobile phone these days.  Do let me know how you feel about the retention of the kiosk.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Obstructive Pavement Parking

Residents rightly are annoyed when prevented from walking or wheeling along pavements by selfish pavement parking.  Whether wheelchair bound, partially sighted, pushing a buggy or simply holding someone’s hand, why should people be forced onto the road?

Over the last few months Labour campaigned against the previous administration’s plans to enforce a pavement-parking ban.  As you can see from the Coalition’s February Cabinet report, 2.1 states there’d be “exemptions of certain roads”. 

However Labour has continued to peddle the sneaky lie that the local Coalition was bringing a “town-wide scheme”.  [See agenda item 7, Labour's June Cabinet report, 4th last bullet point under Regeneration, Planning & Transport]
As evidenced by the Chronicle's article to the right, the Redlands/University area NAG's survey results name parking and traffic as residents' top concerns, as their chairman states:
"Particular problems are also experienced by motorists parking on and blocking footpaths, creating serious difficulties for disabled people and families with pushchairs."
As I said above, the Coalition was going to have exceptions – for roads too narrow for emergency vehicles or dustcarts to drive unless cars park partly on the kerb - so was Labour just opposing to be awkward? 

How long will it take Labour to realise they shouldn't support illegal parking; and that sensible enforcement is what the electorate want?

Wednesday 8 June 2011

City Status for Reading - Westminster Hall Debate

Alok Sharma MP
Reading West's Member of Parliament, Alok Sharma, secured a debate yesterday on Reading's bid for City status.

Alok spoke eloquently about Reading's many attributes including the excellent businesses; the leisure, shopping and sporting facilities (mentioning the Oracle, the Farmers Market and Madesjski Stadium), cultural (eg Reading Festival). 

He picked out the education establishments that are excellent in the town.  I was especially pleased by his comments about The Avenue School which teaches children with complex special educational needs and where I am chair of governors.  Alok said
"I have seen first-hand the work the staff do with pupils at the Avenue and it is truly outstanding.  A real benchmark of excellence for special schools up and down the country."
Rob Wilson, Reading East's MP, joined in the debate, carrying on the education theme
"According to DoE figures, Reading is the highest ranking authority for 'A' and 'AS' Level results. Of course this is nothing to do with the LEA, which has been consistently hopeless on education matters, but has much to do with Reading's two state grammar schools – Kendrick School for Girls and Reading School for boys.  Both consistently lead the country in exam results.  Reading School has been named as the best state school in the country by the Times.  I also have a crop of very fine independent schools in my constituency in the Abbey School, Queen Anne's and Leighton Park.
Reading is also taking advantage of new government policy, with Highdown becoming an academy and showing huge improvement.   I am hopeful that a bid in east Reading for a first class university school, backed by world class companies Microsoft, Cisco, BT and Blackberry, will be successful and lead to further improvement in the quality of education in Reading."
Neighbouring MPs John Redwood (Wokingham) and John Howell (Henley) also spoke.  They both wanted reassurance on behalf of their respective constituents that Reading's bid for city status would not threaten their boundaries before they felt able to give their unequivocal support to the bid. 

Mark Harper MP, Minister for Political & Constitutional Reform concluded the debate providing Redwood and Howell with the desired reassurance that
"The local authority is bidding for city status based on existing local authority boundaries. Nothing in what the Government will recommend to Her Majesty about city status will affect the powers that that town has. On that specific point, I hope that I have reassured by my hon."
You can watch the whole debate here

Monday 6 June 2011

Labour Talk Rubbish - Aided by the Greens

Labour has cut the student waste end of University year collections.  To top it all, they've had the temerity to blame their cuts on the last administration - our local Coalition.

To make cuts, an administration puts the sums in the 'gold pages' budget report for the forthcoming year.  Our Coalition made no such cut.  So why is the new minority Labour administration making this cut?

It appears to boil down to the Greens & Labour's pre-election pledge to halt the implementation of our Green Waste collection charge (£22.50 in comparison with Labour-run Oxford's £35).  Invoices should have gone out and been paid by the end of May.  But the Greens & Labour stopped this at a loss to the Council of tens of thousands of pounds.  We were going to use this income towards paying for the service; a service which after all is optional as composting in your back garden is the environmentally sustainable answer. 

This is an extract from what Kirsten Bayes (ex-Deputy Leader of the Council) has written "This is what has happened: Reading Labour have chosen to reverse the garden waste charge, which would have mostly been levied on those with larger properties with bigger gardens (i.e. the better off), and to pay for it have decided to impose a service cut on those living in the most densely populated (and poorer) areas. The garden waste charge would of course have been optional (other alternatives such as local composting being available), whereas the loss of end of term collections will affect everyone. It is clearly going to be taking place without wider consultation: there is no time to do otherwise.

"Say what you like about Labour, but politically naive they are not. They know that people who would pay for garden waste collections are a vocal, swing voting minority. Those who live in the poorer areas affected by their cut will, they believe, vote Labour anyway and are often old, disadvantaged or from minority communities.

"This cannot be the only cut to pay for Labour's election day bribe: the budget is just too finely balanced. Keep an eye on flytipping service levels, graffiti clean up service levels, food cleanliness enforcement, dog fouling enforcement. All affecting the poor more than they do the rich, and all unnecessary cuts: solely so that local Labour politicians can stay in office by appealing to swing voters while they dump on the disadvantaged."

For Cllr Jan Gavin to try and blame Labour's cut of the student waste collections upon us is rubbish.  If she lived anywhere near the University or Redlands (the ward she is meant to represent) she would know that student dominated roads have masses of extra waste at the end of the academic year.  There is absolutely no way the Lib Dems or my party would have sanctioned this cut; even if officers had proposed it as an option (which they didn't).

The Greens should shoulder their responsibility for this short-sighted and ill-judged cut, as it was they who ensured Labour got back into control of RBC last month by failing to support the Deputy Mayor, Cllr Jenny Rynn stepping up to be Mayor - as is customary.  This meant a Labour councillor was parachuted into the Mayor's seat to get the casting vote necessary (Labour's 22 + casting vote: versus Coalition's 22).  The Greens 'bravely' sat on their hands so Labour regained RBC.

Time will tell how many other cuts Labour will foist upon the public in order to deliver their rash, but nice-sounding, pre-election promises.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Mapledurham Pavilion - Community Hall Regeneration Charity Dinner Dance

Mapledurham Pavilion/Community Hall in its current state
On Friday 10 June at 7.15 pm the Community Hall Regeneration group is holding a Charity Dinner Dance at Caversham Heath Golf Club.

You can read the details here.

A raffle and auction of promises will be held which we hope to open up to include those unable to attend the Dinner.  I'll post details in the next few days.

To give you some background, in 1938 Charles Hewett gave the Playing Fields in Trust to the residents of Mapledurham Parish and Reading.  In the late 1940s a wartime hut became the War Memorial Hall.  In 1975 the Hall was rebuilt, with the addition of changing rooms & a Tennis Club Room, and it became known as Mapledurham Pavilion.  Recent surveys have stated it is not viable to refurbish.  As a result of strong community support for a replacement Hall, fund raising kicked off and this Dinner Dance is the latest in a series of events.

Our aim is to preserve Charles Hewett's legacy for Reading and Mapledurham Parish.  Some funding currently exists for reproviding the changing rooms.  There is also money from Festival Republic (Reading Festival organisers).  We intend to pull together further funds to built an attractive multi-use hall facility which is environmentally sustainable.

Do get in touch for further details.

Update:  Unfortunately as the raffle tickets are the 'cloak room' type, we are unable to sell them in advance of the day.  (A licence is required to be printed on formal raffle tickets to enable selling them outside of an event)