Friday 14 December 2012

Police: Witness appeal to assault in Caversham Heights

Kidmore Road's junction with Hunters Chase
Thames Valley Police is appealing for witnesses after a man and his 3 year old son were assaulted in Caversham Heights.

On Monday 26 November at about 11.15 am the 39 year old father was walking with his son on Kidmore Road.  As they got to the junction with Hunters Chase a female jogger came up behind and, frustrated she couldn't get past, pushed over the boy then assaulted the man by kicking and punching him when he challenged her for pushing his son.

The offender is white, about 5ft 10 ins, in her early thirties, medium to large build, with long frizzy brown hair pulled back in a ponytail.  She was wearing a black jacket and black jogging bottoms, with a pink stripe down the side of both, white trainers, and was listening to an iPod with white earphones.

Anyone who recognises the description should contact PC Conboy via the 24-hour Police Enquiry Centre on 101.

If you don't want to speak directly to the police you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Last Night's Secondary School Meeting

About 50 hardy people battled through heavy traffic and freezing fog for last night’s meeting to hear and ask questions about the proposed application for a new secondary Free School in a lecture theatre in Reading College.  Rob Wilson MP hosted the meeting with a panel of: parent representatives Laura Blackburn Finlay & Michaela Brown, plus Tim Emmett & Ash Pajpani from GEMS Education.  Myles Milner represented Reading Borough Council and sat in the audience.

Rob Wilson set the background: that it would be a 4-form entry school for 11-16 year olds eventually educating 600 pupils within walking distance of local families and stated his keen desire to significantly improve educational options for all his constituents.  He said "what we are about to discuss is one proposal, it is by no means a done deal, it is an opportunity and it's up to us as a community to decide whether we take this up or do something else."  He continued "I think most of us will agree doing nothing at all is not an option if we want a school up and running before the 'bulge' of children needing school places hits!"

Laura told the audience why she has got involved with setting up this new Free School and her hope other parents will do so too.  Her 6 year old son currently going through the statementing process is a worry to her as she thinks the prospect of him, come Year 7, managing to travel all the way to the current nearest secondary school is frightening and unlikely.  Although she is apolitical she believes setting up a Free School with the help of GEMS and other parents is the best way to ensure a new, truly local secondary school is set up in this central urban area of East Reading.

Laura explained given the short timescale before submitting the bid before the deadline of 4th January they'd decided it best to get the help and expertise of an education provider.  Realistically she said for busy working people and parents without the necessary range of skills and experience to prepare the documentation would have been too huge a task.

Tim Emmett explained GEMS is an international school company and that he’s been with GEMS for the last 3 years, before which he worked for CfBT – another education provider based in Reading.  GEMS runs schools both in the private and state sectors but in the latter on a “not for profit” basis. 

There followed a Q & A session, which included:

Why did Rob Wilson call the meeting instead of parents and why is he leading this bid?    Laura explained she asked the MP for his help to sort out a solution to the forecast shortage of secondary places in East Reading.  Rob duly carried out investigations, engaged with Reading Borough Council and introduced representatives from GEMS to the parents.  Rob added that having brought the bid this far it was now up to the parents, GEMS and the local community to take the bid forward, with him stepping back into a supportive role.

Timing of events?  Very recently, Rob Wilson spoke with GEMS a month ago about involving them in this idea.

Who is establishing look, feel and aspiration?  Laura replied parents are using GEMS’s blueprint as a basis which they will tweak and amend to suit their needs, therefore anyone else in the community wanting to influence these aspects should get involved!  Tim Emmett pointed out if the initial bid is successful, funding would be provided by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) to hire a Headteacher a couple of terms in advance of the school’s opening so he/she would be responsible for delivering the parents’ look, feel and aspirations.

One parent was concerned his Year 5 daughter would be a guinea pig to which Laura countered there’d be huge benefits for children coming in the first year.  For example as the school would be much smaller than its final capacity of 600 pupils, each child would have more individual attention; furthermore parents would have more say in the school’s creation.  It was pointed out that many Free Schools have been opened already so we are past the ‘guinea pig’ stage!

Governance of school, GEMS involvement?  Laura said the Trustees would contract the running of the school to GEMS as the company has the necessary educational expertise.

Why can’t the location Rob Wilson has in mind be shared and would there be scope for it to expand beyond the 600 in the future?  Rob explained that the site was commercially sensitive, that the site for the University Technical College bid he put together was nearly lost to a developer because it went public, therefore to avoid that danger it was being kept confidential.  He also does not have permission from the site owner to share the location.  Rob added there is scope for increasing the size in time if appropriate and subject to agreement.

What’s in it for GEMS?  Tim & Ash reiterated that GEMS’ Free School branch of their international business was purely for raising educational standards in the UK thereby promoting their standing in the education sector.

How will the school fill up?  From the bottom up, although Laura said if there was demand to have more than just Year 7 – ie Year 8 and 9 from opening they would consider the viability of delivering this.

I was extremely impressed by Laura’s enthusiasm and passion, as well as her straight-forward answers.  At the end of the event I was delighted to see several parents signing up to help the group.  I believe many parents share her desire which is simply that “in 10 years it’ll just be the local school everybody goes to.”  

You can find out more here: and fill out the survey here:

Tuesday 11 December 2012

East Reading Secondary School meeting tonight!

Rob Wilson, MP for East Reading, is hosting a public meeting tonight from 7-8.30 pm at Reading College on the King's Road, RG1 4HU. 

This is the first opportunity for the public to hear and discuss the proposed new secondary Free School which will be for 11-16 year olds located in East Reading.  The parent group involved with the scheme will have representatives at the meeting.  I hope parents in East Reading who might in future choose to send children to it will come along tonight. 

With any Free School application there has to be the proven need (evidenced by the Council's forecasting) and support of local parents to get through this stage of the process.  If you know families who would benefit hearing about this secondary school, do tell them about tonight's meeting and encourage them to attend.

Notices have gone out via primary school book bags to parents and also flyers have been put through residents' doors to publicise tonight's meeting.

Rob Wilson has been working hard to help deliver new schools in his constituency, this secondary school being the latest.  The first school he helped put together - The University Technical College (UTC) for 14-19 year olds will be opening in September 2013, having gained planning permission last month to adapt the old Reading College buildings on Crescent Road.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Obstacle to Funding Removed

My lobbying of officers and the Labour administration in the days before Monday's Cabinet meeting paid off.  Just before the meeting kicked off the wording was changed, thereby removing an obstacle in the recommended action that would have damaged the chances of winning £380,000 of grant funding. 

Robin Bentham, chairman of the Warren & District Residents' Association (WADRA) sat next to me waiting to hear the report on Mapledurham Pavilion, the last on the evening's agenda.  For once the Kennet Room was warm, but as is so often the case there were hardly any local residents in the audience.

In order to maximise the likelihood of winning these monies Reading Borough Council needs to apply for planning permission to rebuild Mapledurham Pavilion.  However a caveat in the published report that this could only be done subject to "significant progress to closing the funding gap" threatened to undermine the bid.  Why was this so important?  Because it was totally unrealistic to expect WADRA's fund raising group to make "significant" progress in raising £200,000 in the 4 or 5 weeks it will take to prepare a formal grant submission. 

I was absolutely delighted the administration heeded my request and effectively neutered the caveat by deleting the word "significant" and said as much in my speech.  Also I commented that it is an extremely exciting time as we are closer than ever before to the possibility of realising a replacement Pavilion.

Another important action agreed was the approval of the use of Virgin Money Giving so donations will be eligible for Gift Aid, ie the tax is reclaimed.  This means for example a £10 donation will be worth an extra £2.15.  The Cabinet members were the only people eligible to agree this because of their role as Trustees of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Charitable Trust. 

The months and months it has taken to achieve this have been exceedingly frustrating because we - the fundraisers - have missed out on claiming back the tax on donations made to date.  However at least it will give a huge boost to future fund raising and hopefully will help encourage people to give larger donations to bring us closer to our target.

WADRA has done a superb job mobilising the local community to fund raise with over £22,000 collected in the last year or so, of which Sunday's Christmas Fayre raised £380 profit and the recent metal recycling a hefty £840.

The local architect, who is donating his time to develop and draw up the plans for free, currently estimates the build to be £690,000.  RBC officers state an additional 10-15% should be budgeted for fees and other charges. 

The Labour administration has reiterated the pledge originally committed by the Conservative-led local Coalition two years ago of £100,000 Section 106 monies .  A further £75,000 has been raised or promised, which leaves a funding gap of £200,000 as long as the £380,000 is secured from the Football Foundation's grant pot.

The next important date is Monday 11th December as officers and are will be meeting with the Football Foundation to try and progress the Council's initial letter of interest in applying for grant funding.  Thanks to the force of the caveat having been deleted, I am substantially more positive about the possible outcome.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Christmas Fayre at Mapledurham Pavilion

Tomorrow, Sunday 2nd December, do come along to Mapledurham Pavilion for the Christmas Fayre between 10 am and 3 pm. 

There will be lots of stalls selling all kinds of things including cakes, stocking fillers, plants and home decorations. 

Mulled wine and a BBQ will be on offer, lucky dip gifts on tree and bauble and biscuit decorating.

Father Christmas is coming and children can have their photo taken with him.

St Peter's Church choir will be singing at noon.  So do come, bring your friends and family along and get into the festive mood!

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Discouraging rating for Reading primaries

Today Ofsted has published their report on Schools.  Reading came out equal 5th worst with only 53% of pupils at a Good or Outstanding rated primary school. 

From page 30 onwards it sets out inspection result statistics.  The report lists local authority areas where pupils are most likely to attend a good or outstanding primary school - Camden at 92% being the best performing. 

In contrast to Reading's poor rating, neighbouring Wokingham scored 70% and West Berkshire 79%.

Sunday 25 November 2012

New primary school bid for Caversham

Sparked off by the Caversham & District Residents' Association's (CADRA) meeting in October, a bid for a new primary school is being put together by a group of Caversham Heights parents.

CADRA hosts meetings on topical subjects, last month's being on the school places crisis.  Kevin McDaniel, the RBC officer in charge of Education, was the evening's main speaker.  There was an excellent turnout (I reckon over 100), not surprising as CADRA had advertised it well in advance and there have been school place oversubscription problems for years north of the river.

Kevin invited anyone interested in having a further meeting to discuss setting up a Free School* to get in touch.  There was a great response and 20 came to the Grosvenor Pub including my Conservative colleague Cllr Ed Hopper and me.  The shortage of primary school places hits families in the Ward areas we represent on Reading Borough Council.

The group's aim is to submit a bid before the 4 January 2013 deadline to open The Heights Primary in September 2014 as local schools are oversubscribed.  Their bid will be for a Free School* and their intention is for it to be based upon the excellent primaries in the area.

If you live in Caversham and are concerned whether your child/ren will get into your existing catchment school (Caversham Primary, or Emmer Green/The Hill), do fill in The Heights Primary's questionnaire.  For their bid to be successful they have to evidence that there is sufficient local demand.  So even if this isn't relevant to you, do tell anyone for whom it would be.

You can read more about the group's plans on their website and also join their Facebook Group The Heights Primary, Caversham.  Their email address is:

I am extremely impressed by the parents' drive & determination and all they have achieved in just a couple of weeks.

* For more information about Free Schools here's the link to the relevant part of the Department for Education's website.  All Saints Junior School was the first Free School to open in the borough, the success of which has spurred the successful bidders on to now look to putting in a bid to set up a secondary school WREN School Group - Reading.  The National Autistic Society is opening a Free School for autistic children in Reading in September 2013, the same time that Reading UTC is opening.  The UTC (University Technical College) for 14-19 year olds will specialise in computer science & engineering.

Friday 23 November 2012

Update on Mapledurham Pavilion

At last month's Warren & District Residents' Association's (WADRA's) AGM I promised to update residents upon receipt of the report to Cabinet's meeting on 3rd December.  This evening my councillor post bag contained a copy and you can read it here together with its appendices: Appendix A, Appendix B, Appendix C,  & Appendix D.

My initial thoughts on the report and its recommended actions are as follows:
  • I welcome 2.3 asking Cabinet to approve the use of Virgin Money Giving so that donations will become eligible for Gift Aid
  • I note the omission in paragraph 4.3 that it was the local Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition that pledged £100,000 of capital funding for re-providing the hall and changing rooms
  • I am disappointed the Labour administration is not prepared to pay for the planning application [see paragraph 4.3], bearing in mind the success of residents' fund raising to date
Members of the public are welcome to come to Cabinet which starts at 6.30 pm Monday 3rd December.  This item is at the end of the agenda so, unless it is brought forward, is likely to be quite late in the evening.  I will be requesting to speak on the item as Chairman of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Management Committee and the local Ward Councillor.  If any residents wish to speak they would need to give due notice by Monday (26th November) afternoon to  It would be great if you would let me know of your intention.  Alternatively I am happy to incorporate what you'd like to say into my speech if that is helpful.  Do drop me an email:

A meeting with the Football Foundation is on Monday 10th December to which officers and I are going.  I will provide an update thereafter.

Gas roadworks on A4074 and Woodcote Way

Many have been delayed and inconvenienced by Southern Gas Network’s (SGN's) ongoing mains replacement scheme.  Therefore I thought readers would be interested to see SGN's intended programme of works for the remainder.  The following is from an RBC Highways Network officer:
Upper Woodcote Road – to date:
SGN's initial works and intension in Upper Woodcote Road, was to conduct the works using two different working methods:
  • Section 1 (Shepherds Lane to Hewett Avenue) was to be completed by inserting the new pipe inside the old, with the intension being a quicker progression of works, less scarring of the carriageway surface and less material use/wastage.
  • Section 2 (Hewett Avenue to Woodcote Way) was to be completed by excavating a trench in which the new pipe could be laid, as they would be unable to fit the new pipe within the old. 
Both methods would require the transfer of individual services on to the new pipe, the abandonment/decommissioning of the old pipe and the use of portable traffic signals to safely manage traffic around the working area.
SGN have managed to complete Section 1, but there were a number of engineering difficulties that slowed the progression of work. It was decided that SGN should not continue on to Section 2, as this would have carried the works in to the network’s busiest time, on the lead up to Christmas.

Woodcote Way:
SGN intend to complete the replacement of gas mains, located in both footways between Geoffreyson Road and Upper Woodcote Road, commencing early next week. They intend to insert the new main inside the old, one footway at a time, and hope to avoid the need for portable traffic signals.
Excavation works will stop by 19th December at the latest, with excavations being reinstated and the area tidied over Christmas. The earliest SGN will return to the area is 2nd January, although it is likely that works will not recommence until 7th January.
There is likely to be a further 2 weeks of work in the New Year, with works in Woodcote Way being competed around 21st January 2013.
Upper Woodcote Road – completion:
SGN intend to continue their works (as per Section 2 above) from around 21st January 2013 (following completion of works in Woodcote Way). The works will require the use of portable traffic signals and should be completed within 5 weeks, subject to any engineering difficulties.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Get the Political Picture?

Until recent years most people tended to stick with reading one national newspaper - perhaps favouring its political slant, a particular columnist or section. With the arrival of the internet, online articles and also Twitter, many including me have taken to reading more widely (to the detriment of newspaper sales) choosing to read on subjects of interest regardless of which publication they come from.

One of my favourite newspaper adverts was the Independent’s several years ago where the viewer saw the same scene repeated but from different perspectives. The first angle showed a woman walking along a pavement carrying a handbag. Next a skin head running to tackle her. Then the angle panned out showing something starting to fall down towards the woman. Finally you saw the whole scene and the skinhead reacting to the danger, saving the woman from injury.

Although I don’t claim to be independent – after all I belong to a political party - I try to be fair and accurate. I love a good debate and if someone else has a valid point, I’ve no problem with accepting it.  

I believe it is important to show links of local bloggers from the different political parties in Reading (even though I often do not agree with what they write or their personal/political views) so that you, my readers, can easily see what the other parties are saying and work out for yourselves with whom you agree.

I find it interesting that my Conservative colleague Richard Willis does the same, yet the Labour, Green & Lib Dem blogs choose not to.  

Nobody has all the answers so keeping an open mind, being prepared for healthy challenge, and trying to represent my residents - as well as making it easy for you to read what others of different political parties are writing - suits me.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Primary School Admissions September 2013

RBC has announced where 9 of 12 Reception ‘bulge classes’* will be for September 2013.  You can read the list on RBC's website

I’ve first-hand experience of being given a waiting list number instead of a primary school place so I know what a nerve-wracking process this is for parents.  Although ‘bulge classes’ are not ideal there is no alternative given the short amount of time between now and September 2013. I welcome the announcement of where the majority of the 12 bulge classes will be located as this will help parents make more realistic choices on their application forms before the 15 January 2013 deadline. 
Micklands has been confirmed as one of the two primaries north of the river taking a 'bulge class', the other primary is expected to be finalised & named this week [I'll update this post when it is confirmed].  If you live in Caversham and are applying for September it is worth holding off until the announcement.  If, on the other hand, you've submitted your application already you are able to change it.

The Council is further off finding a solution for the remaining two bulge classes in central Reading.
The shortage of school places came to a head right across Reading back in April for children starting Reception in September this year.  On offer day this year 79 families weren't given a school place because the Labour administration had failed to anticipate and prepare for the number of applications or even where the worst pressure for places was likely to be.
As my colleague, Cllr Sandra Vickers said, “Nobody wants a repeat of that shambles."  Like me, Sandra hopes the administration’s forecasting will prove to be accurate next time.
For many years I've campaigned on school admissions (predominantly primary though not exclusively).  I've helped parents fight admission appeals and know how difficult it is to win an appeal once a reception year, primary place has been refused.  Therefore it is all important parents filling their application form in wisely, giving the best chance of getting a school place.
Advice is provided by RBC on this page.  RBC's school admissions team are on 0118 9372550.  If, after reading RBC's information you still would like some help, do drop me an email and I will be happy to advise.
* 'Bulge class' = a one-off extra class (usually of 30 pupils though can be less) in a year group which works its way up through a school from Reception to Year 6

Monday 19 November 2012

Care Home Investigation

Just over a week ago RBC received the autopsy results of a 95 year old who had been recovering from a stroke in a council care home.  As reported by the local media he contracted pneumonia and died from Legionnaires’ disease.  I pass on my condolences to his relatives and friends.

The Willows primarily is a dementia care home so most residents are elderly and particularly vulnerable.  It also provides intermediate care for residents needing a short stay before or after hospital. 
In my new role as Conservative strategic lead spokesman for Housing, Health, Community Care, Education & Children’s Services I asked for a briefing to ensure RBC was doing everything it should be to investigate this case, and to safeguard the wellbeing of the other residents in RBC’s care.  The following is, to the best of my recollection, what I was told.
An independent consultant was brought in on 10 November to investigate.  Some, though not all, tests at The Willows (previously called Tanfield) Care Home were positive for the Legionella bacteria.  The basin in the 95-year-old’s room at The Willows tested positive, as did the shower head in a communal bathroom.  Measures have been put in place to eradicate the two traces of Legionella bacteria at The Willows and to prevent it coming back.  Further tests are being carried out to ensure these measures have been successful.

Health & Safety Executive representatives are meeting RBC officers this week.  The Head of Adult Social Care is preparing a report detailing the chronology – expected to take weeks.  Councillors, including myself, will be able to scrutinise the case at the Adult Safeguarding Board, the next planned meeting for which is 4 December (though it wasn’t clear last week when I received my briefing whether RBC’s report would be ready in time or if a separate meeting would need to be convened).
The Interim Director & Council Manager confirmed that RBC adheres to the Health & Safety Executive’s approved code of practice on Legionella, that all staff and residents have been spoken to and kept up-to-date.  Only one of the residents has taken up RBC’s offer of moving.
I await the outcome of the investigation.

Update:  The Adult Safeguarding Board meeting has been put back to 18th December. 

Tuesday 6 November 2012

School Places: New Meeting plus Accuracy of Forecast Questioned

Today arrangements have been finalised for a meeting of people interested in finding out how to set up a Free School in north west Caversham.  It starts at 7.30 pm in the Grosvenor pub on Thursday 8th November.  RBC officer Kevin McDaniel will be there, as will I and two colleagues.

This meeting came about as a result of the Caversham & District Residents' Association meeting on 22nd October as a way to look into providing adequate school places north of the river.

At last night's Cabinet meeting my colleague Cllr Sandra Vickers asked the following question:
Further to the answers on school places the Lead Councillor for Education gave me at Council on 23rd October, please will he clarify the following:
Since the Lead Cllr says the shortage of places is a national problem, predominantly in the South East, is his assumption safe that Reading’s neighbouring councils will be able to continue to give the same number of school places to Reading families for the next 5 years?  Why would these neighbouring councils not have the same issue of migration to their areas, thereby reducing available places for Reading children?
This was Cllr Ennis's response: 
This issue is a national one and the population is expanding.  Our neighbouring authorities are also dealing with this issue.  Further to the cabinet report of 1st October we noted that the forecast is indeed subject to variation.  Officers have modelled the available space based on current, stated intentions from our neighbours including their published strategic plans.  Cabinet have however requested that the forecast be reviewed and represented each year because we know the situation will develop over time.
There is already a significant challenge to find places and we believe the proposed level of expansion – 12 forms of entry in Primary school immediately and access to 16 more forms of entry into Secondary school by the end of the decade – is the prudent level of permanent expansion which balances the variability of need with the financial constraints that we face.

Friday 12 October 2012

Stepping Forward in the Dark

The Mayor of Reading (right) with Atkins the guide dog & me
At lunchtime I accompanied The Mayor of Reading, Cllr Jenny Rynn, to Broad Street where we met lots of people working & volunteering for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Jenny & I were keen to be blind folded to experience what it is like to be blind or partially sighted.  It was also good to help support the charity's awareness day by highlighting the difficulties visually impaired people face walking in a busy shopping area.

John Mudd from the charity was very happy to answer all our questions.  He introduced us to several volunteers who enabled us to try being guided by a person, then using a white stick and finally being guided by a dog. 

Atkins guiding me
Jenny trying a white stick
Being guided by a person was fine as I simply trusted my helper to keep me safe.  However using the white stick was daunting.  Even though I only walked a short distance, I suddenly became very conscious of all the noises around me and felt extremely vulnerable.  I was anxious not to be tripped up by one of the many A-frame signs that litter the pavement. 

Best of all - Jenny agreed - was being guided by Atkins a 5 year old dog who has a lovely friendly temperament.  As he walked his wagging tail gently swished against my leg which I found very reassuring.  His fluid forward motion made me feel reasonably confident to follow beside him. 

For me the experience of walking blindfolded really brought home the isolation, disorientation and vulnerability visually impaired people battle against.  This is an issue close to my heart as my paternal grandmother was almost blind.  She never wanted to use a stick or have a guide dog, I think because of embarrassment over her disability.  She relied on my grandfather and other family members to guide or drive her about and I fondly remember guiding her. 

John Mudd, me, Joel Young, Atkins, Jenny & 'Alfie'

John Mudd emphasised the importance of early intervention to help individuals come to terms with sight loss.  Currently Reading does fund this mandatory work, however I believe Slough has cut the funding so it is crucial to ensure Reading doesn't follow suit.  Cutting funding for early intervention work is literally short-sighted.  Helping an individual adjust and cope with ordinary day-to-day life things like getting dressed, cooking safely, getting out of the house to shop or taking exercise is invaluable work.   It can transform a blind person's quality of life, giving them the confidence to have a job and a family.

We both signed the petition for the removal of VAT on dog food for Guide Dogs, with a potential saving of £300,000 to the Charity.   As well as being alert to the necessity of ensuring the future funding of the early intervention work, both Jenny and I will highlight to the Council the danger posed by unnecessary street furniture like advertising boards and ask for this to be reviewed.

It is well worth having a look at for more information about the wonderful work the organisation does.  Do consider making a donation while you're there!

Update:  Over £2,000 was raised by Guide Dogs for the Blind in Broad Street on the day

Tuesday 9 October 2012

School Places Shortage: Labour Needs your Ideas

The local Labour administration has at last realised & acknowledged the massive shortage of school places in Reading.  With little notice - in what many rightly see as a last minute dash to make up for Labour's years of failure to accurately predict & forecast school places - the administration is consulting the public to get ideas for how to meet the forecast needs.

Rob Wilson MP has been working hard to improve the situation, already having brought the partners together for the UTC (which I've written about  before).  More recently Rob has been working with an education provider to bring forward a secondary school for 11-16 year olds in his East Reading constituency.

Returning to RBC, below is the press release announcing the consultation meeting dates. I hope anybody & everybody interested in education in Reading will try to come to one of the venues.

Let's Talk Education
Reading Borough Council Press Release

Reading Borough Council today (Oct 8) launches 'Let's Talk Education' the latest in a series of on-going community consultations on the issues that really matter in Reading .

A national shortage of primary and secondary school places is being mirrored in Reading. Only this year the Council spent £2 million providing an additional 260 more places for four-year-olds starting school. Current estimates are that in Reading an additional 12 forms of entry - or 360 primary school places will be needed every year from September 2013. By September 2017 all secondary school capacity will be full.

'Let's Talk Education' wants to hear from local residents, parents, schools and any other interested groups. Their opinions will help shape the Council's plan to meet the demand for primary and secondary school places in Reading .

Opinions gathered in the consultation will enable Reading Borough Council to have a better understanding of how people feel about the choices that impact on decisions about school places. These choices include things like school sizes, educational standards, admissions and transport options, as well as the impact on the local environment.

The Council has scheduled a series of 'Let's Talk Education' events, starting next week, across each of the local communities in the town and running through October. People do not have to be parents to attend - every local resident is invited to make their views known.

The meetings will be at:

Monday October 154pm: Moorlands Primary School , Church End Lane, Tilehurst / 6.30pm: Micklands Primary School , Micklands Road, Caversham
Tuesday October 164pm: Whitley Park Primary School , Basingstoke Road, Whitley
Wednesday October 176.30pm: Reading Town Hall Discussion on Secondary School Places
Thursday Oct 184pm: New Town Primary School , School Terrace / 6.30pm: Southcote Primary School , Silchester Road
Thursday October 254pm: Oxford Road Community School,146 Oxford Road

Each of the meetings will include a presentation on the shortage of school places across the borough. People will then have the opportunity to ask any questions they have and give any feedback. Questionnaires will be available at the meetings for people to fill in.

Anyone not able to make one of the events can also make their views known The closing date for consultation is November 7.The Council will then feedback from the events and the consultation to those that took part. 

Update: the Consultation deadline has been extended to 18th November 2012.

Friday 28 September 2012

Reading East School Places Meeting

The public meeting about school places was heated, but not as well attended as I had anticipated (between 60-80 people, 14 of whom were councillors). 
Useful facts which came out of the meeting were:

From 15 October, a public consultation will be accessible on asking for views as to how RBC can meet its statutory responsibility to meet future demand for school places.  I highly recommend you participate.

RBC's update on education in the East of the Borough hand-out states:
"The forecast for the next four years shows that the east of Reading will need to take more children into Reception year than there are permanent spaces.  It is estimated at between 2 and 3 classes of 30 children.  We therefore need to find the space for at least 14 classrooms and related facilities in the area." 
It continues:
"Clearly all of these children are starting primary school, they will in due course need a place at secondary school.  While this does not have to be quite as local as a primary school, the overall forecast is that from 2017 there will not be enough places in Year 7 (age 11) for all those starting school and by 2020 we will need to be able to access 400 more places in year 7.  The Council is therefore looking for options including the space for a new 11-16 secondary school able to take at least 180 students a year."
Cllr John Ennis – the Labour administration’s Cabinet lead for Education - pledged that if no individuals/group/or organisation/s come forward to set up a Free School and all other possibilities have been exhausted, then his administration will borrow money to build a community school themselves.

Rob Wilson MP, has already put together the partners and identified a portion of the Crescent Road site for the Reading UTC (University Technical College).  Although the bid to the Department for Education (DfE) was for an 11-19 provision, a 14-19 UTC has been given the go ahead and is due to open in September 2013.

The DfE bought only the part of the Crescent Road site needed to accommodate the 600 place UTC.  The remaining part of the site was sold by the University of West London (previously TVU) a few days ago to Square Bay (a residential developer).

Planning application 12/01391/FUL has been submitted for the refurbishment and extensions to part of the Crescent Road Campus site for the UTC and is due to be heard by the Planning Applications Committee at a future meeting.  The plans and supplementary information can be viewed on RBC's planninghome or alternatively at the Civic Centre.

The Crescent Road site is in policy SA7 of RBC’s Sites & Detailed Policies Document (SDPD).  In essence SA7 sets out that the site is for educational purposes if required.  However if surplus to educational requirements the site could be used for residential housing - as long as it fulfils the given criteria.  I've uploaded the full text of SA7 here

Rob Wilson MP is currently in talks about an 11-16 school for East Reading with an education provider.  He anticipates he soon will be in a position to provide more detailed information.  [Check]

Footnote  Rob Wilson MP was unable to attend this meeting as he was in Westminster.  I spoke on his behalf.  He will be holding a public meeting to discuss school places - date to be announced.  

Friday 21 September 2012

MP Quashes Labour's False Accusations

Further to my previous post I feel compelled to reproduce below Rob Wilson MP's piece about education and specifically the new Reading UTC because of the utter rubbish the Reading Labour Group has been spouting:

Around Westminster with Rob - Education

Thursday, 13 September, 2012

Since I became the MP for Reading East in 2005 I have made it a priority to try to improve the education that young people receive in my constituency. I’m not saying it has been easy, as Reading has massively underperformed for years as an education authority as local Labour Councillors have bought into educational socialism in Reading even at a time when Labour nationally under Tony Blair and Andrew Adonis were rejecting it.

I am very proud to say that in recent years progress is being made, although there is still much to do. Part of that progress is the new Reading UTC, vehemently opposed by Labour’s Reading Councillors. But one only has to look at the performance of Highdown as an Academy and the big improvement in Bulmershe to see the progress. Bulmershe has responded well to the challenge that a UTC presents and the local authority in Wokingham is putting in enormous investment to deliver a school that will soon be excellent.

However, Reading UTC (which definitely opens in September 2013) is not being opposed on the basis of rational argument, the tactics used are utterly reprehensible and beneath contempt. The pretext is pretending to represent local people, but the agenda is the same old educational socialism.

Yet Reading UTC is going to be an absolutely brilliant school, educating children in a different way, but producing highly qualified young people with technical skills directly relevant to the local economy. It has huge backing from world class companies and will send children on to university or the world of work with the best possible start in life. Why would Labour oppose this? Because it wants to control schools, because it wants a one size fits all type of education, because it wants to oppose the Government. All narrow sectional party interests, forgetting the people who really count, our children. I find it reprehensible and parents should reject them.

So what are they saying? That the Department of Education bought the land at Crescent Road and sold half of it to a developer (some have said to fund the school half). Completely untrue. The Department of Education bought what it required for 600 children from the University of West London (previously TVU), the sale of the other half of the land is nothing to do with the DoE or Reading UTC. I hope the local Labour Party will be taking this up directly with the vice chancellor of the University of West London, who I understand was previously a member of their party and a Labour candidate at elections. Of course I am sure he has disavowed his previous connections as any sane person would!

Then there is the accusation that the UTC will build on green space. Again completely untrue. Reading UTC will protect green space on the site. They said that the project was going to collapse , which was never the case. They said the University of Reading would withdraw support, it hasn’t. That companies were pulling out, also completely untrue. That it doesn’t serve the needs of Reading. How a school backed by world class companies doesn’t serve local skills needs takes some working out? Where have these dinosaurs been for the last 30 years as the UK skills base has fallen behind the rest of the world? Where have they been as our education system has fallen behind the rest of the world? This new UTC is the most relevant thing to happen in education in east Reading since Victorian times and will be transformative.

The base and squalid accusations about the school have been endless since I first raised the idea. The Labour Councillors responsible, and they know who they are, are the worst kind of political ambulance chasers I have ever come across. UTC Reading is going ahead, Labour in Reading must now make a decision whether to continue to try to wreck it, or give all our children a chance of social mobility through a great education.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

School Places Meeting

On Thursday 27th September Reading Borough Council is holding a public meeting about options to address a projected shortfall of school places, to which Reading East residents are invited. The meeting will start at 6.30 pm and take place in the main hall at Alfred Sutton School.

Cllr John Ennis, the Labour administration's Lead Member for Education & Children's Services will chair the meeting and there will be a presentation by RBC education officers on projections for primary and secondary school places need in Reading for future years.

The press release says that as part of that presentation Council officers will outline potential schemes which could be proposed for the wider site at Crescent Road in East Reading, where a University Technical College (UTC) is planned for 14-19 year olds.

It continues that the meeting is an opportunity for every local resident to hear about and have their say on possible future options for Crescent Road, a key strategic site in the East Reading area.

I for one am interested to learn what Labour has come up with and hope the meeting will be productive.

Friday 14 September 2012

The Forgotten British Gurkha

On Wednesday the Right Worshipful Mayor of Reading Jenny Rynn opened the Gurkha Drop-in Centre in Queen's Walk.   It was fantastic to see this goal achieved, the latest in a campaign headed by Trustees Peter Beckinsale, Chandra Burathoki and former councillors Peter Beard & Tom Steele.

There was a huge turnout with the majority in colourful traditional Nepalese clothing.  The charity was set up in Peter Beard's mayoral year and he became a Trustee, very keen to support the cause.  As a result of Tom Steele's steadfast commitment to the charity, he too was asked to become a Trustee.  It was Tom who proposed the fitting tribute of asking former Gurkha Sergeant Major Gyranraj Rai to join the Mace Bearer team for the Council last year.

The Forgotten British Gurkha charity offers support in many ways including teaching English, dealing with housing issues and form filling. The Drop-In Centre gives the charity a much-needed central Reading base to continue their good work.  You can donate and read more on their website

Thursday 13 September 2012

Landlords: Do Make the Most of Grants!

Last Thursday evening RBC officers ran the annual event bringing landlords up-to-date with legislation and grants available for "green" improvements.  The event has been running for the last few years although this was my first one.  Attendance had gone up from just 25 last year to 70 landlords this time; and feedback afterwards has been very positive.

David Cox (National Landlords Association - Senior Policy Officer) kicked off with issues for the private rented sector.  He spoke about the Energy Performance Chart (EPC) that will need to be on all marketing literature from April 2013 and also the changes made back in April 2011 on Stamp Duty.  He pushed landlords to make the most of the Landlords Energy Savings Allowance (LESA) of £1,500 per property, per year offset against Income Tax, which is available until April 2015.

There was a presentation on Welfare Reform which included information about under occupation of social housing which comes into affect from April 2013 for new and existing claims and on caps to benefits.

By January 2013 RBC has to have set up its own scheme to replace Council Tax Benefit and you can have your say by responding to RBC's consultation.

You will probably have heard about the "Green Deal" which is exciting as already the pilots have reduced household energy bills whilst improving the energy efficiency of homes.  It is part of the Energy Act 2011 and will be rolled out in January 2013 across Britain.  The "Green Deal" is an innovative financial mechanism which eliminates the need to pay upfront for energy efficiency measures and instead provides reassurances that the cost of the measures should be covered by savings on utility bills.  The landlord will approach a Green Deal Provider to assess the property and decide the necessary improvements and then organise for these to be completed.  The energy efficiency upgrades are paid by the Green Deal Provider and then repaid by whoever pays the utility bills.  The "Golden Rule" is important as it ensures the cost of the new utility bills plus the loan repayment must be lower than if nothing had been undertaken. 

In the meantime landlords are advised to take up the free loft and cavity wall insulation grants which are available for the next 3 months.  It was emphasised that cavity wall insulation techniques have improved drastically over the years and in the unlikely event that there was a problem with a new installation the responsibility would be entirely on the insulation company to make good the problem.

There was an interesting presentation on Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).  On the one hand HMOs provide affordable accommodation for students and others, but the downside is the impact HMOs can have on parking, rubbish, estate agent signs, etc in areas where they are prolific.  RBC has implemented an Article 4 which, subject to confirmation, will come into force in May 2013.  Do check page 7 of the presentation to see the area covered (which roughly is the area around the University within the borough).

For more detailed information, all the presentations can be accessed via RBC's website here

Friday 7 September 2012

Cold Callers Cheating Caversham Residents

In January I wrote about one of my residents being duped by a rogue trader who knocked on his door with no appointment.  Sadly again there are problems and for speed I copy below an RBC press release which has just been issued:

"Reading Borough Council Press Release

Trading standards are warning Reading residents to be wary of cold calling builders after a spate of homeowners have been lured into paying excessive costs for unnecessary building work.

In the past few weeks, Reading Trading Standards have investigated numerous 'cold caller' cases within the Borough, many being from Caversham, where bogus tradesmen have carried out work on properties.

The trading standards service is actively working with the police in investigating this type of trading practise. In the most recent case an elderly person from Caversham was scammed out of £6000. The initial building work was to be minimal repairs to the roof but this escalated after the builders kept finding further 'essential' work. Over the period of a few days the resident was taken three times to their bank in Reading to withdraw cash. On the last occasion the elderly resident was made to walk home from central Reading to Upper Caversham after the trader received the cash.

Following these reports Trading Standards are now urging residents to be extra vigilant in dealing with traders who call at the door, and to look out for elderly and vulnerable relatives and neighbours to ensure rogue traders do not try to take advantage.
Trading Standards advice:
" Never agree to have property maintenance or improvement work done by a cold caller.
" Always get several written quotes before agreeing to have work done.
" Never be pressurised into agreeing quickly by promises of lower prices.
" To find a reliable trader visit: or call Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 08454 04 05 06.

If you have any further concerns or wish to report any bogus traders please call the national Citizens Advice Consumer Service and details who will be passed through to the local Trading Standards service."

Thursday 23 August 2012

Residents First? Not in Labour's Reading

Things kicked off at last night's Planning Committee meeting because Labour's ranks were down by three, most notably Transport & Planning Lead Cllr Tony Page, and the Chairman Cllr Pete Ruhemann. This meant the four Labour councillors present lacked their normal majority so couldn't just do as they pleased - no matter how much they protested!

The disharmony was caused by Labour's Cllr Hoskin asking to defer an agenda item for a site visit because he "didn't know the area".  This was strange because he rarely attends Site Visits, doesn't to my knowledge go off on his own initiative to familiarise himself with sites; and usually has no qualms deciding applications without first having seen them.  In fact the same has gone for the rest of the Labour Committee members for the last year or more.  I wrote about the problem in this post last month.

Other reasons I smelled a rat were the application - 99 York Road (round the corner from the now closed Carnival Stores, Caversham Road/A4155) - is in Abbey Ward which Cllr Tony Page represents.  Interestingly he was the Ward councillor responsible for bringing it to Committee so he could easily have asked for a site visit in advance of it coming to Committee: But he hadn't.  He can hardly plead ignorance having been a councillor since he was a teenager and Lead for Planning for a good few years as well!

I didn't think it right to inconvenience all those people who had come specially for this item last night, I'd done my due diligence and therefore said I felt the proposed deferment was unnecessary.  This flummoxed Cllr Chris Maskell in the chair who tried to persuade the Committee that it was normal that any request was agreed to - and that like his colleague he didn't know the site either!  Cllr Hoskin did himself further disservice by disingenuously turning the matter into me not caring to allow the Committee to understand the locals' concerns for this contentious site.  If it hadn't been a political decision to defer the item, Labour would have told officers and me of their intention in advance of the meeting.

Anyway Cllr Melanie Eastwood (Green) supported me, as did Cllr Ricky Duveen (Lib Dem) and we forced the reluctant Cllr Maskell to go to a vote on deferring for a site visit or hearing the application then and there.  Labour lost so we went ahead with the debate.

The chair of the local residents' association spoke well against the application, vividly highlighting locals' concerns about the noise and disturbance the proposed change of use would cause (from a former garage and yard to a pressure spray car wash and valet business).  She likened the jet pressure spray noise to lawn mowers, pointing out the noise would be relentless throughout the day if the business were to flourish.  Also she highlighted that similar applications in dense residential areas elsewhere in the country have been refused.  Later the applicant's architect spoke in favour of the proposal, when Cllr Maskell eventually remembered to invite him.

Cllr Ed Hopper raised his concerns about the entrance as it is narrow with limited sight-lines whilst Cllr Eastwood, I and others had a long debate about the presence of Japanese Knotweed - a non-native invasive plant which spreads through even just a fragment of root and can damage tarmac, concrete and properties.

I proposed the Committee refuse the application as it would impact upon the neighbours' amenity whose terraced houses back on to the site, that the noise and disturbance in this heavily populated area was an inappropriate use, adding Cllr Hopper's highways objections.  Cllr Hoskins seconded my proposal, but Cllr Eastwood raised a new concern that refusal might make the site a blight for the area as she felt no other use may be found and the Japanese Knotweed might then not be dealt with.  Even though Cllr Richard Willis pointed out that once the presence of Japanese Knotweed is identified a landowner has to take action to prevent its spread (which was confirmed by the case officer), Cllr Eastwood voted against.  However the rest of the Committee supported my proposal and the application was duly refused.

It was a long debate (not helped by the chairing), but it was good to meet the public's expectation of hearing it last night in spite of Labour's desire to delay until Cllr Page is back!

On other agenda items, there was the Tree Preservation Order (TPO) for trees in Blagrave Lane which I supported.  I'd been made aware by one resident that a property was being sold and there was an objection by the owner to a copper beech being TPOd.  Before the meeting I had a look for myself and could see the tree from the road side.  As my own neighbours have a beautiful copper beech, from which I gain much enjoyment, I was happy to support the officer's recommendation, as well as the first resident's wish, for confirmation of the TPO.

There was a unique application to remove part of footpath 47 (which goes through Jefferson Close) from the definitive map and statement in Peppard Ward to which my colleague Cllr Richard Willis spoke.  It was noteworthy that no residents had approached him about it over the last two years.  He spoke robustly in support of the right of way and the officers' hard work to ensure its continuation.

Lastly there was the backland development on the rear garden of number 3 Grosvenor Road in Thames Ward (which I represented for 6 years up until May when my colleague Cllr Ed Hopper was elected).  Cllr Hopper raised his concerns about the tandem proposal, the shared driveway and the close proximity between the neighbouring properties at 49 & 47 Ellesmere Close.  After listening to the debate he went on to propose refusal on the aforementioned grounds which was carried with the support of Cllr Duveen even though the Green and Labour councillors sat on their hands.

All in all it was a satisfying night with my two new Conservative colleagues actively participating - in fact councillors of all parties, with the exception of Labour, speaking.   I believe we stood up for the town's electorate, as indeed is our duty.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Stolen Bollards

The thoughtless actions of one or more individuals endangered lives in the closed part of Gravel Hill. The bollards Kidmore Road end were stolen at the weekend thereby enabling access to all traffic.

One Shepherd's Lane resident told me she knew of pedestrians being taken by surprise when faced by a car charging down this narrow country lane this morning, as for the past couple of years it has been closed to through traffic.  Although unpopular with some residents (including my husband) many residents have told me how much they now enjoy walking, running, cycling or in some cases horse riding along in the knowledge they will not be faced with a speeding driver around the blind bends.

Returning to the case in hand, I'm glad to report after initially putting up a temporary "Road Closed" sign, the Council officers have installed new bollards.  One resident told my colleague Cllr Ed Hopper on Sunday, another told Rob Wilson yesterday, whilst a Shepherd's Lane resident told me. It is always worth getting in touch with your elected representatives if you spot a problem as often we are best placed to contact the appropriate officers to sort out the issue - as demonstrated here with Gravel Hill.

In the unlikely event any of my readers know who was responsible for stealing the bollards please inform the Council - or me.  What may have been a harmless prank could have caused a serious accident.

Saturday 4 August 2012

Summer BBQ at The Packhorse for Mapledurham Pavilion

The Packhorse is hosting a fund raising BBQ for the Mapledurham Pavilion regeneration project on Saturday 18th August from 12 noon - 6 pm.

A band will be playing & it should be a another great event for this worthy cause. There'll be a tombola, Pimms tent & games for all. Do come along if you're around! For further information Tel: 01189722140, website:

Update:  My husband, daughter & I joined Cllr Ed Hopper (who took over my old seat in Thames Ward in May) at a table in the shade for the BBQ. I saw many familiar faces who similarly were there to support the cause.  It was a lovely summer's day, the pub's garden was packed, the live group was great and £352 was raised by the raffle & tombola towards a hall to replace the Pavilion. 

Friday 3 August 2012

Labour reveals return to dictatorship

Disbelief & anger greeted Labour's announcement at Monday's Cultural Partnership meeting that the £74,000 funding was being grabbed back. I find it surprising the two Labour Cabinet members present failed to anticipate the predictable shock & horror from everyone else. There again Labour reverted to form by failing to consult - when will they learn?

Once again Reading Labour wants to hoard Council Tax payers' money for themselves to ensure their own total control over how it will be spent. They just don't get the importance of harnessing public enthusiasm & goodwill - or so it would appear.

During the local Conservative-led coalition we set up the Cultural Partnership to help bring together like minded groups, individuals & organisations. We provided the £74,000 budget to give the Partnership power to decide where to invest in culture around our town. Hundreds joined and the town's Cultural community flourished.

Having read this are you at all surprised by one incensed Cultural Partnership member's accusation of Labour dumping on the Cultural sector? My Conservative colleague Cllr Andrew Cumpsty proposed the Cultural Partnership task the two Labour councillors to report back to the rest of the Cabinet so as to rethink the unpopular decision. This was unanimously supported (apart from the two Labour councillors who voted against)!

Thursday 26 July 2012

Lax Attitude to Planning

Serving on the Planning Committee is an onerous task.  Often a resident's only dealings with the local authority is when trying to get planning permission - or objecting to someone else's plans.  

At last night's Committee meeting two residents were fuming.  They'd come for a bungalow application but just 30 minutes before the meeting were told the application was being deferred for a Site Visit.  They were extremely put out - and said so at the beginning of the meeting - because the Committee had visited 30 Cockney Hill at the beginning of the year.  They couldn't fathom the further delay.  The chairman said it was because it was a new committee.  I couldn't contain my indignation as the application was in the chairman's own ward.  I don't think he'd bothered to go and see it - certainly he'd said he hadn't seen it at Monday's Management meeting.  

Another councillor and I were shocked, particularly because not only is the application in the ward the chairman represents (Southcote) and therefore it is his residents who are affected, but also as chairman he gets an extra allowance to fulfil his duties.  We felt it was reprehensible and showed a complete lack of interest.

I've sat on Reading's Planning Committee for over 5 years, 1 of which as chairman.  Before me was Labour's well-loved Jim Hanley who was extremely popular both in this role and as a kind, gentle man.  His sudden death was a huge shock to everybody.

For tricky applications it is usual  practice (across the country) for the Committee to visit the site before it is debated & decided.  Proactive ward councillors visit any contentious applications within their ward to enable them to speak with authority.  The chairman is made aware well in advance of Committee about forthcoming applications.

Last year Labour selected a chairman who wasn't available for Site Visits.  A half-hearted attempt was made to change the well-established timing, but the majority were against the change - so the chairman didn't attend.  He didn't stand down either to make way for a Labour colleague who could make the timing. In fact even when a Labour councillor did bother to come along, often they'd only go to sites south of the river.  Of course for some councillors with full-time jobs in London it can be extremely difficult to get time off work.

In May officers and I were sat on the hired coach waiting on the off-chance one or more of Labour's councillors  might show up for Site Visits.  My Conservative colleagues had told me they weren't able to make it.  In contrast apart from one or perhaps two, the Labour councillors simply hadn't bothered to say one way or the other.  The officers and I gave up waiting after quarter of an hour.  We agreed to cancel one visit (I'd been to Kennet Island a couple of times before so it would have been a waste of everybody's time to go again just for my benefit), but did go ahead with our visit to The Restoration Pub on the Oxford Road.  The developer was there to greet us.  His face fell when officers & I had to admit that I was the only councillor on the visit.  It was extremely embarrassing.

As Labour kept the same chairman after May's elections - who still couldn't manage the timing of Site Visits - I researched what other authorities did, wrote a 2 page report that you can read here and then tabled it at a Planning Management meeting. I am glad to say my words were heeded, the timing was changed and so far the attendance has improved.  

Returning to last night's meeting, it does the chairman no favours if he fails to familiarise himself even with applications in his own ward. It sets a poor example to other councillors and does a disservice to the residents we as elected members are here to serve.