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."