Saturday 30 March 2013

Update on state of The Warren

Further to my post on Monday, I've heard back from RBC's Highways Department about the problem area of The Warren.

A letter drop, press release and signs warning of imminent works, together with arranging a Temporary Traffic Regulation Order will be carried out by RBC next week.

Details are to be agreed and finalised after a local consultation which will be carried out by the Highways Department.

In the meantime RBC has increased the number of cones and warning signs to keep vehicles and other road users away from the failed area.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Positive Change at Priory Avenue Surgery

Priory Avenue Surgery
Following my previous article on 16 January about Priory Avenue Surgery I was pleased by last week's public announcement that Specialist Health Services, a company founded and managed by local GPs, has won the contract to run the doctors' practice on behalf of the NHS starting on 1 May 2013.

There will be no change in service initially but as from July longer opening hours, from 8 am to 8 pm will be introduced with GP services available seven days a week.  For the first time surgery patients will benefit from being able to book an appointment online and have the opportunity to be reminded of their appointment by text if they wish.  This is excellent news as it will simplify and speedup what often can be a tedious process, restricted by the surgery's current opening hours.

I welcome the announcements and look forward to meeting the new GPs when next I or my family need an appointment.

Monday 25 March 2013

Suspected Subsidence Highlighted by Pothole

Pothole in conned off part of  The Warren
This afternoon a Ward resident raised his concerns with me about a particularly hazardous pothole around which the road appears to be subsiding for a length of about 3 m.  It is near the end of The Warren in an area that has had problems before.

Reading Borough Council (RBC) officers were quick to respond to my phone call and follow-up email, sending out an officer to put cones along the road to warn drivers, runners and other road users.  I met the officer at about 5.30 pm whilst I was taking a look at the problem for myself.

Peter Brett Associates, who are consultant engineers to RBC, will be sending out engineers tomorrow morning to assess the situation.

I am always happy to take up concerns of residents and help get appropriate, timely action so do let me know if you spot something RBC should sort out.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Foster Carers & Armed Forces Excluded from Housing Benefits Reform

Further to my previous post on the under occupancy reforms to Housing Benefits (the so called "bedroom tax") the following statement has been made today by the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions Iain Duncan Smith MP setting out further protection for foster carer families and armed forces personnel living in social housing:

Written Ministerial Statement 
Tuesday 12 March 2013 
Housing Benefit reform 

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith MP): I am pleased to announce that we intend to lay amending regulations to clarify the size criteria rules for two specific groups of Housing Benefit recipient, Foster Carers and Armed Forces personnel. 

People who are approved foster carers will be allowed an additional room, whether or not a child has been  placed with them or they are between placements, so long as they have fostered a child, or become an approved foster carer in the last 12 months. 

Adult children who are in the Armed Forces but who continue to live with parents will be treated as continuing to live at home, even when deployed on operations. This means that the size criteria rules will not be applied to the room normally occupied by the member of the Armed Forces if they intend to return home. In addition Housing Benefit recipients will not be subject to a non-dependent deduction, i.e. the amount 
that those who are working are expected to contribute to the household expenses, until an adult child return home. 

The intent of the policy was that by using Discretionary Housing Payments, the estimated 5,000 foster carers and rather fewer Armed Forces personnel groups would be protected. We have agreed with local authority organisations improved arrangements through these regulations that puts these protections beyond doubt. 
The changes will apply to tenants in both the social and private rented sectors. 

I am also issuing guidance to local authorities emphasising that Discretionary Housing Payments remain available for other priority groups including the needs of people whose homes have had significant disability adaptations and those with long term medical conditions that create difficulties in sharing a bedroom. 

Going forward I will continue to closely monitor and adjust the implementation of the policy, including an independent evaluation by Ipsos MORI, the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research and the Institute For Fiscal Studies to ensure that the needs of these groups are effectively addressed in the longer term. 

This ensures this policy focuses on the key aim of bringing housing benefit expenditure under control. Under the previous Government, housing benefit almost doubled in 10 years to £20billion, with households living in homes that are too big for them, whilst there are 2 million households in England on waiting lists, and 250,000 families living in over-crowded accommodation. 

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Labour Ignores Plight of Families Suffering Overcrowding


Political posturing has been rife by Labour both nationally and locally over the so-called “Bedroom Tax”. 

At last week’s Council meeting I and my Conservative colleagues spoke up for the 1,264 families on Reading’s Housing waiting list suffering from overcrowding. The under occupancy reform (“Bedroom Tax” as detractors have nicknamed it) is designed to ensure that the social housing stock is best used to relieve over-crowding and free up larger Council houses for families who desperately need the accommodation.

However, at Full Council Labour used their majority to vote through a motion to write to government asking for the under occupancy reform to be suspended because they said it isn’t fair on the 1,008 households in Reading’s social housing with a spare bedroom.

There are 9,636 families and individuals on Reading’s Housing waiting list, many having been on it for a number of years.  The overwhelming majority of residents I’ve spoken to support making better use of the town’s limited supply of social housing to help tackle the backlog.  Despite this Labour wants to stop the Government’s reform which will get more families into housing right for their needs.

I met with Mrs Chidsey who together with her husband decided to downsize last year from their 2 bed Council bungalow to a one bedroom maisonette.  Mrs Chidsey told me she and her husband didn’t need all that space.  They moved so a disabled person with a carer or a family could benefit.  Their utility bills are cheaper now and they are happy they made the right decision.  She told me their daughter lives next door to a man who has a 3 bedroom council house all to himself.  In her opinion this is a waste when there are families out there squashed into tiny flats or temporary housing.

At the Council meeting I proposed some exceptional cases which officers should prioritise for using the town’s share of the £155 million Government pot for Discretionary Housing Payments.  These are households needing a spare bedroom because of medical or disability needs, residents registered to foster but temporarily without a foster child; residents with a grown up child living with them who is away on active duty with the Armed Forces.  Labour ignored our reasoned argument and our proposal to work cross-party for the good of residents.  It was very disappointing.  I, and all the families suffering from overcrowding, would like to know how Reading’s Labour administration proposes to deal with the massive waiting list.

Cllr Tim Harris, Conservative Group Leader said, “Labour’s motion did nothing to help a single household on the Housing waiting list.  Instead all they are doing is scaring vulnerable residents.  It is totally unacceptable behaviour; especially given they don’t know all the facts nor have any idea how to deal with the problem of people in over-crowded housing.  It shows them caring more about political point scoring than the needs of residents.”

It is worth highlighting that the under occupancy reform only applies to working age residents.  If a resident or household has a spare bedroom under this reform they have the following choices:
  1. Make up the difference with the reduction in their Housing Benefit so as to keep their spare room
  2. Apply to the council for financial help to make up the difference if losing their spare room will cause them severe hardship
  3. Ask the council for permission to rent out their spare bedroom. NB Their Housing Benefit would only be adjusted after the first £20 of rental income
  4. Ask RBC permission to buy their council property.  NB the government has put up the subsidy to £75,000 for those eligible for the Right to Buy scheme
  5. Downsize to accommodation which meets their needs

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Man Robbed and Abandoned in The Warren

I've received the following appeal from Thames Valley Police.  The first crime partially took place in The Warren.  If you witnessed either crime please do use the contact details at the bottom:

Thames Valley Police is appealing for information after two linked robberies in Reading last month.

In the first incident a 19-year-old-man was in the Albion Public House on the Oxford Road at around midnight on Friday 22 February and was then driven in a car over the Caversham Bridge towards Caversham and then to the bottom end of the Warren where the victim was robbed of his iPhone 5 and told to get out of the car. The car then drove off along The Warren.

The offenders are two Asian men.  The first is in his twenties or thirties, with short black gelled hair and shaped facial hair and was wearing a light grey tracksuit. The second offender was younger looking, of slim build and wearing a light blue tracksuit.  They were driving a four door silver saloon car possibly a Vauxhall.

In the second incident another 19-year-old-man was forced into a car on Gas Works Road on Sunday 24 February, between 2.30 and 4 am. The victim was approached by two men, forced into a car, driven around and robbed of his mobile phone and a gold ring.

The victim was forced out of the car near Kensington Road and Oxford Road.  Both of the offenders are Asian men in their mid twenties.  The first offender is 5ft 9ins,and chubby with a thick black shaped beard and black short hair.  The second offender is 6ft, slim, with short black hair and facial stubble. He was wearing a pale green to grey thigh length coat.  They were driving a four door black saloon car.

Police are also appealing for any witnesses to come forward, particularly one who called a taxi for the second victim at Kensington Road.

Anyone with any information should contact Designated Investigator Barbara Dudley at Reading police station via the 24-hour Thames Valley Police Enquiry Line 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

Monday 4 March 2013

School Places: 2nd Consultation

The following press release has just landed in my In-Box.

I am frustrated more advance notice hasn't been given.  Last time public awareness was extremely limited, with correspondingly poor turnout.  At Cabinet I highlighted parents' anger at the ridiculous lack of notice for the first consultation in October 2012 as only a couple of working day's notice was given. Notice this time has been extended to 7 days (although that reduces down to 5 as the local papers don't come out until Wednesday), assuming they have space to print it immediately). Parents have busy lives & may well have work commitments plus they may need to book child care.

However putting this issue to one side it is important to participate in this second consultation & also to spread the word to other parents & expectant parents!

Let’s Talk Education – Come and See the Proposals

Reading Borough Council Press Release
PARENTS and local residents are being invited to a series of Let’s Talk Education feedback events in March to hear more about how Reading Borough Council is proposing to meet the rising demand for school places across the town. 
The feedback events – which will take place in the north, south, east and west of the borough – is a chance for local residents, parents, schools and any other interested groups to hear about how the Council has taken the views of local communities on board to draw up area by area proposals to provide more school places. It follows on from a detailed consultation last Autumn where local people were asked to have their say.

A national shortage of school places in being mirrored in Reading. In 2012 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.

Current indications are that 210 of those 360 places will be needed in the west of the borough, 60 each to the south and east, and a further 30 to the north of Reading.

A number of different ideas and priorities have been proposed for each of the areas following last year’s Let’s Talk Education consultation. Several suggestions have been made about where the extra places could come from, each with different strengths. The next phase is to go out to local communities again with these ideas, gather more feedback and help the Council prioritise options which will be taken forward through 2013 and will form the basis of bids the Council will lead to the Department for Education for the recently announced Targeted Basic Need Programme.

The consultation events are:

East Reading: Tuesday 19 March 2013, 7:30pm, Wycliffe Baptist Church, 233 Kings Road, RG1 4LS

North Reading: Wednesday 13 March 2013, 7:30pm, Highdown School, Surley Row, Emmer Green, Caversham,RG4 8LR
Thursday 14 March 2013, 7:30pm, Caversham Park Village Association, Northbrook Road, Caversham, RG4 6PF

South Reading Monday 25 March 2013, 7:30pm, New Directions, 330 Northumberland Avenue, RG2 8DH

West Reading Tuesday 12 March 2013, 7:30pm, Emmanuel Methodist Church, 448 Oxford Road, RG30 1EE
Wednesday 20 March 2013, 7:30pm, Meadway Sport Centre, Conwy Close,Tilehurst, RG30 4BZ

Drop-in Session Saturday 16 March 2013, 10am -3pm 3B’s, Town Hall, Blagrave Street, RG1 1PZ 

All residents are welcome to attend any of the events to find out more and have their say. If people cannot attend they can see the options and have their say at

Follow the consultation at or .