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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Reading Museum Launches Collection Website

Reading Museum has created an online showcase that will display more than 2,700 objects from its collections, including the oil painting by Paul Sandby below of the inner gateway of Reading Abbey that connected the public outer precinct (The Forbury) to the private inner precinct where the monks lived and worked.
Oil painting by Paul Sandby, 1808, north side of Abbey Gate

A major highlight for local residents will be almost 2,000 photographs of Reading during the 20th century, many from the Reading Chronicle collection.

The website will be a growing ‘shop window’ for the museum’s diverse archaeology, art, natural history, social history and world collections.

The new Collections Online catalogue has been created thanks to funding from the Arts Council England.  It can be found at http://collections.readingmuseum.org.uk

Friday, 21 November 2014

EFA Feedback on location for The Heights

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) has asked RBC to help find a community-backed permanent location for The Heights.  Reading Borough Council has published a press release welcoming the EFA's request to help engage with the public.

The facts:
  • The EFA has agreed to Rob Wilson MP's request that there should be a thorough public consultation on where the permanent location for The Heights is built.  Rob's statement can be read on his website
  • The EFA has indefinitely put on hold pursuing High Ridge in Upper Warren Avenue as the solution.  A stated reason is "we recognise that developing the school there would be unpopular with a section of the local community"
  • However the EFA states that "High Ridge presents a deliverable if not ideal solution...We are confident that a good school can be delivered on this site."
  • The EFA states that the "only real alternatives to High Ridge are sites within LA ownership or held in Trust"
  • The sites listed are:  Mapledurham Playing Fields, Albert Road Recreational Ground and Bugs Bottom
  • RBC's Policy Committee will be discussing the report (referred to in RBC's press release), on Monday 1st December. The report has this map of Mapledurham Playing Fields appended
It is important to note that the school's temporary site is incapable of becoming the permanent site as it is not big enough (leaving aside the fact that it is in the wrong location, being outside the catchment area).  However RBC's Kevin McDaniel has clarified with me this afternoon that he believes the school could remain on the temporary site for up to one year more than originally given as the end date in order to deliver the right final solution (ie extending the date of moving to a permanent location to September 2017 at the latest).

You can read the EFA's letter to Rob as well as their letter to RBC.

The Reading Chronicle has published this report and GetReading this slightly longer report.  Other reactions can be read on The Heights' Facebook page.

There is a lot to be worked out and disseminated by the EFA/RBC such as how to carry out the consultation and what information is needed to ensure the consultation will generate meaningful results.  I will be working hard at my jobs as councillor for Mapledurham Ward and Chairman of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Management Committee, studying the matter carefully and updating readers regularly.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Gridlock again in Caversham

This morning the traffic ground to a halt across Caversham, spilling over into Reading, due to the temporary traffic lights near Caversham Bridge at the junction of Church Street and Church Road.  Those drivers who abandoned the slog to cross the river either turned back home or dumped their car by the roadside.

Cars backed up from Caversham Bridge up through Caversham Heights along the A4074 all the way over the Oxfordshire boundary to the turnoff to Mapledurham House.  I don't know how far on the A4155 to Henley, or indeed the Peppard Road the gridlock went, but know that it wasn't until well after 10 am that the Woodcote Road backlog was dealt with.

I spoke with Reading Borough Council's Network Manager Simon Beasley today and he explained what happened.

The temporary lights failed last night and the engineer who came out at about 11.30 pm got them back up, without realising the lights reverted to their default 3-way setting instead of the 2-way setting needed.  This morning when the construction workers arrived they realised and reported the problem.   However gridlock had set in across Caversham long before and by then was well established.  In order to release the pressure, manual control was instigated.  First the traffic from Reading, next the Henley Road approach and finally the A4074 were cleared.

The good news is the works to install the new traffic lights at the Church Street/Road junction are on schedule to finish this Sunday.  Simon reassured me that if the temporary lights fail again in the meantime, the Council has notified the emergency call out engineers to reset the lights on the 2-way setting.

Once the new traffic lights are up and running do let me know if the Microprocessor Optimised Vehicle Actuation (MOVA) system makes an improvement to traffic flowing through the junction.

GetReading has the following report

Monday, 3 November 2014

Arthur Clark Care Home Site to be Leased

Arthur Clark Care Home before closure
Tonight, Reading Borough Council's Policy Committee is being asked to agree to the leasing off of the old Arthur Clark Care Home & Albert Road Day Centre site to A2Dominion Housing for the development of an extra care housing scheme.

The Labour administration has been desperate to crack on with enabling the disused site to provide for the needs of older people in order to redeem its deeply unpopular decision back in July 2013 - opposed by Rob Wilson MP and the Conservative Group - to close the much loved local facilities.  Thousands signed a petition against the closure to no avail.

You can read the report going to the Policy Committee tonight here.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Update on Permanent Site for The Heights Primary School

High Ridge, the site bought by the EFA for The Heights
 I got confirmation from the Education Funding Agency (EFA) this morning that it was having a fence installed within the High Ridge site's boundary - nothing more.

As can be seen from my photo the fencing is being put up several meters back from the site's frontage onto Upper Warren Avenue.

This week both the Reading Chronicle and GetReading have had articles about the ongoing quest to agree a permanent location for The Heights Primary School.

I believe that it will only be a matter of days now before the EFA reports back to Rob Wilson MP the findings of its review into Bugs Bottom, Mapledurham Playing Fields and the Caversham Lawn Tennis Club - plus what ever other sites were either new onto the market, or where circumstances had changed, since its original assessment. [The first three sites were agreed and put forward by a stakeholder group of representatives from local interest groups.]

I have been speaking with lots of residents from across the school's catchment area.  Practically everyone has a strong view on where the school shouldn't go (supported with strong arguments) with no one site gaining unanimous support - which goes to show just how difficult the EFA's job has been.

I attended the Warren & District Residents' Association's (WADRA) AGM in Mapledurham Pavilion on 15 October at which residents expressed their conflicting views.  Some favoured the school going on a part of Mapledurham Playing Fields with others vehemently against.

At that meeting, WADRA announced its committee's preference for the school going down in Bugs Bottom (otherwise known as the Hemdean Valley).  Although opposition to this was voiced, WADRA's chairman said he was aware of few objections.  Since then a Facebook Group has been started called Save Bugs Bottom and apparently a group of residents met on Sunday to protect this meadowland.

I know that the waiting is proving exceedingly difficult for everyone concerned.  I am looking forward to our community being able to evaluate the results of the EFA's report in order to debate where the school will go.  Of course not everybody will be happy with whichever site is settled upon but at least this process should enable our community to understand the challenges each possible site has and the reasoning behind those that are viable.

As an aside, but of course the school and its pupils is what this is all about, I was delighted to look around The Heights' temporary site earlier this month.  It is extraordinary how well established it is after just the few weeks since it opened and wonderful to see so many families benefiting from the tremendous hard work by the founding parents, head teacher and staff team.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Gridlock in Caversham

The traffic signal replacement scheme at the George Street/Gosbrook Road junction which caused last week’s gridlock in Caversham has another 2 or 3 weeks to run.

As the works progress fewer lanes will be closed, however the temporary 3-way lights cannot direct traffic as efficiently as permanent lights, according to an RBC transport officer I spoke with today.

Apparently a workman is manipulating the temporary traffic lights in peak times Monday – Saturday to try to manage the traffic as best as possible. 

After the George Street/Gosbrook Road junction is done, works will move to the Church Street/Road junction which no doubt will cause similar gridlock for a further week or two.

The upgrade works are necessary as over the last 6 or so years, traffic signal technology has come on a lot, our town’s population has increased and businesses continue to bring larger numbers of people to Reading putting greater strain on the road network.

All traffic lights north of the river are to be renewed as part of this Government-funded upgrade.  The new signals will use the MOVA system (Microprocessor Optimised Vehicle Actuation) so we should all see an improvement.  MOVA is more reactive to local demands which should help motorists and pedestrians.  Sensors in the road feedback information which enables the optimisation of traffic flow through junctions by dispersing any queues – or so the theory states. 

In the meantime avoid the works as best you can but if not possible allow extra time for your journey.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Appeal for Witnesses to Fight in Caversham

Please see notice from Thames Valley Police:

"Thames Valley Police is appealing for witnesses to a large fight in Caversham which resulted in a 21-year-old man being assaulted.

"On Friday 6 September at around 12.30am a crowd of around 20 people began fighting in Church Road. During the fight the victim was punched in the head, kicked and hit with a bottle. He sustained head injuries but did not seek hospital treatment.

"The offender is a white male, aged between 16 and 20 years old.

"If you have any information about this incident and have not already spoken to the police then please contact PC Ben Sherry via the Thames Valley 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 www.crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court."

Monday, 15 September 2014

Flasher in Balmore Park Today


Please see notice below from Thames Valley Police:

"Thames Valley Police is appealing for witnesses after a man exposed himself to three young girls in Balmore Park, Caversham.


"Between 8.15am and 8.20am today (15/9), an offender exposed himself to three school children, aged between 12 –years-old and 15-years-old, who were walking to school.

"The offender is white, in his thirties and wore a black hooded top and tracksuit bottoms with trainers and sunglasses.

"Police are appealing to anyone who has any information regarding the incident or may have seen the man in the area to please get in contact via the non emergency 101 enquiry centre.

"If you don’t want to speak directly to the police, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers (opens new window) anonymously on 0800 555 111 No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court."

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Reading Festival: Waste Recycled

A sale of the nearly new camping equipment left by revellers after this year's Reading Festival is being held tomorrow, Sunday 31 August from 10 am until 3 pm in Mapledurham Pavilion.  There will also be a tea and cake stall.
GetReading's photo from last year's promotion of the sale

Volunteers organised by the Warren & District Residents Association (WADRA) have worked with Festival Republic to tidy up and minimise wastage by collecting up discarded equipment after the end of the Festival last weekend.

Do come along to the Pavilion and take advantage of the knocked-down prices of tents, sleeping bags, wellies, camping chairs and other equipment tomorrow: All monies raised will go towards the regeneration of the Pavilion!

Note:  The Pavilion is on Mapledurham Playing Fields, off the A4074 (Woodcote Road), Caversham Heights, Reading, RG4 7EZ.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Government Funding to Improve Local Roads

Thanks to the Conservative-led Government’s Local Transport Plan Settlement for Reading, our town’s roads are benefiting from £1.38 million investment.

In lower Caversham earlier this summer, resurfacing took place in Hemdean and Gosbrook Road.  Now in Caversham Heights we are about to benefit from a share of the £368,000 programme of resurfacing residential streets and minor roads (part of the £1.38m).

Twenty-seven minor roads and residential streets' surfaces are to be renewed to improve routes for drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

The minor roads surfacing programme will begin on Monday, September 8, and is planned to run until Saturday, September 20. Any required road-marking and ironwork adjustment will follow during the two weeks after surfacing work.

In Woodcote Way, between Geoffreyson and the junction with the Upper Woodcote Roads, surfacing work is schedule for Friday 12 September.  This follows the recent work to seal the joints using a bituminous material with fine aggregate over the top to provide grip.  I’m advised that on the 12th a 12 mm thick micro asphalt layer will be used to seal the road, giving a finish similar to the top part of Woodcote Way which was done last year.

Road-marking is due to be carried out approximately seven days later when ironworks will also be raised.  The section of Woodcote Way will be closed during surfacing work with temporary parking restrictions in place.

St Peter’s Avenue, between Highmoor Road and Kelmscott Close is also scheduled to be resurfaced on 12 September though the work is anticipated to take two days rather than just one. Road-marking is due to be carried out approximately seven days later when ironworks will also be raised. The road will be closed during surfacing work with temporary parking restrictions in force.

Work to put right pronounced dip
A couple of months ago I was pleased that my persistence in repeatedly reporting a pronounced dip near number 47 Woodcote Way paid off and the remedial work necessary was carried out. Concrete was pumped underneath the concrete slab which alleviated some of the problem to a point with the slab no longer moving when buses went over it.  This enabled the council's contractors to build up the road and reset the kerbs on the side of the road.  

If you have a particular bugbear with any of the local roads do let me know so I can do my best to exert pressure on Reading Borough Council to sort it out.

A full list of the roads included in this phase of resurfacing works can be found here.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Gates on EFA's Site to Come Down

New gate which is being taken down
This morning RBC's Planning Enforcement Manager responded to my enquiry about the new 2.2 m high gates installed at the entrance to Highridge in Upper Warren Avenue.  On behalf of a ward resident I'd asked RBC's Planning Department to investigate the planning issues as a matter of urgency, as no planning permission had been sought by the EFA.

As regular readers of my blog will know, the Education Funding Agency (EFA) bought the Highridge site in June for The Heights Primary School's permanent location.  The news of the acquisition was of substantial interest to the local community, as evidenced by the hundreds who came to the meeting I held in St Andrew's Church on 17 June, chaired by Rob Wilson MP.

UPDATE: Old gates reinstated
The Enforcement Manager informed me that the new gates will be taken down by the EFA, with the original gates being reinstated.  Inside the site, Heras fencing will be erected to prevent public access for health & safety reasons.

I am pleased that the work is to be carried out imminently.  I hope residents will be reassured by RBC Planning Team's prompt investigation and the resulting actions being taken by the EFA.

I know tempers are running high with the ongoing uncertainty over the permanent location for The Heights Primary School and ask that residents try and remain civil at all times.  It is worth bearing in mind that The Heights school had nothing whatsoever to do with the installation of the gates.

UPDATE:  The old gates are back in place, the 2.2 m high green ones having been taken away.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Third Annual Mapledurham Playing Fields Summer Fete

This Saturday sees the third annual Summer Fete at Mapledurham Playing Fields.  It should be a fantastic day, kicking off at Noon - 5.30 pm, followed at 6.30 - 10.30 pm by a Live Music Festival.

I will be running my usual wooden skittles stall for young and old to play, to help raise further funds for the regeneration of Mapledurham Pavilion - the charity all proceeds are going towards. I thoroughly support this worthy cause as our community needs and deserves a decent hall and ancillary facilities.

There will be a vast array of things to do, watch and enjoy from foods to eat, Pimms & beer to drink, games to play, dogs & cars to watch and plants to buy.

The event is organised by the Warren & District Residents Association (WADRA) and has become an established highlight of the summer drawing people from far and wide. If you'd like to volunteer to help run the event now is not too late to get in touch with WADRA

Do come along and join in the fun as there is something for everyone!


Site Selection for The Heights: EFA's Response to Rob Wilson MP

BREAKING:  Rob Wilson MP has published the Education Funding Agency's (EFA's) letter received today following his meeting with them on 23 June, together with an open letter to residents in The Heights primary school's catchment area.  Both can be read here.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Reading Labour's education failure

At tonight’s Reading Borough Council’s meeting the Labour administration chose to debate the supposed lack of legislative business in the Queen’s speech for the remaining part of the current Government.

Although in general it was fairly pointless, I could not let the opportunity pass to stand up for my residents and all the many families across the town failed by both the local Labour administration and the last Labour government.

This is what I said:

      “This Labour administration has failed to deliver a new school for families in my Ward, residents who for decades have had no realistic chance or very little of a primary place at a local catchment school.  Michael Gove’s reforms have enabled residents to right that long-standing wrong. 
       In addition Mr Gove’s reforms have enabled WREN [actually ASAG - see update below] to set up the “outstanding” rated All Saints Junior School in Brownlow Road.  Of course there is WREN’s secondary school bid which was successful and hopefully will be making progress after last week’s decision by the High Court. 
       The Conservative-led Coalition has and is investing in, to list 3 more: 
         ·         Reading University Technical College (UTC)
·         New school building for Reading Girls School
·         The eagerly awaited Maiden Erlegh 2 
        Mr Mayor, to respond to what Cllr Ennis said earlier, Mr Cumpsty was expressing a personal opinion and does not speak for this [Conservative] Group.  His statements in the press appear to be influenced by his home being 2 doors away from the site that the DfE has bought for The Heights primary school. 
        So Mr Mayor this Government is not only clearing up the mess of the last government’s failure to provide sufficient school places, but also is giving Reading’s families a wider offer of educational provision.”

Update: I have been corrected on All Saints Junior School's location which is in Brownlow Road, Downshire Square.  Also the parents who set the school up had the anacronym ASAG = All Saints Action Group.  Some of these parents went on to form the WREN group.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Public Meeting Introduction

As a result of some requests, I am publishing the introduction I gave at the start of the public meeting on Tuesday 17 June.  I haven't checked it against the Youtube footage but anyone is welcome to.

"Good evening,

My name is Isobel Ballsdon. I represent Mapledurham Ward. I am joined by Cllr Ed Hopper who is one of the three councillors for the neighbouring Thames ward.

We have called this meeting to hear the views of Thames and Mapledurham ward residents.  Tonight was the first possible opportunity to hold this meeting. 

Before I go into our objectives I would like to thank the church wardens who have been incredibly supportive and gone to a lot of trouble to prepare for the meeting. As I was given a reduced rate to hire the church I hope you will consider making a donation towards the church's funds.  Gift Aid envelopes are available to increase the value of your donation if you so wish and the donations bowl is at the back of the church.

The objective in the first instance is to listen to your views about the news on 5 June that the Education Funding Agency has bought the site on Upper Warren Avenue for the permanent home of The Heights primary school. 

In addition we hope to be able to provide answers to some of your questions. Anything we can’t answer we will take away and put to the relevant authorities.
To explain the process by which the point has been reached where the EFA has purchased the site
(i)                A group of wonderful and inspirational residents made a detailed bid for a primary free school to serve the west of Caversham
(ii)             (ii) The DfE determined through consultation, including consultation with the Council, that there was a justifiable demand for a school in the Heights catchment area and, having satisfied themselves that there was indeed a demand, they then instructed the EFA to find and purchase a site within the catchment area.
The EFA is an independent arm of the DfE and has not consulted with the councillors or the MP or the council, though they will have asked the Council if they owned any land in the catchment area which they were prepared to offer.

We hope it may be possible for us as a community to work towards a shared goal: namely to deliver the primary school that a generation has needed and that generations to come will benefit from, to ensure our community thrives.

In attendance we have:

Kevin McDaniel   -        Head of Education, Reading Borough Council (RBC)
Cllr John Ennis    -        The Labour administration’s Lead for Education, RBC
Dan Pagella          -        The Heights primary school, parent group’s land adviser
Karen Edwards    -        Head teacher, The Heights
Mark Richards     -        Chair of Governors, The Heights

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) does not send representatives to attend public meetings before it has information on which to consult, eg outline plans to share about any free school project.

To ensure transparency for the planning process, Reading Borough Council is not sending representatives from Highways nor Planning.


I am delighted that it has been possible for Rob Wilson, our local Member of Parliament, to join us tonight and he will be chairing the meeting."

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Legal Position for Planning Committee

Less than a handful of residents have questioned the appropriateness of me participating in the decision making process when a planning application comes forward for The Heights primary school.

I have made no secret of the fact that I support the setting up of this much-needed school for families in my ward, however I am remaining impartial over where it is sited.

Below is Reading Borough Council's legal team's advice, together with a shorter follow-up email lower down.
______________________________________

From: Quayle, Steven
Sent: 12 June 2014 15:57
To: Ballsdon, Isobel (Councillor)
Cc: Brooks, Chris; Bell, Alison; Roughan, Kiaran; Wood, Andrew; Dean, Robert
Subject: RE: New FO: Request for Legal advice

Dear Councillor Ballsdon

Chris Brooks has asked me to respond to your e-mail below. It raises the possibility, given your current position and intentions, of an allegation that may be raised against you of apparent or actual bias/predetermination if an application for planning permission comes before PAC. I consider that your approach is what a reasonable member of the public would expect an elected Member to do and this would not debar you from taking part at PAC including voting on the application if you wished to do so.

I take this  line because the law on predetermination has been relaxed by the courts in recent years with judges recognising the democratic role that Councillors have in the planning context. This was expressed in the High Court in 2006 where the judge said “Councillors will inevitably be bound to have views and may have expressed them about issues of public interest locally. Such may, as here, have been raised as election issues. It would be quite impossible for decisions to be made by elected members whom the law requires to make them if their observations could disqualify them because it might appear that they have formed a view in advance”

He went on to say “..Unless there is positive evidence to show that there was indeed a closed mind I do not think that prior observations or apparent favouring of a particular decision will suffice to persuade the court to quash the decision”

This view was endorsed by the Court of Appeal in another case two years later. This approach also received statutory status by virtue of Section 25(2) of the Localism Act 2011 which means that in so far as prior expressions of opinion are concerned (or for that matter other means of prior indication of view) these are not themselves sufficient to impugn the decision.

In short the law requires a Member to have an open mind at the point of any planning decision but not an empty one.

I hope this helps but if you require any clarification/further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me.

Steven Quayle
_______________________________________

From: Ballsdon, Isobel (Councillor)
Sent: 12 June 2014 23:14
To: Quayle, Steven
Cc: Brooks, Chris
Subject: Supplementary: Request for Legal advice

Dear Steven

Sorry I have just thought of a supplementary question:  May I have your permission to publish your response on my website please?

Kind regards

Isobel

Cllr Isobel Ballsdon
Mapledurham Ward
Mob:  07717 292003
_______________________________________________________________

From: Quayle, Steven
Sent: 23 June 2014 15:28
To: Ballsdon, Isobel (Councillor)
Cc: Brooks, Chris
Subject: RE: Supplementary: Request for Legal advice

Dear Councillor Ballsdon

I apologise for the delay in responding to your e-mail below. I am content for you to publish the advice on your web site with the caveat that it is the law as it is now. Although this is not an area of law that changes frequently a judgement of the High Court could change the position.

Steven Quayle

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Line up for tonight's public meeting about The Heights

There is even more interest in tonight’s meeting, 7.30 pm in St Andrew’s Church, than I had anticipated.  I hope that everyone arriving will be considerate towards the young children leaving, who will have been enjoying the “Rainbow” group in St Andrew’s hall.

The line-up of attendees for the public meeting, in no particular order, is as follows:

Kevin McDaniel -   Head of Education, Reading Borough Council (RBC)
Cllr John Ennis   -   The Labour administration’s Lead for Education, RBC
Dan Pagella         -   The Heights primary school, parent group’s land adviser
Karen Edwards   -   Head teacher, The Heights
Mark Richards    -   Chair of Governors, The Heights

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) does not send representatives to attend public meetings before it has information on which to consult, eg outline plans to share about any free school project.

To ensure transparency for the planning process, Reading Borough Council is not sending representatives from Highways nor Planning.

For health and safety reasons if the church reaches capacity, further people will not be admitted.

The church wardens have been incredibly supportive and gone to a lot of trouble to prepare for the meeting. As I was given a reduced rate to hire the church (as it is for the community) I hope you will consider making a donation towards the church's funds.  Gift Aid envelopes will be available to increase the value of your donation if you so wish.

I hope that comments and questions tonight are constructive, and that by the end of the meeting we, the local community, will be trying to work together, united in the shared goal: to deliver the primary school that a generation has needed and that generations to come will benefit from, to ensure our community thrives.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Update on Public Meeting: Upper Warren Avenue's High Ridge Site for The Heights Primary School

The location of the Public Meeting that I and my colleague Cllr Ed Hopper have arranged for Tuesday 17 June has been moved from St Andrew's Hall into the Church next door.

Due to the large number of residents who have told me of their intention to attend, the church wardens have kindly agreed to this change.  The church has a greater seating capacity than its hall, plus it benefits from a sound system. The start time remains 7.30 pm.

Ed & I will be listening to you, the people who elected us to our wards (Thames and Mapledurham respectively).  To be able to represent you we need to understand your views so that we can work effectively on your behalf, as well as keep you informed on this huge issue for our community in the coming weeks and months.

I trust you will appreciate that we are doing our due diligence, so will not expect us to have answers at this stage to every single issue that you may raise.  However we are working hard preparing for the meeting, including firming up the list of representatives who will be in attendance.

So far the following have confirmed:
Karen Edwards, The Heights - Head Teacher
Dan Pagella, The Heights - Parent Group's land expert
Kevin McDaniel, Reading Borough Council's (RBC's) officer in charge of Education
Cllr John Ennis, RBC's Lead Councillor for Education

As it was the Education Funding Agency (EFA) that chose and bought the High Ridge site in Upper Warren Avenue (UWA) I'm keen that the EFA sends a representative.  In addition I have asked that someone from RBC's Highways Department attends because of the major challenges that would have to be overcome to ameliorate the school's impact on the roads in the area.

I have been speaking to lots of people since the announcement and I have received many emails and phone calls too.  I understand the impact this has had through the heartfelt concerns many have expressed to me. I am glad that the vast majority accept that Caversham Heights does indeed need The Heights primary school.

As one of many whose own children had problems getting a local primary school place I know first-hand what a nightmare the process is.  This is why I have been supporting The Heights' Trustees, who are opening this September in temporary accommodation in the old Caversham Nursery site off Gosbrook Road, as without the school even more children from Caversham Heights would be forced to primaries south of the river or, north of the river beyond the established, over-subscribed local primaries.

It is neither within my scope nor expertise to fathom how the EFA can deliver a school on UWA whilst overcoming all the planning issues including impact on the highways: However it is my duty to represent all my ward residents whether they are supportive or not of the EFA's choice of site.

If you are unable to come to the meeting, or feel it would be too stressful to attend, please do feel free to email your views to whichever of us is your local councillor (if you go to vote at Mapledurham Pavilion, I am your councillor).  My email address is:  mail@isobelballsdon.com  Ed's RBC email address is: Ed.Hopper@reading.gov.uk 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Public Meeting: Permanent location secured for The Heights Primary School

BREAKING NEWS:  The permanent site for The Heights primary school which has been bought by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) has just been announced.  It is a privately owned development site on Upper Warren Avenue known as 'Highridge'.

There has been substantial interest in where the permanent home for The Heights is going to be and therefore I, together with my colleague Cllr Ed Hopper, will be hosting a public meeting to give local residents the opportunity to give their views.

The meeting will be on Tuesday 17 June at 7.30 pm in St Andrew's Hall, Albert Road.  In attendance, Head Teacher Karen Edwards and land adviser, Dan Pagella, will be there together with other members of The Heights.  In addition Kevin McDaniel, Reading Borough Council's Head of Education.

As any regular reader of my blog will know, the Caversham Heights area has for well over 10 years desperately needed a primary school to give local families a realistic chance of a primary school place.

It proved a challenge for the EFA to find a site and this was the only viable option.  I am keen to hear your views so that I can represent the interests of everyone in my ward.  Do spread the word & come along to St Andrew's Hall on 17 June.  A leaflet can be downloaded and printed off here

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Animal Welfare Fun Day at Mapledurham Pavilion

This Sunday, 8th June between 2 and 5 pm, Mapledurham Pavilion will host an animal welfare Fun Day for all the family to enjoy.



Monday, 26 May 2014

European Election Results Reading Borough


ballot-boxEuropean Election 2014

TOTAL OF VOTES CAST IN READING BOROUGH

 

Partyvotes
An Independence from Europe651
British National Party333
Christian Peoples Alliance337
Conservative Party8996
English Democrats249
Green Party4777
Harmony Party35
Labour Party12071
Liberal Democrats2836
Liberty Great Britain40
The Peace Party - Non-violence, Justice, Environment205
The Roman Party.AVE122
The Socialist Party of Great Britain114
UK Independence Party (UKIP)7812
YOURvoice56
Turnout 32.91%
Total Verified Ballots: 38,858
Rejected Ballots: 224
Reading Borough Council is part of the South East Region which elects 10 MEPs. The region stretches from Milton Keynes in the north to Thanet in the east and covers 64 local authorities.

Reading Borough Council local election results

For RBC's Local Election the results are posted here.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Voting this Thursday

In Mapledurham ie those who vote at Mapledurham Pavilion, we can only vote in the European Elections on Thursday, 22nd May.

Reading Borough Council has a four year electoral cycle with a third of wards up in each of years 1, 2 & 3 and a barren 4th year.  Each ward, except for Mapledurham, which has just one councillor (namely me), all have 3 Councillors.

I hope all of you will take this opportunity to vote. If you are interested below is what Rob Wilson has to say about the European elections:

"At a European level, our Conservative representatives are once again demonstrating their determination to listen to the views of the British people and to deliver the real change that the people desire. Conservative MEPs are continually fighting Britain’s corner in Europe, standing up for our interests and working to bring back power from Brussels.
"We are the only party that will guarantee you an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU: Labour and the Lib Dems refuse to give you a referendum and UKIP cannot deliver one. The Conservatives plan to negotiate a better deal for Britain and then, regardless of the results, give you an in/out referendum by the end of 2017.
"Remember, a vote for the Conservatives in Europe is a vote for change.
"If you require any further information on your local or European candidates, this can be found by visiting:www.readingeastconservatives.com andwww.conservatives.com/europe."

Saturday, 26 April 2014

What the racket is all about

Today there will be noise disturbance from helicopters involved in a search and rescue operation.

The good news is that this is a training exercise.  An RAF Sea King helicopter, together with a Police search helicopter, will be in the Mapledurham/Purley area of the Thames river working with emergency services.

I am told that the helicopters are expected in the area at about 11:15 - 11:30 with the exercise commencing at 13:00.

I trust everybody will support this training mission and short-term inconvenience as it is for the greater good of ensuring preparedness for future real-life emergencies.

Update: You can read coverage of the event in GetReading

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Temporary site for The Heights primary school announced

This afternoon The Heights primary school has announced it will be located on the old Caversham Nursery site, off the Gosbrook Road, this September when it opens its doors for the first intake of pupils.

Karen Edwards, Head Teacher of The Heights, said “Whilst we had hoped to find somewhere within catchment, this site will ensure The Heights can open in 2014 which has to be our primary goal, particularly when it will only be our home for a short time. The site offers us a fantastic opportunity to establish a school that is purpose built to our needs for the longer term. We are really excited with the prospect of welcoming the first pupils of The Heights in September.”

Parents who have filled out their primary school admissions application form will for starting this September will be receiving offer letters on 16 April.  It is great that parents now have the certainty of the temporary location of The Heights as it enables the school and families to plan accordingly.

I know some families will be disappointed that in the short term the school is beyond the catchment, however it will only be for a fraction of the pupil’s 7 years before The Heights will relocate into its permanent school building. 

Although I haven’t been into the old Caversham Nursery site I believe this empty building could easily be adapted into an effective and suitable learning environment for young children, with a large amount of open space for play.  Reading Borough Council will be providing the new school with resources for the temporary site to ensure that pupils attending the school have a great start to their education in Reading.

The agreement for the temporary site provides for up to two years support. Over the longer term the Education Funding Agency (EFA) which is part of the Department for Education, is working to secure a permanent site.  The Heights Trust and Education Funding Agency have confirmed that detailed terms have been agreed and solicitors instructed. They hope to be able to make further announcements on the permanent location in late April. 


Update:

GetReading report

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Mapledurham Miscellaneous

As the local councillor for Mapledurham Ward I am chairman of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Management (MPFM) committee.  Below is an update on various matters:

The Pavilion's car park is pot holed and in need of repair.  Remedial works had originally been scheduled to start today, Saturday 29 March, at 7 am.  However I asked officers to reschedule the works - which will be noisy - as I didn't think residents backing onto the car park would have welcomed being rudely awoken this morning at 7 am!  Added to which the Saturday footballers, who come from far and wide (many by car) are heavily dependent upon the car park.

The MPFM committee last year reaffirmed & minuted its stance against any of the playing fields (land which was left in Trust to the people of Reading and the parish of Mapledurham) being sold.

As I have said publicly before, The Heights primary free school will not be built on Mapledurham Playing Fields.  The temporary location of the school, which will open this September, will be announced very soon and its permanent location will be announced thereafter.  Neither site is on Mapledurham Playing Fields.

Fund raising for the regeneration of the Pavilion continues.  The 3rd dinner dance, which was held last month when I was abroad, raised approximately £6,000 bringing the Warren & District Residents' Association (WADRA) fund raising to over £44 k.  An account to collect donations for the Mapledurham Recreation Ground Charity was set up last year so that Gift Aid (the tax element) can be reclaimed, thereby boosting funds.  To donate go to:  Virgin Money Giving's website

Other monies promised and or collected for the Pavilion's regeneration include:
  • £100 k from Section 106 developer contributions
  • £50 k from Festival Republic
The next fund raising event is this year's summer fete which is happening on 5 July.  Anybody interested in having a stall should contact WADRA

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Third Thames Bridge Debate

All my life people have been battling for or against a third Thames bridge.  With the ongoing closure of Sonning Bridge due to the massive rainfall we've seen over the last few weeks, this is the hot topic on people's minds.

This Thursday Rob Wilson MP is chairing a public meeting to debate the issues to see if progress can be made.

On the one hand it is believed to be the way to reduce the quantity of traffic travelling through central Reading, by creating a more direct route across the Thames for those coming off the A3290 from Junction 10 of the M4, wishing to travel north and vice-versa.

Others contend that a third traffic bridge would only exacerbate the situation by encouraging more vehicles to use the roads, many of which are Oxfordshire country roads unfit for an increase of traffic.

Whichever side you are on, you have your opportunity to voice your opinions and listen to others.

Come along to Highdown School, Surley Row, Emmer Green, Reading, RG4 8LR.  The meeting kicks off at 7.30 pm with representatives from Reading, Wokingham and Oxfordshire councils this Thursday, 6th February.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Fantastic News for Secondary Education in Reading

Today's announcement from the Department for Education that Maiden Erlegh School's bid to open a new secondary school is excellent news for parents.
Trustees of Maiden Erlegh with Rob Wilson MP

This new secondary school, wherever in East Reading it is sited, will provide the opportunity for far more students to benefit from a Maiden Erlegh education.  The existing school has been oversubscribed for years, with little chance of Reading families benefiting from the opportunity of a place.

It was the local Member of Parliament, Rob Wilson's, idea to use Michael Gove's Free School programme to give an even better choice of secondary schools to parents living over in the east of Reading, ie Cemetery Junction/Wokingham Road area.  Not content with having instigated the UTC Reading, [see my previous posts for more about the UTC] opened September 2013 and doing extremely well, Rob approached Maiden Erlegh School's Headteacher Dr Peter Thomas last year with the idea of setting up a second Maiden Erlegh School to complement existing schools serving the community.

Maiden Erlegh 2 will have the same ethos and vision as the Silverdale Road school, and be lead by Dr Thomas and the rest of his leadership team.  It will be for 11-16 year olds and is due to open September 2015.  It will cater for 180 students per year group, building up from the bottom each year to eventually when full have 900 students.

Maiden Erlegh converted to Academy status April 2011 and was one of the first "Outstanding" Ofsted-rated schools to do so.

To read more about this fantastic news, see Rob's website


Sunday, 12 January 2014

How Cross-Community Support for The Heights Can Also Protect Mapledurham Playing Fields

Protect Mapledurham Playing Fields by supporting The Heights
As stated before, I’m working for both community projects: The Heights and the Mapledurham Pavilion fund raising group.  If supporters of each did too, the aims of both could be secured.  The way to protect the open space at Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF) and ensure the school goes elsewhere, is for the whole community to support delivery of The Heights school for this September.  To find out why, read on.


I know that Tuesday night's meeting failed to answer some residents’ concerns about the protection of the open space at MPF.  A misquote in the hard copy of Friday’s GetReading has added unnecessarily to those concerns. 

Parents wanting to send their children to The Heights and supporters of rebuilding Mapledurham Pavilion whilst protecting the open space in the MPF, should see they have a common goal because timing is key

The location for the new school needs to be finalised as soon as possible so buildings, subject to planning permission, can be put in place for September. Since the MPF are not available for delivering the new school within time-scale (due to convoluted legal reasons as well as staunch public opposition) the Education Funding Agency (EFA) must put the school elsewhere.

Therefore if you support either community project, support Rob Wilson MP arguing the case in Westminster, by writing to him at: robwilsonmp@parliament.uk stating:
·         the urgency for the EFA to finalise a site for The Heights acknowledging the proven need for the school to open this September
·         that the site cannot be on the MPF, reasons including
(i)                 lengthy legal logistics with an uncertain outcome and unknown cost to the public purse
(ii)               staunch public objection to the loss of open space

Our community and the Council desperately need the primary school places The Heights is planned to deliver this September and over the years to come.  This Wednesday (15 January) is the submission deadline for primary school admission application forms for places this September. This leaves enough, though not a lot, of time to get The Heights ready for the forthcoming academic year.

The open space at MPF is treasured by not just our local community but also the public at large as people across Reading enjoy various activities such as football, dog walking and events like the summer fete here.  This is a once in a life-time opportunity to sort out the long-standing shortage of primary places for our community.  However the school should not be delivered at the expense of the MPF.

I am very happy to talk to local residents further about any aspect. Please email me at: mail@IsobelBallsdon.com or ring me on:  07717 292003. Do bear in mind that I have a full-time job (I work for Rob Wilson MP in his constituency office) as well as my councillor and school governor commitments which take up much of my evenings and weekends, so in the first instance it is best to write to me.

For anyone interested, my children are too old to benefit from an education at The Heights.  My family however will benefit when Mapledurham Pavilion is rebuilt.