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Friday, 18 December 2015

MidWeek coverage: Woodcote Way PO Campaign

The MidWeek Chronicle this week had a two page spread (top half) on my campaign to retain the dedicated post office counter in the Woodcote Way Post Office.

Unfortunately though since June several roads in the area no longer have this free newspaper delivered so lots of residents will have missed the coverage.  However I managed to get a pdf from MidWeek and here is the link

Monday, 7 December 2015

Protest held outside Woodcote Way Post Office

Today over 25 residents & I congregated outside the Woodcote Way Post Office, voicing our objections to the local media about The Post Office’s proposal to do away with the shop’s dedicated post office counter.  The Woodcote Way Post Office works very well: Residents want The Post Office to just leave it alone!

As the local councillor for the area, I have been inundated with emails, letters and phone calls from residents appalled by what is deemed a short-sighted, unpopular plan.

I have just launched an online version of the petition (hard copies inside the shop on the post office counter) which you can sign here.

The Woodcote Way Post Office is well used and even with its dedicated post office counter with Satheech (the postmaster) and his wife serving, customers often have to queue as they attract a lot of business.  It seems a nonsense to do away with this dedicated post office counter.

Postal services would be moved to Conisboro Stores where all customers would have to use the one counter by the shop’s front door, whether buying groceries, newspapers, confectionery or accessing postal services.

If you would like to have your say, quote the branch code: 148939 and either fill in the online consultation or if easier email Will Russell, The Post Office’s Regional Manager at:  comments@postoffice.co.uk  Please copy me in so I can update you on this campaign at: Isobel.Ballsdon@reading.gov.uk

Look out for coverage from today on: BBC South, the Reading Chronicle and GetReading. BBC Radio Berkshire covered the protest on its lunchtime news.

Thank you to everyone who came along for your support!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Save Woodcote Way's Dedicated Post Office Counter

In November I raised awareness of a consultation by The Post Office about its proposal to move post office services away from the Woodcote Way shop to Conisboro Stores.  The Post Office proposes to do away with having a dedicated post office counter and salaried Post Office Master in favour of a commission-based arrangement where all customers would use the same counter.

This issue has got everybody talking as residents cannot see any benefit in getting rid of the highly successful current arrangement at Woodcote Way.  I have been inundated with strong objections from all of the Mapledurham Ward residents* who have contacted me, including many elderly residents heavily reliant upon this local Post Office and shop.  

Such is the public outcry I have started campaigning to “Save our Woodcote Way Post Office with its dedicated post office counter”.  

How you can help:  
  1. If you are free tomorrow, Monday 7 December at 12 noon, please come along and join me at the Woodcote Way Post Office as the local press are coming to talk and take photos of objectors
  2.  If you haven’t done so already, please sign my petition which is in the Woodcote Way Post Office or alternatively the online version
  3. Lastly please respond to The Post Office’s consultation so your views can be taken into account. Scroll down to my previous post (27 November) for further details
NB The Post Office's consultation ends 8 January 2016

* The one exception was a resident who lives opposite the Woodcote Way Post Office and, understandably, he would prefer the Post Office parking to go elsewhere.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Do you want Post Office services to leave Woodcote Way?

The proposal   To move Post Office services away from the Woodcote Way shop to Conisboro Stores. Post Office services would be accessed at the same counter as currently sells groceries/lottery tickets/newspapers etc. There would not be a dedicated Post Office counter in Conisboro Stores.

Main benefit:     Increased access to Post Office services as hours extended to Conisboro Stores opening times.

Whatever your views, please respond to the Post Office’s online consultation at: www.postofficeviews.co.uk  [Branch Code: 148939] *  Here are the links to download The Post Office's local consultation poster and letter (which can also be downloaded direct from its website as mentioned above.

In addition please let me know your views: Isobel.Ballsdon@reading.gov.uk  so I can respond as the local Councillor, having weighed up all the pros and cons. So far several residents have raised their concerns with me.

If you know someone who doesn’t have access to a computer I am happy to help them to respond.  Call me or drop a letter through my door, 10 Fernbrook Road.

Several residents are helping me leaflet the area to raise awareness of this important consultation.  Let me know if you too would like to help.

Thank you

Isobel Ballsdon
Mob: 07717 292003


* Consultation ends 8 January 2016

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Survey of Mapledurham Playing Fields for The Heights

Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF) are being surveyed to see whereabouts The Heights primary school's permanent home could be built on the 22 acre site, subject to: consultation, legal hurdles and planning permission.

Back in August the Education Funding Agency announced its intention to pursue MPF for the permanent location for The Heights, following a public consultation run by Reading Borough Council.  The results showed majority support for MPF over the other four sites.

Here's GetReading's report and Rob Wilson MP's statement, both published this afternoon.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Police Message of Criminal Activity in Caversham Heights

Be aware of reports that there has been a spate of thefts from vehicles in the area due to what is thought to be a "tool" enabling criminals to clone the infra-red signals when the owners lock their vehicle.

I've been told that the Pangbourne area was targeted recently and that last night several vehicles in Caversham Heights were targeted (further details below).  Vehicle owners found no sign of break-in, but that contents had been taken and doors left open.

What can you do?
Take out all valuables from your car whenever you park up.  Don't be tempted for example to leave your golf clubs or sat nav as these expensive items could be at risk of being stolen.

Please see information emailed by Thames Valley Police this afternoon below:

"Overnight last night and in the early hours of this morning (16/11)  a number of vehicles were broken into in the following roads .

Upper Warren Avenue , Gurney Drive, Chazey Road and Hewett Avenue .

Various property has been stolen and a number of the vehciles were insecure.

Also there was an theft from motor vehicle in Priest Hill, Caversham between 08/11/15-14/11/15 between 19:00-10.40 :  Vehicle was broken into and Sat Nav broken

Please follow the following crime prevention advice: 

 
·         When leaving your car, close all windows and lock your car
·         Park your car in an attended car park
·         Look for public car parks approved by the Park Mark scheme
·         When parking at home, use your garage. If you don't have a garage, park in a well-lit area
·         Don't leave anything on display in your vehicle
·         Take all your personal possessions with you
·         Remove sat nav holders and visible sat nav ring marks from windscreens
·         Leave the glove box open to show there's nothing inside
·         Fit an alarm or immobiliser to your car
·         Record the details of your property on the Immobilise website
·         Do not store your car's documents in the car
·         Secure your wheels using locking wheel nuts
·         Always check you have locked your vehicle and if using a key remote double check your doors are locked by hand
Please report any suspicious incidents, sightings or any information to The Thames Valley Police Enquiry Centre on 101"

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Cleaning up Planning in Reading (1)

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have been campaigning for years to improve how planning is handled by Labour-run Reading Borough Council.  I am going to write a series of posts about the campaigns as there is lots to tell.

Section 106 monies
The point of S106 monies (paid by developers to the council) is to ameliorate the negative impact of a development for local residents in the area.  Planning permission is refused unless the applicant/developer signs the legally-binding S106 agreement between the authority and themselves (where a S106 is deemed necessary against the criteria to make the development acceptable in planning terms).

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

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

Under the Conservative-led administration 2010-11 a new single system of properly recording and tracking S106 contributions was introduced. Following a lengthy internal investigation, my paper entitled RBC’s Usage and Accounting of Section 106 Receipts, and our Coalition partner's - the Lib Dems' - support, Council officers agreed to call in an outside team from Wokingham Borough Council for an independent investigation into past practices and to make recommendations for the future. The report made a number of “High Priority” recommendations to address the failings of the earlier Labour administration, some of which our local Coalition administration had implemented already. 
To be continued…

Training for Councillors on the Planning Committee
Reading Chronicle Apr '15
Back in February I was concerned by the questionable way in which Labour councillors decided a planning application.  After looking into the matter I campaigned put pressure on the administration to provide training as soon as possible.

I highlighted that contrary to Reading Borough Council’s constitution (which stipulates planning training is mandatory), not even half of the Committee had received any training.  In fact no training had been provided for a couple of years, even though requests had been made by opposition councillors.  The fact a response was not forthcoming to my concern that RBC was exposing itself to the possibility of legal challenge speaks for itself. 

The response from Labour initially, to quote a Reading Chronicle report was: “The Council’s Deputy Leader Tony Page said there was no legal requirement for committee members to be trained.  He said ‘We don’t train members of the committee like puppies – going through every single exercise with them step by step.  This is an absolute reflection of the complete gibberish Cllr Ballsdon talks on a regular basis and to be honest, if any member of the committee needs training, it’s definitely her’.”

I am pleased though that common sense prevailed and RBC reinstated planning training in June.  Could it be Labour wanted to avoid a headline in the run-up to the Elections more than avoid possible legal action by discontent applicants?  Readers may draw their own conclusions as to why, after I’d raised the danger and potential cost this could have on the validity of planning decisions, Labour chose to let three Planning Committees meetings and the Local/General Elections take place without providing the constitutional councillor training.  

Monday, 14 September 2015

Update on Shepherds Lane Campaign against Speeding

Local residents and me in March
Back in March this year Vivienne Anderson presented a petition asking Reading Borough Council (RBC) to tackle the speeding in Shepherds Lane.  Agreement was reached that officers would investigate the situation and report back in due course.

On Wednesday, 16 September, officers' update report will be presented to RBC's Traffic Management Sub-Committee.

TVP speed checking with me
The report states that RBC carried out a speed survey on Thursday 6 August and the mean speed was 28.4 mph. Residents I have spoken with are unhappy the survey was done in August, because it is the least busy time of year.  The speed check Thames Valley Police (TVP) carried out with me on 25 March caught a number of vehicles speeding in just 30 minutes in the road.

Unfortunately though the report's recommended action is that because no accidents have been recorded in the last 3 years, added to the fact that RBC gets more requests for speed calming than it has funds to do, Shepherds Lane is not of a high enough priority at the moment for action to be taken.  RBC will therefore continue to monitor the situation.

Should residents wish to attend the meeting, here are the details.  Please note there is no opportunity for public speaking in this agenda item.


Friday, 4 September 2015

Resurfacing Works Woodcote Road

Today resurfacing works are starting in Caversham Heights on patches of the A4074 Woodcote Road between the junctions with Woodcote Way and St Peters Avenue and also between the junctions with Highmoor and Ilkley Roads.

As mains replacement works by SGN are yet to be completed, the planned resurfacing works between Highmoor and Ilkley Road junctions of the A4074 will not be resurfaced this year.

Update:  RBC has just announced that the extent of resurfacing will be even more limited as unexpectedly the contractor has found road tar.  Apparently tar bound material is classified as hazardous when it is excavated and has to be specially treated disposed of separately.  As RBC was unaware, no suitable arrangements had been made which has delayed work.

I've been reassured that those areas the contractor is unable to resurface this year will be included in next year's contract when RBC will have been able to plan for the safe disposal of the material and the associated costs.

Monday, 17 August 2015

EFA Confirms MPF for The Heights

BREAKING: Rob Wilson MP has just published letters with the news that the Education Funding Agency (EFA) has decided to pursue Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF) for the permanent siting of The Heights primary school. 

The results of Reading Borough Council's (RBC's) consultation clearly influenced the EFA's decision, as the public's choice was strongly in support of MPF over the four other sites.

Rob Wilson MP has offered to set up a new meeting of stakeholders to ensure ongoing public engagement and involvement with the EFA's plans.  

I echo Rob’s call for constructive dialogue with residents, all users of MPF, RBC and the EFA.  

As the local councillor for the area and Chairman of Mapledurham Playing Fields Management, I have been listening to the concerns about possible implications of the EFA’s decision.  I am pleased therefore that the parameters I had identified before now have been included by Rob in his response to the EFA. 

I will ensure that all issues voiced to me are fed into the appropriate channels so they can be given full consideration so that The Heights primary school will be able to benefit the community for generations to come.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Mental Health Care Report

Concerns have been raised that public services such as NHS trusts, clinical commissioning groups and local authorities, are failing to work together to ensure there is round the clock access to crisis care.  

In addition it has been found that healthcare professionals, eg those in A&E can appear to lack compassion and warmth in how to care for and speak to people who are having a crisis including those who have harmed themselves.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) which regulates health and social care providers was asked by the Government to investigate the treatment received by mental health sufferers in crisis.  CQC’s report has highlighted a disparity in the care and compassion that mental health sufferers have received in contrast to patients with other medical illnesses.

Reading was not one of the areas covered in CQC's investigation, however as mental illness is suffered by a large number of the population and the findings should be acted upon, here is CQC's report.  Do also read about the Charlie Waller Trust which is a local charity set up to help people with mental health illness.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Published: The Heights Consultation Results

Reading Borough Council (RBC) has just published the keenly awaited results of the public consultation.  Residents were asked to list in order of preference the five possible sites for locating The Heights Primary School.

The results can be read on RBC's website.  The EFA will now review the consultation responses as part of its further work to decide which site it will pursue as the permanent site for the Heights Free School. It aims to announce how it will move forward in July.

Update: The Reading Chronicle's report

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Publication of The Heights Consultation results

The question on most people's lips in Caversham Heights over the last few weeks has been 'when will The Heights Consultation results be published?'

I am not privy to the results (though I assume the Labour administration is), as the RBC officer in charge has replied this evening to my question:
"We will be sending all of the information to Luke Kennedy of the Education Funding Agency in a large parcel early this week.  It is their decision about what is released and when, however I hope that residents will not have to wait too much longer for a view of the survey response,  while a decision by the EFA may take a while."
I will write again as soon as I have further information.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Update: Bungled Delivery of RBC’s Consultation Letter

As I reported on 25 March, many residents did not receive Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) letter in which RBC announced the public meeting held that night and set out details of the consultation process to identify a permanent site for The Heights primary school.

On 1 April I was sent the following response from Kevin McDaniel, RBC:

“As you know the Council hired a local distribution company to carry out the letter drop in the Borough. We have asked the company to review the roads they distributed to as a matter of urgency.  The company in question provides GPS tracking information on deliveries and the Council asked them to review this data, particularly those roads where we have been contacted by residents.  Their investigation showed that one distributor did not deliver as comprehensively as he should have. We understand his contract has already been terminated because of this. The company have apologised and have revisited missed roads over the past week.

“Apart from the letter drop, the consultation has been widely publicised, and all consultation details are listed on the website at http://beta.reading.gov.uk/schoolsite. More than 500 people attended the public meeting last week, and the Public Survey part of the consultation process formally started on Monday May 30, for which we have already received a large number of responses. This survey runs until May 1 so all residents will have the opportunity to have their say.”

However yesterday (Thursday) I was notified by a resident that people in Nuney Green, in Mapledurham Parish, still had not received RBC’s consultation letter.  An RBC press officer told me that although a local distribution company had been contracted to deliver RBC’s letter across Reading, the Parish of Mapledurham was too rural for the contractor so RBC staff had taken on the job.

As the public meeting happened over a week ago I asked RBC’s press officer to produce a poster with details of the consultation and asked for it to be displayed in Mapledurham Village’s notice board, sent to Mapledurham Estate and to the Clerk of Mapledurham & Kidmore End Parish Councils.  In addition I asked for copies of the poster to be put through the doors of homes on Nuney Green.

Southern Gas Works Scheduled in Caversham Heights

I have received notification of the following from Reading Borough Council (RBC):


Southern Gas Networks need to replace the final part of their gas mains on Upper Woodcote Road, which is scheduled to begin from Tuesday 7 April 2015, near to its junction with Woodcote Way.

Phase 1 of these works will begin using 3-way portable traffic signals for approximately 2 weeks and will aim to be completed within the Easter school holidays. After this phase of the works is completed the works will be moving away from Woodcote Way and only 2-way portable traffic signals will be necessary to complete the remaining works. This phase of the works will take approximately 3-4 weeks to be completed, during which time the portable traffic signals will be manned throughout the peak traffic periods to avoid build-up of traffic.

RBC will be notifying Reading Bus operators of the upcoming works shortly and residents have been notified and will also receive a letter drop from Southern Gas Networks contractors in the coming days.

Update
The works were postponed as the contractors working on behalf of Southern Gas Network had two crews allocated to this scheme, both of which left the company at very short notice and there wasn't adequate resource to replace them. 

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Proposal Drawings for Arthur Clark Site

For those unable to go to yesterday's public viewing of A2 Dominion's proposal to build 44 apartments for the over 55s I've got permission to publish the indicative drawings here.

Please note that A2 Dominion is consulting the public at the moment and is yet to submit a planning application to Reading Borough Council (RBC).

As regular readers of my website will know, I sit on RBC's Planning Committee and therefore keep an open mind to avoid the risk of predetermining planning applications.

Yesterday I provided a little more information about this particular proposal so please refer to my last post.  Thank you.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

TODAY: Public Viewing of Plans to Redevelop Arthur Clark Carehome Site

This afternoon don’t forget to pop along to St Andrew’s Hall, Albert Road, Caversham Heights, to view plans for a new extra care housing scheme for older people on the former Arthur Clark Residential Home and the Albert Road Day Centre.

Both facilities were closed down by RBC’s Labour administration despite colossal opposition from the community supported by politicians of all the other colours.  I’ve written a few posts on this which you can read here

A2 Dominion, the company selected by RBC to draw up plans for the site, is inviting local residents to view and share their opinions on the proposed plans between 3.30 and 7 pm today.

If you are unable to make it apparently questions or queries will be answered if people call 0800 432 0077 (which I believe is a Freephone number, but do double-check first).

Update

I attended the consultation event.  Please note that although RBC's press release (from which I took my information for the above post) referred to "plans", A2 Dominion in fact displayed indicative drawings.

Monday, 30 March 2015

The Heights: Consultation Survey Is Live!

Today Reading Borough Council (RBC) has opened its online consultation survey for The Heights.  Residents need to choose from five possible sites giving their preference of permanent site for The Heights primary school.

There are a series of questions which will enable people to state the reason for their choice as well as what one thing would make them change their mind.

The sites put forward by the Stakeholder Groups, agreed by the Education Funding Agency (EFA), are:

High Ridge, Upper Warren Avenue
Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF)
Albert Road Recreation Ground (ARP)
Shipnells Farm (better known as Bugs Bottom [BB])
Dysons Farm (Land at the junction of Shepherd’s Lane and Kidmore Road)

The survey runs from today (30 March) until 5 pm on Friday 1st May.  When complete, RBC will pass on the responses to the EFA.  The EFA will then take into account all geographical data when making a final decision on the permanent location for The Heights.

Hard copies of the survey will be available at the Civic Centre in Bridge Street, local libraries and leisure centres.

The EFA’s Information Pack which, as indicated by its name, provides information about the permanent site options to help aid people making an informed choice. 

Please note that information on Stakeholder Group’s own websites/Facebook pages or literature may not be accurate.  For example Bugs Bottom is actually 32.47 acres (including some houses in the north east corner) – not 40 acres as described by one group.

One last thing: Due to popular demand and for transparency I have asked RBC to publish on its website the Trust/ownership details relating to the three sites it has responsibility for, ie MPF, ARP & BB.  If successful I will update readers accordingly.

Update
Unfortunately RBC has not agreed to publish the Trust/ownership details relating to the three sites in the council's website

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Bungled Delivery of RBC's Consultation Letter

Two Updates at bottom of post

Residents angered that they’ve not received Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) letter yet should get it through their door by the end of today. 


The letter, in which RBC announces tonight’s public meeting (which starts at 7 pm at Rivermead Leisure Centre) and sets out details of the consultation process to identify a permanent site for The Heights primary school, should all have been delivered by Monday (23 March).  However several roads were left out.

I raised my concern of non-delivery a week ago with RBC officers after a resident alerted me to the problem.  I chased for an answer on Monday and, having still not had a response, spoke directly with RBC’s Managing Director yesterday.

RBC hired a local company to distribute the letter across the Borough as well as the parishes of Mapledurham and Kidmore End.  After mine and other complaints, RBC asked the delivery company to review its GPS tracking to see which homes had actually received the letter and to identify those homes missed *

Kevin McDaniel (RBC's officer in charge of the consultation) told me that the contracted company should complete delivery of the roads omitted, as well as those roads part-done, by the end of today (Wednesday).

The late delivery has made tempers soar in this highly charged debate over where The Heights’ permanent home should go.  One local resident has written to me “I can think of no other possible reason for this omission than a deliberate attempt to exclude the people who are most likely to try and protect Mapledurham Playing Fields as the trustees should be doing. This matter has been known about for well over a week and to be 'looking into the matter' today seems to me an absolute fob. I am by no means assured about anything coming from RBC. This 'consultation' will be a farce.”

Tonight’s meeting is being recorded so anyone unable to attend should be able to watch it (RBC has indicated that the recording will be published on RBC's website in the next few days).

* Please note that homes with a notice “No unsolicited mail” will not receive RBC’s letter to meet with the registered delivery company’s policy.

Also note that parking charges may be suspended at Rivermead tonight, however please check to ensure this is the case!

Update:

Following Wednesday night's public meeting lots of people have told me that their road still hasn't received RBC's letter. I've reported the roads through to RBC and this is the latest response:

To: "Ballsdon, Isobel"
Sent: Thursday, 26 March 2015, 16:56
Subject: Roads still without RBC's consultation letter
From: "McDaniel, Kevin"

Hello Isobel,


Thank you for sending these through.  We have asked the supplier to review every single GPS trace to ensure that every street has been covered and to make good any omissions which are not covered by “no circular” instructions or physical impediments (eg locked gates).  They will advise us once that process is complete and I will let you know too.


I trust this will give everyone a letter and that all will take part in the survey.


Regards


Kevin


Further Update

Today (31 March) I an RBC officer said that a further conversation was going to take place tomorrow (Wednesday) morning with the distribution company to find out whether the delivery is yet complete.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Published: EFA's Information Pack - The Heights Primary School

The Education Funding Agency's Information Pack for The Heights primary school has been published.  You can read it on RBC's website.

Please see my earlier posts (10 & 17 March) for background information.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Reading Borough Council's Letter on Permanent Location for The Heights Consultation

RBC's consultation letter
Reading Borough Council's (RBC's) letter should be arriving on your doorstep this week, giving details of the consultation arrangements to help identify a permanent location for The Heights Primary School.

Please download a copy [see to the right] if you have not received one, though do let me know so that I can inform RBC to ensure that your road is included in the letter drop.  Bear in mind the letter is not in an envelope, nor is it personally addressed, it is simply one piece of A4 paper.

For further information please look at my earlier post on 10 March where I wrote more background information on this whole subject.

As yet the Education Funding Agency (EFA) has not published its Information Pack.  I believe this has been delayed by the late addition of the fifth site to the consultation.

Update: Following complaints from residents of non-delivery of RBC's letter I raised their concerns with RBC.  As soon as I receive a response I will put a further update.  So far I've had complaints from individuals that Upper Warren Avenue, Gravel Hill and Hewett Close have either not received it the entire length, or some homes have been missed out.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Timing of Reading Bridge's total temporary Closure should be rethought

At Traffic Management Committee last night my Conservative colleague Cllr Ed Hopper raised concerns about Reading Borough Council's (RBC’s) recent announcement that Reading Bridge will close completely for two weeks during GCSE and A Level exams, shortly after the General & Local Elections. 

Earlier calls from Rob Wilson MP highlighting the risks of significant impact upon students had been derided by RBC's deputy leader Cllr Tony Page and last night was no different.  Responsible parents have a valid concern and it is disgraceful that Cllr Page should dismiss out of hand these parents’ plea to rethink the closure dates.

Ed told the committee it simply isn’t possible to close Reading Bridge without having a huge impact on traffic across Reading, pointing out that a closure should not be considered in the run up to Christmas, over the Reading Festival period, or during the public examination season.  Ed supported Rob Wilson MP’s call for the closure works to be re-scheduled, stating that Cllr Page shouldn’t play roulette with young people’s future.

As any parent who has teenagers (like me) knows, biologically they find it difficult to get up in the morning.  They need a lot of sleep.   Add to this the uncertainty of how long their journey to school will take and it is easy to understand parents’ concerns.  The home to school distance at secondary level far exceeds the usual 2 miles to a primary school.  One teenager from my road travels 5 miles across town to Maiden Erlegh so would face a 1¾ hour walk, according to Google Maps, to sit her A levels.  The ReadyBike scheme isn’t comprehensive enough to enable exam entrants to jump on a bike during the bridge closure, even if all of the teenagers were road safe.

It seems that Reading's Labour administration, in its haste to avoid closing the bridge in the run up to the General Election, has failed to take into account the serious consequences students may have to endure.  It is ironic therefore that Cllr Page attacked Rob Wilson MP for “electioneering”.

If students arrive late, they will not be allowed to sit their exam.  I’d have thought my opposite number Labour’s Education man, Cllr John Ennis, would be concerned by teenagers’ results being impacted, but I haven’t seen any statement.  The exam results will have a bearing on the rest of these teenagers’ lives so it seems foolhardy for the Labour administration to plough ahead regardless with the total closure of Reading Bridge.

[Reading Bridge is scheduled to be closed from 18 May for two weeks.]

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Campaign to stop speeding along Shepherds Lane

Vivienne Anderson on my right and other Shepherd's Lane residents
Local resident Vivienne Anderson presented a petition to Reading Borough Council's (RBC's) Traffic Management Sub-Committee tonight on behalf of Shepherds Lane residents calling for the introduction of road calming measures. She put forward strong arguments to support this request.

Mrs Anderson's petition, which was signed by all bar three of  the 50+ Shepherd's Lane residents, stated: 

"For a long time residents have been aware of the hazardous and speeding traffic along Shepherds Lane which is causing great concern for the welfare of both the residents and animals. We, the undersigned, are signing this petition in order for the Council to effect changes and to prevent any further danger." 

Some Shepherd's Lane residents and I accompanied Mrs Anderson to demonstrate our support for action to be taken to stop the regular speeding which has lead to many cats being run over and killed, as well as several narrowly avoided vehicle collisions in what should be a 30 mile-an-hour road.

Mrs Anderson said two of her cats had been killed in the last three years and that other residents had suffered the sadness of their cats being killed as well.  She remarked that the volume of traffic had got a lot worse in the last few years. Mrs Anderson highlighted the danger of the junction with Kidmore Road and Tokers Green Lane where drivers have to jut out a long way before seeing whether it is clear up the lane.  

Tokers Green Lane, she said, is very busy with lots of mothers taking & picking up their children to Kidmore End School.  Cars travelling north up Kidmore Road accelerate into Shepherd's Lane up the incline.  This bend was widened and resurfaced by RBC which unfortunately has exacerbated the speeding problem.

Mrs Anderson also commented about the large number of homes being built in Oxfordshire and that many motorists coming into Reading on the A4074 turn off, using Shepherd's Lane as a rat run to avoid the frequently congested St Peter's Hill.

My Conservative colleague Cllr Ed Hopper (whose own ward ends at the northern end of the Kidmore Road) supported the petition stating that Thames Valley Police has conducted speed checks and confirmed that speeding motorists have been clocked, so the perception of local residents was correct.

I am happy to report that the Committee agreed with the officer recommendation for the issue to be investigated and a report come back to a future meeting.  The whole report can be read here.  I will provide an update following the next step in this campaign.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Where Should The Heights Primary School's Permanent Home Be?

Reading Borough Council (RBC) has opened a public consultation to identify a permanent site out of a choice of five possible locations north of the river for The Heights Primary School.  The Education Funding Agency is funding the consultation.

If you have a view on where The Heights’ permanent home should be, do participate in the consultation.  RBC is writing a letter with details of the consultation’s format to about 67,000 households in Reading and the parishes of both Mapledurham and Kidmore End.

The EFA will be publishing an Information Pack next week (16 March or thereabouts) which will have particulars on each of the five possible sites.  This will be available electronically from RBC’s website with hard copies available at the Civic Centre, local libraries and leisure centres.

Thereafter a public meeting will take place on Wednesday 25 March starting at 7 pm (doors open at 6.30 pm) at Rivermead.  If you wish to attend, RBC asks that people register in advance on the council’s same website page.  The meeting will be independently chaired, but the panel line-up is yet to be announced.  If you would like to ask a question, submit this when you register to attend.

A survey will go live on RBC’s website page at 9.30 am on 30 March with hard copies available.

To recap, The Heights opened in September, much to the relief of local families who otherwise would not have been offered a Reception class school place north of the river as there was a shortage of places, on a temporary site in lower Caversham.  The school has a fantastic Head, Karen Edwards, who together with her staff, governors and trustees has established a nurturing and exciting learning environment in which pupils are thriving.

The EFA bought Highridge, a residential site in Upper Warren Avenue (UWA), last June having first looked at all possible sites for the school’s permanent home within the catchment area.  However due to the public’s negative reaction to the UWA site and following requests by Rob Wilson MP, the EFA decided to concede to the local Member of Parliament’s request to consult the public to try and find a locally supported permanent home for The Heights.

The Heights temporary site off the Gosbrook Road is not large enough to be the school’s permanent site, even if it were located within the school’s catchment area.

The possible five sites (as listed by RBC) are:

High Ridge, Upper Warren Avenue
Mapledurham Playing Fields
Albert Road Recreation Ground
Shipnells Farm (better known as Bugs Bottom)
Dysons Farm (Land at the junction of Shepherd’s Lane and Kidmore Road)

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Reading Labour Needs to Fix the Basics

Reading Borough Council (RBC) debated the local budget last night.  Sadly there was a tiny audience and the meeting was not filmed so very few will be privy to all that was said.  Labour voted through a Council Tax increase of 1.99% whereas the Conservative Group would have frozen it. 

Turning to education, I am sure that RBC's Labour administration decided in advance to avoid drawing attention to their abysmal 'leadership' of RBC's Education Department in a bid to stop the press shining a light on their performance.  Not one of the Labour councillors responded to my speech, which I copy below:
Our duty tonight is to set the budget for the Council’s services.  There needs to be recognition of how these services have been performing and what needs to be done now to ensure Reading Borough Council makes best use of tax payers’ money.  As the Conservative Group’s Education spokesman I will focus on Reading’s schools.

The Education budget is set against a back drop of worrying developments and a history of poor standards in some LEA controlled Reading schools.  Tonight is not the time to celebrate the achievements of many schools, head teachers and pupils.  We must focus on how best to spend the budget to deliver a good education to all.

In mid-December the authority’s school expansion programme saw costs rise from £61 million to £70 million in just three months.  That’s an increase of nearly 15%.  Clearly there was an insufficient understanding or consideration of risks, not least the inevitable cost escalation that would result from the economic recovery this Conservative-led government has brought the country.

This increase has forced savings to be made of £9 million, including a de-scoping of the current programme.

Separately, turning to school standards, Ofsted published its report earlier this month focussing mainly on the town’s primary schools.  Ofsted stated that:
  • Too many schools are inadequate and this number is growing 
  • There is too much variability in the quality of support that schools receive from local authority officers  
  • Schools are not improving at a sufficiently rapid rate 
  • Not enough schools are good or outstanding and too many pupils attend schools that do not provide at least a good standard of education 
  • The local authority is not able to demonstrate enough of an impact on improving the effectiveness of schools and academies
Ofsted concluded that there is “an urgent need to tackle underperformance where it exists and to support and challenge schools to improve at a faster rate.”

Rather than being open about its failings and what it is going to do about them, this administration presented the situation as one that is under control and where the actions needed are to “drive up performance further” heading its press release “Reading strives for Outstanding Schools”. 

The reality is that this is not about improving a good performance but rather fixing the basics for more than a quarter of primary school pupils and delivering these 3,500 children a decent education.

And let’s not pretend that the Ofsted findings were in line with the administration’s own concerns as stated in their press release issued the same day as Ofsted’s report.  The draft findings were shared with the administration well before Cllr Ennis ordered his peer review.  At least his peer review was consistent with Ofsted’s findings that school improvement must improve.

We have concerns about financial management following the cost escalation on the school expansion plan.  We have concerns about the management of education as highlighted in the Ofsted report. 

How can Reading’s residents have any faith in this administration’s ability to deliver every child at least a good education in light of the matters I’ve highlighted this evening?  Providing a good education enables the aspirations of our town’s children to be fulfilled.  There is so much talk in the administration’s Corporate Plan of Narrowing the Gap between disadvantaged children and the advantaged, yet in its narrative I saw no mention of the need to pull the standard of education up where currently it is inadequate.  It isn’t until page B49 that the preparation and delivery of a new Education Improvement Plan is listed, however the delivery date is 2017!

Cllr Ennis should not forget that the Conservative-led government’s funding of Universal Free School Meals and Pupil Premium is helping schools “narrow the gap”.

Late this afternoon I saw that the last agenda item, number 21, on the forthcoming ACE Committee meeting is an update on Education Progress.  I ask that it is moved up the agenda as this must surely be a priority? 

The authority needs to turn around its failing schools, this needs to be done quickly as children have but one school education.  I welcome the extra support and challenge that Ofsted is going to provide the council, though it should not have been necessary had the leadership been addressing the long-standing issues of failing to robustly challenge and support schools all along.

The administration needs to demonstrate that it is maximising the use every pound of this budget to give every child the start they deserve.
For further details about Ofsted's statement and letter see my previous post

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Ofsted's Action on Reading's Primary Schools

Last week Labour-run Reading Borough Council (RBC) was slammed by Ofsted for failing primary school children, with over a quarter of pupils not receiving a good education.  Sir Robin Bosher's (Ofsted's South East Regional Director) letter to RBC dated 19 January 2015 was published, together with this press release.

In his letter Sir Robin Bosher said  "there has been a sharp rise in the number of schools judged to be inadequate in Reading since October 2013."  "Two primary schools were judged to be inadequate in October 2014, bringing the total number of schools judged to be inadequate in the last year to six."

The Ofsted Director added that "...the council has failed to take action to prevent schools deteriorating to the point where they now require special measures...the authority has not provided sufficient challenge or support to schools to enable them to improve quickly enough."

As chairman of a local school’s governing body, I know that strong leadership by the head and senior staff team is fundamental to providing an outstanding education, together with plenty of rigour and challenge from the governing body.  Schools need to use their ability to remove inadequate teachers if the individuals cannot be supported to raise their performance within a short timescale. It is unfair on pupils to have their life-chances impeded by sub-standard teaching.  Schools need to have high aspirations for each child, no matter what the child's background.  Every pupil needs to be supported and inspired by their teachers to achieve to the best of their ability.

You can read GetReading's report here. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Tonight's Mapledurham Playing Fields Management Committee Meeting

At tonight's Mapledurham Playing Fields Management Committee, the minutes of the previous meeting (2 December 2014) were agreed.  Mapledurham Parish's representative asked for clarification on his appointment to the Management Committee to be added.  This will appear in the next minutes.  Here is a link to the full agenda papers including the minutes.

As you will see the Management Committee discussed:

  • The forthcoming consultation, which will include Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF) as one of the possible permanent sites for The Heights primary school
  • Pavilion maintenance and replacement
  • Draft accounts and usage for the Pavilion and Playing Fields

One question which stood out at the meeting and was asked by Mapledurham Parish's representative (the rep), related to RBC's historic consultation to relocate Caversham Primary to MPF. The rep said the Playing Fields are a large area and that of course we don't know if the EFA is going to choose MPF, or indeed where exactly the EFA might consider putting the school.  He said many people believe that if the EFA does choose to put a school on MPF then it would be where the Pavilion is now.  The rep's concern therefore (if I heard him correctly) was the implications of this potential scenario to all the fund raising and the refurbishment of the Pavilion.

My response was not wishing to jump the gun or hopefully being accused of predetermining whatever the EFA decides, if the EFA were to submit a proposal for the school to go on part of MPF, I as the local councillor would fight very, very hard to ensure that we do not lose the facilities here and, quite the reverse that we get all we can possibly for the local community to improve the current facilities, however of course we don't know what the EFA is going to decide.

RBC officer Ben Stanesby stated that the Warren & District Residents Association has a very large amount of money in its control which is likely to have a huge influence on what would happen (should the EFA select MPF as the permanent site for The Heights).  With reference to the replacement/refurbishment of the Pavilion he stated that he didn't feel it appropriate to delay the procurement process as, even were the EFA to choose MPF, the procurement process would take about three months by which time the permanent site consultation results may be known.

A few questions were asked about the draft accounts, but apart from that I think I've probably captured the main points of interest.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Remit of Mapledurham Playing Fields Management Committee

To aid an informed debate about one of the sites about to be consulted upon as a possible permanent location for The Heights Primary Free School, I quote below Chris Brooks, Reading Borough Council's (RBC's) head of legal, statement on the remit of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Management Committee [the Management Committee] and the legal advice to which I (and my two fellow councillors elected to sit on it with me) have adhered.

Mr Brooks states that: 
"The Council’s appointees to the Management Committee are not appointed to represent the Council as Trustee, or to act as Trustee. They are appointed to act within the duties and powers of the Management Committee...
"The Council as trustee has authorised the Management Committee to exercise a general supervision over the day-to-day activities at the playing fields to ensure that this is consistent with the objectives of the Trust, which are the provision and maintenance of a recreation ground for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Parish of Mapledurham and the Borough of Reading without distinction of political, religious or other opinions."
At the Management Committee meeting on 2 December, a statement was tabled which the Committee were asked to approve.  It included the following paragraph:
“In exercising [its] responsibilities this Committee has rejected, and will continue to reject any proposals or discussions concerning the Mapledurham Playing Fields that do not uphold and maintain the specific objects of the said Trust; eg a school is not within these specific objects".
Mr Brooks, who was in attendance, explained that the paragraph was effectively asking the three Councillors to make a statement as a Trustee, which was not in the remit of the Management Committee.  

The outcome of the discussion at the Management Committee was subsequently and inaccurately described to User Groups and others as "the three Councillors do not agree in maintaining the charitable status of the Playing Fields and the pavilion."  User Groups alerted me to this and the following is an extract from Mr Brooks' response: 
"In conclusion, I vehemently disagree with your arguments, which I consider at best to be based on a misunderstanding on your part of the role of the Management Committee, the responsibilities of the Council as Trustee, and the public law expectations of the role of Councillors in a local authority’s decision-making process.   However, I would observe that your actions in moving the statement at the Management Committee on 2 December 2014, and writing subsequently to the users committee, could be seen as a deliberate act to compromise or emasculate the three Council appointees to the Management Committee in their roles as Councillors of the authority.

"I strongly suggest that you share this email with all of the users committee to ensure that they have my very clear factual position on the matters you have raised with them."
You can read the whole of Mr Brooks' email here

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Consultation Delayed Due to New Site

Reading Borough Council has just published the following press release:

 

From: Legge, David
Sent: 04 February 2015 13:15:03 (UTC) Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London
To: Ballsdon, Isobel (Councillor)
Subject: Public Consultation on Heights Primary School Delayed

Public Consultation on Heights Primary School Delayed


04/02/2015
Reading Borough Council Press Release
 
A PUBLIC consultation process to help identify a permanent home for The Heights Primary has been delayed by at least three weeks, after the Education Funding Agency (EFA) advised Reading Borough Council of a fifth possible location for the school.
The Government’s EFA informed the Council that it is in preliminary discussions with the owners of Dysons Farm, which is located on the boundary of Reading Borough and South Oxfordshire.
The EFA has now indicated that they would like the new site to be added to the list of possible locations for public consultation. The other four sites identified by the EFA are:
• High Ridge, Upper Warren Avenue
• Mapledurham Playing Fields
• Albert Road Recreation Ground
• Shipnells Farm (better known as Bugs Bottom)

The EFA has asked Reading Borough Council to carry out a public consultation on its behalf. When complete, survey results will be passed to the EFA for consideration. It will then be up to the EFA to select a location for The Heights primary School, based on the public responses received.
That public consultation process was due to start at the beginning of this week (Feb 2), after the Council agreed how the consultation would be taken forward at a meeting of its Policy Committee last month.
The news from the EFA however means that the start of the consultation process will now be delayed until Monday February 23rd, at the earliest. It means a Public Meeting to discuss the EFA’s options for a permanent school site will now not take place until March, and that the Public Survey will be similarly delayed.
Reading Borough Council will be announcing a revised schedule for the public consultation – including the Public Meeting and subsequent Survey - as soon as it has more information from the EFA.

ENDS 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Free Schools: Benefits for Reading's Families

At tonight’s Reading Borough Council (RBC) meeting, the Greens’ Parliamentary Candidate for Reading East was electioneering by tabling a motion (the full text of which is here) asking for RBC officers to bring a report back on the impact of free schools in Reading taking his concerns into account.  He said that he and the Green Party would like to stop “the free school experiment”.

Below is my response:

“Before the arrival of Free Schools, parents dissatisfied with the education at their local school had limited options.  They could hope that a better school further away would offer their children places, or they could move home – if this was an affordable option, or they just had to make do.

However there is hardly any spare capacity in Reading’s schools, leaving very little chance for any family getting a place at a good school beyond their local catchment area.

Put simply I don’t think the local Greens have thought through the impact of their Party’s Education policy  in particular on disadvantaged families; nor those families within the part of Reading they represent who have campaigned to have the benefit of a Maiden Erlegh School education.

Yesterday’s Guardian had an interesting article in which Labour’s Tristram Hunt attacked the Green Party Leader.  Hunt said “Natalie Bennett speaks a language of low aspiration and defeatism.  Great schools can be the only hope for some children from disadvantaged backgrounds.” 

I agree with Hunt and am astounded that tonight’s motion fails entirely to mention, let alone focus on, the children & young people’s quality of and access to good schools.  Don’t Reading’s young deserve an education which will help them thrive and aspire?

Not only have Free Schools empowered parents by enabling them to set up schools where they are dissatisfied with standards, but also Free Schools have helped parents to set up schools where there are shortages of school places, or a lack of choice of provision. 

Without Free Schools, Reading would not have All Saints Junior School in Brownlow Road – a school set up by parents with the help of the CfBT Education Trust providing school places for children progressing up from the Infants School. 

Another example is The Heights Primary School – which has given families in the west of Caversham a realistic chance of a school place locally in Reading when for over 10 years families have had their children scattered around to schools elsewhere, for example out of borough, or across to the east of Caversham.

I am a firm believer that with schools one size does not fit all.  For some a secondary school will enable them to reach their full potential, whereas a grammar school might best suit others.  Hopefully The Avenue School Special School Academy will get the go ahead to open a new Free School which will be a linked Special School.  It will cater for yet more students and help keep Reading’s SEN students within the town, preparing them for life after education. 

Also thanks to the Free School programme students keen to progress into the IT or engineering industry can opt for a place at Reading’s University Technical College (UTC). 

Turning back to the Green’s motion before us, it is obvious they haven’t understood the massive benefits Free Schools and Academies have brought Reading’s families.  Nor have they understood the pressure Council officers are under to deliver the school expansion plan.  The Conservative Group will not be supporting their motion as the resolution is utterly pointless and would waste valuable officer time.  Delivering the school places needed, with the help of Government funded Free Schools, in time for the next academic year has got to be this council’s priority.”

RBC’s Labour administration agreed with me that the Green’s resolution was a waste of officer time and also agreed that Reading’s children & young people deserve at least a good education.  Their amendment, however showed that they are against enabling parents who are without a good local school from having the option to set up a free school in their statement "that funding for new schools will be prioritised in areas of acute need rather than waste money building free schools in areas with surplus need to suit the Coalition ideological and political experiment of free schools".

The Labour administration failed to acknowledge the many benefits families are getting as a result of the free school programme.  I think their ideology got in the way.