Friday 23 December 2016

Suffering from Interference of your TV Signal?

In the last week Virgin Mobile has been installing new 4G equipment by the A4074 near the junction with Woodcote Way.  It has caused TV signal interference for a resident of Regency Heights who has Freeview (it is not a problem for TV's using satellite or cable providers, eg Sky).
Pixelation which can happen because of  TV
signal  interference

Apparently this is a well-known problem. The signal to TVs and Freeview boxes can be blocked by these 4G mobile signals as the 800 MHz frequencies used are next to the frequencies used for Freeview.

Although it is irritating, the good news is that you can get the problem sorted for free.

The company has information to help you diagnose for yourself whether it is likely that your TV signal is suffering because of interference from a mobile phone mast.  Alternatively you can ring them for free from a landline or mobile on: 0808 13 13 800.  If necessary they will send out an engineer who will check whether you need to have a filter and install one as appropriate for FREE!

Monday 12 December 2016

To Proceed or Not to Proceed: EFA's Proposal for Part of Mapledurham Playing Fields

To proceed or not to proceed: That is the question.  It will be debated in public on Tuesday 20 December by the Trustee of Mapledurham Playing Fields at 6.30 pm in Reading Borough Council's Bridge Street council chamber.

Late today, Monday 12 December, Reading Borough Council (RBC) published the Education Funding Agency's (EFA) updated proposal to build a permanent home for The Heights primary school on 1.231 acres to the side of Mapledurham Pavilion.
Proposed Site Plan, by David Miller Architects

The newly renamed "Mapledurham Playing Fields Trustees Sub Committee" (which has delegated authority to discharge RBC's functions as charity trustee of the Charity) is meeting on 20 December. The main agenda item is to decide whether to either reject or accept the EFA's proposal subject to conditions (and of course subject to planning permission).

Here is an extract from the recommended action:

2.3 That the Sub Committee resolves that EITHER:
(A) Taking into account the Property Report, the Amenity Report and the legal advice and other information set out in this report, the EFA offer as it has currently been articulated in the Heads of Terms is not in the best interests of the Charity (ie because it does not enhance the amenity value of the Ground) and should not therefore be proceeded with any further; OR

(B) Taking into account the Property Report, the Amenity Report and the legal advice and other information set out in this report, the EFA offer is, subject to contract, capable of being in the best interests of the Charity (ie because it is considered to be capable of enhancing the amenity value of the Ground) and should therefore be pursued in line with the Heads of Terms, subject to any conditions recommended by Officers and which are adopted by the Sub Committee (and any other conditions the sub-Committee thinks are appropriate and necessary).

The papers can be downloaded from RBC's website and details about attending the meeting or watching it using RBC's webcasting service can be found on the same page.

As usual I will be attending and addressing the Sub Committee on behalf of Mapledurham ward residents and the MPF Management Committee so once you have read the documents please let me know your thoughts so I can represent your views.

Monday 21 November 2016

Why WADRA's Committee Needs to Change its Ways

In October the Warren and District Residents’ Association (WADRA) held its AGM. Several WADRA members have asked me to publish my speech.

In summary, speaking as the Mapledurham ward councillor/chairman of the MPF Management committee/and a WADRA member myself, I made the following points including some questions:

  • WADRA’s 2002 survey of members showed 93% supported restoration of the Pavilion
  • WADRA has raised over £45,000 since 2002 to refurbish/rebuild the Pavilion
  • I believe the vast majority of WADRA members still have the shared goal of refurbishing/rebuilding the Pavilion
  • With the closure of a large part of the Pavilion (January 2016) and the delays associated with awaiting the outcome of the Education Funding Agency’s (EFA) proposal to build The Heights School on part of MPF, tempers in the community have been fraught 
  • Each and every one of us has the power to put a stop to the EFA’s proposal being divisive by accepting and respecting other people’s views; cutting out the personal insults and being polite to each other 
  • The MPF Management committee’s powers are so restricted it is unable to get on with the refurbishment as this is outside of its remit
  • There are mixed views amongst WADRA members, some for/against/undecided about the EFA’s proposal
  • WADRA’s committee however, currently is only representing the view of those opposing the proposal and therefore it is behaving like an action group: not a residents’ association
  • If WADRA is to continue it must represent the views of all its members, ie be inclusive
  • Why has WADRA’s committee unilaterally decided to withhold the fund raised money from being used to refurbish/rebuild the Pavilion if the EFA’s proposal is accepted? [See letter]
  • Surely WADRA’s committee must be prepared to work with RBC, the EFA, the school and elected members should the EFA’s proposal proceed?  If not, then many feel the time has come for this local community to set up a new residents’ association which will do so
Meantime the Pavilion continues to be battered by the weather and RBC regularly monitors its condition. This morning (21 November) I inspected the Pavilion accompanied by a Parks department officer after which a list of the latest remedial works needed was given to the Property Services department. 

The Pavilion's refurbishment remains on hold as RBC (Trustee of MPF) decided it would not spend money on this pending the outcome of the EFA's proposal.  WADRA's committee doesn't want to use the fund raised money held in its bank account until such time as RBC agrees a proposal from "Fit4All" which excludes the school from being built on part of MPF.

However our community urgently needs the refurbishment/rebuilding of the Pavilion to recommence and a decision on the EFA's proposal to be made. 

Thursday 17 November 2016

"Day Burning" Street Lights

Government funding of £6.9m from the Department of Transport’s Challenge Fund is being used by Reading Borough Council towards upgrading the town’s street lights to energy efficient LED lanterns.

Here in Mapledurham Ward most recently some lanterns in Hewett Avenue, Woodcote Way, Silverthorne Drive, Fernbrook and Wincroft Roads have been upgraded.  (Columns in a good condition are not being replaced, nor lanterns which were already LED.)  

Last week I noticed and reported that lanterns in Hewett Avenue were continually on.  This was, I'm told, because the Mayflower Nodes (fixed on top of the lanterns to transmit to a Submaster which controls the on/off function and light level) needed to be connected to a Submaster. Today a Submaster was put up in the Woodcote Road which should, after 24 hours, control the new lanterns in this area.

If however you see one of these new LED lanterns shining during daylight hours after tomorrow (18 November) lunchtime, do let me know so that I can inform the council to ensure the full financial saving is made from this Government funding.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Boundary Review 2016: Impact on Mapledurham Ward

You might like to have your say in a consultation which proposes to change Mapledurham Ward from coming within the Reading East parliamentary constituency (currently served by Rob Wilson MP) to moving to the Reading West seat (currently served by Alok Sharma MP).

As background, The Boundary Commission for England have produced their initial proposals to reduce the number of parliamentary constituencies and to move boundaries in order to make constituency sizes more closely aligned with each other.

The number of English seats has been reduced from 533 to 501. The number of seats in the South East region has been reduced from 84 to 83.  The Commission’s proposals are available on their website at

The Commission have started a 12 week public consultation period on their proposals, and have invited the public’s views. This period will end on 5 December 2016.

In 2017 there will then be a further four week consultation period following the publication of all representations and the transcripts of the public hearings. A further 8 week consultation period will follow any revised proposals in 2017.

The most local public hearing is being held on Monday 24th October (10am-8pm) & Tuesday 25th October (9am-5pm) in Oxford Town Hall, St Aldate's, Oxford, OX1 1BX

If you are unable to attend, you can submit representations in writing:
Online: Visit the website and fill in the online form
In writing: Send representations to: Boundary Commission for England, 35 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BQ

Website for the Boundary Commission for England:

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Green Waste Tax Imposed with no Consultation

At last night's Policy Committee, Reading Labour Group forced through the introduction of an annual fee of £50 for green waste wheelie bin collections, effective from 1st April 2017. (Residents will still have to pay the initial fee for a green wheelie bin, currently £36.10)

Labour showed themselves up for the hypocrites they are by failing to consult residents. Surely it would have been prudent to gauge public reaction by putting forward a choice of proposals to test the water? This would have enabled a much better informed fee level to be set, which in turn would have helped to take residents with the council, encouraged people to continue recycling green waste and thereby minimised the dropout rate.

Reading's Labour administration ignored the experience of another borough council which back in 2011 introduced a similarly large annual fee, resulting in a dramatic initial 60% reduction in users which picked up a bit but still saw a 36.67% reduction. Labour also ignored following Bracknell Forest's successful example of bringing in a £25 fee which resulted in no reduction in users.

Why did Reading Labour not broaden the scope of their report to Policy Committee to include the consequential costs to all of Reading's residents of an increase in green waste being dumped, either in landfill (grey) wheelie bins or fly tipped around Reading? These considerations were ignored yet could far outweigh the new income from Labour's annual charge from landfill tax and officer time clearing up future fly tipping.

My Conservative colleagues on Policy Committee voted against the £50 charge, but Labour's large majority rammed it through regardless.

Here is a link to the report.

Thursday 28 July 2016

Summer Re-surfacing Works' Schedule

Reading Borough Council’s annual summer road resurfacing is due to begin on Monday 8 August.

The only road in Caversham Heights on the list scheduled for resurfacing and traffic management is the Upper Woodcote Road in 2 sections: Richmond Road to Woodcote Way and Blagrave Lane to house no 188.  The road is due to be closed 3 days 9.30 am to 3.30 pm 9th August to 11th August.  The whole project is expected to last four weeks, weather permitting.

Advance notices will be in place in the days before work on a road begins. Notification letters will also be delivered to nearby residents and businesses affected, detailing the length of the works. Signed diversions will be in operation when road closures are required.
In some instances, temporary parking restrictions on roads other than those mentioned in the list below will be necessary for the work to be carried out as quickly and safely as possible.

The full list of roads scheduled for resurfacing and traffic management required is as follows:
  1. Beresford Road (Rail Bridge to Barnwood Close and Portman Road between Beresford Road and Ashmere Terrace). Roads closed for 2 days 8.00 am to 8.00 pm 8th August to 9th August
  2. Upper Woodcote Road (2 sections Richmond Road to Woodcote Way and Blagrave Lane to house no 188). Road closed 3 days 9.30 am to 3.30 pm 9th August to 11th August
  3. Kings Road (Duke Street to Watlington Street). Road closed 3 days 8.00 am to 8.00 pm 11th August to 12th August and 15th August.
  4. Basingstoke Road (Craddock Road to Winchester Road). Lane closures 1 day 8.00 am to 8.00 pm 16th August
  5. Caversham Road (Abattoirs Road to Northfield Road). Road closed 3 nights 7.00 pm to 1.00 am 17th August to 19th August
  6. The Forbury Road (Valpy Street to Abbots Walk). Road closed 2 nights 7.00 pm to 1.00 am 22nd August to 23 August
  7. Kings Road (Gas Works Road to no 179 Kings Road). Lane closures 5 nights 5.00 pm to 1.00 am 29th August to 2nd September and 5th September
  8. Caversham Road (Thames Avenue to Brigham Road). Road closed westbound 1 night 7.00 pm to 1.00 am 6th September
  9. Northumberland Avenue (Canterbury Road to Cressingham Road). Road closed 2 days 8.00 am to 8.00pm 7th September to 9th September
NB: All programmed dates are subject to change depending on weather conditions

Wednesday 13 July 2016

The Heights Sub-Committee Decides to Investigate Further the EFA’s Proposal

View across Mapledurham Playing Fields
from the Pavilion
At last night's "The Heights Free School Sub-Committee" meeting a decision was taken to investigate further the EFA’s proposal to purchase a leasehold interest of a small portion of Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF) on which to build a permanent home for The Heights primary school.

The whole meeting was recorded on RBC’s webcast and can be viewed here.

Over 30 questions from the public had been tabled but there was only time for 11 of these to be put to the committee within the allotted half hour time slot.  Residents used their democratic right to grill the new chair, Cllr Debs Edwards, on many aspects of the proposal and how her committee was going to conduct itself.  Cllr Edwards answered the questions, sometimes deferring to the legal advice provided by Chris Brooks, RBC’s Head of Legal, sat next to her.

Immediately after the public questions, Mr Brooks was invited to provide the committee with his legal advice on the report.  He stated that this was the start of a statutory process and that at each stage a report would be brought back to the Sub-Committee and the common thread that will run through the decisions is that the Sub-Committee must act in the best interests of the charity.  Mr Brooks clarified the reason why the Sub-Committee could contemplate a proposal, which on the face of it to "perplexed" objectors challenged the Trust, by explaining: 
“there is a possibility that the outcome of this proposal may well be in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the charity [see * below].  By that I mean that the facilities that are to be provided, the money which would allow improvement for example of the recreation ground, those are matters that the councillors have to consider and do so with an open mind.  And the advice that I have received and I’ve given myself is:- to arbitrarily reject the proposal without considering it fully would actually be not acting in the best interests: But that might actually seem perverse to some people, but nevertheless that is the position that myself and my expert legal advisers have advised the Sub Committee.”
This was followed [at about 32 minutes in] with five minutes “in favour” of the EFA’s proposal split between Dan Pagella (a Trustee of The Heights) and Kerry Parr (a parent of The Heights); five minutes “against” from Martin Brommell (chair of the MPF Action Group) and finally a speech  from me on behalf of Mapledurham Ward residents and Users of MPF. 
Copy of my speech to the Sub-Committee

A synopsis of which is: I declared that the majority of my community is supportive of The Heights going on a small part of MPF; that the MPF Action Group campaigned unsuccessfully against my re-election because I refused to join their fight against the school going on MPF; that MPF Action Group represents only a small minority of the community (otherwise I would not have been re-elected because of remaining open-minded about the EFA’s proposal’s potential benefits to the MPF Trust).  On behalf of Mapledurham Ward residents and MPF users I asked the Sub-Committee to acknowledge the need to bring back the Pavilion’s facilities as soon as is possible; and to please support the popular view as well as the legal advice of Chris Brooks, that the best interests of the Charity would be met by considering the EFA’s proposal in more detail.

The Committee then asked questions of Mr Brooks and put their views to Cllr Edwards [at about 37 minutes in].  This enabled Mr Brooks to inform the committee of the answer to one of the unasked questions (tabled by Robin Bentham, WADRA’s chairman) which essentially asked whether the listing as an Asset of Community Value of the Pavilion together with its entrance and car park could prevent the EFA from buying a landlocked part of MPF.  Mr Brooks informed the committee that this would not impact on the future use of the land as a Free School. 

The meeting finished with a recorded vote, with all members deciding to support the EFA’s proposal being further investigated.

*  Since posting the above account I was contacted by Mr Brooks. Having considered his statement (quoted above) he has informed me that he should have been more specific and not added the reference to the beneficiaries. I am happy to clarify the legal point at his request that the Trustees act in the best interests of the Charity.

Friday 1 July 2016

Action Against Idling Engines in Taxi Ranks

At Tuesday's full council meeting on behalf of a Mapledurham Ward resident I raised concerns about the pollution caused by idling diesel engines in taxi ranks.

I am pleased to say that Cllr Tony Page acknowledged the problem, agreed to look into the matter and bring back a report to the appropriate committee later this year.

GetReading coverage can be read here. 

Wednesday 29 June 2016

BREAKING: RBC publishes EFA’s proposal to build The Heights on part of MPF

After business hours today (29 June) Reading Borough Council published a report detailing the Education Funding Agency’s proposal to build The Heights primary school on part of Mapledurham Playing Fields.

A public meeting of The Heights Sub Committee will be held on 12 July 2016 in the Civic Centre. The full agenda can be accessed here.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Highmoor/Albert Road junction: Outcome of last night's meeting

Faded/broken white stop line at junction
Last night local campaigners, CADRA (Caversham and District Residents Association) and Conservative councillors all spoke against the council’s proposal to change priorities at the Highmoor/Albert Road junction at RBC’s Traffic Management Sub Committee meeting (see my last post for further background).  I am pleased to report that the locally unpopular proposal was not agreed.  

The persuasive arguments against the proposal had Cllr Tony Page (committee chair) announcing his view that a decision to change the priority should be deferred before he had even asked the views of the committee members. 

Campaigners' outstanding frustration was Cllr Page’s refusal to instruct officers to repaint the white stop lines at the junction, despite requests from locals, my colleagues Cllrs Ed Hopper, Claire McDonald and me to immediately improve visibility of the signage at this tricky junction.  As you can see from this photo, what is meant to be a thick white line beyond the STOP is faded and broken. Officers committed only to inspect it.

What the committee did agree was that RBC officers would work with representatives from CADRA and HARC (Highmoor Albert Residents Campaign) to bring back a proposal which hopefully will gain local support in September.

You can watch the meeting proceedings of last night's meeting on RBC's webcasting. You can forward to the relevant sections which are 1a for questions followed by presentation of the petition and 7 for the public speaking, report and debate. 

Tuesday 14 June 2016

RBC Pushes for Change of Priority at Dangerous Crossroads

Reading Borough Council (RBC) officers are recommending a change of priority from Albert Road to Highmoor Road at this local crossroads where numerous accidents have happened, the last of which on 14 May caused the tragic death of a 72 year old pedestrian.

Strength of feeling demonstrated by over 50 gathering
to protest with just a couple of hours' notice
RBC’s Traffic Management Sub Committee’s public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday 15 June), agenda item 7, the report sets out the officer preference to change the priorities as “This option is by far the most cost effective solution…[it] can be delivered without any further legal process so it is the easiest and quickest option to is worth reducing the impact of the very restricted visibility within the Highmoor Road”

However RBC’s report admits that “This option does not change the visibility problem and relies on Albert Road drivers obeying the stop signs and giving way to crossing drivers from Highmoor has its limitations and does not meet the wider concerns of the original petition”.

View north up Albert Road. Photos by Tell Tails Photography
The Highmoor Albert Road Campaign (HARC), formed by local residents, is calling on RBC to improve safety of this dangerous junction.  They’ve carried out a survey of over 100 local households close to the junction to find out from a choice of 5 alternatives whether there is a popular option. The result is 90% of 134 households are in favour of option 1: A raised table designed to slow down the approaching traffic from all four directions.

RBC’s preference to change the priority of the traffic dates back to January 2015 when officers first made the proposal.  Back then residents, local Thames Ward Cllr Ed Hopper and I (Mapledurham Ward) all spoke against it.  A survey I took had 84% of households opposed to a change of priority.

I am canvassing opinion again (see my post detailing the outcome of January 2015 meeting) and would be grateful for feedback before tomorrow evening’s meeting so that I can speak up on behalf of my electorate.  Please email me: mobile: 07717 292003 or drop a letter through my door: 10 Fernbrook Road.  Thank you.

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Thank you for re-electing me

My apologies for the silence over the last few weeks.  The run-up to the Local Elections was extremely busy, after which I needed to catch up with everything else.

The turnout here in Mapledurham Ward of 45.21% was the highest in all of Reading Borough.  Nobody took the opportunity to stand for democratic election on a “No school on Mapledurham Playing Fields” ticket.  Candidates from the Greens, Labour and Lib Dems stood against me but I was re-elected with 53% of the vote.  The full Local Election results for Reading Borough can be read here.

Thank you to everyone who supported me.  I will continue to work hard for Mapledurham Ward residents on council-related matters.  The biggest issues facing our community for which solutions need to be found are: 
  • A permanent home for The Heights primary school
  • A refurbishment/rebuild of Mapledurham Pavilion
  • Improvements to road safety in Caversham, in particular the Highmoor/Albert Road junction and Prospect Street’s zebra crossing

Thursday 31 March 2016

EFA's Proposal for The Heights on Mapledurham Playing Fields

Extract from The Heights School's March Newsletter
The Education Funding Agency's (EFA) preview and public consultation events earlier this month were well attended.

Lots of residents and users of Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF) came to look at & discuss the EFA's proposal of where to build The Heights primary school.  In particular people spoke about the outlined area of Trust land in the preliminary layout proposal, as well as what possible benefits could be part of the EFA's formal proposal for the wider community.

As regular readers will be aware, the siting of The Heights primary school's permanent home is a widely debated issue in the community.  No matter what your views, the EFA would like as many residents as possible to fill out their consultation form, so please make time to respond.

The deadline is Monday 4 April 2016.

I remain neutral on where the school is built for two reasons: (1) I am on Reading Borough Council's (RBC) Planning Committee and (2) As the elected councillor for the area it is my job to represent the views of all residents.  It was clear at the previews and public consultation events that there were mixed views: Some residents were pro the school, some were opposed to any Trust land being built upon, whilst others were wishing to see exactly what the EFA's formal proposal will be to Reading Borough Council (the Trustee) before making their minds up.

Caversham and District Residents Association (CADRA) is also remaining neutral as their committee recognises the fact that their members have mixed views.  I agree with CADRA's stance.  I hope that the Warren & District Residents Association's (WADRA) committee will rethink their approach which has been to align with the MPF Action Group (MPFAG) against the school being built on MPF thereby leaving some WADRA members feeling marginalised.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Caversham Heights Without Post Office Services

The Post Office failed to get its services up and running inside Conisboro Stores on 22 March as
originally planned.  Having closed the much loved, dedicated post office counter inside the Woodcote Way shop on Monday 21 March and stripped out the equipment, PO customers have been left high and dry.

PO customers have been forced to get in their cars or jump on a bus to a post office elsewhere and as yet I have had no response back from the Post Office as to when post office services at the shared counter in Conisboro Stores will be up and running.

This is extremely frustrating for residents, especially since there was such overwhelming opposition to the Post Office's proposed move of postal services from Woodcote Way in the first place.

If, like the local business people who have contacted me, you too are being inconvenienced you may wish to make a formal complaint to the Post Office, in which case you can do so here.

The Conisboro Stores manager thinks it unlikely that the Post Office's engineers will be able to carry out the necessary recalibration until Thursday at the earliest and services may not be working until Monday (4 April).

In the meantime the queue in the Post Office down in Caversham has been tailing outside, one frustrated would-be customer told me!

Further Update
The Post Office has informed me that postal services are up and running now in Conisboro Stores (Friday afternoon, 1 April)

Friday 4 March 2016

Breaking: Temporary Closure of Mapledurham Pavilion Extended

Pavilion - taken a while ago
This afternoon Reading Borough Council (RBC) published a report to its Policy Committee which recommends the continued closure of Mapledurham Pavilion.  Here is the report.  

As blogged on 21 January, RBC’s administration announced its decision to temporarily close the Pavilion pending a detailed structural survey.  RBC estimated that this would be for a period of 6 weeks.  The decision followed the recommendation of an earlier survey which raised safety concerns about bowing of the southern external wall.

Today’s news of the prolonging of the temporary closure was communicated to User Groups by RBC this afternoon.  I too wrote to the users and as readers may be interested, here is what I said:

“I know your respective groups have all been inconvenienced by the temporary closure of the Pavilion, for which I am very sorry.  I appreciate that the news of the continuing closure is most unwelcome.

“As chairman I have called an urgent meeting of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Management (MPFM) Committee to discuss the report going to Policy Committee, Agenda item 8, a link to which is:

“MPFM Committee meeting
The MPFM Committee meeting will be in the Civic Centre at 8 am on Thursday 10th March.  You are welcome to attend as long as you register your wish to attend with Nicky Simpson by noon on Wednesday 9th March so she is able to check that there is sufficient seating and that your name is added to the attendees list.  This will ensure that security will let you into the building (which doesn’t open until 9 am) when you press the intercom at the building’s main entrance. 

“In order for the meeting to finish in time for people to get to work I will not be allowing observers to speak.  If there are any questions you would like considered, please notify me by noon on 9th March.

“Policy Committee meeting
Members of the public are allowed to attend Policy Committee which will take place on Monday 14th March at 6.30 pm.  I will be addressing the committee on Agenda item 8 as MPFM’s chairman.  Simon Hill in Committee Services is the Policy Committee’s administrator to contact if you have any queries, his details are on the same link mentioned above.”

For those interested, here is the detailed structural report referred to in RBC's Policy Committee report.

Thursday 18 February 2016

Should Cycling Be Allowed in Broad Street, Reading?

Reading Borough Council has launched a three-week statutory consultation today on whether cycling should be allowed along the whole length of Broad Street.
Jenny Rynn & me, Broad St, 2012

This follows an informal online consultation a couple of months ago, the results of which showed majority support for the proposal.  However, there was criticism from residents as the consultation wasn’t well-known about - apart from the cycling fraternity – and the results were questioned.  One of my residents who has eye-sight problems has contacted me already, very concerned by the proposal.

I must put my hand up and say that I am a cyclist however I don’t mind walking my bike across or along Broad Street.   Perhaps I would feel differently though if I was always on my bike (which I’m not) and used it to commute.

Back in 2012 when my friend Jenny Rynn was Mayor of Reading I accompanied her on an invitation from Guide Dogs for the Blind to try walking blindfold along Broad Street.  It gave me a completely new perspective, highlighting just how scary it is to have to rely on your other senses in this busy pedestrianised road. To read about my experience here’s the link.

Getting back to the statutory consultation, if you would like to voice your views do email or write to C J Brooks, Head of Legal and Democratic Services, Reading Borough Council, Civic Offices, Bridge Street, Reading, RG1 2LU.  You can read more about the consultation by going to:

Update: On 10 March RBC's Traffic Management Committee agreed to leave the cycling ban along part of Broad Street in place as the results of the statutory consultation were so close. Personally I'm pleased by the result as I believe it is the safest option.  

Tuesday 16 February 2016

The Post Office's Decision for Caversham Heights

The Post Office announced today that they are ploughing ahead with their proposed move of the post office from the Woodcote Way News shop despite massive public opposition. 
Protest last year outside the Woodcote Way PO

Their press release admitted that there was “a large amount of feedback…the majority” of which “was opposed to the move of the branch from its current location”.

Through conversations with the Post Office however I’ve learnt that usually there is little opposition to such proposals.  This makes the Post Office’s decision to plough head in this case all the more surprising given the strength and number of objections mustered by my campaign - over 900 supporting my petition and 91 residents writing to me with their strong objections.  Only four Mapledurham Ward residents told me they actually supported the proposal, one of whom understandably gets fed up of people parking for the Woodcote Way shop which is by his home.

Laura Tarling from the Post Office has agreed to meet me on 24 February to discuss the decision. I will be asking her why the Post Office disregarded the robust objections and huge public opposition.  Also I’ll be pushing for the retention of the post box outside the Woodcote Way shop together with its current collection times and asking how they intend to tackle the accessibility and security issues (amongst others) raised in my detailed submission of residents’ objections.

If readers have any other specific question they would like me to put to the Post Office please email me: before the 24 February.

Thank you to everybody for supporting my campaign: I am sorry we were unsuccessful. The Woodcote Way’s dedicated post office counter will close on 21 March at 5.30 pm with the new shared counter in Conisboro Stores offering post office services opening on 22 March at 1 pm. 

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Mapledurham Playing Fields: Should some residents be banned from observing meetings?

At the last meeting of the Mapledurham Playing Fields (MPF) Management committee on 19 January 2016 there was a debate over whether observers “who openly advocate breaking the Trust" should be allowed to attend. 

Reading Borough Council's minutes of this meeting have not yet been formally agreed by the committee, however when they are I will link to them here.

I argued that it would be undemocratic and discriminatory to introduce such a ban, not to mention impossible to manage, and I am pleased to report that my colleagues Cllrs Hopper and Skeats agreed with me.   The demand (I’d received several emails from the Users’ Group representative in advance of the meeting to introduce this ban) flew in the face of the transparency I have promoted since taking on the committee’s chairmanship.  The vote went 1:3 with Keith Knee-Robinson abstaining.  

Next I tabled a motion that any member of the public be allowed to observe these Management meetings so long as they give me, as chairman, written notice in advance (so I can ensure there is sufficient space) and observers do not disturb proceedings.  My motion was agreed 3 with 2 abstentions.

I am well aware that residents opposed to The Heights primary school going on part of MPF, because of the land having been left in Trust for the benefit of everyone living in Reading and the Parish of Mapledurham for recreation, have extremely strong views, which I respect.  However there is a democratic process by which this legal issue will be determined.

For the avoidance of doubt for readers generally, I am keeping an open view about the Education Funding Agency's anticipated proposal to build a permanent home for The Heights on part of MPF so that I can fully participate in the decision making process.  This will enable me to speak up on behalf of all residents in Mapledurham Ward having first fully assessed the pros and cons of the proposal, tempting though it might be to ignore the tiny minority who try to smear my reputation.  

Update on temporary accommodation for user groups:  All but one user group are back up and running having been displaced from the Pavilion whilst the building is shut for a detailed survey. I have been told that the user group still without accommodation should be restarting this coming week once the council has reopened a building at Caversham Court.

Monday 1 February 2016

Prospect Street Zebra Crossing Safety Campaign

Cllr Claire McDonald, Ed Hogan and me by the zebra crossing
Cllr Claire McDonald and local resident Ed Hogan have been leading a campaign calling on Reading Borough Council (RBC) to urgently review the safety of the zebra crossing in Prospect Street.

This follows a serious incident on 11 January when a woman walking across the zebra crossing was knocked down by a van.  The woman was rushed to hospital with life threatening injuries.

I've been supporting my Conservative colleagues' campaign which has amassed over 1,250 signatures to date.  It is staggering just how frequently vehicles are seen failing to stop for pedestrians trying to, or actually walking over, this zebra crossing - several times every day.  

If you share our concerns and agree that the safety of this crossing needs an urgent review, please take a minute to read and sign the petition.

Simple measures that wouldn't need a long-drawn out consultation like proper lighting and raising the crossing up onto a table would dramatically improve visibility.  Such measures would just need the will of the Labour-run council to take immediate action.

Friday 29 January 2016

Woodcote Way Post Office Update

Protest in December
Thank you to the nearly 1,000 residents who have signed my petition, written via email or letter, stopped me in the street or invited me in to tell me about their objections to the Post Office’s proposal to remove the dedicated post office counter from Woodcote Way.

I submitted a detailed objection listing the arguments against this flawed proposal to the Post Office in the hope that it be scrapped.  In total 903 people signed the petition (paper + electronic copies) and 91 sent me their objections by letter or email. I captured these objections in a spreadsheet which, together with the petition, I enclosed with my response. 

The Post Office is currently, as explained to me by the responsible External Stakeholder Manager, analysing the consultation responses before coming to a final decision.  Their main focus is trying to overcome accessibility issues.  I was informed that a meeting was taking place yesterday to look at the accessibility of Conisboro Stores, where postal services are proposed to go behind a shared counter.

I believe there are significant issues which cannot be overcome and I have worked hard putting together the evidence to substantiate this commonly held view.  A powerful fact is that even those for whom postal services would be much closer to their home objected because of the fundamental flaws with the proposal.

The consultation result is expected imminently and as soon as I hear I will spread the news.

Friday 22 January 2016

More Detail Behind Temporary Closure of Mapledurham Pavilion

As anticipated there has been considerable interest in the temporary closure of Mapledurham Pavilion and the impact on users.  

Finding alternative available accommodation in the area is challenging as community space, as anyone who has tried to book space will know, is well-used and always in high demand. This highlights, if ever it were needed, the huge importance the Pavilion plays for our community.  Residents of all ages benefit from organisations from babies to retired residents.  

What happens next hangs on the results of the intrusive survey which RBC has commissioned.  For information, here is the latest response provided to me by Reading Borough Council:

Dear Cllr Ballsdon 

You requested a brief history of the latest inspection of the hall.

Following a report that the roof was leaking into a store the building was visited by the Corporate Clerk of Works within Property services to arrange repairs.  While there on the Thursday 14th January he was concerned about the cladding on the interior of the south facing wall which looked insecure. Given the use of the building and possibility of large panels becoming dislodged and exposed finger traps etc he raised his concerns with the Programme Manager within the Council’s Leisure and Recreation Team the following day (Friday 15th). A meeting on site first thing on Monday was agreed to assess the situation.  At that meeting it was agreed to seek specialist advice as they could not tell the condition of the structure below and there may be some flexing in the wall.

Advice was sought from the Property Services Manager who recommended engaging KRP consulting engineers who have previous knowledge of the facility.

The Clerk Of Works met KRP at Mapledurham on Tuesday 19th January.

On the 20th January the engineer fed back his observations recommending the closure of the facility. This was in the form of an email not a formal report as the extent of inspection was limited in both time and ability to access supporting sub structure. However from what he was able to establish from his initial inspection he made the following recommendation.

“We consider that progressive deterioration has most likely occurred, particularly to the timber framed structural elements, primarily as a result of damp ingress, although we cannot identify the extent or rate of progression.

In view of these uncertainties, for Health & Safety reasons, we suggest that the building be taken out of use until the intrusive investigation is carried out, the extent of the defects identified, and a programme of remedial works undertaken”.

The hall was then closed on the 21st January. It was also decided that a detailed intrusive survey was required and that KRP be commissioned to undertake this work to produce a report to allow the council to identify the best way forward. This is being arranged for the six week closure which will likely include scaffolding parts of the building to access roof voids, removal of some cladding and necessary reinstatement of damage caused during the survey.

As the service manager for Leisure and Recreation I was aware of the progress of these events and made reference to the inspection at the management meeting on the evening of the 20th.

Kind regards

Ben Stanesby

Thursday 21 January 2016

Temporary Closure of Mapledurham Pavilion

Mapledurham Pavilion
BREAKING News: This afternoon a decision has been taken by Reading Borough Council (RBC) to temporarily close Mapledurham Pavilion.  The Pavilion is, like the Mapledurham Playing Fields themselves, held in Trust by RBC.

User groups are being told that an independent structural engineer has recommended the temporary closure as bowing is clearly visible on the southern external wall.  It is anticipated at this stage that the closure will be for approximately 6 weeks.

Please note that the Football and Tennis clubs will both be able to continue to run as normal as the changing rooms and Tennis club area are unaffected.

As Chairman of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Management committee I was informed of the decision.  I have asked RBC questions about the help that will be provided to users to find alternative accommodation but also about the cost of repairs; who and when a decision is likely; and at what level a tipping point is likely to be reached to make major works necessary.

I have asked that RBC issue a press release, put up notices on the Pavilion and keeps me updated.