Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Interview with Melanie Eastwood -- Park Ward 2011 Green Candidate

1. Tell me something about yourself outside of the Green Party?


Whenever I get chance, I love to follow the lives of the ducks and geese at Whiteknights lake. I am a bit of a sucker for wildlife and secretly do my bit to help look after some of the permanent residents on the lake, at the moment, some of the birds may be finding it hard to get by in the freezing conditions and I can't help but want to take some bread or grain up there to help them through the exceptionally cold days.


2. How and why did you get involved with the Reading Green Party?


Like most people in Park Ward I got to know the Green Party through the regular door knocking and admired what the Green Party did for the area. I found myself at a crossroads in life when it was right to explore getting involved with different things, and from there I started helping out more and more. I realised that I had a lot to offer the Reading Green Party and local residents. I very much enjoy playing a more active role in the community. I'm someone who fights for things that I believe in, and can't turn a blind eye to things that don't make sense, local politics seems a good way of channelling this energy. I feel that the Green Party can offer a lot to communities, particularly at a local level.


3. What have you achieved so far as a candidate?


Since being selected, and even before, I have been out on the doorstep listening to the concerns of local people and helping get action on everything from bread-and-butter issues like fly tipping, parking problems and broken street lights to bigger issues like Wokingham's plan to exclude Reading children from Maiden Erlegh. I have also been talking to people on the doorstep about the unfair cuts to care which the Council are now consulting on and how it's important to stand up for the weak and vulnerable in society.


Some sections of the community, especially older people, are suffering extreme hardship because they don't understand how the benefits system works. I have been doing my best to make sure people are getting benefits, such as pension credit, which they are entitled to by connecting them with Communicare, behind the Wycliffe Church, for expert advice.


In Palmer Park I have been talking to park users and pushing for improvements such as a clean usable public toilet near the play area in the Wokingham Road/St Bartholomew's Road corner of the Park. Responding to residents' concerns I would also like to see better lighting in some parts of the park which are dark and unfriendly at night-time.


Finally, I feel that it is important for people to get to know others in the community and there is nothing better than to open your home to others in a way that is warm and welcoming. Putting my thoughts into practice, I recently hosted a student Sunday lunch to break down barriers and improve community relations.


4. What is your favourite type of biscuit and why?


As a biscuit lover, I can be pretty lethal if left with a packet of biscuits; my favourite would probably be freshly made chocolate chip cookies.


You can contact Melanie Eastwood at melanie@readinggreenparty.org.uk.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Members of the public clearing snow

Following on from a scrutiny panel where a number of councillors including me argued that the Council should provide some advice to members of the public wanting to clear snow, it can be found on the Reading Council website here. I have also copied and pasted it below.

"Take responsibility for snow clearance from your pathway

Be community spirited. There is no law preventing members of the public from clearing the snow and ice on the pavement outside their properties, or pathways to their property or public spaces. Provided they act reasonably and carefully, and use ordinary commons sense, it is very unlikely that a member of the public would face any legal liability. People who walk in these areas have responsibilities to be careful themselves. National guidance on this matter is expected shortly.

If you decide to clear snow or ice then follow these tips:
· Do not use hot water. This will melt the snow, but may replace it with black ice, increasing the risk of injury
· Do not take unnecessary risks in the road; motor traffic will find it difficult to stop quickly in icy conditions
· Choose suitable clothing for the task. In particular, ensure you have sturdy footwear to provide a good grip. Wear a high-visibility jacket if you have one
· If shovelling snow, consider where you are going to put it, so that it does not block people's paths or simply shift the problem elsewhere
· Use a shovel with the widest blade available
· Make a line down the middle of the area to be cleared first, so you have a safe surface to walk on. Then you can simply shovel the snow from the centre to the sides
· Spread some salt on the area you have cleared to prevent any ice forming. If there is no salt bin nearby, ordinary table salt will work, but avoid spreading it on plants or grass. Remember, that the salt in salting bins will be needed for keeping vehicles moving too
· A few grams of salt (a couple of tablespoons, say) for each square metre you clear should be enough. Remember it will take a little while to work
· Use the sun to your advantage. Simply removing the top layer of snow will allow the sun to melt any ice beneath; however you will need to cover any ice with salt to stop it refreezing overnight.

Notes:
There is plenty of case law about the responsibility of the highway authority with respect to snow, ice and gritting but none which deals with ordinary members of the public. The position of an ordinary person who clears snow from outside their own or someone else's property is that they would only be liable for an accident if (a) their efforts actually made the pavement less safe than it was with the snow and ice undisturbed (b) they should have foreseen the likelihood of someone being injured as a result (c) someone actually gets injured (d) the injury is the result of their efforts and (e) the person injured decides to sue them. In most cases people will be improving the situation in which case no liability should arise. There is a theoretical possibility of liability arising if a person cleared an area by moving a lot of snow somewhere else, which caused an accident, or if they cleared snow which wasn't slippery, and left a wet area which iced up and became slippery."

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Councillor awards

The Local Government Information Unit is running their councillor awards again. The categories can be found here, and the application form can be found here. Do any Reading councillors deserve a nomination?

"Councillors are community leaders. They connect individual citizens and local government, highlighting problems within the community. This contribution to their wards should be recognised, and their work celebrated. That’s why the LGiU and CCLA will again be running the C’llr Achievement Awards.

Recognising excellence is an important part of any sector development. It spreads best practice, rewards those who go the extra distance and highlights individual brilliance.

Nominations for this year’s C’llr Achievement Awards 2011 are open now. All information regarding the awards, including how to make a nomination, can be found on the LGiU website.

Let us know what your councillor, or if you’re a councillor or officer your colleagues, are doing to create a better community. Entry is free and anyone can make a nomination. Self-nominations, however, are not allowed. The closing date is 31 December 2010.

We’ve already had a very healthy response. If you haven’t done so already, do please join the communities above and nominate someone. Councillors are the unsung heroes of our democracy. We’d be very grateful if you’d help us shout for them."

Friday, 17 December 2010

5-15 cm of snow forecast for Saturday in Reading

I have been out doing a bit of doorknocking earlier this afternoon talking to residents about issues of concern. As well as experiencing some snow showers first hand, I can also vouch for it being pretty damn cold out there!

After getting back and warming up with some hot food and a cup of tea I checked my e-mails and saw that the Council is warning of snow tomorrow:

"Dear Councillors

The Meteo Group (our new winter weather forecast supplier) have forecasted 5-15cm of snow to fall tomorrow from approximately 12:00 noon and may continue throughout the night.

As a precautionary measure the decision has been made to spread urea in the town centre block paved/footway areas from approximately 17:00 tonight. This will help prevent snow and ice from forming for approximately 3 days. Consequently all mechanical sweeping will be suspended until after the risk of snow has passed but manual litter collection will continue as normal.

We are salting the primary routes today at 13:30 and will wait for further updates to the weather forecast.

Yours Faithfully"

Thursday, 16 December 2010

A month in the life of a Green Party councillor -- October and November

It has been a busy couple of months, which is why I have rolled the October and November reports into one. Since selecting Melanie Eastwood as our candidate for 2011 we have continued to be out there on the doorstep talking to people -- despite the cold weather. I have also been trying to get out to groups and events across Reading ranging from the Age Concern Berkshire's tea dance to Jelly's Third Thursday -- art in non-traditional spaces in the town centre.

Council meetings and briefings -- 7
Surgeries -- 2 stationery and 7 walkabout
School governor meetings -- 3
Community meetings and events -- 23
Enquiries and requests for repairs from residents -- 116

Some of our action:
· campaigned against the un-capping of university tuition fees
· petitioned against cuts to care which will impact on many of our elderly and vulnerable residents
· commented on the devastating Comprehensive Spending Review
· lobbied for more renewable energy generation in Reading
· gave new Green MEP Keith Taylor a tour of Reading
· supported east Reading information, advice and support charity Communicare and their new Communishop project
· continued to support parents fighting for a fair deal over changes to the Maiden Erlegh catchment area
· worked through the scrutiny process to improve the town centre and district centres and fight back against the clone town trend
· supported the low energy light bulb recycling scheme

Some of our results:
· successfully made representations to the licensing committee to minimise the impact of the Wokingham Road area night-time economy on residents sleep
· got the Freshwater Road alley re-gated to prevent fly tipping
· as usual we got countless instances of fly tipping cleared, trolleys collected, graffiti cleaned, pram crossings installed and residents' questions answered.

Expenses:
· None claimed.

Gifts to declare -- over the value of £25:
· None.

My interests are published on Reading Borough Council's website.

Monthly councillor allowance (pay) before deductions: £685.08

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Greens offer free membership to students and young people

First of all Labour introduced tuition fees with the support of the Conservatives. Now that the Lib Dems have sold out, the Green Party is the only party to have consistently opposed tuition fees and cuts to education.

I marched with many students and young people this week in Reading for a fairer future and against increases in tuition fees.

I thought you might be interested to learn that the Green Party is offering free membership to people under 30 or in full-time education.

Follow this link for more information.

Please pass this information on to anyone who you think might be interested.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Cheaper bus tickets and hybrid buses


Last week I was invited along to Reading Buses. Top of my wish list and one of my first questions was on cheaper bus tickets. As whilst no one can deny that we get a good service -- most of the time -- from the likes of the 17, £1.70 for a trip from Cemetery Junction into the town centre does seem expensive. I put this to Reading Buses CEO James Freeman and I was pleasantly surprised by his response. He informed me that Reading Buses is sympathetic to this issue, but it is a consequence of the current flat rate. However Reading Buses is currently trialling a £1.00 ticket on some of its routes when you board the bus close to the town centre. He said that there is already a £1.00 ticket from the hospital into the town centre for example. He wouldn't be drawn on exactly when we will get this at Cemetery Junction, but I think that this is a great idea and will keep the pressure on.

We chatted about a variety of other things before I got a tour of the depot and a lift home on one of the new hybrid buses. They are like the Prius (car) in that they have both a diesel and electric engine. The electric engine responsible for moving the bus around and is charged when the bus slows down for example. The diesel engine powers some of the technology on the bus. This means less fuel, so they are cheaper to run and better for the environment.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Communishop update -- goods required

The Communishop project is moving along nicely. I popped in to say hello earlier in the week and saw that they were making good progress with a lot of the shop refitting work.

They are now ready to start collecting donations of goods to sell in the shop. They would like clothing and bric-a-brac but no furniture or large electricals. If in doubt give them a call -- 9263941 -- to check before bringing an item.

Donations should be taken to Communicare at 233 King's Road -- round the back of the Wycliffe church.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Love food hate waste

Wondered if anyone may like to attend one of these workshops

on Wednesday 8th December 5-6pm or 6-7 pm

at WESLEY METHODIST CHURCH HALL,QUEENS RD ,RG1 4BW (True Food market venue)

Come along to find out about

How to get the right portions for those extra mouths to feed!

Using xmas leftovers!

Making the most of your freezer!

Planning

USE LEFTOVER CHRISTMAS PUDDING TO MAKE RUM AND RAISIN ICECREAM !!!

If you would like to attend please email

Helen@truefood.coop or 08453308272

THE WORKSHOP IS FREE!

for further information about ---the Love Food Hate Waste Campaign

please visit -- www.lovefoodhatewaste.com

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Discretionary parking permits charge eye watering!

Last night at Corporate, Community and External Affairs I seconded Councillor Epps' motion to call-in and reconsider the decision by Cabinet to start charging unfairly for discretionary parking permits.

Currently it doesn't cost anything to apply for a discretionary permit but earlier in the week the Reading Borough Council Cabinet decided to start charging £50 for the application -- whether you are successful or not -- and what's more another eye watering £250 for the permit if you are successful.

In Newtown -- the Park Ward bit -- we currently have parking permits in the west half but not in the east half. Generally there are parking spaces available in the parking permit half but only parking permit holders can use them. It is normally very hard to find a parking space in the non-permit parking half during peak times -- which is used as an overflow car park, a long stay car park and a park-and-ride.

Discretionary parking permits are one way to create a fairer system across the whole of Newtown -- you can apply for one if you live within 200 m of a permit parking road. I have been supporting residents from the east of Newtown in getting discretionary parking permits which then allows them to the Park in the west of Newtown where there are spaces. If a £50/£300 charge were to be levied by the Council for discretionary parking permits it would make the system even more unfair, with only the very rich being able to afford one.

I hope that this decision is overturned and discretionary parking permits become free again.

Maiden Erlegh catchment area update -- new proposal old unfairness

Keeping Maiden Erlegh as one of the local schools for children in the Park Ward area is a priority for Green candidate Melanie Eastwood and myself. In the summer Wokingham Council started to make moves to exclude Reading children from the school. Following pressure from parents and others including us, Wokingham has made some concessions from this position. We are still concerned that these proposals aren't fair for Reading children. This is because at best they will only allow a tiny number of children, from the very top corner of Park Ward, to go to the school.

For the technically minded, see the map below. The children who Reading officers think may be eligible -- depending on how many children from the Lower Earley area apply -- will be those living in the intersection between the hatched 1000 m band and Park Ward. A very small number I'm sure you will agree. And if lots of children apply from Lower Earley no child in Park Ward will be eligible!



This proposal is fairer -- or more equally unfair to children living close to the school on both sides of the border -- but ultimately still achieves Wokingham's goal of getting more Wokingham children -- from Lower Earley -- into Maiden Erlegh.

Further consultation will take place in December and up to February 2011. For the latest news, please see the non-party political parents' campaign website.

Thanks to Richard and Wokingham Council for the map.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Green MEP Keith Taylor visits Reading





It's taken me a while to blog about this, but recently Green MEP Keith Taylor -- who has taken over from Caroline Lucas who is now the Green MP for Brighton -- came to Reading.

We did a whistle stop tour of: the Reading International Solidarity Centre; Alana House Women's Centre; Abbey School; the Ridgeline Trust; Reading University; supported Unison's campaign asking people to "stand up public services"; and finished at the True Food Co-op.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Snow!

Message from the Council: "The Meteo Group (our new winter weather forecast supplier) have forecasted 2-5cm of snow to fall tonight from approximately 23:00, which may continue into the morning rush hour (approximately 08:00).

"As a precautionary measure the decision has been made to spread urea in the town centre block paved/footway areas and salt primary and secondary routes this afternoon and evening. Our gritting contractors will remain on standby throughout the night or until the risk of snow has passed."

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Palmer Park recycling has moved

A message from Reading Borough Council:

"The Park Team have been working over the last few weeks to move the Palmer Park recycling site. I’m pleased to inform you, yesterday the recycling banks were relocated to the new recycling area in Palmer Park they are in the new car park near to Stadium.

Regarding old the area it was cleaned and rubbish was removed arrangements are being made for the litter bins to be relocate and signs are going up to inform the members of the public that the site as been relocated."

Monday, 22 November 2010

From Communicare to Communishop

Communicare are like the Citizens Advice Bureau but local to us in the east of Reading. They do a great job of providing expert advice in practically every area imaginable to people in need and also help filling in forms. I personally have found them really helpful in the past and am always recommending them to other people.

In these tough times with need going up -- as people lose their jobs and benefits are cut -- and funding being cut across the board it will be a challenge for all charities to keep their heads above water. Creative thinking to keep the money coming in is definitely necessary! As always Communicare is rising to the challenge with the Communishop project which will provide affordable second-hand goods, keep things out of the landfill and be another hub in the community all at the same time -- not to mention providing some more income for Communicare. More power to their elbow!

A message from Communicare and a list at the end of what they need to make this project happen:

As many of you will know we have had the vision of opening a charity shop in the Cemetery Junction area for some years.

We have now located premises and we are in the process of signing a lease which will give us possession of the shop on 1 December.

We are excited by this new project and are confident that it will allow us to realise a vision of sustainable funding and opportunities to expand our current community involvement. It will give us the opportunity to offer voluntary positions to local people.

The shop will be another visible presence of Communicare in the neighbourhood. We expect to be able to offer useful pre-owned items as well as handmade items and gifts for a reasonable price to local people, thereby building up a focal point in the neighbourhood, a community shop in which local people have a vested interest and commitment, and from which the proceeds feed into the work of Communicare.

The sense of community ownership starts here!

We want to open the shop as soon as possible after 1st December, and to do this without wasting money, it needs clearing, cleaning, refitting and setting up.

WE NEED YOU to help by donating the items and gifts of help that we need to set up and run a general charity shop.

Please look at the suggestions below and contact Sarah at Communicare to make your donations.

Communicare is at 233 Kings Rd, Reading (behind Wycliffe Church),
and is open Mon 10-3, Tues, Thurs 10-4, Fri 10-1.
Telephone 01189263941. advice@communicare.org.uk

HELP we need Volunteers
We need labour from 1st to 10th December to clear refit, fetch & carry
Can you donate your handmade crafts for us to sell?
Can you offer transport or delivery?
We need volunteers to work in the shop
We need you to donate saleable goods
We need someone to make a photo portfolio/study/blog of our progress. This is ideal for a photography student!
Electrician - do you know a good reliable electrician available 1st - 5th December?

Loans of money
Clocks
Plastic garden furniture
Bookshelves
Display case
Towel rails
Clothes rails
Coat hangers
Size Indicators for coat hangers
Mannequins
Small trolley
Storage boxes

Sewing Machine
Sewing items - needles, cotton, buttons etc.
Washing machine
Tumble Dryer
Vacuum Cleaner
Toilet Roll Holder
Fridge
Ironing board
Jewellery stands
Shoe racks
Outdoor planters
Mirrors

Health & Safety sign for shop premises
Leaflet display cabinet
Calculator
Notice boards
Storage boxes
Cleaning materials
Bathroom cabinet for toilet area
Mugs
Teapot
Tea towels
Teaspoons

Bubble wrap
Tissue/Wrapping paper
Carrier bags

What else will we need to set up shop?
What else can you give to save costs in fitting out the charity shop?

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Maiden Erlegh "the catch"

Here is the detail of what Wokingham is now proposing. I am still trying to get my brain round exactly what this means and will post again with more information when I have.

"(a) Bulmershe and Maiden Erleqh School

Following consultation on the Secondary Admissions Review, it is proposed that Maiden Erlegh's area be

expanded to incorporate parts of the current Bulmershe area in Lower Earley.
expanded to incorporate parts of the current HoltIForest area in Lower Earley.

It is also proposed that part of the current Bulmershe area (Shinfield North, west of Shinfield Rd) is reassigned to the shared area for Emmbrook, Holt, Forest and St Crispins - see b) below.

It is proposed that the whole of the new Maiden Erlegh area be treated as a shared area, so that it also forms part of the designated area for Bulmershe School.

Within the designated area criteria (C and D) for Maiden Erlegh, the tiebreaker to be used, in place of radial distance from the school, is 'additional radial distance to the alternative designated area school. This would be calculated as the distance to Bulmershe School minus the distance to Maiden Erlegh School.

In effect this tiebreaker would mean that priority would be given to those applicants who, if they were not admitted to Maiden Erlegh, would have to travel the furthest to Bulmershe as their alternative designated area school."

Friday, 19 November 2010

Council Welcomes New Proposals for Maiden Erlegh

I haven't seen the proposals referred to yet, but from the Reading Council press release below it looks like Wokingham has done a U-turn on its plans to exclude Park Ward pupils from Maiden Erlegh school. Assuming that there isn't a catch this is great news for everyone who has been fighting for this.

UPDATE: I think there might be a catch! I will post again when I have done a bit more reading.

19/11/2010
Reading Borough Council Press Release

Reading Borough Council has warmly welcomed revised draft plans for the catchment area of Maiden Erlegh School as a 'victory for dialogue'. While children of the Whiteknights/Park Ward area were previously to be excluded, under the new proposal, they will not be.

The new draft proposals have been drawn up by Wokingham Borough Council after months of discussion, negotiation and dialogue with Reading Borough Council and a review and consultation exercise with parents and neighbours of the school.

Unlike Wokingham's original proposals, the new plans will also protect access to siblings.

Mark Ralph, Reading Borough Council's Lead Councillor for Education and Children's Services, said: 'This is a major victory for dialogue between the two councils, parents and the wider local community, and saves both Authorities from the necessity of expensive legal intervention. There has been a huge amount of contact with Wokingham at all levels.

'I am very pleased that the new proposals have taken account of feedback from residents in Park Ward, that there is no exclusion of Park Ward residents from the designated area and there is protection for siblings of children that attend Maiden Erlegh.

'I am delighted that we have been able to secure this change for the benefit of many parents and their children.'

ENDS

Third Thursday, first for entertainment

Yesterday I went along to the Third Thursday event -- putting art into non-traditional spaces in the town centre -- organised by Jelly and Reading UK CIC.

I had a great time. It was in the Novotel, there was some good artwork being auctioned to raise money for Launchpad and there was free food and wine.

I think these are really positive events from Jelly continuing to challenge the dominant vertical drinking culture in Reading and providing variety appealing to a far wider section of the community.

I am looking forward to the next one which if my memory serves me correctly will be poetry and mulled wine in Blandy and Blandy solicitors on Thursday, December 16.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Young peoples' achievements and awards event

On Thursday, November 11 last week I went to the Young Peoples' Achievements and Awards event at the town hall. It was a really positive evening and I was genuinely entertained by the singing and music -- Ground Roots from Sun Street in particular -- and moved by young people reading poems and hearing about the young carers group.

I don't know if they have sent in a press release yet, but I really hope they get some prominent -- front-page? -- and good coverage of this event -- as young people are often unfairly slagged off in the national media. I have e-mailed the Editors of the local papers about this.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Improving the town centre and district centres

Following on from my previous clone town work, I collaborated with Cllr Epps to produce the following recommendations to improve our town centre and district centres at the last Corporate, Community and External Affairs scrutiny panel. It was decided at the meeting to refer this back to the management panel to fine tune these recommendations, but we have definitely got the ball rolling! What do people think?

That the Panel recommend that the Cabinet:-

· Takes steps to ensure its policies actively promote local independent retailers and markets, as an important part of the diversity and retail offer of the Borough, including active promotion through Reading UK CIC.
· Seek opportunities (in conjunction with the voluntary and community sector) for a re-imagined high street project in the Borough, where people help planners create a re-invigorated community in a local centre.
· Make residents an equal partner in Local Development Framework processes, holding sessions where residents are able to speak at Council meetings where decisions on planning policies are made.
· Design well-being, distinctiveness and sustainability indicators into Council site-specific planning processes.
· Ensure resident participation in Business Improvement Districts.
· Write to the Secretary of State for Enterprise to call on him to establish a Local Competition Ombudsman as recommended by the Competition Commission to rein in monopoly power of the big four grocery chains.

CCEA Panel receives reports back within 12 months:-

· On the feasibility of establishing one or more High Street Hubs in key vacant shops to accommodate activities that help develop local economic sustainability: not community centres, but.activities that could range from local currency development (like Brixton £) to local food distribution and tool share/exchange schemes;
· On the potential to create an Empty Dwellings Management Order instrument for the Council to apply to empty builds (not just residential properties) to bring them back into active use for public benefit;
· On progress made for improving our local centres;
· And again evaluates whether to sign up to the Sustainable Communities Act at the appropriate time

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Councillors, the gifts register and free Reading Festival tickets

The Council runs a register of gifts for councillors and staff. When you receive a gift from a member of the public over the value of £20 then you should declare the gift on the register.

Unfortunately, the register isn't accessible as a whole online, but you can access each councillor's individual declaration of interests, which are updated individually with the gifts received. Here are the interests of my ward colleagues Councillor Hartley and Councillor Hussain.

To link this back to a campaign I was running a little while ago, I was questioning the practice of all Reading councillors being offered two free Reading Festival tickets worth approximately £360. Rather than checking each councillor's individual declaration of interests I recently asked to see the register of interests -- I think any member of the public can do this -- to see who had taken up the offer of free Festival tickets. The list can be found here.

Interestingly though Councillor Hartley is on the list as having accepted tickets, but his declaration of interests hasn't been updated -- although it was for other tickets in both 2008 and 2009?

Monday, 1 November 2010

Reversing the clone town trend in Reading

Following on from the New Economics Foundation's recent clone town report which placed Reading second in the league of clone towns across the UK, we have an item on the agenda for the Corporate, Community and External Affairs scrutiny panel on Wednesday.

The report has some recommendations on page 43.

What practical, concrete things would you like to see the council doing to reverse the clone town trend?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Garden land development in Reading

I have received this e-mail from the planning section of the Council. Has anyone got any good or bad examples of garden land development?

"Dear Councillor,

As a result of changes to national Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing (PPS3), which removes private residential gardens from the definition of previously developed (brownfield) land, the Planning Section has been asked by Cllr Willis (Lead Councillor for Planning & Transport) to consider how the Council might approach a policy on garden land.

Following a recent discussion with Cllr Willis regarding this issue, I am emailing to ask you for examples of completed garden land development schemes, which you consider are either good or bad examples. I would be grateful if in providing this information you could set out your view as to why you consider a scheme is good or otherwise in planning terms. This will help to inform the preparation of a draft policy on garden land.

I would be grateful for a response within the next 2 weeks.

Regards,"

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Recycle your low energy light bulbs

Reading is apparently going to become one of the first places in the country to get involved with low energy light bulb recycling.

Although the energy efficient light bulbs are definitely a good thing, they contain mercury and so should not be thrown away into your black bin, but should be disposed of as hazardous waste -- at the tip.

Most people either are not aware of this, or are put off by the inconvenience of taking their spent lightbulbs all the way to the tip. This means that most are landfilled. I have raised this issue in the past and so I am pleased to see action from the council on this.

I have put the Council in touch with the True Food Co-op who have led the way in waste reduction, reuse and recycling in the past in the hope that they will have a low energy light bulb recycling container at their markets.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Full council meeting, Maiden Erlegh motion and the bunfight that followed

At the meeting of the full council earlier in the week we were hoping to get Reading Borough Council to seek specialist legal advice regarding Wokingham's plan to change the Maiden Erlegh catchment area to exclude some Park Ward children from the school.

Labour had a motion down to make this happen. We were hoping that Councillor Hussain -- Conservative -- was going to second the motion and it would get all-party support. Councillor Hartley who had written the motion -- unfortunately with no political party consultation up front -- had made it clear that he would welcome discussion on friendly amendments. But right up until the meeting it was not clear exactly what position the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats were going to take on this issue. Although both parties had said they supported the Reading parents, in terms of the council motion it was not clear what wording and specific action they wanted. At the start of the meeting it became obvious that cross-party support was not going to happen and so I found myself seconding the Labour motion.

So immediately after my speech seconding the motion the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats moved an amendment -- in practice deleting everything apart from the first few words and replacing it with a new motion.

From here on in it had turned into a bit of a bunfight and no one succeeded in covering themselves in glory! Others have written about this in more detail.

I did not feel that the amendment moved the campaign forwards as all it set out to do in my opinion was formalise what the council was already doing -- but it did not move us backwards either. Inevitably though the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats with a clear majority passed their amendment and then passed the amended motion.

Looking back, I struggle to see how cross party support could have been built. Although I had been talking to both Tories and Liberal Democrats -- as well as Labour and parents -- I do not think either group had agreed a position on this until immediately before the full council meeting, so a back and forth of discussion on the wording of a motion would have been pretty difficult to achieve.

What does this mean for the campaign? Well I am an optimist by nature, so despite this setback I think the campaign has come a long way. And I think that parents have shown politicians in Reading and Wokingham that there are a lot of people interested in this issue and in getting a fair deal for Reading families. The option of getting specialist legal advice is still on the table and the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said that if there is a need after negotiation with Wokingham then they will do this. So I guess we will have to wait and see what Wokingham does following on from negotiations with Reading and the informal consultation responses and what it puts into the formal consultation in November. My concern though is will this be too late?

Friday, 22 October 2010

Funeral for public services


After the disastrous comprehensive spending review on Wednesday I attended the funeral for public services outside the Civic Centre in Reading.

Join community groups, trade unions, political faith groups, service user groups as well as residents and workers from across Reading to form a coalition against these cuts to services.

7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 26
Reading friends meeting house, Church Street, Reading, RG1 2SB

Keep updated on Facebook here.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

True Food Co-op takings update

Here are the True Food Co-op takings figures for the last few weeks. These are for the shop and markets combined:

Week starting:

13/09/10 -- £6543
20/09/10 -- £7258
27/09/10 -- £6846
04/10/10 -- £7721

As you can see we did hit the target for £7500 in the week starting 4th October. The next target is £8500 by the beginning of November. An extra £1000 a week sounds like a lot but with over 100 members if we all encouraged one new person to shop at True Food they would only need to spend £10 a week for us to make the target.

If you have not tried the True Food Co-op for your weekly shopping I can highly recommend it.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Reading Borough Council full Council meeting this evening

Full meeting of Reading Borough Council this evening. The full agenda is here. There are some interesting items up for debate tonight on Maiden Erlegh, free swimming and renewable energy to name a few.

A month in the life of a Green Party councillor -- September

September has been a busy month. Schools have gone back so I am helping with the crossing patrol again and Council meetings are back in full swing.

Council meetings and briefings -- 9
Surgeries -- 1 stationery and 2 walkabout
School governor meetings -- 2
Community meetings and events -- 9
Enquiries and requests for repairs from residents -- 57

Some of our action:
· continued to support Reading parents in their fight against unfair changes to the Maiden Erlegh catchment area
· carried on working to protect our public services from damaging cuts
· put pressure on Tesco to fix its fence and end the nuisance of trolleys littering the streets and river

Some of our results:
· got the Council to look into 20 mph speed limits in residential areas
· as usual I got countless instances of fly tipping cleared, trolleys collected, graffiti cleaned, pram crossings installed and residents' questions answered.

Expenses:
· None claimed.

Gifts to declare -- over the value of £25:
· None.

My interests are published on Reading Borough Council's website.

Monthly councillor allowance (pay) before deductions: £685.08

Friday, 15 October 2010

Monday, 11 October 2010

Take back parliament meeting -- alternate vote system

Although I think that the Lib Dems should have held out for a proportional voting system, they didn't and so we are left with a choice between no change or a minor improvement to the electoral system. Along with Green MP Caroline Lucas, I am in favour of this minor improvement but I find it hard to muster much enthusiasm.

Anyway, Take Back Parliament have organised a meeting in Reading to get the ball rolling.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Freshers' fair at Reading University

I was helping the Reading Young Greens at the Freshers' Fair yesterday at Reading University. We had lots of interest should hopefully make for a fun and exciting year of campaigning at the University.

The Reading Young Greens also have a Facebook group.

The Lib Dems and Conservatives were both represented at the Fair, but no sign of Labour whose society seems to have collapsed. The local Lib Dems were collecting signatures to pressure Vince Cable into not siding with the Conservatives and increasing tuition fees -- never a good thing when you have the campaign against your own party!

On which roads should cars be allowed to park on the pavements -- carefully?

I received this e-mail from the Council about plans to clamp down on dangerous and problematic pavement parking -- which we have been campaigning on for a while now -- asking which roads in Park Ward should be exempted, and careful pavement parking should be allowed to continue. As residents what do you think?

Dear Councillor

Reading Borough Council, at Cabinet in July and at TMAP (Traffic Management Advisory Panel) in September, decided to progress a borough wide footway and verge parking prohibition. This will mean that all footway and verge parking is illegal and subject to the same penalty notice and process as those vehicles that park on yellow lines.

Officers are progressing that decision and the restriction is expected to be in place by early 2011. However the lead Councillor, Richard Willis, has asked that two measures are incorporated into the introduction of the restriction and they are:-

1) That for a 2 week period before the official commencement of the restriction, vehicles parked on footways and verges will receive a warning notice in the form of a standard letter in a parking ticket holder and placed on the windscreen of vehicles as with current parking penalty ticket issues.

2) That a small number of roads within the borough where no alternative parking is available will be exempt from the prohibition.

It is in connection with the second measure that I am writing to you as the ward Councillor to seek your suggestions as to which, if any, roads in your ward should be exempt from the footway and verge parking prohibition.

If you could let me know the roads that you feel should be considered in this measure, officers will then review the suggestions and report to the lead Councillor with the suggested roads and an officer recommendation on whether technical and physical evidence supports their exemption.

An exemption will only be considered if:-

· There is no off-street parking available
· The road is too narrow to safely allow vehicles to park fully on-street.
· Current highway rules (size of vehicle etc) will be followed – There are a number of types of vehicle that cannot be parked on the public highway, such as HGV’s, and the drivers are required to be aware of their vehicle class and the restrictions relating to it and not leave their vehicle on the public highway.
· The exemption does not impact on other restrictions already in place.

Once the lead Councillor has reviewed the requests and recommendations we will report back to ward Councillors on the proposed list of roads, which when finalised will be reported to TMAP in November 2010 or January 2011 for confirmation.

I would be grateful if you could let me know by the 18th October of any roads you wish to be considered within this measure.

Pat Baxter

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

How active has your councillor been? August figures published

I have just been sent the latest councillor activity statistics. This spreadsheet shows how many items of casework -- raising housing issues, reporting fly tipping, requesting repairs to streetlights, asking questions of officers etc -- each councillor has put through the Front Office system in each month since the elections in May. As you can see there is a large range in the levels of activity.


As people have pointed out in the past casework is only one aspect of a councillor's work and I wouldn't expect the mayor for example to be doing much casework as he is busy being the figurehead of the council. But I still think it is a useful measure of how active your councillors are.

Monday, 4 October 2010

PALMER PARK - CAR PARKING AND LANDSCAPING IMPROVEMENTS

Got this through from the Council:
Works to improve the car parking and landscaping at Palmer Park are due to commence during the week beginning 11th October 2010.


This is the last phase of the works to upgrade the play area and surrounding landscape. It also provides parking for the new gym.

In anticipation of these works, new trees were planted last year, and any that failed to establish, will be replaced this winter. In addition, improvements were made to the area of park next to the London Road, principally replacing fencing around the old Adventure Play Area.

Now that most of the new and replacement trees and other landscaping are in place, we will be removing the shrubbery and small trees between the stadium and car park that were previously identified for removal. Once the new car parking area is in place, and the then redundant space removed, we shall be able to accommodate more cars, but we will have also increased the amount of green space in the park.

The material chosen for the car park surface is a porous asphalt, which allows rain to flow through the surface, helping to reduce the risk of flooding and following best practice.

In order to keep disruption to users to a minimum, the work is being carried out in 3 separate phases.

Phase 1: Approach to stadium and new stadium car park

· The car parking area next to the sports stadium is being improved and extended to accommodate just under 200 vehicles.
· New parking will be created in front of the stadium and will include 5 designated disabled parking bays.
· New post and rail fencing will be installed in areas separating car parking from parkland.
· Yellow lines will be painted along the driveway to the stadium to prevent its being narrowed or blocked by parked vehicles.
· Passing places will be created along the driveway to the stadium to allow recycling vehicles easy access to the relocated recycling banks.
· Two zebra crossings and one raised table are to be installed where pedestrian and cycle routes cross the driveway to the stadium.

Phase 2: Statue Area

· An area which is currently tarmac, will be returned to parkland around the statue of George Palmer to allow for a safer junction of pedestrian routes at this point, and a landscape feature at the centre of the park.
· New post and rail fencing will be installed to prevent encroachment by cars onto pedestrian routes.
· White lines are to be repainted onto the existing tarmac parking area to mark out all the car parking spaces.

Phase 3: Wokingham Road car park area (next to St. Bartholomews Road)

· The car park accessed from Wokingham Road is to be removed and returned to parkland, leaving 3 disabled parking bays and a path link to the existing network of paths.
· The recycling area is to be relocated next to the sports stadium.
· New post and rail fencing will be installed to prevent encroachment by cars onto pedestrian routes and into the park.

We anticipate that the work will be completed in approximately 8 weeks and apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Letters containing this information will be sent to local residents on Tuesday 4th October

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

New Reading Film Theatre programme out

The new programme is out from Reading Film Theatre. I am particularly looking forward to Made in Dagenham -- about the struggle for employment equality of the female workers at the Ford factory.

20's plenty! Moves forwards

Recently at the Traffic Management Advisory Panel following on from a Green initiative 20 mph speed limits are back on the agenda. Unfortunately though the Council is starting from the position of assuming people don't want them and asking people to opt in rather than the other way round.

I think we need a campaign to get the Council to agree to introduce 20 mph speed limits in all residential areas of Reading. If people in an area want to campaign against the introduction of 20 mph speed limits then this should be considered by the council. It is by taking this approach that Portsmouth Council introduced 20 mph speed limits in all residential areas across the city.

Greens have already successfully got 20 mph speed limits introduced in a number of places across the country: York, Norwich and Lewisham to name a few.

Here is an informative video which I was sent:

Thursday, 16 September 2010

A month in the life of a Green Party councillor -- August

The council has been reasonably quiet over the summer, with fewer meetings than usual -- I even had a chance to go on holiday to Henley. We have continued to work hard on the doorstep helping people with issues of concern. I also attended a Pakistan flood fundraiser and a Ramadan Iftar meal. Lately I have also been helping parents fight against unfair changes to the Maiden Erlegh catchment area.

Council meetings and briefings -- 3
Surgeries -- 1 stationery and 2 walkabout
School governor meetings -- 0
Community meetings and events -- 4
Enquiries and requests for repairs from residents -- 79

Some of our action:
· continued to campaign against unfair charges faced by tenants
· fought against sleaze within the Council
· campaigned against cuts which will affect school places in Newtown.

Some of our results:
· pressured the Council into looking at more 20 mph speed limits for Reading
· as usual I got countless instances of fly tipping cleared, trolleys collected, graffiti cleaned, pram crossings installed and residents' questions answered.

Expenses:
· None claimed.

Gifts to declare -- over the value of £25:
· None.

My interests are published on Reading Borough Council's website.

Monthly councillor allowance (pay) before deductions: £685.08

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Warehouse 10th anniversary and interesting past



The Warehouse -- now an excellent community centre run by Wycliffe Church -- on Cumberland Road recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Here is a short video showing what it used to look like when it was a derelict papermill. Before then was a warehouse, and before then apparently a slaughterhouse!

Parents fight to halt school catchment injustice

Parents in east Reading with children aged 10 or younger are worried about Wokingham Borough Council's controversial proposals to change the catchment areas for its secondary schools. A group of concerned parents who plan to send their children to their local school, Maiden Erlegh, has begun a co-ordinated campaign to fight the changes.


Their concerns are based on the following issues:

· The proposed new catchment area for Maiden Erlegh would exclude children living in Reading. Children living in the area facing exclusion would therefore be shut out of their local school – an act that amounts to unfair discrimination simply because they live on the wrong side of the border between Wokingham and Reading boroughs drawn up in 1998 when Berkshire County Council was disbanded.

· Every family in the area Wokingham is looking to exclude lives within one mile of Maiden Erlegh, which has been the secondary school serving this community for many years.

· The close proximity to Maiden Erlegh of all the children in east Reading who would be affected is unquestionable; and this means that walking and cycling to school from the area is a simple, safe 15-minute trip which provides all the benefits of a sustainable and healthy lifestyle – a mandatory core priority for any local authority when drawing up catchment areas, according to Point 2.36 of the Department for Education's Schools Admission Code. The Bulmershe School, the alternative proposed by Wokingham, would be about 40 minutes away, compared with 15 to Maiden Erlegh, and getting there would involve crossing over or under the Wokingham-Reading rail line, the A329(M) and several minor roads. Public transport to Bulmershe is not a realistic option and school-run traffic to both schools would be increased along already congested routes if these proposals were to be forced through.

Chris Harding, a resident of Talfourd Avenue and a parent of two children aged 5 and 4, said: “We welcome the opportunity to engage with Wokingham Borough Council and persuade them to rethink their proposals. We are too close to be excluded from Maiden Erlegh and are being denied the opportunity to send our kids to our local school.

“We invite all parents and neighbours to an open drop-in session on Friday 24th September at Park Church on the corner of Palmer Park Avenue and Wokingham Road between 6pm and 9pm. Run by parents for parents, this will be a great opportunity to learn more about what is proposed and discuss the implications for our families.”

Notes to editors

Park Church address – corner of Palmer Park Avenue and Wokingham Road and the parent drop in for more information is on Friday 24th September 6pm-9pm

Parents Campaign website http://www.maidenerleghcatchment.co.uk/

Save our services

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Maiden Erlegh campaign moves forward

Things are moving forwards with the campaign against Wokingham's plan to remove Reading families from the Maiden Erlegh catchment area in the south Park Ward area. I organised a small meeting of interested parents and people last week, and it now looks like we will have a parent led -- non party political -- campaign against the changes.

As far as succeeding goes it appears as though the Greens, Labour and the Conservatives will all be opposing these changes to the catchment area. I've not heard back from the Lib Dems yet but my guess is that they will be against the changes too. Hopefully we will be able to work together on this... I think that this is essential to standing a reasonable chance of winning the campaign, as without a united front -- or at least a majority of Reading councillors -- we won't be able to bring the full weight and resources of Reading Council behind the campaign.

This does put the Reading Conservatives at loggerheads with the Wokingham Conservatives which I'm sure will make for some interesting debates!

Whilst a similar campaign has been won in the past, and I think we stand a reasonable chance of winning this time, we really do need a new secondary school in east Reading... But that is the campaign for another day.

I have set up a Facebook group called No to Maiden Erlegh Catchment Area Changes to bring people together to fight these changes:

http://tiny.cc/catchment

If you aren't on Facebook and want to be kept updated please get in contact.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Wokingham secondary school admissions report

Here is the report on secondary school admissions in Wokingham which sets out the case for changes to -- amongst other things -- changes to the Maiden Erlegh catchment area.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Reading anti-cuts meeting

1) Public Forum (Sponsored by Reading Shop Stewards Network & RMT Reading Branch)
SAVE OUR SERVICES - WE WON’T PAY FOR THEIR CRISIS!
We’ve watched the bankers gamble and lose, watched their financial system go into meltdown.
We’ve watched banks and companies collapse, watched the government hand £50 billion to the one’s who’re to blame.
We’ve watched jobs lost, homes taken, lives wrecked. We’ve watched the richest 1000 people in the UK increase their wealth by £80 billion.
Now we are expected to watch while our public services which we rely on are smashed to pay for the crisis that they created.
“We are in this together”. “We are the big society”. We are being robbed.
Enough! It is time we stand up and stop this. Time we unite and fight back against these cuts.
On 23rd September join community groups, trade unions, political and faith groups, service user groups as well as residents and workers from across Reading to form a coalition against these cuts to our services.
There is too much at stake to sit back and watch.
7.00PM, THURSDAY 23RD SEPTEMBER @ READING TOWN HALL, BLAGRAVE ST, RG1 1QH

2) Demonstration against Tory Party Conference
Sunday 3rd October, Central Birmingham
Coach leaves 9:15 from South Street, Reading
Tickets £12 / £8 Concession / £20 Solidarity
Coach organised by Reading Shop Stewards Network. For further info ring 07544822759

UPDATE: Maiden Erlegh catchment area changes

I have now talked to officers at both Wokingham and Reading about possible changes to the catchment area of Maiden Erlegh school which would exclude children from the Alfred Sutton school area.

First, let me say that the setup of schools as they are at the moment with Reading children going to Wokingham secondary schools dates back to when Berkshire county council looked after education. I think it's massively unfair for Wokingham Council to use its control of these schools to disadvantage Reading children who have as much right to go there. I will fight the corner of Reading parents and children.

I have set up a Facebook group called No to Maiden Erlegh Catchment Area Changes to bring people together to fight these changes. If you aren't on Facebook and want to be kept updated please get in contact.

I don't have a copy of the report yet -- as it hasn't been published -- but from my two conversations on the phone with officers from Reading and Wokingham it appears as though the recommendations in it are along the lines of:

-- Wokingham should change the catchment area of Maiden Erlegh secondary school to exclude Reading children from the Alfred Sutton school area.
-- These children will still be able to access places at Bulmershe School in Wokingham.
-- There will be sibling protection, so if a child already has an older brother or sister at Maiden Erlegh school then they will be able to get a place there to.

The timeline so far runs like this:

-- In January Wokingham started a review of secondary school admissions -- for 2012 -- following the closure of Ryeish Green.
-- They appointed an independent consultant -- Alan Parker. His report went to a review board with an independent chair.
-- Wokingham Council are about to publish the report and consult on its recommendations roughly from September to October -- they are planning to consult Reading parents too. There will be two consultation meetings, one on September 29 and one on October 6 -- venues haven't been agreed yet.
-- The results of this consultation will go to an admissions forum in November. The output of the admissions forum will then go to statutory consultation from December to February.
-- This will then go to Wokingham Council's executive in March -- for councillors to agree. There is one more opportunity to object. The policy will be in place by mid April.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Wokingham excluding Reading children from secondary schools...

Rumours are circulating that Wokingham Council is having another go at excluding Reading children -- from the Alfred Sutton primary school area -- from Maiden Erlegh secondary school.

I am currently in the process of trying to get an up-to-date briefing from Reading Borough Council. As soon as I have more information I will post again.

For those of you out of the loop, as I understand it the rumour is that Wokingham is seeking to make September 2011 the last year for Alfred Sutton as a catchment school, also:

-- No Alfred Sutton school children except for siblings of current children from September 2012
-- There will be a consultation meeting on September 6 in Wokingham for people to put their views -- more details once I have them.

Rest assured I will be fighting for Reading children.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

English Defence League -- Berkshire...

The far right group the English Defence League came into existence in 2009.

"It claims to be a peaceful, non-racist organisation opposed only to "militant Islam". But many of its demonstrations have ended in confrontations with the police after some supporters became involved in violence, as well as racist and Islamophobic chanting." BBC website

I was therefore fairly concerned when I was out in the town centre on Saturday night, and some friends said they had seen people -- four -- with "English Defence League -- Berkshire" T-shirts on drinking in the Monks Retreat. True to form they were kicked out for alleged drug dealing by the staff.

A quick Google reveals that they have a Facebook group listing events and my friends must of seen them out in Reading for their 'meeting'.

With the October spending review looming, probably bringing massive cuts to public services, I fear groups like this will be on the rise and tensions between communities will increase.

Fortunately, in Reading all of our communities tend to rub along in relative harmony. Long may this continue.

The next positive event that is coming up is the Reading Interfaith walk. Unfortunately I am away that weekend, but I would urge anyone who cares about community cohesion to go along.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Pakistan flood fund-raiser

Another fund-raiser. Including excellent (Asian style) home-cooked food. This Friday at Park Church Hall, Palmer Park Avenue. Starting at 7pm and including a presentation from the charity Islamic Relief (which IS a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee). Dates and snacks at 20.07, full meal served about 15 minutes later. £5 on the door, under 5's free. It would probably be helpful to those organising the donated food to notify attendance in advance to:

tahir_maher@hotmail.com - but not essential.

Note that fast-opening will occur on time. Parking at Park Church Hall is on the corner of the park opposite the church, approached only from Palmer Park Avenue; from town, take the right fork at Cemetery Junction into Wokingham Road, pass the cemetery, pass the park, pass the church and turn left into Grange Avenue. Down to the end of Grange Avenue, turn left at the end, and left again at the bottom into Palmer Park Avenue; just before you get back to Wokingham Road there is a gateway on the right into the parking area. The excellent 17 bus stops just past the church.

Monday, 23 August 2010

How active has your councillor been since the May elections?

After a bit of chasing I have managed to obtain the statistics on how active councillors have been. This spreadsheet shows how many items of casework -- raising housing issues on behalf of residents, reporting fly tipping, requesting repairs to streetlights for example, asking questions of officers on behalf of residents etc -- each councillor has put through the Front Office system in each month since the elections in May. As you can see there is a large range in the levels of activity.

As people have pointed out in the past casework is only one aspect of a councillor's work and I wouldn't expect the mayor for example to be doing much casework as he or she is busy being the figurehead of the council. But I still think it is a useful measure of how active your councillors are.

READING TRADES UNION COUNCIL

Established 1874, Re-formed 1891 and to be re-established 2010

All TUC Affiliated Unions with members/branches in the Reading Area are urged to nominate delegates to attend a meeting called for 10.30am on Saturday 18th September at the Unison Offices, Church Street, Reading.

Established in 1874 in response to the Criminal Law Amendment Act which introduced prosecution for participation in strikes, Reading Trades Council aimed at Uniting the great number of unions in the Town

Re- formed in 1891 the Trades Council continued that task for more than 100 years including from 1920 to 1945 constituted as Reading Trades Council & Labour Party.

Today the need is as great as ever, faced again with hostile governments both national and local. To protect our jobs, services and industries it is essential that unity and co-operation between unions is in place and to this end the meeting on the 18th September will consider the crisis facing unions in all sectors in the Reading Area, begin to build that unity of purpose and resolve to re-form the Reading Trades Union Council and apply to the Trades Union Congress for affiliation.

A website has been established here

Friday, 13 August 2010

Holiday...

I will be heading off camping this weekend for a weeks holiday in Henley. The campsite isn't too far away from the town centre and there should be loads of great walking round there.

Fingers crossed that the rain is gone by Saturday!

I may send the odd tweet over the course of the week.

Note to burglars -- my other two housemates will still be around!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Transition town Reading film screening

Transition comes to Reading
19-Aug-2010 6:45 PM to 9:30 PM
Location: RISC (35-39 London St Reading RG1 4PS)
Transition Town Reading
Present the inspirational film:

In Transition 1.0
"From oil dependency to local resilience"

Followed by a talk and discussion.

How are the people of Reading going to meet the challenge of declining fossil fuel use, and create a better future for us all? Come along to find electoral out more and get involved.

http://www.transitionreading.org.uk/events/

Friday, 6 August 2010

A month in the life of a Green Party councillor – July 2010

July was another busy month. I am now starting to get into the swing of things though. At the moment casework is taking up the majority of my time, but I am still managing to get along to lots of community events. Although for the first time in a few years I missed both the Alfred Sutton and Newtown summer fairs as I was away at a Association of Green Councillors training event in Sheffield.

Council meetings – 1
Surgeries – 1 stationery and 4 walkabout
Governor meetings – 1
Community meetings and events – 16
Enquiries and requests for repairs from residents – 91

Some of our action:
· Continued our campaign against landlords charging tenants unfairly
· Continued to tackle issues on a case-by-case basis
· Worked towards defending our public services from devastating cuts

Some of our results:
· Got graffiti, trolleys and fly tipping cleared across the ward
· Got the council to take action against people parking on the pavement, and blocking it, at the bottom of Eastern Avenue
· Helped residents get a better night's sleep in the Wokingham Road area by stopping take-aways from operating beyond their licensed hours

Expenses
· None claimed.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Palmer Park Bowling Club centenary

Last weekend I attended the centenary celebrations of Palmer Park Bowling Club. I was pleased to see lots of people making use of this facility, but disappointed that our new mayor didn't get a "toucher" with his first bowl as one of his predecessors did!

The club have plans to get more young people using it. They have already purchased some junior woods and shoes. All they need now are more young club members. One of their committee informed me that they have open coaching sessions on a Saturday morning for anyone interested in taking up the sport.

Below is some of the history of the club which they sent me:

In April 1908 the ‘Reading Standard’ reported that the first “municipal bowling green” was laid in Palmer Park, an area of land given in trust to the local community by Lord George Palmer, Mayor of Reading in 1875. Apparently members of the local council pressed ahead with the project despite strong opposition about the cost involved. The ‘Reading Standard – April 1908’ reported that “.. by the happy combination of the Parks and Pleasure Committee and the Mayor’s Distress Committee a handsome green has been provided on a strictly economical plan. The former supplied the ground, the turf was taken from the Thames Promenade and the labour (unemployed personnel) was provided by the Distress Committee.” On Whit Monday in June 1908 the green was officially opened by the Mayor of Reading, Councillor W. Colebrook. A match was played between Borough Officials and a team of Reading bowlers that included members from the ‘Suttons’ and ‘Biscuit Factory’ Clubs. It was noted that the Mayor’s opening shot scored a ‘toucher’ – a good sign for the future of the green. Bowling in the Park thrived, although little can be found about the first two seasons apart from occasional reports of matches between a Park team and the ‘Suttons’, and Biscuit Factory’ Bowling Clubs. A small wooden pavilion provided shelter for players with basic ‘facilities’ being shared with the local community in a building across the park.

In 1910 Palmer Park Bowling Club was formed officially, and affiliated to the B.C.B.A. The Club Honours Boards reflect the successes over the early years, with a fair share of County Honours being won at Club level as well as by individual members.

When reporting the 1908 Opening Ceremony, the Reading Standard noted that, “..a fair proportion of ladies..” showed an interest in the game, although the Mayor, and his Deputy, both emphasised that bowls was essentially a game for men – a sign of the times. This proved to be the case, as it took until 1964 before the Palmer Park Ladies’ Section was formed, and Ladies were given official recognition within the Club. Minutes from a Club Management Committee meeting of June 1964, recorded member’s good wishes for the success of the Ladies Section. Today the Ladies are fully integrated members sharing equally in all Club activities. This is reflected in Palmer Park being one of the first Clubs to have a Lady Club Secretary and a Lady President.

The difficulties of space, brought about by success and an increasing Club membership, has always proved to be a major problem. The original wooden style pavilion has long since been replaced as, over the decades, enthusiastic groups of members have gained planning permission from Reading Council, raised funds and set about constructing major alterations to the Clubhouse building. Records show that this occurred in the 1960’s, during 1994 – 1995, and more recently over the period 2003 – 2006 when a large scale extension to the existing Clubhouse was constructed and all existing facilities in the older building were renovated. The site resounded to the sound of digging, hammering and sawing, as members set about their self-build project. 2005 saw the new main room opened by Councillor John Howarth from Reading Borough Council and in May 2006 the whole building was opened by Ken Blackhall (Senior Deputy President R.C.B.B.A.) and Kath Seymour (President B.C.W.B.A.) It was a fantastic day for all our Palmer Park members – one which we remember with great pride.

Palmer Park Bowling Club is now a well established, mixed Club. We have a strong reputation for being a friendly and sociable Club. We welcome all bowlers, from beginners to those who are more experienced. This year, in particular, we have been looking for ways to attract junior bowlers to the Club. We play both friendly games and many matches with a keen ‘competitive edge’. Whilst the Club maintains a good record of success in local Leagues, we continue to record individual successes at County level.

In 2010 Palmer Park Bowling Club will be celebrating its centenary year along, with the R.C.B.B.A.. Congratulations to everyone. We look forward to sharing in our joint celebrations when you visit us during what will be a very special season for us all.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Come dine with me

Earlier in the week a few friends and I had a go at a Come Dine With Me style dinner party. We cheated a bit and split into teams of two. It was my partner Sam and I who cooked first. I did bruschetta with tomato and basil for the starter, Sam did a savoury strudel and roasted vegetables for the main and I did a chocolate and brandy truffle torte for desert. No major disasters and so I think we put in a credible performance and will score okay. The return match is at the weekend and so we shall find out who wins then.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The spirit level -- why equality is better for everyone

I just finished reading The Spirit Level -- why equality is better for everyone -- by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. To sum it up in a few sentences, it is a very informative and enjoyable read about how inequality is a very significant factor in areas such as: community breakdown, poor health, low educational achievement, teenage pregnancy, violence. Even the Economist -- not known for its left-leaning views -- says "The evidence is hard to dispute". The thread running through the book is that a more equal society would be better for everyone. Definitely worth a read.

The Equality Trust has been launched following on from the book.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

New music

I always enjoy discovering new music, especially if it has a Reading link, yesterday a friend who is involved with the Disablists and lives in the area pointed me to this. What new music have you discovered recently?

Monday, 26 July 2010

Reading Borough Council union cuts meeting

I went to a joint union group meeting at Reading Borough Council on Thursday last week. The GMB, Unite and Unison were represented and the current serious in year cuts -- £1.6 million -- as well as the devastating -- 25 to 40% -- future cuts were discussed.

The Directorate of Education & Children's Services (DECS) are being hit the hardest in Reading at present by the in year cuts. This is already having a massive impact with school expansion plans being knocked on the head, at St John's for example. This will mean that fewer children will have access to a good local school.

Employees across the Council -- under the Performance Improvement Programme (PIP) -- have received letters offering them a package to leave or reduce hours. This is bad news and will result in a reduction in quantity and quality of public services, but will hopefully mean that we avoid compulsory redundancies.

The government's spending review will take place in October and Local Authorities will then know a bit more about how dire situation is!

One carer talked passionately about some of the impacts that council cost-cutting is having, such as with the move from using council carers to private care agencies. She said that this had been deeply upsetting for older people who had been used to a regular carer, and now got a different one each week.

There was general agreement that action needs to be taken to protect our public services and the following was agreed:

Weekly demos outside the Civic Centre, everyWednesday - 12 - 2pm.

A march and rally in late September is also being planned by the unions.

If you're free on a Wednesday lunchtime, I'm sure that any support would be appreciated.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Litter recycling bin for Cemetery Junction

A resident recently enquired about a litter recycling bin for cemetery junction, I made a few enquiries with the Council asking for one outside of the Co-op, and now we have one!

Friday, 23 July 2010

More expansion at AWE

The Ministry of Defence has this week submitted a planning application to West Berkshire Council for development of a new hydrodynamics research facility (Project Hydrus) at the Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston.

The new facility will be designed to undertake research into materials used in the manufacture of nuclear warheads and will play a key role in ensuring that Trident warheads retain their destructive power as they age. It will also undertake research necessary for the design of a successor to the Trident warhead, should the government decide to develop one.

The application was previously scheduled to be submitted in March 2010, but has been delayed as a result of the general election and the need to obtain ministerial approval for the development.

West Berkshire Council is aiming to make a decision on the planning application within 13 weeks and has set a target date of 15 October 2010 for determining the application. Full details of the application can be found at on West Berkshire's planning application website (http://bit.ly/cl3Usq) and you can send an email objection to the application in just a few clicks of a mouse by visiting the CND website (http://www.cnduk.org/awe-planning)

Keep an eye on the Nuclear Information Service website (http://nuclearinfo.org) for more details and a full briefing about Project Hydrus which will be published soon.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A month in the life of a Green Party councillor – June/July

I have finished all of my initial councillor training now, and am starting to get into the swing of things. I have now done most of the major things I will have to do over the coming four years at least once. The councillor services team are proving very useful in terms of helping me with my case work, but as you might imagine the full council meeting is quite lonely -- there are 45 other councillors.

Council meetings and briefings – 4
Surgeries – 3
Governor meetings – 1
Community meetings and events – 15
Enquiries and requests for repairs from residents – 50

Action

Organised a demonstration against cuts to public services in Reading
Welcomed a new Sure Start Centre to Park Ward
Thanked people for voting Green at the recent elections
Campaigned against academy schools
Campaigned for a safer Cemetery Junction
Supported carers' week in Reading
Supported at the launch of East Reading Children's Centre

Results

Got fly tipping cleared, missing signage installed, measures taken against noise problems, and answered questions on Council tree felling to name just a few of the many successes we have had this month.

Expenses

None claimed.

AFGHANISTAN - TIME TO GO!

I got the following from Stop the War:

"7pm, Monday, 26th July
Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
London, WC1R 4RL

Joe Glenton, jailed for refusing to fight in Afghanistan, speaks out against the war alongside another ex-soldier.
With Caroline Lucas and other MP's.
More speakers TBA.

The war in Afghanistan is in crisis. The strategy is crumbling, with Obama's sacking of General McChrystal and an increasingly corrupt Karzai government. The violence is intensifying with No clear goals and even fewer results. Thousands of Afghan civilians are dying every year and very little rebuilding is being done.

Despite the 77% of people being opposed to Britain's involvement in Afghanistan, this government continues to send troops to kill and die in a war that is being lost.

This war is wrong, this war has failed and it's Time To Go."

Monday, 12 July 2010

Newtown, Redlands and University July police neighbourhood updates

The Newtown, Redlands and University neighbourhood updates are now on the Thames Valley Police website.

There is information on the shooting at Grange Avenue and the fatal collision involving a pedestrian at Cemetery Junction, amongst other things.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

First "proper" full Council meeting

I attended my first proper meeting of the full council last week -- after the mostly ceremonial mayor making meeting. On the agenda were items ranging from the Coalition Agreement, to the Tree Strategy, to the "Regulation of Sexual Entertainment Venues".

Unfortunately, as I expected there was a lot of hot air and Punch and Judy politics at the meeting! The groups all started referring to each other as "you lot" which just seemed rude, no one had had the courtesy to build support for any of their amendments by showing them to me before the meeting and to top it all, the Lib Dems were labelled as Nazi collaborators by Labour.

As I said before the meeting, I would vote on an issue by issue basis, which is what I did. This meant sometimes I voted with Labour -- for example against cuts to care -- sometimes with the Con-Dem Coalition -- against favouring recycling over reducing the total amount of waste -- and sometimes I abstained -- when the Coalition wanted to move to a vote but Labour wanted to keep the debate going.

You can view agendas of upcoming meetings on the Council website. If you feel strongly on an issue please contact me in advance to discuss it further.

The meeting finished just before 11 p.m. I congratulated the Mayor on chairing the meeting and then jumped on my bike and cycled home.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Crescent under 5s launch new outdoor play area

Apologies for getting behind in my blogging! But a few weeks ago, I attended the launch of the revamped outside play area at Crescent Under 5s playgroup based at Alfred Sutton school -- who got an OUTSTANDING from OFSTED. They now have a new soft outside surface, more planting and shading amongst other things. I also had a tour of the building, a bit of picnic food, and then the toughest decision so far in my role as a councillor, judging the children's art competition! Which one would you choose?

Monday, 28 June 2010

Academy schools in Reading

Here is the list of schools -- obtained through a Freedom of Information Request -- in Reading who have expressed an interest in becoming an academy.

NOT Outstanding Schools
All Saints Infants School
Blessed Hugh Faringdon
Geoffrey Field jnr
Norcot Early Years Centre

Outstanding Schools
Churchend Primary School
Kendrick School
Reading School
Highdown School and Sixth Form Centre

There is clear evidence that Academies do not improve performance and in some cases make it worse.

The Green Party has always spoken in favour of greater freedom for the school to decide how it is run. However this does not and must not mean putting the running of the school into the hands of a private sponsor who may know nothing or very little about education, and taking the power away from parents and teachers who have little representation on the governing body at an Academy.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Video no shock doctrine for Britain

Reading employment update

The claimant count in May was recorded at 3946, reducing by 129 claims from the April figure, for three consecutive months claimants reduced and are 242 claims down on the figures for May 2009.

4.0% of the working age population of Reading is claiming job seekers allowance down 0.1% from April. The GB and South East rates reduced by 0.2%. The Reading rate is 1.2% higher than the South East rate of 2.8% and is no longer inline with the GB rate which is 0.1% lower than Reading, at a rate of 3.9%.

In April, White British people made up 60% of the claimant count, 2465 claimants for the month, down 55 claimants from last month. A relatively high proportion of people’s ethnicity was not known (14%). There were 835 Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) claimants in April 2010 compared to the 770 BME claimants in April 2009.

The majority of claimants, 665 people, are aged 20-24, 17% of all claimants fall within that age group, up 1% from April. Those aged 25-29 make up 13 % of claimants as do those aged 40-44. Those aged 25-29 saw the largest drop in claimants from April to May with a reduction of 35 claimants. Claimant numbers increased only for those aged 40-44, all other age groups went down in numbers claiming. Young people (those 24 and under) represent 25% of all claimants.

70% of job seeker claimants are male, which has been more or less the same throughout 2009 and into 2010. Only marginal fluctuation of 1 or 2 percent over the period has occurred and this time last year males made up 73% of claimants, which means female claimants had an annual increased from 27% to 30%.

The proportion of Reading’s population claiming job seekers match those of 10 authorities in Great Britain including Bridge End, Bedford and Preston. Across the South East, Reading is in 8th place with 7 other local authorities with a higher rate.

Hopefully, the situation will continue to improve. But with the Conservatives and Lib Dems poised to swing the axe again on Tuesday at the "emergency budget", this may push us into a double dip recession.

I would like to see a Green New Deal introduced, creating millions of jobs and training opportunities, giving us the infrastructure and public services fit of the 21st century. This economic boost would help get us through the recession.

Pedestrian killed in accident at Cemetery Junction

There was a collision between a pedestrian and a vehicle at Cemetery Junction on Saturday night, which resulted in the death of the pedestrian.

This is a tragic accident and my thoughts go out to the victim's friends and family. I have been campaigning to improve the safety of the various crossings at this busy junction for a number of years with petitions and other lobbying. I will be redouble my efforts and have asked for an urgent meeting with officers.

Cuts: the axe falls yet again on local public services

Devastating cuts are beginning to filter down to Council level. Last week it was announced that next year's council budget will be cut by £1.6 million -- 11.9%.

The Reading Post has an article on this here going into more detail.

Reading Labour are attacking these cuts which will have a devastating impact on public services, but forgetting to mention that they would have introduced very similar cuts, but just a little bit further into the future.

Cuts are not necessity, but a political choice. One alternative would be introducing a fairer tax system where the superrich pay their share. Green MP Caroline Lucas has co-authored a report on alternatives to cuts to our public services which will surely hit the weakest and most vulnerable hardest.

And we haven't even had the emergency budget yet!