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.

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.

· 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


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!



If you would like to attend please email

Helen@truefood.coop or 08453308272


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.