Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Home energy workshop

This free event, run by voluntary environmental and community groups, will provide practical, unbiased advice to help people to harness solar energy in their homes and/or to save energy - and money - through insulation, draught-proofing, and improved energy management.

Professional speakers - an expert from Thames Valley Energy, an Energy Consultant, and an Environmental Architect - will cover:

a.. The "Feed In Tariff" scheme - "Clean Energy Cashback" for solar energy
b.. Energy saving in the home - where it goes and how to manage it
c.. Insulation for older properties - from simple tips to restoration projects There will then be workshops on various topics run in parallel to give more detail and address people's questions.

This will take place in Room 3 at RISC, 35-39 London Street, Reading, RG1 4PS - www.risc.org.uk - next to 'Great Expectations' public house, from 10:30 to 12:30 on Saturday June 11th.

For further details please see http://www.readingfoe.org.uk

The organising groups are: Greater Reading Environmental Network; Reading Energy Pioneers, Reading Friends of the Earth, and Transition Towns Reading. They have been helped by a Community Grant from Reading Borough Council. The organising groups have no commercial sponsorship or commercial interests.

Monday, 23 May 2011

We won't perpetuate the Con-Dem coalition

Further to our announcement this morning that we won't be backing either side at the mayor making meeting -- which means we will have a minority Labour administration running the Council -- here is Labour's response to priorities we raised with them on behalf of residents.

Dear Rob and Melanie,

Further to the meeting we held today I am writing to clarify the points you raised, particularly with regard to time-scales and processes by which we would want to see issues progressed. I think we all acknowledged that some of this may not become clear until we were in a position to work on detail with officers, which can only happen if there is a clear administration of the council. There will also be budget constraints given the projected budget gap as a result of the Coalition Government’s cuts to the Council’s grant.

However I will set out our intentions for each of the issues we have discussed:

• Maiden Erlegh School - we intend to ask officers to seek counsel’s opinion as soon as possible and report back to cabinet or Council as soon as possible. I am talking to officers about how quickly that could be achieved and we would hold a special meeting if necessary.
• Residents’ parking in Newtown – there is a report to TMAP on 9th June on parking zones and we will be asking for plans for the Newtown consultation to be included.
• Cemetery Junction and associated area study, which would include options for de-cluttering the local area including Wokingham Road. We will be reviewing the LTP priorities and bringing a report to Cabinet in July. I am advised that as it would be a revision of priorities it would probably not require a Council decision, but if it does it could come to council on 28th June. There is always an officer/councillor working group on these area studies which involves ward councillors, which we would set up as soon as possible to scope the objectives of the study.

• Cemetery Junction cemetery – investigation of a management plan – we would arrange for a meeting between ward councillors and the relevant lead councillor(s) to explore the possible options and then take a report to cabinet once the options were clarified.
• Community Care – it is our intention to halt the current process with brief report to cabinet in June, followed by a more detailed consideration of the way to protect those in greater moderate need now and into the future at the July meeting. Mike Orton has spoken to you about this and will arrange for you to meet with the Director to discuss the detail. As we are still in opposition until the AGM this is one of those issues where a fully worked up set of proposals will only be available if it is certain there is to be a change of administration.

• LTP plans for the Third Thames Bridge and the Cross Town Route – we were very clear in out letter about both these issues, but to repeat that:

 Kennetmouth – Labour’s long-standing commitment to the protection of Kennetmouth remains absolute, and was reiterated in a major policy resolution we put through Council in June 2008. Any developments in East Reading are subject to that imperative.

 Third Thames Bridge – Labour has opposed the building of a Third Thames Crossing as a motorway link between the M40 and the A329. However, we believe that a third bridge, properly managed, controlled and integrated with the movements on Caversham and Reading Bridges could deliver major traffic reductions and significant environmental improvements on key radial routes such as the London and Wokingham Roads. A project of this significance would require a full environmental assessment including assessing the impact on the Thames and the Kennet. Should there ever be any funding to take the proposal forward, which seems very unlikely in the foreseeable future, we would be asking for a full assessment of the impact on the environment, both in terms of advantages of reducing through traffic and any detriment to the area near the bridge. Of course the siting of any bridge would be within Wokingham and Oxforshire’s council areas, which underlines the need to work closely with both those Local Authorities as any final decision on this would rest with them if the current Local authority boundaries remain the same. We do not expect there to be any further work on this in the near future, but were that to change we would certainly want to ensure there would be full environmental studies and public engagement before reaching any decisions.

 Cross Town Route – Labour was instrumental in defeating the original Berkshire County Council plan and we remain totally opposed to any car-based scheme that would threaten the environment of Kennetmouth, the listed horseshoe bridge and King’s Meadow. We are willing to consider subject to full local consultation a light rail or guided bus link to Reading station from the existing parking areas of Thames Valley Park provided that it could be implemented without adverse impact on Kennetmouth. Again we do not expect any funding to be available for this in the foreseeable future, but were that to change we would want a full environmental assessment as well as public consultation.

• 20mph zones – we would intend to bring a report to TMAP as soon as possible on the legal and financial possibilities of expanding these schemes subject to public consultation.
• Feed-in tariff to fund solar panels at no cost to the council tax payers on public buildings, including the possibility of council housing. I have talked to Ben Burfoot to find out where this has now got to and it seems that after a halt in the process last year for a government review there is an outline business case which needs firming up, but that could be done in time for the July cabinet. We are very committed to this and would be keen to ensure that the further work was done in time for July cabinet.
• Greener,Warmer,Safer scheme – Unfortunately government funding ends next April and we need to look for options to continue this scheme. Unfortunately the officer who deals with this is on leave until early June, but if we can find a creative way to fund its continuation we will. I understand the criteria used to prioritise areas is linked to fuel poverty and we will need to get a full briefing and a report to cabinet on the options for finding a way to extend the scheme.
• RCRE – I have asked for the grants process to be halted pending the Council’s AGM and will then arrange meetings with RCRE and officers prior to a cabinet report in July, If there is a need to take any interim decision we can ask for an urgent item to 6th June cabinet meeting.
• Bus Pass Concessions – we will find a way to restore the concessions before 9.30 for those with disabilities and their carers as soon as possible. The fact that the cabinet papers go out the day after the AGM is inconvenient, and several things may have to wait for July to give time to work out the financial and other implications. As we said, though we would love to restore the concessions for all pass holders we may find the budget requirement for that is not immediately possible as a result of government cuts, but as soon as we can we will do so.
• Green Bin collections. Again we would be looking for a report to July cabinet as June 6th may be too soon to work through budget considerations. We would ensure that the Council would not be sending out any bills, which are now on hold I believe.
• Residents’ parking permits and concessionary permits. Having made this another commitment during the recent elections, we would look to bring a report to July Cabinet on the times and numbers of visitors’ permits and also to reverse the £300 charge for concessionary charges for carers, charities etc.

I hope that is sufficient detail for you, but please do call if there are any other points you would like to talk through.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Lovelock,
Labour Group Leader.

19th May, 2011

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Reading Council balance of power negotiations

For the latest on the Reading Council balance of power negotiations click here or see the Reading Green Party website: http://www.readinggreenparty.org.uk

What do you think of our priorities?

Park Ward priorities

-- Take legal action in support of Reading families impacted by Wokingham's changes to Maiden Erlegh's catchment area.
-- Consult on tackling the parking problems in the east of Newtown through the introduction of a residents' parking scheme.
-- Remove clutter from and tidy up the Wokingham Road district shopping centre.
-- Start the Cemetery Junction area study looking at how: vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists use the junction; and the Wokingham Road, London Road and Kings Road corridors; with a view to improving the situation for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport in particular.
-- Consult on, produce and implement a Cemetery Junction cemetery management plan including access to the site, preservation of wildlife and generally improving the area.

Reading priorities

-- Reverse the recent cuts to care, which will impact on elderly and vulnerable people, by reinstating the greater moderate eligibility criteria.
-- Remove the misguided, costly and destructive Third Thames Bridge and son of Cross Town Route schemes from the Local Transport Plan.
-- Introduce 20 mph speed limits in residential areas across Reading.
-- Use the new feed-in tariff to fund solar panels on council housing and generate renewable energy at no cost to the taxpayer.
-- Continue to fund the greener, warmer, safer project to insulate homes for free in areas of deprivation.
-- Reconsider Reading's strategic approach to community cohesion, the cuts in this area and the role we want Reading Council for Racial Equality to play.
-- Restore the bus pass concessions which allowed the elderly, disabled and their carers to travel for free before 9:30 a.m. and after 11 p.m..
-- Reverse the charge for the green bin collection and investigate how the scheme could be expanded to collect food waste.
-- Reverse the reduction in the residents' parking visitor permits and the extortionate £300 charge for discretionary parking permits.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Improving the town and district centres

Before the elections I had been working with Councillor Epps on improving the town and district centres following on from the New Economics Foundation's recent clone town league table following on from other clone town work -- where Reading didn't do too well.

At the last meeting of the Corporate, Community and External Affairs scrutiny panel the following recommendations were passed:

"The Panel welcomes as I am work being undertaken that will help ensure Reading retains and enhances retail diversity, such as the development of an independent quarter, policy RC11 of the Reading Central Area Action Plan designed to retain small shop units under 75 sq m, and the 'Uniquely Reading' theme.

The Panel recommends that Cabinet, in association as appropriate with the Planning Applications and Licensing Committees:

1. Continuously works 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;

2. Works to identify resources and seek opportunities (in conjunction with the voluntary and community sector, and in consultation with local communities) for a re-imagined high street project in the Borough, where people help planners create a re-invigorated community in a local centre;

3. Investigates the development of distinctiveness indicators that could be used to guide Council policies including site-specific planning briefs, alongside the power of well-being and the sustainability indicators embedded in local planning policies;

4. Continues to seek opportunities to effectively balance the needs of businesses and the growing number of residents in the Town Centre through appropriate participatory bodies;

5. Writes to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to call on him to establish a Local Competition Ombudsman as recommended by the Competition Commission regarding the monopoly power of the big four grocery chains."

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

New secondary school in East Reading

I just got this from council officers. I think Free Schools/Academies will in the long term damage education. Unfortunately in the short term they are the only game in town:

I am writing to advise you on forthcoming public activities related to the planned bid by Oxford and Cherwell Valley College (OCVC, who run Reading College) to the Department for Education for a secondary school on the TVU site at Crescent Road. The bid is supported by a number of organisations including RBC and Wokingham council is due to be submitted at the end of May 2011 using the DfE’s “Free Schools” proposal process. Part of that process requires demonstration of significant parental support for the proposed school. To that end there are two strands of current activity for your awareness.

The first is a public meeting taking place at 6pm on Friday 20th May at Reading College, Kings Road. This has been organised by the College with an advert placed in the Evening Post /Get Reading papers which will appear from Wednesday 11th May and allows for registration via email to Paula Hallam (phallam@ocvc.ac.uk) of Reading College by Wednesday 18 May. I have not seen a list of speakers but I think the College will talk about the style/curriculum of the school and that they will ask Rob Wilson MP to talk up confidence about the possibility of securing the funding. Reading officers (me) will be attending to support OCVC with questions about demand and potential admissions criteria. Reading College are being advised to run further sessions in the following week at times that are more accessible!

The second strand is a survey of parents with children of school age who could use the potential new school. As a supporter of the bid we are planning to use our website to run a survey from Friday 13th to gauge wider support. We also plan to put an information sheet (written by OCVC) into the school bags of pupils in the 10 Primary schools who typically feed into secondary schools to the East. This will be arranged with the schools for next week.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Thanks, a second Green councillor

Congratulations to Melanie Eastwood (left) on becoming the second Green councillor in Park Ward, Reading. Depending on what the other parties decide to do, we may hold the balance of power -- 22 Labour, 16 Conservative, six LibDem, two Green! Rest assured, we will keep working hard for residents, putting fairness, integrity and the environment at the centre of Reading politics.

The results are as follows:

Melanie Eastwood, Green Party -- 1585
Labour -- 1213
Conservative -- 732
Liberal Democrat -- 123

The full Reading results can be found here.

Thanks to everyone who has believed in us over the years.

And thanks to everyone who has helped with the campaign.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Local Conservatives have nothing positive to say

Less than two days to go until polling day. I just noticed that I haven't had a shave for approaching three days now which suggests that I am busier than I thought I was. It has also got to the point in the campaign where my "canvassers throat" is kicking in and I sound like I am smoking 20 a day.

However, as election day approaches everything was starting to fall into place -- support holding, people lined up to help on election day, printing etc -- and my stress levels were starting to fall. But then I saw the recent Conservative leaflet "It makes no difference if you vote Green or Red", the sole purpose of which is attacking the Green Party and my stress levels shot up again.

However, once I got over the initial annoyance that they had printed such lies, rubbish and twisting of the facts, it sunk in that the reason that they have done this attacking us rather than Labour is that they have realised that it looks like we are about to get a second Green councillor elected displacing a Conservative. My stress levels then started to come down again.

The content is so laughable I don't think that it is even worth responding to. Suffice to say that they couldn't even think of one positive thing to say about themselves.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Happy Vaisakhi!

Earlier today I attended the Vaisakhi -- New Year -- celebrations being hosted by Reading and Wokingham Sikhs. It was good to have the sun shining this year -- last year it was cold, wet and windy.

I particularly enjoyed the sword/stake fighting demonstrations, although at one point a stick did come a little close for comfort!

As always there was plenty of food, but unfortunately I had breakfast before coming out and so was full. Note to self, next year skip breakfast.

I walked with the procession up the Wokingham Road as far as Palmer Park and chatted to people from the local community. All in all a pleasant morning and a welcome a break from campaigning for the local elections.