Time for a new direction
With the strains of Auld Lang Syne still ringing in our ears at the start
of a New Year, a new leader of the borough council promising to take us in a new direction and a new Chief Executive on the horizon, 2019 promises to be an interesting new year indeed.
It must be hoped that both newcomers will have the gift of being able to walk on water – or at least swim upstream against the tide.
Snowballing debt, chaos and a collection of cock-ups left behind by their predecessors in addition to the restoration of trust, the righting of broken promises, less arrogance and greater transparency should provide them with plenty to get their teeth into.
We wish them luck in their endeavours for all our sakes – they may be going to need it.
And to close…
We still haven’t heard from the inmates of Shute End Towers the outcome of the investigation of the borough council’s finances, the result of the proposed Market Place safety audit or the reconvening of the joint traffic working group.
So in the spirit of the new year, and moving in a new direction – come on, humour us by providing answers.
J W Blaney, Wokingham
Left hand, right hand and traffic wardens
On Monday, December 17, I parked in a disabled bay outside the library in the Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) car park and duly displayed my badge. I have a chronic lung condition which precludes me from walking any distance.
After returning my books and a cup of coffee, I went back to my car to discover a fixed penalty notice attached (£70 or £35 if paid within 14 days). I discovered then that my three-year badge had expired in mid -October and I did not receive the expected reminder.
On my return home, I called WBC and after the initial jobsworth, I was connected to a very helpful lady who was very familiar with the disabled badge office’s process. She said that it was normal practice to issue reminders, either in the post or by email (if they have an email address on their system).
She initially could find no record of my badge or my name but after several minutes discovered a partial record on another system.
It seems that some two years ago, they migrated their database to another system and in my case, this was not completed. As a result, they have now expedited the issue of a new badge which should be available in the next few days.
I then wrote to the WBC to appraise them of this and very promptly received a reply from Rebecca Clayton-Brown (Senior Customer Delivery Officer) as follows: “Following your below email, I would like to sincerely apologise for you having not received a renewal letter for your blue badge. We do send these out as letters and when we do have access to emails, we send these electronically.
“We are aware an error has occurred when sending your reminder letter to you, which we are now aware of and will be looking in to, to ensure this does not happen again to anyone else.
“I understand you have discussed this today with my colleague who completed your renewal application, but I did just want to reiterate we are extremely sorry for this.
“We hope to have a response from our Occupational Therapist regarding your application as soon as possible, and also hope your PCN is sorted by our Parking team. Thank you very much for your time and patience with this process.”
I have now received a letter from Wokingham Parking Services (WBC) with an address in Sheffield stating that the circumstances do not merit rescinding the enforcement. In their view, there is no obligation on the part of WBC to send out a reminder and the onus is on the holder to be aware of the expiry date. I feel however that the standard practice of sending reminders shows that the Council feel this is necessary – I for one do not look at the expiry date but only ensure that the clock is set when displaying the badge.
Also it is standard practice to issue reminders, the DVLA with road tax, credit and debit card providers, hospitals and medical practices, and garages for MoTs and service to name but a few. How many of us are that organised to survive without reminders.
The Parking Services have advised that I can appeal in due course when the formal notice to Owner is issued and in the meantime they are unable to enter into any further dialogue on this issue.
Needless to say I will.
In the meantime that in this season of goodwill, Scrooge is alive and well and has moved to Sheffield.
Ray Hill, via email
Our amazing schools
Recently, like many others, I have had the pressure of choosing a school for my little boy which is a stressful and daunting task for every parent involved.
Myself and my wife chose to look at four schools which are considered in my local catchment and booked appointments for each.
Talking to other parents who have children at these schools we never heard a single bad comment completely the opposite in fact we then took to looking at Ofsted reports all came back with more than positive results.
Feeling quite prepared factually before visiting the schools our decision was made harder between the four with amazing tours of the schools, walking away feeling confident that each one would be a great fit for our son.
Where we thought we might like one or two of the schools it’s a great accomplishment of Wokingham Council the education teams and the local schools that we had a hugely difficult decision between all four schools. It’s a relief that education in the borough is so good that it has been such a difficult decision which schools to put as a potential.
Moving forward we are very confident in the education that my children will receive and are looking forward in seeing them grow with the education system in Wokingham one I feel we will be truly proud of. Now it’s just the wait to see which school we get into so slightly gritted teeth until April.
Daniel Hinton, Wokingham
I was greatly disheartened to learn of the wrecking of the beautiful Christmas tree by the Town Hall.
There must be something desperately lacking in people who carry out these acts of vandalism, thus depriving people of something beautiful and commensurate with the season – not to mention all the hard work of installing the tree, decorating it and putting the lights on it.
More to the point though, are there not security cameras around in that area? If not, perhaps the council should think seriously about installing some, thus capturing these criminals in the act rather than relying on information hopefully received from the public.
I sincerely hope that these louts are caught and suitably punished. Perhaps they might be deterred from carrying out further desecration.
Krys Gee, via email
Drone saga pantomime
The Gatwick Airport drone saga is developing into a pantomime.
There were more than 60 reports of drone sightings at Gatwick Airport. High-tech equipment was brought in but it failed to detect any drones.
But wait, police have identified two suspects. Oh no they haven’t!
The suspects are innocent model aircraft enthusiasts and they have been exonerated.
Another development – there may not have been any drones at all.
Perhaps some birds were mis-identified as drones. As I write, a broken drone has been found near the airport perimeter. Is it the culprit or is it just a case of fly-tipping?
I’m thinking of taking up clay pigeon shooting. If I can shoot a clay pigeon, I can shoot down a drone and I will offer my services to Gatwick Airport. I think I can fix the problem in two hours, rather than two days.
Rex Hora, Earley
Pay more to cut less
I wonder how many residents are aware that the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) is asking residents whether they are happy to pay extra on their council tax bill to prevent, in his own words, further ‘damaging’ cuts to policing.
The irony of this may be lost on some people but this Tory Government has slashed £101m from the Thames Valley police budget since 2010, while simultaneously reducing Corporation Tax by more than £12bn, and now the PCC who, by virtue of being a Tory, has colluded in these disastrous policies, wants you to prevent further cuts by paying more council tax!
You couldn’t make it up!
Make sure you let the commissioner know this is unacceptable BUT be quick – the consultation ends on Tuesday, January 9.
Go to www.thamesvalley-pcc.gov.uk, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley, The Farmhouse, Thames Valley Police HQ, Oxford Road, Kidlington OX5 2NX
Shirley Boyt, Earley
A lick of paint is needed
Although my wife and I as well as most of the populace are relieved that the Market Place has now been completed we are extremely disappointed with the outcome.
The main issue is the apparent lack of a partnership between council and shop owners whereby the council should clean the paving areas on a regular basis and shop owners to tidy up shop fronts, such as a lick of paint etc and also clean shop front areas on a regular basis.
In relation to litter there are very few bins provided for in and around the Market Place, which is astonishing given the cost of the development which obviously fails to recognise the footfall in the town and the numerous takeaway coffee eating stations.
Further if you look behind most of the shops you will find litter/rubbish liberally spread in these areas which appear to have unknown ownership responsibility.
We are keen supporters of Wokingham but given its reputation for a prime place to live we believe that the issues above detract seriously from a reasonable standard of care which is the responsibility of the council on the one hand and the shop owners on the other.
Naturally the ordinary shopper etc can assist but requires the tools and appropriate actions from the council and shop owners to encourage them to modify some of their current habits.
Thank you for your attention.
Edward Egan, Wokingham
I’ve heard it all before
At Wokingham Borough Council’s extraordinary Council meeting on December 14 I thought it must have been Groundhog Day when I heard the new Conservative Leader (the fourth in as many years I might add) say he pledges to represent the residents.
Now where have I heard that all before. He belongs to a Conservative Party with a massive majority whose DNA is simply rule in secrecy while distrusting residents, his own backbenchers and the opposition.
Historically, Wokingham’s Conservatives operate by using threatening bully boy tactics backed up by the three line whip to bash all their backbenchers into line.
When anyone, opposition or residents try to hold them to account and they have no defence they just put the boot in and kick all the opposition into the long grass. Sadly, they know of no other way to behave.
The new Leader of the council has Nominated his “NEW” Executive and the “NEW” chosen few with just one exception from the back-benches are the same old Executive that failed miserably at just about everything they have done to date.
Lollipop Ladies sacked while Petitions (Highways and Barkham Square) have all ended up in the long grass.
The new leader by retaining all the old cronies can now exercise huge dictatorial patronage over the democratic functioning of the Council. It’s just like it was last month under the last Leader so nothing has really changed.
The Executive stays in charge with their snouts firmly in the trough. To say he will represent the residents is just classic Conservative smoke and mirrors which they are past masters at as time will clearly show.
The new leader had a one-off opportunity to reinvent Wokingham Conservatives but he blew it by not dumping the old guard one and all and starting afresh. For him to have a happy ending it required him to be bold and select a better class of Councillor than the sorry lot who run the Council in the guise of its Executive.
By not heeding the warnings that the ruling Councillors on the Executive are despised by many residents his party will pay the price next May when the residents will react at the ballot box.
To sum it up it’s a bit like the Captain on the Titanic rearranging the deck chairs while saying, ‘Iceberg, what iceberg?’.
Cllr Gary Cowan, Independent Borough Councillor for Arborfield at Wokingham Borough Council.
Great to see the contributions from Theresa May and John Redwood on page 11 of the December 22 issue.
However, I’m disappointed not to see any mention of the foodbanks their policies have been so instrumental in creating.
No doubt an oversight!
Name and address supplied
Queen’s speech ruined
One of my annual highlights, the Queen’s Christmas Day Broadcast, was totally ruined for me this year by widespread advance publication of its contents.
Leaking details of the broadcast was once virtually a hanging offence but it seems that this is now actually a duty of palace officials.
Next year, it would be nice for Her Majesty’s remarks to come as a total surprise.
John Eoin Douglas, via email
Four million children living in poverty in UK, worse then in 1945 after the Second World War.
This country has nothing to be proud of if we treat children in this way.
If Christians and people from all other faiths just did a bit to help out a person and a child we would show up the powers that be. All politicians and councillors should be responsible for all young ones in our society – they do not care, so children go without.
Remember 159,000 children sleeping on other peoples sofa not their parents in bed and breakfast hostels night shelters empty garages or a strangers home waking up this Christmas morning in 2018.
We in the communities must speak out from the rooftops and put a stop to this misery it can be done if people want it done.
Victor Rones, Bracknell
A New Year message
In the New Year, we will begin to see the implications of how the political chaos surrounding the proposed Withdrawal Agreement will affect farming, land management and rural businesses.
A No Deal Brexit would be disastrous for the countryside.
At the CLA, we will do all we can to avert this eventuality, but it is imperative that in the meantime, the industry, our supply chains and the Government come together to put emergency plans in place.
Our work will continue to ensure post-Brexit agricultural policy makes farming profitable in parallel with environmental management.
It is a priority in 2019 to ensure once transition begins in 2021, that a funding black hole does not appear as the Basic Payment System (BPS) is gradually withdrawn.
Another high priority in the year ahead is how the farm productivity proposals in the Agriculture Bill are rolled out.
I am confident that the Government can set out a suite of measures that farms can tap into. I am less certain though that Ministers are pressing for a sufficient budget.
2019 promises three new government policies on the environment, food and forestry.
Building on the crucial contribution that landowners and farmers already make to protecting and enhancing the environment, food production and tree planting, we expect further support in the Environment Bill and new food and forestry strategies to continue our important work.
The year ahead will see further traction in the fight to improve mobile not-spots in the countryside. Our 4G For All campaign to increase the speed of delivery of 4G mobile coverage to rural areas achieved strong cross-party support across Westminster in 2018.
We were delighted by Ofcom’s recent announcements that there will 500 new mobile masts in rural areas, greater transparency for the consumer and the very first steps towards rural roaming. We will continue to work to make sure that these good intentions are acted upon and that the people who live and work in the countryside get to reap the benefits.
I can’t predict exactly what 2019 holds for us, but I am quite clear of one thing – it involves a lot of hard work to make sure a post-Brexit world emerges in the best interests of the rural economy.
I will continue to do all I can to ensure rural businesses and communities are allowed to flourish.
Tim Breitmeyer, CLA President and farmer
Support Bowel Cancer UK
As we enter the New Year, I’m calling on the Great British public to save lives in 2019 by supporting Bowel Cancer UK, the UK’s leading bowel cancer charity.
I’m a patron of this wonderful charity because my mum died from bowel cancer when she was just 54.
More than 16,000 people die from the disease in the UK every year, making it the second biggest cancer killer but with your help we can change that.
Make it your New Year’s resolution to support Bowel Cancer UK. You could get active and join our Step up for 30 campaign in June by doing 30 minutes of physical activity every day for 30 days or take on a huge challenge like a hike up Kilimanjaro or Everest Base Camp.
Why not cheer on our runners at Bowel Cancer UK cheering stations at marathons across the UK in 2019?
It’s because of people like you we can continue to save lives and improve the quality of life of everyone affected by bowel cancer.
Interested? Visit bowelcanceruk.org.uk for more.
Sean Fletcher, Presenter of Countryfile and Good Morning Britain