READERS’ LETTERS: February 28, 2019

A confusion at the planning committee

Pillaging of the countryside by the local authority continues apace.

In spite of thousands of new houses, many of them simply not finding buyers, spreading across the borough like some malignant rash, the council has its beady eyes on even more locations to annihilate.

Woodcray Manor Golf Course in Finchampstead and Cutbush Lane in Shinfield to name but two.

On February 13, residents of the latter gathered to attend a meeting of Wokingham Borough Council’s planning committee at Shute End Towers.

After a somewhat confused start, when it was discovered that the speaker system wasn’t working, the meeting got underway.

To summarise events that followed: it was made clear from the outset that those attending were to be denied their democratic right to challenge speakers and their propositions.

The residents’ objection to planning permission centred on the fact that the land in question was unsuitable for development because of persistent flooding.

The applicants on the other hand argued that although they were aware of the groundwater levels on the site, which some at least of the planning committee it appeared hadn’t even visited, met the necessary criteria because, to paraphrase Eric Morecambe’s conversation with André Previn, that “while it does flood, it doesn’t necessarily flood all of the time”.

The meeting ended with the committee deferring a decision until additional information hjad been made available.

On the night, the good folk of Shinfield had won the battle, but will they eventually win the war?

If common sense and justice prevail, they most certainly should.

JW Blaney, Wokingham

Editor’s note – At a planning committee meeting, only residents who have requested the opportunity to speak in advance can do so, but they can only state their objections to an application, they cannot ask questions of the committee. Ward councillors are also allowed to speak on behalf of residents.

 

Post Office are putting profits before people

At the Post Office customer forum meeting on February 18, one of the issues I raised was the closure of the sub-branches on London Road and Barkham Road.

Back then, we were told that the closures were not a great loss because we would still have the main office in Broad Street, and also the emmbrook branch.

Despite 1,100 signatures, the petition was ignored and the closures went ahead.

Imagine my surprise then when the representative insisted that the closures were entirely due to the store managers not wishing to continue to offer Post Office facilities.

It is too late to check this out at London Road, but Barkham Road has confirmed that the closure was a decision made by the Post Office – which is what we knew all along.

If the Post Office is “economical with the truth” on this question, why should we believe the assurances about the move to WHSmith – or indeed, anything else they say?

I have heard expressions like, “We will consider carefully” and “Nothing has yet been decided” too often to be taken in. It is management-speak for a done-deal.

We could do with these two sub-branches now.

Transfer to WHSmith has been decided.

Once again, it’s profits before people.

Trevor Edington, Wokingham

Shinfield shambles

After attending yet another shambles of a council planning meeting on February 13, I am unsure who was more confused; the planning committee or the residents.

After altering the order of the agenda for the meeting, the committee seemed undecided as to whether the two application numbers181499 & 181631 were linked or not until the legal representative intervened to confirm they were.

On several occasions Cllr Wayne Smith seemed to question the fact that, while visiting local sites, he had not been taken to visit the severely flooded and inaccessible Langley Mead (adjacent to the proposed SANG extension).

Maybe it had occurred to him, as it had to the residents, that perhaps the intention was not to publicise this unsuitable recreational area thus affecting his vote against the extension.

After being rudely dismissed by the planning committee chairman, the residents were left wondering who was representing the best interests of whom.

Julie Hedley, Shinfield Resident

We have to stop

On behalf of myself and the majority of other residents in Wokingham Borough, PLEASE STOP with all the housebuilding that is ruining our quality of lives!

Where we once lived in a nice peaceful town surrounded by countryside has become an urban sprawl, our once quiet back-roads have become major through ways because of all the cars on the new estates.

Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) tell us that these are Government allocations, but we also know that WBC do have some say and pushback on this (according to other reports).

I’d also like to know what these figures are based and calculated on, and where are these people coming from who need all this housing?

The house market has become saturated, driving down the prices of existing houses, and housebuilders are offering large incentives to sell their properties. Not a sign of an area that needs more houses!

The Planning Consultation was completely user UNfriendly, but surely it’s up to the council to decide the ‘best’ or the ‘least worst’ places to destroy build on?

Not to mention the loss of wildlife habitat. How would you like to find your home demolished, your larder smashed, relatives killed, and being made homeless?

Even the new smart motorway has destroyed lifelong ‘safe-havens’ by cutting down the trees on the interchanges – seems nowhere is safe.

If this happened to humans there’d be uproar.

I look forward to hearing from WBC to explain why lives of existing residents have not been considered, and how/if it’s going to be controlled going forward. Preferably by someone who lives in the borough but that may be more of a challenge.

Juliet, Keephatch

Ask no questions …

Wokingham Borough Council sent out an invitation to the upcoming North Wokingham Development meeting on Wednesday, March 6, at The Emmbrook School, not ‘Emmbrook Senior School’, as they call it.

While this is a good idea why did they have to spoil it by saying that any questions had to be submitted by the February 18.

This smacks of the sort of control of meetings we have seen from the ruling group and certainly does not make me feel that they want to have a wide-ranging consultation and engage with anyone who doesn’t say what they want, which, of course, they’ll now deny.

If they are not confident to answer questions on a single topic, why ask for them in advance? Unless it is to choose which questions they answer, very much like the planted questions in Prime Minister’s questions.

This is doubly farcical as they say there will be an opportunity before the meeting to speak with officers and guests on the developments but why not then invite questions following that session rather than ask for questions before we know what we’re asking about.

In my opinion it is no better than a meeting organised by the politicians in North Korea or to misquote Henry Ford, ‘You can have any question you want as long as we pick it’.

‘Paul’, Emmbrook

Well done Pam

Given the appalling track record of Berkshire’s remaining NHS mental health hospital since its opening in 2003 (and the more recent closure of all of East Berkshire’s NHS mental health beds and the transfer of the few remaining beds to the aforementioned, already struggling and inadequate NHS mental health hospital, despite almost 100% opposition from the folk of Berkshire, it is hardly surprising that currently the hospital has a 36% shortage of qualified staff and an overall staff shortage of 22%.

So thank goodness for places like Wokingham’s Crisis House and folk like Pam Jenkinson who continues to plug the gaps.

It seems increasingly that all too often the only way for local folk to get any help, support or advice when in a mental health crisis is to search out places run by non-professionals, often untrained volunteers and peers such as the Wokingham Crisis House.

We must all be very thankful for such places and individuals, despite their obvious limitations.

Paul Farmer, Reading

Looking for Jennifer

I am looking for Jennifer Susan Davis, previously known as Phillips. Born in Wokingham to Jeannie House in 1950.

I knew Jennifer in the mid-1960s and am hoping to reconnect with her, she married in 1971 to Michael Phillips in Exeter and returned to Wokingham to be with her mother who passed away in 1996, in 2000 she remarried in Wokingham to Malcolm Davis, unfortunately this did not last. I believe her to be still in the Wokingham area.

Jennifer if you read this or someone that knows of your whereabouts can let you know that Dennis is looking to reconnect with you.

I have lived in Australia since 1971 and have returned a number of times to  visit family and friends  and will be back again in June of this year, if anyone can help me please let me know by email at whitleyite@gmail.com

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Dennis, via email

Attendance and votes

I was planning to comment on the excellent letter from Jim Frewin “A victory for common sense” but what a shame but I must respond to Cllr Keith Baker’s critical letter of me.

But first I must respond to Mr Clarke’s letter.

The Blue Badge resident’s original published letter stated the “offence” took place on 17th December. At no time did he mention to anyone when the badge expired nor was he specific either on that point in his original email to me.

The resident added that the old badge had now been returned to the WBC. I had no idea how long the blue badge had expired for nor did I ask.

Not for any reasons of secrecy or the fact that there is elections in May (I am not a candidate) did I fail to  eply.

She who must be obeyed said not to as the matter was resolved and she saw no reason to prolong the matter. I agreed so I do owe Mr Clarke and apology for not replying sooner.

His assumption that I was trying to score political points, belittle and denigrate others is as far from the truth as it’s possible to be.

The resident requested my help when he was getting nowhere with the Council.

I contacted the Executive Member responsible and I am pleased to say with an apology came a refund.

Job Done and if any resident in Arborfield has a problem I see it as my job to help them.

If people like Mr Clarke are offended by a Councillor fighting for his residents causes then I am sorry but I will continue to stand up for them as if I don’t who will?

Moving on quickly to Cllr Baker’s letter which is a mixture of fact and fiction as I see it.

I did submit my motion to the head of democratic services five minutes before the start of the meeting in a sealed envelope which she opened read and then passed a copy to the acting Chief Executive when the meeting got underway. Five minutes is not, as he put it, well in advance.

I did not attend the working group as I had a medical reason which I explained in public at the following Council meeting, but I had sent my apologies along with my comments to the participants which were very much in like with the Labour leader and much more democratic than the final proposals supported by all the Conservatives’.

The outcome is the Conservatives have a greater grip on petitions and motions than before. It’s not very democratic its but classic Conservative tactics.

Cllr Baker was also critical of my meeting attendance and he is correct I do refuse to attend some meetings – for example  those conducted in secret (a Conservative trait not mine) but my record of attending meetings far exceeds many of the Conservative backbenchers.

He challenges my work ethic when he says other councillors work together for the good of our residents but why then did Arborfield overwhelming re-elect me ask their Borough Councillor.

I am pretty sure he knows but does not like the answer.

Cllr Baker is right that the Lib Dems accepted his amendment to drip feed Town Centre expenditure, but the Lib Dem opinion was at least it was better than nothing.

At the last Council meeting, the Conservatives all supported the draft text of the minutes, which bore no relationship to the events that took place at the previous Extraordinary Council Meeting where Shinfield housing petition was the main business of the evening.

I asked that the draft written text was amended to reflect the event as it was not as it was written by comparing it to the video of the event. I don’t have to say which way all the Conservatives voted.

Cllr Gary Cowan Independent Borough Councillor for Arborfield at Wokingham Borough Council

Having triplets

Where are we? My Triplet for this week.

I suggest as a country we are lost!

We have the worst bunch of politicians I can remember – and my clear memories go back to 1945 at least.

We have a Prime Minister who could not negotiate the price of an ice cream let alone negotiate with a bunch of EU officials whose determination to stop us from leaving the EU has been obvious since the Referendum.

Approaching the departure date – which I still feel will be a ‘not leaving’ day – the PM’s technique of leaving a decision to the final moment, will only work if one is in a powerful position, e.g. the EU has no option but to make a deal. Dream on.

The truth may well be that the EU situation, economically and politically, is seriously changing. In the not too distant future, they really could need us to help the EU survive. This country should be a key player in the EU, but we have no-one who can persuade them to believe that.

On the home front, is there any good news?

The NHS is an expensive, incompetent bureaucratic monster, with all the aggro associated with that situation being taken by Nurses, Doctors – especially the Junior ones – A&E departments and their staff etc., the Ambulance Service and the effect on them having to wait for A&E to take over their ‘deliveries’ causing them to waste vital time in their marvellous services to the public.

Whoever thought up the ‘Foundation’ system that has led to this situation? The same politicians who changed Doctors’ employment Terms and Conditions?

Lastly, the recent cancellation of the Passport of an IS female – you know the name – has got the usual horde of money-grabbing lawyers rubbing their hands at the thought of huge profits, provided of course the usual source of unlimited public funding is made available.

Do you know who decides? The Human Rights Act has been an unmitigated disaster.

Last minute GOOD News! Our lovely, typical real English actress, with no airs and graces, yet formidably professional – yes Olivia Colman – has won an Oscar.

Congratulations and best wishes to her.

Reg Clifton, Wokingham

Check for ovarian cancer symptoms

My mother, the actress Marjie Lawrence, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer three weeks before she died.

Her diagnosis came far too late for anything but palliative care. She is the reason I became a Patron of Target Ovarian Cancer.

One in 50 women will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime. Eleven women die of this disease in the UK every day.

Yet most women cannot name one key symptom.

The four main symptoms of ovarian cancer are: persistent bloating, feeling full or loss of appetite, tummy pain and needing to wee more.

Target Ovarian Cancer has a simple message this March for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: diagnosing ovarian cancer early saves lives. I

’m asking your readers to join us in raising awareness of the symptoms, raising money and saving lives.

It’s time to TAKE OVAR.

So how are we raising funds in March?

We’re getting friends and family together to Bake for Change, telling 50 people and raising £50 with our pin badges and wristbands and we’re taking on the 11,000 steps a day challenge.

If you think you’re brave enough, how about going for The Big Colour Clash and impressing friends and colleagues at work or school by wearing something truly shocking? The tackier, brighter and bolder the better!

We’ll send you everything you need for free – stickers, symptoms leaflets, badges and wristbands. Call 020 7923 5474 or visit targetovariancancer.org.uk/March

Raise awareness, raise money and save lives this March.

Sarah Greene, Target Ovarian Cancer Patron, 2 Angel Gate, City Road, London EC1V 2PT

 

The reality of being fit for work

It is now being recognised – even by Government Ministers – that the reform of the Disability Benefits System is a complete fiasco – causing the disabled, great distress, and a spate of suicides.

This personal example illustrates just why.

When my mother was old, and ill, I bought for her three new Marks and Spencer’s nightdresses, one more expensive than the others, and took them to her at the hospital. ‘I’ll keep the best one for when I see the Consultant’, she said.

Which nightdress one wears is of no relevance to the Consultant – who concerns himself, solely, with blood, breathing, and circulation, but this is human nature.

Everyone, however ill, tries to look their best, when seeing someone important. So when the clinically depressed, and exhausted, mentally ill person, appears at the Disability Benefits Tribunal, they will have made a huge, one-off, effort – to appear clean, tidy, and presentable.

The Tribunal then concludes that the person is able to look after him/herself, and so axes Disability Benefits. I think that people would be more accurately assessed in their own homes – where the chaos around them – frequently reflects the chaos of the mental illness that they are suffering. But even then, I suspect that you would observe a similar phenomenon.

The mentally ill person would be up all night – desperately trying to get the place into some kind of order – before the Assessor comes to see them next day. In fact, it would be better if the Assessor saw the reality caused by the disability.

We have people who spend as long as they can at the crisis house  because it is much more of a home for them – than is the place in which they live – which can sometimes be in an, almost unbelievable, state of chaos, and I have always insisted that we provide an immaculately clean and tidy environment – undertaking a lot of the cleaning myself – for that very reason.

Their illness causes chaos.

We aim to restore order to their lives. This very week, I said to our newest Master’s Psychology student, ‘You wouldn’t think, would you, meeting these, presentable, well-spoken, and well-behaved people, that every one of them has a serious mental illness? But they all have – because, otherwise, they would not come to a mental health centre.’

The truth is, that most mentally ill people, are neither dangerous, nor dramatic. What they are, is dysfunctional in daily life, and that is why they need Disability Benefits. You cannot tell how dysfunctional a person is from an hour’s interview at a Tribunal.

When people stayed in the crisis house for, say, three months, we were able to observe whether they cooked meals, did laundry, and generally looked after themselves.

If they did, we got them into flats; if not – into mental health supported accommodation. But all of them required Disability Benefits – to help with the extra costs inevitably incurred by mental illness.

Even the late Margaret Thatcher – not noted for a soft approach to life – stated, ‘We have to look after the mentally ill.’ And, much as I admire Theresa May, I do not agree with her statement that Disability Living Allowance is an out-dated Benefit. It will only be out-dated, when disability itself, is out-dated, and I wish that these Conservatives would stick to their principles, and leave well alone!

The ill-named ‘Employment Support Allowance’ is another example. You cannot assess a person’s capability for work in an interview. Capability should be assessed in proper Work Schemes – attendance at such schemes being a requirement for qualification for Benefits.

People’s capability to work, and, most important, to sustain effort, can then be assessed, realistically. Once an acknowledgement of the actual disabling effects of mental illness, is restored, hopefully, it will put an end to the current chaos caused by such unrealistic reforms.

Pam Jenkinson, The Wokingham Crisis House

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