The Wokingham Paper

Wokingham’s views – your letters October 22

Wokingham regeneration

Talking about Wokingham’s regeneration

There has been a lot of coverage in this paper of the regeneration works in Wokingham, and most of it, I am sad to say, has been highly negative.

I will be the first to put my hands up and admit that not everything has been running smoothly. The congestion currently facing motorists is caused by essential work to divert utilities to allow the Market Place reconstruction to get underway, work which was unfortunately delayed.

It has been clear from where other councillors and I have been speaking directly to local retailers that there is a concern, both on the impact to their business and around the level of communication with them.

The Council is now taking steps to remedy this.

Firstly, businesses told us that they would like to see a period of free parking, particularly around Christmas. Next week, the Council’s Executive committee will discuss a proposal to have free parking in the afternoon in the borough’s own Wokingham town centre car parks until the end of January. Parking will be free after 3pm, until 8’oclock the next morning.

Secondly, the Council is arranging meetings with local businesses to help get across what is going on, and to allow better feedback to us about what is and is not working.

Most importantly, what our businesses need right now is our support. This is the key to making the regeneration a success. This support extends beyond Wokingham’s lead councillors like myself to our Opposition. Constructive criticism is welcome, making noises for political gain is not.

Our businesses also need the support of you, the local residents. They need you to keep shopping, to keep coming into the town centre as you always have done.

The gains from the regeneration will be tremendous. As well as creating better facilities in the town, including a cinema, a new leisure centre, more retail space and an improved space for public events, the regeneration will also create 350 local jobs during construction and 550 permanent jobs after the works are complete, and it will generate £4million a year for investment in residents’ services and infrastructure works in other town centres across the Borough.

So, while we go through this period of disruption and inconvenience to achieve long-term gains, please bear with us and continue to put your support behind our businesses to show that Wokingham is open for business.

Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor,
Leader of Wokingham Borough Council

On housing numbers

I was interested to read the report on the meetings held in Ruscombe and Twyford to oppose the construction of some 3,500 more homes in that area and the apparent loss of their rural villages.

Here in Shinfield Parish, south of the M4, we suffered the doubling of our village populations between 1998 and 2015.

Again, currently in Shinfield, Spencers Wood and Three Mile Cross a further 3500 homes are under construction up to 2026.

Our rural villages will have gone from 1,500 homes to 3,000 and now to 6,500 in under 20 years.

We face even more development with 32 sites being put forward for consideration by Wokingham Borough Council for the new local plan from 2026 onwards, plus of course Grazeley Garden Village which could be another 15,000 homes.

We lost all our protests at the time and I think it is extremely naïve for the residents of Twyford and the surrounding areas to think they will defeat central government and developers. We need to build homes where people want to live and in places that offer easy access to work.

All the political parties agree that we need to build more homes and a great number of these will be in the South East, whether you like it or not.

Taking Wokingham, the area around Junction 11 of the M4 is now becoming overcrowded and we cannot take many more homes without major infrastructure improvements.
The Tywford area is a perfect location particularly since this has direct access to Crossrail, something we lack in Shinfield.

The whole area from Sonning, through Charvil to Twyford and Ruscombe is ripe for development and residents there will have to accept some development.

This is Nimbyism led by a Conservative councillor, we will fight to ensure that you take your fair share and that the concept of building a huge new village at Grazeley is not an answer to ensure the rest of Wokingham can avoid any further development.

Additionally, central government should force South Oxfordshire to build on the Reading border, with a third Reading Bridge in place this would also ease the burden on Wokingham, as most of our development centres around Reading as the key town.

More important questions relate to infrastructure.

Most people in Wokingham are motorists and the borough council have done little to accept that further growth in development will lead to greater congestion and each new house adds around 2.5 people and 1.6 vehicles.

How will the Royal Berkshire Hospital cope, a new hospital is not even on the horizon and that ignores the impact all these additional people will have on the whole NHS system, which already struggles to deliver in some local areas.

Cllr Peter Hughes
Chair, Shinfield Parish Council

Santa isn’t coming

I suppose the planning committee and planning officers feel proud that they have satisfied their bureaucratic egos and demonstrated their over-bearing power by largely reduced our much-loved local farm shop to a near wasteland with now empty disused greenhouses and many staff made redundant.

I expect that, as Sheeplands is on the fringe of Wokingham Borough Council, most of them have not used it. As a local resident for over 35 years however and many others saw it as a valuable family shopping and entertainment facility for the benefit of all ages all year round.

I appreciate, of course, that the Council will say greenbelt policies were abused without consent however vicious, extreme, inconsiderate and irrational Council destructive work has merely left a gaping hole and nothing greener. (They will say the High Court supported them, but as a lawyer, I know the Court had little option but enact the woeful decisions of the planning committee put before it).

We all know that planning “policies” that council’s quote as though Moses handed them down can be cherry picked to suit the intent of the planners and will yield a wholly different result to support a scheme the council itself wants.

Quite why the council chosen not to exercise its wide discretios to grant retrospective consents is a matter for conjecture. I hope it did not amount to a desire to punish the owner for breaking the rules with no consideration for the large numbers of the public who petitioned in support for the farm shop).

We have lost, thanks to Wokingham Borough Council, a valuable local facility. The cynic in me wonders what secret long-term use the council sees for this site? Watch this space.
Meanwhile, children forget your annual visit to see Father Christmas arrive at Sheeplands because Wokingham Borough Council have ensured that he will not be calling this year.

Peter W Mason-Apps, Knowl Hill

Lobby the Government

Your correspondent James Reid (5th October) is absolutely right that Wokingham’s Conservative politicians should be calling for changes to the government’s development policies that are taking ever more of our countryside and increasing the local population.

The coalition government effectively abolished strategic planning in favour of saying that short term local ‘need’ for housing (calculated from recent trends for migration, ageing and family size) must be accommodated – regardless of local environmental capacity.

People do need homes, but for a secure and prosperous future they should be able to source much of their food and energy from local land – increasing dependence on imports will increase economic vulnerability. Local countryside is important for quality of life and mental health, and very large built up areas choked with traffic suffer from poor air quality. Government should accept that population size and distribution must be managed globally, nationally, and locally.

David Coleman, emeritus professor of demography at Oxford University, has shown that population growth cannot realistically keep up the supply of public services and pensions expected by an ageing population. He found the UK population would have to rise to 300 million by 2,100 to keep the balance between numbers of people of nominal working age (16-64) and those aged 65+.

Using population growth to grow the economy is like a short-term ‘Ponzi’ investment scheme where new investors’ money is used to pay high returns to the initial investors … until it collapses. In the long-term interests of future generations government should focus on productivity, efficiency, environmental capacity and impact, and greater equality in distribution of income and wealth.

John Booth, Earley

This is why the Liberal Democrats called in Peach Place

I refer to the rather disingenuous article by Cllr Mcghee-Sumner (Conservative Executive Member) in last week’s Wokingham Paper where he is critical of the Liberal Democrats for Calling-In the Peach Place affordable flats decision.

A Call In is where five Borough Councillors can raise their concerns about an Executive Decision. It cannot change the decision, but it allows the Councillors an opportunity to air these concerns at a meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee of WBC.

This meeting occurred this Monday, October 16.

At that meeting it became clear in public that the flats at Peach Place will not be permanently designated as affordable.

The exact period of time that will be made available for key workers was not made public.
Also not made public was what will happen to them when this time is up?

The Wokingham Borough Council press release did not mention that there was a time-limit. Where does this leave potential tenants?

In addition, also aired in public was the fact that the cost of the flats would be at an agreed Market rate less 20%.

The Council uses a special (public) fund to pay for affordable housing, This is called S106 Commuted Sums and is derived from Developers who pay the Council an agreed sum of money not to build social/affordable housing on their sites.

This money which is managed by the Council is then used to pay for the affordable housing units at another location.

Prior to this proposal WBC has used a Cost of the property plus a small additional cost approach to pay for the affordable homes. This is significantly lower than Market rate less 20%.

This means that a higher level of Commuted sums is required to pay for the Peach Place flats than would normally have been the case. The Commuted sums pot of money is subsequently reduced by a larger amount.

By taking this larger sum out of the commuted Sums pot the Council has less money for more affordable homes and robs local people who desperately need a place to live of their future home.

In previous cases, the council has disclosed how much in Commuted sums it has used to deliver the affordable housing. In this case, it has not. Why?

These are three of the reasons why this decision was Called In. There are other reasons which still remain confidential.

Our view is that the Council has used the cloak of Commercial Confidentiality to hide what is really Commercial Embarrassment.

Cllr Lindsay Ferris, Leader of the
Liberal Democrats on Wokingham Borough Council

Stop burying your heads in the sand

As Wokingham Borough Council continues to befoul and pillage the town centre and surrounding countryside, forcing more shops and businesses to close, with others in the pipeline seriously considering their positions, so it becomes clear that the council, particularly the Executive are, for whatever reason, unable or unwilling to understand or accept the damage they are causing the local economy and lifestyle, blindly stampeding like lemmings to the cliff’s edge of uncertainty.

In print and on the small screen, these people continue to protest and present misleading half-truths to cover their arrogance and incompetence – underlining, yet again, the importance of an independent local newspaper to inform borough residents of what, often questionable, decisions and actions are being made and taken in their name.

Imagine what shenanigans they would be getting up to behind closed council chamber doors without such a vehicle of unbiased intelligence.

If they (WBC) are unwise enough, and their track record would suggest they probably are, to think that by continuing to bury their heads in the sand, their critics will give up and go away then they had quite simply better think again.

JW Blaney, Wokingham

Town centre woes: we told you so!

Businesses and residents in Wokingham town centre have my utmost sympathy for the problems they are currently experiencing as a result of all the construction work and roadworks going on around the town.

The complete lack of sympathy from the Borough Council is really regrettable, but please don’t think all councillors are indifferent to what’s happening.

As long ago as the full council meeting in March 2015 Liberal Democrat councillors urged the council to phase the proposed development works “in order to manage and minimise the impact and disruption on town centre businesses and residents caused by many years of development”.

But the Conservatives either couldn’t see the problem, or didn’t care.

They rejected the idea.

And so here we are, with the town centre covered in fencing, shops and businesses suffering and in some cases closing, almost all journeys around the town taking several times as long as they should, residents majorly inconvenienced, and no-one at the borough council prepared even to do so much as offer a bit of a reduction in the cost of parking to help.

Lib Dem councillors will keep fighting for some common sense on regeneration and a more caring attitude towards businesses and residents.

We want Wokingham town centre to flourish. Sadly, what’s happening at the moment looks more like it’s going to kill it off.

Cllr Prue Bray
Liberal Democrat Borough Councillor for Winnersh

Parking U turn

At long last, thanks to the pressure from all and sundry, the insensitive uncaring Wokingham Conservatives have woken up at long last to the realisation that their uncompromising stance on car parking charges while the town is in a dreadful mess (builders yard) which has been severely damaging Wokingham’s Traders by at long last considering the provision of free parking for three months. Let’s hope it’s not too late for our hard pressed local businesses.

Cllr Chris Bowring was so against doing this I wonder what changed his mind. Perhaps he should now look at his own position on the executive after such a U turn.

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

Don’t join the panel

I saw advertised in your excellent newspaper last week the position of voluntary member on the Council’s Remuneration Committee, which makes recommendations about councillors’ pay.

Given the long history of this committee’s recommendations being consistently ignored by said trough-nuzzlers, I think potential candidates would have far better luck applying to be a gender equality advisor to Harvey Weinstein.

David Williamson, via email

Join the global movement

Chris Burden is correct to point out that we should examine carefully the effects of globalisation and the effect it is having on our well-being (letters, Wokingham Paper 12.10 2017).

Decades of being guided by the philosophy that the ‘market knows best’ has created almost unimaginable levels of inequality and is fuelling climate change.

As a reaction to this, racism and nationalism are growing.

This will make life even worse for those who have suffered most from our deeply unfair global economy.

Sadly, we can easily see the results of this in our towns, with the terrible increase in the number of homeless people. We cannot even find hope on the horizon as the global economy seems to be lurching from crisis to crisis.

On Wednesday, October 25 at 7.30pm, as part of the Reading International Festival, Nick Dearden, Director of UK Global Justice Now, will explore the alternatives to a world of free markets and corporate controlled trade.

He will give a talk entitled, ‘Putting People Before Profit – Building a New Global Economy’. Nick is an inspiring and insightful speaker. The event will be held at RISC, 35 – 39 London Street, Reading RG1 4PS.

Jackie Oversby
Co-ordinator, Global Justice Reading

Take care of us oldies

This letter is about the apparent failure of care to senior citizens in sheltered accommodation, failing to answer letters re destruction of our green spaces and destruction of trees and hundreds of years old oaks, destruction of our town, turning it into Bracknell II, their comments are no email, no reply. This is discrimination.

I have also written several letters to this council about my concern of them saying sheltered accommodation is safe 24/7. It is only safe weekdays – five days on, four on bank holiday weeks. The weekdays, everyone is visited, weekends and bank holidays nobody. They have brought in a card system, but only weekdays.

I wrote another letter of my concerns after the situation of the resident in May, reported in your paper, her body was found after a month. The body was in a terrible condition after so long in a warm room. It is not nice to expect the wardens to go in and find this situation, it should not happen.

The situation in May is not an isolated incident in the last 16 years there have been several residents found after weekends and bank holidays and, as we can imagine, after days not a nice sight to find. In these places it does happen overnight weekdays, but it is unacceptable for deceased residents to be left for days.

In a letter to the council I shared my concerns and was told that everyone has a help button on their wrist or neck, unbelievable I wrote back to say if a resident inconveniently was unconscious or died they could hardly jump up and pull the cord and go back to being dead. I received no reply.

I suggested to the council to maybe employ a part-time warden to cover weekends and bank holidays to do rounds of all the sheltered accommodation and use the intercom. If there is no answer they would be on the spot to prevent the above incidents. It makes no sense to have checks on weekdays and nothing for weekends or bank holidays.

I suggest better training for staff of the meaning of professional behaviour and confidentiality as these are failings in these places.

Also, the people who come some days to care for clients, we should remind them of the right of confidentiality to their clients and not to discuss them with the neighbours. I suggest also there should be some investigation into the aftermath of the May incident, where there appeared to be sidestepping of staff, one staff directly involved sidestepped into the actual area of the incident – unbelievable.

The usual way is if a person fails in their job performance they are side-stepped well away from the area of the incident, not into the area of the incident again unbelievable.

I hope this letter to The Wokingham Paper does make the council think and act to improve all the above problems.

These people are vulnerable senior citizens and deserve better than the present situation. They need care at weekends and bank holidays, then the council can legally say they are providing 24/7 care and the many happenings will not ever happen again.

H Boyed, Wokingham

Rape should lead to death penalty

I wonder if it’s my age that makes me one of the worriers in life – i.e. an old Sod! Or could it be loyalty to our country?

Today’s topics start with my ever- present concern over the safety of our female population. Increasingly it seems to me, that females are not safe out in the dark on their own, let alone in some places during daylight.

Sadly there appears to be an increase in that part of the population who think women are on this earth for abusing and male pleasure!

Of course I cannot name suspects, as the protective legislation in this country prohibits Human Rights infringements. However, the Law should be changed to match society’s needs, by punishing rape by castration, and gang rape by the death penalty for all participants.

I’m sure readers are glad I have no form of Power in this country.

Please let me condemn another proposed Law – that of allowing acid attackers to ‘have another go’ legally. There is no punishment hard enough to give them on a first offence. What a disgrace; is that Amber Rudd’s doing? If so, she needs to resign forthwith and be thrown out by her voters.

I turn to another concern mentioned in previous rambles – that of expensive non-productive clerks in so many government departments, trying to justify their employment by spouting nonsense. I cannot believe the idea of having to declare your gender etc., to your Doctor.

It is a very personal matter, and given the current encouragement to be something you ‘may not actually be’, could well change with time. It is also something that must not appear on one’s records, “for hackers to make hay with”.

Lastly, I feel obliged to top up my views on Brexit – something I really believe in and will always do so. Sadly, as I read the political situation, it is now unlikely to happen – the Brussels mafia have thoroughly enjoyed our wasted time, and could even be nasty enough to make us pay for the inconvenience we have caused them.

That’s the result of our gross incompetence in not at least having a Trade Agreement in place by the summer (2017 that is), not to mention the politicians in the Conservative Party that will make sure my predictions will come true. It would be a great pleasure to be wrong.

Reg Clifton, Wokingham

Fracking lies

The Government has quietly admitted it lied to the country about fracking
With its so-called ‘Clean’ Growth Strategy, the Government has quietly made a shameful admission about its support for oil and gas exploration.

We’ve long been told that fracking is a necessary evil – a ‘bridge’ to our clean energy future. However, it’s telling that the 164-page strategy tome fails to mention the dirty, dangerous and destructive process even once. It turns out we’ve been lied to along – and not even the Government believes that guff.

If it did, hydraulic fracturing would undoubtedly be a part of this ‘clean’ growth strategy.
But it’s not. Instead, it’s clearer than ever that Ministers’ commitment to fast-tracking fracking across England – while our neighbours in Ireland, Scotland and Wales are all moving towards banning extreme energy exploration – is entirely ideologically driven. It’s a commitment that will ensure the UK fails to meet it’s legally-binding emissions targets under the Climate Change Act – as the strategy makes clear.

The scientific consensus on climate change has never been greater. The best chance we have of averting catastrophe is by keeping fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

Fracking is dangerous and deeply unpopular and it also has profound and acute impacts on local communities.

It’s time the Government recognises the seriousness of its national and international climate change commitments and takes heed of the overwhelming public opposition to extreme energy by banning fracking once and for all.

Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP for the South East

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