Thursday, 30 April 2009

Round-up: Ayo Gorkhali!

Yesterday was a dramatic day at Westminster as the plight of the Gurkhas came under the spotlight.

The issue dominated PMQ's and the subsequent opposition day debate grabbed all the headlines as the Government lost the division for the first time in over thirty years.

Conservative leader David Cameron started the ball rolling with the third of his six questions to applaud LibDem leader Nick Clegg for championing the issue of Gurkha rights.

Reading West's Martin Salter, who chairs the parliamentary group representing Gurkha rights followed up with a "finger-prodding harangue of Gordon Brown," according to David Hughes.

Jim Pickard reports that Mr Salter called government figures suggesting the cost of settlement for the Gurkhas would be £1.4bn per year as "nonsense" based on a massively inflated number of people being granted residency rights all of whom would be "on the dole and claiming housing benefit".

Reading East's Rob Wilson spoke in the debate, describing the penurous conditions of Gurkha's living in Reading and calling the Home Office criteria as "immoral".

You can read the whole debate and the full list of voting patterns here.

Of Berkshire's 6 MP's all 4 Conservatives voted for the LibDem-proposed motion while Labour's MP for Slough Fiona MacTaggart voted against the motion. Reading West's Martin Salter abstained.

BBC also notes Mr Salter's abstention, which was despite being chair of the parliamentary group on Gurkha's rights. They also quote his explanation:
"I refused to support the government in the division lobbies, but I felt I had to acknowledge the concessions that we had got out of the government in the course of the day and I think, perhaps most significantly, we had this great announcement from the home secretary that of the 1,360 Gurkhas awaiting determination of their appeals and their applications for settlement in the UK, that we're not going to be seeing any of those brave men and women deported from our shores."
His abstention came despite his unambiguous outburst at PMQ's and being named on TV (at 5:38 in the segment) as the leader of the Labour rebels.

A full list of the 28 Labour rebels is provided here.

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Reading Chronicle reports that the campaigners defeat of the government is a triumph for the town as local residents played a prominent role in efforts to force concessions from the Home Secretary.

Martin Salter takes a self-congratulatory note for his efforts to force his leader to make "significant progress" on the issue - in the shape of an announcement that the decision will be reviewed in the summer, although this was despite receiving no reply to his official question to the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on what the nature of that review will be.

Craig Morley contributes on behalf of Reading East MP Rob Wilson, who says that "the government is failing to listen to the genuine outrage felt by British people." He also describes 'surprise' at the number of Labour MPs who were happy to have their photos taken with the Gurkhas, but who weren't prepared either to participate in the debate or vote on the motion.

Meanwhile local councillors and bloggers have also been moved to comment.

LibDem Paul Walter was quickest off the mark to record the 267-246 vote, which Mark Thompson points out only came with a high degree of behind-the-scenes politicking by by the losers. Cllr Warren Swaine says each of the 246 should be ashamed.

Cllr Glenn Goodall helpfully cites the full text of the motion. He expresses his outrage at the behaviour of Mr Salter and quotes LibDem leader Nick Clegg, who said the current government has lost any moral authority it held.

Independent councillor Tony Jones outlines the moral perspective of the Gurkha campaign and provides some insight into the immoral means by which his former comrades attempted to stop them.

Conservative Cllr Richard Willis hails the vote as a victory for parliamentary democracy and says LibDem leader Nick Clegg deserves credit. He describes the events as the 'death rattle' of the current Labour administration.

Elsewhere the events are described as a new hypocritical low for Mr Salter by anonymous antagonist Martinsnottheone.

Oranjepan says:
Following Mr Salter's abstention in the parliamentary vote - against the wishes of the Gurkhas - his position as chair of the parliamentary group representing their rights must surely now be untenable.

With more precariously balanced votes pending, if Prime Minister Gordon Brown loses another in quick succession his position must surely also become untenable.

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Update: Reading's Nepalese community recently celebrated another victory over the Home Office with the overturning of a government decision to refuse Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) to highly-skilled migrants (HSMs).

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More on the Gurkha residency campaign.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

We'll Cross That Bridge When We Come To It

The protracted discussions over the future of transport in and around Reading got a hearing as Hugh Fort discusses Oxfordshire County Council's 'admission' that it is considering the prospect of a third bridge across the Thames.

A bridge forms the centrepiece of a £300m bid to the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF), but Oxfordshire say they have concerns about traffic levels and would oppose private vehicles using the crossing.

By complete coincidence Caversham bridge was temporarily closed for exactly this purpose only a day earlier.

Recommended Reading List #23

On a springtime theme, Readers may be interested that researchers from Reading University are studying the fruity behaviour of the humble honey bee.

Apparently, "if the bee disappeared off the face of the planet then man would only have four years to live," as a third of all food depends on pollination by them.

So, as apiculturalists report mass extinctions and colony collapses, is there a feasible alternative?

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Pincent's Hill Ablaze With Blame

The blame game and petty politicking over the proposed Pincent's Hill development went up a notch as both Labour and Conservative parties accused each other of supporting the plans while simultaneously campaigning to prevent them from going ahead.

Reading West MP Martin Salter (whose constituency includes the parts of Tilehurst in West Berkshire council) attacked the local authority for 'dumping' housing on the outskirts of Reading and concreting over greenfield sites, also explaining that similar practices in tory dominated areas resulted in the high-density estates in Calcot and Lower Earley.

Mr Salter described the Conservative councillors who missed the opportunity to block the unpopular plans as "gutless and unprincipled".

Conservatives struck back by stating the centrally-imposed targets for regional housing had been forced upon local representatives by Labour bureaucrats in Whitehall and Westminster and called Labour's 'hypocrisy' over the issue 'disgraceful'.

Meanwhile, amidst the frantic positioning by both parties to prove they are each local champions on the side of residents, the proposals edge one step closer as West Berkshire approved it's draft housing strategy.

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For more information visit the Save Calcot campaigning website and join the facebook campaign group.

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Update: Alex Gore reports the Conservative party angle.

Linda Fort reports on the open letter explaining the details of the proposed development which has been sent to "all interested parties" as Blue Living consult the public in preparation for the submission of their outline planning application.

Matt Blackall
encourages readers to take action.

Whether it is to copy one of the template letters or only to sign the petition if you don't make your voice heard
you won't be justified in complaining later.

Matt also notes inconsistency in the tory ranks - although all three Birch Hill councillors have been campaigning against the development Cllr Emma Webster abstained, Cllr Joe Mooney voted for the plans without amendment and Cllr Tony Linden, well, he didn't even turn up to vote.

If you oppose the development please sign the petition, the online version remains open until 26 February 2010 and already counts over 400 signatures.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Gurkha Campaign Not Over Yet

The announcement that Labour Immigration minister Phil Woolas has laid down strict criteria for the settlement of former Gurkhas has prompted a forthright response.

Labour MP for Reading West, Martin Salter is "bitterly disappointed".

In his statement he called the decision by the party he supports "disgraceful" and called on his colleagues to "use any Parliamentary means at our disposal to challenge this dreadfully disappointing decision".

The five new criteria include:
- three years continuous residence in the UK during or after service;
- Close family in the UK;
- A bravery award of level one to three;
- Service of 20 years or more in the Gurkha brigade;
- Chronic or long-term medical condition caused or aggravated by service

which will only allow only 300 of 1,300 outstanding applications to be granted, according to Home Office figures. Mr Salter described the list as a 'cynical compilation' designed to obstruct justice.

Conservative councillor Dave Luckett 'is ashamed' of the decision by the Labour government and reminds us that this is an issue which has cross-party support locally.

LibDem group leader and parliamentary candidate Cllr Gareth Epps explains that Reading is home to significant numbers of Gurkhas and describes the potential exclusion and deportation of former soldiers as a shameless act of cruelty against people who put their lives on the line to defend the country.

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Update: The Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee has criticised the government on the issue. Martin Salter described the decision by his Labour party colleagues as "a completely disgraceful decision [which] does a great disservice to the brave Gurkha soldiers."

Green Party candidate Adrian Windisch has reprinted an email from Joanna Lumley on behalf of the Gurkha campaign reiterating the cross-party nature of the issue. It also advertises the campaign website www.gurkhajustice.org.uk to enable supporters to keep in contact and up-to-date as a parliamentary vote is tabled by LibDems later this week.

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More on the Gurkha residency campaign.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Patronizing Patronage

Local bloggers have marked St George's day.

In a rare show of unity everyone wants to take advantage of the excuse for a big knees-up.

Jane Griffiths says it should be a public holiday.

Cllr Glenn Goodall calls for an international celebration to rival the Scots' Burns Night and Irish's St Patrick's day which could become an inclusive celebration for the global diaspora of English people.

Cllr Richard Willis supports a similar patriotic move on condition that we abolish the older spring holiday of May Day (which obviously has everything to do with economics and nothing to do with the fact that 1st May has become synonymous with recognizing the achievements of his political opponents in the labour movement).

Meanwhile, American expat Elizabeth Thomas is cautiously favorable but wonders what the festivities might involve other than cupcakes with red-cross icing (hasn't she seen any beer-fueled morris men bumbling about?), whereas Cornishman Paul Walter saw the enthusiasm of John McCririck and was almost put off.

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Update: Scouts paraded across Christchurch Meadows on Sunday.

Oranjepan says:
With fewer days of leisure than our European neighbours it's no wonder we want to make the most of any opportunity we can find to escape the grind.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Interpreting The Budget

The different sides have started spinning furiously to try show today's much hyped, trailed and anticipated event will be perceived according to the colour of the light they shine on it.

Labour's Martin Salter MP describes it as the "most difficult budget any British Chancellor has had to deliver since World War II," while welcoming the 'real help' it offered which will have an immediate positive impact.

Conservative John Redwood MP is less than enthused, pointing out that any good measures are just crumbs from the table, and says "they have learnt nothing... It was budget of posturing."

Sky News' Boulton & Co blog writer Nial Paterson sums up the announcements. He remarks that careful positioning attempted to hide the Chancellor's bald spot and draws attention to what is in his blind spot - record government borrowing of £175 billion for this year alone.

Reading Chronicle also provides a balanced round-up of persectives, while Phill Tomlinson expresses the balance as he roundly (and lengthily) condemns it.

The Writing's On The Wall

Redlands LibDems have been spearheading action to sort out a recent spate of tagging.

Cllr Benson writes to express her disappointment at the deprioritisation of the 'Big Clean Up' campaign trumpeted by Reading's Labour administration, while Cllr Goodall says this is something which is a constant worry for residents as it is easily interpreted as a sign of urban decay.


The LibDem group has followed up by starting a facebook group to keep concerned residents informed. They have also set up a flickr group where you can upload examples of unwanted tags.

The flickr group is particularly useful because it will used to tell council workers what needs to be cleared up and where.

Labour lead councillor for the environment, Paul Gittings responded by disagreeing with the opposition LibDems, saying that "there is no let up in the battle" and tried to reassure people that his party has not become complacent - despite the recent surge in the numbers of tags spotted around town.

Meanwhile members of the public are unhappy at some of the methods used to obscure the signs of grafitti, pointing out that painting over tags with big grey rectangles can be just as ugly and can draw attention to the fact that location is a tag site.

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Update: It's obvious that some headway is being made when the satirists start calling you the vandal!

Arrests and reaction!

Oranjepan says:
Grafitti: it's not calligraphy when it's not in a designated space.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Campaign To Save Continuing Education Continues

The campaign against the closure of Reading University's School of Continuing Education is keeping up the pressure ahead of the deciding votes by the University council and senate.

Redlands LibDems advertises the latest developments - which includes a question asked by campaigners at a recent meeting of Reading Borough Council - as students worries about a "spiral of decline" grow.

In response RBC lead councillor for education, Labour's John Hartley, expressed regret that the decision had been announced as well as hope that the University remember its' civic responsibility, although Cllr Benson notes the irony of his attempt to distance himself from the effects of decisions taken by the Labour party at national level.

Meanwhile the campaign group RACE (Reading Action on Continuing Education) notes the difference between the words and actions of University of Reading Vice-Chancellor Prof Gordon Marshall, who previously pledged support for the school but is now moving ahead with the plans for closure.

June Stoute also gives her bloggers view from the inside as a student at the school.

She describes the distress of other students and makes connection between the intellectual stimulation provided by education and mental well-being.

New Questions For RBC Children's Services Head

The report into allegations of bullying within Reading Borough Council's social services team has been published amid speculation that no action will be taken against any individual.

Michael Hake interviewed 38 members of staff during his investigation.

He found significant numbers who felt they had been bullied, but that their descriptions did not match accepted definitions based on ACAS guidelines. He concluded that a change of management in 2006/7 had resulted in "a mismatch in expectations, misunderstandings, frictions and a measure of disengagement by some staff" as bad communication left some staff feeling unsupported.

RBC Chief Executive Michael Coughlin echoed the findings of the report and downplayed public fears about the local service which became entangled in the series of scandals gripping the nation.

Mr Coughlin expressed regret for the events which made the the investigation necessary as he reiterated the call for better management.

Meanwhile Janestheone has published a letter detailing how similar allegations of bullying continue to dog Reading's director of Children's Service's, Anna Wright.

W Tyler writes to explain that Ms Wright was employed as Director of Schools at Surrey County Council for 2 years, before moving to Reading in 2006 as part of the new management team criticised in the new investigation.

During her time at Surrey controversy struck as a popular headteacher was forced to quit her job after a concerted campaign was launched by governors as they undertook a political campaign seeking to change the status of the school [1].

At a hearing in March this year the former headteacher was awarded £407,700 in damages against the local authority as it was found that Anna Wright was guilty of 'excessive tolerance' and a 'lack of timely intervention'.

Summing up Judge Williams described Ms Wright as more interested in appeasing the vocal campaigners than considering the welfare of the school and its staff.

Representatives for the claimant explained that Surrey CC had "flouted its legal duties... despite repeated warnings" and were responsible for unnecessarily contributing to a situation which created a culture of fear and neglect, thereby placing individuals at serious risk.

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Update: Cllr Swaine adds to the knowledge in the public sphere by explaining that the council workers' trade union pre-agreed definitions of 'intent' which made the results of the finding virtually secure from the outset.

Oranjepan asks:
Is it only coincidence that Ms Wright has been in charge during two periods of scandal in different local authorities which have lead to similar criticism of the management in her department?

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Kicking Up A Stink

Local LibDems have been getting vocal about some of the more basic day-to-day issues confronting residents.

Dog owners are regularly and fairly criticised for the irresponsible behaviour of a minority who don't clear up after their pets and Reading LibDems recently raised the subject after they discovered the council had issued only one enforcement notice in the past year, despite it being a regular cause of complaint for residents.

Spokesman Oscar Mortali defended the council against accusations of inaction by explaining the problem of prioritising limited resources.

But the trouble has recently taken on another dimension in Wokingham after the Conservative-dominated authority recently decided to remove 245 bins for the disposal of dog waste across the area in a cost saving move.

It is hoped £60,000 will be be able to be put back into council coffers by the removal of the waste units. However the council has responded to an outcry from residents with the introduction of 50 new litter bins, which they say can cope with ordinary litter and animal excrement.

LibDem councillor, Phil Challis criticised the decision saying it was shortsighted and unnecessary. He explained that it would have been easier, more hygenic and cheaper to reorganise waste collection schedules.

Prue Bray, Winnersh Councillor and LibDem parliamentary spokesperson for Wokingham, has also commented on the episode, raising questions about whether the policy was properly thought through.

Meanwhile in a not altogether unrelated move, public toilets in Wokingham are being closed and members of the public have had access to toilet facilities reduced further.

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Update: Woodley LibDems have criticised the ruling Conservative group over the state of public conveniences, and attacked the tory group for lying about their intentions.

The tories said there is no financial motive for the closure of the toilets and blamed constant vandalism, but the LibDems pointed out that a fund of section 106 money provided for the purpose by a supermarket company has not been used.

Over 600 people have signed a petition to reverse the Conservative decision.

The total has now risen to over 1,000.

Oranjepan says:
It's good that politicians are concerned about public budgets, but there are some kinds of waste which cannot be cut.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

The HE Finance Trap

University funding is on the agenda again.

A recent survey of the UK's 133 Vice-Chancellors has highlighted the 'financial uncertainty' facing higher education establishments, which makes it almost certain that tuition fees will have to rise to £5,000 and possibly as high as £7,000 per year. However Labour Minister for HE, David Lammy MP has ruled out a rise in the cap before the next general election.

The Daily Whinge commented that it is "absolutely criminal that... we are even ‘considering’ raising University Student tuition fees" and described their imposition as a financial 'trap' designed to make young adults subservient to the aims of the state.

Mr Lammy's former shadow and Conservative MP for Reading East Rob Wilson urges fee rises as soon as possible. He also uses the report to provide context to the university funding position justifiable reasoning for the closure of the oversubscribed and profitable School of Health and Social Care at Reading University.

Mr Wilson explains the closure was "based on tight finances rather than the quality of provision... because it costs more to teach social care courses," arguing the necessity of cutting back student places - even on essential training courses for vital services.

He goes on to catalogue a list of bad decisions by universities which he says make tough choices such as regards SHSC inevitable. Bad financial planning with regard to over-generous pay deals and excessive dependency on equity returns has combined with diminished social philanthropy to bring about the current "toxic period" he says.

The perilous financial position of Reading University is exacerbated by it's current plans for a massive development program of its' landholdings in the area, which includes housing, a science park and other debt-financed ventures.

Meanwhile International Studies Abroad (ISA) highlights an alternative way out of the trouble, as it announced it has lowered the price of its forthcoming academic programs in this country (including at the University of Reading). ISA declared,
"as a result of the current global recession, the US Dollar has reached a 23-year high against the British Pound, contributing to a more affordable experience for US students studying abroad in England."
ISA has managed to drop fees for courses at Reading by almost 7% against last year, although the real cost remains more than three times more than UK students will be expected to pay even after review.

Oranjepan asks:
When managers get things wrong, why is it 'inevitable' that they scapegoat those who get things right?

Friday, 17 April 2009

Recommended Reading List #22

It's a satire about a satire based on a satire - you couldn't make it up if you tried... and perhaps MuckSpreading's Mick Spreader didn't.

Update: Mick shows us his draft script - at least that's what he calls it.

Is Big Pharm Fund A Silver Bullet?

Reading University has recieved a big funding boost after it was named as one of 77 learning and skills centres to be allocated a share of a new fund.

The £53m Economic Challenge Investment Fund uses public and private money to provide 'targetted' help for short-term employment and advice as government tries to avert an employment crisis among the 400,000 people expected to graduate this year.

Labour minister for HE, David Lammy MP, said he was 'encouraged' by the commitment but TUC general secretary Brendan Barber offered a stark warning about this short-term emergency measure which uses taxpayers' money but does not include sufficient safeguards.

RU spokesman Alex Brannen described the pharmaceutical industry as "a sector of prime importance to the South East" and explained that the grant of almost £700,000 "will help the bio-pharma industry prepare for the economic upturn" by employing industrial fellows to provide specialist training for nine additional interns.

This is the second recent funding success for Reading University's Chemistry department. It was only in March that it was awarded £500,000 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to undertake studies on four projects, include investigations into drug synthesis, Alzheimer's treatments, as well as other materials science research.

The importance of the sector to the region was demonstrated recently as over 100 delegates and 11 industry heads attended the second annual pharmaceutical 'Responsibility and Reputation' conference held at Thames Valley University. The event emphasized the "importance of reputation and stakeholder management" as sustainability is now recognized as integral to corporate strategy and business organisation.

The news also comes only shortly after Reading University announced it would be closing it's highly respected School of Health and Social Care which trained professionals to provide therapeutic alternatives to medication based on clinical psychodynamics.

Oranjepan asks:
Is a short-term fix good for the health of the economy and society as a whole?

Regional Economy Discovers New Balance

It's not all doom and gloom in the economy - regional manufacturers are bucking the trend of the recession.

According to the British Chambers of Commerce quarterly economic survey half of Thames Valley businesses in the sector are increasing turnover and continue to show strong profitability as export sales thrive off the back of a weakening currency.

Cost inflation and competition issues remain concerns, as TV CoC policy executive Clare Prosser said "there is a clear need for corrective action".

Meanwhile Emma Simpson visits the Thames Valley Executive Job Club.

Apparently career management services are an obvious growth area during a period when the service industry is in general decline and increasing numbers of skilled professionals seek advice navigating the local job market.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Simply Reading

Reading University's Simplification Centre is to hold a document clinic on Thursday 14th May, where attendees will be able to get an instant review of their work from experts and can share experiences of working with customer communications.

Corrine Pritchard is enthusiastic about the service provided by the committed team under Professor Rob Waller, which she says "offers much more than the usual plain English training!"

The clinic is free but space is limited, to reserve places in advance contact simplification@reading.ac.uk

Oranjepan says:
It is sure to be well-attended both by local politicians looking for advice on their election literature, as well as Reading council executives, following recent advice from the LGA.

So get in there fast!

Paralysis Hits King's Meadow Proposals

Furious political manoeuvering has been going on in recent days as the future of a piece of Reading's vanishing heritage and environment remains under discussion.

The farrago over King's Meadow pavilion has been dragging on for decades as successive Labour-dominated councils twiddled their thumbs, but with the reality of minority control now upon them moves have been speeded up as they try to reach a conclusion.

The recent recommendation by an alliance of Labour and Conservative councillors to proceed with intensive commercial development of the under-appreciated site was put before Reading's Cabinet for approval, but was called in for reconsideration by the CCEA committee as Conservatives began to get cold feet about the appearance of their support for the Askett Hawke plans.

Cllr Willis gives a basic report explaining the need to buy time to work out a more rounded policy.

LibDem Cllr Swaine provides helpful insight into the tactics of Cllr Willis' Conservative colleagues. In a strongly worded critique of his opponents he says they "are riven with factions" and "led by the nose," with only one common goal - "power at all costs".

Green Party campaigners have been itching to get in on the action. Rob White describes his experience as an onlooker and says the only hope is to "force a public enquiry".

Adrian Windisch thinks the council has been actively trying to destroy the baths "through neglect".

Local satirist Mick Spreader disagrees. He credits Labour with no malice, only indecision. Which can often be worse.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The Retail Recession

In another sign of the currently flailing economy, the local retail trade today received news that three shops in the Oracle shopping centre have gone into administration.

The credit crunch is putting pressure on the labour market, so it's worth remembering the consequences in social and human terms. Johnny Forham investigates the correspondence between recent rises in property crime the general troubles of the economy.

Brian Moore explains that these problems are sympomatic of a failure to undertake correct risk analysis, which should be prioritised.

Daniel Hillman adds to the cautious optimism, arguing that the current market weakness represents a 'huge opportunity' for the smart investor who can recognise quality and provide long-term commitment.

Cllr Tony Jones draws attention to a new government scheme offering £3m funding to revive 'ghost-town' shopping centres. He also urges Reading to stop wasting public money on new buildings when we can follow the good example of the new NHS health centre in Broad St Mall.

Jeremy Grimaldi reports from Swindon that this populist move is a move in the right direction, although the British Property Federation and British Retail Consortium criticised government spin on the issue.

Industry representatives offered the explanation that the government is providing virtually no money for short-term fixes which don't address the underlying problems, suggesting that the reapplication of empty rates relief would be more effective and cheaper than to subsidize growing liabilities for more 'window dressing'.

Meanwhile Wokingham traders have urged politicians to provide immediate assistance during the current recession to complement their development of plans covering the next few decades, as the town centre "is on its knees at the moment".

Oranjepan says:
If you're trying to dig your way out of a rut, be careful not to dig yourself into a grave!

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Key Retail Indicators, Reading 2008 --> here

More reports from University of Reading's School of Real Estate & Planning --> here

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Labour Abuses Platform Against Domestic Abuse

Pressure is growing on Reading West MP Martin Salter to back up his pledge to sign the Early Day Motion 653 which calls on local and central government to undertake action on domestic abuse issues.

Mr Salter recently went on the offensive against Amnesty International as he tried to defend the adequacy of Reading's Labour-dominated council and services which he described as "the envy of other local authorities".

He publicly smeared AI with the suggestion that they "failed to do their... homework [properly]" while stating he is "more than happy" to support the parliamentary motion.

Matt Blackall responded by rubbishing the accusation Mr Salter made in print and provides the backlinks as evidence.

The local branch of Amnesty is concerned about the lack of specialist services in Reading, all of which are now run by one organisation. The organisation supports EDM 653 as part of concerted efforts by a coalition of campaigners to raise awareness of domestic abuse issues, which were first announced to coincide with International Women's Day on 8th March.

REP reports 142 people died in domestic attacks in 2007, including 38 men.

Meanwhile Reading East Labour parliamentary candidate Anneliese Dodds offered her support for a national database for offenders, as she explained that as many as one in four of all women may be victims of domestic abuse. She also praised the comprehensive nature of local services.

Refuge Chief Executive Sandra Horley 'sharply criticised' the planned consultation as 'gimmickery and spin', explaining that Government action in the area has been 'piecemeal' and that Labour's proposals wouldn't address the causes of the problem anyway.

She said: "Police can't be expected to monitor relationships and love lives of offenders," adding, "the Government is hoping to get away with useless initiatives like this register and it is hypocritical to sound tough and do little."

Janet Allbeson from single-parent charity Gingerbread explained further that Labour's Welfare Reform Bill is confused and increases the risk for the most vulnerable.

None of Berkshire's 4 Conservative and 2 Labour MPs have yet signed EDM 653.

Oranjepan says:
If you are a victim of domestic abuse please get in contact with BWA - but it's women only!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Round-up: Local Bloggers Respond To Labour's 'Dirty Tricks Campaign'

Local Bloggers have responded strongly to news that a close aide to Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown resigned after details emerged on a popular blog that he was working within Downing Street to smear his opponents.

Neville Hobson describes the affair as "the tipping point for UK political blogs" as he introduces the essential facts. He says "the knives are out everywhere looking for a puppetmaster".

Niall Paterson explains that conspiring to commit an offense is itself an offense and notes the change to the Code of Conduct for governmental special advisors which now makes such behaviour grounds for instant dismissal.

Wokingham MP John Redwood angrily points out that this is empty rhetoric on the part of the PM and suggests Mr McBride should have been sacked anyway as it was a breach of existing codes.

He then spreads the blame for the smear campaign by describing how it is part of a pattern of behaviour within Labour ranks - one which high-ranking ministers are culpable of, when they should really be doing their jobs. He also slams the waste of time spent "misquoting and spreading false accounts".

Mark Reckons fisks the apology by Labour spin-doctor Derek Draper (who was the involved in the email exchange) and calls for Labour to sack him too.

Mark follows up with a reminder that similar sorts of spin operation have been ongoing within New Labour since before they came to power and many other people who have experienced similar things will now be coming forward with their stories.

Sky News' Adam Boulton does exactly that as he brings his own first-hand knowledge of Damian McBride to bear in his neat summary of the affair. He explains that Labours attempt to embarrass the person who leaked the emails was foolish as these kinds of details are - and will remain - the staple of good journalism.

Meanwhile the ever-scabrous Gideon Mack provides a wicked satire.

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Update: Local Labour attack dog Andrew Peacock uses his dog-whistle to speculate about potential policies of a Conservative government.

Editorial: Commentary Or Reportage?

A number of Readers have recently been getting in contact with Oranjepan to try to discover what kind of weird and wacky opinions are held here in the Reading List bunker.

It is clear that as the local media environment continues to evolve the blogosphere has become the most active arena for political debate.

But the way we debate the issues of the day has serious implications for the decisions which we reach in a democracy - as was placed in stark relief at a national level during the Damian McBride resignation scandal this weekend.

Reading List is designed to highlight the different locally-held perspectives to help enable the growing number of Readers judge for yourselves, not to promote any single point of view.

The editorial team here is interested in all sides of the debate and wishes to encourage inclusive participation in the political process. Oranjepan welcomes all contributions and is happy to respond to requests.

So if you have any questions, criticisms or other relevant information to add, please feel free to use the comments section - or respond on your own blog!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

King's Meadow Campaign Gets Contentious

As the decision over what to do with the dilapidated King's Meadow pavilion meanders its endless path towards a decisive conclusion, it appears that confrontation rather than agreement will be the most likely result.

RBC's Sport and Leisure Scrutiny Committee on March 25th voted to recommend proposals for redevelopment which include demolition of the historic buildings and their replacement with a hotel, bars and restaurants.

Although the voting split mainly along party lines with councillors Jim Hanley, Shirley Merriott and Richard Stainthorp (Labour) in favour and councillors Warren Swaine and Peter Beard (LibDem) against the proposals by Askey Hawke, the result was swung by the decision of the Conservatives to split their votes. Councillors Jennifer Rynn and Tim Harris abstained, while Cllr Tom Stanway voted in favour.

This gave a majority decision of 4 for and 2 against, with 2 abstaining.

The proposals will now be submitted for formal consideration by RBC's all-Labour Cabinet on April 14th, where it is expected to pass unopposed, although it is still several stages away from an actual planning application yet.

King's Meadow Campaign group leader, Bob O'Neil, who has lead the community activist group opposed to the commercialization of the river front and loss of green space says now is the time for the public to be listened to - with actual proposals on the table residents now know the choices to be faced.

LibDem Cllr Swaine and Green Party campaigner Adrian Windisch explain the ins and outs of the politics behind the debate.

Both describe the incoherence of the larger Labour and Conservative parties.

Warren questions why Rob Wilson, Conservative MP for Reading East, has moved to get the decision overturned through the 'call-in' procedure when it was the votes of his Conservative colleagues which were decisive, and Adrian pours scorn on the behaviour of Labour's parliamentary spokespeople for campaigning to save the site while Labour councillors voted against saving the site.

Meanwhile the Green Party's Rob White gets in on the act.

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Update: RBC minutes of the meeting.

Cllr Richard Willis tries to defend the Conservative party split.

He highlights a press release stating there is "no change in the Conservative policy" in which Conservative councillors Jeanette Skeats and Mike Townend both make the case for 'appropriate' regeneration, while avoiding taking a view on the specific proposals under consideration.


Howard Thomas is astonished by the ability of the Conservatives to make sudden policy reversals.

Linda Fort catches up on last Wednesday's public meeting.

Auntie says it's D-Day for the lido.

Reading Chronicle reports Labour's Cllr Hoskin accused the Conservative opposition of "trying to dodge the decision".

Oranjepan asks:
The debate continues over at Reading Forum: what would your policy be?

Friday, 10 April 2009

Recommended Reading List #21

RU Professor of Construction Management and Economics, Will Hughes, compiles a list of political leaders from his field.

Some of his suggestions may be surprising, but maybe you can help him out by adding yours to his list...

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Health Services on the High Street

Members of the public who may not be registered with a local GP will now be able to get basic treatment following the announcement of a new health centre to open in Reading.

The drop-in clinic in Broad St Mall will offer quick appointments for 3 GPs and the 10 nurses based at the 10,000sq ft former store.

NHS Berkshire West Director of Commissioning, Cathy Winfield explained that one "key aim is to save people a trip to the A&E department by providing rapid access to treatment" while widening access to healthcare for people who otherwise struggle to find time due to other commitments.

The Public-Private Partnership is a joint-venture project involving the local NHS Primary Care Trust and a group of local doctors practices to pay for the investment setting up and running the centre. Reading Chronicle quotes local LibDem health spokesperson Daisy Benson who welcomed the move, as the partnership deal will ensure "it does not threaten the many well-established GP practices in the town."

Assura Reading Chairman, Dr Gerard D'Cruz said that the organisation would bring together the "expertise of a national specialist... with the best of local knowledge and experience," adding that
"this centre [will act] as a powerful force for primary care excellence across Reading. Patients will have choice as to where they go to access services and we intend to make sure this centre provides a real, popular alternative for all those wishing to use it."
An application for change of use of the facility from A1 retail to D1 healthcare is expected to proceed without hitch before it opens in mid-2009.

Broad St Mall directors are ecstatic about the development as it is projected to revitalise the ailing shopping centre.

Meanwhile independent Cllr Tony Jones comments that Berkshire West NHS PCT provides an example that Reading Borough Council could and should follow.

Cllr Benson added to her comment with an in-depth examination of how access to health high quality healthcare and advice is "one of the key factors influencing people's health" and joins Cllr Jones in expressing concern about the delay to the Oxford Road Health and Well-being Centre.

Oranjepan says:
Good customer service is about going out and meeting the public on our terms when and where we need the service.

The Bus Business

Reading Transport has been in the news recently as the company continues to win awards for service and innovation.

After recently being 'highly commended' in the City of London's Sustainable City Awards category for Sustainable Travel and Transport at the Mansion House, this time it was 'commended' at the Government Business Awards in a ceremony at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.

This 'good news' follows moves to commercialize the services and ensure the buses are not run at a loss. Route schedules and timetables continue to be updated and standardized, while special services are increasingly commercialized.

The LGA explains that many local authorities are struggling as they face making up shortfalls arising from the provision of free travel passes.

Oranjepan asks?
With Conservatives placed to form the next council administration at the Civic Centre will privatisation of the council-owned Reading Transport Ltd be back on the cards?

Reading West Labour Selection

Local bloggers are enjoying gossiping about the impending selection process for the next Labour candidate in Reading West constituency. As Conservative target #107 the seat has become a significant battleground for the next general election since Martin Salter decided to 'retire from frontline politics'.

Cllr Tony Jones is gleeful at the "prospect of an almighty row in glorious Reading Labour tradition".

Jane Griffiths is grateful to still be considered relevant, while Cllr Richard Willis fancies himself as a news agent.

UKPR profiles the seat and attracts insider comments from and about all sides.

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Update: Naz Sarkar has a campaigning blog Supporting Reading West.

Paul Gittings has Go4Gittings.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Town Hall Rich List

According to the Town Hall Rich List 2009, published by the TaxPayers' Alliance, over 1,022 local government workers earn more than £100,000, while more than 115 earn over £150,000 and 16 earn more than the Prime Minister.

Although Reading did not respond to the enquiries made under Freedom of Information legislation (see page 90 of the report) the salary scale of RBC Chief Executive when advertised in April 2008 was £136,500-£154,101 [1].

Kintbury Conservative Councillor Anthony Stansfeld argues that it is important to pay the "going rate" to ensure the right people are in position overseeing such large levels of public expenditure.

Adrian Hollister responds by stating that these staff are all overpaid and could easily find new jobs "at the drop of a hat".

The news of so many high earners being paid out of the public purse will only add further weight to calls to cut out public sector waste.

Meanwhile councils responded to the growing pressure on public sector spending as Local Government employers made a formal 0.5% offer to staff as their annual pay settlement at the same time as the top-earners received above average rises.

LGA spokesman John Ransford explained the hands-off approach of the organisation by saying that "people can show whether they think this is wrong by voting at the ballot box."

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Update: Wokingham Times follows up on this post. They quote Wokingham Council Leader, Cllr David Lee (Conservative), who fails to explain the role elected politicians have in scrutinising pay policy.

They also report that the job of Deputy Chief Executive is likely to be 'disestablished'.

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The Local Town Hall Rich List:

Bracknell Forest - 5 staff earning £100,000+ in 2007/8
(Chief Executive £155,179; Director of Education, Children's Services £120,745; Director of Evironment & Leisure £108,646; Director of Corporate Service £107,742; Director of Social Services & Housing £107,186)

Reading - no reponse

Slough - 7 staff earning £100,000+, refused to give exact details
(Chief Executive; Director of Community & Cultural Services; Director of Education & Children's Services; Strategic Director Resources; Strategic Director Education & Children's Services; Strategic Director Green & Built Environment; Strategic Director Community & Wellbeing)

West Berks - 3 staff earning £100,000+
(Chief Executive £132,431; Corporate Director Environment £101,494; Corporate Director Children & Young People £101,494)

Windsor & Maidenhead - 4 staff earning £100,000+
(Chief Executive £148,301; Director of Learning & Care £133,235; Corporate Director of Community Services £131,824; Head of Business Development £100,047)

Wokingham - 6 staff earning £100,000+
(Chief Executive £134,666 in 2006/7; Deputy Chief Executive £127,380; Assistant Chief Executive £114,673; General Manager Children's Services £111,392; Corporate Head of Knowledge Development £109,890; General Manager Business Services £105,828; General Manager Community Care Services £100,929)

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Recommended Reading List #20

Classic British director David Lean owes his introduction to film to Reading.

Coming from "a world where self-indulgence was frowned upon", the liberal Quaker regime at Leighton Park School encouraged his appreciation for the arts and didn't discourage any "illicit visits to local cinemas".

Monday, 6 April 2009

Cask Ale Week Kicks Off Pub Debate

Cllr Glenn Goodall marks 'National Beer Day' to advertise several of his favorite local pubs.

In recent times the pub industry has looked to be under increasing pressure as reports that 39 pubs are closing every week have hit the headlines.

But a coordinated campaign by the industry is helping them fight back. Over 200 MPs signed and supported a cross-party motion proposed by LibDem Colchester MP Bob Russell to 'save the pub' in Parliament today.

The British Beer and Pub Association is calling for a 5-point plan to be put into place. This includes:
- axing plans to increase beer tax further
- enforcing existing laws to deal firmly with irresponsible drinkers and premises - not to create new laws
- ending the irresponsible promotion of alcohol in supermarkets, pubs and elsewhere
- trusting responsible adults to make informed choices about what they drink, not punish them for the actions of an irresponsible minority
- supporting the British pub as a vital part of social life in local communities.

The Publican has published a very informative interview with LibDem leader Nick Clegg on the problems facing pubs, while ambitious local Conservative candidate Alok Sharma has supported the move as he hopes to take his petition "to every pub in the constituency".

Labour candidate Anneliese Dodds is noted for her consistently anti-alcohol stance.

Meanwhile Elizabeth Thomas considers how the pub is romaticised as part of a changing social landscape.

Matt Brady is more optimistic - arguing that "pubs are an important part of our national culture," he suggests popular pubs like The Kennet Arms will be always be hubs of local community while The Lamb in Satwell will adapt to survive - in this case under new management with a new wine list and a renewed emphasis on real ale.

Elsewhere Redlands LibDems recently explained some of the social problems facing communities as the King's Tavern license came up for review.

Oranjepan says:
It's tough balancing the interests of people and finance - I'll have a half!

Mini-town Proposals Hit Major Opposition

The proposed development of 15,000 new homes in Mid-Berkshire hit another buffer today.

Landowners Woodley Developments Ltd have appealed to overturn a decision by Wokingham Borough Council to refuse planning permission, but Loddon Valley Action Group (LVAG) "has vowed" to continue the fight against the 500-home plans for Sandford Farm.

It has been a game of cat and mouse as the scale and intensity of proposals continues to grow. Recently news has included moves to increase the number of homes on the Arborfield Garrison site from 3,500 to 5,000, while Shinfield could soon see 1,000 extra houses added to the area where 2,500 were planned.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Suspicion of Whitewash Hits Council Over 'Shreddergate'

Following initial reports of the inappropriate disposal of files pertinent to the ongoing investigation into RBC children's services, Labour Council leader, Cllr Jo Lovelock is facing accusations that she may be assisting a cover-up.

It has emerged the members of staff alleged to have destroyed 25 bags of evidence may have been those suspended pending the investigation.

LibDem group leader, Cllr Gareth Epps placed a formal written question calling for an investigation into security procedures and review of disciplinary procedures.

Cllr Lovelock answered that she could confirm there were "no identified breaches of security", and although there was some misunderstanding procedures had already been amended.

Janestheone casts some doubt over the independence of the internal investigation and the accuracy of its findings.

Mick Spreader knows what happened and why.

Oranjepan asks:
At what point are the police going to get involved?

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Update: Mick Spreader has uncovered further detailed information!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Recommended Reading List #19

'Independent Labour' peer, Lord David Stoddart, who was a Reading councillor from 1954-72, is apparently "Reading’s most veteran political animal".

The 55-year political careerist reminisces about his experiences in local and national politics, complaining that Government "has taken Parliament for granted" as it has become more professional and the office of Prime Minister has become more presidential.

Friday, 3 April 2009

The Tweeps

Do you want to be able to check-up on your local councillor?

LGA reports that Wandsworth Councillor, James Cousins has set up a website to aggregate the twitterings of local councillors.

He hopes the independent site called Cllr Tweeps will better "help councillors engage and communicate with their communities".

The Local Government Association has responded and on April 8th will launch Tweety Hall. Edward Welsh explained that "the decline of the local newspaper means councillors have fewer channels available to them to speak to the public, and so the online community is rapidly growing in importance."

Nagging For Now!

Moves are clearly afoot to tie local Neighbourhood Action Groups into the political scenery as suggestions continue to be made that various local political candidates are breaking the constitution of these community liaison organisations in an attempt to use them as a political platform to help get elected.

Katesgrove councillor, Warren Swaine complains that he was forced to watch a meeting of the Redlands NAG as an observer. He casts doubt on the reasons given (changed boundaries) by providing a link to the website which officially records decisions.

Janestheone explains that these tactics were used by Labour in the past and is now being used by Labour again as they wish to promote their favoured candidates.

She describes this as the corruption of their original purpose by party politics and reminds readers that earlier efforts proved counterproductive.

Meanwhile Green Party candidate Rob White advertises that he is now the Vice-Chairperson of the Newtown NAG.

All this action follows on from successful efforts made by local LibDems to gain a communications budget for these neighbourhood bodies which is designed to ensure residents are better able to engage with local police teams.

In completely unrelated news West Reading's Nag's Head recently won the CAMRA prize for the best pub in the Reading and Mid-Berkshire area.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Budget Debate Continues: Councillor Allowances Frozen

As national politicians continue to make unjustified expense claims the local focus has shifted onto whether our Reading councillors offer value for money during these straitened economic times.

Although Labour's original proposal was for a 1% rise in the basic allowance package (as part of a total increase of 2%), pressure exerted by the budget review to find £400,000 of savings has forced Labour to reverse their policy in order to gain the votes to pass the motion necessary for them to maintain their leadership of RBC.

Councillor allowances will now return to 2007/8 levels.

The basic allowance for a councillor (reimbursing time spent fulfilling official duties) will now reduce from £8,447 to £8,220.

Compensation for additional responsibilities will also fall. Leader of the Council (currently Labour's Jo Lovelock) will recieve an extra £7,782 (down from £7,996). Lead councillors on the cabinet and the main opposition group (currently Conservative Andrew Cumpsty) will receive £4,240 (previously £4,357), while junior opposition group leader (currently LibDem Gareth Epps) and committee chairpersons will receive £2,386 (previously £2,452).

Reading Chronicle helpfully does the sums:

Council leader Jo Lovelock - £16,002; Deputy leader Tony Page - £14,578; Cabinet members and Tory leader Andrew Cumpsty - £12,460; Scrutiny/committee chairs and Lib Dem leader Gareth Epps - £10,606; Other councillors - £8,220.

Other allowances for legitimate expenses are also maintained at previous levels.

Party politics played a large role in the debate as Reading Conservatives explained that they wanted to 'send the right message' to voters, but were attacked for failing to make any formal proposals during the budget negotiations.

LibDems were praised for their honesty as they decried Conservative behaviour as "gesture politics" while nevertheless supporting the freeze which will only result in savings of £12,000.

Cllr Warren Swaine (LibDem, Katesgrove) provides an insightful commentary on the discussions.

He says "some councillors really do earn their allowances... others are lazy and feckless" and tentatively calculates a Performance Related Pay League table for all 46 RBC councillors (placing himself 13th).

Oranjepan says:
Some councillors spend hundreds of hours every year attending meetings, actively scrutinising council processes and helping residents with casework, often taking unpaid leave from work to do so.

We need an accurate way of calculating which councillors offer better value for money.

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Update: Cllr Willis lauds the proposal as it is now policy.

A Target Rich Environment

If you're lacking something to do and want to plan a day in the fresh air of the country, DIY Week and housewareslive both advertise the DIY Charity Shoot at the Royal Berkshire Shooting School on 4th June.

Participants will be competing for the 'coveted' Top Gun prize as they raise money for the DIY industry's Rainy Day Trust charity by shooting clay pigeons with a lengthy list of corporate sponsors.

In unrelated news Labour member Chris Gale reports an email sent out in Gordon Brown's name requesting donations, but refuses point-blank while his party remains in league with the shooting lobby and continues to support 'killing for fun'.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Recommended Reading List #18

Local comedy legend, Ricky Gervais, has been raiding a comedy goldmine in recent years.

Here, here and here he is rewarded with a multi-part interview with The New York Times artsbeat blog, last bastion of the cognoscenti - the ultimate accolade!

SEERA Submits To SNR

In an unreported move the South East England Regional Assembly (SEERA) was dissolved as of April 1st 2009.

English regional assemblies were formed as part of the shake-up of local government after Labour came to power in 1997 and are formally recognised under the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998.

The South East Regional Assembly comprised 111 members, with one elected representative from each of the 74 local authorities in the region and the remaining members drawn from economic, social and environmental interests [1]. Here is the full list of SEERA representatives (as you can see here it was heavily dominated by Conservatives).

The Assembly had a range of non-statutory and statutory responsibilities, including strategic regional planning (covering major issues such as energy, transport and housing). It operated as a voluntary body, which meant it wasn't subject to Freedom of Information legislation, but it recently come into conflict with central government by publicly stating it's opposition to the third runway and sixth terminal development at Heathrow.

The Government instigated it's Sub-National Review (SNR) of Economic Development and Regeneration which concluded that the South East England Partnership Board should take over the responsibilities in order to "streamline regional working arrangements".

This took place today and the SEEPB will now develop the Single Regional Strategy, deciding on many relevant local policies (including the massive housing development around Wokingham).

Oranjepan says:
Just as the unelected body started to gain legitimacy by standing up for the interests of the people against the government, it is stripped of any responsibility by the government!

The move means less accountability and less democracy - it may guarantee swifter decisions, but it doesn't guarantee better decisions.

Concrete Housing Plans Scrutinised

As many as 15,000 new homes are planned to be built in Wokingham borough by 2026 as consultation on the adoption of the regional South East Plan continues apace.

This core strategy is currently undergoing scrutiny to adjudicate on the proposals to build 3,500 homes in Arborfield Garrison, 2,500 homes in Shinfield, Spencer's Wood and Three Mile Cross and additional thousands on the northern and southern fringes of Wokingham.

Cllr Gary Cowan explained that the plans set out the development of Wokingham for the next 20 years.

Residents have been encouraged to attend community meetings to have their say at a series of meetings which will continue until 23rd April, but they are not impressed. The Wokingham Society, which works to retain the character of the town, has 'expressed concern'.

14 sessions of public consultation have been announced.

Wokingham LibDem, Cllr Prue Bray has been leading the opposition to the Labour government proposals presented by the Conservative local administration, explaining with a hint of regret that the most active participants in the examination sessions are "the council and the developers who want to build the houses" - a more diverse range of views would be more democratic.

Shinfield Parish Council chairman John Heggadon described how the complexity of the process left residents "totally bemused" after being gradually worn down by years of fighting corporate developers who have developed professional relationships with the authorities. Another resident described the plans as "absolutely catastrophic for the area," questioning the ability of local infrastructure to cope with the additional pressure. [1]

Major landowners supporting the developments include Reading University at Shinfield and the Ministry of Defence at Arborfield Garrison.

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The proposed development will have a major impact to the south of Reading.
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Find out more about the South East Plan here.
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Friction has existed between the different communities of Berkshire since before the county council was replaced by Unitary Authorities nearly two decades ago, but with planning devolved to the unelected South East England Regional Assembly (SEERA) - now dissolved - the problem of differing local strategies has been effectively bypassed through a lack of public accountability.

This is particularly important when asking questions about who decides on important matters, such as Reading's mooted 'third Thames bridge' or when choosing the location of schools in the area.

April Fools

Pity the fool!

You could almost be serious!
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