Featured post

School funding cuts shouldn't deny children a full and varied education

School funding is being cut - there's little doubt about that.  Funding changes and increased costs mean schools in Reading have less mo...

28 Dec 2013

A Rembrandt in The Oracle and a pub crawl with licensing!

I recently had a very interesting couple of Saturdays. 
On Saturday the 7 December I was all over Battle Ward (walked over 5 kms in total).   We did a local business Street Surgery on the Oxford Road, our normal surgery,  I judged a mince pie competition at Argyle Community Church then popped into the local Scouts Christmas fair where I had donated a lemon drizzle cake.  I created an album on my Facebook page as a different way of sharing my day which you can see here: Busy Saturday 7 December 2013

Meeting Computer Care (South) Ltd during our business street surgery
Saturday the 14 December was interesting in a different way.  In my capacity of Chair of the Arts Forum I was kindly invited to the Reading Gallery Christmas Event.  There I was faced with the slightly surreal situation of viewing a Picasso and Rembrandt in Crabtree & Evelyn.  It was a lovely evening and I had a lovely chat with Lord Lawrence about his ambitions for the Vivian Frederick art collection.  You can read more about the Reading Gallery here.

I popped home for a couple of hours then I was out again at 11pm with our licensing team, police and Cllrs Ennis, P Jones, Woodward, Vickers and Ballsdon.  The pub crawl I mention in my title was in fact a visit to local bars to see what our licensing team do.  Not a drink was sipped. 

It was very interesting to listen to the police, licensing team and local bar managers.  We saw they steps they all take to ensure Readings revellers are kept safe and we were also shown the custody suite at Loddon Valley. 

We ended the night in the CCTV room at Reading Police Station where we saw the CCTV cover Reading has.  I was very impressed with the quality of the cameras.  I reckon they could read the time from your watch! (possible exaggeration).


24 Dec 2013

Merry Christmas & The Little Boy Santa Claus Forgot

I love a Christmas song - cheesy, traditional, I not fussed as long as it's not too modern.  Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End) by The Darkness is just about allowed on my compilation CD.

My children and I were listening to them in the car when Nat King Coles The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot came on.  At the end of the song my eldest piped up 'Mummy, that songs not true'.  I asked him why. 'Because Santa Claus doesn't forget any children'.  As I'd like him believing for a few more years yet I agreed that the song was wrong and every child gets a present at Christmas.

Sadly this just isn't true.

Recently Cllr Maskell and I popped in to the Salvation Army on the Oxford Road as we had been invited to see the huge piles of presents donated for those children that Santa may have 'forgotten'.  We were told that in Reading west alone there had been 200 families referred to receive gifts for their children this year.  The Reading Post's Giving Tree and Reading Chronicles Toys & Teens appeals also collect gifts for those who may otherwise go without and there are many other organisations that do the same.

Generosity like this, and the food bank collections I've seen in supermarkets and work places, is really what Christmas is about.  Giving freely without expecting anything in return and making someones Christmas a little brighter. 

Times are tough for a lot of families in Reading with 1 in 5 children in poverty.  Let's hope there's not one child forgotten by Santa Claus this year, and if there isn't, it's thanks to the people of Reading.

I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and here's to a 2014 where we can all make a positive difference :)

Handing my contribution to Kenneth and his team

11 Dec 2013

Helping The Homeless At Christmas

I recently passed on details of a homeless person a resident and I had seen sleeping rough on the Oxford Road.  The council have processes in place to reach out to the homeless and I thought I'd share the details in case you see someone in need of help.

This is a year round service but help is more urgent when temperatures plummet.  Here's what the team do:

We commission our Street Outreach Team to engage with rough sleepers and support them into housing and treatment services. 

Even where an individual is already known to us, it is still important for us to be aware of exactly where people are sleeping so that we are able to find them and sustain their engagement with our work to help them off of the streets and their health and safety can be monitored. We encourage businesses and members of the public to report any concerns about rough sleeping.

People can make reports of rough sleepers and rough sleeping sites to us, directly to our Street Outreach Team either by email to streetconcern@mungos.org or by telephone on 0118 958 5002.

6 Dec 2013

Small Business Saturday: Oxford Road Street Surgery Special #smallbizsatuk

This Saturday is Small Business Saturday.  Labour councillors in Battle value the small businesses that line the Oxford Road.  In fact I use quite a few of them!

I know there was concern that the new Tesco would take business away from traders but recent press articles by traders have shown this not to have been the case.  The Oxford Road is a thriving area with very few empty shops. I am pleased to see that a couple of units that have been empty for a while are being refurbished.

Because of all this I decided it would be a nice to hold a street surgery with a difference and speak to the small business owners on the Oxford Road and see what we can do to help them.  We will be dropping our leaflets in to them and if they would like us to call by, they just need to pop our leaflet in their window.

If you are a small business owner in Oxford Road and we don't get the chance to speak to you, please feel free to drop us a line at any time.


5 Dec 2013

Can you help with operation S.A.N.T.A?



I received this letter from Lieutenant Kenneth Guest from the Salvation Army church on the Oxford Road.  We supported Operation S.A.N.T.A last year (see here) and I am happy to support it again.  I think Kenneth's letter says it all:



LAUNCH OF OPERATION S.A.N.T.A.
         
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen.

For a number of years now The Salvation Army in Reading have launched a Toy Appeal. This year is no different and so we are launching;

OPERATION S.A.N.TA. (SALVATION ARMY NEW TOY APPEAL).

Thanks to your fantastic generosity we have been able to distribute 100’s of gifts donated for children who were living in social services care or extreme poverty.

The need to provide for these children is just as great this year (the entirety of the gifts donated to social services and local professionals last year still only scratched the surface) and so I am hoping to help arrange for even more of these children to receive at least one present this Christmas.

Be assured that in addition to the kind donations we receive from members of the public, and collections carried out in your work places, we as Salvationists across the Three corps in Reading, hold a Toy Service, this year it is December 8th at which  our members contribute a colossal amount of toys.

Over the last couple of years we have been able to see the list of children (listed by sex and age from babies to 16 years) for whom gifts are requested.

It struck me (alongside the sadness I felt thinking of any child in such circumstances) that this is a relatively easy and tangible way to make a difference to a child's Christmas and so I wondered if any of you might also like to buy a gift for one of these children.

The presents can be handed in to any Salvation Army Centre in Reading, although Reading West Corps based in the Oxford Road, will be co-ordinating the appeal. We will then hand over the gifts to social services, family workers, children’s centres and health visitors to distribute the gifts to the relevant children thus ensuring that the most needy children receive a present.

If you would like to buy a gift for a child in Reading, then you might like to choose one of these options:

1.   Buy and send a gift to any Salvation Army centre to arrive by 12  December. 

2.   Order a gift online to be delivered to us by 12 December.

3.   Send a donation so that we can buy a gift on your behalf for a specific child

As many of us know, particularly for young children, receiving a present is often not about how much the present is worth but the excitement of having something to open (or a cardboard box to play with!) so really any donation will be appreciated.

Having said that, I do recognise that many people have charities to which they regularly donate and/or this may not be a way in which you would like to contribute, which of course is absolutely fine and I hope you don't mind me asking.

If you would like more information about the Salvation Army in Reading or about our Toy Appeal please don’t hesitate to ring me or email me.

Thank you for the time you have taken to read this letter.

May God Bless You.

Lieutenant Kenneth Guest
Commanding Officer
Reading West Corps

PS – Please do NOT wrap the gifts as this will make it easier for us to allocate the presents.


4 Dec 2013

Fix your fence -again!

The fence surrounding the abandoned medical centre site is broken once again. This time a large section was blown down during the gales a few weeks ago. I gave them some time to fix it but it's been five weeks now. This morning I rang the NHS property department and asked them to fix it as it's clearly not bring monitored. Let's hope the site is secured once again.

2 Dec 2013

More residents parking on the way in Battle?

In a previous Traffic Management Sub-Committee meetinga a report was brought to us outlining plans to increase the number of residents parking spaces in Battle ward by redefining parking bays (Item 5 here).  This report was approved and consultation has begun.

If you want to take a look at the plans and make a comment you can here: http://www.reading-travelinfo.co.uk/traffic-orders/advertised-traffic-orders/residents-parking-order-2013.aspx

This has the potential to bring over one hundred new parking spaces to the zones covering Battle ward!  Good news :)

24 Nov 2013

More overnight closures of Cow Lane bridges

I got the following update about Cow Lane bridges this weekend.  There will be further overnight closures starting tonight (Sunday 24 November) 11 pm until 5 am.  Please see below and share with those you think will need to know.

'The closures will be from Sunday night to Friday morning between 2300hrs and 0500hrs only, for up to 3 weeks commencing this Sunday.

Advance warning signs are being erected on site and we are placing warning messages on a number of our variable message signs. Access will be maintained to Safestore (from the south) and to Cardiff Road from the north.'

21 Nov 2013

Exhibition on it's way: Oxford Road Improvements

Battle Library on Tuesday December 3rd, 

between 1pm and 7pm, and 

Bridge Hall on Thursday December 5th, 

between 1.30pm and 6.30pm. 

Plans will be on display for members of the public to view and transport officers will be there to talk through the proposals and answers any questions. Information can also be found here: http://www.reading.gov.uk/residents/parking-road-and-travel/oxford-road-area-study

I am really looking forward to sharing these plans with residents.  Battle councillors have already had some input into their design as our local knowledge is great and we have made a few tweaks.

Highlights of the Oxford Road Area study at Cow Lane are:

• Downgrading the road classification of Oxford Road between Chatham Street and Norcot Road and re-designating the A329 to Richfield Avenue, Cow Lane and Portman Road
• A review of street signs, including a review of the routes lorries / freight take through the area
• Improvements to the right turn approach lane to Caversham Road roundabout from Richfield Avenue
• Improvements at the Portman Road/Cow Lane/Beresford Road junction and a review of the bus gate restrictions.
• Improvements to the Portman Road/Norcot Road approach lanes


Other associated Oxford Road corridor improvements include:

• cycle lanes/road markings on Oxford Road between Chatham Place and Norcot Road
• bus lane on the Oxford Road approach to Norcot Roundabout and westbound on the Oxford Road approach to Bedford Road.
• improve cycle access to Oxford Road eastbound bus lane approaching Bedford Road.
• A possible 20mph zone and a review of existing turning manoeuvres. 




Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:

“The widening of the roads under Cow Lane bridges as part of Network Rail’s scheme will be a huge improvement to the notorious bottleneck which exists there and which has a knock-on effect on the surrounding areas. The Council now wants to use the opportunity to propose a package of improvements to the Oxford Road which will complement the work at Cow Lane.

“The Oxford Road is not just a through-route, it is a destination in its own right. When taken together, the proposed measures will help create a safer and more welcoming environment for residents, businesses and visitors.

“I would urge local residents or businesses to take some time to try and visit one of the two exhibitions which have been organised. The exhibitions are set up so that people can just drop in for a short period of time, whenever suits them, to have a look through the proposals. Transport officers will be on hand to answer any questions or talk through any concerns people may have.”

The exhibitions will be followed by a period of statutory consultation, from mid-January to mid-February. Any objections will then be considered by a future meeting of Reading Borough Council’s Traffic Management Sub-Committee, of which I am a member. 

If you have any comments on these plans please respond to the consultation but feel free to email me too: sarah.hacker@reading.gov.uk

19 Nov 2013

How can we make Reading a woman-friendly town?


We have a great selection of women coming along, not all of them activists, an inspiring speaker and I'm making a lemon drizzle cake.  What's stopping you signing up to come along? ;)

13 Nov 2013

Tackling Poverty in Reading....

Every year around this time Reading Brough Council hold a community engagement event.  This year we are focusing on tackling poverty in Reading.  I represent Battle ward as a councillor and it is an area with pockets of depravation and poverty.  I believe everyone can help tackle poverty and this event invites everyone to get involved.......

Tackling Poverty in Reading
Press Release 

12/11/2013 

TACKLING Poverty in Reading is the theme of the town’s Annual Conference this year which takes place at the Town Hall on Tuesday November 19.

Organisations, residents, community groups and charities from across the borough are all being invited to attend the event and play their part in helping to develop a strategy to tackle poverty in Reading.

Welfare reforms, reducing public sector expenditure and the slow economic recovery are all combining to create increasing hardship for many residents, including some of the most vulnerable. The Local Government Association estimates that welfare reforms will see working people whose wages are so low that they have to claim some benefit in order to keep a roof over their head, lose an average of £1,660 per year. In Reading nearly 11,000 working people will be affected. For 7,693 people out of work, the loss of income figure is higher at £1,671 a year.


Reading’s ‘Tackling Poverty’ event on November 19th runs between 5.30pm to 8.30pm. Chaired by Professor Gavin Brooks, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning), University of Reading, the event will begin with an introduction by Reading Borough Council Leader Jo Lovelock. That will be followed by a keynote address from Alison Garnham, CEO, Child Poverty Action Group, key facts and figures from the organisations that work everyday with people in poverty, and testimonies of real-life experiences of poverty in Reading.

The proposed schedule is:
  •  6.00pm: Welcome by Reading Borough Council Leader Jo Lovelock
  •  6.10pm: Key note address - Alison Garnham, CEO, Child Poverty Action Group
  • 6.30pm: What does poverty look like in Reading – Christian Community Action Reading / Citizens Advice Bureau Reading / Reading CIC / Welfare Rights
  • 6.45pm: What does poverty feel like in Reading - First hand testimonies (video and short play by 'Spotlight on Diversity')
From 7pm the event will split into a series of workshops, all based around the theme of poverty, which are aimed at discussing, exploring and developing practical actions to deliver a plan to tackle poverty. The workshops will be facilitated by a variety of different groups and organisations and the 10 themes will be: 
• Advice on tax credits and benefits
• Affordable Credit
• Support into Work
• Best start in life
• Tackling In work poverty
• Affording Basic Needs
• Disabled People
• Older People
• Tackling poverty in a multi-cultural community
• Health and Wellbeing 


Groups or residents who would like to take part in a specific themes workshop are asked to book ahead and register at http://tacklingpoverty.eventbrite.co.uk/. Alternatively people can just turn up on the night and decide which workshops suits them best.

The workshops will then be followed by pledges of action and the outline of a way forward, before finishing at 8pm.

Reading Borough Council Leader Jo Lovelock said:
“Five years on, the economic downturn has shown us that Reading continues to perform well in comparison to other places. We also know very well that there remain a great many people out there in Reading who continue to struggle financially as a consequence of the increased cost of living and the reforms and changes that are being made. Many of the people affected are working long hours and still having to choose between heating and eating; the need for foodbanks in Reading has increased by 400%; 1 in 5 children in Reading are officially living in poverty. The theme of ‘Tackling Poverty’ is therefore the right one for this year’s conference. 

“The event will include real life experiences of poverty in Reading. I hope organisations including public services, businesses, schools, voluntary and community organisations, charities or faith organisations, will want to make their own pledges on the night that will go towards helping us to develop a plan for tackling this key issue in Reading. 

“The event on November 19th is open to anyone in our community who is concerned about poverty and who has any ideas about how we can help tackle it.”

10 Nov 2013

Ban payday loan company adverts on children's TV? I couldn't agree more

I am an enthusiastic follower of Martin Lewis and his MoneySavingExpert.com wesbite.  Last week he introduced his campaign to ban payday loan companies from children's TV channels and I added my support (I tweeted him a 140 character version of the following on my personal twitter).  Why?  Here's why....

I have two children, both boys, age 5 and 3.  We were sat together in our living room the other day and my eldest chirped up he he wanted a new app to play on.  Because I think it's important to teach children the value of money I said he couldn't have this particular app as it cost money and we did't have any money put aside for an app.  At this point a Wonga advert came onto the children's tv channel we were watching.

He looked up, pointed at the TV and said 'We can get some money from them and then we could buy whatever we want'.  To say I was shocked would be an understatement.  The advert had been marketed in such a way that my 5 year old understood from it that there were copious amounts of money to be had, for free, and that it was easy to get hold of.  What sort of message is that for a children's tv channel?

He's a bright little lad so I explained to him that if we wanted money from Wonga it would cost us even more to borrow it.  I think he 'sort of' understood and the matter was closed.

Why do payday loan companies feel the need to advertise on children's tv?  They are clearly targeting parents who feel under increasing pressure to give their children whatever they want (I'm firmly don't believe this) and with wages barely increasing, energy bills shooting up and Christmas round the conrer I expect the payday loan companies are rubbing their hands with glee.  The side effect of this is children are being exposed to the message that borrowing money to buy things you want, not need, is OK.  This is the wrong message and unnecessary.

I am please to see that Ed Miliband has added his support to this campaign and said that if the advertising watchdog did not bring in a ban, a Labour Government would use legislation to ban it.  This is yet another reason why I am campaiging to get Victoria Groulef elected as Labour MP for Reading West and a Labour government returned to parliament.

Get Adobe Flash player

You can read the BBC new article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24886804




9 Nov 2013

Traffic changes to the Oxford Road: what do you think?

The Oxford Road is in a bit of an odd position at the moment, with is being shut just around the corner from where I live.  There is very little traffic but, as you know, this is not the norm.  The Oxford Road is currently a major arterial route from the west but changes are afoot!

In 2015 the second Cow Lane bridge will be completed meaning buses and lorries will be able to use Portman Road and Richfield Avenue when travelling from the west.  There will no longer be the current bottle neck controlled by traffic lights.  Traffic will be able to move freely.  Pedestrians and cyclists will have a dedicated route alongside the road so there will be safe access to Richfield Avenue.  It will be very different.

So what about the Oxford Road?  Ahead of 2015 Battle councillors have been part of the Oxford Road Corridor Study looking at how the Oxford Road can be changed for ther better.  On Tuesday the Traffic Management Sub-Committee approved a report to allow consultation to go ahead on changes to the Oxford Road and surrounding areas traffic flow.  The proposals are as follows:

The proposals consist of the following (taken from the full report here):-

'Cow Lane bridges - associated network improvements
  • Potential downgrade of the road classification of Oxford Road between Chatham Street and Norcot Road and re-designate the A239 to Richfield Avenue, Cow Lane and Portman Road.
  • Strategic signing review including freight routing in consultation with the Highways Agency
  • Richfield Avenue – right turn approach lane improvements to Caversham Road roundabout
  • Portman Road/Cow Lane/Beresford Rd junction improvements and review of bus gate/6’6” restrictions
  • Portman Road/Norcot Road approach lane improvements 
Identified Oxford Road corridor improvements – Phase 1 & 2
  • Oxford Road between Chatham Place and Norcot Road – On carriageway cycle lanes/symbols – Phase 1
  • Oxford Road approach to Norcot Road roundabout – bus lane  – Phase 1
  • Oxford Road westbound approach to Bedford Road – bus lane  – Phase 1
  • Oxford Road eastbound approach to Bedford Road – approach lane modifications to improve cycle access to existing bus lane  – Phase 1
  • Possible 20mph Zone/Limit – Phase 2
  • Review of existing turning manoeuvres - Phase 2
4.6 The proposals to downgrade the road classification of Oxford Road will result in a change to the current inspection regime to now take place quarterly. However, the maintenance regime will remain the same. The same process took place when the A33 Relief Road was opened and the Basingstoke Road was downgraded.

4.7 The second phase of the area study will commence upon completion of the Cow Lane works to ensure the most up to date traffic patterns are captured. The second phase will focus on existing turning manoeuvres and speed limits and parking restrictions.'

There will also be environmental improvements such as new trees.  These proposals will go out to public consultation shortly and I'll let you know when that happens.

This, alongside the £1.6 million Battle councillors secured for the area from the Battle Hospital re-development, means the next few years are going to be very interesting and exciting!


5 Nov 2013

Oxford Road re-opening delayed by further collapsed sewer

Thames Water have found a further collpased sewer and have extended their works.  It's likely that the Oxford Road will be re-opened later than expected, hopefully by the start of next week.

2 Nov 2013

Upcoming Cow Lane Closures.....

Residents living near the Cow Lane bridges have received a letter warning us of overnight closures of Cow Lane bridges.  Network Rail weren't expecting more closures this year but there will be the following:

Overnight Closures

Night-time closure: Sunday 10 November from 11pm until 5am on Thursday 14 November
Night-time closure: Sunday 17 November from 11pm until 5am Thursday 21 November

If you have questions about the works you can contact Network Rail on crwest@networkrail.co.uk or on their 24 hour helpline 08457 11 41 41.


28 Oct 2013

Approx £8,500 available to community groups working in Battle Ward

Once again I am privileged to be on the panel for Battle Community First.  We have just short of £8,500  available to community groups working in Battle Ward and would love to see applications that address our priorities:
  • Improving anti-social behaviour
  • Improving the local environment
  • Improving community cohesion
We like the projects we award funding to to benefit as wide a range of people as possible. for more information please take a look at our blog.  You can also download an application form.  We look forward to receiving a wide range of interestng applications.  You have until the end of the year to apply.



24 Oct 2013

Urgent closure of the Oxford Road

I have just received notofication that part pf the Oxford Road between Alma Street and St Georges Road will be closed from 8 am on Saturday morning.  Closure will be from 8am until 8pm everyday until repairs have been completed - this could take up to two weeks.

The emails reads:
Thames Water has discovered a section of damaged sewer 3.5m under Oxford Road, outside The Albion PH, between Alma Street and St Georges Road. As well as the damage to the pipe and the blockages/customer flooding issues that this is causing, they have discovered large voids under the carriageway. The recent heavy rain will have worsened the voids, which pose a risk to the structural integrity of the carriageway surface. 

There will be signed diversions and Reading Buses have anounced their diversions here:

 http://www.reading-buses.co.uk/articles/closure-of-oxford-road-3/

The road surface will be monitored until the closure begins.
 


17 Oct 2013

Heading to the West Village: street surgery special!

This Saturday (19 October) Battle councillors will be holding a special advice surgery in the West Village. We'll be setting up our red gazebo at 10.30 and we'll be there until 12.  We'd love to hear residents views so please come and see us. 

West Village

Saturday 19 October

10.30-12

Red gazebo in the park

 
Campaigning in West Village on the £1.5 million developers contribution for Battle ward earlier this year




14 Oct 2013

NAG public meeting 15 October: what are residents priorities?

The Oxford Road Neighbourhood Action Group (NAG) has a public meeting tomorrow:


7.30-8.30

Tuesday 15 October

Salvation Army Oxford Road

The NAG priorities residents voted for will be annouced and the public will get the chance to ask questions to the panel consiting of the NAG chair, Police, Council and Councillor (me in fact).  I hope to see as many of you there as possible.

11 Oct 2013

We're Battling against energy price hikes! Freeze That Bill!

Tomorrow Reading Labour will be holding a street stall campaiging against energy price hikes
with a petition and will have information about The Freeze That Bill campaign.  We had planned this street stall well before Southern Electric annouced their 8.2% price rise so it is now even more relevent.  Join us:

Outside Battle Library

Saturday 12 October

10.30 am

Apparently Southern Electric only make less than £2 profit a week.  When I got this letter today I wondered if I was meant to feel sorry for them.  They say they will only get about the same profit as last year.  Last year the company behind Southern Electric made half yearly profits of £398 million (see here).

During winter 2012/2013 families struggles to afford fuel.  I know people who had to decide between heat and food - a choice no family should have to face. 

The Labour Party say:

'Since David Cameron entered Downing Street, energy bills have risen by almost £300 a year for families, while businesses say energy is the second biggest cost they face.'

Ed Miliband announced at Labour’s Annual Conference that a One Nation Labour Government will put a stop to unfair price rises by freezing energy bills up to January 2017, saving a typical household £120.

To deliver fairness in the long term, we will reset the energy market, increasing competition and transparency, introduce a simple new tariff structure, and replace OFGEM with a tough new energy watchdog from January 2017.'

Our parliamentary candidate Victoria Groulef said: “When the price of energy increases energy companies pass this on but when it drops consumers don’t see their bills fall.
 
“The bill freeze would help families across our region who are facing a rising cost of living crisis and it encourages the industry to be fairer to its customers. By 2017 Labour would create a tough new energy regulator to ensure that the system remains fair for consumers. 

 “Businesses and people round here need help now, so I’m calling on David Cameron to take action and freeze our bills now before the cold snap hits.”



If you want to see what you can save then use the energy calculator here.