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#rdg Council latest: Deborah Edwards for Mayor and back on the doorstep in Whitley

For those readers of my blog who want to follow every twist and turn of the run up to the council’s annual meeting a second letter from Jo Lovelock to the two Green councillors is published at the bottom of this post.  It has been issued publicly today and the Greens are aware of this.  In summary we have had constructive discussions with them, but not sought to ‘do a deal’ – we were clear that we had a mandate to form a minority administration after winning 9 out of 15 seats and 40% of the vote across town, well ahead of the Conservatives.  

Ironically the Conservative leader, after campaigning against AV has been arguing for a bizarre form of ‘psuedo-AV’ for his rainbow coalition:  effectively if you let there be a Tory leader this will represent the will of “2/3rds of the electorate”.  Dodgy maths aside (3/5s is somewhat less than 2/3rds!) it assumes that everyone who voted Green, Libdem or Common-sense (or ‘Roman Party’ in Battle) would prefer a Conservative leader of the Council to a Labour one.  I’d be surprised if this was the case – in fact a number of voters for the Greens and Libdems (yes, amazingly I have friends outside the Labour party!) have said to me ‘so, when are you kicking this lot out then?’

Meanwhile back out on the streets in Whitley on Saturday while doing a roving surgery we met people with concerns about their housing association, several people who wanted to move to postal votes, 2 households that just wanted to complain about the Conservative government and a new leaflet deliverer! (thanks Sandra…).  I am looking forward to all the too-ing and fro-ing about this being over so we can get on with the jobs we were elected to do: representing the people in our wards and standing up for Reading and residents across town.

Letter from Jo Lovelock is below (apologies for formatting, went funny when I cut and paste):

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Dear Rob and Melanie,
Further to the meeting we held today (19th May) I am writing to clarify the points you raised, particularly with regard to time-scales and processes by which we would want to see issues progressed.  I think we all acknowledged that some of this may not become clear until we were in a position to work on detail with officers, which can only happen if there is a clear administration of the council.  There will also be budget constraints given the projected budget gap as a result of the Coalition Government’s cuts to the Council’s grant.
However I will set out our intentions for each of the issues we have discussed:
  • Maiden Erlegh School  – we intend to ask officers to seek counsel’s opinion as soon as possible and report back to cabinet or Council as soon as possible. I am talking to officers about how quickly that could be achieved and we would hold a special meeting if necessary.
  • Residents’ parking in Newtown – there is a report to TMAP on 9th June on parking zones and we will be asking for plans for the Newtown consultation to be included.
  • Cemetery Junction and associated area study, which would include options for de-cluttering the local area including Wokingham Road. We will be reviewing the LTP priorities and bringing a report to Cabinet in July. I am advised that as it would be a revision of priorities it would probably not require a Council decision, but if it does it could come to council on 28th June.  There is always an officer/councillor  working group on these area studies which involves ward councillors, which we would set up as soon as possible to scope the objectives of the study
  • Cemetery Junction cemetery – investigation of a management plan – we would arrange for a meeting between ward councillors and the relevant lead councillor(s) to explore the possible options and then take a report to cabinet once the options were clarified.
  • Community Care – it is our intention to halt the current process with brief report to cabinet in June, followed by a more detailed consideration of the way to protect those in greater moderate need now and into the future at the July meeting.  Mike Orton has spoken to you about this and will arrange for you to meet with the Director to discuss the detail. As we are still in opposition until the AGM this is one of those issues where a fully worked up set of proposals will only be available if it is certain there is to be a change of administration.
  • LTP plans for the Third Thames Bridge and the Cross Town Route – we were very clear in our letter about both these issues, but to repeat that:
Ø      Kennetmouth – Labour’s long-standing commitment to the protection of Kennetmouth remains absolute, and was reiterated in a major policy resolution we put through Council in June 2008. Any developments in East Reading are subject to that imperative.
Ø      Third Thames Bridge – Labour has opposed the building of a Third Thames Crossing as a motorway link between the M40 and the A329. However, we believe that a third bridge, properly managed, controlled and integrated with the movements on Caversham and Reading Bridges could deliver major traffic reductions and significant environmental improvements on key radial routes such as the London and Wokingham Roads. A project of this significance would require a full environmental assessment including assessing the impact on the Thames and the Kennet.  Should there ever be any funding to take the proposal forward, which seems very unlikely in the foreseeable future, we would be asking for a full assessment of the impact on the environment, both in terms of advantages of reducing through traffic and any detriment to the area near the bridge. Of course the siting of any bridge would be within Wokingham and Oxfordshire’s council areas, which underlines the need to work closely with both those Local Authorities as any final decision on this would rest with them if the current Local authority boundaries remain the same. We do not expect there to be any further work on this in the near future, but were that to change we would certainly want to ensure there would be full environmental studies and public engagement before reaching any decisions.
Ø      Cross Town Route – Labour was instrumental in defeating the original Berkshire County Council plan and we remain totally opposed to any car-based scheme that would threaten the environment of Kennetmouth, the listed horseshoe bridge and King’s Meadow.  We are willing to consider subject to full local consultation a light rail or guided bus link to Reading station from the existing parking areas of Thames Valley Park provided that it could be implemented without adverse impact on Kennetmouth. Again we do not expect any funding to be available for this in the foreseeable future, but were that to change we would want a full environmental assessment as well as public consultation.
·         20mph zones – we would intend to bring a report to TMAP as soon as possible on the legal and financial possibilities of expanding these schemes subject to public consultation.
·         Feed-in tariff to fund solar panels at no cost to the council tax payers on public buildings, including the possibility of council housing.  I have talked to Ben Burfoot  to find out where this has now got to and it seems that after a halt in the process last year for a government review there is an outline business case which needs firming up, but that could be done in time for the July cabinet. We are very committed to this and would be keen to ensure that the further work was done in time for July cabinet.
·         Greener,Warmer,Safer scheme – Unfortunately government funding ends next April and we need to look for options to continue this scheme. Unfortunately the officer who deals with this is on leave until early June, but if we can find a creative way to fund its continuation we will. I understand the criteria used to prioritise areas is linked to fuel poverty and we will need to get a full briefing and a report to cabinet on the options for finding a way to extend the scheme.
·         RCRE – I have asked for the grants process to be halted pending the Council’s AGM and will then arrange meetings with RCRE and officers prior to a cabinet report in July, If there is a need to take any interim decision we can ask for an urgent item to 6th June cabinet meeting.
·         Bus Pass Concessions – we will find a way to restore the concessions before 9.30 for those with disabilities and their carers as soon as possible. The fact that the cabinet papers go out the day after the AGM is inconvenient, and several things may have to wait for July to give time to work out the financial and other implications. As we said, though we would want to restore the concessions for all pass holders we may find the budget requirement for that is not immediately possible as a result of government cuts, but as soon as we can we will do so.
·         Green Bin collections. Again we would be looking for a report to July cabinet as June 6th may be too soon to work through budget considerations. We would ensure that the Council would not be sending out any bills, which are now on hold I believe.
·         Residents’ parking permits and concessionary permits. Having made this another commitment during the recent elections, we would look to bring a report to July Cabinet on the times and numbers of visitors’ permits and also to reverse the £300 charge for concessionary charges for carers, charities etc.
I hope that is sufficient detail for you, but please do call if there are any other points you would like to talk through.
Yours sincerely,
Jo Lovelock,
Labour Group Leader.

Reading Borough Council

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