Why we need blanket 20mph zones across Reading

I am often accused by the Labour Administration in Reading of wanting to impose 20 mph zones on the whole population where they want to achieve something similar area by area. Well let’s get the democracy question sorted first. Yes I want to see 20 mph zones across all residential areas of Reading but only after we have made the case to residents and got their support. I believe that the case for reclaiming our streets with blanket 20 mph zones is overwhelming both in terms of reducing traffic casualties and of encouraging more people to walk and cycle.

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Labour’s slowly slowly approach has meant that only the one area, in Newtown (where they hope to take the seat off the Greens next May), is currently being targeted for a 20 mph zone. Other councils have taken a much more proactive stance and gone ahead to consult with residents over whole towns and cities. These include Portsmouth, Brighton, Islington, Warrington, Liverpool, Wirral, Lancashire, Oxford, York, Cambridge, Waltham Forest, Newcastle, Hackney, Bristol, Middlesborough, Bath, Camden and Darlington.

For years Tony Page and his Labour colleagues have prevaricated on the issue of 20 mph zones whilst all these other places have grasped the nettle. We need action now over the whole of Reading and we need to make the case to Reading’s population about the need to reduce car speeds in residential areas. Actually I am sure that most Reading residents will take little convincing as whenever I have asked people about it there is almost total agreement.

So stop shilly-shallying and let’s have 20 mph zones across Reading

RESCUE in Tilehurst

This weekend being RESCUE weekend I went out to volunteer, with other Globe members and quite a few Tilehurst residents of all ages, in the annual clean up operation.

I spent two hours with two other volunteers, Pam and Jane, clearing up litter from the footpaths round the British Legion. We pulled out three large sacks of recyclables (mostly cans) and three of other rubbish. Much of the rubbish had to be pulled out from amongst the brambles and undergrowth. It was quite a struggle.

The good news is that the alleyways round by the Legion are now clear of litter for the first time since last year’s operation.

Anyway it was a job well done and there are more volunteers getting out this afternoon and tomorrow to clear up other parts of Tilehurst.

Dogs doings

I am sure that many ward councillors are approached by residents with stories of dog mess left lying on footpaths and other public places by inconsiderate dog owners. Despite the council installing a multitude of dog bins around the town, dog owners seem to think it is their right to leave their animals mess wherever it happens to fall.

Yesterday I visited one particular footpath in Tilehurst that has clearly been used as a public dog toilet for a very long time, the grass verges alongside the footpath are covered in piles of dog mess, despite the presence of a dog bin opposite one end of the footpath.

I cannot believe that dog owners would let their dogs pooh in the road outside their front door but they are quite happy to let their dogs pooh next to someone else’s house or garden.

The state of public places like this footpath are the reason that we Lib Dems have forced the Labour administration on the council to beef up the dog warden unit with an extra warden, despite the current financial position we find ourselves in. We do believe in keeping our streets clean and dog mess is a public nuisance.

Changes to Feed In Tariffs (FITs)

The government’s sudden decision to drastically reduce the FITs from 12 December has come as a real bolt from the blue to the solar panel industry. Up till now the UK had been developing a new, green, industry in the manufacture and installation of solar panels. These panels when fitted on the roofs of houses could provide a large chunk of the house’s domestic electricity needs. But the real bonus comes when during the day the solar panels are producing more electricity than the house needs and it is possible to feed excess electricity in to the national grid and get paid for it via a FIT which is paid direct to the consumer by his electricity supply company. The FIT for a typical householder is currently 43.3p for every kWh (kilowatt hour) of energy sold.

For an average house an outlay of £10,000 is needed to install the solar panels and the payback time is around 8-10 years, after which the solar panels could bring in an income of nearly £1,000 a year net for the remaining years of the scheme which runs for 25 years from installation..
After a slow start the demand for solar panels took off over the last year thanks to the government’s FIT mechanism which made solar panels affordable. The government wanted to boost the take up of solar panels so the FITs were raised temporarily for new installations that completed by 31 March 2012.

Already last summer the government was forced to rain back the FITs for larger installations as they noticed many country landowners were taking advantage of the generous FITs to create large scale solar farms. It produced more income than growing crops. Quite rightly the government did not want to be seen to be subsidising large landowners when the aim of the scheme was to encourage private householders.
However, the government seems to have got cold feet over the amount of subsidy it was paying out to support the FITs, and it has abruptly reduced the FITs from 43.3p to just 21p per kilowatt hour.

Many householders are now uncertain over the eventual returns on their investment as any installations completed after 12 December will only receive the new FITs, leaving them with payback periods extending to 15-20 years and greatly reducing the value of solar panel installation. There is now a real fear that the new rates will put most potential customers right off if they see the length of time it will take to recoup their investment and only a few years at the end of the scheme to reap any substantial benefit.

At a stroke, a new modern green industry has gone into a major panic. Firstly to complete as much work as possible before 12 December but then they face losing many of their potential customers who will be put off by the new FIT levels. Some 20,000 jobs may be at risk if the industry collapses as a result.

Another Vodafone Mast !

Well I guess it had to come sooner or later. Those nice people at Vodafone are planning another attempt at installing a mast in Tilehurst. I have been alerted to this latest attempt by a local resident who has received a letter from Vodafone. They are planning an 11 metre high (that is 36 foot in imperial measurements) mast at the bottom of Dark Lane, opposite number 8 and are inviting residents to comment before they finalise their planning application. The proposed site is actually over the border in Birch Copse Ward in West Berkshire but very close to my ward of Tilehurst.

They do not seem to realise that local residents do not appreciate telephone masts close up to their houses.

I think I may be about to make myself popular again with Vodafone.

The New Lead Councillor

Well on Tuesday night the Council approved the Coalition budget for 2011-12 and then also voted me in as the new Lead Councillor for Environment and Sustainability. I must admit I never thought I would ever take up such an exalted role when I went into politics, it was not normal for a Lib Dem to dream of power in the 1990’s. But here we are in 2011 and we find ourselves sharing power with the Tories and actually working with them to improve life for Reading residents after 23 years of Labour rule.

Anyway I now get to immerse myself in licensing and environmental protection alongside street cleaning and waste management. So its pretty much rubbish from here on in!

I hope I still find time to blog occasionally.

Trees to be Felled

Council officers have reported that a number of trees around the town are in such poor states of health that they require felling. Sadly the list includes the old horse chestnut tree in the Triangle which has been a landmark in Tilehurst for the last hundred years. Other trees to be felled in Tilehurst include one in Teviot Road growing too close to a house and one thorn tree outside 82 Elvaston Way.

It is always sad to see trees felled and it always takes a long time for replacement trees to grow. I have asked the Parks and Open Spaces Department  about plans to replace the felled trees and also the trees felled some time ago such as the one in front of the bungalows at the bottom of Corwen Road.

Thankfully, the council now has a Tree Strategy (thanks to a Lib Dem initiative over the last year) and soon it will have a full inventory of the trees in the Borough and budgeted plans for planting more, not just to replaced felled ones but to add to the number of trees, especially in those areas that have very few at present.

Trees in Reading and other towns and cities bring huge benefits to local people apart from making the place look more attractive. They help reduce air pollution, they provide shade in our parks, they reduce stormwater runoff and they also provide an improved habitat for much of our urban wildlife. We need to look after the trees we do have and replace the ones that we inevitably lose over time. Better still, we need to plant more trees where we can.

Pincents Hill – Blue Living Appeal

Well the inevitable has happened and Blue Living, the developers, have launched an appeal against the decision by West Berkshire’s Planning Committee to refuse them permission to build a whole new suburb with 750 homes plus shops and other facilities on land at Pincents Hill (see my posts last year on Pincents Hill)

Interested parties have until 21 September to send in comments which can be done online at www.planningportal.gov.uk/pcs . Or at least you will be able to very soon, it is not there yet. The case reference is APP/W0340/A/10/2133957/NWF.

This planning application by Blue Living is opposed by the vast majority of residents who live nearby and also by the majority of residents of Tilehurst who stand to suffer from a huge increase in traffic using City Road and Chapel Hill which will be used to access the new suburb and also provide the quickest root through to Reading’s town centre. It was on these grounds that I based my own objections when the planning application was first discussed.

There is something wrong with the planning process if this appeal is allowed as it will make a mockery of both the local planning process and also screw up Readings plans to reduce congestion on its already crowded road system. Needless to say there is no prvision in the plans for improving any transport links into town.

Please please please send in your own comments on this  unwanted scheme.

Who Believes in Park & Ride ?

On Monday, together with my Lib Dem colleagues Kirsten Bayes and Daisy Benson (our Wokingham colleagues have also called in the similar decision made by Wokingham as this is a joint service between the two councils), we called in the Labour Administration decision to increase the fares for the bus service to Loddon Bridge Park & Ride. Never mind that the increases are many times the current rate of inflation, this Administration, aided and abetted by the Tory ‘opposition’, gave a two fingered salute to those of us who are desperate to get commuters out of their cars and to reduce congestion in Reading.

Despite the amazing ease with which Reading uses TIF (Transport Innovation Fund, money given by central government to help reduce congestion)  funds to support bus services elsewhere in the borough (several times this year already), when in comes to Park & Ride they prefer to see more cars drive into Reading.

One explanation might be that the users of Park & Ride at Loddon Bridge do not tend to be voters in Reading whereas users of subsidised bus servcies within Reading do, or am I being too cynical.

The TIF bid for future funding includes money for replacing Loddon Bridge with an alternative Park & Ride site, its future is secure, so why reduce the bus service and put up fares by 20% ?

Local Labour and Tory politicians  should be asked to explain their action given that they have been trying to convince the rest if us that they support Park & Ride schemes.

Pincents Hill Hypocrites

Our lovely local upright Tories have long been saying they are opposed to any planned development of large scale housing on Pincents Hill (in West Berkshire between Calcot and Tilehurst). Yesterday’s announcement that Blue Living had put in a Planning Application for 750 houses on the site reminded me of the Tory hypocracy on this issue.

A month or two ago, after Alok Sharma the Tory PPC for Reading West and the local Birch Copse councillors (all Tories) and said publicly that they opposed the development, there was a vote on West Berks Council on the Pincents Hill development. You can guess what happened:  Cllr Emma Webster abstained, Cllr Joe Mooney voted for the plans without amendment and Cllr Tony Linden did not even turn up to vote.

I expect we will hear a lot more from the Tories now that the application has gone in, and they will all be doing their best to oppose it. Until, that is, the Conservative Party in West Berks tells them not to. Whereupon they all slink off and hope nobody notices.  Actually this kind of bellicose verbosity before a vote, followed by abstention or even supporting the other side during the vote, is strangely reminiscent of our local MP, the great Martin Salter. Yes he who campaigns against the Iraq war, against tuition fees and many other causes, but strangely does not manage to actually vote according to his ‘beliefs’. 

If politicians were rewarded for their principles Salter would not be our MP and the Birch Copse Tories would be out on their ears.