House Building

It was good to see that there was a marked increase in new homes completed in the first quarter of 2015, up around 25% over the same quarter last year but still the overall figure for the last year is just 125,000 houses when we really need more than double that number even to keep pace with growing demand, never mind reducing the backlog.

The really bad news is that only 20% of new homes in the last quarter were housing association builds and only 270 new council houses were built in that period.

These figures are dire and are condemning millions of people to live in unaffordable private rented accommodation for many years to come and it is the government that picks up much of the costs in meeting claims for Housing Benefit.

We desperately need more affordable housing all across London anmd the South of England. Councils need to be able to borow more money to build homes that people can afford to rent.

20 mph across Reading

Yesterday evening I heard yet again the same old story from Labour councillors about the need for 20mph limits in one particular estate in Reading. They do keep popping up with the same idea, namely that we can create a patchwork of 20mph areas across Reading, but they absolutely refuse to take the bull by the horns and implement 20mph limits on ALL residential roads in Reading. Do they really think that a patchwork of some 20mph alongside some 30mph zones makes much sense? Drivers need to know and understand traffic regulations and zipping between 20mph and 30mph zones does not make it easy for the driver to know which zone he is driving in.

What is so wrong with doing a big promotion across the town, engaging with residents (in a referendum, if necessary, next May) and going for 20mph limits across ALL residential roads in Reading. Why is it good for Dee Road Estate all of a sudden but not for Elvaston Way (where we asked for a 20mph zone six or seven years ago).

There is no logic to a piecemeal approach when almost everywhere you ask people they all want 20mph zones by a large majority.

Wake up Cllr Tony Page, smell the coffee, and move to implement 20mph along all residential roads across the whole town.

20 is Plenty for all of us! Visit the website at www.20splentyforus.org.uk

20s Plenty

Yet another smash in Mayfair

Mayfair smash 4 Aug 2014 cropped

I am losing count of the number of smashes in Mayfair since the council stopped residents parking on their own driveways. Today’s smash (see above) is the fourth or fifth involving cars running in to parked vehicles or drivers causing accidents whilst reversing out of their driveways between parked cars.

I am not sure how long it takes for this Labour council to recognise that stopping residents of Mayfair from parking on their own driveways is not just nonsensical, it is also downright dangerous.

Tilehurst residents overwhelmingly support the experimental ban on verge and pavement parking but the council’s pigheadedness over Mayfair is causing huge concern over the whole scheme.

Fair deal for pensioners

I’ve always believed that how a society treats its elderly people is a measure of how fair a society is.

In our 2010 manifesto we had a policy called the ‘triple lock guarantee’ which re-established the link between pensions and earnings; a link that had remained broken under successive governments since Margaret Thatcher’s Government of 1980. We demanded it was part of the Coalition Agreement and have delivered it in Government.

This means that pensioners in Reading are guaranteed an annual rise by whichever is the higher of earnings growth, prices growth or 2.5%. The state pension is £440 higher per year in 2014-15 than if it had increased in line with earnings from the start of this Parliament, benefiting the 18,000 pensioners in Reading all thanks to the Liberal Democrat triple lock.

Liberal Democrats are committed to building a fairer society and protecting our elderly population not just in this parliament, but for every parliament in the future. That’s why we have pledged to write this ‘triple lock’ into law, guaranteeing that pensioners get this protection in the years ahead, going further than any of the other parties.

This is the latest in a long line of Liberal Democrat policies delivered in Government that help build and safeguard a fairer society. This will offer dignity and stability to current pensioners, as well as those coming up to retirement. They will be able to better plan their futures knowing that they’ll no longer be faced with the insecurity of unpredictable pension rises.

How we define poverty

Whilst reading today’s Independent I was struck by the definition of poverty used by government statisticians. According to the article by Jonathan Owen the poverty line for a family of four is £357 a week after housing costs which translates to £18,564 a year. That got me thinking as I, like most people I suspect, assumed that poverty meant hungry children in rags and begging on the streets. OK so we are talking about relative poverty in the UK but just the use of the term poverty seems really over the top for a person earning £18,564 a year and has his housing costs paid for. Is this really a definition of poverty? Well the government measure used to define poverty is those living in a household with an income of less than 60% of the national average which currently means £357 a week for a family of four and excludes housing costs. It cannot be all sweetness and light for a family of four living on this level of income but it also does not seem like real poverty.

What strikes me about this definition of poverty is that it is totally distorted by the huge gap that opened up between rich and poor in this country since the days of Mrs Thatcher and the acceptance of ‘greed is good’ by successive Tory and Labour governments. The average income figure is skewed by the presence of a relatively few astronomically wealthy individuals. That gap has actually been narrowed a bit by the Coalition since 2010 with measures such as raising the personal income tax allowance, the pupil premium and now the expansion of free school meals but there is still a huge difference between rich and poor in our country.

The government needs a different measure of poverty in this country, one that can provide a useful measure of those in dire straits without reference to the filthy rich. That will help future governments target their efforts at those in really desperate need.

Why you should support the Lib Dems in Reading

Ricky face shot 6
We are proud of this government’s record in closing the gap between rich and poor in our society. It was the Lib Dems that proposed both the Pupil Premium and the sharp rises in income tax allowances that now give 25 million workwers an extra £700 in their pay packets. 1.5 million new apprenticeships are playing a key role in giving our youngsters the best starts in their chosen careers, a Green Investment Bank is now providing funds to develop our green businesses. And all this has been achieved whilst turning round our economy which the last Labour government left in a shambles.

We are also proud of this nation’s welcoming attitude to those from other parts of the world who want to contribute to our growing economy. Immigration plays a vital part in our country’s life, providing both simple labour and some of the best entrepreneurs. We want to see a Greater Britain, not a little England that disengages from the rest of the world. We want to work with our counterparts in Europe not set up barriers with our largest trading partners.

Reading has a booming economy and a fantastic kaleidoscope of a population from all four corners of the world. Our ambition is to make sure that all residents share in the rewards and that the less well off are also cared for.

Locally I am leading the campaign for 20 mph limits on all residential streets across Reading. I also want to see a much bigger emphasis on building affordable homes on any new developments in Reading.

Specifically in Tilehurst I am working with local people to oppose the ban on residents of Mayfair from parking on their own driveways, on opposing the landowners plans to sell off the allotments on Chapel Hill, supporting the road safety improvements in School Road and pushing for a much wider 20 mph zone as far as possible across Tilehurst. I also want to see much more use being made of mobile speed guns by the local police team given that one of their priorities is speeding cars.

Lessons from the Euro Debates

Like many people I have sat through both Euro debates and my gut feeling is that they did more to cement pre-existing views than sway anybody to vote one way or another.

What was hugely disappointing was the non-appearance of the other two major party leaders. If this is the leadership of David Cameron and Ed Milliband, then it is difficult to be positive about the future of Britain. They say they are both convinced Europeans but neither had the guts to defend their positions in a public debate. Neither was prepared to face down the populist groundswell behind UKIP that blames all our country’s ills on immigration and Europe.

The conclusion is simple. If you believe in Great Britain rather than Little England, if you want a strong Britain within Europe rather than a Billy-no-mates Britain with no jobs and no influence, if you want to see a future vision of Britain taking its rightful place in Europe rather than hoping to return Britain to the isolation of the fifties and sixties, then you need to vote for the Lib Dems, the party of IN, on May 22nd.

New crossings for School Road

Council officers have revised the plans for School Road that I reported on in December. The plans now call for 4 new pedestrian refuges along School Road instead of the 5 in the original plan and the bus stop in The Triangle is staying put. The plans can be seen here:

TTMS 004

Even better news is that the works are due to start next week (from Monday 24 February) after the Transport Management Team re-arranged their works schedules in the light of recent flooding.

School Road will soon have 4 new crossing points making crossing the road much easier and safer along with a new 20mph speed limit and a new guard rail outside the library (thanks to my colleague Meri O’Connell who led a campaign for the guard rail). All in all this is a good response to a number of accidents along School Road involving pedestrians. It also means that parents with children in tow and elderly residents can use the new crossings to avoid the particularly dangerous crossing of Westwood Road at its junction with School Road.

We welcome the new crossings and look forward to a safer Tilehurst. We will continue to campaign for 20mph zones across the whole town to make our residential streets safer for all users.

People Power in Mayfair

One of the nice things about being a councillor is being able to help people and for me the really special times are when you help people to take action for themselves. A great example of this has been the protest by residents of Mayfair about the bizarre actions of traffic wardens to ticket residents for parking on their own drives.
Mayfair parking
I was first approached by a resident after one of his neighbours visitors was ticketed. I queried this with the council but officers took the view that the land in question was public highway and even thought the ban was aimed at cars parking on grass verges or blocking public footpaths and the Mayfair residents did neither of these things, just parked on the long driveways in front of their houses, traffic wardens took no notice of protests and gave out tickets to cars parked on the driveways. This seemed a bit of nonsense so I queried it with Tony Page, the Lead Councillor for Transport, but he also declined to do anything. So we took the story to the press and, after asking for a meeting between Cllr Page and the residents, we were invited to put our case to a meeting of the Traffic Management Committee.

Mayfair residents then organised themselves, called a meeting, appointed a spokesperson, gathered over 50 signatures from other residents of Mayfair. Dave Penn was the man who presented the case and was given some rousing applause by the 8 or 9 other residents who attended the meeting to support him. I have been able to work with residents all along the way but for me the key thing was to see people doing things for themselves and standing up to the council. It has been great to see and to be involved with. So well done to Wayne, Dave, Pat and Ray and all the others who have given their support.

The result of pressure press and a strong presentation of their case has been a promise to respond to the issue at the next Transport Management meeting.