Affordable Housing in Reading

I almost got a shock whilst reading the papers for this week’s Planning Committee. On two major developments the council appears to have negotiated 30% affordable housing. Not withstanding the fact that these were probably negotiated while the council was supposedly working to a 50% target for affordable homes on new developments, this is a very healthy improvement from the 20% and less that I have seen consistently approved by the Planning Committee over the last 18 months I have had the pleasure of being a member of the committee.

On both occasions (Station Hill and Kenavon Drive) Cllr Page pointedly mentioned the affordable housing levels in his comments, a clear sign that he has woken up to my calls for action to get more affordable housing from new developments in Reading. He knows that his record is poor on this matter and I have constantly hammered away at affordable housing at every opportunity in committee.

However, the council recently dropped its affordable housing target from 50% down to 30%. So if we can get 30% when against a target of 50% I worry that future agreements will be a lot less than the target of 30%. If that proves to be the case then I will, of course, have a lot more to say to Cllr Page.

The government has allowed some of the income from council house sales to be used for new affordable housing and with the economy now moving up the gears we should see more developments coming to Planning Committee. We need to ensure that they include higher levels of affordable homes than in in the last 18 months.

New plans for School Road

School Road at The Triangle

Traffic managers at the council have come up with new plans to improve road safety along School Road in Tilehurst, in part due to a number of incidents involving pedestrians in recent years. The plans call for:

1. A number of traffic islands along School Road to make it safer for pedestrians to cross.
2. Removal of the bus lay-by in The Triangle.
3. Creation of a new bus lay-by in Corwen Road.
4. A new 20 mph limit along School Road, Walnut Way and the closes off them.
5. A safety barrier (guard railing) in front of the library.

The lay-by in The Triangle is used by the 33 buses as a timing point so buses may be parked there for several minutes. Moving the lay-by to Corwen Road will allow pedestrians to cross using a new island in front of Barclays Bank without the buses holding up traffic. The 17 will continue to use the bus stop which will move slightly closer to the traffic lights, but on the road and it does not use this stop as a timing point. The lay-by outside the Plough will not be changed.

Pedestrians can use the new islands to cross over School Road and also to avoid the tricky crossing of Westwood Road where mums, schoolchildren and elderly folk currently have to walk in between cars.

All in all the plans are welcome although we would have preferred a much wider 20 mph zone incorporating a lot more of Tilehurst’s residential roads.

You can see the plans here on the main Reading Lib Dems website.

Feel free to send any comments in to the ouncil, in fact the more comments you send in the better. And do not forget to mention the need for a safety barrier outside the library to stop very young children from running out into the street.

Potholes, potholes and more potholes

Walnut Way 20130414b
This is clearly a subject that concerns a lot of folk in Tilehurst according to our recent residents’ surveys. We also get a number of pothole reports coming to our monthly surgeries. Since the council has put in considerbly more effort to fix potholes over the last few months I thought I would share with you some figures that were presented to the recent Traffic Management committee in November.

Since 29 July the council has fixed 540 out of 885 potholes reported, which is 61%. This includes all those on major (A and B class) roads. Having fixed the major roads they are are working down the list of priorities and should complete the vast bulk before Xmas and the inevitable bout of colder weather that will, no doubt, open up another load of potholes.

Do spare a thought for the gangs who spend their time out on the roads fixing potholes, its a job that never ends.

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.

20mphRoundel100x100

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

Road closure in Tilehurst over half-term week

There will be a major road closure in Tilehurst next week. The council will be closing the roads at the junction of Corwen Road and Walnut Way to work on drainage issues and to improve the footway crossings. The junction will be closed entirely to undertake the works.

Residents and businesses will need to access The Triangle, Walnut Way, Tyle Road, and Tree Close from St Michaels Road and the ‘No Entry’ restriction on the junction of Walnut Way and St. Michael’s Road will be suspended to allow this.

The road closure will be for five days from 28th October between 09.30 – 16.00 (School Half-Term). Letters are being sent out to affected residents.

Reading Buses have been notified, and will be diverting their affected services.

The New Thames Bridge

Now that the Planning Committee has made its decision to go ahead with the current ‘shared use’ design I can finally make my own views public.

Let me say from the outset that all parties agree on the need for a new bridge over the Thames to serve pedestrians and cyclists and we are all comfortable with the chosen position near the end of Fry’s Island.

Last night I criticised the Labour and Tory view that cyclists and pedestrians could share the new bridge without any separation. My only support came from Melanie Eastwood, the Green councillor and from a band of Reading cyclists who also objected to the current design.

Leaving aside the fact that the bridge design was partly based on a cycle and pedestrian count carried out last July on Reading and Caversham bridges which clearly caused some consternation as it differed widely from Reading Cycle Campaign’s own figures. The council did another count very recently and came up with figures that were double the originals and much closer to RCC’s.
My view is that pedestrians do not feel safe walking in amongst cycles, not all pedestrians are fully mobile and the mixed use would deter them from using the bridge. This will be made much worse as at the southern end of the bridge, cyclists have to make a 900 turn as they come off the bridge on to the ramp. This will cause conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians and the officer’s response that cyclists would all slow down for pedestrians is simply not very re-assuring to people wanting to walk over the bridge with push chairs, toddlers, etc.

The bridge needs to be a little wider and to have a narrow raised kerb to separate the cycles from the walkers. Otherwise we need cyclists to dismount as they are forced to do when using the new subway underneath Reading station.

When it came to the vote the Tories sided with the Labour Administration and only Melanie and myself opposed the planning application.

Slower speeds through wide 20mph limits is the top child protection measure

Children and families are big winners from slower speeds. Wide 20mph limits help parents and children to get around locally. Less danger or parent ‘taxi-duty’ and more walking and cycling means happier, healthier families with extra money to spend.

Child protection should focus more on slower speeds because crashes are the top
avoidable cause of early death or injury for 5-35 year olds. Some children are not allowed to go out without an adult because of fears of being run over. Leading expert Professor Danny Dorling says “roads imprison richer children at home, denying them the freedom to move and are the main sites of killing of poorer children”.

Changing adult driving styles does work. Signing drivers to obey a 20mph limit improves safety – especially if most roads are included. The World Health Organisation say wide area 20mph limits help protect walkers. Public Health body NICE advises 20 mph limits near children. At 20mph the risk of death is 7 times less than 30mph . There is extra time to get out of the way or brake. Just 20% of child casualties happen on school journeys. Yet until recently transport officials had focused on engineering slower speeds with humped, school zones. But, humps are costly. They result in confusing limits. Zones only protect a few hundred metres near schools (about 17% of a school trip). Zones encourage parents to drop off in the “safe area” and then remind them to speed up on leaving it. Wide 20mph limits are better because people who walk or cycle the journey enjoy a 20mph limit throughout the majority of their route. Noise levels fall by 50% too, plus its popular and good for the environment.

The results of protective parents stopping children from going about by themselves are all too clear. Very overweight child numbers are rising. 22% of London’s year 6 children (10/11 year olds) are obese. Body fat is controlled by eating fewer calories and exercise. Exercising one hour daily is recommended for kids, yet with most not allowed to walk or cycle alone due to mum’s and dad’s concerns, few are active enough. Also the focus on obesity is masking rapidly reducing child fitness levels. Nearly half of year 11 pupils (15 year olds) are unfit. This raises the risks of many other health problems such as heart disease.

From 20’s Plenty For Us which campaigns for a 20mph default speed limit in residential streets without physical calming. Web www.20splentyforus.org.uk

Bank overdrafts and payday loans

Full marks to The Independent today for making the point that high street banks often charge as much for short term loans as the payday lenders we have got so worked up about recently.

The article is at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/crack-down-on-overdraft-charges-campaigners-urge-887780

Taking out an unauthorised overdraft for a few weeks can cost as much borrowing the same amount from Wonga or other payday loan companies.

There is, of course. a sane alternative to both high street banks and payday loan companies, it is the Credit Unions. At least with a Credit Union you know you will be charged a fair amount for your loan and that any profit made from loans will go into the business of making more affordable loans to people in financial difficulties. I am a member of Community Savings and Loans, the Berkshire Credit Union, as are many other councillors who also realise that we have a huge task in weaning people off the loan sharks and on to much more equitable loan deals and we need to support our local Credit Unions as much as possible.

Labour’s flaky commitment to affordable housing

Labour’s planning documents which they use to make judgements on planning applications includes a commitment to seek 50% affordable housing on all major developments where more than 15 houses are proposed. It is an excellent target given that not only is there a severe housing shortage in Reading but we have little hope of making inroads in to a council housing waiting list that numbers around 10,000. Given that the population of Reading is approximately 150,000, that is an awfully high number of people and families who are being forced into private rented accommodation, often in poor quality buildings.

So it was with great interest that I read a planning application to do with some minor matters relating to the scheme to rejuvenate the Dee Road Estate. The total scheme calls for the demolition of 376 houses on the site and replacing them with 763 houses and flats. However, even in one of their flagship schemes, the Labour council has only managed to provide 281 affordable homes out of the total of 763 being built. For the mathematicians amongst you, that equates to a measly 37% of the total.

So much for the 50% target that was introduced with fanfares only a year or two ago. Do please write and ask Cllr Page (Lead Councillor for Planning) what has happened to the 50% target which has never been anywhere near met on any major development project that I am aware of.

Pavement resurfacing in Tilehurst

The council will be resurfacing a number of pavements around the town over the next month including two roads in Tilehurst:

Recreation Road – preparation work September 30-October 2 and resurfacing October 17-21

Ogmore Close – preparation work October 2-4 and resurfacing October 24-28

Two further roads in next door Kentwood Ward are also being resurfaced:

Thirlmere Avenue – preparation work September 23-25 and resurfacing October 1-7

Lower Armour Road – preparation work September 25-27 and resurfacing October 11-15

It is always good to see government money being spent on local improvements.