There’s a bit of a joke in the
Liberal Democrat party that we like pointing at things, particularly
potholes. In fact, our current party
president, Mark Pack has set up a website www.libdemspointing.co.uk with the
subheading “Liberal Democrats in their natural habitat.” So to buck the trend, here’s a photograph of
myself and local campaigner Ian Shenton pointing at a pothole on Finchampstead
Road near Carnival pool.
I spotted this pothole yesterday
(Saturday 1st Feb) when walking up to the sports centre with my kids
for a swim, and used the WBC app on my phone to report it. I was surprised that this pothole had not
already been reported. Given that we’re
in the winter months when potholes are more frequent, I thought it a good idea
to remind everyone how to report potholes and the council’s processes.
Wokingham Borough Council, as the
highways authority, has a responsibility to maintain all adopted roads that
fall under its authority. This means roads
that are private or larger roads such as the M4 that passes through the borough,
fall outside of its responsibility, but the majority of the roads that we use
in the borough, WBC has to maintain.
In April 2019, WBC entered into a
new maintenance contract with Volker Highways, the contract having previously
been run by Balfour Beatty. As part of
the contract, Volker’s will do inspections of the roads in the borough, and
will repair defects that they come across as part of their inspections. How frequently these inspections take place
varies depending on the kind of road. A
major ‘A’ class road would have more frequent inspections (monthly) due to the
high level of traffic.
Defects though do appear in
between inspections, and can be dealt with if the highways authority is made
aware of them. Members of the public can
report potholes via the council’s website https://www.wokingham.gov.uk/report-problems/
(click on ‘p’ for pothole, or type in pothole to the search bar) amongst many
other things. You can also report on the
WBC app on your phone, although appreciate at the moment, the app is a bit
clunky. If however, the pothole is
urgent, do please call 0118 974 6000 (0800 212 111 if out of hours). Volker’s aims to repair urgent defects within
24 hours and non-urgent within 28 days.
Below is the website version of
how to report potholes which I’ve taken you through step by step. The app is similar and as I’ve already
mentioned a bit clunky. I have raised
this though with the contract owner at WBC as a way of improving the service to
The pothole I highlighted at the
beginning of this blog though upon going back today (Sunday 2nd Feb),
had become much worse. I therefore had
the opportunity to test the ‘reporting an urgent pothole’ function. As it’s the weekend and out of hours, I
called the out of hours number (which I could only get by phoning the regular
number as the out of hours number is not listed on the website). I have to admit, it wasn’t the best or
easiest service to use, and will be feeding this back to the contract owner at
our next meeting. I was left on the
phone with no one answering and music playing for over 10 minutes without any
kind of message to give me confidence that my phone call would be picked up. I nearly gave up! Someone eventually did pick up, but it was quickly
apparent that they weren’t local when I said that the pothole was on Finchampstead
Road near the town centre, and they didn’t know what part of the country I was
in. They also didn’t have access to the
online reporting system so I couldn’t give them the reference number from the
online report I made yesterday. It’s not
too difficult for someone with local knowledge to describe where a pothole is,
but if you don’t have local knowledge (people passing through are just as
entitled to report defects), it would put you off doing it. Given the highways authority is reliant on
members of the public reporting defects in between inspections, the process
needs to be as easy to use as possible, and this is an area where I would like
to see some improvements.
In my own experience I found that
before the new Volker contract came into play, there were some issues with the
quality of repairs, and as such, many potholes are reappearing after a short
period of time. I also felt that there
were some teething problems with the new contract. There was a pothole that I reported before
the new contract that didn’t get fixed, and I re-reported it twice more at the
beginning of the new contract, to ultimately have to take it to the contract
owner to get some action. Problems do
happen, but on recent reports, I’ve found the service to be much better and the
fixes of a far better quality. There was
one pothole on the road at the foot of my drive. Not only was it fixed within the timescale,
the quality of fix is good, and the team fixing it did knock on my door first
to see if I needed to get my car off the drive first.
I would like to point out that
elected members of the council do not get any special privileges when it comes
to reporting defects like potholes. We
also use the method(s) outlined above.
Where we do come in useful though is if problems arise with the above
system, such as defects not being repaired properly or in a reasonable time, or
at all. We can also feedback to the
contract owners anything we feel relevant.
With regards to quality, Volker’s themselves quality check 10% of the
work carried out by their employees. WBC
also do spot checks, but will be doing a thorough review of the quality in the
coming months as the contract comes up to its first anniversary. I have also requested that the Volker
Highways contract comes to the Overview & Scrutiny committee for a thorough
And now for something completely
different – Lib Dems not pointing at something for a change.
It was full council last night, the first one since
September last year due to November’s being cancelled in the run up to the
election, and it was a packed and varied agenda.
It started off with some fantastic public questions, but
what stood out for many of us in the council chamber were the teenagers from
Bulmershe school who asked several public questions related to climate
change. It’s quite an intimidating
environment in the council chamber, so fantastic to see them there, not just
asking those pre-submitted questions, but also challenging supplementary
We moved onto the Homeless and Rough Sleeping Strategy
where we were asked to approve it for 2020-2024. Below is my colleague Cllr Prue Bray’s speech
which was particularly moving.
“The week before last, I left the council
offices after a meeting using the back door out down the steps to the car
park. Shockingly, there was a homeless
man wrapped in a sleeping bag at the top of the steps.
Many of you will remember a recent council meeting during which
the deputy chief executive was called out to try and deal with a woman who had
presented herself at reception having fled the place she was staying because
she believed it was unsafe, and had nowhere to go. And unfortunately this council was unable to
help her in the way she needed, not for want of trying, but because her
specific circumstances didn’t qualify her under the rules that are in place.
Nothing like either incident has happened before in all my time as
a councillor, and I will have been elected for 20 years in May. Something is wrong and getting worse and we
need to fix it.
But we won’t fix it by the government simply spouting rhetoric,
telling councils they have to do something, giving them extra duties and making
them write a strategy. There is nothing wrong with this strategy, as far as it
goes. I don’t doubt the commitment of
officers trying to help people. The
actions this council will take through the strategy will make a difference at
the edges. But it won’t solve the
problem of homelessness.
Providing more affordable homes, and other housing-related actions
like reforming the private rented sector and tackling empty homes will also not
be enough to fix it. That’s because it
isn’t just a housing problem.
People are homeless for all sorts of reasons and to reduce the
numbers we need far more resources to
tackle mental health, particularly for forces veterans, we need to focus on
ex-prisoners, drug and alcohol dependency, family breakdowns, domestic abuse,
uncertain and fluctuating employment and income, and, of course, sort out the
welfare system. Unfortunately, I don’t
see any sign that this country is about to start doing any of those things.
In the absence of action on a wider scale, we need to do what we
can here in Wokingham. That means
agreeing this strategy and acting on it, because it could make a difference
locally. But as I say, no-one should be
under any illusion that it is going to solve homelessness or rough sleeping.”
The council chamber voted unanimously for the recommendation.
We moved onto council tax and in particular the Council Tax
Reduction Scheme 2020/21 which you may remember last year was brought back
a second time as the first version had included child maintenance payments as income
in it when making assessments. My colleague
Cllr David Hare proposed an amendment to the recommendation which was
“that when reviewing the Council Tax Reduction Scheme for
2021/22 the disregard of the whole amount of carers’ allowance be included as an
Currently part of the carer’s allowance is included as income during
assessment. I personally feel quite
strongly about this because carer’s allowance is just £66.15 a week as it is. Carers are actually saving the state money by
freeing up part of the health service.
Many carers have given up their jobs in order to care for a loved one
which is a 24/7 job. Cllr Shirley Boyt
from the Labour party, herself having been a carer for a number of years, made
a very moving speech explaining the implications of what the original
recommendation was. We would have loved
to have removed the carers allowance inclusion this year, but it needs to go
through a judicial review and out to consultation meaning that the council tax
bills would not go out on time. Many of
you may be happy about that, but it would put a huge hole in the council’s
finances so the proposal was to fix this problem for next year. The ruling group agreed to the amendment and
the item was passed.
The next item was Declaring a Climate Emergency Initial Action
Plan. The recommendation that we
were asked to vote on began with “That Council approves the Climate Emergency
Action Plan.” I contacted the
Executive Member for Climate Emergency earlier in the week to ask that the word
‘initial’ be put into the recommendation because we could not recognise this as
a complete document at this stage, which he duly agreed to do. My speech on this item is as follows:
“I would like to take the opportunity to thank this council
chamber for unanimously voting for declaring a climate emergency. This will be one of the most important
decisions we will ever have made. I
would also like to thank you Cllr Murray for agreeing to the change in recommendation
at my request. I also want to pass on my
thanks to the officers and Rhian Hayes in particular for all the hard work
they’ve put in to producing what we see before us – an update on what is a work
This is a momentous job and some of the ideas in this
action plan have legs. It’s a really
good start. But it is just a start and
whilst I appreciate this is a living document that will evolve, there’s still a
lot more work that needs to be done before the first draft can be
published. There are still conversations
to be had as to the scope of this document, how we scrutinise the actions we’re
proposing, but most importantly, will it actually work.
Currently, the document does not contain a carbon budget. This is an estimate of the carbon savings for
each of these initiatives. When all
added up, will they result in us being a carbon neutral borough? My fear at the moment is that, whilst there
are some really great ideas, we’re just scratching the surface. Some tough choices will have to be made that
aren’t going to be popular if we’re truly serious about this, but I don’t see
much evidence of that yet. I am more
than happy to be proved wrong and find out that these actions will reach carbon
neutrality, but until we have that carbon budget, how will we know?
The governance and scrutiny structure also needs
tightening. It was stated in the local
paper at the beginning of the month in a feature piece about this very document
that the cross-party working group had written this document. We haven’t.
At the point of that article being printed, we had only had a meeting to
agree terms of reference and throw a few ideas forward to be considered. We saw the first draft copy 2 days after the
news article had been printed. The
working group needs much more of a handle of the steer of this than it
currently does. We also are yet to
debate changes to the overview and scrutiny function of this council in order
to accommodate this climate emergency agenda. We currently do not have the capacity to
scrutinise the actions coming out of this plan.
And with an initial three-year budget of £50 million, this needs careful
I look forward to when, in July, this item is brought
back to council, and ready, having addressed many of the points I’ve made, for
us to properly consider whether we commit to it.”
There were a number of speeches made and there appeared to
be some misinterpretation that all opposition councillors were voting against
this item. One of the councillors from
the ruling party stood up in a moment of anger and expressed his anger at the
opposition. My colleague Cllr Stephen
Conway calmed things by explaining that the Lib Dems would vote for it, and of
course we want to do everything we can to tackle the climate emergency, but we
had to express our thoughts on the journey thus far and provide constructive
challenge to ensure the best possible outcome.
Next up was the item Changes To The Constitution
which was split into two part. The
second part were minor changes that needed to be done and we all voted for, but
the first part was a little more controversial.
It was proposed to change the full council meetings to start even
earlier than they do now. The speech I
gave is as follows:
“I am going to start by repeating the words from my
closing speech to the Equalities motion last year. Look at the diverse society out there that we
represent. And now look around this
council chamber. Why are we not
reflecting that diversity? There are too
many barriers in the way.
I appreciate that there is not going to be a solution to
the matter of meeting start times that suits everybody. However, bringing meeting times forward will
only make it harder for those of us that are already underrepresented. I will probably sound very selfish by stating
that I find it incredibly difficult to get to the evening meetings we have here
on time, especially the committee meetings that start at the earlier time being
proposed tonight. However, I don’t know
how many other mothers there are in this council chamber of primary school aged
children, but given that we’re in short supply, maybe I need to be a little bit
selfish on this matter and make that minority voice heard.
As a parent of very young children, children who cannot
be left without a responsible adult, I am trying to juggle my role as a representative
of my residents, with being the best mother I possibly can. I am also reliant on my husband returning
from work before I can then leave to come out to evening meetings. We do not have local family that can help us
in this regard. I love the role that I
do at this council. I am truly honoured
to have this opportunity to speak up for my residents, to scrutinise policy, to
suggest policy even. Why make that even
harder for those of us that are already in the minority?
I know that committees start at the earlier time proposed,
but they didn’t always. They too used to
start at 7:30 even as recently as 2017, but that’s been changed making it
harder for many of us. As such, I would
request that the constitution review working group would move the times of
committees in line with the current full council meeting times, not the other
way round as is being proposed. I know
that these meetings finish late and we’re making important decisions, but the
difference of half an hour at the end of the meeting is minimal in this
regard. Putting up more barriers to
diversity is not a solution for a problem that doesn’t really exist. It creates a far worse problem. If it really is that much of a problem then
we should be considering changing the structure of these meetings in another
There has been no equality impact assessment done for
this proposed change. In fact there is
no evidence of how minority groups have been considered in this regard and it
is the council’s responsibility as part of the public sector equality duty to
evidence how protected characteristics have been considered when making its
decisions. I would also suggest that it
is not solely down to the decision of the current elected membership of this
council. There are members of the public
who are prospective candidates. Have we
consulted with the public?
For many of you, this change would be a nice to have, not
a need to have. It doesn’t really matter
one way or another to you. Please
consider those of us that it really does matter to. Those of us that want to be good parents and
give a voice to our residents. Do not
put up more barriers to diversity in this council chamber. I am urging you to please vote against the
recommendation for making council meeting times earlier.”
There was a shift in mood after this. I went to the back of the chamber to fill up
my water at the water cooler and a member of the ruling group approached me and
whispered that he agreed with everything I said and had made up his mind not to
support the recommendation. Then various
members of both the ruling group and opposition parties stood up and spoke in
support of what I’d said. The
recommendation fell as a result with very few members supporting it. I am very grateful that the council chamber
showed compassion over this and I extend my thanks to all those members who
Next up was member’s questions. I asked “What mandatory training are
social workers in adult social care and children’s social care required to do
on domestic violence?” The response
I got from the Executive member for Children’s Services I will give more detail
on when I get the minutes from the meeting, but to give an overview, there is a
bespoke 1-day course for all social workers.
This covers a range of elements including harassment, stalking, violence
and domestic abuse. There are also a
range of non-mandatory e-learning courses that social workers can do. I followed up by stating that perhaps the
non-mandatory training should be mandatory and by asking if the mandatory training
was also being done by locum social workers given the high percentage of them
in our teams. This would require a
written response because she didn’t know the answer.
We then moved onto ward questions, where I asked the
“Molly Millars business estate
is in my ward. Molly Millars business
estate, the way things are going, will probably no longer be a business
estate. It is a core employment area for
the borough, but through permitted development laws, offices are gradually
being converted to residential units.
For the benefit of the public, permitted development laws allow
developers to convert office space to residential without planning permission
from the local authority. There are
benefits to having residential properties so close to public transport links
and town centre amenities, but by bi-passing the local planning authority for
permission, we are all left in a situation where flats are provided without
consideration for amenities such as school provision, doctors surgeries, no
affordable housing has to be provided, no CIL money has to be provided, the
list goes on. What is the point in
producing a local plan where we designate core employment areas and consider
the infrastructure that that entails, when this law exists to override that? I have already contacted John Redwood to help
lobby for a change in the law, and I would like to know if you too will join in
this fight and help protect our residents?”
The executive member for planning
completely agreed with me and has been contacted by John Redwood. Moving forward he has promised to work with
me on this.
Normally we move onto the final 3
items at this stage in the proceedings: Statements by the leader of the
council, executive members and deputy executive members, and Statement
from council owned companies and finally Motions. Normal proceedings are that council
meetings end at 10:30 but can be extended to 11pm by way of a vote. My colleague proposed extending the meetings
in order to get to the motions, but the ruling group voted against. I am frustrated because there are some very
important motions that needed to be debated and voted upon, particularly the
first one which is about the council’s response to the Heathrow expansion
consultation. This will now move to the
March full council agenda.
It’s clear that the fact that we
can’t get through a full agenda in the allotted time for the second full
council meeting in a row now demonstrates that something is not right with the
structure of these meetings. I don’t
have the answer right now, but discussions need to be had because we cannot
continue to ignore important issues, such as the ones presented in the motions
I’ve been a little bit quiet with
my blog of late and for that I can only apologise. The last one I wrote was during the school
summer holidays. I have very young
children, so once school restarted in September, I had a mountain of work to
catch up on as I spent much of the summer holidays entertaining them. Things started to calm down by half term, and
I spent a lovely few days away with my family, only to return and spend 2 days
in hospital. The excruciating pain half
way down my chest after many tests transpired to be a fish bone stuck in my
oesophagus. The procedure to remove it
(an endoscopy), despite having sedation, was probably one of the worst
experiences of my life and I spent the next couple of days feeling very sorry
for myself. No sooner had I recovered and a general election was called. And the rest, as they say, is history.
So much has happened in the last
few months with regards to my role as a local councillor, that I have decided
to write a series of shorter blog posts, as there’s just so much to write about. This one I’m focusing on the cleaner and
greener aspect of the council’s role.
One of the things I’m really keen
to help facilitate further is active travel, i.e. walking and cycling, to get
to one’s destination, and one of the prohibitors (note I said ‘one of’) is the
fact that so much of the vegetation is growing over and covering our
I took a couple of walks around
the ward I represent with an officer from the Localities team at the council;
one walk round the east side of the ward and another round the west side. The aim was to identify problem areas and
discuss solutions. There is a legal
requirement for vegetation to be removed should it be blocking the highway,
which includes footpaths, but vegetation isn’t always on WBC land. Where it is on WBC land, Tivoli is the
current contractor responsible for maintaining and cutting it back as part of
the grass cutting contract. (It is under
another contract, street cleansing, when the problem is in alleyways). Where it isn’t on WBC land however, it is up
to the land owner to maintain and cut back.
During these walks, we identified several areas that were WBC owned land and needed some attention, and the localities officer soon got these dealt with. Of particular note was a bush along Sirius Close that had brambles so long, they were covering the footpath and into the road. The path was not usable. However, within 24 hours, the contractor had this cut right back. Please note the picture below was taken from several weeks before that a resident had taken. By the time it was brought to our attention it was far worse.
In October of last year, I had
the opportunity as part of the council’s Overview and Scrutiny function to
scrutinise the Tivoli contract alongside several other councillors. I raised a few points, but the key thing I
wanted to highlight is that whilst the grass cutting this last year has been
for the most part very good and proactive, the vegetation cutting back has been
more reactive. Some areas we noticed on
our walk arounds had been dealt with, but it was too hit and miss. There is an opportunity for residents to
report vegetation overgrowth through the council’s website, (https://www.wokingham.gov.uk/report-problems/),
and I do urge residents to do so, but I believe this should be a last resort,
and the service much more proactive, and hope that this will be the case next
When it comes to vegetation that
is not council owned, the land owner must maintain it. For the most part, land owners do, but not
everyone does, and when it is blocking access to footpaths and roads, it does sometimes
need some intervention. The council can send
a letter to the land owner requesting the vegetation be cut back. Should this still not result in the work
being done, they can write again stating that if it’s not done, the council’s
contractors will do it and the bill sent to the land owner. However, I would rather this was a last resort,
particularly as in some instances, the land owner could have personal
circumstances that make this harder for them.
A simple knock on the door may be all that’s required. I’m certainly more than happy to give a hand
to any of my neighbours if they need it, as I’m sure most of us would.
Whilst walking round the east
side of my ward, one of the big problems I wanted to highlight to the
localities officer, is how some footpaths are narrowed by years and years of
detritus building up. I had received an
email from a wheelchair user earlier that week mentioning that she could not
use the footpath along the side of Finchampstead Road opposite the pub from
Eastheath Avenue to Molly Millars Lane.
It was simply not wide enough anymore.
The problem was that cleaning this up was outside of the contract we
have and would require additional money.
Getting hold of that money when the council is stretched financially
would prove to be a challenge. The
officer and I came up with a more community based solution – Wokingham Community
On Sunday 13th
October, with the assistance of the Evendons and Town NAG (Neighbourhood Action
Group), a large group of residents came to help and we cleared away as much of
the detritus as we could manage. I am truly
amazed at the amount of support and hard work people put in, particularly at
10am on a drizzly Sunday morning (when we anticipated the road would be at its quietest). We even organised a second one for November
to continue the work we started. It was
tough going because root systems had effectively formed a carpet across part of
the path, but we are proud of what we achieved, and the idea has been picked up
by Wokingham Without Parish Council who have arranged their own community clean
up day. I hope that other communities
across the borough will also take this idea forward. Not only does it help make our footpaths
easier to use, it’s a great way to meet others in the area, plus it feels good
to get stuck in, and of course enjoy a drink in the pub afterwards with
everyone (it was noted that we effectively cleared a path to the pub 😊).
What I am conscious of though is
that this doesn’t happen again. I’ve met
with the contract owners to understand how the path had gotten into this state
and what we were going to do to ensure we’re not in the same place in a few
years. This falls under the street
cleansing contract which is coming to an end, and a new contract (with a new
contractor) is beginning in April 2020. It
was identified that whilst street cleansing was taking place, if the machines
had not been able to reach a part of the footpath due to vegetation being
overgrown, they simply went around the vegetation, missing out the detritus on
the footpath, but then didn’t let anyone know.
Years of this has resulted in the problem I described above. As part of the new contract, if vegetation prohibits
them from reaching a section of footpath, there will be a reporting function
that means WBC are made aware and then Tivoli can deal with the overgrown
vegetation. It has simply been a case up
until this point of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is up to. I have been assured that going forward this
will no longer be the case.
Do please use the council’s reporting tool (link above) to report any problems with overgrown vegetation, but should you feel that the problem hasn’t been resolved, or if you want to make suggestions/feedback about the service and/or highlight anything further, you can always get in touch with me. Whilst I live in the ward and report what I can, I won’t pick up on everything. And if anyone wants to organise a community clean up day, do let me know and I will help facilitate, and if I’m available, will come with my shovel and gardening gloves to get stuck in.
This blog post isn’t directly
about my role on the council, however, it is loosely related to the climate
change emergency we have just declared, and I felt benefited from a bit of
I’ll take you back to
approximately 9 years ago when I took up running after giving birth to my first
son. I started running for a couple of
reasons: I wanted to lose the baby weight, and I wanted to deal with my mental
health as I was struggling with depression.
I like exercise classes, but I’m quite a goal driven person, and wanted
to target something, so signed up to a half marathon. Plus, I could run when it suited me rather
than to someone else’s timetable which fitted in perfectly with a new
baby. I quickly caught the running bug!
Fast forward a few years and I became
a British Athletics qualified leader in running, and have coached lots of
ladies for a range of distances (from complete beginner through to half
marathon distance) through local firm Elite Conditioning. I have loved being involved with this
fantastic company who have inspired me and many other local women.
In the lead up to the by-election
campaign in February this year, I decided to take some time out from coaching
as I was trying to keep a lot of plates spinning, but I carried on running for
myself and in March, did the London Landmarks Half Marathon. That was the last time I ran until the summer
holidays. Despite lots of people warning
me, I stopped looking after myself, no longer finding the time to do what I
loved, that had the added benefit of keeping me physically and mentally
well. I don’t want this to put anyone
off considering standing for council, because believe me, it’s a real privilege
to do this role, but should you find yourself in this position, don’t let the
role consume you.
I decided during the summer
holidays that I needed to find a better balance and was thinking of how to motivate
myself to get back out there again. Then,
one of my friends from school gave me the perfect opportunity. He had started something last year called the
Million Metre Tribe. The idea is to
complete a million metres in whatever discipline you like over whatever time
scale works for you. It’s about setting
goals, pushing yourself, but most importantly, getting out there and doing
something. Last year he rowed it. One of his other friends took part in it last
year and did 10km a day running for 100 days.
I liked the sound of that – if I started in September when the kids were
back at school, I’d be done by Christmas and can indulge myself over the
festive season knowing I’d earnt it.
I discussed the challenge with an
experienced running friend of mine (I say experienced, she is medal winner for
Team GB no less), and she suggested that mixing up running and walking to
reduce the chance of injury, so I committed myself to 1 million metres over 100
days on foot, mixing up running and walking where appropriate. And today (8th October), I am one
month in and have achieved 30% of that target so far.
You’re probably wondering why
this is relevant to the scope of this blog page, so let me explain. The biggest challenge for me hasn’t been the
physical aspect (although I do have a purple big toe), but the time
commitment. I can run a 10km in under an
hour, although when you’ve been doing it several days consecutively, that
sometimes is more of a struggle. Walking
obviously takes considerably longer.
What I have found though, is that whilst I have slightly less time to do
my work, I’m more focussed and achieving more in that time. But the most important change is that I’m incorporating
it into my role and making active choices about how I travel to meetings. The council offices are 2.5 km away from
where I live, so a 5km round trip which is approximate 1 hour. Other than evening meetings (I don’t feel
safe walking home in the dark on my own at 11pm at night), I almost exclusively
walk to council meetings now, and make sure I schedule meetings that allow me the
time to walk in. I did find myself in a
pickle the other day when I didn’t quite have enough time, so I ended up running
to the meeting. No one seemed too fussed
that I was in this meeting with my sports clothes on, although someone did
point out that the building had a shower I could use (they did say that they
were just informing me and that I didn’t smell 😊). I walked
over 13km yesterday (7th October) by attending several meetings
within my ward. Rather than driving
around the ward between meetings, I timed them so I could walk to each of
them. I’ve also taken to having my phone with me and
as I run around the area, picking up defects/issues that I can report to the
council. It’s been a good way of keeping
on top of what’s going on in the ward.
I still have another 70 days to
go, and whilst most days I love it, there is the odd occasion I question why I’m
doing this. The benefits I expected are
there (the physical and mental health benefits), but the added benefit of organising
myself to actively travel places and take my car off the road was one I hadn’t
contemplated at the beginning of this challenge, and actually has in my mind
been the biggest benefit. I hear a lot
of excuses for not doing these things, and I for one have been guilty of it myself. There is a lot we can do as a council to help
make active travel easier and I am working hard to push this agenda because we
need to reduce congestion, air pollution and our carbon emissions. But there is so much we can already do as
individuals, and one of those barriers is ourselves. For many I totally accept this won’t be possible. My husband’s commute is quite a way away and
there are no public transport services that can get him there in a timely
manner. However, he is getting ready to
make the plunge into the second-hand electric vehicle market. We are making other conscious changes in our
lifestyle that are better for our planet, but this one was kind of accidental,
I guess. What I’m getting at is there’s
always lots of reasons not to do something, but why not look at the things that
we can do and change for the better and just go for it. This planet will thank us.
It has been a
little while since I last wrote a blog post.
The summer holidays meant balancing my council duties with my two young
boys, and of course the family holiday I desperately needed. Now school is back in action, I’m playing
There’s a lot
going on in local politics at the moment, and the big topic is the Heathrow
expansion. I would like to give special
thanks to my friend and colleague Paul Fishwick for all the research he has
done regarding the proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport, which I am including
in this article. Apologies for the length
and detail of this article, but I hope it provides you with the facts that have
helped determine my position on this.
Heathrow Airport is already
the largest UK airport with a capped 480,000 annual flights. A third runway could mean 260,000 additional flights a year taking the
total flight movements to 740,000,
impacting on the surrounding area, including Wokingham Borough.
Why is a third runway required?
Apparently, there is an urgent need for new capacity for business travelers. However, according to the Civil Aviation
Statistics report that looked at the UK’s five largest airports (Heathrow,
Gatwick, Luton, Stanstead and Manchester) between 2006 and 2016, the number of
flights made for business at these airports has not increased.
Also, the Department for Transport (DfT) UK Aviation Forecasts (2017) suggest that a new runway will make little difference to the number of flights taken for business across the UK in the future with the Transport Committee’s report (page 17) stating that “the passenger growth facilitated by a North Western Runway scheme is accounted for almost entirely by leisure passengers and international transfer passengers”.
flights are leisure flights, and most of these leisure flights are taken by a
small number of wealthy fliers who take multiple flights each year. According
to the Campaign for Better Transport, just 15% of the UK population take about
70% of all flights.
A bigger airport would only really serve the interests of frequent
flyers, with the majority of the population paying for the consequences (of which
I discuss below).
Impact on regional airports
The Department for Transport (2017)
indicates that the latest forecasts suggest that regional airports will lose
out from a Heathrow Expansion since, with the third runway, they will have 17
million fewer passengers by 2050 than they would without it. This means people would be travelling further
to get to larger airports like Heathrow, putting more traffic on the roads
which is not only an inconvenience, but increases pollutants into the atmosphere.
The Effect on Climate
The Committee on Climate Change has stated that Heathrow is
already the biggest single source of greenhouse gases in the UK.
to the latest Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (DBEIS),
the 1990 to 2017 Greenhouse
gas emissions for the UK Transport sector covers 27% which is now the largest
of any sector. In addition, between 1990 and 2017 the percentage drop in
greenhouse gas emissions has been a tiny 2%, and zero between the latest
reporting years 2016-17. By contrast energy has reduced by 60% and waste
management by 69%. The Aviation sector (Table 14) has not improved between 1990
and 2017. Adding another runway, with more flights will only make matters
Heathrow’s own figures show a total of 173 MtCO2 MORE carbon emitted, over 2022-2050, with the 3rd runway than without building it. The emissions could reach 25MtCO2 per year from flights alone. The increased CO2 would be as much as 9MtCO2 per year more, in the peak year (2035) than with 2 runways. The total extra CO2 from more surface access transport would be 7MtCO2 over that time period. The extra CO2 from all the construction work would be 3.7MtCO2, to build it all. The total of all that would be 173MtCO2 MORE carbon produced in total (flights, surface access + construction) than if the runway was not built. The estimates may be on the low side, as Heathrow has factored in future carbon efficiencies. Heathrow has taken no account of the fact that we now have a net zero target for 2050.
Since the third
runway was approved in June 2018, there have been several developments in
climate science and policy that make an even stronger case for withdrawing and
reviewing the decision to proceed.
In December 2015,
the UK – along with almost every other country in the world – has agreed to a
global deal to limit global warming to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial
levels, with an aspiration to limit rises to 1.5°C. However, emissions
reduction commitments currently fall well short of what is needed to achieve
this aim. Even if all existing commitments were met, the world would see
warming of 3 to 4.5°C – which would be catastrophic for millions of people. In
this context the UK must do far more to reduce emissions.
Parliament approved the Airports National Policy Statement
(NPS) on 25 June 2018, several scientific and political developments have
further demonstrated the incompatibility of the decision to expand Heathrow
with meeting the UK’s climate goals:
28 June 2018, the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) annual progress report to
warned that “the UK is not on course to meet the legally binding fourth
and fifth carbon budgets” as set out in the Climate Change Act, and that much
greater action is required, particularly in the transport sector. The
stalled progress of the last five years was described as “now an acute
8 October, the IPCC’s special report
laid out in sobering clarity the catastrophic impacts of 2 degrees’ warming
compared to 1.5 degrees. The report, coordinated between 2,000 climate
scientists, reiterated the need for “rapid and far-reaching transitions in
energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and
industrial systems” and made clear the necessity of halving global emissions
within just 12 years.
following week, the UK, Welsh and Scottish governments formally requested
updated advice from the CCC regarding tightening long-term emissions reduction
targets and the transition to a net zero-carbon economy, in light of the Paris
26 November the Met Office’s UK Climate Prediction 2018
provided the clearest assessment yet of what the UK will experience from the
changing climate: rising sea levels, increased temperatures, and changing
patterns of rainfall.
27 November the UN’s Emissions Gap Report 2018
set out the gulf between action required to meet Paris goals and that so far
pledged by national governments. The report outlined humanity’s current
trajectory – more than 3 degrees of warming by 2100 – and the scale of action
required to get back on track: a fivefold increase in ambition compared to
Rail Link and Southern rail Access
indicated in the DBEIS
all sectors of the economy, especially the transport sector must make
deep cuts in emissions and that includes aviation. Expanding Heathrow Airport
will only increase greenhouse gas emissions from more flights and road
transport cars, vans, freight etc as there is no provision for expansion of the
rail network to include the Western Rail Link from the Great Western railway
and the Southern Access Link.
Heathrow Airport Consultation document
page 4 table 2 only states “work with stakeholders to influence the delivery of
the Western and Southern rail links”. That statement provides little guarantee
that either of the rail accesses will be provided at any time.
no direct rail access to Heathrow Airport, residents living to the west and
south west of the airport are more likely to drive or use a taxi, including
those who live within Wokingham Borough area to get to the airport as the
alternative modes are considerably lengthy and not cost effective for example
via London Paddington.
An expanded Heathrow Airport with an additional 123,000 jobs (currently 110,000)  will also put pressure on more housing development along the ‘M4 commuter corridor’ in areas such as Wokingham Borough where a recent Housing Consultation has given a 95% No to more housing. Additional housing will also put pressure on the local and strategic highway network as there is no programme for the introduction of the two-rail links highlighted above.
Air Pollution and noise
Air pollution locally is way above legal limits and gets worse towards Heathrow. Heathrow, and the surrounding area, already suffers from illegal levels of air pollution. Dirty air already causes over 9,000 early deaths in London each year. Not only will expanding Heathrow mean more flights, but more traffic on the roads from people travelling to the airport. This is likely to cause even more air pollution, including additional traffic locally which will add to the poor air quality in many parts of the borough and make the goal of Wokingham Borough becoming carbon neutral by 2030 even more difficult.
The Heathrow Expansion summary document page 26
states; “When public transport improvements are in place, there could be a
case for introducing a congestion charge.” However, there is no time
planned for the introduction of the Western and Southern Rail links and there
are doubts now over the delivery of HS2.
Additional car parking
However, there are plans to construct a Southern and Northern
Parkway car parks
within the phased development and this has been quoted as the “worlds
largest car park for 50,000 vehicles”.
The traffic for these car parks will use the existing highway network, where
Heathrow Airport are planning on improvements to create more capacity at
congested locations. More traffic getting to Heathrow Airport equates to more
Already local people must endure around 1,300 noisy planes landing and taking off at Heathrow every day, many flight paths are over Wokingham. It should be noted that this is with 2 runways with around 480,000 flights per annum. With a 3rd runway this could rise by 250,000 flights. There are significant differences in take-offs and landings when the wind is in the ‘easterly’ half as they fly low over this area including up to midnight and from 05:30am.
Borough Council, along with many other local authorities and the UK Government,
have agreed to a Climate Emergency.
The details of the Climate Emergency have yet to be developed and agreed, but
there is only 10 years to take drastic action and if Wokingham Borough Council
are serious about Climate Change they must object to the expansion of Heathrow
as you can’t be
the Climate Change Emergency and Heathrow Airport Expansion?
The two are incompatible and no amount of conditions being attached to the support of it will make a difference. Heathrow cannot as we’ve seen from the evidence comply with the emissions conditions that would need to be attached in order to make this compatible with our commitment to climate change. They claim they can and will proceed to build with conditional support, but it is only after it is built that we will see that they can’t meet those conditions and then it’s too late. The only way forward is for this council to firmly state that it does not support the expansion. Any conditions attached will just weaken that stance. My colleagues and I (the Wokingham Liberal Democrat Group) have submitted our own response to the Heathrow consultation giving a firm ‘no.’
I am writing this a bit bleary eyed after last night’s full
council meeting. It didn’t finish until
just after 11pm, after which I was buzzing so didn’t sleep. I will give a more detailed update on the meeting
last night in a subsequent post, but wanted to take this opportunity to discuss
one of the agenda items – the equalities motion.
This was my first motion to council since I’ve been elected,
and given that I’m still learning the ropes, I was a bit nervous. If you’ve ever been in that council chamber,
you’ll understand why. It’s quite an
The rules on motions are that they can only be submitted
after the previous meeting has ended, and then they are debated and voted on in
order of submission. Each motion has a
maximum of 30 minutes to be debated upon and the full council meeting has a
maximum length (10:30pm, but with agreement from the chamber can be extended to
11pm), with motions being the last items on the agenda. In other words, if you get to 11pm and a motion
hasn’t been debated, it doesn’t get heard.
However, the motion doesn’t automatically go to the next meeting. It has to be resubmitted to be considered. And not all full council meetings has a place
for motions in the agenda (such as the first meeting of the municipal year), so
not that many motions have the opportunity to be debated and voted on.
The motion I presented to council last night was the
Authorities have a statutory requirement to demonstrate their compliance with
the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) of the Equalities Act 2010. This
act requires Local Authorities to consider how their work affects people of
different ages, disability, sex, sexual orientation, religion or beliefs,
marital status, pregnancy and maternity and gender identity. Everyone that
lives in, works and visits Wokingham Borough needs to have confidence that this
is being done throughout the Borough. This Council will evidence its
compliance with the PSED through undertaking Equality Impact Assessments (EqIA’s)
when required, and ensure they are included in public reports and are easily
accessible on the Council’s website. In addition, all newly elected Members
will have PSED and EqIA training as part of their induction. Executive
Members will also have to undertake PSED and EqIA training.”
This motion is printed in the agenda and what then happens
is, the Mayor asks who is the proposer and seconder. In this case the proposer was myself and the
seconder was John Halsall the leader of the council. I sent the motion to the other parties and
the independent councillors several weeks ago to let them know about it and
give us the chance to discuss (and tweak if necessary), to increase the chances
of it gaining cross party support. For
this to pass, I needed the Conservatives to vote for it as they have the majority. When John said he was happy with it, I asked
him to second it to demonstrate that commitment. Both he and I had spent time with officers at
the council to ensure that what I was proposing could be acted upon – motions cannot
be just words; they have to be practical as well.
Once it’s been established who is proposing and seconding a
motion, the proposer gets to speak for 5 minutes. The below is my speech:
“I got involved in politics as a result of what happened
at Grenfell Tower. Innocent people lost
their lives due to poor political decisions.
This ignited a desire in me to want to stand up for people in our
community who are often overlooked by our political class. People who are often seen as the
I am fortunate to have my Grandad. My Grandad is 96 years young and fit and
healthy, except for his poor eyesight.
He is registered visually impaired.
Every Tuesday I take my Grandad out to Morrisons in Woking where he
lives to get lunch and do his shopping.
As such, I know the visual and physical cues he uses to navigate
When the Wokingham Town marketplace reopened last year,
it was immediately obvious to me that something was wrong due to the experience
I have with my Grandad. This led me to
investigate and I discovered that people with visual impairment had not been
fully considered throughout all stages of the process when designing the marketplace. In fact, not all stages of the process were
fully documented from an equalities perspective, and as such, there have been a
number of issues raised regarding safety for people with protected
characteristics. These concerns are
being investigated by the council, and I welcome improvements that address
these concerns, but we should not be retrospectively considering the impact on
The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) contained in
section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, requires public authorities to have due
regard to a number of equality considerations when exercising their functions.
As part of the PSED, Local Authorities must evidence
their compliance with the Equalities Act.
An Equality Impact Assessment (EqIA) is an analysis of a proposed
organisational policy, or a change to an existing one, which assesses whether
the policy has a disparate impact on persons with protected
characteristics. Assessing the impact on
equality is not just something the law requires, it is a positive opportunity
for public authorities to ensure they make better decisions based on robust
evidence and are transparent in the process.
If records are not kept it may make it more difficult, evidentially, for
a public authority to persuade a court that it has fulfilled it’s duty.
The marketplace regeneration is just one example of where
this council is not fully complying. There
needs to be a shift in culture at Wokingham Borough Council. Considering equalities is not something we
should be doing because the law tells us to.
We should and must be doing this because we are here to serve ALL of our
residents. Just because the majority are
catered for, does not make it acceptable to ignore the minority. And in order to change this culture, it must
start from the top. That is every single
one of us in this room. We are the faces
of this council, and we have to lead by example and be the change.
Currently, senior officers undergo mandatory training on
this subject. There is an online
training course on the council intranet which is available for elected members
to partake, and I strongly urge all of us sitting in this room to do it
please. This training will also be
available to all new members once they are elected. In addition to this, training must also be
given in the new councillor induction session, and at the first Executive
Briefing of the municipal year.
Currently, the attendance record of elected members is available on the
council’s website. Any training
undertaken by elected members will be published in the same way.
Transparency is crucial for anything the council
undertakes, but particularly when it comes to equalities. All EqIAs will be made publicly available on
the council website. In order to
determine whether an EqIA is required, an initial impact review is done, and
where an EqIA is deemed not required, the initial impact review will also be
made publicly available on the council website.
In addition to this, when policy papers are presented to us, currently
there is an emphasis on the financial implications of the recommendation
listed. The measure of success of this
or any council cannot rest on its finances.
We are dealing with people – our residents, and every policy paper put
before us, also needs to include the impact on them as well, including those
with protected characteristics. We must
give confidence to everyone that lives, visits and works in Wokingham Borough
that we are considering everyone’s needs.
What I am proposing is a very simple and effective way of doing
this. I strongly urge this council to
demonstrate it’s support to ensure that Wokingham Borough is a great place to
live and an even better place to do business for everyone.”
The seconder is then given the opportunity to talk, although
they can reserve comment until other members of the council have spoken. John chose to speak in support of the motion
and indicated that this is something we already do. This frustrated me somewhat as you will see
Now the other members of the council get to speak and
debate, although John tried to take this motion straight to the vote. You might think that given it was clear this
motion was going to pass, so what, go straight to the vote. However, one of the big problems we have is
that many members of that council chamber don’t get how serious an issue this
is, and debating a motion in council, is an opportunity to speak to the public. Full council is a public forum and a
mouthpiece for the council, and this needed the air time to show that we’re taking
resident’s concerns seriously. The
labour leader Andy Croy requested the debate continue (quite rightly) and the
What was notable is that the only speakers on the motion
came from Labour and the Lib Dems. They
highlighted a number of points, some talking from personal experience, and all discussing
the negative impacts on the public many decisions have had. One of the great comments made was by Imogen
Shepherd-Dubey who said:
“Do we truly understand what it is to walk a mile in
someone else’s shoes? As an Autistic
woman who is married to another woman, I can’t think that many of you have the
same perspective as me, but I don’t know what it is like to be you either – so I
think we are even.”
And Caroline Smith also said:
“Discrimination of the elderly is not often up for public
debate, but one thing I am sure of, is that this is something that can affect
us all and cane be affecting a member of our families today, so let’s make sure
they are treated equal at all times.”
One everybody has had the chance to speak, the proposer gets
a right of reply and can speak for up to 3 minutes before it goes to the
vote. This is an opportunity to address
anything that has been raised in the debate and to sum up. I made a few notes as others were speaking
and addressed those, and then read the following:
“Thank you for all your comments and the debate and I’m
pleased that this council appears to be behind this motion. It’s not exactly a controversial issue. What I am concerned about though is the
reasons for this council backing the motion.
This organisation has to be more than just words and promises – it has
to deliver on those as well. My concern
is that this motion will pass (and believe me, I hope it does pass), but
without fully grasping why this motion is here in the first place. So let me try and change that.
In yesterday’s Bracknell and Wokingham news, in an
article about this motion, a senior member of this chamber was quoted as saying
“it is the sort of thing we are already doing anyway – we already do what the
motion says so it is just reaffirming what we do.” Rubbish!
Why would I be wasting time on something that’s not necessary. If this council was doing this kind of thing,
we wouldn’t have the problems that have been highlighted here tonight. And it goes much deeper than this.
Look at the diverse society out there that we
represent. And now look around this
council chamber. Why are we not
reflecting that diversity? There are too
many barriers in the way. I can say this
from personal experience. In my time so
far at this council, I have on more than one occasion been spoken to in an
unacceptable manner including had comments made that would not have been made
to my male counterparts. These comments
only serve to belittle me. And the thing
is, we’ve heard this before in this council chamber when an outgoing leader of
this council commented on the old boys network.
It feels like some of us in this council chamber are seen as a tick in
the diversity box. Believe me, we add a
hell of a lot more value than that.
This isn’t about me or the other few people in this
council chamber that represent protected characteristics though. The point I make is to demonstrate that the
problems we have of equality in this council are engrained to the point that
not everyone can see it. This is a very
real issue and the attitude and culture has to change to address this. This is not about saying the right things for
the press – enough of the words – do something!
I appreciate I won’t succeed in changing everyone’s minds. But what I will have done is to bring the
problem to the forefront, raise awareness and start to do something about
it. Are you with me?”
I was shaking as I read this – a combination of nerves and
in some respects anger. The vote was unanimous,
and now the Head of Governance at the council has the mandate to insist the
words of this motion happens. There is a
long way to go still, but we have taken a massive step in the right
direction. The final statement below is my
party’s mission statement:
“The Liberal Democrats exist to
build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance
the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one
shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”
I’ve been struggling to find time to write my next blog
post. Since the May local elections,
things have been a tad hectic, particularly in the lead up to the summer
holidays and I find myself more and more starting replies to emails with
“apologies for the delay”. So what has
been happening these last couple of months in the world of local politics?
To begin with, there was quite a lot of organisational
discussions within our party. We grew
from 8 elected members to 16, making us quite a substantial opposition and
therefore have formed a Shadow Executive (the Executive is like the Cabinet at
national level), and have assigned deputies to these areas as well. Given my background, I have become the Shadow
Executive for Arts, Culture and Libraries and am researching and putting
together ideas of what we could and should be doing in Wokingham Borough. As part of this, I’m currently looking
through the process undertaken that got WBC to the decision to move the
Wokingham library to the new Carnival Pool complex. Is it the right decision in my view? Watch this space…
I’ve also had a very productive meeting with my colleague
Stephen Conway (Member for Twyford) and the new leader of WBC, John
Halsall. Stephen has been campaigning
for approximately 20 years to get a new library in Twyford as the current
facility is a temporary site in portacabins.
I am pleased to say that John sees the benefit and has agreed to put the
recommendations forward to the Executive later this month.
In addition to this position, I am also deputising on
Children’s Services; Environment, Sports & Leisure; Equalities, Diversity
& Inclusivity and the Voluntary Sector, working with my colleagues to research
and set our position on these areas. You’re
probably wondering why I’m involved in so much, and sometimes I ask myself the
same question. These are the areas that
interest me the most and the areas I want to make a difference in. Truth is I want to make a difference in
everything, but can’t, so have had to choose.
Plus, there are 15 other Lib Dem councillors who need something to do 😊.
The Equalities, Diversity & Inclusivity portfolio has
been busy for both myself and my colleague Imogen who leads this area. My interest in politics in Wokingham started
when I was campaigning to make the new marketplace safer for those with visual
impairments. The more I’ve dug up about
it, the more I’ve realised that WBC needs to get a lot better at equalities. On the back of this, I have submitted my
first motion to council (a motion is a formal proposal that will be debated in
the council chamber, and a decision made that the assembly takes a certain
action), which I will fill you in on in a later blog (hopefully with a positive
I’ve also been working with the CEO of Keep Mobile in trying
to get a designated bus stop for the community buses (Keep Mobile, ReadiBus,
Earley Bus and Crowthorne Bus) in town.
The challenge is that many of the customers of these businesses are
disabled and many elderly, some with dementia.
When these buses collect customers, it takes about 20 minutes because they
are loading and making secure people in wheelchairs, and sometimes the drivers
have to go off and find customers who have memory problems. Therefore, a regular bus stop cannot be used
as they would be blocking it for a considerable amount of time. Whilst the buses can use accessible parking
bays, should they arrange to collect their customers from one of them, they
then turn up and it’s been used by another vehicle, they can’t stop, and end up
driving round the one-way system trying to find somewhere. For customers with dementia this is actually
quite frightening to see your ride drive past you. My colleagues and I have been pushing to get
a designated bay in the town for some time now.
We requested a line in the budget this year for one, which was turned
down at council. We have continued to
push though via several different routes, and a couple of weeks ago, the CEO of
Keep Mobile and I met with a WBC officer to look at locations. The Exec for Highways also joined us part way
through and we left the meeting with agreement from both her and the officer
that we will get a designated bay. Three
locations have been identified and the pros and cons are being drawn up before
a decision is made. Whilst it’s not been
physically done yet, we now have the commitment to do it, so we’re feeling very
With the other portfolio’s, we’ve been working hard, meeting
various professionals and residents with insights into these departments,
looking at where we are, and what we need to do moving forward. This has been particularly eye opening in the
Children’s Services department. I’ve had
a lot of residents contact me with challenges they have been facing with this
department, and we have been seeing a recurring pattern. I won’t go into too much detail here, and
will write a separate blog post in the future about it, but lets just say, I’m
witnessing the real day to day impact austerity has had.
In addition to our shadow roles, there are also official WBC committees. We have a function at the council called Overview & Scrutiny. The role is to develop and review policy and make recommendations to the council. We have a Management one, plus three sub committees called Children’s Services, Health and Corporate & Community. I sit on the management one and am a substitute of children’s services. These committees are made up of the political balance that we have on the council so I sit on the Management committee with 3 other Lib Dem colleagues. I will write a separate blog post about this function of the council, but in short, WBC are not very good at it and it doesn’t fully achieve its objectives. I’ve been to two of the management meetings so far and have observed the children’s services one. We get the agenda 1 week in advance in order to prepare, and topics on the management committee agenda that we’ve scrutinised so far have included the housing consultation that is currently doing the rounds, the grass cutting contract, the local transport plan process, government statutory guidance on overview and scrutiny, WBC plan initial stages, overview and scrutiny training programme and the quarterly monitoring report looking at WBC’s KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). It’s been an eye-opening experience.
I also sit on the Licensing and Appeals committee which sort
of does what it says on the tin. Out of
this come sub-committees for various things, so in time I could find myself
reviewing various licence applications. Out
of this comes the School Transport Appeal Panel that I sit on as well as the
Corporate Parenting Board and School Admissions Forum. I will write about all of these separately. I was also voted in to be the WBC
representative to Keep Mobile and will have my first meeting with them this
Alongside all these responsibilities, there is the case work
I do for residents in the ward. I can’t
write about individual cases for confidentiality reasons, but the range of
cases is quite diverse. A number of
parents have contacted me about problems they are experiencing with the SEND (Special
Educational Needs & Disabilitie) department of Children’s Services, which
many of you will have seen did not come out too well in the recent OFSTED
inspection. The department is
significantly underfunded and as such, under resourced. There are also concerns from a number of
residents about whether we have enough secondary schools in the area. This is something I am currently investigating.
I’ve also been working with residents from a housing
perspective, dealing with the housing benefit team. And then there’s the case work that relates
to what is known as our localities team.
This includes highways, bins, planning, grass cutting etc, and this is
probably where the most significant amount of requests from residents comes
from. The roll out of the food waste
caddies, and the new contract associated with that has meant I’ve been kept
quite busy. Significant numbers of
houses were missed when the caddies were delivered. The team were excellent at getting Veolia back
out to do them, but there were still a few residents without. I grabbed a stack of them myself and took
them round, however, if you still don’t have one, let me know and I can get one
for you. There were also a few houses
not having their waste collected. We
managed to get this resolved and the complaints seem to have reduced now.
There are a number of other things in the localities
department that I’m dealing with at the moment and now have meetings with the
head of the team at the council. Discussions
thus far have included progress on the local plan update, progress on the
safety audit for the marketplace, the potential SANG at Foxhill, getting major
planning application consultation periods extended etc. These are all ongoing discussions amongst
I hope this has given a snap shot of what I’m up to. I plan to write future blog posts about some
of the topics I’ve raised above in more detail.
4 months in and the breadth of the role is still something I’m astounded
by. No two days are the same. Sometimes I feel like I’m banging my head against
a brick wall, but on the flip side, I’ve had many positive things happen. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.
I’ve been a bit quiet on here recently. Since the local elections, things have been pretty
busy as we’ve been allocated our areas of responsibility, and the various
committees have been divvied up between us.
And for anyone who’s been asleep for the last few months, we’ve also had
the European elections. I will go into
the areas of responsibility I now have, and the work I’m doing on the various
committees I sit on, in more detail in my next blog post. For this blog, I wanted to talk about
Since I was elected, I’ve been on two ride-alongs with the
neighbourhood policing team. One of the
biggest concerns residents have been telling me is the rise in anti-social
behaviour, and the lack of visibility of the police. I too share these concerns, and have become
increasingly worried, especially since the knife attack outside the station last
month and the assault just outside the town centre last week in broad daylight. I wanted to try and understand from the perspective
of the police what is going on.
My first ride-along was on a Friday during the daytime. I had to drive over to Loddon Valley Police
Station in Lower Earley to meet the team who would take me out for the
day. There in itself lies a problem –
Wokingham Town does not have a Police station anymore. I have read many social media posts from
residents about the lack of police station in the town, and it has also been
mentioned on the doorstep several times.
Please believe me when I tell you that the front-line police officers are
as equally frustrated by this. My
understanding is that the closure was for financial reasons, but it has had a
huge knock on effect on the effectiveness of policing. Our local police teams are not able to
achieve as much during their shifts because they waste so much time going back
and forth to Loddon Valley; time which could be used proactively
patrolling. I was given a scenario by
one of the officers. Police officers are
supposed to work in pairs (although this isn’t always the case anymore due to
numbers of officers being so low), and if an officer is taking a statement, or
gathers some evidence, they have to take it back to the station, write it up
and log it. The other officer in the
pair has to go back with them, and wait until they’re done before going back
out on patrol. When the station was in
the town centre, the other officer, whilst waiting for their colleague could quite
easily go out and patrol the town centre on foot for a few minutes. Now they have to sit and wait at Loddon
Valley (Earley is covered by a different team) for their colleague to finish,
plus time is wasted driving back and forth.
As a direct result of the closure of the police station, the officers
spend less time patrolling our streets.
During my first ride-along we began by driving around
Emmbrook, Woosehill, Evendons East, the town centre and Norreys. We then spent a large part of the morning in
Woosehill. After driving up the full
length of the spine road and along many of the side roads, we parked up at
Morrisons and went on foot. We walked
around the field behind Morrisons, and through the various footpaths around the
estate. I didn’t expect to see much
action on a Friday daytime, and I didn’t, although we saw quite a lot of
evidence of drug use. It did give me the
opportunity though to discuss some of the problems many residents in Woosehill
have been facing. The car theft problems
had recently been taking place, but I was pleased to hear that the offender had
been caught and arrested. There are
however a group of people causing further problems in the community, and the
police are aware of who they are and trying to gather evidence in order to build
a case for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
We then spent most of the afternoon in Norreys, although we
did take a stroll through Latimer Park in Emmbrook ward through to the bowling
alley. This is a known spot for trouble,
and again we found evidence of drug use, not just in the field and by the
bridges, but actually in the children’s play area, plus an abandoned bike. In Norreys, the officers were on the look out
for particular vehicles that they know are related to drug rings in the
area. They spotted one car parked that
was on their radar, but there was no action, so after some time of waiting and
watching, we drove on.
The second time I was due to go out with the officers was on
a Saturday night. It was on one of the
very warm weekends we had a few weeks ago, but when I turned up, they had to
inform me that all the officers were dispatched so no one could take me
out. There had been a serious robbery
happen, plus a large number of minor crimes that meant they were working at
full capacity. I rearranged for last
night (Saturday 15th June). The
officer I was supposed to go out with wasn’t there as he had just made an
arrest (drugs related), but there were two other officers who offered to take
Rather than go out on patrol this time, which is what the
officers wanted to do, we were dispatched to Norreys again where there had been
an incident that morning. The officers
were tasked with viewing CCTV footage where available and interviewing
residents by going door to door. The
idea was to get as much evidence as possible to help build a case for the CPS. I spent quite a lot of time in the office at
Sainsbury’s viewing the CCTV footage, but it was just as well we did, as we got
some good footage that was burnt onto a disc and taken as evidence. We then knocked on the doors of some of the
residents and managed to get a couple of witness statements.
After this, we drove back to Loddon Valley with the evidence
so that it could be logged, by which time it was around 10pm. The officers had started their shift at 2pm
and this was their first opportunity for a break and something to eat. They never got the chance to patrol that
I know there is a lot of frustration amongst residents about
lack of visibility of the community police team. They want to be out patrolling our streets,
and used to do it much more frequently, but we’re now seeing a knock-on effect
of the big ‘a’ word – Austerity. There
just aren’t enough police officers. I
didn’t see this so much on the first ride-along because it was a quiet daytime
and the officers were patrolling.
However, last night, I can see how easily patrolling takes a back seat
when officers are called to assist other teams.
The officers I spoke with are as frustrated as you and I. They deeply care about the communities they
work in, and are doing everything they can, but without more funding that leads
to more bobbies on the beat, they’re limited in what they can achieve. What is fantastic to hear though is that
despite this, our team, the team that covers Evendons ward, Emmbrook, Norreys,
Wescott and the town, is the highest performing team that works from Loddon
An area I wanted to discuss with the officers is around
preventative measures that could be put in place; measures that reduce the
chance of crime happening in the first place.
One of the officers I was out with yesterday also covers Finchampstead
and I wanted to find out the impact the FBC has had on the community. The perception I have is that community
centres like the FBC work as preventative measures for anti-social behaviour as
they are a hub for the community, and I would love to see a facility like this in
Evendons Ward. If you haven’t been to
the FBC yet, you must give it a go – it is something quite special. It was good to hear that anti-social
behaviour in the area has gone down since the FBC opened and the officers would
like to see more of these kind of facilities in the area.
I also took a trip over to Maidenhead a few weeks ago as
they had a particular area where anti-social behaviour was rife. The council installed a MUPA (multi-use play
area) which isn’t dissimilar to the area out the back of the FBC. Levels of anti-social behaviour have dropped
significantly as a result. Whether we
are in a position to implement something like this, I don’t know at this stage,
but it is something I will investigate.
I found both ride-alongs a real eye-opener and I have a huge
amount of respect for the officers that represent our community, and I have
requested that when they do patrol, to ensure they check out the Woosehill
underpass as frequently as they can. Moving
forward, I intend to go on a ride-along every quarter so I can keep abreast of
what is happening with community policing, and feedback to you. Plus, a little part of me really wants to be
in a police car with the sirens going!
On Thursday 2nd May, or rather the early hours of
Friday morning, there was a huge cheer from within the main hall at Loddon
Valley Leisure Centre. I’m not entirely
sure of the exact time, but it was around 3am that the announcement came that
Dr Maria Gee became Councillor Maria Gee for Wescott, knocking out the leader
of Wokingham Borough Council.
The whole evening had felt electric, despite the late
hour. Many of us had been up since the
crack of dawn, and we were tired, but being in that hall as the results came in
was worth it. We (the Liberal Democrats)
doubled in numbers overnight, bringing to the council a wide range of skills,
including financial expertise and highways expertise among many others.
Many of us have been out canvassing since mid-September last
year, talking to residents on a weekly basis, usually several times a
week. Initially we were handing out
surveys to try and gauge public opinion, then we moved on to election
canvassing. In Evendons, election
canvassing started much sooner than we anticipated due to the by-election. There are mixed views about canvassing. The majority of residents are happy to see us
and have someone to discuss their thoughts with. A few people would rather we didn’t, but it’s
a case of we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. My personal view is, I’d rather be as visible
as possible for residents to interact with (and I do try and communicate in a
number of ways), but if someone really doesn’t want to talk to me, just
politely say so.
When we canvass, we tend to work as a team, helping out in
each other’s wards, and as such, I’ve spoken to residents in Winnersh,
Emmbrook, Wescott and Hillside (Lower Earley) as well as Evendons. There are a few ward specific, and even area
specific concerns residents have, that for Evendons, I’m working on with
residents. However, there are a number
of concerns coming out across all the wards I’ve been canvassing in – house building
numbers, infrastructure, council spending and the town centre regeneration
being top of the list. The point I’m
trying to make is, whilst Brexit was sometimes raised on the doorstep and would
have influenced to some extent voting intentions, it was predominantly local
issues that brought about the results of this local election.
A question that was raised time and time again on the
doorstep, and even in conversations I have with friends is, why are local
councils political? Our role as local
councillors is to represent residents, but this can be split into two
areas. We have our case work, which is
where residents contact us about an issue, and we help to try and get a
resolution where possible. This covers a
wide range of areas and in the three months I’ve been elected, has mostly been
highways and refuse collection concerns, although I’ve also had children’s
services, anti-social behaviour and housing issues to address amongst other
The second part of our role is policy setting. Sometimes we can’t get a satisfactory result
in our case work due to the policy that’s in place, and we can try and change
that policy (although it’s not a simple task).
A frustrating incident last week in planning committee was when a block
of flats in Winnersh was approved despite there being inadequate parking. It was a block of 12 flats, with a total of
15 bedrooms and just 11 parking spaces, plus one accessible bay. It was approved because the number of spaces
was in line with council policy.
This is where politics comes into play as decisions need to
be made as to how Wokingham Borough is run and what policies are needed. This is where opinion will often be
split. There will be times when all
councillors in the chamber will agree, but more often than not, there are
disagreements. As an opposition
councillor, it will be much harder for myself and my colleagues to get policy
changed should the leading party not agree, but this is why I believe cross
party working is essential. There will
of course be compromise, but working cross party means everyone’s voice gets
heard, and hopefully as a result, decision making improves. And after the recent elections, we certainly
have a louder voice!
Independent councillors pose more questions. I know many residents don’t like the idea of
politics being involved at local level, and many have said they would vote for
an independent candidate should one stand.
I completely understand why residents feel like this. I too am sick of party politics. However, what’s important to remember is that
an independent councillor may not be part of a party, but they still sit
somewhere on the political spectrum.
It’s really important to understand where, because by not being aligned
with a party, it’s sometimes harder to know what their views are. These views influence how they vote on
policies, and what policy changes they may put on the table. As mentioned in my previous blog, even within
a political party there is a spectrum of opinion, but generally the overarching
principles of the party are what they stand for. What those of us in parties need to do is
work within our parties, but still maintain that independent voice where
needed. I.e. not have our votes
The final thing I’d like to mention is that whilst I was
telling outside of Woosehill Church polling station, a number of voters
commented to me about the fact we (the Lib Dems) had no town council candidate
on the ballot paper. We had candidates
in other areas, but we did not have enough people wanting to stand for
election. This is something we were
obviously disappointed about, but unless residents are willing to stand for
election, our hands are tied. A quote
that I have on a notebook that I carry around in my handbag is “the most
difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity” – Amelia
Earhart. I was never that interested in
politics before I had children. Whilst I
always voted, I tended to stay out of anything further. A number of incidents have happened over
recent years that led me to change my mind, but the real catalyst that made me
decide to act was the shocking event at Grenfell Tower in 2017. Having the option to not be that interested
in politics is a privilege. For many,
that is simply not possible – they are quite literally fighting for their
lives. I felt I could no longer sit back
and ignore things, although initially I still wasn’t sure what route to
take. I knew though I wanted to do
something for my community. So many
residents have been saying that they want change, but my message to anyone who
wants change (and I’m not just talking politics here) is please don’t rely on
others to make that change happen. If
you want change then why not ‘Be The Change.’
At approximately 11:30 pm on Thursday 7th February 2019, the result of the Evendons by-election was read out, and life suddenly changed. A wave of emotions came over me which resulted in a few tears as I hugged Helen, my husband and Daniel and Tim the other candidates. I was then whisked firstly over to sign a book that is held by Electoral Services to confirm that I would become the new Liberal Democrat councillor for Evendons, and then out of the room for interviews with the local press. I’m not sure what I said – I had been up since 5:30 am and it was getting close to midnight now and was still battling with a number of emotions. My poor husband though settled the mood as he came trailing behind me with my bag and coat, begging people not to call him Denis Thatcher.
Prior to the election, my husband and I decided it would be an idea for him to take a few days off work post-election. The build up to the election had meant we had seen very little of one another, and whatever the outcome, we needed some time together. He took the Friday, plus the following Monday and Tuesday off work. However, a few days to collect ourselves never materialised. After having crawled into bed at around 2 am after the election (we needed a G&T before bed!), and unable to switch off and fall asleep, our 5-year-old came bounding into the bed room at 6:30 am enquiring after the result. And with that my mind was buzzing with all the things I needed to do, despite feeling like a zombie.
I thought that once the children were at school, I would be able to have a fairly relaxed day, and I did get as far as having brunch in town with my husband and mum. That soon changed though when BBC South got in touch with me. I have been campaigning for some time to have changes made in the marketplace in town to ensure the space is accessible to all our residents. A number of design features have contravened guidelines for minority groups, particularly those with visual impairment. I have been putting pressure on the council to make a few alterations so that these safety concerns are rectified. BBC South were going to run a feature and wanted to interview me as part of it on the following Monday morning, airing on the Tuesday. Nothing like a baptism of fire when starting a new job that’s very much in the public eye! I had no idea what to expect, so I contacted a friend who is interviewed a lot on television and radio to get some advice. The main piece of advice was to be clear about the message I wanted to get across and try and put that message into every answer so that however the piece is edited, the message is present. I can honestly say that is a lot harder than it sounds and I need more practice. On the plus side though, I was asked if I could be interviewed by BBC Radio Berkshire on the Andrew Peach show about the same topic. The difference with this interview was that it was live and therefore what I said could not be edited…No pressure!
The rest of the week carried on being just as busy, having part of my council induction and responding to a deluge of emails and phone calls. I also attended a meeting with two of the lead campaigners against the potential development at Woodcray, along the Finchampstead Road. I had received the planning application for a development consisting of 216 properties and met to discuss the proposal with them. This also tied in with some of the work being done on the Local Plan Update consultation which was due to close at the end of the following week. There are a number of sites submitted (including Woodcray and Fox Hill) affecting the Evendons ward. The consultation process though was not straight forward and the range of questions and sites submitted made it a huge undertaking for residents to complete. The more resident feedback though, the better, so I wanted to put out as much useful information as possible to residents to help them with their submission. The Fox Hill group had written something incredibly useful which I wanted to build upon for the prominent sites across the ward.
With all this going on though, I still had to balance the rest of my life. I took a choir rehearsal one evening, and after the meeting with the Woodcray campaigners on Friday, I had to ice 60 cupcakes to take into school and help with the cake sale my oldest son had arranged (and only told me at the last minute)!
The following week was half term and both my boys suffered with flu, so we were pretty much housebound for the week. I did though have my first full council meeting to prepare for that Thursday and this one was the budget! On Monday alone I spent 7 hours going through the documentation and I had what can only be described as brain fry. I have watched many council meetings, but I am still astounded as to the behaviour that goes on. It’s not quite the House of Commons, but it’s not far from it. I think it’s best described as a pantomime and I can honestly say my children behave better.
I made my maiden speech at the meeting, asking for there to be a line in the budget to have a designated bay installed in the town centre for the community buses that transport the disabled and elderly community. My request was amongst other amendments that my fellow Liberal Democrat councillors asked for that we submitted in an amendment to the budget being proposed (all fully costed and put together with department heads), but unfortunately the amendment was rejected. However, the Executive for Highways did make a statement in the meeting and also spoke with me afterwards about my request and it is something being looked at. Fingers crossed we get a solution soon.
The Liberal Democrat group also put in an amendment to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme which is there to support those on lower incomes. The scheme proposed did not have a 100% reduction. Should a resident not be able to pay, the council would have to take that resident to court and the cost of doing that would far outweigh the amount of money owed, so the amendment was to have a pot of money put aside for those in hardship. The amendment was accepted and part of the new scheme going forward. Whilst I support the amendment my party proposed, I still couldn’t vote for the scheme as a whole. When calculating a person’s income to determine how much of a reduction they are entitled to, 33% of carer’s allowance is included as income. This allowance is a life-line to people that are caring for others, and unable to work as a result, freeing up resources in our struggling NHS and adult social care services. Therefore, I voted against this.
Since the budget meeting, the range of areas I’ve been looking into has been quite extensive. I’ve been spending time putting together my comments for the proposed Woodcray development (I am strongly against it), looking for any possible solutions for the huge levels of congestion we face on the Finchampstead Road (I am trying to acquire traffic data that will help with this, plus looking at potential sites for cycle routes), researching ways of tackling the increasing levels of anti-social behaviour (my first action on this is arranging a ride along with our local police team, and visiting an area in Maidenhead that has successfully implemented proactive measures to understand best practice methods), plus inundated our highways department with requests across the whole ward for a wide variety of issues to name just a few. To say this role is varied is an understatement, but I am enjoying the challenge.