2017 – news and views

The Wokingham Paper - - VIEWPOINTS -

Jan­uary

The year opened with the Re­gen­er­a­tion Com­pany wish­ing all read­ers a Happy New Wok­ing­ham, re­mind­ing ev­ery­one that the Peach Place works were to ‘start on Mon­day’.

Mean­while the town coun­cil were re­ported to be ‘look­ing into holes in Mar­ket Place’ and warned that work could ‘cause some dis­rup­tion’.

We learned that the 15,000 home Graze­ley de­vel­op­ment hadn’t won any Gov­ern­ment grant and shortly af­ter this a se­nior Tory coun­cil­lor first quit the whip and then the party, warn­ing that the coun­cil is run by a se­cret regime. Mean­while, John Red­wood, Wok­ing­ham con­stituency’s MP warned that Graze­ley plans “could back­fire”.

Con­tro­versy con­tin­ued as the Lib Dems were ac­cused of “po­lit­i­cal point scor­ing” by claim­ing that the DIY waste charges by Re3 were il­le­gal. Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough Coun­cil (WBC) de­nied the claim at the time. But rub­bish wasn’t the only is­sue in Jan­uary as the scale of the cash cri­sis in Wok­ing­ham’s Ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing was re­vealed at the same time as a sec­ond Tory re­signed his seat, forc­ing a by-elec­tion in Emm­brook.

The elec­tion cam­paign got off to a lively note as the Con­ser­va­tive can­di­date made a pledge that “Emm­brook is full, so let’s build houses else­where in the bor­ough”.

The month closed with the an­nounce­ment of a re­view of the al­lowances sys­tem for Coun­cil­lors, a sub­ject which had led to the res­ig­na­tion of the In­de­pen­dent Re­view Panel the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber. The con­tro­versy was fanned by a Labour coun­cil­lor com­ment­ing that the Tories were try­ing ‘to save them­selves po­lit­i­cal em­bar­rass­ment’. He then urged res­i­dents ‘to make their con­tempt for this fid­dle clear’.

The year was barely a month old but the prece­dents were al­ready set for a year of po­lit­i­cal tur­bu­lence and up­sets.

Fe­bru­ary

Talk about rub­bish con­tin­ued in the news pages, as did the gulf be­tween the po­lit­i­cal par­ties over the hous­ing num­bers. The let­ters page started grow­ing as your con­tri­bu­tions ex­panded this fea­ture from un­der half a page to more than four times that size in 2017. Clearly as read­ers, you were ex­press­ing your views about the way in which the bor­ough was be­ing run.

Over in Ear­ley, the town coun­cil re­jected plans to ex­pand Aldryn­g­ton Pri­mary School af­ter lis­ten­ing to rep­re­sen­ta­tions from par­ents. Mean­while, Wok­ing­ham’s only lo­cal book­shop – Book­ends – an­nounced that it was shut­ting down.

The month closed with not one but two sur­prises. Firstly that Lib Dems had won the Emm­brook by­elec­tion then, per­haps as a fore­taste of things to come, For­est School head­teacher, Mary San­dell, re­signed over mount­ing fund­ing pres­sures. Was the bor­ough fail­ing its teach­ers or had suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ment ‘initiatives’ driven the very role of head­teacher to the brink of com­mer­cial ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity?

March

With around 2,000 sig­na­tures, the fairer fund­ing for Wok­ing­ham schools pe­ti­tion was handed in at Shute End. Cam­paign­ers pre­pared to visit West­min­ster with Rob Wil­son, Read­ing East’s MP, to make the case for bet­ter fund­ing and teacher re­ten­tion plans for our bor­ough.

Amid mount­ing fi­nan­cial pres­sures, news broke of the im­pend­ing ax­ing of school cross­ing staff and the in­tro­duc­tion of fort­nightly bin col­lec­tions. De­spite these pres­sures, WBC man­aged to hire a temp at just twice the pay of its own chief ex­ec­u­tive.

Mean­while, on the steps of Shute End, the longevity of WBC coun­cil­lors saw the cur­rent mayor and six still-liv­ing for­mer may­ors cel­e­brat­ing the Bor­ough’s 10th birth­day.

But the cel­e­bra­tion was short lived as a sec­ond head, Jaqui Kear­ney of All Saints pri­mary school, ten­dered her res­ig­na­tion.

And in a dis­tinctly odd head­line, the next phase of the A329M cy­cle­way was due to start. Had our onelane mo­tor­way be­come so bro­ken that only a cy­cle lane could fix it???

Mean­while ex­pan­sion plans, for the Emm­brook scout hut and for Aldryn­g­ton Pri­mary school were halted by Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough Coun­cil, but news that weekly bin col­lec­tions would be main­tained was greeted with re­lief.

April

Re­ports of Beano short­ages and rain­bow bin bags were met with scep­ti­cism, as was a third Con­ser­va­tive coun­cil­lor re­sign­ing the whip to join the Lib­eral Democrats.

In a move that seemed to sur­prise many, in­clud­ing the plan’s au­thors, a pro­posal to re­lo­cate the Wok­ing­ham Li­brary from its cur­rent site to an an­nex of the re­de­vel­op­ment around Car­ni­val Pool were an­nounced. At the same time, plans to de­velop the for­mer Hew­den yard in Emm­brook were ap­proved, de­spite op­po­si­tion by lo­cal res­i­dents, coun­cil­lors and for­mer can­di­dates.

More de­vel­op­ment plans, threat­en­ing to de­stroy the char­ac­ter of the pretty vil­lage of Rise­ley, were sub­mit­ted for plan­ning ap­proval to neigh­bour­ing

Hart Bor­ough Coun­cil. One won­dered who’d end up foot­ing the bill for pro­vid­ing in­fra­struc­ture and ser­vices in years to come, as most of the vil­lage lies in our bor­ough. A WBC Ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber com­mented that Wok­ing­ham wasn’t the de­ter­min­ing plan­ning au­thor­ity.

Mean­while, the Shin­field East Re­lief Road was suf­fer­ing fur­ther set­backs and wouldn’t be open­ing soon while re­ports in­di­cated that War­grave fire sta­tion would be clos­ing soon.

But the big­gest lo­cal sur­prises of the month came towards the end when, weeks af­ter the pre­vi­ous re­fur­bish­ment pro­gramme had ended, WBC an­nounced that the Car­ni­val Pool it­self would be de­mol­ished. Marks & Spencer an­nounced that their Wok­ing­ham branch would close at the end of sum­mer.

Na­tion­ally, we learned that there would be a Gen­eral Elec­tion in June.

May

The school fund­ing de­bate con­tin­ued to hold ev­ery­one’s at­ten­tion and plan­ning per­mis­sion was granted for the new homes in Rise­ley.

Re­al­is­ing that, as a statu­tory con­sul­tee it had done al­most noth­ing to pre­vent the vil­lage from vir­tu­ally dou­bling in size, an eleventh hour plea by WBC’s Ex­ec­u­tive Mem­ber for Plan­ning and Re­gen­er­a­tion had also failed to make a dif­fer­ence.

And as Wok­ing­ham’s town cen­tre re­gen­er­a­tion ground on and on, WBC’s Con­ser­va­tives ran a lead­er­ship elec­tion, af­ter which Char­lotte Haitham Tay­lor was wel­comed as the new leader of the coun­cil.

The same week saw Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough’s CEO, Andy Couldrick, an­nounce that he would be de­part­ing to take up a new role as head of the out­sourced Chil­dren’s Ser­vices in Birm­ing­ham.

Sud­denly it was all change at the top.

The new leader’s ex­ec­u­tive team saw a big shakeup in the estab­lished or­der. David Lee re­turned to the front bench to take on the Lo­cal Plan Up­date.

Hus­band and wife, aka “team Jor­gensen” were swapped and given new roles.

At the same time, four new faces were pro­moted from the back benches. Cllr Munro took on Busi­ness and Re­gen­er­a­tion, re­cently elected Cllr Whit­tle took on Fi­nance, Cllr Weeks took on Plan­ning and

Cllr Bowring was given High­ways & Trans­port. Cllr Ash­well moved to Chil­dren’s Ser­vices and Cllr MGheeSum­ner took on Adults’ Ser­vices.

Mean­while, a third head­teacher con­firmed that they were re­sign­ing, as Emma Reynolds an­nounced her plans to leave Bul­mer­she School at the end of the sum­mer term.

June

As the early sum­mer warmth saw tem­per­a­tures ris­ing amid plenty of sum­mer fetes, fes­ti­vals der­bies, plus a car­ni­val and a bikeathon, the po­lit­i­cal tem­per­a­ture started ris­ing as hus­tings were held lo­cally for the Gen­eral Elec­tion.

WBC’s 2017 Mayor, Cllr Rob Stan­ton proudly de­liv­ered the first keys to res­i­dent Emma Jones as the Phoenix Court de­vel­op­ment started de­liv­er­ing new homes in Wok­ing­ham’s Nor­reys ward.

The Gen­eral Elec­tion saw the sit­ting mem­bers for Maiden­head, Brack­nell and Wok­ing­ham re­turned to par­lia­ment, but a big shock came in Read­ing East con­stituency, part of which in­cludes Wood­ley and Ear­ley.

Vet­eran MP of 12 years, Rob Wil­son, was ousted by Matt Rodda as a 6,500 vote Con­ser­va­tive lead sud­denly be­came a 3,700 Labour ma­jor­ity.

In the same week, the new multi-story car park at Car­ni­val Pool opened and an ac­ci­dent with a dig­ger on the Matthews­green de­vel­op­ment re­sulted in raw sewage pour­ing into the Emm Brook – as pho­tographed by lo­cal res­i­dents and newly elected Emm­brook Bor­ough Coun­cil­lor Imo­gen Shep­herd duBey. De­vel­oper Lin­den Homes said that their en­gi­neers had found no ev­i­dence of con­tam­i­na­tion of the Emm Brook.

Mean­while Wood­ley-based char­ity First Days were among the first to re­spond to the Gren­fell Tower dis­as­ter. This saw the Royal Bor­ough of Kens­ing­ton and Chelsea Coun­cil ap­par­ently un­able to do any­thing for the fam­i­lies made home­less by the fire.

Clothes and other items pro­vided by First Days were hugely wel­comed when they ar­rived near Gren­fell Tower around 3pm the same day as the fire had started.

Merry Christ­mas and a Happy New Year!

I hope that you’ve found these com­men­taries on art, pol­i­tics, phi­los­o­phy and eco­nomics as en­ter­tain­ing to read as they’ve been to write. As there was ‘lots of news’ in 2017, the com­men­tary on the year’s events con­tin­ues in the next edi­tion, so stay tuned!

It only re­mains to wish you all a happy Christ­mas and a rest­ful hol­i­day break. ca­vat.lec­tor@icloud.com

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