Sunday, 31 July 2011

Vegetables upfront

As many of you will know I am a keen gardener -- although unfortunately the political year does not fit particularly well with the growing year!

At home I look after the front garden and Samantha my partner looks after the back. The front garden is concrete, so I have located a variety of containers out there in which I am growing vegetables.

So far this year I have harvested some chard, broad beans, purple sprouting broccoli and various herbs. I have started to fill the spaces left with various varieties of lettuce. Still in the ground are runner beans, kale, beetroot and chard.

The main question I get about growing vegetables in the front garden is "don't they get stolen". I am pleased to report that I have never had anything nicked. In fact I think growing in the front garden is better in a lot of ways as there is more of a social/community element to it with neighbours and random people often passing comment.

I notice that some of my neighbours in Newtown and across the ward grow vegetables in a similar setting. And I think it would be great to see even more productive front gardens.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

HMOs causing problems in Park Ward

Coincidentally following on from a piece of work we have been doing around the problems caused by Houses of Multiple Occupation in the Pitcroft/Grange area of the ward all councillors were offered a briefing on the progress tackling this issue by the council.

The Pitcroft/Grange area in Park Ward -- as well as some areas in Redlands, Katesgrove and Battle -- has in my opinion too many HMOs in a very small area -- towards 100% of houses on some of the roads. These houses are mainly home to students. Having such a large concentration of HMOs in a small area creates problems for students and other residents alike -- parking pressures, many overflowing bins, a high turnover of the population resulting in people feeling isolated, an easy target for crime etc.

Large HMOs -- over six people -- are already regulated through the planning system. But the small HMOs aren't -- the Labour government passed some legislation in this area but the Conservative led government has never made use of it. However, the council can use Article 4 powers so that small HMOs require planning permission.

Unfortunately this isn't retrospective so we won't see areas dominated by HMOs going back to a more mixed state, but it should prevent other areas suffering the same fate.

The council is currently collecting evidence as to the detrimental impact such high concentrations of HMOs are having in Reading. There will be some consultation meetings in September. If you want to be kept updated on this issue please get in touch or sign up to our monthly newsletter.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

More primary school places in east Reading

I just got this update about the expansion of St John's Primary School. As there is a large and the provision in the area this progress will be welcomed by many families:

"As you may be aware the planning permission for the installation of a temporary classroom building at St John’s Primary School was granted last night (subject to conditions).

I am writing to inform you that we have instructed the company MRC to begin the site preparation works tomorrow with the intention of craning in the building on Saturday 23rd July.

As this will involving craning the bays over the play park and in order that we do this safely, we are locking the school gates and putting up signs to say the school car park, the play park and playing field are temporarily closed to the public. The duration of the closure will be from the end of school this afternoon until the contractors have left site on Monday.

The craning is due to take place on Saturday morning (approximately 8am), however we will have contractors and their equipment on site from mid morning tomorrow until end of school Monday."

If you want to be kept updated on this and other local issues please sign up to our monthly newsletter.

Two months in the life of a Green Party councillor -- May and June

The election campaign, getting a second Green councillor and holding the balance of power on the Council has made it a busy few months. So, apologies for taking so long producing this update but here it is.

As always, if you want to be kept updated on local issues please sign up to our monthly newsletter.

Council meetings and briefings -- 8
Surgeries -- 2
School governor meetings -- 3
Community meetings and events -- 14
Enquiries and requests for repairs from residents -- TBC

Some of our action:
Greens fight for a fair deal for residents in balance of power negotiations
Greens will not perpetuate Coalition
We support decent pensions for all
Improving town and district centres
Green Park wind turbine visit
Green Road Mosque and TVU planning

Some of our results:
Greens elect second councillor
Maiden Erlegh specialist legal advice
• also, the usual bread and butter of getting fly tipping cleared, street lights repaired and graffiti removed.

• None claimed.

Gifts to declare -- over the value of £25:
• None.

My interests are published on Reading Borough Council's website.

Basic monthly councillor allowance (pay) including my Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) for being group leader before deductions: £864

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Progress on community cafe for Palmer Park

I got this last week from the group wanting to set up a community cafe in Palmer Park:

"I am writing to you to let you know that Reading PlayCafés is now an official Community Interest Company. The company’s activities will provide benefit to communities including that of Reading and its surrounding areas, providing child- and family-friendly venues that focus particularly upon the needs and interests of children and of their carers. The PlayCafes aim to create accessible community spaces and parent/carer hubs offering recreational, social, educational and information-based opportunities both for individuals and for groups, including
people who may be on the social margins.

We have just received a contract from RBC to start operating out of the little kiosk in the larger building in Palmer Park (where Costa ran a little kiosk service last summer) and are awaiting another contract to convert and use the small old toilet block as a cafe.

We are not a charity, but as a Social Enterprise we will plough our profits back into the company, in order to improve current cafés and expand new ones. We are looking for financial support although this is not the objective of this email! We are hoping to hire staff to run the kiosk during the week, but are looking for volunteers to help at weekends. We also would like to have your general support in making the first Reading PlayCafé a real success.

We are in desperate need of a LOGO. If your child or a child you know would like to enter our competition to design the logo (just needs to have the words 'Reading PlayCafés' on it) then please email it in before Sunday 24th July. Make sure the child's name and contact details are on the design (can be hand-drawn or computer-designed). The winning design will obviously be used as our Company Logo and the child will help with the cutting of our ribbon on Opening Day!! Open to children of all ages.

Please come and find us on Facebook.

You can e-mail us at:

Monday, 11 July 2011

Residents' advice surgeries

Councillor Melanie Eastwood and I will be holding the following residents' advice surgeries over the next three months. No appointment is necessary.

Thursday, July 14 -- Park Hall, Park United Reformed Church, Palmer Park Avenue, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Thursday, August 11 -- True Food Co-Op, Wycliffe Church, King's Road, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, September 24 -- The Co-Op, King's Road, Cemetery Junction, 11 a.m. to 12 noon

July's cabinet agenda

It is Reading Borough Council's cabinet this evening. On the agenda there are various items of interest including:

-- an adult social care and how people with greater moderate needs are being supported
-- community cohesion initiatives
-- sustainable design and construction
-- residents' parking
-- concessionary fares review
-- review of waste collection (green waste and weekly collections
-- free schools
-- and plenty more.

This is a public meeting.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Cuts to bus fare concessions

One of our priorities in the balance of power negotiations was reversing the cuts to bus fare concessions which are impacting on people with disabilities, their carers and pensioners. Here is the response to a petition on this issue at the recent full council:

"I thank Ms Dixon for the petition in respect of the restrictions placed on the use of concessionary bus passes from 1 April 2011.

Ms Dixon is probably aware that the previous administration introduced these changes in a mean-minded and ham-fisted fashion with many senior citizens and disabled pass holders not receiving formal notification of these changes until well after 1 April.

The new Labour Administration is committed to reinstating the bus pass concessions for people with disabilities and their carers/escorts so that they can travel before 9.30am. If finances permit, we would like to reinstate it for all senior citizens too, but the cost may be prohibitive in the near future. However I can advise Ms Dixon that there will be a report to Cabinet on 11 July about this issue and I will ensure that this petition is also considered at Cabinet.

I and my colleagues on this side of the chamber fully support the sentiments expressed in the petition as we too recognise the importance of concessionary bus passes to senior citizens and those with disabilities."

We will keep up the pressure on this issue.

If you want to be kept updated on this and other local issues please sign up to our monthly newsletter.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Students moving out

Just completed a tour of the bits of the ward -- Pitcroft Avenue, Grange Avenue and the roads in between -- with more students living to see how the move out was going. In previous years the council has laid on a number of extra collections. This year they are doing it differently -- more efficiently to save money. Obviously this has caused some concern that roads might be left in a mess.

So I'm pleased to report that the areas with lots of students are looking good -- dare I say it, even better than normal term time. Therefore I think so far this change has been a success.

One of the challenges now is to make sure other bits of the ward with fewer students and areas with students moving out at odd times are kept on top of. Let me know of any overflowing bins, furniture dumped on the pavement etc and I will report this to Streetcare -- please supply as much information as possible.

The other challenge is to lay down the law to the minority of landlords who see this time of the year as a good opportunity to get rid of furniture, mattresses etc illegally. Again, get in contact if you notice this happening.