More potholes and worse potholes

This weekend when I did one of my regular visits around the constituency  I found trying to steer round the bigger  potholes was getting more difficult than usual. There are too many new holes, and the lack of work to deal with the smaller ones is leading to more large ones which hurt tyres and shake up suspension if you hit them.

I have taken the matter up again with Conservative Councillors who are pressing to get more work done to rescue our roads. The Lib Dem led Council likes spending money on closing and  narrowing roads and making the lives of motorists more difficult but does not do enough to stop worrying deterioration.

Reading University

I gave a lecture yesterday to the Henley Business School at Reading University at the invitation of the Chancellor. I will post a video of it when they send me their recording. We had good discussions about growth, the environment and the role of ESG considerations in management.

Letter from Barclays regarding bank closure in Wokingham

I have received the e-mail below in response to my comments regarding the closure of Barclays Bank in Wokingham later this summer. I would be interested in hearing the views of my constituents who will be affected by the closure.

 

Dear Sir John Redwood,

Thank you for your email regarding the closure of our Wokingham branch.

I want to reassure you that we know face-to-face banking continues to play an important role for some of our customers in Wokingham, and following the branch closure we are seeking to provide a continued presence in the community via a new alternative physical touchpoint, either at a local retail outlet or via a local community space. This is aimed at providing dedicated in person colleague support for customers with complex financial needs and non-transactional services, without the need for travel. We are progressing the local arrangements as we speak and we will of course let you and our customers know more details once finalised.

Turning to shared banking hubs, as a result of the new arrangements announced by Cash Access UK (formerly the Cash Action Group), LINK (the organisation that oversees the ATM network) undertakes an independent review of each community to be impacted by banking service closures to assess their cash needs. Following that review, LINK has the autonomy to commission new cash services, which could be an ATM, enhancements to local Post Office facilities or a Bank Hub, if an unmet need is identified. To confirm no additional access to cash facility needs have been identified following Barclays Wokingham branch closure and the removal of the ATM. As outlined below, the nearest free-to-use ATMs are located at Lloyds and HSBC, Market Place, Wokingham.

More broadly, we continue to work with Cash Access UK on shared solutions with our peers, as we continue to collaborate on innovative and sustainable solutions for customers to bank in different ways or lack confidence in a digital world. In addition, communities are able to request a review from LINK should they feel they have an unaddressed problem with access to cash https://www.link.co.uk/consumers/request-access-to-cash/access-to-cash-in-your-area/.

Finally, we would encourage any of our customers with concerns to talk to colleagues at the Barclays Wokingham branch, or if you are contacted and able to pass on their details, I will organise for one of my colleagues to reach out directly.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can help further and I am of course very happy to arrange a call with Liz Smith, Barclays Customer Care Director, to discuss this in more detail. If you have any questions in the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me.

With kind regards,

Julia Husband

Burghfield Cake Artist Creates Coronation Cake

My constituent, Elizabeth Wood, who runs Cake Buds in Burghfield, has asked me to share her story about her collaboration with cake artist, Rosalind Miller on the Coronation Cake, which was presented as a gift at Windsor Castle in commemoration of the Coronation. I am delighted that she had the opportunity to take part in creating such a splendid cake which was indeed a work of art.

Reading based Cake Artist has honour helping design and decorate Coronation Cake 

Award-winning cake artist Elizabeth Wood, who runs CakeBuds based in Burghfield, has told of her ‚Äúabsolute honour‚ÄĚ at being invited by pladis Global and McVities to collaborate on the design and decoration of their Coronation Cake alongside cake artist Rosalind Miller.

The cake, which took five months to make from design through to decoration, stood at approximately 1.2 metres tall and was presented as a gift at Windsor Castle in commemoration of the Coronation of Their Majesties.

The design of this Coronation cake signals the Carolean age and takes inspiration from the Prince’s Foundation ethos РRespecting the Past, Building the Future. The cake, whilst modern, draws on the majesty of the Coronation with each tier inspired by aspects of historic Coronation regalia.

The bottom tier has matt stone icing reflecting the Stone of Destiny ‚Äď a symbol used for centuries in the inauguration of Monarchs. The Stone of Destiny will travelled from Edinburgh Castle to Westminster Abbey to be placed beneath the Coronation Chair.

The second tier is engraved with the delicate pattern taken from the Anointing spoon, on to which holy oil is poured by the Archbishop of Canterbury during the ceremony, before anointing Their Majesties.

The third tier sees marbled stone texture continuing but embossed with gilded detailing from the Coronation Chair, known historically as King Edward‚Äôs Chair ‚Äď one of the most precious and famous pieces of furniture in the world. It has been the centrepiece of coronations for over 700 years in British history.

The final tier wears a porcelain surround featuring details again taken from the Coronation Chair and is topped by a ceramic interpretation of the Sovereign‚Äôs Orb, one of the Crown Jewels. Both elements have been created by Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust scholar, Nico Conti ‚Äď a ceramicist who specialises in 3D printing porcelain, championing both tradition and technology.

Liz said ‚ÄúI feel incredibly honoured to have been asked to take part in this amazing team and play a small part in this historical event. It has been one of the hardest secrets I have ever had to keep.”

 

Meeting with Minister on new SEND schools

I met with the Minister to welcome the decision to go ahead with two new SEND schools in Wokingham Borough including one in my constituency. Extra provision is needed to give parents and pupils choice where they need special support in education.

I also explained to the Minister that there is a disagreement locally about the site for one of the schools. Rook’s Nest is an important green gap between settlements. The site of the old Farley Primary School is a site that has been developed before. Building at Farley would b e less contentious , could draw on developer money and could be expedited. The Minister said Wokingham Council seemed to favour Rook’s Nest and they would have big role in determining¬† the detail of the project. The government would be happy with a suitable project at the Farley site.

Over to the Council.

Continued support for non-domestic energy customers

I have received the letter below from the Government regarding continued support for non-domestic energy customers.

The Energy Bills Discount Scheme provides a continuation of support to nondomestic customers, with support backdated to the start of April. It will provide all eligible businesses and other nondomestic energy customers with a discount on high gas and electricity bills until 31 March 2024. It will also provide businesses in energy and trade intensive industry sectors with a higher level of support as they are less able to pass these higher costs on to customers due to international competition.

Dear Colleagues,

RE: Continued Support for Non-domestic Energy Customers
I am writing to you about the Regulations that deliver the Energy Bills Discount Scheme. The Regulations were laid in Parliament on 25 April 2023 and come into force on 26 April.

I am delighted to announce that, following the Energy Bill Relief Scheme ending on 31 March,), the Energy Bills Discount Scheme provides a continuation of support to non-domestic customers, with support backdated to the start of April. The Government provided an unprecedented package of support for non-domestic customers through the winter in the shape of the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, with total support of £7.3bn expected to be provided under this scheme, shielding businesses and saving some around half of their wholesale energy cost. The Government has taken difficult but right and considered decisions when necessary, following an unprecedented rise in energy prices, to support our essential UK businesses and public sector services.

Wholesale energy prices have fallen significantly since the introduction of the Energy Bill Relief Scheme. The Energy Bills Discount Scheme reflects this change and makes adjustments to the support provided under the Energy Bill Relief Scheme. The Energy Bills Discount Scheme strikes a balance between supporting businesses between 1 April 2023 and 31 March 2024 and limiting taxpayers’ exposure to volatile energy markets.

The scheme provides long term certainty for businesses and reflects how the scale of the challenge has changed since September last year. This will help businesses locked into contracts signed before recent substantial falls in the wholesale price of energy manage their costs and provide others with reassurance against the risk of prices rising again. This is a serious intervention in order to protect the public and the economy from significant increases in energy bills.

The Energy Bills Discount Scheme will provide all eligible businesses and other non-domestic energy customers with a discount on high gas and electricity bills until 31 March 2024. It will also provide businesses in energy and trade intensive industry ) sectors with a higher level of support as they are less able to pass these higher costs on to customers due to international competition. The Energy Bills Discount Scheme price reduction will be linked to the wholesale element of a non-domestic customer’s gas and electricity bill and Government will reimburse suppliers in accordance with the scheme.

Further support will be available to domestic end users on heat networks, who fall under the Energy Bills Discount Scheme due to heat network operators having commercial energy contracts, to ensure they do not face disproportionately higher energy bills than consumers in equivalent households who benefit from the Energy Price Guarantee. Heat suppliers will be required to apply for this support and then pass on any discounts to their customers in a ‚Äėjust and reasonable‚Äô way.

Eligibility for support under the Energy Bill Relief Scheme and the Energy Bills Discount Scheme will also be extended to additional non-standard cases not previously eligible. This includes where: non-domestic customers have received gas or electricity from license-exempt suppliers via private wire (localised electricity grids connected to local distribution networks but linked to a privately-owned central plant which produces electricity) or pipe (where gas is conveyed to the customer’s premises by pipe) and where prices paid are pegged to wholesale energy prices.

The Energy Bills Discount Scheme Regulations will ensure that essential energy bill support is provided to businesses in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, that are supplied both by licensed gas and electricity suppliers and license-exempt suppliers. They will also ensure that any non-domestic business or individual that receives energy through an intermediary will also benefit from the Energy Bills Discount Scheme in a ‚Äėjust and reasonable‚Äô way.

Further information on the Energy Bills Discount Scheme including legislation, rules and guidance can be found on our Energy Bills Discount Scheme page.

Amanda Solloway MP
Minister for Energy Consumers & Affordability

Blocking the roads

Each time I use my car to get to work or to visit places in my constituency to keep in touch I encounter some new obstacle to getting around. Each journey poses its own mixture of traffic jams, temporary lights, closed roads, restricted carriageways, narrowed lanes, reduced lanes and new speed restrictions.

Some of the disruption is the result of the Uk madness of putting most cables, pipes and wires under tarmac roads then digging them up every time you need access for repair and improvement. The utilities and Ministers I have talked to over the years about why not place new or replacement cables and pipes in accessible conduits, preferably under pavements to avoid digging up main roads have always agreed but failed to implement. Management of road closures to allow access to existing pipes and cables is often poor with much wasted time with the road closed but  no work underway.

Some of it is Councils wanting to force people out of their cars and vans. Councils who claim to have  no cash to pay for decent social services or to maintain a good refuse service have bundles of banknotes to change kerbs, pavements, install more traffic lights, paint roads and festoon them with new signs and surveillance cameras. Many Councils take a sadistic delight in making the lives of the motorist, the van driver and goods delivery driver almost impossible.

Some of it is pressure of traffic on the diminishing number of roads that survive. We invite in hundreds of thousands additional people each year but fail to put in extra roadspace for theirs cars. In fast growing areas like Wokingham the Conservative Council did put in some important new roads and by passes, but the Lib Dem led Council is now busy narrowing or closing roads to make life difficult.

This is a major impediment to productivity and business success. Those running businesses to help us at home book fewer appointments to allow for the delays on the roads. They need to add to the charges the costs of Congestion and low emissions zones, car parking charges and the extra fuel used in traffic jams. The London Mayor’s widened ULEZ zone is very unpopular, seeking to stop people with older vehicles and lower incomes from using their cars.

Wokingham surveys

I have been reading through the survey returns we have been getting from local residents. I have been particularly interested in the question about what change people would most like to see to improve our area.

The winner was to build fewer new homes. I agree and have been pressing the Council to produce a new local plan with lower development rates, and have worked with other MPs to persuade the government to allow greater local determination of building rates going forward if there is a  new local plan in place.

In second place was the wish to see more police on the streets. This was coupled with some who wanted a police station in central Wokingham again. The government has supported Thames Valley Police in recruiting and training more officers, which we want to see reflected in Wokingham patrols.

In third place was unhappiness about what were seen as dangerous electric scooters and bicycles. There was considerable opposition to cycle lanes and some wish to see electric scooters banned altogether. If you added the comments on cycles and bikes to the comments on the wish to see better roads and fewer potholes that became a most important issue.

Several opposed the ending of weekly waste collection, wanted more surgery capacity to cope with more homes and people, and some wanted free parking for shoppers. No-one wrote in for higher parking charges, a worse refuse service or restrictions on  getting to the town centre and parking. The Council should take note of these views.

 

My Telegraph article on parking and driving to towns

I often see people wrestling with the latest technology in Council car parks. It is not just the elderly or the technology challenged. Quite often the newer systems do not work, or require several attempts to find the way to unlock their iron grip over whether you can get in or out of the park. My constituents keep me informed of their daily struggles and their car park paying nightmares.
        Locally some have  recently experienced the hospital car park where the number plate recognition to let you out when you have paid does not always work. They had to put in an employee standing by the exit ready to  check you had paid and then to manually override the exit barrier control. Another  complainant told me she drove to a  car park, tried several times  to pay without success and so left the car park frustrated to find somewhere else that would take her money. She was then fined for being too long in the first car  park without paying! The last station car park  I used required me  to pay before travelling. It refused to accept my credit  card contactless, it refused to accept it with the number typed in, yet the card paid readily for other items before and after these bruising rejections. Fortunately that car park had a cash option which did work.
¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†Many Councils are pursuing an anti¬† road¬† vehicle strategy. If you manage to negotiate the mushrooming sets of traffic lights, the complex junctions, the restricted lanes, the changing hours of regulated uses, the road closures, the neighbourhood limitations, the incessant changes of speed limit,¬† the cycle and bus lanes and the widened kerbs and pavements you may end up in a¬† car park out to thwart you at journey’s end.¬† Visiting a¬† cathedral city recently I was directed out to a car park which said it catered for longer term stays, only to find a queue of people wrestling with the technology to pay. In the sunshine it was difficult to make out the messages on an unhelpful and often malfunctioning¬† touch screen. A visitor will stay longer and spend more in a town if the parking arrangements are friendly and sensibly priced. If car parks in town centres are geared to under two hours of parking people will not have the time both to go to the shops and buy a meal.
        Councils just do not want to accept many of us have good reasons to take to the car or van. You cannot do your weekly shop  going to the store by train as you could not carry and stow all the items you bought. The  car boot does the job well. An electrician, plumber, builder or other service provider to your home needs to arrive by van with the tools and materials in the back. Given the deliberate delays and congestion Councils create on our streets they book fewer engagements to allow for the increased journey time. They are worse off, prices go up and more people are frustrated. if you want to take a family in for a meal or the cinema the car may be the only realistic option, particularly at weekends or evenings with reduced public transport.
           The ultras in parties of the left who condemn the road vehicle seem to forget that the food they eat is taken to the shops by large lorry, and delivered to homes by van. They forget that the power they turn on and the water in their tap is maintained by engineers who need vehicle access to installations. When they do get to the local shops they forget that without the trade of people who go there by car the shops would fold for insufficient business. We see too many declining shopping streets and centres in our towns, the  casualties of too few customers. Stopping people going there on impulse and preventing easy and cheap or free parking  is part of the reason for the shuttered properties and the decline of prosperity. So many Councils seem to think they need to charge us a fortune for us to park on Council owned land, land we paid for as taxpayers in the first place! Instead of wanting to serve the public ,plenty of left wing Councils  want to fleece us.
            So what is the answer? Keep it simple. I usually welcome new technology. Mobile phones and internet communication have enhanced our lives . I  see the advantages of the sat nat over a map book. Not all  new technology however is better if it is unduly complex and slows you down. Touch screens are difficult  in sunshine where a button to press would solve the problem. Putting cash or  card  into a simple parking ticket machine  works well. Paying by  cash or  card on exit against a  record stating the time of your arrival works well. Making you download an app, entering your index  number and then relying on vehicle identification technology greatly increases the chances of something going wrong as well as slowing you down. It is clearly dearer and more complex  technology to install.   Councils should change their mentality on  car parks . Instead of  seeing them as big sources of revenue  and opportunities to make our lives worse they should be  a service we need in order to support and encourage flourishing town centres. Paying should be easy and include a  cash option.

Dear Colleague on Water

Please find below the Dear Colleague letter that I have received from the Government

Dear Colleagues,

Our Integrated Plan for Delivering Clean and Plentiful Water

I’m pleased to announce that the government has today published a Plan for Water.

Link can be found here – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/plan-for-water-ourintegrated-plan-for-delivering-clean-and-plentiful-water/plan-for-water-our-integrated-plan[1]for-delivering-clean-and-plentiful-water.

I completely understand the concerns that you and your constituents have about the health and resilience of our rivers, lakes and seas, and the pressures they face, which is why I am setting out this plan for a truly national effort to protect and improve them. Here in the UK, we look after globally significant wetlands, 85% of the world’s rare chalk streams, and world-famous coastlines, lakes, and rivers. These waters are a focal point of local communities and an important part of our national heritage. More than ever, people expect access to clean and plentiful water. Yet our complex, interconnected water system is under greater pressure than ever before from population growth to climate change. Through investment and regulation, we have seen improvements in recent years.

We have cleaner bathing waters – 93% are ‚Äėgood‚Äô or ‚Äėexcellent‚Äô, up from 76% in 2010. Since privatisation, leakage has reduced by a third and we are five times less likely to suffer supply interruptions. We were the first government to start comprehensively monitoring storm overflows – from 10% in 2015 to 100% by the end of this year, and to introduce new targets on water companies to increase investment and tighten legal permits on storm overflows. In January 2023 we set out our goals and targets with the Environmental Improvement Plan. We are now delivering an Integrated Plan for Water which brings together the significant action already taken, along with more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement on those who pollute.

The Plan covers both the water environment ‚Äď how clean it is ‚Äď and water resources ‚Äď how much of it we have. We need to look at both things together. It addresses every source of pollution, including from storm overflows, agriculture, plastics, road run-off, chemicals and pesticides – as well as the pressures on our water resources as a result of hotter, drier summers and population growth. The Plan outlines our actions across three areas. Firstly, we will transform management of the whole water system in a joined-up way.

We will deliver new long-term catchment action plans, backed up by new funding, to improve all water bodies in England. Water companies will speed up their infrastructure upgrades ‚Äď bringing forward around ¬£1.6 billion for work to start between now and 2025 to reduce sewage discharges, nutrient pollution and increase water resilience. This includes creating a new Water Restoration Fund, using money from water company fines and penalties to support local groups and projects like re-meandering rivers and restoring habitats, as well as increasing the scope and maximum penalty amount that the Environment Agency can issue against water companies for damaging the environment.

Our actions will secondly deliver a clean water environment for nature and people, by addressing each of the multiple pressures and sources of pollution on our water bodies. This includes a ban, subject to consultation, on the sale of wet wipes containing plastic, developing new proposals to restrict the use of ‚Äėforever‚Äô chemicals (PFAS), and more than doubling the money for slurry grant infrastructure for farmers to ¬£34 million.

Finally, the plan sets out actions to secure a plentiful supply of water, in order to meet our long-term water needs for people, businesses, and the environment and close the 4 billion litres of water a day supply-demand gap we will experience by 2050 otherwise. This includes streamlining the planning process so that key water supply infrastructure ‚Äď such as reservoirs and water transfer schemes ‚Äď can be built more quickly, and securing new investment by water companies to spend on new water infrastructure in the next two years, including to increase our water resilience. The attached Annex includes further details on our new policies. If you would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Your sincerely