Planning problems in Wokingham

The Lib Dem Council needs to raise its game in handling planning issues for our community. It needs to make a stronger case to demonstrate that the recent high rate of building has more than taken care of the targets in the current local plan. It needs to demonstrate there is plenty of land with planning permissions available for the rest of the plan.

It also needs to get on with producing a successor plan. The government has made it very clear that if the Council does not have an up to date local plan then Inspectors may well grant more housebuilding permissions and may well choose locations local people do not want to see built on. I have worked with a group of MPs to secure the promise from the government that they will not impose mandatory top down targets for numbers of homes to be built. More power will wrest with local Council to design a suitable local plan . An up to date local plan will be a key influence on any planning appeals after it comes into force. So get on with it, Wokingham Borough.

Update on flood risk position in your constituency

I have just received the latest update from the Environment Agency.  Three flood warnings and six alerts are now in force.

Dear John,

Following our email on 3 January, I’m writing to update you on the latest forecast regarding the likelihood of flooding in your constituency.

Latest situation
There are now 3 flood warnings and 6 alerts in force in your constituency area. You can see these listed in more detail below.
• Flood Warnings are issued when property flooding is expected.
• Flood Alerts are issued when flooding to low lying areas such as fields and roads are expected, and property flooding is possible.

Flood Warning in force in Wokingham constituency
• River Loddon and River Blackwater at Swallowfield
• Properties closest to the River Kennet between Shenfield Mill, Theale and Reading town centre
• River Kennet from Theale down to Reading

Flood Alerts in force in Wokingham constituency
• River Pang from East Ilsley to Pangbourne and Sulham Brook
• River Enborne and Foudry Brook
• River Kennet from Thatcham down to Reading
• River Blackwater and The Cove Brook
• Lower River Loddon
• River Whitewater and River Hart

Our live map showing the latest flood alerts and warnings, and rainfall and river levels is available at the following link: Live flood map – Check for flooding – GOV.UK (check-for-flooding.service.gov.uk)

Our activities
Our planned watercourse maintenance programme reduces the likelihood of river blockage and enables main river watercourses to flow as close to their optimum capacity as possible. We will, however, remain vigilant to any blockages that have the potential to increase flood risk and respond if safe to do so.

We continue to respond to the high river levels and to issue flood warnings when property flooding is expected. This allows residents time to prepare and activate their flood plans.

We will have Community Information Officers out in areas of highest risk to help assess impacts and reassure communities across the Thames area. Our operational response with barriers and pumping has been focussed where it would be most effective.

Forward look
There is a small amount of rain forecast today, but river levels may continue to rise in response to last night’s rainfall. We are watching the levels closely.

I’m currently on duty as the Area Duty Manager, acting on behalf of the Area Director for this incident. I’m focused on our immediate incident response to ensure we can warn and inform communities at risk and manage our assets effectively during this period.

How to contact us during this incident
If you have any specific questions about the current situation please contact us via this email address. If you are requesting a call back, please provide us with a contact number, so that we can arrange for the most appropriate person to ring you.

Members of the public can call our free Floodline service on 0345 988 1188.

Help communities stay up to date and prepare
Please do encourage your constituents to stay up to date with the latest information:
• Sign up for our free flood warning service Sign up for flood warnings – GOV.UK (environment-agency.gov.uk)
• Check the weather forecast UK rainfall radar map – Met Office
• Keep up to date with the current flood warning situation: Live flood map – Check for flooding – GOV.UK (check-for-flooding.service.gov.uk)

Encourage your constituents to be prepared:
• what to do in a flood: https://check-for-flooding.service.gov.uk/what-to-do-in-a-flood
• what happens after a flood: https://check-for-flooding.service.gov.uk/what-happens-after-a-flood

I will keep you informed of any changes and please do contact me if you have any questions.

Car park misery in Wokingham

Why does a Lib Dem Council in Wokingham so dislike motorists? Why do they want our lives to be miserable?

I recently attended an evening meeting with some Councillors at their Shute End offices. I parked in a near empty car park and went to the payment machine as they now charge for evening use of their car park. In the rain I waited patiently behind the only other user of the park at that time as he wrestled to try to pay. He needed several attempts to enter the data required, only to be thwarted each time because the machine would not accept his card in payment. He then went off to try another machine.

I decided to battle with the one I was waiting for. I needed to clean the rain drops off from the touch screen. It was hard work getting the to0uch screen to accept data as I tried to complete their questions. It took three goes to successfully load the data. I did have coins with me so I tried that and to my relief it worked. I eventually did get a printed out paper ticket which I needed to shield from the rain as I took it back to the car. I was soaked from doing all this in heavy rain.

Do no Councillors ever try out the technology they are imposing? Do they not experience what many of my constituents experience, that the technology is often poor and the instructions badly formulated? Do they have to money grab all the time? Why have they cancelled free visitor parking for those who do need to go to see them at the Council offices?

Flood Warning and Alerts from the Environment Agency

I have received the following update from the Environment Agency about possible flooding in the constituency. They have provided links and a telephone number for their floodline service.

Dear John,

I’m writing to update you on the latest forecast regarding the likelihood of flooding in your constituency.

Latest situation

Recent rain over the Christmas period has fallen on saturated ground and river levels are already high.

There is 1 flood warning and 5 alerts in force in your constituency area. You can see these listed in more detail below.

  • Flood Warnings are issued when property flooding is expected.
  • Flood Alerts are issued when flooding to low lying areas such as fields and roads are expected, and property flooding is possible.

Flood Warning in force in Wokingham constituency

  • Properties closest to the River Kennet between Shenfield Mill, Theale and Reading town centre

Flood Alerts in force in Wokingham constituency

  • River Pang from East Ilsley to Pangbourne and Sulham Brook
  • River Enborne and Foudry Brook
  • River Kennet from Thatcham down to Reading
  • River Blackwater and The Cove Brook
  • Lower River Loddon

Our live map showing the latest flood alerts and warnings, and rainfall and river levels is available at the following link: Live flood map – Check for flooding – GOV.UK (check-for-flooding.service.gov.uk)

Our activities

Our planned watercourse maintenance programme reduces the likelihood of river blockage and enables main river watercourses to flow as close to their optimum capacity as possible. We will, however, remain vigilant to any blockages that have the potential to increase flood risk and respond if safe to do so.

We continue to respond to the high river levels. In areas of flood risk, the best mitigation is for us to issue flood warnings when property flooding is expected. This allows residents time to prepare and activate their flood plans.

Forward look

More rainfall is forecast tomorrow which may cause the river levels to rise further increasing the risk that a few properties could experience some flooding. We are watching the levels closely.

I’m currently on duty as the Area Duty Manager, acting on behalf of the Area Director for this incident. I’m focused on our immediate incident response to ensure we can warn and inform communities at risk and manage our assets effectively during this period.

How to contact us during this incident

If you have any specific questions about the current situation please contact us via this email address.  If you are requesting a call back, please provide us with a contact number, so that we can arrange for the most appropriate person to ring you.

Members of the public can call our free Floodline service on 0345 988 1188.

Help communities stay up to date and prepare

Please do encourage your constituents to stay up to date with the latest information:

Encourage your constituents to be prepared:

I will keep you informed of any changes and please do contact me if you have any questions.

Letter from National Highways

Please find below the letter that I recently received from National Highways:

 

15 December 2023

Dear John Redwood

National emergency area retrofit – M4 junctions J10-12

I am writing today to update you on the delivery of additional emergency areas on existing smart motorways, and to explain what this means for the stretch of the M4 in Berkshire.

In April, the Prime Minister announced the cancellation of new smart motorway schemes and confirmed the government and National Highways would continue to invest £900 million in further safety improvements on existing smart motorways. This includes continued delivery of our commitments made in response to the recommendations of Parliament’s Transport Select Committee report The roll out and safety of smart motorways.

While our motorways are among the safest in the world, we recognise that some people have concerns about being able to find a safe place to stop in an emergency

on all lane running (ALR) motorways where the hard shoulder has been converted to a running lane, such as the stretch of the M4 between Heston and Reading. We have listened to those concerns and have been developing a £390 million programme to roll out more emergency areas on ALR motorways, in operation and construction.

Emergency areas provide a place to stop in an emergency if drivers cannot exit the motorway or stop at a motorway service area. They are marked by blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol. Each is coloured orange and is around the same length as a football pitch. They are positioned at regular intervals and have phones linked directly to our control rooms.

In comparison to January 2022, our emergency area retrofit programme will see around 50% more emergency areas across the entire all lane running network, giving drivers added reassurance. It’s a programme we’ll be working on in phases, with the M4 having new areas added in the coming months. We published this information to our website today https://nationalhighways.co.uk/emergency-areas.

We will write to you again before we start work on the M4, to clarify how we will manage the works, particularly in light of other work nearby, and how we will be briefing those living near to the works.

Beyond the M4, our current retrofit programme will see more emergency areas added on the M25, M5, M3, M20, M27 and the M1. Retrofitting more emergency areas across the remainder of ALR motorways, is being considered as part of formulating the third road investment strategy. This will be based on evidence of the benefits of introducing them at initial locations across the network, and whether the additional emergency areas help drivers to feel safer.

This investment in new emergency areas, along with extra technology like stopped vehicle detection, better and more signposting of emergency areas, our public awareness campaigns promoting more information about smart motorways, the updated Highway Code and more breakdown and safety advice such as https://nationalhighways.co.uk/road-safety/breakdowns all aims to help road users feel safe and be even safer on our roads.

Through all the work we are doing we are determined to further reduce the number of casualties on our high-speed road network, to improve public confidence in driving on our motorways, and to continue to build and operate one of the safest and best performing road networks in the world.

The safety and confidence of people travelling on England’s motorways and major A-roads is National Highways’ highest priority.  We are determined that everyone using England’s motorways continues to benefit from one of the safest and best performing road networks in the world.

I hope this is a helpful update. If you have any questions at all please do not hesitate to contact me, my colleague Felicity Clayton who is leading on the retrofit project

(felicity.clayton@nationalhighways.co.uk) or the project team on EAretrofit@nationalhighways.co.uk

Yours sincerely

 

Christine Allen

Operations Regional Director for the South East,

National Highways

Wokingham Choral Society carols

I attended the Choral Society’s excellent carol concert on Saturday evening. Conductor George de Voil got the best out of the choir and encouraged audience participation in several of the most famous carols. Organist Rupert Gough provided skilful musical backing.

 

It was a well arranged programme with two of Betjeman’s Christmas poems to provide occasional rests from singing. I want to say a big thank you for all who worked so hard on stage and behind the scenes to make such a great evening. All Saints Church complete with decorated tree made a good background for the festive entertainment.

Response to the emails about civilian deaths in Gaza

Dear Correspondent,

Thank you for your email. Like you I am most concerned about the deaths in the Hamas/Israel war and support the diplomatic initiatives being undertaken to limit civilian deaths, to pause the fighting  and to allow humanitarian aid.

The UK government seeks to influence Israel alongside the USA to avoid civilian casualties and to ensure humanitarian  supplies enter Gaza. The US and UK have been seeking humanitarian pauses to the fighting. The UK government assists  the Qataris who are best placed to help both sides reach an agreement. A ceasefire can only happen when the two combatants agree one. To agree a  ceasefire  requires more work by those neutral and trusted intermediaries locally and a change of view of the two sides. I hope they can achieve a breakthrough.   I will put your strong concerns to the UK government.

 

Yours sincerely

Department of Transport Answer to my Written Parliamentary Question on Road Maintenance

The Department for Transport has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (2439):

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, how much funding his Department plans to provide to Wokingham Borough Council for (a) fixing potholes and (b) other road maintenance in the (i) 2023-24 and (ii) 2024-25 financial year. (2439)

Tabled on: 20 November 2023

Answer:
Guy Opperman:

The Department will provide Wokingham Borough Council with a total of £8.053 million for highways maintenance activities over the two years in question. The funding can be spent on activities including (a) fixing potholes and (b) other road maintenance in the (i) 2023-24 and (ii) 2024-25 financial years.

A Written Ministerial Statement has been laid in both Houses, and the Secretary of State has written out to Parliamentary colleagues advising them of the uplift to highways maintenance funding. In addition, officials from my Department will be writing out to all Chief Executives confirming their grant funding allocations shortly.

The answer was submitted on 28 Nov 2023 at 14:24.

Murder Sentencing Consultation

I have received the letter below from the Minister for Sentencing regarding the Murder Sentencing Consultation which was launched today.

Around a quarter of all homicides in England and Wales are committed by the partner, ex-partner, or relative of the victim. Most of these domestic murders take place in the home. When a weapon is used, such as a kitchen knife, it is normally already at the scene. This means that although weapons are often used in domestic murders, these offences generally do not qualify for one of the higher starting points in sentencing. The perpetrators will usually receive a lesser sentence because the weapon was already in the home.

The consultation seeks views on whether a higher starting point should apply to murders preceded by controlling or coercive behaviour against the murder victim, and to all murders committed with a knife or other weapon – a change that would likely result in higher minimum terms in these cases.

You can read more about the consultation and how to contribute here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/murder-sentencing/murder-sentencing-consultation#:~:text=This%20consultation%20seeks%20views%20on,minimum%20terms%20in%20these%20cases.

 

Visit to Bohunt School

On Friday 16th November I visited Bohunt School at Arborfield. I was given a tour of the classrooms and then had a conversation with the pupils on the School Council.

It was good to see the school with plenty of motivational phrases on the walls urging young people to try things out, to contribute, to have views and to get involved. The pupils were working from iPads with teachers having access to individual iPads to help, to see how they are getting on and to mark.

The School Council said their big issue had been the wish to have flexibility over the wearing of ties and jumpers with their uniform. They had sounded out the pupils through on line questionnaires, had presented a case for reform and reached agreement with teachers.

I asked them about the use of artificial  intelligence in learning. I argued that trying to get AI to do the work for you cheats yourself, as you need to master the material and know how to provide an answer. I also argued that good use of computers can help with learning as it does with subsequent work. It appeared there was not  much use of CHAT GPT or the equivalent.

I asked about outings, overnight trips, sports and the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. There was engagement with reports of how these additional activities enrich the school experience.

I wish them all well and was pleased to see positive approaches to what their school offers.