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Candidates question councillors on trees, speeding and flooding during Wokingham Borough Council Executive meeting

Wilderness Road
Wilderness Road Picture: Phil Creighton

PHIL CREIGHTON reports on a virtual meeting of Wokingham Borough Council’s ruling Executive, held on Thursday, March 25

Call to tackle speeding in Earley

A CALL to tackle speeding in Earley was made by a Lib Dem candidate, who says that drivers are regularly doing more than 35mph in 30mph zones.

Wes Budd, who is standing in Hillside ward, said that speeding motorists made it dangerous for vehicles entering from side streets, school children and elderly residents.

He said that Earley Town Council had raised this in July last year, calling for the borough council to install appropriate warning warns at the Elm Lane and Beech Lane ends of Redhatch Drive.

“(Earley Town Council) requests WBC highways engineers investigate possibilities for traffic calming measures, such as chicanes and rumble strips,” he said, asking if this could be supported by the borough council.

Responding was Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, the executive member for highways and transport and also a Conservative candidate for the same ward as Mr Budd.

“Despite common perceptions, the road has a very good safety record, with only one  personal injury collision recorded by police over the past decade,” she said, adding that data collected showed that motorists are ‘broadly complaint’ with the existing 30mph.

“In the section between Wychwood Crescent and Collins Drive, 85%ile speeds are in excess of the level normally used by Thames Valley Police for speed enforcement purposes and the likelihood of speeds higher than this occurring at times is acknowledged,” she said.

This meant that the council had added Redhatch Drive to a safety campaign.

If this had no effect, Cllr Jorgensen said that council officers will investigate speed management measures.

Protecting trees and homes

FELLING mature trees is a last resort and only allowed if it is not possible to protect the tree and properties from subsidence.

That’s the verdict of the executive member for planning, Cllr Wayne Smith, a Conservative candidate for Hurst ward.

He was responding to a question from Mike Smith, the Lib Dem candidate for Maiden Erlegh who wanted to know if there were ways to avoid a situation in Earley where an oak tree had been removed to avoid damaging several properties.

“The damage to these properties has been very distressing and costly  to the homeowners,” he said.

“However, from an environmental and aesthetic point of view, it is also very distressing to many other residents. This is not an isolated instance.

“One possible way to reduce the need to fell large, mature trees might be a change of Planning Policy whereby, the impact of trees on or adjacent to planning application properties must be considered in depth where appropriate – perhaps something like a Bat Survey for Trees.”

Cllr Smith said that there were already a number of procedures in place to protect trees, including developers submitting a tree survey and an arboriculture impact assessment with a planning application.

He added: “The most recent draft Local Plan includes text within Policy NE4 relating to the predicted growth of trees when assessing the layout of new development sites. This will help to ensure that new developments provide sufficient space to enable trees to grow and thrive.”

Plea to resolve school run parking

A PLEA has been made to resolve parking issues during a school run.

Eileen Kessel, Conservative candidate for Hawkedon ward, said that residents of Mill Lane had to endure “real issues with inconsiderate parking” during pick-up and drop-off times, and wanted to know what the council could do to tackle the problem.

Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, the executive member for highways and transport and a Conservative candidate for neighbouring Hillside ward, said that the council was aware of the residents’ concerns and it intended to work collaboratively with schools to resolve issues.

“When residents feel that there are problems in unrestricted roads that require firmer controls, they can request these through the Council’s website and officers will investigate the potential for using Traffic Regulation Orders that can be enforced under CPE legislation,” she said.  

“The Council is mindful, however, that these types of measures can simply result in a transfer of the problems to other streets and for this reason, any proposals are subject to formal consultation processes to allow any objections to be considered.

“As a result, the process is lengthy and can take between 10 and 12 months to complete.”

Fixing flooding in Wilderness Road

FLOODING in Wilderness Road – a bugbear for many motorists as well as residents – was raised by Norman Jorgensen, Conservative candidate for Maiden Erlegh ward and husband of Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, the exuective member for Highways.

He said that despair repairs to drains around the Betchworth Avenue area, residents at the Pepper Lane end of the road are still experiencing flooding.

“How is the investigating the reasons progressing?”

Responding, Cllr Parry Batth, the executive member for environment and leisure, said: “Investigative works identified a problem with the pipework that runs from the roundabout with Pepper Lane, westwards towards Reeds Avenue.

“Pipe repairs and cleansing works have largely resolved the issues at this location. The drainage team have programmed a final pipe cleanse and CCTV survey of the system to ensure that the repair works have resolved all of the issues.

“These works are due to take place in early April.”

Council homes plan – if re-elected

WOKINGHAM Borough Council is to build 100 homes per year for the next four years on brownfield sites if the Conservatives retain control of the council in May.

The party is running a 1-4-5 housing challenge to build 1,000 council homes over the same period, providing a 5% return. The brownfield homes are in addition to that target.

Cllr John Kaiser, the executive member for finance and housing, revealed the information in an answer to a question from Evendons ward Conservative candidate Daniel Hinton, who wanted an update on the council’s progress on working with the government on building “the right number of houses in the right places”.

Last year, council leader John Halsall was successful in his lobbying to reduce the number of new homes built each year from 1,600 to between 700 and 800, something Cllr Kaiser said was “great news”.

He added: “I hope to bring forward a second draft of the Local Plan in early autumn. Fundamental to the success of that Plan and therefore to our overall housing strategy remains that new housing delivery in the Borough is planned and built in sustainable locations and through sustainable methods.

“It should address local housing priorities and be accompanied by essential infrastructure to support it.”

Regeneration across the borough

Would “the success” of Wokingham’s regeneration lead to funding investment in the rest of the borough?

That was the question from Anne Chadwick, the Conservative’s candidate for Loddon Ward.

Responding, Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor, the executive member for regeneration, said that Wokingham town centre’s regeneration was generating an income of more than £2 million a year, expecting to rise to between £5 million and £6 million a year once building costs are paid off.

“It is the extra income, from projects like the regeneration of Wokingham Town centre, or the property investment fund, which allows us to continue to make improvements to our local libraries, or to fund services like social care, when so many other councils are paring back on services or even shutting down facilities like next door in Reading, with the closure of swimming pools and leisure facilities,” she said.

“Our approach has been different, and I very much hope that you will have already benefitted from the investment in Woodley’s new leisure facilities at Bulmershe, which include a new and larger gym and pool.”

And other benefits included the council buying the Waitrose store in Woodley.

“In addition to this being a great business and financial investment, it has also secured an important site right in the heart of the town centre.”

How leisure staff helped during covid

STAFF working for the borough’s sports and leisure centres have been helping residents during the pandemic and will continue to do so as we emerge from lockdown.

Cllr Charles Margetts, executive member for health, wellbeing and adult services and Conservative candidate for Finchampstead North, said that the council’s Moving With Confidence project saw the staff receive referrals from adult social care officers, the voluntary sector, the One Front Door scheme and GPs.

It helps reisdents who have had loss of confidence, fitness and mobility, which has put them at risk of falls, social isolation and deteriorating health.

The sessions are one-to-one and so far 127 residents have benefited from the scheme.

The council has launched a new mental health service in conjunction with MIND, which aims to launch the scheme next month. It will help 1,200 residents a year once fully established.

The sports and leisure teams have also been helping the council run lateral flow testing centres six days a week, and helping GPs with the vaccination programme.

The final way in which they help include supporting residents who have been discharged from the Royal Berkshire Hospital, in a partmnership with AGE UK Berkshire.

“The scheme has been warmly welcomed by residents and has prevented readmissions and call outs,” he said.

He was responding to a question from Philip Cunnington, the Conservative candidate for Norreys ward.

Trees planted will be looked after

TREES planted by the borough council following a £300,000 grant from The Woodland Trust will be looked after properly.

That’s a pledge by Cllr Gregor Murray, the executive member for resident services, communications and emissions.

He was responding to a question from Cllr Pauline Helliar-Symons, who is the Conservative candidate for Wokingham Without.

“I know that laying our new, accessible woodland will be a priority as part of the Council’s tree planting initiatives,” she said. “Can you confirm to me that any trees planted using this money will be maintained and looked after properly and not just planted and allowed to fend for themselves?”

Cllr Murray said that Wokingham borough was one of 10 councils to receive the funding as part of a plan to plant 50 million trees by 2025.

“An additional benefit for Wokingham Borough is that the funding brings with it the invaluable advice and support of experts in conservation and large-scale tree planting,” he added.

Ongoing maintenance was something that residents had raised with the council and it was also something that had to be addressed in the bid.

“We will have two dedicated Tree Officers specifically responsible for carrying out inspections and maintenance works for these and for the of stock of other council owned trees,” he said.

Cllr Murray also blasted opposition councillors, saying that he and council leader John Halsall had been meeting with the Woodland Trust since 2019.

“I stress this because I have seen that members of the opposition have tried to ferret some of the credit for this relationship and bask in the reflected glow of what is a great achievement forWokingham residents and the officers of our council,” he said.

“This funding not only helps to kickstart our tree planting programme but shows that the Woodland Trust believes in both our planting programme and also our future maintenance plan. I am proud to say that I have played a part in making it happen,” he said.

Responding, Cllr Pauline Helliar-Symons asked: “Are there any plans for community engagement?”

Cllr Murray said that there were plans in place for this, including working with residents and town and parish councils to help discern where these trees could be planted.

Votes

  • A Community Vision and Corporate Plan Review that reflects on the challenges and opportunities that have arisen during the coronavirus pandemic. These include the council’s desire to tackle poverty and inequality, to support the economic recovery through a business task force and to make better use of digital technology.
  • The housing strategy to 2024 will see the council aim to support vulnerable residents through a range of housing options, improve the quality and sustainability of the borough’s homes and to seek to build 1,000 council homes over four years, with an average of 5% return. There would also be an additional 800 affordable homes and more opportunities for low-cost home ownership such as self-builds.
  • The Draft Leisure Strategy would focus on sports provision, particularly the council’s own services and an increased number of open spaces such as country parks, greenways and children’s play areas. A consultation will run to the end of June.
  • The arts and culture strategy aims to align the council’s vision with that of agencies such as the Arts Council England and Public Health England. An arts and culture alliance will be launched aimed at bringing together key stakeholders for its implementation. This will be reviewed every six months.
  • On school transport, the council carried out a review last autumn seeking views of families, professionals and residents. Under the changes, the first of a two-stage review will be undertaken by a senior officer, while the second is a member panel. 
  • There will be no changes to the borough’s school admission policy.
  • And Wokingham Borough Council’s executive approved an additional spend of £100,000 in addition to a grant of £281,000 from the government.

The executive noted that applications are still being received and there was a risk of families and individuals being left in need.

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