The Wokingham Paper

New policy on flag flying and room naming adopted by Wokingham Borough Council

The Union Flag flying at Wokingham Borough Council icture: Phil Creighton

THE POLICY on flag flying and room naming in Wokingham borough was debated during the Wokingham Borough Council virtual meeting on Thursday, July 23. 

The council currently operates in accordable with published practice, as informed by the Flag Institute. 

Council leader John Halsall introduced the motion. 

Cllr Imogen Shpehard-Dubey (Lib Dem) said: “Flags are a signal loaded with emotion and meaning. They can be very controversial. They are an important message to the world around us, such that they can represent both hope and despair, both pride and deep offensive – if you get it wrong.”

She added: “With my additional role as a Wokingham Town Councillor, I feel that as our flag poles share the same town, it is important that both Wokingham Borough Council and Wokingham Town Council stay in unison when supporting the nationally recognised dates.”

However, she said that protocol missed rules about flying flags at half, such as the death of a councillor or significant local events. 

On room naming, she wanted to know how many people are required in a petition to get a room renamed. 

Cllr Gary Cowan (Ind) requested an amendment, so that the council’s chief executive would have to consult with representative bodies before changes. Cllr Halsall accepted that. 

Cllr Andy Croy (Lab) said: “It is extraordinarily insensitive that this item has appeared on the agenda and it should be withdrawn at once, right now.

“For members who are not on Facebook, following the appalling murder of  Holt teacher James

Furlong in June, there was a lot of support on Facebook for the suggestion that the Union flag be flown at half-mast. It would have been a suitable response. No law would have been broken.”

He added: “By agreeing to this proposal, we are effectively outsourcing our accountability. 

But it is worse than that. We are allowing our political leadership to hide behind bureaucracy. 

“In June, there was widespread anger and bewilderment that we could not simply lower the flag.

“This policy will ensure we continue to ignore our residents. At times of crisis we need leadership, not hiding behind obscure policies.”

He also wondered if the motion was a response to his suggestion that Black Lives Matter fly be flown in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. 

“Ruling that option out, it seems clear that this policy is totally out of touch with the demand from

local people that our institution – their institution – publicly reflect their anger and sadness at times of crisis. 

“Please just with withdraw this proposal.”

Cllr Carl Doran (Lab) said that the flag protocol has no process details for how to approach the council to fly a certain flag. 

“For instance, as a former member of the Royal Air Force, during this eightieth anniversary year of the Battle of Britain, I would like to see the Royal Air Force Ensign fly at Shute End on Battle of Britain day, 15th September.

“I’m sure every member would agree that’s a fine idea.

“But this protocol provides no way for me or any resident of the Borough to make such a request and have it considered.

“So, I think this protocol needs a little further work to be.”

Cllr Emma Hobbs (Cons) said that originally you needed permission from the monarch to fly the Union flag or the St George’s Cross. 

Cllr John Halsall summed up the debate, saying that exceptional circumstances would allow individual flags to be flown.

The motion was passed a majority vote.

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