Curtin & Co the professional Community Politics organisation taken on by Crest Nicholson for the past year or so to help with community engagement to produce more acceptable plans this time around have the following statement on their website:
Communities and their representatives are at the heart of planning. By listening carefully to them and understanding their issues, acceptance of proposals is greatly improved.
We’d probably agree with them on that, but I wonder how you thought the recent exhibition showed they understood your issues?
Certainly from the feedback we have received so far, the answer seems to be that they didn’t seem to understand at all, and that the entire exhibition was a major disappointment.
Over the years this development has been discussed, there have been a couple of common points. Firstly the preservation of green space used by existing residents has been a major concern – right from the start AG-RAG has been in favour of a development “behind the wire” highlighting that public areas outside the boundary wire of the Garrison should remain public areas, and that the effect on existing residents should be minimised. Secondly the mitigation of the traffic effects of the new development needs to be taken seriously for all the surrounding villages.
If you take a look at the supplementary planning document adopted by Wokingham Borough Council the “behind the wire” principle is clear. Crest Nicholson helpfully include this plan on their “Story so far” panel, all of the formal playing fields along with the informal space around the top of Sheerlands Road is maintained, and there is a clearly marked buffer alongside the existing homes on Badger’s Mount. The withdrawn plans from 2013 which were modified from the original design as part of the community planning workshops in January 2013 largely maintained that, with only building on one side of Sheerlands Road on the Garrison Church Car Park. These new plans however discard the green buffer behind Badger’s Mount, and fill all of the informal space with houses, requiring the felling of a number of trees that are supposed to have tree protection orders on them to achieve this, and even putting houses on the access road to Gerring Road and the whole of the Badger’s Mount estate. Hardly listening carefully to the local community and understanding their issues. Not surprisingly we are aware of a number of local residents who visited the exhibition and expressed pretty forcefully their opinion of the latest plans.
Looking at the other hot button issue, that of traffic mitigation, whereas the consultation exhibition for the withdrawn plans recognised the importance of this and included proposed plans for many critical junctions, there was nothing like this at the recent exhibition. We can’t even comment on how good or bad their plans might be, because there was basically no detail at all, we are no clearer now as to what they are proposing as to where we were a month ago.
So what has gone wrong? Curtin & Co have been engaging with community representatives such as the parish councils and local borough councillors, but they have noticeably failed to engage with the community itself. We had a Community Planning Weekend where a number of local residents sat and worked with the master planners, producing a plan that whilst it had some issues was still something that had clearly evolved as a result of the community engagement. Nobody on the new team was involved with the previous community engagement, and rather than organise a new round of engaging with the community, this team appears to have developed the plans in isolation, the result being that the masterplan is considered by many to be worse than the withdrawn plan.
Ironically the new plan is still being sold on the basis of green space, but comparing the plans from 2013 with the new plans there is clearly less green space. The existing space around the junction of Sheerlands Road and Baird Road is entirely gone, green space around the brook is reduced, the village common is significantly reduced, houses are built closer to the balancing lake and the SANG is reduced in size. What that has been traded for is personal green space, so the density of housing is reduced by putting them on larger plots. Certainly good for making the houses to sell more attractive, but it is the existing residents who are losing their green space, and there is less public green space for the new community.
As expected the secondary school has moved back to the original location, but since Reading Football Club are holding firm on Hogwood Park, it has all the same problems with access from outside the SDL. Whilst in fifteen years once the majority of students using the school will be fed from the SDL most students will be able to walk, in the early years most students will be coming from Finchampstead and will have to come through the whole southern part of the SDL into the town centre to get to the school. The school desperately needs direct access from Park Lane, rather than requiring all of the students to come in at the same time as all of the residents are heading out to work, and sending them in via a fairly roundabout route around the industrial estate and the football club.
If you didn’t get a chance to attend the exhibition, the boards are available on the Crest Nicholson Consultation Website. You’ll find that the previous Arborfield Vision site has been removed, however you can look back at the presentation and commitments that the previous masterplanners and the the Defence Infrastructure Organisation made on our site here, something that is probably a rather depressing experience when you realise quite how much of the previous community engagement has been squandered, and the good will that has been lost by Curtin & Co and Crest Nicholson. Please also feedback if you haven’t already using the Crest Nicholson Online Feedback Form.
As you may be aware, the catalyst for this group being formed was when Wokingham Borough Council published their SDL masterplan document for the Arborfield Garrison SDL. Whilst for everyone who lives in and around the Garrison the prospect of the Army moving out has always been on the cards, and replacement with housing the most likely possibility, pretty well everyone assumed that it would be a development of the land behind the wire, as had been shown on previous proposals. It was therefore rather a nasty surprise to find that Wokingham Borough Council had included parts of the playing fields that were, and still are well used by both the civilian and military families who live here – indeed before the inevitable Bank Holiday rain set in today there were families enjoying the open space near the tennis courts over the weekend, as there often is when it is sunny. This proposed development of “area B” served to bring home what was about to happen.
Over the intervening time we have had several assurances from various politicians over what will happen to “area B”, however the key thing that Wokingham Borough Council have not done, is to remove the contentious part of area B from their own document, as a result every time a new set of consultants come along and a new masterplan is issued, the same argument over “area B” comes up again.
Last week, members of the parental reference group working with the council on plans for the new school were shown a plan indicating the location. The plan was under a confidentiality agreement at that point, but following a request from the reference group the document has now been put in the public domain and can be found on a number of the Facebook pages discussing the school, or by clicking on the image here. Aside from interest over the school location, it is worth taking a look at what is happening elsewhere. Once again Crest Nicholson have kicked out John Thompson and Partners who ran the extensive community planning weekend in 2013, and brought in the Ian Darby Partnership (Northern) based in Newcastle to master plan the site once again. As always happens, if you look at the plan, “area B” is once again marked as residential developable area, although on this plan it’s areas BB1, BB2, CC and K. Granted this is labelled as the “Masterplan Diagram without Constraints”, but the area is clearly marked.
If you look at it from the point of view of the developers if you ignore all the marketing fluff around garden village principles into which an area like that fits really well, the area of parkland in those parts is pretty easy to develop, certainly compared to the building demolition they’ll need to undertake elsewhere on the site. If they take a chainsaw to the trees they’ve marked with blue dots – apparently only to mark the location of services – they can slap up a load of houses quickly and get them selling to finance the rest of the development, and stuff the existing residents. Since we’re already here, the garden village principles aren’t really for our benefit anyway, much better to build on the park used and enjoyed by the people who are already here in order to provide more SANG area and more open space in other parts of the development where they will be making their money.
Sadly that is the kind of short sighted view often taken by developers who are primarily interested in building and selling their houses for the maximum profit whatever the effect on the existing community, the kind of attitude that produced their previous planning application that suggested sprinkling a few traffic lights around the area would counteract the effect of thousands of extra new residents being dropped into a semi-rural area. What they miss is that the existing residents are the people who will form the basis of the new community their marketing department and the council keeps going on about. Surely if you are wanting these people to build this new community, repeatedly antagonising them by not addressing obvious traffic problems, and repeatedly proposing to build on parks used by the existing residents is exactly the opposite of what you want to be doing?
We’ll see in the coming week quite whether common sense has prevailed and the developers have been realistic about the traffic effects of their development, and about retaining amenities used by the existing residents, but given this plan, we won’t be surprised to find ourselves once again disappointed.
After a relatively quiet couple of weeks, over the past couple of days there have been two key announcements relating to the development.
Firstly, the Arborfield Garrison Landowners Consortium, headed up by Crest Nicholson, have announced the three dates for the exhibition of their revised proposals. These are as follows:
The first of these dates in Finchampstead is at the end of the last full week of the school holidays, whilst the other two dates in Arborfield are after the local schools have gone back. The consortium seems to have now abandoned their previous Arborfield Vision site and are instead setting up a new web site that will carry details of the proposals at www.arborfieldgarrison.co.uk which is due to go live on the day of the first exhibition.
We would urge everybody to try and attend the exhibition, and to ensure you give your feedback to the developers representatives who will be attending.
The other announcement, which came today from Wokingham Borough Council announcing that the potential site for the new school had been identified. To be fair the potential site they have identified is actually the same site that was proposed in some of the earliest layouts for the development, indeed you can go back to this posting from 2010 for an example, and which was actually revealed by the Marino Family Trust on the front cover of their Hogwood Garden Village brochure a few weeks back. The site still has all the same problems it did two years ago, when the previous group of AGLC consultants successfully argued to have it relocated to the edge of the development, the primary reason that it has moved back is that Wokingham Borough are now pushing for the school in 2016 and the site identified on the edge of the development just won’t be available in time.
The fundamental problems with the site remain, the biggest of which being that, as can be seen from the plan in the Marino document it will only be accessible via the new village centre. With the Reading Football Club training ground at Hogwood Park directly behind, and a large area of SANG and the existing industrial estate adjacent, the route for students from Finchampstead will be along the new Nine Mile Ride extension into the village centre. Students from Barkham will again be coming into the development right to the centre to get to the school. It would make significantly more sense from an accessibility point of view to turn the school around and access it from the Park Lane side, but unfortunately whilst Hogwood Park is there and occupied, this isn’t possible.
Whilst the schools may have broken up for the holidays, events around the development continue to move on.
Thanks to everybody for the steady stream of copies of feedback to the Marino Family Trust over their woeful exhibition. It is clear that rather than assuage any concerns about the development the lack of detail in the exhibition had much the opposite effect. There has been a good deal of press coverage with an article in both the Wokingham Times, and also an article published in the local papers over in Hampshire highlighting how Eversley residents were ignored in the limited promotion for the exhibition. It is interesting to note the disagreement between MFT and Wokingham over whether Eversley should have been included with MFT saying Wokingham asked them not to send details to addresses in Eversley, whereas Wokingham are saying that they were only asked for addresses in specific parishes.
The article that appeared in this weeks Wokingham Times, which has yet to appear online also asked Curtin and Co, the representatives of the Crest Nicholson led consortium developing the northern part of the SDL about their upcoming consultation. Disappointingly they told the paper that they are planning to mount their consultation during August at the height of the summer holidays when many people will be away, a decision that runs contrary to their supposed desire to consult as widely as possible. There are also comments from Arborfield councillor Gary Cowan highlighting concerns that the applications from the two groups must be considered together.
Much like Curtin and Co and Crest Nicholson, Wokingham Borough Council is also continuing to make key decisions during the holiday period. The agenda for the Executive Meeting this Thursday, 31st July contains a number of important issues. Firstly the new secondary school for the south comes up under item 31. The report amongst the agenda papers highlights the ambitious schedule the council has set themselves, and in the section on capital funding highlights this as a key challenge due to the school being brought forward well in advance of when the funding from developers will be available. Whilst there is now an enthusiastic parent reference group organised by the council in operation, it is fair to say that confidence amongst parents whose children fall into the critical period for secondary transfers is not high. We are aware of families moving out of the area purely because they do not believe the council will deliver, with other families that can afford to looking seriously at private education for their children because they know that their children will have no choice over which school they will go to. As a contingency we would urge Wokingham Borough Council to consider putting a fairer tie breaker in place for their four schools, perhaps based on the segmented Oakbank tie breaker, that would give parents in the southern parishes more confidence that they will have some choice over places should the council not manage to deliver a school as promised.
Also on the agenda for Thursday is designation of a combined neighbourhood plan area for Arborfield and Newland, and Barkham parish council areas. Ensuring we have a Neighbourhood Plan in place is very important as under the recent Localism Bill it provides additional funding to our local parishes from central government.
Whilst not directly related to our SDL, another interesting item is item 44, where it seems that Wokingham Borough Council is getting into the Pick Your Own Fruit and Veg business by buying Gray’s Farm over in Heathlands Road. Under the plan the farm, which was on the market anyway, will remain open until the end of the 2017 season, but then will close and become part of the South Wokingham SDL which abuts the farm to both the north and east. Following closure in 2017 it will be converted into the sports hub for the South Wokingham SDL. Whilst it is certainly sad to see a popular local business go, it is perhaps not surprising as the farm would not be nearly so attractive with thousands of houses surrounding it in a few years time, and with the council buying it that at least ensures that it will remain as open space rather than being picked up by a developer.
“Is that it?” about sums up the comments from a lot of residents who attended the two consultation afternoons put on by the Marino Family Trust and their representatives last Thursday and Saturday.
Things didn’t bode too well when we were given barely twenty-four hours notice of the first event. One of the first visitors e-mailed us shortly afterwards and said that he thought that the three display boards with identical content to the brochure we had received were the introduction, but when he asked he was told that was all there was. Another local resident who contacted us asked when the booking was made at Henry Street Garden Centre and was told it had been made three weeks previously. When he then asked why residents weren’t told at that point, the honest answer came back “We didn’t think we’d be ready”.
With regards to the Crest Nicholson/MoD consortium responsible for the other part of the Strategic Development Location the impression we’re getting is that after the embarrassment of withdrawing the planning application they are working hard on producing a good application this time around – they are certainly giving the impression of having upped their game. Given that the Marino Family Trust are local, and Roger Bullworthy their main representative is a familiar face at Community Forum meetings and also attended all of the consultation carried out by the MoD consortium last year it is a shame that the knowledge of key issues he would have built up didn’t translate into a better exhibition.
We are grateful to those residents who have shared their concerns with us, please also share your concerns with the Marino Family themselves using the contact details provided on the brochure. Unlike Crest Nicholson and the MoD who will build the houses and go, we understand that the Marino Family are going to continue to live locally, so up to now that has given us a level of confidence that they are aware of local issues and concerns – that confidence has taken rather a knock after this exhibition for many people.
A number of key points have been raised:
The brochure started with the line “We have the opportunity to create a high quality, well-designed and exemplary garden village at Hogwood Farm”, sentiments with which we’d agree. However as a first step in convincing us that the Marino Family have the plans to actually produce that, this exhibition left an awful lot to be desired.
After the short notice invitation to the Marino Family Trust exhibition of their development plans, we issued the following press release, and participated in a discussion on BBC Berkshire.
The second exhibition date and location is tomorrow from 2pm to 5:30pm at Henry Street Garden Centre in Arborfield. As Roger Bullworthy says in the interview below the Finchampstead afternoon was consistently busy, and they are there and happy to answer any questions you may have.
Arborfield and Finchampstead residents have slated developers over, what appears to be, a cynical ploy to discourage people from viewing plans for a 1,500 home mini-town proposed on local farm-land.
Arborfield Garrison Resident’s Action Group (AG RAG) says the number of people who have contacted them complaining that they have been given less than 24 hours’ notice to view plans put forward by the Finchampstead based Marino Family Trust for the mini-town, which includes a neighbourhood centre and school, is unprecedented.
A spokeswoman for AG RAG, Gill Purchase, explains.
‘Residents received a brochure with basic information about the proposals for the ‘Hogwood Garden Village’ on Wednesday. It invited residents to view and comment on the plans the following afternoon, with a further exhibition planned for just three and a half hours on Saturday at a further location in the area. It is the first time the plans have been made public and most people were not aware of the exhibition until AG RAG posted details on social media sites.
Ms Purchase says. ‘This highlights the fact there is no intention for any meaningful dialogue between these developers and the public. The MOD and Crest Nicholson showed similar complacency when they organised public meetings just prior to Christmas in 2010, so we are hoping that the next round of consultation they carry out will be arranged to ensure the maximum number of people can attend and voice their views’.
She adds. ‘The whole rushed process is just a cynical move to ensure they (developers) can tick the box for having conducted public consultation when they put the planning application in five days’ time. Any reputable organisation that is serious about getting the opinions of local residents would give adequate notice – weeks not hours – and would not plan to arrange the consultation period when significant numbers of people who would be interested and would like to comment are likely to be on holiday’.
The proposals for the 1,500 mini town are in addition to the 2,000 homes proposal being put forward by the MOD for the Arborfield Garrison.
As you may have seen from the e-mail from the council, or in the glossy brochure posted through many doors in the area, the Marino Family Trust are finally ready to share with residents their plans for “Hogwood Garden Village” the southern part of the Arborfield SDL that sits entirely within Finchampstead.
Typically despite all their promises over the months the council was notified of the public consultation on Tuesday 15th July, residents received the brochures on Wednesday 16th July, and the consultation is on Thursday 17th July at the FBC Centre and Saturday 19th at Henry Street Garden Centre – giving residents about 24 hours notice.
The whole rushed process is just a cynical move to ensure the trust can tick the box for having conducted a public consultation when they put the planning application in before the end of the month, as any reputable organisation that is serious about getting the opinions of local residents would give adequate notice – weeks not hours, and wouldn’t arrange the consultation in a period when significant numbers of people who would be interested are likely to be on holiday.
The Marino Trust has been preparing this application for over a year – some residents will have met their team back at the Community Planning Weekend in January 2013, and now the key element of public consultation is rushed out.
Despite their cynical efforts to make it difficult for residents to attend we would urge as many people as possible to attend the exhibition and share their opinions with the team. They claim that any comments we make will be fed back into the application – although given that this is to go in by the end of July quite what changes they can make at this short notice remains to be seen.
The exhibition will be at the FBC Centre in Gorse Ride, Finchampstead from 2pm to 7pm tomorrow, Thursday 17th July 2014, and from 2pm to 5:30pm on Saturday 19th July 2014 at Henry Street Garden Centre in Arborfield.
This week there is a bit of a bumper crop of news and information to share.
Firstly, the new Reading Buses Leopard service kicked off on Monday. Whilst there have been a couple of issues we have heard about with regards to fares not being correct, in general the new service seems to be going down well. Having taken a trip into Reading on the new service the buses certainly are more attractive than the old 144 buses, but we shall see over the coming weeks how the new provider performs. As the new development starts to be built, a key part of the plan from both the developers and Wokingham Borough to try and stop the whole area grinding to a traffic choked halt is to get many more of us residents out of our cars onto buses. Whilst these new buses are attractive, it still takes an hour to get to central Reading, so we are doubtful that the developers can achieve the kind of spectacular switch to public transport they are hoping for. However Reading Buses seem keen to make a good impression, so if you have any problems, or want more information they can be contacted directly on 0118 959 4000 or through their website.
Looking at other road issues we have heard via Gary Cowan that as part of the ongoing work towards the Arborfield Bypass/Relief Road the initial line of route B is due to be marked out by a line of posts across the fields to the west of the village. The posts will represent the centre line of the current proposed alignment and will be used to guide a technical walkover comprising councillors, land owners, council officers and the engineering design team over the coming weeks. The posts do not represent the final alignment of the road, but will be used to inform discussion about what the impacts of the route will be.
After his commitment to try to return a post office to Arborfield, following the sudden “temporary” closure of the only remaining post office by the Ministry of Defence last year, Gary also let us know that the Arborfield Shop has now been sold to new owners who will move in sometime in July, and he is hopeful that the new owners will reinstate a post office.
Further down the A327, Hampshire County Council are currently consulting on their proposed improvements at the junction with the A30. As you may know, the junction is currently the second highest ranked accident blackspot in the whole of Hampshire, with an ongoing catalogue of serious accidents over the years, as such Hampshire County Council has managed to obtain Government funding to replace the current staggered crossroads with a roundabout. Sadly the funding is not enough to totally sort the junction out, so there is a planned phase two to connect in the fourth exit off the roundabout. Until that is completed traffic for Fleet will be sent up and around the Blackbushe roundabout, however despite this the proposed work should sort out a lot of the problems and hopefully alleviate some of the delays. The replacement of this junction, and provision of bypasses for Arborfield and Shinfield increasingly highlights the main remaining problem area along the length of the road, being the stretch along the Street in Eversley and Reading Road in Finchampstead, and we will continue to press for meaningful action on this stretch too. To view detailed plans of the proposed work, which is due to commence at the end of the summer and be completed by March 2015, and to submit comments please go to the Hampshire County Council web site and fill in their quick survey form on the improvements.
Wokingham Borough Council finally seems to be making some visible progress towards opening a secondary school in the area for September 2016. As mentioned previously we have commitments from a number of high ranking councillors and council officers that they are focused on finally making a school for the south of Wokingham a reality after decades of trying. Brian Grady, the Head of Strategic Commissioning is organising a parental reference group that will provide the main parental input into the design and planning process for the school. Currently Wokingham Borough Council are going for evening meetings, however they are open to holding sessions at other times of the day for parents who are unable to make the evening meetings, so if you are keen to be involved but can’t make the times, please contact Brian. The current proposed dates, times and locations are as follows:
30th June 7.30pm – WBC Shute End, David Hicks Room
21st July 7:30pm – WBC Shute End, David Hicks Room
18th August 7:30pm – WBC Shute End, LGF4
15th September 7:30pm – WBC Shute End, David Hicks Room
20th October 7:30 – WBC Shute End, LGF4
17th November 7:30 – WBC Shute End, David Hicks Room
15th December 7:30 – WBC Shute End, David Hicks Room
All are welcome to participate in the group as Wokingham are keen to get the views of as many parents and interested parties as possible. If you wish to take part, please contact Brian directly via e-mail to [email protected].
Firstly, as those people who are on the council mailing list will know, the Arborfield Community Forum scheduled for next Thursday has been postponed. We are hopeful that the reason for the postponement is because there is something significant to present, as we are moving closer to the estimated date of a new planning application, but as yet we don’t have any more information than the reason given by the council.
Moving on, Cllr Keith Baker was elected as leader of the council to replace outgoing leader Cllr David Lee. As we highlighted previously Cllr Baker was initially unwilling to back the promise made by Cllr Lee to provide a new school in the Arborfield area to open in September 2016, so we had a question in at the meeting asking for him to give that assurance, and also to back the election commitments on the bypass, broadband provision and provision of a Post Office. We are pleased to report that on this occasion Cllr Baker backed the key commitments made by his predecessor on the school and reiterated his commitment given at the community forum to the bypass. He also said that the council offered full support to Gary Cowan’s personal commitments on broadband provision and over the Post Office. As a follow up question we highlighted concerns over what would happen to the current proposed school location in the SDL if the council places the new secondary school somewhere else, and highlighted concerns that moving the school would result in an increased number of houses on the SDL site.
At this point we’d just like to record our thanks to David Lee as he stands down as leader of the council, we’ve obviously given him some tough questioning at various meetings and in various forums over the years, but he has always been willing to talk to us as local residents and listen to our concerns. We look forward to continuing to work constructively with Cllr Baker in his new role, and with whoever gets executive responsibility for strategic development locations in his place – a post that will be announced next month.
Finally, many of you have noticed the appearance of some strange blue marks on trees in parts of the Garrison, and given the unauthorised felling of one of the trees nearby have expressed concern that more may follow. We have been liaising with Matt Melville who has received assurances from the developers that the marks on the trees are not identifying candidates for felling. The developer teams are currently tracing underground services as part of their ongoing detailed surveying of the site, and the blue marks on the trees indicate services running under the copse of trees. Thanks to everybody who has emailed both ourselves and the council about the trees, please if you see anything else going on in and around the site about which you are concerned, do not hesitate to get in contact and we can ask questions and find out what is going on.
I would be a foolish politician to guarantee anything in this world
These were the words of new leader of Wokingham Borough Council, Cllr Keith Baker, talking to Andrew Peach at the end of his show on Friday.
But if you roll the clock back a week, have a listen to his predecessor Cllr David Lee debating the Arborfield School proposals with leader of the Wokingham Liberal Democrats Cllr Prue Bray on the local election debate programme that Andrew Peach hosted.
In that clip, Cllr Lee says that a new secondary school will be open in the Arborfield area in September 2016 several times, against repeated comments from Cllr Bray that the timescale is optimistic, and that she doubts the council will be able to do it. The former South of Wokingham Free School group have raised similar questions ever since the guarantee of an academy school in 2016 was made earlier in the year. Newly re-elected councillors Gary Cowan in Arborfield, and Rob Stanton in Finchampstead in particular made much of the promise in their manifesto commitments, a copy of the Arborfield manifesto is available here and the school is highlighted in the borough wide section on page 2, and Gary himself commits to campaign for the school in his personal points on the first page. Cllr Charlotte Haitham Taylor, who wasn’t up for election this year also made several public commitments to a school in 2016, as did senior council officer Brian Grady, who will be ultimately responsible for delivering the school.
So for many people it was somewhat of a surprise when in his first interview as the newly announced leader of Wokingham Borough Council, Cllr Keith Baker came out with this:
Certainly you can argue, as I’m sure the new leadership at Wokingham Borough Council will, that he still described a school in Arborfield as a priority, but it’s certainly not the kind of guarantee that Cllr Lee, Cllr Stanton and Cllr Haitham Taylor have been giving out before the election, nor is it the kind of commitment that was being made in the local manifesto. If anything Cllr Baker seems to be moving towards saying much the same as Cllr Bray and the Liberal Democrat group have been saying all along, which is that it is an ambitious plan to open a school in 2016 and that it might not be achievable. He is certainly suggesting that outgoing leader Cllr Lee, along with Cllr Stanton and Cllr Haitham Taylor were foolish to guarantee a school in September 2016.
So what is going on? Firstly it is worth remembering where Cllr Baker is based – unlike Cllr Lee, Cllr Stanton and Cllr Haitham Taylor he represents Coronation ward in the northern part of the borough around Reading. As we have highlighted before school places in the borough are not evenly spread across the borough, so even when there will be no local school places for parents in the south, there will still be places in schools further north such as Bulmershe, indeed even this year when some parents in the southern parishes didn’t get any of their choices in the secondary school allocation, there were plenty of free spaces at Bulmershe. The council is also spending a significant amount of money upgrading Bulmershe school, and has relatively recently rebuilt Waingels College, so for parents in the north that Cllr Baker will have been speaking to on the doorsteps, there are plenty of spaces, and clear investment in new facilities, so no great issue with secondary school places.
However for councillors in the south of the borough, the message they have been getting is very different, parents can see that there are places in Bulmershe, and don’t want to be sending their children on a daily trip across the borough, so not surprisingly the southern based councillors have been pushing for a school here to be brought forward sooner. We’re aware of parents locally who are moving house because of concern that their children will end up being sent to Bulmershe, and others that have said they will home school rather than send their children on such a long round trip. Wokingham Borough Council has been promising a school in the south for decades – we recently spoke to a long time local resident and grandmother collecting her grand children from a local school who was promised a secondary school in Finchampstead by the time her eldest child was 11 – he is now 41 and a school has still not been built. For many this is just the latest in a long line of promises and commitments for a local school that seems to be evaporating.
The failure to guarantee the school, not surprisingly puts other question marks over election promises. We are well aware that building houses at Arborfield is an expensive proposition in terms of the infrastructure that is needed. Whilst we certainly don’t think that the Liberal Democrat proposal to build 5,000 houses here to generate more infrastructure money is the right strategy, we know that the developers have never been keen on funding an expensive bypass. The council has pushed for a relief road, initially opting for a cheaper, shorter route, but then changing when public opinion clearly favoured route B, but to build this route the council may well have to borrow money in order to build it. Could we find the council backsliding on route B due to unforeseen circumstances?
Whilst Keith Baker may think a politician is foolish to guarantee anything, his predecessor and a number of colleagues have made that commitment. If he wants to add to the evidence that the school commitment was merely a ploy to get his councillors re-elected then so be it, alternatively Cllr Baker can show himself to be a politician of integrity and honesty, and stand by the commitments made in the local Conservative manifesto to a new school by 2016 and a bypass for Arborfield by his colleagues and his predecessor as leader.
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