AG-RAG supports a suitably sized development that maintains Arborfield’s rural nature, as long as that development is restricted to brownfield behind the existing garrison wire and doesn’t start until the MoD have actually left the site.

Recap of the Arborfield Medical Centre Saga

The Arborfield Medical Centre has become a topic of conversation again, so for those new to the area, a recap of the whole story is probably worthwhile.

The whole Arborfield Medical Centre saga goes right back to the planning stages for the currently building strategic development locations. As with what is now Bohunt Secondary School for school places, in the initial stages it was worked out that with the building of over 13,000 houses in the borough it was thought probable that a new medical practice would be needed, and that as the largest of the SDLs it made sense for that to be put at Arborfield, and the then Berkshire West Primary Care Trust in principle agreed.

Roll on to 2013 and as the results of the Conservative governments controversial NHS reorganisation were pushed through, Berkshire West Primary Care Trust was abolished and Arborfield came under the newly formed Wokingham Clinical Commissioning Group who had rather different ideas. Essentially our Clinical Commissioning Group, like others across the country was being pushed to introduce efficiency savings, and one effective way to do that is to move towards a smaller number of larger medical centres. As a result they calculated that by expanding the Wokingham and Woosehill GP practices they could meet the increased demand of the two Wokingham Strategic Development Locations, and meet Arborfield and South of M4 by expanding Shinfield, Swallowfield and Finchampstead GP practices. Anyone who is with Finchampstead Surgery will be well aware of the significant work that has gone on at the surgery over the past couple of years to expand the facilities, and the merger with and closure of the much smaller Cedar House GP surgery that used to be on Nine Mile Ride.

Needless to say this went down like the proverbial lead balloon with residents in Arborfield. We were told at a Community Forum, when the representative of the CCG gave us the news and swiftly left without answering questions. Their position was reiterated at the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee last year which confirmed that the CCG had calculated that there was capacity for an additional 22,900 patients between Shinfield, Swallowfield and Finchampstead, and again at the meeting of the Wokingham CCG Governing Board where it was stated that a new facility at Arborfield Garrison would not be viable. The minutes of both meetings are available using those links.

That’s not to say that the developers are ignoring health requirements, indeed if you look at the exhibition boards for the district centre consultation that took place a little while ago, the community zone does explicitly include health facilities. The question of course is what will be there – health facilities could describe a variety of options.

The local Clinical Commissioning Group is independent of the borough council, indeed following a four way merger our group now extends way beyond the boundaries of Wokingham. Wokingham Borough can require developers to provide space for health care, but ultimately they can’t force the CCG to provide anything there.

So what might happen? In much the same way as we already have an Arborfield Surgery as a satellite from the Swallowfield practice, there is nothing to stop either Swallowfield or Finchampstead providing a similar facility in the community facilities in the new district centre. This may well be what our candidates are suggesting.

The basic facts however are this, whatever the local politicians are saying, whoever they meet with, or write to, all they can do is put pressure on the CCG to think again, they can’t force them to create a new practice here, all they can do is provide space in the plan, and this is what has already happened. The CCG however have been clear and consistent that they see the future of healthcare in our area being based on larger practices able to offer a more comprehensive range of services, and that a new practice here is not viable.

Short of somebody finding a magic money tree, or a significant number of extra houses being built locally to push the local practices over the threshold, it seems unlikely the CCG is going to change their decision.

Election Protocol

We’re aware not everybody is on Twitter, so following a discussion with David Edmonds the Conservative candidate for the upcoming Arborfield election we thought we would reiterate our election protocol.

As you may be aware David has been trying to line up private chats with all the influential people in the village, and that includes us. When we pointed out earlier today that his public tweet suggesting that he had been influencing members of the council and was confident they would reject the applications either side of School Road could be a material consideration were the developer to appeal a rejection a discussion ensued in which he once again several times asked for a private meeting to discuss Arborfield and “the strategy for Arborfield moving forwards”.

Just to be clear, we will not be sitting down for private chats with any of the candidates in the run up to an election. If there is a strategy for Arborfield moving forwards share it publicly, so everybody in Arborfield can discuss it openly.

A campaign conducted in private chats and deleting comments you don’t like does not benefit anybody who is interested in a free and open discussion of the issues facing Arborfield.

Who has Your Vote?

It’s that time of year again, borough election day is Thursday 3rd May.

As usual only a third of Wokingham Borough Council is being re-elected on a four year term so in particular for one seat wards like Arborfield, this is an important vote for how you want to be represented until 2022. Key issues that will be addressed over that period are that by 2022 a lot more of the Arborfield Garrison SDL will be built out, but more importantly the council will have to determine where the tens of thousands of more houses the borough is planning to build after the current strategic development locations are completed will go – Grazeley, Barkham Square, Hall Farm?

This election in Arborfield is also a bit different.

For the last few elections, although we’ve had the odd candidate from UKIP or Labour, the election in Arborfield has always been a straight fight between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Steve Bacon, a long time Arborfield resident had been our Liberal Democrat councillor, but in 1997 narrowly lost to Gary Cowan, another Arborfield resident standing for the Conservatives in part over a Liberal Democrat plan to create a strategic development location at Grazeley. The Conservatives were elected across the borough on a promise to minimise house building, and most significantly they canned the Grazeley plan, John Redwood our MP even planted a tree in Grazeley promising the area would be preserved.

Roll forward to November 2016, and Gary was the first of a number of long standing councillors to quit the Conservatives, after revealing that the Conservative group had in secret been planning a significant new development of 15,000 houses at Grazeley – almost ten times the numbers proposed by the Liberal Democrats twenty years earlier. As highlighted in the press coverage at the time, after disagreeing over Grazeley, Gary was initially just deselected as Conservative candidate for Arborfield, and would have been allowed to serve the remainder of his term as a Conservative councillor on the understanding he wouldn’t run this time, he instead chose to resign, and has been an independent ever since.

It’s fair to say that Gary has always been pretty independent even before he resigned, most notably was a heated council meeting which many local residents attended and will remember when the Arborfield Garrison SDL was finally adopted. At that point Gary was a member of the Executive, and the meeting was actually stopped for a period when Gary said that he couldn’t vote for the plan because the concerns of Arborfield residents had not been properly taken on board. After stopping the meeting the entire executive disappeared into a side room, and came back with Gary looking ashen faced. When the meeting was restarted Gary still didn’t vote in favour, and lost his executive role and was sent to the back benches shortly afterwards. He also backed local residents over the routing of the Arborfield Relief Road when Wokingham Borough wanted a cheaper route that ran directly behind Chamberlain Gardens and sliced through Lockey Farm, and continues to fight for the medical centre on Arborfield Green that was dropped by the local clinical commissioning group.

This highlights one of the difficulties of being a local councillor backed by a political party, you serve two masters. On the one hand you are answerable to your electorate, to the people of your ward, on the other you are answerable to your party. The difficulty comes when your political party is asking you to do something that is not in the best interests of your residents.

Currently one of the main ways that Wokingham Borough Council is financing new infrastructure like roads and schools is by building houses, each new house built brings in extra money. Agreeing to take a development like Grazeley brings in even more money, as by taking those houses the council gets extra money from the government. Whilst most local residents understand that there needs to be some building, equally most of the existing residents moved to places like Arborfield because they are villages, and want proportionate development that retains the character of the communities. With Arborfield we currently have the largest strategic development location in the borough, and it’s no secret that the new infrastructure being built here can easily accommodate many more houses close by.

If you take a look at the map of areas under consideration for new housing in our part of the borough, Grazeley is obvious, but less talked about is the significant areas of land around Arborfield. At the most recent Community Forum Crest were already including Barkham Square as an area they’d secured for development, and the council is already in early planning consultation for what infrastructure will be needed. Barkham Square was highlighted in the press last autumn, and again here. There are also significant areas, some of which are already getting planning applications put forward around the south side of Arborfield Cross either side of School Road and around to the A327 and beyond that would fill the gap between Arborfield Cross and Arborfield Green. However the biggest area by far is around Arborfield itself which is Hall Farm, the land owned by the University. This site extends as far as Sindlesham and the M4 in the north and the A327 in the south. It’s certainly not on the table in the same way as Barkham Square is, but the University has made significant money over the last few years selling land around Shinfield for housing for the South of M4 SDL, and Hall Farm would represent a significant amount of additional money should it be developed.

So that brings us to the election. This time we have three candidates, Gary Cowan is standing as an independent, the Conservatives have nominated David Edmonds, and Chris Everett is standing for the Labour Party. There is no Liberal Democrat candidate this time, with the leader of Wokingham Liberal Democrats backing Gary instead. Of the three Gary is the only one who actually lives in Arborfield. David Edmonds is a long time resident of Riseley, and Chris Everett lives in Wokingham.

A Labour party candidate in Arborfield is comparatively rare. Chris Everett has been an active campaigner for Labour across the borough and has run for the council before, for example he ran as the Labour party candidate in the Emmbrook by-election last year getting 79 votes. As yet we really haven’t heard anything from Chris around here and it certainly seems likely he is a paper candidate.

Moving on to David Edmonds, if you’re on local social media you’ll certainly have noticed him, and he has been active leafleting around the ward, sharing how great it is in Arborfield, and what great facilities we have thanks to the Conservatives – so great he lives in Riseley…

It’s safe to say that the Conservatives desperately want to win Arborfield back. Given what happened with Gary, they’re obviously wanting a party loyalist – David is treasurer of Wokingham Conservatives. He also runs his own accountancy firm, which is coincidentally based in Grazeley, skills that he highlighted in early campaign material would be beneficial in helping the council use their limited resources wisely. Unlike the Labour candidate he has been trying to be seen to engage with local concerns. So he is apparently against the gravel extraction on Farley Farms – although he didn’t object at the time. He’s also against the new housing developments on School Road, although it wasn’t until it was pointed out that he hadn’t objected to those either, that on the last day of objections he actually put in two objections to the developments, and his wife duly highlighted the fact on social media. He is also apparently fighting for a new medical centre in Arborfield, although once again he only has taken an interest in the run up to the election.

These of course are clearly not much more than the usual publicity stunts for the period of higher scrutiny in the run up to the election. Before either David or Chris were selected you won’t have seen them involved in village life, or attending the Arborfield Community Forums. You won’t have seen them on the local social media, nor seen letters from them in the local paper, or writing in the Arborfield News. Indeed even after having been selected neither of them bothered to show up to the annual Arborfield Parish Meeting a few weeks back to take the opportunity to meet local electors. For local Conservatives, Arborfield has always been considered a safe seat, a shoe in to get a useful pair of hands like David Edmonds and his financial expertise onto the council. The complication for them is that independent to the last, Gary hasn’t done what the Conservatives wanted and stood aside as they told him to.

So that brings us on to Gary. If you look at the other Conservative councillors who left the party at around the same time as he did in 2016, one switched to the Liberal Democrats, and the other resigned altogether, only Gary continued to serve out the remainder of his term as an independent. Independents have historically had difficulty getting elected in Wokingham, but we were glad to find him putting his hat into the ring again this time to continue to serve Arborfield. Gary we’re sure will highlight his long record of successes over the years he has served Arborfield. Prior to resigning the party whip Gary would be limited by the party in what he could say, but having resigned he has been active in putting forward the views of Arborfield residents in council and attending relevant meetings such as the many community forums and planning meetings. Other councillors refer to him as “Mr Arborfield”, and if the primary role of a local councillor is to consistently represent his constituents, he has done that admirably.

Certainly whatever May 3rd brings, we will always be grateful for the support he has shown our group over the years in order to ensure that the concerns of Arborfield residents were highlighted as we accommodated the biggest strategic development location in the borough. We have no idea what went on in that side room when the SDL was adopted, but Gary showed on that night and since then that he’d put Arborfield over party orders, and ultimately the party paid him back by trying to force him out. We also can’t fail to acknowledge his integrity in going against party orders over the resurrection of Grazeley because he’d stood on a ticket of no housing at Grazeley when he was first elected.

So there you have it, on May 3rd will you pick candidate number one, Gary Cowan, described by many of his fellow councillors as “Mr Arborfield”. Candidate number two David Edmonds, the social media savvy accountant from Riseley, who thinks Arborfield is great, but just doesn’t want to live here, and just happens to be Wokingham Conservatives treasurer. Or will you pick candidate number three, Chris Everett, the Labour Party activist from Wokingham who nobody has seen and who is hoping that Arborfield will give him more than 79 votes.

The decision is yours.

October Community Forum

Last night was the next Arborfield Community Forum. This used the new marketplace model with stands for each topic rather than presentations. However there were several key bits of information that came out.

Probably the most significant bit of news is that Crest Nicholson have secured the Barkham Square site with a view to putting an additional 800 houses onto the site. Crest are already in consultation with the council about the site meeting part of the next cycle of housing development for the borough. The site had already been listed as one of their major strategic development sites alongside sites around Twyford and Grazeley, given that Barkham Square is an expansion of an existing development it is probably the least controversial of the proposals across the borough.

There was also news about the other part of the existing strategic development location, which was put through planning by the Marino Family who currently own the Hogwood Farm site. Also present at the Community Forum were representatives of Legal and General who are currently developing the TRL site in Crowthorne. Prior to last night we’d heard rumours that the Marino Family were selling the land, at the Community Forum it was confirmed that Legal and General were buying the site and are going to be developing the project. This hopefully will allow key parts of the southern part of the SDL to be moved forward, in particular the missing section of the Nine Mile Ride Extension which amongst other things will make access to Bohunt School a lot easier from Finchampstead.

Across the rest of the development Crest offered an update on the next phases of the work up to March 2018. Key upcoming phases are a number of parcels along Biggs Lane, in particular the new primary school. They are also moving forward on the controversial parcel based around the current Church Car Park, and a parcel beyond the current gates on Princess Marina Drive.

The Borough Council had a number of displays at the Community Forum. Firstly they had a display of the ongoing changes at California Country Park. This included details of the street lighting proposals for the California Greenway. Unfortunately they are still very much proposals, which renders the viability of the Greenway as a safe route from Bohunt School for Finchampstead students pretty moot.

They also had a display of the Arborfield Cross Relief Road plans which are currently going into a detailed design phase ready for a planning application in the winter. The council was also promoting the new Arborfield Leisure Centre, which is rather optimistically being described as being on Sheerlands Road – it’s actually along the Nine Mile Ride Extension and is a similar concept to the leisure facilities at St Crispins making use of the sports all and all weather pitches built as part of Bohunt School.

The council were also giving out documents for two important consultations. The first is as a result of the significant cuts being made to the money Wokingham Borough receives from central government. This means that the council is consulting on what cuts to make, or whether to increase council tax or to increase or add charges for council services. The consultation can be filled in online.

The second consultation is on the borough plans for Transport and Highways, which includes the gem of a question “How often do you find your car journey affected by road works in Wokingham Borough?”. Again this consultation can be filled in online.

Nine Mile Nightmare

Discussing the Nine Mile Ride Cycleway with councillors, discussions have always tended to go the same way.

If you take a look at the recommendations for shared use footpath and cycleways suggests a minimum width of 3m (9ft 10in in old money), with a minimum width of 2m (6ft 6in) being acceptable on less important links in rural areas, provided there are no side constraints. Even from a car it is pretty obvious that there isn’t 2m of space on either side of Nine Mile Ride along a lot of its length, even if you shift the line of the road and take the verge off the other side, let alone the recommended 3m. Needless to say residents when told that the council was going to build a cycleway, if they knew the rural end of Nine Mile Ride well questioned whether there was space, and were assured by councillors that officers had confirmed that there was space.

It even became an issue in the most recent local election campaign with Jim May, a parish councillor who was running as the Liberal Democrat candidate questioning whether there was the space, and being roundly criticised by the Conservative candidate who once again assured residents and parents that the cycleway would be provided.

At the beginning of this year, the council finally sent surveyors along Nine Mile Ride as the first stage of delivering the cycleway in time for September. Then things went a bit quiet.

It all exploded this week when local councillor Ian Pittock, who has been a long time advocate of providing a school in the south of Wokingham, even to the point of saying he would resign if it wasn’t delivered, and has regularly assured parents and potential parents that a safe cycleway would be provided, posted an angry note to the Bohunt Parent Forum. His note said that he had been informed that the Wokingham Borough Executive had decided that plans for the safe cycleway along Nine Mile Ride had been abandoned.

That needless to say produced a lot of angry parents, and clearly Cllr Pittock feels thoroughly let down by his fellow councillors on the executive who knowing full well he has been assuring parents that the cycleway would be delivered for years, have left him well and truly in the firing line, and apparently gave him no warning of the decision.

It is also an embarrassment for the council as a whole, as it isn’t just Ian who has been giving assurances, but now suddenly the plan is abandoned. A key part of providing a safe route to their high profile new school dropped in favour of an isolated and indirect rural back route that most parents consider totally unsuitable as a route for their children to cycle. A big reason for building a school in the south was to avoid the long standing Finchampstead school bus routine familiar to generations of parents and children. If a safe route to Bohunt School is not provided, that long standing tradition will continue, albeit on the regular Reading Buses Leopard service.

The official line seems to be some vague comments about some protected trees and hedgerows and Cllr Pittock suggested on his original post to the parent forum that there were a small number of places on Nine Mile Ride where properties have encroached onto highways land. However even before the surveyors going out it was clear there would be a few problems, and the road would need to be realigned, all stuff that would have been budgeted for. How can it be suddenly so much more expensive to build the cycleway?

To work out why you really need to do what the surveyors did, and set out on foot along Nine Mile Ride, remembering that the cycleway needs 2–3m or 6–10ft of space. The officers have been assuring people like Cllr Pittock for years that their plans show enough space, so it should be there.

If you look at the widest parts of the northern pavement there is a paved part directly next to the road, then the combined power line and phone poles, then a wide grass verge, and on those parts there probably is the acceptable width, and a smaller verge on the southerns side. But in others front hedges are further forward, indeed in others the power poles are surrounded by hedge, and still more have walls and fences close behind the power lines. It is pretty clear that there are more than “a few” properties that if the Wokingham Borough plans suggested there was space for a 2m cycleway let alone 3m, are encroaching onto highways land. Could it be that the bean counters at Wokingham Borough Council totalled up how much it would cost to issue enforcement notices on dozens of properties along Nine Mile Ride, and the associated legal costs of a number of those residents fighting the enforcement and decided it would be better to take the anger of the school parents than fight the action?

The council is needless to say playing their cards close for the moment, although they said to the Wokingham Paper that they are still exploring options. As a result we don’t know how many properties are actually affected. It’s also quite likely that many of those affected properties will have been bought and sold in good faith, and the current owners aren’t responsible for the encroachment. Wokingham Borough Council and their predecessors have been failing to enforce and protect their highways land for decades, and it’s only now they need the land that the problem has come to light.

Whichever way this eventually works out, the whole issue is turning into a nightmare for all involved. On the one hand you have parents who thought their children would have a safe route to walk and cycle to the new school from September, on the other you have residents of Nine Mile Ride who if the cycleway is to be built are going to find themselves in a legal wrangle with the borough council over long unenforced property boundaries.

Suffice to say with the anger of local parents, and a front page story on the local paper about the cycleway, this isn’t the end of the story.

Construction Problems Contact Details

As the development work has expanded we’ve had a number of queries about vehicles not where residents think they should be, and work being undertaken outside the hours that are allowed, so we have clarified this with the council. The agreed movement plan for vehicles on the development that was approved by the council does include Sheerlands Road, Baird Road and Princess Marina Drive past St Eligius Church as an approved route, however after complaints from residents Crest Nicholson have subsequently agreed that the route should not be used, and have put up signs to that effect at the roundabout on Biggs Lane, and at several other points around the Garrison area. Any issues with “lost” vehicles should be raised up through the [email protected] email address in the first instance – although there are quite a few vehicles that seem to quite regularly get lost in exactly the same way…

With regards to working hours, the approved working hours on the development are as follows:

Monday to Friday: 8am to 6pm
Saturday: 8am to 1pm
Sunday and Public Holidays: No Work Allowed

Any work outside these hours has to be previously agreed with the council, and will generally be for short periods for specific tasks, for example last year Crest were given permission to work on a Sunday to catch up with utilities work.

If work is occurring outside those hours it should be reported via [email protected].

It is worth noting that Wokingham do take this seriously and have taken enforcement action against Crest Nicholson previously when they were working on a Sunday in contravention of planning consent at their site in North Wokingham back in 2014. That address can also be used for any more general problems, or if you feel that your issue is not being properly dealt with by the developer.

Wokingham Borough Council Unrepentant

The fallout from the tumultuous council meeting where Gary Cowan resigned rolls on. This week in the Wokingham Paper Wokingham Borough Council were unrepentant over the secret resurrection of plans to build significant numbers of houses at Grazeley.

As Gary said in his resignation statement, whether or not the plans for Grazeley go ahead, Arborfield is still significantly in the frame thanks in particular to the large university owned Hall Farm site between Arborfield and the river. The battle lines are already being drawn with a long letter on housing targets from the Great Langborough Residents Association who represent residents in the centre of Wokingham, and are looking at focusing development outside Wokingham to meet the borough housing targets, trying to protect the small market town feel of Wokingham. Sadly even if they succeed in having the housing placed elsewhere, in places like Grazeley or Arborfield, significantly more residents in the area surrounding Wokingham will still adversely affect the character of the town.

The letters page also includes a letter from ourselves in support of Gary following his resignation. The text of the letter is as follows:

I am writing as a representative of the Arborfield Garrison Residents Action group over the “shock” resignation of Cllr Gary Cowan last week. Put simply having worked, and often argued with councillors such as Gary over the years, it wasn’t a shock, indeed it wasn’t really much of a surprise.

We as a country are supposed to be electing people to be councillors, MPs or whatever, not parties. However, in most cases those people need the backing of a party organisation to get elected. If they are the kind of person who is in the job to serve the public, that sometimes brings them into conflict when what their electors want is different from what the party wants. We have seen this first hand with a number of councillors, not just Gary over the years as housing plans have moved forward.

For many years the Wokingham Conservatives portrayed themselves as the party who would keep housing under control, most notably when they stopped the original plans to build houses at Grazeley. Now they are the party who secretly restarted the Grazeley plans, and secretly bumped up the amount of housing we as a borough will take over the coming years.

As the Liberal Democrats highlighted on the night Gary resigned, he has always been “Mr Arborfield”, putting the concerns of the people in our village above the party line – most notably voting against the rest of the executive on which he sat over adopting the Arborfield SDL when safeguards for the existing residents were not, in his opinion, up to scratch. Take a look back at how often the Executive doesn’t vote unanimously on critical issues and you realise what a brave position he took on that night. He paid for that disloyalty to the party shortly after when he lost his executive seat.

Now Gary, and one other as yet unnamed councillor have voted against retrospectively supporting Grazeley. The party, we now know reacted by deselecting him. If you dig through all the bluster and comments in the press and social media from Cllr Baker, and Cllr Jorgensen, ultimately that is what it comes down to, if you vote against the party line in Wokingham Conservatives you get punished, if you continue to do it you’re out. Gary voted against Grazeley, and has expressed concern over the third of Arborfield Parish that is under threat of development, something that greatly concerns Arborfield residents, and the party has deselected him, we assume in favour of a new Conservative puppet who will dutifully do what they are told.

This is perhaps a question for other Wokingham residents, when it comes down to it, will your local councillor stand up for you as residents, or will they do what the leaders of their party tell them. In Arborfield we now have an independent who is answerable only to us the electorate, what about where you live?

Richard Peat
Arborfield Garrison Residents Action Group

Christmas at St Eligius

Garrison Church of St Eligius, ArborfieldOne question that often comes up with the closure of the Garrison is what happens to the Army buildings that the wider community makes use of, buildings like the Community Centre, and the Garrison Church.

The Community Centre continues to operate, albeit with differences in how it is managed, however the MoD decided they had no further need of the Garrison Church as a new REME chapel was being built on their new base in Wiltshire. The MoD took the REME stained glass, many of the plaques and memorials along with the war memorial that stood outside the church, but that left a congregation of retired military personnel who weren’t going to move to Wiltshire, personnel who are still housed in the remaining military houses around Arborfield, along with civilians who had joined the congregation at the Garrison Church over the years all of whom wanted to continue to hold services here. The congregation petitioned the local Church of England Bishop, Andrew Proud, the Bishop of Reading who agreed to take responsibility for the congregation and the building.

img_6311The Bishop of Reading visited in the summer for a special service to mark formally the church moving from being the Garrison Church of St Eligius, to a new role as St Eligius Arborfield Green, which you may have seen reported in the Wokingham Paper. The Parish of Finchampstead and California are providing help with running the services, but St Eligius retains a separate identity in the new role serving both the former Garrison community and the new residents starting to move into the houses in the Arborfield Green development.

As we approach Christmas the church has a series of special services for the festive season, and are introducing new services aimed at families starting in 2017. The church is extending a warm welcome to everybody in the former Garrison area to join them over the festive season and beyond.

On Sunday 4th December at 11am they have a special service to mark St Eligius day, so come along to hear about St Eligius who is not only the patron saint of REME, but is also the patron saint of horses and the people who work with them.

The next week on Sunday 11th December at 11am the church is holding a Family Christingle Service. Many churches hold a Christingle service at this time of year supporting the work of the Children’s Society, telling the Christmas Story, and each child gets a Christingle to take home with them.

On Thursday 15th December at 6:30pm the church is holding their traditional Carols by Candlelight, which many locals will have attended previously. This is a great opportunity to come along and sing your favourite Christmas Carols and also hear music from the Arborfield Military Wives Choir.

Christmas Day itself is celebrated both at 11:30pm on Saturday 24th December, with a traditional Midnight Mass, and there is also a special service for on 25th December at 11am on Sunday 25th December.

On the 8th January, the church launches a new monthly service at 9:30am aimed at families that will subsequently run on the first Sunday of every month. The church also holds services every Sunday at 11am, and 12:15pm on Tuesdays.

The church continues to honour its military heritage, and for many will always be remembered as the Garrison Church, enquiries about baptisms, weddings and other special services can be directed to the Parish of Finchampstead and California office on 0118 973 0133.

Front Page News

img_6563The tumultuous council meeting which culminated in Arborfield Councillor Gary Cowan resigning from the Conservatives and was swiftly followed by the resignation of the entire independent renumeration committee is covered extensively in the latest issue of the Wokingham Paper out today. Certainly go pick up a copy not only to get the full story, but also to support a valuable local independent voice in the Wokingham community.

Gary himself has released a further more detailed statement alongside his interview with the paper highlighting more details about what led him to resign, in particular that following his refusal to retrospectively support the Grazeley development the local Conservative Party was taking disciplinary action against him and had deselected him as candidate for Arborfield. It seems obvious from their behaviour that the local Conservatives want their councillor for Arborfield to be a puppet who toes the party line rather than represents the interests of the people of Arborfield. With almost a third of Arborfield on the list as possible housing development sites, more than ever we need to continue to have a councillor who puts the interests of the village first and foremost.

Gary’s full statement is below – we print it here in full because it highlights a number of areas of concern – for those who are not in Arborfield, it is perhaps worth asking your councillors where their priorities are. If they are a Conservative councillor we know that all bar Gary and one other voted to retrospectively back Grazeley, have not spoken out over the increase in yearly housing allocation, and many voted in favour of the controversial renumeration package at the meeting last week (the full list is in the Wokingham Paper).

Last Thursday (17TH November 2016) I resigned the Conservative whip at Wokingham Borough Council.

I informed the Council that with immediate effect I was resigning the Conservative whip at Wokingham Borough Council after 20 years of loyal service.

The main reason for this is that I deeply opposed the ‘Grazeley Expression of interest’ secretly submitted to Government by this Council for more than 15,000 houses without the public or even elected councillors being informed.

Cllr. Keith Baker, the Leader of the Council subsequently got every conservative councillor present at a secret conservative group meeting to retrospectively agree to the application with the exception of two councillors who voted against it – of which I was one.

The council only admitted to this when a leaked document came into the public arena. Cllr Baker claimed it had been kept a secret as he did not want to alarm local residents. I now understand that officers with some senior Councillors had been working on this for about 18 months.

In addition to this, Wokingham Borough Council has from the 1st of April 2013 secretly been using a new report called the ‘Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA)’ which recommends a housing number of 856 houses per year which was based on a dubious technical survey.

They also added 10 years to the existing local plan life based on these new housing numbers – again without any public consultation or public inquiry.

The existing local plan was valid to 2026 and it had a housing number of 661 per year which was agreed by public consultation, debate in the council chamber and a formal public Inquiry. The Council now see the 856 houses a year as the starting figure for the new evolving local plan to be introduced in 2019 yet no one was told or consulted.

With Arborfield now threatened by 29% of its green space being developed and the whole borough at risk to being concreted over I cannot support a Conservative administration that seems to want to pile on such damage to the Borough.

Also at risk to massive development is Hurst, Barkham and the Northern parishes all because of a misguided belief that if you build 15000 houses in Grazeley all the other developers will up stumps and go away. It is naivety in the extreme and something I cannot be part of.

On Grazeley, Mark Ashwell the Executive member for planning, said for the Western Berkshire area (comprising Bracknell, Reading, West Berkshire and Wokingham) there was a need for 65,665 new homes and the four authorities are working together to explore how to achieve this.

Cllr  Keith Baker calls the SHMA a technical survey etc. but he omits to say without any public or council consultation and in addition Officers are also saying this is just the starting figure for the new evolving local plan so expect that to rise.

If you add 15,000 houses destined for Grazeley to the new housing figures the council are using and the Governments National Planning Policy Framework where there is a legal responsibility to help out your neighbouring councils housing needs the combination of all of these decisions is the likelihood of very large tracts of Wokingham’s Greenfields green fields will be concreted over. All this supported retrospectively by Wokingham’s Conservative Administration. It’s a tsunami of housing waiting to engulf us all!

In addition, the independent remuneration panel that advised Wokingham Borough Councillors on expenses have resigned.
In their resignation letter, they warn the decision made by councillors sets a “dangerous precedent” that is not in the interest of Wokingham’s council tax payers after Cllr Keith Baker asked councillors to ignore their recommendation by the Independent Remuneration Panel to curb ‘Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs)’ – which is given to councillors who sit on additional committees. This is the same conservative administration that seems to want to concrete over all our green fields and make sure they are properly rewarded for it.

The outcome (to my practically one man fight against these outrageous suggestions) was that I was called into the Wokingham Conservative Offices – for what was meant to be a re selection process – only to be de selected by four Wokingham Councillors and one Councillors Wife. They refused to give a reason for this and I have no right to appeal their decision.

When I said I would stand at the next election in 18 months time as an Independent Conservative – as they had not nominated a replacement – they upped the stakes and suspended me from the Party with a view to expel me permanently.

From their actions, it appears that Wokingham has an autocratic council – if you don’t ‘toe the party line’ you are sacked!
I put my integrity and my responsibility to residents above all such threats.

Cllr Gary Cowan
Borough Councillor for Arborfield at Wokingham Borough Council.
1 Barker Close
Arborfield
Reading
RG2 9NQ
tel 0118 976 0281
email [email protected]

Gary Cowan Becomes an Independent

At the end of the regular Wokingham Borough Council meeting last night, Cllr Gary Cowan, long standing borough councillor for Arborfield made the following statement:

It is with regret I must inform Council that with immediate effect I am resigning the Conservative whip at Wokingham Borough Council after 20 years of loyal service.

It is on a matter of conscience as I oppose the Grazeley Expression of interest secretly submitted to Government by this Council for more than 15000 houses submitted to the government without the public or even members of this council being informed and which the leader of the council subsequently got conservative group agreement retrospectively with the exception of two councillors voting against it of which I was one.

In addition the councils adoption of the new housing number of 856 per year which was based on as I see it a dubious technical Survey but which is not in use by the Council. It is extended up to 2036 introduced again by this administration without any public consultation or public inquiry so overruling the formal agreed existing local plan number of 661 agreed by public consultation, debate in this chamber and a formal public Inquiry. The Council also see the 856 houses a year as the starting figure for the new evolving local plan.

With Arborfield now threatened by 29% of its green space being built on and the whole borough at risk to being concreted over I cannot support a Conservative administration that seems to want to pile such damage to our Borough at large.

I am quite happy to continue in my role as Chairman of Lodden Home Limited as it’s an honourable vehicle designed to deliver affordable housing to our residents. As the Homes and Community Agency require registered providers which Lodden Homes are to have boards that function as independent bodies as an independent councillor I am quite capable of continuing to fulfil that role.

Thank you.

Cllr Gary Cowan [email protected] 0118 976 0281

As with his decision to vote against the adoption of the Arborfield SDL when concerns raised by residents were not properly addressed, despite obvious pressure from other executive members to deliver a unanimous decision, Gary has again put his conscience above following the party line. As his statement makes clear the Conservative Group were asked to retrospectively approve the already well advanced plans for Grazeley, and it seems rather a coincidence that the front page of the Wokingham Paper recently included Arborfield, almost a third of which is on the potential site list for new development, was then indicated as a possible location if Grazeley does not go ahead.

We would like to offer our support to Gary as he becomes an independent councillor, and are sure that this new independence will allow him to better and more publicly support and represent the people of Arborfield without the conflict of having to follow the Conservative party line.