Sir, — How can Reading borough councillors, conflicted by the needs of their council, act independently when it comes to making decisions about the disposal of trust land to accommodate the Heights Primary School in Caversham, especially when the council itself is the trustee?
Where can the trust’s beneficiaries go when they disagree with the actions of Reading Borough Council, the trustees, in order to have a proper, independent inquiry conducted into conflict of interest and take appropriate action?
This is the dilemma facing residents living next to 25 acres of prime green open space known as Mapledurham playing fields in Caversham.
The site was bequeathed by Charles Hewett in 1938 for the sole purposes of recreation and sport for the people of Reading.
The site is a well-used playing field, hosting football matches, dog walkers, a lawn tennis club and several groups such as toddlers and a bridge club.
Many groups used the Mapledurham pavilion on a weekly basis until the council declared it closed in January due to safety concerns.
Despite the site being protected by the trust, the council is succumbing to a seductive proposal by the Education Funding Agency to build the free school on the site in return for £1.3million being deposited in the council’s coffers.
As trustees, the council is responsible for education and for making ever-shrinking budgets stretch to meet council needs. Hence this offer is highly tempting.
It also paves the way, once the trust is broken, for further development on the site — a fact which even senior councillors acknowledge is true.
The right thing to do would be for the council to step down as trustees throughout the duration of negotiations with the agency and for an independent body of trustees to be appointed which could view the agency’s proposals in a rational and unbiased manner.
The whole point of trustees is to ensure that the objects of a charity are maintained or enhanced.
How can councillors, appointed to be trustees on a sub-committee, possibly remain neutral and not put the interests of the council, including education, the potential of further development and immediate funding, before the objects of the trust they have been appointed to protect?
How can the potential loss of green space along with the loss of three five-a-side football pitches, the pavilion and possibly three 11-a-side football pitches, to be replaced by a primary school, be in the interests of the charity and beneficiaries?
Worryingly, if this happens in your backyard, you will find that there is no professional body with any responsibility or authority you can appeal to.
The only way to fight such a hostile intrusion is a costly legal case.
The Charity Commission advises that it exists to ensure the charity is well run and it does not get involved in replacing trustees in disputes such as this. The National Playing Fields Association, which was once trustees of this site, is no longer willing to get involved.
The only hope residents have is that they can collect sufficient supporters and funds to take the council to court.
In the meantime, residents fear the massive intrusion into their daily lives as up to 350 parents arrive twice daily to deposit their young children at the school gates and in the evening adults in their droves arrive for adult education classes.
Can you imagine the carnage as angry parents, in a hurry to deposit their children at school so that they can get to work or to their adult fitness classes, fight with each other over where to park their 4x4s on surrounding roads?
Most upsettingly, the group of people most affected by this daily disruption will be the ageing population who live in this quiet part of Caversham on roads too narrow to accommodate two cars passing easily if anyone parks on the grass verges bordering the playing fields.
The Equalities Act 2010 states that people have the right to a certain standard of living and that any changes should not significantly impact that environment. Clearly for these folk, their winter years look very gloomy indeed unless someone out there can offer an answer.
In the meantime, the community is bitterly divided with parents, who desperately want to get their children into a school with relatively small classroom sizes, sneering and laughing at the ageing population as they watch their elders desperately fight for justice and preservation of what little public green open space is left in landlocked Reading for future generations of youngsters.
Five years from now, when their children have outgrown the school, where will they go to play football or fly a kite? Where can they go simply to meet with friends away from mum and dad?
It’s unlikely they will be using Mapledurham playing fields because they will have become a permanent building site for ongoing development until there is very little, if any, public green open space remaining.
If you can help with any advice as to how to fight this social injustice or want to support our action groups, we are very keen to hear from you immediately. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be only too pleased to have your support. — Yours faithfully,
Chairman, Mapledurham Playing Fields Action Group,
Hewett Avenue, Caversham
Don’t change timetable
Sir, — As a resident of Wargrave for the last three years, I have got used to the inconsistencies of the First Great Western/ Great Western Railway service to and from our station.
I generally commute to London in rush hour but also use the service off-peak as I run my own company in London and therefore have flexibility.
There are many issues that are irritating or downright stupid about the running of the service, which include:
• We can’t buy tickets at Wargrave station or online, so the ticket sellers on the peak trains are swamped after Wargrave.
• The size of the peak morning trains to London varies from two to six coaches but the amount of people using the service does not vary.
• If you buy a ticket on the train they often don’t actually work in the GWR barriers or on London Underground.
• If you can’t buy a ticket on the train you’re faced with big queues at Paddington to pay (see my Twitter feed @oliver63 for examples!)
• The evening connection at Twyford is critical but the company’s policy for holding branch line trains if there are mainline delays varies by the day. Within reason all connecting trains should be held if the main users of that train are late.
• The wi-fi service on the trains is so slow that I always turn my wi-fi off when on the peak services as even emails won’t send.
And now GWR wants to muck about with the timetable pre-electrification to cut out Wargrave off-peak services for god knows what reason.
The company should concentrate on the list above and work with Network Rail on getting a more consistent service and leave the irrelevance of the timetable for the next two years alone.
We all have stressful jobs and long to-do lists and I’m sure GWR managing director Mark Hopwood’s list is long enough without adding unnecessary issues to it.
On a positive note, the company’s Twitter response times are good and I communicate regularly with the service. It must have a long log of my complaints!
The Twitter folk even arranged for a Twyford connection to be held recently when I alerted them to the mainline late evening service that I was on being delayed — a positive development at last! — Yours faithfully,
Let’s improve air quality
Sir, — Henley suffers from poor air quality and our air does not qualify for a clean air label.
We have known this for at least 10 years and nothing has been done.
Diesel vehicles are the cause — just stand there and smell the difference when a heavy goods vehicle goes by.
The real sufferers are children in pushchairs in the town and also inside cars following diesel vehicles.
Studies have shown children can lose 20 per cent of their lung capacity by their eighth year. Our businesses suffer as many shoppers don’t come to Henley because they can smell the pollution.
These are serious issues that should be tackled. Let’s not have a slow reaction as with passive smoking. As the responsible authority, South Oxfordshire District Council is holding a consultation on Saturday, October 29 from 10am in Henley town hall.
Please, for your children’s sake, come along and represent them. Asking for a low emission zone would be my recommendation. — Yours faithfully,
St Katherine’s Road,
Children are still welcome
Sir, — It is generally known in the town that, along with many other children’s centres across Oxfordshire, the Rainbow children’s centre in Henley will be closing shortly as a result of county council funding cuts.
The children’s centre building situated at the rear of the d:two centre in Market Place is owned by Henley Baptist Church.
The church has always had a desire to make its town centre facility available to the wider community and has every intention of continuing that tradition when the children’s centre closes. We have to accept that the ongoing use of the centre will never replicate the original function as laid out by the then government.
It is clear that the county council has a new strategy to meet any high-level needs that children and families may have.
However, the leaders of Henley Baptist Church have put together a draft plan to use the children’s centre space for children and families.
In brief, the plan is to create a flexible space that can be used by children and their parents for fun, creative and healthy activities.
Within the space we would like to set up a quality soft play area which will be available for a number of open sessions each week and potentially available for private party hirings.
The equipment would be portable and allow the space to be freed up for other activities, including fitness sessions for children and parents and advice and active sessions on healthy eating.
We hope the centre will continue to be used for the weekly health visitor’s clinic and other specialised and need-related groups.
There will also be the potential to run some messy play and stay and play sessions if there is a demand.In order for the church to maintain the facility and equipment to a high standard and provide appropriate supervision and management, there will need to be a charge made for some sessions but we would aim to make it accessible to all children and families in the community.
We would be interested to hear from anyone who might be interested in hiring the space and running specific sessions for children and families.
Obviously it will be impossible to please everyone’s wishes for the centre but we hope the majority will welcome this idea.
We would appreciate any feedback from families and invite them to send an email headed “children’s centre” to us at email@example.com — Yours faithfully,
Henley Baptist Church leadership team
d:two, Market Place,
Developer doesn’t care
Sir, — No sooner is the ink dry on the Sonning Common neighbourhood development plan than the developers start preparing their outline planning applications for greater numbers of homes on the approved sites.
The latest developer to do this is T A Fisher, which claims to have “a first class reputation”.
T A Fisher is the potential developer of the site known as SON 5 in the plan, which has been earmarked for up to 22 homes.
This number was reached after discussions with T A Fisher, notwithstanding some considerable local opposition, which has previously been reported on in your paper, and the plan was subsequently approved by the village referendum.
This developer appears to have blatantly ignored both the previous discussions with the neighbourhood plan working party and the approved plan itself.
Through a leaflet circulated by its consulant planners, Pro Vision, we are informed that T A Fisher proposes to submit an outline planning application for up to 30 new homes, an increase of 36 per cent over the approved plan figure of 22.
Were the outline application for the increased number of homes to be approved by the planning authority it would make a complete mockery of the neighbourhood planning process and the four-and-a-half years of community participation in preparing the plan as well as destroying any trust that might have been engendered beween Fisher and the Sonning Common residents.
So much for a “first class reputation”!
Pro Vision invites Sonning Common residents to submit their views on the proposal for the development of the SON 5 site before today (Friday, October 21) by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to: Pro Vision, Grosvenor Court, Winchester Road, Ampfield, Hampshire, SO51 9BD.
I hope that many residents will be as incensed as I am that discussions in good faith and an approved plan have been completely ignored and will write accordingly to Pro Vision expressing their objections to this reprehensible proposal. — Yours faithfully,
Six reasons not to build
Sir, — After attending the Gladman Land public meeting and giving the issue careful consideration, we are strongly opposed to the company’s plans for 270 homes in Emmer Green (Standard, September 23).
This is because:
1. The roads would not cope with the vast increase in traffic and the company has no valid plans to enable them do so.
2. Oxfordshire County Council has always opposed a third bridge over the River Thames in Caversham, so the traffic is ever-increasing anyway. Reading will be at a standstill!
3. This is a semi-rural area where we have paid a premium to live and we pay the second highest level of council tax charged by Reading Borough Council.
4. Clayfield Copse and its wildlife will be at severe risk.
5. All the schools are full to capacity and our local doctors’ surgeries are the same.
6. This is a quiet area which we appreciate living in and do not believe that 40 per cent affordable housing is a viable option.
We do not know of anybody in the area who wishes this ridiculous development to go ahead. — Yours faithfully,
Susan Potter and Kevin Sheppard
Health chiefs’ weasel words
Sir, — I refer to your article about the new rapid access care unit at Townlands Hospital, reporting on a meeting of the stakeholders reference group (Standard, October 7).
I have seldom read fewer facts and more weasel words from the group, which seems to specialise in non-speak.
First, we are told that massive works are needed to convert the first floor of the hospital from its original plan to provide 18 beds, since dropped down to 14 which have now been mysteriously “lost”.
It also seems that the original “contract” with the builders was not a contract as we would know it and, surprise, surprise, the cost has gone up.
It would also appear that new, untested equipment is to be installed, inevitably slowing down once again the opening of the unit.
I would wholeheartedly agree with the branding of health chiefs as incompetent, particularly as even staff are not ready, needing “team-building” exercises.
One wonders where both this equipment and these staff have come from if they need these seemingly necessary exercises.
The Cute Kitten, sorry, Bluebell, care beds are obviously not earmarked for local residents but possibly we need even more elderly people shipped into the town as the existing planned homes will not be enough. >And who are the residents who chose the new name as I was unaware that, unlike much of the new hospital, the home is occupied?
I was very pleased to read that Alison Gowdy, directorate manager of integrated medicine at the Royal Berkshire Foundation NHS Trust, said that there was more capacity as otherwise the hospital would be a white elephant even before it has properly opened. — Yours faithfully,
Sir, — Last week, the South Oxfordshire District Council/Biffa binmen left a tag on my green bin, saying they had found black or coloured sacks in it and that these are not allowed in case they contain food waste.
But I know for sure there was none — we, like many other South Oxfordians (or is it Oxonians?), are assiduous in sorting our waste.
So I phoned the waste people and was told the tag was just part of a marketing campaign to make sure everybody knows the rules.
I pointed out that to inform is good but to accuse is offensive and potentially counterproductive.
I was worried they might refuse my refuse if they thought I was a violator.
Oh, the tag on the bin was made of plastic but does not say if it’s recyclable. I was told it is, so it’s going back in the bin.
But please, everybody, keep up the good work and make sure no contamination goes in your green bin — and recycle your plastic tags. — Yours faithfully,
Don’t misuse public bins
Sir, — In response to your story about public litter bins in Henley overflowing (Standard, October 14), I can reassure residents and businesses that they are being emptied as usual. This includes daily collections in the busy areas.We will increase the collections if need be.
However, I am aware of concerns that household waste is being put into some of the street bins, so we are actively monitoring these areas and putting notices on the bins where it’s happening.
If we can identify the people responsible we will contact them to tell them to stop putting household rubbish into public bins. We will also take enforcement action if necessary.
Anyone who is concerned about a public bin should report it to Biffa on 03000 610610. — Yours faithfully,
Councillor Tony Harbour
Cabinet member for waste,
South Oxfordshire District Council
Not all bins overflowing
Sir, — We all know that Henley is the jewel of the Thames Valley and we want to keep it that way. Following recent emails, my recent letter in the Henley Standard and your article last week about “overflowing” bins, I took the opportunity on Sunday to look round the town and see what the bin situation was like.
I looked at more than 20 street bins. Other than those detailed below, I can report that none of the bins on the streets was full with no litter around them.
There was a full bin, but no scattered litter, in Deanfield Road, outside The Henley College. There was also a full bin with some scattered litter in Mount View, near Badgemore Lane. There was a full bin with two tied rubbish bags neatly stacked next to it outside Cook at the top of Friday Street.
So the claims by Councillors David Eggleton, Kellie Hinton and Stefan Gawrysiak about “overflowing bins all over the place”, “bins are not being emptied as often” and “there are quite a lot of bins overflowing in Henley at the moment, more than usual” do not stand up to scrutiny (on a Sunday afternoon in October). I do not know what they are doing in addressing their claims.
What I will be doing is assessing the areas where bins can overflow (yes, I accept that there are bins that sometimes overflow and the Standard readers will have seen from my recent letter that I deal with whatever ones I notice) to see if the present bins are all fit for purpose or if larger bins are needed.
In the meantime, residents can report to Biffa directly on email@example.com — Yours faithfully,
Councillor David Nimmo Smith
Henley Town Council, South Oxfordshire District Council and Oxfordshire County Council,
St Andrew’s Road,
Rats in the playground
Sir, — I regularly visit the toddler playground at Mill Meadows in Henley with my two little kids.
However, over the past three weeks every time we went there, we saw at least one rat on the playground. Last week, within the 10 minutes that we managed to spend there, we saw five rats at once.
We immediately left and decided to report the problem to the town council. Unfortunately nobody replied to my email.
Rats can pose severe health risks, spreading sickness and parasites through their droppings, urine and hair.
A professional pest control company should check the hedge around the playground and eradicate rodents.
Please help us to keep our kids safe. —
Look after former pubs
Sir, — It must be heartening for Brakspear chief executive Tom Davies to be offered automatic and even exclusive right of reply whenever a reader criticises his company.
He must also be grateful for the front page coverage of Brakspear’s vanity project, The Bull on Bell Street (Standard, October 7). Clearly Tom and the Henley Standard have a very positive relationship.
However, he seems to have deliberately missed the point raised in the letters the previous week, which is: Why has Brakspear not bothered to maintain the various pubs which it deems, by its own obscure standards, to be unviable?
The list of pubs the company considers to be in this category seems to be growing steadily, for a variety of reasons, only some of which are down to the “challenging times” that Mr Davies cites.
If a pub is deemed unviable and then left to rot, or vice-versa, this seems a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m not in the pub business, so I don’t know who pays for the refurbishment of the pub in these circumstances.
If it is the new tenant, who would be attracted to such a proposition, particularly if the pub has become uninhabitable (viz. the Crown, the Dog & Duck and the Four Horseshoes)? If it is Brakspear, then this seems to smack of incompetence as the repairs will be much greater than if the property was regularly maintained and would certainly make the proposition less attractive to any tenant, resulting in further vacancy, deterioration and decay.
Under these conditions, any pub left empty for any length of time will indeed become unviable. I’m sure this has not escaped Tom Davies’s attention. I can see that J T Davies has close to £55million of assets in its accounts, which must be quite a few pubs, so a steady disposal of the “unviable” pubs might make a decent business model, particularly if a change of use was secured.
So maybe they’re not incompetent brewers after all but competent property developers?
By the way, the Brakspear beer is incomparable with how it was when it was brewed in Henley. It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth for quite some time. More time spent trying to improve the beer would help restore some faith. — Yours faithfully,
The editor responds: “As a general rule, we offer a right of reply to letters which make contentious claims or pose questions requiring a response as opposed to the expression of views, including controversial ones.”
Fix mental health care
Sir, — As a long-term campaigner for at least adequate mental health care provision in the Thames Valley, I was concerned at recent reports (from the University of Manchester and others) revealing that too much reliance has been placed on the home treatment of NHS mental health patients.
This is actually “unsafe” for many patients, resulting in three times the number of suicides among those treated at home compared with those receiving inpatient care.
NHS mental health commissioners and providers, please note and learn and act accordingly sooner rather than later. — Yours faithfully,
Thank you for support
Sir, — May I, on behalf of the Rotary Club of Henley Bridge, thank all the runners, families and helpers for taking part in our Henley half marathon and 10km.
We had more than 1,400 entries for the races combined and we were blessed with excellent weather. Both races were to raise money for local charities and voluntary organisations. For example, we recently helped Camp Mohawk buy a new boiler.
Great thanks to the Henley Standard for sponsoring the 10km and giving us some wonderful publicity in the run-up to the event. Also thanks to Invesco Perpetual, which sponsors the half marathon, for the fantastic support that it gives this event and many more events in Henley.
Thanks also to Athlete Services in the Greys Road car park who provided massages for the runners and raised more than £200 in voluntary donations. Thanks. too, to Laurence for providing the lead cyclists.
Runners and helpers alike say that our event is well run and, most importantly, “very friendly.” Thank you. — Yours faithfully,
Rotary Club of Henley Bridge
Sure signs of autumn
Sir, — I thought you might like this array of fallen crab apples and a fly agaric mushroom in Flowershill Wood. — Yours faithfully,
Joint managing director, Davis Tate, Wood Lane, Â Sonning Common
Shepherds must have been delighted
Sir, — Red sky or what... a stunning sky over Greys Road, Henley, on Wednesday evening last week. No filter, I promise. — Yours faithfully,
Station Road, Henley
Did you see the gorgeous rainbow too?
Sir, — I caught a snap on my phone of the gorgeous rainbow over Henley after the downpour on Monday afternoon.
The town was looking extra gorgeous so I thought I’d send it to you. —Yours faithfully,