Winter 2000/01 Newsletter

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Season’s Greetings

The committee wishes all members an enjoyable Christmas and a healthy New Year. Again, thank you all for your invaluable support over the last year. Please note that only if you have a reminder slip from the treasurer attached to this newsletter is your subscription due. Since the summer newsletter the association has been involved in the following activities:

Reading Buses

As all users of the bus service will know, the number 24 service has been cut to only one off-peak bus per hour, the route into the town centre has been altered and the service has become extremely unreliable.

Together with four residents and frequent users of the 24 service, the associations’ chairman and vice-chair met with Colin Thompson, Managing Director of Reading Transport, on 8 August 2000 to discuss the bus service to Emmer Green. Also attending were Cllr Annette Hendry and Ian Brown of Caversham and District Residents’ Association. The reasons for the changes to Reading bus services was reported to be due to:

· a shortage of drivers (difficulties in recruitment and retention)

· the need to discontinue the last of the old Routemaster buses

· to remove under utilised capacity (i.e. the load factor)

· to reduce the demand for additional drivers

· to make savings (said to be not a prime reason)

· reduced off-peak use with the advent of the Oracle shopping centre and the integral car park.

Colin Thompson said that it had become uneconomic in driver availability and running costs to have more than one off-peak 24 per hour. The possibilities of diverting a 137, 45 or 44 to include the Courtenay Drive - Kidmore End Road section had been studied. It was thought undesirable to have two-way passing of the 137 along Kidmore End Road because of its narrowness. The extra time for the 45 (five minutes) to include this section would not fit into any sensible timetable. Use of the 44 would necessitate moving the stop at the end of Kiln Road. However, he agreed to study the possibilities again and to also look at re-instating the 9.00 service of the 24. It was noted that RBC subsidise the Readibus services for residents with disabilities which limit their use of public transport.

He admitted that the reliability of the 24 service had been poor but emphasised that there was not a policy of picking on any particular service for cancellation to ensure another route was maintained. Priority was given to school services and then the less frequent rural services. The problem was being made worse because of drivers leaving the company and the difficulty in replacing them. Reasons for leaving were the stress of the job, the abuse from passengers and the fact that equally well paid jobs were available locally because of the high level of employment in the South East. Reading Buses’ rates of pay already compare favourably with other bus companies and had recently been increased to attract more drivers but without too much success.

The justification for re-routing the 24/44 was that a survey had shown that 85% of the off-peak users of the 24/44 did not get off at the rail station but were going to town to shop. As Sainsburys is the last remaining supermarket in town it had been decided that the service should terminate in Friar Street. It was agreed that passengers wishing to go to the rail station did not have get off the bus, then reboard and pay for another ticket. The drivers’ instruction booklet was to be modified accordingly. However, it was acknowledged that some inbound 44 buses terminated at Friar Street and went onto Southcote as the 25/45 service. This further inconveniences passengers wishing to alight at the station and Reading Buses have agreed to study alternative options.

It was acknowledged that existing timetables were not user-friendly and in some places were misleading. A new booklet for Emmer Green and Caversham had made some improvements. The clarity and visibility of timetables at bus stops (particularly timing points) was also poor but these were being progressively replaced.

Recent information provided by Reading Buses shows that 11% of their buses did not run in the last three weeks of October. The figure for Emmer Green during this period was 10%. Some other routes fared even worse; 16% of service 17 failed to run whilst 20% of services on corridor 1 were cancelled. However, schools and rural services only lost 2.4% of journeys. At the date of writing this newsletter an emergency timetable has been introduced, which reduces some services in the town but will hopefully improve reliability.

Chambers Copse footpath

Following the Inquiry into the modification order on the footpath through Chambers Copse in May 2000 the decision of the Inspector was published at the end of September. Unfortunately, his decision was not to confirm the footpath. His reasons were that:

· the highway evidence of the closed old drove road did not affect his consideration

· only completed official evidence forms were considered valid and some of these were at variance with each other regarding the actual route of the path

· the copse was a private wood, fenced and not available to the public, until the late 1950s

· the public did not enjoy access without obstruction or interruption during the period up to 1966 when it was sold to a developer

· although fencing deteriorated during the years until 1984 the landowners had not intended to dedicate a public right of way

· the weight of user evidence was insufficient to satisfy the necessary criteria of the 1980 Act.

In summary, he concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, the footpath did not subsist or was reasonably alleged to subsist over the order route and therefore should not be confirmed.

However unfortunate the outcome, thanks must go to all those residents who gave their time to completing evidence forms, attending the Inquiry to provide testimony and subsequently walking through the copse with the inspector.

North Area Consultative Committee

Committee members have represented the association at meetings of this group. This was particularly important at the meeting to put residents’ initial views on the item entitled Public Transport Provision in Caversham. This topic has moved on as previously reported. The subsequent meeting had a lively and constructive discussion on Living in Reading, The Future of Housing. This latter topic looked at the town’s housing needs, how people want to live, the types of homes people want and the influence of travel to work, general transport issues, the preservation of remaining open spaces, the need for ‘affordable homes’ and the ‘quality of life’ desired by local people.

At the last meeting it was announced that RBC had allocated £2,000 per ward to be spent on local schemes to benefit the community of each area. The suggestion put forward by the Association’s representative was that, in the light of the atrocious bus service, the money should be spent on providing a covered bus stop with seats at all stops in Emmer Green. However, if any member has alternative suggestions please contact any member of the committee and this will be put forward at the next meeting of the above group for consideration.

North Reading Youth Project

Sue Ballard attended the last advisory group meeting in November, where it was indicated that RBC were keen to see the advisory group revert to a management committee. This would involve health and safety matters and the committee felt this to be outside the remit of the Association. Whilst EGRA were happy to adopt the role of observer to monitor the Emmer Green site, other centres outside Emmer Green were not really our direct concern. It was also reported that there had been difficulty recruiting youth workers, that computers had now been installed at the Emmer Green Youth and Community Centre and that the pre-school group was flourishing.

Safer Caversham Forum

The Forum’s mission is to identify and seek solutions to matters relating to public safety in the Caversham area, including relevant traffic issues. Its strategy is to reduce crime, the fear of crime and potentially hazardous situations; to raise and react to public awareness of these issues; and to instigate corrective, preventative actions with appropriate bodies, including the raising of funds where required.

The Forum meets every five weeks and over the last several months has considered such issues has traffic wardens, police resourcing, Neighbourhood Watch, anti-social behaviour (vandalism, graffiti, intimidation), business community concerns, burglary and car related crimes.

On 25 September the Forum promoted an entertaining and informative meeting entitled Operation Safeguard which covered ways and means to combat and deter burglary and theft from cars. If any member would like more information on this matter please contact the Associations’ chairman who has a number of relevant leaflets.

The Safer Reading Campaign has received £50,000 to spend on capital projects that will have a positive impact on community safety. This money will be allocated over a number of projects throughout Reading. The Safer Caversham Forum are looking for ideas. Ideas from the Association ranged from extra street lighting in ‘dark’ sections or roads or passage-ways, more secure cycle racks, additional pedestrian crossings or refuge islands, traffic calming measures at ‘dangerous’ sections of road, supplementary road safety signs, etc. However, the ward councillors put forward proposals for additional lighting between Stuart Close/Surley Row, the cut-through by the Knights Way flats and for additional lights in Micklands, and it is these lighting schemes that have been taken forward.

Millennium celebration

Following on from the successful exhibition celebrating Emmer Green ‘Past and Present’ earlier this year, the Association has submitted an application to the Millennium Funds for All for a further award in support of a book to publish the information gathered for the exhibition plus additional material on Emmer Green. Members are reminded that if they have material to complement or add to that which was displayed (e.g. photographs, post-cards, newspaper cuttings, etc.) please contact the association’s secretary Margaret Ormonde (tel. 9470922) or the vicechair Sue Ballard (tel. 9472934). There are still gaps in the historical record of the area and all additional material would be welcomed. In particular, photographs or information are needed on the activities of the Youth and Community Centre and Youth Club after it opened in 1969. Also if anyone knows anything about the Scouts having been left a box to be opened by Wilfred Owen’s sister Mary in 1956, which contained his pistol amongst other things, please get in touch.

As we go to press I can confirm that we have been successful in our second Millennium bid and have been awarded £3,400 towards the cost of producing a book. This will not cover the full costs but will allow the finished book to be sold at an affordable cost and thus recover the Association’s own outlay.

RBC Enforcement Scrutiny Panel

In July committee members Bill Goodworth and Margaret Ormonde plus member Chris Odell presented evidence to the RBC Enforcement Scrutiny Panel, chaired by Cllr Ian Fenwick. They particularly dwelt on the subject of RBC officers failures to enforce bylaws, agreements and conditions imposed on developers to ensure that traffic to and from their building sites caused the minimum inconvenience to local residents. The example site highlighted was Shipnells Farm. Chris Odell proved to be an expert witness as he had recorded the precise times, dates and registration numbers of the numerous infringements by building trucks over several years passing along Tredegar Road to the site. He also had complete records of his correspondence with RBC officers and full documentation of his meetings with these officers and the developer’s representatives to reduce the infringements. This evidence was corroborated by Bill Goodworth as the vehicles had to first travel along St Barnabas Road to reach Tredegar Road. The testimony provided showed RBC planning officers to have been poorly informed, uncaring and unable to enforce regulations on the developers. The panel thanked the attendees for the detail provided and said this would give them a flying start to their investigation into enforcement issues.

Planning proposals

The association has been involved in making representation on a number of planning proposals recently:

Land to rear of 37-49 Grove Road - erection of 8 detached houses plus an access road by the demolition of 39 Grove Road by Infill Land Consultants. RBC as the local planning authority (LPA) refused permission on this application. However, the developer made an appeal to the secretary of state on 18 September and an Inquiry Hearing will be held on 12 December 2000. The Association has lodged a letter of objection on several points related to the appellant’s grounds for appeal.

Land at Jefferson Close, Emmer Green - the second proposal, which did not affect the footpath between Jefferson Close and Russett Glade was not opposed by the Association.

Land off Lyefield Court - application from Annsgate House Investments Limited to build houses off the access road to the residential homes in Lyefield Court. Although the LPA have approved this application, and the land has already been cleared in preparation for building, several restrictions have been imposed in relation to parking and usage.

Buggs Bottom - proposal to erect 41 x 2, 3 & 4 bedroom houses and garages. The Association has made objections to the initial proposal because it attempts to re-route and enclose the definitive footpath, the development does not include any element of ‘affordable’ housing and the gradient of the access road exceeds that Design Guide used by RBC of a maximum 7% (1 in 14.3) when serving five houses or more. (This latter requirement was used by the LPA to discount access to phase 7 from phase 6 and permit access from Gravel Hill). This application has been referred by the LPA.

Safer Routes to Schools Project

During the summer a central government money was allocated by RBC Traffic Management Committee to make Emmer Green Primary School and Highdown School ‘safe school zones’. Consultation took place with the ward councillors, but as far as can be ascertained with no-one at the schools or with local residents. The proposal for the primary school has been approved but that for Highdown will have to await until further funds are available.

The EGRA committee met and agreed that at the start and end of the school day there were huge traffic problems, but doubted that this particular scheme would make much difference as congestion automatically restricted the speed of traffic. A map showing an elaborate combination of speed cushions, extended pavements, warning signs and dragon’s teeth is attached to this newsletter and residents will have an opportunity to make comments to RBC when the scheme is formally announced in the local press.

Heathcroft Home

Heathcroft is a respite facility off Marshland Square for children with mental and/or physical disabilities. It was reported in the local press a few weeks ago that RBC proposes to close the home. It was purpose built in the 1970s and was the only one of its kind in Reading at the time. Wokingham, who funded 6 respite places at the home, have decided to withdraw their financial support following an increase in charges made by RBC and to build their own premises. This has been devastating news for all those parents relying on the facility, and the answers they have been given to date for alternative respite care and help have been most unsatisfactory. RBC have already had a valuation of the land at £2.5 million. Since the facility is within the Emmer Green area and members of the Association are parents of children using the home the committee have agreed to support local parents in asking RBC to guarantee a suitable alternative before they close Heathcroft.