To receive any statements by the Leader of the Council, Executive Members and Deputy Executive Members.
In accordance with Procedure Rule 4.2.23 the total time allocated to this item shall not exceed 20 minutes, and no Member shall speak for more than 5 minutes
Keith Baker, Leader of the Council, made the following statement:
At the Annual Council I made several changes to the Executive. In those changes I appointed two new Executive Members and five new Deputy Executive Members. It is not easy to step into Executive roles although both had previously been Deputies so they were not totally thrown in the deep end. All of them have really got stuck into their areas and I do hope that both Councillors and residents have seen a noticeable improvement. Speaking personally, I am extremely pleased with their performance and I think it bodes extremely well for the future.
I will try not to steal anyone’s thunder as you listen to their reports during this agenda item. However, I would like to draw your attention to the collaborative work being undertaken with neighbouring councils for the update to the existing local plan, formerly known as the Core Strategy. In the past, because of different timings the ability to co-operate more fully was always hampered as authorities were all at different stages. This time around Bracknell, West Berkshire, Reading and ourselves are working closely together. This means we can develop all of our plans such that we get a higher level of mutual benefit from each other. We all know that boundaries between Councils are artificial and therefore cross boundary working must inevitably be better. After all, a road or a housing estate doesn’t stop at the borders of the Borough. We have a long way to go on the development of our update but it is highly likely we will continue the concept of concentrating on Strategic Development Locations or SDL’s but nothing is set in stone.
My participation continues in the Berkshire Leaders’ Group and the Local Enterprise Partnership or LEP, where I am the representative of all the Berkshire Leaders. At these meetings significant strategic issues are discussed with the aim of close co-operation amongst us all. We are extremely lucky to have a LEP that has a strong reputation at all levels, up to national government, which often puts us in a good position where funding is involved.
From a personal development perspective, I am extremely pleased that three of our councillors have applied to become members of a variety of working groups or committees of the Local Government Association or LGA. I cannot remember ever having any of our councillors wishing to work at this level, let alone three. If they are successful it will give us a direct insight of the LGA thinking on some key areas. I wish them well in the selection process.
As this is the last Full Council before the August break can I wish everyone a happy holiday. Please recharge your batteries as we have a lot of important matters to progress on your return.
Finally, I wish to send this Council’s congratulations to one of our local MPs, Theresa May, who has gone from MP to Prime Minister. I had the great privilege to be her Agent during the General Election of 2010, followed by Cllr Hobbs who was her agent in 2015. Both of us, and a few others in this chamber, know her quite well and agree she is a formidable lady. She is a superb fit for this great office of state and will do a fantastic job for all of the country.
Charlotte Haitham Taylor, Executive Member for Children’s Services, made the following statement:
This has been another busy month in Children’s Services and I have been delighted to be invited to attend the formal opening of Grazeley Parochial Church of England Primary School’s new building works this week. This is a fabulous example of how this Borough has invested in a local community and enabled this school to double in size from just 15 pupils per year group to 30 now, which means more children go to school locally at this fantastic school.
In the last couple of terms we should be cognisant of the hard work and dedication of many of our teachers and governors across the Borough. In the inspection of 12 of our schools and in the context of a new and tougher Ofsted framework, 3 have raised a grade to be judged as “Good” and 5 have maintained their “Good” judgements. This is testament to their hard work.
The Council has also been subject to two Ofsted inspections in the last two weeks, one for Adult Education Services and the second for the Youth Offending Service. Everyone has worked hard to showcase their approaches and I will update the Council on the outcomes in due course.
This month I was also pleased to don my hard hat and high-vis jacket and climb up to the very top of the roof of the new secondary school in the south, Bohunt. Future pupils, the new head teacher, parents, officers, project managers, builders and the architects were all there to celebrate the topping out ceremony, a momentous occasion in the history of the project. Everyone should be immensely proud of the work undertaken and it will be a credit to the hard work and commitment of everyone involved.
Mark Ashwell, Executive Member for Planning and Regeneration, made the following statement:
Firstly I’d like to officially introduce (although you know him well) my partner in Planning, Regeneration and Communities, Deputy Executive Member Councillor Chris Bowring. Councillor Bowring is absent this evening as he is treading the boards at Wokingham Theatre.
Planning, Regeneration and Communities is a very exciting portfolio and we are already really enjoying the challenge of working on your behalf. We are the A Team, hoping never to become the Plan B Team.
Starting with Regeneration - I can report that last month the Regeneration Team attended the National Planning Awards in London. Here we won the Top Award for Making Development Viable. The Judges said: “After several failed attempts by developers to regenerate Wokingham town centre, the council took matters into its own hands by buying one site and using two others that it already owned to deliver a masterplan.” Judges said the project was "a positive example of a local authority engaging in land acquisition and development to turn around a failing town centre".
This is testament to this Council ‘one and all’ and our brave stance in taking the control and the responsibility for the regeneration of our principal town. With this in mind I would personally like to thank all my colleagues especially Councillor David Lee and Councillor Philip Mirfin for their foresight, efforts to date and surviving to tell the tale! I would also like to acknowledge our opposition (it’s great and healthy to have opposition these days) in reaching this stage of our regeneration and our joint mission to save Elms Field. I would however plead with you to keep it positive please – this by avoiding the Tripe! As we get on and deliver the regeneration of our principal Town, All Together Now:
· We have started in June with the Multi Storey Car Park at Carnival Pool and this will be finished by Spring next year
· We are starting Peach Place in January next year and this will be finished by the end of 2018
· We are starting Elms Field after the May Fair next year and this will be finished by late 2019
…and our Market Place Improvement joint project with Wokingham Town Council will commence Spring next year and be finished in the late summer. So, hold on to your hats as it’s going to be a remarkable journey, and believe you me, regeneration is here to stay across the whole Borough. You can get all this information from our website: www.regenerationcompany.co.uk or just Google Wokingham Regeneration. This is the place to go for the most up-to-date information at any time.
Our major project in Planning is the Local Plan Update, as Councillor Baker alluded to earlier. This is being led by Councillor Bowring who has vast experience in these matters. Subject to Executive approval next week we will be consulting on all the issues and options. This will commence next month. Please look out for this consultation and spread the word. Councillors will be kept totally informed as the Local Plan Update emerges. I would plead with you to contribute as it is vital to how our Borough will evolve over the next 20 years.
Anthony Pollock, Executive Member for Economic Development and Finance, made the following statement:
Council Tax collection, a subject close to my heart. The Council has come first in the Council Tax collection table for the third year in a row. We collected 99.5% of Council Tax in the relevant year. Our neighbouring authority, Reading Borough Council, a Labour run authority came 228th out of 363 councils. They achieved a Council Tax collection rate of 96.8%.
The extra 2.7% that this Council collected during the year may not seem to be a large amount. However, it equates to an extra £2.16m, a significant amount of money in our current financial situation. It enables the Council to fund a further £2.16m worth of services for our residents. As for the remaining 0.5% who have not yet paid, I will guarantee to the Council that we will continue to pursue these outstanding Council Tax debts for as long as we need to. We have a habit of doing it for at least seven years, so nobody gets away with it if we can help it. I had to sign off a case a while back where someone had gone to Australia to avoid paying Council Tax. We are on our game and will collect the rest.
Angus Ross, Executive Member for Environment, made the following statement:
Firstly, last weekend nearly 400 youngsters got free tennis coaching in a scheme run with the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA). Our thanks go to all those in our Sports Development Team, the LTA and our leisure contractor 1Life for putting this on and for organising such good weather. On the Saturday we were hosts to the Davis Cup, not the tennis which was in Serbia where we won and are now in the Semi Finals against Argentina, but the cup itself. Those who saw it were amazed by the size of the base showing winners since 1900. Thank you Mr Mayor for your time last Saturday and for being quizzed with me live by the BBC Radio Berkshire reporter! May your wedding cake be as large as the Davis Cup trophy!
Second, this weekend sees the first Marvellous Festival at Dinton, previously held at Wellington Country Park, the other side of Riseley. We look forward to record numbers coming to enjoy the music, the site and the event. Whilst we appreciate it may cause some disturbance to residents living close by, the income from this event will assist in the management of our Country Parks - we are so lucky to have these large open spaces.
Third, we have held one weekend of consultation on possible options for the future of Bulmershe Leisure Centre - rebuild or refurbish. We have planned a further open day in Woodley Town Centre precinct on 6th August as well as meetings with user groups and the local schools. The findings will be fed into the recommendation which will come forward in the autumn. Members, please look out for the consultation and contribute on the Council website.
Fourth, a ground breaking new layout of a MUGA, or Multi Use Games Area, is now open in Finchampstead behind the FBC Centre. This is an exciting new concept of an open area with many applications for youth of all ages. An official opening will be on 25th August at 1pm but meanwhile it is now in full use for the school holidays. The extreme heat earlier this week could not have come at a worse time for the setting of the asphalt but we are keeping a close watch and a little less hot weather will enable the material to set firm. Can I put on record my thanks to the officer team and the many local groups, Councillors, parish council, FBC, PCSO and local youth groups who helped us in the formative times for this project, funded by S106 and from Finchampstead Parish Council. I am delighted that the Deputy Mayor will be coming along to open it.
Finally, together with our re3 waste disposal partners in Reading and Bracknell Forest, we have introduced control of access to our Tips, or Recycling Centres at Smallmead and Longshot Lane to protect our investment. This was because of West Berkshire's decision to withdraw funding for the use made by their residents of Smallmead. 15 percent of users of that site were from West Berkshire. The Permit Scheme has been successfully introduced and the staff of re3 and our contractor FCC have done a sterling job to set this up and to manage the first few days when many came unaware, despite extensive announcements, that proof of residency in one of the three Boroughs was required.
Pauline Jorgensen, Executive Member for Resident Services, made the following statement:
Following Executive approval for the Library Strategy we move towards the implementation phase for extended hours and self-service facilities. We plan to tender for self-service infrastructure and kiosks in September and aim to implement the new service together with enhanced opening hours in the spring. This will mean that Woodley Library will become the first of our libraries to open every day. It will also extend the opening hours in Wokingham, Lower Earley and Finchampstead. This is a good result for all our library users. It is good to see libraries continuing to increase in popularity.
We continue to work with interested parties in Twyford, including the Parish Council and Polehampton Charity, to progress the community hub project. Discussions continue between the Architect and planning officers.
Libraries also continue to look for opportunities to extend our service by increasing footfall, developing sponsorship opportunities and generating revenue. Finally, the Roald Dahl themed Big Friendly Read, Summer Reading Scheme starts this week - there are lots of events on this theme happening in all our libraries for children in the Borough.
To turn to IT, the service is busy working on changes to our infrastructure to support the 21st Century Council project. Nevertheless they continue to work on committed savings in the IT cost base which amount to £500k this year. I am pleased to report that we are on schedule to deliver on our commitment.
The Customer Service Team continue to run ‘”meet your Council” sessions where Council Officers responsible for our customer service get to talk to and hear from our customers direct across the Borough. The last was at ASDA Lower Earley. I was pleased to be able to help man the stall and would like to personally thank the staff for the work they voluntarily put in to the event. The overwhelming theme was grass cutting and it was great, in particular, that we had the Head of the Cleaner and Greener service out listening to residents and answering questions first hand.
Finally, I would like to mention that we had a review of air quality management and we identified some air quality management areas. Letters to impacted residents will be going out shortly.
Malcolm Richards, Executive Member for Highways and Transport, made the following statement:
This report outlines the main events to note for the Highways and Transport Portfolio for the current period.
Firstly, Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE). WBC is currently applying to the Government for permission to handle its own parking enforcement. On-street parking enforcement is normally performed by the police service, but resources and government-preferred policy is that local authorities should now do this themselves. The submission of the application is a time-consuming and detailed process and we have identified September 2016 as the time when we will seek approval from the Council Executive to advance to the next stage. If our application is eventually approved by the government (DfT) there will be much local preparation to do, and we would then hope to commence live CPE running in 2017.
Secondly, park and ride locations. We currently have two park and ride locations in operation around the Borough, one at Mereoak (just south of the M4 near Junction 11) and the other at Winnersh Triangle rail station. Both of them are popular and well used. We have this month just identified a third location, by the Thames Valley Business Park (TVP), at the top end of the A329M. This park and ride facility is jointly funded by a grant from the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and by business donations. This latest route will carry passengers between TVP and central Reading by bus, and could therefore reduce the need for up to 30-40 cars, each carrying one passenger. This is a good example of transport sustainability and service.
Thirdly, Loddon Viaduct. This concrete viaduct forms part of the A329M road structure and, as with all road structures, requires regular maintenance and repair. After about 40 years of use it was due for a major overhaul and that activity is now in progress. Having started the preparation last week, it will continue on to full upgrade that is due to complete in early September. Considerable forward planning and public communications were produced that helped to keep residents and motorists fully informed. The end result will ensure a longer life for the structure, enhanced safety and reduced costs for maintenance – so a good and safe deal for all.
Finally, we are continuing the major work of managing the development of new roads as well as the maintenance and improvement of existing roads. This work never stops. Part of my new portfolio will include the enhancement of clear and timely communication advising of forthcoming action and changes. A well informed public is better prepared to cope with change.