Ash pearce - Labour Church Ward Councillor
Church's Labour Team, led by our Councillor Ashley Pearce

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Monthly Archives: December 2018

St.Patrick’s Hall appeal submission

I have been a Councillor for Church Ward in which St.Patricks hall resides since 2014, so have had a lot of contact with residents, the Council, Matt Rodda MP, the University and UPP (the developers) for both the 2016 planning application and the 2018 application. This has taken the form of me being on the planning committee both times this went to committee, resident meetings as well as meetings with the University. This issue has also come up when speaking to residents on numerous occasions and is something many residents understandably feel very strongly about. I am also a former student and resident of the University, so understand its needs and want to see a strong, thriving University in Reading.


The original application gained a lot of publicity regarding the demolition of the historic Pearson’s Court site. This lead to lots of local (and some national) publicity, a petition that gained over 1000 signatures and eventually the local listing of the hall and the application being pulled by the University. This was the first time that it appeared the University (or more to the point UPP, whom they have commissioned out these services to) were in a rush to get the application through with little thought on the impact it would have on the local community.
I have had many discussions with local residents on the issue of the St.Pats hall expansion, not just the Northcourt Avenue residents association (NARA) but other residents of the street as well as other nearby streets such as Ennerdale Road, Stanhope Road and Weardale Close. Nearly every one of the residents I have spoken too are not against redeveloping this site. They realise the current facilities are tired and worn, and that students deserve better, more modern facilities. They also value the benefit of a thriving University, with many residents being ex or current employees of the University.


The main issues that have come up time and again are the lack of real engagement with the local public, that the current plans are an overdevelopment and that the planned building would be over bearing on the local streets. Resident meetings and exhibitions that the University have held, have taken the form of presenting a finished proposal. Any semblance of consultation has been lost on the residents. Changes that were made to the application were very minimal and never addressed residents overall concerns. This has always been the height and over bearing nature of the proposed site, and the large increase in the number of students in a predominantly residential area. The University and UPP would have gained public approval and support long ago, if only they had agreed that the height and storeys of these buildings were lower (4 storeys as on the other side of the University in Wokingham borough has been mentioned many times by residents) and that the number of students would be lower than the high figure sought. The residents have already been patient and supportive of the University in recent years, despite an increase in noise and sometimes anti-social behaviour, as well as huge strain being placed on local parking, to which the University have never attempted to come up with a credible plan to solve or even engage the issue. It has recently taken the University well over 6 months to respond calls from residents and Councillors for a public meeting regarding the behaviour of a minority of their students and the negative local impacts they are having. Sadly this is common in the Universities poor approach to engaging with the local community.

Lastly, whilst within the law, the application coming into the Council from the UPP rather than the University so as to swerve Community Infrastructure Levy payments was incredibly disappointing. This increase in student numbers will obviously put a great strain on local infrastructure and with Council budgets being so tight, this cannot be met by the Council. This may in some cases even lead to dangerous situations for students in terms of local road safety. Northcourt Avenue were the hall is located, runs parallel to Shinfield Road where the main Whiteknights entrance is. At the moment the nearest crossing is at a busy inter section of road and traffic lights near a parade of shops. This area is already a tricky intersection of road to navigate, and the huge increase in student numbers proposed will not help this. This will also cause pinch points at particular times of the day with schools and the hospital being close to this area. If the University wished to be a real contributing member of our community, it would be offering proposals to ensure the safety of its students and working with the local community and Council on this, not running away from their responsibilities. It sadly shows again that the University currently sees itself as separate to the local Council and community, rather than being an important partner alongside them.


The character and history of Northcourt Avenue is something the residents are rightly very proud of, and this includes the history and heritage of St.Patricks hall. The local listing of Pearson’s Court confirmed the special place it has in resident’s hearts. This planning application more than any other issue I have encountered since being on the Council, has fostered the most local concern. Not because the residents do not want development or a successful University but because they seek consideration from our University partners. The residents, Councillors and the Council would like to work with the University on an equal footing to come up with a suitable proposal that enables the University to grow and thrive, that protects the heritage of the local area, ensures safety and comfort for local infrastructure, and that is not over bearing for the rest of the local community. I do not believe the current proposals achieves these things but still believe if the University wanted too, that it could.

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January events

Councillor’s advice surgery: Church Ward Councillors will be available to discuss any issues with residents on Saturday 5th January at 10.30am-12pm at The Whitley Café.

Calendar delivery: Copies of the latest edition of our popular South Reading calendar, with events from January to June will be delivered to households across the Ward by our Councillors & volunteers at the start of the month. This can be viewed under the News section of this site.

Church Ward Labour party meeting: members of the local party will be meeting to discuss issues & campaigning on Monday 28th January at 7.30pm at 103 Northcourt Avenue.

Canvassing: Councillors and activists will be out meeting residents to discuss concerns on Monday 28th January at 6pm on Northcourt Avenue and Tuesday 29th January at 5pm on Shinfield Road.

Full Council meeting: Church Ward Councillors will be in attendance at the Full Council meeting on Tuesday 22nd January at 6.30pm at the Civic Centre.

Policy Committee meeting: Ashley will be present in his role as Lead member for education on Monday 14th January at 6.30pm at the Civic Centre.

Schools Forum: Ashley will be in attendance to hear concerns from school head teachers on Thursday 17th January at 5pm at the Civic Centre.

Governors briefing: Ashley will be meeting with School Governors from across the Borough to update on education issues on Tuesday 15th January from 6pm at The Avenue School.

Reading Girls School visit: Ashley will be visiting Reading Girls School on Northumberland Avenue to speak with the Head and meet students on Thursday 17th January at 2pm.

University of Reading community meeting: Local Councillors and residents will be meeting representatives from Reading University to discuss concerns that have arisen. The meeting will take place on Tuesday 29th January at 6.30pm in the Chancellors building.


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ACE Committee to report on education standards in Reading

At this week’s ACE meeting the latest figures on Reading schools standards will be discussed. There is a mixed picture for Reading schools but a clear path of how we will improve. Reading has a very mixed school economy, with selective schools, Academies, Free schools, Council maintained, and technical colleges. As well as this, the small geographical nature of our Borough means nearly 10% of our primary age students are educated under other authorities, and nearly 30% of our Secondary age students. This is similar of students coming into the Borough.

At Key stage one for those having just started schooling, phonics is improving, Reading is secure, writing is lower than expected and Maths is at the national average. Our new education strategy will have a focus on writing for primary schools and facilitating peer working between schools to raise these outcomes. At Key stage 2 student results are increasing but not quite keeping pace with the increase in national results. This picture is still mixed as our schools do well with students exceeding expectations and our Council maintained schools do better than our Academies. Our strategy sets out closer working with the regional schools commissioner to help with this.

At Key stage 4 and 5, our schools progress scores are good and above national averages. With A levels in particular the towns outcomes are outstanding. But the picture here is also still mixed. Our disadvantaged students achievements are too low (another focus of our new strategy) and our selective schools schools are attended by just 24% of Reading pupils, but both Kendrick and Reading boys are making positive moves to increase these numbers.

The mixed nature of who runs our schools is getting more complicated every year. This is making monitoring our schools more difficult every year. But our new education strategy will take steps to prioritise and inform our education provision to help all Reading students achieve the best they can with the one chance at education they get.

The full report is available to read on the Council’s website.

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School cuts petition

At October’s Full Council meeting I put forward a motion to write to Education Secretary Damian Hinds to stop the crippling funding cuts our schools in Reading are facing. Sadly this was not supported by our Conservative colleagues. We want as many people as possible to sign our petition to get them to join us in campaigning for fair funding for our schools and our students futures. The link can be found below:

Stop school cuts petition

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