The planning inspectorate today decided that the University of Readings appeal against the Council’s decision to turn down the planning application for the expansion of St.Patrick’s Hall on Northcourt Avenue would be dismissed. Residents including the Northcourt Avenue residents society have worked tirelessly on this appeal to show the strength of feeling amongst locals. The plans were too large, with too many students in a building that was too big. Residents are not against development however and would welcome dialogue with the council on any future development plans.
Reading University want to hear the views of local residents regarding their place in the local community, and what they can do to help. The consultation is open until June 7th and can be found here:
Ashley recently recorded a podcast with Get Reading’s Real Reading podcast at the Civic offices. The podcast is focused on the role of a Councillor, what we do and maybe busting some myths.
The pod can be found here: https://realreadingpodcast.co.uk/how-to-listen/
Labour Councillors and activists in Church Ward will be delivering the Church Ward Spring newsletter in February to keep residents up to date with the work Councillors are doing. A copy of the newsletter can be found below:
Church Ward Councillors are backing a call from local trades people for action to stop tool theft from vans, which is an increasing problem. Theft from commercial vehicles has a huge impact on tradespeople and small businesses in Reading. Not only is there a high cost in time and money to replace tools and to fix the damage caused, it stops people being able to work, leading to loss of earnings and huge financial impacts.
A Home Office Research Study states that the average cost of theft from a commercial vehicle and contents compared to a domestic vehicle and contents is double. Despite this there is no separate crime theft from a commercial vehicle, creating a new offence of theft from a commercial vehicle could help to deter this crime. Local carpenters Micky Leng, Mark Russell and other trades people are campaigning for parliament to change the law to ensure that this carries a sentence which is proportionate to the cost which includes: replacements; repairing damage; business disruption; customer reimbursement and compensation. Micky Leng says “So many of us have had our vans broken into and it has a massive impact on our work. There needs to be a stronger deterrent so people’s work isn’t affected. I hope everyone will sign our petition and get behind the campaign”.
Church Ward Councillor Paul Woodward added “With vehicle theft on the rise, it particularly affects van drivers – whether self employed or small businesses, I fully support the campaign and I’ll be working to help it succeed.
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.
The latest version of the South Reading calendar with various events from various organisations will soon be printed and delivered to every household in Church Ward. A copy of the calendar can be downloaded above.
After the recent consultation regarding how the local element of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) would be spent in the Ward, Councillors have listened to residents and agreed on their priorities. The consultation saw nearly 100 respondents in the area vote for key improvements to the local community. The top 2 within Church Ward were to implement a zebra crossing at the top of Whitley Wood Road and to implement a 20mph zone on Northumberland Avenue by Reading Girls School. Both of these proposals will help keep our youngsters safe on their way to School and hopefully act as a natural speed calming measure. Also proposed just outside the Ward but very beneficial to residents are improvements to the Whitley Health Centre as well as the play area at Cintra Park. Despite savage cuts to the Council’s budget year on year, Church Ward Councillors are listening and implementing policies to help residents.
The Autumn edition of the Church Labour Rose will be delivered in October to all households across the Ward. A draft of the newsletter can be found below:
Every time the Council agrees for a large building project to go ahead, the developer has to pay the Council what is called Community Infrastructure Levy or CIL which is used to help the town prepare facilities Unocal areas. Some of this money is kept back for the specific area involved, the Council wants to hear your view on how this should be spent.
The above link will enable you to fill out your details and say how you would like the money to be spent in your area. All of the projects we hope would benefit the local area but pleases let us know your thoughts.
The University of Reading today advised that they will be appealing the decision of Reading Borough Councils planning committee in February to reject the plans to redevelop St.Patrick’s hall on Northcourt Avenue.
The decision at the meeting in February was unanimous in its rejection of the proposals based upon the scale of the proposals in terms of over development and student numbers, impacts on local residents in the area and historic buildings nearby. A media report from the time can be found below:
Cllr Ashley Pearce and MP Matt Rodda are meeting with the Universities new Vice Chancellor Robert Van Der Noort later this month to discuss the appeal. We will also be discussing the issue with Reading Councils planning department and residents of Northcourt Avenue.
Church Ward Councillors Ashley Pearce and Ruth McEwan joined Reading East MP Matt Rodda and Reading West candidate Rachel Eden at the South Reading Churches fun day this Saturday. The annual event organised by the different Church organisations in South Reading saw thousands come together in the sunshine to see what different organisations in South Reading have to offer. We would like to thank the efforts and energy of everyone involved, especially St.Agnes vicar Vernon Orr overseeing his last of these events before retirement.
The popular South Reading calendar citing all of the many events involving organisations in South Reading for the last 6 months of the year is nearly ready to be delivered to thousands of households again. The calendar includes events from local schools, sport clubs, libraries. Churches and many more organisations that help out the local community and organise events throughout the year. The calendar can be viewed below.
The Official opening it the new Whitley Community hub comprising the relocated library, Children’s centre, day nursery, social club and Cafe takes place this Tuesday. 3 guided tours will be taking place with the first being officially opened by Mayor of Reading Debs Edwards.
A recent article from the Whitley Pump website:
Some new art work has been erected in Rabsons Rec to help celebrate Whitley’s past. The metal structure depicts the famous Rabsons Rovers football team that used to play in the park. The artwork was from part of the deal that Tesco struck with the Council when building the distribution centre in Whitley and promised to allocate funding to art work in South Reading.