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

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Ward News

Ward News

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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St. Patrick’s Hall appeal has a date

Local Councillors and MP Matt Rodda will be backing residents in the appeal.

The week beginning 19th March 2019 has been set as the date that the University of Reading will see its appeal against the rejection of St.Patrick’s Hall heard.
Reading Borough Councils planning committee rejected the plans back in February due to it being an inappropriate development along the lines of height, mass and impact on heritage. The Council will be sticking by its original decision and hope that the University will work with residents and come back with a more appropriate plan. Councillors have been working with local residents group Northcourt Avenue Residents Association on the detailed appeal plan and Ashley will be present at the appeal to help make the case for sticking with the original rejection of the plans. 
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Councillors decide priorities after CIL consultation

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.

 

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Survey on how to spend neighbourhood levy in Church Ward

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.

CIL consultation link

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.

Consultation Doc

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Reading University to appeal St.Pats Hall planning decision

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:

https://www.inyourarea.co.uk/news/university-dealt-blow-as-st-patricks-hall-plans-are-rejected/

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.

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Labour at South Reading Churches fun day

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.

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South Reading calendar update

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.

South Reading events calendar A5 06 Jul-Dec 2018 v1.7-pr

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Official opening of Whitley Community hub

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.

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New art work comes to Rabsons Rec

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.

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Two Labour Councillors elected in Church Ward!

Election results in Church Ward for the 2018 local elections.

Church Ward will have three Labour Councillors for at least the next 2 years after Thursday’s local elections. Cllr Ashley Pearce celebrated ‘re-election after first being elected in 2014 and Ruth McEwan will be welcomed onto the Council for the first time. After a positive campaign were hundreds of residents were spoken with and thousands of leaflets delivered, the people of Church Ward responded positively to the Labour candidates with a slightly higher turnout and many Labour votes. A huge thank you to everyone that helped with the campaign and of course our voters. Councillors are here to serve their community and Ruth and Ashley plan on doing just that in the next few years.

 

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Health care in South Reading still underfunded by Tory Government

Ashley asked the following question at this weeks Council meeting regarding health care funding in South Reading:

It was reported last year that the South Reading CCG saw a rapid increase in the number of patients registered at GP surgeries, up from 129,945 to 144,066 or over 10%. With the South Reading CCG still the most underfunded in the whole of the UK, can the Lead Councillor update us with what measures are being taken to help improve health services in South Reading?

REPLY by Councillor Hoskin Lead Councillor for Health.

NHS colleagues confirm that in 2017/18 South Reading was the lowest funded Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area in the country. In 2018/19 the new Berkshire West CCG which covers Reading will be the second lowest funded CCG in the country, with Oxfordshire being the lowest. Berkshire West CCG will also be £25m below its target allocation based on national funding formula. So not only does Reading lose out on a national funding formula that doesn’t properly take into account the health deprivation challenges Reading faces but we are even funded considerably below even that.

It is my view that Reading’s patients and NHS staff are particularly let down by government underfunding. Without action to save money and cut services our local NHS planning area of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire West faced a funding shortfall of just under half a billion pounds (£495,176) by 2020. Staffing shortages are another major concern. The impacts of shambolic Brexit negotiations are now being strongly felt across the NHS. In the 12 months following the referendum nearly 10,000 European Economic Area national quit the NHS, up 22% on the previous year, whilst recruitment has plummeted. In our NHS planning area of Oxfordshire, Bucks and Berkshire West there over 1,000 nursing post vacancies.

It is a tremendous credit to the dedication and hard work of local NHS staff that local NHS services perform relatively well compared to the country as a whole. Despite the Royal Berkshire Hospital (RBH) recording its worst A&E waiting times ever, nearly a fifth of patients waited more than four hours for treatment last winter the RBH is rated “Outstanding” by the CQC and Berkshire Healthcare NHS Trust “Good”. These are tremendous achievements is such difficult circumstances and I am sure the whole council joins me in congratulating local NHS staff.

This council takes very seriously its role in working closely with the NHS in order to support local services to our residents. Working together and with the voluntary sector we are helping to keep people well and out of hospital and for the last two full years, Berkshire West has been in the top 4% in the country for emergency admissions to hospital.

 

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