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Viewpoint: Bus gates, libraries and free school meals

Featuring discussion on the Shoppenhangers bus gate proposal, the potential closure of Boyn Grove library and criticism of opposition parties from Conservative and Lib Dem councillors. Email letters to jamesp@baylismedia.co.uk

Parents’ parking is the real problem

Yes Anthony Nicholls (Viewpoint, January 28) hairbrained, or just bonkers?

I agree wholeheartedly – what ‘rat run’ and who are those using it?

My daughter lives near Norden Farm and my wife in the block opposite Ludlow Road so the RBWM wants me to choose between Boyn Hill Road/Avenue or as Mr Nicholls suggests, Harvest Hill so are they prepared to pay for the extra cost of fuel on this extended journey?

Quite correctly, Mr Nicholls, the only problem with Shoppenhangers Road is the not only selfish, inconsiderate and dangerous parking of parents outside Desborough School who would be first to cry ‘foul’ if one of their children was injured in an accident.

Many of these parents are committing two offences, parking on the single yellow line (parking prohibited 9-9) and parking partially on the pavement.

The virtually empty GWR car park is less than 150 metres away so why are they unable to use this to collect their offspring?

If the council want to tackle something why not eradicate some of the traffic lights around roadworks and closures in the area.

On a recent weekend there were eight sets of traffic lights within one mile of the town centre, some of them entirely unnecessary.

Boyn Hill Road is closed although the obstruction is less than one third of the carriageway.

MERVYN BUSTON

East Road

Maidenhead


Only fair to have designated car lanes

The council seems to have a pre-occupation with converting the town centre and approach roads in to cycle lanes.

I have no problem with that, so long as thoroughfares outside the town are designated as car lanes.

We have no option but to use cars to move around.

Obviously cyclists would not be allowed in dedicated car lanes and have to keep at least 1.5m away from any cars, on non dedicated car lanes. Naturally they would be subject to the same distancing rule to undertaking, nor allowed to force their way to the front of a queue at traffic lights.

Damn! That’s a good idea, double gin and tonics all round.

RALPH JONES

Beenhams Heath

Shurlock Row


Bus gate is the latest ‘Ratner moment’

I'm writing with regard to the hare-brained Shoppenhangers Road bus gate scheme.

I’m really starting to wonder about the competency of both the staff and political leadership of the RBWM highways team.

This bizarre proposal is up there with the best of the last 12 months including the rainbow painted ‘themed crossings’, tinkering with the roundness of perfectly good roundabouts, narrowing of town centre roads, removal of on street parking along with road marking unnecessary cycle lanes.

One of the strangest as far as I’m concerned is the painted car/electric lead and plug symbol in the Chapel Arches area of Maidenhead High Street.

So far the RBWM have been too busy to answer my request as to the meaning of this symbol, no parking for petrol cars, does it indicate a nearby invisible electric car charging point etc etc?

How many more Ratner moments can we expect?

JOHN WALSBY

Kelsey Close

Maidenhead


Don’t let us lose ‘asset to the Royal Borough’

Here is an excerpt from the Advertiser of February 2015: “The library was opened to the public in April last year. The centre is used by families, residents with learning disabilities, and elderly residents with dementia, with the Countess meeting the users during the course of her visit.

“Cllr Eileen Quick, cabinet member for leisure and libraries, said: “I am delighted that the library has already proved so popular with the local community. It’s now a vital part of their lives and a real asset to the Royal Borough.”

If you haven’t already guessed, this is Boyn Grove library, which the council would like to close down.

What a retrograde step that would be, when we consider how much we have depended on books during three lockdowns.

When the council is claiming to work towards a greener future, it makes no sense to encourage the use of cars by closing a library that can be accessed on foot.

Pre-COVID, Boyn Grove library was used by parents who brought their children after school, groups meeting to take part in crafts and other activities, and residents who need help to deal with their dementia.

It serves as a community hub.

If we have learnt anything from this pandemic, it is how vital community spirit is, and working together.

We have managed to keep connected despite social distancing.

I have heard of a grandmother enjoying a walk with her granddaughter to the library, older residents delighted to have access to books, others eager to avoid the building work in the town and glad to be able to have access to library resources within walking distance.

For those of you who have not seen the ingenious system of getting books to customers devised by the wonderful Maidenhead library staff during lockdown when Boyn Grove was temporariy closed, I’ll describe it here : You chose a slot to collect a reserved book. When the book became available, a friendly member of staff rang the evening before.

At the appointed time, you arrived at the car park to find a car with balloons attached, and were handed a crisp paper bag by Eve. Inside it was comfort-in-isolation in the form of a book. (Hello, Eve, if you’re still there, I hope to see you again).

The crowning argument to close down Boyn Grove library is that it is small.

To me, this smacks of absurdity. If you value education and literacy, if you value a community resource, or if you simply think small is beautiful, please sign the petition.

The link for the petition is: https://petitions.rbwm.gov.uk/saveboyngrove/

SYLVIE HOWSE

Maidenhead


Choose wisely, choose Boyn Grove library

Last week RBWM announced its intention to consult on the closure of Boyn Grove Library.

This revelation was buried undemocratically on page 97 of their report.

I would like to thank the 250+ residents and Councillors who immediately signed up to the petition (at petitions.rbwm.gov.uk/
saveboyngrove/).

This rapid support played a crucial role in the discussion at cabinet on Thursday, and I did my best to represent this strength of feeling at the meeting when invited to speak.

To their credit, Councillors Johnson and Rayner were clearly open to listening to residents’ feedback, so please continue to share this petition with your neighbours and friends, and also participate in the upcoming RBWM consultation.

Every voice will certainly count.

Boyn Grove library was only opened in 2015 by the Countess of Wessex and was immediately well loved and used by everyone.

It’s in walkable distance of multiple schools, with excellent parking and accessibility.

It’s used by residents with dementia.

It has high levels of book borrowing, with an excellent selection of new books, and holds special events that attract families.

For many of us, our main contact with the council and its services is through the library. The staff are astonishing in their dedication and knowledge.

They are, in truth, ambassadors for RBWM – and should be valued by the council every bit as much as they are by residents.

I put it to Cllr Johnson that there is always a choice to be made, and that even in the current financial position, RBWM certainly does have the money needed to protect library services in full.

It’s just a question of spending priorities.

The consultation results will likely surprise no-one, and the cost should instead be invested in libraries and librarians surely?

If the council cannot afford libraries, then how is it that we can afford the luxury of having two managing directors (one for the council, and one for its property company)?

And if we can’t afford libraries, then how is that we can afford the luxury of paying councillors £224,000 for the ‘special responsibility’ of chairing Zoom meetings?

This is an honour, and a privilege isn’t it? I would do it for free to save libraries.

These two measures alone would likely find the necessary savings – indeed it would probably cover the costs of saving Datchet, Sunningdale and Old Windsor libraries from closure too.

Politicians will often refer to ‘difficult decisions’. meaning the expectation of sacrifices from others.

I concluded my speech by asking councillors bluntly – do they want to be the kind of councillors that save their luxuries, or the kind of councillors that save our libraries?

I trust they will choose wisely.

ANDREW HILL

Rutland Gate

Maidenhead


Making cuts instead of the most of assets

Following years of financial mismanagement at the council, which left us with no reserves to meet the challenge of COVID, the Borough has entered a spiral of decline.

Each year the council is having to make cut after cut after cut just to stave off bankruptcy.

The council’s medium term financial plan demonstrates this with cuts this year, next year and the year after and beyond

We need a change in approach to avoid this slice, slice, slice going on for ever until there is no council there.

My fear is that the Conservatives are following their ideology of a ‘small council’, and doing what they can to remove the council from the community.

As Lib Dems we have proposed a new direction to end this spiral of decline and look to a future of reinvesting in our communities.

Firstly research over the last few years has demonstrated that in-sourcing actually both saves money and improves services – now this wasn’t necessarily true 10, 20 or 30 years ago – but now local government is as efficient as business – and we don’t have to give council tax money to shareholders.

Secondly we need to be turning our assets into revenue raising assets, like social housing and renewable energy, rather than following the council’s approach of just selling them off cheap.

Thirdly we are just giving away money to developers by not charging CIL in Maidenhead Town Centre where a huge amount of development is going on.

One report I saw said that with the Nicholsons development we have sacrificed something like £16 million.

Lastly, we should be looking at providing services for other councils and organisations, at a profit – something we used to do.

Without an alternative strategy the council is going to continue a spiral of decline which will lead to effective bankruptcy – but sadly the Conservatives refuse to listen.

Cllr SIMON WERNER

Leader of the opposition at the Royal Borough


From entertainment to food for thought

Norden Farm has supported the community during this pandemic from live-streaming events to providing take-away food.

It’s only right that we support them during a period of lockdown.

We have just lost a year of our lives, a year of connections with family and friends, a year of terrible losses.

The arts have helped us during the pandemic and will be even more important in years to come for the mental health of all.

The unique atmosphere at Norden Farm – its welcome for all, its provision of activities for the whole community – has taken time to build up.

It’s too important an asset for the town to throw away for lack of support from our Council in this emergency.

NORMA HERDSON

Former RBWM Councillor, former chair Maidenhead Arts Council


Planning decisions must be defensible

I am aware that there is frequent criticism of planning decisions made by the local planning authority and the development management panel.

I therefore believe it would be beneficial to summarise the decision making process and the responsibilities of the panel in making ‘defensible planning decisions’.

The current Royal Borough development management panel consists of nine councillors from wards across the borough and all political groups.

Whilst sitting as a member of the panel the councillors are representing the local planning authority NOT their ward or political group.

Approximately 90 per cent of planning applications are determined by planning officers under delegated powers, leaving the Panel to determine the remainder which are generally major or contentious applications.

The panel members and public have access to the council’s planning portal where all documents relating to an application are stored and available for viewing.

One week before the planning meeting panel members will receive a comprehensive report from the qualified planning officer, giving a detailed summary of the proposals and comments made by statutory consultees eg: ecology, environmental, highways, parish councils, the Environment Agency, supporters and objectors.

Where appropriate panel members will carry out a site visit.

The planning officer’s report will make a recommendation to approve or refuse the application with due consideration to local and national planning policy, neighbourhood development plans, consultees and the evidence available.

Panel members can accept the recommendation of the planning officer or explain their rebalancing of the ‘material considerations’ if they don’t.

Registered speakers will be able to address the panel at the planning meeting.

Members of the panel will debate the application and will have the opportunity to ask planning officers questions.

A legal advisor is present to clarify any legal matters.

Any decision made by the panel will take all of the aforementioned into account and MUST be based on ‘material planning considerations’.

Applications cannot be refused just because the proposals are unpopular or disliked, these are NOT valid planning reasons and not just cause to refuse an application.

The NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) paragraph 11 states: “Plans and decisions should apply a presumption in favour of sustainable development.”

For decision taking this means: approving development proposals that accord with an up-to-date plan without delay or where there are no relevant development plan policies or the policies are out of date, granting permission unless the application of policies in this framework that protect areas or assets of particular importance provides clear reason for refusing the development proposed or any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this framework as a whole.

Any decision made by the panel must be reasonable and based on ‘material planning considerations’ balancing the benefits of the proposals versus the harm – this is called the planning balance.

If a planning application is refused, the decision may be appealed by the applicant to the Planning Inspectorate.

If an inspector subsequently determines the decision was wrong they will allow the appeal and grant planning approval.

If they deem the decision of the panel was unreasonable, costs may be awarded against the council.

It is paramount that planning decisions are reasonable, justifiable and most crucially, they are defensible.

Cllr PHIL HASELER

Chairman of The Royal Borough Development Management Panel


Listen to someone who received free meals

A vital imperative and concern for the council is the ongoing education and learning for all children.

The necessity of lockdown measures has required a return to online learning and teaching for the majority of children.

Over the last few weeks, I have been attending online lessons and meetings with teachers from our schools across the Royal Borough.

I have been super impressed with the agility and flexibility of all our schools to roll with the situation and the remarkable professionalism, dedication and commitment of all teachers and staff.

A massive thank you.

We as a local authority will continue to support all schools with planning, delivery and future risk assessments.

I will also be writing to the Education Secretary with a list of requests to better enable future planning and delivery.

On vulnerable children, every child remains a critical priority and our excellent education officers have worked with every school to ensure every child is accounted for.

This includes free school meals and using the winter support scheme.

Thus, I want to correct some unacceptable misinformation presented in a Liberal Democrat leaflet. It claims it is ‘campaigning to end child hunger’ and ‘1,351 children in the borough need our help’. There is then a link to a politically charged petition.

These claims are deeply misleading and I wish to set the record straight.

As a Conservative administration and as the responsible cabinet member, we have deliberately implemented a continuation of our policy to help all vulnerable children.

In RBWM, schools and their catering companies have worked hard to respond to the national lockdown by providing food or vouchers for families who benefit from free school meals.

We as a council have provided an option for free school meal vouchers since the start of this lockdown and continue to provide it for schools who need it.

We have planned to ensure that free school meal support continues in the February half term through the provision of vouchers.

This is further to my original support for free school meals and the council’s decision to underwrite any vouchers given by schools prior to the Government change of policy; a policy I campaigned to change.

Rather than sign some political and pointless petition, I urge anyone concerned to please contact me on cllr.carroll@rbwm.
gov.uk

Children must never become a political football.

As someone who used to receive free school meals for a portion of my childhood and having discussed with my parents, I can assure this political game playing is offensive and terribly ill-judged.

The decision to send such a leaflet is beyond egregious.

Not only is most of its content incorrect, hyperbolic and vacuous, but it conveys a complete lack of compassion and ethics.

Ed Davey and his colleagues have got this horribly wrong and sadly will have to account for these crass and cack-handed decisions.

We have sadly seen the local opposition employ these tactics before as I know all too well personally.

This is the time for unity regardless of political temptation and desire. I wish to thank some of the independent group with whom I continue to work constructively with.

Every single bit of our focus should be directed on getting through this pandemic and coming together. Politics can wait.

Cllr STUART CARROLL

Lead member adult social care, children’s services, health and mental health


Offering hope and prayers for the future

There was a period last summer when ‘the new normal’ came into being and it was possible, within limits, to socialise with care.

Some of the best times were getting together with family and friends or neighbours for a good catch up and a meal together, sometimes outside in a back garden or in a bar or restaurant.

Those happy memories are really something to treasure as we work our way through the current difficulties.

Prior to the pandemic, there was a well-established system of providing meals for local people in our community, including the homeless.

Not only did these deliver excellent nourishment, but they also enabled the socialising that is so important for our mental well-being.

Of course, the meals had to stop when coronavirus raised its head and it is doubtful whether any of them will be able to re-start for some time.

For our part, despite some initial hopes that things might be OK, we had to cancel the annual Christmas Day Lunch at SportsAble in Maidenhead for people who would otherwise have been alone and we decided to deliver Christmas hampers instead.

We know the hampers were well received and my sincere thanks go to the team of wonderful people who made this happen and the organisations that supported us financially and in other ways including The Louis Baylis Trust (Maidenhead Advertiser) along with Copas Traditional Turkeys, The Cherry Pickers (formerly Kaffirs) of Cookham Dean, Waitrose Maidenhead Community Matters, The Lions Club of Maidenhead, The Rotary Club of Maidenhead Thames and last, but not least, The Fabulous Shirtlifters.

We thank them all very warmly for their vital support and wish them well.

It is hard to know when we might get back to the kind of normality that we used to take for granted, or when the social gatherings for those in our community that need help and support may be reinstated.

However the various vaccines give great cause for hope and we keep our fingers crossed for steady improvement and an exit from the restrictions that prevent us from meeting up in the ways we used to do.

Let’s hope and pray that we won't have too long to wait.

TONY WEEKS

On behalf of the Christmas Lunch Team at Churches Together in Maidenhead


Apt Holocaust tribute for our local hero

Congratulations to Great Western Railway for its Holocaust Memorial Day display at the statue of Sir Nicholas Winton at Maidenhead Station.

Sir Nicholas was indeed a ‘light in the darkness’ for the 669 children he rescued from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.

The display of candles on and around his statue was a poignant reminder not only of the horrors of the Holocaust but of how much can be achieved by anybody with compassion and determination.

Maidenhead is proud to call him a local hero.

RICHARD POAD

Maidenhead Heritage Centre


Vaccination row as a distraction technique

The disgraceful posturing over coronavirus vaccine supply simply confirms what a bullying, bureaucratic, bungling, inept bunch of charlatans that lead the EU.

Having made a mess of its vaccine ordering programme, it now seeks to impose legal measures to browbeat the pharmaceutical companies, to cover up its gross ineptitude, and to attempt to deflect blame.

I am thankful that Britain is free of the domineering interventionist interference of this undemocratic Tower of Babel.

Any remaining Brexit remoaners might just want to pop over to France for their vaccine jabs.

SAL PINTO

Pinkneys Road

Pinkneys Green

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