Viewpoint: Frustrations over Homes for Ukraine visa system

Email Viewpoint letters to jamesp@baylismedia.co.uk or write to Viewpoint, Maidenhead Advertiser, Newspaper House, Maidenhead, SL6 1HX.


This cold system is indifferent at best

Like so many families we have watched the war in the Ukraine with distress.

We decided we wanted to help a couple of young refugees to settle in the UK.

We joined the Homes for Ukraine scheme, found a couple of young English-speaking Ukrainians using Facebook, and began the process of visa application.

Little did we know that we were about to enter a process that treated both hosts and refugees with cold indifference.

We first completed a visa application on March 25 but had to reapply on the 27th because at that time documents had to be translated, parental consent forms signed and bank statements plus birth certificates produced in English.

An automated reply came for one applicant after two days and the other after eight.

By April 2 we were becoming concerned that we had received zero response from the Home Office, other than an automated email.

We phoned the Helpline, only to discover that most people on the Helpline are untrained, have a rudimentary knowledge of English, have no access to the Home Office computer system and have no way of communicating with the Home Office.

We started to email Theresa May, our MP.

Theresa May and her staff made valiant attempts to help, but I suspect that they are overwhelmed with similar cases.

On April 7, the Home Office sent an email to Theresa May, saying that both visa applications had been approved. None arrived.

On April 11, one of our refugees received an email saying that his application had been rejected due to lack of documentation. The Home Office hadn’t explained what was missing.

On April 12, I received written assurances from Theresa May and Lord Harrington that they had resolved the case of the missing visas, and that visas had been approved.

I then received a call from the Home Office visa centre to say that they hadn’t, but that they were working on them.

They seem to have lost some of the documents for a third time. One visa had indeed been approved on the 7th. By the end of the conversation with a nice caseworker, the second visa was approved.

Mid-morning on April 13, Theresa May’s office (not the Home Office) sent me both visas/permissions to fly. We booked flights the same day, and our two young adoptees arrived on the evening of the 14th, tired but elated.

Our conclusion is that the Homes for Ukraine visa administration system is staffed by good people but is an utter shambles.

We have found the whole experience to be deeply stressful; not because of the wonderful young Ukrainians, who have been lovely and always understanding, but because of the cold indifference of the Home Office, Priti Patel and Stephen Barclay, who are the architects of this cruel system.

There is one individual I would like to praise for her help: Donna Stimson, a local councillor.

She has repeatedly attempted to atone for the sins of her Conservative Party. Thank you, Donna.

RBWM has also acted with speed, professionalism and sympathy. Well done RBWM.

Our adoptees are young, delightful, well-mannered and intellectually brilliant. Both have informal offers of work. I am confident that they will be an asset to the UK, and a credit to the Ukraine.

To all who read this letter; think carefully about populism. If we were full EU members, our refugees would be safe and at home with us. Our anti-refugee policies, while in some cases well intentioned, treat people with cruelty. Our bureaucracy is Stalinist. There is wonder in moderation and kindness.

PAUL FOLL

Lock Avenue

Maidenhead


A large percentage of green land will be lost

To date there have been three well-attended demonstrations against the council’s proposals to develop Maidenhead Golf Course (MGC).

A fourth demonstration is planned at MGC on April 22, starting at 6.30pm.

Our leaders appear to have learned the art of turning a blind eye and deaf ear to the wishes of residents of the borough.

They appear to have their own agenda about what is needed in terms of planning and development, which is to be followed at all costs.

Council spokesmen continually trot out the same statistics regarding future development within the borough, as detailed in the BLP.

The council states that the BLP will result in the reduction of the greenbelt in the entire borough by 1 per cent, from 83 per cent to 82 per cent.

This ignores the fact that a large proportion of this greenbelt is Crown Estate land which will never be built on.

If it were excluded, the percentage loss of greenbelt due to the BLP would be far higher.

Ian Motuel, RBWM planning policy manager, claims that Maidenhead ‘doesn’t have its own greenbelt’, and that he ‘doesn’t think its right to say Maidenhead itself is losing half of its greenbelt’.

Mr Motuel, just how stupid and naive do you think the residents of Maidenhead are?

Let’s call these areas in Maidenhead that are not apparently greenbelt, ‘green spaces’ or ‘green areas’, such as our public parks and gardens.

I have done a calculation of these areas, and staggeringly, the development of MGC alone will result in the loss of some 48 per cent of Maidenhead’s green spaces/areas.

Ian Gillespie, RBWM interim policy manager, confirmed there would be a ‘green spine running through the site for wildlife'!

Where, Mr Gillespie, do you suppose the wildlife will go to?

The minute the first developers set foot on the site, all the wildlife will start to leave for quieter, more peaceful areas, such as the woodland by the M4 motorway embankment at J 8/9.

Ah no, sorry, that will also be affected, by development of the triangle site.

The council have admitted that the proposed development will result in cutting down the majority of the trees on the golf course, estimated to be at least 1,000 mature trees.

Can the council please explain how this development will possibly result in a net gain in biodiversity, as they claim it will?

There is no need to build a single house on the golf course.

The government's figures on housing need in the borough shows a reduction of 50 per cent in housing need between 2012 and 2018.

Using up-to-date figures, the number of new homes required to be built by the end of the BLP in 2033 have already been built, or have planning permission.

The driving reason behind the council using out-of-date housing numbers is solely so that they can justify the development of MGC.

Their desperation to do this is so that they can clear their huge debt of £250million.

The development of MGC would be a short-term solution to the council's self-inflicted financial problems, but it would be a permanent loss of a very valuable green, environmental asset and green lung of Maidenhead.

JOHN HUDSON

Rushington Avenue

Maidenhead


A high-rise hell is looming for the town

As it’s Easter I thought it worth pondering the great existential debate over whether Heaven and Hell do indeed exist.

Well, according to The Sunday Times and Sir Stanley Spencer, my wife and I go regularly to Heaven – it’s just about five minutes’ drive away in fact.

Parking’s difficult but there are some great restaurants and a beautiful little church by the river.

Cookham was included on The Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide.

I’ve also been to Hell.

This can be found in various parts of Maidenhead, for example the recently constructed ‘correctional facilities’ situated next to the Town Hall.

Apart from telling us about the ‘Village in Heaven’ that is Cookham, last week’s Advertiser had news that 2,600 homes, including six-storey flats which may be coming to a golf course near you.

However, someone called Ian Gillespie, interim policy manager at RBWM, assures us that there are plans for ‘a green spine’.

It sounds like a nasty medical condition to me.

And given it’ll come with nearly 8,000 more people, all I can say is good luck finding GPs to treat it.

Someone from the council called Ian Motuel said ‘all of the borough except larger towns is greenbelt, so the greenbelt doesn’t really belong to any particular settlement. Maidenhead doesn’t have it’s own greenbelt – it’s just land that happens to be between settlements’… etc etc.

“However the proforma does require areas of strategic green space… as well as the green spine…”

Can YOU understand that? To return to my theme ‘what the hell’s he talking about?’

There was also exciting news that yet another developer is planning an 80 home development on a flood zone by Ray Mill Road East.

Sounds a good place to build, doesn’t it?

But don’t worry – it’s being ‘called in’ by The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Tarmacking Drives, Watering Begonias, Housing & Communities. He sounds much too busy to me.

So couldn’t our industrious council do more to also make a complete mess of Cookham as well?

To turn it from ‘a village in heaven’ into a Maidenhead hell?

Perhaps they could build 3,000 ‘much needed’ homes all along the riverbank.

That would certainly enrich a few developers and bring in loads of lovely council tax.

An old friend of mine maintains that the thing about nice places is that they hardly ever change, whereas dumps are constantly changing.

He used to live in Woolwich and was so relieved when he finally moved to Great Missenden.

Under this council, Maidenhead seems to be constantly changing, doesn’t it?

So, there we are.

Thousands of new council tax payers, sorry ‘much needed homes’ are coming to ruin the golf course and other parts of Maidenhead.

If I could afford it, I myself would like to go straight to heaven, or Cookham, as Sir Stanley Spencer once dubbed it and tell the short-sighted self-seeking shower that currently runs RBWM to go straight to hell, and take their green spine with them.

In the meantime maybe the council could use a stupid new slogan.

What about: “Let’s get golf course
done!”

MALCOLM JAMES STRETTEN

Boulters Lane

Maidenhead


Footballer and war hero Garth Hawkins

We are in the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War.

There is a connection between the Falklands War and Maidenhead United.

In the early 1970s there was a goalkeeper on Maidenhead’s books by the name of Garth Hawkins.

He was an excellent goalkeeper and opportunities for first team football were only blocked by that excellent goalkeeper Peter Spittle.

Garth Hawkins excelled at saving penalties and saved far more than he conceded.

He was also an outstanding team man.

Garth Hawkins was a pilot in the RAF.

During the Falklands War he was in the helicopter that crashed into the sea, during a storm, when transferring troops between two ships.

Sadly, Garth Hawkins did not survive.

I was particularly close to Garth as we had both served in Singapore.

I was there during National Service in the 1950s,

Garth was there in the 1960s.

I was player/manager for Maidenhead Reserves for a couple of seasons and Garth was a tower of strength in his support.

RIP Garth Hawkins.

JOHN HENESY

Pinkneys Green


Bollards need to be cleaned more often

Drivers will have noticed that about five years ago RBWM changed all the internally lit keep left bollards to the skinny reflective ones, after the DfT authorised their use. There are two problems I have noticed with these which are:

Safety – They need cleaning more regularly as, once dirty, the reflective material loses its reflectivity and I have reported some that were so dirty headlights failed to pick them up at night.

The four bollards I reported on A308 were eventually cleaned but some others nearby were left in a dirty state.

I was informed that ‘we carry out an ad-hoc annual programme in the summer months to clean signs and non-illuminated bollard’.

It was the ‘ad-hoc’ reference that concerned me and it is during winter they get dirty quickly.

I did read that they needed at least one extra clean a year.

Cost – these bollards are supposed to last 10-12 years but after only five years many have the yellow reflective layer peeling off.

It starts at the bottom and spreads upwards and many have peeled away just below the circular sign, and some are flapping in the breeze.

There is a safety issue here but, with so many of these bollards in the borough, replacing them early is going to incur a significant early extra cost.

This is at a time when money could be spent on other urgent repairs.

I have raised this with the previous lead member and senior officers but have no confidence this issue is being dealt with, although so much is done without any committee approval, I suspect any additional costs will be absorbed within the limited funds available.

BARRY GIGGINS

Greenacre

Windsor


Juggling priorities in our outdoor spaces

As many of your readers are aware my cabinet responsibilities have changed, and I now have replaced Planning with Parks and Countryside.

I was obviously fully aware how controversial the Borough Local Plan was and whilst I did disagree with the many residents who opposed it, I respected their right to disagree and to try to change it.

I had thought with this move I would not face a similar situation, but I have quickly discovered that whilst, very different, passions do run very high about how we access the greenbelt and sites within it.

Earlier this month I spent a wonderful day with officers walking through Ockwells Park and then Battlemead Common and finished up at the Nature Centre at Braywick.

It really is amazing what this team have achieved through their ability to raise external funding and the help given by so many volunteers to plant so many new trees.

In the Advertiser on Thursday, April 7, I read a letter from the Civic Society (of which I am a member) concerning access to Battlemead Common and in the evening, I attended the AGM of Wild Maidenhead.

Both groups are passionate, but they have (as do many other groups) views which compete.

I must find a way through this and it is clear that I cannot please all of the people all of the time. I will listen carefully to everyone but in the end officers and myself will have to make difficult decisions and whilst we will try to please everyone I think it will be very difficult.

Please do let me know your views and if any groups have meetings that they would like me to attend I will be delighted to do so.

Cllr DAVID COPPINGER

Cabinet member for environmental services, parks and countryside. Maidenhead.


As inadequate as this developer contribution

The introduction of the new Borough Local Plan (BLP) changes the rules and the basis for planning decisions.

The BLP has been designed by the Conservatives to specifically allow building on portions of the greenbelt by taking swathes of land out from under the umbrella of protective legislation even when the land provided benefits to the community, young and old alike – for example, the loss of the two garden centre complexes in Windsor and Bray.

We now have a new set of ‘development permissive’ rules to apply so it should be a rather easy, if an unpleasant job, to rubber-stamp planning applications, right? Wrong.

I was horrified by the decision of Conservative members and the proposal of planning officers to permit the former greenbelt land at the Squires Garden Centre site to be developed into a cramped housing estate that is so small that it doesn’t have pavements within it.

Horrified not because the BLP removed the site from the greenbelt but, because the process followed, and the decision made, seemed to ignore the latest standards, weak as they may be, contained in our long-awaited, quasi-judicial, planning regulations. i.e. BLP.

There are 13 criteria specific to the site of the former garden centre that should have been followed yet, less than half were – we were told that the BLP is ‘just a guide’.

So apparently less important were;

  • “Effective placemaking” – cramped development, out of keeping with the neighbourhood.
  • No enhancement to existing pedestrian and cycle links
  • No bus stops and poor public and alternative transport to GP surgeries, leisure facilities, educational facilities and railway stations
  • Loss of mature trees
  • No high-quality blue and green infrastructure
  • No protection for air pollution or noise pollution
  • Unproven drainage and sewerage infrastructure

But it got worse as at least eight other RBWM planning policies were also not assiduously complied with including SP2 Climate Change, EP1 Environmental Protection, EP2 Air Pollution, EP4 Noise, IF2 Sustainable Transport, IF4 Open Space, HE1 Historic Environment as well as Principle 7.1 RBWM BWDG (2020).

Then to add insult to injury, we are told that the developer will make a contribution towards any regulations it cannot comply with and, that contribution was assessed at around £30,000.

It is really clear that the proposed developer contribution will not come close to covering the costs required by the missing items; cost of bus stops, implementation of non-car transport, pedestrian walkways and cycleways, replacement of mature trees, creation of high-quality blue and green infrastructure including biodiversity salving measures, remediation of the historic wall, mitigation of noise pollution, or keeping air pollution within health guidelines, let alone replacement community facilities.

This is likely to represent both a windfall bonus to the developer and either a financial cost to RBWM council taxpayers.

Multiply this over many, many more multi-million-pound developments proposals across RBWM, and your area, and it paints an unpleasant picture of things to come.

In my view, our council seems to be failing in its regulatory role, causing harm to residents, putting an unnecessary financial burden on council taxpayers and, allowing developers to get away with murder, defacing the Royal Borough.

We cannot wait until the next election for change.

Residents need change, and now!

Cllr WISDOM DA COSTA

WWRA, Clewer & Dedworth West


Thank you to the kind people who helped me

At around 11pm on April 1 I was walking past Weightwatchers in Shoppenhangers Road towards the town and slipped on the pavement.

The fall knocked me out and I suffered several deep lacerations to my face and hands and lost a lot of blood.

I awoke in the early hours of Saturday morning in the A&E department of Wexham Park Hospital where I was kept under observation for three days.

A number of passers-by stopped and gave assistance and called an ambulance which I’m told arrived within the hour.

I am extremely grateful to everyone who stopped to help and I’ve been told one group of 20-year-olds in particular sat on the pavement with me keeping me warm on a very cold evening.

I cannot thank these people enough, but would love to do so in person if that’s possible.

My scars are healing well and am feeling very much better now.

Thank you kind folk of Maidenhead and Wexham Park Hospital.

MICHAEL COURTNEY

Mere

Wiltshire

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