Prue Bray

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Winnersh ward

Smart M4: what’s that all about then?

April 9th, 2014 by pruebray
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The Highways Agency has announced its intention to turn the M4 into a “smart” motorway for the 31 miles between J3 and J12.  A smart motorway is one where you can drive on the hard shoulder and there are variable speed limits.  An existing example is the M42.

The cost of the project is estimated at between £600 and £850 million.  At the moment all that has been agreed is the “development” stage i.e. working up the scheme so it is ready to go.  The final decision as to whether to actually construct it will be taken later on.

At this initial stage, the Highways Agency has had a touring exhibition to tell people about what is planned, which visited Winnersh at the end of March.  The feedback from the exhibition will be used to make sure all relevant topics are covered in the formal consultation which is coming in the Autumn.

Obviously, noise barriers for the motorway are a big issue in Winnersh and Sindlesham and were the main subject I raised with Highways Agency staff and their consultants at the exhibition.  Noise studies will be done as part of the development stage of the project. I was told that if the modelling shows that the changes to the motorway will increase noise more than 3 decibels (which is detectable by the human ear) AND the level was higher than is acceptable (a figure which they could not specify but I believe to be 68 decibels), then the Highways Agency would have to do something about mitigating the noise.  Otherwise not.

If the HA is not responsible, then we are back to the current situation of Wokingham Borough Council having to fund barriers.  I have asked whether they will consider it, especially the motorway works create a window of opportunity for doing it much more cheaply.  That’s because the council wouldn’t have to pay for road closures and access etc, because the Highways Agency would already have that set up for their works.   Whether we will get anywhere, I don’t know.

I also found out that the Highways Agency will be using a road surface which should be quieter than what we have now, but won’t be the quietest possible, because they have discovered that the really quiet surfaces don’t last very long.

And finally, it seems that on the current evidence, none of the motorway bridges locally – Reading Road by the allotments, King Street Lane and Mill Lane – will have to be replaced.

If you want to find out more about this project you can sign up to get email alerts from the Highways Agency by going to http://www.highways.gov.uk/roads/road-projects/m4-junctions-3-12/

Lib Dem alternative ideas for Wokingham town centre

April 3rd, 2014 by pruebray
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On April 2nd we held a public meeting at the Methodist Church  to present our alternative ideas for regenerating Wokingham town centre.   If you couldn’t make it, you can see a version of my presentation by clicking Lib Dem Regen presentation

The audience of 80 people returned a total of 62 feedback forms, which were overwhelmingly supportive of our ideas.   A number of extra suggestions were made, which we will be following up.

You can also see a short video taken after the meeting here   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPa1sqNP0JA    Please note, the content is not controlled by the Lib Dems.

When you have had a look at our ideas, please feel free to fill in our feedback form at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MPMRCPZ

And finally – because it is the idea which seems to have caused a bit of head-scratching – here is some of what I said at the meeting about our idea for a virtual town centre:

“The high street has to catch up with online shopping or it is doomed.    And that’s why our regeneration ideas include what we are calling a “virtual town centre” hub.  

Why are we proposing what to some people seems an outlandish idea?  Well, more and more people are choosing to shop online.  And we need to get them to spend their money in Wokingham and not with the likes of Amazon, which is not only not local but also has a questionable record on paying it’s fair share of taxes.

Online shopping is growing rapidly – while high street shopping isn’t.  In January the Daily Telegraph ran an article http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/10563881/Pace-of-online-retail-revolution-shocks-leading-retailers.html

Data from the British Retail Consortium and KPMG shows that non-food online retail sales grew by 19.2pc in December, the fastest pace since March 2010.

This is despite overall retail sales growing by just 1.8pc, the slowest rate for a year. Online sales now account for 18.6pc of consumers spending, a record level, as families use their smartphones and tablets to buy products.

If our local shops aren’t online that’s potentially 20% of business they can kiss goodbye to.  And it’s only going to get worse.   

Online shopping isn’t going to replace the high street.  People like to see things and try them before they buy.  But physical shops and online retail complement each other.  It’s called multichannel retailing.  And it’s increasingly important.

So what would our virtual town centre be like?  Every business conveniently in one place.  No more faffing about with google.  You could look for what you wanted on a single website or through a single phone app, order it, if it was something like a book, or make an appointment if it was a haircut you wanted.  Then you could  go in and buy it, having looked up the location of the business on the same website. 

And we could go further and add click and collect.  You could order a book from the local bookshop and a birthday cake from a local lady who makes and sells cakes and you could pick the cake and the book up from the same place – which we thought could double as a cafe, perhaps in Peach Street, with a couple of spaces reserved in the parking bays for click and collect customers.  

And one step further, what if we could add home delivery, both items coming in a single van?

You wouldn’t have to order online, but at the least you could find out who stocks what you want so you know where to go to buy it. And all your money will be spent in the local economy, supporting local businesses.”  

 

Date for your diary

March 21st, 2014 by pruebray
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We’re holding a public meeting for everyone interested in Wokingham town regeneration:

Wednesday 2nd April,  7 pm – 9 pm, Methodist Church, Rose Street, Wokingham

At the meeting we will tell you about the Lib Dem ideas for regeneration and give you the chance to feedback what you think of them.  We are also keen to hear your ideas.

We hope as many people as possible will come along.   Hope to see you there!

Few bits and pieces

March 13th, 2014 by pruebray
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Just a few bullet points as this is a very busy week:

1  I have been running a survey on the left hand side of the page. It’s still active, but the results so far are:  30% no building at all on Elms Field, 13% just get on with it, but the clear winner so far is “it’s ok to build where Wellington House was, but not on the rest of the green space”, at 57%.

2  A few weeks ago a group of residents kindly assisted me with counting the cars in the Wokingham town centre car parks.  We compared our figures with those being used by the Council as a basis for deciding their car parks strategy.   The maximum number of cars using the car parks was 15% higher in our survey, which means that the Council may be basing its strategy on the wrong information.

3 Let me know if you haven’t received your allocation of blue bags for the rubbish collection for next year.  They should just about all be delivered by now.

4 And finally, if you are feeling community minded, the Winnersh litter pick is on Sunday 23rd March, meeting at the back of Sainsburys car park at 10.30 am.  High vis jackets, pickers and bags will be provided.

Something that ISN’T about Wokingham town centre

March 3rd, 2014 by pruebray
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Just wanted to post something short about the Lib Dems’ approach to the Wokingham Borough Council budget this year.  The Wokingham town centre regeneration creeps in towards the end – but it is such a large part of the council’s spending plans, it was kind of inevitable I had to mention it when talking about the budget.

The Conservatives voted through a 1.9% Council Tax increase.   We proposed a Council Tax freeze, based on taking the freeze grant available from the government, increasing some of the savings targets slightly (particularly the one related to contract management, as the council has about £100 million in contracts and even a small percentage saving has a huge impact), getting rid of the money paid to Conservative councillors for acting as Deputy Executive members and directors of the council-owned companies, and taking a relatively small amount from reserves.

We also proposed cutting the cost of the garden waste service from £60 a year to £45, as on the information given to us, the council are making a profit from that service.

The Conservatives attacked our proposal and voted it down.   They have even been claiming that we would bankrupt the council.  However, the amount we were proposing to take from reserves is actually less than the amount that will be left over and unspent out of this year’s budget.  And it’s much less than they have had left over at the end of each of the last 4 years before this.

The Conservatives like to accuse the Lib Dems of financial incompetence.   But it wasn’t the Lib Dems who presided over the investment in Icelandic Banks which led to the council losing the use of £5 million for 6 years (and more), without any interest being paid.  The council won’t get all the money back – although we will get most of it, eventually, to be absolutely fair.

Also at the budget meeting we made a proposal about town centre regeneration that will cost a great deal less than the £95 million which the current scheme is due to cost.  The way the finances of the current regeneration work, the Conservatives had to include £1.671 million in this year’s budget as a special item to forward fund their scheme.  That sort of forward funding would not have been necessary with our scheme.

And Lib Dem prospective parliamentary candidate Clive Jones asked about the spend so far on the regeneration, and was told it was £15.1 million.   That’s about £230 for every household in the Borough.   As a point of comparison, the 1.9% increase in the Council Tax that the Conservatives brought in this year will raise the equivalent of £23.17 for every household – or just enough to pay 1/10th of the cost SO FAR of the regeneration.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Wokingham Town Centre Regeneration: The Lib Dem Alternative Scheme

February 20th, 2014 by pruebray
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At the Wokingham Borough Council budget-setting meeting tonight, I launched the Lib Dem alternative scheme for the Wokingham town centre regeneration.  And now we want to know what you think.

Here are the ideas, in brief.  There is a lot more behind each bullet point, but I didn’t want to post 10 pages.  We are planning to organise some public meetings at which we can explain our alternative in much more detail.

Non-retail:  Wokingham Town Centre

  • No building on green space at Elms Field
  •  No new road through the Paddocks or Shute End car parks
  •  Hotel at Carnival Pool, not the corner of Denmark Street
  •  Use the brownfield site of the former Wellington House for housing
  •  Enhance facilities at Elms Field without losing trees, open space or natural feel by adding play equipment (for all ages, including e.g. adult gym and trim trail, and for disabled children), power and water supplies for events, and better pedestrian links, paid for with developer contributions already in the council’s coffers and unallocated to other leisure uses

Retail:  Borough-wide scheme

  • Provide a scheme that works for the whole borough
  • Major construction project in Peach Street to be considered later
  • Take account of trends in online shopping
  •  Use local IT expertise
  •  Find a site elsewhere for a dark store, not a supermarket – where staff pick products for online orders for delivery to customers, and with no complex highways or customer parking needs
  •  Build The Hub: an online sales solution that works for all small businesses locally
  • Include The Hub: an internet cafe, featuring click and collect service
  •  Low risk, low cost, sustainable scheme fit for the 21st century

We believe we can revitalise Wokingham without tearing out its green heart.  Now tell me what YOU think.

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