Letter to the Wokingham.Today paper 23rd March 2021
I was exceptionally disappointed to see Councillor Pauline Jorgensen’s statement in the latest Wokingham Borough News. She says that “Car ownership in Wokingham Borough is the highest in the country - we can’t change that but we are doing all we can to make our road network as efficient as possible.” Councillor Jorgensen is the executive member for Highways and Transport, responsible for delivering the Council’s Climate Emergency Plan commitment to a net shift of 20% of car traffic to walking and cycling by 2030. Presumably, she also takes responsibility for delivering the Conservative government’s commitment to 50% of local trips to be made by walking and cycling by 2030.
Owning a car is a personal choice that no politician would contemplate interfering with. But it is clear that given safe and attractive alternatives, people will use their car less and many will happily make fewer car journeys. Continuing to invest huge amounts of council resources in attracting more cars to our roads is the politics of the past. Wokingham needs a better future.
Cllr Paul Fishwick (Winnersh), Lib Dem lead on Highways and Transport
Last Thursday, the 18th February 2021, Wokingham Borough Council had its Budget Council meeting. This is the meeting where the Council set the Council Tax and decide on its spending for the the next year, with a plan for the following years.
The meeting was a four hour long virtual meeting, starting at 8pm and ending just before midnight.
Our Council Tax payments do need to go up, because of the large, Covid sized hole in the Council Finances. There has been no income from Leisure centres and a much reduced amount from car parking and licensing. The central government funding to cover the costs from the pandemic have not covered everything that the Council needed to do.
In summary, the key things that came out of this meeting were:
1) Council tax will go up 4.99%
2) The Council’s borrowing will pass £3/4 Billion by the end of 2024.
3) There is NO Covid Recovery Plan
4) Locating the right information in the Council Finance reports is a complex task.
5) Wokingham Town Centre Regeneration has, so far, not contributed any money to Wokingham Borough Council.
6) The Council leadership ignore the Constitution.
These are all things that we would seek to change if we were to get control of this council in May.
Wokingham Lib Dem councillors have criticised the government over their late announcement on school closures. Lib Dem Group Leader Councillor Lindsay Ferris said “It is quite appalling that the government left it until the term had officially started to announce that schools will be returning to lockdown conditions. Communication locally has not been helped by a statement from the council, confusingly headed ‘School Re-opening in Wokingham’ – the opposite of what is happening.
“We feel great sympathy for all the school staff, who had only 12 hours’ notice that everything had changed. We also feel sympathy for parents, trying to juggle work and childcare, with no time to prepare. The decision should, and could, have been made much sooner, as many were urging. But dither and delay is what we have come to expect from this government.”
Cllr Imogen Shepherd-DuBey, Leader of Wokingham Town Council says "I am dismayed to find that residents in Wokingham received parking tickets for parking in Wokingham Borough Council's Car Parks on Boxing Day. Boxing day fell on a Saturday, in 2020 and would normally be a bank holiday. All of the other Saturdays in December were given free parking, but not the 26th December. Therefore, it has been no surprise that many residents believed that the 26th December was a bank holiday and as a Saturday, would also be a free parking day.
The official Boxing Day bank holiday was Monday 28th December, which meant that many people were given tickets on Saturday for failing to pay the full parking fees. In a disgraceful lack of communication, there was no signs or warning from Wokingham Borough Council that this would happen & there should have been posters in each car park, clearly showing what dates were free. We feel that these parking fines should be refunded, and we need to make sure that this does not happen again."
Many Councils were treating both the Saturday and the Monday as a bank holiday - Wokingham Liberal Democrats are asking why Wokingham Borough Council didn't do the same? In 2021, December 25th will fall on a Saturday - will residents be expected to pay the full parking fees on Christmas day? If the Liberal Democrats were to gain control of Wokingham Borough Council in 2021, we would make sure these important dates were respected and charges would not apply to Christmas Day or Boxing Day, no matter which day of the week they fell on.
COVID has made 2020 a tough year for everyone, and even more damage to our country is expected from further lockdowns and Brexit as we roll into 2021. During the Leave campaign, Johnson, Gove and Patel promised our European friends and neighbours that they would automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain – but this was just another Brexiter lie. EU citizens will now see their right to stay taken away at the end of June unless they have been granted ‘Settled Status’.
EU citizens pay their taxes and deserve to play a full role in our democracy, and with the local elections coming up in May, EU residents have been left confused about their rights.
Wokingham Town Council’s Liberal Democrats brought forward a motion to ensure that adequate communication is provided on who can vote. This motion was passed unanimously with support from all parties and independents, and the Town Council formally requested support from Wokingham Borough Council and John Redwood. WBC has confirmed that they will ensure EU residents are fully informed about their rights – but unfortunately John Redwood declined to offer any support, hiding behind the Electoral Registration Authority.
While we appreciate that he may not want to encourage voters who had no reason to support Brexit, we believe that democracy flourishes when everyone is encouraged to participate.