Nov 25

Reading Quality Foods [Northumberland Ave] closed after a major rat and cockroach infestation

reading-quality-foodsReading Quality Foods and Al-Muzammil Halal Meat (based within Reading Quality Foods), 73-75 Northumberland Avenue, were closed by the Council’s food and safety team on 7th November, using a Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice.

Reading Magistrates confirmed on 18th November that the Council had made the correct decision to issue the notice and close both shops.

Following a tip off from a tradesman who reported seeing 10-15 rats running throughout the store, Council officers visited the premises and found an array of serious hygiene violations. This included a widespread rat infestation throughout the premises, a substantial hole in the floor that appeared to be as a result of rat damage and a cockroach infestation at the butchers.

Food was found on display at Reading Quality Foods that had been gnawed and damaged by rats and contaminated with rat faeces. Fresh droppings were found in boxes where food was displayed. Droppings were found across the premises on the floor, on shelves, on food products and under equipment including on freezer handles.

Live cockroaches were found at the butchers on the work surfaces and living in kitchen equipment. Cockroaches were also found within one of the freezers at Reading Quality Food.

General conditions of the premises were poor and staff facilities were found in a filthy condition with no hot water. The areas outside the store were littered with large amounts of food and general waste, with disused equipment containing items encrusted with food.

Pest control reports for the premises identified that there had been a significant problem for the majority of this year, preventative proofing works were not carried out as advised and that there had been a lack of cooperation from the store owners in resolving the problems.

Both the store and the butchers shop will be closely monitored by the Council and will remain closed until they can demonstrate that they can comply with food hygiene legislation.

Cllr Paul Gittings, Reading’s Lead Member for Consumer Services, said: “This case shows the Council’s commitment to protecting consumers from rogue shop owners. We take food violations very seriously and I want to thank both the member of the public for reporting the problem and our officers for their extensive work which has seen these stores closed.

“Whilst the vast majority of food outlets are responsible and meet the high standards of food safety, here is an example of offenders who did not appear to take those responsibilities seriously. There is no excuse for these kinds of breaches of basic food hygiene. This sends out a clear message that public safety remains a priority and poor standards will not to be tolerated.”


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Nov 05

Voluntary ‘To Let’ Sign Ban Breached – Why?

estate-agent-nov-16-3No sooner have the new students settled into their new homes for the Uni year than a sign appears outside their home saying it is available To Tet … But not until next summer, in 10 months’ time!

We have had several contacts from residents in the last few days saying that the Letting Agent Voluntary ban on ‘To Let’ signs in old Redlands is being seriously breached by two Letting Agents – Cintra and Space, there are also a few Flagman’s.  There appears to be a turf war going on.  I went and looked this morning and there are some roads with 20 plus signs up e.g. De Beauvoir and Donnington but there is a fair smattering across many of the roads north of Addington and Erleigh.

This is such a pity; the whole community has appreciated the huge improvement in the quality of their environment over the last few years since we brought in the voluntary ban with the help of most reasonable and responsible Letting Agents.  House burglaries have fallen and the whole area has felt more settled and less transient.

But it seems that there are a few Letting Agents that are not prepared to act as good neighbours, seems that they could not care less about the environmental or safety consequences of these unnecessary boards.  These houses are not available for another 10 months.

The recent Redlands NAG meeting heard that there had been a spate of burglaries and student house doors being knocked-on by strangers, sometimes late at night, looking for accommodation.  Given that these student houses have only just started their tenancies and these properties will not be available again until next summer they are an unnecessary environmental blight.

We will continue to put pressure on the few Letting Agents who are breaching the voluntary ban and work with the Student Union to advise students that they can demand that these signs are removed.


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Sep 30

Innovative Scheme to Protect Parking in ‘Old Redlands’

foxhill-RoadSince Redlands first elected Labour Councillor Jan Gavin in 2011 she has made sorting out the problems of residents parking a top priority.

As Jan was joined on Reading Council, with the successive Labour victories of Tony Jones and David Absolom respectively, they have formed a formidable team in working directly with local residents to find solutions that would work for the area.

It is with some satisfaction that Redlands Labour is able to report that at the council’s Transport Management Committee in September agreement was made on a break-through for residents parking.

This followed on from a set of proposals (which covered part of the area in “old Redlands” immediately around the Royal Berkshire Hospital) “paused” in June to allow detailed plans to be drawn up to incorporate the remaining streets.

What’s new about the latest residents’ parking scheme?

Some streets were left out of the last set proposals because local residents had told us they did not want parking protection schemes. However, following representations and face to face discussions with residents, these have been included in the new plans.

The schemes include a massive expansion of residents parking areas in the old Redlands area controlled by parking permits, made up of a mixture of “residents parking only beyond this point” (Great thanks go to local resident Christine Wilkinson and her group who did a huge amount of work with councillors to bring these new ideas to Reading); some limited “shared use” parking areas, available to permit holders all the time and limited hours for non-permit holders; the introduction of “pay and display bays” in the immediate area around the RBH. The same rules will apply in the area relating to the issuing of visitors permits.

What happens next and when will protection be introduced in my street?

Following agreement at the June and September committee meetings, the detailed plans are now out to formal public consultation which ends on the 20 October, the results of which will be reported back to the next meeting of the council’s Traffic committee on 3rd November. Unless there is a major upset, the new parking arrangements could be introduced early next year.

Residents will need time to apply for their own permits and for these to be processed by the council. But as long as your vehicle is registered at the address you live in Redlands, there should not be any hitches

Detailed maps showing the schemes can be found here:

If you have any questions or views, do get in touch with your local Redlands councillors.



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Sep 17

Closure of Arthur Hill Swimming Pool

arthur hill poolIt is with sadness and a complete acknowledgment that the decision to close Arthur Hill Pool in December is a tough one for people to accept or understand.  We know people are hugely fond of Arthur Hill, people learnt to swim there, it is small, local and quite cosy.  But it is also 105 years old.

Residents will recall the many emergency closures that have occurred recently; it has been failing structurally for a number of years and we have spent several hundreds of thousands of pounds shoring it up over those years.

It will now cost more than £700,000 to repair the pool structurally, and we will still be left with a facility that was built in the early twentieth century, with a very limited lifespan and very limited capacity to modernise or to offer a wide range of swimming opportunities.

In the context of having to find another £41m in savings [reducing our operating budget from £120m to £80m] over the next 3 or 4 years, we have taken the decision that we should not spend any more money shoring up a pool that has come to the end of its life and costs well over £100,000 a year to run.  The Administration will commit to sell the site and use the proceeds to build a new modern pool in Palmer Park.  Labour Councillors in east Reading will make sure this is a promise that is kept as soon as possible.

We understand that people are rightly angry and upset by this decision, but as will be reported to Policy Committee the same evening, we have huge budget pressures in Children’s Services, where there has been an 86% increase in referrals, there are also pressures from an aging population for Adults Social Care.  These are statutory duties which we have to carry out.  As the Tory government continue to axe the money they give us to run services in Reading, the more likely it is that much loved and valued places such as Arthur Hill Pool will have to close.

Below is the Press release from RBC:

Council Commits to Arthur Hill Pool Replacement
Reading Borough Council Press Release

ARTHUR HILL swimming pool will be closed and replaced with a modern new 25-metre pool at nearby Palmer Park, under proposals being considered at a meeting of the Council’s Policy Committee later this month (September 26).

The ageing facility would shut from December 19th this year. It would be replaced in 3 to 4 years’ time with a modern new 6-lane swimming pool at Palmer Park Stadium, linked to existing leisure facilities.

Latest figures show unprecedented cuts in Government funding and increasing demands on services mean the Council needs to tackle an estimated budget gap of over £41 million by 2020. £65 million worth of savings have already been made since 2011.

The facilities at Arthur Hill are dated and expensive to run and the pool has been forced to shut a number of times for essential works. The estimated cost of bringing the building to an acceptable standard is more than £700,000, and even then it would have a limited lifespan.

At a time of severe budget constraints, the Council can no longer afford to invest in outdated facilities which would only remain operational for a limited period of time. Instead the Council is proposing to invest money – including from the sale of the Arthur Hill site – in a modern new swimming facility for east Reading.

A forced closure of the pool is also increasingly likely due to its poor condition. The proposed scheduled closure would allow regular pool users to plan for using alternative swimming facilities at Central Pool, Academy Sport, Rivermead and Meadway Sports Centre, including the four schools currently using Arthur Hill for swimming lessons who would be hosted at other pools.

Paul Gittings, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Culture and Sport, said:
“The need to replace Arthur Hill has been known for some time now. Realistically, only a huge investment will allow it to remain open and unprecedented Government cuts means we are not in a position to invest money in ageing facilities with a limited lifespan.

“Instead the plan is to reinvest money – including from the sale of the site – into a new 25-metre 6 lane pool in Palmer Park linked to existing leisure and sport facilities. People rightly expect modern and good quality sports facilities. In terms of value for money and the provision of modern sports facilities for residents, that has to be the much better option.

“We hope people appreciate the Council’s commitment to investing in a brand new replacement pool in the east of the borough, which in itself a big commitment given the severe budget constraints.

“Of course we understand that for regular users of Arthur Hill, and residents who swam there when they were young, this is a significant step. The scale of Government cuts we face mean we have very little option, and the reality is Arthur Hill is on a constrained site with limited capacity and with very little scope for improvement.

“By making this announcement now, we hope to give regular users time to plan for using the borough’s alternative facilities at Central Pool, Academy Sport, Rivermead and Meadway Sports Centre. This is preferable to having to close the pool with absolutely no notice when the current building inevitably fails.”

The full September 26th Policy Committee report can be found at:  (Item 9A)

The proposals follow the Council’s announcement in November for two new swimming pools to replace ageing and outdated facilities at Central Pool and Arthur Hill. The Council is in the early stages of a procurement exercise for the design, build and operation of the new pools. Current estimates are that the new facilities will open by 2020.

The Council’s budget position means it cannot continue to invest in Arthur Hill pending the opening of a replacement pool in Palmer Park. As well as removing the high costs of on-going repairs and maintenance estimated at over £700,000, shutting Arthur Hill in December saves £325,000 on running costs over the next three year period. In addition the Council will generate a capital receipt from the sale of the site and the value of this will be reinvested in the new swimming facilities for east Reading at Palmer Park.

As well as two new pools, the Council also announced in November that it would build a temporary demountable pool at Rivermead, adding to the existing leisure facilities on the site and to ensure continuity of provision. Alongside this, enhanced bus services to Rivermead will be in place from this autumn. This will include a new hourly bus service between Rivermead and the Town Centre from October this year (effectively an extension to the new route serving the new housing development at Kenavon Drive) comprising 11 buses per day Mon-Fri, 8 buses per day Sat, Sun & Bank Hols. The demountable pool is expected to open by January 2018 following a planned closure of Central Pool.



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Aug 10

Trees have to be felled

lime treeFor safety reasons, sadly the council has to fell some street trees in Redlands Ward during the next couple of weeks.

In Craven Road there are 2 Lime trees with extensive decay at the base and in Eldon Square there is another Lime tree with extensive decay at the base.  It is sad to see these lovely old trees go but we will ensure that they are replaced as and when funds are available.

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May 25

Council Submits Plans to Provide 28 Temporary Homes

temp homesPLANS to create 28 temporary homes for people on the council’s housing register have now been submitted.

The proposals are for modular homes on the site of the former mobile home park in Lowfield Road, Caversham.

The scheme is part of Reading Borough Council’s Homelessness Strategy 2015 – 2020 which aims to tackle the chronic shortage of temporary housing in the borough and reduce the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for homeless families.

The planning application seeks temporary permission to install 28 self-contained units along with 32 car parking spaces, bicycle sheds, a play area and communal amenity space.

Each unit will be timber clad, have UPVC windows and doors and will contain two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen-diner and a living room.

The height of the buildings, coupled with their natural appearance and complementary landscaping aims to ensure minimal impact on the surrounding environment.

Members of the Housing, Neighbourhoods and Leisure Committee agreed the principle of the project at a meeting in November 2015.

Councillor Richard Davies, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Housing, said:

“House prices in Reading are amongst the highest outside London and demand for affordable housing far outstrips supply.

“The increase in the number of families requiring emergency housing has resulted in the council having to use bed and breakfast accommodation which is unsuitable and disruptive for homeless families.

“The stock of affordable housing has been depleted for a number of reasons, including Right to Buy sales, high land prices and a declining supply of private rented accommodation available at housing benefit levels. The council’s ability to build new affordable homes has also been severely hit by recent changes in legislation.

“The Lowfield Road scheme will provide 28 decent temporary homes for people who are in urgent need of help and is just one of the many innovative ways the council is working hard to tackle the housing crisis in Reading.”

Other schemes in Reading’s Homelessness Strategy include: the creation of a wholly owned housing company called Homes for Reading which will buy properties and let out a proportion at below-market rents; the construction of at least 40 new council-built homes in Conwy Close in Tilehurst and closer co-operation with private landlords through projects such as the Rent Guarantee Scheme.


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May 24

Moving Out and Moving On – Clean Up

student clear upThis year’s student moving out campaign is due to start soon, with moving out packs being delivered week commencing 31 May by University staff, NAG members and Council Officers.  These packs contain information for students as to what they need to do in preparation for moving out.

This year there will be an extra Saturday collection for domestic waste (Grey bin) on 18 June for student properties, we will also collect limited presented side waste from these properties on this day.

In the lead up to students moving out we will collect extra presented recycling, along with small electrical items as part of our WEEE collection programme.  On the domestic waste collection (prior to the extra Saturday collection) week commencing 6 June we will also take a limited amount of presented side waste.

The Neighbourhood Officers and Student representatives will start patrolling known student areas in the coming weeks and work with those properties with any waste issues in the lead up to them moving out.

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May 03

Residents’ Parking in ‘old Redlands’ – Fact-check!

Over the bank holiday weekend Reading Green Party paid for a letter to be delivered to houses in old Redlands, one of our members spoke to a young person delivering the leaflets and was told they were getting £20 to deliver the letter and he really had no idea what is was all about.

This letter contains a lot of mis-leading and some completely wrong information, it is totally irresponsible to raise residents anxiety with these untruths. Cllr Tony Jones  has written to residents to reassure them that we will, as we always have, only act in partnership with them.

Dear Resident

You’ve told us that you don’t like political parties who try to score points off each other, so we were very disappointed with a recent Green Party leaflet which gave a hugely misleading picture regarding the Council’s current work on residents’ parking schemes in Redlands.

The letter from the Green Party candidate is headed “Council to consult on hospital parking scheme, but after the elections”. The clear intention of this headline is to suggest that some ideas are being held back from residents until after the 5 May ballot. THIS IS NOT TRUE—and the Greens know it. Our last Redlands Matters set out some “Fresh thinking on parking” and Council officers were asked at the last Transport Committee to report back on these ideas, which we have raised in public, at the next committee meeting in June: they could not have acted sooner.

Picture1As the picture to the left shows, ALL our newsletters over the past year have highlighted residents parking as the top priority for our work on the Council.

We are proud that we openly discuss, and consult on, both our ideas and those of residents Not all ideas are made into formal proposals, but if they are then all  proposals which go forward are ALWAYS subject to formal public consultation —WE DO NOT IMPOSE SCHEMES. So contrary to Green claims, there has been no “U turn on parking”.

A One Size Fits All Scheme Will Make Matters Worse

Our experience of working with local residents over the past five years has told us:

  • There is no convincing support for an area wide scheme—residents having rejected TWICE it in the past 5 years
  • An area-wide scheme would ignore local factors and pressures, while also undermining the bespoke arrangements already in place after much work with local residents. We have different schemes in different areas for good reasons—and we always acknowledge local circumstances such as width of road, off street parking and residents’ preferences.
  • We will not impose any scheme where a majority say that they do not want it.

Pay & Display

The council WILL be consulting on introducing Pay & Display around the hospital in conjunction with a Resident Parking scheme. The hours of operation would only be in the day time and Monday to Friday in streets where mostly there are already 2 hour waiting restrictions.

Saying one thing in Redlands and doing the opposite in Park ward

But most oddly in the Green Party newsletter, they repeatedly call for an area wide scheme in Redlands while seeming to be content to push forward individual street schemes in Park ward—as they have time and again and did so at the last Transport Committee.

There are no games to be played with residents parking—as a local resident living very near the hospital I know this to be true every day.

If you want a parking scheme that suits your street  – or not one at all—then Labour is the ONLY party to believe in putting residents first ahead of any “one size fits all” plan in Redlands.

Yours faithfully

Tony Jones


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Apr 17

Cllr Tony Jones Lead for Education writes:

Education: A Response to Mr Bradley Simmons At Ofsted And Mr Rob Wilson MP

Statement by Councillor Tony Jones,
Lead Member for Education,
Reading Borough CouncilWhen I was elected to the position of Lead member for Education in May 2015, I made a public undertaken not to use the organisation and performance of schools in Reading as a party political football and invited others to join with me in this approach.

Since then, discussions around education matters in the town have been held in a largely non-partisan manner.

While change does not happen “overnight”, sure and steady progress is being made in improving academic performance and attainment. At the centre of the council’s education strategy has been the establishing of a schools-led improvement partnership. There have been regular and positive meetings between council officials and Ofsted and the Regional Schools Commissioner (who has responsibility for academies).

Reading council’s now well documented and demanding target is to ensure that every school in Reading is in the top 25% in England within the next three years. It is also a matter of public record that any failure to achieve this outcome will trigger my resignation.

So it is with great regret that the past week has seemed at times to be something of a very public mugging of the council’s education strategy.

It started last Monday when, out of the blue at around mid-day, I was advised that Reading Borough Council’s press officer had been made aware that Mr Bradley Simmons (the new Regional Director for Ofsted in the South East) had issued a letter to the council through the Ofsted press office, under embargo. Within minutes I started to receive enquiries about the content of the letter from local and regional news journalists.

The fact that a letter of such significance was routed to council officers and the lead councillor through a press release is odd and a highly unusual departure from the norm.

Amongst those listed as recipients of the letter was the “Cabinet Member Schools Portfolio”. I do appreciate that Mr Simmons is relatively new to the South East Region (as on Sunday, 17 April 2016 the official government website still had him listed as working in the South West Region) so may not yet be up to speed on the details of Reading council, but the cabinet system of government in Reading was abolished a number of years ago.

In the first paragraph of Mr Simmons’ letter he expressed the view that “The low achievement of pupils entitled to free schools meals causes me particular alarm.”

He went on to comment on the “shocking fall in the GCSE performance of pupils eligible for free school meals. In 2014, 30.7% of these pupils achieved five GCSEs at grades A* to C … in 2015, only 23.8% achieved this level.” and further opines that “the future is bleak for these young people”.

Mr Simmons’ concludes by saying that the council “has a key responsibility to act as a champion for its most vulnerable pupils” and challenges the council to “demonstrate the political will necessary to raise the aspirations of your most vulnerable young pupils”. “political will

All very quotable, head-line grabbing language from this civil servant.

Indeed, many of these phrases were picked up and hurled at the council in the broadcast and print news media.

An Ofsted inspector took to a local radio station to describe Reading council’s approach to the performance of pupils entitled to free school meal as as “requiring improvement”..

Sadly, and if I am to be charitable to Mr Simmons, perhaps he has not been fully briefed on what had actually happened in Reading in the area he felt the need to speak in such forthright terms. This is the truth:

Six of the eight secondary schools to which he referred are academies and as such the responsibility in law of the Regional Schools Commissioner (yes, I know, not many people have heard of such a position) rather than the council (which most people still think “controls schools”).

Of the two non-academies, there was no decline in performance – in fact thing improved between 2014 and 2015.

Blessed Hugh Faringdon … 30% (2014) improved to 40% (2015)
Reading Girls’… 31% (no change between 2014 and 2015)

But in the academies, there was a notable decline in the following schools:

John Madejski Academy … 31% (2014) fell to 18% (2015)
Highdown School … 64% (2014) fell to 38% (2015)
Prospect … 32% (2014) fell to 29% (2015)

But sadly the letter from Mr Simmons did not include this information, just the overall totals where the comparative figure between 2014 and 2015 was quoted, but not the fact that it had been dragged down by the poor performance by some of the town’s academies – easier instead to use language which would be used to pillory the council.

Either by design or ignorance no mention was made in Mr Simmons’ letter of the council’s schools-led improvement partnership which includes closing the gap of those on FSM as a major priority, nor that here have been regular and positive meetings between council officials and Ofsted – though an Ofsted official withdrew at short and without explanation from a meeting with Reading School Governors last week. Now we know why.

Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, the MP for Reading East Mr Rob Wilson was very quick off the mark – with a statement hitting the airways ten minutes after the mid-night embargo had expired.

The MP’s comments talked of the Ofsted letter being “shocking to read … the most devastating terms I have ever seen.”

In one strong assertion regarding those entitled to Free School Meals:

“It is a devastating indictment of the Labour run Council that these disadvantaged young people’s opportunities are being destroyed and their aspirations stifled by failing schools and a failing local authority”.

Well the failing schools responsible for the decline in standards are all academies.

In fact one of these academies, the JMA, which is the worst performing of all, has a former Chief Inspector of Schools and former boss of Ofsted (and now a University Vice Chancellor) on its board of governors. But still they can’t get it right.

And they are all regulated by the Regional Schools Commissoner – not the council.

But Mr Wilson made no mention of these facts.

Instead, the MP simply prefers to talk about “this set of results must be the final straw” and a “scandal”.

He also pointed to the recent government announcement of forcing all schools to be come academies – whether they want to or not.

At the end of the week, when a more clear view can be taken of the issues raised by the letter from Mr Simmons’ I would say on the basis of this performance his Ofsted department should be put in “special measures” for dealing with such an important matter in a ill-informed, partial and sensational way.

To the MP for Reading East, I would say next time you think you have an opportunity to knock Reading Council, please do a little fact checking before trying to do us down – your spectacular own goal on this matter will not be forgotten.

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Mar 18

Friday March 18 is National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day

Labour Councillors promise to fight CSE in Reading

Labour Councillors promise to fight CSE in Reading

Friday March 18 is National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day.

Reading Council’s ruling Labour Administration is using this opportunity to highlight the issues surrounding CSE, encouraging everyone to think, spot and speak out against abuse and adopt a zero tolerance to adults developing inappropriate relationships with children or children developing inappropriate relationships with other children.

Lead Councillor for Childrens’ Service Jan Gavin said:

“We are committed to the fight against CSE and supporting victims and their families who are subjected to child sexual exploitation. But we cannot succeed without the support of local communities and residents.”

“Everyone can show their support by posting Helping Hands on social media.”

Helping Hands

CSE Day 012A personal message about your support for CSE awareness day written on your hands and then posted on Twitter or Facebook, using #HelpingHands #CSEDay16

Anyone with a concern should contact: Children’s Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub 0118 9373641


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