Conservative-led West Berkshire Council has been condemned for keeping decision-making about the future of where to build homes in the district behind closed doors.
Victoria Groulef, Labour's candidate for Parliament in Reading West, has said it is "deeply disappointing" that Conservative Council bosses are excluding the public from these important meetings.
"Any elected council paid for by the taxpayers must be open and accountable. For months I have been calling for transparency about who is on this group and what they are doing. All of my requests are being ignored - and this is setting many people's alarm bells ringing about why council bosses want the group to meet in secret."
Known as the 'Planning Policy Task Group', the group was formed by the Conservative administration to draw up the document that will recommend where new homes could be built in the area. Council chiefs say they are going to consider a final document from this group at a full Council meeting next year, which Victoria Groulef fears will blind-side the public and road-block effective, necessary scrutiny.
"At a time of enormous public distrust in politics, it is ridiculous that residents are being kept in the dark about such crucial matters", Victoria said. "Every taxpayer has a right to know how and why proposals are being made. I'm appalled to see the public stripped of this right to sit in the public gallery. I call on Council bosses to mend their ways and let proper scrutiny of their activities on the key issue of where new houses could be built."
Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Reading West, Victoria Groulef, has raised serious concerns at delays experienced by local disabled people who are trying to access vital help.
Disabled adults in Reading West constituency are currently being reassessed to come off disability living allowance and onto the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) but the assessment process and appeals have been hit by delays.
According to the DWP’s own figures, almost 350,000 people applied for PIP in its first year of operation, but under 84,000 received a decision about whether they qualified for PIP. In Reading, 4,500 working age disabled people receiving Disability Living Allowance.
Victoria Groulef has been contacted by people who are still waiting for their payments to start.
Victoria said: “The delays caused are causing real anxiety and in many cases serious hardship. I spoke to a lady in her 60’s. She is a fulltime carer for her husband who has a degenerative illness. Her husband applied for personal independence payment. Both worked for years and paid into the system.
“They waited just to get an assessment and then when they did her husband was refused PIP. The couple won the case at tribunal but are now still waiting for support.
“Another person waited many months for an assessment. As her award runs for only three years even once it goes into payment she faces having to go through the whole process again very soon afterwards. These shocking local experiences of long delays are unacceptable.
“I am also aware that many parents with disabled children are experiencing significant delays in getting Disability Living Allowance. Many have been in touch to say they’ve had to wait up to six months rather than the suggested 6 weeks. We need the Government to step in now and take action to stop more disabled people and their families from experiencing the stress and hardship caused by this new system.”
Victoria Groulef has given her support to the RSPB's 'vote for Bob' campaign to highlight the importance of nature and wildlife.
Victoria has become one of the first politicians in Reading to back the new campaign by wildlife charity the RSPB to help put nature at the heart of the political agenda. The RSPB is asking people to vote for Bob, a red squirrel who is the mascot of the new campaign.
The 'Vote for Bob' campaign seeks to raise the issue of disappearing wildlife; for instance since 1977 house sparrow populations have declined by 64% and the number of hedgehogs has halved. It also highlights the decline in natural habitats, the majority of flower filled meadowland has been lost, taking bees and many insects with it.
MPs are being asked to sign up and support the campaign, signalling that they understand the importance of nature to our lives and that they will work to protect the natural environment.
Victoria said: "Nature is vital to all of us. I have already campaigned on a number of issues to protect our local open spaces and woodland. I know that in a fast developing place like Reading it is really important we get the balance right about growth and protecting our natural world.
"I am pleased to say I will be voting for Bob and I hope others across Reading will get involved too."
The campaign website is www.voteforbob.co.uk
Victoria Groulef is calling on local Councils and the Environment Agency to ensure that appropriate work has been undertaken on the Holy Brook to prevent a repeat of flooding experienced earlier this year.
Local residents have contacted Victoria to raise concerns that there are a number of fallen trees in the Holy Brook and that in a number of places debris is building up.
Residents are worried that any debris build up could increase the risk of flooding, particularly if we experience heavy rainfall.
Victoria said: "I have written to Reading Borough Council, West Berkshire Council and the Environment Agency asking them to look into the matter.
"Many local people, such as Chris White (pictured) have been in touch to raise their concerns, understandably they want assurances that remedial and maintenance work has been undertaken on the Holy Brook.
"Residents are very concerned that they will experience flooding again and with winter around the corner work must be undertaken a matter of urgency."
Following concerns about road safety Victoria Groulef and the Labour team in Battle ward are calling on Tesco to stop delivering when children are walking to and from school.
Local parents say that Tesco Express on the Oxford Road often has lorries delivering and backing out onto the main road at the times children are walking to school and are using the crossing, raising serious concerns about safety.
Victoria and Councillor Sarah Hacker met with local parents and are now calling on Tesco to take concerns seriously.
Victoria said: “Lorries are arriving and leaving the Tesco Express forecourt at the same time children and parents are walking to Oxford Road Community School, which is directly opposite the store. Many parents have been in touch to say how concerned they are about safety and that’s why I am calling on Tesco to do the right thing and avoid deliveries at school pick up and drop off times.”
Councillor Sarah Hacker said: “Battle councillors fought hard against this planning application, and Reading Borough Council refused it because of concerns about road safety. Despite this the government inspector saw fit to overturn this judgement. Sadly it appears we are being proved right. We will do anything in our power to ensure children are kept safe on their way to school."
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