Hustings update

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LOCAL NEWS:

Last week saw parliamentary candidates in our constituency taking part in the Hungerford Question Time, always an important staging post in election campaigning.

The usual suspects were on the panel, with Paul from the Green Party replacing UKIP Katherine who was indisposed. Proceedings were well chaired by Greg Furr.

Questions ranged from rail electrification (supported by all parties) , to business rates (Lib Dems launched wide ranging review last week), to plans for the NHS (lots of vague promises, Lib Dems only party with a costed plan to provide £8bn a year extra funding for NHS by 2020).

There will be further opportunities to quiz your representatives on:

  • Sun 19th April – 19:00             Streatley Hustings
    The Morrell Room, Church Lane, RG8 9HT
  • Weds 22nd April – 17:45         Newbury Political Debate, hosted by Buzz Magazine
    St Bart’s School, Andover Rd, RG14 6JP
  • Thurs 23rd April – 07:45         Economy, Taxation & Business hosted by Grant Thornton
    I will be debating with Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, at a Thames Valley hustings  in Reading
    Madejski Stadium, Junction 11, M4, Reading RG2 0FL

If you are able to come along to any of these debates, I look forward to meeting you. Do come and say hello at the end of the event.

Dan Rogerson, DEFRA Minister, visits West Berks

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Dan Rogerson being interviewed by Judith Bunting, Parliamentary Candidate, Newbury and West Berks Lib Dems.

DEFRA Minister, Dan Rogerson, came to Hamstead Marshall, recently, to meet West Berkshire residents at the Elm Farm Organic Research Centre.

Judith taxed the Minister on rural broadband, Thames Water, council housing and her campaign to get proper funding to maintain lively, vibrant rural communities.

“Urban areas receive £153.47 per person more than rural areas, each year, via the current local government finance settlement. This is unreasonable,” Judith Bunting said.  “That much money could add up to a lot of additional services for local residents.”

As MP for North Cornwall Dan has a lot of sympathy for the rural funding campaign.

Save our Footpaths

As Minister for rural affairs, Dan has been an enthusiastic supporter of ramblers, footpaths and walking, overseeing the investment of £5.3m to speed the opening of the full English coastal path.  The audience at the event included members of the local Ramblers Association and the Mid and West Berks Local Access Forum, who pressed Dan on the recent withdrawal of govt funding for the Environmental Stewardship Scheme.

This withdrawal sadly threatens the future of 11 popular routes in West Berkshire, including paths at Little Hidden Farm and the Eddington Estate, near Hungerford, and circular walks at Earl’s Court Farm, near Lambourn. Judith encouraged the groups to keep lobbying West Berks Councils to work with our local landowners to encourage them to keep the routes open.

“Walking is good for health and community, she said, “Not to mention the benefits walkers bring to the village economy, in the for of pubs and restaurants!”

Good news followed, as Nic Lampkin, Director of Elm Farm Organic Research Station, stood up and confirmed that the circular walk at Elm Farm, will remain open after the Environmental Stewardship scheme comes to an end. (See: https://judithbunting.co.uk/2014/11/17/good-news-for-ramblers/.)

 

Discussion during the evening also covered actions against flooding this winter, including cracked sewers along the Lamborn and Pang Valleys, in Newbury Centre, Woolhampton and East Ilsley, and how we can make Thames Water act to remedy the problem. Dan has promised to help me get access to the highest levels of the Environment Agency, to fund out what they are doing to ensure Thames Water live up to their commitments.

We also covered the problems suffered in West Berkshire villages with rural broadband; and the need to renew the council house building scheme in West Berkshire and across the country – an idea which received warm applause around the room.

Rural Broadband: Am I missing something?

Because of an enquiry from a constituent, I have gone back, this morning, to coverage maps for the Superfast Berkshire project, which detail which areas will receive fibre optic services by the end of the project in 2016.

They are truly extraordinary – and not in a good way. I showed them to our MP on the DCMS Select Committee (John Leech) and even he was astonished to see the appalling provision that’s been negotiated on behalf of West Berks, compared to the coverage for the East.

And remember, the Lead Authority for the Superfast Berkshire project was the loveable Tory team on West Berkshire Council. Richard Benyon was along side them, sticking up for the needs of his rural residents.

Superfast Berkshire - Fibre Coverage by Phase (Superfast Berkshire (http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34509&p=0))

Superfast Berkshire – Fibre Coverage by Phase
(http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34509&p=0)

EXTRAORDINARY EXAMPLE: If you look at the map close-up, below, you’ll see, under the green and the red shading, that Yattendon is well covered. Good for Yattendon, no problem with that at all, in itself. But while Yattendon village is covered twice and the greenfields around are promised superfast coverage by December of this year, Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys are not expected to receive fibre optic superfast coverage by the end of 2014, the end of 2015 or the end of 2016. Perhaps not even, at all.

Large numbers of people live and work in Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys. Lots of children need to do homework online. What did they ever do to offend West Berkshire Council? What were their Councillors – those people elected to represent their interests – doing while this so-called negotiation was going on?

Looking at the project completion map (the purple one, below), even once the additional funding of the Rural Communities Broadband fund, so proudly trumpeted and the ‘planned’ infill satellite and wifi coverage, only 25-50% of households in Hermitage will receive coverage >2Mb.

Superfast Coverage at Project Completion (Superfast Coverage at Project Completion (http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34510&p=0))

Superfast Coverage at Project Completion
(http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34510&p=0)

I could go on further about East Ilsley, East Garston and Compton, with a population of ~2,000, where 0-25% superfast coverage is the best that is promised by the end of the project. Scandalous.

Looking at these maps, one would assume that Reading was leading the Superfast Berkshire negotiations, that Windsor and Maidenhead must have held the floor, that Slough drove proceedings, but no – no, West Berkshire Council was the lead authority on the Superfast Berkshire Project. Richard Benyon proclaimed more than once, how wonderfully the negotiations were going.

If this is the best result our MP can get from good negotiations, lord preserve us from his bad ones. There are times, in life and in politics, when being nice is simply not enough.

For more information about the Superfast Broadband project, see their own site: http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34509&p=0

Follow me on Twitter, here: https://twitter.com/JudithBuntingLD

See what I’m up to on Facebook, here: www.facebook.com/JudithBuntingforNewbury

Decent Homes for All

A major concern of Lib Dems here in West Berkshire and nationally is that too often, planners, developers and architects concentrate on the physical fabric of what is built rather than the social context in which housing needs to be placed.

This can create ghettoised areas in our towns, where young are separated from old; rich are separated from poor; and in which a post code lottery discriminates against people in terms of both the education and jobs markets.

HOUSING ISSUES IN WEST BERKS:

There are over 300  people ‘sofa surfing’ in West Berks District, while sites which could take hundreds of smaller homes, ideal for single people or couples, lie closed and unused. 

Meanwhile, developers have been granted permission to build huge estates on the green-field site at  Sandleford, to the south of Newbury. Any sensible person looking at those plans and the local context can see we have insufficient schooling, doctors surgeries, shops houses and roads to serve the number of families that will be coming into the area.

At the same time, we have excellent brownfield sites, perfectly placed for development that stand unused. Some are former industrial areas close to existing housing and accompanying infrastructure (not talking about the Stirling site, here, that’s a well-known, particular case). Some are old housing units, that just need bulldozing to make space for new development – such as Taceham House (pictured), in Thatcham, which has been empty, now, for about 6 years. Local builders need the work, young families need homes. What’s the problem? Why do we have social housing blocks standing unused?

Others brownfield sites are blocks right near the town centre, where, until recently, government offices were housed, such as Elizabeth and Avonbank blocks in West Street. These two were sold to developers in February this year. I look forward to seeing what proposals are put forward (http://www.newburytoday.co.uk/2014/mystery-developer-pays-1-87m-for-west-street-sites). One has to wonder why the Council did not develop the buildings themselves or at least retain a part share instead of selling off our family silver, once again, to developers – but that’s not what this post is about.

BEYOND WEST BERKSHIRE:

In the past, ghettoisation was forced by ‘slum’ clearance in which large areas of densely packed ‘courts’ and ‘terraces’ were placed by new build, often concrete, solutions. In some cases these solutions, built on once low-value land, have become hugely valuable. Today, areas with low land values are often the only places in which reasonable quantities of social or other low-priced housing can be afforded. Areas with high land values attract private development of property types which are most attractive to developers. Or existing landlords simply increase rents dramatically and clear social housing tenants from their homes.

Untrammelled  market forces, create ghettos. Better to retain mixed communities and accept the responsibility that comes with being a social housing landlord. The consequent ghettoisation creates a wide range of social and economic problems. Families have been and are forced apart; social mobility is reduced; the concentration of people with problems in some areas creates problem areas in which stigmatised individuals suffer from poor physical and mental health and poor education and employment prospects within stigmatised communities.

Local authorities should provide clear and transparent details of how they calculate housing needs and local people must be fully involved in making choices as to how those needs will be met. For the good of the community they serve, Councils must pay attention to local infrastructure and services, and to creating mixed communities.

The policies I support, strengthen local decision making by rebalancing the relationship between communities, local government, the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State. Using brownfield, rather than greenfield sites, makes far the best use of existing facilities, such as shops, roads, and water works. Andrew Haggar, Thames Water wastewater engineer for West Berkshire, told me recently that brownfield sites often come with existing water pipes and drainage, and when this is re-opened and brought back into play, it can improve local drainage for all.

DECENT HOMES FOR ALL: For more information about Lib Dem Housing Policies, please see the full report, below, Decent Homes for All: http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/2012/attachments/original/1390841965/104_-_Decent_Homes_for_All.pdf?1390841965

West Berkshire Broadband

At a recent event in the centre of Newbury, I heard yet more stories from people living and working outside of Newbury and Thatcham about the poor broadband speeds. Two rural business leaders reported broadband speeds below 2Mb. Particularly worrying, as they are based in Elcot and Winterbourne, villages that are not included in the current Superfast Broadband plans, at all.

This is shocking. If I am elected to Westminster, for the sake of all businesses and residents across West Berks, I will campaign vigorously for better broadband services in and across our district.

People should be able to run businesses from home, whether you’re a publisher sending multiple picture files to a printer on the far side of the world or a hotel that would like to offer its guests more than 2Mb.

In West Berks we have many sophisticated businesses in our villages: From hi-tech science in East Garston, to Engineering Consultancy in Hampstead Norreys, to PR and marketing in East Ilsely. They all need broadband that’s as fast and reliable as we have in our towns.

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Faster broadband is important for everyone in our communities – whether it’s children doing homework, day to day banking, or grannies keen to stay in touch with their families.

Earlier this year, I visited John Leech, our MP representative on the DCMS select committee. He was astounded at the bad deal Gordon Lundie and Richard Benyon had negotiated for West Berkshire from the Superfast Berkshire consortium. Leaving rural areas so far behind nearby towns in terms of the service the receive and when they are likely to receive it, is very shortsighted.

You can read the speech I gave to Conference about the importance of broadband infrastructure for all our communities, here: http://westberkslibdems.org.uk/en/article/2014/853249/judith-bunting-s-speech-to-conference-on-the-critical-importance-of-broadband-services-to-rural-areas

Revitalising the Rural Economy

Judith Bunting summating for the debate on Revitalising the Rural Economy. Passed unanimously. Brighton Lib Dem Conference, March 2013

 

Judith Bunting was part of the team proposing the motion Revitalising the Rural Economy at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, Brighton 2013.

Summating for the motion, Judith said: 20% of the UK population lives in 80% of the country – what does that tell me? It tells me that those people have a long way to travel to do anything – especially to go to school. We need good roads, fine public transport and modern infrastructure like mobile phone masts and broadband to be supported in rural areas by Government and by every Council that takes care of a rural constituency.

Rural communities can and should be thriving and vibrant places but in reality, that’s not always the case. Our rural communities are facing many issues from unemployment to high housing and energy prices, not to mention the dreadful conditions our farmers are fighting as I write.

The motion calls for:

  • Investment in rural high-speed broadband
  • Fair trade for British farmers through a more transparent market and further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy
  • Investment in ‘joined up’ rural transport schemes to improve access and ensure ease of use.
David Heath, the coalition government’s Secretary of State for the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs, spoke strongly in favour of the motion, as did members from constituencies as far afield as Cornwall, Northumbria and, of course, West Berks.
Did you know:
  • A third of bus passengers in rural areas will struggle to make essential trips if bus services are cut?
  • Up to a fifth of people in rural areas still do not have broadband services of even 2 megabits per second?
  • Sheep farmers, like those around Hungerford, do not enjoy the same protection as beef farmers in the assessment of their animal carcasses at abatoirs?

Judith Bunting went on to say: The Liberal Democrat Party wants to support these communities because they form a vital part of our society. As part of the Coalition Government we are already doing this through the establishment of the Grocery Code Adjudicator and ending the Council Tax discount for second homes. I want to do more to build sustainable rural communities with strong local economies where everyone can get on across West Berkshire, through investing in broadband, reforming European agricultural policies, joined-up local transport policies and creating more affordable housing. The Liberal Democrat Conference has endorsed a clear vision for the future of rural communities.

To keep up to date with Judith’s Views and activities around West Berks go to: http://www.facebook.com/JudithBuntingforNewbury