Thursday, 29 October 2009

Close To Their Heart

Anna Roberts reports on the tributes which have been paid to former Reading University lecturer Norman Edwards, who recently passed away after suffering a fatal aortic aneurysm.

Mr Edwards lectured in physiology and biochemistry from the mid-1960s and had been a local councillor - firstly for the Liberal Alliance in the 1980s before switching to the Labour party.

He was a member of Berkshire's County Council education board and a strong supporter of Amnesty International. His wife asked any donations to his memory be given to this cause, which he was passionate about throughout his life.

Jane Griffiths picks up on the lack of tribute from his former colleagues and attacks local long-standing Labour party members who were certainly around at the time to know him.

She wonders whether any letter of condolence was sent to his widow, hinting at the internal differences and lasting personal disputes involved when relationships are influenced by matters of office.

Elsewhere current RU Professor Rob Waller remembers Professor Rob Barnett, his professional pen-friend who has also died. He was clearly an inspiration to him.

He explains that Prof Barnett appreciated the value of clear speech and keeping things simple, but he also demonstrated his integrity as a man and the coherence of his ideas by utilising them when producing his work, which he describes as "exceptionally thorough and authoritative, full of the insight that comes from long experience."

Rob advertises Prof Barnett's blog, Information Design, which will now forever become a digital testament and memorial.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Solving Crime In Our Time

Anna Roberts reports on the latest crime figures to be released.

She notes that all the neighbourhood policing zones in Reading have 'average' levels of crime, except central Reading, which has 'high' levels.

You can investigate the figures on the interactive national website.

Of the six Berkshire boroughs Reading and Slough are considered 'above average' as a whole, while Bracknell Forest, Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, Wokingham and West Berkshire are all considered 'average'.

Chief Superintendent Richard Bennett said that there had been a general decline in crimes across the area, although the statistical variables were the result of a low levels of crime in the county as a whole. For instance Wokingham is among the top ten safest places in the whole country.

He added that the designation of 'high' crime levels also gave a false impression of the actual numbers of crimes committed because this is measured as a proportion of the total population.

Howard Thomas cynically accuses the government of encouraging Police officers to "dress up the figures to make them as acceptable as possible".

He says that false categorisation of violent crimes makes you wonder whether it is worth reporting an incident - it's almost as if he thinks the statistics matter more than the effect crime has on real people and that every front line copper is a member of an evil conspiracy!

Meanwhile Thames Valley Police have also launched an online crime reporting tool - you can find it here: -

Chief Superintendent Liam Macdougall said he was excited by the possibilities of the new communication channel, which would enable members of the public to have greater choice over their preferred method of contact. He added that this would be of particular benefit to those sections of the community who experience communication difficulties.

Elsewhere a shake-up in community engagement has been announced after the results of a fullscale survey into local community engagement was conducted across the region.

Superintendent Steve Kirk explained that a reorganisation of Neighbourhood Action Groups (NAGs) had been approved at a meeting of the Safer Reading Forum.

He countered criticism that this was a simple money-saving initiative by arguing it would help provide a better level of service.

Additionally he reaffirmed the success of community sentences as a way to reduce offending and tackle the root causes of crime. He pointed to the 70% reduction in reoffending rate by prolific offenders in the first half of the year, saying:
"Community sentences, despite what some people think, are not ‘soft’, particularly as we have strengthened supervision by the police and probation service working together."
In the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead community wardens, police and housing association staff will be issuing crime reduction advice, carrying out visibility patrols and taking part in clean-up days as part of the Home Office 'Not in my Neighbourhood' week from Monday 2nd November.

And additional personnel have been drafted in to cope with additional risks during the Halloween festivities and the anti-social behaviour threat associated with trick-or-treating.
Community Safety inspector for Slough Local Police Area, Insp Andy Boomer said:
"We are determined to ensure that everyone enjoys the festivities safely and that the public feel reassured by the strong police presence."
Crime reduction advisor Annie Tewkesbury called for consideration, telling the public to remember "there are some members of the community, particularly elderly or vulnerable people, who can be intimidated" by what others consider fun.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Recommended Reading List #38

Stories on world's richest man and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, have a habit regularly crop up in my searches for material on this blog, so I feel it's only appropriate that I finally give him a little bit of space.

The BBC's Evan Davis continues his rise up the journalism ranks with his characteristic ability to peel away the layers of complexity involved in big business and leadership as he undertakes a headline interview with the man.

Meanwhile Charles Miller fills in some of the information gaps which make Mr Buffett such a hugely respected and influential, but ultimately very human figure.

The invisible word underlying every example of success is 'commitment'.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The TIF Tiff

A massive bid for funding to help improve local transport could be threatened by a political row.

Reading Borough Council applied for £300m from the national Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) to sort out long-standing infrastructure issues and help reduce congestion recieved cross-party backing in July, but Conservatives in West Berkshire and Wokingham opposed the move because it may result in charges being levied on motorists.

Executive member for Transport on Wokingham Borough Council Cllr Keith Baker said his party recognises the potential benefits of a third bridge but insisted on "binding consultation of its residents".

Conservative-dominated Oxfordshire County Council also came out against plans for a third Thames bridge unless it was restricted exclusively to use by cyclists, pedestrians and public transport.

3,600 households in Shiplake, Sonning Common, Harpsden, Binfield Heath, Eye and Dunsden, Kidmore End and Mapledurham have since been surveyed on the plans with a resounding 98.7% giving the thumbs down, although only 30% responded.

Eye and Dunsden Parish Councillor, David Woodward, who is chairman of the South Oxfordshire Parishes Transport Innovation Group, explained:
"Reading’s consultation has been too little, too late — telling councillors what is in the bid at the last minute is not the same as asking local people what they think."
Deputy Leader of Reading Borough Council, Labour's Cllr Tony Page, called on his political opponents to be more pragmatic as the government-imposed rules on bids to the fund require charging to be considered as part of any package.

Reading LibDem Transport spokesperson Cllr Ricky Duveen explained that the funding bid is designed to have far-reaching effects which will have a major impact. He added,
"the TIF bid... recognises that if all the proposed measures do not seriously lower the levels of congestion in Reading town centre in the coming years then some form of charging will be needed."
Meanwhile Adam Hewitt reports on a leaked document outlining the areas which may be included in the charging zone.

Cllr Page offered the reassurance that Reading residents would be exempted from charges which could be between £2 and £4, but said no final decision had been reached on this yet.


Update: Adam Hewitt provides full details of the £300m funding bid to the Transport Innovation Fund.

Oranjepan says:
Reading has long been a bottleneck for road-users, with particular 'pinch points' created as traffic funnels through the town and across the rivers, so until there is political agreement across local councils about how to proceed towards a solution ordinary residents will continue to suffer.

If the parties in power cannot decide then it is time for a wider public debate on the future of local transport.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Round-Up: After The Dimbleby And Griffin Show

The ripples of the storm which accompanied the first appearance a BNP representative on the BBC's flagship political debate programme continue to spread across the local blogosphere.

Green Party campaigner Adrian Windisch gives a rundown on the areas covered in the programme. He attacks the BBC for failing to listen to protesters, while noting that three times as many people tuned in.

He then adds that the target audience of BNP will only be encouraged to sympathise with Nick Griffin by the attacks - before attacking them himself, for being 'illogical'.

However Paul Walter warns us to never underestimate the BBC in a detailed and well argued article. He repeats a line from the Independent that 'they gave him the oxygen of publicity and he choked'.

Bracknell LibDem PPC Ray Earwicker writes to the editor of Radio Bracknell highlighting the governments dishonesty over immigration, and says this would inevitably stir strong emotions.

He argues that:
"Migrants can, and do, make a very positive contribution to our economy and society but it is very hard for people to have faith in the immigration system when the Government [behaves] so treacherously."
Labour party campaigner Rachel Eden didn't stay up for the event, preferring to catch it on YouTube. She states that the BNP has nothing serious worth offering, and that it was car-crash TV.

Maidenhead Conservative blogger Alistair McRonald feels the BNP benefited from the exposure and reiterates the need for politicians to fix the issues which are causing people to vote for fringe parties.

Over on my other blog I have a quick look at what parliamentarians are doing to address under-representation among the electorate. Yes, it is easy to get distracted by the headlines.

Bracknell Blog wonders what the response to the controversy will be. Dazmando also delves under the facade of outrage to provides some answers why people do feel the BNP is capable of representing them.

He is also concerned about appearing to demonise and victimise people who hold disagreeable views, arguing that "You either have free speech or you don't."

Elsewhere Joe Knipe is split over the BBCs decision to give airtime to the BNP:
"On the one hand I can't believe the BBC acknowledged his vicious little party... but on the other I am so glad that they did because... people can really see who, or rather what he is."
Chairman Bill adopts his usual controversial line by giving due credit to Nick Griffin for having the temerity to stand up for his beliefs in the face of strong opposition, while criticising the emotional reaction of audience members as 'incoherent' and Labour's Justice Minister Jack Staw as 'pathetic'.

He states that
"Griffin clearly has his ear much closer to the UK’s heartbeat than most politicians, as do all demagogues who prey on prejudices and fear."
Having it both ways he provides a final judgement:
"Shame on the BBC for allowing this charade to proceed in the manner it did. All power to the BBC for not kow-towing to the jack-booted forces of anti-racist fascism, for silencing those with a different view to you is itself fascism."
Meanwhile Anna Roberts reports that BNP membership has fallen 40% in the past 12 months. She says there are now only 16 registered members in the Reading area.


Update: Mr London Street's friend David provides some satire.

And Matt Blackall links to cassetteboy, while saying the reaction to the event may have been "a bit ill-judged and short-sighted".

Friday, 23 October 2009

News From The Council

I know none of you dear readers can get enough of what's going on in the local political scene, so here's some more!

Reading Post reports on this month's council meeting by concentrating on the upheavals in the ranks of Taxi-drivers.

Outside the Civic Centre a protest by licensees over the sale of vehicle licenses was designed to highlight the economic plight of this vocal and close-knit group.

However, as a mirror of the changing political climate, Linda Fort exposes how political differences among members of the Reading Taxi Association has resulted in a three-way split.

So it was left up to local councillors to cover the fuller range of business on the agenda.

Cllr Goodall decided to make use of Twitter in providing a live personalised report of proceedings and he also went to the effort of aggregating his tweets into a complete account on his blog.

Conservative Cllr Luckett provides an overview of events as he describes the light-hearted start to the evening which was followed by a series of events each of which he describes in turn as 'bizarre'.

He chooses to turn attack dog against the LibDems over their stance on the Civic Centre relocation plans and the 10:10 Climate Change motion while relegating the finance discussion, which LibDem Cllr Duveen summarises as the main political difference to emerge during the evening.

Reading Borough Council's annual accounts were signed off during August, but a £3.6m 'windfall' from reclaimed VAT payments going back to the 1970's has since been added to the budget - good news at a time of economic crisis you might think, but it resulted in an unseemly spat over how to spend it.

Conservative Cllr Stevens had proposed keeping it in the budget to fund a freeze on Council Tax next year, but Labour argued this was irresponsible management. Cllr Lovelock said you can't "simply magic away" current budget pressures.

This led to tories responding with the accusation that Labour had failed to stick to their budgets, while Labour struck back by saying the Conservatives didn't care about vulnerable people who depend on those services.

Holding the balance of power the LibDems then took their turn to warn Labour that the cash shouldn't be used to bail them out of their troubles, as Cllr Swaine said it should be used "for people who needed to be protected."

In the end the Labour proposal passed with LibDem support, so it was no wonder Conservatives got peeved!

Meanwhile Cllr Willis steers clear of politics by providing a record of the questions he posed and the answers he recieved.


Update: Cllr Willis gives a much more politicised account of the political items on the agenda.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Climate Of Change

Ahead of the UN's Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change in early December a local debate will be held to help build the momentum for change.

The debate will take place at the Reading International Solidarity Centre on 12th November, starting at 7.30pm.

Climate Scientist Professor Jonathan Gregory will describe the latest predictions on the impacts of global climate change. Phil Thornhill from the Campaign Against Climate Change will explain what the essential measures needed to avoid the worst effects of this globally are, and Reading West MP Martin Salter will present a list of initiatives the UK government is implementing.

Howard Thomas comments on the claim made by PM Gordon Brown that there are only '49 days left to save the world'.

He dismisses Labour's claims to action, stating that it amounts to 'very little indeed'.

Meanwhile LibDem Cllr Glenn Goodall states that Labour has "failed yet again to match climate rhetoric with real action".

He notes Mr Salter missed voting on a motion in Parliament to support greater efforts against climate change and angrily quotes local Conservatives dismissal of concern about climate change.


Update: Clive Davis reports on a survey of Conservative party bloggers' opinions towards environmental matters. Apparently climate change sceptic and Wokingham MP John Redwood is the Conservative party's 'greenest top Tory blogger'!


Background: Countdown To Copenhagen

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Raising Awareness Of Breast Cancer

Campaign season continues as the Wear It Pink initiative encourages people from all walks of life to show their support on Friday 30th October.

Reading Post calls it a 'recession-busting fundraiser' which is "cheap and easy to take part in."

The community efforts hopes that £2-per-person donations will help surpass the £3.5m raised for Breast Cancer research last year.

Reading East MP Rob Wilson notes the devastating effect the illness can have and points out the somewhat unexpected fact that 300 men in the UK suffered from breast cancer last year, to add to over 45,000 women.

Clearly it's not an issue for anyone to ignore.

He also shows his concern by trying to provide a link to the Wear It Pink campaign website.

Round-Up: Race And Spitfires!

18th October 2009 offically marked the 204th anniversary of the defeat of the Napoleon fleet. Trafalgar Day is a traditional point of the year for the British to celebrate the defeat of dictatorship and tyrrany in the defence of our traditional liberties.

However the occasion is often hijacked by a more bellicose, militaristic sensibility which harkens to xenophobia.

Matt Blackall gets involved in the furore over the symbolic use of military symbols for political purposes.

He takes BNP leader Nick Griffin to task for obscuring the details of participants involved in the Battle of Britain. He describes how Griffin's ignorance of the international make-up of the forces who flew the Spitfires and shows how this creates distortions which have political consequences.

Paul Walter provides an insightful anecdote of the views of those in the military.

The related issues took on more serious overtones when the BNP gained two seats at the European elections for the first time earlier this year, giving them a platform to make their case. This translated into a furious debate over whether the BBC should renounce its' independent stance by refusing to invite any party representatives onto the flagship political debating show, Question Time.

For as long as no platform existed the current establishment could remain silent on these issues and refuse to get drawn into any controversy. However as the electoral situation changed and the appearance of an official 'no platform' policy continued the proponents of a non-inclusive identity transformed into defenders of free speech.

In the end a policy U-turn by Labour means they will appear alongside the BNP on QT.

BBC News editor Ric Bailey explains the corporation's decision, saying that 'due impartiality' means having to "take account of the political context when... making editorial judgements."

However Reading Chronicle editor Maurice O'Brien is dubious about whether the decision is "guided by expediency or a rare desire for impartiality," a dilemma he surely encounters regularly.

Somewhat paradoxically he says, "there are certain political figures so obnoxious and repugnant that they should certainly never be allowed anywhere near a broadcast," before adding, "it will be a good moment for democracy when BNP leader Nick Griffin gets to appear on Question Time," because it will force mainstream politicians to stop running away from the issues "like startled virgins".

Central Reading resident Ash takes up the baton:
"given the choice between an expenses fiddling, home-flipping, duck house owning, mortgage free (yet claiming mortgage payments) chancer of an MP or Nick Griffin I'd take the former any day of the week."
He argues that rising to the bait of inflammtory statements will only feed the attention-seeking behaviour ofrepresentatives who have been properly-elected - the way to defeat them is to offer a more positive alternative without alienating anyone.

The ever-excellent Mark Reckons finds it odd that Labour politicians are prepared to simply hope the BNP will 'just go away' - especially considering their recent gains.

Instead, he proposes that the only way to defeat ideas you find disagreeable is to engage with them and convert them through debate. He also notes that playing the BNP at their own game may highlight their inconsistencies - would they 'no-platform' those they wish to exclude?

He also follows up with a summation of his opposition to any 'no platform' policy based on principles of freedom of information and speech. He also notes BBC Director General, Mark Thompson's argument that it isn't their job to indulge in political censorship - if an intervention is to be made it must be done by the government itself so that they can be held accountable.

Matt Blackall also discussed the consequences of a 'legitimised' BNP for the wider political debate. He says they make him sick, and that he would like to watch them get ripped to shreds intellectually by a representative of the working-classes, like the Green Party's Caroline Lucas.

Elsewhere Rapscallion satirises the situation, comparing the no-platform policy toward parties which cause offense to newspapers which cause offense (making a clear reference to recent outrages) - newsagents would be forced into disarray if "the nation’s mainstream newspapers suddenly announced that they would refuse to share shelf space with the Daily Mail."

Meanwhile Kenyan Baba Mzungu reminds us that identity is as much if not more a matter of mentality as it is one of ethnicity.

The local voices will be able to make themselves heard in person on 6th November when Doreen Lawrence will speak at a conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the Reading Declaration on race equality.


Update: Scaryduck's Alistair Coleman writes an open letter to the BNP leader. He does not engage in any dark humour whatsoever. And nor is it funny. You are commanded not to smirk.

Adrian Windisch says the BNP and Ukip are like two peas in a pod.

Carol states that the debate drives to the heart of tolerance, but cites the often mis-attributed quote 'I may not like what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it'.

She recalls that politicians with direct links to paramilitary groups were given a voice during the Northern Irish toubles and concludes:
"It is only through honest and open debate that we can eliminate misconceptions, present the facts, and get a fair picture of what the public think and want."
Diggestive gives six reasons why he is in a dilemma over the matter, and says "let the debate begin."

z0man doesn't like extremists.

Cllr Richard Willis calls the BNP a "party of thugs and racists" and worries that Griffin will use the platform to increase their profile.

Alistair McRonald calls Labour MP Peter Hain a closet supporter of the BNP for 'doing their work for them' and overseeing a period where Labour's working class support has collapsed.

Former Labour MP Jane Griffiths agrees - Hain is organising the counter-demonstration with former London mayor Ken Livingstone, a man who gave his platform to Hamas.

Baglady says it's an opportunity for a drinking game to build on the stereotyped perceptions of the BNP - "If he mentions Churchill, The War, British Jobs for British People or Illegal Immigrants there's the potential to get very drunk. Very drunk indeed."


Local background: According to Reading Council on Racial Equality (RCRE) ethnic minority employment at Reading Borough Council is falling behind as more migrants are attracted to the town. Similar towns have taken a more proactive line and a report is due.

Thames Valley Police have taken a strong line on prejudice towards the local traveller population, saying they are "misunderstood and should be shown consideration."

They are also taking the initiative to hold surgeries in Polish as a way to help foster better community relations and meet their needs - Woodley Airfield was base to a large company of Polish Airmen during WWII providing a legacy of a lasting cultural community.

June Stoute takes the opportunity of the recent visit by Prime Minister of Barbados, David Thompson, to note that Reading has the largest concentrated population of Bajans (4,500) outside the Caribbean island.

And Reading has also been at the forefront of the Gurkha residency dispute because of the large community of former Nepali servicemen in the area.

Oranjepan says:
If I linked to every local blog that had connections beyond British borders I'd still be here after the lights went out!

Park & Ride Controversy

The debate over the Loddon Bridge Park & Ride scheme provides further illumination into the state of local public transport.

The joint decision by Wokingham's Conservative and Reading's Labour adminstrations to increase bus fares and parking charges, while also reducing the availability and accessibility of the service was overturned when it was 'called in' for additional scrutiny.

Reading Post stirs the controversy by reporting the accusation that LibDems are 'playing politics' on the issue.

Labour's deputy leader, Cllr Tony Page defended the fare increases and service cuts saying that the LibDems are just wasting time and money arguing against them. A three-week delay in implementing the changes will cost the council-owned Reading Transport Company an estimated £10,000.

But local LibDems have launched a coordinated fightback online, arguing that bus users are a vulnerable social group who are being disregarded by the authorities.

Winnersh's Cllr Prue Bray describes how Conservatives on Wokingham Borough Council avoided consultation because they are purely concerned about bottom-line economic considerations. She questions their commitment to sensible financial policy

Reading LibDem transport spokesman Cllr Ricky Duveen highlights the problem of congestion and notes how private car use is being encouraged in the area - which contradicts the councils' green credentials.

And Cllr Warren Swaine explains how Conservatives and Labour are working in combination to the detriment of all by shifting blame for failures in order to avoid being accountable for their actions.


More on Reading Buses

Monday, 19 October 2009

Posties Poised To Strike

Radio Bracknell reports that it is seemly inevitable that the Communication Workers Union will take its' member out on strike on 22nd October, after last minute talks failed to reach agreement, despite an uncommonly unified front between Labour and Conservative party leaders against action during today's Prime Minister's Question Time in Parliament.

Earlier this year Reading West MP Martin Salter supported industrial action by the CWU, stating plans to sell-off 30% of Royal Mail to Dutch company TNT was wrong because profits could not be put before the universal service guarantee.

He said "It is senseless to try to repair the damage with yet more privatisation and risk destroying an institution."

CWU deputy general secretary Dave Ward said, "Postal workers do not want to have to take strike action, but neither are they prepared to put up with continuing attacks from a management which is failing."

But Neville Hobson finds it hard to understand the move to strike considering it is a business "trying to find a place in the new world of 'more digital and less analogue'."

He calls the 'arm-twisting' of the CWU unnecessary 'posturing' and says the confrontational approach of company bosses is only likely to hurt the company as it leads into the busiest period of the year. He also notes that numerous alternative service providers are poised to take market share if Royal Mail continues to alienate customers.

Alistair McRonald says the postal industry is ripe for a shake-up since Royal Mail is a mess and their leaders offer only warm words about reform. He argues that industrial action may have medium-term benefits becacuse it will only hasten restructuring at the national company.

Elsewhere the BBC provides some much needed statistical information to illuminate the challenges facing Royal Mail.

55,000 jobs have been cut from the business since 2002 as a 'technology wedge' has opened up, corresponding with a decline in mail volumes as digital communication methods such as e-mail have grown in popularity.

They also point out that Royal Mail's pension deficit is far in excess of comparable FTSE100 companies - at £8bn it is more than double all but one!

Google aggregates more.


Update: Andy Peacock defends the Prime Minister from agreeing with David Cameron in the House of Commons.

Joey Nova points out that the employees of Royal Mail do have a choice:
"You weren’t held at gun point in the interview, your family wasn’t hooked up to an elaborate “Saw” style trap where the only way you could save them was to work for Royal Mail. You made a choice. So stop bitching about it."
Adrian Hollister argues that the public service would be enhanced by opening up the postal market to fair competition. He says the 'stifling' competition rules imposed by the government have been counter-productive and caused the contraction of the business.

Graham Jones explains that a strike "merely reduces the confidence of buyers" and argues that online retailers will need to think more deeply about their delivery mechanisms because the additional costs clearly show that "the Royal Mail either provides excellent value for money, or has consistently been too cheap compared with other ways of delivering items."

Pastors On Patrol

A new initiative has got underway to help resolve some of the problems caused by street revellers who overdo the party atmosphere.

Street Pastors are an inter-denominational group made up of members from 11 local evangelical churches who take their religion out of the pulpit and onto the streets.

They will patrol Reading's streets from 10pm til 4am on Fridays and Saturdays, offering lollipops and flip-flops, as well as alcohol and drug advice and train and bus information.

Matt Hearn said, "Mainly we want to be a friendly face around the town."

He was interviewed by Heart Radio, explaining that the initiative has been tried in over 120 locations over the past 7 years, and that there are now around 3,000 volunteers participating nationwide.

He added,
"We are excited for where God is leading us and how the project will grow, develop and impact Reading town centre for the sake of his Kingdom."
Alan Magness brought together Christian socal action groups through the Safer Reading Forum, local Pubwatch members and town centre Police to form the action group.

Meanwhile politicians from Labour and Conservative parties have been quick to latch onto the initiative to praise the efforts.

Richard McKenzie stoops to condemn any organisation who don't support the Street Pastors while simultaneously announcing his willingness to get involved in a slanging match with opponents who do.

The former councillor says he's got involved because upset people need help:
"You can see there are alot of people who are lonely or who are lost. They all need someone to keep an eye out for them. To make sure they get home safely."

Update: Jane Griffiths thinks the organisation may have been hijacked for election purposes.

Oranjepan says:
Where charity starts at home, faith crosses the doorstep, yet hope still springs eternal.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Recommended Reading List #37

Tony M reports on the amazing discovery of a new element at a top-secret research laboratory in an undisclosed location in Berkshire.

There were initial concerns about the state of the findings and some former sceptics were dumb-founded, claiming the results had been staring them in the face, but that they had been unable to recognise the obvious.

Commentators said they expected follow-up reports to continue on the progress of the research for at least the next six months...

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Labour's Exhaust

Public outrage over the political failures in the management of Reading Buses continues to rumble like a number 17 along the Oxford Road.

Reading Buses is operated by Reading Transport Ltd and wholly-owned by Reading Borough Council.

Jane Griffiths isn't at all surprised at the details, considering her knowledge of the Labour politicians in charge, but wonders why Cllr Page was put forward by Labour to make a statement rather than current Chair of the company, Cllr Singleton-White.

Cllr Singleton-White did later manage to give the statement that "it is completely unacceptable that both the board of Reading Buses and the council have been deceived."

Indeed. It's easy to understand why his party were reluctant to make him speak in public when he condemns himself and his own side.

Meanwhile opposition spokespeople have responded.

Conservative Cllr Richard Willis is quoted as saying "serious questions now will be asked."

However LibDem Cllr Glenn Goodall was more forceful in demanding answers. He said that the Labour councillors' comments "smack of incompetence" and that Labour "owes the people of Reading and bus users an explanation."


Update: Omnibuses records that Reading Transport has withdrawn from the UK Bus Awards 2009 (aka the Bus Oscars). It had been nominated in 3 categories: People, Buses in the Countryside, Innovation.


More on Reading Buses

Media Outrages Identify Source of Continuing Inequality

Reading's recent Gay Pride parade and festival gave politicians of all stripes the opportunity to promote their credentials on the equality agenda, but the death of BoyZone singer Stephen Gateley has highlighted the contining challenge on this front.

A political storm has broken over the decision taken by the Daily Mail to publish an article by Jan Moir.

Tim Trent reprints the offensive article written by Jan Moir - so you don't have to visit their site to understand what it is all about.

The stunning Charlie Brooker forensically dissects Ms Moir's piece, noting how it is the Mails' conservative editorial attitude which is responsible for the offense. The paper continues to operate as a voice for grassroot Conservative supporters.

He explains that ignorant, hateful idiocy informs the prejudice which pervades the piece, noting the numerous incidences of hypocrisy all done to self-affirm Ms Moir's personal political opinion.

The satirical Newsarse is more succinct in lampooning the now-notorious commentator, but no less successful - or amusing for that matter.

Gideon Mack also says the finger of blame should be pointed at the people who employed Ms Moir and then directed her to do the hatchet job.

Meanwhile the equally excellent Mark Reckons looks at the reasons why members of the public should make a complaint.

To match their sense of public spiritedness Tim, Charlie and Mark encourage you to make use of the links they provide to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

Elsewhere Joey Young blows his top calling the article a 'rancid piece of filth'.

And finally, Tim Trent follows up with a neat summation of how the nature of corporate politics promotes an illusory sense of homogenous identity. Initially this may not seem like it has life-or-death consequences, but the case of Stephen Gateley provides direct ammunition against the haters.

He concludes by explaining how this can only be defeated by individuals when we act voluntarily on a mass scale to a common end, noting how public pressure has forced advertisers to declare their opposition to the discrimination.

As a follow-up he also notes the complete lack of dissenting voices - nobody is prepared to stand up and defend either Ms Moir or the Daily Mail.

Elsewhere Morgan PR exposes a separate example of the Daily Mail dishonesty, when it manipulates photos to fit its' preferred story about a recent court case involving comedian Jimmy Carr.


Update: Paul Walter notes how the backlash has forced the Daily Mail's editorial staff to backtrack with a volte face provided by Janet Street-Porter.

He records her perspective that extra-marital sex is not uncommon, and nobody actually dies of guilt - even if they feel mortified. So even though people like Ms Moir may disapprove of individual cases, there is nothing that they can do about democratically-enacted laws which allow for a diverse range of partnerships to gain acceptabilty through civil recognition.


Here is a link to the PCC's online complaints section. You may wish to tell them that Ms Moir's article breaches section 1, 5 and 12 of its' code of practice.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Eco Buses Not So Friendly

The bad news just continues coming for Reading Buses.

The company has declared that fuel prices are forcing them to convert their much-heralded eco-friendly buses from bio-ethanol to the less friendly bio-diesel in order to make £1/4m savings.

But this isn't what has aroused anger among local blogging commentators.

Linda Fort reports that an investigation is to be undertaken into why the eco-fuel was made from wood pulp and imported from Sweden rather than from sugar beet from East Anglia.

RBC deputy leader, Labour's Cllr Tony Page said, "It would appear that the council has been grossly misled over this issue."

Cllr Swaine mocks Labour's inability to accept responsibility, stating that it 'beggars belief' that Cllr Page knew nothing about this scandal considering he has held the chair of the publicly-owned company, was a director of it at the time the decisions were taken and kept fully-informed as a long-serving member of the RBC cabinet.

The LibDem asks: "Is [Cllr Page] incompetent or simply refusing to give us the full story?"

The Green Party's Matt Blackall is no less shocked, calling it a shame and saying it "goes beyond belief" and "makes a mockery" of their flagship service.

He also questions the economic understanding of those who set Reading Buses business plan.

Meanwhile Cllr Willis somewhat oddly claims to have the exclusive on the story.

He does note that the bio-ethanol fuel was 40% less efficient while also being less reliable, and feels this vindicates his party's earlier scepticism of the technological and economic benefits.


Update: Gideon Mack is typically scathing: he says the Labour-led RBC have now "proven... that they’re incompetent, that they document that they’re incompetent and that they’re consistently incompetent."

Further information comes to light about Cllr Singleton-White's professional connection with the company that supplied the fuel.

Oranjepan says:
This is not just a dirty smudge against Labour's ability to run the council, but a humiliating concession of their inability to implement management controls, run a budget and live up to their promises.

This affair seriously undermines Labour's credibility on environmental and economic issues - it is the blackest day their local party has suffered yet.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


icFor those of us who like to keep our ears to the ground snatched overheard conversations are one of life's greatest intrigues. We want to know how the other half lives, but we wouldn't go so far as wanting to endure their existence - or maybe we would!

Elizabeth Thomas picks up a juicy titbit about the clientele of Premier Inns, while BagLady wonders about what kind of men wear shirts two sizes too small and call their daughters Ariadne...

So let me tell you, dear Readers, about one of my guilty pleasures - Overheard In New York. Amusing, shocking and a treat for earwiggers everywhere.

United Front Against Economic Threat To Public Transport

Reading Transport company continues to be a focus for political debate as Unite trade Union members were balloted on industrial action at the bus service provider.

279 members voted as strike action was rejected by a margin of 164-to-115, but alternative forms of protest were sanctioned by 158-to-129.

CEO James Freeman was relieved at the outcome and said he was encouraged that so many people participated in the process.

But he added that disruption may be "less than helpful" because of the economic recession and warned against 'exacerbating' the situation:
"any action that disrupted bus services would damage the crucial relationship the bus company and its staff has with its customers. And we value that relationship most highly. We are therefore going to be working hard to mitigate the effect of any action on our customers."
107fm provides the fullest quote.

Difficulties in staying out of the red have forced public interevention in the local authority-owned company to save popular routes, such as the vital 63 and 64 services to Woodley.

Wokingham Borough Council Conservatives Council Leader Cllr David Lee and executive member for highways and transport Cllr Keith Baker agreed that it was important to seek ways to avert the threat to strategic routes.

Loddon Councillor Phil Challis (LibDem) explained:
"This is an area where there is a lot of social needs so we need to make sure it is understood that having frequent and reliable bus services is part of having a sustainable community."
Elsewhere Reading Forum has an interesting thread comparing the prices of bus services.


Update: The cause of Reading Buses is not being helped as bad communications with Thames Water is likely to cause additional disruption when roadworks in Gun Street commence this week.


Background: Reading Buses In Turmoil

Education And Enforcement

The news that Reading University has decided to withdraw support for local patrols has been hitting the headlines and sparked a strong response.

BBC Radio Berkshire's Andrew Peach covered the story in his morning breakfast show (first 15 minutes), interviewing Reading student Mark Whiley and LibDem parliamentary candidate for Reading East Cllr Gareth Epps, who has been leading on the issue.

Reading University responded to the criticism by releasing a statement explaining that cuts in central government funding has forced it to look for savings in non-essential areas.

Despite the concern that students are a soft target for crime, without local knowledge living away from home for the first time (especially during Fresher's Week) and the damage this may do to the town's reputation for safety, policing is not considered the highest priority for the educational establishment.

Cllr Epps makes the argument against cuts to front-line services. He has also set up an online petition, which you can just read or sign here.

Rachel Eden advertises the local Labour petition against the central government cuts, which you can just read or sign here.

Rob White has also picked up on the issue, noting that the University/Redlands areas are classified as lower priority policing areas than Newtown. He calls for more direct action to put pressure on the University authorities and encourages readers to email University Vice-Chancellor Tony Downes at

Labour Park ward candidate (and former councillor) Richard MacKenzie prefers direct action the old fashioned way, hand-writing letters - hasn't he heard about the problems at Royal Mail?

Meanwhile, Reading Chronicle reports on the announcement that funds are being made available to allow Police to do outreach work in schools warning about the risks of crime.

New Safer Schools Partner Officer PC Dave Thomas is said to be 'enthusiastic' about his new role giving talks at primary and secondary schools on issues such as alcohol awareness, knife crime and personal safety.

Oranjepan says:
While education and enforcement are twin arms in the struggle to make society better, real economic choices must be faced about who does what and how it should be paid for. It is important not to get confused about which organisations are responsible for each role.


Update: Retired Slough policeman and former teacher Michael Pinkstone was interviewed for BBC Berkshire by Sarah Walker to advertise his memoires 'Tales From Area 51'.

He compares his experiences in different cultures, and describes the surreal sense when there is a complete lack of connection between facts on the ground and the attempts of current political leadership to address problems.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Ashes To Charity Cash

Cookham's Oli Broom set off this Saturday on an epic 14-month cycle trip to Australia and cricket's next Ashes series.

Fellow long-distance cyclist Andrew Puglia2010 recorded how he said he was particularly excited by the prospect of crossing countries like Syria and Sudan - but the toughest part of his journey would to be "keeping myself sane for 14 months in the saddle on my own" - just like all long-distance cyclists of note!

Meanwhile Oliver Brett interviews the intrepid adventurer for the BBC. Apparently Andrew Strauss was his head of house at Radley School and will hope to be on hand with some celebratory refreshment when he finally arrives.

The former Berkshire Under-19s captain hopes to raise over £100,000 for charity and play matches in all 20 countries he visits.

Readers can find out more about how to find out where Oli is on his marathon journey and how to donate in aid of the British Neurological Foundation and the Lord's Taverners by visiting his website Cycling To The Ashes.

Education Under Fire

Gordon Brown today surprised commentators by announcing the sell-off of national assets in an attempt to claw back £16bn and pay of a portion of the debt racked up in trying to alleviate the recession.

He also assured the public that the sale of the student loan company (SLC) would not lead to increased interest rates on repayments.

But Tim Trent pours scorn on this promise.

He states: 'no-one is going to buy [the loan book] unless they can make a profit" and points out that this will inevitably mean the end of preferential interest rates.

Alistair McRonald ridicules Mr Brown's accounting ability, noting that the fire sale is only expected to rake in as much as the VAT cut!

The news comes in the wake of criticism of the SLC for failing to deal with loan applications in time for the start of the new term, as they deal with a massive backlog of unprocessed claims. It has been claimed that as many as 175,000 students will recieve late payments and cause them to face additional hardships.

Meanwhile Steve Borthwick examines a new report which is highly critical of the government's policy towards faith schools.

He summarises the main complaints which highlight the lack of relevant choices for children and points out how the policy may entrench inequality by failing to address the real needs of children.

The Accord Coalition also provides a subsidiary report showing how the outsourcing of education to faith groups is not lowering the burden on the taxpayer in line with expectations, as capital funding continues to decline.

Accord Coalition chair, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain explained
"Perhaps the government has recognised the financial reality that religious groups can no longer afford to pay as much as they once did, but not the social reality that religious discrimination is unacceptable in the 21st century. Taxpayer funded public services should be for the public, not one segment of it."

Oranjepan says:
It's no longer education, education, education - it's now all about the stupid economy!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Reservoir Development Reprieved

Local campaigners have won a second victory against large-scale developments within a week as the plans for the development of the Bath Rd reservoir site were unanimously rejected by RBC.

Over 400 letters from the public and a petition with 1,400 signatures showed the strength of feeling mobilised against the plans submitted by Thames Water, but while campaigners celebrate they are bracing themselves for another stage in the war of attrition with developers.

A spokesperson for Thames Water said they were disappointed and were now considering their position. This was the third application that has been defeated on the same location, but residents said they preferred to keep the green space open and use it as an educational resource rather than lose it forever to bricks and mortar.

The issue had quickly gained momentum as politicians on all sides recognised the massive impact which would be felt by an organised and motivated local community.

In the face of the overwhelming pressure Labour reversed their previous willingness to develop the site. Minster ward's Cllr Paul Gittings joined with Reading West MP Martin Salter and his prospective replacement Naz Sarkar to claim victory on behalf of the campaigners.

Jane Griffiths provides some scathing commentary on her former comrades-in-arms. She wholeheartedly contradicts Mr Salter's claim that he has be campaigning to save the site since 1996, while noting Mr Sarkar's attachment to the issue is only skin deep.

Meanwhile Conservative candidate Alok Sharma had attempted to mitigate public anger by negotiating for a planning application which involved fewer housing units, but it appears this moderate suggestion has also been ripped to shreds.


Update: Independent Cllr Tony Jones recieves some criticism for calling the decision a 'humiliation' for Labour.

Oranjepan says:
This case (together with the KM Campaign) provides an interesting example of how community campaigns can be successful by linking together old and new media techniques with traditional campaign methods. The unrivalled breadth and depth of reach of such a strategy has clearly proven it's power over those with aspirations to represent the public.


More on the Bath Rd Reservoir Campaign.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Rumpus Over Campus Patrols

Swiftly following the start of the new academic year Reading University has announced further spending cuts and will withdraw funding for campus patrols.

Anna Roberts reports that the news comes only days after a female student became a target for sexual assault on Shinfield Road, highlighting the need for visible signs of protection.

BBC Berkshire advertises for witnesses here.

But now economic concerns have overridden the safety and orderly conduct of students.

Cllr Benson, who has campaigned for a more effective Police presence in the University area since she was elected in 2006, is dismayed and angry at the news.

She notes how less dramatic issues such as burglary and fly-tipping have been positively impacted by the presence of a pro-active Police presence. The communication links which have provided vital infomation to this vulnerable group could be lost, and she says the timing could not be worse.

Meanwhile the issue has taken on a political complexion as Reading East PPCs for both LibDems and Labour are taking action to raise awareness of the issue.

LibDem candidate Cllr Gareth Epps has set up a Facebook group to share information about how to put pressure on the University authorities, while Labour candidate Anneliese Dodds has visited Eastern Avenue and Granby Gardens to collect signatures on a petition.

Oranjepan asks:
Conservatives have been making lots of headlines during their party conference this week about honestly admitting the scale and size of cuts in spending they'd make, so will Reading East's Conservative MP risk his re-election chances by supporting this cut?

Recommended Reading List #36

Unmitigated England was working at Wellington College where he photographed the south elevation.

He notes that 2009 is the 150th anniversary of the college's opening, and provides the anecdote that the entire first intake of orphaned children of military servicemen "ran off in fright across the then bare heathy landscape after just a week."

It has also been a location for Midsomer Murders, but is ordinarily a highly regarded school "where girls and boys learn to be 'leaders for life'. And presumably how to avoid Inspector Barnaby."


Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Carry On Up The Aisle...

The Bishop Of Reading, Rt Rev Stephen Cotrell, has been stirring public debate as he promoted the Church of England's Back To Church campaign.

This comes after Anglican officials released figures showing average attendance at CofE churches on Sundays dropped below 1m for the first time in 2007.

In an bold statement he argued that perceptions of church-going as a middle-class pursuit has held the communion back from reaching out to a wider audience and resulted in too few in the pews:
"How did it come to this, that we have become the Marks & Spencer's option when in our heart of hearts we know that Jesus would just as likely be in the queue at Aldi or Lidl? [...] Even today I meet people who think you have to be highly-educated or suited and booted to be a person who goes to church."
But Anne Ashcroft comments in the Times that now is no time to alienate the middle-classes, as these good souls are the only ones currently filling the pews. She also notes how the evangelical mega-church phenomenon is taking the lessons learnt by those exact same supermarket chains the Bishop denigrates to boost congregation numbers.

Meanwhile brand and marketing expert Dan Douglass gets to the heart of the values question in a highly entertaining and enlightening piece.

He states that "we are nevertheless in thrall to market forces and we rebound back to the proven, the tried and tested."

He compares the campaign to necrotizing fasciitis and says it smacks of desperation and may signify an organisation which has lost integrity and lacks personality to engage with people on their own levels.

You can almost hear his years of experience in account management as he tears his hair out asking 'why is the Church crucifying itself?'

Peter Ashley agrees. The architectural photographer argues that the church must rediscover it's true heritage to reconnect with itself and "instil calm, simple faith" in people.

The Guardian's Stephen Tomkins attempts to trap the Zeitgeist as he asks whether the church has typically "leant too much to the brioche-and-scallops end of the market, losing touch with the sardines-on-toast end?"

He takes direct aim at the retrograde conservative elements in the Church of England by describing his personal view of the organisation as "neither posh nor common particularly, but rather like someone so insecure they change their accent depending on whom they're talking too."

George Pitcher also scoffs at the Rev Cotrell's tone in the Daily Telegraph. He explains that he felt patronised when listening to the Bishop say "We have to learn to speak the language of ordinary people," describing his rustic Berkshire accent as 'cut glass'.

Readers can judge the accuracy of that for yourselves by listening to the Bishop respond in his weekly missive for BBC Berkshire.

And finally, International Supermarket News delights in the aptness of the analogy, explaining that in a consumerist society it is easy to see supermarkets as modern cathedrals!
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Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Top Of The Berkshire Blogs - September 2009

It's taken a while longer than usual to compile our monthly rundown of Berkshire's best blogs. Here's the top10:

1 - #13 (+1) - Mark Reckons
2 - #21 (+4) - John Redwood's Diary
3 - #69 (+36) - Boulton & Co
4 - #275 (-30) - Richard Willis's Blog
5 - #284 (-9) -
6 - #322 (+714) - The Salted Slug
7 - #355 (-24) - LPUK South East
8 - #521 (-204) - Reading List
9 - #560 (-27) - Bracknell Blog
10 - #593 (+192) - Redlands Libdems

There has been a noticable stabilisation towards the top of the chart, but the story of the month is undoubtedly Mr London Street whose blog gained a remarkable 24,546 places to be poised just outside the top20. Something must have been in the water on their recent trip to Dorset as his friend Bag Lady rose an astonishing 21,556 places to hover just outside the top50.

WendyHouse, Bucolic Frolics and gCO2e also deserve honorable mentions as big climbers during a month when the overall trend was for modest falls.

Here's the full list for September, and you can compare it to August.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Nuclear Option Comes Home To Roost

Sometimes international discussions can feel very distant from our everyday lives. At other times they are right on our doorstep.

With talks in Geneva reaching agreement to grant UN inspectors access to the Fordu facility in Iran as part of President Obama's efforts to further the Non-Proliferation Treaty a new phase of global relations has got underway.

Primary among concerns is a question over who really holds power over the development of WMD.

Jerry Guo writes for the Council on Foreign Affairs noting how internal rivalries among inflexible conservative elements is pushing the potentially devastating confrontation, as "ideology remains secondary in the struggle to maintain and consolidate control within the fractured regime."

However local politics in Berkshire also has a direct impact on the debate. Decision-makers are in a prime position deciding planning and licensing the UK's military industrial infrastructure with regard to AWE Aldermaston.

The locally active Nuclear Awareness Group has released new footage of nuclear materials driving along rural Berkshire roads under the cover of dark, which they say is not only physically, but also strategically dangerous.

Meanwhile Green Party candidate Adrian Windish has republished a letter from CND honorary Vice-President Bruce Kent to UK PM Gordon Brown.

In it Mr Kent argues that dependence on nuclear weapons as the basis for security is counterproductive since it encourages other parties to do the same.

As President Obama explained just one nuclear explosion would be devastating, whether by accident or design, by government or by terrorists.

So although he reaffirmed as necessary his commitment to a nuclear deterrent he also clearly stated that it was incumbent on NPT signatories to work to reach agreement on how to reduce stockpiles - a move which was hailed as a potential breakthrough for normalising diplomatic relations.

Oranjepan says:
The threat to global peace and stability will in part be ultimately decided by the individual choices we make about who we elect. If we are not clear about the consequence of our actions then we may allow power to defer to those with very different aims.


More on issues surrounding AWE Aldermaston.

Friday, 2 October 2009

The Fresh Face Of Students At Freshers Fayre

Every October a new intake of students comes to Reading University bringing with them a whole range of issues and concerns.

According to the National Student Survey Reading University offers a better than average experience, with the quality of teaching and student support particularly praised.

However with the current economic climate putting pressure on tax-payer funded services the imperative to balance budgets may have negative effects.

Charges are already being introduced for counselling, which a spokesman for the University and Colleges Union described as a false economy.

Meanwhile financial dependency is a major cause of stress for students, many of whom are living independently for the first time in their lives. Student support officer Cheryl Milne described the transition period as normal but expressed concern for the 'hidden victims' of the system who get caught in the bureaucratic complexities.

Reading's LibDems have been campaigning on behalf of students and reasserting their opposition to top-up fees.

Cllr Benson notes how unemployment among recent graduates and young people has almost doubled in the past year, before going into greater depth to describe how social mobility has reduced under Labour as inequality has become more ingrained.

A further worry is the threat of criminals who deliberately prey on student innocence. Police attended the Freshers Fayre as a public information initiative which forms part of Operation Breaker.

The aim is to help reduce burglaries targetted against the students by reminding them of the few small steps they can take which ultimately has a damatic impact on their safety and the ability to protect their property. The operation claims to have helped reduce burglaries by almost 15% in the 11 weeks since it started compared to previous years.


Update: Rob Wilson MP has issued a press release showing he turned up long enough to get his photo taken, talk about 'a range' of issues, and says RUCSOC signed up 'a lot' of new members.

Labour candidate (and former councillor) Richard MacKenzie has decided to become a mature student at Reading University since becoming unemployed. He notes that Labour had a petition to 'to force the Uni to make space for a car club on campus to reduce car use'.

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Thursday, 1 October 2009

Two-Year Limbo For King's Meadow Lido

The proposed redevelopment of King's Meadow has been put on hold in what campaign supporters are describing as a humiliating climbdown for the Reading Borough Council.

Executive member for Leisure and Sport, Cllr Graeme Hoskins explained he felt the demands of the contractor Askett Hawke were excessive and didn't provide sufficient guarantee of public access, despite agreeing to progress their bid to redevelop the prime Thamesfront location under similar conditions back in July.

After multiple decades of deterioration it was decided to give community activists a 2-year period of exclusivity to come up with a realistic plan to bring the Victorian pavilion back into public use.

Campaigners celebrated but the suggestion remains that it was the realities of the economic situation not the popular appeal which has given a lifeline to this last vestige of local heritage.

Former Reading East MP Jane Griffiths recalls that this was an issue which began to split her from the Reading Labour party back in 1991, while she also remembers how prominent Labour group leaders attempted to thwart opposition to the lucrative plans.

Meanwhile LibDem Cllr Swaine is incandescent at the devious and duplicitous nature of local tories who have been willing to say whatever anyone wants to hear on this subject (and others too) in the hope that nobody will ask them about their voting records.

Green Party candidates Rob White and Adrian Windisch know a bandwagon when they see one and have also offered their congratulations to the campaigners.

Enterprising students have also offered their support to bring the pavilion back into community use.

Oranjepan asks:
In two years time market conditions will recover, making a hotel a more viable project and increasing commercial pressure to develop the site for profit. With the expected change to a more ruthlessly business-minded administration, aren't the celebrations a little bit premature?

History: King's Meadow Campaign Gets Contentious; Paralysis Hits King's Meadow Proposals
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