Sunday, 7 February 2010

City Splits

#rdgnews - The decision to bid for city status has divided opinion across the community and continues to spur debate about the future of Reading.

In the two online polls surveying public opinion on the subject no clear message can be discerned.

Reading Post finds a neat 50% fully in support of the bid, with more than a third opposed. The remainding 14% offer potential support depending on the cost and other factors - a range of which can be seen among the comments.

A bit more pointedly Reading Guide notes the political unity between RBC's Labour and Conservative Councillors on the issue and asks whether we are happy to follow this coalition of our representatives. 53% of voters responded to say their lead is taking us in the wrong direction and should stop embarrassing everyone on a 'corporate ego trip' to concentrate on more urgent local problems.

Adam Hewitt sketches the battle lines.

Commenting, Labour's Anneliese Dodds said she was disappointed in the people who try to "run our town down and are constantly negative about it." She is clearly singing from the same songsheet as leader of RBC, Cllr Jo Lovelock.

They both played the jobs card, arguing that a change in title would "help attract inward investment," citing 'a number of local businesses' who are prepared to sponsor the bid to demonstrate their confidence in the value of it, however it is not yet exactly clear which companies have committed to step forward in the current climate, or if they will fully cover the costs.

Naz Sarkar joins in the attack on LibDems for playing 'petty' party politics, in contrast to his colleagues and him who "put the interests of the town first."

And Conservative Cllr Willis is in favour of a bid too. He argues that it would be just recognising the status quo, as Reading is already the effective capital of the Thames economic region.

He launches his criticism against the LibDems for misrepresenting facts about the funding of the bid (Cllr Swaine states the direct cost will be £60,000, in addition to the hours spent by council officers). He asks rhetorically "with no cost to the Council Tax-payers involved, what have we got to lose?"

Cllr Willis compares Reading to Newport (the third largest urban centre in Wales) which was made a city in the last round of bidding and argues this enabled large-scale regeneration to help communities in the transition to a post-industrial economy. He quotes the Conservative leader of Newport council Cllr Matthew Evans, who is proud that the city now "has the largest concentration of civil servant workers outside London."

And as previously recorded, Cllr Willis gives his backing to tory support for the expansion of Reading's boundaries to include Woodley, Earley, Calcot and Tilehurst.

Both Labour and Conservatives expressed their surprise and sadness that there wasn't unanimity on the vote, but Conservatives are themselves hopelessly divided on this matter, as his colleagues in those areas make plain - Cllr Keith Baker uses fighting talk, saying "we will be the first to man the barricades to keep Reading borough out of our areas," while Earley's Cllr Chris Edmonds says he was sure his party would oppose any expansionism by Reading 'quite robustly', as they had in the past.

It was sadly his final contribution to public life before the 46-year-old 'rising star' of the local scene suddenly and enexpectedly died within 24-hours of speaking against 'Trojan Horse' policies to push through changes against the public's wishes.

Commenters paid particular attention to the quality of basic services provided in the suburban areas compared to the more built-up centre.

Elsewhere Independent commentators have been finding their voice.

Reading Roar's John McGarvey asks can we do better than this?

He points out the fame of our local cultural assets reaches as far as Vladivostok and says "you could be forgiven for thinking we’re embarrassed by it all," since the establishment always emphasises "vague economic benefits and the notion of 'putting the town on the map'."

Community activist Colin Lee writes that "spin, hype and over-egging" are unhelpful distractions from the real problems facing the economy, and that the aspiration to build "a Utopian Dubai-on-Thames" is nothing but a mirage.

Meanwhile Battle ward Independent, Cllr Tony Jones has a proposition - he says the royal assent is an archaic procedure which is "just bafflingly stupid and out of touch," so he thinks it should be replaced with a simple petition which would be automatically be granted to anywhere which applies after meeting specific criteria.

...and finally, Paul Robins hails the independent spirit of Reading people.

He points social networkers in the direction of Facebook, with almost 2,000 members on a fan page of the town set up in December (there is also another with over 7,000).


Background: Is Reading A City?; Reading's City Bid Approved


  1. It's a strange thing, this city status malarkey. As someone who's only lived in Reading for 6 or 7 years it has always felt like a city to me. It's big, it has a considerable transport network and plenty of top notch shops. I can't see that becoming a city will make any difference at all to living here, so aside from spending a lot of money on changing things and keeping a few people busy what's the point?

  2. Hiya,
    well that's kinda the point - people may not see much of a direct impact but it will make a significant difference to the politicians and the politics of the area if the boundaries change to grow the administered population by 30-40%.
    This would have some big budgetary and electoral consequences: it could offer an escape from some of the local difficulties (re bin collections, schools etc) or it could give the party in charge greater power to make things worse.
    So it may not make any difference to ordinary people, but the different sides are gambling on the outcomes that it will - indirectly.


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