Chairman’s Annual Report

18TH MAY 2017

The following is the text of the report delivered by the Chairman, Paul Gallagher, at thePG Photo Annual General Meeting of the Emmbrook Residents Association held at the Emmbrook Village Hall on 18th May 2017.

It gives me great pleasure to deliver my tenth Chairman’s speech!

As ever, it’s been a very busy year for the ERA. In this report, I will briefly refer to the wide range of activities we’ve been involved in, and look ahead to the work we intend to tackle in the year to come. I will, however, be telling you about the current threat to the future existence of this association.

I will then be happy to take any questions or comments.

Planning


As ever, dealing with housing development issues has been very time consuming for us.
The Matthewsgreen development – or Emmbrook Place as it is now called

 

This development has kept us busy. As building is now in progress, the issues have changed. We have had many instances of inconsiderate operation by Bovis – working after permitted hours, uprooting hedges they shouldn’t have, not dealing with dust in dry months. We, and some active residents, have repeatedly complained, resulting in the Council eventually issuing a formal warning to Bovis.
We continue to have problems with Bovis so have concluded that this is how they operate.

At last year’s AGM, I reported on the issues caused by the Bovis site access from Toutley Road. After strong representations from us, that access was closed in June, much to the relief of local residents.

 

Gleeson, who were the original developers for the smaller part of site, sold on their interest to Linden Homes. We have met them and are pleased to say that initial impressions as they start work are that they are more considerate and responsive than Bovis. Let’s hope it stays that way.

On a lighter note, as the houses start to go up on the development, we were pleased to hear that the Council is starting to allocate road names from the list of suggestions that we gave them!

The Hewden site

This site at the top of Old Forest Road has now got planning permission for more than 40 dwellings, moderated in some ways after representations by ourselves. The plan has been complicated by Hewden’s as a company going into administration but it will go ahead. This may well cause traffic issues at the junction of Old Forest Road and Reading Road, of which more later. We have met with the developers, Ashill.

 

Bell Farm Development

Although not in our ward, this development in Bell Foundry Lane by Berkeley Homes, is of concern to us as any flooding or noise issues could cross Twyford Road into our territory. We are maintaining contact with the developers and will intervene if we feel it is necessary

Liaison meetings

We continue to have meetings with Bovis and Linden Homes to sort out issues and try to pre-empt them wherever possible. These meetings are frustrating, with agreed actions often not dealt with. We are hoping to get Ashill involved in these meetings before the Old Forest Road development starts, but this is at present being resisted by our Conservative ward councillors which we find annoying – but watch this space.
The Northern Distributor Road

Planning for this continues in the background. At the moment, our energy is on determining the date and the exact routing of opening up the part of the road that runs through the MG development onto Toutley Road, and the part that runs up part of Old Forest Road.

As recently as two days ago we had a meeting with the Council and are exploring the possibility of stopping or restricting traffic accessing Old Forest Road from the NDR.

 

We were pleased to extract, at the recent Forum meeting, a verbal assurance from Cllr Ashwell that the NDR will NOT be routed along the full length of Old Forest Road as feared by some residents. We will ensure this is in the minutes of that meeting.

Forums

These are now well established, albeit that we have to nag for them to happen and the format keeps getting changed against our advice.

Since the last AGM three have taken place – in July and November and this March. We are now pushing for a date for the next one.

These are useful to air the issues that concern residents and get the decisionmakers
to hear what we all have to say. Please encourage your neighbours to come along to them.

Old Forest Road/Reading Road junction

You will all be aware of the traffic problem at this junction at busy times of day – which is most times of day. There was a Council plan to have traffic lights at this
junction, but this was abandoned at the end of last year. However, there was no Plan B so we pressed for a meeting to hammer this out. After much delay there was a meeting which was very frustrating as no work on the subject had been done at all by the Council. So, we expressed our disappointment – and that’s putting it mildly – and it was agreed that some options would be looked at and costed – and we had a follow up meeting two days ago. One option, much talked about round here, of widening the mouth of the junction to allow better flow of left-turning traffic, has been costed at about £400K. This is a lot of money but there again circa £150K has already been wasted on work for the traffic light option now abandoned, and this option would overall be cheaper than that one. There will be more meetings to decide if the improvement made would be worthwhile.

 

Other

We have been involved in a number of other smaller planning issues during the year – the plan to possibly build a few houses after dismantling the Council garages in Emmbrook Road, and the ongoing issue that residents of Lowther Close know about.

All in all, a busy year, and I must thank Bob Millen, Chris Mallett and Rod Needs in that regard for all the work they have put into this.

Emmbrook Sports & Social Club

At last year’s AGM, we reported that the Club had applications in for work on the site (floodlights, a stand, etc) and a variation to the permitted licencing hours. We made representation on both issues, as did some residents. There was a funny episode where the Council licensing department said they would not be responding to any more of my emails – then I emailed them again, and they responded!

In the end, both applications were approved with some amendments.

To date, no actual changes have been made though. The senior football club has not been doing well and there has been a mass exodus of committee members, and we suspect there aren’t the finances available to begin any of the site work. We will, of course, keep a careful eye on activities at the Club.

Part of the re-organisation at committee level has been to appoint someone charged with looking after the Clubhouse and ground. I have met that person and am pleased that he is intent on maximising the use of both by the community, which is of course what the site is there for, not just for the use of the football and cricket fans.

Schools liaison

One of our intentions is to work with the three local schools on projects that will involve them in the community, with us providing some incentive in the form of awards to teams and individuals who do good work.

I told you last year that we had an idea to work with the Infant and Junior schools to do some planting of flowers on Corfield Green. I am pleased to say that we have continued to pursue that during the year.

We had risk assessments done after which we got clearance to go ahead. The children had a little competition to come up with the planting design and then with the help of the relevant Council department and some youth workers plots were dug and crocuses and daffodils planted. In the near future, more planting will be done. We also hope to put a bench around the large tree, financed by ourselves.

In doing this, we have communicated our intentions to the residents of Corfield Green and have invited them to contribute their ideas and participate if they wish.

I am grateful to Chris Mallett and John Wood for their help in making this happen and continuing to do so.

I would like to think we can involve the senior school in a community project in the future.

The Emmbrook School

We are pleased to see the promised and much-needed investment of £6M in the school going ahead, not least because we assume this will secure the future of the school on this site.


The history of Emmbrook

At last year’s meeting I said that it wouldn’t be too long before Peter Shilham started putting the fifth booklet of local history together. Well, he did just that and “Still more unfinished history” was published late last year. As ever, it is a fascinating look at our past. We were very grateful to the Wokingham Society for the grant they gave us towards printing costs. In the past they have given us a grant of £100 per booklet but this time they generously gave us £150!

New members continue to get a copy of the latest booklet when they join, and of course we are always happy to sell you copies of the books at the very reasonable price of £4. I am very pleased to say that the Embrook Post Office changed its mind and started selling the booklets on our behalf again, and for that we thank Sanjay and his staff.

We don’t do this to make a profit, and we don’t make a profit, but we are obviously keen to sell as many as we can to defray losses and I am pleased to report that the Berkshire Family History Society have bought a decent number to sell on to their members.

I thank Peter for the enormous amount of work he puts into this research and writing of these booklets, and to Lesley who proof-reads them.

Policing

We are lucky to live in a relatively low crime area, but there are occasional incidents of antisocial behaviour and the like, and where necessary we liaise with the police to ensure that local issues are addressed. We also look for their support on issues such as traffic – speeding and the like.

One of our committee members, Richard Dairy, had been attending the Woosehill & Emmbrook NAG (Neighbourhood Action Group) where such police-linked issues were raised. Sadly, this group has now closed – not for the first time. We will therefore go direct to the police with any issues we have, and have invited the local PCSO to come to a future ERA committee meeting.

I thank Richard for the time he puts into this.

Social activities

One of the purposes of the association is to encourage social activities in the community.

We have held quite a few successful Quiz Nights here in the Village Hall. Last November’s went really well with well over 50 people attending. After covering our costs we raised over £350 for our funds and £115 for the local branch of the Alzheimers Society, the charity favoured by our Quizmaster Andy Howell. This is significantly more than previous years and was in large part because of the raffle.

All committee members get involved in making these nights a success, but I am particularly grateful to Phil Preston who organises the printing of posters and tickets, Lesley Dow who badgers businesses for raffle prizes, ex committee member Robin Gofton who continues to help us with the organisation of the event and Richard who is an excellent seller of raffle tickets!

We hope to hold another Quiz Night later this year, date not fixed as yet.

We would love to get suggestions for social events that you think would be popular – so don’t be shy in telling us!

Membership and subscriptions

Turning to internal Association matters, our treasurer, Phil Preston, will report further down the agenda on our membership and funding. In the natural course of events, some members leave when they move out of the area, but we have had some new members too. This last year we had more members not renewing than in the past. We always write to such members asking what their reason for not renewing is, but we rarely get a reply.

However, we still only have something like 1 in 4 of the households in Emmbrook as members, so please encourage your friends to join. After all, they enjoy the benefits of our work, so it is only fair that they should be contributing members. In addition, the more members we have the more clout we have with the Council.

You will hear more about our funding from Phil, but we are on a sound footing with our bank balance steady.

As in every other year, I have to report yet again how difficult it is to get £5 out of some people! We spend most of the year chasing some members! They know who they are ……

I thank Phil very much for the work he has done on maintaining our membership log
and counting the money in and out.

The environment

Flooding

Lesley continues the thankless task of liaising with the concerned public bodies to try and get flooding issues sorted out and necessary maintenance of gullies carried out. As usual, every organisation says it is someone else’s responsibility, but Lesley persists and usually gets a positive result!

This year Lesley has unearthed some very useful guidance on home insurance in flood risk areas and we have posted it on our website

I thank Lesley for her work on these issues.

Grass cutting

You might remember that last summer the Council decided that it would stop cutting the grass in many public areas as an ecological measure which coincidentally saved them money. We were not happy that this meant that a lot of Emmbrook Walk was not useable for leisure activities and dog walkers. We made our views known to the relevant Council department and they cut back some areas. Since then we have agreed with them that Emmbrook Walk will be kept mown this year. We also took the opportunity to point out some necessary maintenance needing to be done in that area, and are pleased to say that they have been co-operative. I thank Rod Needs for his work on this

The SANG

This area, off Old Forest Road, was eventually opened at the end of the summer last year and is already well used by some people, especially dog walkers. There have been some teething issues and as usual Bovis have been slow to respond. Soon the responsibility for the area will be handed over to the Council and we will hope for a more productive relationship.

It is to be hoped that the second sowing of wild flowers will soon start coming through (the first sowing failed), and that some benches will be installed. We are considering paying from ERA funds for a further bench, but we want to see the Council putting theirs in first!

If you haven’t been round there yet please do so, and give us any suggestions as to how it could be further enhanced.

Other issues

We are nagging the Council to have the green dye put onto the mature trees at the Old Forest Road/Reading Road junction when they were planning the junction alterations fully removed. Who knows why they didn’t use water soluble dye …..

And finally under the Environment heading, we haven’t given up on the notion of a sound barrier between the M4 and Emmbrook. As you may be aware, as part of the “smart motorway” initiative, a barrier is to be erected in Winnersh and we are with councillors’ help seeing if we can get that extended to Emmbrook. Don’t hold your breath, but we will try our best.

ERA presence online

Last year we put a lot of effort into completely re-doing our website. It is now a really good resource for local information and we update it with news on a very regular basis. You can also contact any committee member via the website.

We were alerted a few months ago that the security of the website had been breached and we had to add additional security to prevent it happening again. We were very lucky that John Wood was able to call on the expertise of an IT friend to do this for us.

I give thanks to John Wood for maintaining the website and adding content every week.

In parallel, we have a Facebook page which we use for announcements and to alert you to new postings on the website. This is well used – we know because we get usage statistics. Remember this is a two-way thing, so you can post comments or questions on it, as some people already do.

My thanks to Chris Mallett who put this page together, maintains it and adds the regular postings

As these online updates work so well, we decided to cease production of the newsletters which of their nature are irregular and never completely up to date.
We contacted those members not online and a small number have asked us to
give them an occasional hard copy newsletter, which we will try to do.

Traffic

You will recall Geoff Marsden and his 20mph signs.

Geoff was concerned about the lorries speeding along Emmbrook Road and causing vibrations which were causing damage to his house. After last year’s meeting, we worked to support Geoff in dealing with the Council on this.

The Council experts got involved, and in due course (ie after much nagging) decided that changes to the traffic light system so that the lights were on red until traffic got near them would be the answer as it would stop the racing to get through the green light. We were delighted. Then after a while the same experts decided this was a bad idea – their idea – and returned the lights back to normal while they had a think about it. They must still be thinking as we have heard no more – so, work in progress. More nagging needed!

Other matters

Before I close and hand over to Phil, I would like to give a mention to a few other things.

You will know that we expect ward councillors to work hard on your behalf and we have not always been satisfied in that regard. That hasn’t changed! You will know that this year, one of the Conservative councillors resigned and at the subsequent election was replaced by a LibDem councillor. We are concerned that the three of them are not working together for the good of residents, putting party “loyalty” ahead of your interests. We have taken all three to task about this and will continue to do so. It just isn’t good enough!

I hope this has given you a taste of the many things we do on your behalf during the year. This is all done by nine volunteers, including Rod who joined us this year and has worked hard both before and after his recent heart problem – and Lesley, who is working tirelessly for us whilst not at all well. Our constitution allows for twelve members and there are things we don’t do at the moment that we could do if we had a few more committee members.

However, we have a real problem now. As we told you last year, Lesley will be leaving the area and therefore her role as Secretary. To add to that, Phil has decided, after 12 tears service on the committee as Treasurer, that he can’t continue and this is his last meeting. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Phil publicly for all those years of hard work for us.

The plain truth, however, is that we cannot function without these two roles so we are faced with the real prospect of the Association ceasing to exist if we can’t fill these roles very soon. We will discuss this at our next committee meeting and there will be a process to go through including an Extraordinary General Meeting. We will, of course, communicate widely to see if we can get two volunteers, but if we can’t then that will be that.

Please consider if you can step into either of these roles, or if you can’t then think about who you could persuade. I think we achieve a lot for local residents and there is still so much to be done but if residents can’t support us in this way then we cannot continue.

Summary

So, as I said at the beginning of my report, this has been another busy year.

As for the future, there will be plenty to do, including:

  • pushing for improvements on the SANG
  • working to get the best routing of the NDR
  • working to get plans progressed for the amenities on the MGF development – shops, the new school, the new community hall, healthcare facilities, help for the emergent community
  • clarifying the plans for replacement allotments and Arboretum when the NDR progresses to Reading Road
  • the issues arising from building on the Hewden site
  • the Old Forest Road/Reading Road junction
  • a 30mph limit for Old Forest Road
  • helping Martin Wilson get a suitable site for the new Scout HQ

If we are able to continue, this is what we will do.

Questions

Thank you for listening. At this point, I am happy to open the meeting up for any questions or comments.

Then

Thank you – if there are no more questions or comments, I would now like to hand over to Phil Preston for the Treasurer’s Report.
 

 

 

 

19TH MAY 2016

The following is the text of the report delivered by the Chairman, Paul Gallagher, at the Annual General Meeting of the Emmbrook Residents Association held at the Emmbrook Village Hall on 19th May 2016.  (If you would like to re-read the report that was delivered on 21st May 2015, please click on the date.)

It gives me great pleasure to deliver my ninth Chairman’s speech!

It’s been a very busy year for the ERA.  In this report, I will briefly refer to the wide range of activities we’ve been involved in, and look ahead to the work we intend to tackle in the year to come.  I will then be happy to take any questions or comments.

Planning

Matthewsgreen development

As has been the case for a few years now, the last 12 months has been dominated by issues related to the Mathewsgreen housing development.

When I spoke about this at last year’s AGM, the planning was still in progress.  Now, we are some months into the seven or eight year building programme, so it’s reality and we are concentrating on getting the best outcome possible for residents.

But first, a brief look back at events since last year’s AGM.  At that time, Bovis were just about to hold an exhibition here. Having just heard about their U-turn on their promise to restrict construction traffic access to Twyford Road, we encouraged residents to attend the exhibition and quiz them on that issue.  We were delighted that more than 200 of you did so over the four-hour period.  However, despite all sorts of representations by us to both Bovis and WBC we weren’t able to persuade them to change their mind and, as you know, there is an access point in Toutley Road as well as Twyford Road.  We hope that at some stage later this year the Toutley Road access will be closed.

The other big disappointment for us was WBC going back on the commitment given to residents with respect to the route of the NDR.  This was disclosed to us last summer, and announced in a Forum Meeting held at short notice at the Bradbury Centre in September.  There were many reasons given for the change of heart but fundamentally it was cost.  We now have a route that goes through the middle of the new housing, will be right next to the new school, and will use part of Toutley Road and Old Forest Road.  We were, and still are, furious about this.

What then followed was disgraceful behaviour by WBC and some councillors in avoiding facing residents to tell them their decision.  You have no idea how much effort it took to get them to write to you all some four months later and eventually agree to a Forum Meeting at the Emmbrook School some five months later.  I was delighted that, despite the meeting being on a cold rainy night at half term, 450 of you packed the hall to hear their lame excuses and give them your opinion!

But, we are where we are and now we must concentrate on the issues still to be resolved.  We have pushed for and now have regular liaison meetings with Bovis and WBC.  We’ve had meetings in February and April and the next one is coming up in July.  We are doing our best to explain the importance of good and regular communication with residents but it’s like pushing water uphill – they can’t even communicate good news – several examples, the SANG and the path improvements through Emmbrook Walk.  There are practical issues that necessitate regular contact with Bovis – lorries not following the designated routes, contractor vehicles parking where they shouldn’t, damage to Emmbrook Walk not being made good etc, etc.

However, we do seem to have got all concerned to agree to regular Forum Meetings.  Following the one in March, there was another at the Emmbrook School in April attended by 200 people, and there will be a further one next month which we hope will concentrate on aspects of the development controlled by WBC rather than the developers.  More info to follow as soon as we have it.

Other related live issues which we are dealing with include:

  • The route of the NDR once it leaves the development – where and how it joins Toutley Road, the route it will follow along Old Forest Road and across the fields to the Reading Road.
  • The new open space off Old Forest Road (the so-called SANG).
  • The new school and the new community hall.

On the subject of the Community Hall, when I spoke to you last year there was still the possibility that this building would be closed and the site sold off to help pay for the new hall.  I am very pleased that we were able to secure the future of this hall as well as the new one. We have held meeting with WBC about the new hall, and are satisfied with the design. It will be between three and four times the size of this one and will be built next to the school, and will also have use of the school hall out of hours.  It will be built in line with the occupation of the 200th dwelling.

To finish on a lighter note about the new development, I am pleased to tell you that the street names will at least in part be names put forward by ourselves which have local historical significance – families and individuals who figure prominently in the history of Emmbrook.

We are working constantly on this issue and a number of other planning matters.  All of this work entails a huge amount of work in attending meetings, scrutinising lengthy written material and putting together submissions, and in that regard I am grateful to all committee members but in particular Bob Millen and Chris Mallett.

Emmbrook Sports & Social Club

We reported last year that we were concerned about possible plans by the Club to carry out changes to the Lowther Road ground and that we anticipated a planning application being submitted.

Since then, with our encouragement, the Club has held two open meetings at the Clubhouse.  Attendance wasn’t particularly good, but concerns were expressed clearly.

In due course, the planning application was submitted by ESSC, we put our concerns in writing to WBC and encouraged residents to do the same.  Those of you who looked at the comments posted on the WBC website can’t have failed to notice that many of them came from well outside this area – and were mainly in favour of the proposals.  We were astonished to find, when we queried this, that anyone can comment and their comments carry equal weight to those of local residents!  I commented to WBC that perhaps I should suggest to my sister in Liverpool that she write in objection.  What a ludicrous situation

Mark Ashwell tells us that he is removing the proposal for the fencing from the planning application, but he has yet to do so.  We had expected the Planning Committee to consider the planning application in March, but it hasn’t and we are not asking why.  The delay, for whatever reason, suits us.  Meanwhile, the senior football team has been relegated, and we continue to feel that Cantley or Greys Farm should be considered as a more suitable site.

Sticking with ESSC, but on a different issue, you may be aware that the Club posted notification of an application for a change in licencing conditions for the Clubhouse.  On investigation, we came across another example of strange behaviour by WBC.  Comments were invited on the application, but it isn’t posted online, they won’t send you a copy and you can only view it during office hours at Shute End in the presence of a Council Officer.  Tough if you work!  Anyhow, the application has currently been withdrawn because it wasn’t properly completed and meanwhile we are questioning the process with WBC.  Mark Ashwell says it’s nothing to worry about.

Schools liaison

One of our intentions is to work with the three local schools on projects that will involve them in the community, with us providing some incentive in the form of awards to teams and individuals who do good work.

After several years of failing to get any interest from the schools, we tried a new approach and met the Heads of both the Infants and Junior schools earlier this year.  I am pleased to tell you that they have agreed to work together and with us on a joint project.  What we hoping to make happen is a planting scheme this summer on the ground in front of Corfield Green.  We are making good progress with WBC on the various permissions that are needed before this can happen.  Assuming we get through that we will then meet residents to get their views before proceeding but we hope the outcome will be some planting to enhance that area for all concerned and give the children a project that they find stimulating and gives them community awareness.  We will put some finance into the project.

I am grateful to Chris Mallett and John Wood for their work on this.

The Emmbrook School

When the Council’s latest attempt to close the school failed a few years ago (did you know that their first attempt was six weeks after the school opened!) we were concerned that the Council needed to spend a lot of money on bringing the school up to standard.  In due course, the Council committed to a programme of work involving spending £6M over a period of years.  We are delighted to note that the final part of that investment will now be spent.

We note that Nigel Matthias is retiring and we wish him well, and look forward to meeting the new Head when he takes up his role in the Autumn.

The history of Emmbrook

Peter Shilham continues to dig up fascinating historical material and I am sure it won’t be too long before he starts putting together his fifth book.  In the meantime, those of you who read the Wokingham Paper will have enjoyed the series of articles he has written.

New members continue to get a copy of the latest booklet when they join, and of course we are always happy to sell you copies of the books at the very reasonable price of £4.  Sadly, when the Embrook Post Office was refitted last year they decided not to stock the book any more and the bookshops in the area want a cut of the money which is a shame.

I thank Peter for the enormous amount of work he puts into this research and writing.

Policing

We are lucky to live in a relatively low crime area, but there are occasional incidents of antisocial behaviour and the like, and where necessary we liaise with the police to ensure that local issues are addressed.  We also look for their support on issues such as traffic – speeding and the like.

One of our committee members, Richard Dairy, attends the Woosehill & Emmbrook NAG (Neighbourhood Action Group) where such police-linked issues can be raised, and he gives our views on the hot topics for our area.

I thank Richard for the time he puts into this.

Social activities

One of the purposes of the association is to encourage social activities in the community.

We have held a number of successful Quiz Nights here in the Village Hall.  Last November’s went well with well over 50 people attending.  After covering our costs we raised well over £200 for our funds and £100 for the local branch of the Alzheimers Society, the charity favoured by our Quizmaster Andy Howell.  This is more than in previous years and was in large part because we were able to source great fish and chips at a lower price than before.

All committee members get involved in making these nights a success, but I am particularly grateful to Phil Preston who organises the printing of posters and tickets, Lesley Dow who badgers businesses for raffle prizes and ex committee member Robin Gofton who continues to help us with the organisation of the event.

We will hold another Quiz Night later this year, date not fixed as yet.

I am grateful to all committee members for their help with this, but particularly Lesley and Phil.

We would love to get suggestions for social events that you think would be popular – so don’t be shy in telling us!

Membership and subscriptions

Turning to internal Association matters, our treasurer, Phil Preston, will report further down the agenda on our membership and funding.  In the natural course of events, some members leave when they move out of the area, but we have had some new members too.

However, we still only have something like 1 in 4 of the households in Emmbrook as members, so please encourage your friends to join.  After all, they enjoy the benefits of our work, so it is only fair that they should be contributing members.  In addition, the more members we have the more clout we have with the Council.

You will hear more about our funding from Phil, but we are on a sound footing with our bank balance increasing.

As in every other year, I have to report yet again how difficult it is to get £5 out of some people!  We spend most of the year chasing some members!  They know who they are ……

I thank Phil very much for the work he does on maintaining our membership log and counting the money in and out.

The environment

Lesley continues the thankless task of liaising with the concerned public bodies to try and get flooding issues sorted out and necessary maintenance of gullies carried out.  As usual, every organisation says it is someone else’s responsibility, but Lesley persists and usually gets a positive result!

As ever, Lesley had to remind WBC last summer that vegetation grows in the summer and clogs up the ditches.  Each year they express surprise, then send a contractor to do the clearing out – then Lesley tells them what they’ve missed, they apologise and come back and finish the job.

Talking of assigning praise, you will have noticed that many local politicians have
been congratulating themselves on (hopefully) finally sorting out the flooding under the railway bridge.  Well, as the song goes, it ain’t necessarily so!  Lesley has done a lot herself to badger the Council, and one of our residents called Ian Milne has been a real hero in managing to get to the people who can actually get something done and has kept on their back.  Let’s hope the flooding is at an end ……

I thank Lesley for her work on these issues.

ERA presence online

We have had a website for a number of years, but it had got really out of date and needed a complete redesign and an efficient process for updating.  I am delighted to report that we now have a completely new website built from scratch and we update it almost on a daily basis.  If you haven’t had a look yet then please do so – it looks great and if you want to know what the latest is particularly on the housing development then there’s a good chance that you will find the answer on our website.  You can also contact any committee member via the website.

To boost awareness of the website, and hopefully to encourage more residents to join the ERA, we have recently held the photo competition.  That competition has now closed, we do have a few more members, and we will announce the winners later in the meeting …….

I give huge thanks to John Wood for building the website and maintaining it, and to all committee members for their contributions to the site structure and content.

In parallel, we now have a Facebook page which we use for announcements and to alert you to new postings on the website.  In the future, as more residents view our page, I hope we can use this to get your reactions to hot topics – that’s where Facebook can be really useful to get a quick response from residents.

My thanks to Chris Mallett who has put this page together and who maintains it for us.

So, all in all, we now have a real online presence which we hope will help communication.

Other matters

Before I close and hand over to Phil, I would like to give a quick mention to a few other things.

We issue newsletters which we issue from time to time.  All committee members contribute to them but I am particularly grateful to Peter as editor, Lesley as proof reader and Phil as printer.  Thank you.

I hope this has given you a taste of the many things we do on your behalf during the year.  This is all done by eight volunteers.  Our constitution allows for twelve members so if you want to join us and bring your opinions and elbow grease to the party, please talk to us afterwards.

Finally, I would like to thank Lesley for her tireless work as Secretary to the Association which includes the organisation of this AGM.  I regret to have to tell you that Lesley and her husband Alan will be leaving the area some time later this year for family reasons, and whilst I wish them all the very best for their future, I am well aware of the huge hole to fill.  We need a new Secretary, ideally soon so that we can have an orderly handover.  So, if you fancy it, or you know someone who might, talk to us afterwards.

Summary

So, as I said at the beginning of my report, this has been another busy year.

As for the future, there will be plenty to keep us busy, including:

  • Continuing to contribute to the housing development planning process, so that the design of housing is appropriate to the area, the area gets the infrastructure it needs and you are kept well informed.
  • Contributing to the wider issues around Wokingham that effect us here in Emmbrook

Questions

There followed various questions by Mr Rodney Needs (Brimblecombe Close) and James Carlin (Emmbrook Road):

1. Rodney Needs: Would the speed limit on Old Forest Road be reduced from 40mph to 30mph once the NDR was in operation?  Previous advice from WBC was that this would not be enforceable.

The Chairman replied that, in his discussions with Simon Wakerley (Bovis Build Director), he had been told that WBC’s traffic expert had said that there is a possibility that the speed limit could be reduced and enforced but this had initially to be advertised for six weeks before any action was taken.

However, given that the road is very wide, very straight and had very few houses on one side, even if the limit was reduced and followed, any breach would not be a high priority with the police.

The Chairman also said that the NDR through the new development will be 30mph (and the route passes by the new school and community centre which did not seem very sensible) and it may be that the rest of the road (after exiting the development) would also be 30mph.  The WBC officer who gave this information is leaving shortly so will not have to answer for the accuracy of this statement.

2. James Carlin asked whether there would be a pedestrian crossing on Old Forest Road.

The Chairman confirmed that this is included on the plans.  Bob Millen, Committee Member, added that, from where the NDR joined the Reading Road, the speed limit would be increased to 40mph to match the existing.

3. Is there any further information on the section between Toutley Road and Old Forest Road which is in the control of WBC?

The Chairman replied that, at the next Forum meeting, we want to concentrate on all the questions from previous meetings where the developers could give no answers as WBC has responsibility for this section.  This issue will be raised at that meeting and we will advise you once we have been informed of the date.

There being no further questions, the Chairman handed over to Phil Preston for his report.

21st MAY 2015

This is the text of the report delivered by the Chairman, Paul Gallagher, at the Annual General Meeting of the Emmbrook Residents Association held at the Emmbrook Village Hall on 21st May 2015.

It gives me great pleasure to deliver my eighth Chairman’s speech!

As ever, it’s been a very busy year for the ERA.  In this report, I will briefly refer to the wide range of activities we’ve been involved in, and look ahead to the work we intend to tackle in the year to come.  I will then be happy to take any questions or comments.

Planning

Matthewsgreen Development

As has been the case for a few years now, the last twelve months have been dominated by issues related to the Matthewsgreen housing development.

Last September, following what we regarded as inadequate consultation with residents, we encouraged the developers to hold a Public Exhibition at the Emmbrook School.  It was very well attended.  We also arranged a Public Meeting at the school, which was equally well attended with more than 170 people present, and gave the developers, Council officers and councillors much food for thought.  The outline planning application was submitted to the Council later in the year; we attended a number of meetings with the developers and councillors, we made detailed written objections to the application and we spoke at the Planning Committee meeting.

We were very unhappy at the way that the developers used inaccurate traffic data in an inappropriate way to “prove” their case, and we continue to press for a meeting with one of our councillors and the relevant Council officer about this.  The problem is that many decisions about traffic management are made on the basis of these projections.  As expected, the application was approved, albeit with a number of amendments following our representations.

Since then, the developers have been preparing their more detailed plan for the first part of the development, and we met them again recently to review their plans.  This process continues and there will be a public exhibition of their proposals in this building on 3rd June between 4pm and 8pm.

A view towards Matthewsgreen Road from the A321.
A view towards Matthewsgreen Road from the A321.

This very evening I have been trying to speak to WBC officers and our Ward Councillors as we have just discovered that the construction traffic will be allowed to use Old Forest Road and Toutley Road at the start of this development.  This is completely against what we were led to understand which was that, from Day One, all construction traffic would access the site from a point on Twyford Road.

[At this point a member of the audience interjected with the remark that, if that were the case, she had been lied to by her Ward Councillor at the Public Meeting.  Other members of the audience called out their agreement, making it clear that there was exceptionally strong objection to this latest news. Another member enquired whether any Minutes were made of this meeting but initially none had been made.  The only details available were the notes made of questions to be answered at a later date by WBC and the developers. The Chairman will be pursuing this matter and any information we obtain will be distributed to Emmbrook residents as soon as possible.]

The Chairman then continued with his report for the year:-

We also participated in the consultation about the open space (SANG, in planning speak) that will be provided as part of the development.

Lastly, on the development, we are pushing hard for the provision of an adequate community hall.  This building [the Emmbrook Village Hall] is a great facility but, with the provision of 760 more dwellings and the several thousand people that come with it, another bigger one is needed with appropriate parking in a suitable location.  The Developers will provide £760K towards the cost, but between £2M and £3M will be needed.  A couple of days ago, we were advised that the Village Hall will probably not now need to be sold to help with the cost of the new community centre.  We will keep on the case about this.

North Wokingham Distributor Road

We were told last year that a “technical study” of our preferred route for this road would be completed and a decision made by the end of March.

Since that time, we have asked what is going on.  We have been told that, subject to final negotiations with one landlord, the decision will be confirmed and announced by late June or early July – and that it is likely to be a variation on route B, which goes behind the Council depot then emerges onto the bottom of Old Forest Road for a short distance before veering across onto the land between Old Forest Road and the motorway and emerging onto Reading Road by the allotments.  For those of you who remember the original consultation, this would be largely route C.

Realistically, being aware of the flood plain issue, this is the best outcome we could expect.  Nevertheless, we continue to press for a final decision and announcement.

Other Matters

We have worked on a number of other planning matters, too numerous to mention.  All of this work entails a huge amount of work in attending meetings, scrutinising lengthy written material and putting together submissions, and in that regard I am grateful to all committee members but in particular Bob Millen and Chris Mallett.

Emmbrook Sports & Social Club

We reported last year that we were concerned about possible plans by the Club to carry out changes to the Lowther Road ground to allow the football team to be promoted to the next highest league, should their performance on the field warrant it.

The Emm Brook passing through a wooded area.
The Emm Brook passing through a wooded area.

The latest is that the Club are intending to submit a planning application in the next month or two for a semi-permanent stand, more powerful floodlights and a car park within the ground.  We have had a meeting with Club President Mark Ashwell, and expressed our concerns on the potential effect of those changes on local residents – noise, traffic nuisance, light pollution, restriction of use of the ground for other purposes etc.

We also have concerns about the other changes that may need to be made to the ground to conform to FA minimum standards.  Mark has told us he will be communicating his intentions to local residents, and holding a Public Meeting which we have offered to Chair.  We have urged him to do this as soon as possible, and we await further news.

Schools Liaison

One of our activities in recent years has been to work with the Infant and Junior Schools on projects that will involve them in the community, with us providing some incentive in the form of awards to teams and individuals who do good work.

This year we have again unfortunately not been able to generate any interest from the schools.  We had hoped to get all three Emmbrook schools involved in a project being run by the Joel Park Residents Association in June/July, but after some initial enthusiasm it now seems it won’t happen.

We will consider in the months to come how we can change our approach to get more success, and would be grateful for any suggestions.

The Emmbrook School

After a number of years where the future of the school in Emmbrook was in doubt, we have been delighted to see the much-needed investment in the site starting to happen.  The new English block is up if not yet quite open, and a new Maths block will follow soon.

This year the school celebrates its fiftieth anniversary and we hope it goes on to celebrate many more.

Headteacher Nigel Matthias has been helpful in opening his school’s archives, such as they are, for Peter Shilham’s perusal for future history booklets.

The History of Emmbrook

Last year I told you that we had just published the third booklet on the history of Emmbrook, and I am very pleased to tell you this time that we have just published the fourth booklet!

It is quite costly to have these booklets professionally printed and bound, and we are grateful to the Wokingham Society for the grants they have given us towards the cost of each booklet, and on this occasion they have given us £150.  We sell copies locally to help reduce our Emmbrook History Vol 3costs – indeed we have a few copies here if anyone wants another one at £4 a copy!  Having read it myself, I can personally recommend it as a very interesting read.

We sold out of the first booklet this year and have had some reprinted.

We are very grateful to Sanjay at the Post Office for selling booklets for us at no profit to himself, and whilst mentioning Sanjay I am sure you all join me in wishing him a speedy recovery after his recent heart operation.  Having had heart surgery myself a few years ago, I know it is a hard slog to get back fighting fit but I am sure he will do it.

Committee member Peter Shilham is our researcher and writer and I am grateful to him for the many hours he puts in on this.  He would want me to also give credit to Lesley for her tireless proof reading and to Phil for arranging the printing.

Peter tells me he is already gathering material for the next booklet …..

Policing

We are lucky to live in a relatively low crime area, but there are occasional incidents of antisocial behaviour and the like, and where necessary we liaise with the police to ensure that local issues are addressed.  We also look for their support on issues such as traffic – speeding and the like.

One such issue we are working on at the moment is right outside this hall where we believe that an accident is waiting to happen if we don’t get the yellow lines extended further along the road from the mini roundabout towards the railway bridge.

One of our committee members, Richard Dairy, attends the Woosehill & Emmbrook NAG (Neighbourhood Action Group) where such police-linked issues can be raised, and he gives our views on the hot topics for our area.  I thank Richard for the time he puts into this.

Social Activities

One of the purposes of the association is to encourage social activities in the community.

We have held a number of successful Quiz Nights here in the Village Hall.  Last November’s went well with over 50 people attending.  After covering our costs we raised £261, of which £200 went to our funds and the balance to the local branch of the Alzheimer’s Society, the charity favoured by our Quizmaster Andy Howell.

All committee members get involved in making these nights a success, but I am particularly grateful to Phil Preston who organises the printing of posters and tickets and the ordering of food, Lesley Dow who badgers businesses for raffle prizes and ex-committee member Robin Gofton who continues to help us with the organisation of the event.

We will hold another Quiz Night later this year, date not fixed as yet.

The Emmbrook Walk.
The Emmbrook Walk.

In addition to the Quiz Night, this year we held a Table Top sale.  We were really pleased that all 16 tables were taken by sellers, but disappointed by the poor turnout of buyers.  We made a small profit of £33 through the table hire, and we had some good feedback from sellers but after some discussion we have decided not to hold another one.  Organising such an event takes a lot of work by committee members and is not worth it for such a small return.

I am grateful to all committee members for their help with this but particularly Lesley and Phil.

We would love to get suggestions for social events that you think would be popular – so don’t be shy in telling us!

Membership and Subscriptions

Turning to internal Association matters, our treasurer, Phil Preston, will report further down the agenda on our membership and funding.  In the natural course of events, some members leave when they move out of the area, but we have had some new members too.

During the last twelve months, we had a short term marketing campaign where we offered new members copies of the three previous history booklets.  I am pleased to say that this resulted in 16 new members.

However, we still only have something like 1 in 4 of the households in Emmbrook as members, so please encourage your friends to join.  After all, they enjoy the benefits of our work, so it is only fair that they should be contributing members.  In addition, the more members we have the more clout we have with the Council.

You will hear more about our funding from Phil, but we are on a sound footing.

As in every other year, I have to report yet again how difficult it is to get £5 out of some people!  We spend most of the year chasing some members!  They know who they are ……

I thank Phil very much for the work he does on maintaining our membership log and counting the money in and out.

The Environment

Lesley continues the thankless task of liaising with the concerned public bodies to try and get flooding issues sorted out and necessary maintenance of gullies carried out.  As usual, every organisation says it is someone else’s responsibility, but Lesley persists and usually gets a positive result!

On another topic, last year we told you about the discussions we were having with the Council about deterring people from parking their vehicles on the grass crescent in Commons Road.  It is not often I give up on an issue, but after two years of dealing with the Council on this I have now given up!

To just give you a taste of this, at various times the Council have told us they couldn’t do anything about the parking as it wasn’t their land (although they now admit it is), that they would put in wooden posts at a cost of £8000 (which we told them was ridiculously expensive), that they couldn’t afford to put a no parking sign up, that putting up a sign would encourage people to park elsewhere on other Council land, that they had bye-laws to fine people if they continued to park illegally but they didn’t enforce the bye-laws as it cost too much, that it was the police’s problem not theirs (the police, unsurprisingly, said it wasn’t their problem), and that they cannot do anything about it because of impending legislation about verges (it isn’t a verge!).

I haven’t finished!  Last year I told you they had suggested they carry out a survey of local residents about this issue.  Fair enough.  So, I have enquired over the months about the results of that survey.  A new councillor took over responsibility for this type of thing, so I met him – he promised to “look into it” and get back to me.  He did, and said that it was clear that “there appears to be no massive feeling for or against”.  I said I would like to see the survey results for myself – at which point he admitted the survey had never happened.

You couldn’t make it up, could you!

Other Matters

Before I close and hand over to Phil, I would like to give a quick mention to a few other things.

Sadly, since last year’s AGM, two stalwarts of this community have died – Mary Clarke and more recently Richard Dadd. Both will be remembered for all the work they did for this community.

The Millennium Arboretum.
The Millennium Arboretum.

On a happier note, you may have noticed that the name of Hunters, the estate agent, has appeared on the bottom of some of our paperwork recently.  They have agreed to give us some support, initially in the form of printing and distribution of some of our literature, and in the near future, the redesign and relaunch of our website.  This is part of their organisation’s wish to have community involvement, and we are grateful for their help.

I would like to thank Chris Mallet and John Wood for joining the committee officially at last year’s AGM, and for the work they have done since.

I would also like to mention the newsletters which we issue from time to time.  All committee members contribute to them but I am particularly grateful to Peter as editor, Lesley as proof reader and Phil as printer.  Thank you.

Finally, I would like to thank Lesley for her tireless work as Secretary to the Association which includes the organisation of this AGM.

Summary

So, as I said at the beginning of my report, this has been another busy year.

As for the future, there will be plenty to keep us busy, including:

  • continuing to contribute to the housing development planning process, so that the design of housing is appropriate to the area, the area gets the infrastructure it needs, including roads and shops and schools and medical facilities and at least one decent community centre to cope with the new houses and people and their cars;
  • pushing for continued investment in the Emmbrook School;
  • pushing for adequate flood alleviation measures;
  • contributing to the wider issues around Wokingham that affect us here in Emmbrook.

Questions

Thank you for listening.  At this point, I am happy to open the meeting up for any questions or comments.

An ERA member proposed a vote of thanks to the Chairman for his report and for the work that he does in his role, with which the audience unreservedly agreed.

Two ERA members from Ashton Road advised the audience of a problem they had had with flooding and buildings insurance.  Their insurers considered that their property could flood despite it never having done so.  They then wrote to the Environment Agency who advised them that their “property is not at risk of flooding and is actually in the 20% of the houses in this country that will never flood”.  Any residents with the same problem should write to the Environment Agency and ask for a similar letter to give to their insurance company and any others in doubt about the flood risk.

As there were no further questions or comments, the Chairman thanked the audience for their valuable input and handed over to Phil Preston to give the Treasurer’s Report.