Tag Archives: Winnersh

Isn’t Local Politics Unfair

So the people have spoken.

Well a small minority of the people have spoken, the vast majority considered it wasn’t worth the bother and didn’t show up. In Wokingham where the vast majority of campaigning was focused on Winnersh, where the candidates for the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives canvassed every house, elsewhere you’d be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t an election going on as in many wards people didn’t even get a leaflet from many of the candidates – indeed one of the Green party candidates seemed quite proud on Facebook to have polled almost 300 votes off no campaigning at all…

The upshot of the whole process was a grand total of two seats changing hands. Winnersh, which was the most marginal seat on the council switched from Conservative to Liberal Democrat, and over in Charvil a Parish Councillor running as an independent managed to unseat the sitting Conservative councillor. This result produced a response about how unfair the result was from the leader of the council. Bear in mind that the ruling Conservative group still holds forty-three of the fifty-four seats on the council so can still do pretty well anything they want, and much as with the library privatisation and bin scheme can introduce things without any consultation. To be honest if you’re talking about unfair getting nearly 90% of the seats off just above 50% of the vote is much more unfair but since he’s the party getting 90% of the seats he’s not complaining. As far as I’m concerned he’s got off lightly, it’s only the general apathy of the electorate who are fed up with all politicians that means that he didn’t lose more. Talking with my aunt this week, a veteran of many election campaigns over the years she said the only way to take a seat from the ruling party is by simple hard work, and that involves a lot of door knocking, not sitting back and being proud of 300 votes off no campaigning!

Don’t Be Fooled

As we approach the local elections on Thursday, and with the Tories rocked by a succession of scandals and crises since the Budget, the local Tory candidates can increasingly see the writing on the wall.

It’s even worse if you happen to be standing in an area with local issues – around Wokingham it’s the ongoing disastrous introduction of an unpopular new rubbish collection scheme coupled with other issues around housing development, the privatisation of the library service, removal of public toilets, school provision amongst other things.

As a result there seems to be an increasing attempt by Tory candidates to disassociate themselves with their own party, taking the local battle that’s been attracting most attention, the very marginal ward of Winnersh, the initial leaflet from Tory candidate Mark Ashwell is quite clearly Tory.

But on this page are pictures of the latest ‘leaflet’, an apparent copy of a handwritten letter. It does mention he’s the Conservative candidate in the second paragraph, but the required declaration on the bottom of the second page lists only his agents name, and the address of the local Conservatives, without actually highlighting that this is the Conservative HQ. There is no Conservative branding at all.

So what is going on? This is not the only place it is happening, elsewhere local Tory candidates are starting to see the Tory brand as toxic.

But as you come to the booth on Thursday to cast your vote what do you do? Don’t be fooled, whatever the leaflets say, if you vote for a Tory you get a Tory, if you vote for a Liberal Democrat you get a Liberal Democrat, if you vote for a Labour candidate that’s what you get too. If you want somebody independent who will stand up for wherever you live then you need an independent – but there are precious few of those around. Also don’t forget that around here you’ve got the Green Party and UKIP vying for your vote as well, in fact they’re running in more seats than Labour this time around.

Certainly with the unpopularity of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats nationally and the memory of Labour still pretty fresh (and not really a big force around here) the election in Wokingham is going to be interesting. The rubbish issue really has got an awful lot of people annoyed, especially when, like most things around here it was brought in with the minimum of consultation and many people were totally unaware of it until blue bags started dropping through their door. Could it be the issue that results in a dent in the local Tory parties absolute power and domination of the Borough? But if people are also wary of the Liberal Democrats over national issues, and have doubts over Labour, could we be seeing some UKIP and Green councillors by the end of the week?

Why We’re Not Moving to Milford Grange

Front ViewLooking at the previous post you’ll see that we were getting generally excited about moving into a new house early next year. Unfortunately as a number of people now know, that is now not going to happen as we’ve withdrawn our offer, and to some extent think we’ve had a lucky escape…

So what went wrong? After all the whole point of buying new is that it is a lot less hassle than all this messing about with chains. Certainly in many ways it is easier, but as we discovered it pays to have a good lawyer behind you!

Having bought new before we were already aware of some of the tricks and wheezes pulled by new house builders. They are apparently not as bad as they used to be, but certainly we had a contract where we paid if we defaulted or were late on the day of completion, and we also paid if they defaulted or were late on the day of completion. The original contract also stated that we could not refuse to complete if they hadn’t completed the parking, garage or garden fencing, nor could we refuse to complete if they hadn’t obtained buildings certification that the house had been properly completed. After objecting, both of those clauses were removed.

Where it all came unstuck was over the thorny issue of parking. Now parking problems on new estates are not exactly uncommon. Government policy for a long while was to try and encourage people to use cars less by providing less parking on estates. What is happening now though is that management firms on the estates are taking to clamping to enforce parking allocations so making sure you have the right number of spaces is important.

We’d opted for a house with a garage and parking space, however when the contract came through, that’s not what we were getting. What was on the conveyancing paperwork was only a garage, the space directly in front of our garage door was designated as a shared parking space for use by residents or visitors on a first come first served basis. Our solicitor asked for clarification and the developer confirmed that anybody could park in the space directly in front of our garage. This was ridiculous so we queried, and the developer came back stating that we could have exclusive use of the space in front of our garage, but subject to the management company being able to reallocate the space as required. Again, not good enough, so their final offer was to have the space permanently allocated, but again, not actually our parking space.

At this point I was getting decidedly annoyed, so I looked up the planning details of the site. To the right you can see the sales plan of the development. A particular point to note is that aside from the spaces in front of the housing association properties in the top right corner, every space is allocated to a property, and in particular there are no visitors spaces at all. Also remember here that in Wokingham Borough the parking rules are that two bedroom and three bedroom semi-detached properties have 1.5 spaces each, i.e. some have one space some have two. On this site they all have two spaces. Visitors spaces should be provided on a ratio of one space for every four properties. The planning application for this development stated that it would provide eleven visitors parking spaces, even when challenged, Bewley Homes came back and said there were none. (It is worth noting at this stage that their statement that there were none didn’t really ring true given that they’d previously told us that the space in front of our garage was shared for visitor use). Looking in more detail at the plans, at no time did they actually define the parking allocations, all of the plans indicate the location of the spaces, and in most cases have no indication of allocation, except ironically for the four spaces in front of the garages that we queried in the first place.

At this point I asked a couple of friends who knew about planning issues what the situation was when the written statement and plans did not agree, they all said that they should agree and implied that planning shouldn’t have been granted if they didn’t. I then spent half an hour on the phone with the local planning office, who looked at the plans, the sales particulars and the planning application and agreed it looked wrong, but obviously wouldn’t commit to investigate unless I lodged a formal complaint.

Given the plans it could be said that the plans fitted with the statement on what the spaces were, but equally what Bewley Homes were now selling also agreed with the plans. We then challenged Bewley on the statement but they deftly didn’t clarify the status of the statement and instead just sent another copy of the landscape plan with no space allocations and asked if I could point out where they were violating planning. Of course they are building exactly what the plans say, the query is more subtle than that. The Bewley position quite clearly is that the plans without space allocations were approved, and therefore they can sell all the houses as they wish. From the point of view of a potential buyer that is fine for those properties with drives, but for the eighteen properties on the estate that like ours were being sold apparently with space for two cars, if at some point in the future someone triggered an investigation by the planning department, and that found that Bewley should have provided eleven designated visitors spaces and didn’t, they could very well find that they only had one space not two. If the estate were also to introduce clampers to enforce parking we’d be left with a car and nowhere to park it, not a prospect I relished.

As such I couldn’t really consider the house until the parking was clarified, Bewley are resolutely sticking to their guns that it is approved, Wokingham Borough Council planning department seemed decidedly less sure, so given all of that we withdrew the offer, and asked for a full refund of all monies we’d paid out given that there were queries over planning. Needless to say Bewley came back via their solicitors saying that they would only refund £500, half of the reservation fee deducting a £500 administration fee, and not refunding for any of the extras we’d specified. After comments on their supposedly exemplary customer service via the solicitors they have subsequently moved on that finally refunding £1459 which is refunds for all the extras that have yet to be delivered last week, so whoever eventually buys plot 31 will find quite a few extra electric sockets, and CAT5e cabling around the house courtesy of us – hope they like our choice of tiles and kitchen too.

So is buying a new build a recipe for a hassle free move? Not a bit of it. I haven’t even mentioned the hassles with our current house thanks to an idiot surveyor from Romans Estate Agents amongst a number of “problems” he highlighted with our house were that we had a water butt that would overflow – had he actually looked at it rather than surveying from the back window he would have spotted the drainpipe going down into a drain, problems with the cladding on the water tank in the loft – heating engineer charged us £40 to tighten a few screws, and damp problem at the front of the house – a specialist damp surveyor charged us £220 for a full survey to confirm nothing was wrong. The Bewley house certainly looked to be well built, certainly better than our current Wimpey house was on completion, although without having had a proper snagging survey I couldn’t say for sure, but as our solicitor pointed out the legal side is an absolute minefield so it’s worth getting an experienced property lawyer on your side.

As a friend of ours who lives in the Garrison and is aware of the current legal wrangles over the proposed development here said on hearing about our problems, she really doesn’t trust anybody involved in building houses any more, as they all seem to be trying to pull fiddles or play the system to their advantage. I think I’d probably agree.

Wokingham Times Still Talking Pornography

After last weeks big front page story on Winnersh being top for searches for ‘pornography’ on Google, on this weeks Wokingham Times the story again makes the front page, abeit in a small part of one column, with what is as close to an admission that they got it wrong as I think the paper is going to get.

Alongside my posting on the subject last week, I also e-mailed a similar explanation of how Google Trends works to the editorial e-mail address of the newspaper. I was careful to not explicitly criticise the paper, however I expect that even the most hardened newspaper editor would probably be a little embarassed having spent a lot of time getting interviews with locals on something that was effectively misleading data from Google.

The latest article does mention the Google ‘best guess’ location algorithm – the source of the high marks, without actually expanding on how it works, nor mentioning the ‘normalisation’ of the figures that occurs to take account of location size. It does mention that the cluster of high-tech companies – including a couple of big data-centres – as a possible cause the high figure. However for residents of Winnersh it is still written from the point of view of there being an above average number of people searching for pornography, primarily because it is written as a report on online discussion on the subject triggered by their article, and the associated details of the discussion, rather than being a correction of a previously incorrect story.

Having said that, the paper this week isn’t all bad. St James has a nice little article talking about the new guide to the Churchyard we’ve just produced, including pictures of some of the significant graves, the author of the guide with Rev Richard, and a nice shot of the Church too.

A Slow News Day?

Don’t you just love local newspapers. It has obviously been a slow news week this week, as the main headline on the front of the Wokingham News this week is ‘Village’s Posh Porn Surfers Top UK Table‘.

Essentially, the whole basis of the article is that someone at the paper has been playing around with Google Trends that relates search terms to the apparent location of the person performing the search – the paper has put the word ‘pornography’ into the engine, and found that Winnersh, a village between Wokingham and Reading has come out top. You can see the results on Google Trends here. Interestingly, the BBC have a similar article giving Birmingham the top place for the word ‘porn’.

The paper really went to town on the whole thing, even interviewing a local sex therapist about this apparent proportionally higher level of people interested in pornography in Winnersh.

However all is not as it seems. The BBC article highlights the flaw in the data:

Google uses IP address information to make a “best guess� about where the queries originated.

Unlike a phone number, the IP address someone uses on the internet is not closely tied to a particular place. For example looking at my phone number, you can establish that someone lives in and around Arborfield, as their number begins 0118 976. Equally you know that someone lives in Finchampstead or Eversley because their numbers begin 0118 973. However if you look at my IP address, it is registered to a company in Rochdale in Lancashire – there is nothing associated with the address that would indicate that I’m actually near Reading. This is the source of the problem – there are lots of high technology companies clustered around the Thames Valley, indeed there is a large technology park at Winnersh Triangle so therefore there are a lot of companies whose internet access goes through Winnersh. Indeed, stick a few different search terms into Google Trends and see how frequently the same cities come up, not because their internet use is higher, but because they have major internet companies in the area. Take a look at this list which includes the NTL datacentres, and note how frequently all the places that they have datacentres turn up on the Google Trends list.

So in effect, the story is total rubbish. Having said that, it did give the local paper a good story, and us a good deal of laughter at work at the reactions of people who actually live in Winnersh.