Tag Archives: Wokingham Times

Shock! Are There Actually Some Wokingham Tories With Integrity?

During the run up to the recent local elections I swapped a number of e-mails with both Gary Cowan, the sitting Tory councillor, and Steve Bacon, the Liberal Democrat challenger and former local councillor for our ward who had also run against Gary in the 2006 election. It started because I sent both of them an e-mail asking that they could run a campaign with integrity, and not produce a repeat of the last campaign with blatant misrepresentation particularly over housing. Sadly although Steve Bacon gave me an assurance, Gary didn’t, and then proceeded to campaign on a totally mythical and ludicrous assertion that the Liberal Democrats were proposing to put 12,000 houses on the Garrison site (yes that would be houses at a density of central London for those with calculators), and that the Tories were the only option for protecting Arborfield.

In the run up to the election Gary, like most of the other Tory candidates and Wokingham Borough Council itself had been squarely blaming the Labour government for the current housing numbers. One of Gary’s election flyers said the following:

The extra homes in Wokingham’s Core Strategy are required by the Labour government’s national policy and regional housing targets. If a Conservative government is elected they will abolish the high housing targets forced on Wokingham, leaving Wokingham Borough Council free to amend its plans and scale down the targets. If re-elected, as the lead Councillor for planning I would then ensure that our local plan was revised to spare the greenfields of Arborfield.

As we know, a Tory led government was elected on May 6th, and they duly abolished housing targets, therefore it was a bit of a surprise to most people in Wokingham to find that despite pressure from our local MP, who of course had been around on the doorstep backing the cut housing numbers message, and highlighting the same thing in his blog after the election, and the well known opposition of the vast majority of local residents to large scale housing developments, the local council seemed to be suggesting that numbers wouldn’t be cut significantly as they had already adopted their core strategy. This is even more peculiar considering that they, like many other councils had received this letter in August 2009 highlighting that an incoming Tory government would abolish regional spatial strategies and urging councils not to adopt core strategies – Wokingham Borough adopted their strategy in January 2010, four months before the current Tory government was elected and abolished housing targets.

Were the local Tories telling any old lies on their election material to win votes and never had any intention to cut housing? Did they not expect a Tory win at the General Election? Or are they just total muppets with no clue what they were doing when they adopted the strategy? I really don’t know, suffice to say back in June it really did start to look like Wokingham was doomed to go under a swathe of concrete and large scale housing development. I may not agree with John Redwood (@johnredwood) on many things, indeed I’m probably diametrically opposite to his position on some things, but at least he’s being consistent on this – he was elected on abolishing housing targets, his party has done that, and it’s the local council that is dragging and threatening to U-turn.

Roll forward to this week, and the headline on the Wokingham Times is “War breaks out over Wokingham housing targets”. The article again highlights the calls from residents to cut the numbers, and the intransigence from council leader David Lee who is unwilling to commit to reduce the target. Paul Gallagher, chair of the Emmbrook Residents Association highlights one possible reason – the new government still requires houses, so has switched from the Labour stick to a Tory carrot – Grant Shapps (@grantshapps) saying a couple of weeks back that “those councils who go for growth by providing planning permission now will reap the rewards” – so Paul is quite clear that the council, who regularly moaned about lack of funding almost as often as they moaned about Labour housing targets, would carry on with the unpopular targets to fill their coffers.

However, all is not lost, as the headline implied, the governing group on the council is not united. A number of local councillors have come out and said that if it comes to a vote over retaining the existing numbers, or cutting them, they would go for a cut. However there are suggestions from some of the Tories that they are worried that it will never come to a vote – the ten person executive, only one of whom has come out to say they are opposed to retaining the current numbers (and you guessed it, it isn’t Gary Cowan, despite his promise to protect the green fields of Arborfield), would take the vote alone without consulting the other 33 Tory councillors.

So are there some Wokingham Tories with integrity? Lets be fair, if you’d been saying for years that the numbers were too high, and being imposed by the Labour government, anyone with integrity could not do anything else but vote to cut the numbers could they?

Not Much Happening in Wokingham

There obviously isn’t that much happening in Wokingham at the moment – the big news, splashed on the front page of the Wokingham Times this week is that local links have emerged with potential US presidential candidate, Barack Obama, and he has even visited! Sounds really quite exciting until you realise that the ‘visit’ was when he enjoyed a night out in Wokingham and Bracknell a decade ago…

Best Place to Live?

The front page of the Wokingham Times this week proclaimed that Wokingham had been crowned the best place to live in the UK – a story that even made the national news – the source of the story being Halifax Estate Agents. Having said that, two pages on in the paper was an article under the headline “Cost, Weather and Crime cause Mass Exodus to Australiaâ€?:

The rising cost of living and bad weather has been blamed for a surge in the number of Wokingham residents moving abroad.

Needless to say, the irony of a ‘mass exodus’ to leave the apparently best place to live in the UK is not lost on some of comments on the Get Wokingham site!

“Save Our Church from being Eaten by Worms”

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There are times when you are dealing with the press, especially the local press that really leave you groaning, and wondering quite why they’ve written what they did. This week’s local paper has one such article about St James, under the headline “Save Our Church from being Eaten by Worms“…

The article is actually a report of the launch of our big fund-raising campaign, to raise the £0.5 million needed to repair the fabric of the building, including the floor, pews and roof with wood-worm and death-watch beetle. The photographer came along on Sunday and took a nice picture of a lot of the congregation in the hall, and then the reporter spoke to Rev Richard. However, rather than put it under a headline like ‘St James Launches Fund-Raising Appeal’, the reporter appears to have latched on to the fact that we have wood-worm

Oh well, they do say that any publicity is good, even if we do get the label of the Church that is being eaten by worms…

Good Publicity / Bad Publicity

It’s amazing how quickly bad publicity spreads. Take for instance the story about the retirement party for Rev Ann Douglas as she departed as team rector of the team ministry in Woodley, and St John’s in particular. The basic facts of the story are that at the party, the Rev Jon Honour, a team vicar from Emmanuel Church, one of the other three churches in the team ministry turned up, and was punched several times by another party guest, described in most reports as a ‘disgruntled parishioner’.

I found out about it through the report in our local paper, which reported the fight and dropped hints about the background. It caught my attention partly because Rev Ann Douglas came to Woodley from my parents area, indeed Mum knew Ann well enough to be going to share a room with her at a conference at one point. Ann previously worked in South Oxhey, a large and deprived estate near Watford, where she was a popular priest, and some of the work she started, for example the ASCEND charity, continues today. Indeed her congregation there were sad to see her go.

Anyway, the story has well and truly snowballed. A number of the national papers picked it up including the Telegraph, the Times and the Sun (who have paired it with a story about a fight at a lesbian wedding). BBC News had the story too, and I’ve seen comment on the story from as far afield as Queensland in Australia. A search of Google reveals quite how far the story has spread.

I won’t much comment on the background, as although I have heard various things from people involved with their choir, and also know who the ‘disgruntled parishioner’ actually was, it’s something that the church, and the Woodley Team Ministry have to work out for themselves. However it is a salutary lesson for those of us involved in the management of our own churches about the importance of getting things right and not letting issues go unresolved. Certainly if I was on the PCC of a church where the congregation had dropped so significantly (150 to 30 according to the Wokingham Times) I’d certainly be asking serious questions about what and why it was happening.

Of course it is also good example for Church press officers of how much further bad publicity travels compared to bad. For example I doubt you would have heard about ASCEND had I not mentioned it, and most of the St James reports in the local paper go no further. But unfortunately Ann will probably be more associated with a punch-up at her leaving party, and the manner of her departure than the good work she did in Oxhey.

(Picture of St John’s Church, C of E, Woodley originally uploaded by Jimbola.)

Naughty Naughty

The main story on the front page of the Wokingham Times caused some amusement today. If you live locally you may be aware of an ongoing local issue over a proposed move by the local football club to Cantley Park. As part of the move, they are proposing to build a 250 seat stand for the supporters. On the one hand you have Cantley residents who are objecting to the move, and particularly the seating as it will bring an increase in traffic to their area, and on the other you have people involved with the football club arguing that the local residents are overeacting.

Anyway, as their contribution to the issue, the Wokingham Times has been running a web poll on their website to guage opinion for and against the proposal, the intention being to publish the results. However, their web polling functionality is not exactly advanced, and certainly not secure – indeed anybody with cookies disabled will be able to vote multiple times. Needless to say, that is precisely what has happened. For the ‘Yes’ campaign there have been a number of multiple voters, with the most being 80 from one user. However the prize goes to someone who used their corporate Blackberry to vote ‘No’ a grand total of 664 times.

As a result, the Wokingham Times has replaced their story giving the results with a general grumble about web cheats, and not surprisingly declaring the vote null and void. Having said that, aside from being a lesson in the reliability of web polls as a guage of public opinion, what it does show is quite what strength of feeling there is over the issue on both sides.

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.