ACER Annual Report – March 2020

This Annual Report covers the year up to the Covid 19 Lockdown in 2020 and was intended for presentation at the 2020 AGM which had to be cancelled due to meeting restrictions. 

Normally there are three separate reports from the Chairman, the Treasurer and Planning Sub-Committee respectively. This year’s Annual Report combines all three reports.

Planning/Development

The biggest threat to the character of Whitegates remains planning/development.

It is the policy of ACER to support improvements to properties provided the changes retain the character of Whitegates.  The key priority as set out in WBC Core Strategy is “to maintain the existing quality of environment for local residents”.  Development is required to be “compatible with local character…….of the highest quality……and to incorporate existing features”. 

There were 40 formal planning applications in Whitegates in the last 12 months.  This compares with 25 last year.

Of the 40 Applications, 10 were objected to, as they did not comply with the Borough Design Guide and the related Core Strategy sections of Wokingham Borough Council. We also checked to see if there would be any additional cars parked in the street.   ACER objected to 10 Applications, 4 were subsequently Refused by WBC.  ACER’s objections concerning parking issues were not upheld, primarily because the interpretation of planning rules by Highways department usually allow for two cars to be parked off-road, regardless of the number of bedrooms and car owners in residence.

Three of the Objected Application were taken to the WBC Planning Committee. All were approved despite contravening Planning rules and guidelines, in ACER’s view.  ACER and local residents attending had serious reservations over the conduct of the meeting and ACER subsequently raised a formal Complaint which detailed the issues in relationship to Planning rules and guidelines and the conduct of the Chairman leading to unsound decisions made by the Committee. The internal enquiry by WBC found that the outcome of the Planning meeting was correct!

ACER has commented in detail on the draft ’Local Plan’, which happens once every 20 years and sets the parameters for future housing needs, local schools etc.  .

ACER’s response to the draft Local Plan was generally supportive, but ACER  has expressed concerns that the ideas will not be implemented without clear rules being set for planning officers to follow, which has been a weakness of the current Local Plan.

Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO)

HMO’s have recently been re- defined by the Government as residential properties housing three or more unrelated tenants. The problems arising from too many HMO’s in a street plus the increased demand for parking are recognised in the proposed new Local Plan.  Allocated (off-road) parking is required for each tenant under the proposed plans, but this would only apply to larger HMO’s with 6 or more tenancies.  ACER has requested that allocated parking is also needed for smaller HMO’s. Anti- social behaviour has been recorded by some tenants.

HMO’s are required to be registered with local government’s Environmental Health. Premises are then checked and inspected. Environmental Health are currently updating their database of HMO’s.

Parking

One subject which was not specifically covered in the draft Local Plan was parking.  In particular, parking issues in EXISTING housing estates like Whitegates, caused by development of existing housing stock.  A typical example is enlarging a 3 bed semi detached property to 5 or 6 bedrooms and converting the garage to a ‘study’.  Car parking at the property therefore reduces from 3 cars to two, while the number of car owners living at the property increases.   Additional cars are therefore parked on the street which is an imposition on existing residents in the road and also risks damage to grass verges through persistent parking. The ‘official’ guidance used by Highways to advise Planning Officers is based on tables developed for new housing estates, where the planned mix of properties can be calculated when the new estates are built.  ACER has requested that parking demand within established residential areas is taken into consideration in the Local Plan.

Greenery and Front Gardens

ACER pushed successfully for the last remaining public open space alongside Woodlands avenue opposite the new Parklands estate to be designated as a ‘Local Green Space’ which will protect the area from development or enclosure and use as a privately run leisure facility. ACER has requested that the land by the Thames along to Kennet Mouth also be given a designation as Local Green Space as it is land adjoining the National Thames Path. ACER will be looking carefully at the wording of the Local Green Space to ensure it is watertight and the land remains freely accessible for informal recreation by residents.

Trees, shrubs, hedges, grass and traditional front gardens are part of the character of Whitegates.  ACER recognises the need for additional parking in front gardens but points out that this can be achieved with retention of green ‘soft landscaping’ which is tall enough to be seen when driving down the road.  Retention of soft landscaping in front gardens is a requirement of existing local policy and would comply with the Climate Emergency measures declared by WBC, however such admirable policies are not enforced.  ACER has asked for better clarity for Planning Officers in the new Local Plan.

Traffic and Speeding

ACER has pointed out several times that Whitegates is a gateway to east Reading and therefore suffers congestion from Reading commuter traffic plus local rat- running due to traffic bottlenecks in East Reading.

Excessive speeding has caused a string of accidents on some local roads, many of which are not on record as ambulances did not attend.

ACER gave constructive and detailed responses in respect of proposed yellow lines in Whitegates in August 2019, which were intended to give better visibility at minor road junctions. ACER also attended a meeting hosted by Earley Town Council in September 2019, at which WBC Council Officials and their consultants took part in a constructive discussion concerning proposed Local Traffic Plan 4. ACER submitted a detailed and constructive response on all aspects of traffic following the meeting.

ACER is aware that to install traffic calming measures, hard evidence is needed from accident records or speed cameras.  To this end, local residents have volunteered to join the local Speedwatch initiative, to operate speed cameras and record the evidence using official police issued speed cameras. Regrettably this initiative appears to be on hold. ACER is investigating a way forward before accident statistics provide the grim evidence needed.

Transport

The No 19c bus was reinstated following pressure initiated by ACER and MERA, the respective resident associations from Whitegates and Maiden Erleigh, supported by local Councillors. This bus service restores the public transport link to Royal Berks Hospital, which otherwise took too long and made attending morning appointments impractical.

Members Social Evening

A well attended Social Evening was held at the Earlier Home Guard social Club in September 2019.  The format was deliberately fairly informal and members were able to raise a number of topics for discussion.  The attendance by four of our local councillors allowed many questions to be answered immediately.  As well as tea coffee and nibbles, members were able to chat to their neighbours, committee members and councillors in time set aside for informal discussions over a drink at the bar.  

Finance and Membership

ACER relies on a subscription of £2 per year, per household, in order to cover annual running costs. The more members we have, the more representative and the more effective we can be.

On-line payments are possible by going to  www.paypal.com/paypalme/ACERWhitegates/2

The major costs are hire of meeting halls and printing of a newsletter for every household three times a year.

Minor costs are website domain name retention, website platform and stationery etc.

Committee officials, newsletter distribution and time taken to research and write submissions, attendance at Council meetings etc. are all voluntary unpaid activities

The Treasurer produces annual statements of accounts which are independently audited.

The following is a summary for year 2019 to 2020:-

Balance brought forward from previous year  £2718.13

Income mainly from subscription : £222.73

Expenditure :–Newsletter Printing  £191.87

                        Venue Hire                   £86.00

            Expenditure Sub Total           £277.87

Balance Taken forward to next year                   £2662.99

The shortfall in income is due to collectors retiring or leaving the area. Efforts will be made to encourage current, lapsed and new members to pay electronically or by alternative methods.

ACER are evolving to a street rep system, which has proven very effective for MERA, our neighbouring Residents Association in Maiden Erleigh.  Common issues in the street can be dealt with quicker and with more chance of success using local liaison through the Street Rep.  Street Reps are encouraged to attend Committee Meetings. Get in touch if you want to know more.

 Liaison and Support

ACER appreciates the support given by our local Councillors, Earley Town Council officials, our neighbouring Residents Association in Maiden Erleigh (MERA) and the various Planning Officers with whom we have been in communication. We also look forward to further constructive dialog with  senior Council officials regarding general planning issues which we have identified.  Particular thanks go to Shirley Boyt and Sheena Mathews  who have been very supportive of issues raised by ACER members as well as keeping  ACER informed on council matters affecting Whitegates.

ACER continues to liaise with other local groups including MERA and Reading University in order to learn from and cooperate in areas of common interest to ACER members.

Tim Marsh

2019/2020 Acting Chair.

ACER, The Whitegates Residents Association