Katesgrove’s first local election hustings for many years was held at RISC on Saturday 30 April. Topics discussed included local traffic and parking, cross-party co-operation, voluntary contributions to council work, litter and the provision of green spaces, but the biggest issue was the cost, economics and politics of housing.
All four candidates standing in Katesgrove were invited, although Syed Abbas (Conservative) was unable to attend.
Candidates were asked what they thought the council could do to address problem landlords and letting agents.
“I didn’t realise until recently that you can just set yourself up as a letting agency; there’s no training, you don’t have to be licensed,” said Rose Williams (Labour). “I thought that was appalling.”
“Housing is a community resource,” said Louise Keane (Green). “The fact that its owned by a private person, they have an ethical responsibility to make sure that home is being used as a home. The problem with the buy-to-let industry is that it’s become about housing as an investment rather than as accommodation. Crossrail is going to turn Reading into a suburb of London, so we’re going to get estate and letting agents taking advantage of that.”
“I think this is one of the biggest problems facing Reading at the moment,” said Margaret McNeill (Liberal Democrat), “It’s all part of the affordable housing problem. Reading is not getting less popular and Crossrail is going to have an enormous impact on housing, parking and congestion. It’s a real struggle for people who want to buy a house for themselves, because Reading is a prime target for property investors.”
“There have been examples where the council have responded very well,” said Louise Keane.
When asked if the council was putting enough resources into prosecuting poor landlord and letting agency practices, Margaret McNeill said “because affordable housing is one of the most important issues facing Reading, I would want the council to prioritise that, and to publicise it so that landlords know the deal.”
“The council has lost 700 staff over the last three and a half years,” said Rose Williams. “It’s an issue finding boots on the ground.”
Rose Williams said that she had been approached by one such trader who asked if the area by the Mount Street public conveniences could be repurposed, She said that it could cost “at least half a million” and would only add a couple of spaces. She added that car parking was already available on Mount Street for a 90 minute visit, although there were access problems because of the one-way system on Southampton Street.
“There isn’t an answer,” said Margaret McNeill. “We’ve got ourselves a Victorian town with tiny little streets and nowhere to park. I really feel for the traders, but there isn’t any spare land in the town; if there were then people would want to build on it. If parking was made available then residents would need it too.”
“We’re a Victorian town coping with twenty-first century traffic,” said Louise Keane. “There is car parking available in the area, such as at the Oracle; perhaps people could use those and walk up the hill? I don’t use a car so I don’t let these things trouble me too much. Residents would have to come first when parking comes available. Perhaps we could encourage people to use public transport.”
A representative of Katesgrove Community Association said there were ongoing litter problems on privately owned land over which neither the council nor members of the public had any rights. The problem areas at the moment were Tippet Rise, the Makro superstore on Elgar Road and the old Woodley Arms site on Waldeck Street.
“There’s no reason why you can’t ask a local councillor to knock on a few doors or meet somebody,” said Rose Williams. “I think I need to go and see Makro.”
“There are bye-laws to enforce private people to clear up their land, and if they don’t, the council can do it and charge them,” said Margaret McNeill, “but we’re back to resources; where are your priorities?”
One audience member remarked that Katesgrove was very urban and asked if the candidates would put requirements on developers to include green space in their plans, especially along Crown Street.
“Unfortunately, Crown Street is too close to Hamble Court,” said Rose Williams. “There have been problems with drinking; it’s not a good place. I can see what would happen; it would have top be locked at certain times. You couldn’t just leave it.”
“I don’t think we shouldn’t have things just because somebody could come and spoil it,” said Louise Keane. “The council closed our community garden on Silver Street in 2009 because they didn’t like the fact we’d done it off our own backs. They said they’d replace it with a council garden, but ten years later, it hasn’t been done.”
“I did a lot of campaigning on the community garden,” said Margaret McNeill, “but when we went house to house asking people for support, I was surprised by the number of people who said they’d prefer a car park and some said they didn’t want a community garden there because it would attract drug addicts and drinkers, but you don’t not have nice things in case people wreck them, you just work to keep them nice. It comes down to political will and priorities.”
- Police and crime commissioner and borough council elections on 5 May 2016
- Syed Abbas (Conservative)
- Louise Keane (Green)
- Margaret McNeill (Liberal Democrat)
- Rose Williams (Labour)