Farewell to the Old Post Office

old post office wargrave

It still saddens me that, since moving to Reading nearly two months ago, I can no longer sit on Wargrave Parish Council. I miss my fellow councillors, and being able to play an active role in shaping the community I lived in. But despite this, no longer being a part of local government gives me a little more freedom in some ways. The freedom, for example, to lament the closure of the Old Post Office coffee shop on Wargrave High Street, the victim of shockingly and embarrassingly short-sighted nimbyism.

Read on…

Better Broadband for Wargrave!

superfast broadband

This is a guest post, by my Wargrave Parish Council colleague Cllr Chez Payne-Annetts. If you live in Wagrave, please do read it and follow the instructions. It’s a real chance to improve the quality of broadband access in the village.


Your help is needed to help improve our broadband service – and YOU can help make the difference.

Businesses and residents across Berkshire have for some time been demanding better broadband services and studies have shown that Superfast Broadband (24Mbit/sec or faster) can give a real boost to local economies.   In Wargrave and the surrounding villages although most of us are paying for Broadband that can deliver up to 25Mbps most of us  are only receiving around 4-8Mbps.  This is because of the age and type of our BT exchange.  It is unlikely that we will be able to receive the new fibre optic cables direct to all our homes nor the next upgrade to “Infinity-Broadband” any time soon, but we do have a chance to upgrade our exchange and service to what we are paying for….

Broadband providers are scheduled to roll out superfast broadband to 80% of premises in Berkshire before the end of 2015, but this will leave over 37,000 premises without this valuable utility.

The six Berkshire unitary authorities (Councils) and the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) are working together to promote Superfast Berkshire, an exciting programme designed to bring fast broadband to everybody in the county.

The Government has promised £1.43million  to support Berkshire’s Superfast Broadband programme. Superfast Berkshire will use this money and other funds to deliver superfast broadband to at least 90% of premises across the county and standard broadband (2MBit/sec or faster) to the remaining 10% of premises.  Who gets this will be decided on “Demand and Interest”.

By registering your support for this programme you can demonstrate demand for broadband services to broadband providers in Wargrave and help shape Berkshire’s Local Broadband Plan.

As I write we currently have just 33 people/businesses who have signed up.  If we can increase this to over 1000 or two we could really be in with a chance to receive this funding for our exchange.

Signing up involves just recording your name, postcode and email address.  There are then 4 multiple choice questions regarding your current broadband access.  This site is protected and your email will not be used for anything other than the registration.  You will not be inundated with spam emails or advertising.

Please help me put Wargrave and the surrounding villages further up that funding list by registering your home and/or business on the site – www.superfastberkshire.org.uk

Alternatively if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will do my best to help.  Our Broadband destiny really is in our hands – let’s not miss out!

Introducing Wargrave’s newest parish councillor

I’m a real glutton for punishment, apparently. Not only have I started a new job today, but I have also been co-opted onto Wargrave Parish Council, as a representative of the West Ward.

This isn’t going to get too much menti0n on this blog, I wouldn’t have thought. For one thing, politics doesn’t really come into parish matters — which revolve, for the most part, around parks and planning. But it does give an interesting perspective on local matters and living.

So there we go. After two unsuccessful elections bids, I am finally Councillor Dent! And farewell to my Monday evenings…

At Long Last – Wokingham Bins Consultation

Paul Daniels apparently thinks that Wokingham’s new waste collection scheme is “useless”. Thankfully, he can now tell them in their new consultation.

When, a few weeks ago, I emailed Wokingham Borough Council to find out why they were seemingly keeping their consultation on the bins so secret, I got an interesting reply. I am, in fact, going to post it here in its entirety:

Dear Mr Dent

The consultation is starting this week, and it will be appearing on the consultation section of the website shortly. It will also be sent out to the Town and Parish Council Offices. So far it has only been sent out to the Wokingham Borough Council Citizens’ Panel, and a press release is going out this week to all the local press.

It will be publicised on the main page of the website also, and it has been sent out to residents who complained about the service.

The web link for the survey is

I hope that helps. If I can be of any further assistance please let me know.

Kind Regards

Carla Chappell

Which is nice.

I don’t know, the cynic in me wonders if this is the God’s honest truth, or whether I just caught them with their pants down. It really wouldn’t be the first time. But I’m prepared to take them at their word, given that the consultation is really what I care about (Though… “ So far it has only been sent out to the Wokingham Borough Council Citizens’ Panel“… Why?)

But the consultation is now live. I haven’t seen anything about it at GetWokingham, but I haven’t gotten my hands on a copy of this week’s Wokingham Times, so there’s every possibility that it’s in there and just not on the site yet. But it is now in the consultation section of the council’s website at least.

So, if you’re slightly irked with the council’s new money-making saving scheme, if you have a tale to tell of your own about how the new bin bags, then you can finally go and tell the council. They probably don’t want you to, but I’m sure that won’t give you too many sleepless nights, right? Just click the link below:


I’d also point out that the consultation is only open until 14th September 2012, so you only have two weeks to have your say.

And on a related (and entertaining) note, it seems that problems of bin bags has even extended to local Wargrave celebrities Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee. The magician and his wife have had the same problems getting hold of bags as other residents. Mr Daniels himself blasted the scheme, saying:

We have been trying to get bags for ages. You have to ring up the council, which costs money every time, then when you pay by credit card, it costs money too. And the bags cost four times what you can buy plastic bags for, even in Waitrose. I would like to know why they cost four times the amount — they are only plastic sacks. The fact that we can only buy 10 at a time is a joke. I used to be a local government internal auditor and if I was running this, that company would be dumped — that’s if I had a bag to put them in.

Ouch. Maybe he’d like to put it to the council’s consultation?

A Pot to Piss In

The boarded-up toilet block in Twyford, and the sign pinned to the door.

The elections are over, but the problems assailing Wokingham borough are still here. Despite the fact that local Tory leader Cllr Lee reckons that the results were terribly unfair on his party, they are still in control and their unpopular, controversial and unworkable policies roll on unhestitatingly.

And we’re still resisting them.

Case in point, the closure of public toilets across the borough. Despite the problems raised, despite the objections from the elderly, the disabled, those with children, the council remain convinced that the local loos scheme is an adequate replacement for the closed public toilets blocks.

We, the local Labour party, have raised in conjunction with other local community groups a petition against the policy, calling for the council to reconsider. Attention has largely been focused, so far, on Wokingham town centre and Woodley. But recently the prospects for public conveniences in those places have increased: Woodley Town Council have their eye on money from development to re-open the toilets, and certain executive council members have been hinting that the Wokingham town centre regeneration will include new toilets.

So with these developments, the petition appears to have more significant for other areas of the borough: for Winnersh,  Finchampstead, and Earley- and the northern parishes. Twyford and Wargrave, which I consider “my patch”, also have closed-down toilet blocks. They sit, boarded-up and half-derelict, whilst an inadequate agreement with local businesses replaces them.

The petition has crossed the requisite number of signatures, and will be presented to the council at its meeting next Thursday (24th), and will trigger a debate at the meeting on 19th July. It will be interesting to see whether this follows the pattern of the previous debate, on library privatisation, where the Conservatives were disdainful and dismissive of the signatories. I don’t suppose they will change their minds, but at least they won’t be able to ignore it.

I fully expect that Cllr Lee’s favourite excuse will make an appearance. It’s already seen an outing this week in the Twyford Advertiser, which referred to “Cllr Lee’s cash-strapped council“. I’ve already laid out how Wokingham’s “worst-funded” status is more than mitigated by its high council tax take. And the idea that we are too poor to provide public toilets is patent lunacy.

I will be there in the public gallery of the council chambers both on Thursday, to see the presentation of the petition, and in July, for the debate. I would urge any residents who have become disillusioned and sceptical of the Tories’ methods and attitudes to join me there. You never know, we may even force them to deal with Wokingham’s problems, rather than simply insult its people.

UPDATE: It’s been brought to my attention that, in much the same manner as their Woodley counterpart, Winnersh Parish Council are planning to build a public toilet. The difference here is that Winnersh is doing it out of its own budget. So it seems that the the slack left by the borough council’s cost-cutting abdication of responsibility is being taken up further down the chain at the parish council level. Wonderful.

An Election Day Letter to the People of Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe

Dear residents

Today is the day; election day. And the polls are now open, the ballot papers are now read, and I sincerely hope that somewhen in the next fifteen hours you will all be making your way to the polling station to cast your votes.

I have spent the last few weeks working hard, talking to you and distributing leaflets, and offering my policies and stances on the local issues that matter to you. I sadly haven’t managed to speak to all of you, but most of you will by now have seen my leaflet. And if you haven’t, and would still like to, I have made it available online here.

I wanted to take this last opportunity to simply remind you of the importance of your ballot paper. When you stand in the polling booth, you will hold in your hands the power to influence the course that your local government takes. And it is your local government. I know it hasn’t always felt like that, I know that the council haven’t listened to your views, your concerns, your opinions.

But the ballot box is the one thing they cannot ignore.

I have laid out the changes I would make, and how I would conduct myself differently if elected as your councillor. I would put your views and interests first, and I would push the council to consult more and listen more.

The disaster that has been the new rubbish scheme has shown what happens when council stagnates. There is no meaningful debate of ideas, and the assumption that those in power are right presides. The new scheme has been proved ill thought out from the start, and the Conservatives must accept blame for it.

I humbly ask you, today, for your trust, your support and your vote. Throughout this campaign I have tried my utmost to maintain an atmosphere of honesty (I was not afraid to hold my hands up when I got things wrong) and keep the focus on local issues that are within the ambit of the local authority. This is what I would strive to maintain in office.

With that said, I invite you to examine my policies once more. Besides my leaflet, I have made my own views and policies fully available on this blog, and you can read through those blogs here.

I thank you for the time you have invested in reading this, and all of the thousands of other words I have written.

Matthew S. Dent

Labour and Co-operative Party candidate

Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe

Tories and Libraries

The local Conservatives have axed the money put aside for Twyford's new library without a second thought. What do you think they'll do when privatising Wargrave's library?

Last November, when a popular petition forced Wokingham Borough Council to debate the planned privatisation (or “outsourcing” if you prefer, Cllr Keith Baker) of the libraries, we were assured by Cllr UllaKarin Clark that she and her fellow Conservatives cared deeply for the borough’s libraries. My opponent tomorrow in Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, Cllr John Halsall, has said in his election literature that “The Conservatives are commited to the Library service…

But actions always speak louder than words, and on the libraries the Tories’ actions expose and drown out their misleading rhetoric.

From the shambolic performance in the aforementioned debate, where Tory councillor after Tory councillor stood up to lambast and insult the poor foolish people who had signed the petition, to the present situation it has been clear that they don’t care about the library service. They talk the talk when it comes to elections, but between them they utterly fail to walk the walk.

The plans to sell off the libraries was introduced last year, a few days after local elections. There was no discussion of them in election debates, and there was no consultation with the public. It was decided in secret and behind closed doors that they would open for tendering, and then they could complain that their hands were tied and they couldn’t talk about it whilst offers were being made- conveniently forgetting to mention that it could have been discussed before.

And now, as we approach another election, the council have quietly axed £1.3m that was earmarked for a new library in Twyford. At the moment, Twyford library is in a port-a-cabin, and has been for years. The plan, once upon a time, was to put a new library in the unit which the council ended up leasing to Tesco instead. This spectacularly ill-judged decision left to what is probably the best piece of vandalism I’ve ever heard about (and which I in no way endorse, support or excuse).

Finding an alternative venue would have been a pain, but not unachievable. But without the money that had been put aside for it, the dreams of a new library have gotten a lot more distant.

I know this is outside of my patch- though not by much- but my point is this: if the Tories can gleefully axe longstanding plans for a new Twyford library, what will they be prepared to do with Wargrave’s? We’ve been promised that our libraries will be safe under the privatisation plan, but bearing in mind that we heard nothing about it until after the last elections I’m wondering what nasty surprises are going to appear when the tendering process is complete.

Whoever you’re planning on voting for tomorrow, remember this: you won’t get another chance to vote for your local representatives until 2014 at the earliest. By then it will be too late, and whatever plans the Conservatives are keeping under their hats will already be in place. Everyone is pledging to protect the libraries, but there is one party you cannot trust to put the good of the library service ahead of  base profit: the Tories.

Danger! High Water!

The flood risk for the Wargrave area is not yet anything like this bad (picture from 2008), but it still merits a bit of caution.

No one knows just how bad the weather has been lately more than the election campaigners who have been canvassing up and down the country. The irony of there being a drought and hosepipe ban at the same time as all this rain would probably be a lot more amusing had I not been out in it putting leaflets through doors and talking to residents. I strongly suspect that the occasional respites of blue skies and sunshine are just mother nature mocking me.

Today areas of Ruscombe where I was leafleting were largely submerged. London Road, on the way in from Hare Hatch was particularly bad, as were some of the roads around St James the Great church.

I’ve no objection to wandering around in the rain, really. It’s all part of the democratic process, and I actually enjoy talking to residents. A hot cup of coffee when I get home, and I’m happy enough.

But the downpour has a serious side. Yesterday, the Environmental Agency released flood warnings for the Thames around the Wargrave area. It doesn’t seem to be too serious just yet, and there hasn’t been any announced risk to properties, so there’s no real cause for concern yet.

When you live close to a river it makes sense to be careful, and floods are certainly not to be sniffed at (the devastating floods that hit the country in 2007 are testimony to that). But we’re a long way from any real danger. We just need maybe a pair of wellies (and an umbrella at this rate).

A Correction – John Halsall and the Henley Standard

On Saturday morning, I posted a blog entitled “The Sincerest Form of Flattery“, in which I highlighted a portion of (my Conservative opponent in the upcoming election) Cllr John Hallsall’s statement in the Henley Standard  this week.

In the blog, I highlighted a sentence which was identical to my campaign line. It has since been brought to my attention by the journalist who wrote the piece that my own words were misattributed to Cllr Halsall, and he did not in fact say the statement in question.

So, in the spirit of fairness and honesty, I withdraw my accusations that he had “borrowed” my line. The blog in question will not be deleted (you’ll find no memory holes here), but I will add an update to the beginning linking to this post. I apologise to Cllr Halsall, and assure him that my mistake was made in good faith in the belief that the attributation was correct.

However, I stand by some of my conclusions in that blog, and I quote them here for ease of reference:

But this doesn’t escape the fact that John is a Conservative councillor and the Conservative candidate. He may well disagree with the actions of the leadership, and think that there is a disconnect. But he is an agent of that leadership, and his power to hold it to account is somewhere between slim and nil.

Re-electing John will send no message to council leaders to whom your votes matter and your voices don’t. Nice man though he undoubtedly is, John Halsall is not a credible candidate for change. But I am. If you want your council to change the way it operates, and to start to ask you what you think of its plans, then vote for me on May 3rd.

I hope that this correction and apology will draw a line under the matter, and will be satisfactory to all involved- in particular John Halsall.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, so I'm taking John Halsall's apparent conversion to my position as a massive compliment.

[UPDATE: Subsequently to publishing this blog, I have discovered that the premise of this blog is based upon a mistake in the Henley Standard article. As a result, I have published this correction of my own claims]

This week’s Henley Standard (published yesterday) contains a “Local Elections 2012” page, in which they give an overview of the candidates standing for election in the areas they cover. Since this includes Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, there are profiles of myself, Cllr Halsall and the Liberal Democrat candidate Martin Alder.

This is the first sign of direct campaigning from Martin, which is strange for a candidate who put out three leaflets at last summer’ by election. But since it’s been confirmed to me by a neutral resident this week that the Lib Dems haven’t even distributed a leaflet this time, I’m pretty confident that this is part of a strategic concentration of resources.

But it’s Cllr Halsall’s bio that interests me. It’s nothing particularly new or ground-breaking, but there is one line which particularly grabbed my attention:

Both [the bins problem and the libraries issue] show a dangerous disconnect between the council leaders and ordinary people.

Which sounds…familiar. Very familiar, in fact. And looking back through the archives on this very site, I come across this line, from the blog where I declared my candidacy back on April 6th:

At the moment, the Conservative elite who rule Wokingham seem completely disconnected from residents.

In fact, the fact that the council leadership isn’t listening has been the central point of my campaign. Time and again I’ve pointed out serious failings that stem from this simple truth. From the libraries, to the disaster that is the new bin scheme, to the borough’s development “plan”, the message has been clear: the Conservatives don’t care what you think. And it’s very odd to hear my songs sung by others.

Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, so I’m taking John Halsall’s apparent conversion to my position as a massive compliment.

John is a very smart man. I would never seek to deny that, and surely anyone who has spoken to him will recognise it. He’s clearly been knocking on doors, and been hearing the same views from residents as I have. He recognises that his party has a poor record for competence at the moment, both nationally and locally, and that clinging to indefensible positions will only lose him votes and support.

But this doesn’t escape the fact that John is a Conservative councillor and the Conservative candidate. He may well disagree with the actions of the leadership, and think that there is a disconnect. But he is an agent of that leadership, and his power to hold it to account is somewhere between slim and nil.

Re-electing John will send no message to council leaders to whom your votes matter and your voices don’t. Nice man though he undoubtedly is, John Halsall is not a credible candidate for change. But I am. If you want your council to change the way it operates, and to start to ask you what you think of its plans, then vote for me on May 3rd.

Vote for the original, not the tribute band.