07:00PM, Friday 26 February 2021
Letters page is for all, not manifesto writers
In the Viewpoint pages of last week’s Advertiser, nearly half the letters were from councillors – including the leader of the council, and two members of his cabinet.
This is typical of a trend that has been growing over recent months.
Perhaps councillors believe these self-justifying letters show that they are being accountable to their electors.
But lengthy and self-serving political point-scoring in a forum where there is no pushback or challenge does not deliver accountability; if anything, the reverse.
Councillors have as much right as anyone else to write to the Advertiser.
But surely the Letters pages are not intended for these one-eyed mini manifestos, and this is not the way that local political debate should be conducted.
If councillors feel they have something worth saying, or a position they need to explain or defend, they should be talking to the paper's reporting staff and encouraging them to produce news reports.
The journalists can assess their newsworthiness, gather alternative views and context, and present impartial and balanced reports to readers.
One of the functions of journalism is to hold power to account, and the Advertiser has shown itself both willing and perfectly able to fulfil that role when reporting local politics.
Its efforts are hampered if our politicians prefer grandstanding in the Letters pages, circumventing proper democratic scrutiny.
Your news reporting of the RBWM budget last week included extensive quotes from Councillor Johnson.
So why should he be allotted another 500 words on the Letters pages to make his arguments at greater length and without direct challenge or context?
I would ask the Advertiser to discourage this practice, or at the very least impose a limit on length.
Instead of printing these press releases in full, the paper should regard outpourings from councillors as prompts for potential stories for the news pages, rather than giving them a free ride in the Letters pages.
This is the only part of the paper in which the rest of us have an opportunity to share and express our views.
Can we have it back please?
Editor’s note: I would be keen to hear more views on this.
Viewpoint is, first and foremost, a forum for our readers.
As you say, councillors have always been free to write to Viewpoint (they are readers too, after all) but they may find their letters are not included or held for another week as other members of the public get priority.
This is only fair, as councillors have other outlets for their voices to be heard.
Councillors’ letters are there to be challenged, as we have seen in Viewpoint submissions over the past couple of weeks, and can often inspire healthy debate. However, I would welcome feedback from readers on what they think about these submissions.
I agree with your point on brevity. Some councillors have sent me letters amounting to more than 1,000 words – either expecting them to be included in their entirety or expecting me to edit them down.
I advise correspondents to stick to 300 words, and will stretch to about 500 words at a push. The majority of readers can stick to these rules, so councillors should be able to do the same.
Better late than never, better never bus gate
Cllr David Cannon’s helpful explanation (Viewpoint, February 18) of the flexible terms on which resident-managed parking schemes can be absorbed into the RBWM-run scheme was welcome.
His letter suggests self-administered schemes were given a year’s grace to decide their future, but it was not until August 2020 that any of these schemes learnt of the proposals.
And why has it taken him another six months to respond to questions?
Certainly, our emails to him have gone unanswered.
Your news article of September 24, 2020 informed us that Cllr Cannon said ‘to make it simpler we would have (only) one system’.
But now his letter set out a variety of possible exceptions.
That doesn’t look like a standard system to me.
So if his intention is not just to raise revenue, why not allow neighbourhoods to continue to control and distribute their own permits?
At the time of writing I hear, from another source, that RBWM had set a deadline of Sunday, February 21 for neighbourhoods to make up their minds whether to become part of the RBWM scheme, or to abandon any parking controls.
Neither Cllr Cannon nor any RBWM Officer has notified us of such a deadline.
Was it announced on Parler or Snapchat, perhaps?
Elsewhere you report that Cllr Gerry Clark, commendably paid heed to the weight of public opinion and has abandoned the Shoppenhangers Road bus gate, observing ‘your Conservative-run council believes in democracy and will always listen to residents’.
If that is so, surely, we should expect the council to acknowledge the overwhelming wish of these parking schemes to retain their independence.
It is not yet too late.
Parking changes were not well publicised
I am not sure exactly which ‘misinformation’ Cllr Cannon is referring to (Viewpoint, February 18) but it may be the fact that RBWM failed to fully inform the administrators of the residents only self-administered parking schemes (ROSAPS) of all the options open to us following the decision to apply charges.
The first notice of the change was received in August 2020 which stated that there were only two available options.
Option 1 was to join the standard RBWM permit scheme, or Option 2 was to revert to unrestricted parking and the chaos that goes with it.
The only link given in that notice was to the RBWM website – where one found the totally unsatisfactory standard parking permit arrangement.
It is the same scheme that was rejected by the residents of Laburnham Road nine years ago.
There was zero mention of the ability ‘…to choose to carry on EXACTLY as they are…’.
It was only through extended discussions with RBWM officers that we discovered the existence of that option, albeit one where we would now have to pay for our permits.
The various ROSAPSs in the Borough were established according to the circumstances of the road or street.
In the case of Laburnham Road (and others) it was to stop our road being swamped by commuters, shoppers, and those holidaying from Heathrow.
They were all seeking to park for free.
It was not uncommon for a resident to return from the ‘school run’ and have to park several hundred yards away.
The introduction of the resident only arrangements were totally successful.
We managed any unauthorised visitors ourselves and rarely called upon the services of the civil enforcement officers (CEOs).
The cost to RBWM over the past nine years has been minimal – just six posts and signs.
The choices described by Cllr Cannon are not realistic or practical.
Either we allow our road to be used as a free car park by commuters et al, or we have to pay for the ‘privilege‘ of the road being restricted to residents and their visitors.
The commuters that get up early enough already enjoy free parking in Lower Boyndon Road, but the late arrivals then try their luck in the surrounding roads.
Just because we happen to be located within walking distance of the railway station and town centre, we now find an additional annual cost has been imposed upon us.
Furthermore, we now have to rely on CEOs to come and monitor the situation.
It would appear that no additional CEOs are to be employed.
I find it strange, with additional income being raised from charging residents, that it cannot be used to provide the service for which we will now have to pay.
Perhaps the money will have to be used to remove the posts and signs where the existing schemes choose to change status.
More likely, in my opinion, it is a cynical financial decision with the money disappearing into the council coffers to fill the holes that exist …and I don’t mean potholes!
The claim that the council is listening to the wishes of the residents is insincere. Given a free choice the residents would choose to make no changes at all.
Laburnham Road Self-Administered Residents Only Parking Scheme
Don’t taint all cyclists as inconsiderate
Chris Locke asks why we cyclists are not using cycle lanes (Advertiser, February 11).
A fair question especially since such lanes are generally signposted with a circular blue sign suggesting their use is more than just advisory.
In his response (Advertiser, February 18) club cyclist John Percy makes some valid points, to which I would add the hazard of broken glass litter.
But he then goes on to make the sweeping generalisation that folks that ride bikes for utility, to get from A to B, are mostly incompetent whereas his lycra-clad chums are skilful and safe.
I have observed many club cyclists riding side-by-side or in wolf-packs creating dangerous obstructions on busy roads.
This, to my mind at least, is poor cycling and taints all cyclists as inconsiderate road users.
I also feel it necessary to point out to Mr Percy that the A308 cycle route that he admits to being oblivious to is clearly signposted so perhaps his observation of the road is not quite as good as it should be.
Whilst they are not compulsory, the highway code instructs us cyclists to use cycle routes unless at the time it is unsafe to do so.
Therefore, despite its limitations, we should use the A308 cycle lane through Braywick because the road here is narrow and busy in both directions making it difficult for cars to overtake bikes safely.
Since the cycle path is shared with pedestrians, we simply need to ride it slowly with due care and attention and be prepared to stop and give way to pedestrians.
It may be difficult for racers to comprehend but it is not always a competition.
We all share our roads and paths.
Be we on foot, bicycle, horseback, or in a motor vehicle, we should all just be slowing down and looking out for one another.
If the lock-down has taught us anything it is surely that.
Appreciative farewell to a true stalwart
I was deeply saddened by the news of the death of John Chapman in last week’s issue. John and I served for some 20 years as governors of Great Marlow School when the then education minister decided to bring ‘outsiders’ onto the boards of schools to improve their performance.
He was the ‘responsible person’ with his experience as finance officer of a local company.
John always knew somebody or some organisation in which he was involved and could help and his honour was long overdue.
John lived just around the corner from me in his bungalow when I lived in Marlow and I would often see him walking his little dog and we would stop and chat about what event or organisation he had become involved in and enquiring if I wanted to join him in it.
Your tribute lists the many local organisations that benefited from John’s expertise and enthusiasm and he will be sadly missed “they do not make them like that anymore.” He was truly a committee man.
Marlow has lost a true stalwart.
Bus gate should never have been proposed
Bus gate is over.
But it should never have been proposed by this council in the first place.
It just showed how completely out of touch this council was with the electorate.
They should not have allowed the consultants to consult about the bus gate.
Common sense made it a non-starter.
Cox Green Lane
Best way to police dangerous driving
I am writing to register my bafflement at Theresa May’s recent campaign to increase minimum sentencing for anyone convicted of causing death by dangerous driving.
I am baffled for three reasons:
i) does she really think that people who are drunk driving/speeding will be thinking clearly about the impact on their lives of being convicted? If she does, I'm going to suggest she has very limited contact with drunks and people who are late for meetings. Increasing sentencing is never going to be an effective deterrent for this crime.
ii) If she wishes to reduce road deaths, then why on earth did she vote to slash the police budget to such an extent that the local police force don’t do any traffic enforcement anymore (not a pop at the police, a pop at austerity)? Can anyone remember the last time they saw a drink driving roadstop or even a mobile speed stop in Maidenhead? When I learnt to drive in the late 90s you would see one or the other every other week and it kept drivers honest and law abiding. That hasn't been the case since 2010 and you can tell with the terrible, dangerous standard of driving on the roads.
iii) Finally if she wants to reduce road deaths in an efficient manner, then increasing spending on road safety, rather than endless sentences is the way forward. Let’s say you imprison a 30-year-old drug driver who has killed a pedestrian, the cost of keeping them in jail for the next 40 years is approximately £2million (£50k for 40 years); how much extra traffic enforcement could that have paid for instead? How many lives could it have saved?
Museums and galleries cannot open until May
Monday’s announcement of a four-step route out of lockdown was very welcome but as so often in the past contained some mixed messaging, this time about reopening of museums such as Maidenhead Heritage Centre, Windsor Museum and the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham.
On Monday afternoon the BBC website reported April 12 as the earliest date, an error repeated in most of the national dailies on Tuesday if they bothered to report anything at all about the cultural sector which contributes so much to the national economy.
While public libraries can reopen on April 12, museums must wait until May 17 at the earliest.
Maidenhead Heritage Centre will start work at once in preparation for a May 17 opening, including of our popular Spitfire Simulator Experience for which we have already sold scores of vouchers in advance.
We look forward to welcoming visitors back to our Park Street venue.
Maidenhead Heritage Centre
Sports pavilion in Cookham Dean
It was good to see the Cookham community come together, supporting Cookham Dean Football Club’s application for a sports pavilion on my family’s greenbelt land.
I hope Cookham’s Liberal District councillor Mandy Brar, who only received support from Liberal Councillor Joshua Reynolds, will in the future support the football club, as at the planning meeting, they both asked for it to be refused on highway grounds, even though there was no objection from the highway officer, and on greenbelt grounds, when the only land available for sports pitches in the area is greenbelt and the site of the pavilion had received permission for sports pitches as encouraged under greenbelt planning policy.
The new pavilion includes 83 car parking spaces whereas the present pavilion at Alfred Major has to rely on street parking.
I am surprised Mandy Brar was not aware of this advantage as her shop is in an area where street parking occurs, and also that she could not see the advantage of supporting her local football club who organise boys’ and girls’ teams thereby helping mental health problems, raised by her in last week’s paper
I was pleased to see that the planning committee did not support the Cookham Society proposal for the club to have to fund the widening of Long Lane, thereby saving the club possibly up to £500,000 in costs.
Return of the glove delighted Mac and me
I wanted to write to thank the kind walker or park attendant who found my black leather glove in Braywick Park last weekend, and kindly left it on a fence.
I was disappointed to return home after walking our almost 13-year-old former help dog, Mac, to find I had lost it.
On the Monday I retraced my steps without luck, but on Tuesday, there it was.
Even Mac seemed to appreciate it.
Small acts of kindness can help make a day! This is such a good walkers’ code to be encouraged. My gloves are happily re-united.
Dr PAUL FLATHER
Wrap-around support and targeted focus
A vital service to local residents, children and carers is the Health Visiting Service.
I recognise the importance of this service and would like to explain in a little more detail what the proposed changes, as detailed in our council budget, will look like.
The five mandated contacts we have within this service will continue to be undertaken by staff who are trained and proficient in delivering these contacts.
Currently, all families are offered a new birth contact and a full family health needs assessment by a qualified health visitor.
This will continue to be the case, and based on this assessment and the level of need identified, it is proposed that in the future the remaining contacts will be delivered by a member of the team, either a staff nurse or a nursery nurse.
This will be overseen by the health visitor; for example, if a parent has a history of postnatal depression, then the health visitor will follow up and ensure that the correct support is put in place.
The level of service provided can be altered depending on a family's changing needs.
Currently, our most vulnerable children and families will receive a targeted health visiting service and this will continue.
The health visiting service will be integrated into our new family hub service, meaning that children and their families will have access to a wide range of early help services, depending on their identified need.
The intention is to improve the offering and to further our commitment to enhancing early life chances and ensure every child and parent gets the support they need.
Being targeted and ensuring there is wrap around support within an integrated service will help deliver better outcomes and a more focused service offering.
The integrated family hub model has been recommended by the National Children’s Commissioner; an All Party Parliamentary Group and wider expert evidence.
As a council, we believe in following the evidence and data to best deliver transformations to improve outcomes but also to seek the most cost-effective options for the rate payer. This transformation, following diligent review by council officers, offers exactly this opportunity.
I therefore want to reassure all residents that we are committed to maintaining the integrity of this service, but we also want the service to be as efficient as it can be to ensure it is sustainable and highly effective in the future.
Cllr STUART CARROLL
Lead member adult Social care, children services, health and mental health
No oneupmanship on vaccine distribution
Sal Pinto’s comparison of the distribution of COVID vaccines in the UK and the EU (Viewpoint, February 4) deserves greater scrutiny.
It would be easy to argue that since the four nations of the UK have the worst per capita death rate in Europe, it is high time something worthwhile was achieved by those in power on these shores.
The faster UK rate has been achieved by giving most recipients just the first part of the vaccination, ignoring that acceptable immunity is based on two parts.
The EU countries are following recommended pharmaceutical protocol.
It remains to be seen which will have the more successful outcome.
The nations of the EU are free to purchase vaccines as they wish, which the authoritarian leader of Hungary has chosen to do.
It is clear that countries need to help each other, since pre COVID freedoms are likely to be enjoyed only when almost every country has reduced COVID levels to a low and acceptable level.
In just such a way, Portugal, the country suffering the worst rates, is being aided by medical staff from other EU countries.
Nationalist oneupmanship is perilous, and led to the wars which were the reason for the foundation of the union within Europe.
No social benefit of EU membership is greater than the population living in peace.
What was conceded to make this deal?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told us that his trade deal with the EU was worth £660 billion a year.
Given that in 2019 the whole UK economy was worth £2169 billion, that would be 30.4 percent of GDP.
But now the EU has estimated that the deal is worth only 0.75 per cent of GDP, or £16 billion a year, to the UK.
So what if a Tory Prime Minister has over-stated the value of a European trade deal by a factor of forty?
Gross exaggeration of any economic benefit has been a consistent pattern for the Tory party for six decades, ever since Harold Macmillan sent Edward Heath to try to get us into the European federal project masquerading as an innocuous “Common Market.”
However the question remains: what concessions did Boris Johnson make to secure this low value deal?
As the most obvious example, did they include betrayal of our fellow UK citizens in Northern Ireland?
Dr D R COOPER
Belmont Park Avenue
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