Monday, 28 October 2013

'On Track' With Local Station Manager Alison Stone

Last Saturday we were lucky enough to be able to meet with First Great Western's Alison Stone, Station Manager for Aldermaston and Midgham stations.

James Spackman with Alison Stone
It was a very useful meeting where we had the opportunity to ask a wide range of questions relating to the local rail and station services provided by FGW.

The first topic for discussion covered the redevelopment of Aldermaston station and reasons for long delays rebuilding at Midgham (see here and here).

Following this we talked about the effect of new car-parking charges at Aldermaston and the potential for their introduction at Midgham.

Then we raised issues of passenger safety, vehicle security and potential need for CCTV in local stations.

Next on the agenda was growing demand for cycle lock-up facilities.

Finally we discussed solutions for overcrowding on local trains during rush-hour, issues surrounding scheduled engineering works, rumoured reductions in service after electrification of the line and further above-inflation ticket price rises.

We noted that 5% discounts apply on Thames Valley routes because punctuality remains stubbornly low, at 89.2% for the month and 86% for the year (to 12th October) - below required targets of 92% and 89% respectively. Service reliability is on target [ref].

Alison explained she sympathises with the varied concerns of rail users, but finds many of these difficulties stem from enabling effective communication between the corporate stakeholders Network Rail and her employer rail franchisee FGW.

She said it was a very constructive session, promising to use our feedback to help inform the decision-making process and remain engaged with local residents and travellers about forthcoming developments.

In the meantime you can:
If you have an issue regarding local train services email:
If you have an issue regarding local station services call:  0800 912 0843

Saturday, 19 October 2013

When Is A Council Tax Freeze Not A Council Tax Freeze?

In 2012 the Coalition Government announced plans to remove Council Tax Benefit (for people claiming Disability Benefit or Jobseeker's Allowance etc), instructing all local authorities in England and Wales to put in place their own scheme of support by April 2013 [ref].

As an interim measure the Department of Communities and Local Government offered a one-off grant to soften the impact on parish budgets for the past financial year and give sufficient time to plan for these budgetary changes.

Within West Berkshire the decision was made not to put an alternative scheme in place, and now parishes will be expected to make up the shortfall of more than £250,000. This will mean either an increase in the Parish Precept, a reduction in expenditure, or a combination of the two.

Yet the sums currently controlled by parish councils are so small (typically less than £10,000) that few services are offered and this effectively leaves only one option - to raise the precept!

And because of the uneven distribution of people who were previously eligible for this type of support it also means that the more deprived areas within the district will be expected to shoulder a larger share of the burden.

For the five parishes in Aldermaston Ward the projected increases will be:
  • Aldermaston Parish - 6.01%
  • Brimpton Parish - 3.06%
  • Midgham Parish - 2.47%
  • Wasing Parish - 0%
  • Woolhampton Parish - 3.31%

Aldermaston Ward campaigner James Spackman said,
"Village communities are the backbone of rural West Berkshire, but this is financial sleight-of-hand and another slap in the face to ordinary people as complacent Conservatives try to pass the buck once more. Residents don't want to create an invisible pile of financial reserves by cutting basic village services back to the bone, we want action to make a fairer society!"

Monday, 7 October 2013

Talking About Sex - WBC Undertake First Young People's Sexual Health Survey

West Berkshire Council has announced it's very first Young People's Sexual Health Survey - results of which will inform future sexual health services in the local authority area.

It 'aims to gain a better understanding of their views and experience of sexual health issues and how and where they access sexual health services'.

The survey is open to all 14-24 year-olds in West Berkshire, irrespective of whether they have used these services, or are in a sexual relationship - because evidence shows that younger people have significantly higher rates of poor sexual health.

These issues can include the physical aspects of sexual health, such as the incidence of sexually transmitted infections and helping reduce unintended pregnancy, but also the mental and social aspects including making better-informed choices about having sex and the types of sex, being able to express sexuality without fear of exploitation, oppression, physical or emotional harm and having access to high quality sexual health treatment and advice that is offered in a non-judgemental, confidential manner.

Lesley Wyman, consultant in public health for West Berkshire Council said,
"I am delighted to promote this survey which is a first for Berkshire and will give us valuable information about young people's needs and their perceptions about sexual health services."
The survey is open until Friday 29th November - and can be accessed here via this link.

All responses will remain confidential and anonymous and will not be used for any other purpose. Results will be published in the New Year.

If you have any questions about this survey, please contact Fatima Ndanusa, on 01635 503437 or at:

For more information click on these links:

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Midgham Station Update

Improvement work at Midgham Station was slow to get started, but has been gradually getting moving - thanks to your local LibDem Focus team!

Here's a review of what's been happening:

At the end of June the old shelter was demolished.
During July the new ramp was removed and fencing was replaced.
Towards the end of September work began on a new information board.

Now the Newbury platform has two electronically updated boards, but still no shelter!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

New A4 Road Markings Fail Cyclists

In the last week of September West Berkshire Council finally finished repainting the eastern area A4 road markings, linking the section between Midgham and Aldermaston Wharf on the major thoroughfare between Newbury and Reading.

While highway workers and commuters alike will be relieved at the end of the job, cyclists have expressed disappointment and frustration at the lack of any designated cycle lane.

Your local Focus Team went out to look at the issue and this is what we found:

The UK is currently experiencing a cycling boom, as continuing success at professional level gives the humble two-wheeler an image boost, while new facilities make cycling safer and less of a discomfort. This is particularly noticable as commuters, leisure bikers and sportive riders increasingly frequent the direct routes, meandering backlanes and picturesque hill-climbs this part of the county.

Newbury Road Club, for example, operates two time-trial courses [10 miles, 25 miles] along the Woolhampton section of the A4, making it one of the most popular competitive cycling routes in the whole of Berkshire.

Furthermore, the gradients and sweeping corners which make the stretch of road appealing to cycle along also make it dangerous - especially considering recent accidents along the stretch and the fact that West Berkshire drivers have relatively high numbers of  penalty points on their licences.

Aldermaston Ward campaigner James Spackman commented,
"It is strange, to say the least, that only the section of the A4 in Aldermaston ward is now without a cycle lane. I compliment WBC on efforts to encourage cycling as part of environmental and health strategies, but it is an example of the lack of joined-up thinking and incompetent leadership exhibited by local tories to neglect the demands of the fastest growing segment of road users on one of the key cycle routes in the area."
Meanwhile, cycling campaign group West Berkshire Spokes reports that it is "working with the Canal Trust and Sustrans to explore opportunities for upgrading the section of the towpath to the east of Colthrop" on the the parallel route along the Kennet & Avon.

James added,
"With only one established cycle route in the area 'overgrown' and 'unsafe', by not creating a cycle lane along this part of the A4 West Berkshire Highways department have missed a glaring and simple opportunity to promote this clean and healthy means of transport."