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Labour caves in to Lib Dem calls for action on empty homes

Redlands Councillor, Daisy Benson, and Lib Dem parliamentary campaigner for Reading East and Katesgrove Councillor Gareth Epps have welcomed Labour’s belated action to tackle empty homes after Lib Dems called for action TWO YEARS AGO.

In October 2007, the Lib Dem Group on Reading Borough Council tabled a motion to Council calling for action on empty homes. In October 2007, the Lib Dem Group on Reading Borough Council tabled a motion to Council calling for action on empty homes.

Daisy Benson said:

“Labour politicians bragged in Council meetings about the award the Council won for its empty homes policy back in the 1990s (now gathering dust in the Civic Centre). But when I asked about what the Council was currently doing about the problem, I was told by officers that no up to date empty homes policy existed.”

“I am impressed by what I’ve seen of the policy on paper. The Council will need to ensure it is adequately resourced and that officers are proactive in using the Council’s existing powers bringing back into use the hundreds of empty homes that exist all over Reading”

Gareth Epps said:

“Reading has the highest number of homeless people outside London. We all know that pressure for new development on spare land and back gardens is high.”

“Labour clearly took their eye off the ball on this issue and it was left to the Lib Dems to get the issue back on to the agenda.”

“A strategy is a useful first step. Now we need firm action to reduce the numbers of empty homes in Reading. The Lib Dems have identified empty properties across the town and pressed for action. We will continue to take a lead in highlighting where these properties exist.”

Editor,s Notes

  1. More background information on the Lib Dem Campaign can be found by following this link.
  2. There are currently an estimated 894 empty private properties in Reading (source: RBC empty homes strategy)
  3. The majority of empty properties are in Abbey (29), Minster (11), and Katesgrove (source: RBC empty homes strategy)
  4. Reading has the highest number of empty private sector properties in Berkshire (source: RBC empty homes strategy)
  5. (Lib Dems tabled a motion to Council in October 2007. More info here
  6. RBC was the second-only council in the country to establish an Empty Homes Strategy aimed at private sector properties

795 families lost homes in Reading in 2007


Too many families in Reading are losing their homes because of difficulties over mortgage payments, claim leading local Liberal Democrat campaigners Gareth Epps and Patrick Murray.

New figures show that 795 orders for home repossession were issued by Reading county court in 2007. The trend is worsening, as the figures for the last quarter (October-December) show a rise of 8% since 2006.

“795 home repossession orders means 795 families being turfed out of the house they have lived in, often for many years,” said Patrick Murray, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary campaigner for Reading West.

”Many people remember the boom and bust policies of the last Conservative government that saw tens of thousands of people lose their home because they could not keep up with mortgage payments. Now it looks as though the current Labour Government has blundered into a similar mess.”

Cllr Gareth Epps commented,

Gordon Brown has run an economy that has been fuelled by a runaway credit boom he has done little to bring under control.”

”795 families in 2007 paid the price for growing economic incompetence by Gordon Brown in Reading. There are now serious concerns that in 2008, the situation will get worse.”

“It is difficult enough for young people and families to get onto the housing ladder in Reading. With little sign of any change of policy from Gordon Brown, prospective first-time buyers feel more and more that Labour is pulling up the rug from under them.”

Cllr Chris Harris, Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson on Reading Borough Council, added:

”The Government has failed to ensure there are enough homes to meet people’s needs. For every ten families on the waiting list in England for social housing in 1997, when Labour came to power, there are now sixteen.”

Editor’ s Note

The figures for repossessions were published by the Department for Justice on 8th February.

Legal Challenge the next step after DISGRACEFUL Post Office Closures

Gareth Epps, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary campaigner for Reading East and Councillor for Katesgrove, is to examine taking legal action to save at least one Reading Post Office, as news emerged today (22 February) that all five Post Offices in Reading that were threatened with closure will close.

The announcement today follows an extensive campaign by local Liberal Democrats which saw over 2000 petition signatures collected against the closures in Reading East, and residents supplied with details of how to make their own representations against the closures. Alone among political parties in Reading the Liberal Democrats also sought to get Council backing for the campaign against the cuts – but opposition to the closures was voted down by an unholy alliance of Labour and the Conservatives.

Commenting on the closure announcement, Gareth said:-
“This is a disgrace. It is a direct attack on Reading’s communities by the Labour Government that forced this closure programme through against overwhelming public opinion.

Liberal Democrats and local residents deplore these closures. They have been railroaded by a Government which is continuing to destroy the Post Office Network and does not care about our communities.

The most vulnerable in our communities will be hit hardest when these much-loved institutions are forced to close. All the evidence that some of Reading’s most vulnerable communities will be disadvantaged by the closures has been ignored – not just by Post Office Ltd but by Reading Borough Council and indeed by Postwatch. It is clear that the consultation exercise was riddled with errors and was beneath contempt.

Labour’s crocodile tears on the closures are hard to take. Labour politicians appeared in photos ‘opposing’ the closures locally and doing nothing in Parliament to save the Post Office network from their own Government.

The Tories emerge with no credit, either, after they sided with Labour at the Council in blocking our move for the Council to clearly oppose Post Office closures in Reading. Labour and the Tories on Reading Borough Council pulled the rug from under these Post Offices by failing to formally oppose their closure.

I am actively looking into commencing Judicial Review proceedings regarding Basingstoke Road. The closure process in this case was clearly based on false premises regarding access to other branches. There may be grounds for action to be taken against other closures.

It was left to the Lib Dems to send a message to the Post Office: stop the closures! I will not stop until I am certain that all possible avenues have been exhausted to prevent Labour’s attack on Reading’s communities.”

Council Quizzed on Heathrow Expansion

LOCAL Lib Dem campaigner Cllr Gareth Epps is to put the Labour-run Reading Borough Council on the spot at its Council meeting today on the Government’s proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport, as the much-criticised consultation exercise run by the Government draws to a close.

Gareth, who strongly opposes Heathrow expansion on principle, has tabled a question to Labour’s transport lead Tom Crisp to ask what the Council’s response will be.

Gareth says:-

“With air travel given a free ride by the Treasury and the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions, there is no case for the expansion of Heathrow.

Only a twisted so-called consultation exercise like that being peddled by the Government will come out with an excuse for expansion. With transport links to Heathrow leaving much to be desired, and the vast proposed increase in aircraft a third runway will bring, it is in Reading’s interests to clearly say NO to Heathrow expansion. I urge local residents to take part in the consultation exercise, however flawed, and send a message to this gas-guzzling Government.”

Lib Dems call on poor performing First Great Western to face Reading’s commuters ‘face to face’


Reading Lib Dems have put First Great Western’s poor performance at the top of the political agenda this week. The Lib Dems have tabled a motion to this Tuesday’s full Council meeting highlighting widespread public concerns about the poor performance of First Great Western trains (FGW trains), and demanding that the Council organises a public meeting to invite FGW to listen to the concerns of Reading’s commuters.

The Lib Dem motion seeks cross-party support on this pressing issue and asks for the Council to take the argument to FGW.

Lib Transport Spokesman Cllr Ricky Duveen will say (on Tuesday evening):

“I have a personal interest in this as I am one of those commuters who travel daily in and out of London on First Great Western trains, and have done so for many years.”

“What we are proposing tonight is that not only do we make First Great Western aware of our concerns over the misery they heap on the travelling public but that we ask them to come out and publicly defend their record in a public meeting where passengers will be able to have their say and question First Great Western directly.”

The Lib Dem motion calls on Reading Borough Council:

a) To direct the Chief Executive to write to the Chairman and Managing Director of First Great Western expressing the Council’s dismay at the poor service and overpriced fares and asking what improvements can be expected following the disastrous year of 2007 and

b) To organise a public meeting in Reading and invite First Great Western to meet the long suffering commuters face to face

Editors Note

The Lib Dem motion will be debated on Tuesday evening,19 February at the Civic Centre.

a) The 9.5% increase in fares from Reading to London in January 2008 took the cost per mile of commuting to 38p, twice the cost of the cheapest costs in to London and even the cheap routs are hugely expensive compared to rail travel in Europe;
b) First Great Western also run the most overcrowded trains into London, running at 8.2* over capacity in 2006 (the year for which we have records);
c) First Great Western has a very poor record of customer satisfaction, despite the £200m of investment, slumping further in last year’s National Passenger Survey to a customer satisfaction rating of only 74%, against 90% plus for the best companies;
d) First Group made an annual profit of £108.8 million on its rail services in 2006 (up 36.7%) and increased its overall revenue from its operations to £3.7 billion (up to 22.4%).
e) Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alasdair Darling (also a former Transport Minister), has also made comments on First Great Western’s poor performance whilst on a visit to Bristol last Friday.

Follow this link for further details and also for details of FGW’s limp response Limp Darling

Local Businesses Must Go For Gold

Cllr Gareth Epps, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary spokesperson for Reading East, is encouraging all local businesses to boost their business by logging onto the London 2012 website.

Gareth said, “Although over 500 contracts have already been signed by the Olympic Delivery Authority, the majority of contracts have yet to be awarded. Reading East’s businesses must make sure they get their fair share of these contracts”.

Businesses are now able to register on the 2012 website so that they can be made aware of opportunities for contracts as well as the chance to access and compete for them.

For more information on the opportunities available as well as a link to register your business, visit the London 2012 website at the following link: Olympic 2012 Business Link

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Information regarding business opportunities is available at Olympics 2012
  2. The first London Olympiad was held 100 years ago
    Statistics were
    Host city London, United Kingdom
    Nations participating 22
    Athletes participating 2,008 (1,971 men, 37 women,)
    Events 110 in 22 sports
    Opening ceremony April 27
    Closing ceremony October 31
    Officially opened by King Edward VII
    Stadium White City Stadium

    Check those against the expected 2012 games:

    Host city London, United Kingdom
    Nations participating 204
    Athletes participating 10,250
    Events 300 in 26 sports
    Opening ceremony July 27
    Closing ceremony August 12
    Stadium Olympic Stadium

Watchdog call on Reading Post Office closures as Lib Dems collect over 2,000 signatures

Gareth Epps, Liberal Democrat councillor for Katesgrove and Parliamentary candidate for Reading East, has challenged the basis for the closures of Post Offices in Reading East, in particular a ‘phantom bus service’ which the Post Office says would serve residents around the threatened Basingstoke Road office – but does not in fact exist.

Gareth, who collected more than 2,000 petition signatures from local residents and employees opposing the closures and distributed thousands of leaflets drawing residents’ attention to the closures, has written to Postwatch to draw their attention to the phantom bus, as well as to issues of the vulnerability of customers which have to be considered as part of the consultation process.

He has spoken to the Regional Chair of Postwatch and has written to formally request they raise these issues with Post Office Ltd as a matter of urgency. And he has not ruled out the possibility of a legal challenge if a closure goes ahead in breach of the Post Office’s own rules.

The bus, quoted in the ‘Access Statement’ published by Post Office Ltd, is supposed to run from 71 Basingstoke Road to the Post Office at Northumberland Avenue. However, no such service exists- to make the journey by public transport, residents would need to walk or catch the bus to Whitley Street and change onto the no 5.

Gareth says:
‘Postwatch has a full legal duty to ensure Post Office Ltd take their decisions in line with the criteria set down by the Labour Government. If they go ahead with the closure of the Basingstoke Road office based on a non-existent bus service that will leave the decision open to challenge.

‘Similarly, some of the areas surrounding Basingstoke Road Post Office rank high in official Government statistics showing a high number of vulnerable people. I want to see Postwatch examine this information in detail, alongside information showing that residents in Caversham and South & East Reading will be left more than a mile from their nearest Post Office if these closures go ahead – in breach of Government guidance.

‘I do not believe the Post Office Ltd has demonstrated it has followed the Government’s rules. I don’t agree with the premise of shutting down valuable Post Offices in the first place; however, I will do everything in my power to challenge any decision to close a Post Office without that decision being fully justified.

‘There is disappointment at the Tories and Labour on Reading Council ganging up to stop the Council formally opposing the closure of a single Reading Post Office. The thousands of residents who signed the Liberal Democrat petition deserve to see their elected representatives taking active steps to stop the closures, and that is exactly what we are doing.’

Editor’s notes:
Cllr Gareth Epps and Reading Liberal Democrats handed a petition containing over 2,000 signatures from local people as part of the formal Post Office consultation. Liberal Democrats are campaigning nationally against Labour’s Post Office closure plans.

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