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In the interest of fairness

Having just come back from opening up our local village hall for polling, can I wish all those taking part a successful day? Clearly not everyone can "win", but just taking part in this, our greatest national institution, we show the world how democracy can function. From the presiding officers to the vote counters it requires a lot of commitment and energy from a lot of people to make this work, and it is not just about the candidates and the organisations they represent.


As an Arborfield and Newland resident I must pay at least a passing tribute to Independent Councillor Gary Cowan. 27 years of representing your constituents is a service to be proud of.

Arborfield and Newland Parish Council will be saying a more formal "thank you" to Gary this Bank Holiday Monday, 6th May, at Arborfield Park on the Swallowfield Road between 2.00 and 4.00 pm. It would be good to see some of you there if you can join us. Gary will no longer be our representative at Wokingham Borough Council, I just hope that whoever we get to replace him they show the same levels of commitment and concern for local issues.


Having said that, this morning I got an email from Adrian, Joseph and Heather, Lib Dem Candidates for Barkham and Arborfield with a link to their webpage. What I find astonishing is the complete absence of the Local Plan Update in general, or the proposal to put 4,500 houses at Hall Farm in particular. Perhaps it is as one social media commentator has written: "It is a matter of public record that 4500 homes will not be built at Hall Farm - yet this group cannot admit this" Evidence to support this claim is still absent, but I live in hope ;-) If only?


By contrast the Conservative candidate Sebastian Graabek, was at Arborfield Village Hall this morning, before the polls have even opened, and has written this on his web page:

"Some changes I have seen however include large amounts of poorly done new developments, some of which have been on green fields. With a distinct lack of infrastructure to support the increase of people living and commuting in the area." Now I fully accept this is not a commitment to block house building at Hall Farm, but then as our "legal experts" on social media like to point out, were he to do this, then get elected, he would not get a vote on the issue because of "predetermination".


We get this argument thrown at us so many times it is perhaps worth explaining a bit more about what it actually means. In the link above it is explained as follows: "Decision makers are entitled to be predisposed to particular views. However, predetermination occurs where someone closes their mind to any other possibility beyond that predisposition, with the effect that they are unable to apply their judgement fully and properly to an issue requiring a decision."


When is a mind judged to be closed, and how do others know? "Section 25(2) of the Localism Act 2011 provides that a decision maker is not to be taken to have had, or to have appeared to have had, a closed mind when making a decision just because – the decision maker had previously done anything that directly or indirectly indicated what view the decision maker took, or would or might take in relation to a matter, and the matter was relevant to the decision.

The section makes it clear that if a councillor has given a view on an issue, this, considered in isolation, does not show that the councillor has a closed mind on that issue. So, the mere fact that a councillor has campaigned on an issue or made public statements about their approach to an item of council business does not prevent that councillor from being able to participate in discussion of that issue and to vote on it. "


I have campaigned long and hard to get the proposal for 4,500 houses at Hall Farm removed from the local plan. Does this mean my mind is closed? I would argue, no, it does not. I am open to discussion of the proposals but have yet to see anything that convinces me it will be the right solution for our collective housing needs. (As it happens I am currently awaiting confirmation of another meeting with representatives from the University of Reading to discuss the "Loddon Valley Garden Village" proposals).


Meetings with other local politicians suggest we should have a "fall back" position. Ok, if the proposals were to include good public transport facilities, upgraded sewage treatment, a community medical centre, a community farm and a cycle and foot path that ran along the Loddon I might even be persuaded to reconsider my position. However, 4,500 houses in my back yard, with many more thousands of cars on local roads, and construction work going on for the next 30 years are always going to be difficult hurdles for me to overcome. Again, I live in hope ;-) What DOES irritate me INTENSELY, is the way debate on the subject has simply been shut down. As I said above, our democracy is our greatest asset. Where, for example, is a simple cost benefit analysis that compares Hall Farm with Ashridge or Twyford? Why will the local Lib Dems not even mention the "elephant in the room"?


Anyway, we will all need to continue living and working together once the dust has settled, so in the interests of being even handed in my treatment of local politicians can I offer the following as proof I am no "closet conservative"?


It was published here https://www.green4grow.org/post/once-upon-a-time-in-the-west back in January 2022. I do love a bit of political satire ;-) Now I did say I would try to be even handed, so to balance things up here is another view:

Have a good day, I look forward to discussing the results once they are published.


Paul Stevens.





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1 Comment


colwatts145
colwatts145
May 02

Excellent summary for the election day. Whoever wins the election today, I hope they are willing to engage openly with the community and prioritise the interests of residents in Barkham and Arborfield. Of course just one of the candidates today actually lives in the ward.

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