Our vision for West Berkshire
The Green Party believes that the 2016 EU referendum should be the start, not the end, of the democratic process. Parliament and the people should be allowed to vote on the final deal that the UK government negotiates with the European Union. The Greens are the only party to have made an official and unambiguous pledge to include the option of remaining in the EU on the ballot paper of a ratification referendum.
In 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU – it did not vote on whether to leave the single market or the customs union. Leavers argue that this is splitting hairs. But the fact is they are not the same thing. Iceland and Norway are in the single market but not the EU. The single market allows freedom of movement of goods without tariffs. If we leave the single market the EU bloc will be able to impose tariffs on our exports, making them less attractive to overseas consumers and undermining the profits of UK companies. Companies based in the UK whose products are made from materials and parts from overseas have seen their costs go up because imports are more expensive following the fall in value of the pound. Inflation is rising in the UK, meaning the pound in people’s pockets is worth less. The single market also provides consumer and environmental protections and there is no guarantee that the UK government will not tear these up.
We believe in the freedom of movement of people. We have an ageing population and need more workers in the UK. More than 10,000 doctors and 23,000 nurses, midwives and health visitors from the EU were working for the NHS at the end of 2016. So far, these vital workers have not been guaranteed the right to remain, and there is no deal on freedom of movement.
Greens want young people to have opportunities and a bright future, including the right to study, travel, work, and live in other EU countries. Thousands have benefitted from taking part in the Erasmus scheme. UK universities are also net beneficiaries of EU research funding. We will lose world class researchers to other countries.
The Greens believe that from climate change to preventing terrorism, the challenges of our times require us to work with our neighbours to find solutions.
If you want the opportunity to vote on the final deal, vote Green.
Health, social care and disability
Free healthcare is the cornerstone of the NHS. The Green Party opposes the creeping privatisation of the health service. We say put patients before profits. The NHS is something we can all be proud of and we must protect it for future generations.
Government policies are causing the closure of A&E departments and hospital beds, while staff vacancies go unfilled. Demand on the NHS is growing because of an ageing population and people are living longer because of improved survival rates. Yet the government has cut the proportion of GDP that it spends on the NHS. Meanwhile companies with links to Conservative MPs are making billions from NHS contracts.
We are fortunate to have a very good local hospital at Thatcham that many people prefer using, where possible, rather than facing long journeys to Reading, Basingstoke, Swindon or Oxford. Greens would like to see the NHS making more use of this hospital.
The Green Party is committed to free social care for all over-65s who need it. If residential care is needed then it will also be provided free (as already happens in Scotland) and homeowners would not be required to sell their home to pay for care. More beds in social care would prevent bed blocking in hospitals.
Prevention is better than cure. The Green Party supports investment in better public transport and cycle paths, and measures to reduce pollution and improve air quality. The Green Party is strongly committed to empowering people with illness and disabilities. Personal care and support should be provided for free. Local shops and public amenities should be fully accessible to wheelchairs.
The Green Party promotes free, quality education for all. We are opposed to government cuts in school budgets, and believe it is better to invest in the schools we have than create new grammar schools. Children develop and thrive at different ages, and should not be judged at the age of 11. We believe that political meddling should be taken out of education and teachers should be entrusted to do the job they know and love.
We have excellent schools in West Berkshire, staffed by talented and dedicated professionals. There is very little appetite among parents and teachers in West Berkshire for the current high-pressure, test-driven culture. We believe Ofsted is a failed and over-politicised organisation which is damaging our children. We will work to end its negative impact and to increase our focus on wellbeing and personal development.
Our policy is to return control of all schools to local authorities and enable them to build new schools to meet growing demand for places. We will speak up for the pupils, parents and professionals of West Berkshire. For pre-school children, we would increase the number of hours of free nursery education for three- and four-year-olds from the current 15 hours a week.
We support free higher education: an end to tuition fees and the reintroduction of grants. The Green Party is strongly committed to lifelong learning. We should also cherish and support our excellent local libraries. The Greens created the West Berkshire Save our Services campaign in the spring of 2016, and fought to prevent the closure of our local libraries. We should extend West Berkshire Museum’s opening hours.
Public transport, road safety and air pollution
We are campaigning for a road bridge over the railway at Thatcham. The road there is frequently congested because of the level crossing and this contributes to air pollution. Each year in the UK around 40,000 early deaths are attributable to air pollution. We would like to see a Clean Air Act, and the expansion of the network of Clean Air Zones. Car companies that have cheated vehicles emissions testing over many years should pay for the damage they have caused to our health and the environment.
Cyclists get a raw deal in West Berkshire. We want to see more cycle lanes so that people can travel safely, get more exercise, and help reduce pollution. On the roads, we want to see speed reductions at danger spots like the A34 at East Ilsley and the A4 at Marsh Benham. We would reduce speed limits on dual carriageways in Newbury from 40mph to 30mph to cut traffic noise and pollution. Across the district, many 30mph limits should be reduced to 20mph. More than half of road deaths and serious injuries occur on roads with 30mph limits.
We would like to see a better bus service to the rural areas of the county. Many young people, elderly, disabled, and those who cannot afford to buy and run a car, are reliant on public transport. The 222 bus service between Hungerford and Newbury was scrapped to save only £5,000 a year. Small investments can improve people’s independence and quality of life, while reducing congestion and air pollution.
A better deal for rail travellers including commuters is a crucial part of Green Party policy. Railways should be publicly owned and run for the benefit of passengers, with profits ploughed back into lower fares and better services, rather than for operators like First Great Western and their shareholders. We are all paying twice – through our taxes, which subsidise the train companies, and for the ever-increasing ticket prices that they then impose.
We will press First Great Western to provide a final through train of the day from London Paddington to Newbury at least an hour, and preferably two hours, later than the current 8.35pm. There is no reason why the 9.45pm from Paddington, for example, could not be rerouted through Newbury. We will fight for electrification to be extended through Kintbury and Hungerford to Bedwyn.
In the 21st century, it is outrageous that wheelchair users and parents with baby buggies cannot cross from one platform to the other at Newbury station because there is no lift. We also want to see stations, including the smaller ones in the district, properly staffed in the evening, when older people are nervous about using them.
Vote Green if you share our vision for healthier, safer, and more affordable transport for all.
The environment, climate change and wildlife
Only the Green Party is fully committed to the global fight against climate change. Prime Minister Theresa May is alone among leaders of the six largest economies in failing to challenge US President Donald Trump about his threats to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. We are concerned about the impact of Brexit on environmental regulations. We support a new Environmental Protection Act to protect the natural world by creating a new environmental regulator and court.
We are concerned about the increase in fly tipping since the Conservative district council introduced permits, forcing many residents in West Berkshire to travel to Reading to dispose of large items. The Greens would scrap this permit scheme and work together with Reading Council to reduce fly tipping across our beautiful county. We would like to see more recycling bins in public spaces like the town centres of Newbury and Thatcham. The Greens national manifesto pledges to end plastic waste by introducing a bottle deposit scheme to stop 16 million plastic bottles ending up in environment every day.
We support the work of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trusts. Many of us are members and we enjoy the experience of visiting tranquil spaces like Greenham and Crookham Commons. We oppose badger culling, which in the opinion of the government’s own experts is counter-productive. We are appalled by Prime Minister Theresa May’s support for fox hunting.
We will oppose any plans for fracking in West Berkshire and support measures to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and promote renewable energy. The Greens national manifesto pledges to end the monopoly of the Big Six energy companies by building democratic, locally owned alternatives.
We can only achieve these things if voters take every opportunity to vote Green in national and local elections.
Disillusioned with politics and politicians? No wonder. The slanging match between David Cameron and Ed Miliband at Westminster, the squabbling between Tories and Lib Dems in our own council – you get the impression they are more interested in scoring points off each other than in representing the people who elected them. It puts people off politics and makes it seem like a game, irrelevant to people’s lives.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Greens want to see genuinely accountable and open government, with an end to decisions being made in secret then rubber-stamped by councillors simply toeing the party line. Meetings should be open to the public and media. And if people are unable to attend in person, the council should use 21st-century methods to reach them: for instance, meetings could be live-streamed so people could watch on their laptop, tablet or phone. A West Berkshire app could be developed to provide updates and improve communication.
Green councillors will speak plainly and honestly and hold regular surgeries in their wards so people can raise local issues confident that someone is listening to them and acting for them. We will be wholly accountable to our constituents and easily contactable through the use of email, Twitter and other social media apps.
Similarly, we will enable people to use modern methods to contact the council. If Veolia miss your bin, for example, a quick email or text that is acted on promptly rather than having to wait in a queue for someone to answer the phone.
If elected, Green councillors would request that the council should review councillors’ allowances and expenses. In times of austerity, food banks and benefit cuts it is only right that councillors should seek savings. Their role is to serve people, not to benefit financially.
Housing and development
We are not a NIMBY (“not in my back yard”) party. We recognise that people need somewhere to live and that, under this government and its predecessor, many people have been priced out of homes, both for sale and rent. Greens want to see affordable homes provided to end the often hidden homelessness that shames our nation, including generally prosperous areas like West Berkshire. Sustainable new homes should where possible be on brownfield rather than greenfield sites, close to town and village centres and with good transport links, and in proportion to the local environment.
What we have seen in this district, however, is not a coherent plan to house people but a wave of piecemeal and speculative proposals for development, often on a scale completely out of proportion to the proposed site and with no serious attention paid to the infrastructure that will be needed. Following the huge development at the Racecourse (1,500 homes) and a further 2,000 earmarked for Sandleford, there is a proposal for 400 homes near Vodafone’s HQ at Shaw, 500 homes at Siege Cross Farm in Thatcham, and a further 90 homes at Lower Way, next to the nature reserve at Thatcham.
Developers must see West Berkshire Council as a soft touch. Grainger was given the Market Street site (valued at £3.9m in 2013) for nothing, yet without any guarantees that this gateway to Newbury will really be transformed into something to be proud of. Standard Life (whose chief executive is paid more than £5m a year) could not afford, we were told, to provide affordable housing. After the council gave the company £900,000 to build 37 units, they are still empty after two years because Standard Life has failed to appoint a social housing provider to manage them.
Time and again we see developers promising to provide affordable housing and other facilities, yet failing to deliver and apparently getting away with it. How much confidence can people have that the promised affordable homes, country park and other facilities will ever materialise along with 2,000 new houses at Sandleford, should that development go ahead? One thing we can be sure of is that the infrastructure is completely inadequate for a development on this scale. Have the councillors who voted for this never driven to Tesco or the retail park?
The consultation process is flawed and people do not feel they are being listened to. Key planning decisions are driven by councillors who live nowhere near the affected areas. Despite the fact that no planning applications have yet been made for Sandleford one of the developers has written to local people asking to buy their land and, incredibly, has been given permission by the council to widen Warren Road in what is clearly a backdoor route to provide access to a new development. Local people should be far more involved in decisions that affect them. We will press for additional planning guidance to increase the responsibility of developers towards the community and the environment.
It is perfectly possible to provide new homes in proportion with their surroundings: the St Barts site in south Newbury, for example, which now boasts a lovely new school and mix of sympathetically built houses and flats. We support the recently approved redevelopment of the Sterling Cables and other brownfield sites; although in the case of the former, the council has allowed the developer to build no affordable homes and waive £685,000 in contributions towards education, social care, open space and policing. We regard this as unacceptable.
Town centres and small businesses
Parkway is all very well but older parts of Newbury town centre must not be neglected. Revenue from big chains is welcome but in Bartholomew Street and Cheap Street high business rates are driving out local businesses where people like to shop. How many more betting shops do we really need? It is counter-productive when shops are left empty, like the eyesore that is one end of Cheap Street. The Kennet Centre also needs a facelift.
Thatcham and Hungerford face similar problems and the council should work hand in hand with local businesses to make the whole district more attractive to shoppers, including local people and visitors from farther away.
Green Party policies for small businesses include raising the threshold for business rate relief, removing employers’ national insurance, developing local banks, and recognising that small businesses respond better to local needs.
You don’t need to spend a fortune to brighten up people’s environment. It’s about vision and imagination as much as money. More trees and tubs of flowers would transform the rather grey Market Square and the surrounding area. Why not leafy continental-style areas where customers could sit outside the refurbished pubs and restaurants in Newbury town centre enjoying a drink?