2011 was a difficult year in so many ways. The new Coalition government was getting to grips with the problems left by the previous Labour administration, only to then have the troubles in the Eurozone added to the picture.
Here in Reading we had the local elections which saw the collapse of our Lib Dem coalition partners and then the Greens allowing Labour back into control of the town through the back door! We barely had time to understand the problems locally before we had to hand back the reins. Yes we made some mistakes but I think the general thrust of what we were doing was what was wanted locally. The Lib Dems who were in the Cabinet were good and sensible partners in administration but their lives were complicated by some internal difficulties in their Group.
Within my portfolio of Strategic Planning and Transport, we secured the £10.6m for Reading Station, implemented the biggest changes in the town centre in living memory, completed the Junction 11 upgrade, started the process of removing unnecessary existing traffic lights, stopped the planned removal of the roundabouts at TGI’s and Caversham Bridge, cancelled the closure of Chatham Street slip roads and the planned new traffic lights on the IDR next to Broad Street Mall, froze most car park charges, implemented a new tree strategy and planted dozens of new trees, made the S106 system more transparent and properly recorded, reviewed and revised the residents’ parking zones and rules. Not bad for one year! And that was despite spending a disproportionate amount of time on the Shinfield Road scheme that Labour left me.
It is my biggest regret that I could not find a way to stop it or at least reverse its most damaging elements. It was impossible to do so when Labour and the Council’s transport officers were so wedded to the scheme’s implementation. Taking a proposal to Cabinet which did not have technical endorsement from the professional transport planners would have been impossible and would certainly not have passed. That is why the Transport Research Lab report was so important, as it gave a second opinion and Officers agreed to accept its findings. Whilst it is the case that the report did not recommend removal of the lights, it did state that the there was no real difference between the lights and the roundabouts in safety terms. Labour could use that important finding to justify to Cabinet removing at least one sets of the lights – something I would have done had the coalition still been in control.
Anyway 2012 should prove to be an interesting year! There will be local elections in Reading in May, in which the Lib Dems will probably again lose all the seats they are defending. Labour will also probably lose the third seat in Park to the Greens. We will fight hard to stop Labour gaining any more ground in Church ward, with the long serving and very local Councillor Azam Janjua.
In London Boris Johnson will be fighting to retain the Mayoralty against a Ken Livingstone who is now very much past his prime. It should be a win for Boris. There will then be the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June, swiftly followed by the London Olympic Games. Both events will ensure that the world will be focussed on the UK for the period and should lift the spirits of a nation still suffering the hangover of Labour’s economic mismanagement.
Internationally there will be elections in France and the US, both of which will be important to the UK. The Euro crisis will rumble on unless the major nations in the Eurozone get a grip. There is a real danger that Greece could end up suffering a military coup if domestic discontent is not well managed. Russia is set for a Presidential election which Vladimir Putin hopes will put him back into the top role. Widespread protests in Russia are unlikely to derail his plans but could act as a check on his ability to get his own way.
I can say with some sense of certainty that the world will not come to an end in December 2012 but much will have changed by the end of the year.
Will Ed Miliband still be Labour leader?
Will the Conservatives continue to defy political gravity and be level pegging with or ahead of Labour in the polls?
Will the “Arab Spring” continue to unseat autocratic leaders as it rumbles across the Middle East and North Africa?
Will Obama prove to be a one-term President like Jimmy Carter was?
Feel free to post your thoughts for 2012 below.