Richard Willis's Blog

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Plaza West to be the New Reading Civic Offices

Plaza West Building

Tonight the full Council met to discuss the proposal to move out of the existing crumbling Civic Offices and to chose between the Plaza West building (in Bridge Street, next to the Oracle) or the RG2 (former Yell) building. Both buildings have merits but it was very clear that Labour had already made up their minds, having announced their position a week ago to the press. Cllr Lovelock tried to make out tonight that it was intended to be a cross-party briefing to the press but she failed to explain why it became a forum to announce the Labour Group’s decision on which property to back.With a total cost to the Council Tax payers of about £60m, this is a very important decision at a time of stretched budgets and shrinking grants from Central Government. Conservatives had expected to continue the cross-party approach of the Civic Board and we were expecting a good debate on the respective merits of the two buildings but instead Labour turned the Council meeting into a charade by making it clear that they would use their majority to achieve their pre-announced decision.

Conservatives therefore moved an amendment to Labour’s motion tonight:

“Insert after “This Council” the following text:

1. Deplores Labour’s public statement of a decision in favour of Plaza West in advance of tonight’s Council debate and

2. Calls for the Labour Group to apologise to the people of Reading for their arrogance and the traducing of the cross-party democratic process which had existed through the Civic Board

3. Notes the comments of a Labour Cabinet member that “when in power you can do what you like”

Renumber the succeeding paragraphs to follow on from above.”

Typically, and rather proving our point, Labour closed down debate on our amendment which was then defeated.

Conservative Leader Cllr Tim Harris said, “It is not lost on us that Labour’s first decision on resuming majority control of the Council was to pre-empt a decision of the Full Council which involves borrowing millions of pounds which the Reading Council Tax Payers will have to repay. The Civic Board was established to ensure cross-party involvement in the process to identify new Council Offices, culminating in a decision between the final two.”

Deputy Leader Cllr Jeanette Skeats said, “Had the Conservatives not objected to Labour’s previous plan for a new building in Hosier Street the Council would have been committed to borrow around £120m over the next 60 years. We have worked with the Labour Group over the last few years to find more cost effective options and to narrow them down to a final two options. Tonight we were to discuss these and come to decision but it seems that the decision has already been made!”

In the end Labour, with Lib Dem, Green and Independent support, voted to spend around £60m to purchase, fit out, and then move into the Plaza West building. Only the Conservatives did not support the motion. We support the need to move out of the present Civic building but we cannnot support Labour’s pre-empting of the proper discussion and decision making process. We therefore abstained.

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May 29, 2012 - Posted by | Local

8 Comments »

  1. Its just possible that if the Conservatives had spent less time and effort fighting to win a safe seat there may have been more likelyhood of stopping Labour getting the majority ………..and the chance to act as dictator !!!!!

    Comment by Howard Thomas | May 30, 2012 | Reply

    • Howard – that is nonsense. We fought good campaigns in Caversham and Church but suffered from the national picture and the low turnout of our supporters. It is clear from last night that Labour would have had Lib Dem and Green support anyway!

      Comment by Richard Willis | May 30, 2012 | Reply

      • How did I know you would say that? So the Conservatives put very little effort into preserving a safe seat to prevent it being lost to an ‘independant’ ! I see!

        Comment by Howard Thomas | May 31, 2012

      • Howard – are you wilfully misinterpreting what I said? We fought hard in all seats we were defending but the national situation was unarguable!

        Comment by Richard Willis | May 31, 2012

  2. Even as long ago as when I was on Reading Borough Council 1979-83, there was the problem of High Alumina Cement used in the then recently built Civic Centre and talk of moving to some other building, possibly a new purpose built Civic Centre.

    At last a decision has been taken and it is to be Plaza West. It is not an impressive building and no doubt the cost of converting it to be suitable as the HQ of Reading Borough Council will be high, for example providing a Council Chamber with a Public Gallery, but at least it is not an ultra expensive new build “Taj Mahal” for the Council in these days of Government driven Austerity. It is also reasonably convenient for access from the IDR or the Town Centre not built miles away like the former Berkshire County Council HQ “Shire Hall” in Shinfield..

    I hope that the transition to Plaza West goes smoothly and to time and that a suitable development of benefit to the citizens of Reading is built on the site of the current Civic Centre.

    Like all Council decisions this one is open to criticism and alternative suggestions but I really do NOT feel that this almost hysterical response to it is warranted. There are no Council Elections scheduled in Reading till 2014 and by then I would feel that this matter will be a fait accompli, the Council situated in and working from Plaza West and the average Reading Voter will have other issues both Local and National on their mind when they elect their Councillors in May 2014.

    Comment by Steve Foley | May 30, 2012 | Reply

  3. Why not put more money in things like clubs for the younger people . Not posh cars just so the council members can drive around looking good! open up the old closed railway lines , The conservatives are finding every possible way not to re open them . There thing is to build more and more roads , why I have a really good thought on why !!

    Comment by Paula du Luc | May 30, 2012 | Reply

    • Paula – you clearly have no idea about local politics here in the UK or in Reading in particular!

      When the Conservatives led a coalition in Reading we put more money into the voluntary sector and community facilities. NO Councillor gets a car here other than from their own personal resources. The tax payer certainly doesn’t pay for one for us.

      Your point on railways is also bizarre! Reading is undergoing almost £1bn of investment in the Station and railway through Reading to upgrade it for the 21st century. In addition the Conservative led Govt is proposing spending Billions of pounds on Crossrail, HS2 and electrification of the main rail lines. Before making ill informed comment I suggest you read up on the facts.

      Comment by Richard Willis | May 30, 2012 | Reply

      • Paula……you clearly have no idea as to what you are talking about!

        Comment by Howard Thomas | May 31, 2012


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