I first became interested in this when I was first elected and I noticed areas of Reading including my own ward which were rundown and in need of some TLC - in part because the then Labour-controlled Council focussed on meeting Decent Homes targets and forgot about improving estate areas.
In particular I am thinking of Hexham Road which until we began campaigning was largely overlooked by the then three Labour councillors and Labour-run Council. As I blogged in 2008 over on my ward blog:
"There is no doubt that the whole estate is in need of urgent regeneration. With the Council's focus on meeting the government's target on decent homes, it's hard to know where the investment will come from. It's certainly something I will continue to campaign for as much as I can, as I think decent neighbourhoods are as important as decent homes.
As we we walked round we noticed that there was evidence of vandalism inside the flat blocks on Hexham Road, but thankfully less of the graffiti that had been a problem last year. It seems too easy for yobs to get into the flats, break glass and do damage inside the blocks. The Council's attitude seems to be "there's no point repairing things as they will just get damaged again' I don't think this is the right thing to do by local residents who have to live in the blocks. Everyone deserves to live in a pleasant environment - particularly if the accommodation is owned by the local council.'It was around this time I developed the idea behind decent neighbourhoods. Between 2006 and 2008 I campaigned both in and outside the Council Chamber around the theme of improving estate areas which had been neglected by Labour.
In 2009 the then Labour-run Council bowed to pressure from me and other Lib Dems and created a new funding stream from the Housing Revenue Account to fund estate improvements in areas where the majority of housing stock in Council-owned and managed. Since then this money has funded a number of improvements in estates across the Borough including Hexham Road estate in my ward where the fund contributed to new trees and bulbs being planted to improve the look and feel of the estate.
Other works funded by the Council's Decent Neighbourhoods Fund include:-
- The youth development project at Hexham Road
- Landscaping projects in Caversham, Southcote, Coley and Whitley
- An anti cycle/motor bike chicane has been installed at Hexham Road,
- Additional street lighting in Whitley Wood and Southcote
- Improvements at Aveley Walk play park.
The work that has been undertaken has been done in close consultation with ward councillors and residents so it is not about imposing the Council's vision on a neighbourhood - quite the opposite.
In my role as Lead Member for Housing, I am delighted in building our budget we have been able to keep our commitment to improving estates. In the coming year we will be investing £400,000 in this important work to improve local neighbourhoods. This is not something we have to do as a Council but I think it is very important and demonstrates our committment to improving the quality of life of residents in all our neighbourhoods.
The next area to benefit is Southcote where a new bespoke outdoor gym is being constructed. This follows a consultation with residents which identified a need for healthier activities for residents in their locality.
If you live on an estate in Reading and have an idea for something to improve your local environment please contact me and I would be happy to pass ideas on to the Neighbourhood Team.