Reading Borough Council (RBC) policy committee on the evening Monday 16 July saw three very different public protests played out in front of councillors and RBC officers.

Save Reading Libraries!

Petitions are a standing agenda item at policy committee and at this meeting, a petition was presented by David McElroy opposing cuts to library hours. It asked the council “… to look again for a creative solution to preserve opening hours – evening and weekend opening for Palmer Park library for example.”

Recommendations following the most recent consultation on cuts to library hours was on the agenda at Item 13. This was moved forward earlier in proceedings in the light of the petition, so that interested parties did not have to wait around.

The petitioners gained a small victory on the night as councillor Tony Jones proposed an amendment to the proposed reduction in hours for Palmer Park library. The amendment was accepted and will allow the library to open from 10am to 1pm on Saturdays.

This brings Palmer Park library opening hours on Saturday in line with Whitley and Southcote libraries.

Arthur Hill Baths

Questions from Reading’s swimming lobby relating to the closure of the Arthur Hill Baths, the proposed new replacement pool at Palmer Park and swimming provision in Reading in general have become a regular feature of policy committees.

At the 16 July meeting, councillors excluded the press and public for a closed session during which one of the items discussed was result of the sale of Arthur Hill Baths.

Arthur Hill Baths protesters with a banner saying ‘READING BOROUGH COUNCIL, WORST SWIMMING FACILITIES IN ENGLAND’ were outside the council offices before the meeting and a large group attended the meeting.

After the closed session [at 0:00:35], the chair, councillor Jo Lovelock, announced that a decision had been made to dispose of the baths to a preferred bidder, but that the name of that bidder was confidential at this stage. She said that Arthur Hill – Save our Swimming Community Interest Company (Arthur Hill SOS CIC), had not submitted a bid.

Following this [at 0:02:44] two protesters invaded the pitch of the council chamber and faced the Labour councillors with a ‘shame on you’ banner [at 0:03:35]. They were asked to leave by the chair and council officers but stayed where they were until asked to leave by security.

The chair suspended the meeting while this took place and it restarted about five minutes later.

Central Club

The future of the Central Club and Black History Mural on London Street, also recently on the market, was discussed at Item 10 of the agenda [at 1:02:00]. Commercial matters relating to the recommendation proposed had been discussed in the closed session.

The council’s preferred bidder for the club, Red Line Land Ltd was approved at the meeting. They will be granted a 999 year lease which will include provisions to protect the future of the mural.

Councillors Sophia James and Tony Page both spoke about previous attempts to bring the club back into community use. Councillor James made a personal commitment that she would be seeking some space to be reserved for black community groups and members of the black community [at 1:08:00].

Neither councillor Meri O’Connell (liberal democrat) nor councillor Rob White (green) supported the Red Line bid but councillor Jeanette Skeats (conservative) spoke in support of it.

There were protesters in the audience who supported the unsuccessful Aspire bid. Their protests and vocal interruptions during the discussion of proposals caused the chair to suspend the meeting for a second time [at 1:14:45] during councillor Skeats speech. The meeting resumed after about five minutes while protesters left and councillors took a break.

Whitley Pump may have more to say on the Central Club as, of all three items, this is the closest to Katesgrove Hill.

After covering the rest of the agenda, the very disrupted meeting finished at around 9.15pm.

  1. RBC Policy Committee 16 July 2018 papers & webcast
  2. Reading Libraries
  3. Consultation on further cuts to Reading libraries
  4. Arthur Hill SOS CIC – website & company information
  5. Arthur Hill baths in the Whitley Pump
  6. Red Line Land Ltd – website & company information
  7. Aspire Reading CIC – website & company information
  8. The Black History Mural in the Whitley Pump