Protestors from Reclaim Reading, a group who use art and provocative actions to ask who controls Reading, served a ‘public information notice’ at the Reading Borough Council (RBC) policy meeting on Monday 24 September.
The group included Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) protesting changes to the town’s concessionary bus scheme, Aspire CIC protesting the sale of the old Central Club on London Street to property developers, and the Save the Arthur Hill Baths campaign protesting the closure and sale of the baths.
The Reclaim Reading ‘public information notice’ was modelled on one that Thames Valley Police might use to warn people of their antisocial behaviour. The notice was peacefully but noisily delivered to councillors seated in the council chamber immediately before the policy meeting started.
Councillor Hoskin vs the Arthur Hill Baths
Peter Burt, from the Arthur Hill Baths campaign, asked lead councillor for health, wellbeing and sport Graeme Hoskin if he had voted to sell the Arthur Hills Baths to a property developer rather than to a leisure provider who could have re-opened the pool for public swimming.
“I voted to secure the maximum capital receipts in order to maximise the opportunity to invest in the new leisure facilities we are committed to providing in Palmer Park and Rivermead”, responded Councillor Hoskin.
“If you’re not prepared to stand up… and represent the interests of sport and health, will you please resign your post?” asked Mr Burt, to applause from the audience (but not the councillors).
Councillor Hoskin responded that the decisions and voting in the meeting to which Mr Burt was referring were confidential.
Another public questioner, Roger Lightfoot, asked Councillor Hoskin for the legal reason why RBC had chosen to withhold from the public information about to whom the Arthur Hills Baths had been sold.
Councillor Hoskin replied that the council was permitted to withhold information if disclosure could prejudice the commercial interest of any party, and the council had considered that their own position would be damaged by disclosure because the sale contract was not yet complete.
Councillor Lovelock vs the Central Club
The Aspire CIC chair Keith Kerr asked RBC lead councillor Jo Lovelock why the council has sold the Central Club, for which Aspire CIC had bid on behalf of Reading’s Afro-Caribbean communities, to property developer Red Line, without complying with the Equality Act 2010.
Councillor Lovelock refuted this, saying the council had complied with equality legislation.
Mr Kerr then asked why the council had failed to respond adequately to a freedom of information (FOI) request that asked for the criteria by which the Aspire and Red Line bids were measured. It is Aspire’s contention that the several million pounds’ worth of community services they included in their bid were not adequately valued, and the council based their decision only on the approximately £125,000 higher offer price made by Red Line.
“What is RBC hiding by failing to release the information so that best value can be assessed by Aspire and other hard-pressed council tax payers?” he asked. Councillor Lovelock said that the information requested was commercially sensitive and could not be released.
Mr Kerr pointed out that the deal had already been done; there were no longer any commercial reasons why the information should be withheld, but Councillor Lovelock said that the information had not been withheld from the committee that made the decision.
Mr Kerr then asked why RBC accepted Red Line’s plan for a seven-floor building when Aspire had been informed by the council, via Haslam’s estate agents, that a maximum of four floors would be acceptable. Councillor Lovelock responded that future planning applications would be considered by a planning committee.
“How can any community group in Reading have any belief in the council and its policies when that same council is able to make rules and break them at will?” asked Mr Kerr.
“I know you are not happy with the decision, but [it] was made with due process,” responded Councillor Lovelock.
- ‘Coalition of the disaffected’ takes shape on London Street
- Disabled people protest proposed changes to concessionary bus passes
- Arthur Hill swimming pool is on the market
- RBC policy committee 24 September papers and webcast
- Reclaim Reading, and on Facebook and Twitter
- Save Arthur Hill Baths
- Aspire CIC