Councillor's surgeries aim to heal all grievancesBy Caroline Cook
February 21, 2012
Walking into Wokingham Town Hall on a Saturday one might expect an empty building with councillors and staff having closed the doors for the weekend.
But on the third Saturday of every month the heavy old doors are well and truly open as councillors, Thames Valley Police officers, and, if you time it right, the borough’s MP, are all ready and waiting for the public to descend.
The town centre surgeries have been running in the town hall in Market Place since September with town and borough councillors operating a rota of shifts to meet and greet the public.
Town councillor Malcolm Richards, who was one of four councillors on hand on Saturday, January 21, said the surgeries have seen a steady increase in turn-out since they began.
He said: “The first one was fairly quiet, we had two or three people, but sometimes we get nine or so, and it’s been growing as more people find out about it. At the moment a lot of people are coming in for things like parking and every day issues.
“But I think as things like the town centre redevelopment start happening then people will come about that as well.”
The hot topic of the surgery was proposals for revamping the Langborough Recreation Ground.
Couples, families and individuals popped in to voice their opinion and see what was in store for the area.
And Wokingham borough councillor Alastair Corrie, who is also ward member for Evendons, said it was the aim of the surgery to give people a forum to air their views about town centre developments and issues.
He said: “I think it’s helpful to let people know what is available and how you can get involved.
“That’s why we started this, to make people’s lives better.
“It’s good that we have a range of people here as well because someone may come to speak to us, but I might not be the right person so there is always someone else they can talk to.”
At the monthly surgery a table is designated for each ward giving people the chance to speak to representatives who know most about their areas and the issues within them.
There is also a table provided for town centre police officers who pop in while on duty to meet the public and discuss any issues they may have.
Councillor Martin Bishop said: “The police are invited here as well and last time we had a few people wanting to speak to them about parking problems. And John Redwood pops in sometimes as well.
“We had someone who lived near the Molly Millars industrial estate and they were worried about work which was going on late at night.
“And we’ve had a lot of people today asking questions about the playground at Langborough Recreation Ground.” Town centre surgeries are not a new concept, as Cllr Bishop explained when he said there had previously been attempts at surgeries in the Emmbrook area.
But it is the first time all the areas have been grouped in one place giving shoppers a one-stop shop for speaking to the people who represent them in the council chambers.
Cllr Bishop said: “Some branches used to have their own surgeries but this has brought everyone together in one place.
“It’s still very much in its early days but it seems to be going well.
“The other important thing is that if someone comes in with a query it’s important for us to follow it up.
“If we can, it’s good to have the problem resolved then you know if things are being done.”
With more people coming through the door every week, the surgery is proving to be popular with the community as people air their views and get to the bottom of parking nightmares and noisy nuisances.
Another benefit of the surgery is that it allows people to communicate with their councillors and neighbourhood face to face, allowing them to get to know the people behind the names on the ballot papers.
Cllr Richards said: “It means we don’t just have meetings on our own upstairs but if people have got an issue they can come to us with it.
“They get to see our names and faces and know we are approachable.
“We want to encourage greater participation.”
The town centre surgery runs on the third Saturday of every month from 10am to midday at Wokingham Town Hall in Market Place.