Fri, 02 Jun 2017
THATCHAM South and Crookham residents will have three votes to cast on June 8.
A by-election has been called to fill Conservative councillor Roger Croft’s seats on West Berkshire Council and Thatcham Town Council.
Mr Croft died from injuries sustained in a car crash in France in February. His wife Zelda was also killed.
Mr Croft was elected to the town and district councils in 2011 and became the leader of West Berkshire Council in 2015.
The by-election will be held on the same day as the General Election on Thursday, June 8.
The Conservatives controlled 48 of the 52 seats on West Berkshire Council until Mr Croft’s death, with the remaining four held by the Liberal Democrats.
Thatcham Town Council is also run by the Conservatives, who held 15 of the 18 seats, with the Lib Dems holding the remaining seats.
With less than a week until the by-election we have re-run profiles, which appeared in the Newbury Weekly News, of those standing for West Berkshire Council.
The Conservatives are looking to honour Roger Croft’s legacy by having town council leader Jason Collis elected to his seat on West Berkshire Council.
Mr Collis was elected to the town council in 2015 and was appointed leader in 2016.
He sits on all town council committees and is a member of community planning group Thatcham Vision.
When asked why he was standing for the district council, Mr Collis said: “I just want to represent the people of Thatcham.
“I go to the Baptist church in the ward and have done for 19 years now and just want to honour Roger’s legacy in terms of the work he has done with the district and continue to represent Thatcham at a district level.
“Roger is a huge loss and very much missed by us all.
“I’m determined to fight this election as he would want and to continue on with his fantastic work, ensuring the best deal possible for the people of Thatcham.”
He said that a Conservative win would allow Thatcham’s voice to be heard at district level as him “working with the Conservative group at West Berkshire Council would achieve more than having someone from another party battling all the time”.
Mr Collis said that his priority was how future development of the town would unfold.
He said: “A lot of our problems with parking on streets is how the estates have been designed and the way we have let developers build these estates.
“With all the planning applications around the town it affects all of Thatcham because it affects infrastructure and traffic levels.
“We need to change the way we deal with it.”
Mr Collis said that the ultimate end game would be the creation of a town plan, if there was a need for one.
However, he said it would be an “incredibly involved process”, but “we need to ask these sort of questions because they impact on us for so long”.
THE West Berkshire Green Party candidate wants to let Thatcham’s voice be heard, while tackling congestion at the level crossing.
The local party’s chairman and former serviceman Steve Masters will be contesting the Thatcham South and Crookham seat.
He said: “I don’t think the residents are getting their voices heard.
“I want to be the voice of the ordinary everyday people, for those who don’t really get a voice.
“A vote for a Green Party candidate would allow that voice to be heard and give an alternative perspective for the people of Thatcham South and Crookham.”
Mr Masters said that West Berkshire Council had a Newbury-centric view, with most infrastructure projects focused on the town.
He said that Thatcham residents’ calls for a bridge over the railway had been discarded, leading to higher air pollution levels around the station and roads affected by the queues.
Mr Masters said: “That’s got real-world implications.
“Air pollution from vehicles and poor air quality leads to deaths and cars sat with their engines running at the crossing and around Thatcham adds to that pollution.
“Now is the time to look at the options and maybe do a feasibility study to see how we can improve air quality.”
Mr Masters added that he had been “fighting the severity of the cuts” that the Conservative-controlled council had implemented in recent years.
He said that rural bus services needed to be reinstated as some residents at the caravan park at Crookham Common had been left isolated. “We need joined-up thinking in terms of public transport and infrastructure that serves the community,” he said.
“I think Thatcham is very often seen as the poor relation to Newbury in planning and providing the infrastructure.
“It needs to have a voice that’s not just going to be the Conservative Party line.
“The Tory candidate is bound by the party whip at district level and not actually going to have a totally independent voice.
“We need someone who will stand up and address the issues.”
A former corporal in the Royal Air Force, Mr Masters now works in mental health care, an area he said had felt the brunt of Conservative cuts.
He said one area was retiring servicemen who needed support in the community.
He said: “I was homeless for 10 months in 2009.
“I’m very grateful to the people who did support me and help me get back on to a level playing field.
“These things are real issues to people.”
Nick East said that he wanted to be the voice of preserving vital services in the community and offer more choice to the electorate.
He said that he joined the party in June last year because of the impact of Conservative austerity on the country, uncertainty around Brexit and cuts to public services.
He said: “Jeremy Corbyn struck a cord with me when he spoke about equality, social justice and a fair society.
“These are being denied to more and more people as time moves on.
“By standing as a Labour candidate, I am providing the people of Thatcham South and Crookham with more choice when they look at the ballot paper.
“I am giving them an alternative to years of Conservative and Liberal Democrat domination of the council that has overseen the decline of our public services; the failed investment in our roads, hospitals and schools.”
Mr East, who has lived in the area for 40 years, and whose parents have lived in Thatcham since 1976, said that cuts to schools and the vulnerable were the two biggest issues in the district.
He said: “As a parent myself I am incredibly concerned that my children will be educated in a system that will see four teachers cut from primary schools and 26 teachers from secondary schools by 2019.
“These are our children and our future. We should be protecting and improving the education we give to them – not forcing their headteachers to send out begging letters.
“We see terms like ‘just about managing’ becoming normalised and the prevalence of foodbanks, here locally, is something I never imagined I would see.
“Right here in our local area we have an increase in homelessness and people relying on our fellow good citizens running soup kitchens.
“We are in what is considered one of the most affluent counties in England and this is happening on our doorstep; not somewhere far away.”
THE Liberal Democrats are hoping for a fightback in the Thatcham South and Crookham ward.
The party has selected political veteran Owen Jeffery, a former district and town councillor, to stand.
Mr Jeffery said that the Conservative-controlled council had shown a lack of ambition, despite having the power to get things done.
“They are sat there with a massive majority; anything that they want to do, anything they think can be done they can do it without having to blink an eyelid and they can’t think of anything other to do than increase members allowances.”
He branded Conservative councillors as “an incompetent bunch” who had shown “no pre-planning” and were not “not looking up to see if there’s a problem coming down the road”.
Mr Jeffery said that child and adolescent mental health services had been neglected under Conservative rule, along with education and recycling targets and promotion.
He said that a lack of affordable housing was the biggest issue facing the town.
“I think that should be one of the things at the top of the hit list,” Mr Jeffery said. “What they are doing with the planning department is it’s being run in a way that doesn’t seem to be giving us great value for money because we haven’t put any strategic plans to bed properly.”
He added that the six-year wait for replacing Taceham House in the Haywoods represented “the paradigm of affordable housing in this area”.
Mr Jeffery said that, while the result would not see a shift in power at the district council, he wanted to be “the fifth Lib Dem poking them in the eye saying wake up and run the council properly. What you are doing is not adequate for the people.”
He hoped that Thatcham South and Crookham would emulate the Richmond effect, when the Conservatives lost the seat to the Lib Dems in December last year, and show the local Conservatives that people would no longer be taken for granted.