Liam Challenger is standing as a Labour Party candidate in the local election on Thursday 2 May. There are four candidates in Katesgrove, and the winner will become a local councillor at Reading Borough Council. We asked each candidate the same eight questions to learn more about them.
Why do you want to be a councillor?
Katesgrove is a really dynamic and exciting area and that really fills me with lots of joy and, honestly, fun. I want help to represent that. It is an area that is ever-changing and ever-growing and, to be honest, to give a small part back to that would be amazing. My family values are always to give something back; my mum was a priest and always cherished the pastoral side and that was really passed on to me to try to make a difference to people’s lives and being a councillor gives me the chance to do that.
I made Reading my home a few years ago and I am very proud of the area; I have got that civic pride and this is an opportunity to shine and try to deliver something back to the people of Katesgrove.
In times of austerity when the council has budgetary problems, what can realistically be done to improve life in Katesgrove?
A big thing is thinking smart and innovation. We as a Labour group have been lucky to secure some pots of money for central projects, to tackle homelessness and also try to tackle the roads. We have recently seen Long Barn Lane improvements from a central pot of money. Thinking outside where we normally look at income streams.
One of the big things I want to trial in Katesgrove is a business rates cut for new and establishing businesses, like on London Street for restaurants. How exciting would it be to make this the destination for Reading? Forget the town centre, forget the Oracle, let’s make Katesgrove a vibrant hub. Lets keep the money internally to the area, it is better to have some money coming in rather than buildings standing empty.
Are in you favour of leaving or remaining in the EU?
I am very much in favour of remaining.
How do you think Brexit is relevant locally?
It is going to have a massive impact in Katesgrove. One in five of residents are EU citizens or come from an EU country. It will have an unprecedented negative impact on the lives of those people and the real heart of this community. We have businesses which rely on systems in place because of being a member of the EU. We have people unsure about their future here. We have a world-class university on our doorstep.
It has impact in so many different ways; it is naïve to think there will not be any negative impact on a local level even though it is such a huge national and global issue.
What are your links to the area?
I have lived in Reading for three years now. I first lived in Highgrove Street and fell in love with Katesgrove and the area. Last year I was lucky enough to be able to afford my first home; my partner and I have moved to the other side of the river (Kennet) near Coley Park.
I had an allotment on Waterloo Meadows but had to give it up because of time commitments.
How many hours a week do you think a councillor needs to spend on council affairs?
This is the hardest question, because it really does vary week to week. I think some weeks you can have back-to-back meetings, community engagement events, and in the summer weeks there can be very little going on. I think it will be about 20 hours per week as an average because I think that is fair.
Local councillors have such an amazing position with power and responsibility and not enough credit at times given to them. I think those roles should be recognised as full-time positions; it’s an allowance and is often done by people who are retired or work part-time. Less than 12% of councillors nationally have full-time work outside their council roles.
Getting the balance is nearly impossible, but we have an amazing team in Katesgrove with Rose Williams and Sophia James, and hopefully I get to join them in a week’s time. We will try to set expectations about getting back to people, delivering for people, engage not just with labour voters but everyone in Katesgrove.
What area of council business most interests you?
I am really fascinated by adult social care. I used to work for a charity for blind people, which gave me an insight to the sort of issues and challenges that the most vulnerable people face. I think that it will not give you headlines in the local press or a photo opportunity, but with austerity and an ageing population, it is a fascinating opportunity to make a difference in an area which is often forgotten about.
Do you think air pollution is a problem in Katesgrove, and if so, what can be done to reduce it?
Absolutely; I have recently seen a graph comparing air pollution on London Road and central London and it was shocking to see that the figure here was higher than central London.
We can appreciate cars on the road but not appreciate air pollution. I would love to see a Reading-wide low emissions zone [charging to enter the zone if you have old diesel or petrol car] not just Katesgrove.
I lived in London previously and saw the power that a red route can have and we are trialling it in Reading. It not only tackles congestion, it tackles people idling their cars which is a big issue around here. Also, the one-way system that Katesgrove has does cause more pollution.
I would love to see an increase in bike clubs. I commuted from Highgrove Street to Oxford and I think that a bike club at the top of Whitley Street would make a difference to people who are cycling in to town but don’t want to take their bike on the train.
The new station at Green Park is going to help with bringing fewer cars into the area. Planning can reduce the number of car parking spaces. So there are several different small ways of systematically reducing air pollution and congestion.