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Local News Sept 7-14 2017

Including parking charges in Marlborough, a new leisue centre for Wantage, a bus campaign in Swindon, council news from Hungerford, an adopted phone box in East Garston, bargains in Ramsbury, energy switching, school funding, planning challenges, good causes celebrated, brutalism lamented, paper folding calculated, windscreen wipers linked and Kid Charlemagne recalled.

Click on any highlighted and underlined text for more information on the subject. Some will link to other pages on this site, others to pages elsewhere.

Roadworks updates. Click on the links for news regarding West Berkshire, the Wantage area, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Swindon. In particular, there will be roadworks on the A339 both north and south of the Robin Hood Roundabout until mid-October which will result in lane or road closures. Resurfacing work is likely to start soon on the A419 near Swindon which will inevitably lead to some delays. Click here for information on forthcoming closures on closures, partial closures and delays on the A34; and here for the same on the M4.

• Due to engineering works, trains will not be running between Swindon and Bristol Parkway until 17 September.

Neighbourhood policing updates. For the Thames Valley Police’s ‘Your Local Area’ page generally, click here. For specific areas, click here for Hungerford and Lambourn; click here for Newbury Town Centre; click here for Newbury Outer; click here for Bucklebury and Downlands; click here for Thatcham, Aldermaston and Brimpton; click here for Wantage and Grove; click here for Wiltshire East (including Marlborough); click here for Swindon and other parts of Wiltshire; click here for Hampshire.

• A number of community minibus and car schemes provide transport services for – but not exclusively for – older and disabled people. You can click here to find more about the range of services (and volunteering opportunities) in West Berkshire. Click here for services in Wiltshire and Swindon.

District, town or parish council contacts. To view the contacts page for Hungerford TC, click here; for Newbury, click here; for Thatcham, click here. If you live in the Vale of White Horse area, click here (and here for Wantage); if you live in Wiltshire, click here (and here for Marlborough). For Swindon, click here.

• The new school year re-ignites, as effortlessly as if they’d never stopped, all those familiar family bickerings about lost gym kit, unfinished maths homework and dirty lunchboxes discovered under beds or wedged in the bottom of school bags. The week has also re-ignited the controversies surrounding the seeming inequalities of the home-to-school transport provided by local councils which, in West Berkshire at least, has changed recently. There’s one of these on page 2 of the Newbury Weekly News.

And sticking with education, the latest e-newsletter from Newbury MP Richard Benyon refers to the national funding formula (the so-called ‘Fairer Funding Formula’) for schools, the draft of which attracted ‘a huge number of responses’ earlier this year. The initial proposals have now been revised (although the full details have yet to be published) but Mr Benyon assures us that ‘for 2018-19 and 2019-20 there will be a cash increase of 0.5% for every school and up to 3% for schools which had been underfunded.’ (I’m not sure from this if these increases will apply in each of these years or whether they will be spread across both.) The next two years will see a ‘transition period’. Alan Henderson, the Head Teacher at John O’Gaunt in Hungerford, welcomed the government’s decision to delay the implementation of the original policy which had been ‘hastily agreed and not appropriately considered.’ He pointed out that JOG would actually have lost money under these proposals and that the general impact on West Berkshire’s schools – whose funding level has been well below the national average – would have been ‘very significant.’ He thanked Mr Benyon for his support in this matter.

This two-year transition period will doubtless see further changes to the formula, hopefully equitable and beneficial. If the government takes the view that funding should be weighted in favour of policies which solve problems for the longest possible period and so produce the greatest overall benefits to society, then anything that involves funding for the education of children would surely test pretty high. Yes, I know – it’s not that simple.

• And on the subject of transition periods prior to the introduction of a major reform, an even more significant change – to the way local councils are funded – is planned for 2019-20. This is likely to have far-reaching consequences and, as I understand it is currently envisaged (based on the full retention of business rates) seems anything but equitable. Is there, I wonder, likely to be a transition period for that? If so, there seems no sign of it.

• Please click here for the latest news from Hungerford Town Council.

• If you missed the September edition of Penny Post Hungerford, please click here. This month’s articles include a round-up of the Town Council’s work, the imminent Totally Locally shopping initiative, an appeal for retained firefighters, a quick tour of Littlecote House, news from Barrs Yard, a recommended duodecology, seasonal recipes from the allotments, a valuation event and an 18th-century murder – something for everyone, in other words.

• It’s also worth particularly drawing your attention to some good news concerning Hungerford Post Officeclick here for more.

• Good news too for Hungerford Town FC after a dismal start to their second season in the National League South. Three wins on the bounce have seen them move up to 10th. Next fixture is home to Hampton & Richmond (currently 15th) at 3pm Saturday 10 September.

• Advance notice of the Hungerford Literary Festival which will run from Friday 13 to Sunday 15 October. For tickets and further information visit the Arts for Hungerford website or drop into the Bookshop.

• Please click here for the latest news from Newbury Town Council: and here to see NTC’s archive of monthly newsletters.

Newbury Town Council will be throwing its doors open and welcoming members of the public to its Open Day on Saturday 9 September – more details here.

• News here of an initiative involving West Berkshire Council and the Thames Valley Police – Building Communities Together.

• Another week, another planning ruction (or two). According to Newbury Weekly News, residents of Hermitage have been objecting to a proposal which would create nearly three times as many houses as West Berkshire Council had originally allocated for the site. Meanwhile, another developer has attempted to challenge the Council’s claim that it will able to provide enough new homes under its current plans: this would have resulted in 80-odd homes being build near the proposed Sandleford site but was rejected by the Planning Inspector. Most people, given the choice, would rather have planning decisions made by elected councils rather than by developers, courts and planning inspectors. The inspectors do not always support councils, however. In a small case in Upper Eddington and a larger one in Andover, the inspectors decided that overall housing needs outweighed the views of the council and that development previously refused should be permitted.

Meanwhile, the main Sandleford plan remains mired in a number of disputes between the developers and West Berkshire Council. It highlights the problem that there’s a big difference between a local authority granting permission for homes and these homes actually being built. There are only a small number of firms which have both the  funds and the expertise for projects on the scale of Sandleford or Grove and they will above all be concerned with their share price. No developer will want to build and sell save at the most profitable moment. If a lot of houses come on to the market at the same time the price of each will probably fall which might wipe millions of pounds off their profits. As with OPEC, profitability can sometimes most easily be achieved by turning off the tap. A wider menu of solutions to the so-called housing crisis, including more changes of use and building regeneration, was proposed by the pre-election housing white paper: but these tend to work better in urban areas and in any case cannot provide more than a small fraction of what’s required.

Half a century ago, matters were otherwise. Councils planned, designed, built and owned a good deal of the housing stock, making a good number of what proved to be ill-considered decisions in the process. As with so many other areas of life, such as education, the planning system is complex, subjective, technical and requires at every step compromises and partnerships, not all of which produce the expected results. It also has to respect and react to constant demographic changes and changes in government policy all of which risk undermining previous decisions  or throwing the whole system into disrepute. All in all, not a job for the faint-hearted.

• Another item in the West Berkshire Planning Department in-tray is a decision about a certain Swedish furniture store’s request to mount a logo on a 187-foot tall stick near its store in Calcot, an application which (as reported in this column a few weeks ago) should be thrown out not only because of the awfulness of the structure but also because of the tortured English that was used to justify the need for it. According to the Newbury Weekly News, the store had submitted this application only after proposals for a smaller one had been rejected. Perhaps the cunning plan is for them then to re-propose the smaller one as being the lesser of two evils. The local parish council succinctly described the application as being ‘the solution to a non-existent problem.’ Decision day is early next month. (If you want to know where the store is, you don’t need the expense of a logo on a stick: just listen out for the sign of honking horns from motorists once again trapped in the car park.)

• Just darting back to post-war planning for a sec, the architect who designed Bracknell‘s town centre, which has recently been almost entirely replaced by a new development, has been defending his designs. I wonder how many people would agree with him.

• Meanwhile another dispute rumbles on, this time in Hamstead Marshall, with continued opposition to the proposed conversion of The White Hart Inn into housing.

• Click here for details of West Berkshire Energy Switch which in the last 15 months claims to have saved switchers over £75,000.

• An update here on the work done by the Bring Hope Humanitarian Foundation‘s Paula Horsfall who has been teaching sewing skills to Kurdish refugees in Iraq.

• News from East Garston, including consultations of the proposed closure of the remaining Post Office service and of the ward boundaries, the Parish Council’s adoption of a red phone box and upcoming events. Please click here to see the full newsletter (if you don’t receive this and would like to you can subscribe using the links at the foot.

• Please click here for the latest news from Marlborough Town Council.

• This is what a brand new primary schoolSt Mary’s in Marlborough – looks like before the kids arrive for the first day.

Wiltshire Council is considering raising parking charges across the county. According to this article in Marlborough News Online this will to help raise money to help pay for rural bus services, though the council seems at least as excited by the prospect of upgrading the car parks with a lot of shiny new technology.

•  If you fancy picking up a bargain, Ramsbury is the place to be on Sunday 10 September when the Big Garage Sale takes place.

• Please click here for the latest news from Thatcham Town Council.

• Please click here for the latest news from Wantage Town Council.

• A sneak preview here of the proposed plans for the new Wantage and Grove Leisure Centre. You can comment on the plans to the Vale of White Horse Council by clicking here.

• What is ‘Scattered Light‘? An indie-rock guitar band from Manchester? An up-market interiors shop in the New Kings Road? An art exhibition running at Wantage’s Downland Museum until 29 September? Have a guess then click here for the answer.

• The September Fair takes place in Wantage on Saturday 9 September.

• Urgent action is being urged in Swindon after reports that air pollution levels in the Old Town are double the legal limit.

• If you use, or are ever likely to use, the R1 bus service between Swindon and Wooton Bassett, you may want to click here to learn of campaign to retain it after Thamesdown announced the route would be axed next month.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: Prospect Hospice (thanks to Rik Hunter); Newbury YMCA (thanks to cross-Channel swimmer Joanne Jones); West Berkshire Rapid Response Cars (thanks to the Newbury TSB); Newbury and District Cancer Trust (thanks to staff at Gardner leader); various local charities (thanks to the Aldermaston and Wasing Annual Show); Open for Hope (thanks to Greenham Common Trust and other donors)

• And so it’s the Song of the Week once more. Only one possible choice this time in view of the untimely death of Walter Becker, half of Steely Dan. They were responsible for so many great songs that I hardly know where to start. Haitian Divorce is my favourite and we’ve had that here before: so I’ll recommend another which also tells a story in a elusive but powerful way and which features two wonderful guitar solos from Larry Carlton, the second of which was improvised on the spot. Stunning stuff – Kid Charlemagne.

• And so we wrap things up with the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What do Monopoly, windscreen wipers and the batteries used on the International Space Station have in common? Last week’s was this. Assuming that you can fold a sheet of normal photocopying paper in half more than about six times (which you can’t), how many times would you need to fold it before it became the same thickness as the observable universe? The answer, which may surprise you, is 103. I first heard a different version of this which involved the paper reaching the sun, with the answer being 50 times. I didn’t believe it so worked it out on Excel and it was right. I’m therefore prepared to trust the observable universe figure. Trying to prove that one would probably make my aged Mac blow up.

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Brian Quinn

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