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Local News Nov 30-Dec 7 2017

Including house-building challenges, Universal credit is about to arrive, a defibrillator has arrived, new trains, lines and stations may arrive, green-bin charges almost certainly will arrive, Marlborough’s lorries hopefully will not arrive, West Berkshire’s budget consultation, police and roadwork updates, good causes celebrated, council grants available, business awards in the White Horse, Swindon Council’s non-news, an awkwardly stuck lorry, a beached whale, two years spent eating, eight years spent not building, a button thief, Voltaire and Redbone.

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. Click here for information on forthcoming closures on closures, partial closures and delays on the A34; and here for the same on the M4.

• There will be a full closure of the M4 between J12 and J13 in both directions from 9pm Friday to 5am Monday starting on the weekends starting Fri 8 Dec; Fri 15 Dec; Fri 12 Jan 2018; Fri 19 Jan. Click here for more. These will obviously lead to considerable delays and disruption.

• The Ladbrokes Winter Carnival at Newbury Racecourse is likely to cause some delays on and around the A4 on Friday 1 and Saturday 2 December.

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.

• Please click here for more about the tri-service station in Hungerford and policing in the area generally.

• 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.

• As expected, the Autumn Budget included some announcements about addressing the nation’s housing problem. The main target is that of building 300,000 homes a year by the mid 2020s. As England’s population is expected to grow by about 6% by 2026 and as the recent growth in the number of households has in recent years been broadly in line with population growth (ONS figures), about 160,000 of these  (if built) will be used to satisfy this demand alone. The average for the last seven years, according to property experts Irwin Mitchell, has been 159,000 (excluding conversions). The budget did give some indication that local authorities would be able to borrow more money and this seems to be an essential part of the solution: The Local Government Association has pointed out that the last time the country built more than 250,000 homes, in the 1970s, 40% of these were built by local authorities: in 2016 they were responsible for 1.5%. Unless this changes dramatically there seems little chance of these ambitious targets being hit. The frequent accusations that are made against private developers is that the size, location and timing of the houses they build is designed to suit their needs and profits rather than the overall objectives of government policy. Well, of course they do. These companies exist to make a profit and have to provide the capital and expertise (which local councils no longer posses) to do so. If doing things like being tougher on S106 payments and insisting on penalty clauses for late development need to be introduced then that’s a separate matter. As has been shown countless times, however, the more tightly one tries to regulate private enterprise the more loopholes are discovered to evade the restrictions. At present, the plain fact seems to be that the government is almost totally reliant on the private sector to provide the housing and so cannot afford to antagonise it, in particular the large companies.

• As usual, huge sums of money were mentioned but it’s not clear, to me at least, how much of this is new and how much the re-announcement of previous funding, a technique beloved of politicians the world over. There didn’t, however, seem to be much of this allocated to help local councils plug the current funding gap. This announcement from the LGA suggests that this will be close to £6bn over the next two years. According to this week’s Newbury Weekly News, West Berkshire’s share of this in the forthcoming financial year is likely to be about £10m, on top of the savings already made. It’s still not clear to me exactly when or by how much the proposed changeover to funding by a higher retention of business rates will alleviate this, nor what extra services councils may have to take on as a result, nor how councils with low business rates (but perhaps high social-care needs) will cope. if anyone knows the answer to any of these, please post a comment at the foot of this post.

• One of the planned changes is to introduce a £50 a year charge for garden refuse with green bins being given a sticker to show they’re paid up. Will this result in a spate of green-bin thefts? People steal very odd things: the wife of former Panama presedent Manuel Noriega, for instance, was obsessed with stealing buttons from department stores.

• West Berkshire Council has already started a consultation process about the 2018-19 budget proposals: you have until 10 January 2018 to make your views known.

• And in yet another piece of money-related news, the much-discussed Universal Credit system will start in most of West Berkshire on Wednesday 6 December, with the rest of the district following in January. For information on the launch in other areas, click here.

• The Autumn Budget also provided some good news for Britain’s overcrowded railways which included promises of investment in everything from splitting up some of the larger rail franchises to re-opening some closed lines and stations. From a quick glance at this DoT ‘Strategic Vision’ document I can’t see if any of the local mooted local schemes (extending services from Bedyn to Pewsey, re-opening the rail services to Marlborough and Ludgershall and reopening the station at Wantage Road) form part of this.

• The letters pages of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes the suggestion that all tax payers should be able to use any recycling centre regardless of where they live; a response from Peter Norman of Say No to Sandleford to Alan Laws’ letter last week; announcement of plans to re-open Wash Common Library; and the latest contribution to Newbry’s wheel-wars with the suggestion that Stan Green’s letters should no longer be printed (which seems a little harsh: as Voltaire said, I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it. In a footnote, the NWN’s editor has taken a similar view).

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

•This week’s Newbury Weekly News features (on pp1 and 5 in the Hungerford edition) an interview with WBC’s Planning Portfolio-holder Hilary Cole and the Planning Policy Manager Bryan Little. It touches on the decision to grant permission for the homes in Salisbury Road and other aspects of the relationship between WBC and Hungerford Town Council. Mr Little comments at one point that the government’s housing targets (see above) can’t be achieved ‘without the allocation of that large site’ and, presumably, others like it. Well, yes and no, I’d say. Relying on large sites is fine if agreement can be reached for the developers (as hasn’t happened at Sandleford and elsewhere) and if the development takes place according to a sensible timescale (this estate in Bedfordshire was started over eight years ago and is still nowhere near being finished). There was also an accustation that Hungerford Town Council were being Nimbies. This a tired, clichéd and lazy accusation and one regularly made against those who oppose a particular development, irrespective of the reason. Over-use has left it with about as much meaning as the old cold-war battle cries like ‘imperialist running dog lackey.’

• From the same paper, a story and photo of a lorry in Hungerford that broke down in the worst possible place earlier this week.

• A reminder that Hungerford’s famous Christmas lights will be switched on by local author Robert Harris at 5pm on Sunday 3 December.

• I mentioned last week about the prolonged discussions between Hungerford Town Council and Hungerford Rugby Club about a new deal for the use of the Triangle Field. I want to make clear something that perhaps wasn’t sufficiently so last week: I’m not suggesting that the Rugby Club has behaved improperly in any way with regard to the current deal. I also want to re-emphasise that, although it’s not a sport I personally care for, I’m delighted that the club is thriving: one of my sons has benefited from this. I was merely pointing out that this success was perhaps not anticipated when the original arrangement was made and that the need for easy flexibility of funding should be taken into account when framing any future one.

Hungerford Town Council has a vacancy for a town councillor. If you are over 18, a citizen of the UK, the EU or the Commonwealth and live or work within three miles of Hungerford then you are eligible. For more information, contact claire.barnes@hungerford-tc.gov.uk.

• Residents of Great Shefford will need no telling as to how destructive floods can be. Plans have now been agreed with the Environment Agency for a flood alleviation scheme and on 30 November the EA’s surveyors started the preliminary task of drilling test boreholes in the nearby downs. The real  work will not start until late 2018 but, before this can happen, the village needs to raise £80,000 as its contribution. Parish Council Chairman Steve Ackrill narrowly failed in his bid to raise funds at the recent Flood Heroes Award at the House of Commons (he got down to the final shortlist of six from over 140 nominations). A public meeting to discuss the scheme and ways by which the money can be raised will held on Tuesday 12 December (venue to be decided). For more information, ask Ray at the Great Shefford Shop.

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

• A defibrillator has been installed in Victoria Park at the newly refurbished tennis courts entrance and will be officially unveiled by the Mayor of Newbury, Cllr David Fenn at 11am on Friday 8 December, together with the Heartstart Thatcham team. This will be the Heartstart Thatcham team’s 51st defibrillator. The ‘Public Access’ defibrillator will be available to use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

• The Newbury Weekly News has an artist’s impression of one possible redevelopment for Pearl House in Bartholomew Street, the site of the soon-to-close Iceland store. Even a beached whale would be preferable to the building that’s there at the moment.

• A new homeless shelter in Newbury, at the Salvation Army Hall in Northcroft Lane, will open on Friday 1 December. Congratulations to West Berkshire Homeless for having made this happen.

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

• It looks as if the land at Rabley Wood near Marlborough, which objectors claims has been designated as amenity land ‘in perpetuity’, will be sold by Wiltshire Council, so paving the way for a planned 39-home development. You can read more here from Marlborough News Online.

• From the same source, an interesting article here about some of the causes of, and solutions to, the problem of homelessness.

• We’ve mentioned here before about Marlborough’s lorry problem. Click here to read how a local group is seeking to lobby road-haulage firms to amend their routes.

• There are currently three vacancies on Ramsbury & Axford Parish Council which can be filled by co-option. Applicants must be over 18 and live or work in the parish. Please contact the Parish Clerk on 520045 or parishcouncil@ramsbury.org for further details.

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

• A reminder that, if last weekend was anything to go by, the M4 closure next weekend (from Friday 8 December) will have a pretty horrible effect on the A4 between Newbury and Theale.

• Thatcham’s Christmas lights will be turned on at 7pm on Friday 1 Dec with various entertainments taking place beforehand.

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

• Businesses in the Vale of the White Horse area will be able to get more support from the Council following the launch of its Business and Innovation Strategy Action Plan 2017-20.

• The Vale of the White Horse Council is inviting nominations for a series of local business awards.

• Any car parks operated by the Vale of the White Horse Council in selected towns will have free parking on certain days in the run up to Christmas: in Wantage, for instance, it’s every Friday. Click here for more.

• Residents of Swindon can click here for news of the current consultation about proposed changes to Swindon’s local plan. Responses must be in by 19 December.

• I mentioned above about the need for local councils to be able to build more homes if the government’s targets are to be met. There’s news here of a 200-home development in South Swindon involving a partnership between Nationwide and Swindon Borough Council.

• The above two paragraphs make it all the more surprising that, when I went to the Swindon Borough Council news archive page it simply read, as it has done so many times before, ‘There is no news for this month’. Yes there is, guys: amongst other things,you’re in a partnership with Nationwide to build 200 homes and you’re having a consultation about changes to your local plan. Parish councils with 500 constituents do a better job. Is someone being paid to post this seven-line message? Or am I, perhaps, looking in the wrong place?

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: Oliver’s Dream (thanks to Tadley Fire Station); the Newbury Weekly News Over-80s Parcel Fund (thanks to numerous donors); Togs and Tents (thanks to the efforts of none-year-old Cohen Roberts); Noreen’s Kids (thanks to The Cromwell Singers); Greatwood (thanks to marlborough Town Council); The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (thanks to the Christmas Fair at St Francis School in Marlborough); the John Radcliffe Hospital (thanks Margaret Fell from Grove); Swings and Smiles (thanks to Thatcham Harriers FC); CLIC Sergent (thanks to Harrods Distribution in Thatcham)

• And so it’s time for the Song of the Week to cue itself up. My son Adam introduced me to Chilish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, someone I only knew from his having been an actor in the US TV series Community. His music is brilliant, strange and unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Try his 2016 single Redbone.

• And finally the Quiz Question of the Week winds things up. Last week there was a cricket-themed quiz at the Queens Arms here in East Garston. Several of the questions featured celebrated sledging exchanges. Sledging is one of the many aspects of the sport at which Australians excel, but on this occasion the roles were reversed. The question is this: between which two cricketers did the following exchange take place: Bowler (as a new batsman arrives at the crease): “I’ve been waiting two years for another chance to humiliate you, mate.” Batsman: “Looks like you spent them eating.” Last week’s was also about the same sport: Which are the only three counties never to have won the County Championship? The answer is Gloucestershire, Northampton and Somerset.

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Brian Quinn

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