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Local News Dec 14-21 2017

Including lawfare, homeless charities, the A34 and M4, Marlborough’s youth club, Thatcham’s bunds, Wantage’s hampers, Hungerford’s extravaganza, Newbury’s Festival of Lights, Berkshire’s Community Champions, police and roadwork updates, good causes celebrated, green bins, possible train-service extensions, the UK’s worst tyre checkers, the Penny Post 2017 Quiz, defining ‘walking distance’, YouTube idiots, some classic JL, a welcome home victory, the busiest day, the last visitor and domestic camouflage.

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.

• The recent full closure of the M4 between J13 and J12 will be the last for the time being as the work is proceeding ahead of schedule. Some full overnight closures of this section will be required and these will be publicised here and elsewhere.

•  If you use GWR services, click here for details of engineering works over the holiday period, information about 2018 timetables and the long-awaited arrival of the bi-mode trains later next year.

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.

• I received the December e-newsletter from Newbury MP Richard Benyon earlier this week. This starts with a summary of the main political events of 2017 which is a masterpiece of understatement. He describes the recent first-phase deal with the EU as being ‘a considerable personal achievement for the Prime Minister’. Perhaps this is intended as a ringing endorsement but for me the phrase more calls to mind encouraging remarks made at school sports days when a notoriously useless athlete managed to avoid finishing last in the 400m. He refers also to his campaign to create ‘a statutory limitation on bringing court proceedings against current and former armed service personnel for alleged offences committed during military operations.’ As previously mentioned, I disagree profoundly with this. A criminal act is just that no matter when or by whom it was committed and you can’t go round making exceptions for certain groups. Guilt is a matter for the courts to decide. Whether or not such actions should be criminal offences at all is a wholly separate matter.

• On other matters, he reports on his work on creating the Blue Belt pamphlet which he hopes will lead to some concerted action in ocean conservation: click here to see it. He also makes reference to several local mental-health groups with which he has been involved during the Brighter Berkshire Year of Mental Health, including the West Berkshire Health and Wellbeing Board, the Emotional Health Academy. He also discussed various aspects of the issue of homelessness in West Berkshire, including the MEAM scheme, the work of West Berkshire Homeless and the Housing First programme. These are all good initiatives but many might ask (and several have) how far national financial policies since 2010 have contributed to these problems which these excellent charities are now working so hard to help overcome. Mr Benyon has also been an active campaigner to improve safety on the A34, and mentions that a recent Safety Review from Highways England has revealed that the stretch between the M4 and the M40 ‘is non-compliant with current safety standards’, though he goes on to point out that ‘not one thing has changed’ since the fatal accidents in 2016. This is a matter that he will be following up.

• 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.

• One of the other revenue-raising measures proposed by West Berkshire is a charge for green-bin collections. I asked last week how other councils funded this: Tim from Swindon replied to Penny Post saying “we pay £50 pa for a fortnightly collection of a large wheelie bin. It is actually 24 collections per year as two are missed in the new year.” This seems in line with what West Berks is proposing. However, as a letter in this week’s NWN points out, this effective charge of about £2 a collection assumes you have something each fortnight, which most people probably don’t. £50 for, say, 12 collections seems like rather a less good deal. I suspect this will lead to more bonfires: great for the marshmallow industry but perhaps less good for the environment and the owners of nearby thatched cottages.

• The letters pages of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, aside from the above-mentioned green-bin observation, a detailed letter in support of people with a mental-health diagnosis, some comments about the recent interview in NWN with West Berkshire’s planners about the Salisbury Road site, some clarifications about the cost of the Greenham Common Control Tower project from the Clerk to the Greenham Parish Council, a plea for people to object to West Berkshire Council’s proposed decimation of the funding for Citizens Advice (a service which the author rightly says  is now needed ‘more than ever)’  and some interesting thoughts about what the first duty of government should be (a question that has vexed political theorists since the time of Plato).

• A reminder that the annual December crackdown on drink- and drug-driving was announced last week by the local police forces.

• Congratulations to all those nominated for the 2017 Berkshire Community Champions Award: click here for a full report on the presentation ceremony which took place on 7 December.

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

• As mentioned in this column last week, CALA Homes has made an announcement about the Salisbury Road site. The possible figure of £1.17m (correctly reported in the article in this week’s Newbury Weekly News but wrongly described as £1.7m in the headline) as a contribution to West Berkshire Council may or may not be the final one and may not be realised. Nor am I sure whether this is just the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payment (which is for general local infrastructure improvements) or the Section 106 contribution (which is for site-specific mitigations), or both combined. Hungerford Town Council is in regular contact with West Berkshire Council to establish exactly what CIL funds it is likely to receive and also for details of when the Section 106 agreement will be available. As the planning application has yet to pass through all its stages this information may not be forthcoming for some weeks.

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News has an artist’s impression of how the old Police Station in Hungerford might look if plans are approved covert this into five two-bedroom flats. The developer’s blurb describes it as being ‘within walking distance’ of the common, the station and (as long as you don’t mind using a road with no pavement for about 20 yards, though it doesn’t mention this qualification) the town centre. I’m reminded of the American comedian Steven Wright’s observation that ‘anywhere is within walking distance if you have enough time.’

• The December Penny Post Hungerford contains a round up of recent events in and around the town. You can see the newsletter by clicking here. If you do not receive it every month and would like to, please email penny@pennypost.org.uk.

• Click here for a video made by Penny Post of the Hungerford Christmas Extravaganza which took place last Friday.

• Congratulations to Hungerford Town FC who recorded their first home league win for some time last weekend with a 1-0 victory over league leaders Dartford.

• We mentioned last week that there was to have been a public meeting in Great Shefford on 12 December to discuss the flood alleviation scheme and the fundraising that will be required to make this happen. The meeting has been postponed until January: details of date, time and venue to follow when known.

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

• See page 3 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News for a report on last week’s Festival of Light in Newbury.

• There will be free parking in Newbury’s Kennet Centre and Northbrook multi-storey car parks on Thursday 14 December.

• New plans have been submitted by Sovereign Housing for its proposed re-development at Hutton Close in Shaw.

• The rail services between Thatcham and Bedwyn (and on the rest of the GWR and, indeed, on the national network) will experience some timetable changes over the Christmas period: click here for more. This post, the information for which was supplied by the Bedwyn Train Passenger Group, also mentions the arrival of the new bi-mode trains later next year which will, thanks to  campaigning efforts by BTPG and local parish councils, enable the continuation of direct services from Bedwyn to Paddington. It’s also hoped that these new trains will make it possible to extend more services west of Bedwyn to Pewsey or even Westbury, so avoiding tedious eastbound journeys to Newbury or Reading in order to travel back west down the same line. The previous HST trains take a long time to stop and get started again, which causes timetabling problems: also, each stop uses about £40-worth of fuel to get the train back up to line speed. The new bi-modes appear to be leaner and fitter beasts and so might help provide the solution. In the past, a few extra westbound services were added but did not prove sufficiently popular. Whether this was due to their times, a lack of publicity or some other factor I couldn’t say. It’s certainly true that rail usage is increasing across the country and anything that increases ease of use (and without the need to build new lines like with the idiotic HS2) is to be welcomed. The above-mentioned post contains contact details for BTPG should you wish to find out more about its campaigns.

• Still on the rails, a report from Transport Focus claims that rail companies are misleading passengers into buying tickets for train services over the holiday period even though they know that the services will not be running. Few would find this surprising. It’s quite possible that the staff themselves don’t know what they’re selling, so complicated are the ticketing options.

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

• The refurbished and newly equipped Marlborough and Community Youth Centre will be re-opened on Friday 15 December – click here and also here for more.

• I’ve sometimes idly wondered how streets get their names: this is one way that Marlborough is deciding how a new street in its Salisbury lane development (as distinct from Hungerford’s, which hasn’t quite reached this stage) should be known.

• Much is written about the pressures facing the NHS, particularly now winter is starting to bite. This report in Marlborough News Online looks at the impact of staff and funding shortages on the Great Western Hospital in Swindon.

• Marlborough is famous for having the second widest high street in England (you should know what the widest is as I’ve mentioned it here at least twice before). It now has another accolade, of a rather less meritorious kind: according to this report, the town has the worst record in  the UK for unsafe tyre pressures. It seems Newbury, on the other hand, is among the best.

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

• A recent meeting of Thatcham Town Council raised no objections to the plans for the town’s flood defences, despite some concerns raised by members of the public. Click here for more information on the plans, which include the use of ‘bunds’ ( a word I’d never heard of). The final decision on the matter now rests with West Berkshire Council.

• Click here for details of bus services in and around Thatcham over the festive season.

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

• Congratulations, for the umpteenth time, to local charity legend Ray Collins and his team (and pupils at the Millbank Primary School in Grove) for their work in creating the hampers for the vulnerable in the area.

• The ribbon was cut by local MP Ed Vaizey last week to open the new £6m science block at King Alfred’s School.

• 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.

• Details of service changes over the Christmas and new year period from the Vale of the White Horse Council can be found here.

• The Swindon Homeless Alliance and Swindon Borough Council hosted an open afternoon this week for volunteers interested in partaking in the latest winter housing initiative. Read more here.

• Last call to residents of Swindon if you wish to have your say in the current consultation about proposed changes to Swindon’s local plan. Responses must be in by 19 December.

• There are many ways to make yourself a YouTube star. One of them, as a man from Wolverhampton proved last week, is to cement your head inside a microwave oven and then have a mate film the results when the emergency services come to cut you out. Don’t try this at home, kids. On second thoughts, what the hell – let’s all superglue our eyelids to the catflap, soak our feet in concentrated paintstripper, wire our teeth up to the mains: it doesn’t matter what we do as long as we get someone to film it and then post the results online. We are all nothing more than the sum of our Facebook likes, our Twitter followers, our Snapchat score and our YouTube hits. Little else really matters, or so it often seems.

• Now, boys and girls, here’s something you can try at home (providing you have a sleepy and stripey cat lying around). In all my years of feline ownership I’d never noticed that when a striped cat is lying on its side, the stripes on is back and front legs perfectly match up, so causing the animal’s outline to break up. If, as I did, you witness this with a ginger cat on a sandy-coloured cushion in a poorly-lit room, the effect of Cheshire-cat-like partial disappearance is really most startling. Who needs David Attenborough?

• Apparently today, Thursday 14 December, is the busiest day of the year for the Royal Mail.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: Newbury Samaritans (thanks to shoppers in Newbury); The Rosemary Appeal (thanks to Anne and Ed Clarke); the Thames Valley Air Ambulance (thanks to Highclere Castle); The Bishops Green Community Association (thanks to the the Christmas raffle in Ecchinswell); Thatcham Rotary Club (thanks to the jogging, walking and occasionally sprinting Santas); elderly residents of Hungerford (thanks to students at John O’Gaunt School at the recent Senior Citizens’ Christmas Party); The Royal Berkshire Hospital (thanks to David Church); the Jubilee Centre in Marlborough (thanks to Tesco); Swindon Woman’s Aid (thanks to Wilson Tool); Little Princess trust (thanks to Abi Sherratt)

• And so it’s time for the Song of the Week. Last week (8 December) was the 37th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon so I think we’d better have one of his. Not Imagine, which is regularly voted the best song ever for reasons I can’t begin to understand, but in my view the best song he wrote for The Beatles: I’m Only Sleeping from Revolver. If there is an album with three better opening tracks Harrison’s Taxman, McCartney’s Eleanor Rigby and Lennon’s I’m Only Sleeping then I’d very much like to know what it is.

• And finally the Quiz Question of the Week winds things up. Last week I directed you to the Penny Post 2017 Quiz which contains a superb prize from the Queens Arms in East Garston and I’m going to do the same again. OK: here’s a free bonus question: this day (14 December) in 1972 saw the last person ever to visit…where?

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Brian Quinn

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