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Local News Jan 11-18 2018

Including the state of Hungerford’s library building, Marlborough’s proposed village green, Bedwyn’s restored organ, Hamstead Marshall’s threatened pub, a knacker’s yard, affordable homes (or the lack of them), Wantage’s empty shops, good causes celebrated, police and roadwork updates, Lydiard Park, local pollution levels, fly tipping, flood alleviation, hate mail, dog mess, Kooks, Pericles, dowsing, Paddington Bear and the end of time and space.

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.

Police, traffic and council contacts

Roadworks updates. Click on the links for news regarding West Berkshire, the Wantage area, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Swindon. Please click here to visit Traffic England’s site for information on motorways and major strategic roads (which include at A34 and the A419). The ‘Map Layers’ toggle can be used to display different levels of information.

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.

Across the area

• If you want to check how polluted your area is, click here. Living as we do in a village in the Lambourn Valley I’d have been horrified if our result had been anything but the lowest possible (which it was). 20 years ago I was living near Hammersmith Broadway, for which I suspect the result would be rather different.

• The letters pages of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes an appeal for patients to return equipment such as crutches borrowed from hospitals; an admonishment about people not declaring their interest when writing in support of a planning application; a question – precisely echoing the one I posed in this column recently and have raised with West Berkshire Council – about the ambiguity in the recent announcement of WBC’s participation in the rates retention pilot scheme; and two communications in support of water dowsing.

• West Berkshire Council is seeking to address the problem of dog fouling. Click here to report any cases and to see a map of the area with known problem areas marked.

• On the subject of business rates in West Berkshire, I mentioned in the last Local News of 2017 that West Berkshire Council had joined a Business Rates Retention Pilot scheme, part of a trial before the planned change in 2020 or thereabouts whereby local councils will be largely funded by being able to retain a higher proportion of their business rates. Click here for more. I’m in discussion with West Berkshire Council about this and will get back to, possibly in a separate post, when I’ve managed to understand what’s being proposed. I may be being very thick but neither this pilot scheme nor the proposed nationwide scheme that’s expected to be in place by 2021 make much sense to me at present.

• A more immediate financial matter facing West Berkshire Council is that of agreeing its 2018-19 budget which will be finalised in early March. The consultation on this has now closed, but you can read more about the background to the decisions that need to be taken and about changes to local-council funding generally by clicking here.

• One of the main organisations threatened by the imminent budget is Citizens Advice West Berkshire. CAWB has recently claimed that it saves West Berkshire Council nearly four times more money in housing alone than the council is proposing to cut. It does this by preventing issues such as evictions which the council would then have to step in and deal with. The council has not so far been able to respond to this claim. These figures are not the result of some rapidly-conducted survey but the results of careful and systematic record-keeping of consultations and outcomes: these are then crunched in a Treasury-approved system which provides a clear measurement of the resulting benefits.  You can find out more about what CAWB does by clicking here.

• West Berkshire Council’s libraries have launched their 2018 Bookstar reading challenge for primary-school children.

• Figures recently released by DEFRA and supplied to us by the agricultural insurance company Lycetts reveal that cleaning up the results of fly tipping costs councils in the south east over £4.5m a year and that the number of reported cases increased by around 15% between April 2016 and March 2017 compared to the previous twelve months. The true figures are actually worse than this as DEFRA’s statistics only cover tipping on council, not private, land. Farmers spend an average of £1,000 per incident on clearing up: moreover, they could be liable under the Environmental Protection Act for any damage. If you see any flytipping going on, make a note of the registration number and call 999 or 101. Also according to DEFRA, about 60% of fly-tipping cases involve volumes of waste equivalent to ‘a small-van  load’ or ‘a car boot’ and over two thirds of the cases involved household waste.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: the Devizes and Kennet Foodbank (thanks to shoppers at Tesco in Marlborough); Time to Talk (thanks to Santander); the Newbury Royal British legion (thanks to shoppers in the town); First Shaw cum Donnington Brownie Pack (thanks to Sainsburys in Newbury and its customers); West Berkshire Hospital’s Rodemary Appeal (thanks to the St John’s Christmas Tree Festival in Newbury); Phoenix Brass Band )thanks to the Friends of Phoenix)

Hungerford & district

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

• A reminder that there will be an important meeting at 7pm on Monday 22 January in the Corn Exchange to discuss Hungerford’s proposed Neighbourhood Plan. You can find out more by clicking here (you’ll need then to scroll down a bit). The meeting is also covered in the Hungerford Town Council December 2017/January 2018 update.

• The January Penny Post Hungerford has the usual and best round-up of the news from in and around the town including the latest monthly update of the Town Council’s activities, the 2017 local donations made by the Town & Manor, the latest from the High Street, recent revalations about the condition of the Library building, some sound professional advice following the house fire in Fairview Road, an interview with local thesp Nick Lumley about his experiences working on Paddington 2 and Lady Macbeth, two healthy special offers, two locals who received New Year’s honours, book reviews, dry January tips, tax-return help and a ghost story. For all this and more, click here to see the newsletter. If you’d like to get it hot off our digital press each month and currently don’t, please email penny@pennypost.org.uk.

• I see Croft Films in Hungerford is showing I, Daniel Blake on 3 Feb. We had this at the wonderful Valley Film Society earlier this month. The film is a a little masterpiece in true Ken Loach style so don’t expect lots of jokes or the characters suddenly bursting into song. However it’s no more gritty and down-to-earth than it needs to be to describe an honest man being ground down by a part of the system that I fortunately have had no dealings with recently but which, from talking to those that have, the movie does not exaggerate. Well worth seeing.

Lambourn Valley

• And speaking of classy entertainment, Pericles All at Sea can be seen at the East Garston Village Hall on Friday Jan 19. The same two-person company did a wonderful show a couple of years ago in which a historical event was juxtaposed with and illuminated by a not immediately obviously present-day one and the same approach seems to be being taken here. There’s a bar, tiered seating and you pay what you think it deserves at the end. What’s not to like about that? See you there.

• A final decision has been made by HM Planning Inspectorate on the question of the long-running application to build a knacker’s yard on the Wessex Saw Mills site north of Great Shefford. On 9 January, HMPI upheld the appeal by the developers against West Berkshire’s previous refusal which means that, unless there is a successful appeal to the supreme court, the works will go ahead. The 11-page report (Appeal Decision 3176451) dismisses many of the objections, most of which concerned the risk of contamination of the groundwater and the slightly more subjective one of the problems caused by smells. Although the comments include many phrases like ‘reasonable to assume’, ‘unlikely’ and ‘reduce the likelihood’, on balance the risks and dangers were not seen as being overwhelming. Certianly such places have to exist somewhere. The report concludes with 15 conditions about half of which directly address the issue of potential watercourse contamination. As for the odours, Passey’s current site in Newbury is closer to the Racecourse than the proposed one in Shefford is to any racing yard. The site could also have put to many more intrusive uses. One of the main problems in Shefford is traffic, the A338 narrowing to a bottleneck at the bridge near The Swan. This development is unlikely to create a huge volume of extra traffic: many others might.

• Although this issue concerns water, this is a quite separate issue from Great Shefford’s risk from flooding. As previously reported, a Flood Alleviation Committee has been formed in conjunction with West Berkshire Council and the Environment Agency. The village needs to raise £80,000 of the cost before work can start. You can read more about this here on the crowdfunding page, one of the many ways the parish council and flood committee is hoping to realise this massive sum. Other methods will be discussed at an open meeting at Great Shefford School at 8pm on Thursday 25 January – all are welcome (not just residents of Shefford). Floods here cause transport chaos in the whole area, particularly if the A338 needs to be closed.

• Returning to the knacker’s yard, this is another example of a decision taken by a local council being overturned on appeal. I don’t know, because I’m not an expert and haven’t had time to reseach the matter, whether there have been more of these cases recently. This decision at least seems to be based on rational grounds, unlike the one in Eddington last year which must have been something of a kick in the teeth for both the West Berkshire Planning Department and local residents. The point seems to be that the more frequently appeals are upheld the more likely it is that further appeals will be made. It’s well known that there’s a lot of downward pressure on councils to be more permissive in allowing development of various kinds, even where this conflicts with existing regulations (Salisbury Road in Hungerford, for instance). In another instance, in Thatcham, West Berkshire refused the application for 75 homes near Tull Way and then offered no defence when the matter came to appeal. In the case of the knacker’s yard, and presumably the others, HMPI presumably had access to the same information when hearing the appeal as did West Berkshire when considering the application so it’s perhaps odd that two utterly different decisions were reached. A good process is surely one where the various competent bodies usually come to the same conclusion. A constant wave of successful appeals suggests some confusion in the system, either because the regulations or technical submissions are unclear or because the bodies are reacting to different pressures to reach a particular decision. In either case, the system probably needs an overhaul. I welcome anyone else’s comments on this matter – use the box at the bottom of this post.

• One aspect of the report that might also annoy some at West Berkshire Council is the lack of any stipulation about the future of Passey’s current site at Turnpike in Newbury. I understand that the council is keen to see this developed as part of its obligation to build its quota of homes. Though it’s likely the owners will be keen to profit from this opportunity the silence on this point creates another ambiguity which might lead to yet more project-delaying appeals and work for HM Planning Inspectorate.

Newbury & district

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

• Almost immediately, we return to the matter of planning. On page 15 of this week;s Newbury Weekly News there’s a report on how the developer of a 14-flat site in Bartholomew Street has recently decided, after planning oermission was granted, that it can no longer afford to include any affordable homes in the scheme, nor to contribute to the Newbury Car Club as it had agreed to do, the former because of an error in the Economic Viability Assessment and the latter due to a recent precedent. I mentioned in this column a couple of months back (16-23 November) about the ‘industry of S106 avoidance’ and the fact that there were consultants for whom this was a major part of their business. Perhaps one of them has been at work in this case.  The real issue, though, is that as long as we rely on private companies to provide the results of government policy there are always going to be these problems. Private companies have their own priorities, the first of which is to make a profit.

• In the same paper, there’s also a report on how the ‘controversial plans’ to demolish an estate at Hutton Close in Shaw and replace it with new builds has been approved by West Berkshire Council, even though this likely to result in fewer affordable homes than existed before. Taken together, these two developments suggest that West Berkshire’s affordable-homes target is getting further and further from being met.

• I don’t agree with our local MP Richard Benyon on every point but I fully support his decision to alert the police after receiving an abusive and threatening letter from someone who lacked the courage to provide their real name and address. There’s a photo of part of the latter in this week’s Newbury Weekly News – do you recognise the handwriting? proof if proof be needed that hate mail is not restricted to social media.

• One of the campaigns Mr Benyon has been involved in is that to save the White Hart in Hamsted Marshall, just one of the many pubs which are regarded as ‘not viable’ by their owners who are seeking a change of use. The matter has now reached the stage of an appeal by the owners against West Berkshire Council’s refusal to permit the pub to be converted to dwellings. The matter will be decided by HM Planning Inspectorate, probably in February. meanwhile, you have until 18 January to make your views known. Click here for more information, including all the links and addresses necessary to register your views online or by post.

• Newbury-born author Michael Bond and his most famous creation now have a train named after them.

Thatcham

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

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News contains a detailed report on the reaction of Thatcham Town Council to the various proposed cost-saving measures proposed by West Berkshire Council (see also above, under Citizens Advice West Berkshire.)

Marlborough & district

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

• Yet another planning-related tale, this time from Marlborough. Local residents claim that College Fields is a public village green: Wiltshire Council and Marlborough College disagree and the matter is now being addressed at an inquiry. What’s at stake, as well as a principle, is the future of a proposed development to which College Fields would provide access. Having set the scene, I shall now stand back and let Marlborough News Online take up the story.

• It seems that the Bridge Street Garage in Marlborough will be re-opening next month as an Esso filling station: but, as this article, also from MNO, shows, there are still a few unanswered questions.

• Good news for lovers or organ music: the 19th century Grade II pipe organ at St Mary’s church in Great Bedwyn is to be restored thanks largely to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Wantage & district

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

• An article here from Love Wantage explaining some of the challenges involved in ensuring that empty retail properties are tenanted as quickly as possible.

• You can click here to see some eye-catching views of Wantage as seen through the lenses of members of the Wantage Camera Club.

• Residents in the Vale of the White Horse Council area have until 1 February to nominate a local comany in the Vale for Business Awardsclick here for more.

• South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils have adopted a new strategy which sets out how they will meet the challenge of building (or ‘delivering’ as the website puts it it, as if they’ll come through the post or attached to a very large drone) thousands of new homes over the next 14-16 years. (I’m sorry, this kind of usage of ‘delivering’, so ubiquitous these days, does my head in every time – it’s not as if our language is short of words.)

Swindon

• The plans for the future of Lydiard Park have been thrown into uncertainty with the news that the Chartridge Conference Centre will close at the end of March. You can read more here.

• Swindon’s emergency mental-health unit at Sandlewood Court will close for a year at some point in 2018 as a result of ‘quality issues’ arising from a recent critical CQC report.

The song and the quiz

• The Song of the Week seems to have swung round again. David Bowie died two years ago this week so it’s got be one of his, hasn’t it? I’m going to go for the fairly untypical, light-hearted and touching Kooks from the 1971 album Hunky Dory, the first of what I think are his three consecutive masterpieces.

• Which brings us, as ever was, to the Quiz Question of the Week. This is absolutely the final chance to try your hand at the Penny Post 2017 Quiz which offers a superb prize from the Queens Arms in East Garston – it closes at 10pm on Sunday 14 Jan. Worth pointing out that in not one of the many similar quizzes we’ve done has anyone scored 100% so your best shot may be good enough to scoop the very generous pot on offer. Last week’s question was What’s so special about the place formerly known as Caroline Island? The answer that it’s the first place on earth to see in the new year (or any other day), though they did have to do a bit of jiggery-pokery with their the international time zone to accomplish this – the place is UTC+14 rather than, pre-1995, -10, which seems a bit like cheating: but there it is. I have no idea to whom you should complain about this. If you want a bonus question in addition to the above-mentioned quiz, try this: I am at the beginning of everything and at the end of everywhere. I am at the beginning of eternity and at the end of time and space – but what am I?

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Brian Quinn

If you would like to add your thoughts to anything in this post, please use the ‘Comments’ box at the foot of the page. Once moderated, your comment will be visible to other users.

2 Comments
  1. Grahame Murphy

    Dear PP,

    I read with interest your take on the Knackers Yard. I disagree with many of your comments. The Inspector visited the site on the 31st of October and I would have loved to be there to hear the applicants comments! What I do know as I have done considerable research on this application is that the Volcan 1000 incinerator being used is only suitable for small animals up to the size of pigs and sheep. To incinerate horses/cattle and ponies you need the Volcan 2000 model. This came from the company Waste Spectrum who market both models!
    I’m not sure the inspector realises that the floods that occur(3 times in the past 10 years) are from ground water coming up not rainfall coming down! The applicant in his application stated that the above ground storage tank would be second hand, this to me indicates a cost cutting exercise and not keeping to high standards that might be expected. Our Parish Council had the applicant and his team of consultants at our Village Hall for a Q&A session and the complete application was riddled with inaccuracies. I am flabbergasted that this application has been approved.
    Best regards
    Grahame.

    • Brian Quinn

      Grahame –
      Thanks for taking the time to write.
      On re-reading what I wrote, I can see that it seemed that the comment about the risks not being overwhelming were my view alone whereas I was summarising what the report said. I’ve amended this.
      The report doesn’t mention the incinerator that I can see but, if the 1000 is the one they’re planning to use then, having looked it up, I agree that this seems under-sized. However if the company is planning to use sometthing that’s too small for the job they’re probably only going to be inconveniencing themselves.
      HNPI has added a number of specific conditions. Whether these are sufficient is not something I can comment on and whether they’ll be enforced not something I can predict.
      The HMPI report mentions groundwater, aquifers or the River Lambourn several times, including in sections 2, 4, 7, 10, 11 and 13 so it appears the inspector was aware of these issues.
      Regarding the storage tank, section 8 confirms that, despite what was in the application, a new tank would be installed.
      Most of my comment on this was less about the rights and wrongs of this application as the, to me, strange situation that there seem to be a number of cases at which WBC and HMPI, looking at the same evidence, arrive at very different conclusions. I don’t know whether this is because there have been more of these recently or because I’m noticing them more. As I suggested, and speaking as an outsider, this doesn’t seem to make for a planning system that is quick, effective or predictable. As a parish councillor, you may have some views on this matter: if so, I welcome your comments.
      regards,
      Brian Quinn

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