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Local News March 1-8 2018

Including social-care costs explained,  police and roadwork updates, problems for Citizens Advice, homelessness, fast food in Lambourn, de-fibs in Kintbury, height restriction in Thatcham, knacker’s yard in Shefford, Alabama Rot, Munching Molly, polymer Jane, autonomous vehicles, mangos, grit, two different kinds of 20mph, a note on a windscreen, a country boy and a highwayman, another delayed project, England’s third-worst road, an extra councillor, 106.7Mhz from 10/3 and a minor tetrology.

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, transport 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. Station Road in Hungerford will be closed at the level crossing from half past midnight on Monday 12 of March for 24 hours.

• There will be a number of closures on the main railway line between Pewsey and Theale in 2018 as a result of the electrification project.

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 (and further afield)

• The old paper tenners (featuring Charles Darwin) will, as of Friday 2 March, need to be exchanged at banks as shops will no longer be obliged to accept them. All things evolve, as Darwin himself explained to us, including banknotes. We are now in the polymer Jane Austen age.

• The letters pages of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes a summary of the social-care challenges from Rick Jones, the WBC Councillor with this portfolio; a criticism of a recent bit of ‘preaching’ from a local cleric about volunteering; another criticism, this time of the decision to close the Newbuty night shelter; and some questions about the alleged lack of scrutiny by Basingstoke and Deane Council into a recent contentious planning application.

• To return to Councillor Jones’ letter to NWN, it’s worth stressing some of the issues surrounding the problem of social-care funding. What has increased, he explained to me, is the complexity of the cases that councils are dealing with – people live longer, and many develop multiple issues which require that multiple services be provided to them. That means that councils commission more time and a wider range of services, all of which costs money. Of course, this isn’t a problem if the funding is available. Unfortunately it isn’t. West Berkshire’s revenue support grant has now been phased out meaning that over the last four years the council has lost £50m from this source. “All local authorities have to produce a completely balanced budget, by law,” Councillor Jones told me.  “That means that we have to equate money in and money out each year, unlike commercial organisations. We do this by managing income through Council Tax  and charges and expenditure through efficiencies and savings. As we have lost central grant funding we have had to work all the other variables to create the balance.”

• The old system of funding councils is being dismantled before the new one is in place (which seems neither prudent nor fair). The new arrangements – which should be effective from 2020 although Private Eye recently ominously commented that these are ‘stuck in Whitehall’ – will enable councils to retain more of their business rates. This is unlikely to lead to the fiscal utopia envisaged by the scheme’s proponents as there is no connection (except probably an inverse one) between a council’s ability to attract business rates and the money it needs to spend on services such as social care. Regardless of what funding model is used, the brutal reality is that we cannot afford the current level of services unless we are prepared to pay more taxes. Of course, no party which has dared voice this unwelcome truth has ever been elected; though Labour nearly did in 2017 so perhaps the idea is becoming more acceptable.

• And to go back to the letter from the woman whose car was anonymously pranged, I’m reminded of a note that, so the story goes, someone found on their windscreen when they returned to their vehicle to find it had been badly dented. ‘Any one watching me write this,’ the note read, ‘after seeing me drive into the back of your car will think that I’m leaving you my name and address. But I’m not.’

• For various reasons, not least the recent cold weather, the question of homelessness has been much in the news recently. Please click here for a post we’ve created on the subject. This will be kept updated. If you have anything you’d like to add, please use the ‘Comments’ box at the foot of the post.

• The weather has also resulted in the postponement of Network Rail’s Public Engagement Sessions in Newbury, Woolhampton and Thatcham in early March.

• Congratulations to all the young people who recently received their Duke of Edinburgh Awards at a ceremony in Pangbourne.

• I don’t know what it is about this country. We’re quite good at inventing things, queuing and laughing at ourselves but we seem incapable of producing any large-scale public projects either on time or on budget, particularly if IT is required (as it usually is). Here’s another one, this time involving Thames Valley Police.

• There’s a Full Council Meeting taking place at West Berks HQ as I write this which is expected to confirm the 5.99% rise in council tax and the various revenue-raising and cost-cutting measures that have been proposed.

• Some of you may have noticed that it’s snowing. This is remarkable mainly because it marks the only time I can remember when the regular apocalyptic headlines in the Daily Express have borne any relation to reality.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: The Injured Jockeys’ Fund (thanks to John and Jackie Porter); Purple4Polio (thanks to pupils at Woolton Hill and St Thomas’ schools); a local good cause to be decided (thanks to Vodafone); Julie’s House and Home-Start (thanks to the Mayor of Marlborough); Newbury and Districy Cancer Care (thanks to the Newbury and District Table Tennis Association)

Hungerford & district

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

• The next Full Council Meeting will take place on Monday 5 March at 7pm at the Corn Exchange. The agenda can be seen here.

• A report on this meeting, and the usual round up of news and views from in and around the town, will appear in the March Penny Post Hungerford which will be sent on Tuesday 6 March. If you do not currently receive this but would like to (it’s free), email penny@pennypost.org.uk.

• There was an Extraordinary Full Council Meeting in Hungerford this week to discuss the transfer of the Library from West Berkshire to Hungerford. This was discussed in detail and a number of issues were identified with the draft lease which will result in some further discussions and amendments. A further announcement will be made at the Full Council meeting on Monday 5 March (see above).

• As reported in this week’s NWN, there have been a lot of thefts from vans in and around the town recently, usually involving power tools. All the usual precautions, and then a few more, need to be taken.

• Hungerford Town Council has now taken over the responsibility for the grit bins in the town. Please contact the Council if these need replenishing. Local residents are requested to use the grit sparingly and evenly and only on the parts of the road that need it – grit doesn’t grow on trees (perhaps fortunately).

• Advance notice of the Hungerford Town Meeting on Wednesday 21 March at 7pm at the Corn Exchange. This will be an opportunity to hear reports from the mayor and the committee chairmen about what the council has achieved over the past 12 months and some of its plans for the next 12. There will also be some guest speakers and an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions.

• Advance notice also of an opportunity to learn more about, and have your say concerning, local policing issues in and around Hungerford at the Hungerford Community Forum on Wednesday 28 March.

In Kintbury, there’s an ambitious but commendable plan to train a quarter of the parish’s population in life-saving techniques including the use of defibrillators.  There will be various one-hour courses in May and June run in conjunction with Heartstart Thatcham which need to be pre-booked. Contact Jon Hemphill on 07774 110 286 or jon.hemphill@live.com.

Lambourn Valley

• Please click here to visit the village websites or Facebook pages for Lambourn, East Garston, Great Shefford and Boxford.

• If you’re looking for  tips for the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival, be sure to be at the ever-popular East Garston Cheltenham Preview on Friday 9 March at the Village Hall.

• And a reminder of another event, on Saturday 10 March: a quiz in Great Shefford in aid of the Flood Alleviation Association.

• A rather alarming story in the NWN about plans submitted to West Berkshire Council for the wonderful Universal Stores in Lambourn to be turned into a fast-food outlet. I rather doubt the assertion that there’s ‘a gap in the market’ for another food outlet in the town: but I don’t run the business and I suppose that if the owners want to do this and West Berkshire gives approval then there’s not much I or anyone else can do about it. I’m not just being nostalgic – it’s a very useful shop.

• The disagreements over the decision on appeal by HMPI to grant permission for the knacker’s yard in Great Shefford are not going away. Local MP Richard Benyon has said he was ‘very unimpressed’ by the response by HMPI: having seen the document, I have to agree. Local councillor Grahame Murphy, who has some expert knowledge on the subject, has been pressing HMPI to explain why certain aspects of the site, including the reasons for recent flooding, were not investigated more fully. The responses seem little more than variations on the theme of ‘we accepted what we were told.’  I have no strong views on (or knowledge of) the merits of the case or the technical details: but what is alarming is that, as one of the HMPI letters concludes, ‘now that the decision has been issued, the Planning Inspectorate’s role has ended.’ One can almost hear the shrug of the shoulders. In other words, theirs is the final word (barring a judicial review). If so, HMPI should have been doubly certain all the facts were uncovered before overturning what the local council had already decided. Many believe that it was not.

Newbury & district

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

• Newbury is consulting on its town plan (closes 18 March). Click here for more.

• After five years of online broadcasting, Kennet Radio, which serves the Newbury and Thatcham area, launches on 106.7MHz on Saturday 10 March. It will thereafter be on the air 24/7. it’s run by volunteers and mainly funded by sponsorship and donations. If you’d like to get involved in this way, or as a volunteer presenter or producer, email getinvolved@kennetradio.com. Congratulations to all involved and best of luck for the future.

• Dog owners are warned that Alabama Rot seems to be returning, the latest case being from Greenham Common.

• A reminder that nominations are now open for the 2018 Newbury Civic Awards (closes Friday 9 March) to recognise the contribution volunteers make to the local community. For more information, click here.

Thatcham & District

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

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News (p23) has report on the pros and cons of the proposed new parking charges in Thatcham.

• A five-metre height restriction will come into force at Thatcham level crossing on Friday 16 March.

• See the Newbury section above for news from Kennet Radio.

• It was reported in this week’s Newbury Weekly News that Citizens Advice West Berkshire will probably need to cut back on its work in Thatcham, despite the fact that less funding has been cut than was originally feared. Not everybody needs CAWB’s services but those who do need it very badly. You can click here to see the kind of things CAWB can provide help with.

• There’s a quiz night in aid of the St Mark’s School Association at Thatcham Rugby Club at 7.30 on Friday 9 March. Contact Emma Pell on emmpell74@gmail.com for tickets or more information

• Thatcham Town Council has installed a new CCTV system.

Marlborough & district

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

• There are plans to introduce a 20mph speed limit in parts of Marlborough. As this article from Marlborough News explains, the matter is not quite so simple as might appear (what is?). It also seems that there are two kinds of 20mph restrictions. I didn’t know that.

• Looks like the weather has resulted in at least one postponement in Marlborough this weekend – no point in picking up litter when you can’t see it…

• Regular users of the A346 are unlikely to be surprised by this, but apparently this is one of three most complained about roads in the country.

• Marlborough and its twin town of Gunjur in The Gambia are working together to boost employment and economic opportunities, particularly for mango farmers.

• West Berkshire Council recently reduced the number of its councillors: Wiltshire has recently agreed to increase its composition (by one).

• There are currently five vacancies that need filling on Great Bedwyn Parish Council.

• Click here for information on what’s on in and around Ramsbury.

Wantage & district

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

Voluntary and community groups will once again be getting together for this year’s forum at Cornerstone in Didcot on 14 March, supported by South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils.

• The same councils recently asked primary-school children to come up with names for the new food-waste trucks and you can read the results here. Much to my disappointment, Trashy McTrashface was not one of the names selected.

• The eighth Wantage Beer Festival will take place on Friday 16 and Saturday 17 March.

• The first trials of the alarmingly-named autonomous vehicles (this gives the impression that the cars make all the decisions, including perhaps the destination) will take place on and near New Milton Park.

• Grants of up to £100,000 are available from the Vale of White Horse Council for projects that support the rural economymore here.

Swindon & district

• Click here for the latest news and information from Swindon Borough Council.

• Swindon Council has voted through a 5% increase in council tax for 2018-19.

• Swindon’s Citizen’s Advice is looking for volunteers, particularly for administration and reception duties. If you or anyone you know might be interested in helping to support this service, which is a vital one for many people, please click here.

• There will be changes to some bus services in and around Swindon from Sunday 11 March – click here for more.

The song and the quiz

• The Song of the Week swings round again: actually two songs. Some of you may have seen the Old Grey Whistle Test retrospective last weekend (still with whispering Bob Harris in the chair, looking much as he did in the 80s). If so, you may have been lucky enough to hear Albert Lee perform Highwayman and Country Boy. Knocked my socks off.

• Which brings us, is so often the case, to the Quiz Question of the Week. Last week’s question was: Which horse’s name did a team including AP McCoy get wrong in a recent charity quiz?  The answer was The Fellow (which was misheard as Othello). This week’s question also concerns the Bard and is this: which of his four plays are often collectively known as the Minor Tetrology? The phrase sounds a bit like the name for a jazz chord: it may be that as well for all I know.

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Brian Quinn

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