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Local News March 8-15 2018

Including the uncertainties of transparency, unintended consequences in Hungerford, West Berkshire’s budget, Thatcham parking U-turn, Crab Hill, Tull Way, Market Street, van thefts, police and roadwork updates, Lydiard Park, the danger of rats and the uselessness of cats, mice in parliament, consultation deadlines, modern life is rubbish, hidden figures, a 1909 funeral, an 800th birthday, eight questions, forty years without a licence, four legs, four plays and PJ Harvey.

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)

• I’m not sure if this is a pattern or a co-incidence but since the cuts to the police services a spate of burglaries have taken place in both Marlborough and Hungerford (see sections below).

• The letters pages of the Newbury Weekly News this week is, for some reason, mainly concerned with Brexit. There’s also thanks to Newbury Town Council for organising the rose planting in Victoria Park, further recollections of the Newbury bombing raid in 1943 and what might charitably be called a diatribe against modern life in general and several official bodies in particular.

• A Berkshire man has recently been convicted of being responsible for a fatal accident near junction 14 of the M4. What’s remarkable about this is that he’d been driving for 40 years without a full licence. I suppose once you’ve spent a certain time living a deception it’s easier to keep going with it. I don’t know whether having passed his test all those years before would have prevented the accident but the story certainly suggests that the government and its agencies, which many fear are monitoring our activities to an unhealthy extent, are not that omniscient after all.

• 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. There’s also an article on the subject on page 6 of the most recent Newbury Weekly News.

• The problem of rats has been highlighted by the Public Protection Partnership which here offers some reasons (should you need them) as to why they’re bad things to have around and some suggestions for dealing with them. Living as we do next to a river and with chickens and a compost heap we’ve more or less given up the struggle. The cats are completely useless on this one. One person who has first-hand experience of rodents is Devizes MP Claire Perry who recently admitted to some delighted schoolchildren in Shalbourne that her office in the House of Commons has a family of mice living in it. The MPs will soon be moved out so that a multi-billion pound refurbishment of the building can take place. Many others, living in more dilapidated and infested properties less in the public eye, are less fortunate.

• The question of transparency of information was mentioned several times at the recent Hungerford Town Council meeting. This isn’t the only place where the subject comes up. Fifty years ago all municipal and corporate business was shrouded in secrecy: now, we expect information to be available on every conceivable point. The question of how much transparency is enough will never be agreed upon. It’s also probably true that the higher up the democratic food chain someone is the more information should be available about what they’re up to (the difficulty being that such people have more reason than most to conceal the very things we want to know about).  Then there’s the time and costs involved: even the seemingly undemanding suggestions made at the Hungerford meeting would surely entail extra work for the staff. There’s also the question, which was raised at the Hungerford meeting, of what the purpose of publicising the information would be. This is a trickier one, for it could be argued that no one can see how useful something might be in the future and which therefore should, with best practice in mind, be collated and revealed now. Over it all hangs the question ‘well, if you haven’t got anything to conceal what are you worried about?’ which over-simplifies matters as it ignores all the obstacles which may exist in getting the information into the public domain in a clear, accurate and legally correct way.

All in all, the whole business of transparency and the need for it in any particular case is neither clear nor widely agreed. It also operates in an ever-changing landscape of government legislation, official recommendations, technological advances, municipal budgets and public expectations. I’d suggest that the minimum ambition of any local council is to avoid being featured in Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs section, which contains each fortnight some jaw-dropping reports of municipal secrecy, hypocrisy and graft. Readers might, however, be encouraged by the fact that, according to this report, in 2016 the UK government was reckoned to be the most transparent in the world. One of the many things which has contributed to this is the 2015 Local Government Transparency Code; also, no doubt, the work of the National Association of Local Councils among whose publications is The Good Councillor’s Guide: here is the 2013 edition of this. As for the wider debate about the need for or value of transparency, a web search will propose enough contrasting views to provide bedside reading for a month. How disinterested some of these are is another question. Information or opinion is only of limited use unless one also understands the intention behind publishing it and this is not always easy to establish.

• And speaking of information, and NALC, the association is lobbying the government to provide additional funding to help Britain’s local councils comply with the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulations.

• The recent Full Council Meeting of West Berkshire Council , as expected, confirmed the 5.99% rise in council tax and the various revenue-raising and cost-cutting measures that have been proposed. You might also be interested in this article which describes how West Berkshire’s money is spent (with nearly half going on adult and child social care). The subject is also covered on page 4 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: The Rosemary Appeal (thanks to St John’s Church and shoppers in Newbury’s Sainsbury’s); Loose Ends (thanks to *R:Vue – yes, that does seem to be how it’s spelled); Christian Aid (thanks to pupils at Downe House); a number of local good causes (thanks to the Greenham Trust).

Hungerford & district

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

• For the latest and best round-up of all things Hungerfordian, including matters discussed at the recent Full Council meeting, updates on the Library and the neighbourhood plan, security advice from the local police and a number of other news and feature articles, please see the March Penny Post Hungerford. If you do not currently get this and would like to receive it hot off the virtual press on the first Tuesday of every month, please email brian@pennypost.org.uk.

• Regarding the above, particular attention is drawn to the information and advice given by PCSO Lee Bremner following the recent spate of thefts from vans in the town. You can read this here.

• As anyone who spends any time in Hungerford knows, there’s a particularly badly maintained shop at number 5 the High Street. On many occasions, councillors have tried to encourage or force the owner to do something about sprucing it up but with limited success. It is certainly an eyesore and could easily be part of a film set about life during the depression of the 1930s. The property has been back on the council’s agenda, and in the (Newbury Weekly) news recently because of a strange example of the law of unintended consequences. For reasons which must have seemed sensible at the time, the owner installed a small menagerie of artificial birds in the windows and on the parapet in an attempt to dissuade the ubiquitous Hungerford pigeons. This seems to have had the opposite effect as the feathered rats are attracted by the new arrivals and enjoy roosting on the ones outside. To make matters worse, it appears that one (made of metal) is not secure and might at any moment swoop down onto pedestrians below. I suppose that if you own a building you can, within certain limits, do what you like with it. This case certainly provides an example of that.

The Hungerford neighbourhood plan is moving forward. Representatives of the Town Council and the embryonic working party will be meeting with West Berkshire Council’s NP experts on Monday 19 March to discuss the timetable, restrictions and procedures for developing the plan. One factor that needs to be borne in mind is the need to have this process moving, so far as possible, in parallel with West Berkshire’s updating its own local plan (which the Hungerford one will, when completed, become a part of). For more information on this, please click here. A further announcement will be made at the Town Meeting two days later (see below) and it’s hoped that, if this has been decided, the chairperson of the working party will be able to make a brief statement. The progress of the neighbourhood plan will be given full coverage in Penny Post.

• 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. The agenda will be published on the HTC site soon.

• A reminder also about 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.

Lambourn Valley

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

• You might perhaps have been planning to spend the evening of Friday 9 March picking up some tips at the Cheltenham Preview Night and then, the following night, strolling down to the river to Great Shefford to pit your wits against the best brains in the Lambourn Valley at the Great Shefford Fllod Alleviation Association quiz. If so, I’m sorry to say that, unless you’ve bought tickets, you’ll be disappointed as both events have sold out.

• Some great photos here of the recent snowy weather from the Lambourn village website, including an example of one of the disadvantages of living near a county boundary when the two authorities have different policies and timetables about clearing snow.

• There was a talk last week about the Boxford Roman mosaic and we’ll be hoping to persuade Bob Brewer to write something on this for us on this. In the meantime, here’s something he contributed last year during the later stages of the excavation.

• The 4 Legs Community Radio for the Lambourn Valley will be going live on Friday 9 April. Big round of applause is due to Chris Capel. You can read more here.

• What a great film Hidden Figures is – can say this because it was shown at the Valley Film Society in East Garston (click here for more info). At least the first 60% was great but I then had to leave to pick up a son. Fortunately our next-door neighbours won the DVD in the raffle so I’ll be borrowing it from them.

Newbury & district

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

• Newbury’s consultation on its town plan closes on 18 March. Click here for more.

• An even more imminent deadline – Friday 9 March – is the one for nominations for the 2018 Newbury Civic Awards. For more information, click here.

• As reported in this week’s NWN (page 12) there were some cross words at West Berkshire Council this week during a discussion about the Market Street development. One of the issues was whether, having gifted the land, the developers should not have been compelled to build a larger number of affordable homes. Once again, a viability assessment (by which developers can justify that this stipulation would be uneconomic) was involved.

• A reminder that Kennet Radio 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.

• A new shared-use cycle- and footpath at the City Recreation Ground in Newbury will be completed very soon.

Thatcham & District

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

• Plans have been submitted for the protracted development in Tull Way. To see these, click here and enter the code 18/00307/RESMAJ in the search box at the foot of the page.

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

• The plans – to call them ‘merely ‘controversial’ would not be doing justice to the almost unanimous disapproval of the idea – to introduce a £1 town-centre parking charge, payable only by phone (a discriminatory proposal if ever I saw one), have been dropped by West Berkshire Council. This is largely as a result of co-ordinated opposition from the Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce, acting on numerous representations made by local residents. It’s welcome proof that idiotic and ill-considered plans can be defeated if enough people decide to do something about it.

• 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

Marlborough & district

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

• At a meeting of Marlborough Town Council this week, concern was expressed about the ability of the the police force to react to crimes when the  officers now need to come from Swindon or Devizes (a very similar complaint, and for similar reasons about similar crimes, to those voiced at the meeting of Hungerford Town Council on the same day). You can read more from Marlborough News here.

• On the same theme, this article suggests that the problem is one than van manufacturers should help solve. While having every sympathy for the loss Mr Browne suffered, it seems unlikely to me that any security device short of a full-time security guard will make much difference if someone is determined to break in. What would be a greater deterrent would be what the crims saw when they’d got in: either nothing (though I appreciate that it’s impractical to take every bit of gear out every night); or items which had a very simple aspect to them which would suddenly make them seem much less attractive. This article, written as a result of a presentation by the Thames Valley Police to the recent meeting of Hungerford Town Council, explains.

• We referred last week to a story from MN about plans to introduce a 20mph speed limit in parts of Marlborough. The above-mentioned Council meeting decided to put this matter out to a full consultation.

• Our local bookshop in Hungerford has, deservedly, won several awards. I’d like to congratulate the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough for having been shortlisted for The Bookseller’s Independent Bookshop of the Year – South East Region. Every town needs a good bookshop and Marlborough and Hungerford are both very fortunate. Click here for more information and to cast your vote. You have until 15 March to do this.

• Local school children have been learning more about the various animals that live in the local rivers thanks to an initiative by Action for the River Kennet (ARK).

• 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.

• Wantage no longer has a railway station and also no longer a tramway, which used to link the town with the Wantage Road station in Grove. A story from the Herald’s archives here about a military funeral in 1909 during which main-line rolling stock ran on the tram lines.

• Transport issues of a more up-to-date kind in Grove where councillors fear that traffic-calming measures will merely shift speeding cars onto other local roads.

• Click here for a look at the plans for the Kingsgrove, a.k.a. Crab Hill, estate in Wantage.

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

Happy 800th birthday greetings are due to Faringdon. (I’m not sure how, as this article says, the charter could have been granted by King John in 1218 when he’d by then been dead for two years but at such a festive time the last thing I want to be is nit-picking or pedantic…)

• 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.

• A story here about a former homeless man who has been given a career opportunity by the organisation that runs the shelter he used to sleep in.

• There will be a public meeting at 2pm on Sunday 11 March in the Lydiard Park Academy Sports Hall to try to solve the increasing confusion and uncertainty surrounding the future of Lydiard Park.

• 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 is back again. This is one I heard on the ever-wonderful Radio 6 Music early this week: You Said Something by PJ Harvey, not someone whose music I know that well. Another omission I must put right. I love the fact that what was said was clearly very important but you never find what it was.

• Which brings us, as usually happens, to the Quiz Question of the Week. Last week’s question was: which of Shakespeare’s four plays are often collectively known as the Minor Tetrology? The answer is Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3 and Richard III. We have another quiz on the boil, so for this week’s question I’ll direct you to that. There are eight questions in all with the usual generous prize on offer for the winner.

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Brian Quinn

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