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Local News April 5-12 2018

Including housing targets, Penny Post Hungerford, The Mystery of Morley Place, Newbury Business Park, NHS pressures in Wiltshire, Wantage in olden times, plastic protest in Marlborough, Ramsbury’s Italian twin town, affordable homes in Burbage, elections in Thatcham, hypnosis in Cold Ash, police and roadwork updates, TVP on the buses, community grants, pilates for goats, a hatted rabbit, puddle jumping, four legs move closer, 40,000 plants and trees, Brunel’s pens and a cuddly toy.

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.

• 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.

• There will be some level-crossing closures in the Thatcham area later this month – click here for details.

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)

• In this week’s Newbury Weekly News, there’s an article in which Newbury MP Richard Benyon urges West Berkshire Council ‘not to rest on its laurels’ with regard to meeting its housing targets. It’s not clear to me what these laurels might be. According to the article, the council has an 80.5% completion rate (the percentage of applications which result in properties being built), the government’s minimum target for this being 75%. The 1,606 homes built in the area in the last three years is 20% short of the target. The council has already admitted that it will fall short of its target of 1,000 affordable homes before 2020 by at least 165 (WBC’s policy in its Core Strategy seeks 40% affordable homes on greenfield sites and 30% on brownfield ones). This isn’t really a criticism of West Berkshire: many councils are doing even less well. In 2015-16, 92% of councils failed to build enough affordable homes, while the total shortfall of actual houses built compared to target was nearly 30%.

Which leads me to the verb in the above-mentioned article, which says that ‘the council has built 1,606 homes.’ It hasn’t, I don’t think, actually built any (though Sovereign may have done). That’s one of the problems faced by West Berkshire and every other council. The government sets these targets but doesn’t allow local councils to borrow money to build the houses in order to meet them. In this regard, councils have a lot of responsibility but very little power. The majority of new homes are built by private companies which, for perfectly logical commercial reasons, want to maximise their returns. Two ways this can be done are by land-banking (controlling the completion of properties to provide the best prices and the lowest demands on their cash) and building as few low-cost houses as they can. The government has recently embarked on what Mr Benyon calls an ‘aggressive approach’ towards controlling this but it’s uncertain how effective this will be. These companies do not exist to act as biddable and compliant instruments of government policy.

• The letters pages of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes a reply from Council Leader Graham Jones about the recent criticism of the three-member wards; further comments about the badger cull; thanks from an injured shopper for the help she received from The Indian Lounge in Cheap Street; a swipe at wind farms; and a picture of a rabbit with a straw hat on its head.

• There’s been a lot of publicity recently about various police campaigns against using a mobile phone when driving. My 15-year-old son saw something on social meda recently (he’s not around so I can’t check the source) about some enterprising local officers who, rather than cruising round in panda cars or standing in lay-bys with cameras and notebooks (both of which cause drivers to alter their behaviour very quickly) decided instead to hop on some local buses and see what could be spotted from there. Apparently in two days they caught over 60 people.

• Anyone who lives or works in a tall building in the area may not find that this story about the confusions surrounding the certification and product specifications of exterior cladding makes for very encouraging reading.

• A remainder that community groups with projects of environmental benefit can claim up to £1,000 through the 2018 BBOWT Dorothy Morley Conservation Award.

• If you or your family were involved in any of the recent Easter events in the area, you may find find a photo of yourselves in the report on pp6-7 of this week’s NWN.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including:  Cancer Research UK (thanks to Sam Inksip and Rick Wilson); Guide Dogs for the Blind (thanks to Drew Tucker); Music for All (thanks to several North Hampshire music pupils); Purple Day (thanks to pupils at Spurcroft Primary School); Marie Curie (thanks to Swindon Lions Club).

Hungerford & district

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

• For the latest and most comprehensive round-up of all things related to Hungerford, see the April Penny Post Hungerford by clicking here. This includes a report on the Town Council’s activities, news from the High Street and Barrs Yard, a look ahead to Tutti Day, John O’Gaunt’s recent achievements, book reviews, gardening tips, astronomy, revision tips, April fools, local thesps in action, collectors, clutter and canoe races.

• The annual Hungerford litter pick will take place on Sunday 8 April and volunteers are welcome. Please meet outside the Town Hall at 10am wearing suitable clothes. All materials will be provided. Normally this lasts for an hour or so and light refreshments will be provided afterwards. There will also be a litter pick organised by the Town and Manor on the Common starting at the Down Gate, also at 10am.

• At the time of writing, uncertainty still surrounds the incident last Wednesday evening in Morley Place which resulted in the arrival of various members of the emergency services, some wearing rather alarming-looking protective suits.

Lambourn Valley

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

• The annual meeting of East Garston Parish Council will take place on Tuesday 24 April and will include a talk from Henry Oliver, Director of the North Wessex Downs AONB.

• The launch of the 4 Legs Community Radio Station draws ever closer (Friday 13 April is the day). There’ll be launch events leading up to this at various locations in the four villages – click here for more.

• For many years now the Watermill Theatre’s touring productions have started their run at the East Garston Village Hall and 2018 is no exception – click here for information on Burke and Hare on Wednesday 18 April. (Apologies – link omitted in error last week.)

• Spring seems to have arrived; and spring (like every other season, in fact) can bring rain; and rain can bring floods. Great Shefford has suffered from these more than most and to help combat this risk, a Flood Alleviation Association to work with the EA and others. A large sum of money needs to be raised by the village as its contribution to the proposed works, as a result of which a number of fundraising events have been and will be being organised., The next one, a quiz, will take place in The Swan on Friday 20 April. Tickets are available in advance from The Swan for the quiz and the pre-quiz buffet. There may be some tickets still available on the night for the quiz but I advise you to pre-book – if the success of the last one is anything to go by, it’ll be a sell-out.

Newbury & district

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

• Newbury Town Council has launched its Newbury in Bloom 2018 campaign which aims to create an attractive and sustainable environment making Newbury a greener, cleaner and more pleasant place to live together with promoting horticultural excellence, improving the appearance of our town and environment. For more information, visit the Newbury Town Council website.

• A report in this week’s Newbury Weekly News (see p2) about the Town Council’s objections to the construction of 10 more flats at Newbury Business Park. One of the main reasons cited was the lack of suitable nearby amenities such as schools. The issue also highlights two other issues: whether stipulations about the reservation of sites for residential or commercial use should be more flexible; and whether these two usages should separated or mixed and, if the latter, to what extent.

• There were quite a few people from other countries in Newbury last week – here’s why… One of the towns involved is called Kiskunfélegyháza, which is not a combination of letters you see every day (unless you live there, of course).

• A lot of events, like cricket matches, BBQs and (as recent events proved) Lambourn Open Days require dry weather. One that presumably does not is puddle jumping. No, ‘d never heard to it either. The Market Place on Sunday 8 April is the place to be to find out more. You can also click here.

• Congratulations to three students from Newbury College’s professional cookery course who took part in a live ‘cook off’ at the final of The Country Range Student Chef Challenge earlier this month and were awarded third prize overall.

• And, staying with Newbury College, some thoughts here from its principal, Iain Wolloff, about how he wants to open a university centre at the college to broaden its higher-education appeal.

Thatcham & district

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

• There will be some level-crossing closures in the area later this month – click here for details.

• The annual Cold Ash Parish Meeting will take place in the Acland Hall on Thursday 19 April, 7pm for 7.30pm. All residents of the parish are welcome.

• If you want to find out more about hypnosis, The Fisher Room in Cold Ash is the place to be on Tuesday 24 April where Tara Ecomomakis will be giving a talk on the subject.

• The new manager of the Kingsland Centre has spoken to NWN and said that the current plans are to ‘improve the existing facilities’ rather than re-develop the site. Read more here.

• The nominations are now closed for the vacant seats on the Thatcham Town Council and West Berkshire Council. You can see these by clicking on the links (note you’ll have to click on the very fuzzy images to be able to read them). The elections will take place on Thursday 19 April. See this week’s Newbury Weekly News (pp20-21) for a look at all the WBC candidates.

Marlborough & district

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

• This excellent article from Marlborough News takes a look at some of the funding pressures faced by the NHS, with particular emphasis on Wiltshire’s. The three, slightly depressing, conclusions I get from it are, one, that the integration of health and social-care  services seems not to be proceeding as planned; two, that some previously-announced funding increases have in fact been either to cover inflation or to pay for things, such as deficits, that have already been spent; and three, that many previous targets were not achieved. Running the NHS might qualify, certainly at the moment, for being the most demanding job in the world. Its annual budget is around £130bn and only the US Department of Defense, The People’s Liberation Army of China, Walmart and McDonalds employ more people.

• I had to check the date on this story about goats helping to give pilates classes – it was published on 3 April, not 1 April, so it should be OK.

• A new development in Burbage has just been completed comprising 18 affordable homes of various kinds. The fact that this story, including a picture of the opening ceremony, made it into the Gazette and Herald is perhaps because it happens more rarely than it ought to. New developments are often expected to have 40% of the properties affordable; in 2016-17, 19% of new homes were affordable; in Wiltshire, only 8% of the current housing is affordable. According to figures supplied by the developers (taken from the National Housing Federation’s regional Home Truths Report 2017/18), the average house in Wiltshire costs nearly £290,000 (11 times the average earning in the county) and average monthly rents are nearly £830.

• The Marlborough branch of Waitrose was today the subject of a protest by Transition Marlborough concerning the supermarket’s policy on plastic use.

• The consultation about proposed 20mph restrictions in the town is now live and will be until Friday 27 April – click here for details.

• Congratulations to Marlborough Downs Space for Nature which has won the Wiltshire Life award for Conservation Project of the Year.

• There remains one vacancy for a parish councillor in Great Bedwyn.

• Click here for information on what’s on in and around Ramsbury – including the exciting news announced last Sunday that it is to be twinned with Rome.

Wantage & district

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

• Click here for a look at the plans for the Kingsgrove estate in Wantage.

• If you want to see what the area around Waitrose looked like before the supermarket was build, have a click here.

• Wantage’s King Alfred Quilters has celebrated its 25th anniversary and is on the lookout for new members – click here for more.

• Nearly 30 organisations have so far applied to participate in the Wantage Summer Arts Festival but there are still spaces left. If you would like more information, please email jim@wantagesummerartsfestival.com by April 15.

• Another successful fly-tipping conviction was notched up by the Vale of the White Horse Council in late March.

• The Harwell Link Road was opened last week. I’m amazed that, as this report says, there was room in the site to plant 40,000 plants and trees.

• Voluntary groups in White Horse and South Oxfordshire are invited to share their experiences of supporting their local communities and be nominated (by noon on Tuesday 10 April) for the Oxfordshire Charity and Volunteer Awards. Click here for more.

Swindon & district

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

• Few people have had a greater impact on this area than Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He would have achieved very little without drawing instruments: and a set belonging to the diminutive top-hatted engineering genius has recently been acquired by Steam – Museum of the Great Western Railway. Click here for more details.

• Swindon is taking part in the government’s Voter ID pilot scheme, which aims to reduce voter fraud by asking voters to present a form of identification before voting. These poll cards should be arriving through your letter box soon.

• If you are thinking of making a donation to Swindon blogger Rutendo Tichiwangani’s campaign to raise funds to cover the costs of acquiring UK citizenship, then you need not bother – she’s achieved her target and asked that no more donations be made.

• The line-up for this year’s WOMAD Festival has been announced.

• Details of another local event, the Old Town Beer Festival in May, are available here.

The song and the quiz

• The Song of the Week swings round again. I was standing in the queue at the Co-op in Hungerford this afternoon and they were playing this, which I’d always loved and hadn’t heard for years – Cuddly Toy by Roachford. It’s a bit of a rubbish title, in my view, as it makes it seem as it might be on Balamory or The Magic Roundabout (which it wouldn’t be at all suitable). Good song, though – solid 80s rock, or pop, or pop-rock, or rock-soul, or funk-rock-soul-pop, or what you will.

• Which brings us right up alongside the Quiz Question of the Week. The Penny Post March Quiz produced an almost impossibly exciting 11-way tie, so if you were one of the people who entered you’ll be hearing from us soon with a tie-breaker question. As for a question for this week, try this: In what sense is today the 365th?

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Brian Quinn

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