Including Lambourn’s decision, Hungerford’s beacon, Newbury’s vision, Thatcham’s bookie, Burghfield’s phone box, Marlborough’s bees, Swindon’s trees and trains, Wantage and Grove’s services, traffic and police updates, community transport, budget stuff, MTOC and DTOC, SEN transport, self-investigation, keeping an eye on AWE, a local lottery, 1,500 tons of salt, five saplings, police processing, divisiveness in Devizes, changing rooms, rickshaws, reservoirs, rusty turnstiles, millions of invoices and the best of both worlds.
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.
• You can also visit Roadworks.org for similar information: this also provides the ability to toggle layers and select dates (it defaults to today’s date but you can adjust this) and other preferences. (It seems that West Berkshire at least – see link above – gets its feed from this source).
• 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.
• For information on flood warnings and alerts, click here.
• 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. Click here for services in Wantage.
• 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 budget was delivered this week. I got the impression of the popping of corks to celebrate something that hadn’t really happened. Br***t still looms, and the Chancellor has said that a no-deal there would provoke another reassessment. I find hard to reconcile the statement that ‘austerity is over’ with the fact that the national debt – which was was what the austerity was meant to be combatting – has risen steadily since George Osborne’s infamous ‘we’re all in this together’ remark in 2010.
• Two points about the budget caught my eye. The first was the 33% reduction on business rates for retailers for at least the next two years (that on pubs and restaurants will end after two) providing these have a rateable value of less than £51,000. This seemingly arbitrary figure has presumably been chosen because this is is the threshold below which the Small Business Multiplier (SBM), rather than the Standard Multiplier, is applied. The SMB for 2019-19 is 0.48 which means that the business rates are slightly less than half the rateable value. A shop on premises with a rateable value of £24,000 will thus previously have paid about £12,000 a year in business rates, which will reduce to £8,000 a year over the next two years. The deficit will be made up by Whitehall so the district council’s finances will be unaffected by this.
This is obviously good news, but two points strike me. The first is that this slightly seems like a normally strict but suddenly smiling uncle turning up with a big bag of sweets when what the kids really need is the guarantee of some regular meals.. The funding structure for local councils will be reformed from 2001-21 and will depend much more on business rates than previously. I’m not sure if a two-year respite is enough to allow retailers to make even medium-term plans. The second is that this cut will do nothing to encourage footfall. The real enemies of the high street are perhaps online retailers and parking problems. The first of these the budget has made some, belated, attempts to address, but the second is a matter for local councils. Clearly one cannot have a free-for-all but some more imagination is needed, such as free parking for an hour and tighter maximum time limits of say four hours, particularly near railway stations.
I’m not a high-street retailer, but Emma and Alex Milne-White at the award-winning Hungerford Bookshop are. They may echo many local retailers’ sentiment with their comments: “It’s encouraging that chancellor is showing much-needed support for the high street through its new business rate relief and also by imposing a new Digital Services Tax on the very big technology companies that have a competitive fiscal advantage over bricks-and-mortar businesses. Although further reforms are needed at least it is a step in the right direction.” Steps certainly need to be taken, and not just to help small independent shops: according to a report from the National Retail Research Knowledge Excellence Centre, over 200 shopping centres are in danger of falling into administration. The report also suggests that there are too many shopping centres and that they’re all ‘doing the same thing’. Indeed, there seems to be an over-supply of retail properties generally although, as mentioned here a couple of weeks ago, this doesn’t so far seem to have translated into lower rents and more flexible leases.
• With social care, on the other hand, the supply-and-demand problem is the other way round. One of the many instances of this, which also effects the NHS, is the matter of ‘bed blocking’ (or delayed transfer of care (DTOC) to give it its official title) whereby patients who are well enough to leave hospital cannot do so because there’s not sufficient support available for them at home or in their community. The longer-term management of this issue, in many ways more important, is known as MTOC. The budget statement, combined with previous pledges made at the Conservative Party Conference, might result in about an extra £2 million being available for West Berkshire Council, about half ear-marked for DTOC. When one considers that West Berkshire announced an over-spend of over £2m on social-care for the first quarter of 2018-19, it’s easy to see that this is little more than a palliative measure. A proper settlement of social-care funding is expected in the delayed green paper on the subject. This budget has addressed some of the immediate problems but done nothing but whet the appetite for a long-term solution to what all agree is a problem that is increasing every year.
• The question of schools funding also cropped up, with the Chancellor announcing £400m ‘for those little extras,’ a phrase which reinforces the impression referred to above of Mr Hammond dishing out treats. Reading some of the reactions, it’s hard to judge whether teachers are more annoyed by the amount, by the fact that it’s limited to capital expenditure or by the rather unfortunate phrase itself. Local MP Richard Benyon told the Newbury Weekly News (p3) that he didn’t think the Chancellor had used those exact words. Every newspaper seems to disagree and I’ve yet to hear of any libel writs being issued from number 11. Mr Benyon went on to say that he hopes there will be more funding for other services available after Brexit. £350m per week, perhaps? That’s what was promised on the side of the bus.
• The strange story of the green-bin charge and to what extent West Berkshire Council was clear about promoting the reduced £25 option for a seven-month service refuses to go away. Last month, Councillor Alan Macro referred his own council to the local Trading Standards over the matter. This body (which covers West Berkshire and Wokingham) is based at the Council offices in Newbury and most of the on-line links take one to West Berkshire’s site, neither of which suggest independence. Supporting this suspicion is the recent news that the matter has been referred on to West Berkshire’s own monitoring officer. This seems odd enough on its own: but to make it odder still, this person is also in charge of the legal department which was responsible for checking the contentious information in the first place. She is, therefore, effectively being asked to investigate herself, a notoriously difficult thing to do. Councillor Macro said that ‘while I have a great deal of respect for the monitoring officer, I don’t believe that she is the right person to investigate this complaint.’ She may well agree.
The obvious thing would seem to be to have complaints against such a hosting authority referred to a neighbouring Trading Standards office: Hampshire, perhaps, in this case. Or perhaps not. One of the initiatives Hants is involved with is a ‘Buy with Confidence‘ scheme, which seems encouragingly relevant. However, closer reading reveals that this is ‘managed by Hampshire on behalf of’ West Berkshire and Wokingham.’ Perhaps a council like Northumberland or Cornwall would be safer, or one in New Zealand.
• We mentioned a few weeks ago about West Berkshire’s plan to launch its own lottery. These plans have now been confirmed. This article also includes details of two information events, both on Wednesday 28 November.
• Now that winter is pretty much here, motorists will be relieved that West Berkshire has activated its Winter Service Plan, which included buying 1,500 tonnes of rock salt. More details can be found here.
• The question of whether a piece of modern art is a valid/relevant/committed/aesthetic/etc statement or, in the words of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, ‘utter bosh’ is debated almost every time one is created. The matter of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable ways of commemorating a war, which now extends to the colours of the poppies, is equally emotive and for more serious reasons. When the two are combined and art is commissioned for a Remembrance Day event the divergencies of opinion can become wildly polarised. Have a look at what has recently appeared on the streets of Devizes by clicking here and decide for yourself.
• See the Penny Post website calendar for a list of bonfire night and Remembrance Day events. This week’s NWN has a list of the former on p4.
• The letters pages of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes: more about the increasingly divisive Jack of Newbury; some comments about the cost of the Greenham Control Tower project; the role of town councils and councillors; Royal Mail’s rubber band; and a picture of a dog who looks as if he’s about to do the washing up.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: the Guides’ trip to Ghana (thanks to Hungerford Rotary Club); The North Hampshire Medical Fund (thanks to the recent cycle event); Bright Horizons (thanks to Becky Wharton and Beth Lewington from The Grange Nursery); West Berks Mencap (thanks to The Red House and The Castle); The NWN Over 80s parcel Fund (thanks to the Newbury Mayor’s coffee morning); several local charities (thanks to Waitrose’s Community Matters token scheme); Swindon and Wiltshire price (thanks to Tesco); Brighter Futures (thanks to Richard Nicholson).
Hungerford & district
• Please click here for the latest news from Hungerford Town Council.
• The next meeting of Hungerford Town Council will take place on Monday 5 November. The Agenda can be seen here.
• A reminder about a local aspect of this year’s Children in Need appeal: the Rickshaw Challenge will pass through Kintbury on Monday 12th November, the participants being expected at around 12.15 though obviously this may vary. The rickshaw team will be stopping for a short lunch break in the village. The Parish Council would like to give them a warm welcome and offer support for the challenge so residents are encouraged to line the streets in Kintbury to welcome them and wish them well on their way as they depart the village. The riders will be coming in from Holt Road/Newbury Street and then into Station Road and them High Street. The departure after lunch will be towards Hungerford and are expected to arrive in the town at about 1pm, then turning into the High Street and down towards the canal bridge. If you would like to make a donation, click here.
• This article caught my eye: it refers to new regulations that the FA will be introducing about the minimum size of changing rooms for teams in the seventh and eighth tiers on the league pyramid. with relegation being threatened as a penalty for non-compliance. The reaction of many of the clubs could have been predicted, particularly given the timescale. I spoke to Mike Hall, the Chairman of Hungerford Town (currently in the sixth tier) about this. He reminded me that a couple of years ago Hungerford had to make a number of similar improvements demanded by the FA, including installing six turnstiles. He argued that these ground-improvement regulations, which syphon off time and money that could perhaps be better spent on training facilities and staff, ought to be related to the average attendance (Hungerford’s is just over 300) rather than merely the league status. He also pointed out that the regulations are not consistently enforced. At one ground in the same league there are six turnstiles but two are rusted and overgrown with ivy. None the less, the six-turnstile box has been ticked and that, in these process-driven times, is often all that matters.
• Congratulations to John O’Gaunt pupils Maddie Lewis and Libby Hopkins who have returned from their trip to Ghana where they were helping at the Eugemot Orphanage in the Upper Volta region as part of a project organised by Venture Force Foundation and Girlguiding Berkshire. They made bricks for a road, painted and sanded the orphanage, gave the children life boxes and moved there bedrooms into the newly finished rooms.
• There’ll be a ceremony at the Triangle Field on Sunday 11 November to light the beacon in Hungerford to mark the centenary of the end of WW1. Click here for details.
• The survey organised by the Hungerford Environmental Action Team to open a community shop in Hungerford has now closed but you can click here for more information. When the results are announced we’ll let you know.
• This week’s NWN (p20 of the Hungerford edition) refers to Hungerford Town Council’s preferred options for solving the imminent car-parking problem near the station. You might also like to have a look at this post, which explains the background, is updated as the need arises and includes annotated maps of the proposals.
Lambourn & Downlands
• Following a series of events around the parish and an open meeting at the Memorial Hall earlier this week, Lambourn Parish Council has decided to proceed with a neighbourhood development plan. For more information, click here.
• This week’s NWN (pp1 and 5 of the Hungerford edition) report on how Lambourn Primary School was given a ‘bailout’ of nearly £19,000 by West Berkshire Council even though the school is now an academy. As the article points out, this is mainly due to exceptional staff-related costs that were incurred before the academy status was achieved.
• Are you, or do you know, a young man who would like to read a few poems about WW1 at the Friends of Lambourn Library’s poetry evening at 7.30pm on Weds 14 November then Penny Brewer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01488 72305 would be delighted to hear from you.
• The November edition of Chaddleworth News has just arrived in my inbox. I can’t send you the link as it’s a PDF attachment to an email. It includes news about local clubs and societies, details of forthcoming events and a brief report from the last parish council meeting. If you’d like to receive it, please email email@example.com and ask to be added to the list.
• Click here for information on free English courses offered to ESOL students in Lambourn (also Newbury, Calcot and Thatcham) by the Berkshire School of English.
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on Friday have its 30th day of broadcasting – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• Newbury’s war memorial has had a deep clean in readiness for this year’s Remembrance Day parade – click here for more.
• There are also a number of other events in the town to commemorate the centenary of the end of WW1. More information can be found here.
• The Newbury Vision 2026 conference took place on 29 October, the aim of the organisation being to ‘set out a vision’ for the town over the next eight years. This week’s Newbury Weekly News devotes four pages (pp6-9) to the event. You can also click here for more information.
• if you were on 30 October in the vicinity of Barn Crescent and saw your local MP burrowing in the ground then the explanation is that five saplings were being planted there as part of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, an international forestry and conservation initiative. Since you ask, I can reveal that the saplings involved were two rowans, two silver birches and a hazel.
• One of the many thing announced was Newbury College’s plan for a new University Centre to give people the skills needed by local businesses.
• A major road improvement project for Newbury will start on 7 January 2019 and is expected to continue until the autumn – click here for details.
• Click here for information on free English courses offered to ESOL students in Newbury (also Thatcham, Calcot and Lambourn) by the Berkshire School of English.
• You can keep up to date with the progress of work at Market Street and The Wharf by clicking here.
Thatcham and district
• Please click here for the latest news from Thatcham Town Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Cold Ash Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Hampstead Norreys Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Bucklebury Parish Council.
• A reminder that information about the three staff members at Prior’s Court who tragically lost their lives in the M4 minibus crash earlier this month can be found on the school’s website. This also includes details of an appeal set up to support the victim’s families.
• Click here for information on the fireworks display on Friday 9 November organised by Kennet and Francis Baily Schools.
• Click here for details of the Remembrance Day events in Thatcham.
• The NWN has a story on p24 about plans, which have been approved by West Berkshire Council but which were opposed by Thatcham Town Council, to allow a fourth betting shop to open up in the town. The betting firm produced as part of its evidence which claimed that such shops ‘enhanced vitality and viability,’ whatever exactly that means.
• Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin.
• A reminder about the quiz night at the Acland Memorial Hall on Saturday 3 November in aid of the Three Rivers Community Choir. Expect a question about the Three Rivers District Council, perhaps (you might want to look that up if you’re going, just in case). Click on the link above for details.
Theale and district
• Please click here for the latest news from Theale Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Aldermaston Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Brimpton Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Englefield Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Burghfield Parish Council (though the website is currently ‘under construction’).
• There will be a bonfire and fireworks event at Mortimer on Saturday 3 November.
• Anyone in the vicinity of the of the troubled AWE site at Burghfield last week may have witnessed scenes reminiscent of the the cold-war protests of the 1980s that were a regular feature of life in England, Berkshire in particular. There’s a report here from the BBC website, which mentions that seven people were arrested but that two were being ‘processed by police’ (their inverted commas). This conjured up for me the image of a python curled up under a tree for a few days while it slowly digested a goat.
• There is a Local Liaison Committe for AWE’s two sites at Burghfield and Aldermaston which acts as ‘a vital communications forum as well as a focus for holding us to account for operating safely, securely and with due care for the environment.’ You can read more about its work here.
• There are also plans to arrange a meeting between AWE Burghfield and representatives of local parish councils to discuss AWE’s plans for redeveloping part of its site. More news on that when we have it.
• A strange story from the Burghfield Community Facebook page about a red phone box that went missing: it now seems that BT removed it, in error they say,and have since returned it. If like me you’re wondering what motive they might have for doing this, you might want to have a look at La Cabina, a creepy short film from Spain made in 1972.
• Click here for the latest from Plastic-free Mortimer, a local group which is highlighting the problems caused by plastics, particularly single-use ones (many of which will banned throughout the EU from 2021).
• Brimpton is updating its parish plan and a survey is now open and will remain open until 14 November. Click here to make your views known.
• Click here for the October/November Englefield Parish News.
• There’s currently a vacancy for a parish councillor in Englefield – click here for more information.
• Click here for information on free English courses offered to ESOL students in Thatcham (also Newbury, Calcot and Lambourn) by the Berkshire School of English.
Marlborough & district
• Please click here for the latest news from Marlborough Town Council.
• Congratulations to all those who took part in the Bee Roadzz project which resulted in over 6,000 bulbs being planted in the area last week. These will grow into decorative, fragrant and bee-friendly plants in the spring.
• If you would like to have a stall at the Savernake View Care Home’s Christmas Fair on Wednesday 5 December (2pm to 4pm) please contact Sharon on 01672 555 200. All proceeds will be in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society.
• The head of St John’s School in Marlborough has spoken out about the school’s mobile-phone policy after concerned parents claimed the devices were a distraction and a platform for bullying.
• Marlborough Town Council has been rewarded for its work towards re-opening the youth centre in the town. Read more here.
• Wiltshire Council has come under fire for the situation where some children with SEN (special educational needs) sometimes face round trips of nearly four hours to get them between home and school. Given the rural nature of the county and the fact that specialist SEN schools are not that numerous then some long journeys are inevitable. More taxis making more direct trips would be one answer, but the council has (in common with others) already overspent on its budget for this for 2018-19. You can read more here from the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald.
• The same care home will, on Saturday 10 November, be organising a guided historical walk around Marlborough in aid of the Royal British Legion. Meet at the Town Hall at 10am. The walk is expected to last about two hours.
• On Sunday 4 November, fireworks will be provided at George Lane by the 2nd Marlborough Scouts.
• 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.
• Please click here for the latest news from Grove Parish Council.
• The PR problems which appear to be haunting Thames Water’s attempts to gain some level of public acceptance for its plans for a Heathrow-sized reservoir near Abingdon seem to be continuing. An information event at Steventon last week attracted about 100 visitors but the local campaign group GARD (Group Against Reservoir Development) has suggested that the whole scheme is unnecessary and that Thames Water is being impatient with its second consultation process (the first last year was deemed to have been inadequate). You can read more in this week’s Wantage & Grove Herald.
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column in this paper (p8) raises once again the question of the disparity between the number of new homes planned for Wantage and Grove and the progress in providing the necessary infrastructure improvements. This point is echoed in one of the letters to the Editor (p10). The editorial (also on p10) suggests that the planned development in these towns, and southern Oxfordshire generally, ‘is not down to natural population growth but to government plans to bolster the ‘Science Vale’.’
• Groups in the Vale of White Horse looking to hold an event in the run-up to Christmas (and beyond) are being encouraged to apply for grant funding from the district council.
• A wide range of seasonal gifts will be available at the King Alfred District Scouts and Explorers Christmas Market on Saturday 10 November. More details can be found here.
• The inspector examining part two of the Vale of White Horse District Council’s Local Plan has written to the council to explain that, with some modifications, the plan could meet the tests of soundness required for it to be adopted. Click here for more.
• Click here for the October edition of the West Ilsley News.
Swindon & district
• Click here for the latest news and information from Swindon Borough Council.
• The latest phase of the electrification project of the main like through Swindon has been completed and GWR has promised a new timetable with more trains. It’s to be hoped that GWR will have learnt from the timetabling fiascos of some other rail companies this year.
• A Labour councillor in Swindon has claimed that the Council’s decision to spend less money on maintaining trees is costing more in compensation payments that it is saving.
• Swindon Council claims that it’s well-prepared for the arrival of winter weather.
• Swindon’s Railway Village has been selected as one of Historic England’s special Heritage Action Zones, and only the second in the South West.
• Click here for details of the many volunteering opportunities at Great Western Hospital.
The song and the quiz
• The Song of the Week is back again. Today is 1 November, All Souls’ Day: so something from the soul end of the stick suggests itself. Here’s in my view the best song by that super-smooth purveyor of blue-eyed soul, Robert Palmer – Best of Both Worlds.
• Which leads to the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question refers to something I caught at the tail-end of a R4 programme about late payments by councils. The question is: How many invoices do councils in England and Wales receive each year? To give you an idea of the scale of the thing, I’ll accept an answer to the nearest 5,000,000. Last week’s question was: What was, or will be, the longest day of the year in the UK in 2018? The answer is 28 October, which lasted for 25 hours due to the clocks going back one hour. 22 June, which you may have immediately and instinctively assumed to be the answer, was the one with the most hours of daylight.
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