Local News Feb 23 – Mar 2

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Including the waste wars return, the River Lambourn also returns, tile rage in Marlborough, business rates, welcome news for families, glimmer of hope in Wash Common,  good causes celebrated, traffic and fire-service news, police updates for February, school bus petitions, down with referendums, rival snowdrops, a semi-detached muscle, the M4 derby, CATs with strings and a hymn for coach travellers.

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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.

Click on the following links for details of planned roadworks in West Berkshire, the Wantage area, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Swindon. Click here for news of lane closures on the A339 roadworks in Newbury over the next nine weeks or so. Roadworks at the Greenbridge Roundabout in Swindon have reached their ‘final stages’. Please click here for details of long-term roadworks that will be affecting the M4 between J12 and J13 from mid-February. Please click here for details of some exit slip closures on the weekend of 25 and 26 February at M4 J16 in February.

On the subject of roads, the A34 has often been in the news recently and for all the wrong reasons. If you have any questions about it you’d like to have the local BBC team put to a panel of experts, click here.

And if you thought Storm Doris was only affecting the north of England, think again…

Click on the following links for neighbourhood police updates in West Berkshire (February’s update here for Hungerford and Lambourn; here for Newbury Town Centre; here for Newbury Outer; here for Thatcham and area; here for Bucklebury & Downlands) & North Hampshire  and police advice for South Oxfordshire & Wiltshire (Marlborough‘s page here).

A number of the sections in Local News – and, indeed, other articles in Penny Post – encourage you to contact your district, town or parish council. Links are usually provided in these cases but for general reference here are some you might find useful. 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.

Further developments in the issue of the future of the libraries in the area, summarised here, including an encouraging and positive response from West Berkshire Council about the Hungerford Library being converted to a CIC. You can keep up to date at the FoHL’s Facebook page.

According to the Newbury Weekly News, there is a ‘glimmer of hope’ for Wash Common Library following discussions between local councillors and possible volunteers. According to the Newbury & Thatcham Observer, the Council needs to be ‘more helpful’ if this is going to succeed.

The latest news about the future of Hungerford’s Post Office  can be read here and includes a brief report of a meeting held between a Post Office representative and Hungerford Town Council on 13 February as well as the text of the latest email I received as part of my research into the procedures and processes for relocating a post office.

Newbury Weekly News devotes a whole page to the latest in the waste wars. I’m just rifling through my mental thesaurus and think that ‘fiasco’ is the best word to describe this (the waste wars, not the article). The piece covers several issues that have been rumbling on for months and which have been reported in NWN, in Penny Post and elsewhere. These include a dispute over the application to expand the Padworth site; a dispute over who is responsible for the delay in issuing the permits for Hampshire residents; and a dispute over whether or not fly tipping has increased since hostilities began last summer. The sensible solution seems to be for waste and recycling services to be operated and funded nationally.

Still in Hungerford, a final reminder here about a brief but important message from the Hungerford Chamber of Commerce. This includes a link to an on-line survey which takes about five minutes to complete. Many businesses in the area have completed this: if you haven’t and if you run a business in or near the town, please use this to make your views known. Note that you don’t have to be based in Hungerford to express your views or join the Chamber.

You may have seen the letter from Gerry Heaton of Hungerford Primary School explaining the reasons for his decision to take early retirement. There are other head teachers who feel the same way, as this story from Reading proves.

Click here for news about some of the recent issues which are currently in the in-tray at Hungerford Town Council: these range from the Freedom of the Town to zebra crossings and from business rates to the Great West Way. The March update will be published next week and publicised in the March Penny Post Hungerford (you can see last month’s by clicking here.)

There will be changes (mainly increases) to the business rates from 1 April. Anyone in West Berkshire who needs more information or wants to discuss aspects of their own company’s assessment should contact Jane Knight or Claire Stewart at West Berkshire Council. See also this page of WBC’s website. There have been claims from across the country that the ways these changes are expressed is misleading – click here for a bit more on this issue.

The upper parts of the River Lambourn continue to ooze back to life, causing delight for the ducks, confusion for our cats and a certain amount of flapping and hissing when the two meet.

As many of you know, Marlborough is twinned with Gunjur in The Gambia, a normally peaceful country that recenly has experienced political upheaval. Click here to read a report of a meeting between the new president and a delegation from the town.

And still in Marlborough, news here from Marlborough News Online about a heated council debate on the subject of the choice of tiles in the George Lane public toilets.

And from the same town and the same source, a story here highlighting the problems of Community Asset Transfers (CATs), the increasingly common process by which one council transfers to another council or body a building or service which it is unwilling or unable to continue to manage or provide itself. As appears to be the case here, the transfer often comes with strings attached which can risk making the asset more of a liability. I’m only guessing but I suspect that, because it was for a long time never envisaged that these ‘assets’ would be transferred, less care was taken than might have been to ensure that all the paperwork concerning the rights and duties of ownership was up to date. I recently heard of one local council in this area whose plans to outsource a service allegedly hit the buffers when it transpired it was unclear who owned the building. Many of the dealings between cash-strapped local councils and the volunteer groups hoping to take over services such as libraries have been characterised by a paucity of information about the operational details and obligations. I suppose it’s possible that in some instances the councils simply don’t know.

While I’m up on my soapbox, it seems extraordinary that so much energy and ink is still being expended on debating whether the EU referendum result is binding, whether it should be held again and whether or not parliament needs to approve the Brexit terms. I voted to stay, despite the completely inept campaign run by the remainers, Jeremy Corbyn in particular. Both sides told some truly startling lies and I don’t think any politician or expert body emerged with any credit. (I tried to summarise the situation in early July in ten sentences but appreciate things have moved on since then.)  The government could have solved a number of the subsequent legal problems by legislating in advance to make the result legally binding, which would also have allowed time to agree the level of parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations for leaving. The fact that this didn’t happen suggests that very few politicians though the vote would go the way it did. To suggest, as some are doing, that the vote should be re-run is as utterly absurd as suggesting that a football match should be replayed because the goalkeeper on the losing team had a hangover the first time round. Referendums are in any case a huge cop-out on the part of a government and should be made illegal. The last one was only really a desperate and misjudged gamble to settle an internal Tory party dispute and try to outflank UKIP. We elect governments to make decisions for us. If a government is really unable to decide about something then the ruling party should be made to pay for the costs of the referendum out of its own pocket. This one having happened, however, we’ve just got to get on with leaving. We were only ever partly in the EU anyway, with our own currency and border controls, our driving on the left, our miles and pints and our cordon sanitaire of the English Channel. The UK was like a sulky teenager at a wedding: mooching about on the fringes, sneering at the other guests, grumbling about having to contribute to a whip round and generally behaving as if the whole thing was a ghastly and pointless waste of time and money, but being sure to grab as much cake and champagne as possible before being sick in the flower bed. We are not, in short, a guest who will be much missed.

Click here for details of an event on Wednesday 1 March showcasing all that has taken place during the year-long Swindon 175 exhibition.

Good news for leisure-centre users in Vale of the White Horse and South Oxfordshire with news here that extra money has been pledged by the councils to support and improve these services.

Good news also for families with young children in the Wantage and Grove area in the form of £20,000-worth of funding from Wantage and Oxfordshire Councils.

And yet more good news for families, this time in Newbury: a new play area in St George’s Avenue is to opened at 10am on Saturday 4 March by Newbury Mayor Julian Swift-Hook and Newbury MP Richard Benyon.

Wantage Town Council has set up a health sub-committee in response to the temporary closure of Wantage Community Hospital and the extensive changes that are planned for NHS services in the area. You can learn more, and take part in a survey if you wish, by clicking here.

If you like snowdrops, the ones at Welford Park have long been famous (and now’s the time to see them): however, it seems that a rival display might be emerging

Perhaps you’ve always fancied the idea of  running a café. If so, click here to read about the opportunity to manage the proposed new food and beverage outlet in Newbury’s Victoria Park.

Nearly 600 people have signed a petition regarding the hike in school bus fares between The Downs School and parts of Chieveley. There is now a similar campaign in Aldermaston.

Well, it couldn’t last forever – last Saturday, Hungerford Town FC lost in the league for the first time since early November: Ebbsfleet United (population 29,474, average attendance 1,161) 1, Hungerford Town (population 5,767, average attendance 280) 0. Forget about the Old Firm match, El Classico, the North London, Manchester or Merseyside derbies, Oxford v Swindon or any of the other titanic football rivalries – this weekend sees The Big One, the M4 derby with table-topping Maidenhead United (population 63,580, average attendance 828). Kick off 3pm, tickets cost £12 for adults and £0 for under 16s. Hungerford currently sit fifth in the table, still in the play-off zone:  however, as mentioned before, staying in the National League South requires more than points on the board as funds are also required to bring the ground’s facilities up the the requisite standards. You can click here to read more. In other news, manager Bobby Wilkinson has recently signed a two-year contract extension.

Should Swindon have a casino? – click here for more.

A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: The Rosemary Appeal (thanks to Jones Robinson); the Pink Ribbon Foundation (thanks to the Newbury Building Society); Brighter Futures (thanks to Marlborough Bowls Club); Pensioners in Wantage and Grove (thanks to the Lions’ Club); Walnut Close Care Home (thanks to Waitrose)

And time once again for the Song of the Week. I heard an interview a few days ago with Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy (in fact, he is The Divine Comedy), one of our more intelligent, witty and erudite songwriters. There’s so much of his stuff to choose from but I’m going to go for the bouncing silliness of National Express, probably the only song written about, or even mentioning, this coach company. Don’t be fooled by the first 35 seconds of the video which seems to be from a 1980s TV play: all will be revealed…

And finally, the Quiz Question of the Week looms up once more. This week’s comes from the most recent of the regular quizzes held at The Wheatsheaf in Chilton Foiliat (next one is on 21 March): thanks once again to local conundrum king Nic Coome for supplying it. Which is the only muscle in the human body that is only attached at one end? Last week’s question was: What links Wednesbury, St Albans and Newbury (as well as a depressingly large number of places in North-eastern France and Flanders)? The answer is that they were all the site of two or more battles. Last week, being the generous cove that I am, there was a bonus question in which I asked what the connection was between Nick Ball’s squirmingly amusing tales of social ineptitude and the song of the week (Pink Floyd’s Time). The answer, of course, is ‘Quiet Desperation’, a phrase used as the title of Nick’s series and which also appears in the song. Before Floyd’s lawyers start reaching for the Wantage phone directory, they might like to remember that the phrase wasn’t coined by Roger Waters but by Henry David Thoreau: ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.’ I don’t quite know what he was driving at but it sounds as if it means something, which is often just as good as actually doing so.

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Brian Quinn

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Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale