Local News Feb 9-15

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Including library funding update,  good causes celebrated, traffic and fire-service news, Police updates for February, council contacts, the continuing sagas of Hungerford’s Post Office, the White Hart in Hamstead Marshall, Newbury and Hungerford stations, crimes, court cases and commercial claims from the 1870s, a business survey from 2017, MPs at work, sweetheart deals, award nominations, the BBC website loses count, waste war bills, Swindon’s finest two hours, a funny valentine and a twinned toilet.

If you would like to add your thoughts to anything in this post, please use the ‘Comments’ box at the foot of the page. Once moderated, your comment will be visible to other users.

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 at M4 J16 in February.

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).

The above West Berkshire neighbourhood links each contain information about nominations for the Thames Valley Community Policing Awards.

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.  The matter was discussed in Full Council on Tuesday 7 February at which Option A (a single staff member per library working alongside volunteers) was passed, despite some opposition. It also appears that the Friends of Hungerford Library’s plan to convert the town’s library to a CIC will be investigated further although this was not formally agreed at the meeting. Click here to see the agenda and supporting documents. Further news about the progress of this as we get it. You can keep up to date at the FoHL’s Facebook page.

We also mentioned in past weeks that different legal advice provided by the Berkshire Association of Local Councils and West Berkshire Council was undermining WBC’s intention of raising aboput £150,000 (roughly £1 a head) from local councils to support the library service. To date, WBC expects the contributions to be between £120,000 and £135,000. “In order to mitigate the shortfall,” a Council statement reads, “we are considering further ideas to raise income from library activities and some minor reductions in opening hours across branches. It is reasonable to focus these reductions on branches where councils have not contributed.” This doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me. If even one local council in an area hasn’t contributed then the local library service will be curtailed and all the residents, including those from the councils which had contributed, will suffer. This makes it less likely that they’ll contribute in the future.

The issue of social care is back centre-stage in the national media (and in Penny Post). We mentioned last week that Surrey Council was planning a referendum to approve a 15% council tax rise for this reason. At the last minute, however, this was cancelled. Earlier this week in PMQs, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn read a text message which suggested that an eleventh-hour ‘sweetheart’ deal had been done with the government, an accusation which Theresa May dealt with by employing the standard politician’s technique of ignoring it. He asked her if similar deals were open to other councils. She ignored that as well (after all, it is called ‘Prime Minister’s Questions’ not ‘Prime Minister’s Answers’). Some years ago, the Conservative party did a similar sleight of hand for Wandsworth Council so that its residents paid no Poll Tax at all, the plan being to prove that those naughty Labour-run councils were wasting people’s money. Jeremy Corbyn’s implication is that something similar is going on here.

The latest news about the future of Hungerford’s Post Office  – received by Hungerford Town Council – is that this will ‘temporarily’ close on Friday 21 April, hopefully to re-open at some future date and venue. As this post shows, information from the Post Office HQ about its consultation process is given out in very small chunks. Rest assured that both Penny Post and the Hungerford Town Council are doing what we can to press for some answers. If you want to make sure a Post Office remains in Hungerford, I urge you to visit this post and use any of the communication methods suggested there to make your views known.

For news about some of the recent issues which are currently on Hungerford Town Council’s radar – ranging from the Freedom of the Town to zebra crossings and from business rates to the Great West Way – please click here.

One such issue is the proposal to build 119 homes to the south of the town. It was recently announced  at Town Council meeting earlier this week that a decision is unlikely before March. I don’t know whether the government’s recent white paper on housing will influence the planners’ thinking in any way. Media reaction varies from ‘a lot for rural areas to like’ (Inside Housing magazine) to ‘a damp squib’ (The New Statesman).

Debates about planning issues don’t show any sign of going away: here’s another, this time from Uffington where there are plans to build 44 homes on the edge of the village.

Still in Hungerford, a 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. If you run a business in or near the town, please use this to make your views known.

If anyone feels that the mid-19th century was in any way a kinder or gentler age than our own then a glance at a facsimile of the first edition of the Newbury Weekly News – issued free with this week’s paper to celebrate its 150th anniversary – might change your mind. The stories include the violent death of a woman in Ingleton who was being persecuted by some of the young men in the village who ‘ for the sake of fun would tell her all kind of tales and threaten to shoot her’; the case of William Herbet of Faccombe who was jailed for 21 days ‘for leaving the service of Mr Alfred Willis’; four men in Hungerford who were each fined the then colossal sum of £2 for ‘extinguishing one of the public lamps’; and John Philips of Lambourne (sic) who was fined 10/6 for ‘unlawfully moving a cow.’ There’s also a verbatim description of part of a court case in Newbury concerning damage done to equipment at a brush factory in North-Brook (sic) Street which verges on the surreal. The business advertisers include a ‘practical watch and clock maker’, a butcher offering ‘home-killed mild breakfast bacon,’ a removal firm with a fleet of horse-drawn vans of a quality ‘unsurpassed by any in England’ and a chemist promising cures for ‘sick headache, habitual costiveness and those diseases commonly caused bilious.’ Well worth the cover price of three half-pence, I’d say.

If you fancy running a café, click here to read about the opportunity to manage the proposed new food and beverage outlet in Newbury’s Victoria Park.

A report in the Newbury Weekly News this week about the continued dispute over the future of The White Hart in Hamstead Marshall. Plans to convert the pub to a private dwelling have been resubmitted, despite the building having been declared an ‘asset of community value,’ despite the pub having passed two viability tests (one performed by West Berks Council) and despite the belief of many villagers that a pub under the correct management and ownership would be both popular and profitable. The planning application can be viewed and commented upon by clicking here and then entering the reference 17/00103/FULD. Please make your views known by Wednesday 15 February.

Also in the Newbury Weekly News, a report on a Freedom of Information Act request made by the paper which reveals that Hampshire County Council will need to pay over £160,000 for the permits for certain of the residents to use the recycling facilities at Newbury. For more, see page 37 of this week’s edition.

Meanwhile, a message for new businesses in South Oxfordshire: Vale of the White Horse Council and business mentors Jennings have launched a competition with the winner receiving a range of free commercial services. Click here for more.

It was announced last year that Marlborough had become a ‘fair-trade town’. As part of this project, a tea farmer from Kenya will be visiting the town and addressing a public meeting in March.

Click here for the latest edition of the New Greyhound produced for Marlborough Town Council.

The government won another vote on the Brexit legislation in the Commons this week, an opposition amendment being defeated by 33 votes. One Conservative  who voted against the government was Devizes MP Claire Perry: you can read more here.

Also this week, Wantage MP Ed Vaizey was speaking at an event in Didcot on the same subject.

As reported in the Newbury Weekly News, Newbury MP Richard Benyon met NFU representatives discuss the challenges facing farmers after Brexit.

And on the subject of elected representatives, click here for more on the consultation for the ward boundary changes in the county.

Welcome news for users of Newbury Station which has obtained funds for a £6m upgrade through Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership and Great Western Railways. Hungerford Mayor Martin Crane, while congratulating TVBLEP on their work in securing the funding, has asked whether any funding (on a much smaller scale) can be secured from Network Rail to replace the ‘cattle truck’ shelter at the town’s station. (I think a cattle truck would be better than what’s currently there: at least a cattle truck is fairly large and has four walls and a roof.)

It’s Children’s Mental Health Week in West Berkshire – click here for more on the policies and initiatives the Council is adopting.

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.

While on the subject of increased charges, over 500 people have signed a petition regarding the hike in school bus fares between The Downs School and parts of Chieveley.

Yet more congratulations to Hungerford Town FC who brushed aside Truro City earlier this week (the BBC football website couldn’t count all the goals and gave the score as 4-0: it was actually 5-0). They currently sit fourth in the table, a staggering achievement for a club and town of this size. Therein lies the problem: as mentioned before, staying in the National League South requires more than points on the board – funds are also required to bring the ground’s facilities up the the requisite standards. You can click here to read more.

If you’ve used the Great Western Hospital, click here to vote for any staff member who has gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Residents of or visitors to Swindon have their chance here to influence plans for a town-centre bus corridor.

A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: Wiltshire Air Ambulance (thanks to all those who took part in their recent raffle); Newbury & District Cancer Care Trust (thanks to Newbury Building Society); homeless people in Newbury (thanks to Catherine Knight and the Newbury Weekly News); West Berkshire Foodbank (thanks to My Apple Juice); Cancer Research (thanks to Me Aitkin and regulars at The Swan in Thatcham); John O’Gaunt PSA and Prospect House (thanks to pupils at the school).

And so we come to the Song of the Week. Well, given the time of the year, it’s just got to be the Rodgers and Hart song, My Funny Valentine, hasn’t it? A number of people, including Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, have done fine versions but I’m going to suggest one I came across from Britain’s Got Talent back in 2013 with contestant Alice Fredenham giving a sultry and soul-drenched performance in front of a visibly moved panel of judges. If you feel like a mild Kleenex moment, it’s worth watching to the end to hear their verdicts.

And finally the Quiz Question of the Week comes round once more. This week I would like to direct you to this post for a slightly unusual question. Last week’s question related to a sporting event mentioned in the post and was: ‘What defeats link Arsenal and QPR?’ The sporting event referred to was the Swindon Town v Oxford United match last Sunday and the answer is that both these local teams won the League Cup by beating Arsenal (3-1 to Swindon in 1969) and QPR (3-0 to Oxford in 1986). I think it’ll be a long time before either of these repeats the feat: mind you, Swindon were in the third tier when they won in 1969, as they are now, so I suppose anything is possible.

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Brian Quinn


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