Local News July 13-20

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Including neighbourhood plans,  good causes celebrated, roadworks, cyber security, council contacts, community transport, two developments in Newbury, grants available, skills training in Wiltshire and Swindon, residential v commercial property, to PR or not to PR, a pint-shattering six in Hampshire, a cautionary legal tale about neighbourhood plans, 401 votes, Tesco’s bags and crop circles.

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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.

Roadworks updates. Click on the links for news regarding West Berkshire, the Wantage area, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Swindon.

• Click here for information on forthcoming closures on closures, partial closures and delays on the A34; and here for the same on the M4.

• Due to electrification work, the main railway line between Swindon and Chippenham will be closed from Friday 7 July to Sunday 16 July. The work is currently on schedule.

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.

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.

• If you live or work in or visit Hungerford and missed the July Penny Post Hungerford, you can view a copy by clicking here. This includes news from the High Street, a report on the Town Council’s activities, some thoughts on the wider implications of judicial reviews, gardening tips, the book of the month, the answers to the June quiz and the questions for the July one. If you currently don’t receive Penny Post Hungerford but would like to in the future, please email penny@pennypost.org.uk.

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

• Next time you are in Tesco and are charged 5p for a carrier bag, this is one of the causes in Hungerford that the money could be going to.

• West Berkshire Council in conjunction with EnterpriseRed is offering a free cyber-security workshop from 9am to 12.30pm on Monday 24 July – click here for details.

• Many people will be all too aware that rural bus services have been reduced recently due to funding cuts imposed by the government. A number of community minibus and car schemes do, however, exist to provide transport services for – but no 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 if you would like to help Hungerford Town Band replace some of its (often quite elderly) instruments.

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

• Still in Marlborough, a warning here for anyone planning to go out and make crop circles.

• And speaking of crop circles, in the late ’80s when these things started appearing, mainly in this part of the world, a good number of people believed or wanted to believe that they were caused by aliens. Someone I worked had a friend near Marlborough who was a farmer one of whose fields had been decorated in this way. A Japanese film crew turned up and set up their equipment in a few places round the field, flattening a few square metres of corn on each occasion, before shooting several reels of film to sell this extra-terrestrial version of events back home. At the end, the director turned to the farmer (we’ll call him Tim because I think that was his name). “How much damage cost?” he asked. Tim had been giving this matter some thought, trying to calculate how much of the corn the circles had now made unharvestable. “I think,” he said, obviously disinclined to play the cost down if it would deter others, “about five hundred pounds.” The director nodded, reached into his pocket, produced a roll of bank notes and peeled off twenty-five twenty-pound notes. Of course – and you’ve seen this coming – the director meant “how much damage did we do taking the pictures?” Maybe crop circles are not such a bad deal for farmers after all…

• Tickets are now on sale for Marlborough Litfest which runs from 28 Sept to 1 Oct.

• Up to £4m of free skills training is available for businesses in Wiltshire and Swindonclick here for more.

• West Berkshire Council has once again announced a series of its popular Bikeability cycling classes for children over the summer.

• And another council initiative: Brush 4 Life, aimed at encouraging good oral hygiene habits amongst the under 5s.

• If you or anyone in your family is, or thinks they are, a poet, then click here for more on the 2017 Thatcham Festival Poetry Competition.

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

• Click here for news of a recent event organised by Heartstart Thatcham to train people (currently over 1,000) in the use of defibrillators and other life-saving techniques.

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

• An article in this week’s Newbury Weekly News (page 4) discusses Newbury MP Richard Benyon’s view that the changes to permitted development rights – which  in some circumstances allow developers to change  building use from commercial to residential without obtaining planning permission – have, in Newbury’s case, ‘gone too far’. He may well be right. The main issue this seems to raise is that it rather undermines the ability of the local authority to make any coherent plans for residential and commercial development. To a certain extent that’s already been eroded as many more properties are now being built by private companies than was the case when the planning system was developed at the start of the last century but planning needs to be done on a long- not a short-term basis. Changing an empty office block into flats can seem like an attractive solution to an immediate problem but, as Mr Benyon points out, these homes can be some way from the necessary schools, shops and other amenities which will lead to other problems. Whether housing and commercial development should be zoned or mixed is in each case a separate issue and one best taken by the local planning experts and the consultation process.

• And in the same paper (page 6), news of the likely approval of two developments in Newbury, a 64-bed care home off Monks Lane and a 71-house development in Greenham.

Click here for information on the appeal from Mary Hare School which is aiming to raise £6m for a new primary school by 2020.

• Following the positive referendum result, West Berkshire Council has adopted the Stratfield Mortimer Neighbourhood Development Plan. You can read more – and see the plan – by clicking here.

• Any parish or town council considering a neighbourhood plan may like to click here to see one of the obstacles these can face, in this case a judicial review brought by a local resident who claimed that amendments concerning a particular site made by the Vale of the White Horse Council to the Farringdon Neighbourhood Plan should be struck out. Despite the fact that the judge felt that ‘one of the claimant’s complaints was well founded’, the High Court upheld the Council’s position. I’m not sure what costs were involved in this nor who has to pay for what but it does suggest that for any neighbourhood plan money might need to be set aside for this contingency.

• An unusual offer, from the Lambourn Festival Committee, which has been given some outdoor games including hooplah, deck quoits and wooden nine pins, which can be loaned to any community group holding a fund raising event. Click here for more.

• Still in Lambourn, click here to download entry forms for the various competitions at the Lambourn Carnival on Sunday 26 August.

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

Allotments are currently available in Wantage – click here for details.

• Grants of up to £75,000 are available from the Vale of the White Horse Council to boost the rural economy in Oxfordshire.

• In the letters’ section of the Newbury Weekly News, one correspondent takes issue with Newbury MP Richard Benyon’s assertion that proportional representation is not fair ‘as it gives enormous power to small parties.’ The letter goes on to point out, in the politest possible way, that this statement is both self-interested and wrong. Of  the many misfortunes visited upon us by the last election (aside from its £140m cost), probably the worst is that national policy  is now at the mercy of a sectarian party for which only the people of Northern Ireland were able to vote. The DUP got 292,000 votes in 2027 (and I doubt it would have been much more were they to have fielded 650 candidates), 36% of the vote but 56% of the NI seats. This contrasts with the Lib Dems (2,372,000), the Greens (525,000) and UKIP (594,000). These three parties, despite getting between them 12 times as many votes as the DUP, won only 13 seats (12 Lib Dem, 1 Green) to the DUP’s 10, hardly ‘fair’ by any use of the term. If this isn’t giving ‘enormous power to small parties’ – or rather to one small party at the expense of the other ones – then I don’t know what is. Whatever one may think of Lib Dem, Green or UKIP policies, the parties have national aspirations and fought national campaigns on national issues.

As a result of this absurd system, the vast majority of votes are wasted, either ‘positively’ (because one’s preferred party has an overwhelming majority in that seat) or ‘negatively’ (because one’s preferred party has no chance of winning it), neither of which gives people in many seats an incentive, or even a reason, to vote at all. As the answer to last week’s Quiz of the Week suggests (see foot of post) the only voters parties are really interested in are those in perhaps 100 marginal seats, something which risks skewing manifestos in favour of policies which will appeal to them. Above all, any arrangement that permits a prime minister to call an election when she wants for purely political motives (in an effort to solve a problem caused by the EU referendum, which was also called to resolve an internal dispute) and then, when the whole thing has gone wrong, to enter into a desperate and potentially expensive and peace-endangering deal with a provincial, religiously-based party which attracted less than 0.9% of the national vote and which only offered candidates in 3% of the available seats, is in urgent need of reform.

• Anyone who has any complaints about the train services in this part of the country should give thanks that they don’t have to put up with Southern Rail…

• I’m surprised this kind of damage doesn’t happen more often at cricket matches, particularly in limited-overs matches when there are so many sixes…

• In fact, it does

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: PALS (thanks to customers at Sainsbury’s in Newbury); It’s My Life (thanks to the Picnic in the Park in Newbury); Eight Bells for Mental Health (thanks to shoppers in Newbury); Christian Aid (thanks to house-to-house envelope collections in Newbury); ELSA (thanks to the Ashford Hill Primary School’s fete).

• The  Song of the Week swings round in front of us once more. You really should click on Oh Lori by the Alessi Brothers, if only to be astounded that they are brothers and not sisters (you’ll see what I mean when they start singing). If you like summery jazzy pop then I think this will float your boat, as it floats mine.

• And so we come to the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s sportingly topical question is: What lasted 11 hours and five minutes in 2010? Last month’s question was: How many extra votes would the Conservatives have needed in the eight most marginal constituencies in which they lost to have retained its majority? The Conservatives would have needed eight more seats to achieve a majority and in the eight seats that they lost by the smallest margins the combined majority was 786. If half these people (393) had voted Conservative and the votes redistributed eight dead heats would have resulted: so, add on eight more votes, one for each seat, and we arrive at our answer – 401, about the adult population of Great Shefford. See above (‘proportional representation’) for why this issue is a bit more serious than its presence in this trivia-inclined paragraph might suggest.

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Brian Quinn

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