Local News May 19 – 26

Local News

Including continuing library confusions, good planning news (and bad), good volunteering news (and bad), TTIP, park benches, David Rendel’s brief and unwitting career as an estate agent, electric cars, Lyme disease, defibrillators, two songs for the price of one and the Vatican City’s pope density.

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Click on the following links for details of planned roadworks in West Berkshire, the Wantage area, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Swindon.

Click on the following links for neighbourhood police updates in West Berkshire (May update here for Hungerford and Lambourn; here for Newbury; here for Newbury Outer; here for Thatcham and area; here for Bucklebury & Downlands) & North Hampshire  and police advice for South Oxfordshire & Wiltshire. See also here for specific advice on what’s known as courier fraud.

The fate of the local libraries  remains on the agenda with news  that less transitional funding may be available than was thought due to the costs of a needs assessment. This may also affect other libraries in the area as well. There also still seems, several months on, to be considerable doubt about the true costs of running these facilities. The latest row centres on whether or not West Berkshire Council should reveal the legal advice it received concerning its initial decision to close all but one of the libraries. Their reason for not doing so, according to an article in this week’s Newbury Weekly News, is that to do so might prejudice any future legal challenge it may face. This sub judice defence is heard every day of the week from politicians, companies, football clubs, government departments – in fact from just about anyone who has found themselves painted into some kind of corner. I’m not a lawyer so can’t say how valid this argument is in this case. What it does suggest, though, is that the Council expects a legal challenge and so doesn’t believe that their decisions hitherto have been correct. Terms like ‘cover up’ are now being freely used. As I suspected a few months ago, the council cuts and, some might argue, the way in which the consequences have been handled, have created an atmosphere that is confrontational and which at times verges on the poisonous. You can keep up to date with events at the Hungerford and Lambourn libraries through their ‘Friends of…’ pages.

There is similar uncertainty surrounding Thatcham Library with one option being that it move to a self-service model. You can complete a survey on the subject here. If you want to find out more about volunteering and to keep up to date with developments, please email enquiries@thatchamtowncouncil.gov.uk.

The library cuts have grabbed much of the headlines: but there are other service such as public transport which are at least as important. We must not forget that further cuts will take place over the next two financial years so expect further service losses in these and other areas. The time to prepare for these is now. That includes, I suggest, the council making information available about the true costs and issues of running these services rather sooner than it has done this time round. I’ve already made this point before and make no excuse for doing so again.

Speaking about volunteering (as I was two paragraphs ago), an imaginative and popular scheme has been running in Wiltshire whereby those who undertake community activities such as litter picking and maintaining school gardens are rewarded with vouchers that can be used in the county’s leisure centres. Sadly, Wiltshire Council has decided not to recognise these vouchers after 1 June. As well as undermining the role of volunteers (an activity which is now more important than ever) it will also discourage the use of leisure centres. All seems a bit strange, negative and pointless to me.

There has been some debate as to whether West Berkshire and Reading Borough Councils’ challenge to the government over the regulations concerning the contributions developers must make to the cost of affordable housing. The previous judgment in their favour has recently been overturned by the Court of Appeal. You can read West Berkshire Council’s view of the matter here.

Congratulations to West Berkshire Council: its Turnaround Families Programme has achieved the highest percentage level of success in the country.

If you want to find out more about electricand plug-in hybrid cars (EVs and PHEVs), this year’s EV-Event will take place in Northbrook Street, Newbury on Saturday 28 May.

We wrote last week about the little-known (now perhaps slightly better-known) but potentially very serious Lyme Disease. The most exciting this that happened here last night was removing a tick from behind the right ear of one of our cats and bagging it up to be posted off to the lab. You can read more here in an article we posted last year but which is still just as relevant.

Former local MP David Rendel died this week. I never me him but by all accounts he seemed to have been a kind and honourable man. His name always reminds me of a story I heard about 10 years ago. In May 1993, an elderly woman burst into the East Garston shop in a bit of a state. ‘What’s going on in the village?’ she asked Chris, the owner. Nothing, as far as he knew. ‘Half the houses are up for sale. Is there a motorway coming through here? We’ve been blighted!’ He assured her that nothing of the kind was planned. ‘And they’re all with a new estate agents – I’ve never even heard of them,’ she added, as if that were the worst part of the whole business. Chris was mystified. “David Rendel,” she explained. “There are boards for them everywhere!’ He explained the difference between candidates’ election signs and estate agents’ boards. She went on her way, placated though perhaps not inclined to vote Lib Dem. The majority of people did, however, and David Rendel held the seat for the next 12 years.

See the front page of the Hungerford edition of the Newbury Weekly News this week for how a defibrillator saved the life of local resident Stephen Corp a few days ago. More and more are being installed in the area: clearly they serve a useful purpose

A letter in the Newbury Weekly News this week from Ms Childs about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the secretive and undemocratic trade deal between the US and the EU (or, as it could be described, the declaration of intent by US corporations to behave exactly as they choose) and rightly congratulates the newspaper for highlighting it. The issue has also been mentioned several times in this column, most recently a few weeks ago, accompanied with links to articles and online petitions. Since the leak of documents by Greenpeace earlier this month its chances of ratification seem slimmer, or so we should all hope. It has been held up by Brexit campaigners as being an example of the kind of thing that the EU permits to take place. Although it doesn’t seem that the EU has acquitted itself particularly well in the negotiations, I don’t see that the UK on its own would be able to do any better, faced with the might of the US government and, in particular, the rapaciousness of its large corporations. You can click here to read the article in The Independent to which Ms Childs referred. I have only one mild criticism of her letter: she said that The Independent and the Newbury Weekly News  were ‘good and informative papers, always in my shopping basket.’ This would be an old copy of the former, then, as it’s been online-only since last month. Hopefully the latter won’t be following suit.

A reminder about the music-themed youth club and music tuition at the Hungerford Youth Club on Wednesdays between 3.15pm and 8pm. Contact Hogan Music for more details and to book tuition.

And another reminder, this time if you have anything that might be of use to the forthcoming exhibition on the the history of the Lambourn Valley Railway which will be taking place in Lambourn later this summer. Click here for more.

Big plans afoot at The Wheatsheaf in Chilton Foiliat which has recently had plans approved for an extension which will include an enlarged restaurant, an art gallery and a music venue to add to their current facilities. The development plan had been ‘strongly supported’ by the parish council.

A less happy story involving planning and property from Wantage, where M&A Electricals have been ‘left in limbo’ by what can only be described as an unfortunate series of events. Good luck to them in getting matters resolved.

A request here by West Berkshire Fire & Rescue Service on how they should measure their response times. Such questions might seem spurious but these days virtually every service is graded and ranked and classified using criteria that aren’t always clear and are sometimes outdated. These results are often then used as political or financial justifications for changes. This is your chance to improve this, for this area of life at least.

The new disabled play equipment has been installed in Victoria Park and is now operationalk.

Congratulations to Swindon student Lucy Walker, winner of the recent  FSE Design national photography competition.

Next time you have a sit down in Victoria Park, check the name on the bench. One was recently installed there in memory of John Albert Osborne who died earlier this year and sponsored by his family. If you’d like to find out more about this for someone you knew, contact the Newbury Council Community Services Team on 01635 35486 or towncouncil@newbury.gov.uk

Please click here for more information on the various reactions to the cuts in West Berkshire, including links to some of the organisations which have been set up to oppose or mitigate these.

Newbury Town Council in association with the Greenham Common Trust welcomes Grant Aid applications for projects that will provide benefit to the community. Applications need to me made by 20 May.

A number of good causes have received valuable financial support this week, including: various local charities (thanks to the Hungerford Rotary Club); Macmillan Nurses (thanks to the Fox & Hounds in Tadley); various breast cancer charities (thanks to all those who took part in Moonwalk); Paige Cullum of Thatcham (thanks to family and friends). Congratulations also to all those who were nominated in the recent Thatcham Civic Awards.

The Song of the Week this week comes from the enigmatic and eccentric – and, sadly, late – bon vivant Kevin Ayers. Several times in his career major commercial success came knocking at his door: each time he decided instead to slip out the window and escape, normally to the south of France, there to hole up, drink wine and write songs that suited his tastes rather than those of the record company bosses. This seems to me an enviable and entirely commendable approach to life. In 1974, his ambitions and those of his label briefly co-incided: the result was Confessions of Doctor Dream. As far as I’m concerned the album is filled with stand-out tracks but I’m going for Didn’t Feel Lonely Til I Thought of You, mainly because of Ollie Halsall’s blistering guitar solo. (You also get See You Later tacked on the front, 30 seconds of jovial, whimsical acoustic musing.)

And so the Quiz Question of the Week comes round once more. Last week’s was Liechtenstein and Uzbekistan are the only two countries in the world that are – what? The answer is that they’re the only two countries in the world that are double landlocked (entirely surrounded by countries that are themselves landlocked). Thanks to Mr Jones for that one. This week’s comes from an old episode of QI, as good a source of trivia as one is likely to find: How many popes are there per square km in the Vatican City? (There are two possible answers to this). Happy pope counting.

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Brian Quinn

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