Local News May 25-June 1

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Including reflections on town, parish and neighbourhood plans, good causes celebrated, libraries volunteers needed, Ramsbury Week, local hustings, the hour-long election truce, energy efficiency, S106s, grant deadlines, consultations, more CATs, Chaddleworth’s signs, museum awards, police news, roadworks, the £100m match, a sloth update and a bit of Manchester’s Morrissey.

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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. There will be road closures in and around Lambourn on Good Friday due to the Lambourn Open Day. Click here for information on forthcoming closures on the A34. There will be resurfacing work in Lancaster Square and Breach Square in Hungerford which may continue until the weekend.

Still in Hungerford, Station Road will be closed from 10pm on Thursday 25 May to 6am Friday 26 May for level-crossing repairs.

Please click here for details of long-term roadworks on the M4 between J13 and J14 from early May to late July which will result in some overnight weekend lane closures and, in July, some complete motorway closures.

Please click here for news of railway work which will affect some services through Swindon in late May and early June.

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.

West Berkshire Council is looking for volunteers to help run its ‘At Home’ library service.

From the same council, click here for details of a consultation about minerals and waste development in the area.

And another consultation, this time from the Downland Practice in Chieveley about the proposed plans for a seven-days-a-week service.

The fund-raising Ramsbury Week draws to a close, ending on 29 May. Click here for more information.

There’s a Family Day in Victoria Park on Saturday 27 May – click here for more.

West Berkshire Council and The Carbon Trust have joined forces to help businesses become more energy-efficient. One event arising from this is a workshop at the council offices on Wednesday 31 May.

Residents of Brightwalton can click here to see the May issue of Brickleton News, including an update on the village’s parish plan: which leads on to…

Another thing to cross off my bucket list: I made it onto the front page of the Newbury Weekly News (Hungerford edition): that’s me in the photo with the purple shirt taking notes at the meeting about Hungerford’s proposed neighbourhood plan. If I’d known John Garvey was going to take a photo with me in it I’d have brushed my hair properly.

The meeting was interesting and highlighted a number of issues about the way governance and decision-making works in this country. These thoughts apply to the Hungerford meeting but as a number of communities (including Newbury) in the area are considering adopting a plan and so will be relevant to them as well (ie, if you don’t live in Hungerford you might still like to read the next few paragraphs.)

To illustrate one point, think back for a moment many hundreds of years (if you see what I mean) to when kings and magnates were making grants of land and various rights (such as fishing and holding markets) to local towns, Hungerford included. It was clear that what powerful people could give they could also take away and for that reason organisations like the Town and Manor came into being partly to protect and if possible increase these rights with the help of  eye-catching public ceremonies that emphasised the town’s role in governing its own affairs. The risk of that powers that have been given being taken away is in some ways greater now than in the middle ages. Back then, a right would, having been granted to a town, eventually become firmly established by custom and practice and so to rescind would be increasingly hard. Now, common law is less important. Statute law over-rides everything. If a government has a large enough majority it could decree that all Sagittarians had to wear a hat on Thursdays or that Hungerford would henceforth be ruled from the Shetland Islands. If it got the royal assent and if it were tested in the courts, that would be that.

The main selling point of neighbourhood plans is that they give the local council more of a say in the development, growth, regeneration and conservation of the area. The first of these points is the one with which most plans seem to be concerned: but, as was expressed at the meeting, this is subject to and must accord with national policy and, as a result, West Berkshire’s policy. If the national housing requirements change (ie increase, as all parties agree is necessary) and West Berkshire’s allocation is increased accordingly then any policy in any individual town or neightbourhood plan will be ignored. This taking away of what has been given can happen at any time. It happened in 2014 when the planning aspects of any town plan (such as Hungerford has just produced) were declared void. It will probably happen after the forthcoming election. In West Berkshire, it will probably also happen in 2019 when the council completes its own updated local plan.

There’s also the cost. The ranges quoted at the meeting – £8,000 to £63,000 – are serious for a council of Hungerford’s size, although grants are available. It can also take time, two years being suggested as a minimum.

West Berkshire’s Planning and Transport Manager, Brian Little, and the Senior Planning Officer, Laila Bassett, addressed the meeting to give an introduction to neighbourhood plans. No one could accuse them of painting an over-optimistic picture of the work and costs involved and the likely permanency of the results. All councils have a statutory duty under the 2011 Localism Act to provide specified assistance to councils wishing to adopt a plan but do not pro-actively promote these. (West Berkshire Council’s Service Level Agreement shows what it is able to do to assist parish and town councils in this process.)

On the positive side, producing a plan can have great benefits. Much of work on what would become Hungerford’s plan has already been done for the town plan in 2013. They are useful for organisations applying for grants to be able to mention that their aims are consistent with an adopted plan and this gives the donors greater comfort. They enable local councils to retain 25% of Community Infrastructure Levies. They also provide useful guidelines for the town council and other organisations to follow when assessing their priorities. Perhaps above all, they engender a sense of co-operative community spirit. The 2013 Hungerford town plan covers ten separate areas, including tourism, transport and sport, of which planning is only one. Having people decide on what the town wants and, in the process, perhaps creating voluntary groups to help promote and foster these, is a good thing. For all kinds of reasons, not all of what is set out can be accomplished: but to agree on what it is you are trying to do is a vital first step.

If the meeting highlighted both the advantages and the drawbacks of adopting a plan then this is perhaps no bad thing. A show of hands at the end suggested that most people were undecided. The Mayor, Keith Knight, said that the council would look into the matter in more detail over the next couple of months (including talking further to other communities which are at various points in this process) and arrange another meeting and questionnaire soon afterwards. Keep your eye on Penny Post for more information.

The following websites provide more information on neighbourhood plans: My Community; Forum for Neighbourhood Planning; Planning Aid; Locality; The Department for Communities and Local Government; and the appropriate District Council site – West BerkshireVale of the White Horse, Wiltshire, Hampshire or Swindon as the case may be.

Residents of Stratfield Mortimer will be asked to vote in a referendum on 22 June to decide if they wish to adopt their proposed neighbourhood plan.

On a related matter, disputes often seem to be festering between developers, local residents and local councils over the financial deals known as S106s by which developers agree to create or fund particular infrastructure or service improvements (such as busses, playgrounds or culverts) as a quid pro quo for receiving the approval. Three questions that I don’t know the answer to and I wonder if anyone else does: one, does this money have to be separately accounted for by councils and only spent on the projects agreed at the time? Two, what is the success rate at collecting such payments or ensuring such work is done? Three, do the town or parish councils where the development is situated have any say in how the money is spent? On the last one, any such local control, even of part of the funds, built into a neighbourhood plan would surely be beneficial. West Berkshire Council on its own admission is unable currently unable to investigate and prosecute all planning breaches. Does this include issues of non-payment or non-compliance by developers? Just such a dispute is taking place in Grove at the moment.

Congratulations to the community charity Marlborough LINK which celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this month.

Still in Marlborough, another CAT (Community Asset Transfer) is now curled up in its new basket, the Town Council having taken over the responsibility for the Youth Centre from Wiltshire Council.

A reminder that community groups in East Garston have until 30 June to apply for grants of us to £500 – click here for more.

And click here for details of grants available from Newbury Town Council.

Congratulations also to all those who took part in the recent Talent Jamboree at John O’Gaunt School.

And while we’re doffing our caps, step forward Chaddleworth Parish Council Chairman Graeme Murphy who appears to emerged victorious in a long-running sparring match with West Berkshire Council about installing some brown signs to direct people to The Ibex. I went there earlier this week and, as usual when I visit Cheddleworth (or Brightwalton), I got hopelessly lost. I have the suspicion that every so often a giant reaches down and moves all the roads around. Much the same thing seems to happen in Inkpen. Is it just me? So, more signs rather than fewer would be A Good Thing. Local pubs are facing a hard enough time at the moment as it is. I’d add that for any of you walkers and ramblers out there, The Ibex now also has a small shop selling sweet and savoury snacks and cold drinks – worth a detour.

Another pub featuring a shop is The Wheatsheaf in Chilton Foliat – clieck here for more on Coccobello.

Click here for a guide to the candidates standing in every constituency in next month’s general election.

The letters pages of the Newbury Weekly News contains, as expected, correspondence on a range of election-related issues including The Lib Dem’s stance on a second referendum, Richard Benyon’s voting record, the safeness or otherwise of the Newbury seat, the so-called ‘dementia tax’ and the general rottenness of the entire political system.

An excellent initiative – promoted by the husband of murdered MP Jo Cox – took place in Newbury last Sunday, with the five Newbury candidates spending an hour addressing the public and discussing among themselves any subject they wished, except politics. You can read more on page 4 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News.

Back to the hustings: if you want to hear the Newbury candidates speak and answer questions, two events for your diary are at Thatcham Baptist Church on Tuesday 30 May (7.15pm for 7.45) and Hungerford Town Hall on Thursday 1 June (6.45pm for 7.30pm).

Voters in Wantage can hear what their candidates have to say at Old Mill Hall in Grove on Thursday 1 June (7.15pm for 7.30pm).

And still in Wantage and on a less prosaic theme, there will a number of Peter Pan-related events in the town over half term.

Hungerford RFC has re-seeded all three of its pitches and is asking everyone to Keep off the Grass for the next two months.

Still with ball games, Reading are playing Huddersfield on Bank Holiday Monday to decide the final place in next season’s Premier League. Lots of figures are mentioned as to what game is worth to the winners, most of them in excess of £100m. This seems like an eye-watering sum; and it is; but most of the money vanishes almost at once into the pockets of the players the clubs feel they need to sign as well as their salivating agents.  It’s a good job football is such a great game because there are a number of things awfully wrong with the way it’s run.

If you like the Wantage and Downland Museum, the West Berkshire Museum – or indeed any museum – you can vote for it in the 2017 Family-friendly Museum Award – click here for more. You have until Friday 2 June.

I wrote about sloths last week and the (to me) remarkable fact that they can hold their breath underwater for 40 minutes, about twice as long as dolphins. It’s been pointed out to me that this is because they have very slow metabolisms. Some time in July 2014 it was national sloth week so there are some excellent facts to get stuck into here to ensure that you are fully sloth-aware.

A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: the British Heart Foundation (thanks to Clare James, Llinos Wade, Helen Layton and Linda Rae Winter); St Maicael’s Hospice in Basingstoke (thanks to the charity football match in memory of Barrie Hiscock); Tadley and District Citizens Advice (thanks to AWE); the new defibrillator in Thatcham (thanks to Thatcham Town Council and Heartstart Thatcham); Brightwalton Village Hall (thanks to various fundraising efforts in the village); numerous good causes (thanks to the Greenham Common Trust).

The  Song of the Week is with us again. For obvious reasons, something from Manchester would seem a good idea. There’s a lot to choose from but I’m going to go with one of my all-time faves by The Smiths, the title of which has recently been much quoted since the attack: the very wonderful There is a Light That Never Goes Out.

And as usual, we finish with the Quiz Question of the Week. Last weeks  I once again directed you to the Penny Post May quiz which closes on 29 May. This week, I ask you this: what do Salzgitter in Germany, Torun in Poland, Ocotal in Nicaragua and Walt Disney World all have in common?

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Brian Quinn


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