What’s your background?
I was an electrical engineer in the electricity supply industry for my whole working life. My wife and I moved from south London to Kintbury in 1975 after I accepted a job in Newbury. In 1984 we moved to Upper Denford and still live in the same house.
What led you to become a councillor?
I retired in 2010 and was looking for a new challenge: so in 2014 I put my name forward to join Hungerford Town Council. Once I was co-opted I elected to join the Highways & Transport and Environment & Planning committees because I felt that my background in utilities would be useful. I became chairman of the Highways & Transport committee in March 2014.
What kind of responsibilities does that involve?
Quite a few – but a lot of these are things that are not particularly eye-catching or are things which people only notice if something goes wrong. Street lighting is a good example. Some lights are the responsibility of West Berkshire Council and some of Hungerford Council. When they work, everyone’s happy. When they don’t they have to be fixed quickly. As was recently the case in Charnham Street, the reason why a light or lights might not work can be more than just a broken bulb.
Then, to pick another example out of a lot of possible ones, there’s the recurring issue of Hungerford’s pigeons. This is certainly an eye-catching problem if you’re the victim of one of their bombing raids but it’s a very difficult one to solve with the money that we can afford to devote to it. Sometimes you have to be realistic and manage a situation that isn’t ideal and possibly can’t be fixed permanently but you can at least try to stop it getting any worse. Perfection isn’t possible in municipal work any more than in any other aspect of life, sadly.
One of the most visible parts of my work and that of the committee is the Christmas Lights installation. This is a major expenditure each year. When I started looking into the costs I realised that there was little financial control and the installation was growing like Topsy. I think that the budget is now under control without any excessive reduction in the quality of the visual effects. Most residents believe that these are the best lights for miles around and we intend to keep them that way.
What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed since you joined the council?
The financial situation. A large number of things flow from that. The government has imposed financial restrictions on West Berkshire Council and they’ve imposed restrictions on us.
Another trend, partly as a result of this, is that district councils, such as West Berkshire, are delegating more and more functions to town and parish councils. The most public example is that Hungerford Town Council and the new charity will soon be running our library. It’s been is mooted that functions like cleaning road signs and cutting grass verges may be passed to Parish Council in the near future. We have already bought the Triangle Field, and negotiated and long lease on the Croft Field Activity Centre. We are now responsible for operating the toilets in Church Street, the salt bins and CCTV amongst other things.
In a way this is good because it gives the town more control over what it does. The other side of the coin is that this demands more and more of the councillors and the Town Clerk and her staff. Every new responsibility we take on requires one or more of us to become an expert. I like to think we’re a resourceful lot and so far I think we’ve coped pretty well. As I said before, though, nothing can ever be perfect.
It doesn’t seem like these issues, and in particular the financial constraints, are going to go away any time soon.
No, they aren’t. We just have to work with them and round them.
Give us one problem,on a slightly more modest and solvable scale, that you’d like to see resolved.
There are quite a few…I hope that West Berkshire Council will take our concerns about the traffic congestion at The Bear roundabout seriously and look carefully the possible solutions we’ve put forward. That would be a small step forward but a positive one. In many ways, that’s what being a town councillor is all about…