Including freedom in Hungerford, budgets in Newbury and Thatcham, school buildings in Swindon and Marlborough, village halls in Englefield and Bedwyn, refilling in Thatcham and Marlborough, chalk streams in Wantage and East Garston, school runs in Chaddleworth, have yours say meetings in Theale, heritage in Aldbourne, traffic and police updates, community transport, anti-social behaviour, London Road gets political, social-care debate, the cheese shop revisited, plenty of animals, 316 homes a year, stuck in the middle, an inspirational award, league tables, Max Wakefield and Marie Curie.
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.
Police, transport and council contacts
• Roadworks updates. Click on the links for news regarding West Berkshire, the Wantage area, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Swindon. Please click here to visit Traffic England’s site for information on motorways and major strategic roads (which include at A34 and the A419). The ‘Map Layers’ toggle can be used to display different levels of information.
• You can also visit Roadworks.org for similar information: this also provides the ability to toggle layers and select dates (it defaults to today’s date but you can adjust this) and other preferences. (It seems that West Berkshire at least – see link above – gets its feed from this source).
• 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.
• Please click here for more about the tri-service station in Hungerford and policing in the area generally.
• For information on flood warnings and alerts, click here.
• A number of community minibus and car schemes provide transport services for – but not 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 for services in Wantage.
• 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.
Across the area (and further afield)
• Over the last couple of months I’ve asked West Berkshire Council several questions about the London Road Industrial Estate. On 3 January I was that “we’re are in the process of creating an FAQ page for our website which should answer the majority of questions. I’ll let you know when this is published.” No sign of it yet. This silence is not, of course, preventing people from coming to own conclusions as to what is going on. Two such views can be seen in the letters pages of this week’s Newbury Weekly News.
Meanwhile, the same paper’s website has an article, published today, about differing views among councillors about the timing of the examination of the London Road matter by West Berkshire’s Scrutiny and Overview Commission. The point was made that as Councillors Gordon Lundie and Graham Jones – who were both leaders of the Council at various times during the period the decisions were taken – will be standing down in May – they may not be able to give evidence after that date. Councillor Alan Law, who chairs the Commission, conceded that the matter was ‘politically sensitive’ and was thus best left until after the election. Many would argue the exact opposite. In any case, when the Commission starts its work and when it publishes its conclusions are quite different matters. The result is likely to be a continuing barrage of questions and theories between now and May but councillors declining to comment until the Commission has heard their evidence.
• The NWN was also present at what appears to have been a slightly ill-tempered West Berkshire Council meeting last week. The main point made in the article is that the chairman, Councillor Hilary Cole, ruled that questions should be kept to the 30-minute limit because of the Council’s constitution and because some of them were from ‘interest’ groups. Aside from the fact that two half reasons rarely make up a whole one, there is a very recent precedent, from December, when under a different chairman the time for questions was extended. Far more worrying is the discrimination against ‘interest groups’ which suggests that there’s some subjective basis for choosing what questions are admitted. Councillor Cole’s distinction between ‘interest groups’ and ‘genuine’ members of the public is a mystery to me. By definition, anyone who asks a question has an interest in the matter: and, if others share this concern then they could be regarded as a group. Surely she’s not suggesting that only people who are uninterested or disinterested should ask questions on a particular topic? I mean, why would they bother? The Conservative party itself could be regarded as an interest group. Anyone concerned that the ruling group on the Council is seeking to evade questions on matters of legitimate local concern will find, in these rather unhappily-phrased remarks, strong evidence to support their fears.
• And, still with the NWN, an article on p2 refers to another municipal disagreement, this time about aspects of adult social care in the area between Councillors Graham Bridgman and Lee Dillon at the West Berkshire Council Executive meeting (not the most recent one) on 20 December. The article starts by talking about an 80% increase in ‘requests’ for adult social care but I’m unclear from reading it if this translates into a similar increase in the people the Council decides, as a result of such requests, need safeguarding. The rest of the piece describes a discussion between the two about the problems at Birchwood Care Home and the wider question of the frequency of the the Long Term Service plan reviews. On looking at the minutes of the meeting, it seems that some of the remarks made by Councillor Dillon were about the latter issue, not (as the article suggests) the former.
• Many readers will be familiar with the Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch in which each of the customer’s requests are met with a different explanation of why that cheese is unavailable. Something of that kind is happening with the long-awaited government Green Paper on social care which will either solve all the problems once and for all, or do little more than apply some sticking plaster, or something in-between, depending on your point of view. The latest estimate is that it will be published at ‘the first opportunity in 2019.’ This rather vague aspiration calls to mind some of the phrases like ‘where possible’ and ‘as closely as possible’ used in some of the Brexit documents. Indeed, this whole issue – like so many others – seems to have sucked into the black hole of time and energy devoted to Brexit.
• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports on West Berkshire’s progress with providing affordable homes. In 2015, West Berkshire set a target of 1,000 such dwellings by 2020. According to this West Berkshire report, 158 were completed in 2015-16 and 83 in 2016-17: the NWN article mentions 128 in 2017-18 – 369 in all. This would appear to mean that 316 will be needed in each of the years 2018-19 and 2019-20, not a total that any one year so far has come close to achieving.
• West Berkshire Council is conducting a review of its Polling Districts and Places – local council elections are coming up on 2 May.
• If you want to keep your eye on how your local school is doing, the latest league tables have been published – click here. The accompanying article makes depressing reading for anyone hoping for signs that the life chances of disadvantage pupils were showing any rapid signs of improvement.
• A new regional pilot announced to boost mental health support in West Berkshire – click here for details.
• As we predicted, the Police Commissioner, Anthony Stansfeld, has decided to raise the police precept for 2019-20 by 13.2%, about £24 per household per year. This will, he claims, avoid ‘unacceptable reductions in resources’. Click here to read the Police and Crime Plan for the Thames Valley 2017-21 which the PCC’s office has prepared.
• Remember GDPR? If you run a small business it might have seemed like a brief irritant about nine months ago. However, as this post from local experts Laudis revealed last summer, the regulations do have teeth and some quite meaty fines have been handed out. The ones mentioned in this post are, however, as nothing compared to the £44m penalty handed to Google this week by the French courts. The above-linked article, from The Independent, suggests that other data giants will be next in line and that the judgement potentially represents ‘a seminal moment for people’s privacy.’
I’m less confident. It seems to me that these large firms’ business models these last 20 years have been predicated on a casual attitude to personal data: to use the hideous phrase, it’s in their DNA. Expecting them to change is rather like trying to turn a cat into a vegan. Ways can be found around every obstacle if you have enough cash, enough influence and enough market domination for people to continue to use your services regardless of the downsides. They have, effectively, become part of our DNA. There’s no comparable case I can think of (except, perhaps that enjoyed by religions, now or in the past, depending on what part of the world you’re talking about) that equates to the dominance these tech and social-media monsters have over our social lives, our businesses and perhaps our thought processes.
• Click here for more information on the forthcoming West Berkshire Lottery.
• This week’s animal of the week is – well, take your pick from any one of these wonderful images from The Guardian’s website.
• The letters pages of the Newbury Weekly News this week include: the two letters referred to above on the subject of London Road; a defence of dog owners; a plea to support local homeless people; and criticism of the plans for the a34 upgrade.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: Hedgehog Bottom (thanks to Thatcham Refillable); Eddie Page (thanks to the recent charity race night at The Old London Apprentice); Newbury Soup Kitchen (thanks to Hungerford Primary School); Jennie Rushford (thanks to The Community of Hungerford Theatre Company); Motor Neurone Disease Research (thanks to the recent event at the Red Lion in Chieveley); various charities in Marlborough (thanks to Waitrose’s Community Matters scheme); Marlborough British legion (thanks to Marlborough Town Council).
Hungerford & district
• Please click here for the latest news from Hungerford Town Council.
• Nominations can now be made for the 2019 Freedom of the Town award – click here for information.
• This week’s Newbury Weekly News contains a story about anti-social behaviour in the town. The best advice we can give is to ensure that all incidents are reported to the police – see this post for more information. Note that posting news on social media does not accomplish this.
• Hungerford Town Council needs a part-time Deputy Clerk – click here for details.
• There’s a fundraising drive under way at Chilton Foliat Primary School to build a new classroom and clubhouse. The best way of making the donation is via The Good Exchange as it will then be match funded.
• Volunteers are needed to help run Great Shefford’s youth club.
• A reminder about a slightly unusual sweepstake as to your best guess on when the River Lambourn will start flowing again in East Garston.
• The latest update from the Environment Agency regarding the dredging incident in East Garston is that investigations are still ongoing and that the matter is being taken ‘very seriously.’
• Click here for information on free English courses offered to ESOL students in Lambourn (also Newbury, Calcot and Thatcham) by the Berkshire School of English.
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on Friday have its 40th day of broadcasting (and with an ex-Radio 1 DJ) – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• Newbury Town Council has unanimously supported an application from Superbowl UK for a bowling alley, to be situation at the old TK Maxx site in the Kennet Centre.
• In this week’s NWN there’s a report (on p6) of the Newbury Town Council meeting on 14 January concerning the town’s budget. Opposition came from the Lib Dems who claimed that there were adequate cash reserves to spend on some projects, such as the youth worker, which they had been pressing for but the need for which the ruling Conservatives dispute. In these times of downward devolution of responsibilities it makes sense for councils to have reserves, subject to the legal maximum, to meet unexpected requirements. However, it does seem that the refusal to pre-empt a problem which is manifest across the country (see the Hungerford section above) is verging on the complacent. Early intervention is the key to solving many problems which, if allowed to develop, become considerably more expensive to address.
• A major road improvement project for Newbury is expected to continue until the autumn – click here for details.
• Newbury Cancer Care needs volunteer drivers mostly to take people to and from local hospitals. Contact Sylvia Fones or Helen Milroy on 01635 31542 or [email protected]. See our Local Volunteering Opportunities post for other volunteer positions that need to be filled.
• Click here for information on free English courses offered to ESOL students in Newbury (also Thatcham, Calcot and Lambourn) by the Berkshire School of English.
Compton & Downlands
• Please click here for the latest news from Hampstead Norreys Parish Council (where there are currently two councillor vacancies).
• Please click here for the latest news from Compton Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Ashampstead Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Chaddleworth Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Brightwalton Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from West Ilsley Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from East Ilsley Parish Council.
• The January newsletter from West Ilsley Parish Council can be found here.
• Stallholders are wanted for Brightwalton’s Fete on 5 May.
• A reminder about Hampstead Norreys Community Shop’seco-bricks project which re-purposes your one-use plastic. You can read more about this by clicking here.
• More just in on Chaddleworth Parish Council’s long-running dispute with West Berkshire Council about the way the village is divided for the purposes of free school transport. The latest response is a three-page letter from West Berkshire explaining the reasons why it believes the complaint to be unfounded. One of the points is that eleven other parishes in West Berkshire, including Lambourn, Brimpton, Compton, Enborne, Hermitage and Chieveley, are divided in a similar way, arrangements which – unless someone from these parishes knows better – do not cause the level of divisiveness that they do in Chaddleworth. One figure that sticks out is the £15,200pa that’s spent by West Berkshire on transporting the one person who is both entitled to free transport to King Alfred’s in Wantage and who also wants to attend that school. The letter says that the council ‘always seeks the most cost-effective transport’ and so I’ll take their word for it and assume that there’s no cheaper way of solving this. The letter points out that this is a separate issue and doesn’t affect the policy. The writer also adds that as the Home to School Transport policy was not legally challenged within the prescribed timescale it is therefore lawful.
As mentioned above, I’m not clear if any of the other parishes suffer problems in the same way that Chaddleworth does. Perhaps the problem here is caused by where the line is drawn and by the differing perceptions of the merits of the two schools involved. It’s impossible to escape the suspicion, though, that all this could be solved with a lot less hassle if the same treatment was given to all residents of a parish. It should also not be impossible to ensure that free transport be provided to more than one school, even if this meant that in some cases pupils had to start their journeys from a neighbouring parish. We live, however, in a policy-driven world. I’m not sure what Chaddleworth PC’s next move is but I doubt we’ve heard the last of this.
• Please click here for dates and venues for the PCSO Have your Say meetings in the Thaacham, Theale and Compton & Downlands areas.
• Click here for details of how to book guided tours at The Living Rainforest in Hampstead Norreys.
• The Downs School in Compton recently held an Apprentice Awareness event – you can read a brief report here.
Thatcham and district
• Please click here for the latest news from Thatcham Town Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Cold Ash Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Bucklebury Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Brimpton Parish Council.
• Please click here for recently-released details of Thatcham’s civic events in 2019.
• In contrast to Newbury (see above), Thatcham Council has decided not to increase its precept for 2019-20. It seems that the town’s coffers are already quite full due to provisions for devolutions in 2018-19 which have yet to happen. The Good Councillor’s Guide to Finance and Transparency published by the National Association of Local Councils says that councils should hold between three and twelve months’ expenditure as a reserve.
• Congratulations to Thatcham Refillable, one of an ever-increasing number of groups and retailers which is seeking to wean us off our reliance on one-use plastic bottles, for their very successful pop-up event in Thatcham last week at which, for those who brought in their own bottles, a range of ethical, vegan and biodegradable household products. The recent article in the NWN understated its achievement: over 700 bottles have been filled since the launch, not 400. The next such event is in the Hungerford Hub on 10 February. In Thatcham, they will be open three days a week, but please check the Facebook page as these days vary.
• Congratulations also to Prior’s Court School which has recently had its new residential development recognised as ‘inspirational’ at the recent British Construction Industry awards.
• Another food outlet opening to buck the trend of pub closures and high-street gloom – the latest Honesty cafe has recently opened its doors at Bucklebury Farm and Deer Safari Park.,
• Volunteers are need by Thatcham Council to help support children ‘in and on the edge of care.’ Click here for details.
• Please click here for dates and venues for the PCSO Have your Say meetings in the Thaacham, Theale and Compton & Downlands areas.
• Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin.
Theale and district
• Please click here for the latest news from Theale Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Aldermaston Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Englefield Parish Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Burghfield Parish Council (featuring a new website).
• The village hall at Englefield closed at the end of the last year but the village and the Estate is exploring ways by which it can continue to function. Click for more details and to take part in a survey (which closes on 31 January).
• Theale Green School will be hosting its annual pensioners’ event on Wednesday 6 February – click here for more.
• Click here for the December 2018/January 2019 Parish Magazine from Englefield Parish Council.
• Please click here for dates and venues for the PCSO Have your Say meetings in the Thaacham, Theale and Compton & Downlands areas.
• Click here for information on free English courses offered to ESOL students in Thatcham (also Newbury, Calcot and Lambourn) by the Berkshire School of English.
Marlborough & district
• Please click here for the latest news from Marlborough Town Council.
• There’s a good article on Marlborough.News about the lack of local consultation in Wiltshire Council’s handling of the sale of St Peter’s School.
• Two new eco-inspired retailers in the Marlborough area: a report here on Packaging not Included which is set to open in Marlborough and will stock a range of organic foods as well as selling household products to those who bring their own bottles ; and The Good Food Garage in Salisbury Road Business Park in Pewsey, which will be offering organic veg, free-range meat and vegan and gluten-free food.
• There’ll be a meeting of Aldbourne Community Heritage Group on Monday 28 January – click here for details.
• It’s currently Village Halls Awareness Week – click here to see how one hall in the area, at Great Bedwyn, has been marking the event.
• There’s information here about some local volunteering events organised by Action for the River Kennet in January.
• Click here for information on what’s on in and around Ramsbury.
Wantage & district
• Please click here for the latest news from Wantage Town Council.
• Please click here for the latest news from Grove Parish Council. (Be prepared for a long wait for it to load.)
• We’ve covered above (see Lambourn Valley) the story of the dredging in the River Lambourn. News has just reached us of another similar problem affecting the Letcombe Brook. Click here for more. I’m unclear from this whether the problem was caused by Sainsbury’s (which has assured the Environment Agency that it is ‘supporting’ them) or by local residents pouring ‘all sorts of stuff’ down drains. If the latter, then the problem might partly lie with Thames Water or whoever is responsible for ensuring that waste water is purified before anything goes into a chalk stream.
• I confess to finding this article slightly hard to follow, but it seems to suggest that the developers at the ‘contraversial’ Oakland Care site at Wantage Road in Grove have asked the Vale of the White Horse for a time dispensation in introducing some of the conditions of the development, including noise abatement.
• The trend at the moment is for small town to lose their police stations – this has happened in both Hungerford and Wantage recently and Wantage, it seems, is not to be spared. Click here for details of the closures planned in Oxfordshire, which includes the police officer in the Library. Local residents may be encouraged by the fact that, in Hungerford, officers participate in regular ‘have your say’ sessions in the town which are well attended.
• The Consultation by Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group on the final draft strategy document is open until 1February. To give your comments on the strategy, please visit the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group’s website and follow the link or phone for a paper copy.
• There was a long post of comments in the Wantage & Grove FB page about a muntjac deer injured by the side of the A417 earlier this week. A local wildlife rescue centre (Oak and Furrows) came to the rescue and some people have mentioned they will donate to the charity.
• Fly tipping is an annoying and, for those who have to clear it up, expensive crime. It can also be very expensive for those who are successfully prosecuted, as many recent cases have proved. The Vale of White Horse Council has published this information on the subject.
• The next meeting of the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) takes place on Thursday 7 February from 10am to discuss the long-running issue of Wantage Hospital and should give an update on any action soon thereafter. The Wantage and Grove Campaign Group ‘doesn’t believe that any action has been taken’ so far.
• I’ve not received any further news about the situation with regard to Grove Post Office (see Local News from two weeks back). If you have any news, let me know. If I get any, I’ll let you know.
• Click here for the latest from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group.
• Click here for details of some forthcoming events in Wantage.
Swindon & district
• Click here for the latest news and information from Swindon Borough Council.
• This article in Swindon Link makes a case for a tram network in the town.
• Meanwhile, a local business leader has opposed Swindon Council’s plans to raise town-centre parking rates.
• Swindon Borough Council is encouraging local businesses to put plans in place to ensure they are not adversely affected by Brexit. This is obviously quite hard to do as no one has any idea what might or happen or even when it might happen, or if it might happen (whatever it is).
• In Marlborough (see Marlborough & district above) there’s a story about a school building being sold in a way that some object to: in Swindon, the situation is rather worse with the old Clifton Street school having been partly demolished by developers. The Swindon Advertiser takes up the story.
• Members of the public are being encouraged to give their views on Swindon Borough Council’s ‘ambitious plans’ to tackle rough sleeping. You have until the end of January to make your views known.
• Swindon JobFest will return to the STEAM Museum on Thursday, 14 February. Click here for more.
• Click here for details of the many volunteering opportunities at Great Western Hospital.
The song and the quiz
• The Song of the Week this week is inspired by one of my favourite films, Reservoir Dogs, and also by a recent piece on the radio about songs appropriate for the current Brexit debacle. It’s not the best song Gerry Rafferty was involved in writing – his first two solo albums are full of some exquisite stuff, of which Baker Street is merely the best-known – but Stuck in the Middle with You, when he was 50% of Stealers Wheel, deserves a replay every now and again. Here it is…
• Which brings leads, as night follows day, to the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question comes from the recent quiz at The Red House in Marsh Benham in aid of Friends of Young Carers, West Berkshire and is: With which 2018 humorous political stunt would you associate Max Wakefield? Last week’s question was: Who is the only person to have won the Nobel Prize for two different sciences? The answer is Marie Curie, who was awarded the prize for physics in 1903 and for chemistry in 1911. Considering she was a female scientist, and an exile from her homeland of Poland, and that these events happened over 100 years ago, I think she deserves a special round of applause.
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