Including the youth club in Hungerford, statutory powers in East Garston, library funding in Newbury, youth work in Thatcham, development in Theale, buildings in Marlborough, traffic speeds in Ogbourne St George, a delayed NDP in Wantage, mud in Grove, economic prospects in Swindon, police and travel updates, three points on London Road, D-Day on the railways, your chefs, T-levels, 101 call times, a library amnesty, special-needs overspend, Jackson Browne, extra time or penalties and an inflatable Donald Trump.
Click on any highlighted 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
• For disruptions in public transport see Reading Bus service updates which cover West Berkshire and Reading areas, Thames Travel Snow updates for South Oxfordshire and Berkshire, National Rail disruptions
• 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, see Hungerford and Lambourn; Newbury Town Centre ; Newbury Outer; Bucklebury and Downlands; Thatcham, Aldermaston and Brimpton; Wantage and Grove; Wiltshire East (inc Marlborough); Swindon and other parts of Wiltshire here; Hampshire
• For information on flood warnings and alerts, click here.
Across the area (and further afield)
• The trend in English football is to scrap extra time and replays for cup games. With Brexit, the tendency is otherwise. Many have long been calling for a replay: the Foreign Secretary has recently admitted that extra time might be needed. I suppose it might come down to penalties. If I were the PM, I wouldn’t care to pick who to choose to take them. Some like to shoot too far to the right and others too far to the left, while the problem with shots down the centre is that they’re easier to save. In addition, the other side is able to field 27 goalkeepers…
• As could have been predicted, there’s a fair amount of coverage (two articles on p4 and two letters on p16) in this week’s Newbury Weekly News on the subject of the London Road Industrial Estate. The first article mainly concerns some questions posed at a recent WBC executive meeting which resulted in Councillor Hilary Cole claiming on several occasions that the council had acted responsibly in the matter; the second concerns the newspaper’s attempts, so far unsuccessful (due to the request being, as the council put it, ‘manifestly unreasonable’), to obtain copies of the relevant correspondence under an FoI request.
Three points strike me about this. Firstly, WBC councillors seem to be going out of their way to stress that the recent judgement against the council was of a purely technical nature. However, the Court of Appeal arrived at its judgements for a number of reasons, including the publishing by the Council of a VEAT notice that ‘did not say all that it should’ and which was ‘not transparent’ and the fact that there was ‘a procurement of development that did not undergo the requisite procurement procedure.’ These seem rather fundamental points to me.
Secondly, it could be argued that the money and time so far spent on the LRIE, which includes entering into a commercial agreement which the Court of Appeal has declared invalid, does not amount to ‘responsible’. The sums involved go far beyond the £600,000 or so incurred in legal and other costs and include the cost of the access road, which the original developers had agreed to include in its scheme. The question thus remains as to why this aspect of the work was excluded from the commercial agreement with St Modwens. This would certainly have made the matter a clear procurement contract from the outset: in fact, the Court of Appeal judged that it was effectively one anyway and so should have been handled in a different way, a point which the official replies seem rather to gloss over. Dr Julie Wintrup, one of whose questions to Councillor Cole was on this point, observed after the meeting that ‘a council that says it wants to engage the public seems to be pretty irritated by that same public when it asks questions and doesn’t simply accept the first pre-rehearsed reply.’
Thirdly, as two letters to the NWN this week point out, it seems both odd and unfortunate that the committee at WBC looking into this matter should be chaired by one of the councillors who was, the correspondents claim, deeply involved in the decision-making. I cast no aspersions but this must surely be an impossible role to undertake and is almost a definition of conflict of interests. To make matters even more complicated, as this might now not be fully examined until after the elections on 2 May it’s possible that the composition of that committee might then have changed.
• Representatives from the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership were in town last week to see ‘seven key projects which will deliver (sic) vital improvements to the town over the next five years.’ Click here for more.
• According to this report, most local councils in England have overspent their special-needs budget this year. The combined excess is over £320m, an average of about £2.6m per council. The government pledged an extra £250m over two years in December and the matter will, apparently, be looked at in the next spending review.
• And sticking with the alleged disparity between supply and demand in our public services, the Chairman of the Thames Valley Police Federation has claimed that the 13.2% rise in the police precept announced by the Commissioner last week will do little more than let the force ‘stand still’: the £24m that this will raise will be partly offset by £15.1m of savings which TVP has been told to make over then next four years. One of the main challenges is officer retention: TVP currently has the highest staff turnover rate in the country and is also currently 59 officers, and 44 PCSOs, short of its target. See also the Hungerford & district section below.
• West Berkshire Council is conducting a review of its Polling Districts and Places – local council elections are coming up on 2 May.
• The Beast from the East seems to be on its way in the form of snow and icy weather: by dusk this evening, most of the area may well have turned white. Take care on the roads in particular. (Of course, it may be coming from the west, not the east, but it’s both a better rhyme and more in keeping with current opinion to regard bad things as coming from the direction of Siberia rather than the Azores. Readers of the Daily Express will, of course, have had this predicted more or less every week since the clocks went back. From my occasional glances at its headlines, I’m not aware that this newspaper writes about anything else apart from bad weather and Brexit.)
• If you have an overdue library book, the library service is having a two-day amnesty on Friday 22 and Saturday 23 February.
• 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.
• Click here for more information on the forthcoming West Berkshire Lottery.
• The letters pages of the Newbury Weekly News this week include: the two above-mentioned letters on the subject on London Road; criticism of the departure of Sovereign Housing’s HQ from Newbury; some thoughts about whether Tories can also be environmentalists; more on the red-kite debate; and a picture of an enormous dog next to a tiny dog which could be either his friend or his lunch.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: British Legion (thanks to Marion Walker); grew Little princess trust (thanks to Emily Brewer and Matilda Edwards); a wide range of local groups (thanks to the Co-op’s Local Community Fund); Recovery in Mind (thanks to the Big Lottery’s reaching Communities Fund).
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 another story about what is widely seen as the rising level of anti-social behaviour (and worse) in Hungerford. Much as been been written and said about this, particularly the most recent incident earlier this week, and I’m not going to add to that. The best advice we can give is to ensure that all incidents are reported to the police – see this post for more information, in particular the section ‘Communication’. Note that email and Thames Valley Alerts are accepted methods of reporting an incident: social-media is not.
• It’s often said that the 101 service sometimes takes a long time to be answered. As it is the replacement for the physical police officers and stations that are vanishing from communities this is obviously a real concern. Different days, times and areas will produce different results. I don’t know how representative this is of here and now but the best figures I came across related to the Metropolitan Police in June 2017 and were released as a result of a FoI request. 433,205 calls to 101 were made in total. Of these, 22% were answered in less than a minute. 11% took more than six minutes to answer. The most alarming figure, though, is that 35% of the calls were not answered at all. The notes say that these were called that ‘did not complete for a number of reasons’: exhaustion on the part of the caller must surely have been one.
This led me to wonder what is an acceptable length of time to wait for a call to be answered. Twenty or so years ago, hanging on the phone was something that most of us probably spent a measurable amount of time doing each day. Delays of all kind were part of life. Now, websites and social-media platforms provide an almost immediate response to our every request or whim. When we do need to wait in a phone queue, each second seems like a minute. There’s also the fact that if you’re reporting an incident rather than just calling to query a gas bill any delay seems all the more intolerable. Both of these probably makes us think that more time has passed than it really has which, when we tell the story of our wait, turns two minutes into five. Whatever the truth of all this, there are two sad ironies at work here. The first is that the 101 service becomes more important with every police-station closure but the service is not keeping pace with this (and, worse still, is perceived as being even worse than it is); the second is that this is all happening at a time when we are all becoming less and less tolerant of delays. It’s to be hoped that more resources will be devoted to 101. If not, an important link between the police and the public will have been broken which could lead to a number of problems ranging from apathy to vigilantism.
• Connected with this is the Hungerford Youth Club which offers one way, though not the only way, by which young people in and around the town can be encouraged to spend their time in a constructive and fulfilling fashion. HTC Councillor Derek Alford presented a report to the recent Recreation & Amenities Committee on this subject which is summarised on p21 of the Hungerford edition of this week’s Newbury Weekly News. You can read the report at the end of the committee minutes by clicking here.
• The same paper also has, on p21, a piece about a person or person unknown who is removing out-of-date banners from various locations around the town. Technically one needs to receive permission from West Berkshire to put banners up but few bother to do so and any enforcement is thus sporadic or, in this case, voluntary. I imagine that this is something much more appropriate for parish councils to deal with as it has a good deal to do with tidiness and verge maintenance, matters which are increasingly being devolved down to become their responsibility. Whether the already hard-pressed staff and councillors will thank me for making this suggestion is another matter.
• 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, will be hosing a pop-up event at 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.
• 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.
• The latest East Garston News has recently been published: click here to see it. Items covered include an upcoming theatre trip, a warning about thefts and the quest for a new Parish Clerk.
• It appears from this week’s NWN that the plan to have a fast-food van in the car park behind Universal Stores in Lambourn has been rejected by West Berkshire Council.
• Volunteers are needed to help run Great Shefford’s youth club.
• Statutory powers have been invoked by the Environment Agency regarding the dredging incident in East Garston – click here for more.
• 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 41st day of broadcasting (and with an ex-Radio 1 DJ) – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• Please click here for the latest news from Chieveley Parish Council.
• I don’t know how much you know about the new T-levels (which alongside apprenticeships and A-levels, T-levels will become one of the three main options for school leavers from 2020-21) but if you want to learn more, Newbury College will be holding an open event on Thursday 7 February.
• This week’s NWN has, on p6, an article about a recent debate at Newbury Town Council concerning the contribution the council makes to the Library and how the performance of the service can best be measured.
• If you see trees being planted in Newbury over the next few months we can confirm that there’ll be 39 of these going in. The Community Infrastructure Levy income will pay for the trees themselves and West Berkshire Council will pay for the planting.
• A major road improvement project for Newbury is expected to continue until the autumn – click here for details.
• Congratulations to all those who took part in the district qualifying heat of the Rotary Young Chef Competition 2019 on Saturday 19 January at Newbury College. Click here for more information.
• Newbury Town Council has unveiled its latest blue plaque, which commemorates the central role that performed by the former Didcot, Newbury, and Southampton Railway in the build up to D-Day. It’s appropriate that at this time there should be a celebration of the successful ferrying of large numbers of ships across the English Channel. About 9,000 vessels were involved in D-Day, about the same number that currently cross the Channel every two weeks. According to the proponents of the so-called ‘project fear’ – which now seems to include many of the UK’s supermarkets – there’s some doubt as to how well this will work after 29 March. The DN&S Railway will be of no help here as it closed in 1964.
• There’s a statement here from West Berkshire Council about the measures taken to offer support for rough sleepers. A slightly different take on the issue can be seen on p9 of this week’s NWN.
• 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.
• You can read the latest about Chaddleworth Parish Council’s stance on the dispute with West Berkshire Council about the school-transport issue (as reported here several times) by clicking here to see the minutes of the last parish Council meeting and scrolling down to item 9.
• A reminder about Hampstead Norreys Community Shop’s eco-bricks project which re-purposes your one-use plastic. You can read more about this by clicking here.
• The most recent copy of Chaddleworth News has just arrived in my inbox. Topics covered this month include the Sloely Cup, news about the village hall (for which funds are needed), a report from the Parish Council and information about local groups. If you want to subscribe, please contact [email protected].
• Brightwalton’s January Brickleton News has also recently appeared and you can click here (and scroll down a bit) to download it. Items tin this issue include fundraising successes, a local judo champion, saving money on fuel bills, the School House revisited and notes of the recent Parish Council meeting.
• 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 details of Thatcham’s civic events in 2019.
• In marked contrast to the policy of neighbouring Newbury Council, Thatcham Town Council has decided to increase its funding for the services and activities provided by Thatcham Youth – see p25 of this week’s NWN for details.
• Again in contrast to the situation a stop west down the line, Thatcham Council has made £5,000 available to Thatcham Town FC for its planned new artificial pitch which will be used by the wider community. (The fact that Newbury no longer has a football ground is not the Town Council’s fault, of course.)
• Who was on the English throne in 1484? How many popes are there per sq km in the Vatican City? What is the state capital of Nebraska? These are three questions that might (but probably won’t) be asked at the Thatcham Mayor’s Charity Quiz on Thursday 7 March. Click here for details.
• 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. It concludes, as ever, with a thought for the week which on this occasion is Oscar Wilde’s maxim that ‘you can never be either over-dressed or over-educated.’ Anyone who has witnessed a group of Cambridge dons in full high-table attire discussing an arcane point of theology might disagree.
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).
• This week’s NWN has on p13 an article that quotes some local opposition to the plans for the redevelopment in Theale High Street.
• 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.
• Another week, another pub in the area closing, though this time with some chance that it will re-open. The pub is the wonderfully named Who’d a Thought it in Lockeridge. Marlborough News has the full story here. (There were about 61,000 pubs in the UK in 2000 but by 2017 that had fallen to about 48,300. The number of premises with alcohol licences, however, is rising: 202,000 in March 2016 compared to 202,000 six years earlier.)
• Last week I referred to the coverage given by Marlborough News to the lack of consultation by Wiltshire Council with regard to the future of the the former St Peter’s School. This week there’s a letter pointing out how valuable the building would be as a community hub and social housing. Hungerford recently successfully negotiated with West Berkshire Council to convert the library (which the council was planning to close) into a community hub.
• Meanwhile, there is potentially a similar issue brewing with regards to the soon-to-be-closed police station. Once again, Marlborough News has the lowdown here. As the article implies, the fact that the Police Commissioner is obliged to get the best possible price for the building and use the proceeds to support local policing makes it likely that the future owners (assuming it’s sold) will be a commercial organisation. The article goes on to point out that the building could provide a solution to the problem of NHS care in the area.
• Local MP Claire Perry has lent her support to the road-safety campaign on the A346 in Ogbourne St George.
• 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.)
• The Consultation by Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group on the Oxfordshire Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy is open until 20 February. 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.
• 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.
• This article in the Wantage & Grove Herald is a bit short on detail, but it seems that David Wilson Homes is offering a 100% part-exchange scheme at its new Letcome Gardens estate in Grove.
• The couple behind a Wantage Shoebox appeal have ‘reluctantly’ resigned after almost 10 years at the helm. Read more here.
• Although Grove Post Office has closed, I learn that the Co-op has put in an application to run a PO in Saville Way.
• The Wantage and Grove Campaign Group has reported that there have been several accidents caused by mud on the road from the Persimmon development at Grove Airfield. The County and District Councils are trying to enforce the planning conditions to ensure this is dealt with but if you suffer as a result on mud on the road near any of the developments please get in touch with the W&GCG and they’ll we’ll pass on your details to the Councillors involved.
• Which roads in Oxfordshire will be gritted during the current cold snap? Not all of them. This article has more.
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald returns to the now quite antique matter of Wantage’s neighbourhood development plan, worked on for for two years from 2014 but halted after the Planning Inspector concluded that some of the policies were not backed up by sufficient evidence. The Town Council then decided to take the matter on itself but nothing has so far appeared.
• Wantage’s Beer and Cider Festival will be back again on Friday 15 and Saturday 16 March, at The Beacon.
• 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.
• The latest Centre for Cities Outlook Report suggests that Swindon’s economy is in good shape. Click here for more from Swindon Link.
• A new pub could soon occupy half of the building which is currently home to Old Town’s Post Office on Victoria Road.
• Developers of the derelict Locarno building have been given a legal deadline to submit planning applications in the wake of concerns over the deterioration of the site which they took over in 2016.
• Swindon JobFest will return to the STEAM Museum on Thursday, 14 February. Click here for more.
• Also at STEAM is an exhibition looking back at the almost obsessive time trials that took place between the four big railway companies in the early 20th century.
• If the Greenbridge roundabout looks a bit different on Friday 1 February, this is why…
• Click here for details of the many volunteering opportunities at Great Western Hospital.
The song and the quiz
• The Song of the Week is Love Needs a Heart, a particularly well-crafted and (despite the false start) well-executed piece of sorrowful country-tinged pop from one of the masters of that genre, Jackson Browne.
• Which brings leads, as it does, to the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is actually three, hypothetical ones which struck me while mentioning the forthcoming Thatcham Mayor’s Charity Quiz. Scroll up to the Thatcham & district section above. Last 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 was: With which 2018 humorous political stunt would you associate Max Wakefield? The answer is that he created the inflatable Trump baby that flew over Westminster during POTUS’ visit to the UK last year.