Local News 9 to 16 Jan 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s newsletter, Woodland’s application, Shefford’s editor, Newbury’s uncertain football, Wantage’s definite refusal, Marlborough’s possible merger, Thatcham’s ambassadors, West Isley’s water, Brimpton or Ufton Nervet’s or Chieveley’s gravel, Lambourn’s deadline, Compton’s councillor, Hampstead Norreys’ governor, Stratfield Mortimer’s library, Theale’s neighbourhood watch, Brightwalton’s quiz, Wokefield’s closure, Wickham’s 18 questions, Swindon’s cycling, police and travel updates, good causes celebrated, two planning paradoxes, information v propaganda, climate v plastic, Harry v grandma’am, the voting age, local recycling stats, SEND budgets and resources, the Fat Controller’s naughty step, Christmas babies, 12 calls a year and different for girls.

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

Information on police, transport (including roadworks) and district councils can now be found on a separate page here.

Links to the websites for town and parish councils can still be found in the appropriate sections below.

Across the area (and further afield)

• So Prince Harry and Meghan have decided they’ve had enough and want to strike out on their own. She can always go back to acting – which will be good news for Penny who is watching episodes of Suits, in which the then Meghan Markle appeared, almost as quickly as they can make them – while he seems a charming and versatile young man and could probably get a job as anything from a motivational speaker to the presenter of a TV gardening show. Their own statement was full of optimism: the Palace’s reply (‘Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through’) could be translated as ‘They didn’t ask us – what planet are they on?’ Proof if proof be needed that, certainly for him, we get the cards that life deals us and it’s not always easy to change them. 

• The business of planning and house building is, as I’ve had cause to remark before, at a point of acute contradiction. The need for more homes, particularly affordable ones, is probably higher than at any time since the decade after WW2; while the climate emergency has forced us to realise that the homes we do build need to be of a higher standard. These two pressures work in direct opposition to each other. The full impact of the climate emergency, and the measures which might be taken to combat it, have also only really become widely accepted in the last few years, during which time everything in the UK has been eclipsed by Brexit. The government has proposed replacing one set of regulations with another, the Future Homes Standard, although this is not expected to come into force before the mid 2020s. Much lobbying by developers will doubtless take place to have the standards watered down. Largely because of government policy in the 1980s, housebuilding has over the last 40 years been outsourced to private-sector companies whose responsibilities are, as a matter of legal obligation, to their shareholders and creditors. Implementing government policy forms no part of their business plan.

The government’s own figures show this very clearly. In 1978, 248,310 homes were completed, 40% of them built by local authorities. In 2018 there were 168,390 new builds, only 2% of which were constructed by councils. The number of homes built by private companies (127,400 in ’78 and 134,400 last year, the intervening figures being fairly similar) rather suggests that there’s a limit to what that sector can provide. Not only is land and cash required but also, if they are to be sold profitably, supply must be managed to meet demand. Too many houses on the market at once and the price falls, about which the shareholders would ask questions. Running a development company is not a licence to print money. There have been some spectacular failures in recent years: how, many asked, could a company like Carillion have failed at a time when construction skills were so much in demand? On a more local level, the demise of Dawnus, also in 2018, delayed the construction of Highwood Copse School in Newbury. How have we got here? According to the Local Government Association, the three main problems have been the withdrawal of the public sector, the workings of the land market (which makes sites available for planning a scarce and thus valuable resource) and the shortage of skills. 

All of this might be regarded as part of the usual rough-and-tumble of life in the free-market economy were it not for the problems posed by climate change. This appears to require a change of policy with regard to many things – house building being close to the top of the list – as radical as anything which happened in the 20th century. There are a number of things which the operation of the free market and our current five-year democratic cycle accomplish quite well but long-term thinking in the face of an existential challenge is not one of them. The two most revolutionary governments of the 20th century were, without doubt, those of Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher. Both introduced, with the help of huge majorities, their sweeping reforms on the back of real and present threats: the aftermath of WW2 and a deepening economic and social crisis. Only something this huge and immediate is capable of jolting the political system out of its cycle of short-term opportunism. It’s not certain that the current government has the will or the intention to initiate such a revolution with regard to measures to combat climate change. This is a global problem in a globalised economy and the stock defence for any country is that to take action would (a) make little difference and (b) put that nation at a disadvantage. President Trump came to power in the US on the back of just such sentiments.

And yet, in the UK, the problem has been pushed down the ladder. The recent political paralysis has forced local councils to step forward and fill the gap with their various declaration of climate emergencies: unfortunately they have not been given, or have not chosen to adopt or enforce,  the necessary powers to give any kind of teeth to these laudable intentions. For instance, the disparity between West Berkshire Council’s Core Strategy Policy CS15 which states, inter alia, that from 2106 all residential homes would adhere to the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 6 (the highest level) appears to stand in stark contrast to the approval in late November of the Salisbury Road development in Hungerford. This seems to fall some way short of these standards, which would have included features such as solar panel and heat pumps which the developers had, an earlier public meeting in the town, described as ‘toys’. We’ve been told that a climate emergency has been declared and then this happens. I’m struggling to understand what it is that we’re meant to think. If things could be done better, or explained better, then the positive, constructive, honourable and courageous thing to do is to point this out. This has been the point of view of the three District Councillors representing Hungerford and Kintbury who sent Penny Post this statement on Tuesday

• Continuing this theme, West Berkshire Council has launched a consultation on its draft Environment Strategy in response to its declaration of a Climate Emergency in July 2019. The draft Strategy details the different ways the Council, with the help of the local community and businesses, can contribute towards tackling the climate crisis and achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. The consultation will remain open until Friday 21 February.

• I would like to raise again the question, which I posed last week, of why West Berkshire Council has decided on a new way forward for the troubled London Road Industrial Estate when the investigation of West Berkshire’s own Scrutiny Commission has yet to judge what went wrong with the last one. You can read West Berkshire Council’s statement on the matter here.

• This week’s NWN has on p4 an article about the education budget deficit of £2.1m. I spoke to the Education Department at West Berks who stressed that the main factor in this has been in increase in special-needs (SEND) costs. More demanding government standards were introduced a few years ago but the bridge funding for this has since been removed, leaving schools and councils with the task of managing more demanding systems, and increased parental expectations, on budgets which are inadequate. The article has slightly conflated this issue with more general funding problems which have affected all schools for a number of years. The new government has gently announced £14bn of extra funding, £700m of which will be specifically for SEND, but this will not arrive until 2020-21. This means that the deficit will continue to grow (the £2.1m currently is the result of two years’ shortfall). It appears that the extra central funding has not fully addressed this and so the deficit is likely to roll over so causing further problems in years to come. As with social care – also a statutory responsibility for local councils – costs, demand and expectations are rising but without, so far at least, a  long-term funding settlement to match. The green paper on social care is now over two and a half years late. Addressing this, and the challenges faced by the education system, must surely be a high priority once the Brexit fog clears (which, at some point, it surely must).

• I mentioned last week about a letter in the NWN from Councillor Alan Law criticising some recent comments made by the Green Party; a letter which, as I pointed out, was itself open to the same kind of charges that it was seeking to make. A response was to be expected and it duly arrived from Simon Pike, a Lib Dem Councillor on Thatcham Town Council. He ended by offering some advice to Councillor Law, just as Councillor Law himself offered some advice to the Greens in his letter. How much either of the parties will follow these suggestions is another matter. 

• And still with the NWN in front of me, on p6 there’s an article which claims that West Berkshire Council has expressed serious doubts about the feasibility of increasing the range of plastic which it recycles (I think this refers to kerbside collections rather than what can be accepted at the recycling centres). One of the claims is that large amounts of money would need to spent upgrading the recycling facilities. Another, though this is not mentioned, is that with a good bit of the long-term contract with Veolia left to run, the council has perhaps less power in asserting its own wishes than it might do. Finally, there’s a statistic which says that in 2018-19 the council achieved a recycling rate of ‘just under 50%’. According to these figures, which I imagine were the source, this puts it at 85th out of 345. This places it ahead of Wiltshire (143rd, 43.9%) and Swindon (184th, 42.1%) but some way behind the Vale of White Horse (4th, 62.5%). I imagine these figures mean that of the total waste collected or taken to a recycling centre, 50.5% in West Berkshire’s case went into landfill (black-bin stuff) and 49.5% was recycled. These figures may therefore be slightly misleading as garden waste is likely to be by volume the largest item and yet it’s the smaller volume of plastics which causes the problems. A council with a high figure might thus be dealing with a lot or organic leaves and branches while one with a low one might be concentrating on dealing with more troublesome man-made items. 

• This leads to another thing. Most people now accept that the big problem at the moment is climate change. In this regard, plastic may not be the devil that it’s sometimes cast as. This article from the BBC website suggests that the change to other kinds of packaging could hinder efforts to combat climate change.

• The NWN looks, on p12, at whether the instruction to West Berkshire Council explores to sign off emails with a ‘get ready for Brexit‘ link was political propaganda (as Green Councillor David marsh maintains) or necessary information (the view of council leader Lynne Doherty). I’m far from certain whom I agree with. One thing’s for sure is that to think about Brexit, and in particular the political processes and debates surrounding it, is to enter a strange looking-glass world of smoke and mirrors where up is down and right is wrong and black is white. As a means of setting us at each other’s throats it can hardly be improved upon. This incident is a good example of this. 

• Sticking with this for moment, the government has defeated a Lib Dem amendment to the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill which would have helped ensure that the UK still had access to EU education and training funding, such as the Erasmus programme, after Brexit. Local MEP Judith Bunting described the decision to leave ‘this scheme we should be championing’ as ‘every bit as mindless as it is devastating.’

• West Berkshire Council has produced a directory listing many of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) services available in the area – you can see the Autumn 2019 edition here. (See also the section above regarding the education deficit).

• West Berkshire is set to be part of a pilot scheme that would enable communities to invest in green projects in the district.

• West Berkshire Council is actively encouraging more people to offer themselves as foster carers. This represents one of the most tangible and effective ways by which you can help change someone’s life, and thus the community as a whole, for the better. More information on the Council’s Fostering Service can be found here

• The Council has activated its Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP).

• Information here about the changes to West Berkshire Council’s rubbish and recycling collections (including for Christmas trees) which will remain in force until 14 January when the dates will return to normal.

• A reminder about an update regarding the new rail fares and timetable which came into force on 15 December and will affect local GWR services. 

• Still on trains, South Western Railway is in danger of being put on the Fat Controller’s naughty step to the extent of possibly losing its franchise after widespread concerns about reliability and have posted a loss of £137m.

• The animal of the week are any of the ducks on our stretch of the River Lambourn who are currently in the business of mate selection. I know ducks have their own ideas but I’m glad that in my younger days I didn’t have to conduct my courtships by wading about in a freezing cold river. 

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week cover the response to Alan Law mentioned above; two contracting views about Boris Johnson (‘a good start’ and ‘symptom of a giant lie’); further criticism of the decision to relocate the bus station in Newbury; further thoughts on parachuted political candidates; and a homily against lying which I’m not sure is a general observation or a reference to a particular incident to which there writer has delicately decided not to refer to. 

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including Wantage Scouts (thanks to there Harmony Community Gospel Choir); West Berkshire Council’s Giving Tree (thanks to all those who made donations); HAVEN (thanks to Ecclesiastical Insurance); Eight Bells for Mental health (thanks to the NWN’s best in Business dinner); Daisy’s Dream (thanks to Lifecycle Software); Macmillan Cancer Support (thanks to staff and customers at The Bear in Hungerford).

Hungerford & district

• Latest news from Hungerford Town Council, Shalbourne Parish Council and Inkpen Parish Council

• There are currently three vacancies on Hungerford Town Councilsee here for the official notice

• It’s the first week of the month which can only mean one thing – the latest Penny Post Hungerford has been published. If you didn’t get it, click here for the best and most comprehensive round-up of what’s going on in the town. What have we got this month? News from the Town Council, the High Street, Barrs Yard and the Primary School; information about a wassailing event later this month; racing news;  the monthly reading selection from the Bookshop; an invitation for nominations for the local policing awards; a guide to the night sky; special offers; local events; two different kinds or tryanuary; a last call for our Christmas quiz; and a chance to brush up on your knowledge of the kings and queens of England. 

• I particularly draw your attention to the December 2019/January 2020 Hungerford Town Council update which, as ever, describes the wide range of issues with which the Hungerford Town Council grapples with each month. If you are concerned about some aspect of local life and and wonder if it is being attended to, the answer may well lie here. Some of the sections make it clear what the Council is currently doing; others will confirm that there are some things that are beyond its competence and are the responsibility of other organisations such as West Berkshire Council.

Click here for details of some forthcoming events from the Hungerford Bookshop.

• There’s some further news here about the new rail fares and timetable which came into force on last month and affect services to and from Bedwyn, Hungerford, Kintbury and Newbury. 

Lambourn Valley

Latest news from Lambourn Parish CouncilEast Garston Parish CouncilWelford Parish Council and Great Shefford Parish Council.

• Front-page news on the local edition of the NWN this week is an article about the planning application by Walker Logistics in Lambourn Woodlands to develop 5.5 acres near Membury Airfield. A number of local objections cited by the paper include increased traffic on the B4000 (although Walker is not a haulage company and only owns one HGV) and the environmental consequences of building on an AONB site (although this didn’t cut a lot of ice when West Berkshire considered Hungerford’s Salisbury Road application).

I contacted Walked Logistics today. A spokesperson stressed that the application was ‘not speculative’ and was personal to Walker Logistics (and so could not be inherited by anyone else). It was admitted that the land was in the ANOB but that ‘it was visually contained by a strong existing landscaped boundary which separates the site from the airfield runway to the west.’ It was also pointed out that the historical significance of the runway was well understood and that it had been retained. Indeed, the application proposes a museum to house one of the original Dakotas (restored by the applicant over the last 10 years), alongside other memorabilia that highlights the aviation history and importance of Membury during the war. As regards the traffic concerns, Walker Logistics’ vehicles make a ‘minimal’ amount of heavy goods journeys and that this would not change under the proposed arrangements. In addition, traffic could be controlled with specified hours of working as part of the planning conditions. The company currently employs between 75 and 100 staff, most of whom live locally, and was envisaged  that the expansion will generate additional jobs. 

As more than 10 objections have been received, the application will be automatically called in to be considered by the Western Area Planning Committee, probably next month. Its job will, as ever, be to balance the arguments for commercial development, the recording of aviation history and local employment (as made by the applicants) with concerns about traffic impact and environmental damage (as made by the objectors). My view is that as the area is already used for industrial purposes this is not going to result in any major or detrimental change to the area and certainly not when compared to the potential loss of employment, One suggestion the committee might perhaps make to whoever is responsible for such things is to re-open the suggestion that an official motorway junction be created at Membury Services. I imagine that most of the vehicles using the the Membury site, and not just Walker Logistics, end up on the M4. 

• A reminder that the Great Shefford Parish News needs extra help to replace the long-time Editor, Richard Allen, who is hoping to retire in 2020. If you’d like to contribute to the publication (of which there are 10 a year) in this or any way, please contact Virginia Parkes on 01488 649 908: further details can be found in the magazine itself. 

• A reminder of the 4LEGS Radio for its 2019 Unsung Hero award, nominations for which are still open. The award is kindly sponsored by Sovereign Housing and The Great Shefford.

• There will be an open day at the Lambourn Centre on Saturday 11 January which will provide an opportunity to see the facilities that are available and to take advantage of membership deals.

• A reminder also that if you haven’t returned your questionnaire about Lambourn’s neighbourhood development plan, you need to do this by Monday 13 January 2020.

• The Friends of Lambourn Library has three vacancies on its committee and welcomes hearing from anyone, of any age, who would be happy to join what is by all measures and estimations a successful organisation. Please contact suecocker@hotmail.com.  

4 Legs Community Radio Station will on Friday have its 84th day of broadcasting – click here for more

Newbury & district

Latest news from Newbury Town Council, Chieveley Parish Council and Hamstead Marshall Parish Council.

• In years to come a book might be written documenting various ambitious projects by local councils which have for one reason or another ended up as expensive and divisive fiascos. If so, the tale of the London Road Industrial Estate would surely merit a place. Over the last decade very little has been accomplished beyond a relief road, which was unnecessarily built at the council’s own expense, a large pile of legal bills and the closure of the football ground. It is this latest issue which has raised its head again as a result of the meeting of West Berkshire’s Executive shortly before Christmas which discussed the immediate future of the ground, each successive plan having so far proved to be unviable. The debate is reported on p3 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News. One comment that caught my eye was from Councillor Rick Jones who claimed that attempts to find alternative provision for the club had been hampered by the ‘non-co-operation’ of the club itself and of Sport England. This is not my recollection of events and I’ve asked SE for a comment. On being asked by Councillor Steve Masters if the original closure had been premature, Councillor Jones said that he didn’t ‘see any value in examining history.’ I wonder what his colleagues on the Scrutiny Commission and the advisory panel who have been charged with doing just this will think of this remark. Perhaps he meant that a recap of everything that led to this decision would be beyond him (as it would anyone) and also take far more time than was available at the meeting. Another point of view is provided by the oft-quoted maxim that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. 

• Returning to the specifics of the football ground the Newbury Community Football Group has long been propounding its own scheme for the site which includes artificial 3G pitches. The matter is set, finally, to be determined by the Western Area Planning Committee this week. You can see details of the plans here (enter the references 19/00073/WR and 19/00074/WR). Newbury Town Council has supported the application and I believe that Sport England (a statutory consult on these matters) has done so too. It’s important to stress that though the exile of the football club itself is the most visible part of the problem, the real issue is the loss of community sporting facilities which, via the club, were previously available. The provision of these – which includes finding a suitable replacement in the case of a development – is part of West Berkshire’s own policy (and national guidelines) and cannot therefore lightly be set aside. 

• And darting back to the LRIE, I understand that the relief road off the A339 which West Berkshire Council built has not been free of problems. It appears that the drainage is insufficient and that this is causing problems for some nearby properties.

• The Town Council is continuing to consider into the possibility of having some free car parking on market days (Thursdays). I understand that a provision for conducting a three-month trial is being considered but that the Council has yet to confirm if or when this will happen. The matter will probably be decided by the time the budget is finalised in the next month or so.

• This week’s NWN reports that a site near the M4/A34 near Chieveley Services has been identified by West Berkshire Council as one possible location for large-scale gravel extraction (the others being at Ufton Nervet and Brimpton). There will be a consultation from 20 January to 2 March on the subject.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village. It also publishes the Hamstead Hornet – if you’d like subscribe, contact Penny Stokes at admin@hamsteadmarshall.net.

• Click here for the latest news from the development of the University Centre at Newbury College.

• There’s some further news here about the new rail fares and timetable which came into force on 15 December and affect services to and from Bedwyn, Hungerford, Kintbury and Newbury. 

• Click here for the latest NTC News from Newbury Council.

• Click here for the latest information from Growing Newbury Green.

Click here for information on free English courses offered to ESOL students in Newbury (also Thatcham and Calcot) by the Berkshire School of English.

Compton & Downlands

Latest news from Hampstead Norreys Parish Council, Compton parish Council, Ashampstead Parish Council, Chaddleworth Parish Council, Brightwalton Parish Council, West Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.

• The December issue of Chaddleworth News has can be seen here. There will be no January issue so the next one will be in February. If you want to subscribe or contribute, contact chaddnews@gmail.com.

• If you fancy becoming a Compton Parish Councillor, now’s your chance…

• The January 2020 issue of West Ilsley Parish News can be found here.

• One possibly ominous article in this publication, if the Editor will forgive my describing it as such and copying some of the text, is that the village has had ‘the wettest Autumn since 2013 and as a result the ground water is rising rapidly. The Malthouse Well reading now stands at approximately 11.0 metres (36ft) below ground level.’ An accompanying graph  ‘shows that the groundwater is now at a similar level to December 2013 which preceded the 2014 floods.’

Hampstead Norreys C of E school is on the lookout for a governor – click here for details.

• There will be a quiz night in Brightwalton on Friday 24 January in aid of the Aspire Project.

• Please click here for dates and venues for the PCSO Have your Say meetings in the Thacham, Theale and Compton & Downlands areas.

Thatcham and district

Latest news from Thatcham Town Council, Cold Ash Parish Council, Bucklebury Parish Council, Brimpton Parish Council and Woolhampton Parish Council.

• Thatcham Town Council is looking for ambassadors, aged 16 and above, to help in a number of ways, promoting events, assisting with welcoming artists, suppliers and audiences and assisting us with stewarding. Click here for details.

• Do you know a young person or a youth leader in Thatcham who deserves to be recognised for something they do or have done? If so, click here to nominate them for the 2020 Thatcham Youth Awards.

• Approval has been granted to Sovereign Housing to build 33 affordable homes near Thatcham Station.

• As mentioned last week, Thatcham Community Forum is going through the process of setting out its priorities for 2020, with speeding and anti-social behaviour already confirmed as two of these. You can keep up to date with its work and activities through its Facebook page

• There’s a 16-seater bus that goes from Brimpton to the Kennet School every day and at present there are several spaces available on it. Click here for more information

• This week’s NWN reports that a Ufton Nervet and Brimpton have been identified by West Berkshire Council as possible locations for large-scale gravel extraction (the other being at Chieveley). There will be a consultation from 20 January to 2 March on the subject.

Refill Thatcham is a free campaign to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the town. More details here.

• The Nature Discovery Centre is looking for volunteers to work with the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust to provide a series on nature therapy sessions at the Centre. Click here for more information.

• Please click here for dates and venues for the PCSO Have your Say meetings in the Thatcham, Theale and Compton & Downlands areas.

• The December Parishes Magazine covering Aldermaston, Beenham, Brimpton, Midgham, Wasing and Woolhampton: click here to see it. This covers secular as well as religious matters.

• There’s some further news here about the new rail fares and timetable which came into force last month and affect services to and from Bedwyn, Hungerford, Kintbury and Newbury. 

Click here for the latest news about Cold Ash’s neighbourhood development plan, including the results of the recent survey.

• Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin. 

Theale and district

Latest news from Theale Parish Council, Aldermaston Parish Council, Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council, Englefield Parish Council and Burghfield Parish Council.

• Plans for a new tri-service fire station in Theale, have been approved by members of the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority’s (RBFA) Management Committee.

• A message here from These Parish Council for anyone wishing to set up a Neighbourhood Watch group in the area.

• A recommendation for West Berkshire Council to work with Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council to negotiate a 99-year lease of the library building and a joint-user agreement so that SMPC can take over the library building will be coming to the Executive on 16 January. The ice has been broken on this kind of scheme as Hungerford Town Council came up with the idea in 2017 and sold the idea to an initially sceptical, but later fully supportive, West Berkshire. The Hungerford Hub as it is now known is thriving. We wish Stratfield Mortimer all the best with their similar venture.

The same PC has requested that the BT phone box in Stratfield Mortimer be retained, even though only one call a month was made from it in the year to November 2019 as it meets all the ‘reasonable need’ criteria.

• James Lane in Wokefield will be closed for water-main repairs until Friday 24 January.

• Click here for details of forthcoming events in Burghfield.

Click here and here for the latest updates from Highways England about the progress of the work to turn the M4 from J3 to J12 into a smart motorway. (It was announced in October that theses were being reviewed, though whether this will continue now we have a new government remains to be seen.)

• Click here for information about Burghfield’s plans to create a community hub.

• Please click here for dates and venues for the PCSO Have your Say meetings in the Thacham, Theale and Compton & Downlands areas.

• The November Parishes Magazine covering Aldermaston, Beenham, Brimpton, Midgham, Wasing and Woolhampton: click here to see it. This covers secular as well as religious matters.

Marlborough & district

Latest news from Marlborough Town CouncilAldbourne Parish Council and Great Bedwyn Parish Council.

• Information here from Aldbourne Parish Council about what to do in case of flooding.

Marlborough News report this week on the unveiling of a statue commemorating the ordination of Thomas (later Cardinal) Wolsey at St Peter’s Church in 1498. As a statesman, he had his points, until he was unable to effect Hentry Viii’s divorce: as a servant of the Church it’s impossible to know where the charge sheet ought to start. 

• The same source also looks at a more contemporary issue, the recent discussion at Marlborough Town Council about the possibility of merging with the neighbouring Preshute and Savernake parishes. As the article states, there are some sound reasons in favour of this. Certainly the downward devolution of municipal responsibilities has left some smaller rural parishes feeling unequal to the task of continuing some of the services which the district or county no longer provides. If Cardinal Wolsey (see above) were around and active in Wiltshire today he would probably have already grabbed them, and a few others. Things are done differently now. 

• And still on the MN site, concern has been expressed about the lack of parking spaces at the site of the old St Peter’s School which is to be turned into a hotel. I can understand the concerns as, in Hungerford, there’s a slightly similar problem with residents of a town-centre hotel sometimes using parking spaces which result in some of the Wednesday market traders not being able to set up their stalls.

• The Marlborough Area Neighbourhood Plan Consultation results have been released – click here for details.

• There’s some further news here about the new rail fares and timetable which came into force on 15 December and affect services to and from Bedwyn, Hungerford, Kintbury and Newbury. 

• If you’re in Great Bedwyn, keep your eye on the Village Hall Facebook page here for details of what’s going on there, including films (featuring new state-of-the-art equipment).

• And in the same village, click here to keep up to date with what’s going on at the Youth Club.

Wantage & district

Latest news from Wantage Town Council, Grove Parish Council and Letcombe Regis Parish Council.

• The Wantage and Grove Campaign Group has confirmed that the application for a Lidl supermarket between Grove and Wantage has been refused.

• The Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire Councils have passed motions recommending that the voting age be lowered to 16 and have resolved to write to the government on the subject. I’m not sure what I feel about this. Some 14-year-olds are probably capable of making a sensible democratic decision whereas many adults have not a clue or don’t bother to vote at all. We have different age limits for sexual intercourse, driving, voting and legal responsibility and it’s arguable that any of them could be shuffled and re-allocated and still not produce a rational result in every human case. You obviously can’t mentally means test people for these things: my word, imagine what a colossal IT project that would be. It either wouldn’t work, or be hacked by the Russians or some civil servant would have all the data on their laptop and leave it on a train. I  have a ready-made opinion about most things but I’m right on the fence here. Keep things as they are. Or change them. I don’t know.

Oxfordshire County Council has decided to increase its council tax by 3.99%, 2% of which must go to adult social care.

• The Leader of the Vale Council, Emily Smith, issued her Leader’s Report on 18 December, which you can read here

• The same council has set out  its vision for a carbon-neutral council and district.

• Those who delight in seeing large structures being dynamited will need to travel no further than Didcot on Sunday 9 February. On that day, the 650ft chimney, the final main structure at the former power station, will be reduced to rubble; Hopefully this won’t result in 40,000 neighbouring homes losing power, as happened after the destruction of the last three cooling towers in August 2019.

• The South and Vale Business Support team at South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils is celebrating after winning the Institute of Economic Development’s 2019 Greatest Economic Impact Award.

• Five Oxfordshire councils have been awarded more than £92,000 in government funding to support homeless people this winter.

• The Grove Volunteer Litter-picking Group meets on the second Friday of every month.

Click here for the latest from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald addresses, once again, the question of the disparity between the number of new homes in the area and the infrastructure necessary to support them and questions how the latter will be paid for. She also points out that new government proposals to offer local people and key workers (whoever either of these will be defined) discounts on new homes will be paid from developers’ Section 106 contributions, so reducing there amount of money available to create the necessary transport links, services and amenities that will make the new development a desirable place top live.

• Organisers of community events in the Vale are invited to apply for some of the £10,000 worth of festival and events grants on offer from Vale of White Horse District Council. You have until February 2020 to apply.

• Click here for information the Didcot, Abingdon and Wantage Talking Newspaper (DAWN) for the blind and partially sighted. The organisers are currently appealing for help to keep the service going – click here for details.

• Click here for information on the location of defibrillators in and around Wantage.

• Click here for details of some forthcoming events in Wantage.

Swindon & district

Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.

• The annual search for Swindon’s unsung heroes has begun following the launch of the latest Pride of Swindon Awards. Nominations close on 24 January 2020.

• Swindon Council has opened a consultation into its proposals for a change in rent for council-house tenants.

• The Council is also launching a number of schemes to promote the benefits of cycling as a means of reducing some of the festive period’s excess flab.

• Swindon’s 2020 JobFest will take place on Tuesday 4 February and will feature local employers who are offering apprenticeships and employment opportunities in the area

• An important consultation into Swindon’s updated local plan which will shape and guide future housebuilding and development in Swindon over the next 20 years has just opened and will remain so until the end of January.

• Click here for details of the many volunteering opportunities at Great Western Hospital.

The song and the quiz

• The Song of the Week is something I used to love and came across again by chance: Different for Girls by Joe Jackson from 1979. If you like jangly, intelligent and melodic pop music then this is a pretty good example.

• Which leads, as happens, to the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is in fact a quiz, and your last chance to enter our Christmas competition to win a meal for two, a bottle of wine, a bed for the night and breakfast the next day the The Five Bells in Wickham. Last week’s question was: What do Isaac Newton, Humphrey Bogart and Kenny Everett have in common? The answer is that they were all born on 25 December (as were a lot of people called Noel).

Brian Quinn

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