Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s newsletter, Eastbury’s defences, East Garston’s repairs, Lambourn’s surgery, Newbury’s pear trees, Wantage’s hospital, Marlborough’s merger, Thatcham’s orcas, Cold Ash’s quiz, Chaddleworth’s roads, Stratfield Mortimer’s library, Bucklebury’s vehicles, Farringdon’s firefighters, Swindon’s football, Bedwyn’s departure, Midgham’s station, police and travel updates, good causes celebrated, smart motorways parking revenue, Spanish strings, the HELAA, EVs, DPI for PCs, parking charges, robust action, consultations, foster carers, estate rent charges, life on the blacklist, tweet in haste, cats, cucumbers, pigeons, interrailing in reverse and an ace in the hole.
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)
• West Berkshire Council has launched the consultation on its draft Environment Strategy (DES): you can find out more and make your comments by clicking here. It’s a vast subject. We’ve had a look at the document and asked a few scientist friends to make some comments on it. You can read our own thoughts here. As we mention, you may not agree with what we’ve suggested – and, if that’s the case, please let us know – but we hope that it will five you a few things to think about when making your own response to the consultation.
• The Council has also organised six drop-in events at public libraries in the area for people who’d like to meet representatives from West Berkshire to discuss the strategy. These are at Thatcham, Mortimer and Pangbourne (Monday 10 February 2020) and at Newbury, Hungerford and Lambourn (Tuesday 11 February). More details are available here.
• It’s to be assumed that West Berkshire has also made its response to the government’s Future Homes Standard consultation which closes on Friday 7 February. The neighbouring Vale and South Oxfordshire Councils have done so and have issued a joint press release which you can read here. One of the comments that struck me was that ‘both councils felt strongly that ‘the Government should be far more ambitious with its targets and timescales in the move towards constructing zero-carbon houses in their expectations of local authorities, housing developers and homeowners.’
• West Berkshire Council has, finally, published its Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (HELAA) and more details can be found here. As the preamble makes clear, it is ‘a technical assessment, not a policy-making document. It will not make recommendations on which sites should be developed but will make a preliminary assessment of their suitability and potential.’
• According to the Halifax Quality of Life survey, West Berkshire Council is the 41st best place to live in the country. I’m not sure how much these surveys tell us, particularly as they all seem to be done by estate agents or building societies who have their own reasons to stress that as many parts of the country as possible are intensely desirable. How do West Berkshire’s immediate neighbours do? Basingstoke & Deane is 49th, Swindon 45th, the Vale a place ahead of West Berks in 40th, Wiltshire 28th and South Oxfordshire 21st. You can see the whole list on p8 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News.
• This week’s Newbury Weekly News considers the matter of revenue from parking charges which the article claims fell by 10% in the financial year 2018-19 compared to the year before. Based on the figures quoted, which I’ve asked West Berkshire to confirm, the gross revenue (before any costs) fell by more like 11.7% but the net revenue (the Council’s profit, if it can be so described) by about 6.5%. The costs remained fairly flat across both years which may be due to the various ups and downs that the article mentions, but may also be because the cost of collection is largely fixed irrespective of the revenue raised.
As to why the revenue has fallen, the Council says it’s part of annual fluctuation, which might be true (though it seems a pretty big change). Another reason might be that the 30%-odd fall in fines (which makes up about 10% of the revenue) was due to a higher level of compliance, though Councillor Alan Macro has suggested that lack of enforcement was the real reason. If enforcement levels have fallen, it’s hard to see why the overall costs are pretty much unchanged. He also suggests that people have been put off driving into Newbury town centre by increased (or perhaps more complicated) parking charges. This may be true: but if so, this might be regarded as a good thing in the current climate emergency. Perhaps more people are walking, cycling or taking the bus; or perhaps more are shopping online. Councils can’t win with this one. Too much revenue or too little, more parked cars or fewer, each has compensating pros and cons. One thing that we’d all agree on (I think) is that the charges should be clear and payable by the widest range of methods, including cash. Car parks with complicated conditions or exclusions or poor signage and where one can only pay by phone fulfil neither of these requirements.
• The letters pages of the NWN provides, as ever, some robust opinions (see the foot of this section for a summary). One of the regular correspondents, Ian Hall, refers to how he has been put on a blacklist for vexatious complainers as a result of getting involved in local planning disputes. He suggests that the Newbury Community Football Group is in the same boat. Whether such a blacklist exists and, if it does, how many names are on it is impossible to say. What is undeniable, however, is that NCFG has for several years been waging a campaign against the closure of the football ground (an Asset of Community Value) which has included making a number of representations to the Council, including FoI requests, and complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman. Having spoken to a representative of the NCFG, it would seem that the Council’s reactions could be summarised as being late, and/or incomplete, and/or evasive and/or obstructive.
One reason for refusing or delaying an FoI request is that it requires an unreasonable amount of work: this objection surely can’t apply one of the NCFG’s FoI refused requests which demands merely the release of a single document known to exist, the ground’s condition survey from the summer of 2018. The council can also invoke ‘Regulation 12(4)(b) (Manifestly Unreasonable) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004’ because the burden of complying with it outweighs any public interest in meeting the demands the request places upon the council as a public authority. It seems to me that all these criteria – the level of public interest, the amount of the work and the concept of ‘manifest unreasonableness’ – are subjective. Because one party wants to get the information and the other for whatever reason doesn’t want to supply it, such tension is always going to exist and perhaps needs the more speedy intervention of a disinterested body that has the power to decide what is to happen. The problem, I concede, is that any such body would need to do a lot of research into the matter first, in which case the council would presumably also be put to all the work that it’s response was seeking to avoid. The solution, as with so many things, lies with doing things properly in the first place. Whether or not things were done properly in this case is not currently clear. What is clear, though, is that a number of people seem to think that they weren’t.
The demise of the football club is, of course, part of the far bigger saga of the London Road Industrial Estate, any consideration of which (as one of the councillors involved in the Task Group looking into the history of this for the Scrutiny Commission recently admitted) produces more questions than answers. It seems safe to assume that the NCFG and others will continue to ask questions and hopefully receive more answers than hitherto. It may also be that, before too long, the Information Commissioner will be having some questions to ask as well.
• My opinion of Twitter sinks to a new low pretty much every time I read a story about the inanities (to put it politely) that it spreads. Following a Twitter feed, which I do very rarely, makes me feel that I’m eavesdropping on a dozen pointless arguments in a pub car park at 11.30 on a Friday night. Go back half an hour later and it’s another dozen people yelling and cursing about something different. Maybe I’m just unlucky, or growing old, but it seems to me that most of the things that are said should remain in the pub, being voiced once to a few like-minded friends and then conveniently forgotten. As it is, the slightest thought, opinion or humorous aside we have now needs to be shared with perhaps thousands of people, most of them complete strangers to us. One thing’s for sure, it’s no place for nuanced debate. The limit is 280 characters but the average length of a tweet is only 33. To later claim that ones remarks have been taken out of context is therefore impossible, as there usually was no context. There must be thousands of people every day, ranging from Premier-league centre forwards to town councillors and from eco campaigners to drunken racists, who wake up every morning, look blearily at their phone and say to themselves ‘Oh, God, did I really write that yesterday?’ I did an April fool last year about Facebook which addressed this point. Two things that shocked and surprised me were (i) that a number of people thought it was a genuine news story; and (ii) that I later discovered that some of these features effectively already existed.
Why am I banging on about this? The lastest Twitter-storm that I’m aware of concerns the MP Tracy Brabin who had the temerity to wear a dress showing one of her shoulders while addressing the House of Commons. Some of the comments she received would not be the kind of thing you’d expect to hear on TV before the 9pm watershed. I wonder how many of the trolls would have dared to make their remarks to her face. Social media has in so many ways empowered, connected and enlightened us. In other ways, however, it’s turning us into anonymised and vindictive sociopaths.
• West Berkshire Council has received an additional £475,000 from the government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative ‘to help to further reduce rough sleeping from April 2020. This new funding supplements existing funding that is already committed for the same period.’
• The campaign against smart motorways is building. I received this campaign email today which adds to what I’ve read in the press recently. According to the RAC, nearly 70% of people think that these motorways without hard shoulders are more dangerous than the old ones. The PCC for North Yorkshire has expressed ‘astonishment‘ that his warnings to Highways England about the safety dangers had been ignored. Most damning, perhaps, recent documents which The Times claim to have seen suggest that the decision to reduce the number of lay-bys – originally intended to be every three-quarters of a mile or so but which are in many case much less frequent – was taken large on cost grounds and with safety being a secondary consideration. Apparently this saved about 2% off the cost. The Sun quotes from what appears to be same Highway England report as follows: “The primary goals for the scheme do not include improving safety and the road user safety objective is to ensure that the scheme is no less safe than the safety baseline.” This article in the Daily Mail suggests that the lay bys could be up to two and a half miles apart and adds that the Transport Secretary has said that the proposed smart motorways ‘will not be opening’ until a safety review is complete.
The same article provides, lower down, a map of the motorways which are currently ‘smart’ – which includes most of the M25 and many other parts of some of the country’s major M roads – and notes that Mr Shapps has said he can’t confirm that these would be converted back if whatever review process found that the new arrangements were unsafe. This seems a nonsense to me: rather like saying that no new alcoholic surgeons should be allowed to operate, as they are dangerous, but that existing ones could carry on as before. The Mail goes on to suggest that ‘it can take 17 minutes’ for the system’s CCTV cameras to spot stricken vehicles. Presumably this is an extreme case: but it took about 15 seconds for a car to plough into the back of me a few years ago (admittedly on the A34, not a motorway) which wouldn’t have happened if there had been a hard shoulder. That said, hard shoulders are very dangerous as well.
It’s quite hard to find out what the cost of the smart motorways has been: the above-mentioned Daily Mail’s article suggests a figure of £6bn but I’m unsure if this refers to the whole project or just what has been spent to far. We were told, unofficially, a few years ago by someone involved in motorway repairs that two deaths of staff were factored in to the original plans, that being then point at which more elaborate and expensive safety measures would be put in place. Perhaps Highways England has a similar view with regard to passenger deaths. I’m not sure what it’s primary remit is, to keep traffic moving or to ensure passenger safety. The reports mentioned above suggest that it isn’t completely sure either.
• In last week’s column I mentioned about the question of electric-vehicle charging points in Newbury and how some of them had never been used, sometimes because they were in places that had no priority of electric vehicles The matter was also referred to at the most recent meeting of Hungerford Town Council: should charging points be installed when there might be insufficient demand for them? was the question posed regarding the ones being installed in Hungerford. The two-pronged answer, with which I agree (for what it’s worth), was (a) that if you want to encourage something, supply will initially be greater than the demand; and (b) that most of the money for this West Berkshire initiative had come from central government. For more in this, and the many other things discussed at this meeting, see the Hungerford Area section below.
• So Kirk Douglas has died, aged 103. I’m unable to find anything about this life that is connected with this area but regular readers will know that, in this section, I use the definition of ‘local’ fairly loosely. We’ve all seen Spartacus, but if you watch no other film he’s made, I advise Ace in the Hole.
• 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.
• Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) recently held an event to recognise the contribution of on-call firefighters across the county and welcome those who have joined the service in the past three years.
• Parish councils are currently setting their precepts – indeed many have already done so – regarding which a recent paragraph in District Councillor Graham Bridgman’s parochial report would be of interest to any parish councillors or clerks out there. He and West Berkshire’s Monitoring Officer have pointed out that, as parish councillors are themselves council tax payers, they have a declarable peculiar interest (DPI) in the outcome of any budget discussions: presumably even if, as generally happens, they are voting to increase the precept. Before they can take part in any discussion, dispensations, individually or en bloc, are needed. This page on the Gov.uk website has more on this slightly abstruse point. I presume the same applies at district-council level, indeed even more so, when each sets its budget.
• The animal of the week is any of the cats in this video compilation reacting hysterically when confronted with a cucumber. I watched this because our cats love eating cucumbers, along with virtually any other organic matter, and aren’t at all scared by them. The problem for the cats may be not the fact that they’re cucumbers but the fact that they weren’t there before. If you turned round and saw behind you a bucket, or a lamb chop, or a miniature traction engine that hadn’t been in place two minutes previously you might well leap in the air as well. Try it on a colleague or family member and see what happens.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as the one referred to above, some thoughts about pavement parking, two contrasting views about the proposed hydrotherapy pool and two about PR, a question about commercial-property investment and a criticism of Gary Lineker’s salary.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including leave the Light On (thanks to Speedo Mick); Loose Ends (thanks to Newbury Building Society); Thames Valley Air Ambulance (thanks to David Wilson Homes); the Chaddleworth memorial Garden (thanks to Jenny Trier); Devizes Opendoors (thanks to David Owen Accountants); many local organisation (thanks to Greenham Trust).
Hungerford & district
• There are currently three vacancies on Hungerford Town Council – see here for the official notice.
• This being the start of the month, Penny Post Hungerford has just been published, giving the best and most comprehensive round-up of what’s going on in and around the town. As well as the latest from the Town Council, the Town and Manor and the local retailers, there’s news from HEAT, the Rugby Club, the Primary School (and its Friends) and the Hub. There’s also a review of a spooky book, a farcical short story, a look up at the night sky, a look back at the Wassailing event in January and a look round the garden. It also has offers, events and information about local organisations before ending up with some wise words from Muriel Spark. If you didn’t get it, click here to read it.
• It’s worth specifically mentioning our regular round-up of news from the Town Council: this most recent January/February update is a particularly full one, there being several things going on and up for discussion. This includes confirmation that Costa Coffee has finally applied for planning permission for the furniture outside its outlet in the High Street, a matter which NWN also mentions on p19 this week.
• On the same page, there’s an article about the proposed marina in Hungerford which has been rumbling on since 2003. It seems that the developers want to amend the plans (yet again), this time to scale down the project. The significance of the reference to the ‘groundbreaking exercise’ is that planning permission generally lapses after three years unless work has started. ‘Starting’ can mean a number of things, perhaps little more than digging a trench or demolishing an existing structure. Once such work has started, the permission remains in force until the planning authority serves a completion notice, after which the work must be finished within a year.
• The same paper also returns to a theme well-trodden over the years in both the NWN and Penny Post, the question of the town’s pigeons. The comment made by one member of the public at a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting that the town was ‘shooting itself in the foot’ by not getting to grips with the problem is a tad unfair. As the article summarises, it seems widely accepted that there is no one quick fix for this.
• Nominations are now open for Hungerford’s 2020 Freedom of the Town awards: click here for details. Nominations must be in by Sunday 1 March.
• A reminder that Hungerford Town Council will be holding its annual meeting on 18 March which will follow last year’s successful exhibition-style format with little in the way of speeches and more chances to talk to the groups or councillors you are interested in.
• The Town Council also intends to re-activate its councillors’ surgeries whereby council members (and perhaps also district councillors) will be at some public location at specified times to discuss any issues that people might have. These will be given wide publicity in Penny Post once the details have been decided.
• Click here for details of forthcoming (until mid-March) events at the Hungerford Bookshop.
• As has been mentioned here several times, Great Shefford has raised the funds for its contribution to a flood alleviation scheme in the village although, also as reported here, it remains unclear when work will start. This seemed like a good moment to remind ourselves about a scheme a few miles upstream, at Eastbury, which was opened in 2015. This article describes some of the things this scheme can and cannot do. The situation at Great Shefford presents different challenges and therefore a different scheme from Eastbury’s is being considered there.
• I went to the Valley Film Society’s screening of A Star is Born at the East Garston Village Hall earlier this week. What a great film that was. The evening was only slightly spoiled by Penny thinking I was ordering our food and my thinking that she was, with the result you can predict. Fortunately, we did manage to scrounge a few left-overs.
• As mentioned last week, a reminder that the excellent Queens Arms in East Garston is on the market. Please contact email@example.com for more information. In the meantime, it’s business as usual there (ie great food and drink, welcoming staff and plenty of events).
• Click here for the latest news from Lambourn Surgery, including regarding new doctors at the practice, flu jabs and a warning about missed appointments.
• A reminder that there will be a repair café in East Garson’s Village Hall on Saturday 7 March. Jewellery, small electrical items, tools, lawn mowers, bikes and sewing machines are just some of the items that could be returned to working order.
• The previous evening will, at the same venue, see the celebrated, annual and ever-popular (ie book soon, tickets selling fast) East Garston Cheltenham Preview Night.
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on Friday have its 88th day of broadcasting – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• As mentioned last week, the Newbury Town Council website still has some scaffolding up so not everything is quite as it one day will be. It’s getting there, though.
• Newbury in Bloom is hosting a community pear-tree planting day, together with Growing Newbury Green at City Recreation Ground on Saturday 15 February 2020 from 10am to 2pm. Volunteers are asked to come along to help plant 15 new pear trees (which will be in addition to the existing apple trees planted a number of years ago and are doing well).
• As anyone who has watched Singing in the Rain will know, the transition from the world of silent films to that of the talkies was not one that all actors managed to make. One Newbury-born thesp, Stewart Rome – christened Septimus William Ryott, a name he wisely decided to ditch –did manage to survive the change, appearing in around 150 films between 1914 and 1948, a list of which you can see here. He should shortly become a little better known in his home town as a blue plaque commemorating his life and work will be unveiled in Northbrook Street next week.
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
• 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.
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.
• West Ilsley Parish Council confirmed at its meeting on 13 January that its precept would rise in line with inflation (1.82% in WIPC’s estimation), to about £10,700. There would also be a consultation on how the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) due to the parish of about £6,000 should be spent. The CIL is, in the words of HMG, ‘a charge which can be levied by local authorities on new development in their area. It is an important tool for local authorities to use to help them deliver the infrastructure needed to support development in their area.’
• Chaddleworth Parish Council’s January meeting raised the concerns of the state of the parish roads following the recent heavy rainfall with the result that the verges were encroaching onto the roads. The Clerk was asked to contact Highways at West Berkshire Council to ask if they can be cleared. .
• Click here for the latest news from the Downland Practice.
• The January 2020 issue of West Ilsley Parish News can be found here.
• The January 2020 issue of Brickleton News (covering Brighwalton, as it’s now known) can be found here.
• The December 2019 issue of Chaddleworth News has can be found here. There was no January issue so the next one will be Februarys: due, we imagine, any time now. If you want to subscribe or contribute, contact email@example.com.
• 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
• I knew that orcas are great big black and white aquatic things with sharp teeth also known as killer whales but didn’t know that they are also rubber blocks used to separate cycle lanes from the rest of the road. This much I learned from reading the article on p25 of this week’s NWN. At a recent Thatcham Town Council meeting, orcas were discussed for use on the A4 but it was decided to defer discussion until it’s clear what will be happening with the proposed reduction of the speed limit f4om 40mph to 30.
• The same paper reports on p22 that the town’s hockey club has recently held a public consultation event concerning its plans to lay new pitches at Henwick.
• 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 with stewarding. Click here for details.
• One of the events for which such help will be needed is the town’s 2020 Family Fun Day. The date has been agreed (Sunday 28 June) and more details will be announced soon. A spokesperson at the Council told me today that it would be ‘the biggest and best ever.’
• Thatcham Town Council has agreed and ratified its 2020-21 budget, which will involve a 1.5% rise in its precept. A full report of the recent discussion at the Council’s Full Meeting on 27 January can be found on this page of the Council’s website in due course.
• 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. Nominations close at the end of February.
• According to Get Reading, Midgham’s station in the quietest (ie least used) station in Berkshire. Of the four quietest in the county, three are on the stretch of the main line between Hungerford and Theale. Thank goodness Dr Beeching isn’t around any more to read statistics like this.
• Refill Thatcham is a free campaign to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the town. More details here.
• Please click here for dates and venues for the PCSO Have your Say meetings in the Thatcham, Theale and Compton & Downlands areas.
• A reminder from Bucklebury Parish Council, probably in response to recent infractions, that vehicles cannot be driven on the Common.
• 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 which has news of upcoming events including details of a quiz on Saturday 7 March.
Theale and district
• A message here from Theale Parish Council for anyone wishing to set up a Neighbourhood Watch group in the area.
• Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council will receive, over the next few years, about £350,000 from the developers of the 110 houses behind the Horse and Groom as a result of CIL and S106 payments and will spend that money to enhance the amenities of the village. However, any new project will, almost certainly, have an ongoing running cost that will have to be paid for from Council Tax. The Council has therefore launched a survey among residents asking what projects should be considered. Comments must be received by Saturday 8 February. More information can be found here.
• The same PC is looking for nominations for this year’s Stratfield Mortimer Community Award. This is an annual award given to a person who has devoted outstanding time and energy for the benefit of the community of Stratfield Mortimer, irrespective of whether or not they live in the village. The closing date for nominations is Monday 17 February.
• Councillor Graham Bridgman reported in most recent newsletter that ‘I chaired the Executive meeting recently at which the proposal to lease the (Stratfield Mortimer) library to the parish council was on the agenda.’ He then reported that he was sent out of the room: not because he was was being naughty but because, being a parish councillor as well, he had a conflict of interest. The remaining members were able to agree the matter in his absence. This is likely to follow the successful plan adopted a few years ago by Hungerford.
• Click here for details of forthcoming events in Burghfield.
• 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.
Marlborough & district
• The former local MP Claire Perry quit her seat last years in order to become the president of COP26, the UN’s forthcoming climate-change summit. Her position as Conservative candidate in one the country’s safety Tory seats went to Danny Kruger, a close political ally of Boris Johnson. Last week, Boris Johnson sacked Claire Perry from her new job. As this article in Marlborough News explains, opinions differ on how justified this was.
• The same website reports that it’s now unlikely that Marlborough’s possible merger with the neighbouring parishes of Savernake and Preshute will go ahead. It seems that Wiltshire Council received far more such suggestions when it offered the opportunity to review parish boundaries and only selected some, not including Marlborough’s, for further consideration. I don’t know how many of the 70 such requests involved councils merging and thus reducing the total number but I imagine quite a few. One of the motivations would have been to maximise their economies of scale. Parish councils are increasingly the final destination of an often insidious process of downward devolution of a number of services but without additional financial resources. If any of the proposals did involve mergers I’d have thought Wiltshire would look at these very favourably: not only would they have fewer parishes to communicate with, which would save time and money, but they’d also be more chance that the new, larger ones would have broader shoulders. It seems that this has not been the view taken.
• The Gazette and Herald reports that Wiltshire Council is set to agree its 2010-21 budget with a council-tax rise of 3.99%. 2% of this must be spent on adult social care which, judging by the fact that the authority faces an overspend of nearly £3m ‘if no action is taken’, is just as well. Every council has come under increasing pressure to pay for these services in recent years, with demand and costs rising and government financial support falling.
• A reminder that Forestery England’s Forest Plan for the Savernake Forest is about to be revised and to help shape elements of the Plan FE would like to know what is important and special about Savernake Forest to you.
• Homestart Kennet is looking for volunteers to help with its projects in the area – click here for more information.
• As mentioned previously, last orders at The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, will take place on 28 March, Sue and Roger Jones having decided to put away their aprons. High standards must be maintained to the end, of course, and they’re short of a kitchen porter for eight days in late February and Early March – click here for details.
• Swindon Link reports that Wiltshire Wildlife Trust is calling on Wiltshire’s residents to take up the Waste-free Feb challenge, which last year saw over 400 people save around eight tonnes of rubbish from going in their bins.
• 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
• The long-running battle to re-open the Wantage Community Hospital continues. The latest issue, as reported by the Wantage & Grove Herald, concerns the rejection of a report prepared by the Oxfordshire Health and Wellbeing Board which said that there was ‘not a compelling case’ for re-opening the hospital’s ward. The report said that in 2018-19 the actual demand for community-hospital beds from Wantage residents would only have half filled the hospital on average and that these were and could be catered for by other community hospitals in the area. The Town Council’s argument is that this takes no account of seasonal fluctuations and, perhaps more importantly, of future growth. With the population of Wantage and Grove set to almost double over the next decade or so, more infrastructure and not less is surely needed.
• Oxfordshire County Council has decided to increase its council tax by 3.99%, 2% of which must go to adult social care.
• The Vale Council has set out its vision for a carbon-neutral council and district.
• The Vale Council’s Climate Emergency Advisory Committee (CEAC) met on 28 January to recommend new schemes for the council to tackle climate change. The committee recommended a one-year programme of actions to begin the journey to a carbon neutral council by 2030 and a carbon neutral district by 2045.
• More than 430 people on low income in the Vale of White Horse will receive additional support to help them pay their council tax.
• And still with council tax, the Vale has been describing the ‘robust action‘ it has taken to recover unpaid sums owing to it. The robust action includes publishing the names and addresses of those who have been fined as a result.
• Waste enforcement officers from South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils are holding a series of events this month where they will meet the public to talk about littering. They have also put together a top ten list of excuses given to them from people caught in the act. (These aren’t as good as the similar lists of deranged reasons some people have to dial 999 but there are some good ones there.)
• The fire stations at Wantage and Farringdon are appealing for more recruits. Click here for more information.
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald covers something we’ve mentioned before, the problem of estate rent charges by which homeowners are liable for repair and maintenance costs for communal areas such as playgrounds. The charges can be considerable: worse still, if they are defaulted on then the rent-charge company has a claim on the title deeds of the home, trumping the interests of the building society or bank which has loaned the money. As a result of a recent High Court judgement, these charges were declared fair and legal. As a result, some lenders will not advance loans for and some solicitors will not recommend completion on a property where such charges apply, with the obvious consequence that some owners have not been able to sell their home or can do so only at a discount. Her article points out that the problem is getting worse as local councils are more reluctant than in the past to take on the financial and administrative burden of managing such spaces. The problem is not, of course, restricted to Wantage: but with so many new homes on estates planned, it’s likely to be more of an issue here than in some other parts of the area.
• The same paper reports, on p12, about the ‘growing calls for action’ following the ‘baffling’ lack of upgrade work on the A34. This road, the main north-south route in this part of the country and one used by over 50,000 vehicles a day, has had a particularly bad press recently and has been the setting for some shocking accidents. The problem, it seems to me, is that it’s an A road that thinks it’s a motorway, as do many of the people using it. The only real solution would be to rip the whole thing up and rebuild it as a motorway, but that’s clearly not going to happen.
• And still with the Herald open before me, on p14 there’s an article about the life and work of Wantage artist Jane Cook, who died 100 years ago last month.
• As mentioned before, the last bits of Didcot Power Station will bite the dust, indeed become dust, on Sunday 9 February (so, very soon now). If you can’t make it in person, it’s sure to be on YouTube within minutes.
• Last week’s Herald reported that twice the amount of lorries as originally planned will be allowed to enter and exit Farringdon Quarry’s new concrete plant, despite concerns about safety for nearby villagers.
• The same source has published this guide to hospitals serving the Wantage and Grove area.
• 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.
• 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.
• Swindon Link reports that the sale of the County Ground to Swindon Town Football Club and Swindon Town Supporters has reached a major milestone.
• Swindon Council has released a statement regarding recent progress on the Mechanics’ Institute. It is also currently carrying out a survey to assess the proper condition of the building which will be completed in the next few weeks.
• And news here of progress at another Swindon landmark, the Old Town’s Corn Exchange.
• A new project to enhance urban meadows and forest habitats while improving people’s health and wellbeing has been launched by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (WWT) and Swindon Borough Council.
• 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 Borough Council has launched a special e-newsletter to keep residents fully up to date with the Eastern Villages project, one of the largest greenfield developments in the country.
• Click here for details of the many volunteering opportunities at Great Western Hospital.
The song and the quiz
• The Song of the Week is a particularly lovely thing that a friend, with unerringly perfect timing, sent me this morning. ‘Unerringly perfect timing’, and pretty flawless playing, are what characterises this version of How About You? By Èlia Bastida and the Joan Chamorro Quartet. The 40 seconds or so from about 1’25” are especially exquisite.
• So – the Quiz Question of the Week. pushes itself to the front once again. This week’s question is about something that I spotted on some website or other last weekend and is as follows: What was odd about last Sunday? (A sort of clue: the last time this happened was in the early 12th century.) Last week’s question was one of the ones posed at the Brightwalton Quiz last week in aid of the Aspire Project (many thanks to Dave and Gill for supplying the question) and is as follows: The UK reversed its decision to leave which European organisation last year? The organisation was not, of course, the EU – though it seemed until December that almost any outcome, including this one, was still possible – but Interrail.
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