Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s plans, Lambourn’s pipes, East Garston’s forum, Newbury’s flats, Wantage’s hospital (again), Speen’s trees, Grove’s heroes, Marlborough’s declaration, Thatcham’s masterplan, Mortimer’s closure, Chieveley’s salt, Cold Ash’s impact, Aldermaston’s sites, Chaddleworth’s question, Greenham’s groups, Aldworth’s award, Didcot’s dust, Swindon’s early years, Bedwyn’s filleting knife, police and travel updates, good causes celebrated, Spurs fans, Kirk Douglas’ balloon trip, squabbling mice, a £23m splash, XI.XI.MCXI, HS2, AWE, HELLAs, A34, offence, fracking, fostering, firefighting, a student-writing challenge, the Valley’s newsletter, dental decisions, green and orange comments and the other Valerie.
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)
• As mentioned before, West Berkshire Council has launched the consultation on its draft Environment Strategy (DES): you can find out more and make your comments (by Friday 21 February) 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 two opposition parties on West Berkshire Council have recently issued their own comments on the draft strategy. Here are the statements (arranged, you will notice, in non-partisan alphabetical order) from the Green Party and the Lib Dems.
• West Berkshire Council has, finally, published it’s 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.’
• So, HS2 has finally been approved, despite the fact that the government’s option of the company in charge, HS2 Ltd, appears to be so low that it doesn’t trust it to construct the second part of the project on its own. The project, which will cost over £100bn and is heralded as a major benefit to the north of England, seems mainly to benefit people in London and Birmingham. From conception to the first trains will take nearly 20 years: the majority of the country’s railway network was built in about this time in the mid-19th century; while the Domesday Book (a staggering logistical achievement for the time through not, I appreciate, a railway) took 14 months. The moral seems to be that if you want something done quickly, if perhaps not fairly, then Victorian engineers or Norman administrators are what’s required.
Or, perhaps, the Chinese. This article in February 2020’s Building magazine suggests that CRCC claims it can build the line in five years and for a price closer to the original £56bn budget.
• There are a lot of things I just don’t get. Opera, the novels of Henry James, rugby and roast pork all fit into this category. So too does almost the whole word of visual art. A lot of people, ranging from curators of galleries to talented painters, have tried to cure me of this but I remain defiantly , perhaps stubbornly, indifferent to it. Penny is an effortlessly wonderful artist (well, it isn’t effortless: she’s done it a lot) but the only thing I can draw is an elephant from the back, and even then I generally have to explain to most people what it is. The only picture I’ve seen that remotely moved me was Caravaggio’s The Beheading of St John the Baptist in St John’s Cathedral in Valetta in Malta: but my visual discrimination was perhaps disturbed in equal measure by the over-the-top ornateness of the cathedral’s decorations and the two bottles of strong Italian wine we’d earlier shared over lunch. Then I read that David Hockney’s The Splash has been sold for over £23m. You can buy a decent print of it for £30 and unless you looked closely wouldn’t be able to spot the difference between that and the original. Imagine if you could only really enjoy Revolver or Brideshead Revisited if you owned the original master tape or manuscript. If it’s the original one or (in the case of technology) the most recent one, we’ll pay insane amounts for it.
• It’s very hard to police and control the use of words and phrases that are for whatever reason regarded as unacceptable. It’s even harder when in some circumstances a group uses the term to describe themselves. This conundrum has recently been elevated to the attention of the highest authority possible – the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary – with regard to the term ‘yid’ to describe a Jew. The word is laden with pejorative undertones: but any judgement is complicated by the fact a large group of Spurs’ fans (a club with a traditionally strong Jewish following) use the term to describe themselves. The article notes that the comedian David Baddiel, amongst others, has called upon Spurs fans to stop using the word in chants: but he’s a Chelsea fan. Does this make his testimony suspect? I don’t know.
• You might notice I deliberately avoided using the word ‘offensive‘ in the above paragraph. So far as I’m concerned, in most cases this is a subjective term: offence may be taken by one person and not by another to the same remark. To brand a word or an opinion as ‘offensive’ – ie everyone will regard it as such – is a lazy, manipulative and blanket retort that does a lot to stifle debate and to obscure any rational consideration of why the remark was made at all.
• As mentioned last week, the campaign against smart motorways is building. I received this campaign email last week 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, which would have an obvious effect on safety, was taken large on cost grounds, this adding about 2% to the conversion bill. 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.
• I mentioned last week that Kirk Douglas had died, aged 103, but that I was unable to find any connection between him and the local area. Thanks to Ian Hall for pointing out that the venerable Hollywood legend was spotted in Lambourn some years ago. It seems that a hot-air balloon landed near him and gave him a flight, something the gung-ho Mr Douglas must have greatly enjoyed. This was either a co-incidence or else the balloonists had very good eyesight. I’m trying to imagine one saying to the other, from 1,500 feet up: “You see that bloke, down there, walking across the field – I think that’s Kirk Douglas…no, really. Let’s pop down and see…”
• The question of fracking is not one normally associated with this area but, as reported on p6 of this week’s NWN, that’s changed. The most recent WBC Mineral & Waste Local Plan referred to the possibility of deep-lying shale deposits in the area, which prompted both officers and members to reflect on what the Council’s policy should be. As the Planning and Transport Policy manager Bryan Lyttle explained to the paper, and based on conversations I’ve had with others, the issue seems to be that as fracking is in some circumstances permitted as part of national legislation it’s not possible for West Berkshire to have an outright ban on it as to do so would conflict with national legislation. One possibility is to have no policy and trust, perhaps naively, that national legislation will continue to provide adequate protection. Another is to have a policy, but if so this would need to be carefully worded to ensure it was neither too strict (so risking an appeal by developers) or too permissive (so risking one by campaigners). I haven’t had time to discover what other councils have done in this. Fracking seems to be something that is generally opposed in West Berkshire and certainly would appear to run contrary to the climate emergency. Good intentions do, however, have a habit of vanishing in the face of the handsome financial inducements which fracking companies can offer. What’s probably needed is a test case: though I’m not sure that West Berkshire Council’s legal team would welcome this at the moment.
• 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.
• The animals of the week are these two squabbling mice somewhere on the London Underground. The photo recently won a national award.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as the one referred to in the Newbury Area section below, a diatribe against Network Rail, several views on pavement parking, a criticism of game shooting and an obvious problem with the A34.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: many charitable groups in Wiltshire and Swindon thanks to the Wiltshire Community Foundation; Australia’s koalas (thanks to pupils at Hungerford Primary School); Loose Ends (thanks to pupils at St Finian’s School in Cold Ash); 4th Thatcham Cubs (thanks to Persimmon Homes).
Hungerford & district
• There are currently three vacancies on Hungerford Town Council – see here for the official notice.
• Penny Post Hungerford was published last week, giving the best and most comprehensive round-up of what’s going on in and around the town. 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.
• Hungerford’s Planning Committee has considered two proposed developments, both of which we’ve referred to here in recent weeks: the conversion of the former Barclays Bank in the High Street to residential use (no objection); and the rather more complex and long-running matter of the revised plans for the marina (deferred due to a lack of detail in the plans).
• Nominations remain now open for Hungerford’s 2020 Freedom of the Town awards: click here for details. You have until 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 some forthcoming events from the Hungerford Bookshop.
• As anyone who knows Lambourn will testify, the village (indeed, the whole valley) has had regular problems with sewage overflows, something that Thames Water doesn’t seem to be able to solve. The latest incident in Newbury Street, which has been going on for some days, got the attention of MP Laura Farris. At about 2pm on Thursday 13 Feb, she posted on the Lambourn Community Facebook page that she’d been in touch with Thames Water who admitted that their work on the problem on Wednesday ‘had not done the job.’ It seems that specialist equipment is now on its way. She went on to say that thereafter ‘there will be a proper analysis of the source of the problem.’ As this has been an issue for at least a decade, there should be ample evidence for such an investigation. Thames Water was quoted in this week’s NWN as blaming ‘a very wet period at the end of last year’ which led to groundwater levels rising. Some believe that the other part of the problem is that the pipes are so badly cracked that this groundwater is flooding into the pipes and causing overflows. If true, there seem to be only two courses of action: somehow alter the local geology or reverse the laws of physics to stop this happening; or repair the pipes.
• All of this – and the work reinforcing the archway by Pegasus Pizza on the Oxford Road – made Lambourn rather a tricky place to navigate through and park at when I had to visit Lambourn Dental first thing this morning to have a filling replaced, the gap having turned one of my molars into something similar to a razor blade. Thanks to by Denplan scheme (they’re welcoming new clients on this) I was in and out with nothing to pay. The decision I have to make is whether to spend a reasonable sum of money I don’t really have on root-canal work or have upper left 6 or whatever it’s called taken out. Much the same conundrum, on a larger scale, is one which both the Town and Manor of Hungerford and Benham Estates (as reported elsewhere here) make with regard to potentially diseased ash trees: manage the problem or do away with them. In both cases, these organisations have gone for extraction. Of course, they can plant new trees which will grow. If it’s possible to plant new teeth seeds then no one’s told me about it…
• Last weekend saw the publication of our February Valley of the Racehorse e-newsletter – if you didn’t get it, click here. Topics covered include the sites identified in West Berkshire’s recent HELAA report, a look at Eastbury’s flood defence scheme, road closures, news from the surgery, a new headteacher at Great Shefford, local property, local jobs, local rugby screenings, local courses and classes, two condolences, racing news and an interview with our very own Penny Locke.
• As mentioned before, a reminder that the excellent Queens Arms in East Garston is on the market. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org 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 89th day of broadcasting – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• This week’s NWN devotes the whole of p4 to coverage of last week’s decision by the Western Area Planning Committee to refuse permission for flats to be built on the site of the paper’s old factory in Faraday Road, on the western edge of the ill-fated London Road Industrial Estate. There are several things that confuse me.
Firstly, if, as the council officers asserted, there is risk of flooding then this surely puts (another) huge question mark over the viability of developing the site for any purpose other than as a flood plain. Second, it’s hard to see how, if the developers have been working with West Berkshire since 2016, the flooding issues (or at least the sequential test – see below) was still a problem at the last minute (I understand that the developers were very surprised when the agenda papers included an officer’s recommendation that it be refused on these grounds). Thirdly, for whatever reasons a number of important documents were not shared with the committee beforehand (or not shared in a way that enabled them to be discussed), even though one of these had been on West Berkshire’s planning pages since early October 2019. Perhaps as seriously, the Chairman had asked for the Council’s flooding officer to be present at the meeting or at least provide a statement but neither of these things happened. In addition, the Environment Agency, surely an authority on such matters, had already said that it accepted the developer’s flood mitigation and sequential assessment.
The slightly surreal situation was thus that a discussion which turned on a reasonably technical point regarding comparative flooding risks – which the EA had claimed was a non-issue in any case – was conducted without either crucial information from the developer or the direct, or even indirect, involvement of the Council’s own flood expert. Given such a massive information deficit, the obvious course of action would have been to defer the discussion until everyone had read everything, as committee-member and planning portfolio-holder Hilary Cole suggested. Instead, and to the surprise of many, it was decided to refuse the application. There is a reasonable chance this will lead to an appeal which, if it loses, would cost West Berkshire Council a good deal of money. Viewed from outside – which is most people’s vantage point – this latest instalment of the LRIE soap opera looks like a big muddle and is certainly something of a PR own-goal.
Much of the discussion involved the slightly arcane matter of the ‘sequential test’ by which developers have to demonstrate that no suitable land exists elsewhere in the area which could provide a similar development but with a lower flood risk. I understand that the developers did do this but, only a week or so before the meeting, it was announced that this hadn’t been done exactly to West Berkshire’s criteria. However, one of the documents that couldn’t be admitted was a statement from the developer’s counsel that this test could be demonstrated to accord with national statutory guidelines, surely more important than any criteria West Berkshire might apply. Quite why this came up so late in the day is mystifying. Also, if rigorously enforced, this obligation for a developer to consider every possible site – most of which they would have no connection with and no possibility of being able to develop themselves – is a good way of ensuring that nothing happens. Certainly, nothing much has happened at London Road apart from wrangling, litigation, eviction and enquiries. This is the latest opportunity to improve this part of the town and, once again, it’s been thwarted. This, and Faraday Plaza’s before it, would have offered immediate improvements and provided a positive catalyst for further enhancements, The Council appears to believe that the only acceptable outcome for LRIE is an over-arching scheme of its own devising and execution, something it has so far been completely unable to realise.
The Deputy Chair of the Western Area Planning Committee has written to NWN this week saying that the decision taken was ‘flawed’ and needs to be reviewed. The letter can be found on p16.
• There’s been some adverse comment about Benham Estate’s decision to fell a number of ash trees on Speen Moor. I don’t know any more about this than the NWN tells me, but it’s worth pointing out that the Estate has said that many of the trees were diseased – it wasn’t specified with what ailment, but ash dieback springs to mind – and that the felling was conducted after advice from natural England. The Town and Manor of Hungerford has done almost exactly the same thing for the same reason recently without, so far as I’m aware, receiving too much negative comment. Perhaps that was because they explained in advance, in Penny Post and elsewhere, what they were doing and why.
• An item caught my eye in the minutes of the Chieveley Parish Council meeting last month which referred to a quote for refilling the parish’s salt bins. The supplier had recently admitted that it had ‘accidentally not included the salt price in the quote,’ only the delivery cost. It subsequently lost the contract. I suppose this could happen to anyone, but even so. Imagine going into a pub and parting with your four quid or whatever and being handed an empty pint glass. “Oh, silly me,” the barman asks when you complain.
• Newbury in Bloom is hosting a community pear-tree planting day, together with Growing Newbury Green at City Recreation Ground. Both that this has been postponed for a week and will now take place on Saturday 22 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 was unveiled in Northbrook Street this week. See p10 of this week’s NWN for a report and photos.
• At its meeting last week, Greenham Parish Council agreed to set up working groups to look into installing EV charging points and community energy projects in the parish.
• 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 email@example.com.
• 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.
• Click here for the latest news from the Downland Practice.
• The January 2020 issue of West Ilsley Parish News can be found here.
(• 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.’
• 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 and it no seems no February one either. Also, the editor has announced his intention to retire so march’s one will be the last. We shall endeavour to supply, in this column and elsewhere, as much information about goings on in Chaddleworth and environs as we can. If you have anything you’d like to publicise, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• There still seems to be some confusion about what kind of incinerator was installed at the knacker’s yard between Shefford and Chaddleworth. It appears that repeated questions from Chaddleworth PC have been answered by West Berkshire along the lines that advice is being sought from interested parties including the Environment Agency and Thames Water. The important question seems to be nothing to do with these two bodies. It’s one of stunning simplicity: is the incineration equipment installed there compliant with the conditions of the planning consent? This is surely something that a 20-minute visit could establish. I’m sure Chaddleworth PC would be delighted to have its suspicions proved wrong. As it is, no one knows what has happened and it looks as if the planning authority is unwilling or unable to enforce or even investigate a decision it has made (albeit under duress, as the permission was granted on appeal to HM Planning Inspectorate).
• Congratulations to The Bell Inn in Aldworth which been named as the best pub in Britain in CAMRA’s 2020 awards.
• 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
• If you want to nominate someone for the 2020 Thatcham Town Council Civic Awards, click here for more information.
The question of developments in and around Thatcham – partly informed by the recent publication of West Berkshire’s HELAA and partly by two housing projects for over 700 homes which went through an appeal process right up to the Secretary of State – is the backdrop for ongoing work on the town’s masterplan. This will be a kind of appendix to the district’s local plan and will help inform planning decisions in the town. This week’s NWN reports on p23 that a meeting was held on the subject earlier this month, with some Thatcham Town Councillors expressing reservations that the exercise may be little more than a method of ‘dropping more housing’ on the town.
• Thatcham Town Council’s leader David Lister – by no means the first public figure in these parts to suffer from the curse of tweet in haste and repent at leisure – has apologised for a recent ‘ill-judged’ tweet on Brexit day. End of, I think.
• 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.
• 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. The newsletter quotes the Met Office’s prediction that the weekend’s threatened Storm Dennis includes ‘very low likelihood of medium impacts.’ (Impacts of what isn’t specified.) Presumably this must mean there is a high (or very high) likelihood of major impacts, and a high (or very high) likelihood of minor impacts, or of no impacts at all. The more I think about this, the less sense it seems to make. Basically, something might happen. Or it might not.
Theale and district
• A message here from Theale Parish Council for anyone wishing to set up a Neighbourhood Watch group in the area.
• The public car park outside St John’s Church in Mortimer will be closed between 8am and 11am on Thursday 20 February 2020 while speed cushions are installed.
• West Berkshire Council’s HELAA (which identifies which sites might be developed) has recently been released and parish councils across the area have been examining its local implications. The conclusions of Aldermaston’s, at it’s meeting on 11 February, was that ‘in our Parish, eight sites have been identified, five residential and three industrial. Most are considered contrary to planning policy and we believe are unlikely to proceed.’ (For more information on HELAAs, see this post: this concerns Lambourn’s but, aside from the specifics of the sites in that parish, this is relevant to every part of the district.)
• During the open forum at the same meeting, the Atomic Weapons Establishment announced that it hopes to build a substantial campus-like facility near the West Gate for clerical and administrative staff, with the ultimate goal of moving their Main Gate to that area.
• 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
• Information here from Aldbourne Parish Council about what to do in case of flooding.
• As mentioned last week, 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.
• The majority of local councils have declared climate emergencies but, according to the Gazette & Herald, only four schools. St John’s in Marlborough is one of them.
• Swindon Link reports that the policing element of the local council tax in Wiltshire and in Swindon for 2020-21 will rise by £10 per year (£0.84p per month), for the average band D property, meaning the current contribution of £206 per year to local policing will increase to £216 per year.
• 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 hang up their filleting knives (though not their corkscrews). 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
• We spent a good part of Tuesday at the careers days at King Alfred’s (held at the Wantage Leisure Centre). We came up with the idea of a writing challenge for any student in the area in years nine to 13. Click here for more information. The winner will receive a prize kindly donated by the Madhatter Bookshop.
• The long-running battle to re-open the Wantage Community Hospital seems to move from one report, meeting and campaign march to another since its ‘temporary’ closure in 2016. In the latest development, as reported in this week’s Wantage & Grove Herald, the Chairman of Oxfordshire’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee last week, Arash Fatemian, ‘asked the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group to re-open the beds by September if the CCG could not finish work into the medical needs of the OX12 postcode by then,’ going on to say that the matter had dragged on for too long to be called temporary. The CEO of the Clinical Commissioning Group said this suggestion would be considered. A number of local residents and campaigners spoke up in favour of the restoration of the hospital’s services and criticised a recent report which claimed that patient care could better be provided by other hospitals in the area.
• This situation, so it could be claimed, represents another manifestation of the inherent centralising instincts of governments and large organisations like CCGs. In some ways a more worrying manifestation of this is the extraordinary situation at South Oxfordshire District Council. The issue turns on its local plan, an essential document which guides planning decisions and policy in the region. This had been prepared by the previous (Tory) administration but not ratified. The May elections resulted in a shift of power to a ‘rainbow’ coalition led by the Lib Dems. The new administration felt that there were aspects of the local plan that were unsatisfactory and so delayed its ratification. The government reminded the council that about £430m of central finding for roads and housing projects could be put at risk. Still the council insisted that it needed to review the plan (not an quick job) and there was adequate land supply already provided for under the existing plan. The Secretary of State then announced that he was ‘minded’ to hand control of planning matters to Oxfordshire County Council, the next rung up the municipal ladder. At a recent meeting, OCC voted to agree to take on these responsibilities if requested to do so.
I’m not sure if this situation is unprecedented but it’s certainly alarming and shows up all sorts of fault lines in the current system. First, local plans are quite important, so to have their updating co-inciding with an election (which, due to the period of purdah, also removes six weeks from the debate about them) is baffling. Second, democracy is kind of what our system is meant to be based on. The results aren’t always convenient for everyone but they have to be respected. Third, it seems unlikely that this would have happened if the government and SODC had been of the same political composition. Fourthly, as all the district councils in Oxfordshire are planning authorities, I’m not sure that OCC has the staff or the experience to perform this function. Finally, if there’s the possibility that the local plan is flawed, surely something should be done about it?
The whole business of local democracy is pretty complex. West Berkshire is a unitary authority, meaning that it has control of all local-government functions (save the fairly minor ones allocated to parish and town councils). Oxfordshire is different: this is county council with five subsidiary district councils (Oxford City, the Vale, SODC, Cherwell and West Oxfordshire) to whom many functions, including planning, are devolved. Valid criticisms of both systems exist: one could argue, for instance, that West Berkshire has too little scrutiny of its actions; or, conversely, that in Oxfordshire there is too much duplication and confusion. (The Vale and SODC co-operate and share functions in some areas, so – perhaps – reducing inefficiencies but – probably – increasing public uncertainty.) In the case of Wantage, there are therefore four tiers of government, all of which are elected politically and which frequently (as at present) are not all of the same colour. (The Town Council of Hungerford, by comparison, is apolitical and only has two levels above it to contend with.) This can be made to work but does rather depend on everyone respecting the different election results and the decisions that result. This doesn’t seem to have happened in this case. The Editorial column on p10 of the Wantage & Grove Review (which in the past has been critical of new administrations in the Vale and SODC) this week took a very strong local and pro-SODC stand with phrases such as ‘the government threatening to strip your rights as voters’, ‘mind-bending hypocrisy’ and ‘power grab.’ Oxford West & Abingdon Lib Dem MP takes a similar line in her column on the same page. It’s hard to disagree.
• A cautionary tale this week from Wantage where Wantage Pilates Studio discovered overnight that the company which had sub-let them their premises had gone bust. As well as losing their studio they were in danger of having their own equipment seized if it couldn’t be proved that this was theirs. On this occasion, all ended happily. The kit was removed, new premises found in Grove (above Bellingers Vauxhall in Station Road) and after a frantic few days the move was complete. The owner, Julia Trinder, has publicly thanked all those who helped, including her ‘amazingly supportive’ pilates team, Bellingers themselves, The WellnesSpa Team at Richmond Village in Letcombe Regis (which kindly provided a such-needed spa voucher), the fast-moving Green & Co Estate Agents, Ray Collins for providing Legends from Ledbury transport and Mr Erdun, owner of ‘the best kebab van ever’ who fed Julia and her husband during the crisis.
I spoke to a local property expert about how these kind of problems can be anticipated. It’s obviously hard to know if your landlord is about to go under but one piece of advice is to ensure that the tenancy agreement and inventory is accurate. This will record what the landlord owns. Anything not on this list could therefore be assumed to be the tenant’s: but, to be doubly sure, one should have copies of receipts for any equipment bought and perhaps photos of them in situ and keep all these documents together. It will then be easy to prove who owns what. This will also help if there’s any dispute with the landlord at the end of the tenancy.
• 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 and early next (including on 28 Feb in Wantage and 3 March in Farringdon)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.
• 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 returns to the question of the hospital (see above) and asks a very simple question: would it not be easier to keep it?
• And here is a guide to hospitals serving the Wantage and Grove area.
• The last bits of Didcot Power Station vanished into dust last Sunday morning. You can see one video of this (many others exist) here. Quite what all the ‘OMG’ screaming on the soundtrack are about I’m not sure: if the people were videoing the tower at all surely they knew that something like this was going to happen?
This week’s Wantage & Grove Herald reports on p20 that Ollie ‘Gommie’ Gomm, a former Wantage schoolboy who quit his ten-year career as an actor to walk around the UK, is today opening an exhibition in London of the maps he used along the way.
• Congratulations to The Extraordinary Hare – which, even by the quite wide standards of pub nomenclature, is a pretty impressive name – in West Hendred for being given the accolade of Family-friendly Pub of the Year in a competition run by Heineken.
• This year’s Wantage Beer and Cider Festival will take place on Friday 13 and Saturday 14 March.
• Five Oxfordshire councils have been awarded more than £92,0https://www.heraldseries.co.uk/news/yourtown/wantage/00 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 said that 98% of two-year-olds in Swindon who are entitled to early education have received it thanks to the Council’s Early Years team.
• A package of measures has been put in place to support workers affected by the closure of Swindon’s Honda factory in July next year.
• Swindon Borough Council has committed to going carbon neutral by 2030.
• 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 involves a bit a game of word-association-football-match-box, so bear with me. Last weekend I had the pleasure of seeing the local band Pope (whose members include two of my sons, Toby the drummer and Adam one of the guitarists) play at two great but very different venues, The George in Lambourn and The Cobrizo Lounge in Newbury. As well as covers they do a number of originals, three of which are really lovely but I can’t give a link to any of these as they haven’t yet done a studio version of them. One of the covers is Valerie, originally by The Zutons and popularised by Amy Winehouse. It’s a good song and they do it very well: but in my view it’s not the best song called Valerie. Steve Winwood and Will Jennings wrote that one, and you can listen to it here. See – we got there in the end.
• So – the Quiz Question of the Week rounds off this column once again. This week’s question is slightly related to the convoluted journey is the paragraph above and is: What links Lady Gaga, Ace of Base, Bing Crosby, Santata and Ray Charles? Last week’s question was: What was odd about last Sunday? The answer is that, if written as eight digits, 2 February 2020 is palindrome – 02.02.2020. The last time this happened was on 11.11.1111, during the reign of Henry I. I doubt many people paid too much attention it at the time. XI.XI.MCXI doesn’t look quite as impressive, does it?
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