Local News 12-19 March 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s Hocktide, Lambourn’s surgery, Eastbury’s defences, East Garston’s survey, Hamstead Marshall’s hornet, Newbury’s wildflowers, Inkpen’s closures, Aldbourne’s crimes, Wantage’s infrastructure, Kintbury’s precept, Marlborough’s meeting, Brightwalton’s Ball, Thatcham’s tools, Compton’s repairs, Theale’s fete, East Hannay’s trees, Chaddleworth’s news, Cold Ash’s brains, Aldermaston’s sites, Hampstead Norreys’ panels, Mortimer’s volunteers, Swindon’s gates, police and travel updates, good causes celebrated, missing documents, isolation, self-isolation, business rates, defrauding Lords, cleaning the map, in praise of shame, capital budgets, one universal shout, 2,000 guineas, £3,000, wasps, newts, repairers, Douglas Haig, Mr Badger’s blood pressure and lift off. 

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)

• The Chancellor announced on 11 March that business rates would be abolished for the financial year 2020-21 where the rateable value was less than £51,000pa. This is partly in response to Coronavirus but probably also owes much to a number of criticisms of a system which the Treasury Committee described as ‘broken’ in a report in October 2019. The main accusations are that the rates are often high and over complicated and that they penalise bricks-and-mortar retailers and thus give an advantage to online ones. The latter, which can be technically located wherever financial circumstances are most advantageous, already enjoy the luxury of paying less corporation tax (or none at all) on their UK operations. The Chancellor also promised a review of the business-rate system. Hopefully this will take less time than the green paper on social care, an equally vital piece of work which was promised in June 2018 but has still not appeared. Local councils will doubtless be watching this with interest as business rates were intended to be a major source of funding from April.

• However, if there is any government plan to introduce a coherent new settlement to the funding uncertainty surrounding local councils then I’ve yet to see it. In a statement issues shortly after the budget, the Local Government Association said that ‘Urgent clarity is needed on how this review [into business rates] will impact on reforms that will allow local government to keep more of business rates income collected locally from next year.’ The inference is that no such clarity exists: and, if there were any, the LGA should know. Another document on the LGA website suggests that the whole process ran out of steam just before the 2017 election and has yet to be re-started. I’ve also heard from different sources that the government (a) will and (b) will not compensate local councils for their loss of revenues resulting from the rebate. With budgets for 2020-21 already having been prepared, the consequences of (b) could be very serious, even though the lion’s share of business rates are currently passed back to central government. One expert I spoke to today said that the whole process had been ‘Brexit-ed’. It’s certainly all a bit of a mess. Five years spend fiddling about with – and finally more or less ditching – a new system and then announcing a major review of the very method that was to form the basis of funding it doesn’t inspire confidence likely that any permanent solution will be with us any time soon.

• For many small businesses, even a small interruption in trade could have devastating consequences. The Chancellor introduced a number of measures this week which are summarised in this post from smallbusiness.co.uk. These include an extension of the sick-pay scheme, a one-off £3,000 grant to small businesses which fall below the threshold for paying business rates and fast-track loans from banks which are guaranteed by the government. So far, all the people who have died from the virus have had ‘underlying health conditions’. This phrase could also be used to describe an owner-managed business with little or no staff cover, stock that needs regular replenishment, limited cash reserves and pre-existing problems caused by lack of local footfall and on-line competition.

It remains to be seen whether these measures will be sufficient to help such retailers. I suspect that many of them might like to have, say, three months of hibernation rather than to struggle on and dissipate any grants or loans in an impossible commercial climate. This would require government support for small businesses on a colossal scale and would need the agreement of, amongst others, local councils, utility companies, landlords and major suppliers. This is, I appreciate, a very big thing to expect to happen. The risk otherwise is that the outbreak will have a disproportionately catastrophic effect on small firms. It would also result in an additional strain on the social security system thereafter. The retail landscape in a few months might thus be even more dominated than at present by large retailers with huge cash reserves, online ordering systems, a robust delivery network and the power to dictate terms to suppliers. If ever there was a time when the government needed to make a drastic intervention in the workings of the market, it’s surely now.

• A number of interpretations of the budget, and some of the points discussed above, have been produced: this is one of them that we’ve received, from Haines Watts.

• An interesting point has also been made to me by the West Berkshire Lib Dem group. It feels that property owners, not occupiers, should pay business rates: ‘The landowner,’ the statement runs, ‘makes almost no contribution to the real economy, whereas the occupying business does. Land values will be barely affected by a short-term blip caused by this virus and will be greatly helped in the long term by tax-funded capital infrastructure investment.’ One likely effect of this would be that landlords would simply increase rents to compensate them for their loss: another is that it might discourage some potential landlords from entering the market at all. If there is to be a thorough overhaul, however, then this might be an idea worth looking at. 

• Last week I devoted several paragraphs of this section to the question of the closure of the Village Agent scheme from the end of this month and its replacement by a different set-up with wider responsibilities, using new personnel with a new title (Community Navigators) and run by a different organisation. You can read more on this here.

• The Coronavirus situation (other words are available) has resulted in a number of public events being cancelled or postponed. This includes many aspects of Hungerford’s Hocktide celebrations next month. One event that is, currently, still going ahead is Hungerford’s annual meeting on 18 March. I understand that the Town Council has considered this very carefully and taken advice from various other groups including its professional association and local health bodies. It has also decided not to offer refreshments and to request that people don’t shake hands. (It should therefore be possible to get through the entire meeting without touching anything or anyone: safer, perhaps, than going to a supermarket, grabbing a trolley that’s been touched by 20 other people, filling it up with, say, pasta and toilet rolls and paying for it in cash and receiving change.) The situation may, of course, change in which case any postponement or cancellation will be given wide publicity here and elsewhere. 

• What do these two stories have to do with each other? They’re both concerned with isolation. It’s a sad irony that the people most in need of the Village Agent scheme and its replacement are also in many cases most at risk from Coronavirus. It’s hard to think of a tougher time to recruit people whose job it will be to go into many different homes every day. The mot du jour is currently ‘self-isolation’. By doing just this we may be helping to reduce the spread of the virus; but we’re certainly reducing the involvement that we have with our fellow humans. Three cheers for social media, email and the internet, you might say: but these don’t form part of everyone’s life. They connect us but also drive us apart. Our digital communications, this one included, are designed for our online readership. The rest of the world might just as well not exist, just as at any time before the mid 19th century our interactions were almost entirely within the town or village in which we lived, and in which we’d probably also been born. Life was probably less interesting but fewer people were completely excluded from communal activities. Modern communication excludes a lot of people and it was this isolation that schemes like the Village Agents were designed to combat. Now, the unfortunate combination of the changes to this initiative and the onset of the virus risk making the problem of isolation far worse. 

• A fraudster has been convicted of faking a Lord’s (the cricket, not the house of) membership pass, an action that the judge described as ‘despicable’. Using a dead member’s ID was certainly, as Miss Marple would say, ‘not very nice’ but I’m not sure how far down the pipe of moral turpitude this plunges. If we’re going to call this ‘despicable’ then we’re soon going to run out of words to describe some of the other matters that come before the courts on a daily basis. Perhaps a crime against cricket is regarded as the worst one in the book. What seems really odd about this to me is that the man bought the dead man’s ID when it was offered for sale on eBay. Is it normal to sell such things? What objects belonging to deceased relative have you flogged? It’s hard to believe why any rational person would want to buy a lapsed membership card for a complete stranger except for a dishonest reason.  

• You only really know just how much mess a teenage son has made in his room when he goes off to Vietnam for three months and you decide it’s time to have the carpets cleaned. Adam had told us he’d tidied his room out before he left on a three month trip recently. On closer examination this proved not to be true so a busy hour was spent the other day with hoover, dustbin and a damp cloth before the arrival of Jon from Eclipse Cleaning. When Adam was in residence, the room resembled a cross between a Moroccan brothel and the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. With most of the stuff rammed into drawers or piled up in corners it was now far less impressive, and also vastly dirtier, than either. What amazed me were some of the carpet stains. One that both fascinated and repelled me seemed to have been made some time ago by a mixture of blood, oil and sealing wax. Others were more delicate; rounded shapes of red and brown and green and other colours for which there is no name, fading and blurring into each other, each one a memento of some spill, leak or breakage. ‘It’s like looking at a map of the last two years,’ Jon said. ‘But I’ve seen worse.’ An hour later, the map was no more: to my delight and also to my surprise, every mark had vanished.   

• The centenary of the end of WWI is now over a year behind us but I’ve recently found myself glancing online at a couple of summaries of the life of Field Marshall Douglas Haig, a man who is remembered either as an incompetent butcher or a military genius depending on which account you accept. My interest was because my eye was caught, while keeping an eye on the football scores on Wednesday night, by the fact that there’s a team in Argentina’s third division called Douglas Haig. It was formed by ex-British servicemen in 1918 so the name was understandable then: what’s amazing is that it’s survived for 102 years. Mind you, the names of South American football teams are as bizarre as those of English villages. Three of the teams in Bolivia’s top division, for instance, are Always Ready, Blooming and The Strongest.

• West Berkshire Council has been awarded £4.5m from central government to improve worn out sections of road on the A4 between Newbury and Reading.

• And still with council’s finances, this week’s Newbury Weekly News has on p2 details of West Berkshire’s capital budget strategy, unveiled this week, which will see over £110m of investment in areas such as green energy, transport and education.

• The West Berkshire Library Service is reminding people who have difficulty in visiting their local library that the At Home service may be able to provide a solution. Click here for information.

• Greenham Trust is once again inviting local charitable organisations from West Berkshire and north Hampshire to bid for up to £100,000 in a Dragons’ Den style competition. Charities who are seeking between £30,000 and £100,000 are invited to apply for funding before Thursday 9 April 2020.

• 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

• This week’s NWN has a pull-out section featuring a hearteningly large number of local children who entered into the spirit of dressing up as part of the recent World Book Day

• The animal of the week is the humble wasp which, according to this video, performs a number of vital roles despite its unprepossessing appearance and poor reputation.

• There are a couple of letters in this week’s NWN that refer to the recent hot debate in those columns as to whether the 1969 moon landing took place at all and, if it did, whether this was responsible for punching a hole in the ozone layer. The debate is by no means dead, as a glance at pp14-16 of this week’s paper will show. One correspondent says with regard to this that ‘there is no shame in saying what you think.’ Really? We may have a right to say what we think about most things but I’m not sure that shame is never attached to such freedom of expression afterwards. I’d imagine, for instance, that shame is the dominant emotion for a lot of keyboard warriors suffering from that morning-after feeling following a late-night brain dump about opinions which might better have been kept private, or at least researched before being shared. It is, perhaps, only the fear of later shame that keeps our public utterances within reasonable bounds. 

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those mentioned above, some thoughts about Sutton Estate’s tree felling, criticism of the recent West Berkshire Council budget debate, criticism of the hand-washing facilities at the Council offices and some opinions about food waste and how this should de disposed of.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently, including: The Pink Place in Basingstoke (thanks to patients at Holmwood health Centra and Morland Surgery); Breast Cancer Care, Ovarian Cancer Action and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust (thanks to staff at Royds Withy King solicitors in Marlborough); the Cold Ash tennis Club (thanks to the recent quiz night); the East Garston Village Hall (thanks to the recent repair café); Hop, Skip and Jump (thanks to Swindon Borough Council).

Hungerford & district

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

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

• The March Penny Post Hungerford was published last week. If you didn’t get it, you can read it here

• Nominations have now closed for Hungerford’s 2020 Freedom of the Town awards. The recipients will be announced at the Town Meeting. And speaking of which…

• Hungerford Town Council will be holding its annual meeting on Wednesday 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 event will include some short addresses (including from the Town Council, summarising its work in the year past and its ambitions for the year to come) but will, as last year, mainly be an opportunity for local groups and local residents to meet each other. This will, at the time of writing, take place despite the problems caused by the C-word which has led to the cancellation or postponements of other events, including…

Hocktide in Hungerford, a series of ceremonies unique to the town and which takes place after Easter, has been called off this year for this reason. Some of the events relating to it have (so far) survived. See this post for more information.

• The Town Council also intends to re-activate its councillors’ surgeries whereby council members (and, when possible, a district councillor) will be at a public location at specified times to discuss any issues that people might have. The first of these will take place in the foyer of Tescos on Saturday 14 March from 10am to noon. Others will take place every month, though maybe not at the same venue. 

• The tustle continues between Costa Coffee and the councils of West Berkshire (which makes the decision) and Hungerford about the chairs and tables that Costa has put up outside its hope in the High Street for which it is applying for ‘partially retrospective planning permission’ (I still don’t understand what the partially’ means in this context). Hungerford Town Council’s Planning Committee has voted to oppose the application. On Wednesday 11 March, the chairs and tables were still there.

• At its January meeting, Kintbury Parish Council agreed its precept as being £63,000 for 2020-21.

Inkpen Parish Council has announced that there will be some road closures and diversions in and around the village until late March due to work on the local Gigaclear cabling. 

• And still in Inkpen, the Mobile Library will be calling from 2.30pm to 2.50pm at Craven Road and from 3.05pm pm to 4pm at the School on Tuesday 10 and Tuesday 31 March 2020.

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

Lambourn Valley

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

• On Friday 13 March Lambourn Surgery announced that due to the Coronavirus outbreak, with immediate effect all appointments would be changed to telephone ones – please do not come into the surgery. You will instead be called by a GP or nurse at your allotted time and triaged over the telephone by a doctor. More information is available here. (It’s likely that other surgeries have or will be adopting similar measures.)

• Congratulations to Eastbury’s Flood Warden James Potter who was nominated as 4 LEGS Radio’s Unsung hero of the Lambourn Valley earlier this month.

• The sewage problems in and around Lambourn continue. Please see this post in which we’ve pulled together a number of comments, opinions and suggestions from various organisations and individuals. We welcome further comments on this: please see the post for how to get in touch. (Note this has been updated several times since it was first published in mid February). We’ve also asked Thames Water several further questions following on from its first responses and have been promised a reply by 13 March.

East Garston Parish Council agreed at its January meeting that its precept for 2020-21 would remain unchanged at £9,000.

• The same meeting also reported on a discussion about a rather peculiar survey which was sent round to all households a few months ago from the Gloucestershire Rural Community Council (GRCC), purportedly to assess the need for affordable housing in East Garston but in reality almost certainly to try to gather evidence in support of a proposed housing development which has already had two applications refused. The Parish Council was keen to stress a point which it had made before that it had neither commissioned nor endorsed the survey. GRCC had confirmed that the report would in due course be published: anyone interested in finding out more could contact GRCC directly. It was also mentioned in the survey that the conclusions would be made available to West Berkshire Council, although it’s not clear of what interest these would be to them. No sites in East Garston were identified in West Berkshire’s recent HELAA report on land availability.

Click here for the latest news from Lambourn Surgery, including social-care services, the amenities fund and online registration. 

Eastbury’s flood alleviation scheme seems to be doing its job – click here for further information.

Great Shefford Parish Council’s annual meeting will take place on Thursday 26 March. Last year’s event – our report on which can be read here – a representative from the Environment Agency made a presentation about the progress (or lack or progress) about implementing the flood alleviation scheme in the village, the parish’s £80,000 contribution to which had already been raised. It’s to be hoped that there’ll be an update with some slightly better news at the end of the month. The recent high rainfall has shown that schemes such as this are badly needed.

• The repair café in East Garson’s Village Hall last weekend was a great success. A large number of items – including our kettle and a pair of garden shears we’d long given up for dead – were restored, if not to their first flush of youth then at least to a robust middle age, by the skilled hands of the various experts. There was also a flurry of communication afterwards when Alan Pearson, who repairs and maintains small engines, discovered a few days later that the fabric cuttings sack attached to his his own lawnmower had been partly eaten away by mice and asked for advice from the various of the needlework experts as to how this could be fixed. Proof if proof be needed that even repairers need repairers. Well done to Ed James for organising it and to all those who turned up to help. You can read a report of the event here. The aim is to make this a quarterly thing with the next one taking place in late May or early June. We’ll let you know when the date’s fixed.

4 Legs Community Radio Station will on Friday have its 93rd day of broadcasting – click here for more

Newbury & district

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

• West Berkshire Council is looking to introduce a new Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) for Newbury town centre and a consultation has just been launched about this. Further information can be found here. You have until 6 April to contribute.

• Congratulation to Lynne Taylor, Dingley’s Trust volunteer and winner of the inaugural Newbury Building Society Community Champion award.

• Nothing that happens in or on the fringes of the London Road Industrial Estate is straightforward. Some aspects of life there, certainly involving planning decisions, make it seem like a strange looking-glass world where normal conditions don’t prevail. The change of commercial partners, the court cases, the relief road (and its leaks) and the sorry tale of the football club, bits of which seem to keep vanishing as inexplicably as if they’d been abducted by a passing spaceship, could all be cited as examples. To this was added last month the planning application for the former NWN building which came before a slightly surreal session of the Western Area Planning Committee on 5 February. You can read our report on this in the Local News column for 13-20 February 2020 here.      

One of the issues was that applicant’s counsel’s legal opinion – surely an important contribution to the discussion – had not been appended to the application even though it had been in the possession of the Council’s Planning Department since early October and had, as the Council’s Legal Officer admitted, been studied by officers; another was that a key participant, West Berkshire’s own flooding expert, had been requested to attend but neither did so nor provided a statement. This mattered because it was on the grounds of flooding risk that the application was refused. There was also confusion as to whether a particular exercise (the sequential test) had been carried out correctly. Faced with these muddles and gaps of knowledge, the logical course of action would have been to defer the meeting until everyone could attend and was armed with what they needed to know. It’s not as if anything on the LRIE ever happens that quickly: could one more month make that much difference? In fact, the matter was decided there and then and was refused.

Tony Vickers, the Lib Dem councillor and deputy chair of the WAPC, suggested at the time that the decision was for these reasons flawed. He has repeated this claim in a statement sent to Penny Post and others this week which we’ve published in full here. It seems fundamental to me that it be made clear what happened in the run-up to this decision and whether this was normal. What it looks like is that something has, for whatever reason, gone badly wrong either with the system or with specific decisions. All of which leads us back to where this section started – with the LRIE, expect the unexpected…

• Newbury Town Council is running a consultation on the Skyllings Playground: click here for details.

• Newbury Town Council in partnership with National Tennis Association will be having an Open Day on Sunday 29 March 2020 from 10am to 1pm, offering a number of fun activities for the whole family. This is a free event with a chance to experience the new courts in the Park and have a go at tennis with our professional tennis team.

• Following successful community planting and pruning days in the town, Newbury Town Council’s Green Spaces Working Group is welcoming volunteers to help plant a new wildflower meadow at City Recreation Ground on Saturday 21 March from 10am to 2pm.

• The Newbury in Bloom 2020 campaign is now underway. More information is available from the Town Hall in the Market Place; by emailing towncouncil@newbury.gov.uk; by calling 01635 35486; or by visiting the Town Council’s website

• 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 quarterly Hamstead Hornet – if you’d like subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at admin@hamsteadmarshall.net. The latest issue dropped into my inbox last week and you can click here to see it. 

• 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.

• As mentioned last week, discussions continue between Chaddleworth Parish Council and WBC about the specifics of the equipment that was installed at the knacker’s yard between Chaddleworth and Shefford, specifically whether the incinerator matched the conditions laid down in the 2018 planning permission. It now appears that WBC has accepted that the matter requires further investigation and results are expected soon. 

• The same PC is also on West Berkshire’s case about clearing the gullies and drains in the area, the lack of which, the Chairman claims, has led to ‘intolerable’ problems on the roads in and around the village. West Berkshire is currently conducting an inventory of its flood-defence measures (which includes features such as this) which should be complete by the end of the month. This may reveal that some of these are the responsibility of property owners, not of the district council.

• And still in Chaddleworth, the March issue of Chaddleworth News – the last from the current editor – has recently arrived in my inbox and will also be available from the council’s website before too long. Items covered include news from village groups and societies, forthcoming events, a report on progress with the fundraising for the Village Hall and various items available or for sale.

• There will an information about solar panels in Hampstead Norreys Village Hall on Tuesday 24 March.

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

• The above-mentioned publication mentions that the rise in the groundwater levels at Malthouse Well in February was about 1.7m, about 0.8m less than in February 2014 (the flood year).

Compton Parish Council’s March meeting included setting a £500 budget for the VE Day celebrations and agreeing acceptance of various tenters for repair work that needed doing around the parish – all part of the monthly grind of being a parish councillor. 

• Tickets are now on sale for the Brightwalton Summer Ball on 27 June in aid of the Aspire project.

• Work is continuing on turning the old railway track between Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys into a pathway.

• 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.

• Local auto-intelligence company Thatcham Research has issued a report which identifies the cars which are most vulnerable to theft. The article highlights yet more ways by which our reliance on technology is offering loopholes for the unscrupulous.

• Another high-street bank is set to close: Barclays in Thatcham will stamping its last paying-in book on Friday 12 June.

• Permission has been granted for a bank in town that’s already closed, the NatWest, to be converted into shops

• The local Neighbourhood Policing Team is offering free tool and bike security marking on Tuesday 17 March from noon to 2pm at A-Plan Insurance, 44 Chapel Street, Thatcham RG18 4QL

• If you want to nominate someone for the 2020 Thatcham Town Council Civic Awards, click here for more information. You have until 3 April to make your nomination.

• 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.

• Fundraising events are to take place by Thatcham Town FC to raise money for a new football pitch: see p21 of this week’s NWN for more.

Volunteer Centre West Berkshire will be hiring a volunteer recruitment event at the Baptist Church from 10am to 3pm on Saturday 14 March. For more information on VCWB, click here.

• 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.

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.

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin which has news of upcoming events including details of a quiz on Saturday 21 March (there seem to be a lot of quizzes in Cold Ash: they must be a brainy lot there) and a spring-clean day on the same day.

Theale and district

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

• Please click here for details of Theale’s VE celebrations on Saturday 16 May.

• At its most recent (10 March) Aldermaston Parish Council has confirmed its reaction to West Berkshire’s site allocation (HELAA) plan. Eight sites were identified in the parish, five residential and three commercial. Four of the residential ones have been ruled out due to their proximity to the AWE: concerning the fifth the PC expressed reservations due to concerns about flooding. All three commercial sites have been objected to because of concerns of extra traffic on the A340.

• At the same meeting, the PC also recorded ‘no objection’ to the proposed solar panels on the roof of the school: even though they are ‘visually unattractive’. the PC ‘recognised that the provision was consistent with WBC’s climate emergency measures.’ 

• And still in Aldermaston, this week’s NWN refers to a familiar issue, a dispute between a public body and an individual over who is responsible for an act of maintenance. In this case, the Environment Agency, the owner of The Old Mill and floodgates on the River Kennet are the relevant parties.

Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council has announced that looking for volunteers to help with its 75th anniversary of VE Day celebrations in May. Click here for more information.

• last week’s NWN reported that a number of objections have been raised to a large warehouse proposed in Theale. The list of reasons includes the usual suspects of over-development and traffic problems.

• 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

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’s annual town meeting will take place from 6pm on Monday 23 March

• Wiltshire Council is running a consultation on Green Infrastructure and Open Space.  As part of this consultation it is asking all households to complete a short survey.  The survey can be found by clicking on this link

• At last month’s meeting of Aldbourne Parish Council, a member of the public asked about the lack of policing in the village. Currently approximately £160,000 is paid by the village to Wiltshire Police, yet of the 63 recorded crimes in the village in the previous 12 months, only one resulted in a prosecution. The Parish Council will contact Mr Angus Macpherson, Police & Crime Commissioner, and ask that a senior member of the local policing team attend a future meeting to answer questions about policing in the village.

• The Gazette and Herald reports that the stretch of the A346 between Marlborough and Ogbourne St George is regarded as particularly dangerous, as local residents will be aware. There have been four accidents there in as many weeks, the most recent involving a death. New signs are shortly to be installed but local campaigners are now arguing that further traffic-calming measures are needed.

• Local MP Danny Kruger took part in a public Q&A session in Marlborough last month. Marlborough News was in attendance and has this report on the event.

• Congratulations once again to Packaging not Included, for celebrating its first birthday recently. This article in Marlborough News has an interview with founder and owner Hayley Lambert.

• Hayley’s partner Ed Puddick’s latest choral work, One Universal Shout, will be performed In St Mary’s Church on Saturday 4 April.

A report here on Art at War, an exhibition at The White Horse Gallery lifts the lid on how art can act as therapy for veterans.

• And still with MN, at the 2 March meeting of the full Town Council, Councillors agreed in principle to take over ownership and management of the new play area and associated public open space for the Rabley Wood View development.

• Marlborough, like other towns in the area including Hungerford, is part of the Great West Way tourism initiative. More details here.

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.

Homestart Kennet is looking for volunteers to help with its projects in the area – click here for more information.

• 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.

Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs section – which details the often shocking corruption, hypocrisy and incompetence displayed by some local councillors and their officers – mentions South Oxfordshire District Council in its current issue. This is not because the council has itself down anything wrong, although the government seems to think so. As reported here last week, it is being persecuted by the Secretary of State for electing a different administration partly on the platform of being able to review the controversial local plan, something that the threat of direct rule from Whitehall or via Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) has preventing it from doing. 

• As this week’s Wantage & Grove Herald has reported, the Council – faced with the non-choice of passing the plan as it stood and not doing so which would immediately result in OCC doing it for them – passed the old local plan last week, despite the fact that many of the members were only there at all because they’d been elected May to do the exact opposite. All of this makes one wonder what the point of local democracy is. At the very least, surely the timetable for the refreshment of the local plans should be meshed with the election cycle. It’s otherwise like a government passing a budget just before a general election and then finding ways of preventing the new government, which had campaigned to overturn it, from introducing one of its own.

• MP Layla Moran (it’s her turn on the Herald’s political soapbox this week) echoed these sentiments in her column on p10 of the newspaper. The Editor was, understandably, unable to refrain from mentioning the matter in the leader column on the same page. 

• Last week I mentioned that the statue of King Alfred in Wantage’s Market Square was made by Prince Victor Ferdinand Franz Eugene Gustav Adolf Constantin Frederich of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (it’s got quite a groove to it when you’ve said it a few times). I should have added that this cost £2,000 guineas (£2,100), about £250,000 in today’s money.

• As mentioned last week, residents of Wantage will be aware that the freedom of the town has been granted to HMS Queen Elizabeth and her company, this as a result of a Mayor Jim Sibbald asking the right person the right question at the right time and getting the right answer. To commemorate this unique – for Wantage at any rate – event there will be a Freedom of Entry Ball at the Beacon on Saturday 21 March, further details of which can be found here. As to why a 280m long aircraft carrier was accorded this honour, you’ll need to read this article in which the Mayor reveals all.

• The area has another zero-waste shop with the launch of the Hive Eco Refills Hub in Ardington. Wantage already has the excellent Going Green in the Arbery Arcade.

• Joggers in Grove will have to up their game – Olympic 4x400m relay bronze medallist and former British Army officer Musa Audu has recently moved into the village.

• The Vale Council is inviting people to make comments on a draft Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) on how it gathers feedback from the public, businesses and other organisations on its planning matters. The consultation will run until Thursday 9 April.

East Hanney Parish Council is organising a community tree planting day on Saturday 14 March.

• 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 draws attention to the fact that shire counties are disproportionately badly off when it comes to funds for road repairs compared to their metropolitan cousins. 

• The Wantage and Grove Campaign Group’s latest newsletter confirms that in total 7,700 homes are planned for OX12 on top of the 11,500 ones that currently exist, a planned increase of about 67%. This is without the real possibility of another 800 that may be proposed between Wantage and East Challow, which would push the increase up to closer to 75%. Has this been matched by infrastructure improvements? the article goes on to ask. It appears not. Wantage Hospital, the Eastern Link Road, the new leisure centre, new cycleways and Grove railway station are all cited as examples of projects which are either behind schedule or uncertain. 

• Another communication from the WaGCG confirms that the arrangements for making appointments at the surgeries in Church Street and Newbury Street have recently changed.

Click here for other news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group

• This year’s Wantage Beer and Cider Festival will take place on Friday 13 and Saturday 14 March.

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

• 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 Health Hydro on Milton Roa, has benefited from a £1.5m investment from Swindon Council which will go towards building maintenance works as well as improved services and facilities for customers.

• Swindon-born archaeologist Craig Alexander currently lives and works in the Italian town of Brescia. For the past fortnight, he has been subject to the country-wide lockdown as the Italian authorities struggle to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. He has told He has told Swindon Link what life is like there now.

• The gate at the Goddard Avenue entrance to the Town Gardens were put back in place after being restored by South Swindon Parish Council.

• Swindon Council has received almost £100,000 from the Government to support victims and survivors of domestic violence.

• A food-waste recycling service has been extended in Swindon following a successful initial trial.

• Swindon Borough Council has teamed up with Natural England to launch an innovative and strategic approach to great crested newt (GCN) licensing.

• Click here for details of the Urban Rider Games on 10 April.

• If you want to see something not very pleasant, then click here for some of Swindon Link’s snaps of what fat, oils and ‘unflushables’ have done to some of the town’s sewers.

• 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.

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

The song and the quiz

• The Song of the Week is from a band of whom, like last week’s, I’d never heard until a friend sent me the link. So, here we go with Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes performing Lift Off.

• And so the Quiz Question of the Week draws matters to a close. This week’s is thanks to Susan Pitts who supplied this from the recent quiz held at the Acland Hall in Cold Ash in aid of the Cold Ash Tennis Club and is as follows: Which animal has the highest blood pressure? Last week’s question was: It’s been a good week for which British animal? It was a good week for Mr Badger who will now not be being culled by the stoats and weasels from DEFRA’s Wild Woods to stop the spread of TB, a visit for Dr Jab-Jab being now the preferred method. I imagine his blood pressure has gone down a tad since the announcement.

Brian Quinn

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Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale