Local News 16-23 April 2020

For the Local News for 23-30 April, please click here.

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including a briefer than usual survey of the news around the towns and parishes, Hungerford’s volunteers, Lambourn’s personality, Wantage’s tankers, Eastbury’s drone, Marlborough’s MP, Wooton Basset’s tailor, Thatcham’s display, Newbury’s commercial paraphernalia, Ufcott’s byway, Aldermaston’s meeting, Cold Ash’s eggs, East Woodhay’s change of plan, Captain Tom, a chat with the mayor, social housing, a sleek and wily beast, planning pauses, legal wrangles, Notre Dame, in vino veritas, domestic violence, bonfires, refuse, sewage, fines, takeaways, divorce, parking, West Berkshire’s Hub, Tilly the lion, Sir Robert Walpole and life during wartime.

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)

• Fundraiser of the week has got to be 99-year-old Captain Tom Moore who hoped to raise £1,000 for the NHS by using his walking frame to do 100 25m laps of his Bedfordshire garden before his hundredth birthday at the end of the month. He’s completed the task ahead of schedule (an achievement in itself by many standards) and has raised over £20m. There have been calls for him to be knighted. It’s a staggering accomplishment but it also leaves me slightly worried. The NHS should be properly funded from central sources and the amount of money donated rather suggests that most people agree. The more this kind of thing happens, the more the government is going to think ‘oh, it’ll be OK – charities will take care of it whenever there’s a crisis.’ The money this wonderful man has raised should have been received and spent six months ago. I have exactly the same concern about poppy appeals. If the government had a statutory duty to provide all the necessary care for injured service personnel then there might be fewer wars.

Of course, people should be able to raise money for and donate to whatever they wish. As Captain Tom has shown, a good cause promoted in the right way at the right time will attract support: in a way it’s a fairly pure expression of the workings of the market economy. So, why not test it? If the NHS and the veterans were funded properly, that might leave the field open for some new appeals. Suppose that the construction cost of HS2, the consultants’ fees for negotiating PFI deals or the bonuses paid to CEOs were funded by people doing sponsored skydives or rattling tins in the high streets? Let’s try it and see what happens.

• Speaking of HS2, some of you may have been worried that this vital national project had stalled as a result of the inconvenience of a global pandemic. Not a bit of it. The sleek and wily beast is, as of 15 April, up and running again – well, lumbering. It’s good to see that the government has got its priorities right: getting from London to Birmingham 30 minutes earlier in about 15 years time is what we really need right now. And what a great time to make the announcement, don’t you think?

One of the reasons advanced by the HS2 Minister (yes, it has its own Minister, like Defence and Education and all the rest do – it’s that big) as to why this is such a ripping idea is that ‘this next step provides thousands of construction workers and businesses across the country with certainty at a time when they need it.’ What on earth is certain about this project? Certainly not the costs, the completion date, the later northern phases, the contractors for these, the ticket costs, the demand, the revenue or the operator. As for the construction workers, the suggestion appears to be that HS2 is little more than a prodigious job-creation scheme. The consultants who have so far grown rich on the project, and may yet grow richer, would doubtless agree. 

• If construction work is needed, perhaps a good place to start would with homes. The government’s own target was for a million new homes between 2017 and 2020 but less than half that total were built in the two years from 2017-19. A still greater problem is the lack of social housing (genuinely affordable, generally through local councils, housing associations or shared ownership schemes) and of affordable housing (rented at up to 80% of the prevailing market rates). ‘Affordable’ is a relative term and in many parts of the country is effectively meaningless. The charity Shelter has called for a massive investment in three million social homes over the next 20 years, the price tag of £216bn being one of the few figures, at least in pre-Coronavirus times, that was higher than the cost of HS2. The problem is certainly not an easy one to solve. HS2 will not, however, be helping to do this as its construction work will result in nearly 900 homes (and nearly 1,000 businesses) being destroyed. 

Writing in the Wantage and Grove Herald of 15 April, Julie Mabberly, a long-time campaigner on planning issues in the area, remarked that the recent Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) report into the question of social housing makes ‘stark reading.’ Only 11% of new homes built in England in the previous 12 months were designed for genuinely affordable social rent, compared with 70% in Scotland. She goes on to point out that due to right to buy and other causes there has been a net loss of over 181,000 social homes since 2012. By a number of indicators, the situation in England appears to be going backwards.

Building a five-bedroom house is more expensive than a two-bedroom one, but to a much smaller extent than the difference in the sale price. Developers are not necessarily the bad guys here: they are running a business. The problem is that over that 20 years or so this entire aspect of national policy has effectively been outsourced to them. The industry will respond to the needs of the market, which involves building the kind of homes in the locations and at the times that will maximise their returns. It’s not unreasonable. If the government or local councils wish to have other kinds of homes in other places at a time of their choosing then the answer is very simple – they need to build them themselves.

This can lead to some conflicts of interest (one of the many problems of the troubled London Road Industrial Estate project in Newbury seems to stem from a confusion between West Berkshire Council’s role a landlord and its one as a planning authority) but these can be resolved. Another question that could be asked is why the progress on social-housing construction seems so much more successful in the other three parts of the UK. I’m guessing here, but perhaps it’s because there are fewer disparities of wealth and thus demand in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and therefore that the disincentive for private companies to build cheaper homes is reduced. 

One can only speculate on what effect Cornavirus will have on all this. An obvious problem is that, as with most other sectors, at least a quarter of construction work has been or will be lost. Julie Mabberley’s article quotes the CIH Chairman’s claim that even more social housing will be needed. One reason for this is that, certainly in Oxfordshire, housing is at times insanely expensive and way beyond the reach of many people who – as current events are proving – are vital for the work of the NHS. The general need for more homes is partly fuelled by population growth, partly by increasing expectations and partly by what is termed social mobility but which could also be called social fragmentation – the rising divorce rate, the increasing number of people living alone and the general drift away from the close-knit family unit. This is in many ways a good thing as people are now less willing to be imprisoned in unwelcome situations but it comes with consequences. Housing is one.

Another likely result of Coronavirus will be an increase in the divorce rate. After the lockdown in Wuhan, this skyrocketed. It’s easy to see why. Many relationships survive only because work and other commitments mean that two people spend only a small percentage of their waking week in the same place. Two of my previous relationships ended within days of returning from a fortnight’s holiday. If you can survive the lockdown then your relationship has passed a pretty big test. Not all will.

• Most relationships are happy, or at least tolerable, and for most that do end there is often a reasonable civilised exit. For some, however, their relationship is a nightmare of controlling behaviour, manipulation and violence from which there may be no easy escape. The current social restrictions  won’t be doing anything to improve this. I have no first-hand experience of this but I am aware from talking to both victims and experts that, even in normal circumstances, it’s a huge and often secret problem and one that, for a whole raft of reasons, tends not to be reported as often as it might. Having spoken to a friend who’s a GP in London, I can offer the reassuring news that professionals including doctors, the social services and the police, continue to take this social evil very seriously and contacting them for this reason will not be regarded as wasting their time. Organisations such as IRIS have issued new guidelines for the different narratives that need to take place on the phone, when the victim may or may not be on their own. If you’re the vicim of this crime, have a look online and see what help is available in your area. You are not alone – there are people who can help you. See also this useful guidance about the 999+55 method of communicating if you can’t talk on the phone.

• You might imagine that, in the middle of a global pandemic, the best thing might be to support the WHO. That hasn’t been the reaction of the US President who has this week announced that he will be cutting his country’s contributions to the body on the grounds that it has failed in its basic duty. There are a number of views on the issue, this from The Guardian being one. The time for this kind of criticism will come later – as it surely must with some of the decisions taken by the UK government – but it’s not now. In any case, as Bill Gates pointed out, few countries will get an A-grade for its response. South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan (the last not recognised by the WHO, which has been part of the problem) might make a good claim for one but the USA certainly cannot. To some extent, America’s size, complexity, federal structure, broken health system, innate libertarianism and obsession with personal wealth make it a hard place to rule during such a crisis. Having a delusional, prickly and image-obsessed leader who has one eye on forthcoming elections certainly doesn’t help.

Bill Gates called Trump’s WHO decision ‘as dangerous as it sounds.’ Microsoft might not be everyone’s favourite company but the man did earn his unfeasible wealth though (as well as some good fortune) anticipating important events. He’s also been much involved over the last two decades in promoting a range of public-health issues such as with AIDS and malaria. He thus has perhaps a better reason to claim some expertise than does his President, who seems to be trying to re-invent himself as a scientist as well as the saviour of his people; so much so that Coronavirus-related welfare cheques will have his name on them.

• One of the effects of the virus has been to make us see the various national governments in their true colours, a ghastly and serious application of the in vino veritas principle. Singapore and South Korea, for instance, have been brisk and efficient and have paid no respect to awkward questions of data privacy. China has also been effective but mendacious and as always paranoid about disturbing its delicate balance of economic confidence and political control. Russia remains inscrutable. Iran has blamed the USA. The USA has blamed China and almost everyone else and also suffers from the problems mentioned in the paragraph above. Most European countries have been torn between doing too much and doing too little and – with neither the efficiency and preparedness of South Korea, nor the controlling instincts of China, nor the blustering self-confident of the USA as part of their governmental DNA – have for the most part acted too late, Germany (as one might expect) being an exception. South Africa has both some of the tightest restrictions and some of the potentially worst problems. Then you have the countries which we always knew were odd like North Korea, which admits no cases; Belarus, where the football season and doubtless much else is continuing as normal; and Turkmenistan, which has banned any mention of the disease – certainly one way of dealing with the problem but perhaps one which both the WHO and Donald Trump could agree, on this if nothing else, was not the most appropriate. 

• I mentioned fundraising earlier. It’s a year yesterday since part of Notre Dame in Paris burnt down. I’m not French, though I’ve spent a fair bit of time there, but remain estomaqué, in other words gobsmacked, by the fact that the appeal raised a billion euros in a few days. What Capitaine Thomas (see first paragraph above) could have achieved were he to have doffed a beret and pushed his walking frame round the building for charity can only be dreamed of.

• We often can and do respond to an immediate need with an astounding and often emotional (and so short-term) generosity. What’s needed is a more hard-headed approach, whereby problems ranging from fire risks to cathedrals to global pandemics are regarded as regular parts of our expenditure. This is unglamorous: to say that you’ve used £25,000 on treating medieval timbers or war-gaming an emergency is a lot less impressive than having a media-heavy event to celebrate a new stained-glass window or the opening of a new hospital ward (which perhaps remains mothballed due to staffing cuts). Our desire for novelty and advancement has left little room for maintenance and none at all for preparing us against more ancient enemies like fire and pestilence. If we can devote more energy and resources to anticipating and mitigating recurring and well-known problems at the expense of trying to do everything faster and cheaper than everyone else then the Coronavirus hell might not have been wholly without point.

As a friend said to me last week, it’s like we’re kids who’ve been sent to our rooms to think about what we’ve done. That having happened, let’s think. There is a lot of honour being paid to NHS staff, scientists and medical experts at the moment. Our popular press is very fickle and assumes a short attention span. Can we try to get the unglamorous stuff and preparatory right when it isn’t on the front pages? In this over-crowded, inter-connected and febrile world, the need for it in one form or another may come again sooner than we think…

• The Coronavirus Act 2020 received royal assent on 26 March. It confers a wide range of powers on the government, some available immediately, some whenever a minister switches them on by issuing a regulation. The act will last for two years (though some provisions will outlast this) and will be reviewed by parliament every six months. You can read a summary here and the government’s detailed description of its aims here. One of the many clauses involves removing the obligation for local councils to provide the previous level of social care.

• There’s a letter in this week’s Newbury Weekly News which heaps praise on a letter published the previous week which offered one legal interpretation of regulation 6 of the above-mentioned bill (which covers the reasons people may leave their homes); this having in turn been in response to a letter the week before from a district councillor. The most recent letter – which ends with a strange WW2 comparison – is so fulsome in its support of the legal opinion that it might have been written by the same person. All in all, I’m getting the impression that this is all less about legal precision and more to do with some personal wrangle. In any case, for reasons I mentioned last week, I do not agree with the legal interpretation offered. The over-riding issue, which the original letter suggested, that we should act reasonably and responsibly and ensure that the main intention of the regulations – minimising the spread of the virus – is followed.

• The provisions of the bill are certainly being enforced, with over 3,200 fines having been issued, 219 of these by Thames Valley Police. Overall, incidences of anti-social behaviour (which includes these offences) rose by 59% in the four weeks to 15 April compared to the same period last year, almost certainly largely due to the CV regulations. 

• Yet again two local newspapers I’ve seen (the Newbury Weekly News and the Wantage & Grove Herald) are slimmer than usual. As before, most of the content is, as one would expect, concerned with cancelled events, the local impact of government regulations and initiatives and the work done by local volunteers and other groups: and, in both cases, some impressive photos of self-isolating pets, empty streets and clapping for the NHS.

• To repeat what I’ve said before, our parish and town councils are assuming an important role in fighting this war. Your district council is doing what it can and should but the parishes are in this emergency of particular importance. A number of ad hoc and often informal volunteer organisations are being set up all across the country. In general, parish and town councils cannot run these but they can help co-ordinate activities. The Councillors and the Clerks will also probably know more about what is going on in their area than any other group and will probably also have contact details of people who either need help or are able to provide it. If you’re thinking of setting up a voluntary scheme for, for instance, arranging shopping deliveries or merely checking in on people, then I’d advise that your PC or TC should be your first port of call. it will be able to advise what local services are available and may be able to contact these on your behalf. We have a list of some of these organisation here.

West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon Councils have, of course, set up their own web pages relating to the outbreak. It seems pointless to summarise what advice each is giving or to provide more than the highest-level links, so click here depending on what area you’re in: West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon.

• West Berkshire Council set up a Community Support Hub. Like so many things in these times this is constantly evolving but its main aim at the moment is to provide support and information for people who need advice. Click here to visit the website. You can also call 01635 503 579 to speak to the the Building Communities Together team. Much of the information may be available elsewhere: this service is helping to pull this together and provide a single point of contact. The Hub has also set up two FAQ pages, for residents and for businesses. You can also click here to sign up to receive the Hub’s e-bulletins.

• One of the reasons people have been contacting the Hub has been because they wish to offer their services as volunteers. West Berkshire is fortunate in that it already has an excellent and well-established organisation to co-ordinate this, the Volunteer Centre West Berkshire (VCWB) – click here to visit the VCWB website. One way that you can express your interest is to complete the VCWB’s online form

• In addition, a large number of volunteer organisations, are springing up to address the particular needs. If these are in West Berkshire, there’s no obligation that they contact VCWB or the Hub but we strongly advise that they do. This will not result in either body controlling or regulating its activities. If they are aware of your group’s existence it will, however, be able to advise on any other groups doing a similar job in your area and will be able to point any volunteering offers it receives your way. Also, if your group needs any advice on matters such as insurance or data protection, the VCWB will be able to help provide this. See also this article on the Penny Post website which provides information about local volunteer groups. If you know of any others that should be added, please let us know.

• The National Association of Local Councils has published some case studies showing how local councils at all levels have responded to the crisis.

• We also have a post about the financial support available to businesses as a result of the virus, which is amended as necessary – click here to see it. Many thinks to Charlotte and Tim from Monty Accounting in Hungerford for helping to keep this up to date. 

• And click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. As with the volunteers’ post above,  if you are aware of any others, let us know.

Click here for information about refuse and recycling collections during CV-19 in West Berkshire.

• As mentioned last week, there’s been uncertainty surrounding how the planning process will be working during the emergency, this being in each case a slow conveyor belt of consultation involving several organisations which can take, in some cases, years to complete its journey. It appears that, now that councils can conduct meeting virtually, these will probably proceed as normal, though perhaps more slowly, as long as they’re uncontroversial. If, however, they are ‘called in’ as a result of sufficient objections or concern from local councillors they then need be decided at a planning committee. As these deliberations generally involve a site visit, it’s likely that these will then pause until restrictions are lifted. West Berkshire Council is still deciding how this needs to handled and is also awaiting further guidance from the government.

West Berkshire needs to get a move on with this. It’s not the point, as I understand has been suggested, that there are no urgent planning matters around at present. Aside from the fact that all planning decisions are to those involved urgent and important, there are some which have a wider implication: for example, the Warren Road widening scheme, integral to the battle-scarred Sandleford project, will have its extended period for determination expire in late May so there needs to be a Western Area meeting before then.

It’s also likely that holding virtual council meetings – which makes a lot of environmental and logistical sense – will be continued after the restrictions are lifted. The problem comes with meetings that are open to the public, which many are. Those with the requisite technology will be happy as they can ‘attend’ many more meetings more easily: however, those who who do not will be unable to attend any at all. The principle of public meetings really being public is a vital one. There’s also the problem of the stratification of society between those who have access to communications technology and can happily use it and those who do not. The latter group were anyway slipping further behind: CV-19 has exacerbated this as most aspects of life are currently only available online. It would be a dangerous step if these people were also excluded from aspects of local democracy.

• Away from Coronavirus, West Berkshire Council is consulting on its Housing Allocations Policy, which details how it will allocate social and affordable rental properties in its area. Click here to take part. Comments must be made by 3 May 2020.

• West Berkshire Council has suspended parking charges ‘until further notice’ in a bid not to attract casual shoppers but to make life easier for key workers and for those who need to visit shops for essential supplies.

• The animal of the week is this time for you to choose but you’ll need to have a look at the Pets in Lockdown section on pp23-26 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News (it may also be on the website in due course). Being firmly in Team Cat rather than Team Dog, I’m going to go Bex Bright’s Tilly, who looks remarkably like a small lion.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as the one about the legalities of leaving your home mentioned above, appeals to continue to support local charities, a critique of the government’s recent economic policies and praise for District Councillor Steve Masters for regularly checking in on the boat owners moored in Newbury. 

• A number of good causes have received valuable support. Yet again we’re not going to single anyone out – there are too many to name at present – but, once again, instead just give a general shout-out for all the volunteer groups in the area which have sprung up like the daffodils to provide assistance to those in most need of it. We’ve listed some of these here. This also seems like a good place to mention Greenham Trust which has set up a Coronavirus Emergency Fund for donations to local groups with full 1:1 match funding for all sums received.

Hungerford & district

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

• Hungerford Town Council held its first virtual meeting on 14 April when the Environment and Planning Committee convened. It was attended by seven town councillors, all three district councillors, one district councillor’s dog and a representative of the press (not this one). You can read the minutes here. The only contentious item was 4b, concerning Riverbend in Upper Edington. The committee noted that, as more than 10 objections had been received, the matter would be called in to be discussed at the Western Area Planning Committee (whenever this is next able to meet) but also added six specific objections of its own.

• As has been mentioned above (see Across the Area) and in previous columns, CV-19 has proved that most countries were badly under-prepared. Also as reported, volunteer networks have sprung up everywhere but this takes up valuable time in the crucial early days following a crisis. Every responsible public organisation should now be identifying suitable volunteers so that the response to a future emergency (which could take a number of forms) can be mobilised in hours rather than days. Hungerford Town Council has already started this process. If you live in or near the town and would like to put yourself forward as a volunteer in such a situation, please email please email townclerk@hungerford-tc.gov.uk with your contact details and any information about any special skills, experience or equipment you have and any restrictions, such as circumstance in which you would not be willing to help. Your details will, with all due security, be kept on file and you’ll be contacted as necessary. Hopefully your services will not be called upon but, if they are needed, CV-19 has proved that a well co-ordinated local response is vital. The better prepared a community its, the faster this can happen.

• Once again, great to see that the Wednesday market in Hungerford is continuing, expertly marshalled once again by the Town and Manor’s Constable Nick Lumley. A reminder that you can  generally get fruit, veg, bread, cakes, meat, cheese, olives and (until noon) fish, the market being open from earlier than most of you would probably want to go shopping until about 2pm. Be prepared for a short queue and please follow the one-way system that’s been set up. I can recommend all the stalls unreservedly. Note that not all will be there every week, though a full house is the norm. Long may it continue.

• 15 April also saw the return of the cows to the Common as from yesterday (there are currently 50 with more arriving by the end of the month) and there are some eye-catching signs advising drivers of two likely consequences of a car/cow collision. Please would all dog walkers be aware that the cows can be pretty frisky when they first get their freedom and it is suggested that dogs are kept on a short lead, especially if in the vicinity of the herd. The Town and Manor would ask people not to cycle on the Common.

• Still with the Town and Manor, the charity’s CEO Jed Ramsay has a letter in this week’s Newbury Weekly News reiterating the orgasnisation’s policy of tree felling and planting. This is similar to the information provided in our monthly update of news from the Town and Manor for January/February.

• Hungerford Town Council has announced that Hungerford in Bloom is open for (slightly different) business this year and hopes that more residents then ever will support this competition in the current circumstances.

• If you in self-isolation as a result of being identified as ‘shielded’ then you may have received a food box from the government containing essential supplies. This might be very welcome and necessary; but if  you feel it would be better used by someone less fortunate than yourself in this crisis, call Geordie of the Hungerford Self-isolation Network on 07836 330815. He can have it collected from and ensure that its contents are distributed where they are most needed. You can also call this number if CV-19 has changed your circumstances and you’re in need of a weekly food delivery yourself. 

• Most of us have a box or similar, in the attic or the top shelf of a cupboard, which is filled with old family stuff sometimes dating back several generations. This article from the Coin and Stamp Centre in the High Street suggests why this might be quite a good time to see what might be hiding there.

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

• We’ve published our monthly Penny Post Hungerford as usual and you can click here to read it if you didn’t receive it.

Lambourn Valley

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

• Some good news for the racing industry – it was agreed on 9 April by West Berkshire Council that the sector will be treated the same way as retail and leisure in terms of Business Rate holidays and Government Grants.

• And speaking of racing, click here for another chance to read local trainer Pat Murphy’s report on the 2020 virtual Grand National.

• As mentioned last week (and for several weeks before that), the sewage problems in and around Lambourn continue. Last month I received some further information from Thames Water which has been added to this post in which we’ve pulled together a number of comments, opinions and suggestions from various organisations and individuals. More recently, Lambourn Parish Council has been in touch with Thames Water and asked some further questions so which answers have been received: these have been added to this post. We welcome further comments on this: please see the post for how to get in touch. In the most recent development, temporary filters have been installed to remove solids from the water before it is allowed to drain into the river.

Eastbury resident, photographer and drone pilot Tobi Corney made an eye-catching video of the village from the air with many of the gardens sending messages of support to the NHS. It’s overlaid with the wonderful piece of music that ought to be our national anthem rather than the dirge we have to sing at times of celebration.

• Not being any longer able to go to the swimming pool, we’ve been walking most days and we’ve got to know the stretch of the Lambourn Valley between Shefford and Eastbury pretty well. Another local drone pilot and photographer, Colin de Fraine, has taken some superb aerial pictures of the landscape between Shefford and Maiden Court Farm which we’ll be publishing in a separate post soon. 

• A character assessment is the kind of thing you might need to undergo when seeking a job with MI5, getting a £50 overdraft from your bank or some equally onerous application. It’s less commonly applied to an entire village. This is, however, one of the components of a neighbourhood development plan such as the one Lambourn is in the midst of. The assessment’s aim is ‘to define what features make the area covered by the NDP special so that its character may be preserved or enhanced.’ For more information on how you can participate in this once-in-a-generation exercise, please click here.

Click here for the latest news from Lambourn Surgery

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

4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more

Newbury & district

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

Click here for some recent announcements by Newbury Town Council.

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports on p19 that West Berkshire Council has refused permission for Lidl to have a large stand-alone sign in the Retail Park. One of the reasons given was that it ‘would congest the area with commercial paraphernalia.’ We’re well past that stage in that part of town, I think.

• The same paper reports that the Sungrove Farm proposal near East Woodhay has been opposed by East Woodhay parish Council (which had previously supported the scheme). The developers have said they will submit revised plans to Basingstoke and Deane Council in due course.

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

Newbury’s Mayor, Elizabeth O’Keefe, is making herself available to chat to local residents who are self-isolating. Click here for more information.

Congratulations to Duo Hair & Beauty, Headroom Hairdressers, Sequoia Hair, Salon 46 and Air Hair who responded to an appeal from the Deputy leader of Newbury Town Council Olivia Lewis for protective gloves to be used by local care homes and social workers.

• The Newbury in Bloom 2020 campaign is now underway (and should be one of the events that the virus will not affect). More information is available from the Town Hall in the Market Place; by emailing towncouncil@newbury.gov.uk  or by visiting the Town Council’s website. Keep your eye on this as the situation may obviously change.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the villag (including recently-updated information about the village’s new volunteer group). It also publishes the quarterly Hamstead Hornet – if you’d like subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at admin@hamsteadmarshall.net

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

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

Thatcham and district

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

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

• One Thatcham family’s display of support and positivity during CV-19 has spread to other communities in the town – see more here.

• If you live in Cold Ash and found an Easter egg on your dowwstep last weekend, I’m reliably informed by the landlady of The Spotted Dog that these were from the local Church.

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin which this week includes not just a quote but a whole poem from e.e. cummings, the poet who hated capital letters.

Theale and district

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

• The District Councillor for Theale, Alan Macro, covers some virus-induced changes to local services and summarises the current local planning matters in his April newsletter which you can read here.

• Life goes on and parish and town councils are adjusting the the new methods of working. 14 April was, for example, to have been the occasion of Aldermaston’s annual parish meeting but the PC decided to hold a normal parish Council meeting instead using videoconferencing. Matters discussed included one planning application (and another with the council decide not to make a submission on as it is in Brompton), various reports from local groups, confirmation that the response to the West Berkshire’s HELAA (land allocation assessment) had been made and agreeing a local grant. The meeting also reported that West Berkshire had recently approved four applications, all consistent with the PC’s recommendations. It was also reported that the local CV-19 support groups working well – for more information on this and other such groups, see this separate post. The full minutes will in due course appear on the council’s website.

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

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.

• Click here for a statement from Wiltshire Council about financial grant support for small businesses as a result of Coronavirus.

• Local MP Danny Kruger has told a local resident that he personally will not be taking the £10,000 additional allowance granted to MPs for home working. This article in Marlborough News refers to a petition to overturn this optional income source which has so far gathered over 22,000 signatures.

Marlborough News reports that the Marlborough LitFest has launched its Love Books Competition something which, as the article points out, ‘aims to celebrate a love of reading amongst teenagers and adults, is perhaps even more important in these uncertain times.’  The original deadline of April 24 has now been extended to July 17. Click here for details.

• The Gazette and Herald reports on the steps taken by villagers at Ufcott, between Marlborough and Swindon, to halt work on the Wroughton Airfield site which will, it is claimed, result 150 vehicle movements a day on a narrow village by-way.

Click here for a list of current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council. 

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

Wantage & district

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

• I mentioned above in the Across the Area section about the uncertainties caused to the planning system by CV-19. This may not seem like top priority at the moment but the matter will not improve by inaction. On 14 April, the Leader of the Vale Council wrote a letter to the Secretary of State on this subject: you can read the whole text here. One passage sums up her evident disquiet at the possibility that the process will only be able to limp along during the crisis: ‘With all consultees under resource pressure and community understandably focused on the Covid response I worry that the pressure to meet targets will significantly reduce our ability to get such developments right and open the council up to challenge from developers and residents alike. My district is one of the fastest growing in the country, but I am determined that the homes and communities we build must be socially, environmentally sustainable – and this may not be possible if we are under pressure to grant permission without the technical and democratic input required.’ She goes on to suggest that there should be a’slight pause’ in processing applications. 

• On a similar subject, there’s a letter in this week’s Wantage and Grove Herald which accuses the Vale Council of frivolity in continuing to work on its local plan update during the crisis. I don’t know whether the writer would levy the same accusation against any other official body which is working on something not directly relevant to dealing with SC-19. Local plans are important and a statutory responsibility. Life has to go on. I’m not equating the two things, but if you leave everything til the last moment and then do everything in a rush – which was the government’s response to CV-19 – then mistakes get made. In any case, I’m struggling to see of what particular use the Vale’s planning officers would be in combatting the epidemic. I doubt any of them have medical qualifications. They’re best placed doing the jobs they’re paid to and leaving the health and scientific experts to get on with theirs.

• The sewage problems Lambourn (see Lambourn Area section above) are also impacting on life in Wantage as that is where many of the tankers from the Valley are ending up, particularly in Ham Road and probably Denchworth Road. The Wantage and Grove Campaign Group (W&GCG) has been in touch with Penny Post about this and we’ve directed them to our post and the contact at Thames Water we were talking to. On 9 April, Thames Water instructed their drivers to use an alternative and more suitable route but it seemed that on 14 April the previous route was still being used. Local campaigners are on the case.

• As mentioned last week, an issue which the W&GCG has been much involved over the years is the ‘temporary’ closure of Wantage Community Hospital. There wouldn’t appear to be a better time to re-open it but so far this hasn’t happened. Keep your eye on the W&GCG website and also the Herald for more information. 

Click here for information about online entertainment available from Cornerstone and The Beacon. 

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald discusses the continuing challenges in meeting the targets for the provision of social housing. This is discussed in more detail in the Across the Area section above.

• Information here from the Vale Council here about waste collection services in the area.

• The Wantage and Grove Campaign Group’s public meeting with David Johnston MP, Yvonne Constance, and Emily Smith which was planned for 22 May has been cancelled: however, the group has added a discussion forum to its website so that it can discuss the issuesand then send our questions to these people. Anyone registered to receive the W&GCG’s emails should be able to join in – click here to sign up for these.

• All charges are suspended in the District Council car parks at The Beacon and on Limborough Road until 1 June and during this time you do not have to display a ticket. Any outstanding car park permits, recently expired or due to expire, will also be honoured until that date – permit holders therefore do not need to take any action before then. 

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

• 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.

Swindon & district

Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.

• In common with our councils and fire services, Swindon Council and the Wiltshire and Dorset Fire Service are urging residents not to light bonfires during the pandemic.

Click here for information from Swindon Council about how Coronavirus is affecting its services as well as other useful information. 

• Swindon Borough Council will prioritise certain waste collections over the coming months amid the continuing Coronavirus crisis.

• A tailor from Wooton Basset has (so far) made over 400 face masks for staff at the Great Western. His are quite easy to spot as many of them feature cartoon characters.

• Swindon businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality industry which are eligible for the Government’s 12-month business-rate holiday will see it reflected in their bills from April 2020.

• Bus-pass restrictions have been lifted for older and disabled people in Swindon.

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

The song and the quiz

• The Song of the Week is Life During Wartime – an appropriate enough title for the present times – by the Talking Heads. I’m impressed that Tina Weymouth can play the bass and do step exercises at the same time. Great song.

• And so the Quiz Question of the Week brings things to a close. This week’s question is: By roughly how many times does the biomass of the world’s insects exceed that of the world’s humans? Last week’s question was: 2021 will see the 300th anniversary of the first holder of what office? This is the officer of Prime Minster of the UK: the office evolved rather than being created but most agree that the first holder was Sir Robert Walpole, who became first Lord of the Treasury in April 1721. 

Brian Quinn

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If you would prefer to contact me directly and privately about anything which was, or you think should have been, in this post, please email brian@pennypost.org.uk.


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