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 featuring Upper Lambourn’s CIL, Hungerford’s newsletter, East Garston’s VE Day, Elton’s application, Newbury’s flag, Thatcham’s swan, Marlborough’s recycling, Bedwyn’s trains, Wantage’s Everest, Swindon’s virtual festival, Aldermaston’s questions, lockdown-lite, contact tracing, surfaces, mutations, staying outside, 8,000 viruses lined up, the dash to the country, closing the tabs, spotting fake news, community bonds, the Local Access Forum, domestic violence, smart motorways, animals taking over, cobalt, train times, Russian ventilators, a Trojan horse, chatting to Lynne, wasting water and Prince’s vanishing Telecaster.
Police, transport and council contacts
Information on police, transport (including roadworks) and district councils can now be found on a separate page here.
Links to the websites for town and parish councils can still be found in the appropriate sections below.
Across the area (and further afield)
• So we’re now in lockdown-lite, or pre-post-lockdown, or what you will. The government’s policy has been criticised for being vague and relying too much on individual standards of behaviour but they were in a difficult situation. Six weeks of tight restrictions is probably about as much as a country like the UK, with no tradition of following martial law, can tolerate. The real culprits were Winston Churchill and the weather. If Churchill had managed to have prolonged WW2 by a few weeks, VE Day would not have been until early June. It had been declared a public holiday several months ago and, if for no other reason than that our PM is clearly enamoured of our wartime leader, to tell people not to celebrate the event would have been an admission of defeat. There are also the obvious parallels of the triumph over adversity, the resource and resolve of the British spirit and all that. The fact that VE75 arrived when the battle we are currently fighting was far from won is an inconvenient truth. However, I can’t see how, given where we were this time last week, the government could have put a brake on the whole thing. Certainly in our village, the event was celebrated with a (largely correctly social-distanced) fervour that might otherwise have been lacking. Actually being able to talk to all the people we know in this wonderful community, whom for the past six weeks we’d only communicated with virtually or stepped aside for on footpaths, was slightly intoxicating. So, to be honest, was the amount of wine that was consumed.
And my second point, the weather? You thought I’d forgotten about that, didn’t you? Not at all. The glorious sunshine was the final, unanswerable and perhaps illogical clincher to the argument that last Friday was ordained as a day to celebrate: to celebrate perhaps nothing more than the fact we were still alive. I can imagine the Downing Street team at the start of last week: ‘PM – it’s bad news. We’ve bigged up VE Day for months and the forecast is 30º in places, not a cloud in the sky. The bunting’s being made, thousands of street parties are planned. If we don’t announce some relaxation pretty soon afterwards, it’s going to happen anyway and we’ll have a nation of criminals on our hands.’ Again, I see the government’s problem. There are countries where the will of the people is not held in very high regard and, for most of the time, this isn’t much fun: even if, in places like Singapore and parts of China, the deal is that ‘you say compliant and we’ll make you rich’. The UK is not like that. It’s striking that of the 10 countries that (according to Statistica.com) have so far experienced the highest death rates all are, apart from Iran,’western’ democracies; and that six of them are (according to Worldometer) in the top ten of those with the highest GDPs. If you were looking for evidence of a theory that suggested Covid-19 was a reminder that a frugal and obedient life was also the best, then here it is.
The truth is, of course, probably more complicated. International comparisons are difficult, for a number of reasons, not least because of the level of competitiveness and distrust. Relations between the two largest economies, the USA and China, for instance, can rarely have been worse. The USA has also been quick to say that it won’t use Russian-made ventilators after some of these were implicated in a fire in a St Petersburg hospital earlier this week. What seems even more amazing is that the USA was using Russian-made ventilators at all, or was admitting to doing so. Strange times indeed.
• I am, though, confused by the ‘stay alert‘ slogan. This is more the kind of message that one gets at times of terrorist threats. Stay alert for what, exactly? If you got 8,000 CV-19s all lined up they’d still be only 1mm long in total. What I’m trying to say is that they’re invisible: indeed, none of our five sense can detect them. (Well, that’s not quite true: a loss of smell and taste seems to be a common symptom, although not one that prominently features on government information. By the time that kicks in, though, it’s too late.)
• In the absence of vaccines (although there seems to progress on antibody testing), contact-tracing apps are currently seen as the best way of monitoring the spread of the virus. The NHS’s app, which is currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight, uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals sent every 15 seconds to detect the presence of other users. This works within a five-metre radius and is accurate to +/- one metre. The threshold for determining a likely contact is if the two devices (ie their owners) have been two metres or closer for two consecutive readings. The data is then uploaded to the internet: if any of the people develops CV-19, all the contacts are noticed, the assumption being that they will then self-isolate and inform their GPs. In theory, the process should also be able to estimate what stage of the infection a person was at (and thus how infectious they were) and weigh the definition of ‘contact’ accordingly. Being within two metres of someone at an early (less infectious) stage for say 60 seconds may is probably a lot less risky than being within two metres of them for 20 seconds when they’re a a week or more into the disease.
It’s too early yet to tell how the IoW trial is doing. The take-up appears to be pretty high (about 40%). Even having 5-10% of the population using the app is enough to provide useful data. I imagine the IoW was chosen because it’s an island. It certainly isn’t demographically typical. The average age on the island is 44, compared to 40 for the UK as a whole. It’s also in the top 20% of local authority areas as measure by the % of the population over 65. Age is, as is well known, a factor in this disease.
As with face-masks, contact-tracing apps may create (or solve) a psychological issue. Some people might find that using either, particularly the mask, has the effect of fostering more careful behaviour. For others, however, it might create a false sense of security. The effect of seeing someone with a face mask certainly makes me that much more careful about approaching too close. I assume that they either ill or particularly fearful of becoming so, both of which gives a good reason for me to give them a wide berth.
• What’s less clear is how much transmission can take place through surfaces, rather than the air. It’s been proved that the virus can survive for some days steel and hard plastic surfaces (far longer than on more complex organic substances such as food), which makes a journey by public transport, where such materials are impossible to avoid, particularly challenging. However, it appear that CV-19 doesn’t appear to spread in this way nearly as much as SARS did. The reasons for this are not yet understood.
• As air-borne transmission seems the main route, one might think that being outside posed greater risks and, given the right wind direction, an infected sneeze could travel a good deal further than two metres. However, all the research suggest that being outside vastly lower your risk. One recent study looking at over 7,000 infections identified only two that was not contracted indoors. (This makes me feel even more relaxed about doing my main weekly shop at the open-air market in Hungerford every Wednesday).
• Yet another uncertainty is how fast the virus mutates. This article from Healthline reminds us that all viruses do all the time: the results might make the new strains more infectious but will often also make them less of a threat. It also points out that Covid-19 appears to be mutating particularly slowly. This may make vaccines more effective.
• How many of us have had the damned thing anyway? This report from The University of Manchester, Salford Royal and Res Consortium suggests that at least 25% of the population may have been infected. If true, this is probably good news as (a) more people should have antibodies and, more importantly, (b) for many the symptoms are not that serious.
• We’ve all been more careful about keeping our hands clean: but how many of us exercise the same cleanliness with regard to our use of computers? I learned this week that a friend of mine only opens software when she needs it and quits it straight after, clears all browser cookies after every session, turns off the wifi, and shuts down her laptop for even shortish breaks. Particularly on Thursdays (press day) I have so many browser tabs open that each shrinks to an almost virus-like width. I do empty the cache quite frequently but rarely quit software until the end of the day. I never switch off the router, mainly because it behaves so oddly, re-setting itself all the time, that I’d be terrified that it wouldn’t re-start again.
• According to this article in The Guardian, the experience of home working and the increasing realisation that it isn’t necessary to be in a big-city office to be productive has encouraged a flurry of enquiries from people wanting to move to more rural areas. West Berkshire is on the list. This won’t be good news for everyone, of course, as there’s enough of a housing shortage here as it is. However, most of the people planning to re-locate are probably not going to be putting further the strain on the already overloaded ‘affordable’ part of the market.
• As we and many others have mentioned, the lockdown may be a good way of slowing viral transmission but it also provides the perfect environment for cases of domestic violence and controlling behaviour to flourish (whether these are reported or not). One local charity, Flag DV, which offers free legal advice and support for victims (of either sex) in Berks, Bucks and Oxon, has reported a 25-30% increase in referrals in all parts of its area except, oddly, in West Berkshire. (It’s unlikely we are inherently better people and more probably that, for whatever reason, the charity’s message has not been as well publicised here, so I’m happy to give it a mention). A spokesperson for Flag DV confirmed that ‘lockdown has definitely exacerbated the issue of domestic abuse. Initially we anticipated that figures would drop, as they often do during school holidays because it becomes harder for victims to make contact when children are in the home. There was a slight fall at the start of lockdown however this didn’t last for long.’ It’s also worth stressing the the Police and health- and social-care professionals have developed new protocols for helping people in these changed times and that all take the matter very seriously – you will not be wasting their time if you contact them.
• There are also fears, as this article in The Guardian suggests, that the lockdown provides good circumstances for radicalisation to take place. This includes not just by religious groups but also extreme political ones, including those who claim that Covid-19 is a myth and that the lockdown is an illegal infringement of human rights. Such groups, and their demonstrations, have been far more common in the USA than in the UK: this is perhaps not surprising as the US President himself seems broadly sympathetic to the second of these (even though he appears no longer to believe the first).
Three Conservative MPs have also fallen into this trap, as The Daily Mirror and other sources reported on 14 May. Lucy Allan, Maria Caufield and Nadine Dorries retweeted an edited version of a video showing Labour leader Kier Starmer purporting to be saying something that he wasn’t about child abuse. Either they were being malicious or stupid. I don’t know which is the more depressing.
• This week’s NWN has on p13 a full-page advert which addresses the massive issue of ‘how to spot false information‘. I have mentioned before that the role of national and local newspaper is very important at this time – they do sometimes make mistakes but they employ professional journalists who tend to know what they’re doing. However, the question of what is ‘false information’ is an almost philosophical one and I’m not sure it can always be detected by the advice the advert offers, even if most people had the time to apply all of these. If I had to pick one, it would be to look at the sources quoted in an article. It’s often quite a quick job to check that the writer has summarised the source’s point fairly. There’s then the problem of if the quoted source is reputable, but that too should quote sources. It also says that ‘official guidance about CV-19 will have been carefully checked.’ I’m sure: but, despite the government’s strong claims that it is following ‘the best science’, the worlds of medicine and of science do not speak with one voice. There have also been accusations, most recently in The Guardian on 8 May, that technical advice was edited or redacted by the government before being released to the public.
As mentioned in this column two weeks ago, governments have to take a wide range of other factors into account before arriving at their official view. Whether any course of action is proved to be right can only be judged by the results, and sometimes not then as there is no certain way of knowing what would have happened were something different to have been done. Also, by definition one cannot know what the ‘correct’ course of action is if one is dealing with something like Mr Covid, many aspects of whose behaviour are not well understood. I absolutely support the sentiment of encouraging people who read online stuff to be more critical (and encouraging the people who write it to do a bit more research) but it’s worth remembering that official correctness is a slippery and mutable concept. As well as being official, the advice might also be convenient, or expedient, or feasible: but it may not be correct in an absolute sense. We all need to question what we hear and read. That, of course, includes your getting your knife out about anything I write…
• I mentioned last week about West Berkshire Council’s recent decision concerning the revised arrangements for conducting planning committee meetings during the pandemic. I think that it is wrong for reasons which I explain in this article. This has been added to since it was first published as new information has come to light: I have also added a statement from a member of the Executive. The main justification suggested for the change was that this would reduce the risk of a legal challenge to any of the committees’ decisions: on the contrary, I fear that it will make this far more likely. Appeals can be very expensive for councils, and thus for their residents, the costs often running into six figures.
• A letter in this week’s NWN suggests that such a controversy might flare up sooner rather than later as one item up for discussion at committee is the matter of widening Warren Road in Newbury. This may seem like a minor matter but it’s been described as a ‘Trojan horse’: the only reason the road needs to be widened is to allow lorry access to (and, later, a permanent vehicle access) to the Sandleford site. To approve the widening is thus to approve the whole concept of the scheme as it stands (the case for which many feel has not been made) as well as agreeing to address the whole issue in bite-sized chinks rather than in toto (which the writer claims is against council policy).
• Both of West Berkshire’s recycling centres, at Newtown Road in Newbury and Padworth Lane, near Aldermaston, have reopened. In order to manage demand, a booking system is in place and you will not be able to simply turn up at the recycling centres. Click here for more information.
• West Berkshire Council leader Lynne Doherty will be hosting a live Facebook Q&A on Saturday 16 May from 11am to 2pm. Click here for details.
• West Berkshire Council has approved the setting up of a Community Municipal Investment (CMI) bond – the first of its kind in the country – which enables members of the public to invest in order to help fund the council’s environmental strategy. This was partly inspired by the Public Works Loan Board raising its rates in October 2019 from 1.8% to 2.8%, a move widely seen as a discouragement to councils from using cheap money to fund risky investments (which they only needed to do because the government had cut their funding). This meant that West Berkshire could use its new scheme to offer a competitive rate to investors and still pay less than the loan would cost through the PWLB. This initial target is to raise £1m for a solar PV project. Lib Dem and Green members broadly supported the move but argued that its scale and scope should be expanded. More information here.
• The Mid and West Berkshire Local Access Forum (LAF) is a statutory body set up to advise West Berkshire Council (as well as Reading and Wokingham Borough Councils) on matters that affect access to the countryside for the public’s recreation and enjoyment. It also advises the councils on the implementation of their Rights of Way Improvement Plans (ROWIP). The next meeting will take place from 2pm on Wednesday 20 May – see here for more information.
• This week’s NWN has four pages of photos of VE Day celebrations throughout the area.
• Click here for advice from the government to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
• Any organisation involved in health, well-being or social care has been issuing its own advice during the pandemic. One such is the Berkshire West Safeguarding Children partnership, whose #Coping advice can be seen here.
• West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon Councils have set up their own web pages relating to the outbreak. Click here as follows for the high-level links for 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 and click here to see the weekly updates.
• West Berkshire Council is to receive additional funding following an announcement by the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government.
• In addition, a large number of volunteer organisations, are springing up to address the particular needs. See 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.)
• 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.
• West Berkshire Council’s Executive will vote on the UK’s first Community Municipal Investment (CMI) on 30 April 2020. If approved, the council will be offering residents and community groups an opportunity to invest directly with them to help build a greener future for the district.
• West Berkshire Council has suspended parking charges ‘until further notice.’
• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports on p7 of the problems facing those who have dental problems at the moment, dentists for some reason not being seen as an essential service. We have some advice here from Lambourn Dental.
• This is the season for the tick-borne Lyme disease, another condition, like CV-19, to be given a very wide berth. We have some advice on the subject here.
• The animals of the week are the various ones on this site who are taking advantage of the comparative task of humans.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes a lament over the NHS cuts over the last 10 years, a reminder that the government and not the church makes the laws in this country, further criticism of Councillor Alan Laws’ latest contribution to the letters page and several votes of thanks to, or from, local voluntary and community groups.
• 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
• The May 2020 Penny Post Hungerford is out: if you didn’t get it you can click here to see it.
• Hungerford’s mayor, Helen Simpson, has paid tribute to Chris Buck who died last week. Chis had been the director of Music and St Lawrence’s Church for the last 40 years and was also much involved in the Community of Hungerford Theatre Company. She was also one of the 2019 recipients of Hungerford’s Freedom on the Town awards. Our condolences to her friends and family.
• If I could pick out one of the many items, click here to read the April/May update from Hungerford Town Council, including coverage of its first-ever virtual meeting.
• Hungerford Town Council is gathering a list of people who would be willing to offer their services in any future emergency, whatever form it might take 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact details and any information about any special skills, experience or equipment you have.
• The crisis is bring out the best in most people but the worst in a few. This week’s NWN has, both on p22, two stories of thefts, one from Hungerford Town FC and one from an honesty box in Kintbury for the cakes that a family was baking to raise money for the NHS.
• GWR has introduced timetable changes between Bedwyn and Paddington as of Monday 18 May which should now be uploaded to all online planners. You can also contact the local campaign organisation, the Bedwyn Train Passenger Group, for more information.
• I was back, practised scurvy-dodger that I am, at the Wednesday market in Hungerford yesterday under less glorious sunny skies than have recently graced John of Gaunt’s town but not enough to stop a good stream of punters. Fruit, veg, bread, cakes, meat (including a new goats’ meat stall), cheese, olives and (until noon) fish are all available, the market being open from 8am until about 1pm. Be prepared for a short queue and please follow the one-way system that’s been set up. Hats off once for to th Town and Manor for keeping this going and to Nick Lumley and Tyrell Bossom for managing it all well.
• There are currently three vacancies on Hungerford Town Council – see here for the official notice. However, these will not be filled until it’s possible to hold public meetings again.
• There have been many recent cases of pubs being converted to other uses, usually private dwellings. Few tales are as tangled and as unedifying as that of the former Malt Shovel in Upper Lambourn. The story turns on the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), a charge introduced in April 2010 paid by the developer to the planning authority on any new development based on the floor area. There are several cases in which something is exempt from a CIL, two of which are if the new development is smaller than the one it replaces and if, in the case of a change of use, the building had been used for its originally-designated purpose for at least six months in the previous three years. Both of these apply in this case. However, despite this, and despite the fact the calculator on the planning portal initially confirmed that no CIL was due, in June 2018 (nearly a year after the application was approved) West Berkshire Council raised an invoice for £64,000 to the developer. The matter has been rumbling on since then and included the bizarre spectacle of Gordon Lundie, a former WBC Leader, effectively accusing the Council of having acted wrongly. It also appears that in February 2019 at least one senior WBC officer felt the same way. Unmoved by this and other appeals, the Council has announced that unless the bill is paid by 5 July, the bailiffs will arrive.
The Council has claimed that the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) found in its favour and the matter is therefore closed. With regard to the latter, it would seem not. The LGO has confirmed that a new complaint on a previously examined matter can be submitted as a new complaint if fresh evidence comes to light and if the council has not responded appropriately. A spokesperson for the developer told Penny Post on 14 May that new information about the council’s conduct had indeed emerged since the original decision and that a new appeal to the LGO would be made as soon as Covid-related closure of the LGO permits. WBC has already mentioned other reasons why the matter cannot be re-visited. The fact that over two years has passed since the invoice raised has been presented as marking a cut-off but, so far as I’m aware, an appeal against a CIL can be made at any time. WBC has also claimed that once an invoice has been issued in becomes – as CEO Nick Carter is quoted as saying the article on the subject on p22 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News– ‘a legal document and it becomes a criminal offence not to pay it,’ the only solution for the applicant being a recourse to the courts. This is, however, contradicted by the more senior figure of the Housing Minister Christopher Pincher who confirms in a letter to the local MP Laura Farris on 24 February 2020 that a levy-charging authority ‘can serve a revised liability notice at any time.’ I also know one case when, about five years ago, WBC threatened a parish council with legal action over a bill which it the parish maintained was wrong. This certainly appears to have been cancelled as the matter was later quietly dropped. (According to the CEO, WBC therefore acted illegally in this matter.)
The developer has confirmed that ‘he’s not great with forms’ and concedes that one piece of information was left out of one box: while we all have to take responsibility for the documents we sign, the the Housing Minister himself admitted, in the above-mentioned letter, that the process can seem ‘quite complex’ to the uninitiated. The central issue, however, is whether the charge is correct. The evidence suggests it has not. At the very least, we’re dealing a moral issue and also one which does nothing to encourage small developers to build the properties that the area so badly needs. As the developer intends to raise the matter with the LGO again citing fresh evidence, the line that WBC is trying to draw under this would not appear to be a firm one. The publicity that its handling of the matter has created is also likely to lead to anyone who has previously made a CIL payment questioning whether theirs was also wrong. Even more worrying, one Councillor told Penny Post that they were aware of two very similar cases, also involving CIL payments and small developments.
I spoke today to Howard Woollaston, WBC’s Ward Councillor for Lambourn, who told me that he had been through the whole business with the WBC’s Legal Department and was “certain that the Council’s position was technically correct.” I also spoke to Roger McCabe, the owner. “This has been a nightmare,” he told me. “West Berkshire has variously lied to me, tried to fob me off, bullied me or ignored me altogether. One crucial email didn’t arrive because they sent it to the wrong address. Other things took months longer than they should have done for them to deal with. All this is on top of the £83,000 in a Section 106 payment that I have already paid, with £3,000 of legal fees for West Berkshire on top. Everyone else, including the former and present MP, the former Leader of the Council and the Housing Minister, are aware that something has gone very badly wrong.”
On 18 May, West Berkshire Council issued the following statement to Penny Post: “This case has been subject to extensive scrutiny within the Council over a number of years. This matter has also been subject to a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman, who determined in July 2019 that the complaint should not be upheld. The Council remains satisfied, on the basis of all the facts that it has acted appropriately in this matter.”
• Still on the banks of the Lambourn but a several miles downstream at Elton, the story of the septic tanks has surfaced again in a slightly strange form and is due to come before the Western Area Planning Committee on Wednesday 20 May. The story is, for reasons that are explained in this article, the wrong way round from usual. In summary, the application under discussion (to build six houses rather than four) is widely supported by those who wish to protect the River Lambourn as the extra two dwellings will compensate the local developer for the cost of connecting these to the mains sewage, rather than to more environmentally injurious septic tanks, and of the two-year delay as a result of negotiating this with protestors and the local Ward Councillor and submitting new plans. It seems like a sensible compromise. If you want to make your views known then please see the last section off the article and be sure to do so by 5pm on 20 May at the latest.
• VE Day in East Garston was something to behold – a wreath laid by a local 97-year-old WW2 veteran, ’40’s music and Churchill’s speech relayed by tannoy all over the village, our local flautist (who has been performing for us from her garden in the middle of the village every afternoon for the last few weeks) putting on a command performance, all gently blurring into a wonderful informal social-distancing gathering in the streets that continued until after the glorious warm day had faded into the western horizon. Please forgive the slightly purple prose but the day was much needed. Penny, of course, was everywhere and made a video which you can see here.
• The latest edition of East Garston News has just arrived – click here to read it. It includes information about the above-mentioned festivities as well as other information, including about grants available from the Parish Council.
• A reminder that Lambourn Parish Council is seeking input from residents about its neighbourhood development plan. 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.
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• West Berkshire Council has announced that the car parks at Greenham and Snelsmore have been re-opened. The press release claims that this is ‘following changes in national guidance’, but there was nothing in the previous guidance (specifically section 6) that prevented people from driving reasonable distances to exercise, The problem was the interpretation by the police, which was changed about three weeks ago. I don’t know why it’s taken West Berkshire so long to fall into line with this. The Executive member said that this was because the council has the capacity to manage them. How much day-to-day management do open-air car parks need?
• Vexillology is, as I’m sure you all knew, the study of flags. I read in this week’s NWN (p10) that Newbury’s flag is through the final 12 in a competition run by the Flag Institute. The so-called ;FA Cup of Flags’ is as much as exercise in social-media marketing as vexillological excellence, and former Mayor Margot Payne has been active on Twitter to promote the town’s campaign at #FACupOfFlags. The next round of voting takes place on Sunday. The flag is actually a good deal more attractive than the photo in the paper suggests: the top right and bottom left quadrants are actually blue, not purple.
• The virus has not prevented Newbury Town Council from announcing the winners of its Unsung Heroes awards – you can see the citations here.
• Newbury Town Council has allocated £8,000 from its grant fund to assist projects and proposals helping the elderly, vulnerable and at-risk communities in Newbury in response to Covid-19.
• Newbury Building Society has made emergency donations of around £30,000 to support its many recipients.
• A reminder that Newbury’s Mayor, Elizabeth O’Keefe, is making herself available to chat to local residents who are self-isolating. Click here for more information.
• 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 email@example.com.
• Click here for the latest NTC News from Newbury Council.
Thatcham and district
• This week’s NWN reports that the swan in Thatcham which some idiot decided to take a shot at with an air rifle last month has recovered from her injuries and been reunited with her mate.
• In common with many other councils, including Hungerford, Thatcham Town Council has decided to extend the Mayor’s and Deputy Mayor’s terms of office by a year: this is no time to be taking over a new job.
• 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.
• Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin which includes as its thought for the week a useful reminder that people should be judged by their actions rather than their words.
Theale and district
• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council brought up two planning issues which have wider implications. The first concerns revised plans for the proposed Lidl development, although the minutes note that ‘despite numerous requests, we still do not know when this Application will be determined by the WBC District Planning Committee (it is now over a year since it was first submitted).’
The second concerns the matter of planning enforcement, the Parish saying that West Berkshire has yet ‘to respond to concerns regarding land adjacent to Torre House. Their failure to respond in a timely manner has resulted in approval of residential use by default.’ It’s been known for some time that West Berkshire doesn’t have enough enforcement officers to police all the aspects of every development.
• The M4 motorway will be closed between junctions 6 and 8/9 from 8pm on Friday 15 May to 6am on Monday 18 May. This is allow for work relating to the metamorphosis of the M4 into a ‘smart’ motorway, although opponents claim that the idea is anything but smart.
Marlborough & district
• Information here from Aldbourne Parish Council about what to do in case of flooding.
• GWR has introduced timetable changes between Bedwyn and Paddington as of Monday 18 May which should now be uploaded to all online planners. You can also contact the local campaign organisation, the Bedwyn Train Passenger Group, for more information.
• Marlborough’s recycling centre will re-open on 18 May but you need to check this article on Marlborough News to see when you can use it (this depends on your postcode).
• Some towns, such as Hungerford and Thatcham, have decided to continue with their current Mayors for another year. Marlborough has, however, decided to go for a new one, Mark Cooper. This article in Marlborough News gives some background about him. He was formally sworn in on 11 May in a ‘streamlined virtual mayor-making ceremony.’
• The same source reports that Marlborough’s Jubilee Centre is looking for more customers for its home delivered £8 lunchtime meal.
• And still with MN, click here for coverage of how VE Day was celebrated in a socially-distancing way in the town.
• Click here for a statement from Wiltshire Council about financial grant support for small businesses as a result of Coronavirus.
• A reminder that Marlborough LitFest’s Love Books Competition has now been extended to July 17. Click here for details.
• 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
• Congratulations to Wantage resident and Parkin’s sufferer Alex Flynn who walked up and down the stairs at his home 3,516 times (the same as two Everests) to raise money for Parkinson’s UK.
• Sweatbox Youth Club in Wantage is still operating (virtually) offering online activities such as quizzes as well as support for those suffering mental-health problems – click here to visit its FB page.
• The Leader of the Vale council has written to the Biffa staff thanking them for keeping the area’s waste-collection services going.
• General information here from the Vale Council here about waste collection services in the area.
• Click here for information about online entertainment available from Cornerstone and The Beacon.
• Businesses across Oxfordshire (including those which already receive 100 per cent rate relief) that are yet to submit their details for grant support in response to CV-19 should do so as soon as possible.
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald looks at the problem of cobalt, a rare element that is used in rechargeable car batteries. Unless we can find an alternative, we’re going to need a lot more of the stuff than the world currently produces.
• A final reminder that 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.
• The regular column from Didcot Railway Centre in the Wantage & Grove Herald this week looks at the topical issue of disinfecting things, railway carriages in this case. 90 Years ago, GWR’s works at Swindon built what was known as the ‘bug house’ in which carriages suspected of infestation or infection were sealed and submitted to some punishing exposures to heat and gas.
• Swindon Summer Music Festival is a new online music festival that will showcase the very best local talent on 4 and 5 July.
• Parking season tickets which were due to expire during the coronavirus lockdown period will be automatically extended free of charge by Swindon Borough Council
• Swindon Borough Council has written to more than 5,000 residents who have been identified by the NHS as being at high risk from coronavirus.
• Motorists will notice major changes to the M4 motorway near Swindon from Monday 18 May when a huge engineering project moves up a gear.
• The Council is urging local businesses and organisations which might be eligible for government grants to apply if they are yet to do so.
• 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.
• 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 returns to something I might have mentioned before, an all-star performance of While my Guitar Gently Weeps in the Concert for George in 2012, featuring an astounding piece of guitar playing by Prince. Watch to the very end and please tell me where his Telecaster ends up…
• And so we lurch towards the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: On what date did the UK leave the EU? Last week’s question was: Roughly what percentage of the water in Thames Water’s pipes is lost though leaks? The answer is about 25%. In much of this area, including the Lambourn Valley, this perhaps matters less than it does elsewhere as it goes straight back into the aquifer on which we sit, to reappear a few months later through boreholes or into the river. However, this very feature of the landscape causes a reverse problem at certain times (including this time) when water from the aquifer leaks into the similar number of cracks in the sewage pipes and causes that past of the system to overflow. Life has this way of equalling out advantages and disadvantages, leaving us in the same place despite all our efforts. Nature gives us no free lunch. If by setting this question last week I had been trying to convey a moral (which I wasn’t), this would have been it.
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