Local News 21-28 May 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford gives thanks, Elton’s refusal, Cold Ash’s  refusal, Newbury’s traffic, Lambourn’s plan, Upper Lambourn’s saga, Thatcham’s pitch, Marlborough’s hint, Swindon’s nurseries, Bedwyn’s trains, Denchworth’s slimmers, Wantage’s car parks, Aldermaston’s donations, Woolhampton’s hoglets, Wasing’s festival, Crookham’s ghosts, Chaddleworth’s history, Sulhamstead’s breakfasts, Theale’s appeal, Community Navigators, Lord Gnome’s good news, 1.2 HS2s, marks out of 10, conspiracies, domestic abuse, three accounting policies, past and present, Sunday service, re-inventing the wheel, clever corvids, 1066, Barbara Streisand and Kid Charlemagne.

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)

• With lockdown restrictions being gradually lifted across many parts of the world, the temptation might be to think that the worst is over. Not a bit of it, according to some experts including the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. A second wave this winter should be expected (or at least prepared for) and, if the Spanish flu outbreak just after WW1 is anything to go by, this will be more deadly. (There are, however, major differences, including the Spanish flu’s high fatality rates among young adults and the fact that, slightly unusually for viruses, the second wave was caused my a mutation more, rather than less, virulent than the first). Winter is also a time when health services are particularly over-run with other similar diseases. Any celebration might thus need to wait another year. 

• This most recent Private Eye’s Pandemic Update (pp8-9) has, as one might expect, a number of points to make about the virus and our handling of it. I’ll pick out some of the good news for you. 999 out of 1,000 of us have not died of Covid-19. People under 14 are more likely to be killed by a lightning strike. The prediction of 500,000-odd deaths predicted by Imperial College seems unlikely to come to pass (as we and Lord Gnome and many others have pointed out, this has, for the government, had the beneficial result of making any measures it put in place seem to be a success). The low level of identified antibodies, even in severely affected areas like Madrid where only 11% of those tested had them, could mean either that they take time to manifest themselves or that the virus is harder to catch than had been thought. It also makes what seems to be the very useful point that ‘the national R number is far less useful than knowing what is going on in your community.’ Contact tracing is a vital part of that.

Contact tracing is labour-intensive but previously has only been conducted on people who have reported symptoms or been tested positive. The increase in testing (howsoever measured), the use of the contact app and the proposed lockdown restrictions will both serve to increase the number of people whose close contacts will need to be checked. As all these things have long been predicted, it seems strange that the recruitment of extra staff has been left until so late. More alarmingly still, the government has involved Serco, an organisation tainted by a number of scandals including an electronic-tagging scandal in 2019 which involved charging the government for monitoring people who had left the country, were in jail or dead. According to The Guardian, an assessment of Serco revealed by the Paradise Papers leak in 2017 included ‘allegations of fraud, the cover-up of the abuse of detainees and the mishandling of radioactive waste.’ It appears (also from The Independent’s article) that the new staff – assuming they actually exist – are only given a day’s training which seems barely enough to tool people up for the subtle matter of coaxing information about of strangers. Serco celebrated its appointment by wrongly revealing nearly 300 contact tracers’ email addresses.  This, then, is the saviour to which the government has turned in its hour of crisis.

All of this seems largely unnecessary. There was already an excellent, locally-sensitive and experienced system in place operated by local councils and health trusts for  dealing with notifiable diseases like Hep-A and campylobacter (I’ve had both of these and in both cases the environmental health teams were all over it within a day or so) and also for dealing with STDs including HIV. On 6 April 2020, The Guardian reported that this was ‘a missed opportunity’. The team based at Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge hasn’t at the time of writing been contacted at all. It seems to have been thought better to invent one huge wheel more or less from scratch rather than build on the hundreds of wheels that were already turning perfectly well in the local communities. Many of the most effective initiatives have been bottom-up and this is particularly the case where sensitivity to or knowledge of local conditions is important.

• Returning to the Eye, the above-mentioned article also includes some candid self-assessments about misjudgements made by health professionals at all levels. We need more of this and less of the culture of secrecy and apology-equals-weakness that bedevils our decision-making and any attempts to improve matters thereafter. We all screw up from time time. This is not always because we’re evil, stupid or callous. Sometimes we just get it wrong. 

• At first glance, these sums from the National Audit Office of the cost of the government’s response to Covid-19 are eye-watering, £124bn being the headline figure. However, that’s not so bad – it’s only about 1.2 HS2s, the new measure for sums of money higher than the human ear can hear. (It’s not possible to compute the true value of an HS2 as it’s subject to something verging on hyper-inflation).

• I was chatting to a friend this morning and we agreed that trying to decipher the statistics about mortality, infection, recovery, antibody presence and testing is now all but impossible. With the latter, the figures now appear to include – as well as tests done and testing kits sent out – now also tests for antibodies, and are akin to looking at a company’s annual accounts and realising that they’ve used three separate accounting systems. Another friend, who works for the University of Cambridge and is much involved in the scientific response, said that the figures do make sense if you know what you’re looking at but that even he finds them confusing and he’s a Professor – no chance for the rest of us, then. 

• It does however, seem clear that, as this article in The Week reports, the pandemic and its consequences are likely to exacerbate inequalities that already exist in society. Many so-called white-collar workers, for instance, are more easily able to work from home and have more space in which to self-isolate. The article also touches on how Covid is likely to increase global problems of hunger and starvation as global food supplies are disrupted.

• The good news for developing countries (where the incidence appears to be fairly low) is that the patterns of behaviour involving fairly tight-knit communities, rather than a lot of whizzing around all of the country or abroad, seems to be just the kind of behaviour the virus doesn’t like. Figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control show, as of 21 May, the deaths clustered in densely populated, affluent and travel-hungry countries; exactly what one would expect. The exception has been in south-east Asia where previous experience with SARS and MERS, coupled with a sometimes ruthless efficient government policies, led to effective measures.

• There’s a letter in this week’s Newbury Weekly News which states that shops should not be open on Sunday because the church says as much and the church’s authority comes directly from God. The author quotes a passage in the Bible to support this claim. If the church referred to is the Church of England then its authority comes from the Elizabethan Settlement of 1558-59 which provided an ingenious compromise to solve the religious wrangles and persecutions of the previous two decades. As for quoting authority from the Bible, if this book is used as a source then we are going to be here all day: as the Reformation proved, passages can be quoted to support two opposite propositions on almost every point. I seem to remember also a phrase about ‘rendering to God what is God’s to to Caesar what is Caesar’s’, which could certainly be applied to the conduct of shop-keepers and the role of government in regulating their activities. Fortunately, we now live in age when the church is not the sole arbiter of what is and is not right.  

• As previously mentioned, all indications are that instances of domestic abuse are rising during lockdown. A letter of 15 May sent from ‘NHS England and NHS Improvement’ suggested that online searches about domestic abuse had increased by over 350% and that the use support lines and web chats on the subject had increased by between 54% and 70% (though the letter didn’t say what period this referred to nor to which it was being compared). I contacted Women’s Aid and a spokesperson confirmed that “demand for Women’s Aid Live Chat [an online instant messaging service which offers survivors support from specialist domestic abuse support workers] rose by 41% in the first two weeks of lockdown. Many women tell us that they find it safer to use than to make a phone call which could be overheard. Other domestic abuse charities have also reported a rise in demand for their specialised services.” The lockdown appears to have put the spotlight on the already existing crisis of domestic abuse and, the statement continued, “has made the public and policy makers take note, and we hope this awareness continues. The sector has been underfunded for many years and sustainable support for survivors is needed, as you will see from our Domestic Abuse report 2020.” The same source has also published this article which clears up some of the myths and misconceptions about this often un-reported issue. It’s worth adding that the victims are mainly women, but not entirely: domestic abuse affects men as well and this may be even less likely to be reported. This link has more information. As mentioned last week, 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.

• This has certainly been a golden age for anyone pedalling conspiracy theories. It’s also at times hard to spot the difference between such a theory, which starts with an assumption of conspiracy and then selects evidence to support it; a statement from a government or news outlet which is deliberately intended to mislead; and an honest error or misunderstanding. In these cut-and-paste times they can all blur together and feed each other. It’s been argued that the suppression of the views of people like David Icke is an assault on free speech and is stifling debate. The reverse could also be true, as censorship can draw attention to opinions that would otherwise pass un-noticed (the so-called Barbara Streisand effect). It’s also true that some ideas, like heliocentrism, which are now considered normal were once seen as conspiracy theories, fake news or errors of the worst kind. The main reason why most conspiracy theories cannot be true is that they usually require a complex level of collusion between different groups whereas history suggests that unnatural alliances tend to dissolve quite rapidly. There may well be groups of medical experts or big Pharma executives or government ministers who are trying to exploit any situation but these could be merely heightened examples of scientific curiosity, commercial exploitation or political opportunism that are normal, if often unwelcome, aspects of everyday life. The more I look at the various official responses, the more I see confusion, unpreparedness, short-termism and mendacity in roughly equal proportion – business as usual, in other words…

• 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. 

• Last night (20 May) I switched on the Mac and hunkered down with a glass of something to do some binge-watching: not of the latest Netflix blockbuster but of the latest episode of WBC’s Western Area Planning Committee and the first one available online and thus under the new regulations described above. For more on the applications discussed, see below under Thatcham Area and Lambourn Valley. Here are my marks on the meeting itself…

Technology: 6.5/10. Despite fears that the whole thing would crash, there was one point when a speaker slowed down to about 16rpm for a time but this rectified itself, to the evident relief of all: also (see comment at the foot of the post) one point where part of an answer was lost when the system froze (which at the time I thought was at my end). For the future, I think it would be helpful to have ward members, officers and committee members highlighted in different colours on the screen, for the person’s box to enlarge slightly when they were speaking and for the Chairman to be in total control of everyone’s mute buttons (if these things are possible).

Procedure: 7/10. Time needed to be spent electing the Chair and Vice-Chair, always a tedious but unavoidable business; but there was also about 15 minutes spent on some changes to the previous meeting’s minutes that could surely have been dealt with beforehand and approved at the meeting.

Chairmanship: 8/10. I felt Clive Hooker did a good job though there were times (in the Cold Ash application) that the discussion was allowed to dwell on matters that had already largely been agreed and an occasion (in the Elton application) when I felt that the questions were wrapped up a bit too quickly.

Non-participation of interested parties: 4.5/10. I don’t think either vote would have gone a different way if the old system had been used but (with Cold Ash) there was a point at which a member confessed that his figures and those of an objector varied: of the course, the objector cannot now be questioned about this. With the Elton application, I also felt that more aspects of this complex matter would have been teased out by a Q&A of the interested parties, which would then have been a matter of record. I mark this so low because I remain concerned that, at some point, this will present a problem.

The Clerk’s performance: 8/10. The skills required of a council clerk are many and various, to which must now also be added the ability perfectly to read a series of often technical and generally impassioned 500-word statements written by strangers. This is even harder than it seems. Apart from the fact that at the start the originals were too small to read on screen, she did this well: it’s all too easy to mis-pronounce a word or miss out a line which can have a dramatic effect on the meaning. However, even if she’d been Meryl Streep or Katherine Hepburn, this is still a good deal short of having the participants speaking for themselves (and being able to answer questions).. 

Attendance: 9/10. I’m told that 20 members of the public is a good turn-out but at one point yesterday there were nearly 60 people watching. Some of these may, of course, have been WBC’s IT experts, terrified that the whole thing was going to collapse…

Dress sense: 7/10. Nothing fancy or eye-catching but no one disgraced themselves (just what one expects from a council meeting…)

• 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.

• A few months ago – it seems like a few years – I covered the closure of the Village Agents scheme, run for many years by Volunteer Centre West Berkshire, and its replacement by the different service provided by the Community Navigators, run by Eight Bells for Community Strength, which officially launched on 1 April. The normal repetitional banana skin of starting anything new on April Fool’s Day was, this year, as nothing compared to the fact that it was in the middle of a global pandemic as a result of which the entire voluntary sector was re-inventing itself at breakneck speed and from the bottom up (and with considerable success). More information can be found here from West Berkshire’s recent press release. ‘It was certainly a challenging time to launch this new service,’ said Eight Bells founder and West Berkshire Council member Steve Masters, ‘but we’re all very excited about the future. The Community Navigators scheme will not only build on the excellent work done by the Village Agents but also aim to harness the remarkable outpouring of community spirit at grass-roots level as a result of Covid-19.’ 

• To address a related issue, West Berkshire Council has also announced that the contract for providing the Befriending and Buddy support has been awarded to Age UK Berkshire. The scheme, which aims to prevent and reduce social isolation and loneliness in West Berkshire will provide social and emotional support to residents aged 50 and over from a volunteer befriender or buddy.

• 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. More information here.

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.

• This is the season for the tick-borne Lyme disease, another condition, like CV-19, to be avoided if you can. We have some advice on the subject here.

• The animals of the week are the corvids (not covids) which, smart birds they they are, have worked out that we put out corn for our hens. What’s impressive is that the word has spread. We had one of them two weeks ago: today I disturbed 14. Even though there’s not much in the bowls they’ve twigged that there’ll be some on the grass and they seem to take it in turns to distract the hens while the rest of the scavenge. The dull-witted pigeons, however, seem to understand nothing and just flap around rather aimlessly. 

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes a comment about the ‘scam’ at The Malt Shovel development, thanks paid to neighbours and volunteers during the pandemic, a reminder that recent trade deals with the USA will allow the importation of chlorinated chicken and a further critique of the role and aspirations of the EU.

• 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

• The May 2020 Penny Post Hungerford is out: if you didn’t get it you can click here to see it. The next one will be published on Tuesday 2 June.

• About 6,000 people have seen the video that Penny made last week with help from Stuart March which gave Hungerford residents a chance to thank the key workers, NHS staff and volunteers who’ve helped them during the pandemic. if you haven’t seen it, click here.

• See p27 of this week’s NWN for an excellent pair of photos comparing Hungerford town centre from 100 or so years ago with the deserted scene today.

• 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 townclerk@hungerford-tc.gov.uk with your contact details and any information about any special skills, experience or equipment you have.

GWR introduced a revised temporary timetable starting on 18 May. The timings are on the online planners. GWR requests you still double check before travelling. The government advice is you should avoid train travel unless absolutely necessary. You can contact the local campaign organisation, the Bedwyn Train Passenger Group, for more information and to make any comments on the new timetable.

• Once again, the Town and Manor managed to book superb weather for the Wednesday market in Hungerford yesterday. The good news is that the plant stall is back, in addition to fruit, veg, bread, cakes, meat (including a new goats’ meat stall), cheese, olives and (until noon) fish. The market is 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 Councilsee here for the official notice. However, these will not be filled until it’s possible to hold public meetings again.

Lambourn Valley

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

• I mentioned last week about the £64,000 question of the CIL payment charged by West Berkshire Council (WBC) on the development at The Malt Shovel in Upper Lambourn. Since then I’ve had a number of comments putting both sides of the case. I’ve also had a look at about 10 reports from the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) into cases involving CIL payments. They all had three factors in common: that all showed, and in some cases recognised, how complex the system was; they all involved very small developments and thus inexperienced developers; and they all found in favour of the council. I understand that a fresh appeal to the LGO is planned. The original one relating to this case (complaint 18 016 544 dates 5 July 2019) was by far the longest and did admit to some minor faults by WBC, and dismissed some others. I understand that fresh information has come to light and that a new appeal to the LGO is planned. There’s also the suggestion that the matter should come before either WBC’s Scrutiny Commission or its Governance and Ethics Committee, or perhaps both. 

There would seem to be a certain amount of unease, among both members and officers, as to this case, though whether because of the specifics of the case or the way it’s been handled is harder to judge. WBC assured Penny Post on 18 May that it believed it had “acted appropriately in this matter.” Others feel differently. At the very least, any matter which has been dragging on for nearly three years and which has promoted criticisms of WBC’s actions from a former Leader, the former MP and the Housing Minister, needs to be examined afresh. This might open up the matter of to what extent a planning authority has an obligation to assist and guide an applicant through the complex process of providing homes (or S106 payment in lieu of affordable ones) that the area so badly needs rather than relying on the various traps for the unwary inherent in the national system to provide revenue. It’s also true that an applicant must be careful to ensure they have the correct advice. Judging by the LGO reports I’ve looked at, some did not. 

• West Berkshire’s Western Area Planning Committee considered, on 20 May, the matter of six homes in Elton (the agenda can be seen on this page and the minutes will be added in due course.) This is part of a rather complex story explained in this article. In summary, the application under discussion (to build six houses rather than four) was widely supported by those who wish to protect the River Lambourn as the extra two dwellings would have compensated the local developer for the cost of connecting these to the mains sewage, rather than to more environmentally injurious septic tanks. The planning officer recommended refusal as the revised application breached WBC’s policy on a number of grounds. After discussion, the almost unanimous decision of the committee was to reject the application as it stood, several of those prefacing their vote by saying it was ‘with a heavy heart’ or similar. The problem was, as more than one member confirmed at the time and afterwards, that the application infringed several aspects of policy which cannot, as Councillor Hilary Cole observed, ‘be made up on the hoof.’ One breach might have worked given the obvious environmental benefits but not three of four: too many possibly unwelcome precedents would be set. I feel particular sympathy for Carolyne Culver, the Green member of WAPC, whose vote against the application could be seen as a contradiction of the cause she was elected to champion. However, one can also see that if you have a policy you need to follow it – or, if it’s wrong, change it. ‘I would like to see some kind of retrospective change to the original planning permission,’ Councillor Culver told Penny Post after the meeting. ‘This could take into account the concerns about phosphates that arose after the planning permission was granted. I don’t know whether this is legally possible.’

This, and the over-arching policy, is the kind of thing WBC needs to look at. None of the councillors or ward members I spoke to were at all happy with the decision (or, probably, the conflicted position they’d been put in). There was a telling comment from Dennis Benneyworth (a WAPC committee member and a ward councillor) who said he accepted that policy was important but wondered why there had been no mention of WBC’s policy on its chalk streams. The answer is that it doesn’t have one: and the reason why not is probably because there is no national one to follow. I can see that WBC’s ever-cautious legal team might be wary about introducing a policy which could, if it were found to be at variance with the views of national bodies, be challenged. I discussed this with Charlotte Hitchmough, Director of Action for the River Kennet (ARK). ‘There is no consistent approach to managing new development around chalkstreams,” she told me. ‘The designations of Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) should be strong enough to give them robust protection, but the planning systems are flawed, with inconsistencies in the way that local authorities, Natural England and the Environment Agency assess planning applications, and which departments within those organisations are consulted. It’s really frustrating and the danger is that over time these precious rivers, which should be the best in the world, gradually degrade.’ 

Environmental issues aside, the current confusion has led in the last five years to two divisive, time-consuming and costly wrangles – and that’s just in the hamlet of Elton. There’s no reason to suppose this won’t happen again. Indeed, even now applications may be being prepared for environmentally unsatisfactory developments which can use this latest decision as a precedent. WBC seems to have a reasonable cross-party consensus on environmental matters. With the review of the Local Plan currently under way, this would seem like a great time to apply some national pressure to get this uncertainty straightened out so that everyone knows where they stand.

• Our commiserations to Winding Wood Vineyard in Wickham which lost 95+% of its vine shoots in a sharp and ill-timed frost earlier this month. All is not lost, however, as WWV had a truly exceptional 2018 which will be released in due course. They also have some of the 2016 vintage left and are offering free delivery on orders placed before the end of May – see here for details.

• The latest edition of East Garston News was published last week  – click here to read it. It includes information about the recent VE Day celebrations 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

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

• It’s been announced by West Berkshire Leader that traffic will be banned 24/7 from parts of the town centre, including Bartholomew Street and Northbrook Street, rather than just between 10am and 5pm as at present. This will be a temporary measure from 1 June but to may be made permanent. The move is supported by Newbury Town Council: indeed, Ms Doherty’s statement pre-empts a motion that this body was to have been debated on 20 May. The intention is that will make social-distancing measures easier to abide by when things slowly revert to normal, dodging early-evening traffic being inconsistent with effective social distancing.

• See the centre section of this week’s NWN for some excellent pairs of photos comparing Newbury town centre from 100 or so years ago with the deserted scene today.

• There have been reports of power cuts in Newbury – if you’re affected by SSE’s supply, send a message on Facebook or Twitter to @ssencommunity and quote reference ‘GF8934.

• Local LGBT+ organisation Newbury Pride has teamed up with a group of British creatives to produce a special version of Lady Leshurr’s Quarantine Speech – see more here at Newbury Today.

• An update here on the consultation conducted to seek the views of local residents regarding the Skyllings Play Area.

• We mentioned last week that Newbury’s flag is through the final 12 in the #FA Cup of Flags, a competition run by the Flag Institute. The town has, as this week’s NWN reports (in an article illustrated with a much more accurately coloured version of the flag) now made it to the quarter finals. You can vote on Twitter @flaginstitute.

• 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 admin@hamsteadmarshall.net

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

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.

• May’s Chaddleworth News has recently dropped into my inbox and includes information about local support for those self-isolating or experiencing hardship, photos proving what an asset to the village Joe Mills is, news from the Downlands Patient Participation Group and a bit of local history from George Boxford. If you haven’t received your copy, it will be available on the village website soon.

Thatcham and district

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

• See p26 of this week’s NWN for an excellent pair of photos comparing Thatcham town centre from 100 or so years ago with the deserted scene today.

• Anyone who, like me, is a bit of sucker for Hammer Horror Films and other tales of gothic suspense will, when clicking on this article from Berkshire Live about the proposed re-development of Crookham Court School, probably feel a frisson of menace at the photo at the head of the article. The building does indeed have a sinister past as it was shut down after a serious child sex-abuse scandal in 1989 and the interior has been largely untouched since then. Plans have recently been announced to re-develop it for ‘very high-end events’, whenever such events (or any any events) start happening again: and if planning permission is granted; and if the funds can be raised.

• West Berkshire’s Western Area Planning Committee considered, on 20 May, the matter of five homes at The Ridge in Cold Ash (The agenda can be seen on this page and the minutes will be added in due course.) Outline planning permission had already been granted so this was to consider the reserved matters application by which the applicant felt – and the officers agreed – that the matters of appearance, scale and landscaping had been addressed. The committee di not, however, agree and the matter was refused.  

• If you think baby animals are cute – and, let’s face it, most of us do, except when they’re you’re own child teething a three in the morning – then you should visit p15 of this week’s NWN where you will see a photo of a a hedgehog in Woolhampton surrounded by what I at first took to be six exotic pinecones sprayed with silver paint but which turn out to be her hoglets.

• The same paper has, on p23, a report confirming the support offered by Thatcham Town Council for Thatcham Town FC’s plans to extend its training facilities, which will also be able to be used for community activities.

• 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 how to Zoom into the next parish Council meeting  on Tuesday 26 May.

Theale and district

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

• A slightly odd story which I suppose merits inclusion: a newly appointed PC had his career cur short when he admitted eating seven full English breakfasts at the training centre in Sulhamstead without paying for them. When I first read the story I thought that he’d eaten them all at one sitting, which would have been impressive. In fact, all this scoffing took place in January and February.

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports on p9 that it’s hoped that the five-day eco-festival planned at the Wasing Estate, near Aldermaston, at the end of August will be going ahead. 

• If you want protective equipment including respirator masks, there’s be few better places to get them from than a base which specialises in making nuclear weapons. So, step forward AWE at Aldermaston and Burghfield which has, as reported on p15 of this week’s NWN, provided equipment and donations to local hospitals. 

Links to the appeal decision and costs decision relating to planning application 18/03209/FULEXT in Theale can be viewed on the afore-mentioned links.

• As mentioned last week, 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.

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.

GWR introduced a revised temporary timetable starting on 18 May. The timings are on the online planners. GWR requests you still double check before travelling. The government advice is you should avoid train travel unless absolutely necessary. You can contact the local campaign organisation, the Bedwyn Train Passenger Group, for more information and to make any comments on the new timetable.

• Marlborough’s recycling centre re-opened 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). Long queues have been reported.

• As mentioned elsewhere, towns in the area including Newbury and Wantage have banned cars from the town centre or are considering doing so. In Marlborough, a very large hint was dropped (or drawn) on the road by, it turns out, the Marlborough & Devizes branch of XR. Marlborough News can take it from here

• The same source reports that Marlborough’s Jubilee Centre is looking for more customers for its home delivered £8 lunchtime meal.

• 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 17 July. 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

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

• In emulation of Newbury (see Newbury Area above) – actually, I don’t know why I said that as Wantage could have thought of this first for all I know – Wantage Town Council is, according to this week’s Herald, considering closing off the town centre to traffic in order to make social distancing during the imminent lockdown-lite easier to manage. This will need approval from Oxfordshire County Council

• Oxford West MP Layla Moran, writing in the MP’s corner of this week’s Herald, has criticised the government for not having consulted with ‘school leaders, teachers and unions’ ion details of the back-to-school day on 1 June. I’ve got no knowledge of who the government has or has not spoken to but it does seem to be a hugely difficult problem as some schools will be better configured than others to cope with the social distancing required; and all of this is against the backdrop that no one is still really sure how infectious children can be, even though most seem to experience CV-19 very mildly or asymptomatically. She also claims that the decision ‘must be based on science’. This all sounds fine and reasonable but, as mentioned in this column a few weeks ago, science (like teachers) do not speak with one voice. 

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 week’s Herald reports on p3 that the government is investing nearly £100m to the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in order to speed up work on a Covid vaccine.

• The same paper returns, on p5, to the story of the mysterious local benefactor who has funded The Fox in Denchworth to supply fish and chips every Friday for any villager that wants them. S/he is now offering £100 to any resident who can lose 10% of their body weight in the next two months. 

• The Leader of the Vale council has written to the Biffa staff thanking them for keeping the area’s waste-collection services going.

• The latest government business grants scheme will not provide anywhere near enough cash to support the vast majority of businesses in southern Oxfordshire affected by the COVID-19 pandemic according to the Vale and South Oxfordshire Councils. 

• 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 some of the ideas proposed in the Oxfordshire Local Transport and Connectivity Plan, which will influence the County Council’s views on its transport policies for the next three decades. The longer article on the same page looks at the same issue and includes an artist’s impression of a flying taxi which strongly reminds me of an illustration from a Ladybird book called something like Life in the Future which I remember reading about 50 years ago. I suppose the future has to arrive some time, doesn’t it? 

• 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.

Swindon Summer Music Festival is a new online music festival that will showcase the very best local talent on 4 and 5 July.

• Swindon Council is encouraging members of the pubic who have Covid-19 symptoms to register for a test following the expansion of the government’s National Coronavirus Testing Programme.

• Parents and carers who have been classed as key workers can take advantage of further free childcare courtesy of Swindon Borough Council during May half-term next week.

• People are being asked if they could spare a few minutes to put smiles on the faces of isolated residents as Swindon Borough Council launches a new initiative to help those who live in care homes.

Parking season tickets which were due to expire during the coronavirus lockdown period will be automatically extended free of charge by Swindon Borough Council

• 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 is…er…OK, when in doubt pick something – anything – by Steely Dan and you can’t go wrong. Here’s a piece of solid gold from 1976, Kid Charlemagne, which features some of the best bits of guitar playing you’ll ever be lucky enough to welcome into your head. As with all their songs, it’s immaculately performed and tells a carefully-wrought story. Pop or jazz/funk or funk/rock or whatever it is at its very, very best.

• And so we lurch towards the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: There were three battles in England in September and October 1066. Fulford was the first and Hastings the third. What was the second one? Last week’s question was: On what date did the UK leave the EU? This happened on 31 January 2020. Can you remember that far back? 

Brian Quinn

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2 Responses

  1. I liked your ratings out of 10 for the Western Area Planning Committee meeting. I’d knock a couple of points off your technology score. At one point in the Cold Ash application, the Tree Officer was asked if the hedge was an Ancient Hedgerow. He replied, “In my opinion and the opinion of the ecologist…”, the screen froze for about 30 seconds and the rest of his speech was lost. Coincidence, or were darker forces at work here?!

    1. Hi Paul,
      Yes, I had the same thing but thought it was a problem at my end. What a cliffhanger. Shall adjust the scores…

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