Local News 28 May to 4 June 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s preparations, Newbury’s mayor, East Garston’s anniversary, Thatcham’s pressures, Cold Ash’s video, Marlborough’s cinema, Bedwyn’s trains, Wantage’s ceremony, Grove’s triangle, Hamstead Marshall’s petition, Hampstead Norrey’s dog, Hermitage’s volunteers  East Ilsley’s refusal, Swindon’s defections, Stratfield Mortimer’s opening, Wasing’s festival, Brightwalton’s bees, DC’s unease, Bo-Jo’s mojo, Trump’s bump, legal delays, London Road, Bayern Munich, parking charges, domestic-abuse representation, two options, three battles, a key change and a reluctant hedgehog.

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)

• Despite the fact that we are still in the grip of a pandemic and about to face a recession there’s only been one story this week: the saga of DC. I’m not talking about the comic-strip franchise nor the US capital, though the tale would not be out of place in either. The alleged offence was that one Dominic Cummings, the PM’s senior advisor, allegedly broke lockdown restrictions to travel with his young son from London to Durham, perhaps more than once. This bald statement of the charge is probably the least interesting aspect of the whole business.

Was this wise? He claims to have, and may indeed posses, a vast intellect (including being able to self-tutor himself ‘to post-graduate level’ in maths) but his emotional and political radar here seems badly awry. That he has made enemies in the media and corridors of power is not in itself a point against him but he must have seen that many were hoping that he’d trip up. This has played into their hands. This in turn casts doubt on his judgment. His actions could have been construed as reasonable or in accordance with regulations and this was his defence. The reverse could be asserted, and has been. It must be admitted that, as this post has mentioned before, the regulations are open to more than one interpretation. The Guardian quotes the local police as saying that he ‘potentially’ broke lockdown rules and that they would have told him ‘to turn around had he been stopped’ but say that they won’t be taking matters further. That doesn’t seem clear cut to me. Did he break the regulations or not?

Should he resign? I’d rather he didn’t. He clearly has the PM’s ear and will continue to do so. Currently his involvement is accountable and minuted. Some of his ideas may be excellent and the opposition to him may be motivated by self-interest. Or they may be dangerous drivel. Or both. I haven’t studied his philosophy and this isn’t the time to start. It’s also not the point. 

Could the PM have done behaved differently? Quite possibly: but what struck me was the strange nature of his ‘show of support’ on 25 May which was, for him, strangely downbeat and defensive. The PM has many failings, including an often elastic relationship with veracity, but he has always been good copy and most of his utterances have had plenty of zip. Either because of the effects of the virus, the demands of the job or the frustrations of this situation, Bo-Jo seems to have lost his mojo. The first 30 seconds were spent describing the nature of the offence in such blunt terms that they may well have suggested to Mr Cummings’ critics accusations they hadn’t yet considered. In answer to these charges he said that his aide had had ‘no alternative’. Leaving aside the fact for many people in the country this phrase is a constant reality in so many aspects of life, it seems as odd way to open the case for the defence. Even stranger was the next statement, that Cummings ‘had followed the instincts of every father.’ A lot of legislation exists to curb human instincts, the Coronavirus Emergency Act of 2020 being a prime example. If these two remarks amount to a defence, or even a mitigation, then there will be a queue of people lining up to claim a reversal of their own penalties.

Should such redress be available? At one point it seemed it might. The Health Secretary announced the following day that there would be a review into all fines levied on people as a result of lockdown breaches involving childcare. However, both Number 10 and the Police later quashed this idea. (I hadn’t appreciated this when I first wrote this so have re-written this paragraph – thanks to Penny Stokes from the Hamstesd Marshall Hornet for pointing this out). It struck me at the time that re-defining the seriousness of the offence would have been a novel way of resolving a political crisis, even with the possible justification that section 6 of the Act, which describes acceptable reasons for leaving home, was interpreted in different ways by different police forces. 

What might the courts have decided? I’m not aware that any breaches of the Act have led to appeals but I think not. Were they to have done so, any interpretation in a higher court would have provided a useful precedent. Part of the role of the higher courts is to interpret how new legislation should be applied to real life situations and in doing so seek to bring effect to what they believe those that created the law intended. However, for better or for worse, the legal system is very cautious about establishing retrospective precedents which could trigger a wave of appeals; although this is effectively the situation that the government has accepted by agreeing to review the fines. I suspect a lot of judges will be quite glad that they have not had to offer a view on this matter. For reasons discussed in the bullet point below, when and if they do the delay is likely to have been so long that the Act’s regulations might no even be in force any more. 

What about Mr Cummings’ claim that he’d predicted Coronavirus? It was odd to find this assertion in his apologia this week: odder still was the later media allegation, which seems to have been proved, that this was quite recently edited to include the C-word. Regardless of this rather silly action, to have claimed to have seen Covid coming would have been great if the country had as a result been fully prepared: as it was not, you’d think he would be more inclined to say that the whole thing took everyone by surprise. This cannot, however, be true for anyone in government who was aware of the Project Cygnus simulation in 2016. This war-gamed a scenario very similar to today’s reality with results that were, according to one person involved, quoted in the Telegraph, ‘too terrifying’ to release publicly. Again, it appears that no useful action was taken to mitigate the threat. 

All in all, it’s a pretty dismal story. Everything, from the bloodthirsty journalists ignoring social distancing to the re-awkening of government unpreparedness and from the ‘no apologies, no regrets’ response to the effective shifting of the blame onto the Police, casts a poor light on how we are governed. 

• I mentioned above that the higher levels of the judicial system had, to my knowledge, not yet had to consider a lockdown breach. If they need to, this may take some time. Like most aspects of life, the courts have been in suspended animation for over two months. When they resume their work they will be coping with a double backlog. To save money from the legal-aid budget (currently about £1.6bn a year, which can be translated as about four miles of HS2 track), in 2019 the government reduced the number of court sitting days. As there is no correlation between the number of crimes committed and the speed with which these are tried, this had the obvious effect of building up a backlog. When Covid-19 arrived in March 2020, this had already led to people being held on remand for increasingly long periods. As a result a large number of remanded defendants were already close to the six-month custody time limit that a person may be kept in prison before they are tried. With the courts now not hearing trials, a number of applications are having to be made to extend those Custody Time Limits and some are being refused. The result is that some defendants that had been remanded in prison are now being released on bail. Given that to remand them in them into custody in the first place required a judge to find that there were substantial grounds for believing they would either commit further offences, interfere with witnesses or fail to attend court at all, the fact that they are now being bailed is arguably far from ideal.

There doesn’t even seem to be any real financial advantage to the cutbacks to sitting days. As all these cases would need to come to trial eventually, any saving was simply a deferment, such as a business might obtain by stretching its payment terms (to the detriment of its creditors) to preserve short-term cash. When the system resumes – which it can only do in courts where there is sufficient space for social distancing of juries – this issue will remain alongside the matters that have arisen since. Although some kinds of crime (like motoring offences) have fallen during lockdown, others (like domestic violence) have not. The legal system is already an imperfect mechanism for providing justice, but slowing it down doesn’t help anyone. Aside from anything else, some trials may turn on someone simply not being able to remember something important to the case, so long ago had the event taken place. On the face of it, this doesn’t look like a great result for anyone.

• One of the things that governments are very bad at (in fact, hardly ever do) is to pose a choice between two options each of which has manifest drawbacks. From the late 1970s onwards, successive UK governments have bought votes by reducing income tax, the basic rate of which was 33% in 1979 (although often increasing indirect tax). The line between the two dots of lower taxation and lower levels of social care was never explicitly joined. I can think of no party which has won power by either saying (a) we’re going to raise taxes or (b) we’re going to cut services: the trick is and always been to say that they’ll be doing the opposite – the economic equivalent of making water run uphill – and then, come election time, demonstrate that both these miracles have been accomplished. In the current crisis, the same choice between two unpalatable alternatives is presented in a much starker form. The herd-immunity idea might have worked if were prepared to countenance perhaps half a million deaths; a total lockdown for months might have saved these but tanked the economy. ‘We are the government,’ the statement might have read, ‘and we have to make a choice. Health or wealth? We have chosen…’ It’s clear from the examples of many countries that early action has an exponential effect on the success. It’s also clear that the longer things are allowed to drift, the more you create the ‘fluid situation’ which requires ever-changing measures which can be seen as dither rather than flexibility. 

• What’s both interesting and depressing is the extent to which the crisis has revealed most countries in their true colours. Ruthless efficiency, easy-going but consistent measures, dithering, denial and dysfunctionality have generally all been found in the likely places. If one had to awards marks so far, only a handful of countries could make a good claim for an A, although all scores need to wait a year or so. Few countries will rank as low as the USA. In the last century it has variously been the subject of fear, envy, hatred, respect and sympathy. To thus list must now be added pity. The virus also seems to have condensed the lumbering spectacle of the election campaign – which no one outside a few ivy-league political science departments can possibly understand – to something on a more manageable scale. 

• Indeed, the whole situation in the USA is baffling. President Trump, who uses Twitter as a kind of voice box, seemed on 27 May to say he wanted to close it or regulate it on the grounds that it was interfering with the US election, as if this were some sub-atomic particle that could not be observed without changing it. The New York Times reported on 27 May that the US death toll had now passed 100,000, more than the UK, France and Italy combined. As the USA has about 65% more people than these three countries this doesn’t seem that bad: but the NYT’s map of infections shows that the vast majority of these have occurred in the eastern third of the country. It’s also had by far the most number of cases (more than the next six countries on the list), which brings us back to the business of how many people are being tested: as PotUS pointed out, quite fairly, if you test no one then you have no cases. However, these figures from Our World in Data suggest that the US is not testing significantly more people per capita than the UK or Italy. As this BBC website article suggests, the USA is doing a good deal of testing now but has left this very late, the more so considering its advantage of wealth. Nor does the USA’s infection or death rate seems to be slowing quickly.

There are, of course, four kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, statistics and Covid-19 statistics. No one is quite counting everything the same way, often (as in the UK government’s case) within a four-week period. However there seems something badly wrong with the way that the USA is run. Some of this is down to the president himself. I hope you’ll agree that I’ve been slow to jump on the persuasive anti-Trump bandwagon but there now seem to be real signs that he might be mentally ill. Worse than that, the Constitution assumed, and thus helps engender, a state of continuing friction between Washington and the individual states. This creation of fifty countries disguised as one, or vice versa, has clearly been of great assistance in their getting rich. Whether it’s as useful a way of staying alive in the face of a global pandemic is another matter. The USA has never been invaded or come close to being so. It’s being invaded now. Vietnam – which knows a thing or two about American invasion – appears to have reported no deaths at all. Strange times indeed.

• The Domestic Abuse Bill is shortly to come before parliament and survivors of domestic abuse have been invited to give their view to a committee of MPS – but only if they do so in person. The current ‘hybrid’ arrangements under which individuals could provide evidence to scrutiny committees via video link, are set to end when parliament returns next week. 19 domestic-abuse and women’s-rights organisations including Women’s Aid have written to the Leader to the House Jacob Rees-Mogg to say that such arrangements present numerous practical difficulties, are unsafe and breach the government’s own guidance. 

• The virus itself has, the Office for National Statistics suggests, infected about 7% of the population, although this is from a very small sample. I suspect it’s a lot more than that in cities and a lot less round here.

• It seems that the Premier League and (I think) the Championship will be resuming hopefully in the next couple of weeks. No two clubs are going to be looking forward to this more than Liverpool, the league champions-elect, and Leeds, seemingly about to end a 16-year absence from the top flight. So far my footie fix has comprised keeping a vague eye on text coverage of Bundesliga games and occasional highlights on websites. This isn’t a suitable substitute as my only really strong feeling about German football is wanting Bayern Munich to lose, something that very rarely happens. If you are not interested in football then ask someone who is and they might agree with the idea that the current situation is like an unfinished sneeze: and no one wants to be anywhere near one of those at the moment… 

Click here for some useful information from West Berkshire Council about help available to businesses as a result of the re-opening of non-essential shops from 15 June. See also the Hungerford section below for a brief case history as to how one town council has been helping to make this happen as smoothly as possible.

• West Berkshire will re-introduce parking charges from Monday 1 June.

• 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.

Click here for advice from the government to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

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 is this magpie which was determined to get a hedgehog out of the middle of a road. I saw the post on the Wantage FB page but, unless the film has been reversed, it can’t have taken place there as the car was driving on the right. No matter – it happened…

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes 

• 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 next full council meeting of Hungerford Town Council will take place virtually at 7pm on Monday 1 June. You can see the agenda here which has the Zoom log-in details. A report on this and other municipal matters, and much more besides, can as usual be found in…

• …the June Penny Post Hungerford which will be published on Tuesday 2 June. If you have anything you’d like to see included in this, please email penny@pennypost.org.uk as soon as you can.

• Still with Hungerford Town Council, the meeting of the town’s recreation and Amenities Committee on 19 May discussed, among other matters, the Hungerford Allotments run by HAHA which now have 100% occupancy and a waiting list of 17. It has been reported that there were complaints of the users breaking lockdown rules: it’s worth stressing that these were all from the same person. Both the HAHA Chairman ted Angell and the town’s Mayor Helen Simpson are confident that all the necessary measures have been put in place and that these were adhered to. 

• About 7,000 people have seen the video that Penny made earlier this month, 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.

• Non-essential shops will be re-opening on 15 June and councils up and down the country are considering (or ought to be considering) how matters can best be organised in their towns. Hungerford Town Council has been proactive in this, contacting as many organisations as possible to identify what problems they might face and discussing how they can be overcome. Each town, and each part of each town, is different. As there will need to be limits on how many people can enter a shop, and as these will vary depending on the size and configuration, this will result in queues outside. In some areas, particularly the end of the High Street near the canal bridge, the pavement is quite narrow and the shops are quite tightly grouped. How will queues designed to adhere to social-distancing rules not actually end up breaching them? Will there need to be changes to parking regulations to create more space? Will there be enough room for pedestrians to pass the queues safely? Will there be any risk that queues will spill on the roads? Will regulations about street furniture need to be changed? Will some shops need to introduce staggered opening times? How many will decide for whatever reason not to re-open at all? Above all, will 15 June see a release of pent-up demand for a retail experience or will people stay away? Even the weather will be an important factor. All in all, for everyone to remain compliant with regulations that will only come into force that day, and which may be modified or re-interpreted, will be quite a challenge.

There are many things that Hungerford Town Council can only accomplish with the help of West Berkshire Council or other bodies like the Police. One option that seems impossible is the closure of the High Street to traffic (as Newbury has done and Wantage is considering) as the Hight Street is an A-road with no safe detour route. What a town or parish can do, however, is to act as a conduit for questions and information to flow between retailers and other bodies like West Berkshire and generally help ensure that the measures are co-ordinated so that they’re equally, clearly and fairly applied. Hungerford Town Council seems to be right on top of this. So, whether you go shopping in Hungerford or any other two after 15 June, expect everything from parking to waiting times to be a little different from usual. 

• One shop which has set out in details its plans post 15 June is the Hungerford Bookshop: read their latest e-newsletter here. (I passed by on Wednesday while at the market and it really does look like it does in the photo: the floor is being sanded, providing Emma and Alex with yet another good reason to wear face masks.)

• One issue that will become more apparent if people need to queue outside is that of the pigeons which seem to have taken a huge fancy to Hungerford, the town’s roofs and bridges providing ideal roosting areas and HQs from which they can launch dive-bombing raids. The problems is almost insuperable but visitors and residents should be reassured that the Town Council has set up a Pigeon Working Party which will be co-operating with the local PPP (Public Protection Partnership) which has already produced a report on the matter.

• Last week’s Newbury Weekly News referred to the fact that one of the developers at the Salisbury Road site has applied for an exemption to the requirement that 0% of the homes be affordable or social on the grounds that this would make the development financially unviable. A letter from a local resident in this week’s NWN asks why the developer didn’t think about this before the application was made. The answer is that the planning system permits this. Applications can be re-submitted and there are plenty of precedents for these obligations to be converted to Section 106 payments. That’s not the end of the matter as these S-106s can themselves be subject of later viability assessments with the result that if the developer knows the ropes and toughs it out they could end up getting what they wanted. This is not entirely their fault. They exist to make a profit, not to execute government policy. Developments of this size have a requirement for 40% of social or affordable homes. Imagine that you were running a bakery and were told that 40 out of every hundred loaves you produced needed to be sold at or close to cost. If I were the owner, I’d say ‘if you want subsidised bread then bake it yourself.’ The system also enables developers to escape from these obligations, so creating uncertainty in the planning authority and the parish council as to how much if any payment in lieu will be received. 

Hungerford Town Council will consider the application at its planning committee meeting next week. The matter will then be decided by West Berkshire Council. If there are 10 or more objections or if any of the ward members or a planning officer wants to call the matters in then it will be decided by the Western Area Planning Committee later in the summer. The amended application can be viewed on West Berkshire’s planning portal: enter the code 20/01023/MDOPO.

• 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.

• Brilliant blue skies once again for the Town and Manor’s Wednesday market in Hungerford yesterday. The plant stall is back – and left with four fewer Black-eyed Susans than it arrived with, these now being in our garden – in addition to fruit, veg, bread, cakes, meat,, olives and (until 11.30) fish. The cheese stall wasn’t there this week but should be back. 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. Constable Nick Lumley told me that he’d had a conversation with a visitor from (as I recall) Kintbury who commented on how excellent the range was and asked how long the market had been going for. The Constable pointed down the road towards the plaque outside the Town Hall. ‘Since 1284,’ he replied. 

• 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 refusal of the planning development at Elton by the Western Area Planning Committee (the agenda can be seen on this page and the minutes will be added in due course). The slightly odd background to this was explained in this article. There were a number of things I wanted to follow up with a number of organisations about this but time defeated me. More news as I have it.

• This weekend sees the 18-month anniversary of the unauthorised dredging in the River Lambourn in East Garston which the Environment Agency was still investigating when I contacted them a month ago (ie 17 months after it took place). A further email about that is also on the list for next week.

• 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.

• One sure sign that life is getting back to normal is the resumption of coverage of the saga of the London Road Industrial Estate. The Newbury Weekly News duly obliged this week, reporting on p6 on a meeting at Newbury Town Council earlier this month at which the matter was discussed. Last year West Berkshire Council appointed fresh consultants, Avison Young, to look at the troubled project. As the Council’s own Scrutiny Commission was, and is, still looking at the whole issue, this seemed premature; rather like hiring a specialist doctor in advance of the diagnosis. The consultants made a presentation to Newbury Town Council on 11 May and, on being pressed, admitted that one of the options being considered was the retention and possible development of football at Faraday Road. As West Berkshire Council’s ‘vision’ for the area has long been predicated on this not happening, this seemed surprising. The NWN’s report went on to quote another representative from AY as saying that he ‘wasn’t sure if we have explicit instructions from the council.” It later transpired that this was incorrect and that was not part of the brief. Presumably there was a document defining the consultancy and that the spokesmen had read it before zooming in to the meeting?

I asked Councillor Howard Woollaston, the new portfolio holder for Public Health & Community Wellbeing, Leisure and Culture about this.”West Berkshire Council’s position is quite clear and has not changed,” he told me. “The London Road Industrial Estate including the former football ground is the key strategic development area of the town. We are hugely sympathetic to the needs of football and indeed other outdoor sports requiring playing fields, hence the appointment of an external specialist consultant who will be delivering their report outlining alternative options very shortly. We would like to get into a productive dialogue with all interested parties to get the best possible viable solution for all in Newbury.” The last remark should mean that Avison Young will be contacting the Newbury Community Football Group (NCFG) and other organisations which have campaigned on issues relating to LRIE, although I understand this hasn’t yet happened.

The reason the issue of the football ground is important is because the Council has a legal duty to provide football facilities at least as good as those that existed at Faraday Road (the recently adopted Playing Pitch Strategy clearly reinforces this point by confirming that the number 1 priority is adult provision, Step 5 FA grading scheme). Until this happens, or Faraday Road is returned to its original use and condition, the two-year campaign from the NCFG is likely to continue. In what seems to me an unfortunate piece of phrasing, the PPS regulations state that no construction work can start at the old facility until a new one has been identified. Depending on what one means by ‘construction’, this hasn’t started: but 23 months have elapsed since the ground was closed. Bits of it, like the stands and the perimeter fencing have vanished, the latter in mysterious circumstances, and the infrastructure has decayed but nothing has actually been built. If the regulations had stated that there must be a seamless transition of the facility from one location to another then we’d know where we stand. It’s thus unclear, to me at least, if West Berkshire is in breach of its obligations now, or only when it starts building there if a new football ground hasn’t been found. If the latter, this could, on current form, be years away. In another strange piece of drafting, the PPS also specifies that new site (if one can be found) must be ‘no more than a 20-minutes’ drive away from the current ground, a vague and almost meaningless condition. In rush hours this could leave you little further than the Robin Hood Roundabout; on a Sunday evening, it could take you some way into Hampshire. 

The Council has, or should have been, looking for such a suitable site, howsoever the location is defined, for at least the last three years. One inference from the fact that one hasn’t been identified is that a suitable site which meets all the requirements doesn’t exist. Newbury is not a large place. Let’s see what the report Councillor Woollaston mentions comes up with.

Avison Young has, Councillor Woollaston also told me, “been appointed to work up a Master Plan for the entire 25-acre site which we initially see as being predominantly residential with a high affordable housing proportion and a commercial element. We expect to receive this report shortly as well. Existing occupiers have been approached as part of the report preparation and once its contents are considered a wider public consultation will take place.” This is, I was also told, a quite separate matter from the Scrutiny Commission which is looking only at the events which led up to the appeal from the previous developers but one, which West Berkshire lost in 2018. As this turned on a fundamental change of view about the scope of development, it’s impossible to see how the two things can be separated. Whether or not this area, which is firmly on the industrial/commercial side of the A339, is suitable for ‘predominantly residential’ use is also moot and I’m not sure where and when this was consulted on. There’s also the question of flood risk, which came to light at a Western Area Planning Committee meeting earlier this year at which plans to convert the old NWN building to residential use were thrown out; although some participants felt that because of procedural issues and the non-appearance of the Council flooding expert the meeting should have been adjourned. 

All in all, a completely fresh, holistic and impartial look is needed at the LRIE including all options for the football ground. All the matters referred to above, and many others that are not, have grown together like ivy over the last decade and a half. As we now have many new councillors, this is an ideal moment to look at everything in toto; either that or the whole thing needs to be torn up and the clock re-set to zero. It’s not as if anything apart from the (publicly-funded) access road has actually been built there. This fact raises yet another question: if the scheme is such a self-evidently good idea, why has so little been accomplished and why is everything one tends to hear about it from the Council reactive and defensive? I hope this latest change of approach will show that the vision for the area that West Berkshire has long cherished will be the right one for the town and the district. I hope this vision will solve the problem that has been needlessly caused to the users of the football ground. I hope that, as Trump might have said, it’ll be a beautiful vision. It’s just that, 17 years in, neither I nor most other people are at all sure what it is nor how it’s been arrived at.

• 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.

This story in Berkshire Life concerns a Newbury-based police officer who was sacked after failing to disclose an ‘incident’ in a shop in Bicester in 2106 (seemingly shoplifting, although the word isn’t used) as a result of which no police action was taken. It shows how careful we have to be these days when filling out application forms.

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

• This week’s NWN has on pp20-21 some excellent photos of Snelsmore Common, featuring a dragonfly, a missile thrush, spiders, tadpoles and a pony.

• We mentioned last week that Newbury’s flag was through the final 12 in the #FA Cup of Flags, a competition run by the Flag Institute. Having looked at the website it seems the final is to between Penkhull and Preston (whose football team has actually won the real FA Cup twice) so it seems Newbury has been knocked out.

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.

•  A reminder that Newbury’s Mayor, Elizabeth O’Keefe (who has also agreed to serve an extra term), is making herself available to chat to local residents who are self-isolating. Click here for more information. She has chosen Berkshire Women’s Aid as her charity for her extra term.

Click here for the latest news from The White Hart in Hamstead Marshall (which needs your help with a petition).

• 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.

• If you see this dog in the Hampstead Norreys/Cold Ash area then its owner is looking for it. I’m not sure if the white specks on its nose are permanent markings or whether it had, like the rest of us, been trying to make soughdough bread and got splattered with flour.

• This week’s NWN reports on p11 that Keith Richards is a beekeeper in Brighwalton. Well, I didn’t know that so read on. It’s not Sir Keef, of course, but a Dr Keith Richards who has five hives of these vitally important animals in the village. Dr Richards explains in the article how bee colonies operate (we could learn from them, perhaps) and why their numbers have recently been in decline.

• A planning meeting at East Isley Parish Council on 14 May considered (and eventually objected to) plans put forward by Beeswax Dyson to convert former Pirbright Institute research buildings into business units. What was striking was a comment from one parish councillor (reported in the above-mentioned newspaper article though I can’t see this in the draft minutes) that the economic damage done by Covid-19 might be a factor in favour of development of this kind. This may be a reasonable point but it’s not currently part of local planning policy. I wonder if the refresh of the local plan will include such a consideration as carrying weight?

• 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.

• A couple of weeks ago, there was a story about a swan which was shot with an air rifle (and eventually recovered). This week’s Thatcham swan story is from The Reading Chronicle and concerns three cygnets which were reunited with their parents after being swept away in the current.

• As reported last week, on 20 May West Berkshire’s Western Area Planning Committee considered, and refused, 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.) This was despite the officers recommending acceptance on the grounds that previous concerns regarding appearance, scale and landscaping had been addressed. Something I wasn’t aware of when I attended the meeting was that a local group had made a video explaining their objections to the issues, which you can see here. This was deemed to be necessary because West Berkshire has changed the way planning committee meetings are conducted, interested parties now only being able to participate through 500-word statements which cannot then be subjected to questioning. For reasons explained in this article, I think this is wrong on a number of levels, including legal ones. A number of other councils have not seen fit to take this step. Not all opponents or supporters of developments will be able to make similar videos to help make their case; and nor should they need to have to.

• This week’s NWN has, on p27, a piece explaining some of the financial pressures that councils (which are also landlords) are under as a result of Covid-19, this article describing Thatcham Town Council’s decision to cancel rental payments from the West Berks Therapy Centre for the time it’s been forced to close. A similar request by the cricket club will be decided at a later date.

• 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.

• 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.

Please click here for the latest newsletter from the Hermitage Community Volunteers. 

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin.

Theale and district

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

• Information here about changes to access and use at Stratfield Mortimer’s open spaces following new government guidelines.

• 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. 

• 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.

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.

• In common with many other areas (including West Berkshire) car-parking charges will re-commence of Monday 1 June. Read more here.

Marlborough News reports that the plans for Marlborough’s new cinema have advanced another step after the updated applications for the conversion of the old Chapel into a digital 112-seat cinema in The Parade were enthusiastically approved by the Planning Committee of the Town Council at its Zoom meeting on 26 May. It’s hoped that this will be open by next summer.

A recent statement by local MP Danny Kruger has implied that Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson are somehow indivisible and that for MPs to call for the former’s resignation over his alleged lockdown breach (see Across the Area section above) is effectively declaring no confidence in the PM. The Gazette & Herald also reports in full his statement backing the PM’s aide. Mr Kruger is a former Political Secretary to Boris Johnson.

• And still with MN, the Ramsbury charity Action Through Enterprise (ATE), recently launched an Emergency Appeal to support the people of Lawra, Upper West Ghana, through the Covid-19 crisis. (Penny and our two sons are much involved in ATE’s work and went to Ghana in February 2019 to take donated equipment and help out at the local schools which they’re helping to fund.)

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.

• 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.

• This week’s Herald returns to the long-running saga of the empty Wantage Community Hospital despite the Vale Council area having the highest mortality rate in Oxfordshire. Two County Councillors have asked some ‘hard-hitting’ questions of the local NHS trust’s CEO and have been promised a response ‘in due course.’

• I would like to be able to cycle between Wantage and Harwell in reasonable safety, then you’ll be relieved to learn that work has this week started on a new cycling route linking the two places.

• Most of us probably believing that every bit of land is owned by someone or by something. It seems not. The issue came up a year or so in Hungerford when it transpired that it wasn’t clear who owned the triangular piece of land on which the war memorial in Bridge Street is sited. Now another, rather larger triangle, in Grove has come to municipal attention not, as in Hungerford’s case, because of a mundane question on an insurance form but because it turns out it’s for sale. There’s an added poignancy in that it contains a memorial bench in the name of a local woman who died in 2018. The Grove Parish Clerk Graham Mundy has searched through the doubtless musty, dusty and fusty records and established that, back in the day, it was meant to have been transferred to the PC’s ownership but that this somehow never happened. Grove Parish Council is now seeing if it can prevent the sale of the land by auction in a fortnight’s time. See this report in The Herald for more.

• If ever a local fundraiser deserved to be invited to the Palace to take a dish of tea with the Queen then it’s probably Wantage’s own Ray Collins. This honour was, however, denied him by Covid-19. Wantage Mayor Jim Sibbald therefore organised a brief socially-distaced ceremony as a small consolation.

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 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 the question of S-106 developer contributions held by Wantage Town Council and how much of this might be spent on the provision of leisure facilities in the town.

• On the same page, Emily Munsey of Wantage’s Wessex Flour Mill talks about the a miller’s life during lockdown and points out that some of the problem in supply has been caused by mills struggling to adapt from selling flour in traditional large sacks to the smaller packs now demanded by millions of home bakers.

• Charges in the District Council car parks at The Beacon and on Limborough Road will re-start from 1 June. 

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.

This story from The Swindon Advertiser reports on opposition to a 5G mast on North Star Avenue, close to homes and schools as the mast ‘may have health and safety implications.’ The article goes on to state that, despite claims to the contrary, there is nothing to link 5G masts with the spread or Coronavirus. Some have been attacked; and perhaps that is where the concern lies. You don’t want it sited next door to a school if there’s a chance that an activist is going to blow it up.

• The same source reports that two Conservative members have resigned from the party group at Swindon Borough Council as they felt too much power was being given to unelected council officers.

• People with car-parking season tickets for Swindon’s two main country parks will have them extended by Swindon Borough Council as part of a series of measures designed to support residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

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

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.

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

The song and the quiz

• The Song of the Week is inspired by the story in the Compton and Downloads Area section above about the bee-keeper called Keith Richards. This led me to wonder if any Stones song had been written in the key of B (major). Guitarists tend to give this key a wide berth due to the number of barre chords. Then I thought I’d found one: Cops and Robbers from 1964. I started playing along and discovered that, contrary to what my web source said, it’s actually in the much more likely key of E major. So, that will have to do.

• And so we slide gently into the closing paragraph that is the Quiz Question of the Week. The week’s question is What is the first track on The Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Last week’s question was: There were three battles in England in September and October 1066. Fulford was the first and Hastings the third. What was the second one?  The answer is Stamford Bridge, proof that even in the 11th century you couldn’t trust Chelsea supporters an inch. At a time of grave national emergency, the most influential man in the country raced up to the north east of England in order do what he felt was necessary, only to discover that there was an even bigger problem waiting for him back down south. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  

Brian Quinn

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2 Responses

    1. Have you never seen a missile thrush? Fast, deadly and terrifying to cats? No, nor have I. Typo corrected and credit given. Many thanks.

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