Local News 4-11 June 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s newsletter, Newbury’s pedestrians, East Garston’s news, Thatcham’s scrubs, Marlborough’s gardens, Aldbourne’s fundraiser, Bedwyn’s trains, Wantage’s parking, Grove’s station, Hamstead Marshall’s hornet, Hermitage’s volunteers  East Ilsley’s minutes, Swindon’s tests, Brightwalton’s champion, Brimpton’s housing, Burghfield and Mortimer’s inquorate nag, Theale’s MP, regulations in Harlesden, zooming in on Zoom, tear-gas exports, PPE, broadband speeds, missing documents, the obese elephant, volunteering, sourdough, communication, wild flowers, recycling systems, lots of birds, Revolver and Mary’s prayer.

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)

• I have no particular desire to go shopping (which apart from for food and books I’ve always loathed) or host a party or go to a club: which is probably just as well as I’m not at all clear what the new regulations governing these activities are meant to be. We can socialise with six people, I think: but do they have to be the same six people? It seems easier to carry on more or less as before, now that we’re in the groove. In Harlesden earlier this week, the view was taken that 80 people could each socialise with six others in the same place at the same time = 500 people = the arrival of the police = probably quite a few fines. If you want to see how the regulations have changed, you can do so here. It’s not an easy read.

This article from Get Reading suggests that the R rate, the measure of the infection rate of CV-19, in the South East (which sometimes doesn’t include West Berkshire but seems to this time) is about 0.7, at the bottom (better) end of the table.  The rate for the country as a whole is between 0.7 and 0.9. A rate of above 1 means that each person is on average infecting more than one other person and so the overall cases are rising. Left unchecked, the rate would be about 3.

• One of the results of Covid-19 has been the number of new words and phrases that have now become commonplace. Self-isolation. social-distancing, the R number, reducing the curve, lockdown and sourdough bread are all fairly new terms for most of us but which we all still be needing to use this time next year at least, unless I’m very wrong. To this list must also be added the word ‘Zoom’ which, to anyone of my generation, was a few months ago just a memory of a childhood iced lolly. It’s also, of course, a US company currently valued at over $40bn. As this article in The Guardian reports, its software was downloaded about 2.1 million times worldwide on 23 March 2020, up from about 55,000 times a day two months before. I’ve used it several times, mainly to keep in touch with my four sons and to participate virtually in various council meetings, and have found it pretty good. Others agree – but does it deserve its hype? I asked a couple of friends of mine, both computer-science academics, to see what they thought.

Security was an issue to start with, I was told, particularly as a result of people being able to set up meetings with no password access but this has been fixed. Of course, we all have to trust that Zoom isn’t itself spying on us but the same accusation could be made about any similar tools: and there are others to choose from. An unofficial survey conducted by the University of Cambridge’s Computer Science Department to choose the most appropriate platforms for the various kinds of virtual events it needs to host puts Zoom ahead on most measures, except perhaps security; but it seems an upgrade plan is in progress to add some very strong encryption. 

• Uncertainty still many aspects of the government’s testing and tracing policy, if policy is the right word for something that seems to change as frequently as does the weather. The word ‘unprepared’ crops up a lot when writing about HMG’s response. There are a number of good reasons – the 2016 Operation Cygnus simulation, the results of which seem to have been ignored, being one – as to why this shouldn’t have been allowed to happen. One of the most baffling is the government’s decision not to use perfectly good existing local systems for contact tracing and instead try to create a totally new, top-down and centralised structure. The latest Private Eye describes this as comprising ‘17,000 call-centre staff with customer-service skills only, on just above the minimum wage, using a malfunctioning IT system and supplied by a Serco contract.’ The last aspect is perhaps the most worrying as the company’s track record at implementing its numerous public-service contracts honestly and efficiently is (as this report in The Independent explains) even worse than the government’s at specifying and controlling them. Fortunately, it appears there’s a fall-back plan to use local councils after all. I spoke to a West Berkshire councillor this morning who confirmed that this had just been discussed by the council (and therefore, I imagine, by others up and down the land). I was told that it was still ‘very early days’ and that it would probably be a couple of weeks before the plans were finalised. That seems reasonable from West Berkshire’s point of view: what seemed inexplicable was why this all hadn’t happened in February. 

Connected with this is the fact the lockdown-lite may need to merge into lockdown-local. If a cluster of cases is detected in a village but not in its neighbours then locking down that village would be necessary. How would this be enforced? Does the council have the necessary powers? Can it make them stick? It was suggested to me that the parish or town council would need to be involved – if nothing else to help with the PR and information aspects – and also perhaps the volunteer groups that have sprung up. Bottom-up measures have worked a lot better than top-down ones so far but asking parishes to assume a role akin to law enforcement is quite a step. Again, I’m not blaming West Berkshire for this. The government, yet again it seems, was for too long obsessed by the idea that centralisation is the only way to address the virus. 

• The question of the PPE supply problems also refuse to go away, mainly because of the numerous stories in local papers up and down the land about the heroic efforts of local people in making these. My reaction to this is similar to what I felt about Captain Tom’s fundraising efforts: brilliant work, hats off all round but should we be relying on this method of funding and supplying the NHS? My eye was caught by a headline in this week’s Newbury Weekly News which said, on p26, that one Thatcham sewing group had been ‘responsible for supplying 75% of the Berkshire Healthcare NHS Trust’s PPE equipment. This seemed a staggering statistic. I then read the article and discovered that in fact is was 75% of the ‘donated scrubs’, probably not the same thing at all.

The article also doesn’t say what percentage of the Trust’s PPE gear was donated rather than purchased, which makes the overall importance of the gesture hard to judge (I later learned that the paper had been trying to get more information about this). It does, however, quote a trust spokesperson as saying that ‘we have been unable to purchase any scrubs from our usual procurement routes and are relying totally on the work of volunteer sewers’, which suggests that the total and the donated figures may be quite similar. Could these points be cleared up next week? The over-riding and shocking aspect of the story is that local NHS services can’t rely on their supply chains. What would have happened if there had been no local sewing groups? Even when supplies exist, many might not be able to afford them. Local home-care supplier Bluebird reported that in April suppliers were ‘selling gloves, aprons and facemasks often at prices up to 20 times what would be considered normal.’

• To return to Zoom, the only failings I’ve experienced with it have been due to connectivity and so not Zoom’s fault at all. This leads to the question of why in a country as compact and as wealthy as the UK there is still not complete coverage of superfast broadband. The fear of service dropping out or collapsing has been at the back of everyone’s minds these last few months. The period has also proved that a lot of businesses can operate surprisingly well by remote control. The problem comes if a key staff member is in an area of poor signal. Here in East Garston we have about 21Mbps upload and about 6Mbps download: less than we were promised by BT and below Ofcom’s 30Mbps definition of superfast, but adequate for running Penny Post and a social life. Some friends of ours half a dozen miles upstream in Upper Lambourn get speeds of about a tenth of this on a good day. The story, here and elsewhere, seems to be a tangled one of a number of companies failing to live up to the various commitments they’ve made. The Upper Lambourn situation is, I understand, being looked into afresh (and it seems that West Berkshire is near the top of the table for rural broadband) but there are many other similar areas, here and elsewhere. Part of the problem is that some of the companies the government is dealing with are, like Serco, too large to be held to account and also too large to be allowed to fail. As with the separate but in some ways similar relationship between the government and property developers, the problem arises from expecting private companies, which are driven by profit, to execute government policy, which is (or often should be), driven by longer-term considerations of the common good. 

• The combination of the government’s procurement problems, over-mighty contractors, the parlous state of the public finances and the challenge of connecting the country in the best possible way leads us back, as so many things do, to HS2; the morbidly obese and ever-hungry elephant in the room. The most recent Private Eye notes, on p21, that the current cost-to-benefit ratio, already ‘low value for money’, might fall still further. One possible reason is that post-Covid it’s likely that demand for the kind of business travel that underpins HS2’s assumptions is likely to decline. If the economic case collapses one is left wondering what the elephant’s purpose is, aside from the enrichment of its participants. Re-opening closed lines and stations to reflect local needs, increasing electrification and getting a serious grip on the broadband network could all be accomplished for far less money: or could have been. HS2 has now acquired a life of its own. It’s an elephant that we don’t really need and can’t afford but has already eaten so much that it’s got too big to have put down.

Another image might be of a poker player with a very poor hand who stays in the betting merely because he’s being egged on by the other players. Only by continuing to match the regular raises, his distorted logic runs, can he retain any faint control over the vast amount of his money that’s already in the pot. Wiping the swat from his eyes, he glimpses at his cards again. Yes, the nightmare is coming true – his hand really is getting worse each time he looks at it. It now seems to be down to a pair of threes. This is particularly awkward because, when he had a whip-round from his friends in the next room to fund his game, he told them he had a straight flush.

• The USA seems to be going to pieces at the moment, apparently largely ungovernable and not at ease with itself. I had a petition in my inbox this morning asking me to protest against the UK government’s continued sale of riot shields and tear gas to the USA. I was surprised as I’d always imagined the US would have many thriving companies producing these kind of items for domestic consumption. (Governments have infinite ways of justifying such traffic. I remember about three decades ago a minister being asked why the UK was permitting the export iron leg manacles to a range of countries, sometimes in vast quantities. ‘We only sell them,’ he said, with no trace of irony that I could detect, ‘to countries with good human rights records.’ The USA wouldn’t qualify as one of these at the moment.) I was chatting to a friend about this today and we both agreed that the George Floyd thing was a bit hard to get a grip on as we, unlike many in the US, have not been subjected to a lifetime of persistent discrimination by armed and in some cases mentally ill policemen. The point has been made – including by our PM in another lacklustre speech the other day – that protests should stay within the law. It’s a fair point: but for many people the law has failed them, just as it had failed the the suffragettes or the Civil Rights protesters. One also needs to consider at what point the level of protest becomes disproportionate to the injustice. As we have not experienced it ourselves, it’s perhaps not for me, or Bo-Jo, to say what that point might be. I’m not condoning anything, you understand – I just don’t know what these people have had to put up with. 

• Moving right along and changing the key from major to minor, the making of sourdough bread has become something of a national obsession. Our house is not immune. Penny is always up for a challenge – our bread machine with its precise quantities and automatic operation falls way short of what she demands – and has gone head to toe with sourdough these last few weeks. There can be few foodstuffs more difficult to prepare. Looking after a very small baby can hardly be more demanding given all the feeding and swaddling and temperature-taking. Babies, at least until they start crawling, are also far less messy. If Paddington Bear had spent an unsupervised afternoon in the kitchen with several bags of flour, a bucket of water and a large pot of glue the results could not be worse than a sourdough session at our place. The bread is, however, getting better each time. What’s next? Perhaps we’ll all be making our own fibre-optic cable for a super fast broadband network. Such a bottom-up approach might be the solution (indeed has already been adopted by the residents of Balquhidder in Scotland). There’s bound to be a video on YouTube telling us how to do it…

• We’ve just received a statement from Garry Poulson, the Director of the Volunteer Centre West Berkshire, written to help promote National Volunteers’ Week. He comments that the VCWB is “at the centre of volunteer promotion in West Berkshire” and that it has created many campaigns and initiatives to encourage volunteering. “The biggest campaign this year,” he goes on to say, “wasn’t created by us…but by humanity itself.” He goes on to point out that around 90 groups established themselves in the area, very quickly in response to Covid-19. “We didn’t ask them to set up,” he stresses. “The government or councils didn’t ask them. They just did it.” This point may not be sufficiently widely understood and certainly hasn’t always been clearly expressed in some other communications by other bodies. A huge hats off to all those volunteers, and also to VCWB and the West Berkshire Community Hub for their work in helpings do many people who were so badly in need of support due to the pandemic. It’s also worth stressing that all the work which the VCWB previously accomplished remains, although perhaps obscured (as it so much else) by the virus. Volunteers for all kind of reasons will continued to be needed.

• A letter in this week’s NWN describes a recent visit to the recycling centre was ‘a total fiasco’. He didn’t say whether he went to the Newbury or the Padworth one but, judging from his address, I assume the latter. I imagine the procedures are the same for both. The correspondent says that no one asked for his special number: when I went to Newbury’s at noon last Sunday there was someone checking this on a tablet as the cars arrived. If the writer had to queue, as he said he had, then he might not have noticed this. I had to wait for about half an hour but I was expecting to. Indeed, I’ve got used to queuing for almost everything. I thought it was about as smoothly organised as anything can be in present circumstances.

• West Berkshire Council’s plan to line rural roads with wild flowers is set to become a reality, I learn from several identically-worded newsletters received from the various Conservative District Councillors (only a few of which have anything added directly related to their wards they represent). A trial to encourage this along sections of the A4 has started, and is the first stage of a larger project to create more wild flower verges in certain locations across the district. This project forms part of the emerging Environment Strategy – apart from being attractive to road users it is hoped that there will be significant ecological and environmental benefits, with support for crucial pollinators and biodiversity, and the protection of species threatened by climate change and habitat loss. In the first year, the council will monitor growth on the A4 verges to assess where there are existing natural areas of wildflower populations and which areas have the potential to be managed more appropriately to promote wildflowers. The trial will follow the format of other successful road verge projects and adopt mowing regimes recommended by expert organisations such as Plantlife. For further information about the wildflower verge project please email countryside@westberks.gov.uk.

• This is a great idea and one I remember writing about at leat 18 months ago when Rotherham was in the news for having done this. We did it with two small patches of our garden and have been amazed by what has appeared. 

• A report in this week’s Newbury Weekly News suggests that 36% of small and medium-sized businesses in the South-East already had the right software in place for remote working before lockdown, about 7% above the national average. I bet that 36% has jumped a bit since then.

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 has re-introduced parking charges from 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 are any of the fine selection of birds that the NWN’s Chief Photographer has snapped on his recent early-morning walks – se p20 of this week’s paper.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week runs to five pages (including adverts) and covers the usual range of local and national issues. These include, as well as those referred to elsewhere, more on Cummings’ comings and goings, an attack on the government’s ‘incoherence’, criticism of Newbury’s pedestrianisation, thanks to and from various charitable groups, a debate on the existence or not of God and – of course and, to remind us of happier times – something about Brexit.

• 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 most recent Penny Post Hungerford was published on Tuesday 2 June and you can read it here. As well as the usual round up of news from the Town Council, the High Street and the Town and Manor we’ve got information about grants available from the Lambourn Foundation, some thoughts from John O’Gaunt School’s new Head, a message from the Nursery School, coverage of the options before St Lawrence’s Church about the Tragedy memorial, a chance to nominate local Covid -19 heroes for Disco Dan’s awards and treats scheme, the results of the Fare Wise Travel quiz and another chance to enter our summer food competition, details of Christian Alba’s raffle, an obituary to John Hollister, a history of Hungerford Park, Pat Murphy’s racing column welcoming back the sport of Kings, a book review, several rhubarb recipes and a short story. Is that enough?

• Apologies to Kennet Radio, a representative from which addressed the above-mentioned Town Council meeting about the station’s ambitions to extend its operations eastwards to include Hungerford: this papragraph was omitted in error from my report but has since been added.

• 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 Monday 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. The problem is that each town is different so a top-down one-size policy won’t work. Hungerford has several areas where either the pavement is narrow or there are several shops close to each other. Depending on their sizes and layouts, some shops will presumably be letting only one person in at a time while others will be able to permit more. Nor, of course, is it yet certain which shops will decide not to re-open immediately (some are traditionally closed on Mondays so will probably wait for Tuesday 16 June) and even less certainty about what the appetite for face-to-face shopping will be after the best part of three months under lockdown. A lot of ifs and buts, in short, but Hungerford Town Council has been very proactive in making sure that things are organised legally and sensibly, discussing the issues with retailers and other interested parties and keeping their municipal eyes on any changes to the official advice. I’ve seen a pretty detailed draft document with several maps which identifies the measures proposed. Some of these require the agreement of West Berkshire Council. The results are likely to be notices in shop windows and quite a lot of signage on street furniture and also on pavements. When you go shopping in Hungerford, or any other town, 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

• A reminder that 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.

• Hungerford Town Council will consider at its virtual Planning Committee meeting at 7pm on Monday 8 June – the agenda for which can be seen here –  the application from the developers at the Salisbury Road for an exemption to the requirement that 40% of the homes be affordable or social on the grounds that this would make the development financially unviable. 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.

• If I have one criticism of the Town and Manor’s Wednesday market in Hungerford yesterday it’s that Constable Nick Lumley failed to book the brilliant blue skies that are the usual backdrop to the eventA reminder that the plant stall is back, in addition to those selling fruit, veg, bread, cakes, meat, cheese, olives and (until 11.30) 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. Neil at the wonderful fruit and veg stall gave me the, to me, shocking information that before a market his working day starts at 10pm the night before. This is one of the rare occasions when the line in Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen sketch that ‘we got up half an hour before we went to bed’ is actually true. 

• 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.

• Last weekend saw 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 has been sent.

• The June East Garston News has just been published and you can click here to read it.

• A correspondent in this week’s NWN asks what is the origin of a noise like a generator which seems to be running night and day near Newbury Racecourse. If it’s the same noise as the one we hear in the Almbourn Valley a lot of the time, it might be Thames Water lorries pumping excess sewage out of one part of the system and into another.

• 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.

• I wrote at some length in this column last week about the extraordinary saga of the football ground at Faraday Road. This has become a very high-profile piece of collateral damage in the London Road Industrial Estate scheme, a project which seems to be in real danger of turning into West Berkshire’s HS2. A letter in this week’s NWN from the a spokesman for the Newbury Community Football Group reminds us that the ground was closed two years ago with no replacement having been identified (as is required by law) and that a solution seems as far away as ever, as does any useful level of consultation. I’d also like to repeat my question posed last week as to why the decision-making about the football ground, the investigation into the events that led up to the 2018 court of appeal judgment which West Berkshire lost and the strategy for the future of the scheme are all being handled separately as if they have nothing to do with each other. One thing does seem certain: the NCFG is neither going to go away nor keep quiet until its complaint is addressed.

• Another related matter is the planning application for the conversion of the old Newbury News building, at the edge of the LRIE site, to residential use. This was refused at a Western Area Planning Committee (WAPC) meeting 5 February 2020. It was a rather odd event in that some written material from the proposer was not admitted as evidence even though it had been in West Berkshire’s possession since the previous October; the sequential test for flooding failed on a technicality (but satisfied a more stringiest national test); and the council’s flood expert neither attended nor provided a statement. The discussion should perhaps have been deferred until these matters could be ironed out but it wasn’t and the matter was refused. The next step should then have been a Decision Notice issued by the planning department which, in the case of a refusal, are normally issued within days. More than 12 weeks having passed, the applicant has lodged an appeal on grounds of non-determination. Lib Dem Councillor Tony Vickers, a member of WAPC and now its Deputy Chair, made a formal complaint (the eventual response to which he doesn’t regard as satisfactory) and is now considering further action, perhaps through the Local Government Ombudsman.

Even by the the strange laws that appear to govern anything to do with the LRIE, this delay seems odd. The only reason I can surmise is that there is some unease about the decision. For better or for worse, the WAPC has decided the matter: perhaps there is a worrying technicality concerning the conduct of the meeting which makes the officers reluctant to ratify it? If the non-determination appeal goes forward then matters will, I believe, be decided by HM Planning Inspectorate which has in the past found against West Berkshire’s original conclusion, the house development at Eddington and the knackers yard in Great Shefford being two examples that spring to mind. 

• West Berkshire Council was on the from page of the NWN this week over claims that the new plans for pedestrianising the town centre would prevent businesses being able to receive deliveries. The reality, as now seems clear, is that this was more a problem of consultation and presentation: it appears that deliveries would always be possible but no one at West Berkshire discussed this with those affected. This does keep happening (the way the closure of the Village Agent scheme was handled is another example). West Berkshire may be no worse than many other municipalities. Decisions, which might be perfectly reasonable ones, get taken in the council bubble and they are felt to be so self-evidently good, obvious and necessary that there’s no need to discuss them first or explain them afterwards. That, at least, is what it looks like. People then quite naturally make up their own narratives and the council is immediately on the back foot. That matter aside, opinion remains divided as to what effect this will have on footfall and whether the scheme should be extended beyond September.

• Newbury Town Council has criticised the amount of littering which followed the combination of the easing of the lockdown and the continuing good weather earlier this month.

• 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.

• The Mayor has also publicly thanked all the people in the town who have volunteered, particularly over the last three months.

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 village (including recently-updated information about the village’s new volunteer group). It also publishes the quarterly Hamstead Hornet – if you’d like to subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at admin@hamsteadmarshall.net. The most recent one, which you can read here, has just been published and is something of a bumper issue celebrating the many local groups which have made life a little more tolerable during lockdown.

• The Hornet also provides an answer to a tiny part of a question which had been bugging me. In March, the government issued an appeal for NHS volunteers and received about three times more applicants than the 250,000 they’d been hoping for. I’d heard that hardly any of these volunteers had been called up: but the magazine tells, on p3, the story of one local resident who has been contacted and has been able to contribute. (It’s possible that the need for the volunteers was reduced because the government had under-estimated the speed with which local volunteer groups would be set up and the way that they would match local needs. This is perhaps not surprising as I doubt Whitehall gave a great deal of thought to this contingency, believing that unless something was organised in SW1 then it wasn’t going to happen at all.)

• 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.

• The minutes of the latest Brightwalton Parish Council suggest that the late John Hall-Craggs was an energetic and effective local resident. The minutes list his achievements as having included saving the school, building the new village hall, creating the Dunmore Pond Trust, creating of social housing at Butts Furlong and helping formulate the original Parish Plan. All agreed this needed to be recognised with a suitable memorial; and this would seem to be richly deserved.

• Parish council minutes at this time often refer to the work done by local volunteer groups during Covid-19, and the meeting of West Ilsley’s PC last month was no exception, the meeting hearing that seven households had received vital assistance. 

• As mentioned in this column last week and elsewhere, the recent East Ilsley Parish Council was particularly well attended as the matter of the Beeswax Dyson planning application was being discussed (to which the council eventually registered an opposition). You can read a summary of the issues raised in the minutes here.

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 the Across the Area section above for more on the Thatcham-based sewing group Birdhouse Creations which has contributed 75% of the total number of scrubs donated to the local NHS trust. The NWN also has, on p27, an article about the similar work done bu another group on the town, Newbury and District Hackspace, which has made around 1,400 pieces of PPE for local care homes and medical teams. Hats off to both organisations: but again I repeat the question as to whether it’s prudent or fair that the NHS should have to rely on nimble-fingered and public-spirited local experts with the right equipment and materials to supply its needs during an emergency.

• 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.

• At Brimpton Parish Council’s meeting last month, a resident asked what is happening about affordable housing in the village. This question could fairly be asked in pretty much every community in the land. The Parish Council (which is not a planning authority) replied that ‘although there is reference to affordable housing in the Parish Plan it is dependant on the review of the settlement boundary which cannot be progressed at the moment due to the Coronavirus restrictions.’ This may be true, but changing the settlement boundary will not in itself make affordable housing appear. An alternative answer might have been ‘nothing will happen about affordable housing in Brimpton or anywhere else unless the government or the planning authority decides to build themselves.’

• 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.

• It seems as if Theale might be without its MP for a while as Reading West MP Alok Sharma was on Wednesday taken ill (possibly with Covid-29) while addressing the House of Commons (about Covid-19) which had recently decided to partly resume physical sittings (despite Covid-19). He is currently undergoing tests.

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

• The Burghfield and Mortimer Neighbourhood Action Group’s remote meeting scheduled for 1 June could not proceed as it was in quorate: matters progressed with those able to attend as a discussion. The AGM has been put back to later in the year. 

• 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. 

• The bottle bank is to be removed from Theale Station car park. West Berkshire Council says that the main reason for this is that the contractor which empties the bottle banks is withdrawing from the contract because low volumes make it unprofitable.

• The planning application to demolish and replace 19 and 19a High Street in Theale and build a block of flats on the car park behind it has been approved by a planning inspector.

• 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 re-commenced on Monday 1 June. Read more here.

Marlborough News reports that this year’s Open Gardens will be a virtual event.

• The same website has an article explaining Marlborough’s Love Local campaign, started up by the Kitchen Sisters who run the burger restaurant at The Bear. I was particularly struck by the elegance of the logo.

And still with MN, Marlborough’s market will be ‘back to normal’ next week.

• A reminder that the plans for Marlborough’s new cinema recently 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.

• Congratulations to disabled Aldbourne resident Ottile Bankes who, as this week’s Newbury Weekly News reported, completed a 6.5km walk in stages over the past month, raising over £1,300 for Great Ormonde Street Hospital.

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). 

• 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 kicks off with a story about the sale of Williams F1 in Grove which one local councillor, Jenny Hannaby, described as a ‘fantastic opportunity’ for investors. Almost any discussion about investment, growth and sustainability in the area brings up the question of the possible re-opening of Wantage Road station on the main line between Didcot and Swindon. This was closed in the 1960s and the reasons why it has not re-opened since – despite the rapid population rise in the area and the climate emergency – can be fully understood only by people who have spent a lifetime studying and managing railway networks. It’s all to do with…actually, I’m sorry, I can’t remember but it somehow has to do with whether direct services will be introduced between Bristol and Oxford. If anyone can explain this, please add a comment to the post and I’lll spread the word.

• The same paper reports that work on several new schools in the area, including the primary at Crab Hill, have been delayed due to Covid-19.

• At the start of National Volunteers’ Week, the leaders of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils have offered their heartfelt and sincerest thanks to the thousands of volunteers that are helping in their communities.

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

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 picks up the case of the triangle of land in Wantage that was mysteriously put up for sale (see last week’s column) and asks some pertinent questions about how man other small but significant pockets of land that are parts of the area’s many developments could accidentally – or accidentally on purpose – not be transferred to their logical new owners .

• 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.

• The deserted park-and-rise at Groundwell could be born again as a park-and ride. That is one of the uses suggested for the Cricklade Road site in a council document that is going out for public consultation. The Swindon Advertiser has more here.

• 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.

• The Harbour Project for Swindon Refugees and Asylum Seekers has received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS).

• A drive-through coronavirus testing facility is to open at the Wroughton Park & Ride in Swindon as part of the Government’s UK-wide drive to increase testing.

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.

• Local projects could form part of a £25m government-funded investment plan for Swindon.

• 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 from 1987, a lovely thing called Mary’s Prayer from Danny Wilson. I’ve always loved it and, on listening to it again after some years, still do. (In ’87 I’d recently split up with someone called Mary, which might have had a bit to do with it.) It was only much later that I discovered that ‘Danny Wilson’ wasn’t the name of one person, as you might think, but the name of the band. Kind of weird – imagine if performers took it the other way and individuals started calling themselves one-word things like…oh, I don’t know – Madonna, Prince, Seal, Fish, Dido or Pink. That would be stooopid, right? 

• And so we fade gracefully into the closing paragraph that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is What was the name of the first winner following the resumption of horse racing in the UK, at Newcastle on 1 June 2020? (The answer can be found in Pat Murphy’s Downland’s Racing column.) Last week’s question is What is the first track on The Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? The answer was staring you in the face all the time – it’s Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The reprise of this was also the penultimate track, followed by what many (but not me) think is their masterpiece, A Day in the Life. In my humble view, it’s two separate songs, one by Lennon and the other by McCartney, that have precious little to do with each other (although were expertly merged). It’s a foretaste of the medley on Abbey Road, a hotch-potch of tantalising half-finished pieces which no other band could have got away with. The reality is that The Fabs’ high-water mark was Revolver. If any album kicks of with three better songs than Harrison’s Taxman, McCartney’s Eleanor Rigby and Lennon’s I’m Only Sleeping I’d very much like to know what it is. Even the ghastly Yellow Submarine doesn’t prevent it from being a masterpiece, one of those things that, together with a copy of The Great Gatsby, a video of the 1953 FA Cup Final and the recipe for moules marinière, we should shoot into outer space to show cultures in other galaxies what we’re capable of when we really try. From the moment Revolver was in the can in the summer of  1966 it was mostly downhill for The Beatles. Feel free to disagree…

Brian Quinn

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