Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s objections, Newbury’s litter, Woolton Hill’s re-opening, East Garston’s repairs,Shefford’s kiosk, Lambourn’s junction, Thatcham’s CMZ, Marlborough’s conversion, Bedwyn’s vacancy, Wantage’s schools, Swindon’s memories, Challow’s nursery Wroughton’s broadband, Theale’s spaces, Cold Ash’s repayment, Aldermaston’s retrospection, council initiatives, re-opening the schools and shops, tracing the curves, tracking the tracing, downsizing the HQ, something better than GDP, drafting issues, statues, opinions, apologies, the spark of creation, toner cartridges, planning decisions, birds, Zodiakos, heavy libraries, five and a half vowels, Oscar Wilde and Shiela taking a bow.
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)
• The government’s trace and track system has come under fire from a number of experts, one of whom used the dreaded cliché ‘not fit for purpose.’ I still don’t understand why (a) the government is still fiddling around with the details of this now when nearly four years have passed since the pandemic exercise code-named Cygnus revealed the need for just such a system; and (b) why the government decided to build a new top-down system staffed people hired by Serco rather than build on the functional local structures that already existed for tracking notifiable diseases. West Berkshire Council (and I guess all the rest of them) have been put on standby to take over or share the operation of this and hopes to have a plan in place by the end of June (they were only landed with this last week), two weeks after the shops re-open and three and a bit months after lockdown started. To me this all slightly seems like commissioning the design for lifeboats after the ship has been holed by an iceberg.
• The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) announced on 10 June that the UK would be one of the economies worst hit by CV-19. It also appears that we have had the second-highest number of deaths (though this is shortly to be overtaken by Brazil), although statistics comparing countries are dangerous as they are based on different criteria. However, a broad-brush assessment would suggest that we have succeeded in protecting neither of the two aspects, wealth or health, that have often been cited as the main considerations. It’s worth saying at this point that according to everything I’ve read (and understood) the UK government seems to have mounted a fairly good rescue package for businesses. Even the crash of 2008 provided no template for this. On a level of pandemic preparedness, though, we did less well (particularly considering the Exercise Cygnus in 2016, the results of which appeared to have been ignored. Not many countries will get an ‘A’ for their reaction to this, though South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and New Zealand might claim one. I think we merit a ‘C’ or ‘D’; assuming that the new low is set by the USA and Brazil, and that ‘E’ (as it was in my day) is the lowest mark – apart from ‘U’ (unclassifiable), which is given to people who don’t turn up for the exam; or, in this case, to countries like North Korea and Tajikistan which deny that the disease exists at all.
• OCED’s report suggested that the UK’s economy could shrink by up to 14% by the end of 2020 but that it could recover in two years. How serious is this? Does that mean we’re all going to be 14% poorer or that we’ll be using 14% fewer finite resources to fuel our appetite for growth? What is ‘growth’, in any case? There are things that we need and things that we want, and the pandemic has perhaps made the distinction slightly clearer. I’m not trying to further undermine the businesses which will suffer as a result of this. I’m just wondering if growth in terms of economic production is the only measure we can use to determine our worth. The world’s population is currently growing by about 1% a year so, assuming that continues, this might be a benchmark. Clearly, the vast majority of people enjoy lower standards of living than I, or many people in this part of this country, do, so it ill-behoves me to say that we should accept lower economic activity as acceptable. However, the issue of climate change – which along with so many other things – has been sidelined by Covid-19, is the big, existential threat we face. A reduction in economic activity, at least to the extent that it affects this, is fundamental, rather than (as with Covid) being a side-effect.
Back in early April, a friend told me that the lockdown was as if God (other deities exist) had used Covid as a means of sending us to our rooms to think about what we were doing. It might be worth bearing this in mind. For as long as I’ve been alive, my part of the world has consistently managed to get dealt pretty good cards each year. The combination of Covid (which has disproportionately affected wealthy countries, so far) and climate change (which will do the same) has altered this. Whatever the new reality is, shaped by both these transformative things the world is unlikely to be the same in 20 years time. The UK might well lose from this. Life can still be pretty good. The problem, nationally and internationally, is that of addressing the issue that some people, through birth or luck or an understanding of tax loopholes, are able to exploit the way that the system works to give them the best hand. The method of dealing the cards may well change, and in ways we cannot imagine. How adaptable are we? Adaptability might be a more a more useful way of measuring (if it can be measured) economic activity than GDP, which is little more than a record of consumption.
Even more elusive, though perhaps even more important, are measures based on qualities such as happiness. This is perhaps relevant when thinking about the lockdown. This unexpected pause in life has left some people despondent and others elated. Most businesses have felt their economic activity slow in the last few months and the immediate future looks bleak for many of them. Some, by contrast, have thrived. We will survive Covid and awe will survive climate change if we take it as seriously. In the aftermath, a lot of measurements of success – growth for its own sake being one – might be irrelevant. Assuming that comparative standards between countries or people are necessary (which some do not), what will replace them? I don’t know: but it needs to be something different. For me, GDP growth as my number-one gauge just doesn’t cut it any more. Any ideas?
• Newbury MP Laura Farris was one of the many who supported the 2020 Agricultural Bill which, as opponents have been quick to point out, leaves the door open for food imports of a lower standard that was the case during our EU days. It appears that trade deals have currently been done with 20 countries or groups, including the commercial powerhouses of Liechtenstein, the Faroe Islands, Kosovo and Georgia, so quite a few more will be in the pending tray. If we are serious about maintaining our food standards then is would seem to make sense ‘for the Department of Trade to have redlines imposed on it.’ This, however, is exactly what Laura Farris, quoted in an article on p9 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News, felt was not desirable, ‘as it’s meant to be a domestic agriculture bill.’ Taking the word ‘domestic’, this would be protecting the UK’s population. Taking the word ‘agriculture’, this would be protecting the UK’s farmers, something she was quick to stress was a major concern for her. Taking the word ‘bill’, this is a piece of legislation and so, unless it’s repealed or revised, binding on the government’s future decisions.
In response to a question about this from Penny Post, she also said that she was unhappy with aspects of the drafting, in particular the proposed stipulation that no trade agreement could be entered into unless the other country agreed that ‘any agricultural or food product imported into the UK under the agreement will have been produced or processed according to standards which are equivalent to, or which exceed, the relevant domestic standards.’ Her problem was with the first word, ‘any’, on the grounds that ‘there are always exceptions in every industry. For example, this would have meant that the UK Government could never agree a trade agreement with the USA, if the UK Government sought to import even one single food product for which there was no equivalent in the UK.’ This would surely have been easy to resolve at the drafting stage. She also felt that the reliance on ‘equivalent’ standards could ‘raise difficulties of interpretation and enforcement.’ This is, I can see, trickier but there must be plenty of precedents for this kind of comparison. Alternatively, the specific vital conditions that needed to have been met could have been spelled out which would help. No law is ever going to be perfect. As with above-mentioned Exercise Cygnus, we’ve had since the summer of 2016 to think about this. We knew we were going to need to do trade deals. We knew were going to need to maintain food standards. Was no time spent on how this might be defined? (Laura Farris was only elected as an MP in December 2019, it should be pointed out. I’d also add that she so far seems to have been an effective and energetic representative of the area.)
The inference many have drawn from all of this is that the reluctance to include this provision means that the government has no intention of introducing it. It can, perhaps, foresee the situation when concluding a trade deal with the USA (Laura Farris’ example, not mine) will depend on our being able to offer access to the UK markets for any old stuff that their farmers wish to sell us.
• Meanwhile, the George Floyd incident in the USA has sparked demonstrations and reaction in many other countries, including the UK. There is clearly something systemically wrong with the way the US police force operates, and thus perhaps with US society as a whole. The protests, including here, have at times been violent and divisive. The extent to which the reaction should or can be proportionate to the initial crime, and how dangerously this can escalate, are matters many will never agree on. There are three other aspects that concern me, though.
The first is that, although there are now more ways than ever by which people can express their views, there also seems to be, perversely, a narrowing of the range of opinions which are considered acceptable. Anyone who steps out of line from whatever the prevailing orthodoxy is risks a social-media barrage which may obscure a good or interesting point, even though it might have been expressed in the wrong way, at the wrong time or to the wrong group of people. The non-platforming of speakers by student unions is one of the most foolish examples of this. If an idea or point of view is felt to be wrong (whatever ‘wrong’ is) then it deserves to be publicly dissected. By effectively banning certain topics we risk marginalising them. Ideas that might have been worthwhile, though perhaps out of step with the mood of the times, can get lost: while less beneficial ones can, without the constant exposure to the bracing wind of alternative views, turn into something genuinely poisonous. Any form of censorship is also to admit that we are in some way frightened of the idea, just as conversations about awkward subjects are often abruptly broken off when a child comes into the room. This, to a half-way inquisitive mind, confers on the half-heard idea a mixture of fear and fascination. The world of ideas becomes divided into those we can talk about freely and those we cannot, which doesn’t really serve either very well.
The second is that the number of apologies this has created. We’re used to seeing politicians making tortuously-worded statements of regret for things that, in some cases, happened centuries before they were born. Recently, a number of people, including the creators of Bo Selecta and Little Britain, have apologised for the way they portrayed some of their characters in the past. the networks appear to have agreed: Little Britain has been pulled from iPlayer and Neflix and The Mighty Boosh and the dark, brooding genius of The League of Gentlemen are, it seems, to be axed too. Others will follow. TV companies have their own reasons for wanting to avoid criticism but I don’t know how long we can continue to delete our past. What the creators are apologising for is not that the portrayals might be offensive now but that they were then. Leigh Francis of Bo Selecta told the Mirror that ‘Back then I didn’t think anything about it. People didn’t say anything, but I’m not going to blame other people.’ If he didn’t think about it and other people didn’t tell him, how was he meant to know? He could say ‘I won’t do that again’: but that isn’t enough at the moment. People who create things are now expected to apologise for not having had 20-20 prescience of future opinions. It’s as if we’re sentencing ourselves for crimes according to the tariffs that are in force now rather than those which prevailed at the time.
Then there are the statues. That of Sir Edward Colston – a notorious slavery apologist and also a major benefactor to the city, a combination which must cause a local moral problem of its own – was toppled into Bristol harbour last weekend (and has since been recovered). The Mayor said he ‘felt no sense of loss’ at its summary removal. If it was a good idea to destroy it last week, then it would also have been an equally good idea six months ago. Were there any moves to have it removed by more official means? There are thousands of such objects up and down the country, any one of which might give offence to someone. For a country or a council to erect a statue is to admit that the person and thus also the things they stood for are worth commemorating. It’s one thing to pull a TV show or change one’s writing style: removing statues is an expensive job and will in almost all cases be divisive and can appear to be an act of heavy-handed political censorship. And what will a statue be replaced with? If tastes are going to change in this way so quickly and so absolutely, we’ll be putting up and taking down statues every fifteen minutes. Should we have statues of such people at all? Even Winston Churchill, someone who was at one time regarded as the single-handed saviour of civilisation, now seems set to have his edifices culled.
We live in an age in which our view of what is acceptable, the way our culture reflects it and the way our monuments commemorate it, are imperfectly aligned. Perhaps it’s good to have some anachronistic TV shows and some dodgy statues around the place to remind us that different times have different standards and that there is no such thing as an absolute morality. The most worthy programmes or statues made or erected in 2020 may be similarly discarded in a few decades’ time, and probably for reasons their creators today would be unable to anticipate or comprehend. As anyone who watched Saddam Hussein’s statue being toppled in 2003 will be aware, pushing something over is one thing: it’s what happens afterwards that matters. Being able to have an honest and open discussion about why the statue was erected in the first place is an important part of that. In the present climate, such discussions seem less likely to happen than they should.
• There has been a theological debate in the letters page of NWN for the last few weeks: or, rather, it’s a debate between one person who believes that God self-evidently exists and another who doubts this. The most recent contribution is that ‘creation screams out that there is a caring God.’ I agree with the first three words, certainly at the moment: as for the rest, it’s impossible to see any evidence of a benevolent influence in nature. The writer also suggests that ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ If this means that atoms re-organise themselves to create new forms, then I agree: if it suggesting, as it appears to be, that there is a universal and immutable morality which is based on a view of the world formed in a pre-scientific age then in some ways I wish I did, but I don’t. There’s no reason to suggest a divine touch was required, as William Blake’s picture imagined it, to fire creation. All evidence suggests that any God is either not benevolent or not omnipotent, or possibly neither, either of which fatally undermines the whole business. The point is also made that Jesus told us to care for others. Indeed; but others offered the same advice, in some cases centuries before he was born. Religion has done a good job at appropriating morality as if it were its own private invention. Finally, she says that ‘no one can come to faith by argument or having points scored.’ I wonder where that leaves the Jesuits and the missionaries: or, indeed, this exchange of letters…
• West Berkshire Council has been awarded £124,000 from the Department for Transport to help introduce pop-up and temporary interventions to create an environment that is safe for both walking and cycling.
• The same Council has announced that it will assist parents and carers during by offering the option to apply for a refund on fares paid for school transport for terms 5 and 6.
• Local businesses are being urged to carry out vital safety checks to avoid increasing the risk of Legionnaires’ disease.
• 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 (once again) any of the fine selection of birds that the NWN’s Chief Photographer has snapped on his recent early-morning walks – see p19 of this week’s paper.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as the divine debate mentioned above and the pedestrianisation issues mentioned below (see Newbury Area), a defence of the PM, regret for the ending of clap for carers, an exhortation to walk to Donninton Castle rather than drive, shout-outs for people who’ve offered help to strangers and the problems of buying toner cartridges.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support. Yet again we’re not going to single anyone out – there are too many to name at present – but, once again, instead just give a general shout-out for all the volunteer groups in the area which have sprung up like the daffodils to provide assistance to those in most need of it. We’ve listed some of these here. This also seems like a good place to mention Greenham Trust which has set up a Coronavirus Emergency Fund for donations to local groups with full 1:1 match funding for all sums received.
Hungerford & district
• The most recent Penny Post Hungerford was published on Tuesday 2 June and you can read it 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. Click here for details of Hungerford Town Council, working in conjunction with West Berkshire Council, traders and other organisations, is managing this.
• 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 considered at its virtual Planning Committee meeting at 7pm on 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. The plans were, as might have been predicted, strongly opposed. Councillor Simpson, the Mayor, proposed to strongly object to this application on the following grounds: the percentage of social rent dwellings was a crucial part of the original approved planning application 16/03061/OUTMAJ; the reduction in number of social rent dwellings will have a negative impact on local residents and local house rental prices; this application undermines WBC’s own Local Plan which states there should be 40% affordable housing on greenfield sites; the developers have already signed a legal agreement of S106; he viability assessment was not undertaken by an independent consultant and HTC urges WBC to request a non-biased, independent viability assessment. This was seconded by Councillor Knight, and all voted in favour.
The question has been asked before, and will be asked again, why developers can put in applications that pass the Council’s tests and then set to work putting in a series of proposed variations – which are expensive, time-consuming and divisive to deal with – to get permission for what they actually want to build. The answer is that the planning system permits this. As has been mentioned elsewhere, if the government or the council needs housing which the private sector finds uneconomical to construct then it needs to build them itself.
• 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 email@example.com with your contact details and any information about any special skills, experience or equipment you have.
• The rain fell and the skies were leaden, but attendance at the Town and Manor’s Wednesday market in Hungerford this week was as healthy as ever. There are plans for a monthly Sunday market to be introduced as well: watch this space.
• There are currently three vacancies on Hungerford Town Council – see here for the official notice. However, these will not be filled until it’s possible to hold public meetings again.
• The groundwater beneath the Lambourn Valley recedes, and with it so does the problem of the sewage (for now at least). The main issue, most agree, is that because the pipes run through the water table, when this is high the pressure forces water in through any cracks (and probably enlarging them in the process). A secondary problem is caused by ruin-off from gutters and roads entering the sewage system through damaged manholes or inappropriate connections. Lambourn Parish Council confirmed to Penny Post on 10 June 2020 that ‘the groundwater levels have dropped sufficiently for the ATAC (sewage filter) outside the fire station to be removed. There is now no sewage escaping the sewage system.’ It was also stressed that there is now a short time window for Thames Water (TW) to examine further groundwater infiltration before the water table drops below the sewer pipes. TW is keen to receive any information about any area where flooding occurs in the parish as this could suggest a problem. Please send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Obviously, the main responsibility rests with TW as only their robotic cameras can detect where water is infiltrating (and only when the water table is above the level of the pipes). There are about 50km of sewers in the Lambourn Valley, of which TW is responsible for about 25km. About 8km of these have been re-lined.
• 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). By comparison, the Domesday Book took 13 months to produce in 1085-86. A further email has been sent but not yet responded to.
• The plans for the ‘proposed timber addition to provide an additional food-service kiosk to the garden and stand-alone timber kiosk in the car park for breakfast kitchen/servery’ at The Great Shefford took a backwards step this week when the matter was discussed at Great Shefford Parish Council and was objected to on a number of grounds. The meeting was keen stress that ‘it would like to support improvements and maintenance to the pub. The owner of the pub has been very welcomed by the villagers, and has done a great deal of work to bring a much loved village pub back to life, which the Parish is grateful. GSPC does not want to facilitate, inadvertently or otherwise, the loss/decline of the pub;’ also that it has no objection in principle to the ‘garden structure’ on the side of the pub as long as this is in keeping with the character of the listed building. However, it felt that there were a number of concerns which ‘have not been fully addressed by the application.’ You can read the Parish Council’s response in full here (also available, with all the other documents, on West Berkshire Council’s website).
• Meanwhile, in Lambourn, the Parish Council meeting on 3 June considered application 20/00972/FULMAJ for ‘ten, semi-detached ‘build to rent affordable eco-dwellings, parking, landscaping and associated works.’ The Parish Council objected on the grounds of over-development of the site, traffic, access, impact on the AONB and the fact that the level of rent (80%) is too high for the relevant local demand. This last point may well be true (the Parish said that someone would need to be earning nearly £24,000 to afford such a home) but it is within the national definition of ‘affordable housing’. If the definition needs to be changed, that’s a separate matter. However, it’s currently hard to persuade developers to build homes which satisfy even this quite modest reduction in size (and thus sale price) from what they would like to construct. If more houses that would be available at genuinely affordable rents were needed, as they are, then the only solution is for the government or the local authority to build them themselves. As regards this application, I’d have thought that a private company proposing a 10-home development comprising 100% affordable homes (rather than the 40% which generally applies) – and environmentally sustainable into the bargain – is a probably almost unheard of. So far, two objections have been received: 10 are required for the matter to be called in unless the ward councillor wishes to do this, which I understand is unlikely.
• The headline in the Lambourn.org website ‘Parish Council tells Lambourn Junction to get out of the Memorial Hall’ was certainly direct. Lambourn Junction is, as residents will not need telling, a voluntary group which has set up a formality-free food bank for people in need as a result of the pandemic. Lambourn Parish Council earlier this month gave the group two week’s notice so that the building could again be used by council staff. This provoked a detail response from Lambourn Junction (links to both letters can be found at the foot of the article) and the intervention of the ward member Howard Woollaston, a staunch supporter of the group’s work, to find a compromise. Fortunately, the Royal British Legion stepped forward and offered its hall, from which the Junction will be operating from Monday 15 June.
• There have been quite a few stories of tradespeople being called in to fix lockdown DIY disasters, the most spectacular being the guy who thought he’d install a new bathroom and started knocking down a wall without realising it contained pipes resulting in what remained on his house being flooded. There are other, less dramatic, ways that things can fail and in these disposable times both the skills to fix them and the expectation that they can be fixed at all leads to a lot of needless waste. Repair cafés, where handy people turn up at a village hall with their gear to fix anything from a curtain to a lawnmower, have recently sprung up to address this. East Garston hosted its first in early March and obviously there hasn’t been one since. Organiser Ed James is keen to get this moving again as soon as possible with the aim of its being a regular quarterly event. If you would like to offer your services, please contact him on EdJames@sportingagenda.co.uk.
• The June East Garston News has just been published and you can click here to read it.
• 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
• A letter in this week’s NWN refers to the ‘long-term financial drain’ of the beleaguered London Road Industrial Estate project which, as the writer suggest and as I suggested in this column last week, in serious danger of becoming West Berkshire’s HS2. Looking back over this tangled affair, there is sometimes a sense that matters have been addressed in the wrong order, reinforcing the impression that, like Alice, one is entering a looking-glass world. A new start has, it appears, been made, although several of the pre-existing issues (including the results of the Scrutiny Commission’s look at the events that led up to the failed 2018 court case and the closure of the football ground, which also dates back to that year) have yet to be resolved. The second anniversary of the football closure comes up, I believe, next week. It’s unlikely that the Newbury Community Football Group will allow this to pass unnoticed.
• The same letter also refers to the fact that the Library (which is not in the LRIE) started to sink when the books were put in it. I hadn’t heard this story but it’s not the first. The Cambridge University Library was to have two tall towers but these were, so local legend had it, abandoned when it was realised that the structure had failed to take into account the weight of the books. There were also rumours that due to a photocopying error the History Faculty down the road, where I spent a lot of time, was built at 180º to what the designers had intended: mainly covered in glass, it was certainly unbearably hot in the summer and the opposite in the winter. The glass was mostly in the form of louvred windows, about 1,200 of them: the day before the books were to be moved there was a downpour and every single one of them leaked, leaving the building under two feet of water. So, there’s a lot of wisdom in books but perhaps sometimes rather less among the people who design the libraries to store them.
• And still on the NWN’s letters section, two missives this week look at the issues surrounding the pedestrianisation of Newbury town centre, including what ‘the best for the town’ should mean, what exceptions might need to be made and the problems faced by high-street traders.
• 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.
• In common with other towns, Newbury’s shops will be gradually re-opening from Monday with strict social-distansing regulations in place.
• 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 Chase in Woolton Hill has now reopened to the public having been closed since 6 May after an oil-tank explosion at a house fire polluted the woodland’s waterways.
• 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 email@example.com. 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.
• Click here for the latest NTC News from Newbury Council.
Thatcham and district
• Scottish and Southern Electricty Networks (SSEN) has identified four areas, known as Constraint Managed Zones (CMZs), which will benefit from flexibility services to manage electricity demand during maintenance work or fault conditions. The locations are Havant, Chickerell, Rownhams and Thatcham. SSEN has identified zones in and around the above areas which will benefit from smarter and flexible ways of managing electricity demand during maintenance work or fault conditions. See the SSEN website for more.
• On p26 of this week’s NWN there’s a report on how Kennet School is managing the post-Covid partial re-opening.
• Lower down ion the same page, there’s an article about some of the volunteers who’ve been active in and around the town since lockdown started.
• 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.
• If anyone feels that councillors and officers are only in it for the money (not that there’s much of either, certainly not at parish level), the May 2020 minutes of the Cold Ash Parish Council included a report from the Clerk that she had recently realised that she’d overpaid herself 20p in June 2019 and that she’d be deducting this from her next payslip. I don’t think this story will make it into Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs column.
• Please click here for the latest newsletter from the Hermitage Community Volunteers.
• Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin, which includes a few words from Oscar Wilde.
Theale and district
• At the meeting of West Berkshire Council’s Eastern Area Planning Committee on 3 June, councillors were concerned that proposed flats at the Theale Motors site in Church Street (19/02879/FULD) did not meet the national space standards and council guidance on amenity (outside) space. They were informed by planning officers that the ‘National Described Space Standards’ for homes could not be applied to the planning application because it was not required by policies in the Local Plan. One councillor pointed out that there amenity space was nearly 40% below the Council’s guidelines. The problem here appears to be that this guidance is just that, and not policy. There is already a policy on residential space but Councillor Alan Macro, a member of EAPC and ward member for Theale, said that he would ‘ be asking for a policy on amenity space too. Local Plan policies would carry far more weight than the current guidance and couldn’t be so easily ignored by planning officers and inspectors.’
• Aldermaston’s Parish Council met virtually on 9 June and ‘spent considerable time’ on looking at three planning applications. One of these – to which the Council registered an objection – is retrospective, relating to a new access from a house. If West Berkshire agrees with this, it will interesting to see how effectively it will be able to enforce it and whether the applicant will launch an appeal. Another application that was objected to is for a new unit on an industrial estate: although a similar scheme was approved in 2019, Aldermaston PC has ‘now adopted a policy of objecting to any application that would generate additional HGVs on the A340.’ The meeting also discussed whether developer funds should be used to replace the skateboard ramp or install outside exercise equipment: as it can’t currently afford to do both, it will produce a questionnaire for residents to express their preferences.
• 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.
• 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.
Marlborough & district
• Marlborough News looks forward to the re-opening of some at least of the high-street shops after their ‘lockdown hibernation.’
• And the same website looks at the similar re-awakening of St John’s Academy.
• Still with MN, an article here explains Marlborough’s Love Local campaign, started up by the Kitchen Sisters who run the burger restaurant at The Bear.
• As mentioned last week, this year’s Open Gardens will be a virtual event.
• Plans have been announced to turn the former St Peter’s School building on The Parade into a hotel with a restaurant, a ‘modestly sized gym’ and eight new homes.
• If you fancy becoming a parish councillor in Great Bedwyn, now’s your chance as there’s a vacancy.
• 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
• This week’s Herald asks – on p1 and in the editorial column – the question as to what extent the re-design of the new South Oxfordshire Council HQ will be affected by the changes in working practices which the last three months have imposed. The Lib Dem/Green ruling coalition has said that the plan ‘could be reviewed.’
• The same paper reports, on p3, that a number of beauty spots have been ‘trashed’ and the article lists a number of incidents including arson, dog fouling, littering, interference with wildlife and the destruction of plants.
• It’s been back to school for pupils at the Vale Academy Trust’s several schools in the area: this article takes a quick look at some of the challenges that have had to be overcome before the doors can open again.
• And, speaking of schools, nursery places are available at the St Nicolas Primary School in Challow from September 2020.
• There’s been much talk about the return of football but there are other elite sportspeople, most earning considerably less money, who’ve been having to cope with the restrictions of lockdown and the restrictions this has placed on training regimes. One such is Eda Onay, a Wantage-based modern pentathlete and year 11 student at KA’s. She describes in this article how she’s kept going, with the help of bungee chords, paddling pools, the mental trophy cabinet and being able to whack her mother with a fencing foil.
• 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.
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald has more on the instances of ambiguous land ownership, highlighted by a report of a triangle of land in Wantage that was unexpectedly put up for sale.
• Click here for other news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group.
• Click here for information the Didcot, Abingdon and Wantage Talking Newspaper (DAWN) for the blind and partially sighted. The organisers are currently appealing for help to keep the service going – click here for details.
• Click here for information on the location of defibrillators in and around Wantage.
Swindon & district
• Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.
• Swindon Link reports that Swindon Borough Council’s planning committee has given outline planning permission for up to 2,500 homes to be built at Lotmead Farm, one of the proposed New Eastern Villages (NEV) sites.
• The Swindon Advertiser reports that a large new warehouse could bring up to 2,000 new jobs as part of a £400m investment in the town.
• Everyone agrees that fast and reliable broadband is now more vital than ever. The UK’s coverage is not consistent, however. Local MP Robert Buckland has been working with parish councillors in Chiseldon and Wroughton to provide some service improvements.
• In common with other towns, Swindon’s shops will be re-opening on 15 June. This article describes some of the measures the council is putting in place.
• People in Swindon are being encouraged to get active, set their own challenges and donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Appeal.
• 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.
• The team at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery has launched a new project aimed at capturing people’s memories 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.
• Local projects could form part of a £25m government-funded investment plan for Swindon.
• 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
• For the Song of the Week let’s have either a rather lovely piece of Iberian jazz or something by The Smiths. Where’s the coin? Here we go…tails, so that’s The Smiths and one of my favourite songs of theirs (se many to choose from), Shiela Take a Bow.
• And so move into the concluding paragraph that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What is (I think) the only English word that has all six vowels in alphabetical order? (OK, five and a half, ‘y’ only being a vowel sometimes). Last week’s question was: 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, as revealed in Pat Murphy in his monthly racing column, was the 22-1 shot Zodiakos.
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