Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s houses, Newbury’s birthday, East Garston’s grants, Great Shefford’s brewery, Lambourn’s objection, Thatcham’s testing, Marlborough’s gardens, Bedwyn’s school, Burbage’s happy boxes, Wantage’s nightclub, Grove’s decision, Swindon’s artist, Theale’s refusal, Burghfield’s NDP, Cold Ash’s cat, Yattendon’s pigs, East Ilsley’s rabbits, Compton’s omission, Wash Common’s allotments, Hamstead Marshall and Shefford Woodland’s re-openings, Boxford’s playground, Chaddleworth’s mowers, council initiatives, footfall, football, addiction, isolation, violence, headlines, beer, coffee wars, university funding, BLM and the MP, testing in Africa, the Rashford Swerve, Botty McBottface, walking on the moon, offside traps, preparation and response, my dear boy, cheetahs, tempted, 100 days and naked gardening.
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)
• Aside from the appalling events in Reading, the newspaper headlines in the last few days have been dominated by the government’s announcements that lockdown restrictions are to be relaxed on 4 July (although many people seem to have taken unilateral action about this). The messages from the papers themselves are variations on the themes of (a) ‘let’s all go down the pub’ and (b) ‘this could end badly’.
• Speaking of Reading, as this article in The New Statesman points out, most media sources seem to be coy about the fact that the victims were all gay men: rather they make this point when describing them individually but leave us to join up the dots. It may be in these troubled times a decision has been made not to rock humanity’s boat any more by pointing out that a madman who happened also to be Muslim killed three men who happened to be gay. It may be that they had other things in common but, unless they were all known to the attacker and had diss-ed him in some way, it’s hard to see how this might present a better motive. It is a stark fact that gay people, and other groups, are often attacked because of their orientation or belief and this appears, yet again, to have happened here. The extent to which religion can cause, inflame or justify self-righteous violence can be debated all day long. Having spent may last year at university studying the Crusades I can assure you that it does happen. I doubt human nature has changed that much since then.
• With a search for a Covid vaccine becoming ever-more urgent, the question arises as to on whom it might be tested. Countries in Africa have reacted with a mixture of approval and fury to the suggestion that large-scale trials take place there. The arguments are complex, emotive and often technical so I won’t try to summarise them. This article on the BBC website covers some of them. One point that I haven’t seen made in anything I’ve read about this is that Africa is, by a considerable margin, the most genetically diverse continent on earth. I don’t know if this is likely to make trials there more or less useful.
• Covid has already claimed many lives: but there’s also a lot of collateral damage building up. One is the question of loneliness and social isolation. If the pandemic has so far taught us anything it’s (1) that communities need to look after their more isolated people, as most have done; and (2) if you don’t use the internet or if you have a bad connection you’re a second-class citizen. This one can easily be dealt with – scrap HS2 and use a tiny part of the money saved to bribe, bully or cajole the various telecoms firms to install something fast and robust. The first is more complex. Volunteer networks have sprung up all over the country to help people who really need it. The test will come in the next month or so as the immediate need wanes and the volunteers return to work. Will the motivation remain when the emergency subsides? Will those of any age who crave human interaction – and not all do – find their situation improved? This isn’t something that can be legislated for.
• Another is the question of domestic violence and controlling behaviour. As Women’s Aid’s The Domestic Abuse Report 2020: The Hidden Housing Crisis points out, nearly three quarters of women remain in abusive relationships because of concerns about being able to find somewhere else to live. As incomes are likely to drop, and as we already have a serious housing crisis, this is unlikely to improve. The more immediate effects of being trapped in such a situation during lockdown have been widely reported: this article from The Financial Times looks at the situation in France and Spain.
• A third is the question of addiction. Tony Adams – former Arsenal captain, master of the offside trap (remember the arms shooting into the air in The Full Monty?) and founder of the addiction charity Sporting Chance – suggested earlier this week that perhaps as many as a million people had relapsed during lockdown. Even though some of these might be quite minor falls from grace and allowing for an element of exaggeration, it can be translated as ‘a lot’. I’d imagine that recovery from an addiction such as to drugs, alcohol or gambling involves a support network at which you have to be physically present: part of a pattern of behaviour (which might include things like going to work) which is determined by external demands. In the last three months all this has vanished and we’ve been thrown back on our own resources, supported (or not) by who we happen to have been locked-down with. If I’d had any good intentions in late March I doubt the last three months would have enabled me to keep them up. The whole period has been characterised by a sense of time being in suspension, in circumstances of varying degrees of congeniality, to which normal rules don’t apply. Time will tell how well we can re-set our mental clock to later March and pick up from there.
• Finally on this theme – and this is a bit different from the previous three – there’s the question of our universities. This was partly prompted by our son Adam (who’s spent CV-19 in Vietnam) saying that he’d decided to defer his offer from Bristol. We couldn’t blame him: who wants to have a fresher’s week on Zoom? This led me to think about how this all might affect universities in general. I spoke to a couple of friends, both university professors, about this.
For most of the 20th century the way universities were funded and regarded continued almost unchanged until – and how often have you read this phrase – Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979. An Oxford science graduate (and, I think, the last scientist PM), she nevertheless decided that the way her alma mater and all the rest of them were organised needed a thorough spring clean. The main results of this were the start of the conversion of polytechnics (which previous offered a vital but quite different education) to universities and the partial subjugation of the entire further-education edifice to the needs of the market. Two more changes followed after the 1997 election of Tony Blair, her political and spiritual disciple in more ways than he would ever admit. The first was the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, which led to a slightly farcical free-market-economy of choice based on cost which persists to this day; the second was the more general aspiration that more people should have a university experience. This seems to have had some success, as there are currently about 1.8m undergraduates in the UK, about 50% more than in 1997. Whether the university experience, as opposed to something else, has benefitted them all is another question
What this university experience should be has also been thrown into sharp relief by Covid. Studying something you enjoy and hopefully getting a better job at the end of it are part of it (although, as many recent graduates I know could testify, no guarantees can be attached to the latter). At least as important is the social interaction, which can’t be done virtually. A number of students, my son included, have chosen to defer. This is a high-risk strategy: universities will perhaps be more sympathetic to people who, having been started their course, want to take a year out as a result of Covid. In 2021, assuming things have normalised, there may be an even greater struggle for places than currently. Universities may, for the forthcoming academic year, be happy to accept lower student numbers given the uncertainties as to how they can all be provided for and this may need to continue in 2021 and beyond.
In the longer term, however, the problem for universities will be not so much how many students they have than where they come from. According to Universities UK, in 2017-18, about 15% of undergraduates and 36% of post-graduate students in the UK were from overseas. Most of these (which from next year will include EU students too) pay higher fees than do domestic students, for whom whom £9,000 in the maximum. These can rise as high as £50,000pa: but let’s assume that the average is £20,000pa. On this basis, the revenue contributed by the 90,000 Chinese students alone in 2018-19 is £1.8bn, not far short of the entire non-collegiate annual revenues of the University of Cambridge. In all, it’s estimated that overseas students contribute at least £3bn to the British further-education system. What will happen if these people fail to turn up in October? Some universities – perhaps overburdened with what have proved to be ill-timed debts for accommodation blocks or facilities – may go to the wall. For some, a lean year followed by an uncertain future may be a bridge too far. Many Vice-Chancellors may at this moment be taking phone calls from organisations which, six months ago, they would have hung up on. If money and survival is involved, strange pacts may be done. Are we certain that an education system that is meant to be independent will not be compromised?
The UK has two huge advantages compared to other countries. The first is that our universities punch well above their weight and attract, perhaps partly through sentiment or tradition but largely through excellence, more than our fair share of first-rate students and teachers (and funding). Members of the Russell Group such as UCL, Cambridge, Imperial, Edinburgh and Oxford regularly feature in the top 10 of any international list by almost every measure. This excellence is to be found everywhere. To pick two examples from many, the University of Paisley is the go-to place if you need to find people to design computer games; Aberystwyth University was responsible for building the Mars lander that is due to arrive on the red planet next year. The second is that the UK’s major competitor, the USA, has shot itself in the foot. It’s in the grip of a Covid-19 crisis even worse than ours and has also decided to suspend green cards, so depriving students of the ability to work in holidays either flipping burgers or for relevant high-tech firms and help pay for the costs of the education, the tuition fees of which alone can exceed £100,000. Schadenfreude is perhaps not a noble emotion but it’s one that many UK administrators may be indulging in. They will also hope that the UK university ‘brand’ is strong enough to continue to attract overseas students post-Covid and that any shortfall in 2020-21 will thus be temporary. However, the pandemic has proved how the smallest thing – and there aren’t many things smaller than a virus – can disrupt every aspect of life. It’s possible that that one result of Covid will be an increased reluctance to travel. If that proves to be a permanent change, UK universities will need to look f0r alternative sources of funding.
• The 20 June edition of New Scientist writes about the International Health Regulations (IHR) that were defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) from the mid-1990s onwards and which were signed up to by 196 countries. A recent WHO survey suggested that only slightly over a half of the countries were ‘operationally ready’ for dealing with a pandemic and that fewer than 20% were ‘at the highest level of readiness’. The article also points out that, also according to the WHO, both the UK and South Korea were judged to have had a ‘very high level of preparedness’ with regards to testing capacity: however, as this article in The Guardian points out,, its easy to see which of these countries has so far performed better. ‘Clearly,’ as New Scientist points out, ‘preparation and response are not the same thing – a vital lesson for the next pandemic.’
• The PM said at a press briefing this week that no country had a working contact-tracing app. This would not seem to be the case.
• So the pubs and restaurants, or some of them, will be re-opening on 4 July. I don’t know whose idea it was that this should be on a Saturday: surely a soft re-launch on a Monday would be better, given all the uncertainties and the various hoops they need to jump through. There’s also the question of whether there’ll be enough beer. Some landlords in the area we’ve spoken to are slightly concerned about this so you should expect that the previous range might not be available. There’s also the problem of disposing of any liquid stock which has gone off: I understand that above a certain quantity permission needs to be obtained from the water company if this is to be put down the drain. The Lambourn Valley already has a problem with its foul-water system. The prospect of the streets flowing with a mixture of groundwater, sewage and past-its-sell-by-date IPA doesn’t bear thinking about.
• I also spoke to a local brewery, Butts in Great Shefford. Chris Butt told me that he had continued brewing during lockdown and providing mainly bottled beer but also some kegs for pubs which were offering draught beer as part of their take-away service. As his beers are conditioned for longer than usual, each of his batches is ready in about two weeks although other brewers might have a faster turnaround. He also agreed that it was impossible to predict demand, and thus how much he should produce, as it wasn’t yet clear which pubs would be re-opening nor how many customers they’d have.
The brewers are, of course, only part of the supply chain and they in turn need to source their ingredients, not all of which might be as easy to obtain as they long were. There have been rumours of a shortage of yeast, for instance. (One side-effect of brewers getting back to normal production will be the wider availability of large jars of Marmite, as this is, it seems, a by-product of the beer-making.) Whilst writing, I’d add that Butts’ beer is excellent and can be bought from a number of local retailers or direct from them. I particularly recommend the Barbus. In fact, what’s the time…?
• Evidence suggests that CV-19 cases are rising again, possibly as a direct result of the easing of restrictions. It’s therefore possible that regulations may need to be re-imposed at any time. Some retailers seem not to be rushing to re-open until there’s a reasonable chance this will be permanent. Others may be wanting to size up what others in their sectors are doing to apply the regulations.
• I like a pint or two of beer in convivial surroundings but the re-opening I’m really looking forward to is that of the swimming pool at the Hungerford Leisure Centre. Despite the fact that swimming-pool water can probably kill every virus known the man the problem, as I understand, is the changing area. Anyway, it will open when it opens and I’ll be at the front of the queue in, I hope, late July. If I were to make up the swimming distance that I’d have lost since it closed in late March I’d need to swim about three times across the Channel just to get myself up to where I should be. I somehow doubt this is going to happen.
• In the planning process, parish councils can have their wishes over-ruled by the officers of the planning authority. The officers can, in turn, have their view challenged if a ward member decides to call the matter in to committee, which may result in a decision against the officer’s recommendations. If the applicant wants to appeal, the matter can end up with HM Planning Inspectorate which can decide to over-rule the planning authority. That, you might think, is a long enough chain. However, there’s a higher authority, the Secretary of State. Even when all the above-mentioned groups share the same view, it’s possible for the Secretary of State to over-rule them.
This has recently happened with a controversial 1,500-home development in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. This article in OnLondon suggest that there are some potentially serious allegations to be answered, not least because the timing of the announcement – which has since been reversed (see below) – would have saved the developer (and cost Tower Hamlets) an estimated £30m in CIL payments. The Secretary of State is Robert Jenrick, the same man who earlier this year threatened the South Oxfordshire District Council with the removal of its planning powers for having the temerity to say that it wasn’t to re-evaluate the draft local plan, the main matter on which the May 2019 election campaign there had been fought (and won). Neither of these decisions suggest any faith by Mr Jenrick in planning officers, local councillors or the result of municipal elections. Anyone who feels that the planning system is broken will find ample evidence for their fears in these two examples.
Note: I was unaware when I wrote this that Mr Jenrick has since been forced to quash his own decision: see this article in The Guardian and this article in Inside Housing for more on this, and the political storm which has since developed. The basic point above remain, however: how can a system permit such staggering errors of individual judgment which then require a trip to the courts to remedy them?
• Newbury MP Laura Farris told this week’s NWN that she was ‘prepared to rebel’ against the government had it not made its U-turn over free school meals in the summer holidays (which should be known as the Rashford Swerve). I don’t want in any way to denigrate her fighting spirit but this was quite an easy statement to make as it was then clear that she did not in fact have to rebel. I’d much rather she had done this over the recent Agriculture Bill which, as reported last week, will risk lowering imported food standards. This would not really have been a rebellion as several previous ministers, including Michael Gove in 2018, had said that maintaining current standards was ‘a red line’.
• I have far more sympathy for her on the matter of her presence at the Black Lives Matter protest last week. This was one she couldn’t win: not turn up and she’d been accused of being unaware; turn up and take part and she’d be accused of – well, you can read one response yourself, the second letter on this week’s NWN’s letters’ section. The writer says at one point that ‘at least Priti Patel, a person of colour, was quick to condemn the inaction of the Bristol police.’ What does her colour have to do with it? She’s the Home Secretary and almost obliged to make remarks like this. He goes on to say that by ‘taking the knee…she is supporting the incompetent police of Bristol…(which was) subjected to mob rule’ which seems to be pitching it a bit strong and joining up some dots which are quite a long way apart. Another writer criticises the NWN for having a cover photograph which only showed white people at the event. The photo was used because it was of the local MP, surrounded by five people all of whom happened to be white. What was the photo editor meant to do – get Photoshop fired up? The photos inside showed plenty of diversity. In any case, the fact that so many white people attended the event is surely good news.
BLM as an organisation may have its enemies for its politics but the apolitical message it’s sending out seems to be striking a chord. The fact that six white people, including a Conservative MP, were photographed at an anti-racism rally surely indicates some good sign of change. However, yet another letter-writer suggests that her attendance may have been more to do with ‘her own political ambitions.’ So, if you are organising an event which shows the slightest sign of being controversial and which you’d like Laura Farris to attend, I for one would excuse her if she replied ‘I’m terribly sorry but I’m going to be having a bit of a cold that weekend…’
• Congratulations to the Newbury Weekly News which was ‘highly commended’ in the recent Society of Editors Regional Press Awards.
• The same paper, on p4, quotes a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (which you can read here) on the geographical impact of Covid-19 as saying that West Berkshire and Oxfordshire are two of the 17 council areas ‘that are relatively less vulnerable on all counts’ (these being the impact of health, on jobs and on families).
• West Berkshire Council has introduced a new temporary additional outdoor seating licence for hospitality businesses and ‘simplified the application process.’
• Click here for some information from West Berkshire Council about help available to businesses following the re-opening of ‘non-essential’ shops.
• Both of West Berkshire’s recycling centres, at Newtown Road in Newbury and Padworth Lane near Aldermaston, now have a booking system is in place. 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.
• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.
• See this article on the Penny Post website which provides information about local volunteer groups. If you know of any others that should be added, please let us know.
• The National Association of Local Councils has published some case studies showing how local councils at all levels have responded to the crisis.
• We also have a post about the financial support available to businesses as a result of the virus, which is amended as necessary – click here to see it. (Many thinks to Charlotte and Tim from Monty Accounting in Hungerford.)
• And click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. As with the volunteers’ post above, if you are aware of any others, let us know.
• Click here for information about refuse and recycling collections during CV-19 in West Berkshire.
• West Berkshire Council is inviting the public to come up with a name for its Covid-19 advice bot – more information here. I suppose it’s going to end up being Botty McBottface…
• The animals of the week are any of these wonderful photographs of cheetahs from Remembering Wildlife’s recent photography competition. A cheetah (top speed 75mph) is the only land animal that could be nabbed for speeding on a UK motorway.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those mentioned above about Laura Farris at the BLM event, more criticism of her, this time for her stance on the Agriculture Bill; two letters about the London Road development; a handsome apology for someone who went to the wrong WBC recycling tip and as a result had a negative customer experience; an encouragement to wear face masks; and a review of a film review, written in verse.
• 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 Mayor of Hungerford, Helen Simpson, has written to the Mayor of Reading expressing her condolences after the stabbing incidents last week. Hungerford, of course, has direct experience of acts of random public murder.
• The most recent Penny Post Hungerford was published on Tuesday 2 June and you can read it here. The next edition will be published on Tuesday 7 July.
• Hungerford Town Council held an extra-ordinary Full Council Meeting on 9 June to confirm the many measures were had or needed to put in place before the shops re-opened the following week. You can read the minutes here.
• Click here to see Penny Post’s video of the recent re-opening of Hungerford’s shops.
• As mentioned last week, the latest proposed variation to the 100-home Salisbury Road site has been called in and so will be discussed at West Berkshire’s Western Area Planning Committee in due course. The variation is not quite as simple as I expressed it last week (a reduction in the number of affordable homes) but is rather a proposed change in the nature of the tenures of these (which might have a similar effect). I’m in touch with officers and councillors and will hope to post something next week which will explain the issues.
• 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 Town and Manor’s Wednesday market in Hungerford this week took place under skies that could best be described as Mediterranean and with an ever-increasing number of stallholders. From next week, the marshalling arrangements and one-way system will cease and matters will revert to how they were pre-lockdown. The Town and Manor will be keeping a close eye on the situation and will review arrangements in the light of experience and changing government advice.
• One of the welcome new arrival to the market has been Rebecca of Carpucino, who offers coffee and pastries from her van, parked next to Paula the Fish Lady’s: an excellent addition to the market. It seems that, last week, another coffee retailer on the other side of the High Street took a different view and words were exchanged. Just two quick points on this. First, there’s no law I’m aware of that limits the number of coffee outlets in a town. Were there to be so, Rebecca would have a better claim than almost anyone else as she’s been providing Hungerford’s commuters with their breakfasts at Hungerford station, starting at stupid o’clock in all weathers, since 2013. Secondly, she is trading there legally and has not wasted either Hungerford or West Berkshire Council’s time about the enforcement of restrictions regarding banners and outside seating. I shall be back at the market next Wednesday and wil, as in previous weeks, hope to see a queue at her van.
• Click here for the June edition of the Inkpen and Coombe Bulletin which has news about how the various community and voluntary groups have been faring and reports on some aspects of local life that are slowly getting back to normal. If you want to subscribe or contribute, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
• 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.
• One of the pubs which will be re-opening on Saturday 4 July is The Pheasant in Shefford Woodlands which has, unlike many, been completely closed during lockdown. Click here for more information.
• East Garston Parish Council has £1,000 available for community grants in 2020-21 with local organisations able to apply for sums of up to £500. The deadline is 31 July: more information can be found by visiting the Parish Council’s website.
• At its May meeting, Boxford Parish Council discussed with Councillor Claire Rowles the possibility of using a member’s bid to apply for grant money for playground improvements. Councillor Rowles pointed out that the application deadline had been pushed back to Friday 3 July.
• The same meeting also looked at the proposed submission of an application to have The Bell declared an Asset of Community Value. This has the effect of putting a six-month break on any plans which may be proposed for a change of use for a pub to residential use and gives a community group the chance to explore making its own bid. Last year The Bell applied for ‘Partial residential redevelopment by demolition of outbuildings; erection of two-storey rear extension; provision of five flats and a staff flat (one-bedroomed); and renovation of existing public house area’ (application 19/01844/FUL which can be viewed on West Berkshire Council’s website). One of the objections concerned the provision of affordable housing. The decision has been deferred several times, most recently until the end of July 2020.
• The May meeting of Lambourn Parish Council considered a large number of planning applications and also the then-ongoing (though now slightly improved – see below) sewage issues. You can see the minutes here.
• A reminder that Thames Water is keen to receive any information about any area where flooding occurs in Lambourn in order to assist with its attempts to solve the long-running sewage problems in the area which tend to return whenever the groundwater levels are high. Please send your comments to: email@example.com. 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 week’s NWN has, on p24, a report of Lambourn Parish Council’s recent consideration of, and objection to, an application for ‘ten, semi-detached ‘build to rent affordable eco-dwellings, parking, landscaping and associated works’ off Newbury Road. This may be the first time in the history of the British planning process that a private developer has proposed to build houses all of which are both sustainable and affordable; a sorely-needed combination. The matter now passed to West Berkshire Council for its consideration. So far only six objections have been received: unless this reaches 10 it will not be called in but decided by officers. You can see the application by visiting WBC’s planning portal and entering the code 20/00972/FULMAJ.
• As reported in Lambourn.org website last week Lambourn Junction (a voluntary group which set up a formality-free food bank for people in need as a result of the pandemic) has been obliged to vacate its base in the Memorial Hall. It has now moved to the Royal British Legion.
• A reminder that East Garston’s Village Hall Chairman Ed James, who organised the village’s first repair café in early March, is keen to make this a regular quarterly event, re-starting whenever Mr Covid permits. If you would like to offer your services, please contact EdJames@sportingagenda.co.uk.
• The June East Garston News has 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
• Wednesday 24 June saw the second anniversary of the closure of the football ground in Faraday Road and, as I suspected, the Newbury Community Football Group did not allow the event to pass in silence. You can click here to read the birthday statement. The arguments it makes are much the same as it is been making for the last two years, for the reason that the situation – the closure of the ground, no identification of a suitable replacement being found and the complete lack of any development on the site, the commencement of which was the ostensible reason for the closure – has remain more or less unchanged. The only material thing that has changed (and not for the better) is the condition of the ground itself. The stands were sold or gifted (another uncertainty) to Hungerford Town FC; the whole site has become prey to low-level vandalism and arson attacks; while the permitter fence might as well have been sucked out of the ground by a passing spacecraft for all anyone knows about who removed it, and why, and where it is now. The whole London Road Industrial Estate plan, of which the football ground is a part, seems to have become stuck, like Winnie-the-Pooh in Rabbit’s doorway, since about 2003. Fresh consultants have been appointed to draw up a masterplan and look into a future location for the football ground (re-activating the Faraday Road site appears to have been ruled out as an option, despite no planning permission having been submitted for a re-development). West Berkshire’s Scrutiny Commission is also due to report on the events leading up to the legal dispute with the previous developer, which the council eventually lost. More to follow, in other words.
• There’s an odd story on p9 of this week’s NWN about a Wash Common man who has been locked in a decade-long battle with Newbury Town Council over allotment charges. This started with a £20 a year rental increase; progressed through accusations, from the Council, that he was a ‘vexatious complainant’ and, from him, that the Council acting ‘tyrannically, unlawfully and unfairly’; thence to a £10,000 court case; and finally to a lifting or overturning of the ban and his being told that he could take his place on a waiting list which now had about 80 names on it. According to the article, one of the breaches of which he was accused was failing to abide by one of the five conditions of holding an allotment which was ‘to obey everything the Site Steward told him to do.’ What, everything? As he pointed out, ‘he would not dig his potatoes in the nude if the Steward told him too.’ I’m no lawyer but I’d have thought that, if that’s all it says, that clause is legally meaningless. There must have been times when the participants had realised that the dispute was spinning out of control and wondered what could be done to re-set the dial. I wonder if there’s some specialist organisation councils, or individuals. can call and say ‘can you get us out of this mess?’
• This article from Newbury Today has some stats on the footfall in Newbury since restrictions were eased. As you might imagine, they show a bit improvement on the previous week’s but are some way short of the same period in 2019.
• West Berkshire Council has announced that West Berkshire Museum and Shaw House will be reopening to the public in July. ‘Staff have been working hard to make sure that they can offer visitors the same social and cultural experience that they’ve enjoyed in the past, but within a slightly reduced capacity.’ Read more here.
• Another pub which will be re-opening on 4 July is The White Hart in Hamstead Marshall – see here for more information. The owner is still disputing with West Berkshire Council whether she is entitled to a grant during the lockdown, opinions being quite sharply divided on the matter.
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The most recent one, which you can read here, was published earlier this month 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.
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 most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council took place on 1 June and you can read the (draft) minutes here. Matters discussed included three planning applications (one of which was objected to) and confirmation that preliminary work was about to start on the sports pavilion. There was also reference made to a planning decision taken by by West Berkshire to approve an application in the parish. Compton PC’s response was recorded as ‘not consulted’: I though a PC had to be consulted on any application in its parish?
• Lest anyone be in any doubt of the varied tasks that a parish councillor needs to undertake, the minutes of Chaddleworth Parish Council’s most recent meeting on 2 June recorded votes of thanks to Councillors Murphy and McAllister for mowing the grass by the bus shelter and at the footpath referred to as Skittle Alley. Other matters discussed included an agreement to proceed with re-surfacing the Village Hall car park at a cost of about £4,500.
• Hungerford had well-reported problems with pigeons. It seems that East Ilsley’s bêtes noires are rabbits, some of which are, according to the minutes of the most recent meeting of the Parish Council on 6 June, ‘causing issues with the allotment holders.’ Our cats are very effective rabbit hunters: perhaps the Clerk could let us know in WIPC would like to hire them. The main matter discussed at the meeting was the refurbishment of the playground, the latest phase of which has just started at a cost of £2,500.
Thatcham and district
• This week’s NWN reports p12 that opponents of the events licence granted to Pinchington Hall have decided to ‘keep their powder dry’ until the a full planning application is received.
• The same paper, on p25, reports that Thatcham Park School has been selected by the government as one of about 100 schools where tests (which are voluntary) will be conducted to assess the spread of CV-19 in primary schools.
• Thatcham Town Council is shortly to install orcas, black and white rubber blocks used to separate cycle lanes from other road traffic throughout the town. These will initially be on a trial basis (and need to implemented within two months if they’re to qualify for funding from West Berkshire) and if all goes well they’ll be made permanent.
• 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.
• 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 photo of a cat doing what cats do best and a letter of thanks from the Parish Council to the owners of the Post office Stores.
Theale and district
• This week’s NWN has a report on p6 about a pig farm near Yattendon which is being investigated over allegations of animal cruelty.
• The meeting of Theale Parish Council on 8 June considered a number of planning matters and registered objections on four grounds to a proposa l(19/01172/OUTMAJ) for 104 homes on land north of The Green. With an eye to the future, and the return of normality, the Council also accepted a quote for about £4,400 for the hire of the 2020 Christmas lights. You can see the full minutes here.
• Burghfield Parish Council’s June newsletter is now available and can be downloaded here. It includes the assurance that work on the Neighbourhood Development Plan is progressing but more slowly than hoped for for the usual viral reason. Residents are also thanked for their questionnaires which are proving to be ‘invaluable’ sources of information. The Council may be receiving advice from neighbouring Stratfield Mortimer which was the first parish in West Berkshire to successfully complete an NDP.
• 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
• See here for information from Marlborough Town Council about changes to its services as a result of CV-19.
• This article in Marlborough News reports on the schools and Burbage and Great Bedwyn welcoming back their pupils for the summer term.
• The same website covers the story of a Burbage mother and carer Leah Weeks who has launched a project to help those families who have been hit hardest by the current crisis by making up ‘happy bags’ full of craft activities, toys, books and treats for children.
• And, still with MN, a report here on Marlborough’s recent virtual Open Gardens competition.
• It seems that Marlborough’s Post Office will re-open on 29 June.
• The main programme for this year’s LitFest has been cancelled due to CV-19, though it’s hoped a number of community outreach events can take place online.
• 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. On 16 June, The Planning Committee of Marlborough Town Council gave his approval and support to the plans, as Marlborough News reports here.
• If you fancy becoming a parish councillor in Great Bedwyn, there’s a vacancy.
• Click here for a statement from Wiltshire Council about financial grant support for small businesses as a result of Coronavirus.
• 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
• There were reports last week of no water or low pressure in OX11 and 12 on Thursday 18 June. Thames Water has issued a statement which starts with saying that ‘we’re pleased to say that we’re now finalising repairs following a burst pipe.’ it seems that these have been resolved.
• As many residents will now know, the owners of the nightclub and music venue Shush have decided to close. The email statement read as follows: ‘It’s with a very heavy heart that that we have to announce that sadly due to outside pressures we have taken the very difficult decision to close Shush. As a family we would like to thank everyone of our staff, customers and suppliers. We would also like to thank all of the artists who blessed our stage with their talents and have provided so many great nights. We have put an announcement via a video on Facebook which gives more detail so please refer to that. Everyone will be receiving their deposit and ticket money back for events which were scheduled, but this may take a bit of time. We can honestly say that it has been a privilege to have played our own small part in Wantage town and hopefully one day you will refer back to the good old Shush days and remember them fondly as we will.’ Speaking to the Herald, owner Steve Head pointed out that ‘the business is based on socialising, not social-distancing. Every part of what we do raises issues.’ This will be a great loss to the town. Whether there might be a re-think or a way found to defer a final decision until less socially-distanced times return remains to be seen.
• I mentioned last week about the triangle of land in Grove which caused an unexpected burst of record-searching for Grove’s Parish Clerk. This might be seen as a normal, if occasional, activity for a Clerk. Covid-19 has, however, heaped more and more responsibilities onto councils of all kinds (without, so far, any commensurate increase in funding). One responsibility which must have seemed unlikely six months ago was that of deciding whether playgrounds and community buildings could be re-opened and, if so, what precautions, advice and supervision would be needed and what the potential consequences might be if something went wrong. This matter was raised at a Zoom meeting of the Oxford Society of Local Council Clerks on 25 June. Re-opening would seem to require councillors and officers to transform themselves into a combination of public-health experts, safety-consultants and police officers. Whether Grove will re-open its playgrounds and buildings remains to be seen but it’s hard to see how a council of that size can provide the due diligence required. My money would be on their staying shut at least until the end of July.
• A meeting of Grove Parish Council on 23 June considered an application to site some temporary changing facilities at the sports ground on the Wellington Gate development. This might not seem controversial in itself but, given the size of the development, ‘temporary’ here could mean anything up to 10 years. Some concerns about the proposed layout was passed back to the Vale Council.
• The same meeting also announced that Grove Parish Council had a budget about £1,625 for grants in 2020-21. Much of this had been applied for and provisionally allocated but it was decided that a proportion would held back to cover future possible application, perhaps Covid-related.
• Wantage’s MP David Johnston, writing in his regular column in the Herald, has been describing life in the House of Commons getting back to normality, or what passes for it there, and his work on various committees. He also refers to a statement by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury encouraging people to support independent shops. He confessed that he ‘shops at chains as much as the next person.’ This isn’t a massively useful statement until we know who he was standing next to at the time.
• 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.
• Nursery places are available at the St Nicolas Primary School in Challow from September 2020.
• Thousands of residents in southern Oxfordshire have found their recycling bins unemptied each week because they have put the wrong things in them. This article explains about how the local recycling arrangements work.
• 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 looks at some the accounts and financial reports for 2019-20 for Wantage Town and Grove Parish Council which have recently been filed.
• 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.
• Villages in rural parts of Swindon could benefit from new flexible bus services, if Swindon Borough Council is successful with two government funding bids.
• 17-year-old New College student James Keel is the inaugural Young Artist-in-Residence at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.
• Swindon Councillors will decide next week whether to extend a food waste recycling service across the entire borough.
• Work to improve White Hart junction have stepped up a notch as the next stage of work begins.
• 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 same source reports that, as of 25 June, there had been no Covid-related deaths at the Great Western Hospital for the 12th day running.
• People in Swindon are being encouraged to get active, set their own challenges and donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Appeal.
• 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.
• Click here for information from Swindon Council about how Coronavirus is affecting its services.
• 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 we’ll roll out the excellent Tempted by Squeeze: something of a rarity for fans of the Deptford Fabs as being the only one I’m aware of not sung by Mr Tillbrook or Mr Difford.
• A new addition: following the large number of people of clicked on the link for the Fry and Laurie sketch last week I’d like to introduce to you the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Here’s another one from them – My Dear Boy.
• And so move into the final paragraph that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: ‘The same number of people have been the the deepest point in the ocean as have walked on the surface of the moon – how many of each have there been?’ Last week’s question was For how many days was Premier League football suspended in England as a result of Covid-19? The answer is 100 days – far too long…
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