Hungerford Town Council Update June/July 2020

Note: due to Coronavirus, there have been several changes to the way in which Hungerford Town Council’s (HTC’s) business is being conducted. These are variously referred to in the sections below.

These notes incorporate some but not all of the matters discussed at the Full Hungerford Town Council Meeting on 6 July 2020, the agenda for which can be found here. Any references below to ‘the meeting’ refer to this event unless specified otherwise. Any such issues are not necessarily covered here in the order in which they were discussed. The official minutes of the meeting will in due course be found on the HTC site. This report may also include information about HTC’s activities which were not discussed at the meeting. See the foot of this post for more information.

HTC = Hungerford Town Council; WBC = West Berkshire Council; WAPC = WBC’s Western Area Planning Committee.

Full Council Meetings take place generally at 7.00pm on the first working Monday of every month except August (when there is no meeting). The agenda for the next one will be provided in this section of the HTC website in due course. For the foreseeable future, these meetings will be conducted online. Please see the Virtual Council Meetings section below for more on this, including how you can continue to participate in these meetings in other ways.

For HTC updates from previous months, please visit the archives here.

Police report

The following statement was received from the local TVP team, which is summarised below:

As the Covid-19 lockdown continues to ease, it’s likely that there will be an increase in demand for the Police. It doesn’t, however, seem that there have been any regular breaches of social-distancing measures relating to local shops, pubs or restaurants and that the majority of people continue to observe the guidelines and laws.

There was a slight increase in shoplifting reports in Hungerford, with five in June compared to two in May. There were also seven reports of criminal damage offences, one report of a theft of a motor vehicle and one theft from a vehicle.

There has been a recent spike in reports of poaching/theft relating to fish and the local TVP team has asked the local Wildlife Officer and Rural Crime Officer to help in investigating these offences. The team is also in the process of arranging a meeting (virtual or otherwise, as regulations permit) regarding this with local estate owners, river keepers and will extend an invitation to the Environmental Health Water Bailiffs with the aim of reducing these type of offences.

General information

You can report online at https://www.thamesvalley.police.uk, but if it is urgent please continue to call on 101 (non-emergency) and 999 in an emergency.

• People are encouraged to sign up for Thames Valley Alerts. As well as local crime information, you can receive details of the latest scams.
• The local policing team also wants to draw attention to the ‘what 3 words’ app which is used to help with the prevention of rural crime by locating people. The app provides a three-word code for each grid which is mapped over the world. By ringing 999 and quoting it the police can locate you.
• You can report incidents online but if it is urgent please continue to call on 101 (non-emergency) and 999 in an emergency.
• The team’s email address is hungerfordanddownlandsnhpt@thamesvalley.pnn.police.uk. This is not monitored 24/7 and should not be used to report a crime.
• The Herbert Protocol. The local police team is keen to promote the Herbert Protocol initiative which helps us all to try to keep vulnerable members of our community safe.
• Please report incidents via 101 or 999. “We sometimes find that news travels fast round a community,” a TVP representative said at a recent meeting,  “but if no one tells us, we don’t know about it.”

Temporary suspension of parking bays in the High Street

At the meeting, there was some discussion about item (c) at the Extraordinary HTC meeting of 9 June, the draft minutes of which can be seen here. This was in response to the agenda item to consider any other requests received from businesses to help them to trade whilst restrictions remain in place. The 9 June meeting discussed a request for six parking spaces in the High Street to be suspended to facilitate the provision of outside seating. After some discussion, it was proposed and agreed that ‘the use of two parking bays, or the turning head near to the establishment, by the applicant for placing tables and chairs on for customers, providing health and safety conditions are met, subject to West Berks Council (WBC) approval, to the end of August 2020, and to encourage WBC to cover any signage that would be counterproductive.’

This item was discussed at the 6 July HTC meeting and two local business owners were given the opportunity to argue that the removal of any parking spaces at this time would be detrimental to the High Street as a whole. It was suggested that HTC had not sought the views of other retailers on the proposal but HTC explained it had only had the time to consider this (temporary) application and not to conduct a full consultation. (WBC had not suggested was necessary, merely that HTC should notify others in the hospitality sector to see if there were further requests for support; which it did). It was also stressed at the meeting that the final decision would rest with WBC and that HTC had forwarded to WBC the nine letters of complaint it had received. District Councillor James Cole said that he felt WBC’s officers were unlikely to go against HTC’s proposal and that he did not feel he should be doing so either, as WBC’s approach has been one of support to Town Councils in their efforts to get their towns back to life.

On 23 June, WBC announced plans for streamlined procedures to assist hospitality businesses following their re-opening, which operate under government advice issued on 25 June. Both of these were announced after HTC needed to consider the matter. HTC pointed out that the decision was taken after ‘very careful consideration’.

Mayor’s report

The Mayor’s report is usually a list of meetings and events she attended: for obvious reasons, there were none of these in June (aside from virtual ones). Instead, the Mayor provided a report covering various matters which are summarised below (pale blue headings).

Members’ bids

The Mayor had suggested the opportunity of a members bid (grants of up to £5,000 made by each ward member for local projects which must be match funded) to refresh the War Memorial gardens in Bridge Street. HTC’s Town Clerk worked fast to draw up a specification (from Councillor Sally Hawkins’ plans and following discussions from a recent working party meeting.) The deadline for the bid was 3 July. HTC managed to achieve this (just) and the bid has been submitted by District Councillor James Cole. The meeting agreed the allocation of £2,240 (to match-fund any successful members’ bid) to allow refurbishment of this much-loved community asset in such an important military anniversary year.

In addition, District Councillor Dennis Benneyworth applied for funding for a replacement piece of apparatus in the playground at Hungerford Nursery which ROSPA had identified as being close to the end of its useful life. The nursery would replace it with a balance bridge which would be match-funded by SHOAL (the parents’ and staff association).

Re-opening of shops & businesses

Nick Lumley, David Small, Julian Tubb and I met up to welcome the reopening of the town’s shops and businesses. We were able to talk to the retailers and learn what measures they had adopted to encourage and reassure their customers venturing out following lockdown. We were extremely impressed with the response to new guidelines and offered an opportunity to address any concerns with the new safety measures placed throughout the town. The retailers were very happy to be back and thanked us for the warm welcome. I would like to wish them all every success over the coming months and urge the community to shop local and support the businesses wherever possible.

Penny Post kindly spent the afternoon following us around, videoing and interviewing as we went: thank you for your commitment and time, Penny. You can see the video here. I know the businesses were grateful for the publicity. Pubs and restaurants have since re-opened – my son turned 18 last month so he has obviously been looking forward to this development – and I fully intend to support these at the end of my shielding period.

Grants 

The Deputy Town Clerk has been busy collating all the pictures we requested from groups and charities who were supported with a grant from HTC. We normally hold a presentation but sadly we were unable to do so this year. More information can be found here, and in centre-spread of this week’s Hungerford Adviser.

Hungerford In Bloom

Councillors are now looking forward to judging the Hungerford in Bloom virtual competition which closed on Sunday. I have a feeling they will be pretty spectacular as we’ve all enjoyed the extra time at home, my own garden is looking nicer than usual with some extra TLC.

Letter of condolence

I wrote to the Mayor of Reading offering the Town’s condolences following the terrorist attack in Reading. Hungerford’s tribute will be included in the book of condolence opened in Reading.

Laptops for Hungerford Primary School

Following a request from the Self-Isolation group, championed by me and ward members, we were delighted to see the request to WBC for additional funding to purchase extra laptops realised. The new laptops will support the learning of Hungerford pupils, leaving no child left disadvantaged. Great result!

Preparations for possible local outbreak of Covid-19

A letter was sent to WBC requesting information and details should West Berkshire have a local outbreak of Covid-19. HTC wanted to be confident we had the information and knowledge to assist the community and also understand the expectation of the council’s involvement. WBC has now published a Local Outbreak Control Plan.

Camburn Education Foundation

Councillor Knight, District Councillor Rowles and I served as trustees for the annual education awards. This year’s candidates attended interviews using Zoom and Facetime. We are very lucky to have this trust fund, it really helps Hungerford children with costs associated with higher education through apprenticeships and university.

Crime prevention

I have requested a meeting with police to discuss extra resources in Hungerford over the summer holidays. This meeting has been requested following rising incidents of criminal damage and littering. HTC will also discuss further CCTV cameras at key HTC-owned assets.

District Councillors’ report

All three District Councillors were present for the first part of the meeting and, aside from contributions mentioned elsewhere, made the following points.

  • Some WBC meetings have been cancelled recently but work continues on many of fronts, the main aim being to get life back to normal.
  • WBC’s finances are in good shape, considering Covid-19 (such as the decimation of revenues from parking charges). See this statement from WBC here.
  • Official figures say that fly-tipping has not increased though some anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise.
  • All three District Councillors have put in members’ bids for local funding projects. See above under the Mayor’s Report for the two concerning Hungerford (District Councillor Claire Rowles’ bid was for Boxford Parish Council).
  • The call-in for the latest revision to the plan for Salisbury Road has been made but it’s not currently known when this will come before WAPC.
  • The call-in for the Riverbend application will be heard by WAPC on Wednesday 22 July.
  • The Hungerford Allotment Holders’ Association (HAHA) has applied for the Marsh Road allotments do be declared as Asset of Community Value. This has been approved by WBC, pending any appeal by the landowner.
  • The long-standing problem of localised flooding on the A4 near the Co-op garage roundabout appears to have been resolved, for now at least.
  • The possibility of installing on-street recycling bins in Hungerford (which was trialed in Newbury earlier this year) will be on the agenda at the next WBC Environmental Advisory Group meeting.

WBC’s Environment Strategy

Councillor John Downe asked at the meeting what progress had been made with this, the consultation period having ended some time ago. The District Councillors assured him that the matter was progressing through WBC’s processes and that an announcement should be made before too long.

Data about local Covid-19 infection rates

Councillor John Downe asked at the meeting whether WBC’s figures on this could be made more specific in order for better information about the risk could be more widely available. The District Councillors agreed to ensure that this was made clear.

Hungerford 2036 (neighbourhood development plan)

On 18 June 2020, HTC’s external planning consultant visited Hungerford with H2036’s Joint Chair to visit and familiarise himself with the sites put forward through the HELAA process plus the additional sites that have been promoted subsequently. The project team has received his commentary on the exercise. For the H2036 team, the next task will be to agree the further data collection needed as a result.

A surprising piece of news received on 3 July was that the HELAA-type assessments of the additional sites submitted after the HELAA publication (known as HUNNDP_ A/B/C) would not now take place, ‘due to human- and financial-resource constraints’ until  after the new Local Plan has been issued for consultation at the end of 2020. This is despite assurances from WBC, including from the WBC portfolio holder and Head of Planning, between February and May 2020 that it was a good idea for the exercise to be done and it was merely details and cost that needed to be confirmed.

The H2036 Joint Chair, Councillor John Downe, said at the meeting that the lack of such as an assessment would ‘prevent there being a level playing field’ in comparing the various sites and ‘would compromise the integrity of the H2036 process.’ He called on the ward councillors urgently to seek an acceptable resolution. All agreed to do so.

For more information, see the Hungerford 2036 post here.

HTC’s committees

Environment and Planning. As a result of Covid-19, WBC has introduced new procedures for the conduct of its planning committees (which consider any matters which have received more than 10 objections or have been called in my a ward member or an officer). The principal and most controversial of these gives opponents, supporters and applicants the opportunity only to make 500-word statements which are read out by the Clerk rather than, as previously, five-minute presentations which could then be questioned. This change also led to some uncertainty at the meeting as to how long before the relevant WAPC meeting any such 500-word submissions needed to me made. Concern was also expressed that HTC was immediately informed whenever a local matter had been put on the WAPC agenda. The District Councillors agreed to look into these matters.

Recreation and amenities. The main work in the last month had concerned the ongoing discussions with Hungerford Rugby Club about the new lease for the Triangle Field.

Highways and Transport. No meeting took place in June but most of the work had been regarding the new Covid-related arrangements arising following the re-opening of the shops in June and the hospitality outlets in July. Councillors Fyfe and Downe also reported that they’d been involved in testing new SIDs (speed indication devices).

Finance: see following section.

For further details on HTC’s committees, including membership, agendas and minutes, please click here (and go to the ‘Town Council’ tab).

Finance

The meeting was told that that the year-to-date expenditure was about £2,000 higher than budget but that this was a phasing issue, mainly due to the timing of the grants payments.

HTC’s Financial officer Jeff Ford explained that a small but irksome item referred to as ‘special expenses’ appeared each year not only on Council Tax bills but also in HTC and WBC’s accounts. This related to certain charges arising from the fact that some streetlights in the town were owned by HTC and some by WBC. It was agreed in principle that HTC would request that WBC in future compounded this anomaly  into HTC’s precept: there would be no increase in the total sum owed by residents but the result would be a simpler bill and the removal of an irritating issue with the auditors resulting from HTC’s and WBC’s figures for this charge being different.

Jeff Ford also suggested that HTC’s earmarked reserves of about £23,500 could benefit from being re-defined to ensure that it was clear what each has been provided against. it was agreed at the meeting that (a) £180 be allocated to H2036; (b) that £2,000 be allocated to the provision of additional CCTV cameras; and that the balance of £21,370 be allocated to the upgrading of the streetlights in the town owned by HTC. (The issue here is that HTC’s policy is to hand over all the streetlights in the town to WBC. However, before WBC will accept them, these need to be upgraded and have LED lights installed. Until then, any electricity bills, failures or repairs of its lights fall to HTC. The act of shedding this responsibility as quickly as possible was accepted on the principle of ‘spend to save’.)

Hungerford’s pigeons

On 6 July, members of HTC’s working group on this avian matter did an audit of the precautions taken at various locations to combat this very difficult problem. The conclusions were that gel (even applied a year or so ago) and netting both seemed to have produced significant reductions in roosting. The general feeling in the High Street was that the problem had dimished recently and it was suggested at the meeting that this may well have been due to Covid-19, the lower footfall and the much lower incidence of discarded food making the High Street a less attractive location for these pests.

Hungerford’s playgrounds

These have now re-opened, in line with government guidelines, and seem to be being well used. HTC paid a particular tribute to Roger Ballard (one of the recipients of the 2020 Freedom of the Town awards) who had worked so hard during lockdown in maintaining, cleaning and in places re-painting the equipment.

Virtual council meetings

HTC has been as active as possible in supporting the community through these challenging times. Many tasks and activities cannot currently take place but HTC’s councillors and officers are still active online. The most important recent development has been the resumption of HTC’s full council and committee meetings.

Between late March and early April, the combination of social-distancing rules and the fact that voting could not take place save in person meant that all council meetings were suspended. However, following government legislation and guidance from professional bodies, these have now resumed virtually. The link for each meeting is on the agenda which is published on the HTC website a few days before each meeting. For anyone unable or unwilling to attend meetings in this way, questions can be sent by email to townclerk@hungerford-tc.gov.uk or by post to The Town Clerk, Hungerford Town Council, The Library, Church Street, Hungerford RG17 0JG. These need to arrive by 2pm on the day of the meeting. You can also phone 01488 686 195 and leave your question on HTC’s answerphone (this is not always checked every day so please leave your message three days before the meeting).

HTC’s register of volunteers

Hungerford Town Council is gathering a list of people who would be willing to offer their services in any future emergency, whatever form it might take  If you live in or near the town and would like to put yourself forward as a volunteer in such a situation, please email please email townclerk@hungerford-tc.gov.uk with your contact details and any information about any special skills, experience or equipment you have and any restrictions, such as circumstance in which you would not be willing to help. Your details will, with all due security, be kept on file and you’ll be contacted as necessary. Hopefully your services will not be called upon but, if they are needed, CV-19 has proved that a well co-ordinated local response is vital. The better prepared a community its, the faster this can happen.

Hungerford Town Council office

The HTC office at The Hub is currently closed but emails and phone messages are being monitored.  Call 01488 686 195 to leave a message or (preferably) email admin@hungerford-tc.gov.uk.

Contacting WBC in an emergency

You can also contact West Berkshire Council out of office hours for emergencies. These are considered to include:

  • Major incidents such as major accidents or significant flooding.
  • Fallen trees and other debris blocking or restricting roads or causing potential danger to road users.
  • Traffic lights not working (West Berkshire Council only manages fixed traffic lights, not temporary ones).
  • Emergency repairs to council-owned temporary accommodation (tenants of properties should contact their housing association, landlord or agent).

 

The sections above cover the main issues with which HTC has recently been involved or concerned: it by no means describes all of HTC’s activities. Nor is this an official record of any meeting nor of any other aspect of HTC’s activities. Links to the official minutes of this and other meetings are provided in this post. For more information on HTC, please click here.

If there’s anything that you’d like to see addressed by HTC, and perhaps also covered in this way in future editions of Penny Post Hungerford, please email claire.barnes@hungerford-tc.gov.uk. Any such suggestions should be received at least four working days before the end of the month (and preferably sooner) if they are to be included in the corresponding post for the following month. That is not, of course, to say that HTC will not in any case give the matter its attention and respond personally if appropriate.

This information has been compiled by Penny Post from information supplied by HTC and others. Every reasonable effort has been made to provide a clear and dispassionate summary of the points covered but these may contain expressions of opinion which may not accord with HTC’s official view on the matter. Links have been provided to other posts, on the Penny Post site or elsewhere, to give additional information where this has been judged useful or necessary. The presence of such a link should not be taken to imply that HTC necessarily agrees with, endorses or supports any of the material contained therein.

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One Response

  1. RE: Temporary Suspension of Parking Bays in the High Street.

    In an ideal world, if more decent, regular and reliable bus services were run, and more proper cycle lanes were provided, and footpaths far better maintained, there might be less need for parking spaces and cars….
    High Streets and other public places could then be made far more outside-seating- and pedestrian-friendly – and nicer to shop in too!

    Sadly though, we live in an irrational greedy sod-you world, which had, long ago, made the choice to be more car-oriented – to the detriment of less polluting forms of transport, and to the despoiling of public places.

    I fear, once this lockdown lifts even more, people will simply go back to the ‘old normal’: those who can, jumping into their cars and onto aeroplanes, thereby perpetuating the same old destructive normal.

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