Local News 2-9 July 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s response, Newbury’s centre, Kintbury’s flowers, East Garston’s refurbishment, Lambourn’s pipes, Speen’s angle, Thatcham’s umbrella, Marlborough’s parking, Burbage’s school, Wooton Basset’s supermarket, Wantage’s square, Letcombe Regis’ questions, Shalbourne’s speeding, Swindon’s lights, Cold Ash’s playground, Yattendon’s pigs, Padworth’s rats, life in Florida, old and new policies, Leicester’s profile, re-opening videos, pillar 2, planning disrepute, an arboreal councillor, litterbugs, catapults, more than one crocodile, rescuing a bear, section 114, $12tn, £100m, four million downloads, sticko and Blur’s low.

Click on any highlighted and underlined text for more information on the subject. Some will link to other pages on this site, others to pages elsewhere.

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Across the area (and further afield)

• It’s been widely reported that in the USA, particularly the southern and western states, cases of Covid-19 have been rising. Texas, for instance, has seen an increase of nearly 300% in the last month which – even allowing for a higher level of testing or a changing methods of reporting – looks alarmingly like an exponential growth when plotted on a graph. Florida has also been badly hit: and it was in this state that, on 23 June, the Palm Beach County Commissioners held a public meeting at which residents, selected by goodness knows what criteria, were invited to have their say on the proposal to make the wearing of face masks mandatory in public places. You can see a video of some of the submissions here. Most of it makes pretty alarming viewing.

If you didn’t know what was being discussed you could be forgiven for thinking that the point at issue was compulsory weekly participation in a satanic flag-burning ceremony. Assuming that the BBC’s highlights were representative, there were two main strands to the objections: that it was contrary to God’s law and that it was an infringement of civil liberties and so unconstitutional. (Sometimes these got conflated in a way that did no service to either point of view.) To take the first point, the Bible is, so far as I know, silent on the subject of the wearing of face masks, just as it is on drink-driving, tax codes and advice about worming cats. This, surely, doesn’t make any human intervention in these matters against God’s law or will. Apparently, it does, as one objector claimed that the law ‘would throw out God’s wonderful breathing apparatus.’ Another said that the legislators were following ‘the devil’s laws.’ The only conclusion I can draw is that, to an even greater extent than I’d previously suspected, religion can be a blanket justification for acting or refraining from acting in any way that the Bible can justify: and, as this book is contradictory on several points and silent on many more, gives a carte blanche to libertarians.

That’s really what all this about: the spurious belief that any restriction on human activity is a repugnant infringement of personal liberty. I appreciate that the US holds this as an axiom of faith; but we live in societies. For most of the time, certainly in most of Europe and in the USA, our freedom of action is only moderately constrained and that in ways which are at best mildly inconvenient and which we recognise are in the interests of society as a whole. It’s also true that this balance gets disturbed in times of war – which is as good a way of describing CV-19 as any – when power tends to concentrate in the centre. The balance needs to be struck and may not be got right: but at least the US has a powerful constitution which will prevent any temporary measures becoming permanent. Covid-19 is neither a religious nor a civil-liberty issue, nor a time bomb in the US constitution, but an existential threat to both public health and, if the country is not very careful, its pre-eminent economic position.

Of course, perhaps these opponents might have been less strident were the US’s response to the pandemic been more effective. I appreciate that our government is in the relegation zone on this one but Washington’s handling seems to have been amongst the worst of the countries that actually admitted the existence of Covid-19 at all. The tension between the powers of the states and that of the federal government has served the US well in many ways – the country has been the world’s largest economy since 1871, nearly 150 years – but it works less smoothly when there is an external threat. Perhaps if the USA had experienced the reality or the possibility of invasion in recent times as many countries have (some at the hands of the USA) this might be better understood. As it is, the US seems to have become effectively ungovernable. When combatting a global pandemic, it’s hard to think of a less useful combination than religious rigidity, personal or state-based libertarianism and economic arrogance. As for the country’s leader, he seems increasingly either to be mentally ill or in thrall to the other three factors (which, in the present circumstances, comes to much the same thing). He’ll probably get re-elected by a landslide in November.

• Back in Blighty, the main talking point this week has been the lockdown in Leicester, a city which was, until a few days ago, probably mainly famous for its football club’s remarkable triumph in 2015-16. Perhaps predictably, given that nothing like this has happened before, the regulations have been criticised for having seemingly arbitrary borders and confusing official guidance. A backdrop to this is the fact that the city is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse in the country, with only 45% of the population identifying themselves as ‘White British’ in 2011 (the date of the last census), a statistic matched among comparable settlements only by Hounslow and Slough. It’s regularly been reported that BAME people seem to have been disproportionately badly affected by CV-19. Whether this is because such groups have less access to healthcare, are more likely to work in front-line jobs or have some cultural or genetic pre-disposition isn’t clear and won’t be until more research has been done. Leicester is the first city to be faced with such measures. It probably won’t be the last: The Guardian reports that there’s a similarly worrying rise in cases in Bradford, as it happens, another very diverse city.

I can also tell you some more things about Leicester that you might not know, all courtesy of the Population UK website. It has the largest outdoor market in Europe, the continent’s largest Tesco and was the location of the sale of the first package holiday, in 1841. Given that large gatherings and foreign travel seem to be two of the main reasons why Covid-19 spreads so fast, perhaps Leicester’s lockdown was preordained. 

• The question has been asked whether the government’s way of releasing data has, as the Financial Times suggests, ‘hampered the ability of local leaders [including perhaps in Leicester] to manage new Coronavirus outbreaks.’  Pillar 1 data derives from hospital tests and Pillar 2 from other methods such as drive-through centres and home tests. However, the regional figures only tend to use the former, even though the latter are now more common. The graphs in the FT article clearly show that the addition of Pillar 2 data makes a fairly startling difference to the results. The article goes on to quote a un-named Public Health England official and a senior health administrator in Manchester, both of whom are critical of the delay and the quality of the data. It all seems a bit bemusing to me, rather as if a shop accounted for its cash transactions on the day they happened but didn’t report the card receipts until two weeks later. It’s impossible to see why doing this this way would be a good idea so it can only be that there is some huge, systemic flaw in the whole process which has only recently been exposed. 

• Contact-tracing – another key part of the government’s response – is in similar disarray, with the much-vaunted NHS app having been ditched last month. Meanwhile, it appears that this app, a joint project involving ZOE, the Scottish and Welsh governments and NHS services and King’s College London, is working well: according to the website it’s been downloaded nearly four million times and is ‘the largest public science project of its kind anywhere in the world.’ Rather than make grandiose and over-hyped predictions, these people just go on with it.

• An app is only part of the contact-tracing process. For years this has been done manually by locally-based teams which (in my personal experience) are very effective at dealing with cases of notifiable diseases such as Campylobacter and Hepatitis A. By any rational thought process, the response would have been based on these experienced, though under-funded, networks. This has finally happened, but not before the government toyed with the idea of setting up a centralised network from scratch with staff recruited by Serco, an organisation with an appalling track record. The local councils appear to have been far more effective. West Berkshire, for instance, published its Local Outbreak Control Plan (LOCP) on 30 June, having been asked to do so only three weeks earlier. Swindon produced its on the same day. They, and all the other councils, should have been changed with this task in February or March; or, better still, after the Cygnus exercise in 2016 (which war-gamed a pandemic response), the results of which were according to an un-named insider deemed ‘too terrifying’ to be released to the public, even with an X certificate.

This recently-announced initiative involves measuring Coronavirus in untreated sewage which could enable local outbreaks to be pinpointed about 10 days more quickly than currently. 

This article by the Director of the Wellcome Trust will make sober reading for anyone who nurtures the hope that the easing of lockdown restrictions in the UK means that the worst of the Covid threat is behind us. ‘The virus hasn’t gone away,’ he reminds us. ‘The road to eliminating Covid-19 still contains many unknowns. We don’t yet know how the virus will evolve, how immunity is generated or how long it lasts. We don’t have a vaccine to stop people getting sick, or a range of different treatments to help them avoid the need for hospitalisation, or to prevent their symptoms from worsening if they’re already hospitalised.’ He also points out that the pandemic could cost the global economy $12tn, about 15% of its annual GDP. (Quite how important this is, given that money at this kind of scale ceases to have much meaning, is another matter. As suggested before, might there be better ways to measure   ourselves than GDP, which is essentially a measure of consumption?)

• The best part of the government’s response appears to be its financial measures which, though not without some teething troubles and holes in the net, were swift, generous and effective. The technical and political reaction has been far less good. Thank goodness this country has a functioning health service, some of the world’s finest universities, IT companies and medical research teams and a network of dedicated district and parish councils which have, certainly in this part of the country, worked well with each other and the amazing army of local volunteer groups which sprung up almost overnight in early April. It is these organisations, and not the central government, that we should be thanking. The government could recognise this not by offering empty tributes but by ensuring that all of them are properly funded in the future. We are the sixth richest country in the world so, providing we can shake off the allure of absurd vanity projects like HS2, we can afford to do this. Indeed, as the last few months have shown, we cannot afford not to.

• And speaking of HS2, as I do from time to time, the Green Party’s West Berkshire and Newbury Town Councillor Steve Masters is for the time being officially arboreal and now conducting his municipal business via Zoom and Skype from half way up a beech tree in a wood near Great Missenden. This is one of the many bits of the landscape that will need to be razed to the ground to enable people to travel from London to Birmingham 19 minutes faster than at present and Steve and several others are protesting. This particular wood is the one that inspired Roald Dahl to write Fantastic Mr Fox. Other similar woods exist (or do at the moment).

• It’s depressing that, even when the times seem to permit or encourage a sea-change in the way politicians present issues, that old measures should still be dressed up as new ones. The PM’s recent ‘Build, Build, Build’ announcement contains little that’s new and fails to address a planning system which is unable to bridge the gap between the three demands of (1) more social or ‘affordable’ (defined as being rented at no more than 80% of the market rate) housing; (2) the reliance on the private sector, which understandably has no desire to build homes which are not profitable; and (c) the needs of the climate emergency, to which most councils have signed up, which requires higher standards, and thus higher costs: or which will do when the Future Homes Standards regulations are imposed, which might not be for another five years. The issue of planning is emotive, technical and complicated and I don’t pretend to be an expert. However, two thing seem clear to me.

The first is that if the government wishes to have more social or ‘affordable’ homes built, the private sector is not able to provide these, and nor should it be expected to: the government, or local councils, need to build these themselves and in the latter case should be given every reasonable encouragement to do so. The second is the insidious practice of Permitted Development Rights which, crucially ‘derive from a general planning permission granted by Parliament, rather than from permission granted by the local planning authority.’ This in essence enables owners of certain types of commercial property to change its use to residential without the inconvenience of having the proposal submitted to the scrutiny of the local planning system. Arguments could be made that by-passing red tape – a recurring argument – is a good thing. This is to ignore the fact that many of the resulting properties might be too small, too unsafe, irrelevant to the needs the planning authority has decided and in the wrong place, with little or non access of suitable transport or amenities. The current governmental proposal is to extend these rights.

If we have planning authorities which make local plans – which we do – then we have to accept that they need to have some control over what is built in their area. PDRs provide an alternative, fast-track (which is often seen as ‘good’ but which can be anything but) system which can be used to create the illusion that housing numbers are being hit whereas in fact these might be little more than the creation of opportunistic dwellings which form no part of a council’s aspirations for the areas. Although councils are not infallible in their ambitions their planning officers tend to know what they are doing and are professionals with years or decades of experience at navigating the competing demands of local plans, local needs, developer interests and national legislation. If we’re going to avoid a completely centralised system (or no system at all) then PDRs need to be abolished and all planning decisions made by a proper process. (It would also be useful if discussions at committees could be conducted according to the previous inclusive method of Q&As for all interested parties rather than them more restrictive approach that West Berkshire – though not some other councils – have taken.) The planning process is irrelevant and abstract until something is proposed which might affect you, at which point it becomes exactly the opposite.

• Of course, the whole planning process has been brought into disrepute by the actions of Robert Jenrick with regard to the Westferry development in London.The Housing Communities and Local Government Select Committee has written to Mr Jenrick, calling for him to answer 26 unanswered questions relating to the issue. It’s worth reminding ourselves that, had he not been forced to declare his own decision to approve the development unlawful, the timing of the deal would have cost Tower Hamlets council at least £30m in CIL payments. £30m – wow, that’s enough to pay for about 100 metres of HS2… 

• West Berkshire’s Leader Lynne Doherty has said the Council is not anticipating needing to send the government a Section 114 notice (essentially a request for a bail out) as it has adequate funds to maintain its activities. The statement notes that West Berkshire has received £29m from the government for business support and £7.6m in non-ring-fenced funding.

• West Berkshire Council has introduced a new temporary additional outdoor seating licence for hospitality businesses and ‘simplified the application process.’

• There will a phased re-opening of the libraries in West Berkshire from 13 July.

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 HubClick here to visit the website. or call 01635 503 579 to speak to the the Building Communities Together team. 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 botmore information here

• If you don’t like the colour red then p21 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News is not one you want to visit and the paper’s photographer has been out and about photographing the region’s poppy fields.

• Friday 24 July is double-bubble, bonus-ball, BOGOF day at Greenham Trust – though ‘Double Matched Day’ is the phrase they’ve gone for – with £100,000 in double matched funding for 10 charitable projects on The Good Exchange to help local charitable organisations boost their fundraising during the Covid-19 pandemic. If you would like to apply to have your cause included in this, click here for more information. You will need to have applied, and have an active appeal on The Good Exchange, by 13 July.

• The animal of the week is this bear. Imagine the situation: despite having neither opposable thumbs nor access to instructional videos on YouTube, you manage to build a face mask. You’re out testing it in the lake – and then this happens

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those referred to elsewhere, two criticisms of the shrill and disjointed letter on the subject of BLM in the previous week’s paper; thanks paid to Kennet Radio’s volunteers; thanks paid to a volunteer helper in Lambourn; a question for the PCC candidate; and criticism of MP Laura Farris’ stance on weekly tests for NHS workers (On this point, I read somewhere today – but now can’t find the reference – that the opposition to the Labour amendment was due to what seemed to be loose drafting. The Conservatives claim that NHS staff are already tested once a week ‘where necessary’ but that the amendment contained a blanket provision for weekly testing which would not be required for all staff. I think that’s it but am prepared to be corrected…)

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including Brain Tumour Research (thanks to Ava Oakes); Thames Valley Air Ambulance (thanks to Selina Sadler and Esme Stannard); Macmillan Cancer Support (thanks to Pam Hicks); Swindon and Devizes Foodbank (thanks to Wichelstowe, Tadpole Garden Village, Barratt and David Wilson Homes).

Hungerford & district

• Latest news from Hungerford Town Council, Kintbury Parish Council, Shalbourne Parish Council and Inkpen Parish Council

Penny Post caught up (virtually, of course) with Hungerford’s mayor Helen Simpson to ask her about the town and the Town Council’s response to Covid-19. This is what she had to say.

• The meeting of Kintbury Parish Council on 4 June considered the proposed initiative whereby some areas of the district would be re-wilded or sown with wild flowers, the KPC asking whether the District Council could provide advice on this point regarding the Lawrence Field. 

• 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 gloriakeene@hotmail.com.

• As mentioned last week, 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.

• A new bus service, the 3c, operates between Thatcham Broadway and Hungerford (including Charnham Park) with one westbound service in the morning (departs Thatcham at 7.05am) and one return eastbound service in the evening (departs Church Street at 4.20pm). For more information on these and other services, click here

• I don’t know what’s gone wrong with us but, since lockdown was eased, there have been numerous cases of littering and vandalism in public spaces. This seems a poor way to give thanks for once again being able to enjoy the simple pleasures of going for a walk with friends or having a picnic. The problem has been particularly acute on Hungerford Common, with the Town and Manor (which owns and manages it) reporting that in just two days this week five full bags of rubbish were collected which included single-use plastic, the remains of two campfires and numerous broken bottles. Aside from anything else, this risks injuring the cows (indeed has injured two of them). 

• 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.

• The next full meeting of Hungerford Town Council will take place on Zoom at 7pm on Monday 6 July. The agenda is here, which includes the link for the meeting. A summary of this and other municipal matters will as ever be provided in the July Penny Post Hungerford which will be published the following day.

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. I promised last week to have a separate post explaining the issues but I haven’t been able to gather all the information: watch this space. 

• 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.

• The Town and Manor’s Wednesday market continue but, for now, the marshalling arrangements and one-way system have ended cease so matters have reverted to how they were pre-lockdown. The Town and Manor will be monitoring the situation and will review arrangements in the light of experience and changing government advice. I was glad to see Rebecca from Carpucino was there, undeterred by the recent unjustified harangue she received (see last week’s column).

• There are currently three vacancies on Hungerford Town Councilsee here for the official notice. However, these will not be filled until it’s possible to hold public meetings again.

• At the most recent meeting of Shalbourne Parish Council on 4 June 2020, it was noted that the Council had previously agreed in principle to contribute towards the funding of a speed limit study covering Oxenwood to Fosbury.

GWR has announced some timetable changes from 6 July for services on the main line running through Newbury.

Lambourn Valley

Latest news from Lambourn Parish CouncilEast Garston Parish CouncilWelford Parish Council and Great Shefford Parish Council.

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.

East Garston PC’s most recent meeting was on 1 July and the items discussed included the issues surrounding the possible re-opening of the Jubilee Meadow, speeding and the forthcoming review of the Parish Plan. You can read a summary here.

• During the pandemic, 4LEGS Radio has been working hard to raise much needed funds for three local causes: Racing Welfare, Lambourn Riding for the Disabled and NAWT at Trindledown. The first event was an on-line quiz hosted by a Sky Sports presenter and the second was six virtual Eastbury Duck Races Races on the River Lambourn fronted by a number of well known racing celebrities, jockeys and trainers from the sport. You can see a video of the event here.

• As soon as the relevant Covid-19 risk assessment has been completed and appropriate signage installed, it’s hoped that Lambourn Parish Council’s playgrounds at Mill Lane, the skatepark at The Old Cricket Ground and  at Eastbury will be able to re-open. The Parish Council will be following guidance from the government and West Berkshire Council.

• Contrary to some rumours that have been circulating, the Queens Arms in East Garston is not up for sale. It will also not be re-opening on 4 July as some renovation works have started which should enable the first post-lockdown pint to be pulled in early to mid-August. The pizza service and the grocery sales will also be paused from this weekend, hopefully to resume on re-opening. Read more here.

• 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.

• 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 lambournpc@btconnect.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.

• The July East Garson News has been published and you can read it here if you didn’t receive it by email.

• 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

Latest news from Newbury Town Council, Chieveley Parish Council and Hamstead Marshall Parish Council.

• As mentioned last week, 24 June saw the second anniversary of the closure of the football ground in Faraday Road and the Newbury Community Football Group did not allow the event to pass in silence. You can click here to read the statement. The matter has not gone away since and gets another airing in the NWN this week in the form of a letter for a Newbury Town Councillor. 

• Also in the troubled London Road site is to be found another structure that’s empty (though not yet sunk into the derelict condition of the football ground), the former NWN’s HQ at Newspaper House. Planning permission for conversion to dwellings was refused at a rather unusual Western Area Planning Committee meeting on 5 February this year but for some reason a . This normally happens within a few days. This can’t be because it’s slipped someone’s mind as several Councillors have raised the matter (and one is about to raise a formal complaint). A possible reason is that the officers are uneasy about the decision: understandable enough given the missing documents and absent experts at the WAPC meeting. The applicant, Newspaper House Holdings, has decided that enough is enough and, on 2 July, filed an appeal to the Secretary of State on the grounds of non-determination. Both parties have five weeks to submit their representations. 

• On p2 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News there’s an interview with Mark Williams, a spokesman for the new owner of the Kennet Centre, which has suffered badly in recent years from competition from Parkway and, of course, from Covid. Footfall, occupancy and the general condition of the units were declining even before the pandemic but this didn’t prevent Lochailort from paying £10m for it in January. It now seems that a change of use from retail to assembly and leisure has been put in for the old Debenhams units. Mr Williams was deliberately coy about what this would be used for, beyond saying that it wouldn’t be a cinema or a bowling alley. He was also candid about the issues facing the centre, which ‘had seen better days’. I wish him and his colleagues well. The place certainly needs a bit of cheering up. The opportunity exists to try some new things there such as repair cafés, community ventures and short-lease premises for start-up retailers: the West Berkshire HELAA even identified it as a suitable site for housing. These may not seem attractive options to owners who need to recoup their investment in the form of long leases, something which many retailers will currently not find appealing.

• Meanwhile it’s been announced that the John Lewis in Parkway may be among several stores that the retail giant is set to close in the wake of the pandemic. ‘It is disappointing to see the Newbury John Lewis being mentioned for closure,’ the West Berkshire Lib Dem Leader Lee Dillon commented. ‘Major brands and independent stores are both needed to maintain a healthy high street. If the store doesn’t reopen then we need to ensure that the Partners are supported with finding new roles and we need to work with the landlord to make the best of use of the space in a key location within Newbury town centre.’

• Several pages in this week’s NWN are given over to anticipating the next phase of the lockdown lifting when pubs and restaurants are allowed to re-open this Saturday.

• The same paper has, on p10, a warning from the Benham Estate that Speen Moor may be closed if the current spate of anti-social activity, which includes littering, vandalism and rude behaviour, continues. A couple of photos illustrate this point, one of which seems to show a level of damage I’ve never seen before, with the whole pond and footpath having been lifted up and left at an alarming tilt. Then I realised this was because the photo had been positioned at 45º. 

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the villageIt also publishes the quarterly Hamstead Hornet – if you’d like to subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at admin@hamsteadmarshall.net

• Click here for the latest NTC News from Newbury Council.

GWR has announced some timetable changes from 6 July for services on the main line running through Newbury.

Thatcham and district

Latest news from Thatcham Town Council, Hermitage Parish Council, Cold Ash Parish Council, Bucklebury Parish Council, Brimpton Parish Council and Woolhampton Parish Council.

• Penny was out and about in Thatcham last weekend, camera in hand, meeting the Mayor and some of the shops which have re-opened. You can see the results in a short video here.

• Congratulations to Parson Down Infant and Junior Schools which have been recognised as eco-schoolsmore here from Newbury Today.

• The NWN has, on p28, a report on a battle between Thatcham Town Cricket Club and its insurance company. The CC had business disruption insurance in place, and its business was disrupted by Covid-19: however, the insurers – following the well-tried ‘we’re happy to rent you an umbrella as long as we can have it back when it starts raining’ policy – have declined to pay out. This case, along with similar ones from other clubs, will be heard at the High Court later this month. Thatcham Town Council is also watching with interest as it has said it would offer the club a rent holiday if it didn’t have the claim settled.

• Thatcham Town Council has made an £8,000 grant to the Memorial Hall.

• Three local teenagers have been sentenced for shooting at cars on the M4 with catapults in June 2018. This must have seemed like a great idea at the time: what could possibly go wrong?

Playgrounds can now be opened but not all Parish Councils feel they they can do this safely. Cold Ash PC, for example, has said that ‘due to the nature of the actions required to keep users safe and in line with guidance from the Berkshire Association of Local Councils, Cold Ash Parish Council has decided to keep the playgrounds within the Parish closed. CAPC will continue to monitor the situation and will open them as soon as it believes this can be done in a safe manner.’

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin

GWR has announced some timetable changes from 6 July for services on the main line running through Newbury.

Theale and district

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

• Calvesley Farm, in Yattendon, has had its Red Tractor certification suspended following an undercover investigation into animal welfare standards by vegan charity Viva. Newbury Today reports that the film revealed ‘shocking video footage’ of animal cruelty. The National Pig Association’s (NPA) response seemed more concerned with Viva’s ‘entirely reckless behaviour, trespassing on farms during a national lockdown,’ although it did add that ‘an immediate independent investigation was triggered.’ Viva’s founder claims that the incident proves that ‘supermarket welfare claims and regulatory bodies such as Red Tractor are nothing but a facade for the horrendous, brutal and cruel reality of intensive factory farming in this country. These are not aberrant farms – they are typical of what is permitted by government and retailers.’ It certainly makes one think a bit about where our food comes from and what the symbols on the packaging mean. It also makes me wonder what the NPA does by way of enforcement if it took a group like Viva to bring the matter to its unwilling attention.

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 most recent meeting of Padworth Parish Council on 15 June reported that there were large number of rats at the recycling centre and it was agreed that the council would raise the matter with Veolia. I would imagine that this is a common problem at recycling centres, particularly when they’ve been partially closed for several months.

GWR has announced some timetable changes from 6 July for services on the main line running through Newbury.

Marlborough & district

Latest news from Marlborough Town CouncilAldbourne Parish Council and Great Bedwyn Parish Council.

• See here for information from Marlborough Town Council about changes to its services as a result of CV-19.

• The new Mayor of Marlborough Mark Cooper has announced his chosen charities.

This article in Marlborough News reports on the schools and Burbage and Great Bedwyn welcoming back their pupils for the summer term.

• Marlborough’s Library, along with all others in the Wiltshire Council area, has been shut since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Council is embarking on a programme of consultation to ‘make sure the library services they provide meet the needs of people safely and are as innovative in their delivery as possible’. Three option are proposed, which I shall stand aside to allow Marlborough News to describe

• The same source report that a meeting of the Full Town Council in 29 June, councillors voted overwhelmingly to dispense with all free parking bays on both sides of the High Street as a measure to enable the safe re-opening of the High Street.

• And, still with MN, a report here on Marlborough’s recent virtual Open Gardens competition.

• Then issue of climate change has been forgotten by many as a result of Covid-19: but not by Devizes & Marlborough XR (Extinction Rebellion) group, which held a protest on the steps of the Marlborough Town Hall on 26 June as part of a nationwide action.

• The Gazette reports here that Wiltshire may be one of the areas of the country that might be given a Leicester-style lockdown (though it points out that the base figures are pretty low). 

• The same source suggests that Marlborough and Wooton Basset could benefit (or not, depending on your point of fire) from the expansion of a particular supermarket chain.

• 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.

• If you fancy becoming a parish councillor in Great Bedwyn, there’s a vacancy.

Click here for a list of current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council. 

GWR has announced some timetable changes for services on the on the main line running through Newbury from 6 July.

Wantage & district

Latest news from Wantage Town Council, Grove Parish Council and Letcombe Regis Parish Council.

Click here to see the video Penny made a couple of weeks ago about the re-opening of the shops in Wantage.

• The most recent of Wantage Town Council’s Policy, Management and Finance Committee on 8 June considered the issue of the part-pedestrianisation of the Market Place. ‘The Clerk reported, ‘ the minutes record, ‘that Mr Mitchell [of Wantage Arts Hub] was continuing to work on the longer-term scheme to pedestrianise the area at the western end of the Market Place. A short-term temporary scheme had been proposed to the County Council by County Councillors Hanna and Hannaby as an initiative to create more public space for social distancing. The Clerk advised that the temporary scheme would be useful to help iron out any issues for the long term scheme. Some businesses in the western end area had expressed concerns about access for vehicles for delivery and collection. It was felt that arrangements could be made to overcome these concerns. It was noted that the working group was currently concerned with the pedestrianisation of the western area. It was agreed that the working group should, in due course, consider ideas for next stages of wider pedestrianisation within the Market Place and making it more friendly and attractive for cyclists.’ It was agreed that the Council should initiate the temporary closing order for the western area of the Market Place at a cost in the region of £3,100.

• At the same meeting, it was also agreed that a £6,000 contribution to the District Council be made towards the cost of the six CCTV cameras in the town, ‘subject to there being a definite plan to upgrade cameras to sufficient quality to provide images of an evidential nature.’ It was also agreed to ask the police to make a formal request to the District Council for an additional CCTV camera in Wallingford Street.

• The Promotions, Communications and Events Committee of the same Council met on 15 June and was largely concerned with the possibilities of re-scheduling various events that had been cancelled due to CV-19. 

• The week’s Herald reports, on p2, on the £37m deficit faced by Oxfordshire County Council and the £100m which the country’s five district councils claim they are short of as a result of Covid-19. The paper quotes a BBC report as suggesting that  150 local authorities nationwide are facing a combined shortfall of over £3.2bn. 

• 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.

• Councillor David Grant, Chair of the Climate Emergency Advisory Committee at Vale of White Horse District Council, has written on behalf of the committee to Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, about the climate emergency and, in particular, how the reduction of carbon emissions as a result of lockdown can be maintained. You can read the full text here.  

• People in South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse who have outstanding payments on their council tax bill and are struggling to pay are being urged to contact their district council to find out what support may be available. An extra £150 of discount is now available to certain residents.

• Councillors Sue Cooper and Emily Smith, leaders of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils have issued a joint statement to mark the end of Pride month.

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 describes some of the points covered at the recent marathon six-hour video meeting of the Oxfordshire Health Overview and Scrutiny Commission.

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.

• You can click here to see the June issue of the Letcome Register which includes, as well as village information, a good number of trivia quizzes on various themes. 

• Click here for information on the location of defibrillators in and around Wantage.

Swindon & district

Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.

• Swindon Museum and Art Gallery is searching for a local family to help put its learning and activity resources to the test. The Gallery has recently appointed its inaugural Young Artist-in-Residence, 17-year-old New College student James Keel.

• I mentioned in the Across the Area section that councils have, belatedly, been tasked by the government to prepare Local Outbreak Management Plans. Swindon has produced its LOMP which was presented to Health and Wellbeing Board on 30 June.

• Villages in rural parts of Swindon could benefit from new flexible bus services, if Swindon Borough Council is successful with two government funding bids.

• A 16-month project to replace 28,000 Swindon street lights with LED lanterns begins on Monday 6 July.

• 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.

• People in Swindon are being encouraged to get active, set their own challenges and donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Appeal.

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 public 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 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, the sketch and the quiz

• For the Song of the Week I’d like to propose This is a Low by Blur: a more accomplished and subtle band than Oasis, which whom they were often compared (particularly by the music press at the time).

• And as for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. I have no hesitation in recommending Sticko from the wonderful Big Train – brilliant performances from all three actors in this woefully under-recognised series.

• And so we slide into the final paragraph that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is one I’ve taken from the June Letcombe Register (see Wantage area section above) and is: What is the collective noun for a group of crocodiles? Last week’s question was: ‘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?’ The answer is 12. I’m trying to think which of the two journeys I would find the more alarming.

Brian Quinn

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