Local News 9-16 July 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s call-in, Newbury’s Vietnam, East Garston’s re-opening, Lambourn’s newsletter, Thatcham’s toilets, Marlborough’s compromise, Grove’s station, Wantage’s choices, Shalbourne’s speeding, Chaddleworth’s tenant, Hampstead Norreys’ posters, Mortimer’s trees, Theale’s precautions, Padworth’s rodents, Swindon’s closure, Aldbourne’s hero, Inkpen’s re-opening, symptoms, HS2, searching for another yardstick, Sandleford, Trump on the couch, translating Bo-Jo, anti-censorship, the beast of Berkshire, universal income, VAT, Stamp Duty, waste wars, 20 missing people, 7-1, an honest profession, Johnny Nice Painter, John Lewis, Mary and a bask of crocodiles.

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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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)

• It’s recently been announced by the BBC that nearly 80% of those testing positive for Covid-19 are either asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. This perhaps shouldn’t be a huge surprise. The Italian health authorities tested all 3,000 inhabitants of the town of Vo near Padua in early March and established that ‘a significant proportion of the population, about 3%, had already been infected – yet most of them were completely asymptomatic.’ Several papers published in PMC and elsewhere, one based on extensive studies down in China, suggested the same thing. 

• The same BBC report quotes an extraordinary government clarification on the subject of the transmission in care homes. Earlier this week, the PM said that ‘too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures’. The Business Secretary Alok Sharma said that the PM had meant that ‘nobody at the time knew what the correct procedures were.’ This story in Sky News makes much the same claim. If the second is an alternative phrasing of the first then it’s been through Google Translate, via Portuguese and Swahili. The government had laid down procedures: whether these were correct and whether they were followed are very different things (as is whether they were clear). The Sky article quotes the Chair of the Independent Care Group as saying that ‘It is worth remembering that in February the government agency Public Health England told homes it was ‘very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected’ and that homes didn’t need to do anything differently. It was many weeks later, after most homes had already put themselves into lockdown, that the advice changed.’

The care sector has come under increasing pressure in recent years due to rising and more complex demand, the disparity between what cash-strapped local councils can pay and what care homes feel, with their extra staff and compliance costs, they need to charge, and, perhaps above all, by the government’s failure to provide a long-term settlement for the so-called care crisis which was promised for June 2017 and which now still seems to be at least a year away. I can’t say if this led to any corner-cutting but it certainly can’t have helped. Nor can the rapacious suppliers of PPE: local live-in care provider Bluebird commenced that in April it was being quoted prices up to 20 times higher than normal. Perhaps the PM was also secretly cross that most care is provided by private companies which, unlike the NHS, may therefore feel that they are answerable as much to their shareholders as the CQQ. This may be true: but it wasn’t the point he made. Finally, it’s worth paying tribute to one local care home, St Katherine’s in Wantage, which started preparing in late February and went into lockdown in mid-March, two weeks before the official announcement. This was not because of government advice but because the manager’s family were from Hong Kong who told her ‘this is for real’ and sent her a supply of PPE. 

• The question has also been raised, though understandably in a hesitant way, as to whether there is any genetic or racial aspect to the likelihood of contracting CV-19. A few diseases like cystic fibrosis (most common in those originating from Northern Europe) and sickle-cell anaemia (most common in those originating from sub-Saharan Africa), follow this pattern, but Covid-19 doesn’t seem to be among them. The widely publicised statistics that BAME people were more likely to contract CV-19 – this article in Heart Matters says about twice as likely – could be due to number of factors that have nothing to do with genetics: this BBC article suggested that surveys by the Office for National Statistics and Public Health England believed that ‘existing health inequalities, housing conditions, public-facing occupations and structural racism’ could all play their part. If scientists have been looking for genetic (and thus perhaps racial) links then this doesn’t mean that they’re trying prove some racist eugenical theory: such a discovery (which hasn’t so far happened) would be a big step forward in preventing the spread and finding a cure. 

• The big domestic news this week was from the Chancellor, who announced a raft of measures designed to stimulate the economy and avoid mass employment. These included a six-month reduced VAT rate of 5% for the hospitality industry, a cut in stamp duty until March 2021 (see below), a cash incentive for companies to retain furloughed staff and – most eye-catchingly in some ways – a £10 voucher for participating pubs and restaurants in August. All this comes at a cost, of course, with the government’s debt being now bigger than the entire national economy. I’m very far from an expert in such things but I imagine that much of this is in bonds with quite a long repayment period. Rishi Sunak would thus seem to gambling that these huge cash injections will help kick-start economic life and avoid worse problems in the future. It’s hard to see what else could be done. I can’t imagine a Conservative Chancellor – or perhaps anyone else, ever – has spent as much money in four months as he has done. The financial reaction to the crisis certainly seems to have been better than the regulatory and political one.

• A number of local pubs which Penny Post contacted on 8 July echoed this sentiment, though sometimes with reservations. ‘It’s a positive move,’ said Debbie, the owner of The Volunteer in Grove. ‘it’s good to see the government supporting the industry.’ Mark Gallimore, the proprietor of the Craven Arms in Enborne, The Bull in Theale and The Oddfellows in Manton felt that the vouchers were ‘a great incentive to drive footfall on what used to be quiet days. We hope that customers will embrace this and come to dine out.’ ‘Any assistance at this time would be a help,’ observed Mark Genders of the John O’Gaunt in Hungerford, ‘as the industry is in crisis. It will certainly help places like ours that have 50%+ of our takings from food but I feel that the smaller and more ‘wet-led’ pubs will suffer more.’ Duncan Jones of The Five Bells in Wickham said that ‘I certainly welcome the reduction in VAT but hope that it doesn’t bounce back up in January, maybe staying at 10% like in a lot of European countries.’ Romilla Arber, the owner of the Honesty Group which includes the Crown and Garter in Inkpen, also welcomed the VAT reduction as ‘a real help’ but felt that the voucher scheme wouldn’t make a huge difference to the pub: ‘even if all the seating inside that we’re allowed to have is utilised,’ she explains, ‘this doesn’t allow us to reach our break even points. What will make the most difference to us at the moment is to be able to use the garden, so we could do with some good weather.’ The Chancellor can’t control this – or can he? He’s certainly produced a few surprising rabbits out of his ministerial hat over the last few months. Here’s hoping for some sunshine, something that I think all the pubs in the area would drink a toast to.

• The Chancellor also announced a temporary reduction in Stamp Duty (effectively a tax on property transactions) in attempt to kick-start this sector. I asked Jon Rich of Marlborough-based estate agents Brearley and Rich what he felt about this initiative. ‘It’s hard not to be pleased about this a short-term measure’, he told me, ‘but it’s not clear if this will lead to a more stable or even-paced market.’ He also highlighted another problem with the sector, the continuing reluctance of lenders to re-instate 90% or 95% mortgages. ‘Plenty of would-be buyers are struggling to pay huge rents when they could easily afford mortgage payments if the lenders would accept them,’ he said. ‘We don’t want to go back to the days of 100% mortgages and loans being based on insane multiples of people’s salary but a more holistic and less process-driven approach by lenders would be welcome.’

• That said, we can at least comfort ourselves with the fact that we aren’t in the USA. As mentioned before, the country’s federal constitution and that fact that – unique almost the countries of the world so far as I can reckon – it has no experience in facing an external threat of this magnitude have made it effectively ungovernable. The divisive figure of its President hasn’t helped. Anyone who thinks that he might be mentally ill (something many have asserted for years but which I resisted until a few weeks ago as being too simple an explanation) will find evidence for this in a recently-published book about him by a clinical psychologist, who also happens to be his niece. No Christmas cards this year, I think.  One thing you have to give him credit for is being consistent. He was saying weird stuff four years ago and got elected by the US public and he’s been saying the same sort of weird stuff ever since. 

• Moving back to the question of economic recovery, the pandemic has given inspiration and encouragement to those who claim that the time is ripe not only for a new way of measuring our individual and national worth rather than GDP/GNI but also at a complete re-balancing of the way our economies function. Other measures apart of GDP exist: the UNDP Human Development Index and the Numbeo Quality of Life Index are but two and it’s perhaps no surprise that countries like Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands and New Zealand feature higher on both than do the USA, the UK, China or France. The most recent issue of Positive News has  series of articles under the umbrella of ‘Bouncing Forward’ which starts with a piece about how societies should, post-Covid, take care of everyone. Its main premise is a case for a basic national income, something that was preached back in the 60s by Martin Luther King as the most effective solution to poverty. It also refers to a May 2020 report from the Institute of Ecomonic Affairs as saying that the UK’s current welfare system was highly unlikely to survive the pandemic and quotes the organisation’s Head of Education, Dr Stephen Davies, as saying that ‘the crisis will strengthen support for a universal basic income and could provide “the impetus for radical change”.’ It also quoted a YouGov survey, also in May, which suggested that 60% of respondents wanted the government to prioritise health and wellbeing ahead of economic growth.

It could be said that the combination of exemptions or rebates through the tax system for the rich (or wily), welfare payments through Universal Credit for the less well off and (currently) various CV-19-related bail-outs for almost everyone in-between has effectively created an incredibly complex and uneven system of universal income, with everyone being able to get something out of the system as long as they’re prepared to jump through enough hoops and take the right advice. There is surely an opportunity to simplify the whole system with something that starts from a different premise. 

An argument against universal income has always been that it is form of socialism, rewarding people for doing no more than being alive (which is perhaps something to celebrate, but let’s leave that to one side). Two points seem utterly to over-rule this, certainly now. The first is that CV-19 has been a bit of a leveller. Although, as mentioned above, some groups have fared less well then others, a successful defence against it depends on a a societal, rather than an individual or even a national, response. More than anything else I can think of in my lifetime, it’s necessary for people to moderate their actions in order to protect society as a whole. Most have abided by this. The local, bottom-up, approach has also been more immediately effective than the national, top-down, one. Both of these suggest that the true measure of a society’s ability to survive an existential threat is what measures it puts in place afterwards, grasping the opportunity to improve the chances for the next generation. It’s worth reflecting that the two most immediate results of the end of WW2 in the UK were that Atlee government’s creation of the NHS and the welfare system.

The second is that free-market economies have not come out of the crisis very well. Yes, it’s true that the USA and many countries in Europe were, because of their inhabitants’ travel patterns, likely to be more affected. Yes, it’s true that national comparisons are dangerous for many reasons. National wealth does not, however, seem to be an adequate defence against the threat. Of the 12 countries which, according to Worldometers had more than 1,000 cases (so excluding small countries like San Marino) and a death rate of over 300 in 100,000, seven were among the world’s top 20 economies by GDP. Some countries like China have been able to respond with a speed and ruthlessness that we all decry but which the world as a whole should perhaps be thankful for: certainly it started there, but the government knows what ‘lockdown’ means which, the state’s endemic obfuscation aside, perhaps prevented something much worse. Imagine if the first cases had been at a meat market in New York. Exactly. 

The countries which seem to have dealt best are those with experience of foreign invasion like South Korea and Vietnam (perhaps an unwitting benefit conferred on them by the USA) as well as experience of SARS and MERS; or those with natural geographical advantages like Singapore and New Zealand. Except in the last case, these are also what might be termed social capitalist command economies, where many people still have strong familial ties which provides societal cohesion, a freedom to organise their economic lives as they wish which provides gratification and a government which at any time can issue edicts on any matter which sets the rules by which all else is conducted and which is widely respected as being in the national interest. In most wealthy countries the first (almost entirely) and the last (largely) has been abandoned in pursuit of the second. As mentioned above, there are other factors than these three define a healthy society but it’s clear that outright wealth is nor and should not be the most important. It seems likely that, for historians writing 100 years from now, 2020 will be viewed as a hinge on which the world swung into a better place, or at least had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so.   

• It’s easy to criticise HS2 for being insanely expensive, environmentally damaging, grossly over-hyped by its proponents and generally pointless. That’s because it is. For so long has this vast beast been feeding itself at our expense that stopping it becomes progressively harder; but it’s to hoped that some post-Covid sense might prevail, even now. I’ve recently seen a ‘competition’ from The Taxpayers Alliance from September 2018 which proposes other ways in which the eye-watering £100bn+ budget might be spent on. Before we turn to that, it’s worth looking at TPA itself for a moment.

Its website makes it clear that it advocates a lower-tax economy. Wikipedia describes it as ‘a right-wing pressure group in the United Kingdom formed in 2004 to campaign for a low tax society.’ The Guardian, in an article from 2009, describes it as a group with which the right-wing media have ‘fallen in love.’ This summary from DeSmog suggests that it has been a strong opponent of green-energy policies as recently as January 2020. Some of its donations appear to have come, despite its name, from non-UK taxpayers and, again according The Guardian in November 2018, over $100,00 was received from ‘a billionaire-founded religious trust incorporated in the Bahamas.’

None of this would seem to make it an obvious opponent for a massive project which, although conceived in the dog days of the last Labour government, has since grown into an increasingly obese lovechild of successive Conservative administrations and the army of consultants of which it is so enamoured. The cost has by some estimates tripled since 2010 and is now likely to be in excess of £110bn. The environmental case is far from made either as, despite trains having a lower carbon footprint than cars, the fare structure – a crucial part of this comparison – is a long way from being agreed. Along the route, vast acts of irrevocable destruction will take place which have, and will, attract many protests. Nor is it clear to what extent the first part of the project, from London to Birmingham, will advance the original stated aim of helping to heal the North-South divide. It also seems that, as both Covid and IT improvements have demonstrated, travelling from one city to another slightly more quickly is not now as vital as it might once have been. All in all, the project is acquiring the increasingly unpleasant whiff of a vanity project and gravy train that has been allowed, in every possible way, to accelerate out of control.

So, we return to the TPA’s proposals (and for a moment leave aside its politics). Its ‘competition’ proposed 32 schemes, one a road-widening scheme and one a cycle lane but all the rest of which were rail projects. These would provide benefits mainly in the north and midlands for a cost of about £45bn. To be on the safe side, let’s double that. Let’s also double the PM’s prediction in 2019 that it would cost £5bn to provide the whole country with superfast broadband; surely, as Covid has proved, a more useful way of connecting communities and businesses than a single rail line. These together still leave some change from the likely HS2 bill. Of course, these might be flawed: the costs might be optimistic, the benefits overstated, the disruption downplayed and the environmental damage ignored. But could they, or ones like them, be in aggregate any worse than HS2? It seems unlikely.

• One of the most extraordinary football matches ever took place six years ago yesterday. It may have lacked the last-minute drama of the ’99 Champions League Final, the romance of the ’53 FA Cup Final, the near  perfection of the 1960 European Cup Final or the stirring comeback of the 2005 Champions League Final: but for sheer unexpected one-sidedness, Germany’s 7-1 demolition of the hosts and favourites Brazil in the 2014 World Cup Semi Final is hard to trump. They could have scored seven more but by half way through the second half the German players seemed to have been overtaken with something approaching pity. 

This story on the BBC website suggests that UK universities are conniving in censorship imposed by the Chinese state. The reality is a little more complex. I spoke to a senior academic about this, who pointed out that this can be actually seen as anti-censorship as it ensures that necessary sources don’t become collateral damage from the rather blunt instrument of China’s ‘great firewall’. He also points out that the Chinese government appears relaxed about students immersing themselves in restriction-free countries like the UK when studying abroad so is hardly likely to worry about some video lectures. The reality is that, as mentioned a few weeks ago, universities face a large revenue loss as a result of fewer students from China and elsewhere travelling here to study and so need to provide courses online.  

• 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.

• Friday 24 July is ‘Double Matched Day’ at Greenham Trust, 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 the Black Beast of Berkshire, whatever it is, referred to in the Hungerford Area section below.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those referred to elsewhere, the problem of ivy, the need to clean up open spaces, a new take on the Good Samaritan and the need for a compromise about access to for residents of northern Hampshire to West Berkshire’s recycling centres. 

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Wiltshire Air Ambulance (thanks to the new clothing banks in Marlborough); Trindledown NAWC (thanks to Poppy Tulloch of East Garston); several good causes (thanks to the first year of the West Berkshire Lottery); Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice (thanks to Laithwaite’s of Theale). 

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.

• July’s Penny Post Hungerford was published earlier this week and includes as usual the best and most comprehensive round-up of news and views in and around the town. Click to see it.  As well as the usual summary of the Town Council, the Town and Manor and local businesses there’s also the new JoG Head Teacher’s report on his first month in post and updates from the Primary School, St Lawrence’s, the Hub, West Berkshire Foodbank, the Rotary Club and the Hungerford Club. There’s the book of the month, the wine of the month, racing news, gardening tips, a seasonal recipe, a guide to the July night sky, a short story and a quote from Marilyn Monroe. What more could you want?

• Hang on, I hear you ask, isn’t there anything in Penny Post Hungerford about cats? I can fill that gap as well. This week’s NWN reported on the latest sighting of a Beast of Berkshire, one of many large felines which are occasionally seen in the area. This one was on the outskirts of Hungerford, about six weeks ago. We spoke to the surprised cat spotter, Philip Brown, who confirmed that seeing the creature – about 80cm high with a long black tail – ‘languidly cross the road’ had been a bit of a surprise. He admitted that he’d was a few hundred metres off completing a 100-mile cycle ride which might perhaps have affected his powers of discrimination a bit, but not to the extent that what he saw was merely a shadow or a black bin bag. In any case, the man is a violin maker. (I have absolutely no evidence to support my view that violin makers are inherently good witnesses. It’s just one of things that I hold be a self-evident truth, like the fact that there’s something inherently dishonest about people who try to cash cheques in pubs.) The widely-held theory is that these creatures are descendants of animals that were released or escaped from private menageries. If so, there must have been quite a few if they were able to keep breeding. We have a large black cat but I’ve asked him and he assures me it wasn’t him, on this occasion at least. So, that’s this week’s cat story. 

• 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.

• And while we’re in Inkpen, a reminder that the Crown and Garter has re-opened

• A new bus service, the 3c, operates between Thatcham Broadway and Hungerford (including Charnham Park). For more information on these and other services, click 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. Despite my repeated promises I haven’t managed to get all the facts and opinions together on this that I would like. The nub of the problem is the wish by the developers to remove the provision for social housing on the development, the reasoning seeming to be that this tends to have a depressing effect on the price of the free-market properties.

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

Lambourn Valley

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

• Our July Valley of the Racehorse newsletter was published last weekend and you can click here to read it (publication was suspended for three months during lockdown but it’s back now). Items covered include an update fro East Garson PC, an interview (and a report from) with Lambourn Ward member Howard Woollaston, a video of the recent Eastbury duck race, the latest on the sewage issues in the Valley, details of the pubs that are re-opening, Pat Murphy’s racing a column, a whodunit, news from the local churches, a film review, property for sale and to let, details of our virtual open garden competition and a celebration of local volunteer heroics. Something for everyone, we hope.

• East Garston’s Village Hall will re-open from Friday 10 July and the Social Club from Friday 17 July (7-11pm). Th trustees are putting together a risk assessment and will be implementing conditions to ensure they comply with the government guidelines.

• I contacted the Environment Agency a couple of weeks ago to see what action was being taken with regard to the dredging incident in East Garston over 19 months ago. I received the following statement: ‘We are considering all possible enforcement options open to us following alleged illegal dredging of the River Lambourn in 2018. The river has responded well to our restoration work, and we are confident the Lambourn will continue to be a vital habitat for invertebrates, plants and fish.’

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

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.

• The jewel in the crown of West Berkshire’s planning ambitions – or the thorn in its side, as matters have transpired – is Sandleford. Slightly surprisingly, Bloor Homes (the larger of the two developers, Donnington New Homes being the other) recently submitted updated plans for its part of the site (see also p10 of this week’s NWN). The problems with the development have included a difficult relationship between the two developers, the lack of an over-arching plan and a disagreement about the number and nature of the access roads, the last of which was one of the reasons for refusal in 2018. On the last point, many feel access to the A339 is vital but the developer’s experts appear to disagree. However, as various difficulties were foreseen with this at the outset and so it was excluded from the original master plan, it’s hard to see how either developer can be compelled to build it. This probably means that the council will have to do this itself, as it did (for rather different reasons) with the access road, also off the A339, to the London Road estate. Lib Dem Councillor Tony Vickers, the Deputy Chair of the Western Area Planning Committee, told the paper that the latest plans had already raised a number of concerns and highlighted again the problem that the two developers had ‘different ideas’ on several aspects of the scheme: this is unlikely to create the more holistic approach that the Council has quite reasonably insisted upon though has not yet been able to achieve.

Sandleford won a three-way beauty contest in the mid-naughties, scoring slightly higher than competing sites in Thatcham and near the present-day Vodafone HQ in Shaw. One of the clinchers was the fact that this site alone could provide 2,000 homes. This will not now happen, 1,350 being the maximum that the two developers – in a comparatively rare display of unanimity – feel the site can sustain, although 150 might be added if a deal can be done for some adjacent land. Whether single developments of such a scale are desirable is something that might now produce a different answer. Certainly it has not, so far, proved feasible. The two developers have other projects on the go and so can probably afford to wait. With increasing pressure from both government and residents to get more homes built, West Berkshire may be in more of a hurry, a situation which doesn’t always lead to the best outcome.

Almost forgotten in all of this is the question of the environmental standards to which these homes will be built. Despite the widespread recognition that climate change is a real threat, and that producing properly insulated and sustainably powered homes would help address this, the country is in a hiatus with the Future Homes Standard – whatever exactly that ends up specifying – not set to be introduced until 2025. At present, developers are neither compelled nor incentivised to future-proof homes. If regulations were tightened or if it became clear that sub-standard properties in this respect would prove difficult to sell, this will change. Neither will happen any time soon. In the meantime, postponing regulatory reform, as has happened before, will continue to be a temptation for governments keen to get more homes built by the private sector. With the current emphasis on getting people back to work at almost any cost, this may well happen again. I appreciate that the Chancellor can only deal with a limited number of problems at one time but charging and funding local councils to embark on a house-building programmes that provided not only the required number of affordable homes but which were also built to the most exacting standards, neither of which the private sector can provide, would help address a number of crucial issues. For all I know, it could be his next big announcement. As for Sandleford, if it gets built at all it’s likely to be smaller than the Council originally hoped, later than it originally planned, less sustainable than it might be and perhaps with an expensive loose end in the form of an access road. 

• Also as mentioned in the NWN (on p4), and in this column several time over the last few weeks, the strange case of the missing decision notice on the Newspaper House application has reached the desks of not only the UK Planning Inspectorate (as a result of the developer’s appeal against the refusal on grounds of non-determination) but also the Local Government Ombudsman (as a result of a complaint made by Lib Dem Councillor Tony Vickers, although it’s not yet confirmed if the LGO will take up the complaint). By way of a very brief summary, the application was refused in February despite the accusation that some matters and opinions which should have been publicised and discussed were not. The Council usually issues a decision notice (the official confirmation of the matter) fairly soon afterwards but on this occasion did not. As we suggested at the time, and as Councillor Vickers has this week suggested to the NWN, this strongly suggests some unease among the officers about the correctness of the decision. If so, it seems odd that the Planning Committee wasn’t re-convened and the matter looked at again. It will certainly be looked at again now.

• The same newspaper covers, also on p4, ‘the ‘speculation’ over the future of John Lewis at Parkway as well as some other local branches of national chains.

• The letters page of the NWN has, as it does most weeks, some correspondence about the London Road Industrial Estate. One writer suggested it’s turning into West Berkshire Council’s Vietnam, a striking if perhaps extreme image. I think it’s more like West Berkshire’s HS2. Another letter confirms that he has recently reported the Council to the Health and Safety Executive as a result of its having allowed the football ground (closed just over two years ago) to turn into ‘a dilapidated and rubbish-strewn site.’ 

• Pages 6 and 7 in this week’s NWN are given over to covering the re-opening of pubs, restaurants and hairdressers.

• 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 for services on the on the main line running through Newbury from 6 July.

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.

• A strange story is reported in this week’s NWN where it appears that someone is Hampstead Marshall is taking down Black Lives Matter posters from the village noticeboard almost as soon as they’re put up. This isn’t perhaps a major story in itself but it seems rather petty, not to say cowardly. One may not agree with everything BLM stands for but this reaction down’t seem to accomplish anything useful. 

• The July Chaddleworth News has just been published and you can read it here. Items covered include an announcement from the Chaddleworth Hardship Fund, a notice to local horse riders, news from local societies and a transcription of the Chaddleworth charity plaque.

• The same publication also covers a loophole in the government’s current Covid-19 relief package that I wasn’t aware of; any more than, it seems, was John Castle, the  owner of The Ibex (he’s certainly aware of it now). It appears that the previous tenant departed in early March but the owner omitted to have the records updated his own name. As a result he’s not able to claim any grants as he’s not the registered tenant, this despite the fact that renovation work urgently needs to be done. Maybe West Berkshire Council can exercise some discretion in what seems to be a technical oversight at a rather fraught time. The good news is that we understand interest has been expressed from more than one person about taking over the tenancy: hopefully there’ll be some definite news soon.

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 at the end of last month, 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. The same theme is exploited on p25 of this week’s NWN.

• An article on p24 of this week’s NWN refers to the fact that Thatcham’s toilets have yet to re-open having been closed since late March: moreover that there is an estimated £7,000 to spend before this can happen. It’s been suggested that this was down to inaction by the previous (pre-May 2019) administration which took the toilets over from West Berkshire Council in 2015 – another example of a community asset transfer or CAT. I’m unclear whether the poor condition that they are now in was a reflection of the condition West Berks left them in, lack of maintenance since, natural wear and tear or damage caused during lockdown. As I understand it, the terms of a CAT are for both parties to negotiate on a case-by-case basis. In the case of Hungerford’s Library, considerable remedial works were demanded by the Town Council before it would prepared to take on the building and these were eventually done: West Berkshire had by then accepted the wisdom of Hungerford’s proposal and was going to be continuing to operate its Library Service there. Neither of these would have applied with Thatcham’s toilets. 

• Another expenditure of £7,000 for Thatcham TC will shortly come with the provision of hand sanitisers for use at the town’s 12 play areas.

• And speaking of playgrounds, these can now be opened but not all Parish Councils feel they they can do this safely. Cold Ash PC, for example, has said that for the time being it will be keeping its ones closed as it down’s feel it can open them in a safe and compliant manner.

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin

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

Theale and district

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

• The most recent meeting of Theale Parish Council on 6 June considered, amongst other matters, ‘the continued anti-social behaviour on the recreation ground, especially around the Social Club and Village Hall, Pavilion, car park and youth shelter.’ Three options discussed were installing a locked night-time gate at the car park, install more CCTV cameras and contact other parish councils to see how they’ve dealt with similar problems. One matter that was resolved was ‘the removal of the youth shelter to discourage antisocial behaviour.’

Click here to see Ward member Alan Macro’s latest e-newsletter which includes news of a number of local planning applications.

• The same meeting also deferred any decision on the Lockdown Wood project pending more information from Newbury Friends of the Earth.

• As mentioned last week, 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. 

• Contrary to what you might read elsewhere (such as in the 2011 census), the population of Burghfield is 5,948 and of Stratfield Mortimer is 3,797, figures which were confirmed as a result of the recent Library contributions exercise. These showed falls of 13 and seven respectively since the last census. If anyone knows who these 20 missing people are, tell them that the head counting has now finished and it’s safe to move back again.

• Councillor Graham Bridgman has announced in his recent parish newsletter that he’s been able to facilitate a tree preservation order in respect of three trees adjacent to The Street (near Kiln Lane) in Mortimer, ‘in particular the magnificent Wellingtonia that can be seen from well into Hampshire.’ The people in that county may not be able to use West Berkshire’s recycling centres any more but at least they can look at our trees.

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. 

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

Marlborough & district

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

• Parking and traffic issues are rarely out of the news for long in Marlborough. This article from Marlborough News includes a letter from three of the local Wiltshire County Councillors who are seeking to find a compromise to the free-parking debate in the town ‘that will ensure safety for all concerned whilst satisfying all parties.’ Compromises rarely satisfy all parties: the most one can expect is that they are acceptable to the majority of them. The issue of pedestrianisation, changes to parking regulations, permissions for outside seating and other changes, be they temporary or permanent, are exercising a good number of local councils at present.,

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

Crofton Beam Engines will re-open on Saturday 18 July.

• 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). 

• Congratulations to Aldbourne’s indefatigable Post Mistress Sue Rendell who has won in Local Hero category at the Post Office’s ‘We’re Stronger Together’ regional awards for the South West.

• 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.

•  As mentioned last week, 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 matter is covered in detail on pp1 and 2 of this week’s Herald. The government’s plans appear to be two-fold: to encourage hospitality outlets to re-open as quickly and as safely as possible and to make town centres more attractive and more welcoming for walkers and cyclists. The first suggests short-term measures while the second implies something permanent. Any decision will involve a compromise between the sometimes competing interests of shoppers, motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, market traders, retailers, food and drink outlets, taxi drivers, bus companies, the emergency services, delivery drivers and the environment – apologies to any I might have missed off. The Town Council has been presented with an opportunity to do something and is seeking to establish what will be best outcome. This might not be the best for everyone. The Market Square seems at the moment to function as a cross between a roundabout, a car park and a bus dept so perhaps anything will be an improvement, aesthetically at least. The Chamber of Commerce and other organisations have and will be making their own views known.

• The Oxford Mail this week had a story that seems to be on a depressingly familiar theme, announcing that Wantage Road station in Grove was not one of the 50 stations shortlisted to be restored under the ‘restore the railway fund’. This might not, however, be such bad news as it seems, for it’s been suggested that it might succeed in a different funding stream later in the year. The reason why opening the station is problematic has to do with timetables and the electrification and will also be improved if proposed direct services from Oxford to Bristol are introduced. I find all quite complex so I contacted the Editor of Rail Professional who said that he’d try to see if one of his staff can provide a plain-language explanation of what the difficulty is. As soon as I have it I’ll let you know. On the face of it, it seems insane that at, a time of climate emergency, an area that’s almost doubling its population and has a rail line going through it still has no station.

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

• The Promotions, Communications and Events Committee of the Wantage Town 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. 

• Proof if proof be needed that applications for funding need to be as big and bold as possible: The Herald reports this week that Oxfordshire County Council has missed out on £300,000 of funding to upgrade cycling and walking routes because the plans ‘lacked ambition’. The Council retorted that its priority was to ensure that funding was ‘distributed equitably across the county’ rather than – this is my inference – concentrating on a few prestige projects in the urban centres.

• Play areas in the Vale of White Horse managed by the district council began to re-open from 6 July

• 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 considers how the recovery from Covid-19 might in some cases reduce the level of consultation and is also likely to result in construction sites working different hours from those originally specified.

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 Labour Group’s economic spokesperson had told Swindon Link that high streets are being ripped apart by the Covid-19 crisis. He was referring particularly to the fact that the town’s John Lewis at Home branch would not reopen 9there is similar concern in Newbury, and elsewhere).

• Swindon Borough Council has marked the delivery of its thousandth food parcel for vulnerable residents.

• New blow-up bags which temporarily block the flow of wastewater in sewers so they can be safely inspected are helping Thames Water reduce flooding. (Are these being used in Lambourn? I wonder.)

• 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.

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

• Swindon Borough Council has been awarded more than £200,000 from the government to make changes to the road network to make it easier for people to walk and cycle.

• Parents and carers whose children have reached their second birthday are being reminded to apply for free childcare by Swindon Borough Council.

• 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.

• Preparatory work will begin on site at the Moonrakers junction from Monday, 20 July.

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 let’s have Mary by the Scissor Sisters – a lovely and rather uncharacteristic song of theirs though I’m not sure about the video which seems to be two completely different ones stitched together.

• And as for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. A lot of my favourite sketches have a darker aspect as well: few do this better than Johnny Nice Painter from The Fast Show.

• And so we slide into the final paragraph that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is something I learned by chance this week and which surprised me. So, the question is: In the reign of which English monarch was St Bartholomew’s School in Newbury founded? Last week’s question was taken from the June Letcombe Register (see Wantage area section above) and was: What is the collective noun for a group of crocodiles? The answer is not a snap or a crunch but a bask. 

Brian Quinn

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