Local News 16-23 July 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s retrospective, Newbury’s lido, East Garston’s club, Lambourn’s meeting, Great Shefford’s refusal, Shefford Woodlands  support, Thatcham’s monsters, Marlborough’s seats, Grove’s station (again), Wantage’s square, Ashampstead’s complaint, Col Ash’s re-opening, Burbage’s visit, Letcombe Regis’ brainteasers, Hampstead Norreys’ pond, Aldermaston’s Rec, Brimpton’s refusal, Chaddleworth’s news, Theale’s precautions, Swindon’s library, covering your face, Rishi’s giveaway, the wrong kind of fuel, the wrong kind of leaves, distrust, S114s, SIDs, PDRs, 1466, HS2 in the red, zero recoveries, a month in the freezer, meeting invites, Oxford Utd, a developer prize, population decline, a bash at the strategy, an elegant cat, a scary word, four candles, St Swithun, Hori Kingi Hipango and a gothic forest.

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.

Police, transport and council contacts

Information on police, transport (including roadworks) and district councils can now be found on a separate page here.

Links to the websites for town and parish councils can still be found in the appropriate sections below.

Across the area (and further afield)

• There are many people who for many different reasons think that HS2 will benefit nobody and nothing apart from the army of contractors and consultants. To this list must now be added the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority whose 2019-20 report has given the scheme a red rating, the lowest possible (out of five possible grades). Red means that the ‘successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable. There are major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable. The project may need re-scoping and/or its overall viability reassessed.’ I think that sums up HS2 pretty well. 

• In fairness, HS2 is not the only red project on the list. Crossrail,  the East-Wet Rail Link, the Health Transformation Programme and two projects designed to improve the national broadband coverage, the Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme and the Local Full Fibre Networks, have also all been given the dreaded red square. (Something seems suddenly to have gone badly wrong with the last of these as in 2018-19 it was at ‘green/amber’, the second highest ranking.) Projects which are green, the best grade, include the mixed bag of St Helena Airport, the Department of Work and Pensions’ Fraud, Error and Debt Programme, the Army Basing Project and the sinister-sounding Watchkeeper intelligence project (in the list in the report this last one was set in capitals: I tried that but it looked too scary.)

• Penny spent part of the weekend at the same HS2 protest site near Great Missenden where, as mentioned the week before last, District Councillor Steve Masters and many others has been dug in for some time, awaiting the bailiffs and the bulldozers. The ecological impact is just one of the many reasons why the project is attracting such strong opposition. HS2 has claimed that it has agreed to plant 7m trees in mitigation: unfortunately, maintaining them doesn’t seem so important and many have since died. (HS2 may yet suggest that this was because ‘there were the wrong kind of leaves on the trees.’) Moreover, replacing ancient woodlands (108 are threatened by the scheme, in whole or in part) with their diverse habitats is well-nigh impossible. The Woodland Trust recommends that that the re-planting/loss ratio of 30:1 but, according to this article in The Guardian, HS2’s ration is about a fifth of that. 

• The questions of habitat destruction and environmental damage also crop up in the ever-excellent MD column in Private Eye which in this issue looks at matters which have either contributed to Covid-19 or which should be adopted if we wish to avoid a repeat performance. ‘Deforestation, fossil fuels, polluting water, dumping waste, mistreating animals and over-using drugs’ are among the factors that MD feels have created ‘a perfect storm for harmful microbe evolution.’ Other improvements which are suggested include reforming the ‘hugely complex bureaucracy needed to support an entirely unnecessary market system obsessed with outsourcing’, paying more attention to ‘serious concerns raised by (NHS) staff, patients and carers and supporting and protecting them to do so’, addressing the problems caused by a ‘controlling government’ which is unwilling to share data and ensuring that local directors of public health be put in charge of local test and trace ‘so they can respond immediately to outbreaks.’

Almost all of these problems have been articles of faith for most governments for so long that real change seems unlikely. One can but hope that I’m wrong and that some good can come from Covid in the shape of some necessary reforms and reboots. On 15 July the PM promised an independent enquiry into the pandemic though it’s currently unclear how broad its scope will be.

This article on the BBC website this week suggests that there will be a large fall in the world’s population by the end of the century with most countries experiencing a decline and 23, including Spain, Portugal and Italy, seeing their populations halving. On one level, as the article points out, this may not be bad news as there’s obviously a fairly direct link between the number of us and the demands we make on the environment. The problem will be that, as we are all living longer, there will be a growing imbalance between those who need care and those who are earning the money to pay for it. 

• From 24 July we’ll all have to wear face coverings in shops (though not in pubs). If this was such a vital idea as the Health Secretary suggested on 14 July then it’s odd that this wasn’t imposed from when the shops re-opened last month. Matt Hancock also said that “the death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75% higher amongst men and 60% higher amongst women than in the general population.” It’s hard to know what these eye-catching statistics mean as he didn’t specify what period this covered, nor whether this included retailers which were open throughout the pandemic or those ‘non-essential’ ones which re-opened in June; nor what he meant by the ‘general population’. Be that as it may, the BBC article goes on to say that ‘retail workers are exempt’ from the face-mask ban. If so, then the Secretary of State appears to be saying that the people who are most likely to have Covid-19 are exempt from a measure designed to stop its spread, which makes no sense to me. For retailers, there’s also the problem that they have to police the regulations which might involve an irate customer refusing to wear a mask in the shop. Perhaps this is why they aren’t mandatory in pubs. 

• However, anyone in England might think that there was no point in taking any precautions as, according to PHE data, no one in the country ever recovers from the virus. This article points out that the figures for England (though not the rest of the UK) record any death as due to CV-19 if the person had at any time before tested positive and even if their cause of death was due to something completely different. This has had the obvious result of exaggerating the non-hospital mortality rate and generally undermining the authority of the official statistics. The Health Secretary has ordered a review which will doubtless include why the matter has only been noticed (or, which might not be the same thing, made public) three and a half months after lockdown started.

• It was pointed out to me over the weekend by one of my sons that Rishi Sunak is popular because he’s giving away money. I should have been aware of this but, in my defence, the spectacle of a Conservative Chancellor distributing largesse on this scale, whatever the reason, was so unprecedented that it clearly unhinged my mind. There do appear to be abuses of the system, some of which may be due to uncertainties about its application, and there are some organisations that have slipped through the net: but most would agree that he’s done a pretty good job. My son also suggested that he was only still in post because he was doing what Dominic Cummings was telling him to, something his predecessor refused to. That may be true: if so, Dominic Cummings seems to have some good ideas. Of greater importance is whether the anti-austerity will transfer into a proper settlement for local councils and social care, two Cinderella aspects of our public life which have been in a state of high financial anxiety for the last five years. Both have proved to be rather important in the Covid war. 

• The two strands are closely connected as social care is devolved to local councils to provide. For West Berkshire, this accounts for about half its budget. The fact that this is a statutory responsibility makes a partial nonsense of local democracy as this is a service which the council can’t reduce beyond a certain point without breaking the law. This means that cuts to other services become about twice as likely to happen. One of the areas which has suffered in a variety of ways from recent cuts is children’s services. This article suggests that funding has fallen by over £2bn since 2010. There is no other area in which spending a fairly small sum of money can have such a large effect. We are not all born with equal advantages. Doing something to help even these out is surely what any responsible government should do. The cost and difficulty of accomplishing this probably increases exponentially with each passing year. We need to spend more money on ensuring that all our children start primary school at something approaching the same level of attainment.

• I mentioned last week that 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, provided by the 1988 Local Government Act) 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. The latest Private Eye has a bit more on this, saying that no council has so far applied for a S114 as a result of Covid – because the government has asked them not to ‘in exchange for promises of future financial help.’ The article asserts nearly 150 councils are thought to be ‘in deep (financial) trouble.’ It also appears that the S114 system could not cope with more than a few bail-out applications. So, as with so many aspects of local-government funding, the issue has been deferred to another day. The lack of an S114 notice, from West Berkshire or anywhere else, therefore proves nothing about a council’s financial stability.

• The same publication also discusses something that I’ve covered several times, most recently two weeks ago, the question of Permitted Development Rights. The main effect of the regulations (which were first introduced in 1995 and modified in 2013 and 2015) is to enable owners of some types of commercial property to convert these to dwellings without the cost and inconvenience of going through the planning system. The intention was to create more homes; this is partly been accomplished with over 60,000 dwellings have arisen from this in the last seven years, many of them converted office blocks. Whether they are all appropriate for local needs, in the best place (near amenities and transport), of the right size (adhering to government space standards) or adhering to fire-safety standards is more debatable. These rights are now to be extended further. The new regulations specify that all PDR dwellings should have windows, which suggests that some previous ones didn’t.

The government appears obsessed with the idea that the housing crisis can only be solved by the private sector – either operating within the planning system or, in the case of PDR, outside it – despite plentiful evidence to the contrary. Moreover, the very existence of PDR suggests that Whitehall believes the logjam is called by obstructive and nimby-ish local councils: only by circumventing them can anything be accomplished. For a planning department, PDRs make something of a mockery of a local plan as conversions over which they have no control can change the entire character of an area.

• All in all, it’s hard to escape the impression that the government fundamentally distrusts local councils. It’s true that they have this irritating habit of tending to prioritise local concerns over matters of national policy. Many also have the temerity to be have a  different ruling party from that which happens to preside in Westminster. They have responsibility for a number of complex and potentially divisive matters like social care and planning but for many years have not been properly funded to enable them to discharge and enforce these as well as they should. Since 2012, they have also had responsibility for public health (although this is confused by their relationship with the then newly-formed Public Health England (PHE)). The government’s evident suspicion of councils was clear in the May and June when it proceeded as if no such well-established local systems existed, instead attempting to build a track-and-trace system centrally and from scratch. When it was clear this was going to work, councils were belatedly asked to get involved. This they did, but months later than they should have been. In general, the bottom-up  responses to the pandemic have been more effective than the top-down ones.

If the government would like to abolish all local councils and rule by Whitehall decree, let’s have a manifesto pledge about it and we can all decide at the next election. If it’s going to retain local democracy then it needs to fund it properly and let it get on with doing its work. That also would include the Secretary of State refraining from making the kind of interventions that recently happened with South Oxfordshire’s local plan and the Westferry fiasco.

• Never a week goes by but that I learn something new about the planning system. This week’s nugget concerns attendance at Parish Council meetings, virtually or otherwise. Members of the public are allowed to attend these (except for the part 2s at the end at which any confidential matters are discussed) though it would not be true to say that there are queues round the block every month or tickets for the events changing hands for vast sums on Ebay. However, the day may come when there is a matter – such as a planning application – on which you would like to address your Council. If that’s the case, do not expect to get invited. Councils may ask people such as local Police officers to attend their meetings but they aren’t obliged to do so. Agendas must be publicised at least three days in advance (the meeting dates are generally fixed months ahead) so you need to establish for yourself when the item that interests you is going to be discussed. In these virtual times, some councils will publish the Zoom link on the agendas, while others will ask to contact the Clerk for this. You will be given an opportunity to speak, at least on the matter in which you are interested. Remember also that parish and town councils are only consultees in the process and that the  planning authority may take a different view of the matter.

• I rather like an article in Newbury Today about the weather prospects. West Berkshire, it seems, needs to brace itself for ‘a blistering’ 77ºc’ on Friday, which makes me wonder if the writer has spent the last month trapped in a deep freeze. 77º? I think I can cope with that…

• In this week’s NWN there’s a report of a discussion at the Scrutiny Commission (which took place three weeks ago, on 25 June) about West Berkshire’s 2020-23 Economic Development Strategy. One exchange (which seems to been accorded more space than it merited) concerned the number of times the word ‘hope’ had been used, Councillor Adrian Abbs suggesting that this was too vague and aspirational. He said there were 20 such mentions whereas in fact there were four. It transpired he’d been looking at earlier version of the strategy (not a different document as the NWN says). This at least proves that someone involved in the drafting agreed with him.

Another aspect that was covered concerned the lack of mention of Covid-19. Councillor Alan Law said that there was not time to do this ‘in the time limit it was working to.’ Really? I appreciate that strategy documents can’t be re-drafted every five minutes but considering this one is still being discussed and considering Covid is a bit of a game changer, surely something could have been written merely to recognise that the thing had happened. How about…er…‘The Council recognises that the impact of Covid-19 across the area will be deep, prolonged and uncertain. At this difficult time, the Council is committed to supporting its businesses and residents, to lobbying the government to ensure a timely flow of relevant information and adequate funding and to building on the strong and excellent foundations of parish and town councils, volunteer groups and health professionals to ensure that the impact of any future outbreaks are minimised.’ Something like that. Then, if any of those pesky opposition members said ‘you didn’t write anything about Covid,’ you can say ‘yes, we did,’ and move on. To whom at West Berkshire Council should I send the invoice for this?

• West Berkshire Council has announced that £43,000 has been set aside to support its towns and parishes in their recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. This new local grant scheme will provide funds ‘at the most local level to help residents across the district.’

• The Council has also announced the publication of its draft Recovery Strategy, which will be considered at Executive on the 16 July. This ‘sets out the priority areas the Council will focus on to help the community recover as quickly as possible from the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak’.

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

• The phased re-opening of the libraries in West Berkshire started on 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 a rather elegant Snow Serengeti cat called Lenny who is the Pet of the Week in this week’s NWN. I’m happy to follow the Editori’s recommendation on this one.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those referred to elsewhere, letters on the subject of garden bonfires, grants, electric scooters, face masks and poppies.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Berkshire Home-Start (thanks to pupils at Brockhurst and Marlston House); MIND (thanks to Charlie Richardson); Newbury Soup Kitchen (thanks to Swift Logistics); West Berkshire Community Hospital (thanks to Michael Hannington); Parkinson’s Newbury (thanks to The King’s Head in Thatcham); The John Radcliffe Hospital (thanks to Eloise Nalmes, Lottie Blackhouse and Hanna Heus); Be Free Young carers (thanks to the Ray Collins Charitable Trust); Swindon Dial-a-Ride (thanks to the Wiltshire Community Foundation).

Hungerford & district

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

• 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.  

• There was discussion at the Town Council’s Environment and Planning Committee on 13 July about a number of planning applications. One of these (item j) concerned retrospective planning permission for a house in Eddington. This provides a good example of the increasingly common cat-and-mouse approach to planning issues. Permission was granted; something rather different was done; objections were raised; retrospective permission was applied for which addressed some of the matters; this was called in to committee; a revision was submitted which addressed some but not all of Hungerford’s concerns. The matter will be looked at by the Western Area Planning Committee later this month.

The question could be asked – indeed it was asked at the meeting – what is the purpose of a planning system which grants permission for one thing but is able to accept the construction of something very different as a result of a protracted process which uses up large amounts of time and money. I would like to repeat my suggestion that any developer who builds something which is found to be in absolute conformity with the approved application be given some sort of reward which might be a refund of part of their planning fee. Anyone got any other suggestions? The stick doesn’t seem to be working so perhaps it’s time to try the carrot.  

• This week’s NWN refers to something that cropped up at a recent Hungerford Town Council meeting, the appalling state into which some of the roadsigns in the town (and elsewhere in the district have been allowed to get into: either filthy or obscured by vegetation, or both. These are West Berkshire Council’s responsibility to maintain.

• 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.

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.

• 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 still 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.

• East Garston’s Social Club will re-open on Friday 17 July (7-11pm). Click here for more information.

• Also in East Garston, the Jubilee Meadow (including the playground and gym equipment) has now re-opened.

• This week’s NWN has an article about Great Shefford Parish Council’s discussions about a planning application for an outdoor kiosk at The Great Shefford. This meeting took place on 4 June and was covered in this 11-18 June edition of this column. The application was refused by West Berkshire’s officers this week mainly on the grounds of the pub’s status as a listed building and the environmental impact (such as noise and smells). It’s worth stressing that the Parish Council stated at its 4 June meeting that ‘it would like to support improvements and maintenance to the pub. The owner of the pub has been very welcomed by the villagers, and has done a great deal of work to bring a much loved village pub back to life, which the Parish is grateful. GSPC does not want to facilitate, inadvertently or otherwise, the loss or decline of the pub.’ It did, however, feel that there were problems with the application as it stood, including its not addressing the issue of flooding and road safety. Slightly oddly, neither of these seemed to form part of West Berkshire’s reasons for refusing it.

• The same Parish Council had the opportunity on 15 July to put its stated support for its pubs into practice when it considered an application from The Pheasant in Shefford Woodlands for the extension of the kitchen and there construction of detached dwellings for the staff. It was able to give this application its support.

• Upstream in Lambourn, the Parish Council held its monthly meeting on 1 July: click here to see the notes (these are not yet formal minutes). Matters covered included several planning applications, speeding, the village wardens, the neighbourhood development plan, sewage and Eastbury playground. 

• If you want to know a bit more about Lambourn’s Ward Member Howard Woollaston, Penny Post interviewed him last month.

• 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 question of the former football ground (and current dilapidated mess) in Faraday Road is on the front page of this week’s Newbury Weekly News. This matter has been mentioned several times in this column. One of the many issues that this closure has exposed, and the one of most immediate concern to the football club, is what alternative ground could be found: the Council has a statutory duty to provide a facility at least as good as the one it closed. Consultants have been appointed to look into the alternatives (something that should have been considered, with or without consultants before the ground was closed in June 2018). I contacted the Newbury Community Football Group about this and received a statement which you can read in full here.

• As is so often the case, the first letter in the NWN letters’ page this week is on the subject of the London Road Industrial Estate which likens the Council’s behaviour to ‘a tart looking for a sugar daddy.’

• The more I think about the two big West Berkshire projects in Newbury, the more it seems that each is being approached in the wrong way. Sandleford is a new greenfield development and therefore badly needs (and, in fairness West Berkshire has always insisted on, though failed to get) an over-arching masterplan preferably with one developer: instead there are two developers who don’t appear to get on and a piecemeal approach including various applications, like the one for Warren Road, which have been described at ‘Trojan horses’ and long-running confusion about access roads. London Road, on the other hand, is an existing brownfield site with functioning commercial units, homes and (until 2018) a football ground and so would seem to require a series of careful interventions: instead a wholesale root-and-branch rebuild is what is envisaged. In neither case has anything much been accomplished so perhaps the time has come to reverse the logic. Another way of looking at it might be that neither car has managed to get started because each has been filled with the wrong kind of fuel.

• The NWN (also on p1) reports that the Parkways Centre is ‘planning for life without John Lewis’ following the announcement that the store is to close permanently.

• Delays to repairs mean the Northcroft Lido will not be reopening this year.

• The NWN reports on p5 about plans to convert the old Narrow Boat pub on the A4 to the east of the town to a Lidl store as the supermarket’s least near the Robin Hood Roundabout is soon to expire.

• 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, Beedon Parish Council, Chaddleworth Parish Council, Brightwalton Parish Council, The Peasemore Village website, West Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.

• The July Chaddleworth News has 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 most recent meeting of Ashamapstead Parish Council took place on 6 July and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included local speeding issues, the proposed resumption of the litter pick and the state of the local roads. On this last point, ‘the Clerk was asked to speak to District Councillor Alan Law again regarding the poor road surface at the entrance to Palmers Hill from the Aldworth Road, as WBC had not responded to the latest request for action.’

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.

• As mentioned last week, Penny was out and about in Thatcham in late June, 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 Leader of Thatcham Council has announced that the Covid pandemic is costing the town about £7,500 a month is lost revenues from hall rentals.

Newbury Today reports that monsters will be springing up around Thatcham from Friday 17 July as part of a new project to support town centres.

• The most recent Brimpton Parish Council meeting took place on 7 July and you can read the draft minutes here. One item discussed was West Berkshire Council’s request for town and parish councils to contribute to the cost of the public library service. As it appears more parishioners use Tadley library in Hampshire than Thatcham or Newbury libraries, the meeting decided that no contribution would be made to the West Berkshire library service.

• The same meeting also said that Aldermaston Parish Council was interested in purchasing a Speed Indicator Device jointly with Brimpton.

• Cold Ash Parish Council has reviewed the position regarding children’s play areas and has concluded that they can now be opened. Signs will be displayed at each site providing guidance for users, in order to minimise the risk from Coronavirus.

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 July 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.’

• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 14 July and the minutes will appear on the PC’s website in due course. The meeting discussed included how to spend the Council’s share of the developer contributions from Rosebourne (about £30,000) and the results of a survey suggested that the Recreation Ground would be the most likely recipient. It was also agreed to contribute £1,000 to the West Berkshire Library Service for 2020-21 and to contribute to the maintenance cost of a defibrillator in the Village Hall. It was also confirmed that West Berkshire has refused permission for the Lidl store south of Ravenswing Farm. Not all the planning proposals could be discussed as West Berkshire’s planning portal had, not for the first time, been experiencing problems. 

Burghfield Parish Council’s June newsletter is now available and can be downloaded here

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.

• As mentioned last week, 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. The issue appears to be that the Town Council has  decided to make all the high-street pavement-side parking bays available for table-service for pubs, cafés and restaurants, rather than just those for which a demand has been expressed. The matter was discussed at the 6 July Planning Committee meeting of Marlborough Town Council.

• Marlborough Town Council has re-opened its play areas in Coopers Meadow, Salisbury Road Rec, Jubilee Field (Manton), Wye Gardens and Orchard Road.  All equipment has been inspected, risk assessments are in place and we will be sanitising the equipment daily

• 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.

• Well done to all the pupils and teachers at Chilton Foliat Primary School involved in creating the Sow and Grow Garden.

Marlborough News reports on the visit of Danny Kruger MP to Burbage Primary School on 10 July to find out how schools have been coping with the challenges of lockdown and its aftermath.

• Congratulations again 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.

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

• The Wantage Chamber of Commerce held a well-attended Zoom meeting on 9 July to discuss the proposal to pedestrianise the western part of the Market Square (see the notice from Wantage Town Council here and an article in the Herald here). A number of points were raised and discussed and it’s expected that these will be minuted in full in due course: this is merely PP’s a summary of the main points and not the CoC’s official version. The CoC was keen to stress that ‘it wants the best solution for the people and businesses of Wantage’ but the comment was made that the plan plan ‘would do nothing to help revitalise the town.’ It was also asserted that to reduce the number of parking spaces available would be ‘a disaster’. The meeting considered several ways the new arrangements could cause ‘major parking and traffic disruption’ and the general feeling was that pedestrianisation might well work if the parking issues could be addressed. Attention also needed to be paid to question of deliveries. The meeting then discussed initiatives that appear to be working well elsewhere (such as one-way pavements in Barnstable to encourage people to walk into town) and the idea of a late-night shopping evening to help ‘get things buzzing.’

This is clearly a divisive issue and it may prove impossible to find a solution that satisfies everyone. The Town Council has followed many others in the area, including Newbury, in seeking to use its powers to make a change in order to help stimulate retail and hospitality activity. It would be interesting to know what shoppers and other visitors to the town felt about the arrangements. 

• Local MP David Johnston could be forgiven four pouring himself an extras-large G&T this week as it appears that he helped unblock a problem with the application for Wantage Road station in Groveto be considered as part of the Restore the Railway funding. The reasons why the application got snarled up between Oxfordshire County Council and the DfT seem almost as complex and arcane as the reasons why it appears to be so problematic to re-open the station, but there’s a bit more on this in this week’s Herald. This quotes the Minister of State as saying that “I must stress that this does not mean the bid will be successful in securing funding. However, all bids that are not successful will receive feedback and advice on the next steps, which could include applying to the November round or an alternative funding stream.” 

• 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. 

• Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran, writing in her fortnightly soapbox in the Herald, manages to draw a parallel between the League One play-off final (which Oxford Utd lost) and the response to the pandemic. She also mentioned that she’ll be chairing a cross-party inquiry into the government’s response to Covid. If, as she says, the team is going to get its results out before the end of the summer, they’ll have to get their skates on. Mind you, the virus has shown just how fast organisations can react when they have to.

• This week’s Herald report on p5 (and comments on p10) about the darkly farcical start to the examination of South Oxfordshire’s local plan. In normal circumstances, councillors are supportive of their plan and do their best to convince the examiner of its suitability. On this occasions, of course, most of the councillors hate it with a passion. They were elected last year on a mandate which included reviewing what many people saw as a deeply flawed document. The Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, had other ideas and invoked the threat of removing the council’s planning powers if they did not pass it. (It’s certainly unfortunate, and a bit odd, that the plan should have been basically finished but not ratified just before a council election). To make matters worse, the assumptions for housing numbers (which include also an appreciation of Oxford’s needs) obviously pre-dated Covid and it seems fairly clear that this is likely to have an effect on the need for housing in a variety of ways. The inspector has, however, told the members to ‘stop latching onto Covid’ during the examination. None of this inspires confidence either in local democracy or in the likelihood of the district getting the local plan it needs.  

• General information here from the Vale Council here about waste collection services in the area.

• Plans are under way for the re-opening of the leisure centres in the Vale and South Oxfordshire.

• Vale of White Horse district councillors have put together a plan for the future of the district and they want you to let them know what you think of it.

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 reflects on the need for a strategy to tackle the backlog of hospital treatments as a result of Covid-19.

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 July 2020 issue of the Letcome Register which includes, as well as village information, coverage of St Swithun, Hori Kingi Hipango, several brainteasers, a letter from the MP, a selection of photos and details of road closures.

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

Swindon & district

Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.

Swindon Link reports that Swindon Borough Council is offering to help businesses with outdoor seating and trading.

• A phased reopening of Swindon Borough Council-run libraries has started with a Click, Call and Collect service at Central Library.

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

• A new provider has been found to run a short-breaks service that helps children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

• 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 it’s going to be A Forest by The Cure, a wonderful and typical example of the Sussex goths’ music. If you don’t like it, fine. If you do, there’s plenty more…

• And as for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. It had to come up sooner or later so here it is now: the immortal Four Candles from The Two Ronnies.

• And so we slide into the final paragraph that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is based on something one of my sons asked in our regular Zoom quiz/chat sessions and is as follows: What is the connection between the band The Grateful Dead and the Lithuanian basketball team at the 1992 Olympic Games? Last week’s question was: In the reign of which English monarch was St Bartholomew’s School in Newbury founded? It was founded in the reign of Edward IV, way back in 1466.

Brian Quinn

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If you would like to add your thoughts to anything in this post, please use the ‘Comments’ box at the foot of the page. Once moderated, your comment will be visible to other users.

If you would prefer to contact me directly and privately about anything which was, or you think should have been, in this post, please email brian@pennypost.org.uk.

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