Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s pavements, Eddington’s riverbend, Newbury’s pedestrians, East Garston’s meadow, Lambourn’s minutes, Great Shefford’s animals, Thatcham’s revenues, Marlborough’s parking, Grove’s land, Wantage’s chapel, Aldermaston’s correction, Ashampstead’s litter, Great Bedwyn’s scarecrows, Stratfield Mortimer’s pages, Inkpen’s compromise, Brightwalton’s climber, Ashmore Green’s pub, Theale’s homes, Cold Ash’s stats, Swindon’s lights, meet the UK, eat out to help out, London Road, PPE, face coverings, good causes, changing patterns, false positives, vaccines, bleach, falcons, swans, sharks, democracy, Johnny Depp, The Grateful Dead and what is life?
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)
• The Commons Public Accounts Committee has stated that the government’s failure to plan for the economic impact of a pandemic was ‘astonishing.’ More astonishing still was the admission that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was ‘not aware’ of Exercise Cygnus, a war-gamed response to a pandemic in 2016. Clearly the minister doesn’t read Penny Post, as we’ve been mentioning it regularly for about three months. It doesn’t appear that any of the lessons should have been learned from the exercise – the results of which were ‘too terrifying’ to publicise according to one person involved in it – were acted upon. This seems to be worth a separate enquiry of its own.
• I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the pandemic has shown to USA to be all be ungovernable when faced with an existential threat, something that has never happened to it before. There are just a few signs that the UK’s much weaker devolved structure is not coping that well either.
• The UK, as we all know, comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (but not the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man). The last three of these constituent countries each has its own assembly (although Northern Ireland’s has been suspended on five occasions for a total of about eight years since February 2000 due to various political crises). Like almost everything else about the way the UK is organised, there is little that is pre-planned. None of the countries, collectively or individually, had a defining moment such as most others had after a revolution or independence, to get a blank sheet of paper and start afresh. This hasn’t served us that badly in some ways but it does create a number of confusions.
One concerns statistics. Any article referring to ‘the country’ could, if this isn’t qualified, refer to just England (by far the largest – where one of the other three is referred to this is normally specified); or to England and Wales, which are in many ways particularly closely associated; or to Great Britain (which is these two plus Scotland); or the whole UK (which includes Northern Ireland). Geographically, one could add the British Isles which includes the whole of the island of Ireland and the Isle of Man and by some (but not all) reckonings the Channel Islands as well. All clear so far?
OK, let’s put a few dates down. In 1066, England was conquered by the Normans. In 1171, England conquered Ireland. In 1204, Normandy (but not the Channel Islands) were conquered by France. Between 1284 and 1542, Wales was gradually subsumed into England. In 1603, the King of Scotland became also the King of England. In 1707, the two kingdoms were unified into one, as Great Britain. In 1800, the UK was created by the union of Great Britain and Ireland. This changed to Northern Ireland only after Irish independence in 1922. In 1998, the Northern Ireland Assembly was established, followed in 1999 by those in Scotland and Wales.
Unlike in the USA, where the powers of the states are enshrined in the constitution, the devolved powers of the three assemblies are granted by parliament. The arrangements differ slightly between the three, as does the terminology, but the main distinction is between matters which are devolved (including health, most aspects of social care, housing, local government and many aspects of transport) and those which are reserved to Westminster (including social security, immigration, foreign policy, broadcasting and defence). England, unique among all the countries in Europe apart from the Vatican City, doesn’t have its own parliament. In a way, as the senior partner, it doesn’t need one: its parliament is also the UK’s. This leads to the bizarre situation that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs can vote on any aspect of laws affecting England, but English MPs cannot vote on some matters pertaining to these countries as they are devolved (the so-called West Lothian Question). Except that, in theory, Westminster can legislate on devolved matters for the other three countries if it decides. It can also extend or reduce the powers that the assemblies have.
There are also constant tensions between Westminster and the three other countries as the political complexion of the Scottish and Welsh assemblies tends to be dominated by Labour and the nationalist parties, which often puts it at odds with what prevails in London. As for Northern Ireland, the political parties there are found nowhere else on earth and have their origins in religious divisions dating back to the Reformation. After the 2017 election one of these parties, the DUP, achieved a grotesque level of power as a result of the prevailing political arithmetic, one of the few evils which Boris Johnson’s resounding victory in 2019 managed to cure. As for the Sinn Féin members, they do not take up their seats Westminster at all.
This whistle-stop overview of our constitution suggests that the situation is a result not of any plan but rather a series of dynastic, military and political accidents that, each time, produced another layer of sticking plaster but no attempt to address the fundamental problems and paradoxes.
• This has become more apparent with the differing ways in which the Covid statistics are reported, targets set and regulations imposed. This article from the BBC website mentions, almost in passing, a number of these. To pick but one example, Public Health England (note the third word) has recently been accused of providing misleading statistics: 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’s probably a fairly safe assumption that when a senior politician starts lauding ‘the strength of the union‘ it either means that there’s an independence referendum coming up or that one of the many fault lines is about to be exposed. On 22 July, the BBC reported the PM as saying that that the response to the coronavirus pandemic has shown the ‘sheer might’ of the UK union, the SNP countering with the claim that the remark showed he was ‘in a panic’ about rising support for Scots independence. At times the Kingdom seems anything other than united.
• One of the staggering things about our political leaders is the sheer number of them who studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at Oxford. You can check out this list for yourself: in summary it includes our last PM but two, the current Chancellor, Trade Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Pensions Secretary and Health Secretary, the leader of the Welsh Assembly, the acting leader of the Lib Dems and a whole slew of other politicos ranging from Tony Benn and Michael Foot to Edward Heath and Michael Heseltine, from Harold Wilson to Lord Longford and from Peter Mandelson to Edwina Currie (and both the Millbands); plus the current or former leaders of Australia, Pakistan, Ghana, Thailand and Burma. I have this awful vision of them all knowing each other at the same time back in the day, drinking milky coffee and passing round badly-rolled spliffs in an ivy-cladded courtyard while cheerfully and confidently and correctly discussing how they were going to rule the world. That university seems to cast an unreasonably long shadow – only four PMs since the war did not go there. Before I get too het up about this, I remind myself that Penny studied PPE at Oxford as well so there must be something to be said for it.
• The Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government has written to all council Leaders and Chief Executives explaining the support packages for local authorities. £3.8 billion of grant funding, a £600m Infection Control Fund and over £5 billion of cashflow support has already been provided. To this will be added a new scheme to reimburse councils for lost income from sales, fees, and charges; changes enabling local authorities to spread their tax deficits over three years rather than the usual one; and further £500m of un-ringfenced funding to respond to spending pressures. You can the full letter by clicking here.
• Next week will see the start of August which will be the month of the ‘eat out to help out‘ scheme. This article gives what seems a pretty clear summary of it: in essence, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays you can get 50% off eat-in food and non-alcoholic drinks, up to a maximum of £10 per person, from any participating restaurant, café, pub, canteen or club. This seems like an imaginative proposal which is designed to support a sector which has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
Pubs, for instance, have been through some pretty big changes since I started going to them. Back in those days they were, let’s be honest, places where people, mainly men, went to get pissed. Some grudgingly provided ploughman’s lunches and chicken in the basket at lunchtime. Then, some time in the ’80s, the country went a bit European and we discovered things like garlic, lime, coriander and fish other than cod. More and more pubs started offering food in the evenings, ranging from the superb to the inedible. The term ‘gastro-pub’ became popular. Some couldn’t cope with these new demands and the closures started. Then, in the 21st century, developments like the tightening of drink-driving laws, the smoking ban and cheap booze from the supermarkets led to further attrition. The 2008 financial crash seemed like the final straw, and indeed was, for many (particularly the bad ones).
Looking around me from where I now live, in East Garston rather than London, I see several superb pubs which have adapted to these changed circumstances and survived and – as they have had to do – carved out their own niches in their own different ways. I’ve gone so far now that I might as well name some of them: The Queens Arms, The Plough, The George, The Great Shefford, The Five Bells, The Wheatsheaf, The Pheasant, The Craven Arms, The Red House, The Tally Ho, The Bell, The Crown and Garter, The Crown and Anchor – apologies to any omitted from this list in error. They all deserve our support. August would be a good time to show it.
• A number of organisations, including pubs, have been forced to re-think what they provide in the way of food and drink. In late March, Penny said that she had heard of a number of places that were offering delivery and takeaway services and started a post on the subject, which started with about 10 listings. Others contacted us and we contacted others and it quickly grew to what you can now see here. At first, I thought it might get a hundred or so views a week: how wrong I was. So far the post has been opened over 10,000 times. I mention this partly to show that Penny Post sometimes hits the spot but also because, having spoken to a good number of the organisations, many of the ones which previously hadn’t offered anything like this kind of service intend to continue to do so. The old pattern of the weekly supermarket shop, the regular home-cooking and the occasional blow-out, perhaps on Sunday lunchtime, seems to have been disrupted. To have vegetable boxes delivered each week, to buy beer from a pub in re-useable flagons or to have a couple of professionally-cooked treats provided or collected every week or so now seems increasingly normal. The signs are this new buying pattern will survive the pandemic.
• A reminder that as of Friday 24 July we’ll all have to wear face coverings in shops (though not in pubs). I was offered some quite snazzy face masks when I went to the excellent Hungerford Farmers’ Market on Sunday but figures that we have some in the house and that I don’t any longer go to shops very often (most of our needs being provided for by Hungerford’s Wednesday street market). One was on the theme of ‘pug dogs in space’ which I suppose might appeal to a narrow demographic which thinks these asthmatic animals as attractive but which does nothing for me. If you need to stock up on your supplies, we have a guide here to local suppliers, often with the proceeds going to good causes. I’m aware that some people don’t agree with this regulation (although fortunately it doesn’t seem to have become as insane a civil-liberty issue as it has in the USA). Please, however, abide by it. Shops up and down the country have suddenly been asked to police an unprecedented requirement at a time when they’re already feeling a bit tender. This article from the BBC has more information on the regulations.
• A friend told me what might be a slightly alarming story today. Someone he knew tested positive for Covid-19 about four months ago but, on being tested again quite recently, was found to have no antibodies. As with anything to do with the virus and the tests for to, there could be a number of reasons for this. The first test could have been a false positive; the second could have been a false negative; they could have a defective immune system; or in no case do Covid antibodies don’t stick around for that long. On the last of these, perhaps the immune system needs to be taught that the whole thing’s for real. So, if you’ve had Covid, maybe the best thing is to re-expose yourself to it just to make sure the antibodies are on red alert. No it isn’t. Don’t pay any attention to what I’m saying. I’m not a doctor. I mean, if someone told you to inject yourself with bleach you wouldn’t do that, would you?
• The news about the Coronavirus vaccine appears to be good. I was talking to a friend who’s a GP in London the other day and he said he’s recently been told not to expect any supplies this flu season. It looks like something for next year.
• There’s been a rather lurid soap opera running for some weeks in which the rather frisky private life of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp has been made public as a result of a legal action. Depp was accused by The Sun of being a wife-beater, which he denied. Wife-beating is not a good thing to do, or to be accused of if you’re innocent, but many would have just shrugged it off and told everyone that you can’t believe anything you read in the tabloids. Instead, we’ve been treated to an extraordinary series of reports of their behaviour towards each other, which ranges from the nasty to the weird. Unlike the original allegation these won’t be forgotten, so it’s another good example of the Barbara Streisand effect. Another result is that there may be people, locked down in dysfunctional relationships who are taking comfort from these bizarre claims and counter-claims from the Hollywood bubble. ‘I don’t feel so bad now,’ they might say to themselves. ‘There are at least two people out there who’re stuck in an even crazier relationship than I am…’
• A letter in this week’s NWN from Lib Dem West Berkshire Councillor Adrian Abbs mentions various ways by which he claims democracy has been ill-served by some recent measures and decisions. One of these he refers to – concerning the revised and by any measure more restrictive ways planning committee meetings are conducted – is a matter I’ve covered in a separate post.
• 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. There are 43 district councillors in the region so I think we can all do the maths on how much each has to spend. 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.’
• Click here for some information from West Berkshire Council about help available to businesses following the re-opening of ‘non-essential’ shops.
• Click here for advice from the government to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
• West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon Councils have set up their own web pages relating to the outbreak. Click here as follows for the high-level links for West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon.
• West Berkshire Council set up a Community Support Hub. Click 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.
• The animals of the week are the peregrine falcons which have taken up residence in the BT building on the Sainsbury’s roundabout – the ugliest building in West Berkshire – according to this week’s NWN. I bet there aren’t too many pigeons hanging around there at the moment.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those referred to elsewhere, correspondence about litter, the NHS, police coffee-runs, drug dealers and the climate emergency.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Thames Valley Air Ambulance (thanks to Esme Stannard and Selina Sadler); Victoria’s Promise (thanks to Ed Smith); Swings and Smiles (thanks to pupils at St Bart’s); Willow’s Edge Care Home (thanks to Toby Thorp); West Berkshire Community Hospital (thanks to Malcolm Hannington); Fairy Bricks (thanks to Jack Daubney); the Well Being Centre (thanks to pupils at Great Shefford School); CLIC Sargent (thanks to Frances Billinge).
Hungerford & district
• July’s Penny Post Hungerford was published earlier this month and includes as usual the best and most comprehensive round-up of news and views in and around the town. Click to see it. The next edition will be out on Tuesday 4 August.
• 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. The matter came before the Western Area Planning Committee on 22 July at which it was agreed that the external appearance be changed to match that in the permission and that trees would be planted ro replace those that were felled. Hungerford Town Council requested that West Berkshire’s Building Control team exercised particular vigilance to ensure that these conditions were followed. As the property is widely visible it’s expected that neighbours will help keep an eye on this as well. Technically, WAPC could have insisted that the building be demolished as it exceeded the approved height. This would certainly have led to an appeal to HM Planning Inspectorate. The last time this happened in Eddington, in 2015, HMPI decided that a house the bore hardly any relation to the original plans could be allowed to remain. The decision, which must have reduced West Berkshire’s planning officers to apoplexy, does nothing to strengthen people’s faith in the planning process.
In any rational system, a flagrant disregard for the conditions of a permission (which is what this was) would have resulted in a fine. Officers and councillors spent hours of time considering, visiting and discussing the matter, all of which comes out of our Council Tax bills. However unbelievable this seems, councils cannot levy fines in such cases. If a system has loopholes like this then people are going to take advantage of them.
• This week’s NWN refers, on p24, to a seeming simmering row between Hungerford Town Council and the Rugby Club. It’s certainly true that the previous arrangement, which had benefitted the latter more than the former, was re-drawn in 2017 which led, as such things do, to some lively debate. I spoke to Hungerford’s Mayor, Helen Simpson, about this who assured me that the relations between the two organisations were now ‘very good’. The frustrations that the article quoted were really directed at a procedural confusion by the Triangle Field Management Committee. This is the body which, as the article states, may be dissolved as it now seems to be superfluous to requirements. The additional rent based on the RPI is a matter of only about £112pa and would not have applied this year in any case as, due to Covid-19, the Council had agreed a rent holiday with the Club.
• Another example of pushing the frontiers of permission is referred to on p25 of this week’s NWN. This concerns the Costa Coffee franchise in the High Street which has, ever since it opened, been engaged in what could be described as a game of cat and mouse with both West Berkshire and Hungerford Councils about its external seating. Planning permission has since been agreed by West Berkshire. At a recent Environment and Planning Committee meeting at Hungerford, however, it was suggested that the regulations may again be being breached. The members promised that it would keep monitoring the situation. There are two issues here. First, pavements are primarily for pedestrians. Secondly, if there’s a system such matters it needs to be followed by everyone.
• A large and complex development at New Mill in Inkpen has been going on for some time. Rightly or wrongly, the owners have hitherto elected to make a series of piecemeal planning applications rather than one over-arching one. This has led to a certain amount of uncertainty amongst local residents, and thus a certain amount of friction between them and the owners. One of the ward members has been trying to broker a deal between the parties in an attempt to bring the matter to a swift and hopefully mutually acceptable conclusion.
• This edition feels the need to make a statement under the heading of ‘misinformation circulating in the village.’ This appears to concern the all-too-common misapprehension that parish councils make planning decisions – they don’t. In this area, it’s West Berkshire Council that has the sole responsibility for this. The parish council is merely one of the statutory consultees and the planning authority can, and sometimes does, go against the parish’s views.
• 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 previously, 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 although no date has yet been fixed for this.
• The July East Garson News has been published and you can read it here if you didn’t receive it by email.
• Our July Valley of the Racehorse newsletter was published last weekend and you can click here to read it. The August edition will be published early next month.
• East Garston’s Social Club re-opened last Friday and will be open again this weekend. 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 refers on p22 to the refusal of a planning application for an outdoor kiosk at The Great Shefford, something we covered last week. 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. As we and the NWN both pointed out, West Berkshire in fact objected on different grounds (the appearance of the building and the harmful effects of cooking odours).
• Also in Great Shefford, the National Animal Welfare Trust at Trindledown is facing a very uncertain future as a result of a dramatic fall in revenue since lockdown. Click here for more information.
• Lambourn 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.
• 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
• There was some confusion at Newbury Town Council this week as a result of a seeming change of policy regarding the pedestrianisation of the town centre. The original plan was (and remains) for a 24/7 closure to traffic. However, it was revealed at the town’s Planning and Highways meeting on 13 July that some of the ruling Lib Dem members had requested of West Berkshire that this be waived between midnight and 9,30am to allow for deliveries. It turns out that this was a case of acting in good faith but in too much haste, for which the Council Leader Martin Colston has apologised. That fact alone, something of a rare item among politicians at any level, deserves to be noted and applauded.
The underlying problem seems to have been that little effective consultation had taken place (Councillor Colston told Penny Post that he believed this had been done by West Berkshire before the scheme was announced but it then transpired this was not the case and that some arrangements, such as for deliveries and blue-badge holders, had either not been put in place or not communicated.) What followed was a rapid survey of the retailers which revealed a number of reservations about the scheme. This isn’t perhaps surprising as any new measure is likely to be viewed with suspicion, particularly at a time when footfall had fallen to almost zero. Given these issues – which are also understandable in these times of swift action – perhaps the whole scheme should have been paused and re-started a few weeks later when the problems had been resolved: either that or continued with and reviewed after a reasonable period of time. By then everyone could have made a more dispassionate assessment. A week or so (as was the case) is not long enough to judge the success of anything.
A further survey has since been done and a statement on this will be issued soon. Martin Colston stressed that ‘NTC strategy is for permanent pedestrianisation of the Market Place, which we are fully committed to,’ but added that it would be necessary to convince WBC of that as it makes the final decision. Clearly it will also be necessary to convince the traders. Other towns in the area including Hungerford, Wantage and Marlborough, are experimenting with various schemes involving parking changes, pedestrianisation and the promotion of pavement culture. None has so far preceded completely smoothly. What new measure ever does? Time will tell. It certainly jives with the demands of the climate emergency, an issue which has been eclipsed by Covid-19 but which has certainly not gone away.
• This week’s Newbury Weekly News has a summary of a report issued by West Berkshire’s Oversight and Scrutiny Management Commission’s Task Group in order to, as the document confirms at the top, ‘better understand the advice and guidance received in relation to the Council’s decision when procuring a preferred partner for the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE) development.’ You can read the whole document here. As the preamble states, it had quite a narrow remit and was not able to report on the far larger matter of the whole, for want of a better word, ‘vision’ for the site and to what extent this corresponds with the current needs of the town and the area. Some of the points made and recommendations rather suggest that a wider investigation would not be out of place.
The issue is a long and complex one and the report’s related documents (a summary of which can be seen here, as part of the agenda for the OSMC on Tuesday 28 July) are voluminous. A few points immediately struck me. The first is that most of the 15 recommendations refer to a number of ways by which the Council’s procedures and systems could be improved and which were to a greater or lesser extent defective, at least with this aspect of the LRIE. These include appropriate project management methodology, appropriate governance structures, a clear business case, appropriate monitoring of budgets, an annual review of terms of reference and improving the policy on record retention. Despite this, the report states that ‘it was considered unlikely that even if those systems had been better at the time that the actual decision as to how to proceed [with the change of development partner] would have been any different.’ Given where they were then, that may be so: but it could also be argued that, were these systems to have been better from the outset, the project might have taken a different course and so the question would not have arisen at all. If these were not fully in place with this aspect of the scheme then it’s likely that the project as a whole was similarly affected. There are also several references to the ‘piecemeal’ nature of the project which would perhaps make such management processes more difficult (though probably even more important).
‘Piecemeal’ seems, however, to be exactly what the Council was seeking to avoid. This is touched on in what amounts to a Q&A session with Faraday Development (FDL), the company which brought the action against West Berkshire Council, which the Council lost on appeal. (The key issue was whether the appointment of the new developers, St Modwen, amounted to a public contract, which should therefore have followed public procurement procedures.) You can see the questions and the officer’s responses here. FDL’s general view is that the site, which contains a functional mix of light-industrial units, retail outlets and housing (and, until 2018, a football ground), could best be improved by a selective re-development rather than wholesale renewal (which I, and others, feel is both more appropriate and more achievable). Four of FDL’s questions dealt directly with this point. One of the Council’s responses, to question 6, refers to ‘lots of interest’ from the market – which, based on the answer to question 4, means private development firms – as long as the project was ‘for the site as a whole.’ Well, to paraphrase Christine Keeler, they would say that, wouldn’t they? This isn’t the same thing as saying that this is the best thing for the area.
It also seems to me that the question of the relief road into the site from the A339 is of importance to the legal issue concerning the nature of the contract. FDL had agreed to fund this when it was the development partner. The new partner St Modwen was, the NWN article reports, ‘asked for a contribution’ (but did not respond). The Council eventually built the road itself at a cost of over £5m, much of which came from developer and government contributions. If this had been specified as part of the new agreement then it would unambiguously have been a public project and so would have required a full procurement process (which the Court of Appeal said should have happened anyway).
The LRIE juggernaut’s next stop will be at the OSMC meeting next week (see above for the link). It will be interesting to learn the Council’s views about the report’s recommendations and whether it’s decided to conduct an enquiry with a broader remit. It will also be interesting to see if the OSMC’s Chair, Councillor Alan Law, chairs the LRIE sessions. Councillor Law was involved in many aspect of the LRIE and was called as a witness on 4 March 2020. To ask him then to lead an investigation into the affair would seem, among other possible conflicts, to put him in a very invidious position.
• Linked to this is the question of the football ground in Faraday Road which was closed in June 2018 despite no replacement having been identified. Although Newbury is not a large place, consultants have been appointed to look into the matter (an advantage of appointing consultants is that it helps distance the client from any unwelcome decision). Although no planning permission has been applied for, the LRIE vision demands that it be vacated and, even though any re-development is likely to be several years away, not re-used. This online poll conducted by Newbury Today – which would could not claim to be representative – currently suggests that 64% of the population feels that Faraday Road should be retained. Only 5% feel that Henwick Worthy (which seems to the front runner in the rather underwhelming field) would be suitable: while slightly more, 7%, feel that Newbury doesn’t need a football ground at all.
I contacted the Newbury Community Football Group about the issue last week and received a statement which you can read in full here. I have also asked West Berkshire Council if it wishes to make a statement of its own and await its response. This will be published once I receive it.
• As is often the case, the first two letters in this week’s NWN refer to the LRIE generally, the football club specifically and also another related entanglement, the Strange Case of the Missing Decision Notice on the planning application for the former NWN building which was refused at committee in February but which has yet to be officially ratified by the officers.
• The same paper reports, p7, that some lunatic has been shooting swans on the Kennet and Avon, the third such case in the last three months.
• Delays to repairs mean the Northcroft Lido will not be reopening this year.
• 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 email@example.com.
• 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 most recent meeting of Brightwalton Parish Council took place on 13 July and you can read the draft minutes here. Two items caught my eye. The first is that the nautical climber in the playground will cost about £2,500 to replace – what on earth is a nautical climber? The other is that ‘address evidence’ had been found in a recent batch of fly tipping, which has to go down as a major error of judgment by the tipper.
• 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.
Thatcham and district
• 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.
• Monsters have sprung up around Thatcham as part of a new project to support town centres – read more here.
• The most recent Brimpton Parish Council meeting took place on 7 July and you can read the draft minutes here. The meeting was told that more parishioners use Tadley library in Hampshire than those in Thatcham or Newbury so no contribution would be made to the West Berkshire library service for 2020-21.
• 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. This includes the alarming – for bricks-and-mortar retailers – statistics from Action Fraud that ‘almost 34% of all retail sales during May 2020 were carried out online and new research suggests that only 16% of UK consumers intend to return to their old shopping habits post-lockdown.’ The article goes on to point out that some of the online scams and frauds which have been reported recently (something that doesn’t happen in a shop unless they tap in an extra 0 on the chip and pin machine).
• GWR has announced some timetable changes for services on the on the main line running through Newbury from 6 July.
Theale and district
• This week’s NWN reports on p10, about the approval by West Berkshire for the application from Englefield Estates to build over 100 homes on the outskirts of Theale, despite some concerns that this did not provide the right mix of housing.
• 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.’
• As mentioned last week, 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. Matters covered included developer contributions, support for the West Berkshire Library Service and the defibrillator in the Village Hall.
• The Chairman of the same council wrote to NWN this week pointing out some factual errors in the recent planning refusal for the Lidl store. He also stressed that Aldermaston in in West Berkshire and not (as its occasional appearances in the ‘North Hampshire news’ section of the paper), in Hampshire.
• I was looking at the minutes of the Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council meeting of 25 June and was slightly alarmed when I saw, on flicking to the end, that the last page was numbered 472. Jeez, I thought, what has been going on there? Then I realised that the first page was 462. Perhaps the Council is planning to publish them in book form (film rights still available). Even so, 11 pages worth of notes covers a lot of ground and I was amazed that they got through it all in two hours. There were a large number of planning applications covered, one of which led to over a page of notes and comments. I remain staggered by the sheer volume of work that parish councillors (who are unpaid) get through.
• One item that caught my eye was something that I’ve seen come up with other councils, regarding the legality of giving financial assistance to churches (the local church having applied for a grant to help with grass cutting). The matter was eventually resolved, for the time being, when District Councillor Graham Bridgman proposed that a grant could be made subject to agreement from the auditor and subject to the Clerk and Chairman establishing if the Council had the power to do this.
Marlborough & district
• Marlborough News reports here on the discussion at a Zoom meeting of the full Town Council 20 July at which councillors heard a series of ‘robust and impassioned pleas’ from traders and members of the public regarding the proposals to do away with many (or perhaps all) of the free parking spaces in the High Street. This is the counter-proposal from Wiltshire 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 they will be sanitising the equipment daily.
• The same Council has a vacancy for a councillor to be filled by co-option – more details here.
• See here for information from Marlborough Town Council about changes to its services as a result of CV-19.
• Well done to all the pupils and teachers at Chilton Foliat Primary School involved in creating the Sow and Grow Garden.
• Marlborough News has this report on the socially-distanced scarecrows at Great Bedwyn Primary School.
• Wiltshire Council has received over £3m in emergency funding from Whitehall.
• Click here for a list of current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.
• Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson has welcomed a national review of the Police and Crime Commissioner model.
• GWR has announced some timetable changes for services on the on the main line running through Newbury from 6 July.
Wantage & district
• Click here to see the video Penny made a couple of weeks ago about the re-opening of the shops in Wantage.
• Many people will be familiar with the experience of waking up in the morning after a rather jolly fundraising event which concluded with an auction and recalling that we bid a stupid amount of money for something we didn’t really want. Something of that nature happened in Grove recently when it was discovered that a triangle of land near Edington Place, which all beloved was owned by the Council, was put up for sale. It was eventually bought at auction in June by Ozzy Developments from North London for £36,000. The crucial point about the land – which was public knowledge at the time – is that it is technically an adopted highway. This makes any development impossible without the uncertainty and expense of trying to get this quashed. This limitation appears only recently to have struck the developer, which then approached Grove Parish Council asking if it wanted to do a land swap. Even if any land were suitable – and it isn’t as all Grove PC’s sites are covered by restrictive covenants – it’s hard to see why the PC would be minded to assist the developer out of this hole. (The Council itself bid £30,000 for the land, half of which had been raised by local residents). Things may yet get worse. As mentioned above, Grove has been maintaining the land for years, believing it to be its own: now that an owner has been identified, the Council may either charge Ozzy for maintaining the land or demand that the developer do so at its expense. Caveat emptor.
• On this matter, and to repeat a point made in the Local News of 18-25 June 2020, by an irony, the Parish Clerk Graham Mundy had been in the process of doing an audit of all the pockets of land (47 in all) which the Parish Council owned, or thought it owned, when the matter of the sale was brought to his attention. All the evidence pointed to it having been transferred to the Council some time ago, one of the sources being a detailed map provided by Oxfordshire Country Council in about 2005. If this detail on the map was wrong then so might the others be: the only solution is to check the deeds for every single one, which can be a laborious task. Some of these, Graham told me, are no bigger than a bathtub. Any of them, however, could be of crucial importance if it forms the missing piece of a jigsaw for a proposed development or access road. Any Clerk anywhere in the country who reads this may feel that a similar audit should be done in their own parish. This won’t just include land but assets such as street lights, war memorials and fences.
• As reported last week, 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.
• Anyone who lives, as I do, in a unitary authority (West Berkshire) will have two levels of local government to contend with: the town or parish council and the UA. Residents of Oxfordshire, however have three. If you’re in Wantage, for instance, there’s the Town Council, then the Vale of White Horse District Council, then Oxfordshire County Council. The distinction between the roles and responsibilities of the last two is probably only fully understood by the people who work there (and perhaps not by all of them). West Berkshire looks after a number of things including libraries, schools, social care, planning, leisure and waste collection. In the Wantage, however, the first three are dealt with by the County Council and the last three by the District, a situation that is mirrored with the other four District Councils. There is no particularly obvious reasons why two adjacent counties, both predominantly rural, should be organised along different lines. The same duality crops up all over the country. The Vale and South Oxfordshire operate very closely together, sharing offices, some staff and functions and issuing joint press releases, a development which looks slightly like a co-habitation before marriage. This leads to the wider question of whether Oxfordshire needs two council layers above the parishes at all. This reared its head recently when Oxfordshire’s leader, Ian Hudspeth, proposed that the 2021 election should be postponed as it was possible that the following year would see the implementation of the government’s planned overhaul of local councils. The suggestion was rejected, as The Herald reports this week on p8, ‘after an uproar from councillors.’ I don’t share Mr Huspeth’s belief that the government will move that quickly with such a reform. In any case, it doesn’t seem a great idea for an incumbent leader to suggest delaying elections based on some hypothesis of what might happen afterwards.
• The Vale Council is inviting feedback on its ‘six priority themes and illustrative projects in the Corporate Plan 2020-2024.’ Click here to take part (you have until midnight on Thursday 13 August to do so).
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald refers to this survey and draws attention to some of the points it covers.
• There an article and photos here from The Herald about the Garston Lane Baptist Chapel, which was demolished in 1936
• General information here from the Vale Council here about waste collection services in the area.
• Like many men, I only really acknowledge the existence of 16 different colours (there is no such thing as mauve, for instance) so I’m not sure if the shiny machine in the photo in this article is red or orange. Anyway, whatever colour it is, it now belongs to Grove Parish Council, thanks to a £21,000 grant from the Vale Council, to help mow the grass at the widely-used Recreation Ground.
• 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 is under way.
• A similar project has also started with many of the borough’s traffic lights.
• 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, Public Health England South West and local employers are working together to support staff working in Swindon, following a small number of Covid-19 cases in workplaces.
• Parents and carers whose children have reached their second birthday are being reminded to apply for free childcare by Swindon Borough Council.
• 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.
• Click here for details of the many volunteering opportunities at Great Western Hospital.
The song, the sketch and the quiz
• And we arrive at the Song of the Week. The Beatles’ individual output after they split up was pretty patchy. George Harrison’s was probably the best, perhaps because he had a lot of songs that the dysfunctional dynamics of the band in its last couple of years didn’t enable him to record. He didn’t hang around either, releasing a triple album All Things Must Pass in 1970. The excellent What is Life? is taken from that.
• And now for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Chris Morris’ Jam was one of the darkest sketch shows – if that’s the right genre – ever produced. Some of them are very dark indeed. I’ve gone for The Indian Restaurant, which has no dialogue and is only about 30 seconds long. Gives you a good flavour of it.
• And so we ease into the final paragraph that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What is the name of Quint’s shark-hunting boar in the film Jaws? Last week’s question was based on something one of my sons asked in our regular Zoom quiz/chat sessions and was as follows: What is the connection between the band The Grateful Dead and the Lithuanian basketball team at the 1992 Olympic Games? The answer is that, amazing as it may seem, the band designed the shirts. They truly are something to behold as well.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.