Local News 30 July to 6 August 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s pigeons, Newbury’s pause, East Garston’s club, Lambourn’s minutes, Great Shefford’s voucher, Thatcham’s orcas, Marlborough’s responsibilities, Grove’s station, Wantage’s chamber, Stratfield Mortimer’s closure, Kintbury’s Zoomlessness, West Ilsley’s chapel, Chieveley’s graves, Compton’s call-in, Chilton Foliat’s seeds, Brightwalton’s news, Chaddleworth’s vent, Theale’s shelter, Ramsbury’s accolade, Cold Ash’s bulletin, Swindon’s Swindonian, Stonehenge, excess deaths, the arboreal member, the bot’s name, scrutinising the scrutineers, grey and hopeless, Trump’s delay, restoring democracy, the upper house, a 15-month cycle, 2,980 members, £300,000 shy, waste-war truce, emergencies, bindweed, Liverpool, Liberia’s election, a playbook, no policy on bears, Sunak cuisine and grieving for the little things.

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)

• Let’s get the important and topical stuff out of the way first. It now seems that the materials for Stonehenge didn’t come from South Wales – which would present a difficult journey today and a seemingly impossible one back then – but from about 15 miles away. Even that’s pretty impressive. I don’t know what they had in the way of wheels but I know they would all have to be pulled, probably by people. The whole business, even over this shorter distance, suggests a powerful collective view (or perhaps that of  just one person, probably a man, with a vision and a lot of cheap labour) that this all mattered. You’ve got to be awed by the idea of this desire to create a series of objects that don’t actually do anything apart from tell you the time once a year – or do they…?

The BBC website reports that the UK and England in particular had the highest number of excess deaths between late February and mid June 2020 and also the longest period where deaths were above average (they are currently at the ‘normal’ rate). This measure, which probably can only be done over a reasonably long period, has the effect of stripping out the background noise caused by delays, methodological errors or inconsistencies in the reporting.

• If there’s been better coverage of Covid than that found in Private Eye’s MD column (currently a page and a bit long) then I’ve not seen it. A fortnight is a decent period of time which to reflect and consider but generally not so long that the moment has passed. (The author of this is long-time medical journalist, Marlborough-educated Phil Hammond: but as Lord Gnome generally prefers pseudonyms I’ll stick to ‘MD’). The first point covered this time round concerns masks and the point I hadn’t considered before that, 17 years after SARS, no definitive research has been done on whether they are effective or not. He also draws attention to England’s ‘illogical’ criteria for when you do and do not need to mask yourself, so leading to confusion. MD then goes on to compare England’s and Scotland’s handling of the crisis and points out that one of the reasons the infection and death rates in England were so high is because the pandemic arrived in London early (an obvious disadvantage of having a major international travel hub as your capital). he also stresses the need for local public-health experts and GPs to have ‘local data, resources and power’ to manage local outbreaks, something which is belatedly happening.

MD also points out that when the flu season arrives in the autumn it will be hard for staff to distinguish between that and Covid and some people may get both. This is likely further to confuse the statistics. It’s also likely to increase the demand for flu vaccines, for which there is already ‘unfair global competition.’ He ends with the encouraging thought that our ‘new passion’ for hand washing, hygiene and social distancing is likely to reduce the incidence of a hosts of less serious infectious diseases, including hepatitis A (which I caught in the ’90s as a result of eating a sandwich which had been prepared in conditions that were later found to have been medieval). This recollection is relevant because, when I had this disease (and also when I had campylobacter more recently) the public health teams and my GP surgery were all over it very quickly. I admit we weren’t then in the grip of a global pandemic but it does show that the local systems do work and it was on these, and not some top-heavy, untested and Serco-managed national project, that the government should have relied. Fortunately, this is now happening.

• As many feared, further local lockdowns may need to be implemented: the government announced at about 9.30pm on 30 July that separate households will not be allowed to meet indoors in Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire from midnight.

• Flicking on through the Eye, I came to the Housing News column which, as I was expecting, looked at the recent ‘research into the quality standard of homes delivered through change of use permitted development rights (PDR)’ report funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and which you can see here. I say ‘recent’ but it seems this was completed in 2019 though for some reason only published last week. At 212 pages, many of them tables and charts, it’s not a quick or easy read. The main conclusions are mixed.

The good news for supporters of PDRs is that that ‘in relation to measures like the exterior appearance of buildings, visible alterations made, energy performance, access to services and green space, and the deprivation level of the neighbourhood location, there are no significant differences’ between dwellings which were created  via PDR (which removes the need for planning permission for an increasing number of conversions, mainly from commercial to residential) and those that went through the normal planning system. ‘More significant difference does emerge, however,’ the summary continues, ‘when considering performance against nationally described space standards (NDSS), the arrangement of windows, access to amenity space, and the location in terms of immediate surroundings.’ These are fairly dismal failings.

They become even more so when you look at just how badly PDR conversions are doing on some of these scores. Only 22% of the PDRs were compliant with NDSS compared with 73% of those created through the planning process. Moreover, most of the remaining 27% of the latter ‘were only slightly below the suggested standard, whereas the PDR units were significantly below.’ Nearly 70% of the PDR units were studios or one-bedroom dwellings, compared to 44% in the case of planning-system properties. 72% of the PDR properties had only single-aspect windows (compared to 29% of those created through permission). 0.4% (10 properties from the sample studied across 11 different authorities) had no windows at all. As, according to The Guardian, 60,000 homes have built in this way since 2015, this that suggests that there are about 2,500 homes in the country into which the sun never shines. The report notes that, amazingly, ‘Building Regulations do not actually require a dwelling to have a window.’ I think that’s now changed.

The conclusion is that PDRs – which are to be extended from September – tend to create properties that are small, dark and in the wrong place. They also increasingly operate as a parallel development process but one over which the planning authority has virtually no control (and yet it has to deal with the consequences). It’s rather as if there were two systems for speed limits, the majority of people needing to obey the standard regulations but a significant (and increasing) minority being able to drive as fast as they liked.

• I mentioned last week that Ian Hudspeth, the leader of Oxfordshire CC, had suggested that the proposed elections next year should be called off on the grounds that local government reform may make it irrelevant. This was roundly rejected by his colleagues. Perhaps inspired by this, or more likely by the strange impulses that govern his thought processes, President Trump has proposed delaying the US elections set for November. His reason was not, as might have been expected, because the USA is in the grip of a pandemic but because universal mail-in voting would make November’s vote the ‘most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history.’ If he’s talking about any elections anywhere then this indeed a startling claim. It would put the White House race ahead of democratic milestones like the 1927 Liberian general election, at which the sitting President Charles King received 243,000 votes, despite there only being 15,000 registered electors in the country. It’s certainly odd to see an incumbent do their best to undermine the results of an election in which they will be participating. One thing you have to concede is that Trump has been consistent. Americans voted for a sleazy, gaffe-prone, divisive, libertarian, publicity-obsessed egomaniac and that is exactly what he has provided them with over the last three and a half years.

• At least the Liberians got to vote in 1927, which is more than we can do with regard to the House of Lords. I tried to explain in this column in December 2019 why it was so peculiar and what might be done about it. The matter’s come to my attention again because the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) claims that the PM is planning to pack the upper house with yet more unelected peers, a move that seems to suggest that a raft of controversial legislation is proposed. The above-mentioned link also takes you to an online petition which has attracted over 200,000 signatures. I need to make one correction to my 2019 article. I said then that it is the largest legislative body in the world but it seems from The Spectator, quoted in the ERS article, that it’s actually in second place: the gold medal for this one goes to that famous bastion of democracy and free speech, the Chinese National People’s Congress, which has a staggering 2,980 members. Actually, this is quite restrained: as China has 20 times more people than the UK, if the House of Lords’ 800-odd members were scaled up to match the CNPC would be about 16,000 strong. 

• 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.

• This weekend 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. A number of pubs and restaurants in the area which are participating in this are featured in this week’s Penny Post newsletter: if you’d like to be included, please contact brian@pennypost.org.uk.

• Anyone keeping an eye on our house over the last few days – though why they should want to do that I can’t imagine – would have noticed the arrival of three emergency vehicles. The first two were paramedics who turned up, amazingly quickly, on Sunday after Penny was bitten by a horsefly and almost immediately became covered in hives, making her look as if she had chicken pox or had been raked with low-velocity machine-gun fire. A trip to the Great Western and a few pills later and all was well. Less life-threatening but in its own way equally dramatic was when on Tuesday our shower, for want of a better word, exploded. This obviously needed an emergency plumber. Penny has so far proved to be the quicker, and the cheaper, of the two to fix. 

• If as we do you have bindweed – or Convolvulus Arvensis, which makes it sound like a character from Game of Thrones – in your garden, this has the advantage of always giving you something to do between April and October. I swear the stuff grows at the rate of about a foot a day, strangling everything it comes into contact with. You pull it up but, hydra-like, three more soon replace it. After researching the matter, I can exclusively reveal that there is only one certain  cure for this blight – move house…

• I mentioned last week about West Berkshire’s Oversight and Scrutiny Management Commission’s (OSMC) Task Group which was set up ‘better to 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. The document has since been presented to the OSMC and you can see the discussion here (from about 31′ for about 15 minutes). This part of the meeting was, it was agreed shortly beforehand, chaired by Lee Dillon as the OSMC’s Chair, Alan Law, had been much involved in the matter itself. At around 47′, Councillor Law resumed his role and started by offering his own summary of the discussion. I’m not well enough versed in municipal etiquette to know if it’s appropriate for someone to summarise a part of a discussion which they have not been chairing. Indeed, as Councillor Law was technically not in the room for that part of of the meeting at all, it’s hard to see how he was in a position to summarise anything.

Not that it was a summary, but rather a repetition of one aspect of the findings (and not one of the 15 recommendations): that the Task Group had observed that ‘if you had to do it all over again with the evidence you had at the time you’d have done exactly the same thing.’ I can understand Councillor Law’s desire to stress this aspect as widely as possible. The point was already clearly made in item 5.30.c of the report: ‘Even with the benefit of hindsight, there was little to suggest that they would have done things differently.’ He also observed that answering the question ‘did we do this properly?’ was ‘really what the terms of reference were set up to address.’ The terms of reference are listed in section 4.4 of the report. His remarks don’t seem to be an accurate summary of them, even assuming it was necessary to offer one. 

The report’s ‘do-it-again’ conclusion, as I mentioned last week, ignores an important aspect. The report highlighted a number of shortcomings (including 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). The opportunity existed to put these in place many years before LRIE ever reached this stage. If they are good suggestions, as I think they are,  then it’s likely that they would, if in place earlier, have prevented the LRIE having reached its current situation: the problems it’s faced are evidenced by the need to have had such an enquiry at all. In his introductory remarks, Councillor James Cole (who chaired the Task Group) met this objection head on: ‘It has subsequently been suggested,’ he said, ‘that if some of our criticisms had been dealt with at the time – for example project management – then matters might never have reached the point where we ended up in court…I do not think so and nor did my colleagues on the cross-party task group.’ We’ll have to agree to differ on this. I understand that steps have already been taken to address some of these issues. 

Councillor Cole also noted that the work involved in producing a report on even this one aspect of the LRIE was considerable which resulted in about 1,500 pages of evidence. He thanked all those involved. He also said that although the report ‘found things to criticise’ it ‘did not find the Council guilty of (any) serious misdemeanour.’ Lib Dem Councillor (and OSMC member) Tony Vickers, while accepting the report’s findings and recommendations, was unhappy with ‘the limitations of the terms of reference.’ He also felt that ‘all such scrutiny tasks ought to be run by the opposition, not the ruling, party’ and questioned why Duncan Crook (of FDL, the previous developers) was not interviewed despite his being ‘a major part in the LRIE story.’ (It should be noted that Duncan Crook did put some questions to the officers and these and the replies form one of the many appendices.) Councillor Vickers concluded by hoping that ‘it is not too late for the lessons learned to be applied to the new process for redeveloping LRIE.’

The Green Party, which was represented on the OSMC by Councillor Steve Masters, felt that ‘the scope of the internal enquiry was too narrow to offer any real insight into the whole of the ongoing LRIE debacle: focusing as it did merely on formal council process did little to reassure the public. The inquiry should have been conducted independently or at the very least had a chairman who wasn’t part of the same administration.’

• Councillor Steve Masters – and, for all I know, several other participants – ‘attended’ the meeting from places other than their home. Councillor Masters could currently be described as the Arboreal Member for Wendover South as he is currently based about 50 feet up a beech tree in Jones Hill Wood between Wendover and Great Missenden as part of the protest against HS2. That is a separate story: what’s important is that he was in attendance at OSMC. A couple of years ago there was a particularly shameful smear campaign against District Councillor (and at that time also Thatcham Town Councillor) Nassar Kessell over claims of poor attendance which in fact was due to a spate of bereavements. It may be that Councillor Masters will be accused of something similar by not being present in the district. The reality, of course, is that, with a good internet connection and a suitable device, it no longer matters where one is or what else one is doing as long as you get the work done. Municipal life has to be conducted virtually now in any case. In fact, as I understand that the broadband signal is six times better in Jones Hill Wood than it is Councillor Masters’ his home in Newbury, it could be argued that he is six times more effective. This isn’t a political point: were a Conservative or Lib Dem councillor to join him I’d say the same about them.

• This week’s NWN returns to an issue I mentioned last week after Lib Dem West Berkshire Councillor Adrian Abbs, writing to the same paper, 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. The Council Leader Lynne Doherty said she ‘fundamentally disagreed with the assertion that democracy has been removed.’ A WBC statement goes on to refer to to the risk of a participant not being able to hear or be heard as a result of a connection failure which would mean that they were technically not in attendance for that item and thus could not vote.

This is specious for four reasons. First, because this risk exists anyway with regard to the councillors and officers who are still able to participate. Second, because the people who can no longer attend are not entitled to vote. Third, because the system of virtual public participation has been retained for licensing committee meetings. Finally, because several other councils, including South Cambridgeshire, have take a different and more inclusive view of the advice. The decision was taken by WBC in April and amounted to a choice between two options, one bad and the other even worse. The even-worse one was to delegate all decision-making to the Chief Executive. This is no criticism of Nick Carter but that’s surely no way to decide these things. The choice reminds of the apocryphal story of the street-smart little boy who said to his father, just after a tinkling of glass echoed round the house, ‘you know that great big window in the hall, dad? Well, I’ve broken the little one next to it.’

• In a less controversial move, WBC has announced that its advice bot has, following a public survey, been named ‘Berkley‘ (not, as I suggested, Botty McBottface). This will probably produce several letters to the NWN debating about how it should be pronounced, as recency happened about the name of the county itself.

• Several announcements from West Berkshire Council recently concerning its financial performance, its environment strategy and its Covid-19 recovery strategy.

• The Council has also announced that it an eight other councils (as well as two other organisations) have been selected by the Government to create a ‘Community Engagement Playbook‘. The aim is for this group ‘to help lead and share best practice for engagement with communities’ the wake of Covid-19. You can read more from WBC here. let’s hope the government pays attention to the results as there’s plentiful evidence that councils at all levels tend to have a fairly good grasp of what is going on in their area. 

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; click here to see the most recent bulletin from West Berkshire Council (31 July 2020); 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 animal of the week is our slinky ginger cat Simba who comes for walks with us round the village (three times this week) and sees off dogs en route.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those referred to elsewhere, correspondence about police coffee breaks, Newbury’s football ground, EV charging points, litter, gambling and cyclists.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: NSPCC and Childline (thanks to Martin Roberts and the Wasdell Group); 10 local charities (thanks to Greenham Trust’s double-match day fundraising); Mary Hare school (thanks to the RideLondon event); six local charities (thanks to Thatcham Town Council).

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 month. Click to see it. The next edition will be out on Tuesday 4 August.

• Matters discussed at the most recent meeting of Hungerford Town Council’s Highways and Transport Committee on 27 July (which you can read here) included a report from the Smarten Up Hungerford (click here to see it), defaced signs, safety ramps, a review of health and safety issues regarding Covid-19 and the impact on traders, the possibility of a 20mph speed limit in the town, motorcycle noise, the possible relocation of the bus stop outside the town hall and the Christmas light (which will be put up this year).

• No Hungerford TC meeting is complete without mentioning the town’s pigeons. Three problem areas that were identified by the aptly-named Pigeon Working Party were the railway bridge, the Royal Mail sorting office and no 15 High Street. HTC would contact the owners requesting their co-operation in dealing with this problem.

• Click here for the July edition of the Inkpen and Coombe Bulletin. If you want to subscribe or contribute, contact gloriakeene@hotmail.com.

• 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.

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

• The most recent full meeting of Kintbury Parish Council on 2 July 2020 (click here to see the minutes) considered a number of planning applications and also the matter, deferred from the meeting of 4 June 2020 of if, and how, the public could attend in meetings. It’s hard to see what the problem is. The councillors conduct their business via Zoom and it’s perfectly easy to print the link on the agenda: that’s what their neighbours in Hungerford, and many other councils, do. The minutes are published on the PC’s website but, in the case of the 2 July meeting, 16 days later. A lot can happen in 16 days.

Lambourn Valley

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

• 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 earlier this month and you can click here to read it. The August edition will be published on Saturday 8 August.

• East Garston’s Social Club has re-opened. Click here for more information.

• A reminder that East Garston’s Village Hall Chairman Ed James, who organised the village’s first repair café in early March, is keen to make this a regular quarterly event, re-starting whenever Mr Covid permits. If you would like to offer your services, please contact EdJames@sportingagenda.co.uk.

Great Shefford Parish Council held an extra-ordinary full council meeting on 15 July and you can read the minutes here. Matters covered included the planning application at The Pheasant and confirmation that the Environment Agency ‘remains supportive of the [flood alleviation] scheme being delivered at a local level.’

• Congratulations to Ray and Sarah Plowman who, as reported in this week’s NWN on p24, have been given a £300 voucher at the Woodspeen by villagers as a thank-you for 22 years (and counting) of running Great Shefford’s shop and Post Office. I’m probably in there at least three times a week. Well deserved to you both and enjoy your evening out.

• 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

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

• Aside from the LRIE, the other elephant in Newbury is, of course, Sandleford. A joint group comprising members of Newbury Town and Greenham Parish Councils has recently held three meetings to examine the latest plans and has had discussions with officers. I understand that it’s been accepted, even by one of the developers, that the combination of the climate emergency and Covid has changed the landscape somewhat. The former in particular has challenged previous norms of poorly insulated buildings and the dominance of private car transport. New and more environmental building standards will be introduced in the next few years and it’s to be hoped that the developers will seek to anticipate these (in marked contrast to the contemptuous attitude shown by the developers on Hungerford’s Salisbury Road scheme). The Council’s own local plan, which is currently being refreshed, has the ability to implement improvements of its own under the Merton Rule. Nor has it been anticipated by West Berkshire that the houses will be ready before 2025 in any case.

All in all, it seems that the councils are prepared to wait until they can accomplish what they want. One of these is a single over-arching plan, which has long been demanded. Progress towards accomplishing this isn’t helped by a sometimes fractious relationship between the two developers. Despite the mention of a 1 August deadline for comments on the latest application, these can still be made after this date (perhaps until the end of August)

• The case of the missing decision notice continues to rumble on. As mentioned before, this originated in a rather peculiar Western Area Planning Committee (WAPC) meeting on 5 February 2020 which rejected an application to convert the former NWN building to flats, largely because of a problem with the sequential test (an aspect of a flood-risk assessment). The meeting was peculiar because not only did West Berkshire’s flood officer neither appear nor provide a statement but also because an important piece of evidence (from solicitors acting for the applicant) was not included in the documents, even though it had been in West Berkshire’s possession for several months. Some members felt the item should have been deferred. Stranger still, the decision notice (the formal confirmation of what was agreed) was not provided by the officers, and has not been yet. I understand that in cases of refusal, as here, these are normally issued very quickly (ones involving approval can be more complex as they may contain conditions). Lib Dem Councillor and WAPC committee member Tony Vickers raised concerns and then formally complained about this, eventually raising the matter with the Local Government Ombudsman. A reply came back almost by return saying that the LGO cannot investigate complaints raised by a councillor against their own council. (This view slightly calls to mind the past reluctance of some police forces to get involved in domestic disputes.) 

It appears that West Berkshire Council has no policy as to which documents should be available for the public to see, let alone be included for a committee to consider. It also appears that it has no policy for the time allowed within which a decision notice should be issued to the applicant, nor whether the relevant planning committee should be told if it has been. Neither of these are in themselves sinister and merely suggest that they haven’t cropped up before – the council probably doesn’t have a policy on forbidding committee members from bringing bears into the chamber or addressing the meeting in Latin or Morse code either. It therefore seems all the stranger that both should have suddenly become problematic as a result of one meeting. It’s impossible to believe that they’re not connected. The only conclusion I can come to is that the document was omitted in error (there may have been some uncertainty as to whether it was legally privileged), as a result of which a decision was taken which the planning department is, doubtless for very good reasons, unwilling to ratify. In any case, an appeal based on non-determination has since been launched so the whole matter will now be considered by HM Planning Inspectorate. If it is able to consider documents that were not available to the WAPC it’s possible it may come to a different conclusion from that of WBC. It has before.

• The deadline for Newbury Town Council’s grant aid applications is on 19 August 2020. Organisations or charities that benefit the residents of Newbury have a chance to apply for grant funding for a special project or core costs.  The total grant fund available is £16,500 and The Good Exchange has kindly agreed to match fund all the grants, making the total £33,000. For more information, visit the council’s website.

• Newbury Town Council has re-opened the children’s splash park in Victoria Park. Notices have been placed around at the Splash Park and the other play facilities in the Town, to remind users of precautions that should be taken whilst enjoying the equipment.

• I love then and now photos and there’s an excellent set of three of p33 of this week’s NWN looking at what was the Iceland building in Bartholomew Street. The first two are undated but I’d guess at the 1970s and about 2015. It provides proof, if proof be needed, of just how ugly concrete can be. I’m also amazed that any any architect, at any time, could have looked at the finished artist’s impression and said ‘yup – that’s going to look really good.’

• Residents of north Hampshire will be relieved to read the news, reported on p30 of this week’s NWN, that a 12-month compromise has been agreed in the so-called waste wars between its council and West Berkshire. The whole business is a long-running muddle not really of either council’s making (but made worse by the fact the West Berkshire’s two recycling centres happen to down in the very southern part of the district near the Hants border – perhaps ‘frontier’ would be a better word in the circumstances). The problem will only be solved, as I think I’ve said before (yes, you have – Ed.), when the government takes the whole recycling business in hand and organises it centrally.

• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council took place on 14 July 2020 and you can read the minutes here (scroll down to ‘Minutes 2020’: when clicked the file will download). Item 10 concerned the faintly macabre (and faintly unseemly) question of the burial ground. The current one will be full in five years. Anticipating this, in 2007 the had PC approached the diocese, which owns land opposite the surgery, to ask if it would donate a plot for this purpose. The response was a request ‘for considerable amount of money’, possibly because the diocesan authorities felt the site could be developed. The matter was dropped but, at the meeting, it was agreed that discussions would be re-started. Councillor Hilary Cole said that ‘the diocese has a moral obligation’ to work with the PC. I wonder if the diocese will see matters in that light. I can’t help feeling that, back in the day when it was the church that needed more land for the cemetery, it would just have helped itself.

• The same meeting also recorded that Councillor Cole said that ‘[WBC’s] Planning Enforcement has been notified regarding the new build on Hazelhanger Barn, as it is not in accordance with the planning permission.’ This is a depressingly familiar story (see last week’s column, Hungerford Area section). Even if, as happened in Eddington, something is built which bears scant relationship to the approved plans, the planning authority has no power to levy a fine for all the wasted time of councillors and officers in sorting matters out. There is, of course, a system for dealing with planning breaches but these can take a long time to resolve (during which it may appear there is nothing happening) and there are various opportunities for appeal. The ultimate sanction is that of the building being demolished, though this rarely happens. In one case, also in Eddington in 2015, HM Planning Inspectorate overturned West Berkshire’s demolition order even though about the only thing that the actual building had in common with the approved plans was its location. This decision effectively made all the previous work by officers and by the Western Area Planning Committee – and perhaps the whole planning process – seem utterly pointless. I’ve no idea what the infraction is here but for it to have been elevated to Planning Enforcement suggests it’s reasonably major. An additional problem is that, due to central-government funding cuts, West Berkshire’s PE team is under-strength.

• I was talking to Stella at the White Hart in Hamstead Marshall the other day and asking whether her pub will be participating in the government’s ‘Eat out to Help out’ scheme in August (it will). Later in the conversation she referred to their ‘Sunak suppers’. I said ‘yes, yes,’ in the way one does, all the time racking my brain to think of what Sunak cuisine was. Then the penny dropped: of course – Rishi Sunak is the Chancellor and it’s his idea (or perhaps Dominic Cummings’). So, in a way, he’s paying for all this. Or we are. Someone it. Or are they? Actually, I don’t know…

• 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 main item  on the agenda of the most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council on 16 July 2020, the minutes for which you can read here, was the planning application 20/01336/OUTMAJ on the site of the former Institute For Animal Health. This is, or will be, a pretty major piece of work and includes up to 250 residential units, at least 1.1 hectare of employment land, a playing field and a wildlife area. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the PC requested District Councillor Carolyne Culver to call the matter in (meaning it will be decided at a planning committee, rather than by officers) and to ‘request the District Councillor seek a meeting with the planning officer, the Parish Council and the Council’s planning consultant.’

• There’s a very laconic entry in the minutes of there most recent meeting of Chaddleworth Parish Council on 7 July 2020, which you can read here. Item 11 concerned’ the septic tank vent’ regarding which the notes recorded that ‘Cllr. Murphy reported that he had replaced the vent.’ I’ve never done such a thing and so don’t know if it was two minutes with a screwdriver or two hours knee-deep in sewage. The notes went on to say that ‘the members of the Parish Council thanked Cllr. Murphy.’ Well, I should hope so. 

• This week’s NWN reports on p29 on what looks perilously like a dispute between the owner of the former chapel in West Ilsley and West Berkshire Council about the how the building, now a house, can be protected from damage caused by speeding cars. 

• 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

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

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports that the first orcas have been seen in on Benham Hill Thatcham – no, you misunderstand me for comic effect: these are black and white rubber blocks that are used to differentiate cycles routes from the part of the road used by cars. 

• 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

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. 

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 (they might want to contact Hungerford TC). One matter that was resolved was ‘the removal of the youth shelter to discourage antisocial behaviour.’

• The most recent meeting of the Stratfield Mortimer Planning Committee took place on 23 July and you can see the (draft) minutes here.

• The same council has announced that the car park at the Fairground will be closed until ‘security enhancements’ are put in place.

Marlborough & district

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

At Marlborough TC’s Planning Committee meeting on 27 July, councillors resolved that removal of free parking spaces in the High Street (widening of pavements) should happen only where cafés, pubs and restaurants actually want and need it. They also demanded that this be actioned very soon. As Marlborough News explains, this is a change from the previous position. If it’s any consolation, similar changes in Wantage, Hungerford and Newbury have proved some lively debate as well.

The same source is quick to stress the area’s connection with Stonehenge (see the first para in Across the Area above).

• And still with MN, the Town Council has agreed to take on the responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the recreational areas at Rabley Wood View.

• 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.

• Congratulations to Ramsbury Surgery which scored some of the highest marks in the country in a recent NHS pattens survey – more in the Gazette here.

• 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

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

Wantage Road station in Grove was closed in 1964, although the line remains open. The case for re-opening it has grown particularly strong in recent years as a result of the continuing development in the area, the population of which will almost have doubled by 2030. It was recently announced that, after a bureaucratic confusion was resolved, the project can after all be considered as part of the government’s plans to restore some of the Beeching cuts. Re-opening a station is not, however, just a question of building a couple of platforms and a footbridge and telling the drivers to stop there. Previous documents I’ve seen about the case for re-opening mention several issues to do with timetabling, electrification and other matters that I don’t understand. So, I consulted an expert – the Editor of Rail Professional magazine, no less – who has since told me that, as a result of my enquiry, an article on the subject is planned. As soon as I have news on this, or any advance information, I’ll share it here. In the meantime, we’ll let you know when there’s any news on whether the station has been successful in the current round of funding. Even if it isn’t that would be end of the line as a further round is planned for later in the year.

• I’ve just seen this clip of Wantage MP David Johnston speaking in the Commons on 22 July. After a bit of knock-about stuff to get everyone warmed up, the first issue he raised was the above-mentioned Wantage Road station. At about 0’57” he seems to give the impression that it might be re-opened this summer: I don’t think that’s very likely. It has at least been accepted into the current funding round, something which it appears he played a role in: so congratulations to him for that. 

• The leader of the Vale Council has also written to the leader of Oxfordshire CC saying that her council ‘would welcome the opportunity to work with Oxfordshire County Council to develop the [Wantage Road station] proposal further.’ It’s all starting to happen, isn’t it? World-weary residents might feel that they’ve seen it all before.

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

• As previously reported, 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). The minutes can be seen by clicking on this link and then on the ‘Download minutes now’ button. Many other town councils, including Hungerford, Marlborough and Newbury, are going through similar exercises and none of these have met with universal approval. The good thing is that all these councils are trying to do something different in response to Covid-19, the climate emergency and the fact that many high streets are used as high roads and many market squares as car parks-cum-roundabouts. My advice is to give these new measures a few months after which there’ll probably be a consultation on how things are going (and, if there isn’t, demand one). 

• 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 two things that I’ve been rabbiting on about for ages. The first is that the unfeasible amounts of money spent on HS2 could perhaps be diverted to other purposes, a programme of social-home building being her suggestion (she also agrees with me that a ‘nationwide project’ is needed to address this deficiency, my view (and perhaps herbs) being that private-sector developers cannot provide this). The other is the fact that ministers in major government departments tend to last for even less time in their jobs than do football managers (my comparison not hers). She offers the staggering statistic that since 1997 there have been 18 housing ministers, an average tenure of less than 15 months. In a way, that’s nothing: Watford FC, for instance, had three managers this season alone. All of them, however, would have known quite a lot about football before they started. How many of the ministers know anything at all about housing before they took office? Very few, I suspect. Pre-knowledge may be seen as a disadvantage as it would put them at odds with the mandarins and the political requirements of the PM and his or her press secretaries. Julie also points out that the main beneficiaries of the granting of planning permission are landowners and developers. This is true, but is an essential by-product of the system of entrepreneurialism on which our economy is founded and which has produced good and bad results (obviously if you have inherited the land then that’s just being lucky). She also refers, again correctly, to the fact that the current planning system doesn’t necessarily produce the homes that are required.

This statement from the Vale Council says that ‘the car parks, in Abingdon, Faringdon and Wantage collectively cost more than £700,000 a year to run. Once the income from parking fees has been taken into account, there is an average shortfall of over £300,000 a year, which is currently subsidised annually by residents’ council tax.’ So, they’re running at a loss? (This must also be much worse as a result of Covid.) I must be being either very stupid or very unimaginative but I can’t see how car parks can soak up that much money. What are the costs involved? I’m not saying the Vale is being profligate, merely that I don’t know the answer. Do you?

• I’ve made further attempts to contact the developer involved in the ‘decide in haste, repent at leisure’ purchase of the triangle of land in Grove (see last week’s column) but to no avail.

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

• As mentioned last week, I congratulate Grove PC on the shiny machine described in in this article which will, thanks to a £21,000 grant from the Vale Council, now be set to work to help mow the grass at the widely-used Recreation Ground.

Click here for other news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group. The latest newsletter – you can sign up to receive on the website to receive these, although the tab for the newsletters themselves doesn’t appear to be working – includes complaints about developers at Stockholm farm, the postponement of the Grove Airfield Forum meeting, the progress on discussions about the temporary community building there and news about Crab Hill.

• 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.

• One of the letters in this week’s Herald considers the ‘scorn, aggression and contempt’ with which Housing Minister Robert Jenrick has treated South Oxfordshire District Council as a result of its decision to review the local plan which had been created but not ratified by the previous administration. The Minister insisted that, under threat off removal of its planning powers, the existing plan must be adopted despite a clear democratic mandate to the contrary. The correspondent  (who signs themselves merely as ‘Help!’) says that even if changes are agreed Mr Jenrick ‘will simply insist, come December, that the plan he wants will go through.’ That is, of course, assuming he’s still in post my then. As Julie Mabberley’s article in the same paper points out (see above) the revolving door spins pretty quickly and he’s been in charge for just over a year already. His reputation has also been tarnished by his role in the Westferry fiasco in East London.

• As mentioned last week, another possibility is that local government reforms may remove SODC, the Vale and the others from the administrative map (Oxfordshire has two layers of local government above parish level: many others, including West Berkshire make do with one). Thanks also to PP reader Simon Smith who pointed out that some areas like Reading have only one and no parishes either. Non-unitary councils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could have four, as they have the devolved assemblies as well. What a muddle.

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

Swindon & district

Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.

• Swindon author Angela Atkinson, the woman behind the Born Again Swindonian website, is launching a guide to her adoptive home town.

• A multi-million pound scheme, which will, according to Swindon Council, ‘tackle congestion and help unlock thousands of new homes in Swindon’, will soon get under way.

The Council is working with Public Health England (PHE) South West and XPO Logistics to support staff at its Penzance Drive distribution centre in Swindon, following confirmed Covid-19 cases.

• Experts from across the public, private and voluntary sector in Swindon have selected seven projects which will seek to earn a share of £25m in government funding.

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

• 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.

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

• Preparatory work has begin at the Moonrakers junction.

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 come to the Song of the Week. I’m going to be hideously self-indulgent and recommend one of my own. I’m quite chipper that my Soundcloud account has just registered its 4,000th play of my crotchet-and-quaver stuff (though now seems to have got stuck there). Here’s one of the 57 available, a lockdown-inspired song written and recorded in April, Grieving for the Little Things. Click, like and share as you wish.

• And now for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. A lot of you clicked on the sketch from Chris Morris’ Jam last week. Believe me, this was the mildest of the ones he did. This week I’m going to have to go back to Fry & Laurie, incomparably the best comedy sketch partnership in my book, and their Grey and Hopeless.

• And so we ease into the final paragraph that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This weeks’s question is as follows: Liverpool were recently crowned Premier League Champions. How many other teams have won this trophy? Last week’s question was: What is the name of Quint’s shark-hunting boar in the film Jaws? The boat was called Orca. This was also the title of a much less good aquatic horror movie; and the name for the rubber blocks used in Thatcham and elsewhere to separate cycle lanes from motorised traffic. For all I know it could also be the acronym for the Overseas Ratings and Credit Agency, assuming this exists. I’m all typed out, so, if you’ll excuse me, I’m not going to bother to look that up right now…

Brian Quinn

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