Local News 6-13 August 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s newsletter, Newbury’s grants,  East Garston’s sunflowers, Upper Lambourn’s broadband, Lambourn’s surgery, Thatcham’s swan, Marlborough’s cinema, Grove’s land, Wantage’s bikes, Stratfield Mortimer’s space, Burghfield’s footpath, Bucklebury’s rope, West Ilsley’s planters, East Ilsley’s rabbits, Inkpen’s pause, Beech Hill’s bid, Swindon’s outbreak, planning utopia revealed, parallel procurement, a toe-curling interview, broken trees, praise for the volunteers, treasure hunts, a toy tractor, missing ducks, Abigail’s party re-visited, a star-nosed mole, DNA fraud, 50 million masks, 20 months, seven winners, seven things, an infinite increase, mussels from the shell and a big train.

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)

• ‘Automatic green light for building in biggest shake-up since the War’ was the eye-catching headline in The Sunday Telegraph on 2 August. This referred to a wholesale review of the planning system, one feature of which would be the country being divided into three areas, designated respectively for ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ and ‘protection’. ‘Permission in principle’ would, so it appears, guide those sites in the first-named area. The ideas of the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick – if they really are his ideas – were also given the bottom quarter of page 2 in the same paper.

Most people would accept that there are problems with the planning system. It can be slow but it’s perhaps worth taking time with the decisions: as John Ruskin observed, ‘When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for…’ If this quote seems familiar, it’s because the first part of it was used in Robert Jenrick’s article. He added the comment that this will be ‘the guiding principle as we set out the future of the new planning system,’ although much of what he proposes seem to suggest the opposite. 

The main underlying premise is that the current system is ‘cumbersome…complex and slow and…understandable only to lawyers.’ I don’t know how many lawyers understand the system but it’s comprehensible to planning officers up and down the country because it’s a national system, with local variations enshrined in a duly examined local plan. The idea, as this article suggests, that problems are the fault of the planning authorities (such as West Berkshire or the Vale of White Horse) and, by implication, their officers, is utterly false. So too is the implication that that ‘environmentally friendly homes’ have so far proved impossible to attain because of some influence hitherto beyond the government’s control. This is also not true. The government’s Future Homes Standard is not set to be introduced until 2025 and, unless a council has introduced tighter measures under the Merton Rule, there is nothing to compel developers to match these until they have to. A lot of homes below these specifications will be built before then even as matters stand, with more still if these vague reforms are introduced.

The blueprint ignores a number of points. The first, as mentioned, is that planning authorities are not the obstacle to development that Mr Jenrick suggests. This article in PBC Today from February 2020 points out not only that nine out of ten planning applications were approved in the previous year but also, quoting the Local Government Association, that over a million homes for which permission has been obtained have not been built. Most homes are built by private companies which, f0r understandable reasons, have their own considerations of cashflow and profit to consider before starting work. Planning permission lapses after three years if this hasn’t’t happened but the test for ‘commencement’ isn’t that stringent and, once performed, permission is then extended in perpetuity. The article doesn’t even hint at how the reforms would overcome this problem.

An even bigger issue, and one which the reliance on private-sector builders has so far been unable to solve, is the question of ‘social’ or ‘affordable’ homes. The only way they can be built is if local councils are empowered to do this themselves. As mentioned last week, the extension of permitted development rights can’t be guaranteed to solve this. Reforms over the last few years, including the lifting of the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap, have encouraged councils to get re-involved in housebuilding, which was a major part of their role up until the early ’80s (with, admittedly, varied results). However, there’s no suggestion in the article that this forms any part of future government thinking. The inference is that only the private-sector homebuilders, freed from the constraints of red tape, can produce what is needed. This is utter wishful thinking. There’s no reason to suppose that loosening the current system will produce better results.

Projects like the 1,1500-odd-home site at Sandleford in Newbury have been debated for well over a decade and, in this case at least, the problem appears to be the inability of the developers to agree with each other on basic matters such as an overarching masterplan. The developers at the 100-home Salisbury Road site in Hungerford, addressing at a public meeting in early 2020, flatly refused to introduce higher environmental standards on these homes. There are numerous cases of developers using viability assessments or other devices to avoid building the requisite number of affordable homes or avoid the consequential S106 payments. These companies exist to make a profit, not execute government policy. It’s fanciful to suggest that loosening the reins will suddenly make the horse follow your chosen path rather than go still faster down its own.

There is also the problem of who will decide on how the country is divided up into growth’, ‘renewal’ and ‘protection’ as well as what will happen to the thousands of applications that are already in the system when this magical day of utopian reform arrives. The article talks of ‘democratic local agreement’ – which seems to be what currently exists, even though its author denied this to South Oxfordshire District Council in his intervention in its local plan. It also talks of ‘communities being reconnected to a planning system that is supposed to serve them,’ something which many inhabitants of Tower Hamlets might agree about after Mr Jenrick’s appalling involvement in the Westferry Printworks application. It also says that ‘we want a society that has established powerful links between identity and place, between our unmatchable architectural heritage and the future, between community and purpose,’ a sentence that could have continued in this vein indefinitely and would still have meant nothing.

All in all, the article seems to be a vacuous piece of political polemic. The planning system needs reform but it can’t be done simply by assuming that the free market, if unshackled, will solve the problems. As even the author of this article admits, local powers and the influence or bodies like the AONBs would need to remain. The solution is to introduce national standards as soon as possible and fund the planning authorities to arrange and enforce these matters locally. If Covid-19 has taught us anything it’s that bottom-up responses work better than top-down ones. Whether Mr Jenrick will remain in post long enough to see these reforms through parliament – likely to be a long job – is another question. The average tenure of housing ministers this century is 15 months and he’s into his 13th already.

• If you had ordered 50 million of something which turned out to be defective you’d probably be pretty cross. This appears to have happened to the government, which sourced this number of facemarks from Ayanda Capital only to discover that they didn’t fit tightly enough. The BBC website quotes the suppliers as saying that masks met the government’s specifications. The government has said its standards are ‘robust’. Clearly both of these statements can’t be true. 

• Exactly the same kind of opposing views crop up in the first official report from the National Audit Office into the procurement of PPE. The report, according to the BBC’s summary, suggested ‘shortcomings’, the government retiring that some of the claims were ‘misleading.’ The report, which you can see here, provides what appears to be quite a forensic appraisal of this aspect of the pandemic. Several pages are devoted to the ‘parallel system’ for procurement, with PPE being supplied centrally (NHS trusts previously managed their own procurement for this) to ‘prevent NHS organisations competing on the open market for the same supplies.’ (This is surely a problem at any time. The ‘market’ created by many different NHS trusts which are all supplying identical services and require identical equipment is in many ways illusory.) The report highlights a number of challenges which this parallel system faced (sections 4.19 to 4.28).   

• This week’s NWN covers the report by West Berkshire’s Oversight and Scrutiny Management Commission’s (OSMC) Task Group which was set up to ‘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. I wrote about this matter last week and have, as the politicians say, nothing to add at this stage. (The same cannot, however, be said for writer of the first letter in this week’s NWN who looks at the issue over four and a bit columns.)

• I needed a new watch battery on Wednesday so took it to the Hungerford Jewellers after I’d done my usual shop at the weekly market. I was told it would take 10 minutes so I popped round the corner and had a chat with Chris at The Clockmaker, set slightly back from the High Street (despite the name, they also repair clocks). He told me two things I didn’t know. The first concerns the ‘happy face’, by which clocks for display are set at ten past ten or ten to two (one might think this is a legal requirement, so rarely is it not applied). This, he suggests, is because the winding holes and the manufacturer’s name (both of which the makers were keen to show off) were traditionally at the bottom. The other was that when Roman numerals are used on clocks, four is almost invariably written as IIII rather than IV, something that’s not seen in any other usage. He suggested was probably because IV, at the angle it appears, isn’t that easy to read. I gave him a confidence of my own in return, explaining about my slightly ambivalent attitude to conventional clocks. I had a monster of an uncle: whenever we stayed with him during my childhood he would send me out of the room when he was winding the grandfather clock: God knows why. Of course, this made me fascinated by it and I would try to peer inside or open the door, which would confirm his fear that I was trying to sabotage it and he would roar at me. Whenever I see an old clock being wound the memories come flooding back. Chris was not able to help me on this one: he is, after all, a clock repairer, not a psychiatrist. For your other horological needs, however, he should be able to assist.

• A friend of mine suggested to me that I should watch a recent interview between Donald Trump and the Australian reporter Jonathan Swan. I haven’t had time to watch the whole thing and, to be honest, I don’t think my nerves could stand it. I had to stop going to stand-up comedy because I would get deeply upset whenever any 0f them ‘died’. I also can only watch Abigail’s Party or episodes of The Office in short bursts because of the toe-curling social awkwardness they describe. These, however, are entertainment or fiction, or both: the interview with Trump, on the other hand, was really happening; the leader of the world’s most powerful country talking about a global pandemic and showing himself to be out of his depth. Some of the exchanges are excruciating. His phrase ‘it is what it is’, referring to the USA’s death rate, is surely one we’re going to hear more of before the election in November. Joe Biden need do nothing in the way of campaigning as all his work is currently being done by his opponent. Being a slightly contrary kind of chap, in the early part of his presidency I took some delight in defending him, as I was slightly irritated by the standard criticisms (just as, in the 80s, all a comedian had to do was say ‘Margaret Thatcher’ to bring the house down). It all seemed too easy. I confess now that I was wrong and everyone else was right. They say every country gets the leader it deserves: come on, America – you’re not quite the perfect place some of you like to pretend but you surely deserve better than this

• The government’s Small Business Grants Fund, the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants Fund and the Discretionary Grants Fund will end on 28 August 2020. More information here.

• This week saw the 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.

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

• The West Berkshire Community Support Hub has thanked community and volunteer groups for the support they’ve offered to residents during lockdown. “The speed of reaction by community and volunteer groups, local towns and parish councils, and individual volunteers, was truly amazing,” the portfolio holder for Public Health and Community Wellbeing Howard Woollaston said. “Their dedication has helped us to respond to the elderly and vulnerable at a time when they have needed it most.” Absolutely spot on. The Community Hub and VCWB have done a good job too but, without these groups and the parish councils reacting so quickly, they would have been faced with an impossible task. Most of these are now winding down their activities but not, I am sure, disbanding. Sadly, they could be called into action again at any moment. Put it in neutral but don’t switch off the engine just yet.

• 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 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.

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 – well, take your pick from the star-nosed mole, the giraffe weevil, the dumbo octopus, the rosy-lipped batfish and six other outlandish beasts in this video.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those referred to elsewhere, correspondence about active travel, face masks, council democracy and mixed messages from the government.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Dingley’s promise (thanks to the West Berkshire Lottery); Prospect Hospice (thanks to Help us to support you campaign); the British Heart Foundation (thanks to Lucy Barrett from Marlborough); Newbury cancer Care (thanks to Greenham Trust); Home-Start West Berkshire (thanks to the Helix Group); Julia’s House and Newbury Cancer Care (thanks to Charles Robinson).

Hungerford & district

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

• A new month can only mean one thing – the publication of the latest Penny Post Hungerford, the best and most comprehensive round-up of what’s been going on or is about to happen in the town. You can click here to read it. As well as the usual updates from the Town Council (even though there was no meeting in August), the Town & Manor, the High Street’s shops and Barr’s Yard, there’s news of this weekend’s food and artisan market, the July instalment of the diary of the new Head at JoG School, a ‘warm and funny’ book of the month from the bookshop, a ‘powerful and rich’ wine of the month from The Naked Grape, a statement from the Self-isolation Network, news of the organisations which are re-opening this month, our virtual open gardens competition, a blog from the allotment, racing and bee-keeping news, a film review, a slightly dark short story a guide to the August night sky, an admission from Lily Tomlin and a lovely picture of some marigolds. 

• 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).

• The most recent Environment and Planning meeting of Hungerford Town Council discussed a matter which is also covered on p20 of this week’s NWN. It concerns the promotional banner for Costa Coffee on the High Street, not the first time that this franchise has come up against local planning regulations. 

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

• This publication reports on the situation with the New Mill development as discussed at the recent PC meeting as follows: ‘New Mill planning applications are pending further investigation by WBC and amended planning details for the cumulative effect on landscape and the surrounding area, following significant local representation and the Parish Council request to look at the total number of applications and not individually in isolation. The majority of the previous applications for New Mill fall within the Kintbury boundary for decisions by Kintbury Parish Council, with Inkpen as an adjacent parish.’

• 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

Lambourn Valley

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

• The August East Garson News has been published and you can read it here if you didn’t receive it by email. It covers changes to appointment bookings at Lambourn Surgery, the results of the village’s giant sunflower competition (these were submitted by photo and the judges were perhaps amused, though not fooled, by one entrant who photographed hers with a toy tractor in front of it and claimed a height of 44m), a reminder that the social club has re-opened and some links to topical items on the WBC site.

• This week’s NWN covers a story we’ve referred to several times, that of the illegal dredging in the River Lambourn in East Garston in November and December 2018. A number of things have happened since then – a new PM, a general election, our departure from the EU, Liverpool finally winning the league and a global pandemic – but one thing that hasn’t happened is a final resolution to this infraction. It now appears that the investigation has concluded but there’s still no news about on what it found and what action will be taken next. A spokesman for the Environment Agency confirmed to Penny Post this week  that there is ‘a range of enforcement options in tackling what we believe to be environment harm. These include taking an individual or organisation to court; enforcement undertakings, whereby an offender explains measures they have put in place to prevent further harm from occurring, and makes a donation to a relevant environmental charity; and serving warning notices against future conduct.’ Click here to see the post we created at the time.

• I interviewed East Garston Parish Council’s Chairman David Ruse for 4 LEGS Radio yesterday (it will be broadcast on This Week with Penny from 11am on Friday 7 August and available as  a listen-again thereafter). One of the things he mentioned was that East Garston, like all parishes, is obliged to have an emergency plan. This involves populating a template provided by the government, mainly about the council’s procedures in the event of major incidents like floods, fires or other catastrophes, usually involving people being moved out of their homes and into some central location such as a village hall. They had just finished this when Covid-19 arrived which, by an irony that you probably saw coming, required exactly the opposite reaction. I imagine that future templates from HMG will include a section on this precaution. In fact, as I’ve said several times, East Garston and most other parishes coped perfectly well dealing with this on the hoof.

• Our August Valley of the Racehorse newsletter will be published this weekend – if there’s anything you’d like to contribute, email penny@pennypost.org.uk asap.

• This newsletter will, as before, include the monthly report from District Councillor Howard Woollaston. One of the things that he’s been involved with recently is trying to improve the pathetically slow broadband speed in Upper Lambourn. The problems, which date back over a decade, seem to result from the various infrastructure providers that have installed cables in the area suddenly discovering that they had more profitable ways of spending their time when it came to the outlying parts of the area, despite agreements to the contrary. Fortunately, a friend of mine has kept all the correspondence and emails – a fairly hefty file – and has made these available. He tells me that they would almost have a better service if they installed a couple of old dial-up connections. The day will come – indeed it may already have arrived – when estate agents are asked to show the maximum possible internet speeds available at the property. One of the things that Covid has shown us is that if you don’t have a decent signal these days you’re in danger of becoming a second-class citizen.

• 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 continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more

Newbury & district

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

• The 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.

• On Sunday 23 August, the Mayor of Newbury invites you all to a treasure hunt around the town to raise money for the Mayor’s Benevolent Fund and her chosen charities. With CV-19 putting a halt to usual fundraising activities, the Mayor, Councillor Elizabeth O’Keeffe, is hosting an event which will encourage families to spend time outdoors and to learn more about the history and heritage of Newbury. The treasure hunt will comply with social distancing guidelines. To register your place or for further information, please contact mayor@newbury.gov.ukor call 01635 780203.

Newbury Today reports that Swan Support has released a cob (that’s a male swan – I had to look that up) back to his family at Beale Park after he had recovered from being shot in the neck by some lunatic. This is the third such incident this year.

• Newbury Town Council has re-opened the children’s splash park in Victoria Park. 

• As mentioned last week, residents of north Hampshire will be relieved to have learned that a 12-month compromise has been agreed in the so-called waste wars between its council and West Berkshire. 

• 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.

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. 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).

• The most recent meeting of West Ilsley Parish Council on 13 July highlights four issues which periodically confront councils at this level. The first was a request for funding by the cricket club which led to a discussion about the precedents for supporting an interest group rather than projects which provided ‘village-wide benefits’. The second was the cost of upkeeping the playground (which is currently closed for repairs). The third was a disagreement between West Berkshire Council and some villagers about the VAS (vehicle-activated signage) traffic-calming device at the eastern edge of the village. The fourth, which is slightly more unusual and which both we and the NWN referred to last week and this, concerns a DIY traffic-calming device outside The Old Chapel, now a private residence. This takes the form of planters which have been placed on the pavement by the owner in an effort to prevent further instances of speeding cars crashing into his house. The village supports his action by WBC’s Highways team has a different view. This week’s NWN reports that the owner has since launched an e-petition to support his claim. 

• The question of playground maintenance also reared its head at the East Ilsley Parish Council meeting the following day. The meeting also considered the Pirbright application (see above under Compton) and EIPC also registered its objection. Those most affected by the PC’s meeting will, however, be the rabbits on Prestwell Field. It seems that they have been breeding like…well, rabbits to an extent that they’re causing ‘a risk to the public’. I’ve never felt particularly at risk from rabbits but EIPC clearly does and has decided to organise a cull.

• 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.

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 NWN reports on an act of peculiarly senseless destruction at a Thatcham play area with several saplings being vandalised over the weekend. 

 Thatcham Town Council has announced a treasure hunt to keep children entertained whilst shopping safely in Thatcham Town Centre – more details here.

• Thatcham Town Council’s Planning and Highways Committee meeting on 21 July included the slightly portentous phrase that ‘notification had been received from West Berkshire Council of its proposal to delete from the Register of Common Land the area of land, Common Land Unit CL87, known as The Thatcham Children’s Centre.’ As the land is in the parish, WBC is obliged to inform the TC and invite its comments (though not to be government by them). The TC duly made some comments, including the observation that it believes WBC’s ‘ intention of deregistration to be to regularise the status of the land’ but that it would object to any change of use. It may be just that, a piece of municipal housekeeping: it may also be that WBC is preparing the ground for some development there (which admittedly seems unlikely given the size of the site) which the change of status would facilitate.

• A headline caught my eye in this week’s NWN: ‘Area records highest rate of Covid deaths.’ Blimey, I thought – West Berkshire is the big hotspot. I’d missed that story. Then I realised it was referring to Thatcham having the highest death rate in West Berkshire. The figures, though each an individual tragedy, are minute by the standards of some parts of the UK. I think most would agree that West Berkshire, and even Thatcham, has got off pretty likely. There are, as we all know, many ways the same information or statistics can be presented, some more eye-catching than others. I spoke to a friend today who asked how our son was getting on in Vietnam, where he’s been since February. “Pretty well,” I said, “but they’ve just had an infinite increase in their death rate.” “That’s awful,” she said after a pause. “Well, it’s not that bad,” I re-assured her. “It’s gone up from nought to three.” 

• The Mayor of Thatcham, Mike Cole, has rightly paid tribute to the excellent work down by the town’s volunteers during the pandemic. The pessimist in me tried to add ‘so far’ to the end of this sentence but then the optimist in me, traditionally the weaker partner, deleted it. We shall see…

• The most recent meeting of Bucklebury Parish Council on 13 July reported that WBC has installed a ‘sentinel speed detection box at Chapel Row which records vehicles and can result in letters from the Police.’ Speeding drivers in the area, you have been warned. The meeting also discussed the problem of littering (which seems to have reached epidemic proportions across the country). It also referred to an incident late last year when ‘the rope on the bell was broken at the carol service’ in the chapel. The tense ‘was broken’ paints in my mind a very different image than ‘broke’ would have done. I’m sure we’re just talking about normal wear and tear here, rather than a carol service which got out of control (not a phrase you read that often) with people swinging from, or perhaps fighting, over the rope. I don’t know why I’m even suggesting it. Another example of the kinds of tasks with which PCs have to deal – the list goes on and on.

• 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.

Theale and district

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

• District Councillors Graham Bridgman and Geoff Mayes submitted a successful joint member’s bid to construct a bus shelter in Beech Hill. The project was awarded matched capital funding of up to £10,000 (dependent upon the eventual project cost).

• DC Bridgman also reports that a short and defunct section of footpath (poetically referred as ‘3 footpath’) in Burghfield will be de-registered. It got cut off when the M4 was constructed and ‘leads nowhere other than to a ditch.’ He mentioned that this was agreed by WBC ‘after a fair bit of email traffic.’ I hope that this has not been going on since that stretch of the M4 was opened, which was in 1971.

• A new public open space to the south of the NDP site in Stratfield Mortimer is on the cards. Discussions are currently taking place between WBC and SMPC about future responsibilities and costs.

• 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.

• It’s often been said recently that a re-connection with nature has not only been enforced upon us – walking being one of the few ways many of us have been able to exercise – but also that this helps combat the stress and anxiety the the isolation and uncertainty of lockdown can engender. Good news, therefore, as reported in Marlborough News, that Action for the River Kennet (ARK) has been awarded £1,500 from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund to host guided walks at its Stonebridge Wild River Reserve.

• I was talking to Charlotte Hitchmough, the Director of ARK the other day and she mentioned that people in the Marlborough area had been commenting on the comparative lack of ducks on the river. (In fact I see that the matter was even raised at the Marlborough Town Council meeting on 20 July). It may be that they’ve all defected to East Garston: this year we’ve had more ducks than we really need on the stretch of the Lambourn that runs through the village. I counted over 30 on one small bit of back a month or so back. If they are really Wiltshire’s ducks then they should be on their way back across the border as this stretch of the river is seasonal and will, as is common, probably be dry by the end of the month.

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 matter was also discussed at length at the Full Council meeting on 20 July.

• 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.

• Wiltshire Council has received over £3m in emergency funding from Whitehall.

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

Wantage & district

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

• For anyone who wants to dig a bit more deeply into the possible re-opening of Wantage Road station here’s a document from Oxfordshire CC which sets out some of the issues. As mentioned before, I don’t fully understand all of these but, also as mentioned, have asked the Editor of Rail Professional magazine to look into this and get back to me.

• This week’s Herald kicks off with a story of burglars who broke into a stonemasons near Didcot and left behind a pair of socks and an open bottle of cider, both of which are dripping with DNA. This seems like a very foolish thing to do, unless – the thought strikes me as I write – that these items belonged to someone else whom they were seeking to frame. So, if you have some enemies and are missing a pair of dirty blue socks or put down a bottle of Koppargerg and now can’t find it, I’d advise you found yourself a good lawyer.

• The same paper reports on p3 of a hit-and-run incident involving a cyclist and a silver hatchback on the A417 near Ardington Wick at about 8.45am on Sunday 2 August. If ou have any information, please call 101, quoting the reference 394 (2/8).

 • Wantage Town Council has installed several bike stands in and around the market place.

• Another initiative from the Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce is the Wantage Wednesdaysclick here for more information.

• Wantage MP David Johnston, writing in this week’s Herald (p7), lists seven things he’s discovered about the House of Commons since he was elected last December. One is that some of his fellow MPs loathe the place and ‘avoid it as much as they can’. Their constituents might be interest in some names to go with that snippet. He also mentioned the encouraging fact that MP’s from different parties ‘collaborate much more effectively than you might imagine.’ This rather opens up the question of whether we need political parties at all but that’s not something that I, or Mr Johnston, can solve. He also encourages his constituents to contact him if they have a problem as he feels that many do so too late in the day, or perhaps not at all.• We’ve mentioned on several occasions the cautionary tale of the developer who bought a triangle of land at Edington Place in Grove only to discover (as could have been established beforehand) that it was an adopted highway and thus virtually impossible to develop. The most recent meeting of Grove Parish Council on 23 July discussed this, including the suggestion by the developer that the two parties do a land swap. The Clerk not only rejected this but also pointed out that for decades the PC had been maintaining the land, believing that it owned it. Now the real owner had been established, he requested that the developer contribute to the cost. At the meeting it was proposed that the PC contact the developers again and ‘request that the Parish Council continue to maintain the land in exchange for Ozzy Developments transferring the land into the Council’s ownership and pay the Council’s costs.’

The meeting also discussed the possible implications of the recent or imminent sale of other parcels of land in the parish. Two of these, also adopted highways, at either side of the entrance to Shepherd’s Close, had recently been sold for a combined total of £4,250, though the Clerk had yet to find out to whom. Developers often go in for the practice of land banking: buying sites that are not perhaps currently of any immediate value but which might become so in the future, perhaps because they are the missing piece of a jigsaw for a development. This kind of speculation can often pay handsome dividends but land that is designated as an adopted highway is encumbered by several restrictions. It’s as if, on a whim, you bought a three-legged horse at an auction in the hope that it would one day win the Grand National.

• 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).

• The Vale Council’s leader Emily Smith has written to Arash Fatemian Chair of the Oxfordshire Joint Health Overview & Scrutiny regarding the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in care homes in Oxfordshire.

• If you live in the Vale you’ll soon be getting a yellow letter asking you to confirm the details of everyone over 16 who lives in their property.

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald refers to recurring feature of local life, the difficulty of getting developers to build additional features (in this case a bridge across the Wilts and Berks Canal) despite their having agreed to do so.

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

Click here for other news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group. The latest newsletter – you can sign up on the website to receive these – 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.

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

Swindon & district

Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.

• Swindon Council has claimed that a coronavirus outbreak at a Swindon distribution centre is now under control with new cases continuing to fall.

Swindon Link reports that Coate Water Country Park is to receive more than £400,000-worth of improvements.

Wood Street in Old Town is to be closed to traffic on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights to make the area safer for pedestrians.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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 at the Song of the Week. As it’s summer, I think that it’s a good moment to ask you to play the best song yet written about English seaside holidays – Pulling Mussels (from the Shell) by Squeeze. (I don’t what the brackets in the title do but you’ll have to take that up with Chris Difford.)

• Time for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Big Train, as I’ve mentioned before, did some wonderful stuff. They liked the name so much they even did a sketch with that title. So, here it is – Big Train. I sometimes wonder if HS2 (you thought I’d got through a whole column without mentioning it, didn’t you?) was conceived as a result of just such a colossal misunderstanding.

• And so we negotiate our way into the final paragraph that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This weeks’s question is: The Hollywood actress Olivia de Havilaland died last month the age of 104. She had a notoriously tempestuous relationship with her equally famous younger sister: what was her name?  Last week’s question was: Liverpool were recently crowned Premier League Champions. How many other teams have won this trophy? If you took this to mean ‘Football League Champions’ (which was not what the question said) the answer would have been 23. The Premier League, which commenced its multi-billion pound existence in 1992, has had, as well as Liverpool, six champions – Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Leicester and Blackburn. Apart from the last two, then, all the usual suspects.

Brian Quinn

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