Local News 13-20 August 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s response, Shalbourne’s asset, Newbury’s mystery, East Garston’s leader, Lambourn’s councillor, Inkpen’s mill, Hampseatd Norreys’ caimans, Wantage’s Wednesdays, Grove’s leisure, Ardington and Lockinge reaction, Hermitage’s update, Cold Ash’s mulching, Thatcham’s insurers, Marlborough’s transfer, Letcombe Regis’ dingbats, Aldermaston’s repairs, Swindon’s spike, Englefield’s applications, planning reforms, track and trace costs, revised figures, disinformation, QAnon, A-levels, Covid stats, corvid tasks, 10.5 million meals,a £720m bill, top nation under threat, a long gap, brains doing a 180, moplessness, more ducks, four Mirandas, two Lord Vaizeys, two zebras, two chickens, second choice and a green worm.

Click on any highlighted and underlined text for more information on the subject. Some will link to other pages on this site, others to pages elsewhere.

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

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

Across the area (and further afield)

• The A-level ‘results’ are out and the general picture seems to be a bit confused with, as one night expect, the stories of people who feel they’ve been marked down getting a lot more traction than the tales of those who quite happy. I think my youngest son fits into the latter category and he would have probably taken his results if they’d been offered to him at the end of last year. I dare say there will be a lot of appeals and statements by ministers and universities and schools. It’s an unprecedented situation and it’s hard to see what might have been done better. What everyone in the education sector must be feeling, though. is ‘might we have to go through this again next year?’

• The government’s white paper on planning has been published and is out for consultation. You can see it here. My initial comment is that the first two footnote links I went to – 4 and 7 – both ended up with ‘page not found’ messages. A further statement I would like to have checked, point 3, had no link offered at all. Not a great start, guys.

The document starts off with a typically boisterous introduction from the PM. He draws the analogy of the current planning system being like an old house, repeatedly patched up but not re-built. At one point he says that ‘eight years ago a new landlord stripped most of the asbestos from the roof.’ This is very specific. What 2012 event is our leader referring to? A ‘new landlord’ might be a reference to a change of government, but there was no election or revolution in 2012 that I noticed. Asbestos is quite nasty stuff if dealt with incorrectly, but pretty benign if left alone. Did this new landlord strip the asbestos responsibly or not? Or is the asbestos a metaphor for something else? Already – and we haven’t even got beyond the pre-preface waffle – I’m confused.

We then have an introduction written by, or on behalf of, the current Secretary of State Robert Jenrick which is similar to his article in the Telegraph to which I referred last week.

There is much in the document that is encouraging. The current system is, as BJ says, of retirement age and can certainly do with being at least reformed. The document aspires to creating a system that is less ‘complex and opaque’, that creates ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘beautiful’ dwellings, provided through a ‘simpler, faster and more predictable system’ which will ‘facilitate a more diverse and competitive housing industry’ and will involve ‘cutting red tape, nor standards.’ There are 49 mentions of the word ‘affordable’: which, admittedly, in the housing system, means less than the word implies. (A search for ‘social’, however, as in ‘social housing’, produces only nine results, all in a different context.) 

A further 75 pages follow and I’d be lying if I said I’ve read the whole thing. Here are my thoughts (in italics) on one of the pages I did read…

On p18, the document’s authors suggested nine things they would like to see the new system do. (1) ‘be more ambitious for the places we create, expecting new development to be beautiful and to create a ‘net gain’ not just ‘no net harm.’ Not sure what this means. (2) ‘move the democracy forward in the planning process and give neighbourhoods and communities an earlier and more meaningful voice in the future of their area…’ Already exists with neighbourhood development plans (see below). (3) ‘improve the user experience of the planning system, to make planning information easier to find and understand and make it appear in the places that discussions are happening…’ Give local councils grants to update their creaky websites. (4) ‘support home ownership…’ A moot point. What’s needed is surely getting people homes at all on affordable and realistic tenures. (5) ‘increase the supply of land available for new homes where it is needed…’ The last four words are crucial: who decides this? (6) ‘help businesses to expand with readier access to the commercial space they need in the places they want and supporting a more physically flexible labour market.’ I’m not clear what this has to do with the basic housing problem. And breathe…then on we go:

(7) support innovative developers and housebuilders…(and) those looking to build a diverse range of types and tenure of housing, and those using innovative modern methods of construction.’ There may well be such developers around but surely the best thing is to create national regulations as to what constitutes ‘innovative’ and ‘modern’. (8) ‘promote the stewardship and improvement of our precious countryside and environment…’ Many might feel that the views of the North Wessex AONB were ignored in the Salisbury Road development in Hungerford. (8 again) ‘…that we support net gains for biodiversity and the wider environment and actively address the challenges of climate change.’ A great idea. How about introducing the Future Homes Standard earlier than 2025? (9) ‘create a virtuous circle of prosperity in our villages, towns and cities, supporting their ongoing renewal and regeneration without losing their human scale, inheritance and sense of place. We need to build more homes at gentle densities in and around town centres and high streets, on brownfield land and near existing infrastructure so that families can meet their aspirations. Good growth will make it easier to level up the economic and social opportunities available to communities.’ Such documents often end with something vague and aspirational: this one is no exception.

Picking up on point 2, the document mentions in several places the need to involve local communities in the decisions and to increase engagement. We have only two reactions to local planning matters: total indifference most of the time but with occasional outbursts of panic, despair and rage when something is to be built near us. There is already a perfectly good way of getting local involvement in the process. It’s called a neighbourhood development plan, introduced by the coalition government. One would imagine that the white paper would be full of references to NDPs as these seem to address so many of the issues that the report highlights as problems – after all, the word ‘local’ is used 308 times, ‘engagement’ 31 and ‘democracy’ or ‘democratic’ nine. In fact, the phrase didn’t appear at all. It’s almost as if HMG is proposing to abolish them and has already started air-brushing them out of the official records. (West Berkshire has one parish with an adopted NDP and seven more in progress; the Vale of White Horse has none yet adopted but has 23 in progress, at least one of which would have gone to referendum were it not for the pandemic.)

• For those who want to see a seemingly impressive array of Covid stats, including comparisons across European countries and some jaw-cracking formulae at the end, this report from the Office of National Statistics (published on 17 July 2020) would be a good place to start. The UK, and England in particular, doesn’t come out of the comparisons terribly well. One figure that does need to be corrected is the mortality rate for England and Wales: this is quoted as 46,736 in the four months ending 30 June 2020 but has since been reduced by the UK government by about 5,000, as the previous figures included all deaths where the person had tested positive forCV-19 at any time before, even if the death was unconnected with the virus. The current threshold is now 28 days. Now that sufficient time has passed, the ONS report is able to look at and compare ‘excess mortality’ compared to a five-year average for the preceding years. Among the many points the ONS report makes are the dangers of comparisons, particularly over short periods: the UK, for instance, reports deaths according to the date of certification whereas most European countries use what seems to be the more logical date of death. 

• The government’s contact-tracing app is now being trailed in the Isle of Wight and the London Borough of Newham. This uses Apple and Google technology and replaces the government’s own one which was trailed in May but abandoned in June due to technical failures. This article from Wired look a bit more deeply into the issues and the challenges faced by mass contact-tracing technology.

• That aside, the government’s track and trace policy is still not firing on all cylinders. This article on the BBC website on 10 August says that 6,000 centrally-employed staff are being laid off and that ‘the remaining contact tracers will work alongside local public health teams to reach more infected people and their contacts in communities.’ Why this wasn’t organised six months ago defies logic. As Dr Phil Hammond, writing in Private Eye as ‘MD’, observed in the most recent issue, ‘outsourcing was predictably the wrong option.’ These local public-heath teams were already operational (if underfunded). This government – perhaps any government – has a mania for either centralising our outsourcing, or both. Covid-19 might prove to have done a bit more localism a big favour. ‘The best hope of avoiding another lockdown,’ MD continues, ‘is for local public-health teams and councils to use their local knowledge and expertise when clusters emerge, as many are already doing.’

• Nor has this option proved cheap. Private Eye 1527 reports on p9 that the DfH has published details of the contract with Serco and Sitel. Assuming the contracts run for the full year up to May 2021, the two companies will receive £720m between them. So far they have only performed 24% of the contacts: the rest have been done by local authorities, which have received only £300m in extra support. 

• It’s been suggested that this local approach will result in an epidemic of people knocking on doors to ask questions, some of whom may not be real track-and-trace staff. Well, yes: but there was also the risk of phone calls from some Serco-recruited person from the other side of the country being hung up on. The earlier a local system is introduced, the more likely it is that the people who make the enquiries are going to be known to the people they speak to. The volunteer groups throughout the area depended on just this kind of personal accreditation. If a local approach to track and trace had been decided from the outset, this would not be so much of a big deal now. 

• Another epidemic has, of course, been that of disinformation. This article on the BBC website quotes research from the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene as suggesting that at least 800 people have died, and nearly 6,000 been hospitalised, as a result of misleading medical information. It could have been far worse: the original article claims to have identified ‘2,311 reports of rumours, stigma, and conspiracy theories in 25 languages from 87 countries.’ The wonder cures which have been recommended to be taken internally include hydroxychloroquine, garlic, alcohol, soap, cow dung, urine and bleach (the first and the last have, of course, been advocated by the US President). There have also been claims that the tests can harm people. 28% of Americans – and 44% of Republicans – believe that Bill Gates wants to use vaccines to implant microchips in people. It’s also been (falsely) claimed that Bill Gates ‘admitted that a vaccine would kill 700,000 people’. (He was actually making a hypothetical point about the possibility of one in 10,000 people having side-effects and extrapolating that to assume that everyone in the world were vaccinated – highly improbably given both the logistical difficulties of immunising everyone on the planet with a hypothetical antidote and the strong opposition that exists in some societies (including, it would appear, the USA) to the idea of vaccination at all.)

• Odder and darker still is the American conspiracy theory QAnon which has received publicity recently because a prominent advocate of its ideas looks as if she is going to become a US Senator. In so far as I can understand it, the movement appears to see the world as being ruled by an alliance of satanic paedophiles, somehow closely connected to the Democratic Party, which is only being held at bay by the intervention of Donald Trump. A millenarian day of reckoning referred to as ‘the storm’ is expected imminently, after which the conspirators will be laid low by the forces of the righteous. Even by the standards of American right-wing obsessions this is pretty strong beer and makes the Tea Party movement in the early 2000s look like…well, a tea party by comparison. The QAnon thing seems like a ghastly mish-mash of the Illuminatus! trilogy, The Protocols of the Elders of ZionThe Lord of the Rings, the Book of Revelation and President Trump’s twitter feed.

All is not well in that country. The existential threat of Covid has revealed imposingly deep divisions between the liberals and the conservatives, the big centres of population and the ‘flyover’ states, the Christians and the rest, the two main parties, and the states and the federal government. Virtually every aspect of the precautions or cures relating to the virus have been turned into civil-liberty issues. Racism, bigotry, disease and distrust stalk the land. The election, which is less than three months away, will (as is customary) be contested between two white, male, septuagenarian millionaires. The incumbent has already predicted it will be the most corrupt election ever. The USA has attracted many emotions in the past, including envy, hate, respect, fear and distrust. This must be the first time that pity has been added to the list. I guess it does something to your national psyche when you’ve been the world’s most powerful economy for about the last 150 years – that’s as long as the FA Cup has been going for: imagine if every final had been won by the same team. China will have something to say about this statistic pretty soon and there USA seems ill equipped to cope with the consequences on any level. 

• I learned today that the Japanese for ‘there are two chickens in the garden’ is ‘niwa ni wa niwa niwa tori ga iru,’ a rather lovely tongue-twister. This is more useful than it may seem as, at the time the remark was made to me, there were in fact two chickens in the garden (and two in the shed, being broody). It’s more obviously practical than the equally delightful French phrase ‘le ver vert va vers le verre,’ (‘the green worm is going towards the glass’), something I’ve not seen happen and never hope to, though in our kitchen, anything’s possible…

• 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.

•  We’re now half way through 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 in August 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. The pub-trade magazine The Morning Advertiser quotes the Treasury as saying that 10.5m meals were bought under this scheme in the first week. 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. They could be called into action again.

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.

• If you like photos of rivers and canals and the beasts that do dwell upon them, pp20-21 of this week’s NWN will be to your linking.

• The animals of the week are any of these New Caledonia Crows, famously at the brainy end of the animal spectrum. The experiment filmed in this video suggests they can, when confronted with an unexpected problem, plan three steps into the future in order to solve it. Some humans seem not yet to have acquired this ability

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those referred to elsewhere, letters about dog mess accessing local democracy, whether West Berkshire is too small to be a unitary authority, virtual council meetings and the sacrifices of WW2.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: a large number of local projects across the district (thanks to West Berkshire Council’s members’ bids); Bliss (thanks to three cyclists from Newbury); Thatcham Support Group (thanks to George Hannington); Little Princess Trust (thanks to Abigail Swan); Medical Detection Dogs (thanks to pupils and staff at Thorngrove School).

Hungerford & district

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

Book now here for a not-to-be-missed event on 16 September when one of the country’s best TV journalists (Jon Snow) will be talking to one of the country’s best thriller writers (Robert Harris) – local residents both – in an event organised by the Hungerford Bookshop.

• This week’s NWN has a fine selection of photos on p24 of the monthly food and artisan market in Hungerford, for which Penny is one of the organisers. One mistake to correct: the October market (which will replace the usual Hungerford Food Festival), will take place on Sunday 4 October, not 2 October as quoted in the paper.

• And, if you let your eyes slide a few degrees to the right, you’ll see yet more photos of the town, this time recording the various winners of the excellent Hungerford in Bloom 2020, organised by the Town Council.

• Last week saw the publication of the August 2020 Penny Post Hungerford, the best and most comprehensive round-up of what’s been going on or is about to go on in the town. You can click here to read it. As well as the usual updates from the Town Council, the Town & Manor, the High Street’s shops and Barr’s Yard, there’s 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 and a slightly dark short story. 

• Matters discussed at the most recent meeting of Hungerford Town Council’s Environment and Planning Committee on 4 August (which you can read here) included the reaction to two recent controversial issues in the town. One was Riverbend at Upper Eddington, which was decided at WBC’s Western Area Planning Committee on 22 July. The minutes recorded that ‘the applicants have agreed to revert to the original plans regarding the timber cladding and to replace the domed roof lights. District Councillor Cole advised the applicant is required to resubmit plans regarding the tree planting/landscaping.’ The second concerned the WBC’s Case Officer’s report into the application by Costa Coffee for the positioning of tables and chairs in the High Street. This was granted by WBC and the Town Council had ‘no objection on the basis of two tables and four chairs (no further chairs) and subject to the provision of barrier screening to screen the seating area, as per the revised plan.’ It was also agreed that a letter be written on behalf of the committee to ‘the owner of the business requesting the flag at the front of the property be removed as previously discussed and agreed.’

• Hungerford currently has a vacancy for up to four Town Councillorssee here for more information. The posts will be filled by co-option.

• Hungerford’s Mayor Helen Simpson has expressed her gratitude to the members of the Smarten Up Hungerford team who did such an excellent job of tidying up the War Memorial Garden in Bulpit Lane recently. “With the anniversaries of VJ Day (15 August) and the Tragedy (19 August) coming up, we really wanted to make sure the area looked its best,” she said. “I’m delighted by the result – thanks so much on behalf of the Town Council, and indeed there whole town, for your efforts.’ For more information about Smarten Up Hungerford, including how you can volunteer to help it work, see this separate post.

• The most recent meeting of Shalbourne Parish Council took place on 16 July and you can get the minutes here (note that they will not appear instantly but will be downloaded). Matters discussed included reclaiming old footpaths (see this post for more more on this issue), speeding, and the possibility of applying for The Plough to be registered as an Asset of Community Value (a move which would provide a six-month brake on any change of use). In the latter case, in was agreed ‘to defer considering this until the situation with the new tenant became clearer.’

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

• As mentioned last week, 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.

• I interviewed East Garston Parish Council’s Chairman David Ruse for 4 LEGS Radio last week: click on the link to hear it.

• Our August Valley of the Racehorse newsletter was published last weekend, providing the best summary of life in the upper Lambourn Valley. Click here to read it if you didn’t get it. As well as the above-mentioned interview with David Ruse, it covers the forthcoming Lambourn Carnival, promotes appeals from the Lambourn Junction and the National Animal Welfare Trust at Trindledown, gives a round of applause for Sarah, Claire and Ray at the Shefford Shop, provides news from the library, announces The Great Shefford’s chosen charity, shares Pat Murphy’s racing news and has news from a local bee-keepers, a head teacher, an animal expert, a bookseller, a wine merchant, a chef, an astronomer and several face-mask makers.

• The newsletter also includes the ward update from Lambourn District Councillor Howard Woollaston which includes his involvement in some of the above-mentioned issues and also speeding, sewage, the Lambourn NDP and – the first item on his agenda – the appallingly slow broadband speeds in parts of Upper Lambourn, a blot on West Berkshire’s otherwise pretty good record on rural broadband and one he’s assured me he’s hoping to solve. 

Lambourn Parish Council held its last 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.

• The NWN this week has on its front page a tantalising hint from the new owners of the Kennet Centre about the ‘leisure business that doesn’t exist in Newbury at the moment’ that will soon be unveiled in the Kennet Centre, a building that’s certainly in desperate need of an injection of something. We know that it won’t be a bowling alley or a cinema: what does that leave? An ice rink? A tiger sanctuary? A mud-wrestling arena? I spoke to one of the directors on 13 August who said that it was hoped an announcement would be made ‘in a few weeks.’

• A letter in this week’s Newbury Weekly News from Peter Norman, a long-time campaigner against the Sandleford site, makes several points about the development, all of which I’ve touched on in the past as well. The plan was that it would provide 2,000 homes on that site: it won’t, 1,350 being the current maximum without encroachment. It was to have had an over-arching masterplan: so far it hasn’t. The two developers need to agree on some basic matters such as the design; it appears they can’t. Like all developments, this should be designed to encourage walking and cycling: this one doesn’t. There’s also the question as to how much the three recent disruptors, Messrs Brexit, Covid and Climate-Change, may have altered previous certainties: Sandleford was (like the LRIE) conceived in the seemingly infinite distant days of the early 2000s when none of these were factors. He also makes the point that ‘future housing development may be more modest (and should) certainly be greener.’ He could have added that we need ‘renewal and regeneration without losing the human scale…we need to build more homes at gentle densities in and around town centres and high streets, on brownfield land and near existing infrastructure.’ Where has this last phrase come from? Why, from the government’s own white paper on planning, published earlier this week (see Across the Area, above).

• The Newbury Youth Work project has been launched. This will provide 12 hours a week of detached work across Newbury, aiming to reach 750 people each year. It aims to support young people on the streets of Newbury, focussing on those between the ages of 13 and 19, and to protect and provide appropriate information and advice. The project will work in partnership with other agencies to enhance the life chances of young people and reduce the incidence of anti-social behaviour.

• Newbury Town Council will soon start work to install a new playground for older children at Skyllings.

• West Berkshire Council is holding a public consultation (closes 14 September) on extending the current Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) at Speen Lodge Court in Newbury. The proposal is to extend it for a further three years (this will involve restricting access to the public right of way over a highway) in response to ‘issues with anti-social behaviour.’ More information here.

• The deadline for Newbury Town Council’s grant aid applications is 19 August 2020 (so not long now). 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 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 is inviting the public to come and take part in a treasure hunt around the town to raise money for the Mayor’s Benevolent Fund and her chosen charities. To register your place or for further information, please contact mayor@newbury.gov.uk or call 01635 780203. 

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

• 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.

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 Living Rainforest in Hamstead Marshall has released its two dwarf caimans from six months quarantine so they’re now able to take their first look at the visitors, and vice versa (for information about booking your trip, see here). Dwarf caimans are the smallest members of the crocodile family but can still grow up to 1.4m in length.

Hermitage Parish Council has produced its August update, which can be seen here. Items covered include the re-opening of the playgrounds, the problem of overhanging branches near the school, news from the community group, the installation of the vehicle-activated sign to detect road speeds near The Fox, the progress of discussions about the PC taking over a patch of ground near Pinewood Crescent which includes some potentially dangerous trees and the date of the next meeting (20 August), which members of the public are welcome to attend virtually.

• The most recent meeting of West Ilsley Parish Council took place on 13 July and you can read the minutes here

• The most recent meeting of East Ilsley Parish Council took place on 14 July and you can read the minutes here.

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 report on p26 that The Plough pub, which has been closed for three years, is back on the market again. It was auctioned earlier this year but failed to reach its guide price of £410,000: perhaps surprisingly, the asking price has now risen by £40,000. Nothing in the last four months suggest that a long-empty pub is now 10% more likely to succeed so it’s probable that it will be re-developed, providing the necessary change of use can be requested.

• The same paper also reports that the French market will return to Thatcham on Saturday 5 September.

• People in Thatcham are being asked to sign up to mass virtual singing event as part of a list of lockdown activities. 

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

• The Newbury Weekly News covers, on p27, the battle between Thatcham Town Cricket Club and its insurers, Hiscox, over whether the insurer should pay out for lost revenue. A sum of about £20,000 os at stake and the matter, which has progressed as far of the High Court, is expected to be decided by this time next month. The verdict will also be eagerly awaited by the Town Council as, if TTCC is successful, it will then be able to pay its outstanding rent.

• 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 took place on 13 July and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included a speed-detection box and a broken bell rope.

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin. The photo at the top shows the same view of Westrop Wood at two stages of the felling, mulching and re-planting work that is currently going on there.

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 Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 11 August and the minutes will appear on the PC’s website in due course (until then you can listen to a recording of the meeting). Matters covered included enhancements to the Recreation Ground, repairs to village infrastructure, a couple of uncontentious planning applications and a report from the neighbourhood policing team.

• The most recent meeting of Englefield Parish Council took place on 29 July ad you can see the draft minutes here. Amongst other matters, the meeting considered two planning applications on the Englefield Estate, both of which the PC supported. 

• District Councillors Graham Bridgman and Geoff Mayes submitted a successful 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).

• This week’s NWN reports on the newest arrivals at Beale Park: a pair of zebras.

• Perhaps not surprisingly, Burghfield’s Beerfest, planned for late September, has been called off. (Alcohol is not conductive to social distancing, as I have witnessed several times this summer.)

• 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.

Marlborough & district

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

• An extraordinary meeting of Marlborough Town Council on 27 June ‘noted a report by the Town Clerk and considered the transfer of public open space, a play area and multi-use games area (MUGA) at Rabley Wood View from GreenSquare Homes to Marlborough Town Council.’ The notes of the meeting, which you can read here, give a detailed summary of the background to and reasons for this.

Marlborough News reports here on what appears to be a compromise solution in the emotive matter of the parking spaces in the High Street.

• The same website confirmed recently that the Parade Cinema has been given the green light by Wiltshire Council’s Planners. Work can restart with a target opening date of autumn 2021.

• And still with MN, perhaps no great surprise that this year’s Mop Fairs have been cancelled.

• A reminder 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 mentioned last week about the reported shortage of ducks in Marlborough, a concern which has been elevated as high as the Town Council, and I suggested that they may have defected to East Garston in West Berkshire. A few days ago we counted well over 100 on one short stretch of the River Lambourn just downstream from us. I couldn’t establish if they were residents of Wiltshire not, However, population pressure – to say nothing of water pressure, given that this stretch of the river is drying up, as it normally does in the last summer – will perhaps encourage some relocation.

• 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.

• As mentioned last week, if 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. 

• This week’s Herald reports, on p3, that the new roads being planned constitute ‘an expressway by stealth’. The expressway, a deeply controversial road-building project, would form part of a new road linking Oxford and Cambridge via Milton Keynes. (Milton Keynes was selected as the site of a new town in the 1960s to fulfil exactly this destiny, it being more or less exactly half way between London and Birmingham and between Oxford and Cambridge.)

• As is customary, the PM has unveiled the new life peers which include the usual list of supporters, donors and political veterans being put out to grass. It’s less usual to find a foamer England Cricket captain and one of the PM’s own siblings in the list but this year one does. One surprising, to me at any rate, inclusion is the former Wantage MP Ed Vaizey (whose father was also made a life peer by Harold Wilson in the 1960s, allegedly because he helped arrange private education for two of the illegitimate children of Wilson’s secretary.) Vaizey Jr seems to have been at best only a luke-warm supporter of Brexit, having campaigned for Remain in 2016, and was one of the Tory MPs who had the party whip removed in September 2019 for some act of perceived disloyalty during the Brexit debate which seemed amazingly important at the time but which now seems as if it happened about 50 years ago. 

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

• A reminder about another initiative from the Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce, the Wantage Wednesdaysclick here for more information.

• No further news on who will be paying for upkeep of the triangle of land in Grove (see last week’s column).

• 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 – as do I in the Across the Area section above – to the planning white paper which has recently been pit out to consultation.

• The Vale Council is asking its residents the question ‘Were you inspired to keep moving or did lockdown leave you lacking in motivation?,’ referring to how or if people were able to keep active during lockdown. Click here for more information and to respond to the survey. Although I don’t live in the Vale, I can say that for my part I used to swim quite a lot and I haven’t been able to and I’ve probably forgotten how to do it.

Click here for other news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group. The two items on its front page currently concern the choices facing the Vale Council about changes to charges in its car park; and the case of the disappearing leisure centre The one planned between Wantage and F Grove has been paused for nearly two years and now seems finally to have been abandoned due to funding problems, despite that fact that the population of both settlements is set to increase considerably over the next few years.

• 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.

• The most recent meeting of Ardington and Lockinge Parish Council took place on 10 July and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included anti-speeding signs, an ‘unsympathetic’ response from two local bus companies about adding a service to the village, deep cleans and improvements to the playground.

• You can click here to see the August 2020 issue of the Letcome Register which includes, as well as village information, a message from the Parish Council, a letter from the MP, a selection of photos, details of road closures, four Mirandas, three dingbats and two St Augustines.

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

Swindon & district

Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.

• Most parts of the area covered by Penny Post have so far got away pretty lightly from Covid: but Swindon – which, let us not forget, has a population about 25% larger than that of West Berkshire or the Vale of White Horse and a considerably higher population density – is experiencing some of the problems shared by urban areas the world over. None of the figures are significant by American or Brazilian standards but any significant percentage increase is worrying. If not jumped on at once it can become exponential.

On 5 August, Swindon Link reported that in the previous day there had been 14 new cases reported in Swindon, about 1.5% of the new cases in the whole of England. The following day, ITN News stated that, based on new figures released by the government, Swindon was now sixth in the infection rate per 100,000 people and had seen the larges increase compared to the previous week, from 24.3 to 44.1 per 100,000 (by contrast, West Berkshire and Wiltshire are both 3.8 and Oxfordshire 4.1). On 9 August, the Swindon Advertiser claimed that 24 new cases were confirmed in Swindon ‘in a day’ (though, unhelpfully, it didn’t say which day). On 12 August, Health and Safety Matters reported that ‘Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors are busy contacting and visiting businesses in Swindon to make sure workplaces are Covid-secure and help tackle a local outbreak,’ and that the government has moved the borough onto its watch list. The HSE is, the article continued,  ‘working alongside Swindon Borough Council to support the understanding of any patterns in the confirmed coronavirus cases in the area while reassuring the local community.’ On the same day, Swindon Council launched a borough-wide campaign with ‘Swindon: It’s up to all of us’ as the headline ‘to reinforce a number of important public health messages to Swindon residents.’ It’s unclear, at least to me, how many of these cases are linked to a localised outbreak at XPO Logistics at the end of last month which resulted in a similar ‘multi-agency response’.

This local response with expert help is exactly how the system should be working. In some cities, lockdowns have been introduced which affect only a small number of streets, this being obviously more effective than shutting down a whole city, as happened in Leicester. 

• Less impressive, it seems, has been Swindon Council’s handling of a cycle lane in Commercial Road which may need be filed under ‘fiasco’. As the Advertiser reports, it has been axed less than a week after it opened following ‘an outcry’ from traders who claimed that they had not been consulted and couldn’t have deliveries made. It has also been suggested that the scheme is dangerous. Swindon Council’s website currently has nothing to say on the matter.

• Swindon Council has received more than £400,000 in developer contributions to make improvements at Coate Water Country Park.

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, has launched 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 has begun.

• A similar project has also started with many of the borough’s traffic lights.

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

• So, it’s time for the Song of the Week. I may have recommended this before but so what – a lovely piece of pure-pop-of-its-time-and all-time, Second Choice by Any Trouble.

• And here comes the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Steven Wright is one of the funniest men the planet has produced. He doesn’t do sketches or even jokes but just a series of sometimes alarming one-line observations, many of which can make you feel that your brain has done a 180º. This clip is probably a pretty good taster.

• And so we ease into the final paragraph that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This weeks’s question is: The last Scottish football champions other than Celtic or Rangers was Aberdeen – but how many years ago was that? Last week’s question was:  The Hollywood actress Olivia de Haviland died last month at the age of 104. She had a notoriously tempestuous relationship with her equally famous younger sister: what was her name?  Joan Fontaine. Apparently the bad blood dated back to early childhood and, as one might expect, become a lot worse under the Hollywood spotlight. Who’d be famous, eh?

Brian Quinn

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

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