Local News 27 August to 3 September 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week, including Hungerford’s tripod,  Newbury’s wildflowers, East Garston’s re-opening, Lambourn’s increments, Marlborough’s pavements, Wantage’s meeting, Grove’s fundraising, Hermitage’s update, Cold Ash’s goat, Woolhampton’s woodpeckers, West Ilsley’s music, Thatcham’s fire, Swindon’s sales, Aldbourne’s vacancy, Theale’s tender, Axford’s damage, Ashbury’s farewell, Brimpton’s wave, ghost towns, head rolls at Ofqual, NDP uncertainty, pedestrianisation, Republican heroes, 64 million meals, 130 tonnes of fat, 10cm of pipe, suspected dictation from HQ, Bo-Jo’s whiff-whaff, estate agents at the pump, Dottie the hen and Nellie the elephant. 

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)

• The head of England’s exam regulator Ofqual, Sally Collier, has resigned as a result of the recent problems with the exam results. The Guardian referred to it as a fiasco and that is certainly one word. However, as I suggested last week, it does seem to have been an honest if ultimately doomed attempt to ‘to make the meaningless slightly more meaningful’ – the system of allocating grades based on anything other than exams was always going to be arbitrary. The government must bear and admit (but probably won’t) its share of the responsibility as it could at any stage either have said ‘keep it simple and base the grades on teachers’ predictions’ or made a serious attempt to explain why the more complex method had been adopted (which would haven involved the minister really understanding how it had been arrived at).  

This report on the BBC website talks of our urban areas becoming ‘ghost towns‘ if large companies don’t return. The article also highlights the number of smaller firms, mainly in the food and drink sector, that depend on full offices. If, as seems to have happened, many firms have decided that it’s easier and cheaper to have people working from home at least some of the time, it’s hard to see what the government or anyone else can do about this: nor what might happen to some of the vast office buildings if they remain empty. Under permitted development rights, these can in many cases be converted into housing without planning permission. As we and many others have mentioned, the design and location of office blocks doesn’t generally make these ideal for homes. That may, however, be a secondary consideration for a property company with what suddenly becomes an unprintable building on its hands: a conversion into flats may seem an attractive option, no matter how cramped or inconveniently located these prove to be. After all, it’s unlikely that the directors of the company will ever end up living there.

• In what appears to be something of a re-boot, a fresh start, a new chapter, a line drawn etc, West Berkshire Council has announced a draft development brief for the long-running London Road Industrial Estate. For nearly two decades the project has started, stalled, lurched forward and then gone unexpectedly into a reverse like someone having their first driving lesson. Recent highlights have included a change of development partner, two court cases and an internal enquiry: aside from the building of an access road from the A339 and the close of the football ground (see Newbury Area section below) nothing has actually happened on the ground. In December 2019, West Berkshire Council commissioned Avison Young to develop a masterplan for the site and the firm’s initial report suggests two options: a wholesale re-development or a piecemeal approach. This in itself doesn’t move matters much further forward as these were always the alternatives. The matter will be considered by the Executive on 3 September. If the plans as they currently stand are approved, there will then be a wider consultation. If so, this will to my knowledge mark the first time that West Berkshire Council has formally asked the public for its views on this subject in this way.

• The organisation Locality asserts on its website that ‘we support community organisations to be strong and successful so communities thrive.’ This would seem to be a similar ambition to that proposed by the government’s white paper on planning (my thoughts on which you can read here). One of the matters on which this document was strangely silent was that of neighbourhood development plans (which already exist as a means of creating at least some aspects of the democracy, transparency and local engagement to which the white paper claims to aspire). In a recent communication sent by Locality, the fear is expressed that ‘the reforms may mean that neighbourhood [development] plans will have a much more slimmed down scope.’

As the communiqué goes on to stress, nothing changes until the consultation has ended and the government has decided what action to take. The organisation also urges with anyone working on an NDP to continue. None the less, a number of NDP groups up and down the country must be worried. These things take, in general, at least three years and occupy thousands of hours of time, mainly for a core group of perhaps half a dozen people who are generally unpaid. If a white paper detailing the government’s thinking on the future of planning doesn’t mention NDPs even once, they might be wondering whether all this work will ever reach fruition. This has already happened once before when town plans were, after a similar amount of work, downgraded to remove their statements on planning policy

• Darting across the Atlantic to the USA, a rather un-engaging couple swum back into the national limelight recently. As the BBC website reports, ‘Mark and Patricia McCloskey gained instant notoriety after video of them waving and pointing guns at Black Lives Matter demonstrators from the front yard of their St Louis mansion spread across the internet.’ Earlier this week, they appeared as speakers at the Republican Party convention. A bit of research revealed that they are both personal-injury lawyers – probably as good a way of getting rich as any in that country – who, according to The Insider, are notoriously litigious and have been much involved in various local campaigns including, bizarrely, trying to prevent unmarried couples from moving into the district. On an even stranger occasion in 2013, they smashed a row of beehives which had been placed on the fence between their house and the school next door (killing all the bees) as the hives overhung their property by a few inches. The article then alleges that they legally threatened the school to clean up the debris. (Another article, in St Louis Today which I read earlier this week and which described this incident in greater detail has since been removed ‘for legal reasons’.) If all this is true, it seems an extraordinary way of carrying on: most people would have picked up the phone, called the school and tried to resolve things amicably. These are the saviours to whom President Trump turned in his hour of crisis.

The latest (25 August) data on Covid-19 from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) says that ‘some evidence of a small increase in people testing positive in July 2020 after a low point in June, but this appears to have now levelled off.’ It also offers, among as multitude of other facts and statistics, that ‘Asian or Asian British’ people were more likely to test positive than white people; that those on one-person households we’re more likely to test positive than those in two-person households. I’m not qualified to make any comment on the first of these; regarding the second, I’d imagine that people living alone are more likely to go out and thus more likely to contract the virus.

• Next Monday, 31 August, sees the last day of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme (or ‘Sunak suppers’ as Stella at The White Hart in Hamstead Marshall named the initiative). The government figures claim that 84,000 restaurant premises have registered for the scheme and as of midnight on 23 August, 64m meals had been claimed for. As there were four more days the scheme had to run this might rise to perhaps 80m, an average of over one meal for every person in the UK. Although the initiative has had its critics – including on the rather specious grounds that it’s encouraging obesity – it seems to have been a success. It was imaginative, fairly simple to operate and appears to have achieved its main goal.

I spoke to a couple of publicans who’ve been operating the scheme. Ian from The Chequers Inn in Charney Basset said that he felt the initiative had been ‘really worthwhile and had helped encourage people to come back to their local. We look forward to seeing you all again in September!’ Mark Genders from the John O’Gaunt in Hungerford said that ‘it had done what it set out to do and get people used to the idea of going out again.’ Some establishments are keeping the scheme going into September and will be funding the discount themselves. Some of those doing so appear to be large chains which probably have deep pockets. If your local restaurant or pub doesn’t continue to offer the scheme, it isn’t that they’re being mean: it’s probably that they can’t afford to.

• Newbury MP Laura Farris, writing in her regular column in the Newbury Weekly News, starts with the headline ‘return to classroom is best for children’. Yes, I think we all knew that. The article, a masterpiece of dullness, could have been, and perhaps was, dictated down the phone from party HQ. It makes no mention of any local issues but is merely a re-iteration of a piece of self-evident government policy which requires no further justification. There are plenty of things closer to home which I know she is concerned with: how about something on those next time? A wild, crazy, off-the-wall suggestion, I know.

• The Prime Minister has intervened in one of the leading issues of the day, that of whether the words of Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory should be sung at the Last Night of the Proms or whether they should be instrumental only. The lyrics certainly don’t stand up to much scrutiny and describe the yearning for a continuation of imperial might, and thus by implication a yearning for a return to it now. Mr Johnson – whose prose style aspires at times to be imperial in tone and which is slung across the three poles of the school playground, the classics classroom and the Bullingdon Club – has blamed the decision on ‘this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness.’ The term ‘wet’ first became popularly used in the Thatcher ’80s, used to describe anyone who shirked her policies of tight fiscal control. BJ’s government is, of course, printing money like crazy at present (admittedly for fairly good reasons). I think – but I’m not sure – that this really means that any reappraisal of past events is wrong if it conflicts with convenient and established notions of national gloire. I seem to remember that Nineteen Eighty-Four had some rather similar ideas, though backed up with Big Brother’s bash-bosh rather than Big Bo-Jo’s whiff-whaff…

• A reminded that the government’s white paper on planning has been published and you can see it here. I made a number of comments on this last week which you can see here if you wish. Remember that the document is currently out for consultation so your response will be influential. 

• For those who want to see a seemingly impressive array of Covid stats, including comparisons across European countries, this report from the Office of National Statistics (published on 17 July 2020) would be a good place to start. 

• 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 (ie any minute now). More information here.

• Residents of West Berkshire are being urged to look out for their voter registration details which should arrive soon.

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

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 either the goat on the from page of this week’s Cold Ash Community Bulletin (see Thatcham Area below) or Dottie the hen whose decision to raise a family of ducklings got her a splash across the whole of p9 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News. Take your pick.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those referred to elsewhere, two letters which (quite rightly) have a pop at the correspondent who last week had a pop at the teaching profession; the politics of county re-organisations; a defence of the RSPB; smocks; Christmas; and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: St Michael’s School in Aldbourne (thanks to pupils Max and Thea); Newbury Cancer Care and Julia’s House (thanks to Charles Robinson); Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (thanks to the National Lottery); Prospect Hospice (thanks to Kirsten Murphy); The Cystic Fibrosis Trust (thanks Nicola Davies and her fellow walkers); The Brain Tumour Charity (thanks to Nancy Carter-Bradley); The Spinal Injuries Association (thanks to Chloe Marriage and family).

Hungerford & district

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

• Yesterday I drove into Hungerford via the, for me, road less travelled, the southern approach on the A338 (we’d been having lunch at the Crown and Anchor in Ham, since you ask). The so-called Salisbury Road site – it’s just on the right before the Kennedy Meadow roundabout: you really can’t miss it – is now unmistakably being worked on. This reminded me that I didn’t know where things are with regard to the revised application, put in by the developers a couple of months ago, to remove the need to build any social homes. The application has been called in, meaning it will be discussed and decided at committee, but I understand no date has been set. I also understand that discussions are continuing between the  developers and West Berkshire’s planning officers, though with what results I cannot say.

• This month 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 happen in the town. You can click here to read it.  The next one will be out on Tuesday 8 September.

• If you’ve attended any civic functions or other events in or around Hungerford over the last 10 years, the chances are that the photos would have been taken by Tony Bartlett. Many of these haver been donated to the Town Council and other bodies so that the town has a pretty good collection of images (particularly of trains). He’s now decided to hang up his tripod, for this aspect of his work at least, and the Town Clerk Claire Barnes has issued a statement to thank him for his work: which we endorse. 

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

• The most recent meeting of Kintbury Parish Council took place on 6 August and you can access the minutes here

• 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). 

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

Lambourn Valley

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

• Lambourn’s District Councillor Howard Woollaston, who wears a number of hats for West Berkshire Council, has also been busy on ward matters. Aside from working to improve the agonisingly slow broadband in parts of Upper Lambourn and helping find a new home for Lambourn Junction, he’s also been in discussions with Thames Water about the long-running (perhaps not the happiest choice of phrase, but it’s done now) sewage problems in the area. ‘There is no one solution that will fix this,” he told Penny Post earlier this week. “We’re dealing with incremental steps, not a silver bullet. We have an ageing sewerage network: whilst Thames Water has the biggest responsibility, it is also caused by fractured pipes in individual ownership. These permit high groundwater levels to infiltrate the sewerage system and overload it. In normal times it can cope but the amount of rain in February just overwhelmed it.” Few in the upper Valley will need reminding of the consequences of this.

Why the sewage pipes have been allowed to age – particularly in this area where groundwater infiltration is a problem – is an issue that only Thames Water (or the government) can answer. Hopefully one or other of them will soon. Certainly if they’d been faulty oil or gas pipes they’d have been fixed within hours. Yes, I know it’s incredibly expensive: but not to have raw sewage running through the streets of any of the towns in its area for four months a year is surely an aspiration that Thames Water might regard as a laudable aspiration.

Councillor Woollaston was also kind enough to send me a leaflet from Thames Water entitled Help protect your pipes and the planet. This contains a number of useful and disgusting facts about fatbergs, caused by putting things other than poo, pee or toilet paper down the loo. Thames Water says that the largest fatberg it removed was 130 tonnes (‘almost as a heavy as a blue whale and nowhere near as majestic’). Wet wipes are particularly bad things to flush. Domestic sewer pipes are only 10cm in diameter (when I think about them at all, I’ve always imagined something larger) and so any blockages can build up pretty quickly; particularly if you have groundwater also pouring in through the cracks. This page on Thames Water’s site has similar information. Taking these measures will help the problem. West Berkshire Council will also be contacting owners of land with watercourses running through them to ensure that ditches and drains are kept clear.

• A reminder that, as mentioned last week, Fognam Farm, between Upper Lambourn and Ashbury, is the subject of planning application 20/01264/FULMAJ to provide ‘a rest, rehabilitation and recuperation facility for racehorses, including removal of existing building, erection of new three bedroom managers house, garage store building with office’ and other things besides. You can view the application here (then enter the ref no). There have already been more than the 10 objections required to mean that the matter will be called in and decided by committee. 

• A reminder that Lambourn’s last remaining phone box is due to be withdrawn from service and there’s a consultation on this which runs until 21 October: you can read more here. The concern is, as the article states, that it might be a real lifeline for someone. If you do use it, or know someone who does, please make sure that any views are known.

• Our August Valley of the Racehorse newsletter was published earlier this month, providing the best summary of life in the upper Lambourn Valley. Click here to read it if you didn’t get it. The September one will be out early next month.

• After a post-lockdown makeover, the Queens Arms in East Garston re-opened this week. We’ve been down to see it and it really is looking good – read more here.

• The September Village Views has recently dropped through the letterbox. The nature articles, in this at Great Shefford Parish News, always tell me something I didn’t know. This month’s issue claims that a yew tree is not considered ancient until it is 900 years old (in other words, planted in the reign of Henry I) and that there are an estimated 500 churchyards in England where the yews are older than the churches. For more facts on Taxus Baccata, Betula Pendula, Acer Psuedoplatanus and other trees, see pp18-19.

• This week’s NWN has, on p26, coverage of the recent funeral of champion jockey and trainer Stan Mellor which took place in Ashbury last week.

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.

• Anyone who’s been in Newbury town centre over the last couple of months will have noticed that there has been a 24/7 traffic ban. As we have mentioned several times, and as this week’s NWN reports today, West Berkshire has recently confirmed that matters will, on 7 September, revert to the previous system of traffic only being banned between 10am and 5pm. All the surveys I’ve seen or heard about seem to suggest an almost Brexit-like split of opinion (I’m not counting Council Leader Lynne Doherty’s ‘general consensus among businesses she had spoken to’ as a survey). West Berkshire’s position is that the move was only ever meant to be temporary and was designed to help kick-start the local economy. Newbury Town Council’s aspirations were, and are, to make it permanent.

Clearly no one solution will receive universal or probably even overwhelming support. Aside from the immediate economic issues, there’s also a debate to be had about whether town centres are generally better places without cars, particularly given the climate emergency. The problem of deliveries could be dealt with by having these made between 5pm and 10am, as at present. The wider point is that change is generally unwelcome but that, if a scheme is reasonable and promises benefits, then everyone involved will adapt and this will soon become the new normal. Whether three months, mostly during summer holidays and entirely during a pandemic, is long enough for people to judge fairly is another matter. If it were continued for a further three months and a consultation done in the final month, this might give a more considered response. If not quite the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to make the change that Newbury TC claims, it’s certainly a good moment. Many other towns in the area, including Wantage, Hungerford and Marlborough, will be watching what Newbury does with interest. I’ve had a quick look online at the experiences of other towns, in the UK and abroad, and there seems no clear consensus one way or the other.  

• I spoke today to a representative of the new owners of the Kennet Centre which has said that an unspecified ‘leisure business that doesn’t exist in Newbury at the moment’ will soon be moving in there. An announcement is expected next week.

• Just before lockdown, volunteers helped to plant a wildflower meadow at City Recreation Ground. In the spring the flowers started growing and by June they were a mass of colour. To ensure the flowers come up again next year, the wildflowers need to be cut down at the end of the season and the debris removed. Newbury Town Council is asking for volunteers to come along on Sunday 6 September at 10am to help cut the flowers and prepare the area so that next summer it will look beautiful once again. For more information, email  Jon.Gage@newbury.gov.uk.

• One can usually expect at least one letter about the London Road Industrial Estate in the NWN’s letters page each week and this week’s keeps the tradition going.

• I understand that discussions are continuing in an attempt to find a solution to the 26-month-long problem caused by the closure of the Faraday Road ground in Newbury as part of the above-mentioned LRIE plan. Two statements have recently been made, on from West Berkshire Council and one from the Newbury Community Football Group, and you can see them both in this separate post.

• The Newbury Youth Work project has been launched. This will provide 12 hours a week of detached work across Newbury, aiming to reach 750 youths 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• See p36 of this week’s NWN for the latest, and musical, episode in the continuing saga of the planters in West Ilsley. These have become a bone of contention between a homeowner in the village – who has installed them in the hope that they will help prevent cars from crashing into his home – and West Berkshire Council. To help make his point and to thank the villagers for their support, the owner gave a socially-distanced musical performance with the Korros Ensemble. What might be next? Planters – the musical?

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 and the progress of discussions about the PC taking over a patch of ground near Pinewood Crescent which includes some potentially dangerous trees.

• See also this page for up-to-date information about Hermitage’s neighbourhood development plan (the parish is one of seven in the district currently working on an NDP).

• 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 has on p35 a description of the fire damage (estimated to cost £1,500 to fix) at Pound Lane earlier this month. Actually, let’s not mince words – the correct term is ‘arson’, which carries some grave penalties.

• On the same page of the same paper (slide your view a few inches to the right) there’s a report on how Thatcham Town Council is trying to make travel in the area more environmentally friendly.

• On p3 of this week’s NWN there’s an article about Brimpton resident Kathleen Watson whose desire to spread a bit of happiness through some roadside waving resulted in an unexpected bonus when it came to having her boiler replaced. Good deeds are their own reward: but it’s pleasant to hear of a story where they’re also rewarded by something more tangible.

• The French market will return to Thatcham on Saturday 5 September.

•  Thatcham Town Council has announced a treasure hunt to keep children entertained whilst shopping safely in Thatcham Town Centre – more details here. You have until 1 September to get your entry forms in.

• The NWN reports on p36 about something that I vaguely remember having written about a couple of years back: that woodpeckers have for years been pecking away at the spire of St Peter’s Church in Woolhampton (it’s the kind of sentence that you remember typing). I’m not suggesting that the NWN is two years behind me on this story: far from it. It reports this week that the appeal has recently received a £15,000 grant from the National Churches Trust. 

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin. which this week starts with a goat and ends with Louise Erdrich.

Theale and district

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

Theale Parish Council invites contractors to submit tenders for the refurbishment of the Peter Gooch room and kitchen in the Pavilion. For more details, click here.

• 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.

• Perhaps not surprisingly, Burghfield’s Beerfest, planned for late September, has been called off.

• 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.

Marlborough & district

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

• Marlborough TC is inviting you to take part in an exercise to come up with the names for new streets in the town.

• And click here for news about the TC’s latest round of grants (deadline 11 September). 

Information here about changes to the road/pavement layout to create more al fresco areas in the High Street.

• And, on the same theme, the Gazette and Herald reports on the views of various traders in the town to the pavement-widening. (Not all the views are as extreme as that summarised in the headline.)

• And still on the subject of parking, Marlborough Town Council is introducing free parking Fridays from 28 August: see more here.

Marlborough News reports that the Merchant’s House is seeking volunteers: see this section of the Penny Post website for more information on two positions.

• Marlborough’s Town Council has signed up for the Great British September Clean initiative and is looking for volunteer litter pickers.

More information here on the progress at Marlborough’s new cinema – and how you can get involved.

• See here for information from Marlborough Town Council about changes to its services as a result of CV-19.

• There have been a large number of reports from across the area of littering, vandalism and worse in open spaces following lockdown. The area round the River Kennet at Axford has not been exempt. The most recent meeting of Ramsbury and Axford Parish Council on  17 August recorded that ‘large groups of people are gathering and have broken down the banks. A lot of rubbish is being left and a rubbish bin supplied by a resident has been thrown into the river. Rubbish has been left in the field where sheep are grazing – the shepherd has been notified. Tree trunks placed on the verge to stop cars parking down there have been pushed into the side of the road.’ It’s not great, is it?

• There is a vacancy on Aldbourne Parish Council which will probably be filled by co-option – see here for details.

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.

• This week’s Herald has an article looking at some of the (mixed) reactions to the pedestrianisation of part of the Market Square (see also Newbury Area above). It has several observations from Wantage Chamber of Commerce Chairman James Goodman (not ‘Gordon’ as the article says). The article proves – as does every other one covering this matter, here and elsewhere – that towns seem to be fairly split over the issue. 

 • 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. Penny was up there last week. So far, Wednesdays have seen a good deal of rain, but please persevere: and, remember (see Newbury section above) that the local councils do not control the weather…

• 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 should have had a yellow letter asking you to confirm the details of everyone over 16 who lives in their property.

• The Vale of White Horse District Council’s Cabinet has prioritised supporting local businesses recovering from Covid-19 ahead of addressing the council’s own longer-term financial pressures in deciding about changes to car parking charges across the district.

• Congratulations to Mike Hussey from Grove for organising the fundraising for a disabled local boy who was in need of a special bike – and, of course, to all those who chipped in.

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald looks at some points to consider if you’re thinking of responding the the government’s white paper on reforming the planning system. (My views are here.)

Click here for other news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group

• 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

• 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 August 2020 issue of the Letcome Register.

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

Swindon & district

Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.

This article, published on the ITV News website 21 August, claims that ‘Swindon has remained on the Government’s list of local council areas seen as ‘areas of concern’ because of an increase in people testing positive for Covid-19. However, whilst infections still remain high, there is no evidence of the rate of infection increasing in the past couple of weeks.’

• Swindon Borough Council has urged residents not to fall foul of new laws intended to target the most serious breaches of social-distancing restrictions.

• New adaptable bungalows built by the Swindon Housing Company are selling well after going on the market. A spokesperson for the Council said that “The [14] houses on Pilgrim Close contain special features to allow people to lead independent lives, while also having the capacity for extra equipment to be added if needed in the years ahead as people’s needs change.”

• News of a development on a rather larger scale: outline planning permission for 1,550 new homes to the east of Swindon has been granted.

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

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, let’s have the Song of the Week. I couldn’t decide between a piece of beautiful, smooth Iberian jazz or a cabaret/punk version of Nellie the Elephant. Simply because you don’t hear this sort of thing every day, I’ve gone for the latter – so here it is: Nellie the Elephant by The Toy Dolls from 1984.

• And here we are once again pulling into the station that is the Comedy Sketch of the Week. A bit more Fry & Laurie today, I think and the wonderful Estate Agents Working at the Pump.

• And so we stumble into the final paragraph, the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is (and I’ve answered it already, as you’ll know if you’ve been paying attention): According to Village Views, how old does a yew tree need to be before it’s considered to be officially ancient? Last week’s question was: Which is the world’s first $2tn company, as announced this week? It was Apple. It might be worth $3tn this week. Or nothing. I don’t understand money very well, certainly not at that scale. Let’s face it – who does?

Brian Quinn

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