Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s market, Newbury’s opening, Chaddleworth’s editors, Eddington’s applications, Great Shefford’s kiosk, Lambourn’s porches, Marlborough’s ducks, Manton’s playground, Wantage’s survey, Grove’s floodlights, Burghfield’s lunches, Hermitage’s update, Cold Ash’s landscape, Hamstead Marshall’s hornet, East Ilsley’s centenary, Thatcham’s library, Swindon’s art, Aldbourne’s objection, Inkpen’s objections, Theale’s school, Brimpton’s boiler, vote early and vote often, site visits, Dido at work, compromises, cows, otters, a repressed antelope, public air bags, the arboreal member, back to the pool, the mouth or the eyes, changing the counties, eating out continues, an escape room, green-white colour-blindness, Bogey and Bacall, 99.4, 900 years and how high the moon?
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Across the area (and further afield)
• The fall-out continues from the exam problems last month. Ofqual’s head Sally Collier resigned last week: now the Chairman Roger Taylor has said the the body had warned the government that there would be problems: ‘The fundamental mistake,’ the BBC website reports his saying to a Commons committee, ‘was to believe this [system] would ever be acceptable to the public.’ Presentation is the government’s responsibility: and, once again, it’s been deficient. Yes, I know we’re in the middle of a pandemic; yes, I know these are uncharted waters: but, as mentioned before, the government has a small army of ‘communication experts’. Most of the time, their role seems to be provide gloss or spin to fairly mundane announcements. Every now and then, something important happens where public understanding is rather important. It seems incapable of distinguishing between the two.
• As usual, the MD column in the latest (1529) Private Eye seems to be particularly useful reading. The first section is devoted to Public Health England (PHE) which, as announced last month is to be scrapped, under the headline ‘convenient scapegoat’. As Ofqual will also agree, the role of such bodies seems to be an air bag between the government and public opinion. There’s a huge problem when you have bodies such as these which do the government’s bidding but take all the blame. Many of them attract, as well as their fair share of job-hopping political appointees at the top, a good number of experts – MD estimates 5,500 at PHE – whose demoralisation and possible unemployment at a time like this can hardly be conducive to winning the Covid war.
It’s hard to see that the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) which is to replace it will fare any better. This body will be led by the ubiquitous Baroness Dido Harding of Winscombe, a woman whose elevation to the peerage in 2014 seems to be, rather than a reward for solid achievement, a recognition of her ability to land a series of plum jobs for some of which – as he herself admits – she had no experience. The NIHP will be responsible, amongst other matters, for the government’s track and trace system, despite widespread criticism of the move. It appears that NIHP will be working more closely with individual councils than did PHE, but this rather begs the question as what its purpose is. There are already organisations working at council level: they’re called councils and they have a wealth of local knowledge and access to local environmental health teams, GPs and other public-health groups. The government seems currently to inhabit a parallel universe in which local councils do not exist. Look at the response to the pandemic – most bottom-up things worked pretty well, most top-down ones pretty badly. Baroness Harding has a tough job: but, based on her past form, she’ll only be in it for three and a half years. During her tenure, she’ll have much to discuss with her husband, the Conservative MP John Penrose, who in May 2020 joined the board of the think tank 1828 which, according to the Mirror, is ‘calling for the NHS to be replaced by an insurance system.’ The article also reports that the body had written articles calling for the abolition of PHE – job done, in that case.
• The latest (2 September) 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.’ This seems re-assuringly similar to what I copied-and-pasted last week.
• The schools go back this week after what has effectively been a six-month holiday during which some parents must have been reduced to a state bordering on on insanity by the demands of home-schooling. What effect it will have had on the children won’t be seen for some time. This article on the BBC website expresses some of the concerns.
• The Eat Out to Help Out scheme has now ended. The latest government figures I can find say 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 have risen to perhaps 80m, an average of over one meal for every person in the UK. I mentioned last week that the scheme had its critics, but on balance I think it was an imaginative idea and well worth the half a billion that was sent on it, compared to the cost of the unemployment that might have resulted otherwise. A theory that I’ve heard expounded is that it takes three months for a human to change a habit: not eating in public has lasted a bit longer than this, so a nudge from Whitehall was probably welcome. Some local eateries, including The White Hart in Hamstead Marshall and The Crown and Anchor in Ham, have devised their own variants on this (see this week’s newsletter for more). Those who want to eat out over the next few months can expect a wave of similar deals. If so, go for them – all the organisations all need your support, particularly the independent ones which have shallower pockets than do the chains.
• I’ve been having a bet with myself how long it would take a Conservative or, less likely, a Lib Dem councillor on West Berkshire Council to start fulminating against the absenteeism of Steve Masters. He is the Green Party’s ward member for Speen but, due to his having taken up residence in July 60 feet up a beech tree in Jones Hill Wood in Buckinghamshire as part of the HS2 protests, could also be described as the arboreal member for Wendover South. The onslaught duly arrived this week, rather later than I’d expected, and was reported on p7 of this week’s NWN. Possibly, due to what Councillor Masters claims is a ‘virtually 100% attendance record’ at meetings held via Zoom, the other members have only just noticed he’s not been around until his arrest at the HS2 site last week hit the press. The Conservative Councillor Ross Mackinnon (whose attendance record is similar to Steve Masters’) makes the point that by his absence Steve Masters is unable to do things like report overflowing rubbish bins. Well, that’s certainly true but it’s gratifying that Steve Masters’ fellow Speen ward member, the council’s leader Lynne Doherty, seems to be doing such a good job covering for him. One for all and all for one, right?
Councillor Mackinnon’s views are, of course, very interesting: but I’d be more interested to know what the Speen residents thought about it (if you are one, please let me know). If you elect a Green councillor you probably have to expect that something like this will happen. Even two years ago, such an absence would have been unacceptable (although many councillors up and down the country are absentees, sometimes from prison cells) but, thanks to Zoom, we can all now be everywhere at once. One final point: former West Berkshire Leader Graham Jones is an excellent pharmacist and an affable chap (and has some lovely waistcoats) but seems weak on geography: he tweeted last week that Councillor Masters was ‘in the midlands’. By no definition that I’ve seen is Buckinghamshire in the midlands. I’m sure many residents of that leafy county would be shocked at the suggestion. Perhaps this was an attempt to make Councillor Masters seem further away than he really was: but, if you’re living up a tree, it makes no difference whether you’re in Wendover or Wolverhampton. What really matters is how good your broadband is: Steve Masters told us a few weeks ago that the signal is four times faster there than it is in Newbury. Perhaps other councillors might consider relocating there?
• The government is proposing appointing former Australian PM Tony Abbott to the board of negotiating the post-Brexit trade deals. This BBC article describes him as ‘a polarising figure,’ others describing him in less polite terms. My eye was, however, caught by his CV, where I saw something that fed a recent obsession of mine. Like, it seems, everyone else in power in this country, he studied PPE at Oxford. Where did the rest of us go wrong (or right)?
• The phrase ‘vote early and vote often‘ was a cynical observation that seems to have originated in the days of machine politics in Chicago during the mid-20th century. It would be odd, you might think, for an incumbent President of the USA to repeat this advice: but that is what Donald Trump appears to have proposed on 3 September by suggesting that voters in North Carolina vote by post and then in person to ‘test the system.’ He’s already said he suspects that postal voting will make the election result ‘the most corrupt election ever’. With still two months to go, most polls seem to agree that he is trailing Joe Biden by about eight percentage points.
• Perhaps local MP Laura Farris read my comments about her column in last week’s NWN, a masterpiece of dullness that looked as if it had come straight down the pipe from Conservative HQ. This week’s piece (on p6) does cover local issues, though mainly in the context of how these stand to benefit from central-government grants (Getting Building, the Kickstart Scheme and Full-fibre Broadband). Let’s hope that residents of Upper Lambourn, where the broadband is anything but broad, can benefit from the last of these.
• A couple of weeks ago we went to Newbury with some friends for a socially-distanced escape-room game. If you haven’t done it before, you’re ushered into a series of chambers with various objects and devices and given a number of clues (against the clock) to help you escape. It’s as bit like doing a cryptic crossword puzzle while participating in the non-physical parts of The Krypton Factor It was great fun and I highly recommend it. There was one moment when we were confronted with a box with two rows of six different-coloured lights which we needed to match up. “The white ones are A2 and B6,” William said. I paused, confused. “There aren’t any white lights,” I said. “Red, pink, orange, yellow, green, blue.” He blinked a couple of times. “I’m colour-blind,” he admitted. A2 and B6 were green. Is there such a thing as green-white colour-blindness? Apparently, there is.
• My only experience of colour blindness was watching a Liverpool (red shirts, shorts and socks) v Chelseas (dark blue ditto) in an FA Cup match back in the ’80s on a black-and-white TV. According to this article on the BBC website, a lot of colour-blind people are having a similar experience every week watching the footy in today’s age of slimy-coloured away strips. The website Colour Blind Awareness claims that about one in 12 men and one in 200 women suffer from this condition. It seems unfair that I can see colours perfectly – I even did a test out of curiosity – as I have absolutely no interest in visual art. What I’d really like is perfect pitch. Anyone out there want to swap?
• A reminder 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.
• Residents of West Berkshire are being urged to look out for their voter registration details which should arrive soon.
• West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon Councils have set up their own web pages relating to the outbreak. Click here as follows for the high-level links for West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon.
• West Berkshire Council set up a Community Support Hub. Click here to visit the website. or call 01635 503 579 to speak to the the Building Communities Together team. The Hub has also set up two FAQ pages, for residents and for businesses. You can also click here to sign up to receive the Hub’s e-bulletins and click here to see the weekly updates.
• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.
• 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 this otter, from the BBOWT website. Possibly identified as the bad guy in the Case of the Disappearing Ducks (see Marlborough section below), they are nevertheless the most superbly elegant and well-adapted creatures: a kind of a cross between a cat and a shark.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those referred to elsewhere, senior civil servants at risk, the quality of life, the housing shortage, restaurant safety and views on Newbury’s pedestrianisation.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: The Thamesdown Hydrotherapy Pool (thanks to the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund); local NHS workers (thanks to the Hatch Gate in Burghclere); the Greenham and Crookham Conservation volunteers (thanks to AWE); the National Animal Welfare Trust at Trindledown (thanks to Pets at Home).
Hungerford & district
• For the last five months I’ve been driving Penny crazy with my regular grumbling about not being able to go swimming. On 2 September I had to shut up as the pool at Hungerford Leisure Centre had just re-opened (with new arrangements and regulations, including pre-booking, in force) and I was there at 10am. As I got in, the thought ‘can I still remember how to do this?’ briefly flashed through my head. Fortunately, I could. I did my normal distance, which was probably a mistake. I was slightly shocked that, although I seemed to be putting on the same effort, I was about 25% slower than pre-lockdown. Even more alarmingly, my back seized up when I got home so I spent twenty minutes doing some yoga stretch – the ‘repressed antelope’ or the ‘concealed stockbroker’ or some such name – after which it improved. Another swim the next day and all seems to be well. So, I have two bits of advice. First, call the pool on 01488 683303 before your first visit to check what the procedures are (these may change) and remember that you have to book your slot. Have a look at the website as well. Second, in the memorable phrase of one of the government’s health advisors when talking about lockdown easing a couple of months ago, don’t ‘rip the pants off it.’ You’re five months older than when you were last there and your body will quick to remind you of this.
• Penny organises the Hungerford Food Festival which this year (Sunday 4 October) will be a slimmed-down event, more the monthly food and artisan markets at the Croft Hall field (the next one of which is on Sunday 6 September). She contacted one of the ward members, James Cole, for help in jumping through the various Covid-related hoops as he is involved with the Public Protection Partnership. He’s confirmed to Penny Post that he’s happy to help any other event in the Hungerford and Kintbury ward in the same way. Contact him on James.Cole@westberks.gov.uk.
• We received a press release from the Hungerford Town and Manor yesterday saying that a cow was killed on Hungerford Common at some point over the bank holiday weekend. Several incidents involving collisions between cows and cars have been reported since the cows returned. The driver didn’t stop on this occasion but it’s impossible to believe that they weren’t aware of what had happened. Please drive carefully there. The Town and Manor has long been campaigning for a 30mph speed limit there and hopes that this will soon be introduced.
• We’ve mentioned before about the slightly complex development at New Mill in Inkpen. The only news I’m aware of is that more than 10 objections have been received so, if the plans are not revised or withdrawn, they will come before the Western Area Planning Committee at a date to be agreed.
• The contentious decision at Riverbend in Eddington, which the Western Area Planning Committee decided on recently, needs to be monitored (particularly regarding the trees), for which a site visit is required. It appears, however, that these, which were banned at the start of lockdown, can only take place with the permission of the planning management team at West Berkshire. As site visits generally involve only a few people and as much of the visit will be outside it’s slightly hard to see what purpose this regulation serves. The planning system grinds slowly enough as it is. Timely site visits are also needed to make sure the necessary work is being done (or not done).
• Any mention of ‘planning permission’ and ‘Eddington‘ must send shivers down the backs of the ward members, planning committee members and planning officers. Two such applications, Riverbend being the more recent, have resulted in constructions that bore scant relation to what had been approved: the earlier one, in 2015, involved the involvement of HM Planning Inspectorate. This week’s NWN reports on another application at ‘land at and South of Eddington Mill House, Upper Eddington, Hungerford’ for three one-storey houses. You can see more by visiting West Berkshire’s planning site and entering the reference 20/01851/FUL.
• Hungerford currently has a vacancy for up to five Town Councillors – see 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).
• For anyone needing to get to school in Newbury, GWR has announced that from September 7 to 11 inclusive there will be an additional service from Bedwyn stopping at Hungerford at 0807 and arriving in Newbury at 0815. From September 14 there will be the permanent solution of a 0756 from Hungerford, arriving Newbury at 0807.
• This week’s NWN covers the question – which we’ve referred to before – of the plans to make changes to The Great Shefford (formerly The Swan). Earlier this year, the landlord Joshua Khan’s planning application for a kiosk near the bus shelter was rejected by West Berkshire Council on environmental and aesthetic grounds (the pub is a listed building). The Parish Council had lodged separate objections, though these weren’t cited by West Berkshire. Work had already started on the structure which then had to be demolished. There were also fears in certain quarters that the proposals would threaten the viability of the shop (having spoken to Joshua about what he intends I doubt this but I can see why people might be concerned). The article on p20 of the paper puts his side of the story.
A couple of points strike me. The first is that, for all its faults, there is a planning system in this country. The parish council is a consultee in this and is obliged to make a dispassionate assessment of any application and make its recommendation. The planning authority, however, has the final say and can (and often does) come to a different decision. Interested parties may contact the parish council, informally or otherwise, and can request a site visit or a slot at the appropriate meeting. The parish council is not, however, obliged to contact anyone itself, although may choose to do so. (One reason it might not wish to is that, as it wouldn’t know who all the interested parties in a matter might be, it could, if someone were missed out, be open to accusations of favouritism.) When registering its opinion on the application, Great Shefford Parish Council stressed how much it supported and welcomed the revival of his pub over the last year so there seems to be no problem there (it’s certainly a good and well-used pub – long may it so continue). There appears to have been a lot said on the matter on social media (not the best place for a nuanced discussion) and, indeed, in the paper. Joshua Khan spoke to me on 3 September and clarified one point in the NWN article, which says that he ‘challenged parish councillors to meet with him.’ This could be read as saying that he had contacted them in the past, which he said he hadn’t: rather, it was an offer for them to contact him now. Hopefully some dialogue will result so that all the parties’ concerns and positions can be more widely understood.
• 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.
• See p10 of this week’s NWN for a report and plenty of photos of Lambourn’s Picnic on the Porch event which, for Covid reasons, replaced the traditional Carnival this year.
• After a post-lockdown makeover, the Queens Arms in East Garston has re-opened – read more here.
• 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
• A few weeks ago there was a tantalising announcement from the owners of the Kennet Centre about a new leisure facility that was shortly to open. It was confirmed to Penny Post today that the former Debenhams unit has been leased to ZED Adventures as its latest indoor Airsoft Arena. This company operated ‘The Mall’ CQB (Close Quarter Battle) in Gerrard Street in Reading Town Centre for many years before the area was developed. Ben Swift, MD of ZED Adventures said he was ‘”very excited to being part of the Kennet Shopping Centre…and to offer this unique leisure experience for the first time in Newbury.” Mark Williams, Director of RivingtonHark, Asset Managers for the Centre, added that “this is another exciting leisure offering that the Centre is pleased to bring its customers. We welcome ZED Adventures and look forward to working with them and other independent operators looking to come into the Centre.’’ It’s hoped that the new arena will be open before the end of September.
• Parish and town councils get up a lot of different things and we do our best to highlight some of these. Much of this work is tedious, process-driven and thankless. Sometimes it’s also invisible. By far the largest such council is Newbury, home to about a quarter of West Berkshire’s residents. As in all months, there have been quite a few matters in the municipal in and pending trays, nor all of which might be widely known to those who aren’t avid students of council minutes and press releases. So, I asked Newbury TC’s Leader, Martin Colston, to sum up some of the main recent and current issues. The pedestrianisation, the outreach youth worker appointment, a climate-change workshop on 19 September and Sandleford are all covered and you can read his report here.
• The decade-long question of the development at Sandleford is back in the news, as it so often is, with the announcement by the Sandleford Working Group (SWG), comprising members of Greenham and Newbury Councils, that it is opposing the latest plans. There seem to be two main issues (with a lot of sub-plots). The first is, despite West Berkshire Council’s efforts, the lack of any overarching plan, not helped by the the two developers being unable to agree on anything of importance. The process instead involves a bewildering number of piecemeal applications, like a high-stakes and long-running game of grandmother’s footsteps. The second is the even larger question of whether the site and the general perception of what the development will comprise (in so far as this exists) are correct now, in 2020. A lot has changed in the last 10 years and particularly in the last two. One important difference is that, whereas the site was originally for 2,000 homes it now seems it will only be able to support about half that number (perhaps more if other land is used). If this had been clear at the time, the alternative site in Shaw might have been more appropriate. Matters have, however, perhaps proceed too far to withdraw. The conclusions of the briefing notes supplied for the SWG in July 2020 sum up the dilemma of what is described as ‘not a collaborative exercise’ between the developers, the councils and the residents: on the one hand, the councils need ‘to represent those who live [in Newbury] now as well as those who will live there’; on the other, although there are things wrong with the plans, any refusal needs to be very carefully argued and would almost certainly risk an expensive planning appeal, so prolonging the agony. The impression is of a poker game which has been going on for far too long. There’s a vast pot to play for but no one is confident that they have a winning hand and everyone would like a re-deal and start again, perhaps somewhere else. Poker doesn’t work like that, however, and neither does planning.
• The 24/7 pedestrianisation in Newbury town centre has come to an end. Newbury TC, in partnership with the Newbury BID, has carried out a shopper survey and the results are summarised here. It’s clear that, as with every other similar survey I’ve seen, there’s nothing even approaching an overwhelming consensus on any of the main issues. Both the councils involved, West Berkshire and Newbury, are to be commended for trying something new, even though opinions differ as to whether this was a short-term help to retailers or a long-term blueprint for the future of the town. Even if people don’t agree, a useful side-effect of such initiatives is that it gets people talking and, hopefully, better understand each other’s points of view. The two councils, shoppers, motorist, pedestrians, cyclists, retailers, the emergency services and delivery firms all have legitimate points of view. It’s often easy to think that, if you believe something strongly, that it’s also well understood by everyone else. To be sure, you have to tell them.
• 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.
• There are two more letters in the NWN about the London Road Industrial Estate. One of them makes the same point as I did last week, that the recent report commissioned by West Berkshire Council identified the choice as between wholesale or piecemeal development, something that was known anyway. The report will be discussed at a meeting of WBC’s executive on Thursday 3 September.
• As mentioned last week, 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. A letter in this week’s NWN refers to documents, which I’ve also seen, that show that the matter of the football ground – and Sport England’s opposition to a closure before a re-location – was a live issue as far back as late 2014 (and still is today). In another letter, Lib Dem councillor Tony Vickers comments that ‘lack of a clear planning policy framework for LRIE has been a major cause of the failure to achieve the council’s aspirations’ and draws attention to the difference between the council as a landowner and as a planning authority. He also asks if the football club can share with the rugby club, something that he points out happens quite happily in Reading. He ends by saying that, to solve the problem, ‘we may need to compromise.’ Indeed.
• 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 village. It also publishes the quarterly Hamstead Hornet, the September 2020 edition of which has just been published (click here to read it). Items covered include news from The White Hart, the pop-up shop and the vicarage as well as information about the next Parish Council meeting (17 September), the village WhatsApp group and the final lots for sale at Elm Farm. There are also details of recent planning applications and some wonderful photos of HM in bygone days. If you’d like to subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at email@example.com.
• Click here for the latest NTC News from Newbury Council.
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.
• Producing a regular newsletter is a great deal more work than many might think, so I take my hat off to all the organisations and parish councils that do this. (One of the dilemmas these days is whether they should be printed or digital, or both. I read recently that 20% of the population doesn’t use the internet at all: almost everyone up to aged 50 does, whereafter the engagement drops by about 2% a year.) One such publication is Chaddleworth News, now co-edited by David Jennings and PC Chairman Grahame Murphy. You can see the September 2020 edition here. Printed copies will also be distributed. Items covered include Merchant Navy Day (today, 3 September), an appeal for volunteers, news from the village’s societies and the Hardship Fund, a cricket report and a bit of history.
• The most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council took place on 19 August and you can read the minutes here. One of the items discussed was the planning application at the Old Station Business Park which was objected to on a number of grounds.
• 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.
• 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.
• And, going back to local newsletters, the September edition of the East Isley Communicator (the 100th) has just been published. At 31 pages, its certainly among the most comprehensive of its kind. You can click here to read it.
Thatcham and district
• Turn to p25 of this week’s NWN for news of the progress of the funding of the flood defences in Thatcham which will, it is hoped, a void a repetition of the flooding of 2007.
• The same paper reports on the preceding page that the future of Thatcham Library has been secured for at least another year and that West Berkshire Council has agreed to carry out some improvement works.
• It was reported a couple of weeks ago that the blue-green algae at the Nature Discovery Centre was killing some of the fish in the lake. It appears that the problem has not gone away and visitors are bing advised to stay away from the water.
• Last week’s NWN had a story 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: the paper reports this week that the £2,500 target has been exceeded.
• And still in Brimpton, you can watch a recording of the most recent meeting on the Parish Council on 1 September by clicking here.
• The French market will return to Thatcham on Saturday 5 September (this weekend).
• Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin, which this week starts with a view and ends with CS Lewis.
Theale and district
• 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 new primary school in Theale has finally opened. This was the subject of what can only be described as a stand-off between Theale and West Berkshire Councils over the latter’s insistence that the former relinquish its lease on land it held on the North Street playing fields, an issue which caused some heated debate in the village.
• 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.
• The September 2020 newsletter from Burghfield Parish Council has been published and you can read it here. Items covered include 500 NHS lunches, unsung heroes, the NDP, the re-opening of the play areas, work on the Village Hall and news from local voluntary and community groups.
Marlborough & district
• Marlborough News reports that Manton’s Jubilee Field play area now open after a long and successful fundraising venture.
• A month or so ago, the question of the lack of ducks in the Marlborough section of the River Kennet was raised at a Town Council meeting. I suggested in this column that, here in East Garston on the Lambourn, we had more ducks that we really needed – I counted over 100 in one short stretch – and that perhaps they’d defected across the state line. Mainly because this section of the river is now drying up we now have far fewer. However, before Marlborough TC’s lawyers start issuing proceedings against East Garston for mass cross-border duck abduction, they may want to have a look at this article on Marlborough News which suggests that otters might be the problem. Looks like we’re off the hook, then…
• The same source confirms that Marlborough Town Council has agreed to continue with Zoom meetings for the present. I imagine that these will become the norm. Travel time, absenteeism and the need to clean your shoes are three things that have pretty much been eliminated. I find that Zoom meetings work very well with people I know (which applies to council meetings), less well if they involve people I don’t. The fraction of a second gap between saying something and judging the facial reactions to it confuses me. The other thing is that, if council meetings resume in person, the participants may have to wear masks. This is far more of putting as I’ve realised over the last month or so that when I’m talking to someone I don’t judge their reaction by the eyes, as I thought I did, but by their mouth.
• Click here for news about the TC’s latest round of grants (deadline 11 September).
• The Town Council has confirmed the cancellation of the 2020 Mop Fairs. Except that, technically, they will still take place (only the opening ceremony) in order to fulfil a statutory requirement. This article from the TC explains all.
• 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.
• There is a vacancy on Aldbourne Parish Council which will probably be filled by co-option – see here for details.
• The most recent meeting of Aldbourne’s Planning Committee took place on 26 August and you can read the draft minutes here. Various aspects of six applications were discussed. The meeting also looked at the development at Castle Street, including a ‘proposed virtual path’, which I’m having trouble visualising. It appears that this application will be called in by the ward member if the planning officers are minded to approve it.
• Click here for a list of current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.
Wantage & district
• This week’s Herald – in several articles, the leader column and Julie Mabberley’s regular article – covers two related issues of importance to local democracy. The first, which the leader column considers, is the signing off of the controversial South Oxfordshire District Council’s (SODC’s) local plan (which the new administration elected in 2019 had pledged to overturn but was prevented from doing by the intervention of the Housing Minister); the second, which Julie Mabberley covers, are the plans to reform the local-government structure in Oxfordshire (which currently has three tiers, unlike West Berkshire which has two). The point made by the leader column is that the local plan is, despite its name, more concerned with helping to satisfy national housing requirements and also that of the city of Oxford than the needs of South Oxfordshire. One plan proposed is for all the councils in Oxfordshire to be abolished to be replaced by one unitary authority. This would doubtless require all the local plans, including SODC’s, being torn up and started again. How long this would take, and whether the results would be better and more local, is open to debate. Figures are quoted in the paper for cost savings but I think these can be discounted as previous estimates prior to the similar exercise of some councils pooling resources proved to be very wide of the mark.
A government white paper on devolving more power to the English regions is expected soon and the article on p2 of the Herald claims that this is likely to include a re-shuffle of councils. It will also be interesting to see if this devolution includes some guarantee that elected local councils can determine their own local plans, something that was denied SODC. One measure might be to harmonise the local plan refreshes with the election cycle. Julie Mabberley’s column quotes the Leader of Oxford City Council, Susan Brown, who questions the timing of the white paper, in the middle of a pandemic. She has a point: but any time can be seen as a bad time for changing something. It might be that, with all previous certainties that have shifted recently, this is actually a good moment to think about it.
• The same paper reports that parking in car parks operated by the Vale of White Horse will remain free for two hours.
• On a related theme, few will be unaware that since early July the western side of Wantage’s Market Square has been pedestrianised. As with Newbury (see above), this has attracted a range of different opinions. The town council is currently running a survey (until 31 October) letting you have your say – please click here.
• The town council has also re-published the draft of its neighbourhood development plan which failed at the examination stage in 2016. Point 1.1 of the Introduction – as good a place as any to start – says that this ‘has been prepared by volunteers, local residents, and members of the Town Council, in line with the wishes of the residents expressed through the surveys carried out in 2014 and consultations carried out in 2015.’ There will doubtless be further announcements of what the next stage is in due course. NDPs need to be community-driven exercises.
• A month or so ago, Wantage MP David Johnston promised to visit as many local businesses in his constituency as he could. According to his column on p10 of the Herald, he seems to be keeping this pledge and has mentioned about 15 by name.
• Plans have been mooted to demolish the former Novel Library in Wantage, which was run by John Burgiss for a staggering 60 years until he was forced to close in 2017. The current proposal is that it be turned into housing: already there are signs of opposition.
• A reminder about another initiative from the Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce, the Wantage Wednesdays – click here for more information. Penny was up there last week. So far, Wednesdays have seen a good deal of rain, but please persevere.
• 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.
• Congratulations again 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 refers to plans to amend the municipal structure in Oxfordshire (see also above).
• Click here for other news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group. The recent newsletter was something of a bumper issue and covered, as well as several of the points mentioned in this section, the government’s planning white paper, the Vale’s corporate plan and the Oxfordshire 2050 consultation. If you want to subscribe to this excellent newsletter (which is free), click here.
• 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 (you have until 8 September).
• The most recent meeting of Grove Parish Council took place on 4 August and you can read the (currently draft) minutes here. Matters covered included the Grove Airfield development, the re-opening if Old Mill Hall, a discussion about the format of the War Memorial booklet and the approval of a tender to install floodlights at the Rugby Club.
• 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 September 2020 issue of the Letcome Register. (At the time of writing the link wasn’t active, suggesting it’s about to be uploaded.)
• Click here for information on the location of defibrillators in and around Wantage.
Swindon & district
• Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.
• Swindon has been given priority access to any additional support it needs from central government to help public health officials continue to reduce the borough’s Covid-19 case rate.
• Swindon Link reports that, as of 4pm on 3 September, there had been six new CV-19 cases reported in the town in the previous 24 hours and 39 in the previous week.
• Swindon Town FC has also backed the town-wide campaign to reduce the spread of the virus.
• A team of superhero families recruited from every corner of Swindon have spent the summer completing creative challenges ‘to help save the world with art’.
• 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.
• 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. Last week I couldn’t decide between a piece of beautiful, smooth Iberian jazz or a cabaret/punk version of Nellie the Elephant. I went for Nellie last week so let’s have a bit of a contrast and this time go for How High the Moon by Elia Bastida & Joan Chamorro Quartet. Apparently Joan Chamorro – he’s the slightly scary-looking bassist – gets all his shifting team of musicians to play at least two, quite different, instruments to the same level. I saw one clip where the violinist in this one, Elia Bastida, was playing the tenor sax. Given my own level of musical proficiency, this level of dedication and excellence is humbling.
• And here I am chattering about music while you’re waiting for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Well, this week’s isn’t a sketch but a wonderful piece of sexually-charged humour from The Big Sleep – Bogart and Bacall’s prank call. This wasn’t in the book, by the way.
• And so we stumble into the final paragraph, the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: Who was out for 99.94? Last week’s question was: According to Village Views, how old does a yew tree need to be before it’s considered to be officially ancient? The answer is 900 years. Seems a long time; but who am I to judge?
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