Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s newsletter, Inkpen’s bulletin, Newbury’s photo, Chaddleworth’s news, Lambourn’s website, East Garson’s meeting, Great Shefford’s pigs, Wantage’s traffic, Grove’s infrastructure, Burghfield’s lunches, Brimpton’s recording, Aldermaston’s letter, Theale’s contribution, Hermitage’s update, Cold Ash’s withdrawal, East Ilsley’s proceeds, Hamstead Marshall’s hornet, Thatcham’s junction, Ashampstead’s road, Swindon’s stats, Letcombe’s register, Aldbourne’s chair, Marlborough’s candidates, Lockeridge’s TA, an expert’s funding cuts, semi-lockdown lite, the arboreal spat, the Don, triffids, sport, mental health, funding the volunteers, talking about nothing, a Singapore sting, a coruscating solo, a unique bridge, 8,000 jumbos, 29 sub-contractors, Horace Rumpole and the fruminous bandersnatch.
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)
• One of the enduring mysteries of the government’s handling of the pandemic is why it decided to create a centralised and unproven track-and-trace system from scratch when there were already expert, though underfunded, local networks ready, able and far better placed to do the the work. In late July, the BMJ reported that ‘more than 100 public figures, including public-health experts’ had written to Matt Hancock asking to know details of these contracts and to account for £9bn of unexplained costs, which compared to the £300m which had been offered to local councils to support the system. I’ve looked but I can’t see that this question has been answered. The latest Private Eye reveals, on p9, something equally alarming, that the majority of the 10,500 contact tracers recruited by Serco had themselves been outsourced to 29 sub-contractors: and that enquiries by Lord Gnome revealed that the DHSC either doesn’t know, or won’t say, who exactly these people are working for. Given the fact that the outsourcing giant was forced to agree a £70m settlement with the Ministry of Justice in 2013 after the tagging scandal, it’s possible that some of them don’t exist. It certainly seems odd that, in the middle of a pandemic, all this time is being spent in what seems to be an act of corporate concealment. This is a public-service contract, not an offshore trust.
• As ever, Private Eye’s MD column on pp8-9 is well worth a read. Three paragraphs caught my eye this time round. Firstly, it quotes the disease ecologist Peter Daszak as having warned, in eerily prescient terms, about the threat of a global pandemic as far back as 2003, just post SARS. With even more foresight, he also hit out at the US government’s closing down of the Predict project in October 2019, claiming that this could ‘leave the world more vulnerable to lethal pathogens like Ebola and MERS that emerge from unexpected places, such as bat-filled trees.’ According to the Eye and CBS, the major effect that Covid-19 has had on his career has been to see his funding cut by the National Institutes of Health less than two weeks after he criticised the White House’s tenet that the virus was the result of Chinese malevolence. Secondly, it considers some alarming statistics about healthcare standards worldwide – one in five healthcare facilities lack soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub and 3bn people lack basic hand-washing facilities at home, for instance. Thirdly, under the headline ‘Singapore sting’, it refers to the unintended consequences of that country’s famously efficient lockdown. 96% of those who tested positive were migrant workers living in cramped conditions, the resulting lockdown leading to soaring rates of anxiety and depression. There are numerous other examples from all over the world that suggest that poorer people have suffered disproportionately from almost every aspect of Covid.
The sombre conclusion is that the prevention of future pandemics demands three things: international trust and co-operation, the elimination of global poverty and the reduction of social inequalities within any particularly country. Sadly, all seem as unattainable as ever. It was put to me last week that Covid has had the effect of speeding up a number of pre-existing trends. Video-conferencing, remote working, an effective online presence for businesses, the greater use of robotic technology, and (hopefully) a greater awareness of personal hygiene and of our ecological impact are some of these. However, for a large minority of the world, these are abstract ideas, secondary to basic problems of survival. The world has faced many disasters and pandemics before but most of these were mitigated by slow communications which rendered them irrelevant to many. Now the world is inter-connected in every way. A problem in Suriname, Slovakia, Somalia, Samoa or Sheffield can now become a problem for all of us, and pretty quickly. As events have proved, few things can become a problem more quickly than a virus. Going back to Peter Daszak, he believes – and he’s been right before – that there are perhaps 1.7m unknown viruses out there, all of which our current behaviour is bringing us into contact with. If as a species we don’t draw our horns in, Covid-19 might be looked back on as a fairly benign prologue to an extinction event.
• Meanwhile, we are now into semi-lockdown lite, or whatever it is. The six-person rule will probably be adhered to by the majority, although I’m still a bit unclear how this works. We can’t now have a gathering of twelve people in our house but it seems that we can in the pub, as long as we’re at two different tables. In what circumstances can we interact? Also, can we organise the same gathering the next day with the couples shuffled? What about sitting outside? Everyone seems to agree that the risk of infection is vastly less there. This summary on the BBC website (which may be updated) answers some of these points. Ultimately, it comes down to a question of personal responsibility. It also comes down to how it’s enforced. There will be fines, but it’s hard to see how these will be policed. Will pubs and restaurants be expected to? Will they be liable if there’s an infringement? How will they deal with an alleged social-distancing infraction, perhaps filmed? Will they be shamed on social media on the basis of this evidence, however inaccurate it might be?
• The aviation industry has been particularly hard hit by Covid but here’s one piece of good news: if a vaccine is developed it will, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) require something like 8,000 747s to deliver them if everyone on the planet is to be inoculated.
• Meanwhile, scientists have ‘raised doubts’ about the PM’s ambition for mass CV-19 testing, which has as its ultimate goal a daily test for everyone. This would require 25 billion tests a year, rather more than are currently being produced. At present, however, the tests are only available for people who have asked to take one by a health professional or who have symptoms; although, as the Daily Mail has suggested, the first of these doesn’t seem to require any verification. The Health Secretary blamed the current overload on people getting tested who shouldn’t be: but given the PM’s aspirations, the claims of ‘world class’ testing, the start of the academic year and the threat of another lockdown, this isn’t perhaps surprising. Certainly the booking systems seem to be doing a fairly good job of putting people off, whether they are valid testing candidates or not. In a story that could be repeated from many other sources, the Newbury Weekly News reported that a local resident (who was suffering symptoms) spent many frustrating hours trying to book a test before eventually being offered one over 250 miles away in the Lake District. One thing the person did mention, and which I’ve heard from other sources, is that the people at the test centre (the test was eventually provided at Newbury Showground) ‘couldn’t have been any more helpful.’
• Councillor Ross MacKinnon’s spat with Councillor Steve Masters is now being conducted in the letters column of the NWN. Whether or not this was Councillor Mackinnon’s intention, it has certainly given a boost to the coverage of Steve Masters’ arboreal activities at the HS2 site in Buckinghamshire. Councillor Mackinnon suggests a number of matters – including, slightly alarmingly, ‘out-of-control trees’, a phrase that makes me think of triffids – which a councillor can’t deal with remotely. Well, yes and no. People tend to report things to councillors (who can’t be expected to constantly be prowling around their wards looking for problems) while the kind of meetings that Councillor Mackinnon refers to tend to be virtual anyway. In any case, Councillor Masters does regularly return to the area: the author of another letter in the same paper said that she’d met him in Newbury last week.
I do agree with Councillor Mackinnon that councillors do a vast amount of varied and valuable work. Councillor Masters is no exception. In the last week or so he’s dealt with a number of issues raised by his ward residents including garden-waste fires, fly tipping, speeding and potholes, as well as continuing to engage with various voluntary groups. I’ve also seen a number of comments from local residents about him, all of them favourable. They are, after all, the people he is representing; and in two and half years time, it is they (‘and no one else,’ as Horace Rumpole was fond of declaiming when referring to juries) who will decide if he’s to be re-elected.
• Not everyone is interested in sport but I’d suggest that only a minority are completely indifferent to it, even though some may only tune in to top-drawer events like Wimbledon, the Olympics or the FA Cup Final. Certainly for many it’s an important thing and to be able to attend a live event is a good way of returning existence to some kind of normality. An article in the Daily Telegraph on 10 September looks mainly at two sports, horse racing and football, both of which had made detailed and careful plans to let a limited number of spectators return. These now seem set to be thrown into reverse, half way through an event in the case of the St Leger meeting at Doncaster. The article quoted one race-goer as saying that live sport ‘gives me a purpose in life. Without it, I can over-think things.’ Certainly when I’m watching football or cricket, even on the TV, I’m not thinking about anything else. This is surely a good thing (for a while, at least). The article also refers to the obvious financial threats that many clubs, trainers and courses face if spectators are not allowed back. The same could also be said about other venues related to sports which are less high-profile than these two, and for music venues, theatres, comedy clubs, cinemas, art galleries, museums – the list goes on and on.
• As mentioned above, Covid has accelerated a number of trends that were already in place, some good and others less so. Something else which it has affected in this way is people’s mental health. The Mental Health Foundation reports that in late March nearly two thirds of the population were anxious or worried, a figure which had fallen to about 50% in late June, probably fell further over the next two months and has probably risen again in the last few days. For some people, including fortunately me, this is probably a normal reaction to a threat; for others, however, anxiety is a lot more than a vague and passing sense of unease. A lockdown, and the isolation which it brings, can precipitate a rapid decline. Nor are the signs always immediately obvious: the Centre for Mental Health suggests that perhaps half a million people will experience mental-health issues over the next two years as a result of the pandemic, which leads to the question of whether there will be enough support available. At its most extreme, this can lead to suicide. It’s therefore worth reminding ourselves, as I was myself reminded by the Volunteer Centre West Berkshire’s weekly newsletter, that 10 September is Suicide Prevention Day.
• Four years ago, Britain was in the grip of an unprecedented national crisis. There were accusations, at the start, of government unpreparedness and complacency and, as matters progressed, of bungling and a lack of joined-up thinking. A whole slew of words, acronyms and organisations previously unknown to us were on everyone’s lips. There were urgent briefings, ministerial resignations, ultimatums, procedural wrangles and millions of words written by commentators which looked at the problem from every possible angle. There were also lines of all kinds – deadlines; red lines; lines in the sand; lines that were crossed; lines were drawn under something so that we could move on to some other even more unfathomable part of the business. Most other aspects of national life (including, as it turned out, pandemic preparation and an effective reaction to the challenge posed by climate change) were put on hold. Never having experienced anything like it before, no one was sure how matters were going to play out. Everyone professed they were fed up with it but for much of the time no one could talk about anything else. Well, that was Brexit, something we all hoped would be a once-in-a-generation prolonged and self-inflicted disaster that would eventually go away, leaving life to return to normal. Well, that didn’t happen. But, as has gradually become clearer over the last few weeks, Brexit hasn’t gone away at all. It’s still there, snarling and drooling like the Jabberwock, threatening to divide us all over again. Brexit and Coronavirus at the same time is almost too much to take: but it looks like we’ve got to take it. I wonder what’s next – the arrival of the fruminous bandersnatch, perhaps…
• 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 a couple of weeks ago which you can see here if you wish. Remember that the document is currently out for consultation so your response will be influential.
• Residents of West Berkshire are being urged to look out for their voter registration details.
• 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 animals of the week are Bert (a medium Oxford) and Ernie (a small pot-bellied cross), seven-year-old pigs at the National Animal Welfare Trust at Trindledown near Great Shefford who are looking for a new home after they outgrew (and perhaps ate) their previous owner’s garden.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those referred to elsewhere, correspondence about the scrutiny of civil servants, the football ground in Newbury, the conduct of meetings at West Berkshire Council and Newbury’s town-centre traffic ban.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Ronald McDonald House (thanks to Ross Drake); Little Princess trust (thanks to Imogen Tree); Willows Edge Care Home (thanks to Toby Thorp); The Lions’ Club Welfare Fund (thanks to Judith Colby); 17 local charities (thanks to Newbury Town Council); East Garston Over 60s and the Village Hall (thanks to East Garston Parish Council); Naomi House and Jackspace (thanks to Gardner Leader).
Hungerford & district
• This week saw the publication of the September Penny Post Hungerford, the best and most comprehensive round-up of what’s going on in and around the town. Click here to read it if you didn’t receive it in your in-box. Items covered include the latest from the Town and Manor, the Town Council, Primary School, HEAT, HAHA, the Rugby Club, the high-street retailers and Barr’s Yard as well as information about a new train service, apple picking at Picket’s Mead and home de-cluttering: plus – we’re not done yet – the book of the month, the wine of the month, racing news and details of some of the local places that have recently re-opened.
• Speaking of this last point, I was seriously concerned that the latest lockdown-life would result in the doors of the Leisure Centre, which have only recently been re-opened after a good deal of work and planning by the staff, being slammed shut again. Fortunately this seems not to be the case. I’ve been the pool there five times since the start of the month and am getting used to the new procedures, including the booking system. I feel pretty safe when I’m there: partly because, when swimming, it’s almost impossible to fret about anything and partly because the chlorine in the water kills pretty much anything smaller than a mouse (including Mr Covid). Click here for more information on the Leisure Centre.
• After much deliberation, the organisers of the monthly food and artisan markets have decided that the next event – on 4 October, when the annual Food Festival should have been taking place – will take place in the Croft Field (where the monthly markets have been) rather than in the High Street (where the Food Festival traditionally is) as this location is more compatible with following CV-19 regulations. (If you’ve not been to one of these excellent markets then you can see some photos of the last one on p23 of this week’s NWN.) The organisers received a good deal of help from District Councillor James Cole in navigating the various Covid-related hoops (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.
• A reminder to all motorists using the Common that a cow was killed in a hit-and-run accident on 29 August. Please drive carefully there. The Town and Manor has long been campaigning for a 30mpt speed limit there and hopes that this will soon be introduced.
• These week’s NWN confirms what’s been known for some time, that the old Barclays Bank building on the High Street will soon be converted into a house. The paper quotes the design statement as describing it as a ‘nondescript building with little architectural merit,’ which is something of an understatement. The architect who designed this must have stood back from the finished artist’s impression and said, “yup – that’s going to look really good there.” It doesn’t. Hopefully the conversion will produce some improvements. (One piece of advice to them: if the planning permission says the outside is to be, say, white then paint it white not, as happened in Eddington, bright blue.)
• Hungerford currently has a vacancy for up to three Town Councillors – see here for more information. The posts will be filled by co-option (two were filled at the last Full Council meeting).
• The most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council took place on 2 September and the minutes will appear on the website in due course. Matters discussed included the confirmation of grants to the over-60s Club and the Village Hall; news of the application on The Good Exchange for replacing the swing in the playground (to which you can donate by clicking here); progress on the refresh of the parish plan (more information on this will be circulated to residents in due course); a report on the trial use of the speed indicator in the village (so far suggesting the unsurprising conclusion that there are too many speeding cars) and changes to the East Garston website which need to be made (many of which already have been) in order to bring it up to the new accessibility standards demanded of all .org.uk sites.
• Speaking of websites, I went to the Lambourn PC website (in fact, the PC merely camps on a corner of the Lambourn.org one) to see if the draft minutes of the latest full council meeting had been put up. Quite the opposite: all the parish council stuff including the agendas and minutes has, apart one rather anodyne page, been removed. I’ve been told that this won’t be rectified until the PC’s own new website is launched but I’ve been given no indication of when this might be. One might wonder why these two events didn’t happen the other way round. As matters stand, the site isn’t fulfilling even the most basic requirements of accessibility at any level.
• One issue which is looming in Lambourn is the housing development at Lynch Lane. The site currently provides for 60 homes (with 40% affordable as this is a Greenfield site) and the developer is seeking to increase the density. Ward member Howard Woollaston has met the developer and will be arranging a meeting with the Parish Council. Councillor Woollaston has also pointed out that this could (but must not be allowed to) worsen the already serious problems with the area’s sewage system.
• 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.
• 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
• Members of the public are finally being formally asked for their views about the London Road Industrial Estate (I think for the first time). ‘The LRIE is set for a major redevelopment’ the sub-heading of WBC’s press release about this proclaims, as though this were a new idea (in fact it’s been on the stove, sometimes on a very low heat and sometimes boiling over, since about 2003). The first thing that confused me was that the photo is mainly of Victoria Park, which is on the other side of the A339. The only part of the LRIE that is shown is, in the foreground, Newspaper House (which was the subject of a rather peculiar Western Area Planning Committee meeting earlier this year, the decision notice for which still doesn’t seem to have been issued). The choice of this photo, for which the camera was pointed 180º from where it should have been, seems faintly inauspicious. In the second paragraph, the statement says that the scheme will provide ‘new office and light industrial space.’ No mention of homes, although ‘office and industrial space, local amenities and housing’ are all referred to lower down. Anyone looking at just the top of the document might thus think that Victoria Park is to be concreted over and replaced with offices blocks and workshops. There’s a link to the consultation at the foot of the article and you have until 20 October to make your views known. I’m sure that plenty of people will do just this.
• As mentioned here last week, and confirmed in the NWN today, the owners of the Kennet Centre have announced 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. It’s hoped that the new arena will be open before the end of September.
• A reminder that you can click here to read a summary, from Council Leader Martin Colston, of the main issues Newbury Town Council has recently been dealing with.
• 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.
• 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. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
• 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.
• A reminder that the latest Chaddleworth News has been published. You can see the September 2020 edition here. Printed copies will also be distributed. Items covered include Merchant Navy Day 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 Ashampstead Parish Council took place on 7 September and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included a discussion about what the PC’s £4,500 of CIL receipts might be spent on (an additional item for the playground and a wildflower meadow were both suggested), the issue of speeding, the refusal of WBC to fix a damaged stretch of road on Palmers Hill as it ‘didn’t meet the criteria for repair’ and confirmation that the annual litter pick would take place at 10.30am on Sunday 11 October.
• The most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council took place on 19 August and you can read the minutes here.
• Hermitage Parish Council has produced its August update, which can be seen here.
• 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 1 September and you can read the draft minutes here. Items discussed included confirmation of the proceeds of the Double Matched Funding Day for the playground equipment from the Good Exchange (£15,464), details of future usages of the Recreation Ground and a retrospective planning permission.
• And, in the same village, the September edition of the East Isley Communicator (the 100th) has just been published. You can click here to read it.
Thatcham and district
• This week’s NWN has on p25 a warning from a Thatcham Town Councillor about a dangerous junction at Tull Way.
• And, lower down on the same page, it’s been announced that plans to demolish a ‘much loved’ house in Cold Ash and replace it with modern dwellings have been withdrawn.
• And turn back to p2 for news that the Walnut Close care home is under threat of closure.
• 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.
• The most recent meeting of Brimpton Parish Council took place on 1 September and you can watch a recording of this by clicking here.
• Contrary to what I said last week, the French market in Thatcham was not able to take place on 5 September due to CV-19 quarantine restrictions.
• Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin, which this week starts with a tractor and ends with a poem.
Theale and district
• The most recent meeting of Theale Parish Council took place on 7 September and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included several uncontentious planning applications, agreement to contribute £2,842 to the West Berkshire Library Service and confirmation that the John Cumber Hall could now be re-opened for private hire.
• 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 8 September and a recording of the event can be found here. These will be replaced by the draft minutes when these are prepared, and the full minutes when these are approved. Matters discussed included three planning applications to one of which, the revised plans for the new units at Youngs Industrial Estate, the PC registered its objection on the same grounds as previously); confirmation of receipt of ‘a very apologetic and honest email from WBC Planning Enforcement regarding their failure to take action on land adjacent to Torre House,’ about which the PC has decided to take no further action; the problem of speeding (responses are awaited from Padworth and Beenham about sharing speed-monitoring equipment with these parishes); and consideration of the government’s white paper on planning, which categorises areas into those designated for growth, renewal and protection. The meeting expressed the hope that because of the existence of AWE’s Detailed Emergency Planning Zone , most of the parish would be in the latter category.
• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council’s Planning Committee took place on 20 August and you can read the minutes here.
• 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
• The most recent meeting of Marlborough Town Council took place on 7 September and you can see the draft minutes here. Items covered included the co-option of a new Councillor (Jo Waltham) for East Ward (there were six nominees in all, each of them ‘very strong’ candidates); discussions about the tourist information centre; the declaration of a climate emergency; arrangements for Remembrance Day, Armistice Day and the Christmas lights switch-on; and progress on providing lighting at the skate park (it being agreed that £10,000 for CIL funds would be allocated towards the cost of this).
• From Friday 11 September to Monday 14 September the M4 eastbound will be closed between J15 and J14 for carriageway repairs. More information here.
• Marlborough News reports that Manton’s Jubilee Field play area now open after a long and successful fundraising venture.
• ‘There has never been a better time or reason to shop local,’ a recent press release from Marlborough Town Council tells us. Certainly local traders, particularly the independent ones, need your support like never before.
• This article in Marlborough News pays tribute to Naomi Watt’s 25 years as a TA at Kennet Valley School in Lockeridge. Many feel that we do not value the teaching profession highly enough: given the impact that a good or a great teacher can have on someone’s life, there are few professions that are more important.
• The same source confirms that Marlborough Town Council has agreed to continue with Zoom meetings for the present.
• Click here for news about the TC’s latest round of grants (deadline 11 September, so time’s almost up).
• Information here about changes to the road/pavement layout to create more al fresco areas in the High Street.
• The Gazette reports here that Wiltshire Council has said that it’s ‘fast too early’ to say what next year’s council tax rates will be.
• 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’s Town Council has signed up for the Great British September Clean initiative and is looking for volunteer litter pickers.
• Alison Edmonds will remain as the Chair of Aldbourne Parish Council until May 2021. Anne Deuchar is now the Vice Chair and Alan Phizacklea has been co-opted.
• The most recent meeting of Aldbourne’s Planning Committee took place on 26 August and you can read the draft minutes here.
• Click here for a list of current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.
Wantage & district
• This week’s Herald covers the issue of Wantage Town Council’s plans to extend the pedestrianised areas in the town centre. Since July, the west side of Wantage’s Market Square has been closed to traffic, about which opinions differ (as, to be fair, they do about any attempt to change any road layout or usage in any town, anywhere). The article quotes Mayor Jim Sibbald as saying that the proposed plan would ‘make the area safer for the public to visit and to engage with local businesses. he also stressed that it ‘is much more complex than just closing the western end and involves bus services, highways, disabled parking, parking and the availability of taxis.’ However, Chamber of Commerce Chairman James Goodman (at least, I’ve always known his as that but to the Herald he’s James Gordon) suggested that the changes could hinder recovery from the lockdown. The current plan is that these measures stay in place for 18 months – rather longer than Newbury’s three months and certainly a decent period of time for the changes to be assessed. A consultation on the matter is now active and can be seen here. You have until 31 October to make your views known.
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald refers to this as well and looks at a few issues which people might want to consider before responding to the consultation.
• The same paper reports that parking in car parks operated by the Vale of White Horse will remain free for two hours.
• The town council has also re-published the draft of its neighbourhood development plan which failed at the examination stage in 2016.
• A further 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.
• After recent assessments of the leisure facilities across southern Oxfordshire, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils have agreed with GLL, which runs the ‘Better’ centres, that the second phase of reopening can start and from the 14 September more leisure activities will be able to resume.
• The Vale of White Horse Council has has also been busy fast-tracking planning permission for the highly specialist facility that will house the UK’s Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) at Harwell.
• Abingdon and Oxford West MP Layla Moran, speaking from the fortnightly soapbox which is set up for her on p10 of the Herald (which is then deep-cleaned by Covid professionals and has its bunting changed from orange to blue in preparation for Wantage MP David Johnston’s turn the following week) suggests, rightly, that now is a very good time to be funding volunteer groups. Many of these are important enough at the best of times and will be even more so as we continue to battle, and hopefully overcome, the pandemic. Her point is that the government should come up with some extra resources for this. This makes a lot of sense as these groups provide, at a fraction of the cost to the tax payer and in in many cases a good deal more effectively that a government agency, a wide range of help and assistance. The fact that they’re largely funded by the local councils and by the local community is good as this keeps them relevant to local needs. However, it seems only right that the government should ensure that costs relating the increasingly complex compliance issues (such as GDPR) which are demanded by national legislation are covered.
• On the subject of funding for voluntary groups, Vale of White Horse Council has £43,077 to provide funds for voluntary- and community-sector projects that are providing essential services to vulnerable residents in the districts who are struggling to afford food and other essential provisions as a result of Covid-19.
• The same council welcomes your views about its new website.
• Click here for 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 (which is free), click here.
• The most recent (special) meeting of Grove Parish Council took place on 1 September and you can read the (currently draft) minutes here. Aside form the approval of several formal documents, the main item was ‘to consider a response to the Persimmon Homes (Wessex) consultation regarding a new housing scheme on land to the North-West of Grove,’ which also included a consideration of the report from the Grove Development Forum meeting on 25 August 2020. Many of the comments related the lack of infrastructure, a familiar concern in planning discussions in the Wantage and Grove area over the last few years. The Clerk will shortly be formulating a response to the consultation and will also send it to the Vale’s planning officers.
• 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 still isn’t active. I suggested last week that was probably about to be uploaded but no sign yet…)
• Click here for information on the location of defibrillators in and around Wantage.
Swindon & district
• Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.
• The Advertiser reports that there were six new CV-19 cases in Swindon in the 24 hours up to 9am on 10 September and that the rate of infection was 590 cases per 100,000, about 7.5% higher than the 549 for the whole of England. The area remains as one of the government’s areas of ‘enhanced support’ and the town has been given priority access to any additional support it needs from central government to help public health officials. Swindon Town FC has also backed the town-wide campaign to reduce the spread of the virus.
• Significant excavation and repair work has recently started on the access road into Stanton Country Park.
• Swindon Council has started work on two schemes to promote sustainable travel, with two Swindon paths being improved to make it easier for people to walk and cycle.
• A short section of Whitworth Road is due to be closed for an initial period of three weeks as part of the £2.8m improvements at the Moonrakers junction in Stratton.
• 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’.
• Swindon Link reports that the winners of a children’s lockdown short story competition launched by Julia’sHouse have been announced.
• 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 wind up the gramophone for the Song of the Week. Obviously feeling in a retro mood, a friend sent me a link to a video of Golf Girl by Caravan a few days ago but this piece of English hippy whimsey is really too much of its time and better left where it belongs. However, by a process of association, I was reminded of Didn’t Feel Lonely til I Thought of You by the late, great Kevin Ayers, a man whimsical, English (though a long-time resident of France) and a bit on the hippy end of life although his songs also had real bite and insight. This one is particularly good example and features a guitar solo by Ollie Halsall that can only be termed ‘coruscating’.
• And so to the Comedy Sketch of the Week. This isn’t a sketch though it’s very amusing. It’s a Ted Talk and the speaker is discussing nothing. Nothing at all.
• And so we lurch into the final paragraph, the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What is the only bridge in England that has a county named after it? Last week’s question was: Who was out for 99.94? The answer of course, in Donald Bradman and this was his batting average. The fact that it was so far ahead of everyone else’s might have consoled him a bit for the fact that it was frustratingly short of 100. Four runs in his last impinges would have done it but he was out for a duck.
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