Local News 17-24 September 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s newcomer, Newbury’s bear, Chaddleworth’s delay, Lambourn’s website, Upper Lambourn’s broadband, Shefford’s council, East Garson’s meeting, Inkpen’s bulletin, Wantage’s consultation, Grove’s minutes, Brimpton’s recording, Aldermaston’s timber, Burghfield’s newsletter, Theale’s hall, Hermitage’s plan, Cold Ash’s sunset, East Ilsley’s pond, Thatcham’s piggy, Swindon’s status, Aldbourne’s manhole, Hamstead Marshall’s hornet, Stratfield Mortimer’s adoption, Marlborough’s readers, Operation Moonshot, infection rates, back to the old normal, Tarzan in court, extinction events, restoring democracy, Gareth Bale, David Cameron, Jane Eyre, Rowley Birkin QC, a wrong chord, a writhing face mask, a great bridge, a defective asset register, a political mish-mash, a cooler world and a peaceful, easy feeling.

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 Covid infection rates seem to be climbing again, as many predicted they would about now. The BBC reports that the WHO’s Regional Director for Europe has warned of ‘a very serious situation unfolding before us.’  Part of this is due to higher levels of testing but the figures appear to suggest ‘an alarming rate of transmission’ across the continent. So far it seems that most new cases are amongst the younger part of the population, which seems less badly affected and so hasn’t, so far at least, translated significantly into mortality or hospitalisation rates. If ever there was time for generations to stay apart from each other, a social trend which has been growing over the last 60 or so years, it is now.

• The newspapers this week have been dominated by the Covid-19 testing. Words like ‘chaos’ (The Mirror), ‘shambles’ (The Mail), ‘fiasco’ (The Daily Star), ‘chaos’ (again) (The London Evening Standard), ‘crisis’ (The Guardian) and ‘chaos’ (another one) (The Daily Telegraph) have been everywhere – and that’s just the front-page headlines. More nuanced comment may appear inside, but headlines are written to leave a lasting impression. Is this fair? On one level, not very. These figures from Our World in Data suggest that the UK is currently testing more people per day per thousand than any other major country in the world: 2.76, as opposed to 2.1 in Russia, 2.07 in France, 1.83 in the USA and 1.77 in Spain. Moreover these have increased more than four-fold since the start of May, a greater rise than any of these countries. Statistica suggests that, at some point, we have tested more of our population than any other country except Isreal. Why then the outcry?

The problem is a self-inflicted one for the government. Almost every prediction it has made about testing has proved to be wrong and the communication sometimes muddled, with ministers and health experts often at odds with each other (as has been seen this week with advice on reporting lockdown restrictions).  The return of schools, in gradual re-starting of the universities and the fear caused by the gradual return of the lockdown has increased the demand for tests. Each sector of society has demanded, with varying degrees of justification, that it should receive the priority treatment. The advice (certainly in West Berkshire) is that people should ‘only request a Covid-19 test if they have symptoms, or have been asked to get a test.’  

Worst of all was the PM’s Trump-like Operation Moonshot testing programme announced on 9 June, under which millions of people would be tested daily with results in minutes. The Independent quotes the British Medical Journal as saying that this could cost £100bn, a figure uncomfortably close both to the NHS’s total annual budget of £114bn and of HS2’s eventual cost (whatever that is this week). The BMJ also points out that, according to a leaked document from the government, a large number of private partnerships would also be required, a list of which dishearteningly includes the name of the ill-fated Serco. The documents also state that ‘a number of new tests and technologies would need to be used, including some that do not yet exist.’ Whether or not Moonshot has any validity, it seems idiotic to have mentioned it at that particular moment. Such massive figures, portrayed as being within our grasp, could only lead to dissatisfaction with the current arrangements: which is exactly what seems to have happened.

The supply chains involved in a national testing programme are considerable. They include the creation and distribution of the kits, the deployment of the staff, the IT infrastructure, the creation or expansion of the testing centres, the logistics of the delivery of the samples and the availability of the reagents to perform the tests. None of these existed six months ago. It seems that, at present, it’s the last of these, the availability of the reagents, that’s causing the problems. It has been suggested to me that the main reason tests have been limited is because there is no point in testing anyone if the results won’t be known to them within two or three days. 

Given the fact that it can take several days for symptoms to appear (during which time one is infectious) and perhaps a few days after that to decide to go for a test and get it and then a few more days to get the results, it’s easy to see that the tests are not an automatic panacea. They also have the risk of false positives and negatives. A good deal of progress has been made with vaccinations which – assuming they are fairly distributed – would seem to offer a better solution. As an informed academic friend suggested to me today, this doesn’t (unlike Moonhot) need to be rolled out to the whole or a large chunk of the population: “target the vulnerable people and make Covid like flu,” he suggested.

There’s also the matter of whether, under the Moonshot programme, we would all be happy to participate in mass daily tests. So far, Britons have not seen government restrictions as a civil-liberty issue, as has happened in the US, but I could see that changing if this were introduced. It’s also probably true that our ability to accept restrictions of any kind is now starting to wear thin. The partial restrictions at the moment are inevitably ambiguous, the more so as it’s unclear who is meant to be enforcing them. Are we now relying on publicans or neighbours to do this? Should we call the police (as the Policing Minister suggests), snoop on people (as the Home Secretary suggests) or talk to them first (as the PM suggests)? Is there any room left for personal responsibility and choice? Can local factors be taken into account? West Berkshire had six cases per 100,000 last week: Bolton had 204. Surely that might suggest that people in Bolton should be being 35 times more careful? Finally, there’s the question of the overall risk. According the ONS, in the week ending 4 September, the number of deaths in England and Wales was both lower than the week before and below the five-year average, while the number of deaths mentioning Covid-19 was 78, 23% down on the week before and the lowest for 25 weeks. This is only twice the number of people killed in car accidents, while flu kills an average of about 190 people a week.

All in all, the current testing issues don’t seems to be quite the fiasco that have been suggested. If our PM could button his mouth a bit, if his army of professional communicators could spread realistic and consistent messages about who could apply for the tests and how many were likely to be available and if the newspapers could find something else to write about, we might be in a more honest place. Yes, the centrally-organised track-and-trace (now, hopefully, take over by the local councils, despite the depletion of their funding) was a disaster and, yes, it was shocking that so little seemed to have been done to react to the war-gaming exercise of Exercise Cygnus in 2016. These are issues that will have to wait for another day. 

• What’s next? Oh, yes: Brexit, still howling and screaming in its crib. Some piece of legislation was passed recently connected with the Irish border which I’m not going to pretend I followed or understood and which our current PM says is just an ‘insurance policy’ and which he hopes he will never need to use, which makes it sound uncomfortably like a nuclear weapon or, in his case, a morning-after pill. All five of the living ex-PMs, two Labour and three Conservative, have announced that they oppose it as it offends important principles of international law. There also appears to be a revolt brewing in parliament so a return to the arcane political battles of 2019 seems in prospect: so, we’re back to the old normal.

The last of the former PMs to have voiced their disapproval was the hapless David Cameron, the man whose decision it was to hold the referendum in the first place and who then led an inept campaign in favour of a retaining the status quo. My opinion of him rose slightly when I was, earlier this week, flicking through a newspaper while waiting in the checkout at the Co-op in Hungerford. It seems from the latest ‘bombshell’ political diary serialisation that he spent a good part of the months following the referendum chain-smoking and guzzling bottles of wine. Whether true or not, it’s probably just what I would have done in his place so it would be hypocritical of me to criticise him any further (this week, at any rate). 

• An article in this week’s Newbury Weekly News confirms that the 2021 Royal County of Berkshire Show (aka the Newbury Show) will not take place. This year’s event, one of the largest of its kind in the south of England, would have taken place this weekend. Significantly, the organisers said that, were the event were to take place in 2022, it would probably on a much smaller scale. The cancellation of something a year in advance proves not only how uncertain life has become but also how much time large events take to plan. Even for the vastly smaller Hungerford Food Festival, which Penny is involved in organising, work on the next one starts pretty much the following day. Its small size is, however, very much to its advantage as it can adapt more quickly (as this year’s event has done, morphing into a slightly expanded version of the monthly food and artisan market) and also has vastly lower overheads and less financial exposure to a later cancellation or curtailment. I’m slightly reminded of the extinction event that zapped the dinosaurs 70 million years ago, in which the small and nimble survived and the large did not, no matter how well established they were.

• In May 2020, West Berkshire Council decided to reduce the level of public participation at planning meetings. For reasons I explained in this post, I thought this was a bad idea (as did others). The leadership at West Berks promised to review the matter and, to its credit, this has now happened. All the important parts of the previous system – including, crucially, the ability of the committee to have a Q&A session with interested parties – have been restored, though with some minor changes demanded by the use of Zoom. One change that won’t be being undone, for now, is that any statements will be read out by an officer rather than made in person. This is perhaps no bad thing as it both encourages precision during the writing and strips away the emotion during the delivery, emotion not being something that planning committees pay a great deal of heed too. Lib Dem Councillor Adrian Abbs ‘congratulated the administration for taking this step to restore democracy.’ I know this last phrase is one that Leader Lynne Doherty particularly dislikes but I don’t include it here just to any her. It was a problem for the democratic process. Important decisions could have turned on a simple inability to establish a fact which could have been cleared up in 30 seconds were the author of the statement been able to answer questions. It seems to me that, after a rather unnecessary diversion, we’re now about 90% of the way back to where we were before.

• I watched the first 15 minutes of David Attenborough’s Extinction – the Facts last night and pretty depressing it was too. It was therefore deeply reassuring to hear the President of the USA inform the world that ‘It’ll start getting cooler – you just watch.” That’s all right then.

• And still stateside, if anyone thinks that the USA is a country at one with itself, you only need to look at this jaw-dropping report on the various seriously weaponised militias which effectively took over Louisville, Kentucky last weekend. One image from this that really struck me was of a lawyer having to go about his business heavily armed – I think we can all agree this is an alarming combination. Election day is still about seven weeks away, if that will make any difference.

• If Councillor Ross Mackinnon, or anyone else, is concerned about the current legal status of Councillor Steve ‘Tarzan’ Masters, who was recently arrested at an HS2 protest and had up before the virtual beak in Stevenage, I can confirm that he is now at liberty and with several of the bail conditions lifted. I’m not sure whether that’s the end of the matter. The judicial process has temporarily deprived him of his phone though he can still be contacted on Facebook.

• And speaking of court cases, something recently caught my eye which, although with no local connection, seemed too good to miss. A Chatham man has been sentenced to 140 hours community service after admitting hitting his friend over the head with a guitar because he kept playing the wrong chord in the Eagles’ Peaceful Easy Feeling

• My eye was also caught by seeing that Gareth Bale earns about £31m a year for doing, this season at least, basically nothing for Real Madrid. I checked his stats and he only featured in 20 matches, much of the rest of time being spent sulking in the stands. He therefore cost Real about £1.5m a match, or £277 pounds for every second his was on the field or the bench. It seems he’s about to join Spurs though I can’t imagine they’ll want to part with that kind of money. In the strange world of the Premier League, though, anything’s possible…

• 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. Some of the links provided are dead ends, which is irritating. Also, the document states that ‘the consultation will last for 12 weeks from 6 August 2020.’ This seems a strange way of describing 29 October 2020: a reminder, perhaps, that nothing is simple or obvious or clear when it comes to planning, not even the documents that are setting our how it is to be reformed.

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News has, on p4, the views of some of the West Berkshire Councillors concerning this document: a mixed reaction would be a fair summary, I think.

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

• West Berkshire Council has developed a draft Cultural and Heritage Strategy ‘which sets out our vision for the next 10 years to ensure that culture and heritage continues to be an important part of everyone’s daily life in West Berkshire.’ You can click here to read more and to take part, which you need to have done by Sunday 18 October.

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 the python that was used as a face mask by a man travelling on a bus from Swindon to Manchester earlier this week. Yes, you read that right the first time. Click here if you don’t believe me… 

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those referred to elsewhere, correspondence about the LRIE, A-level grades, collective responsibility, thoughts about our PM and the political wrangling and calculations that led to what the writer refers to as the ‘mish-mash’ of local government arrangements in Berkshire.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Railway Children (thanks to Laura Swiatek and Rowanne Dyson); Home-Start Kennet (thanks to Marlborough LitFest); Love Marlborough Kids Meals and the RISE Trust (thanks to the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund).  

Hungerford & district

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

• Last 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. 

• As mentioned last week, 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. 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 30mph speed limit there and hopes that this will soon be introduced.

• The most recent meeting of Hungerford Town Council’s Planning Committee took place on 14 September and you can read the minutes here. For most items ‘no objection’ was recorded. One, 20/01851/FUL for three houses in Upper Eddington, was objected to on several grounds. The application for the conversion of the eyesore in the High Street into a private dwelling was ‘strongly supported.’

• The Planning Committee, indeed the Council, has a new member, Ellie Yakar-Wells, a director of the estate agents Nye & Co on the corner of the High Street and Park Street. “When I knew HTC was looking for councillors I thought, ‘well why not?’,” she told Penny Post. “I know how much work the Town Council does in the town and was happy to see if I could help out. Because of my professional background as an estate agent, Helen Simpson persuaded me to go straight onto the planning committee. I hope that my knowledge of the industry will be of use in these discussions. All in all I’m already finding life on the Council very invigorating!” Local bookkeeper John Shatford also joined the Town Council at the same time.

• Hungerford currently has a vacancy for up to three Town Councillorssee here for more information. The posts will be filled by co-option (two were filled at the last Full Council meeting – see paragraph above).

• Click here for the September 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.

• The September Valley of the Racehorse e-newsletter was published last weekend and you can click here to read it if you didn’t get it. Matters covered included the Lambourn Carnival, the ward report from Councillor Howard Woollaston, news of a charity tri-duck-a-thon, a vacancy for a parish clerk, ruching news from Pat Murphy, a bottle of wine, a book, a song, a story, a recipe, local special offers and some thoughts from Muriel Spark.

• Another issue which was covered – but which in the light of information which has since come to light I have today added another section to – concerns the broadband service in Upper Lambourn, one of the few parts of the district which 21st-century comms technology seems to have forgotten. The matter is very complicated and involves numerous government schemes (some of which are mutually exclusive, others of which don’t quite join up), consultations, public meetings, broken promises by private companies and a lot of frustration for people trying to run businesses. If you are in Upper Lambourn and if your broadband is rubbish then you should have a look at this article, which I hope proves useful. There seem to be two immediate courses of action you can taker, one of which has a 31 Margh 2021 deadline but which is well worth dealing with as soon as you can.

• The most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council took place on 2 September and the draft minutes can be seen here. 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 have been) in order to bring it up to the new accessibility standards demanded of all .org.uk sites.  

• There’s a letter in this week’s NWN (p15 – Please consult earlier with planners) which explains very fairly what the role of parish councils is in the planning process and the way that individual applicants should engage with this, with particular reference to Great Shefford and its eponymous pub. It’s also worth adding one point: parish councils are not planning authorities and do not decide any planning matters. They are statutory consultees and are obliged to look at any application that comes before them, make any comments which they think are relevant and offer a recommendation. However, the planning authority (West Berkshire Council in this case) can and sometimes does come to a different conclusion from the parish (or, as happened with the application to which he’s referring, come to the same conclusion but for different reasons). 

• The Lambourn PC website – or the part of the Lamboutn.org website on which the PC was encamped – has been taken down so any enquiries need to be addressed in writing or my email. There should still be a page there with that information at least. 

• A reminder about one issue which is looming in Lambourn, 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. Warb member Howard Woollaston has met the developer and will be arranging a meeting with the Parish Council. He 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

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

• As mentioned last week, members of the public are finally being formally asked for their views about the London Road Industrial Estate (although, if you were merely to look at the photo, you’d think it was a consultation on the future of Victoria Park). You have until 20 October to make your views known. 

• Newbury Town Council will be hosting a Climate Change Workshop on Saturday 19 September 2020. The workshop will be held via Zoom and open at 2.15pm for a 2.30pm start. More details here.

• Town (and District) Councillor David Marsh recently suggested at an NTC Planning Committee meeting that the new streets in the 179-home development in Shaw-cum-Donnington be named following a Paddington Bear theme (Marmalade Avenue, for instance), the accident-prone ursine’s creator Michael Bond having been born in Newbury. I don’t think Councillor Marsh has gone far enough. There was talk a few years back of a statue in the town centre. Jack of Newbury was the suggested candidate, though for several months a debate raged on the three opposing and irreconcilable grounds that (a) he was a rapacious and exploitative opportunist, (b) that he was an enlightened and innovative entrepreneur and (c) that he didn’t really exist at all but was a composite of several people. Recent events have shown that it’s risky to put up a statue unless the person it depicts has been given a thorough DBS  check, the criteria of which can change at any time. If Newbury needs a statue, what could thus be safer than having one of a (spoiler alert) fictional character? Even if Paddington Bear were to have been real, I think he’s have ticked all the boxes. As a refugee made good (if a bit messily) he’s surely an inspiration to us all: while, as a bear, he could not be accused of forming part of the repressive establishment majority. This is something around which the town can surely unite (whether or not the street in which the statue is placed is pedestrianised or not).

• Speaking of which, 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

• 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. This will be updated at the end of the month, and every month thereafter.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the villageIt also publishes the quarterly Hamstead Hornet – if you’d like to subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at admin@hamsteadmarshall.net

• Click here for the latest NTC News from Newbury Council.

Compton & Downlands

Latest news from Hampstead Norreys Parish Council, Compton Parish Council, Ashampstead Parish Council, Beedon Parish Council, Chaddleworth Parish Council, Brightwalton Parish Council, The Peasemore Village website, West Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.

• The Ridgeway ward member Carolyne Culver has confirmed that four planning applications in the area (Ilsley Park Farm, Pirbright Institute and two at the industrial site in Compton) have been called in and will be determined by the Western Area Planning Committee, hopefully before the end of the year.

• 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 Chaddleworth Parish Council was due to have taken place on 1 September but was inquorate and re-scheduled for 16 September. The minutes will appear here in due course.

• The most recent meeting of Ashampstead Parish Council took place on 7 September and you can read the minutes here

• The most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council for which minutes have been published 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 15 September and you can read the draft minutes here. Items discussed included a solar-panel refusal, a broken 30mph sign, the housing needs survey, thoughts on the government’s planning white paper, a new flood warden, the pond excavation project, a discussion about a sale of a small slice of PC-owned land and a summary of various odd jobs that need to be done around the village.

• 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

Latest news from Thatcham Town Council, Hermitage Parish Council, Cold Ash Parish Council, Bucklebury Parish Council, Brimpton Parish Council and Woolhampton Parish Council.

• It’s often surprising to discover who owns a particular piece of land and what they’re planning to do with it. This cropped up in Grove, in the Vale of White Horse, a couple of months ago when a plot that had been used as an open space was to everyone’s surprise put up for auction and bought by a developer (in this case it might prove to be a false investment as he didn’t realise that the land was an adopted highway, meaning the planning permission will be almost impossible to obtain). A similar issue has cropped up recently in Thatcham, as reported in this week’s NWN on p28 (and also here), where six and half acres of woodland on the Dunston Park Estate, known as Piggy Woods, has been offered for sale for £250,000. The bait from the owners was that it’s not designated greenbelt and so ‘could hold development opportunities.’ Local residents have rallied in opposition and set up a Facebook page (the header image of which provides a perfect illustration of Piggy’s value). In addition, a petition was launched earlier this week which, when I looked at it on Thursday afternoon, had already attracted over 1,000 signatures. West Berkshire’s Lib Dem leader Lee Dillon has said that he has been ‘working with WBC’s officers on a number of options to safeguard the land.’

Given that the land is already designated an ancient woodland, the description of its presenting development opportunities seems to be over-stating the case. Since then, Councillor Dillon has managed to get a tree preservation order in place and work is underway to have some de facto footpaths formally adopted. These will present additional challenges for the developers (just as the adopted-highway status has in Grove). It already appears over-valued as I understand that at the recent auction it failed to sell. Most would agree that more housing is needed in the area but an ancient woodland hardly seems the place to start. If West Berkshire Council agreed, any developer would have an uphill task in getting this through the process.

Another question surrounds the question of the ownership. As part of a deal in the 1990s, it was to have been transferred to Newbury District Council and, from 1998, to West Berkshire Council which replaced it. Its now clear this didn’t happen. It seems surprising this was never spotted in any review of the council’s asset register, something that surely must happen regularly. I wonder how many other bits of land the council thinks it owns, and pays for the upkeep of, but in fact doesn’t own. Further similar unwelcome surprises may be waiting to happen.

• P28 of the NWN also covers Thatcham Town Council’s deliberations about how a socially-distanced Remembrance Day event can be staged in November.

• The most recent meeting of Brimpton Parish Council took place on 1 September and you can watch a recording of this by clicking here.

• Information about the progress of Cold Ash’s neighbourhood development plan can be found here.

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin, which this week starts with a sunset and ends with Jane Eyre.

Theale and district

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

• The most recent meeting of 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 most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 10 September and you can read the minutes here. (It lasted an exhausting two and a half hours – that’s a match, plus extra time, plus penalties). Matters discussed included the adoption of the public phone box, grant and planning applications and the PC’s response to the government’s white paper on planning.

• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 8 September and you can read the minutes here. One of the items discussed concerned Padworth Sawmills which appears to have been the site or cause of a number of problems recently including fire, flooding, pollution and noise. The meeting also noted that ‘the 12 months’ notice for removal of the timber heap at the site expired in July 2019 and the Environment Agency is now considering what legal action to take. The Environment Agency has responded to say the case is with its legal team.’ I’d advise Aldermaston PC not to hold its breath for a quick answer as the EA is not noted for its quick footwork.

• 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

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

• Marlborough LitFest has announced its Love Books Competition winners – the ever-vigilant (and ever-literate) Marlborough News has the details here.

• 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).

• Click here to read the most recent blog from Marlborough’s Mayor, Mark Cooper.

• ‘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.

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.)

Marlborough News reports on the Sculpture in a Landscape 1969-2020’ exhibition at West Leaze near Aldbourne.

• The most recent meeting of Aldbourne Parish Council took place on 9 September and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included drains, flooding, manhole covers, rubbish, railings, hedges, a filming request, the neighbourhood plan, tree work and potholes – the usual kind of municipal mixed bag – though not planning, as there is a committee for that: speaking of which…

• 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

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

• Last week’s Herald covered 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. 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 looks at the question of speeding and traffic-calming measures in Wantage and Grove.

• 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 Wednesdaysclick here for more information

• After assessments of the leisure facilities across southern Oxfordshire, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils agreed with GLL, which runs the ‘Better’ centres, that the second phase of reopening would start from 14 September. 

• 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.

• If you live in the Vale and haven’t responded to the yellow reminder letter about voter registration you need to do this soon

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

• 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 four new CV-19 cases in Swindon in the 24 hours up to 9am on 17 September. The area has now been removed from the list of the government’s areas of ‘enhanced support’ and is now an ‘area of concern‘ (a less serious grading). Swindon Town FC has also backed the town-wide campaign to reduce the spread of the virus. A third coronavirus testing centre has opened in Swindon to boost testing capacity in the town.

Funding is now in place for a key link road, which will form an important part of Swindon’s New Eastern Villages (NEV).

• 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 (until early October) as part of the £2.8m improvements at the Moonrakers junction in Stratton.

• See the Across the Area section about for the unexpected face-covering that one passenger used on a coach between Swindon and Manchester this week.

• 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, it’s time for the Song of the Week. Given the story about the man in Chatham, the guitar, the wrong chord, the blow on the head and the community service (see Across the Area above) there’s really only one candidate: Peaceful Easy Feeling by The Eagles.

• And so a big hello to the Comedy Sketch of the Week. I can’t get enough of Rowley Birkin QC from The Fast Show, one of the many memorable characters created by the wonderful Paul Whitehouse. 

• And so we lurch into the final paragraph, the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What event is celebrated on 4 January (or January 4 as for some reason they call it) in the USA? Last week’s question was: What is the only bridge in England that has a county named after it? The answer is The Great Bridge or Magdalene Bridge over the river Cam in Cambridge.

Brian Quinn

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

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