Local News 24 September to 1 October 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s lessons, Newbury’s response, Kintbury’s net-zero, Brightwalton’s tree, Chaddleworth’s subsoil, Lambourn’s homes, Upper Lambourn’s broadband, Shefford’s canopies, Inkpen’s disruption, Wantage’s butcher, Grove’s bench, Burghfield and Mortimer’s nag, Cold Ash’s horse, East Garston’s egret, East Ilsley’s sale, West Ilsley’s void, Thatcham’s wood, Swindon’s stats, Aldbourne’s minutes, Marlborough’s names, a bumper letterbox, Sandleford, LRIE, the climate emergency, circuit breaking, chewing gum, stopping a replay, QAnon and on and on, a specific and limited breach, a reasonable worst-case scenario, a higher-risk jurisdiction, an old TV, adopted highways, masklessness, advice from MD, travelling to Kent, trivia day, starting blocks and Anthony’s song.

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)

• So, it seems we’re headed for another lockdown: or a ‘circuit break’, whatever exactly that is. This might be local or national, long or short. However, the reality is that this isn’t going to be getting rid of the virus. It’s here to stay and we’re going to have to learn to live with it. Whatever measures are introduced will be buying time to hold back the tide for a bit. What matters is what we do with the time this gives us.

There’s a limit to what the government can do. Policing lockdown restrictions is next to impossible. As this article on the BBC website suggests, if someone decides that they’re going to break a demand for self-isolation, there’s not much anyone can do about it until it’s too late. The government can pass as many laws as it wishes but it’s only if we believe that changing out behaviour will make a difference that things will change.

This can happen in one of three ways. First, the government could deploy half a million officers, PCSOs and informers. This isn’t likely to happen: aside from the cost, as mentioned last week the members of the cabinet cannot even agree on what the right level of enforcement (or snitching is). Second, there is societal pressure (as has largely happened with things such as domestic violence and drink driving) that it’s a good idea to avoid unnecessary proximity, wear face-coverings indoors, wash our hands regularly, self-isolate when ill and being careful not to infect people who are vulnerable. This involves an element of social altruism as most of these measures are protect others more than they protect us. Third, there’s the basic question of personal survival. If we believe that our own chances – or economic prospects – are enhanced by either doing these things ourselves or demanding that others do so, then this will start to happen.

There are only a few countries in the world where the interests of the government, society at large and the individual are aligned in any way that seems likely to make this a swift and simple process. The UK is certainly not one of them. What is needed is the circumstance where people see that their government is either a fair reflection of individual or collective aspirations, or that these are utterly shaped and dominated by the government’s wishes (which might be expressed all the time or as a threat to be used in emergencies, to which it’s expected that people will respond).

In the first category I would tentatively place New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland and perhaps Canada, Denmark and to some extent Germany: in the latter, I’d suggest China, North Korea, Cuba, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Most of these have so far performed better than many other states and it seems likely that this is because there is a recognised alignment, whether willingly given by the population or not, between the over-arching interests of the state, those of the communities within it and each individual. In countries such as the UK, France, Italy, Spain, the USA, India and Brazil – where the infection rates have been much more volatile – there is no such alignment; rather, a general distrust for the government which finds expression in a number of ways. In the case of the USA there’s an extra problem, the country’s federal powerful structure having shown it to be almost ungovernable in the face of an existential threat. Similar tensions are for the same reasons revealing themselves within the UK (an entity which economically and politically, if not strictly administratively, comprises five units: in decreasing order of population, England, London, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Neither the American nor the Chinese system of government or societal behaviour has the slightest attraction for me. The first-mentioned countries have geographical advantages, a low population density, a high level of wealth and long-term emphasis on national rather than individual prosperity and health, even if this involves a high level of personal taxation. What is needed in countries like the UK is a wholly new compact between the rulers and the ruled. What Churchill managed to accomplish in WW2 was a remarkable association between the needs of the state and of the individual to face a common enemy. Boris Johnston, who clearly reveres Churchill, has tried to do this but has failed. This is not entirely his fault. The UK is much less compliant, much more diverse and much more sophisticated than it was in the the 1940s. The threat is also more insidious. It’s clear that government edits, campaigns and exhortations are no longer having the desired effect, as they largely did 60 years ago. The threat is in many ways as real but it’s also invisible. It’s also non-human. The sad conclusion is that the more similar our enemies are to us, the more effectively we can hate, fear and combat then.

My suggestion – and I can visualise people falling asleep or unsubscribing in droves at the phrase but I’ve started so I’ll finish – is to have something like four weeks on and one week off, the on being similar to August and early September and the off being a lockdown similar to that of the spring and summer. Hospitality businesses could probably survive this better and it would provide some certainty, as well as a regular circuit break. Again, though, it all depends on how responsible we all are. That caveat aside, I commend it to the house. 

• As ever, Private Eye’s most recent MD column has a lot of sensible stuff about Covid. Two points from this stuck me. The first is the fact that over a quarter of the adults and over half of the children who tested positive didn’t exhibit any of the three key symptoms (fever, cough, loss of taste and smell) while about 20% and 33% respectively didn’t report any symptoms at all. The second was the suggestion that we ‘hand back Serco and Sitel test and trace to the NHS…time to put local public-health experts in charge of local outbreaks.’ Quite.

• A very relevant question at the moment is how well-prepared we might be for future pandemics. Peter Daszak of the Eco-Health Alliance – an expert whose reputation has perhaps been enhanced by having much of his funding cut two weeks after he criticised the White House for its obsession with the Chinese-lab origin theory – has estimated that there are perhaps 1.7m unknown viruses out there, all of which our current behaviour is increasingly bringing us into contact with. How have we reacted to previous ones? According to Debora MacKenzie, writing in the September New Scientist, not that well. She lists numerous cases where warnings about numerous threats including SARS, MERS were ignored or downplayed. Covid-19 played out in a pretty similar way to many of the predictions. Hindsight is of course easy. With so many problems to deal with, scientists and their paymasters tend to concentrate on immediate problems rather than potential ones. The problem surely cannot be money. Mackenzie quotes Andy Dobson of Princeton University as suggesting that halving deforestation rates and effectively monitoring diseases in people and livestock might cost $30bn a year, which the World Economic Forum estimates as being perhaps 500 times less than the global cost of the pandemic. The real problem is probably international co-operation. Viruses, like climate change, are no respecters of national frontiers. The governments of China, the USA and Russia (virtually any three other powerful countries could be substituted) seem unable to agree on anything. Indeed, it’s worse than that, as all three currently have leaders for whom a centre-piece of their policy is profound and Orwellian distrust for the other two. The threats posed by these problems require international co-operation on an unprecedented level. At present, I’d rate the chances of this happening at 0% and the chance of another similar pandemic by 2030 at 100%.

• Few countries have produced such a regular stream of crackpot socio-political notions as the USA, of which the current QAnon conspiracy theory is a prime example. Its central tenet is that the world is ruled by an evil alliance of satanic, vampiric paedophiles against which Donald Trump has somehow been cast as the saviour of the human race. As politically-motivated drivel goes it’s pretty far down the pipe but, even so, the movement seems to be becoming over-arching and insidious, providing a warped idealogical construct that can accommodate any number of other deranged libertarian beliefs. It also seems to have done much to cement the ideas that the pandemic is some kind of gigantic political hoax and that the measures to combat it are an excuse for mass surveillance and repression. As Graham Lawton, writing in the above-mentioned New Scientist points out, QAnon is ‘fighting a war against reality.’ 

• I’m long past understanding what’s going on with Brexit and, once again, we are being hit with a number of statements that seem in flat contradiction to each other. A no-deal Brexit would, according to the PM, be something that there UK would ‘prosper mightily as a result’ of, whereas an LSE economics professor has suggested that it could have an even worse impact than Covid-19. The whole point of Brexit seemed to be to return to some mythical golden age of justice and sovereignty. The justice part seems to scuppered by the decision potentially to set aside the Northern Ireland protocol, an internationally agreed treaty. The NI Secretary admitted earlier this month that this would break international law but ‘in a very specific and limited way.’  (This slightly calls to mind the recent  statement made by the US lawyers of Anne Sacoolas, who killed 18-year-old Harry Dunn in a road accident in 2019, that she was ‘driving cautiously and below the speed limit’ at the time, albeit on the wrong side of the road.) As for sovereignty of the state, that depends on the elected government’s writ running equally throughout the land. Aside from the problems and paradoxes caused by our having four constituent nations and three devolved assemblies, the NI problem referred to above and the constant rumblings of indyref2 in Scotland, it now appears that, post-Brexit, lorry drivers will not be able to enter the country (and former kingdom) of Kent unless they have a ‘Kent Access Permit.’ This is Michael Gove’s reaction to the ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ of there being queues of up to 7,000 lorries en route to Dover. (If all these were an average of 17 metres long and with a metre between them, if parked end to end the tailback at Dover would go almost all of the way to Charing Cross.) This, like Covid, will all go on for months. In fact, I wonder if we’ll ever be free of either.

• Even more confusing to me are the FinCEN file leaks which appear to have revealed something that most of us suspected already: that mobsters, kleptocrats, Ponzi-schemers, fraudsters, arms dealers, drug lords, tyrants and the whole pantheon of the unacceptable faces of capitalism can move massive sums around the world and rely on the fact that the banks do not always bother to act on the concerns that they pass on to the the the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The BBC’s summary of the leaked documents says that FinCEN regards the UK as a ‘higher risk jurisdiction’ because of the number of UK-registered firms that appear in the leaked documents. The most recent Private Eye, in a special report on the subject on pp21-23, described the UK as ‘a de-luxe laundry service.’ The UN estimates that money laundering accounts for between two and five percent of the world’s GDP: taking the higher figure, this is about the size of the entire economy of Italy, the world’s eighth richest country. Transparency International Pakistan says that the practice ‘continues to paralyse and disable economies, disfigure international finance and destroy lives around the world.’ Our own government and the many tax havens around the world (a good number of which are former British colonies which still retain strong links with the UK, in some cases having the queen as their head of state) are implicated in this.

• A certain amount of my time in the last week or so has been spent trying to understand the amazing complexity of the various government schemes and local initiatives for curing the numerous so-called cold spots on the broadband network which is some areas, such as Upper Lambourn, is at virtually dial-up speeds. In the village of Aberhosan in Wales, the problem was even more acute: at 7am every morning over the last 18 months the service simply vanished. After numerous visits by engineers, the fault was eventually tracked down to an old TV which, when switched on, edited a kind of electrical storm that obliterated the broadband. I’m not suggesting that this will be the problem in every cold spot but if you have an ancient TV and neighbours who complain about their internet connection you might want to bear this in mind… 

• The BBC reports that there were 19 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 14-20 September, ten up on the week before. This equates to 12 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 19. 

• With Covid and Brexit dominating the headlines, it’s easy to forget that an even greater threat, climate change, has not gone away. It seems like a lifetime ago but was actually little more than a year ago that WBC joined other councils, including the Vale, in declaring a climate emergency; and less that a year ago that WBC organised it first climate change conference. One of the many decisions that resulted from this, following a consultation, was the establishment of a cross-party Environmental Advisory Group. One of the things this looked at was how WBC itself could reduce its own emissions. To do that you first have to measure them. I understand that consultants have appointed and their report was considered at a meeting earlier this week. It seems that, even though progress is not proceeding at pace some wish, this marks a useful first step. The next stage will be a delivery plan for WBC’s environment strategy which is expected in October 2020.

• A reminder that the government’s white paper on planning has been published and you can see it here

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

Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council which currently includes chewing gum on (and now off) the pavement, a local Covid outbreak, Recycle Week 2020, the council’s draft housing strategy, A339 road improvements, funding for rough sleepers, Covid testing advice and the re-opening of the libraries.

• 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 has set up a Community Support Hub to support the district during Covid-19. 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 the egret that we saw in our fast-drying stretch of the river Lambourn recently. Looking lost, nervous and confused, it stalked around for a bit, waving its lovely long neck, before being completely spooked by a moorhen. It’s not been back since.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week – a bumper five-page section – includes correspondence about the Newbury Show, parking charges, traffic-free zones, food-waste messages, scrutiny of council officials, the Newbury football ground, questions about questions at WBC, heart-felt thanks to Councillor Mackinnon and Lady Doolittle of Arnhem.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: local families in need (thanks to the Chieveley Food Exchange); several local charities (thanks to Marlborough Town Council); Thames Valley Air Ambulance (thanks to Gill Hails); The Pink Place and The Blue Space (thanks to Dave Reece); Citizens Advice Tadley (thanks to AWE Aldermaston).

Hungerford & district

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

• A reminder that the the next food and artisan market (and the last of the year) will take place at the Croft Field on Sunday 4 October from 10.30am to 2.30pm.

• The issue of the house in Riverbend in Upper Eddington, work on which turned out to have been different from the permission that was granted, is reaching a conclusion. WBC’s tree officer and one of the ward members have both visited the site and appear to be happy with the new tree-planting scheme which will (in time) provide probably a more interesting natural screen compared to that which was there before. The cladding to cover the rather striking blue walls will be installed later this year.

This highlights two examples of the planning system. The first (bad) is that as the planning authority cannot issue fines to compensate for officers’ time there is no particular incentive for applicants to abide by the permission if they think there’s a reasonable chance of getting away with it. It’s true that the Western Area Planning Committee would have been in its rights to demand that the new structure (which had more wrong with it than just the trees and the colour) be pulled down. This would, however, have almost certainly triggered an appeal to HM Planning Inspectorate which would probably have found against the council: this is certainly what happened, also in Upper Eddington, about four years ago.

The second (good) conclusion is that, once an infraction has been spotted, it is possible to do something about it. The current result, though months in the making, has provided the best solution that the reality of the removed trees and the likely attitude of HMPI allowed. Better still, of course, would have been if the permission had been followed. This can only happen if planning authorities have the power to charge for dealing with non-compliance. This would obviously open up another contentious area as to how much this should be: however, it does seem fair that that the person responsible for the necessary work should cover the costs that results. At present, it’s being shared equally by every council-tax payer in the district.

• Another, far larger and more protracted, rumbles on at the other end of town. Some months ago, the developers at the Salisbury Road site applied to change the nature of some of the tenures and remove the social-housing element. This has triggered long discussions with WBC not only about this but also about the resulting CIL payments (developer contributions) which vary depending on the kind of houses built. The CIL system, which was introduced originally to replace but effectively to run alongside the negotiated S106 payments, was intended to be simple, clear, universal and non-negotiable but has proved to be anything but. (Several small developers across the district could also testify to the fact that CIL provides many traps for the unwary but that’s a separate issue – watch this space).

As a result of these discussions, the matter has yet to come before the Western Area Planning Committee to be decided. The time will come (I’m not sure when) when, if it isn’t resolved, the developers could claim that it has been accepted as a result of non-determination. In the meantime, work continues on the site. There are accusations from residents of speeding, noise, damage to pavements, dangerous reversing and other problems. Hungerford Town Council, the ward members and doubtless WBC’s officers are all involved in trying to resolve this. Until the above-mentioned planning decision is concluded, there’s also no certainty as to how long the work will continue for. The possibility of further development at the unused part of the site and the land that adjoins it is a problem waiting for another day. All in all, the development at Salisbury Road is not proceeding as smoothly as some would have hoped but is probably going about as well as anyone might reasonably have expected given the way the planning system operates.

• The Hungerford Chamber of Commerce held its AGM earlier this week and was attended by the Town’s Mayor Helen Simpson. She offered her congratulations to Karen Salmon, of local solicitors Marlborough Law which was elected to the Chair.

• A further 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. 

• Audley Inglewood retirement home in Kintbury is planning an expansion which plans having been submitted for 23 care units in what is proposed to be a net-zero development. You can se the plans on WBC’s website here.

• The most recent meeting of Hungerford Town Council’s Planning Committee took place on 14 September and you can read the minutes here

• 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).

• The most recent meeting of Kintbury parish Council took place on 3 September and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included members’ bids, the defibrillators, planning applications, seasonal works at the Lawerence Field and the problem (by no means confined to Kintbury) of overgrown road signs.

• The New Mills development at Inkpen, which has so far been the subject of about a dozen separate applications, rather than the one over-arching one which WBC insisted on a couple of months ago, is still being discussed between officers and developers. The scope of the work seems considerable; as has been, according to some reports, the amount of disruption. As with Salisbury Road (see above) this inevitable aspect can only be given a definite end date when all the planning issues have been resolved.

• 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 a couple of weeks ago and you can click here to read it if you didn’t get it. 

• A potentially major development is being planned at Lynch Lane in Lambourn. This was first mooted in 2017 but not then pursued. WBC’s core policy would accept 60 dwellings on the site, subject to an adequate number of affordable homes (40% as it’s a greenfield site). Three years ago the developers said they wanted 110; Lambourn PC felt that the site could not support more than 80 (also subject to a suitable affordable provisions). The developers have had pre-application discussions with WBC and will be doing so with Lambourn PC in early October. At some point thereafter, outline plans may be submitted. Whether these will be what the developers actually intend to build is, as with all applications, another matter. Once the plans are published residents will have an opportunity to comment on them: this must be done to WBC through its planning portal or by post and not by other methods (such as social media).

• Linked to this is the question of Lambourn’s neighbourhood development plan (NDP). The parish is one of seven in West Berkshire currently conducting such an exercise and is about two years into it. Covid has slowed matters down but they can in normal times take three or four years to complete. The essential aspect of an NDP is that it enables the local community to contribute to the planning authority’s local plan as regards the location, mix and nature of housing and other related matters in that area. The project team works with the planning authority and the final document cannot be in conflict with the district’s local plan, nor with national legislation. An NDP cannot therefore prevent any development from taking place. The advantages of this co-operation is that, once adopted, it becomes as much part of the local plan as if the planning authority had written it itself. Another advantage is that the planning authority is, as a result, aware of the parish’s own aspirations and views and, even if an NDP has not been adopted and will take these into account when considering an application. If and when an application for Lynch Lane is received, officers at WBC should therefore have a clearer picture of what the parish’s overarching housing needs are as they have been working on this with the NDP team. This, in turn, is likely to lead to a decision more in line with local needs than might otherwise be the case.

• By their nature, NDPs involve a lot of technical work. While wide community engagement is essential (some NDPs have been refused by examiners because they couldn’t demonstrate this) a lot of the work is invisible. The delay in WBC’s publication of its HELAA (the list of sites potentially available for development) and, of course, Covid has extended the timescale. None the less, work is progressing. When public engagement is required, this will be given wide publicity.

• The Lambourn PC website – or the part of the Lambourn.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. I’m assured by the PC that work is progressing with the new website though no date had been set as to when it would be launched. As anyone who has had a new website can testify, it’s often wise to think of a timescale and then double it.

See this article for important information about the broadband service (or lack of) in Upper Lambourn. if this affects you, there seem to be two immediate courses of action you can taker, one of which has a 31 March 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.  

• And moving a mile or so downstream (not that we have any stream here any more) to Shefford, an application has been put in by The Great Shefford for the ‘erection of a series of 150mm x 150mm box section metal posts to support six canopy panels of varying dimensions.’ You can view the application here. The bottom-left panel of the page shows how you can comment on this should you wish to. The determination deadline is 11 November 2020.

• 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, Greenham Parish Council, Chieveley Parish Council and Hamstead Marshall Parish Council.

• As mentioned previously, members of the public are being formally asked for their views about the London Road Industrial Estate. You have until 20 October to make your views known. I note also that there’s to be an ‘online virtual engagement session’ (the acronym OVES may need to be used to describe such things: if so, you saw it here first) at 6pm on Thursday 8 October. If you’d like to take part, please email bill.bagnell@westberks.gov.uk to register your interest: the exact format will be determined once the number are known. WBC is obviously keen to re-boot its plans for the proposal, the previous ones having run out of steam, and that’s to be applauded. If, however, it feels that there’s not so far been an adequate response (as the arrangement of such an event suggests) then I’m not entirely sure that an event organised by WBC itself will produce the best and freshest level of engagement. It’s to be hoped that other organisations which have the interests of Newbury and of West Berkshire at heart might also step forward to organise something – there’s still time. The main thing is, by whatever means, to enable people to have a discussion about the scheme and to reply to the consultation. The last proposals ended with developer changes, court cases, appeals, internal enquiries, peculiar planning decisions and wrangles with community groups. This is an opportunity to learn from all of this and start again. 

• Among the many documents concerning the long-running Sandleford application is one called ‘planning policy response’ dated 17 September 2020. This appears to show WBC’s Planning Department losing its temper with the developers. The document starts with a ‘background and policy context’ section which points out that development is part of the core strategy for up to 2,000 homes (although it doesn’t seem it will provide anything like that number) but also discusses a supplementary planning document (SPD) which was created as a result of concerns – well-founded, as events proved – that ‘there was potential that the Sandleford site may not come forward in a comprehensive manner.’ The document goes on to point out out that ‘all sites previously allocated as part of the Core Strategy’ are currently being reviewed as part of the regular refresh which ‘will reflect changes in the demand for land.’

It then devotes a section to the various and seemingly irreconcilable disagreements between the developers which have so far thwarted WBC’s attempts to create an over-arching and mutually agreed plan. With regard to the provision of affordable housing, the document goes on, the current proposal is ‘not policy compliant.’ With regard to renewable energy, the proposal ‘fails to grasp the opportunity presented by the circumstances of this site to provide an exemplar development.’ With regard to highways and access, long a point of debate, ‘the comments of the Highway Authority will feed into the acceptability of the scheme,’ rather suggesting that they so far have not. It also adds a list of other unfinished business including regarding the nature and management of the country park on the site, heritage and surface-water issues. The summary also points out that WBC’s forthcoming Housing Monitoring Report – which previously had assumed 1,000 house from Sandleford, later reduced to 200 – is now unlikely to include any houses from the site at all. In any case, as the document also points out, WBC ‘can demonstrate a housing supply of 7.67 years.’ The message seems to be a clear statement that the developers are not in the position of the strength they might once have believed. WBC doesn’t urgently need this site and certainly not on any terms. If the plan is to progress, the developers need to go away and come back with something appropriate: assuming, of course, that they can agree between them what that should be.

• In a related development, the controversial application to widen Warren Road, which was described as a Trojan horse for the development as a whole, has recently been withdrawn. 

Please see this post for a reaction to the above paragraphs, and the Sandleford issue generally, from the Say no to Sandleford campaign. Penny Post welcomes any other comments which can be added to this post.

• Another development in Newbury, to the north of the town near the Vodafone HQ, is also not quite proceeding as hoped. Once again, the grandmother’s footsteps approach to planning – applying for and getting permission for something acceptable to the planners and then stealthily using various methods to chip away at the scheme until it resembles something more acceptable to the developer – has been followed here. One mysterious and unwelcome aspect concerns the phasing of the various parts of the work. The local centre, which would include the school and various amenities, was originally logically scheduled as phase one. It appears from a recent meeting od the Western Area Planning Committee that these have now been relegated to phases five and six (out of seven), meaning that there’ll be no school on the site until after – perhaps some time after – about 220 homes have been occupied. It appears that there is nothing that WAPC can do about this as it’s already been agreed bertween officers and developers. If true, it seems insane. Habits including driving to schools and shops rather than walking and ordering online rather than using local retailers – exactly the opposite of what WBC has claimed are its intentions – will necessarily become established before any amenities are provided (if they indeed ever are) to provide an immediately local alternative. A strange outcome. 

A further uncertainty concerns how the phased development might affect any future work on the other, eastern, half of the site which was in 2017 decoupled from the western site currently being developed. If any overarching obligations remain, it’s uncertain how, given that the eastern site would be handled by a separate developer, these could be reconciled and jointly executed. It could, for instance, be claimed that the completion of a certain phase has only happened when that phase has completed on both sites; as work on the eastern site has yet to start, this would be an apparently nonsensical (but possibly legally compelling) argument. The result could be a similar bilateral confusion to that at Sandleford, with the additional problem that the two parts are completely out of phase with each other. To make matters even more complicated, the eastern part would be served by a private road (Vodafone’s The Connection) which WBC has not been able to adopt. This would mean that residents would be using the road with no guarantee of any particular level of maintenance and with bin lorries and public-utility contractors only allowed on the site with Vodafone’s permission. 

• Each year Newbury Town Council presents awards to allotment tenants from each site who are judged to have kept the best allotment plots. This year it was felt that as a number of allotment tenants would have been shielding and not able to spend time tending their plots the traditional awards would not be appropriate. In partnership with the Allotment Stewards at each site, one tenant from each of the six Newbury sites was identified as having done something special or extraordinary at their allotment site throughout the season of 2020. At the Community Services Committee Meeting, held via Zoom on Monday 21 September, the winners from each site were awarded with a certificate and will be receiving a bespoke handcrafted key ring, made by local artist Naomi Lunn of Pyromani Art.

• The 24/7 pedestrianisation in Newbury town centre has came to an end on 31 August. Newbury TC, in partnership with the Newbury BID, carried out a shopper survey and the results are summarised here

• A new playground has been installed at Skyllings and includes new play equipment for children aged between four and 16 years old. Children can now enjoy this brand new area which includes a wobble board, ‘a spinner and a gravity bowl together with other play equipment. After seeking the views of local residents earlier in the year, the Council agreed to remove the existing MUGA (Multi Use Games Area) and install the new play equipment. The MUGA has now been relocated to City Recreation Ground.

• 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 most recent meeting of Brightwalton Parish Council took place on 14 September and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included a co-option, new arrangements at the church, the re-opening of the Village Hall, maintenance work, planning applications and the 2020 Christmas tree.

• The Ridgeway ward member Carolyne Culver has confirmed that four planning applications in the area (Ilsley Barn Farm, Pirbright Institute and two at the industrial site in Compton) have been called in and which will (unless they are refused) be determined by the Western Area Planning Committee, hopefully before the end of the year. The first-named of these is currently the subject of discussions between officers and the developers which might increase the timescale.

• 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. Items that were discussed at the re-arranged meeting included an amendment to the PC’s code of conduct in order that it can protect itself from ‘vexatious individuals’; and a request from a resident that the footpaths in the village be used for cycling. (This promoted an enquiry to WBC’s Footpath Officer who said that the owners of the ‘subsoil’ would need to be consulted. This arcane legal matter – which has become significant as a result of a recent judgment – is considered in this article from Highways magazine, and doubtless many others.)

• 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 14 September and, if all were working correctly, you should be able to see the (presumably draft) minutes by clicking here and scrolling to the foot of the page. However, when I did this the page it called up was blank. As a result, I can’t give you even the smallest hint of what was discussed. 

• 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.

• Last week we covered the issue of the 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 being that it’s not designated greenbelt and so ‘could hold development opportunities.’ Local residents have rallied round and a petition was launched last week which, when I looked at it last Thursday afternoon, had attracted over 1,000 signatures, a figure which a week later has increased to closer to 1,800. A Facebook page has been set up. West Berkshire’s Lib Dem leader Lee Dillon has managed to get a tree preservation order placed on the site which adds some additional protection to its existing status of ancient woodland. It’s also hoped to get it designated as a green space in the local plan and to have some de facto footpaths formally adopted.

As we mentioned last week, and as NWN says this week, the land failed to sell at the initial auction. The paper states that it now been sub-divided into 0.6-acre plots for £35,000 each. As this would equate to 11 plots of 0.58 acres this suggests that the owners are actually hoping to realise £385,000 from the site, more than 50% more that the figure it failed to attract as a single unit. I’d have thought the land’s value would have fallen rather than risen over the previous week.

As mentioned last week, there’s also the question establishing the ownership. As part of a deal in the 1990s the land was to have been transferred to Newbury District Council and, from 1998, to West Berkshire Council which replaced it; but its now clear this didn’t happen. It seems surprising that this was never spotted in any review of WBC’s asset register. When did the last such review happen? Are there any other similar surprises just around the corner?

• The NWN reports on p26 that a plan A and (wisely) a plan B for a social distanced Remembrance Day parade in Thatcham have been drawn up by the Town Council.

• 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 three horses (one of which is facing the wrong way) and ends with Albert Camus.

Theale and district

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

Click here for the minutes of the latest meeting of the Burghfield and Mortimer Neighbourhood Action Group (NAG).

• Please click here for the latest news from Burghfield Parish Council.

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

• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 10 September and you can read the minutes here

• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 8 September and you can read the minutes here

• The September 2020 newsletter from Burghfield Parish Council has been published and you can read it here.

Marlborough & district

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

• The BBC reports that there were 43 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 14-20 September, two up on the week before. This equates to nine cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 19. 

• This week’s NWN has, on p25, an article and photo of Devizes MP Danny Kruger on a train and not wearing a face covering, something he had recently been exhorting his constituents to do. The article claims he got onto ‘a nearly empty carriage’ in Hungerford and forgot. So, not completely empty, then. Were none of the other passengers wearing coverings, which would have jogged his mind? Also, my invariable experience of train journeys on that line (admittedly none since lockdown) is that the train fills up as it nears Paddington. Did none of the new passengers’ facial attire give him a clue? The fine for the infraction is £100, which he has agreed to donate to the NHS. I didn’t know you were allowed to choose to which organisations your fines are paid.

• Marlborough Town Council received a number of suggestions for names for the new roads at Rabley Wood View. Marlborough News reveals the shortlist and explains what happens next.

The same website reports on a number of grants recently made by the Town Council to local organisations.

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

• Saturday 3 October was to have been the date of Darkskiesfest, Marlborough’s first festival dedicated to the night sky.As with so many things, the event is now moving online. Click here for more.

• The most recent meeting of Marlborough Town Council took place on 7 September and you can see the draft minutes here

• 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 reminds us. 

Information here about changes to the road and 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.

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

• 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.

• The BBC reports that there were 13 CV-19 cases in the Vale in the week 14-20 September,one up on the week before. This equates to 10 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 19. 

• Wantage Town Council’s consultation on plans to extend the pedestrianised areas in the town centre is now active and can be seen here. You have until 31 October to make your views known. 

• This week’s Herald has the news that Vincent Montgomery’s butcher’s shop in Wantage has been forced to close. The paper reports that over 100 people resorted to Facebook to express their dismay but, as the owner himself told the paper, ‘the lack of support from locals’ was the reason he was forced to hang up his apron. The shop ‘was not getting any support at all,’ he told the paper. ‘I’ve been working for £200 a week and have been for the last 11 years.’

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald looks at the local venues where you can get a Covid-19 test.

• The CEO of the Oxford NHS Foundation Trust has, according to the Herald, admitted that although long-overdue repairs to the Wantage Community Hospital (which was ‘temporarily’ closed in 2016) have now been completed there were no plans to re-open the beds. He stressed there would be a full engagement and consultation period, adding the trust’s goal was to see the hospital ‘thrive once more’. The article goes on to quote local councillor Jenny Hannaby as asking ‘why their residents [of other towns] can keep their beds and why Wantage, an expanding town, has to lose theirs.”

• 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

• 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 very 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

• We mentioned a few months ago about the strange story of the triangle of land in Grove which the Parish Council thought the County Council owned but which was in fact the property of a private company, which sold it to another private company at auction for £36,000 (presumably for possible development). However, the land is classified as an adopted highway which makes it almost impossible to get planning permissions. It seems that two other, much smaller plots have land – also adopted highways – have recently changed hands in Grove: a chat with the ever-helpful Parish Clerk revealed that these kind of transactions throughout the country are not as rare as one might think. It may be that developers are gambling on the government’s white paper on planning freeing the shackles on this kind of restriction, or possibly that some loophole has been identified which would permit building something like a solar farm or a radio mast (which wouldn’t have been expressly excluded from any legislation if it was drafted more than about 30 years ago as these things didn’t then exist). On the other hand, it could be just another example of magpie-like acquisitiveness. If something’s for sale, buy it: you never know, it might be worth something one day.

• There was an arson attack in Grove recently with a bench on the recreation ground being destroyed. If you have any information, contact 101 or the Parish Council (details at the top of this section).

• 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 two weeks ago week that was probably about to be uploaded but no sign yet…and still no sign last week…or this week…)

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

Swindon & district

Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.

• The BBC reports that there were 18 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 14-20 September, five down on the week before. This equates to eight cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 19. As reported here last week Swindon is now off the government’s Covid watchlist but residents are urged not to relax.

• Residents visiting council buildings are being asked to scan NHS QR code posters in order to comply with new test and trace guidelines. The Council will continue to offer a manual option for recording visitors’ contact details, for people who do not have a smartphone or do not want to use the NHS Covid-19 app.

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

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, here comes the Song of the Week. I had this song running through my head last night when I couldn’t sleep. The annoying this is that I know 90% of the lyrics but the bits I couldn’t recall were driving me half-way bonkers. Your turn now – Anthony’s Song (Movin’ Out) from Billy Joel, one of pop’s great natural story-tellers.

• And now it’s the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Another one from Big Train and the wonderfully silly Starting-blocks Lesson

• And so we dive into the the bracing water that is the final paragraph, the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: England had three kings in 1066. William I and Harold were two: who was the other one? Last week’s question was: What event is celebrated on 4 January (or January 4 as for some reason they call it) in the USA? The answer is, amongst other things, World Trivia Day. It’s also World Braille Day, the feast-day of the excellently named Pharaildis of Ghent, the anniversary of the return to earth of Sputnik 1 and the birthday of footballer James Milner.

Brian Quinn

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