Newbury Town Council Update – August/September 2021

The following section provides a brief summary from Newbury Town Council (NTC) Leader Martin Colston. It covers the main issues which he, and NTC, have been dealing with over the previous month and looks forward to matters to be dealt with in the month to come. It by no means describes all of his, or the Council’s, activities and does not necessarily reflect NTC’s official position. More information – including details of NTC meetings, events, press releases and contacts – can be found on the NTC website.

August September 2021 update

Despite it being summer holiday season and August usually being a relatively quiet month, there are still a few things to report.

A tale of two football grounds

The fire at the football ground in Faraday Road was a major blow to the football community. However, it’s still possible to re-open the pitch to allow football to re-commence in the town centre at least until any redevelopment of the area actually starts. West Berkshire Council has recently submitted a planning application for an all-weather pitch and Step 4 facility up on Monks Lane and you can read its initial statement here. So, finally, we will all be able to see whether this is a like-for-like replacement of the Faraday Road clubhouse and ground and find out what local residents think of the project during the planning process.

Kennet Centre (Eagle Quarter)

The plans for the replacement to the Kennet Centre, the Eagle Quarter, have been revised. The key changes are a response to widespread concerns about the height of the development from Newbury Town Council, the Newbury Society and residents. The tallest building has been reduced from 11 to nine floors and some others by one floor. While I welcome the direction this is going I am still concerned about the height relative to the rest of the Market Place and Bartholomew Street area.

Community activities

We have a number of community activities coming up over the next few weeks:

  • The Mayor’s Teddy bears Picnic (11am on 31 August at the Band Stand in Victoria Park),
  • Cutting down the wildflower meadows in City recreation Ground (10 am on 5 September) and Victoria Park (10am on 19 September) to ensure they come up again next year, and
  • Our fourth Climate Change Workshop (2pm on 25 September in St John’s Church Hall).

Victoria Park Café – last call for the consultation

And finally, there is still time for you to respond to the consultation on our plans to build a new café in Victoria Park – just follow this link which is open until 31 August.

July/August 2021 update

This is my first update for a couple of months as I’ve been snowed under with work and family commitments (as well as NTC).

NTC Shortlisted for the Star Council Awards 2021

Newbury Town Council has been named one of five finalists in the National Association of Local Council’s (NALC) Star Council Awards 2021 and we are in the running for the Council of the Year award. NALC’s Star Council Awards are the only awards in England to recognise and celebrate the contribution local (parish and town) councils make to their communities.

This is the summary of NTC’s work during the last year, which is on the NALC website:

The COVID-19 pandemic compelled Newbury Town Council to quickly adapt to new ways of working. It also enhanced the council’s profile with other local authorities and organisations operating in Newbury.

A key part of Newbury Town Council’s Strategy is to provide support for young people, the elderly, minorities and the vulnerable. Among the ways in which the council delivered this objective include: signing a three-year service level agreement with Berkshire Youth for the provision of outreach youth work in Newbury; allocating £8,000 of grants funds for people with issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic; becoming an accredited dementia-friendly organisation; making Victoria Park available for a Black Lives Matter protest and inviting the organisers, as well as Community United West Berkshire, to address the full council and securing a place on the West Berkshire Homelessness Strategy Board. 

The council has worked closely with partners in West Berkshire Council, Newbury Business Improvement District (BID), Thames Valley Police, the Public Protection Partnership and the management of the town centre shopping centres. Officers meet every two weeks with these partners to review footfall, business and anyways they can support the town centre through the pandemic. The council has established a town centre working group, with the same partners, working closely with the consultants appointed to prepare a master plan for the future of Newbury town centre.

The mayor’s office became proactive in the community. The mayor visited many of the town centre businesses when they reopened after lockdown last summer. The mayor also reached out to the community through the call the mayor scheme, Christmas card competition and the civic awards pin badge competition. 

The council worked extra hard to provide top class outdoor facilities for the community. The markets and public toilets operated all year round.

The council used £250,000 of community infrastructure levies to carry out major upgrades and improvements at three different parks and recreation grounds. 

The council organised volunteer events to allow members of the community safe social contact while also generating civic pride in their locality, including planting a wildflower bank, a lockdown wood and a bed of medicinal herbs. 

Please show your support for Newbury and NTC by voting using this link: Star Council Awards 2021 (nalc.gov.uk)

Community Café in Victoria Park

Perhaps the biggest recent news for NTC is the granting of planning permission for our community café in Victoria Park. You can find an artist’s impression of the café and respond to the consultation about the café and our proposed loan to fund part of it by clicking here. You need to make your views known by the end of July.

The project team is now hard at work on the detailed project plan so we can get the building work started as soon as possible. We don’t have a target date yet but should do soon. In parallel we’re working to appoint an operator for the café and will be interviewing our five short-listed candidates on 16 August.

New Mayor

With the lifting of many of the Covid restrictions in mid-June we were finally able to hold an almost normal Mayor Making event in the Corn Exchange on 27th June. It was so good to be able to attend an event in person and to see the evident joy and pride in our new Mayor, Billy Drummond, during the ceremony. And our outgoing mayor, Elizabeth O’Keeffe, now gets a well-earned rest after her Covid-enforced two-year term.

Flags

We were delighted to fly the Pride flag from the Town Hall from 27 to 3o June, and to receive an unprecedentedly large and overwhelmingly positive response to this on the Town Council social media and also from posts by individual councillors. A few days later we approved our first ever flag policy which means we will be able to fly a variety of different flags during the year in support of good causes and partners like our twin towns.

April/May 2021

Climate Conference – now on 15 May

We will be holding our third Climate Conference on Saturday 15 May at 2.30 via Zoom. We had to postpone it as the original date clashed with HRH Prince Philip’s funeral. You can get more information and register your interest here.

Community Café in Victoria Park

While we wait for the planning process and the Environment Agency to reach a decision, we have started the process to find an operator for our planned new café. I’m delighted to say there has been a lot of interest and we have received nine applications which several councillors are reviewing at the moment. We look forward to appointing someone to be our founder tenant in due course.

Speen Moors walk will remain open

After a spate of vandalism, littering and antisocial behaviour on Speen Moor last summer there was a real possibility that the much used and much loved Speen Moors walk (a permitted pathway) would be closed to the public. Over the last few months, I and a small group of town councillors, under the tireless leadership of Councillor Martha Vickers, met several times with the landowner to understand their concerns and what we could do to keep the walk open.

In the end we agreed to form a new community group: the Friends of Speen Moor. The Friends will regularly walk around the path, collect litter and engage with other path users. Newbury Town Council has funded ID cards, litter pickers and hi vis vests for the Friends. In addition, NTC added support of the Friends to its strategy in February, and the WBC countryside officer was able to offer the landowner useful advice and experience.  Berkshire Youth provided some training for the Friends on how to engage effectively and constructively with young people. As a result the path will remain open, with a review in March 2022.

I’ve only been a councillor for two years, and this is the best example I’ve been involved with of what ward councillors can achieve on behalf of their community.

End of virtual council meetings

From the middle of next week it will no longer be legal for council committees to make decisions at remote meetings. This has meant us postponing a couple of meetings until after 21 June when, all being well, we will be able to meet in person again. As a result, the transfer from one mayor to the next will take place over 2 events: the actual legal transfer will happen on Zoom at our Annual Meeting on 4 May, and then the ceremonial Mayor Making event will be on 26 June at the Corn Exchange. I’m much looking forward to us all being able to meet in person again, and to the return of those post-meeting pints!

March/April 2021

Consultations Galore!

We are busy with lots of consultations at the moment to get feedback from our residents on our plans and get their ideas too. That way we aim to ensure what we end up delivering is what local people want.

The biggest consultation is for Blossoms Field in Wash Common. Our ambition is to eventually achieve Green Flag status for this park. We’re just about to sending out letters to thousands of residents to gather their suggestions for things they would like to see improved or changed, or new facilities they would like. Will analyse the inputs and then put together a number of practical and affordable ideas for a further consultation later in the year so we can then whittle it down to a final plan. This is the same approach we took for the City Recreation Ground upgrade which we completed last year and which is proving very popular. If you would like to contribute, please follow this link.

We’ve also recently consulted on our plans for an NHS Commemorative garden at Old Hospital Green on Andover Road and also for a planned upgrade to Greenham House Gardens.

Climate Conference

We will be holding our third Climate Conference on Saturday 17 April at 2.30 via Zoom. We’ll be giving an update on our progress towards carbon neutrality by 2030 and an update on our Climate Grants. And we have three guest speakers to talk on a variety of climate-related subjects: the Lockdown Wood, Heating the Home Counties and the Greening Campaign. Everyone is welcome – we’d love to see you and get your feedback on what we’re doing and suggestions too. Please register your interest here.

Community Café in Victoria Park

This project has had a bit of setback with the Environment Agency putting in an objection to the plans. We consulted with the EA last year and then amended the plans to address every single one of their recommendations. It seems they have objected in error, but they are so short-staffed that it’s going to take a while to unpick. This is hugely frustrating as it inevitably means a delay in gaining planning consent and being able to start the build…

February/March 2021

Community Café in Victoria Park

We are currently awaiting a decision from West Berkshire Council on our planning application for the new community café in Victoria Park. In the meantime, we have initiated the process of finding a suitable operator for the café: we held a Zoom meeting on 24 February with several interested operators who were able to ask questions and share ideas. It’s great to see so much interest and we’re looking forward, planning permitting, to moving forward with this project.

Greenham House Gardens

NTC will be taking over ownership of Greenham House Gardens from West Berkshire Council later on this year. It’s perhaps an under-used open space which we think can be improved for the enjoyment of our local residents. We have some ideas and are running a consultation at the moment on this. If you’d like to give us your feedback and any suggestions, please click here.

Climate Conference

We will be holding our third Climate Conference on Saturday 17 April at 2.30 via Zoom. We’ll be giving an update on our progress towards carbon neutrality by 2030 and an update on our Climate Grants. And we have three guest speakers to talk on a variety of climate related subjects. Everyone is welcome via this Zoom link.

January/February 2021

Lockdown#3

Another year and another lockdown which is obviously tough for everyone. As a council we’re doing our best to keep our services going and our facilities open and safe. I’m really pleased that once again our markets are continuing (although we’re asking everyone to wear masks), our public toilet is open, and so are our parks and children’s playgrounds. Based on government guidance we’ve had to close the tennis courts in Victoria Park again, and, following a request from Thames Valley Police, we have also had to close the skate park. As soon as we’re allowed to, we will re-open promptly.

Newbury Civic Awards

We’ve just opened nominations for this year’s Newbury Town Civic Awards. These celebrate achievements, honour volunteers and recognise those who make a difference in our community. This year we have launched a new awards category of Community Champions Awards to honour those who have given back to the community and their actions have been in direct response to the Covid 19 pandemic. We also have the following categories:

  • The Newbury Town Civic Award
  • The Young Persons Civic Award
  • Business Civic Award
  • Environmental Contribution Civic Award

If you would like to nominate someone for any of these awards, please go to https://newbury.gov.uk/civic-awards/. Nominations close on Sunday 28 February 2021.

Planning for 2021/22

Our strategy and budget will be approved at Full Council on 1 February. Given all the challenges of Covid, I’m delighted with the progress that’s been made during the first year of our strategy. Highlights for me are that we’ve completed a major upgrade to the City Recreation Ground well ahead of schedule, we’ve submitted our planning application for a fully redesigned and sustainable new Community Café and public toilets for Victoria Park, we’ve reduced our carbon footprint by 26 tonnes, and we’re now six months into our three-year partnership with Berkshire Youth to provide outreach youth work.

The core strategy remains unchanged, but we have made a number of important additions, most notably extending our commitment to providing youth work beyond our partnership with Berkshire Youth to include support for both the Community Youth Project at the Nightingales and the Riverside Community Centre in Clay Hill.

Engaging with our Young People

We’re very keen to find out what changes we could make that would benefit our young people. So we’ve launched a simple questionnaire – just one question! – to gather feedback and ideas. We’ll use the results as the basis for further discussions in one or more online events. Please encourage any young people you know who either live in Newbury or visit regularly to complete the survey by 4 February so we can get as broad an input as possible: https://newbury.gov.uk/young-people-in-newbury-make-your-voice-heard/

December 2020/January 2021

Tier 4 (and beyond)

Five weeks ago, I was thinking we might be heading for Tier 1 but then the number of positive tests started to rise rapidly and so Tier 3 seemed the more likely outcome. Unfortunately, we were only in Tier 3 for a day when Tier 4 was announced: since then, of course, we’ve moved into a national lockdown. Not what any of us would’ve wanted but I think it was the right decision. Fortunately, the Town Council can continue to deliver its services as it did during both the previous lockdowns.

Royal Visit

Newbury market had a royal visitor when Prince Edward came to the Market Place and chatted to all the stallholders. Excitement all round including the normally routine sign off of the press release and accompanying photos which had to go via the royal household! I’m delighted to say the market continues to be busy both with stalls and shoppers, and will be remaining despite the new regulations.

Tree Planting in Blossoms Field

Groups of volunteers and councillors planted 100 trees in Blossoms Field to replace the 48 we’ve had to remove over the last several months because of disease, damage or for safety reasons. To protect the trees while they are small and at risk, we have installed a temporary deer-proof fence. The fence will be removed when no longer needed and will be used again somewhere else. Part of the Council strategy is to achieve Green Flag status for the public open space in Wash Common – Victoria Park has just retained its Green Flag status and the recent upgrades to the City Recreation Ground have been made to help it win a Green Flag too. In order to determine what changes to make in pursuit of the Green Flag for Wash Common, we plan to carry out a detailed public consultation for local residents in Spring 2021, the scope of which will include reaction to the new trees.

Planning for 2021/22

I spent much of December working through the council budget for 2021/22 to prioritise what needs to be done and what we would like to achieve against the money needed to deliver it. We will be recommending the budget and resulting precept at our Policy & Resources committee meeting on 18 January, so I’ll be able to go into more detail next month.

November/December 2020

The Second lockdown

We have been very pleased that the regulations surrounding the second lockdown have allowed us to keep all our parks and playgrounds open, although we have had to close the tennis courts in Victoria Park. Once again we have kept the charter market open throughout and I’m delighted that we continue to have around a dozen stalls and more new traders coming to Newbury. Please do come and see for yourself on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Remembrance Sunday

The Covid regulations unfortunately prevented the staging of anything like our traditional Remembrance Day Parade and service. However, in partnership with the British Legion, we were able to hold a socially distanced wreath laying ceremony with representatives from many organisations and hosted a live video feed of the event for people to remember from home. Fingers crossed things will be back to normal for next year.

New play equipment

The latest playground to have benefitted from our strategic programme to replace all aged equipment is the one in Walton Way. There are now several new attractions including a ‘Calypso Boat, ’rotator’ and two ‘springers’ along with a new, rubberised surface which is made from recycled car tyres.

Britain in Bloom

The Britain in Bloom competition could not take place this year for obvious reasons, so we were delighted that the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has awarded Newbury with a Certificate of Recognition for the work we were able to put into Britain in Bloom. This is testament to our Grounds Maintenance Officer and the grounds maintenance team from Continental. The RHS also recognised the community spirit of gardeners at Carnarvon Place. Last year they won their category in Newbury in Bloom and were a key part of our entry for Britain in Bloom. I was delighted to be able to present them with their framed certificate.

October/November 2020

New café in Victoria Park

We have just submitted our planning application for the planned new Community Café in Victoria Park which is a major milestone – it’s taken a huge amount of work to get to this point. As well as a café for users of the park, this building will provide much needed public toilets, including a disabled access one with a specialist hoist. In addition, the building will deliver against our sustainability objectives with a large solar panel array on the roof and ground-source/air-source pumps for heating. The new café will be open all year round and will add significantly to the amenity of the park.

Victoria Park keeps Green Flag

We were delighted that Victoria Park’s Green Flag status has been retained for another year. The Green Flag is the recognised mark of a quality park or green space and demonstrates to the public that the Park boasts the highest possible environmental standards, is beautifully maintained and has excellent visitor facilities.

Diversity and equality

At our October Council meeting we were delighted to have presentations from the organisers of the BLM demonstrations in Newbury and also from Community United. Both gave us an insight into the challenges facing our BAME minority residents. At our next Civic Pride, Arts & Leisure meeting we will consider how we as the Town Council can best support their work in the future.

September/October 2020

Climate change

On 19 September, NTC held its second public climate workshop. We started with a report on our progress towards becoming carbon neutral by 2030.I’m delighted to say that during the first year of acting on our strategy, we reduced our carbon emission by over 26 tonnes (a 37% reduction) compared our target reduction of 7 tonnes per year. This is largely a result of investment in the Town Hall to improve the effectiveness of our solar panels and a focus by staff on reducing electricity consumption. Over the next three years we will be investing in more energy-efficient heating and lighting, improved insultation, secondary glazing and further solar panels.

We also launched our new Carbon Grants which are open to anyone planning projects that will reduce carbon emissions within the parish of Newbury. Recipients of the grants will present at future climate workshops so we can all learn from their experiences. If you would like to apply for a Climate Grant, please contact the Community Services Manager at david.ingram@newbury.gov.uk.

We also had three excellent speakers: Dr Sam Cartwright from BBOWT on Green Corridors; Robert Williams from Reading Buses on Carbon Reduction and Rural Transport Challenges; and Lois Ryan, a student, on Young People Fighting Climate Change.

Parks we can be proud of

Upgrading our parks is a key part of our strategy with significant investment planned over the next three years. Good progress has been made in City Recreation Ground this month: one side of the pathway around the park has been resurfaced with an environmentally friendly material made from recycled waste rubber, and a new MUGA has been installed. The Skylings play area has had a whole new suite of play equipment installed. And the surface around play equipment at Blossoms Field has been replaced with a safer, more durable material.

Grants for local charities

Twice a year, NTC’s Grants Committee meets to agree which local causes to support. It’s always both a sobering and uplifting session. I’m pleased to say we donated over £14,500 to 17 local charities which support those in need in Newbury and our contribution was generously matched by the Greenham Trust.

Charter Market

The Newbury Charter Markets on Thursdays and Saturdays continue to be busy with many new traders who have been attracted to Newbury since lockdown when it was one of the few markets to remain open. This month we said goodbye to Glyn Moyse who has been running his watch stall for 41 years.

Sandleford

Finally, we were very pleased that the planning application for the widening of Warren Road has been withdrawn. NTC had opposed it, believing it to be a Trojan Horse for the Sandleford Development which our Joint Sandleford Working Group with Greenham Parish Council strongly opposes (as discussed last month).

August/September 2020

Pedestrianisation

The temporary (since 1 June) 24-hour pedestrianisation of Newbury town centre came to an end on 31 August. NTC, in partnership with the Newbury BID, has carried out a shopper survey (with 460 responses) to assess reaction to the trial and to gather views on priorities for the future of the town centre. A summary of the findings can be found here. We have also set up a new Newbury Town Centre Working Group which will hold its first meeting soon, and will review the results of the survey to help set its priorities. We remain committed to our strategy of permanent pedestrianisation of the Market Place (with traffic able to go down Mansion House Street and on into Wharf Street and then Bear Lane).

Outreach youth worker

Since the elections in May 2019 it has been one of the central ambitions of the council to provide outreach youth work in Newbury. We are delighted that in August we finalised our partnership agreement with Berkshire Youth to provide 12 hours of outreach youth work every week for the next three years. We are also delighted that Berkshire Youth has now leased the Waterside Centre from West Berkshire Council and will begin refurbishment soon.

Climate change

The second key new part of the council strategy is to become carbon neutral by 2030. We will be holding our second Climate Change Workshop on 19 September. We will provide an update on our carbon reduction vs our target, launch our Climate Grant, and have three speakers to help stimulate ideas. The workshop will be held on Zoom and you can register your interest here.

Sandleford

We have been working closely with Greenham Parish Council via a Sandleford Joint Working Group. This group has met four times in August to scrutinise the latest planning application for Sandleford and report back to our Planning and Highways Committee. The all-party committee unanimously agreed to accept the recommendations of the Group and oppose the application on several grounds, including the poorly-planned access, environmental impact and whether or not the scheme is actually relevant to the housing requirements being discussed in the new Local Plan. We believe houses are needed in Newbury and in West Berkshire, but question the need for the destruction of a greenfield site when new opportunities are arising all the time for more residential property in the town centre and other brownfield areas.

 

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