Local News 15-22 October 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s discussions, Inkpen’s quill, Brimpton’s SID, Newbury’s café, Lambourn’s notes, Wickham’s fortitude, East Garston’s condolences, Compton’s scarecrows, Hermitage’s tree, Mortimer’s adoption, Ashmore Green’s pub, Aldermaston’s goodwill, Marlborough’s mops, Cold Ash’s llama (or alpaca), Wantage’s bear, Aldbourne’s frog, Chaddleworth’s clubs, Swindon’s limits, Sandleford’s refusal, Piggy Woods, local action, invisible foes, jetpack-man at LAX, LRIE, WAPC, SADS-Cov, CILs and Narnia, PoTUS immune and kissing, doing a runner in Wantage and Andorra, green bonds, property values, Lawnchair Larry, Dolly Parton, Paddington’s sourdough, a cougar, an ampersand, online reading and a drummer’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)

• The huge debate at the moment is how much Covid restrictions are useful compared to to the social, psychological and economic damage they cause. The government has, as expected, announced regional restrictions which, to some, look a lot like political ones, areas that are already economically depressed being singled out. In this case you have to follow the figures, as I hope and presume the government is doing in defining these levels. Burnley, for instance, has about right times more cases per 100,000 people than does West Berkshire. Is that fair? No. Should we do something to address this? Well, despite this unfairness, yes, if we don’t want it to spread. Would I accept similar measures of the figures were too reversed? I hope so.

• Not surprisingly, the front pages of the newspapers are filled with little else apart from this and the various predictions as to what another lockdown would have on our jobs, the economy, the need for future austerity measures and our mental health.

• The Health Secretary announced on 15 October that ‘local action is at the centre of our response.’ It’s good to have that finally confirmed. For many months the government seemed to feel that salvation could only be obtained through the intervention of new systems operated by companies such as Serco rather than through the local networks which had long existed for dealing with notifiable diseases. Of course, no system works perfectly: one person who would agree is a mother of six from Manchester who, according to the Daily Mirror, claims to have received 45 calls from the NHS test-and-trace telling her that she and the rest of her family, with whom she lives, have been in contact with each other. The paper quotes an NHS spokesperson as saying that ‘work is ongoing to improve the management of household,’ and that the approach so far ‘has been to favour over-contacting affected individuals rather than under-contacting in order to stem the spread of the disease.’

• Covid will almost certainly not be the last such battle we need to fight. It’s becoming very clear that viruses can and do jump species between the animals, including us, that are now increasingly thrown together on this planet. One that scientists are keeping an eye on is the charmingly-named swine acute diarrhoea syndrome coronavirus (SADS-Cov) which has been on their radar since at least 2017.

• I mentioned last week about the Great Barrington Declaration which appeared to suggest that libertarianism was a better solution that a brief period of national compliance. I’m also glad that the idea I proposed last week of having a clear on and off time seems to have attracted the attention of our leaders. I talked to a few well-informed friends recently and none was able to offer any clear understanding of what was going on with the stats nor what many of the policies were. As I suggested last week, it seems we’re binary: on or off, do or don’t do, is all we understand and all that can be enforced. Introduce grey areas, exceptions and circumstantial conditions and we either get confused or exploit them. Our society, unlike some like perhaps Sweden’s, not sufficiently aligned to nuances to an extent that will make any subtle variations work. 

• Covid has been with us for most of the year and, although it’s still very much here, it’s hard to visualise. The reason for this is obvious: we can’t see it. If the virus were the size of a golf ball, or even a fly, we’d all know where we stood. It’s the same with CO2. As I heard someone remark on a podcast yesterday, if CO2 had a colour, we’d have fixed it 50 years ago. Charlotte Hitchmough from Action for the River Kennet said the same thing about sewage overflows being dumped into the rivers: if this had been gas or oil leaks they would have been sorted in days. Brexit also has no physical shape but is merely an idea of problems to come. Conflicts like the Blitz in the 1940s, to which the Covid crisis is sometimes compared, was by contrast very obvious – the bombs or V2s could be seen falling and they generally exploded at once. The horrible reality is that the perils that now engulf us are unseen and do not have immediate consequences. 

• One thing that has a pretty immediate consequence for all of us is the US election. I do no understand why people need to spend the best part of the day in a queue to vote in advance. Nor do I understand who told President Trump that he was now immune from Covid. Someone did: ‘And now I’m immune,’ he told a recent rally, ‘they tell me I’m immune. I could come down and start kissing everybody.’ Let’s not go there.

• The strange tale of PoTUS’s Covid experience is looked at in this separate post. The author suggested at the end that the idea of a conspiracy theory could be rejected because surely the whole business would have been better planned. The awful thought has since been suggested to me that the reverse might be true and that this kind of PR incompetence is just what would have been concocted in order to make the whole thing seem real. Yes, I agree – I’m now completely confused as well.

• Greed is, along with fear and lust, a powerful human motivator. Few organisations display this better than large football clubs during one of their periodic attempts to reshape the organisation of the beautiful game in their own image. The latest scheme which was named, inaccurately, ‘project big picture’, was cooked up by Liverpool and Manchester United and involved abolishing half the competitions and having a strange two-tiered voting system that would have given the richest clubs more of a say. Imagine if we had a system in the Commons whereby the MPs for the richest constituencies had two votes, or a veto on anything proposed by anyone else? The scheme seems to have been dropped – for now. The plan was to have included a bale-out for the lower-league clubs like Reading and Swindon (with perhaps some dosh trickling down to the non-league level of the Thatchams and the Hungerfords) but that can surely be accomplished without this kind of arm-twisting blackmail. 

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News has, on p2, an article referring to West Berkshire Council’s property portfolio (in which it has invested about £62m thanks to the then cheap loans from the Public Works Loan Board) and the fears that Covid will make this fall in value: the paper quotes the Office for Budget Responsibility as predicting that 14% may be knocked off its worth this year. Most other councils will find themselves in a similar boat. Councillor Ross Mackinnon, the WBC’s financial portfolio holder, expressed himself unconcerned by this as the council was mainly interested in the rental income and was in any case planning to retain the properties for decades.

A couple of things strike me about this (aside from the general concern about councils investing in property on this scale at all as this isn’t really their primary area of expertise). First, if the value falls then this suggests a weakness in that part of the property market that is likely to be reflected in reduced rental income once existing contracts fall in. There’s also the question of defaulting. The paper reports that 17% of the rent owing in July and August had so far been uncollected, compared to 0% in the period from April to June. Councillor MacKinnon said that the average rental income period in those months nationwide was 46%: that, then, is the kind of figure to which WBC’s income might then fall. The other point is that, though he and his colleagues may currently want to hold onto the investment for decades, future administrations may not. There have already been calls for the fund to be invested in revenue-generating projects such as solar farms. Another type of property that would be probably more future-proofed than commercial and retail units are family homes in rural areas with decent-sized gardens and a good broadband connection: people seem to be snapping those up at the moment. Or it could use the money to build some social housing – something the private sector is unable to do – although the terms of the loan probably prevent this.

• A story recently caught my eye about an unidentified person who has twice been seen flying near Los Angeles airport (LAX) in a jetpack. The BBC’s report says that ‘it is not clear if either incident posed any danger to aircraft.’ By definition, the answer to that has got to be ‘yes’. Anything that might spook a pilot landing or taking off has got to be bad. This reminds me, as the music-hall comedians used to say, of the wonderful story of a man known as Lawnchair Larry, of San Pedro, CA. Larry had long wanted to be a pilot but his eyesight was too poor: undeterred, in July 1982 he took matters into his own hands. He strapped himself into a garden chair to which were attached 43 helium-filled weather balloons. On his lap, in time-honoured American fashion, was a CB radio, some sandwiches a four-pack of beer and an air rifle. Christopher Robin going off to discover the North Pole or Winnie the Pooh making his daring raid on the bees’ nest were almost better prepared. His plan was to float about for a bit at a reasonable altitude and, when he’d had enough, start shooting the balloons to make a controlled descent. What could possibly go wrong with that?

What in fact happened, when his friends severed the tethering ropes, was that he shot up to a height of about 16,000 feet and into the flightpath of LAX airport, something witnessed by the startled passengers of several passing planes. When he decided he’d had enough – which amazingly took 45 minutes – he started shooting out the balloons one by one before dropping the gun (which must have given someone an almighty shock). He gradually descended towards Long Beach but became entangled in an electricity cable causing a 30-minute blackout. Eventually he landed unharmed and was promptly arrested. “We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act,” an officer said. “As soon as we work out which part, charges will be filed.” He was eventually fined $4,000 (reduced on appeal to $1,500) for a range of violations. The authorities at LAX will probably even now be looking up this case to cite as a precedent – if they can catch jetpack-man, of course… 

• West Berkshire Council’s Executive meets on 15 October and one of the items up for discussion will be a plan to use some of the money arising from Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments to be spent, rather than exclusively in the parish where the development took place, with community groups ‘to use on local schemes’. On the face of it, this seems like a good plan and appears to be a recognition that these groups have been invaluable during Covid; also that the need for such groups is unrelated to the number of developments on which CIL was payable which took place in that parish. The detail of how these funds are applied for, how many rounds of bidding there will be and what the cap will be on any one grant are details that are to be agreed. You can read WBC’s statement on the matter here.

CIL payments (not to be confused with Section 106 payments which are negotiated agreements between the planning authority and the developer to help compensate for or mitigate aspects of a specific development) were intended to be a standard, simple and non-negotiable method of raising developer contributions. The reality is a bit different. The government’s guidance on its website runs to over 37,000 words, about as long as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As there are at least 100 links to other documents, it’s likely that anyone wanting to get the whole picture may in fact be taking on something akin to reading all of Charles Dickens’ novels. Large developers probably employ people who think about nothing else: but one has to feel sympathy for individuals who do a small conversion or built one or two houses on a plot and have to wade through this. The process, certainly in West Berkshire, appears to be inflexible with boxes needing to be ticked and other forms completed and work starting or not all in a specific order: one error can trigger a five-figure payment. The accusation has been made that the system acts as a trap for the unwary. Opinion also differs on whether a planning authority has a moral responsibility to help individuals navigate this maze. In 2018-19, West Berkshire Council raised over £3.7m from CIL payments. There are, I understand, about 20 cases in this kind which are in dispute in West Berkshire alone. Any future legislation based on the government’s white paper may help clarify these issues. Councils do have the power to employ discretion in how these and other charges are levied. One recent case (admittedly relating to council tax) affects someone called Mr Dominic Cummings who, according to the Northern Echo, will have to pay tax on two properties he owns in Durham but that these charges will not be backdated. 

2005 seems a long time ago. Well, it was: another world in many ways. The financial crash was still three years away. Tony Blair was PM and David Rendel the Newbury MP. West Berkshire Council was hung, with 26 members each for the Tories and the Lib Dems. In sport, the year was remarkable for the Ashes series and the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ in the Champions’ League Final. The trial of Saddam Hussein, Angela Merkel’s election as German Chancellor and the return of Dr Who all took place in 2005. The last act of the year was the addition of an extra second to help bring atomic time and solar time into closer alignment.

2005 also witnessed the first moves towards getting a large development built at Sandleford in Newbury. Originally towards the bottom of the list of possible sites, the site somehow did a Leicester City-like surge to the top spot. The centre point was re-designated to make it seem closer to the centre of town than it really was and 2,000 homes were allocated for it, something no actual plan for the site has come close to providing. In 2012 it was adopted in WBC’s core strategy where it has remained ever since. On 13 October 2020, however, the scheme was dealt a potentially fatal blow when WBC’s Head of Planning signed a decision notice refusing outline planning permission on the Bloor Homes part of the site: it seems impossible that a similar one will not be issued to Mark Norgate, the other developer. What has gone wrong?

There are many theories. In such cases it’s worth assuming that the first reason for objection in the decision notice (there are 14) is the most significant. This contained, as I expected, a withering summary of the problems caused by the inability of the two developers to get on with each other, leading to ‘numerous inconsistencies in the contents of the various submitted plans and reports.’ It gets worse. Point 2, addressing a slightly separate matter, refers to ‘inconsistencies, omissions and unnecessary duplication within and between the relevant submitted drawings and associated reports’. This has been a long-running problem which I understand WBC has done all it can to address, to no avail. The document continues for nine pages, listing seven core strategies and a number of other policies and objectives which the application has infringed. The problems and uncertainties caused by the left-hand-right-hand approach is a riff that runs through the document. It’s possible to conclude that many of these issues might have been resolvable, or never got to this point, if there had only been one developer. We shall never know.

One of these objections, point 5, refers to the failure to provide ‘an exemplar development regarding CO2 emissions reduction.’ This is obviously quite a new one for the developers, the climate emergency only having been declared last year, but it seems they have not reacted to the formalisation of this threat. ‘The proposal,’ the section continues, ‘fails to demonstrate a high quality and sustainable design or that it would be built to high environmental standards.’ (It’s a shame that this test were not applied to the Salisbury Road development in Hungerford, concerning which a representative of the developers earlier this year referred to things like solar panels as ‘toys’, but we’ll let that pass for the moment.) In this respect, this part of the Sandleford plans are described as being ‘anachronistic, unacceptable, inappropriate, inadequate and unsatisfactory.’ It would hard to pick the positives out of that. This is an aspect of life which has changed since 2005. WBC’s planning officers seems to have adjusted to it rather better than the developers.

There are a number of other aspects, such as to do with the destruction of woodland, which also would have tested less highly 15 years ago. This leads to an essential contradiction in the proposal which Peter Norman, a long-time opponent of the scheme, articulated in this post. In summary, the report from the Highways Department required more road access points but this would have resulted in more woodland destruction. The two competing (and presumably equal) needs are irreconcilable. There are other contradictions. The site was selected because it could provide more houses than it has ever been shown than in reality it can. The report does not feel that the site provides enough social-rent properties, another matter that has assumed greater importance since that extra second was added in 2005. There’s also the point that WBC doesn’t need the development – certainly not in this form – as it WBC can, according to the Planning Policy Response of 17 September 2020 ‘demonstrate a housing supply of 7.67 years.’ The same document says that it’s unlikely that any houses will be allocated to Sandleford in the forthcoming refresh of the Local Plan. All in all, it’s a poor return for all concerned for 15 years of work.

WBC could be faulted for allowing this to have continued for so long but it could be argued that some of the paradoxes and contradictions have only recently become clear. Any development on this scale takes time. The government’s white paper on planning suggests that such things should be done more quickly: however, if that were the case, this development that is now seen as unsatisfactory would probably now be nearly complete. What are the options?

The Planning Portfolio-holder Hilary Cole commented in the above-mentioned article that ‘if this site is not developed out, we would have to find another site in West Berkshire which will deliver the 1,500 homes allocated to it.’ It seems that the planning officers feel otherwise and that no such problem will arise in the next 7.67 years. Councillor Cole also does not refer in her statement to the problems that this development poses in these new circumstances. As with the London Road Industrial Area, WBC has invested a lot of time and effort in trying to get Sandleford to work. It now appears that it cannot, at least on these terms. The developers may appeal or that may consider whether they can adjust their proposals to meet this rebuff.

• The London Road Industrial Estate is never out of the news, particularly since the scheme has been revitalised with the appointment of new consultants to produce a masterplan and the accompanying public consultation. One of the unresolved issues involves Newspaper House, the former NWN headquarters, which was the subject of a Western Area Planning Committee (WAPC) meeting in February, at which crucial documents were not admitted as evidence and council exerts did not turn up to contribute. The peculiar nature of the meeting may have contributed to the fact that a decision notice was not issued by the officers: whatever the reason, the applicants then appealed on grounds of non-determination. HM Planning Inspectorate dismissed the appeal, confirming WAPC’s original decision. The original refusal was on the grounds of the site being in a flood zone, even though defences have been put in place; also that the applicant had not properly conducted a sequential test, an exercise by which it is proved that no equally suitable and less flood-prone site exists elsewhere. As Lib Dem planning spokesman and WAPC member Tony Vickers told Penny Post on 14 October, ‘what is the point of putting flood defences in place if they’re not going to carry any weight in planning decisions? The assumption seems to be either that they’re inadequate our that they won’t be maintained.’ 

The sequential test confuses me. I don’t see why the burden of proof should be on the developer to show that there are no other suitable sites: surely the planning authority is best placed to judge this? It should have all the information to hand. Some of their records might, admittedly, not be completely up to date: it seems, for instance, that the Environment Agency is particularly slow at updating its information on flood risks and supplying these to planning authorities (residents of Eastbury won’t need reminding that it took years for their flood scheme, to which the village had made a large financial contribution, to be added to official records so causing problems with home insurance). None the less, the test exists. If it were applied to other parts of the LRIE with the same rigour it’s surely likely that this would fail. This therefore seems to cast doubt on the viability of the whole scheme.

Another problem with the LRIE is the question of the football ground. This was closed in 2018 despite no replacement site having been found, a decision which many councillors must, at least privately, admit was a mistake. Although this is certainly in breach of the spirit of the Sport England regulations, to which WBC must adhere, it’s not technically in breach of the letter. In what seems an unfortunate piece of wording, the regulations say that a new site must have been found before development starts at the old one rather than that there should be a seamless transition of the facility from one location to the other. One can define ‘development’ a number of ways but I’m not sure it describes the sale or gift of the part of the stands to Hungerford, the removal of the perimeter fence by person or persons unknown and an arson attack at the dilapidated clubhouse, which have been the main changes the site has experienced since June 2018. The central problem, which the current masterplan and WBC’s brief for this do nothing to address, is that the council must provide a suitable ground; that it hasn’t been able to find one; and that the retention of the ground at Faraday Road or elsewhere in the site has been expressly ruled out. It’s not clear why the idea of a football ground is anathema in this part of town which currently is, and will remain, an area of mixed use. This issue, which is being kept alive by the Newbury Community Football Group, isn’t going to go away until a proper long-term solution is found. You can see the most recent comment from NCFG here.

• Meanwhile, work continues on developing this masterplan, despite these seeming flaws, WBC’s intention presumably being to have it sufficiently fleshed out to form a part of the local plan. This is expected to start its formal examination in May 2021. This is a long process and the local plan will not come into force until early 2023, round about the time of the next council elections. As work on the plan started before the last elections, that means that only every other administration has a plan that is even partly up to date: although whether anything that takes two and half years to prepare and a year and a half to examine can be called ‘up to date’ is debatable. If companies made plans over such glacial timescales they’d go bust. This is a national requirement so not WBC’s decision. The planning white paper proposes that this timescale be more or less halved but even that seems absurdly long. Surely a plan should be a set of quantifiable aspirations and policies which may need, with suitable scrutiny, to be amended from time to time as circumstances change. Brexit, the climate emergency and Covid – all of which have emerged in less time than it takes a typical local plan to be produced – are three recent examples. 

• The BBC reports that there were 78 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 5-11 October, 20 up on the week before. This equates to 49 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 89 (up from 62 last week). 

• West Berkshire Council is providing a special online reading project to address learning deficits caused by the lockdown.

• West Berkshire Council is calling upon local residents to nominate deserving individuals and groups for the Community Champion Awards 2020. Volunteer Centre West Berkshire and Greenham Trust have joined the Council to launch the scheme and are each supporting an award.

• The UK’s first ever local government green bond, for West Berkshire Council, has closed after reaching its £1 million target five days early.

• A reminder that the government’s white paper on planning has been published and you can see it here. This has been discussed at every council level, and doubtless a lot of other places, as it will have profound impacts on the planning system (that certainly appears to be its intention). It closes on 29 October. 

Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

• West Berkshire Council has developed a draft Cultural and Heritage Strategy ‘which sets out [WBC’s] 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 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 this cougar in Utah which had a six-minute stand-off with a jogger. Amazingly, he kept filming the whole time. It’s a strange thing that cougars do with their front legs when they’re about to attack you – I never knew they did that…

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes communications on the subject of the need for MP Laura Farris to challenge the government more, the new litter problem of dumped face masks, a plea to stop cutting down old trees, speeding on the A34 and strutting pheasants.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Macmillan Cancer Care (thanks to John Shatford); The SMASH Youth Project (thanks to the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund); Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice (thanks to the friends and family of Ron Hillyard); Thames Valley Air Ambulance (thanks to Ruth Saunders); Newbury Cancer Care (thanks to Paul Sievers); Young People and Children First (thanks to J Finance Ltd and HW Cleaning Services).

Hungerford & district

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

• As regularly as ever, the latest Penny Post Hungerford was published last week. You can click here to read it if you didn’t receive it. 

• There seems to be no obvious progress with the discussions between the developers and WBC’s officers about the details of the housing tenures at the Salisbury Road development, some aspect of which the developers wanted to change. Until something is announced it’s impossible to say what will happen next, nor when. Meanwhile, work continues on the site.

• 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).

• WBC’s Western Area Planning Committee considered several matters at its meeting on 14 October, one of which was Quill Cottage in Inkpen: the applicant wished to replace a bungalow of no particular merit with a two-storey house. The matter was debated and was approved by five votes to three. The officer then announced that they were referring the matter up to the District Planning Committee as it had area-wide implications. This being the case, this would surely have been evident as soon as the plans were submitted: why, therefore, did it need to go to Western Area at all? Councillors work long enough hours as it is and the debate of this application, to say nothing of the preparation time by interested parties and ward members, was a complete waste of time. More useful would be a time-limited session at the start of the meeting at which the officer could explain why this had been referred to to the District Committee followed by a brief discussion as to what the area-wide implications were so that everyone better understood these for the future.  

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

• Chilton Foliat’s defibrillator is back in a new box on the side of the Village Hall. The PC thanks all those who paid into the 100 Club to fund the new box and defibrillator’s repair.

• The most recent meeting of Kintbury parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 3 September and you can read the minutes here

• Click here for the October 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.

• We were very sad to learn that the Chairman of East Garston Paris Council David Ruse died earlier this week. He was a delightful man and one whose lifetime’s work in the public sector was put to excellent use not only when serving as a parish councillor but also in the battle to save the district’s libraries, particularly Lambourn’s. His humour, wisdom and experience will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with his widow Carole and his friends and family. The last time I spoke to him at any length was when I interviewed him for 4 LEGS Radio on 7 August – you can listen to the broadcast here.  

• The most recent meeting of Lambourn Parish Council took place on 7 October and you can read my report here.

• The October East Garston News has recently been published and you can click here to read it.

• Four sets of rumble strips (a wonderfully onomatopoeic phrase) were meant to have been installed in Eastbury – one at two entry points on the bottom road and two in the village itself by now – but this has been put back: WBC now says that this will have happened by the end of March.

• I mentioned last week that the Five Bells in Wickham’s on-site brewery, Wickham Ales, is now on-stream. The first available beer is known as Fortitude: I bought a four-pink container of this on Saturday for home consumption and it was very, very good. So too was the loaf of sourdough bread we bought. (We have now given up trying to make this kind of bread which requires levels of precision and patience that we do not possess. It also tends to make our kitchen look as if Paddington Bear has had one of his messier and stickier adventures there.)

• The most recent meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council for which minutes have been published took place on 3 September and you can read the minutes here.  A meeting was held on 1 October, the minutes for which will be available on due course. 

• The Great Shefford pub has put in an application for a single-storey farm shop and the application can be viewed here. The PC will be considering this application at its meeting on 5 November.

• The October Valley of the Racehorse e-newsletter was published last weekend and contains, as ever, the best and most comprehensive round-up of life in the upper reaches of the valley. Click here to read it if you didn’t get it. Matters covered include a new home for the Lambourn Junction, 4 LEGS Radio’s charity request-a-thon, Trindledown’s virtual bake-off, Lambourn ward member Howard Woollaston’s monthly report, the planting of some refutrees (yes, that’s a word now), Pat Murphy’s racing column, news from local organisations and businesses and October offers from the local pubs. Please email penny@pennypost.org.uk if there’s anything you want to contribute to November’s newsletter.

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.  

• 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 (not long now): you can read more here

Click here or here for the latest news from Lambourn Surgery.  Also, click here for details of volunteer marshalls who are required during the flu-jab sessions.

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.

• The apparent demise of Sandleford, at least in its current form, leads to what other sites in Newbury might be needed to provide the required number of new homes in the late 2020s. Here we run into a different problem. The ‘North Newbury‘ site near the Vodafone HQ has, as mentioned in this column on 1-10 October, suffered problems of its own. I do not fully understand why WBC was not able to insist on the phasing of the work (the order in which the various ingredients are built). The current situation seems to be that the local centre, which crucially includes the school, rather than being part of phase one (the first to be built) will now be phase five or six (out of seven) and will not be available until about 220 homes have been built (if then). The whole purpose of having a school on the site was for its local use. If people move in and the school doesn’t exist, parents will have to go elsewhere, probably by car. Once a child is settled in a school, parents are reluctant to change. The new school will open and will then be filled by kids from other parts of town who can’t get into their nearest school because the spaces have been taken. So, they go the North Newbury one, also by car. This seems to be a form of insanity that the planning system currently permits.

• Newbury Town Council is seeking planning permission for a Community Café in Victoria Park. The application has been submitted to West Berkshire Council and can be seen here (reference number 20/02294). The design proposals include solar electricity generation and air-source heat pumps for heating and also has a target to gain BREEAM Excellent and carbon neutrality for the design and construction.

• The excellent Watermill Theatre in Bangor has launched its ‘Full House’ appeal as it did not qualify for the government’s cultural recovery funding – this must have been because of some technicality rather than any failure in the quality of the shows it puts on. More details can be found here

• You can click here to read the latest monthly summary from Newbury Town Council Leader Martin Colston. The recent climate-change workshop, park upgrades and local grants have been among the items in his on-tray during September.

• 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. See the Across the Area above for more on the LRIE.

• Although the current consultation on the LRIE is due to end soon (see above) there will be other opportunities for individuals and organisations to make their views known. The organisation Newbury & West Berkshire (see below for more on the ampersand) has recently announced that it hopes to host an event, hopefully in the next month or so, for just this purpose: its property focus group in particular has been looking closely at the LRIE plans. ‘We are an independent, inclusive and collaborative organisation,’ N&WB’s CEO Robyn Brookes told Penny Post on 15 October, ‘and we want the event – indeed, our whole involvement in the project – to be an opportunity to look forward to what the LRIE can be.’ West Berkshire Council appears to be fully supportive of this plan. Further details will be announced soon.

Now – I promised to tell you about the ampersand. The organisation has hitherto been known as ‘Newbury West Berkshire’ which had the two main drawbacks of making it look like part of an address and, more crucially, making it seem as it it was only concerned with Newbury (which it isn’t). The decision to change this to ‘Newbury & West Berkshire’ may seem like a small step but it’s an important one in making its scope clear. The organisation, which has acquired a considerable extra momentum in recent months, has a useful role to play in acting, to quote CEO Robyn Brookes again, as an ‘independent, inclusive and collaborative’ voice in the area. To accomplish this successfully, N&WB may at times find itself agreeing, and at other times not, with the views and policies of other organisations. If this helps broaden debate and encourage other opinions to be expressed in a rational way, that’s a good thing.

• A reminder that you can see two responses to the 17 September 2020 planning-policy response from West Berkshire Council concerning the Sandleford soap opera by clicking here

• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council for which minutes have been published took place on 8 September and you can read the minutes here (scroll down to ‘Minutes 2020’: when clicked, the PDF will download). 

• 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.

Compton will be holding a Covid-safe scarecrow trail between 26 October and 1 November as alternative to trick-or-treating.

• The most recent meeting of West Ilsley Parish Council took place on 14 September and you can read the minutes here and scrolling to the foot of the page. 

• The most recent meeting of Brightwalton Parish Council took place on 14 September and you can read the draft minutes here

• The October Chaddleworth News has been published and you can read it here. Items covered include information from the Church and Schools, updates from the Gardening and Cricket Clubs, news from the Parish Council, a short history of the Lambourn Valley Railway, news from the Downland Practice and a touch of Halloween Baking from Trindledown.

• The most recent meeting of Chaddleworth Parish Council for which minutes have been produced took place on 16 September and you can read the minutes here. The most recent meeting took place on 6 October and 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 took place on 5 October and you can read the minutes here. Items covered include the problems of  litter and dog waste, the PC’s response to the government’s white paper on planning, the consideration of two planning applications and discussing possible locations for electric-car charging points in the parish.

• The most recent meeting of Hermitage Parish Council took place on 17 September and you can read them here. Items covered included three planning applications, an update on the neighbourhood development plan, highways repairs and a confirmation that the Clerk will soon be ordering the village’s Christmas tree.

• 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 East Ilsley Parish Council took place on 15 September and you can read the draft minutes here

• And, in the same village, the September edition of the East Isley Communicator (the 100th) has 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.

• The most recent meeting of Thatcham Town Council took place on 28 September and you can read the draft minutes here

• The NWN reports on p22 that the black-and-white orcas that separate cyclists from minor traffic in parts of the town will be reviewed for safety reasons. 

• Time now for the latest episode of The Tale of Piggy Woods. (for those of you not familiar with this, see this separate post). Three of the four plots – A, B and D – put up for auction earlier this week were sold for £11,000, £17,000 and £40,500 respectively (plot C was unsold): I suspect that this already represents a handsome profit for the previous owners. As well as the network of protections which have recently been thrown around the whole site, there are also a number of pre-existing covenants, obligations and restrictions on the land. All in all, these seem unwise investments for a development speculation (and with the hurdle of planning permission uncrossed) and rather expensive ones for recreational reasons. One possible advantage of the chunking down of the land is that this would appear to make development harder still as the owners would need either to consolidate or co-operate. With the recent example of Sandleford to mind (see Across the Area and Newbury above), WBC’s planners may not be minded to welcome any application which depended on co-operation between multiple landowners. The recent refusal notice for Sandleford also had much to say about tree felling, woodland destruction and habitat loss. The downside is that the currently four owners – which could rise to ten – might each have different ideas about how the land is to be used, managed and accessed. One obvious protection here is to support the tree preservation orders and ensure that the footpaths are formally adopted.

To help accomplish there you can (i) email trees@westberks.gov.uk and Lee.Dillon@westberks.gov.uk saying that you support the tree preservation order; and (ii) email Lee.Dillon@westberks.gov.uk if you are willing to sign a witness statement confirming that you have used any path in the wood at some point in the last 20 years, this being an essential step in establishing a right of way. If all these things can be put in place, this should result in the ‘development opportunities’ to which the prospectus originally referred being next to impossible to realise.

• This leads, as I mentioned before, to the question of whether this unpleasant surprise for the residents of Thatcham could have been prevented. All councils are obliged to have an asset register of what it owns. This page on WBC’s site appears to refer to the property but I’m not sure if it covers the land. This needs to be refreshed from time to time (again, I’m unsure how often). It’s been suggested to me that West Berkshire’s is perhaps not as current as it might be. However, if the council is only looking at the assets which it knows it owns, Piggy Woods would never have appeared. What it ought to do – and another thing I’m unsure about is if it does – is periodically to write to all the parishes saying ‘here is a list of the land and properties which WBC owns in your area – are you aware of any others?’ Thatcham Town Council would then have written back saying ‘well, you haven’t mentioned Piggy Woods,’ to which WBC would have replied ‘I don’t think we own that,’ whereupon the whole thing could be looked into and any protective measures put in place. Were this exercise to have been conducted at any time since 1997 this should have produced the answer as it was in that year that the woods should have been transferred to the then Newbury District Council, although it’s now clear that it wasn’t. 

• Further plans have been submitted for ‘the erection of 91 residential dwellings together with associated infrastructure and landscaping’ at Lower Way. You can see the documents here.

• This week’s NWN reports on p12 that the application to re-develop the former Sun in the Wood pub in Ashmore Green into housing have been withdrawn pending a re-think about the details. Neither Cold Ash nor West Berkshire Councils appear to disagree with the basic assumption that to retain it as a pub would be unviable.

Thatcham Festival is under way with a mixture of actual and on-line events. Click here for more information.

• The most recent meeting of Brimpton Parish Council took place on 6 October and you can read the minutes here. One of the items discussed was the closure of the Three Horseshoes pub. It was agreed that the PC ‘would inform residents via the email update that if there is any community interest in bidding for the pub and running it, they will need to come forward now before the sale process starts.’ One of the specific concerns mentioned was not the loss of a local watering hole but rather the possible loss of the car park which is used by people dropping off children at the school. The PC will also be purchasing a speed indicator device to share with three other parishes.

• 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 horse and an alpaca (or is it a llama?) and ends with Carter Crocker (whom I’d never heard of). 

Theale and district

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

• As reported last week, Councillor Graham Bridgman reports in his latest newsletter on the initial assessments for housing numbers for Burghfield and Stratfield Mortimer (although he reminds everyone that ‘things are somewhat up in the air’ as a result of the consultation on the planning white paper). He also stresses that ‘the requirements are indicative at this stage.’ His summary for the two parishes is as follows:

Stratfield Mortimer: the NDP includes an allocation for up to 110 dwellings, the allocated site has outline planning permission, and the first phase of development (28 dwellings) is progressing. Given the outstanding dwellings still to deliver, officers consider that there should not be any additional allocation in the plan period. It is however recognised that windfall development may come forward over the plan period.

Burghfield: the parish falls within the recently revised AWE Burghfield DEPZ and residential development is unsuitable in this zone. However an Offsite Plan is being produced and this may allow a limited amount of development – the housing requirement for Burghfield will be reviewed following the publication of the Offsite Plan.

• The most recent meeting of Theale Parish Council took place on 5 October and you can read the minutes here. Most of the discussion appears to have been concerned with planning applications.

• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 8 October and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included progress of the works at the Fairground, the adoption of the phone box, arrangements for Remembrance Day, the consideration of several planning applications and reports from the council’s committees. A fairly long evening’s work for all concerned, the meeting lasting two hours and two minutes.

• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 13 October and the minutes will appear here in due course (where you can already listen to a recording of it). The main items discussed included five planning applications, a report on the purchase of a speed indicator device shared with three other parishes, a discussion about improvements to the Recreation Ground, the plans for the two new footways along Frouds Lane and Wasing Lane and a request that WBC undertake the annual removal of vegetation in Fisherman’s Lane ditch – ‘WBC has no obligation,’ it was gently pointed out to anyone from WBC who might be listening, ‘but it normally does it as a goodwill gesture.’

• 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 265 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 6-12 October, 104 up on the week before. This equates to 53 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 93 (62 last week). 

Marlborough News reports that a local resident has started a petition to lobby for an improvement in the safety of the pedestrian crossing at the top of Port Hill on the A346, opposite the Common and the entrance to the Acres.

• The same source reports on the formal announcement of the start of the Mop Fair (even though it’s not taking place) in order to maintain compliance with the statute that grants the town the right to continue to hold the event. I think that who ever decides these things might in the circumstances have overlooked the oversight had the Town Council not done this – better safe than sorry.

• And still on the MN website, the Town Council has supported the development of the police station site, though with suggested conditions.

• The most recent full meeting of Marlborough Town Council took place on 7 September and you can see the draft minutes here. You can also click here to see the minutes of the much shorter Extraordinary Full Council meeting on 28 September.

Click here to see details of a consultation regarding the change of area designation for Marlborough’s neighbourhood development plan.

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

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

• The most recent meeting of Aldbourne Parish Council took place on 7 October and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the resolution of some parking-bay painting problems, updates on various maintenance works, speeding issues, and reports by various councillors and matters ranging from Thames Water’s response to water-infiltration to issues to weed spraying and from a damaged fence to a broken pump. A new frog bin has also been installed in the Claridge Close play area (which I imagine is one of those green bins with a wide-open mouth rather than a bin to keep frogs in).

• 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 87 CV-19 cases in the Vale in the week 6-12 October, 17 up on the week before. This equates to 64 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 93 (62 last week). 

• 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. 

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald looks, as so many of us are doing, at the current Covid-19 statistics and regulations.

• There is a bear in Wantage’s Market Place (the pub), that much is well known. In this week’s Herald, local historian Trevor Hancock looks at the history of the model bear on a pedestal that used to grace a pedestal there.

• The Herald has published these photos who are thought to have been ‘dine-and-dashers’ (I suppose it’s ‘lunch-and leg-its’ earlier in the day) at the above-mentioned Bear. The paper quotes the pub’s FB page as taking a charitable view by saying that ‘possibly unintentionally’ they left without paying. (A friend of mine decided to do a runner as it was then known when, in my distant youth, we were in a bar in Andorra. Unbeknowst the the rest of us he climbed out of the toilet window – these things always seem so logical at the time, don’t they? – but got his sense of direction all fouled up so he was on the other side of the building from what he believed. Instead of dropping down onto the pavement, he fell into a freezing cold river. Taught him a valuable lesson, I think. Me too: I never trusted him again.)

• The same paper report that the Vale Council is forecasting a £3.5m shortfall in its 2020-21 budget due to extra costs and lower revenue during the lockdown. Rather than cut services it has decided that, for the time being at least, if will cover this from its reserves.

• And still looking through the Herald, I see that the Vale and Downland Museum has a portrait of King Alfred – someone whose statue is certainly still in the Market Place, unlike the bear – made out of Lego bricks,

• The Oxford to Cambridge Arc is, according to this statement from the Vale, ‘a bold vision to create a global hub for innovation and green development that inspires communities worldwide.’ As mentioned two weeks ago, before this bold vision can be realised, everyone needs to agree what it is going to be called.

• You can click here to read Vale Council Leader Emily Smith’s recent statement to the Council.

• The town council has 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

• £8 million could be pumped into providing more affordable homes across South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse following Cabinet meetings at the two district councils this week.

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 15 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 October 2020 issue of the Letcome Register

• 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 59 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 6-12 October, 31 up on the week before. This equates to 42 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 93 (62 last week). This article in Swindon Link (published on 7 October) drills a bit deeper into the local figures.

• The Advertiser reports that there are growing calls for the speed limit in Swindon’s residential streets to be cut to 20mph across the board. Meanwhile, a scheme to improve road safety and ease congestion issues outside schools is being launched by Swindon Council.

• Plans to rejuvenate the arts in Swindon could be given a boost next week when members of Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet decide on where to build a new cultural quarter.

• Experts carrying out a condition survey of the Grade II* listed Mechanics’ Institute entered the building in hazardous-material suits this week as restoration plans continue.

• The next stage of improvement work at White Hart junction will see the A419 southbound exit slip road closed until late November.

• 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.

• Swindon Link reports that four Swindon parks have been chosen to host an autumn trail with a difference.

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

• A wide-ranging package of support provided for Honda workers in Swindon was among the items discussed at the latest national taskforce meeting at the end of September.

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. There’s an old muso’s joke (actually, there are quite a lot of them). Q: What’s the last thing that was said before the band decided to split up? A: The drummer saying, ‘hey guys, why don’t we try one of my songs?’ This one is a stunning exception – written (well, the music was) and performed (all except for the guitar) by the band’s drummer, Topper Headon: yes it’s the wonderful Rock the Casbah by The Clash.

• And now for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. This is another one from Big Train – Do You Speak English?

• And so it’s the last thing that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What happened yesterday and 900 hundred years before Mr Hurst’s most famous hat-trick? Last week’s question is: Who said “it costs a lot of money to look this cheap?” The answer is, of course, the inimitable Dolly Parton. Who else would dare?

Brian Quinn

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