Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Shefford’s meeting, East Garston’s clean-up, Thatcham’s monsters, Newbury’s cards, Lambourn’s opportunity, Hungerford’s taxis, Hermitage’s rubbish, Longcot’s pub, Donnington’s pub, Englefield’s venue, Marlborough’s cancellation, Cold Ash’s clouds, Wantage’s fundraiser, West Ilsley’s vacancies, Chaddleworth’s boundary, Ramsbury’s mosaic, Letcombe’s otter, Swindon’s lights, Sandleford, LRIE, the planning pentathlon, how to be world class, national projects, room for improvement, one for the theologians, ambition, hospitality, chalk streams, weeping at the bright water, Ms P’s CEO services, living outside, a low, 1984, 1966 and 1066.
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 country is, as many of you will have noticed, now divided into tiers with regard to Covid. England has three, the lowest of which ‘medium: Scotland has five, the highest of which is ‘four’. How these equate or overlap I couldn’t say. People in the borders must be in a permanent state of uncertainty and confusion not seen since the time of Edward I.
Information as to where is in what tier can be seen on the BBC website here (scroll about half-way down the post). The map of the areas in special measures bears more than a passing similarity to map of the results of the 2019 general election. Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and the PM have, it appears from The Guardian, been haggling over a difference of around £5m in support for Greater Manchester as a result of the tier-three lockdown that the region is now under. This is a sum of money that would not pay for an HS2 line between them if they were standing at opposite ends of the pitch at Old Trafford.
• As I regularly mention, Private Eye’s MD column on the pandemic is always a bracing read. In Eye 1533, the paragraph headed ‘learning from the best’ caught my eye. ‘To defeat a pandemic you need a world-class test-and-trace and world-class public compliance. We have neither.’ There’s more. One also needs ‘world-class levels of public fitness…health services…and a welfare state to help the long-term sick and unemployed.’ As the section concludes, ‘calling something ‘world class’ doesn’t make it so.’
• On that point, there appears to be an awful negative spiral in the way we fund our large-scale national projects which seems to follow a roughly ten-year cycle. If we spend a lot of money on them, the accusation is often that too much is ending up with managers and consultants who make the whole thing inefficient. Then cuts are introduced by a new government: somehow, these seem to affect (or so it is often portrayed) the front-line services, just as the previous increase in funding was hoovered up by the middlemen.
All in all, it seems impossible to reach a point of even approximate equilibrium where we can broadly accept that amount spent on, say, social services, the NHS, education or defence is acceptable in terms of what we get from it as a function of our needs and of its cost. There is always the sense that we spend way too much or way too little, or that the priorities are wrong, or that most of the money’s wasted, or (in the case of IT projects) that the whole was flawed in its conception, botched in its execution and delayed in its delivery. Can anyone think of a single piece of large-scale public expenditure in the last 50 years about which most people would say, ‘yes – that was the right amount of money spent on the right thing in the right way with the right results. Doubles all round.’ I can’t.
Another issue seems to be that the more self-evident something is, the less likely we are to fund it properly. The sums of money that could be spent on pandemic research and prevention (to say nothing of climate change) are minor compared to the social and economic cost of not doing so. There is little evidence this will change. Nationalism, geo-politics and competitive business practices are what drives our world. Co-operation is seen as a weakness, certainly by most of our leaders.
• The PM and Sir Patrick Vallance admitted on 22 October that there was ‘room for improvement’ with the test and trace system. This BBC article suggests that it’s going in the wrong direction: only 15% of people testsed in the week ending 14 October got their results within 48 hours, the lowest proportion since the system started. A delayed result makes the system almost useless. The system also only works if people who test positive then self-isolate correctly: Private Eye 1533 reports that only about 20% of people do.
• The US election continues on its strange trajectory. The combination of Donald Trump in post, a global pandemic and an election campaign which seems to last about a year has produced exactly the odd things that could have been predicted. It’ll all be over quite soon. And then…nothing will have changed. As Orwell predicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four, there will be three global powers in perpetually shifting alliances. How each leader gets elected – and the US system seems in some ways no less byzantine or flawed than those of Russia or China – the national interest remains the same. As the old anarchist slogan in the 70s had it, ‘whoever you vote for, the government gets in.’
• I’m sorry if you find me a bit downbeat about our planet’s immediate prospects this week. However, I’ve got that off my chest now so this part of the column will go uphill from now on.
• OK – let’s start off with a small but heartening pair of stories, one from Longcot to the west of Wantage and one from Donnington to the north of Newbury. I’m talking about pubs. It’s a sad fact that this column has reported many in this area that have closed in the last few years. Others may follow. You wouldn’t think that anyone would open a pub during a pandemic, who’ll you? Well, it happens: and there are some good reasons why both of these (and hopefully others) might succeed.
• So step forward first of all the King and Queen in Longcot, between Wantage and Swindon, which re-opened on 10 September last month under new owners, the previous landlords having closed the place as soon as lockdown was announced. We have some good friends in the village and went there as a purely social event last week – what a delight it was; great food, full, friendly and Covid-compliant. It’s all you want these days. I chatted to Markus, one of the two owners, today and he confirmed that although he and his partner Danni had worked in various capacities in pubs and kitchens, they’d never run a pub although it was always their ambition to have one. So far, Markus told me, they had had a few frustrating moments but no regrets. Opening a pub in a pandemic has got to take a special type of person. Go and sample it for yourself.
• Then, on Tuesday we ate in another pub, this time in Donnington: The Hartley Arms (some years ago known as The Three Horseshoes) which re-opened earlier this month. Another lovely meal. This is now part of the small Honesty chain which also operates The Crown and Garter in Inkpen, a cookery school and several coffee shops. Romilla Arber, who runs the company, is experienced at running hospitality outlets and told us that she ‘fell in love’ with this place when she saw it.
• Conventional wisdom might say that you’d be bonkers to open a hospitality venue at present. However, I can see that now the playing field is perhaps a bit more level. There’s a huge pent-up demand for a treat now and then after several months of cooking for ourselves or living off takeaways. People who do things that buck the trend perhaps get a bit more attention at time like these. If a place has been closed for six months, as the King and Queen was, that’s often enough time for people to forget about it and change their pattern of habit or desire so that they soon cease to remember that the place was ever there: perhaps Covid’s wholesale spring and early-summer shutdowns have given re-openers a bit of an advantage. I hope so. All hospitality venues have been much missed. Anyone who re-opens a long dormant one deserves a bit of special respect. Hopefully others in the area will follow their lead.
• In this shifting world there are not many things you can rely on: but I’d always thought that the Catholic church’s opposition to homosexuality was one of these. It seems not (or sort of not) following the Pope’s recent coming out, if you’ll excuse the phrase, in favour of same-sex civil unions. This seems to put him an unorthodox position, as his church believe that gay relationships are ‘deviant.’ He himself said in 2013 that although homosexual acts were a sin, being homosexual was not. This seems to make as much sense as saying that it’s OK to own a car but illegal to drive it. For nearly two millennia the Catholic Church has delighted in creating and then trying to resolve impossible paradoxes and in having abstruse, casuistical arguments with itself: all about what you’d expect when a large number of over-educated elderly men are cooped up together with too much time on their hands. If you believe that we are all God’s creatures then you must surely also accept that he gave us sexual desires and made some of us, to some extent or another, gay. To deny this would seem to be saying that we know better than God. This looks like blasphemy from where I’m sitting.
• A letter in this week’s Newbury Weekly News asks if our MP Laura Farris has ‘any independent thoughts’, the accusation being that she always follows ‘the Cummings/Johnston line.’ I’m sure she does but, given that she appears to be very ambitious, is probably too sensible to express them. This website suggests that she has rebelled on two occasions (the names of the debates mean nothing to me). One good thing about the US system is that you can’t be both a minister and in the legislature, so reducing this temptation.
• Speaking of Home Secretaries (I understand that to hold this office is one of Laura Farris’ goals), I’ve just had an unsolicited email from someone called Priti Patel asking if I need any web-design and SEO-optimisation services. Is there about to be a cabinet reshuffle? I don’t think I’ll be taking Ms Patel up on her offer. Any site she builds will probably be a bit lacking in grace and style and will probably have a feature to snoop on us, or for us to use to snoop on our neighbours. I also doubt her customer-service manner will be that great. As for the SEO bit, this will doubtless be outsourced to some outfit like Serco and will therefore register thousands of hits from people who turn out, on closer inspection, not to exist but for whom we’ll be expected to pay for…
• The BBC reports that there were 99 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 13-19 October, 33 up on the week before. This equates to 62 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 117 (up from 89 last week).
• This article from the Wiltshire Gazette refers to the increase of some kinds of rural crime, particularly thefts from farms and remote buildings, and has some advice as how this can be reduced.
• The Newbury Show, one of the major autumn events in the area was cancelled this year and next year’s has already been called off too. As this week’s Newbury Weekly News reports on its front page, this has put the already parlous fences of the organisers, the Newbury and District Agricultural Society, into an even worse state. One option being looked at is the sale of all or part of the 177-acre Newbury Showground. You could fit a good number of houses on that…
• Northcroft & Goldwell Park in Newbury and Holybrook Linear Park in Calcot have received the Green Flag Award for the 12th and 11th year respectively.
• 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. Nominations must be in by 20 November.
• 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, 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. 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 otter at Letcombe Brooke (see Wantage Area below). One of my most vivid childhood memories is going to see A Ring of Bright Water when aged about seven. Why this was deemed suitable for children I’ll never know (spoiler alert: the otter is killed in the final scene: it was perhaps the first time I remember something making me jump). At the end of the film the foyer was filled with howling or snivelling children, one of whom was me, and their guilty looking parents. The Exorcist by contrast, which I saw about eight years later, left me completely unmoved.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those mentions elsewhere, communications about trees, badgers, cyclists, farmers and dissent.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Prospect Hospice (thanks to Eclipse Labels); Threshold (thanks to TOG24); Macmillan Cancer Care (thanks to John Shatford); Parkinson’s UK (thanks to the recent fundraiser at Silchester); Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice (thanks to the family of Chris Williams); Francis Baily Primary School (thanks to the school’s PTA); numerous good causes (thanks to Greenham Trust).
Hungerford & district
• The October Penny Post Hungerford was published earlier this month. You can click here to read it if you didn’t receive it.
• I’m getting as bored with writing this phrase as you doubtless are with reading it, but here we go again: here 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. The longer this delay goes on, the more likely it is that the work (which is proceeding) will need to stop until these matters are agreed. Will it be clear if and when this point is reached? It’s possible to change something before it’s happened but rather harder to do so afterwards. If matters go too far then WBC’s only recourse might be to demand that any offending properties be changed or perhaps demolished. This would certainly lead to an appeal to HM Planning Inspectorate which, on past form, is likely to find for the developers.
• The new taxi rank in Hungerford by the station is now active. It seems extraordinary that a vehicle parking space can be approved by a railway company within weeks but that to move on a road (as might happen in the High Street) can take the planning authority as long as 18 months to accomplish.
• Hungerford currently has a vacancy for up to three Town Councillors – see here for more information. The posts will be filled by co-option (two were filled at the last Full Council meeting).
• The most recent meeting of 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 to 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.
• The most recent meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council took place on 1 October and you can read the draft minutes here. The meeting was dominated by three connected issues – the proposed improvements to the bridge, the bus shelter and planning application 20/02008/FUL (which you can see more on here) for the ‘erection of a series of 150mm x 150mm box selection metal posts to support six canopy panels of varying dimensions.’ The first two are works that The Great Shefford pub would like to carry out ‘at no cost to the Parish Council,’ as landlord Joshua Khan stressed at the meeting; the third is a planning proposal at the pub itself.
The various discussions highlighted a number of points about local decision-making including how representative it is to conduct surveys on Facebook, the differences that business people and councillors like to gat things done, the complexities of land ownership and fact that errors or omissions in planning applications can cause delays to decision-making.
The planning application was also considered. The main concern was if this would reduce the number of parking spaces (Mr Khan confirmed that it would not). The meeting agreed that ‘the traffic and parking issue is something that needs discussing as a separate agenda item at a future meeting and does not impact on this planning application.’ The conclusion was that the PC resolved to support the application. As with all planning matters in the district, the final decision rests with West Berkshire Council. The Great Shefford pub has also 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. It was also agreed that the discussion about the bridge and the bus shelter would be discussed at this meeting. Please email the Clerk Kim Lloyd on firstname.lastname@example.org for details of how you can attend this virtually.
• Another issue concerned the perennial issue of the sewage in the area, the matter having recently been discussed at the Lambourn Valley Flood Forum (LVFF) which the PC’s Chairman, Steve Ackrill, attended. The minutes record that Councillor Ackrill felt it necessary to remind the LVFF meeting that the downstream parishes of East Garston and Great Shefford also suffered from this. The remark seems to have its desired effect. ‘A new member of LVFF representing Thames Water (TW) then contacted Councillor Ackrill,’ the minutes continue, ‘to apologise and said he would visit Great Shefford and meet with Councillor Ackrill to find out what TW could do to try and fix the problem.’
• Some slightly aspirational support for this promise can be found in this declaration from a number of water companies, including TW, issued as a result of an online Chalk Stream Summit organised by the Chalk Rivers Action Group (CRAG) and also attended by environmental groups. ‘Thames Water vows to protect rare chalk streams’ was the headline from Thames Water’s press release on the subject. This seems to me to be about as self-evident a statement as the police vowing to catch criminals or centre-forwards vowing to score goals – this is what they’re paid to do and it seems spurious to have the re-affirmation of a basic job requirement turned into a good-news story.
The purity of our SSSI-protected River Lambourn (which the document didn’t manage to spell correctly) is relevant to the issue of sewage. The Environment Agency (EA) has the power to permit water companies to make permitted discharges into watercourses in emergencies, the logic being that this is better than having sewage coming up in people’s bathrooms. The accusation has been made that these discharges have, rather than being a last resort, started to become the norm, so providing water companies an easy seasonal solution to problem of sewer-pipe infiltration. If the water companies (and, I hope, the EA) is making a definite commitment to protect these rives, it must follow that these permitted discharges will reduce. That will, in turn, require TW and others to address the problem of the sewage network. Indeed, the statement makes the explicit promise that TW will ‘stop infiltration of groundwater and surface water into the sewer network. This will reduce the likelihood of the network being overwhelmed and excess flows entering waterways through combined sewer overflows.’ I can’t see a date (or a budget) for this but will be making enquiries.
• Councillor Ackrill’s water-based pronouncements at the above-mentioned meeting were not yet over. Residents will be aware that over £80,000 was raised for the parish’s contribution to a flood defence scheme (this is only the minority of the cost that the EA has estimated the work will cost). The fact that nothing has so far happened is because the EA requires a large provision for over-run costs to be allocated before the work can start. Great Shefford PC suggested some time ago that the work can be done far more cheaply if it were handled locally. The minutes reported that these discussions were still ‘work in progress.’
• The most recent meeting of Lambourn Parish Council took place on 7 October and you can read my report here. As mentioned several times before, the council currently has no website and I’m unaware of an immediate plans to rectify this. I thus cannot direct you to anywhere where you can get information about the various statutory documents such as the minutes of past meetings. In the meantime you need to use the form at the foot of this clunky page to contact the Clerk. Creating a website doesn’t these days need to take that long, particularly as there are so many models to follow from other parish councils. The position of Clerk carries legal responsibilities – one of which is the timely and accurate provision of the necessary information – so obviously the Clerk would be much involved in any discussions about their parish’s new website. I therefore imagine she’ll be quite busy at the moment so give her a bit of slack if she doesn’t get back to you straight away.
• As mentioned several times recently, there are plans for a development at Lynch Lane of between 60 (WBC’s policy) and 105 (the developer’s current wish) homes. If I were a developer, I would not want to build between 60 and 105 homes if there was a risk that sewage might burst up from the toilet or need to be pumped into the nearby chalk stream and, worst of all, that this risk might be widely known before the houses were sold. As the existing residents of Lambourn don’t want this either, this would seem to be a situation in which the interests of the developer and the community are precisely aligned. This problem has been in evidence for over a decade and the fact must be faced that so far the attempts of Lambourn PC, WBC, the sitting MP and other bodies to get the problem permanently fixed have not worked. A developer with a multi-million pound interest is a new player. It’s likely that this company has experience at dealing with organisations like Thames Water and the Environment Agency that the local organisations lack. It certainly seems worth exploring, if the matter of the number and nature of the homes could be parked and a united front be formed to get the sewage matter sorted. Whether there are 60 or 105 homes, the problems in Lambourn will clearly otherwise only get worse.
• The October East Garston News has recently been published and you can click here to read it.
• Sunday 25 October is village clean-up day in East Garston: meet in the Village Hall Car Park at 10.00am. There will be two skips available for the disposal of your excess household or garden waste which will be in the Village Hall Car Park for the whole weekend. Click here for more details.
• The October Valley of the Racehorse e-newsletter was published earlier this month 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. Please email email@example.com if there’s anything you want to contribute to November’s newsletter.
• The most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council took place on 2 September and the draft minutes can be seen here.
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• As mentioned last week, the recent decision notice from West Berkshire Council appears to have dealt a mortal blow to the long-running Sandleford development, at least in its current form. One of the major issues from WBC’s point of view was the presence of two landowning developers who were unable to agree on almost anything. The decision notice was only in respect of the large, Bloor Homes, part of the site: technically the smaller, Norgate, part is still alive although it’s hard to see how the detailed and numerous reasons for refusal could be applied to one part of the development and not the other.
One aspect of the Norgate partconcerns Warren Road, the developers having taken various steps over the years to adapt this for use first as an access road to the site and, subsequently, as a permanent access road to the development. Although the temporary grant for use of the agricultural buildings on the site for commercial purposes has expired and although the application to widen the road has been withdrawn, it now appears that recent work on this stretch of the currently unmetalled road includes tarmacing it: for what purpose? local campaigners are asking. Sandleford is perhaps not quite dead after all.
• All of this reinforces the impression that virtually any planning application tends to start with a complicated round of bidding, as in bridge, with none of the parties being completely frank about their real intentions while hoping to sniff out weaknesses in the positions of their opponents. That stage having been concluded with the grant of outline planning permission, the game then changes to a combination of grandmother’s footsteps, an ultra-marathon, a stare-out competition and a game of high-stakes chess. Most developers, and all planning authorities, will have several of these strange planning pentathlons on the go at the same time, all at different stages, some involving the same opponents. Many games go on for so long that the participants on any one side can change several times. The eventual winner will be the one who doesn’t get spotted moving their position, doesn’t stumble, doesn’t blink and doesn’t lose too many pieces.
• Page 4 of this week’s NWN is given over to the discussion of the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE) and the football ground at the latest meeting of WBC’s Executive. The headline is ‘council won’t apologise for £1m LRIE ‘blunder” and quotes Councillor Ross MacKinnon as saying that ‘I don’t think an apology is appropriate.’ On one level, he’s quite right. Apologies per se often accomplish little. An admission that the matter has so far not been handled very well would be more useful but that seems sufficiently self-evident not to need municipal confirmation. It’s also been accepted in the report produced earlier this year that there had been various problems, including the lack of a proper business case, poor record-keeping and a lack of sufficient project management.
Aside from the access road (which should have been provided by the developers, whoever they proved to be) and some quite large legal bills, the project’s only major contribution to the life of the town so far has been the closure of the football ground. Although doing this without finding a replacement was wrong on a number of levels, if one accepts (and many do not) WBC’s firm conviction that the LRIE development somehow depended on the ground being re-deployed, it made some kind of slightly mad sense then. Wind on two and a half years, however, with any development (if approved) and any new football ground (if identified) as far away as ever and this error of judgment becomes increasingly difficult to justify.
The ground has been allowed to dilapidate to an alarming degree, the logic possibly being that the less the site resembled a football ground, the more people would forget this is what it was (and, in law, remains). Something approaching asset-stripping seems to have taken place with the stands being carted off to Hungerford and the perimeter fence vanishing as completely and mysteriously as if abducted by aliens. The opponents of the closure, particularly the Newbury Community Football Group (NCFG), have proposed other solutions including, at the least, the return of the ground to some kind of temporary use. The recent Executive meeting, as reported in the paper, revealed some of the costs involved. The closure, it was reported, has so far cost £228,000, most of which (£191,000) was to convert the ground into a public open space. This contrasts with the estimate of £208,000 in 2018 ‘just to make the clubhouse fit for reasonable reoccupation’. (See this post for more on this issue, including a comment received on 22 October 2020 from the NCFG.)
These figures and statements make no sense to me. The NCFG denies that anything like that sum would have been needed to be spent when the ground was closed in June 2018 and the clubhouse was being used. (If the £208,000 refers to the costs later in 2018, by which time the ground had been allowed to deteriorate, the estimate might make sense: if so, it certainly puts a useful figure on the scale of decay which WBC permitted). The £191,000 figure seems even odder: the area was already an open space: better than that, it was a football pitch with tenants, spectators, stands and a clubhouse. As for the other costs of closure and demolition, I don’t understand why is WBC paying for these. These are surely matters the developer should be covering.
There is, however, no developer; there is no planning permission; there is not even a change of use. The football ground is, in law, still a football ground although WBC is behaving in every way as if it isn’t. No suitable other site has been identified, in contravention of Sport England’s policy and WBC’s own playing-pitch strategy (PPS) that this happen before any development starts. The demolitions and removals would surely have been enough, were planning permission to have been granted, to satisfy the condition that work must begin within three years of approval. It therefore follows that development has started (though without any permission) and that WBC is in breach of Sport England’s policy and its own PPS. Public money has been spent on destroying something of value and public benefit; more still will need to be spent on returning it to a less good version of what was there before; and all of this – if it is decided that the closure of the ground is indeed demanded at all – should in any case be spent by someone else.
• One infallible sign of the arrival of Christmas is the request by a mayor or an MP for help with designing their Christmas cards. Newbury Mayor Elizabeth O’Keefe has already issued her call in the form of a competition with three age ranges – click here for details.
• 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).
• A reminder that 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.
• Although the current consultation on the LRIE has ended there will be other opportunities for individuals and organisations to make their views known. The organisation Newbury & West Berkshire has recently announced that it hopes to host an event in the near future for just this purpose: its property focus group in particular has been looking closely at the LRIE plans. Further details will be announced soon.
• A reminder that you can see three reactions 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Click here for the latest NTC News from Newbury Council.
Compton & Downlands
• Latest news from Hampstead Norreys Parish Council, Compton Parish Council, Ashampstead Parish Council, Beedon Parish Council, Chaddleworth Parish Council, Brightwalton Parish Council, The Peasemore Village website, West Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.
• 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 same PC has a vacancy for a councillor and for a clerk.
• 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.
• The most recent meeting of Chaddleworth Parish Council took place on 6 October and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included playground repairs, the re-surfacing of the village hall car park, a discussion about a property boundary and the co-option of a new member.
• 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.
• The most recent meeting of Hermitage Parish Council took place on 17 September and you can read the minutes here.
• This week’s NWN reports that 20 bags of rubbish were collected at Hermitage’s recent community litter pick.
• 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
• Following the success of the Summer Monster Hero Safari, Thatcham Town Council is delighted to present Monster Villain Safari between Friday 23 October and Sunday 1 November. More details can be seen here.
• The most recent meeting of Thatcham Town Council took place on 28 September and you can read the draft minutes here.
• As mentioned last week, the black-and-white orcas that separate cyclists from minor traffic in parts of the town will be reviewed for safety reasons.
• The Tale of Piggy Woods has been mentioned in this column several times. (for those of you not familiar with this, including the action that you can take, see this separate post). I’ve been thinking about how the situation where a parish council wrongly believes that the district council/unitary authority owns a particular bit land (or vice versa) could be avoided and any problems like this thus anticipated. Every council needs to retain an asset register. I asked WBC how it did its one and was told that ‘it is updated to react to any acquisition or disposal’; also that ‘the council concentrates on what the council owns rather than doesn’t own.’ This is fine as long as (a) the council’s records are accurate and (b) there is no one acting or refraining from acting in the belief that the council does own it. Both of these proved incorrect assumptions in this case.
Firstly, the land should have been transferred to Newbury District Council, as was, in the 1990s and thence to WBC, but this didn’t happen. Secondly, Thatcham PC believed that WBC owned it. This could all be dealt with if WBC periodically contacted all its parishes and said ‘ ‘this is what we reckon we own in your parish – do you think differently?’ In the case of Piggy Woods, this should have prompted Thatcham TC to write back and say, ‘Piggy Woods isn’t on the list.’ WBC would then have said, ‘we don’t own it,’ whereupon the actual ownership could be researched and any necessary protections put in place in good time. As this doesn’t seem to happen, it would be more accurate to for WBC to have said that ‘the council concentrates on what its own records show it owns’, which is not the same thing. An occasional exercise like this would have had four chances to pick this up even if it were only done once every five years. Exactly the same issue happened a few months back in Grove in the Vale. It’s impossible to believe these will be the only ones.
• 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.
• The most recent meeting of Brimpton Parish Council took place on 6 October and you can read the minutes here.
† The most recent meeting of Cold Ash Parish Council took place on 22 September and you can read the minutes 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 some slightly messy clouds and ends with Terry Pratchett. It also has information on how to join the next meeting of Cold Ash Parish Council at 7pm on Tuesday 27 October.
Theale and district
• The most recent meeting of Theale Parish Council took place on 5 October and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Englefield Parish Council took place on 8 October and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included the consideration of one new and two amended planning applications, an update on the Community Venue and parking and traffic problems.
• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 8 October and you can read the minutes here.
• 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
• The BBC reports that there were 315 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 12-18 October, 64 up on the week before. This equates to 63 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 108 (93 last week).
• Marlborough Town Council has made ‘the disappointing but inevitable decision’ to cancel plans for a Christmas Market in the High Street on Friday 20 November.
• Marlborough News reports that the Remembrance Day commemorations, due to be held on November 8 this year, have also been cancelled.
• The same source reports that, despite Covid restrictions, Action for the River Kennet (ARK) is continuing to work in innovative ways to connect local school children to their rivers through its Water Matters project with Zoom classes, workshops and trips to the river where possible.
• 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 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 (closing 15 November) 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 (these only take place on odd, not even, months) took place on 10 September and you can read the draft minutes here.
• Marlborough News scribes how pupils in Ramsbury have been creating a spectacular wood mosaic for school playground with the help of artist Zac Newham.
• The most recent meeting of Aldbourne Parish Council took place on 7 October and you can read the minutes here.
• Click here for a list of current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.
Wantage & district
• The BBC reports that there were 97 CV-19 cases in the Vale in the week 12-18 October, 14 up on the week before. This equates to 71 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 108 (93 last week).
• The Vale Council has reported that Oxfordshire is getting close to being moved up to the Covid tier 2 (high alert). Moving to a high alert level would mean that residents could not socialise with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place.
• We’ve referred to the diary that the Head of John O’Gaunt School in Hungerford, Richard Hawthorne, has been keeping, detailing his and his school’s reactions to the evert-changing Covid regulations and guidance. Here’s another, from the Head of Wantage Primary School, Andrew Browne.
• 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 at the continuing rise in house prices in the area, fuelled in part by people wishing to move to somewhere where they can work from home rather than as a place to commute from, which is making it still more difficult for people such as local key workers to afford s home. She also points to a potentially disastrous aspect of the proposed changes to the planning system whereby developers won’t be required to make their financial contributions (CIL or S106) until after the development is finished. This will have three unwelcome results: it will make it all the more likely that infrastructure like schools and surgeries won’t be built until the last stage of the project, when they should be the first; it will given developers more time to reduce the payments through viability assessments; and it will make it more likely that the developer may have gone bust by the time the payments are due.
• This week’s Herald has, on p7, an article about the indefatigable Wantage fundraiser, Ray Collins. His charitable trust has pledged to deliver Christmas hampers ro elderly and vulnerable people in the town this year.
• 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 Wednesdays – click 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.
• If you want to see a particularly sleek otter doing it’s stuff, here’s a lovely bit of video by Mark Bradfield of one at Letcombe Brook. As he points out, they are particularly fond of eating American crayfish, one of our major riparian pests.
• 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 Letcombe 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 167 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 13-19 October, 73 up on the week before. This equates to 75 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 117 (93 last week). This article in Swindon Link (published on 7 October) drills a bit deeper into the local figures.
• Swindon Link reports that Swindon’s Cabinet has approved plans for Cultural Quarter in the town centre
• 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.
• You may not notice an immediate difference, but all of Swindon’s traffic lights have been upgraded to use energy-efficient LED bulbs.
• Swindon has been awarded funding for new electric vehicle charging points.
• An ambitious plan to make Swindon Borough Council carbon neutral within 10 years has been presented to the town’s councillors.
• 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.
• Funding is now in place for a key link road, which will form an important part of Swindon’s New Eastern Villages (NEV).
• 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, we are at the Song of the Week. Time for a bit of Britpop, I think: Blur’s This is a Low ticks that box.
• And here’s the Comedy Sketch of the Week. I’m not sure it counts as comedy. In fact, it certainly doesn’t. All of this man’s stuff does have some humorous aspects, often of a fairly bleak kind. Stronger terms (including creepy, sinister, surreal and unsettling) have also been used. Here it is: Living Outside from Chris Morris’ series Jam.
• And so it’s the last thing that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: Which is the world’s longest international border? Last week’s question was: What happened yesterday and 900 hundred years before Mr Hurst’s most famous hat-trick? Last week’s column was written on 15 October, so yesterday was 14 October. Mr Geoff Hurst’s (Sir Geoff’s, actually) most famous hat-trick was in the 1966 World Cup Final: wind back 900 years and you get to 14 October 1066 which was, of course, the date of the Battle of Hastings.
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