Local News 29 October to 5 November 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including East Garston’s clean-up, Shefford’s 5G, Thatcham’s auction, Newbury’s centre, Lambourn’s orchard, Hungerford’s parking, Marlborough’s petition, Savernake’s walks, Cold Ash’s memorial, Wantage’s facilities, Aldermaston and Burghfield’s precautions, Hamstead Marshall’s ghosts, Hampstead Norreys’ fruit, Winterbourne’s arms, West Ilsley’s vacancies, East Ilsley’s net, Swindon’s patrols, a cashless life, stats, schools, Covid trends, Labour-baiting, bells, newts, holidays, remember from home, Marcus Rashford, Abraham Lincoln, Lynne and Lee, LRIE, HS2, Vietnam, a nuclear emergency, botox from the soapbox, 5,556 miles, ash trees, world toilet day, TV lizards and that’s enough.

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)

• It appears that one of the casualties of Covid-19 might be cash, with some outlets now refusing to accept notes and coins on the grounds that they could spread the virus: well, they certainly can, with Covid much preferring life on smooth, inert surfaces like banknotes rather than rough, organic ones like vegetable samosas. Although the virus might survive on plastic banknotes for up to a week, the risk will decline: so after a few days it’s probably pretty safe if you wash your hand and disinfect your own notes and coins at home. For shops, the problem is a bit more complex but surely not insuperable.

Contactless payment solves this problem but creates others. I now tend to do most of our shopping in Hungerford on Wednesdays when there’s a market, so my purchasing habits have rarely been more predictable. A few months ago, this didn’t stop my bank from cancelling my card on the grounds of ‘suspicious transactions’ – as I discovered after an hour on the phone – even though these were to just the same retailers, for the same sort of sums, at the same sort of time and on the same day of the week as had been the case for months. As a result, I now use the chip-and-pin option more frequently, if I don’t pay by cash, as my bank seems less worried by this. This means that I, and the retailer, need to handle the device. I’m not sure how frequently these get sanitised.

• Nor am I sure about some of the latest figuresDaily Covid-19 cases on 1 May were 5,000 whereas in late October they are about 22,000 (although this report from Imperial College on 29 October suggests that the actual daily infection rate is about four times higher). Deaths on the same two dates were 100 and 200 (all figures approximate). This superficially suggests that our survival chances now are about 20 times better than in the early summer which doesn’t make lot of sense. Testing has, of course, increased, but only by about seven-fold, in this time. Many other things – including what is meant by a Covid-19 death, which ones are recorded and who are tested, as well as the efficacy of the tests themselves – have also changed during this time. Are we better equipped to deal with the virus now? Everywhere from corner shops to care homes now have precautions in place. We’re washing our hands more. Treatments and steroids are now reducing mortality. There are more likely treatments coming down the line. It’s perhaps worth having a lockdown if this is likely to buy more time for the science and for the further modification of our behaviour.

Many disagree. The UK press is, as one would expect, divided between those which point to European examples and the statistics to suggest that another lockdown is inevitable and those which claim that this would be a disaster for social and economic reasons.  The economic and societal impact – to say nothing of the delays in screenings and treatments for other conditions such as cancer – could perhaps, over a 10-year period, cause more deaths than Covid. Others, like the governments in Wales and France, prefer to concentrate on the immediate battle. You can have a glance at these tables from Worldometer and see how any country you pick is doing on a number of measures (the caveat always being that different countries record things in different ways).

One country I keep an eye on is Vietnam, where our son Adam has been since February. Its population is about 600 times larger than that of West Berkshire, where he would otherwise have been stuck, but has almost the same number of reported infections (1,173 there v 996 here) and about four times fewer deaths. This is a country that has faced a number of existential threats in living memory, ranging the the might of the US military to SARS and MERS, from which it seems to have learned more lessons than we have. You can read Adam’s summary of his nine months away here.

• A larger question, which was suggested to me yesterday by a scientist who works closely with epidemiologists, is the wisdom of the currently sacred axiom that the schools should at all costs re-open. While it’s true that children tend to suffer less from Covid, they are probably the primary means of spreading this and other viruses between families. The fact that they are often asymptomatic makes them all the more effective at this. Whether parents could cope with another two terms of home-schooling is another matter. (Boarding schools, for those that can afford them, suddenly make a bit more sense…)

As I was writing this, the latest monthly diary from the Richard Hawthorne, the Head of John O’Gaunt in Hungerford, dropped into my inbox (the post will be updated soon to include this) so I thought I’d ask him what he thought. “I’m not sure about the science,” he conceded, “but can without doubt say that, despite all the guidance and efforts, young people find social distancing very hard so there is no doubt that transmission would be easier among them.”

As for the question of whether remote education was a satisfactory solution, he was more certain. “I don’t personally favour remote education,” he said, “as it has so many pitfalls for learning and for young people. Tracking and assessing it is the hardest thing. Nearly a quarter of our roll at JOG don’t have adequate IT provision in their homes. For some families, finding enough space for everyone to work (including the parents working from home) would be well-nigh impossible. The impact on the most disadvantaged is becoming ever more apparent as we’re unpicking the affects of the national lockdown. I think this would only widen the gap between the haves and have-nots.”

His last point echoes that felt by many: Covid has accelerated several trends that were already in evidence, including a greater awareness of interconnectedness with the natural world, online shopping, remote working and an increasingly important role for local community groups. Many of these will prove to be good things. The acceleration of any divisions of wealth or opportunity in our society certainly will not.

• The Labour Party’s long-running internal anti-semitism debate returned to the front pages today with the news that former Leader Jeremy Corbyn has been suspended from the party for refusing to retract a statement claiming that the scale of the problem had been ‘dramatically overstated.’ This seems like rather a fatuous remark to me as the issue has been live for a decade or more. This suggests either that it was a real problem or that it wasn’t being handled properly (or that people thought it wasn’t, which comes to the same thing in politics). Before the Conservatives start enjoying themselves too much with Labour-baiting, this article in The Guardian points out that ‘almost half of Conservative party members believe Islam is a threat to the British way of life,’ and refers also the PM’s refusal last year to hold an inquiry to look into Islamophobia in his party.

• What Boris Johnson’s views on Islam are I do not profess to know. He does, however, seem to have it in for newts and for those who monitor the health of these and other aspects of our wildlife. ‘Newt-counters’ were singled out by our leader in late June as being one of the obstacles to the smooth-running of the planning system: them, of course, and the moribund planning authorities. The private sector, or so the recent White Paper strongly implied, is throbbing at the kerb for these and other restraints to be release so it can leap into action and provide, almost overnight, all the homes we so badly need. The fact that most planning applications are passed and that one of the main reasons for delays is caused by developers themselves sitting on land or permission until the commercial planets are aligned in their favour is ignored.

As for the poor newts and those who count them, I was reminded of BJ’s outburst when reading the latest Issue of Positive News, whose editorial stance is exactly what its name implies. On pp42-47 there are three articles about naturalists who were probably the kind of people our leader had in mind. One of those interviewed, RSPB Ecology Supervisor Chris Dieck, makes the point that there is much evidence that a healthy natural environment ‘ultimately serves our best interests.’ 

• The same publication, and many others, also refers to the unlikely stand off between the PM and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford over the question of free school meals during the holidays. I can see both sides of the argument, the government believing that the existing system can, if filled with enough fuel, provide what is needed; the campaigners claiming that many are falling through the system’s cracks. Some councils appear to be better resourced than others to deal with this, which leads to the accusation that it’s a postcode lottery. Exactly the same charge can be levied against voluntary groups and the many private organisations which have stepped forward to offer help.

I asked West Berkshire Council’s leader Lynne Doherty (who herself comes from a background in the voluntary sector) where her council stood on the matter, with particular reference to the funding during the December holidays. “WBCs’ current policy is to provide a holistic approach by assessing the needs of each family to ensure the right level of support is offered,” she told us. “This may be direct access to food through our partnership arrangements, information on welfare and benefits, support with Council Tax Relief, signposting to other relevant council services and external support, and we have an emergency grant for food and essential supplies that partners can make a referral to us for.”

I asked whether she shared the concerns expressed by the Opposition Leader Lee Dillon that this help would not, under this approach, reach those who needed it. She told us that the Council and its partners “knew exactly who these children are” and so was confident that this was not a risk, although conceded that “these were fast-moving times.” She also said that WBC had recently received over £960,000 as its fourth round of Covid funding from the government: this was not ring-fenced and “we will now be looking at how we can use this money over the Christmas period to offer any additional support needed.”

Finally, I suggested that the fact that an article Penny Post produced on the subject of free kids’ meals over half term received about 150 views in its first day suggested that many people were unaware of the official arrangements or, for whatever reasons, didn’t want to avail themselves of them. “I accept the point that our support specifically for anyone in financial difficulty may not have been widely known about and have attempted to rectify this yesterday [ie 26 October],” she replied, adding that she was confident that the partners WBC was working with were expert in the matter. “The amount of communications we have been doing over the last few months have been extensive,” she concluded, “but there is always more that we can do.” Here is WBC’s latest communiqué, relating to this half term.

The above-mentioned Lib Dem leader, Lee Dillon, had written to Lynne Doherty on 23 October saying that WBC needed to “act now and secure the ability for families to feed themselves over Christmas,” and said that his party planned to call an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Full Council on 10 November “so that Council can debate how we support those most in need.” He also claimed that “The failure by the government (and the three MPs that cover West Berkshire) to support the recent motion in Parliament means we are required to stand up and protect those that the government will not.” He pointed out to Penny Post that WBC “should be going directly to these families now,” rather than waiting to be approached. He referred to the embarrassment which often attends asking private organisations for help – even if they have offered it – and went on to question how long such hospitality outlets could step up for. He also mentioned initiatives which the Lib Dem council in Portsmouth has put in place on this issue. 

• I mentioned above about our son Adam’s travel to Vietnam which include good experience of using the services of Fare Wise Travel in Hungerford. This seem a good opportunity to mention the Holiday To Help Out scheme, an initiative organised by travel media business TTG, supported by companies from across the UK travel industry, to excite customers about holidays and to highlight a large number of exceptional offers. These are offers available for bookings made between 2-8 November and through travel agents only. There are currently over 100 offers available from various tour operators which range from cruises to city breaks, from honeymoons to adventure trips and from golf holidays to group tours. Fare Wise’s owner Veronica Bailey and her team have a wealth of experience about the travel industry – and expert knowledge, help and guidance has never been more important than at present. You can contact her on 01488 686 858 or hung@farewise.com

• It seems that HS2, faced with the choice of building a railway line in a slightly different place (or not at all) or moving a number of ancient woodlands has decided to go for the latter option. I asked one of WBC’s Green Party councillors, Carolyne Culver, what she thought of this idea. “The concept of translocation of soil is an insult to people’s intelligence,” she said. “You can’t grow ancient and established woodland, which provides habitat wildlife, from some soil you’ve moved. HS2 should stop bullshitting people and tell the truth. This infrastructure project is more important to them than the natural environment.” Sounds like a big thumbs-down to me…

• The BBC reports that there were 144 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 19-25 October, 57 up on the week before. This equates to 91 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 147 (up from 117 last week). 

• See p15 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News for portfolio holder Graham Bridgman’s assessment on how well prepared care homes are for a second Covid-19 outbreak. 

• 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.

• West Berkshire Council is to implement a support plan that will help residents and businesses to contain the spread of Covid-19, funded by the Government’s Covid Marshall Grant.

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 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 animals of the week are all those newts, and their counters, that BJ was so nasty about (see paragraph above). 

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include communications about the LRIS and the football ground in Newbury, municipal ethics, a stolen walking stick, light aircraft, bike bells and (occupying a third of the section) free school meals.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Tourette’s Action (thanks to Thom Read); Kennet School (thanks to its PTA); The Pink Place (thanks to Caroline Nash); elderly people in Wantage (thanks to the Ray Collins Charitable Trust).

Hungerford & district

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

• The November Penny Post Hungerford will be out on Tuesday 3 November. Email penny@pennypost.org.uk if there’s anything you want to have included.

Click here for information about the Remember from Home events which, due to Covid, will be replacing the normal Remembrance Day services on 8 November in Hungerford (and elsewhere).

• This will, as ever, include a report on the next Full Meeting of Hungerford Town Council which will take place virtually at 7pm on Monday 2 November. You can see the agenda here: this also includes a Zoom link should you wish to attend it. Members of the press and public are excluded from the Part Two discussions at the end of the agenda.

Still no news about 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. 

• Click here for news of the new taxi rank at Hungerford station.

• The temporary Oakes Bros car park at the station has now been closed off with the loss of about 100 spaces. This either suggests that the development is about to start in earnest (although there is no evidence of this) or that the owners wish to demonstrate that work has begun: even doing so to this small extent should be enough to ensure that the planning permission is extended (this lapses if no work has been started within three years of the permission being granted, by July 2021 in this case). Given the currently low rail usage, this is unlikely to be a problem at present. See this post for more on the long-running issue of car parking and other improvements at the station with which Hungerford Town Council has been grappling for several years.

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

• The most recent meeting of 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

• 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.

• There are plans for a community orchard in Lambourn with some fruit trees already having been gifted by West Berkshire Council. The next two questions are therefore where they will be planted and who will look after them. See here for up-to-date information from the group’s recently-established Facebook page. Councillor Sue Cocker will be providing an interim update on progress at the Parish Council meeting on 4 November (see below). 

• The most recent meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council took place on 1 October and you can read the draft minutes here. (You can see some thoughts on what passed in this section of last week’s column.)

• A small item on p20 of this week’s NWN reports that Great Shefford now has 5G coverage – at least until protestors tear down the mast, as has happened elsewhere.

• The most recent meeting of Lambourn Parish Council took place on 7 October and you can read my report here. The next meeting will take place on Wednesday 4 November at 7.30. Please email the Clerk, Karen Wilson, at lambournpc@btconnect.com if you would like to attend virtually and she can send you the Zoom code. 

• Well done to everyone who took part in East Garston’s annual clean-up last weekend, organised by the Parish Council. 

• The November Valley of the Racehorse e-newsletter will be published next week. Please email penny@pennypost.org.uk if there’s anything you want to contribute.

• The most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council took place on 2 September and the draft minutes can be seen 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.

• Click here for news of a few of the things that have been in Newbury Town Council Leader Martin Colston’s in-tray this month.

• Few things are sadder than 1970s shopping centres which have experienced the defection of key retailers, competition from a newer and glitzier rival, a decline in footfall and a lack of investment. The Kennet Centre has ticked all these boxes for some years. In January 2020, however, the centre was bought by Lochailort which since then has been working, together with the asset managers Rivington Hark, to effect some serious changes. The initial plans – which includes a new name, Eagle Quarter, after the Eagle Iron Works which was formerly on the site – have recently been revealed and can be seen here, as well as in a display in the Kennet Centre itself.

The scheme is described as “one of the first ‘shopping centre to town centre’ regeneration initiatives in the county, designed specifically to address the changing landscape of our high streets and breathe new life back into this important part of the town centre.” Please make your comments by 13 November. This is not an official consultation: however, Lochailort’s Planning Director James Croucher told Penny Post on 29 October that the opinions received “will be influential” in shaping their final views. He hopes that planning permission will be applied for by the end of the year although this will depend on what comes out of the consultation.

The plans currently include offices, a range of retail premises, new streets and spaces and – crucially – 400 homes. My first question to Lochailort was whether these would be created under permitted development rights, a system which – perniciously, in my view – allows commercial property to be transformed into often unsuitable living accommodation without the need for planning approval. James Croucher confirmed that the development would not be on this basis and that the scheme would go through the full scrutiny of West Berkshire’s planning system. He also said that about that about 350 of the homes (of which there would be a wide range) would be for rent rather than for sale. On the face of it, this seems to provide a partial solution to the problem of affordable housing in the region. Clearly, this will depend on what the rents prove to be. As this is a brownfield site, under current WBC policy, 30% of any homes should be ‘affordable’, as defined by the government. Clearly any such town-centre homes are going to suffer from not having gardens. Mr Croucher accepted this but pointed out that a similar development under way in Reading had a large ‘rooftop amenity’ area, something which was also planned for the Newbury scheme. These, and so much else, are details which will be need to be agreed with WBC’s officers. 

Penny Post also contacted Mark Williams, a director at Rivington Hart. We asked him if it was envisaged that the commercial units would include small units on reasonable leases. “We’ve proved that there is a demand for small and affordable commercial units in the Centre,” he told us, and added that, following this policy, the occupancy of the Centre was currently at 98%. He also said that flexible leases were likely to be available in the new development. This seems essential in these uncertain times. Some kind of new contract, involving an element of risk-sharing, is essential if retail premises are going to be reinvigorated; or, in many cases, survive.

On the face of it, this seems like an attractive and imaginative solution to a number of problems: the increasing decay of the Kennet Centre, the shortage of affordable homes, the reduction of the ‘doughnut’ effect whereby town centres are devoid of residential areas and the inflexibility of commercial leases. As mentioned above, make your own views known and we’ll then see what the outline plans look like, hopefully before the end of the year. Then we’ll see what WBC’s planners think of it…

Click here for information about the Remember from Home events which, due to Covid, will be replacing the normal Remembrance Day services on 8 November in Newbury (and elsewhere).

• Christmas is surely coming when the local mayor asks for help with designing her Christmas cards. Newbury’s Elizabeth O’Keefe has issued her call in the form of a competition with three age ranges – click here for details. (See the Wantage Area section below for where this regular seasonal gesture has led to a backlash.)

• 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). 

• 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.

• The opposition Lib Dem group has made its own response to draft master plan in the form of a 50-point, 13-page document, an abbreviated version of which will appear on this website in due course. I asked the party’s Planning spokesperson, Tony Vickers, for a quick summary for now: “Rather than simply try to extract as much income for the Council, which has been the Conservative approach to LRIE redevelopment,” he told Penny Post, “the Liberal Democrats would aim to maximise the value of the site to the local community as a whole. We would work more collaboratively with existing occupiers, including the football community, try to help them remain in the area or relocate to somewhere better for all concerned, but also show leadership by aiming to achieve a carbon-zero outcome in line with our Council’s declaration of Climate Emergency.”

• 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

• I mentioned last week about the two good-news stories about two recently opened pubs, The King and Queen in Longcot and The Hartley Arms in Donnington. Normal service is, I’m afraid, now being resumed on this theme with the latest on, if not yet a closure, then certainly a fight. The Winterbourne Arms in Winterbourne has been sunk in a fog of uncertainty after it was bought it 2018, ostensibly with the purpose of its remaining as a pub. Either this was not specified as a condition of the sale or it was but was circumvented, because what followed was an attempt to convert the pub to housing in 2019. This was refused by West Berkshire Council. A further application was made this year which included a provision for a ‘micro pub’: this, the campaigners believed as a result of taking advice, was unsustainable and nearly 100 objections were lodged meaning the matter would have been called into be discussed at committee. Then, before this could happen, the application was withdrawn. It then transpired that the pub was on the market but at a price so high and with development conditions so onerous as surely to put off any bidder. The objectors have had the pub declared an asset of community value but this has been objected to on three occasions: the most recent appeal is yet to be decided.

The campaign group told Penny Post on 29 October that it is ‘considering its response and will continue to reach out to specialists in this area for guidance and support.’ If you are such a specialist or if you have used or might ever use the Winterbourne Arms as a feeding or watering hole, you can contact savewinterbournearms@gmail.com.

• 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). 

Hamstead Marshall Parish Council has advice here about having a Covid-safe Halloween.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village. It 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.

• Plans for a community orchard at the multi-award-winning Hampstead Norreys Community Shop are well advanced: see here for more information.

• And still in HN, this week’s NWN reports on p14 that the church’s bells have now been restored at a cost of £75,000. They’ve recently been on display before being re-hung in the tower. (The photograph so reminded me of a scene in Iris Murdoch’s wonderful novel The Bell – do promise me you’ll read it if you haven’t…)

Compton is holding a Covid-safe scarecrow trail until 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

• 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 for which minutes are available took place on 17 September and you can read the minutes here

• See also this page for up-to-date information about Hermitage’s neighbourhood development plan.

• The most recent Ordinary meeting of East Ilsley Parish Council took place on 15 September and you can read the draft minutes here. There was also an Extraordinary meeting on 22 October, the minutes for which you can read here. Most of the discussion concerned approving items of expenditure, including a climbing net, for the playground and some IT equipment for the Clerk.

• 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 minutes here

Click here for information about the Remember from Home events which, due to Covid, will be replacing the normal Remembrance Day services on 8 November in Thatcham (and elsewhere).

• Following the success of the Summer Monster Hero Safari, Thatcham Town Council is holding a Monster Villain Safari until Sunday 1 November. More details can be seen here.

• The  Saga of Piggy Woods continues (for those of you not familiar with this, including the action that you can take, see this separate post). The latest development is that four of the remaining plots will be sold by auction on 10 November. The buying notes record that ‘a tree preservation order (TPO) was placed on the land but this is subject to a current challenge by the seller.’ Most local residents, and Thatcham Town Council, would wish that the TPO remain. You can contribute to this by contacting West Berkshire and Thatcham Town Councils (see above-mentioned post) to express your support for this; and also to say if you’re prepared to make a statement about having used any of the paths through the woods in the last 20 years as this will help provide further protection in the form of establishment of public footpaths.

• On a related matter, I’m seeking further clarity from West Berkshire Council about whether it intends to take any additional steps, when updating its asset register, to contact parishes to see if they believe any land in their area is owned by WBC. Such an exercise, if conducted, would have exposed this confusion, which appears to date back to the 1990s when the land should have been (but was not) transferred to the old Newbury District Council as part of a development deal.

• 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.

 This week’s NWN reports on p22 that the war memorial in Cold Ash has now been restored.

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin, which this week starts with some seasonal spooky clouds and ends with Abraham Lincoln.

Theale and district

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

• I was flicking through this week’s Newbury Weekly News, as I do of a Thursday, and two words of a headline caught my eye on p15: ‘Nuclear emergency.’ Oh, great, I thought. There’s Covid, and Brexit, and everyone at each other’s throats about everything from free school meals to anti-semitism – and now this. The thought then flashed across my mind that, if there were a nuclear emergency in the area, the NWN’s Editor might have moved the story onto the front page: and so it proved. It turns out it’s just about the government reminding West Berkshire Council that it needs to update its emergency plan for AWEs Aldermaston and Burghfield, something WBC says it’s already done. It was an anxious moment, while it lasted.

• 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

• 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.

Marlborough & district

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

• The BBC reports that there were 485 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 20-26 October, 135 up on the week before. This equates to 97 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 149 (108 last week). 

Click here for information about the Remember from Home events which, due to Covid, will be replacing the normal Remembrance Day services on 8 November in Marlborough (and elsewhere).

• The next Full meeting of Marlborough Town Council will take place virtually on Monday 2 November. Members of the public are welcome to attend. You can click here to see the agenda which includes the Zoom link. Item five will be a motion for MTC to support a local resident’s campaign and 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.

Marlborough News reports that concerns about the speed of traffic and the number of large vehicles negotiating Kingsbury Street were discussed at Marlborough Town Council meeting on 26 October.

The same source covers Wiltshire council’s decision to provide free half-term meals for vulnerable children 

• If you see a lot of tree stumps and felled trees in the area, this may well be because Wiltshire Council and other landowners are cutting down ash trees suffering from dieback so they don’t risk being blown down in any winter storms.

• Happier trees are to be found in the Savernake Forest where, as Marlborough Town Council’s website puts it, ‘Nature is putting on her autumn kaleidoscope show of changing leaves.’ To co-incide with this, the Council has published its latest self-guided walk, The Savernake Tree Trail, a treasure hunt of ancient oak trees. The full walk is six miles but there’s a shorter Acorn Walk version for little legs. More information can be found here.

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

• The most recent meeting of Aldbourne Parish Council took place on 7 October and you can read the minutes here. The next meeting is being held virtually on Wednesday 4 November at 7.30pm. Click here to see the agenda, which also includes the Zoom link.

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 120 CV-19 cases in the Vale in the week 10-26 October, 18 up on the week before. This equates to 88 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 149 (108 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. The BBC reported on 29 October that the City of Oxford would mover to tier 2 on Saturday 31 October although the rest of the county would remain at tier 1.

• People in the Vale of White Horse have the chance to comment on some proposed changes to parking arrangements in the district council’s off-street car parks

Help continues to be available, should it be required, during half term in Oxfordshire for families of children in receipt of free school meals.

• 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 returns to a very familiar riff and I can do no better than quote its headline: ‘Get a move on with giving us the leisure facilities we require.’

• A reminder that Wantage fundraiser, Ray Collins’ charitable trust has pledged to deliver Christmas hampers to elderly and vulnerable people in the town this year.

• Wantage MP David Johnston has come in for some stinging criticism in this week’s Herald for his failure to support an amendment to extend free school meals over the current autumn half term and the December holiday. Newbury MP Laura Farris and Devizes MP Danny Kruger took the same stance, claiming that the government’s plan, rather than Marcus Rashford’s, was the one to follow. Much depends on how well the relevant local authority – which will be administering any support – is likely to perform. See the Across the Area above for more on the debate at West Berkshire about this. I can only assume that the three MPS have great faith in the councils and in the government’s underlying measures. others are less certain.

As to why they supported the motion, part of the answer can perhaps be found (as suggested last week) in our unfortunate system whereby ministers are mainly drawn from the ranks of our legislators. This tends to result in the temptation to support the government at every opportunity in the hope of catching Downing Street’s eye. I’m not suggesting that any of these three MPs voted against their conscience or the interests of the people that were elected to represent in the hope of achieving executive power. I’m just saying that, if they did, one can in part blame it on the system. One aspect of the criticism of David Johnson in the paper seemed a little random to me, that of conflating his voting position with the time-honoured custom of MPs inviting schoolchildren to design their Christmas cards, it being suggested that this was hypocritical. Unfortunate timing, perhaps.

Meanwhile, the MP himself – whose turn it was in this week’s soapbox on p10 of the Herald, dismissed the whole affair in his opening paragraph: ‘Away from the heated debates…about free school meals, I have spoken in several debates about Private Members’ Bills this month.’ He then wen to to list his contribution to discussions about he reducing the cost of school uniform (which he wisely mentioned first, perhaps on Mr Cummings’ advice), botox regulations, animal cruelty and the use of psychoactive substances in prisons. It’s none of my business but if I were the Editor I’d tell DJ and Layla Moran that their comments were only welcome if they could make some effort to stick to local issues.

• 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

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 for which minutes are available 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 297 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 20-26 October, 130 up on the week before. This equates to 134 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 149 (117 last week). 

• Wiltshire Police have claimed that Covid patrols increase public engagement.

• Families in Swindon who may be experiencing financial hardship over the half-term period are being urged to contact Swindon Borough Council for help.

• As I’m sure you were aware, Thursday 19 November in World Toilet Day, and this year Thames Water will be hosting an online event aimed at primary-school children to highlight the importance of sanitation. 19 November is also International Men’s Day and Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (two events that might perhaps be in conflict with each other) as well as being Flag Day in Brazil, Liberation Day in Mali and The Day of Missile Forces and Artillery in Russia and Belarus (I think this also is celebrated on every other day of the year in these countries). 

Swindon Link reports that Swindon’s Cabinet has approved plans for Cultural Quarter in the town centre.

• Swindon Council has announced that the first phase of £34m Queens Drive regeneration project has got off ‘to a flying start.’

• 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.

• 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.

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 once more. Thanks to Jon for sending me this soul-elevating piece of jazz/blues/gospel this morning which improved my mood immeasurably after only about 45 seconds: That’s Enough from John Scofield.

• And here we are at the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Quite a lot of you seemed to like (or at least clicked on) the sketch or whatever exactly it was that I picked from Chris Morris’ darkly funny Jam series, so here’s another: TV Lizards.

• And so we steam into the terminus that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question, the answer to which can be found above, is: What do toilets, men, female entrepreneurs, Malian independence, Russian artillery and Brazilian flags have in common? Last week’s question is: Which is the world’s longest international border? Step forward the USA and Canada, which runs for 5,556 miles. The US/Mexico border by comparison is only 1,966 miles. Let’s hope Trump doesn’t fall out with the Canadians and decide to build a wall up north as well. With any luck, come inauguration day in January 2021, this risk will have been removed once and for all. 

Brian Quinn

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