Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including East Garston’s access, Shefford’s award, Sandleford’s landslide, Thatcham’s piggies, Newbury’s grants, Lambourn’s meeting, Hungerford’s newsletter, Marlborough’s fridge, Savernake’s foliage, Cold Ash’s video, Aldbourne’s ceremony, Chaddleworth’s cricketers, Chilton Foliat’s boomerang, Wantage’s pedestrians, Aldermaston’s weapons, Theale’s crossing, Mortimer’s tree, Burghfield’s extinguishment, Grove’s land, Winterbourne’s battle, West Ilsley’s vacancies, Swindon’s teams, Taiwan’s response, bugs in the system, test and trace, Oxford chums, glorious ambiguity, good news for parents, lawyers in waiting, a boxing match, assets, a prescient president, 1984, 17 November, £150bn, don’t believe the hype and a meeting across the river.
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)
• I don’t know much about computers but I do know that it’s never a great idea to buy software where the number is something point zero as it will probably be confusing, buggy, poorly documented and full of internal inconsistencies. Lockdown 2.0, as we are all calling what we’re now in, is a case in point. In fact, it went up to at least 2.1 quite quickly to include the clarification about off-sales of beer from pubs. There may have been other changes. Others can be expected. Lockdown 1.0 was, as we now know, very buggy indeed: an aspect that sticks in my mind is the question of whether one could drive in order to take exercise. On this matter, in our neck of the woods, the views of West Berkshire Council, the Thames Valley Police, the government and common sense were all in contradiction to each other. Lockdown 1.15 or whatever its final version was, was replaced by Lockdown Light; and then, a couple of months ago, by Tiers. There were several different releases of Tiers, which didn’t make it any simpler: 3Tiers in England, 5Tiers in Scotland and Circuit-break in Wales. All proved rather difficult to install, to run and to update. It now appears that Lockdown 2.0 contains a bug, as its necessity was predicated on an out-of-date piece of modelling.
Human wetware – which I think is what the boffins call our brains, in their moments of levity – has also proved stubbornly reluctant to run these packages efficiently. We only really understand two things, ‘stop’ and ‘go’: even the orange traffic light is too much for some of us. It’s clear we’re all capable of vastly subtle and creative processing when we’re doing something of our own volition, or triggered by our three main imperatives of greed, fear and lust. However, when it comes to something imposed on us which limits our behaviour, some of us either don’t think it applies to us or immediately search for ways to pervert any ambiguities to our own ends. Any small failure tends to make the it crash in our heads, whereupon we throw our hands in the air and say that the whole thing is pointless. Some societies might deal with this better than we do.
• One of these appears to be Taiwan. The MD column in the latest (1534) Private Eye lists several things this country did, all at the right time. These include creating an emergency response network (after the 2003 SARS outbreak), setting up an Epidemic Control network (in January 2020), developing effective online communications strategy, instituting strict border controls, continuing to fund its public health system and developing a highly effective track, trace and quarantine system. Four particular advantages Taiwan has is that it’s rich (like us), that it’s an island (also like us), that for as long as anyone there can remember it’s had Chinese missiles pointing at it (unlike us) and that it has experienced a number of similar infections like SARD and MERS (also unlike us, although we did war-game this during Operation Cygnus in 2016). The last two may not seem like advantages in normal times but they sure as hell do now. There is clearly nothing like a constant existential threat to make you focus on survival. Get a docile, domesticated rabbit and a wild impala, burst a paper bag and see which one runs faster. Vietnam, most of whose leaders or their parents grew up during an invasion, has also done very well. Indeed, Taiwan and Vietnam combined have only recorded a quarter of the deaths from Covid as has West Berkshire. Even allowing for variations in the way deaths are reported, we’re talking about a population about 750 times larger so I think our government needs to take a very close look at what places like this did and emulate it.
• One of the ways in which this government appears to be deciding who runs what is currently being challenged. Dido Harding, the country’s test-and-trace and NHS Improvement supremo, is currently the subject of an unusual legal action. “The Prime Minister and Health Secretary,” The Huffington Post reports, “are being sued for giving top-ranking Tories key public sector roles without any open competition or proper process.” The article goes on to say that “The Good Law Project and Runnymede Trust have launched legal proceedings against the government’s repeated appointment of individuals who are connected with senior members of the Conservative Party – without advertising these roles.” This seems a fairly accurate description of how Lady Harding got the job. She is also yet another person who studied PPE at Oxford at the same time as our current PM and also the hapless David Cameron (as did Penny, but I’m letting her off).
• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports on p2 that ‘West Berkshire Council will be working the plug the gaps in the NHS Test and Trace system from this week’ and that 20 council staff have been trained for the project. Portfolio-holder Howard Woollaston confirmed to Penny Post on 5 November that there are in fact 28 staffers. Council Leader Lynne Doherty is quite in the article as saying that “the good thing about [more local involvement] is the understanding of the locality.’ Indeed. This should have all been put in place months ago: not West Berkshire’s fault.
• I, and others, were surprised that Lockdown 2.0 was proceeding with schools, colleges and universities remaining open, children and students not being famed for observing social-distancing requirements. It seemed a fatal flaw in the scheme. Then my attention was drawn to this article which suggests that people who live with young children have no greater risk of contracting Covid than those who do not and a reduced risk of dying from it. The friend who sent me this said he knew the people who’d done the research and that they were ‘seriously careful about statistics.’. The conclusion seems to be that you might get mildly immunised by your asymptomatic kids having some other coronaviruses. One would imagine that the same results would be seen in teachers. Even though the paper has yet to be peer reviewed, this seems like a small and unexpected piece of good news.
• The Bank of England has injected another £150bn into the economy through quantitative easing (QE) measures such as issuing government bonds. I don’t really understand the sentence I’ve just written so perhaps this article on the BBC website might be a better place to go for information about this grown-up subject. I have, however, added up the sums involved in the four QE events since 2009 (see the graph towards the foot of the BBC post) and can reveal that they total about £1.9tn. Is this a good thing or not? I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to this either.
• One point that I understand slightly better is that the Chancellor has extended the furlough scheme until the end of March 2021.
• The US election seems to be about to be decided by lawyers, as so many things in that country are. The President has made some hair-raising statements about fraud and violence which don’t seem quite what one would hope for from an elected leader of a major country although are right on key for him. Sky News reports that some of his supporters have been attending protests outside counting centres, some of them armed. On 4 November, a Russian diplomat spoke darkly of the threat of a civil war in a country with nuclear weapons. Older readers may remember the prolonged and litigious aftermath to the 2000 election – which by the standards of the current mess seem very civilised – which George W Bush eventually won by a wafer-thin majority. “The people of America have spoken,” ex-President Bill Clinton said at the time, “although it might take some to work out what they have said.” This proved all too true, with a month of wrangles which ended up in the Supreme Court: if this one does, Trump’s re-election is a done deal as it is currently more of the right than the left. How judges can be political is beyond me, but that’s they way they do things over there.
The states all have their own ways of doing things as well, another reason why the whole process looks so confusing to an outsider. Most accord all their electoral college votes to the winner of that state but a few split them pro rata to the votes cast. Some only permit postal votes that arrive by polling day but others accept them if they were post-marked by then. It’s slightly as if Cornwall and Norfolk elected MPs by PR and the rest by first-past-the-post, while polling stations in Wales and the Isle of Wight stayed open longer than the others.
• Speaking of ex-Presidents, Barak Obama was asked what were the two best pieces of advice he received from his predecessor George W Bush (two men who seemed to have developed a genuine liking for each other, despite their political differences). “First, ‘trust yourself,'” Obama replied, “and, second, ‘always make sure you use hand sanitiser – you’ll be shaking a lot of hands and don’t want to be catching a lot of colds.'” The latter must have seemed like a throw-away line in 2008. Now, it seems like about the best advice you can give someone. Maybe George W was not the blunder-goofer he sometimes seemed to be but a genuinely prescient President…
• The BBC reports that there were 144 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 26 October to I November, no change on the week before. This equates to 91 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 156 (149 last week).
• The new West Berkshire Covid dashboard, which provides up-to-date states and information about the virus has just been launched – click here to take a tour.
• Click here for the latest Covid-19 News from West Berkshire Council.
• 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 has announced its plans to support residents during the new national restrictions scheduled for 5 November to 2 December.
• The Council has also announced plans for business support for the same reason.
• 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 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 Eric the parrot whose prompt action and super-sensitive sense of smell saved him and his owner from a house fire in Brisbane.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes, as well as those referred to elsewhere, communications on the subject of our government’s reaction to Covid, badgers, allotments, praise for campaigners, and nurseries. There’s also a photo of a rabbit, though I’m not sure which way up it is.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Brendoncare (thanks to Deborah Aliyu); the Trussell Trust (thanks to Kennet Valley School); families in Swindon (thanks to Swindon Wildcats in The Community, Franklin’s Food and Arval BNP Paribas Group); Thames Valley Air Ambulance (thanks to Ruth Saunders); The Newbury Soup Kitchen (thanks to Enborne Primary School); the NWN’s over-80s Parcel Funs (thanks to Greenham Trust); Peasemore Village Hall (thanks to the Fox).
Hungerford & district
• The November Penny Post Hungerford was published earlier this week and as ever provides the best and most comprehensive round up of what’s going on in the town. The normal sections are all there, with the latest from the Town Council, the Town and Manor, the retailers and Barrs Yard. There’s also the latest diary instalment from the Head of JOG school and news from the Primary School, HEAT, the lockdown wood and the Self-isolation Network (which now active once more, should you need it). We have some heroic animals from The Bookshop, a glorious Chardonnay from The Naked Grape, an online shop from the Hub, a tale of stamp-loving monarchs, a retrospective from the Town Band, Pat Murphy’s racing column, a guide to the night sky, hedgehog garden tips and no fewer then three lockdown songs. If you didn’t receive it, click here to see the whole thing.
• 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).
• Many might be wondering why the the discussions between the developers at the Salisbury Road site and WBC’s planning officers have been going on for so long since the revised application was made to change the housing mix some months ago. So was I. It appears that the first thing to be thrashed out was the matter of the CIL payment, social homes being exempt from this charge. It was then decided that the matter of the revision to the application needed to be reviewed. The case officer then discussed this with the developer’s agent, following which it was agreed that the agent would pay for an independent consultant, instructed by the Council, to review the applicant’s submissions on viability. Even though the developer pays for this, the consultant is chosen by WBC’s officers. I understand that they have now been instructed: how long the report will take, how long it will take to scrutinise and what comments the developers will have remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the building work continues, though hopefully not beyond the poi t governed by the current permission. In the past I’ve compared the planning process to poker, bridge, chess and grandmother’s footsteps. This makes me think of a boxing match with quite punishing bouts of fighting followed by interminably long gaps between the rounds.
• Click here for news of the new taxi rank at Hungerford station.
• As mentioned last week, the temporary Oakes Bros car park at the station has now been closed off with the loss of about 100 spaces. 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.
• Congratulations to Mark Genders and his team after the pub was named Wes Berkshire’s CAMRA’s Pub of the Year.
• 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 for which minutes are available took place on 8 September and you can read the minutes here. The next meeting will take place on Tuesday 10 November and you can read the agenda here. Items up for discussion include a consideration of the planning application at Boomerang Stables. let’s hope that one doesn’t come back. (You’re fired –Ed.)
• 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 1 October and you can read the minutes here. The main item was discussed was the one for 23 new units at Inglewood (20/02079/COMIND) which had led to ‘a number of objections from residents of Inglewood and other nearby properties.’ The PC recorded its own objection for seven different reasons, including cover about the effect on the AONB, the fact that it was outside the village settlement boundary and traffic issues.
• The most recent meeting of Lambourn Parish Council took place on 4 November and the minutes will be available from the Clerk (and eventually on the to-be-constructed website) in due course. Matters covered included the usual formal business, two planning applications (one of which was a fourth-time submission which finally seems to have produced an acceptable design, to which no objection was proposed; the other was an urgent matter involving internal remedial work which the PC felt was best left to WBC’s experts), communications from WBC about planning decisions it has taken, the proposed community orchard, the new LPC website, the auditors’ report, the site meeting at the proposed Greenways site, the LNDP, various WBC and national consultations, applications for a share of CIL expenditure and reports from the recent meetings of the Lambourn Valley Flood Forum and WBC’s District Parish Council Conference. You can click here to read my report of the meeting.
• A planning application has been made for a change of use from horse-training yard to office space at Mabberley’s in East Garston, the details of which can be seen here. Aside from the fact that the flooding risk seems to have been under-stated (a matter that will be more of a problem for the landlords and tenants than for anyone else in the village), my main concern would be the access. It’s envisaged that this would, as now, be into Front Street. The street is narrow and the entrance is near a 90 degree turn and a bridge. The nearest route out of the village is then the turning by the Queens Arms which is not the safest in the area. I understand that the original permission had a condition that a separate access onto the bottom road (Newbury Street) be used but this was for some reason never enforced. This, and adequate signage, needs to be now: also that this be built first so that the site lorries don’t need to come through the village.
The design and access statement (section 6.9) has two pieces of fantasy to justify the retention of the existing access. The first is the assumption that the office users’ vehicular movements would be limited to two per office per day. This assumes only one occupant per office, or more than one but that they’d all arrive and leave together (or not use a car); no departures for meals or meetings during the day; and no deliveries. The second is the impressive but hypothetical list of traffic movements based on ‘a working yard of this size’ and includes the assumptions like two vets and two blacksmiths visiting daily. In all, the document assumes, nearly 30 people would be in and out each day, as well as ‘up to 30’ owners and syndicate members. This could on busy days be over 100 vehicular movements. The reality is that nothing like that level of activity has been seen at Mabberley’s in recent years, and perhaps ever. For the last year or so it’s been untenanted so a more honest figure for current movements would be zero. Even when it was used, horse boxes had trouble negotiating the tight turn out of the yard so it’s to be expected large delivery lorries would fare little better. East Garston Parish Council considered the matter at its planning meeting in October and came to substantially the same conclusion.
• The most recent meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council took place on 1 October and you can read the draft minutes here.
• The next meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council takes place on Thursday 5 November and the minutes will appear on the PC’s website in due course. One of the items up for discussion will be application 20/02245/FUL for the creation of a farm shop at The Great Shefford pub, the details of which you can see here. This has triggered nearly 30 letters of objection (and over 30 of support) so the matter will be called in to be decided by the Western Area Planning Committee, rather than by the officers, at some point probably in early 2021. The ward member Clive Hooker (who also chairs the WAPC) was minded to call it in anyway.
• And still with the Great Shefford, congratulations to Joshua Khan and his team after the pub was named in the CAMRA’s West Bekrshire Good Beer Guide.
• The November Valley of the Racehorse e-newsletter will be published this weekend. Please email email@example.com 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.
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• Click here for news of a few of the things were in Newbury Town Council Leader Martin Colston’s in-tray last month.
• A reminder that the new owners of the Kennet Centre are asking for your views on the ambitious plans to transform the ailing venue. The proposals can be seen here as well as in a display in the Kennet Centre itself. Please make your comments by 13 November. This is not an official consultation but Lochailort’s Planning Director James Croucher told Penny Post on 29 October that the opinions received will be influential in shaping their final views. It’s hoped that planning permission will be applied for by the end of the year although this will depend on what comes out of the consultation.
• If you want to have a quick overview of the challenges and contradictions in the long-running Sandleford saga, you could do a lot worse than have a look at long-time campaigner Peter Norman’s letter on p17 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News. His views, and those of others, can also be seen in this separate post.
• Another odd aspect of Sandleford it that it’s a rotten borough (something more commonly used to describe constituencies before the 1832 Reform Act which had only one or two electors returning one or more members, Old Sarum being a frequently quoted example). In 2017, the Boundary Commission, acting on West Berkshire Council’s information and the expectations that the housing would soon appear, allocated five of Greenham’s 15 seats to a new ward called Sandleford. As the housing has yet to materialise, Sandleford therefore has five councillors but only four electors. In the 2019 council elections, Tony Vickers stood, having been nominated by two of the four residents. As he was the only candidate, and as neither of them actually cast their ballots for him, he was elected with 0% of the vote; which was at the same time also 100%; so, a landslide, perhaps. It’s not, I admit, a democratic crisis on a level with what’s unfolding in the USA but it’s certainly a bit of an odd one. I understand that West Berkshire’s CEO Nick Carter has the power to revert matters to the pre-2017 situation: this seems worth doing as at least one more local election will take place before any homes are built there, if they ever are. To do so might be seen as a final admission that Sandleford will not in fact happen in its current form. Many feel that has been as good as admitted in any case, not least by the Council’s Planning Department.
• Three other letters, on p19, refer to another equally long-running issue, that of the London Road Industrial Estate. One asks whether compulsory purchase orders will be needed to clear the site; another suggests that any new homes there should be built on stilts our to the flooding risk; the third asks about the costs associated with closing, and then re-opening, the football pitch. I looked at this last point in some detail two weeks ago. I remain confused, as does the correspondent, why WBC is spending its own (our own) money on clearing a site (which it didn’t need to clear) when this should have been paid for by a developer: as, for that matter, should the access road from the A339. A spokesperson for the Newbury Community Football Group seemed equally bemused when contacting Penny Post earlier this week: “Is it really now this Council’s policy to use our money to subsidise a future property developer (if one can be found) by keeping a public asset closed and then paying to clear the site for them? How can West Berkshire Council possibly justify spending this money yet refuse to spend a far smaller amount on re-opening the ground to allow for organised football?”
• Applications are now open for grants to support local environmental groups with projects that will reduce CO2 emissions and other actions that benefit the climate in Newbury. There is a total fund of £10,000 available with the closing date for this year’s applications on 31 December 2020. More information can be found here.
• Following to the latest government restrictions, Newbury Town Council has closed its tennis courts in Victoria Park until 3 December. Local league adults and children’s football matches usually played at our City Recreation Ground and Wash Common have also had to be cancelled until the restrictions are lifted. The playgrounds, however, remain open.
• 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).
• 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 battle has once again be joined over the future of the Winterbourne Arms in Winterbourne. See this post for more information.
• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council took place on 13 September and you can read the minutes here (scroll down to ‘Minutes 2020’: when clicked, the PDF will download). Items discussed included two planning applications (to one of which was was offered no objection, while the other – which is to be called in in any case – is in fact in the neighbouring parish of Winterbourne); and – an item which, judging by the length of the notes, seemed to occupy a good part of the meeting – trying to solve the surprisingly complex problem of switching the PC’s account to accept online transactions. There was also some discussions about whether the PC should consider producing a regular newsletter rather than (or as well as) relying on online communication. This is a common dilemma for PCs up and down the country as while a majority of people prefer online communications there are still many who never use social media or the web. it was eventually decided not to pursue the question of a newsletter for the time being but to consider this when there was something particularly important to communicate.
• 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 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.
• The November Chaddleworth News has been published and you can read it here. items covered include the poppy appeal, the latest from the villages clubs, groups and societies and from the church, the school, the surgery and the Parish Council. There’s also a tribute to Ken Compton, an appeal on behalf of our native and fast-vanishing water voles, a seasonal article about honey and a splendid photo of the Chaddleworth (pr perhaps another) cricket club that looks as if it comes from the late 19th century.
• Plans for a community orchard at the multi-award-winning Hampstead Norreys Community Shop are well advanced: see here for more information.
• 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 next meeting will take place on Monday 9 November and you can see the agenda here.
• 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 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 for which minutes are available took place on 7 September and you can read the minutes here. The last meeting took place on 2 November and the minutes will appear here in due course.
• 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.
Thatcham and district
• My eye was caught by a half-page advert on p8 of the NWN with an invitation to watch a video about ‘the urbanisation of Coley Farm in Cold Ash.’ You can do so here. This video was made about three months ago and refers to proposals for a 75-home development at Coley Farm. Outline planning permission was granted in 2017 and the matter re-surfaced in May 2020 when the Parish Council was presented with further plans, which it planned to oppose. I’m not sure where the application stands currently. My point concerns the argument made in the advert. This makes a point – which I agreed with at the time and wrote about in this separate post – that WBC took a ridiculously over-cautious view about the problems that might be caused by virtual meetings, one not followed by many other councils. The upshot was that public participation at planning meetings was severely curtailed. However, WBC agreed to look at this again in the autumn of 2020; and they did; and the old procedures have now largely been restored (though site visits will remain problematic for the rest of November). If this application has not yet been considered by the Western Area Planning Committee then it will be under the new (ie the previous) system, albeit digitally. The rights and wrongs of the application are another matter.
• 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).
• 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).
• See the Wantage Area section below for more on the business of councils keeping and cross-checking their asset registers (or not).
• 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 for which minutes are available took place on 22 September and you can read the minutes here. The next meeting will take place on Tuesday 10 November – see the Community Bulletin here and scroll down for the agenda and the Zoom link.
• 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 the war memorial and ends with delicious ambiguity.
Theale and district
• I mentioned about a nuclear emergency that I thought was being announced on p15 of last week’s NWN. The Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston and Burghfield is back in the news this week with the announcement in Army Technology that the UK government will by June 2021 take back control of this organisation which designs, manufactures and supports the UK’s nuclear weapons. The article goes on to say that ‘AWE is currently run by a triumvirate of Lockheed Martin, Serco and Jacob’s Engineering.’ Serco – haven’t we heard that name before? Oh yes: the outsourcing giant, much involved in the government’s underwhelming test-and-trace, was fined nearly £20m last year for fraud and false accounting as a result of its prisoner-tagging so-called service. One thing the government might want to do is to count all the weapons before taking over…
• The ward member Alan Macro is campaigning for a pedestrian crossing at the eastern end of Theale High Street.
• One of the ward members for Burghfield and Mortimer, Graham Bridgman, notes in his monthly parish update that ‘as anticipated in previous reports, the Order to extinguish The Burghfield number 3 footpath beside Moatlands Cottages, Mill Road, has been confirmed.’ Decades ago, number three had been cut off by the M4 and so became that saddest and most pointless of things, a footpath without a destination or purpose. Recently, the path’s ghost-like survival became an issue in a minor planning matter so it was eventually decided to extinguish it. I found myself wondering how you extinguish a footpath: do municipal operatives in haz-chem suits turn up and spray it, whereupon it shrivels up like a slug that’s covered with salt? I asked Councillor Bridgman to re-assure our readers that it was extinguished in a humane way. This he was able to do: ‘It was indeed humanely taken out of existence,” he assured Penny Post, “though only after a whole load of due process.”
• He also notes that ‘various issues have been raised by the landowner and neighbours’ about Tree Preservation Order 201/21/0999 (Pine Tree on land at Hasenbach, The Bevers in Stratfield Mortimer. He has suggested that WBC’s tree officer contact the parish council about this.
• 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
• The BBC reports that there were 426 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 26 October to 1 November, 35 down on the week before. This equates to 85 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 156 (149 last week).
• A motion to ban St John’s students from Priory Gardens has been thrown out by Marlborough Town Council. I’ll stand back and let Marlborough News take over the story from here.
• The same source reports on the thumbs-up for a community fridge.
• if you need help during the latest lockdown, Marlborough’s volunteers are able and ready to help. Click here for details.
• 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 Gazette reports that the petition organised by a local resident to campaign for a safer pedestrian passage at Port Hill has been handed in to Marlborough Town Council in advance of its most recent meeting.
• 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.
• 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 was held virtually on 4 November and the minutes will appear here in due course.
• Click here for Aldbourne’s arrangements for Remembrance Day.
• Click here for a list of current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.
Wantage & district
• The BBC reports that there were 115 CV-19 cases in the Vale in the week 26 October to 1 November, one down on the week before. This equates to 85 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 156 (149 last week).
• We covered earlier this year the strange and, to many, unsettling tale of a triangle of land in Grove that was believed to have been owned by Oxfordshire County Council but which in fact wasn’t and was sold at auction by one developer to another. A similar situation has more recently emerged in Thatcham in West Berkshire with Piggy Woods: in this case the land should have been transferred to old Newbury District Council but never was. It seems to me that all these nasty surprises could be avoided if councils communicated a little better. Each top-tier council could periodically contact its parishes (and all its districts, if it has them) – something it probably does about twice a day anyway – with a list of all the assets that it believed it owned in the parish or district and ask if the lower councils thought differently. It’s not enough for any council merely to look at a list of what each thinks it owns and say ‘well, that’s that done’ as in neither of these cases (and perhaps others) would these confusions have come to light. Only a formal process of comparison can accomplish this. Do the local councils involved in these two cases perform this simple exercise?
I’ve established that West Berkshire does not. I am waiting to hear if anyone there feels it would be a good idea if it were to do so. It seems that the situation in Oxfordshire is even worse. There are there three council tiers, so complicating any communication and increasing the risk of misunderstandings. To my knowledge no such requests are made of the parishes. Moreover, Oxfordshire CC uses mapping technology that is firmly rooted in 20th-century methods of photocopiers and coloured marker pens. As a result it is not, it seems, able to provide a complete and accurate list of its assets (although it demands that its parishes do). On being challenged in this point by one parish clerk, the reply was that there wasn’t a sufficient budget. This seems to me rather as if a farmer owned an uncertain number of valuable sheep but was unable to know for sure how many because he decided not to spend money on a pad of paper and a pen. If this is indeed a fair summary, then future unwelcome surprises can be expected in Oxfordshire and quite possibly elsewhere at any time.
When the ill-fated Millennium Dome was sold in the early 2000s, several purchasers pulled out because there was no reliable asset register and so they had no idea what they were buying and what the obligations might be. The government was rightly castigated for having allowed this to happen, although the whole thing was kind of excusable as the dome was a one-off and put together in a last-minute rush. It would appear, based on these two examples, that for some, and perhaps all, councils this is a systemic problem, and one that dates back decades.
• The latest newsletter from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group reports that the Town Council’s survey asking for views on the pedestrianisation plans for Wantage Market Place has now closed and the initial report is being discussed at the Town Council meeting next Monday at 7.30pm. You can listen in to the meeting via Zoom using this link.
• Like most councils, the Vale has responded to the governments planning white paper: and, also like most councils, it has raised some objections. Read more here.
• Click here for information about the help available from the Vale Council during the latest lockdown.
• Other matters covered in the communique include the latest on the developments at Crab Hill and Park Farm and the forthcoming AGM of the Newbury Street Practice Patients Group on Thursday 12 November.If you want to subscribe to the newsletter (which is free), click here.
• Click here for news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group.
• 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. This closes on 19 November.
• Help continues to be available, should it be required, during half term in Oxfordshire for families of children in receipt of free school meals.
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald looks at the question of facemarks, including their cost, their VAT status and their effectiveness.
• 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.
• 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 383 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 26 October to 1 November, 122 up on the week before. This equates to 172 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 156 (149 last week).
• Swindon Link reports that the local Public Health test and trace team at Swindon Borough Council has spent the last two months taking part in a pilot project tracking down contacts of positive covid-19 cases which the national system has been unable to reach.
• Swindon Council has asked residents to honour Remembrance Sunday from home this year.
• The same council has provided an update on its services during the new national restrictions.
• Work has been completed on two schemes to help walkers and cyclists get about.
• 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 mentioned last week, Thursday 19 November is 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.
• 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.
• Work at the 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 arrive at the Song of the Week once again. Something American seems to be needed and you don’t get al lot more American than Bruce Springsteen. Here’s what I think is his best song, Meeting Across the River.
• And next up it’s the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Let’s have a bit more Fry and Laurie and the wonderful, fourth-wall-breaking Don’t Believe the Hype.
• And so we grind to a delicate halt with the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: How many states did Walter Mondale win in the 1984 US Presidential election? Last week’s question was: What do toilets, men, female entrepreneurs, Malian independence, Russian artillery and Brazilian flags have in common? The answer is that they all have their day on 17 November. If that’s also your birthday then consider yourself added to the list as well.
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