Local News 19-26 November 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s banks, East Garston’s anniversary, Lambourn’s rubble, Thatcham’s closure, Newbury’s storeys, Marlborough’s tree, Cold Ash’s sky, Aldbourne’s water, Chaddleworth’s deadline, Wantage’s taxonomy, Grove’s station, Aldermaston’s equipment, Theale’s charges, West Ilsley’s domain, Compton’s units, Brightwalton’s negotiation, Ashampstead’s logs, Burghfield’s limit, Brimpton’s removal, Swindon’s oasis, the chumocracy, PotUS on the couch, dogs and fleas, hindsight, a beautiful friendship, a white paper, an altered fairytale, an £800m boost, staggering across the line, care homes, keeping the counters open, the sun and the moon, St Tropez, goalies, cage fighters and an overflowing bath.

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)

• In February, when it realised that it had a situation on its hands, the UK government invited organisations that could provide things like ventilators, testing kits and PPE equipment to get in touch. Many did so but it appears that many of the emails were not responded to. (Private Eye 1535 reported that the Institute of Biomedical Science only received a reply to its offer of assistance (and that an automated one) six months after it wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock in April 2020.) Two months later, the government was still working through 8,000 offers of help (so someone must have checked the emails by then) and some companies were complaining that their offers of help were being lost in the red tape. In June, Medscape reported that the Doctors’ Association brought a legal challenge against the government for its failure to supply enough PPE for front-line staff. In August the news broke that 50 million face masks were faulty as they had the ear loops rather than head loops. All in all, the procurement system seemed to be in some disarray. 

I know nothing about such matters so spoke to someone who does. “There are processes and procedures which are normally followed because it’s in everyone’s best interests to do so,” I was told. “The tendering companies are mostly happy to compete on a level playing field, while going through a proper system gives the procurer a good sense of what the market can offer, as well as ensuring that they won’t be sued for demonstrating favouritism.” I suggested this could be a process that involved more time than was available in the spring of 2020. “Not really, if it’s renewing a current deal or for a product that already exists, the second of which would have applied for PPE.” He then quoted the example of renewing a contract, worth about £20m a year, for supplying IT services to universities which went through in about three weeks.

One of the problems with sourcing anything Covid-related back then was that demand was outstripping supply, or was being presented as such. One West Berkshire-based care provider, Bluebird, told Penny Post that they were being quoted prices up to 20 times what they’d been paying three months before. The solution seemed to be to draft in extra help. The Guardian reported in August 2020 that that at least £56m had been spent on consultants, ‘mostly without giving other companies the chance to compete for the work.’ The same paper suggested in late October that the figure had since risen by £65m, although an accurate picture was hampered by many of these contacts being published later than the 30 days defined by law.

Given all this expert advice – some of which cost £6,000 a day – it seems odd that, as revealed this week, one of the ways the government tried to solve its procurement problem was through an unusual deal struck with Michael Saiger, an American jewellery designer, which was then outsourced to Gabriel Gonzalez Andersson, a Spanish businessman, to obtain PPE from China. The arrangement came to light recently because the two appear to have had a disagreement due to Andersson having pulled out of the agreement, leaving Saiger with unfulfilled orders to the NHS, as a result of which the matter might end up in court. Andersson is alleged to have made at least £21m from the £200m-contract: Saiger’s share is unknown but, as he was the contacting partner, was probably at least as much. 

If, at least until the point they fell out, Saiger and Andersson were able to provide top-notch PPE then that’s great. They were asked to do something and they did it. What seems odd is why they needed to be asked at all. The decision has a last-throw-of-the-dice feel about it that suggests a depressing lack of faith by the government in conventional methods. The same desperation, or insouciance, seems to inform the increasing practice of awarding government contracts to Conservative Party donors and influential positions to personal friends of senior government figures without any particular process of tendering or scrutiny, something the Sunday Times on 15 November described as ‘the chumocracy.’ The newspaper also asserted that improper commercial use was being made of information which some of these advisors had received. The Daily Star on 18 November went further still, suggesting that “£10.5bn of the £18bn spent on 8,600 pandemic contracts by July 31 was awarded without being put to tender.” The Huffington Post reported, also on 18 November, that the government was “ripping up the rules” on PPE procurement with a “secret fast-track system for private firms personally recommended by politicians.” One small company was given a £32m contract even though it had been contacted in error. The concern is that this way of doing things might become the norm once the Covid tide has receded.

This is not new. Ever since the the eleventh century, patents and staples have been used by the government (ie the monarch) to reward friends and allies through preferential trading arrangements. Also, there has been a continual tension between the demands of the barons (cabinet ministers today) that the monarch (the PM today) regard them as his or her natural councillors: while the monarch (or PM) generally saw even twenty or thirty barons (or cabinet ministers) as being far too cumbersome  a group and preferred a small, hand-picked group of close confidants through whom the royal or prime-ministerial will could be expressed. There is a direct line of descent from the so-called ‘new men’ of Henry I’s reign, Henry III’s one-time advisor Simon de Montfort (who later turned against him) and Edward II’s favourite Piers Gaveston, to Tudor and Jacobean operators like Cromwell, Cecil and Walsingham, to the likes of Bernard Ingham, Alistair Campbell and Dominic Cummings in our own time. The recent reshuffle at Number 10, with Cummings now seemingly out, will make no long-term difference whatsoever.

Unlike in the eleventh, or the sixteenth, century, we have some scrutiny of what these advisors do. No one can control, or perhaps should control, who our elected leader should or shouldn’t talk to and so be influenced by. Awarding contracts and making high-profile appointments without adequate process is a different matter. Drafting in Oxford chums or Miami jewellery designers or expensive consultants or companies like Serco, under the radar, is perhaps not a solution to anything. There are plenty of examples of countries where endemic cronyism has led to huge failures of governance. This needs to be watched. As Thomas Jefferson remarked, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

• Jefferson was the third President of the USA. The forty-fifth is currently not minded to concede to the forty-sixth, which may yet have serious consequences for us all. It has been suggested that the problems with the 2000 handover – which was delayed for more understandable reasons – contributed to the 11 September attacks less than a year later. This handover seems likely to be even more problematic for the world. When America farts, we all have to open the window.

I asked two wise women, a psychotherapist and a counsellor, to imagine that Donald Trump had spent an hour on their couch, perhaps as a bail condition, and to suggest a few things they might have put in their notes. These included a lack of empathy, a preoccupation with fantasies of power, an exploitative desire for admiration and attention, an inability to recognise vulnerability, the construction of a world rigidly divided into friends and enemies and a denial of error or defeat: in short, a narcissist. This is a much over-used term but its technical meaning describes, as I understand it, a state of mind that is about as impossible for most people to engage with as that of a psychopath. Ideally, a narcissist needs a big stage. They don’t get much bigger than Trump’s. And all he really wants is our attention, the poor little boy. For the next two months until 20 January, when the absurdly long US handover period ends, he has unrivalled opportunities to get everyone’s attention, and to cause mischief by breaking toys, spitting at nanny and scrawling rude words on the wall. I think we knew about his state of mind already: still, it’s good to have it confirmed by a pair of professionals. Seems like there’s quite a lot of work to do here so I advise PotUS to book some sessions with both these practitioners without delay (assuming they want him as a client). If the White House would like to get in touch with me I can pass on their details.

• All of the MD column on pp8-9 in the latest (1535) Private Eye is given over to the news of possible vaccines, which we covered on 9 November. The most eye-catching section, under the heading ‘Statistical approval’ starts with the observation that “the UK government has repeatedly burnt its trust boats, allowing bias, lies and bluster to triumph over balanced argument. Its handling of Covid has been dangerously incompetent.” I certainly agree with the first part. I would, however, question whether any government in almost any country has done much better. The problem is not so much of a particular government but of governance in general, worldwide.

There seem to be be two reasons for this. One, which is particularly inherent in a democratic system, is a focus on short-term gains. The second, which is endemic in a nationalised world, is to place the interests of our own country above those of everyone else. The problem of cross-species viruses requires exactly the opposite approaches. 

• We’re not done with invisible enemies yet. The Lambourn Valley section below has more on the health, or not, of our rivers (and the problems of our sewerage systems). Another issue was highlighted to me this week, once by Anna from Action for the River Kennet and again in this article from The Guardian about how conventional flea treatments for cats and dogs are finding their way into the waterways with devastating impacts on the eco-systems. The Guardian article quotes an expert from the University of Sussex as claiming that one flea treatment of a medium-sized dog with imidacloprid contains enough pesticide to kill 60 million bees. We have three cats and all are regularly de-flea-ed, possibly with just this chemical. We’ll be checking. Cats do not, of course, generally go in rivers, whereas dogs (particularly some of the one in this village) seem to like nothing better. Dog owners should thus perhaps scrutinise the labels even more carefully. 

• Returning to Covid, as almost every conversation does, my eye was caught by a latter in this week’s NWN which observes that criticising the government ‘has relied on hindsight.’ Aside from the fact that you can only react to something after it’s happened, this is also not true in the sense I think the writer intends it: much criticism of measures was made at the time, some of it by experts. Some of those involved in the decisions have also admitted that many things were missed or mis-calculated. The letter goes on to say that the shortage of PPE equipment has ‘reportedly been solved’: that may or may not be so, but not before a lot of criticism of the kind the write so disparages, including legal action brought by the Doctors’ Association. Questions about the processes certainly remain. As for the accusations of ‘buddies’ being employed, which a previous correspondent had mentioned, the word seems to describe Dido Harding perfectly. The writer says evidence is needed to support such a claim but it’s been all around us for months. Some of it is referred to above. The letter concludes that it is ‘quite pointless to criticise the government’ for the way that it makes its choices (which the letter correctly describes as being complicated), the inference being that we should accept everything that happens as being not only the best possible solution but also somehow inevitable. This is a very dangerous attitude to adopt and one that I for one will not be following. 

• Newbury MP Laura Farris, writing in this week’s Newbury Weekly News, offers a soothing assurance that the relationship between the UK and the USA will be close and harmonious and described the PM’s disparaging reference to President Obama in 2016 as merely a ‘throwaway remark.’ The PM is, of course, fond of throwaway remarks on almost any matter that comes into his head. This one, however, seems to have been stuck with the Biden camp. According to a former Obama press aide quoted in the Sunday Times on 8 November, Biden has “a long memory.” Another senior Democrat, quoted in the same article, refuted any suggestion that the VP might be any more amenable: “If you think Joe hates [Boris Johnston],” he said, “you should hear Kamala.” Laura Farris also refers to a “lazy analysis on the left” that the PM is some kind of Trump clone. This does, however, seem to be fairly accurate summary of Biden’s own view. The phone calls have been made between the two leaders and the wheels of the new relationship set in motion. However, day-to-day relationships between states are not these days conducted at summit level. Despite Ms Farris’ loyal assurances that the two leaders have the potential to form a beautiful friendship, this is probably a very good thing.

• The consultation has now closed on the government’s white paper on planning and no-one I’ve spoken to seems to have much of a good word to say for it. The main problem is its central and fallacious assumption that they key to releasing housing growth is by giving the private sector something approaching a carte blanche. (Developers often get what they want: the reason the system is so slow is because councils spend valuable time trying to get them to stick to the plans that were approved, Sandleford in Newbury and Salisbury Road in Hungerford being excellent examples.) More insidious is the threatened shake-up of the developer contributions (S106 and CIL payments) which, not for the first time, are proposed to be unified into one allegedly simple system. One alarming aspect is that it is proposed these be paid not in stages but all at the end, by which the time the developer will have had time to go bust or to use a viability assessment to prove that it was far too much anyway. Planning authorities and – especially if they have neighbourhood development plans (NDPs) – the parishes derive valuable revenue from these payments which enable them to spend money on relevant infrastructure and affordable homes. It’s hard to imagine that any new scheme is likely to leave local councils better off. There’s also a huge question mark over the whole extent of local participation, including NDPs, in the planning progress: again, the government’s view seems to be that each part of the country will be allocated to one of three development categories and that will be that.

There are some good ideas in it but parts of it are made of populist fluff. One almost suspects that it wasn’t written with planning in mind at all but merely to showcase the government’s unconditional support for the private sector and its red-tape-cutting credentials. Certainly both of these have been very evident in its attitude to ‘wartime’ PPE procurement (see above). The white paper is evidence that the government is at least consistent in this regard; also that it intends to extent this to peacetime manoeuvres as well.  

• The Christmas songs are coming but at least one will be slightly different from usual. The Pogue’s Fairytale of New York is being re-released with some of the ‘derogatory terms’ removed: luckily, the late Kirsty McColl sung an alternative, more acceptable, version of one of the offending lines which has survived and been patched in: Shane MacGowan has mumble-growled a new one of his own elsewhere. I can see exactly why this is happening but can’t help wondering where this might end. Is this, for instance, only something to be done at Christmas? The BBC said it was thinking of “younger listeners who are unfamiliar with the track” some of whose lyrics might be “not in line with what they would expect to hear on air.” The easiest solution would be not to play this ghastly, over-rated song at all…

• The BBC reports that there were 203 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 8-14 November, up 42 on the week before. This equates to 128 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 223 (182 last week). 

• West Berkshire Council says it is ‘working hard’ to ensure that residents in their care homes can stay connected with their relatives and friends during the coronavirus pandemic.

• Highwood Copse Primary School has eventually been completed after three years of delays caused by the withdrawal of the first building contractors in 2018 and the bankruptcy of the second in 2019. WBC’s Education portfolio holder Dominic Boeck described it as “a milestone moment.” I’m not sure about a milestone: like one of those heroic athletes who pull a hamstring and end up crawling or hopping the last half of the race, it’s finally got over the finishing line.

• Newbury’s MP Laura Farris is Co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Western Rail Link between Reading and Heathrow Airport which had its inaugural meeting on 17 November. The link will open up direct rail services from to Heathrow with just one change at Reading for an estimated 20% of the country’s population. The press release also claims that the link will generate an £800m boost to the economy. I’ver got no idea how such figures are calculated or measured and I’ve asked her office if there’s any information on this. That detail aside, this seems like a much more useful bit of railway than some others I could mention.

• West Berkshire Council says that its Family Safeguarding Model the number of children entering care has dropped by more than 40%.

• The West Berkshire Covid dashboard can be visited here

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 (ie very soon).

• West Berkshire Council has announced its plans to support residents during the new national restrictions scheduled to run until 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 dedictaed web pages relating to Covid. Click 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 any dogs (and their owners) who don’t run around in rivers, particularly SSSI ones after they’ve had flea treatment (see ‘rivers’ paragraph above). 

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those covered elsewhere, the moral high ground, U turns, badgers, international institutions and Sandleford.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: FareShare (thanks to Isaac and Benjamin Scott-Kelly); Children in Need (thanks to BST Fitness and Woolton Hill Junior School); Time to Talk West Berkshire (thanks to Newbury Building Society); Racing Welfare, Lambourn Riding for the Disabled and NAWT Trindledown (thanks to 4 LEGS Radio).

Hungerford & district

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

• The November Penny Post Hungerford was published earlier this month and as ever provides the best and most comprehensive round up of what’s going on in the town. If you didn’t receive it, click here to see the whole thing.

• As mentioned numerous times before, the seemingly interminable discussions between the Salisbury Road developers and WBC’s planners continue. The issue concerns not the physical nature of the houses themselves but the nature of their tenancies, the developers preferring that as many as possible be for sale rather than for rent. A report is now needed, but it’s uncertain when that will be produced and considered (and perhaps refuted).  

• Also as mentioned before, the TSB in Hungerford will be unplugging its adding machines for the last time in the spring of 2021, leaving the town without a bank. In-person transactions should still be possible (depending on what bank you are with) at the remaining building society offices and at the Post Office at WHS. It’s worth reflecting for a moment on what there is PO at WHS at all.

Back in 2017, when Martin’s closed, the PO seemed set to go with it. There is no law or regulation that says the the Post Office needs to maintain a counter in any particular place. That Hungerford’s PO survived the nine-month hiatus between the closure of Martins and the opening of WHS is solely due to the Town Council ensuring that a temporary service was provided, by Sue Rendell from Aldbourne, in the Library building. Nine months would easily have been long enough for people to change their habits and make other arrangements: as it was, WHS was in the far better position of being able to take over an existing service rather than re-start one that had closed, which there probably would not have bothered to do. If the Town Council had not kept this going there would be no Post Office now, so hats off to them. The task, which was by no means simple, was documented in a very well-read post which is still on our site.

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

• 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 took place on Tuesday 10 November and you can read the agenda here

Marlborough News reports that Chilton Foliat Primary School is raising funds to help transform its Early Years’ garden and play area.

• 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.’ 

• 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.

• 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. You can click here to read my report of the meeting.

• As mentioned last week, planning application has been made for a change of use from horse-training yard to office space at Mabberley’s in East Garston. You can read more about this, in particular the question of traffic and access,  in this separate post.

• Nearly two years ago, there was an incident of illegal dredging in the SSSI-protected River Lambourn near Mabberleys, a racing yard  near the Queens Arms in East Garston. Despite the perpetrators being caught in the act by Environment Agency (EA) officers and despite the incident being filmed, it’s still unclear what if any action the EA has taken. If there are laws – and the ones governing SSSI-protected rivers like the Lambourn are very clear – then they need to be enforced, and seen to be so: but in this case the repeated message from the EA has been merely that ‘investigations are continuing.’ There’s also the question of the cost of the restitution work, carried out in early 2019, which would have run to a five-figure sum. Who has paid for this? Again, this information is not currently forthcoming.

• Then, earlier this week on 17 November, there were reports of another incident in Lambourn involving rubble being dumped in the river (see below). This may prove to be an even more serious issue than the dredging. Were the EA to have widely publicised its vigorous action against the 2018 culprits and announced that it had successfully recovered the restitution costs (assuming either of these things indeed happened), others might treat the river with greater respect. As it is, there appears to be another pollution incident to deal with – and just at the time when the river levels are rising and any blockages to the water flow will cause problems.

• However, as mentioned last week, it’s not just water that flows in the river. The system of permitted discharges – whereby water companies can, with the EA’s permission, pump untreated sewage into waterways – has contributed to the situation where a depressing 0% of England’s rivers have recently passed the EA’s own tests for having a ‘good chemical status’. The accusation has been made that such permission is given far too freely and that as a result the water companies have less incentive than they might otherwise do to fix the problems with their pipes. A private member’s bill (the ‘Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill’), which is due to be debated by the Commons on 15 January, aims to tighten up on this practice. Until that becomes law, if it does, many people might wonder why they need obey the law when the EA is permitting the discharge of sewage into the rivers and apparently not prosecuting those who damage their beds. 

See this separate post for an analogy, involving an overflowing bath, of the current sewerage problems in the upper valley.

• Returning to Mabberleys, the owners have recently applied for a change of use for conversion of the stables to small office units. The only real objection to this appears to be the access. As this separate post explains, this is currently planned to be, as at present, onto the narrow Front Street, next to the bridge going over the river. A much better access would be from the opposite end of the site and onto the road leading to Great Shefford. There can hardly be any serious objection to this from West Berkshire’s Highways Officers as their predecessors insisted on this very condition when the original plans were approved in the 1980s. For some reason, this was never enforced. Now would be an ideal time to do this. One of the reasons that Front Street can get so busy is that there is a sewage pumping station on the opposite side of the river from Mabberleys which is regularly visited by sewage tanker trucks when the groundwater levels are high for the proposes of the ‘permitted discharges’. The prospect of one of these lorries being involved in an accident with, say, a delivery van don’t bear thinking about. At worst, this could end up causing pollution or damage to the Lambourn’s river bed in East Garston: which takes us back to where we started four paragraphs ago.

• And returning to the question of the rubble dumped in the river in Lambourn, it appears that the Parish Council notified West Berkshire Council’s (WBC’s) Planning Enforcement officers on this on 22 September 2020 and received an automated email the same day quoting a reference number 20/00447/05NOA which promised a response within five days to confirm which of the three priority categories the matter was to be placed in. Nothing more was heard from WBC and the matter wasn’t chased with them. Then, on 16 November, the matter was raised again to WBC and also with the Environment Agency (EA). 

I understand that WBC has only two enforcement officers: Lambourn PC has a part-time Clerk and is staffed by volunteer councillors. None the less, it seems odd that an issue which prompted a further response from Lambourn PC this week was not an item in either the October or the November PC meetings and seemingly not chased with WBC after the initial complaint was made and WBC missed its own response deadline. It’s also odd that WBC’s Planning Enforcement seems to have dropped the matter. It appears that neither party contacted the Environment Agency, both seemingly believing the other had done so.

Penny Post contacted the EA on 17 November to ask when it was made aware of the incident and what action it was taking but has yet to receive a reply to this point. However, a spokesperson did confirm that anyone aware of an incident that might involve pollution should call 0800 80 70 60 to report this to the EA, even if they are also going to be contacting another body like the council or the Police – do not assume that they will notify the EA themselves.

• The most recent meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council took 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 was the 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 was covered in detail in last week’s column.)

• The November Valley of the Racehorse e-newsletter was published earlier this month. Click here to see it if you didn’t receive it.

• The most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council for which minutes have been published took place on 2 September and the draft minutes can be seen here.  

Click here or here for the latest news from Lambourn Surgery

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.

• We mentioned last week about a 24-hour gaming centre in Newbury’s Market Place. The objections to this were mainly on grounds of increasing crime but the applicant pointed out that the group has 170 other venues nationwide, not one of which the Police had ever tried to revoke the licence for. P3 of this week’s NWN, however, reveals an alarming list of criminal incidents at several of Casino Gaming premises over the last eight years. These involve hold ups, knives, cleavers, screwdrivers, GBH, armed robbery and criminal damage. These did not, however, seem to be enough for the Police to want to revoke any of the licences. I wonder what is?

• The consultation on the proposed new plans for Kennet Centre has now closed although information can still be seen here. The NWN reports this week that the matter was recently discussed by Newbury Town Council and, as had previously been suggested, the main concern was that the it could be up to eleven storeys tall. 

• The same paper covers, on the font page, the continuing saga of the London Road Industrial Estate and, in particular, the logistical, financial and public-relations corner West Berkshire Council has painted itself into with regard to the closure of the football ground and the costs that it now claims are necessary to revert the situation back to a less good version of what was there before. 

• Newbury BID has launched its ‘shop local‘ campaign – see here for more.

• 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.

• If you are involved with an organisation or charity that benefits the residents of Newbury, don’t miss your chance to apply for grant funding for a special project or core costs. To apply you must register with The Good Exchange and complete the grant application process by 16 January 2021. All applications for funding that are on the Good Exchange website by this date, and posted since 20 August 2020, will be considered if they fulfil the Town Council’s criteria. The Council’s criteria for grant funding can be found here. The Grant Sub-committee of Newbury Town Council will meet on 28 January 2021 to consider the applications. The total fund now available is £4,700 and The Good Exchange has agreed to match-fund all grants.

• The Royal Horticultural Society has awarded Newbury with a Certificate of Recognition for its Britain in Bloom efforts in this difficult year.

• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council took place on 13 October and you can read the minutes here (scroll down to ‘Minutes 2020’: when clicked, the PDF will download). 

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

• The most recent meeting of West Ilsley Parish Council took place on 9 November and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the co-option of a new member, the ‘misplaced optimism’ that a BT upgrade over the summer would have solved a communication problem for West Ilsley News involving the troublesome btinternet domain, the role of the village trusts, one minor planning application, damage to a local public footpath, traffic-calming measures and the continuing lack of a Clerk.

• The most recent meeting of Brightwalton Parish Council took place on 9 November and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the Village Hall’s finances, the Christmas lights, discussions with the Diocese of Oxford about the playing field lease, playground maintenance, the John Hall-Craggs memorial, parking at and near the school, improvements to the local electricity network by SSEN, the Council’s finances and two planning applications.

• The most recent meeting of Ashampstead Parish Council took place on 2 November and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the barriers and logs on the lay-by, dogs on the Ridgeway, two planning applications, a report on the October litter pick, discussions about how the CIL funds should be spent, the draft 2021-22 budget.

• The most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council took place on 20 October and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included three planning applications, the noting of the confirmation from WBC that it had approved new storage units at the Old Station Business Park (to which the PC had objected), the submission of the draft NDP for its next stage of consultation and the PC’s response to WBC’s draft Housing Strategy.

• The most recent meeting of Hampstead Norreys Parish Council took place on 29 October and you can read the minutes here

• The November Chaddleworth News has been published and you can read it here. If there’s anything you want to have in the December issue, email chaddnews@gmail.com by 23 November.

• 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 Chaddleworth Parish Council took place on 6 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

Latest news from Thatcham Town Council, Hermitage Parish Council, Cold Ash Parish Council, Bucklebury Parish Council, Brimpton Parish Council and Woolhampton Parish Council.

Newbury Today reports that Parson’s Down Infant School could be demolished as its school partnership faces falling pupil numbers.

The same source confirms the the traditional Christmas lights switch-on has been cancelled because of the risk of being so close to the end of a second lockdown.

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

See this separate post for information on the fight to save Piggy Woods from piecemeal acquisition and possible development. 

• The most recent meeting of Brimpton Parish Council took place on 3 November and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included a review of the progress on the parish plan, an update on the Enborne Way Allotments, confirmation of the joint purchase of a speed indicator device with three neighbouring parishes, three planning applications, the draft 2021-22 budget, a report from the Village Hall and a discussion about possibly moving the post box in the centre of the village.

• The most recent meeting of Cold Ash Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 27 October and you can read the minutes here

• Information about the progress of Cold Ash’s neighbourhood development plan can be found here.

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin, which this week starts with a red sky and ends with a fine line.

Theale and district

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

• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 10 November and you can see the minutes here. Items covered included a planning application, a solution to the problem of some diseased horse chestnut trees, the whittling down of the short list of four possible new items of fitness equipment at the Recreation Ground to an even shorter list of two and confirmation that Aldermaston, along with the three neighbouring parishes of Benham, Brimpton and Padworth, has agreed the shared purchase of speed monitoring equipment, the financing of which was helped by a member’s bid of £1,000. 

• The most recent meeting of Burghfield Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 1 October 2020 and you can read the minutes here. Items covered a limit on the time spent of questions in the open forum, the co-option of two new members, the PC’s response to WBC’s draft Cultural Heritage Strategy, a report from the Village Hall committee, the consideration of possible subjects for a members’ bid and a discussion of the draft 2021-22 budget.

• The ward member Alan Macro is campaigning for a pedestrian crossing at the eastern (Reading) end of Theale High Street.

• The most recent meeting of Theale Parish Council took place on 2 November and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included four planning applications (consideration of two of which were deferred), the discussion of a list of priority projects for the next financial year, proposals to increase the use of the recreation ground and an agreement to waive some of the hire charges to Theale and Tilehurst Cricket Club.

• 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

Marlborough & district

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

• The BBC reports that there were 596 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 8-14 November, 137 up on the week before. This equates to 119 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 223 (182 last week). 

• The most recent meeting of Marlborough Town Council took place on 2 November 2020 and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included a report from the local Police team, proposals for a whole-town transport strategy, speeding at Port Hill, municipal arrangements during the current lockdown,  the town’s climate emergency declaration, the community fridge and a possible tourist information centre. 

Marlborough News reports here on the arrival of the town’s Christmas tree at The Green.

• The same source explains that the Town Council has agreed that the Rugby Club can have a third pitch on the Common and how it will have to negotiate with the Football Club and the Model Flying Club about its use at weekends.

Click here for two excellent lists of suppliers in and around Marlborough which are offering takeaways and also those offering deliveries or click-and-collect for a wide range of products. 

• Apply by 27 November for the next round of grants from Marlborough Town Council.

• You can click here to read the most recent (11 November) blog from Marlborough’s Mayor, Mark Cooper.

• There’s a brief report and photos here recording Marlborough’s socially-distanced Remembrance Day commemoration.

• If you need help during the latest lockdown, Marlborough’s volunteers are able and ready to help. Click here for details.

Click here for details of Marlborough’s neighbourhood development plan.

• Local charity Action Through Enterprise is hosting an online fundraising Christmas quiz on Saturday 28 November.

• To tie in with the autumn foliage, Marlborough Town 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.

• 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 4 November and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the draft budget,  a wrongly-positioned parking bay, a report from the local Carbon-neutral group, the neighbourhood development plan and flooding and Thames Water’s role in trying to address this. 

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 187 CV-19 cases in the Vale in the week 8-14 November, 34 up on the week before. This equates to 137 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 223 (182 last week). 

• This week’s Herald refers, on p9, to the possible long-awaited re-opening of Wantage Road station to the north of Grove. (Given how fast development is taking place found there, it may soon be in the middle of Grove.) The article refers to the last-minute scramble to get the project included in the DfT’s latest round of funding following a mix-up with the paperwork. The case for re-opening the station (closed in 1964), already strong, grows stronger by the day given the area’s growing population and the demands of the climate emergency. One of the issues is the technical complexity of adding a new station to an existing line. You or I might think it’s just a question of the Fat Controller saying to the driver ‘there’s a new station at Grove – stop there for a bit and then go on again’ but it seems there’s a lot more to it than that. A few months ago I decided to ask an expert and got in touch with the Editor of Railway Professional. He told me that he hoped to run an article explaining this complex matter before the end of the year. I learned today that it might be in the next issue. As soon as I know more I’ll let you know.

• The most recent meeting of Wantage Town Council was held on 12 October and you can read the minutes here. One of the items included some questions from Julie Mabberley about some council documents, the written reply to which revealed that the taxonomy of the TC’s website needed updating (which has since happened). other matters covered included confirmation that the Vale Council (in common with other authorities) had taken over the responsibility for local test-and-trace duties, the Vale’s response to the government’s white paper on planning, the continuation of the artisan markets and the town’s winter floral displays.

• Two new Covid Compliance Marshals are now out and about to promote and encourage businesses and residents across in South Oxfordshire and the Vale to comply with the COVID-19 public health measures to reduce the impact of the pandemic. Read more here.

Businesses in South Oxfordshire and the Vale that have been temporarily forced to close and those that have been severely impacted by the latest national lockdown may apply for new support grant funding.

• The Vale Council has launched its new corporate plan outlining how it will serve its communities over the next few years. The plan includes what the council’s priorities should be while supporting the district through COVID-19, the recovery, and beyond. Read more here.

• The Leaders of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils have written a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to express their dismay that the national lockdown was announced without sufficient support for all businesses in place.

• As mentioned last week, the latest newsletter from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group includes the latest on the developments at Crab Hill and Park Farm. If you want to subscribe to the newsletter (which is free), click here.

• 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.

Click here for news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group.

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald gives an update on the various housing developments in and around Wantage. One column of a newspaper is scarcely long enough to cover such a large subject. 

• One of the letters in this week’s Herald takes issue with many of the party-political points made by MP David Johnston in his  article last week which was headlined ‘Forget party politics and let’s work together.’

• The MP is quoted in the same paper, on p3, drawing attention to the worsening safety records on the A420 and the A34.

• 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 November 2020 issue of the Letcombe Register. Items covered include plans to improve the Letcombe Brook, a message from the Parish Council, gardening tips, news from village voluntary and community groups and the saint of the month

• 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 481 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 8-14 November, 72 up on the week before. This equates to 216 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 223 (182 last week). 

• South Swindon MP Robert Buckland has appealed to Swindon Borough Council following the shock news that the Oasis Leisure Centre is set to close. According to the Advertiser, the operator and the landlord have decided that the facility’s future is ‘no longer viable.’

• Residents are being asked asked to contribute to the Council’s plans to reduce the borough’s carbon footprint. This follows the recent announcement of an ambitious plan to make Swindon Borough Council carbon neutral within 10 years which has been presented to the town’s councillors.

• Grants are available for businesses in Swindon impacted by national Covid-19 restrictions.

• The Advertiser reports that senior council officers have claimed that thousands of jobs could come to the town if the the soon-to-be-vacant Honda site is used properly.

• Swindon’s former Groundwell Park and Ride could be given a new lease of life after Swindon Borough Council’s Planning Committee approved a development brief.

Work has been completed on two schemes to help walkers and cyclists get about.

• Wiltshire Police claims that Covid patrols increase public engagement. This post reports that they are now being seen on Swindon’s streets.

• 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, here we go with the Song of the Week. Pink Floyd at their best were exceptional and at their worst  very self-indulgent. This is one of my favourites of theirs, from 1971’s Meddle and not at all typical of the band’s style. Quite what it’s about or what it has to do with St Tropez I couldn’t tell you but I like its wistfulness. So, without further ado: St Tropez.

• And, penultimately, it’s the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Several years ago our friend Nick Ball made a wonderfully funny series of short sketches under the general title of Quiet Desperation. I watched one of them the other day for the first time in too long and ended up laughing with a mouthful of tea, which took a bit of clearing up. So, put that cup down and have a look at The Cage Fighter (Part One).

• And so we pull into the terminus that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is one I may have asked before but I’m going to ask it again: What is odd about the respective sizes of the sun and the moon? Last week’s question was: What do Albert Camus, Pope John Paul II and David Icke have in common? The answer is that – as well, of course, as being internationally revered intellectuals – they were all goalkeepers. I could also have added Arthur Conan Doyle, Che Guevara, Vladimir Nabokov, Luciano Pavarotti, Nils Bohr and Julio Iglesias to the list: but I didn’t.

Brian Quinn

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