Local News 26 November to 3 December 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including East Garston’s handover, Lambourn’s water, Great Shefford’s role, Hungerford’s priority, Thatcham’s ownership, Newbury’s cards, Marlborough’s cinema, Cold Ash’s bench, Inkpen’s bulletin, Aldbourne’s budget, Chaddleworth’s volunteers, Shefford Woodland’s prize, Kintbury’s aerial, Wantage’s parking, Grove’s homes, Compton’s regulation 14, East Ilsley’s quicksand, Hermitage’s minutes, Swindon’s gallery, unforeseen events, co-operation, the hand of God, mixing up the dates, not great but not terrifying, LoRaWAN again, Covid grants, grandmother’s footsteps, a cruel trick, sharp teeth, brain crash, rubbish in the river, a world beater, Rocky the owl, nanny’s stick, dinner with the in-laws and sweet Georgia Brown.

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)

• Last week, the BBC published a good article about the government’s pandemic response entitled Coronavirus: inside test and trace: how the ‘world beater’ went wrong. Before taking a quick look at some of its main conclusions, one statement struck me very strongly and I’d like to have a round of whack-a-mole with this first.

It was the government’s claim – made here to rebut criticism of the way contracts were awarded but which has also been applied to every aspect of the response – that the situation was “brought about by unforeseeable events.” This is simply not true.

I’m not pretending that I, or most of you, foresaw that a pandemic might arrive: but that’s not our job. There is ample evidence, including in this article published by GEN and this one by National Geographic, that scientists have been for decades, and particularly since SARS and MERS, been warning that species-jumping viruses were arming themselves for war but that not enough attention was paid to the concerns. The UK government took the threat seriously enough to stage a simulation, the Cygnus Exercise, in 2006. There are several views to how effective the subsequent action was. In a reversal of their normal opinions, The Guardian appears to accept that many of the recommendations were put in place while The Telegraph has a rather more scathing assessment. That the government claimed the current pandemic was ‘unforeseeable’, coupled with the early shortages of just the things that might have been anticipated, inclines me to the latter point of view. 

The real problem would seem to be the lack of international co-operation. I don’t know anything first-hand about the way the scientific world works but my studies as a historian have taught me that there are only two reasons why humans co-operate, or even peaceably cohabit: if it is in their mutual interests or if they are compelled. In recent years, the trend towards divisiveness and competition has become more noticeable. This is partly because increasingly influential platforms like Facebook, Twitter thrive on division and discord; partly because a number of countries including the UK, the USA, China, Russia, India and Brazil have adopted policies that have very strong nationalistic aspects.

At times of crisis, it’s politically expedient either to blame another country for the problem, or to compare your own country’s reaction to the problem with those of others. Both tend to reduce rather than increase international co-operation, which is exactly the response required towards existential threats like pandemics and climate change. As recent events have shown, the scientific community, though to some extents a bubble unto itself, is capable of high levels of co-operation where this is prevented by governments. Its conclusions can also be subjected to empirical analysis, unlike those of politicians, management consultants or military experts, which are essentially expedient or reactive. (This article in The Guardian offers some insights into how we can all apply a bit of empirical analysis to the science and its often political interpretations with which we are being bombarded.)

The more money we spend on something the less inclined we are to doubt the wisdom of its opinions or its importance to our lives. According to the Office of National Statistics, the UK government’s expenditure on science, engineering and technology in 2017 was 0.59% of GDP. In the same year, according to Our World in Data, 1.83% was spent on defence: over three times as much. If these proportions could be reversed, so might their respective influences. If you spend that kind of money on defending yourself against enemies, sure as hell you’re going to find them. The largely invisible foes that science needs to fight are in some ways more difficult to combat than those from our fellow humans. It’s also interesting how much governments have, in the last nine months, payed fulsome homage to scientists, whose role in decision-making was previously at best invisible. ‘Following the best science’ has become one of the catchphrases of 2020. It’s all slightly like seeing a lapsed Catholic who, after a lifetime of profanity and dissipation, decides when, in extremis, that they would like quite like a priest by their bedside.

• So – back to the BBC article. The main point I got from it was that, in so many ways, any failures were caused by trying to over-centralise rather than trust local networks, for testing, tracing and general management. The article makes a point that we all knew, that local networks had been underfunded for years. The preferred solution, now largely abandoned, was to try to invent something new. This makes about as much sense as deciding to design and build a lorry from scratch just because your fleet of vans needs a service and a top-up of petrol. The main changeover, in mid-August, when the government admitted that local networks needed to replace or at least supplement the creaking and inflexible centralised tracing system, has not been without its problems as the local groups appear to be hampered by a lack of accurate information, resulting in much duplication.

All central governments have, by definition, a compulsion to centralise just as all nations states have, by definition, a compulsion to divide other nation states into friends and enemies. Neither of these seem particularly useful ways of dealing with genuine existential threats: but, even as the reality of these threats multiply, it seems to be ones we’re stuck with.

• Speaking of nationalism, few English football fans will forgive Diego Maradona for his ‘hand of God’ goal in the ’86 World Cup. The moment for forgiveness has, however, passed as the man died on 25 November, 15 years to the day after an equally flawed genius of the beautiful game, George Best. I don’t feel a huge sense of loss, football fan though I be. Even in his pomp there seemed something wrong with him, as there seemed to be with Best, as if all this talent had been shoved into the wrong person. Cruyff, Beckenbauer and Pele, on the other hand, always appeared much more at one with themselves. I know little of their private lives, you understand: I’m just saying how they strike me. I’ve never really gone for the idea of tortured genius in any case. Once established as a tenet about a person, it can easily become a carte blanche for all manner of self-indulgences. The phrase seems to describe most famous visual artists. Perhaps that’s why I’m completely indifferent to visual art. It also might explain why I prefer Iris Murdoch to Virginia Woolf, Blur to Oasis and McCartney to Lennon. Anyway, Maradona was a great footballer, so respect is due. But he wasn’t as good as Pele.

• West Berkshire, Wiltshire, Swindon and Oxfordshire are all in tier two as of 2 December – this ministerial statement has more information. This will be subject to fortnightly reviews, the first being on 16 December: perhaps before that there will be some clarification of some of the grey areas, so leading to Tiers 2.1, Tiers 2.2 and so on, each one hopefully more robust and less buggy that its predecessor. The first question is how these tiers have been allocated. Dividing the country into three parts, like Ceasar’s Gaul, is quite a blunt way of reacting to the subtleties of population density, infection and available hospital facilities. One might assume that recent infection rates would be a key part – but, as these maps show, apart from in the north-west, there’s little correlation between this and the tiers as they are at present. For hospitality venues, the blow is especially savage, as the limitations are more stringent than before. It’s also unclear whether the Christmas bubble enlargements will apply to pubs during that period. Finally, I can’t see any reference to whether swimming pools can open or not.   

• There’s been quite a bit of confusion, which has only recently been cleared up, as to when the current lockdown would end. I could quote half a dozen different official sources that don’t all tell the same story. To say that the regulations will ‘last until’ or ‘end on’ a particular date leaves open the question of whether that is the the last day of the old arrangements or the first of the new ones. This ambiguity becomes increasingly obvious as the date/s get closer. It has now been confirmed that these new regulations – which, if it were a software release would be called Tiers 2.0 – will come into force on 2 December. Hopefully the government has amended the date of the previous regulations. If not, on 2 December (and perhaps on 3 December) two separate and in some cases mutually incompatible sets of regulations would be in force. One set of regulations at a time is quite enough to understand. If my brain were trying to run Lockdown 2.3 and Tiers 2.0 at the same time I think it would crash.

• The Chancellor’s Financial Statement on 25 November painted a moderately bleak picture of the immediate prospects for the country. The following day, he offered a more encouraging assessment: the forecasts “are not great. But they are not terrifying. We have had much bigger economic shocks and fiscal tightenings before. See the last decade.” The last four words will be the ones that worry many people most. The austerity measures introduced by the hapless David Cameron had, because of being more concerned with cutting spending than re-balancing taxation, a disproportionate effect on those least able to cope with it. We were told that we were “all in it together.” Some of us, however, were in it more than others, and may be so again…

• The BBC reports that there were 132 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 16-22 November, down 49 on the week before. This equates to 83 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 165 (223 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.

• West Berkshire Council’s Local Restrictions Support Grant will support businesses that pay business rates on their premises and which have been forced to close. More information here.

• The Additional Restrictions Grant is a discretionary grant that will be administered by West Berkshire Council to support businesses which have been affected by restrictions and which have not received other grant support or which require further assistance. More information here.

• 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 Lottery has announced that all tickets purchased for its weekly lottery up until Saturday, 19 December will be entered into a national draw for the chance of winning one of five ‘Entertainment Bundles’ (an Amazon Echo Show 8, Echo Dot 3rd Gen and a Fire 7 Tablet).

• 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 their own web pages relating to the outbreak. Click here as follows for the high-level links for West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon.

• West Berkshire Council has set up a Community Support HubClick here to visit the website or call 01635 503 579 to speak to the the Building Communities Together team. The Hub has also set up two FAQ pages, for residents and for businesses. You can also click here to sign up to receive the Hub’s e-bulletins and click here to see the weekly updates. 

• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.

Click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. As with the volunteers’ post above, if you are aware of any others, let us know.

• The animal of the week is Rocky the owl who got inadvertently transported in the New York Christmas tree at The Rockefeller Centre (hence the name, I guess), was discovered, handed over to a specialist rescue centre  and (spoiler alert) released back into the wild. 

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those covered elsewhere, communications about expert advice, banking security questions, grounds for an apology, family homes and rainforests.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: The Pink Place (thanks to The Finch Group); The Fair Close Centre (thanks to Newbury Town Council); Children in Need (thanks to The Old Station Nursery); Against Breast Cancer (thanks to Padworth’s Jubilee Day Nursery); numerous local charities (thanks to Greenham Trust); Swindon Food Collective (thanks to Swindon Borough Council).

Hungerford & district

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

• The rumbling matter of the proposed revision to the development at Salisbury Road has been referred to on a weekly basis in this column for as long as I can remember – and here it comes again. The proposed change, which would see no social-rent homes being built, has been widely criticised. An article on p25 of this week’s NWN also returns to this theme and quotes several local residents asking why this non-viability hadn’t been spotted before: the developers are quoted as claiming this is down to the ‘different economic and financial outlook’ that now prevail compared to when the outline permission was granted in 2017. This doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me – the pandemic has made Hungerford has become a more desirable place to live and the need for social and affordable homes is even more acute than before – but what I, or the objectors, think doesn’t really matter. The planning system permits this game of grandmother’s footsteps to be played whereby an application is constantly revised and chipped away at to turn it from what would be approved to what the developers are prepared to build.

The government’s recent white paper claimed that the system was slow and that this was mainly down to the ponderous planners and not the fleet-footed developers who, once freed from red tape, would miraculously be able to solve the country’s housing crisis. This issue proves just how vacuous a proposition this is. The current delay is caused by the planners attempting to ensure that some aspects of what they approved, based on the area’s needs, actually gets built. This seems reasonable.

You can see the details of the application, including the 35 or so letters of objection, by clicking here.

• This week’s NWN has, on p24, an update (not that a great deal has happened) on the former Chestnut Walk care home near the football ground which was to have been converted to social housing as part of a joint venture between Sovereign Housing and West Berkshire Council. I remember being present in early 2018 when Sovereign employee and then District Councillor Paul Hewer, in one of his fairly rare appearances at Hungerford Town Council’s monthly meetings, announced that planning approval would soon be sought. This has not yet happened, despite the joint venture having identified Chestnut Grove as a ‘priority project’ in January 2019. 

• 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.

• Hungerford currently has a vacancy for a Town Councillor – 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 Kintbury Parish Council took place on 5 November and you can read the minutes here.  Items covered included a discussion about encouraging public participation on Zoom meetings, members’ bids, work in siting the new defibrillator, the possible ways in which CIL (developer contribution) revenues should be spent, funding for improvements to the playground, a possible telecoms aerial, two planning applications and the Christmas lights. 

• Click here for the December 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.

• The next meeting of Lambourn Parish Council will take place on 2 December. Members of the public are welcome to attend: please email lambournpc@btconnect.com in good time if you want to get the Zoom access code. Items up for discussion include various planning applications, CCTV, the community orchard, CIL expenditure, the asset register, alleged dumping in the River Lambourn, an update from the NDP group and the confirmation of the 2021-22 budget. 

• The most recent meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council took place on Thursday 5 November and the minutes can be seen here. As previously reported, the main item discussed 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 12-19 November column.) It’s important to stress that parish councils are only consultees in the planning process: the final decision in this district is taken by West Berkshire Council’s planning officers or in some cases (including this case) the members of its Western Area Planning Committee (WAPC). On this occasion the parish council objected to certain aspects of the development, on grounds which, as the minutes show, were based on policy and not sentiment. Several of these concerns have since been echoed by officers at various departments of West Berkshire Council. The matter will probably come before WAPC in early 2021.

• The most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council took place on 4 November and the draft minutes can be seen here. Matters discussed included confirmations PC’s receipts from CIL payments (currently over £6,000 this year) and how these might be spent, matters arising from the handover to the new Clerk, a report on the playground equipment and the recent village clear-up day, discussions about the use of the Millennium Field and the parish plan review and an update from WBC on the results from the speed indicator device. It was also reported that Thames Water has a works programme in place which will include sealing 40 metres of sewer pipes in Front Street during the winter.

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

• 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.

• 29 November will mark the second anniversary of an incident of illegal dredging in the SSSI-protected River Lambourn near the above-mentioned Mabberleys in East Garston. Penny Post (and the Newbury Weekly News) contacted the Environment Agency (EA) for a statement: the one we received read:  “The Environment Agency take any harm caused to the environment very seriously, keeping any legal action under constant review. Following our investigation into alleged illegal dredging of the River Lambourn in 2018, we are considering all possible enforcement options open to us. The river continues to respond well to our restoration work, and we are confident the Lambourn will remain a vital habitat for invertebrates, plants and fish. Anyone can report suspicions of environmental harm to our 24-hour incident hotline: 0800 807060.” This is substantially the same as several others which have been received over the last year or so. I contacted the EA and suggested that the perception was that nothing was happening. On the contrary, I was assured: however a criminal investigation was in progress which limits what can be said. I then asked whether he could ally the concern I had heard expressed that the restitution work on early 2019 was done at the public expense. The spokesperson reassured me that every effort has been and would be made to ensure that this cost would be covered by the offender, following the ‘polluter pays’ principle. They were unable to confirm if any payments had yet been received, what the total costs might be and when the results of this and the related but separate criminal investigation would be resolved and publicised.

• It’s possible that, were the EA’s teeth and claws to have been a bit more visible, a similar incident further upstream in Lambourn may not have happened. This appears to have begun in September with reports of rubble being left in the river and a bank being damaged. A spokesperson from the Environment Agency confirmed to Penny Post on 26 November that “Environment Agency officers visited the site in September. The owner agreed to do no further work to the river and to apply for the appropriate permit.” However, it has been alleged that similar work has been going on, including further dumping of materials and the uprooting on on-site burins of a river-side bush. Penny Post has contacted the EA to ask it to confirm if a licence has been applied for and, if so, whether any work done is in accordance with its terms.

• The River Lambourn, certainly in our stretch in East Garston, is now flowing again although because of the way the springs work some sections up- or down-stream may still be dry (below Maiden Court Farm between East Garston and Great Shefford it flows year-round). See this separate post for an analogy, involving an overflowing bath, of the current sewerage problems in the upper valley which the rising water-table levels will make more severe.  

• See also p3 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News for an article which touches on the above points and also has some rather depressing photographs of some of the rubbish that ends up in the river.

• Who were undone by one of their own in Lisbon in August? Which David was fastest to a million in September? Which Octavia designed The Pheasant’s private dining room? These are just three of the 19 questions in the Penny Post 2020 Christmas and New Year Quiz, the prize for which is a meal for two, a bottle of house wine, a room for the night and breakfast the following day at The Pheasant in Shefford Woodlands. 19 might seem like a strange number of questions but there’s a good reason for this. Click here to see the quiz for yourself.

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.

Click here to see a few of the things that Newbury Town Council Leader Martin Colston has been up to in November.

• The 24-hour gaming centre in Newbury’s Market Place is again covered in this week’s NWN, on p7. Last week’s paper listed a number of serious incidents at some of the Casino Gaming’s 170-odd other venues over the last eight years. WBC’s Licensing Committee was not aware of these when it made its decision. In any event, and on reflection, this is perhaps not such a hideous charge sheet when spread over about half a million days of operation. Many pub chains would probably fare less well on such a test. 

However, that is not to say that WBC is powerless. WBC’s Western Area Planning Committee has required that the opening times be reduced to bring them in line with other neighbouring venues likes pubs and clubs, and the Licensing Committee has given the applicant its licence based on statements made about not offering credit (a national ban on betting on credit cards came into force in April 2020) and that the licence can be revoked if statements made prove incorrect. If anyone has any concerns about the operation of this premises – for example finds that betting on credit is being offered after all, here or any other place with a drink or gambling licence – they should contact West Berkshire Council which can invoke the Public Protection Partnership or the Police and demand a review of the licence. So, Nanny may not be wagging her finger at Casino Gaming but she still has a large stick to hand should it be needed.

• The consultation on the proposed new plans for Kennet Centre has now closed although information can still be seen here

• The Newbury Weekly News reports on p2 that the regeneration plans for the London Road Industrial Estate have moved “a step closer” and that it’s “back on track.” The Newbury Community Football Group which has long campaigned for the re-opening of the Faraday Road ground would probably not agree with this. It is also uncertain whether the site can be developed in anything other than a piecemeal way given the long leases that are held by some tenants. There are four letters touching on various aspects of this long-running issue in this week’s Newbury Weekly News.

• See pp6-7 of this week’s NWN for a report on the town’s virtual Christmas lights switch-on.

• West Berkshire Council has tackled a ‘litter and fly-tipping hotspot‘ along a section of the A339 in Newbury.

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

• Applications are open for grants to support local environmental groups with projects that will reduce CO2 emissions and other actions that benefit the climate in Newbury. The closing date s 31 December 2020. More information can be found here.

• If you are involved with an organisation or charity that benefits the residents of Newbury, you can 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.  The Council’s criteria for grant funding can be found here

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

• Newbury in Bloom is preparing for the future as well – See here for details of its tree-planting days on Saturday 5 and 12 December.

• This week’s NWN has, on pp22-23, some of the entries for designing the Mayor’s 2020 Christmas cards, Sarah Logan (adult) and Sophie Hyde (junior) being the winners.

• 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 Chaddleworth Parish Council took place on 3 November and you can read the minutes here. Matters covered included one planning application, the planning application at The Great Shefford (see Lambourn Valley section above), online banking, repairs to the playground (effected by members of the PC and volunteers at no cost to the parish), the resurfacing of the village hall car park, the LoRaWAN Gateway (see the last section of this recent report on the Lambourn PC meeting in early November which explains more on this), the progress of the proposed Lockdown Wood project in the village, an extra donation to the Handybus service and dog waste. 

• The most recent meeting of East Ilsley Parish Council took place on 10 November and you can read the draft minutes here. Matters discussed included the village volunteers, future CIL payments, proposed improvement works at the pond (which ideally needs to professionally excavated as it is heavily silted, the bottom being ‘the consistency of quicksand’),  the draft budget for 2021-22, recent council donations and Compton’s neighbourhood development plan.

• Regarding this last item, the Compton Neighbourhood Development Plan is now subject to a formal six-week consultation period starting on 9 November. The ‘regulation 14’ Consultation will run until Monday 21st December 2020. The Compton NDP Steering Group is inviting comments on the proposals in the plan. More information here.

• The most recent meeting of West Ilsley Parish Council took place on 9 November and you can read the minutes here

• The most recent meeting of Brightwalton Parish Council took place on 9 November and you can read the minutes here

• The most recent meeting of Ashampstead Parish Council took place on 2 November and you can read the minutes here

• The most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 20 October and you can read the minutes here

• 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. The December issue will be published soon.

• The most recent meeting of Hermitage Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 15 October and you can read the minutes here. Matters discussed included planning correspondence, two planning applications and the playgrounds’ inspection reports. (The minutes are written in such a way that it’s hard for a non-resident such as me to offer any further summary.)

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

Thatcham and district

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

• The most recent meeting of Thatcham Town Council 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. One aspect of this is that Thatcham Town Council believed that the woods were owned by West Berkshire Council. It was suggested to be that this transfer should have happened as long ago as the 1990s (to Newbury District Council, as was) but that this never happened. I asked WBC if this was the case and, on 26 November, received the following reply: “As this site is not within the ownership of WBC or on our data systems, the council will need to investigate through the Land Registry history for the site to establish if any link exists between previous owners and WBC. We will advise once this task is concluded. If Land Registry data does not show any link we may not be able to establish if this was ever the case.” My other question to WBC was that, if it were to invite parishes to scrutinise its list of its assets every year, this problem would have come to light decades ago – someone at Thatcham TC would have spotted that these woods, which they thought were owned by WBC, was not on WBC’s list and queried this. I was told that “it would not be efficient” for WBC to do this. However, the rest of the answer suggested that my point had been misunderstood so have asked it again in a different way and await a response.

• West Berkshire Council has completed flood-defence schemes in Thatcham that it claims will protect around 600 homes. The schemes, at Dunston Park and South East Thatcham are now operational and awaiting landscaping to complete the cosmetic aspect of the works.

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

• 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

• Col Ash’s tree-planting day will take place on Sunday 13 December.

• 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 bench and finishes with some dolphins.

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 concept of physical advent calendars – where, each day, a different display or piece of artwork is revealed at different places throughout a town or village – has become more and more popular recently. Beenham did a successful one last year and is doing so again in 2020. The plan is to have two revealed each day, one in an adult and one in a children’s category. If you want to take part (particularly in the latter group), get in touch with Pat Owen at patowen0@hotmail.com or call her on 07947 478 840.

Click here to see the most recent (November 2020) copy of the Padworth Newsletter. This includes notes on the most recent Parish Council meeting on 5 October.

• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 10 November and you can see the minutes here

• 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

• 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

• 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 563 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 16-22 November, down 58 on the week before. This equates to 113 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 165 (223 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 that The Parade Cinema is set to open in August 2021.

• The same source reveals the winners of Marlborough LitFest’s primary schools’ competition.

• Marlborough’s Christmas lights are on but without the usual switch-on event – read a report from the Town Council here.

And still with MN, St John’s is preparing to submit a planning application that will expand sports provision for the school’s 1,700+ students and ensure that local community groups have access to a wider range of facilities.

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 (so very soon) 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.

• 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.

• 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 96 CV-19 cases in the Vale in the week 16-22 November, down 75 on the week before. This equates to 71 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 165 (223 last week). 

• This week’s Herald has, on the front page and p3, a report on the “urgent appeal to add parking spaces” in Wantage. The article quotes the Chamber of Commerce Vice-Chair, Richard Shepherd as saying that “businesses are concerned about the potential devastation to the local economy” as a result of the moves by the Town Council to increase the pedestrianised areas of the town. This is one of those issues where the demands of the climate emergency, of shoppers, of retailers, of the emergency services and of the various councils are rarely aligned. Similar discussions and experiments have taken place in many other towns, including Newbury. 

• If you can find a parking space in Wantage, there will be free parking in all Vale Council car parks on Saturday 7, 14 and 21 December.

• 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.

• Vale Council Leader Emily Smith has responded to the Chancellor’s spending review.

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 Grove (Wantage had its turn last week). She concludes with a reminder that about 6,000 homes are planned or approved in Wantage and Grove which will add perhaps 15,000 people to their population. Other villages lie Letcombe Regis, East Challow and the Hannays also all have three-figure allocations. Is the infrastructure ready? With no leisure centre (abandoned), no railway station (seemingly stuck in a tunnel) and no community hospital (‘temporarily closed’ these four years) the answer is looking like ‘no.’

• Local MP David Johnston writing in his fortnightly column on p10 in the Herald, describes his raising the safety issues on the A420 and A34 when his name came out of the hat (it’s probably an old velvet bag with 650 names written on 650 bits of parchment) for an adjournment debate in the Commons recently. He also said that he managed “to get in yet another plug for Grove station.”

• 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 324 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 16-22 November, down 110 on the week before. This equates to 146 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 165 (223 last week). 

• Perhaps not surprisingly, both of Swindon’s Conservative MPs have praised the government’s spending review for its commitment to tackle Covid next year together with funding for public services and economic recovery.

• Swindon Borough Council is to receive £731,500 from the Government to improve walking and cycling provision across the borough.

• Lockdown may have forced Swindon Museum and Art Gallery to close its doors, but people from across the country will still be able to view the town’s renowned Modern British Art collection thanks to a new online exhibition.

• 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.

• 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.

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

Click here for information from Swindon Council about how Coronavirus is affecting its services as well as other useful information. 

• Click here for details of the many volunteering opportunities at Great Western Hospital.

The song, the sketch and the quiz

• So, here comes the Song of the Week. Yesterday I was looking for stuff about local music and came across an article about Studio G (aka Dan Goddard from Newbury) and a version of  Sweet Georgia Brown he’s recorded with Gavin Wilkinson, who contributes some fab guitar. Give it a spin or a click or what you will. Good stuff.

• And, last but one, it’s the Comedy Sketch of the Week.  I’m going to go for another of Nick Ball’s Quiet Desperation gems. This one, Dinner With the In-laws is very funny and also hard to watch all the way through without pausing to uncurl your toes at Nick’s increasingly inept attempts to assert himself. Comedy gold.

• And so come into a smooth, controlled landing with the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: As of 26 November, which is the only part of mainland England that will be in the lowest Covid tier from next month? last week’s question was: What is odd about the respective sizes of the sun and the moon? What is odd – almost spookily odd to my way of thinking – is that the sun is about 400 times larger than the moon but also about 400 times further away, which is why they appear to be about the same size in the sky (and why total eclipses with coronas can happen). This was cruel trick to play on our ancestors who therefore thought they were the same size and the same distance away. Why wouldn’t you?

Brian Quinn

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