Local News 10-17 December 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s statement, Lambourn’s sewage, Thatcham’s petition, Newbury’s masterplan,  Marlborough’s delay, Hamstead Marshall’s non-closure, Halfway’s re-opening, Cold Ash’s vet, Shefford Woodland’s prize, Theale’s concession, Padworth’s newsletter, West Ilsley’s speed, Aldermaston’s misgivings, Stratfield Mortimer’s minutes, Wantage’s sight-lines, Grove’s homes, Bedwyn’s grants  Swindon’s fans, Margaret Keenan, Bill Gates taking control, attracting the councillors, local responses, a shot in the foot, face-mask etiquette, the rule of law, the polluter pays, Facebook’s light touch, the Persian Pro-league, a metre taller, early ducks, misleading support, Tolkien, Tom Waits, Status Quo and watching the wheels.

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 years to come, the question “what was Margaret Keenan famous for?” may turn up in pub quizzes. She was, as we know now but will soon forget, the first person in the world to have had a Covid-19 vaccination other than in a clinical trial, on 8 December in Coventry (the second was called William Shakespeare). The plan appears to be to get everyone over 75, front-line health and care-home workers and people with known vulnerabilities – about 15% of the population – vaccinated by the end of February and then work down the age bands thereafter. As nine out of ten people who’ve died from Covid in the UK have been over 65, this should make a huge difference to the mortality rates, the pressure on the hospitals and economic life. The result should be a kind of herd immunity, but without the 100,000 or so deaths that might have resulted if the virus had been allowed to run wild. 

• All of this depends on how many people are unwilling to have the jab. By most estimates, an 80-90% take-up will be enough. This report by Imperial College suggests that, although confidence levels are rising, the likely acceptance is currently nowhere near this figure. Worryingly, ITN reports that, in August, only 53% of those questioned would be happy to roll up a sleeve. Those aged 16-34 were twice as likely not to want it as those aged over 55 (although this isn’t perhaps that bad as it’s more important that older people have it). The younger group is probably at least twice as likely to use social media, where anti-vac conspiracy theories of almost unparalleled idiocy can be found with alarming ease. “I wonder how Bill Gates is going to spend his first day in control of Margaret Keenan,” one recent tweet read: this refers to the accusation the the Microsoft tycoon turned health philanthropist is using the vaccine to inject mind-controlling microchips into our bodies. It’s impossible to escape the conclusion that the people who most fear someone taking control of their thought processes would be the ones who would most benefit from the intervention.

• Meanwhile, our government’s attention is being diverted at this crucial point by the final Brexit discussions. This might be no bad thing. The medical and scientific community seems capable of getting on with distributing and providing the vaccine without heavy-handed and ineffectual central measures. It’s also likely that government exhortations to do a particular thing can produce the opposite effect. (The Brexit referendum, called by the hapless David Cameron, was an excellent example, with all the then political leaders telling us to vote ‘remain’.) If, however, the vaccine take-up is less than needed, we might be seeing news of cabinet ministers getting the jab in their constituencies. Hopefully they’ll pick some people from outside the government bubble as well, to dilute the propaganda. Marcus Rashford, Captain Tom and David Attenborough might be worth calling up about this. The other worry will be if the supply chain breaks down. The army, Amazon, Tesco, the Loughborough Boy Scouts, the Tranmere Rovers Supporters’ Club – I would be happier with any of these delivering the vaccine than some company like Serco, appointed through yet another world-beating new organisation headed up by yet another of the PM’s Oxford chums.

• Although this is taking place on a larger and more urgent timescale than usual, the delivery and application of the vaccine should now follow the traditional routes which are used for all kinds of health deliverables. Key to this will be the local reaction and publicity from GPs, PPGs and the like. This is also encouraging as the local response has consistently been more rapid, targeted and effective than the big national gestures. West Berkshire Council has, I think, performed really well in its reaction to the pandemic and would have done even better if the test and trace had been handed over to it and its fellow councils sooner. Parish councils and voluntary groups have, proportionate to their resource,s done even better. This recent survey from the Public Sector Executive suggests that 56% of people trust local councils to make decisions for their local area, compared to only 6% which trusts the government. This is surely time for the government to step back on get Brexit sorted – whatever exactly that involves – and let the local councils and health professionals get the vaccine (and the anti-anti-vac messages) sorted. The next thing that Whitehall needs to do is make sure that all of these local groups are properly funded in the future, rather than have them scrape around for cash by investing in property portfolios and hoping for eye-catching gestures from centenarian ex-soldiers.

• In years to come, doctorates will be being written on the sociology and psychology of face masks in 2020-21. As a friend pointed out to me today, masks are altruistic: the greater benefit from your wearing them is felt by someone else (ie they won’t greatly protect you if someone sneezes in your face). Vaccines, however, are selfish. In case anyone wants to use my thoughts as raw material, here they are. Unless compelled to do so, I will not wear a mask in my own home, when driving alone or with my bubble or when outside, even if shopping at markets. Others take a different view. Most of my shopping is done at Hungerford’s excellent Wednesday street market where about half the people are masked up. I don’t feel the slightest qualm about not being so. If I go into a shop, however, my feeling is the exact opposite. If I need to visit someone’s house I’ll have a mask in my hand in case we need to talk by the doorway and they would prefer I wore one. Some of the masks one sees seem to of almost haz-chem standards but this doesn’t bother me at all: the better they work, the better for me. These might also be more comfortable than the cloth ones and avoid the very 2020 problem of having your glasses steam up.

Some people are opposed to wearing masks at all (particularly in the USA) but perhaps they should consider that it’s other people they’re protecting, not themselves. Not to wear a mask if the situation or person requests it is perhaps as rude as lighting up a cigarette indoors if you’ve not first asked it it’s OK. As for the business of shopkeepers whipping on their mask as you come into their shop, this is perhaps the new form of hand-shaking. Perhaps because I spent a lot of childhood holidays in France, this is a custom that I greatly miss. I doubt it will return. I loved the fact that it marked the formal start and end of the conversation and that, for a few seconds, you made a formalised physical connection. In a recent interview, Barak Obama recalls the two best bits of advice outgoing President George Bush gave him in 2008: trust yourself; and make sure you have sanitiser with you at all times as you’re going to be shaking a hell of a lot of hands. I bed Joe Biden won’t be.

• Going back to Brexit, it seems clear that the EU decided, with good reason, to make the exit process as difficult as possible for the UK, pour décourager les autres. With Poland and Hungary behaving the way they are, Brussels might now wish it had a swift and simple sanction for those who transgress and do not leave. The Week reports that these two countries have vetoed a €750bn Corvid rescue package because of the EU’s well-founded objections to their attitudes to human rights and democratic values (the ‘rule of law’ clause). The EU was formed to provide an alternative vision  to the alternating and often overlapping waves of war and tyranny which overwhelmed many countries including these two for most of the 20th century. Both have been considerable beneficiaries of the EU’s funding and, ironically, would also have been under there deal which they vetoed.

The EU, however, isn’t a golf club or a political party – you can’t just throw a country out of such a complex and inter-connected body. But what sanctions does it have? Any display of diplomatic or financial pressure would probably lead to even more nationalist sentiment. Any watering down or compromising of the rule of law clause would undermine the EU’s central purpose. Any delay to the the grant would be a disaster for all the other countries. The EU has always existed in a state of intense contradiction in that many of its ambitions were those of a nation state while also itself being comprised of nation states whose sensibilities (never more clearly shown than in the way the UK was treated) had to be respected if the thing was going to work. If two of the states want to return to a form of authoritarianism then I’m not sure Brussels has a solution. This could prove a greater threat than the departure of its second-largest economy on 31 December.

• For the UK, there’s the question of how much Brexit is going to cost. The figures bandied about in 2016 were all either lies or have been since rendered meaningless. The Daily Express, normally the most rabidly pro-Brexit national paper, suggests £200bn, about the same as our net contributions to the EU since 1973. The cost of Covid is currently estimated to be close to double this but is likely to continue to rise. Covid will also create far worse longer-term problems than Brexit as a result of factors such as long-term redundancies and missed diagnosis of non-Covid conditions. (Mind you, Brexit has shown it’s still capable of creating its own bad headlines, “Food rots and factories shut as port chaos hammers UK” in the Daily Telegraph on 9 December being one recent example.) In so far as we are capable of agreeing on, or even understanding, such massive figures, this bad economic news is likely to be good for those, such as the PM, who have built a political career out of obfuscating the true costs of our withdrawal. Covid has utterly scrambled the picture. The moral is that, if you want to shoot yourself in the foot, the best time to do it is when you’ve just had your leg cut off.

• That’s not the only figure that’s got confused. One that’s fixed in my head from childhood is that Mount Everest is 29,028 feet high. It now seems that it’s about three feet taller. What else that I learned is wrong?

• One thing that does seem certain is that, even though we’re going to be able to see fewer people, nothing is going to stop us spending money on food. the Daily Telegraph reported on 9 December that supermarket revenue increased by over 11% on the three months to 28 November compared to same period in 2019. Sales of cream liqueurs, that most mysterious of alcoholic pleasures, doubled over the same period.

• The same edition of the same paper reports that Facebook, ever-zealous in its desire to encourage informed debate and prevent misinformation, recently closed down the pages of the Wimbourne Militia Re-enactment Group, which re-enacts battles from the English Civil War, on the grounds that it was a US right-wing vigilante organisation. I always thought Facebook had more sophisticated algorithms than this. “Delete all posts with ‘militia’ in the title” doesn’t give me any confidence that the social-media leviathan knows or cares what is on its network. After numerous complaints, Facebook has apologised to the re-enactors and restored the page. 

Click here to see one of the oddest goals I’ve ever seen, from a somersault throw-in in the Persian Pro-League. They all count…

• One of the matters discussed at the meeting not WBC’s full council last week was the question of the rise in the councillors’ allowances: always a delicate subject, particularly at times of national stress or austerity. Local councils must operate within a statutory framework but this still gives each authority a considerable amount of discretion. After some debate, WBC increased its basic allowance from £7,909 to £8,154 (3%): members of the executive, portfolio holders and the chairs of the main committees receive more to reflect the extra responsibilities. As I recently suggested regarding another matter, in such cases it’s a good idea to have a look over the fence and see what the neighbours do. WBC’s £8,154 looks quite generous when compared to the Vale’s £5,084 but positively Scrooge-like by comparison with Wiltshire’s £13,833. (You can see details of the allowances in Vale of White Horse and in Wiltshire councils by clicking on the links.) It must also be pointed out that the Vale is not a unitary authority as are WBC and Wiltshire and has another tier above it, so the municipal workloads are not directly comparable.

The real issue seems to me, as Adrian Abbs (Lib Dem) and the Graham Bridgman (Con) both pointed out, whether WBC wants to attract councillors whose age and wealth would better reflect that of the population. It it does, it will have to pay them. Being a councillor isn’t an easy ride, either. Adrian Abbs said he estimated he spent 30 hours a week on municipal work: he is a shadow portfolio holder but not the chair of a major committee nor on the Executive. I spoke to Nassar Kessell (Lib Dem) and Steve Masters (Green), who suggested anything from 15 to 30 hours; in the latter case, largely unaffected by whether he was up a tree in Bucks or in Newbury. Also, a lot of the work is both reactive and unpredictable, problems not conveniently appearing during 9-5 hours. When you get to people on the Executive and with portfolio or charing responsibilities, these figures increase still further. I spoke to Howard Woollaston (Con) for about ten seconds this morning: he said he couldn’t talk as he was in council meetings “all afternoon,” which rather proves my point. He’s previously told me that his record, so far, was eight of hours of Zoom meetings in one day, with all the other stuff on top. These are all serious chunks of time and incompatible with a normal job. To be a councillor with as much diligence as your electors expect, you need either to have independent means, a very flexible self-employed job or a very accommodating boss. The majority of people don’t have any of these. Surely, therefore, more money would help?

Well, yes: but probably not at this kind of level of increase. Regular rises of a few percent open up all the old debates but do little to make the proposition any more attractive. What’s needed is a more far-reaching change to the way they are paid, perhaps with a living-wage basic, a large chunk of which those who don’t need it are encouraged not to take; or perhaps a central fund for grants for specific needs. Again, it would be worth looking in detail at what other councils do. There’s also the question of whether it’s the lack of money that put people off. For some, the often combative, macho and divisive public face of council meetings – which have something of PMQs, something of the gladiatorial ring and something of the football terraces – would put off a lot of people, perhaps particularly women, regardless of  the pay. This is just the public face: as with MPs, the vast majority of the work is a lot more co-operative and productive.  There’s also the question of age. Only two of WBC’s councillors are under 30 and the vast majority are over 50. All of them are white. Currently only six out of the 43 are women (a decline from 10 out of 52 up until May 2019). None of these puts WBC’s (or probably any council’s) composition remotely in line with the demographics of the people it represents. it’ll take more than a 3% rise and a bit less scowling and eye-rolling at full council meetings to change that. 

• The BBC reports that there were 102 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 30 November to 6 December, up 20 on the week before. This equates to 64 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 131 (127 last week). 

• West Berkshire Council is launching a Covid Winter Grant Scheme worth £279k for food, energy and other essential items for residents in need due to the pandemic. Free school meal vouchers for holidays will also form part of the programme.

West Berkshire Council has been awarded £495,000 from the Department for Transport’s Active Travel Fund, following the Council’s bid to further develop a lasting, safe environment for walking and cycling. The grant is in addition to the £124,000 awarded in the first phase of allocations in July that went towards temporary active travel measures in response to the pandemic.

• It was announced at the West Berkshire Council meeting on 3 December that WBC has to date received about £91m in funding from central government as a result of the pandemic.

• West Berkshire Council is making free parking available at its car parks on designated dates in December to support retailers in the run up to Christmas.

• 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 animals of the week are all the ducks who’ve come back to our stretch of the River Lambourn a couple of months sooner than usual and, like people who realised they’ve arrived two hours early for a party are hanging around awkwardly while their hostess (spring, in the case) is still getting dressed and looking for her ear-rings. 

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those covered elsewhere, communications about municipal manners, paving stones, white-paper objections, light aircraft and middle-aged cyclists.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: The Trussell Trust (thanks to Kennet Valley School); Brendoncare (thanks to Preshute Primary School); West Berkshire’s over 80s (thanks to the NEN’s Parcel Fund); local children (thanks to Sterling Garages and the Community Furniture Project); Mind (thanks to Sam Plumb); numerous local groups (thanks the Greenham Trust).

Hungerford & district

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

• The December Penny Post Hungerford was published this week offering, as ever, the best and most varied round-up of life in the town. As well as the usual updates from the Town Council, the Town and Manor, the town-centre businesses, Barrs Yard, John O’Gaunt school, the Primary School and HEAT, there’s also a report and video from the planting of West Berkshire’s first lockdown soon in Freeman’s Marsh, winter advice from the Thames Valley Police, news of the Hungerford Summer Festival, the return of spectators at the Football Club, recommendations from the Hungerford Bookshop and The Naked Grape, details of the Christmas pop-up at the Hub and of late-night shopping in the High Street and a link to the amazing virtual Christmas lights switch-on video which has already had over 15,000 views. Then – I’m not quite finished – we have two inspiring stories from two young local residents, Pat Murphy’s racing column, a guide to the night sky, some wise words from Dorothy Parker and a rather alarming message from an un-named council which may or may not be complete fiction. If even one of these floats your festive boat and you didn’t get the newsletter, click here to read it.

• As ever, our lead story in this is a summary of the work done by Hungerford Town Council (HTC)  in helping to keep the town the wonderful place it is, which includes the main items from its monthly meeting earlier this week. One of these deserves particular mention, this being HTC’s response to what many are terming the fiasco of the proposed revisions to the development at Salisbury Road. For the last six months, discussions have been dragging on between the developers and West Berkshire Council (WBC) about the former’s desire to remove the obligation to provide any social-housing. My sympathies, and those of most residents, are 100% with WBC’s planners on this who are, as so frequently, placed in the tiresome and time-consuming situation of having to re-negotiate something which, on paper at least, had apparently been already clearly agreed. HTC, which has always kept a close eye on the project from its application stage and has always used what influence it has to ensure that the development is in the interests of the town, recently lost patience with the developer’s tactics and issued a statement, agreed at the recent meeting, which clearly expresses the points which WBC’s planning experts are doubtless making as well. You can read the statement here. Members of the public may also add their comments (see the link in this post): many will already have done so. All of these will be taken into account before the matter is finally decided.

• 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 Halfway Inn in Halfway, which is more or less half-way between Hungerford and Newbury and between London and Bristol; and, when you come to think of it, more or less halfway between many other pairs of places: as is every other place…er, where was I…? Oh yes, the Halfway Inn has recently re-opened under new management. There – I got there in the end.

• The most recent meeting of Kintbury Parish Council took place on 5 November and you can read the minutes here.  

• 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 December Valley of the Racehorse newsletter was published last weekend and you can click here to read it if you didn’t get it. It includes news of a possible solution to the sewage problem(see also next paragraph), memories of growing up in the Valley from the 1930s onwards, news from Chaddleworth and Shefford Schools, the regular ward update for Lambourn’s councillor Howard Wollaston and a report (thanks to Lambourn.org) of the recent meeting of Lambourn Parish Council. We also cover Lambourn’s bells, the Valley’s waste, the Library’s friends, PP’s Christmas prize quiz (see two paragraphs below), 4 LEGS Radio, the Camera Club, local Christmas trees, news and deals from the local pubs and cafés, thoughts from a local trainer, ideas from local online retailers and winter activity fun sheets for kids. 

• There can be few things that more unite the inhabitants of the Lambourn Valley than the problem of sewage. For years beyond count, whenever the groundwater has risen – which it is now doing – the problem has returned. The last none months have seen determined efforts by Lambourn Parish Council, ward member Howard Woollaston and local MP Laura Farris, amongst others, to get Thames Water to resolve the issue of groundwater infiltrating cracks in the pipes and overpowering the network, with the disgusting results we are all too familiar with. This statement from Thames Water suggests that a corner has been turned in the issue. Time will tell. I am aware that some people have differing view as to how the problem should be resolved. If so, please email brian@pennypost.org.uk with your thoughts or post a comment on the foot of the above-mentioned post.

• Uncertainty still surrounds who has paid for the restoration work following the illegal dredging in the River Lambourn in November and December 2018. The Environment Agency has stressed that it follows the principle of ‘the polluter pays.’ However, despite frequent requests from Penny Post and the Newbury Weekly News, the organisation has been unable to confirm what the cost was nor whether it has managed to recover this from the perpetrators. Nor has it been able to confirm what enforcement action – a separate issue from the restoration costs – has been taken, merely that the EA is “considering all possible enforcement options.” Last week, the investigation moved into its third year.

• This year’s Penny Post Christmas and New Year Quiz has as its prize 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. Is that a good prize or what? There are 19 questions (seems like a crazy number but there’s a good reason for it) from which you have to construct one answer to be in for a chance to win. I can see you’re enticed…click here for all the details.

• The most recent meeting of Lambourn Parish Council took place on 2 December 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 an excellent summary of the meeting from Lambourn.org.

• The most recent meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council took place on Thursday 5 November and the minutes can be seen here

• The most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council  took place on 4 November and the draft minutes can be seen here

• The December East Garston News has been published and you can click here to read it.

• As mentioned previously, 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.

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.

• The most recent meeting of Newbury Town Council for which minutes are available too place on 19 October and you can read the minutes here.

• West Berkshire Council has launched a survey for its new masterplan for Newbury town centre, which you can see here. It promises “extensive engagement with the local community, a detailed analysis of the town’s needs, and a masterplan. It will be developed over the next nine months and will outline how the town centre can evolve in the future.” The Town Council will be one of the consultees on this project.

• Speaking of which, click here to see a few of the things that Newbury Town Council Leader Martin Colston has been up to in November.

• The closure of the football ground is, once again, featured in this week’s NWN (I wonder if it might soon merit a special pull-out supplement). This week, the issue pops up in the letters page where Newbury Town Councillor Vaughan Miller says that WBC “repeatedly suggests that Sport England (SE) is fully supportive of WBC’s actions in closing the ground and yet provides no evidence to back this up.” Given that the closure of the ground without a like-for-like replacement is in breach of Sport England’s (admittedly poorly-phrased) policy, this ‘support’ seems unlikely. As the Newbury Community Football Group commented, “how and why would sporting governing bodies like SE or the FA, which are tasked with protecting and developing facilities, support this Council’s approach which involved the premature closure of  a perfectly good playing pitch in an area that is short of such facilities?” The issue of ‘support’ certainly appears to be on SE’s radar: I’ve seen an email from SE dated 2 December 2020 in which a spokesperson promised to “reiterate to WBC the concerns we have on their quoting/misquoting us.” This doesn’t look like support to me. The one thing I understand that SE does support is WBC’s publication of a playing-pitch strategy, although SE had for some time been pressing WBC to produce it. WBC’s commitment in the document to provide a new ground before any development takes place in Faraday Road now seems like a broken promise, as the ground remains closed with no suitable replacement, at the rugby club or anywhere else. I’ve written to SE to ask what its views on the matter are and will let you know when I hear back. There is also the question, which many others have asked, of why WBC is paying for the de-commissioning of the ground, something that should be down to the developer (when one is officially revealed).

• Another letter in the same paper suggests that the licence for the 24-hour gaming centre in Newbury’s Market Place, which has only recently been granted, should be revoked. The Licensing Committee’s hands are tied by the 2005 Gambling Act which insists on a predisposition towards approval of any such licence. The writer also refers to the serious incidents at some of the Casino Gaming’s 170-odd other venues over the last eight years. As I mentioned last week, WBC’s Licensing Committee was not aware of these when it made its decision. In any event, 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. WBC has also applied several conditions to the approval and is, I am assured, prepared to be vigilant in ensuring these are enforced

• The Mayor of Newbury has set up an online raffle to help raise funds for her charity The Mayor’s Benevolent Fund. The raffle will run from 1 December to 20 December and the winners will be drawn on Monday 21 December. Click here to enter the raffle.

• 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 is 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

•  See here for details of its tree-planting day on Saturday 12 December.

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

• Stella and the team at the White Hart Inn in Hamstead Marshall wold like to stress that, ‘contrary to an error in last week’s Newbury Weekly News‘ (which has been corrected this week), the pub is open as of 5pm on 3 December. You can click here to see details of what they have on offer in the run-up to Christmas. 

• 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 produces the quarterly Hamstead Hornet the most recent edition of which has just been published and you can see it here. 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.

• This week’s NWN covers, on p25, a story about a couple in West Ilsley who have for some time been trying to have the speed limit reduced near their house on the edge of the village with the reasonable aim of preventing any repetition of vehicles crashing into the front of the building. West Berkshire’s Spped Review Panel, meeting this week, seems set to refuse the request. The newspaper quoted the officers as saying that “it is considered that the majority of traffic…will be local users, familiar with the existing road layout.” (My italics.) This seems slightly like saying that the majority of people know where the roads go to so we don’t need to have road signs either. I know that it’s very hard to get speed limits changed: residents of Eastbury, many of whose houses open straight onto the very narrow road running through the village, have been campaigning for a reduction for some time.

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

• 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 ‘bumper end-of-year’ Chaddleworth Newsletter for December has recently been published and you can click here to read it

• The most recent meeting of Chaddleworth Parish Council took place on 3 November and you can read the minutes here.  

• The most recent meeting of East Ilsley Parish Council took place on 10 November and you can read the draft minutes 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 Hampstead Norreys Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 29 October and you can read the minutes here

• 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

• 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 took place on 30 November and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the Mayor’s activities, the re-opening of the council-owned halls, the conclusion of the internal audit, consideration of a WBC consultation on additional SEND provision, the repositioning of the A4 orcas, funding for the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan and confirmation that WBC had received 81 letters and a 102pp petition in support of the tree preservation orders (TPOs) in Piggy Woods.

• See p24 of this week’s NWN for a report and photos on Thatcham’s Christmas lights switch-on. There is also a video on Newbury Today’s website.

• The same paper also reports, on p23, that no objections were raised at a recent meeting of Thatcham Town Council to the plans to demolish the Parsons Down Infant School, with the pupils being moved to the junior school and the old site used for an artificial sports pitch.

• 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.

• The most recent meeting of Brimpton Parish Council took place on 3 November and you can read the minutes here

• The most recent meeting of Cold Ash Parish Council took place on 24 November and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included a possible mobile vet service, maintenance works at the war memorial and the Acland Hall, the successful member’s bid for the parish’s Christmas tree, three planning applications and an update on the council’s equal opportunities policy.

• The most recent meeting of Bucklebury Parish Council took place on 9 November 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 reminder of spring and finishes with Tolkien.

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 8 December and the minutes will appear on the PC’s website in due course. Items covered included seven planning applications (three of which were ‘no objection’ and four of which were objected to), the choice of a preferred supplier for the additional fitness equipment at the Recreation Ground and the progress on sharing the speed monitoring equipment with the parishes of Beenham, Brimpton and Padworth. The PC said that it was “now satisfied with the role played by WBC. We still have some misgivings with the input from Thames Valley Police and will not finally commit to the shared purchase until resolved with the other three parishes.”

• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 12 November and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included the council vacancy (which will be filled by election), progress on the planned station car park, reports from the strategy working party and the memorial working group, responses to West Berkshire Council consultations and various planning matters. 

Click here to see the December/January copy of the Padworth Newsletter. This includes information about local groups as well asnotes on the most recent Parish Council meeting on 9 November.

• A reminder that if you want to get involved in Beenham’s physical advent calendars – where, each day, a different display or piece of artwork is revealed at different places throughout a town or village – get in touch with Pat Owen at patowen0@hotmail.com or call her on 07947 478 840.

• 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 most recent meeting of Theale Parish Council took place on 7 December and you can read the minutes here. Matters discussed included a one-off financial concession to the Cricket Club as a result of Covid, a report from District Councillor Alan Macro, the poor state of the path on the North Street Playing Fields, four planning applications, the future of the John Cumber Hall and the 2021-22 budget.

• The most recent meeting of Englefield Parish Council took place on 8 October and you can read the draft minutes here

Marlborough & district

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

• The BBC reports that there were 357 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 30 November to 6 December, down 2 on the week before. This equates to 71 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 131 (127 last week). 

Marlborough News reports that Thames Water has agreed to delay work on a sewer pipe, scheduled for this week, until after Christmas, so avoiding the traffic chaos to which the town is prone. the Town Council thanks Wiltshire CC and Thames Water for “sorting this out so that the High Street won’t be gridlocked in the lead up to Christmas.” Let’s hope that the sewers don’t come gridlocked instead.

• Temporary changes to the road layout have been put in place to widen pavements in part of the High Street.

• Delivery drivers and gifts are needed for Marlborough’s Christmas Day Lunch – Marlborough News has more.

• The most recent meeting of Marlborough Town Council took place on 2 November 2020 and you can read the minutes here.

Information here on Marlborough’s late-night and Christmas shopping arrangements.

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. 

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

Action for the River Kennet has received a grant of £278,000 from the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund for two projects.

• The most recent meeting of Great Bedwyn Parish Council took place on 12 November and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included the co-option of a new member, grants to the footpaths group and the Village Hall, the approval of the external auditor, consideration of some planning applications and confirmation of the receipt of £23,192 of CIL receipts relating to the Tottenham House development. 

• The most recent meeting of Aldbourne Parish Council took place on 4 November and you can read the minutes here

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 92 CV-19 cases in the Vale in the week 30 November to 6 December, up 15 on the week before. This equates to 68 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 131 (127 last week). 

• The most recent meeting of Wantage Town Council was held on 30 November and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the Christmas artisan markets, a proposal to improve the sight lines at the Alfred Street Junction as part of the pedestrianisation of the west part of the Market Square, discussion about two comments made by the external auditor and reports from the District and County Councillors.

• You can click here to see the details of the events attended by Wantage’s Mayor in December. There is one comment at the very foot that caught my attention: “The protocol for wearing the chain of office and/or mayoral robes outside of the town boundaries requires that unless specified on the invitation permission should be sought from the Chair of the town/parish council that one is visiting.” I wonder if this is because, in years past, a bored mayor would get togged up, sneak across the boundary and start ordering people about, just for the fun of it. Good to see that Wantage, at least, has clamped down on this practice.

• The latest e-newsletter from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group points out that as application P20/V3113/O  has been made Persimmon to build at least 531 (possibly up to 700) homes between the northern edge of the Grove Airfield development and the Denchworth Road. Comments can be submitted until 17 January. The article goes on to refer to a rather half-hearted local consultation by the developers and also points out that this is despite the fact that the company has only built about 100 of the 2,500 homes which it already has planning permission for, leading the writer to “wonder if this application is a way of locking in existing housing standards before the Government tightens the rules to make zero carbon mandatory.” See the WaGCG website for more and to sign up to the newsletters. 

• Local MP David Johnston uses his fortnightly column in the Herald to reflect on his first birthday as an MP. In that time he says he has dealt with 12,000 constituency cases and queries, made 50 contributions in the Commons, met over 100 local organisations and helped get Grove station onto a list of funding projects from which it had originally been omitted due to a bureaucratic bungle.

Click here to read a statement by the leader of the Vale of White Horse, Emily Smith, to the Council on 9 December.

• See this separate post for the Wantage Chamber of Commerce’s concerns about the lack of parking spaces in the town.

• There will be free parking in all Vale Council car parks on Saturday 14 and 21 December.

• The Wantage Community Fridge is one year old this month. Over that period no fewer than 53 volunteers have helped them save tonnes of good food from going to waste. More information here.

• 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.

• 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.

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

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald looks at the some the area’s open-air markets and considers the pros and cons of Christmas cards

• 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.

• 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 245 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 30 November to 6 December, down 60 on the week before. This equates to 110 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 131 (127 last week). 

• Swindon Council has written to more than a thousand local businesses to remind them of key Covid-19 advice.

• Households in Swindon are being reminded about some important changes to waste and recycling collections over the festive period.

• Swindon Borough Council and inSwindon BID Company have teamed up to ensure town-centre shoppers are kept safe this Christmas.

• Local authorities across the South West are joining together this Christmas to call for more people to consider becoming foster carers.

• The match against Fleetwood Town will be the first time Swindon FC fans have been allowed in to watch their team at their home ground since the spring. However, due to the borough being a Tier 2 area, only 2,000 supporters will be in attendance. Staff from the council’s Live Well Hub will be on hand to remind people of the steps they need to take to keep coronavirus at bay, offer guidance around social distancing and hand out face masks to supporters before kick-off.

Rough sleepers in Swindon are to benefit from a new scheme intended to help them get better access to support services and encourage them to come off the streets.

• Shoppers will be able to park in Swindon’s town centre at a reduced rate in December as many retailers plan to extend their opening hours.

• 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.

• 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.

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

• Say hello to the Song of the Week. John Lennon was killed 40 years ago yesterday (I can still remember what I was doing when I heard the news). His post-Beatles career will always be symbolised by Imagine, a song which I’ve always loathed, so I’m not going to suggest that. Instead I urge you the check out the far more eloquent and poignant Watching the Wheels from Double Fantasy, the last of his albums released during his lifetime. 

• And so now it’s time for the Comedy Sketch of the Week.  This isn’t a sketch and it’s comedy only in the bleak, black, creepy fashion of some of Chris Morris’ sketches from Jam. It’s written in verse but it’s not really a poem. It’s got rather discordant musical effects but it’s not a song. I’m not quite sure what it is. It’s by Tom Waits, which perhaps gives you a clue. Without more ado, What’s he Building in There?

• And so the last card to be dealt is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week I’m going to point you to where you can find not one but 19 questions; and, at the end of it all, the chance to win a superb prize from The Pheasant in Shefford Woodlands. Last week’s question came from the Zoom Christmas quiz organised last weekend by Action Through Enterprise and was as follows: Which was the first act at the Wembley Live Aid in 1985? The answer was those masters of the pumped-up three-third trick, Status Quo, with Rocking all over the World. Which duly happened.

Brian Quinn

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