Local News 17-31 December 2020

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s vacancy, Membury’s expansion  Lambourn’s water, East Garston’s news, Thatcham’s allocation, Newbury’s grants,  Bishop Green’s vision, Marlborough’s tender, Ramsbury’s hunting, Cold Ash’s trees, Shefford Woodland’s prize, West Challow’s cooking, Theale’s objection, West Ilsley’s nets, East Ilsley’s silt, Chaddleworth’s bumper, Letcombe Regis’ quizzes, Aldermaston’s big bang, Brimpton’s video, Stratfield Mortimer’s meeting, Wantage’s markets, Grove’s rubbish, Swindon’s vouchers, a book recommendation, mutations, a Brexit non-bonus, a deplorable department, stealing the mace, judge and jury, 59-year-old Dave, a divine plan, a dark day, the nuclear naughty-step, two lightbulb moments, tier three, parallel reality, WBC’s local plan, LRIE, Sandleford, starlings, spies, The Simpsons, the sun and the wrong stable.

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)

• Earlier this week, there was considerable media attention following the announcement by Health Secretary Matt Hancock that a variant of the CV-19 virus seemed to be on the increase in London and Kent. This led to fears that this was more infectious and more deadly than any previous strains and that the vaccines might be ineffective against it. Headlines like ’Super Covid’ and ‘Mutant Virus’ added to the sense of public unease. The  impression was that, after having rattled along on the same tracks for the best part of a year, the virus had suddenly, and fatally, decided to change trains.

Viruses mutate all the time, the result of faulty copying of the RNA (the ‘computer code’ that defines what they are). Any type of virus might have billions of variations, some of which are successful and others not in any given circumstance. If the environment changes then one variation might then start to thrive. This is a random process that has built in to it the means for the species as a whole to survive in a changing world. Some viruses, like flu, mutate fairly quickly. Covid seems to do so more slowly.
 
Survive is all a virus wants to do (in the sense that it ‘wants’ to do anything). Killing its host is usually not an advantage, one reason why Ebola didn’t make a lot of progress. If any new variant is more infectious, this may not in itself be a bad thing. The common cold is highly transmittable but not fatal unless one has very serious underlying conditions. It’s far too early to say if this, or any other variant, is more fatal. Several weeks of tests will be needed, and from a reasonably large sample, to give any meaningful results (by which time this variant might have withered away and others emerged to take its place). The fact that this variant seems to have spread enough to catch researchers’ attention might be explained by the fact that this happened in a crowded part of the country just before Christmas, or to vagaries of the testing system.
 
The big question is whether this variant will be immune to the vaccine. So far there seems little reason to think so. The vaccines focus on teaching the immune system to create defences against the protein found on the outside of the virus which is highly unlikely to mutate into something else. To use an analogy, all these viral variations are written in English; and it is the English language as a whole, not a particular style of it, that the vaccine is attacking.
 
Viruses spread quickly: so too does news about them. There have been several comments from scientific experts saying, in essence, that the Heath Secretary’s reference to a new variation or mutation is really no news at all and that, in the words of Professor Jonathan Ball of Nottingham University, “it is premature to make any claims about the potential impacts of virus mutation.” This recent article in the New Scientist concludes that “many are asking is whether it was appropriate for a health minister to publicly announce these preliminary findings in a way that led to widespread concern.” The answer may well be that it was “appropriate” because it was expedient. As this variation was most prevalent in the parts of the south east that were about to put into tier three, it may have been decided that an eye-catching way of justifying the decision was needed: political, therefore, rather than scientific. However, if this, or any other variant, becomes a threat I shall wait for the scientists, rather than the politicians, to let me know.

• Earlier this month, the Health Secretary also seemed keener to make a political point than to tell the truth when he described the rapid authorisation of the vaccine as a “Brexit bonus,” a comment that the PM was, to his credit, keen to distance himself from. As Mr Hancock must surely know, the approval process was done under EU law, which still applies until the end of the month. Also, Pfizer is an American company, its partner BioNTech is German and the vaccine is is made in Belgium. The significance of the last point is that the way things are going, come 1 January, getting anything from Belgium or anywhere else in the EU might be a good deal more complicated than at present. Unlike the announcement about the viral variation – which might be justified as a piece of political PR – this Brexit-bonus claim seems little short of desperate.

Infection rates in the UK, after two weeks of decline, have started rising sharply again, even in area where they were previously low: rural West Berkshire, for instance, has seen its seven-day rolling average of cases more than triple in the two weeks since 27 November. This may be because of infections that were picked up in the last few days since Tiers 2.0 was introduced. If the figures are growing now, many health experts are warning, just wait to see what they are like in mid January. Despite government exhortations to make Christmas celebrations ‘small, short and local’, the relaxation risks being a huge mistake. Many European countries have taken, or are contemplating, more robust measures. Our government appears to have decided that after nine months of restrictions, trying to enforce regulations over Christmas would be impossible and would turn a good part of the population into criminals. (19 December update: I was wrong. Christmas regulations have been changed and no exemptions have been made in the new tier four area (London and the south east, including West Berkshire).)

• Meanwhile, opinion polls still seem to differ (as they always do) on how many people are happy to have the vaccine. ITV suggested on 10 December that 54% were “certain or very likely” to do so whereas six days later the BBC claimed that 79% of white people (but only 57% of BAMEs) would take the vaccine. More worryingly, the ITV article reported that 41% of anti-vexers were “selfish” or “stupid.” This seems horribly like the fault lines that opened up at the time of Brexit and which did so much to polarise the country, at least until the great leveller of Covid came along. Such an attitude doesn’t seem likely to improve the tone of the debate, nor to change anyone’s mind. I’m reminded of the MMR scare created by Andrew Wakefield. Penny and I completely fell for that because it was compellingly presented in sources that we trusted.

These days, ‘trusted’ sources are likely to be social-media platforms which tend to re-inforce already established views and which are a lot easier to engage with than scientific journals. There’s also a deep-seated conviction that any official line is to be distrusted. Again, one returns to the Brexit referendum, the ‘leave’ vote almost certainly winning because all major political leaders wanted matters to go the other way. With the Brexit vote, there was no certainty about any of the claims made by either side, many of which have been shown to have ranged from gross exaggeration to bare-faced lies. With the vaccines, there is, however, plentiful evidence that they are safe: or, at least, that the risks are vastly outweighed by the advantages. If in doubt, talk to your GP. They have no incentive for you to come to any harm. Or, if you feel that they are merely following the NHS line, look up a few articles from reputable publications that demonstrate some sources.

• A wonderful piece of political theatre was enacted in the House of Commons this week when an SNP MP refused to sit down when ordered to do so by the Deputy Speaker and then picked up and attempted to remove the Mace (I think it demands a capital letter), a crime about as serious as helping yourself to the crucifix from the altar at St Peter’s. This contrasts with a scene in Taiwan’s parliament last month when, during a debate about meat imports, one side produced unfeasibly large quantities of pigs’ offal and started hurling them at their opponents. This may count as a lesser crime in the Commons than handling the Mace. I can still recall the furore when Michael Heseltine wielded it like a weapon after a contentious vote in the 1970s. Anyway, in this most recent incident, the MP in question was “named”, that most horrible of penalties. Despite this, I can’t remember his name, I’m afraid, but you can look it up if you’re interested. 

• The Covid regulations are not always clear, even to those who have framed them, Tobias Ellwood being the latest MP to have been caught out after addressing a public dinner. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, was quick to act as judge and jury in the matter, telling ITV News that there had certainly been a breach of the regulations. If regulations are breached, on this or any other matter such as bullying, then those that breach them must certainly be held to account. No need for an enquiry to look further into this matter, it seems.

• I made a point last week about a recent debate at West Berkshire Council concerning the pay that councillors received. I contrasted the basic councillor allowances of West Berkshire (£8,154), the Vale of White Horse (£5,084) and Wiltshire (£13,833). WBC Councillor Graham Bridgman wrote to me to point out that the comparison is not fair as WBC (and Wiltshire) are unitary authorities whereas the Vale (which has Oxfordshire CC on top of it) is not. The workloads are not comparable. I accept the correction. However, my point was not that the councillors were overpaid given the work that they do but that encouraging more candidates to stand who were more representative of the area (ie non-white, female and younger) would need more than tinkering with the allowances. This article on the BBC website, published in late April 2019, shortly before the most recent municipal elections, suggested that the average local councillor was a 59-year-old white male called David. 26% are over 70 (up from 14% in 2004) and only 10% are under 40 (though this is up from 7% in 2004). 

Several letters in this week’s Newbury Weekly News referred to this (and the issue is probably a live one in many other parts of the country). One correspondent, Peter Norman, made the point that had eluded me last week, that (certainly in West Berkshire) the only way you can get elected to the council is to join either the Conservatives or the Lib Dems which would, for a many, be a depressing choice. It’s perhaps significant that the two youngest WBC councillors, and the only ones under 30, were each already members of these two parties and so perhaps saw a seat on the council as a career move. This won’t work for everyone. As of September 2019, only about 10% of local councillors (excluding towns and parishes) are independent and only three councils are controlled by independents (though they are part of the ruling coalition in about 20 others). Clearly a good deal needs to change if 59-year-old Dave is not to be a constant feature of the local municipal landscape. Mind you, things are probably a bit better than they were: 100 years ago, the typical councillor would probably have been called Sir Dave.

• I never cease to be amazed at the ingenuity of those who argue that the numerous instances of suffering, pain and misery on earth are in some way part of a divine plan. There are two further attempts this week in the broad church that is the letters’ page of the Newbury Weekly News to fit the square peg of experience into the round hole of theology. One even suggests that the pandemic is an expression of God’s love because it has made us help others. I would love to believe otherwise but, looking around me and back in history, I can see no evidence of any divine plan which has done anything but cause ceaseless friction between those who interpret this in different ways, and plenty of evidence to suggest that any God is either not benevolent or not omnipotent, or both. If you get stuck at this point, as I and many others do, it becomes increasingly impossible to move forward without relying on faith, but unsupported by the evidence of our so-called God-given senses. It is, of course, possible that the whole thing is an fantastical logical paradox the true purpose of which will only be revealed to us in a lightbulb moment on day one of the afterlife. If so, it seems a shame that we should have been given enough intelligence to see the problems but not enough to spot the solution. The principle of Ockham’s Razor – that the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct – suggests that we, along with cats, and crabs, and coronaviruses, are just bumbling along for our allotted span, trying to survive. As Christmas messages go, this isn’t perhaps the most hopeful. Other theories exist, of course, each as unprovable as this one. 

• Speaking of lightbulb moments, I can only recall two books where, towards the end, there was a statement which completely changed everything that you’ve thought about how the narrative was working, forcing you to turn everything through 180º (I’m ignoring whodunits as these depend on such a revelation to some extent, Agatha; Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd being probably the best example). The two books are The Valley of Fear by Conan Doyle and The Spy who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carré. In both, the trick is superbly played but the latter is certainly the better book. Le Carré, of course, died this week at the age of 89. The BBC website on the day of his death referred to him as the ‘cold-war novelist’ which was later changed to ‘espionage novelist.’ The word the writer was hunting for was ‘novelist.’ Many, but not all, of his books were set in these worlds but all were forged with an all-round excellence and precision that many writers associated with more ‘serious’ genres have consistently failed to match. Fortunately, he has left behind a large and satisfying body of work for us all to enjoy. If you haven’t read any, The Spy… is a good place to start.  

• The US election result seems finally to have been confirmed although the parallel universe that the President and his intimates inhabit still appears to feel that a successful legal challenge is (despite over 50 failures so far) just around the corner. The electoral-college system is truly extraordinary and open to just the kind of pressure that PotUS has been trying to apply: if the system permits it then he has the right to go for it. The rest of his time seems to be being spent playing golf and ensuring that as many death-row prisoners as possible are executed before 20 January, when Joe Biden – an opponent of the capital punishment – takes over the rather poisoned and tarnished chalice of President of the USA. For Trump, this must seem like a legacy, I suppose…

• The BBC reports that there were 276 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 6-12 December, up 184 on the week before. This equates to 174 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 165 (131 last week). 

• It is for this reason that West Berkshire (and all the other Berkshire authorities, but not the Vale, Swindon or Wiltshire), has been moved to tier three (highest alert) with effect from Saturday 19 December. The figures in West Berkshire are low, they have been steadily rising for the last 10 days. Although neighbouring Wiltshire has 40% more Covid cases than does West Berkshire it also has about three times the population. It is expected that the arrangements will be reviewed again at the end of December. See here for the latest guidance of tier three regulations from gov.uk. West Berkshire Council has also issued its own advice (we’ve also appended links to information sources for all the neighbouring councils).

• Any districts that have moved from tier two to tier three will, as of Saturday 19 December see all restaurants and pubs close to eat-in customers. If you have booked a meal over the Christmas period, please contact the venue or keep an eye on its website or social-media page to see if it will be providing a take-away service – many did so during the two previous lockdowns. 

• West Berkshire Council is inviting members of the public to have their say on the emerging draft version of its Local Plan Review 2020-2037. The eight-week public consultation period closes on Friday 5 February 2021. Residents, partners and other key stakeholders can read the draft Local Plan Review and provide feedback on the West Berkshire Local Plan Consultation Portal. “We are inviting residents and stakeholders to provide their feedback on our emerging draft Local Plan Review,” says Planning portfolio holder Hilary Cole. “This is our planned approach to the sustainable development of housing and associated infrastructure across West Berkshire until 2037. It’s important that people get involved and have their say so that plans are truly representative of our district’s requirements. The best way to provide feedback is via our West Berkshire Local Plan Consultation Portal where any comments made by registrants will be stored for their personal use.”

I note from the preamble that this plan includes the observation that “Sandleford [in Newbury] will roll forward as a strategic allocation.” ‘Roll forward’ is not a phrase that springs to mind with this development, neither of these two things having happened in the 15 or so years since the project was conceived. In September 2020, West Berkshire’s own Planning Department issued a multi-pronged refusal to the most recent application, suggesting (quite reasonably) that the project would need to be conducted on the council’s terms rather than the developers’. Quite how this can be made to happen when the land is owned not by WBC but by two developers who, as the council pointed out, have been unable to co-operate on any major aspect of the project remains to be seen. 

The preamble also says that the plan “proposes to meet the majority of development needs through an increased focus on Newbury and Thatcham area, with a specific concentration on North-east Thatcham (approximately 2,500 homes).” It is expected that many town and parish councils, in these and other areas of the district, will have specific views on how this affects them. Where we receive information about these, this will be covered in the appropriate section’s of this column in the future. (See also the Thatcham Area section below.)

Planning is a dull issue until some development threatens to affect where you live or work, in which case it can be hard to think about anything else. It’s pointless to pretend that such documents are light or easy reading: but they are important. Your response will be influential. If you want to discuss any aspects of the plan in your area, two good places to start would be by contacting the Chairperson or Clerk of your town or parish council (links to the websites for most of these in the area are provided below) or by contacting your WBC ward member (see here for a full list). Once the local plan has been agreed, it will become WBC’s policy. This broadly means that if an application accords with this then it is likely to be approved. 

• It’s worth saying a quick word about neighbourhood development plans (NDPs) at this point. Several parishes in the district, including Hungerford, Lambourn, Compton and Cold Ash, are at various stages of completing their own ones. These do not compete with the local plan – far from it – but can perhaps best be seen as a delegation of certain aspects of planning policy to the local community. They are produced in conjunction with the planning authority (WBC in this case) and must accord with the over-arching aims of the planning authority’s local plan (which is, in turn, subject to national legislation and targets). Once adopted, the NDP becomes, for that area, as much part of the local plan as if the planning authority had written it itself. If you live in an area which is conducting and NDP, you may also be asked to take part in a consultation about this as well. If so, please do so. In such cases, the local NDP group will have contact details for people with whom you can discuss any aspects if you wish. The whole point about NDPs is that they are community projects, not merely ideas driven by the local parish or town council. One of the tests it has to pass is an assessment by an external examiner to ensure that there has been a sufficient level of community engagement. Some NDPs have failed this test. See this post for more on NDPs.

• 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.

• The West Berkshire Covid dashboard can be visited here

Click here for the latest Covid-19 News from West Berkshire Council.

• West Berkshire Lottery has announced that all tickets purchased for its weekly lottery up until Saturday, 19 December (not long now) will be entered into a national draw for the chance of winning one of five ‘Entertainment Bundles’.

• 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. In West Berkshire in particular, this is a service that is likely to be needed more than ever now we enter tier three.

• The animals of the week are these starlings in Scotland which, by landing en masse on overhead power cables, managed to cause a series of short local power blackouts. Maybe Alfred Hitchcock was right about the birds taking over… 

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those covered elsewhere, communications about parking at the Newbury Community Hospital, the universal basic income, some suggestions for our MP, planning ahead, the Coley Farm development and a photo of a dog wearing a shower hat. 

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Wiltshire Air Ambulance (thanks to Pewsey Primary School); Cancer Research UK (thanks to the Newbury MG Owners’ Club); many local charities (thanks to Greenham Trust’s recent Double Matched Day); West Berkshire Foodbank (thanks to local donations); Thatcham Cricket Club (thanks to its recent fundraising events); Children in Need (thanks to pupils at Kintbury Primary School); Prior’s Court School (thanks to those who have bought their Christmas cards).

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. If you didn’t get the newsletter, click here to read it.

• And, talking about good reads, if you’re looking for a Christmas present, for yourself or someone else, you can do no better than a book. One book you might like to consider is Unaccustomed as I Am, published last month by Penny Post and containing twenty-six short stories, parodies and tales of misadventure and confusion. Stephen Fry loved it, calling it “a delightful collection.” Copies are available from the Hungerford Bookshop and also other retailers in the area. More information here.

• As ever, our lead story in the above-mentioned Penny Post Hungerford is a summary of the work done by Hungerford Town Council (HTC). This includes a statement from HTC about the impasse at the Salisbury Road development which you can read here

• 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.  

• 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. 

• WNC’s draft local plan has been published and is out for consultation (see Across the Area above). One aspect that may be of interest to Lambourn residents is the proposal considerably to increase the area of the industrial area at Membury, which already generates significant traffic along the B4000. The case for a junction 14a at the service station would become stronger if this went ahead.

• A reminder that this statement from Thames Water suggests that a corner has been turned in the long-running problem of the Lambourn Valley’s overflowing sewage system. Time will tell. 

• 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. Click here for to see it.

• 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 for which minutes are available 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 Christmas East Garston News has been published and you can click here to read it.

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 got up to in November.

• As mentioned above (see Across the Area), the troubled Sandleford project is still a strategic site in WBC’s local plan. Only 1,000 of the possible 1,500 homes are forecast to be built by 2037: even this will require a major changer what what has so far been accomplished 10+ years; zero houses). WBC seems determined that matter will be done on its terms: there are, however, two landowner/developers. This heavyweight bout might proceed for some time yet.

• The London Road Industrial Estate and the related matter of the closure of the football ground is covered in two articles on p7 of this week’s NWN (and in three communications in the letters section). The first describes a discussion between Ross Mackinnon, WBC’s portfolio holder for economic development, and Paul Morgan, Chairman of the Newbury Community Football Group (NCFG) about whether the Council had any immediate plans to sell the ground to a developer. Councillor Mackinnon said in his reply that “it is too early to say.” This seems odd to me as the ground was closed two and a half years ago. Since then, of course, that plan has been scuppered as a result of legal action and a fresh one is now being considered. The costs of this (£345,000 over the next three years) are considered in the second article. As this points out, as have many other commentators, additional costs remain given the number of businesses  which have long (up to 90-year) leases and which might thus require compulsory purchase orders in order to clear the site. The presence of so many companies that were prepared to commit to the area seems to suggest that LRIE, as it currently is, is an acceptable commercial venue. One of the letters also refers to a previously-made point, that by paying for the decommissioning of the football ground, WBC is effectively subsidising a future developer.

• If you live near the border with another authority, as people in South Newbury do, you also need to keep an eye on what your neighbours are up to. This week’s NWN reports on p13 that Basingstoke and Dean Council is planning a 400-home ‘vision’ – more than just any old plan, then – in Bishop’s Green, very close to the county line. That could well be 400 more homes that want to use the nearby recycling facilities in Newbury, so likely to re-kindle to so called ‘waste wars’ which have been simmering between West Berkshire and Hampshire Council for several years.

Click here for the December NTC News from Newbury Town Council, including a message from the Mayor, a royal visit, an RHS award and a makeover at the recreation Ground.

• 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

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

• 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

Compton & Downlands

Latest news from Hampstead Norreys Parish Council, Compton Parish Council, Ashampstead Parish Council, Beedon Parish Council, Chaddleworth Parish Council, Brightwalton Parish Council, The Peasemore Village website, West Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.

• The most recent meeting of West Ilsley Parish Council took place on 1 December and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the Chairman’s resignation, the co-option of a new councillor, the need to re-submit the submission for the pub to be as asset of community value due to some irregularities with the previously-submitted documentation, approval of a contribution towards the cricket nets, a discussion (prompted by an enquiry from the ward member, Clive Hooker) about whether £5,210 of Community Infrastructure Levy (developer contribution) funds had recently been spent correctly (a fuller consideration of which was deferred until the next meeting) and a report on the recent speed-limit review conducted in the village. This last item might refer to the long-standing issuer, mentioned most recently in last week’s column, about the  problems faced by one house in the village which has been damaged by speeding cars.

• The most recent meeting of East Ilsley Parish Council took place on 10 November and you can read the draft minutes here. There was also a planning meeting on 1 December, the minutes of which you can read here. This considered two applications (both of which were voted “in favour”) as well as a discussion about a quote for silt and pond-water testing) which was considered “not acceptable” and about the CIL fund.

• The most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council for which minutes are available 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 for which minutes are available took place on 3 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 (there have been two since but the minutes have yet to appear on the PC’s website) 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 publication of the draft local plan (see Across the Area above) has put Thatcham into the local spotlight for it is here that WBC plans to concentrate its home-building activity over the next 15 years, 2,500 more dwellings being planned across four sites which will increase the town’s population by about 25%. Hilary Cole, the planning portfolio holder and ward member for nearby Chieveley and Cold Ash, is quoted in this week’s Newbury Weekly News as saying that WBC has “taken a conscious decision to do this around Thatcham so it will deliver the infrastructure we need.” This seems to be the nub of many people’s concerns: all agree that new housing is needed (whether so much in one town is another matter); the question is whether the requisite infrastructure can be created to support it.

I spoke to Steve Ardagh-Walter (Con, Thatcham Colthrop and Crookham). He admitted that development in the 1980s had not provided the level of infrastructure that the town needed but was confident that WBC would be able to ensure that this happen on this occasion. “This is both a challenge and an opportunity,” he said. “It’s also part of a consultation and I’n sure that the Town Council [of which he is also a member] will be making it’d response. I also spoke to Jeff Brooks (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) who was, on the evidence of the past, less sanguine about the outcome. “What is the mitigation going to be?” he asked. “Since the 1970s, Thatcham’s increased housing numbers have not been matched by infrastructure improvements. There are also a number of issues, such as about all the options for the secondary school (or schools) in the town which the document hasn’t really addressed.” I suggested to both councillors that one only had to look to Wantage and Grove across the state line in the Vale, where this problem had been endemic for years, to see the difficulties that might lie ahead: both agreed that this presented a challenge, the resolution of which was vital to the success of the scheme. 

It certainly seems very hard to get the necessary infrastructure improvements built at the right time, or at all, in large developments. The developers themselves are adept at watering down S106 contributions, in cash or in kind, or – as is the case in North Newbury – delaying key components which as a new school to the end of the project when they should, to ensure local attendance, be one of the first things to be completed. Projects undertaken by the councils themselves also have the habit of being cancelled, delayed, conflated with other projects or abandoned altogether, perhaps partly as a result of funding cute. The proposed new Wantage and Grove Leisure Centre, now cancelled, is an excellent example. Given these problems, to say nothing of the uncertainty currently surrounding the planning process as a result of the white paper, it might be unwise to concentrate so much development in a town which is already under-provided with its infrastructure and facilities. Building the homes is in some way the easy bit – although, as Sandleford has shown, not that easy, particularly with multiple developers. The real problem is the mitigation, both the agreement of what is needed and the resolve to ensure that it actually happens. Something tells me there might be a bit more heard on this subject in the coming months.

• 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 1 December and you can read watch a video of the meeting here (this will be replaced by the minutes in due course). 

• The most recent meeting of Cold Ash Parish Council took place on 24 November and you can read the minutes here

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

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

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin, which this week starts with tree-planting and finishes with Oscar Wilde.

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.

• Theale’s ward member Alan Macro (Lib Dem) has commented about WBC’s proposals in its draft new local plan to allocate two sites for a total of 170 new homes and a site for 20,000 square metres of offices at the eastern end of Theale. “This is completely unacceptable,” he said earlier this week. “These sites are unsuitable for building homes or offices as they are susceptible to flooding.” He added that they currently act as a valuable ‘green buffer’ separating Theale from Calcot and Tilehurst, have high voltage power lines overhead and suffer from noise from the M4 motorway. One site proposed for housing also suffers from land contamination. “Theale will also have its hands full assimilating the over 440 homes at the western end of the village that have been given planning permission,” he continued. “The proposal for more offices also does not take into account the fact that there is already a large number of empty offices in Theale.” More information can be found on his website.

• 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.”

• Still with Aldermaston, this week’s NWN reports on a fine handed out the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston for a health and safety breach in 2019. Any story involving safety breaches and nuclear arsenals is bound to grab the eye. This incident involved a misunderstanding about whether the electricity in part of the site was turned off before maintenance work started (it hadn’t been, resulting in what the Nuclear Information Service’s report described as “a big bang” but no injuries). Any big bangs on sites full of nuclear weapons is probably not a good thing; nor is the fact that the Judge said that AWE’s behaviour involved “material and significant failings,” fining it £660,000. This is not the first time that AWE has been on the nuclear naughty-step though, under its current management, it may be the last as it will taken back under direct governmental control next year. I’m confused as to why, the court case having taken place in January 2020, the item only surfaced on the NIS site and then the NWN this week. 

• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 12 November and you can read the draft minutes here

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.

• 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 388 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 6-12 December, up 21 on the week before. This equates to 78 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 165 (131 last week). 

Tender bids are invited to conduct external works to Marlborough Town Hall.

Marlborough News reports that the proposed third rugby pitch on the Common will go to public consultation and working party investigations, following a lengthy discussion at the Town Council meeting on 14 December. 

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 proposed skatepark floodlighting has been given the go-ahead by the Town Council despite opposition from residents.

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

• The most recent meeting of Marlborough Town Council for which minutes are available 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

Information here about flu jabs at Ramsbury Surgery, courtesy of the ever-vigilant Marlborough News.

• Hunting has been “stopped with immediate effect” on the Ramsbury Estate after allegations were made against the Vine and Craven Hunt (which strenuously denies any wrongdoing.)

• 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 144 CV-19 cases in the Vale in the week 6-12 December, up 54 on the week before. This equates to 106 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 163 (131 last week). 

• Congratulations to Anna Richards of the Maymessy Cookery School in West Challow which, in congestion with Wantage Coronavirus Support Group, Ray Collins Charitable Trust and Sustainable Wantage, recently provided a series of five classes on food shopping and cooking on a tight budget for Wantage families affected by Coronavirus. See this separate post for more information.

• This week’s Herald covers, on p2, the culmination of the long-running and sorry tale of bad timing, alleged poor decision-making and Whitehall heavy-handedness that is South Oxfordshire’s local plan. In summary, this was finalised but not ratified by the then Conservative administration before the May 2019 elections. The Greens and Lib Dems – whose opposition to the plan features strongly in both campaigns – came to power resolved and mandated to change it, only to be prevented from doing so by the Housing Minister who threatened to strip the authority of its planning powers unless the plan was passed as it stood. Faced with that kind of ultimatum, this duly happened. Opponents have claimed hat the housing figures are far too high and do not reflect either the area’s needs nor the over-spill from the City of Oxford. The perceived problems with the plan itself have, however, got swamped by the democratic deficit that this reveals, a point that the Herald’s leader column picks up on, not for the first time: “a dark day for democracy.” Such things are always likely to happen if such major matters are allowed to reach this stage just before an election. The result is that local residents voted for a change hat their representatives, for reasons completely beyond their control, could not effect. This could happen anywhere else too.

• This is same Ministry of Housing that Julie Mabberley refers to on her weekly column on p8 of the same paper. She looks at recent “scything” report into the department’s recent housing projects, none of which have come up with what they promised, by the Public Accounts Scrutiny Committee. A recent article in Inside Housing also has had a look at the report, and also pulls no punches: “’Deplorable’,” the article starts, “is not how any government department would want its policy approach to be described, but that is the view expressed by the Public Accounts Committee.”

This article in the Herald looks at the delivery problems that many in Wantage claim have affected their mail.

• 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.

• A recent 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. 

• Congratulations to the Grove Litter-picking Group which recently collected eight bag-fulls of rubbish from Cow Lane.

• People across South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse are being urged to protect their friends and family this Christmas and help to stop the spread of Covid-19.

• With food banks and other support organisations running reduced or limited services over the Christmas period, the same two councils are urging residents to think ahead and get in touch now if they’ll need help with food or essential supplies.

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.

• The most recent (special) meeting of Grove Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 27 October and you can read the 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 December 2020 issue of the Letcombe Register. Items covered include the Letcombe Brook project, a message from the Parish Council, gardening tips, news from village voluntary and community groups, holly trees, St Stephen and no fewer than three quizzes.

• 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 268 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 6-12 December, up 7 on the week before. This equates to 121 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 165 (131 last week). 

• The Swindon Advertiser looks at the government’s reasons for keeping Swindon in tier two (unlike neighbouring West Berkshire, which will be in tier three from Saturday 19 December). “Since the end of national restrictions, the situation in Wiltshire and Swindon has improved,” the paper quotes the document as saying. “Case rates and positivity are broadly decreasing across the area (average of 80 per 100,000), although test positivity remains high in Swindon.”

• Swindon Link reports that thousands of families will be offered supermarket vouchers ahead of the Christmas and February half-term school holidays as part of a scheme facilitated by Swindon Borough Council.

• Swindon Borough Council’s tenants will be given the chance to have their say on proposals to change the amount of rent they pay in 2021/22.

• 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.

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.

• 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

• So, we find ourselves at the Song of the Week. I can’t think of a better way of ushering out thus most awful of years and welcoming something hopefully a bit better than with what I think is the most uplifting song by the greatest band that ever graced this planet: George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun from The Beatles’ final album, Abbey Road.

• And so now it’s time for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. You’ve all seen if 47 times before but the opening scene from Life of Brian (no relation) still makes me chuckle.

• And so the last item on the agenda is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: The American animated sitcom The Simpsons was first aired on 17 December – but in which year? Last week’s question pointed 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. You’ve got to be in to win…

We’re taking a couple of weeks off so I’ll see you again in 2021, which has just got to be an improvement. Here comes the sun…

Brian Quinn

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One Response

  1. I ask if there is any point in supporting Hilary Cole’s WBC Development Plan if the record shows that the events at the Salisbury Road development in Hungerford run contra to the suggestions in the Plan?

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