Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s newsletter, Great Shefford’s application, Lambourn’s orchard, Kintbury’s bids, Thatcham’s petition, Newbury’s football, Inkpen’s bulletin, Marlborough’s call-in, Ramsbury’s felling, Compton’s Arnold-Baker, Cold Ash’s Snicket Shefford Woodland’s quiz, Theale’s station, Chaddleworth’s precept, Letcombe Regis’ saint, Bucklebury’s translation, Aldbourne’s audit, Stratfield Mortimer and Burghfield’s decision, Wantage’s plan, Grove’s conditions, Swindon’s fines, vaccine deniers, a state-side fiasco, PPE (both kinds), Oxford (both kinds), academic standards, the Fourth Crusade, car-parking PR, a bit of theology, the local plan, 1989, £500,000, £222bn, 1,000 years, Marmite, Iberian Jazz and some kind of joke.
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)
• So 2021 is with us at last, not that you’d really notice. Cold weather, lockdowns, government U-turns and a divided USA are with us still. The only thing that has changed is our final departure from the EU. Brexit was a huge (and avoidable) distraction we could all have done without.
• Opinions still differ as to how much Brexit has cost. This report from Full Fact undermines social-media claims that the hit to our economy since 2016 is greater than all the contributions we’ve ever made, although it does seem to be quite close (£200bn v £222bn). I think this is one of those cases where the figures are so colossal and speculative (relying as they do on what would have happened in a parallel universe where the referendum had gone the other way) that one can make up more or less any figure one likes. That is, after all, what Boris Johnston did during the campaign and it doesn’t seem to have slowed him down.
• Speaking of parallel universes, there’s one inhabited by vaccine and Covid deniers that still seems to have a certain amount of traction. Look at the evidence for vaccines before rushing to war about it on social media: above all, perhaps, look at your own probable non-experience with a whole host of murderous diseases against which you were probably inoculated as a child – or have a look at the kind of people in the USA who support these views. If that doesn’t work, take a view: do the risks outweigh the benefits? There is a chance that you will turn into a kind of Bill Gates-controlled orc as a result of the jab but a much higher one that it will confer some kind of immunity, as all previous vaccines have done, which will enable 2021 to end in a better way than it’s begun. So, when you get your letter from your GP with your appointment then either turn up or else stay indoors and out of contact with the rest of us. (This survey by Imperial College in November suggested that the UK had, at 65%, the highest rate of likely acceptance of a vaccine, a figure which has probably increased since the roll-out started. In France, by contrast, only 35% of those questioned said they’d be willing to have the vaccine in 2021.)
As for whether the lockdown has been necessary, just look at the figures. The new variant – which, although more infectious, seems not to be more dangerous nor resistant to the vaccines – has contributed to, to pick one example, a nine-fold increase in the number of cases in rural West Berkshire over the last six weeks. Assuming the ambitious inoculation programme is carried out and that it works as well as all tests suggest, I reckon we have three more months of pain before life will return to something like (though never exactly like) it was before.
• Another parallel universe (and there are, of course, an infinity of them) is the one inhabited by PotUS Donald Trump. Not content with having lost over 50 legal actions about the election result, he then spent an hour on the phone to Georgia’s Secretary of State on 2 January, in which he resorted to threats and intimidation to try to get the result overturned. Undeterred, on 6 January he invited his supporters to march on Congress where the results were being ratified to “make their voices heard.” To be fair, he did say they should do so “peacefully” – he could hardly have said anything else – but the extraordinary scenes that unfolded were anything but, with smashed windows, pipe bombs, multiple arrests, gunfire, four deaths and several serious injuries. It certainly goes down as a catastrophic security disaster. The footage was more reminiscent of the chaotic post-election conflicts that one so often sees the countries that the USA spends its time strenuously and often violently lecturing about democracy under the specious banner of American exceptionalism. Looking at the BBC footage, almost all the protesters seemed to be middle-aged white men (all fairly interchangeable in appearance) bearing some fairly scary banners. They may not all have been gnarled survivalists, fundamental Christians, Covid deniers, white supremacists or rabid libertarians but they sure as hell all looked that way to me.
According to the BBC, their justification was that extreme measures were necessary to rescue their country from traitors, communists, Satanists and paedophiles. If you have convinced yourself that this is the roll call of your enemies then I guess you’ll do whatever it takes. The USA is fond of criticising states and organisations for allowing people to become radicalised, often by extreme Islamic views. At least Islam has some kind of consistent ideology, however some people may warp it. This stuff, however, you can just make up as you go along, adding in any old bits of cabalistic drivel that happen to come to hand.
Aside from his exhortations to march on Congress, it appears that Trump was preparing for armed conflict in other ways. On 4 January, Reuters reported that 10 former defence chiefs has written to The Washington Post saying that the military “should play no role in President Donald Trump’s efforts to block the transfer of power.” This rather suggests that the President had suggested that the military should be playing a role. It’s all too easy to imagine how the phone call might have gone. Perhaps because of stunts like this, 7 January saw suggestions from members Congress that PotUS should either be removed from office using the 25th Amendment or even impeached. With less two weeks of his term still to run, this shows how many remain fearful of his capacity to cause further mischief.
Foreign condemnation of the fiasco in Washington has been swift, most reactions being couched in the robust but diplomatic terms one would expect. Other countries let themselves go a bit more. The government of Venezuela – which must have been waiting for such a moment for years – opined that “with this regrettable episode, the United States experiences the same thing that it has generated in other countries with its policies of aggression.” The leaders of Russia, China and North Korea seem so far to have kept their views to themselves though I doubt that they will be able to resist for long.
As for Trump himself, when challenged to denounce the violence, he posted a video asking people to “go home” but as this message was interspersed with far more unsubstantiated comments of the familiar subject of election fraud, all the main social-media channels removed it. He seems, in his slow retreat from power, to be indulging in a scorched-earth policy reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s setting fire to the Kuwait oil wells at the end of the first Gulf War. His recent ramblings seem also to have cost his party the two crucial Senate seats in Georgia, a result which he also claimed was rigged. Each day since 3 November has marked a new low for the USA. The country now needs to be added to the list of those that can’t be trusted to hold its elections properly, requiring UN peacekeepers and foreign experts to supervise things next time round. That might, in turn, take a bit of the bounce out of its foreign policy, probably no bad thing.
• Although on nothing like the scale of this, one of the recurring complaints about the UK government’s handling of the pandemic has been the way in which PPE contracts were awarded. Sky News claimed that 70% of the contract were placed without any competitive tendering. Moreover, The National Audit Office (NAO), as reported in The Independent, said that companies which were placed on a ‘fast-track’ scheme were up to ten times more likely to win contracts, a phenomenon which The Sunday Times and other papers have branded as the ‘chumocracy’, so closely associated were some of the recipients were to senior government government figures. The NAO makes the point that the government had to work “at pace” and in a seller’s market at a time of international crisis but this doesn’t fully explain the singularity of many of the tenders.
It was interesting to see all this referred to in the December newsletter from the UK’s Anti-corruption Champion, John Penrose MP. His rather one-sided summary of the NAO’s findings did admit that “there is more to be done on how we can make procurement more transparent, including through greater use of open contracting.” One of the people who might want to heed Mr Penrose’s words is Dido Harding, head of the Test and Trace Service. As she is Mr Penrose’s wife, this shouldn’t be too hard to arrange. The document also makes a number of other over-rosy claims which are not full born out by checking the sources. For example, the newsletter says that the government “won plaudits” from the Institute for Government for its domestic work. In fact, this report’s conclusion (pp48-51) refers in almost all of its paragraphs to things that could be done better, singling out the contact-tracing app the A-level algorithms for particular criticism. It also adds the disparaging remark that “nearly every success story was built on what was already there” in terms of digital expertise. (That said, I think the information that the government has put out on-line has been pretty good. How well the 20% of the population who don’t use the internet have coped is another matter.)
• Aside from IT, there are two other examples of things that were already there that the government was slow to use. The first was the the public-health network operated by local councils which, inexplicably, was by-passed for several months in favour of a new national system operated by contractors including Serco. The other, which continues yet, is why the country’s pharmacies – many of which have NHS contracts already and all of whom are staffed by highly trained professionals – are not be used as part of the vaccination programme. This may become easier when the AstraZeneca jab is more widely available as this can be stored at higher temperatures.
• The AstraZeneca vaccine is also known as the Oxford one but I hesitate to use that term lest it be thought that the city somehow now confers ever more life advantages than it does already (particularly if you want to be a Prime Minister). In the same way, ‘PPE’ when referring to protective gear can easily be muddled up with the Oxford Politics, Philosophy and Economics degree course that so many of our political leaders studied; this co-incidence perhaps confusing their thought processes when it came to awarding the PPE contracts. Anyway, whatever we want to call the jab it will be very welcome and hats off to all the scientists and researchers, in Oxford and elsewhere, who developed it and all those who will be implementing it.
• One issue that all universities, Oxford included, will have to cope with is the matter of accepting students who, for the second successive year ,will not have taken A-levels. This time round the assessment will be done by the schools rather than by a computer. It seemed to me, though, that the main risk would be not the lack of exams but the lack of revision, a painful process which sorts and de-tangles the previous two years’ work. Might there be a risk that students would be starting from a lower knowledge base, so leading to sub-standard results?
I put these concerns to a friend who’s a Computer Science Professor at Cambridge. I’m glad to report that he was largely able to reassure me. He pointed out that the intensity of A-levels not only doesn’t suit every pupil but is also not an infallible guide to likely attainment at university: indeed, GCSE results – which exist for this year’s and next year’s intake – often are more accurate. Moreover, in STEM subjects, the differences between the A-level and degree-level studies are often radically different – “forget everything you learned at A-level” is, I’m told (I never studied a STEM subject myself) often the first remark made at the first lecture or tutorial. He also pointed out that external examiners are involved at every university: also that, for important subjects like medicine and engineering, the courses are designed and administered in conjunction with professional bodies. Both serve to keep standards up. Finally, in such areas the degree is only part of the journey. One cannot pick up a scalpel or a screwdriver in earnest until several more years have been spent working in the real world. I felt slightly better after this conversation. The possibility that there might be a few under-qualified graduates of media studies, English, philosophy or medieval history doesn’t concern me quite as much.
• And talking of medieval history degrees, the collection of my stories Unaccustomed as I Am, which was published just before Christmas (click here for how to order it, including from the Hungerford Bookshop), includes the sorry tale of the self-inflicted disaster that befell me during the last paper of my finals. This deprived me of the chance to write an essay on the Fourth Crusade, one of the oddest incidents I’ve ever read about and which I had assiduously revised for. Today, we had an email from one purchaser of the book who asked if I could explain what was so remarkable about it. This I’m happy to do: but I need a bit more encouragement. So, if next week you would like me to write a paragraph of about this length on the subject of the Fourth Crusade, I will happily do so. Please post a comment in the box at the foot of this post and I’all oblige. It’s a good story, believe me. As for the story of the disaster which prevented my writing about this at the time, you’re going to have to buy the book.
• The letters page of the Newbury Weekly News has recently taken on a distinctly theological tone this week, with four communications on the subject. The debate was fired before Christmas when one correspondent suggested that Christianity should be regarded as fake news. If one applies to religion the test that we would for almost anything else – such as the safety of vaccine or whether the USA is over-run with Satanists and paedophiles – and demand to see the evidence, then it’s hard to disagree with the remark. There is no empirical evidence for divine intervention in human affairs (though this doesn’t amount, as the original writer suggested, to scientific proof of non-existence). As a result, everyone’s view on the matter is entirely personal. Whichever view you take, reading a contrary opinion is likely only to re-inforce your own views rather than cause you to question them.
• And, still with the NWN’s letters page open before me, there’s a communication there about the story of the unfortunate woman in Newbury was handed a £100 car-parking fine on Christmas Eve after overstaying her time because she was helping someone who was having a heart attack. Local MP Laura Farris has taken up the case and the company concerned, Euro Car Parks, has come in for a lot of stick. For most firms, this would be a PR disaster which the directors would seek to avoid or mitigate. However, I’m struggling and failing to think of a single reason why a company that operates car parks should care one jot about PR or about its reputation. Not having to worry about what your “customers” think of you must make so many of their business decisions swift and simple: indeed, caring about this would be a positive hindrance. There’s a tiny part of me – the thought is ruthlessly suppressed as it starts to take shape – which rather envies them…
• The BBC reports that there were 672 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 27 Dec to 2 Jan, up 130 on the week before. This equates to 424 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 518.
• 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, “which 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.”
• West Berkshire Council has launched 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 announced a public consultation on proposed submission for its Minerals and Waste Local Plan.
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.
• 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’s libraries will continue to offer a limited service during the national lockdown restrictions.
• 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 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 Hub. Click here to visit the website or call 01635 503 579 to speak to the the Building Communities Together team. The Hub has also set up two FAQ pages, for residents and for businesses. You can also click here to sign up to receive the Hub’s e-bulletins and click here to see the weekly updates.
• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.
• Click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. As with the volunteers’ post above, if you are aware of any others, let us know. In West Berkshire in particular, this is a service that is likely to be needed more than ever now we enter tier three.
• The animal of the week is our cat Marmite who managed to find a way to get a kind of disco-ball thing going over Christmas.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those covered elsewhere, communications about Thatcham’s housing numbers, lost footpaths, aircraft aerobatics, vaccinations and Christmas visits.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Central Swindon North Parish Council (thanks to the Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund); Swindon Borough Council’s Family Intervention Support Services (FISS) (thanks to a donation of unclaimed bicycles from Wiltshire Police); West Berks Foodbank (thanks to Tesco Express); elderly residents of Crown Mews in Hungerford (thanks to Alexander’s Tea Rooms); numerous local charities (thanks to Greenham Trust).
Hungerford & district
• The January 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. As well as the latest news from the Town Council, the Town and Manor, HEAT and the town’s retailers, there’s a statement from the Self-isolation Network, a report on the changes at the Wednesday market, security advice from the Police and an appeal on behalf of the family of local youth worker James McMahon who sadly died last week. That’s not all: there’s also the wine of the month, the book of the month, the regular racing, recipe, gardening and astronomy columns, tips for surviving dry January, sources of help for coping with lockdown and advice as to how (f you you have not already done so) you can release your Christmas tree spirits.
• As ever, our lead story in the above-mentioned Penny Post Hungerford is a summary of the work done by Hungerford Town Council (HTC).
• 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 3 December and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included members’ bids, the new defibrillator, five uncontentious planning applications and discussions about the 2021-22 budget (to be approved in January).
• The most recent meeting of Shalbourne Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 19 November 2020 and you can read the minutes here (these will download, not pop up).
• The most recent meeting of Lambourn Parish Council took place on 6 January and Lambourn.org has a summary of the main matters discussed. Items covered included several planning applications, the community orchard, the neighbourhood development plan, the regeneration of the High Street, anti-social behaviour and the Lambourn Centre.
• Lambourn ward member Howard Woollaston’s December/January update can be read here. This includes links ago the consultations on the West Berkshire local plan and the Lambourn NDP (which happen to be taking place at about the same time) and points out that, if you are concerned about planning issues in the parish, you should respond to both.
• The January Valley of the Racehorse newsletter will be published on Saturday 9 January.
• 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. On the same theme, this post describes some the actions we can all take (or refrain from taking) to help keep the sewerage system clear.
• 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 Great Shefford Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 3 November and the minutes can be seen here. Two pages of these were devoted to the recent polarisation of the village over the plans for the creation of a farm shop at the pub. A few points are worth emphasising.
Firstly, Great Shefford PC has decided not to use Facebook and so will not, as a body, engage in any online discussion (if individual councillors do so privately that’s a separate matter). Click here for details of the ways you can contact the PC. The GSPC has also consistently said how gratifying it is that the pub has thrived (Covid circumstances excepted) and it refutes the suggestion that it has not done so. It also points out that, when commenting on a planning application, it is obliged to consider policy and due process when making its recommendations. If it feels that there are problems with the application, it is obliged to say so (and did say so, including on some matters such as the need for a flood assessment with which West Berkshire Council agreed). It’s also worth pointing out again that a PC has absolutely no power to decide a planning application itself – that is a job for the planning authority, West Berkshire Council in this case. The PC is a statutory consultee un the process but WBC can ignore its recommendations. (WBC also has to consider the application in the light of policy and, although it can insist on conditions such as opening times, cannot get involved in setting the commercial parameters within which the business operates.) Finally, the comments stressed that the PC was aware that the issue was an emotive one, much evidence suggesting that the village is pretty equally split over the issue.
The central issue for many villagers is the concern that the construction of a farm shop would undermine the viability of the existing shop and PO. Here again there is a policy that must be considered by the planning authority, known as SHOP.5, which you can read here. In a phrase which could have been written for this exact situation, the policy states that “farm shops are…valuable to the local economy and the local consumer, but their potential impact on the vitality of nearby village shops must be taken into consideration in any development proposed.” The PC would have been in dereliction of its duty were it not to have drawn attention to this as a relevant matter for the decision-makers at West Berkshire Council to consider.
As to whether any new shop would threaten the existing one, as the PC notes admit, “no one really knows.” I very much hope that it won’t. I use the existing shop regularly and could see myself using a well-stocked farm shop as well. One solution might be, if positions have not become too ingrained, for the two businesses to agree areas in which they would not compete and could actively support each other. The danger with having two places offering a similar service is they can each drive the other out of business, which would suit no one. All this is academic until the application has been decided by the Western Area Planning Committee, probably within the next few months.
This leads to the wider question of how useful or accurate a tool Facebook is for conducting debate and canvassing opinions. Certainly no survey which has been conducted on Facebook can be regarded as representative unless the organisers are sure that everyone in the community has had an opportunity to take part: for as long as an estimated 20% of the population does not use the internet at all and until everyone who does use the internet is on Facebook, this is not going to be the case. By its very nature, social-media platforms tend to attract like-minded people to a particular page, so reinforcing the perception that a view is more widespread or popular than it really is. Also, Facebook’s immediacy and chronological structure mean that the most recent announcement is given undue prominence, regardless of its merit. This doesn’t always make it well suited to host a nuanced debate on issues which, as in this case, are complex, technical and emotive. (For finding lost dogs, exchanging gossip or shouting out about a fundraiser, however, it’s ideal.)
• The most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council took place on 4 November and the draft minutes can be seen here.
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• 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.
• Click here for the latest update from Martin Colston, the Leader of Newbury Town Council. Items covered include tree planting, the 2021-22 budget and a royal visit. He also stressed hat the outdoor market is still open.
• 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. The consultation period has recently been extended and it will now run until 31 January 2021.
• An article on p2 of this week’s NWN looks again at whether the masterplan might include a permanent pedestrianisation of the town centre, such as was experimented with for last summer. As the executive member for transport, Richard Somner is quoted as saying, this move was welcomed by some and opposed by others. No pedestrianisation plan is ever going to received universal, or probably even overwhelming, support at a time when many people still rely on cars and when retailers are fearful of anything that might reduce footfall. There is no doubt, however, that not needing to dodge traffic makes for a better experience. Such a scheme also probably needs to be in place for at least a year, rather than just a season, before a view can be taken on its success. A difficult call but one that will be of great importance in shaping the future of the town.
• The same paper reports, on p9, that it’s proposed that the opening hours of the counter at Newbury Police Station will be considerably reduced. You can click here to take part in a survey which will run until the end of the month.
• Few regular readers of this column, or the letters page of the Newbury Weekly News, will be unaware that since June 2018 there has been considerable disagreement between West Berkshire Council and football-related community groups as to why the Faraday Road ground was closed and what alternative provisions would be made for the sport in the town. A number of questions remain about the events of the last two and a half years, including the costs, but in what might be a welcome re-boot to whole process, West Berkshire Council and Newbury Rugby Club issued a joint statement on 6 January 2021. This announced that there have been “preliminary discussions about building the new sports facility on part of the site in Monks Lane.” The full statement, and a response from the Newbury Community Football Group, can be seen 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 (so, not long now). 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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. .
• 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 took place on 7 December and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included two planning applications (neither of which were objected to); funding for dog-waste bins, seating at the youth shelter and picnic tables (£10,740 in all, mainframe S106 and CIL funds); the purchase of “an Arnold-Baker” for the parish (I had to look this up – it’s a textbook called Arnold-Baker on Local Council Administration, often referred to as “the Bible” for municipal administrators); a review of the draft 2021-22 budget; and a report on the renovation of the Sports Pavilion.
• In early December, West Berkshire launched a scheme to distribute up to £500,000 of CIL funding to qualifying community projects throughout the district. More details can be found here. The communications on this to the parish councils appear to have been less then perfect with, it seems, only one email being sent and, it also seems, not always to the correct recipients. Chaddleworth, for instance, only became aware of the scene at its meeting on 5 January. Fortunately, it had costs and most details for three long-planned projects so it will be putting those in by the recently slightly extended (though still very tight) deadline on 5pm on 10 January.
• At the above-mentioned meeting, Chaddleworth approved its 2021-22 budget. This includes a large rise of 20% in the precept (unlike higher councils, parishes do not have a cap on any budget increase). This was due to some unexpected and necessary items of capital expenditure at the car park and the play areas the benefits of which will be felt for many years to come.
• 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 for which minutes are available 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
• As mentioned in this column just before Christmas, the publication of the draft local plan 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, was quoted in the 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 two district and Town Councillors, Steve Ardagh-Walter (Con, Thatcham Colthrop and Crookham) and Jeff Brooks (Lib Dem, Thatcham West). Both admitted that there were challenges in bringing Thatcham’s infrastructure – which most agree has not so far kept pace with development these last 30 or so years – up to the standard required by the new dwellings.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a petition has been launched to oppose this proposal – Thatcham Residents Say “No” to 2,500 New Houses – which, at the time of writing, had received 930 signatures. “This development will not make the lives of the existing residents of Thatcham better,” the petition claims. “It will put excessive strain on our infrastructure and services: the railway crossing, traffic congestion, roads, doctors surgeries, nursery places, leisure facilities, support services for the elderly and for Thatcham’s youth, the library and much more. It makes no real commitment to town centre regeneration nor does it do anything to address air quality issues.” Nor, it goes on to say, does it “make any specific requirement for the development to be net zero carbon.”
• 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.
• 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 Councillor which minutes are available took place on 24 November and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Bucklebury Parish Council took place on 14 December and you can read the minutes here. items covered included: an article in the Mail on Sunday which had “a lot of inaccuracies about the sale of Bucklebury Farm Park”; parking at the Little Lane/Roundfield junction; the consideration of six planning applications; a request for West Berkshire to encore planning conditions at one ongoing development; a discussion of West Berkshire’s draft local plan (which, although it includes no sites in Bucklebury, does include a large number in nearby Thatcham); illegal uses of 4×4 vehicles on the Common; the problems of translating the archaic language used to express the Common’s by-laws into something more approaching modern English; the proposed wildflower strip at Hockett Field; various repairs around the parish; the problem of speeding; and work on the River Pang.
• 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 an HNY and finishes with Lemony Snicket.
Theale and district
• Click here to see the latest e-newsletter for Theale’s ward member, Alan Macro. Items covered include thoughts on the proposal to allocate land for more homes and offices in the parish; progress on the new footbridge and lifts at the station; the plans for the former Theale Motor Company site; and several planning applications.
• In his own e-newsletter, Councillor Graham Bridgman observes that, given the removal of any housing requirement for Burghfield in the emerging draft Local Plan because of the expansion of the AWE Burghfield’s DEPZ , there is now a question as to whether there is a need (or an advantage) to continue to push forward with the Burghfield NDP. One of the results of an NDP is that the parish receives 25% (uncapped) of any CIL revenue raised in the parish rather than 15% (capped) if it doesn’t have one: however, if there will be no development then there will be no CIL revenue, so it doesn’t matter what the parish’s percentage is. The expansion of the DEPZ was announced in May but the NDP group appear to have decided to continue with the work until WBC had confirmed its housing allocation (zero, as it turned out). Perhaps this is one advantage of having an atomic weapons facility in your back garden.
• Neighbouring Stratfield Mortimer (part of which is in the DEPZ) will also need to decide if it wants to refresh its NDP even though it too has no additional house allocations until 2037. Stratfield Mortimer is so far the only parish in West Berkshire to have an NDP although several other parishes (including Burghfield, if it continues with it) have one under construction. 110 houses have been allocated in the current NDP/local plan.
• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 8 December and you can read the minutes here.
• 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 as notes 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.
• Theale Parish Council is looking for a new Councillor – click here for details.
• The most recent meeting of Englefield Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 8 October and you can read the draft minutes here.
Marlborough & district
• The BBC reports that there were 1,586 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 27 Dec to 2 Jan, up 755 on the week before. This equates to 317 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 518.
• Kennet and Avon Medical Practice (KAMP) has released two Covid vaccination updates.
• Tender bids are invited to conduct external works to Marlborough Town Hall. Bids must be in by 15 January.
• 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.
• The proposed skatepark floodlighting has been given the go-ahead by the Town Council despite opposition from residents.
• The most recent meeting of Marlborough Town Council f took place on 14 December 2020 and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: questions about the third rugby pitch (which was called in and which was discussed at some length in a public forum), a residents’ parking scheme and the proposed lights at the skate park; prise for Marlborough’s volunteers in 2020; a consideration of the external auditor’s report; the plans for the eventual re-opening of the High Street when circumstances permit; the proposed public art at Priory Gardens; agreement on the allocation of S196 funds from the former police station site; and the appointment of a new Clerk from March 2021.
• 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.
• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports on p8 that some residents have been concerned by tree felling on the Ramsbury Estate and claim that they have been kept non the dark about what is going on. The Estate has claimed that the felling is necessary because of ash dieback and that it contacted the parish councils in the area some months ago. This echoes a very similar story at Speen Moor in West Berkshire in February 2020 when, for the same reason, a number of trees were felled amid public dismay and accusations of poor communication.
• The most recent meeting of Aldbourne Parish Council took place on 2 December and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the conclusion of the external audit; the approval of the budget (with no increase in the precept); a faulty SID (speed indicator device); proposed tree works around the sports field; the establishment of a working party to consider properties in the parish which might be declared assets of community value; an update on the clearance of the Winterbourne and a meeting with Thames Water; the search to establish the owners of some of the trees along Marlborough and Lottage Roads which need to be cut back; and proposals to prevent vehicles driving onto Southward Triangle and churning up the grass.
• Click here for a list of current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.
Wantage & district
• The BBC reports that there were 577 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 27 Dec to 2 Jan, up 195 on the week before. This equates to 424 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 518.
• The 22 December newsletter from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group refers to the Wantage neighbourhood development plan. “The Plan was first drafted in 2014/15, with the help of the Campaign Group, but was rejected by a planning inspector in 2016. The updated plan has been modified to amend or remove the policies that were deemed unacceptable by the Inspector, but disappointingly all other policies remain unchanged. There is a copy of the draft plan and a survey to complete on the Town Council website. The deadline for responses is 15th January 2021 so don’t delay. For our initial comments, click here.”
• The same newsletter reminds people that they can comment on the planning application for “yet another 5-600 homes in Grove,” near the Cemetery. For details see the W&GCG’s Grove Airfield Expansion page. “Application P20/V3113/O contains a large number of documents but assumes that all homes will still be heated by gas boilers and doesn’t say anything about increasing the energy efficiency of the homes. Given that the District Council has declared a climate emergency we would have hoped for at least some movement towards zero carbon homes and this seems like a perfect opportunity…” This week’s Herald has, on p2, an article about the possible issue of land contamination on the site as a result of its previous use as an airfield.
• The most recent meeting of Wantage Town Council was held on 30 November 2020 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.
• The most recent meeting of Grove Parish Council was held on 17 December 2020 and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: the consideration of three planning applications (one of which led to several comments, one of which that the development would need to bear in mind the fact that the potential new railway station – if and when that ever materialises – is immediately to the north of the application site); and confirmation that Persimmon Homes will shortly be bringing forward a Reserved Matters application for the second tranche of sports pitches arising from the Wellington Gate development, which led to some discussion.
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Herald looks at the proposals for the Vale, Cherwell and South Oxfordshire District Councils to take over the enforcement of parking regulations from the Police.
• Wantage’s MP David Johnston, in his fortnightly column on p10 of the same paper, tells us what he would have said to the House of Commons were he to have been called to speak in the recent Brexit debate.
• South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse district councils are reassuring residents and businesses that help is available, should they need it during the latest national lockdown.
• The Vale Council has launched its new corporate plan outlining hhttps://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/covid-19/support-available-for-residents-and-businesses-during-the-national-lockdown/ow 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.
• This article in the Herald tells fn a Wantage postie who walked 100,000 miles and was never once late for work.
• 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 January 2021 issue of the Letcombe Register. Items covered include news from local clubs, organisations and societies, a message from the Parish Council, a look ahead to the 2021 Census, the latest from the Letcombe Conservation Group and the Letcombe Valley Conservation Group, the saint on the month, the pop-up shop at The Greyhound, the provisional (Covid-dependant) list of movies to be shown by the Film Society in 2021 and the answers to the Christmas Quiz (which must have been great fun to set and at times infuriatingly difficult to answer).
• 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 1,272 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 27 Dec to 2 Jan, up 655 on the week before. This equates to 572 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 518.
• The Police issued 17 Covid restriction fines over the Christmas period to people in Swindon and Wiltshire, bringing the force’s total haul to 265.
• 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.
• A package of support measures is in place for local people who have been identified by the NHS as clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus.
• Swindon council has said that the first phase of a major project to build 149 affordable homes at Queen’s Drive is making good progress.
• Swindon was given a last-minute £25m Christmas present by the government which will help pave the way for a new bus interchange and gateway into the town centre.
• 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.
• 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 come to the Song of the Week. Some more wonderful Iberian jazz from the Joan Chamorro ensemble – No Moon at All.
• And so now it’s time for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Back to the wonderful Big Train, I think, and the rather alarming Is this Some Kind of Joke?
• And so the last thing on the list is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: Who was King of England 1,000 years ago, in 1021? Last week’s question was: The American animated sitcom The Simpsons was first aired on 17 December – but in which year? It was all the way back in the late-Maggie time of 1989.
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