Local News 14-21 January 2021

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s market, Great Shefford’s meeting, the Lambourn Valley’s newsletter, Kintbury’s defibrillator, Thatcham’s library, Newbury’s masterplan, Marlborough’s surgery, Wantage’s collection, Cold Ash’s kissing gate, Shefford Woodland’s prize, Theale’s budget, Chaddleworth’s precept, Brightwalton’s criticism, Brimpton’s complaint, East Ilsley’s refusal, Ashampstead’s pheasants, Bucklebury’s flowers, Aldbourne’s trees, Bedwyn’s food bank, Stratfield Mortimer’s car park, Grove’s sales, Snelsmore’s donation, Swindon’s fines, supermarkets, markets, inside or out, vaccines, negative waves, exercise, revoking a fine, construction inequalities, the dark and disturbing world of PotUS, guarding the guards, digital poverty, garden waste, the cat under the mat, Lazarus, Canute, Harthacanute, Bill Murray and Elon Musk.

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)

• I haven’t been to a supermarket larger than the Co-op in Hungerford since lockdown started, feeling much more comfortable shopping outdoors, but I was amazed to read earlier this week that the large supermarkets will now refuse to serve people who don’t wear face coverings. This became law in July 2020. How can this not have been enforced? According to the BBC website, supermarkets maintain that this is an issue for the police (who don’t have time for this), which seems a bit feeble to me. Supermarkets are private property and so they can ban people from entering them for probably any reason they choose. They already employ security staff. Money can’t be the problem: Tesco’s 2020 second- and third-quarter profits were up by 4.4%. Meanwhile, small shops, which cannot afford security staff and for whom one infraction reported on social media could spell disaster, have been grappling with this problem every day. The large supermarkets are clearly indispensable to modern life and so they can do more or less as they please.

• In addition to the problem that the need for face coverings depends on where you go, it also depends on who you are. There have always, quite fairly, been some people who are exempt but the list of these on the Gov.uk website is fairly vague and does not even pretend to be exhaustive, so allowing for individual interpretations. To make matters more difficult still for retailers, there is no system of certification for people (you don’t need a doctor’s certificate to prove your exemption). This would clearly be divisive and stigmatising, as well as placing an  additional burden on doctors.

It is at this point that we enter that twilight world between civil and personal liberties and public health. First off, despite initial official scepticism, there is plentiful evidence – this article in The Independent has several examples, with sources – that wearing a face covering can considerably reduce the chances of both spreading and catching Covid. As for most people there are no downsides, it thus seems both prudent and polite to wear one. If your reluctance to do so is based on personal preference or libertarian beliefs, rather than a genuine medical reason, then you are in my view doing the wrong thing at the moment, as well as causing anxiety for whichever shop you happen to be visiting.

• Then there’s the question of whether you’re safer indoors or outdoors. Common sense suggests the latter and this appears to be backed up by the evidence. This article in Patient from June 2020 refers to research in Wuhan that suggested that only one out of 1,200 transmissions in a particular survey took place outdoors. You don’t trust statements from Wuhan? OK, let’s look elsewhere. Medical Xpress said in October 2020 that ‘almost all documented coronavirus transmissions have occurred indoors,’ although the article does go on to stress that the droplets can float in the air for hours, including “outside between two buildings with no air circulation.” This article in Vox assesses the outdoor risks and refers to the the restrictive or dispersive influences of sunlight and wind, not of which are obviously more often found outdoors. If you are shopping outdoor on a reasonably windy day (as most are at present), maintaining social distancing, wearing a face covering and washing or sterilising your hands as soon as possible after your trip, you thus seem to be about as safe as you can reasonably be in these unsafe times. This appears to make places like the Hungerford Wednesday market, of which I am a devotee, about the best way of doing your weekly shop as I can think of. You can find information on this here, which includes new regulations that have recently been introduced.

• And then we come to vaccines. I mentioned last week that there have been misleading suggestions that these are unsafe or malicious in various ways. There’s no evidence I’ve seen to support this. John Hopkins Medicine, the NHS, the BBC and  Heart Matters all appear convinced. Although the development and approval of the Covid vaccines have been speeded up, there is no evidence I’m aware of that this has resulted in a compromising of safety. All these articles have references which will provide the evidence. Other sources are more sceptical and many seem to be based on discredited evidence. Unless you have a medical condition which would make a vaccine a bad idea for you – in which case your GP would presumably be aware of this – there is, as with face coverings, no obvious reason for refusing it when it is offered to you. The use of vaccines in one form or another dates back hundreds of years and, in the west, to the late 18th century with the work of Edward Jenner. Many of us would not now be alive were our parents not to have had us inoculated against diseases that were then rampant. As with the wearing of face coverings in public, I do not think that current circumstances are a case where personal, political or religious preference trumps the greater need of a public-health emergency. If you’re offered the jab and it’s safe for you, take it. If you’re asked to put on a face covering and it’s safe for you, wear it. If you don’t have to go out, don’t. That’s about it, I think.

• None of this is to say that the government’s record and performance should be accepted as gospel and without criticism. An article in the Daily Telegraph on 8 January by a columnist called Judith Woods tells us that we should defer our criticisms (the column then descends into a mixture of attacks on “me-too-ism”, opinions about the Clap for Heroes initiative and north-London social references that are rather hard to follow). Well, no. I appreciate that, in many of the above paragraphs, I’ve made the point that the demands of the pandemic supersede many personal views. This is different from saying that the government, which makes the rules, is infallible. What isn’t helpful, I admit, is to brand every change of policy as a “U-turn,” with all its negative implications. Errors are made at times of crisis and some slack must be cut: but it’s pointless to pretend that, just because this is a time of crisis, that they should be left over for some time in the future. Some of these involve issues that were gone over during Lockdown 1 in 2020, so it might be assumed that things had been cleared up. One concerns the matter of travelling to take exercise.

• This seems to be a matter on which the government, local councils, the various police forces, the media and public opinion are unable to agree. The issue provoked much animosity and confusion in the spring of 2020 and has done so again recently. The current government regulations say that “You should minimise time spent outside your home, but you can leave your home to exercise. This should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area” ‘What is the local area?’ and ‘wherever it is, can I drive there?’ are two questions that the regulations don’t really answer.

The PM earlier this month was seen cycling at the Olympic Park, several miles from Downing Street. This provoked a media frenzy. Did he cycle to there from Downing Street or did he drive there and then cycle? Who cares? There’s probably a marginal benefit in the latter – which seems to be the greater crime he’s accused of – despite the fact that this would have reduced the risk of his spreading or receiving Covid from other lycra-wearers while waiting at traffic lights, all exhaling strongly. Then in Derbyshire there was the recent story of two woman who drive five miles to go for a walk together and were fined £200 each, penalties which were then withdrawn. Cressida Dick, the country’s most senior policemen, was only able to offer a personal, rather than absolute, interpretation if the law when she was quoted in The Guardian on 12 January 2021 as saying that “For me, a reasonable interpretation of that is that, if you can – and I appreciate some people can’t – go for your exercise from your front door and come back to your front door.” This contains so many subjective views and qualifications as to make the advice almost meaningles. Indeed, the same article refers to her admitting that “it can be complex to know exactly what the regulations are.” And this is coming from the nation’s top cop. 

It can’t be easy policing the country at the moment, particularly as each police force can (and clearly does) interpret the regulations (including, as in the Derbyshire incident, whether a cup of coffee constitutes a picnic) in different ways. We’ve been through this before last year, though, so it would seem reasonable at least to have a consistent interpretation which every force will use. The key thing is surely to stop mingling. However if we don’t move around we’ll all seize up. Driving somewhere we can walk or run distanced from other people, rather than going there on foot there and perhaps bumping into them en route, seems the safest course of action to me. I, like most people, am happy to follow the regulations: I just want to be clear what they are. If I’m not, then the temptation is to interpret them in a way which best suits my interests. 

• On 11 January 2021, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy sent an open letter which confirmed his wish that “the construction sector, including its supply chain…should continue to operate during this national lockdown.” In order for this to happen, those who work in this sector must be regarded as key workers as regards their school-age children’s acceptance at their local places of education. An anomaly to this has recently been exposed. Fort Builders Merchants in Membury employs a number of staff. Two of these live in West Berkshire and both have children at primary school, one in the district and one in nearby Wiltshire. The latter has had their child accepted at the school on the grounds that the parent is a key-worker need; the former has not. Why the difference? Both councils are equally answerable to the Secretary of State’s instruction, which surely trumps any local policy. Either Wiltshire Council is over-reaching its own competence or West Berkshire Council is failing its obligations. They cannot both be right. At present, it seems to be a postcode lottery based on where your supply-chain’s staff happen to send their children to school. Some people, such as those in Lambourn, live near the borders of several local authorities. Surely all these authorities need to implement national policy equally, which is quite clear? Mr Secretary of State, what’s your decision?

• Many years ago, I shared a flat in London with someone who was, I later discovered, schizophrenic. He started behaving increasingly oddly, including breaking into the local phone exchange to catch the government tapping our phone. He became convinced that ‘they’ were out to get him and was convinced he was being followed by people disguised as London Transport ticket inspectors. After he’d moved to a different place he set fire to his furniture, believing it had been impregnated with a mind-controlling drug. At this point, ‘they’ did indeed come to get him and he was sectioned at a psychiatric hospital. The last time I saw him, he carefully explained how this incarceration justified all his fears. He’d been right all along – there really was a plot to get him. After all, here he was, locked up. QED.

• Much the same logic seems to be at work in the dark and disturbing world of Donald Trump. He has got himself impeached twice, a feat not even Richard Nixon managed to accomplish, and seems to see this not as suggesting that he hasn’t conducted himself that well but that he’s the victim of a colossal series of carefully orchestrated persecutions culminating in the great 2020 vote steal. Many agree with him. He has managed, perhaps as Farage did in the UK, to energise and engage a large number of people who previously thought politics of any kind was despicable. In America, though, these people seem to include a huge swathe of libertarians, survivalists, cranks and conspiracy theorists who do not exist in anything like those numbers in the UK (or so I hope). Their views range from the weird to the actively dangerous and it’s unlikely that they’ll go away: this despite (and perhaps because of) censorship by social-medial companies (see below).

The most recent manifestation of this, the debacle at the Capitol last week, will certainly go down as a huge security blunder. At least one commentator, Arieh Kovler, accurately predicted this on 21 December: “on January 6,” he wrote on Twitter, “armed Trumpist militias will be rallying in DC, at Trump’s orders. It’s highly likely that they’ll try to storm the Capitol after it certifies Joe Biden’s win. I don’t think this has sunk in yet.” I think it has now. Hopefully there’ll be no replay at the inauguration. In this interview in GQ, Kovler gives his views on how and why events unfolded in this way. His prescience suggests that his opinions are probably pretty accurate. If they are, the alarming thing is that he seems to be describing the thought processes of an average eight-year-old. 

• Another major development was Trump being banned from social media, something which has implications far beyond the Washington bubble. It leaves me feeling uneasy. Not only will it fuel his already alpine sense of injustice but it’ll prove to many of his followers that he was right about the media all along and that it is, as one of Trump’s sons put it, “controlled by leftist overlords.” It also demonstrates beyond doubt that Twitter, Facebook and the rest are not platforms but publishers: a very different role. How and by whom will other censorships – for that is what it is – be decided? It will be a monumental, never-ending and massively subjective task. Censorship always eventually defeats its own ends. Better, surely, to have people express their views and, in some cases, condemn themselves out of their own mouths. The question of who regulates the social-media giants inevitably asks itself, but no one has the power to do this. In any case, who would then regulate the regulators? In the final analysis, we all have to regulate ourselves, though it seems we’re not very good at that.  This article in The Guardian looks at the pros and cons of the decision. 

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports that a local woman who was handed a £100 fine by Euro Car Parks on Christmas Eve (after overstaying her time because she was helping someone who was having a heart attack) has had the penalty revoked after the intervention of the local MP, Laura Farris. As I suggested last week, most companies would see the PR advantages of avoiding such a scandal. If you run a car park, though, the problem of PR doesn’t arise. What does it matter what people think of you? As a result, you behave accordingly. This must make all your business decisions wonderfully simple.

• If Covid has shown us one thing it’s the importance of having a good broadband connection and suitable devices. This is particularly the case as a result of home schooling for children. Opinions differ has to how widespread the issue of so-called digital poverty is but this report in September 2020 from the Office for Students suggests  that over half the students lacked a suitable internet connection and nearly 20% lacked a suitable device. As there are about 8.9 million school children, that means that about 1.8 million lack suitable equipment (the broadband issue is perhaps more difficult to solve). The situation may have improved since this report was produced. The government recently announced that a further 300,000 laptops would be made available but the Association of School and College Leaders, accused them of being “slow off the mark” in addressing the digital divide and that “we are only now inching up to the number of devices that are needed.”

One problem might be that the demand for laptops has considerably increased over the last nine months and it may be proving hard to source them from the global market. The solution to this problem may lie closer to home: indeed, in our homes. While some families have fewer devices than they need, others may have many more than they use, with redundant ones shoved in cupboards and under desks. Indeed, it’s probable that there are enough such devices in the country but that some of them are in the wrong place.These, and desktop devices, can be re-purposed and supplied to schools for onward distribution. One thing that may put people off donating is the matter of the data. Specialist and accredited firms like Green Machine Computers in Ramsbury are expert at dealing with this, and can refurbish the kit. The company is also in touch with many local schools and charities that badly need the devices. Simon Crisp, Green Machine’s MD, told Penny Post this week that one of their challenges at the moment is that the supply of redundant equipment from companies has largely dried up as so many are closed. As a result, Green Machine is urging anyone who has unwanted kit at home to drop it in to their office in Wittonditch or to either of its current collections points, My Apple Juice at Hungerford Park, packaging Not Included in Marlborough or the Community Furniture Project in Newbury. That way you can be sure that not only will the disc be wiped but also that the device will go to someone who really needs it.

Other organisations, including the Wantage Chamber of Commerce, are offering similar services. This week’s Newbury Weekly News has as its lead story the support offered by others including Greenham Trust (which has launched a Laptops for Lockdown learning appeal); and Image Through Quality in Thatcham (which offers to print home-learning documents for families that need them free of charge). Others exist, across the area and, indeed, the country. (Please email penny@pennypost.org.uk if you’re aware of any locally as we’re planning to do a post on this subject.) So, if you have any redundant devices clogging up space at home there’s never been a better time to get them moved on to the next phase of its life. They’ll be used to educate the children who will, in years to coming, be paying the taxes to provide the services you need in your retirement – so, think of it as a bit of long-term, self-interested, altruism…

• The BBC reports that there were 507 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 3-9 Jan, down 174 on the week before. This equates to 320 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 526. 

• A reminder that 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

• 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 issued this statement about free school meals.

• The Council’s garden-waste collection service will be suspended from Monday 18 to Friday 29 January 2021.

• 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.

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 animal of the week is our cat Simba, the star of the latest Penny Post video.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those covered elsewhere, communications about Thatcham’s proposed expansion, the football club, being nice to Boris, The Cricketers in Stockcross, rubbish and a welcome back to Barrie.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Theale Helps (thanks to the Parish Council); Naomi House and Jack’s Place (thanks to Parkway Shopping); schoolchildren in the area (thanks to Greenham Trust and Green Machine Computers); local parents (thanks to IMQ); Age UK Wiltshire (thanks to Retain Healthcare).

Hungerford & district

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

• The January Penny Post Hungerford was published last 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 and sources of help for coping with lockdown. 

• One of the items this covered was the continuation of the outdoor Wednesday market: this post was updated earlier this week to reflect some changes to the arrangements (and will be again if necessary). Fo the reasons mentioned above (see Across the Area), shopping outside is much safer than doing so inside. I for one will continue to use this excellent market every week and will follow any regulations. The main request from the Town and Manor (which organises these) is that people use it just for shopping, not as a social meeting place.  

• 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).

• Click here for the January 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 January Valley of the Racehorse newsletter was published last weekend and, as ever, provides the best and most comprehensive round upon life in the Upper Lambourn Valley. Click here to read it if you didn’t get it. Items covered included important information from the Surgery about Covid jabs, how we can all help prevent sewage problems, local development sites identified in West Berkshire’s local plan, Lambourn’s Got Talent, an unexpected glut of tomatoes at Lambourn Junction, news from Lambourn’s NDP, Lambourn ward member Howard Woollaston’s monthly parish update, an appeal for information about Lambourn’s wartime Home Guard from Lambourn.org, an appeal for unwanted clothes, details of food takeaway services, news from local community groups, a prize quiz, local online classes and courses, listen-again links for 4 LEGS Radio, property for sale and for rent and elsewhere and items offered or wanted. And there’s more, but I felt I had to stop that sentence before it strangled me.

• The most recent meeting of Lambourn Parish Council took place on 6 January and Lambourn.org has a summary of the main matters discussed

• A reminder of one of the items mentioned above: 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. In last week’s columns I referred to the main item under discussion, the application from the pub to build a farm shop, and the way that this had been reacted to and commented on in the village. This is also covered on p20 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News.

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

Click here or here for the latest news from Lambourn Surgery

4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more

Newbury & district

Latest news from Newbury Town Council, Greenham Parish Council, Chieveley Parish Council and Hamstead Marshall Parish Council.

• West Berkshire Council has launched a survey for its new masterplan for Newbury town centre, more information on which can be seen here. West Berkshire Council has stressed that it welcomes comments from everyone who uses the town, not just its residents. This is an important opportunity for you to make your views known. The consultation period has been extended slightly and will now run until 31 January.

• Newbury Town Council (NTC) has also announced another public engagement, in conjunction with Berkshire Youth, which is aimed at young people in the town. The brief survey will help the Council”to start a conversation involving young people to share their views, ideas and opinions to influence future activities, events and opportunities in and around Newbury.” NTC Leader Martin Colston explained that the background to this is that “the Town Council is very concerned about the significant cuts in youth services over the last few years. That’s why our strategy provides much needed support for organisations that deliver youth work in Newbury. In addition to youth work, we want to understand what our young people would most like Newbury to do or provide for them, and that’s why we’re launching this simple survey. I’m really looking forward to hearing what they would really like.” Click here to go to the survey.

• The most recent meeting of Newbury Town Council for which minutes are available took 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.

• It’s been proposed that the opening hours on 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.

• Newbury Town Council has objected to the current plans to turn the ill-fated football ground at Faraday Road – which has been closed since June 2018, collateral damage in West Berkshire Council’s (WBC’s) attempts to develop the London Road Industrial Estate – into a temporary public recreational space. Mysteriously, WBC’s plans have ruled out organised football there despite the fact that it is this, and not general ‘recreational spaces’, which the town lacks, a situation which puts WBC at odds with Sport England’s policy. There also remains the question as to why the costs of closing the football ground, creating a temporary recreational facility and then decommissioning it when development starts will be paid for publicly. The newspaper article quotes one of the Town Councillors, Vaughan Miller, as saying that this amounted to a subsidy for developers. 

• Meanwhile, as mentioned in this column last week and in this separate post, WBC has announced that it is in discussions with Newbury Rugby Club, whose ground has been identified as the “preferred site for a new sports facility in the town.” The plan is that this would include a football ground to replace the one WBC closed in 2018. The Newbury Community Football Group, which has long campaigned for either the re-opening of Faraday Road or a permanent alternative arrangement (neither of which has so far happened), gave the plan a cautious welcome but said that “more details will be required to enable the public to provide meaningful input on the proposal as part of the consultation process.” You can read the full statement from WBC and the NCFG’s response in the above-mentioned post.

The story is picked up on p5 of this week’s NWN, which mentions that the council has identified several risks with the project. The aim is to have the new facility open by March 2022 but this seems to assume a fast-tracked passage through the consultation, planning and construction processes which has been noticeably lacking in solving this problem hitherto. The newspaper article also reports on concerns from Town Councillors about the impact on the traffic on Monks Lane and possible objections from residents. I’m sure that everyone involved dearly wishes that the clock could be reset to June 2018 and the whole process re-started.  

• The same page of the same paper has the story of something unique in my experience: a parking meter, at Snelsmore Common, which is only for donations. Any money it receives will go, not to WBC, but to the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) to help support its work with local wildlife. The organisation didn’t confirm whether, if you don’t put anything in the meter, it has trained local birds to poo on your windscreen as an alternative to a parking ticket. I doubt it: but you never know these days. If you use the car park, though, best put a coin in the machine, just in case…

• And still with the NWN open before me, on p7 there’s a report on the reduction of the speed limit on the A339 to the north of the town because of the start of the work on the new development near the Vodafone HQ. This is, I believe, the project which will include a new school which will, in defiance of all logic, be one of the last features to be built, rather than one of the first: as a result, new residents will be forced to send their kids to schools elsewhere, probably by car, so rather defeating the purpose of having a new school on the site at all. I understand that WBC was, for legal and procedural reasons, unable to get this aspect of the scheduling changed when the plans were confirmed last year. 

• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 8 December and you can download 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 Brightwalton Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included the suspension, due to Covid, of further fundraising work on the ASPIRE project for the time being; criticism (which has been echoed by other parishes) of the lack of communication regarding WBC’s one-off CIL fund, the deadline for which has now passed; the final agreement of the 20-year lease for the playing field with the Diocese of Oxford; the finalisation of the 2021-22 budget with a 3% increase in the precept; playground maintenance; the memorial to Sir Philip Wroughton; and various planning matters. The meeting was also attended by local MP Laura Farris who discussed the local arrangements for local vaccinations and answered some questions about government Covid statistics.

• The most recent meeting of Ashampstead Parish Council took place on 4 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included a report from the local Police team; the problem of the abundance of pheasants in the area (shoots have been cancelled die to Covid but the birds are still being feb by the local estate); the setting of the 2021-22 budget with a 2% increase in the precept; various planning applications; and a report on the recent open spaces maintenance review.

• 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 week’s NWN reports on p29 that plans by Beeswax Dyson to convert a former research centre in East Ilsley into business units have been refusedf by West Berkshire Council.

• The most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council took place on 7 December and you can read the draft minutes here

Chaddleworth has 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 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 Hampstead Norreys Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 26 November 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 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%. The Newbury Weekly News reports on p24 that the Lib Dems on the Town Council plan to oppose this. The article refers to concerns, which were also expressed to Penny Post shortly after the publication of the plan, that investment in the town’s infrastructure has for decades failed to keep pace with the needs of the growing town and that this extra allocation would make the problem even more severe.  

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 over 1,640 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.”

• This week’s NWN reports on p24 that Thatcham Town Council is hoping that the closure of the Walnut Close Care Home will help with its ambitions to expand the Library, which is situated next door. The Council has some leverage in the matter as it is, after Newbury TC, the second largest parochial contributor to WBC’s Library Service as part of a voluntary scheme initiated in 2015 whereby parish were invited to contribute about £1 per head per year towards the cost of the libraries. 

• The same paper reports, on p22, that attempts to lower the speed limit on the A4 between Thatcham and Newbury have “passed the first hurdle.”

• 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.

• The most recent meeting of Brimpton Parish Council took place on 5 January and you can read the draft minutes here. items covered included: verge and gully clearance; progress on the purchase of the shared speed indicator device; a discussion about the Parish Council’s complaint to West Berkshire Council about the inaccuracies in the decision report for application 20/01825/FULD; approval of a grant to the Primary School; and the consideration of various planning applications.

• The most recent meeting of Cold Ash Parish Councillor which minutes are available took place on 8 December and you can read the minutes here. items covered included grit bins, planning applications, tree and wildflower planting, a discussion of the draft budget and the members’ bids. The minutes also included the report that “Councillor Jaques suggested calling the supplier of the kissing gate to see if it was ready.” Ready for what? I wonder.

• 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 a fire and ends with a good excuse.

Theale and district

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

• The most recent meeting of Theale Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: the replacement playing field; the consideration of various planning applications; the approval of a grant to Theale Help; and the confirmation of the 2021-22 budget (£131,329).

• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 12 November and you can read the draft minutes here. A planning meeting was held on 10 December and you can read the minutes here. As well as the usual applications, the meeting also looked at the future of educational facilities in the parish and commented that the written decision on the application for the car park at the station was still awaited from West Berkshire Council.

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 recent 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. 

• 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. 

• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 12 January and the minutes will appear here in due course (until then, a recording of the meeting is available). Items covered included: A Q&A session with local MP Laura Farris which ranged from AWE to Covid and from education funding to planning enforcement; consideration of various planning applications; an update on the speed monitoring equipment; news about the equipment at the Recreation Ground; the decision to decline the offer of a new dog-poo bin due to the cost of emptying it; confirmation of the 2021-22 budget with no change to the precept; and an open forum which covered the proposed stables at Upper Church Farm and the licence application at the Wasing Estate. The minutes also referred to WBC’s draft local plan, pointing out that also the existence of the DEPZ (the emergency zone relating to the AWE) meant that there were no proposed housing developments, there were a number of commercial ones. Aldermaston PC has a consistent policy of objecting to any proposal which is likely to increase HGV traffic on the A340, a road which it believes is already over-used, and has made its comments accordingly.

• The same parish council has noticed “big differences” in progress of vaccinations between surgeries, particularly when multiple surgeries share the same vaccination centre. In Aldermaston, parishioners tend to use three separate GP surgeries and three separate vaccination centres, one in Pangbourne, one in Reading and one in North Hampshire.  It would seem Berkshire is ahead of Hampshire, with more vaccine available.

• 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 5 November 2020 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

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

• The BBC reports that there were 1,857 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 3 to 9 Jan, up 265 on the week before. This equates to 371 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 526. 

Marlborough News has provided a Covid vaccination update from Kennet and Avon Medical Partnership. This article in the Gazette, referring to the same practice, refers to “confusion has been caused by recent media reports around rescheduling second vaccinations.” It is urging its patients that if they have a Covid vaccination appointment booked, please turn up as planned unless the Surgery has contacted you to postpone it. The article also reports that the Practice is also warning against “a fraudulent text message claiming to be from the NHS which states that recipients are eligible to receive the Covid vaccine.” A spokesperson has urged people not to click on the link.

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

Four-way lights will be in place at George Lane/London Road/Salisbury Road roundabout from 25 January.

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.

• The most recent meeting of Great Bedwyn Parish Council took place on 10 December and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: an update in the funding for the food bank; a discussion of the 2021-22 budget, including how CIL money might be spent; and consideration of the school’s proposal for a community woodland area; 

• 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

Latest news from Wantage Town Council, Grove Parish Council and Letcombe Regis Parish Council.

• The BBC reports that there were 539 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 3 to 9 Jan, down 50 on the week before. This equates to 396 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 526. 

• The Wantage & District Chamber of Commerce has been approached by a local education establishment to facilitate the collection of redundant laptops and tablets which can be wiped and reconfigured to assist less advantaged school pupils to access online learning. Should members, businesses or individuals have any appropriate hardware please deposit them at our drop off point in Town, MotorLux Ford. See also the Across the Area section above.

• 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.

• Meanwhile, the homes that have been built seem to be being snapped up: this article in the Herald reports that all of ones offered for sale at the Grove Meadows development have been bought. The article mentions that this is on ‘Station Road’: however there is, currently, no station in Grove and hasn’t been for decades. As mentioned many times before, the case for re-opening it becomes stronger every day and with each house that is built. Local MP David Johnston appears to have done a good job in helping to extricate the issue from a bureaucratic muddle last year. Residents of the area who want to see a railway station return are advised to keep nagging him about this, so he can continue to nag the DfT and Network Rail.

• Mr Johnston also recently posted the following message on his FB page: “Local health leaders have made a great start on vaccinating people with a third of over 80s already vaccinated last week. But they report a worrying trend of those from ethnic minorities not taking up the vaccine at the same rate as others, an issue I raised with the vaccines minister [Nadhim Zahawi] this week.” This he did and you can listen to the minister’s response here. (It stuck me that Mr Zahawi seems to have a very similar oratorial style to the PM’s. Whether this is something he had anyway or something he has, consciously or not, adopted since his appointment in late November 2020 I couldn’t say).

• 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 what has changed (and what has not) in the last nine months and compared the re-introduction of lockdown restrictions to the movie Groundhog Day. This is not a bad analogy also for the fact that, for many people, each day now passes with little variation from its predecessor compared to what we were used to. It’s also worth remembering that, in the film, Bill Murray’s character used the opportunity to pick up some very useful skills (and become a better person).  

• The Herald reports that “a controversial” plan to replace a rotting former scout hut in East Challow with a four-bedroom house will go ahead despite “an avalanche of objections” from villagers. 

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.

• The Winter Support Grant Scheme is now available for residents in South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse who need help to buy food and heating their homes this winter. 

• Two consultations launch this week into how Vale of White Horse District Council raises money for infrastructure and community facilities needed to support planned  growth across the District. Read more here.

• The same Council also explains why garden-waste services have not yet restarted in the district.

• Businesses in South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse are being urged to sign up to the South and Vale Business Support mailing list to ensure they keep up to date with the latest news about the financial support available to them during the ongoing restrictions.

• 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. 

• 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

• 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 1,100 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 3 to 9 Jan, down 178 on the week before. This equates to 495 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 526.  

• The Swindon Advertiser reports that the Town Council has written to SpaceX founder Elon Musk stressing the benefits of the Swindon, and the soon-to-be-vacant Honda site, as a possible UK base for the the multi-billionaire’s technology projects.

Great Western Hospital has launched a text version of its Friends and Family Test feedback service.

• Swindon residents are being urged to play their part as GWH experiences a rise in Covid-19 cases.

• Swindon Council has issued this warning about Covid cons that are currently doing the rounds.

• 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.

• 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’re at the Song of the Week. It’s five years and a few days since David Bowie departed this world, doubtless returning to whatever remarkable planet he fell to earth from. The last song he released in his lifetime, Lazarus, is in some ways not an easy listen or an easy watch but it really is a cracker (particularly the bass and the horns, in my view).

• And so now it’s time for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. if you’ve ever bought a book that failed to live up to your expectations and you wonder how you might raise the matter with the bookshop, Balls by Fry and Laurie might offer some guidance (well, you could try taking this approach, I suppose).

• And the last thing, as ever, is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question, which has been answered elsewhere in this post, is: Roughly how many schoolchildren are there in the UK? Last week’s question is: Who was King of England 1,000 years ago, in 1021? The answer is Canute (Or Cnut if you’re short of time), he of the waves. He was succeeded by his son with the unfortunate name of Harthacanute – you can never hope to do half as well as well as daddy with a name like that, can you? In Danish, the name means “tough-knot”: I’m not clear what this tells us about his character or kingship but, being a Viking, I imagine something pretty unpleasant.

Brian Quinn

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