Local News 21-28 January 2021

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s Lancastrians, Lambourn broadband, Thatcham’s precept, Newbury’s timescale, Marlborough’s plan, Wantage’s jabs, Cold Ash’s admiral, Shefford Woodland’s quiz, Membury’s merchants, Inkpen’s footsteps, Aldbourne’s search, Theale’s vacancy, Aldermaston’s policy, Chaddleworth’s revolution, Brightwalton’s spire, Ashampstead’s spaces, Compton’s conviction, Ramsbury’s laptops, Bedwyn’s pump, Stratfield Mortimer’s car park, Brimpton’s gullies, Padworth’s heap, Swindon’s cycling, the delicate vaccine, D-day revisited, an abundance of caution, Joe’s in-tray, democracy explained, an imperfect planet, a lost explorer, the Fourth Crusade on ice, vital life skills, red lights, Chelsea, 8.9 million kids, a distracting boss, tied matches, toys and a science rapper.

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 spoke to a friend of mine last weekend, a GP in South London, to get an out-of-area view on the pandemic and the vaccine. His first point was emphatically to refute the misleading stories  that the NHS’s reports of being over-loaded are a myth: the situation is in some places grim in the extreme, one problem being what might be called ‘ambulance blocking’ – as they often can’t unload patients due to a shortage of beds, they cannot then go out to answer other calls. Even worse, people are being treated in the vehicles, sometimes for as long as eight hours, until space is available on a ward. If that isn’t over-loaded, I don’t know what is.

I also asked if the reports – see this post for a local story – that the Pfizer vaccine was delicate and fragile and required careful handling were true. He said that these phrases were under-statements: the ingredients in a nuclear reactor might well be more stable (though neither of us has ever had to deal with these). When being transported around a building, two people are needed – one to carry the vaccine and the other to attest that it has been handled correctly. For this reason, the Pfizer dose is inappropriate for the home visits that will be required for some patients. The more robust Oxford jab will be used for these. However, until recently, another problem has been that its ten-dose packs needed all to be used in one go and, if not, the remainder have to be destroyed. This would inevitable when making a number of visits to individual patients. It now seems that this stipulation has been abandoned. This is not because something new has been discovered about the behaviour of the vaccine but simply because, or so it’s hoped, it’s a precaution too far at the moment. The cynic in me suggests that this is just the kind of requirement a big-pharma company might demand, though I doubt the regulators would pass this without powerful evidence. Hopefully it’s due to of a previous “abundance of caution” – a phrase we’ll be using again in a minute or so when we briefly cross the pond.

As for the question of whether the recently-announced 12-week gap between the first and second doses was a good thing, he felt that it probably was. (On 23 January, however, the BMA suggested that the gap should be cut to six weeks.) The difference between the efficacy of one Pfizer jab and two is not that great – 89% as opposed to 95% – and having twice as many people with the slightly lower protection could be vital in flattening the curve and preventing the NHS from getting utterly swamped. Moreover, there’s strong evidence that having both jabs confers a longer immunity period – how much longer, and how this varies from person to person, no one is yet sure. So, the message seems to be that when you’re summoned for your second jab, keep the appointment. And remember that this is free – anyone who tries to charge you is a scammer.

The scale and complexity of the vaccine roll-out is a logistical exercise of unparalleled complexity. The only remotely comparable thing I can think of is the preparations for D-Day, which was perhaps for similarly large stakes. Being a GP, my friend only sees a part of it: but this is at the sharp – or, in today’s parlance, ‘patient-facing’ – end. He explained that contacting all his practice’s over-80s recently occupied three people all day, every day, for a week: and that’s just one cohort. Nor is there any certainty that the vaccine delivery will not at the last moment be cancelled, requiring all the appointments to be re-scheduled. So, if you call your surgery and the staff seem a tiny bit frazzled, that might be why. 

• And so we come to the question of vaccine denial, reluctance, caution or whatever word you wish to use. The latest Private Eye’s excellent MD column reports that a recent YouGov poll suggests that 80% of Britons are willing to have a Covid vaccine: if so, that’s a great improvement from early December when, according to Imperial College, the figure was only about 50%. It appears that, as the number of infections have risen and the vaccines have actually arrived, so the reluctance has fallen. It’s also far easier to express libertarian scepticism to a market researcher than to explain to your local GP surgery why you’re opting out.

Every medical intervention carries a risk. MD suggests that about one in a million people suffer life-threatening side-effects, most of which  respond to anaphylaxis treatment. The risks of contracting Covid are far greater. There’s no evidence I’ve seen that suggests that the Covid jabs are risky, certainly not in the systemic and sinister way that  some social-media posts and websites suggest. Even if there were any problems, we’d probably have spotted them by now as 4.6m arms have so far been jabbed. Supply-chain problems permitting, this is set to rise to 15m by mid-February and 32m by the spring. It seems that the UK is doing particularly well at the moment; and it’s not always been possible to say that over the last 12 months.

• However, a major unease remains. Bloomberg reports that about 54m vaccine doses have been administered but this less than 1% of the world’s population. The Lancet suggests that having an 80% vaccination rate is desirable. In an intensely interconnected world – which is how the thing spread so fast in the first place, don’t forget – this figure, or something like it, needs to apply globally. There’s thus an awfully long way to go. This chart from Business Insider reveals the glaring variations that exist even between countries whose societies and economies are comparable, such as France and the UK and Kuwait and the UAE. The majority of countries haven’t even started their vaccination programmes. The same source also suggests that rich and middle-income countries have secured most of the available vaccines. A number of schemes are in place to assist lower-income nations but the WHO recently warned of a ‘catastrophic moral failure’ if healthy younger people in rich states were given the jab before vulnerable people or front-line staff in poorer ones. It isn’t only a moral issue: self-interest says that the fire needs to be dampened down all over the world at more or less the same time. If we want to have Christmas 2021 with friends and without masks, we need to make sure that we take our jab when it’s offered but also lobby our government to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccine to everyone. Otherwise, come next winter, we risk being back where we started.

• Speaking of rich states and vaccine deniers inevitably leads one to the US of A where power was on 20 January transferred to the new administration. The preparations were, a few days ago, interrupted by a complete lockdown of the area. This turned out to be caused by nothing more than a fire several blocks away. The lockdown decision was taken as a result of what a spokesperson called “an abundance of caution,” something that had been in short supply on 6 January. Then, not even an implicit green light given by the President on national TV seemed to be enough to convince the security forces that something bad might be about to occur. A few more reminders that most accidents happen at home might not be bad for the USA.

• The 46th President certainly has a full in-tray: Covid, climate change, racial tensions, the economy, undoing many of his predecessor’s vanity projects such as the withdrawals from the WHO and the Paris Agreement, re-starting relations with Iran, re-defining those with China and Russia and dealing with the perennial wild card of North Korea. All this is without Trump’s menacing remark in his valedictory address that “I’ll be back, in some form.” The suspicion lingers that this form might not be human, or even corporeal. We have been warned.

• Meanwhile, PotUS#45’s unofficial militia of libertarians, Covid-deniers, creationists, survivalists, conspiracists, white supremacists and gun-lobbyists, most recently deployed on 6 January, uneasily ‘stands down and stands by’. The inauguration of Joe Biden, about which many of these had probably been in denial, seemed to strike some of the QAnon followers an almost physical blow. This article on The BBC website quotes one ‘influencer’ as saying that “today’s inauguration makes no sense to the Christian patriots and we thought ‘the plan’ was the way we would take this country back.” No sense? I’ll explain as simply as I can. Every four years, your country holds a Presidential election, most recently last November. On that occasion, your side lost. Does that help?

• Of all the challenges facing President Biden, and all of us, climate change is by far the biggest. Covid has put consideration of this on hold over the last 12 or so months (and also, fortunately, mitigated some of its effects due to the reduction in human economic activity and travel patterns). Penny, Toby and I watched the last episode of David Attenborough’s A Perfect Planet the other night. It was quite a gruelling experience, though no more than it needed to be. There is a certain amount that we, as a family, can do: far more that our local council, our national government or the world as a whole can accomplish. If I believed in God, I would say that Covid was sent to remind us that we are so interconnected that when one person sneezes, we all catch a cold. Covid is, however, itself merely a sneeze compared to the raging flu that will be visited upon us if we all don’t adjust to what one of the participants on the programme described as “the biggest threat our species has faced”. If properly handled, there is no reason why addressing this will occasion any of the restrictions and privations that we’ve undergone in the last year.  One fact from the programme particularly struck me: the earth receives more energy from the sun in one hour than we currently generate in a year. Your local council has almost certainly declared a climate emergency. We all need to remind them, and the government of this, and to ensure that Covid acts as a warning, not as an excuse.

Vested interests for the status quo are powerful. We are all complicit in it if we have petrol cars, oil-fired central heating or a taste for international travel. The organisations which derive their profits from how things are currently are even more so. (I’m reminded of the Ealing film The Man in the White Suit.) The power of the fossil-fuel lobby in Washington DC has been particularly strong these last four years but might now abate. On a more local level, I’m reminded of the remark made by a spokesperson from Bewley Homes – when replying to a question at an open meeting in 2020 about why the Salisbury Road development in Hungerford was not more ambitious in terms of carbon neutrality – that things like solar panels were “toys.” Only national legislation and local-council policy can fast-track the elimination of this kind of attitude.

The problem is, as it perhaps always is, is money. For developers to build more efficient and sustainable houses costs extra. The time will come – though it hasn’t come yet – when homes that do not meet such standards will be reduced in value because the purchasers fear that, without these features, they will not be able easily to sell them on, much as if the had no central heating or no indoor toilet. Might the government need to introduce, for a certain number of years, a subsidy to every developer who installs certain specified features which go above the current standards? The new ones are not set to be introduced until about 2025. A time-limited grant would, as well as demonstrating Westminster’s commitment to the issue of climate change, probably spur the building industry, much as the temporary reduction of stamp duty, eat out to help out and the furlough schemes stimulated or at least protected, respectively, the property sector, the hospitality sector and pretty much everything. Agin going back to Covid, one can justify the expenditure of vast sums in order to accomplish either a slight shift in behaviour or to subsidise a sector, or the whole economy, against a worse threat. Whatever sums were spent to combat Covid can, with at least as much justification, be used to combat climate change. There’s no vaccine, no face mask, no hand gel and no ‘stay at home’ order that will protect us from the consequences of that.

• I have only one personal story about David Attenborough. About ten years ago I was in Long Acre in Covent Garden and the great man stepped out of a taxi. “Where’s Stanfords?” he asked. The taxi driver gestured towards over his shoulder and, responding to some horn blasts from behind him, pulled away. David Attenborough swivelled round a few times and eventually headed off in almost the right direction. Witnessing the country’s greatest naturalist and traveller lost and confused while trying to locate the country’s greatest map shop is an irony I shall always treasure.

• I’m aware that some of you only turn to this column every week because you’re waiting for my promised summary of the Fourth Crusade. I’m afraid that, once again, time has defeated me. Next week – promise.

• I must admit that I know nothing more about the GoodSAM app than I got from reading the most recent Private Eye and then looking up some rather underwhelming online reviews: but this seems to be another case of central-government involvement in something that is far better left to local health-care, municipal and volunteer networks: all of which, as recent event have proved, tend to know what they’re doing.

• Moving on from this to more domestic matters I managed to break our one remaining cafetière this morning. Not having yet had any coffee, my brain was unable to grapple with how this was going to be solved. Then Penny suggested that coffee could just as easily be made in a teapot. I doubted her at first but, as usual, she was absolutely right, as long as you have a strainer. You’re probably all going to tell me that this is not news at all and that you’ve been making coffee in teapots for ages. Well, if so, pardon me all over the place – we all learn vital life skills at our own pace…

• The BBC reports that there were 462 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 11 to 19 January, down 36 on the week before. This equates to 292 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 412 (526 last week). 

Click here to see the 21 January 2021 Residents’ News Bulletin from West Berkshire Council. 

• 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 announced a public consultation on proposed submission for its Minerals and Waste Local Plan which will run until 15 February.

• 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 are any of the animals we watched on the final episode of David Attenborough’s A Perfect Planet.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those covered elsewhere, communications about being jabbed at the Racecourse, profits from food parcels, LRIE, Kingsclere’s phone box and suggestions about the paper’s Christian Viewpoint column.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: the Bucklebury Community Bus and Young People and Children First (thanks to Bucklebury’s Cemetery Carols); John O’Gaunt School (thanks to Hungerford Town Council and the Greenham Trust); The Yearley Trust (thanks to all those who donated spectacles); HNS Charities Together (thanks to Rosie Hearn); Sue Ryder Duchess of Kent Hospice (thanks to Lizzie Hayes).

Hungerford & district

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

• Last week, Bewley Homes issued a press statement, which you can read here, in anticipation of the opening of the show homes at the Salisbury Road site (now known as Lancaster Park). A few points strike me about the statement.

Firstly, reference is made to the “very special quality product” (ie the homes) but the “quality” will not extend to their being built to best possible environmental standards, features such as solar panels being described as “toys” by a Bewley Homes spokesperson at an open meeting last year. (In fairness, it should be pointed out that Bewley had no obligation to build to higher standards so this needs to go down as an opportunity missed rather than a rule broken.) Secondly, reference is made to “three-, four- and five-bedroom homes.” There are also two-bedroom ones which for some reason the statement doesn’t mention: a typo perhaps. Thirdly, reference is also made to the different types of people who will be able to enjoy these homes. This does not include those who wish to rent properties: despite the terms of the planning approval, Bewley has spent the last five months trying to have this condition set aside as it claims it would make the development unviable. Discussions continue on this matter with West Berkshire Council.

Fourthly, reference is made to the contribution of £1m towards community infrastructure projects. The casual reader might think that this was an act of corporate generosity. In fact, it is a legal obligation that developers must make such contributions (under the CIL or S106 arrangements). In this case the final figure is uncertain as social-rented homes, of the kind Bewley wishes to remove from the development, are exempt from CIL payments whereas homes for sale are not. Finally, reference is made to “a range of services and facilities (being) within comfortable walking distance.” What constitutes ‘comfortable’ depends on whether you’re 18 or 80. In any case, as the comedian Steven Wright once said, “everywhere is within walking distance if you have enough time.”

No one can pretend that the relationship between Bewley and West Berkshire or Hungerford Town Councils has gone smoothly but I imagine that with 100-home developments they rarely do. In any case, Bewley won’t worry too much about this. The development itself, though probably in the wrong place and setting some unfortunate precedents for development on an AONB, will certainly supply some much-needed housing although, if the developers have their way, will do nothing to alleviate the shortage of rentable homes in the town. Many of the traders will also welcome the extra footfall that the new residents will bring.

This might not be the last that’s heard from this site as not all the plot has been developed in this project. The way the street layout has been done suggests several possible access points for a phase two. Might any such houses be built to the standards demanded by the climate emergency and with the kind of tenure demanded by the housing crisis? Unless central government introduces new regulations fairly quickly, I won’t be holding my breath.

• As for the decision to name the development after a Lancaster bomber which crashed on 31 March 1944 after “a daring secret mission,” an article in the Hungerford Arcade’s newsletterof January 2017 explains that the crash was actually due to an unfortunate blunder which resulted in the ground staff believing it was an enemy plane and turning off the runway lights: perhaps not an auspicious inspiration for naming a housing development. “Lancaster” is certainly an unambitious choice for Hungerford, given the town’s strong associations with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster: indeed, there’s already a Lancaster Close and a Lancaster Square nearby (as well as, perhaps for political balance, a York Road and, looking a couple of centuries further back, a De Montfort Close). Indeed, it’s rare to find a street in that part of town that isn’t named after either the old Priory or a faction in a medieval civil war. “Lancaster Park” fits perfectly into this rather unimaginative (and, for the posties and delivery drivers, confusing) pattern. In time, the unfortunate connection with the 1944 accident will doubtless be forgotten. 

• One of the items covered in the above-mentioned Penny Post Hungerford 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 updated again as necessary). There is ample evidence that shopping outside is much safer than doing so inside although some people have expressed concern that social-distancing measures are not being followed. (The same comments could also be made about shoppers in supermarkets though the street market suffers in this regard from being visible to passers by). It has always seemed safe and well run to me and I understand that West Berkshire Council and the PCSOs who attended last week agree. Due to Storm Christophe, the market on 20 January was a very slimmed-down affair with most stallholders deciding that the conditions were too perilous. Hopefully normal service will resume next Wednesday. 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.  

• A report on p25 of this week’s NWN reminds us that the future of the allotments at Marsh Lane is far from certain. As the paper reports, a few years ago these risked being collateral damage in a dispute between the landowners and West Berkshire Council’s planning department. No eviction notice was issued by 1 January, as might have happened, so their future seems safe for another two years (not one as the paper reports). It’s hoped that a longer-term solution might be found although, for as long as the site remains a possible one for development, the threat is always likely to exist. 

• 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 Inkpen Parish Council’s Planning Committee took place on 17 December and you can read the minutes here. The main item up for discussion – as it probably normally is – was the latest application regarding New Mill, a development which seems to be proceeding rather like a game of grandmother’s footsteps with a number of piecemeal applications rather than, as West Berkshire Council has requested, one over-arching one.

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

• 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.

• Residents of Upper Lambourn will nit need me to tell them that they have one of the worse broadband services in the country. Help is at and, however, in the form of these two government-backed projects. Note that the Rural Gigabit scheme closes on 31 March and you must be on board by then. Once this train leaves there may never be another one as it’s unlikely the government will continue to launch initiatives which appeal to an increasingly small group of people.

• I was delighted to have been invited by the Friends of Lambourn Library to talk about my book, Unaccustomed as I Am, in a virtual event which took place on 20 January, expertly hosted by the Chair of FoLL, Sue Cocker, and with Emma Milne-White from the Hungerford Bookshop in the interviewer’s chair. Penny recorded the event and you can if you wish see it here. If you want to but a copy (which is obviously something I recommend), Emma and Alex at the Bookshop have stock. 

• I mentioned last week that Fort Builders Merchants in Membury is suffering from the differing policies of two neighbouring councils: Wiltshire has accepted that the children of its employees can be accepted at its schools on the grounds that they are key workers, whereas West Berkshire has not. The latter’s policy seems to be in contradiction to the instructions issued by the Secretary of State on 11 January 2021 on this matter. Fort contacted the local ward member, Howard Woollaston about this: he was, Fort said, “excellent” and raised the matter again with the officers but came back with the news that the original decision stands: in their opinion, Fort doesn’t meet the criteria (even though Wiltshire CC thinks it does). WBC’s officers feel that it is they who are following the policy and, therefore, Wiltshire which has overstepped its remit (or done more than it is obliged to do, depending on your point of view). I wonder what the Secretary of State thinks of this. Opinions vary between how much should be decided centrally and how much locally on any particular matter. There are often cases where an organisation doesn’t change its mind on something lest this be seen as a sign of weakness: this may be one of them. A spokesperson for Fort told Penny Post that the whole situation was “very frustrating” and that the company “feels worn down by (their) dealings with West Berkshire Council” on the matter. 

• Looking out of my window, I can see that the River Lambourn, which flows past our garden, is pretty high at the moment. In past years, this might suggest that sewage problems in the Valley are not far off: few will forget the disgusting scenes that were commonplace last year (and for many years before that). So far, touch wood, these do not seem to have been been repeated. This may be due to the work that Thames Water has recently done on its pipes; it might also be due to people heeding this advice about what not to put down their toilets. 

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

• The January Valley of the Racehorse newsletter was published earlier this month 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. 

• A reminder that 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

• The most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council  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.

• You have until 31 January to respond to an important consultation about the future nature of Newbury’s town centre. Click here for more information. West Berkshire Council is particularly keen to hear from younger people and from those who use the town, even if only occasionally, but don’t live there.

• 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.”  Click here to go to the survey. Note that this is quite separate from the consultation mentioned above. If you are a young person who wants to influence how the town can be improved, you’re advised to respond to both.

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports, on p6, about the “ambitious” timescale which has been set for getting the proposed new football ground open at the Rugby Club in Monk’s Lane by March 2022. Agreement with all the parties, a consultation (which has already started), planning consent, tendering and construction will, to keep to this date, have to be fitted into the next 14 months: accomplishing this will require an alignment of the planets that has so far been lacking the recent history of the football ground, or the London Road Industrial Estate generally: little having been accomplished, unless you count a good deal of correspondence and several robust exchanges of views, since the Faraday Road pitch was shut in June 2018. Lib Dem planning spokesperson Tony Vickers said his party would not oppose the plan but that “red lights were flashing all over this project.”

Many questions remain about how matters have been conducted so far but for the first time in several years there seems a realistic chance of the town once again having its own ground. Councillor Howard Woollaston, under whose portfolio this matter falls, was asked by Green Councillor Steve Masters at the Executive meeting if he was worried about further “repetitional damage” given the poor public perception of the handling of the LRIE to date. “You just have to decouple what happened in the past with what we’re doing now,” replied Councillor Woollaston (who was only elected to the Council in May 2019). This may not amount to an apology but it is certainly an admission that the past contains a lot of baggage that is currently not wanted on the voyage. This legacy cannot so easily be disposed of: but if a football ground that can come out of this latest initiative then things will have taken a turn for the better. This option certainly seems better – or, some might say, less bad – that the current Plan B which would see aground at Pigeon’s Farm in Greenham.

• Newbury Town Council has closed the skatepark in Victoria Park until current government Coronavirus restrictions are lifted. The decision was made “after requests from Thames Valley Police, due to non-compliance with the current Skatepark guidance during the pandemic.”

• 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.

• 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.

• 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 Chaddleworth Parish Council took place on 1 December and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the possibility of the PC supporting the government’s ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution, a Clerk’s training course, dog waste, the Memorial garden, playground equipment, the provisional agreement of the 2021-22 budget (£19,500), a delay to the proposed lockdown wood project at St Andrew’s Close, the latest members’ bid and the bat box at the Village Hall.

• 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 fed 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 for which minutes are available 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

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

• A Hampshire man has been recently been convicted of fly tipping on the Ridgeway near Compton back in October 2019 and fined over £2,400.

• 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.

• Perhaps not surprisingly, a petition has been launched to oppose the construction of 2,500 new homes in Thatcham which is proposed in the draft local plan  – Thatcham Residents Say “No” to 2,500 New Houses – which, at the time of writing, had received over 2,000 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.”

• 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 most recent meeting of Thatcham Town Council took place on 30 November and you can read the minutes here

• Thatcham Town Council has increased its precept for 2021-22 by 2.75%.

• This week’s NWN reports on p27 that proposals are being put forward to install new cycle lanes on the A4 and on the High Street.

• The same paper reports, on the previous page, that funding is now in place to replace the hockey pitch at Henwick, £375,000 having been allocated by West Berkshire Council from CIL funds.

• 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 Council 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 most recent meeting of Bucklebury Parish Council took place on 14 December and you can read the minutes here

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

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin, which this week starts with a red admiral and ends with Marilyn Monroe.

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

• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 12 January and you can see the minutes here. 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.

• Another item which was discussed was the timber heap at Padworth Sawmills and illustrates, if nothing else, the seemingly glacial speed at which the Environment Agency’s (EA) enforcement team seems to operate. Aldermaston PC’s above-mentioned minutes reported that EA representatives had “visited the site recently and submitted evidence to their legal team.” This would be what you’d expect if the notice for the removal of the timber – which is the issue here – had recently expired. In fact, it expired in July 2019.

• 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 1,591 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 11 to 17 Jan, down 260 on the week before. This equates to 318 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 412 (526 last week). 

• It’s worth repeating this warning from from Kennet and Avon Medical Partnership and to this article in the Gazette, referring to the same problem – “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.

• 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.

• The most recent meeting of the Town Council took place on 18 January. Marlborough News provides this brief summary of the discussion about the 2021-22 budget which resulted in an increase of its precept by 3.75%. In this separate post, there’s confirmation that the Mayor and Deputy Mayor will continue in office for another year, subject to their retaining their seats in the May elections.

• The same source has this post about forthcoming road closures in the area.

• And still with MN, the Marlborough Area Neighbourhood Plan covering Marlborough with Manton, Mildenhall and Savernake has been completed in draft form and is now moving into a formal consultation period – click here for more information. In this article, the Gazette suggests that this could result in an extra 170 homes being built in the town.

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. 

• The most recent meeting of Great Bedwyn Parish Council took place on 14 January and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: the approval of the 2021-22 budget, including a precept increase of 10%; consideration of the possibility of buying a water pump for emergency use; the Bruce Boats Wharf project; and no consideration of any planning applications (for there were none to consider).

Swindon Link reports that the fire station in Ramsbury can accept unwanted laptops or tablets which can be re-purposed and used by schoolchildren. See also this post on the issue of digital poverty and what other organisations are doing to help combat it.

• 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 363 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 11 to 17 Jan, down 138 on the week before. This equates to 267 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 412 (526 last week). 

• 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 this separate post for other places where you can take unwanted IT kit.

• In his fortnightly column on p10 of the Herald, Wantage MP David Johnston reflects on his experience of acting as a volunteer assistant at the Church Street and Newbury Street practices for the first vaccinations. He points out that there is particular local interest in the vaccine as the new Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Harwell will be able to make 70m ones “within a four- to five-month period” when it opens later this year. 

• The most recent meeting of Wantage Town Council was held on 14 December and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the waiving of the market tolls until the end of February 2021; approval of the town’s precept for 2021-22 (£344,000, an increase of 3%); and a review of the TC;s fixed assets schedule.

• The most recent meeting of Grove Parish Council was held on 17 December 2020 and you can read the draft minutes here

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Herald looks at how the roll-out of the vaccine is progressing in the Wantage area.  

Hare coursing is illegal, doubly so during the lockdown, as one person recently discovered when he was arrested last weeks following reports of the activity in Wantage.

• It’s also illegal to dump asbestos waste near White Horse Hill (or anywhere else) but this also happened recently.

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

• Two consultations have been launched 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. Both close on Monday 8 February.

• The same council has issued its response to the government’s consultation on Covid-19 funding.

• The Vale Council 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 700 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 11 to 19 Jan, down 305 on the week before. This equates to 315 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 412 (526 last week).  

Swindon Link reports that the fire stations in Stratton and Swindon can accept unwanted laptops or tablets which can be re-purposed and used by schoolchildren. See also this post on the issue of digital poverty and what other organisations are doing to help combat it.

• Wiltshire Police are encouraging pharmacies across Wiltshire and Swindon to join a new support scheme which will provide a lifeline to victims of domestic abuse.

Science Rapper (not a phrase you read every day) Jon Chase has launched a challenge to young people across social media this week, in the lead up to next month’s Festival of Tomorrow. (Several years ago, we saw a Chaucer rapper – his name escapes me – at Newbury Library re-telling, amongst others, the particularly bawdy The Miller’s Tale. Brilliant, it was.)

• Residents are being asked for their views on where new cycling facilities should be located.

• The Town Council has written to SpaceX founder Elon Musk stressing the benefits of the Swindon, and the soon-to-be-vacant Honda site in particular, 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.

• 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 come to the Song of the Week. Elvis Costello is one of the finest songwriters this country has produced. He’s also one of the angriest, though he’s mellowed a bit recently. He was certainly angry in 1978 when he recorded (I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea. Don’t ask me what the brackets are for.

• And so now it’s the Comedy Sketch of the Week. This compilation of Big Train’s Distracting Boss sketches suggests a few ways of dealing with awkward questions from employees..

• And lagging behind as usual is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: There have been over 2,000 test cricket matches played since the first one in 1877. How many of these have ended in a tie? Last week’s question was: Roughly how many schoolchildren are there in the UK? There are about 8.9 million of them, most of whom are – much to their parents’ delight, I’m sure – being home-schooled at the moment.

Brian Quinn

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