Local News 28 January to 4 February 2021

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s 50th, Lambourn’s water, Thatcham’s crossing, Newbury’s update, Marlborough’s moustaches, Wantage’s fundraiser, East Challow’s cemetery, Cold Ash’s oak, Shefford’s meadow, Theale’s vacancy, Hermitage’s ashes, Aldermaston’s ammo, Chaddleworth’s debris, Brightwalton’s memorial, Ashampstead’s precept,  Ramsbury’s laptops, Stratfield Mortimer’s library, Burghfield’s incinerator, Brimpton’s SID, Bedwyn’s budget, Aldbourne’s audit, Grazeley’s panels, Swindon’s charging points, comparing figures, a planning paradox, vaccinating the high flyers, 49m v 25, accepting restrictions, wisdom and courage, the decline of pirates, a line under the allotments, the vicar’s library, bitter fruit, short cuts, two tied tests, five easy pieces, ten rich men, Afunja by Afunja, bridge painting and a loyal dog.

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)

• When most national newspapers, including The Sun, The Mail, The Telegraph and The Guardian, all have substantially the same photo on their front page you know that something quite important has happened. This was the announcement by the PM of what we’d seen coming for days, the 100,000th death from Covid (those who died within 28 days of testing positive), the photographs showing him, fairly ashen-faced, while delivering his update the day before. The death rate continues to rise, albeit more slowly, though the infection rate of confirmed cases has started to fall with the seven-day average (more reliable than daily figures, which can wobble about) being slightly more than half what it was three weeks ago. Hospital admissions are also falling slightly. The vaccination programme seems to be going well, with over 7 million people now having received their first dose. The government’s plans to get everyone over 80 and in the most vulnerable groups jabbed by the end of the month seems to be on course, despite a simmering row with EU.

However, other figures suggest that the rate may not be dropping as fast as the confirmed cases indicate. Imperial College’s REACT survey involves self-testing for randomly-selected groups from which a picture of the total infection rates can be inferred. This data takes longer to process so there is a time lag of a week or so. The crucial difference is that it includes people who are asymptomatic (an estimated 30%) whereas the official tests are largely for people who have reported symptoms. Comparing the two sources, one of which shows a far steeper drop in infections, might at first glance suggests huge statistical muddle. I’m assured that epidemiologists are quite happy with this as they understand their differences: for the rest of us, though, including politicians and journalists, the results can be deeply confusing.

We are in an age of utter information overload. Covid stats are an excellent example of this. Humans tend to have a preference for data (and for data sources generally) which confirm our existing views. Whether we trust the confirmed cases figures or the REACT ones  partly depends on whether we already believe that that the situation is getting better or staying much the same. Very few of us (and I am not one of them) have the intellectual capacity and scientific knowledge to pick through every statistic and fully understand what it’s telling us.

I, for instance, believed (and wrote) in mid December that infections would spike in mid January as a result of Christmas and would then decline as a result of any lockdown that was introduced. The confirmed cases show exactly this; so I am inclined to believe these above any which show a different picture. An academic friend who is far wiser than I am has pointed out that is fallacious reasoning and ignores the possibility that both my assumptions and the data for the infections are based on, but ignore, some unknown factor. It’s also possible to demonstrate very beguiling similarities between two sets of data and infer that there is a correlation between them. Not even Donald Trump would believe that global warming is caused by a decline in the number of pirates worldwide, but this graph illustrates that the respective figures match up quite well. Most people would spot the problems with comparing these two but matters aren’t always that obvious. As this article in Politico points out, there are also a number of different ways that terms can be defined, which makes comparisons between countries very hard. The best I can suggest from all of this is that nothing tells you the whole story; and that if you don’t know how a particular figure was arrived at you may come to the wrong conclusion about what it means. Also, that pirates don’t have anything to do with global warming (or do they…?)

• This digression into the world of correlation, causation and wishful thinking made me think of the Fourth Crusade. Once again I must apologise that my promised summary of this has had to be held over. One friend of mine has recently promised that, when this appears, she will make me a shirt. If you could see the ragged collection of shirts in my wardrobe you’ll understand that this will act as a spur – so, next week, without fail.

• To return to the vaccine: as mentioned last week, I can’t help feeling uneasy about the glaring disparities between how different countries are doing this. According to Our World in Data, only four (Israel, the UAE, the Seychelles and the UK) have so far vaccinated more than 10% of their population. Of the EU countries, only Malta has vaccinated more than 5%. The Guardian reported on 18 January that 49m in rich countries had been vaccinated as opposed to a mere 25 in the poorer ones (all in Guinea). The same paper reported on 27 January that the 84 poorest countries will take until late 2024 to receive mass immunisation. This report from The BBC suggests that Canada has already procured enough vaccines to immunise its population five time over. A number of schemes, including Covax, are in place to provide some parity, but the newspaper points out that some countries are “going around Covax, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue.”

This might not be as illogical as it seems. Of the 12 countries which had reported more than 50,000 deaths as of 27 January, all but three (Mexico, Iran and Colombia) are G20 countries (the global rich club). 23 countries have reported no deaths at all. A further 70-odd have reported fewer than 100. Almost half the deaths have come from just five countries – the USA, Brazil, India, Mexico and the UK. All countries are inter-connected but some are more inter-connected than others. Does it make epidemiological sense for the countries with the highest death rates to have more vaccinations? Many would disagree. Imagine if there were a virus  spread through money – which Covid in some ways is – and it was decided that poorer people didn’t need the jab because they handled less of the stuff. I’m not pretending I’m convinced by this argument: I’m just suggesting it. Covid is a plague largely visited on those countries whose inhabitants travel around a lot, which is equated with wealth. Is it just nature’s way – sorry for this, aviation industry – of telling us to stay where we are a bit more and to explore, enjoy and cherish the part of the world in which fate has placed us? Easy for me to say, perhaps: I rather like where I am. Many don’t.

• A friend of mine told me today that he’d read recently that our brains are hard-wired to find short cuts, easy options and generally cut corners when solving any problem and that our decision-making on this tends to prioritise short-term rather than long-term interests. Another friend, a Professor of Computer Science at Cambridge, agreed with this and suggested that this might have been a reference to Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It seems to be a very interesting way of looking at our behaviour. If true, it also makes the work of scientists all the more impressive as they need to fight against a basic instinct when doing any research, cutting corners not being what scientific rigour demands. It is upon such rigour that we currently all depend, the Covid vaccines being an obvious example.

• To return to the UK’s 100,000 deaths, the question must be asked – though many would prefer it were not, or were not asked now – how a country as rich as the UK, with a national health service that treats everyone, which is an island, which has some of world’s finest universities and hospitals and which undertook a preparation exercise in 2016 for something remarkably similar to Covid, could have done so badly? This article on The BBC website suggests some reasons. For me, the three biggest ones are, in no particular order, (i) the government’s obsessions with centralisation and with positive spin; (ii) our being a densely populated global travel hub; and (iii) long-term under-investment in our health services. You may have other views.

• To this list could also be added the disinclination of Britons, or anyone else, to adapt to constant changes of restrictions. Each alteration, as well as creating huge uncertainty, also gives us the opportunity to pervert any ambiguity in the new rules to our own interests.  The constant on-off-on-off of regulations has been gruelling for all of us. The current lockdown will probably last a long time and aspects will only be relaxed when there’s little chance they’ll need to be re-imposed. So, expect life more or less like this until at least the middle of the year is my prediction. 

• The wisdom in the UK and in many other places is to immunise the most vulnerable first. Indonesia, has taken a different approach: jabbing young people first, as they are the most likely to spread it. Time will tell who is right, perhaps.

• I read a statistic this week that really can’t be ignored: that the world’s ten richest people could, according a report by Oxfam quoted on The BBC website, pay for all vaccines for everyone on the planet just from the extra wealth they’ve accrued during the pandemic. (It must be said that, according to Forbes, that many, including Joseph Asia of Alibaba, Jack Dorsey of Square and Bill Gates of Microsoft, have made large contributions to various funds:  also that Bill Gates’ interest in the issue of global health pre-dates the pandemic.) Having started what might seem like a litany of envy, I’ll go on for a bit. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos could give $43,000 to each of his company’y 1.2m staff worldwide and still be as well off as he was when the pandemic began. That takes a bit of thinking about. So too does a fact my eldest son pointed out to me today: imagine ten people living in caves 20,000 years ago but each earning the US’s present-day average wage of $48,000pa. Even with no outgoings (and assuming they were all alive now), they would still not be as rich as Jeff Bezos.

The problem have with this level of wealth is not its extent but the fact that its contribution to the global pot is entirely voluntary, organisations like Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google having effectively elevated themselves above the inconveniences of national taxation systems. This leaves them free to devote their wealth to whatever causes they chose. Some may be widely beneficial: others not. Elon Musk, for instance, is obsessed with the idea of space travel as a solution to our problems, as is Richard Branson. This seems elitist, defeatist and escapist to me and reminds me of the old joke of the millionaire selling their Rolls Royce (which is what this planet is) because the ashtray was full.

• There’s an interesting letter in this week’s Newbury Weekly News under the headline “Wisdom and Courage of our Leader,” which would not be out of place at the top of a press release issued by the government of North Korea. In a series of allusions I find slightly hard to follow, it cautions us against selective history (of which the letter provides several doses) and living in the past and compares BJ to Saint Paul. It also refers to the “appalling briefs” which the PM was issued with before his press conferences, something that I first through was a sartorial reference. This seems to be an admission not only that some of the communications have been less than perfect but also that the speaker has no responsibility for what comes out of their mouth. The writer also, rather menacingly, says that “the proposed reform of the civil service will have guidance from Sandhurst.” What can he mean? Is this a coded warning about a military coup?

Being PM at the moment is no walk in the park. However, this was the job BJ craved for so long, using our membership of the EU and, on several occasions, truth itself as stepping stones to his ambition. Whether he will prove to be a good peace-time PM remains to be seen. Certainly it would be foolish to pretend that everything has gone as well as it could possibly have done with the Covid response. I wish him all the best but don’t see that this kind of hagiography accomplishes anything, any more than do equally biased hatchet jobs.

• Meanwhile, the PM himself was in Scotland on 28 January, a trip which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested was unnecessary. He said that the matter of Scottish devolution was “irrelevant,” to most Scots, defeating Covid being the main concern. It seems rather arrogant of him to suggest that Scottish people can only think of one thing at a time. I do not understand the logic of a referendum (if there is to be another one) which doesn’t ask all who will be affected (ie the whole of the UK) what they think. Asking just the Scots is like permitting only one party in a marriage to decide if  they’re going to get divorced, the other having no say. If Scotland does leave the UK, the SNP has suggested that it would immediately apply ro re-join the EU. If that were granted, the frontier and trading arrangements in these islands, already complicated by the Irish border issue, would become even more tangled. Scotland has been responsible for an amazing number of inventions (including penicillin, radar, television, tarmac, the S-bend in toilets, fingerprinting, the Bank of England, the thermos flask and Dolly the cloned sheep) so perhaps, if they do go their own way, they can first invent a solution to all these border controls…

• The BBC reports that there were 400 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 18 to 24 January, down 67 on the week before. This equates to 252 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 323 (412 last week). 

Click here to see the 27 January 2021 Residents’ News Bulletin from West Berkshire Council. 

• West Berkshire Council is administering a further series of grant schemes to support local businesses that have been affected by the national coronavirus restrictions.

• 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 resume from Monday 1 February.

• 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 this dog which waited for its owner for six days outside a hospital in Turkey. I can’t see any of our cats sticking it out for that long. Or, frankly, even bothering to turn up at the hospital in the first place.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those covered elsewhere, communications about light aircraft, the Labour Party, the lack of land for community sports, refuse collection and Britain’s democracy.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: MHA Communities in Swindon (thanks to the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund); local nurses, ambulance drivers and healthcare workers (thanks to Spices Indian restaurant in Burghfield);  Berkshire Brigands RFC (thanks to Cash 4 Clubs); schools throughout the area (thanks to all those who have donated IT equipment); numerous local charities (thanks to Greenham Trust).

Hungerford & district

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

• The February Penny Post Hungerford will be published on Tuesday 2 February. This will be a bit of a bumper issue as it will be the 50th such monthly publication, the latest in an unbroken line stretching back to January 2017. We have, as usual, contacted many local organisations to ask for their contributions – if you missed this, please contact penny@pennypost.org.uk by 31 January. 

• This publication will, as ever, contain a summary of the work of Hungerford Town Council, several aspects of which will be discussed at the monthly meeting of Full Council at 7pm on Monday 1 February. Click here to see the agenda and the Zoom link. Members of the public are welcome to attend this and any other local council meeting although will be excluded from the “part two” which considers commercially sensitive matters.

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports on p21 on a matter that we’ve been promoting for some time, the need that John O’Gaunt School (and many others) has for laptops and tablets – indeed any IT kit – to be used to help children who are now being educated at home. Several recent reports, and several media campaigns, national and local, have highlighted that perhaps 1.8m children have inadequate equipment at home to cope with the demands of on-line lessons. The immediate problem for John O’Gaunt has now been solved, thanks to Hungerford Town Council, Greenham Trust, the Excaliber Trust and the Department for Education. More kit is, however, still needed, here and elsewhere. As any equipment needs to have its data wiped and be checked over, and as different schools require different devices, the best thing would be to get any unwanted kit you ma have to green Machine Computers which specialises in just these tasks and which is in touch with many local schools and charities. Please see this separate post for more, including Green Machine’s drop-off points in Ramsbury, Hungerford, Marlborough and Newbury.

• The same paper reports on the same page that a recent meeting of HTC’s Highways and Transport Committee mentioned the fact that neither Network Rail nor GWR is responsible for painting the railway bridge in Hungerford (or any other railway bridge). Nothing about the way the railway system is organised surprises me but I thought I’d have a quick look into this. This page on Network Rail’s site refers to a number of things that the organisation does do about its bridges but doesn’t mention painting. I couldn’t get through to anyone on the phone from NR. I then came across the website for Bagnalls: this company has “a robust competency management system,” and “proven systems…to undertake and deliver painting works safely within the rail network.” I think this means that they can paint bridges, which rather suggests that Network Rail doesn’t. I called them to ask if they knew what NR’s policy on bridge painting was: the very helpful person I spoke to said someone would get back to me with an answer. As soon as I have it, I’ll let you know.

• In last week’s column I had a look at Bewley Homes’ interestingly worded press release about Lancaster Park, as it is now known (the Salisbury Road site as many know it). There was no mention of allotments in this, for one good reason – as this week’s NWN points out, there will be no allotments. A Bewley spokesman was quite clear: “the planning consent does not require this.” Well, that’s that: absolutely right and proper that the terms of the planning consent be adhered to. So obviously this will mean that the developers will also adhere to another aspect of the consent, which stipulates that a number of the homes should be for social rent, a condition which Bewley Homes, for the last six months, has tried to have struck out of the agreement.

• I was glad to see that the excellent Wednesday Market in Hungerford was back to normal this week, last Wednesday’s having been curtailed by storm Christophe. I can assure anyone who visits that it’s well organised and that the fruit and veg stall has been re-configured to be more spread out, so offering even more space and social distancing. Everyone I saw there was wearing a mask. There is ample evidence, including in this post from Medical Xpress, that the chances of catching Covid are considerably reduced when one is outside, particularly if the area is well ventilated (as the market is). 

• The road between that A4 and Hungerford Road in Lower Denford will be closed from 8am to 4pm on 29 January so BT can carry out repairs.

• The most recent meeting of Inkpen Parish Council’s Planning Committee took place on 17 December and you can read the minutes here

• 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.

• The next meeting of Lambourn Parish Council will take place at 7.30pm on Wednesday 3 February. If you would like to attend this, please email lambournpc@btconnect.com for the Zoom link. We’ll be covering this and will provide a summary next week.

• 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 that there are currently two government-backed projects which are designed to help rural communities (such as Upper Lambourn) get a better broadband service. 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.

• The meeting of the Lambourn Valley Flood Forum provided some encouraging news about the  sewage problems in the Valley. So far there has been no repetition of the disgusting scenes that were commonplace last year (and for many years before that). This may be due to good fortune,  to the work that Thames Water has recently done on its pipes or to people heeding this advice about what not to put down their toilets (or probably a combination of all three).

• On this matter, Thames Water appears to have completed most of the works it has intended to although one in Front Street in East Garston has been delayed slightly due to some formality about traffic diversions. This is scheduled to start quite soon: details to follow when we have them.

• 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 took place on 7 January and you can read the minutes here. Matters covered included the resignation of a councillor, comments on West Berkshire’s Local Plan review (see also next paragraph), parking, traffic calming, speeding, damage to the footbridge, confirmation of the 2021-22 precept (£16,000) and the village Christmas tree and lights and the carol service.

• One site in Great Shefford has been identified in the draft of WBC’s local plan, to the west of Spring Meadow. Please see this separate post for more on the local plan generally, on this site (and three in Lambourn) and on how you can make your views known (which you need to have done by 5 February). If you wish to, please send a copy of your comments to the respective Parish Clerk so that the PC will be aware of your views, which may influence its own response. As the article points out, you can also contact your ward member or Parish Council if you would like to discuss any aspect of the site/s before making your comments.

• 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.

Click here for the January/February 2021 update from Martin Colston, the Leader of Newbury Town Council. Items covered include the impact of Lockdown 3, the young people’s survey (see also below), planning for 2021-22 and the Newbury Civic Awards.

• 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 p5, about WBC’s administration’s rejection of the request by the opposition Lib Dems that the Council’s plans for the London Road Industrial Estate be paused, citing concerns about WBC’s ability to manage the project, its conflict of interests (WBC being the major landowner and the planning authority) and the possible impact of Covid-19 which could result in a reduction in a demand for office space (of which some 3,500 square metres are currently envisaged).

• The same paper also covers, on p4, the planning enquiry into the Sandleford development: which, like the LRIE, was planted some time ago but has stubbornly refused to bear anything but small and bitter fruit. Please see this separate post for some views on the matter. On 17 September 2020, WBC’s planners appeared to lose patience with the process (which is hampered by there being two developers who find it difficult to agree on any substantial matter) and issued a detailed notice of refusal. In a rare show of unanimity, the developers appealed this so the matter will decided by the Planning Inspectorate.

• 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.

• 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 January.

• 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 5 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the finalising of the precept for 2021-22 (£19,500); confirmation that, thanks to the efforts of local volunteers, a number of trees had (finally) been planted in the village; a report on the repairs to the Village Hall roof (and its bat box); a welcome to (and a recommendation for) The Ibex; the cost of the proposed works in the Memorial Garden; grit bins; overgrowth and debris on the village’s roads; and a report of a deer being shit in Spray Lane, though whether the result of poaching or culling or poaching was unclear

• 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 for which minutes are available 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 took place 10 December 2020 and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included two planning applications, a financial report, a review of burial fees (it will now cost £25 to scatter ashes), the removal of the bus shelter and its possible replacement and repairs at the Village Hall.

• 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 2,290 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 p25, on the continuing efforts by Thatcham Town Councillors to “resolve barrier downtime” at the level crossing. In a related article, the same paper reports that the proposed 2,500 new homes in the town – see above regarding the petition – would not result in a bridge being built over the railway: further evidence, perhaps, that infrastructure in the town has long lagged behind the increase in the numb er of homes. The article claims that motorists sometimes have waits of up to 40 minutes at the crossing.

• 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 for which minutes are available 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%: Newbury Today reports that the town council’s precept will rise from £742,696 to £763,120.

• 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 snowy oak and ends with Oscar Wilde.

Theale and district

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

A strange tale in Newbury Today on 22 January: it seems that 1,000 rounds of ammunition “rolled out of an unmarked police car” while en route from AWE Burghfield to AWE Aldermaston. Any story that involves not only live ammo but also not one but two nuclear armaments institutions is bound to catch the eye. It seems that some of the bullets were still unaccounted for at the time of writing. The article doesn’t confirm, so I am left to speculate, how 1,000 rounds could ‘roll out’ of a car without the driver noticing. Was one of the doors left open? You’d notice that, surely? Or had they been left on the roof? A friend of ours did that with a Moses basket with he baby son inside so I suppose it could happen with bullets as well. The AWEs are currently (though not for much longer) being operated by a consortium which includes Serco: given that company’s inability correctly to count the people it was meant to be tagging a few years back, perhaps we shouldn’t trust any claims as to how many bullets have been recovered. Are there still bullets on the road? What happens if you run over one? So many questions…

• The current AWE consortium may on its way out of Burghfield but, it seems from looking at p26 of this week’s NWN, that a new waste-burning plant may be on its way in. The proposed development would drive a steam turbine to produce electricity and heat. As the article reports, a number of residents are less than keen on the idea.

• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 14 January and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: the announcement that as at least 10 requests for an election were received, the councillor vacancy will be filled by election, rather than co-option, in May 2021; news on the new website; the theft of a Remembrance Day silhouette; discussion about the PC tasking ownership of the Library building (something Hungerford did a few years ago, the success of which my have encouraged SMPC to go down the same route); consideration of various planning applications; reports from the PC’s committees and working parties; the appointment of a project management consultant; agreeing the 2021-22 budget and precept; confirmation of the adoption of the parish’s phone box (the £1 fee having duly been paid) which would be used for a defibrillator; the provision of allotments; and the identification of items that require communicating to residents (something only rarely seen in PC minutes – other parishes might do well to adopt a similar item at the end of every meeting, particularly as some minutes take months to get published by which time many of the matters discussed have already taken place, with or without the necessary level of public engagement).

• 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).

Click here to see the latest e-newsletter for Theale’s ward member, Alan Macro

• A solar farm could be built on land near Grazeley as part of West Berkshire Council’s plans to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and help combat climate change.

• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 12 January and you can see the 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 1,133 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 18 to 24 January, down 464 on the week before. This equates to 227 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 323 (412 last week). 

Marlborough News reports on the town’s link to the 150th anniversary of the Rugby Football Union. The illustration at the top of the article includes some excellent Victorian moustaches and sideburns – quite a temptation for the opponents to have grabbed hold of in a scrum, I’d have thought. Perhaps gentlemen did not then do such things.

The same website lets us know about The Vicar’s Library, a short film about which collection is to be shown in the Marlborough Museum.

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

• It’s worth repeating this warning from from Kennet and Avon Medical Partnership and to this article in the Gazette, both referring to the  “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 took place on 18 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the questions raised at the public forum at the start of the meeting; local crime statistics; the neighbourhood development plan (which has now reached the consultation stage – see below for more); thanks from the Mayor for all the volunteers who have offered their services during Lockdown 3; 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 strategy for The Common, with particular reference to the propels put forward by the Rugby Club; the Council’s CIL funds; the 2021-22 precept (which will see a rise of 3.75%); The Vicar’s Library (see also above); and the town’s tourism policy.

• 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.

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 (there was no meeting in January 2021) 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 297 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 18 to 24 January, down 70 on the week before. This equates to 218 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 323 (412 last week). 

• Hats off, once again, to the Ray Collins Charitable Trust which, as The Herald reports, has provided laptops for over 200 local children who needed them for their school work. 

• On the same theme, 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 the drop off point in Town, MotorLux Ford. See also this separate post for other places where you can take unwanted IT kit.

• 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

• At the end of last year, Oxfordshire County Council voted to reduce the speed limit on all new residential roads (and certain others) to 20mph.

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Herald looks at the planning paradox – which affects every planning authority – of how the increased need for homes can be reconciled with the needs of the climate emergency, given that many permissions for homes yet to be built have already been granted (with lower sustainability standards than will be required in the future) and that the government’s new regulations will not come into force for several years.  

• On the following page, the paper looks at South Oxfordshire District Council’s reaction to this issue. In a shameful betrayal of democratic process, the Council was forced by the Secretary of State to pass a local plan which, as the new (post-May 2019) administration claimed, was wrong in many ways. An environmental organisation, one of whose directors is a former SODC Councillor who resigned as a result of the issue, is launching a judicial review. One of the claims is that the enforced local plan fails to comply with the Climate Change Act.

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

• Thames Water has replied to a letter from the Vale’s Leader, Emily Smith, about controlled discharges of foul water into waterways – you can read the original and the response here.

• 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 of White Horse and South Oxfordshire district councils have put together some dog fouling maps of local towns and villages showing the areas with the highest number of complaints about owners not picking up after their animals.

• 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. 

• The most recent meeting of East Challow Pasrish Council took place on 16 December and you can download the minutes here. Items covered included the consideration of several planning applications; updates on the WW1 memorial tree, the emergency plan and local signage; the timetable for the parish’s neighbourhood development plan; speeding; street lights; proposed works in the recreation are; and plans for the new cemetery.

• 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 484 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 18 to 24 January, down 222 on the week before. This equates to 218 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 323 (412 last week).  

Swindon Link reports that Swindon Council and Barratt Developments, which is building more than 3,000 new homes at Wichelstowe, have teamed up with Connected Kerb, a UK-based smart cities and EV charging specialist, to install technologically-advanced car-charging points across the site to help residents make the change to electric vehicles.

• The same source 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.

• Swindon Borough Council is working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to contact 6,000 businesses in the borough to make sure they are Covid-secure.

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.

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. My friend Mark Christopher needs to step forward at this point as his band, Afunja, has recently released a song (also called Afunja) which they’ve been working on for some time. Very good it is too.

• And so we’re at the Comedy Sketch of the Week. This isn’t a sketch but an amusing, if slightly edgy scene (as so many involving this actor are) from Five Easy Pieces in which Jack Nicholson’s character tries to order a menu variation in a restaurant. 

• And bringing up the rear is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is as follows (yes, I know we had a cricket-related one last week as well but here’s another): What were remarkable about the Australian Jason Gillespie’s maiden test century and his maiden first-class century? Last week’s question was: 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? The answer is two – that’s right, just the pair of ’em. Australia v West Indies in 1960 and Australia v India in 1986. The Australian Bob Simpson was involved in both, as a player in 1960 and as Australia’s coach in 1986.

Brian Quinn

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