Including Hungerford’s plan, Lambourn’s lottery, Upper Lambourn’s fibre, Thatcham’s homes, Newbury’s call-in, Marlborough’s consultation, Wantage’s parking, Grove’s holistics, Cold Ash’s church, Aldbourne’s trees, Ramsbury’s poppies, East Garston’s forum, Froxfield’s agenda, Great Shefford’s kiosk, Shaw-cum-Donnington’s drones, Chaddleworth’s adoption, Beedon’s horses, Burghfield’s testing, Hampstead Norreys’ shortlist, Ardington & Lockinge’s signs, Bucklebury’s orders, Stanford Dingley’s gang, Letcombe’s register, Swindon’s art, Royal Wooton Bassett’s anniversary, Theale’s recognition orthodoxy, security, the Finland method, the Taiwan method, faulty paperwork, royal spats, screaming rollercoasters, elegant beasts, trains, newts, Sandleford, spreading the housing load, an atonement for Mr Cant, The Home Invaders Trust, decimalisation, a lovely theme, bumper issues, working round Lansley, lateral flow and a lazy river.
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.
• Apologies that this is not in the usual format and also that it, and the newsletter, are so late this week. We are being messed around by our web hosing company which decided to disable large parts of the site on Thursday night.
Across the area
• There are a number of groups that appear to feel that Covid regulations are unimportant. Premier League footballers, compulsive house-party-goers and a decent number of the world’s film, fashion and music glitterati all fit into this category. So too, it would seem, does a group that would seem to have little in common with any of these, North London’s Orthodox Jewish community. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine reported on 2 February that (based on surveys conducted in November and December 2020), 64% of the overall population is infected, compared to 7% nationally and 11% in London. This makes them have one of the highest density of Covid infections for any community on the planet. This is a staggering statistic. The most staggering this about it is that I’d have expected this interactive map to have shown the N16 area in a dramatically darker colour. It doesn’t. This suggests two things. First, that the the community isn’t getting tested in ways that the results show up on official figures. The second is that these amazingly high rates have not caused infections in others in the area. Social distancing of individuals or families is one thing: this is social distancing of an entire community. I admit it’s also likely that other self-contained communities may also have very high rates: this one, however, appears to be exceptional.
The world of Orthodox Judaism is to many, including me, a strange once. That in itself doesn’t bother me but I’m slightly uneasy by the fact that they have, as do many other faith groups, a parallel systems of systems of law and education to the state ones. As a secular person, I also have a problem with faith schools of any kind, for just the same reason as if your local primary was run by Amazon, Manchester United or the Conservative party. It’s was clearly easy to believe that certain things – like massive weddings, such as the one that took place in N16 earlier this month – are OK if they’re to do with your religion or your culture, whichever one that happens to be. Most of the time this is OK – it’s nothing to do with me what people do at a wedding or how many guests there are as long as I don’t have to pay for it. However there are times, and this is certainly one, when everyone needs to do the same thing. We can’t have it both ways, I admit. Living in an excessively obedient and homogeneous country must be hell most of the time, though it’s handy if you have something like a war or a pandemic on your hands. People might break lockdown rules because they’re rich and think they can, or they’re bored or lonely. I get that. This can be rationally argued with. What cannot is anything predicated on religion or culture, particularly where this has been uncritically ingrained from an early age. To attack or even question others’ tenets is these days about the worst crime in the book. This situation has been forced into the open by the sheer weight of the Covid statistics. Don’t get me wrong – it’s great that in many ways we’re all different. However, it would be even better if we could also recognise that, in other ways, we’re all pretty much the same.
• The idea that we’re all the same, or at least in the same rather leaky boat, with regard to climate change is superbly made in this 2′ 40″ broadcast by David Attenborough. “If we continue on this current path we will face the collapse of everything that gives our security” is how it starts. So, don’t watch it if you think we’re doing OK on this one.
• Darting back to the idea that what happens in the first handful of years of our lives shapes us for good (see my comment about faith schools), I mentioned last week about the alarming story of kids in the UK as young as 13 who were being indoctrinated into right-wing groups largely because they lacked even the most basic ability to verify what they heard or read. I know that today’s world gives us little time to check what we receive before passing it on: verification is, like being able to play the trumpet, speak German, paint a horse that looks like a horse or write well, a skill that’s not innate but needs to be acquired. As schools in the UK did not teach this skill, now would be a good time to do it given that this academic year is pretty much shot and that pressure is building to start everything again in September. Be that idea as it may, I was therefore fascinated to have had my attention drawn to this article in The Guardian about how “Finland starts its fight against fake news in primary schools.” This further confirms my view that, although there may be many things about these countries that we might find difficult, the world should perhaps be dominated not by the China/Russia/USA combo largely predicted by Orwell but by representatives of the Scandinavian countries, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, Canada, New Zealand and Taiwan. Could we not try it for a couple of years?
• Taiwan is, of course, not a real country in many ways. China has long claimed it and so has blocked its participation in most international bodies including the UN and WHO. Undeterred, as this article in Wired suggests, it seems to have combatted the virus with a singularity of purpose and public engagement that most “real” countries can only dream of.
• The PM, in what I thought was a pretty good speech earlier this week, mapped out how we might escape from the current shackles that most of us (except the groups mentioned in the first paragraph) are enduring. Numerous summaries exist: here’s The Guardian’s version. The priority has been getting schools re-opened. BJ chose to stress that this was because he was thinking of the kids. The real reason is probably that people with school-age children tend to have jobs, often quite important ones, which they can’t properly do in current circumstances: also that many of them are probably going quietly insane. My sons all now having grown up, this problem no longer exists for me. My main interest is on when the swimming pools re-open.
• When the next pandemic strikes we shall probably have a differently organised NHS to cope with it. Whether better or worse is anyone’s guess. The planned reforms will seek to sweep away the Lansley reforms, introduced during the rule of the hapless David Cameron, which were Thatcherite in their insistence on the existence of a perfect market for products and services within which the trusts could go shopping in much the same way as you or I might for different energy suppliers. The proposed new model would give considerable powers to the Health Secretary, which some find concerning. MD devotes a paragraph in his excellent column in the most recent Private Eye to providing some examples of these potential abuses which include selling our data, abolishing NICE and the CQC and “continuing to buy goods and services from his friends.” Politico suggests a more optimistic interpretation, that BJ’s government is “is less driven by ideology than many of its Conservative predecessors.” I’d also like to spare a thought for a GP friend of mine who told me a couple of weeks ago that he was too depressed at the thought of another shake-up and too busy dealing with Covid to gather his thoughts to discuss the reforms with me. The Week suggests that any such changes are perhaps pointless as the NHS has in practice “largely worked around the Lansley legislation.” Politicians feel compelled to embark on major changes to areas like health and education every so often but, ultimately, we’re in the hands of teachers and doctors who will, like water taking the most efficient route downhill, find the best way of discharging their massively important roles, often working round whatever unforeseen obstacles the prevailing political ideology has created.
• The question of CIL payments is back in the news, certainly in the Newbury Weekly News, with no fewer than five letters on the subject on p20. The essence of the problem – as it seems to exist in West Berkshire (and perhaps elsewhere) – is that this complex system has, by accident or design, various traps for the unwary. Huge liabilities can be triggered by people making simple mistakes on the paperwork, of the kind that even HMRC would, if done on a tax form, probably concede merited later adjustment. I looked at this in this post and have since been contacted by a number of people who feel this applies to them. This is clearly a difficult and emotive issue and I want to be sure I’m covering all the angles. So, if any of you have been contacted by West Berkshire Council helpfully pointing out an error in your CIL paperwork which subsequently resulted in your gaining an exemption, please let me know. Please also contact me if you have had any CIL experiences, good or bad, with other planning authorities such as the Vale of White Horse, Swindon or Wiltshire. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The radio on one of our cars packed about a year ago. Not a big story, you might think. Bear with me. Yesterday, as I was turning out of our drive, it suddenly came back to life. This wouldn’t have mattered except that it was tuned to R4 and a documentary about how scientists try to re-create and analyse fear and kicked in at the point where they’d cut to some people on one of those really scary rollercoasters at Thorpe Park, all of whom were screaming. It might also help if I explained that the volume was set at 10 out of 10. When my heart-rate had fallen to the low hundreds I continued my journey. Today I got back in the car and the radio was dead again. Part of me is quite relieved.
• I don’t care that much about the present-day royal family, except to marvel at the tensions which exist when people who are pretty average, apart from their upbringing and sense of entitlement, try to shake off the shackles of their destiny. The Harry-Megan business has distinct echoes of the emotional ferment stoked up by Princess Di. No one who was alive when she was killed in 1997 will forget those ten days when the whole country seemed to lose control of its senses. H&M appear to have turned into a pair of litigious, indiscreet and media-obsessed US expats: it’s hard to imagine a combination that his grandmother would find more distasteful. The fact that she’s been around for longer than I’ve been alive creates a sense of unreality about the whole thing, like some strip cartoon in which the characters never seem to age or change their opinions. HMQ might take solace in reflecting that generational distaste runs in the family. Henry II died, in the immortal words of 1066 and All That, “when he discovered all his sons were revolting.” In his later years, Henry III was bullied by his son, the future Edward I. Edward III was complicit in his father’s deposition. Henry IV’s view of his elder son was well documented by Shakespeare. Most of the Georges could hardly stand to be in the same room as their fathers (or sons). Edward VII who, like poor Charles, had to wait so long for his tilt at supreme power, was blamed his mother Victoria for his father’s premature death. The future George VI was reputedly bullied by his father because of his stammer. Some have royalty thrust upon them; others marry into it. It’s been a pretty unedifying soap opera recently but it sells papers and draws the tourists. It’s also probably better than having a President. Who would you vote for? Gary Lineker? Jackie Weaver? Lenny Henry? Actually, the last one might not be such a bad idea…
• The BBC reports that there were 145 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 15-21 February, down 13 on the week before. This equates to 92 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 103 (116 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• Lateral flow tests – which although not perfect have proved to be of great value in identifying asymptomatic Covid cases – are now available in West Berkshire for key workers and others who are not already in a testing programme. See here for more information about the four testing centres in West Berkshire: Highwood Copse in Newbury, Thatcham Rugby Club, Hungerford Rugby Club and Burghfield Community Sports Association. See here for further information from Gov.uk on these tests and who is eligible for them.
• West Berkshire Council and Greenham Trust have jointly set up a £200,000 Surviving to Thriving fund to enable voluntary and community sector organisations in West Berkshire to apply for grants to fund projects aimed at helping improve the mental health and wellbeing of local residents impacted by Covid-19.
• Local residents are being invited to help shape WBC’s Active Travel plans.
• A reminder that local schools have need of laptops and tablets – indeed any IT kit – to be used to help children who are now being schooled 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. Please see this separate post for more.
• West Berkshire Council has announced that six Covid marshals are to be deployed throughout the district “to monitor devious and encourage social distancing.”
• More schools in West Berkshire will be connected to full-fibre broadband by March 2022, thanks to a £1.7 million grant from the Government’s Getting Building Fund.
• The West Berkshire Covid dashboard can be visited here.
• Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.
• Click here to see the latest Residents’ News Bulletin from West Berkshire Council.
• And click here to see WBC’s latest Business News Bulletin.
• West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon Councils have their own web pages relating to the outbreak. Click here as follows for the high-level links for West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon.
• West Berkshire Council has set up a Community Support Hub. Click here to visit the website or call 01635 503 579 to speak to the the Building Communities Together team. The Hub has also set up two FAQ pages, for residents and for businesses. You can also click here to sign up to receive the Hub’s e-bulletins and click here to see the weekly updates.
• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.
• Click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. As with the volunteers’ post above, if you are aware of any others, let us know. In West Berkshire in particular, this is a service that is likely to be needed more than ever now we enter tier three.
• The animals of the week are any of the various elegant beasts which can be seen on pp36-37 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News in an article about Beale Park in Basildon.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those referred to elsewhere, the AONB, there vaccine centres, responsible walking, cat photos and WBC’s housing system.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Wiltshire Air Ambulance (thanks to Tesco); Ghana School Aid (thanks Hungerford Rotary Club); Newbury Cricket Club (thanks to its recent fundraising efforts); Trindledown Animal Welfare Trust (thanks to Emma Johnson); the Alzheimer’s Society (thanks to Joseph Black); the Reading Refugee Support Group and the West Berkshire Foodbank (thanks to Lesley McEwan); Werlford & Wickham Primary School (thanks to Lara Wilson).
Hungerford & district
• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that will be available in Hungerford from 22 February.
• The February Penny Post Hungerford was published on 2 February: click here to read it if you didn’t get it. This was a bumper 50th issue so it’s packed full of good stuff. The March one (which will also packed full of good stuff) will be published on Tuesday 2 March.
• I still don’t know if there’s been any resolution to the question of the tenure of the homes of the new development at Lancaster Park with West Berkshire Council and Bewley Homes seeming locked in discussions about this. It’s all dragging on a bit, isn’t it? The Treaty of Versailles after WW1 was agreed more quickly (not that it was a very good treaty, but that’s another story).
• Click here for a comprehensive update of the state of play with Hungerford neighbourhood development plan (Hungerford 2036).
• Marlborough News reports that Chilton Foliat Primary School has launched a crowdfunding campaign to transform the Early Years garden and outdoor area.
• The most recent meeting of Inkpen Parish Council took place on 25 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Kintbury Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 7 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Froxfield Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can read the minutes here. The next meeting of Froxfield PC will take place on Monday 8 March. Please email Froxfieldclerk@yahoo.com for the agenda and the Zoom link.
• The most recent meeting of Shalbourne Parish Council took place on 4 February and you can download the minutes here.
• It was announced last weekend that the sewerage system in the Valley had overflowed, resulting in remedial measures being put in place by Thames Water (TW). (It’s worth stressing that TW’s recent remedial work seems to have had some effect as the system was, this year, able to accommodate a higher level of foul water than it did last). You can read more in this separate post.
• The sewerage system further downstream seems also to be on a knife-edge. Residents of East Garston will be gratified to learn that the recently-established village Flood Forum (EGFF) has been active in gathering concerns, passing them on to TW and circulating the results. This information flow takes place without any leaks, infiltration or contamination, in contrast to the subject it’s dealing with. One specific piece of recent news is that the repairs on the sewerage pipes in the village, planned for January, will not now take place until mid-May, though this may change again if the groundwater levels are still high and the pipes flooded as a consequence. If you would like to be added to the EGFF mailing list, please contact email@example.com.
• The most recent meeting of Lambourn Parish Council took place on 3 February and you can read my summary here. The next meeting will take place a7 7.30pm on Wednesday 3 March. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for an agenda and a Zoom link should you wish to attend.
• The Great Shefford pub in Great Shefford is making a further bid to add a breakfast kiosk next to the pub and has contacted West Berkshire Council to establish if the proposal falls under permitted development and so doesn’t require planning permission. You can see the details on West Berkshire Council’s website here. A reasonably similar scheme was turned down by WBC last summer by the applicants hope that this latest one has resolved the issues.
• The West Berkshire Lottery is having a special prize draw on Saturday 27 February with five prizes of £100 Etsy vouchers. The Friends of Lambourn Library will one of the beneficiaries of this. If you would like to support Lambourn Library through participating in the lottery, please click here.
• The Friends of Lambourn Library is also organising an author event on Wednesday 24 March by local author Anne Holland whose most recent book is The Grand National: A Celebration of the World’s Most Famous Horse Race. See the FoLL FB page for more.
• 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. I’ve learned that Upper Lambourn Road Road near Malt Shovel Lane will be closed between 9 and 11 March – there’s a telecom fibre box somewhere near there, so this might be a good sign.
• The most recent meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 7 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council took place on 8 January and the draft minutes can be seen here.
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• Latest news from Newbury Town Council, Greenham Parish Council, Chieveley Parish Council, Enborne Parish Council, Boxford Parish Council, Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council, and Hamstead Marshall Parish Council.
• Click here for the February/March 2021 update from Martin Colston, the Leader of Newbury Town Council.
• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Newbury.
• The matter of the problematic – other adjectives exist – development at Sandleford took a new twist on 25 February when it was announced that the appeal by Bloor Homes against West Berkshire Council’s refusal of its appeal will be called in to the Secretary of State, rather than be decided by the Planning Inspectorate (which will now act as a fact-gathering service for the minister). This fact-gathering will start on 5 May and will run for about two weeks with the PI’s recommendation probably finding its way to Whitehall by the late summer. The Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, will need no introduction for residents of South Oxfordshire as in 2020 he infamously refused to allow the council (SODC) to review the local plan which it had inherited from its Conservative predecessors. Mr Jenrick was also involved in what appears to have been an unwise intervention in a large development in London’s docklands in 2020.
It’s currently unclear why he has chosen to involve himself in this way but, given what happened with SODC, it could be seen as politically motivated. Certainly the founder of the firm has made substantial donations to Mr Jenrick’s party, according to Open Democracy and LKP. West Berkshire’s planners have provided detailed reasons for refusing the development as it stands. It remains to be seen if WBC will support its officers. This would certainly be put to the test if Mr Jenrick finds in favour of Bloor Homes, whereupon WBC will need to decide if it wishes to go to a judicial review, the only remaining recourse. Even if the appeal is allowed, however, all the same problems which have bedevilled the project so far will still remain. This separate post refers to some of these.
• The saga of the football ground in Newbury also rumbles on. This week I was sent a video which includes some footage of West Berkshire Council CEO Nick Carter answering questions in 2016 about whether WBC needed to find a replacement for the football ground that it was proposing to close (and did close in June 2018). His unequivocal view at the time was that it had no responsibility to do so. I found this statements odd as (a) my glances at the various policies, such as that involving Sport England (including an email sent to WBC in October 2014), suggests that it most emphatically does have such a responsibility; and (b) WBC has recently been devoting energy and money to trying to solve this exact problem, which strongly suggests that the WBC indeed now accepts that it is its problem.
The impression is that WBC got itself into a false position on this many years ago and has not managed to get back onto the right foot since. I sense a desperate wish to turn the clock back to about 2014 and do the whole LRIE/football pitch thing properly: for no one can pretend that either is an exemplar. This time travel being impossible, I can only hope that the current discussions will produce a better result, the current members having to cope with having been painted into a corner by their predecessors. The best thing, of course, would be an apology: “We got it wrong” is one of the most disarming phrases in the language. There have been a few hints of this I’ve seen from certain members since May 2019 (none before) but nothing that amounts to the real thing.
• This leads to the question of…well, questions. It seems from the Executive meeting on 11 February that WBC’s Leader Lynne Doherty stressed, quite fairly, the value of more engagement between councillors and residents. These do not, however, have any formal status. Questions to the Executive of Full Council do. Councillor Doherty uses, at 14’12”, that most hideously manipulative of phrases, that she is “disappointed” that people should be asking about matters like the above during a global pandemic. She goes on to say that 85 out of the 202 public questions submitted in the last year, 85 related to the London Road Industrial Estate, the football ground or playing pitches. She offered no reasons as to why this might be, which seems to leave the floor open to me.
This could be – and this is just a wild guess – that the reasons so many such questions are asked is because the questioners don’t feel they have had sufficiently good answers. She also says that these “use up valuable public resources” when the Council’s time is already stretched due to Covid. Aside from the fact that the people answering these are presumably different from those dealing with the pandemic, and that answering awkward questions is one of the things councils have to to do, I’d have thought this dominance of a few themes would produce welcome economies of scale in preparing replies. She also says that this doesn’t represent a fair spread of the issues or the geography spread of the area. I don’t follow this at all: is she suggesting that questions on other subjects are getting bumped off the list? More likely, WBC is doing quite well on many things (as, in my view, it is on Covid) or that that the ward members of all parties are dealing with most matters at a local level, so that most people don’t need to ask questions of the Executive. The only ones who do are battle-hardened warriors, mainly (but not exclusively) on the above-mentioned issues who see this as a way of helping to keep their campaigns in the public eye. The answer is not, as the Leader said, to review the way questions to the Executive are posed, but to reflect on why 42% of these are on just two or three inter-connected themes. In fact, the more I think about it, her statistics suggest a healthy local democracy rather than, as she implies, the reverse. Limiting participation to avoid unwelcome enquiries is no way forward. If there’s a leak in your roof, it’s no good blaming your family members for asking or complaining about it. The solution is to fix the leak.
• A reminder about an event explaining Newbury Town Council’s support for the idea of universal basic income (UBI) in principle and to request the government to provide funds to set up a trial scheme in the town. A virtual event will taking place on Thursday 4 March from 7 to 9pm which will consider “what UBI is and how could it help communities in Newbury and across West Berkshire” and will look “at the wider impacts across the UK and around the world.” I understand the spaces are filling up quickly.
• A reminder that an Election Day is looming. No, the PM has not decided to go to the country to increase his majority. Instead the focus turns to more local issues on 6 May when some councils (though not West Berkshire) will be deciding their democratic fates for the next four years. This will also be the day when any by-elections are dealt with. One such is taking place for Newbury Council’s Clay Hill ward. The vacancy was, as this article in Newbury Today explains, caused by one sitting councillor being removed after not attending enough meetings. The councillor, Jeff Cant, also sits on West Berkshire Council. Although many people in the district have two such hats, this isn’t the first time that one regretted it. I don’t know what the solution to this is, except to warn everyone about not biting off more than they can chew.
Perhaps Mr Cant’s atonement should be to be a Presiding Officer, forced to sit from 7am to 10pm in a draughty church hall drinking milk coffee out of a leaky thermos, giving people their voting slips and ticking off their names. Electing his successor (as the seat is contested it can’t be filled by co-option) will cost WBC an estimated £6,500. This seems like a lot of money for a few ballot sheets and someone to count them. Anything worthwhile comes with a price tag. Being able to elect our representatives, rather than having them imposed upon us by the state as happens elsewhere, seems worth paying for. General elections, on the other hand, cost about £120m. Clay Hill seems a snip by comparison.
• This week’s NWN has on p9 the story of the legal challenge to overturn the decision last year to award a licence to Merkur Slots’ gambling centre in the Market Square. It relates how the appellant was persuaded to withdraw the action by Casino Gaming’s QC on the quasi-altruistic grounds that it would certainly end in a highly expensive defeat. The QC contended that whether or not there had been crime at other outlets had “no legal relevance.” I’m no lawyer but this seems rather surprising to me, and makes me wonder why the Police in that case are asked for their opinion at all. In fact, as I mentioned last week, I don’t see that the number of crimes was in fact that significant. Also as mentioned previously, under existing legislation the Licensing Committee seems to have very few grounds on which it can oppose an application. The solution, for those who oppose high-street gambling, would thus seem to be not trying to change licensing decisions but to lobby to change the 2008 Gambling Act.
• The most recent meeting of Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council took place on 2o January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: various items raised with local MP Laura Farris; street lighting; footpaths being blocked by developers; a complaint about drone flying (one complaint said that drones were “disturbing Donnington Castle,” which was very thoughtful, if anthropomorphic, on the part of the writer); WBC’s consultations; several planning applications; and the appointment of a acting Clerk.
• A Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) has been introduced in Newbury town centre, banning on-street drinking and clamping down on anti-social behaviour.
• 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.
• The most recent meeting of Greenham Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 13 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Boxford Parish Council took place on 5 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Enborne Parish Council took place on 4 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 12 January and you can read the minutes here. .
• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village. It also produces the quarterly Hamstead Hornet the most recent edition of which has just been published and you can see it here. If you’d like to subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at email@example.com.
Compton & Downlands
• Latest news from Hampstead Norreys Parish Council, Compton Parish Council, Ashampstead Parish Council, Beedon Parish Council, Chaddleworth Parish Council, Brightwalton Parish Council, Beedon 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 2 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the costs of producing the parish newsletter; work at the memorial Gardens; confirmation that the parish had not been successful with its recent CIL bid from West Berkshire Council; the latest burst of correspondence between CPC and WBC in the 30-year discussions about the possible adoption of Norris Lane; grit bins; a question about a piece of land ownership near the school.
• The February edition of Chaddleworth News has been published and you can read it here. items covered include: a message from The Ibex (which is open for takeaways, for delivery or collection); congratulations to local resident Joe Mills, one of the recipients of WBC’s 2020 Community Champion Awards; an obituary of Sir Philip Wroughton; news from local groups and charities; contact details for the Chaddleworth Action Group; and an update from the Downland Practice.
• The most recent meeting of Beedon Parish Council took place on 1 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: pathway clearance on Oxford Road; Beedon Primary School’s funding; phone-box renovations; two planning applications; plans to publicise PC meetings more widely; the proposed equine hospital; and the possible diversion of a footpath to avoid an electric fence.
• The most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council took place on 8 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: a proposed communications policy and revised council structure; confirmation of planning decisions taken by WBC; legal advice on the allotments; preparations for the platinum jubilee in 2022; tree planting; IT equipment; a report on the Recreation Ground; and the consideration of tenders for the council-owned footway lights.
• The most recent meeting of Peasemore Parish Council was held on 20 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Hampstead Norreys Council took place on 28 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included overhanging vegetation; one new planning application; the frequency of litter and dog-waste bin collections; confirmation of the PC’s 2021-22 budget; drawing up a shortlist for the next round of members’ bid funding; and the confusion surrounding the application to have The White Hart designated an Asset of Community Value – it seems that it was believed that West Berkshire Council had done this in July 2019 but it had for some reason taken until now for it to be established that this had not happened. HNPC agreed to re-submit the application and make a complaint about the handling of the matter to West Berkshire Council.
• The most recent meeting of West Ilsley Parish Council took place on 18 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of East Ilsley Parish Council took place on 19 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Brightwalton Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can read the draft minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Ashampstead Parish Council took place on 4 January and you can read the minutes here.
Thatcham and district
• Latest news from Thatcham Town Council, Hermitage Parish Council, Cold Ash Parish Council, Midgham Parish Council, Bucklebury Parish Council, Brimpton Parish Council, Stanford Dingley Parish Council and Woolhampton Parish Council.
• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Thatcham.
• Maybe I haven’t had enough coffee yet this morning but I find Councillor Alan Law’s letter on p21 on this week’s NWN hard to follow. In this he attacks the Lib Dem’s counter-proposals to his own party’s emerging local plan, with particular reference the plans for Thatcham. Fair enough – all part of the political rough and tumble about the merits of two different ideas, neither of which is perfect. I am, however, baffled as to how Councillor Law can say that the Lib Dems “waited until the plans were well advanced” before objecting. The draft local plan was only published in December and the Lib Dem response appeared (I think) later that month. In any case, the Thatcham elements in the local plan can hardly themselves be described as “well advanced” as several key aspects still seem to be missing (see this separate post). Indeed, the scheme has a definite second-choice feel to it which makes sense when you look at how the development at Grazelely was fairly recently taken off the map, to be replaced by Thatcham. There’s no shame in that. We all have to make last-minute changes of plan. Let’s call them like that and conduct discussions accordingly, rather than pretend they’re part of an immutable long-planned strategy.
One of the points the Lib Dems suggest is that housing should be more evenly spread. This makes some sense as most communities could accept, and in many cases benefit from, a reasonable increase in the number of houses: also, so far as affordable homes go, people in say Lambourn or East Ilsley (I won’t bore you with listing about 15 parishes, as Councillor Law did) who are looking for affordable homes may want to stay in those areas rather than being shipped down to a mega-estate outside Thatcham.
Nor can I follow his maths. West Berkshire has about 160,000 people which, at 2.4 people per home (Statistica’s estimate), is about 70,000 dwellings. If the 2,500 homes are spread across the area, that would mean each settlement growing by about 4%. Our village of East Garston, for instance, would need about seven more homes to fill this target. The examples he provides of Bucklebury and Cold Ash – combined population of about 6,000 and so perhaps 2,500 homes – would would need about 100. (Councillor Law says 300 in his letter.) Moreover, although these would obviously add to demand for schools, surgeries and the like across each part of the district, it would hardly cause the need for massive CIL/S106 investment in the communities themselves. A major development would, for instance, need major road improvements. Many smaller ones probably would not. If developer contributions can be diverted out of the parish, most could go to improving these, where needed. The same would go for schools, surgeries and other facilities which were over-stretched as a result of the collective developments in its catchment area. Many would not be. Not all schools or surgeries are at full capacity: indeed, many would actively benefit from more pupils or patients. In larger communities, of course, the housing numbers would be higher. Thatcham might therefore be expected to take about 500 new homes, about five times fewer than currently proposed.
This is obviously very simplistic. It also leaves two problems. One is that, because of the way the current economics of home-building and land acquisition work, it’s not viable for developers of a, say, 10-home site to include four affordable homes, as WBC’s green-field policy demands. Regardless of what is agreed, ways are found of wriggling out of the obligations. I get that – developers are commercial firms, not agencies of the state. The obvious solution would be for the government to pay developers an agreed rate per affordable home which would raise their profit to an acceptable level. This would enable government policy to be implemented without Whitehall going to the logistical and financial hassle of doing so itself (which also might be seen as politically regressive), while at the same time leaving the local planning authority in control of the decision-making. Aside from anything else, this would save countless hours of bitter wrangles and disputes between developers and there local officers.
The other problem is that sites for development can’t be created out of thin air: suitable land needs to be available and a developer needs to come forward. However, there could be ways that this could be encouraged. Councillor Law says that about three-quarters on West Berkshire is in the AONB and therefore off-limits for development. That isn’t quite the case. The Salisbury Road/Lancaster Park 100-home in Hungerford is in the AONB but was approved. (The test for this is philosophically surreal as the legislation demands that”exceptional circumstances” be proved in order to permit development By definition, “exceptional” cannot be pre-defined; so on each occasion can be overturned as long as the reason for doing so is unique, regardless of its relevance.) Back in the real world, development on a small scale in most communities would be unlikely to infringe the AONB to the extent that regulations seem to intend. The bottom line is that if we need more homes in the areas where people want to live, we might need to make some compromises about the AONB’s status (which, as the above-mentioned development has shown, can be over-ridden in any case). Furthermore, if we want more affordable homes, he state (ie us) will have to help pay for them. If neither of these can be accepted then look forward to more of the same.
• The most recent meeting of Thatcham Town Council took place on 25 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Bucklebury Parish Council took place on 8 February and you can read the minutes here. Laura Farris MP attended the meeting and her involvement is covered in the following paragraph. Other items covered included the response to the local plan generally; the Royal Berkshire Charity; parochial communications; eight planning applications and one appeal; off-road driving; a new kissing gate; proposed wildflower meadows; inspections of BPC’s assets; speeding in the village; conservation areas; local recycling; salt bins; meeting reports; and a Handforth PC/Jackie Weaver-inspired check of the standing orders for BPC which were, the Chairman conceded , “a little out of date” and needed to be reviewed if (the inference was clear) the PC wished to avoid the risk of one of its meetings going viral in the way Handforth’s did last month.
• The virtual attendance of Laura Farris (who grew up in the parish) at the above-mentioned Bucklebury PC meeting, and the related matter of the 2,500 proposed new homes in Thatcham occupy two pages of the notes in the minutes (see link above). It was reported that “under normal circumstances, MPs don’t get involved with planning, however in this instance Mrs. Farris is very concerned about how the proposed development would change the surrounding villages.” She made a number of suggestions as to what the next steps might be (the second referred to a judicial review into the Grazeley decision, which precipitated this allocation for Thatcham – a recent court case would seem to have closed that avenue off but I’m not sure if we’re referring to the same thing). There was also a Q&A session at which the public raised a number of questions.
• The most recent of Stanford Dingley Parish Council took place on 18 January and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: lorries and tractors in the village; renovations at the Club Room, the Village Green and the Village Field; the draft parish census; sewerage problems; the proposed digitisation of parish archives and records; approval of the 2021-22 budget and precept; the return of the Dredge Gang; tree planting; and an audit of the parish’s rights of way.
• The most recent meeting of Brimpton Parish Council took place on 2 February and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: abandoned roadworks signs; overgrown shrubs; a damaged hedge; the Enborne Way allotments; two planning applications; road-speed monitoring; and agreement that members of Brimpton PC would continue not to take allowances, although this could be legally paid.
• The most recent meeting of Midgham Parish Council took place on 18 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Hermitage Parish Council took place on 16 January and you can read the minutes here.
• See also this page for up-to-date information about Hermitage’s neighbourhood development plan.
• The most recent meeting of Cold Ash Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 26 January 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 church and ends with Nietzsche.
Theale and district
• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that will be available in Burghfield.
• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 14 January and you can read the draft minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Theale Parish Council took place on 8 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the propose blocking of the unofficial access from the graveyard to the recreation ground; several planning applications; the approval of the tender application pack and tender process for the grounds maintenance; the fixing of the Christmas lights switch-on for 4 December 2021 (Covid permitting); the agreement that TPC would create a Facebook and/or Twitter account and would update its media policy; and the agreement of various internal procedures.
• This week’s NWN reports on p30 that the PE Department at Theale Green School has been recognised for its work with pupils in the Get Berkshire Active awards.
• The same council has vacancies for two councillors – more here.
• Theale’s District Councillor Alan Macro has responded to the consultation on the council’s draft new local plan and opposed the proposals for another 170 new homes and new offices on land between Theale and the M4.
• The most recent meeting of Englefield Parish Council took place on 13 January and you can read the draft minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 9 February and a the minutes can be downloaded here: minutes will be published in due course. Items covered included a vacancy for a parish councillor; anti-social behaviour in the area of Falcon Fields/Kestrels Mead, including the play area owned by WBC; confirmation of planning decisions by West Berkshire Council (there were no new applications to consider); the PC’s response to West Berkshire Council’s Minerals and Waste Plan; and a request for walkers in the grounds of the Manor House to keep their dogs on a lead.
• The most recent meeting of Padworth Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can see the minutes here.
• Click here to see the February 2021 edition of the Padworth newsletter.
• The most recent meeting of Burghfield Parish Council took place on 7 January and you can read the minutes here.
• Theale Parish Council is looking for two new Councillors – click here for details.
Marlborough & district
• The BBC reports that there were 423 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 15-21 February, down 171 on the week before. This equates to 85 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 103 (116 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a 63 more local level to be obtained.
• Last week, when writing about Hungerford, I, perhaps slightly fancifully, compared neighbourhood development plans to trains on a journey lasting perhaps four years which periodically disappeared into a tunnel, often for months at a time, to become lost to public view. This might be because of needing to wait for information or responses from other bodies or because work is going on by the steering group which requires no public engagement. Then, one fine day, out it will burst in a cloud of steam and pull into the station. Many people will have forgotten all about it in the intervening time – where’s that come from? they might say. Marlborough’s NDP train has just re-emerged. It will remain at the station until 8 March, when the current consultation period ends. It is now nearing the end of its journey but there’s still time for you to have your say. Click here for more information on this.
• Another consultation still waiting to take on passengers comes from Marlborough Town Council which wants to gauge opinion about the possibility of creating a permanent training area on Marlborough Common, making more space for sports for young people. Click here to take part. The survey will stay open until 4pm on 25 March.
• Marlborough News reports that Wiltshire Council has increased its Council Tax bills by 4.99% for 2021-22.
• The Gazette reports here that Wiltshire Council has rejected claims it hasn’t made much progress after declaring a climate emergency two years ago.
• The same website reports that councillors voted to support the construction of a shared-use path from Beechcroft Care Home to the A346 at the entrance to Marlborough Business Park.
• Click here for details of forthcoming Zoom talks organised by The Merchant House in Marlborough.
• Marlborough News reports that Transition Marlborough is running a project to distribute 800 packets of wildflower and bee-friendly seeds to encourage sowing this spring. Distribution will bee to every household in Mildenhall and Axford, a further 300+ via retailers and community groups in Marlborough and 200+ via community groups in Ramsbury.
• Planned sewerage works by Thames Water have been delayed due to high groundwater levels: it’s hoped they will take place in the spring.
• Wiltshire Council and (where necessary) its parishes go to the polls in May – this post from Marlborough News has further information.
• The most recent ordinary meeting of Marlborough Town Council took place on 18 January and you can read the minutes here. There was also an extraordinary meeting on 1 February to confirm the awarding of the contract for the repairs to the Town Hall.
• 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.
• 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 Ramsbury & Axford Parish Council took place on 18 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: correspondence from residents (including a “waste bin mystery”); various planning applications; the future of the Ramsbury Diary; the PC’s risk assessment; rights of way (including a new boundary stone and some missing footpath signs); inspections of play areas; the allotments; progress with the wildflower meadows (where “a mass of poppies” is coming up); laptops at the Primary School; parking in The Square; and injury sustained by a member of the public when tripped on “pothole number 19” in Whittonditch Road.
• The most recent meeting of Great Bedwyn Parish Council took place on 14 January and you can read the draft minutes here.
• 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 3 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: council elections; a troublesome manhole cover in West Street; a report from the local Police team; the trees on Marlborough Road and Lottage Road; changes to the lease for the Community Room; proposed tree-planting works; the clearance of the Winterbourne ; the re-installation of the pump; the possible purchase by the PC of the land where the allotments are situated; improving communications; and a request for a family memorial.
• Click here for a list of current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.
Wantage & district
• The BBC reports that there were 86 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 15-21 February, up 3 on the week before. This equates to 65 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 103 (116 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• Click here for details of lateral flow tests that are available at The Beacon in Wantage.
• This week’s Herald reports on p4 that daily parking rates in the Vale’s car parks are to rise by 10% a year until 2023 to cover a shortfall in the Council’s revenues. The article says that the car parks in Wantage, Abingdon and Faringdon cost £700,000 a year to run, which I find astonishing. Apart from the machines, the traffic wardens (who probably show a profit) and, every few years, a bloke with a paint pot to re-do the white lines, what are the costs? It’s not as if car parks offered while-you-park entertainment or a free valet service. Another mystery.
• A bumper issue this month from the Wantage & Grove Campaign Group (click here to see the archive – the lower of the “23 February 2021” ones is the main newsletter, the other two brief updates). Items covered include the Wantage NDP; Covid testing; the Country Transport Strategy; leisure funding; and a look at five ongoing planning issues (Grove Airfield/Wellington Gate, the land north of the Airfield, , the new care home on Grove Road, Park Farm in East Challow and Crab Hill/Kingsgrove).
• The Editor of The Herald also uses the word “bumper” to describe the newspaper this week and highlights a number of good-news stories.
• A reminder that a very brief survey to help make the case for re-opening Wantage Road station is being run by local MP David Johnston. Please click here to complete a short questionnaire on the subject – this closes at noon on 1 March.
• Click here for a lit of businesses offer click-and-collect services in Wantage town centre.
• A reminder that 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.
• The most recent meeting of Grove Parish Council for which minutes are available 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 the issue of “joined-up thinking” on the matter of the building of the link road and also, generally, that the various proposals for Grove be considered “holistically.”
• People have started writing letters to the Herald again, with five in this week’s paper.
• South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse District Councils have helped raise more than £240,000 for great crested newt habitats. The funds have been raised over three years through an ongoing, innovative conservation scheme to protect the newts, which are a European protected species.
• Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire District Councils have agreed a partnership to help local businesses reduce their carbon footprint.
• Following a public consultation, Vale of White Horse District Council’s Cabinet has approved several changes to parking arrangements to help reduce vehicle emissions.
• Councillor Emily Smith, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, delivered her latest report to Council at the meeting on 10 February 2021, which you can read here.
• South Oxfordshire District Council and Vale of White Horse District Council are to extend the support they are providing to help working-age people who are struggling to pay their council tax as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The move could benefit more than 3,000 households across the two districts.
• 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 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 Ardington & Lockinge Parish Council took place on 12 January 2021 and you can download the minutes here. Items covered included: footpath encroachment; the lack of any S106 funds from the Mason’s Yard development; possible “beware children” flashing road signs; a possible EV charging point; playground inspections; and potholes.
• The most recent meeting of East Challow Parish Council took place on 16 December and you can download the minutes here.
• Click here for information the Didcot, Abingdon and Wantage Talking Newspaper (DAWN) for the blind and partially sighted. The organisers are currently appealing for help to keep the service going – click here for details.
• You can click here to see the February 2021 issue of the Letcombe Register.
• Click here for information on the location of defibrillators in and around Wantage.
Swindon & district
• The BBC reports that there were 257 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 15-21 February, up 48 on the week before. This equates to 116 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 103 (116 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• Click here for details of Covid lateral flow tests in Swindon.
• A national survey into public perception of dog theft is backed by Wiltshire and Swindon Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson.
• Swindon Link reports that pupils across Swindon and Wiltshire have benefitted from 4,200 laptops and tablets.
• 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.
• Almost 300 people answered Swindon Borough Council’s recent appeal for volunteers to help at the Covid-19 vaccination centre at the STEAM Museum. And just to make the experience a bit different, staff and volunteers will be given their own little shot in the arm in the shape of a new art display designed to give them a boost while they are on their much-needed breaks.
• Wiltshire Police are to receive an extra £478,000 in government funding to support the force’s pandemic response.
• Swindon Council is calling on owners of empty homes in the borough to bring them back into use.
• Four areas in Swindon at risk of flooding could benefit from millions of pounds in government funding.
• This article in the Advertiser suggests that the Oasis is in such a sorry state of repair that it may never re-open.
• 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.
• Residents are being asked for their views on where new cycling facilities should be located. The consultation closes at the end of February.
• Swindon Council has issued this warning about Covid cons that are currently doing the rounds.
• Click here for information from Swindon Council about how Coronavirus is affecting its services as well as other useful information.
• The most recent meeting of Royal Wooton Bassett Town Council took place on 11 February and you can download the minutes here. Items covered included: a written report from the MP; the Mayor’s activities and communications; the approval on the minutes of the various committees; an update from the Community Policing Team; the proposed provision of more bicycle parking spaces in or near the High Street; a proposal for the Planning Committee to monitor and report breaches of planning law as Wiltshire Council “does not actively monitor” these; and plans for the forthcoming 10th anniversary of the Royal Charter.
The song and the quiz
• We arrive at the Song of the Week. Not a song as such ‘cos there ain’t no words; but as gorgeous a piece of smooth jazz as could hope for from Joan Chamorro and the fluid and talented musicians with whom he plays. This also has, from about 3’50”, one of the very best bits of sax playing I’ve heard for a very long time. here we go then – Lazy River.
• And so it’s time for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. This is from a new satirical website, Opening Gambit – An Urgent Appeal from the Home Invaders Trust.
• And, straggling in in last place, it’s the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question comes from the recent Zoom quiz hosted by the Hungerford Bookshop and is as follows: What theme links the following: (a) the surname of Michael, John & Wendy in Peter Pan; (b) what Winnie-the-Pooh goes in quest of in the first chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh; (c) what a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel had in the time of cholera? Last week’s question was: What major change was introduced in the UK 50 years ago this week? It was decimalisation, when we did away with pounds, shillings and pence and – to the terror of many – shifted to a more rational system. Mind, you the coins were lovely, in a crazy range of sizes, shapes and materials.
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