Hungerford Town Council Update January/February 2021

These notes incorporate some but not all of the matters discussed at the Full HTC meeting on 1 February 2021, the agenda for which can be found here. Any references below to ‘the meeting’ refer to this event unless specified otherwise. Any such issues are not necessarily covered here in the order in which they were discussed. The official minutes of the meeting will in due course be found on the HTC site. This report may also include information about HTC’s activities which were not discussed at the meeting. See the foot of this post for more information.

Full Council Meetings take place generally at 7.00pm on the first working Monday of every month except August (when there is no meeting). For the foreseeable future, these meetings will be conducted online. Please see the Virtual Council Meetings section below for more on this, including how you can continue to participate in or contribute to these.

HTC = Hungerford Town Council; WBC = West Berkshire Council; WAPC = WBC’s Western Area Planning Committee. NDP = Neighbourhood Development Plan. H2036 = Hungerford’s NDP. DC = District Councillor.

For HTC updates from previous months, please visit the archives here.

Police report

The following report was provided by the local Thames Valley Police team for the meeting:

Covid

This started with a reminder that the country is still in lockdown and that where possible people should stay at home. “We continue to receive a steady stream of reports of breaches of the Coronavirus Act,” the report continues. “The Coronavirus Act 2020 is law. It sets out your legal obligations and restrictions that are enforced by law. If you are found to be breaking the law we will act accordingly. You must abide by the restrictions. They are there to control the spread of the virus and to keep you safe.”

The district

The Hungerford and Downland District is covered a rural neighbourhood policing team (made up of five PCSOs, two PCs and a Sergeant) which works out of the Tri-Station in Hungerford. This has been its home since March 2020 and will remain so for the foreseeable future. The patrol area covers many mile, from Hungerford to Lambourn and extending to Oxfordshire border. It cannot be everywhere which is why it is important to officially report to us (see below).

The report adds that it has recently been made aware of different posts on social media discussing “crime” in the town, including criminal damage and anti-social behaviour, as well as the lack of Police. Crimes or other incidents cannot be reported on social media – please see below for how this should be done. If an incident isn’t reported it won’t appear in any records or statistics and no action can be officially taken. This could lead to an area not getting the policing resources it requires.

Crimes and incidents

  • In the last month for Hungerford town we had one reported theft of a trailer and two reports of anti-social behaviour, at The Croft and the Cricket Field on Bulpit Lane.
  • There has not been a single report of criminal damage since 1 Janaury 2021. Therefore the demand is elsewhere which takes us out of the town. As I have said many times – if it isn’t reported to us it’s not happening.
  • We work from a patrol plan. This is regularly updated from the calls/ online reports we get in so that as a team we can focus our attention on problem areas.
  •  Overnight on 6 January on the outskirts of the town there were two reports of burglary. An outbuilding was broken into at one property and garden tools were taken. At another the suspects were disturbed and made off across fields. This is currently under investigation – if anyone has any information please contact us.

General information

  • See above regarding reporting incidents.
  • Mentioning an incident on social media does not count as reporting the crime.
  • People are encouraged to sign up for Thames Valley Alerts. As well as local crime information, you can receive details of the latest scams.
  • Thames Valley Police has a Facebook page.
  • The local policing team also wants to draw attention to the ‘what three words’ app which is used to help with the prevention of rural crime by locating people. The app provides a three-word code for each grid which is mapped over the world. By ringing 999 and quoting it the police can locate you.
  • You can report incidents online but if it is urgent please continue to call on 101 (non-emergency) and 999 in an emergency.
  • If you would like to report anonymously you can do so via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online.
  • The team’s email address is hungerfordanddownlands@thamesvalley.pnn.police.uk. This is not monitored 24/7 and should not be used to report a crime.
  • The Herbert Protocol. The local police team is keen to promote the Herbert Protocol initiative which helps us all to try to keep vulnerable members of our community safe.

Bidding for CIL funds

In early December 2020, WBC announced that ‘up to £500,000’ has been set aside for Community Infrastructure Levy funding (realised from contributions made by developers) to “ensure sustainable services through innovation and partnerships” by allocating funding for community groups to bid to support WBC’s policies in its local plan. This is in addition to the normal CIL payments which are made to parishes in which the development takes place in order to mitigate its effects. The deadline for applications has now passed. A number of parishes, including Hungerford, reported that they had not been made aware of this until it was too late to do the work necessary to meet the conditions.

None the less, the Town Clerk prepared a bid at very short notice. WBC received 29 bids totalling £804,000 and, with only £500,000 being available, this bid “did not meet the criteria at this time.”  this wasn’t successful although ti was expected that the work would not be wasted as it could be used in the future.

Co-option of new Councillors

Following the procedures agreed at the meeting in January, it was agreed that one recent applicant for co-option would attend as many virtual HTC meetings as possible over the next month so as better to understand the work of the Council and to get to know its members. Their application would then formally be considered at the HTC meeting in March.

Another applicant, Nick Schlanker, had been through this process in January. It was agreed at the meeting that he would be co-opted onto the council.

District Councillors’ report

DCs Benneyworth and Cole were present at the meeting (DC Rowles sent her apologies). Aside from matters mentioned elsewhere, these were the main topics that were raised.

  • Support and praise for the work of the Self-isolation Group whose members have transported about 40 people to the vaccination centre at Newbury Racecourse and provided about 15 volunteers for the proposed lateral flow testing at John O’Gaunt School.
  • Support and praise for the recent fundraising at John O’Gaunt School (see Mayor’s Report below).
  • Confirmation that the ‘blue’ house in Eddington has finally been reverted to the colour specified in the planning application.
  • In response to a question, the hope that February would bring some definite news on WBC’s environmental strategy.
  • The suggestion that grants might be available for high-speed internet connections at the schools.
  • Confirmation that WBC’s garden-waste service had resumed from 1 February.

Mayor’s report

“This month has been fairly quiet but there have been a few gems which have made me remember what’s so nice about being in a civic role.

John O’Gaunt School

“Following a grant from HTC which was match funded through the Good Exchange, alongside funding from Excalibur and the Department for Education, 83 families in Hungerford which required a device to access online learning resources now has access to one. This is an incredible achievement. I was thrilled to have a socially-distanced photo with Headteacher Richard Hawthorne. Richard and I are delighted to be working more closely, joining forces to ensure Hungerford’s youth have everything they need to thrive. Richard shared some wonderful aspirational ideas for the school which I hope HTC will be able to support in the future. Richard your huge sense of community and commitment to JOG will I’m sure bring wonderful achievements for staff and pupils. Congratulations team JOG!”

(Richard Hawthorne covers this and several other matters in the latest instalment of his monthly diary for Penny Post, which you can read here.)

CIL funding

“Sadly, HTC’s bid for the Triangle Field car park was unsuccessful on this occasion. I’d like to thank the Town Clerk for her commitment to getting this bid across to WBC at such short notice. Hopefully we can have another try later in the year. HTC will proceed with the car park improvements already budgeted and planned for. (See also the Bidding for CIL funds section above.)

Chestnut Walk

“Members of HTC, WBC and Sovereign discussed the potential development at the old care home site in Chestnut Walk. More information will follow.”

(See also the Environment and Planning Committee report below.)

Penny Post interview

“The Town Clerk and I gave a written interview for Penny Post last week – click here to read it.

Vaccination Centre

“I accompanied my mother to Newbury Racecourse to receive her first Covid vaccination. I couldn’t have been more impressed with the set-up there. I was able to speak to many of the volunteers who couldn’t have been more friendly and helpful. My mum has limited mobility and so was nervous – she didn’t need to be as the staff accompanied her to the door and allowed me to collect her at the exit in the car due to her not being able to manage the steps. This is a monumental operation but you would never know: the personal service really helped to calm my mum’s fears. I was so thrilled she’s now received her first dose. For anyone concerned about mobility at the site, I hope this offers you some reassurance.

Personal

“I just wanted to say thank you to the many members of public that go out of their way to drop me a private message, saying thank you. Knowing you are happy with me in my civic role, really lifts my spirits. I just wanted you to know. I don’t take this role lightly and your appreciation of my efforts in supporting Hungerford means a great deal. Thank you for taking the time to tell me.”

WBC’s Local Plan and Hungerford’s NDP (H2036)

Every five to ten years, a local planning authority (LPA) like West Berkshire Council is required to produce or update its local plan (LP). The LP sets out where and how land can be developed through a set of planning policies against which planning applications to the LPA can be assessed. Among many other things, the LP’s policies can allocate major (strategic) sites for housing developments and specify general rules of where and how individual minor land use changes can take place. As part of the last iteration of the WBC LP, for example, the current Salisbury Road 100-dwelling site was allocated for housing.

WBC is now in the process of a major update to its local plan which is intended to cover the period until 2037 (although it is likely within that period that further rolling updates will be needed). On 11 December 2020, a draft version was formally issued for consultation input from residents of the district. The consultation is open until 5 February 2021 although for anyone who wishes to comment, the easiest way to do it is here.

Since Hungerford is currently in the process of developing its NDP through the Hungerford 2036 Project Team, the new Draft WBC Local Plan does not include any considerations of further sites for development in the town. It does however, set a requirement for sites to be identified sufficient for an additional 55 dwellings over the plan period. The decisions about where those 55 will be delivered are in effect delegated to the NDP (assuming that, in due course, it is approved by external examiners and a referendum of the town’s voters). Early in 2021 the H2036 Project Team will be consulting with residents on the possible housing sites around the town that have been identified and assessed by them over the last 10 months.

At the meeting, it was reported that Councillor Downe and Sarah Hennessey had done an excellent job at identifying the main aspects of the plan which were of interest to HTC and H2036 and offering its opinions of these and providing these as a draft response. These included protecting the status of the AONB, any policies which would address the climate emergency and preserving aspects of the local historical environment and heritage. After a brief discussion, it was agreed unanimously that the draft response would be accepted as HTC’s reaction to the consultation.

DC Cole also pointed out the importance of all parishes supporting aspects of the local plan which provided, for instance, for robust standards of sustainability for new developments. He pointed out that there was likely to be some pushback on this from those lobbying for developers. He also stressed that individuals could also respond to the consultation.

Hungerford 2036 (neighbourhood development plan)

The H2036 Site Assessments have been fact-checked by their respective site promoters and returned to the H2036 team.

During January, the project team started working through the site promoter responses but have not yet finished this work. As well as considering the additional information that has been sent to H2036 and whether any changes to our assessments are warranted, the team is also making sure that it has objectively checked for consistency between all sites following any changes. It expects to complete this activity and report back to the Council in February on its next steps. With the continuing Covid situation effective public consultation remains extremely challenging. 

With approval from the Town Clerk and Mayor our Neighbourhood Plan consultant was authorized to provide an additional four hours support and, in the short term, it sought approval for a further 10 hours (£750 approx) to continue this work. A further case for external support spending will be presented in March. The current request is well within the budgeted and reserved amounts for the H2036 project.

For more information, see the Hungerford 2036 post here.

Covid Infection rates in Hungerford

Concern has been raised that Hungerford has recently experienced a spike in Covid cases (these figures relating to the seven days up to 26 January 2021 report 27 cases and a case rate defined as considerable above average). HTC raised this with WBC: a spokesperson made the following points:

  • While the recent case rate per 100,000 is ‘significantly higher’ than the rest of West Berkshire, in the period from early November 2020 to 7 January 2021, Hungerford’s rate was ‘significantly lower’ than the district’s average.
  • Eight of the cases reported in the last week were from one outbreak in a high-risk setting.
  • Another way of looking at the figures is to remove the Pillar 1 figures (in general, those who have contracted Covid in a healthcare setting) and focus on community transmission.

If the figures are adjusted (for both Hungerford and West Berkshire) to remove both these aspects – ie looking at just community transmission and excluding high-risk settings – then Hungerford’s figures, though still higher than West Berkshire’s average, become more in line with those of the rest of the district.

“In light of this,” the statement continues, “it appears that Hungerford is not seeing a significant growth in numbers and having looked at the most recent few days which, although incomplete, it would indicate that the case increase in Hungerford is temporary. However, we will continue to monitor the numbers.”

HTC’s councillors said they were happy with this response and that they, like WBC, would be continuing to monitor the situation.

Note: The same data (see link above) source records that, in the seven days up to 26 January 2021, West Berkshire as a whole had a rate of 224 cases per 100,000, below the national average. 

It’s also worth pointing out that, when starting from a low base, small increases can seem disproportionately large when expressed as percentage rise. In the same way, the rate per 100,000 will, when applied to an area with fewer than this number of people, be greater than the total number of cases in that area. Both of these apply to Hungerford. For example, the same (see link above) data source on 1 February reported that the figures for the seven days up to 27 January had, compared to the seven-day figures up to 26 January, fallen by five cases: given the low number of cases, this was also expressed as 18.5%, which suggests a far more dramatic change.

HTC’s committees

Reports for the following recent committee meetings were circulated before, though not discussed at the meeting:

  • Finance and General Purposes. Items covered included: year-to-date underspend (£10,342); grants and donations (£312 remaining); H2036 (£4,708 available); War memorial ground (£1,437 below budget, plus a recent successful members’ bid of £2,240 for refurbishment of the Bridge Street Memorial Gardens); and the Christmas lights (£7,738 below budget, partly thanks to donations and match funding from the Good Exchange of £5,450).
  • Highways and Transport. Items covered included: agreement to proceed with the floral decorations in the High Street in the summer of 2021; continuing discussions on repainting the footbridge at the station; the installation of five recycling bins (three in the High Street, one in Canal Walk and one at the Pulpit Lane Play Park); a seeming reduction in the number of pigeons roosting under the railway bridge in the High Street; the proposed improvement of the temporary footpath by the A338 while the Lancaster Park development continues; and the progress towards getting a 30mph speed limit introduced on the Common.
  • Environment and Planning. Items covered included six planning applications (all of which were voted “no objection”, two with conditions; comments on the proposed development at Chestnut Walk (which HTC supported in principle but had concerns as to the details); and the draft response to WBC’s local plan consultation (see separate section above).

For details on HTC’s committees, including membership, agendas and minutes, please click here (and go to the ‘Town Council’ tab).

Virtual council meetings

HTC has been as active as possible in supporting the community through these challenging times. Many tasks and activities cannot currently take place but HTC’s councillors and officers are still active online and full council and committee meetings take place as normal (though using Zoom) The link for each meeting is on the agenda which is published on the HTC website a few days before each meeting. For anyone unable or unwilling to attend meetings in this way, questions can be sent by email to townclerk@hungerford-tc.gov.uk or by post to The Town Clerk, Hungerford Town Council, The Library, Church Street, Hungerford RG17 0JG. These need to arrive by 2pm on the day of the meeting. You can also phone 01488 686 195 and leave your question on HTC’s answerphone (this is not always checked every day so please leave your message three days before the meeting).

The HTC office at The Hub is currently closed but emails and phone messages are being monitored.  Call 01488 686 195 to leave a message or (preferably) email admin@hungerford-tc.gov.uk.

Contacting WBC in an emergency

You can also contact West Berkshire Council out of office hours for emergencies. These are considered to include:

  • Major incidents such as major accidents or significant flooding.
  • Fallen trees and other debris blocking or restricting roads or causing potential danger to road users.
  • Traffic lights not working (West Berkshire Council only manages fixed traffic lights, not temporary ones).
  • Emergency repairs to council-owned temporary accommodation (tenants of properties should contact their housing association, landlord or agent).

 

The sections above cover the main issues with which HTC has recently been involved or concerned: it by no means describes all of HTC’s activities. Nor is this an official record of any meeting nor of any other aspect of HTC’s activities. Links to the official minutes of this and other meetings are provided in this post. For more information on HTC, please click here.

If there’s anything that you’d like to see addressed by HTC, and perhaps also covered in this way in future editions of Penny Post Hungerford, please email claire.barnes@hungerford-tc.gov.uk. Any such suggestions should be received at least four working days before the end of the month (and preferably sooner) if they are to be included in the corresponding post for the following month. That is not, of course, to say that HTC will not in any case give the matter its attention and respond personally if appropriate.

This information has been compiled by Penny Post from information supplied by HTC and others. Every reasonable effort has been made to provide a clear and dispassionate summary of the points covered but these may contain expressions of opinion which may not accord with HTC’s official view on the matter. Links have been provided to other posts, on the Penny Post site or elsewhere, to give additional information where this has been judged useful or necessary. The presence of such a link should not be taken to imply that HTC necessarily agrees with, endorses or supports any of the material contained therein.

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