Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s tests, Lambourn’s complaint, Kintbury’s handrail, Thatcham’s petition, Froxfield’s hedges, Newbury’s dilapidation, Marlborough’s skateboarders, Wantage’s infrastructure, East Challow’s lights, East Garston’s dogs, West Ilsley’s invitation, East Ilsley’s pond, Membury’s traffic, Compton’s pavilion, Cold Ash’s investigation, Aldbourne’s search, Shefford’s site, Chaddleworth’s trees, Brightwalton’s memorial, Ashampstead’s pheasants, Ramsbury’s donations, Stratfield Mortimer’s silhouette, Burghfield’s bids, Brimpton’s SID, Bedwyn’s trains Swindon’s vouchers, EU diplomacy in action, Brexit rolls on, vaccine performances, VOC 1.1.7, taking ermine, Captain Tom, democracy in South Ayrshire, checking the releases, Covid marshals at large, preparing for failure, floods, political neutrality, unrealistic possibilities, a nail in my heart, Lancastrian origins, your name, hats off to GWR, two birthdays, the Fourth Crusade at last and a robodog.
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)
• EU President Ursula von de Leyen’s decision last week to invoke article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol (effectively creating a border where one, in a rather fragile way, hadn’t existed) as part the Union’s row with AstraZeneca must have seemed, however briefly, to have been a good idea at the time. Perhaps it was partly designed to demonstrate that the EU was capable of moving with lightning speed, in contrast to the rather leaden-footed way it appears to have handled vaccine procurement so far. The solution hit upon, which was soon retracted, seems to make about as much sense as if Penny Post, locked in a dispute with a private company in, say, Marlborough, suddenly felt that the solution was to sue Wiltshire County Council. Some of the EU’s leaders don’t even seem to think the jab is that good anyway, French President Emmanuel Macron claiming it was only “quasi-effective” for older people, a suggestion refuted by the manufacturers. Make your mind up, guys – do you want it or not? As for the delicate question of the Irish border, which proved one of the most difficult issues in the Brexit negotiations, it took the EU less than a month to demonstrate just how easily this could be upset. Not a great day’s work.
Nor was the condemnation restricted to the UK. According to the Daily Mail, German Vice-chancellor Olaf Scholz described the EU’s vaccine strategy as “really shit.” The whole mess plays into the hands of those who think the EU is arrogant, bureaucratic and out of touch. This doesn’t matter much in the UK as we’ve now left, for better or worse: but leave factions exist in every member state. All will have rejoiced in this unexpected bonus to their campaigns. If this fiasco had happened in June 2016, the UK’s referendum vote would have been a good deal more clear cut than it was: which might have been no bad thing in some ways.
It’s also probably true that the Irish border issue is so inherently flawed that it was only a matter of time before a problem cropped up, or one side tried to use it for political leverage in an unrelated dispute. This article in Politico suggests that both parties feel that the question needs re-negotiation. It concludes by saying that “politicians in both camps are privately wondering whether the situation could trigger another collapse of Northern Ireland’s tenuous power-sharing arrangements, a cornerstone of the Good Friday peace deal.” Judging by the the horrified expression on Michael Gove’s face (see head of the Politico article), exactly this thought had occurred to him. The only solutions to the problem would be the unification of Ireland, Northern Irish independence or the UK rejoining the EU. It might be unwise to expect any of these to happen soon.
• All this suggests that the Brexit discussions aren’t really over at all and perhaps never will be. The origins of this date back to even before the 2016 referendum. Last week’s Sunday Telegraph ran an article on the recent book by the widow of Jeremy Hayward, the hapless David Cameron’s Permanent Secretary. It seems that the PM “didn’t want the civil service to do any work on the consequences of a “no” vote since the government wasn’t obliged to work on anything that wasn’t its policy.” What idiocy. One might as well argue that no plans be made for a nuclear power station blowing up because it isn’t government policy that this happen. The referendum was government policy and it was worse than foolish not to plan for failure.
• To return to Macon’s country, the vaccine roll-out in France does not seem to be proceeding according to plan, with accusations that everything is being done at far too slow a pace. The figures support this: as of 2 February, the country had vaccinated 1.6m compared to 10.1m in the UK. Both have very similar sized populations. France also seems to have a particularly high level of vaccine reluctance – although, in France or anywhere else, it’s one thing to tell a market researcher that you don’t intend to have the jab and another to explain to your doctor why you’re opting out of a major public-health initiative. If France, or any major country, falls short then, in an interconnected part of the world, we’re all likely to suffer.
• In the UK, the news mostly seems good. Infections are falling (now less than a third of that they were a month or so ago), hospitalisations and deaths are stabilising and the Oxford vaccine appears to be very effective at providing sustained protection for a three-month period until the second dose. Other vaccines are also coming through the testing system. As mentioned before, the problem might be that we are doing a bit too well (Mrs von de Leyen seems to take that view). If there isn’t a fairly even spread of protection across the world, certainly in the parts of it which provide or attract a lot of travellers, we could back at square one. The WHO estimates that perhaps 70% of the population needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity: early days, I know, but so far only Israel (58.8%) comes anywhere close to this figure.
• The media, and at times the government, is much given to using the word ‘mutation‘ at the moment, often coupled with adjectives like ‘worrying’ (or sometimes ‘worrisome’). ‘Mutation’ makes many people think of three-headed monsters in sci-fi films, which perhaps is the intention. Mutations are not always bad. (Scaling the whole business up, it could be said that businesses and organisations have mutated recently, and over the same kind of timescale as has the virus.) The scientific community appears to prefer the rather more nuanced term “variant of concern” (VOC) for the emerging types of the virus, so let’s try that. The so-called UK VOC, known as VOC 1.1.7, is the once that is being particularly closely watched. This SAGE meeting paper from 21 January concludes that “there is a realistic possibility that VOC B.1.1.7 is associated with an increased risk of death compared to non-VOC viruses.” This qualification makes me wonder if scientists also classify some risks as “unrealistic possibilities” or “realistic impossibilities,” like Donald Rumsfeld’s “known knowns” and known unknowns” and all the rest of them.
• The former MP in these parts, Richard Benyon, has recently been “introduced” to the House of Lords, as the process is formally known. I met and corresponded with him several times and he seems like a perfectly decent man. However, I find it impossible to have any great confidence in a democratic system which has a second chamber whose vast cohort of members are appointed in this way. I can see some benefits in having at least some of the representatives immune from the short-term pressures of opinion polls but an appointment for life seems a bit cosy. And what on earth are the 92 hereditary peers and 26 bishops still doing there? Why not also have all former English football managers, all former fishmongers of the year or anyone who can eat three sugared doughnuts without licking their lips?
• As we all know, Captain Tom Moore died this week. His extraordinary achievement at raising a colossal £33m for NHS Charities Together will be remembered for a long time and our condolences go out to the family and friends of this remarkable man. The PM has led a national clap for him and a couple of days ago I received an email from Change.org saying that a petition was afoot to ensure he received a state funeral. I’m slightly uneasy about the adulation he has received: not because I think he doesn’t deserve it but because it validates a get-out-of-jail card for those responsible for funding the NHS. it seems from this article on the BBC website that much of the money was spent ton some quite basic things that staff might expect to take for granted, particularly during a time when they are, as we are constantly telling them, national heroes. Much the same could be said about the individuals and companies which have donated and refurbished IT devices for schools (see above). We are the world’s sixth-richest country and have a long established tradition of universal healthcare and education. Surely all aspects of these need to be funded properly to ensure that all its staff and recipients get what they need? We can’t rely on there always being a Captain Tom around, catching the national mood at just the right time and in just the right way to raise just the right amount of money for just the right cause.
• Those of you who have been perplexed by my references to the Fourth Crusade over the last few weeks will have their curiosity sated by clicking here.
• One of the upsides of Covid for local democracy has been that virtual council meetings are now a lot better attended both by the formal participants and by members of the public (though, as with so many things, those who don’t use the web or have poor broadband are excluded from this). One Hungerford Town Councillor was in New Zealand for much of the first lockdown but he clocked in every month, slightly bleary eyed as it was stupid o’clock in the morning down-under, but present none the less. James Cole, one of the ward members for Hungerford and Kintbury, told Penny Post that “in all my time at West Berkshire Council I have never ‘attended’ so many meetings,” and that Zoom and lockdown had actually made him “more rather than less involved in some aspects of Hungerford Town Council’s activities.” This transition didn’t happen that smoothly at the start. Many councils, particularly small rural parishes, needed to upscale their IT very quickly. There was a hiatus of a month or or so while the government made the necessary changes to the law to permit voting to happen remotely. Some authorities restricted public participation at some meetings because of perceived legal challenges: West Berkshire was one with regard to its planning committees, though that limitation has since been reviewed and largely (though not completely) overturned. Few, however, have taken as hard a line on this as South Ayrshire. According to the most recent Private Eye, the leadership there has excluded the public from all council meetings (held via Zoom) “as it’s likely there would be a real and substantial risk to public health due to Coronavirus.” Is there something about viral transmission that South Ayrshire’s great and good know but are not sharing with the rest of us?
• The BBC reports that there were 280 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 25 to 31 January, down 120 on the week before. This equates to 117 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 239 (323 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• 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.”
• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports, on p1, that West Berkshire Council is set to raise its Council Tax by 1.99%, the largest possible increase for non-ringfenced funding without going to referendum. To the surprise of some, it not choose to add the extra 3% that it could have used for adult social care: according to the paper, this was it because it had spent less than expected on this due to the excess death’s the the region’s care homes; a macabre but realistic reaction. You can see more on the proposed budget here. One of the additional areas of expenditure would be for weekly food-waste collections.
• Councillor Adrian Abbs has pointed out to Penny Post, and also in a letter in this week’s NWN, that the contribution made to the region’s carbon footprint may not be so great as an article in last week’s paper suggested. The article says that the scheme would “offset around 30% of our footprint”: in fact, the “our” here refers not to West Berkshire’s footprint but West Berkshire Council’s and would, Coulcillor Abbs suggests, in fact offset 3 to 4% of the region’s carbon. The origins of this confusion lie in the phrasing of the press release from which the article was taken. Here too the various “ours” refer to the Council, not the district. A WBC councillor or officer may refer to their own organisation in this way: the rest of us, however, do not so strongly relate to the Council and would take “our” to mean the district. The moral for writers of press releases is to ensure that such ambiguities are zapped if they don’t want to be accused of being misleading. The obvious solution, for this and so many communication errors, is to get someone outside the bubble to read them first: this is, however, usually impossible as they are generally embargoed until the moment of their release. The moral for journalists is to check their assertions – easier said than done when half your colleagues have been furloughed and you have a deadline marching towards you and three more stories to write.
• 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.
• 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 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 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 animal of the week is not an animal at all but a dog-like robot called Spot which can – perhaps usefully, perhaps alarmingly – be operated from anywhere in the world by remote control: as will all be, by Bill Gates, according to some of the vaccine deniers.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those covered elsewhere, waste suggestions, MPs doing too much or too little, a 44-minute walk, reduncancies at West Berkshire Council and painted potholes.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Sport in Mind (thanks to Red Mummies in Marlborough); Wash Common Scouts and Ladybirds pre-school (thanks to Newbury Town Council); the Oxford Children’s Hospital (thanks to the OX5 run); many local charities (thanks to Greenham Trust); Babies in Buscot Support (thanks to the Englefield Estate’s virtual 10k run).
Hungerford & district
• 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: when the first one was published in January 2017 Theresa May was PM, Leicester City were still league champions and Justin Bieber was at number one. Let’s have a quick tour. As well as the usual updates from HTC, the Town and Manor, the towns three schools and HEAT there’s also news from St Lawrence’s, the Town Band, Hungerford Town FC and the Rose of Hungerford. We did a number of special articles including a look back at some of the campaigns and issues which the publication has supported, an interview with the Mayor and the Town Clerk and an examination of how 16 of the town’s businesses have coped over the last 12 months. There’s also a special Hungerford prize quiz with a bumper hamper of goods and vouchers from many local retailers. The wine of the month, the book of the month, property, jobs and the racing column are there too, of course, as are various articles about keeping busy and smiling, gardening, wildlife and a guide to making Valentine’s hearts. We’ve also selected about twenty items from our archives , all of which featured in previous PPHs, for you to read again, listen again or watch again. There are also some wise words from George Orwell about turning 50.
• This week I heard some word-of-mouth reports that there had recently been a Covid outbreak in the Tesco in Hungerford. Having checked this, the facts seem to be that a positive test was reported by a staff member (who, fortunately, had spend most of the possible incubation period on leave) as a result of which a number of staff and customers were contacted via the track and trace app and are self-isolating, pending the result of tests. There’s no evidence I’m aware of that there is an outbreak there, nor at any other retail location (indoor or out) in the town. I’ve been pretty impressed with West Berkshire Council’s handling of the pandemic locally and am sure that if anything needs to be announced or action taken, regarding this site or anyone else, then this will happen. The prevailing advice that you should visit shops or markets only when necessary, make your trip as short as possible, not use them as a social meeting place and wear a face covering unless you have a medical exempted remains as true as ever. The time for leisured trips to open-air markets and long chats with friends in aisle six will return – but they aren’t here yet.
• On the same theme, concern has recently been expressed about the Covid infection rates in the town. HTC contacted West Berkshire Council about this and a statement, which was reported at the HTC meeting on 2 February, concluded that when adjustments were made to exclude from all figures any outbreaks in “high-risk settings” (which gives a more accurate picture of community transmission) then Hungerford’s figures, though still higher than West Berkshire’s average, become more in line with those of the rest of the district. A WBC spokesperson concluded that “it appears Hungerford is not seeing a significant growth in numbers and having looked at the most recent few days which, although incomplete, would indicate that the case increase in Hungerford is temporary. However, we will continue to monitor the numbers.” HTC expressed itself happy with this response and also praised WBC’s officers for getting back to them so quickly. More information on this can be found in the Jan/Feb 2021 HTC Update.
WBC’s reaction seems to be supported by this excellent interactive map which shows that over the last few days Hungerford’s new cases have fallen considerably. From being a rather alarming maroon last week it’s now in the dark blue zone: no grounds for complacency, certainly, but neither one for alarm. One aspect of the stats that might have drawn attention to the rise is that, when starting from a low base (as Hungerford was), any change expressed as a percentage seems dramatic. Also, as rolling rates are expressed as per 100,000 people, any area (like Hungerford) with a population smaller than this will have a rolling rate that is higher than the actual number of cases. Bear in mid also that, as with many such statistics, the figures are several days behind the calendar as it takes time for all the data to be assembled, verified and added.
• Great Western Railway will, from Monday 8 February, be providing 17 extra trains a day to Newbury Racecourse to help with the roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine. These are in additional to the present hourly timetabled services between Newbury and Reading. This change is largely due to Geordie Taylor who runs Hungerford Self-Isolation Group which has been helping to arrange transport for those who cannot get to the vaccination centre. He contacted Mark Hopwood (GWR’s MD) in the hope that more trains could call at the conveniently situated but under-used Newbury Racecourse station. “I was prepared for a polite rejection,” Geordie said. “To my surprise and to GWR’s immense credit, however, he not only agreed with me they also fast-tracked the initiative with Network Rail to make it happen in double-quick time. This minor change to a complex timetable will be a huge benefit to all residents of Hungerford and many others along the line during the vaccination programme. I tip my hat in thanks to all concerned.” GWR has also donated 40 bags of gritting salt to the vaccination centre after learning that it were struggling to obtain supplies.
• Another admittedly more complex proposed timetabling change for GWR to consider arises from the possible creation of a long-awaited station at Devizes Parkway. This town (like Wantage and Grove) has a main-line railway that goes tantalisingly close to it and yet confers no local benefit. This might in turn lead to more trains operating west of Bedwyn. See this separate post for more on this which includes a link to a survey which takes less time to complete than an old British Rail plastic stirrer took to dissolve in a cup of tea. if there’s any money left after HS2 has finished its long and leisurely graze on the Treasury lawn, re-opening stations and restoring links seems worthwhile, particularly given the increasingly urgent demands of the climate emergency. Many thanks to the ever-vigilant Bedwyn Train Passengers Group for bringing both these railway-related items to my attention.
• A letter in this week’s Newbury Weekly News says that Bewley Homes, the developer at Hungerford’s Lancaster Park, should “honour its commitments.” I agree and have been banging on about this myself for some time, as regular readers will know. It certainly has commitments to West Berkshire Council: but these the planning system permits can be reduced through viability assessments or the precedent of post-application re-negotiations. One commitment that it cannot so lightly set aside is the obligation to deliver the maximum possible profits to its shareholders. This isn’t necessarily Bewley’s fault (though the company hasn’t won many friends in Hungerford) – it’s in its DNA. If something as vast and as long-term as the construction of a certain number of homes of various different sizes and tenures, all to sustainable standards, is to be outsourced to private companies with an inevitably short-term focus then this kind of thing will keep on happening.
• On the same theme, an article on p22 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News returns to the question of the choice of name for the development; or certainly the reason given for it. I was gratified to see that Dr Hugh Pihlens – a man who knows more about the history of the area than anyone at Bewley Homes ever will – agreed with the point I made last week that “Lancaster” is a perfectly logical name given the town’s connections with the Duchy and, in particular, John of Gaunt. However, he finds the purported link to a wartime aviation disaster at an airbase eight miles away rather spurious, as did I. He then goes on to suggest some alternatives based on old names from the more immediate vicinity. of course, what they should have done is asked him first…
• 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 7 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the CIL bid to West Berkshire Council for play equipment (note: it was later announced that this had been successful); KPC’s official response to the local plan consultation; various planning applications; confirmation of the 2021-22 budget and precept; various maintenance issues including the handrail at the churchyard steps; and the need for tree felling at the Recreation Ground due to ash dieback.
• The most recent meeting of Froxfield Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the local emergency plan; the meadow board walk project; one planning application; a proposed hedge clearance (agreed) and a proposed hedge planting (refused); the confirmation of the parish’s 2021-22 precept; and the announcement of the resignation of the Clerk.
• 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). The agenda for the meeting on 4 February can likewise be downloaded here.
• The most recent meeting of Lambourn Parish Council took place on 3 February and you can read my summary of the meeting here. items covered included the co-option of a new councillor; tree-planing projects; various planning applications; a grant to Lambourn.org; the PC’s responses to two West Berkshire Council consultations; the problems of water drainage and vehicular movements at Membury; the possible Greenway development; and an update on the Lambourn NDP.
• The meeting also addressed the issues arising out of a complaint by a local resident that the PC’s decision at a previous meeting to voice “no objection” to a planning application was flawed. The above-mentioned report contains a summary of the discussion. It perhaps proves more than anything else that the planning system is not perfect: also that, regardless of their minimum legal obligations to publicise things such as planning applications, all local councils should do their best to ensure that all residents have a reasonable chance to discover what might be impending in their area and to have clear and timely information as to when the matter will be discussed and how they can participate.
• The local MP Laura Farris also attended part of the meeting: once again, you can see a summary of her contribution on the above-mentioned link. Much of this concerned the long-running sewage problem in the area, a matter which she said she had raised several times with Thames Water (as have the members of the local flood forum). The evidence (or lack of it) currently suggests some cautious optimism on this previously intractable problem.
• On the same aqueous theme, a flood alert was issued for the Lambourn Valley catchment on Friday 4 February – see this separate post.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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 8 January and the draft minutes can be seen here. A summary of these is also available in the most recent East Garston News. Items discussed included the 2021-22 precept (unchanged); two planning applications; various village maintenance issues; a report from the speedwatch team; a discussion about the possible refresh of the village plan; repairs and improvements at the playground; and the continuing vacancy for a new councillor.
• The above minutes also referred to “dog signs that had been popping up in the village.” This left me intrigued: were they signs about dogs or – and we live strange times – signs written by dogs in some canine script that only they could read? A phone call to East Garston HQ revealed that these were signs that a landowner had been putting up on public footpaths in the parish saying that dogs must be kept on leads. It appears that, save in exceptional cases like when walking through a field of cows, dogs do not have to be on leads providing they are under “close control:” what constitutes close control will, of course, vary from one dog owner to the next. In some cases it seems these had been put up on posts used by West Berkshire Council’s signs which might have given the impression that they were more official than they really were. Keeping your dog under close control is a good idea at all times as you never know what might be round the corner. If it’s me, I must confess that dogs really alarm me. Perhaps I shouldn’t have admitted that…
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• 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.
• Newbury Town Council (NTC) is running 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.
• I see on p7 of this week’s NWN refers to the fact the Olivia Lewis, the former Deputy Leader of Newbury Town Council, has had to step down from this role as she has taken a job which requires political neutrality. What seems odd is that she can retain her council seat but now as an independent rather than a Lib Dem. This is no slight against Olivial Lewis, whom I’ve met and interviewed for 4 LEGS Radio, but I can’t see how someone with a known political affiliation can be regarded as neutral. Most of us have a political view of some sort but it may be a secret: in her case it isn’t. Or is it possible suddenly to be able to stop believing in something?
• The same paper refers on the same page to the problems Newbury TC is facing in trying to improve the dilapidated appearance of an abandoned shop in Bartholomew Street. here have been very long-running cases in other towns in the area (I name no names) where the properties seem to have been almost wilfully allowed to run down.
• A Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) has been introduced in Newbury town centre, banning on-street drinking and clamping down on anti-social behaviour.
• Newbury Town Council has announced the recipients of its first ever Climate Change grants: Wash Common Scouts is buying a tract of unused woodland from the Falkland Cricket Club to build a new Scout Hall (the Scouts will also become responsible for the maintenance of the woodland) and Ladybirds Pre-School have been awarded a grant for a base-line structural and energy survey to assess the carbon-reduction benefits of future thermal insulation of the building, including a new thermally efficient roof.
• 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.
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 West Ilsley Parish Council took place on 18 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: an invitation to Laura Farris; work on the asset register; the appointment of a new Clerk; the village’s speed review; confirmation of the parish’s 2021 precept (unchanged); a CIL funding application for dredging work on the pond; various village maintenance issues; and no considerations of planning applications (for there were none to consider).
• The most recent meeting of East Ilsley Parish Council took place on 19 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the co-option of a new councillor; dog fouling; an update on the PC’s response to the Pirbright Institute’s planning application; confirmation of the 2021-22 budget; the CIL funding application for restoration work on the pond, and the need for further communication with villagers on matters such as silting and pollution; wi-fi upgrade at the primary school; litter picking; and a financial overview.
• 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 Compton Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the adoption of the the 2921-22 precept (unchanged at £49,050); resolving not to comment on the West Berkshire Council consultations on minerals & waste, term dates and the local plan; the completion of improvement works at the sports pavilion; and the acceptance of a three-year grounds-maintenance contract.
• The most recent meeting of Hampstead Norreys Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 26 November and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Hermitage Parish Council for which minutes are available took place 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
• Anyone who has doubts about the wisdom of WBC’s plan to concentrate the bulk of new development (2,500 homes) in Thatcham could do worse than read p24 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News in which words like “implausible”, “devastating” and “impossible” jump out. Thatcham Town Council Leader David Lister describes it “a new town being added to Thatcham.” One of the benefits being offered was the chance to get the town’s infrastructure up to a suitable level, politicians from all sides agreeing that this has not kept pace with the increase in housing over the last few decades. However, one of the things that the plans do not envisage is a bridge to the replace the notorious little-neck at the level crossing. A petition has been launched to oppose the proposals – Thatcham Residents Say “No” to 2,500 New Houses – which, at the time of writing, had received nearly 2,400 signatures.
• 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 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 took place on 12 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included tree replacements; the new mobile vet; arrangements with the football club several planning applications, several decision notices and one appeal; confirmation of the 2021-22 budget; the PC’s response to the local plan consultation; and the progress of an investigation into the ownership of the land around the Acland Hall. (Several councils, including Grove and Thatcham, have recently had nasty surprises when land they thought was owned by the district council or unitary authority turned out to be in fact assets of property companies intent on exploiting the land for development.)
• 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 sunset and ends with Jonathan Swift.
Theale and district
• Councillor Graham Bridgman has said that he will call in the application for the Energy Resource Centre and Data Centre in Burghfield (20/02029/COMIND) if officers are minded to approve it. This is not because he, or Burghfield PC, has any objections but because he believes it is “an important application that should be debated by Members.”
• Also in Burghfield, the Parish Council, with the support of two of the ward members, has been successful in West Berkshire Council’s CIL bids, obtaining £34,000 towards the cost of the renovation of the Village Hall.
• Another successful bid in Burghfield (this time a member’s bid) was for £1,000 towards a defibrillator to be located in the Co-op.
• Stratfield Mortimer PC;s bid for £32,500 of CIL funding for creating a footway to St Mary’s School was rejected by West Berkshire but only on the grounds that another funding pot was available for this (the Environment CIL fund), meaning that the project should be going ahead.
• And another successful members’ bid to report, this time in Stratfield Mortimer, for £1,000 towards a community wildflower border.
• 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; and the provision of allotments.
• 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
• The BBC reports that there were 751 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 25 to 31 January, down 386 on the week before. This equates to 150 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 239 (323 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• Marlborough News reports that two teenage skateboarders thanked councillors at the recent Town Council Meeting 1 for giving the go-ahead for lights to be installed at Marlborough’s skatepark in the Recreation Ground.
• The same source reports that Marlborough Town Council has accepted a series of recommendations from its Climate Emergency Working Party.
• The same source has this post about forthcoming road closures in the area.
• It’s worth repeating once again – as these confusions and scams don’t seem to have completely gone away – 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.
• 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.
• 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
• The BBC reports that there were 212 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 25 to 31 January, down 85 on the week before. This equates to 156 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 239 (323 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• This article in the Herald tells the story of a village tearoom in Ardington which has seen an upsurge in (socially-distanced) business since the owners announced last month that it may have to close due to the pandemic.
• The same paper reports that a £5.8m cycling network connecting Abingdon, Wantage and Didcot has recently opened.
• 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. 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 Vale Council is dividing up its infrastructure cake between the various hungry mouths clamouring to be fed. She points out that the highways infrastructure seems to have both the biggest eyes and the largest appetite, standing ready to wolf down nearly £500m. Many of the other claimants seem set to go hungry. The conclusions, she suggests is that the Vale “is more concerned with funding highways that health services.”
• And, turning over the page to p10 we come to the local soapbox with, with scrupulous even-handedness, alternates between the Lib Der MP Layla Moran and the Tory David Johnston. It’s a blue week this time and my eye was caught by the headline “5G is important but we must be careful.” Was Wantage’s MP about to explain in his four columns why the masts were evil and causing everything from Covid to potholes, as some maintain? In fact, his concern was more about Huawei’s involvement which many, including it would seem him, perceive as a Trojan horse controlled by Beijing. All Huawei equipment will, he tells us, be removed from the network by 2027. If his fears have substance, that still leaves six years. A lot can happen in six years, as anyone who lived through WW2 will testify.
• Also on the matter of funding, the most recent Private Eye points out that costs on the East-West railway between Oxford and Cambridge have rocketed in recent years and that government funding hasn’t been able to keep pace. As a result, some aspects of the scheme have been shelved. This includes electrification, despite this being much more costly to do retrospectively.
• 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 (so not long to go).
• 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 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 Parish 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 429 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 18 to 24 January, down 56 on the week before. This equates to 193 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 239 (323 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• Swindon Link reports that thousands of people across Swindon will be offered supermarket vouchers ahead of the February half-term school holidays.
• 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.
• South Swindon MP Robert Buckland is supporting the campaign to reopen the Oasis Leisure Centre.
• 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.
• Four areas in Swindon at risk of flooding could benefit from millions of pounds in government funding.
• 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.
• 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 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 it’s time for the Song of the Week. Squeeze; Another Nail in My Heart; great sing; ’nuff said.
• And, goodness me, if it isn’t the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Fry and Laurie rarely fails to deliver and this one is no exception: Your Name, Sir?
• And straggling in in last place is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week;’s question is: What do Stephen, John, Victoria and Anne have in common? Last week’s question was: What was remarkable about the Australian Jason Gillespie’s maiden test century and maiden first-class century? The answer is that they were both scored on his birthday. He racked up 201 not out against Bangladesh on 19 April 2006 (his 31st birthday) in what happened to be his final test match; and then 123 not out for Yorkshire against Surrey exactly a year later.
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