Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s tanks, Lambourn’s minutes, Thatcham’s development, Newbury’s gardens, Marlborough’s common, Wantage’s grants, Cold Ash’s bulbs, Aldbourne’s communications. Ogbourne’s silks, Chaddleworth’s gut-busting, Burghfield’s invocation, Inkpen’s abruptness, Kintbury’s dieback, Brimpton’s gullies, Shalbourne’s brevity, Chieveley’s disappearance, Hampstead Norreys’ confusion, Hermitage’s enforcement, Enbourne’s assets, Theale’s response, Englefield’s updates, Swindon’s corridor, commercial roulette, a digital levy, vaccine work compared, cladding, ex-PotUS loving life, Covax, a political land-grab, legal and moral obligations, cocaine hippos, playful pigs, single monarchs, political snake oil, travelling snowmen, burnt fingers, pigeons, Larry David and Sunday Street.
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)
• Let’s be really radical and start off with something that has nothing (much) to do with Covid. Since 2016, local councils have, according to the Sunday Telegraph, invested £7.6bn in commercial property through the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB). These funds, which were available at preferential rates of interest, were originally intended to help councils fund amenities in their own areas. However, as the cuts began to bite, councils found this to be good way of raising cash to play at the roulette table of the commercial property market. Spelthorne in Surrey has spent over £1bn in this way: but this article from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in October 2020 said that it was “likely” the council had broken the law in the way it had done this. Also in Surrey, Croydon council effectively declared bankruptcy last year by issuing Section 114 notices after racking up debts over £1.5bn, a third of which came from commercial property investments which had failed to produce the predicted returns. Back in the 2000s, investment in banks seemed like a similarly good idea, until the financial crisis hit. This article in The Guardian from October 2008 provides a long list of councils (including the Vale of White Horse and Wiltshire) which lost money after the collapse of the Icelandic banks. Altogether, this wiped over £1bn off local councils’ balance sheets.
It’s possible that Covid has dealt a similar blow to commercial property. Although there are signs that the market is not in as bad shape as many had feared, it seems likely that offices and retail properties of different types, in different locations and on more flexible tenures will be needed in the post-Covid world. The current assets owned by councils may or may not tick these boxes. Even before Covid, the government seemed concerned that PWLB funds were too freely available and in October 2019 hiked the interest rates. A year later, it prevented councils from investing in properties with the aim of short-term gain (within three years) after the end of this month: but the properties they have acquired will remain on their books. Some may have cause to regret this. This report from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in June 2020 not only conceded “demand to occupy space has fallen sharply” but also suggested another problem that the Covid crisis had exacerbated, “the often adversarial nature of many landlord and tenant relationships.” All in all, the sector – like so many others – suddenly seems to be in rather choppy waters and pulled by unfamiliar tides and currents.
I’m not sure how many councillors or officers have the necessary expertise to manage a property portfolio, the value of which can be more than the council’s annual turnover. In West Berkshire I’m only aware of one who could really claim relevant experience. As this article in the BBC website reports, almost exactly a year ago WBC announced that it was “pausing to reflect” on its investments outside the district and was planning to divert more investment funds into green technology. This may, of course, prove in time to create false bubbles as well but at least it is directly in line with the climate emergency that WBC and so many other councils have declared.
Many might prefer that their council did not invest in complicated financial products and property portfolios. Aside form anything else, the returns don’t seem that wonderful compared to the risks. The above-mentioned BBC article said that the WBC’s own property portfolio had raised about £1.5m last year: the Council described this as “successful”: it may well have been in that year; but this accounts for only slightly more than 1% of WBC’s income. Better for the councils to be funded properly by government and allow them to get on with their core responsibilities, by far the largest of which – 50% in West Berkshire’s case – is providing social care. As recent events have shown, they are also pretty good at managing the local impact of a pandemic. It’s surely easier to do this when you don’t have one eye on the FTSE or being distracted by a dispute with a major tenant on the other side of the country. “Local” and “council” – the clue’s in the name.
• Another recent story concerns the government’s plans to introduce a digital levy on online retailers, many of which have seen profits jump during the pandemic. The Sunday Times reported on 7 February that Amazon’s profits increased by 51% in 2020 to £19.5bn although the company had paid just £14.5m in UK tax the years before. As for Jeff Bezos, he could give $43,000 to each of his company’s 1.2m staff worldwide and still be as well off as he was when the pandemic began. (By contract, this article gives the view of someone at the other end of the Amazonian food chain.) Given that these companies are not domiciled in the UK I can’t quite see how a digital levy is going to be easy to enforce except at point of sale. If extra costs are pushed on to shoppers, as they surely will be, this might be no bad thing: nothing seems to be as greater influencer in human behaviour than price.
The aim, of course, is to protect the high-street shops. The sub-heading in The Sunday Times’ article referred to the high street having “collapsed”, an eye-catching phrase which is more true in some places than in others. One way the levy might work is by using its proceeds to provide rates relief for the bricks-and-mortar retailers. The problem here is that, as soon as landlords become aware that their tenants now have more money, they will try to put rents up. Also, business rates are set to become an increasingly important part of local-council funding, although whether that reform (which has gone a bit quiet of late) will survive Covid remains to be seen.
Certainly town centres have their problems, Covid being just the latest blow. Independents are perhaps better able to adapt that the large retail chains. This article about the responses of 16 businesses in Hungerford gives plenty of grounds for optimism. Contrast that with the long list of national names which have recently had to shut their many doors or draw in their horns. One, Debenham’s, has recently been bought by the online retiler BooHoo. The new owners only appear to want the brand, however, and (again as reported in The Sunday Times) seem to have no interest in opening any shops.
There are few things more depressing than a high street full of boarded-up premises. So far at least, that doesn’t seem to have happened in Hungerford. Perhaps the town has been helped by there being in general one of everything. Choice, so long the holy grail of the consumer society, could in some cases be the enemy of survival. If there’s one hardware store or butchers, people will understand the importance of ensuring its survival. If there are three, any reduction in local spending could kill them all off.
• The President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Layen, recently admitted that “we are not where we want to be” with the vaccine programme. This is a big understatement. The principle of having centralised procurement was doubtless a good one – imagine, for instance, if different health authorities or trusts in the UK were bidding against each other – but the suspicion lingers that this was at least as much for political than logistical or ethical reasons. The prospect of the rich members like France, Germany and Italy claiming a disproportionate share of vaccines, with all the attendant fall-out, was perhaps too much for the Commission to contemplate. Better to have everyone at the same level, even if it’s not a very good one. In general, there is an inverse relationship between an organisation’s size (and thus purchasing power) and its ability to use this in an effective and nimble way. The EU is further hampered by being 27 countries with an ambition to behave as one. Covid presented it with a real opportunity to make its unitary case but this was undone by the very caution, process-obsession and prevarication which are essential in making the organisation function at all. This article from Sky News describes some of the shortcomings of the process, or at least the ones which von der Leyen has admitted to.
Others have offered even more withering assessments. Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian PM and staunch EU federalist, suggested last week that “this shouldn’t be happening. 76% of the total annual production of vaccines world-wide (nearly three billion doses) comes from within the EU. How is it possible that, more than a month after the launch of the vaccination programmes, Europe is lagging behind? We haven’t nearly the roll-out of the US or the UK. Some countries are halting before they even gained traction. We even see a diplomatic disaster in the Balkans where countries are looking to China and Russia for help. There are two reasons, I think. First, unbalanced contracts, concentrated on price and liabilities instead of supply and speed; and second not using the emergency procedures inside the European Medicines Agency, thereby losing for every approved vaccine one month of precious time to roll out.” A shorter version of similar sentiments came from German Vice-chancellor Olaf Scholz’s who last week described the EU’s vaccine strategy as “really shit.”
The UK, on the other hand, has done and continues to do really well . It’s possible that it is of just the right size to make something like this work and, the interests of the devolved governments aside, with nothing to hinder a unified and focussed approach. The Week gives much of the credit to two people: Health Secretary Matt Hancock, for having a year ago identified vaccine procurement and production as something that it was essential for the country to control and for ensuring that that this happened; and to the so-called vaccine tsar Kate Bingham who, despite being accused of being too close to the PM (which was the case) and so part of the “chumocracy” which has so far produced mixed results, has done all that was requested of her. The government’s success with the vaccine, if maintained, will do much to offset any criticism of handling of other aspects. It will also supply a powerful justification for Brexit. Many questions about both these remain but the wind certainly seems to be in the UK government’s sails at the moment: not a phrase that’s been read much these last twelve months.
• As mentioned before, the concern remains that we are doing a bit too well compared to others elsewhere who might need it more. Here is the WHO’s summary of how its Covax programme was going, as of 21 January.
• The organisation has also backed the AstraZenica vaccine, despite accusations that it’s not that effective against some of the new variants. None the less, it appears that it will reduce the severity of symptoms. This seems to make it worth having when offered.
• Perhaps less good news for the government’s reaction to the cladding crisis: The Spectator claimed on 10 February that “around 80,000 people in medium-rise flats who will only get loans,” whereas those in high rises will have all the costs paid by the government; also that all “will still have to pay for other fire safety defects such as missing fire breaks (and) wooden balconies.”
• We met some friends from the village today on those interminable walks that were all doing who told us that they’d both had their jabs last week. Both reported that they’d felt pretty rough for the next 48 hours. I suggested that was good as it showed their immune systems were responding. I think that’s right: anyway, it seemed to make them feel happier, which is not something I accomplish all the time.
• Moving across to the USA, President Trump (they’re still called “President” even when they aren’t, it seems) has seemingly admitted that he’s “loving” life outside Twitter’s “hateful echo chamber,” according to The Sunday Times. For someone who tweeted nearly 20 times a day for the last five years this seems to be waking up to something rather late. It’s also part of his solipsistic world view that nothing bad happens but that it’s his enemies’ fault and nothing good happens but that it’s down to his decision-making. The fact that he’s been banned from the platform is, of course, nothing to do with this.
• Meanwhile, he’s being impeached again, even though he’s no longer he president (except he sort of is – see above). The proceedings opened with what many observers see as a rambling and unsubstantiated series of remarks by his attorney Bruce Castor that even Rudy Giuliani might have found underwhelming. The BBC quoted a Trump critic as saying that Castor “did not seem to make any arguments at all, which was an unusual approach to take.” To outside observers, nothing is unusual about the Trump presidency (even after it’s finished, which it sort of hasn’t – see above).
• The government has announced plans to reform the NHS. Any such shake-up normally comes with promises that will be “more integrated, innovative and responsive” and that it will target “burdensome bureaucracy”. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has used both of these phrases. The plan appears to be to turn back many of the delegations and internal markets created in 2012 by David Cameron’s Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. The Sunday Times on 7 February quoted Andrew Cowper, Editor of Health Policy Insight, as saying that it would “unambiguously put the Health Secretary in charge in a massive political land-grab.”
The paper also points out that the current plans don’t address the issues of social care (the white paper on which is nearly three years overdue) and of NHS recruitments (there were 100,000 unfilled vacancies at the start of 2020). The article points out some possible benefits but concludes that the thinking appears to assume that the pandemic has demonstrated that more government involvement in the service is required. Critics could point the problems of PPE procurement, the national test and trace and the perceived dithering over the lockdown arrangements. There’s also the question of whether now is an ideal time to bring the subject up. A friend of mine who’s a London GP said he was “depressed” by the announcement but that he was too busy with vaccinating people to give me any more thoughts. It’s all slightly as if, on the eve of D-Day, the soldiers were told that when they came back some of them would find that their regiments or their rank had been abolished.
• This week’s Newbury Weekly News has on p4 an article that highlights a matter which has put West Berkshire Council in an awkward position. The issue is that of Community Infrastructure Levies, charges which planning authorities can levy on many kinds of developments. Some developments, however, are exempt: and herein lies the problem. The system for applying for an exemption is not straightforward. Moreover, if this hasn’t been done correctly an obligation is triggered once work commences even if no CIL should have been charged and even if the applicant has expressed their intention to claim exemption. As the NWN article points out, this can result in eye-watering and life-changing invoices. The article concludes with a statement from West Berkshire Council saying that “The Council disagrees that they (sic) owe a duty to applicants to advise them of the process,” which seems to include not even drawing attention to missing documents which would be required to support a claim for exemption. As I pointed out in this post, other neighbouring councils appear to take a different view. Gordon Lundie, a former WBC Leader, himself criticised the way his Council handled this matter, which risks leaving residents in financial ruin. It may be true that there is no legal obligation on WBC to help its residents avoid such pitfalls. The question is whether there is a moral one.
• When you see a headline that reads “Why scientists want to kill Pablo Escobar’s hippos” it’s very hard not to click on it: so I did. It appears that the late Columbian moustachioed narcoterrorist created an “ecological time bomb” by setting up a private zoo with animals from all over the place, including hippos. After his arrest most of the animals were re-homed but not the hippos who were too difficult to move. Rather than culling them, they were left where they were, in the probable belief that they’d just die. Instead the so called “cocaine hippos” thrived and multiplied to the point where some claim they’re becoming an invasive species, although others believe that could be environmentally beneficial. Proof it proof be needed that if an organism of any size finds a new host or habitat it can end up increasing exponentially and that the longer you leave the problem the worse the it becomes. Now where have I heard that before…?
• The BBC reports that there were 249 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 1-7 February, down 32 on the week before. This equates to 157 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 176 (239 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• Testing is to begin in West Berkshire to help protect people most at risk, using rapid turnaround tests supplied by NHS Test and Trace. (These so-called lateral flow tests are not perfect and produce a lot more false negatives than false positives. However, they do catch asymptomatic cases and are quick and cheap. If you get a negative result you may still be infected: however, as long as you carry on doing the same things you were doing before the test then society as a whole is no worse off; and better off for every asymptomatic case they catch.)
• 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.
• West Berkshire Council is administering a further series of grant schemes to support local businesses that have been affected by the national coronavirus restrictions.
• West Berkshire Council has announced a public consultation on proposed submission for its Minerals and Waste Local Plan which will run until 15 February (not long now).
• West Berkshire Council’s Local Restrictions Support Grant will support businesses that pay business rates on their premises and which have been forced to close. More information here.
• The Additional Restrictions Grant is a discretionary grant that will be administered by West Berkshire Council to support businesses which have been affected by restrictions and which have not received other grant support or which require further assistance. More information here.
• West Berkshire’s libraries will continue to offer a limited service during the national lockdown restrictions.
• The West Berkshire Covid dashboard can be visited here.
• Click here for the latest Covid-19 News from West Berkshire Council.
• Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.
• Click here to see the 11 February 2021 Residents’ News Bulletin 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 animals of the week are these four pigs who can play computer games with their snouts controlling the joystick.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those covered elsewhere, green-bin services, Newbuty’s sports pitches, praise for the Racecourse, Sandleford and building on farmland.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Wiltshire Air Ambulance (thanks to the aircrew’s Valentine’s fundraiser); The Mix, the Ray Collins Charitable Trust, the Wantage Independent Advice Centre and A Helping Hand (thanks to Wantage Town Council); Love Marlborough (thanks to Kennet Valley Primary School); Swindon carers (thanks to Perry Bishop); MHA Communities in Swindon (thanks to the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund); 12 local charities (thanks to West Berkshire Council’s Lottery Community Fund): Young People and Children First (thanks to IKEA).
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 and it’s packed full of good stuff.
• A few things are worth picking out from this: the usual update on Hungerford Town Council’s recent activities; our look back at some of the campaigns in the town we’ve covered over the last four years; the view of 16 local retailers about their experiences of coping with the pandemic; and proof that, given a sufficiently good reason, it’s possible for two people to change a complicated rail timetable on a main line in little over a week.
• Following the recent slight spike in Covid cases, as this interactive map reveals, Hungerford’s cases are now back in line with the rest of the area and “below average” compared to the national picture.
• A letter in this week’s NWN from former Mayor Ron Tarry marks the latest local expert intervention questioning the perplexing decision by Bewley Homes to name its new development Lancaster Park after a wartime air disaster about eight miles away (rather than the Duchy of Lancaster, which makes perfect if rather unoriginal sense). He also takes issue with why the streets were named after types of tank, something else Hungerford has no link with. This article in Newbury Today quotes a Bewley spokesperson as saying that West Berkshire Council had suggested the tanks. I wonder why they did that? The town needs no reminders of the dangers of gunfire.
• The same paper covers on p22 the matter of whether a take-away pizza trailer (one is proposed for Hungerford) is a planning matter and thus something that requires planning permission. Much of the article is an explanation from a planning officer as to why it isn’t, and so doesn’t. A street-trader’s licence will, however, be needed. Hungerford Town Council has objected on the grounds that discarded food would exacerbate the town’s pigeon problem: it’s true that at times the High Street resembles a scene from the Hitchcock film The Birds. When I eat pizza, however, there’s not a crumb left. If everyone were as greedy as me there would perhaps be no pigeon problem.
• The most recent meeting of Inkpen Parish Council took place on 25 January and you can read the minutes here. items covered included: the re-wilding of the Lower green Triangle; the proposed diversion of the footpath at Mount View; the village’s history group; the CIL bids; grant applications; tenders for the CCTV equipment;the proposed replacement of the notice baord; and confirmation that the precept would remain unchanged at £14,000 for 2021-22. The minutes close with the enigmatic remark that “the meeting ended abruptly.”
• 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.
• The most recent meeting of Shalbourne Parish Council took place on 4 February and you can download the minutes here. It was a brief, 10-minute affair (in contrast to some I’ve covered recently) with the only item of note being a grant of £1,000 to the Village Hall.
• Residents of Lambourn might wonder how they find out about what their parish council is about to discuss and with what results. The normal procedure is for a PC to publish the agendas on its website (amongst other places) with the minutes following as soon as possible after they’ve been approved (increasingly, most publish draft minutes within a day or so as an interim measure). Lambourn PC has gone for a different approach. The minutes can be found the PC’s new and rather incomplete-looking website. However, for some reason the agendas are not published here but on a quite separate site, lambourn.org, on which the parish council was parked until last year. Going back to the minutes, the ones on the new site are largely of antiquarian interest as the most recent (at the time of writing) was for November 2020 even though there have been three meetings since then. In order to plug this information deficit for residents, Penny Post and Lambourn.org takes it in turns to cover the meetings. This month was our turn and you can read my summary here. The parish is also conducting a neighbourhood development plan which has an excellent website which you can visit here. The parish also has an active district councillor and you can read his most recent report here.
• 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 final 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. Closing date is 15 February so you’ll need to get your skates on.
• 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. You can the agenda for GSPC’s meeting on 4 February here the minutes for which will be published on the same site soon.
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• This week’s NWN reports on p10 that Newbury Town Council has voted to support the idea of universal basic income (UBI) in principle and to request the government to provide funds to set ip a trial scheme in the town. A similar proposal came before West Berkshire Council in December and was defeated, Finance portfolio holder Ross Mackinnon dismissed it as “political snake oil” and a “socialist utopian dream.” However The Financial Times, The Daily Express and National Geographic – those notorious peddlers of socialist doctrine – all felt that the idea had sufficient merit to give it more measured coverage.
• 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.
• Following the success of the meadow, which was planted at City Recreation Ground last year, a new wildflower area is being proposed for Victoria Park. The design will incorporate a floral strip along the bank that runs adjacent to Park Way.
• Another CAT seems about to spring into life. CATs are in this context not what they normally are but community asset transfers whereby ownership of an asset is shifted from one council to another, usually downwards. Such a move is planned for Greenham House Gardens. This is owned by West Berkshire Council but for the last 20 years has been maintained by Newbury Town Council. The two parties are in discussion about transferring this to Newbury (at no cost to the residents). The Town Council has said it has plans to enhance the area.
• Following the success of the wildflower meadow, which was planted at City Recreation Ground last year, a new wildflower area is being proposed for Victoria Park. The design will incorporate a wildflower strip along the bank that runs adjacent to Park Way.
• 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.
• 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 Enborne Parish Council took place on 4 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: road safety outside the school; three planning applications; the updated parish asset register; grants to local organisations; confirmation of the budget and the precept of £17,500 for 2021-22 and the co-option of a new councillor.
• I look at a lot of parish council minutes every Thursday and it’s rare that there not at least one item which conjures up the most surreal images, either because of a typo or because it’s in reference to something that the councillors must have understood well but which make no sense to anyone else. East Garston’s rash of dog notices, Chilton Filoat’s troublesome oak tree and Aldermaston’s covert marshals all fall into this category. This week it was Enborne’s turn with a reference to “travelling snowpersons yard.” I tried to push on but the phrase was running through my mind like water. Snowpersons – a more gender-neural term than “snowmen” – don’t travel, or not that I’ve seen. And why do they need a yard? Was this an Americanism, referring to a garden? Or was this the name of a local property? I’ve seen some odd names in my time but this one would take some beating. Eventually I could stand it no longer and had to phone the Clerk. It was – and I’m sure you’ve seen this coming – a typo for “show persons”, as in a circus, one being based in the parish. Thank goodness for that.
• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council took place on 12 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included questions about the Glebe Land development; the need for more burial land in the village and the possibility that the parish could provide this; two planning applications; a discussion about the PC’s response to WBC’s draft local plan (one of the parish councillors in Hilary Cole, WBC’s portfolio holder for planning); a discussion about the propose Curridge WI grant application; confirmation of the budget and the precept (unchanged at £32,620); RoSPA safety inspection reports; the apparent disappearance of footpath 37 and damage to the Old Street byway but 4×4 vehicles.
• 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, The Peasemore Village website, West Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.
• 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 member’ 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 Hermitage Parish Council took place on 16 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: questions from members of the public about the Claorwood appeal decision and an enforcement enquiry relating to the access to Roebuck Wood; four planning applications; and reports on various maintenance tasks, planned or under way, including tree felling and planting, decorating in the Village Hall and the playground inspection.
• 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 Chaddleworth Parish Council took place on 5 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.
• The most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can read the minutes here.
• 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.
• Despite “busting a gut” to prepare a bid for West Berkshire Council’s CIL funding last month for various projects in the village, Chaddleworth’s was unsuccessful. The projects were: the refurbishment of the Memorial Garden (£3,000); resurfacing of the apron of the Village Hall Car park (£11,700); and the repair of the pot holes in Norris Lane (£7,000).
• See also this page for up-to-date information about Hermitage’s neighbourhood development plan.
Thatcham and district
• Opposition continues to grow to the plans for a 2,500-home development in Thatcham, a keystone of West Berkshire Council’s planning policy as outlined in its local plan. Bucklebury residents have weighed in, fearing that, as Newbury Today reports, the homes would “overwhelm the area, bringing heavy traffic and pollution on to rural roads as well as eating into valuable green space.” 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 2,500 signatures. The Town Council has voiced its concern (see below). West Berkshire Council clearly believes it is a good idea. This week’s NWN has, on p25, a summary of the proposals in the masterplan which it has commissioned to provide a bit of flesh on the bones offered by the local plan. These include proposals about education and transport provision as well as the housing mix and environmental measures.
Newbury Today quotes West Berkshire’s Planning Policy Officer Bryan Lyttle as saying that the Council would not “get its fingers burned” with this scheme as it has done with the ill-fated Sandleford development in Newbury. The essential problem with Sandleford appears to be the presence of two developers who are unable to agree on anything except, most recently, uniting against West Berkshire Council to oppose the latter’s refusal of the latest planning applications. WBC’s refusal seems to be on a number of perfectly reasonable grounds (more on Sandleford in this separate post) but has had the effect of, literally, sending the project back to the drawing board. A rather more complex alliance of developers would be involved in Thatcham but Mr Lyttle says the Council has been “very tough” on the consortium. I hope he’s right: developers can be very tough too.
Three issues immediately emerge, as highlighted in the summary of the masterplan (see paragraph above). The first is that it is “not proposed” that the developers contribute the full cost of the new secondary school. What they do agree to contribute, what they end up contributing (which might not be same thing) and what form the school will take will all doubtless be the subject of much negotiation and subsequent wriggling.
The second is the question of environmental standards. The masterplan appears to assume sustainable heating, as the homes won’t be connected to the gas main. Moreover, Bryan Lyttle makes the point that “by the time north-east Thatcham is developed we shall have stopped buying petrol and diesel cars.” (Something planned to happen in 2030 or 2035, depending on how you define the requirements.) This leads one to wonder what other sustainable features will be insisted on; which in turn depends on the terms of the the government’s new Future Homes Standard, when it is adopted. Steve Ardagh-Walter (a WBC and Thatcham Town Councillor) assured Thatcham Town Council on 25 January that “the proposed development would be built to the highest environmental standards obtainable.” The last word is the most significant: what is “obtainable” will depend on what standards the government sets and what, if any, discretion local councils have to insist on higher ones should they chose to make this part of their local plan. Developers don’t greatly care for such regulations as they push up costs. The time will come, though it hasn’t come yet, when this reluctance will wither away – eventually, homes that are not built to these standards will be worth less.
The third is the familiar problem of affordable homes. 1,000 have been proposed, 40% of the total (as this is a green-field site, this is exactly the percentage WBC insists upon) but, as the Council is vividly aware as a result of its ongoing discussions with Bewley Homes about Lancaster Park in Hungerford, it’s one thing to strike an agreement and another to get the developers to stick to it.
Developer contributions, environmental measures and the number of affordable homes, and a host of other matters, are likely to provide lively debate for years to come. Putting most of your eggs in one basket is great when it works. When it doesn’t, you might wish you’d diversified and gone for more developments on a more human scale.
• The same paper reports, also on p25, that a local developer has lost its appeal against West Berkshire Council’s refusal to permit the demolishing of three houses in Chapel Street.
• The most recent meeting of Thatcham Town Council took place on 25 January and you can read the minutes here. Items discussed included: the question of staff salary benchmarking against similar sized councils; confirmation of the 2021-22 budget and the precept (£763,120, an increase of 2.74%); the Mayor’s report; agreement to upgrade the lighting in Town Council buildings to LED at a cost of £18,800; the 2021 Civic Awards; the town’s fixed asset register review; Covid updates; “five main areas of concern” with regard to the 2,500-home proposal for Thatcham in WBC’s draft local plan and the response to the local plan consultation generally; and reports from the ward members which covered matters ranging from overgrown vegetation to laptops for local schools and from street lights to speeding.
• 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 some spring bulbs and ends with a message to the workers.
Theale and district
• 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 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).
• Theale’s District Councillor Alan Macro has responded to the consultation on the council’s draft new local plan. His response ran to 15 pages but in summary he opposed the proposals for another 170 new homes and new offices on land between Theale and the M4 for the following reasons: (1)the impact on traffic and services on top of that from the over 440 homes on the western edge of Theale that already have planning permission; (2) the blurring of the distinction between Theale and Calcot; and (3) that the new housing would be on land blighted by flood risk, contaminated land, noise and pollution from the M4 and overhead power lines. He added that Theale would also be badly affected by traffic from the 2,500 new homes proposed for Thatcham. (see Thatcham section above). He also suggested that the new offices were unlikely to be needed: partly because there were already many empty offices in Theale and business parks near M4 Junction 12; and partly because more people would be likely to continuing to work from home after the Covid-19 pandemic.
• The most recent meeting of Englefield Parish Council took place on 13 January and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: confirmation of the budget and of the precept for 2021-22 (unchanged at £3,600); dog-waste bins; a contribution to the West Berkshire Library Service; an update on the establishment of the Englefield Community Venue; traffic on the A340; and the PC’s responses to various local consultations.
• 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 9 February and a video-link of the meeting is available 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 (a location right on the Hampshire/Berkshire county boundary, and is served by both Thames Valley and Hampshire police forces, “which complicates matters”; 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 (which included the PC’s stated policy of opposing any development which was likely to increase traffic on the A340); and a request for walkers in the grounds of the Manor House to keep their dogs on a lead.
• 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 took place on 7 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the time and cost incurred in answering questions from four members of the public; reports from two of the district councillors; the planned footway at Reading Road/Primrose Croft; the refurbishment works at the Village Hall; confirmation of the PC’s budget and its precept for 2021-22 (£281,497, an increase of 2.3%); and the invocation of the Habitual and Vexatious Complaints Policy and the request by one of the complainants for an international; investigation.
• Theale Parish Council is looking for two new Councillors – click here for details.
Marlborough & district
• The BBC reports that there were 653 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 1-7 February, down 100 on the week before. This equates to 131 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 176 (239 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• Marlborough Town Council has launched a consultation 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.
• Planned sewerage works by Thames Water have been delayed due to high groundwater levels: it’s hoped they will take place in the spring.
• Marlborough News reports that Action for the River Kennet’s Water Matters schools project has continued throughout lockdown.
• The same source reports that one casualty of the pandemic has been the Silks on the Downs pub in Ogbourne St Andrew. The doors closed last March, but the local community is looking to keep the pub alive by enabling locals, customers and anyone else interested to buy community shares. (This approach saved the Tally Ho in Hungerford Newtown a few years ago).
• The same source has this post about forthcoming road closures in the area.
• 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; 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 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 141 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 1-7 February, down 71 on the week before. This equates to 104 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 176 (239 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• 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.
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Herald looks at the recent decision the Vale Council has taken to increase its council tax by 2.99% in 2021-22: 1.99% as the maximum permitted without a referendum plus the extra 1% (which could have been as high as 3%) which is ring-fenced for social care. Julie quotes what we reported last week that West Berkshire Council had gone only for the 1.99% as the social care costs in the district had fallen due to Covid deaths and also points out that there’s evidence the same thing had happened in the Vale. She also refers to Oxfordshire’s Living Well at Hime initiative which encourages people to live indecent lives as much as possible. This approach, as she points out, requires staff to support people staying in their own homes. I would also expect that this workforce also needs to be flexible as the demand for this service is likely to change whereas care-home staffing levels are perhaps more predictable. Oxfordshire is not a cheap county to live in: so all the more surprising that the Council appears to have cut the hourly rate. It’s impossible to argue with Julie Mabberley’s conclusion that “the recruitment challenges will only get worse.” Perhaps the council should have gone for a bit more of what it could add to the council tax to properly cover the costs for what is one of their statutory responsibilities.
• Community groups and sporting organisations in Wantage, Grove and Faringdon will help to identify how millions of pounds of funding raised from housing developers will be spent in their local areas. The general feeling seems to be that the infrastructure in the area has not kept pace with the number of homes. A proposed new leisure centre between Wantage and Grove was cancelled last year after funding could not be secured.
• This article in the Herald looks at the Council’s plans for its 2021-22 budget and quotes Councillor Andy Crawford, the cabinet member for finance, as saying that despite the proposed budget increase, the Council will still be facing “significant financial challenges.”
• The same paper also reports on Wantage Town Council’s recent grants (topped up my members’ bids from two district councillors) to charities in Wantage including The Mix, the Ray Collins Charitable Trust, the Wantage Independent Advice Centre and A Helping Hand.
• I don’t know what’s happened to the Herald’s letters page but this week its not living up to its plural name as there was just the one communication. The slot normally occupied by the rest is taken up with a photo of a deer that had got its antlers tangled in a cricket net – a touching story, doubtless, but not offering much in the way of topical local opinion. The Newbury Weekly News, by contrast, has 14 letters this week, some of a fair length, covering four pages.
• Click here for news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group.
• Garden waste collections will resume in the Vale on 15 February.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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 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 January 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 299 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 1-7 February, down 131 on the week before. This equates to 135 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 176 (239 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 the South Swindon Green Corridor is being developed by South Swindon Parish Council, and runs for six miles through the parish, starting at Shaftesbury Lake in Park South and finishing at Cambria Bridge Play Area in central Swindon.
• 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.
• Four areas in Swindon at risk of flooding could benefit from millions of pounds in government funding.
• South Swindon MP Robert Buckland is supporting the campaign to reopen the Oasis Leisure Centre.
• 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. The consultation closes at the end of February.
• 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.
• 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
• We arrive at the Song of the Week. We had a Squeeze song last week so you might have thought it would be someone else this week: well, you’d be wrong. Step forward Sunday Street.
• And so to the Comedy Sketch of the Week. This isn’t a comedy sketch in the strictest sense but it’s very funny – Larry David’s speech during a tribute event for Steve Martin.
• And in last place is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question has been answered elsewhere in this column: In what country might you find cocaine hippos? Last week’s question was: What do Stephen, John, Anne and Victoria have in common? They are the only monarchs since the Norman Conquest who don’t need a number as there has only been one of each of them. I’m not counting people like Matilda, Henry the Young King, Lady Jane Grey, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Lambert Simnel, Perkin Warbeck and other pretenders, stooges or would-be monarchs.
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