Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s tunnel, Lambourn’s talk, Thatcham’s reaction, Newbury’s gambling, Marlborough’s seeds, Wantage’s station, Grove’s sewage, Cold Ash’s fencing, Aldbourne’s purchase, Chilton Foliat’s crowdfunding, East Garston’s surcharging, Greenham’s diamond, Ogbourne’s pub, Brimpton’s signs, Chaddleworth’s news, Hermitage’s questions, Burghfield’s testing, Midgham’s hall, Beedon’s diversion, World’s End’s vets Hampstead Norreys’ shortlist, Peasemore’s power cuts, Padworth’s co-operation, Theale’s graveyard, Grazeley’s judgement Englefield’s venue, Swindon’s oasis, Shrivenham’s pavilion, the disinformation war, certainty, inter-dimensional lizards, a lightbulb moment, lockdown bets, early warnings, fact-checking JB, dynamiting Trump, an eighth birthday, lateral flow, MP’s expenses, a mistaken duel, it was 50 years ago, Spinal Tap, Voltaire, the Oxbridge Arc and shattered dreams.
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)
• I must confess that I’m becoming slightly obsessed with the whole anti-vaccine movement. It doesn’t have any basis in scientific fact I’m aware of but is gaining a considerable amount of traction, mainly on social media. I recently watched the BBC Panorama programme The Disinformation War and was struck by three things. The first is that there are many people who are confused and uncertain about the vaccines’ merits – fair enough – and who clearly find the glib and direct claims of the disinformation campaigns more compelling as the official messages. This is in itself alarming and should ring a few alarm bells in Whitehall. The second was just how much the anti-vaxers tended to contradict themselves. One woman said that she “doesn’t have the broken-down information,” about the vaccines’ safety. A minute later she said that she “didn’t want a load of numbers.” Later, a young Asian man said that he was “young and fit and healthy” and so didn’t need the jab. When it was suggested that he was being selfish and could, even if it didn’t harm him, pass it on to others, he said that he didn’t trust it because it had taken only eight months to develop, before adding irrelevantly “and then there’s cancer – where’s the cure for that?” as if this somehow proved his point.
The third, however, is the most difficult to grapple with. I can understand people having doubts. What I find hard is that the anti-vaxers are so certain, indeed cite changing scientific information about the efficacy of particular vaccines as evidence to support their case rather than, as is the case, the reverse. Their basic position in the extreme cases doesn’t change: there is no pandemic; the whole thing is a plot to inhibit our freedom; the jabs will either kill us or alter our DNA; the fact that our videos and messages are being taken down is proof of their veracity. This is the logic of the paranoid schizophrenic. The whole thing seems to owe much to the libertarianism that has been so rife in the USA these last four years and which culminated in an impeachment trial of a former President earlier this month. A woman called Kate Shemerani, in this interview, claimed that there’s no evidence that vaccines are either safe or effective. It seems she used to be a nurse but has since been struck off: what strikes me as even more amazing is how she was able to qualify for any kind of medical role in the first place.
I also watched a video with the remarkable David Icke – the link to which I can’t be bothered to look up – in which he first claimed that we were all a victim of a “Covid cult”and then proceeded to display all the controlling and manipulative language that any cult leader would have been proud of. In this, the anti-vaccination trope did, of course, find a place. Again, what struck me was his certainty – this is what’s so scary. About 180m Covid vaccines have been provided worldwide, nearly 10% of these in the UK, and we’ve yet to see any of the mortality, insanity and mind control that has confidently been predicted by the opponents. Reports from Israel suggest that the efficacy of the Pfizer jab is performing exactly in line with the results suggested by the clinical trials. Perhaps it takes a bit of time for us all to turn into inter-dimensional lizards or replicons controlled by Bill Gates. I’ve looked at the evidence, for and against these kind of risks, and when my turn comes I think I’ll take my chances.
A number of celebrities have also aligned themselves against the vaccine, including Robert de Niro and the Black Panther star Letitia Wright who was reported in Newsweek as saying that she was sceptical of them although she “didn’t understand vaccines medically,” a qualification that would seem to undermine her expertise on the matter. Maybe it was just an off-the-cuff remark that got got over-reported, but people with large follower bases are now disproportionately influential. A good way of building these bases is to tap into prevailing fears and uncertainties. Covid has been a godsend in this way.
• In a related theme, there’s a sobering story in The Observer on 14 February describing how children as young as 13 are being radicalised by far-right propaganda disguised as more benign items such as online games and plausible social-media posts. One young man who had been indoctrinated in this was was, as part of his recovery, invited to verify the sources for one particularly influential post. This “quoted” 20 parts of the Koran which claimed that Muslims were being encouraged to launch attacks on the UK. A simple process of checking revealed to him that one of these so-called quotes was true (but was being used dramatically out of context): the other 19 had all been made up. He described this as “a lightbulb moment.”
• As all my sons are now grown up, I’m not sure how much time schools spend giving pupils tips and hints as to how this kind of claims can be checked. We’ve recently heard of a petition which proposes that the entire Covid-disrupted academic year be re-started next September to ensure no one had got left behind by, for example, not having access to suitable devices for home learning. The idea has some merits but I can see problems, not the least of which is what they’re going to be taught for the second half of the academic year if it’s known that this is going to repeated. A bit of time spent on fact-checking techniques wouldn’t go amiss.
• Meanwhile, many groups, including teachers, are speculating on when the current lockdown will end. The PM on 15 February suggested that the process would be “cautious but irreversible”, which seems very sensible. Most businesses, particularly those in the hospitality industry, can probably survive “off” or “on” but not the “on/off/on” that happened last year. The Daily Mail claims to have inside information as to how this might work. The lockdown in Northern Ireland has recently been extended until early April, which might provide a clue.
• While the milestone of the 15 millionth jab is rightly being hailed, a leading scientist has claimed that “the UK repeatedly failed to heed early warnings about the virus.” In an interview in the Observer (reproduced here on The Guardian’s website) Professor Sarah Gilbert of the Oxford Vaccine centre, who led the team behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, claimed that “lessons had not been learned until far too late, and in some respect remain still unlearned.”
• For people who dislike gambling and Donald Trump, few things could have given more delight than the sight of the Trump Casino in Atlantic City being dynamited. This was not some act of Democratic spite but due to the building, which has been empty since 2014 and not part of Trump’s empire since 2009, being declared an “imminent hazard.”
• Still in the USA, the BBC website fact-checks some of President JB’s claims and achievements during his first month in office.
• There’s a “for sale” post on our website that almost makes me weep with nostalgia, the stem offered being a small Hornby train set. My first train set was provided on my eighth birthday and I can still remember being almost sick with excitement for days before. No other gift I’ve received has produced a pleasure which matched and perhaps even the expectation to the extent this one did. Later that day, for what was misguidedly regarded as a “special treat”, I was taken to a riding stable in Wimbledon by my horse-loving aunt for my first-ever pony ride. Somewhere I still have a photo of me on the animal’s back with an expression on my little face that would have curdled milk. Despite having since grown out of train sets and despite having lived for over 20 years in the Valley of the Racehorse, the day clearly left an indelible impression on me, for I have never been on a horse since…
• The BBC reports that there were 159 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 8-14 February, down 89 on the week before. This equates to 100 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 116 (176 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• Lateral flow tests – which although not perfect have proved to be of great value in identifying asymptomatic Covid cases – are now available in West Berkshire for key workers and others who are not already in a testing programme. See here for more information about the four testing centres in West Berkshire: Highwood Copse in Newbury, Thatcham Rugby Club, Hungerford Rugby Club and Burghfield Community Sports Association (the latter two will be active from 22 February). See here for further information from Gov.uk on these tests and who is eligible for them.
• 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’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.
• 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 latest Residents’ News Bulletin from West Berkshire Council.
• And click here to see WBC’s latest Business News Bulletin.
• West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon Councils have their own web pages relating to the outbreak. Click here as follows for the high-level links for West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon.
• West Berkshire Council has set up a Community Support Hub. Click here to visit the website or call 01635 503 579 to speak to the the Building Communities Together team. The Hub has also set up two FAQ pages, for residents and for businesses. You can also click here to sign up to receive the Hub’s e-bulletins and click here to see the weekly updates.
• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.
• Click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. As with the volunteers’ post above, if you are aware of any others, let us know. In West Berkshire in particular, this is a service that is likely to be needed more than ever now we enter tier three.
• The animals of the week are these countless (well, by me) anyway starlings who formed a bird-shaped murmuration in Nottinghamshire in 2018.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include LRIE, food waste, John Cleese, council procedure, Laura Farris and CIL payments.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Willow-brook gardens in Wroughton (thanks to Bellway); schoolchildren in West Berkshire (thanks to Parkway Shopping Centre); Thames Valley Kings (thanks to Dove’s Farm); Cancer Research UK (thanks to Sienna Tate); Peasemore Cricket Club (thanks to The Fox).
Hungerford & district
• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that will be available in Hungerford from 22 February.
• The February Penny Post Hungerford was published on 2 February: click here to read it if you didn’t get it. This was a bumper 50th issue so it’s packed full of good stuff.
• It’s still not clear whether there has been any resolution to the question of the tenure of the homes of the new development at Lancaster Park. This is a more important aspect of the scheme than the current debate about the estate and the street names and turns on Bewley Homes’ request to strike out its obligation to provide rented social houses as part of the development. This has excited considerable local opposition, including from Hungerford Town Council. The developers and West Berkshire Council have been discussing this since the revised application was submitted last summer but so far without any results, or at least none which have been publicly announced. The latest attempt to resolve the impasse was the agreement at the end of last year that a report be commissioned by WBC (but paid for by Bewley) into the issue. As the homes are now starting to be sold this is becoming ever more urgent. It also goes right to the heart of the relationship between planning authorities and developers and what extent the former can insist that the latter abide by their agreements.
• Another aspect of this is the question of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments which are charged on most, but not all, developments. Homes that are sold for social rent are exempt from CIL; those that are for sale are not. If the tenure is changed from the former to the latter, it would therefore follow that WBC will increase the Bewley’s CIL obligations. These charges (which, as several local residents have discovered, can be both massive and inflexible, not to say at times unexpected) are, as the name implies, used to fund infrastructure work in the area to help mitigate the effect of the development. 15% of the revenue is passed to the Town or Parish Council for its own projects. As well as the societal impact, the town also has a financial interest in the outcome of these discussions.
• HTC, as mentioned above, currently receives 15% (capped to the number of properties) of any CIL revenues from local projects. If the community has a neighbourhood development plan (NDP) ratified, this rises to 25% (uncapped). Hungerford is working on its own NDP, known as Hungerford (H) 2036. It’s perhaps useful to think of an NDP as a train on a three- or four-year journey. Periodically, perhaps for months at a time, it passes into a tunnel and disappears from public view. This might because of periods of consultation with other bodies, delays in receiving information or times when technical work is being done which requires no public engagement. The latest of these stages is now nearing completion: as a result, the Hungerford 2036 project will soon burst out of its latest tunnel, whereupon local residents will be asked for their views on the work that’s so far been done and the choices that lie ahead. Look out for announcements of this, in Penny Post and elsewhere, probably in the next few weeks. This will include a statement from the H2036 team explaining how the current conclusions have been arrived at and the rationale behind the options that are being recommended. For more information, see this separate post, which also has links to the H2036 website.
• What is the first line of Moby Dick? What is the relationship, if any, between the writer VS Pritchett and cartoonist Matt? In what sequence of books do A Buyer’s Market and Hearing Secret Harmonies appear? These are just some of the questions that might be asked – but, unless I’m having a psychic moment, probably won’t be – in the Let’s Get Quizzical virtual literary quiz being organised by Hungerford Bookshop at 7.30pm on Saturday 20 February. Click here for details and to book your place.
• Marlborough News reports that Chilton Foliat Primary School has launched a crowdfunding campaign to transform the Early Years garden and outdoor area.
• The most recent meeting of Inkpen Parish Council took place on 25 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Kintbury Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 7 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Froxfield Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Shalbourne Parish Council took place on 4 February and you can download the minutes here.
• It was announced last weekend that the sewerage system in the Valley – which is seldom out of the news at times of high groundwater – had overflowed, resulting in remedial measures being put in place by Thames Water (TW). (It’s worth stressing that TW’s recent remedial work seems to have had some effect as the system was, this year, able to accommodate a higher level of foul water than it did last). You can read more in this separate post. Since then it’s reported in East Garston (and so doubtless elsewhere) that the water levels continue to rise and manholes are starting to back up. One result of this is surcharging of excess water into the River Lambourn from the village’s pumping station, which has increased from once every 90 seconds on 13 and 14 February to one every 70 seconds on 18 February. Local campaign groups have contacted Thames Water for an update.
• The most recent meeting of Lambourn Parish Council took place of 3 February and you can read my summary here.
• What a great event organised by the Friends of Lambourn Library in which Pat Murphy – PP’s arching columnist aside from many other accomplishments – was chatting to former trainer Ed James about his life in racing. As virtually all the very small number of things I know about racing have been explained to me by one of these two, and my knowledge has no increased. A delightful hour.
• 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.
• Congrats to Jo Harbinson of Lambourn, the winner of the Penny Post Christmas and New Year Quiz, who is now better off to the tune of 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 to see the answers. Thanks to all of you who took part.
• 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 most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council took place on 8 January and the draft minutes can be seen here.
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Newbury.
• I mentioned last week about Newbury Town Council’s support for the idea of universal basic income (UBI) in principle and to request the government to provide funds to set up a trial scheme in the town. The idea of UBI perhaps takes a bit of getting used to as it some ways runs directly contrary to all our ingrained notions of how individuals, society and governments interact. I’ve recently learned that a virtual event will taking place on Thursday 4 March from 7 to 9pm which will consider “what UBI is and how could it help communities in Newbury and across West Berkshire” and will look “at the wider impacts across the UK and around the world.” I understand the spaces are filling up quickly.
• 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.
• this week’s NWN has on p4 story about a legal challenge to overturn the decision last year to award a licence to Merkur Slots’ gambling centre in the Market Square. The applicants claim that the outlet will be magnet for trouble of all kinds and that the licensing committee was unaware if the record of previous incidents in other centres run by the same company which resulted in Police action. Whether one likes it or not – and many don’t – council licensing committees are obliged under the Gambling Act to be pre-disposed in favour of granting such licences. I understand that Thames Valley Police – who might be expected to have a good idea of the likely risks this would pose – offered no objections. Nor does it seem that the number of incidents, spread over many years and across many sites, was that large: if this were to set a precedent I doubt there would be a pub chain in the country that could continue to operate.
• A Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) has been introduced in Newbury town centre, banning on-street drinking and clamping down on anti-social behaviour (which might, perhaps, help with the above-mentioned matter).
• 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.
• The most recent meeting of Newbury Town Council for which minutes are available too place on 19 October and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Greenham Parish Council took place on 13 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: discussions about the future of the Diamond Playing Field; speeding in the parish; discussion about the 2021-22 budget (confirmation of which was deferred to a later meeting); the Wildlife Garden Project; the Community Engagement Working Party; EV charging points in the parish; possible names for the new development in Greenham.
• 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.
• 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 is 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 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, Beedon Parish Council, The Peasemore Village website, West Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.
• The most recent meeting of Peasemore Parish Council was held on 20 January and you can read the minutes here. Items discussed included: power cuts; the appointment of a new Clerk; land-ownership issues; parking in the parish; tree maintenance; playground repairs; an increase in the precept to £5,500 for 2021-22; several planning applications; and discussion about the current funding of the Village Hall.
• 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 Beedon Parish Council took place on 1 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: pathway clearance on Oxford Road; Beedon Primary School’s funding; phone-box renovations; two planning applications; plans to publicise PC meetings more widely; the proposed equine hospital; and the possible diversion of a footpath to avoid an electric fence.
• And still in Beedon parish, in World’s End, click here for information about plans to build a new veterinary hospital to the south of the village: the applicants admit this would be “a significant development” in the parish.
• 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.
Thatcham and district
• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Thatcham.
• The proposals to build 2,500 homes in Thatcham – about a third of the homes that the district will require over the next 15 years according to government figures – continue to excite controversy. The net effect will be the creation of a settlement about the size of Hungerford more or less filling the current space between Thatcham and Bucklebury. I’ve spoken to a number of organisations about this recently, including various town and parish councils, and will aim to have a post which summarises their various positions next week. In the meantime, you can click here to see Planning portfolio holder Hilary Cole summarise the advantages of the proposal on 25 January; and here to see the response from Thatcham Town Council.
In some ways, the choice of Thatcham for this development are a result of the Cold War. The Atomic Weapons Establishment, established in 1950, operates two sites in West Berkshire, at Aldermaston and Burghfield. These, you may be relieved to know, sit within a Detailed Emergency Planning Zone (DEPZ) which in May 2020 was enlarged. One of the effects of this was to put much of the proposed new town at Grazeley, a site which spanned West Berkshire, Wokingham and Reading Councils, within the zone, so making the development unviable. As about 3,000 of the proposed 15,000 homes would have been in West Berkshire, it became necessary to find something to replace these. The district’s Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (HELAA), which had recently been published, shows four adjacent sites to the north-east of Thatcham (referred to as THA6, 8, 10 and 20 on the map) which were specified as being either “potentially deliverable” or “potentially deliverable in part”. It is these four sites, now combined, that comprise the new 2,500-home zone which WBC has recently announced.
As the notes make clear, the HELAA is “a technical assessment, not a policy-making document. It will not make recommendations on which sites should be developed but will make a preliminary assessment of their suitability and potential.” The presence of a site on a HELAA doesn’t therefore mean that there are no problems that still need to be overcome. According to Thatcham Town Council’s above-mentioned response, there are several. Were Grazeley to have gone ahead, it’s unlikely that development on anything like this scale would have been envisaged here, which gives Thatcham’s plans the whiff of, as David Lister of Thatcham Town Council describes it, “a last-minute second choice.” This is supported by the fact that the Infrastructure Delivery Plan – which addresses an aspect of the project that’s of wide concern to residents – was not published during the lifetime of the recent consultation and, indeed, has not been published yet. Opponents, including Thatcham Town Council, claim that this makes it impossible to judge whether the proposed improvements will indeed address local needs.
In her statement (see link above), Hilary Cole pointed out that West Berkshire “has very little land suitable for development because of the constraints of flooding, the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and AWE,” but, despite this, “the government expects us to deliver housing to meet the needs of our population.” No one argues that WBC needs to fulfil its obligations and that new homes are needed: the big questions are always “where?”; and, when this is proposed, “why here?” Whether NE Thatcham is the best site, or whether another (or several smaller ones) would be bette, are open questions. However, to refer to it as “strategic” is perhaps slightly misleading as this implies that the consideration of this site was the starting point: in fact, it appears to have been added fairly recently.
I sympathise with WBC’s problem. Both Sandleford (or so it would seem) and Grazeley have been knocked off the map, in the latter case for reasons that WBC couldn’t control. Nor could it control (or avoid reacting to) the government’s housing allocation demands; and it clearly accepts that new homes are needed. If these are needed quickly, more smaller sites might be more suitable. This would also spread the inconvenience or the benefits, depending on your point of view, evenly across the district. Most communities could probably support a five per-cent increase in the number of homes. A final point concern Hilary Cole’s reference to the constraints of the AONB. This was not, however, a limiting factor in the approval for the 100 homes on the outskirts of Hungerford. Would further compromises on this matter be preferable, and more achievable, than one mega-site wedged between two existing settlements?
• 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 (see above) and the response to the local plan consultation generally; and reports from the ward member 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 2 February and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: abandoned roadworks signs; overgrown shrubs; a damaged hedge; the Enborne Way allotments; two planning applications; road-speed monitoring; and agreement that members of Brimpton PC would continue not to take allowances, although this could be legally paid.
• The most recent meeting of Midgham Parish Council took place on 18 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the results of the residents’ vote on the future of the village hall (a clear majority was in favour of selling it) and the subsequent discussion about the next steps; various planning applications; the parish’s response to the emerging draft of WBC’s local plan; and damage to a footpath in Upper Midgham Park.
• The most recent meeting of Hermitage Parish Council took place on 21 January and you can read the minutes here.
• See also this page for up-to-date information about Hermitage’s neighbourhood development plan.
• The most recent meeting of Cold Ash Parish Council took place on 26 January and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the results of the CIL community bid for the lights (which was not successful); confirmation of the 2021-22 budget and the precept (£42,500); a discussion on the emerging draft of WBC’s local plan, in particular the impact of the proposed plan for 2,500 homes in neighbouring Thatcham (see also above); a proposal for the removal of two oak trees near the Acland Hall; and various planning applications. There was also mention of a letter of complaint received from a resident about “fencing in Westrop Woods.” When I first read this I imagined “fencing” to be a verb and had visions of dawn duels taking place to satisfy some arcane point of local honour. In fact, as the notes made clear, this was referring to fines being out up to deter deer and rabbis from destroying the 1,500-odd tress that have recently been planted there. A part of me was disappointed by this – another promising scoop dashed.
• The most recent meeting of Bucklebury Parish Council for which minutes are available 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 winter morning and ends with Marilyn Monroe.
Theale and district
• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that will be available in Burghfield from 22 February.
• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 14 January and you can read the draft minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Theale Parish Council took place on 8 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the propose blocking of the unofficial access from the graveyard to the recreation ground; several planning applications; the approval of the tender application pack and tender process for the grounds maintenance; the fixing of the Christmas lights switch-on for 4 December 2021 (Covid permitting); the agreement that TPC would create a Facebook and/or Twitter account and would update its media policy; and the agreement of various internal procedures.
• The same council has vacancies for two councillors – more here.
• Theale’s District Councillor Alan Macro has responded to the consultation on the council’s draft new local plan and opposed the proposals for another 170 new homes and new offices on land between Theale and the M4.
• The most recent meeting of Englefield Parish Council took place on 13 January and you can read the draft minutes here. 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.
• As mentioned elsewhere, Grazely has also been in the news recently because of a recent court judgement. This was an application for judicial review brought by a group of developers against WBC (supported by others). The developers argued that WBC’s regulatory oversight of the designation process was deficient, but the Judge rejected those arguments (partly on the grounds that the claim was “motivated solely by the claimants’ private proprietary interests in the development of the site”) and gave judgment for the WBC and refused permission to appeal. You can see the full text of the judgement here. A victory for WNC it may have been: but it also seems finally to have killed off any lingering homes that the large new town which would have spanned three districts and contributed 3,000 homes to WBC’s housing requirements would see the light of day. Many residents of Thatcham and Bucklebury may feel (see above) that they are the real losers from the situation (which was apparent before this judgement) as that is now proposed to be the site of 2,500 new homes.
• 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.
• The most recent meeting of Padworth Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can see the minutes here.
• Click here to see the February 2021 edition of the Padworth newsletter (which is a spirit of neighbourly co-operation includes details of PC meetings from neighbouring parishes).
• 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 593 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 8-14 February, down 100 on the week before. This equates to 119 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 116 (176 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a 63 more local level to be obtained.
• Marlborough News reports that Transition Marlborough is running a project to distribute 800 packets of wildflower and bee-friendly seeds to encourage sowing this spring. Distribution will bee to every household in Mildenhall and Axford, a further 300+ via retailers and community groups in Marlborough and 200+ via community groups in Ramsbury.
• The same source has this post about forthcoming road closures in the area.
• 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.
• 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.
• Planned sewerage works by Thames Water have been delayed due to high groundwater levels: it’s hoped they will take place in the spring.
• The most recent ordinary meeting of Marlborough Town Council took place on 18 January and you can read the minutes here. There was also an extraordinary meeting on 1 February to confirm the awarding of the contract for the repairs to the Town Hall.
• The Marlborough Area Neighbourhood Plan covering Marlborough with Manton, Mildenhall and Savernake has been completed in draft form and is now moving into a formal consultation period – click here for more information.
• Click here for two excellent lists of suppliers in and around Marlborough which are offering takeaways and also those offering deliveries or click-and-collect for a wide range of products.
• The most recent meeting of Great Bedwyn Parish Council took place on 14 January and you can read the draft minutes here.
• Swindon Link reports that the fire station in Ramsbury can accept unwanted laptops or tablets which can be re-purposed and used by schoolchildren. See also this post on the issue of digital poverty and what other organisations are doing to help combat it.
• The most recent meeting of Aldbourne Parish Council took place on 3 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: council elections; a troublesome manhole cover in West Street; a report from the local Police team; the trees on Marlborough Road and Lottage Road; changes to the lease for the Community Room; proposed tree-planting works; the clearance of the Winterbourne ; the re-installation of the pump; the possible purchase by the PC of the land where the allotments are situated; improving communications; and a request for a family memorial.
• Click here for a list of current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.
Wantage & district
• The BBC reports that there were 86 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 8-14 February, down 55 on the week before. This equates to 63 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 116 (176 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• The fighting still continues between South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) and the government over the former’s local plan, which was imposed by Whitehall despite a clear mandate for change in the 2019 local elections. A SOCD councillor, Sue Roberts, is hoping to bring a legal challenge on the grounds that the number of homes proposed in the plan will lead to a flood risk. The story is covered on p1 and p3 of this week’s Herald. This gives the paper’s editorial the opportunity to restate its opposition to the Housing Minister’s tactics in the local-plan dispute as being “a mockery of local democracy”. It goes on to say that, while it disagrees with Councillor Roberts’ views on this matter, it supports her right to express them – the precise phrase is “staunchly defends,” which falls a little way short of Voltaire’s “defend to the death” but the point is clearly made for all that.
• The same paper has, on p8, an article detailing the various expenses claimed by Oxfordshire’s six MPs. The headline, “County MPs cost taxpayers £1m during single year” is packed full of emotive words and seems to be designed to provoke outrage. However, I’m not clear what the list of costs tells us. David Johnston, for instance, spends far less on staff costs than the rest of this. Is this because he’s amazingly efficient, amazingly lazy or some other reason? I don’t know. The article also compares these to the “average for other MPs elected before December 2019” but I’m not clear what the significance of this is. Why not the average for “all” MPs in the same period? All I really get from this are a load of figures, I’m afraid.
• David Johnston may, according to the above, not employ many staff (or does, but doesn’t pay them) but one can’t fault his commitment to solving one of the areas enduring mysteries, why the old Wantage Road station remains closed despite the growth in the area’s population and the climate emergency. He’s recently pointed out that “one of the (many) criteria the government use to assess each proposal [to re-open a station] is whether or not it would be popular locally, as well as whether rail is the right answer, for example instead of a new bus route.” To assist his campaign, please click here to complete a short questionnaire on the subject – this closes at noon on 1 March.
• Click here for a lit of businesses offer click-and-collect services in Wantage town centre.
• A reminder that the Wantage & District Chamber of Commerce has been approached by a local education establishment to facilitate the collection of redundant laptops and tablets which can be wiped and reconfigured to assist less advantaged school pupils to access online learning. Should members, businesses or individuals have any appropriate hardware please deposit them at the drop off point in Town, MotorLux Ford. See also this separate post for other places where you can take unwanted IT kit.
• The most recent meeting of Wantage Town Council was held on 14 December and you can read the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of Grove Parish Council for which minutes are available was held on 17 December 2020 and you can read the draft minutes here.
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Herald looks returns to a familiar (and necessary) riff and one which residents of Thatcham (see above) would doubtless agree: the disparity between the infrastructure improvements required by the increasing hunger of houses in the area and those that are actually provided. She could have picked a number of specific areas, including health provision and public transport, but she’s decided to focus on leisure facilities. See also this article on the Vale of White Horse Council’s website.
• 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.
• The Herald’s letters page is a sorry sight this week with no letters at all.
• Click here for news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group.
• The government has published a new plan designed to transform the Oxford-Cambridge Arc region into one of the world’s premier growth areas and “a world leader” (I’d have thought Whitehall would have grown wary of this phrase) in sustainability. You can read the response from the Vale Council here.
• Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire District Councils have agreed a partnership to help local businesses reduce their carbon footprint.
• Following a public consultation, Vale of White Horse District Council’s Cabinet has approved several changes to parking arrangements to help reduce vehicle emissions.
• Councillor Emily Smith, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, delivered her latest report to Council at the meeting on 10 February 2021, which you can read here.
• 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.
• In that very theme, it seems from the Wantage & Grove Community Facebook Group that there is untreated sewage going straight into the brook at Grove Green, Grove. If you live downstream from that point please can you keep an eye out for dead fish or any other impact due to the pollution being caused. Please also be extra careful if you go in the water for any reason. Thames Water is tankering away sewage from Grove and there is a consultant taking water samples. The EA has been notified several times. Please take a photo if you do see dead fish and if it’s safe to do so.
• 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 207 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 8-14 February, down 92 on the week before. This equates to 93 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 116 (176 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• Click here for details of Covid lateral flow tests in Swindon.
• Swindon Link reports that pupils across Swindon and Wiltshire have benefitted from 4,200 laptops and tablets “as the government hits an important milestone in its roll-out of devices to support disadvantaged young people.”
• The same source reports that the fire stations in Stratton and Swindon can accept unwanted laptops or tablets which can be re-purposed and used by schoolchildren. See also this post on the issue of digital poverty and what other organisations are doing to help combat it.
• Wiltshire Police are to receive an extra £478,000 in government funding to support the force’s pandemic response.
• Swindon Council is calling on owners of empty homes in the borough to bring them back into use.
• A new sports pavilion will be built in Shrivenham, using funds raised by the Vale of White Horse Council from local housing developments.
• A special task group, which was set up to understand why Covid has disproportionally affected Swindon’s BAME (Black and Asian Minority Ethnic) residents, has held its first meeting.
• Four areas in Swindon at risk of flooding could benefit from millions of pounds in government funding.
• This article in the Advertiser suggests that the Oasis is in such a sorry state of repair that it may never re-open.
• Wiltshire Police are encouraging pharmacies across Wiltshire and Swindon to join a new support scheme which will provide a lifeline to victims of domestic abuse.
• 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.
• 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 come at the Song of the Week. Let’s nip back to the 80s for Shattered Dreams from Johnny Hates Jazz. Oh Lordy – the suits, the glowering looks, the bass sound…
• And so we arrive at the Comedy Sketch of the Week. This isn’t a comedy sketch but one of many very, very good scenes from a very, very funny film: These go to eleven from This is Spinal Tap.
• And finally, it’s the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What major change was introduced in the UK 50 years ago this week? Last week’s question was: In what country would you find a cocaine hippo? The country is Colombia, where a number of these beasts have been happily breeding in the wild since the closure of Pablo Escobar’s private zoo following his downfall to the extent that some locals are now regarding them as an invasive species: which could be bad news for the hippos…
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