Local News 4-11 March 2021

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s man, Lambourn’s cemetery, Upper Lambourn’s closure, Thatcham’s planners, Newbury’s candidates, Marlborough’s repairs, Wantage’s opinions, Grove’s tractors, Cold Ash’s cold dawn, Henwick’s refusal, Chieveley’s call-in, Compton’s communication, Aldbourne’s disappointment, Ramsbury’s anniversaries, East Garston’s bad luck, Froxfield’s speed, Chaddleworth’s bench, Wootton Bassett’s bikes, Stratfield Mortimer’s allowances, Burghfield’s wait, Grazeley’s coffin, Letcombe’s register, Swindon’s regeneration, Kintbury’s handrail, Inkpen’s bulletin, East Ilsley’s education, Ogbourne’s silks, north of the border, the walk-out, slipped on the map, two budgets, five councils, reactions to questions (about questions), Komissar alert, a precept for a gentleman, scepticism, Brazil, happy places, post-Covid life, a black fox, a smooth operator, William McGonagall, Lady Gaga, 1953, darling-honey-love and the private police.

Click on any highlighted and underlined text for more information on the subject. Some will link to other pages on this site, others to pages elsewhere.

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 have no idea what’s going on in Scotland right now. The two main actors, Salmond and Sturgeon, are so strongly associated with Scottish independence and a general disinclination to trust anything coming from south of the border that I suspect it’s hard for many English people to feel any sympathy with either. The story originally was about our old friend sexual misconduct but has since turned into a highly detailed and forensic analysis of who said what to whom when and whether it was this meeting or at that one that person A was was first made aware of what person B said about person C. The regular parody of this in Private Eye, purported to be written by the excruciating poet William McGonagall, make about as much sense as anything else I’ve read on the subject. (The great thing about parodying McGonagall is that although you need to make the verses sort of rhyme, they don’t have to scan. Indeed, he seemed unaware of the existence of written rhythm and was certainly oblivious to the poor impression he was creating at any of his public performances.) 

• Much the same thing could be said about West Berkshire Council this week. The recent (2 March) Full Council meeting, as well as being unedifying, seemed to represent a triumph of procedure over substance. You can watch the full meeting here, all 3 hours 59 minutes of it – slightly shorter than Lord of the Rings – Return of the King and at times almost as combative. Towards the end the opposition parties walked out in what WBC’s Leader Lynne Doherty described as “a theatrical argument over speeches.” Lib Dem Leader Lee Dillon saw this as rather being due to the opposition parties having “been denied their democratic right of debating their amendments”, so taking “the difficult decision to leave the chamber.” Carolyne Culver of the Green Party pointed out that “our respective budget amendments were lumped together rather than considered individually, making it easier for the Conservatives to find an excuse to oppose them en bloc.” The resulting confusion, bickering and eventual exodus must have left most observers dumbfounded. Anyone watching who was considering standing as a councillor would probably immediately have reconsidered this idea.

Each party would doubtless claim that their actions were correct. Much could be written on each individual disputed point of procedure, protocol, policy or precedent. I’m not the one to write this. My points are more general.

On Wednesday I had conversations and/or email exchanges with 10 councillors – nearly a quarter of them – from all three represented  parties. I haven’t watched the whole meeting (see link above) but have dipped in and out. I’m not and never have been and never will be a member of a political party and I hope my views would have been the same were the same events to have happened but with the current composition (Cons 24, LD 16, Green 3, Lab 0) shuffled so that another party was in the majority. Nor do I have any particular criticism of the budget itself. Even many of the opposition members I spoke to so said there were good things in it. That the discussion has focussed on the nature of the meeting rather than its content supports the points I’m about to make. In many cases, these are criticisms of the system (or the perception of it) rather than of the people operating it. Bearing all that in mind, these were my reactions:

  • The earlier stages included congratulations between administration members about the merits of the schemes. They must have been mutually aware of them so this hardly constituted debate.
  • There is surely something wrong with a system which debates its budget, the most important annual item, in one meeting lasting a maximum of four hours at which the main course doesn’t start until about two thirds of the way through.
  • There is also something wrong with a system in which all opposition motions are, as appears to be the case, grouped together en bloc, to be approved (which will never happen) or rejected in their entirety. This undermines the process (or seems to to an outsider) and is also a waste of the time spent by officers and opposition member’ preparing amendments which may have had merit but which were never debated or even considered.
  • The results of the 2019 election (see above) weren’t an overwhelming mandate for any one party. Indeed, I think (but haven’t been able to check) that the votes for the other candidates combined exceeded those for the Conservatives. I accept that isn’t the way our electoral system works. However, the opposition members include people of some experience and many (including those who voted for them) might expect that their contributions would be of value.
  • No party has a monopoly of the truth any more than they do of the votes. In the two biggest settlements of Newbury and Thatcham, which contribute 19 of the 43 seats, the Lib Dems have 13 councillors, the Conservatives four and the Greens two. No rational person would suggest the Lib Dems have the right to dominate discussions which concern urban matters. You can slice the stats any way you like and get different results but the whole thing suggests to me that a little more inclusiveness might be useful in these difficult times. It’s not necessary to follow what Westminster does. 
  • The procedural wrangles were, I think, beyond anyone’s power to understand. I have read or heard comments that each party stepped out of line at some point. These cancel out. The result, to an outsider – and apart from these 43 people, the other 160,000-odd of us are outsiders – was reminiscent of watching debates in the Commons during the maddest days of Brexit, or in Stormont during the maddest days of power sharing, or perhaps some obscure documentary about the election of a medieval cardinal. OK – I know some of 43 may say that that that’s the way it has to be and that on any one point you were right and the other lot was wrong. Most of us don’t care about that. I know you have to have rules and systems and processes but it must seem to many that the procedures were similar to driving a train through a series of red lights and being surprised at the result.
  • The current administration has been very successful in a number of areas, mainly its reaction to the pandemic. I’ve been really impressed by the answers I’ve had from members and officers, often quite late at night. Parish and town councils have also been brilliant. All in all, the local response has often exceeded that from Whitehall. Such things deserve to be celebrated. However, this now risks being lost in the perception that local politics is like last Tuesday night.

One solution might be something like West Berkshire Council’s old Financial Challenge Panel. This existed during the dark days of financial cuts under the previous (much more Conservative-dominated)  administration to get cross-party involvement in (and thus a wider sense of collective responsibility for) unpalatable service reductions, with members quizzing officers on the various cuts and their implications and ensuring the results were realised. Of course the party that wins (if we have to have parties at this level – another argument) is going to want to get its agenda through and will live or die at the ballot box by how well it’s seen as doing. However, at a local level, I think we should be less hung up on party affiliations are more focussed on what the area needs and how more people of different kinds can be attracted to join the council. A committee-based system is one  option worth looking at to accomplish this. A re-think is needed. Spin it how you like but, from where I’m sitting, this looked like a bad day. 

• Aside from the other parties, other organisations need need to (or expect to be) consulted on the budget as well. One, UNISON, feels that it wasn’t and expresses itself “extremely concerned that the trade unions have been consulted so late in the process on this occasion.” You can read the full statement here.

• Moving on to the actual WBC budget itself, this was approved, increasing slightly from £130.22m in 2021-21 to £133m in 2021-22. Here is WBC’s official summary. The Council Tax increase is 1.99%, the maximum that can be raised without going to referendum (and extra 3% can be raised in any combination over a two-year period, but this would be ring-fenced for adult social care (ASC)). You might think that many councils would choose to take advantage of this: indeed, to a greater or lesser extent, all of the 340-odd in England so far have, bar five – Bury, Essex, Lincolnshire, Bournemouth, Poole & Christchurch and West Berkshire. There seems nothing obvious that these have in common, geographically or politically (there Cons, One Lab, one hung).

To be brutally macabre for a moment, a reduction in ASC requirements can be a result in the premature death of some of the recipients. That seems to be a factor in what happened in West Berkshire, with the ASC budget barely rising from £50.5m in 2020-21 to £50.9m in the financial year about to start and with a surplus left over from the one just ending. The two obvious possibilities for this fiscal reticence are that these five are (a) incredibly efficient or (b) incredibly optimistic, and have no fear that faulty modelling or unexpected events will cause an impossible dip into the reserves during 2021-22. 

I put this point to Councillor Ross Mackinnon, Executive Portfolio Holder for Finance and Economic Development on 3 March. He explained that “we have decided (with a level of reserves comfortably in excess of the minimum recommended level) to leave that cash in the hands of our residents for the time being, until we really need it – hopefully we won’t. It would be wrong to take the maximum increase from residents in this year of all years just for the sake of it – far better to give our residents a break.” He also pointed out that, were WBC to need to take 3% extra for ASC next year it could duo so, whereas a council that had taken 3% this year could not.

None the less, the oddness of only (so far) five councils deciding to adopt this line is striking. What is it that these five places have in common? Like someone trying to solve a crossword clue, I can’t see it. Anyone got any suggestions for five down in this puzzle?

• It seems there was also another budget announced this week by a bloke called Rishi Sunak, whoever he is. You can read the official HMG summary here.

• Last week I asked some questions about questions, specifically West Berkshire Council’s way of handling these at Executive meetings. Council Leader Lynne Doherty (see here from 14’12”) suggested last month that the current system could do with being improved. Several people contacted me to say that they agreed with me: Lynne Doherty did so to say the opposite. Fair enough. She has pointed out that she and others “do not think the way questions are currently done is working in the best interests of our residents” and she would like to review this. She added that “at no point have I suggested that we will stop taking questions, indeed the very opposite: if you read our Communication & Engagement Strategy I am looking at how we actively involve more residents in this,” and that she “has no intention of limiting participation.” She also admitted that some people may be put off asking questions by the formality of the process (though some kind of structure and regulations are clearly needed). She went on the address the point I’d made that the sometimes repetitious questions were because people hadn’t had sufficiently good answers. While she conceded this might be one reason, she suggested it was also possible that “sometimes the answer given is not what the questioner wants to hear.” I’m happy to give her the opportunity to make these points.

She also said that her statement had been “grabbed and interpreted to fit a different narrative” and that she felt my piece last week “added to this misconception.” I had no particular narrative or pre-conceptions about this and merely reacted to what I’d heard said in the Executive meeting. My inferences seem reasonable even if, to paraphrase her remark above, they were not the ones she would have preferred me (or others) to draw. However, enough people appear to feel that there is, at the very least, the perception that certain issues have for too long remained unresolved which, in turn, are likely to lead to people drawing dark conclusions about suggestions that the way questions are asked about them be changed. For the boils of the London Road Industrial Estate and the football ground (the main subjects of the questions) to be lanced would clearly be a good thing. This would, of course leave one huge problem: how would the Editor of the Newbury Weekly News fill the empty spaces in the letters section each week if people stopped writing about these things?

• Now I must pull on my cape and leap to Lynne Doherty’s defence. A letter in this week’s NWN perplexingly and unfairly accuses her of “looking like a Soviet-era Komissar” for being photographed in the paper the previous week, flanked by a couple of Covid marshals while – horror of horrors – wearing a mask during a global pandemic. The next step on this slippery slope, the writer tried to explain, is that we’ll be “reporting our neighbours for harbouring enemies of the state in their attic.” I think I need these two dots joining up for me as they are quite a long way apart. I can only imagine what the outcry would have been if she hadn’t worn a mask. Who’d be a politician, eh?

• And so to Mr Covid. The Brazilian strain is a “variant of concern” and seems, like others, to be more transmissible though not massively more dangerous. If so, this might be quite good news and shows that what we’ve been doing in terms of suppression is having some effect. Covid is now having to fight for its right to party. It also appears that concern is largely based on just one study done in Manaus in Brazil. This showed high re-infection rates although this could have been partly due to other factors. The jury still seems out on this one. Others variants will doubtless emerge (one has done so on 4 March): this may not be bad news either. Nor does there so far seem to be any evidence that the vaccines will be ineffective against any of them, though some might require a tweak.

• The MD column in the latest Private Eye has pointed out that vaccine scepticism seems to be being promoted by EU governments, some of the largest of which are suggesting that the Oxford-AZ jab shouldn’t be used for the elderly, or even those over 55, and that it’s “second class.” This appears to be contributing to some lamentably low vaccination rates – as of 2 March, the UK had vaccinated more people than had Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Belgium combined. Part of the problem seems to be the result of public reluctance to participate, with might well come from the top. It’s hard to see the point in the EU creating a huge fuss about the vaccines, as it did last month, while at the same time suggesting that one of them is rubbish. Make your minds up, guys. 

• Last weeks Sunday Times provided a summary of the latest edition of Britain’s Health Index, published by the ONS and Lane Clark & Peacock. According to this, Wokingham is the healthiest area, Richmond-Upon-Thames has the healthiest eaters, Brent the happiest people, Cumbria the best air quality, Camden the least obesity and Bath & NE Somerset the highest levels of physical activity. If you’re in Blackpool, Luton, Haringey, Newham, Halton (Cheshire) or Wolverhampton then I’m afraid you’re at the bottom of these respective lists. In the overall health index, districts in Berkshire districts occupy four of the top six places. West Berkshire is also, after Brent, the happiest place. I wonder how these things are measured? I’m perfectly happy but no one ever asked me. Do the researchers just wander round a few town centres and see how many people are grinning wildly? There can be more than one reason for that, of course.

• Now that there seems to be a light at the end of the Covid tunnel, people’s minds are turning to what changes imposed by lockdown might survive it. One is the question of virtual meetings or learning through Zoom, Teams, Skype or whatever. These have, for many of us introduced a whole new raft of phrases to our vocabulary. “You’re on mute”, “I’m going to trey to share my screen”, “we’ve only got three minutes left”, “sssh darling, mummy’s having a meeting” and “ooh, what a lovely cat” are now almost daily utterances  – but are they here to stay?

Council meetings will be able to be conducted online after 7 May only if the government renews the regulations for another six months (which seems a nailed-on certainty). What will happen after that? The accusation is that such meetings exclude those who don’t use the web. While true, physical meetings exclude those who are forced to be in two places at once, who have too far to travel or who have mobility problems. Inclusivity is also well served by people being able to participate in just the bit of the discussion that concerns them and then perhaps zooming to another one. Absenteeism has also plummeted. One Hungerford Town Councillor was in New Zealand for much of the first lockdown but – despite looking slightly bleary-eyed and, of course, being upside down – attended every monthly meeting. District councillors and local MPs can also participate to an extent impossible if they had to drive half way across the district just for a short but important piece of input. If you know people quite well you don’t really need to be in the same room as them: your mental image of them in the flesh will fill in any latency or poor lighting and disbelief can be suspended. For a journalist they’re often useful as you see all the participants face on, not possible in a physical setting. (If they’re recorded, so much the better. I remember watching a bit of a West Berkshire Council meeting last year at which one member made a very unexpected intervention. By replaying the section a few times I was able to clock exactly which other members raised their eyebrows in outrage or surprise. They were not all members of the opposing parties either, which tells its own little story.)

It must be a lot tougher at places like schools where holding the attention of 20 to 30 sometimes unwilling participants is a challenge at the best of times. The latest instalment of the monthly diary written by the Head of John O’Gaunt School in Hungerford suggests, however, that this enforced method of engagement is becoming more and more successful and that some aspects of remote communication such as for parents’ evenings and for some homework tasks might outline the pandemic. At least it now seems that most pupils have suitable digital devices, something that wasn’t the case nine months ago. This has been solved by a combination of government funding, support from local councils and the work of local community groups and volunteers, though not always in that order. At a higher level, a friend who’s a university lecturer has loathed the business of reducing his lectures to slides and text and can’t wait for the day when he can once again dispense his wisdom in person and adjust his delivery, and sometimes his content, to the reaction he’s receiving from his audience. 

I don’t know how business has coped because I’ve had hardly any Zoom calls for this reason. I’m not sure I’d want to make a pitch to a team of strangers or defend a poor sales quarter to a grumpy board online: then again, I don’t much want to do these things in person either and fortunately for some time have not had to. Some jobs (and some homes; and some people) are better suited to remote working than others and several bosses have said that they can’t wait to get people back in the office again (this might in some cases be because they’ve got a 25-year lease on five stories in some expensive location and need to have some staff in there to justify the expense).

There’s going to be a lot of picking and choosing from what we’ve been through but it seems certain that, now most of us have got the hang of it, Zoom and the rest ain’t going to go away. Whatever we organise meetings or events, some people are going to be included and some excluded. Sadly for those with no access to the web, they’re probably going to be the ones that will lose out. One thing HMG could usefully do is splash a bit of cash on getting the broadband network in a tip-top, dare I say “world beating” condition. Schools might also consider running lessons in Practical Zoom Etiquette, a skill which, along with Spotting Disinformation, is going to become more and more needed – particularly for people who amusingly digitally superimpose a picture of a cat on their face and then, when the time comes to make their big speech, realise that they don’t know how to turn it off…

• The BBC reports that there were 80 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 22-28 February, down 65 on the week before. This equates to 50 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 70 (103 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.

Lateral flow tests – which although not perfect have proved to be of great value in identifying asymptomatic Covid cases – are now available in West Berkshire for key workers and others who are not already in a testing programme. See here for more information about the four testing centres in West Berkshire: Highwood Copse in Newbury, Thatcham Rugby Club, Hungerford Rugby Club and Burghfield Community Sports Association. See here for further information from Gov.uk on these tests and who is eligible for them.

• West Berkshire Council and Greenham Trust have jointly set up a £200,000 Surviving to Thriving fund to enable voluntary and community sector organisations in West Berkshire to apply for grants to fund projects aimed at helping improve the mental health and wellbeing of local residents impacted by Covid-19.

• Local residents are being invited to help shape WBC’s Active Travel plans.

• A reminder that local schools have need of laptops and tablets – indeed any IT kit – to be used to help children who are now being schooled at home. Several recent reports, and several media campaigns, national and local, have highlighted that perhaps 1.8m children have inadequate equipment at home to cope with the demands of on-line lessons. Please see this separate post for more.

• West Berkshire Council has announced that six Covid marshals are to be deployed throughout the district “to monitor devious and encourage social distancing.”

• The West Berkshire Covid dashboard can be visited here.

Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Click here to see the latest Residents’ News Bulletin from West Berkshire Council.

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 HubClick here to visit the website or call 01635 503 579 to speak to the the Building Communities Together team. The Hub has also set up two FAQ pages, for residents and for businesses. You can also click here to sign up to receive the Hub’s e-bulletins and click here to see the weekly updates.

• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.

Click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. As with the volunteers’ post above, if you are aware of any others, let us know. In West Berkshire in particular, this is a service that is likely to be needed more than ever now we enter tier three.

• The animal of the week is this black fox in Isleworth (sounds like a pub, doesn’t it?) I don’t care for foxes that much but this one is quite cool, as well as being rather rare. 

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those referred to elsewhere, CIL charges, a walk around Thatcham, food waste and social housing.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Chiseldon Primary School’s eco playground (thanks to the Wiltshire Community Foundation); NHS Charities (thanks to Speenhamland Primary School); Blood Cancer UK (thanks to Shaun Ward); Trindledown Animal Welfare Trust (thanks to West Berkshire Crematorium); Prior’s Court (thanks to Hannah Merrirt); the Carlie Waller trust (thanks to Luke Owens).

Hungerford & district

• Latest news from Hungerford Town Council, Kintbury Parish Council, Shalbourne Parish Council, Chilton Foliat Parish Council, Froxfield Parish Council and Inkpen Parish Council

See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that will are now available in Hungerford.

• Our coverage of life in the town is all brought together once a month in the bright, shiny, topical, informative and entertaining Penny Post Hungerford, the March edition of which was published own Tuesday. Click here if you didn’t get it. As well as the usual updates for the Town Council, the Town and Manor and the town’s retailers and businesses, it also has a tribute to Hungerford’s “man of the century” Jack Williams, news of local support for the government’s Kickstart apprentice scheme and the latest from HEAT, St Lawrence’s and Smarten Up Hungerford. There’s also a last call to enter our special Hungerford quiz (which celebrates our 50th edition last month), a “powerful and suspenseful” novel, a “creamy and elegant” Chardonnay, an “honest and illuminating” film, a look forward to the Cheltenham festival, two appeals, several suggestions for lockdown activities, the answers to February’s spot-the-difference competition and a guide to the March night sky. And lots of other stuff too. 

• One item that just missed the cut for this (as he was so busy) was the latest monthly diary from Richard Hawthorne, Head Teacher of John O’Gaunt School. In this he reflects on the challenges of running a school-cum-testing centre, ever-changing official guidance, the reaction of the local community and some changes to teaching methods that might survive the pandemic.

Click here for a comprehensive update of the state of play with Hungerford neighbourhood development plan (Hungerford 2036).

Marlborough News reports that Chilton Foliat Primary School has launched a crowdfunding campaign to transform the Early Years garden and outdoor area.

• The most recent meeting of Inkpen Parish Council took place on 25 January and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Kintbury Parish Council took place on 4 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: a commendation for the Kintbury Voluntary Group; six planning applications (all of which were supported); KPC’s response to the local plan review; dog fouling; support for the plan for the picnic benches near the lock; what appeared to be a quite involved discussion about who could grant permission for the repair to the handrail on the churchyard steps and also who actually owned the path; possible problems with the defibrillator batteries; and a discussion about an annual parish newsletter.

• The most recent meeting of Froxfield Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can read the minutes here. The next meeting of Froxfield PC will take place on Monday 8 March. Please email Froxfieldclerk@yahoo.com for the agenda and the Zoom link.

The fledgling Froxfield Community Speedwatch Group has finally been given the green light to start operating from three locations in the village from 29 March. Residents will not need telling that the village straddles the London to Bath Road (ie the A4) and so traffic speeds can be a tad above what they should be. Wiltshire Police has used the Covid hiatus to intall new software, recruit and train new staff and invest in a new speed camera van so the Group can now finally begin recording the speeds of vehicles passing through the village so that Police can see if there is a consistent problem. Initially, offending drivers get a series of warning letters before more “robust” action is taken. This might also herald the return of the speed camera van in the village on occasions. If you would like to join the group and help tackle the speeding issues, contact Sarah Whatley on Froxfieldclerk@yahoo.com.

• The most recent meeting of Shalbourne Parish Council took place on 4 February and you can download the minutes here.

• Click here for the March edition of the Inkpen and Coombe Bulletin. If you want to subscribe or contribute, contact gloriakeene@hotmail.com

Lambourn Valley

Latest news from Lambourn Parish CouncilEast Garston Parish CouncilWelford Parish Council and Great Shefford Parish Council.

• The most recent Lambourn Parish Council took place on 3 March and you can read my summary of it here. Items covered included the proposed Racing Welfare development at Collingridge (by far the longest item), four other planning applications; the possible purchase of additional land for the cemetery; improvements to the bus stops near Long Hedge; contributions to the West Berkshire Library Service; and the neighbourhood development plan.

• The previous minutes of Lambourn PC and other related documents now available in a more complete form on the excellent Lambourn.org site than they are on the PC’s official site.

• The planning application for the conversion of the stables at Mabberley’s in East Garston (21/02253/FUL) has been refused, on two grounds: the potential loss of a racing yard from the local stock; and the lack an ecological statement, both of which contravene various WBC and national policies. The decision notice seems to suggest that, if more evidence can be provided on these points, a future application would be successful. No mention was made of the access (I and several others objected as it came out into the village rather than onto the bottom road, using a route that already exists) but this is an easy one to remedy. I have sympathy for the applicants. The yard has, I understand, never been a successful one, mainly because of its proximity to the river which makes it damper and colder than racehorses like. Perhaps worse still in a notoriously superstitious industry, it’s acquired the reputation of being unlucky. A untenanted and probably unprintable yard does neither the owners nor the village nor the local racing industry much good.

• After a blip a couple of weeks ago, the sewerage system in the Valley seems to be just about holding its own, partly due to the seeming stabilising of the groundwater levels and partly the remedial measures being put in place by Thames Water (TW).  You can read more in this separate post.

• Residents of East Garston who with to join the recently-established village Flood Forum (EGFF) and receive email updates should contact martynwright345@btinternet.com.

• A reminder that The Great Shefford pub in Great Shefford is making a further bid to add a breakfast kiosk next to the pub and has contacted West Berkshire Council to establish if the proposal falls under permitted development and so doesn’t require planning permission. You can see the details on West Berkshire Council’s website here. A reasonably similar scheme was turned down by WBC last  summer by the applicants hope that this latest one has resolved the issues.

• The Friends of Lambourn Library is organising an author event on Wednesday 24 March by local author Anne Holland whose most recent book is The Grand National: A Celebration of the World’s Most Famous Horse Race. See the FoLL FB page for more.

• A further 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. Upper Lambourn Road Road near Malt Shovel Lane will be closed between 9 and 11 March – there’s a telecom fibre box somewhere near there, so this might be a good sign.

• The most recent meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 7 January and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council took place on 8 January and the draft minutes can be seen here.

Click here or here for the latest news from Lambourn Surgery.

4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more.

Newbury & district

Latest news from Newbury Town Council, Greenham Parish Council, Chieveley Parish CouncilEnborne Parish CouncilBoxford Parish Council, Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council, and Hamstead Marshall Parish Council.

Click here for the February/March 2021 update from Martin Colston, the Leader of Newbury Town Council.

See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Newbury.

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News leads with a story that was mentioned here last week, that the latest appeal in the saga of the troubled Sandleford development has been called in by the Secretary of State. The NWN, as we did, points out that this is “despite concerns” that the owner of Bloor Homes (whose appeal against West Berkshire’s refusal is the matter being considered) had donated over £1m to the Conservative party. The article refers to questions on this matter made to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and MHCLG’s response. The piece also quotes West Berkshire’s portfolio holder for planning Hilary Cole as saying that she was “surprised” by the call-in decision but added that the developer was “within their rights” to appeal the refusal. A decision is likely in the late summer. If the Secretary of State allows the appeal, however, this won’t make any of the substantive reasons for refusal offered last year by West Berkshire’s planning experts go away. See here for this separate post on the subject.

• This week’s NWN looks on p4 at the various candidates for the by-election on 6 May. This will be to fill a seat for the Newbury Town Council Clay Hill ward which is vacant after the previous councillor was stood down for not having attended a sufficient number of meetings.

• The same paper reports that the vaccination centre at Newbury Racecourse has recently jabbed its 20,000th arm. I’ve heard nothing but good things about how matters are organised there. I have my date with Dr Jab-Jab next week but for this I have to go to Ludgershall. This is a difficult place to both spell and pronounce( though I don’t think either of these will prove an obstacles). I mentioned it to a friend the other day and we both agreed that it wasn’t exactly where you feel it should be on the map. I’m not saying it’s like Inkpen (where all the streets keep moving around) or Chaddleworth and Brightwalton (which I’ve never been able to distinguish) but it just seems to have slipped its moorings slightly. 

• The most recent meeting of Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council took place on 2o January and you can read the minutes here

• 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. That this was quite some time ago doesn’t seem to be due to indolence as might appear as the Council delegates much of its work to committees. Click here for more on these.

• The most recent meeting of Greenham Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 13 January and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Boxford Parish Council took place on 5 January and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Enborne Parish Council took place on 4 January and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council took place on 9 February and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: a public question about Coombe Cottage (which District Councillor Hilary Cole said would be called in if the adducers were minded to approve it); two other less contentious applications (“no objection” to both); February’s finances; the next steps with the burial ground; CPC’s response to WBC’s minerals and waste consultation; dog waste; and speeding.

• 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. If you’d like to subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at admin@hamsteadmarshall.net.

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 East Ilsley Parish Council  was an extraordinary meeting on 9 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included the planning application for Corace House; dog-waste bins; a plan to educate dog owners; a donation to West Berkshire Council’s Library Service; and consideration of some of the items to be discussed at the next meeting.

• The most recent meeting of Chaddleworth Parish Council took place on 2 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the costs of producing the parish newsletter; work at the memorial Gardens; confirmation that the parish had not been successful with its recent CIL bid from West Berkshire Council; the latest burst of correspondence between CPC and WBC in the 30-year discussions about the possible adoption of Norris Lane; grit bins; a question about a piece of land ownership near the school.

• The March edition of Chaddleworth News has been published and you can read it here. items covered include: Walk All Over Cancer; local bees; Peter Moore’s bench; the history of a round house; a message from The Ibex (which is open for takeaways, for delivery or collection); news from local groups and charities; and an update from the Downland Practice.

• The most recent meeting of Beedon Parish Council took place on 1 February and you can read the minutes here

• The most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council took place on 8 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: a proposed communications policy and revised council structure; confirmation of planning decisions taken by WBC; legal advice on the allotments; preparations for the platinum jubilee in 2022; tree planting; IT equipment; a report on the Recreation Ground; and the consideration of tenders for the council-owned footway lights.

• The most recent meeting of Peasemore Parish Council was held on 20 January and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Hampstead Norreys Council took place on 28 January and you can read the minutes here

• 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 Brightwalton Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can read the draft minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Ashampstead Parish Council took place on 4 January and you can read the minutes here.

Thatcham and district

Latest news from Thatcham Town Council, Hermitage Parish Council, Cold Ash Parish CouncilMidgham Parish Council, Bucklebury Parish Council, Brimpton Parish CouncilStanford Dingley Parish Council and Woolhampton Parish Council.

See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Thatcham.

• This week’s NWN has on p26 two articles that touch on the proposed 2,500-home development in Thatcham. The top one claims that a plan for 225 homes to the north of Thatcham at Henwick  was rejected by West Berkshire partly on the grounds of the flood risk. This site was, however,  more or less insisted on by the Planning Inspectorate in 2017 as the council was at that time unable to demonstrate an adequate housing supply (that has since changed). If the site is at risk of flooding now then it probably was four years ago so it’s a bit baffling why the scheme was urged when it was known it would be problematic. Perhaps the box-ticking was, for the Inspectorate, more important than the actual homes that might result. There was also the claim that the development would not be able to lead to a sufficient improvement in the local infrastructure, a criticism which it seems could be levied at almost every development in and around the town over the last 30 years. The development would also, WBC decided, result in harm to the natural beauty and the AONB and would risk the town merging with Cold Ash. Swap “Bucklebury” for “Cold Ash” and it’s hard to see how these objections don’t also apply the larger development now envisaged.

“None of this makes sense to me,” Thatcham Town Council’s leader David Lister told Penny Post on 4 March. “The only thing that is different with NE Thatcham relative to other proposals is its scale and its claimed justification for delivering ‘new infrastructure’ – whatever this means given it remains undisclosed.” The second article looks at some other proposals  in and around the town which have proved unsuitable.

On Monday 8 March at 6pm, Councillor Hilary Cole (portfolio holder for planning) and Bryan Lyttle (Planning Policy Manager) will provide a Facebook Live update on the proposed West Berkshire Local Plan Review with a particular focus on the North East Thatcham Strategic Site Allocation. If you have any questions that you would like either of them to answer, please submit these via email to pr@westberks.gov.uk before 4pm on Monday.

• You might also want to click here to read what the main interested parties have to say about the proposed plans in for 2,500 homes in Thatcham.

• The most recent meeting of Thatcham Town Council took place on 25 January and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Bucklebury Parish Council took place on 8 February and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent of Stanford Dingley Parish Council took place on 18 January and you can read the draft minutes here

• The most recent meeting of Brimpton Parish Council took place on 2 February and you can read the draft minutes here

• The most recent meeting of Midgham Parish Council took place on 18 January and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Hermitage Parish Council took place on 16 January and you can read the minutes here.

• See also this page for up-to-date information about Hermitage’s neighbourhood development plan.

• The most recent meeting of Cold Ash Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 26 January and you can read the minutes here.

• Information about the progress of Cold Ash’s neighbourhood development plan can be found here.

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin, which this week starts with a frosty dawn and ends with Lady Gaga.

Theale and district

Latest news from Theale Parish Council, Aldermaston Parish Council, Padworth Parish Council, Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council, Englefield Parish Council and Burghfield Parish Council.

See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that will be available in Burghfield.

• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 11 February and you can read the draft minutes here. items covered included: A successful members’ bid for the defibrillator; the success of the Cid members’ bid; various planning applications; reports from committees, working parties and the Neighbourhood Action Group; the possibility of Parish Councillors being paid allowances; a proposed campaign to attract new councillors (elections are on 6 May and nominations must be in by 8 April); and the proposed format for the annual PC meeting (to be held online on 22 March).

• The most recent meeting of Theale Parish Council took place on 8 February and you can read the minutes here

• The same council has vacancies for two councillorsmore here.

• In his monthly report, Councillor Graham Bridgman referred to the recent judicial review on the Grazeley site (at which West Berkshire’s position was upheld) and other setbacks that this massive plan has recently faced. Collectively, he felt, these “put the project in the coffin and nailed the lid down.” I don’t think he believes it’s going to happen, does he?

• He also reported that the application for the Energy Resource Centre and Data Centre in Burghfield was not listed for the Eastern Area Planning Committee on 10 March, “so we wait to see when (assuming that officers propose that permission is granted) it will be debated.”

Theale’s District Councillor Alan Macro has responded to the consultation on the council’s draft new local plan and opposed the proposals for another 170 new homes and new offices on land between Theale and the M4.

• The most recent meeting of Englefield Parish Council took place on 13 January and you can read the draft minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 9 February and the minutes can be downloaded here.

• The most recent meeting of Padworth Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can see the minutes here.

Click here to see the February 2021 edition of the Padworth newsletter.

• The most recent meeting of Burghfield Parish Council took place on 7 January and you can read the minutes here.

Marlborough & district

Latest news from Marlborough Town CouncilAldbourne Parish Council, Ramsbury & Axford Parish Council and Great Bedwyn Parish Council.

• The BBC reports that there were 261 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 22-28 February, down 162 on the week before. This equates to 52 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 70 (103 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a 63 more local level to be obtained.

• Just a few days left to comment on Marlborough’s NDP (closes 8 March). Click here for more information on this.

• Another consultation still waiting to take on passengers comes from Marlborough Town Council which wants to gauge opinion about the possibility of creating a permanent training area on Marlborough Common, making more space for sports for young people. Click here to take part. The survey will stay open until 4pm on 25 March.

• Work started on 4 March on repairs to Marlborough Town Hall and are expected to take about eight week.

• Click here for more from Marlborough News about the the ‘Save the Silks” campaign which aims to turn the Silks on the Downs outside Ogbourne St Andrew into a community pub.

• The same website has an update on the work at Marlborough’s new Parade Cinema, which is planned to open later this year.

Marlborough News also reports that Wiltshire Council has increased its Council Tax bills by 4.99% for 2021-22.

• The Gazette reports here that Wiltshire Council has rejected claims it hasn’t made much progress after declaring a climate emergency two years ago.

• The same website reports that councillors voted to support the construction of a shared-use path from Beechcroft Care Home to the A346 at the entrance to Marlborough Business Park.

Click here for details of forthcoming Zoom talks organised by The Merchant House in Marlborough.

• The Wiltshire Climate Summit took place last month – here’s a summary from MN.

• Planned sewerage works by Thames Water have been delayed due to high groundwater levels: it’s hoped they will take place in the spring.

• Wiltshire Council and (where necessary) its parishes go to the polls in May – this post from Marlborough News has further information.

• The most recent ordinary meeting of Marlborough Town Council took place on 18 January and you can read the minutes here. There was also an extraordinary meeting on 1 February to confirm the awarding of the contract for the repairs to the Town Hall.

Click here for two excellent lists of suppliers in and around Marlborough which are offering takeaways and also those offering deliveries or click-and-collect for a wide range of products.

• The most recent meeting of Ramsbury & Axford Parish Council took place on 15 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: various planning applications; financial matters; footpaths and rights of way; allotments; best-kept village bid; anniversaries at the Post Office; and various local maintenance issues.

• The most recent meeting of Great Bedwyn Parish Council took place on 14 January and you can read the draft minutes here.

Marlborough News tells us that Great Bedwyn School pupils have been putting a smile on local residents’ faces by delivering bunches of daffodils to several homes in the village.

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.

• Each fortnight, Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs column looks at some of the occasions when our local councils or councillors fall below the high standards that we expect from our democratic institutions and their representatives and their officers. The test for inclusion is, sadly, quite high and normally involves metropolitan councils or a recurring group of repeat offenders from the shires. Parishes hardly ever appear. Imagine, therefore, my surprise when in the most recent issue, there was a reference to Aldbourne PC. Wow, I thought – what’s been going on there? turned out, nothing: the article, in a pretty mild story by its standards, was merely comparing District Councillor James Sheppard’s stated enthusiasm for attending PC meetings with the laconic comment from the above-mentioned meeting noting the PC being “disappointed that he has not attended a meeting since September 2020.” I bet he turns up to the next one.

Click here for a list of current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.

Wantage & district

Latest news from Wantage Town Council (new-look website), Grove Parish CouncilWest Challow Parish Council, East Challow Parish CouncilArdington & Lockinge Parish Council and Letcombe Regis Parish Council.

• The BBC reports that there were 69 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 22-28 February, down 20 on the week before. This equates to 51 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 70 (103 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.

Click here for details of lateral flow tests that are available at The Beacon in Wantage.

• This week’s Herald reports on the “reckless” lockdown protest in Wantage last week which, according to the report, involved people coming from Didcot: which seems odd. it seems hast no fines were handed out even though the situation arguably merited them. Councillor Jenny Hannaby told the paper that “ewe cannot condemn people for having opinions.” Interesting point. Not sure about that. There are some opinions which surely are worth condemning. Believing that lockdown is rubbish perhaps doesn’t test that high on this scale but, as she added, the opinion is “not a very useful one.” Having an opinion is one thing: acting on it is another matter.

• A letter in the same paper suggests that MP David Johnston’s survey to help make the case for re-opening Wantage Road station (which has now closed) was pointless. I appreciate that there are considerable difficulties but many other organisations seem to think it has a chance, which is why it is where it is in the funding queue. The most insidious criticism, however, was that he “had set up a survey, on his computer,” about the project. I’m mystified by this swipe. How else are surveys created these days? By smoke signals? Written in marker pen on the side of an elephant? Or was it the fact that it was “his” computer that irked him? Is there some precept that states that “no gentleman will set up a survey on his own computer”? All this made made me distrust what followed and made me even more certain that I’d done the right thing by completing the survey myself (on my own computer).

• A bumper issue last month from the Wantage & Grove Campaign Group (click here to see the archive). Items covered include the Wantage NDP; Covid testing; the Country Transport Strategy; leisure funding; and a look at five ongoing planning issues (Grove Airfield/Wellington Gate, the land north of the Airfield, the new care home on Grove Road, Park Farm in East Challow and Crab Hill/Kingsgrove).

Click here for a list 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 government has recently published figures showing how much waste is recycled across the country. South Oxfordshire District had the second highest recycling rate in England with 64% of its waste being recycled. SODC’s close relative,Vale of White Horse district, came joint third with 63.3%. “This,” the Councils’ joint statement claimed, “puts the two districts way above the national recycling rate of 45.5% and they are also two of only 11 local authorities in the country with a recycling rate above 60%. Both districts have consistently been in the top ten in the past five years.”

• I mentioned above that SODC and the Vale were closely related: joined at the hip might be better. They share a number of functions, and an office. Indeed they’ve been living together for so long that I wonder if the time has come for them to make an honest council of each others and tie the know. This latest announcement says that they’re considering creating a joint local plan “to significantly reduce costs and help the councils meet their ambitious targets for making the two districts carbon neutral.” If that happens, it’s perhaps hard to see what the point of their remaining separate would be. 

• 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 took place on 26 January and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included proposed public art displays in the parish; a proposed statue; the 2021-22 precept (£297,367); a formal request of the Vale Council to ask how S106 funds are spent in and around Grove; a statement from the new Deputy Commander of the South Oxon and Vale Local Policing Authority; laptops for schoolchildren through the Ray Collins Charitable Trust; updates about the Grove Airfield and Crab Hill developments; various financial and regulatory matters; one tractor being bought and another traded in; proposals for a Grove 2041 local plan; and reports from various outside bodies.

• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Herald looks at whether the new care home in Wantage’s Grove Road is being downgraded from “luxury” to “ordinary” before it’s even opened.

• South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse District Councils have helped raise more than £240,000 for great crested newt habitats.  

• 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.

• The most recent meeting of Ardington & Lockinge Parish Council took place on 12 January 2021 and you can download the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of East Challow Parish Council took place on 16 December and you can download the minutes here.

• Click here for information the Didcot, Abingdon and Wantage Talking Newspaper (DAWN) for the blind and partially sighted. The organisers are currently appealing for help to keep the service going – click here for details.

• You can click here to see the February 2021 issue of the Letcombe Register.

• Click here for information on the location of defibrillators in and around Wantage.

Swindon & district

Latest news from Swindon Borough Council and Royal Wootton Bassett Town Council.

• The BBC reports that there were 212 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 22-28 February, down 45 on the week before. This equates to 95 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 70 (103 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.

• As previously mentioned, the Oasis has recently been revealed to be in a very poor state of repair. The Lib Dems on the Town Council believe that they can see a way to get it re-opened, as the Advertiser reports here.

• Swindon has been allocated £19.5m of funding for town centre regeneration projects.

Swindon Link reports that the fire stations in Stratton and Swindon can accept unwanted laptops or tablets which can be re-purposed and used by schoolchildren. See also this post on the issue of digital poverty and what other organisations are doing to help combat it.

Almost 300 people answered Swindon Borough Council’s recent appeal for volunteers to help at the Covid-19 vaccination centre at the STEAM Museum. And just to make the experience a bit different, staff and volunteers will be given their own little shot in the arm in the shape of a new art display designed to give them a boost while they are on their much-needed breaks.

• Wiltshire Police are to receive an extra £478,000 in government funding to support the force’s pandemic response.

• Swindon Council is calling on owners of empty homes in the borough to bring them back into use.

• Swindon Council has issued this warning about Covid cons that are currently doing the rounds.

Click here for information from Swindon Council about how Coronavirus is affecting its services as well as other useful information.

• The most recent meeting of Royal Wootton Bassett Town Council took place on 11 February and you can download the minutes here. Items covered included: a written report from the MP; the Mayor’s activities and communications; the approval on the minutes of the various committees; an update from the Community Policing Team; the proposed provision of more bicycle parking spaces in or near the High Street; a proposal for the Planning Committee to monitor and report breaches of planning law as Wiltshire Council “does not actively monitor” these; and plans for the forthcoming 10th anniversary of the Royal Charter.

The song, the sketch and the quiz

• We arrive at the Song of the Week. I’m going for Smooth Operator by Sade. And, boy, is it smooth…

• And so it’s time for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. For this one, I’ll take Welcome to the Private Police from Mr Fry and Me Laurie. it couldn’t happen here…could it?

• And, straggling in in last place, it’s the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is as follows: What happened in the 1953 FA Cup Final that had never happened before and hasn’t happened since? Last week’s question came from the recent Zoom quiz hosted by the Hungerford Bookshop and is as follows: What theme links the following: (a) the surname of Michael, John & Wendy in Peter Pan; (b) what Winnie-the-Pooh goes in quest of in the first chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh; (c) what a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel had in the time of cholera? The theme is a Valentine’s inspired one as the respective answers are Darling, honey and love. 

Brian Quinn

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If you would like to add your thoughts to anything in this post, please use the ‘Comments’ box at the foot of the page. Once moderated, your comment will be visible to other users.

If you would prefer to contact me directly and privately about anything which was, or you think should have been, in this post, please email brian@pennypost.org.uk.

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Covering: Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage,   Lambourn, Newbury, Thatcham & Theale