Local News 11-18 March 2021

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s eulogy, Lambourn’s bus stop, Thatcham’s library, Newbury’s showground, Marlborough’s zebra, Wantage’s care homes, Grove’s station, Great Shefford’s alleviation, Boxford’s wood chips  Hamstead Marshall’s hornet, Welford’s patrols, Ashampstead’s litter, Cold Ash’s commendation, Chieveley’s call-in, Compton’s grazing, Aldbourne’s attendee, East Garston’s postponement, Froxfield’s speed, Chaddleworth’s grit, Great Bedwyn’s fence, Wasing’s emissions, Aldermaston’s broadband, Stratfield Mortimer’s NAG, Burghfield’s wait, Grazeley’s lid, Shrivenham’s nappies, Letcombe’s register, Swindon’s snakes, meeting Dr Jab-Jab (and the opposition), vaccine hesitancy, the Leicester method, royal bickering, royal precedents, false positives, the right to repair, 5% goes local, six-hour waits, the new normal for holidays, Operation London Bridge, the man of the century, signs of spring, Lancaster Park, updating the plan, a pea-green boat, Mattie’s Rag and some quiet desperation.

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 went to Ludgershall this week for my appointment with Dr Jab-Jab. As I mentioned last Thursday, I also seem to get lost when I go there and have the suspicion that it moves around slightly, never being in exactly the same place twice (Inkpen and Chaddleworth are, for me, the same). This time, however, it was where I was expecting to find it. Absolutely flawless organisation by all the people who run it the centre and I was in and out in 30 minutes. Half of this was spent waiting after the injection (I suppose just in case people keeled over, which no one did). There was a volunteer near where I was sitting who was directing each person out of the building using a phrase almost identical to Michael Palin in Life of Brian: “Out of the door, line on the left, one cross each…” I asked him how many times he said that each day. “Well,” he replied, “about 600 times on Sunday and about 400 so far today.” It had all been full-on, he explained, with people coming from a 30 or 40 mile radius. There was even one man, he said, who lived the other side of Swindon. There was a closer centre, but he told them that he’s been stuck indoors for so long that the longer trip was an active pleasure. The world has indeed changed when we regard driving from Swindon to Ludgershall to have an injection as being the nearest thing we’re likely to have to a holiday.

• With the novel idea in mind that I was actually on a jaunt, I crossed the road to buy a Mars Bar from the convenience store opposite the jab centre. The only other customer was an angry-looking and un-masked man of the kind I most particularly distrust, one who can neither keep still nor keep quiet. “There they are,” he muttered,  “coming out from having their jabs, grinning like idiots. Stupid…pointless…morons…government control.” He flubbered on like this for some time. Here, I realised, was a real vaccine denier strutting his stuff, not on social media or a video but in the flesh.

The shopkeeper was brilliant, nodding just enough to avoid annoyance but no so much as to offer encouragement. I had the impression this wasn’t the first time he’d had to listen to this: the man probably came in every day; and every day, the location of the vaccine centre opposite provided the perfect pretext for launching into his diatribe again. Two other people, masked, came in and viewed him with misgiving. “I tell you what,” he said to no one in particular, “I’m not going to have the bloody jab.” The Oxford-AZ running through my system answered for me. “Why not?” I asked. He swung round to face this unexpected challenge. “What’s the sense of an injection when you still get the disease? Stupid.” “Because,” I suggested, “if you do get it it’s going to be less severe and you’re less likely to infect anyone else.”

“Ah,” he said. “But I’ve got a plastic heart.” That confused me. I’d never heard the phrase before. Was it some kind of implant? Should I feel sorry for him? “I don’t give a damn,” he explained. “No one I know is going to have it either.” I wondered if they really believed this or whether they didn’t dare argue with him. He was indeed slightly alarming: a bit like a boxer before a big fight, fired up on whatever and constantly twitching from side to side as if evading imaginary blows. “It’s like the Nazis,” he explained disconcertingly as the shopkeeper gave him his change. “Make up something to scare us all so they can control us. No bloody way.” I decided to leave it at that. The shop was quite small and had a number of breakable items on the shelves. Even if the conversation were to remain rational it was clear we weren’t going to agree about this any time soon. Then he was gone, doing a noisy three-point turn outside and spraying up gravel behind him which pinged into the window. The unperturbed shopkeeper smiled at me. “He’s a bit aggressive today,” he said indulgently. “Let’s hope it’s not catching,” I replied. As I crossed the road I realised I was now more convinced than ever that by having the jab I was doing the right thing. I congratulated the volunteers on the door on how well everything had been run, finished my Mars Bar and went on my way rejoicing. 

• There are clearly several reasons why people might not want a vaccine. There’s ample research ethnicity is one, BAME people being markedly less likely to trust it (even if they work in the health or care sectors). It’s also clear that misleading information on social media, which is how a lot of people receive their unmoderated day-to-day data about the planet, is peculiarly potent. This article by Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian suggests another issue; that the biggest obstacle to a full roll-out is not those whose objections are based on culture or conspiracy but by the “vaccine hesitant”, typical examples of which she suggests as being “university-educated, broadsheet-reading women who pride themselves on doing their research and absolutely know their Jonathan Van-Tam from their Chris Whitty.” As our jab date draws closer, and as we fail to see millions of the vaccinated falling ill or going crazy, so the take-up rate seems to increase. It’s currently about 90% from among the first four age groups.

As with everything, how the question is asked will affect the response (Full Fact reports here on an ambiguous question which, on this occasion, seemed not to have given distorted results). So is who asks it. A libertarian with “a plastic heart” may be happy to tell a market researcher, his friends or a stranger in a shop why he won’t get vaxed but might find this harder to explain to his doctor. 

One GP in Leicester recently put this to the test. The Sunday Telegraph on 7 March reports that Dr Imran Faroqi was so concerned about the low take-up of the vaccine from his patients, many of them fairly high-risk, in this city which has regularly topped the Covid infection rate tables that he and his staff decided to call 224 of the non-attenders in person. Nearly 60% of those contacted booked a jab at the end of the call and all bar a handful subsequently turned up on the appointed day. Whether they were genuinely convinced or slightly shamed I couldn’t say. Nor can I be sure if every GP surgery has the time personally to contact everyone in this way. This is important because – always on the assumption that the vaccine is both effective and safe, as all the evidence seems to suggest – we need to get to about 80 to 90% coverage for it to be truly effective. Anything much less and the operation risks being, if not a waste of time, then at least dangerously ineffective. It’s absolutely right that everyone should be prudent about taking such a step. Look at the evidence. If you’re still undecided, call the medical experts at your GP surgery – before they call you.

• Anyone glancing at the newspaper headlines this week would not be disturbed by such reflections as the only thing of any real importance would seem to be the spat between Meghan and Harry on one side and the rather unexpected alliance of the royal family and Piers Morgan on the other. I haven’t seen the interview with Ms Winfrey but I do remember Princess Di’s famous one in the 90s, in which she was made up to look like a trapped deer, and suspect it might have been a bit like that. I find it hard to believe that Meghan Markle didn’t have some idea of what she was letting herself in for when joining “the firm”. Princess Di’s allegations, which briefly convulsed the nation, were essentially personal and about her own right to self-expression. This one seems to have had both of those, as well as more troublesome accusations of bullying, racism and xenophobia. These the Palace’s PR machine seems utterly unable to combat, dignified silence being its default reaction to most of the many misfortunes to which the Queen’s family has subjected her over the last 40 years. A young multi-racial couple trying to break away from their shackles of their destiny could be, and has been, the plot of many a film or drama series. How apposite, therefore, that this should be largely be being acted out on our screens. I can understand people being confused between The Crown and the accusations being flung about on the news programmes. As Orwell memorably wrote at the end of Animal Farm, “the creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

• I’ve never met Prince Harry but I do have a medieval history degree and so would remind him that he’s lucky to be living in these times rather than in olden ones. There is a long tradition in our royal family of removing not only inconvenient kings (six of the 18 monarchs between 1066 and 1485 were killed by their subjects or close family members: before the Conquest, the attrition rate was even more shocking) but also inconvenient younger sons, brothers and nephews (including Arthur Duke of Brittany, George Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of York, one of the Princes in the Tower). Harry’s a duke, too, of course.

• So the kids are back at school but already there seems to be a bit of a kerfuffle about the lateral flow tests. These were known to produce a number of false negatives but it now appears (certainly from this week’s Newbury Weekly News) that they can give false positives as well (which cannot then be overturned by the more reliable PCR tests), so resulting in the entire family needing to self-isolate. A test that can err both ways is starting to look unreliable. If the results aren’t trusted, it also undermines public confidence in the government’s other Covid policies. Children don’t have to be tested but it is strongly encouraged: any doubt about the accuracy is going to reduce the take up. This statement from the government claims that the tests are highly effective; this article on the BBC website suggests the opposite and claims that the problems are “ruining the return to school.” Two possible explanations may be that the that the testing kits are defective or that tests on children are more prone to error. For those of you of a statistical turn of mind, this statement from the Royal Statistical Society has some detailed analysis of some of the data so far as well as (on the first) page some suggestions as to how the system can be improved and describes the “golden opportunity” it presents for conducting valuable research into the roll out itself. For parents and pupils, however, it seems that one set of frustrations and uncertainties has been replaced by another.

I spoke to Richard Hawthorne, Head Teacher of John O’Gaunt School in Hungerford about this. “The business of mass testing  under the ever-changing guidelines has presented huge logistical challenges,” he said. “The system isn’t perfect but it’s the best we have at the moment. Take-up at our school – and it seems at others throughout the area – has been very high. This is all being conducted by trained staff following the current guidelines. I’d urge parents and pupils to continue to come forward for these tests when offered as they provide the only way of spotting asymptomatic cases. If the government regulations change we shall, of course, be altering our procedures to match.”

• The government is to introduce a right to repair act this summer, the intention of which is to compel manufacturers to make some attempts to allow devices to be repaired rather than junked and upgraded, a business model on which many have them have relied for far too long. This is an example of the UK emulating EU law even though we don’t have to. (Perhaps this is a good side-effect of the tangled Ireland border issue – as that is for some practical purposes operating under EU laws, the best way Westminster can avoid creating problems with differing standards is to shadow EU regulations itself. This also makes it easier for UK goods to be exported there.) Even Apple started doing this in the US a8 months ago. For many years, repair cafés have been springing up all over the country where people with repairing skills could be presented with things that needed repair. We once had a toaster fixed in five minutes by one of those guys which had malfunctioned merely due to the failure of some tiny clip. We need more of this. 

• The right to repair is already an important part of our democratic system in which awkward questions can be asked of, if not always answered by, our rulers. One piece of equipment which might need an overhaul is the government’s test and trace system which will cost an estimated £37bn (£22bn in 2020-21 and £15bn in 2021-22). This promised much in 2020 but The Guardian reported on 10 March that a recent report from the House of a Commons Public Accounts Committee “struggled to find evidence that [it] has made a significant difference in reducing transmission.” This and other articles also goes on to point out that local councils, those traditional Cinderellas, have been far more effective at dealing with the issue – they, after all, had a functioning (if badly underfunded) local public health system and knew every aspect of their area. (Another factor, which has perhaps been overlooked, is that the closer to a problem you are, the more likely it is that you’ll understand and fix it.)

Our area of West Berkshire has, I believe, performed very well, aided by the immediate responses of the 60-odd town and parish councils and the superb work done by the local volunteer organisations. One of these, the Hungerford Self-isolation Group, even managed to persuade GWR to change its timetables to enable more people to get the one of the district’s main vaccination centres near Newbury Racecourse station. I speak from personal experience. District, parish and town councillors, parish and town clerks and West Berkshire’s own officers have all responded to my perhaps often tiresome questions about various aspects of their reaction that needed explaining or publicising, often well into the evening. Many of these people are unpaid and most of their organisations are under-funded. So, what share of 2020-21’s £22bn have these local councils received directly to spend on the networks and services each controls?

A lot, you might think. It would seem not. The only evidence of any additional payment specifically for test and trace I could see was £300m allocated last summer. I felt sure it must be more than that so looked at the question the other way round. I asked Howard Woollaston, West Berkshire Council’s executive member responsible for public health, if he knew how much WBC had received for this purpose from Whitehall: many thanks to him and the officers for coming back to me so quickly. It appears that West Berkshire has had £3.5m for two projects, although one also includes wider public-health measures. As we’re dealing in round numbers, let’s assume £3m was for T&T. As West Berkshire has about 0.25% of the population of England and Wales, assuming the district was a typical recipient, 400 times this must have been distributed to councils across the two countries: about £1.2bn, slightly over 5% of the total so far. The rest, it would seem, is being drip-fed down through a central system that (unlike the local systems) didn’t exist in any recognisable shape a year ago and has not proved to be an efficient percolator. In some things, like the question of vaccine roll outs, a centralised approach has clearly worked. With test and trace it clearly hasn’t. To paraphrase the Serenity Prayer, “God grant our governments the confidence to devolve those things that they cannot do, the courage to do those things that they must do, and the wisdom to tell the difference between the two.”

• Meanwhile, if you decide to leave the country you could find yourself waiting up to six hours to be let back in again, certainly if your arrive at Heathrow. This is longer than many of the flights themselves, plus the check-in times. I’ve always loathed every single aspect of air travel, particularly since 9/11 when the regulations – many of which are doubtless necessary – have been implemented by some of the staff at the airports I’ve been forced to use with a zeal that has at times bordered on sadism. Al Gore once remarked that international travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photograph. Waiting to end the experience now seems to be at least as gruelling…

• The BBC reports that there were 41 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 1-7 March, down 39 on the week before. This equates to 26 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 49 (70 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 any one the children who dressed up as animals (or people, or other things) as part of the World Book Day celebrations – see this week’s Newbury Weekly News for a lot of photos,

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those mentioned elsewhere, inequality, Sandleford, budget meetings, the Newbury by-pass, green spaces and England’s defeats.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Prospect Hospice (thanks to Wilson Tools); Vision 4 Wroughton (thanks to Bellway); ruth Newbury Scouts (thanks to The Good Exchange); The Injured Jockeys’ Fund (thanks to Shaun Reynolds); Brendoncare Froxfield (thanks to several of their staff); Julia’s House (thanks to the Run Every Day challenge). 

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 Penny Post Hungerford, the March edition of which was published last week. Click here if you didn’t get it. 

• As many will know, Hungerford’s “Man of the Century” Jack Williams died last month and his funeral took place on Wednesday 10 March. Please click here to read our tribute to him and the text of the eulogy delivered at his funeral by the Mayor of Hungerford, Helen Simpson.

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

• There is still no news, or no official news, about the progress of the drawn-out discussions between Bewley Homes and West Berkshire Council concerning the Lancaster Park development. The key point is Bewley’s desire to change the tenure of 28 of the homes in the development from social housing to shared ownership, overturning the agreement that had previously been a condition of the approval. The 12 homes that were always intended to be shared-ownership are currently being marketed whereas the other 28 are not: this suggests (a) that WBC has not consented to this proposal; and (b) that Bewley has not abandoned hope that it can get what it wants. More news on this as it becomes available (as I’ve saying for the last eight months).

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

• The most recent meeting of Froxfield Parish Council took place on 11 January and you can read the minutes here

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. 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.

• We’re all looking for signs that normality might be about to return. Me, I’m counting the days til when I can go swimming at the Hungerford Leisure Centre, have a meal with my friends in the village, have a boozy weekend with my old university mates and see three of my four sons. Like the signs of spring – a snowdrop here, a duckling there – these come at you unexpectedly, often when you most need them. One such moment happened to me the other day. I was driving from East Garston to Great Shefford and saw Freddie Tulloch (who, with his wife Sue, runs the Queens Arms and several other worthwhile things round here) standing by the side of the road with a mallet in his hand. Not in itself sign of hope and renewal,  you might think: but – and here’s the exciting bit – he was putting up a banner for the Garstonbury festival (which they also organise) for Saturday 17 July 2021 “if things go according to plan.” There, now – I think you’ll agree that is a sign. Click here for details of the great day

• The most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council took place on 4 March and the minutes will appear here in due course. Items covered included: the postponement of the planned Annual Parish Meeting in April, due to Covid; WBC’s Survive to Thrive fund (more information here: you can also contact the PC if you have any suggestions regarding local projects); flooding and sewage issues (please see paragraph below); the need to contact WBC to ensure the dog bins are emptied regularly; the village design statement (which will not be being pursued for the time being); and the co-option of Peter Smith as a new councillor.

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

• The most recent meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 4 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: one planning application; the PC’s response to the allocation of 15 homes in WBC’s draft local plan (which is provided in the minutes); repairs to the fence at the bottom of Hungerford Hill; damage to the bridge near the pub; the latest discussions with the Environment Agency (EA) about the village’s flood alleviation scheme (which, it was long hoped, would be able to be devolved to local contractors although the meeting was told the EA appears recently to have ruled this out, resulting in a more costly solution which will take longer); the co-option of two new councillors; the local salt bins; and the funding for the 2020 Christmas lights.

• 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.

• It appears from this week’s NWN (p25) that a decision on the application by Walker Logistics to build a warehouse and an aviation museum at Membury is unlikely to be decided before April. If the offers are minded to accept the application it will celled in to be decided by the Western Area Planning Committee. 

• 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.

• After a problem 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.

• 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.

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

4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the pandemic – 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.

• Eight in the running to buy showground” is the headline on p3 of this week’s NWN, the 177-acre site near J13 having been put up for sale by its owner, the Newbury & District Agricultural Society, to help balance the books. It appears that of 17 offers received, eight have been taken for further consideration. The article quotes the N&DAS as saying that the preference would look at ways it could “maximise revenue.” You could probably get about 800 homes on 177 acres so this might be one of the options.

• Newbury Town Council has plans to plant an NHS commemorative garden at old Hospital Green, on Andover Road. Herbs, shrubs and plants known for their medicinal qualities will be featured. The scheme has been designed by local resident, volunteer and garden designer Fran Lawton. For more information, and to express any view you might have on thiis project, contact david.ingram@newbury.gov.uk.

• A reminder that Newbury (or a part of it) goes to the polls in a 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 most recent meeting of Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council took place on 20 January and you can read the minutes here

• The most recent meeting of Newbury Town Council for which minutes are available took 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.

• It’s been pointed out to be by Newbury Town Council that my references to the most recent Newbury Town Council meeting sometimes having happened several months before shouldn’t be taken to mean that the councillors and officers don’t really bother to have meetings. In fact, many matters are delegated to committees which convene as often as every three weeks. I’m happy to make this clear: but would also add that there’s no reason why the unadopted minutes can’t be published more quickly on the website (as most parish councils now do: some even add a Zoom link until this has happened). By the time three months is passed, most people (including, perhaps, some of the councillors) would long have forgotten what had been agreed and many of the items would in any case have been overtaken by events. It all depends whether we want minutes to be purely a matter of formal record or whether they can also be an, albeit dry and un-contextualised, account of what the council has been up to.

• 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 2 March and you can read the minutes here.Items covered included: highways issues; the PC’s risk management plan; further repairs to the steps up to Westbrook; a suggestion that after tree-maintenance works, WBC’s contractors left woodchippings for the PC to use; the urgent need for a dog bin; flooding update; the parish plan; two planning applications; a financial summary; litter; and the plans for a new cycleway.

• The most recent meeting of Enborne Parish Council for which minutes are available 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 the most recent edition of which has just been published and which you can see here. Items covered include local planning applications (including at Elm Farm), an intro to the new Parish Clerk, a local community champion, good news for cheese-lovers, the mobile library and a look back at the history in Hamstead Park (including an investigation into a war-time accusation of poaching). 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.

• I recently received a communication (which had also been sent to at least some parish councils in the area) saying that armed units of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) police based at RAF Welford were now patrolling the area in conjunction with their colleagues from the Thames Valley Police (TVP). I was confused by this as the impression was that this was a new development and thus in response to some unspecified threat. Further research has revealed that the co-operation of the two groups has long taken place and that nothing had changed: the communiqué was more in the nature of confirmation than an announcement. Incidents should still be reported to the TVP team in the usual way. So, it’s not a coup d’état.

• The most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: hedging at Coombe Road; the poor condition of Wallingford Road; reports from committees and working parties; five planning applications; the need for a new councillor; financial matters; an update on the NDP; allotment and grazing-land rents; dog mess; anti-social behaviour; and a trial on using solar lighting for council-owned footpaths.

• The most recent meeting of Ashampstead Parish Council took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here. items covered included: the annual litter pick; the lay-by at The green; playground maintenance; CIL funds; financial matters; the annual parish meeting; and a report on the Berkshire Association of Local Council’s AGM.

• In the above-mentioned minutes there’s also an enigmatic item headed “Protocol for Operation London Bridge” with the Clerk being asked to check on this. What can this mean? The two possibilities that strike me are (a) that the PC is for some reason getting involved (as a host or maybe even as a combatant) in some large-scale military manoeuvres under this code name; or (b) that, perhaps as an investment, it is proposing to buy London Bridge – didn’t an American try to do this several decades ago and it turned out to be a con? Neither sounds terribly likely, I must admit. Any other suggestions?

• 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 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 for which minutes are available took place on 18 January and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Brightwalton Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 11 January and you can read the draft 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.

• On 8 March, Councillor Hilary Cole (portfolio holder for planning) and Bryan Lyttle (Planning Policy Manager) held a Facebook Live update on the proposed West Berkshire Local Plan Review with a particular focus on the North East Thatcham Strategic Site Allocation. You can see a recording of the event here.

• 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.

• Councillor Alan Law is back in the letters page of the NWN, this time crossing swords with the Lib Dem leader Lee Dillon over the latter’s claims that all the evidence for the local plan pre-dates Covid and Brexit. Councillor Law went on to point out the length of time that such plans take to create. His point is well made: so well made, indeed, that it had the perhaps unintended effect of making me worry about how relevant any aspects of a local plan can be which take five years from the data being gathered to the conclusions being ratified. In any case, I think that Councillor Dillon’s (and others’) chief beef here was about whether pre-Covid traffic movements in and around north east Thatcham would still be relevant when life had normalised, perhaps not such a huge matter to remedy as the letter suggests.

He finishes with a reference to the intervention of the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, into South Oxfordshire’s local plan. This is something that many – though perhaps not Councillor Law – see as a shameful abuse of democracy. I wonder if he would have felt the same were it to have been a new Conservative administration trying to overturn an unpopular Lib Dem/Green local plan rather than, as was the case, the reverse. Perhaps his stance is an attempt to propitiate Mr Jenrick, who is due to give the final judgment (barring a judicial appeal) on the future of the deeply troubled Sandleford site in Newbury, a project which has survived more than one of the rigorous local-plan reviews which he describe,s though so far with no results. WBC’s council’s officers have, on a number of grounds, rejected the latest application (against which the developers are appealing) so I imagine that Councillor Law will be hoping that Mr Jenrick decides to back the opinion of the local experts. 

• This week’s NWN reports on p26 that plans for proposed improvements to Thatcham Library totalling about £30,000 – only slightly more than the Town Council voluntarily contributes to the Library Service each year – have been knocked back by WBC on the grounds that the council os planning a review of the future of all the libraries in the district.

• 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 Cold Ash Parish Council took place on 23 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: local trees; publication of the new footpath maps; a commendation from WBC for the work of the parish’s Community Support Group; the possible use of the recreation Ground for thespian activities organised by the Watermill Theatre; a possible way of increasing local participation and engagement in the parish; and one planning application.

• The same Cold Ash PC meeting also referred briefly to an item which, if developed, could have far-reaching consequences: a campaign for the proposed 2,500 houses to the north east of Thatcham to be re-sited to Chieveley near the the M4’s J13.

• Information about the progress of Cold Ash’s neighbourhood development plan can be found 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 Councillor for which minutes are available 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 for which minutes are available 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.

Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin, which this week starts with a bench and ends with Dostoevsky.

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.

• There’s an article on p12 of the NWN about the final refusal by the Planning Inspectorate of Wasing Estate’s application for a farm shop and wedding venue at Shalford Farm. This had been refused by WBC but the applicant’s appealed this. The Inspector’s decision notice on 1 February 2021 (which, along with all the other documents, can be seen here). The main thrust of the Inspector’s decision centred on the number of vehicle movements which such a development would create. However, it also referred to the Council’s 2019 climate emergency and the specifics of carbon emission, which seem to be quite different points. While the vehicle number may be as estimated and perhaps too much for the local roads (a separate point) the number of carbon-emitting cars is going to fall: the conflate the two aspects doesn’t make sense to me. To refuse a development because of its current carbon emission is to admit that we have no expectation that the use of fossil-fuel vehicles is going to fall (despite this being one of the assumptions of the climate emergency). That certainly hasn’t been the logic applied to the 2,500-home development in Thatcham.

• The most recent meeting of Aldermaston Parish Council tool place on 9 March and a recording of the meeting is currently available on the PC’s website: the minutes will follow in due course. Items discussed included: the co-option of a new councillor; a small number of planning applications; grants agreed from the PC to local organisations; and the problems of the broadband service in some parts of the parish.

• 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 CIL 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.

• And still in Theale, the NWN reports on p35 that “a milestone” has been reached in the construction of the new fire station.

• The train is still in Theale station. In his most recent newsletter, Councillor Alan Macro refers to a Theale-related item in WBC’s recent budget: “£35,000 for security at the old primary school. This seems a very large amount, especially as the only security I’ve seen (apart from boarding-up) is a five-minute visit by a security firm. I will be making enquiries about it.”

• As mentioned last week, in his monthly ward 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.” 

• He also reported that the application for the Energy Resource Centre and Data Centre in Burghfield had not been 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 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 180 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 1-7 March, down 80 on the week before. This equates to 36 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 49 (70 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a 63 more local level to be obtained.

• The most recent ordinary meeting of Marlborough Town Council took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here. items covered included: various public questions; progress (slow) on the response from Wiltshire CC about the proposed zebra crossing on the A346; S106 funds for sport; a report from the Police; the condition of the public footpaths; floodlights and the skatepark; farewell to the Town Clerk and greetings to her replacement; the Mayor’s thoughts on the lockdown-lifting road map; Wiltshire CC’s local plan review; gypsy and traveller communities; the 2021 Dark Skies fest; the town’s project plan; the date for the Annual Town Meeting (1 June 2021, virtual or in person as circumstances permit); and reports fro the various committees.

• Marlborough Town Council 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.

Marlborough News offers an update on the forthcoming local elections, including on how you can stand.

• 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.

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

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.

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 (extraordinary) meeting of Great Bedwyn Parish Council took place on 16 February and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: an update for the Chair of the NDP group; fence repairs; and the Wiltshire CC local plan review.

• 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.

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. And, still with MN and the school, this post reports on the pupils’ return to the Primary School.

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 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: financial matters; the forthcoming local elections; the Scouts and Guides Hut; a list of matters resolved or updated since the previous meeting, which ranged from sarsen stones to speed limits and from broken windows to tree inspections; flooding; verge re-wilding; the EV charging point; possible community asset or service transfers from Wiltshire CC; parking and road-damage issues; and the possibility of an extension to the full-fibre network in the parish.

• I’m delighted to report that, since having been singled out by Lord Gnome in Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs column recently for not having attended any Albourne PC meetings recently, District Councillor James Sheppard was in attendance on this occasion and apologised for his earlier absences which had been “due to work and technical issues.” 

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 48 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 1-7 March, down 21 on the week before. This equates to 35 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 49 (70 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 that some 2,600 people responded to MP David Johnston’s survey to support about re-opening Wantage Road station, the vast majority being in favour of the scheme. There are still numerous hurdles to be cleared. The report concludes with the warning that “no new lines or stations in the south east have yet been approved as part of the government’s plans to undo some of the Beeching-era cuts, but that Mr Johnston “hopes that the Grove hub can be the first one.”

• The Wantage & Grove Campaign Group keeps its eye on planning and related matters in the area – click here to see the archive. The most recent one (3 March) looks in particular at a couple of care homes, one in Crab Hill and one on Grove Road.

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 Herald reports that Vale of White Horse District Council officers are on the hunt for the fly-tipper who left the six black bin bags full of household waste on the grass verge of Townsend Road in Shrivenham.

• As mentioned last week, South Oxfordshire and the Vale both seem to have done very well in recycling their residents’ rubbish.

SODC and the Vale  have announced 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.” 

• The most recent meeting of Wantage Town Council was held on 14 December and you can read the minutes here. Many of its matters are delegated to committees.

• 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 , not for the first time, at the aspects of the area’s transport infrastructure that needs to be brought up to date.

• 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 152 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 1-7 March, down 61 on the week before. This equates to 68 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 49 (70 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.

• Alongside council tax bills, which are being delivered this week, residents will also receive a booklet which will summarise Swindon Council’s budget for 2021/22, how that money will be spent and the difference it makes to Swindon and its residents.

• The Advertiser reports that there may be a Banksy artwork in Swindon but that it’s being obscured by a security van and protested by guard dogs (despite graffiti, which by legal opinions this is, being illegal). There’s some delicious irony at work here but I know absolutely nothing about visual art and so am the wrong person to suggest what this might be.

An even odder story from the same source about a woman in Toothill who is convinced that there’s a snake in her house. She has my sympathies. I have a horror of these animals as well: moreover, once an idea like this gets fixed in your head it’s very hard to shake.

• The Lib Dems on the Town Council believe that they can see a way to get the Oasis 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.

• 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 Wooton Bassett Town Council took place on 11 February and you can download the minutes here

The song, the sketch and the quiz

• We arrive at the Song of the Week. All of us could probably make up an intensely personal 10-track playlist, every one of which would mark some milestone, disaster or triumph in your life, or perhaps just sum up the mood of an age or a moment now passed forever. I think that in any such exercise for me, Mattie’s Rag by Gerry Rafferty would have to find a place. Aside from any emotional connections, it’s a very good song. 

• And so it’s the Comedy Sketch of the Week. High time we once agin revisited the dark, sad yet hysterical world of Quiet Desperation, created with toe-curling brilliance by Nick Ball. This one is You’re Fired in which our hero is…well, I think you can guess.

• And finally, we deal the Ace of Spades from the back of the pack that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is again on a bookish theme and again relies on the Zoom quiz organised by the Hungerford Bookshop last month, and is: Which two creatures go to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat? Last week’s question was as follows: What happened in the 1953 FA Cup Final that had never happened before and hasn’t happened since? The answer was that someone, Stan Mortensen, scored a hat-trick in Blackpool’s 4-3 win over Bolton. No one else has ever done this in an FA Cup Final which, considering how many of them there have been, seems amazing. Perhaps most amazing of all, only one FA Cup Final has ever been named after a player. It was also this one – but it wasn’t named after the hat-trick hero. It was and is and will for ever be known as the Matthews Final, after the great wing wizard Sir Stanley, who set up two of the goals, including the last-minute winner.

Brian Quinn

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2 Responses

  1. Is Hilary Cole’s position tenable as someone who supports the policy of affordable housing quota but doesn’t seem to insist on its application to the Salisbury Road/Lancaster development

    1. In fairness to WBC, this provision (40% as it’s greenfield) was insisted on and agreed to the approval. However, the system, as you know, permits developers to use viability assessments to reduce or obviate this obligation. What’s concerning in this case is how long these discussions have been going on for without any announcement. The conclusion will also affect the CIL payments WBC and HTC will receive as social-rent homes are exempt but ones for sale are not. My view is that that the private sector will never be able to provide the social or affordable housing that’s needed: even if this is agreed to it often doesn’t happen. The government or local councils need to build these themselves.

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