Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s answers, Lambourn’s talk, Upper Lambourn’s project, Thatcham’s boost, Newbury’s centre, Marlborough’s training, Wantage’s station, Grove’s permission, Boxford’s cycleway, Hamstead Marshall’s hornet, Cold Ash’s clouds, Greenham’s diamond, Padworth’s events, Compton’s allotments, Aldbourne’s sarsens, East Garston’s festival, Chaddleworth’s grit, Brightwalton’s organ, Shaw-cum-Donnington’s footpaths, East Ilsley’s silt, Aldermaston’s grants, Brimpton’s cables, Beenham’s relaunch, Letcombe’s register, West Berkshire’s strategy, Swindon’s buzzwords, remote meetings, royal spats, TV spats, vaccine spats, pros and cons for BJ, the sport of kings, mutually assured destruction, statue toppling, census day, small stats, school meals, Clapham Common, London Bridge, Solisbury Hill, lambs, a toe-curling clip, moving the dates, changing the clocks and counting the strings.
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)
• 7 May 2021 might not be a date that’s fixed in most people’s minds but for the 100,000-plus local councillors and officers it’s the day when, as matters stand under the emergency Covid regulation, council meetings can no longer be conducted virtually (specifically, that votes cannot be taken remotely). Everyone I know has grumbled about Zoom from time to time. The alternative reality, however, is to drive perhaps quite long distances to spend two hours in a building that’s either draughty or overheated (some village and town halls manage to be both at the same time) for a meeting perhaps only a small part of which is of direct relevance to you and which runs the real risk of turning into a local super-spreader event. It seemed inconceivable that, with daily cases seemingly nationally stuck at about the 5,000 a day mark – indeed rising in some areas – and with the roadmap not proposing anything like a return to normality until late June, the regulations would not be extended. I learned on Wednesday that this was not the case.
Alerted by a Town Clerk, I sent off a few emails including to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). A prompt reply kicked off with attempt to put me straight onto the back foot, pointing out that “current lockdown rules and council meeting regulations do not prevent face-to-face council meetings so long as the relevant Covid-19 guidance is followed.” The fact that no council that I’m aware of has held an in-person meeting these last 12 months shows that none of them feel they can follow this advice. Town and village halls have not in general been converted to hold meetings with screens and the like. It’s hard to see what’s magically going to change on 7 May to make these precautions unnecessary. The statement went on to say that “we have received representations from local authorities and sector representative organisations making the case for the continuation of remote meetings beyond 7 May 2021 and are carefully considering next steps in this area.” I pressed the spokesperson for further information, including the rationale behind forcing councils to revert to face-to-face meetings during what we’re being reminded remains a dangerous time in the pandemic and whether councils would get any financial help to make their premises safe, but was met with a “sorry, we cannot comment further at this stage.”
I then spoke to West Berkshire Council’s Leader, Lynne Doherty. “We have asked that a solution be put forward to enable remote and hybrid meetings to continue,” she told me. “This would need to be a separate piece of legislation not attached to the host of emergency measures that the Covid regulations brought in.” I’m no legal expert, but this statement from Local Government Lawyer suggests this might not be the case and that something simpler will do the job. “MHCLG has told us it’s working on this,” Lynne Doherty added. “I’m waiting to see if a solution is in place by May. I’m assured it is high up on their agenda. However, not everybody supports this.”
Fair enough on the last point: some want virtual meetings, some don’t. There are compromises that can be made here as well. Hybrid meetings are possible. So too is alternating them, perhaps with face-to-face meetings resuming when everyone’s comfortable and circumstances permit and having a mixture thereafter. Zoom meetings might, for example, be more popular in the winter. For as long as Covid remains with us, there might be times when councils in certain area need to set a good example and revert back to virtual meetings for a time. All these matters, however, should be for local councils to decide, not for central government to impose.
Central government’s record in dealing with the pandemic has been mixed. Many would say that it was been at its best when, as with the vaccine roll-out or the local test and trace, it devolved responsibilities to organisations that had the nimbleness or local knowledge to execute them; and at its worst when, as with PPE procurement and the national test and trace system, it attempted to impose a top-down and one-size-fits-all solution in a hurry. Local councils have proved to be supremely responsible and responsive and should be able to conduct their meetings in whatever way they choose (within, obviously, certain broad limits). If the current non-extension of the regulations is persisted with it will be a hugely retrograde step.
• It’s impossible, really, to understand the mindset of a man like Piers Morgan. His outburst about the Meghan business was, he claimed, vindicated by popular approval and so OK. (Mind you, he tried this stunt on Have I Got News for You about a decade ago when he was foolish enough to demand an impromptu audience vote into the respective popularity of, on the one hand, himself and, on the other, of long-time contestants Ian Hislop and Clive Anderson, resulting in a toe-curlingly embarrassing conclusion.) His recent outburst rapidly became conflated with the mental-health problems that Meghan had, apparently, discussed in The Interview. He was thus accused of belittling that issue, rather than merely the woman herself. Anyway, he loves this sort of stuff so I don’t know why I’m wasting my time or yours in writing about it. It might, however, be worth reflecting on the possibility that every society gets not only the rulers but also the talk-show hosts it deserves.
• As for the Duchess herself, one question that seems to have got lost is what exactly her problem is. She married a member of the notoriously dysfunctional and highly regulated British royal family. With several movies and a blockbuster TV series covering this subject, to say nothing of her husband’s experiences, it’s hard to believe she didn’t know what she was letting herself in for. One complaint, about her lack of induction – I’m paraphrasing as I haven’t seen it, just relying on an eye-witness report – smacks of an office worker who, three years into the job, is still moaning that she wasn’t told where her locker was on day one. Then we have the old spectre of sleazy journalism rearing its head again. In a way it’s great that we all have enough mental head-space to discuss such issues at such length in the middle of a pandemic. People like Piers Morgan and Meghan Markle and their spat (which appears to date back to some personal slight he felt he suffered at her hands) really mean nothing at the moment. If Meghan is prepared to address mental-heath issues, and if I had to choose, then she gets my vote. But enough of them: let’s move on.
• I can’t begin to work out what the EU, or its major governments, were up to with this vaccine hold-up. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, or anything in particular, but I’ve not seen any evidence that the incidence of blood clots is significantly higher among vaccinated people than the non-jabbed. Several sources, including Politico, quote the EU regulator as saying Ox-AZ is safe. Indeed, this article in Phastar suggests that rate is lower than might be expected, in which case an equally could case could be made for the fact that a dose of Ox-AZ actually reduces your risk. As of 18 March, it seems it’s all OK again. A scientific friend suggested that “there is some basis for pausing things while they do a couple of autopsies”: but this was an almost continent-wide pause of a vaccination programme for about a week. He also suggested that there’s evidence Covid itself can cause clots, so the cases could be the result of asymptomatic people being inoculated and suffering from the pre-existing disease rather than the cure.
The reaction also seemed to ignore the useful precept of the perfect being the enemy of the good. Any major decision is usually reduced to choosing between a number of maximum downsides and choosing the least bad, often quite quickly. By any estimation, continuing vaccination was less risky than stopping it. In any case, if Europe needed a guinea pig then look no further than the UK. According to Our World in Data, we have so far provided more vaccines than has Germany, France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal combined. If there are people keeling over from blood clots then I’ve not read anything about it.
• Another possibility is that the EU ran out of vaccines and was seeking to disguise this fact by claiming they’re not safe. There certainly seems to be a problem with the supply in the UK at present, with the government announcing this week that systems wouldn’t accept any more bookings in April (although appointments already booked should still go ahead). Problems in India are being blamed for this, proving how interdependent we all are. There are also all kinds of arguments about exports being stopped in various directions which I find very hard to follow. The export problem that briefly threatened the UK was in January, a spat which risked ripping up the Irish border arrangements barely a month after they’d some into force. The most recent Private Eye also suggests, on p8, that the EU has released a stream of misleading and easily-disprovable claims about its performance. It doesn’t seem great look for the EU at present and plays into the hands of those that claim (as many did in 2016) that it’s leaden-footed and overly process-driven. The whole thing is rendered doubly obscure by the fact that the EU didn’t seem to want what President Macron described as a “quasi-ineffective” vaccine anyway.
• Opinions differ as to how well the UK government has responded to the pandemic. Some have claimed that this shouldn’t be discussed now. This seems dangerous, like not suggesting to one’s driver that he’s going at 100mph on the wrong side of the road merely because this might disturb his concentration. Dominic Cummings – who admittedly has an axe to grind and whose own judgement has been found wanting at times – recently laid into the “smoking ruin” of the Department of Health. On 15 March, meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph claimed that “close allies” of the PM have admitted the the lockdown delay was “a lethal mistake,” the article partly exonerating BJ himself by saying that his initial assessments almost exactly a year ago were based on “out-of-date projections supplied by government departments.” The article goes on to predict that “he knows he will eventually have to confront the question of why the UK has suffered the highest death toll in Europe and the fifth highest in the world.” In his defence, part of this can perhaps be blamed on our travel patterns (skiing holidays) and the fact that, unlike in many other countries, the infections seemed to have been introduced early on into the capital city from where they spread before anyone really knew what was happening. There is also a strong case for the prosecution, Private Eye’s excellent MD column having on several occasions cited a chronic under-investment in public health services and worryingly high levels of obesity (a theme the BBC also explores), which appears to be associated with Covid mortality. Politics is, of course, the art of blending several widely differing and often mutually incompatible ingredients into a palatable confection. Many governments did worse, many better. Our aspiration, however, was often stated that we would be “world beating:” so it’s against this kind of claim that any measure of performance will be judged.
The day of reckoning will probably take the official form of public enquiries whose findings will not be reported, still less implemented, before the next election. If the reaction is anything like that to the Cygnus exercise in 2016 – which war-gamed the effect of a very similar pandemic – little will change. We are quite simple organisms in a complex world. Even the part of it we have created is now largely beyond our ability to understand. All we can do is focus on the most immediate threat, whatever it happens to be. For some this is an imminent shareholders’ meeting or a general election, in which case all you need to do is to get over the next line with your power-base still intact. So, you might think, do the world’s dictatorships such as China, who don’t have these petty considerations to worry about, represent our salvation? I don’t see that either. The Covid crisis has, as have previous ones like global wars, brought both the worst and the worst out of us. The hope is always that the good can be learned from and the bad left behind. This never quite seems to happen. As so often, Shakespeare nailed it when he had Mark Anthony say in Julius Caesar that “the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interrèd in their bones.” Particularly with the climate-change battle so far yet largely un-fought, it’s hard to escape the image of our species playing a series of ruinously risky poker hands with a rapidly diminishing supply of chips.
• Speaking of which, I have my vices but gambling isn’t one of them. I used regularly to play poker with friends but for moderate stakes and have only once bet on a horse (which, without knowing what I was doing, won me £400 in the early 1980s). I was none the less touched by this story of Patrick Foster who managed to pull his life back from the very brink to which it had been taken by a five-star gambling problem. What got me about it was not only the idea that, once you’ve committed one deception, further ones are easier; but also that the rush of a huge win is increasingly what you need and that any action can be justified if you believe, as he did, that the big one is just around the corner.
I mention this not so much because I have any strongly moral views about gambling but because it seems to describe exactly the way in which politicians operate. Enoch Powell remarked that “all political careers end in failure.” Politics is full of emotion and the problems of legacy: in the 20th century only Atlee and perhaps Thatcher can claim to have had their legacy survive for any decent length of time. The profits of gambling can be measured more empirically. Most people, however, look at it emotionally, writing off the losses to bad luck and claiming every win to skill. That’s certainly what I did in my poker days. So too do our leaders. With a plausible manner, it’s an easy defence against almost any accusation; and so one that’s worth guarding against when we hear it.
• There’s been a government announcement recently about a “realignment” or some other word of Britain’s defence priorities. This article on the BBC website has an eye-catching chart about the number of nuclear warheads the “top” nine countries have. Russia has 6,372. The only reason for this seems to be because the USA has 5,800. Someone with two or three, assuming they work, would seem to be in almost a powerful position as these two.
• I lived on the edge of Clapham Common for ten years and often walked across it at night – not an experience for the faint-hearted, as my then partner once discovered – and so found myself particularly touched by the story of Sarah Everard’s murder. That she should, allegedly, have been killed by a serving police officer made the whole thing a hundred times worse, as these are people most of us try to teach our children to trust. The debacle of the vigil and the police response – admittedly in difficult circumstances due to the pandemic – didn’t make things any better. Then there was the story of another officer who, according to many sources including The Guardian, was suspended for “sending an offensive graphic to colleagues on a WhatsApp group.” The whole combined catastrophe has set the fragile reputation of the Met back about ten years, particularly amongst women. Every aspect of this, but particularly thoughts about her and her family, makes me feel very depressed.
• This week also saw the passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. This appears to be in places a pernicious and potentially draconian piece of legislation that, amongst its many provisions, will place limits on the right to protest. (It also appears to regard statues as more deserving of legal protection than women: toppling one of the former will carry a Myanmar-style sentence of up to 10 years: the tariff for rape starts at five.) Home Secretaries seem to feel that giving the police more powers is the solution to everything. A number of issues, ranging from female emancipation to the declaration of the climate emergency, were brought to the public attention by protests. In general, people don’t protest because they have nothing better to do: they do so because they feel some aspect of society is broken, including perhaps the democratic process which would be the ideal way of addressing it. History has shown us that the more a government legislates to suppress or limit such actions, the less intention or ability it has to address the issues that lead to people feeling they need to protest in the first place. Such measures may preserve a political career or help win a general election but they are ultimately self-defeating.
• On Sunday 21 March, we all need to sit down for 10 minutes and complete our census form. Back in the day this would have been executed by an army of officials with forms and clipboards (probably getting a lot of grief in the process): now, of course, most of us will do it online. The main beneficiaries of this, or so it often seems, are genealogists in 100 years time when the detailed results are released. Between now and then the government will use to inform whatever it is that they estimate – you know, this and that. If you don’t complete it you could be fined £1,000. A Freedom of Information Act request in late 2011 revealed that, seven months after that year’s census a total of 14 people had been fined for not having done so (a figure that may since have risen a bit, of course). This suggests either an amazingly high compliance rate or very ineffective enforcement. Then, a week later, on Sunday 28 March, the clocks go forward an hour. It’s all go, isn’t it? The fine for not putting your clocks forward is also £1,000. No, it isn’t. Well, it might be by then: there could be a clause in the Police, Time (sorry, Crime), Sentencing and Courts Bill about that…
• The BBC reports that there were 51 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 8-14 March, up nine on the week before. This equates to 32 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 45 (49 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.
• There’s an article in this week’s NWN (p6) about the vaccination take-up amongst ethnic communities in West Berkshire. At first glance, some of the figures quoted for some of the groups seem alarmingly low: people in the 60-69 age group who identify as “Asian (other than Indian)” appear to be nearly four times less likely to have had the jab than white people. I didn’t have time to find out what the breakdown nationally is (I’m sure it’s out there somewhere) but these stats do seem broadly in line with the general and slightly worrying trend that’s reported elsewhere.
In West Berkshire’s case, though, the actual figures are likely to be so small as to perhaps render them statistically misleading. The district has a population of 160,000, of whom about 5% identify as other than white. 11% of the population is aged 60-69, which immediately reduces the total figure of non-white people in this age group to under a thousand, even before you start further dividing these into different ethnic groups. For some of these you’re dealing with populations of a couple of hundred. 20 of these not turning up to an appointment (which could be due to reasons other than pure ethnicity) would drop the figures by 10%.
• West Berkshire Council has finally launched its long-awaited Environment Strategy Draft Delivery Plan – click here for more.
• The same council has made arrangements to provide Free School Meal vouchers to all eligible children during the Easter school holiday period (1 to 16 April 2021).
• 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.
• 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.
• See also the sections for Wantage, Marlborough and Swindon below for initiatives from Vale of White Course Council, Wiltshire Council and Swindon Council.
• West Berkshire Council has set up a Community Support Hub. Click here to visit the website or call 01635 503 579 to speak to the the Building Communities Together team. The Hub has also set up two FAQ pages, for residents and for businesses. You can also click here to sign up to receive the Hub’s e-bulletins and click here to see the weekly updates.
• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.
• Click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. As with the volunteers’ post above, if you are aware of any others, let us know.
• The animal of the week is any one of the lambs to be found on p22 of this week’s NWN.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week – a full six pages – include missives on Brexit, the bypass, ullage, pollution, red kites and the advent of middle age.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Easton Royal Village Hall (thanks to NFU Mutual); Mary Hare (thanks to Hilary Kay and Rory Stewart); Laptops for learning )thanks to Greenham trust and other donors); the Motor Neurone Disease Association (thanks to Lin Jenkins); Love Lane Pre-school (thanks to the pupils); Thatcham Youth (thanks to the National Lottery); the RNLI (thanks to Harry Lidgley); Wiltshire Digital Drive (thanks to Honda).
Hungerford & district
• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that 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.
• A reminder that you can click here to read our tribute to Hungerford’s “Man of the Century” Jack Williams who died last month and to see the text of the eulogy delivered at his funeral by the Mayor of Hungerford, Helen Simpson.
• For those of you who’ve been waiting to discover the answers to (and the winner of) our special Hungerford quiz launched last month to celebrate the 50th edition of the above-mentioned Penny Post Hungerford, click here and all will be revealed.
• 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 same source has recently revealed that it has “smashed” this target.
• 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 most recent meeting of Shalbourne Parish Council took place on 4 February and you can download the minutes here.
• Over the last couple of months I’ve mentioned about a scheme for improving broadband in the deep not-spot of Upper Lambourn. The latest scheme from Building Digital UK, the Rural Gigasbit Voucher, closed (I confidently told you) on 31 March. I assumed that when I was told “it closed on 31 March” it meant that it closed on 31 March. In fact, as BDUK announced last month, it means that it closed on 19 February, the rather lame excuse being that time needed to be allowed for processing the applications. It’s as if you settled your tax by the 31 January deadline but then got a letter from HMRC saying that wasn’t what they really meant at all and it should have been in by 15 December to give themselves time to clear the payment. Welcome to the looking-glass world in which residents of Upper Lambourn have been stuck for a decade.
This was as much news to Lynne Wilson at Superfast Berkshire as anyone else. If any residents with awful broadband need help, please contact her directly on Lynne.Wilson1@westberks.gov.uk.
I then contacted MP Laura Farris – who has, as many residents will know, taken an interest in the sewage-related problems in the parish – to see if she was aware of this problem as well. She wrote back very promptly to say that “digital connectivity is one of my priorities for the constituency, with Upper Lambourn being one of the areas which I am aware is very patchy.” She went on to say that “DCMS has confirmed that a new voucher scheme is being developed to support the rollout of gigabit vouchers to rural communities. It is expected to go live this April and details should shortly be published.” She added that she was asking a question about this exact matter in the House of Commons on 18 March: you can see the question, and the Minister’s answer, here. This revealed that the new scheme was to be called Project Gigagbit but no further details are available. As soon as they are I’ll publicise it. You’ll need to take any deadline dates on the BDUK under advisement (and perhaps subtract six weeks).
“I am,” Laura Farris continued, “looking to convene meetings with constituents and parish and district councillors to see what next steps there are for communities. What these steps will look like will, of course, depend on the eligibility for the new schemes from April, but I want to see productive conversations between organisations very much in the vein of my Thames Water roundtables and regular meetings to address flooding in the Lambourn Valley.” All the best of luck to her in getting a result in this; indeed. both of these. if she can help raise the area’s sewerage and broadband services she will have accomplished something that eluded her predecessor.
• East Garston’s Garstonbury Festival will be returning on Saturday 17 July 2021 “if,” according to organiser Freddie Tulloch, “things (ie Covid) go according to plan.” 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 email@example.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.
• 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 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.
• 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 Council, Enborne Parish Council, Boxford 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 reports, on p1 and p7, on the proposals for the complete re-development of the Kennet Centre by Lochailort Investments. Two plans have been submitted which, as the paper reports, differ only in that one features a start-up business centre whereas the other replaces this with a “senior living development.” The plans have not yet been registered by West Berkshire Council but as soon as they appear on the planning portal I’ll dig out the reference numbers and let you have them. Bear in mind that if you want to comment on any of the identical aspects you’ll need to do so on both applications.
The design is substantially the same as the one showcased last year at an exhibition in the Kennet Centre itself. Once change has been to increase the number of solar panels at the expense of the top car-parking level: the developers predict that this and the ground-source heat pumps will save about 340 tonnes of carbon emissions a year. Indeed, so inefficient is the current 1970s building that it’s estimated that its replacement will see an overall saving in carbon emissions of about 85%.
I spoke to Lochailort’s MD, Hugo Haig, who stressed that the sustainability levels of the project “significantly exceeded’ those demanded by the current regulations. “It’s a very green scheme. In the reaction from our public consultation, the sustainability issue very much came to the front of the responses.” He added that the reactions were also “generally very positive” about the idea of the site being redeveloped at all. Few would disagree. The late 1960s and early 1970s produced some good things but inspired urban architecture was not one of them. Almost anything short of a glass-walled abattoir would be preferable to the current structure. The scheme will also, as Hugo Haig pointed out, open up new routes through the area and provide open spaces. The provision of either additional town-centre accommodation and flexible spaces for businesses would also seem like good news. How long it will take to realise, if approved, is another matter.One encouraging sign for those of us who would like to see this happen in any of our lifetimes is that, unlike with Sandleford or the LRIE, there’s only one landowner and developer. If the various stated benefits are realised it seems like a good addition to the town.
• Less encouraging news in the same paper about the future of the Newbury Show and the Showground near J13, the organisers saying that it’s unlikely it will return “in the foreseeable future” after a disastrous couple of years during which the event has been cancelled twice. If, as reported last week, the venue is sold it’s hard to imagine where it would take place. It may be that the massive show, which has been forced to adapt for its original strongly agricultural nature, has had its day. Smaller and more focussed events might be the way forward.
• A meeting of Newbury Town Council’s Planning and Highways Committee on 8 March included a motion from District and Town Councillor David Marsh about extending the traffic-free period in the town centre from early April for an initial five-week period until pubs and restaurants and able to serve people indoors from (provisionally) 17 May. The hope is that these measures will be extended through the summer (with public surveys being conducted), which might lead to the Town Council’s stated objective of the year-round pedestrianisation of the Market Place. A similar scheme was operated last summer but West Berkshire Council refused to extend it. The evidence gathered for this was not overwhelming one way or the other. It’s probably the case that such trial periods need to be for at least a year and in normal circumstances before anyone can take a balanced view. A trial for a few weeks or months is always likely to make people see the negatives rather than the advantages – we’re creatures of habit, after all. If there’s an element of encouraging people to change their behaviour – which there is in this case – then the initial opposition is likely to be even stronger. The interests of shoppers, retailers, motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, delivery companies and emergency services are never going to be completely aligned on something like this.
• Congrats to Eve Hughes, Susan Millington, Colline Watts and Ellie Chadwick, all of whom were recently honoured in the Newbury Civic Awards.
• Newbury Town Council has plans to plant an NHS commemorative garden at old Hospital Green, on Andover Road. Herbs, shrubs and plants, widely 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
• 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 17 February and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included flooded footpaths; broken street lights; burial costs; financial matters; concerns about til contributions to the parish; four planning applications; drones on the recreation ground; finding for play equipment; the Owen Road field; and laptops for the school.
• 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. As mentioned last week, 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 took place on 10 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included heritage items at the Diamond Playing Field; confirmation of the PC’s opposition to Newbury’s relocated football pitch being located at the Diamond (currently WBC’s plan B); financial matters; several planning applications; the Control Tower; EV charging points; and the progress with the installation of the parish’s defibrillators.
• 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 woodchoppings for the PCs to use; the need for a dog bin; flooding update; the parish plan; two planning applications; 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 email@example.com.
Compton & Downlands
• Latest news from Hampstead Norreys Parish Council, Compton Parish Council, Ashampstead Parish Council, Beedon Parish Council, Chaddleworth Parish Council, Brightwalton Parish Council, Beedon Parish Council, The Peasemore Village website, West Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.
• The most recent meeting of Brightwalton Parish Council took place on 8 March and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included the Aspire Project (including the imminent arrival of the new organ); a report from the Village Hall Committee; local footpaths; the memorial bench; tree planting; the churchyard wall; litter; and financial matters.
• As mentioned last week, 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.
• 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.
• Last week I asked what Operation London Bridge was, which was referred to un the above-mentioned meeting. Several people have pointed out that this refers to the arrangements and procedures following the death of the Queen. It seems that this was first put in place in the 1960s so the organisers will have had plenty of time to reflect on it. I apologise for my ignorance.
• The most recent meeting of East Ilsley Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: dog-owner education; approval of the village’s CIL bid; surge-testing volunteers; two planning applications; and update from the Flood Warden (including groundwater levels, the pond, volunteers on alert and dealing with the silt from any excavations); a donation to Citizens’ Advice West Berkshire; and changes to the settlement boundary.
• The most recent meeting of Chaddleworth Parish Council took place on 2 February and you can read the minutes here.
• 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.
Thatcham and district
• Latest news from Thatcham Town Council, Hermitage Parish Council, Cold Ash Parish Council, Midgham Parish Council, Bucklebury Parish Council, Brimpton Parish Council, Stanford 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.
• This week’s NWN reports on p27 of a major lottery funding boost for Thatcham Youth.
• The same paper reports on p26 on the plans to convert the former Traveller’s Friend pub in Crookham Common Road into homes for people with autism.
• 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 Brimpton Parish Council took place on 2 March and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: SSEN’s 132kv electric cable installation (including why it’s needed, the timescale, working hours and the impact on local residents); redundant road-works signs; verge maintenance; speeding in the parish; litter; planning applications; a grant to Tadley Citizens’ Advice; grass mowing in the churchyard; footpaths; flooding; and the possibility of government funding for communities to buy their local pub.
• 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 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 interesting clouds and ends with Oscar Wilde.
Theale and district
• Latest news from Theale Parish Council, Aldermaston Parish Council, Padworth Parish Council, Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council, Englefield Parish Council, Beenham Parish Council and Burghfield Parish Council.
• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Burghfield.
• The most recent meeting of Beenham Parish Council took place on 1 March and you can see the minutes here. Items covered included: a possible new footpath; repairs to the play area; traffic increase; news from the Primary School (including a relaunch working party); the need for a new councillor; two planning applications; financial matters; and the asset register.
• The most recent meeting of Padworth Parish Council took place on 15 March and you can see the minutes here. Items covered included; a resignation from the PC; the Padworth and Aldermaston Wharf Show on 4 July; the possible Red Sky music event in August; the Village Hall; financial matters; one planning application; the parish’s conservation area; litter picking; rapid response to a fallen tree; and the annual parish meeting on 5 May.
• 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 produced this chart showing how its precept is spent.
• 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.”
• The most recent meeting of Englefield Parish Council took place on 13 January and you can read the draft 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
• The BBC reports that there were 169 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 8-14 March, down 11 on the week before. This equates to 34 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 45 (49 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a 63 more local level to be obtained.
• 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 (so not long now).
• 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.
• Work has started on repairs to Marlborough Town Hall and are expected to last until late April.
• Marlborough News offers an update on the forthcoming local elections, including on how you can stand.
• 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 Gazette reports that “a Wiltshire Lord” (the Earl of Cardigan) was nabbed for driving at 50% above the speed limit through Marlborough in a car with no MOT and insurance. The main result was a three-month ban on the grounds that a longer ban would have had “a detrimental impact on family members.” Well, doesn’t it always? A friend of mine years ago was done for racking up four quite low speeding offences over three years (though he did have an MOT and insurance each time). The family defence didn’t wash at all – 12 months off the road for him. He didn’t have a chauffeur, either.
• 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.
• The most recent meeting of Ramsbury & Axford Parish Council took place on 15 February and you can read the minutes here.
• 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.
• 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 Council, West Challow Parish Council, East Challow Parish Council, Ardington & Lockinge Parish Council and Letcombe Regis Parish Council.
• The BBC reports that there were 51 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 8-14 March, up three on the week before. This equates to 37 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 45 (49 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.
• I received an email from Wantage’s MP David Johnston confirming the results of his survey into the possible re-opening of Wantage Road Station: 2,620 responses in the two weeks it was open with 98% supporting the re-opening and about 90% saying that they would use their car less as a result and would prefer this to a new bus service. This is, as he would admit, unofficial and the hoops which such a project has to jump through are prodigious. None the less, he seems serious aboyut this as a campaign and it seems a worthwhile one to me.
• In his column on p10 of the Herald, he also seems equally sincere in his support for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (see Across the Area above). We’re going to have to disagree about his comments about protests. Much of his column is taken up with the measures it proposes to combat the issue of unauthorised traveller encampments, which probably feature more in his in-box than do demonstrations.
• 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.
• 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 at a tale of retrospective planning permission in Grove. A building was, due it was claimed to an accidental muddle with the plans, built a couple of feet too high. one of the results was that the floor space of one of the top-floor flats could be increased (along, no doubt, with the price). Despite this, the developers argued that there had been no planning gain. At the very least, the CIL contribution should be recalculated. Julie’s suggestion was milder, that the developers might want to compensate the inhabitants of Grove and suggested a bench. The risk, of course, is that (due to an accidental muddle with the plans) it will only have three legs or be eighteen feet off the ground.
• 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
• The BBC reports that there were 151 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 8-14 March, down 2 on the week before. This equates to 68 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 45 (49 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• Click here for details of Covid lateral flow tests in Swindon.
• Swindon Link reports that Swindon Borough Council has released an architectural drawing of the new multi-million pound plan to transform The Oasis into a regional waterpark, but has warned that the plans could be derailed if the old building is given listed status.
• The same source reports that South Swindon MP and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has promised “immediate government action” to reassure women and girls in the light of the murder of Sarah Everard.
• In a headline that uses up almost every municipal buzzword, Swindon Council has launched a “bold vision” to “deliver” an “ambitious cultural project” with “major investors” through a “new prospectus”. There’s even “a roadmap for its delivery.” The proposed Cultural Quarter would be located between the railway station and the new Zurich offices, which are being built next to Fleming Way. More here.
• See here for more information on the progress of the improvements at junction 15 of the M4.
• Swindon has been allocated £19.5m of funding for town centre regeneration projects.
• 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 come again headlong against the Song of the Week. Continuing last week’s theme of songs that are (a) bloody good and (b) have a massive emotional resonance for me, I’m going t0 ask you to share in my past for a few minutes and check out or re-visit as the case may be Solisbury Hill by Peter Gabriel.
• And so we sail into the harbour of the Comedy Sketch of the Week. This isn’t a comedy sketch as such but it is funny in a rather ghastly way: Piers Morgan making an idiot of himself on Have I Got News for You in 1996.
• And finally, produce the Queen’s Gambit that is the Quiz Question of the Week. This weeks question is as follows: There are four strings on a violin and six on a normal guitar. Roughly how many – and I’ll accept ten either way – are there on a grand piano? Last week’s question was taken from the Zoom quiz organised by the Hungerford Bookshop last month, and was: Which two creatures go to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat? The answer was the Owl and the Pussycat, as described by Edward Lear, the man who wrote those awful limericks.
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