Local News 25 March to 1 April 2021

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s pavements, Lambourn’s election, Upper Lambourn’s broadband, Great Shefford’s alleviation, Thatcham’s strategy, Newbury’s pedestrians, Marlborough’s kebabs, Wantage’s glue, Hamstead Marshall’s poachers, Cold Ash’s ground-heave, Enborne’s donations, Compton’s lights, Aldbourne’s appeal, East Garston’s festival, Chaddleworth’s non-adoption, Stratfield Mortimer’s non-allowances, Brightwalton’s organ, Chilton Foliat’s gullies, East Ilsley’s pond, East Challow’s cemetery, Bedwyn’s water, Theale’s station, Letcombe’s register, Hermitage’s NDP, Midgham’s response, Burghfield’s questions, Swindon’s dome, the Upper House, failed lobbying, two bills, ministerial codes, a clerk’s skills, keep smiling, flying the flag, saints’ days, recycling banks, a black blackbird, the shortest day, forensic evidence, 230 strings, Zelda, Mr Wright and a stranger in blue suede shoes.

Note: we ran into some gremlins when migrating to a new web host on 25 March so I hope all the links work. Any problems, please let us know. Also, feel free to add a comment about anything you read here if you wish – see the foot of the post.

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

Further afield

• The Sunday Times on 21 March led with a story about the extraordinary constitutional elephant that is the House of Lords. With 800-odd members, only China has a larger legislative assembly. Britain’s upper house can only accommodate about 400 in its chamber so the organisation can only function at all because of the persistent absenteeism of about half its members. Oddest of all, 85 of these are hereditary peers, survivals of a partial cull in 1999. They top themselves up when one dies (virtually no crime is horrible enough to sanction their forced removal – though they can resign – so this is the main method of winnowing) with a system of by-elections that even the Papacy would probably reject as lacking inclusiveness. Their average age, The Sunday Times reports, is 71. All are male and white, Nearly half went to Eton. Most are significant landowners. None these things necessarily make them bad people (we’ll pass over matters such as how much they claim in expenses and how reluctant they are to ask questions, make speeches, vote or sit on committees) but it hardly makes them accurate representatives of 21st-century Britain. 

In a way, this criticism is beside the point as the House of Lords has never claimed to be representative. Certainly none of its other members are representative either, except perhaps of the interests that they espouse. A look at the current roster shows that most of the life peers, who make up the majority, are former MPs: they would have been representative when in the Commons but can hardly been so now they’ve left. There are also several former diplomats and a fair smattering of people from the worlds of business, charity, academia, the civil service and the arts as well as others from more diverse backgrounds including a former TV presenter, a former dentist and a former England cricket captain. There are also 24 bishops and two archbishops; though what they’re doing in a legislative chamber is anyone’s guess.

So, we’re talking here about an organisation that represents not so much the people – the Commons has that mundane responsibility – as a state of mind; a Britain in which the local squire (often also the MP), abetted by the local priest, is paternalistic and, within his locality, something between influential and omnipotent. The right upbringing and the right school automatically produce the right stuff. Extensive land-ownership is further proof of a divine unction which confers the right – indeed, the obligation – to exert an influence on national life. The longer the anachronism has continued, the harder it is to shake off the idea that it’s perhaps for own good and that his hotch-potch of aristocrats, prelates and superannuated politicians do indeed present the best way of expressing and realising our own fumbling aspirations. It’s hallowed by time and in a mad way logical once you’ve accepted the idea of a hereditary monarchy (which many do). It certainly retains some resonance: look at how many of us (myself included) watched Downton Abbey

Viewed in this light, it’s perhaps easier to see why reform has proved impossible. Various attempts have been made but each has foundered on a mixture of filibustering, political inertia and, most importantly, the lack of any clear and widely acceptable idea of what the new model would look like. The idea of electing all the members, hardly novel, probably terrifies the large parties as this would revive the idea of proportional representation. Appointment – justified on the grounds of making the peers above the short-term vulgarity of election concerns – is too valuable a political tool for any government to relinquish (it does have some merit, assuming we could agree who should appoint them and for how long). Inheritance is now apparently no longer good enough for the whole house but it is for about 10%, which on its own shows how muddled the thinking has become. All in all, leaving things largely as they are seems by far the easiest way out.

The argument that the House of Lords is valuable in calming over-exuberance by the government or the Commons is specious. Armed with the powers it has, any group of people – fishmongers, say, former contestants on Mastermind or people chosen at random from those with a “P” in their surname – might have fared just as well. Any increase in democracy might also demand an increase in powers, the last thing most members of the Commons want. On a scale of burning national issues it probably doesn’t test that high either. The situation is thus on which neither the two main parties, nor the House of Commons generally nor the House of Lords itself can see any benefit in change while most of the population is indifferent: not a promising recipe for reform. One slow-burning plan is to stop the by-elections for hereditary peers so causing them to wither away. However, there are several current ones in their 40s and 50s who could last some time yet. 23 have been members for 40 or more years, eight for 50 or more and one, Lord Denham, for over 70: longevity, in the convivial and subsidised surrounding of the Upper House, is clearly yet another barrier to reform. 

An argument against changing the monarchy is that there is a certain magic of ceremony, tradition and continuity that many people can approve of, or at least accept, in preference to the political implications of a presidency. The hereditary peers in the Lords perhaps believe that they bask in the reflection of this. It’s certainly a potent reminder of the House’s, and our own, history, when the monarch dealt out patronage to his supporters in the form of titles. The vestiges of this still survive: a new type of patronage, from the political parties, has grown up alongside it. Whether any of this is tinged with any magic, apart from in the eyes of the grateful recipients, is another matter.    

• The Sunday Times, and many other papers, also reports on the hapless David Cameron’s lobbying efforts on behalf of Greensill Capital, a company which recenty failed, taking with it what the ST describes as “up to tens of millions of share options” for the former PM. His attempts to get the government to be flexible about its own rules included several (unanswered) texts to Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Earlier this week, The Guardian reported that the Conservative-dominated Treasury Select Committee had declined to launch an enquiry into the affair. At the very least, this has to go down as yet another staggering misjudgement on his part. 

• There’s been a lot of publicity about the conflict following the Kill the Bill (not the happiest choice of name) demonstrations and their aftermath in Bristol last weekend. I don’t accept that what happened there weakens the case against, nor – as the Mayor of Bristol suggested – strengthens the case for the bill. Aspects of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill are very disturbing and are, in time-honoured fashion, an attempt to suppress the results of grievances rather than address their causes.  

• Another bill which is be looked at (or re-looked at) is the March 2020 Coronavirus Act which gave the government wide-ranging powers, the provisions of which need to re-confirmed every six months. The debate will provide an opportunity for every politician from libertarians to centralisers to have their say. It’s certainly a complex issue as some provisions have worked better (or were better drafted) than others, while some are now less relevant. I mentioned last week about the lunacy, from both a public-health and a local-democracy point of view, of insisting that local council meetings must revert to taking place in person from 7 May. It should be left to them to decide. Hopefully the MPs will agree.

• Once again, I have confess to finding the convolutions in the Scottish political crisis utterly beyond me. The BBC reports that the handling of the harassment proceedings against Alex Salmond (of which he was acquitted) were, an enquiry found, “seriously flawed” but that FM Nicola Sturgeon’s role didn’t breach the ministerial code. Both the main participants seem thus to be not guilty but they’re still at it hammer and tongs, with Salmond preparing a fresh round of legal challenges. One theory is that the whole thing is being stoked up by the union-supporting English press to prove that Scotland is not fit to run its own affairs as an independent state. If so, the UK as a whole wouldn’t fare much better. Home Secretary Priti Patel broke the ministerial code with impunity in 2020; Unlock Democracy cites four other unpunished breaches in the late 2020s; while Open Democracy claims that the PM is also guilty over the handling of the infamous Downing Street refurbishments and the related donations. 

• A strange announcement, which might have something to do with Whitehall’s fear of IndyRef#3, was recently made by the government; that the Union flag should be flown on UK Government buildings every day. This will presumably apply to the various central government offices in Scotland, of which there will soon be more. Unless compelled to do so by law I shall not fly a Union flag from anything I own. Having grown up where and when I did, I associate it, when seen in this country, with the National Front (which cunningly appropriated it). 

• Which extremism leads me to a story a friend told me today about Jihyun Park, a North Korean defector now resident in Manchester, who’s standing a local Conservative councillor. This represents, as she stresses, a profound change in her fortunes from the appalling things she witnessed when growing up. One of the prohibitions there was against smiling or laughing, lest the police be informed and ask what the joke was about. She told The Sunday Times that “people who live in countries which enjoy freedom take little [not so little] things like this for granted.”

I agree. I hope I laugh no less than the average person and don’t expect to have to explain it to a policeman. However, I don’t know whom I should thank for this. As the fashion of the time seems to be for governments to apologise for past errors of judgement, it follows that they might also claim the credit for good things. Perhaps in our case and in France, Sweden, Germany, Argentina and elsewhere some credit is due. But how much? To accept that you need to thank a government for granting you a right also assumes that it has the power to take it away. Few phrases in the English language are more sonorous that the preamble to the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed…with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Few have, of course, proved to be as empty, at least until the Civil Rights legislation nearly two centuries later; and, as recent events have proved, perhaps to this day. The sad fact is – and I see now that this has been the theme of all the paragraphs above – that if we feel we have a power over someone we tend to exploit or extend it. Perhaps the best that any government can accomplish is to limit our baser instincts. That being the case, I’d accept the House of Lords over the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea any day of the week: which kind of brings me back to where I started…

Across the area

• The BBC reports that there were 49 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 15-21 March, down two on the week before. This equates to 31 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 49 (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 navailable in West Berkshire for key workers and others who are not already in a testing programme. See here for more information.

• West Berkshire Council, in partnership with its waste contractor Veolia, is trialling four new recycling banks to increase collection of plastic waste. The banks will be for the collection of plastic pots, tubs and trays and will be available to use from Monday 29 March 2021. These will be at the Paworth and Newbury recycling centres, at Hungerford station car park and the Kingsland Centre car park in Thatcham.

Business re-opening grantsare available from 1 April 2021 – click here for details

• West Berkshire Council has finally  launched its long-awaited Environment Strategy Draft Delivery Plan – click herefor 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 BerkshireVale of White HorseWiltshire 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 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.

• The animal of the week is the blackbird that got stuck down our chimney, was carefully rescued (even blacker than before) and flew off, seemingly none the worse for his adventure.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those mentioned elsewhere, missives on environmental amendments, the need for a housing re-think, a box for the Quakers, a random gift, and gender generalisations.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Red Nose Day (thanks to pupils at Kennet Valley School; Make-a-Wish (thanks to Charlie Ukich-Saunders);Voices for Autism (thanks Chris and Angela Rixton); Spurcroft Primary School (thanks to Bluebird Care); Newbury Cancer Care (thanks to Amy Collins and Scott Mosey); Time to Talk West Berkshire (thanks to Louise Barham); various Hungerford charities (thanks to Geordie Taylor).

Hungerford & district

• Latest news from Hungerford Town CouncilKintbury Parish CouncilShalbourne Parish Council, Chilton Foliat Parish CouncilFroxfield Parish Council and Inkpen Parish Council

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

• We received an email from Geordie Taylor of the Hungerford Self-isolation Network which we were hoping to add to our website but which, due the afore-mentioned gremlins, we could not. We’ll remedy this as soon as possible. It provided a brief summary of the excellent work which the group has done over the last 12 months and also confirmed that the money left over from the various donations he’s received will be being split between a number of local charities and community groups. Hats off to him and his volunteers, I think.

• Breaking with all tradition, next month’s meeting of Hungerford Town Council will be not on a Monday but a Tuesday (6 April), due to Easter. The agenda will appear here in due course. As ever, a report on this will appear in the April Penny Post Hungerford the following day.

• One of the items that may be covered at that is the proposal to widen the pavementon the east side of the High Street. This was discussed at the recent meeting of the Highways and Transport Committee, the minutes of which you can read here.

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

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

• The most recent meeting of Kintbury Parish Council took place on 4 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: a vacancy for a councillor to be filled by co-option; dog fouling; several planning applications; a possible grant to Citizens Advice West Berkshire; financial matters; the handrail at the churchyard steps; and the Coronation Hall.

• The most recent meeting of Froxfield Parish Council took place on 8 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the Water meadow Boardwalk; the emergency plan; the problems caused by parking on the Green; and financial matters.

The 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 Chilton Foliat Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: financial matters; the asset register; four planning applications; the Recreation Ground; blocked gullies; speeding issues; weight restrictions on Soley Lane; flooding at Orchard Green allegedly caused by “work arranged by BT”; Playground inspection; and tree planting.

• 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.

• A reminder of a matter reported at length last week, the state of the broadband (or lack of) in Upper Lambourn. It appears that a further government scheme, Project Gigabit, is about to be launched to help those whom the communications advances of the 21st century have forgotten. More information will be available when know: in the mean time, if any residents with awful broadband need help, please contact Lynne.Wilson1@westberks.gov.uk.

• A reminder that Lambourn will be going to the polls on Thursday 6 May with two Parish Council seats (Lambourn and Upper Lambourn) up for grabs. Anyone wishing to stand must complete their nomination papers and deliver these (by hand only – not by post – and by appointment) to the Returning Officer at WBC by 4pm on Thursday 8 April. More information on these inflexible procedures can be found here. Further information about putting yourself forward as a candidate can be found on the Electoral Commission website here.

• 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 hoped-for 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 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the flood alleviation scheme (on which more in the paragraphs below); speeding issues; a decision notice on one planning application (there were no new ones to consider); the fence at the bottom of Hungerford Hill; the playground inspection report; financial matters; signage at the recreation ground; and the railings at Station Road. 

• MP Laura Farris has been doing the Zoom rounds of parish council meetings (another thing that will become far more difficult if the decision is taken to insist that these revert to in-person meetings from May) and attended the above-mentioned Great Shefford one. During this, PC Chair Steve Ackrill provided a detailed summary of the village’s flood alleviation scheme. This has been running since 2014 and involved the parish successfully raising £80,000 several years ago towards the cost of a project proposed by the Environment Agency (EA). Since then, about £300,000 has been spent by the EA on “testing and modelling.” A good deal of time has also been spent in discussions between the EA and the village’s Flood Alleviation Association (GSFAA) about whether the job should be done by the EA or, for much less money and more quickly, as a local community-led scheme. Despite originally having agreed that there was a “strong business case” for the latter, in January 2021 the EA eventually announced that it could not contribute any funds to such a project. 

A spokesman for the EA was present at the meeting and admitted that such a community-led scheme hadn’t been done before (an objection which would probably test quite high with such a cautious and process-driven organisation). There was, he enigmatically added, “no legislation which says they can do it but also no legislation that says that they can’t”, an observation which could be applied to almost anything. Laura Farris, who seems from the detailed minutes to have been perplexed as everyone else by how matters had reached this impasse, suggested that there must be some way round the problem. The EA spokesperson stressed several times that “the EA is working to try to find a solution,” an assurance that the results haven’t so far justified. The village’s Postmaster then added that he was increasingly “embarrassed” at having to tell parishioners visiting the shop, many of whom had donated money, that still nothing was happening. The EA spokesperson – who must by this time have been praying for an internet failure on the Zoom call – candidly admitted that was not the Postmaster or his customers but “the EA that has let you and the parishioners down.” 

The overwhelming impression is of an organisation that has, at a glacial pace, painted itself into a corner by encouraging a community to raise funds for a project which it then found its own cost- and overhead-base rendered financially impossible; then trying to deflect an attempt by a local group to perform the task itself, a precedent which would risk undermining part of its raison d’être.

Each time Laura Farris attends a PC meeting there seems to be something else to be added to her in-tray. It’s good that she can keep on attending these events. As she has stressed each time, they give her insights into particular local problems, some of which – including this,  Lambourn’s sewage and broadband problems and the proposed 2,500 homes in Thatcham – have implications that reach far beyond parish boundaries.   

• Congratulations to Julie Pitt and the 20+ volunteers who collected sackfuls of litter in Lambourn last weekend. For more on this, see the post on Lambourn.org. penny and I went for a walk in Lynch Wood on Sunday and saw one scene of almost unbelievable squalor. We decided to deal with it there and then before any small children started smashing the bottles on each other’s heads. It was about six plastic bags’-worth all in all. There was also a very revealing piece of forensic evidence that we acted upon… 

• The Nature Notes in this month’s Village Views associates the changing patterns of the natural world with the various saint’s days. I don’t think I could date a single saint’s day with any confidence: I know St George’s Day is sometime in April and that St Patrick’s day is in March but that’s about it. I should clearly read and digest this article.

• 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.

• 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 CouncilGreenham Parish CouncilChieveley Parish CouncilEnborne Parish CouncilBoxford Parish CouncilShaw-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.
 
• Newbury Town Council is inviting local residents take part in a Public Consultation regarding improvements to the Wash Common Recreation Ground and Open Space. The Town Council already provide a number of recreation facilities on the site and would like your views on how the area could be improved. Click here for more information.
 
Newbury Town Council will be hosting its third Climate Change Workshop on Saturday 17 April 2021. The workshop will be held via Zoom and open at 2:15pm for a 2:30pm start. More details here.
 
• As mentioned last week, 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. This week’s NWN reports on p8 that West Berkshire Council has turned down this proposal.
 
• Congrats to Eve Hughes, Susan Millington, Colline Watts and Ellie Chadwick, all of whom were recently honoured in the Newbury Civic Awards.
 
• 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. More information can be found here.
 
• 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 for which minutes are available took place on 10 February and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Enborne Parish Council took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: road safety outside the school; several planning applications; financial matters; the asset register; parish council donations; and the co-option of a new councillor.
 
• 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 Chieveley Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 9 February and you can read the minutes here
 
• 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 CouncilAshampstead Parish CouncilBeedon Parish CouncilChaddleworth Parish CouncilBrightwalton Parish CouncilBeedon Parish CouncilThe Peasemore Village websiteWest Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.

• The most recent meeting of Chaddleworth Parish Council took place on 2 March and you can read the minutes here. items covered included: a question from a member of the public about the climate emergency; the cost of the parish newsletter; the work at the Memorial Garden; land-ownership and hedge-cutting issues relating to the land near the school; WBC’s refusal to adopt Norris Lane; the heating in the village hall; and financial matters.

• The most recent meeting of West Ilsley Parish Council took place on 8 March and you can read the minutes here. items covered included: confirmation that funding had been agreed with WBC for the flood alleviation scheme and the cricket nets; the co-option of a new councillor; the adoption of the PC’s risk register and a number of other policies and procedures; the 2021 Annual Parish Meeting (to be held on 17 May); funding for West Ilsley News; speeding; and inspections at the play area.
 
• 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.
  
• 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. 
  
• 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 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 Councillor which minutes are available took place on 28 January and you can read the minutes here

Thatcham and district

• Latest news from Thatcham Town CouncilHermitage Parish CouncilCold Ash Parish CouncilMidgham Parish CouncilBucklebury Parish CouncilBrimpton 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 has again reached for his fountain pen and Basildon Bond and penned another letter to the Newbury Weekly News. This refers to the differing strategic planning views held by the Conservatives (who favour concentrating development in the proposed 2,500-home site near Thatcham) and the Lib Dems (who espouse spreading development around the various communities). I’m not a member of either party but as I’ve mentioned before, the latter plan seems more sustainable and feasible, for several reasons. 

Firstly, there’s a real risk (despite confident assertions to the contrary) that such a vast project will run into the same problems as Sandleford in Newbury, which has yet to provide a single home. In the Ask Hilary FB session on 8 March, WBC’s Planning Policy Manager Bryan Lyttle suggested that, if the independent assessor of the draft local plan felt this site was impractical and WBC’s local plan rejected, planning control could be taken away from the council, as was threatened to South Oxfordshire, or result in a litigation-based free-for-all. In the light of these of these stated risks, having no plan B for such a problematic project seems be a high-risk strategy.

Secondly, many communities in the district could increase their number of homes by about the five percent that would be required to spread the load more evenly. Many, including local shops and schools, would actively benefit from this and the development would in many instances not need major investment to support it. (There would be some cases where infrastructure would be required, which might need re-deployment of developer contributions or capital funding). An argument used in support of the Thatcham plan is that a concentrated development would make it easier to provide the necessary improvements. However, local residents and representatives from all parties agree that, despite considerable housing growth there over the last few decades, this has not so far happened. Why should it change this time?

Thirdly – which returns to Councillor Law’s letter – there’s the issue of the AONB, which covers about three quarters of the district and which Alan Law said “will remain safe in our hands.” In the FB Live event, Bryan Lyttle drew attention to the regulations that governed development within it. Neither of these safeguards were applied to the Lancaster Park development south of Hungerford. It may that the restrictions of the AONB will need to be relaxed, particularly on the outskirts of settlements. To seek to protect all parts of the AONB from all change, at a time when major changes to our behaviour are required, seems absurd. If AONB regulations are an obstacle to ensuring that sustainable and human-scale development takes place then they may need a refresh themselves.

Finally, Bryan Lyttle pointed out that the proposed new town at Grazeley (which seemed to have been killed off in 20320 as a result of the extension of the emergency zone around AWE Burghfield) was “never seen as the magic bullet to resolve all of West Berkshire’s housing needs.” This, he explained, was mainly because, being on the extreme eastern edge of the district, people from other towns would say “we need housing here – Grazeley doesn’t do anything for us.” It seems to me that precisely the same accusation could be levelled at any one development, wherever in the district it’s situated. Why should people in Lambourn or Hungerford or West Isley or Pangbourne or, come to that, in Grazeley, who want to get a home have to move to a new estate on the edge of, but not within easy walking distance of, Thatcham? 

One obvious objection to this pepper-pot approach is that it would make it harder to provide enough affordable homes, particularly as small developments are exempt from this requirement altogether. I accept that some change in government policy is needed to create affordable homes to the level that’s needed for an equitable society. At present, every planning application seems to occasion the authority in an uphill struggle to get any such homes built. There’s no guarantee that Project Thatcham will provide the 1,000 such dwellings that WBC’s policy demands. Even if it did, why should these all be concentrated in the same place? In practice, that would mean telling everyone who wanted an affordable home that they’d have to move to a new estate on the edge of Thatcham. No disrespect to the place but not everyone wants to live there. The result, if realised, will be to create a car-based epicentre and risk condemning other communities to stagnation or the removal of parts of their population. We can do a lot better than this.

• 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 Midgham Parish Council took place on 22 March and you can read the minutes here. items covered included: salt bins; Covid scams; an update on the Village Hall; financial matters; one planning application; the PC’s response to the proposed 2,500-home development in Thatcham; delays to the footpath repairs; the co-option of a new councillor; and confirmation that the 2021 Annual Parish Meeting will take place on 25 May in the Village Hall.

• The most recent meeting of Cold Ash Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the 2021 Annual Parish Meeting (scheduled for 22 April on Zoom); the fear of  ground heave near the Acland Hall when the oak trees are removed; the new Wildlife Allotment Garden; planning applications; financial matters; footpath maintenance; the PC’s possible reaction to the proposed 2,500-home development in Thatcham; an update on the NDP; and the use of the tennis courts.

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

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

• The most recent meeting of Hermitage Parish Council took place on 18 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: various planning applications; financial matters; playground inspections; and the progress of various repairs around the parish.

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

• 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

• Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin, which this week starts with a pond and finishes with Zelda Fitzgerald.

Theale and district

• Latest news from Theale Parish CouncilAldermaston Parish CouncilPadworth Parish CouncilStratfield Mortimer Parish Council, Englefield Parish CouncilBeenham Parish Council and Burghfield Parish Council.
 
• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Burghfield.

• A number of improvements are planned to Theale station – see here for more.

• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 11 March and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: St Catherone’s Hill lay-by; the Openreach Community Fibre Partnership; several planning applications; reports from committees and working parties; councillor allowances (which will not be taken); the cricket nets; the need for a new councillor; and financial matters.
 
• The most recent meeting of Theale Parish Council took place on 8 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the co-option of two new councillors; anti-social behaviour; planning applications; and the grounds maintenance contract. 

• The same council produced this chart showing how its precept is spent.

• The most recent meeting of Beenham Parish Council took place on 1 March and you can see the minutes here
 
• 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 you can see the minutes here. 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 Englefield Parish Council took place on 13 January and you can read the draft minutes here.
 
• Click here to see the March 2021 edition of the Padworth newsletter.
 
• The most recent meeting of Burghfield Parish Council took place on 4 February and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the NDP; a new qualification for the Clerk; reports from the committees; financial matters; and confirmation of the number of questions asked by four members of the public 229 in all) which took 183 hours to answer, costing an estimated £8,549 to the parish. That’s over £46 an hour, which doesn’t sound right to me. Maybe that might be worth another question…

Marlborough & district

• Latest news from Marlborough Town CouncilAldbourne Parish CouncilRamsbury & Axford Parish Council and Great Bedwyn Parish Council.
 
• The BBC reports that there were 136 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 15-21 March, down 33 on the week before. This equates to 27 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 49 (49 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a 63 more local level to be obtained.

Marlborough News reports here on the problems with the water supplyin the Bedwyn and Shalbourne area on 25 March.

• Feelings appear to be running high in Marlborough about the permission for akebab vanto operate in the George Lane car park for an initial three-month trial period. Marlborough News takes up the story from here.

• Another issue which is dividing local residents is, according to the Gazette, whether the energy-saving LED street lightswill, as opponents claim, lead to “cancers, psychological disorders and premature births” or whether, as Wiltshire Council claims, there are no “credible research linking LED lighting to public health concerns.” Many councils up and down the country are embarked oil a programme up upgrading their street lights to LED. In 2016 there were nearly 8.2m lighting units in the UK, according to this FoI request.

• It’s good to see Town and Parish Clerksbeing given some credit for their work and his was certainly provided by several Town Councillors past and present at the end of Shelley Parker’s eight-year tenure at Marlborough. The ideal Clerk would seem to need the skills of an accountant, a lawyer, a diarist, a diplomat, a negotiator, a nanny, an archivist and a lion-tamer in roughly equal measure. In this article in MN, former Mayor Andy Ross highlighted Shelley’s “calm efficiency and charm,” which would also be my judgement. We wish he well in her retirement.
  
• The most recent ordinary meeting of Marlborough Town Council took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here
 
• 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.
  
• Click here for details of forthcoming Zoom talks organised by The Merchant House in Marlborough.
  
• 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
 
Marlborough Newsreports that St Michael’s School in Aldbourneis busy raising £5,000 to create a purpose-built forest school shelter and equipment to allow the children to spend more time in nature and has only a month left in which to try to achieve its target.

• 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 CouncilEast Challow Parish CouncilArdington & Lockinge Parish Council and Letcombe Regis Parish Council.
 
• The BBC reports that there were 57 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 15-21 March, up six on the week before. This equates to 42 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 49 (49 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.

• The Herald reports that Wantage vicar Tim Husehas been jailed for 14 days for gluing himself to furniture at the City of London Magistrates court. This isn’t, as the article goes on to explain, because he has some kind of fetish for the stuff but as part of a protest at the court’s “complicity with the government’s lack of action on the climate emergency”.

• The same paper also reports, on p5 of this week’s edition, that the controversial Ox-Cam Expresswayscheme has been scrapped after analysis revealed that it was no cost-effective. The Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council has welcomed this decision and you can read her statement here.

• The most recent meeting of Wantage Town Council was held on 8 February and you can read the minutes here. (Many of its matters are delegated to committees.) Items discussed included: reports from the various committees; market tolls; free school meals; the re-adoption of various codes and policies; financial matters; and the OX12 Project.

• Local sports clubs in the Grove and Wantage area are helping Vale of White Horse District Council understand how money that’s coming in from new housing developments could be used to help provide appropriate new or improved leisure facilitiesfor local residents.
 
• Click here for details of lateral flow tests that are available at The Beacon in Wantage.
 
• 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.

• And still with the Wantage & Grove Campaign Group, the organisation will be hosting its AGM (by Zoom) on Wednesday 14 April – click here for details.
 
• 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 Grove Parish Council took place on 26 January and you can read the draft minutes here
 
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Herald turns away from the planning and campaigning issues with which she’s normally concerned and reflects on a year of lockdown. In it she quotes a US neuroscientist who says that lockdown “exposes us to micro doses un predictable stress all the time” which can alter some aspects of how our brains work. So, if you think you or your partner has changed recently then it’s notthe vaccine with Bill gates’ microchip that’s responsible.
  
• Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire District Councils have agreed a partnership to help local businesses reduce their carbon footprint.
  
• 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 20 January and you can download the minutes here. Items covered included: flooding; planning applications; updates on various repairs and improvements in the parish; financial matters; the NDP; speeding; footpaths; maintenance work at the Recreation Area; and the proposals for the new cemetery.
 
• 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 March 2021 issue of the Letcombe Register which includes news from the villages’s groups and societies.
 
• 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 157 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 15-21 March, up six on the week before. This equates to 71 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 49 (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. Here Swindon Link reports on one plan (which seems to refer to this threat) as to how the building’s “iconic” dome could be saved.
 
Lydiard House has benefitted from a £330,000 facelift by Swindon Council, with more work planned over the next four years – more here.
 
• Swindon Council has launched a “bold vision” for 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 gliding into the Song of the Week. Every songwriter is a complete one-off but some are more one-off than others. Kevin Ayers was certainly one of these. He also had a knack of vanishing, usually to the South of France, just when his career seemed about to take off. Witty, thoughtful and tuneful, his music has brightened many a dull day for me. Here’s one of my favourites, Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes.
 
• And now the hour has come for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Not a sketch at all, this one, but a series of dead-pan observations any one of is surreal enough to make your brain think it’s spun around through 180º. A real one-off like Kevin Ayers (above), step forward Mr Steven Wright
 
• And finally, here we come to the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What is the shortest day of the year in the UK?Last week’s question was: 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? The answer is about 230 or (the way I think of it) over 38 guitars. If you took all the strings off a piano and laid them end to end…well, I’d be very surprised. Why on earth would you want to do that?

Brian Quinn

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