Hungerford Town Council Update March/April 2021

These notes incorporate some but not all of the matters discussed at the Full HTC meeting on 6 April 2021, the agenda for which can be found here. Any references below to ‘the meeting’ refer to this event unless specified otherwise. Any such issues are not necessarily covered here in the order in which they were discussed. The official minutes of the meeting will in due course be found on the HTC site. This report may also include information about HTC’s activities which were not discussed at the meeting. See the foot of this post for more information.

Full Council Meetings generally take place at 7.00pm on the first working Monday of every month except August (when there is no meeting). For the foreseeable future, these meetings will be conducted online. Please see the Virtual Council Meetings section below for more on this, including how you can continue to participate in or contribute to these.

HTC = Hungerford Town Council; WBC = West Berkshire Council; WAPC = WBC’s Western Area Planning Committee. NDP = Neighbourhood Development Plan. H2036 = Hungerford’s NDP. DC = District Councillor.

For HTC updates from previous months, please visit the archives here.

Hungerford Nursery School

Before the meeting a presentation was made by Suzanne Taylor, Head of the Hungerford Nursery School and Family Centre. She wanted HTC to be aware of “what the Nursery School is continually doing to support the families of Hungerford during this pandemic; and the cuts in funding and the continual challenges regarding funding for maintained nursery schools.”

The school has been open during the current term, despite some staff being absent. The number of pupils has fluctuated, rising as high as 120. Remote learning has taken place and the staff have “gone above and beyond their education role, supporting vulnerable children and families, keeping contact and delivering resources to families when social care and other services have ceased all face-to-face contact.” Despite these best efforts some children are experiencing anxiety and lower-then-expected levels of physical and social development. There have been staffing issues due to illness, shielding and self-isolation. Costs have also risen, including for extra cleaning products, while funding has fallen.  All in all, it has been a challenging term although Suzanne said she and her staff were “extremely proud to have been able to serve the families and children of the Hungerford community through this time.”

The Family Centre has been operating remotely during the lockdown. The staff have been in personal virtual contact with families that need support as well as running Zoom meetings for baby groups and ‘resilient parents’ courses, recording helpful materials online and sharing these on facebook. These have received positive feedback from the parents who have really appreciated that contact during these challenging times.

The long-running problem of the funding of all maintained nursery schools (MNSs)  is still unresolved although a concerted lobbying campaign has resulted in the current system being extended to March 2022. “The campaign to preserve the MNSs must be continued,” Suzanne Taylor said. “This is to ensure that supplementary funding is permanent funding. No other school would have to work under this annual stress. Their additional value easily offsets their higher costs, and if they are not funded adequately to continue this work, there will be significant additional costs to be picked up by other services including health, social services and other parts of the education system. We are already admitting children who will be in the Nursery School beyond March 2022.”

Please see the foot of this separate post for how you can lobby in support of Hungerford Nursery School.

Police report

A report was not provided, perhaps due the unusual timing of this meeting (due to Easter). If one is supplied covering March/April we’ll add it in.

General information

  • Please report all incidents to the Police or otherwise they are not officially recorded.
  • Mentioning an incident on social media does not count as reporting the crime.
  • People are encouraged to sign up for Thames Valley Alerts. As well as local crime information, you can receive details of the latest scams.
  • Thames Valley Police has a Facebook page.
  • The local policing team also wants to draw attention to the ‘what three words’ app which is used to help with the prevention of rural crime by locating people. The app provides a three-word code for each grid which is mapped over the world. By ringing 999 and quoting it the police can locate you.
  • You can report incidents online but if it is urgent please continue to call on 101 (non-emergency) and 999 in an emergency.
  • If you would like to report anonymously you can do so via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online.
  • The team’s email address is hungerfordanddownlands@thamesvalley.pnn.police.uk. This is not monitored 24/7 and should not be used to report a crime.
  • The Herbert Protocol. The local police team is keen to promote the Herbert Protocol initiative which helps us all to try to keep vulnerable members of our community safe.

Co-option of a new councillor

Following the procedures agreed at the meeting in January, it was agreed that one recent applicant for co-option would attend as many virtual HTC meetings as possible over the next month so as better to understand the work of the Council and to get to know its members. Their application would then formally be considered at the next HTC meeting.

Rupert Mills had put himself forward last month and, following a month under the above familiarisation system, was unanimously co-opted at the meeting.

A vacancy still exists for two councillors. Please contact claire.barnes@hungerford-tc.gov.uk if you are interested.

District Councillors’ report

All three DCs were present at the meeting. Aside from matters mentioned elsewhere, these were the main topics that were raised.

  • The long-running matter of the proposed change of tenure at Lancaster Park has reach the point where a viability assessment (commissioned by WBC but paid for by Bewley Homes) has been received and is being considered by WBC’s officers. A decision is expected by the end of May.
  • A new round of members’ community bids are now open for applications. These are for capital bids of up to £5,000 for each member (this can be pooled in multiple-member ward such as Hungerford and Kintbury). The closing date for applications is 23 June 2021. The decision panel will be held in early July and successful applicants will be advised shortly after. Please contact townclerk@hungerford-tc.gov.uk if you have any suggestions. 
  • The new recycling bins have now been installed as part of a pilot scheme. The main issues identified so far are poor signage and some materials can be placed in each, both of which could lead to the exercise being non-viable. WBC would be chased on these.
  • A Safer Streets Champion will be appointed by WBC: this member-led role will listen to community concerns and work with Thames Valley Police and town centre managers to address the issues that street harassment raises.
  • WBC’s Rights of Way Improvement Plan is being updated so that the network meets the needs of the public now and in the future. We’d like to know about your experience of using our PRoWs and how important the network is to your health and wellbeing. You can take part in the survey here: responses must arrive by Sunday 30 May 2021.

WBC’s Environment Strategy Draft Delivery Plan

This has been published but comments can still be made. At the meeting, Councillor John Downe described this, and the Ultra-low Emissions Vehicle Strategy, as being “unambitious” and “unchallenging”. he has prepared a response to the the Environment Strategy Draft Delivery Plan with input from other councillors which was unanimously accepted at the meeting as being HTC’s response.

Health and safety

It was agreed at the meeting that councillors would shortly resume their H&S walkarounds, where HTC’s various assets were periodically inspected and any problems reported back to the appropriate committee. As well as supplementing the work done by HTC’s H&S consultants, it was agreed that this was also a useful way for new councillors to have personal experience of the places that frequently cropped up as part of HTC’s business.

Mayor’s report

Jack Williams, 1928-2021

I attended the funeral of former Mayor, Jack Williams on 10 March. Although the funeral was smaller (Coronavirus restrictions) than we would have liked, the service was really personal. I wish to thank Jack’s son’s Richard and Andrew for asking me to read the town’s eulogy.

Hungerford has lost so many stalwarts this year and I hope we will have another opportunity to remember the huge commitments they made individually within our community.

District Parish Conference

On Thursday 11 March I attended West Berkshire district parish conference by Zoom. This meeting was very focused around all the good work being done throughout the district.

Croft Field

Cllr’s met with members of the town band and the architect to view new plans for the croft field activity centre. The architect showed several potential layouts and these were discussed at length. Several suggestions were fed back, we’ll reconvene to discuss when amendments to the plans are made.

Litter and waste

Lorry drivers parking overnight in Charnham Park are sadly continuing to leave human waste at the roadside due to the lack of available public conveniences. This is a country-wide concern which will prove difficult to overcome.

Littering in general continues to challenge our community, I urge anyone enjoying our green spaces to use the litter bins provided or take their rubbish home with them.

Pigeons

I attended the working party to discuss the growing number of pigeons in the high street. Measures taken by business owners in the town continue to help alleviate perching and roosting. HTC is contacting a local charity to see if they would be willing to net those properties still in need of improvement.

Cemetery Wall

The Deputy Town Clerk and I met with builders at St Saviours to look at a wall repair, damaged from a tree root.

Hungerford 2036 (neighbourhood development plan)

We have written to site promoters with our comments and any actions taken on their feedback on our H2036 criteria assessment of their sites. We have also invited them to provide some additional inputs to ensure that by the time we are able to conduct physical public consultations we will have the most comprehensive information possible about each site. We expect to receive their responses by late April or early May.

During March, a further site for potential housing development in Hungerford was put forward for our consideration. Our consultant has conducted, as far as he can, a HELAA-level assessment of it and this and the promoter’s materials have been dispatched to WBC for assessment as part of their planned HELAA update for the district. As we have with other sites we will await the response from WBC before further assessment.

For more information, see the Hungerford 2036 post here.

Covid infection rates in Hungerford

As this (this interactive map shows, in the seven days to 1 April the number of infection rates in the town was less than three (white on the map), as it was for all the contiguous areas.

It’s also worth pointing out that, when starting from a low base, small increases can seem disproportionately large when expressed as percentage rise. In the same way, the rate per 100,000 will, when applied to an area with fewer than this number of people, be greater than the total number of cases in that area. Both of these apply to Hungerford. Any future changes using this map should be interpreted with this in mind.

Finance

Councillor Winser reported that HTC’s year-end figures for 2021-21 showed an underspend of some £53,400 although there were still some invoices that were awaited for this period. She pointed out that some of this was due to HTC not having been able to do some of the things it had planned to due to Covid.

HTC’s committees

Reports for the following recent committee meetings were circulated before, though not discussed at the meeting:

  • Environment and Planning. (Last meeting 8 March – click here to see the minutes.) Items covered included: a discussion about the development at Chestnut Walk and the speed of the progress; and the consideration of a street-trading licence for a new take-away business; an update on the Lancaster Road site (see District Councillors’ report above); and the consideration of five planning applications.
  • Recreation and Amenities. (Last meeting 16 March – click here to see the minutes.) Items covered included: the latest on the Croft Field Activity Centre; the Triangle Field resurfacing; cleaning of paved areas; tree inspections; repairs to the cemetery; and H&S training.
  • Highways and Transport. (Last meeting 22 March – click here to see the minutes.) Items covered included the state of the footpath on the A4 between Hungerford and Froxfield; a report from Smarten Up Hungerford; the latest on the pigeon problem; the possible widening of east side of the High Street north of the railway bridge; problems with the reinstated footpath at Lancaster Park; and litter (and worse) on Charnham Street.
  • Finance and General Purposes. (Last meeting 9 March – click here to see the minutes.) Items covered included: the annual governance statement; grants; the progress of the streetlight transfer; and an update on acquiring the freehold of the Bridge Street Memorial site.

For details on HTC’s committees, including membership, agendas and minutes, please click here (and go to the ‘Town Council’ tab).

The future nature of council meetings

It’s widely known that a recent government announcement confirmed that council meetings could not take place without their results being subject to challenge after 7 May 2021. Click here to see a statement from the Minister of State on 25 March on the subject. The feeling of the HTC meeting – confirmed by a unanimous vote – is that remote meetings should be allowed to continue at the discretion of the council concerned. This was not only motivated my Covid considerations but by convenience, lack of travel time inclusiveness. The government has initiated a call for evidence on the subject to which any interested person, whether a council member or officer or not, in encouraged to respond (if you use none of the free-text boxes it will take as little as five minutes).

It was agreed that HTC would make a general response though individual councillors were also encouraged to submit their own.

Virtual council meetings

HTC has been as active as possible in supporting the community through these challenging times. Many tasks and activities cannot currently take place but HTC’s councillors and officers are still active online and full council and committee meetings take place as normal (though using Zoom) The link for each meeting is on the agenda which is published on the HTC website a few days before each meeting. For anyone unable or unwilling to attend meetings in this way, questions can be sent by email to townclerk@hungerford-tc.gov.uk or by post to The Town Clerk, Hungerford Town Council, The Library, Church Street, Hungerford RG17 0JG. These need to arrive by 2pm on the day of the meeting. You can also phone 01488 686 195 and leave your question on HTC’s answerphone (this is not always checked every day so please leave your message three days before the meeting).

The HTC office at The Hub is currently closed but emails and phone messages are being monitored.  Call 01488 686 195 to leave a message or (preferably) email admin@hungerford-tc.gov.uk.

Contacting WBC in an emergency

You can also contact West Berkshire Council out of office hours for emergencies. These are considered to include:

  • Major incidents such as major accidents or significant flooding.
  • Fallen trees and other debris blocking or restricting roads or causing potential danger to road users.
  • Traffic lights not working (West Berkshire Council only manages fixed traffic lights, not temporary ones).
  • Emergency repairs to council-owned temporary accommodation (tenants of properties should contact their housing association, landlord or agent).

 

The sections above cover the main issues with which HTC has recently been involved or concerned: it by no means describes all of HTC’s activities. Nor is this an official record of any meeting nor of any other aspect of HTC’s activities. Links to the official minutes of this and other meetings are provided in this post. For more information on HTC, please click here.

If there’s anything that you’d like to see addressed by HTC, and perhaps also covered in this way in future editions of Penny Post Hungerford, please email claire.barnes@hungerford-tc.gov.uk. Any such suggestions should be received at least four working days before the end of the month (and preferably sooner) if they are to be included in the corresponding post for the following month. That is not, of course, to say that HTC will not in any case give the matter its attention and respond personally if appropriate.

This information has been compiled by Penny Post from information supplied by HTC and others. Every reasonable effort has been made to provide a clear and dispassionate summary of the points covered but these may contain expressions of opinion which may not accord with HTC’s official view on the matter. Links have been provided to other posts, on the Penny Post site or elsewhere, to give additional information where this has been judged useful or necessary. The presence of such a link should not be taken to imply that HTC necessarily agrees with, endorses or supports any of the material contained therein.

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