Local News 1 to 8 April 2021

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s network, Lambourn’s vacancies, Upper Lambourn’s broadband, Thatcham’s preservations, Newbury’s café, Marlborough’s donations, Preshute’s UDI, Wantage’s plan, Hamstead Marshall’s minutes, Cold Ash’s daffodils, Aldbourne’s objection, Ramsbury’s anniversary,  East Garston’s festival, Shalbourne’s ownership, Chieveley’s preoccupations, Padworth’s conservation, Chaddleworth’s news, Stratfield Mortimer’s partnership, Chilton Foliat’s trees, Bedwyn’s bonnets, Childrey’s window, Theale’s station, Letcombe’s register, Grove’s windfall, Swindon’s payments, remote-meeting checklist, a united party, share options, changing language, reptilian brains, public enquiries, moral issues, testing the testing labs, vaccine passports, Sandleford, a two-year life cycle, the shortest day, Joe’s dog, two cats, three people, four developers and the pearl of the quarter.

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 Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) last week indicated that it does not intend to bring forward emergency legislation to permit councils to continue to hold remote meetings after 7 May. The situation is summarised in this rather disjointed letter from the Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government of 25 March. The Chair of the National Association of Local Councils Sue Baxter has said she is “deeply disappointed” by the decision: West Berkshire Council leader Lynne Doherty told Penny Post that she thought it was “a backward step.” Several councillors and officers I’ve spoken to have echoed these sentiments. There’s currently a “call for evidence” which is open to anyone (and not just council members) to complete. I’ve done it and it takes about 10 minutes, less if you stick to the radio-button options and don’t let yourself go in the free-text boxes. (The need of a call for evidence seems specious as there is plentiful evidence in the form of the 100,000+ municipal meetings which have been held in the last 12 months without the country grinding to a halt or our brains exploding.) If you’re minded to respond to this, here a few things you might want to consider:

  • The remote arrangements were introduced because of Covid. So, Covid’s vanished, then? No. There were about 4,500 cases on 1 April.
  • Oh. So we’ll be out of lockdown by 7 May, though? No. 7 May will see us about half way through the roadmap exit. Even if this isn’t delayed, there’s the best part of seven weeks until 21 June when “normal” life is predicted to resume.
  • OK – but it will be possible to hold meetings safely in this time? No. Many village halls and the like are not designed for social distancing while, for those that are, time and money will be needed to adapt them.
  • Surely the forced reversion to in-person meetings will increase public participation? No. The above-mentioned letter says that councils are “encouraged to provide remote access to minimise the need for the public to attend” until 21 June – so, the situation remains as before, with people who don’t have access to suitable IT being excluded. (However, many more people have been included as a result of meetings being remote.)
  • But councils will still be able to reach democratic decisions? No. The same letter proposes that that councils “use existing powers to delegate decision making to key individuals such as the Head of Paid Service, as these could be used these to minimise the number of meetings you need to hold if deemed necessary. Additionally, some of you will be able to rely on single-member decision making.” This is an atrocious suggestion and effectively gives a green flag for councils to be run by a small cabal.
  • I’m guessing we’re dealing here with a wholly unexpected situation. No. It was always known that the regulations would need renewing but it now appears that there’s no space in the government’s programme for the primary legislation that would be needed.
  • If the Ministry has said so, I’m sure everyone would agree that “primary legislation” would be needed to resolve this. No. Local Government Lawyer suggests that there are “forceful arguments” to suggest not.
  • Will it reduce the burden on ward members, guest speakers and attendees like the local MP, busy people who can currently turn up for just the part of the meeting that concerns them? No.
  • Will it reduce infection rates? No.
  • Will it reduce the number of car journeys and carbon emissions? No.
  • Will it reduce absenteeism rates at meetings? No.
  • Will it produce any benefits, except to save the blushes of dysfunctional councils’ debates which go viral? No. 
  • Is it clear what measures are in place in the event that infections rise again and virtual meetings need to be restored? No – or, if there is, I’ve written to the Minister of State Luke Hall and the MHCLG’s press office and have received no answer on this point.

The only possible conclusion is that central government thinks so little of local councils and of local democracy that it has either put this matter at the bottom of its list or else has gone out of its way to show that it calls the shots. One might almost believe that Whitehall feels shamed by the fact that local councils of all levels have in general dealt admirably with the local response to the pandemic (despite having been given less than 10% of the money for test and trace that was dished out for the national system) and wish now to redress the balance. If today were 1 April, this might almost be worth a parody.

It’s insulting and patronising to suggest that councils – which, the last time I checked, were staffed by grown-ups – cannot be trusted to decide how their meetings are conducted. Different areas have different needs, geography, suitable meeting venues – and infection rates. Some may choose to alternate meetings between virtual and in-person, or have hybrid ones, or use virtual ones where there was a contentious issue, or when the weather was bad, or when key participants happened to be abroad or self-isolating. Let them decide. As WBC’s leader Lynne Doherty observed, “this does not support any talk of devolution if local government cannot be trusted to make its own decisions as to how to run meetings.” She added that her council will be “reviewing its options” over the coming weeks. Many others will be doing likewise.

• I had a quick look at the BBC website today to see if I could find its April Fool story and there it was on the main page: “The leader of the SNP has insisted her party is not divided”. Great stuff, guys.

• The papers have again been full of the hapless David Cameron’s lobbying work on behalf of Greensill Capital. Attention is now focussing, including in The Guardian, not so much on when he was a non-exec of the company after he cut and ran in 2016, but on Lex Greensill’s relationship with DC when he was in office and the amount of influence he had over decision-making on issues which would, and briefly did, directly benefit the financier. As to what happened to the company, you’re asking the wrong person: but my brief appreciation is that its repackaging of debt into complex financial instruments that failed to produce the envisaged yields could have come straight out of The Big Short, the excellent though at times confusing film about the 2008 crash.

The BBC reports that Cameron stood to make about £60m from Greensill share options were things to have panned out as planned. I’m struggling to understand how anyone, even an ex-PM, could have contributed so much value to a company in less than five years and to be worth this kind of bonus. In his dreary memoirs, the name of which I’ve forgotten, DC said that he still had people shouting insults at him in the street years after his Brexit debacle. They’ve got something else to shout at him about now; as might others, depending on if enquiries are launched. One defence of his actions is that, certainly as regards his post-PM relationship, he abided by the rules about public-office-holders moving to lucrative corporate positions and that it’s the rules that are wrong. Fair enough – except that hapless DC was himself in power when the rules were last revised. It’s obviously too much to expect from human nature that any restrictions will be imposed when the person in charge of deciding them will be one of the most immediate losers.

This excellent article in The Evening Standard by Natasha Mwansa considered whether “BAME” or any other acronym to define our culture or ethnicity is appropriate, a point that would have come up for everyone most recently when completing the census last weekend. One of the points she makes is that “grouping minorities together also implies a shared experience, which just isn’t the case.” “BAME” might, for instance, be appropriate when talking about people who are less likely to have a Covid jab but irrelevant when considering, say, economic power or representation among Premier League football clubs. For the UK today, this is a problem of our success at being a multi-racial, multi-cultural society (in some parts of the country more than others). This has led to most of us wanting, often out of a sense of politeness, to avoid any term that might be derogatory. This has got to be better than situation when I was growing up when terms of casual racism and misogyny were part of daily speech.

It’s also worth remembering that we are essentially tribal animals, pre-disposed to form social groups of up to whatever size can be sustained by the prevailing socio-political systems and technology from which strangers will be regarded with anything between suspicion and outright hostility. Current societal norms have suppressed the worst aspects of this but it’s still there: a part of all of us is a frightened animal in its burrow, snarling and snapping at anything different that seems likely to threaten our survival (and we have survived, so justifying the reaction). Ultimately, we’re just chimps with a thesaurus.

Looked at in this light, I think we’ve come quite a long way: at least now we’re trying to avoid snarling and snapping even if, in so doing, we’re creating confusions and generalisations. These are only of immediate and specific use but continue until some other different general definition or grouping comes along. The reptilian and atavistic part of our brains tells us to distrust PeWDoLLMes – People Who Don’t Look Like Me. (I doubt this acronym will catch on.) Also, different cultures do things in different ways. This is generally great and what multi-culturalism is all about. There’s always going to be tension between accepting that in some ways we’re all the same while recognising that in others we’re very different. Language constantly has to adapt to reflect this. The fact that ours does is a good sign. Keeping up to date with the changes, of course, is another matter.

• I haven’t had the chance to more than skim-watch this recent Panorama programme about the problems in a Covid testing lab but an academic friend of mine who’s been involved in the pandemic response, and whose views have been borne out by events at every turn, has told me that his colleagues have judged it to be fair and accurate. It also contains, at about 12′ 35″, a fairly withering assessment from Sir John Oldham, a health expert who’s worked for five governments, on the folly of trying to create a new test, track and trace system when better, quicker and faster results could have been had from expanding the underfunded but still functional local networks. Many others have suggested this too.

• Any enquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic – which will be conducted among the scribbling and chattering and tweeting classes even if there’s nothing official – is likely to centre on two things: the extent to which such a threat could have been anticipated; and whether public money could have been spent more wisely, in particular with the way procurement was organised. There was a certain amount of official dithering but I accept that politicians are prey to a wide range of considerations and, with Covid, the advice of scientists and of economists would often have been in stark opposition to each other and that a multitude of considerations have to be balanced. My advice would be “prepare and devolve”, and fund accordingly. Unfortunately, these tend to go against the Westminster’s instincts not to spend money on things that don’t have an election-cycle benefit and not to give power to local organisations despite their being often better equipped to deal with, as the parlance goes, real-world problems. If this attitude doesn’t change, expect similar problems when the next pandemic arrives.

Home Covid testing kits are becoming more widely available but doubts have been cast on how accurate they are. This article in the BMJ suggests that, as one would expect, the accuracy of the similar lateral flow tests depends on the experience of the person administering them. If the home kits are at all similar, the moral is to follow the instructions carefully.

• A system of vaccine passports has been proposed to decide if people should be allowed into pubs and restaurants. Some MPs, including Newbury’s Laura Farris, have suggested that the idea is welcome but that it should be left to businesses to enforce. This seems to be a recipe for chaos. If organisations can decide  whether it insists on them or not it can presumably change its mind half way through the evening with the result that the environment will be a lot less safe than people might think. It seems that they will in due course be required for international travel, a world already so dominated by forms and procedures that one more will probably make no difference to the whole ghastly experience. Going for a pint, however, is something that we’re used to doing without formalities. Perhaps this is what Keir Starmer meant when he said he felt the idea was “un-British”; although what that means these days is anyone’s guess…

Across the area

• The BBC reports that there were 47 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 22-28 March, down one on the week before. This equates to 30 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 39 (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 available in West Berkshire for key workers and others who are not already in a testing programme. See here for more information.

• The question of CIL payments (developer contributions) raised by West Berkshire Council have once again been covered in the NWN following last week’s meeting of the Council’s executive. This issue, which I refer to in this article, is that a paperwork error in applying for an exemption can trigger a massive payment which the council will not then reverse (although it has the power to do so) even if the development should not have had CIL charged on it. The discussion at the Executive appeared to go over old ground: ombudsmen and auditors had found no systemic problem with the council’s behaviour; it’s the responsibility of developers or their agents to fill in forms correctly; further enquiry would be an unnecessary expense (the figure of £20,000 was suggested as the cost of this but I don’t know on what it is based). I wasn’t present at the Executive meeting but understand that Hilary Cole, the Planning portfolio holder, admitted that if the case were run again with the correct paperwork it would be a zero CIL. Two district councillors pointed out that, the legalistic issues aside, there also a moral aspect. That’s true of course: but the basic situation is even simpler – these developments were exempt and so CIL should not be charged. WBC is not entitled to the money. If this were a tax or a VAT return an adjustment could be made if an error or an oversight had taken place. There doesn’t seem to be any other way of looking at the matter.

• Businesses in West Berkshire are to be offered a comprehensive re-opening support package to align with the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

• 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 grants are available from 1 April 2021 – click here for details.

• 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 (consultation closes 23 April).

• 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 for the latest Covid 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 are the two cats – one ours, one a neighbour’s – who have been having a yowling stand-off in the garden for 20 minutes and counting this morning. They obviously see themselves as perfectly matched so no one’s making the first move. This could go on all day. Anyone got a bucket of water?

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week include, as well as those mentioned elsewhere, protests, thanks for help for John O’Gaunt, poor building standards and praise for the library service.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Homeless Oxfordshire (thanks to Bea Harper); the Charlie Waller Trust (thanks to Luke Owens); Cat Protection Newbury (thanks to Jenni Warrior); Alzheimer’s Society (thanks to Joseph Black); West Berkshire Community Hospital (thanks to Scott Mosey and Amy Collins); Evolve Housing (thanks to Oliver and Harriet Stanley-Pocock); Child Autism UK (thanks to Ethan Waller).

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.

• Geordie Taylor of the Hungerford Self-isolation Network hasprovided 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. Click here to read the full text.

• This month’s meeting of Hungerford Town Council will be not on a Monday but a Tuesday (6 April), due to Easter and you can see the agenda here. (Note that Laura Farris will not now be able to attend but hopes to be able to do so at a future meeting.) 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 pavement on 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.

• The recurring matter of the town’s troublesome pigeon population was also discussed at there above meeting.

• One of the items that will doubtless be asked – though possibly not answered – is where we are with the proposal by Bewley Homes to set aside the condition that the Lancaster Park development contain 28 social-rent homes. The matter has been called in by one of the ward members so if there is no successful conclusion to the seemingly interminable discussions between Bewley and West Berkshire Council, the matter will be discussed in committee at some point in the future.

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

• The most recent meeting of Shalbourne Parish Council took place on 18 March and you can download the minutes here. Items covered included: new playground equipment; tidying the small green in Oxenwood; various planning applications; the Shalbourne Club; the hope that events such as the Classic Car Show can result in 2021; dog fouling; and the need to establish the ownership of land on the southern side of the Bourne to proceed with Action for the River Kennet’s plan to clear the bourn and the footpaths.

• 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.

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

Lambourn Valley

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

The next meeting of Lambourn Parish Council will take place on Wednesday 7 April at 7pm. If you want to participate by Zoom, please email the clerk at lambournpc@btconnect.com.

• 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.

• A further vacancy has arisen on Lambourn PC (making five in all). For more information, see here.

• A reminder concerning 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.

• Local residents (and not just in Lambourn) have been expressing dismay that the dog bins don’t seem to be being emptied as often as they should be. I spoke to Lambourn Parish Council’s Clerk on 31 March who assured me that she was on the case of this with West Berkshire Council.

• East Garston’s Garstonbury Festival will be returning on Saturday 17 July 2021, all being well. 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 (which provoked considerable discussion – see last week’s column); 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.

• The most recent Lambourn Parish Council took place on 3 March and you can read my summary of it here.

• 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 March/April 2021 update from Martin Colston, the Leader of Newbury Town Council. This includes more on various consultations (see below), the forthcoming climate change workshop (see also below) and the latest on the café at Victoria Park.

• There’s an article by Dr David Cooper of he Say No to Sandleford campaign on p22 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News which provides an overview of the troubled project and also takes some fairly hefty and well-directed swipes at the way the property and development sectors operate in this country which, the writer argues, inflate property prices and reduce the power of planning authorities. It would seem that any attempt to reform of the UK’s planning system, as proposed in last year’s white paper (which proposed giving even more powers to developers) would seem to be impossible unless this problem can be addressed. Also, to solve the shortage of affordable homes which are not sufficiently profitable for private companies to build, councils or the government will need once again to become large-scale home builders themselves.

Although Dr Cooper knows far more about the subject than I do, I would also have added that all the problems on this site were exacerbated by there being two developers working in an unequal and uneasy partnership who, increasingly, were unable to agree about anything. Mind you, if the full story of Sandleford were to be told it would probably run to several chunky volumes. This seem to me an admirable summary. I wonder if the paper is planning to have articles of a similar length from other participants such as the developers themselves (if they can agree on what to say) and West Berkshire Council. The point about the two developers seem relevant because this in one of the aspects that Sandleford shares with the 2,500-home project in north east Thatcham: except that in the latter case there will not be two developers but four.

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

• More details on the proposed redevelopment of the Kennet Centre, including artist’s impressions, can be found here.

• 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.

• 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 Chieveley Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can read the minutes here. (If anyone is in any doubt of the amount of work that Parish Clerks need to do before, during and after a meeting, the length and detail of this document should answer that question). The meeting was attended by Laura Farris MP and, as in the other occasions (including at Lambourn, Shefford and Bucklebury) she was shown a problem that affects local residents that she might not have been aware of. In the case of the Chieveley meeting there were several of these. One was a survey of the planning and development history of the showground site going back to the 1980s, with particular reference to the AONB and mineral extraction. The second was the school transport policy which, here and elsewhere, is a very tangled matter with some communities being divided in half for free-school-transport purposes in a way which, as one councillor suggested, amounted to a conflict between two policies. The third was illegal traveller encampments. This was a subject Ms Farris seemed to be aware of and it gave her the opportunity to read out some of the provisions of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which address this. This was met with general approval at the meeting. Other aspects of the legislation (which were not discussed) are rather more contentious.

Other matters discussed at Chieveley’s meeting included: planning applications (including at Mary Hare which the PC felt that the site “is getting to the point of overdevelopment”; the settlement boundary review; financial matters; speeding; dog bins; Volunteer Chieveley; “unauthorised activities” to the north west of M4 J14; and Councillor Hilary Cole’s report that footpaths 10a and §10b were now “good to walk on”: which, for a footpath, has got to be regarded as a successful outcome to whatever the previous problem was.

• The most recent meeting of Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council took place on 17 February and you can read the draft minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Newbury Town Council for which minutes are available took place on 1 February and you can read the minutes here. As mentioned last week, that this was quite some time ago doesn’t seem to be due to indolence as might appear as the Council delegates much of its work to committees. Click here for more on these.

• The most recent meeting of Greenham Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 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.

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

• I presume that Hamstead Marshall Parish Council still meets: it has a website but the most recent minutes are are for September 2020.

• 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. 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 April edition of Chaddleworth News has been published and you can read it here. Items covered include: signs of our return to normality from local schools; the new-look Hadland Memorial Garden; Easter events; the return of cricket; and updates from local people and organisations.

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

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

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

• The most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Ashampstead Parish Council took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of East Ilsley Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can read the minutes here.

• 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.

• Thus week’s NWN reports that MP Laura Farris (who expressed a number of concerns about the 2,500-home plan in Thatcham at a recent meeting of Bucklebury Parish Council) has told the most recent meeting of Thatcham Town Council she is in “an ongoing conversation [with WBC] about whether [north east Thatcham] is really the right location.” She has also questioned whether  it’s “Thatcham or nothing” and whether this number of homes are indeed required in the district. On the last point, WBC’s planners will doubtless point to the figures that have been handed down from Whitehall. As to whether Thatcham is the only site in the district, for the reasons I suggested last week, I don’t see that its necessary, beneficial or even feasible to have everything concentrated in a mega-site at all.

• 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.

• The long-running saga of Piggy Woods (which last year was revealed to be owned but by West Berkshire Council but by an investment company which has since been busy parcelling the land up and selling it at auction) has recently taken a step forward. I learned this week that a number of tree preservation orders arranged by Thatcham Town Council are now in force and should provide a powerful and permanent protection against the risk of speculative development.

• 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.

• 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 daffodils and ends with Hemingway.

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 Catherine’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 Burghfield Parish Council took place on 4 March and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: the NDP; reports from the various committees; financial matters; and refurbishment work at the Village Hall.

• 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 for which minutes are available 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.

Marlborough & district

• Latest news from Marlborough Town CouncilAldbourne Parish CouncilRamsbury & Axford Parish Council and Great Bedwyn Parish Council.

• The BBC reports that there were 135 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 22-28 March, down four on the week before. This equates to 27 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 39 (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 that Action for the River Kennet is calling for an end to sewage pollution in the River Kennet after the duration of time and frequency that untreated sewage was pumped into the river at Marlborough more than trebled last year. In this article in the Gazette, Thames Water disputes this as the number of hours of discharge (to which these figures relate) is measured, but not the volume. So, it could be less then three times as much as last year or more than three times as much. It would therefore appear that Thames Water doesn’t know how much foul water it discharges which would seem to make any estimate of the damage or assessment of the resulting pollution statistics totally meaningless. This seems odd: we have a water meter and they seem to have no trouble measuring how much water we take.

• The Rotary Club of Marlborough & District is supporting the Gavi/Covax initiative to provide Covid 19 vaccines to countries where cost is an issue. They are asking you to consider donating the cost of your vaccine to Gavi/Covax. Click here for more.

• We mentioned last week about he tribes paid to retiring Town Clerk Shelley Parker. MN has been able to catch up with her successor, Richard Spencer-Williams – click here to meet him.

• 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.

Preshute Parish Council declared UDI from the Marlborough area neighbourhood plan last year as, according to the Gazette, “it was unable to reconcile “rural parish objectives and with the housing ambitions of the urban focused Marlborough Town Council.” It now appears that the PC is engaged on work which seems to look like an NDP of its own.

• The most recent (extraordinary) meeting of Great Bedwyn Parish Council took place on 16 February and you can read the draft minutes here.

Marlborough News has a report here on Great Bedwyn School’s Easter bonnet parade.

• The Gazette reports that “fears of overflowing sewage have prompted dozens of objections against plans to build 32 houses in Aldbourne.” The article suggests that Thames Water has no objections to the plan whereas any resident of the town will tell you that groundwater infiltration is a regular seasonal problem. Some remedial work, here and in the Lambourn Valley has recently been done. I believe that water companies base their views in planning matters on the assumption that the network is working to optimum capacity.

• The most recent meeting of Ramsbury & Axford Parish Council took place on 15 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included:various items of correspondence; various planning applications; financial matters; footpath signs; a possible litter-picking day later in the year; congratulations to Chris Martin from the Ramsbury Fire Station for his recent award; a possible wildflower meadow; village maintenance tasks; progress on the best-kept village competition; and an anniversary presentation at the Post Office.

• The above-mentioned minutes also contained a reference to neighbourhood development plans that confused me. One councillor “had circulated a section from a newsletter from Danny Kruger [the local MP] which mentioned Neighbourhood Plans: they must be updated every two years and update will only be accepted if there is an increase in housing provision. Since a Neighbourhood Plan takes 18 months to develop this leads to a Forth Bridge situation of continuous review which is unacceptable when Neighbourhood Plans are prepared by volunteers.” This is news to me. The Gov.uk website has a lot to say about NDPs, including this: “There is no requirement to review or update a neighbourhood plan. However, policies in a neighbourhood plan may become out of date, for example if they conflict with policies in a local plan covering the neighbourhood area that is adopted after the making of the neighbourhood plan.” I wasn’t able to get in touch with anyone involved in that meeting but spoke to another councillor elsewhere who runs an NDP steering group. He agreed with R&APC’s assessment of this, adding that such a proposal would be “bonkers” and effectively prevent any NDPs getting off the ground at all. They’re enough work as it is. (I don’t know whether Mr Kruger was perhaps referring to a time after the adoption of the government’s white paper, which many hope will not pass into law in anything like its current form. There was no mention of NDPs in that at all, however.)  I’ll try to find out more on this.

• 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 Aldbourne is 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 43 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 22-28 March, down 14 on the week before. This equates to 32 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 39 (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 this week on p2 of the ambitious (yet probably necessary) plans by the campaign group Railfuture to create an Oxford Metro service throughout the county (including a re-opened station service Grove and Wantage). More details can be seen on Railfuture’s website here. However, the article casts doubt on the extent to which this is supported by Oxfordshire CC or Oxford City Council.

It’s been officially announced that South Oxfordshire (SODC) and the Vale of White Horse have agreed to develop a joint Local Plan for the area to reduce costs and help the councils meet their ambitious targets for making the two districts carbon neutral. SODC had a bit of a run-in with the Secretary of State last year over its plan so perhaps this is seen as one way of dealing with the results. If two planning authorities have a shared local plan, it seems only then a short step towards their merging. They already share a number of things, including the main offices.

• The same two councils have agreed to offer a financial support package to GLL, the leisure contractor that manages leisure facilities across both districts, subject to formal agreements being entered into.

• And once again involving both councils – they appear increasingly inseparable – their combined building control service has been awarded the quality mark ISO 9001 for its provision of public sector building control and public protection services.

• Ah ha – now we come to something where they’re different. In her regular column on p8 of the Herald, Julie Mabberley’s looks at what appear to be differing Covid death rates across the two districts.

• In this week’s Herald, local historian Trevor Hancock tracks down a long-lost stained-glass window from Childrey to East Yorkshire.

• The same paper covers on p3 the tale of a lucky pensioner in Grove who scooped a £300,000 scratch card win on his 74th birthday.

• 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.)

• 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 (1 April) covers the forthcoming AGM on 14 April); Wantage’s neighbourhood development plan; Wantage’s pedestrianisation; leisure funding; and various planning issues.

• 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.

• The most recent meeting of Grove Parish Council took place on 26 January and you can read the draft minutes here.

• 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.

• 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 April 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 151 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 22-28 March, down seven on the week before. This equates to 68 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 39 (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 more than 600 community rail volunteers are poised to play a key role in South West’s post-Covid economic recovery. Such groups, the article explains, engage local people with their railways and stations, working with train operators, local authorities and other partners. Their activities include volunteering, community gardening, food growing and biodiversity projects at stations. There are community arts and heritage projects to help people learn about and take pride in their area.

• Swindon Council has extended the £500 Support Payment scheme to include parents and guardians of children required to self-isolate.

• Residents should look out for their poll card for information about where they can cast their vote ahead of the local elections on Thursday, 6 May.

• Lydiard House has benefitted from a £330,000 facelift by Swindon Council, with more work planned over the next four years – more here.

• See here for more information on the progress of the improvements at junction 15 of the M4.

• 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 25 March and you can download the minutes here. Matters covered included; disabled parking bays; the RWB Sculpture Project Team; the Climate and Environmental Emergency Working Group; committee reports; the mayoral election procedures; EV charging points; and the donations policy.

The song, the sketch and the quiz

• We arrive at the Song of the Week. Whatever track you pick, you can’t go wrong with Steely Dan. As well as being astoundingly accomplished creators of tunes and arrangements they also did a mean line in lyrics: always articulate and thoughtful and frequently laced with ambiguity, they are often described in terms like sardonic, cynical or world-weary. They could, when the mood was upon them, also do wistful pretty well: and of this style Pearl of the Quarter is an outstanding example. A beautiful piece of work in every way, with the slide-guitar playing probably the most striking aspect.

• And so the moment draws nigh for the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Yet again, not a sketch but a brief article from the excellent new spoof website Opening Gambit about the proposed impeachment of Joe Biden’s dog.

• And finally, here we are at the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What do the musicians/singers Ronnie Lane, Gil Scot-Heron and Susan Boyle have in common? Last week’s question is: What is the shortest day of the year in the UK? The answer is not 22 December which, like all bar two of others, lasts for 24 hours. The shortest, this year, was Sunday 28 March when we lost an hour due to the clocks going forward. Don’t worry – we’ll get in back again in October.

Brian Quinn

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