Local News 8-15 April 2021

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s newsletter, Lambourn’s cemetery, Upper Lambourn’s broadband, Thatcham’s crossing, Newbury’s ReadiBus, Marlborough’s flags, Wantage’s solution, Cold Ash’s churchyard, Aldbourne’s shelter, East Garston’s festival, Chieveley’s unauthorised activities, Chaddleworth’s news, Beedon’s vets, Compton’s silence, Wash Common’s consultation, Stratfield Mortimer’s footpaths, Theale’s wildflowers, Grove’s meeting, Swindon’s nightmare, literacy rates, hapless Dave again, Sandleford again, football grounds again, protesting a bill, naming a jab, office life, smaller homes, larger homes, dog bites woman, starting early, annual meetings, colour-coded letters, a five-year supply, funking it up, April fools and an annoying eye witness.

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

• This week’s Sunday Times led with a story about the “lockdown illiteracy surge” with “over 200,000” 11-year-olds likely to leave school this year “without being able to read properly”; and that this is a rise of 30,000 over the last year. These were highlighted in a report for the government by Kevan Collins, the UK’s “education recover tsar”. I’ve done a bit of sniffing about into illiteracy figures, in the UK and worldwide, but there seem to be many different ways by which these are calculated. Unlike, say, population, area or the number of World Cups they’ve won, comparing countries in this way is hard and there’s much about the measurements that seems to be at best subjective. I found one source which seemed quite good until I saw that the number-one ranked country was North Korea, with a 100.00% literacy rate. I rather went off the source after that.

Many, however, appear to agree that about five million UK adults, about 15%, are to some extent functionally illiterate (definitions as to what that means differ too). This claim that was investigated by Full Fact back in 2012 and appears to be largely true today. I’m not sure how many 11-year-olds there are in the UK but, if we assume about a million, that means that according to Sunday Times, about 20% have serious reading problems. Accepting the 15% figure for adult illiteracy, and further assuming that the two estimates are based on similar criteria. only about one in four children who arrive at secondary school with a serious level of illiteracy are able to make up the deficit by the time they reach adulthood.

This immediately tells me something very important, which I think I knew all along. You have to start young. I’ve got four children but can’t remember when or even how they learned to read. I do recall that the odd-numbered ones got it straight away whereas the even-numbered ones found it more of a struggle. Reading skills start to be seriously acquired when kids start school but I never thought that the school had sole responsibility for the job. Bedtime stories, enlivened by things like our reading alternate paragraphs, became a ritual (and one I rather miss). However, you have to have books in the house to make this work. I suspect that, perhaps increasingly, many people don’t. Also, if you don’t yourself enjoy reading or find it difficult, you’d look for almost any other activity, such as watching a TV programme. Perhaps the most useful reform the government could make would therefore be to somehow make it compulsory for all programmes aimed at the under eights to have subtitles.

Returning to the ST story and the UK’s figures, I had a look at the National Literacy Trust’s website, figuring that they ought have some useful things to say on the subject. Its home page confirmed the roughly 15% figure for adult illiteracy (in fact, putting it slightly higher) and also has a  number of features exploring the socio-economic consequences of illiteracy, none of them good. However, my eye was particularly caught by a couple of facts on this page of the site. The first is that England has one of the largest gaps between the highest and lowest levels of reading attainment of any state. The second is that England “is the only country in the developed world in which adults aged 55 to 65 perform better in literacy and numeracy than those aged 16 to 24.” Both of these seem alarming. The first at least hints at an economic divide, manifest in other ways, which will be beyond the power of any education tsar to fix. All the more important, therefore, that we continue to support and lobby for maintained nursery schools which have been operating under a funding axe for several years. (The saga of the one in Hungerford provides an excellent example of this.) A minute or a pound spent at three years old probably produces the same results as does an hour or six pounds when the child is nine and – well, as the figures suggest, by the time they’re 11 in many cases it’s probably too late.

I’m lucky. I learned to read quickly and English has always been a delight to me. However, I’ve quickly get tripped up with pronouncing long words I’ve never seen before (I’m also almost incapable of reading numbers of more than five digits if they don’t have commas or spaces). Perhaps this this is because, not having to struggle when I was learning to read, I never developed techniques to deal with the unfamiliar. I also find it hard to learn and retain any words in a foreign language. I can speak French reasonably well but that is only because I happened to spend a lot of holidays there when I was young and was encouraged to go and talk to the shop-keepers and neighbours in the village. The basics of the language got hard-wired into me: building on that in later life has been more of a problem. All of which rather proves the point that you have to start early and not rely on the school to do the work.

• The same Sunday Times was again at the throat of the hapless David Cameron over his relationship with Lex Greensill, the fallen boss of Greensill Capital. The man appeared to have charmed hapless Dave and the then Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Haywood into a condition verging on hypnotic compliance. The chief irony seems to be that the original scheme was to develop a method of getting pharmacies paid more quickly. As their chief debtor was the government, the solution to the problem would have seemed to have been in Cameron’s gift already. That’s obviously looking at the situation in far too simple a way: why speed up payment terms when you’ve got the chance to create complex financial instruments which will make their creators and abettors wonderfully rich?

• There have been more protests against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, including in Newbury. Protest now while you still can as that is one of the things this alarming piece of legislation will seek to restrict. At least one part of it seems to have been added at the behest of whatever lobbying firm works for the National Association of Colonial Statues, if such a body exists (which it probably does).

• It seems that the Ox-AZ jab is safe for most of us (with some reservations for younger people), something which about half the population of this country (though not of many other ones) seem to have accepted for some time. This report from Sky suggests that about half the French population would be reluctant to have it. Why is it that? The French are often portrayed in this country as being a bloody-minded lot, but then so are we in theirs. The clue might be the name: were it to be Sorbonne-AZ vaccine, might it have fared better? These things are clearly important. I once hired a car in France that proudly called itself a “Renault Manager”. The anglicism was, I discovered, very chic in France but it did nothing for me.

There are also some odd pools of reluctance in the UK, one of which seems to be healthcare and care-home workers, particularly in London. This article in The Telegraph suggests that about 25% of healthcare staff in the capital have refused the jab, with care-home staff nationally showing much the same reluctance. This seems hard to understand based on what these people must have witnessed over the last 12 months. The article goes on to suggest that reluctance based on ethnicity seems as prevalent in these sectors as in the population as a whole.

• One of the many uncertainties of post-Covid life will be whether many of us will be working in an office or at home. Reuters recently reported that the union Unite has established that around 70% of the HSBC’s 1,800 call centre staff based in England, Wales and Scotland had volunteered to never return to the office: the bank’s bosses obliged by moving them to permanent work-from-home contracts. This obviously makes sense if you have a large enough home or if it’s saving you a tedious journey but I wonder how well people might fare if their circumstances change. I had a phone call with a BT employee last month when he had a screaming baby in the background and the conversation wasn’t much fun for either of us.

• The problem is likely to be made worse by the fact, according to last week’s Sunday Times, that large properties in rural areas are now flying off the shelves almost before they’ve had their price tag put on. The stamp-duty holiday (which will start to close from 30 June) has obviously had something to do with this: more important has probably been the effects of lockdown which have made the drawbacks of a small urban home seem glaringly obvious. The article has tales of people being charged non-refundable deposits to secure a viewing and of vendors demanding as much as £100,000 extra on the day of exchange.

The shortage of supply will probably result in many people who would like to move being priced out of the market and so stuck in places which might be unsuitable for home working. The problem will be felt most keenly by first-time buyers or those on low incomes for whom a starter home is becoming an increasingly unrealistic prospect. Almost all homes are built by private companies and they will, understandably, respond to what the market demands. At present, this seems to be large properties in rural or semi-rural settings and with excellent broadband: if near a railway station or motorway and within easy reach of the nearest city, so much the better. All this doesn’t help provide what many people with less spending power need; and, indeed, doesn’t accord with what many felt the housing market would look like at this stage of the pandemic.

I spoke to a local estate agent, Jonathan Rich from Brearley and Rich in Marlborough. “It could be argued that it has been largely a buyer’s market since the banking crises of 2007-08 and that the growth in prices are simply playing catch up,” he told us. “Average UK house prices have also fluctuated considerably since then. The average sale price in England was £267,000 in England in March 2021 compared to 12 months ago where it was 248,000 – that’s a 7% rise in the last 12 months, some way above inflation.” If the ST’s article is correct, this is set to rise still further in the next few months.

• West Berkshire Council, and doubtless others, appear to be aware of this growing demand for smaller homes, the council’s planning portfolio holder Hilary Cole telling the Newbury Weekly News this week that more smaller homes will be needed by people wanting to downsize and that the council is “encouraging” developers to respond this. More powerful encouragement will come from the developers’ shareholders who want to see profits maximised. As Hilary Cole admits in the article, “if developers identify a need for larger homes then that’s what they’ll be delivering.” Leaving aside the particular market pressures at the moment, normal economies of scale are always going to make larger houses more profitable, providing these are released onto the market in a careful flow (which developers can control). I’ve never built a house but some quick research suggested that it only costs about 1.75 times more to build a five-bedroom house than a two-bedroom one. If you have the land and the capital, why would you go small?

• This is the time of the year when parishes up and down the country traditionally hold annual parish or town meetings, an opportunity for residents to remind themselves who their parish or town councillors are and to ask any questions about what they’ve done and issues which might come up in the future. Due to the government’s decision to insist that local councils conduct meetings in person from 7 May (see last week’s column), even though for many this will be impossible to reconcile with prevailing social-distancing requirements, this will cause some confusion. Most are scheduled to taken place before this date but for those that do so afterwards there’s a choice between doing them on Zoom (which is not what these kind of events are really about, though it’s the most hygienic way), in person (which may not be safe and for which there might be some local reluctance), in hybrid form (a compromise which is in many ways the worst of both worlds) or to postpone or cancel them. The government’s current prohibition is only for meetings at which votes are cast (which at annual meetings they generally aren’t) but many PCs and TCs take the opportunity to have an official meeting just before (at which they do vote). These challenges are not, of course, all the government’s fault but its recent decision introduced an additional level of uncertainty that PCs and TCs could have done without. Anyway, I’m still sufficiently cross about the patronising way the matter has been handled in Whitehall that I’m no mood to give them the benefit of the doubt. There – that’s told’em…

Across the area

• The BBC reports that there were 29 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 29 March to 4 April, down 19 on the week before. This equates to 18o cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 24 (39 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.

• 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 are now available to use. 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 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.

• 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 magnificent Carpathian lynx at Beale Park, a photo of which can be seen on p28 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News seems to be particularly political this week. Letters include, in addition to those mentioned elsewhere, ones on the subject the Police and Crime etc bill, equitable housing distribution, a Thatcham/Sandleford comparison, more ambition on environmental policies, Laura Farris, investment in Newbury and the seemingly worsening problem of dog-waste bins not being emptied.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Wilts and Berks Canal Trust (thanks to Waitrose and David Wilson Homes); Ramsbury Primary School PTA (thanks to the recent raffle); GAVI (thanks to Nathan Hart); West Berkshire Foodbank (thanks to A-Plan); young musicians in West Berkshire (thanks to Newbury Rotary Club).

Hungerford & district

• Latest news from Hungerford Town CouncilKintbury Parish CouncilShalbourne Parish Council, Ham 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.

• This being the start of the month, Penny Post Hungerford has once again arrived to give you the best and most comprehensive round-up of life in the town. Click here to read it if you didn’t get it. As usual, we have the news from the Town Council, the Town and Manor and the local retailers. We have the latest diary from the Head of JoG, an summary from the Head of the Nursery School and an appeal for volunteers from Smarten Up Hungerford. We’ve got news about the various re-openings and advice about making travel plans. We’ve got special offers, a fragrant red wine, a weather-decoding book, a prize winner, a look back at Cheltenham, a spot of star-gazing and a short story. We’ve got property, jobs, events, advice on keeping active and, to round it off, some wise words from Katherine Hepburn. In short, just the range and depth you’ve come to expect.

• 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.

• It’s to be hoped that some definite news on the proposal by Bewley Homes to set aside the condition that the Lancaster Park development contain 28 social-rent homes will be announced by the end of year (which will be nearly a year on from the revised application).

• 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.

• 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.

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

• The most recent meeting of Chilton Foliat Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can read 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.

• The most recent meeting of Lambourn Parish Council took place on 7 April and you can read Lambourn.org’s report of the meeting here. The official minutes will also appear on Lambourn.org: for some reason they do not seem to be being added to LPC’s “official” site and nor are agendas published there (for those you also need to use the regularly-updated Lambourn.org). Matters discussed at the meeting included: two planning applications; the refusal by the landowners to sell LPC the site it had identified for an extension of the cemetery (which leaves open the question, not discussed, of how long it will be before the existing one is full); a discussion about the government’s proposed plans to dictate to local councils how their meetings are to be conducted after 7 May; litter picking; speeding; the state of repair of the Market Cross; the latest news from the NDP group (including a recent drone survey of the River Lambourn); and (in closed session, discussions about the resignation of the Assistant Clerk).

Click here to read the latest report from Lambourn’s ward member Howard Woollaston.

• 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 further 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. Judging my comments made at other parish council meetings around the area and also in the letters’ page of this week’s NWN, this seems to be a district-wide problem. You can report problems to WBC through its website. You might also want to tell your ward member (see list here) or your local parish council (links for most of these can ben seen at the top of the relevant sections below).

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• I mentioned last week about the article by Dr David Cooper of the Say No to Sandleford campaign which occupied the whole pf p22 of the paper. You can read a response from Councillor Alan Law on p20 of this week’s paper. In it he rebuts a number of Dr Cooper’s points. I have asked Dr Cooper for his comments on this. The first point to mention about the letter is that it has been printed with a pale blue background not accorded to any others. I’m left wondering if this is an emerging design feature whereby the political tone of any letter is reflected in the colour used. If so, the letters section will soon resemble an Italian ice cream.

I don’t have the knowledge or the facts to hand to say too much about Mr Law’s letter but three aspects strike me. Firstly, Dr Cooper made the point that the development did indeed pass the sustainability test but only after a new criterion was introduced “to treat greenfield sites per se as more sustainable than brownfield ones,” an assertion Mr Law doesn’t appear directly to refute. Secondly, he says that Dr Cooper’s letter is “extremely political”. I’m not sure if this is a criticism or an observation (and could certainly be applied to Mr Law’s letter), but on re-reading the original article I don’t agree. It certainly has some hard things to say about the planning and development situation in the country which none of the parties has been able to solve (or have been complicit in) and on which Councillor Law doesn’t comment. Finally, Alan Law suggests that Dr Cooper was wrong to say that Sandleford wasn’t sustainable and stresses it has been in the core strategy since 2010 and the promoters spoke in favour of it (why wouldn’t they?) at two public hearings. All this may be true but, if so, this optimism and approval seems to have been ill-founded; for nothing has actually been built there. The latest appeal (by one of the developers, against WBC’s refusal of the plans last year) is due to be heard by the Secretary of State some time in the summer. Even if he finds in the developer’s favour, I don’t see that this will address any of the problems or objections that have so far bedevilled the scheme. The only major consequence of such a decision that I can see would be to undermine WBC’s Planning Department’s authority to decide the rights and wrongs of applications on its own turf.

• The NWN this week has an article on p12 about the imminent end of the ReadiBus service in Newbury, which provides an alternative type of bus for people with restricted mobility who cannot use ordinary public transport. The ReadiBus charity has been operating this in the district for about 25 years, supported by an annual grant. All proceed amicably until a funding cut of 68% was announced for 2019-20. ReadiBus restructured its service (with reductions) and this was followed by further 10% cut demanded for 2020-21, despite which it managed to continue to provide a service, albeit further reduced. The latest development is that, mid-way through its fiscal year, WBC asked all community transport providers to sign a service-level agreement which included what the council describes as “standard clauses on confidentiality” and which Readibus sees as “gagging orders.” As a result, and after discussion with WBC, the charity refused to sign the agreement with this clause. WBC then announced it would therefore withhold half the grant. The remaining contribution being too low to make the service viable, ReadiBus said that the service would cease after Friday 16 April.

I spoke to Sophie Bowlby, the Chair of the Board of Trustees at ReadiBus, about this. She confirmed that the “confidentiality clause” was not reciprocal which would seem to make “gagging order’ the more accurate term. She added that ReadiBus has, and has had, service-level agreements with other local authorities without such clauses (or, in one case, with a reciprocal one, with which the charity has no problem). Moreover, she said, “we have found no evidence in any government guidelines that such a ‘gagging clause’ is ‘a standard clause’ for a grant agreement for this level of funding by a local authority to a local charity.” She also pointed out that WBC’s claim that alternative services from private cars or the Handybus is not correct as these are not like-for-like replacements for the service that ReadiBus offers. As for the cuts themselves, she pointed out to Penny Post that these were proceeded with despite the lack of a consultation. WBC justified this in January 2020 on the grounds that “a significant number” of ReadiBus passengers “have learning difficulties…which would have made it difficult for them to comprehend what was being proposed,” a generalisation which ReadiBus has emphatically denied. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would obviate the need for consultations on a wide range of topics. It’s certainly the first time I’ve seen any public body refuse to communicate on the grounds that some people might not understand what was being said. Unless some compromise can be reached, matters appear to rest here: “an absolute tragedy” for the vulnerable residents in the area, Sophie Bowlby concluded. The final question for now is what purpose the gagging order – for, being one-way, we must refer to it as that – was intended to serve and whether, bearing in mind the resulting publicity, it has achieved this.

I then spoke to Richard Somner, whose portfolio includes transport, on 8 April and he provided me with the following statement:

“WBC has not reduced community transport funding since 2019/20, ReadiBus’ share of the discretionary grant has reduced because they are delivering less passenger journeys relative to other providers.  Discussions with ReadiBus and other community transport operators have been clear in that any grant funding in excess of £5,000 from April 2020 onwards would be subject to a service level agreement (SLA). The SLA included standard clauses on confidentiality that the Council would expect from its service providers. These are not ‘gagging clauses’ but merely ensure that the service provider notifies the Council before any information concerning the agreement is put in the public domain. All our other community transport operators have agreed to the SLA apart from ReadiBus which has declined to sign the agreement. However, despite ReadiBus not signing the SLA, the Council has, in good faith, paid ReadiBus half of the grant totalling £6,566.93. We are very keen to work with ReadiBus to understand the impact on its client base and we are grateful to ReadiBus for the service provided. Whilst this is regrettable for passengers who use ReadiBus services in Newbury and Thatcham, we wanted to ensure that those passengers are aware that there are other community transport groups providing services for local residents who are unable to use public transport and need to attend medical appointments or make shopping trips. Information on all community transport schemes operating in West Berkshire, along with details on other local groups, can be found on the Council’s website.”

• The NWN also reports, on p9, about the continuing debate surrounding the football ground in Newbury, attention currently focussing on the dilapidated clubhouse which WBC wants to demolish; part of a plan to replace a football ground which a lot of people used with a temporary community space on which, bizarrely, football cannot be played. This would surely put the council even further adrift of Sport England’s regulation that no ground can be re-developed until an equal or better facility has been found (a poorly-drafted clause, the intention of which is surely that there should be a seamless transition between one facility and another). Councillor Ross Mackinnon stressed that the security alone was costing nearly £7,000 a year: though that would not, of course, have been necessary were the ground still being used.

The long-term solution to the area – the proposed regeneration of the whole London Road Industrial Estate – still seems some way off as no planning permission has been applied for. This will, it seems, also have to address the problem of a coherent drainage strategy for the whole area, among other issues. The current plan is for the football ground to re-locate to the rugby club in the ambitious timescale of a year from now. The original error was made in June 2018 to close the ground and WBC has, increasingly expensively, been on the back foot ever since. At least the current portfolio holder has managed to come up with the rugby-club solution (though that faces obstacles of its own).

• On Sunday 18 April from 10am to 2pm Newbury Town Council’s Green Spaces Working Group will be planting a new NHS Commemorative Garden at Old Hospital Green, Andover Road. Volunteers are welcome but they must pre-register. More details here.

• The NWN reports on p2 that GWR has opened its new bicycle hub at Newbury station for people using the train (you must remember trains – the long grey things that take you to a place called London). The facility is expected to further expanded later this year.

• 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. Items discussed included: a detailed review of the planning and usage history of Newbury Showground, which is now up for sale (for more thought on this, see last week’s column); 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 meeting was attended by Laura Farris MP

• 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. 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.

• 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 16 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: three questions that were raised with local MP Laura Farris who attended part of the meeting – concerning the Institute site, the resumption of face-to-face meetings and the burial ground – although the minutes are silent on what her  thoughts on these matters were; three new planning applications; financial matters; and the possible purchase of additional rubbish bins.

• 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.

• A reminder that there is a proposal for an equine veterinary facility and World’s End near Beedon, the details of which can be found at this special section of the Beedon Parish Council website. This is currently at pre-application stage and comments on the proposals as they stand are welcome.

• 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.

• This week’s NWN has on p26 an article which re-opens the debate about wether there should be a bridge or an underpass or something at Thatcham to replace the level crossing. Network Rail has recently claimed that it would support this plan if the proposed 950-home development at Colthrop to the south of the railway line went ahead. The article reports that the rail network still has about 6,000 level crossings, each one of which must cause sleepless night for those responsible for them. This idea is also relevant to the proposed 2,500-home development in north east Thatcham, although opinions differ as to what impact this would have on traffic wanting to cross the tracks and whether, were a bridge to be built, this would be used as a rat run to Greenham and points south.

• An extraordinary story from the Thatcham section of the same paper, a variation of the archetypical “dog bites man” scoop. A woman was savagely attacked by a German shepherd (“Alsatian” they used to be called, the new name being a PR job). A man then appeared with a dog lead, brought the animal to heel, pleaded with the victim not to call the police and then left with the dog. Laster he denied that it was his animal and that he just happened to be passing by with a dog lead (but no dog) and managed to say just the right things to bring the animal to heel (he has an Alsatian of his own). He then claimed that he didn’t care what happened to the dog as it wasn’t his and had left it when it wouldn’t follow him any further. No DNA evidence of the animal was found at his home. The biting dog has since vanished. After a three-day trial, he was acquitted of owning a dangerous animal, the court accepting his counsel’s claim that no one was lying, it was just that some of them mis-heard what he had said. “Don’t go to the police” and “that’s not my dog” don’t sound very similar to me: but, then again, I wasn’t there. I can’t get my round the fact that an Alsatian owner with a lead just happened upon the scene when he was most needed. Mind you, it does happen. For about 10 years I had a BMW. It only broke down on the road twice: and on both occasions the person in the car behind me was a qualified BMW mechanic who fixed the problem.

• 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) last week took a step forward with confirmation that a number of tree preservation orders arranged by Thatcham Town Council are now in force. These 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 for which minutes are available took place on 2 March and you can read the draft minutes here. The most recent meeting took place on 6 April and a video of this is available here (and will probably remain until draft minutes are published).

• The most recent meeting of Hermitage Parish Council took place on 18 February and you can read the minutes here.

• 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 graveyard and ends with Einstein.

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. There was also an extraordinary meeting on 22 March which was only concerning with wildflower sowing and the award of the grounds maintenance contract.

• In his latest newsletter, Councillor Graham Bridgman has confirmed some aspects of the Highways Improvement Plan affecting Burghfield, Beech Hill and Stratfield Mortimer over the next three years.

• He also reports the progress on three possible changes to two public footpaths in Stratfield Mortimer and one in Wokefield.

• 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.

• 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 88 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 29 March to 4 April, down 48 on the week before. This equates to 18 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 24 (39 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 the Constable of St Peter’s Church has chosen to follow HMG’s directive about flags being flown from government buildings (though this isn’t one). The union flag will be in evidence every day except “when no other specific flag is being flown from the tower.” The downloadable list of these includes a number of commemorated events, some of which I’d heard of, some of which were quite surprising. These include the Ordination of Thomas Wolsey (10 March), the Battle of Ethandune (7 May), the adoption of HMS Marlborough (30 May), St Crispin’s Day (25 October) and the death of Alfred the Great (26 October): all of which should keep all the local vexillologists local historians happy.

Click here to read the latest blog from Marlborough’s Mayor Mark Cooper, covering the period from December to March.

Marlborough News has this article on the town’s imminent and partial re-opening.

• 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 recently 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.

• The next meeting of Marlborough Town Council will take place on Monday 12 April – click here for details.

• 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.

• 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.

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 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 most recent meeting of Aldbourne Parish Council took place on 3 March and you can read the minutes here.

Marlborough News reports 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 less than 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 30 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 9 March to 4 April, down 13 on the week before. This equates to 22 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 24 (39 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.

• The Herald this week reports on the progress of plans to provide an “affordable solution” to help the town’s two GP practices cope with the ever-growing number of patients.

• A reminder of the proposals recently announced 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. There is some doubt as to 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. One of the things they will need to consider is the news that the government is set to reverse the special status that Oxfordshire enjoys and insist that it demonstrate a five-year housing supply rather than, as at present, enough for three years. If a planning authority cannot allocate enough land this leaves the district open to development that might not accord with its wishes as it would then be obliged to grant permission save in exceptional circumstances (a refusal on which grounds could be challenged).

• 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.

• In her regular column on p8 of the Herald, Julie Mabberley looks at a matter which I (and others) have also covered, the question of remote meetings and the fact that after 7 May these will no longer possible where voting will take place. She ends with the comment that as, with the exception of Grove PC, all the councils that cover Wantage and Grove are political with parties making decisions in advance of them, “so we probably won’t notice much difference if meetings don’t take place again.” Political parties would be named from putting up candidates in local elections if I had my way – but don’t get me started on that

• 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 facilities for 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  see below); Wantage’s neighbourhood development plan; Wantage’s pedestrianisation; leisure funding; and various planning issues.

• 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.

• South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils and their leisure contractor GLL, which runs the Better Leisure centres across the districts, have agreed on a phased approach to re-opening local leisure facilities.

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

• It was agreed at the above-mentioned meeting that Grove’s Annual Parish Meeting will take place on Friday 23 April 2021 commencing at 7.30pm and will be held remotely on Zoom.

• 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 99 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 29 March to 4 April, down 52 on the week before. This equates to 45 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 24 (39 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.

This strange story in the Advertiser comes under the headline “nightmare goes on for neighbours” and describes how a homeowner in Park South has put a caravan and a shipping container in her back garden due to problems with the house itself which, she claimed, was unsafe for her child. From her description of her circumstances, she seems to be the one more likely to be having nightmares. The photograph at the head of that article also shows a larger caravan parked a couple of houses down: if this has attracted the same level of opposition, the article doesn’t refer to it.

• The same paper reports that fears over “shoddy” plans could put paid to hopes for 120 houses, a play park and shop next to farmland along a busy main road near the Honda site.

• 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

• And here we are at the Song of the Week. I’d never heard this before and it was sent to by a friend this week. He describes it as “an example of a cover that (for me) vastly improves over the original (although the original was actually quite original)”  – Judith Hill’s funked-up cover of Aerosmith’s Walk This Way.

• Blow me down it it isn’t the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Let’s have a bit more Fry and Laurie and their Annoying Eye Witness. There are many worse ways of passing 1′ 17″.

• And we sign off with the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What does a vexillologist study or have an interest in? Last week’s question was: What do the musicians/singers Ronnie Lane, Gil Scot-Heron and Susan Boyle have in common? The answer is that they’re all April fools, born on 1 April. Ronnie Lane even wrote a song on the subject.

Brian Quinn

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