Local News 15-22 April 2021

Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s Hocktide, Lambourn’s newsletter, Upper Lambourn’s broadband, Thatcham’s closure, Newbury’s postponement, Marlborough’s rugby, Wantage’s patients, Peasemore’s adoption, Colthrop’s plan, Bucklebury’s opposition, Shefford’s shops, Cold Ash’s grey (and Gray), Ogbourne’s boost, Aldbourne’s target, Chaddleworth’s news, Beedon’s vets, Compton’s reduced carbon, Hampstead Norreys’ missing pavement, Ardington & Lockinge’s copyright issues, Aldermaston’s understatement, Wash Common’s consultation, East Challow’s squeeze, Stratfield Mortimer’s footpaths, Swindon’s sale, Wooton Bassett’s parking, ReadiBus, a delayed flood defence, Dave in the frame, measuring risk, beyond the headlines, new-look pubs, an abundance of caution, complaints and condolences, nothing on TV, back underwater, get on with it, library claims, Cuthbert the Caterpillar, a lead violinist at work, flags, Northamptonshire and Network Rail.

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 tribulations of the hapless David Cameron continue. His relationship with the collapsed tycoon Les Greensill have been all over the papers and it was announced this week that there will be, as The Guardian puts it, “an unprecedented formal enquiry” into his lobbying activities. The former UK supremo claims that he did nothing wrong. If, in a technical rather than a moral way, this is found to be the case, that only shifts the spotlight onto a regulatory system that’s clearly dysfunctional. The most recent Private Eye ups the ante, suggesting in its lead story that various breaches of the ministerial code were committed by Rishi Sunak (by asking civil servants to discriminate in Greensill’s favour) and by Matt Hancock (by agreeing to have a drink with the last PM-but-one and the Australian financier without any mandarins being present). Further fire was added by the revelation that a civil servant, Bill Crothers, was given permission to work part-time for Greensill while still employed by Whitehall and stood to gain about £5m. This was reported in The Times on 14 April underneath a photo of the Brexit-dodging former PM and Mr Greensill chillaxing in Mohammed bin Salman’s tent “after the de facto Saudi ruler was implicated in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.” Live sure as hell goes on.

As political scandals go, this one is certainly eye-catching. More important is whether anything happens in the way of new lobbying regulations and, more importantly, organisations with the will and the teeth to enforce them. If you are a PM for six years (five of them admittedly as head of a coalition) you must feel than the £158,000pa you get as a salary doesn’t come close to reflecting your vast sense of self-importance and destiny. As for legacy, Cameron’s is surely soured beyond redemption in most people’s eyes. He clearly thinks otherwise. It must be a hard job to leave at such a young age. Enough sympathy – so too must have been retiring as a professional footballer in the days before they got paid anything, often about 15 years younger than Cameron was and with two dodgy knees and with early-onset dementia to look forward to from too many diving headers on a heavy leather ball.

Three things stand out about this. First, the premise on which Lex Greensill’s idea seemed so blindingly good (if amazingly complex and ultimately unsuccessful) was that it offered a way for pharmacies to be paid more quickly by the NHS. Cameron was PM at the time: was there not an easier way of sorting this out, like telling the NHS to pay pharmacies more quickly? Second, Cameron only worked for Greensill for three years and was contracted to work for 25 days per year. It’s claimed by “friends” of the PM that they would have been worth £60m. Cameron said in a recent statement that the value was “nowhere near” this. OK, let’s say £20m. Even this kind of figure asks the question of how anyone could be worth this much for 75 days’ work. Third, Lex Greensill was himself an unpaid advisor at Number 10 and so obviously had a longer game to play. The regulations under which all this rather squalid back-scratching is being conducted were specified under David Cameron’s own tenure as leader. And Britain still has the nerve to tell other countries how it ought to be conducting its affairs.

It would be amazing if Cameron himself received more than a mild reprimand for all this. When you’ve been through Eton, Oxford, the Bullingdon Club and the machinery of one of the major political parties, you’ll have made friends. Ultimately, the chaps look after their own. Whether future ministers and civil servants will be restricted in the future remains to be seen. In some ways, as a friend pointed out to me today, it represents a failure of capitalism (in fairness, cronyism is universal), which holds that all that is required is to find a willing buyer and a willing seller of whatever product or service may be on offer. I heard it said (can’t remember by whom) that there are two kinds of governmental system: one where you need to be rich to get into politics and the other where you go into politics in order to get rich. The USA is the prime example of the first. The UK seems to be an increasingly good example of the second.

• The problems of blood clots among people who’ve had Covid vaccines have been widely reported. Several countries have introduced restrictions on the use of the Ox-AZ jab in younger age groups: this week Denmark went a step further, announcing it was stopping using it altogether. The similar J&J vaccine has also been halted in the USA, South Africa and the EU for the same reason. This BBC article says that the US Food and Drug Administration had detected six cases in nearly seven million jabs, all between women aged 18 to 48. It does seem that this group is more prone to this condition but, as I’m not a statistician, I don’t know if such a small number of results is meaningful. One obvious inference, bearing in mind this limitation of mine, is that if you’re female and aged 18-48, get the Pfizer jab. For everyone else, the Ox-AZ would seem to reduce your chances of getting a blood clot to zero.

The trick – as two scientist friends pointed out to me – is to look beyond the headline. The real question is whether there is a method of predicting what specific people or groups might be at risk. To ban certain jabs for all people under 55 or all women aged 18 to 48 are pretty blunt instruments at a time when more people are dying an hour from Covid in many countries than suffered blood clots in the USA from 6.8 million doses. This article in The Guardian provides one way in which smart thinking is trying to narrow down the risk groups to provide a more elegant solution. It already seems clear that older males are more at risk from Covid and younger females more at risk from blood clots, which provides a good starting point. The UK is also fortunate in having fairly good supplies of all three kinds of vaccine, some of which will be more suitable for some people than others. We also seem to be happy having a jab at all, the assumption on which all the above points are predicated.

Any aspect of life for a rational person involves balancing the likely upsides against the likely downsides and deciding accordingly. Individually, we do this every time we drive a car, cross a road, mount a ladder or juggle chainsaws. For a government or regulatory body there is also the question of the greater good. Although few such bodies can voice this, a choice between a course that leads to the deaths of five people and one with five hundred is a no-brainer. It has been suggested that Churchill’s refusal to defend Coventry from a massive bombing raid was motivated by the fear that the Nazis might then guess that their code had been broken, so undermining future Allied plan that depended on perpetuating the idea that it had not. With Covid, the situation is perhaps even starker. The MD column in the most recent Private Eye suggests that if all 127,000 people in the UK who have died of Covid to date (let’s accept that figure for now, although it seems to be the subject of much official revision) had been fully immunised with Ox-AZ, the Covid deaths might have fallen by 100,000; to which would need to be added five from blood clots. Ultimately, it comes down to what is regarded as the greater threat. The column goes on to point out that Germany’s caution may have been the result of its better-resourced health service which, perhaps inevitably, leads to the possibility of its being more risk-averse. The question is what risk we regard as the more serious. The UK (which currently seems to have a vaccine acceptance rate of around 90%) and France (around 50%) seem to have reached their own conclusions about this. It’s also possible that scepticism about a vaccine is more likely to exist when you are not offered it. It’s easier to say “no way” to a market researcher than it is to your GP.

All this has made me wonder what other common drugs produce side-effects that we don’t tend to think about. Few will have been subject to as much scrutiny as the Covid vaccines. We all know the names and manufacturers of the main ones. How many of us know the same about flu jabs? Exactly. Did you know that they can cause Guillan-Barré syndrome (no, I don’t what that is either). How about Ibuprofen, a drug that’s available without prescription? According to this article in WebMD in 2014, this too can cause blood clots. About ten years ago I had a double tooth abscess and was taking them by the handful. I didn’t get a blood clot. Does that prove anything? No. Well, yes. It proves that in some circumstances we do what we do to deal with the immediate problem. We seem to have an immediate problem on our hands right now. The best thing we can do is trust scientists like the above-mentioned Marie Scully and accept the fact that nothing we do or refrain from doing is going to remove all the risks. My second jab is booked for the end of the next month and there’s nothing I’ve heard or read that’s going to stop me driving back to Ludgershall and offering my right arm to whoever happens to be on duty that day with the needle.

• The pubs have re-opened. The ones in our area of West Berkshire have done so with a level of resourcefulness that is to be applauded, particularly by those marquee-hire firms that have been blessed with their orders. I’ve not, frankly, had the time to venture does to our wonderful local, the Queens Arms in East Garston, though I suspect this will soon be remedied. I haven’t yet fully adjusted to the idea of booking to go and have a drink. I dare say I will get used to this. Driving past it today at 3pm, the car park was full and the place seemed busy; ditto The Great Shefford down the road. Long may it continue. Whenever you go back to your local, I would bet a reasonable sum that you’ll see some changes. Many have decided that wholesale re-investment is needed to make them fit for purpose for whatever the future has in store. My early-life experience of the old-school drinking den seems further away than ever.

• I just realised that I used the phrase “fit for purpose” just now. Sorry about that. It’s become a convenient shorthand and so has passed from original remark (about 20 years ago, if I recall, during a Commons enquiry into the Home Office, the phrase then prefixed by “not”); then to a cliché; then to an ironical remark; before being accepted into the club of common parlance. One phrase that is still at an early stage of this journey is “out of an abundance of caution.” It has been used several times, including I think by the US government, with regard to withdrawing Covid vaccines. It’s fast becoming an actual verbal thing, conveying the idea the organisation is considerate, compassionate and responsible. These may be true. It could also be translated as “this is a litigious age and there are a lot of people out there with not much to lose and attorneys who’ll take any job on a no-win-no-fee so…go figure.”

• It appears that the BBC has received over 100,000 complaints about its coverage of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh last week, most seeming to be about the disruption to schedules and the repetitive nature of some of the reports. Imagine how many complaints it would have received if it hadn’t really covered it at all. In any case, it’s all laid down in Operation Forth Bridge (the code-name for his death) to which I’m sure the BBC, above all broadcasters have to adhere. My sympathies are with the broadcasters (as this article, from The BBC itself, suggests, it’s proved very hard to match such royal coverage with the public mood, whatever that might be). Anyway, it’s only for a few days. My advice is that if , due a royal death or any other unusual event, there’s nothing you like on TV, do something else for a bit.

• Many local councils have written to Penny Post with their official condolences about his death. We have not published these: not because we want to belittle their sentiments or his achievements but simply because of pressure of time. We offer, as they do, our sympathies to his family in its time of loss: as we would like to do every week to every family which has been bereaved.

• Few district councils have proved to be as incompetent and insolvent as Northamptonshire, so much so that the government recently abolished it, replacing it with North Northamptonshire and South Northamptonshire – snappy names both. These councils are among those going to the polls next moth and this BBC article reports on the story of a farcical leaflet from the Conservative party which seems to have gone to press without a final proof read. Could happen to anyone: but what’s annoying many local people is that it suggests that the party is championing the cause of saving the local libraries when it was them that proposed cutting them in the first place. Election leaflets, of course, provide a wonderful opportunity for making such claims – and not just in Northamptonshire: it can happen anywhere – the hope being that in the six-week campaign period you can get a point established before anyone else has the time to refute it.

• The big moment for me this week was the re-opening of the swimming pools, specifically the Hungerford Leisure Centre. On the first day of the last re-opening in the autumn of 2020 I made the mistake of trying to swim my normal number of lengths on day one and pulled about 18 muscles. This time I was more circumspect and am so far unscathed. Apart from being about 10% slower, everything’s much the same apart from the timing of my breathing. Latency has crept into my reactions so I’m sometimes breathing in either a fraction too early or too late and, as a result, getting a nose full of water every length or so. I tried to regard it as “invigorating” but that’s to put too much positive spin on it. More practice needed…

Across the area

• The BBC reports that there were 23 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 5-11 April, down four on the week before. This equates to 15 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 20 (24 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.

• I’ve referred a few times to the question of CIL payments in cases seemingly being charged as a result of a paperwork error where the development should in fact be exempt. There is a letter on p20 of this week’s NWN from someone who has fallen foul of what former Council Leader Gordon Lundie described as a “gotcha” approach to revenue collection.

• Another letter, on the previous page, addresses the question of the return to face-to-face council meetings; which must, as a result what I think is a deranged decision by the government, resume after 7 May at any municipal event at which voting is to take place. The writer suggests that the Conservatives at WBC are scared at this prospect as it will make their “shortcomings glow more brightly” and make it harder for them to refuse to respond to criticism. I’m aware that not everyone agrees with everything WBC does but it’s a mistake to suggest that one method of holding meetings is inherently better or more democratic than another. In any case, how they’re held will not affect some of the criticisms the writer refers to, such as not replying to emails (indeed, with more time spent driving around the district to attend meetings in person, councillors might have even less time to do this). He also says that body language is easier to detect in person than on Zoom. I don’t agree. At most meetings, the audience can only see some the faces full on: on Zoom, everyone’s lined up. Virtual meetings are usually also recorded. Last year I watched part of a planning committee meeting at which one member made a preposterous intervention. By replaying the passage a few times, I was able to see which other members rolled their eyes or furrowed their brows at this. It was interesting that the people who did so were not only from opposition parties. I spoke to WBC’s Leader Lynne Doherty about the government’s decision when it was announced and we both agreed that this insistence on a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution was insulting, regressive and in some cases impossible to implement. I wish her and WBC well with their attempts to lobby for a change. The Zoom experiment has worked. Councils should from now on be free to agree how they conduct their meetings according to their own circumstances, the likely size of the audience and the location of the attendees. Scrutiny, answerability and transparency – vital things all – are separate matters entirely.

• West Berkshire Council has announced that its Housing Strategy to 2036 has been approved at the latest Executive meeting that was held at the end of March 2021.

• The same council has obtained a grant of £487,000 for decarbonisation works from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), administered by Salix.

• 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.

• 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 business newsletter 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 Cuthbert the Caterpillar who, despite being made of sugar and spice and all things nice, is the subject of an intellectual-rights tussle between two supermarkets.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News is particularly well-stocked this week, running to five pages. Matters covered, aside from those mentioned elsewhere, include the Policing Bill, municipal diversity, dog mess, the Clay Hill by-election, vaccine passports and Thatcham’s proposed new homes.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Citizens Advice West Berkshire (thanks to several parish councils); the Public Protection partnership (thanks to DEFRA); Parkinson’s Newbury (thanks to local residents); Laptops for Lockdown Learning (thanks to David Wilson Home and Greenham Trust).

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.

• The April edition of Penny Post Hungerford was published last week. Click here to read it if you didn’t get it. As usual, it provides the best and most comprehensive round up of what’s going on in the town.

• On 13 April I was delighted to have been invited to the Hocktide Court and Court Leet of the Hungerford Town and Manor. The event is not easy to describe in a word – click here for an article I wrote about it which puts the occasion in its historical context.

• 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 April Valley of the Racehorse newsletter was published last week, giving you the low down and a heads up on life in the upper reaches of the Lambourn Valley. Click here to read it if you didn’t get it. Items covered included a Lambourn.org’s report on the latest Lambourn PC meeting, an appeal from Lambourn Junction which is looking for a new home, Trindledown’s online pet show, the budding of the HS2 refutrees, District Councillor Howard Woollaston’s monthly report, an accolade for a Lambourn camera Club member, a local book of condolences for the Duke of Edinburgh, racing news, re-openings in the Valley, local courses and classes, a good book, a good bottle of red and a good short story.

• This week’s Newbury Weekly News reports, on p22, that WBC had decided that the proposal for a free-standing kiosk at The Great Shefford pub would indeed require planning permission (the applicants were seeking a certificate of lawfulness which would have enabled work to have proceeded without a formal application). You can see the details of the application on WBC’s planning portal here. The landlord, Joshua Khan, has yet to decide if an application will be made. He has long claimed that the pub needs to diversify to survive. (see also below.)

• As mentioned above, 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.

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

• The most recent meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council took place on 1 April and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: the proposed farm shop at The Great Shefford pub (see paragraphs below); financial matters; the fence at the bottom of Hungerford Hill; repairs to the playground equipment; dog-waste signage; the PC’s communications; the latest developments in the four-way discussions between GSPC, WBC, the Environment Agency and Thames Water about trying to get the long-delayed flood alleviation scheme off the ground (or, rather, into the ground); the Annual Parish Meeting (on Thursday 6 May); HGVs in the village; litter on the verges of the bottom road between the village and East Garston; and the proposed community garden in the recreation area.

• As might be expected, there was a fair bit of discussion about application 20/02245/FUL for the proposed farm shop at The Great Shefford. The changes to the proposals have led to two parish councillors now being minded to support the application, although it was agreed that concerns remained about the impact on traffic and parking. One solution would be for WBC to insist (as has been proposed) that the shop only be open when the pub was not. I understand that this is not welcomed by the applicant. I also understand that WBC is reluctant to impose conditions which it does not have the resources to enforce. The matter will ultimately be decided by WBC’s Western Area Planning Committee, to which the PC, objectors, supporters and the applicant can all make representations.

The discussion also touched on the general question of supporting local businesses: which, as the Chairman pointed out, risked crossing the line between policy and emotion. The PC makes its comments (and WBC its decisions) on the basis of policy: and, he pointed, out, in this case there was a real obstacle to the application in that any new development needed to have sufficient on-site parking. He also mentioned WBC’s own policy with regard to farm shops which “encouraged their provision and retention…provided that they do not adversely affect the vitality of nearby village shops.” This is a matter which, whether GSPC drew attention to it or not, would surely be picked up by WBC’s own officers. The question of deciding what might constitute an “adverse effect” is, of course, debatable. No one can say for sure, as the extent of the threat depends entirely on what the two shops decide to sell and at what price. WBC’s decision – and at the risk of labouring the point, it is WBC’s call, not Great Shefford’s – will ultimately depend not only on how worried WBC is by the parking issues but also whether it chooses to give more weight to the first part of the farm-shop policy or to the second. I wish both the pub and shop well (we live in the next village) and hope that some way will be found that can satisfy both their aspirations.

• The most recent meeting of Welford Parish Council took place on 8 March and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: the purchase of a new dog bin; the wording for a notice to deter skateboarders from using the MUGA; approval of a donation to Citizens Advice West Berkshire; the possibility of the parish acquiring white gates (which several villages have near the speed-limit signs and which seem to contribute to a reduction in speeding); financial matters; fly tipping; the Wickham settlement boundary (discussion on which was deferred due to the amount of documentation); work to be done at Marsh Common; the village website; and a forthcoming playground inspection.

• I note from placing at the “history” section on Weston’s village website that “Wickham chapel is famous for its papier mâché elephants in the roof of the north aisle.” I think you’ll agree this isn’t a sentence you read every day.

• 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.

• 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.

An article on p8 of this week’s NWN returns to a question it, and Penny Post, looked at last week (see last Thursday’s column) about the abrupt termination of the ReadiBus service in the Newbury and Thatcham area. (“Abrupt” might be the word the users would employ, though I understand discussions between the parties have been going on ever since funding cuts were announced in 2018). Three aspects of this still confuse me. WBC asserts that that like-for-like replacement services are now available but I was assured by a representative of ReadiBus that this is not the case: these other services, I was told, either operate only group trips to destinations selected by them and are not tailored to individual needs (the Handybus); or in the case of the car service are less accessible and do not offer shopping trips. They are services which complement ReadiBus’ service. ReadiBus has said that it will be issuing a statement in the next few days and I shall link to that next week.

I have asked WBC for clarification on this point and two others that seem contentious – why the confidentiality agreement was not reciprocal (which meant ReadiBus didn’t sign it) and whether the cuts to the services were caused by WBC’s funding cuts or vice versa – and am waiting a response. This too I shall provide once I have it. Sadly, it appears that the relationship between the two organisations is hanging by a thread. Whether it can be revived depends to a large extent on whether WBC believes (which it currently seems not to) that, without ReadiBus, the transport services it offers are diminished; and, of course whether it’s willing to pay for these. It also depends on what level of service ReadiBus could itself offer now that it has rescheduled its resources following the end of the contracts. If there are any professional mediators in the West Berkshire area, stay by your phone…

• Any such experts might also be needed to find common ground between WBC and the Newbury Community Football Group over the future of football provision in the area. This long-running saga now appears to be reaching some kind of a conclusion. I recently received two statements on the subjects reflecting the different proposals for there next steps and have put them alongside each other in this post. Feel free to comment if you wish sousing the box that is to be found at the foot of this and every other post.

• 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. 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’s  third Climate Change Workshop scheduled for Saturday 17 April 2021 has been postponed as it clashes with the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. More details here. This is slightly ironic as the Director of WWF International, quoted on Newbury Town Council’s website, described the Duke as “a lifelong advocate for the environment…[who] believed we must safeguard the planet and its resources for future generations, and dedicated his life, and position to inspire individuals and world leaders to protect nature and wildlife.” I can’t help feeling that he’s have said, “just get on with it!”

• 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.

• 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 most recent meeting of Peasemore Parish Council was held on 17 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: parish land; the adoption of the code of conduct; financial regulation; the playground; the settlement boundary; the re-opening of the Pavilion and the Village Hall; replacement windows at the Village Hall; the Palmer Close footpath; and the date of the annual parish meeting and the AGM (17 May).

• The most recent meeting of Hampstead Norreys Council took place on 25 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: a missing piece of pavement on Forge Hill; the member’s bid for the CCTV project; financial matters; the grounds maintenance quote; the frequency of litter- and dog-bin collections; and possible changes to the bylaws for Dean Meadow.

• West Berkshire Council reports here that the carbon-reduction project at The Downs School in Compton has been completed ahead of schedule.

• The April edition of Chaddleworth News has been published and you can read it here.

• 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.

• 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.

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.

• All the discussion about the proposed 2,500 homes in Thatcham has seemingly miffed the proposers of a 950-home development at Colthrop, just south of the railway lines. One advantage this has over the larger plan is that it would be within walking distance of Thatcham’s awkwardly-sited station, so immediately making it more sustainable. It would also certainly require a bridge (off a new roundabout in Piper’s Way). WBC doesn’t seem to like the idea of a bridge for its own north-east Thatcham plan, claiming it would be a rat run. Were 2,000-odd people to move in south of the tracks, however, the level crossing would grind to a complete halt. Perhaps the Council is also concerned that the cost of this (and then some) would use up all the developer contributions, leaving nothing over for the other infrastructure improvements that the town already badly needs. It also might be slightly spooked by the fact that a consortium is involved, rather than a singe developer and landowner, something which has caused and is causing so many problems at Sandleford. The larger north-east Thatcham site will, however, have four separate companies involved on four contiguous but separate sites. The Colthrop scheme certainly seems to be on a more human scale: perhaps more importantly, it’s quite a lot further advanced.

Newbury Today reports that the charity Heartstart Thatcham, which over the last eight years has installed over 60 defrillators across the district and trained over 2,000 people – has decided to close “following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and other issues.”

• 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 23 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: football on the recreation ground; rolling the cricket square; tree removal; the annual parish meeting (on 5 May); planning applications (in particular 21/00330 for the conversion to agricultural buildings to residential dwellings at Cleardene Farm, concerning which the PC had “many concerns”.

• The same meeting also referred to a possible plan to lobby for the use of the Newbury Showground near M4 J13 for housing, in preference to the sit in NE Thatcham where 2,500 homes have been propose. The meeting was told, however, that this would not be suitable due to pollution levels (a distribution centre would seem to be the preferred option). The report then appeared to go on to the suggest that a similar charge could be levied at the 2,500-home site for being close to the A4.

• 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 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: a possible dog-exercise field; the formation of an opposition group to the Thatcham housing plans (see also paragraph below); the PC’s anticipation of the answers to written questions from the Ask Hilary Facebook Live session last month; the change of ownership at Bucklebury Farm park; litter picking on the Common; the latest edition of the quarterly parish magazine The Oaks (which you can read here); one planning application; the settlement boundary; wildflowers at Hockett Field; socially-distanced conversations at Bucklebury meadows; repairs in the cemetery; barriers on the bike track; SID equipment; reports from the committees; financial matters; and the report that the parish has collected 74kg of bottle tops which have been sent for recycling (that’s about 37,000 of the little round, sharp, slightly jagged metal things).

• There was also an extraordinary Bucklebury PC meeting on 19 March, the sole purpose of which was to set up an opposition group to the plan to build 2,500 homes to the north east of Thatcham and on the edge of Bucklebury. You can read he minutes here. The group has been set up and given start-up funding of £1,000 by the PC (after that, I’m told, it’s on its own). The main costs for such groups is expert external consultants and it was felt that the group would in time require £10-15,000 and more if legal counsel were needed at any enquiry. To help produce some economies of scale, the plan is that the councils or opposition groups from the five affected parishes – Thatcham, Bucklebury, Woolhampton, Midgham and Cold Ash – would create one over-arching…may I use the term “super group”? That’s the idea anyway. If you would like to find out more, please contact the respective PC. Once established, this will have its own website and FB page.

• 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 grey horse and ends with Dorian Gray.

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.

• 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.

• The most recent meeting of Burghfield Parish Council took place on 4 March and you can read the draft minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Theale Parish Council took place on 8 March and you can read the minutes here. There was also an extraordinary meeting on 22 March which was only concerning with wildflower sowing and the award of 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 13 April. The minutes will appear here in due course and until then you can watch a Zoom recording of the meeting. This was also the Annual Parish Meeting at which the PC reviewed its activities over the past year and received similar reports from local organisations. In a masterly under-statement, the Chairman described the last 12 months as “unusual”. Despite the challenges posed by Covid, he mentioned some solid achievements (including the play equipment at the Recreation Ground and the purchase of speed monitoring equipment), summarised the main planning issues reported that the PC was financially bound. Reports were also received from several local groups and the neighbourhood policing team. A PC meeting then followed the APM. Items covered included: the PC’s policy towards Lidl’s appeal against its planning refusal; and two other planning applications. The meeting concluded with the observation from the Chairman that “in its wisdom, the government has decided not to extend the law that allows Parish Councils to meet remotely.  This conflicts with their other advice not to meet indoors.  We decided to continue our meetings via Zoom until it is safe to meet face-to-face.”

• The most recent meeting of Englefield Parish Council took place on 17 March and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: concerts at Englefield House in July; financial update; approval of the 2021-22 budget; the confirmation of a grant to Citizens Advice West Berkshire; traffic at the ruction of The Street and the A340; planning applications; the Village Hall; the risk and asset registers; and the the Annual Meeting (23 May) and the Annual Parish Meeting (28 April).

Marlborough & district

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

• The BBC reports that there were 74 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 5-11 April, down 12 on the week before. This equates to 15 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 20 (24 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a 63 more local level to be obtained.

• the most recent meeting of Marlborough Town Council took place on 12 April and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: elections in Marlborough West ward; sewage in the River Kennet; rugby on the common (see also below); the ownership transfer of the disused railway line; sales of housing-association flats; the Mayor’s summary of the last year on what he saw as a “progressive, friendly, and non-political” council; the training pitch on The Common (see also below); a new Deputy Major (Councillor Lisa Farrell); and reports from the committees.

Marlborough News reports here that a competition has been launched for all local aspiring and expert artists to submit designs or artwork for a new community bench which will be situated in George Lane car park.

The same source reports that Marlborough TC has “overwhelmingly agreed to move forward – in principle – with the proposal to create an additional training area [on The Common] primarily for the use of Marlborough Rugby Club juniors and members of the Marlborough Youth Football Club.” (For more on this meeting, see above.)

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

• The Rotary Club of Marlborough & District is supporting the Gavi/Covax initiative to provide Covid 19 vaccines to countries where cost is an issue. Click here for more.

• Work is under way 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 Gazette reports here that the Save the Silks campaign, which is looking to raise the best part of a quarter of a million pounds to enable a community group to purchase the pub in Ogbourne St George, has recently received a conditional funding boost from the Plunket Foundation’s More Than A Pub Programme supported by Power To Change.

• The most recent (extraordinary) meeting of Great Bedwyn Parish Council for which minutes are available 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.

• The most recent meeting of Aldbourne Parish Council for which minutes are available 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.

• 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 29 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 5-11 April, down one on the week before. This equates to 21 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 20 (24 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.

• The Herald 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.

• 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.)

• The most recent meeting of Ardington & Lockinge Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can download the minutes here. Items covered included: the burden of ivy on trees; local speed limits; the S106 funds (or seeming lack of) from the Mason’s Yard development; Ordnance Survey copyright issues; financial matters; foot- and cycle-paths; playground repairs; parking problems; and the Annual Parish Meeting (8pm on 11 May).

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.

• 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 familiars problem, that of developers trying to squeeze more on more houses onto a site once approval has been granted. She cites the example of Park Farm at East Challow: exactly the same thing happened in the similar-sized Lancaster Park development in Hungerford.

• 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 Wantage & Grove Campaign Group will be hosting its AGM (by Zoom) on Wednesday 28 April – click here for details. Note that has been postponed from 14 April following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.

• 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 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 62 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 5-11 April, down 36 on the week before. This equates to 28 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 20 (24 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 story in the Advertiser says that Swindon Town FC’s owner Lee Power is “apparently” preparing to sell the club. The 1969 League Cup winners are currently 23rd in League One, four points from safety with five matches yet to play.

Swindon Link reports that architect Robert Guy, who has connections with Swindon dating back to the 1970s, has “thrown his full support behind” the application that the Oasis leisure centre (currently in need of some major TLC) be granted listed-building status by Historic England.

• The same source says that retirement community specialists McCarthy Stone has launched a search for local charities to support in Swindon.

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

• 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 Advertiser reports one irate new resident of Royal Wooton Bassett as claiming that parking in the town is “more expensive than Cirencester, Bath, Oxford or Kensington,” four places which I imagine must take some beating in this league.

The song, the sketch and the quiz

• And here we are at the Song of the Week. I’d never

• It’s time for the Song of the Week. I was having an email exchange with a friend this week and we got onto the subject of Desert Island Discs (can’t remember how or why but it doesn’t matter. I said that I thought the format was unfair on people who preferred pop/rock/what you will music to classical as your average song is about four minutes whereas you get a lot more value for money out of a symphony. He said that he would definitely pick one of these, if asked to appear (no sign of that yet for either of us). That made me wonder what classical piece I might go for. My knowledge of any music before about 1960 is almost zero but one piece I’ve always loved is Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor – so, here it is, with Hilary Hahn on lead violin or whatever they call it.

• And here we are already at the Comedy Sketch of the Week. This is something to read rather than listen to. Every day is 1 April at the news desk of Opening Gambit – click here to read its report on Network Rail’s unique tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh.

• And we wave the chequered flag to end the race with the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question, continuing the vexillological theme from last week is: What is the only country in the world that doesn’t have a four-sided flag? Last week’s question was: What does a vexillologist study or have an interest in? The answer, as you might have worked out by now (if you didn’t know already) is flags.

Brian Quinn

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