Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including Hungerford’s bins, Lambourn’s newsletters, Upper Lambourn’s broadband, Thatcham’s gobbledegook, Newbury’s women, Marlborough’s stealth, Membury’s creep, Wantage’s hospital, Greenham’s wildlife, Bucklebury’s opposition, Brimpton’s cash, Boxford’s settlement, Midgham’s response, Cold Ash’s saplings, Beedon’s dogs, Hermitage’s flowers, Padworth’s Hazel, Theale’s lakeside, Aldermaston’s achievements, Wash Common’s Rec, Shrivenham’s rubbish, two lessons from the Super League, Sandleford live, ReadiBus questions, lobbying, letter-writing, ambitious targets, building standards, the Duke at work, a civil servant not at work, in-person meetings, paying for services, bridge v tunnel, tome for J14a, alternating jabs, Californian soil, four naughty letters, a five-sided flag, a six-sided pitch, complaints, protests, purdah and a basking shark.
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
• What we all need in these trying times, with “freedom” seemingly always around the corner, is something to make us pull together. Yes, I know that Covid did that for a bit but fighting an invisible enemy for over a year gets exhausting. There are also enough people who believe that (a) Covid doesn’t exist, (b) that the vaccines don’t work, are unnecessary or will send you crazy or (c) that, often as well as most the first to, that the whole thing is a deep-state plot. With the pubs open again and the death rate (currently) down to a level similar to that from transport accidents, we need something new to rally behind and get our Twitter fingers on: something we can all agree is a really terrible thing that needs to be stopped.
This was duly provided this week by the announcement from the so-called European Super League that it had signed up three clubs from Italy, three from Spain and no fewer than six from England (which already account for about two-thirds of the Premier League’s turnover) to form a breakaway competition. The intention was for a 20-team league including an elite 15 who can never be relegated. This last aspect immediately makes a nonsense of the whole thing. The USA does a number of simple things very oddly: one is the way it organises its leagues for baseball and American football, with no promotion or relegation at all. I remember having a conversation with an American sports fan in New York years ago who for some time couldn’t grasp the idea of promotion and relegation: then he had what they call a light-bulb moment and conceded it was a good idea. It’s no co-incidence that three of the six English teams have American owners. The idea seems to being bankrolled by the bank JP Morgan, which tells you all you need to know about the motives.
Within a few days, widespread condemnation and threats of legal action – and the PM saying he “wasn’t ruling out litigation,” something probably impossible though the man knows a popular cause when he sees it – had made the whole shabby edifice crumble. All the teams bar Barca, Real and Juve have pulled out and the Juve president has recently said he doesn’t think the project is still “up and running.” Surely that’s a bit feeble and unambitious? There’s an opportunity for a whole new competition here that will break the mould and enthuse the young. What not have all three teams playing at the same time on a hexagonal pitch with two balls and three goals? That would be different, briefly interesting and only marginally more insane than what was proposed. The Real Madrid President, meanwhile, has said that the proposal “is on standby” and spoke menacingly of “binding contracts” which had been signed. So, the lawyers may get their day in court after all.
One of my favourite cartoons is of a plutocrat, chauffeur-driven Rolls parked in the background, forcing someone at gunpoint to get his wallet out in a dark alley. “You know what they say,” the tycoon is telling him “you can never have too much of the stuff.” That’s what we were dealing with here.
There are two useful lessons to be learned. The first is that being a billionaire doesn’t make you immune from committing a PR disaster of epic proportions: the only thing that was missing was announcing it in the car park of garden maintenance company next to a sex shop. The second is that the owners have now been revealed in their true colours. In Germany all top-league clubs must have a majority of their members, rather than outside investors. It’s s shame the same rules don’t apply elsewhere (this recent petition is trying to change that). Since this volte face, the club owners have been falling over themselves trying to be the first to apologise for their misjudgment and paying tributes to traditions and loyalties that, only a few days before, they were happy to ignore. What a fiasco. Still, it gave us all something to bond about for a few days, didn’t it?
It’s certainly true that the revenues of the top clubs have wobbled recently (though this is nothing to what the lower-league ones are going through). This article on the BBC website points out that almost all of the 12 clubs involved in the the ESL debacle have seen revenues fall recently – apart from Amazon and a few other, haven’t we all? – and also points to the fact that the cost of failing to qualify for the Champions League can be as much as £100m. The problem seems to be the wage bills, which average over £3m a year in the Premier League. The Athletic reported that in 2018-19, Premier League clubs spend nearly two thirds of their turnover on salaries. That’s just the average. The three promoted teams that season were all spending over 150% of their turnover on salaries, 195% in Sheffield United’s case. This is an economic model whose insanity is unequalled even by the dotcom boom of the late 1990s.
• This combination of naked greed, an overwhelming sense of entitlement, a deficiency of morals and the desire to make something simple complicated leads us back to the unfolding tale of the hapless David Cameron. The Sunday Times on 18 April devoted three pages to the story, which seems to look worse and worse each time further revelations are announced. The whole Greensill edifice was constructed on the assumption that the government or its agencies took too long to pay suppliers or employees like NHS workers or pharmacies. I’ve yet to read any explanation as to why he didn’t just pick up the phone to whoever and say, “The PM here. Pay pharmacies more quickly. Thanks.” Few former Prime Ministers since Chamberlain or Eden could have seen their star sink so low in their own lifetime.
The other problem with his defence so far is that he didn’t break the rules: well, perhaps not (time will tell) but if so that was perhaps only because he was in charge of framing them during his appalling time in Downing Street. He had the most expensive education money could buy at that school near Slough and went to England’s second-best university where, it seems, he was a diligent, even brilliant, pupil. Did morality not form any part of these lessons? Perhaps the problem is that he never had a job outside the political bubble, which would surely warp anyone’s personality. It now seems that his chickens have come home: long and deeply may they roost, pour encourager les autres.
• And now it seems that BoJo has been entangled in a similar mess, helping James Dyson sort out a tax problem to enable him to make ventilators at the early stages of the pandemic, a time when these were seen as the absolute must-have item. This is the latest in a series of allegations about politicians either making preferential interventions or issuing contracts without due process, and to companies which seemed either to have little experience or to be uncomfortably closely connected to the decision-maker. And here we come slap-bang up against a conundrum what has yet to be solved: how far is it justified to deviate from normal standards of procurement, prudence or ethics at a time of emergency? In early 2020, what the country seemed to need was PPE and ventilators, in massive quantities. The words – which a few months earlier would to most people have meant an Oxford degree course or something to let air into a building – were on everyone’s lips. The press was raging about the shortage, telling stories of nurses having to make do with bin bags. Is it any wonder that ministers thought any price and any method was acceptable? What’s baffling is that there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of people in Whitehall whose job involves procuring things. So many corners seem to have been cut as to suggest that they weren’t trusted: if so, that’s something else that’s wrong. There will doubtless be the mother of all enquiries (which is unlikely to be completed, or perhaps even begun before the next election) in which procurement will surely find a place. As for lobbying, it seems that will be being looked at as well. Hapless Dave doesn’t even have the emergency defence to fall back on with that one.
• The government has recently announced that it is pushing forward its targets on climate change (as is the USA). This is such a massive subject that I feel unequal to looking at more than one small part of it. One thing that is needed for this to work is for the government to make a quick and ambitious decision on home-building standards. The longer the discussions drag on for the more the lobbying of the developers will water this down (this is another matter on which the hapless David Cameron threw in the towel). Until the point is reached where poorly insulated or fossil-fuel guzzling homes become harder to sell, there’ll be no incentive for developers to build better ones. There could be some adjustment to stamp duty where (as there is with road tax) higher percentages being charged on buildings that are less efficient. The government also needs to be an exemplar by building energy-efficient homes itself for the affordable and social-rent sectors (which private companies seem incapable of doing) through its various local planning authorities. There are times when Whitehall need to stand back and let us get on with our lives. There are others when it needs to act decisively and be prepared to make powerful enemies in doing the right thing: this is surely one of those times.
• The funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh took place last weekend and, although I didn’t watch it, seemed to have had several of his inimitable touches, such as a self-designed hearse. I learned that he became the Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1977, the year I matriculated there: he held this post until 2011, which gives a sense of his longevity. An old friend of mine, who’s a Professor at the university, wrote to me to say that “I’ve heard specific things about what the Duke of Edinburgh did for the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering and as Chancellor at Cambridge that put him in a very very good light – stuff that wasn’t showy or even terribly visible but really was above and beyond. If you want to see what various vice-chancellors said about him, here’s a good overview. Old-school in the right way.”
• The deadline of 7 May marches towards us, after which time all council meetings must be conducted in-person not on Zoom, regardless of whether or not it is safe, convenient or even possible for some to do this. I’ve written before at how dictatorial, patronising and inefficient this is so I won’t repeat myself. The Local Government Association and many local authorities at all levels up and down the land have been pressing the government to allow councils to have discretion in this matter. I spoke briefly to West Berkshire Council Leader Lynne Doherty on 22 April who told me that hearings had recently taken place and that her Deputy leader Graham Bridgman had sat through three hours of these online which he described as “quite interesting.” I doubt we’ll seeing this on Netflix any time soon but it’s a necessary battle to fight if the term “local democracy” is to retain any meaning.
• The English Spelling Society is making another attempt to reform the extraordinary was our language is written. Now might be a better time than ever to give this a go as so many words have been simplified in text-speak, is fast becoming a dialect of its own. If I were tasked with this, I’d start off with two very naughty pairs of letters, c and k; and g and j. If there is a reason why c and g are sometimes hard and sometimes soft, I’ve never heard of it. What is the point of j and k if they create no unique sound but only mimic two other letters in certain circumstances? That kind of nonsense wouldn’t last in music for five minutes. Imagine being told that Bb was only played as Bb if there was an Eb in the preceding bar: otherwise you play a B natural. These four letters need to be called into an office somewhere and given a good talking to. This all links to the oft-mentioned issue of children, particularly due to lockdown, who are leaving primary school without adequate reading skills. The more you look at English, the more you’re forced to marvel at how anyone can write it at all. B, k, g and j give me no trouble (though plenty of other combinations do). I was lucky and managed to get these sorted out in my head at a young age. The trouble is that, for those who don’t, there’s hardly anyone who knows what the rules are so very little chance of ever correcting the mistakes. The -ght and -ough Anglo-Saxon suffixes we seem wedded to seem be illogical but at least consistent: until you get to “Loughborough” which has two instances of -ough, both pronounced differently. As as for that “i before e except before c” business…the ESS is right – it is bonkers. What are we going to do about it? Nothing, probably.
• I don’t seem to have really mentioned Covid so far. Let’s fix that right now. The University of Oxford has announced that researchers running the Com-Cov study, launched in February to investigate alternating doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine, are extending the programme to include the Moderna and Novavax vaccines in a new study. The aim is “to explore whether the multiple Covid-19 vaccines that are available can be used more flexibly, with different vaccines being used for the first and second dose.”
• Anyone who works in a Human Resources department (or who has designs on being paid to do nothing) might want to have a look at this story of an Italian civil servant who stopped going to work in 2005 but carried on being paid as no one noticed she wasn’t there. Criminal proceedings are now under way which, in that country, will probably take about the same length of time to resolve.I can think of no comparable story from my own life (and, if I could, I hope I would be too ashamed to share it). The job was worth about £30,000 a year. Mind you, if you’re an average Premier League footballer and you’re injured or in disgrace for a couple of months, you’ll have pocketed about the same as she did in 15 years. I’m not quite sure what point I’m trying to make here so I’ll think I’ll just gently fade away…
Across the area
• The BBC reports that there were 18 CV-19 cases in West Berkshire in the week 12-18 April, down five on the week before. This equates to 11 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 18 (20 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• The letters page of the Newbury Weekly News rarely fails to provide at least one letter which does things to my eyebrows: either they shoot up because I can’t believe what I’m reading or they furrow because I can’t understand what they’re trying to say. An example that in different places caused both of these things to happen can be found on p20, from former WBC Councillor Anthony Pick on the subject of the PCSC Bill. He says that writers of other letters on the subject are missing the point. The criticism can more fairly be directed at him. Any bill which gives the state the right to pre-determine whether a protest is “good” or “safe” or whatever is inherently dangerous. Someone has to decide where this line is drawn: and many protests are, almost by definition, contentious and likely to be critical of the status quo, they are likely to fall foul of the new powers. Then you have the grotesque situation which one sadly sees all over the world of people protesting about not being able to protest. Mr Pick then makes some subjective remarks about the kind of protests which he says are inappropriate, in one case for being anti-capitalist. He is taking a very simplistic approach. There are aspects of capitalism which are flawed and it’s futile to pretend this isn’t the case. Sometimes it’s necessary to cross a line, often when other methods have failed. The results aren’t always pretty but to suppress them (or to try to) is even less so. Without protests of this kind, women still wouldn’t have the vote, for instance.
I also received some comments from a current Green Party Councillor, Steve Masters, who had also read the letter. I wasn’t expecting him to agree with Mr Pick’s comments; and he didn’t. “I have personally been involved in many protests which were peaceful and good natured for the most part,” he told me. “Unfortunately the only violence I have witnessed has been when the police have used overly robust tactics to disperse otherwise peaceful protestors.” He also suggested that protest by its very nature was often inconvenient and disruptive and that “change often only occurs when those in power see the strength of feeling.” He added that it was rather lazy to brand any action that criticises the existing system as automatically being anti-capitalist.
• The NWN also reports, on p8, that complaints against councillors (I’m not sure if this is just town or parish councillors or district councillors as well) has “significantly increased in 2020-21 compared to the year before to 33, a rise of 19. However, 16 of these are in one parish, which suggests a local spat is being played out using all possible weapons. The council in question wasn’t named. I can think of a few that this might be but I’m not going to guess in public. I shall, however, try to find out.
• West Berkshire 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 now available – click here for details.
• 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).
• 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.
• Click here for the latest residents’ 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 Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire 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 Hub. Click 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 this basking shark which must have given a Cornish kayaker the fright of his life when it appeared underneath him at Penberth Cove.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as those mentioned elsewhere, communications on the subject of wrong priorities, school locations, a bird which might be either a nuthatch or a bullfinch and pavement parking.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support including: Cancer Research (thanks to Tescos stores in Wiltshire); Prospect Hospice (thanks to Sam Sealey); Cruse Bereavement Care and Dementia UK (thanks to The Openwork Foundation); Little Princess Trust (thanks to Bertie Pilkington); Viva! (thanks to Henry Read-Denness).
Hungerford & district
• 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 earlier this month. Click here to read it if you didn’t get it.
• See p12 if this week’s NWN for a report on the excellent Food and Artisan Market in Hungerford last Sunday. The next one will be on Sunday 9 May. Click here for more information.
• On 13 April I was delighted to have been invited to the Hocktide Court and Court Leet of the Hungerford Town and Manor. 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 April edition of the Inkpen and Coombe Bulletin.
• 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.
• You might also be interested in the most recent newsletter from Lambourn.org.
• 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 application for a 10,000 square metre warehouse (slightly larger than a football pitch) at the Walker Logistics site in Membury will be decided by Western Area Planning Committee on 28 April: the planning officers are recommended approval but a sufficiency of objections have been received meaning that it will be looked at by councillors as well. I spoke to Charlie Walker about this today and he stressed a point, also made in an article on p21 of this week’s NWN, that efforts had been made to mitigate the downsides of this and that the project would continue to provide local jobs. I’m also aware that there a number of people feel differently. This is only to be expected for a development of this nature and on this scale.
The major concern seems to be that the scheme, if approved, would lead to “development creep” at Membury. It could be argued that this point was passed some time ago. The impact on the AONB has clearly not been positive; then again, it’s right next to a motorway and a service station, which don’t do much for it either. The big problem, and the big unknown, is the impact on traffic. The B4000 is a terrifying thing to cross or turn on to and the road between it and the industrial area is prone to flooding. It’s impossible to argue that such a facility, which the applicant claims, will create 200 more jobs and will include an aviation museum, will not increase traffic. It’s for the Western Area Planning Committee if this is acceptable given the benefits. As most of the non-local traffic presumably goes onto the M4, this would seem to be ideal moment to look again at the idea of creating a junction 14a at memory Services. The expensive part, the slip roads, are already in place. People might argue that this would attract even more development there. This might not be a bad thing as at least it wouldn’t clog up local roads.
• 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; 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.
• The most recent meeting of Welford Parish Council took place on 8 March and you can read the draft minutes here.
• 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.
• 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.
• The most recent meeting of East Garston Parish Council took place on 4 March and the draft minutes can be downloaded here.
• Residents of East Garston who with to join the recently-established village Flood Forum (EGFF) and receive email updates should contact email@example.com.
• 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.
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the pandemic – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• Latest news from Newbury Town Council, Greenham Parish Council, Chieveley Parish Council, Enborne Parish Council, Boxford Parish Council, Speen Parish Council, Shaw-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.
• The question of the termination of the ReadiBus (RB) service in the Newbury and Thatcham area (see last the 8-15 April column) still rumbles on, mainly because the two positions on the matter (WBC’s and RB’s) seem not to agree on significant points. Three issues seem particularly important.
The first is about consultation. RB (and the Lib Dem group) have said that there was no consultation on this. WBC’s latest statement says that “all Community Transport Operators were consulted on the proposed funding remodelling resulting from reduced government grant funding.” Leaving aside the implication that the funding cut was made by the government (it wasn’t), what’s being described isn’t a consultation but a commercial discussion. Any rational person would take “consultation” to mean a wider engagement with users of a service or the whole community. It also seems that WBC decided not to consult with RB users as a large number of them had learning difficulties and so might not understand the questions. Aside from RB’s emphatic rebuttal of this, I’m not sure that it’s part of district council’s job to pre-decide such reactions. It might as well argue that it need not consult with a particular group on the grounds that these people might disagree with the proposals.
Then there’s the so-called “gagging clause.” The WBC statement says that it’s nothing of the kind, merely a way of ensuring that “the Council is aware of any statement proposed.” If so, WBC must be looking at a different version of the contract from the one I’ve seen. This clearly states that RB “shall not make any press announcement…except with the prior written consent of the Council,” which is not the same thing at all. No such reciprocal obligation is placed on WBC. This seems to be the major sticking point as, without it being amended, RB will not sign the agreement. If the contract says what WBC’s statement asserts (and if it were reciprocal) then I doubt there would be any problem and might be a way of re-booting a relationship which has existed to the benefit of many local residents for about 25 years.
Finally, there’s the question of to what extent the other available services replace RB’s. WBC says that “Community transport groups continuing to operate in Newbury and Thatcham will include…” and lists these (see this post) but makes no claim as to whether they offer the same service/s. RB says that they do not: these are, it says, “valuable but meet different needs.” It’s easy to forget in all this debate about the wording of clauses and the nature of consultations that the real losers are residents who relied on a service which, for reasons that they must find hard to understand, has been withdrawn. Change is often unwelcome and it may be that these people will find that that some of these other services do meet their needs. It’s been suggested, though, that some of these don’t cover certain areas or are not sufficiently accessible. I would welcome hearing from any previous RB users who, having examined the alternatives, still feel short-changed. It may also be that this is a financial decision pure and simple. If so, surely it’s first necessary to work out how many people would be worse off. If it’s a fairly small number and the savings are considerable, the case for cutting it might make a bit more sense and ways could then be found of mitigating the problems that remained. However at present, the two sides seem not to be able to agree on the extent of this problem, or even if there’s a problem at all.
• As mentioned before, I recently received two statements on the subjects reflecting the different proposals for the next step at the football ground and have put them alongside each other in this post. Feel free to comment if you wish to, using the box that is to be found at the foot of this and every other post.
• The inquiry into the Sandleford development (the matter has been called in by the Secretary of State following an appeal by one of the developers against West Berkshire Council’s decision to refuse its application) will be streamed live on YouTube after protests from opposition councillors that the proceedings would otherwise lack transparency. The NWN reports, on p2 of this week’s paper, that this will start on 5 May and is expected to last for most of the rest of the month. Whether a box-set of the edited highlights will appear in due course remains to be seen. If so, this will be required viewing for anyone planning to write a definitive multi-volume history of a project which has been going on for the best part of two decades with so far not one home built. One of my contributions to the research has been to gather together some of the reactions to WBC’s Planning Department’s refusal, which you can read here.
• This week’s NWN covers, on p8, the suggestions by Newbury Town Council for naming the the flats on the old Sterling Cables site. Their recommendation for the overall name – Sterling Place – could certainly be called a safe option. They’ve also suggested that the individual blocks be named after nine women who have been part of Newbury’s history (though perhaps not fully recognised as such). The roll call includes a tennis player, a suffragette, two peace campaigners, a writer, a nurse, a philanthropist, the saviour of the Watermill Theatre and a hot-air balloonist. Something for everyone there, I think.
• Newbury Town Council’s Heritage Working Group is seeking new members – click here for details.
• The Newbury in Bloom 2021 campaign is now under way – more details here.
• GWR has opened its new bicycle hub at Newbury station. 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. Closing date is Sunday 6 June.
• 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. Newbury Town Council’s website describes 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!” Well, they soon will.
• 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 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the Newbury Racecourse Christmas Carnival; Greenham Partners; financial matters; the wildlife garden project; several planning applications; proposed names for new roads; parish-council road signs; local environmental projects; the allotments; the proposal to have a football ground at the Rugby Club; and local footpaths.
• 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. There was also an extraordinary meeting on 6 April to consider proposed changes to the settlement boundary, the minutes of which you can read 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.
Compton & Downlands
• Latest news from Hampstead Norreys Parish Council, Compton Parish Council, Ashampstead Parish Council, Beedon Parish Council, Chaddleworth Parish Council, Brightwalton Parish Council, Beedon Parish Council, The Peasemore Village website, Aldworth Parish Council, West Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.
• The most recent meeting of Beedon Parish Council took place on 12 April and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: dog bins; a blocked footpath; the Village Hall’s finances; financial matters; plans for a memorial bench; planning applications; the parish’s settlement boundaries; proposals for the phone box; possible alternative uses for the allotments; and confirmation of the date of the annual assembly (4 May).
• When I do my weekly prowl around the various PC websites, I can be about 90% sure that the topic of dog bins is going to come up in the minutes. The problems seem to be that there aren’t enough or that they’re not emptied often enough (or both). Steve Price, the Chair of Beedon Parish Council wrote a letter to NWN this week suggesting that the charges WBC make for the service are not high enough to make then efficient or viable and that parishes may need to brace themselves to pay a little bit more. After all, if you have a service like this it’s pointless if the bins are not where you need them or are full. Specifically, this times like a sensible thing to look at: so too is his more general point that every service needs to be paid for and the trick is to make sure that it’s providing what people want at a reasonable price. It may seem odd for a PC Chair to be suggesting that the district council isn’t charging his parish enough but I suspect he is not the only one.
• 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 most recent meeting of Peasemore Parish Council was held on 17 March and you can read the minutes here.
• 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 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.
• 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 Council, Hermitage Parish Council, Cold Ash Parish Council, Midgham Parish Council, Bucklebury Parish Council, Brimpton Parish Council, Stanford Dingley Parish Council and Woolhampton Parish Council.
• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Thatcham.
• A letter in today’s NWN accuses WBC’s Planning Policy Manager Bryan Lyttle of spouting “incomprehensible gobbledegook” by suggesting that a bridge at Thatcham would become a rat run and increase traffic flows in the area. I must leap to his defence: the point he made seems clear enough to me and is, presumably, based on evidence from elsewhere. I’m not sure I agree with it, as the writer certainly doesn’t; but that’s a separate matter. His point was being made with regard to WBC’s current plan to build 2,500 homes to the north east of the town. If the 950 south of the tracks at Colthrop gets off the ground then a bridge would probably be necessary if the queues at the level crossing are not to get out of control. I suppose there’s a risk that all the developer contributions would go towards any bridge, so leaving nothing to support the other infrastructure improvements that everyone agrees are long overdue in the town. Elsewhere in the letters page, another reader suggests a tunnel. This would lead to exactly the same result, for good or for ill, and would probably be more expensive. Actually, I don’t know why I said that. Are bridges more expensive than tunnels? Anyone know the answer to that one?
• On p24, this week’s NWN reports on the approval by WBC of plans to “improve and repair” the old Bluecoat School building in Thatcham.
• The most recent meeting of Brimpton Parish Council took place on 6 April and you can download the draft minutes here. Items covered included: permitted footpaths; a proposed “no cold-calling zone”; the possible purchase of a speed indicator device; road safety; a possible cash machine in the village (not being pursued as there’s no suitable site); planning issues; the proposed solar farm at Riddings Farm; the ongoing complaint about the planning decision at Washoe Lodge; financial matters; a councillor resignation; and the next meeting (4 May) which will be attended by Laura Farris.
• The most recent meeting of Hermitage Parish Council took place on 18 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the replacement of the bus shelter; planning applications; financial matters; confirmation on the guidance on the use of artificial flowers at the burial ground (silk flowers are now acceptable); playground inspections; the Hermitage Support Group (which has been given an award by the sheriff of Berkshire); progress on the transfer of hermitage Green to the PC; and the date of the annual parish assembly (Thursday 29 April, online.)
• 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: the Newbury Showground; 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”.
• Information about the progress of Cold Ash’s neighbourhood development plan can be found 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.
• 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 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 sapling and ends with Samuel West.
Theale and district
• Latest news from Theale Parish Council, Aldermaston Parish Council, Padworth Parish Council, Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council, Englefield Parish Council, Beenham Parish Council and Burghfield Parish Council.
• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Burghfield.
• It appears that the long-running uncertainty about the Lakeside development in Theale – planning permission for which was first granted back in the 20th century – may be about to take a step forward due to the interests in the scheme having been recently acquired by a new developer. The current permission is for 375 homes.
• A number of improvements are planned to Theale station – see here for more.
• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 11 March and you can read the draft minutes here.
• 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.
• Theale parish’s annual meeting will take place remotely on Monday 26 April 2021 at 7:30pm.
• 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.
• 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 its 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 junction 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).
• Click here to see the April 2021 edition of the Padworth newsletter, which includes information on local groups and societies. It also has a message of congratulations to Hazel Ewart who has been nominated in the 2020-21 Berkshire High Sherrif Awards for her community work over many years.
Marlborough & district
• Official news from councils in this area is currently thin as we are in a period of pre-election purdah (see here for more) until after the polling stations close on 6 May when there restrictions on what can be announced.
• The BBC reports that there were 78 CV-19 cases in Wiltshire in the week 12-18 April, no change on the week before. This equates to 16 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 18 (20 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• Marlborough News professes perplexed by the motives behind a campaign to oppose the installation of a pedestrian crossing near St Mary’s School in George Lane, perhaps on thew grounds that it would result in the loss of a lay by which, the campaign claims, is an example of “stealth planning.” You can read more here.
• The Gazette reports that what appears to be a 4,500-year-old megalithic tomb has been unearthed on a farm in East Kennett.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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 Council, West Challow Parish Council, East Challow Parish Council, Ardington & Lockinge Parish Council and Letcombe Regis Parish Council.
• Official news from councils in this area is currently thin as we are in a period of pre-election purdah (see here for more) until after the polling stations close on 6 May when there restrictions on what can be announced.
• The BBC reports that there were 29 CV-19 cases in the Vale of White Horse in the week 12-18 April, down one on the week before. This equates to 21 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 18 (20 last week). See also this map from Gov.uk which enables figures at a much more local level to be obtained.
• The main story in this week’s Herald concerns the latest salvos in the long-running battle to see the full re-opening of the Wantage Community Hospital which currently hosts only midwifery and physiotherapy services, all other departments have been “temporarily” closed in 2016 as a result of a legionella outbreak. A group of local doctors and councillors has claimed that local health bosses are “not listening” to their concerns.
• In her regular column on p8 of the Herald, Julie Mabberley looks at the complicated issues, touched on above, about the provision of community health services in the Wantage and Grove area.
• Either people have stopped writing letters to this newspaper or the Editor has decided to stop publishing them. The section has completely disappeared: the Newbury Weekly News, on the other hand, expends sometimes as much as six pages on this free opinion section, The Herald does things in a different way, with four regular columns from local interest groups and an alternating soapbox for the two local MPs (which seems to have vanished this week as well, perhaps due to pre-election purdah) as well as an editorial column in which the scribbler-in-chief says what she thinks about an issue or two. This one-tenth of a page is the exception across both papers. For whatever reason, local publications seem reluctant to express any opinions on anything (not a reticence I share). Outsourcing these to others, as both these papers do in their different ways, is fine but I can’t help feeling they should be a bit braver. I appreciate that their first obligation has to be accurate reporting of the things they do cover, something notably lacking from the social-media coverage of life from which many people derive their views of the world. None the less, I’d welcome a bit more of a combative spirit in these publications.
Of the two, I think I prefer the NWN’s letterbox approach, good though the Herald’s regular columnists are. There’s a sense of open house about it, ranging from political polemic to poems about refuse collectors. There’s also normally at least one which makes me laugh (at or with the letter) and at least one that annoys me. This seems to be a valuable service to provide. You may say that social media provides the same thing. No, it doesn’t’t. If you write a letter to a newspaper it’s going to get printed perhaps 25,000 times and you probably spend a bit of time reflecting on what you’re going to say and checking your facts. (Not all NWN letters seem to have gone through this filter as carefully as they might have done but in that case there’s the possibility of an even more measured riposte the following week.) I can’t help feeling that if all social-media posts were delayed by even an hour to give people a chance to reflect on, or research, what they were saying, the results would be more constructive. Letters pages in local papers help provide this.
• The speaker at this month’s Sustainable Wantage Green Drinks on Wednesday 28 April will be Ian Pritchett from Greencore Construction developers of low-impact homes in Oxfordshire. See the Sustainable Wantage newsletter for zoom joining instructions. Congratulations also to Sustainable Wantage for its recognition from the High Sherriff of Oxfordshire for its contribution to the community.
• Click here for information about the various local elections taking place in the area on 6 May.
• 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.)
• 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.
• 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.
• 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 9 March and you can download the minutes here.
• The most recent meeting of East Challow Parish Council for which minutes are available 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.
Swindon & district
• Official news from councils in this area is currently thin as we are in a period of pre-election purdah (see here for more) until after the polling stations close on 6 May when there restrictions on what can be announced.
• The BBC reports that there were 60 CV-19 cases in Swindon in the week 12-18 April, down three on the week before. This equates to 27 cases per 100,000. The average area in England has 18 (20 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.
• A swindon man has been fined after fly-tipping rubbish in Shrivenham last year.
• The Advertiser 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.
• 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.
• the most recent meeting of Shrivenham Parish Council took place on 4 March and you can download the minutes here.
The song, the sketch and the quiz
• And so we roll up to the Song of the Week. Last week I picked something from the early 18th century. Let’s get a bit more up-to-date – Californian Soil, the eponymous song from the 2020 album by London Grammar (who come from Nottingham, so work that out).
• Hello again, Comedy Sketch of the Week. A wonderfully silly couple of minutes from the wonderfully silly and wonderfully good Big Train is what I propose this week – Do You Speak English?
• And we come in to land with the Quiz Question of the Week. For this week’s question, I’m going to direct to you to our latest prize quiz on the subject of farm produce which gives you the chance to win £75-worth of vouchers from Karen and Neil Millar-Ward’s fruit and Veg stall at Hungerford, Thatcham and Marlborough, Cobb’s Farm Shop in Hungerford and Honesty’s coffee shops throughout the area. Last week’s question was: What is the only country in the world that doesn’t have a four-sided flag? The answer in Nepal’s, which has five. Well, why not?
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