Weekly News with Brian 23 to 30 June 2022

This Week with Brian

Including the 1980s revisited, giving and taking offence, a science degree, the psychology of power, a delay to the plan, verges, signs, wasps, a racist policeman, £14.4 billion somewhere or other, 870,000 short, 54 balls and it don’t mean a thing.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (generally updated every Thursday evening) including a joint statement expected, an assurance provided, nutrient questions asked, non-car travel, volunteer drivers, hall costs (again), another delayed plan, Hungerford’s appointment, Inkpen’s hall, Kintbury’s netball, Lambourn’s produce, Shefford’s birthday, East Garston’s hedge, Newbury’s walks, Enborne’s sheep and flowers, Hampstead’s hornet, Greenham’s fix, Thatcham’s anniversary, Cold Ash’s hey, Compton’s hobbies, Hampstead Norreys’ roadworks, Theale’s monkery bar’s, Burghfirld’s youth, Stratfield Mortimer’s windmill, Bradfield’s no support, Wantage’s carnival, Hanney’s news, Marlborough’s gardens, Aldbourne’s lights and Swindon’s cheerleaders – plus our usual yomp around the websites and FB pages across the area.

If there’s anything you’d like to see covered for your area or anything that you’d like to add to something that we’ve covered already, drop me a line at brian@pennypost.org.uk

Further afield

• Train strikes, union unrest, inflation, employment problems, accusations of systemic corruption in the police force, a polarising government, a blond/e PM: what does this remains me of? Ah yes – the 1980s; the decade of my 20s when the country seemed to be – and in many cases was – in flames and at war with itself. We seem to be back there again.

[more below] 

The thing is, looking back (and even at the time), it was quite clear that Margaret Thatcher had a plan. Thatcherism has since been dignified as a political philosophy which was revolutionary to the extent that it sought to destroy the post-war consensus of the welfare state, nationalised industries and the strong hand of the government (the NHS was the one institution exempted from her axe). This involved a titanic battle with the unions who represented many of the workers in the nationalised industries that were her targets; and the creation of a societal divide which has never been fully healed. She also set a standard for right-wing policies that hadn’t quite existed before and to which many of her successors have paid homage. Her essential view (highly simplified) was that everyone could accomplish more for themselves if the state were not holding them back.

Anyone who felt that Britain in the late 1970s didn’t need serious reform was deluded. The country was virtually bankrupt and being run by an uneasy alliance of old money and old Labour, mainly in the form of a handful of corrupt, self-interested and reactionary union bosses. Whether Thatcherism was the best, or only, solution to this problem is moot. It was the one that was available. In eleven years she changed everything she could touch: union membership, financial services, home ownership, nuclear power, foreign policy, Europe – the list goes on and on. The Falklands War went to her head and she was finally undone by a combination of believing her own publicity and the poll tax, which – on no particularly good point of principle – re-opened many of the sores that her early-80s battles had opened. In 1990 she was regarded as electoral poison and was ousted.

None the less, lover her or loathe her, her place in history is assured. She was also the first leader of a major industrialised country to warn (in 1989) about the danger of climate change. Since WW2 only Clement Attlee rivalled her in the breadth and dedication of their vision. Most politicians crave a legacy: she has an -ism. You don’t get any better than that. Even Atlee didn’t get one of those.

Nor will Boris Johnson. I have no sense that we are dealing with anything other than a naked opportunist. It must be accepted that the pandemic put a spoke in the wheel of any long-term plans, though I’m not sure sure what these were. The only one we have is “levelling up” which lacks any sense of immediacy, focus or measurability. He’s also had Brexit to deal with although he was one of the main architects of this difficulty. To claim, as he has done, that he has solved its problems, particularly in relation to the shock discovery of a border between the UK and the EU in Ireland, is drivel.

There are also several other challenges, including the fact that there are more job vacancies than there are people to fill them, which I don’t think has happened for a long time. This article from the legal firm Bindmans suggests that this “can be attributed in part to Brexit, especially within the construction and produce sectors, as well as many people choosing to retire through the pandemic.” This is a major challenge. I’m not hearing any ’80s-style conviction coming from Number 10. I might not agree with it but I do expect a vision. There was one back then, whether we liked it or not. Now, with all BJ’s largely self-inflicted problems, the government is living life on the back foot.

• Perhaps life was easier then for politicians because you had to be less careful about whom you offend. Some opinions and remarks are by society’s norms objectively offensive, ie are almost universally unacceptable. The definition of where the line is will change over time – many views on race and gender that most would now find abhorrent were perfectly normal fifty or sixty years ago.

Far more complicated is subjective offence, where a remark is made that is open to a number of reactions to which offence is taken. This might be for a number of reasons, including suspicion of the motives of the person making the remark or their ignorance of the fast-changing language and shades of definition.

It can also be because the person taking offence is prickly or thin-skinned and feels that what they hold to be true should be beyond reproach or criticism. This is particularly true of religious point of view which cannot, of course, be proved one way or another. Any attitude which is religious or even cultural (the two are often connected) is frequently off-limits for rational discussion. For this or other reasons, if you don’t like what someone is saying you have a trump card; which is that they’re being offensive. There is, in short, a difference between giving offence and choosing to take it and although the distinctions are not always clear, it’s pointless to pretend that no distinction exists.

For a politician trying to effect change, these many, ever-changing and subjective red lines must be a real headache: like an interior designer being commissioned to do a makeover but being told that certain aspect of the furnishings cannot be moved, or can be so only by someone else. For most of the past, of course, things were otherwise, with our rulers paying scant attention to individual feelings on almost any matter. Indeed, any respect for divergent opinions is a fairly recent development – a luxury of affluence, perhaps – and one which our political systems are still adjusting to. Nation states don’t really welcome too much plurality of thought, however much the leaders might profess to the contrary. The tighter the consensus is on key matters, the easier the country is to rule.

In some ways, Thatcher’s destruction of the post-war consensus unleashed a wave of individual aspirations and demands which inevitably came into conflict with the needs of the state, and continues to do so. Then again, the situation she inherited was largely dysfunctional. For a government, to act or not to act on a particular matter are equally fraught. In some ways it makes no difference for, as Enoch Powell remarked, all political careers end in failure anyway.

• As mentioned above, Thatcher – who was that rarest of things, a politician with a science degree – was the probably the first major politician to recognise the threat of global warming (though this did nothing to dent her enthusiasm for the motor car). She also, through her support for nuclear power, advocated a power source which was largely in the state’s control rather than, as with oil, at the whim of foreign powers or, as with coal, at the whim of the unions.

The quest for reliable power sources which are non-polluting (and ideally renewable) and local has recently been given fresh impetus by the realisation of the stranglehold that Russia has over Europe (less so the UK than some countries). Russian gas is polluting, non-reliable and in many ways morally tainted. The UK is planning more nuclear power stations and, to the dismay of many, is not abandoning either coal or oil as a supply source.

However, it’s renewables which are the sustainable future. In 2021, more UK electricity was produced from these various sources than from fossil fuels and the government aims that this will have increased to 95%. For a small, well-connected, wealthy, windy and reasonably sunny country with over 12,000km of coastline with some of the strongest tides on the planet, this should be an achievable aim.

For this to happen, and for the results to be truly locally beneficial, we don’t just need vast solar and wind farms but also smaller ones, such as the one planned in Enborne here in West Berkshire. As discussed separately (see the Newbury Area Weekly News section) this has run into some opposition which I hope will be overcome, particularly as there are some new aspects which might it even more attractive.

Aside from the direct benefits, though, there’s the psychological aspect. It’s perhaps good for us to be reminded that our energy doesn’t come from a hole in the ground half way round the world. I am also encouragingly able to report that the projected solar farm could be combined with both grazing sheep and wildflower meadows, both of which are present at the moment. A vista of renewable energy panels, quietly grazing herbivores and insect-friendly plants doesn’t seem unattractive to me.

• If you have any paper £50 or £20 banknotes you have until 30 September to spend or deposit them before they become not worth the paper they’re printed on, these having been replaced by plastic ones which are more durable and harder to forge. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a £50 note of any kind: however, statistically, I have at least two as there are an estimated 163m of these still out there (and 314m £20 notes). This comes to a staggering £14.4bn, about £200-worth for every man, woman and child in the country. I suspect a good number are stashed somewhere, their rightful owners (or current possessors, which may not always be the same thing) getting increasingly twitchy about how they’re going to launder them in the 100-odd days that remain.

OK: perhaps I’ve just been watching too many police-and-thieves TV shows and the boring reality is that these banknotes are in the back of desk drawers or the top pocket of rarely-worn jackets. Between Penny and me there should be about £400 waiting to be found so we’d better start looking. That should be enough to fill up the car with petrol and buy a couple of pizzas…

Across the area

• News from your local council if you live in the Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire, Swindon or West Berkshire.

• Further information on your district, county or borough council’s activities is referred to in the respective Weekly News sections for the nine areas that Penny Post covers – Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Theale area; Wantage area; Swindon area

A delay to the plan

On 16 June, West Berkshire Council issued the following statement regarding its local plan:

“Following an operational review, West Berkshire’s Service Director for Development & Regulation has updated the Local Development Scheme’s (LDS) timetable. The LDS is a public document which sets out how and when West Berkshire Council (the “Council”) will produce, and consult on, the documents required to produce a new Local Plan. Notwithstanding this update, submission of the new Local Plan to the Planning Inspectorate in March 2023 remains on target.

“The change to the timetable allows a number of technical matters to be resolved. Importantly, there is a need to identify more commercial and industrial space in West Berkshire. This change to the timetable allows the Council time to consult with other local authorities under its ‘Duty to Cooperate’. The implications of the recent nutrient neutrality designation in the Lambourn Catchment Area will also be considered.

“The updated timetable will see the new Local Plan go to full Council in December rather than July for decision, with submission to the Planning Inspectorate expected to remain in March 2023.

“Speaking in response to the update of the LDS, Councillor Richard Somner (Portfolio Holder for Planning, Transport & Countryside) said: “The decision taken by the Service Director for Development & Regulation is based on an operational review and is necessary to ensure that the Council submits the most robust Local Plan to the Planning Inspectorate in March 2023. I am pleased that this decision doesn’t have a wider impact on the timetable and that we are on course for Councillors to review the Local Plan in December and for it to go the Planning Inspectorate on time in March 2023″.”

Submission by July has looked like a forlorn hope for some time so this isn’t entirely surprising. A couple of things did strike me, however. I’ve posed the questions but not yet received answers which seem to fully to address them.

The first of these concerned the timing. Previously the gap between submission to the Council and submission to the inspector was eight nine months: now only two to three is envisaged. It appears that the regulation 18 consultation will now happen before the plan is submitted to the council, with the regulation 19 consultation happening afterwards. This seems more logical as the council would not otherwise be considering the final document. There are clearly pros and cos of both approaches and I shall make further enquiries on these.

The second in the issue of nutrient neutrality. This is, as a separate statement I received from WBC on 23 confirmed, “a complex area.” Indeed it is; so much so that in at least two applications both relaying to pubs (in Lambourn and in Boxford) the refusal appeared not to be in keeping with the regulations. I have asked what will happen to planning applications in the Lambourn Valley catchment area until these “implications” have been “considered”: also, whether WBC has managed to obtain the funding from DeFRA which was, when the regulations were announced in March 2022, promised to affected authorities to help pay for specialist advice (which seems to be needed). When I get answers to these, hopefully next week, I’ll let you know.

Breaking the cycle

There are quite a few crises in the UK at present. One, which has been going on for longer than most, is the shortage of social-rent or shared ownership homes. The National Housing Federation estimates that about 145,000 such dwellings are needed to be added every year for the next decade. Matters can hardly be described as on-track, with a mere 58,000 being built in 2019-20. At this rate we’re going to be about 870,000 affordable homes short by 2030.

The private sector is unwilling to build such properties as they are not viable. Local councils, which used to be the biggest homebuilders in the country, seem to have lost the knack. I may be wrong but I don’t think that West Berkshire Council (created in 1997) has built a single home in its life (though partners such as Sovereign have). This would seem to be the time for councils to step up and start mixing the cement. No one else seems able to do it on the scale required.

One problem is that many will not have suitable land: a rather important pre-requisite. Well, that’s what compulsory purchase orders are for. There must be some equitable way by which private developers could hand over part of a site in exchange for being exempted from building the kind of homes that they do their best to wriggle out of constructing anyway. The wrangles about these waste countless hours for planning officers and tend to further delay the completion of projects that often proceed on a glacial scale as it is. If cash is needed, low-interest funding is available from the Public Works Loan Board. 

With elections in West Berkshire and many other districts in less than a year’s time, this would be a good moment for the main parties to come up with some solutions to this. The current system isn’t working. As Einstein observed, a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Land wanted

We’ve recently received this request from Newbury Friends of the Earth (via the Hamstead Marshall Wildlife Group)”

“Our Lockdown Woods project, run by Newbury Friends of the Earth, see here and here, is currently seeking more land locally for our fifth and final Lockdown Wood. We anticipate having between 100 and 200 home-grown saplings looking for a new home! On the off chance, I wondered if you know of any parish land, or any sympathetic landowners in your area who might be happy to host a community commemorative wood on their land. I anticipate we will need one to two acres, although smaller areas might be OK if necessary. I am throwing the net wide as West Berkshire Council cannot offer us any land this side of Theale, which is too far away for ongoing management and care.”

Please click on the links about for contact details if you can help.

Other news

• One of the reasons why we turn up heating in our homes is because of draughts so eliminating these is a good first step in reducing both our heating bills and our carbon emissions. A new group, Draughtbusters, is being created to help tackle draughts and poor insulation in the homes of the district’s elderly and vulnerable residents. More details can be found here.

• West Berkshire Council has recently launched a survey about bus travel in the area and how the services could be improved. You can click here to complete this. Responses must be in by midnight on Sunday 3 July.

• A letter in the NWN draws attention to the problem of re-wilded verges causing visibility hazards at junctions. Surely, he suggests, it can’t be too hard to ensure that the areas by any junctions are trimmed down to preserve sightlines? The correspondent also talks about obscured signs. Again, I agree with him. Even when they’re not obscured by vegetation, some of them are so filthy as to be illegible (as well as conveying a very powerful “we don’t care about our area” message).

• West Berkshire Council issued a statement on 10 June in response to Calcot Services for Children allegations: “West Berkshire Council is aware of allegations reported by the media in relation to standards of care and treatment of children and young people by Calcot Services for Children. Calcot Services for Children is a big provider in the region running services including children’s homes, semi-independent living for 16 to 25-year-olds, as well as schools. West Berkshire Council has a small number of children and young people placed with Calcot Services for Children. 

“As a local authority we take very seriously our responsibilities towards the vulnerable children and young people in the district. We have three children placed in these homes and their social workers will be contacting them directly to discuss this with them. In addition, we will be contacting any of our young people placed in the care of Calcot Services for Children over the past three years and arranging to speak to them.We will continue to monitor this issue and take any appropriate steps. However, at this stage we wish to reassure local people that we have had no specific cause for concern about young people from West Berkshire.”

• WBC recently reported that about 150 hosts for Ukraine refugees have been through the various checking process and that there are currently about 190 guests in the district. The hosts need to inform WBC when their guests have arrived: if they don’t, the monthly payments from the government won’t arrive.

Please click here for information about what local councils are doing to help support refugees from Ukraine and how you can help.

• Local charity Connecting Communities in Berkshire (CCB) has stressed that help is available for those struggling with rising energy bills. CCB has been running a project tackling fuel poverty for 10 years and can provide expertise in supporting low-income families that are struggling with the recently confirmed price rises. For more information, contact Helen Dean on helen.dean@ccberks.org.uk or visit www.ccberks.org.uk.

Click here for the best coverage we’ve seen of all things football-related in Berkshire.

• The West Berkshire Covid dashboard can be visited here.

• Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Click here to visit WBC’s business website.

Click here for details of consultations currently being run by WBC.

Click here for the latest libraries newsletter from WBCl.

Click here for the latest Covid newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest waste and recycling newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest residents’ newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest business newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest environmental newsletter from WBC.

• 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 for initiatives from Vale of White Horse Council, Wiltshire Council and Swindon Council and the various towns and parishes.

Click here to visit the website for West Berkshire Council’s Community Support Hub. You can also 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 animals of the week are the unloved, unsung and largely uncelebrated wasps. What would happen if they all disappeared? More bad news, it would seem…

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of greenwashing, undermining democracy, town walks and the sports hub.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently: see the various news area sections (links above) for further details.

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• So, it’ the moment for the Song of the Week. After a queen, a king and a prince in the last few weeks, we’re down to the dukes: Duke Ellington to be precise, reminding us that It Don’t Mean a Thing (if you ain’t got that swing). Good advice. As the great Keith Richards said, the roll is a lot more important than the rock.

• So that brings us to the Comedy Sketch of the Week. Given the state that the Metropolitan Police seems to be in, this Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch from the ’80s seems still horribly relevant: The Racist Policeman.

• And to end matters for another half-fortnight, here’s the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: We’ve just celebrated the summer solstice: how many hours and minutes of daylight did London experience on 21 June? Last week’s question was: This week, Jonny Bairstow scored a century against New Zealand in 77 balls, the second-fasted ever my an English male cricketer in a test match. The record is held by the New Zealander Brendon McCullum (who has recently been appointed England’s Head Coach) against Australia in 2016. How many balls did it take him to reach his century? 54 balls: that’s going some. However, I predict that this record will be beaten by one of England’s male batters in the next two years.

For weekly news sections for Lambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Theale area; Wantage area; Swindon area please click on the appropriate link

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