Hungerford Town Council Update February/March 2023

These notes incorporate some but not all of the matters discussed at the HTC meeting on 6 March 2023, the agenda for which can be found here. The official minutes of the meeting will in due course be found on the HTC site. Any references below to “the meeting” refer to this event unless specified otherwise. Any such issues are not necessarily covered here in the order in which they were discussed.  This report may also include information about HTC’s activities which were not discussed at the meeting. 

Full Council Meetings take place generally at 7.00pm in the Library on the first working Monday of every month except August (when there is no meeting, although an extraordinary one may take place to conduct necessary or formal business). Sometimes meetings take place on the first Tuesday if the first Monday is a bank holiday. The agenda for the next one (as well as for the Council’s various committee meetings) can be found in this section of the HTC website

See the foot of this post for more information.

HTC = Hungerford Town Council; WBC = West Berkshire Council; WAPC = WBC’s Western Area Planning Committee. NDP = Neighbourhood Development Plan. H2036 = Hungerford’s NDP. DC = District Councillor.

For HTC updates from previous months, please visit the archives here.

WBC’s CEO Nigel Lynn

Nigel Lynn made a brief presentation before the meeting officially opened and took some questions. He explained that this was part of a tour of a district that he had previously been unfamiliar with and that he was hoping in time to visit all of its 55 precepting town and parish councils.

He spoke first of his professional background, which included having worked at ten different councils, most recently Arun in Sussex. You can also read more about him in this interview we conducted with him in January 2022, three months after he took office in West Berkshire.

He said that there were many things that WBC did well and that he was keen to build on good relationships that existed between WBC and other councils and organisations and to improve those where problems existed. There were also, he felt, two areas that needed improvement.

The first was what he described as “customer services” which I think can be taken to include all dealings between WBC and its various users which include individual residents, organisations, parish and town councils and the media. This was, he said, something that was being addressed.

The other was the the pressures on social care, both for adults and children. This was part of a well-reported national trend but he said that he felt that WBC was suffering particularly seriously from the trend. The reasons for this were currently unclear.

He also referred to two initiatives, with of which were trialling or considering Hungerford as a base: Liftshare and Enterprise Car Club.

Finally, he stressed a point which he felt that needed more publicity: voter ID will be required at the 4 May elections for WBC and such of the town or parish councils which have contested elections. More information can be found here.

He then answered some questions from councillors and members of the public

EV charge points in Hungerford

This matter has been referred to, passim and ad nauseam as Private Eye would say, for about the last 18 months. The original plan was that EV charge points would be installed in the Station Road car park. The problem here has been the need for a way leave agreement (by which a landowner permits a utilities connection to be made over, under or across their property) which had, after protracted discussions , proved impossible to obtain. Alternative sites including the Library car park and the Leisure Centre were thus being considered. WBC has a policy for introducing more EV charge points and Nigel Lynn assured the meeting that Hungerford was at the top of the list. (You can read more on this policy, as the details are currently known, and on the comparisons between between WBC and the Vale of White Horse, by clicking on the 2 March This Week with Brian column and scrolling down to “EV charging in the Vale and West Berkshire.”)

Councillor John Downe pointed out that this was a matter which had first been raised almost two years ago and that the delays were unacceptable: there appeared to be a distinct lack of urgency in both the discussions and the negotiations which had left HTC a deeply frustrated organisation in this regard. The Mayor echoed these sentiments.

Business rates charged at The Curve in the Hungerford Hub and Library

Christine Hodgkin, one of the Trustees of The Hungerford Library and Community Trust ,read out a statement which summarised the history of the the Library since the financial crisis of the mid 2010s which had threatened its existence. She pointed out that in 2021 the Trust had covered a small and previously empty office space off the foyer into an area offering local artisans somewhere to sell their wares on a community-based commercial basis which reflected the charitable aims of the Trust. As a consequence of this conversion, business rates had been applied, amounting to £619 last year and an estimated £760 in this. She suggested that the circumstances of this outlet “did not fit satisfactorily into any existing business-rate category” but that to charge the charity which looks after a WBC building “is just robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Nigel Lynn that he was unaware of this issue but would make further enquiries. He agreed that Hungerford provided beyond doubt the best example of the creative use of a library building for community use and that WBC was looking to do more work on how the Library Service could be made even more responsive to current needs.

Note: at 3.45pm on 7 March, the day after the meeting, the following statement was received from WBC: “Since this issue was raised at the meeting a solution has been found to ensure that the Hungerford Library and Community Trust is not left out of pocket. The requirement to pay business rates is not something we have discretion over but we have looked flexibly at this unfortunate issue and will be offering the Trust help to cover its costs. We value the work of the Trust and its continued commitment to the community hub and serving residents in the Hungerford area. We want to continue working closely together and are pleased to have resolved this issue for them.”

WBC’s housing team

Councillor Ellie Yakar-Wells, who runs Nye & Co Estate Agents in Hungerford, said that her dealings with WBC’s housing team in recent months had been so unsatisfactory, particularly with regard to un-returned messages, that she felt was no longer able to assist potential clients who came through WBC’s housing team.

Nigel Lynn replied that he was unaware of any particular problems but pointed out that there had been an interim officer in charge of this area, very recently replaced by a permanent one, and that he hoped matters would soon improve. He added that this was part of his earlier comments about customer service (see above) which was an area that he knew could do with improvement.

Letters from Sovereign Housing to local tenants

The Mayor expressed her deep concern about letters which had recently been sent by Sovereign to its tenants in Hungerford (and perhaps elsewhere) which suggested massive service-charge increases; which were swiftly followed by ones claiming that these had been sent in error and that that a further letter would be sent; which, over two weeks later, had still not arrived. She suggested that the company owed a special duty of care to such people, many ow whom were in various ways vulnerable, and that the unsatisfactory and incomplete correspondence thus far had caused caused a good deal of upset. (this matter was also covered here in Penny Post on 2 March).

Nigel Lynn said that he had regular contact with various people at Sovereign and that he would raise this matter at the next opportunity.

Youth provision in Hungerford

Councillor Derek Alfold pointed out the many and various successes of the Hungerford Youth Club, based at the Youth and Community Centre, in recent years, all of which resulted from much-needed support work being provided by people who were either volunteers or were funded from independent sources rather than, as for many years previously, by WBC. He added that this helped satisfy many of WBC’s societal obligations and expressed the hope that these would be recognised by WBC to the same extent as were other initiatives in Newbury and Thatcham.

Nigel Lynn agreed that great credit should be given to work done by the Hungerford Youth Club and the Youth and Community Centre and by volunteers generally in the Hungerford area.

Police report

The following report was provided for the meeting:

“We are pleased to report that February has been a quiet month in Hungerford. There were two reports of anti-social behaviour, three reports of criminal damage and one report of shoplifting. We are, however, still getting reports of rural burglaries to outbuildings. These have not been limited to the West Berkshire area so in recent weeks we have been joined by our colleagues in Wiltshire and Hampshire Police for late-night rural operations to disrupt and deter those committing such offences.

“With the weather hopefully improving as we head into spring, we could see an increase in theft from vehicles parked at beauty spots such as Combe Gibbet, Hungerford Common and other areas used by dog walkers and those out for a stroll in the sunshine. This crime is carried out by opportunists and you can reduce the risk of having your vehicle broken into by considering the following:

  • Don’t leave anything in your car. Do not leave items of value in your boot.
  • Open the parcel shelf and leave the glove box open to show would be thieves there is nothing of value left in the vehicle.
  • Use well lit, secure car parks.
  • Don’t return to your car to leave purchases in the boot before continuing with your shopping as thieves may watch car parks.”

The local police team

The current set-up of the team is one Inspector, one Sergeant, two Police Constables and five PCSOs to cover the Hungerford and Downlands area. Please see below for how to contact them.

Local events

If you have any community events for which you would like representation from your local NHPT, please contact them via the email address below. While local TVP representatives cannot guarantee always to be able to attend, they will make every effort to do so. 

General information (including contacts)

  • Please report all incidents to the Police or otherwise they will not be officially recorded – news travels fast round a community but if no one reports incidents the police may not know about it. Mentioning an incident on social media does not count as reporting the crime.
  • People are encouraged to sign up for Thames Valley Alerts. As well as local crime information, you can receive details of the latest scams.
  • Thames Valley Police has a Facebook page.
  • The local policing team also wants to draw attention to the ‘what three words’ app which is used to help with the prevention of rural crime by locating people. The app provides a three-word code for each grid which is mapped over the world. By ringing 999 and quoting it, the police can locate you.
  • You can report incidents online but if it is urgent please continue to call on 101 (non-emergency) and 999 in an emergency.
  • If you would like to report anonymously you can do so via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online.
  • The team’s email address is HungerfordandDownlandsNHPT@thamesvalley.pnn.police.uk  This is not monitored 24/7 and should not be used to report a crime.
  • The local police team is keen to promote the Herbert Protocol initiative which helps us all to try to keep vulnerable members of our community safe.

The Mayor pointed out that this did not include any reference to the burglary at The Plume which had resulted in the theft of about £6,000-worth of goods from it premises.

The Mayor’s report January 2023

This month has been very busy for me personally, I organised a party for my mum’s eightieth birthday whilst organising a wake and helping my family come to terms with the loss of my father-in-law. Thank you to Councillors and staff for all your support whilst I’ve been thus pre-occupied.

Health & safety

The Recreation and Amenities Committee has been conducting additional council health and safety checks on our facilities. This is an annual commitment to complement and add another layer to the formal processes already in place. The checks also help councillors to fully inspect and give an opportunity to see HTC’s assets, how we could potentially see improvements or share ideas, how more community benefits cold be offered and what could be done to improve the overall appearance of these facilities. I am always interested to hear ideas on how or what the community could do to improve areas within the town.

2023 Town meeting

There was some discussion around our town meeting and clarity was sought from West Berkshire Council’s Legal team and the National Board of local councils to determine if our meeting could proceed due to the pre-election period. It has been determined that HTC is able to proceed but cannot make any political reference, statements or decisions during this period. (HTC itself is an apolitical council.) I hope you will drop in to the Town Meeting on Wednesday 29 March in the Corn Exchange (6.30 for a 7pm start), which will follow the same exhibition-style format of recent years. We look forward to welcoming you there then.

See also the separate section below.

Meeting with Churchill Retirement Living

This month, Churchill Retirement Living presented to our planning committee ahead of a planning application for the Oakes Brothers site located next to the Railway Tavern public house. If this becomes a formal application, it will go through our usual planning meeting for comment.

Staff appraisals and home working

All staff appraisals have now been completed. HTC has an exceptional team of staff and I’d like to thank them for another busy and productive year. HTC is hoping to have more office presence as we reduce our working from home time. This will be reviewed again in six months.

Neighbourhood development plan

I’d like to thank Jon Shatford for his commitment to the neighbourhood plan as co-chair, Jon has now passed the baton to Cllr Richard Hudson who will continue to co-chair with Denise Gaines, Jon will remain as a team member. The plan is moving forward, our second call for sites was very productive, these sites will now follow the same process as sites previously put forward in the first round.

See also the separate section below.

King’s coronation

The Jubilee team have re-formed to start to plan the King’s coronation celebrations in Hungerford. More details will follow but please save the date for Sunday 7 May on the Croft Green. I hope we will have a similar occasion to the Queen’s jubilee. All welcome.

President’s lunch

HRFC (Hungerford Rugby Club) invited councillors to attend the president’s lunch on Saturday. Jerry, Nick, and I had a lovely afternoon at the club. Thank you to Steve Mills for the kind invitation and to Steve’s wife Deborah for the delicious meal. Sadly, the team lost on Saturday, but Hungerford played well and were up against a top-of-the-league side.

Town strategy meeting

There was some concern Hungerford, wasn’t having a fair bite of the cake when it came to the town strategy. A zoom call was held with WBC, plan developers and key stakeholders in the town,to iron out some concerns and ask more questions. Largely, I believe the concern had largely been down to poor communication and insight to next steps. I think it’s important to note that any available funding for Hungerford can only be a bonus for the town. I, alongside key stakeholders will continue to work with WBC to deliver a plan which is sound, achievable and to benefit, and not the detriment, of the town.

See also the separate section below.

District Councillors’ report

All three DCs – Claire Rowles,James Cole and Dennis Benneyworth – were at the meeting. The matters they covered included the following:

  • Letters from Sovereign. It was likely that service charges which included energy costs would rise, though hopefully not as much as the original letter (see above) suggested.
  • The WBC budget. This was passed at WBC’s Full Council on 2 March and included an increase in council tax of 4.99%. (In the current inflationary circumstances, many councils have followed this route. 2.99% is the most by which any council can raise council tax over the previous year without going to referendum: the additional 2% can be raised by those councils (like WBC) which provide adult social care providing it is ring-fenced for this service.)
  • Tri-bins. It appears that three of these refuse devices, which combine various forms of rubbish and re-cycling disposal in one unit, will soon be installed in Hungerford, at locations to be agreed.
  • Parking on pavements. Following the publicity that has recently been generated by this issue, it was reported that representations to local MP Laura Farris had resulted in her having discussions with the relevant Minister. The hope was that councils might be given more powers to enforce infractions themselves.
  • Fly-tippers beware. WBC has recently employed two waste enforcement officers.
  • Photo ID at the 4 May election. It was re-iterated that this will be required. More information can be found here.

Neighbourhood development plan (H2036)

There has been further progress recently, including:

  • The new sites, from the call for sites ending 31 Dec 2022, are now being assessed in a similar way to the previous sites to ensure consistency of assessment. Being carried out by Navigus who have completed the first stage. Now we are awaiting for submission to and consultation from parties such as WBC highways & flooding, Thames Water etc. Mapping is being organized to show the sites accurately before sending to the consultees.
  • Drafting of the plan is underway by Navigus, which we expect to be ready by the end of March. This is 1 week before the next meeting in early April.
  • We are producing some comments on the Draft West Berkshire Local Plan.It still has 55 dwellings for Hungerford with extra protection for the AONB, so we are generally supportive of the Draft Plan.
  • An updated programme has been produced which shows the referendum (the final stage) raking place in January 2024. It’s a but optimistic but it remains our target and is on schedule at the moment.

For more information on the H2036 project, see this separate post.

The town-centre strategy

A meeting involving several of the identified stakeholders recently took place. The preliminary report will be presented to WBC’s Executive on 23 March and a further announcement about the next stages will be made thereafter.

Local bus services

Councillor Keith Knight told the meeting that he had had discussions with an officer from Wiltshire Council about a proposed on-demand (via phone or an app) bus service to serve the Pewsey Vale area, the eastern part of which WC regarded as being in Hungerford. The proposal was that that this would replace the current route 20 (though not the school services to and from St John’s). It would also replace the current H1 service around Hungerford, which was not that well used considering its current £5,000 subsidy. It was generally agreed that the kind of on-demand services proposed were the way forward.

After a discussion, it was agreed at the meeting that the above subsidy to the H1 should be terminated and replaced by one of the the same sum to Wiltshire Council. There might be some small overlap in subsidy for a month or so but that efforts would be made to negotiate these to a minimum. It was agreed that Hungerford should be involved at the start of Wiltshire Council’s initiative so as to benefit from there publicity that would result.

The Kennet and Avon Community Rail Partnership

HTC had recently been approached by this organisation which is: lobbying for the provision of a direct community line between Reading and Westbury; co-ordinating a case for an hourly service connecting all stations between Theale and Westbury; working to find funding for a ‘demand responsive’ bus trial for key stations; and helping to promote rail as an environmentally sustainable alternative to road travel.

It was agreed at the meeting that these were welcome objectives for Hungerford, particularly given the unwelcome changes to the local rail services, and that discussions should continue withe organisation.

WBC’s Local Transport Plan consultation

Councillor Richard Hudson suggested this had many good aims but that it lacked specific solutions or measurable outcomes.

You can read more on the consultation, which closes on Wednesday 22 March, by clicking here. At the meeting, Councillor Richard Hudson was invited to provide a response on HTC’s behalf.

Health and safety issues

It was pigmented out by Councillor Downe that the current plastic no-step devices at the contraflow at the south end of the High Street were inadequate and needed, given the length of time this would remain in forced, to be replaced by something that was less easily able to be  be moved from its intended position. One accident involving a pedestrian had already been reported there.

The coronation

Plans were well advanced for celebrating this and it was mentioned at the meeting that some extra costs may arise as a result of ensuring a suitable sound system and preparing for inclement weather. Discussions would take place during the month to agree a budget for the event.

2023 Hungerford Town Meeting 

This will take place on Wednesday 29 March at the Corn Exchange. This will follow the successful exhibition-style format of recent years and will give a number of local organisations a chance to explain their work. There will also be a Q&A session – no need to supply questions in advance of the meeting.

EV charge points in Hungerford

See the sub-section under “WBC’s CEO Nigel Lynn” above.

The Skate Park

A certificate of lawful development (essentially, an approval from WBC, the local planning authority, that the work can proceed without planning permission) has been lodged and a decision is expected soon.

The Croft Field Centre

Work has been delayed by a couple of weeks but started on 6 March should last for about 12 weeks.

HTC’s committees

The following committee meetings have recently taken place (“last meeting” refers to the last meeting for which minutes were available on the day this post was published). Note also that most committees do not meet in August. Note also that because of the period of mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, any meeting scheduled for September 2022 were cancelled.

  • Highways and Transport. (Last meeting 23 February 2023 – click here to read the minutes.) Items covered included: update on actions from previous meetings; safety and traffic-calming measures on the High Street; parking on footways and verges; grit bins.
  • Environment and Planning. (Last meeting 13 February 2023 – click here to see the minutes.) Items covered included: updates on actions from the previous meeting; five planning applications (all no-objections); and WBC case officers’ reports.
  • Recreation, Amenities and War Memorials. (Last meeting 16 January 2023 – click here to read the minutes.) Items covered included: update on actions from previous meetings; RoSPA report; maintenance list; the Youth Council; the Marsh Lane allotments; the Cemetery; the Triangle Field; the Croft Field Activity Centre; the skate park; the war memorials; and the health & safety walkabouts.
  • Finance and General Purposes. (Last meeting 11 January 2023 – click here to read the minutes.) Items covered included: updates on actions from the previous meeting; amended terms of reference; the local council risk system; the freehold of the Bridge Street war memorial; personnel matters; and contractors’ terms.

Note: if the links above don’t work, this may be because they were linked to unadopted (draft) minutes which have since been replaced by adopted ones. If so, please visit this page of HTC’s website for the most up-to-date information on meetings past and the agendas of those yet to come.

For details on HTC’s committees, including membership, agendas and minutes, please click here (and go to the “Town Council” tab).

Contacting HTC

HTC can be contacted in the following ways:

  • By email to townclerk@hungerford-tc.gov.uk
  • By post to The Town Clerk, Hungerford Town Council, The Library, Church Street, Hungerford RG17 0JG.
  • In person at the above address between 10am and 2pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • By phone on 01488 686 195.

Any questions for an HTC meeting need to arrive by 2pm on the day (please allow more time if you have left this on the ansafone).

Members of the public are also welcome to attend any meetings.

Contacting WBC in an emergency

You can also contact West Berkshire Council out of office hours for emergencies. These are considered to include:

  • Major incidents such as major accidents or significant flooding.
  • Fallen trees and other debris blocking or restricting roads or causing potential danger to road users.
  • Traffic lights not working (West Berkshire Council only manages fixed traffic lights, not temporary ones).
  • Emergency repairs to council-owned temporary accommodation (tenants of properties should contact their housing association, landlord or agent).

 

The sections above cover the main issues with which HTC has recently been involved or concerned: it by no means describes all of HTC’s activities. Nor is this an official record of any meeting nor of any other aspect of HTC’s activities. Links to the official minutes of this and other meetings are provided in this post. For more information on HTC, please click here.

If there’s anything that you’d like to see addressed by HTC, and perhaps also covered in this way in future editions of Penny Post Hungerford, please email claire.barnes@hungerford-tc.gov.uk. Any such suggestions should be received at least four working days before the end of the month (and preferably sooner) if they are to be included in the corresponding post for the following month. That is not, of course, to say that HTC will not in any case give the matter its attention and respond personally if appropriate.

This information has been compiled by Penny Post from information supplied by HTC and others. Every reasonable effort has been made to provide a clear and dispassionate summary of the points covered but these may contain expressions of opinion which may not accord with HTC’s official view on the matter. Links have been provided to other posts, on the Penny Post site or elsewhere, to give additional information where this has been judged useful or necessary. The presence of such a link should not be taken to imply that HTC necessarily agrees with, endorses or supports any of the material contained therein.

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