East Garston Parish Council Annual Meeting, 20 April 2023

East Garston Parish Council held its 2023 annual parish meeting in the Village Hall on Thursday 20 April. The three main matters were: the address by Parish Council chair Sue Tulloch outlining the main aspects of EGPC’s work over the last 12 months; a report from Martyn Wright of the East Garston Flood and Pollution Forum (formerly the East Garston Flood Forum) on the various water- and sewage-related issues that contain to affect the village; and a tribute to long-service EGPC member and East Garston resident Chris Tonge. These are covered in that order below.

The Chair’s address

Note: this is taken from the text published in the 2023 East Garston Annual Parish Newsletter. The Chair’s (Sue Tulloch’s) remarks at the meeting were closely based on this.

It’s hard to believe twelve months have gone by since my last report. I’m so pleased that it has been largely Covid-free and life has resumed some normality.

The Parish Council team has largely remained constant and intact over the last year, though I’m sad to report that Sonia, our brilliant and able clerk, has had a change in her main job which doesn’t allow the time she needs to continue here. She will be much missed and we hope she won’t be a stranger to the village.

In addition, Alan Breadmore has decided it’s time to take a well-earned rest from his role as Editor of East Garston News and the East Garston Parish Council website.  He has done a brilliant job over many years and is leaving very large shoes to fill.

Consequently, we are currently looking for replacements for both positions. If you’re interested, please get in touch with me on sue@stulloch.com. Details of the Editor role can be found on our website at eastgarston-pc.gov.uk.

The Parish Council elections are due to be held this May. Further information will be available shortly on the noticeboard and elsewhere including how to apply should anyone be interested in putting themselves up for election.

The Parish Council has continued to support local services, including the Wantage Bus route and the Lambourn Library as well as the Village Hall broadband. We also ensure that the defibrillator (on the wall of the Village Hall) is maintained and ready should it be needed.

This year we have also contributed to the new cricket net on the Millennium Field and would like to thank Caroline Bayly and her team for leading this project and raising the funds. I’m sure the players in East Garston are looking forward to a long, hot summer.

We have also been shortlisted for a Tesco’s grant to help fund rubber chippings for the playground in Jubilee Meadow. Voting will start at Hungerford Tesco’s at the beginning of April so please put your token in the slot for East Garston.

Like all organisations, the Parish Council’s costs have gone up more than in previous years. After careful consideration we decided to increase the precept (which hasn’t risen since 2009) by £1,000 to £10,000 – this equates to an average increase of £4.28 per household or £2.34 per elector (new average total £42.74 per household or £23.47 per elector). We are conscious of the increase in cost of living so are doing all we can to provide important services at a minimal cost.

Speaking of which, the Parish Council would like to thank its team of volunteers, David Knight, Pat Murphy, Nigel Gay, Galvin Mould and Richard Talmage ably led by Chris Tonge. Also, thanks to everyone who keeps the verges in front of their homes tidy and improves the look of our village. Should anyone be interested in helping out with village chores please contact me or Chris. Much largely unnoticed, but appreciated, work is done in this way, from tidying up public areas to filling grit bins. Having this band of volunteers helps us keep costs down and avoids our having to increase the precept by a larger amount.

A new organisation has started in the village – The East Garston Eco Group. This was set up by Pat Glover and Penny Locke and has 28 members. More information on this and other local groups can be found below.

The Parish Council would like to thank East Garston Amenities for organising an enjoyable and memorable weekend to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee. The events were well attended and bought the whole village together.

Of course, since then the Queen sadly passed away and, as a consequence, in May the King’s coronation will take place. Once again East Garston Amenities is arranging the festivities. There will be live music in the Village Hall on Saturday 6 May followed by a village picnic the next day. I very much hope that the whole village will come together to celebrate this momentous occasion.

I’m sure everyone has noticed the works being carried out by Thames Water, which should be seen as a necessary but temporary evil. Hopefully these will finish as scheduled and we will avoid any more sewage-related disasters.

The Parish Council welcomes any comments or ideas from parishioners on village matters – see here for their contact details.

I would now like to hand over the remainder of this newsletter to the various organisations which help make East Garston such a delightful place to live. Our thanks go to them for all their energy and enthusiasm. The Parish Council wishes them and any other organisations which may emerge every success.

Finally, thank you to Penny Post for again producing this newsletter, and for keeping the price the same as last year – much appreciated!

The East Garston Flood and Pollution Forum (formerly the East Garston Flood Forum)

Martyn Wright gave a brief update on the ongoing sewer problems in East Garston and pollution in the River Lambourn.

But he started with an announcement that, bearing mind the subject matter of the briefing, the name of the East Garston Flood Forum has now changed to East Garston Flood and Pollution Forum.

Background

Chalk streams are extremely rare. There are only about 250 in world of which around 200 are in England, mainly in the South, and we are extremely fortunate to have one of them, the River Lambourn, running through our village. It is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and as a Special Area of Conservation, the highest levels of environmental protection.

However, in 2019, at East Garston Sewage Pumping Station, Thames Water discharged untreated, unfiltered sewage into the river for 228 hours, in over 100 “spills”. In the drought year of 2022, about six hours of discharges occurred. There have been more discharges this spring and an Environmental Information Request has been submitted to confirm the number of hours so far this year.

The discharges contain not just human waste but highly damaging chemicals such as bleach and detergents – everything, in fact, that goes down our toilets and sinks, and from our washing machines and dishwashers.

At last, this nationwide issue is becoming a hot topic, in news media and in Parliament.

Why is it happening in East Garston?

Basically, the sewer system can’t cope at certain times of the year. But our problem is a bit different to many sites that have been highlighted on TV or in the newspapers.

Our sewers are not often affected by storm flooding, but do suffer from groundwater ingress filling the old, failing pipework until the pumping station can’t cope. Thames Water is granted a permit from the Environment Agency for “overspills” (discharges) in severe storm conditions, but that permit does not cover flooding from groundwater.

TW is in breach of its permit and EA have done nothing about it. The EA say it cannot bring a prosecution unless they can prove damage has been done, which is a bit like saying you shouldn’t be fined for speeding unless it can be proven that you’ve killed someone. Despite TW’s claimed ethos of transparency, much of the information that has been established has had to be discovered through a series of questions submitted through the Environment Information Regulations

What’s been done?

There is no doubt that TW has carried out a large number of repairs and sewer relining work over the last few years (Click here for an article and video made by Penny Post in May 2021). But the end result is that we are still suffering from sewer flooding through groundwater ingress, maybe not as much, but the problem still remains. Further investigations to find leaks is ongoing whilst the water table is high enough to be able to trace them, and not so high that they are covered.

It was also explained that private sewers, that feed into the main sewers, also leak groundwater which contributes to the problem with TW having no powers to enforce private owners to co-operate with repair work.

What’s to be done?

It is felt that significant action is needed to make any real difference. Nibbling away at the problem won’t achieve much as the sewer network continues to decay.

The issue is being escalated. Councillors Clive Hooker, Howard Wollaston and our MP, Laura Farris, have been very supportive along with our Parish Council. They are calling in some senior people from TW and EA to a meeting to demand an effective solution.

What can you do to help?

Martyn appealed for support from local residents to write to Laura Farris, our councillors, TW and EA, to express their concerns. Only with increasing pressure will anything be achieved. He also invited those interested, to join EGFPF to keep up to date with developments and to share their thoughts and suggestions. Please contact martynwright345@btinternet.com if you would like to be added to the newsletter list.

Important note: Martyn also briefly mentioned a separate problem which took place shortly before the meeting on 20 April in which the sewerage pipe a bit further east of where Thames Water had been working was fractured. It appears that this was because it was in fact in a slightly different position from what the maps suggested. Penny Post is trying to establish what the normal procedures are for establishing the exact location of a pipe before the diggers start work and what went wrong on this occasion. This has caused – as well as a return of a contraflow system outside the Queens Arms – a larger than usual number of tankers visiting the pumping station at Bockhampton. We understand that this is to relieve the system pressure so that the repairs can be undertaken in East Garston. These are in addition to the tanker which are visiting the East Garston pumping station to remove foul water from that part of the system.

Chris Tonge

Long-serving Parish Councillor Chris Tonge was presented with an award and a fulsome speech of praise at the meeting after he finally decided to step down from EGPC.

As his entry on the EGPC website reads, “Chris first came to the village in 1959 to work. He met Dawn in 1963 and they married in the parish church in 1965. They moved away but returned in 1979 to run the shop and post office until 2006 when they retired. He has served on the Parish Council for more than 30 years and has been Chairman several times. They have two children, a son who lives in the village and daughter who also lives locally.”

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