Hungerford Town Council Update June/July 2023

These notes incorporate some but not all of the matters discussed at the HTC meeting on 3 July 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). Meetings can 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 WBC’s Western Area Planning Committee. NDP = Neighbourhood Development Plan. H2036 = Hungerford’s NDP. DC = District Councillor; TVP = Thames Valley Police.

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

Citizen’s Advice West Berkshire

Before the start of the meeting, Isabel Esperanca the CEO of Citizens Advice West Berkshire (CAWB) addressed the meeting.

She thanked HTC for its continued support and explained that CAWB is still going through a period of organisational re-invention as a result of the pandemic. Not only did this create a number of new problems, or exacerbate old ones, but it also became clear that hybrid working is something that some clients favour. This can also have benefits for CAWB as many problems people have are complex and cannot always be dealt with by one person in one place.

The complexity is proved by the fact that in 2022-23 CAWB dealt with 1,840 clients but about 9,000 separate issues: problems clearly multiply until they become overwhelming. Unpacking and resolving these is what CAWB – with its mixture of salaried staff and trained volunteers – needs to do. The waiting times can sometimes be long for help but, as Isabel explained, client satisfaction is high when matters are addressed.

Recruitment remains an issue, as in so many sectors. Training takes nine to twelve months so any new people will not immediately be able to make a difference. Any additional recruitment is also, to a large extent, running to stand still as CAWB is bracing itself for further cost-of-living problems arising from mortgage-rate increases.

She also stressed the benefits that Hungerford has enjoyed from the services CAWB offers. 129 clients with about 600 separate issues were helped in the town in 2022-23 which produced for these people at least £80,000-worth of financial benefit, for example in the form of UC payments. The demand is growing: since 1 April 2023, 50 clients with 178 issues have been supported in Hungerford. If this continues, this will result in about a 32% increase in demand compared to the previous year.

She also pointed out the positive financial impact of CAWB’s work. According to the government’s own figures, £1 spent by CAWB can result in over £4-worth of savings to the government due to reduced demand for its services and over £22-worth of wider economic benefits.

She added that the work of CAWB has more than just a local influence. The various (anonymised) problems and outcomes are relayed back to Citizens Advice HQ which enables it to engage in evidence-based lobbying to change policies or introduce new ones.

She also explained that the previous outreach service at Hungerford was still available but would now generally be conducted virtually. This was because, as mentioned above, the problems people need assistance with are often beyond the capacity of any one staff member or trained volunteer to solve on their own, so online triaging seemed to be the best way forward. CAWB confirmed its commitment to continue to help any of Hungerford’s residents who needed its services.

The Mayor thanked Isabel for her presentation and reaffirmed HTC’s support for CAWB’s work in these increasingly challenging times. She requested that HTC be kept informed of CAWB’s work and extended an invitation for it to attend the next Hungerford Town Meeting in 2024.

Police report

The following report was provided for the meeting:

“Since mid-June Jo and Lee, two of our Police Community Support Officers have been based back out of Hungerford TRI Station. Please note the TRI Station is not open to the public and the nearest police station is Newbury. You can also contact us online or via calling 101.

“The team has had a busy June with various commitments across the Thames Valley area. Several of the team supported Royal Ascot as well as the Henley Royal Regatta. We have also attended many school fetes across our local policing area with many more booked in for July and August. A highlight we are looking forward to is Hungerford Carnival which takes place on 16 July.

“There have been no reported burglaries or shopliftings for June but there have been seven reports of anti-social behaviour and two reports of theft. One of these thefts was of milk from a doorstep in the early hours of the morning, the second from a vehicle parked in one of the lay-bys on The Common.

“With the dry and sunny weather due to stay for a while longer this is the time of year when historically we see an increase in theft from vehicle reports at beauty spots such as Hungerford Common and Combe. 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 where possible.
  • 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’s report 

The Skatepark

I am so excited to see this project start: this has been a long-awaited aspiration of the team and I’m thrilled we’ve been able to fund raise and save for this. Our Facebook announcement received a few negative comments (mainly due to incorrect assumptions), but most were extremely positive. I visited JOG school recently and several parents came to thank HTC for the new park and to tell me how excited their children were to use it when finished.

Sadly, due to the planning delay, we have missed our build schedule, meaning the project won’t now be completed in time for school holidays. Apologies for the delay but this was taken completely out of our hands. I am looking forward to the grand opening in October.

The Croft Field Centre

I would like to express my thanks to Town Clerk Claire Barnes for her continued work on this project. Claire has a tight focus on this build and is keeping councillors fully informed at every step. HTC had hoped for a more streamlined project management on this build but has been quite challenged with many additional costs. The building is old and tired, as soon as one step forward is made another hurdle is waiting to be crossed.

HTC is doing everything it can to complete this project which will now come in over budget.

The important point, though, is this building will once again be a thriving community space, clean, secure, with good facilities and, most importantly, assessable to all. Well done, Claire.

The 3G pitch at JOG

I was delighted to see the first signs of the long-awaited full size, 3G playing pitch commencing at JOG this week. I would like to thank Sam Tilling-Wells (school business manager) for her tremendous efforts in bringing this project together. It certainly feels a long time ago when JOG, HTC, and Hungerford Town Football Club came together with, the FA, to share an idea to fund a full-size FA standard pitch.

I was disappointed recently to hear of delays around access and land ownership leading to timescales on this project slipping. Costs have now increased as material costs have continued to rise. Luckily everything came together and we’re now extremely excited to see the pitch completed soon. Congratulations to everybody involved, especially to Sam and Town Clerk Claire Barnes who did an incredible amount of work in the early stages. This is going to be a fantastic resource for the school and the wider community.

(See also this separate post about the project.)

JOG’s sixtieth anniversary

Congratulations to JOG academy on its recent sixtieth anniversary celebrations. It was lovely to see staff and pupils both old and new come together to celebrate 60 glorious years. I was delighted to look through the registers and photographs of the school’s history. Councillor Fyfe and I enjoyed the cream tea and chatting to the many residents who attended. I’m sure there was a lot of teasing about the fashion and hairstyles from the last six decades! Congratulations JOG, I hope the school continues to flourish within our wonderful community.

Boots the Chemist

Some of you may have noticed the announcement that 300 stores are going to close. I have spoken to the area manager. Sadly, he hasn’t been informed which stores will close but believed Hungerford would be OK. Most store closures will be because two stores both owned by Boots (from a takeover) are located on the same street. Hungerford doesn’t have this scenario.

He also said things were improving with the service but there was still more to do. It was interesting to learn they currently don’t have enough staff to cover the front till, stock in the store has needed to be reduced to prevent shoplifting.

The area manager will be speaking with senior management this week (currently on annual leave) and has promised to come back to me later in the week.

Councillor co-option

Stella Coulthurst had expressed her desire to join to HTC and gave a brief resumé of her life so far, which ranged from am-dram performancesin Lincoln to twenty years in the City of London and from running The White Hart in Hamstead Marshall to a number of local volunteering activities.

Following HTC’s agreed co-option procedures, it was agreed that would spend the next month attending as many committee meetings as she was able to with a decision being taken at the next Full Council meeting.

Hungerford’s grant awards

HTC has made £11,000-worth of grant donations to local groups for 2023-24 with more expected to be confirmed. Please see this separate post for details of all the grants and information about how you can make applications. there will be a presentation ceremony later in the year to which all the recipients will be invited.

EV charge points in the town’s car parks

This matter was once again raised, as it has been at more or less every HTC meeting for the last two years. DC Vickers said that WBC was currently conducting a review into this matter across the district and would hope to have some news soon. councillor Keates suggested that WBC should take a look at the Vale Council’s excellent EV charge-point provision in Wantage and use that as an example to follow.

Gigaclear

In May 2020, a Gigaclear spokesperson, writing about the roll-out of the ultrafast broadband network across the district, promised that as a result it would take “Gigaclear customers in West Berkshire less than one minute to download a two-and-a-half hour-long HD film – faster than microwaving the popcorn.”

It’s becoming increasingly clear, however, that the reality is falling well short of this. “We want them to come and talk to us and explain their shortcomings,” the Mayor said. “There are lots of unhappy customers within the town.” When such a meeting is arranged, this will be given wide local publicity.

Dog bins

there have recently been some problems with the new contractor but it’s hoped that these have now been solved. If anyone sees a dog bin that is full, please report the issue on this page of WBC’s website. This will ensure that the matter is recorded which makes it much more likely to be dealt with.

District Councillors’ reports

DCs Tony Vickers and Dennis Benneyworth were present at the meeting.

  • DC Tony Vickers (TV), elected to the represent the ward for the first time in May, gave a summary of his career to date.
  • The local plan. TV confirmed that the Planning Inspector had granted WBC a two-month pause in the consideration of the local plan for the new administration to understand the current position and the options. Officer advice was being sought.
  • WBC’s planning system. TV reported that this was experiencing problems. Low staffing levels (a national problem) was leading to long delays in assigning a case officer for even minor applications and thus to the time for determination. One idea being considered is a new local apprentice-based system but, even if proceeded with, the benefits would take time to be felt.
  • WBC’s planning enforcement. TV accepted that this was also problematic and that the lack of officers, and thus enforcement, threatened to bring the system into disrepute.
  • Area Forums. TV confirmed that these would be developed, as pledged in his party’s election manifesto. However, they might not look the same as when they last existed in West Berkshire in the early 2000s. There was no point in having meetings just for the sake of them: each would need to concentrate on specific issues, which might involved communities of interest as well as of geography. Advances in technology could help with these, as could the  work done on the WBC customer experience by Councillor James Cole (who was then a DC).
  • DC Dennis Benneyworth stressed that although he was of a different party from the other two members, his main aim was to work to represent the interests of all the members of the ward.

The neighbourhood development plan (H2036)

There has been some progress that in summary includes:

  • The HELAA site assessments for the new sites have been completed by Navigus Planning – now these need to be evaluated against the plan objectives.
  • The plan text is progressing.We are on a second draft which was discussed at our meeting on 21 June. Additional input required on the design brief, movements plan and the leisure, wellbeing and learning chapter.
  • An updated programme has been produced. If we can get the plan agreed in the summer, the first consultation should take place in September. The end date is still expected in October 2024, or at least by the end of 2024.
  • Key next actions are (a) to evaluate site assessments against plan objectives; (b) complete the draft of the plan; and (c) prepare for the consultation in the autumn.

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

Click here for the agenda and (to follow) the minutes of the last meeting of the H2036 committee on 21 June.

The Skatepark

As mentioned in the Mayor’s report, work has now started and is expected to completed in early October. It was agreed that, in light of the problems experienced at the Croft Field Centre (see below), HTC needed to ensure that the project was built to the agreed specifications. The Mayor and Councillors Schlanker and Keates would be dealing with this.

The Croft Field Centre

Also as mentioned in the Mayor’s report, the costs are continuing to rise. It was pointed out that the work has revealed a number of problems with the building that hadn’t been clear at the outset and solving these challenges has disrupted both the schedule and the budget.

Two particular issues that were addressed at the meeting were the possible need for an internal step (it had previously been hoped that the whole building could be on one level) and the details of the fire alarm system (including its compliance with the insurance policy). These matters were delegated to the Mayor and the Clerk to resolve. It remained unclear when the work would be completed and the building available for bookings.

Changing places pod

It had been hoped that a fully accessible toilet could be positioned by the side of the Library building. Unfortunately, less than half of the estimated £80,000 cost can be covered by grants and so the project will, for now, have to be paused.

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. Environment & Planning generally meets once a month and the others every other month. See the separate section above for the H2036 (NDP) committee.

  • Environment and Planning. (Last meeting 12 June 2023 – click here to see the minutes.) Items covered included: five planning applications (two no-objections, one no-objection and two requests for call-ins); and WBC case officers’ reports.
  • Highways and Transport. (Last meeting 30 May 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; speed indicator devices; the verges at Sanham Green; a proposed changing-place facility; footway and footpath works; and CCTV cameras.
  • Finance and General Purposes. (Last meeting 23 May 2023 – click here to read the minutes.) Items covered included: updates on actions from the previous meeting; grants; the tennis courts’ lease; the Leisure Centre; hire charges for the Croft Field Centre; the freehold of the Bridge Street War Memorial; and solar panels ar The Hub.
  • Recreation, Amenities and War Memorials. (Last meeting 22 May 2023 – click here to read the minutes.) Items covered included: update on actions from previous meetings; the Triangle Field; repairs and maintenance; the Croft Field Activity Centre; and the Skatepark.

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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