Compton & Downlands Weekly News, Thursday 16 November 2023

Compton & Downland Weekly News header

Thursday 16 November 2023

Our usual round-up of  local news includes: murder mystery, gift wrapping, books and football – plus a look at how the nutrient neutrality regulations have affected one business which is hoping to move to the area.  See also below for community notices and news from your local council-

Upcoming Compton area events include: A candlelit market and a chance to get creative with some clay. See below for details, plus regular events and group activities.

This week’s news

• Quick reminder that there will be a free plastic-free gift wrapping service at the Hampstead Norreys Candlelit Market on Saturday 18 November, to help promote a ‘plastic free Thatcham and Newbury’ initiative. Click here to learn more.

• Compton Players invite you to their one night only, fundraising Victorian Christmas Murder Mystery Evening in Compton Village Hall on Friday 15 December. The audience will be seated at tables with the action taking place around them so it sounds like an evening not to be missed. Tickets cost £15 and include food. Book here.

• A reminder that The Wee libraries/book exchanges in Compton are still full of great books. The one in Newbury Lane has lots of Clive Cussler at the moment and some vintage Isaac Asimov. Feel free to borrow books and put in good quality books.

• FC Cougars currently have spaces for footballers U6s, U7s and Under 16s. If you are interested contact graham on graham@fccougars.com

• For road closures and other news visit Hampstead Norreys Parish Council‘s facebook page.

• Nutrient neutrality in Beedon

Back in July 2021, the Donnington Grove Veterinary Group (DG Vets) lodged a planning application for a new purpose-built centre in Beedon, a few miles north of its current location in Donnington. This was in some ways challenging application for West Berkshire Council as it involved the consideration of a large number of policies. It’s not every day that permission is sought for what would be a large vet practice with particular emphasis on the equine side. A good deal of pre-application work was done which seemed to be to the satisfaction of WBC’s planners. In addition, there was engagement with the local community, something that doesn’t always happen, which seems to have well handledy. The economic benefits of an application that involves a commercial business are often stressed beyond the bounds of credibility but on this occasion seemed justified. There was a high level of local support. Given the location, there were also plenty of four-legged customers for the new centre.

All seemed set fair when in March 2022 the application was set to be approved. Only a few days before this was due to happen, there was an unexpected development that was out of the hands of applicant and planning authority alike.

This was the implementation by the government, in conjunction with Natural England, of nutrient neutrality (NN) regulations covering the entire Lambourn catchment area. Numerous documents exist which explain and comment these: one such is this set of FAQs from the Local Government Association Planning Advisory Service. In summary, NN was designed to protect sensitive habitats from pollution, particularly by reducing the phosphates and nitrates that enter the watercourses. There are a number of ways this can happen but the NN regulations focussed on the planning system. Under these rules, all new developments had to implement mitigation measures to ensure that they were not contributing to the problem.

The immediate result was to put the already over-stretched planning departments in the affected areas into a state approaching panic. Some refusals – such as The Bell in Boxford and the Wheelwrights Arms in Lambourn – were made based on views of the new regulations that appear to have been wrong. Other approvals may have been granted that should not have been. Some applications were paused and the whole process slowed to walking speed. The Homebuilders’ Federation (which, admittedly, is hardly impartial in the matter) estimated in June 2023 that 145,000 homes were currently blocked for this reason. So too was the application for DG Vets’ new building.

There’s no doubt that phosphate and nitrate pollution is a serious issue that needs addressing. More doubtful is whether the planning system is the best tool for accomplishing this. The guidance from Natural England was patchy. Funding for expert officer help was provided but, while money can be conjured up by a government, sufficient numbers of experts could not be. There’s also the question of whether the gun was aimed at the correct target given that new homes are probably not the major contributor to the problem. The measures or conditions that planners impose also need to be enforced, which is not something that happens as well as it might.

The biggest problem with the current NN approach, however, is that it is assumes that every time a toilet is flushed, a significant part of the waste is going to end up not in the sewage works but in the aquifer and thence the river. Rather than redoubling its efforts to get the water companies to fix their pipes, the government is effectively asking developers to do their job for them. This is buck-passing and also takes the pressure of the water firms. The reverse should be happening.

Another damaging aspect is that it has turned NN, and the whole business of water protection, into a divisive issue. House builders of all sizes are understandably frustrated by the delays and are blaming not only the government but, in some cases, the whole national attempt to clean up our rivers. In short, the issue of nutrient neutrality risks becoming as toxic as the pollutants which it’s seeking to remove.

The case of DG Vets also proves the adage that the perfect can be the emery of the good. Planners are obliged to implement Whitehall’s diktats, even if these are not clear and even if common sense suggests that a compromise might be needed. By any application of common sense, DG’s proposed new facility was better than its existing one: better in terms of location (not on the Lambourn) and of the protections that it proposed to deal with the threat of pollution which the existing site did not. Eighteen months of discussion has , however, yet to demonstrate that “better” is good enough. Few things spook a planning department more than the possibility of an appeal or a court case. The NN rules haven’t been in place for long enough for anyone to say for sure what action the government or Natural England would take if it felt that planning authorities were watering down their regulations or adapting them too freely to fit local convenience.

Even more confusingly, it’s not clear the government’s heart is really in it any more. Earlier this year Michael Gove said he wanted to ditch NN through an amendment to the Levelling Up bill but this was thrown out by the Lords. He then said he’s introduce a stand-alone bill but that appears to have fizzled out. There’s also an election coming up and all the parties must be realising that both ditching the rules and continuing with them are starting to look like vote-losers. To pull back would look like abandoning the environment; to continue would look like worsening the housing crisis. Nutrient neutrality is increasingly resembling a confused and unloved dog, adopted with the best intentions but which has proved incapable of guarding the house and which the owner dares not either keep or put down for fear of what the neighbours might think.

The good news seems to be that an agreement between DG Vets and West Berkshire Council about the mitigation measures may not be far off. Hopefully, this will be resolved by the end of the year. Delays like this come at a cost, of course. If they or anyone else affected by an unexpected hold-up needs to see what the cost was to them in these inflationary times, they need do no more than compare the building estimates provided at the time the application was lodged with the revised one supplied once the permission has finally be granted. That too will be blamed on nutrient neutrality. Meanwhile, the rivers are still polluted, the badly needed homes remain unbuilt and there’s a political impasse about the matter in Westminster. All in all, it doesn’t seem to have quite worked out as planned.

• Have your say

Have your say on current consultations being run by West Berkshire Council:

Parish and town councils also run consultations from time to time: see the appropriate website/s below under Council contacts.

Latest local newsletters

Community notices

Have your say on current consulations by West Berkshire Council. Parish and town councils also run consultations from time to time: see the appropriate website/s below under Council contacts.

• See Compton Parish Council’s website for a list of current scams going around in the area that you should be aware of.

Drop-in café at St Mary & St Nicholas, Compton on the last Wednesday afternoon of the month at Compton Village Hall. Refreshments and friendly chit-chat. Open to anyone.

• Compton Parish Council is keen to remind residents to please take rubbish home with them if litter bins are full.

• Compton Karate based at Aldworth Village Hall is a small and friendly dojo that welcomes new members.

• More local hosts are needed for people escaping the war in Ukraine. If you could consider hosting a Ukrainian refugee or family, please get in contact with the local support group or visit westberks.gov.uk/homesforukraine.

• For how to avoid scams and what to do if you unluckily get caught, please see important advice here from Citizen’s Advice. There is no shame if you do get caught out by scammers (Penny has) and you must seek help and warn others.


Local events and activities

For more information on events and activities across the Penny Post area, see the website calendar.

• Dates for the diary

• Sat 18 Nov Candlelit Market, Hampstead Norreys Community Shop

• Sun 19 Nov Pottery Painting Afternoon The Downs School

• Sun 3 Dec Christmas Market, The Swan, Compton

Fri 15 Dec Murder Mystery Fundraiser Evening Compton Village Hall

• Regular events and groups 

• Stay, Play and Learn at Compton Village Hall on Thursday mornings during term for children 0-4 years to socialise with others, exploring a variety of play activities and crafts. Book online with West Berkshire Council here.

• The Handybus service to Wantage picks up Chaddleworth and Leckhamstead residents from their homes on the second and fourth Tuesday morning. The round trip will cost £4. See here for more details and how to book.

• Marcham Cricket Club welcomes new cricket players and officials.

• All are welcome to enjoy Tea and a Chat on Mondays from 9.30am to 11am at the Wilkins Centre in Compton.

Wellbeing and mental health free one hour introduction session with Recovery in Mind and The Downland Practice. Please contact pm.downland@nhs.net to book your place.

• Drop Off/Drop In Coffee Morning every Wednesday during term time at Brightwalton Church from 8.45 to 10am.

Free coffee and cake morning at The Wilkins Centre in Compton from 9.30 am to 11 am every Monday.

• The Aldworth Saturday Market at Aldworth Village Hall, RG8 9SE from 10.30am to midday sells fresh fruit and vegetables, groceries, stamps and cards; tea and coffee. Contact Kathy on 01635 578090 or e-mail kathyneville@outlook.com

Brightwalton footballers on the field next to Brightwalton Village Hall on Wednesday evenings. Kick off at 7pm for all players over 15 years old.

• The Gents Breakfast Club created by The Downland Practice – Social Prescribing is proving popular. If you would like more information please contact nicky.ager@nhs.net.

• Compton Tots on the first and third Thursday of every month at Compton Village Hall from 9.30am to 11am. Providing a safe, fun and educational space, in partnership will Compton Pre-school for 0-5 years and costs £2 per family (cash only).

• Quiz night at The Crown and Horns in East Ilsley every Thursday from 7pm with prizes to be won. You can reserve a table by calling 01635281545 and see more information here.

• Brickleton Babes Baby and Toddler Group in Brightwalton Village Hall. Join their facebook group for details.

• Autumn Group regular meetings include the Hobbies Club at the Wilkins Centre, Compton. Visit their facebook page for details. Anyone from surrounding villages very welcome.

• Aldworth Art/Painting Group at the Aldworth Village Hall on first and third Tuesday of every month from 9.30am to noon. Details on the East Ilsley Communicator (issue 105, p 21) here.

 Aldworth Craft Group meet at Aldworth Village Hall on the second and fourth Monday of every month (within the school term time) from 10am to noon. More details in the East Ilsley Communicator (issue 105, p 16), which you can download here.

• Hampstead Norreys Village Hall club and event information is on Hampstead Norreys Community website.

• Ilsley Under Fives meet every Wednesday between 10am to 11.30am at various locations throughout the Ilsley villages. Please join their Facebook group or see details here.


News from your local council

Note: “the most recent meeting” refers to the most recent one for which minutes (in some cases draft) or some other summary is available. Other meetings may have taken place since. Some councils publish minutes more promptly than do others.

• The most recent meeting of Compton Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 6 November and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: The Downs School; the allotments; the Sports Pavilion; planning matters; and financial matters.
To see the dates of future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here. To see the agendas, please click here. To see the minutes click herePlease click here for the latest on Compton’s neighbourhood development plan (which has now been ratified).

• The most recent meeting of Chaddleworth Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 12 September and you can read the minutes here.
To see the dates, agendas and minutes for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here.

• The most recent meeting of Aldworth Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 11 September and you can download the minutes here.
To see the dates, agendas and mintues for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here.

• The most recent meeting of Brightwalton Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 11 September and you can read the minutes here.
To see the dates, agendas and minutes for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here

• The most recent meeting of Beedon Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 25 October and you can read the minutes here.
To see the dates and agendas for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click hereTo see minutes from past meetings please click here. Please click here for details of the planning applications currently active in the parish

• The most recent meeting of Peasemore Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 25 October and you can download the minutes here.
To see the dates, agendas and minutes for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here

.• The most recent meeting of West Ilsley Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 5 September and you can read the minutes here.To see the dates and agendas for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here. To see minutes from past meetings please click here.

• The most recent meeting of Hampstead Norreys Council for which minutes are available  took place on 27 July and you can read the minutes here.
To see the dates, agendas and minutes for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here.

• The most recent meeting of East Ilsley Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 11 July and you can read the minutes here.
To see the dates, agendas and minutes for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here.

• The most recent meetings of Ashampstead Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 22 May and you can read the minutes here.
To see the dates, agendas and minutes for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here.

• Compton & Downlands area council contacts

Parishes: Hampstead Norreys Parish Council, Compton Parish CouncilAshampstead Parish CouncilBeedon Parish CouncilChaddleworth Parish CouncilBrightwalton Parish CouncilPeasemore Parish Council, Aldworth Parish CouncilWest Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.

West Berkshire Council: click here to visit the website.


News from other areas

Penny Post area – please see the following separate sections: Hungerford area; Lambourn ValleyNewbury area; Thatcham area; Burghfield area; Wantage area; Marlborough area.

News and views from across the area and beyond: please see the most recent Weekly News with Brian column.


Archives

To see earlier Compton & Downlands & Surrounding Area Weekly News columns, please click here.

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