This week with Brian 30 November to 7 December 2023

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Your Local Area

Including lost marbles, finders keepers, a political outlook, effectively bust, a municipal bubble, pandemic consequences, sin bins, an extraordinary meeting, a surprising initiative, Schrodinger’s hub, fishing with mum, task and finish, a starman, a lot of moons, a long coast and a bit of banter

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (updated every Thursday evening).

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 [email protected]

Further afield

The Elgin Marbles (other names are available) was back in the spotlight this week after the PM cancelled a meeting with his Greek opposite number because it was felt that the Greek PM was going to slip the Marbles into the discussion. Sunak – who seems to have less and less grip on political realities – described the Greek position as “grandstanding”, a rather lazy and inexact phrase. The matter has been rumbling on for ages and this seems to have made it worse. To cancel a meeting with an opposing PM looks like a serious snub.

[more below]

• Law

The legal situation with regard to the sculptures is that there is a law that prevents the British Museum from alienating any of its collection save in exceptional circumstances. This is a very convenient piece of legislation. Whatever reasons in terms of protection or safety that might once have applied clearly do not do so now. The argument that this would start a tsunami of other returns that would denude the British Museum is specious, given that deals could be done for returning perhaps not everything of a particular collection. In any case, the organisation seems to have vastly more stuff than it can display and even the things it does have are being nicked. All in all, it’s not a great record of stewardship.

To continue to hold on to these high-profile items is to make the UK look ridiculous. The days when we marched around the place acting as the world’s policeman, custodian, priest, judge, umpire and supreme arbiter of morals and good manners are long gone.

Alternative views of what went on are available. I refer you to this excellent version on the Opening Gambit website which claims that Sunak has simply invoked the time-honoured law of finders keepers.

• Outlook

The Covid enquiry continues, this week seeing Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab, Michael Gove and Matt Hancock take the stand. Javid was critical of Dominic Cummings’ role, claiming that he “sought to act as the prime minister in all but name”: which was, in all but name, a criticism of Boris Johnson. Raab and Gove were less inclined to be drawn into the criticism of either BoJo or Matt Hancock which has so far been characteristic of the exchanges.

Gove went further still, claiming that introducing a lockdown was “difficult” for Mr Johnson because it went against his “political outlook”. Oh really? I thought that all the decisions were based on “the best science”. One learns things every day.

• S114

These things are becoming all to familiar. The abbreviation refers to a Section 114 notice by which a council admits that it is effectively bankrupt. Birmingham, Thurrock, Woking and Croydon (several times) are among the councils that have issued these in recent years.

The latest addition to this unwelcome club is Nottingham, which declared this on 29 November. The council has an admitted record of past financial problems but claims that additional adult and children’ social-care costs and inflation were mainly to blame. Does that sound familiar? If so, it’s because your own council has probably been saying the same thing about its own finances.

One of the consequences of an S114 is what amounts to direct rule from Whitehall, much as a failing school or surgery have outsiders parachuted in. This must be obnoxious for officers and elected members alike and also effectively removes anything in the way of local accountability.

If the number of S114s continues to grow, as seems likely, there will perhaps come a time when we run out of snap-jawed civil servants to descend from SW1 to sort out our affairs. This seems likely to be put to the test over the coming budget-setting period.

It’s true that some councils have made disastrous investment decisions. Thurrock, for instance, managed to allow its finance officer to rack up about half a billion pounds of investment in a dodgy solar farm, while Croydon has been beset with problems resulting from a failed housing scheme. As I’ve mentioned before, though, one has to ask why this happened.

In some cases, councils may have suffered from delusions of grandeur and believed that they could change the world, or the part of it over which they had some control. The bigger problem, which dates back to the early years of the century, is that government funding cuts have encouraged local authorities to change ever more desperate ways of raising cash. The casualties of the 2008 banking crisis included several authorities which had placed an absurd amount of assets in, for instance, Icelandic banks, the rates of return being at one time irresistible.

More recently, the government has itself been the author of the problem. Rather than fund councils properly, it allowed them to borrow at very cheap rates though the Public World Loans Board and then for many years turned a blind eye when these were used to create vast property portfolios designed to produce profits. The tiny borough of Spelthorne in south west London, for instance, has well over a billion pounds borrowed in this way.

This is all great if occupancy is 100% and yields are high. When either falls off, however, disaster await. West Berkshire Council – whose more modest £62m portfolio is in this enviable position, a fact the current Lib Dem finance portfolio holder was recently gracious enough to congratulate his Conservative predecessors for. However, he estimated that, were this to fall to 70%, the current £1.3m pa income would turn into a net loss. Some councils have already discovered this for themselves. It’s for this reason that West Berkshire has taken the decision. to disinvest – see “Across the Area” below for the recent bizarre meeting which discussed aspects of this.

The government has indicated that it wants this municipal property bubble to deflate. A few years ago, it changes the PWLB rules to prevent borrowing simply for financial gain. This has been re-inforced by the rise in rates over the last few years. It’s also loosened the rules on what the proceeds of any sale can be used for. This doesn’t have to be spent only on capital investment in the district but can also be applied to “transformative” expenditure.

This appears to mean anything which is intended to produce savings or efficiencies in the future – a new IT system, for instance. I understand that such money can also be used not just to pay for the kit and software but also the consultants and perhaps also the salary costs of the employed officers working on implementing it. I suppose, by that logic, it could also be used to cover the redundancy payments of those staff whose jobs will vanish because of the savings the IT system might produce. Or might not produce, of course – another reason why Birmingham went ka-boom was because of a large computer system that, in time-honoured fashion, didn’t work.  

Although there’s nothing from government I’ve seen to suggest that this is all an encouragement to disinvest, it’s hard to see that it won’t have that effect. Authorities were encouraged to borrow to help prop up the commercial property sector and are now being encouraged to sell in order to prop up their own finances, Our overlords in Whitehall might be thinking that they’ve been jolly clever. Better by far would be a proper financial settlement.

Many people probably have only a hazy idea of what their local council does. They see bins being emptied, pot holes fitfully repaired and street lights switched on. The main thing that unitary and country councils do, however, is provide social care.

About 60% of the unitary West Berkshire Council budget goes on adult and children’s services. This is a statutory obligation and not one, like mowing verges, supporting rural bus services or maintaining libraries, that can be cut. All councils provide hundreds of other services and funding, many of which you might be unaware of.

Certainly for the next two years, the unexpressed or disguised message from your authority is “whatever we’ve provided for free there’ll be less of, whatever we charge for will cost more and council tax will rise by the legal maximum.” As ever, this is likely to affect people and groups least able to cope with this. As ever, the voluntary sector will need to re-double its efforts to help plug the gap.

If this is something you experience, don’t bark at your council: bark at your MP and demand that a proper financial settlement be made for local authorities. Hope also that yours doesn’t issue a S114…

• And finally…

• It’s often been said that the pandemic and the lockdown measures would lead to problems for young children who were going through crucial developmental phases at that time. This article suggests the the results of this are now starting to be felt. Once again – as mentioned above – local councils will be bearing the financial brunt of the intervention that’s required, assuming it’s aways able to be identified.

COP28 is currently under way, in the UAE of all places, and it seems that there’s already been a surprising achievement, with delegates agreeing to launch a long-awaited fund to pay for damage from climate-driven storms and drought. The BBC claims that “COP28 president Sultan al-Jaber shook up the meeting by bringing the decision to the floor on day one.” More to follow, hopefully.

Sin bins seem set to be trialled at higher levels in the English game after what seems to have been success at grassroots level. They’ve also been trialled in a number of places including the House of Commons, whose members can be barred for a certain period of time rather than chucked out. This does not, however, seem to have led to a marked improvement in behaviour, particularly at PMQs…

Across the area

• Local plan to be withdrawn?

It’s recently been announced that there’ll be a special Full Council meeting on 19 December “to approve the withdrawal of the West Berkshire Local Plan Review 2022-2029 (LPR) which was submitted to the Secretary of State on 31 March 2023, noting the implications and risks set out in the report of doing so.” The agenda for the meeting will be published here about a week before the meeting.

(Or perhaps not: on 30 November, the page seemed to have vanished. No, I don’t know where it’s gone either. Nor do I know if this means that the meeting won’t be taking place, nor if the plan can’t be withdrawn after all.

Then on 1 December, the notice of the meeting reappeared, but with a different URL.

It’s n to entirely clear what’s happening but I’m sure it will become so in due course.)

The local plan is the document that guides all planning decisions in the district. The current one runs until 2026. If that date passes without a new one agreed the planning system doesn’t grind to a halt but becomes, with each passing day, more unpredictable. Any applications that are refused stand a progressively better chance of succeeding on appeal. This is particularly case if the planning authority can’t demonstrate it has at least a five-year housing-land supply (which West Berkshire currently can).

The local plan is sometimes referred to as the “bible” for planning decisions. The old and new testaments, however, are like Ladybird books compared to WBC’s draft local plan. A typical bible might be about 1,200 pages. If every page of the plan were printed out I think that they’d run to about 10,000. I don’t know for sure because I’ve never tried.

A new iteration of the local plan was, after several delays, finally submitted to the Planning Inspector in March 2023. (This date is significant, for reasons I’ll explain.) This submission can be likened to sending your homework off to ba marked. Once this has happened, it’s quite hard to get teacher to return it to you on the grounds that you’ve just thought of a better answer to question six. This is, however exactly what WBC did in May 2023 . Since then, it has been answering questions from the Planning Inspector about what the new council wants to alter.

The significance of March 2023 is that it was just before the local elections. The then opposition Lib Dems opposed the plans to build upwards on 1,500 homes in north east Thatcham. This was certainly a vote-winner and appealed to the large number of people who disliked this scheme on a number of different grounds. The Lib Dems won the election and, in order to put this pledge into operation, needed to get their hands back on the plan. 

The local plan contains a lot of detail on various policies and matters ranging from affordable housing to support for the racing industry. Much positive and co-operative cross-party work went on to create it. There were, I understand, few points of disagreement and those that existed were not always on party lines.

The one thing that did divide them, however, was north east Thatcham. For the then Conservative administration, it was an article of faith as strongly held as the closure of the Faraday Road football ground: for the then opposition Lib Dems, it was considered a thoroughly bad idea.

Given that this aspect of the plan was known to be divisive and given that there was an election coming up which offered every prospect of a regime change, it was unfortunate – perhaps even unwise – that the then administration decided, as almost its last act before the pre-election period, to submit the plan. A more classy reaction would have been to have recognised that the district had a decision to make, partly on the basis on north east Thatcham, and pause the process. Whichever side won would then have a free hand and a strong mandate for doing what its manifesto said.

By submitting the plan, the Conservatives tied the hands of the new administration and thus the residents of West Berkshire who had voted for it. Teacher now had the homework, even though it was perfectly clear that not everyone agreed with some of the answers.

Although there’s only really this one point at issue, it involves a major housing allocation. Change that and a number of things need to be changed as well. The questions from the Inspector were designed to establish whether, if this thread were pulled, the whole jumper would come to pieces.

The WBC administration is being reticent about the reasons from this special Full Council meeting: but one possible inference is that the Planning Inspector has indeed decided that the jumper will disintegrate if this thread were pulled and that the process has to start again. Another is that is a political decision. The new council formally took office almost exactly six months ago and it may be that this timescale was set within which the matter had to be resolved. There’s also the possibility that the council’s been told by Whitehall that unless it can resolve this uncertainty it’s going to have to pass the plan as it stands. 

Whatever the reason, if it’s decided to withdraw the plan this could result in a long delay and could cost upwards of million pounds. This problem would have been less – indeed may well have been sorted by now – had the previous plan not been submitted. We’re often told that planning is an apolitical process. At times, though, it can seem like anything but.

• An extraordinary meeting 

Council meetings are dominated by process, sometimes to an extent that renders proceedings opaque. Discussions on points of procedure can reach a level of granular detail that would not be out of place in a seminary. They can be concerned with very large sums of money which belong to none of the participants. Ambiguities can intrude and cause confusion. There is almost always a political aspect which can prevent substantial agreement on any major matters. They can also last for hours.

All of these phrases and more could be used to describe the meeting of West Berkshire’s Scrutiny Commission (SC) on 28 November, the agenda and a recording of which you can see here. The first part off the meeting, from about six minutes to almost exactly one hour, was in many ways one of the oddest council meetings I’ve ever watched.

The SC is is “responsible for reviewing the decisions, policies and services” of WBC. Matters can be called in to it, if five members so demand. The item called in here was the decision taken by the Executive earlier this month to disinvest from the council’s property portfolio and, in particular the way this had been announced and the fact that a deadline for disposal had been set. The contention here was that this would weaken WBC’s negotiating position and lead to a lower sale price for any assets that were sold.

This is where the agenda item started and where, about fifty-five minutes later, it finished. Between these two points, however, there were some very surprising diversions.

The first point that emerged was that the Executive did not have the power to make the decision, this being something that needs to be decided by Full Council. Questions to two of the officers present produced several acceptances that “it could have been clearer” that Full Council was the decision-making body.

I’d go further and say that there was no no mention in any of the papers of the Full Council’s role. The only reference that one of the officers dug out was buried in a recommendation which referred to the fact that “the Council” planned to disinvest. This was suggested, though with no great conviction, to refer to the Full Council rather than, as everyone else seemed to take it, to WBC generally.

The opposition members clearly thought a decision had been taken when they made the call-in. The finance portfolio-holder, Iain Cottingham, admitted that hadn’t known about all this muddle until that evening. He then apologised, though I’m not quite sure why. He seemed to more sinned against than sinning. The Conservative Dominic Boeck added that he was “quite concerned at how this had unfolded”. It’s hard to disagree.

If the matter hadn’t been decided, it therefore seemed to follow that the call-in couldn’t have happened either. There was some discussion about this. The Chair, Carolyne Culver, said she was unwilling to abandon the debate for which everyone had prepared. The exchanges therefore continued, but punctuated by re-eruptions of the procedural confusions.

About twenty minutes later, one of the officers offered a reason why the call-in had been allowed – to give more time for the matter to be discussed whereas at Full Council it would be part of a wider discussion. The opposition leader Ross Mackinnon admitted that he didn’t fully understand this point. I didn’t either: but what this proved is that the officers did know that a special reason for permitting it was needed and that it was discussing a “decision” that hadn’t in fact been taken. If so, it seems odd that, until that point, none of the members had been apprised of this.

The discussion then picked up another theme, the matter of whether anything that had (or had not) already been decided had actually changed anything in WBC’s budget and policy framework. One officer suggested that “nothing changes until it actually does change”: a remark which, though perhaps true, only introduced a deeper philosophical confusion. After all, announcing the intention to alter something could be construed as having altered it.

Later in the debate, Biyi Oloko said that he felt that a change in policy had been effected and that consultations were now being launched on the basis of a decision that hadn’t been taken (there are consultations, but none of these involve this issue).  He added that “it calls into question the competence of this Executive.” This assertion seems unfair as it appears that it was acting on advice from its officers.

The idea of announcing the planned change was the Conservatives’ main point, to which the discussion fitfully returned. Their argument was that by saying that the disinvestment would happen, the Council was effectively announcing a fire sale. Howard Woollaston called the decision “naive” and said that timing “could not have been worse.” Paul Kander agreed.

Iain Cottingham retorted that he had been assured that announcing the sale in advance would “make no difference” (a point that Ross Mackinnon accepted later in the discussion) and that the book values of the properties were in any event matters of public record. He said that the council needing to be transparent in its dealings.

This led to a further discussion about when transparency was and wasn’t appropriate: which led back to a discussion about the timing.

A representative from the Council’s property advisors, Montagu Evans, then joined the party and answered a few questions about the advice that had been provided to WBC. It seemed there had been no specific opinion given or asked for about the timing or the matter of going public, though he said that the latter was “fairly common”. The main brief, he said, had been to establish how the Council could raise £10m from a sale of its portfolio assets. No one at the meeting asked why this particular figure had been chosen as the target. He refused to offer a direct answer to a question from Ross Mackinnon as to whether property prices would rise back towards previous levels if interest rates fell.

This remark echoed another strand to the discussion – which wasn’t part of the call-in – as to when the economic outlook would improve. In general, the opposition took a more up-beat approach to this than did the administration. This then fed a return to the debate about the wisdom of disinvestment, particularly with a stated time-frame.

We therefore had a situation in which at least five different discussions were taking place at the same time: what the officers did, or didn’t do, or should have done; whether the disinvestment was a good idea; whether it should have been announced publicly, or at that time; what the prospects were for the UK economy; and whether, given the procedural cock-up, the debate should be taking place at all.

In the midst of all this, the Chair did a very good job. Despite at times looking like someone who’d set off for a row across the Serpentine only to find herself caught in a force-ten gale, she kept the strange conversation moving and repeated her desire to get something positive from the event. Scrutiny was certainly happening, though it was more the officers than the administration that were under the spotlight.

Towards the end, two further surprising admissions were made. The first, offered remotely by WBC’s Leader Lee Dillon, was that the budget agreed by the previous administration in March provided for the possibility of WBC disinvesting. Ross Mackinnon referred to this as a “political” intervention but it seems to me to be a statement of fact. However, the wider point seems to be that, if this was WBC policy already, it was not necessary to make such a big deal about this matter at the Executive earlier this month.

The second, which seemed to trump everything that had gone before, was the the Council’s Chief Financial Officer anyway has the delegated power to make disposals of £15m from the asset portfolio on his own authority.  So, the policy and the legal means already existed. Why, then, were we all here?

The Chair summoned her remaining strength and suggested proposing a motion which would be sent to the Executive as a recommendation. This was that the Council would not specify how many of its assets that it would dispose of nor a timeframe for doing so. This was passed unanimously – an unexpected love-in to conclude a very peculiar discussion.

There will doubtless be enquiries as to exactly what slipped anchor here and why. Given that fact that Scrutiny Commission’s role is to scrutinise, perhaps it might have an opportunity to re-visit this procedural car crash at one of its future meetings.

At least there was an agreement about  the matter of the investment policies (the Executive can disregard this advice but I’d be surprised if it did). It took a very long road to get to that point, however. And there were still eleven agenda items to go…

• Monks Lane

One of these concerned the costs of the Monks Lane sports hub which was to be a replacement (or not a replacement, or a partial replacement, or an enhanced replacement) for the Faraday Road pitch was closed in 2018 but has since been re-opened.

The bill for the project seems to be about £215,000. This doesn’t include the loss of the club house (destroyed in an arson attack), the stands (gifted or sold to Hungerford Town FC) and the perimeter fence (vanished, whereabouts unknown). Faraday Road – indeed the whole WBC playing-pitch strategy – is thus is a worse position than it was in June 2018.

Monks Lane is not, however, dead. The planning permission has not been withdrawn and there’s still £3m allocated for it in the WBC budget. Might it come back to life, perhaps in a Monks-Lane-lite form? It’s currently a kind of Schrodinger’s hub, dead and not dead at the same time; much as it was also a replacement and at the same time not a replacement.

The last ambiguity is important and has yet to be resolved. It’s relevant to a range of matters about the project, including the Council’s position in a High Court judgement, its relationship with Sport England, its planning position and the nature of the budget allocations.

The matter seems set to be given a thorough looking at as a result of a Task and Finish group which the above-mentioned Scrutiny Commission agreed should be set up to look at the whole tangled issue.

Matters to be considered include whether there sports hub proposal represented value for money; whether project-management lessons that were expressed as a result of a similar exercise into the LRIE in 2020 had been learned from; what advice the officers gave; and whether it’s appropriate that members of the Executive should sit on planning committees when they are discussing something where the Council is itself an applicant. The last I’ve answered previously with a firm “no”. The other matters will be rather more nuanced.

The composition, terms of reference and chair of this group have all yet to be determined. I’d be very interested to hear any arguments that anyone other that the Scrutiny Commission’s Chair Carolyne Culver should run this. Aside from her obvious competence and knowledge of the issues, she also has no skin in the game as a member of either the current or the past administration. Given the numerous questions about the history of this proposal and the uncertainties about what might be planned for it, a strong voice is needed which has no allegiance to either side. Hopefully this will bring the whole saga to an end.

• Consultation o’clock

West Berkshire Council has launched a number of consultations all of which are designed to improve its finances. You can find more information on these here. You have until 11 January 2024 to have your say.

• Residents’ news

The latest Residents’ Bulletin from West Berkshire Council covers consultations, community champions, warm welcomes, roads, Four Houses Corner, carers, white ribbons, primary care, vaccinations, public meetings, their finest hour, West Berkshire Youth Forum, holiday food and activities, Shaw House and magic.

• News from your local councils

Most of the councils in the area we cover are single-tier with one municipal authority. The arrangements in Oxfordshire are different, with a County Council which is sub-divided into six district councils, of which the Vale of White Horse is one. In these two-tier authorities, the county and district have different responsibilities. In all cases, parish and town councils provide the first and most immediately accessible tier of local government.

West Berkshire Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by West Berkshire Council.

Click here to sign up to all or any of the wide range of  newsletters produced by West Berkshire Council.

Click here to see the latest West Berkshire Council Residents’ Bulletin (generally produced every week).

Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Vale of White Horse Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by the Vale Council.

Click here for latest news from the Vale Council.

Click here for the South and Vale Business Support Newsletter archive (newsletters are generally produced each week).

Click here to sign up to any of the newsletters produced by the Vale’s parent authority, Oxfordshire County Council.

Wiltshire Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.

Click here for the latest news from Wiltshire Council.

Swindon Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by Swindon Council.

Click here for the latest news from Swindon Council.

Parish and town councils

• Please see the News from your local council section in the respective weekly news columns (these also contain a wide range of other news stories and information on activities, events and local appeals and campaigns): Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area

• Other news

• The next WBC Community Forum focusses on rural issues, a topic that affects many residents across the district. It will be held on Tuesday 5 December at Club Room, Chieveley Village Hall, 6pm to 8pm. The forum will operate as a hybrid meeting so that people can attend in person or online via zoom.

“We understand that issues such as security, public transport, and housing significantly impact on quality of life,” a statement from WBC says. “Our forum will focus on crucial aspects including working with the community, rural housing, transport and insights from the Rural Business Forum. This forum is an opportunity for your voice to be heard.”

Please confirm your attendance, whether in person or virtually, by emailing [email protected] so they can keep an eye on numbers and contact those wishing to attend if needed.

• West Berkshire Council is calling upon local residents to nominate deserving individuals and groups for the Community Champion Awards 2023 .These are, a WBC statement says, “a brilliant opportunity to say thank you to people who have done something special for their local community and honour those individuals and community groups who have gone above and beyond to support residents throughout West Berkshire this past year.” Nominations will be open until 11 December.

Click here for more information on the 2023 Learner Achievement Awards.

• The government has announced that the Single Fare Cap Scheme has now been extended to 31 December 2024. The scheme provides affordable bus travel for everyone across England, allowing passengers to travel at any time of the day for £2 (£4 return). The list of participating operators in West Berkshire can be found here.

Click here for more information on getting involved in a Berkshire-wide project to develop a Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS).

Click here for information about help available with the cost of living crisis in West Berkshire, the Vale and Wiltshire.

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

• The animals of the week are these bear cubs being taught to fish by mum.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of dog bins, social care, failures, savings and sustainability.

• 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 we find ourselves at the Song of the Week. Bowie’s performance of this song on Top of the Pops in 1972 was a bit of a moment for many people – here he and the Spiders are, performing Starman.

• So next up it’s the Comedy Moment of the Week. Not a sketch as such, but a good piece of wonderful waspish banter between Jane Fonda and Alan Alda in the film California Suite.

• Which only leaves the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question was posed at the East Garson Quiz last weekend by Ben Nelson of Nelson Travel who was (as I was last year) invited to pose the guest’s round questions. His brain-tingler was: Which country has the longest coastline? Last week’s question was: How many moons are there in the solar system? According to NASA – and who would know better? – there are 290 of the the little round orbity things. Ours is not so little compared to the size of Earth. It’s also the sole only child: Saturn by contrast has 146 moons. Added to all those rings, this seems to be verging on showing off. Too much bling…

For weekly news sections for Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area  please click on the appropriate links.,

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