Hungerford Town Council Update January/February 2024

These notes incorporate some but not all of the matters discussed at the HTC meeting on 5 February 2024, 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 generally take place at 7.00pm in the Library on the first working Monday of every month except August (when there is either no meeting or, as in 2023, a short one to conduct necessary or formal business). Meetings normally take place on the first Tuesday if the first Monday is a bank holiday. 

The agenda for the future meetings (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 (so-called until October 2023). HNP = Hungerford’s NDP (from October 2023). DC = District Councillor; TVP = Thames Valley Police.

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

Police report

A police report for January was provided shortly before the meeting.

“The start of the New Year has been a quiet one for the team. There were two reports of anti-social behaviour, two reports of criminal damage and one burglary (to a garage).

“PCSO Bremner attended Redwood House and spoke about Fraud and the recent scams. This was well received by the residents.

“On 15 February we will be in Dobbie’s Garden Centre from 11am to 1pm raising further awareness of scams and offering advice on burglary and theft.

  • Phone calls and emails asking for your bank sort code and account numbers seem to be doing the rounds again. Banks will never ask you for this information over the phone or by email so never give it out.
  • We are also getting a lot of reports regarding Microsoft wanting you to log on to your computers so they can gain access to your accounts.
  • In addition we are aware of some scams relating to delivery couriers. Do not click on links in these emails or reply with your personal details.

If you believe you have been a victim of fraud or cybercrime, please report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040, or visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk.”

The local police team

The current set-up of the team is one Inspector, one Sergeant, three 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 in an emergency or 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 Community Champion Award

Before the meeting, the Mayor presented two awards:

  • To Suzanne Taylor (see also next section) for her tireless pursuit of excellence in running Hungerford Nursery School for the last sixteen years.
  • To Graham Tucker, whose spectacular Christmas lights displays in Clarks Gardens has raised nearly £2,000 this year for the Thames Valley Air Ambulance.

Hungerford Nursery School

The Head of the Hungerford Nursery School, Suzanne Taylor, addressed the meeting and confirmed that she would be retiring (after 16 years)in April. Chloe Somerville had already been appointed to take her place. Suzanne explained that she was not removing herself completely from the local education arena as she would be doing consultancy work.

She thanked HTC for its “immense support” during her time as Head and said that the success the Nursery School had enjoyed would not have been possible without this.

She pointed to a number of successes. Aside from the Nursery’s consistent “outstanding” Ofsted rating, it is now open 8am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday for 48 weeks a year. The school is running Action Research projects with the Universities of Bristol and Oxford and is a Partner in the Thames Valley Early Years Stronger Practice Hub and acts as as a mentor across an area stretching from north Buckinghamshire to the Hampshire coast. Many of the staff are gaining further professional qualifications. Through supporter funding organisations like Greenham Trust a number of investments had been made, including installing solar panels.

The school currently has 123 pupils (30% of whom are Early Years Pupil Premium, 29% of whom receive free entitlement and 25% of whom are SEND). While demonstrating its success, this also provides challenges. These include the basic problem of space, knowing how many new pupils can be accepted given the way that the government’s nursery places scheme works, being able to provide enough meals and ensuring that there are enough staff. The last point is a particular challenge, particularly given the number of SEND pupils that the Nursery currently attracts.

She added that the seemingly perverse situation that nursery schools need to pay business rates whereas other schools do not results in over £18,000 of costs a year, enough to pay for a TA. She said that efforts were being made for a lobby for a change to this.

She thanked HTC once again and added that what the Nursery most needs at present are:

  • Volunteers
  • Trustees
  • Sponsors for costs such as free school meals and utility costs. On this last point she thanks the Hungerford Summer Festival for having donated enough to cover the free school meals during the last year.

“Even though we are an Outstanding setting, achieve impressive outcomes for the children and are highly effective in all we do, we are still facing significant and increasing financial challenges, Suzanne Taylor concluded. “Quality is no protection for us. We are very grateful for any support or help during these difficult times.”

For more information, please contact headteacher@hungerfordnursery.w-berks.sch.uk.

A councillor co-option

Two people, David Reeves and Gordon Montgomery, had put themselves forward for co-option to HTC to fill one vacant seat. After a vote, David Reeves was elected.

The Mayor stressed before the vote that HTC was lucky to have two strong candidates to fill the currently available seat and urged the person who was unsuccessful to re-apply the next time a vacancy arose.

The Mayor’s report

Interview

Former Mayor Martin Crane held an interview with me for the Bridge magazine. Martin thank you for your warm hospitality.

D-Day eightieth annniversary weekend meeting

Now Christmas is over, the committee is starting to firm up on plans for the weekend of 28 to 30 June. Please save the date, there will be a full program of activities within the town.

Steering Group meeting

The steering group met last week to continue talks on the outcome of the town-centre strategy consultation results. Once all consultation topics are discussed within the group a short list of projects will be determined. The steering group will then bring these back to committee for discussion. It’s important to remember it’s the town’s residents who have determined the discussion points following over 800 consultation responses. This is a positive activity for the town and its residents.

See also the separate section below.

JOG presentation evening

Thank you to Councillor Alford for attending the presentation evening at the John O’Gaunt school in my absence. Congratulations to all the students who received awards for their academic achievements.

Changing places POD

This week work will begin on the installation of our new changing places pod. The pod will bring a purpose-built facility enabling fully accessible toilets and changing facilities to disabled users of all ages. HTC is thrilled to have this facility in the town, it will give confidence to disabled users whilst visiting Hungerford.

HTC will look after the facility once installed. There may be some disruption whilst the pod is being installed. The library car park will not lose its disabled car parking spaces, they will be moved along a bit, our bike rails will also be reinstated.  HTC met with WBC to choose bricks slips for the pod, sadly the match wasn’t quite as good as we’d hoped, we’ve requested the mortar is made darker than the sample provided to complement existing brickwork on the library building.

Hungerford will, as a result of this, be able to offer dignity and independence to severely disabled residents and visitors to our town.

District Parish Conference

Councillors Cole, Cusack, and I attended the recent District Parish Conference at Shaw House. The topic of focus was recent flooding and WBC’s response. There was discussion about Thames Water’s response to flooding and raw sewage still causing concern and distress in Lambourn.  Water from natural springs, alongside recent flooding, has found its way into pipes and drains, completely overwhelming capacity and the system is not able to cope with the amount of water, raw sewage is running through residential streets.

Thames Water announced that its engineers were receiving significant abuse whilst working on site. I appreciate this is completely unacceptable: however, I do feel for residents being splashed with raw sewage every time a car passes through the village. I also think Thames Water needs to be doing more to reassure residents and clean up the sewage still present. Thames Water must be made to make significant investment to increase capacity in the areas prone to flooding. I know MP Laura Farris met with Thames Water again this week and I hope she can apply any pressure needed.

I thought the conference was informative. Parish and Town Councillors were given ample opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns. One hot topic is contracts for grass cutting. One parish was watching closely – their village was contracted for seven grass cuts a year and only received two. Who is watching/checking the contactors ensuring services are being delivered? HTC has requested the schedule of works so we can pay closer attention.

Health and safety

Councillors have been completing site checks, looking at assets and bringing any problems to committee for discussion. These checks really help to identify longer term concerns enabling the committees to budget and plan for future works required. Thank you to all councillors for helping with these checks.

See also the separate section below.

New shop

I was delighted to be asked to attend the opening of the new White Coco store now located at No 25 High Street. Congratulations to Sally and her team – you’ve been working so hard to bring everything together. Councillor Winser and I agree the shop looks incredible – there are so many beautiful clothes, shoes, jewellery, and accessories to tempt you. I’ve already made my first purchase in the new store and will be back soon. White Coco’s windows displays are always stunning and with the equally stunning Roxton’s just across the road alongside our well-established independent shops, the High Street is looking buoyant.

Boots

Not a great deal to report on Boots pharmacy.  I have been told by senior management that there are no plans to move out of Hungerford. Boots are still discussing their lease renewal with the current owners. I hope to have further communication from Boots once details have progressed.

Dick Lovett BMW and Mini

You may have noticed works are now commencing on the BMW site, whilst work is underway the team will relocate to the old Ford dealership site. Once complete, Mini will then change places with BMW whilst the Mini site is redesigned in phase two.

District Councillors’s report

DC Benneyworth was present at the meeting and his report covered the following points:

  • Ward work in January had been dominated by flood- and sewage-related issues.
  • The WBC budget had been proposed and would be debated and finalised at the WBC Full Council meeting on 29 February.
  • The District Parish Conference was widely seen as having been successful but it had been agreed that the timing of future ones should be considered to improve attendance still further.
  • Hungerford Nursery School. DC Benneyworth said that he had been on the governing body when Suzanne Taylor has first joined the Nursery (see also separate section above) and paid a brief personal tribute to her exceptional dedication.
  • Chestnut Walk: see separate section below.

Chestnut Walk

The saga of the development (or non-development) of the former care home into eight social-rent homes continues.

At the meeting, Councillor James Cole asked DC Benneyworth (though he said this should have been asked of DC Gaines who is the relevant portfolio holder) what the situation was. He said that his understanding was that, as a result of yet another delay, work was now unlikely to start until early 2025: also, perhaps more alarmingly, both WBC and Sovereign seemed to be relying on each other to produce the answers. The two organisations formed a joint venture following the decision in in 2015 to close the care home.

DC Benneyworth agreed that the situation was intolerable and that if matters had progressed according to the original schedule, the residents would recently have been celebrating their third Christmases there. He promised that he would do what he could to raise the matter and provide some answers.

Health and safety

Various matters were raised at the meeting:

  • Parking on the zig-zag lines near the High Street zebra crossing near Boots was mentioned at the meeting by Councillor Cusack. This matter has been raised with WBC which is taking action directly with those involved.
  • Chemicals in the allotments. It was agreed that HAHA would be asked about what pesticides and other chemicals were (a) stored and (b) used at the allotments and what if any restrictions should be added to the agreement about these matters.
  • Accidents at the junction of the High Street and Church Street. This was a difficult matter to solves, given that Church Street provided access to an employment area which makes wight-limit enforcement difficult. Councillors Cole and Keats both agreed that WBC’s current view should not be regarded as the final word on the matter of making they dangerous junction safer and that HTC should continue to presser solutions, however long they took. The Mayor pointed out that the 30mph speed limit on the Common had been a protracted, though ultimately successful, campaign.
  • Broken paving stones. A site meeting with WBC had resulted in an agreement that dangerous paving sones would be filled with tarmac but that the long-term solution was a proper replacement with York stone (which was currently hard to source).

The town-centre strategy

As mentioned previously, the Town-centre Strategy (TCS) project was started in late 2022 and paused before the May 2023 elections. See this post for information on the progress so far.

Councillor James Cole gave the following report for the meeting:

“The process continues, as you have heard from the Mayor.

  • At the meeting of the TCS Steering Group (TCSSG) last week we agreed to keep moving on the two projects at the top of the list – some questions have been asked of WBC.
  • Councillor Fyfe has started on another on the list by requesting WBC to get its act together: this is the Cuttings where one can argue that there is no real justification for a separate project but the group is performing a useful service by prodding action. Thank you, Alistair.
  • However as far as the two main projects are concerned we are nowhere near a point where a proper press release could be produced.
  • There are published minutes on the WBC website (see here for the December 2023 ones) and there will be minutes published of this last meeting: however, we have been told by WBC that they can no longer afford to do the admin – another way will have to be found to do these.
  • We will look at adding a further person to the committee. The general view was that ideally it should not be a member of this council and ideally it should not be a commoner but it should be a resident of the High Street. We will see how that pans out. If you’re interested, please contact Cllr.james.cole@hungerford-tc.gov.uk.
  • Lastly I refer back to the Mayor’s comment: “It’s important to remember it’s the town’s residents who has determined the discussion points following over 800 consultation responses.” I brought this up at this last meeting and I would like to re-emphasise it now. We are attempting to make work what the town asked for.”

At the meeting, the Mayor and the Chair of the TCS Steering Group (TCSSG) stressed that the TCSSG was entirely reactive with regard to the matters it was considering, these having already been identified in the extensive consultation that took place during the first stage of the TCS project in 2022-23. The six which had received the most support (see list below) are the ones currently being considered.

The TCSSG would not be making decisions, only recommendations: although it has decided to drop the bottom four for the present, concentrate on the top two and press WBC for some answers in respect of these. There are no done deals involved in the process and the issues surrounding all of the ideas will be looked at carefully by the TCSSG.

Any recommendations which were made would be sent to HTC and other represented bodies like the Chamber of Commerce and the Town and Manor for consideration and these will be given publicity for people to comment before any decision is taken.

Even then, the problem of finance will need to be overcome. The chance of a bid being successful are greatly increased if it can be demonstrated that (a) the basic idea has popular support; and (b) serious work has since gone into looking at the details. Point (a) is what the original consultation has identified; point (b) is what the TCSSG is considering.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the TCSs for Hungerford, Thatcham and Newbury were WBC initiatives. Hungerford had to fight quite hard to ensure that it had a strong and effective voice in the future discussions. This included the TCSSG Chair being from the town and not, as was originally proposed, from WBC. This model has now been adopted for the two other TSGs.

All the projects should be regarded as long-term. In addition, any which ends up being adopted by WBC will then be funded by WBC and subject to WBC’s own consultation process. Any such projects will, however, come from the same pot of ideas already produced by the consultation.

The minutes of TCSSG meetings can be seen here. As mentioned above, any recommendations will be given wide publicity before anything is set in stone.

If you would like to communicate with the TCSSG, please email Cllr.james.cole@hungerford-tc.gov.uk.

As mentioned last month, the main points from the 2022-23 consultation that had been identified as the ones that local residents were most interested in are:

  1. The Town Hall, specifically the area immediately in front of it. Ideas included signage, parking and its possible use as a public space.
  2. The Canal, particularly the towpath to the east of the High Street bridge, where there is some serious work to be done. The aim of any improvement would be to encourage tourist boats to stop in the town.
  3. High Street facade improvements, with particular reference to certain shop fronts and perhaps also signage.
  4. Station Road and The Cuttings, a main entry-route into the town which could benefit from better lighting, pavements and vegetation-management.
  5. Parking, a matter that WBC was not keen to see as part of the discussion which is an aspect that no responsible town-centre strategy can ignore.
  6. Church Lane, improvements to which could include additional street lighting.

The Hungerford neighbourhood development plan (HNP)

There has been steady progress in January.

  • The Draft Plan is ready for Rule 14 Consultation, but we await the Strategic Environmental Assessment.
  • Had a Steering Group meeting on 24 January. The main item was to agreed how to progress the Rule 14 Consultation. The approach will involve wide consultation, (including online and through Library and Town Meetings) and a questionnaire asking open questions. Any comments welcome.
  • The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) scoping report produced by AECOM. We expect full report to be completed by 15 Feb. We met with AECOM on 1 Feb and they seemed positive about things.  Comments they have could be added at the end of Reg 14 assessment.
  • The schedule is similar to before. Several activities our out of our control which will mean that adoption in likely to be in 2025.
  • Key next actions are: complete the SEA; start Reg 14 formal consultation. It’s currently envisaged that this will last for six weeks from 16 February to 29 March 2024.

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

HTC’s asset register

This has recently been updated and the assets are now valued at c£1,768,000 as opposed to c£800,000. This is largely because when any work is done on assets (as HTC recently did with the Croft Field Centre and the Skate Park amongst others), the entire property is revalued to reflect it.

The register also includes, at a nominal rate, assets (such as salt bins) that were gifted to HTC. The RFO assured the meeting, however, that for insurance purposes these are valued and covered separately in a way related to their replacement value.

The Christmas lights

It was agreed at the meeting that replacement equipment would be required. Expenditure of c£2,200 was agreed.

Use of the Croft Field Activity Centre

This was discussed at the meeting and the Mayor said that booking were increasing but there was still spare capacity. At the meeting it was agreed that an RPI-based increase of 5% would apply here and for all other HTC hire charges in 2024-25. The Mayor added that, even so, the charges were “very reasonable.”

The centre consists of two redecorated halls, brand new showers and toilets, storage and cooking facilities. It is also now fully accessible for wheelchair use with ramps and a wider lighter corridor and foyer. There is a serving hatch for outside events which can be held on the field or under the gazebo. The field has gated access to the canal and electric hook-up. More information can be found here.

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

  • Highways and Transport. (Last meeting 22 January – click here to read the minutes.) Items covered included: update on actions from previous meetings; safety on High Street; Kerbo Charge EV charging gullies; SIDS and speeding; the changing places facility; rubbish bin removal; EV charge points; footpath, signage and highway works; and bollards.
  • Recreation, Amenities and War Memorials. (Last meeting 15 January – click here to read the minutes.) Items covered included: actions from the previous meeting; RoSPA report; risk assessments; skatepark improvements; the Youth Council; the war memorial; potholes at the Football Club; and health and safety checks.
  • Finance and General Purposes. (Last meeting 10 January – click here to read the minutes.) Items covered included: updates on actions from the previous meeting; committee budgets; a recommendation of a precept request of £364,585; the tennis courts lease; the local council risk system; and the leasehold of the Bridge Street war memorial garden.
  • Environment and Planning. (Last meeting 8 January – click here to see the minutes.) Items covered included: outcome of actions; seven planning applications (three no-objections, one objection, one support, one withdrawn and one previously considered); and WBC case officers’ reports.

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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