Thursday 19 May 2022

Scroll down for the latest on Boxford’s pub, forthcoming Sandleford comments, Hamstead Marshall’s gravel, local events and activities and news from your local councils.

This week’s news

• Newbury has a new Mayor – congratulations to Billy Drummond for his year in office and hats off and chain on for Gary Norman who now takes over. He’s a Spurs fan but you’d never know from talking to him that he wasn’t completely normal. Nigel Foot is his Deputy. Good luck to them both.

• There’s still a few more days to enjoy the magnificent music of the Newbury Spring Festival 2022. The festival has brought us everything from classical choirs and orchestras, to Bollywood brass, Gahanna drums, Irish folk, jazz, poetry, musicals, ballet, opera, quartets, duos, soloists, as well as interviews, workshops, community projects and so much more. The festival will draw to a close on Saturday 21 May. See more details here.

• West Berkshire Council has released a statement which starts “Our aspirations for the economic regeneration of the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE) in Newbury continues to move forward with an aim to respond to current and future economic drivers that supports the local economy.” The aspirations may have moved forward since the project was first conceived but, apart from an access road and the closure of the football ground, very little else has.

• Keep your eyes on the skies on Thursday 2 June for the spectacular military flyby in celebration of the Jubilee. Over 70 aircraft will be participating, including the Red Arrows, Spitfires and Hurricanes, taking off in the east of the country, flying over Buckingham Palace, London and then heading the South and West. If all goes according to plan, we should see the aircraft overhead roughly between 12:50pm and 1:30pm – so keep your eyes peeled. More information can be found here.

• Newbury Town Council have released exciting new details regarding the upcoming Family Day, on 12 June. The have lots of fun activities planned for little ones and big ones alike to enjoy. The full list of activities and more information about the event can be seen here.

• The new Phoenix Lacrosse Club at St Bart’s in Newbury has kicked off its outreach programme to overwhelming interest. Over the next 10 weeks, they will run 24 sessions at eight primary schools across West Berkshire and North Hampshire. With support from The Lacrosse Foundation, they have secured the coach and helpers, so all they need now are the sticks. Can you help? Each lacrosse stick it receives will give another child the chance to experience this fantastic sport. If you have one please email garry@vcwb.org.uk

• Did you know the Corn Exchange is running Newbury Town Walks, throughout July and August? These walking tours are suitable for all ages, with the aim of teaching the rich and colourful history of our town and its inhabitants. Some tours focus on particular areas of history, such as local architecture or the town during wartime. Click here for information regarding dates and times.

• Congratulations to The Hartley Arms in Donnington, which has been named Berkshire’s winner of the National Pub and Bar Awards 2022 in recognition of high quality service, great food and welcoming interior. Honesty Group, the owners, pride themselves on their commitment to running a sustainable business and supporting local producers. All the ingredients and drinks at The Hartley Arms are locally sourced and all of the pub’s food waste is recycled into biofuel via a Newbury-based waste management company Environmental Solutions. We wish The Hartley Arms the best of luck as the they now go on to represent Berkshire at the National Pub & Bar South East Regional Awards in June.

•  101 Outdoors Arts are looking for volunteers to help with the epic Dominoes display, coming to Newbury, Saturday 25 June. The event will see 4500 Dominoes will wind their way through the town centre before the spectacular Domino fall at 3pm. If you would like to volunteer, sign-up today by emailing: hello@101outdoorarts.com

• West Berkshire Council would like to hear from local independent businesses with strong environmental values who are offering green activities or events throughout summer (July- Sept) for residents to enjoy. Please click here to apply to be included in the digital Summer Magazine. The deadline for applications is 5pm on 27 May 2022.

• Women from all walks of life across the county are invited to join West Berkshire Council’s Women in Politics webinar on Wednesday 1 June to find out how to get involved in local decision-making panels or becoming a Councillor. WBC also would like to invite any and all local residents interested in what happens behind the scenes at the Council or how decisions are made, to join them for this event. Details can be found on the council website.

• A proposal to develop a new grass playing pitch at Manor Park Recreation Ground, Stoney Lane, Newbury is out for public consultation. The deadline to have your say is Sunday 12 June.

• A brand new book-a-ride Handybus is fully-accessible and provides an opportunity to those who are unable to use public transport to access local town centres for shopping, attend appointments and meet friends. If you want to use this service or volunteer as a driver, please contact Newbury and Thatcham Handybus directly on: 01635 37111 between the hours of 9am to 1pm, Monday to Friday, or email: handybus@vcwb.org.uk. You can also read more about it on the council’s website.

• If you would like to host Ukrainian refugees, please contact 01635 503579 or ukraine@westberks.gov.uk or visit this page to find out more information. Another way you can help is by making a donation here. Please also join the Newbury Ukraine Support facebook group.

Chieveley Parish Council held its annual meeting on 12 April and you can click here to read the opening statement from CPC’s Chair Mike Belcher. One item was the making Nicky Ager, Sarah Hutchison and Helen Singleton forewomen of the parish in recognition of their work in supporting the community during the pandemic.

• The latest edition of the Hamstead Hornet, which covers life in the village of Hamstead Marshall, can be seen here.

All not well at The Bell

We’ve written several times in the last few weeks (see below) about the application to rebuild The Bell at Boxford which was rejected by WBC’s planners last month. The existing pub is still standing but empty and derelict. Pubs are closing all over the country but here we have someone prepared to sink quite a lot of money into re-opening one. The reasons for the rejection have not convinced the parish council, many residents nor the ward members and questions are being asked about how the decision was arrived at.

As mentioned before, there were two grounds for the refusal: the risk of nutrient pollution into the SSSI- and SAC-protected river Lambourn; and the risk of surface-water flooding. A member of WBC’s planning team provided some responses to questions raised on these points and these were read out at the recent meeting of Boxford Parish Council.

Regarding the surface-water issues, four matters were raised, all of which amounted to a request for more detailed and worst-case modelling. How reasonable these are I’m not qualified to judge, nor whether they were sufficient grounds for refusal. There were also suggestions as to how some of the matters could be dealt with, which seems to anticipate a second application. An issue which wasn’t covered in this, however, but which Boxford PC has claimed, is that the surface-water flooding in the area is largely a result of defective highway drainage arrangements, for which WBC is responsible.

Regarding the nutrient neutrality, new government regulations were introduced in March 2022 but have yet to be enshrined as part of WBC’s planning policy. Nor has the dedicated officer been appointed (funds are available from DeFRA for this) to help understand and interpret the new regulations. I have seen a draft letter from Boxford PC to WBC which asserts that “there is [no] policy consistent with planning powers” so the decision needs to made following “advice given by Natural England as no other policy exists.”

This advice included a flowchart which asks, as its very first question, whether the development would increase overnight stays: if the answer is “no” then the regulations (in the absence of anything to the contrary in the local plan in question) do not apply. As by no contortion of arithmetics can a property with six guest rooms being converted to a property with none constitute an increase in overnight stays, the application should surely not have failed on those grounds.

Here we run into two even more surprising comments. Firstly, the officer’s interpretation of the application was that it would retain the two guest bedrooms – there are in fact currently six, as the application clearly states, but it makes no mention that I’ve seen of two being kept (or, rather, added to the new design). Even so, two is still less than six.

Secondly, the officer infers that the application is “intended to increase patronage and make the place more popular…which suggests to me that there will be more people and hence more trips to the restroom.” This seems not only irrelevant given the overnight stays test but also slightly meaningless. Any such development is hardly designed to make a place less popular. In any case, more popular than when? Than at present? That would not be hard, for the pub is closed. Or more popular than at some time in the past, when it was open? If so, which date period is this being compared to? The document demanded several proofs based on worst-case events for the groundwater flooding but doesn’t seem to think this is relevant for this particular comparison.

The pub could technically be re-opened tomorrow with guests flushing toilets every five minutes if they were so moved. This would hardly satisfy the spirit of the new regulations. As mentioned previously, consideration of the application was delayed at WBC by the pressure of other work. These regulations were introduced during this hiatus. More time and more expert advice – and incorporation into planning policy – should have enabled the details of the new regulations to have been fully understood. The conclusion of the applicant and of Boxford PC is that they haven’t been: indeed, they could be forgiven for thinking that whoever made the decision hadn’t even understood the application. I’ve been told that WBC will be having a meeting in the very near future involving local environmental experts in order to better to understand the new directives which, if true, shows that they don’t understand them now. Fair enough – this was unexpected and the issues are complex and technical. It seems a pity that decisions are being made before these have all been fully appreciated.

The nutrient problem – by which phosphates and nitrates caused by excrement can leach into the river – is, of course, only really an issue because of the deficiencies in the sewerage system (and because of the number of properties served only by septic tanks which do not remove phosphates). If this worked as it should then the sewage wouldn’t end up anywhere near the aquifer and the river which it feeds. True, there would still be run-off from agriculture but that’s a separate issue and not one the applicant, or perhaps even WBC, can control. DeFRA has allocated £100,000 for affected authorities to spend on a dedicated officer. At the very least, this cost should be borne by the water companies as it is because of the weaknesses of their networks that regulations affecting planning needed to be introduced at all. As it is, the taxpayer is picking up the bill.

Meanwhile, the upshot is that Boxford won’t have a new pub – nor the associated societal benefits and employment opportunities – any time soon. This would seem to be contrary to various WBC policies that are in actually in place. As matters stand, the site is un-developable, having failed as both a conversion to housing and as renovation to a pub. The applicant may well be considering what options are open to them to redress this.

Gravel hassle

Hamstead Marshall Parish Council held a meeting on 19 May, one of the main items being further discussion about the proposed re-opening of Craven Quarry. We covered this issue in the 14 April 2022 column (see below). Elsie Kinderman, WBC’s Team Leader for Minerals and Waste Development and Regulation Service, was at the meeting to answer questions.

The statement from HMPC in the agenda reads as follows: “Hamstead Marshall Parish Council strongly objects to the extraction of gravel operations at Craven Keep Quarry; formal request to West Berkshire Council for the permanent de-listing of the licence from the Minerals and Waste Development Local Plan on the grounds that any extraction operations and transportation of gravel is injurious to the well-being of lives for the people of Hamstead Marshall; further, such operations undermines local wildlife habitats, biodiversity, and the community’s rural environment.”

As reported on 12 April (see below), West Berkshire Council’s Minerals Evidence Paper in November 2020 notes that Craven Keep has “reserves of 55,000 tonnes, with two years remaining for extraction.” We estimated that the move all of this in 20-tonne trucks would require about 2,750 journeys, about five or six a day over two years. I understand that a further issue has since emerged, for it appears that a licence for a different kind of extraction in addition to this may also be available to the applicant. We’ll know more after the meeting and will aim to provide more information next week.

A handle on Sandleford

We’ve written quite a bit about this (see below) since the `Secretary of State’s decision on the Sandleford appeal was announced a couple of weeks ago. There’s also been a lot of comment in other media outlets, including the letters pages (five pages this week) of the NWN.

I’m not going to add anything to this for now except to say that everyone probably agrees that something will now happen there: the question is what, exactly where and when. Over the next week or so we shall be asking all those who contributed comments before to do so again: it may be that some of those will, now everyone’s had a chance to reflect, differ slightly from what was said in some cases within hours of the decision. We’ll gather these into a separate post and publish the link when done.

We also invite comments from anyone else. You can contact me on brian@pennypost.org.uk as soon as you want: alternatively, you can wait and see what others have said and respond to that.

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Community notices

• Throughout May and June, the first Educafé Wellbeing Festival is organising free or low-cost yoga, nature walk, bellydancing, pilates and gardening in Thatcham, Newbury, Highclere and Bucklebury. Click here for the full schedule.

• Action for River Kennet is currently seeking volunteers over the next few weeks as part of the Love the Lambourn project that cleans up the River Lambourn around the area of the Riverside Community Centre. The dates and more information can be found here.

• Did you know you can raise concerns with Newbury Town Council at a Saturday Surgery between 10 am and 12 noon any week at the steps of the Town Hall?

• The Fair Close Centre on Newtown Road in Newbury provides a vital social hub and meals on wheels for over 65s, many of whom live on their own. Please support them here. Goodness knows we might all need their services in years to come.

•  Newbury Library offers free IT support sessions eg filling out online forms, how to Zoom, downloading e-magazines or sorting out pictures. Bookable 30 or 60 min sessions. To find out more or book a slot, email rav.gopal@westberks.gov.uk.

• There is still plenty of time to plan your entry for Newbury in Bloom 2022  which will take place the week commencing 18 July. Competition guidelines can be seen here.

Local events and activities

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

• Dates for the diary

• See here for information and events in Parkway, Newbury.

On now Newbury Spring Festival 2022 various musical events all over Newbury. Until 21 May.

On now Educafé Wellbeing Festival until 26 June.

Sat 28 & Sun 29 May The Highclere Show

Weds 1 June Woman in Politics Webinar hosted by West Berks Council, 7pm.

Thurs 2 June Beacon Lighting Event for the Jubilee, Victoria Park, event starts at 7:30pm, lighting and 9:30pm.

Sun 12 June Family Day at Victoria Park in celebration of Newbury Council’s 25th Anniversary.

• Regular events

Open Mic Night at The Newbury Pub every Thursday evening with the Newbury Social Club.

• Newbury Park Run at Greenham Common at 9am every Saturday morning. All welcome to run/walk/jog the 5km. See details here.

• ACE Space on St Nicholas Road hosts live acoustic performances. Join their Facebook group or follow them on Twitter.

• Newbury Community Larder every Tuesday 2pm to 4pm at the Waterside Centre (down the canal from Costa Coffee on Northbrook Street).  For more details please contact waterside@berkshireyouth.co.uk or call 01635 018500.

• Educafé’s weekly Community Cafe is runs 11am – 2pm at Newbury Library. All are welcome to enjoy free refreshments, arts and crafts, knitting table, chatty corners, dominos, seated yoga and more.

Speen Community Café at The Starting Gate in Speen on Wednesdays 2pm to 4pm. Drop in for a chat or a cuppa, knitting and craft activities. You don’t have to live in Speen to join in (Penny goes quite regularly and enjoys playing crib). Follow them on facebook here.

• The Club Quiz nights every second Wednesday of the month at The Club Bar and Bistro. Registration from 6.30pm and quizzes starting at 7.30pm. See more here.

• Berkshire Youth‘s Waterside Centre in Newbury hosts various clubs and activities for local children and can provide volunteering opportunities for adults too.

 The Base, Greenham organise many artistic-focused events for people of all ages to let their creative sides go wild.

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 Newbury Town Council took place on 18 October and you can download the minutes here. (Note that the Council delegates much of its work to committees. Click here for more on these.) To see the dates of future Town Council meetings (including any committees), please click here. To see the agendas, please click here.

• The most recent meeting of Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council took place on 20 April and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the results of Joely Rice’s survey about the possible future uses for the old school (see also separate sections from earlier weeks below); financial matters; a report from one of the two ward members, Steve Masters; planning matters; the annual parish meeting (4 May); the Owen Road Field wildflower meadow consultation; the jubilee; the proposed Eling Way Sustrans cycle route; dog waste; and graffiti. To see the dates and agendas for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here.

• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council took place on 12 April and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: planning matters; financial matters; the Middle Farm Close woodland; Marsh Pond; speeding; a damaged wall; trees; potholes; thanks for Curridge School for a grants of £500 and £1,000; and The Pathfinder newsletter. To see the dates of future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here to download the meeting schedule. To see the agendas, please click here.

• The most recent meeting of Enborne Parish Council took place on 14 March and you can read the minutes here. To see the dates and agendas for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here.

• The most recent meeting of Greenham Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can read the minutes here. To see the dates and agendas for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here.

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

• The most recent meeting of Boxford Parish Council took place on 17 January and you can read the minutes here. To see the dates and agendas for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here.

• The most recent meeting of Hamstead Marshall Parish Council took place on 20 January and you can read the minutes here.  To see the dates of future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here. To see the agendas, please click here.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village. This also publishes the quarterly Hamstead Hornet.

• Newbury area council contacts

Parishes: Newbury Town CouncilGreenham Parish CouncilChieveley Parish CouncilEnborne Parish CouncilBoxford Parish CouncilSpeen Parish Council,  Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council, and Hamstead Marshall 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 ValleyThatcham area; Compton and DownlandsTheale area; Wantage area; Marlborough area; Swindon area.

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

Archive

To see earlier Newbury & Surrounding Area Weekly News columns please click here.

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