Thursday 13 May 2021

• Click here for the April/May 2021 update from Martin Colston, the Leader of Newbury Town Council. This includes the new date for the Climate Conference (15 May), the community café in Victoria Park, the founding of the Friends of Speen Moor group and changes resulting from the reversion to in-person council meetings from 7 May.

• We’ve referred to the proposed Kennet Centre re-development (to be known as Eagle Quarter) several times. Outline plans have recently been submitted. Last week, the Dr David Peacock of the Newbury Society had some comments which can be seen in full here: this also includes some artist’s impressions and a link to the application on WBC’s website. As mentioned, two questions which have come up, and which remain, and which will doubtless be being considered by WBC’s planning officers, concern the number of homes for an affordable rent and the number of parking spaces.

As is to be expected, opinions are also sharply divided on the aesthetics of the proposals. There is, for instance, a letter in this week’s NWN under the heading “Speak out to protect our market town.” I’m not sure I agree with some of the assumptions (the Kennet Centre basin poor shape even before Parkway, for example) including the implied one that solutions of the future can be found in a return to the past. My personalnissue is that, the above concerns aside, the plans have much to recommend them. Others disagree.

Click here for more information on the renovation works taking place at the Waterside Community Centre which is now owned equally by WBC and Berkshire Youth.

• There are still a number of outstanding questions about the ReadiBus situation (see previous weeks’ sections below) but I shall park these for a moment and concentrate instead on what replacement services are available. This has been prompted by my having been contacted by seven users of the service, all of whom are adamant that (were it to cease altogether) no services currently offered by or on behalf of WBC come close to meeting the needs in the way ReadiBus did. I raised this with WBC’s leader Lynne Doherty who told me that there were 14 community transport groups providing services in the district and directed me to this page (which in turn links to this one). The second of these does indeed list 14 providers (ReadiBus being one): however, aside from the one operated by the Cancer Trust, all of these cover only a small part of West Berkshire so, for any one address, there might be only one or two available. She went on to say that “conversations have taken place [with these groups] that give us confidence that they are able to offer a replacement [service].” Furthermore, these groups aim “to provide a service where there is a particular need and that they will adapt and change to work with the needs of the community.” So, if – as all seven of the people who’ve contacted me have made clear – these organisations do not currently offer the service you used to receive, ask if they are prepared to adapt and change.

• Lynne Doherty also said that any comments, suggestions or feedback should be sent to WBC’s Transport Services Team. You can write to them at Council Offices, Market Street, Newbury, RG14 5LD, email Transport@westberks.gov.uk or call 01635 519394.

• The proposed lease terms for the football ground to be relocated at the Rugby Club were discussed and agreed at WBC’s council meeting on 29 April and it’s expected that the key aspects of these will be publicised within the next month.

• The inquiry into the Sandleford development (the matter has been called in by the Secretary of state following an appeal by one of the developers against West Berkshire Council’s decision to refuse its application) will be streamed live on YouTube. This started on 5 May and is expected to last for most of the rest of the month. I have gathered together some of the reactions to WBC’s Planning Department’s refusal, which you can read here.

Click here for details of Covid lateral flow tests, which are available at four sites across the district (Hungerford, Newbury, Thatcham and Burghfield), and home-testing kits.

• The Newbury in Bloom 2021 campaign is now under way – more details here.

• A team of volunteers led by Newbury Town Council has planted a commemorative garden at Old Hospital Green, Andover Road. Herbs, shrubs and plants, widely known for their medicinal qualities, were planted and the garden is dedicated to the NHS. Read more here.

• I learned this week that a blue plaque is to be unveiled in Newbury commemorating former resident Constable Albert Alexander who was, in March 1941, the first person to be treated with Penicillin. The plaque will be located at the entrance of Carnarvon Place, Andover Road, and will be unveiled at 11am on Tuesday 25 May by the Mayor of Newbury, Billy Drummond.

• Newbury Town Council is inviting local residents take part in a Public Consultation regarding improvements to the Wash Common Recreation Ground and Open Space. The Town Council already provide a number of recreation facilities on the site and would like your views on how the area could be improved. Click here for more information. Closing date is Sunday 6 June.

• The Lib Dem’s candidate Stuart Gourley came out at the top of the heap at the Clay Hill by election last week, winning the vacant seat on Newbury Town Council by 49 votes. The Lib Dems now have 19 of the 23 seats on Newbury Town Council, with two Conservatives, one Green and one Independent (but former Lib Dem, who needed to resign the whip as she had accepted a job which required political neutrality).

• Newbury Town Council’s  third Climate Change Workshop will take place on Saturday 15 May at 2.30 via Zoom. You can get more information and register your interest here.

• See p4 of the this week’s Newbury Weekly News for the latest on the Speen Moors permissive pathway and the Friends group which has recently vbeen set up to keep this open to the public.

• The most recent meeting (also the annual meeting) of Newbury Town Council took place on 4 May and you can download the minutes here. Items covered included: the election of a new Mayor (Billy Drummond); the choice of Speakability as his chosen charity; the election of the deputy mayor (Gary Norman); the re-election of Martin Colston and Sarah Slack as Leader and Deputy Leader; the Saturday Councillors’ surgeries; and the approval of committees and their memberships for 2021-22. Note that the Council delegates much of its work to committees. Click here for more on these.

• The most recent meeting of Boxford Parish Council (also the Annual General Meeting) took place on 4 May and you can read the draft minutes here. Items covered included: the internal audit; the 2020/21 accounts; the parish’s asset register; dog fouling; the local footpaths; the parish plan; the conservation area appraisals; the proposed Covid-19 memorial bench at the Downland Practice; parish communications; and four planning applications. There was also an extraordinary meeting on 6 April to consider proposed changes to the settlement boundary, the minutes of which you can read here.

• The most recent meeting of Greenham Parish Council took place on 14 April and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the Control Tower; the search for allotment land; the Sandleford appeal case; financial matters; one planning application; the settlement boundary review; the Community Engagement Working Group; engagement with residents at the Racecourse; and the GPC environment project.

• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council took place on 13 April and you can read the minutes here. items covered included: planning applications; financial matters; speeding; Volunteer Chieveley; dog-waste bins; the protection of the AONB; recognition of the PC’s work during the pandemic from WBC and the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum; and Randall Farm.

• The most recent meeting of Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council took place on 21 April and you can read the minutes here.

• You can see the minutes of the Shaw-cum-Donnington annual parish assembly, which took place on 5 May, here. There were a number of reports from local councillors and others, including on the subject of planning, local charities, footpaths and rights of way, speeding and dogs.

• The most recent meeting of Speen Parish Councillor which minutes are available took place on 22 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: speeding; sewage; rights of way; financial matters; bollards at Kingsley Close; two planning applications; events at Donnington castle; the development north of Love Lane; local footpaths; and weeds at the allotments.

• The most recent meeting of Enborne Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village. It also produces the quarterly Hamstead Hornet the most recent edition of which has just been published and which you can see here.

Newbury area council news

Parishes: click here for Newbury Town CouncilGreenham Parish CouncilChieveley Parish CouncilEnborne Parish CouncilBoxford Parish Council, Speen 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 Valley; Marlborough area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Theale area; Wantage area; Swindon area.

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

Thursday 6 May 2021

• Click here for the April/May 2021 update from Martin Colston, the Leader of Newbury Town Council. This includes the new date for the Climate Conference (15 May), the community café in Victoria Park, the founding of the Friends of Speen Moor group and changes resulting from the reversion to in-person council meetings from 7 May.

• We’ve referred to the proposed Kennet Centre re-development (to be known as Eagle Quarter) several times. Outline plans have recently been submitted. Last week, the Dr David Peacock of the Newbury Society had some comments which can be seen in full here: this also includes some artist’s impressions and a link to the application on WBC’s website.

• One of Dr Peacock’s concerns was the lack of affordable housing. A spokesman for the owners, Lochailort, told Penny Post last week that West Berkshire Council “doesn’t currently have a Local Plan policy for build-to-rent developments.” I contacted WBC and was told that it did. As this is a brownfield site, 30% of the homes (about 120) need to be affordable. This policy is often more honoured in the breach than the observance and will doubtless be a matter for discussion with WBC’s officers over the coming months.

• Dr Peacock was also concerned about the lack of parking, about one in five of the new properties having dedicated spaces. I put this to Lochailort. “Currently there are well over 2,000 public car parking spaces in Newbury town centre,” I was told. “Much of Newbury’s retail can now be found at out-of-town retail parks. We simply do not believe that there will be the same level of parking demand for general town centre uses but rather, a more flexible use of car parking is appropriate. This was the strategy agreed across the road for the Market Street development and its new multi-storey car park, where around half its spaces can flexibly be used and half are reserved. The same approach is appropriate here.” I then asked how many of the car parking spaces would have EV charging points: currently “a dozen” are envisaged. This doesn’t seem like enough to me given the projected increase in EV usage. This is a matter that can easily be remedied.

• The development as a whole received a stinging rebuke in the letters page of this week’s NWN. The author is a local architect and so his objections may be predicated on technicalities or preoccupations which I’m unable to appreciate. The plans to me seem interesting and bold and certainly a vast improvement on what’s there now (though, as Dr Peacock warned last week, that isn’t a reason for approving the first alternative that comes along). Another letter in the same paper referred to “towering mills, warehouses and factories” which suggests to me that the writer and I are not looking at the same drawings.

• See pp4-5 of this week’s NWN for an article and several photos of the renovation works taking place at the Waterside Community Centre which is now owned equally by WBC and Berkshire Youth. David Seward told Penny Post that the repair works have been considerably more than predicted because of poor maintenance over the last couple of decades, with many wooden parts of the structure having almost rotted away. WBC’s main interest in the building for some time before then was as a site for a possible re-development involving housing. So far Berkshire Youth has provided all the sums needed for the project although it hopes that WBC will make a contribution, about another £250,000 still being needed to complete the project. Mr Seward stressed that he was keen to ensure that the centre, and the organisation, would be able to help support youth projects of all kinds throughout the district. Any parish councils or other organisations should therefore get in touch with BY. Click here for more information.

• The ReadiBus issue (see last week’s column, and the week before’s, below) is still a problem, mainly for those who have been relying on the service. Three things still confuse me (I have emailed these to the portfolio holder three times but received no response). First, why is the so-called gagging clause being described by WBC as mere question of advance notification of any statement when it in fact would give the council a veto of it? Second, why did no consultation take place about the proposed changes to the funding and thus the cuts to the services that inevitably followed? (The reason given by WBC was that many of Readibus’ customers had learning difficulties and so wouldn’t understand the issues. Even if this is true (which Readibus has denied) this is a very alarming precedent.) Third, what about the users? WBC has pointed out that other services are available. That’s true, but they are not in any way like-for-like replacements. Four ReadiBus customers (all have mobility difficulties: none have learning difficulties) have contacted Penny Post in the last few days and have confirmed that the other options are excellent in their way but do not meet their needs.

As it’s clear that the changes will result in a worse service being provided, one’s left wondering why this has all happened. Saving money is one possible reason; another is some clash of politics or personality which has broken the relationship. If it’s the former, how much is being saved? If the latter, how has this come about and what can be done to repair it? There must be a reason which makes sense to someone. A lot of people are currently stuck at home waiting for this to get sorted out.

• The proposed lease terms for the football ground to be relocated at the Rugby Club were discussed and agreed at WBC’s council meeting on 29 April. The next stage will to be to get a planning application in, hopefully by early June. The plan’s timetable predicts that the first ball being kicked there in March 2022.

• The inquiry into the Sandleford development (the matter has been called in by the Secretary of state following an appeal by one of the developers against West Berkshire Council’s decision to refuse its application) will be streamed live on YouTube. This started on 5 May and is expected to last for most of the rest of the month. I have gathered together some of the reactions to WBC’s Planning Department’s refusal, which you can read here.

Click here for details of Covid lateral flow tests, which are available at four sites across the district (Hungerford, Newbury, Thatcham and Burghfield), and home-testing kits.

• The Newbury in Bloom 2021 campaign is now under way – more details here.

• Concerned about human rights and gender equality? Soroptimist International is the largest women’s service organisation in the world and works with the UN to improve the lives of women and girls across the globe. The Newbury Soroptimist group supports women in the community and welcomes new members.

• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Newbury.

• Newbury Town Council is inviting local residents take part in a Public Consultation regarding improvements to the Wash Common Recreation Ground and Open Space. The Town Council already provide a number of recreation facilities on the site and would like your views on how the area could be improved. Click here for more information. Closing date is Sunday 6 June.

• Newbury Town Council’s  third Climate Change Workshop will take place on Saturday 15 May at 2.30 via Zoom. This was postponed as the original date clashed with Prince Philip’s funeral. You can get more information and register your interest here.

• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council took place on 17 February and you can read the draft minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Newbury Town Council for which minutes are available took place on 1 February and you can read the minutes here. That this was quite some time ago doesn’t seem to be due to indolence as might appear as the Council delegates much of its work to committees. Click here for more on these.

• The most recent meeting of Greenham Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 10 March and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Enborne Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Boxford Parish Council took place on 2 March and you can read the minutes here. There was also an extraordinary meeting on 6 April to consider proposed changes to the settlement boundary, the minutes of which you can read here.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village. It also produces the quarterly Hamstead Hornet the most recent edition of which has just been published and which you can see here.

Thursday 29 April 2021

• Click here for the April/May 2021 update from Martin Colston, the Leader of Newbury Town Council. This includes the new date for the Climate Conference (15 May), the community café in Victoria Park, the founding of the Friends of peen Moor group and changes resulting from the reversion to in-person council meetings from 7 May.

• The proposed Kennet Centre re-development (that’s too mild a terms for it: pretty much the whole thing will go) made p1 of the Newbury Weekly News this week. The article covered the comments made by Dr David Peacock of the Newbury Society who expressed reservations regarding the height of the structure (a point also made by Newbury Town Council earlier this year), the shortage of car-parking spaces and the lack of affordable homes. The Newbury Society’s comments can be seen in full here: this also includes some artist’s impressions and a link to the application on WBC’s website.

I contacted Hugo Haig at Lochailort, the owners of the centre. Regarding the height, he told me that “the proposed development has one carefully configured element that goes up to 11 storeys in a specific location. We strongly believe that there is no harm caused as a result of this higher element. In fact to the contrary, it helps by forming a sense of place and wayfinding through the Town Centre and creates the identity that the existing shopping centre has failed to provide.” On the subject of affordable homes, the apartments will, he said, “all be for rent”, a point Dr Peacock was aware of,: it seems that WBC has no policy in its local plan for build-to-rent developments and so there is no obligation to provide any. Concerning the parking, he said that overall the scheme will have nearly 600 spaces spread across three locations (though I’m not clear how many will be reserved for residents). He added that “given the site’s highly sustainable location we will have more than sufficient car parking for our needs. But just in case, we are also going to provide a four-car car club to work along the existing one in the Market Street car park, electric vehicle charging points, some 600 covered and secure bicycle spaces and a host of sustainable transport measures.”

Dr Peacock is also quoted in the NWN as saying that the Newbury Society doesn’t have, “like a lot of people, a lot of love for the existing centre.” Do they really? I’m struggling to think of any emotion the building engenders, from the inside or the outside, other than deep depression. (Note: David Peacock has since contacted me to point out that he’d told the paper that no one has a lot of love for the Kennet Centre, and that includes the Newbury Society. The way the quote was phrased left it open to two interpretations and I picked the wrong one.)

• The ReadiBus issue (see last week’s column) is still with us. I mentioned then about what appears to be the fundamental matter, that of the “gagging clause” which ReadiBus wanted to have struck out of the agreement. It would appear that if the clause was what WBC’s recent statement said it was (merely a request for first sight of any release), and it it were reciprocal, then ReadiBus would have no problem with it. (The easiest way of dealing with this would be to remove the clause.) This is not, however, what the clause says: this specifies that RB “shall not make any press announcement…except with the prior written consent of the Council.” Nor is there any reciprocal obligation on WBC to check its own statements with ReadiBus. Any contact which proposes a gagging clause – which, given its one-way nature, is what it is – assumes a low level of trust by the party that needs to approve the statement in its partner. I still find it hard to understand how matters have deteriorated so badly.

So do users of the service. One contacted Penny Post this week. They had been using ReadiBus for over three years more or less every week to get to and from Newbury. The service was, they told me, regular, reliable and well operated, took them to where they needed to go and allowed enough time to be spent in town. They had since investigated the other available services and established that these failed to meet their needs. ReadiBus has always maintained, and this conversation has confirmed, that the other services are complementary to, not a replacement for, ReadiBus’, and indeed each other. WBC’s own statement merely said that “there were community transport groups that continue to operate in the area”: this is true but it’s increasingly clear that the overall level of service has been diminished. If any other users of these services have any views on this, please email brian@pennypost.org.uk.

Perhaps inevitably, this has now been turned into a political football. WBC’s statement was couched in such terms, many of its remarks being swipes at the opposition Lib Dems. This party’s spokesman for adult social care, Alan Macro retorted with a letter in this week’s NWN referring to the gagging clause and the problem of the payments which are being withheld until the contractual matters are sorted. This seems to be an issue which has more to do with legal issues than political ones. This made me wonder if ReadiBus had any political affiliations and put this question to them. I was assured that it did not. Let’s hope this can be sorted out so that all the residents who need this service (or one that exactly replaces it) can continue to receive it.

• And speaking of politics, and of football, the proposed plans for the football ground to be relocated at the Rugby Club will be discussed at WBC’s council meeting on 29 April and are expected to be approved. The clock is ticking loudly as the plan has a timetable (that could be called challenging, ambitious or optimistic depending on your point of view) of reaching fruition by March 2022. As mentioned before, I have received two statements on the subjects reflecting the different proposals for this and have put them alongside each other in this post. Feel free to comment if you wish to, using the box that is to be found at the foot of this and every other post.

• The inquiry into the Sandleford development (the matter has been called in by the Secretary of state following an appeal by one of the developers against West Berkshire Council’s decision to refuse its application) will be streamed live on YouTube. This will start on 5 May and is expected to last for most of the rest of the month. I have gathered together some of the reactions to WBC’s Planning Department’s refusal, which you can read here.

• The Newbury in Bloom 2021 campaign is now under way – more details here.

• Concerned about human rights and gender equality? Soroptimist International is the largest women’s service organisation in the world and works with the UN to improve the lives of women and girls across the globe. The Newbury Soroptimist group supports women in the community and welcomes new members.

• Good to hear a Newbury retail success story – Penny talks to Caroline Dallas from Luna Boutiques about surviving lockdown and exciting times ahead moving into the flagship Parkway store (opposite MacDonald’s on Northbrook Street, where Jigsaw was).

• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Newbury.

• Newbury Town Council is inviting local residents take part in a Public Consultation regarding improvements to the Wash Common Recreation Ground and Open Space. The Town Council already provide a number of recreation facilities on the site and would like your views on how the area could be improved. Click here for more information. Closing date is Sunday 6 June.

• Newbury Town Council’s  third Climate Change Workshop will take place on Saturday 15 May at 2.30 via Zoom. This was postponed as the original date clashed with Prince Philip’s funeral. You can get more information and register your interest here.

• A reminder that Newbury (or a part of it) goes to the polls in a by-election on 6 May. This will be to fill a seat for the Newbury Town Council Clay Hill ward which is vacant after the previous councillor was stood down for not having attended a sufficient number of meetings. More information can be found here.

• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council took place on 17 February and you can read the draft minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Newbury Town Council for which minutes are available took place on 1 February and you can read the minutes here. That this was quite some time ago doesn’t seem to be due to indolence as might appear as the Council delegates much of its work to committees. Click here for more on these.

• The most recent meeting of Greenham Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 10 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the Newbury Racecourse Christmas Carnival; Greenham Partners; financial matters; the wildlife garden project; several planning applications; proposed names for new roads; parish-council road signs;  local environmental projects; the allotments; the proposal to have a football ground at the Rugby Club; and local footpaths.

• The most recent meeting of Enborne Parish Council took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Boxford Parish Council took place on 2 March and you can read the minutes here. There was also an extraordinary meeting on 6 April to consider proposed changes to the settlement boundary, the minutes of which you can read here.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village. It also produces the quarterly Hamstead Hornet the most recent edition of which has just been published and which you can see here.

Thursday 22 April 2021

• Official news from councils in this area is currently thin as we are in a period of pre-election purdah (see here for more) until after the polling stations close on 6 May when there restrictions on what can be announced.

• Click here for the March/April 2021 update from Martin Colston, the Leader of Newbury Town Council. This includes more on various consultations (see below), the forthcoming climate change workshop (see also below) and the latest on the café at Victoria Park.

• The question of the termination of the ReadiBus (RB) service in the Newbury and Thatcham area (see last the 8-15 April column) still rumbles on, mainly because the two positions on the matter (WBC’s and RB’s) seem not to agree on significant points. Three issues seem particularly important.

The first is about consultation. RB (and the Lib Dem group) have said that there was no consultation on this. WBC’s latest statement says that “all Community Transport Operators were consulted on the proposed funding remodelling resulting from reduced government grant funding.” Leaving aside the implication that the funding cut was made by the government (it wasn’t), what’s being described isn’t a consultation but a commercial discussion. Any rational person would take “consultation” to mean a wider engagement with users of a service or the whole community. It also seems that WBC decided not to consult with RB users as a large number of them had learning difficulties and so might not understand the questions. Aside from RB’s emphatic rebuttal of this, I’m not sure that it’s part of district council’s job to pre-decide such reactions. It might as well argue that it need not consult with a particular group on the grounds that these people might disagree with the proposals.

Then there’s the so-called “gagging clause.” The WBC statement says that it’s nothing of the kind, merely a way of ensuring that “the Council is aware of any statement proposed.” If so, WBC must be looking at a different version of the contract from the one I’ve seen. This clearly states that RB “shall not make any press announcement…except with the prior written consent of the Council,” which is not the same thing at all. No such reciprocal obligation is placed on WBC. This seems to be the major sticking point as, without it being amended, RB will not sign the agreement. If the contract says what WBC’s statement asserts (and if it were reciprocal) then I doubt there would be any problem and might be a way of re-booting a relationship which has existed to the benefit of many local residents for about 25 years.

Finally, there’s the question of to what extent the other available services replace RB’s. WBC says that “Community transport groups continuing to operate in Newbury and Thatcham will include…” and lists these (see this post) but makes no claim as to whether they offer the same service/s. RB says that they do not: these are, it says, “valuable but meet different needs.” It’s easy to forget in all this debate about the wording of clauses and the nature of consultations that the real losers are residents who relied on a service which, for reasons that they must find hard to understand, has been withdrawn. Change is often unwelcome and it may be that these people will find that that some of these other services do meet their needs. It’s been suggested, though, that some of these don’t cover certain areas or are not sufficiently accessible. I would welcome hearing from any previous RB users who, having examined the alternatives, still feel short-changed. It may also be that this is a financial decision pure and simple. If so, surely it’s first necessary to work out how many people would be worse off. If it’s a fairly small number and the savings are considerable, the case for cutting it might make a bit more sense and ways could then be found of mitigating the problems that remained. However at present, the two sides seem not to be able to agree on the extent of this problem, or even if there’s a problem at all.

• As mentioned before, I recently received two statements on the subjects reflecting the different proposals for the next step at the football ground and have put them alongside each other in this post. Feel free to comment if you wish to, using the box that is to be found at the foot of this and every other post.

• The inquiry into the Sandleford development (the matter has been called in by the Secretary of State following an appeal by one of the developers against West Berkshire Council’s decision to refuse its application) will be streamed live on YouTube after protests from opposition councillors that the proceedings would otherwise lack transparency. The NWN reports, on p2 of this week’s paper, that this will start on 5 May and is expected to last for most of the rest of the month. Whether a box-set of the edited highlights will appear in due course remains to be seen. If so, this will be required viewing for anyone planning to write a definitive multi-volume history of a project which has been going on for the best part of two decades with so far not one home built. One of my contributions to the research has been to gather together some of the reactions to WBC’s Planning Department’s refusal, which you can read here.

• This week’s NWN covers, on p8, the suggestions by Newbury Town Council for naming the the flats on the  old Sterling Cables site. Their recommendation for the overall name – Sterling Place – could certainly be called a safe option. They’ve also suggested that the individual blocks be named after nine women who have been part of Newbury’s history (though perhaps not fully recognised as such). The roll call includes a tennis player, a suffragette, two peace campaigners, a writer, a nurse, a philanthropist, the saviour of the Watermill Theatre and a hot-air balloonist. Something for everyone there, I think.

• Newbury Town Council’s Heritage Working Group is seeking new members – click here for details.

• The Newbury in Bloom 2021 campaign is now under way – more details here.

• GWR has opened its new bicycle hub at Newbury station. The facility is expected to further expanded later this year.

• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Newbury.

• More details on the proposed redevelopment of the Kennet Centre, including artist’s impressions, can be found here.

• Newbury Town Council is inviting local residents take part in a Public Consultation regarding improvements to the Wash Common Recreation Ground and Open Space. The Town Council already provide a number of recreation facilities on the site and would like your views on how the area could be improved. Click here for more information. Closing date is Sunday 6 June.

• Newbury Town Council’s  third Climate Change Workshop scheduled for Saturday 17 April 2021 has been postponed as it clashes with the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. More details here. Newbury Town Council’s website describes the Duke as “a lifelong advocate for the environment…[who] believed we must safeguard the planet and its resources for future generations, and dedicated his life, and position to inspire individuals and world leaders to protect nature and wildlife.” I can’t help feeling that he’s have said, “just get on with it!” Well, they soon will.

• A reminder that Newbury (or a part of it) goes to the polls in a by-election on 6 May. This will be to fill a seat for the Newbury Town Council Clay Hill ward which is vacant after the previous councillor was stood down for not having attended a sufficient number of meetings. More information can be found here.

• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council took place on 17 February and you can read the draft minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Newbury Town Council for which minutes are available took place on 1 February and you can read the minutes here. That this was quite some time ago doesn’t seem to be due to indolence as might appear as the Council delegates much of its work to committees. Click here for more on these.

• The most recent meeting of Greenham Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 10 March and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: the Newbury Racecourse Christmas Carnival; Greenham Partners; financial matters; the wildlife garden project; several planning applications; proposed names for new roads; parish-council road signs;  local environmental projects; the allotments; the proposal to have a football ground at the Rugby Club; and local footpaths.

• The most recent meeting of Enborne Parish Council took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Boxford Parish Council took place on 2 March and you can read the minutes here. There was also an extraordinary meeting on 6 April to consider proposed changes to the settlement boundary, the minutes of which you can read here.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village. It also produces the quarterly Hamstead Hornet the most recent edition of which has just been published and which you can see here.

Thursday 15 April 2021

• Click here for the March/April 2021 update from Martin Colston, the Leader of Newbury Town Council. This includes more on various consultations (see below), the forthcoming climate change workshop (see also below) and the latest on the café at Victoria Park.

An article on p8 of this week’s NWN returns to a question it, and Penny Post, looked at last week (see last Thursday’s column) about the abrupt termination of the ReadiBus service in the Newbury and Thatcham area. (“Abrupt” might be the word the users would employ, though I understand discussions between the parties have been going on ever since funding cuts were announced in 2018). Three aspects of this still confuse me. WBC asserts that that like-for-like replacement services are now available but I was assured by a representative of ReadiBus that this is not the case: these other services, I was told, either operate only group trips to destinations selected by them and are not tailored to individual needs (the Handybus); or in the case of the car service are less accessible and do not offer shopping trips. They are services which complement ReadiBus’ service. ReadiBus has said that it will be issuing a statement in the next few days and I shall link to that next week.

I have asked WBC for clarification on this point and two others that seem contentious – why the confidentiality agreement was not reciprocal (which meant ReadiBus didn’t sign it) and whether the cuts to the services were caused by WBC’s funding cuts or vice versa – and am waiting a response. This too I shall provide once I have it. Sadly, it appears that the relationship between the two organisations is hanging by a thread. Whether it can be revived depends to a large extent on whether WBC believes (which it currently seems not to) that, without ReadiBus, the transport services it offers are diminished; and, of course whether it’s willing to pay for these. It also depends on what level of service ReadiBus could itself offer now that it has rescheduled its resources following the end of the contracts. If there are any professional mediators in the West Berkshire area, stay by your phone…

• Any such experts might also be needed to find common ground between WBC and the Newbury Community Football Group over the future of football provision in the area. This long-running saga now appears to be reaching some kind of a conclusion. I recently received two statements on the subjects reflecting the different proposals for there next steps and have put them alongside each other in this post. Feel free to comment if you wish sousing the box that is to be found at the foot of this and every other post.

• On Sunday 18 April from 10am to 2pm Newbury Town Council’s Green Spaces Working Group will be planting a new NHS Commemorative Garden at Old Hospital Green, Andover Road. Volunteers are welcome but they must pre-register. More details here.

• The NWN reports on p2 that GWR has opened its new bicycle hub at Newbury station for people using the train. The facility is expected to further expanded later this year.

• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Newbury.

• More details on the proposed redevelopment of the Kennet Centre, including artist’s impressions, can be found here.

• Newbury Town Council is inviting local residents take part in a Public Consultation regarding improvements to the Wash Common Recreation Ground and Open Space. The Town Council already provide a number of recreation facilities on the site and would like your views on how the area could be improved. Click here for more information.

• Newbury Town Council’s  third Climate Change Workshop scheduled for Saturday 17 April 2021 has been postponed as it clashes with the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. More details here. This is slightly ironic as the Director of WWF International, quoted on Newbury Town Council’s website, described the Duke as “a lifelong advocate for the environment…[who] believed we must safeguard the planet and its resources for future generations, and dedicated his life, and position to inspire individuals and world leaders to protect nature and wildlife.” I can’t help feeling that he’s have said, “just get on with it!”

• A reminder that Newbury (or a part of it) goes to the polls in a by-election on 6 May. This will be to fill a seat for the Newbury Town Council Clay Hill ward which is vacant after the previous councillor was stood down for not having attended a sufficient number of meetings. More information can be found here.

• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council took place on 17 February and you can read the draft minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Newbury Town Council for which minutes are available took place on 1 February and you can read the minutes here. That this was quite some time ago doesn’t seem to be due to indolence as might appear as the Council delegates much of its work to committees. Click here for more on these.

• The most recent meeting of Greenham Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 10 February and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Enborne Parish Council took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Boxford Parish Council took place on 2 March and you can read the minutes here.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village. It also produces the quarterly Hamstead Hornet the most recent edition of which has just been published and which you can see here. If you’d like to subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at admin@hamsteadmarshall.net.

Thursday 8 April 2021

• Click here for the March/April 2021 update from Martin Colston, the Leader of Newbury Town Council. This includes more on various consultations (see below), the forthcoming climate change workshop (see also below) and the latest on the café at Victoria Park.

• I mentioned last week about the article by Dr David Cooper of the Say No to Sandleford campaign which occupied the whole pf p22 of the paper. You can read a response from Councillor Alan Law on p20 of this week’s paper. In it he rebuts a number of Dr Cooper’s points. I have asked Dr Cooper for his comments on this. The first point to mention about the letter is that it has been printed with a pale blue background not accorded to any others. I’m left wondering if this is an emerging design feature whereby the political tone of any letter is reflected in the colour used. If so, the letters section will soon resemble an Italian ice cream.

I don’t have the knowledge or the facts to hand to say too much about Mr Law’s letter but three aspects strike me. Firstly, Dr Cooper made the point that the development did indeed pass the sustainability test but only after a new criterion was introduced “to treat greenfield sites per se as more sustainable than brownfield ones,” an assertion Mr Law doesn’t appear directly to refute. Secondly, he says that Dr Cooper’s letter is “extremely political”. I’m not sure if this is a criticism or an observation (and could certainly be applied to Mr Law’s letter), but on re-reading the original article I don’t agree. It certainly has some hard things to say about the planning and development situation in the country which none of the parties has been able to solve (or have been complicit in) and on which Councillor Law doesn’t comment. Finally, Alan Law suggests that Dr Cooper was wrong to say that Sandleford wasn’t sustainable and stresses it has been in the core strategy since 2010 and the promoters spoke in favour of it (why wouldn’t they?) at two public hearings. All this may be true but, if so, this optimism and approval seems to have been ill-founded; for nothing has actually been built there. The latest appeal (by one of the developers, against WBC’s refusal of the plans last year) is due to be heard by the Secretary of State some time in the summer. Even if he finds in the developer’s favour, I don’t see that this will address any of the problems or objections that have so far bedevilled the scheme. The only major consequence of such a decision that I can see would be to undermine WBC’s Planning Department’s authority to decide the rights and wrongs of applications on its own turf.

• The NWN this week has an article on p12 about the imminent end of the ReadiBus service in Newbury, which provides an alternative type of bus for people with restricted mobility who cannot use ordinary public transport. The ReadiBus charity has been operating this in the district for about 25 years, supported by an annual grant. All proceed amicably until a funding cut of 68% was announced for 2019-20. ReadiBus restructured its service (with reductions) and this was followed by further 10% cut demanded for 2020-21, despite which it managed to continue to provide a service, albeit further reduced. The latest development is that, mid-way through its fiscal year, WBC asked all community transport providers to sign a service-level agreement which included what the council describes as “standard clauses on confidentiality” and which Readibus sees as “gagging orders.” As a result, and after discussion with WBC, the charity refused to sign the agreement with this clause. WBC then announced it would therefore withhold half the grant. The remaining contribution being too low to make the service viable, ReadiBus said that the service would cease after Friday 16 April.

I spoke to Sophie Bowlby, the Chair of the Board of Trustees at ReadiBus, about this. She confirmed that the “confidentiality clause” was not reciprocal which would seem to make “gagging order’ the more accurate term. She added that ReadiBus has, and has had, service-level agreements with other local authorities without such clauses (or, in one case, with a reciprocal one, with which the charity has no problem). Moreover, she said, “we have found no evidence in any government guidelines that such a ‘gagging clause’ is ‘a standard clause’ for a grant agreement for this level of funding by a local authority to a local charity.” She also pointed out that WBC’s claim that alternative services from private cars or the Handybus is not correct as these are not like-for-like replacements for the service that ReadiBus offers. As for the cuts themselves, she pointed out to Penny Post that these were proceeded with despite the lack of a consultation. WBC justified this in January 2020 on the grounds that “a significant number” of ReadiBus passengers “have learning difficulties…which would have made it difficult for them to comprehend what was being proposed,” a generalisation which ReadiBus has emphatically denied. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would obviate the need for consultations on a wide range of topics. It’s certainly the first time I’ve seen any public body refuse to communicate on the grounds that some people might not understand what was being said. Unless some compromise can be reached, matters appear to rest here: “an absolute tragedy” for the vulnerable residents in the area, Sophie Bowlby concluded. The final question for now is what purpose the gagging order – for, being one-way, we must refer to it as that – was intended to serve and whether, bearing in mind the resulting publicity, it has achieved this.

I then spoke to Richard Somner, whose portfolio includes transport, on 8 April and he provided me with the following statement:

“WBC has not reduced community transport funding since 2019/20, ReadiBus’ share of the discretionary grant has reduced because they are delivering less passenger journeys relative to other providers.  Discussions with ReadiBus and other community transport operators have been clear in that any grant funding in excess of £5,000 from April 2020 onwards would be subject to a service level agreement (SLA). The SLA included standard clauses on confidentiality that the Council would expect from its service providers. These are not ‘gagging clauses’ but merely ensure that the service provider notifies the Council before any information concerning the agreement is put in the public domain. All our other community transport operators have agreed to the SLA apart from ReadiBus which has declined to sign the agreement. However, despite ReadiBus not signing the SLA, the Council has, in good faith, paid ReadiBus half of the grant totalling £6,566.93. We are very keen to work with ReadiBus to understand the impact on its client base and we are grateful to ReadiBus for the service provided. Whilst this is regrettable for passengers who use ReadiBus services in Newbury and Thatcham, we wanted to ensure that those passengers are aware that there are other community transport groups providing services for local residents who are unable to use public transport and need to attend medical appointments or make shopping trips. Information on all community transport schemes operating in West Berkshire, along with details on other local groups, can be found on the Council’s website.”

• The NWN also reports, on p9, about the continuing debate surrounding the football ground in Newbury, attention currently focussing on the dilapidated clubhouse which WBC wants to demolish; part of a plan to replace a football ground which a lot of people used with a temporary community space on which, bizarrely, football cannot be played. This would surely put the council even further adrift of Sport England’s regulation that no ground can be re-developed until an equal or better facility has been found (a poorly-drafted clause, the intention of which is surely that there should be a seamless transition between one facility and another). Councillor Ross Mackinnon stressed that the security alone was costing nearly £7,000 a year: though that would not, of course, have been necessary were the ground still being used.

The long-term solution to the area – the proposed regeneration of the whole London Road Industrial Estate – still seems some way off as no planning permission has been applied for. This will, it seems, also have to address the problem of a coherent drainage strategy for the whole area, among other issues. The current plan is for the football ground to re-locate to the rugby club in the ambitious timescale of a year from now. The original error was made in June 2018 to close the ground and WBC has, increasingly expensively, been on the back foot ever since. At least the current portfolio holder has managed to come up with the rugby-club solution (though that faces obstacles of its own).

• On Sunday 18 April from 10am to 2pm Newbury Town Council’s Green Spaces Working Group will be planting a new NHS Commemorative Garden at Old Hospital Green, Andover Road. Volunteers are welcome but they must pre-register. More details here.

• The NWN reports on p2 that GWR has opened its new bicycle hub at Newbury station for people using the train (you must remember trains – the long grey things that take you to a place called London). The facility is expected to further expanded later this year.

• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Newbury.

• More details on the proposed redevelopment of the Kennet Centre, including artist’s impressions, can be found here.

• Newbury Town Council is inviting local residents take part in a Public Consultation regarding improvements to the Wash Common Recreation Ground and Open Space. The Town Council already provide a number of recreation facilities on the site and would like your views on how the area could be improved. Click here for more information.

• Newbury Town Council will be hosting its third Climate Change Workshop on Saturday 17 April 2021. The workshop will be held via Zoom and open at 2:15pm for a 2:30pm start. More details here.

• A reminder that Newbury (or a part of it) goes to the polls in a by-election on 6 May. This will be to fill a seat for the Newbury Town Council Clay Hill ward which is vacant after the previous councillor was stood down for not having attended a sufficient number of meetings. More information can be found here.

• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can read the minutes here. Items discussed included: a detailed review of the planning and usage history of Newbury Showground, which is now up for sale (for more thought on this, see last week’s column); planning applications (including at Mary Hare which the PC felt that the site “is getting to the point of overdevelopment”; the settlement boundary review; financial matters; speeding; dog bins; Volunteer Chieveley; “unauthorised activities” to the north west of M4 J14; and Councillor Hilary Cole’s report that footpaths 10a and §10b were now “good to walk on”: which, for a footpath, has got to be regarded as a successful outcome to whatever the previous problem was. The meeting was attended by Laura Farris MP

• The most recent meeting of Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council took place on 17 February and you can read the draft minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Newbury Town Council for which minutes are available took place on 1 February and you can read the minutes here. That this was quite some time ago doesn’t seem to be due to indolence as might appear as the Council delegates much of its work to committees. Click here for more on these.

• The most recent meeting of Greenham Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 10 February and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Enborne Parish Council took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Boxford Parish Council took place on 2 March and you can read the minutes here.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village. It also produces the quarterly Hamstead Hornet the most recent edition of which has just been published and which you can see here. If you’d like to subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at admin@hamsteadmarshall.net.

Thursday 1 April 2021

• Click here for the March/April 2021 update from Martin Colston, the Leader of Newbury Town Council. This includes more on various consultations (see below), the forthcoming climate change workshop (see also below) and the latest on the café at Victoria Park.

• There’s an article by Dr David Cooper of he Say No to Sandleford campaign on p22 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News which provides an overview of the troubled project and also takes some fairly hefty and well-directed swipes at the way the property and development sectors operate in this country which, the writer argues, inflate property prices and reduce the power of planning authorities. It would seem that any attempt to reform of the UK’s planning system, as proposed in last year’s white paper (which proposed giving even more powers to developers) would seem to be impossible unless this problem can be addressed. Also, to solve the shortage of affordable homes which are not sufficiently profitable for private companies to build, councils or the government will need once again to become large-scale home builders themselves.

Although Dr Cooper knows far more about the subject than I do, I would also have added that all the problems on this site were exacerbated by there being two developers working in an unequal and uneasy partnership who, increasingly, were unable to agree about anything. Mind you, if the full story of Sandleford were to be told it would probably run to several chunky volumes. This seem to me an admirable summary. I wonder if the paper is planning to have articles of a similar length from other participants such as the developers themselves (if they can agree on what to say) and West Berkshire Council. The point about the two developers seem relevant because this in one of the aspects that Sandleford shares with the 2,500-home project in north east Thatcham: except that in the latter case there will not be two developers but four.

• See here for details of the Covid lateral flow tests that are available in Newbury.

• More details on the proposed redevelopment of the Kennet Centre, including artist’s impressions, can be found here.

• Newbury Town Council is inviting local residents take part in a Public Consultation regarding improvements to the Wash Common Recreation Ground and Open Space. The Town Council already provide a number of recreation facilities on the site and would like your views on how the area could be improved. Click here for more information.

Newbury Town Council will be hosting its third Climate Change Workshop on Saturday 17 April 2021. The workshop will be held via Zoom and open at 2:15pm for a 2:30pm start. More details here.

• A reminder that Newbury (or a part of it) goes to the polls in a by-election on 6 May. This will be to fill a seat for the Newbury Town Council Clay Hill ward which is vacant after the previous councillor was stood down for not having attended a sufficient number of meetings. More information can be found here.

• The most recent meeting of Chieveley Parish Council took place on 9 March and you can read the minutes here. (If anyone is in any doubt of the amount of work that Parish Clerks need to do before, during and after a meeting, the length and detail of this document should answer that question). The meeting was attended by Laura Farris MP and, as in the other occasions (including at Lambourn, Shefford and Bucklebury) she was shown a problem that affects local residents that she might not have been aware of. In the case of the Chieveley meeting there were several of these. One was a survey of the planning and development history of the showground site going back to the 1980s, with particular reference to the AONB and mineral extraction. The second was the school transport policy which, here and elsewhere, is a very tangled matter with some communities being divided in half for free-school-transport purposes in a way which, as one councillor suggested, amounted to a conflict between two policies. The third was illegal traveller encampments. This was a subject Ms Farris seemed to be aware of and it gave her the opportunity to read out some of the provisions of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which address this. This was met with general approval at the meeting. Other aspects of the legislation (which were not discussed) are rather more contentious.

Other matters discussed at Chieveley’s meeting included: planning applications (including at Mary Hare which the PC felt that the site “is getting to the point of overdevelopment”; the settlement boundary review; financial matters; speeding; dog bins; Volunteer Chieveley; “unauthorised activities” to the north west of M4 J14; and Councillor Hilary Cole’s report that footpaths 10a and §10b were now “good to walk on”: which, for a footpath, has got to be regarded as a successful outcome to whatever the previous problem was.

• The most recent meeting of Shaw-cum-Donnington Parish Council took place on 17 February and you can read the draft minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Newbury Town Council for which minutes are available took place on 1 February and you can read the minutes here. As mentioned last week, that this was quite some time ago doesn’t seem to be due to indolence as might appear as the Council delegates much of its work to committees. Click here for more on these.

• The most recent meeting of Greenham Parish Council for which minutes are available took place on 10 February and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Enborne Parish Council took place on 1 March and you can read the minutes here.

• The most recent meeting of Boxford Parish Council took place on 2 March and you can read the minutes here.

• I presume that Hamstead Marshall Parish Council still meets: it has a website but the most recent minutes are are for September 2020.

• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the village. It also produces the quarterly Hamstead Hornet the most recent edition of which has just been published and which you can see here. If you’d like to subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at admin@hamsteadmarshall.net.

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