Thursday 19 May 2022

Scroll down for Burghfield’s democracy, Windmill Court, local events and activities and news from your local councils.

This week’s  news

• Theale Parish Council is hosting a village fete to bring the community together to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The fete is going to be held on the Recreation Ground from noon on Sunday 5 June. More information can be found here on the Theale Parish Council website.

• On the same day, a fundraising raffle for Ukraine is taking place to win a one of a kind handmade patchwork quilt. Information on where you can find the tickets can be found here. The draw will be held at St. Mary’s Church at 11.30am.

• For other Platinum Jubilee celebrations, you can click here for what’s happening in Mortimer, Burghfield, Theale and the surrounding area.

• 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.

Action for River Kennet is seeking volunteers to help get rid of threatening non-native species in the river at Balsam Bashing, Burghfield on Wednesday 1 and Friday 24 June. Equipment and refreshments are provided and more information can be found here.

• 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, Berkshire should see the aircraft overhead roughly between 12:50pm and 1:30pm – so keep your eyes peeled. More information can be found here.

• The Englefield Parish Magazine April to May 2022 issue is available for you to read here.

• Ditto here with the Padworth Village May 2022 Newsletter.

• Theale Green School is continuing to campaign to raise £2,500 to build a well-being school garden with initial intentions for it to be used by students and staff, and now hopes to extend the use to the community. More information can be found here and pledges can be made here.

• Holy Trinity Church has posted an updated list of necessities for the Foodbank which you can view here. Your donations are greatly appreciated.

Click here for details of the jubilee festivities which will be taking place in Mortimer.

Burghfield and Mortimer district councillor Graham Bridgman’s  most recent (5 May) e-newsletter can be read here.

Click here for a report on Burghfield’s annual parish meeting on 12 May (many thanks to David Gregory of Burghfield Community FB Group and Cally Morris of Burghfield Parish Council for providing the main part of this.)

• For the latest news from theBenefice of Aldermaston and Woolhampton which covers updates and events across Theale area please visit their website and click on Letters, Notices & Magazine.

• Latest news from Aldermaston Parish Council can also be found on their website aldermaston.co.uk and this month includes the celebration of a new florist and children’s nursery in the village.

Windmill Court

As mentioned last week (see below), there has recently been a certain amount of kerfuffle about the plans by Sovereign Housing to close this 35-flat unit in Mortimer and replace it with a smaller number of properties, some of which would be for rent and some for sale. The obvious pre-condition of this is that the existing residents would need to move out. The initial issue was about how the communication with the residents had been handled. I contacted both Sovereign and Stratfield Mortimer PC to discuss this. I’d like to point out that I had three informative emails from Sovereign in answer to several questions I posed so respect is due for that.

The two versions don’t exactly agree on every point as regards who contacted whom and when: but nor, perhaps, do any two accounts. What does seem clear, though, is that, while I have no reason to doubt Sovereign’s claim that “We’re very much committed to supporting all our residents at Windmill Court to find a move to the best comfortable new home for them”, matters could perhaps have been handled better at the outset.  This is clear from the simple fact that, although the PC was contacted by Sovereign on 16 March, by then residents had already received letters from Sovereign and some had already contacted the parish council. This doesn’t suggest that any information provided had been as clear as it could have been.

It seems there was also a problem with the only telephone number initially provided going to a switchboard full of auto-options. Clearly there’s no easy way of breaking this kind of news but any communication which results in some people contacting a different organisation clearly hasn’t worked perfectly. Sovereign has assured me that “rehousing officers are supporting every resident” and that a dedicated email address and direct phone line has been set up, “at the parish council’s suggestion.”

Sovereign pointed out to me that they “spoke to the residents impacted by the closure before anyone else as it’s important that those most affected hear the news directly from us, can ask questions and understand the support we’ll provide.” On the face of it this seems fair but I repeat the point that, if this had gone according to plan, no one else would have even heard about this. It’s always worth looking at the organisations to whom people might turn if they were confused and to make sure that these bodies were aware and on-message. The two obvious candidates here are West Berkshire Council and the parish. It seems odd that WBC didn’t know about it (perhaps their housing team did) but the councillors and the parish council weren’t told until a day or so later. This slightly suggests that Sovereign felt they couldn’t be trusted.

There have been some quite high-profile local cases recently about whether councillors can be trusted with information. I think they can be. The ward members and the parish should have been told well in advance but asked to leave the initial communication to Sovereign. This would have allowed them to suggest how the letter might read to people whom they represent, to check how well the comms methods worked and generally be appraised of what was going on. If you’re a parish councillor and something is sprung on you about which you know nothing, it’s never going to go down well.

Ironically, it doesn’t seem as if the decision to re-develop is particularly sinister. Sovereign’s attitude is that felt the current Windmill Court wasn’t the best use of the location and pointed to the fact that seven out of the the 35 flats were empty. The new plans, I was told, “would have 10 homes for rent, five for shared ownership and nine for sale. We’ve assessed that this offers the best mix of homes for the needs of the area.

“Also,” the statement added, “as a not-for-profit organisation, all income from all of the homes which are sold will subsidise building affordable homes elsewhere.” I checked this assertion with WBC. “This depends on the title,” I was informed, “but ordinarily it would be recycled back into the district for new homes.”

The Sovereign statement went on to say that “because of the proposed redevelopment, residents are given priority banding with the council.” This may be so but there does seem to be a shortage of suitable properties in the district as a whole, never mind in the Mortimer area which is presumably where at least some of the residents would want to remain. WBC has told me the registered providers of social housing in the district in 2021 provided 882 “housing for older persons” and 368 “supported housing”, compared with respectively 1,102 and 234 ten years before: a net loss of 86. Overall, social-rent housing in the district has increased from 9,217 to 9,989 in the same period but most of this termed as “general needs.” With an ageing population, this might be leading to a problem of suitable accommodation. If this is the case, the residents of Windmill Court might be about to discover this for themselves. One can’t help wondering if, given what these figures suggest, that (assuming land was available) building new accommodation should have happened before existing facilities were closed down.

Burghfield’s democracy

It was recently suggested to me that an amendment of standing orders regarding the chairmanship of Burghfield Parish Council represented a threat to local democracy. The change, which was discussed and agreed at the February 2022 meeting (see item 12.0222), seems however not to have this ambition or result.

Most parish councils have no limit on how many years a Chair can serve consecutively. Burghfield didn’t but a few months ago decided to introduce one. To quote the resolution, henceforth “the Chair and Vice-Chair are elected by members of the Parish Council at the Annual Council meeting each year under Section 15 (1) of the Local Government Act 1972 with a maximum continuous term of five years. Should either wish to continue their term, the Parish Council can at this point elect to extend this term limit.” Having no limit is the default position the government and the National Association of Local Councils provides for but parishes are free to amend this if they choose. BPC has decided to do so and I see nothing sinister in this.

The reference to “five years” doesn’t mean that the Chair is elected for one five-year term. National legislation provides that the first order of business of an annual parish council meeting (which must happen in May) in that the Chair be elected for the next twelve months. All Burghfield PC is doing is limiting the term that the Chair can serve to five consecutive years. Why might BPC want to do this?

On the speaking to the office on 18 May, I was told that this is to encourage succession planning. As the number of vacancies in most parishes shows, not everyone wants to be a councillor and even fewer want to be the Chair. Once in place, if a Chair is doing an even half-decent job they’ll probably be encouraged to stay. This is fine for a while but can’t last for ever. I know of one parish where the same person has been in the top seat for over 20 years. That level of knowledge is hard to transfer. Five years is perhaps a more realistic timeframe. Change from time to time is also generally a good idea lest a sense of entitlement and ownership creep in. I’m not suggesting that anything like this is happening in Burghfield, merely that the PC has recognised the fact that it might and has taken steps to prevent it.

I’ve asked WBC if it holds information about how many of its 60-odd parishes have any such restrictions but have not yet received a reply. In a sense, the answer doesn’t matter. The point here is that Burghfield PC has decided to do this, as it’s entitled to.

If anyone feels strongly about how a parish council conducts its business, the most effective step is to join it. Many have vacancies which can be filled by co-option (an invition to join a council without an election). The first step is to contact the Clerk. As it happens, there are four vacancies on Burghfield PC at present which can be filled in this way (as well as a further one which, due to a seeming confusion about the way the system works, needs to be filled by election although no candidates have yet been nominated). I’m sure that anyone who is interested in the workings of local democracy in this parish will be well aware of how to contact Burghfield Parish Council; but, just in case, here’s the link to click on.

Community notices

• West Berkshire Library Service is appealing for local volunteers at Mortimer and Burghfield Common libraries. Please see this post on Facebook, call 01635 519533 or email volunteerinyourlibrary@westberks.gov.uk for further information.

Local events and activities

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

• Dates for the diary

Wed 1 June Volunteering for ARK at Balsam Bashing, Burghfield.

Sun 5 June Theale Village Fete. Stall-holders who are interested should contact the Parish Council for further information.

Fri 24 June Volunteering for ARK at Balsam Bashing, Burghfield.

Fri 22 Jul Heritage Live at Englefield House

• Regular events

• Holy Trinity Church is seeking donations for the Foodbank that is open on Sundays and Wednesdays from 9am to 6pm. With another rise in people’s need for foodbank support, you can find out what has been requested each week by clicking here.

 Theale Library hosts in-person events for people of all ages. To find out more information on future clubs and events click here to visit the West Berkshire Library Facebook page or email Theale Library at thealelibrary@westberks.gov.uk.

Mortimer Library also host regular events, such as their Rhymetime group who meet every Tuesday (during school term time) at 2.30pm.

Walking for Health meet every Tuesday at the community centre car park opposite the Horse & Groom, Mortimer. There are three walk lengths to chose from As mentioned on mortimervillage.org.uk,

 Holy Trinity Church, Theale is open for West Berks Food Bank donations on Sundays and Wednesdays from 10.30am to 6pm. Please see the church’s website for regularly updated lists of what is most needed at the food bank.

• Beenham Art Group every Tuesday from 10am to noon at Victory Hall, Beenham. More details in The Benefice of Aldermaston and Woolhampton Magazine (February edition, p 16).

• Aldermaston Coffee Club meet at the cafe at Rosebourne, Aldermaston between 10am to 11.30am on the first and third Tuesday of each month. Further details in The Benefice of Aldermaston and Woolhampton Magazine (February edition, p 8)

 Aldermaston & Wasing Ladies Group meets on the second Thursday of each month from 2pm at Aldermaston Parish Hall, please see Padworth Parish Council Newsletter (p 3, February 2022 ) for further information.

Padworth and Aldermaston WI meets at Padworth Village Hall on the third Tuesday of every month at 7.30pm. Further information on the group can be found in Padworth Parish Council Newsletter (No 155 February 2022 Edition p 3).

Holy Trinity Church, Theale free choir group rehearses on Thursdays between 7pm to 8pm and performs at Sunday services from 10.30am. All are welcome to join. Send enquiries to office@holytrinitytheale.org.uk.

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 Aldermaston Parish Council took place on 10 May and the minutes will be available here in due course. Items covered included: formal business including the election of a Chair and Deputy; planning matters; a report from the skateboard ramp working group (four tenders have been received and one successful bidder has been chosen: the PC “will now enter contract negotiations with them, followed by a planning application and grant requests.”); a “positive” RoSPA inspection on the play equipment; insurance quotes; the sales of Strawberry Farm and of Padworth Sawmills; and the jubilee. To see the dates of future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here. To see the agendas, please click here.

• The most recent meeting of Theale Parish Council took place on 9 May and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included: formal business including the election of a Chair and Deputy; dog bins; a report from District Councillor Alan Macro; planning matters; Councillor Macro’s draft members’ bid application (for a grant towards 50% of the cost of the path between the churchyard and tarmac path, as part of the play-area build); and financial matters. To see the dates of future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here. To see the agendas, please click here.

• The most recent meeting of Stratfield Mortimer Parish Council took place on 14 April and you can read the minutes here. Items covered included; the annual parish meeting (26 April – click here to read the minutes of that); Windmill Court; the men’s shed; a councillor vacancy; review of policies; parish maintenance; committee and working-party reports; the neighbourhood development plan; the jubilee (see also this separate post); the next round of members’ bids; Ukranian refugees; financial matters; planning matters; and parish communications. To see the dates and agendas for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here. See this page on Stratfield Mortimer PC’s website for more information on the refresh of its neighbourhood development plan.

• The most recent meeting of Burghfield Parish Council took place on 7 April and you can read the minutes here.Items covered included: the Village Hall; a report from ward member Graham Bridgman; committee reports; the proposed café (see also separate section above); the May Fair; financial matters; and the annual parish meeting (7pm on 12 May). To see the dates and agendas for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here.

• The most recent meeting of Bradfield Parish Council took place on 5 April 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 for 2021 and here for 2022.

• The most recent meeting of Beenham Parish Council took place on 4 April and you can read the minutes here. To see the dates and agendas for future Parish Council meetings (including any committees), please click here for 2021 and here for 2022.  Click here for details of Beenham’s Community Plan.

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

• The most recent meeting of Englefield Parish Council took place on 7 March 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.

• Theale area council contacts

Parishes: Theale Parish CouncilAldermaston Parish CouncilPadworth Parish CouncilStratfield Mortimer Parish Council, Englefield Parish CouncilBeenham Parish CouncilBradfield Parish Council and Burghfield 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 ValleyNewburyarea; Thatcham area; Compton & DownlandsWantage area; Marlborougharea; Swindon area.

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

 

Archives

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

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