Saturday, 23 June 2018

Your letters...

Your letters...

Trains going back in time

Sir, — Now that electrification of most train services from Twyford to Paddington has settled in, it might be an opportune time to think about the way in which electrification and the new Electrostar trains have benefited, or otherwise, travellers from/to Henley.

My principal interest is off-peak travel so I have concentrated on that with some interesting, if not shocking, results.

Take, for example, a mid-morning traveller from London to Henley who today has a train every 30 minutes, giving a journey time of 68 minutes.

I compared that with the winter timetable of 1952/53 — steam trains all round and the 11.10am from Paddington would get you to Henley, with the change at Twyford of course, at 12.20pm, a journey time of 70 minutes, albeit that was unusually quick for those days.

Oddly, you still have the same arrival time at Henley in the electric age but you can actually leave Paddington a whole two minutes later, so the journey time has reduced by two minutes over the space of 66 years!

Perhaps it’s not so fair to compare those terribly old-fashioned steam trains with today’s sleek electrics which come complete with toilets, including one for the disabled, and individual seats, somewhat on the firm side, complete with armrests.

So maybe a comparison with the diesel age will help? Yes, by 1963 the diesel trains had reduced the journey to 66 minutes on a fairly consistent basis throughout the day but comparison with the winter timetable that was in place in early 1967, a mere 51 years ago, is even more interesting.

Back then the equivalent departure left Paddington at 11.22am and arrived at Henley at 12.24pm, a mere 62 minutes for a journey which now takes almost 10 per cent longer notwithstanding the 21st century technology helping to deliver it.

The journey time from Henley to London was a little longer at 67 minutes, but still quicker than today’s 69 minutes.

On currently circulating information, it is, alas, more than likely that within a couple of years Crossrail will have further transformed our journeys to/from London.

And the phrase “back to the past” comes to mind as we will be taken back to trains with bench seats (only arranged sideways in this instance) and no toilets, let alone one for the disabled, together with considerably fewer seats than an eight-coach Electrostar train and no doubt an even longer drawn-out journey to the parts of London many of us would wish to reach.

Oh, and I nearly forgot, Crossrail’s bloated underground trains won’t have luggage racks either so we’ll be even nearer the early days of rail travel than folk were back in 1952.

With the consultation now underway for the new Great Western Railway franchise, it is perhaps time for our local MPs to start rocking some boats and help to ensure that we will continue to have a proper off-peak regular interval train service. A train service delivered by habitable Electrostar trains with full passenger facilities instead of the nonsensical things Crossrail intends to dump on us for the major part of a journey more than one hour long. — Yours faithfully,

Mike Romans

Cromwell Road, Henley

Disappointing sports centre

Sir, — As a regular user of Henley leisure centre and a council taxpayer, I am really disappointed with the condition of the refurbished facility (Standard, February 16).

There is a number of issues that appear not to have been addressed as part of the refurbishment:

• The floor in the wet changing area is a disgrace as it is dirty and there are marks where the previous cubicles were fixed that have not been removed.

• The showers are inefficient and not hot enough with poor water flow and the cubicles are not cleaned thoroughly or regularly enough.

• There is nowhere in the shower cubicles to put shampoo etc. For less able users, placing things on the floor causes difficulty picking it up, so there is a danger of slipping.

• There are no hooks in the changing cubicles for coats etc.

• The heating in the shower area is not on so it is very cold.

There is no heating in the wet changing area so condensation drips from the ceiling.

These issues are raised with the centre on a regular basis but never seem to be resolved — Yours faithfully,

Angela Woolfrey

Birch Close, Sonning
Common

Blame the dirty users

Sir, — I am writing in response your front page lead story headlined “Sports centre is filthy (again)” (Standard, February 16).

For the past 40 years I have spent many hours each and every week in swimming pools, whether swimming myself, taking my children or working as a lifeguard when I was younger.

I’ve swum in brand new facilities as well as those which are nearly falling down.

For a town the size of Henley to have this facility we should feel fortunate but we regularly don’t realise how lucky we are (look at the outrage when the pool at LA Fitness disappeared).

I might be pointing out the obvious here, but it’s people who use the centre that make it disgustingly dirty, not the staff or the local authority.

Those individuals who come into the centre with muddy shoes and think it’s completely acceptable to traipse that dirt through the pool changing rooms should be ashamed of themselves.

I’m disappointed that your story chose to point the finger at the centre and its staff. When the staff come in every morning, I’m sure they’re not thinking “Shall I take my plasters off and leave them lying around?” or “Hey, why don’t I rub mud into the changing room floors?”

There is a simple solution to this — make it compulsory for people to take their shoes off before they enter the wet changing area.

There is a large, long corridor into the changing areas. Simply put more benches here and shoe racks. It’s what they do in many swimming pools on the continent and it works well.

Overshoes are a good idea but we’re far too cool in Henley to wear them, plus some might think them to be environmentally unfriendly.

But, like everything, this requires behaviour change which is difficult so I will not be getting my hopes up.

And really, what do you expect for £150,000 these days? You can spend that sort of money building a small house extension, let alone a transformational project for a public facility.

How much do you think it would cost to dig the changing room floors up and replace them? It would be significantly more than £150,000.

Nonetheless, there is cause for optimism.

We’ve been successful in securing funding and building a new hospital, so I’m hoping that Councillor Phillips-Tilbury together with the power of the Henley Standard will help our town focus on getting funding for a new sports centre.

This should include an eight-lane, 50m pool (essential) and immaculate new changing areas (desirable).

However, before I get carried away by thinking this will solve our “disgusting” sports centre problem, I won’t get my hopes up — it would still rely on the public to help keep the changing areas clean. — Yours faithfully,

Simon Barnett

Lower Assendon

Don’t forget extra homes

Sir, — As the former chairman of the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan governance committee, I hope I can offer some useful advice regarding future housing allocations. These are, I should point out, my personal views.

Firstly, the criticism of the current neighbourhood plan steering group by some councillors is unfounded.

A six-page report was submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council as part of its consultation period, setting out why Henley should not receive a further housing allocation.

This was a detailed analysis (to which I contributed) as to the probable effects on the town.

The criticism is that more representations should have been made to the district council to prevent the extra allocation we are likely to receive under the new local plan.

However, let’s be pragmatic for a moment.

The Government has decided that more houses need to be built, especially those with affordable rents. (It used to be called council housing.)

This has happened since the neighbourhood plan was approved.

The district council has calculated the total number of new homes it wants to build and we will be allocated our share (300+) should the figures be approved by the Government.

Are we seriously suggesting that we opt out and our share be added to Thame, Wallingford, Watlington etc?

Do we not think that all these and other communities are also resisting further development? I believe that any additional housing allocations should not be built within the Henley town boundary (unless The Henley College finally redevelops its site and finds space for some housing).

In my view, we do not have suitable sites for around 300 more homes but our neighbourhood plan encompasses a much larger area than within our town boundary.

Henley residents have already prepared a neighbourhood plan for 500 homes, which have yet to be built.

However, if we ignore the additional new homes then the district council will allocate sites (such as Lucy’s Farm) without any of our input.

When the time is right, the residents should be given the chance to revisit the neighbourhood plan and begin the process of looking at the plan area as to where any additional houses could be built.

Before that is done, however, the district council needs to assure us that the correct land supply figures are in place otherwise we will be wasting our time.

Knowing the members on the plan steering group as I do, I am sure that this issue has been raised many times and I look forward to hearing their final conclusions. — Yours faithfully,

Dieter Hinke

Elizabeth Road, Henley

More money being wasted

Sir, — Following an update to my Freedom of Information request about how much Shiplake Parish Council had spent opposing the housing application at Thames Farm, I can now advise that the correct figure is actually just over £34,000 rather than the £18,000 reported in your article of January 19.

This is considerably more than the council’s annual precept of £27,717.

This was spent at a time when South Oxfordshire District Council was also wasting public money on its own appeals when its own planning department had recommended the scheme for approval, a planning inspector had granted consent and two High Court judges rejected both councils’ appeals with cost awards being made against them.

Conveniently, and despite FoI requests, the district council is unable, as yet, to disclose how much of our scarce public money it has spent on the appeal process. It has not finished yet, though, as it is continuing the appeal process to overturn the consent that has been granted.

In the light of the losses so far at our expense, I would suggest that councillors stop wasting our money. — Yours faithfully,

Garry Forster

Goring Heath

...and how much more?

Sir, — To the chairman of Henley Town Council’s planning committee Ken Arlett, you have stated that you talk to other parish councils and the planning officers at South Oxfordshire District Council and your good friend John Cotton, the leader.

Could you please ask him how much taxpayers’ money he has spent on the Thames Farm development at Shiplake? — Yours faithfully,

Ian Clark

Cromwell Road, Henley

Puddle must be listed

Sir, — At the junction of Station Road and Reading Road in Henley is Norman Avenue.

It is a busy thoroughfare which I can attest, living opposite.

In the road is a gully and in that a drain, now blocked for many months with silt and compacted mud.

It isn’t the only thing blocked for my attempts, on many occasions, including telephone conversations with my ward councillor, seem to meet the same fate.

The pavement narrows by the drain and a large puddle develops, which cars often find difficult to avoid.

The outcome is easy to predict for those pedestrians who are neither prepared nor sprightly. We all know plenty of those.

Having now tried five times without success to telephone my ward councillor (who will soon have £15,000 of my money to spend personally) I can only assume that the puddle has been awarded listed status.

That’s a pity as I was wondering if I might be permitted to plant some spring flowers in the compacted soil in the drain and bill the council. — Yours faithfully,

Colin Barker

Norman Avenue, Henley

Oxfam still needs help

Sir, — In life it seems that in every barrel there are a couple of rotten apples.

Take, for example, politics, entertainment, care, sports, education and the church.

In all these we have found examples of people who have taken advantage of their position, some even entering for that very reason.

However, they all still exist as services and elements of our everyday life.

Surely it would be an unnecessary kneejerk reaction to abandon Oxfam as the only people to really suffer would be the poor and starving in the world?

Their massive global infrastructure of support desperately needs public funds to continue for ever-increasing humanitarian reasons. The organisation has paid the penalty and will have learned a lesson, I am sure. — Yours faithfully,

B King

Wallingford

Service and price are key

Sir, — It would be a great shame if Patisserie Franco-Belge in Henley closed.

Their bread is excellent but the reduction in their business may have something to do with the following:

They used to have more choice of bread; now it is reduced to one white and one brown and even these are only available on certain days.

They used to offer a bread slicing service but this is no longer available. Nor, I understand, will they accept regular orders of loaves to be put aside for collection.

All this may be justified if their prices were lower but poor service combined with high prices is not a good recipe for success! — Yours faithfully,

Ian Sichel

Lambridge Wood Road, Henley

Ricky Martin, owner of Patisserie Franco-Belge, responds: “I recognise all these points and plan to rectify these issues once we are in a position to make long- term plans.

“We have made a conscious decision to continue to focus on quality, using natural ingredients made my hand.

“We also have the cost of maintaining a bakery on the high street.

These costs are reflected in the price and I am sorry that you do not feel this represents value for money.

“I do think that it is important that the shoppers of Henley continue to have a choice that is sustainable in the long term.

“I hope that we will continue to have your support. If you any further feedback, please speak to a member of my staff or contact me personally by email at Henleybakery@gmail.com.”

Underfunded all round

Sir, — Anthony Stansfeld, the Thames Valley police and crime commissioner, says that due to technological advances and efficiency drives, Henley currently has enough police for the amount of crime despite budget reductions (Standard, February 9). But are there enough specially trained staff to deal with the ever-rising number of police call-outs to under 16-year-olds with mental health problems?

At the same time as the Government is calling on parents and schools et al to provide better (a) mental health first aid, (b) identification of mental health problems among the young and (c) referrals to NHS child and adolescent mental health services, it is worth remembering that the budgets for NHS mental health trusts in England rose, on average, only 2.5 per cent in 2016/17 (far less than inflation and the six per cent boost received by physical health NHS trusts). Furthermore, less than 10 per cent of the mental health NHS budget is currently allocated to child and adolescent mental health services (despite 75 per cent of all adults’ mental health problems first surfacing in the individuals’ first 16 years) and most schools are currently facing huge budget cutbacks.

So what other services can parents, schools and individuals turn to other than to the local police?

We need more cash for under 16-year-olds with mental health problems as a priority (if only to avoid these police call-outs), not to mention more cash for Alzheimer’s research but that is another story.

Any society should be judged on how it cares for its vulnerable young and elderly. Heaven help us. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Farmer

Wensley Road, Reading

Remainers are wrong

Sir, — The citizens of Henley constituency voted Remain.

I have never understood this as the only way of having effective voting rights to try to protect our economy — to drop the pound and join the planned integrated Eurozone dominated by Germany.

This, of course, has always been the purpose of the vociferous and ardent remainers such as Tony Blair and Ken Clarke. The alternative is to stay in the EU, outside the integrated Eurozone, losing any meaningful influence and leaving our economy open as rich pickings for the integrated states as we watch helplessly as they help themselves. — Yours faithfully,

Yvonne Kedge

Lea Road, Sonning Common

Lent services with lunch

Sir, — The annual Lent midday services organised by Churches Together in Henley will be held, as usual, in the Christ Church Centre chapel on Thursdays from February 22 to March 22 inclusive.

Each service will last about 30 minutes and be followed by a simple lunch. — Yours faithfully,

Mike Hails

Secretary, Churches Together in Henley

Farewell to number 22

Sir, — With reference to the demise of the pink 22 bus route serving Caversham Heights (Standard, Febraury 9), I’ve created the following epitaph. — Yours faithfully,

Elizabeth Cooper, aged 12

Elm Road, Tokers Green

The Pink 22 bus
Much missed by all
who knew It. Now
wending its way
across heaven
carrying celestial
passengers.

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