Sir, — Henley residents must be puzzled at your front page headline “Housing plan now worthless” (Standard, September 2).
Surely we were promised at the neighbourhood plan referendum that voting “Yes” would “give us control” and without it there would be a planning “free-for-all”?
1. Henley needs protection from developers submitting applications designed to make money rather than meet Henley’s real needs.
2. We were told a neighbourhood plan would protect us.
3. Because of South Oxfordshire District Council’s failure to follow the neighbourhood plan we are not protected.
4. We’ve been conned into wasting four years of effort and £160,000.
5. What can we do about this?
It is obvious that allowing communities like Henley to make important decisions on planning is a good idea in principle, so I support the suggestion that Henley has a good neighbourhood plan.
However, since the plan was approved, a coach and horses have been driven through it.
We have seen McCarthy & Stone given permission to build “assisted living” flats at the former Jet garage site in Reading Road rather than the dwellings Henley needs.
Similar proposals are expected for other sites in the plan — the former Henley youth centre and the Chilterns End care home.
Henley does need the right mix of new housing in order to ensure that all groups are provided for: young people; local workers; small families; older residents (55+); and people with disabilities.
However, this sudden expansion of assisted living places at the expense of other sectors of the community is due to the much higher profitability these developments bring to developers and landowners.
This is due to the loss of the requirement for a minimum of 40 per cent affordable housing on each site (there will be none at the Reading Road development) and the loss of the Community Infrastructure Levy revenue.
Henley needs this affordable housing to meet housing need and the levy revenue in order to mitigate the stresses caused by these developments to transport, schools and health infrastructure.
So these planning applications conflict with what we need and also with what we thought we were approving in the neighbourhood plan.
The final nail in the ideals of the plan has come with the admission by the district council that due to its failure to allocate land for housing across the rest of the district it is no longer able to oppose planning applications in Henley which do not conform to the neighbourhood plan.
As a result, its planning officers recommended approval of a planning application for 95 homes at Thames Farm.
It seems Henley is to be punished for problems elsewhere. It seems that we have wasted four years and £160,000 on a plan which is “worthless”.
We were encouraged to do this by the district council and John Howell MP. My concerns that the plan would not be a good one and would lack the weight that Mr Howell and others promised have, sadly, turned out to be true.
District council leader John Cotton made clear when he defended his council’s decision to approve the application for the Reading Road site that the plan had not been written in a way which mandated the district council’s own policy of a minimum of 40 per cent housing on this site (although this was the clear will of the town).
Henley needs this affordable housing and the planning system has let down Henley, which now seems vulnerable to opportunistic applications from developers who see the town as place to make money without any regard for what Henley actually needs. Is Lucy’s Farm next?
We need to work together as a town to make our views clear and, as appears necessary, fix our neighbourhood plan so that we get what we were promised — the ability to control, or at least influence, what happens in our town. — Yours faithfully,
Councillor Ian Reissmann
Henley Town Council,
Gainsborough Road, Henley
History of bad decisions
Sir, — The Thames Farm hurdy-gurdy continues to turn with dire consequences for the Henley area and the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.
We are now looking at approximately 95 more homes being built along the Reading Road corridor and a badly holed neighbourhood plan, which will have the developer vultures circling with no space safe from their rapacious claws.
We don’t deserve this but South Oxfordshire District Council’s U-turn is an inevitable consequence of 10 years of their very poor decision- making.
It turned down practical planning applications from the Engbers throughout the early 2000s, listening too much to vested community interests in Harpsden and Shiplake.
In 2007 Shiplake Parish Council convinced the district council that Shiplake was comprised of two small villages (they stated they did not have sufficient facilities to be one large village, despite having a station, school, post office and village hall!)
This decision has had long- term consequences as Shiplake has been able to stop any significant village development for the last 10 years, particularly in respect of Thames Farm.
It has successfully pushed against any sprawling urbanisation from Henley, causing house prices to exceed £1million per house on average.
This has now produced a “middle-class paradise” untainted by affordable housing for poorer people, a piece of strategic and creeping social engineering crafted by their Conservative representatives in our democratic forums.
In 2013, 80 volunteers started the neighbourhood plan but were told emphatically that Thames Farm was out of bounds for development despite, in the prior consultation on sites, a huge majority of local people voting for Thames Farm having houses.
Again and again, we volunteers challenged this flawed decision-making by the district council but were repeatedly forced back — so much for a “listening” council. The outcome was a compromise, so second best sites inside Henley had to be chosen over Thames Farm, with the potential for traffic congestion on the town’s major roads.
In 2015 Clare Engbers went to the High Court over her rejected planning application and effectively won.
The district council had to concede that it does not have a five-year land supply and had to look again at its vulnerability in this planning application.
This adverse court decision has affected the council’s confidence and ability to stand up to developers’ demands.
Hindsight, as evidenced in this letter, is easier than foresight but I do foresee that developers will make an increasing number of applications for sites in Henley and Harpsden.
How do we stop the poor decision-making at the district council?
We have to get the vested interests in Henley, Harpsden and Shiplake to back off. We have to encourage councillors with backbone and leadership qualities to stand up and take decisions without fear or favour and purely on the facts. — Yours faithfully,
Stoke Row Road,
Woeful state of affairs
Sir, — Your edition of September 2 included two items of considerable concern, the one impinging on the other.
You report that due to the sloth or incompetence of the planning officers at South Oxfordshire District Council, the various neighbourhood plans drawn up by parishes in the district, at great expense and cost in individuals’ time, have been rendered worthless.
One wonders what remedies the residents of South Oxfordshire have other than through the ballot box.
Can they anticipate that any disciplinary action has been or will be taken against those charged with ensuring that the planning integrity of South Oxfordshire is preserved?
The effects of such a woeful state of affairs extend beyond South Oxfordshire as is evidenced by your other item revealing the intentions of a speculative developer to submit plans to build 270 houses on the edge of Emmer Green.
The land in question does not form part of Emmer Green or Reading Borough Council but lies within South Oxfordshire.
There lies the rub. The residents of Emmer Green and Caversham will suffer the deleterious effects of first the construction traffic and then the pressures placed upon the road, education and health services in the borough by the considerable increase in the local population but will have no say in the consideration of any eventual planning application, which will be dealt with by South Oxfordshire District Council in its own inimical way.
I leave the district council with one sobering thought. If it permits the development to proceed immediately adjacent to the boundary with Reading Borough Council, how long will it be before that council begins to resent South Oxfordshire pocketing the community charges flowing from the houses which are built while Reading is forced to foot the bill for road, education and health improvements consequential upon the development? I suspect that pressure for a boundary change will not be long forthcoming. — Yours faithfully,
Barry A Prior
Our plan will benefit all
Sir, — I am concerned that your front page item headlined “Housing plan is now worthless” may have a negative impact on the Sonning Common neighbourhood development plan referendum, which is due to take place on Thursday, September 29.
Having closely followed the ongoing development of our own neighbourhood plan over the last three years, I remain convinced that the benefits of having a robust and agreed plan far outweigh a situation where there is no agreed plan in place.
We have recently seen some comments in your newspaper casting doubt on the effectiveness of the Henley and Harpsden plan with potential development of the Thames Farm site and development of 53 “extra care” homes being given planning permission by South Oxfordshire District Council.
Your readers may also be aware of the approval of plans for 400 homes in Benson, which does not yet have a neighbourhood plan.
It appears that developers almost have carte blanche to build where there is no plan in place, using the expression “presumption in favour of sustainable development” without any consideration of the impact on the local community as a whole or “sustainability” in its complete sense.
Sonning Common Parish Council was charged by the district council with finding land for 138 homes, including 40 per cent affordable homes, to be built by 2027.
The resulting neighbourhood plan, approved by an independent examiner, has identified land for up to 196 homes, well in excess of those original requirements.
This provisional extra capacity of 58 homes should help the village to resist any further demands for housing development on land not already included in the plan.
It is also very important to remember that the plan is not just about homes. It is also about improvements to the village as a community.
Our plan has identified land for Sonning Common’s own recreation facility opposite Chiltern Edge School, allowing both children and adults to engage in sport locally with consequent health benefits.
It also includes safety enhancement measures through suggested improvements to traffic flow in the village, including provision for footpaths and cycle ways.
I urge all fellow Sonning Common residents to vote in support of the neighbourhood plan on September 29 as I am certain it will strengthen the community’s ability to guide the planning and development of our village for the benefit of us all. — Yours faithfully,
Plans still carry weight
Sir, — Your front page conjecture last week that the Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan is “worthless” is as destructive as it wrong. Destructive because it suggests the hard work put in by volunteers and local residents has been a waste of time; that just isn’t true.
Their work has produced very high quality local policies and those people will be able to look back in years to come and say “I helped make our town better.”Wrong because, despite the pressure South Oxfordshire is under from government planning inspectors bent on overruling each other and demonstrating their impatience for a huge increase in housing numbers, those plans still carry weight.
It’s impossible to have every planning decision tick every planning policy box — that’s true for the district council’s local plan as much as for neighbourhood plans.
However, over time, the broader thrust of plans will be achieved.
I can reassure all your readers that South Oxfordshire District Council remains fully supportive of neighbourhood plans and acknowledges the vital role those plans have in allowing local communities to help us plan growth in the district over the next 15 years and beyond.Discouraging communities from getting stuck into determining their own future is a very bad idea. — Yours faithfully,
Leader, South Oxfordshire District Council
Careful what you wish for
Sir, — Why does Neil Gunnell welcome the draft Henley branch line timetable planned for May 2017 and then admit that its success will depend on the, as yet unknown, connections at Twyford with London and Reading?
He is quite right to point out GWR’s almost complete lack of information about the critical connectivity of branch line and mainline departures and arrivals at Twyford but without these details no full and sensible assessment of the company’s proposals can be made.Mr Gunnell needs to be careful what he wishes for.
What he totally fails to appreciate is that, as it stands, the draft timetable does not permit any “holding” time at Twyford in order to maintain the 30-minute shuttle service he so ardently advocates.
So, if an incoming mainline service is even only a couple of minutes late at Twyford, the shuttle cannot be held back. Result: passengers for Henley and Shiplake will face a 30-minute wait for the next service.
But between 10.30am and 3.30pm Monday to Friday, Wargrave passengers will have to wait an hour because GWR proposes cutting out two calls at Wargrave in both directions.
Mr Gunnell may relish the prospect of a 75 per cent increase in 30-minute shuttle services to Shiplake and Henley (simultaneously with a 20 per cent reduction for Wargrave during the 10.30am and 3.30pm period) but what use is it if the outcome is a significant increase in branch line passengers missing their connections at Twyford, even when the incoming mainline trains are only slightly delayed?
He has overlooked the fact that the 30-minute shuttle is drafted to operate only for about four hours during the day, specifically between 11.23am and 3.53pm from Henley and between 10.38am and 4.08pm from Twyford.
In essence, the existing 45-minute timetable, serving all stations equally, is a perfectly reasonable arrangement and permits “holding” Twyford departures during the evening rush hour by up to four minutes without serious knock-on effects.
GWR needs to be urged to scrap the proposed May 2017 scheme until a workable 30-minute shuttle operated with faster electric trains and serving all stations and communities can be installed.
That will mean Mr Gunnell gets what he has been campaigning for and Wargrave will not be deprived of any services simply to meet his need — plus far fewer folk would be left stranded at Twyford. Now that would be real progress. — Yours faithfully,
Wargrave User Group,
Watermans Way, Wargrave
Call that a hospital?
Sir, — On holiday in Devon last week, I fell very heavily in a pub urinal.
Once I had collected myself, to the consternation of my companions, I returned to the table (where we were having a strictly non-alcoholic lunch!) somewhat bloodied and bruised and clearly in need of a visit to accident and emergency.
The tiled toilets were unlit and the urinal platform covered in water, which I did not see, and extremely slippery. There was no warning notice whatsoever.By now it was about 3pm and as my injury, although painful, did not seem urgent, instead of finding and visiting an A & E locally, we decided to curtail our holiday and pack and leave the next day, so as to arrive at Townlands Hospital in Henley, which we knew was open until 8pm.
I cannot praise the kindness and skill of all the staff enough but the story does not end there.
When I’d had a splint and a sling fitted, and my ring sawn off, I was told that I needed an X-ray since it seemed likely that my finger was broken.
In my naivety, I asked where the X-ray machine was situated since I was unfamiliar with the layout of the new Townlands building.
However I was told that the machine closes on weekdays at 4pm (it was now about 7.50pm on the Friday) and does not operate at weekends or on bank holidays. This follows the pattern at the old Townlands.
I know that X-ray machines and their staffing require considerable money to fund but I cannot begin to understand what sort of a buffoon bean-counter made or acquiesced in the decision to stick to the old hours in a spanking new hospital, thereby emasculating its efficiency for four whole hours each day.
Well, we all know what the Royal Berkshire Hospital is like — again, wonderful staff but woeful waiting.
Luckily, a kind friend drove me there but, of course, I said to him not to wait and took buses back home.
Again luckily, after some four hours of waiting, the X-rays showed there was no actual break but only severe swelling and bruising, which will take about six weeks to recover.
I had somehow been bludgeoned by the official waffle put out into reluctantly accepting that a hospital without beds can legitimately be called a “hospital” (even in the Crimean War Florence Nightingale’s field hospitals had beds) but I am wont to change my mind now.
May I therefore please ask whether the term “hospital” is really appropriate in 2016 (many years after the Crimean War ended) for a hospital without its own beds and such essential modern equipment as a functioning X-ray machine (plus appropriate staff) for a very substantial period of every working day? — Yours faithfully,
Derek I Hammond
St Andrew’s Road,
Remember Mr Mortlock
Sir, — May I propose the name “Mortlock’s Rise” as a fitting name for the new Townlands Hospital road?
Samuel Mortlock was the compassionate master of the Henley Union Workhouse for 36 years until his death in 1884.
He dutifully cared for more than 150 inmates and provided “outdoor relief” for impoverished families during the winter months.
It’s recorded that he did his utmost to get workhouse children into trades.
Conditions in the workhouse seem unimaginable today, with families segregated and with stone-breaking and oakum-picking as the relentless daily grind.
Mortlock did more than his duty and oversaw “one of the best conducted [work]houses” in the country.
He is buried in an unmarked grave in St Mary’s cemetery, so this would be an honourable recognition for one of Henley’s forgotten, unsung citizens.
Mortlock’s Riseâ€¦ it sounds as if it’s meant to be. — Yours faithfully,
Stop causes of leukaemia
Sir, — I read your article about the Barras family climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in aid of leukaemia research (Standard, August 26) with interest.
I hope they raise lots of money for leukaemia sufferers. There should be more information given out about the causes of leukaemia.
I have an encouraging story. Researcher Edward Priestley developed severe aplastic anaemia (bone marrow destruction) from workplace chemicals and doctors didn’t think he would survive.
Yet decades later his blood count is normal. He found the causes of leukaemia and many blood diseases include toxic chemicals, radiation and certain medical drugs. Benzene is a proven cause of leukaemia and yet is used by industry.
By avoiding chemicals and eating healthily, Mr Priestley survived and helps others.
He has no magic cure, just common-sense information to give the body a better chance after treatment. The EU now admits that many chemicals were allowed into common use without proper safety testing to see if they cause cancer.
Prof Andreas Kortenkamp, of Brunel University, said chemicals can interfere with the human system and must be reduced.
He said: “We will not be able to reduce cancer without addressing preventable causes.”
This would save so much suffering. Good luck to the Kilimanjaro team. — Yours faithfully,
Contribution seemed brave
Sir, — Lt Col Blaker posed an important question in his Thought for the Week (Standard, August 26). He then proceeded to answer that question from his own perspective as a Christian.
Your correspondent Douglas Kedge responded by saying that he always reads Thought for the Week, indicating to me that he is a searcher with regard to religious matters but his letter shows that he finds Lt Col Blaker’s exposition of his Christian faith hard to comprehend.
Christians believe in the second coming of Christ, when the dead will indeed rise. As a Christian, Lt Col Blaker believes that his passport to Paradise relies on the “sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross”, whereby our sins are forgiven.
I found his contribution both thought-provoking and brave. — Yours faithfully,
Dual benefit of singing
Sir, — It is the beginning of a new term for the Aliquando Chamber Choir and now that the excitement of summer is almost over we start rehearsing in earnest for the special concert in aid of Headway Thames Valley.
This will be held in St Mary’s Church in Henley on Saturday, November 19 at 7.30pm.
The charity works to improve life after acquired brain injury and has a local branch at Brunner Hall in Greys Road.
Singing is one of the best stress-busters known to man. “Singing can change your brain” is a wonderful strapline that I came across when investigating how group singing has been scientifically proven to lower stress and relieve anxiety. Group singing is healthier than drinking, cheaper than therapy and, if you are like me, it’s certainly more fun than working out.
It is the one thing in life where feeling better is pretty much guaranteed. Even if you walk into rehearsal exhausted and depressed, by the end of the night you’ll walk out high as a kite on endorphins and goodwill.
Aliquando would like to share this experience with our community and offer people the opportunity to sing with us, to make music together with the added stimulation and motivation of knowing we are doing it for a very good cause.
Aliquando rehearses on the first and third Wednesdays of each month during term time from 7.30pm to 9pm at the Chantry House. For more information, call (01491) 578238.
Our concert is aptly entitled Towards the Light. We are singing a programme of music inspired by the theme of “light”; music filled with optimism, radiance and celestial muses!
We will be joined by the West Forest Sinfonia and two soloists, soprano Meryl Davies and tenor Matthew Kimble.
Works include Handel’s sublime Eternal Source of Light Divine for soprano and solo trumpet, sung to great acclaim by Elin Manahan Thomas at the opening of the Paralympic Games in 2012. Need we say more?!
Tickets for the concert will be on sale midway through October. Reserved seating costs £20 and unreserved £16. — Yours faithfully,
Music director, Aliquando Chamber Choir,
Someone’s in need of lesson
Sir, — I was amused to read in your small ads (Standard, September 2) that a tutor with 15 years’ experience is offering coaching for “Grammer School” entrance.
I went to Henley Grammar School myself and I’m sure it had an “...ar” at the end in those days.
I hope that the mistake is yours and not the person who penned the advert.
Either way, I shouldn’t think there will be many takers. — Yours faithfully,
No confidence in advert
Sir, — The item in your classified advertisements (training and tuition) headed “Grammer school” would not inspire confidence.
If this is your fault, it needs correcting and an apology given. If not, enough said. — Yours faithfully,
Error made me laugh
Sir, — Do you not think the “Grammer” School (11+, CEM transfer tests and common entrance) tutor with more than 15 years’ experience could do with a little tuiton themselves?
Or is it one of those made up words like Brexit (i.e. grammar/crammer)?
It was probably a printing error but it made me chuckle. — Yours faithfully,
Thank you for support
Sir, — On behalf of the Berkshire MS Therapy Centre in Reading, I would like to thank the people of Henley for their support and generosity during our charity collection held in the town centre on Saturday, August 6.
It was an extremely hot day but we were delighted to raise £1,135.17, which will be put towards the provision of therapies, services and information for local people with MS.
I would also like to thank the 19 volunteer collectors who gave their time to help us raise money for our centre. — Yours faithfully,
Berkshire MS Therapy Centre,
Loyalty and diligence
Sir, — The Henley Show doesn’t appear by magic — without the loyalty and diligence of the show secretary it would never happen. They are our unsung heroes.
In this 125th anniversary year of the show, I would like to thank the current secretary Jo Taylor and all the past secretaries for their help and support in ensuring that Henley and District Agricultural Association has survived for 125 years.
A list of all the secretaries over the years will be on display in the secretary’s tent at the show tomorrow (Saturday) but there are some dates missing.
These are the year when Denis Ford retired and the years when Miss Gill McKenzie and Miss Barbara Hamilton were the secretaries.
If there are any readers who can fill in the missing dates I hope they will go to the secretary’s tent at the show tomorrow or email email@example.com so that we can complete the history. — Yours faithfully,
President, Henley and Â District Agricultural Association,
New Hawks clubhouse
Sir, — Thanks to tremendous support from Henley town and South Oxfordshire district councils, together with the generosity of our members, we have been able to transform our clubhouse into a modern, practical and pleasant-looking building.
This new facility will be officially opened by Sean Fitzpatrick, one of the greatest Kiwis of all time, tomorrow (Saturday) at 12.45pm before the Hawks versus Chinnor match at Dry Leas (kick-off 3pm).
Why not make a day of it and, as well as the opening and rugby, sample delicious food prepared by 81 Events and ales from Loddon, including the unique Hawks Gold, which is only available at Dry Leas?
Go the Hawks! — Yours faithfully,
Chairman, Henley Rugby Club
Wonders of nature... and technology
Sir, — Further to my letter of August 26, I took this picture in my garden in July of a bumble bee gathering pollen from an extended stalk of ivy, which helped to blur the cluttered background.
It just shows what you can shoot using a £49.99 camera with “only” 7.1 megapixels — quite adequate for an A4 print on matt copy paper.
The camera was a Canon A710 IS with full manual functions as well as a good selection of auto-type programmes and a viewfinder to supplement a good 3in screen.
HD is 720 but is clear camera on the “close up” setting smallest aperture (3.5mm) and fast speed of ISO 200. — Yours faithfully,
R E Cooke
Northfield End, Henley
Is this street clutter really necessary?
Sir, — This photograph was taken on Thursday last week of the pavement on the corner of Duke Street and Hart Street, Henley.
I joined a short queue of people in order to pass through the narrow gap left between these obstacles and the tables and chairs outside Maison Blanc.
An employee came out and used one of the refuse bins so I assume that the patisserie had placed them there. The bins are not the only issue of course. There are several fixed metal cabinets in what appear to be unplanned positions or, if planned, then very poorly.
Are footpaths not intended to be used by pedestrians? How do people with limited vision manage to negotiate this dreadful clutter?
Why are so many metal cabinets required? The expensive flower planter and litter bin are almost lost among the jumble. — Yours faithfully,
Centenary model of 1903 motorbike
Sir, — Here’s a picture of my Harley Davidson V-Rod, pausing halfway up Britwell Hill.
The bike is a centenary model, 1903/2003. 1903 was also the year of the first powered flight by the Wright brothers. — Yours faithfully,
Seventh fantastic year for regatta
Sir, — Another successful Henley Regatta for the Disabled took place on Saturday, our seventh year.
Once again it was officially opened by one of our new patrons, John Howell MP, who has supported all our events since the start.
He was supported by another new patron, Patricia Christmas, chairwoman of Phyllis Court Club.
Every year the club kindly let’s us use its large riverside paddock to stage the event. This year we were delighted to welcome at the event one of our original patrons, the actor David Suchet, who charmed the many visitors during the afternoon. Many delightful selfies were taken with David.
Another exciting visitor was Olympic triple gold medal winner Andrew Triggs Hodge, who was great with the many disabled people. Again many photos were taken and lots were of people holding his gold medal from Rio.
Andrew joined a crew that included disabled people from Team Holt in a fun dragon boat race.
Our Mayor Julian Brookes presented the prizes and visited the many interactive activities.
Everybody had a wonderful time and, as chairman, I am proud of our hard-working committee.
I also want to thank all the organisations and people who donated funds as well as our main sponsor, the Shanly Foundation, for enabling us to organise this special event every year. — Yours faithfully,