Monday, 21 August 2017

Your letters...

Concerned by planners

Sir, — I am writing on behalf of Sonning Common Parish Council to share our concerns over the conduct of South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning department.

Recent recommendations and decisions by officers have led the parish council to conclude that planners are failing in their duty to protect the district from adverse development.

The parish council is extremely concerned about the lack of respect being shown by planners towards the Sonning Common neighbourhood plan, which took nearly five years and £63,000 to produce, and their apparent reluctance to apply its policies in the determination of major planning applications.

This is despite clear government direction (housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell’s written statement to the House of Commons on December 12) that the policies of qualifying neighbourhood plans in districts with a three-year land supply for new housing should be adhered to.

Sonning Common’s neighbourhood plan meets the minister’s qualifying criteria, being under two years old, as does the district council in having land suitable for new housing development for the next 3.8 years.

We understand that a legal challenge has been made to the minister’s statement.

The advice we have received from our MP John Howell is that the statement holds unless and until the court determines otherwise.

The Neighbourhood Planning Bill, reviewed in Mr Barwell’s statement and currently passing through Parliament, is clear evidence of the Government’s determination to afford to local communities the opportunities to shape sustainable housing development in their areas in keeping with the Localism Act 2011.

Why, then, did South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning officers recommend that councillors approved a planning application by Gallagher Estates when it directly contravened the Sonning Common neighbourhood plan, government guidance and the wishes of existing residents?

This application, had it been approved, would have allowed for 95 homes to be built on an enlarged site instead of the 26 houses allocated under the neighbourhood plan.

The enlarged site was not on the original 2012 Strategic Housing Land Allocation Assessment.

If permitted, it would have extended housing development into the countryside, permanently harming the landscape (as testified by the Chilterns Conservation Board), and placed an additional strain on already overburdened village services and facilities and increased traffic.

The original housing allocation from the district council for the Sonning Common area was 138 houses.

Our neighbourhood plan allows for 195 homes plus an additional 44 in reserve, giving a total of 241 houses.

The addition of another 69 houses at the Gallagher site represents an increase of more than two-and-a-half times the original allocation of 26.

Existing residents have impressed upon us time and time again their desire to maintain Sonning Common as a distinctive South Oxfordshire village, separated from our urban neighbour Reading by an important green gap.

This strategic objective is at the heart of our neighbourhood plan.

The officers and councillors at the district council have a great deal of power to make important and far-reaching planning decisions on behalf of the district.

The responsibility to ensure that development is suitable, sustainable and not harmful to the district should come in equal measure. Harmful decisions set precedents for further harmful decisions.

We appeal to the council’s chief executive David Hill to review the operations of his planning department to ensure that the recommendations and decisions made by officers in meeting housing targets are in the best interests of the district and existing residents. — Yours faithfully,

Ros Varnes

Deputy parish clerk, Sonning Common Parish Council

Something is busted

Sir, — Councillor Tom Fort’s eloquent letter in defence of the Sonning Common neighbourhood plan inspired me to discuss the Kennylands Road proposal with a local developer.

The first thing he said to me was “Nimby”. Really, I thought, and looked at him.

He remembered that I lived on the other side of the village. What’s your issue, he asked.

Traffic gridlock in the village centre, I said. He agreed.

The village’s neighbourhood plan already allows for almost 200 homes — more than requested by South Oxfordshire District Council — so it should be respected.

You have a point, he said.

His current project for two homes in another South Oxfordshire village is trapped in planning limbo, he told me.

Then he listed all the things that the planners are getting wrong.

Something is busted, as Mr Fort says. Democratic local decisions should be upheld. — Yours faithfully,

Nick Shanagher

Widmore Lane, Sonning Common

Beef needed on housing

Sir, — A full planning application has now been submitted for a 65-bed care home on the old Henley youth centre site.

I am informed that South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning officers have accepted, in principle, that this would be suitable for this site.

This will be the third care housing application, with two already approved, in Henley so far with probably more in the system.

If this is approved, it will mean that two sites in the neighbourhood plan, which were allocated for affordable housing, will produce none.

Let me remind you that the neighbourhood plan states, right at the start, that one of its prime objectives is to provide 40 per cent affordable homes on ALL its nominated sites.

This would give Henley overall the 200 affordable homes it desperately needs.

We were told recently that neighbourhood plans had been “beefed up” and given more weight due to the change in land supply figures.

Please give us more of this beef in Henley and less vegetarian lasagne to provide our affordable homes.

Please, please, planners, give us the affordable homes we want and urgently need, not what the developers think we should have.

The economic viability of this town demands it. — Yours faithfully,

Dieter Hinke

Chairman, Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan steering group, Elizabeth Road, Henley

Time to go, councillor

Sir, — Why is he staying? The question was asked several times in last week’s Henley Standard.

Councillor Martin Akehurst is staying on Henley Town Council because the Conservative party needs him to stay.

Already there is to be one town council by-election on May 4. If we had two, with the independent Henley Residents’ Group’s superb record of winning by-elections, the Conservatives would lose control of the council. “Attending every two or three months,” to quote Councillor Akehurst, referring to his attendance at council meetings, when the expected attendance is at least three weeks in six, is not fair.

It is not fair on other councillors who have to share the workload, nor on the voters of Henley South ward, who need an active councillor to represent them.

Neither is this predicament fair on Cllr Akehurst or his family. The kindest way forward is to thank him for the work he has done and for the Conservatives to ease the pressure on him, consider his health first and let him have a quieter stress-free life with his family. — Yours faithfully,

Gill Dodds

Leader, Henley Residents’ Group, Greys Road, Henley

Stand down for the town

Sir, — Since I began attending council meetings, I have yet to see Councillor Martin Akehurst make an appearance.

If he is still quite unwell then I wish him a speedy recovery but, without wishing to be unkind, does seeing him pushing the trolley round Waitrose mean he’s going to make an appearance in the council chamber any time soon?

It seems to me that the Conservatives are quite happy to keep a town councillor who is not actively doing what he was elected to do and serve the town.

I’m asking the Mayor to ask Cllr Akehurst to stand down for the sake of the town and let people who really want to make a difference be elected.

It feels to me that he’s a bit of a silent partner in the party and not doing very much so it’s time for him to go. — Yours faithfully,

Donna Crook

Abrahams Road, Henley

Talk about it at council

Sir, — Last week’s edition of “Your letters” was once again dominated by long letters from over-opinionated councillors and former councillors arguing with each other.

This is stuff for the council chamber and should be reported elsewhere or be subject to access from appropriate minutes. — Yours faithfully,

Jon Edgell

Wargrave

Good to cut speed limit

Sir, — As I write to make a comment about the recommendation to introduce a 20mph speed limit in Henley, it is also worth recording, for the first time in print, my full support for the sentiments expressed by Ken Arlett about Councillors Paul Harrison and Martin Akehurst (Standard, March 3).

On the matter of 20mph speed limits, it should be pointed out that this is a necessary tool to help continuously flowing traffic to remain continuous just as variable traffic speeds are used on motorways.

Stopping and starting caused by traffic lights and speed bumps are major contributors to air pollution.

Using 20mph as a control mechanism for continuously flowing traffic is then needed to reduce queueing. I do hope we get this right. — Yours faithfully,

David Dickie

St Katherine’s Road, Henley

Free to turn off engines

Sir, — I don’t agree with the suggestion that £30,000 should be spent on a survey regarding a 20mph speed limit in Henley (Standard, March 3).

Slowing the traffic throughput may reduce pollution but there are other factors, such as engine size, petrol compared with diesel engines etc., which can influence this.

Pollution, even in a 20 mph area, can also be exacerbated by the increased traffic volume due to events like the regatta and the festival or if there is a local road closure.

Surely, as a first step, it makes more sense to encourage drivers to turn off their engines when in stationary traffic, especially in the most affected areas.

Secondly, delivery lorries, buses and taxis should not be allowed to have their engines running for any length of time when parked, especially in the central areas of the town.

This is a really common problem as anyone who regularly walks in those areas will confirm.

These two simple expedients would surely make a significant difference to pollution levels at very little cost. — Yours faithfully,

Patrick Mulcahy

Milton Close, Henley

Bypass is only real solution

Sir, — Henley Town Council is set to spend £30,000 on another useless scheme to try to solve our traffic and pollution problems.

A few years ago it wasted £50,000 on a traffic survey.

How can reducing the speed limit to 20mph solve the problems of traffic congestion and pollution?

Like many others I have spoken to, I would have thought it would have the opposite effect.

Vast amounts of money are spent continually on Oxfordshire’s traffic problems.

It is time some of our very high and ever-increasing council tax was spent on Henley’s problems for a change by building the very much-needed and long overdue bypass.

This is the only solution to the problem of traffic congestion which will only get a lot worse when all the new housing is built. I live on Reading Road and the traffic is continuous the whole day and sometimes at a complete standstill.

What we need is fewer cars, not less miles per hour. — Yours faithfully,

Margaret Thompson

Reading Road, Henley

Action before politicking

Sir, — I have just read the article about the old Regal (Standard, February 24).

I was actually the catalyst for Save the Regal, along with Chris Leeming.

I registered a limited company to put in a bid to Waitrose for the cinema as they kept on saying that they could not find a suitable operator.

I was concerned that the site would become offices. The Henley Cinema and Theatre Company was the name of the company as we wished to have live performances as well as movies. Chris drew up wonderful plans.

The third cinema was big enough to house the Henley Orchestra in a 500-seat auditorium that extended over the car park.

Waitrose was stalling to accept the offer of the first bidder.

I had top lawyers on board and top accountants, Clark Whitehill, of Reading.

Waitrose had to make a decision. They went for the first bidder whom they had been in contact with for some time.

Later I stood for town council but I am a person of action, not out to gain political points.

This is the first time that I have made this information public. — Yours faithfully,

Joan Bland

New Street, Henley

Cinema organ was film star

Sir, — Your article about saving the Henley Regal 20 years ago made no mention of the cinema’s magnificent Compton organ.

Originally built in the Thirties for the Ritz in Tunbridge Wells, the organ was in use in the Regal from the
Seventies.

When the cinema closed in 1986 the organ was bought by a collector in Lincolnshire.

Now fully restored, it can be seen in the small Burtey Fen cinema museum in the village of Pinchbeck, just outside Spalding.

The organ can also be seen in all its glory at the very beginning of the 1984 film A Private Function, rising out of the floor of the Regal with Maggie Smith at the keyboard and Michael Palin sitting beside her. — Yours faithfully,

Alun Harvey

Former Henley resident, Stadskanaal, Netherlands

Help save our fire station

Sir, — This is an open letter to the residents of Wargrave.

The village fire station, which has been here since 1903, will be closed unless there is an overwhelming response from residents that it should be retained. The public consultation ends on Monday.

Government cuts mean the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service needs to make savings or raise income of £2.4million by April 2020.

Closing Wargrave’s station is just one of several options. One of the services that Wargrave fire service offers is the NHS responder unit, which responds to 20 to 30 calls per month and generates valuable income for the service.

It deals with the early recognition and call for help to prevent cardiac arrest, early CPR to buy time, early defibrillation to restart the heart and post-resuscitation care to restore the quality of life. This has not been considered in the consultation.

You may need either the fire and rescue service or the responder service. They may save your life or your neighbour’s or your child’s. Can you afford to wait for an engine from Maidenhead or Wokingham?

The analysis, though voluminous, is flawed as it assumes that a retained station costs £168,000 per annum on average.

This assumes a full establishment which has not been Wargrave’s case. Wargrave’s costs are a fraction of this sum, net of NHS contributions.

Please take part in the public consultation. It takes only a few minutes at www.rbfrs.co.uk

The consultation is in three sections. The third section is the important one as it asks you to rank seven options in terms of preference.

There are only four options that do not promote the closure of Wargrave fire station. These are options 2, 3, 4 and 7.

Only two options do not promote the disestablishment of the retained support unit which supports the retained fire engine availability — 4 and 7.

Therefore, to press the case for retaining the fire station, please put option 4 first, option 7 second, options 3 and 2 third and fourth and options 5, 6 and 1 fifth, sixth and seventh.

Option 7 is to go to the public to increase income by referendum and, in Berkshire’s case, we believe it would be successful as the request would be for about £6 per annum or less than 2p per day to ensure that you are safe from fire and have an immediate response from a NHS responder unit operated by the fire service.

Please also email irmp@rbfrs.co.uk and write in support of retaining the fire station or, if the computer is not your thing, please write to: Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue, IRMP Consultation, Reading RG31 7SD or call 0118 938 4331.

The consultation does not offer every saving. For example, some £80,000 to £100,000 is paid every year to the 16 councillors who are appointed by the six Berkshire unitaries, which have already paid them once.

It is believed that for some time before the last year the fire and rescue service has been discouraging new recruits to Wargrave. However, recently recruitment has accelerated and retainment support officer Jon Murby says: “The consultation process has actually been good for recruitment.”

It takes six months to a year for a recruit to be fully trained and then be a full member of the team. This shortfall in staff has meant that the appliance could not be manned and has affected the historic statistics, suggesting that response rate is very low. This is being rectified.

Maybe you could apply to be a firefighter — it is a good additional income and great fun. No age restriction. — Yours faithfully,

Councillors John Halsall and Bob Pitts

Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe ward, Wokingham Borough Council

Formula bad for schools

Sir, — The Government’s proposed funding formula for schools was supposed to increase funding in areas such as Oxfordshire where funding has been recognised as being inadequate.

However, as your paper has reported, it seems the formula would have the opposite effect on many of the schools in the Henley parliamentary constituency.

Analysis shows that the vast majority of schools in the constituency, as many as 40 out of 52 in fact, could lose funding if these proposals are approved.

Even those schools which are supposed to gain from the proposed changes are unlikely to see all the money they need as the Government has imposed a ceiling on the amount a school can receive.

The worst affected schools stand to lose more than two per cent of their funding. Many of these are small village schools, which not only provide a fantastic education for local children but also form part of the backbone of local communities as well as enabling children to walk to school. The Government should urgently rethink these proposed changes. — Yours faithfully,

Laura Coyle

Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for the Henley constituency

Not fair on poor dog

Sir, — I read your report of the dog attack in Checkendon with interest (Standard, February 24).

Four strands of barbed wire is not sufficient fencing for sheep. In the past David Hicks’s sheep have wandered on to the road and in the woods. I would strongly advise the owners of the unfortunate dog to contact the attending vet before parting with any money. — Yours faithfully,

S Fairbaery

Checkendon

Please sell the pub as is

Sir, — So the Rose and Crown in New Street, Henley, was closed four years ago by Brakspear and was intended by the company to be converted into a nice, six-bedroom house with an equally nice price to accompany it (Standard, March 3).

Good for the company’s coffers but, alas, another Henley pub owned by Brakspear to get the boot for property development.

I fully back South Oxfordshire District Council in not approving the conversion of the pub to a house and I’m sure there are many other Henley residents who agree.

New Street needs a pub. Brakspear could offer the Rose and Crown to another brewery or as a free house, so ensuring a pub still exists, but it won’t do this because there is no money in it.

I call on Brakspear to relinquish control of the Rose and Crown and offer it to Henley as a working pub through different owners.

Brakspear pretty much has a monopoly on all the classic pubs/buildings in Henley and the surrounding area. It’s time for a Rebellion. — Yours faithfully,

James Lambert

Mill End

I’m in the rescue boat...

Sir, — As Douglas Kedge and Ann Law have responded to my response (Standard, February 24) I feel I must respond again.

Mr Kedge states “generally we happily go about the business of living”. So do we all!

In view of his next question, “what has gone wrong?”, may I respectfully suggest the business of dying may not have been addressed.

When Nicodemus asked Jesus about his divine message Jesus clearly stated: “You must be born again.”

To use Mr Kedge’s own analogy of a boat, he can either get into the rescue boat and join the millions of us around the world who have the joy of journeying with Jesus or he can sail off in the opposite direction and, as the apostle Paul warned, join those who have “pierced themselves through with many griefs.”

Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Clear and effective enough surely?

My response to Ann Law is: I. too, heard that expression in my youth but now, having put childish things behind me, I much prefer the Lord’s parable concerning the Good Samaritan. Jesus clearly is concerned with other people. — Yours faithfully,

Mrs G M Radley

Vicarage Road, Henley

No need for bus ‘voice’

Sir, — Passengers using the Arriva buses between Reading and High Wycombe, via Henley, now have a “voice” telling them: “Your next stop is…”

In a big city, where people are constantly getting on and off, this is helpful but in a more rural setting it is an irritating intrusion which spoils the atmosphere and impedes conversation.

Four of the six “next stops” between Henley Market Place and Wargrave are named as Temple Combe, Kenton’s Lane, White Cliff and Summer Lodge.

I have lived all my life in this area and have never heard anyone ever mention any of them!

Where are they getting these “places” from — presumably some wayward satellite? — Yours faithfully,

Paul Willson

Pound Lane, Sonning

Poor way to treat speaker

Sir, — My husband and I attended a talk at the Kenton Theatre last month given by Don Cruickshank and were rather shocked by the casual way he was treated.

Nobody led him on to the stage to introduce nor to thank him, ask for questions and escort him off.

He had trouble with the microphone from the outset, which added to the embarrassment. This should have been checked beforehand.

I realise that the theatre is run by voluntary helpers but that is no excuse. — Yours faithfully,

Sheila Freer

Elizabeth Road, Henley

Zsuzsi Lindsay, general manager of the Kenton Theatre, responds: “If people have any concerns about anything at the theatre we’re really approachable and they are more than welcome to speak to us directly.

“I got feedback about the sound and we’re now looking into the sound system.

“As for Dan Cruikshank’s treatment, we had a letter from him saying, ‘thanks for a lovely evening’ and he thought the evening went really well.

We’re really open and really want feedback so this is really helpful and it’ll help us work on things like that. We had no feedback along the lines that Dan was treated badly so we really appreciated that and I will ask him specifically about his treatment.”

Helpful... up to a point

Sir, — Thanks for publishing the recycling rules (Standard, February 24). However, it is difficult to see how you could have published them in a less helpful form, i.e. over three columns on two sides of a page, one section backing another, in small italics.

Could you possibly try again, this time in bigger and more legible print, not italics, over two columns of equal length on one page? We could then cut them out or copy them and actually keep them handy for future reference. That would be really helpful! — Yours faithfully,

Nick Blandy

Shiplake

The editor responds: “Your wish is my command, Mr Blandy. Please turn to page 26.”

Thank you, kind lady

Sir, — We wish to thank the lady (we believe your name is Julie), from Bix, who found our mother, who has advanced Alzheimer’s/ dementia, wandering in the lane near Middle Assendon on Monday, February 27.

This was the first ever episode of “wandering”. We are very grateful that you drove her to our neighbour so that she could be reunited with us. — Yours faithfully,

The Laceys

Henley

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