Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Your letters...

We need this new housing

Sir, — In all the discussion and worry about the 570 (or whatever is the latest estimate) new homes that Henley must provide, we can easily forget the enormous amount of building which went on in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

David Whitehead’s book Henley-on-Thames: A History reminds us that in the post-war period from 1951 to 1971 the population of Henley went from 8,000 to 11,000, a 37 per cent increase.

After the war, council and private housing was needed urgently. Think of the Gainsborough estate, Mount View, Luker Avenue and many other areas where council houses were built.

Private houses were built in the whole area around Wootton Road, in Deanfield Road, Valley Road, Ancastle Green, Elizabeth Road, Nicholas Road and elsewhere.

I’m sure that very many more than 570 houses were built and very quickly. Most of these were on what we now call greenfield sites.

This new housing was needed urgently, as it is now.

I read in The Times last week that the population of Britain is increasing by about 1,000 every day, about half from the EU and half from other countries.

This daily influx is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

We have to get used to the idea that housing has to be provided for these people as well as for those already living in Britain who are desperate for housing.

Henley has to find room and I don’t doubt that some will have to be on greenfield sites.

Think of the proportion of new housing in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies that was council housing and let the new housing be of a similar proportion.

I never quite know what “affordable” housing means but I think that a large proportion should be council-type housing for rent.

The Government often fails to realise that we are inevitably moving towards a larger proportion of people living in rented property and who could well be renting for life.

“Help to Buy” is mostly a distraction as most people can’t afford to buy even when helped.

And don’t remind me of the loss of new housing at the former Jet petrol station site due to developers’ sleight of hand. — Yours faithfully,

Michael Hollas

Queen Close, Henley

Money wasted on challenge

Sir, — Well, the Thames Farm planning application story moves on, embroiled in the Courts of Justice at the request of both South Oxfordshire District Council leader John Cotton and Shiplake Parish Council.

Mrs Justice Lang, a planning judge in the High Court, has refused both councils permission to pursue their applications for statutory reviews, stating that their propositions were “unarguable”. A pretty strong and definite judgement.

How much more taxpayer money might be haemorrhaged on this application?

Is there no recourse to challenge the use of public funds? Can other parish councils expect to be treated with so much generosity from the public purse?

I find it remarkable that the leader of the district council allows his planning department to risk its reputation by supporting politically motivated decisions, against planning officers’ advice, which invariably end in appeals.

If the council carries on by ignoring its professional planning officers then special measures are just around the corner (of which I have writtren previously) whereby the Government will take over the council’s planning role.

My thoughts are: let your planners do their job, listen and thoroughly understand their advice and don’t allow your councillors sitting as planning committee members to be individually targeted by communications from local politicians lobbying for a decision to go in their favour.

Let’s get “back to basics”. — Yours faithfully,

Dieter Hinke

Elizabeth Road, Henley

P.S. Of course, if Thames Farm is finally ratified then all of South Oxfordshire can breathe easier as the three-year land supply figure will be in place.

However, the ministerial statement reducing the previous five-year land supply figure to three is being challenged in the High Court by a group of developers.

Should they win then who knows what will happen? Planning applications may come flooding in and the district council will need very deep pockets to process the resulting appeals.

Bridge report lacks focus

Sir, — I read the Wokingham Borough Council report on the third Reading bridge with interest and anguish.

It appears to have been written with a poorly focused brief.

Most people do not want more traffic and houses built in South Oxfordshire, so why prioritise that?

The options do not clearly remove or drastically reduce traffic from Sonning, nor reduce Reading Bridge traffic, which surely should have been the main part of the brief.

The toll option is poorly considered, the £2 toll option being too high (on their criteria) to attract/deter traffic, resulting in projected low flows and low benefit.

A £1 single way toll may be more successful in not deterring traffic from a new bridge and could generate £1 x 20,000 vehicles per day x 365 days = £7 million+ a year, which would pay for the bridge on five per cent interest over a couple of decades.

With electronic tolling, lower tolls could be charged for some local traffic and higher (£2 or more) tolls for longer-distance traffic. Any surplus tolls could go towards subsidy of public transport, cycling and walking.

With such tolling, not only could the South Oxfordshire countryside be protected but the funding needed would make this by far the best option.

Why is the Whichurch toll bridge left out of the consideration and analysis when it surely is relevant?

Realigning the traffic flows to a new bridge could help buses and cyclists on existing routes but a range of minor traffic schemes in Caversham and South Oxfordshire will be needed to maximise any benefit. — Yours faithfully,

John Lee

Hemdean Road, Caversham

What about our views?

Sir, — Following a recent meeting of Highmoor Parish Council, I would like to raise questions not only about the effect a third bridge across the Thames in Reading would have on the rural roads of South Oxfordshire, but also our concerns about the way this process is being handled by our political representatives in the district.

After undertaking in 2015 a joint traffic modelling scheme to study the traffic impact of a third bridge, it appears that this has now been morphed by the Berkshire parties into a strategic outline business case with the traffic modelling study merely a subsidiary part.

Its findings have been welcomed by Berkshire whose objective seems to be removing 55,000 cars a day out of central Reading.

There appears to be no real opposition from those who represent the residents of South Oxfordshire at county, district or parliamentary level.

Our opinions have not been sought and there is a feeling that the very real impact this could have on our communities is not being considered. Heavy goods vehicles and cars arriving in Oxfordshire would have three main options for travelling, either along the A4155 into Reading Road/Duke Street in Henley, along the B481 through Sonning Common, Rotherfield Peppard, Highmoor and Nettlebed or along A4155 into Prospect Street, Caversham.

This proposal seems to be meeting the objectives of those south of the River Thames without consideration for those living in South Oxfordshire.

We feel that our political representatives, with the exception of Councillor David Bartholomew, who has not been invited to key meetings, are not making our opposition felt and are taking a back seat.

We are looking for an explanation about where the proposed 55,000 cars will be going. Do we want them on already crowded narrow A or B lanes or will new roads be built to cope with this influx driven through our Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?

I am also concerned about the environmental impact this increase in traffic will have on the air quality in South Oxfordshire. Will studies be conducted to model the potential pollution problems and steps proposed to ensure current air quality will be maintained?

We are asking those affected in South Oxfordshire to let their voices be heard by contacting their MP John Howell and for all parishes in South Oxfordshire to band together to oppose this proposal, currently estimated to cost £110million.

I will be inviting all those who represent us and the chairmen of neighbouring parishes to a meeting in the New Year. — Yours faithfully,

Catherine Walters

Chairman, Highmoor Parish Council

Bad week for commuters

Sir, — This has been a particularly fraught week for rail commuters with cancelled trains and poor communication.

The only remaining though-service from Henley to Paddington at 7.08am was cancelled on Friday and again on Monday.

Great Western Railway informs me that the Friday failure was due to a faulty communication cord and Monday’s was a transmission failure.

GWR does not have spare trains because the leases on some of its trains have run out. The leases were due to expire when the main line was electrified but, as we know, this project was delayed and the planned electrification of the branch line was cancelled.

Until September, we had two through-services to Paddington, the 7.08am and the 7.42am. Then the 7.42am became the 7.38am, was reduced to two cars and terminated at Twyford.

The result was predictable — passengers crammed on to two cars and a worrying scramble across the platform at Twyford to get on the main line train.

Sometimes the main line train was cancelled, sometimes the doors did not open, and on one occasion that was reported to me, the train left before the designated departure time.

Monday’s experience has gone down as one of the worst. The temperature was sub-zero when I got to the station and heard that the 7.08am had been cancelled.

I opted for a taxi to Reading because I had early meetings. Others simply waited for the 7.38am.

The 7.08am is a six-car train, the 7.38am is now a two-car train. The result was predictable.

I was sent a photo from one carriage, showing passengers crammed in and when they got to Twyford, the main line train was already at the platform, so there was a mad dash to get on that train.

This is a very worrying and dangerous situation.

GWR assures us that things will improve in January, when electric trains will begin to run on the slow, or “relief”, line.

But many Henley commuters are still not aware that all through-services to Paddington will cease in December because trains will no longer be permitted to switch over to the fast line.

The 7.08am train will terminate at Twyford and passengers must hope to find a seat on the electric train that will have originated at Didcot.

GWR says that Didcot passengers heading to Paddington will have a much faster option, so are unlikely to be on that train. We will have to wait and see.

HBUG recently met with officials at the Department for Transport to share our concerns about the Henley service in anticipation of franchise discussions.

We also meet from time to time with GWR’s managing director and are scheduled to meet Network Rail’s Western Region manager shortly.

Our main message is that branch line users should not be left with a lesser service than we had previously. The current service is not acceptable and GWR has been made aware of that.

More worrying still is the bid by Crossrail to run four trains an hour from Reading through to London.

This would mean that branch line users would step on to Tube trains at Twyford. Tube trains have fewer seats, no overhead luggage racks, no bike storage — and no toilets.

We have challenged the thinking behind no toilets but Crossrail quotes average journey times that are based on short London hops and take no account of commuters whose journey times are much longer.

There is a general assumption that Crossrail will be an improvement but it does not stand up to scrutiny. Far fewer people will have seats and total journey times will often be longer.

Commuters pay about £4,000 a year for a season ticket and spend about 12 hours a day away from home. They contribute a huge amount to the local economy and they deserve a better service. HBUG exists to campaign for it. — Yours faithfully,

Patricia Mulcahy

Chairman, Henley Branch Line User Group

Intolerable train service

Sir, — This is an open letter to John Howell MP about the intolerable state of the Henley to London trains.

John, the daily commute for many of your constituents who work in London is becoming unbearable.

The service that Great Western Railways provides is completely unacceptable.

On Monday, the 7.08am direct train from Henley to London was cancelled again. The 7.38am train is no longer direct and only had two carriages from Henley to Twyford.

As you can imagine, it was an intolerable squish with pregnant ladies being forced to stand because they were not even able to get near seats that other commuters were willing to give up for them.

When we arrived in Twyford there were no seats available on the Twyford to London leg either.

This is totally unacceptable and surely a safety hazard, not to mention daylight robbery considering the cost of tickets.

I strongly urge you to take this up on behalf of your constituents both with GWR and the Secretary of State for Transport.

Please be kind enough to report back what mitigation will be taken to prevent this regular disruption and what improvements will be made to the, frankly, third world rail service we endure. — Yours faithfully,

Dylan A Thomas

Northfield End, Henley

John Howell MP responds: “Thank you for your letter concerning the GWR train service from Henley.

I note you urge me to take up the issues with GWR but I am afraid you are late in the day as I already have.

I am fully aware of the problems that have been experienced on the Henley branch line, especially of late.

I am in regular contact with GWR to follow up on behalf of constituents and to find out the reasons for the problems and what they are doing to resolve them. I lobby and make representations, which I do regularly and feed them back to constituents.

In response to your letter, I have again been in touch with GWR. The head of public affairs has advised me that the cancellation of the 7.08am on Monday and also last Friday were both due to quite unrelated train faults.

On Friday the train failed at the depot due to a fault with the passenger communication safety system. The problem on Monday was with transmission.

It is also noted that there were problems the week before with cancellation of the 5.06pm service on three occasions.

GWR acknowledge that this is not good enough and have reiterated their apologies.

In recent months there hasbeen a number of problems, some operational and some due to improvements in the rail network and trains.

Unfortunately, work to improve services in the longer term is causing short-term disruption. GWR acknowledges that the next couple of months will continue to be difficult and are looking to a much- improved situation in January when the overhead lines will be commissioned from Didcot to London.

There are also changes in train stock with new electric trains coming in on the mainline, releasing other trains for use on the branch line.

GWR operates on a franchise agreement with the Department for Transport.

With constituents’ concerns in mind, in the summer I did look to see if there was anything that could be done through the DfT at this stage.

Poor franchise performance is managed through the franchise process by the department and GWR is certainly not at the point where it may be in breach of its franchise. You can see the performance data at
www.networkrail.co.uk/
who-we-are/how-we-work/
performance/public-
performance-measure

Although delays and cancellations are never welcome, GWR does do its best to keep passengers informed.

Some while ago I helped set up the Henley Branch Line Users Group to manage situations like this, which I understand meets periodically with GWR.

They use Twitter for much of their ongoing communications. You may find it helpful to follow them @HenleyBUG

You may also be aware of the Google group that shares information on services and gives feedback to GWR,
Henleytrains@gmail.com

I will be continuing to monitor the situation at government level and will remain in contact with GWR.

However, on day-to-day operational issues, your most immediate feedback will be thorough direct contact with the company.”

Don’t promote vermin, BBC

Sir, — Hitherto the BBC’s Winterwatch, Springwatch and Autumnwatch programmes have been a very effective means of showing some of the realities and charms of wildlife in the countryside, although anyone who has heard the screams of a hedgehog being eaten alive by a badger might demur at Chris Packham’s delight at the sight of any of Mr Brock’s family.

However, for some unfathomable reason, in the series just finished a great deal of time has been given to extolling the urban fox population and encouraging people to feed, nurture and otherwise admire these verminous creatures.

At a time when the urban and suburban fox population is virtually out of control and causing a real nuisance to many people, especially those with small children, this is the height of irresponsibility.

One wonders if the producers and presenters of the show have ever experienced the heartbreaking carnage found in a poultry house or pen the morning after a visit by these merciless and wanton killers.

I complained to the BBC and was told: “We’ve reviewed the programme and the item on foxes was looking in particular at their intelligence and how it can be tested.”

Perhaps their next offering could be a programme evaluating the relative intelligence of British-born and Syrian-born ISIL terrorists. — Yours faithfully,

P M M Collings

Peppard Common

Lost property office moves

Sir — The day after submitting my lost and found letter to the Henley Standard, I received the following reply from Thames Valley Police.

“I’m sorry but the hearing aid has not been handed into Henley police station, sometimes people post items through the letterbox. This loss has been logged for you at our nearest property store, which is in Abingdon.

“Should your item get handed in or found we will contact you via your email address etc....”

So readers might like to note the location of the lost property office at Abingdon and the offer to contact someone who has notified Thames Valley Police by email. — Yours faithfully,

David Booth

Elizabeth Road, Henley

I won’t eat or drink in street

Sir, — The letter from Richard Jones titled “No need for bottles” (Standard, November 3) brought back some childhood memories.

Then it was always considered bad manners to eat or drink in the street, which we were never allowed to do.

We were also encouraged to wear gloves to prevent the spread of germs.

As a result, I wouldn’t even consider drinking from a bottle, or carrying a mug of beverage around with me while outside.

I also rarely eat between meals for no other reason than that we were taught food is for eating properly and enjoyed while sitting down at the table.

It seems old habits and good customs die hard unless perpetually instilled. — Yours faithfully,

Judith MacBeth

Highdown Avenue, Emmer Green

Important to remember

Sir, — This weekend the nation will observe the traditional ceremonies of remembrance for those men and women who died in the service of this country in the Great War, the Second World War and countless conflicts since. They are not forgotten.

On Saturday, November 11 at 11am outside Henley town hall a bugler will sound the Last Post, to be followed by a two-minute silence.

On Sunday, November 12 a remembrance service and parade will take place outside the town hall.

The timings are as follows: 10.25am Royal British Legion contingent cadet units and other organisations assemble in Greys Road car park; 10.45am Clergy and choir proceed to the town hall from St Mary’s Church; 10.55am, Service commences; 11am Two minutes’ silence followed by remembrance service and march past.

I hope the general public will show their usual support by attending both the above events.

May I also encourage the wearing of medals, especially those of deceased family members whose relatives are entitled to wear them on the right side.

Wear your red poppy with pride, not only for remembrance but also in the knowledge that it represents peace and the funds from the Poppy Appeal continue to help those damaged physically and mentally through war. — Yours faithfully,

John Green

Chairman, Henley and Peppard branch of the Royal British Legion, Maidensgrove

Circus thrills for children

Sir, — I noticed your story about the lorry trouble we had while driving through Henley (Standard, November 3) and thought readers might like to know more about what we were on the way to do.

Circus Starr provides free, inclusive big top circus shows for children and their families that might otherwise struggle to access or enjoy a live performance.

We tour the show to children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, life-limiting illnesses, the recently bereaved, survivors of domestic abuse and young carers (to name just a few of the issues affecting our audience members) three times a year at 75 locations nationwide.

Businesses in the areas we visit kindly support our donated ticket programme to create treasured memories for families in the most need and restore a belief in a world where anything is possible through the magical art of circus performance.

On Friday, we returned to Reading for the 30th year running to stage two relaxed and inclusive shows for local children with disabilities and from low income families at the Memorial Recreation Ground in Woodley.

It’s a once-a-year treat for many who are often excluded from the arts due to lack of accessibility or affordability.

One parent commented after last year’s show: “My daughter, who has profound multiple, physical and learning disabilities, had an amazing time — ringside seats, arms flapping, wheelchair rocking in delight!”

Children dancing in the aisles or shouting out is all part of the experience.

It is important carers relax and enjoy this shared family time and don’t feel judged.

This was the first time I’ve known us to break down and I’ve worked for Circus Starr for almost three years. — Yours faithfully,

Rachel Oliver

Communications and engagement manager, Circus Starr, Congleton, Cheshire

Kindness is overwhelming

Sir, — I would like to convey my thanks to the two kind gentlemen who picked me up when I had a fall outside the Joules shop in Henley and the two kind ladies from that shop who took me inside to recover.

Not only did one of the ladies take me to the minor injuries unit at Townlands Memorial Hospital but she also took my damaged glasses to the opticians for repair and returned them to me later in the day.

I am just ovewhelmed by the kindness of strangers. — Yours faithfully,

Janet Wise

War Memorial Place, Henley

Board game emporium

Sir, — My sincerest apologies. Last week I gave the incorrect address of Eclectic Games in Reading. It is in fact 5 Union Street. For more information, you can call them on 0118 959 8250.

Once again, apologies to all. Go on and dive into a new world of board game fun. — Yours faithfully,

Edward Sierpowski

Henley

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