Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Your letters...

Fobbed off with excuses

Sir, — To judge by the frequency of letters to the editor of the Henley Standard, the condition of roads in the Henley area is not improving.

Even where work is carried out, it is often done piecemeal and to a shoddy standard.

An example is two areas on the road between Greys Green and the main entrance to Greys Court.

This is in spite of numerous letters to our esteemed MP, a Henley county councillor and the editor.

The FixMyStreet website is an exercise in fending off the public in my experience.

Some time ago I submitted a report to the website about the (then) appalling condition of the last few hundred metres of King’s Road in Henley as it approaches the Northfield End roundabout, which “the man on the Clapham omnibus” would have regarded as in need of repair.

To my amazement, the response on the website was to the effect that “repairs were not needed”.

I gave up in disgust. It was as if we were talking different languages.

Judge my surprise, therefore, when substantial repair work was carried out in this precise location last summer, just before Henley Royal Regatta.

Perhaps an Oxfordshire County Council spokesman would care to explain this extraordinary coincidence?

I have it on good authority that there is insufficient money for potholes because the county council chooses to spend its budget on welfare of various kinds.

Personally, I would prefer the council to admit that it has little money for potholes rather than to be fobbed off with statements like the above, which are an insult to my intelligence.

Something is very wrong somewhere. — Yours faithfully,

Michael Emmett

Peppard Common

FixMyStreet is misnomer

Sir, — I read Oxfordshire County Council’s response to the two of your correspondents (Standard, November 24), saying it was keen to persuade the public to report potholes and flooding on roads via the FixMyStreet website.

I can tell you that I reported a problem in Sonning Common some three months ago and, despite the efforts of our county councillor, there has been no response from the council.

Actually there was a sort of response. Someone changed the status to “no action required”.

So can I ask what highways officials do all day apart from nullifying any road reports?

The hole in question conveniently ensures that all bus passengers at Sonning Common’s main bus stop get soaked on wet days.

I know it’s a long way from Oxford so possibly the county council couldn’t care less.

But I care very much that they boast in your newspaper about their modern approach to reporting problems. I’m afraid it’s a big mask as they do nothing at all with these reports. — Yours faithfully,

John Evans

Grove Road, Sonning
Common

Fixed road is breaking up

Sir, — Is it me? After 10 weeks of closure of the A4155 beyond the Flowing Spring we have now had three weeks since its re-opening.

Has anyone else noticed that the top surface is already breaking up?

I trust Oxfordshire County Council will call back the contractors, as a matter of urgency, to rectify this, at their expense, before the surface gets any worse.

While talking of road repairs, please do something about Reading Road between the Three Horseshoes and the Tesco roundabout in Henley.

The cost of repairs to damaged tyres and wheels will get to the point where claims to the council become more costly than repairs to the road! — Yours faithfully,

Barrie Jones

Mill Road, Lower Shiplake

Cars with no driver? Mad!

Sir, — As driverless cars have to be under somebody’s authority, will they breathalyse their owners before accepting instructions to drive them back from the pub and how will they swerve around the renowned South Oxfordshire potholes and meandering deer on the way home? Artificial Intelligence or lunacy?

We have enough of the latter on our narrow rural roads as it is — and that’s before we build another Thames Bridge. — Yours faithfully,

Dirk Jones

Kennylands Road, Sonning Common

Be flexible on housing issue

Sir, — Although in my letter two weeks ago I may have used emotive language, I want to make it clear that Dieter Hinke has every right to support those causes he believes in. I would therefore like to make a full apology for any hurt I’ve caused him and his family.

There is absolutely no question of any impropriety, financial or otherwise, on his behalf.

When he was a councillor he performed his duties in a considered and professional manner, taking and assessing the information he had been given and coming to a decision in a fair and unbiased manner.

It is somewhat refreshing to see someone stick to his principles even now out of office and I’m sure if he stands for office in the future he will be an asset to the town.

I particularly liked his letter in last week’s Henley Standard which gave a very good summary of the situation regarding the town’s neighbourhood plan and was well worth reading.

It highlighted in a succinct manner the issues facing those building the plan, a thankless task that took many hundreds and hundreds of hours of dedication to create, with all the consultations required to get acceptance and finally push it through to referendum.

In retrospect, it would have been better if the four towns in South Oxfordshire were given the same flexibility that our 12 larger villages had when deciding which sites to use.

Instead their choice of sites was pre-selected in the district council’s core strategy document. A better method would be to say to the towns, “these are the sites we recommend but if you do a neighbourhood plan you can pick the sites which best suit your needs”. That would have been real localism.

In Sonning Common our neighbourhood development plan committee had this flexibility.

Just one extra point — prior to December 2016, when a district council lost its five-year land supply, all neighbourhood and community-led plans were automatically considered out of date.

You can imagine the embarrassment this gave the Government after creating and promoting the benefits of building a neighbourhood plan.

As more and more district councils in the South-East failed their five-year land supply, the Government decided to act and hence in December 2016 Gavin Barwell MP, who was responsible for the Planning Inspectorate at that time, announced that neighbourhood plans were intact so long as their district council had a three-year land supply and the plan had gone through a referendum and was less than two years old.

This gives areas with a neighbourhood plan more strength than those areas without, hence the reason so many smaller parishes are now looking to create their own plans as their community-led plans are not given the same level of protection. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Paul Harrison

South Oxfordshire District Council, Sonning Common

We can’t take more homes

Sir, — As a fellow Conservative with some knowledge of local housing problems, I can sympathise with both Councillor Paul Harrison and Dieter Hinke in their recent spat in your columns.

From Harpsden Parish Council’s point of view, I can only regret Dieter’s departure from his admired role as the fair-minded chairman of the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan committee.

But instead of intervening in the Thames Farm case when the High Court still had to hear South Oxfordshire district and Shiplake parish councils’ oral request for a judicial review of the last planning inspector’s decision, there was surely a number of points that he should have been making for both Henley and Harpsden.

Instead of giving preference to the opinions of a few casual visitors to an afternoon exhibition, mightn’t he have had regard to his own neighbourhood plan governance committee, which had the benefit of tuition from an independent planning consultant and had studied the local housing problems for some time? Be that as it may, may I suggest that the points he should have made, and which I hope your readers will make this week while the district council is still taking comments, are:

1. At the outset of the neighbourhood plan we were promised that if we accepted 450 (then 500) new homes, we would not have to take any more (other than “windfalls”) before 2027, so what is the hurry now?

2. Neither Henley nor Harpsden can take the 350 more houses proposed by the district council without significant loss of amenity and local character.

Until most of the 500 new houses are in place it is impossible to see just how badly both Henley and Harpsden will be affected, for example, by traffic from Highlands Farm on the lower half of Greys Road in Henley and on the whole of Gillotts Lane in Harpsden.

3. Putting anything like 350 more houses in Henley and Harpsden would almost certainly mean using the sites rejected by the plan and the local public that endorsed it by referendum.

4. As a small village of 151 dwellings, Harpsden is already taking the 164 houses to be built on Highlands Farm plus the likelihood of 99 on Thames Farm and up to 40 on the former Wyevale site, thereby tripling its present number.

5. Finally, it cannot be said too often that much of the local road system is fit only for a rural community of small villages and each new block of housing exacerbates existing problems.

Anyone who doubts this should drive down Gillotts Lane and on along the valley to the Henley/Reading road, via the single track with passing places known as Sheephouse Lane.

Moreover, the main road is not immune either since the houses, flats and factory already planned along it threaten to gum up this major access into central Henley. — Yours faithfully,

Kester George

Chairman, Harpsden Parish Council

Good value, councillors?

Sir, — Am I the only Henley Standard reader who doubts that Henley Town Council has any understanding of the concept of “value for money”?

Recently we have been informed that a “consultant” was paid a rate of nearly £1,000 per day to cycle around the town and make suggestions regarding improving traffic flow.

From what we are told, it seems that most of the resultant recommendations had already been considered by both the council and previous professional traffic consultants.

To put this into perspective, my daughter’s GCSE project produced nearly identical findings (I admit that the students, like the “consultant”, were paid for their work in that they each received a free T-shirt!).

While on the subject of value for money, can anyone explain what a town manager does?

Statements like “doing a wonderful job”, “doing a fantastic job” and “working with local businesses” leave us none the wiser regarding what she actually does and how a total cost in salary and budget of almost £60,000 per year will be justified in improvements to the running of the town.

This sum seems a tad on the high side when a few years ago, the same council was not willing to fund the continued employment of a youth leader which would have cost less than half this amount. — Yours faithfully,

Vic Moore

Remenham Hill

HRG really is independent

Sir, — “It’s time for Independents” said your correspondent, Geoff Luckett (Standard, November 24). Absolutely right!

National political parties have no role in local affairs. Henley is best served by independents.

That’s why Henley Residents’ Group was formed nearly 30 years ago and why, given a couple of minor tremors, it has been so continuously successful ever since.

HRG does what it says on the tin. Its members belong to a wide spectrum of political opinion but come together to address issues that are important to Henley.

And that’s it. No divided loyalties. No secret ambitions to climb the political ladder to touch the hem of the sacred Jeremy or blessed Theresa.

All its councillors are independents who make common cause to keep Henley a magic place to live.

Do your bit and join them or attend one of their meetings. — Yours faithfully,

Dick Fletcher

Hambleden

Hurrah for no party politics

Sir, — Could I take this opportunity of thanking my “old friend” Geoff Luckett for his kind words for both myself and Henley Residents’ Group (Standard, November 24)?

Geoff has taken a very keen interest at council meetings over the past few months, also getting to know both HRG and Conservative councillors at social events.

Like myself, Geoff has seen at first hand some of the discourteous exchanges across the council table.

It has been frustrating for the HRG members who have worked extremely hard over the past six months to make Henley an even better place to live, work and enjoy.

Geoff is again 100 per cent correct, the town council would work better with 16 independent councillors.

This would cut out the silly party political games that are currently brought to the committee table.

Due to another Conservative councillor’s resignation, the residents of Henley will have a chance to vote in the Henley North ward on Thursday, January 18. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Ken Arlett

Henley Town Council, Elizabeth Road, Henley

Register if you want to vote

Sir, — With a by-election due to be held to fill the vacancy on Henley Town Council, this is a good time to improve our rate of voter registration.

The election will be for the North ward, which is north of Greys Road.

If you live in Henley North ward and you are not on the electoral roll, you will need to register by December 12 to be certain of being able to vote in the election.

You can register online using the Government’s “Register-to-Vote” page.

By registering you will be able to participate in an important democratic process and influence the way in which your local council is run. — Yours faithfully,

David Winchester

Secretary, Henley constituency Labour Party, Kennylands Road, Sonning Common

Sub-standard rail service

Sir, — Further to John Howell’s response to my open letter regarding the state of the train service provided by Great Western Railway between Henley and London Paddington (Standard, November 10), I wanted to write openly to our MP specifically on his point that “on day to day operational issues, your most immediate contact will be through the company direct”.

I recently moved back to my home town of Henley from London for a short period and am now a branch line commuter, albeit a temporary one. The experience has been truly eye-opening.

Since October 20, I have lodged three separate complaints and requests for compensation/refund with GWR due to the poor service I have experienced as well as a ticketing issue. One of these complaints alone has generated three separate case reference numbers, including for my responses to GWR’s requests for proof of purchase — case reference numbers which apparently aren’t linked.

A month later, not one of these issues is resolved. so I’m hesitant to lodge any more (and there are plenty more).

I called GWR customer services on November 17 and spent 20 minutes on the telephone assisting them to piece together my case reference numbers and allocate my correspondence to the three separate issues I’ve raised.

The customer service assistant I spoke with thanked me for my time and assured me that I would receive a response to all three of the issues by the end of the day. I’m still waiting.

While I wait for the company to respond, I’ll continue to hand over £111.90 per week for a railcard because I have no other choice if I want to get to work.

So I ask Mr Howell, what does he suggest now? Should I spend another 20 minutes on the phone managing these issues for GWR that I shouldn’t have to be raising in the first place?

Or should I just take them on the chin and be grateful that GWR care enough about their customers to invest our fares into improvements that will make their poor service not so poor (we hope...)? After all, they have apologised.

GWR rely on the fact that the process of lodging complaints is so confusing and time-consuming that commuters will stop caring.

Sadly, I can’t afford to stop caring when I’m paying such a high price for a sub-standard service, squeezed into overcrowded carriages all too often and left waiting for more than just the next train. — Yours faithfully,

Lorna Greenwood

Lovell Close, Henley

John Howell MP responds: “I am sorry to read about your experience with GWR and with their customer services team.

“I completely agree that the account you relay describes an unacceptable level of service.

“There are two issues in your letter — the level of service you have personally received from customer services and a more general one of a poor system for complaints.

“It is correct that the first port of call for a complaint should be directly to the company. However, where problems arise I am very happy to raise cases with GWR directly.

“I will raise the issue of the system and procedure with the company, asking them to investigate this.”

The rudest commuters

Sir, — After yet another Great Western Railway failure to be on time back from London Paddington on Thursday last week, seven of us strangers shared a taxi to Henley.

Having left Twyford, a man asked if he could be dropped off at Wargrave. As we talked about sharing the cost we got to Wargrave and the guy just got off, smiled and said thanks without paying a penny!

As we drove off, the other passengers and the driver talked about how common this is — that commuters from Wargrave just leave the taxi without paying.

The driver said: “This happens all the time. You have to ask where people want to get off before they join you in the cab as those from Wargrave never pay.”

Are people from Wargrave more rude than others? Surely not. This attitude has got to change. You know who you are, you minority of rude ********. — Yours faithfully,

Soren Nielsen

Belle Vue Road, Henley

Misleading statement

Sir, — Councillor Simon Weeks, from Wokingham Borough Council, missed the point in his statement about the Hare Hatch Sheeplands garden centre (Standard, November 24).

He describes an historic situation and comes close to ignoring the current issues.

In particular he fails to mention the crucial fact that the business is now fully compliant with all the council’s planning requirements. I wonder why he does that?

The present difficulties arose because a new and perfectly valid planning application by Sheeplands has been delayed by the council for no good reason.

First, it said it would not even consider and then it changed it mind and said it would.

Now it has changed its mind again and more public money is being wasted on legal fees while the council asks “senior counsel” what it should do next in what many people see as its latest attempt to shut down a lawful business.

I am left wondering whether there is an ulterior motive for it to be acting in such an unreasonable and vindictive way.

Cllr Weeks conveniently ignores the present in his summary of the past and has presented a very misleading picture of the situation as it is today. — Yours faithfully,

Frank Moore

Thornbers Way, Charvil

Memory tree is lovely idea

Sir, — I dropped into the farm shop at Hare Hatch Sheeplands to pick up some scrummy Christmas goodies and noticed that despite the ongoing problems with Wokingham Borough Council they still find the time, as they have done through all their years of trading, to support charities. They have a Memory Tree in the coffee shop. This is a pretty Christmas tree where you can put a star in memory of a loved one on the branches.

There is room on the star to write names and messages if you want. A suggested minimum donation of £2 then goes to Cancer Research in the collection tin.

What a lovely idea and somewhere to sit and have a cuppa and cake as well, what could be better? — Yours faithfully,

Patricia Miller

Springfield Park, Twyford

Not enough police left

Sir,— Spice Merchant manager Hasan Chowdhury would probably have received a much quicker police attendance had Henley Standard favourite Theresa May not cut 20,000 officers nationwide and closed the local station before becoming Prime Minister. — Yours faithfully,

John Batty

Mill Close, Middle Assendon

Pennywort is spreading

Sir, — I can now report that the dreaded floating pennywort is on the Henley reach and a large patch is growing by the moorings of Marsh Mills flats. It has been reported to the Environment Agency, which to date has made no further move.

The river birds are foraging in the infestation and small off-shoots are appearing, unattached to the main mass, just waiting to shoot downstream when the rains come and the flow increases.

If anyone would like to help our cause, the telephone number of the agency is 0800 807060 and our reference number is 1568323. — Yours faithfully,

Enid Light

Wargrave Road, Henley

Vital drugs overpriced

Sir, — I wonder if your readers noticed in the news last week that two “breakthrough” breast cancer drugs will now be available on the NHS?

It’s great to know that thousands of patients will now have access to treatment, but it’s a shock reminder that when we go to the doctor we don’t always get the medicines we need.

And there’s a simple reason for that — the big pharmaceutical companies that own them are charging far too much.

Palbociclib is one of those “breakthrough” breast cancer drugs. Pfizer, which makes the drug, was charging £140 per pill, although we know it is possible to make it for less than £1 per pill.

Drugs companies claim that they have to charge these prices to recoup money they have spent on research and development.

But the pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable in the world so it’s clear they are charging far more than they need to.

What’s more, up to two thirds of research and development is actually paid for by the public purse.

Palbociclib is one many drugs to have had substantial public funding. After Nobel prize-winning, publicly funded research in the Eighties, Pfizer bought the rights to the drug before leaving it on the shelf for years.

It was only after further public research and development by a university in the US that the company got interested again.

In 2015 and 2016 Palbociclib made Pfizer £2.2billion in sales.

It’s simply outrageous that the public should not be able to access drugs we ourselves have funded and that, when we can, we are charged extortionately high prices for them. We need a health system that puts public health before corporate wealth here and around the world.

Members of Global Justice Reading will be in Broad Street, Reading, today (Friday) from 10am to 11.30am talking to members of the public about how we can stand up to the power of the pharmaceutical industry and fight for a system of medicine that prioritises accessibility and affordability for all. — Yours faithfully,

Jackie Oversby

Co-ordinator, Global Justice Reading, The Mount, Reading

Sympathy but no action

Sir, — The majority of under-16s “can still only access NHS child and adolescennt mental health care treatment in the most extreme circumstances” and are being forced into “attempting suicide to get any treatment”, according to the children’s commissioner Anne Longfield when addressing the Commons Health Committee.

This must surely come as no big surprise to all those who have tried (and are still trying) to access this treatment in the Thames Valley.

Many people, including supporters of Time to Change, the children’s mental health campaign run by the Mind charity, are demanding urgent action but all we are getting from our Prime Minister et al are promises for the distant future and/or sympathetic but empty words. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Farmer

Wensley Road, Reading

Unfriendly refund policy

Sir, — I recently purchased a (new) duvet from the Sue Ryder shop in Wallingford.

This was a bit of an impulse buy and as soon as I got home I decided I didn’t really need it.

Although I remember putting the receipt into one of my bags somewhere, it got lost between the shop and home.

However, I thought they would at least give me a credit note to spend in the shop.

I was wrong. On returning to Wallingford only a few days later, I was told that without a receipt they couldn’t take an item back in any circumstance.

Bearing in mind charity shops rely on the generosity of people donating used and new goods, not to mention volunteers working in their shops, I think this is a very mean attitude.

After all, a credit note ensures that the money is spent in the shop so nothing is lost — the duvet hadn’t come out of its packaging so could be resold easily.

I’m sure this is not the policy of all charity shops so I wonder why Sue Ryder has adopted this very unfriendly stance. — Yours faithfully,

Leslie Maynerd

Whitchurch

A Sue Ryder spokeswoman responds: “We thank Leslie for bringing this to our attention. We are always looking for ways to improve our service and her feedback is an invaluable part of that process.

“While we respect Ms Maynerd’s wish to return the duvet, it is our policy that we require proof of purchase for a refund on an item that is not faulty and we don’t issue credit receipts.

“If a customer misplaces their receipt and purchased the item by card we will accept a bank statement as proof of purchase, so long as the item is returned within 28 days of purchase in saleable condition.

“This policy is in line with many other charity and commercial retailers.

“We thank Leslie for supporting Sue Ryder and she is welcome to discuss the matter further with the team at our Wallingford shop.”

Nonsense bus stop name

Sir, — If I might return briefly to a subject discussed in these columns earlier in the year regarding the bizarre information often given to travellers by road and rail…

Passengers on the Arriva bus between Henley and Marlow, when approaching the stop at Danesfield House in Medmenham, are being told their next stop is “Thames Reach”.

Thames Reach! I think you’ll find it’s better known as Danesfield House Hotel, one of the grandest hotels in the south of England. Whatever kind of dope are you smoking? — Yours faithfully,

Paul Willson

Pound Lane, Sonning

From problem to opportunity

Sir, — I enjoyed reading Pastor Roger Cole’s Thought for the Week column linking fallen leaves with life’s problems and how we can deal with them (Standard, November 24).

As a gardener, I regularly rake up fallen leaves to make leaf mould. This process converts a problem into something useful. It made me wonder whether, when confronted with a problem in life, we could with a little thought turn it into an opportunity. — Yours faithfully,

Andrew Hawkins

Berkshire Road, Henley

Great Poppy Appeal total

Sir, — I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the volunteers who have collected for the Harpsden Poppy Appeal 2017 and to the many people who generously supported the Royal British Legion with their donations.

I am happy to report that more than £3,500 has been collected to date. — Yours faithfully,

Jane Martin

Poppy Appeal organiser, Harpsden

Kind man with umbrella

Sir, — Myself and three friends were parking for a visit to the Regal Picturehouse cinema in Henley.

We stepped out of the car into the pouring rain when a “good Samaritan” came running past holding a golf umbrella.

He saw us with one small brolly to share and said, “Here, borrow my umbrella and when you have finished throw it back over the brown gates”.

Thank-you to that kind man. — Yours faithfully,

Jenny Storek

Goring

Anonymous generosity

Sir, — On Thursday last week, I and 20 of my friends from the Meteor Club had a delicious Christmas dinner at the Three Horseshoes in Henley. When the time came to pay the bill, to my amazement, I was told there was nothing to pay.

Apparently, a lady, unknown to the staff, had seen us enjoying ourselves and asked who were and then insisted on paying our bill. She also asked that we were not to be told until she had left.

I really hope this kind lady will read this letter and know how much we appreciated her wonderful generosity. — Yours faithfully,

Libby Meachin and the Meteor Club (social club for adults with special needs), Henley

Wonderful display

Sir, — I am writing about the wonderful Christmas display at Toad Hall garden centre, which is lovely and exciting.

I was taken aback by the display and am sure it must have taken a lot of work. Well done, you good people for all your hard work.

Always have a wonderful Christmas. — Yours faithfully,

Mrs H Austin

Hambleden

Mermaid in water, ho ho

Sir, — Although I am utterly opposed to vandalism, I did smile at the irony of that tasteless statue, the mermaid, ending up in the river. — Yours faithfully,

John Downing

Reading Road, Henley

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