Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Your letters...

No lights idea wouldn’t work

Sir, — The debate about the effectiveness of traffic lights (Standard, December 8) has a long history and I am sure that in an appropriate setting it could well be a better way to organise a traffic flow.

Unfortunately, Henley is full of residents and shops which rely on their custom. It also has a high population of young people who attend the schools and college and older people, many of whom are not too speedy on their feet.

If traffic lights were to be abandoned how would they cross the road in safety? I’m frankly dubious about relying solely on drivers’ “increased patience and care”.

Transport planners have a very difficult job — the M25, based on massive amounts of research, was hailed as a breakthrough in helping to resolve congestion in and around south London, Heathrow and so on but it was not then widely recognised that as soon as a new channel was provided, traffic, like water, would fill it.

Actually it turned out to be even worse as the amount of traffic also increased because the “good” road turned out to act as a magnet. Even more journeys were made.

So, even were the traffic flow to ease in Henley for a time after the traffic lights were put out of use, the result would be that word would go round that Henley was a “good” route and even more lorries and cars would be making use of it.

What Councillor David Nimmo Smith observed in the Caribbean partly reflects the fact that traffic there is limited relative to that in our situation, close as we are to London and on a Thames crossing.

The potential for an increase in traffic here is, to all intents and purposes, unlimited.

I’m sorry to be a killjoy and I’m sure that the ideas are extremely well-intentioned but I’m afraid that I just don’t think that this has any chance of working and that while we are experimenting and finding that out, a number of people would be at risk and businesses could be disadvantaged. — Yours faithfully,

Susan Reed

Stonor

What about pedestrians?

Sir, — It is commendable that Councillor David Nimmo Smith wants to reduce traffic congestion but what about pedestrians?

Let’s have a scheme which favours people on foot in the town, so that there is more time for crossing the roads more frequently.

Currently, one can hang around at the central crossroads for several minutes waiting for a green man.

And the pavements are too cluttered with advertisement boards and tables and chairs from cafés, a hazard for pedestrians and especially those with visual impairment.

These obstructions should all be removed, or else we should have wider pavements. — Yours faithfully,

Kate Ashbrook

Turville

Don’t forget us residents

Sir, — It was disappointing to read that only the Mayor of Henley voiced concern about the possible effect on local residents when town councillors unanimously supported an application to move a kebab van from the Greys Road car park to a permanent site in Hart Street (Standard, December 8).

The other councillors quoted in your report appeared to be quite happy to relocate the vehicle, oblivious to the feelings of their constituents.

Some of the concerns that councillors should have raised include:

• The proposed location would put 10 recently constructed homes in Hart Street within a short distance of the proposed site.

• The suggested removal of the taxi rank would severely inconvenience many daytime taxi users and, even more seriously, would lose the effective means of evacuating late-night drinkers from the town centre with minimum delay.

The suggestion by one councillor that the taxi rank be relocated to be outside the Catherine Wheel overlooked the fact that such a move would necessitate the removal of the only two disabled parking spaces in the town centre.

I am sure there are also many who just do not want the sight and smell of singed meat at the busiest junction in town.

Fortunately, the matter will be considered more thoroughly by the licensing authority and residents would then undoubtedly be consulted. — Yours faithfully,

John Louth

Hart Street, Henley

You pay for third appeal

Sir, — I’d like to ask John Cotton, the leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, how much it is costing in legal fees to take the Thames Farm case to the Appeal Court.

His council has already been ordered to pay thousands of pounds in costs after twice being refused by the High Court a request for a judicial review.

It is taxpayers’ money you are wasting, Councillor Cotton. Since you are appealing again, who don’t you spend your own money on it? You get paid enough. — Yours faithfully,

Ian Clark

Cromwell Road, Henley

Brexit: I see big picture

Sir, — Your correspondent Diane Cole’s letter (Standard, December 8) was extraordinary. Was she seriously suggesting that because a majority of voters in Oxfordshire voted to remain in the EU, that should be the policy for the whole of the UK?

She must know that the majority of voters voted for Brexit and that is why we are leaving.

It is called democracy, Diane, and however much you may regret this particular outcome, I suggest it is the least worst system of government we know.

There is much deserving of comment in the letter from Edward Hallett.

He asserts inter alia that “No one voted to be worse off”. I would not presume to know how voters arrived at their decision but Edward should realise that there are factors other than straightforward economics (insofar as anyone is equipped to assess them) which determined the ultimate decision of the voters.

I would be happy to be a member of a “European Union” but not this one because it is (or recently has been) undemocratic, excessively bureaucratic, corrupt, wasteful and, to cap it all, protectionist.

Like many Socialist organisations, it is also coercive and profligate with other people’s money.

In spite of UK pressure, the EU is apparently unable even to countenance any kind of reform.

None of its flagship policies (agriculture, fishing, Schengen and the Euro) are or would be beneficial to this country.

Of course the real reason why the EU is being so intransigent is money: the UK is a net contributor to the EU budget. Hence their sudden concern about citizens’ rights and the Irish question.

Even under what is laughingly called “hard Brexit”, the UK would trade under World Trade Organisation rules, as does the rest of the non-EU world. Hardly a major disadvantage.

The press and the BBC present us daily with a diet of Brexit horror stories in the guise of “news”.

Personally, I think it could be many years before any of us is in a position to assess whether Brexit has been an overall success or not.

In the meantime, I prefer to ignore day-to-day events and look at the “big picture”. Perhaps Diane and Edward should do the same? — Yours faithfully,

Michael Emmett

Peppard Common

Our country’s future at stake

Sir, — Taking my courage in both hands, I would like to give my own view on the Brexit debate.

If one relied on the press at the moment it could be assumed that the decision to leave the EU was one taken by the Conservative Party and that it alone is responsible for any outcome. This is not the case. The support for leaving the EU crossed party lines.

Once the decision to leave had been taken there should have been a cross-party group set up to consider the implications.

Like health and education before it, Brexit has been added to the list of matters so important that it should not be used as a political football.

I did not choose to leave but would feel more confident about the outcome if MPs on both sides of the political spectrum were coming together to consider this. I find it hard to believe that there is no support from the Labour Party, many of whose supporters voted to leave.

I recognise that both parties are seriously divided on this issue. It is, however, above party and we deserve it from our MPs that they stop playing party political games and recognise that it is the future of our country that is at stake. — Yours faithfully,

Ann Law

Binfield Heath

We did take safety steps

Sir, — In reply to the Meisner-Hensens claiming that Henley Town Council did not take steps to protect residents from a possible terrorist attack at the Christmas Festival (Standard, December 8), I would like to take this opportunity to assure all residents of Henley that every risk was considered and examined in the lead-up to the event and the necessary precautions were taken.

Strict event protocols were observed and the appropriate risk assessments carried out.

The safety advisory group acted in accordance with national event procedure.

This included members of the emergency services and Thames Valley Police who were in attendance at the festival and were happy with the increased levels of security and safety measures that had been implemented.

In addition, the council deployed a specialist security organisation to be present and patrol on the night.

Due to the nature of security and the current threat level for international terrorism in the UK, it is not advised that the council details all the precautions that were put in place on the night.

However, rest assured that public safety at such events is, and always will be, of paramount importance to the council and the emergency services.

We would encourage any residents with concerns to come to the town hall to discuss these issues. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Sarah Miller

Chairwoman, events committee, Henley Town Council, Reading Road, Henley

We’re truly independent

Sir, — Many Henley residents agree with Geoff Luckett (Standard, December 8) that independent councillors are good for Henley.

That is why Henley Residents’ Group exists: we believe councillors should be answerable only to residents.

A dictionary definition of independent is: “Free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority.”

HRG does meet outside of council meetings to consider the facts, discuss the options and establish a consensus so that decisions at meetings are informed by the facts, can be given due consideration and reflect the wishes of residents.

We believe this preparation is good governance in public service as it also is in the commercial world.

HRG councillors are free to vote and speak as they please. There is no whip.

Anyone who knows, for example, Councillor Ken Arlett would accept that attempts to instruct him how to vote are unlikely to succeed!

HRG is truly independent in the full sense of the word. In contrast, national parties such as the Conservatives and Labour have loyalties to their national party at district, and county levels as well as Westminster. This can lead to conflicts of interest.

National politics does not apply at town level, which is why the HRG policy of “Think local, vote local” has had such strong support for more than a quarter of a century. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Ian
Reissmann

Vice-chairman, Henley Residents’ Group, Gainsborough Road, Henley

The cost of development

Sir, — In “saving water” (Standard, December 1), Henley Town Council has adopted a water saving policy that to me appears to defy logic.

Apparently councillors “now use jugs of tap water at meetings rather than shop-bought bottles and now other councils in the county could follow suit”.

I would like to think that Thames Water is a little more switched on than this and that it has made provision for, and will be able to accommodate, the requirements of the thousands of new houses to be built in this area.

At the moment my well is dry, the Britwell Salome springs are not flowing and nor, I believe, are those in Brightwell Baldwin.

These natural landscape features rely on water pressure from the Chilterns’ aquifer and as Thames Water increases the abstraction rates from its boreholes, what chance of survival do these water courses and their dependent wildlife have?

The latest Thames area situation report (hydrology) from the Environment Agency talks depressingly of quite severe soil moisture deficits, river flows below normal at the majority of its indicator sites and declining groundwater levels at seven of its indicator boreholes. This is all very worrying.

Recent figures resulting from Freedom of Information requests made by the World Wide Fund for Nature show that more than 550 bodies of water in England and Wales are being over-abstracted. affecting many rivers and chalk streams. The WWF contends that this situation is likely to get worse.

I apologise to members of Henley Town Council for my earlier sarcasm. My ire is directed at our politicians’ drive for new housing at any cost to the countryside. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Sargeantson

Britwell Salome

Don’t forget the positives

Sir, — Richard Milner’s letter about buying the Henley branch line and running services every 10 minutes brought some Christmas cheer to the regular rail debate (Standard, December 8).

Commuters would appreciate the hefty fare rises resulting from having three times as many drivers on the branch and a buyout to pay for.

Mr Milner suggests that all users know that performance has been dire and getting worse for years.

This will also amuse those who have seen off-peak service rise from hourly to every 45 minutes to every 30 minutes, all of which will be stopping at Wargrave from January.

We’re also about to gain an extra peak service on the branch, both morning and evening, and half hourly fast services back to Twyford in the evening peak, connecting to a dedicated three-car branch shuttle rather than waiting for a slow train from London which is lost in action somewhere around Hayes.

Neither the Wargrave User Group, nor indeed the Henley Branch User Group, whose own chairman bizarrely complained here recently, care to spot or report the positives. We do.

The new timetable marks the end of temporary measures resulting from the long- delayed electrification of the main line.

It does take out the last two through trains to/from London, replacing them on the main line with new fast, quiet electrics with more carriages and four, rather than five, abreast seating and working air conditioning.

We’ll have to see how capacity works out but the days of knees against the seat in front and sitting with your shoulders twisted will decline, on the main line at least.

If anyone has any ideas on how to mark the passing of the through trains, the last of which will run next Friday, (December 22), please email henleytrains@gmail.com

Finally, as Mr Milner alluded, there a consultation going on about the next franchise. Unlike the other groups, Henley Trains is proactively seeking people’s input, so if you’d like to know more about that or the new timetable, please email us at the address above.

Neil Gunnell

Henley Trains, Blandy Road, Henley

Bus service fails (again)

Sir, — Oxfordshire bus passengers have been left frustrated yet again at the lack of useful information at bus stops when bad weather disrupts bus services.

In Sunday’s snow all operators suspended all bus and coach services. Many stops have Oxontime electronic display screens but the screens displayed the misleading message: “Please refer to timetables.”

Oxfordshire County Council operates the Oxontime system. When buses are running, it automatically tracks each bus, estimates its arrival time and updates the display screen at each stop.

But when no buses are detected, the system defaults to the above message but if no buses are running, this is bad advice.

There are no excuses as this failure has happened before.

Oxfordshire had snow in early 2009, late 2010 and early in 2013 and flooding in early 2014. Each time, Oxontime failed to tell passengers anything helpful.

On Sunday morning I walked a mile along Banbury Road in Oxford and at each stop I found passengers waiting because they had no idea all buses were suspended.

Other passengers may know from experience that the message “Please refer to timetables” probably means trouble but they can only guess whether services are delayed, reduced or cancelled altogether.

Since 2010, the Government has severely cut the county council’s budget. In response, the council has not only ended all bus subsidies but also severely reduced the number of council staff dealing with buses.

Bus Users Oxford realises that the council has to prioritise carefully what little revenue it has left but not every passenger has a smartphone on which they can find out what has happened to their bus.

On normal days many bus passengers still use Oxontime. It is perverse that on the very days when passengers most need to be told what has happened to their bus service, Oxontime tells them nothing.

In recent years Bus Users Oxford has more than once asked the council to make Oxontime more flexible, so that when services are suspended or badly disrupted the screens can display messages that tell passengers what has happened. But each time the council has failed to do so.

Most bus operators have social media staff posting live updates on Facebook and Twitter. Their social media services are not 24 hours but they are seven days a week. Why not enable them to post emergency messages on Oxontime? How difficult or expensive could that be? — Yours faithfully,

Hugh Jaeger

Chairman, Bus Users Oxford, Park Close, Oxford

Hardy hero in the snow

Sir, — I want to say thank- you to a man called Malcolm who rescued me from my predicament on Sunday morning.

I was very gingerly making my way to work at Thamesfield in Henley through all the snow. I live in Marlow and decided in my madness to drive to work via the A404 and Hurley.

I was doing quite well making my way through the snow and ice and because I drive a small Fiat Panda called Oscar I managed to get past the first obstacle in my way, which was a jackknifed Tesco lorry just off the A404.

Off I went thinking I was doing well when I got to Rose Hill. Poor Oscar didn’t have the right tyres and half way up the hill he could not go any further and I started to slip backwards. I came to a halt on the wrong side of the road.

This was a calamity until along came a Land Rover and out jumped this kind man called Malcolm who offered to tow me up the hill.

He knew where my tow hook was and screwed it into place and towed me up to a layby, where I had to abandon Oscar for the day.

Malcolm was going to Henley for a swim in the river. What a tough guy on a day like this, I thought.

His phone rang and the swim was cancelled — at least someone was sensible, I thought. But Malcolm said he would still drop me in Henley and he did.

Because of Malcolm I arrived at work only 15 minutes late and was able to help our residents and families enjoy their Christmas party.

As the day progressed, I looked at the snow still falling and wondered how I was going to get back home.

No worries — a very kind visitor called Peter and his wife Frances offered to drive me back to abandoned Oscar and they did.

In today’s world my faith in human nature has been restored and I just wanted your readers to know and to say a huge thank-you. — Yours faithfully,

Val Johnson

Marlow

Wonderful workers

Sir, — We were one of the many households who were without electricity for more than 24 hours with the heavy snowfall.

Our electricity went off early on Sunday morning and came back on late Monday afternoon.

Scottish and Southern Electric could not have been more helpful or kind when we rang to report the fault or during other telephone conversations with their call centre, keeping us updated at every stage.

Engineers who had been extremely busy elsewhere came to us in late morning on Monday and said that they knew there was a fault here but could not find it.

At this point my husband went round the fields on his tractor and eventually saw that part of an ivy-clad tree had fallen on two electric cables in a not-very-accessible part of the farm, which meant they had to wait for specialist equipment in order to proceed.

When this came the engineers worked tirelessly for several hours on Monday afternoon, one of them falling and hurting his back in the process, and by 4pm our electricity was back.

We thanked the engineer who came to tell us they had finished and said his job was “a 24/7 one, even on Christmas Day” and he was pleased we had our power back.

Times like this make one take stock. Yes, it was inconvenient not having electricity but there are millions of people around the world who for one reason or another do not even have the luxury of it at any time or spasmodically.

We were adequately warm indoors with an open fire but thoughts went out to people on the streets with no home, who are reliant on the wonderful people who work tirelessly to help them, not just at this time of year, but all year round. We have a lot to be thankful for.

I do have one complaint: having asked Scottish and Southern Electric for a generator to be airlifted, I am still waiting. Perhaps they were all in use! — Yours faithfully,

Diana Jackson

Homer Farm, Ipsden

Thank you for concert

Sir, — I should like to thank Henley Choral Society for inviting my branch of Samaritans to be the beneficiary of Saturday evening’s Christmas concert held at the beautiful St Mary’s Church.

It was a superb concert with talented and enthusiastic singers performing a wide range of lovely musical pieces to a full house.

I am thrilled to announce that the generous concert- goers donated a staggering £1,400.

Many of your readers will be aware of the service which Samaritans provides but may not know we are fully staffed by volunteers and receive no central funding.

Nationally, we answer more than 100,000 telephone calls each week, along with personal visits, texts and emails from those who are often in the depths of despair as they struggle with their emotions and dark thoughts.

This money is a major boost for us and many thanks to Susan Edwards (chair) and the society’s committee for offering us this opportunity. — Yours faithfully,

Joyce Ward

Director, Samaritans of Bracknell, Wokingham, Ascot and Districts

Kindness of cinema staff

Sir, — Through your paper, we would like to express our appreciation to the staff at the Regal Picturehouse cinema in Henley, Max, Mark and Ruth, for their attention and kindness given to us at the screening of White Christmas. — Yours faithfully,

Peter and Frieda Entwisle

Nicholas Road, Henley

Thanks for great party

Sir, —Thank you to the Mayor of Henley Kellie Hinton and all her helpers for the Christmas party at the town hall (Standard, December 8).

It was really lovely and the food was great! — Yours faithfully,

Pearl Barker

St Mary’s Close, Henley

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