Sunday, 23 September 2018

Your letters...

Mistreatment of vulnerable

Sir, — My mother, Jennifer Baird, is 83 and has advanced Alzheimer’s disease and can now barely walk.

Her partner, Tim Pawsey, who is also a pensioner and himself increasingly memory-impaired, recently had cause to take Jennifer to the Hart Surgery in Henley.

Tim isn’t registered with this particular surgery and was thus unfamiliar with the new (controversial, it seems) parking restrictions.

Nonetheless, he had been told by Jennifer’s doctor that he could park in a disabled bay, owing to her lack of mobility.

He escorted her into the surgery, very much preoccupied with the challenges associated with both the physical and cognitive deficiencies of her condition.

He was at that point also very concerned about her pressing ailment, which had necessitated the visit to the surgery, hence he wasn’t in a position to be aware that the onus is now on patients to key in their car registration number at the touch-screen upon arrival.

Instead, he registered my mother’s arrival with the receptionist, as is the norm in most practices.

However, Tim was not advised by the receptionist that he needed to key in his vehicle’s registration to authorise his parking.

It took 90 minutes before Jennifer was seen by the doctor, who was understandably trying to fit my mother in at short notice around an already busy schedule.

Ten days later, Tim was shocked to receive a penalty charge notice of £100 (£60 if paid within 14 days from its date of November 19, 2017) from Smart Parking, the external company commissioned by the Hart and Bell Surgeries to clamp down on abuse of the limited free parking there.

Needless to say, companies such as these are not noticeably hailed for their humanitarian efforts; perhaps being better known for their aggressively mercenary tactics.

Even so, the surgery staff reassured Tim that they were authorised to overrule this charge as it was unjustly applied and called him in (a 20-mile round trip) on November 21 in order for them to process cancellation of this erroneous charge.

Tim duly presented the notice at the surgery reception as directed and it was taken away for a few minutes before being returned as “all sorted”.

He was mightily relieved to be told he now had “nothing to worry about” and thus felt assured that he needn’t pay the “reduced” £60 fee within the 14 days.

After two weeks, however, Tim received a compounded bill which, owing to the 14-day time-lapse, had risen to £160.

He anxiously contacted the surgery again.

This time he was quizzed about whether he’d logged in his car details.

It seems that there was no acknowledgement of the surgery’s previous action to ensure the matter was “all sorted” when evidently this was not the case.

Had Tim been informed in time, he would at least have had the option to pay the “reduced” fee, an opportunity denied to him. Tim doesn’t have the energy to fight this and hasn’t been coping well before and after the upheaval of Jennifer’s move to a care home.

He is a diligently law-abiding person who wouldn’t have parked in a disabled bay without instruction.

The very nature of my mother’s condition has exhausted us all over the last few years.

In a stressed and panicked state, Tim decided to pay the bill of £160 (which he can ill-afford) for fear of further repercussions, i.e. the threatening “notice of intended court action”.

I’m appalled that he (in good faith and trying to help my mother) was put in this position and then treated with such disregard.

While I applaud the work carried out at the surgery, for which I have been hugely grateful in the past, I’m compelled to ask, are the staff entirely satisfied with this outcome?

Is this really the most compassionate and indeed appropriate way to treat this vulnerable pensioner? — Yours faithfully,

Josephine Evans

Kennington, London

Profiteering parking firm

Sir, — I am writing to let you know what I think of the fixed penalty notice that Smart Parking issued me with on January 23.

I had an appointment at the physiotherapy department at the Townlands Memorial Hospital at 2.30pm on that day, which I can prove.

I entered my details, as requested, at the computer screen in reception. You have to enter your surname and registration plate number and then press “validate”, which I did.

I couldn’t understand why I received this fine, so I called the hospital reception to check the exact steps of the process.

The staff informed me that there was also an “okay” button to be pressed after the “validate” button.

Surely “validate” means the process is finished? The dictionary says the word means “check or prove the validity or accuracy of”, meaning “check” or “okay”.

I can’t tell Smart Parking how disgusted I am with this process.

Does this company realise how many elderly and vulnerable people pass through the hospital reception every day (I’ve queued up behind them)?

I am in my forties and think of myself as adequately computer literate but this last “okay” button eluded me.

The hospital reception staff told me that they try to help every single person through the computer screen steps because there have already been so many complaints about this unfriendly parking system.

I also know that the Henley Standard has published many stories of similar complaints to mine.

One can’t help think that this system was designed to fail so as to catch as many people as possible with fines, all for Smart Parking’s extra profit.

I have completely lost confidence in this system and, as I regularly have to attend the hospital, from now on I will be parking in the car park down the road and walking the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the elderly and vulnerable people who have no choice but to use the car park will continue to try to navigate this complicated computer system, which they wouldn’t be able to without the dedicated and caring reception staff.

I can’t imagine how much NHS time is wasted navigating people around this system.

I suggest that Smart Parking removes this final “okay” button and just leaves it at the “validate” screen for simplicity’s sake. — Yours faithfully,

Maggie Piggott

Henley

John Howell, Henley MP, writes: “I have written to the chief executive of Smart Parking, the company managing the parking around Townlands Memorial Hospital, saying that I was aware the GP surgeries had cancelled their contract with the company in August due to problems but that they had been left with a legacy of contested penalty charge notices.

I have also had constituents raise concerns directly with me in growing numbers.

The system used for parking is unclear and the technology is difficult for some to use. As a result, some people are not sure what is required of them to legally park and thus have not always complied with the requirements. Others have tried to use the technology but without success and still more have been issued fines incorrectly when they entered and left within the agreed 20-minute grace period.

I am fully aware that there have been problems with parking at the hospital. I am also mindful that people visiting the hospital will either be unwell themselves or often in some sort of stress or distress as they seek to assist relatives and friends who are unwell. It would seem that the system is inappropriate for the circumstances. The fines are adding to this stress for all concerned.

Given these problems, I have suggested that the most reasonable action is that an immediate hold is put on pursuing all penalty charge notices issued at this location and then all those issued in these questionable circumstances are cancelled.

I have also written to the chief executive of NHS Hospitals Trust to raise the issue.

In addition, I am pleased to see that the Government is supporting (as am I) a Private Member’s Bill to give drivers new legal protections from unscrupulous private parking operators.

The Parking (Code of Practice) Bill introduced by Sir Greg Knight MP received a second reading recently.

Drivers have increasingly been complaining of inconsistent practices, sub-standard signage, confusing appeals processes and intimidating payment letters.

This Bill will allow the Government to develop a stringent new code of practice in conjunction with motorists’ groups and other experts.

Operators falling foul of the new rules would then be blocked from accessing driver data and issuing fines, effectively forcing them out of the industry.”

Museum in need of help

Sir, — With reference to your article on Henley Town Council’s deliberations about the River & Rowing Museum (Standard, January 26), I read it a couple of times to try to work out how the councillors were thinking. I’m bewildered.

Museums in London and elsewhere are now expected to be commercially competent businesses.

Most receive no grants so have to be self-sufficient. Many have expensive buildings to maintain.

Here we have a modern building being given a grant by the council which, strangely, then takes 60 per cent of it back in rent for the car park.

Clearly because the council gives the museum the (now much-reduced) grant, it feels it has the right to tell the museum how to operate. Should it not be helping it to be self-sufficient?

At a recent fund-raising meeting, I listened to museum staff saying they needed money to enhance their education facility. Not once was there a suggestion that the museum should make that money by becoming more commercial.

If a visitor drives or walks past the museum, they are quite likely not to notice it. If they notice the building, it looks like a private office: there is nothing to welcome visitors.

At present, the Angel on the Bridge pub is the only place in Henley that one can buy a drink and sit and watch the river yet the museum has planning consent to build a deck overlooking the river — over the bit of land the council was discussing.

The present deck not only overlooks the car park but you have to enter the museum to know it is there. No wonder caterers can’t make a living there!

The museum kitchen is the centre of the building. The café could simply change sides and use the river frontage instead of the car park side. Visitors would spot the café first, then realise it had a museum attached.

Young mums with small children who used to flock to the Quince Tree until it closed would bring life to the building, thus enticing others to enter.

This is simplistic but might kick-start a new attitude to the museum which needs to be more connected to the average Henley resident.

The old adage “Use it or lose it” is only partly true. First “it” has to be attractive enough for people to care. I wonder what percentage of Henley residents has actually visited?

Oh, and naturally, the area under the deck can be furnished with picnic tables… and some shortsighted person has planted trees which will, in time, prevent any views of the river. These need to go somewhere that trees may be needed.

Or have they been planted to hide the museum completely? If so, they may as well just rent it out as office accommodation!

To sum up, the council should encourage the museum to be a commercially successful asset to the town, not try to strangle it and hide it. Why not start by accepting that that bit of land used as a car park is useless for anything else? — Yours faithfully,

The Hon Lady McAlpine

Co-chairman, Thames
Traditional Boat Festival, Fawley Hill

David Worthington, chairman of the River & Rowing Museum, responds: “I am hugely grateful for the support that Lady McAlpine gives to the River & Rowing Museum.

“Her ideas and encouragement, and those of people like her, are one of the reasons that Henley has a museum to be proud of and one whose reputation and impact extends far beyond the town.

“I am confident that when we find our next director, we will revisit many of the good ideas that keep coming up, including whether we re-orientate the food offer to the front of the building.

“Meanwhile, I have nothing but praise for Henley Town Council. Under my short tenure, the constructive, supportive and personal contributions of firstly Councillors Julian Brookes and Sam Evans and now Kellie Hinton and Lorraine Hillier have been invaluable.

“We work closely with other councillors and officers on various projects and the financial support from the council has in fact increased this year. It has also been enshrined in a three-year agreement, providing us with much-needed predictability.”

Independent achievements

Sir, — Henley Residents Group was so sorry to learn that your correspondent Geoff Luckett had been “hors de combat” since the start of the year (Standard, February 2).

Once again, he complains about the independent voting, so here is a list of what the independent HRG councillors have brought to Henley Town Council and the town over the past 27 years with their “voting pattern”:

• Purchased and then refurbished the King’s Arms pub and now gives free use to Citizens Advice.

• Refurbished the barn at the rear of the old pub for use by the town’s organisations.

• Purchased the 60+ Social Club when it looked as though it would be turned into offices.

• Refurbished both Singers Park and Red Lion Lawn by the river and Upper Market Place.

• Helped to provide 50 social houses at Lawson Road and Noble Road for local people and helped to provide 24 flats at the YMCA.

• Refurbished Mill Meadows so that it now brings in more than £200,000 per year in parking and mooring fees.

• Provided a footpath by the river from New Street to Mill Meadows and a new bandstand and two new playgrounds in Mill Meadows.

•Supported Nomad since its inception.

• Provided land for the River & Rowing Museum at Mill Meadows.

• Established Henley’s own tourist information centre.

• Brought moorings back into council ownership.

• Refurbished the town hall and provided new offices for the staff.

• Supported financially the Eyot Boat Club and the Henley rugby, cricket and football clubs.

• Provided a new clubhouse and pitches for AFC Henley at Jubilee Park, a clubhouse for Henley Hockey Club and an all-weather surface at Jubilee Park.

• Built a boxing club at Jubilee Park.

• Supported the Henley Wildlife Group.

•Purchased Gillotts Corner Field and turned it into a town green.

• Started the late-night shopping event at Christmas.

• Provided new playgrounds at Freeman’s Meadow and Makins recreation ground and the new skate park at Makins.

That’s not to mention the new cinema, the Old Fire Station Gallery, the Townlands Memorial Hospital, residents’ parking and heritage street lighting and Britain in Bloom gold wins.

So, Geoff, that is what HRG voting has provided for Henley and its residents that you are complaining about!

I and all past and present HRG councillors are, I am sure, proud of these achievements. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to please everyone. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Ken Arlett

Henley Town Council, Elizabeth Road, Henley

Great effort, great charity

Sir, — Congratulations to the charity action group at Phyllis Court Club in Henley for having raised £17,500 for the Alexander Devine Children’s hospice service and £35,954 over the past year (Standard, February 2).

As a fellow (independent) charity voluntary fund-raiser, I take my hat off to all concerned.

This hospice charity was founded by Fiona and John Devine in memory of their son Alexander who, sadly, died at the age of eight from a rare brain tumour as Berkshire had only limited community palliative care services and no hospice specifically for children at that time, relying instead on the Oxford and Winchester hospices/services.

Now, only 10 years on, the charity funds Berkshire’s first specialist children’s palliative care community nursing team, which on average cares for 100 youngsters with life-limiting/threatening illnesses, helping to free the Oxford and Winchester services to care for more of their own youngsters.

It is also poised to open state-of-the-art day care services at its site in Snowball Hill, near Maidenhead, with its in-service user beds to follow in the spring.

Once again, congratulations to the action group and all at the charity. What wonderful achievements you have all made. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Farmer

Wensley Road, Reading

Don’t blame the planners

Sir, — I have to disagree with Adrian Vanheems’ comment concerning derelict Brakspear pubs that the planners can take some of the blame (Standard, February 2). Brakspear is entirely to blame.

The company does have other options available rather than letting the pubs face the wrecking ball. Brakspear can offer the pubs as a free house or let another pub company have a go at making them a success.

Alas, this would not deliver much of a return for Brakspear, so why not let the buildings collapse and be demolished so that it can build and sell some expensive houses?

The Bottle and Glass pub in Binfield Heath was sold to Lord Phillimore’s estate to prevent it from being turned into housing.

The Plowden Arms in Shiplake was recently sold to another pub company. There are options, so don’t blame the planners. — Yours faithfully,

James Lambert

Mill End, Hambleden

Put our local on market

Sir, — I write with reference to the Adrian Vanheems comment regarding abandoned Brakspear pubs. I am a Checkendon resident and can only speak about our long-lost pub, the Four Horseshoes.

Mr Vanheems is quite wrong in blaming the planners. Brakspear has the option of putting the property on the market as a freehold pub but has yet to do so.

Maybe it is a fear of competition that a new owner, untethered by a tenancy agreement, brings. More likely, as a property company, they are probably playing the long game hoping for a change to residential use, thus hugely increasing the site value.

I, and many others in the village, applaud the planners for supporting the protection of rural businesses and local amenities for the benefit of residents and the larger community, now and in the future.

This is increasingly important as other amenities, such as the shop and post office have also closed.

If Brakspear cannot, or will not, make it work then it should be put up for freehold sale to all. — Yours faithfully,

Richard Crane

Checkendon

Welcome improvement

Sir, — Thank you to Alyson Warren for revealing that Messing About On The River was sung by Josh MacRae and written by Tony Hatch.

I hope Alyson liked my photographs and am grateful to the Henley Standard for publishing them.

I liked the improved quality of the printing, which was very much in evidence. I gather this is due to the use of a new printer and better quality paper.

I hope other readers have also noticed this improvement. — Yours faithfully,

Terry Allsop

Ewelme

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