Sir, — Responding to our MP John Howell, during the reading of the Housing and Planning Bill, planning minister Brandon Lewis said: “Communities have their say throughout the local and neighbourhood plan-making process.” I found this amusing given that so little serious effort seems to have been made in Henley to canvass the opinion of anyone outside the small and self-selected neighbourhood plan working groups.
I fail to see how the wider “neighbourhood” will have any say beyond making an overall “Yes/No’” answer to the eventual referendum. Certainly there would not seem to be any mechanism by which the residents of Henley can express their unease at or opposition to small parts of the neighbourhood plan.
The referendum will be a very broadbrush means of ascertaining whether a resident accepts the entire plan, exactly as it is, or rejects it, also in its entirety. That seems like a very blunt instrument. There is no way of supporting the broad outline of the plan while opposing the development of particular individual sites, nor is there any way of expressing that one’s support for the overall plan would be conditional on this or that. Because rejection of the plan would take future planning out of the town’s hands altogether, the fear is that South Oxfordshire District Council would simply impose whatever development it felt was appropriate. This seems unfortunate since there may be a number of problems with the plan in its current form.
The exclusion of Thames Farm (a potential site for up to 110 houses) would seem to be a great pity since the site is too small for viable agricultural use and lies next to the eyesore that is the former Engbers’ garden centre, hemmed in by residential roads with easy access to road and rail links to Reading and Henley.
Similarly, the housing allocation at Highlands Farm would seem to be far smaller than would be possible, thereby incentivizing the development of more less suitable sites, such as the Gillotts School playing fields, for example. The latest draft of the plan seemingly recognizes the problems of congestion and air quality and acknowledges the importance of minimising traffic congestion, yet the Henley Transport Study that is supposed to “set out a detailed plan for sustainable movement around the town, minimising congestion and promoting alternative routes” has not been outlined and will not exist until after the neighbourhood plan has been done and dusted. What we do know is that, instead of pushing for a bypass and another river crossing (the only measures that will ever significantly dent the problem, much of which is caused by through- traffic) and for an increase in town centre parking capacity, the plan makes worthy but impractical, unrealistic and even facile noises about park-and-stride schemes and about encouraging residents (among whom the 65 to 90 age group is over-represented) to get on their bikes. It seems to boast about the “linking of the town centre signals to hold traffic on the edges of town”, something that may have reduced gridlock in the town centre but only by transferring it to Reading Road and Remenham Hill — hardly a stellar success. The primary objective of the Traffic and Transport “Vision” is to “promote walking, cycling and public transport as first choice modes for all residents” rather than doing something that actually addresses the real, underlying problem. There is no mention of anything that would reduce through traffic. I support providing more houses in Henley and Harpsden as I believe there is a clear need and I broadly support the site allocations in the neighbourhood plan.
But I believe that Henley cannot support any increase in population without solving the severe problems of congestion, inadequate town centre parking and through- traffic. My support for development is conditional on those problems being properly addressed. I would suspect that many may feel as I do. But how are we supposed to make our voices heard? — Yours faithfully,
I’m still not reassured
Sir, — In response to my recent letters questioning whether, and by whom, the community’s interests in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan were being protected, a partial answer finally appeared from Councillor David Nimmo-Smith (Standard, January 15).
His comment that the plan “will be a community, not a council plan”, is precisely the point I was making and goes right to the heart of the matter, which is that the community has only theoretical ownership of the plan and no apparent control over its interpretation or implementation. The test case is the former Jet garage site. McCarthy & Stone should not be permitted to build retirement homes on it because this is not what was approved in the plan.
But since the firm now owns the site will South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, reject the application outright? We need cast-iron guarantees that the wishes of the community, as expressed in the plan, will be honoured.
As reported in your own pages, planning minister Brandon Lewis declares that he “would expect local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate to give due weight to neighbourhood plans as they progress towards adoption”.This being the case, our own plan, approved (and amended) by the examiner and just weeks away from ratification in the referendum, must surely qualify as the primary determinant of any current and future planning applications connected with sites already in the plan.
What assurances do we have that this will happen and who will give them? I still don’t know and am not sure anyone else knows either. — Yours faithfully,
Surely town’s already full
Sir, — So the “Housing plan is up to you” according to Councillor David Nimmo Smith (Standard, January 15).
Why then has the decision made by South Oxfordshire District Council for 450 new houses to be built in Henley and Harpsden been added to arbitrarily by the “independent examiner”?
Who is he —- not a member of the Department of Environment but sub-contracted, I believe? Why should we now have to consider where an additional 500 houses should go instead of the proposed 450 (already raised from the original 400)? Surely the situation of Henley and its services/ infrastructure means that the town is already full, except strictly for low-cost housing. — Yours faithfully,
>Sir, — Given Canada has just set a new world record for earthquakes as a result of fracking, I wondered if people realise that the poor flooded people of York, already struggling to find reasonable insurance, have now been advised that fracking cover will not be widely available either. So much for safe development. Maybe fracking should only proceed when the insurance companies offer cover. — Yours faithfully,
St Katherine’s Road,
Cut councillor allowances too
Sir, — With the ever increasing budget cuts at Oxfordshire County Council, maybe the allowances given to councillors should be reduced by the same amount.For example, for every one per cent cut in the overall budget, the councillors’ allowances should be cut by one per cent.
For those who are responsible for children’s centres and the early intervention service, there is a proposed 50 per cent cut in funding, from £16million to £8million.
The remaining £8million budget for the current children’s centres and early intervention services would be combined with the existing £4million budget for children’s social care’s family support teams, creating a new £12million service.
Therefore, why can’t we cut those allowances by 50 per cent? After all, according to Councillor David Nimmo Smith and the rest of the Conservative Party, national and local, “we are all in it together”.
For the record, figures from the Oxfordshire County Council website, which are freely available, show Cllr Nimmo Smith claimed £19,695.06 in “responsibility allowance” and £3,158.10 in travel and subsistence for the period from April to December 2015.
Councillors at district and town council level should have to follow suit and also see an allowances reduction.I just looked out of the window and saw a lot of pigs flying by. — Yours faithfully,
St Andrew’s Road,
Bulldozing charity land
Sir, — I refer to your interview with Karen Edwards, headteacher of the new free school in Caversham (Standard, January 8).
She says that “the community is at the heart of everything we do”. Yet the Heights Primary School’s attempt to bulldoze Mapledurham playing fields is hardly supportive of the community and charity volunteers who help to maintain the fields and have raised more than £100,000 for the renovation of the pavilion.
All this good work has now been put on hold while the school sends in its surveyors. Mrs Edwards’s comment that “very valid” concerns were raised but “all parties are working together to find a compromise” in no way reflects my understanding of the situation.
Our community feels sufficiently strongly to have raised thousands of pounds to secure legal advice to mount the most robust defence of the playing fields. Hardly “all parties working together to find a compromise”.
What is there to compromise? There is massive pressure on green space in Reading and the playing fields are a well-supported charity with a myriad of local volunteers and users. These include children and adults who play football there, whose long leases are being refused while the school decides where it wants its premises. Our aim is to keep the playing fields safe and intact for this and future generations of children, no matter what school they attend. When local and central government decided to address the shortage of school places in Caversham by building a new school rather than investing in one or more of the many excellent local schools, it should have had a better idea where the school was going to go.
Our local community should not be forced to suffer the loss of cherished charity land because of Reading Borough Council’s incompetence and it is hard to see what the public relations firm Forty Shillings (employed at tax-payers’ expense by the Education Funding Authority) will be able to do to change our minds. — Yours faithfully,
Martin Brommell Chairman,
Mapledurham Playing Fields Action Group,
Site guidance was ignored
Sir, — It is good to know that the new Heights Primary School is successful.
But it is a shame that the debate about its location has become more confused since Reading Borough Council’s consultation last year.
The simple fact is Mapledurham playing fields should not have been included as an option because it is charitable land left in trust for recreational and sports purposes. It is not available for other purposes.
There are some other facts that are seldom mentioned.One of the main reasons why Caversham badly needs more school places is because since the Nineties new houses have been built but no new schools. The huge development of houses on Bugs Bottom originally included plans for a school. For unexplained reasons, the council allowed this requirement to be ignored. If a school had been built the current debate about a site would have been avoided.
The application to the Education Funding Agency to found the Heights School said: “Any new school should be located in an accessible location to the large number of family homes and new housing developments that have been built in the area. Part of the planning process for these new developments was to build a new primary school. However, this never came to fruition.” The application was clearly misinformed when it stated: “No local authority assets or available properties capable of supporting a primary school could be identified by Reading Borough Council when consulted.” Perhaps this is the reason that Bugs Bottom, as the most obvious and available site, was not originally selected.
Some other considerations:
1. Bugs Bottom is Caversham’s largest public green space at approximately 41 acres according to the Land Registry, 32 acres according to the the council, which owns the land. Mapledurham playing fields is 25 acres.
2. Bugs Bottom is east of the very busy A4074. According to the 2011 census, more than 70 per cent of the school age children in Caversham live east of the A4074. Placing a school on the west would mean the majority of children would have to cross this major artery at peak times. In 2013 the Heights School’s website showed an expansion of its catchment area to include Hunters Chase and Tredegar Road, both of which are adjacent to Bugs Bottom.
3. Although Bugs Bottom is home to hundreds of houses, there is only one very small playground and no other community facilities. A school sited in this area would provide it with the much-needed facilities that were promised when the housing was built but never delivered.
4. Unlike Mapledurham playing fields, there are no organised sports, games or clubs that would be displaced from Bugs Bottom. Mapledurham playing fields has almost 30 football teams that call it home, plus a tennis club that is open to the public and there are plans to bring cricket back. Numerous clubs and local organisations use the pavilion regularly for their own or community events.
5. Since the council is the owner of Bugs Bottom, a site for the school could be leased at a peppercorn rent, as is the school’s temporary site at the former Caversham Nursery, or sold at an affordable price, in contrast to land at Mapledurham playing fields where the value of an acre is estimated at close to £2million.
6. It would be easier and quicker to obtain release from, or amendment to, any covenant that might exist on Bugs Bottom compared with applying for a variation to the scheme at Mapledurham playing fields which will require further consultation, independent assessment and application to the Charity Commission with potential challenge at tribunal.
The guidance in the application for the Heights to “be located in an accessible location to the large number of family homes and new housing developments that have been built in the area” should be listened to so the school can move to a permanent site as soon as possible. — Yours faithfully,
Where’s proof of demand?
Sir, — Karen Edwards makes an assertion about the “incredible need” in west Caversham for a new school.
This is a very big statement and I invite her to back it up with some supporting facts.In particular, can she confirm how many children (in the current cohort or who are joining next year) live to the west of the A4074 and north of the River Thames? This should be a good indicator of the accuracy of the headteacher’s statement.
Can we have the actual numbers of children and the percentage of the overall intake? I am sure everyone who does not wish to see their playing fields bulldozed to make way for a school would be interested to hear the facts. — Yours faithfully,
Looking after our children
Sir, — As England’s children’s commissioner Anne Longfield is alarmed at the NHS provision of mental health services for children (or rather the lack of them), I have sent her a copy of the petition I sent to No 10 Downing Street more than a month ago (but not yet acknowledged), highlighting this very lack of adequate services and staff.
The petition was signed by people from throughout the Thames Valley, including Henley.
By doing so, I hope that at last services for the troubled teens and pre-teens will improve. — Yours faithfully,
No fears over leaving
EU Sir, — It is not true that Britain would be isolated by “Brexit”, that we will miss out, that we will not be able to cope outside the EU and without that extra layer of civil servants above us.
In many parts of the UK we abolished county councils and have unitary authorities who work together to do the things the county councils used to do.It works well because we found ways of doing things better between us and it costs us all less.
In around 1917 Ireland divided and the south split from the Union of Great Britain to become the Republic of Ireland. They found ways of getting on while doing without the UK and Westminster — the UK will find ways of getting on without Brussels in the same way.
During the last century lots of countries that had been part of the British Empire became independent and they mostly seem to be running along nicely without Whitehall, the same as we would without Brussels — we might do it even better than, say, Kenya, Canada, America, India and Australia.Leaving is not a leap into the unknown, there are lots of precedents. Like them, we would be more secure and have the flexibility to cope better. As for the possible break-up of the United Kingdom, it happened to the empire and we got over it. — Yours faithfully,
Stop misery in Yemen
Sir, — The war in Yemen has been under-reported in the UK and people might not be aware of the horrors being inflicted on the population.More than 5,000 civilians have died in the conflict, many as a result of Saudi-led air strikes on the country.
You may ask why we should be particularly interested in this conflict among all others.Amnesty International has uncovered evidence that UK-made missiles were used to destroy a ceramics factory, a civilian target, and that schools have been deliberately targeted with more than 1,000 of them destroyed.
The targeting of schools which are not being used for military purposes, as these weren’t, is a war crime.
The UK continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and legal opinion has confirmed Amnesty’s long-held view that the continued supply of weapons and equipment which could be used to commit abuses in Yemen breaks the law. The lawyers found that the sales breach UK domestic law, EU law and the Global Arms Trade Treaty which the UK once championed. There is a real risk that the misery of civilians in Yemen, was “Made in Britain”.
Please join Amnesty in calling on the UK Government to immediately halt these appalling arms sales.For more information, visit www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/uk-stop-selling-arms-saudi-arabia — Yours faithfully,
Secretary of Reading Amnesty International Group,
Surely not all wine must go
Sir, — After recent recommendations from the Government, we are advised not to drink any alcohol.
What is going to replace the communion wine and the very welcome and warming mulled wine served at my church after the Christmas carol service? — Yours faithfully,
Let leaping lady fly...
Sir, — I feel the “Leaping Goddess” at the Tesco roundabout in Henley would look more aesthetically pleasing if you could disguise her with black paint or black tape the tripod stand, so that she would look like she was flying! — Yours faithfully,
Food parcel appreciated
Sir, — I would like to thank those people in Henley Lions Club for buying, packing and delivering the food parcels in Christmas week. The contents were delicious, well-thought out and much apprciated. — Yours faithfully,
J L Sharp
Thanks for finding keys
Sir, — I would like to thank the kind person who handed in my house keys to the staff of the Esso garage in Reading Road, Henley, after I lost them when they fell out of my trouser pocket on the forecourt last Saturday evening. There is a certain amount of irony involved bearing in mind that I have been a professional locksmith for the last 30 years! — Yours faithfully,
ACG Services, locksmiths,
The plague of chewing gum
Sir, — White blobs patterning the pathsÂ Careless lobbing on college routesÂ Do not deny.Â The evidence is imprinted in plenty outsideÂ And through the college grounds.Â Remember your actions are not without cost.Â Remember your actions make the town look bad.Â Wrap and bin your gum please. Â — Yours faithfully,
Missing club officials
Sir, — Harpsden Cricket Club would be very grateful for some help from Henley Standard readers.
We are keen to obtain the names of past presidents and chairmen of the club, which was founded in 1886 by John Hodges.We have names from 1980 up to the present but hope very much that some of your readers will be enable us to fill in some of the missing years. If you can help us in any way please call me on (01491) 575126. — Yours faithfully,
Harpsden Cricket Club
I don’t see it, Rodney
Sir — I was bemused atÂ Bewes’ interrupted views as IÂ Don’t believe it’s news. Apologies to haiku purists. — Yours faithfully,
Holding hands around Lake Bled
Sir, — I thought your readers might like to see the New Year message and photograph I received from Janez Fajfar, the Mayor of Bled, Henley’s Slovenian twin town.
The Mayor said: “This is how Lake Bled looked on December 30. At some minutes past 6pm, little lamps were lit up at the same time by people holding hands around the lake. We formed the Olympic Circle of Safety and look forward to entry into the
Guinness Book of Records. Happy 2016.” I have to say it looks fantastic! — Yours faithfully,