Sir, — Very shortly, possibly within six months, the British electorate will be asked to vote on the most important issue facing the UK since 1975. I refer, of course, to the referendum on whether we remain in or leave the EU.
Yet I am dismayed at how many people are undecided on this issue, usually because they simply do not know the facts.
Therefore I would like to lay out the salient issues regarding the EU and our membership as I see them, so that people can at least make an informed decision on whether they vote for the UK to remain a member of the EU or leave.Firstly, it is only fair that people know where I stand on this issue.
When we joined what was then the Common Market in 1973 I was delighted, seeing it as a big step forward in the future of the UK and Europe.
At 17, having just completed my education in mainland Europe, I had a thoroughly idealistic “European” outlook on the world.
Now I intend to vote for the UK to leave the EU because I believe that staying in means we will change from an independent country into a region of a European super-state.The following are the issues that have caused me to make that 360 degree change of heart:
1. Sovereignty. The Oxford Dictionary defines sovereignty as “the authority of a state to govern itself or another state”. Put another way, it is the non-negotiable right of a country to run its own affairs without interference from another or others. Since Britain joined what has now become the EU 41 years ago, successive governments have given up many areas of our sovereignty from agriculture and fisheries to economic and legal affairs. Most significantly, laws made by the EU take precedence over those of our parliament in Westminster. If that is not a major surrender of sovereignty I do not know what is. On the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme recently, Stephen Kinnock MP spoke of “pooled sovereignty”. This is a term often used by politicians when referring to Britain surrendering this or that power to EU control. This is a contradiction of terms. Once you share what was exclusively yours to another party you have surrendered ownership of it.
2. Single Market. This is the economic area to which we and all other 28 member states of the EU have unhindered access (in theory). To pay for this each of those countries makes a contribution and the UK is the second largest contributor. In 2015 this was £11.2 billion. Europhiles would argue this is a price well worth paying for “privileged” access to one of the world’s largest markets. Opponents like me would say that is an awful lot of money to pay for access to a market that other countries as varied as America and Malaysia access without having to pay such “membership fees”.
3. Immigration. Like many people, I believe the level of immigration into this country is a major challenge to the UK. The latest figure shows net immigration into the UK at 330,000 a year. Whatever side of the argument you are on, this figure is unsustainable and must be reduced or our whole infrastructure will be threatened. As a member of the EU, the UK has to provide free access to every citizen of the other 27 countries and vice-versa. EU citizens account for about 192,000 of the 330,000 immigrants per annum. Europhiles are right when they say that leaving the EU would not solve our immigration crisis but being able to control and limit 58 per cent of the 330,000 migrants entering this country every year would be a very significant first step. This simply cannot be done unless we leave the EU. That is a simple fact, not propaganda.
4. What is the EU? It is the child of the European Economic Union founded under the Treaty of Rome in 1957 by six European countries. Its French founder Jean Monnet always believed it was the precursor of a single European country. His aim was laudable not sinister since he believed the only way for Europe to avoid another catastrophic conflict like the Second World War was as a single, unified entity. That is why one of the pillars of that treaty is ever- closer union. For a single European state to work it has to have a single authority covering all aspects, from currency to law and tax. This means all member countries have to give up a large part of their sovereignty to a higher power. Regardless of how it came about, this referendum is not about political feuds or personalities but the future direction our country will take. Do you want the UK to be an independent state again or a constituent part of a large state called Europe? This is a rare and golden opportunity for we, the electors, to vote, so let’s not waste it. — Yours faithfully,
I want more reassurance
Sir, — As we approach the referendum on the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, there has been a great deal of (email) discussion among local residents on how we should vote.
There remains considerable disquiet about several aspects of the plan, notably:
1. Whether the new figure of 500 homes is a cap on further development.
2. The lack of an agreed transport policy as part of the plan.
3. The change of use of the former Jet garage site that means that this part of the consultative plan will no longer be the same.
4. The development of Gillotts School playing fields.
However, overall I think most of us realise that a negative (protest) vote would not be helpful to the town, nor to Henley Town Council.
That having been said, there is a number of aspects of the post-vote planning stages where I need reassurance. I believe that the plan is a legal planning document, with powers over South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning policy.
Once passed, I understand the responsibility for the plan’s implementation reverts to the town council.
However, it cannot act on its own as a piece of paper. Someone has to ensure that its requirements are complied with.
Can the Mayor please clarify who this will be and what he/she would be empowered to do? I need assurances that, as a Henley resident, I would be able to continue to have a say in how the plan is implemented. I would like to know who is batting for the community from Henley’s side of the fence, with what authority and with what, if any, power of veto.
If, for example, this was left to the discretion of a planning officer to ensure compliance and that officer was a district council employee, what guarantee is there that he/she would act in our community’s interest? My principal concern is that nobody appeared able, or was given the opportunity, to challenge the district council when fundamental changes were made to the plan by the examiner, including increasing the total of homes to 500 and changing the wording to enable more sites than originally documented to be developed.
If such fundamental changes to the plan could not be contested by the community at this stage, how confident can we be that we will have the ability to do so after the referendum? To avoid a significant “no” vote I believe these requests are important to all of us to have reassurance that the plan will remain the town’s plan, over which we may have a say in its implementation during the next few years. — Yours faithfully,
Housing for young people
Sir, — For many years I have driven past Thames Farm in Shiplake.
It would be an interesting idea to build affordable housing in the Henley/Shiplake area as there are so many young couples who want to get on the property ladder and buy their first home in this most expensive area of Oxfordshire.
There are many problems for young and even middle aged couples wanting to live in the area because the housing that is for sale is not affordable.
I have done my own homework in Shiplake and asked quite a few people what they would think of affordable housing being built.
Most of them said it would be good for Henley, bringing business to the town. However, there are some — let us say “the older generation” — who don’t like change. In my eyes, this is a selfish attitude. They don’t think about the younger generation and the problems they experience trying to purchase their first home. All they think about is themselves and the surrounding area.
I have seen the plans for Thames Farm and the surrounding beauty would not be spoilt. In fact, it would improve the scene with a station a short walk away and a Tesco store just five minutes’ drive up the road and, of course, the wonderful town of Henley and the things it has to offer.
There are many things that can be added to the development, maybe a doctor’s surgery and a place for the elderly to gather and chat.
All I can say is it’s time for change. The Conservative Government wants to build affordable housing and with Henley and Shiplake being Conservative, they should support this. — Yours faithfully,
Helping first-time buyers
Sir, — I’m writing to you to show my support for the Thames Farm development proposal.
I’ve lived in Henley for the past 25 years, marrying a Henley man and both our children attending local schools.
I would like to see the Thames Farm proposal go ahead as I myself would hope to benefit from the shared ownership housing.
I currently live in social housing and, like a lot of my peers (I’m 45), have never been in a position to own my own home due to the high property prices, despite working as a successful driving instructor in the area.
Both my husband and I have elderly mothers in Henley who rely heavily on having us at close quarters, hence the importance of being close to Henley. I firmly believe that the Thames Farm proposal would bring badly needed housing for people trying to buy their first home.
Additional planning proposals for housing in the area don’tt even give a nod to the fact that local people are having to look further afield for affordable properties, which is having an impact on caring for the older and younger members of the community. The issue of sprawl is, I believe, tenuous at best. At the moment the site is an eyesore with constant fly tipping going on and while I can appreciate that the proposal does carry concerns for the homeowners in Woodlands Road that have invested in a “room with a view”, I’m sure that sympathetic screening is an integral part of the plan, so reducing to a minimum any impact. — Yours faithfully,
Brum Brum Driving School,
Sir, — I understand the opposition shown by the residents of Harpsden and Shiplake, clearly demonstrated in your columns, to the Thames Farm proposals.
However, within the context of the additional housing burden that the Henley area must take, currently called the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, the logic behind developing Thames Farm is inescapable.
Not only does it add a balance and evenness of distribution, which is missing at present, but it also helps to ease the unavoidable traffic and other environmental impacts that will affect us all. — Yours faithfully,
Volunteered or volunteers
Sir, — Your correspondent Jon Lake described members of the neighbourhood plan working groups as having been “self-selected” (Standard, January 22). If he consults a dictionary, he may find that an alternative and arguably less demeaning description would be “volunteers”.
Or might his preference instead be for those participants to have been “volunteered”, army-style? He can’t have it both ways. — Yours faithfully,
NHS is being privatised
Sir, — The new contract which the Government is about to attempt to impose on junior doctors nationwide achieves nothing to benefit patient care and is predicated on a series of discredited claims made by a dishonest Secretary of State.
Your readers may be interested to know that under the current contract, any hospital in the UK can ask its junior doctors to work every single weekend for the same pay as the majority of them are currently getting.
Even on the slightly lower rate of pay that some junior doctors get, they can still be asked to work three in every eight weekends.The thing holding back having more medical cover at the weekends is not doctors’ rates of pay, but simply the number of doctors available. Hospitals do not staff more at the weekend, not because it is too expensive but because they need those same doctors to work from Monday to Friday, keeping the hospital functioning. Historically, the pay structure for junior doctors has only existed in order to recognise the different demands that different areas of medicine place on the doctors working in them.
Some specialties of medicine involve a lot of intense out of hours work with more responsibility, which is stressful as much as it is risky.Other specialties do not and some doctors quite rightly apply to those specialties precisely so they can have a more nine-to-five existence. They do this in the knowledge that their financial remuneration won’t be as high as others in more intense specialties.
Doctors do not and have never been paid “overtime”. The different rates of pay that different doctors receive is purely a reflection of the intensity and responsibility of their post relative to their Â colleagues. Jeremy Hunt talks about a new contract being essential to fulfil a very dubious manifesto pledge but in reality the contract he is trying to enforce actually has a much stronger disincentive to hospitals getting junior doctors to work more weekends than the existing one. Namely, that is that any doctor who works one in four weekends will be getting a pay premium.
It seems quite likely that hospitals will simply work hard to ensure their doctors work only one in five weekends and thereby avoid this premium. To clarify this point, the majority of junior doctors already work between one in four and one in five weekends anyway. If you accept the extremely dubious argument that standards of care are worse at weekends, then surely the areas of medicine that you would want to be attracting people to, financially if needs be, would be those services which actually provide immediate lifesaving emergency treatment, including general medicine, general surgery, accident and emergency, anaesthetics and intensive care.
However, far from giving any improved compensation to these staff groups, the new contract leaves them at best the same, if not slightly worse off.
Conversely, the new contract will actually offer a pay rise of sorts to medical doctors who historically have never been asked to provide intensive out of hours cover because it simply isn’t necessary. Can anyone seriously imagine many scenarios when you need a dermatology doctor, for example, to be in the hospital on Saturday afternoon to provide lifesaving treatment? No, there are some, but they are very few and far between. Providing hospitals with the means to make such specialists work more Saturdays has absolutely zero to do with the quality of patient care but has everything to do with the real agenda here.
Since 2010 the Government’s agenda has been the gradual erosion of a publicly provided NHS.After the Health and Social Care Act 2012 we are now getting to the point where huge amounts of taxpayers’ money are being siphoned off into the private sector to provide diminished services in the name of supposed efficiency. The former health secretary who oversaw this Act is now running a private consultancy firm, helping private healthcare providers win such contracts.Over the next four years the public will begin to see the true extent of this agenda as large hospitals get subsumed by private enterprise trying to make a profit out of people’s misfortune.
In 2005, Jeremy Hunt even put his name to a book arguing for a vision of companies making a profit from people’s ill health! Doctors’ terms and conditions are just the tip of the iceberg — next will come all the other NHS staff on agenda for change terms, which is virtually all of them.The sole rationale for the attempt to reduce weekend pay rates in the NHS is to try and make NHS services more attractive to the private sector to take over.
It is widely accepted that part of the reason for the abject failure of previous attempts by private companies to run NHS hospitals (see Hinchingbrooke as the prime example) has been the wage bill.
The Government is attempting to privatise healthcare in the UK while at the same time forcing wage control on to what will eventually be privately employed staff. So much for the free market. Jeremy Hunt and this Government have misled you. They misled you about the supposed dangers of weekend hospitals. They misled you when they claimed that our current contract prevents more weekend working. They misled you about the supposed benefits of the new contract and about its true purpose.
If people allow this Government to continue down this path then the NHS will no longer exist in 10 years’ time. Parents will take their sick child to A&E with their acute leukaemia only to find fewer, less-well trained doctors to look after them. Not only that, but at the end of their two-month stay they will be presented with a bill for the privilege and a life of high health insurance premiums in front of them.Nobody will be able to say that the junior doctors of 2015/16 didn’t warn them. — Yours faithfully,
Dr Robert Irons
Specialist registrar in geriatric and general internal medicine,
Letting down our children
Sir, — Another week goes by and there’s yet another report highlighting the appalling lack of adequate and appropriate commissioning of NHS child and adolescent mental health service and staff. Throughout the 12 years I have been campaigning on this issue, many similar reports have been published but little has changed in real terms. Given the number of reports and their findings, surely it is time for the teens and pre-teens with mental health problems (an ever-growing number), especially those who have been sexually abused, to receive the services they obviously need.
If we don’t provide this help, why should we expect these children to engage with a society that has let them down so hardheartedly? — Yours faithfully,
Villagers want third bridge...
Sir, — Councillor David Bartholomew’s opposition to a third Thames bridge (Standard, February 5) doesn’t represent the views of the vast majority of working people here in Sonning Common.
He doesn’t even represent the view of our parish council, which supports the concept of a third bridge with sensible traffic management.
The people that he represents are non-working or retired “Nimbys” who blindly voted for a Conservative councillor whose major task is to keep their council tax down regardless.
I suffered the Sonning queues for 30 years in order to work in manufacturing and the IT industries in the Thames Valley while living in a very pleasant South Oxfordshire village.It’s a myth that South Oxfordshire will become unpleasant if a new bridge is built. We already have a virtual Berlin Wall between this area and Reading.
Many more people here will enjoy a much shorter, less stressful and more pleasant working day when the third bridge is finally built.Cllr Bartholomew isn’t representing these people, he is ignoring them. — Yours faithfully,
...but only on conditions
Sir, — I hope that the enthusiasm of my fellow villager H Wilson for a new Thames bridge (Standard, February 12) is firmly conditional upon proper provision for handling the resultant extra traffic through our locality to and from such a bridge.
It wouldn’t be much benefit to cross the Thames itself much more easily but then to have to join lengthy queues in order to reach or leave it. Actually, I’m a little surprised at the concept of an extension to the A329(M) for this purpose. It seems to me that the cost of traversing the gravel pits between the bridge and terra firma at Playhatch would add considerably to the cost.
Also, as it would impact upon the Redgrave Pinsent rowing lake, one might guess that some powerful non-local influences might apply pressure against such an alignment.I would advocate a bridge to the east of Sonning, between the A4 and Playhatch, akin to the Winterbrook bridge at Wallingford. A new bridge? No, certainly not, as it would simply displace congestion rather than solve it.A new bridge plus distribution road? Yes, certainly! — Yours faithfully,
Red House Drive,
Caution over third bridge
Sir, — Could I suggest some caution over the proposed third bridge? As was pointed out by one of your correspondents, this is not the plan proposed some years back. A number of people is still under the impression that the A329(M) will cross the Thames and join up with the M40. This is not the case. It will join with the Reading road at Playhatch.
The traffic from a well-used motorway will then have the option of going to Henley/Kidmore End/Caversham, which already have congestion problems.
This idea needs to be very carefully evaluated before it goes ahead and let’s not have Oxfordshire County Council giving out the “its effect on a single road will not cause a measurable increase, so we don’t need to do anything” line, which is what has been tried many times during other major planning schemes.
This could cause a really serious increase in congestion. — Yours faithfully,
Councilor Martin Akehurst
Henley Town Council,
Two Tree Hill,
Bridging gap in knowledge
Sir, — While your correspondent Flick Boyd-Carpenter may reside in Sonning, she has apparently never been to Caversham.
Reading Bridge was indeed constructed in the Twenties but quite obviously Caversham Bridge was also erected then.
As to her comments on traffic flow, she should consider Bill Bryson’s comments (in The Road To Little Dribling) regarding highway engineers. — Yours faithfully,
Real benefits of fast trains
Sir, — Rolf Richardson took issue last week with my use of the phrase “faster, cheaper and more reliable”, which I applied to the proposed train link between Twyford and Heathrow.
I don’t know whether Mr Richardson ever travels into Heathrow from this part of the world during peak travel time but we believe that the majority of those who have to contend with the frequent traffic jams on the M4, coupled with extortionate parking charges at Heathrow, will welcome the introduction of a service that will take approximately 20 minutes to travel from Twyford to the centre of Heathrow.
Mr Richardson wrongly assumed that I was applying the phrase to services on the Henley branch line, which will benefit in other ways from the introduction of electrified services. The greater acceleration of these trains will allow the introduction of a robust 30-minute service calling at all stations.
Their greater capacity will reduce overcrowding at peak times and, while I agree that the 20-year-old diesel units are currently reliable, they are approaching the time when their age will start to cause problems.
Failure to electrify the branch line will leave it and its users facing a steady decline in the quality of service as there are no new diesel trains planned for any part of the network.
Nobody can defend the massive increase in the cost of electrification but the increasing demand for train services coupled with ageing diesel units would have forced a major refurbishment of the Great Western routes in any case.
On the question of cost, rail users in the UK pay a higher proportion of the cost of the railways than is generally the case on the continent, where general taxation makes a much higher contribution.
If Mr Richardson wants to see lower fares he will need to support even higher amounts of UK “taxpayers’ money” going to the rail industry. — Yours faithfully,
Henley Branch User Group,
Centuries of vandalism
Sir, — First came the melt waters from the last ice age, which made Goring Gap.
Early man with stone, then bronze, then iron cut down the trees.Man, beast and machine ploughed the earth.
The Enclosures Act encouraged the hedgerows.Seas of barley were replaced with bright patchworks of oil seed rape.
Locks and weirs tamed the river.Some of the flood plain was built on, replacing the water meadows.
Ancient ways and cart tracks were tarmacked over.
Mr Brunel carved through the landscape with cuttings and embankments.
Now Network rail has put up wires and masts.
This vandalism must stop! — Yours faithfully,
Confused by swift U-turn
Sir, — After reading your article headlined “Hospital ready at last” (Standard, February 12), I am left completely confused by the latest Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group communication. On Monday, February 9 the commissioning group stated in a press release: “NHS Property Services has informed the commissioning group that the Townlands Hospital developers have delayed the practical completion of the Townlands build.” In this release there was no future date given for the completion to take place and it was vague as to future communications with the Henley public. In fact, they even asked Councillor Ian Reissmann and the Townlands Steering Group to pass on the message because they did not feel they could communicate reliably.
This press release was signed off in the name of David Smith, chief executive of the commissioning group. On Friday — three days later — I am reliably informed by your newspaper that Townlands Hospital is being handed over to NHS Property Services that very day! I know Harold Wilson said “A week was a long time in politics” but a U-turn of this proportion beggars belief. Perhaps, in the commissioning group’s office, confusion does reign and what we see is just the tip of an iceberg of incompetence.
It may be time for some North Korean “management succession planning” to take place among these faceless NHS generals. As to the unofficial spokesman for the commissioning group, John Howell MP, trade envoy to Nigeria and commentator on the Armenian border dispute, may I correct an erroneous statement he made on beds in the new care home two weeks ago.
Mr Howell obviously does not know the difference between an intermediate care bed and a divan! John, we are not getting intermediate care beds — this is what we had in the old Peppard ward and they gave good service over many years to many of our citizens.
We are getting care home beds where weary, frail people can rest up for a few days and be topped up with antibiotics before being sent home to receive their 30 minutes-a-day care package. Finally, there is no resolution of the second floor debacle as the local GPs see no upside in a move of their surgeries, either logistically or financially.No wonder when the commissioning group has hiked up the rent for the floor since the project build started — once again, the price of failure. We are indeed lions led by donkeys. As Donald J Trump might say, “can somebody tell me what the hell is going on?” There must be a sensible person on the Townlands project who can answer before I have to retire to my own divan. — Yours faithfully,
Stoke Row Road,
Shameless dog owner
Sir, —Shame on whoever it was that let their dog foul twice outside the front door of one of the occupied almshouses near Chantry House in Henley and didn’t have the decency to pick it up. Well, I did it for you! If you have a dog, as I do, you need to take responsibility for their poos. — Yours faithfully,
Well done on lack of litter
Sir, — When visiting friends in Shiplake recently it was necessary to drive through most of Henley and as we did so we were greatly impressed with the cleanliness of the area.
Unlike our own area of Amersham, Henley had no visible litter anywhere! It was so noticeable that we commented to ourselves what a pleasure it must be for your local residents who obviously care greatly about their neighbourhood and treasure its beauty.
May I say congratulations to your local councils (I gather there are three) and to the Henley residents who don’t drop litter! — Yours faithfully,
John and Minna Meighan
Wonderful choir concert
Sir, — I would like to congratulate Christ Church in Henley on a wonderful concert on Sunday by the Council Rock North school choir from Pennsylvania.
How fantastic that Henley is attracting these international performers — the choir’s other UK dates were cathedrals in Edinburgh and Durham. Well done to all involved. — Yours faithfully,
Henley Literary Festival,
Snowdrops giving a nod to spring
Sir, — Each February, in an otherwise overgrown area and for as a long as I can remember, snowdrops bloom, transforming the scene with their carpet of white, nodding heads. How they got there is a mystery but what a lovely sight with their promise of spring. — Yours faithfully,
My granddad was in Home Guard too
Sir, — I read your item about the Henley Home Guard (
Standard, February 12).
My grandfather, Edwin Thomas Arthur Mills, must have been one of the older members of the group.
I have this photograph and certificate recording his dates of service. — Yours faithfully,