Sir, — It was encouraging to read the opinions in support of a housing development at
Sir, — It was encouraging to read the opinions in support of a housing development at Thames Farm (Standard, January 19).
The decision on whether or not to build on this site is too important to leave just to the outspoken “no” campaigners and their sectional interests.
The silent majority, whatever their view, also needs to be involved and I consider the expression of the diverse views published in the Henley Standard an invaluable service to the community.
I support the development of Thames Farm, providing 40 per cent of the houses are affordable housing units and the remainder are within a reasonable price range and affordable by local people wishing to set up home there.
No more million pound-plus mansions please.
I consider the issue of sprawl that was mentioned to be tenuous in this case as the site is contained within well-defined boundaries and there is already long-established housing on the opposite side of the A4155.
There is also considerable green space on both sides of the A4155 to the north of the site towards Henley as far as the Tesco roundabout, more than sufficient to maintain a definitive village boundary and retain a sense of “place”.
Perhaps we, the residents of Shiplake and Harpsden, could take inspiration from our near neighbour, the charming village of Binfield Heath, which took the commendable decision to build affordable housing on the outskirts of the village some years ago.
Binfield Heath is a much-loved, vibrant and well-tended community, something one appreciates when entering the village, and shows that sympathetic development can enhance and not necessarily detract from a community. As stated by some of your correspondents, the logic behind developing Thames Farm appears inescapable and would certainly be an improvement on the proposed joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan with the increased traffic congestion and pollution that it would cause in Henley.
Above all, Shiplake requires affordable and reasonably priced housing, not only to allow our children and grandchildren to remain in the area but also to provide housing for key workers in the locality, a much-needed consideration for future years.
Too late to protest now
Sir, — The points your correspondent Jon Lake makes (Standard, February 26), although valid and relevant, come rather late in the day.
Remember that building 500 extra dwellings in Henley would be on top of the 300 to 400 that would occur organically through infill/conversion etc and will have dire consequences for all public amenities.
Points similar to Mr Lake’s were raised at the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan meetings at the town hall some years ago.
Barry Wood and others had much to say on the subject at that time.
It was made clear then, too, that saying no to the additional building was not an option as the requirement for additional housing was government policy.
Without any option to say “no” to the plan these town hall meetings seemed to have little genuine purpose.
Talk of infrastructure improvements without a by-pass and new bridge must be considered political double-speak.
Henley today already has the unusual arrangement in directing through-traffic via a car park.
The cynics among us feel sure that the quoted 500 dwellings might well become 1,000 once the plan hurdle has been jumped.
The hundreds and hundreds of new dwellings being built in Wokingham and Thame might be taken as a view of the future.
On the subject of traffic pollution, some years ago a resident of New Street ran “lorry watch”, endeavouring to discourage 40-tonners from using Henley as a “rat run”.
The resident took another option and moved to East Anglia!
The polluters then were Tesco, Asda etc. Names may have changed a little but the problem remains.
In the meantime we inhale polluted air.
Planning is complicated
Sir, — On Thursday (March 10), Henley and Harpsden residents will vote on whether to approve the neighbourhood plan.
It is far from clear to many people what the vote means and what difference it could it make to Henley, whether passed or not.
Firstly, South Oxfordshire District Council is the planning authority and takes all planning decisions. It already has an approved local plan, which it uses to make planning decisions.
Views expressed by Henley Town Council as a statutory consultee are only advisory.
The neighbourhood planning process covers important aspects of the long-term future for Henley.
However, the current plan on which we are voting is mostly concerned with identifying the way in which we meet our obligation to build 400 (or 450) new homes.
This number has been decided at national and district level so the plan must provide for this number. (Curiously the plan inspector changed the plan so the sites now provide 500 homes.)
There have been suggestions that the plan will bring Henley significant extra money under the Community Infrastructure Levy.
Over the 10-year period of the plan (up to 2027) this levy will raise approximately £1.5million.
However, this money will be raised whether or not the plan is approved and it will be collected and held by the district council, not Henley.
If we have an approved plan, Henley and Harpsden will benefit from 25 per cent of the levy revenues arising from the development that takes place in the area. If the plan fails at referendum this will be 15 per cent.
It is not clear how the district council will operate this. For example, what happens to the remaining 75 per cent? So, if successful at referendum, the neighbourhood plan will become part of the local plan, run by the district council.
As is the situation at present, all planning applications must be determined in accordance with the local plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.
So all the neighbourhood plan (i.e. the site allocations) will become part of the local plan and the district council must use the neighbourhood plan when determining planning applications.
However, the district council may depart from the neighbourhood plan where material considerations indicate that it should not be followed. These considerations are laid out in law.
So an approved neighbourhood plan is not a guarantee that the policies in it will always be followed.
Since there will be many changes of circumstance in the next 11 years, the local plan, and our neighbourhood plan as part of it, can also change.
If the neighbourhood plan fails at referendum, we retain the current situation in which the district council makes planning decisions based on the local plan. There will be no planning “free for all”, as some have suggested.
If we wish, we can modify the rejected plan and submit an enhanced plan for inspection and referendum.
So whether the plan passes referendum or not, residents of Henley will still able to review the plan and develop it further as circumstances change.
An obvious option would be the addition of a transport strategy. Whatever your views though, please vote as it is your plan.
Councillor Ian Reissmann
Henley Town Council,
Good for the theatre
Sir, — It would not normally be the case that the Kenton Theatre would opine on such a matter as the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.
However, on behalf of the theatre trustees, I write to urge all residents to vote “yes”.
We see many benefits for the theatre and in particular the following:
1. An opportunity to increase our volunteer base, which is vital for the continuing success of the theatre.
2. An increase in our local audience that 450 new homes will undoubtedly bring.
3. New, aspiring performers to provide young talent to the many wonderful amateur theatrical societies that perform at the Kenton and perhaps the next Harry Stott or Kate Winslet, who made early appearances at our theatre.
So I urge your readers to vote yes and bring more exciting times to the Kenton.
Chairman of trustees
Vote yes for ‘our’ plan
Sir, — I believe that this is our plan and we must support it with a “yes” vote for the following reasons:
* Our opinions, as residents of Henley and Harpsden, have been and will continue to be taken into account.
* Identifying the certain location of new homes enables sound planning for essential infrastructure, education, traffic, sports, social entertainment and specialist housing.
* The plan aims for 180 affordable homes — a great opportunity to house our younger family members and essential local workers for the future.
* The plan will bring more than £10 million to our area.
* This is a fabulous opportunity to improve our town by co-ordinated planning and action.
* Voting “yes” will give us all a real say in our own future.
* A negative vote will condemn us to an uncontrollable planning void for many years to come, with outside interests dictating both the location and potential increase in the number of new houses.
This is our plan, let’s vote “yes” for it.
Question of understanding
Sir, — I have received my postal voting ballot paper for the referendum to be held on Thursday.
The question we are asked to answer “yes” or “no” to is whether we want South Oxfordshire District Council “to use the neighbourhood plan for Henley and Harpsden to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area”.
Supporters of the “yes” vote claim in their publicity leaflet that a majority “yes” vote will be legally enforceable, which is quite different to the district council using the plan to help it decide planning applications.
I have been given website authority for the view expressed by the “yes” supporters but I have received no reply to my request for clarification from the district council.
In the absence of knowing precisely what the question means, no one can or should be expected to vote. The district council needs to act urgently.
Insoluble traffic issue
Sir, — Jon Lake’s long letter of February 26 asserts that the neighbourhood plan “fails to address the problems of traffic congestion and through traffic”.
Up to a point I would agree but would still urge that this is not a good reason to vote against the plan, for two reasons:
1. We would only be confronted with more housing — and hence more traffic — if the plan fails to win majority support.
2. Given Henley’s physical geography and the Government’s lack of money, the traffic problem is essentially insoluble.
In short, the only way to mitigate it is to limit the number of new dwellings as far as the Government will allow and to spread them between different access routes to the town centre — and this is what the plan does.
Councillor Kester George
Harpsden Parish Council
Nothing to boast about
Sir, — What a choice! Henley can have either a bad, worse than today, traffic and air pollution environment or we can have an awful, much worse than today, traffic and air pollution problem.
Have the people in Henley gone through these efforts of providing their views just to end up with that choice?
Didn’t we have a promise from our MP that it would be infrastructure before housing?
On air pollution particularly, South Oxfordshire District Council says it can come up with no answers for Henley but can for Wallingford and Watlington.
Some say it is a dereliction of duty to have no answers. Isn’t it also a dereliction of duty to build houses while we knowingly make no attempt to get below the clearly stated European standards?
So a “yes” vote will produce a legally binding plan to build 450 to 500 houses in places we have mainly chosen but it does not have any legally binding agreement to mitigate the resulting issues.
Traffic and pollution were, after all, only the key issue mentioned in the first public consultation in September 2012.
Now we are launching a transport strategy group to drag out the process even longer so we end up doing too little too late.
On housing there is also nothing to boast about. The need for low carbon builds got withdrawn by the Government at the request of developers and the boast on affordability is strictly for those who earn £50,000 to £60,000 a year.
Nothing, I suspect, for junior professionals such as teachers, nurses, police etc.
Creative ideas such as that from Ruth Gibson never even got discussed.
We have a lowest common denominator plan, not a vision for Henley. If you vote yes, please don’t hope it will turn out well for the town, just hope that it is not quite as bad as it might have been.
We deserved better!
St Katherine’s Road,
Not the place to develop
Sir, — Thames Farm has been put forward by several of your correspondents as a suitable place for dwellings to relieve the pressure on Henley and Harpsden, which have to find room for the 500 dwellings imposed top-down on us by the Government.
The joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan is exactly what it says — it does not extend to Shiplake or any other nearby parish.
Even if planning permission was to be given for development at Thames Farm, the number of houses there would be in addition to the 500 dwellings for Henley and Harpsden.
This would mean more pressure on the town’s infrastructure, especially Reading Road, with all that entails with regard to long tailbacks and very poor air quality, a particularly grave problem in Duke Street anyway.
Supported by scaremongers
Sir, — Over the past few weeks I have noticed support for the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan by people who, dare I say, have a slight interest.
Could I suggest their support is no more than “scaremongering” to the residents of Henley and Harpsden?
Firstly, we have Councillor David Nimmo Smith who suggests that if we do not support the plan it would then be down to planning officers at South Oxfordshire District Council to determine each application as they come forward.
If the plan is supported, it will be more difficult for council officers to refuse applications when they come forward.
Dr Rebecca Chandler-Wilde, the self-selected chairman of the “Say yes to the neighbourhood plan group” was formerly a member of United!, which was against Lucy’s Farm and has the support of Barry Wood (now of Peppard) and Jim Munro, also a United! member, whose home backs on to Lucy’s Farm.
Dr Chandler-Wilde suggests she has no interest in any of the sites. Her flyer that is doing the rounds tells us if we vote “yes” for the plan then “local residents will be able to shape the future development rather than developers”.
I could suggest the opposite — if you commit to this it will be the developers that will drive through what they want rather than the public.
We have Kester George, chairman of Harpsden Parish Council, suggesting the plan is “the best of the worst”, so we should support it.
This is the same man who at one point suggested during plan working group meetings that he would not support any houses at Highlands Farm as the majority of the land was within the boundary of Harpsden.
What has changed his mind? The £50,000 that was spent on the traffic survey by Henley Town Council was an utter waste of money.
It told us nothing we did not already know.
The Henley integrated transport strategy carried out in 2004 by Halcrow had all the traffic details already on record.
It also had a computer model that could add or subtract the numbers of movements on any of the major roads in the town.
For some reason, the council did not want to use this.Like Dr Chandler-Wilde, I also spent 18 months going to meetings on the plan.
In my opinion, there were too many “Nimby” groups involved, hence the reason it has finished like it has.
We do not even have an infrastructure plan to go with the proposed houses.
It seems to me we have a very simple question to answer in the March 10 referendum and that is: If you want a Gillotts School sports field built on, the town council’s sports field by Tesco built on, good local businesses at Empstead Works taken away and hundreds more car movements from Highlands Farm down Gillotts Lane and Greys Road, then you simply vote “yes”.The alternative, if you think there is one, will be your decision “to shape the future of our town and Harpsden’s village”.
Vote makes no difference
Sir, — The principle behind neighbourhood planning is good — it helps local people influence what happens in their area.
My view of the neighbourhood plan, from my time as a town councillor, has always been sceptical.
Have we been handed responsibility, or are we an escape route if things go wrong? There are consequences of a “yes” or “no” vote.
The plan does not include proper consideration of the transport issues as a result of the new homes, which could be massive, let alone the existing problems of pollution and congestion, coupled with other infrastructure that comes with the addition of 500 new homes.
This is a major stumbling block.
This should be an essential part of any neighbourhood plan. There are inaccuracies in the party political leaflets that we have all received.
The claim that there will be £1million in developers’ funds due to the neighbourhood plan is incorrect — this sum will be available whether or not we have a neighbourhood plan.
Forty per cent of affordable housing will happen whether or not we have a neighbourhood plan.
The leaflets say a “no” vote puts developers and South Oxfordshire District Council in the driving seat.
In my mind that’s where they already are and always will be, even if we vote “yes”.
The leaflet that has been published by Gillotts School claims its proposals can only be made with the neighbourhood plan.
This is incorrect. Of course we all want to see improvements at Gillotts, but these goals can be achieved with or without the neighbourhood plan.
Sir, — Like several recent correspondents, I too question the fitness of the neighbourhood plan as it currently stands.
Some of it is, regrettably, a total nonsense, such as the proposed cycle routes which include not only a footpath with barriers to deter cyclists but roads with regular double parking and a narrow lane with sharp bends which is often used by commercial vehicles making deliveries.
Equally nonsensical is the comment in one place about increasing the frequency of trains — followed in the next line by mentioning a potential new halt near Tesco, which would effectively add to journey times and thus prevent a greater frequency! And that is without thinking about the aim of destroying businesses based in the town centre on the various parts of the Empstead Works site by using it for housing instead of (should it become available) for commercial purposes to expand the town’s attractiveness as a place to shop or even be able to park a car legally.
Worst of all is the proposal to take the Drill Hall in Friday Street and use it for yet more housing instead of continuing to make proper community use of it, particularly for some young people — a distinct lack of vision in the plan.
In fact, it seems to be designed to rip the heart out of the town and turn it over to housing, seemingly just to avoid building on some very suitable greenfield sites which have ceased to have any agricultural value.
Finally, there is the propaganda leaflet many of us have had through our letterboxes from a pressure group in favour of this abysmally thought-out plan.
Somewhat misleadingly, the propaganda leaflet tells us that one of the “main benefits” of the plan will be that 40 per cent of new housing will be affordable.
In fact, that has nothing at all to do with the plan and is a condition imposed by the planning authority and will apply irrespective of the plan.
We’re also told there will be “over £1million of developers’ funds to spend on infrastructure and community projects”.
To be quite honest, I doubt if £1 million would pay for all the roads in the town to be properly resurfaced and it certainly wouldn’t buy a new halt on the railway by Tesco.
The sum is miserly and miserable and would not even pay for the infrastructure needs created by adding almost 10 per cent to the town’s population.
We are, alas, being offered what I am more inclined to call a “Nimbyhood plan” rather than one which puts first our community and the employment and facilities it needs at its heart in our town centre.
We have already lost to this plan the competition which kept local vehicle fuel prices down and we are paying the price already.
So, as someone born and raised in the town, I am happy to state that I shall be voting “no” and I encourage other people who truly care about the continued life of our town centre as a place of employment and real community to do the same.
Essential to back plan
Sir, — The referendum on Thursday on the neighbourhood plan is an important event for residents, including members of Henley Rugby Club.
The building of a significant number of homes in the area will greatly assist us in accommodating staff and volunteers, players and members and will increase the potential for attracting new spectators and members, in particular those with children aged six to 16 as we have a very active and progressive mini and junior section.
At present, the club is at the start of a development programme, the first part of which is to completely revamp the clubhouse, beginning in May.
Money for this has been made available through grants and loans from the town and district councils in addition to that raised by members.
On approval of the neighbourhood plan, significant monies will flow which will benefit all of us. Support for the plan is therefore essential.
You only have to look at the effect the wonderful Field Kitchen in Nettlebed has had on the village to realise this would relieve traffic flow and reduce pollution in and around Henley.
Instead of travelling into Henley every day for essentials, locals can walk and pick up basics from a more central location to where they live.
Since moving to the village of Checkendon, we have lost our post office and pub but at the same time gained a large new housing development.
Why should the local villages not gain from the proposed housing developments? I am sure those moving into the new builds would love to be able to walk and buy a newspaper and some local produce and meet fellow residents over a coffee!
Move college and school
Sir, — In the debate surrounding new housing development sites has anyone considered using all or part of the Highlands Lane site for a new combined campus for The Henley College and Gillotts School?
The current Henley College is a melange of buildings and sites and the fabric of both the college and the school is in need of investment.
I am not necessarily advocating the integration of the two institutions into a single large school/college but a shared campus would offer the following advantages:
* New, purpose-built facilities for both, with better and more efficiently utilised facilities than either might individually warrant or achieve.
* An opportunity for much improved sports facilities for the college.
* A shared music/drama facility that might also provide Henley with its much-needed second auditorium, better capable of hosting orchestral and choral performances.
* A true “campus” educational environment.
* The removal of the traffic and parking problems associated with the college as well as a deconfliction of the “town and gown” issues that sometimes emerge from the college.
* The potential inclusion of an additional primary school to accommodate the increased needs created by additional housing, again benefiting from the shared amenities.
In addition, such a campus would release the current Gillotts and Henley College sites for housing and other developments, both of which would avoid the “second village” impression that the large Highlands Lane site is in danger of becoming.
Does Henley want a “state of the art” educational establishment for its youth?
Informed choice is ‘yes’
Sir, — As we approach the referendum on the neighbourhood plan, I am writing to spell out the choice we are making and to refer your readers to the “yes” campaign website www.henley-yes.uk where they can find the text of the plan in full, have many questions answered and read how the plan has been developed by local residents and shaped by multiple stages of public consultation.
I have been heavily involved in the development of the plan as a volunteer member of the housing working group for two years.
This group of residents from across Henley and Harpsden had the difficult task of selecting, guided by several stages of public consultation, which sites should be chosen for housing development to meet the non-negotiable requirement for 400 to 500 new homes over the next 15 years.
I am pleased with the choices that have, after much debate and consultation, been made in the final plan.
Almost entirely we have been able to meet the development requirement using brownfield sites, which was the clear choice of residents in consultation, and sites have been distributed around the town to minimise traffic impacts.
A “yes” vote will give legal force to this carefully thought through plan developed by local residents.
It is important that residents realise that a “no” vote would not stop houses being allocated to Henley and Harpsden but it would take our control away from where they are built, handing that control back to the district council and developers.
A “no” vote would also be the end of neighbourhood planning for Henley. It is unthinkable that the district council would allow us a further referendum, which would require us to start again, and without a draft plan in existence it would be open season for development across Henley.
Dr Rebecca Chandler-Wilde
Chair, Say Yes to the Neighbourhood Plan Group,
St Andrew’s Road,
Should have thought again
Sir, — You report that the Market Place Mews redevelopment in Henley town centre is finally to happen (Standard, February 26).
I recall viewing and criticising the planning application when it was submitted some years ago by London & Henley Properties.
It was a gross over-development of the site and had no architectural merit whatsoever.
I also recall the veiled threats issued by the then owner of London & Henley, Mr De Stefano, in the event that South Oxfordshire District Council should refuse consent.
As events have demonstrated, those threats amounted to nothing as his company went into administration last year, but it is disappointing that the new owners, Catalyst Capital, did not take this opportunity of revisiting the scheme and coming up with a better design.
I was also slightly mystified by the statement from the district council. My understanding is that if the planning consent was issued in 2007, it would have expired in three years and a new application would have to be submitted.
I cannot see any evidence on site that the earlier consent was ever implemented.
How to reduce air pollution...
Sir, — There was an appeal in this newspaper last week for ideas from the public on ways to reduce air pollution in Henley.
Previous reports have identified the worst area is Duke Street.
The traffic flow into the town on the road from Reading is largely controlled by the lights at the Station Road junction.
A twin lane at the north end of Duke Street would significantly reduce the number of queuing vehicles by clearing the backlog of waiting vehicles on each cycle of the traffic lights and so reduce the pollution levels.
... and keep it down
Sir, — If South Oxfordshire District Council is really serious in reducing pollution in our town (Standard, February 26), it would be madness to allow the Government (which itself is in serious trouble regarding pollution generally in the UK) to force Henley to build 400-plus houses, equating to up to 1,000 more cars and buses in the town, emitting even more killer fumes.
In my, opinion there are a few things to help the situation:
1. Revisit the “intelligent” traffic lights system and consider reducing the number of traffic lights and introduce more roundabouts. Traffic lights stop traffic and cause pollution through idling whereas roundabouts tend to keep traffic moving.
2. Do something more positive about restricting heavy goods vehicles using the town as a rat run.
3. Take a look at the old buses being used by Arriva that belch out huge amounts of poisonous diesel fumes and are allowed to idle in the middle of the town.
4, Introduce more trees and green living walls, which gobble up pollution, as is already being done in many towns and cities throughout the world.
5. Let the beautiful town of Henley, famous all over the world, be a leader and not a “tail-end Charlie”.
6. Have courage and exercise people power.
Who’s really benefiting?
Sir, — I may have missed something but I would be interested to know who actually pocketed the taxpayers’ money to provide the behemoth called Townlands.
Like an onion, there seem to be layers of names behind the project but who is the final benefactor? I would also like to know just who signed off the designs.
Did they believe that there would actually be 18 beds in the “hospital” and did they have a written guarantee from Sue Ryder that they would occupy the top floor?
I may be very stupid but so far it would appear that the only occupants at the present time are to be the medical facilities that already occupy, very satisfactorily, the tiny prefab standing alongside the glamorous white elephant.
If the top floor is currently unoccupied why doesn’t the planned care home take over that space rather than add to the three extra private retirement homes awaiting planning permission in the town?
Is Henley going to be the recipient of the first private medical campus with a tiny NHS facility tucked into one corner?
Practical, not political issue
Sir, — If common sense had prevailed in this area, at least three bridges would have been constructed between Marlow and Mapledurham years ago.
Bridges can be stylish, high-arched pieces of fine engineering, as seen in Iceland, Norway and France.
Sonning has a packhorse bridge. Henley and Reading have fine old bridges not able to take modern traffic.
This is not a political problem, but a practical one.
Most people want to travel no further than to their workplace in Reading from the Berkshire side and vice-versa from the Oxfordshire side without aggravating delays in polluted queues in the rush hours.
Councils come and go but the “thinking about”, “maybe”, “perhaps” and “was planned” have been ringing in the ears of two generations. Action is needed now.
I have lived on both sides of the Thames for 45 years.
H P Pullar
Sir, — I feel compelled to write to you about yet another appalling example of petty minded and inconsistent bureaucracy from our town council.
As someone who is involved on the fringes of helping to run the Henley House and Garden Show, I became aware last week that the advertising boards for the show were not allowed to be put up more than one week before the event, by order of the acting town clerk.
I found this particularly strange since there were already boards up in the town from at least February 24, and possibly earlier, promoting a choral concert in Reading on March 5.
On arriving in Henley for an appointment on Tuesday, I found a number of boards, including some in the market square, promoting an event at the Kenton Theatre starting on March 9.
These may well have gone up on Monday or at the end of last week.
To cap it all, I had a conversation with a lady who is connected with the Henley Symphony Orchestra, which has a concert in the same Reading venue as the one above on March 13, and was told that on no account could she put up posters until March 6.
This is causing the orchestra huge worry that the word will not get out in time.
The hypocrisy of this is astounding. I have nothing against the two events with posters already up — both very worthy and I shall be attending the Kenton.
Indeed, I think that one week is way too short a time-scale to promote an event and two weeks is still very tight if one is going to get proper benefit from the expenditure on the posters.
What does rankle is that the Henley House and Garden Show was told that if it did put up any posters before tomorrow (Saturday), they will be taken down and that putting them up contravenes some by-law or other.
This begs a number of questions:
1. Why are some posters allowed to be up early and the council seemingly does nothing about them (not that I think they should) yet other event organisers are seemingly stamped on.
2. How can this by-law be changed and quickly?
3. Does the council really not want to promote major events in March that will bring substantial numbers of people into the town who will no doubt visit shops, restaurants, pubs etc?
Never mind the completely illogical and hypocritical approach of the council, it seems there is a complete lack of commercial acumen being displayed in this matter — something which simply would not have happened if the previous empathetic and very helpful town centre manager Peter McConnell was still in post.
The current Conservative-led administration seems to want to make life as hard as possible for people who are promoting this town and, before anyone asks, several councillors know all about this situation and have done absolutely nothing about it, apart from quoting some by-law or other. Quite frankly, pathetic!
I shall be voting for Brexit in a few months’ time but, having campaigned vigorously on behalf of the local Conservatives at the last election, I think that the current incumbents are simply awful and I shall be making contact with Henley Residents’ Group in the near future.
Change law on fireworks
Sir, — I belong to a campaign which is hoping to bring about a change in the law governing the use of fireworks by the general public.
At the moment, we have an e-petition running with more than 80,000 signatures.
November 5 was traditionally celebrated with fireworks and bonfires to remember the failure of Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot against the Houses of Parliament.
Once, it was just one night of the year and people could take whatever steps they could to keep their animals and pets safe. They were also in a position to take measures to try to reduce stress and fear and create an environment to keep the animals as calm as possible.
In recent years, however, the use of fireworks has greatly escalated and they are now regularly used at unrelated celebrations and have become louder and more distressing than ever.
When used randomly and without warning, as they often are, they are now more than ever a source of fear, not only to animals but to members of our communities such as autism and post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers, the elderly and people with mental health issues who find them alarming and detrimental to their wellbeing.
We are campaigning to restrict the use of fireworks by the general public to the traditional dates around the Guy Fawkes, New Year’s Eve, Diwali and Chinese New Year celebrations.
This year, in Henley, bonfire night turned into bonfire month. We are not looking to ban organised displays.
If you would like more details on how to support the campaign, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Unimpressed by EU ‘deal’
Sir, — Our local MP John Howell is a supporter of EU membership. He says: “I have long been a supporter of our membership of a reformed EU and remain so” (Standard, February 26).
To his credit, he states in his blog that he intends to support calls from his constituents for information rather than campaign literature.
But may I suggest readers peruse the European Commission’s statement on the actual “deal”, which seems to be the sum total of what has been agreed?
I am no lawyer but what has been agreed doesn’t seem to be much. It does not mention in any detail much of what David Cameron claims.
I can’t detect any real reform.
Nor does the statement read like any agreement at all.
It’s full of meaningless generalisations; there are references to “wherever feasible”, “proposals”, “shall refrain from”, “rules may have to be adapted” etc.
But no hard details of anything agreed.
So even though it may all be binding, what is binding is apparently stuff yet to be agreed by member states! Oxymoron comes to mind.
Mr Cameron must up his game as all this does a disservice to the electorate.
I shall certainly be listening to Michael Gove’s views carefully before deciding which way to vote.
Change your mind, John?
Sir, — Tucked away in a corner of page 2 in last week’s Henley Standard was a curious article informing readers of our MP John Howell’s presumably personal decision to vote to remain in the EU.
You quoted him as stating: “For my part I have long been a supporter of our membership of a reformed EU and remain so.”
This is not quite what he said in answer to the question I put to him at the Conservative candidates’ selection meeting in Watlington a few years ago.
In the customary equivocal response we have to expect from politicians, he did not then include the word “reformed”.
I had the impression that he was happy with the UK’s terms of membership then but he has now inserted the word “reformed”, the better to impress his masters.
In The Times last Friday there was an article suggesting that it was the Prime Minister’s intention to reward his “remain” supporters with promotion to the House of Lords after the referendum.
Perhaps Mr Howell has his eye on elevation to the peerage? If this happened, it would cause a by-election in the Henley constituency.
Mr Howell gets his peerage and we get another MP. Is this what is meant in modern parlance by the expression “a win-win”?
Unfair attack on volunteers
Sir, — Mr T Hirst’s letter (Standard, February 26) complaining about the Sonning Common police office’s response to the reported loss of his keys is most unfair.
He puts inverted commas around the word “service”, resents the fact that the office is not open until 10am and expects the staff to act as official lost property officers.
The person to whom he spoke is one of several local people who give their unpaid time behind the counter and helping back-office, a fact that the demanding Mr Hirst is aware of but does not appear to appreciate.
As the parish councillor appointed to liaise with the local police, I know just how hard the volunteers work and how helpful they are within their remit, which, as the Thames Valley Police response made clear, does not include dealing formally with lost property that has no intrinsic value.
Mr Hirst asks readers whether he is being unreasonable. The answer is “yes”.
Councillor Douglas Kedge
Sonning Common Parish Council,
Share your community
Sir, — With reference to the proposed children’s home in Sonning Common, shame on all those who think children from abusive backgrounds are a burden to be shunted on and objected to (Standard, February 12).
It’s an embarrassment that those people don’t see and value their role in sharing a safe and calm community with people who are very much in need of it and instead maintain selfish and small-minded ideas about “problem” children, thereby worsening their already difficult start in life.
Pair of very special people
Sir, — I have seen Debbie McGee and Paul Daniels support the Wargrave RNLI annual boot sale in all weathers!
I saw them last year in Nettlebed opening the village fete.
I thoroughly enjoy listening to Debbie on BBC Radio Berkshire on a Sunday.
I would like to thank them both for their love, support and care in our local community. They are indeed very special people.
We’re celebrating prisoner’s release
Sir, — Members of The Henley College Amnesty International Youth Group celebrated the release of Albert Woodfox after 43 years in solitary confinement in America.
Albert was the longest-serving isolated prisoner in the US. He had endured a mind-blowing 43 years in solitary confinement.
On February 19 — his 69th birthday — he was suddenly released.
The grounds on which Albert was put into isolation reinforced the injustice of his case: a trial with no physical evidence, a conviction based on eye witness testimonies that were later recanted or discredited and a move that seemed to punish Albert and his friends Herman Wallace and Robert King for their political affiliation with the Black Panther Party.
Albert is the last of the group — together known as the “Angola 3” — to be released.
Appeal courts overturned his conviction three times, most recently last summer. While nothing can undo the 43 years of horror he has endured, we must celebrate his freedom and hope that a case like his is never repeated.
The students campaigned for Albert’s release and created beautiful handmade cards to send to him to show that he had not been forgotten.
In December, as part of Amnesty’s global Write for Rights campaign, stalls were held around college and at the college musical,
Our House, where staff, students and members of the public wrote messages of support. If you signed a card, thank you very much for your support for Albert.
Your actions really do have an impact. Albert was overwhelmed and very grateful for the thousands of cards he received from around the world.
If you wish, you can send a message of congratulations at http://bit.ly/1QvQdZs