Tuesday, 02 March 2021

Henley Society

WELL, what a lot we have been up to over the past month.

Eagle-eyed executive committee member Catherine Notaras spotted that Zzoomm, which has been installing superfast broadband in Henley, had carried out work on the grassed area at the junction of St Andrew’s Road and Reading Road, a pleasant stopping place facing the Three Horseshoes pub, and left it in far from satisfactory condition.

This area has a bench seat and is used by shoppers walking from the town centre back to the southern part of town and is a popular spot with dog walkers too.

In spring the area displays a plethora of crocuses and Catherine was concerned at the removal of the grass and perhaps the bulbs.

However, representations to Henley Town Council, Oxfordshire County Council and Zzoomm have borne fruit and the company agreed to reinstate the area and provide 300 crocus and daffodil bulbs which we are hoping will be planted shortly by Henley Gardening Buddies in time to produce a colourful display next spring and annually.

Thank you, Zzoomm, for being so approachable and willing to help and to the Buddies for your kind offer.

The handrail alongside the steps leading from the pathway south of St Mary’s Church down into the Red Lion car park has been broken for many months.

In an effort to get this repaired, we spoke with the town council, which told us it was not responsible. We then contacted St Mary’s, which also claimed not to own the pathway and we understand that the county council does not wish to claim ownership.

However, the church recognizes that there is a problem and is obtaining quotations with a view to effecting a repair.

Another of Catherine Notaras’s interests is the trees in the rear garden at Townlands Memorial Hospital, several of which were vandalised shortly after being planted.

She persuaded NHS Property Services to plant replacement trees and is arranging for Liz Hodgkin and her Gardening Buddies to plant 120 primroses around the base of the trees which should provide a brilliant show next spring.

Another area of interest to the society is the Gravel Hill amenity site, situated on the right-hand side of Gravel Hill as you go up, shortly before the Friar Park entrance.

In the Seventies, the society contributed to the trees that are planted there and a commemorative plaque on site bears witness to this.

We noted that the area has looked less than cared for recently and the town and community manager was approached for her comments.

The upshot is that the cracked and lifted pavings on site are to be taken up and replaced with grass and the whole area given a facelift by the town council’s park services team, using plants that will give year-round colour.

Our plaque is very much the worse for wear and we are seeking to clean this.

In carrying out the work, the council has been asked to be aware of the possibly valuable pudding stone set in the pavement. This will be preserved as part of the new facelift of the area.

Not for the first time, members of the public have contacted us about the deplorable state of the lavatories in the King’s Road car park.

Reports of no running water, lack of soap and excrement on the floors all proved correct.

Our representations to South Oxfordshire District Council, the authority responsible, have resulted in the cleaning contractor being relieved of its duties and being replaced by internal staff.

Committee member Julian Brookes has made a detailed study of the Government’s Future of Planning White Paper consisting of a four-page covering letter and six pages of answers to their questions.

The Ministry of Housing has spent many hours producing this document, which addresses the subjects of building better and beautiful and digitisation of the new system but has an alarming lack of details in many areas which will be essential if it is to be turned into legislation.

Our concerns include the following:

• Enforcement. Today’s enforcement is unsatisfactory because of the drop in planning department funding and the lack of teeth. Only 22 per cent of dwellings created by permitted development rights are considered suitable for human habitation.

• Strategy. Absent, other than criticism of the time it takes to deliver a local plan, which is more to do with the 60 per cent drop in planning department funding as much as anything else.

• Democracy. Removed, other than a promise that local people will be consulted at the early stages of the local plan development. But other than a few exceptions, this is the only time local people will be consulted and in an environment where the current local plan production of seven years is to be reduced to 30 months.

• Quantity. There is a lot of emphasis on building better and beautiful with proposed design codes but it comes across as build, build, build at any cost.

We need dwellings which the average earner can afford to buy or rent (affordable and social) built to a standard with back-up enforcement powers.

• Funding. There is reference to short-term funding for digitisation of the new system but no suggestion to reverse the 60 per cent reduction in planning department funding of the last 10 years, which has caused delay in processing planning applications and delivery of local plans.

If you would like a copy of the paper we submitted to the ministry, please email zbrookes@gmail.com or call 07803 900088.

Our membership subscriptions were last increased in 2003 and have remained at £5 per annum for a single member since then. (£8 for two people living at the same address, £50 for single life membership and £80 for life membership for a couple living at the same address).

Inflationary pressure has been mounting over the intervening 17 years and our subscription income now only covers our administrative expenses, such as stationery, printing and postage. Nothing left, therefore, to spend on improving Henley.

It is clear that we cannot promise to hold subscription levels for too much longer but we are reluctant to impose an increase while we are offering so little in the way of talks, lectures and lunches etc. because of covid- -19.

Therefore we are trying to control our costs and to this end we recently ran a successful campaign to get more of our members to accept our newsletters, briefings and general correspondence by email rather than by post.

In addition, while 77 per cent of our membership falls into the life category, or pay their subscriptions by a banker’s order, the remaining 23 per cent pay annually and need a subscription request letter in January (and in some cases, a reminder too!)

To contact our membership secretary Sandra Moon, call (01491) 573887 or email sandramoon187@btinternet.

Geoff Luckett


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