Tuesday, 01 December 2020

Campaigner and councillor leaves village after 38 years

A FORMER chairman of Whitchurch Parish Council has left the village after 38 years.

A FORMER chairman of Whitchurch Parish Council has left the village after 38 years.

Harry Butterworth, 76, and his wife Sarah, who lived at the Little House in High Street, moved to Devon on Wednesday last week to be nearer their daughter Kate.

The couple came to Whitchurch from Tilehurst in 1978 and Mr Butterworth was co-opted on to the council about six years later.

He was appointed chairman in 2010 and continued to serve until May last year, when he was one of four councillors who stepped down days after being re-elected.

Mr Butterworth said he would miss the village but he and his wife, who have been married 54 years and also have a son called Richard and two grandchildren, needed to downsize.

He said his happiest memory was securing a green for the village off Eastfield Lane.

The land was previously owned by the Whitelock family, which gifted it to the community in 2012. In return, the family retained ownership of a small building plot where planning permission for a four-bedroom house was granted. South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, was reluctant to allow this but Mr Butterworth and his colleagues mobilised a campaign of support for the scheme.

In 2010, villagers turned out in force at the planning committee meeting where consent was granted. They included dozens of youngsters wearing sports kit.

The green is now the home of Whitchurch Cricket Club and is also used for fetes and by the village primary school for sports. Mr Butterworth, who used to work in the electronics industry and is also a former governor of Bishopswood Special School in Sonning Common, said: “I joined the council because someone had to.

“Someone probably twisted my arm initially but it’s a very important role in holding the village together. We’re a community of very busy professionals and could easily become just another dormitory.

“Getting the village green was important. There were restrictions on that kind of use in the green belt and I think the district council was reluctant to set a precedent.

“We had to really convince them that the community was behind it. It was worthwhile because it’s a well-used facility now.”

The village faced a major challenge when Whitchurch toll bridge, which connects it to Pangbourne on the other side of the Thames, was replaced due to age in 2013.

The work was supposed to take about seven months but lasted a year due to unforeseen delays. A temporary footbridge was put up but drivers had to cross the river at Goring or Caversham instead.

Mr Butterworth said: “We started planning for that two years beforehand. We helped to establish the procedure for getting emergency vehicles here and got permission for double yellow lines in High Street, which we didn’t need in the end.

“It was a bit of a nuisance but I was actually quite surprised by how smoothly it went.”

Mr Butterworth and his colleague Stephen Trinder, who has since died, led the writing of the village plan in 2009.

He also encouraged residents to support the new neighbourhood plan which the parish council is now producing. This will name sites that are acceptable for housing development and will be legally binding if it passes a referendum.

Mr Butterworth said: “We didn’t produce one because we’re a small village and there was nowhere that housing could go.

“However, the laws on building in large gardens or converting pubs have been relaxed since then.

“The pressures are much greater and people should have a say in the future of the village.”

He added: “I have mixed feelings about leaving Whitchurch. We’ve enjoyed living here very much but the house and gardens are getting too big and the time is right to move.

“It’s amazing how many people have come out of the woodwork to say goodbye. Lots of well-wishers have dropped in while we’ve been in the middle of packing!”

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