Monday, 02 August 2021

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Tucked away consultation

Tucked away consultation

Sir, — Crest Nicholson chose to hold a single consultation on their final plans for the 170 houses at Highlands Farm last Wednesday between 2pm and 8pm rather than in the town on a weekend day when many more people could have seen it.

When staff were asked about this it seemed to us that this was just part of a tick-box exercise which needed to be done.

There are serious errors in the display, i.e. ignoring the Scheduled Ancient Monument (the edge of the extensive and highly significant Palaeolithic flint tool deposits site, found during the Fifties and Sixties gravel extractions).

The Site of Special Scientific Interest is on the plan but in the wrong location. Then there is a photograph of a road, saying Gillotts Lane, complete with central white line. When challenged staff admitted that this was wrong, there will just be passing bays, as now — it seemed a rather sloppy presentation.

The layout is that of a housing estate, which could be anywhere, not that of a place reflecting local distinctiveness; it lacks strong frontages along the primary routes, where a community of neighbours would come together and feel secure through mutual surveillance that occurs naturally in a close-knit village.

On the plan are the usual estate houses, set back behind small front gardens, often linked garages, or large blocks, just like the many suburban housing estates built since the Sixties. The brick and flint house walls are an easy concession to convey a vernacular feel, but that is all it is, just skin deep without meaning.

Marked on the plan is a ‘village green’, very commendable, but set to one side, not central to the village, and consisting of two football pitches.

What happens to those who like to play hockey, rugby, cricket, tennis etc. or just run around for the fun of it? Or to families who like to picnic, have village fetes and do all the kind of communal things village greens are traditionally used for?

This brings me to our central concern. ‘Highlands Farmstead’ has been documented from the early 15th century. A timber framed two-bay part of the late 15th century to mid 16th century farmhouse survives, now behind a brick front, re-roofed and grossly extended on its south side.

Adjoining on the north is a brick and flint parlour wing of early to mid 17th century date, both together giving a good idea of a prosperous yeoman’s home, as does the close-by large timber framed barn.

These, together with later stables still form about a third of the historic farmyard. Freed of its 20th century additions and mobile cabins/sheds etc this farmyard could and should once again be the central space, where people naturally congregate.

Earlier maps show where other outbuildings once stood and where new ‘community buildings’ might be erected.

Future occupants of Highlands may be pleased to find a timeline connecting them through this medieval farmstead back to early human occupation of the Neolithic, Mesolithic and Palaeolithic times of early inhabitants here. Not many villages can boast such an ancestry; why discard this centuries-old connection so carelessly? Once gone it can never be put back.

The application plan totally removes the historic farmyard and all its buildings and replaces it with a wide, three-storey block of flats.

It is called a ‘KEY BUILDING’ at the end of the access road at a ‘possible central square and a feature tree similar to the entrance to Hambleden’.

Also, the new word ‘HAMBLEDENESQUE’ is used, apparently coined for this occasion? Nobody who has ever been to lovely Hambleden can even think of making such a comparison; there the central open space of the village is not only surrounded by listed buildings, but most of these play an essential part in the life of the villagers.

Apart from the always welcoming church used for many social and cultural events, there is the shop/post office/café, the village hall, a car repairs shop, the pub, entrance gate to the village allotments (always a good place to meet; why not have one at Highlands?) and a further meeting hall.

>The massive three-storey Crest Nicholson building has no place in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, neither at Highlands nor anywhere else in the Chilterns. One tree in front of it will not make an iota of difference. — Yours faithfully,

Pam Syrett, Viv Greenwood and Ruth Gibson

Henley Archaeological and Historical Group

Crest Nicholson responds: “We are delighted that approximately 100 people attended the exhibition at Highlands Farm, held on July 17. Highlands Farm was chosen as the venue because it is centrally located for residents of Henley, Harpsden and Rotherfield Greys, and allowed visitors to visualise the proposals on the site itself.

The exhibition was widely advertised, including via leaflets sent to all residents of Henley and Harpsden and letters to Rotherfield Greys residents.

A project website is available to allow continued public consultation ( Crest Nicholson is pleased to report that the verbal and written feedback received from local residents has been positive and constructive.

Crest Nicholson would like to clarify that the Scheduled Ancient Monument and Site of Special Scientific Interest have been taken into close consideration as part of their plans, and were clearly and correctly labelled on the exhibition boards.

The image referred to regarding Gillotts Lane was an indicative photo. The full proposed mitigation of the lane was also displayed on the exhibition boards.

Crest Nicholson’s proposed buildings and layout are bespoke, and informed as is necessary by the Chilterns Design Guide, which provides clear guidelines on the appearance of new developments in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The proposed village green makes use of the existing green space on the site, and the football pitches have been identified as a local need and aspiration.

Throughout the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan process and in preparing this application, Crest Nicholson has undertaken extensive surveying work on all existing buildings on site to establish their provenance and structural integrity. This includes Crest Nicholson instructing historic building experts CgMs to put together a Historic Building Record for Highlands Farm.

South Oxfordshire District Council’s conservation officer and English Heritage have agreed that Crest Nicholson’s work in this regard provides a sufficient record of these buildings’ history.”

Bus service is vital

Sir, — My Mother has lived in Peppard for more than 40 years.

On their return from Africa, my father chose Peppard Common as a base because he wanted his family to settle into a community and attend a local school.This decision was also based on the fact that the area had a regular bus service, an essential considering that my Mother could not drive and my Father often worked abroad.My mother was able to keep her independence and as we grew up my sisters, brother and myself were able to use the bus service to travel to Reading to our part time jobs whilst we studied.Over the years the bus service was cut from a regular three times a day, six days a week service to a skeleton service. In the meantime my parents divorced, the children flew the nest and tragically my Mother lost the majority of her sight.

The bus service, although pitifully depleted, continued to be the only means of transport for my Mother.

She used it to get to hospital appointments, doctor’s surgery appointments, to pick up prescriptions, buy essentials, go to the bank, go to the post office, but most importantly it gave her a bit of independence and an opportunity to get out of the house.Often the people she talked to on the bus trip to Reading would be the only people she would talk to all week.

Wednesday will be the last ever bus service to Reading from our area. The council have cut it completely. With this action they are taking away the independence and dignity of many.

Not just my mother but many other lonely old people or people on low incomes who can not afford to run a car are going to be seriously affected by this callous act.

My Mother now has to rely solely on me for the basic necessities. I have two children, I work and although I do my best, what will happen when I am away?

When questioned the council, told my mother that she will have to rely on the local charity if she needs a lift. Alternatively she can sign up to a dial-a-ride scheme for which she has to pay a minimum of £10 a trip. Not only is it ridiculous to expect a pensioner to do this but she was told that she has to sign up online...she does not own a computer and would not be able to see it if she did!!

The nearest bus service is only a mile or so away. Like many of the other people affected, my mother is not able to walk the two hills, with no pavement and two blind crossings which cross a heavily used main road to get to the bus stop, let alone carry heavy shopping back again.

Some of the old folk intend to take the last ride on Wednesday and bid farewell. My mother can’t face it. For her it is not just a farewell to her bus buddies but a final goodbye to the little independence she had left.

The people affected are of a generation that were brought up not to make a fuss. I feel very strongly that we need to make a great big fuss for them!— Yours faithfully,

Serane Davies

Church Lane, Rotherfield Peppard

Affordable is workable

Sir,— I refer to your headline “Town faces shortage of affordable homes” (Standard, July 15). Henley Town Council has in its own hands the ability to supply 30 of those homes on the Reading Road site next to Tesco, not just 14, as the Conservatives want.

Thirty would be close to 10 per cent of the affordable homes needed in Henley (South Oxfordshire District Council figures say 333 homes are needed).

This is the last piece of land owned by Henley Town Council that is suitable for housing. Please use it wisely.

Don’t go in with a developer, who will want a sizeable profit. Instead join forces with a housing association and build 30 affordable homes.

Of course the hockey and football clubs will be re-provisioned on the new site. But any other financial returns must go into the affordable housing.

If you asked the people of Henley what they would like done with their land, housing for Henley families would be their top priority.

They would not be “disgusted by the proposal” or fearful of creating a “ghetto” as one Conservative member was quoted as saying in your paper the week before last. — Yours faithfully,

>Gill Dodds

Leader, Henley Residents Group, Greys Road, Henley

Holistic, not just care

Sir, — Further to your article in last week’s Standard on the impending over-supply of care homes in Henley, there does seem to be a problem with the very notion of a neighbourhood plan.

Such a plan looks across the entire area, and the developments within it should surely be considered in the context of the whole area. Instead, it appears that every scheme is judged individually so that each care home that gets planning approval acts as a precedent for approving the next.

Our own MP, John Howell, has considerable planning expertise. Perhaps he can help us to get our own plan implemented as intended, before Henley morphs into Geriatrica-on-Thames. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Jane Smewing

Henley Town Council

Pricing out the young

Sir, — There has been a lot of debate recently about “affordable housing” in housing planning for this area. Can someone define “affordable.”

The estate agency section of this week’s Standard highlights 65 properties the average price of which is £1,004,000 — do local politicians think this constitutes “affordable”?

According to government statistics the average annual wage in the country is around £28,000 and the average house price is £285,000.

How many people in this pay bracket can even contemplate living in this area? An area where small “affordable” houses are snapped up by people with enough money to enable them to demolish it and build a totally “unaffordable” house (for most people) in its place.

If this carries on the area will become very unbalanced population-wise — maybe that is what the local politicians are aiming for, after all, according to one councillor a development of affordable housing is a “ghetto” which no one in the higher wage bracket wants on their doorstep.

One can only hope that the new government will crack down on local authorities and ensure that “affordable” developments are built and in enough numbers to ensure that our young people can afford to live, work and contribute to the area they have grown up in and our elderly residents can find “affordable” suitable housing to move into when their properties become unmanageable. — Yours faithfully,

D Butler

Sonning Common

Sale of site helps youths

Sir, — As chairman of the Trustees of Thamesfield Youth Association I am writing in response to David Nimmo Smith’s negative comments in his letter (Standard, July 15) and wish to clarify the circumstances around the sale of the Henley Youth Centre site to B&M Healthcare.

1. All trustees were in agreement when we decided to sell that our preference was that the whole site would be used to build affordable housing.

One of our trustees spoke with Soha (South Oxfordshire Housing Association) before we put the site out for tender and informed them that this was our ideal wish.

2. We are a registered charity and bound by the rules of the Charities Commission which means we have a legal duty to go out to public tender and obtain the best financial outcome for the charity and use any proceeds to help and support young people in Henley.

3. We had 27 offers to buy the site. The offer that B&M Healthcare made was not conditional on planning.By contrast the offer that Soha submitted was considerably lower (20th on the list) and was also conditional on obtaining planning permission.

Typically, offers contingent on planning usually result in time delays and in many cases an even lower final offer.

4. The sale took place in April 2015 and we kept Henley Town Council and the neighbourhood planning group informed throughout this time.

We confirmed that they should not include any housing on the site in their final plan as we had sold it to B&M Healthcare. We were quite surprised to see the site remain in the final neighbourhood plan which was released after the site was sold.

So yes, it seems there will not be any affordable housing on the site, which, as ‘local people’, all our trustees have sympathy with.However, the positive result is that as a charity we continue to support young people in our town and now that we have some annuity income, can continue to do this for many years to come.

In the last 12 months we have supported, amongst others, the Nomad youth and community project, the Henley Skatepark Initiative, the Henley YMCA, Henley Music School, Acoustic@ Magoos /Music on the Meadows, The Chiltern Centre for disabled children and Riverside Counselling.

We feel that, far from being a ‘tragedy’, this is a good outcome for the young people of Henley. — Yours faithfully,

Clive Wilkinson

Chairman of Trustees, Thamesfield Youth Association

Proud of our familiar faces

Sir, — We are very proud that Theresa May, who went to school in our Parliamentary constituency, in Wheatley, has now become Prime Minister. We know that with her considerable experience and expertise, she is ideally placed to lead the country through the challenging times ahead in negotiating our exit from the European Union, whilst keeping our United Kingdom together.

Mrs May has always been very supportive of our Conservative Association, having been an enthusiastic guest speaker at fund-raising events in Henley.

Theresa May’s father was a Church of England vicar in Wheatley, where she attended Holton Park Girls’ Grammar School which later became Wheatley Park comprehensive.

We also wish our former MP Boris Johnson well as he assumes his the challenging role of Foreign Secretary. — Yours faithfully,

Judith Nimmo Smith

Chairman of the South Oxfordshire Conservative Association

Thanks to organisers

Sir, — At the end of an election count we are all used to hearing the victorious candidate begin by profusely and deservedly thanking the returning officer and all the staff who conducted the count.

I was present on 23 June at the combined referendum counts for South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse districts.

Both were exceptionally well organised and supervised, in his public swansong, by the returning officer, David Buckle, who is about to retire as chief executive of both councils.

Because there was no winning candidate there was no paean of thanks to Mr Buckle and the 250 or so staff who had worked so hard through the night. In my small way I would like to rectify this by telling all your readers that regardless of their views of the outcome they should be proud to have had such an excellent team of public servants determining their democratic wishes.

That said, at about 2.30am I fell to musing about the fact that the last general election in India, in which some 670 million voters took part.

It was entirely carried out using secure electronic voting machines taken to every town and village for every voter to use in person. This allowed the results for the whole nation to be published with 100 per cent accuracy within minutes of the final closing of the poll.

We could learn a lot from this huge and vibrant democracy that looks set become one of the largest economies in the world within 20 years. — Yours faithfully, Philip Collings

Peppard Common

Collection is quite rare

Sir, — Mr Blackwell is not alone in his ire of the bin collections (Standard, July 15).

My bins have been missed almost five times this year. I say almost as I happened upon the miscreants on the last occasion trundling away round the corner of my road having missed my bin.

They have been in the same place since we got them. Against the gate, to the side of the pavement only just out of the way of pedestrians. To claim not to have seen them is ludicrous.

On previous occasions I have emailed the given address as stated on the website, before the allotted time, to have them collected the next day, to absolutely no avail. Not a whisper, not a dickie bird.

With the revelation last week that it is ‘errors were rare’ I just had to write. Others who have had this happen to them should also write in. If it happens again I won’t be calling the council I will be looking into taking the case to a small claims court.

If I take my rubbish to the tip to prevent the associated problems with garbage build-up, vermin, smell etc, spend my valuable time, petrol, vehicle wear and tear, water use and disinfectant, I will be looking at a fair slice of reimbursement.

It will only take two or three missed collections and my council tax will have been (re)covered, not that it was used for anything beneficial to myself, my neighbours or indeed Henley anyway.

You are paid to do a job — so do it. And the council shouldn’t shrug it’s overpaid shoulders as if it’s no concern of theirs — it is. They should remember that they have a duty of care to the taxpayer. — Yours faithfully,

E Sierpowski

Crisp Road, Henley

Centenary collection

Sir, — We would like to express enormous thanks to Daniel Grist, secretary, and Sir Steve Redgrave, chairman, of the Henley Royal Regatta, all the Stewards and their guests and to Leander Club for kindly allowing us to offer special Somme commemorative badges and poppies on Friday, July 1 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Our collections raised a total of £3,483.64 for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.

This is a most generous contribution to our vital work helping existing service men and women, veterans and their dependants.

The exhibition in the prizes tent was a salutary reminder of how the sport of rowing lost so many to the conflict. Leander Club lost 30 members in the Battle of the Somme and our thoughts were especially with them during the moving Last Post and two minutes’ silence. — Yours faithfully,

John Green

Chairman, Henley and  Peppard branch, Royal  British Legion

Footpaths are not for cars

Sir, — I walked up The Close, Henley, the other day with my husband in his wheelchair and our dog only to be faced with cars blocking the footpath.

I had to get in the road. These people only think of themselves, they have a drive and paved path to have three cars.

Hope they see this because my next move is the police who will make them move them. — Yours faithfully,

Mrs Jennifer Britton

The Close, Henley

Political politeness

Sir, — As a Dane one of the things I like most about Britain is the way manners are so well incorporated in how everybody lives their lives.It used to be very bad form to discuss one’s political views at dinner parties and even at the pub.

That was until Brexit happened.

Now it is apparently the norm to tell the world that one was a Remainer and then look at everybody else in the room to see if there are any heretics about. Well nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition as they say. It would look good on Britain if we return to using manners in the right way again. — Yours faithfully,

Soren Nielsen

Belle Vue Road, Henley

A medium of comfort

Sir, — in response to Sam Brown’s letter (Standard, July 15) titled “Religion is a killer”, I was brought up as a Catholic and when I was 13 years and my mother 36 she passed to the other side; my religion was of little comfort.

In 2000 I met a grandmother whose grandson had committed suicide. In my desire to help her I discovered spiritualism.

Spiritualism stands for what is true and proved by evidence (that the spirit lives on), entire freedom of thought and tolerance of all religions.

A good medium can leave a grieving person in no doubt that their loved one’s spirit still exists on the other side, and can bring great comfort. — Yours faithfully,

Teresa Page

Crisp Road, Henley

Youth centre invitation

Sir, — May I, through your letters page, say a huge thank-you to Margaret Moola and Elaine Williams, the driving force behind Nottakwire, for their very generous donation to Club SC (Sonning Common Youth Club). The Nottakwire Summer Concert at Sonning Common village hall in June was, as usual, a sell-out. Margaret and Elaine and the Nottakwire singers are such staunch supporters of our young people.

Club SC opens 50 weeks a year, two nights a week to provide a safe and secure place for our youngsters, whose ages range from 10 to 16 to ‘hang out and have fun’.

We have recently visited the Atom Trampoline Park in Reading. All had a wonderful time and managed to master all kinds of tricks and flips. Among our activities are barbecues, water fights and a kite making competition alongside a hockey taster session.

Once a month we also have a coach from Reading FC who attends.We raised a mighty £80 from a chocolate tombola at the Sonning Common Primary School fete, the chocolate was kindly donated by Tesco.

We also organised a tombola at the Chiltern Edge ‘Fest’, collecting prizes from our members and again, Tesco Henley.

We exist entirely with support from local people. In particular, Sonning Common Parish Council, a beacon of excellence for community facilities. Rotherfield Peppard Parish Council, Kidmore End Parish Council, our local businesses such as Co-op and DoggyDips. We would also like to thank all volunteers at the club.

Find us above the sports hall at Chiltern Edge on Wednessays (Years 6, 7, 8) and Thursdays (Years 9, 10, 11 from 7pm to 9pm.

For more information, check, — Yours faithfully.

Carol Viney

Club SC Management Committee Chairman

Please, more Nature Notes

Sir, — How pleasant to have Nature Notes now in the Henley Standard, so interesting and informative.

It makes a welcome change from long and tedious letters from councillors and revelations of their awful jokes.

I notice the latest Nature Notes column has shrunk — please don’t reduce it.

Maybe the author would tell me why we often see black-headed gulls. Where do they come from? — Yours faithfully,

Christine Bland

Henley Road, Caversham

Phone box has new use and look

Sir, — I write in response to William Wolff’s rather surprising letter in respect of the red telephone box on the village green in Highmoor.

Through your pages if I may, I would like to enlighten Mr Wolff of the plight of this “blight”. If Mr Wolff, or anyone passing, were to open the door or peer through the remarkably clean glass, it would be quite self-explanatory.

However, Highmoor Parish Council, on which I served as chairman for a number of years, purchased the telephone box and then later, in 2012, renovated it to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The outside view which, I think, alongside the post box looks quintessentially “Village England”, and inside there is a plaque and also some very interesting old photos.

I would also add that relatives of some of those in the photos still reside in Highmoor today.

I for one, am pleased the telephone box remains, after all, it is part of our heritage. —Yours faithfully,

Mrs D A Clarke

Former chairman, Highmoor Parish Council. Blackstone Road, Wallingford

Sir, — The neglected phone box at Highmoor Cross could be transformed as ours was at Sonning Common. The parish council can buy it from BT for £1.

Local volunteers can repaint and refurbish the glass and fill it with plants as we did at Sonning Common.

Sadly two years later it had to be removed to make way for a new build and is languishing while we find it a new home.

I have seen phone boxes used for defibrillators, paperback lending libraries, tourist information booths and I have no doubt a trawl through the internet would come up with other ideas.

If none of those appeal I believe the parish council may be able to apply to have it removed and sell it on. — Yours faithfully,

Chrissie Phillips-Tilbury

Woodlands Road, Sonning Common

Sir,— Theresa May MP and her husband Philip stopped at the Remain stand recently when she was in Henley to do some shopping. She has long been a visitor to Henley, and I am sure that her promotion will not prevent her continuing to come to buy hats, clothing etc.

I have attended meetings with her about rail issues and the Reading 3rd bridge as her constituency includes Twyford and Wargrave stations and the road & bridge through Sonning.

I know that these — and any other local issues like traffic queues on Remenham Hill — will remain at the very top of the political agenda. I look forward to further challenging meetings. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor David Nimmo Smith

Oxfordshire County, South Oxfordshire District and Henley Town Councillor

Sir, — I thought you might like this lovely photo taken when opening Burchetts Green school’s of of our fabulous new Prime Minister with my granddaughter Jessica Revell, aged eight, who had been playing the cello at the event. — Yours faithfully,

Ginny Hayes

Green Lane, Littlewick Green

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