Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Your letters...

Don’t ignore school idea

Sir, — Your article about the prospect of a new primary school in Goring and the neighbourhood plan raises important issues for the future of the village.

Residents point to the difficulties of the existing school site and to the benefits of a new school, while the message from the neighbourhood plan steering group is that the ideas have come in too late.

I am leading on the planning work for the three sites involved in the new school package and offer a perspective from the standpoint of the landowners and the prospective developer.

Last year we attempted to get meetings with the steering group to explore the issues around our sites and the school but were unsuccessful. We were eventually told we could meet in the June/July but meetings did not happen.

Consequently we decided to expose our thinking via a public drop-in event in September.

This presented ideas for the two sites on the north side of Goring, one immediately west of Wallingford Road and Spring Farm, known as GNP5, and the other about 300m south and on the opposite side of Wallingford Road, known as GNP6.

Though not welcomed by neighbourhood plan representatives, this event was attended by more than 150 people.

We tabled an option for a new school with housing on GNP5. One of the frequently made suggestions was that the school would be better located on GNP6.

We then met with school governors, looked again at our draft plans and came up with a revised plan for a new school and housing, moving it to GNP6.

After discussion with the landowners and prospective developer, McAdden Homes, we established that the cost of the new school could be cross-subsidised by the new housing proposed.

In November we finally met with neighbourhood plan steering group representatives. We co-ordinated with some school governors to join the meeting.

However, the school was informed by the neighbourhood plan side that governors would not be permitted to attend, which meant the three-way dialogue we wanted, and which would have helped understanding, could not happen.

Nevertheless, we presented our ideas for a new school and housing on the GNP6 site.

The neighbourhood plan steering group then held its December 12 consultation event, revealing its draft preferences for housing sites.

Elsewhere on the exhibition boards it was stated: “The provision of a new school is beyond the scope of this plan”. We disagreed and still do.

As the GNP6 site was being favoured for some housing, we made further requests for a three-way dialogue about the new school option and made submissions to the neighbourhood plan steering group about this.

School governors later submitted a 60-page detailed document to the group, setting out the reasoning behind the new school package.

Your article stated that “the neighbourhood plan steering group says the school’s proposal was not put forward when submissions were invited from landowners last year and the plan must go to a referendum in the autumn in order to give Goring protection from unwanted development”.

With school representatives, we have repeatedly attempted to engage with the neighbourhood plan steering group on the school topic but have been rebuffed.

Both we and the school governors have put the new school proposal forward to the group as a response to its consultations.

Surely the purpose of a neighbourhood plan is to unearth good ideas and present them for dialogue with the village and landowner, so how can it be too late?

We say that now is the time for the Goring neighbourhood plan steering group to grasp the offer of a new school, assess the issues and consult the village on it, not to put it off.

Lots of information has been provided but we remain open to discussion if further clarification is needed.

A leaflet summarising the new school development package and the detailed background document can be seen on the school’s website, — Yours faithfully,

Jerry Unsworth

Planning consultant for McAdden Homes and the Hildred family (landowners)

Don’t accept cheap offer

Sir, — Your correspondent Tony Lawson-Smith is correct in saying that a price of £2million is “cheap” for the ransom strip providing access to land for residential development off Fair Mile, Henley (Standard, August 4).

The basis of valuation of a ransom strip was determined in the case of Stokes v Cambridge Corporation heard by the Lands Tribunal in 1961.

The value of the ransom strip which would enable the development to take place is basically one third of the increase in value of the land to be developed above its existing use value.

Henley Town Council clearly needs professional advice on this matter as the figure currently being suggested appears to be way below the yardstick of the case mentioned above. — Yours faithfully,

Monty Taylor

Retired chartered surveyor, Shepherds Green

This site was never suitable

Sir, — The latest decision on Thames Farm has inevitably given rise to heated discussion in your columns, inevitably because the decision to allow the appeal does seem to be based on some arbitrary arithmetic.

This is not only in the calculation of South Oxfordshire District Council’s land supply, though even the inspector seems embarrassed by that, but also by the calculations underlying the assurance of road safety.

Thus the pedestrian crossing to be provided across the Henley/Reading road is said to be safe on the basis of traffic approaching it from Reading at not more than 37mph.

But Harpsden Parish Council was informed by the police that in a recent speed check at that point 11 vehicles were clocked exceeding the 30mph limit at speeds ranging from 36 to 45mph. This was in just one hour between 2pm and 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, February 12.

In short, the decision appears to depend on what we would regard as some dodgy sums. Hence our hope that it will be reviewed.

Dieter Hinke’s account of the consideration of Thames Farm may be accurate as far as it goes but it omits mention of the, to my mind, crucial table of March 2014 which shows the 17 original sites set against the neighbourhood plan housing working group’s criteria.

In this table Thames Farm came very near the bottom (arguably 16th), being rated “very bad” on five counts and “good” on only one (for not being a flood risk).

The nine criteria for this assessment were approved by Nexus and considered in careful discussion. The afternoon visitors to the exhibition mentioned by Dieter had no such advantage.

In my opinion it is also misleading to say that Thames Farm was only removed from the neighbourhood plan because of pressure from the district council.

At a stage in the discussions after March 2014, more emphasis was put on minimising congestion on each route into Henley and it was noted that with 55 dwellings assigned to the former Jet garage site and the possibility of more at 357 Reading Road, adding more houses at Thames Farm would raise the risk of gridlock at peak hours, thereby further diminishing the claims of Thames Farm.

In short, I can endorse D C Whitehead’s statement in your letters column last June that “the site was considered during the preparation of the plan and was deemed less suitable for housing than other sites for various reasons” before the district council pointed out that it could not approve a site that was excluded from its core strategy. — Yours faithfully,

Kester George

Chairman, Harpsden Parish Council

Village wasn’t consulted

Sir, — I write in relation to some of the misapprehensions concerning the proposed 95 houses at Thames Farm evident in last week’s letters pages.

Sarah Pye thinks affordable housing at Thames Farm will give local people a chance to live in the area they grew up in. The system doesn’t work like that. Affordable housing is allocated by registered social landlords on the basis of need, not place of birth.

Dieter Hinke talks about the positive response the Thames Farm proposal received during the consultation process from some Henley and Harpsden residents.

This overlooks the fact that, due to boundary quirks, the residents of Shiplake — who would be the ones most affected — were not consulted at all. The current online petition with around 500 responses against the proposal shows clearly where Shiplake stands.

Kaye McArthur doesn’t remember any fuss about the large houses built further up the road from Thames Farm and goes on to say that she is silly for not realising straight away that there was no fuss because “the right people” would live in them.

She is wrong, there was a fuss. Shiplake parish councillor David Pheasant and I both spent hours preparing cases and attending the South Oxfordshire District Council planning committee meetings fighting these houses on the grounds of road safety and damage to rural character (sound familiar?).

Nicholas Blandy criticises local councillors for representing the wishes of their communities. This is called democracy. It’s not perfect but long may it continue. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor David

Sonning Common division, Oxfordshire County Council

My song for Thames Farm

Sir, — Concerning Thames Farm, I submit the following (With apologies to Bob Dylan):

How many plans must a woman submit before you give her respect?
How many protests must be made before a house is built?
How many councillors must have their say before they are told to shut up?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many pounds must councils spend before it doesn’t make sense?
Yes, ‘n’ how many years can a woman fight before she is free to build?
How many times must councils get it wrong, pretending they just do not see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many times must councils resist before they really decide to support?
Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must a woman bend before she gets her just rights?
Yes, ‘n’ how many planning appeals must we go through before we realise
That too much grief is caused?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many young people must leave the area before we provide them a home?
Yes, ‘n’ how many young lives do we blight before they even start?
How many people could we welcome, both young and old, if everybody tried to agree?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ towards Thames Farm.

Would that we could stop this nonsense and start building — we would all be happier in our community. — Yours faithfully,

Barry Wood

Stoke Row Road, Peppard

Expulsion was unfair

Sir, — I believe Frank Browne has overstepped his authority in removing Lorraine Hillier from the Henley branch of the Conservatives (Standard, August 11).

I was branch chairman from 1999 to 2003 and there is a distinct separation of roles between the elected councillors of the town, district and county councils and the functions of the branch.

At that point, Councillor Hillier was the treasurer of the branch and very good she was too.

Now I don’t agree with what Cllr Hillier did in abstaining on a critical vote which elected Henley’s mayor as this gave the opposition the casting vote on the town council.

But the correct course of action would be to suspend or remove her from the Conservative group on the council.

This is separate from the branch so should not have led to her being removed from that.

Otherwise we have a situation where councillors are in hock to unelected members of the branch, which is hardly democratic.

When it comes to elections and candidate selection, that is the duty of the branch and if the Conservative members in that branch area don’t want to select Cllr Hillier then that is their privilege.

I note that Cllr Hillier was not notified of the recent branch meeting and she has been denied a copy of both the agenda and minutes. This is hardly fair.

When I spoke to Mr Browne he told me Cllr Hillier had been suspended from the committee and not from the branch.

I now see this is not the case so I believe she has grounds for an appeal to Conservatuive central office. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Paul Harrison (Conservative)

Sonning Common ward, South Oxfordshire District Council

Hard-working councillor

Sir, — I think everyone should remember that Lorraine Hillier has been a very hard-working councillor for many years and was an absolutely first class mayor of Henley.

I would hope that this current unpleasantness can be swiftly put to one side. — Yours faithfully,

Carol Lewis

Gillotts Lane, Henley

Undemocratic decision 1

Sir, — Following their defeat at the town council elections, it seems that the Henley Conservatives (based in Watlington) are getting into a bit of a mess.

Your report (Standard, August 11) suggests that their new chairman (a former Wokingham borough councillor) together with their secretary (a Henley Residents’ Group renegade) secretly convened a kangaroo court to boot out their most popular member, Councillor Lorraine Hillier, who has served the town for many years and got them more votes in town and district council elections than any of their other candidates.

Unjust? Highly likely. They had forgotten to invite Cllr Hillier to the meeting. Suicidal? Possibly. Democratic? Certainly not.

Since HRG (it-does-what-it-says-on-the-tin) got back into power on the town council just three months ago, the town’s roads are being steadily transformed (King’s Road, Harpsden Road and soon Hop Gardens), the town centre has been cleared of rubbish (albeit at the price of temporarily offending the olfactory glands of one Conservative councillor) and the popular new mayor is putting families and schools first.

It is about time Henley town councillors united to work for the good of the town and rid themselves of national nasty party politics. — Yours faithfully,

Dick Fletcher

Mill End, Hambleden

Undemocratic decision 2

Sir, — I would just like to clarify the process of the exclusion of press and public from town council meetings with reference to Henley Town Council’s waste working group (Standard, August 11).

The Public Bodies (Admissions to Meetings) Act 1960 only gives town and parish councils the right to exclude press and public from council and committee meetings, it does not apply to working groups.

A working group does not have executive powers and reports back to the town council to take a decision.

The reason for this is that under the 1972 Local Government Act, a parish or town council is only able to delegate any of its functions to the clerk or a committee, not a working group. — Yours faithfully,

Ann Hooton

Former county executive officer, Bucks Association of Local Councils, Henley

Danger of diversion

Sir, — So Oxfordshire County Council is continuing with its strategy of shoring up the A4155 south of the Flowing Spring, closing the road for 10 weeks, with a signed diversion route via Crowmarsh Gifford (Standard, August 11).

This will be a complete disaster with potentially serious consequences.

Google maps shows this diversion to be 31 miles and to take over an hour.

Few will take the suggested diversion when any self-respecting satnav shows a shorter route through Dunsden and Binfield Heath.

Unfortunately, this road is narrow and has a number of tight pinch points — at the Crown pub, at Dunsden Green, at the former Povey’s coalyard and just west of Orwells.

In these sections any car and bus/heavy goods vehicle passing requires special care. I just waited five minutes while two HGVs manoeuvred past each other near Orwells.

So I predict accidents galore, potentially serious, and significant delays — and remember, it is often impatience that causes dangerous overtaking.

The work will now extend into term-time, so I’ll be off to video the chaos outside Shiplake Primary School with its twice-daily parental parking paralysis.

Why has the council not considered building a short new section of road from north of the Playhatch roundabout to re-join the newer section just north of the Flowing Spring?

This would require the purchase of a strip of farmland but allow the road to be renewed uphill of its current path, without requiring the lengthy closure. It might save a serious accident. — Yours faithfully,

Nick Fairbrother

Kiln Lane, Binfield Heath

Switch off your engine

Sir, — I refer to the letter from Rolf Richardson about the number of bus passengers in Henley and how the bus companies are wasting public money (Standard, August 11).

He may not be aware that the Arriva, Carousel and Thames Travel buses, connecting Henley to Reading, High Wycombe and Wallingford, do not use public funding and are fully commercial services.

The town service, the yellow buses run by Whites Coaches, does not have enough passengers to be commercial and is being part-funded by Henley Town Council. But this cannot continue indefinitely. The Mayor recently held a surgery on the town service route to encourage more patronage.

From what Mr Richardson observed, this does not appear to have been successful. Use it or lose it.

My car — and a growing number of other newer cars — have the facility for automatically stopping engines when stationary.

But there are still a large number of vehicles which do not and there are drivers who override the facility.

I have spoken at Henley Town Council meetings and elsewhere on a number of occasions about having a campaign to get vehicles to switch off their engines when stationary as a positive way of improving air quality in our town.

Like Mr Richardson reported, we have all seen examples of thoughtless drivers leaving their engines running when stationary.

In the London borough of Ealing the council is taking this issue seriously with roadside signs warning: “Turn off your engine while stationary. Failure to do so is an offence and may incur a fine.” I do not know what the possible fine is but I hope it is enough to make people take this seriously.

I have asked Henley’s county councillor to take this up with county officers and ask them to fund a similar “Switch off your Engine” initiative in Henley. — Yours faithfully,

David Nimmo Smith

Henley Town Council, Oxford

No sense in adding delays

Sir, — I was rather concerned to read your report that Great Western Railway will hold all Henley branch trains at Twyford to connect with late-running mainline services.

This is understandable in the evening peak period but at other times raises exactly the situation which concerned me when the 30-minute interval service was first proposed. The 30-minute interval is basically a shuttle service so if one train runs late that delay affects other trains.

During the day every service has a turnround of either three or four minutes at Henley so if a train is held for, say, three minutes at Twyford it will inevitably be late returning from Henley. And that can destroy onward connections from Twyford as I doubt trains will be held for connections from the branch.

Apart from occasional trips to Reading, the majority of my journeys on the branch line are in order to connect with long-distance trains from, usually, Reading.

While it is sensible for me to build some resilience into my timetable plans that could be lost by a train leaving Henley late enough to miss a connection at Twyford, it is obvious from what I see on my journeys that the vast majority of passengers travelling towards Twyford during the day are intending to connect with onward services in either direction.

So it seems to me to be a far from logical decision to break those connections in a totally avoidable manner. I appreciate that GWR is between a rock and a hard place but to me it makes operational and business sense not to import delay into the branch line service. It would be even better for Network Rail to restore the old line speeds on the branch, thus giving time for Wargrave stops by all trains. — Yours faithfully,

Mike Romans

Cromwell Road Henley

Keep noise down, bikers

Sir, — I have had a lifelong interest in motorcycles and have been riding them since I was nine years old, sometimes where I shouldn’t have been.

Forty-something years on, they remain a passion.

From my garden, I can hear bikes travelling through my village every sunny weekend and I will happily confess that I enjoy listening to them, albeit with a tinge of envy that I’m not out there with them rather than lumbered with some dreary chore or other.

That said, I know it’s a point of view that puts me in something of a minority. And these days, as a parish councillor, I have become increasingly aware that many Nettlebed residents are less than enthusiastic about it.

To be fair to all, the main issue is not so much with riders speeding through the village but rather when largish groups “give it some” on the more open stretches of the A4130 either side of the village.

The noise can be obtrusive, even for people living well away from the main road. Residents regularly report that this is causing them nuisance and they often assume that their peace is being disturbed as a result of excessive speeds, illegal exhausts or some other criminal naughtiness. I know that isn’t necessarily the case.

So my plea is for local bikers to rein it in a bit as they approach and leave Nettlebed.

I doubtless sound a killjoy and even guilty of hypocrisy (it will have bene me more than once down the years!) but if we want to keep enjoying our hobby without attracting, er, the wrong sort of attention, then we need to aim to do it without spoiling everyone else’s day. — Yours faithfully,

Jon Sedwell

Priest Close, Nettlebed

BBC’s part of Establishment

Sir, — The BBC is one of the most important political and cultural institutions in Britain and most popular and respected provider of news.

So it is only right that the recent disclosures of the higher salaries at the corporation should raise concerns over its current standing as a trusted public service broadcaster.

Your correspondent Jim Munro quoted from a book published in 1994 to the effect that “No one joins the BBC to get rich...” (Standard, August 11). The year could be significant as the neo-liberal private market economics and vetting of programmes was beginning to take full effect.

Through sheer serendipity, I bought recently the only copy available at the Bell Bookshop in Henley of a book published by Verso in 2016: The BBC — Myth of a Public Service by Tom Mills.

According to this, the salaries of hundreds of BBC managers are comparable with those of other factions of Britain’s power elite, ranging from more than £100,000 to around 80 executives at more than £150,000, while the seven members of the executive board earned an average of more than £424,000 in the financial year 2014/15.

The book’s sobering conclusion is that despite all its claims to the contrary, the BBC is neither independent nor impartial, that it has always sided with the elite and that we are only getting the Establishment’s news and views. This assessment is confirmed by the latest revelations regarding the eye-watering salaries of its top presenters, which the BBC understandably fought tooth and nail to keep secret. And when these were eventually published, in a typical sleight of hand, the BBC tried to deflect attention from the real scandal of soaring pay to one of gender inequality.

Regarding Mr Munro’s question about how we could get back to the much-valued public service ethos, I fear the genie is now well and truly out of the bottle. There is as much chance of this happening as next year’s Wimbledon singles champions being given a £10 voucher and a firm handshake. — Yours faithfully,

Alexis Alexander

Gosbrook Road, Caversham

Is anybody listening?

Sir, — Sir James Munby, president of the UK’s family law division, said of the UK’s chronically underfunded child and adolescent mental health services: “If this is the best we can do, what right do we, do the system, our society and indeed the state itself, have to call ourselves civilized?”

I have been expressing similar concerns, not least by writing letters to the Henley Standard, for several years.

But will this make any real difference here in the Thames Valley? If past experience is anything to go by, I doubt it somehow. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Farmer

Wensley Road, Reading

Colourful life of Australian

Sir, — I have received a request from Australia for help with any information about the writer’s relatives — Emily and Arthur James Brodie, who lived in Wharfe Lane, Henley. Both died in 1956 in Townlands Hospital.

The couple had arrived in England in 1899 after Mr Brodie had absconded from Sydney police while on bail for a serious betting swindle.

They lived in various parts of the country and changed names, especially when he was involved in another swindle on the 1918 Derby. There was a court case in Scotland, then the Brodies did a runner.

In 1943 they were living in London. Their daughter May came back to England in 1924 and she was living at Speaker’s House in Hart Street, Henley, and married a Harley Street surgeon, Horace Winsbury-White.

She changed her name to Concha Marguerite de Courcy Brodie and on their marriage certificate her parents’ names were changed to De Courcy Brodie.

I am in the process of doing all the usual genealogy checks but I am wondering if he was known in Henley. He may have been a notorious character or just a quiet chap after his very colourful life. Maybe there are still some stories or tales about him?

If anyone has any information, I would be very grateful to receive it. Please send it to the Henley Standard in the usual way to be passed on to me. — Yours faithfully,

Sandra Reed-Jennings

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