Saturday, 13 August 2022

Your letters...

Lovely town, lousy roads

Sir, — My wife fell headlong in Henley recently, having stepped into an unmarked, sunken manhole cover, skinning her knee and hands and severely twisting her ankle.

She was apparently one of a number of patients attending Townlands Memorial Hospital having fallen at the same location.

Yet nothing, absolutely nothing, had been done by the highways department of Oxfordshire County Council five working days later.

This treacherous road condition is still a danger to anyone in Bell Street, crossing the cobbled exit from the King’s Road car park going towards M&Co.

Our lovely town has justifiably become a river resort, thanks to so much that Henley Town Council and our shopkeepers and restaurateurs do to attract thousands to visit us and boost our economy.

However, a study of reported but untreated road hazards in Henley indicates that we should be ashamed of the risks that pedestrians, cyclists and indeed motorists take when using our pavements and highways.

My wife, a very fit lady, has been advised that her ankle might take four to six weeks to heal completely.

Heaven help elderly and disabled folk until the council does something about the wretched condition of our pavements and roads. — Yours faithfully,

David Gobbett

Elizabeth Road, Henley

We can’t park outside home

Sir, — This is an open letter to Stefan Gawrysiak, Henley’s representative on Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority.

May I enquire how you are progressing with introducing residents’ parking in Northfield End please?

As you know, there is considerable support from residents to introduce this, as was demonstrated in the support for my petition last year that your predecessor chose to ignore.

Residents are often denied the basic right to park outside or even near their own property due to commuters and commercial vehicles choosing to take advantage of the free parking on this part of the A4130.

One morning last week, for example, my wife dropped my son off at nursery and returned home to find a commercial van parked outside our house, taking up what would be almost two resident parking spaces.

As a result, she was forced to park elsewhere on this busy road.

We have twin baby daughters so she had to leave one girl alone in the car while she took the other into the house before going back to collect the first.

As you can imagine, this was a considerable inconvenience and very stressful.

There are many other examples of residents, some elderly with mobility challenges, being denied easy access to their property by non-residents and commuters avoiding the car park fees.

Please, please will you take this up for the local residents? Commuters should be using the car park at Dry Leas, which is under-used. This could help raise revenue for the council. Commercial vehicles should not be abandoned outside residents’ properties, taking up space and blocking light into their front rooms.

I know you are sympathetic to this cause as you signed the petition last year. Your enthusiastic championing of this would be most welcome. — Yours faithfully,

Dylan Thomas

Northfield End, Henley

Councillor Gawrysiak responds: “I have had conversations with Mr Thomas and I am raising with county council officers the issues of parking and speeding on Fair Mile and Northfield End. I really hope that progress can be made. I am making great progress on other Henley road matters.”

Remenham’s had enough

Sir, — There have been three incidents in Remenham over five days, causing gridlock, chaos, unhappiness, injury, much inconvenience and havoc for residents and umpteen frustrated drivers, many of them trying to avoid the traffic on Remenham Hill to get to or through Henley.

On Thursday last week a lorry going along Remenham Lane clipped a parked car and spun it round at right angles, not only blocking the road for hours but wrecking the car.

On Friday another lorry caused massive delays to the “commuter traffic” when it reached an impasse with a vehicle going the other way.

The last straw was on bank holiday Monday when a delivery van — trying to avoid the traffic on the hill — became wedged between the hedge and a car, blocking the lane for more than three hours.

Two of these incidents involved the police and what a ridiculous waste of their time.

Remenham is just a small parish (population around 500) which enjoys a wonderful location on the banks of the river opposite Henley.

We do want to share our beautiful village with others and many of us welcome Henley Royal Regatta, Henley Festival, the Rewind Festival and a number of regattas, swims and other activities, with the resultant invasion by tens of thousands of people every year.

But the relentless traffic on Remenham Hill, with scores of vehicles trying to avoid it by using our lanes as a short-cut (which doesn’t work) is pushing us to the limit.

Remenham gets no financial reward for these activities, no contribution to the infrastructure which supports all this — that goes to the organisers and parts of Henley. I for one do not resent this but we do get far more than our fair share of the downside.

For most of the year the traffic has nothing to do with the regattas and festivals and maybe we could tolerate it better if it was just that.

This could be alleviated by better phasing of the lights on Henley Bridge, over which Remenham has no control.

I am told “there is nothing we can do”. I simply do not believe it. Enough is enough. — Yours faithfully,

Felicity Rutland


Catching out the innocent

Sir, — Several of my neighbours have tales of woe about the new parking arrangements for the Henley GP surgeries and Townlands Memorial Hospital.

They are intelligent, law-abiding people who only drive to the surgery because walking is not an option either for them or for their passengers.

I understand the reason why parking must be managed, but it seems to me that the smartest thing about Smart Parking is their expertise in catching out the innocent or unaware.

Their modus operandi appears to rely on people paying up rather than follow an appeals process designed by a coterie of car park operators, with the threat of court proceedings to unnerve even the intrepid.

I spent 10 minutes online researching Smart Parking. Whoever negotiated the contracts should have done the same.

The arrangement with Smart Parking has caused a lot of distress to its victims. Who is accountable? It would be interesting to know if Smart Parking is being paid to provide this service, or do they have the right just to keep all the revenue from the fines they issue? — Yours faithfully,

Patricia Mulcahy


Improving bus service

Sir, — With the objective of decreasing diesel fumes pollution while simultaneously making for easier and quicker off-peak routing within Henley, I now pass the following idea your way at the suggestion of the Mayor on her recently photographed day “on the buses”.

After South Avenue, don’t follow Western Avenue all the way down but instead turn north along Vicarage Road then west up St Andrew’s Road then into Blandy Road (then follow existing route).

At a stroke this will obviate the bus’s slow queuing north along Reading Road (where no one ever gets on), retain one passing of the post office per hour, provide a new service to Vicarage Road, St Andrew’s Road and adjacent roads and also reduce the number of return trips to the town hall from four to three per hour, making the bus timekeeping easier.

The bus shelter in Western Avenue unfortunately becomes slightly marooned by this deviation but the cost of moving it would probably be higher than building one on the new route should that prove necessary.

Too early to say yet, but the Highlands Farm development might then additionally be served by a further slight route adjustment at the western perimeter of Henley. Over to you. — Yours faithfully,

Jim Munro

Blandy Road, Henley

We must fight this injustice

Sir, — This is an open letter to John Cotton, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council.

In your mass response to the correspondence asking you to instigate judicial review proceedings in relation to Thames Farm, you said that you had received letters of support as well as letters of rejection to the inspector’s decision to grant planning permission.

The letters of support are irrelevant in relation to the issue and the decision that you are concerned with as those people have not suffered a legal injustice at the hands of the inspector.

The council’s choice therefore is straightforward: should it appeal on behalf of residents as custodians of the public interest or not?

If counsel’s opinion suggests that the inspector has indeed made an error in law, or that his decision is not a proportionate response to the housing shortfall should that shortfall be found to be correct, then you must choose to challenge and set aside his decision as you are our elected representative and leader of the council.

Any other approach to the matter would be a further infringement of the human rights of those members of the public who rely upon you to represent their interests.

The decision to be made here affects thousands of people in the district and all 31 neighbourhood plans.

It also potentially sets a national precedent and as such the decision in this matter should be made in open council and not behind the closed doors of cabinet.

Counsel’s opinion upon which you rely to make that decision should also be published for all to see and consider. — Yours faithfully,

Peter Boros

Chairman, Shiplake neighbourhood plan steering group, Reading Road, Lower Shiplake

Insanity and prejudices

Sir, — It was Einstein that coined a definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.

How true it is in the case of South Oxfordshire District Council versus Claire Engbers as they fight year after year over the same 15 acres of land along the A4155.

In all this bedlam, Harpsden and Shiplake parish councils, supported by a formerly neutral Henley, encourage the district council to squander even more taxpayers’ money on seeking another judgement in the highest court of our land.

It is an easy call to use that money when your own parish’s contribution is zero.

This would only be a repeat of a previous High Court judgement which found for Mrs Engbers on her plan for 105 houses, while this new plan is for 95 houses.

However, the massed battalions of Conservative councillors across all levels of local government in South Oxfordshire conspired to have our MP, with little independent thought, try to convince the Secretary of State to intercede.

With a sweep of the pen, he gave a divine judgement worthy of any medieval pope and changed the land supply for building requirement to be held by a district council from five years to three.

One party plays by the rules while the other one redesigns the rules. Not quite British fair play!

Now how dumb can one be? Even this ruse does not work and no amount of calculating the land supply to two levels of decimals will get the land supply over three.

John Howell MP should be embarrassed by the incompetence shown. Perhaps as recompense, he has offered to lead crowdfunding, or is it mob-funding, for a new effort to stop Mrs Engbers’s plans in the High Court?

It is now time for both parties to:

I. Publish in the public domain how much they have spent to date fighting both plans.

II. Seek immediate arbitration to eliminate the need for further expenditure or, if this fails:

III. Let the people of Shiplake, Harpsden and Henley give a view on the acceptability of the “95-house plan” through a secret ballot. Let us hear from all the people and make sure that their views are not drowned out by a loud minority.

I am sure this letter will attract an expected level of hate and vitriol from the usual suspects in Shiplake and Harpsden but it will be nothing like the hate mail and messages received by Mrs Engbers over many years from mostly the same people.

I see an old political antagonist, Malcolm Leonard, has emerged to give his “expert technical” views on road safety while, en passant, giving a cheap and bitter comment on my domestic life when he knows none of the facts.

Unsurprisingly, he makes no comment on two Conservative councillors who have moved recently — David Nimmo Smith to Oxford and Lorraine Hillier to Streatley and out of county.

I do hope that common sense will now prevail in this fight but again I turn to Einstein who warned that “common sense is just a collection of prejudices acquired by the age of 18”.

I trust these prejudices will not resurface when the plans for the garden centre and Bremont headquarters come to the table. — Yours faithfully,

Barry Wood

Stoke Row Road, Peppard

It’s a debate, not a war

Sir, — As a previous chairman of Henley Town Council’s planning committee, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at the ridiculous language sometimes used by those who perceive themselves as being affected by planning decisions.

However, the recent outburst from some regarding Thames Farm, where comments such as human rights abuse are flung around, is frankly disgraceful.

There are those around the world living under dictatorships who really understand the physical and mental violence (and sometimes death) which actual human rights abuse can bring.

What we are talking about here is a development of homes that replaces the houses that have been lost from the the Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood neighbourhood plan through development of homes for the aged.

It also provides about 40 affordable homes at a below market rental where the youth of the area can afford to live and buy. Again, replacing those lost in the neighbourhood plan.

Why this startling over-reaction? It’s a site in the plan area and should be considered, especially as the plan is probably overdue for amendment.

This whole debate is about a planning application. It is not a war and the language used should reflect that.

Its starting to sound more like petulance from some people rather than a measured debate. — Yours faithfully,

Dieter Hinke

Elizabeth Road, Henley

Stop abuse of plans system

Sir, — A new house in Woodlands Road, Sonning Common, has caused much concern to those in its immediate vicinity.

The builder, Kiranjeet Sidhu, eventually obtained planning permission on appeal, against the advice of both the parish and district councils’ planning committees.

The house has not been built according to the approved plans and the builder has now been invited by South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning department to make a retrospective planning application.

I thought that (generally) retrospective planning was required if the builder contravenes the planning consent, usually in error, and wishes to have this examined with the aim of getting approval.

In this case I am of the view that the system is being used to overcome Mr Sidhu’s deliberate disregard of his original planning consent.

Indeed, it now appears that the same builder has built two other houses in Sonning Common, disregarding his planning consent.

In this case, he has constructed a two-storey rear extension to each of the two houses, whereas the planning consent was for a single-storey extension. I suspect that, once again, he is going for retrospective planning approval.

Am I being overly sceptical in feeling that the system is being exploited solely to maximise the revenue obtained for the properties and hence Mr Sidhu’s profits?

If this is allowed, surely it could open the floodgates for others to get planning permission for “A” when they really want “B”. They would then build “B” and go for retrospective planning approval.

This disadvantages the residents who are affected (and also those residents who build strictly according to their approved plans) and makes a mockery of the planning system as a whole as well as the professionals who are also involved.

Until the ultimate sanction of “pull it down” is applied, I am concerned that others will adopt this approach to getting what they really want at the neighbours’ and neighbourhood’s expense. — Yours faithfully,

Alan Gibbon

Woodlands Road, Sonning Common

New school is only beneficial

Sir, — I am writing to voice my full support for the Education Funding Agency’s proposal to build a new home for the Heights Primary School on Mapledurham playing fields in Caversham.

As a member of the Caversham community, a father of two young children and school governor, I wholeheartedly feel that this is by far the most logical and appropriate option for the school, for the community and for my children’s future.

The proposal has clear, unrivalled and unwavering benefits in all areas, namely improving the infrastructure and offering the potential to use the £1.36 million lump sum from the sale of the land to restore the pavilion and improve the current pitches.

This would give this and future generations a real, tangible benefit in so many ways.

While having a permanent home is an outstanding and significant benefit to the school, these improvements in the facilities would only encourage the playing fields to be used for more recreational purposes.

I cannot see how these improvements would impede the use of the pitches, grounds or tennis courts by any other community groups.

How would children playing in the park, using the fields and making use of the pitches be a bad thing?

I can only imagine that these healthy images would be what Charles Hewett, who gifted the land to the community for recreation and leisure purposes, would want.

In summary, this proposal offers a huge benefit to the community for now and well into the future.

I would encourage any reader to visit the Reading Borough Council website and register their approval for the agency’s proposal before this one-off opportunity for dramatic improvement is missed. — Yours faithfully,

Barney Smith

Buxton Avenue, Caversham

PM’s empty promises

Sir, — Without a major increase in the commissioning of NHS child and adolescent mental health services, the Prime Minister’s recent pledge to increase the early detection of mental health problems among children and teenagers is as much use as shifting lifeboats while the ship is sinking.

For decades, the commissioning of these services in the Thames Valley has been woefully inadequate and nothing looks set to change any time soon, despite Mrs May’s promise. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Farmer

Wensley Road, Reading

Please be our accountant

Sir, — The Thames Traditional Boat Festival was a resounding success this year and we are looking forward to it growing and claiming its rightful place on the summer events calendar: more “inclusive” than the royal regatta or Rewind and far more fun for all than the “festival” yet with a serious educational and conservational side, of course.

But we have a problem. As readers may know, I inherited a muddle and it has taken time to sort.

Our small committee worked miracles but the man who sorted out the financial mess and kept us “afloat” without charge was a wonderful retired bank manager who lived miles away and who, sadly, has decided to retire yet again. At 84, I can’t blame him but of course we are devastated, so the reason for this letter is that we need a kindly, boat-loving accountant who would be prepared to take over our now immaculate accounts without charging all our arms and legs for merely keeping tabs on the bank account and signing the accounts at the end for the taxman.

I cannot believe that such an angel does not reside in or around Henley and would not love to be part of our fantastic, fun team.

We are all volunteers, so it has to be fun.

That said, we could possibly manage a bit of cash to compensate the right person for his or her precious time. If there are such angels, please could they call me on (01491) 571373 or send an email to exhibitors@tradboatfestival.
com and I will feed them milk and honey or whatever it is that angels need for sustenance before binding their wings so they can’t fly away. — Yours faithfully,

Lady McAlpine

Thames Traditional Boat Festival, Fawley Hill

Please learn to be brief

Sir, — I received my education during the war and one particular part of our English classes was to précis.

It would appear that a number of your correspondents were educated further down the line or else ignored the somewhat time-consuming discipline.

If there are to be so many long-winded letters why not put them in a separate section? I think we all know the sentiments expressed and that way we could avoid such verbosity.

No way would I prevent anyone from making their point but there is a limit to the length of letters one wants to read. — Yours faithfully,

Ann Chivers

Westleigh Drive, Sonning Common

Alternative thoughts

Sir, — Diana Barnett’s support for the suggestion that the Thought for the Week column should be open to a wider range of contributors, including humanists, (Standard, August 25) is very welcome.

I hope you will give serious consideration to the idea.

She is from the Henley Friends Meeting (Quakers) but made the thought-provoking point that Thought for the Week is nearly always written from a Christian viewpoint because the contributors are part of a group called Churches Together in Henley.

Togetherness is generally to be commended. However, it is surely strange that Christians who believe in universal salvation are “together” with those who, with appalling certainty and complacency, believe in eternal damnation for non-Christians (see past contributions to Thought for the Week).

They appear to be worshipping very different Gods.

The novelist David Lodge attempted to define eternity in an early novel: “Think of a steel ball as large as the earth. A fly alights on it once every million years. When the steel ball is rubbed entirely away by the friction of the fly’s feet, eternity will have barely begun.”

What sort of God ordains eternal suffering (in one form or another) for non-believers and, much more worryingly, what sort of Christian, what sort of person, is perfectly content to endorse it? — Yours faithfully,

Douglas Kedge

Lea Road, Sonning Common

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