Thursday, 24 June 2021

Your letters...

Thoughtless developers

Sir, — It is with great sadness that we have had to witness the demolition of early parts of the history of our town and that of a close-by Chiltern farmstead.

The long brick and flint walls behind Market Place marked the boundaries of the ancient burgage plots, laid out at the time of the town’s foundation in the late 12th century.

Although all were curtilage listed buildings behind the historic houses lining the Market Place street frontage, they had to make way for large through shops and luxury flats above.

All of which Henley apparently needed, or so everybody who objected was told when planning permission was granted by South Oxfordshire District Council.

A suggestion that the layout of the burgage plots could be kept by putting a modest group of houses across their northern end only, so that parts of the mature burgage plot gardens would be preserved and would continue to be enjoyed, was ignored.

A suggestion that it would be good to concentrate the shops and flats in the very unattractive car park area behind Boots (formerly known as Geoff’s Yard), while putting the necessary car parking underground, was also poo-pooed. Apparently this would have been too expensive.

Meanwhile, at Highlands Farm the entire historic farmstead with its barn, stables and farmhouse has been bulldozed to make way for a typical housing estate.

This was instead of preserving the historic farmstead structures grouped around the farmyard and using this as a “village square” with the existing buildings becoming a community centre with shop, café, meeting hall, or whatever was needed to create a focus for the new inhabitants as well as keeping the direct link with about 600 years of medieval Chiltern farming alive.

This community facility would have been ideal for telling the newcomers about the wealth of Palaeolithic stone tools found here, underneath their very houses, when during gravel extractions from 1957 to about 1960 many worked flints were excavated.

These are the only evidence of mankind’s activities some 475,000 years ago and are very rare survivors of our ancient past.

With a little more thought, the developers could have had their required number of dwellings, while anchoring the new settlements and inhabitants into their surroundings and giving them a feeling of belonging rather than creating a scar on a much-loved landscape. — Yours faithfully,

Ruth Gibson BA hons

Acting secretary, Henley Archaeology and Historical Group, Vicarage Road, Henley

People should have more say

Sir, — Dieter Hinke makes some sensible points in his arguments that we should keep discussion on the Thames Farm planning application in proportion.

We are not living in a dictatorship and South Oxfordshire district councillors, who make the planning decisions, are all democratically elected and we have the opportunity to throw them out at the next election in 2019. However, it is worth reminding ourselves how the “planning” system works.

The Government draws up a national planning policy framework by which local authorities prepare planning policies such as the strategic housing market assessment to assess their full housing needs.

It ends up with a local plan which sets out local planning policies and identifies how land is used, determining what will be built where.

Once this is decided, planning permission must be granted or refused only against the criteria in the local plan.

No assessment can be made of whether the development is a good one and is wanted or needed by the community.

Even worse, if the local authority has not identified enough land to be used to build the number of houses allocated to the area by the Government (the so-called “land supply”), the local plan is considered to be out of date and it is nearly impossible for local authorities to refuse planning permission.

Moreover, when planning permission is refused, the applicant can submit an appeal to be considered by an inspector in a quasi-judicial process.

Developers who stand to make large profits hire expensive barristers, while local authorities have limited resources to fight the case. Rather than lose at appeal, costing taxpayers’ money, many councils find it easier to cave in.

Even if the application is refused, a developer can simply resubmit a further application with minor changes and the whole expensive and exhausting process is repeated.

On the other hand, if the application is approved, there is no appeal allowed by the community to overturn the decision.

There is talk of a judicial review of the Thames Farm decision but this can only succeed in overturning the decision if a procedural error occurred. Once again, the developer can simply resubmit the application.

At no point in this process is the actual need of the community assigned a proper priority.

The Government’s attempts to provide a community voice with neighbourhood plans may have been well meaning but have failed.

The Henley and Harpsden plan has been repeatedly ignored by the district council in making planning decisions. In drawing up the plan, the consultant was unaccountable and made errors which are also being exploited.

Now that the district council has failed to provide even three years’ land supply, Henley is left at the mercy of developers.

The so-called planning system is neither systemic nor planned.

It is rigged in favour of developers and against communities which are left with badly planned developments and lack the necessary supporting infrastructure.

The whole system should be replaced with a radical alternative, providing the community with the influence we deserve.

In the meantime, we will continue to argue and support good plans which (among other things) are well integrated with existing infrastructure and help to address the severe shortage of affordable homes in Henley. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Ian Reissmann

Gainsborough Road, Henley

Wrong must be corrected

Sir, — I think Dieter Hinke has perhaps taken my reference to human rights rather too literally in the context of the Thames Farm judicial review question (Standard, September 1).

But why he seeks to muddy the waters with the issue of how the site may or may not have been a good or bad candidate when the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan was under debate two years ago I am not sure.

Clearly there is an alternative view being put forward by Kester George, chairman of Harpsden Parish Council, and others, but at the end of the day it is a simple fact that the site was rejected and is NOT within an area where residential development would be deemed to be acceptable.

Like it or not, the plan went through all its statutory processes and was ultimately voted for by the local residents in a referendum, so harping on about why it was excluded is completely irrelevant to the current debate. It is and that is an end to the matter. The far more important issue is that of justice being seen to be done. That is where my reference to human rights comes in.

As a civilised and democratic country, I and every other citizen have a right to rely upon our political classes to act properly and without favour in applying or seeking to apply the law of the land in all of its guises transparently, fairly and correctly.

That is where human rights count for so much and are so important.

I am slightly surprised that as a long-standing politician, Mr Hinke might think that my reference meant anything else. I would like to publicly thank all of those politicians who were involved in the decision to seek a judicial review in this instance for doing the right thing.

It was glaringly obvious that something had gone wrong with the system and that a wrong needed to be righted. — Yours faithfully,

Peter Boros

Chairman, Shiplake neighbourhood plan steering group

Opposition make me cry

Sir, — Anyone who knows me knows I’m not prone to uncontrollable outbursts of emotion. And yet last week I found myself shedding a few tears. Twice.

The first time occurred while reading an article in a local free magazine about my children’s school, The Heights Primary in Caversham.

I’ve lived in the area for seven years and instantly liked the new home we’d chosen for our family. Everyone was so welcoming and helpful.

And yet here were elements of the same community driving me to very out-of-character tears with another round of blatant inaccuracies about our efforts to secure a permanent home for the school.

To clarify, Mapledurham playing fields are about 0.3 miles from the catchment point so not exactly what I’d call the extremity and with this year’s intake living within 0.4 miles of the catchment point, claims of “huge traffic problems” are unfounded.

I understand that some people don’t like change. I get that. My daughter feels the same about her favourite sausages.

But what I have never understood in this painful saga is that anyone could be so vehemently against something that is so grounded in love, good intentions and community spirit.

We’re trying to build a primary school, not a home for Kim Jong-un. It’s for children who just want to play with their friends all day, with maybe a bit of learning in-between.

We’re not asking for the world, just a small section (1.231 acres, or 4.9 per cent) of a massive expanse (25 acres) of under-utilised and neglected land.

The school proposal could bring new life and community spirit to the area, not to mention the chance to potentially improve the nearby playground and footpaths.

And in the grand scheme of things, is playing football in a different corner of the 25 acres such a big deal?

The second instance of quiet weeping was caused by a comment by a friend: “So when do you start digging?”

I thought she was being funny, all too aware how keen I am for construction of the new school to begin.

But she actually thought it was a done deal, not that there are in fact more hoops to jump through, more lies to endure and more stress to deal with.

My tears were because I was panicked, worried those in Reading not as close to the saga believe there is nothing left to be done. There is.

The consultation runs until September 25 and we need as many people as possible to complete the consultation, have their say and support their community and the school it needs and that everyone can benefit from. So please have your say at www.gettingthebestformpf.org — Yours faithfuly,

Helen Morgan

Uplands Road, Caversham

How to reduce air pollution

Sir, — In response to Clive Hemsley’s comments regarding traffic and pollution in Henley (Standard, August 18), we’d like to add a few points:

1. We are informed that so far this year only one council meeting has been held on this subject (in March). What action has been taken?

2. There is a 20mph sign on the far left as you enter the square but that is all. It certainly does not deter drivers as we see them speeding past regularly.

3. What is needed as a minimum are:

(i) 20mph signs at the start of the bridge and then every 100m up Hart Street as well as on most roads in Henley, as they have in Oxford.

(ii) Yellow warning lights in Hart Street and Reading Road that flash when a vehicle exceeds 20mph.

(iii) Cameras to take pictures of those vehicles and motorcycles that exceed 20mph in the main streets with a minimum fine of, say, £50.

(iv) A ban on all vehicles over 10 tons entering Henley. This would still allow for vehicles large enough to supply Waitrose and Tesco.

Hopefully, the Mayor will arrange a meeting with Clive and ourselves and other interested residents. — Yours faithfully,

Gill and Deon Melck

Hart Street, Henley

Harming our environment

Sir, — Carelessly dropped bits of plastic in riverside Henley.

In industrial quantities over each month.

An unknown amount will add to the North Atlantic gyre.

And why no solar panels on the town hall roof? — Yours faithfully,

Neil Parsley

Mount View Court, Henley

GWR doesn’t care about us

Sir, — There is now only one direct service each way from Henley to Paddington on weekdays.

The 7.08am direct has been reduced from six to four cars and is grossly overcrowded and hot as the cars are no longer air-conditioned.

The former 7.42am direct four-car train is replaced by a two-car train which terminates at Twyford, making it difficult for a Henley traveller to get to London. Quality and comfort and acceptability is reduced.

This shows a lack of concern by Great Western Railway for travellers from Henley, Shiplake and Wargrave and severely affects travelling.

The MPs John Howell and Theresa May will have to be involved if this cannot be sorted. — Yours faithfully,

Gary Butler

Shiplake

What were police doing?

Sir, — Like Philip Collings, I was appalled at the lack of activity by Thames Valley Police concerning the arson and criminal damage at Sonning Common skate park (Standard, Aug 25).

On August 2, I was at the skate park early with my two grandchildren who were hoping to spend a morning there.

The devastation that met us was horrific. It was like a war zone.

I assumed that such a crime would be investigated promptly and some attempt made to bring those persons responsible to justice. Not so. Just what does it take to get our police force to do their job?

This gives out completely the wrong message, saying to people that they can do anything and get away with it. I am disgusted. — Yours faithfully,

Sue Williams

Sonning Common

Missing from Dunkirk film

Sir, — All across our towns and cities, the blockbuster film Dunkirk is creating great interest and fascination.

There is, however, one major fact not mentioned in the film.

Many of those who see it will be interested to learn that the situation was actually so desperate that George VI called for a national day of prayer on May 26, 1940. In a national broadcast, he asked the people of Britain to pray for God’s help.

Thousands of special services were held across the country and literally millions of people poured into churches to pray. (There were extraordinary scenes outside Westminster Abbey and churches across the country as frightened people queued to pray).

Two significant events immediately followed.

Firstly, a violent storm arose over the Dunkirk region, grounding the Luftwaffe which had been killing thousands on the beaches.

Secondly, a great calm descended on the Channel, the like of which hadn’t occurred for a generation, enabling the hundreds of tiny boats to rescue 338,000 soldiers rather than the estimated 30,000.

It was the timing of these events immediately after the prayer day which led people to speak of “the miracle of Dunkirk” and Sunday, June 9 was officially appointed as a day of national thanksgiving.

Looking back at this and other events, the Bishop of Chelmsford wrote: “If ever a great nation was on the point of supreme and final disaster, and yet was saved and reinstated, it was ourselves… it does not require an exceptionally religious mind to detect in all this the hand of God.”

At the end of 1942, after the tide had turned in the war, Churchill himself was moved to say: “I sometimes have a feeling of interference, I want to stress that. I have a feeling sometimes that some guiding hand has interfered.”

To coincide with this film, details of various wartime miracles are being sent to thousands of churches across the UK so as to give congregations hope and reassurance, much needed in our unsettling times.

If anyone would like this uplifting information directly by email, then they are welcome to contact me by email at strengthenthefaithful@
gmail.com

Please write “Wartime miracles” in the subject box. Thank you. — Yours faithfully,

Rev J Willans

Church of England Vicarage, Leigh, Surrey

Market’s not so French

Sir, — Last weekend I visited an event in Falaise Square, Henley.

On sale were Italian knitware, CDs of entirely British and American origin, and paella. It was a French Market.

There was little that is not available in the town.

Is it not time this sham went the way of the unlamented Beaujolais Nouveau extravaganza, when red wine masqueraded as a condiment more usually sprinkled on fish and chips? — Yours faithfully,

Martyn Read

Mount View Court, Henley

Not much of a thank you

Sir, — After 17 years’ service to Henley Town Council, including 15 years in the role of town sergeant, Cliff Austin is given a John Lewis voucher for £250 by the Mayor Kellie Hinton, who said: “We all thought of giving you more but it is the thought that counts.” (Standard, September 1).

Henley residents must be blushing in shame at the inadequate retirement gift and even more so at the Mayor’s crude and inept comment on making the presentation. — Yours faithfully,

Yvonne Kedge

Lea Road, Sonning Common

We will miss you, Cliff

Sir, — Henley Lions Club would like to wish Cliff Austin, our now retired town sergeant, a long and fruitful rest and plenty of recreation.

Over the years Cliff has looked after us Lions in many ways and we will miss his smile and cheery demeanour. A quick telephone call at whatever time of the evening would bring Cliff to lock up after our meetings and he was always so prompt and reliable.

Good luck, mate, may you have many holes in one. — Yours faithfully,

John Moore

On behalf of Henley Lions Club

Regatta to be proud of...

Sir, — At our eighth Henley Regatta for the Disabled at the Phyllis Court Club, all enjoyed a sunny day and lots of interactive events.

In addition to the climbing wall, petting zoo, Punch and Judy, Wyfold Riding for the Disabled, “wheelchair challenge”, circus acts, ergo rowing, craft and other stalls, we enjoyed music from the Phyllis Court Choir and Sam Brown’s Ukulele Group.

On the river 288 people enjoyed trips on two motor boats, kindly donated by Hobbs for the day, on Rivertime, which can take wheelchairs, and paddling a bell boat. The Eyot Centre organised racing on sponsored bell boats all day with the Henley sea cadets providing the safety boats.

We were delighted to see our patrons, John Howell MP, who opened the event, Helene Raynsford, the first female Paralympic rowing gold medallist, who helped with the commentary and presented the prizes to the winning bell boat teams, and the Mayor Kellie Hinton, who presented the certificates to the winners in the Wyfold Challenge and ergo rowing competitions.

Thanks, too, to Patricia Christmas, chairman of Phyllis Court Club, who donated their paddock to stage our event.

People who attended enjoyed and praised our efforts and are looking forward to next year.

Our gratitude to all the above and thanks to the Shanly Foundation and other local organisations who donated money, the organisations and individuals who sponsored the racing bell boats, the Phyllis Court Choir, Sam Brown’s Ukulele Group, my special committee, including Hugh Legh, who provided the sound and lots more, and all the volunteers who helped on the day, Henley Bridge Rotary Club, Henley Lions, family and friends.

Henley should be proud of this locally supported event which gives so much pleasure to disabled people and their families. — Yours faithfully,

Mike Pooley

Chairman, Henley Regatta for the Disabled

...and it’s appreciated

Sir, — Please convey a big “thank you” to Mike Pooley, members of his committee, sponsors and the Rivertime Boat Trust that enabled families to enjoy together many fun activities and entertainment to suit all ages at the Regatta for the Disabled on Saturday in glorious sunshine and the beautiful setting by the river. It is much appreciated. — Yours faithfully,

Teresa Russ

Hambleden

Thank you for nice write-up

Sir, — I wanted to say a huge thank-you for the lovely article in Stable Talk about my horse Carbonado Joe and close friend Melanie Widdows (Standard, Aug 25).

Joe’s double win was a massive achievement for all of us and so many people have helped along the way — it was lovely for them to see such good results.

Stable Talk appears to be back in force of late and once more appealing to the equestrian community, which is huge in this area. What struck me most was the terminology used by your writer. I am guessing they are an experienced horseman or woman as they certainly seem to know the horsey world and the way it works.

Thank you again for whatever you are doing with the page and please keep it going as it is once again great! — Yours faithfully,

Anne Coombs

Owner of Carbonado Joe, Goring Heath

Support for MS patients

Sir, — On behalf of the Berkshire MS Therapy Centre, I would like to thank the people of Henley for their support and generosity during our charity collection held in the town centre on August 19.

The town was bustling with all the Rewind visitors and several weddings and we were delighted to raise £1,195.59, which will be put towards the provision of therapies, services and information for local people with MS.

I would also like to thank the 21 volunteer collectors who gave their time to help us raise money for our centre. — Yours faithfully,

Tracy Watkins

Berkshire MS Therapy Centre, Reading

Thanks, you brave visitors

Sir, — We were so pleased to see all of you who defied the hideous weather on Sunday and came to support Greys village fete.

To realise that despite such horrid conditions you were prepared to brave the elements encouraged all of us who were manning the attractions.

A huge thank-you to each of you and I hope that next year we will be able to welcome you again under a clear blue sky. — Yours faithfully,

Susan Hems

Chairman, Greys village fete committee, Rotherfield Greys

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