Saturday, 13 August 2022

Your letters...

No surrender to developers

Sir, — Your correspondent Garry Forster obviously feels pretty pleased with himself at having extracted the information that Shiplake Parish Council spent nearly twice as much as previously advertised on fighting the Thames Farm development (Standard, February 23).

He regards this as a waste of money, as he does the much greater sum that South Oxfordshire District Council is spending in the same cause.

I notice that he lives in Goring Heath, which (as far as I know) is not facing the prospect of any major housing development.

I wonder if he might feel differently if his village, like Shiplake, was being forced to deal with house-building on a scale that many residents feel threatens its character and viability.

The parish council in Sonning Common, of which I am a member, has decided to spend upwards of £15,000 on being represented by a consultant and a barrister at a forthcoming planning inquiry into a proposal by a land development company, Gallagher Estates, to build 95 homes on a site off Kennylands Road.

The Sonning Common neighbourhood plan allocated part of the site in question for 26 homes.

We would much prefer to use these funds on improving our village but we have taken the view — doubtless Mr Forster would disagree — that if the Gallagher Estates plan goes through, it will in effect destroy our neighbourhood plan and mean that the five years’ work that went into it was wasted.

We are not prepared to see that happen without putting up the best fight we can.

In South Oxfordshire and many other parts of rural England, we do not have a planning system.

Instead, the provision of land for housing is determined by a series of contests between, on the one hand, development companies with unlimited financial resources and, on the other, local people and the district council as the planning authority, which is being stretched to breaking point by the sheer number of planning appeals it is being compelled to fight.

Neighbourhood planning, as championed by our MP, John Howell, offers a way out of this laborious, time-consuming and incredibly expensive shambles.

It is designed to enable local communities to decide where the necessary new housing should go — in the case of Sonning Common we allocated almost 200 in our plan.

I am absolutely delighted that the district council is continuing the struggle over the Thames Farm case and I congratulate Shiplake Parish Council for having had the courage to go as far as it did.

No sane person wants to see council taxpayers’ money spent like this but the power and ambitions of development companies and the big housebuilders leave local communities no choice — unless they are prepared to surrender and be overwhelmed. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Tom Fort

Sonning Common Parish Council, Wood Lane, Sonning Common

How would you feel?

Sir, — While I have to agree that it is unfortunate that South Oxfordshire District Council is having to pay out more money to fight the proposed development of Thames Farm, surely the crux of the matter is that any idea of Thames Farm being developed for housing is just not sustainable for the numerous reasons already given.

If the relevant parties had accepted this in the first place we would not now be placed in this predicament.

I do not know Garry Forster but I do wonder how he would feel if such a development was being proposed on his doorstep? — Yours faithfully,

Barrie Jones

Lower Shiplake

Council is accountable

Sir, — I would like to respond to Dieter Hinke’s letters (Standard, February 16 and 23) as the town councillor who, on behalf of Henley Conservatives, tabled the motion to which he referred.

The motion asked the town council to consider the failure of the chairman of the neighbourhood plan committee [Councillor Ken Arlett] to make any formal approaches to reduce the proposed number of houses for Henley without the proper service infrastructure.

It went on to suggest that such a failure would be a dereliction of the chairman’s responsibility and duty to Henley.

The motion was directly linked to Henley Residents Group’s election pledge of last May which stated “HRG says no extra houses until we have better roads and services” and which was a key contributor to their retaking control of the council in the by-elections.

As the opposition group on the council, Henley Conservative councillors have formally questioned the controlling group, HRG, four times as well as tabling the said motion twice, requesting a report on what progress had been made on their pledge (Standard, January 12).

To date, we have not received a proper response to what Dieter correctly identified as one of the most important issues Henley currently faces.

We believe HRG’s behaviour is undemocratic and indefensible and fail to see how it accords with HRG’s statement that “our decisions are open to public criticism and scrutiny”.

This is not an isolated case, it is part of a growing pattern whereby HRG tries to dismiss the scrutiny, and accountability for, the action (or inaction) that it takes on behalf of Henley’s residents.

While Henley Town Council has limited powers, it does have the ability to positively influence the policies of both South Oxfordshire District Council and Oxfordshire County Council.

We are seriously concerned that this is not happening in an effective manner and this is to Henley’s detriment. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Sara Abey

Henley Town Council, New Street, Henley

Unsuitable homes plan

Sir, — I am writing as a very concerned member of the local community regarding the mission of the Woodcote neighbourhood plan group.

When it was conceived some seven years ago, a number of villagers volunteered themselves on to the group, all unqualified and unelected.

I appreciate the large amount of work they have all done over the past seven years. Without their input, this group would never have got off the ground.

I had the misfortune of viewing the draft of the updated plan at the exhibition at the village hall on Saturday afternoon.

This latest draft is an even worse fudge than the first plan agreed and adopted five years ago. Putting a large number of houses on Reading Road is only adding fuel to the fire. Coincidentally, the parish council has been offered some land by the owner to construct a car park for the primary school.

According to the general consensus of opinion of the parish council and the neighbourhood plan group members, this is going to solve all the traffic problems around the school site.

Reading Road in Woodcote is the busiest and the most dangerous road in the village.

Thank goodness the development at the garden centre and at Chiltern Rise have started as it is only a matter of time before we have an accident there.

And why does the group continue to include land owned by the Oratory School, whose past record in developing land is non-existent?

Finally, why will the group not allow Woodcote residents to see or discuss the criteria for the selection of the current sites in this new draft plan?

How can a sub-committee comprising just two members of the group accurately (and transparently) represent the views of the village without releasing the criteria upon which they selected these sites?

We regularly read articles in the press on how the neighbourhood group is advising other councils on how to set up their own neighbourhood groups.

Is it not time that they spent more time in Woodcote trying to clear up the mess regarding the original neighbourhod plan?

Five years years ago they adopted the plan to build 67 houses. To date, only 12 houses have been built.

A large number of houses proposed in that document will not be built because the sites are not suitable for housing, for example, the Thames Water tower site.

The question I would like answered is, who is the neighbourhood plan group accountable to?

If this was a commercial venture and it produced the same result as the original plan, their future employment regarding the project would be questioned.

We cannot allow this committee to choose sites for approximately 160 houses plus the 20 houses (Thames Water site) which will have to be relocated somewhere else (this number of houses is required to meet the housing requirements in South Oxfordshire District Council’s emerging core strategy).

At Saturday’s exhibition there were no additional sites to choose from apart from those put forward by the group.

The residents of Woodcote would like to see a more democratic process and the freedom to choose which sites are selected prior to them being scrutinised by the experts. — Yours faithfully,

Susie Lawman


Crossing is very old idea

Sir, — I have just been given a book entitled Little Book of Berkshire, published four years ago.

I bring this to your attention because I would like to share with you a short passage which I think is so relevant tothe issues of modern infrastructure and the speed (or lack of it) that it progresses:

“Road schemes generally seem to be like fine wines in that they cannot be hurried. Even the relatively modest matter of an A4 bypass to Maidenhead was first proposed in 1927.

“A route was surveyed and work actually began in the Thirties but it was interrupted by the war and further delayed by post-war austerity. The scheme was only revived in 1959 and the road opened in June 1961.

“But the most leisurely of all must surely be the third Thames crossing at Reading. A joint committee for the orderly expansion of Greater Reading was convened by authorities in Berkshire and Oxfordshire in 1928.

“The need for the bridge was raised at that time and the proposal has surfaced at regular intervals ever since but still remains no more than a fond hope in some hearts (and a nightmare in others).”

Needless to say, the debate continues in respect of the third Thames crossing in Reading, some 90 years after it was first proposed. Surely this must be a world record, unless anyone knows differently. — Yours faithfully,

Brian Warren

Highdown Hill Road, Emmer Green

Road better than rail

Sir, — Mike Romans’s entertaining letter about train times quotes a mass of statistics (Standard, February 23).

May I join this game with some figures taken from a different angle?

Last year, government support for rail was £4.2 billion, with train operating companies receiving a 5.1p subsidy for every passenger kilometre.

If taxpayers who never travel by rail were not paying part of the cost for those that do, rail fares would be astronomical.

Mike’s letter was headlined “Trains going back in time” and that’s the problem. Rail is old technology which can never pay its way. Every mile of new rail loads an extra burden on to the taxpayer, a burden that will have to be paid for as long as we use this Victorian mode of transport.

Roads are very different. According to the RAC, last year motorists contributed £33 billion in taxes, whereas only £10 billion came back to them with spending on roads.

When one adds that rail travel is prone to strikes, while roads cannot strike, being run by their users, we can only come to one rational conclusion: whenever possible we should be building and supporting roads, not rail.

Urban areas will continue to need rail support but projects like HS2 are indefensible. We should be putting our money into the most cost-effective and eco-friendly option: fly/drive. — Yours faithfully,

Rolf Richardson

Wootton Road, Henley

Home care or saving cash?

Sir, — Here we go again! Reading last week’s Henley Standard, I seemed to have heard this all too familiar tale before, first with Townlands Hospital and now with Sue Ryder depriving us of beds.

It would seem that this time Sue Ryder is proposing the old chestnut of care in your own home for the most vulnerable in society who are mostly at the end of their lives and need to be in a safe and secure environment where they can be sure of care 24/7.

No doubt some patients would benefit from a nursing service at home where they already have a full-time carer and their family around them.

But what about those who do not have this advantage and who have no family or relatives who work or live miles away?

I am sure there would be many who would feel alone in their hour of need with nursing staff only being able to spend part of the day with them. What happens when there is a need for medication to ease the onset of pain or other pressing need?

Maybe Sue Ryder should think again on this proposal before selling Joyce Grove to the highest bidder.

I fully realise that the upkeep of the building alone must be huge but would suggest another course of action, that being buying one of the many care homes or local authority homes that are always closing down somewhere in Oxfordshire to provide a calm and caring place for all those in need, even on a smaller scale and at lower cost.

The closing of all beds everywhere is a sign of the financial constraints the country now finds itself in but successive governments, no matter what colour, have known this crisis was going to occur in the early 21st century and none made any proper provision for it.

For the powers that be to come out with the same old mantra that people want to be cared for in their own homes is just a cop-out.

Where is the funding for all this so-called care in the community that anyone with half a brain will know is not there when there are so many other services to be provided unless councils are given ring-fenced funds for this purpose alone? — Yours faithfully,

David Palmer

Swiss Farm, Henley

Best way to go forward

Sir, — Like many (if not most) local folk, I was saddened to learn that Sue Ryder is planning to close its Nettlebed hospice.

However, I always suspected that the building was hardly a suitable one (and after volunteering at several of Sue Ryder fireworks fund-raising events in its grounds, my fears were more than confirmed).

Also, with advancing technology et al “hospice at home” (i.e. community care for those with life limiting/threatening illnesses) does seem to be the way forward (when it is appropriate and the individual’s choice).

Sue Ryder seems aware that this style of care may not be everyone’s choice and so has plans to provide replacement in-patient beds.

A huge 1908 Grade II listed building — only able to accommodate 12 in-patient bends (and extremely expensive to maintain) — is not the best use of Sue Ryder’s limited funds anyway (despite the hospice’s beautiful grounds, which are not on a public transport route and can be virtually inaccessible in bad weather).

Our heads must rule our hearts. The building will survive. The memories of all of the loved ones that have received care and the special care they received at Joyce Grove will survive. It is time to move on.

Let us look upon these changes as a new beginning worthy of the 21st century — acknowledging and treasuring the past while moving forwards to a better future. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Farmer

Wensley Road, Reading

Hospice will be missed

Sir, — How sad that the Sue Ryder trustees have decided to sell the Nettlebed hospice. Our community will miss this sorely.

At the age of 87, I have had too many friends spend time in the hospice and the expert care they have received has eased their last days.

The trustees will know that the “at home” service is far from the same thing.

Most people wish not to die in hospital and home care is a harsh alternative to a hospice.

Over a 25-year period I have been a great officer of the Order of St John and patron of the Orders of St John Care Trust, so I am aware of the challenges of this specialised environment.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the trustees. — Yours faithfully,

Lord Remnant

Northfield End, Henley

Care before building

Sir, — I realise that your front-page article on the imminent changes at Joyce Grove will open floodgates of nostalgia and possibly anger but think the following may be worth reiterating.

In 2006 I was invited to lunch in London and asked to help to raise funds for a new roof at a Sue Ryder hospice in Yorkshire.

I pointed out that the people of Henley were unlikely to see this as an emotive cause and enquired about the running costs of Joyce Grove, knowing something of the upkeep of elderly buildings. Even I was shocked by the figures.

I then pointed out that continuing to maintain such an expensive and unsuitable building and wasting money on expensive lunches for the likes of me did not persuade me that the charity had a good grasp of economics. (I couldn’t pay for the lunch as we were in a private club, so I sent a donation.)

Two months later, I approached the charity with what, at the time, was a phenomenal offer for Joyce Grove of some millions more than local agents believed to be its worth.

The prospective purchaser was more than happy to allow the hospice to retain five acres of land on which to build a fit-for-purpose hospice, offering more beds than the present building.

The money offered would not just have built the new hospice but would have eliminated the need for jumble sales for years to come.

The offer was not even acknowledged, despite several attempts to extract a response.

Quite what the board of Sue Ryder had in mind I can’t imagine, but it was so very clear that, however many amazing staff they employed and however many wonderful volunteers gave of themselves, the burden of the building was not sustainable.

Like so many around here, we have had many friends whose families have blessed the staff at Joyce Grove for the care given to their loved ones at such a heartbreaking time in their lives.

For those families, it will feel as if a part of them is being destroyed. I do hope that the wider public and the volunteers will take a deep breath and realise that common sense is now prevailing and that what was being supported was a building more than the services to patients.

What really matters is the patients, not the building. — Yours faithfully,

Lady McAlpine

Fawley Hill

I may stop donating

Sir, — I recently started a monthly standing order to support Sue Ryder Nettlebed as I am in favour of hospices.

Now it has been announced that there will no longer be a hospice, I have to ask what different service will replace it to that already provided by, for example, Macmillan and Marie Curie nurses?

Unless persuaded otherwise, it is likely that my donations will be switched accordingly if the closure of Nettlebed goes ahead. — Yours faithfully,

Ken Stevens

Red House Drive, Sonning Common

Appalled by litter louts

Sir, — I fully support Johnny Grimond and Neve Beech’s comments on our neglect for the environment and oceans when it comes to litter (Standard, February 23).

I walk, jog and cycle many of the paths/lanes locally and am appalled that we, as the human race, can inflict such an impact on our countryside (and towns). It never ceases to amaze me that a heavy two-litre bottle of “pop” can be purchased, carried a distance along a footpath, the contents consumed and then discarded in a hedgerow.

Carry it back — it’s lightweight for the return journey and recyclable!

Further afield, my wife and I were on a two-mile walk on Chesil Beach in south Dorset on a pleasant late autumn day last year when we ended up collecting in a 6ft x 4ft discarded plastic sheet and two old bin bags with enough rubbish to completely fill a council bin at the next car park. We only touched the surface.

Empty takeaway food containers and cups, dog poo bags… don’t get me started! — Yours faithfully,

James Watkins

Sonning Common

Time for some action

Sir, — Johnny Grimond’s collection of Waitrose coffee cups retrieved from the roadside at Nettlebed during his daily dog walks is rather shocking.

This can hardly be “the Waitrose effect” with which estate agents would wish to be associated, I’m sure.

South Oxfordshire needs thousands more public-spirited folk like Mr Grimond if we are ever to solve the vile problem of roadside littering.

Although Biffa provides a wonderful bin service, it simply does not have the workforce, nor perhaps the will, to cope with the huge problem of litter-picking.

I was astonished to read Councillor David Nimmo Smith’s comment: “If there’s a problem with litter on a regular basis we will have to look at ways of dealing with it”. How can this man be so unaware of what is in front of his nose?

I think we’ve all had enough of the apathy towards this national disgrace at both local and central government level and we really must take action now.

I believe the problem must be tackled on two fronts.

First, we must ensure that the existing litter is removed and to this end we must all apply pressure on South Oxfordshire District Council and its contractor, Biffa.

Biffa maintains that all main roads are litter-picked on a five-week cycle but I don’t believe this to be the case as evidenced by the conspicuous absence of its contractors and by the easily determined age of the litter.

Anyone who cares enough should call Biffa on 0300 610 610 to request a roadside
litter-pick. Perhaps all parish councils should appoint a litter monitor tasked with making these frequent phone calls.

Second, we must think of a way to deter motorists from tossing litter out of their cars. This can only be achieved by educating children in our schools in the hope that they will dissuade their parents from doing so and in the hope that those children will then become the next generation of more responsible motorists.

In January Theresa May launched the Government’s 25-year Environment Plan in which she pledged to enhance the litter strategy. Who, I wonder, is aware of the existing strategy and just how successful has it been so far?

Most of us remember Keep Britain Tidy. It is a registered charity, which still exists but is of no use to us whatsoever. It is my most fervent hope that after several failed attempts to date, this letter might elicit a response of some sort from a district councillor, a teacher and maybe even our MP. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Sargeantson

Britwell Salome

We’ll have to clean up

Sir, — Thank you, Johnny Grimond, for helping to at least try to fight the litter mountain on our highways.

The verges of our A roads in particular are a disgrace. Visitors from overseas must conclude they have come to a third world country as they drive along these litter bins.

As councils are unable to afford to do this basic task these days, locals should try to tidy their local areas annually. This would make a big impression as the current mess has accumulated over a number of years.

Maybe those that choose to treat our verges as their dustbin would be more likely to treat it as their (English) garden if it wasn’t already a mess (we can but hope!). — Yours faithfully,

Carl Blackstock


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