Sunday, 13 June 2021

Your letters...

Just get the figures right

Sir, — Henley MP John Howell spoke in Parliament last week about South Oxfordshire District Council’s housing land supply figures.

His view is that the figures should be calculated annually and, once placed into the monitoring report of the local council, they should not be challenged by a planning inspector or by legal action.

This would go against the fundamental rights of the people.

Perhaps the main reason for this proposal is the fact that our MP has travelled far and wide in our district and persuaded towns and villages to prepare a neighbourhood plan and even review them every two years.

He is also aware that a neighbourhood plan’s effectiveness is dependent on having the correct land supply figures from the district council.

In our district, the council’s figures have been successfully challenged, leaving Mr Howell red-faced as his solemn promises to Shiplake and Harpsden to definitely prevent development outside their neighbourhood plan areas were empty words.

He certainly does not want a recurrence of this situation in his constituency and therefore wants to block appeals on land supply figures.

Please don’t meddle with our legal rights, Mr Howell, just make sure that the district council is producing the correct figures. Is that really so difficult?

Then you need have no fears. — Yours faithfully,

Dieter Hinke

Elizabeth Road, Henley

Please save our garage

Sir, — There has been considerable emphasis in your newspaper on the housing aspect of neighbourhood planning throughout South Oxfordshire.

While this is important, we should not forget the need for sustainability of the small businesses that currently exist in our towns and villages.

We have witnessed the problem with numerous empty shops appearing in Henley from time to time.

In Sonning Common, one of our-long established and valuable small enterprises, Mike Farina Auto Services, is being threatened with closure due to expiry of the existing lease.

The current owner has applied for permission to develop a small plot of land at Kidby’s Yard, an existing employment site off Kennylands Road, in order to allow the business to relocate.

Sonning Common does not have any suitable alternative sites and unless residents get behind this application and show strong support on the South Oxfordshire District Council online planning portal, we may lose this essential business forever.

It is not just a matter of Gary Catt and his team losing their jobs, though this would be a tragedy for these stalwarts who have served Sonning Common for many years, but of the whole community losing a valuable service.

To those who would say that such servicing facilities are noisy and undesirable, I would suggest visiting the existing facility in Sedgewell and just listening. There is minimal noise emanating from the premises.

Please support the team in their bid to relocate and save this fantastic service facility for the whole community by registering accordingly on the website. — Yours faithfully,

Alastair Morris

Kennylands Road, Sonning Common

Homes would scar the view

Sir, — Your readers might like to know a little more about the proposal by Custom Land, of Birmingham, for a major housing development in Woodcote with “possibly” a care home too.

To grant permission for this development would be to put into question the very notion of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and would render neighbourhood plans essentially worthless.

The site in question is on the very edge of the Chiltern Hills, shortly before they plunge down to the Thames at the Goring Gap.

This is one of the most beautiful and significant vistas in the South-East. Viewed from the west, the tops of the hills present a seemingly unbroken line of woodland.

The proposed development would irreparably scar this view and would be seen from many miles around: from the Thames Valley, from Moulsford Down, from the Ridgeway and from much of the North Wessex Downs AONB.

The threatened development site is itself in the Chiltern Hills AONB, thus covered by legislation preventing damage to the landscape. To allow this proposal to go ahead would render the protections afforded by AONB status meaningless.

This field is not one of the sites accepted for development in the Woodcote neighbourhood plan.

Woodcote was one of the first communities in the country to develop a neighbourhood plan. Since then, many other settlements have worked hard on preparing their own.

To grant permission for this development would mean that essentially such plans would be worth nothing and all the time, thought, consultation and work that go into drawing them up would have been wasted. — Yours faithully,

Susan Sandford

South Stoke Road, Woodcote

By-election half-truths

Sir, — I have just received a copy of the official Conservative leaflet for the Henley Town Council by-election on Thursday, June 14 (due to another one of their councillors resigning — that is now four in the past 15 months).

Frank Browne, the local party chairman and promoter of the leaflet, suggests “£1 for each elector is a small price to pay for democracy”.

The truth is these four resignations will have cost the taxpayers of Henley in excess of £24,000.

All this money could have gone to support local organisations that have seen their funding cut due to the Conservatives’ austerity.

Mr Browne also suggests Henley Residents Group is letting the public of Henley down by:

• Raising council tax by £6.12 a year for a typical band D property but fails to mention his Conservative colleagues at Oxfordshire County Council have raised theirs by more than £80.

• Not rigorously challenging South Oxfordshire District Council to stop further houses being built in Henley. Well, if he had been to the amount of meetings I have been to lately, he may have a different opinion. (By the way, who was in charge of Henley Town Council when they signed up for 500 houses in the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan? His Conservatives).

• Being soft on crime. We have not cut our budget for police community support officers but his Conservative colleagues at the district council have.

The good news is that out of the “Top 10 Conservative campaign pledges” at this by-election, eight of these are HRG initiatives. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Ken Arlett

Henley Residents Group, Henley Town Council, Elizabeth Road Henley

Hard work and honesty

Sir, — On June 14 there is to be yet another town council by-election in Henley South ward.

This is because another Conservative councillor has resigned, making 50 per cent (four out of eight) since the 2015 election. The resulting by-elections will cost Henley taxpayers £23,000.

All Henley Residents Group councillors elected in 2015 are still in post, doing great work for Henley.

HRG sticks at things and gets stuff done — Townlands Memorial Hospital, the skate park, new green gas bus, new transport strategy, refurbished play equipment, new 20mph zone for Henley (and to come a 20mph zone around schools), bringing the May Fayre back into the town centre, cleaning the streets and removing the evening business waste.

I was a teacher and assistant headteacher at Gillotts School for 30 years and then became a town, district and, more recently, county councillor.

I believe in working hard for Henley, rolling up my sleeves and getting stuff done. I also believe in honest debate about how to improve Henley.

Since Frank Browne took over the Henley Conservatives he has succeeded in publishing election material which is full of untruths and half-truths.

The latest Conservative election brochure exemplifies this clearly.

Firstly, it contains NO Conservative achievements.

Mr Browne claims HRG is soft on crime. Not true. The Conservatives removed the funding for police community support officers. HRG voted for and put the Pcso funding in the budget. Recently HRG met with Henley police to get more resources for the town.

Mr Browne claims HRG has not vigorously challenged the number of new houses proposed for Henley. Not true. All Conservative members of South Oxfordshire District Council voted for the higher housing numbers for Henley. HRG voted against.

Recently Oxfordshire County Council has stated that Henley should not have any more houses because of our traffic issues.

I do believe that we do need more affordable housing which has been delivered by HRG. HRG and myself as its county and district councillor will always robustly challenge the housing numbers for Henley.

I believe in honest debate based on facts, not a series of half-truths and Frank Browne inventions, which is what I have come to expect from the chairman of Henley Conservatives. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak

Henley Residents Group, Henley Town Council, South Oxfordshire District Council and Oxfordshire County Council, Elizabeth Road, Henley

We’re failing democracy

Sir, — South Oxfordshire is the most rotten borough in our county.

In the 2015 district council elections Conservatives won fewer than 51 per cent of the votes but our first-past-the-post system inflated this to give them 92 per cent of the seats.

South Oxfordshire District Council has 36 seats. The opposition was reduced to three councillors: one Labour, one Liberal Democrat and one Henley Residents Group. This was despite Labour winning nearly 18 per cent of votes and the Lib-Dems nearly 12 per cent.

This is misrepresentation of the people. Had any other nation an electoral system so undemocratic, we would call it vote-rigging.

Boundaries were revised after the 2011 local elections but the Boundary Commission cannot make an unfair voting system democratic.

Elsewhere first-past-the-post unfairly helps Labour.

In 2018 Labour won only 48 per cent of votes in Oxford and Reading, but the system gave it 75 per cent of seats in Oxford and 67 per cent in Reading. This is undeserved, overwhelming control. Elsewhere results are even less democratic. Three London boroughs are Labour one-party councils with no opposition councillors: Lewisham, Newham and Barking and Dagenham. Labour won every Lewisham seat despite getting only 60 per cent of votes.

Until 2016 Knowsley in Merseyside had no opposition councillors. No Conservative candidate has won a seat in Oxford since 2000, despite their support rising to 20 per cent in the 2008 local elections.

Many other councils, Labour or Conservative, have too few opposition councillors to hold the executive to account. They amount to failing democracies.

In 2011 South Oxfordshire voted against electoral reform but that was for parliamentary elections. You have never been allowed to choose your local election system.

Fair voting systems elect the Welsh and Greater London assemblies, Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland’s district councils and assembly. They have more balance and fewer safe seats.

Rotten boroughs such as South Oxfordshire deserve the same. Proportional representation is democracy. First-past-the-post is cowardice. — Yours faithfully,

Hugh Jaeger

Park Close, Oxford

Ecological vandalism

Sir, — I understand that Ben Bradley MP is seeking wildlife corridors in order to save our bees and butterflies via his Protection of Pollinators Bill. He is supported in this by the charities Plantlife and Buglife. This is most encouraging.

With 97 per cent of wildflower grassland having been destroyed since the Forties, the only corridors we have left are our roadside verges.

At the moment these are resplendent in cow parsley, pink and white campion, common mallow, ox-eye daisies etc and so many others just coming into flower.

Yet in less than two weeks’ time Oxfordshire County Council will commence mashing this wildflower (and litter) haven.

And for what reason? Cash-strapped councils argue that this vandalism is to ensure motorists’ safety yet the cow parsley, which is not particularly luxuriant this year, is past its zenith and is already beginning to die back.

I have seen no sign of colliding drivers so far and therefore it would seem essential to defer the annual wildflower destruction until September by when most of the flowers will have shed their seeds.

Sadly, councils’ obsession with cutting grass and flowers is so entrenched that they will always squander their ever-decreasing budgets on this ecological vandalism at the expense of, for example, care for the elderly.

I find this terribly sad. Councils cannot be shamed into behaving responsibly which is why, at last, legislation is proposed. Ben Bradley needs to work quickly. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Sargeantson

Britwell Salome

What water shortage?

Sir, — On Wednesday, May 23 if you turned on the radio you could not escape the dire warning from the water authorities’ PR machine about the need to use less water: the situation required action NOW!

We were offered splendid advice such as “spend one minute less in the shower” and to adopt the “Australian” mantra when it comes to flushing the toilet. To save readers’ sensibilities, paraphrased, it basically recommends a selective approach to the use of the flush.

That very same day a Thames Water employee carried out a planned maintenance/inspection of the water services situated under the pavement outside my property and, in doing so, caused a leak. He didn’t make his excuses and leave, he just left.

With the pleas to save water still ringing in my ears, I immediately rang Thames Water to ensure they were aware of the leak and to ask when it would be repaired.

“June 5” came the reply.

Crisis? What crisis? — Yours faithfully,

Craig Breeze

Shiplake

Put bus stop at hospital

Sir, — With regard to the lack of parking at Townlands Memorial Hospital, would it not be an idea to create a bus stop there?

Many local people, especially those of a certain age, find the walk uphill to the hospital very hard. Mothers with young children would also benefit from a bus stop. — Yours faithfully,

JS

Henley

Exorbitant taxi fares

Sir, — How much is a taxi from Henley town centre to Gainsborough Road? The costs varies considerably. Three weeks ago I got a taxi home from Barclays Bank to Gainsborough Road as it was raining. I was charged £5.50.

I told the driver I lived in the second house just as we approached it. He went past it, then reversed and the metre went up 10p.

Then he went too far back and had to go forward so that was another 10p. Can you believe it?

Last week I had a taxi because the bus didn’t run and I was charged £5.50. The driver said his fare was £5 to £6.

I’m beginning to think these taxi firms charge what they like. The mind boggles.

What do other readers think? — Yours faithfully,

Name supplied

Gainsborough Road,

Henley

Cafe critics were unfair

Sir, — I have read two letters that in my view should not have been published, both pertaining to service at the Herb Farm tea rooms in Sonning Common.

The first indicated that customers had been politely asked to move tables so that paying diners could be seated at lunchtime as the complainant had nursed one drink for more than an hour and was taking up a large table.

The other was from someone who was surprised to be asked to leave at 4.30pm when the Herb Farm clearly states it closes at that time.

There is no such thing as “drinking-up time” in a café, as the complainant suggested, so there again seemed no issue here.

Neither of these complaining letters seemed to have any merit or substance at all and instead, a hard-working, well-supported local business was unfairly pilloried by the local press.

If locals want to complain (fairly or unfairly) about service in catering establishments surely they would be best to use agencies such as TripAdvisor which have filtering systems to establish whether the issue has merit or not rather than use the Henley Standard to air their possibly tainted views.

Surely the Henley Standard is better than this? — Yours faithfully,

Mark Evans

Sonning Common

Help your health centre

Sir, — Next week is National Patient Participation Week (June 4 to 9), when the NHS wants all patients to become more involved with their own health and to be aware of their local patient participation group.

Each group has a committee of patients who work with their local GP practice to help doctors and medical staff to improve the effectiveness of local primary care health services.

In the South Oxfordshire area there are seven patient participation groups. Each is different but they work together to share ideas for helping patients understand health issues such as obesity, which is a growing problem nationally and of increasing concern to the NHS.

One of the more innovative local health centres is Sonning Common whose doctors introduced Health Walks in 1996.

There are walks most days in the summer — see www.sonningcommon
healthwalks.co.uk/timetable

There is also the Green Gym, which encourages patients and residents to maintain local recreation areas and take part in looking after conservation areas (https://sonningcommon.
tcv.org.uk)

Both these initiatives have been adopted nationally.

There is an increasing number of new physical activities, including walking football and on Wednesday (June 6) Dr Ralph Drury will give a talk called “A day in the life of a GP” at Sonning Common village hall at 7.30pm (www.sonning
commonhealthcentre.co.uk)

In another local initiative, Sonning Common Primary School ensures that all its pupils learn to grow their own organic vegetables which they are taught to prepare and eat.

All these children are also taught to swim and enjoy other regular exercise. This is the best way to motivate children to learn health-giving habits. For older patients, Sonning Common also has the excellent FISH service where volunteers arrange to collect patients and take them shopping or see a doctor and even to attend hospitals and see specialists.

There is also a patient participation group committee member to assist patients who do not know how to use the internet to help them when an internet response may be required.

All seven local patient participation groups are keen to have one or two new younger committee members, especially parents with young children and teenagers, also single people who can help ensure the needs of all age groups are met.

The first patient participation group was created in 1972 and since then nearly 70 per cent of the UK’s GPs have created one.

Generally made up of a group of volunteer patients, the practice manager and one or more of the GPs from the practice, they meet on a regular basis to discuss the services on offer and how improvements can be made for the benefit of patients and the practice.

Here are some of the roles a patient participation group can play:

• Advising the practice on the patient perspective.

• Organising health promotion events.

• Communicating with the wider patient body.

• Running volunteer services and support groups to meet local needs.

• Carrying out research into the views of those who use the practice and their carers.

• Influencing the practice of the wider NHS to improve commissioning.

• Fund-raising to improve the services provided by the practice.

So why not find out more about your local GP and the patient participation group in your health centre? See if you can assist them and also help improve your own health and quality of life and that of your family. — Yours faithfully,

Peter Woolsey

Chairman, patient participation group, Sonning Common Health Centre, Binfield Heath

Helping to save lives

Sir, — The iconic red telephone box at the top of Courtenay Drive in Emmer Green had been earmarked by BT for removal.

So, to save it, a group of local residents would like to repurpose it to house a defibrillator. This was the overwhelming usage preference of the 300 local residents who responded to a recent survey.

There are currently no defibrillators locally available outside working hours — the closest, I believe, is situated at Sonning Common library.

Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of premature death. The best way of saving the patient’s life is an electric shock from a defibrillator as soon as possible, ideally within the first two or three minutes.

The key element in saving lives is making defibrillators accessible to the public, so they can be used in those first minutes after someone has collapsed and the ambulance is still on its way.

Public access defibrillators are automated and suitable for use by people with no training. In fact, any bystander can quickly go and get it and take it to the patient. The defibrillator comes with clear instructions. Most importantly, the machine assesses the patient’s heartbeat and will only shock if it is needed. It’s impossible for the operator to do harm.

If someone collapses with a suspected cardiac arrest, it’s still important to phone 999 immediately. But if the ambulance can’t get there quickly enough, rapid use of a defibrillator gives the person the best chance of survival.

Registered charity Community Heartbeat Trust specialises in converting old BT phone boxes into easily recognisable, weather protected housing for defibrillators and we have asked them to manage this project.

All we need to do is raise £2,000, which we hope to do with sponsorship from local businesses and individual donations. If you would like to help, donations can be made via https://communityheartbeat.charitycheckout.co.uk/EmmerGreen or contact us via Sonning Common library.

A defibrillator could one day save the life of someone you know. — Yours faithfully,

Melanie and David White

Emmer Green

PM failing to help children

Sir, — More and more of the nation’s under 16-year-olds are being forced to attempt suicide simply to gain any access to any NHS child and adolescent mental health services.

Theresa May claims she has been putting extra money into these services but while we still have prominent folk like the childen’s commissioner criticising the lack of funding, the extra money so far allocated has only been the equivalent of using a choclate lid on an electric kettle (i.e. totally inadequate).

In my mind, Ms May is failing to deal with the problem. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Farmer

Wensley Road, Reading

Big concern for old age

Sir, — I want to thank everyone in Oxfordshire who united with us during Dementia Action Week (May 21-27) to help the 8,468 people in the county with the condition.

There is still much work to do. During the week new Alzheimer’s Society research revealed that 54 per cent of people in the South-East say dementia is their greatest concern for old age.

Too many people face the condition alone, without adequate support.

For more information about the support we provide and how you can get involved and make a difference, visit alzheimers.org.uk — Yours faithfully,

Linda Goddard

Operations manager for Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, Alzheimer’s Society

Thank you for support

Sir, — First, may I thank you for your very thoughtful coverage of my husband’s memorial service (Standard, May 18).

There were more than 2,000 people here from all walks of life: royalty, pop stars, politicians, “navvies”, train drivers, medics, 100-year-olds to one-year-olds… such a wonderful mix of people who really loved him.

And we heard from so many who couldn’t attend who wanted to, so I am copying your article to many of them.

As ever, I need to thank an enormous number of people for help and support and for all the cards, letters, flowers donations to the Sepsis Trust and to the Royal Berkshire Hospital’s intensive care unit and, of course, plants for the memorial garden which is taking shape — and for the Lancaster display!

I hope to see many of those people at our big antiques event Décor Architectural this weekend.

Such a shame Sir William won’t be here as it was his idea that we should take it over. Maybe he will really be here.

We are raising funds for Macmillan so hope lots of people will come to buy and to play. I’m determined to make it a success in his honour. — Yours faithfully,

Lady McAlpine

Fawley Hill

Big help in a disaster

Sir, — The Rotary Club of Henley Bridge thanks all those in town on Saturday who so generously donated funds to our collectors in support of the great work done by the charity ShelterBox.

We also much appreciated those who visited our display in Market Place where we exhibited a shelter tent and the necessary equipment that a family needs when their homes have been destroyed by a disaster.

All this equipment is immediately supplied in a large box by ShelterBox, anywhere in the world, giving comfort to families who have lost everything.

Very many thanks. — Yours faithfully,

Malcolm Leonard

International committee chairman, Rotary Club of Henley Bridge

Kindness of a stranger

Sir, — Allow me, through the medium of your newspaper, to thank a gallant young gentleman who rescued an (old) damsel in distress from the perils of getting lost, maybe even forever!

New in the Oxfordshire area, I went for a walk and somewhere along the way took a wrong turn and got horribly lost.

I flagged down a passing car to ask for help with directions. Callum Miller stopped and not only located where I had intended to return (where I am temporarily employed) but took me right there, even though it was out of his way.

It is good to know, in this funny old world, that there are people out there who are so kind.

With my gratitude to this helpful and pleasant young man. — Yours faithfully,

Dorothy Proctor

Whitchurch, Shropshire

Invaluable volunteers

Sir, — I would like to say a big thank-you to the Henley volunteer drivers who, for a small payment, have recently taken me on several trips to the doctors’ surgery and local hospitals.

Also the volunteers in the office who arrange all the transport. They are all so kind and helpful.

Also thank you to the Henley Handybus drivers who take me shopping to Tesco every week and to Reading every two weeks. This service is free if you have a bus pass.

I must thank Gary, the local bus driver, who takes me to the town and brings me home. How would I manage without you all? — Yours faithfully,

Joan Sable

Watermans Road, Henley

Much more than a ‘pub’

Sir, — In Friday’s Daily Mail I learned that the Crooked Billet in Stoke Row was a pub.

When did this happen, as I have only ever enjoyed top-standard food there?

Apparently, and according to the article, Mike Jagger’s brother was playing there while Sir Mick was playing at some anonymous stadium in London.

I know where I’d rather be any day of the week and it’s not in London.

Maybe the Daily Mail needs to visit our tried and trusted restaurants here and thereby learn that they’re far from just “pubs”. — Yours faithfully,

Arthur Mackenzie

Busgrove Lane, Stoke Row

Gnome for George

Sir, — I have been thinking hard about the proposals to create a memorial (maybe a garden) to former Beatle George Harrison after reading about it in the Henley Standard.

Back in the late Seventies I would sometimes bump into him in the Row Barge pub in West Street.

He loved gardening and loved his garden gnomes — just look at the cover of his album All Things Must Pass.

I think that it would be wonderful if someone could create a gnome lookalike of George playing a ukulele and position it somewhere prominent in Henley. Obviously it would have to be made secure!

I would like to know what his wife Olivia and son Dhani would think. — Yours faithfully,

Vincent Ruane

Grove Road, Emmer Green

Knickers to PC brigade

Sir, — I was horrified to read that students from the Oratory School in Woodcote had been disciplined over a so-called racist photo (Standard, May 18).

How could it be racist when both black and white students took part? They were merely re-enacting history in reverse.

What have we come to when practically everything we say or do is examined in case it is sexist or racist or some other “ist”?

Somebody was attacked recently for saying, jokingly “Ladies’ lingerie”, something which made us laugh in the good old days.

As a 90-year-old, I find it puzzling and depressing. I will therefore sign off with an expletive from my school days and hope that I do not get locked up. KNICKERS! — Yours faithfully,

Brenda Nichol

Oaks Road, Shiplake

Great nights of comedy

Sir, — Crikey, what a great night out that was! We’ve just been to another of the Kenton Theatre’s stand-up comedy nights and we have to say they are getting better and better.

Iain Stirling was a couple of weeks ago and this week it was the brilliant Tom Allen who had the sell-out fully engaged audience in the palm of his hand — awesome! Plus Dara O’Briain earlier in the year and others too.

Our congratulations to the management team whose energy and commitment in staging these nights is turning them into events that will put Henley on the comedy circuit, attracting even bigger names.

But don’t tell anybody or we won’t be able to get our favourite seats! — Yours faithfully,

Mark and Rachel Lane, Linda McNab and Phil Withers

Elizabeth Road, Henley

More News:

POLL: Have your say