Thursday, 17 June 2021

Your Letters...

More action, fewer words

Sir, — Why is it that an illustrious Henley councillor can reflect and muse on car parking for Henley while some of your writers react with apparent surprise?

Meanwhile, the town goes backwards in the face of adverse retail headwinds.

“The king spoke and a thousand vassals focused and strained but a shepherd boy said, ‘look, the King isn’t wearing any clothes’.” How true.

Yes, Ken, the car parking plan was considered in the now redundant joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, which was approved with a majority of 82 per cent in the 2016 referendum.

On the 64 pages it is set out in the transport vision:

• To enhance the town centre vehicle flow and car park management.

• To encourage the development of additional car parking space, including underground and decked car parking and provision of load-and-go car parking in the town centre for short-term car parking,

• To review the car park pricing to promote greater efficiency.

What has been done in two years? Well, it didn’t need another review of the neighbourhood plan at a cost of another £100,000 to residents.

What was needed was a cross-party implementation group to get on with implementing the non-housing aspects of this plan.

Herein lies the weakness of the current neighbourhood plans across the nation.

Who actually implements the recommendations and drives them into the communities? Developers have the vested interests of making money to build houses.

We, the people, are all in danger of receiving the housing part of neighbourhood plans but not the non-housing parts of plans which enhance community living for residents.

I always thought that the town council had a major leadership role in this regard but it has palpably failed and only succeeded in sending up distracting chaff to hide its inability to drive the real agenda while it indulges in self-gratifying inter-party warfare.

The tragedy is that even with joined-up thinking we are still at least three years from having decked car parking.

Will Henley’s town centre survive the adverse retail headwinds without vision and real help to promote footfall?

Remember, it isn’t just Henley residents who enjoy the town and its facilities. Many people from adjacent Oxfordshire villages are looking on with concern that a once celebrated and proud town now has a declining appeal for their living and playing needs. — Yours faithfully,

Barry Wood

Stoke Row Road, Peppard

Saddened by shop closures

Sir, — Our high streets are closing faster than is realised due to people shopping online etc.

Names are disappearing before our very eyes — companies we have known for years.

Having worked on the wholesale side when I was younger in my husband’s family’s business and with my son having a menswear shop in Henley, I am so sad.

Just to read of the names in the paper is heartbreaking.

We no longer have the individual fashion shops as the overheads are so high and, of course, parking charges are so high. — Yours faithfully,

Gill Morris

Silk Lane, Twyford

Company is not so Smart

Sir, — Firstly, thank you for taking an interest in my dispute with Smart Parking and featuring me looking miserable (Standard, May 18). I’ve had a result.

Firstly, I contacted the company and politely suggested that the fine issued to me at Townlands Memorial Hospital in Henley was inappropriate. They demurred and insisted I pay.

Then I contacted the NHS who told me to appeal to the Parking on Private Land Appeals service and suggested that if my appeal was unsuccessful they would take up my case.

POPLA sided with Smart Parking and turned down my appeal.

I then recontacted the NHS who did indeed take up my case and got Smart Parking to cancel the fine.

In case there is anyone else who is in the same predicament as I was, the following points may be of interest:

Firstly, the system is installed to prevent unauthorised people parking.

I was authorised, despite what Smart Parking system said, and I could prove it.

Secondly, Smart Parking and POPLA have a financial interest in people paying large fines.

Thirdly, my reading of the terms and conditions operated by POPLA, which claims independence from the parking industry despite being funded by it, are vague in terms of what constitutes “mitigating circumstances”.

They turned me down because Smart Parking said it had no record of my details. Admittedly these are not mitigating circumstances but they simply chose to believe their client.

I suggest these terms and conditions were very carefully written to weigh the balance in the parking companies’ favour.

Finally, if the computerised system in operation was badly designed it would inadvertently and consistently catch out people who could not easily negotiate it — not just the elderly and stressed, as many hospital patients are, but younger patients too, which it does — then it would be not fit for purpose and therefore in need of revision.

However, if the system was designed deliberately to be difficult to negotiate and generate an income flow from fines then this is clearly at the very least unethical and maybe illegal.

Thank you again for your interest and for your Not Very Smart Parking campaign, which I sincerely hope comes to fruition successfully. — Yours faithfully,

Dr David Seymour

Waltham St Lawrence

Criticism not justified

Sir, — I am writing to you in regard to the story headlined “Parking firm is ‘untruthful, aggressive, unreasonable’” (Standard, July 6).

Smart Parking strongly refutes allegations made in this article and we are also at a loss to understand why your newspaper didn’t contact us to give us our right of reply.

Let’s remember that Smart Parking was originally engaged by the NHS to manage the car park at Townlands Memorial Hospital in order to tackle what were considered to be extreme levels of parking abuse.

Due to its central location, the car park in question was being utilised by tourists and many shoppers from the nearby supermarket, who were preventing genuine patients finding spaces to park.

Smart Parking fixed the problem by installing a state-of-the-art automatic number plate recognition parking management system that is used in thousands of car parks across the nation and which monitors cars entering and exiting the car park.

Around the car park there is a significant quantity of British Parking Association-approved signs that clearly highlight the terms and conditions of use.

Patients simply need to enter their full and correct registrations into the terminals provided and the vast majority do this without any issue.

I was particularly surprised to read that we had “pulled out” of the (stakeholder) meeting.

This is simply not true. We were not invited and if we had been we would have attended.

If your paper had taken the liberty to ask us about this, we would have told you.

We all know parking can be contentious but I am proud that our systems have resulted in parking now being available for all patients requiring and deserving of the parking spaces at Townlands. — Yours faithfully,

Fraser Richards

National accounts director, Smart Parking Ltd

The editor responds: “The article was an accurate report of what was said by members at a meeting of the Townlands Stakeholder Reference Group.

“We were told some time ago by Smart Parking’s official spokesman that the company would no longer comment on stories about the company.

“If that policy has changed, as it appears to have done, we will ask for comment in future articles.”


Worst town for potholes

Sir, — I read with interest the article headlined “Potholes on map (again)” (Standard, July 6) but have to say that is the least of the problem.

My wife and I have visited numerous towns from Cumbria to Cornwall in recent months and Henley is the worst town when it comes to the condition of the main roads. From the minute you enter the 30mph zone from Fair Mile until you leave the town via Reading Road to the Tesco roundabout the roads are a disgrace.

Uneven surfaces, sunken drain covers, loose manholes, poorly finished utilities work and, of course, potholes!

So, please, never mind logging potholes, let us fight for complete resurfacing from north, south, east and west of the town.

Cross the bridge into Berkshire and we have newly surfaced Remenham Hill and more recently Wargrave Road. Surely South Oxfordshire can compete with that?

Then, of course, there are the roads in Lower Shiplake but I’ll leave that for another time. — Yours faithfully,

Barrie Jones

Lower Shiplake

Taxi firms cashing in

Sir, — On Thursday last week I booked a taxi from Shiplake to Hotel du Vin in Henley.

Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to ask the price and was told that because of the regatta it would be £20. I asked what the regular price is for that fare and was told £10.

It is an accepted practice in this country that licensed taxis are allowed to charge a higher tariff for established reasons, such as Christmas, New Year’s Day etc., controlled by the meter in the vehicle.

If firms are allowed to charge more for regatta why not the festival or some other event held in the town?

It is plain greed on the part of the cab firms and the licensing authority should stamp it out.

Ripping off visitors does nothing to enhance the image of the town or encourage regatta-goers to visit Henley at other times. Equally, there is no justification for bilking locals.

The taxi operators would do well to remember that locals live here and use taxis all year round. — Yours faithfully,

J W Evans

Orchard Close, Shiplake

Disgusting pavements

Sir, — I made an early shopping spree into Henley on Monday morning to beat both the crowds and the heat.

I was horrified and absolutely disgusted at the filth on the streets in the centre of town.

It was quite obvious that a number of cases of “over-indulgence” had occurred — presumably as a direct result of regatta week.

The pavements in Bell Street were outstandingly ghastly!

What I do not understand is why there is no contingency on the part of either shopkeepers or the council (or ideally both) to clean the pavements in the town as a matter of routine (like they do in France) and most particularly after an event such as the regatta.

More generally, there should be ongoing cleaning and maintenance in order to keep Henley clean and attractive for residents and visitors alike.

On Monday I was extremely glad that I do not live in Henley and wondered what I was taking home on the bottom of my sandals!

A sample analysed scientifically for bacterial content would most likely produce a horrifying result.

Please, Henley Town Council and/or South Oxfordshire District Council, do something about the filthy pavements. — Yours faithfully,

Margaret Moola

Sedgefield Close, Sonning Common

All bins must be emptied

Sir, — I left my house at 8am on Saturday morning on the way to Waitrose.

Turning into Friday Street, I was horrified to see the rubbish bin in Friday Street had not been emptied and was not only overflowing but had rubbish stacked beside it.

As I progressed into town I found the streets littered with takeaway containers, broken bottles, beer cans etc. The town was a mess!

I understand that it was regatta week and that some of the public clearly do not know how to conduct themselves or their rubbish (we have all known this for years) but surely whoever it is who organises the town cleaning during regatta is aware of this and should accommodate it.

Our lovely town looked appalling on the busiest day of regatta. (To be honest, all the other bins in the centre of town had been emptied which is a start, but why not Friday Street?)

As it was Saturday I could not contact the authorities so I contacted Councillor David Eggleton, who has been seen to sort things out, and told him.

He rang me on Monday morning to say that he and Councillor Kellie Hinton and others had gone out after my call and collected 15-plus sacks of rubbish.

While this is great and thank you, David, Kellie and others, may I comment that in this day and age it should be clear to the “powers that be” that during regatta extra effort is needed to keep our town looking great and, to be honest, safe!

We pay our council tax and it should not be up to councillors or anyone else to clear the streets themselves.

May I request that this situation is not allowed to happen again and that attention is focused on the current needs of the town? — Yours faithfully,

Leslie Plumb

Queen Street, Henley

Tell public the rules

Sir, — I walk through Mill Meadows most days. On Tuesday last week, I noted a sign forbidding any barbecues because of the high risk of fire due to the dry weather.

The next day I saw a park ranger cleaning up litter etc and asked him what the rules were regarding barbecues in general. He said they were now forbidden.

In normal times barbecues are allowed in Marsh Meadows where the town council has provided tree stumps with metal plates. Yet the rules are being flouted every weekend.

On the Sunday before last I saw people using metal barbecues with flames at least 2ft high.

There were also many people barbecuing on the grass or using disposable barbecues.

There was also a car parked on the grass by the children’s play area.

It would be helpful if the public were told what the rules are regarding litter, barbecues, parking, urinating etc.

This an important matter of public interest and Mill and Marsh Meadows are the most important areas of public land we have in Henley. — Yours faithfully,

Chris Spencer

King’s Road, Henley

Encouraging wildflowers

Sir, — As a former parish councillor, I read your correspondent BT’s letter about her Whitchurch Hill concerns with interest (Standard, July 6).

Firstly, I would urge such an active and interested person to get stuck in, and try to join the parish council, so she can help improve things.

Sadly, she will find councillors do not get paid and are seldom thanked for all their work.

BT could also offer to help in St John’s Churchyard — I know they are always looking for volunteers to manage both their well-kept and unkempt (wildlife) areas.

I am proud to say I am the farmer/contractor who has been employed by Bozedown House to look after their fields for many years.

We not only helped establish the first wildflower meadow some 10 years ago but have hand-pulled the poisonous ragwort each year prior to cutting and haymaking to knock the seeds out ready for the following year.

This has all been done with advice from reputable local ecologists.

This year, a second field has been soft landscaped and sown with a wildflower mix.

We were asked to cut earlier than usual to give the less competitive wildflowers a better chance to establish and check the bigger plants dominating the original field.

The current drought may well reduce the second flush that we had hoped for, which we had intended to cut again in August.

But let’s hope we get an even better display of wildflowers in both fields next year at no expense to the local people who can enjoy them and perhaps put a smile back on BT’s face. — Yours faithfully,

Jon Hatt

Merricroft Farming, Coombe End, Goring Heath

Redundant larch trees

Sir, — When I first came to Sonning Common for employment around 1964 I was intrigued as to why there were so many larch trees growing on the triangle opposite BB Wines (Standard, June 29).

Apparently they were planted by a builder for scaffold poles but the metal scaffold poles came along and the larch trees were made redundant.

So now you know. — Yours faithfully,

Roger Parker

Woodlands Road Sonning Common

Do not fight court ruling

Sir, — I am writing following the decision by a judge that the prosecution by Wokingham Borough Council of Hare Hatch Sheeplands owner Rob Scott and others for alleged breach of enforcement notices would be unfair (Standard, June 22). I ask that the council withdraws its appeal to this court ruling.

I appreciate that this has been a long saga but Judge Angela Morris was extremely thorough in her summing up of the case.

The damage that has been done to the council by her conclusions is massive and to waste further taxpayers’ money on appealing to save face would be unacceptable.

I understand that the various planning personnel involved in the case have now lodged an appeal but they will find it extremely difficult to make a case that will be accepted by the Appeal Court.

If it is not accepted again this would only indicate that the council appears to have a personal vendetta against the garden centre.

A petition signed by thousands of Hare Hatch Sheeplands’ supporters was presented to the council in November 2016. When challenged, it transpired that the council had, I believe, only three messages of support for its stance.

The garden centre is well-respected, loved and supported by many, many people and accepted in the community and by the other local traders.

The gracious action for the council to take would be to accept the judge’s ruling, withdraw the enforcement notice and allow the Planning Inspectorate to review the planning application that it turned down. — Yours faithfully,

Frank Moore

Thornbers Way, Charvil

Inefficient, ineffective

Sir, — We were so relieved to hear the court case involving Wokingham Borough Council and Hare Hatch Sheeplands had at last been settled — we had hoped for good. To have the judge say “The council is obliged to have regard to the costs of such a prosecution” echoes our thoughts.

We would like to know what exactly the costs incurred by the council in instructing counsel for the abuse of process proceedings were?

Furthermore, as the judge said, “A considerable amount of public money had been expended on this case”.

Now we hear the council intends to spend more of our council tax by going to appeal. What are the anticipated costs of that for us residents?

To quote the judge one last time when referring to the council, it’s “unjust and unfair and so offends the court’s sense of justice”.

But the council still wants to go to appeal and waste more of our money.

The council’s own website says that its duty is to “make sure the work of executive is being delivered efficiently and cost-effectively”.

We do not consider it has done either of those things in this matter. — Yours faithfully,

Patricia and David Miller

Twyford

MP lets us down (again)

Sir, — I totally support Chris Wermann’s comments regarding John Howell (Standard, July 6),

I believe Mr Howell is a very poor MP and has let the Henley constituency down badly over the years.

To go swanning off to a European meeting during one of the most important votes in Westminster to affect his constituency in years simply beggars belief but it enabled him to “sit on the fence” yet again.

Please may we ask the Henley Conservative Party to select a new candidate before the next election who will be more proactive in matters of the constituency and the state? — Yours faithfully,

Mark Hatt

South Stoke Road,
Woodcote

Keep the gap or else...

Sir, — On noting that the Emmer Green front line was only 1,500 yards from the boundary of Sonning Common, my father said it was perfectly suited to the Lee Enfield Mk.4 (T), one of his favourite sniper rifles of the Second World War.

We have called this green belt the “Lee Enfield Gap” ever since and it must be maintained or we will get different coloured recycling bins. — Yours faithfully,

Dirk Jones

Sonning Common

Thanks to bus driver

Sir, — While hoping that “’til we meet again” will prove more apt than simply “goodbye”, this is just to inform any passengers who might wish to let Gary, the driver of our much-loved yellow town bus service, know how much his skill, cheerfulness and kindness have been appreciated, especially by the “older age demographic” (to coin a recently used phrase).

There will be an informal get-together at the Bird in Hand pub, near the foot of Greys Road, on Friday, July 20 at 7pm. Please just turn up if you are able to. — Yours faithfully,

Jim Munro

Blandy Road, Henley

Wonderful generosity

Sir, — On Saturday evening my wife and I decided to go for a walk down by the river.

After about 30 minutes I spied a floating ice cream seller and commented to my wife that it was a pity we had no money with us as I would have liked an ice cream.

Thirty seconds later we were approached by two ladies who said they had heard my words and would like to buy us an ice cream. We could hardly refuse.

On our way back we met them again, this time with a male companion, and had a brief conversation with them, which was a very pleasant interlude.

So my thanks and gratitude to these ladies for their very kind action.

Perhaps of greater importance to me is this has restored my belief in human kindness and generosity. A small act yet a wonderful gesture. — Yours faithfully,

Chris Baker

Lauds Close, Henley

Anyone seen our plaque?

Sir, — As one who was present on that memorable occasion, I was delighted to find in your 50 Years Ago item last week a reference to the civic reception given by the old borough council to Henley Town Football Club in 1968.

However, the reference to the plaque then presented to the club does involve us in a mystery for its whereabouts have been unknown for many years to the club’s officials.

The plaque, commemorating as it does Henley Town’s achievement in going through an entire Hellenic League season unbeaten, represents an important part of the club’s history.

May I, therefore, as Henley Town’s historian, beg anyone who knows of its present location to get in touch with me either direct or through the Standard? — Yours faithfully,

J F Bailey

St Andrew’s Road, Henley

More News:

POLL: Have your say