Friday, 12 August 2022

Your letters...

Housing plans work

Sir, — Two appeal decisions in South Oxfordshire have confirmed the importance of neighbourhood plans.

The first of these was for a development of 95 houses on a site off Kennylands Road, Sonning Common, and the second relates to an application for 180 houses to the south of Watlington Road in Benson.

The Sonning Common neighbourhood development plan had allocated 26 houses for the site. The inspector considered a number of factors in reaching his decision to reject the application but they came down to two points:

1. Was the proposal to build on the site consistent with the plan?

2. Would the proposal affect the character and appearance of the countryside?

The Inspector rejected the appeal on both grounds.

This decision goes to the heart of what is good about neighbourhood plans and the efforts by the community not only to bring them into force but also to keep them up-to-date.

The inspector confirmed that the neighbourhood plan has done the right thing for the right reasons and its wish to make a clear distinction between the surrounding Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the village is to be applauded.

The inspector also found that the site was an important landscape area and the development would conflict with the protection of what was an attractive landscape setting.

Most importantly, the inspector also clearly stated that he felt that guidance on what he should do was clear and that where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood development plan that has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted.

The inspector also made clear that the special arrangements I had helped bring in to tackle the situation where South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, did not have a five-year land supply and neighbourhood plans would need to rely on a three-year land supply figure were to be followed.

In Benson, I had successfully asked for the planning application to be called in for determination by the Secretary of State on the grounds that I did not believe that it was right to decide this application in the normal way when the Benson neighbourhood development plan was so close to its definitive referendum.

Of great importance in this case was the recognition of Benson’s plan regardless of whether the district council chose to adopt it or not. This was the very point I had confirmed with officials.

Of crucial importance is the fact that the Secretary of State agrees that the proposal conflicts with the Benson plan and that this should be given substantial weight.

Both of these cases show how the Secretary of State and the Planning Inspectorate are supporting neighbourhood plans. Of crucial significance is the fact that where a plan has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted which conflicts with it. This, more than anything, should give a great deal of comfort to those communities doing a neighbourhood plan.

On a separate issue, Mr Jackson’s letter (Standard, July 20) is a good example of not doing one’s homework correctly and he is simply wrong.

His list of places I am supposed to have visited includes three I have not yet been to and two I travelled to in my own time and at my own or the private sector’s expense including one to my son’s wedding.

He omits one I have been to which is Strasbourg where I am a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which is one of the most important bodies nationally for us in Europe to which, incidentally, both Israel and the Palestinians are also associate members.

With 12 local government representatives in Goring in addition to me as MP, Mr Jackson is very well represented. I am an MP and not a councillor, the roles are very different. I would encourage Mr Jackson, and indeed all residents,to make use of their elected representatives at all levels. – Yours faithfully,

John Howell MP

House of Commons

Organisers should clean

Sir — your article “Clean-up after regatta revellers” (Standard, July 13) struck a chord.

I was going through Henley early that Saturday morning, the mess everywhere was truly appalling.

What message does this send to UK and international visitors, which the Henley economy badly needs? For those who live in the area it’s a disgusting sight, ruining a beautiful English town.

While I applaud any kind of personal initiative, the idea of councillors and shopkeepers “getting down on their hands and knees” to clean up a mess they didn’t create is ridiculous.

Let’s face the fact that this will happen every year and also during Henley Festival. And what about Rewind?

They should be “forced” by Henley Town Council to employ professional cleaning contractors who have the right equipment to do a thorough clean ready for the next day and visitors.

Any business would have to pay for the consequences of its money-making activities as part of its overhead and cost base. It’s like my company holding a major conference or exhibition and leaving other people to clear up after we’d left.

Idea: If the royal regatta and festival say they haven’t got the money to do this — I’d need some convincing about that having paid £36 for a bottle of average rosé at the festival — then I suggest they add say £1 or £2 to the ticket prices, a levy for cleaning.

I suggest this would have no impact on ticket sales at all. Multiplied by thousands of visitors this raises a lot of money for thorough and proper cleaning to benefit everybody.

Then councillors and others can look forward to not having to don rubber gloves and clean up vomit. Let’s please get this properly sorted once and for all. — Yours faithfully,

Richard Cuthbertson


Town must be kept tidy

Sir, — In response to Maureen Dougall’s letter (Standard, July 20), I very much agree with — and uphold — the points she raises about the filthy condition of the pavements in Henley town centre.

All the points that Ms Dougall makes are worthy of close attention and there needs to be an immediate and active response to remediate the appalling and unhealthy conditions that we are forced to tolerate in order to continue using the town, its businesses and facilities.

Shopping and relaxing in Henley has become a most unpleasant experience. I personally only go to Henley to do necessary business and then leave as quickly as possible.

In addition to the traffic congestion and pollution, an ongoing health problem which has been highlighted and debated over a long period of time and about which there seems to have been no real improvement despite all the evidence of the associated health risks which have been made public on numerous occasions, we now have to put up with disgustingly filthy pavements which defy description.

Enough is enough. Something must be done to improve this otherwise very interesting, lively and attractive market town in its unique and beautiful setting. — Yours faithfully,

Margaret Moola

Sonning Common

Classical tops the lot

Sir, — I do sometimes worry about the critical skills of your reviewers. The universally adoring reviews of the recent Henley Festival were a case in point.

I didn’t go to the Wednesday concert by Rita Ora so I shall not comment on it, but you have to ask yourself what an artist like Rita is doing on the bill at a black-tie festival at all.

Grace Jones’s singing was, frankly, pretty ordinary, which might be something to do with her age but surely the thing that defined her act was that she started nearly 45 minutes late, and gave nothing in the way of an apology or explanation for doing so.

That was, in my view, unpardonably rude, not just to the audience but to her fellow artists. A consequence was that no one in the seating around the stage got to see the fireworks properly. Did the organisers dock her pay? — I fancy not.

Nile Rodgers has an enviable record as a songwriter/arranger/producer, but I thought it was a very mediocre performance.

He didn’t sing much and didn’t do anything interesting on the guitar either. One problem was that everyone in the seating areas stood up before he had played a note and stayed standing up jigging from one foot to the other throughout. It was impossible to sit back and just enjoy the music because if one did it was impossible to see anything.

The PA system was appalling — the sound mixing was so bad and the volume was so loud and distorted that it was impossible to hear most of the words or discern any of the instruments.

Curtis Stigers is a goodish singer, but the problem was he was billed to be doing Frank Sinatra at the Sands and he just didn’t. He sang very few of the best of Frank Sinatra’s hits — and there are plenty of them — and didn’t keep them coming fast enough to keep the audience with him. I could hardly hear anything for the volume of chattering in the grandstand.

And then came the English National Opera. What a contrast! They all — and there were more than 50 of them — turned up on stage 15 minutes early and started bang on time. Their programme was spot on — all the hits of the opera world.

The singers and musicians were outstanding and the sound mixing and PA reproduction was superb — one could hear their every note and every word. Each number was preceded by a witty, knowledgeable and informative introduction. And they finished bang on time so we all got to see the fireworks at last.

It was a display of consummate professionalism from beginning to end. The musicians in the other venues were excellent too and overall it was one of the best nights at the festival for many a long year.

So in my humble, critical opinion, the festival was only really saved from mediocrity by the outstanding last night. I do hope the festival organisers keep the classical evening. They need it. — Yours faithfully,

Nick Blandy

Quarry Lane, Shiplake

Operatic flourish

Sir, — Amongst last week’s letters were many praising this year’s festival, especially Sunday’s offering, the English National Opera. And who could argue?

It was an uplifting, joyous show — wonderful singing, performers arrived on time, no one exhorting others in the audience to dance despite the fact that this was during a number not written for dance (Curtis Stigers, who I have to say was terrific), few of the audience wandering in and out for alcoholic refills and no one standing on their seats in order to take selfies of themselves in front of the performer — and all on the “graveyard” evening, Sunday, the least popular evening of the festival.

Every complaint over the last few years has been the fact that the festival has changed from the original concept — an arts festival for the residents of Henley following the royal regatta — to a corporate pop festival. I have to ask if that thought was behind the idea of putting the ENO on Sunday night?

Following on from that I would also ask why it was that on previous nights the security staff were permitted to fill any remaining empty seats with people who only had “standing tickets”.

However, on the Sunday they were instructed to leave any empty seats empty and not to allow them to be filled in that way. How disrespectful to the ENO is that?

Being a cynic is it just possible that the organisers were, once again, just trying to reinforce their point of view? – Yours faithfully,

Roger Murray-Leach

Binfield Heath

Fireworks not needed

Sir, — Every year we hear the same old Henley Festival story about “loyal” fuddy-duddies wanting classical nights only for half the tickets to go unsold, leaving the festival with less money to pass on to deserving charities.

I wanted to make a simple suggestion to help these charities without any impact on ticket sales. Simply ditch the fireworks and give the money to good causes.

I’m no pyrotechnical expert but I imagine that many thousands of pounds literally go up in smoke every night.

Surely with the myriad of amazing entertainers and artists on show, fireworks are just the cherry on top, not the cake itself.

And, for those who’d argue that not having fireworks would ruin their evening, they really should renew their subscription to reality.

Everyone’s seen a good fireworks display in their lifetime. Not many have seen a body-painted semi-naked 70-year-old doing upside down twerking.

Well done Henley Festival for putting on a great show. I’ll take Grace Jones over fireworks any day. — Yours faithfully,

Simon Barnett

Lower Assendon

Turn tables to get deal

Sir, — It continues to surprise me how many of our fellow countrymen seek to overturn the democratic vote.

Despite the dire warnings of the Remainers at the time of the referendum campaign, 17.4 million people voted to leave, a clear majority.

It is no wonder Prime Minister Theresa May is in a tangle. Everything she has proposed to Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker has been rebuffed and ridiculed. Add to this the elements in this country, from the House of Lords down, who seek to denude her of many of her negotiating tools and her plight truly can be understood.

Time is running out and the moment has come to turn the tables on Barnier and tell him that we are going with “no deal” — we are keeping our £39 billion and we are going to plough our own furrow.

How long do you think it would take the German industrialists, especially the car manufacturers, and the French farmers and vineyard owners to pressurise the EU into begging us for a deal? Not long, I wager. Theresa, do it now. — Yours faithfully,

Geoff Luckett

Lime Court, Henley

New nature reserve?

Sir, — I see that the new nature reserve is now well and truly established on the old Youth Centre site in Deanfield Avenue. Perhaps the ugly hoarding around the area can now be removed? — Yours faithfully,

J Hadley

Leaver Road, Henley

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