Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Your letters...

Disgraceful state of roads

Sir, — I fell off my bike last week, right at the bottom of Chalk Hill, just outside Henley.

I was rounding the bend when suddenly the bike started going in one direction while I was going in another.

I landed on my front, skidding across the road for a couple of feet with my arms out in front of me like some drunken superhero.

It is the first time in many years that I have fallen off a bike and the first time since I started revisiting the hobby since lockdown began.

I live in Caversham, on the doorstep of South Oxfordshire, and as I have been on furlough for the last few weeks, I am one of many around the country who has dusted off the old bike and taken it out for a spin, enjoying the (mostly) pleasant weather and quieter roads three or four times a week.

I didn’t hurt myself when I fell off, just a couple of small scrapes, but I can’t stop thinking about it and it’s because it wasn’t my fault.

I’m not a fast rider and I’m not a thrill seeker either. I was cycling through Harpsden Bottom and was about to turn right up Chalk Hill.

I knew the hill was coming, so had gone down the gears and was applying the brakes in preparation.

With the road ahead clear, I made the turning without stopping, leaning a little into the corner to try to preserve some momentum.

What I had failed to notice was that the road I was turning into wasn’t really a road at all but more like a collection of stones and shingle.

It actually bears a greater resemblance to a beach than a road, with loose pebbles and even some sand which appeared to be from some construction work at Henley Golf Club. My road bike didn’t stand a chance.

Since the pandemic took hold in this country, local authorities and the Government have been crowing about what a great opportunity it is to get out, get active and get on the bike.

But how can anyone expect the public to go out and cycle when the roads are in such a disgraceful condition? The streets in South Oxfordshire are not safe for cyclists.

Who is to blame here? Oxfordshire County Council is responsible for maintaining the roads and in this year’s budget it has committed to spending £30million on road maintenance. Fantastic.

But will these roads be maintained to acceptable standards for drivers or cyclists? There is a big difference between the two.

Maybe we should look further. According to the Local Government Association, local authorities have seen a reduction of £16 billion in core funding from central government over the last decade.

With fewer resources, is it any surprise that we are seeing councils prioritise adult social care and children’s services over road resurfacing?

The cherry on top here is Boris Johnson’s new-found enthusiasm for physical activity and his desire to usher in a “golden age of cycling”, announcing £2 billion of funding to get Britain back on two wheels. This money will be used on “protected bike lanes” and creating 12 “mini Hollands”, whatever that means.

Meanwhile, roads will remain potholed and local authorities under-funded.

My advice? Start saving up for a mountain bike to tackle the streets of South Oxfordshire. — Yours faithfully,

George Roberts

Caversham

We deserve better road

Sir, — With reference to Henley town councillor Ian Clark’s letter about the Gillotts Lane improvements (Standard, July 31), I would like to point out several facts to him as he seems unaware of the need for the extensive repairs and extensive traffic-calming measures.

Since 2012, traffic has greatly increased in this undesignated road and residents have been calling for some action since then.

They have suffered the misery of extreme abuse, erosion of their land, water entering some properties, speeding vehicles and cyclists being unable to stop when a vehicle appears at a blind corner.

Furthermore, the road itself has widened and has no defined edges to it.

We are grateful that Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, has agreed to introduce traffic-calming with the financial help and advice of Harpsden Parish Council and the assistance and work of Councillor David Bartholomew, who represents the area on the county council.

We expect more traffic from developments along Reading Road unforeseen in the original Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan as entering Henley from that direction takes much longer and drivers will take the short cut through Harpsden and Gillotts Lane.

Residents of Gillotts Hill and Gillotts Lane hope these measures will help us as we have been appealing for help since 2012.

We also hope for better manners and tolerance. — Yours faithfully,

Odette Moss

Harpsden

Road money is well spent

Sir, — Councillor Ian Clark thinks it a waste of taxpayers’ money to spend £100,000 on improvements to Gillotts Lane because “they should make a one-way system up from the village and spend £3,000 on clear road signs”.

Would that this had been possible. This solution was, of course, considered but had to be turned down because the lane is needed as a two-way road, not least by its residents, as was made clear in extensive public consultation.

Moreover, even if we had been able to have the lane shut off from downhill traffic, it would still have needed the same amount of work since the surface was broken and riddled with potholes, particularly at the edges, where they have caused damage to many tyres, as some of your readers may know only too well.

Gillotts Lane has been a main cause of worry and complaint throughout my time as chairman of Harpsden Parish Council and I am sure that the current work on it is money well spent.

Whether it will be enough to remove the lane’s basic problems is another matter with which I won’t bother your readers.

For now I hope that they, and Councillor Ian Clark in particular, will be content with my assurance that this work was the result of fully democratic consultation and careful consideration by the technical experts in Oxfordshire Councty Council’s highways department. Furthermore, Harpsden Parish Council will pay half of the cost. — Yours faithfully,

Kester George

Chairman, Harpsden Parish Council

Solution is new bridge

Sir, — I was somewhat surprised by all the correspondence about the need for a weight limit of 7.5 tones through Henley (Standard, July 24). The answer is quite simple — persuade South Oxfordshire District Council to remove their head from the sand and engage constructively with the project to extend the A3290 over the Thames as a third Reading bridge.

Then unnecessary heavy lorries can be banned in Henley, the queues on both sides of Henley bridge could be diminished and the village of Sonning can be relieved of the ridiculous daily queues that have disfigured it since at least 1970 from my personal experience and probably ever since the large housing development at Caversham Park Village was created in the Sixties.

Has anyone surveyed the traffic over Sonning Bridge to ask where it is coming from and where it is going to?

I suggest the amount of local traffic using Sonning Bridge to avoid congestion either side of Reading and Caversham bridges would make up a significant proportion of the total, showing that the district council’s paranoid fear of all the extra traffic over a third Reading bridge is largely unfounded.

What about all the pollution in the region of the four existing bridges? Marlow merited a dual carriageway bypass over the Thames, so why not Reading and Henley?

Another hoary old chestnut has also raised its head — the Wargrave to Shiplake footbridge.

The proposal to build this as a millennium project foundered when Network Rail, or its predecessor, forbade any foot traffic to cross the line at Wargrave station, hence necessitating a vast footbridge with extensive ramps on both sides to allow disabled access by wheelchair users at a cost well in excess of £500,000, even in the late Nineties.

I wish the lady who wishes to resurrect the use of the second rail track, long since taken up, over the Thames railway bridge as a means of providing pedestrian access from Wargrave to Shiplake every success. However, there is nothing so rare as common sense and it seems likely that any system, whereby pedestrians can cross a branch line with a maximum of two trains in each direction every hour on foot, will also continue to be vetoed by officialdom. — Yours faithfully,

Colin MacBean

Wargrave

Concerned about HGVs

As a local resident, I am concerned at the large increase in number of heavy goods vehicles passing through Henley.

I live in Thames Side where there are a number of issues, particularly:

1. The safety of pedestrians as these vehicles cut the corner and go over the pavement at the bottom of New Street.

2. The vibration caused by these vehicles and the damage it is doing to my grade II listed, 15th century timber cottage (and other similar properties).

3. The quality of air in the local area.

I trust my concerns will be heard. — Yours faithfully,

Gaurav Madhok

Thames Side, Henley

Vulnerable in my flat

Sir, — Crash, bang, wallop! This is the daily soundtrack for the residents of Bell Street and New Street, Henley, due to the ever-increasing number of heavy goods vehicles rattling through our town.

I live above an archway in Bell Street and often wonder whether the whole flat will end up on the ground rather than above it due to the vibrations. I feel increasingly vulnerable.

Of course, I recognised that there would be a steady flow of traffic when I first moved in 30 years ago but the gradual growth in volume and the frighteningly large size of the vehicles now is beyond acceptable by any standard.

Within a few years of moving here, I developed chronic asthma which may be related to the higher levels of pollution, an additional hazard caused by the increase of traffic emissions.

I fully support the campaign to restrict HGVs and thank Amanda Chumas in particular for her all-out efforts.

I now look forward to hearing that Henley town councillors and Oxfordshire County Council are making swift progress towards this goal.

Lights, camera... action! — Yours faithfully,

June Hawker

Bell Street, Henley

Self-inflicted disaster

Sir, — Your face mask survey (Standard, July 31) showed that many people felt safer wearing one.

But should they be mandatory? As ever, scientific opinion is divided, especially on the question of whether a maskless person is a danger even to those wearing them. If not, the whole purpose of forcing them on us disappears.

One infectious diseases expert states: “There is no good evidence that face coverings reduce viral transmissions.” Another points out that while hospital masks are discarded after use, the public will continue with the same one forever, a wonderful repository for nastiness.

Masks hinder communication, so if a customer questions a shop assistant and can’t be understood, in desperation he may come closer and remove his mask, releasing a torrent of pent-up breath.

Constantly touching the face and removing masks is a no-no but happens all the time.

I loathe wearing a mask, so will shun shops and use my car rather than public transport. Am I alone?

Boris Johnson is now terrified of his own shadow, his current bout of repression being driven by “spikes”, apparently based on a daily average increase in covid cases from 554 to 664.

Do more tests and you’ll get more positives but this doesn’t matter because covid-19 only kills the halt and the lame, who can be shielded.

You could even welcome an increase as a sign of more widespread immunity.

The important indicator should be deaths and here Gov UK quotes a daily average flatlining at around 64. Out of a population of more than 60 million only this tiny number are now dying of covid-19.

Yet still Boris screams apocalypse.

The virus arrived here with the world already in a panic, so we followed the herd.

The slogan became “Save the NHS” and it was tricky for a while because we were totally unprepared but things were soon under control.

Then came “Save Lives”, which in practice meant merely a short reprieve for those with already poor life expectancies, 91 per cent of covid-19 deaths in the UK being of people with pre-existing conditions.

The price we are paying is a devastated economy and a health service in disarray.

Cancer expert Professor Karol Sikora says tens of thousands may die due to lack of early diagnosis. In the words of the old quip: “The operation was a success but the patient died.”

It may have started as a virus but covid-19 is now a pandemic of hysteria.

The policy from the word go should have been to shield the vulnerable and let everyone else carry on as usual.

Instead, world leaders, ably assisted by a media ever-keen on a dramatic story, has exaggerated the danger out of all proportion.

The cure is proving far more damaging than the disease. This will go down as the greatest self-inflicted disaster in history. — Yours faithfully,

Rolf Richardson

Wootton Road, Henley

Lady’s mask had slipped

Sir, — Looking at all the pictures of shoppers wearing colourful, and some not so colourful, face masks (Standard, July 31), I had to chuckle at the picture of one lady in a colourful example.

While I was in the self-service area in Waitrose, the same lady leant across just in front of me to take a paper from the paper stand with her face mask worn under her nose. — Yours faithfully,

Dee Hind

Henley

Bring back singing

Sir, — Further to Margaret Moola’s letter in praise of singing (Standard, July 17), I wonder why the churches are opening for prayer and not song.

A service without singing is like a meal without a drink.

The singing curfew is due to coronavirus, which is believed to spread more when sung than with spoken prayer. It is claimed you spit more when you sing than when you speak.

I would like you to try this experiment: Speak into the palm of your hand then sing the same words also into the palm of your hand. From which action do you feel the more air, moisture and spit? I find it is from speech.

Singing may produce more sound waves but I do not think sound waves are any more infectious than radiation from phone masts, although anyone is entitled to believe wifi started the coronavirus.

I heard from a highly spiritual person that sung prayer is prayer twice. Let us return to services with singing, even if 6m apart and in the churchyards and fields. — Yours faithfully,

Richard Govett

Grove Road, Sonning Common

Inefficient procedure

The re-opening of the Oakley Wood recycling centre was most welcome but efforts to maintain social distancing have gone too far.

Half of the spaces have been coned off and cars are admitted one at a time one out, one in, as directed by an employee sitting for hours on a chair in the hot sun.

The result is a queue of cars going right back to the gate, engines idling, for most of the day. It may take 15 to 20 minutes to get to the bins and then you may be directed to a space far removed from the one you want. This procedure is hugely inefficient.

My car was laden with garden rubbish, mostly from a prickly hawthorn, which I had to carry in several trips the length of the facility to dump in the garden waste containers.

I walked past the same people several times going in the opposite direction, so if there was any risk of covid-19 infection, it was right there. Only the driver may unload the car, passengers are not allowed to help.

My visit took twice the time it would have done in normal conditions, adding greatly to the congestion.

I imagine that the risk of being infected at Oakley Wood is vanishingly small, much less perhaps than meeting friends for a meal, indoors or outdoors.

Would the Oxfordshire County Council please restore normal working at the centre? — Yours faithfully,

Michael Cotton

Shiplake Bottom, Peppard

Throwing away income

Sir, — Maria Turnbull, director of the Sue Ryder palliative care hub South Oxfordshire in Nettlebed, makes a plea for donations, saying: “Every bit really does help...” (Standard, July 31).

This is somewhat negated by the following.

The generous people in South Oxfordshire who have so far donated £107,000 for what they thought was a worthy cause would be aghast to learn that their goodwill has been sullied.

The entire contents of some of the original Sue Ryder sale premises have been removed and placed systematically in landfill skips.

Large amounts of sellable paintings, glassware and other items could have gone to any of the other 450 Sue Ryder charity shops in the UK, which provide £3million in income annually by the way of sales of similar items being literally thrown away by Sue Ryder.

A final sale for the public and former Sue Ryder volunteers could be held before all items are removed to landfill sites to raise money rather than burn it to no avail. — Yours faithfully,

Deborah Williams

Lion Meadow, Nettlebed

A Sue Ryder spokeswoman responds: “The community has been incredibly generous with donations to us over the years. As a result, there has been a large amount of remaining stock since the final Nettlebed sale.

“Our retail team has painstakingly sorted through all of this, as well as furnishings from the building that we haven’t found use for at our other sites, and taken everything which they feel they will be able to sell in our shops. We have also held two sales for our staff.

“We are now bagging up all the clothes, shoes and books which remain and sending them to our re-use and recycle partners who pay us money on a per-bag basis.

“We’ve had to fill a couple of skips with items which are broken, such as shelving units and bookcases, as well as stock which we would not be able to sell in our shops.”

Undesirable peerage

I would like to know John Howell’s views on the nomination of Evegeny Lebedev, the Russian-British owner of the Independent and Evening Standard newspapers, for a peerage to sit in the House of Lords. Moscow-born Lebedev is the son of Alexander Lebedev, a former KGB agent (if you can be a former KGB agent) who was stationed at the Soviet Union’s London embassy in the Eighties and later made a fortune in banking following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

While it would be wrong to impugn the son for the sins of the father, it is not in any doubt that Lebedev junior’s activities are directly funded by his father’s not inconsiderable wealth.

Bearing in mind the Salisibury poisoning affair and Russian meddling in British affairs of state, is this nomination perfectly right and proper or is it improper and not in keeping with own our national security objectives? — Yours faithfully,

Ian Reynolds

Crays Pond

All right for husbands...

Sir, — I wonder if there is any record in history of the wife of a Prime Minister being awarded a title in her own right for services rendered to her husband while he was still in office? — Yours faithfully,

Enid Light

Wargrave Road, Henley

Zero carbon is fairy story

It is interesting that Peter Woolsey should mention James Hansen and James Lovelock (Standard, July 24).

Would that be the same James Lovelock, of Gaia fame, who totally changed his mind on man-made catastrophic global warming?

He once said: “I regret that huge sums have been squandered on the renewable energy sources, many of which are ugly and hopelessly impractical and threaten a ‘green satanic change to Britain’s landscape’.”

Freeman Dyson, who died recently, was one of the greatest scientists of the age. He criticised James Hansen’s climate change activism, saying: “The person who is really responsible for this overestimate of global warming is Jim Hansen. He consistently exaggerates all the dangers... Hansen has turned his science into ideology.”

In fact, according to one of Hansen’s predictions, New York should currently be under water.

The purchase from abroad of massive structures to capture intermittent wind and solar radiation is expensive and a waste when there are massive reserves of stored energy in this island that are readily available.

Unfortunately, fracking for natural gas and oil has been halted in its tracks by well-orchestrated opposition from green zealots, parliamentary lobbying and lobbying by Russian money to protect their gas exports.

Cheap and abundant gas would render so-called renewables totally redundant and make us energy independent again.

The whole issue of the true costs of electrical energy from wind and solar is a very complex one.

How can Peter Woolsey state that his wind farm project requires no subsidy, when not only will he not be able to predict future pricing structures but uncontrollable wind and solar has resulted in a very fragile electricity system, which is inflexible and unable to deal with accidents and unexpected circumstances at a reasonable cost to consumers?

In any case, an example from the remote Isle of Skye is hardly a template for the rest of the UK, where £340 (£200 indirectly via goods and services) per annum, on average, is added to every household bill because of renewables.

Massive changes will be needed to the UK power distribution infrastructure to cater for renewable electricity. One assumes that wind farm owners will not be paying towards these.

There are also the constraints payments made to renewables by the Government when the power produced cannot be used.

There are also hidden tax breaks. For example, in certain circumstances, investors in renewables are able to avoid inheritance tax.

Everyone must know from energy bills that electricity is more than four times more costly than gas per kilowatt hour. It’s going to need a lot of electricity and/or insulation to replace natural gas for heating and hot water.

Two new very comprehensive studies have been made. These found that decarbonising the electricity system and domestic housing in the next three decades would cost more than £2.3trillion.

Basically, zero carbon is a fairy story. It is notable that the Committee for Climate Change has refused to give cost figures for this magic transformation.

To correct Dominic Hall’s assertions, India and China are going all out for coal-powered energy generation because it is cheap and readily available, as is Japan, and even Germany has just opened a new coal-fired power station. — Yours faithfully,

M Reid

Shiplake

Plan process explained

Sir, — Your correspondent J Fraser referred to two areas of land from the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.

The plan process began in 2012, all the meetings were held in public and the make-up of the working group was predominately Henley and Harpsden residents.

Recommendations went before Henley Town Council and eventually these went to a referendum in March 2016 and the plan was adopted on April 14, 2016.

The review of the document started in 2018 and once again the majority of the working group are local residents and all meetings are held in public and reported on by the Henley Standard.

We hope to complete the review by next summer and the revised plan will go to public referendum.

All relevant information can be found on Henley Town Council’s website.

One can only suggest that J Fraser is a new resident to Henley or does not read the Henley Standard. — Yours faithfully,

Ken Arlett

Mayor of Henley

New cafe worth a visit

Sir, — On Sunday we were in Benson high street and just happened across No 25, a new café which was an absolute delight.

The staff were friendly, the food all homemade and freshly made to order by Stephanie.

No 25 is run by her and her husband Philip and is well worth a visit. Do go. — Yours faithfully,

Peter and Frieda Entwisle

Nicholas Road, Henley

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