Sunday, 27 September 2020
Sir, — I recently visited the Fairmile Cemetery in Henley to discover that a notice from the town council had been fastened to my mother’s memorial bench, which has been there for at least nine years.
The notice states that due to a “new policy” I must remove the bench or the council will dispose of it, effectively destroy it.
In my experience, most councillors possess an intrinsic desire to dictate. They seize every opportunity to impose their inane opinions on to the public in the form of “new policies”.
This appears to nourish their authoritarian personalities while stroking their egos,
But even when taking their character shortcomings into consideration, it does not excuse this odious policy.
Where is their sense of human decency? This unilateral policy has been set in place without public approval, or even consultation, as they failed to announce their intentions on the council’s website or any other media.
Indeed, it was actioned without giving mind to those it will most affect. It is disgraceful.
Councillors are elected to listen to, respect the views of and represent the public, a principle that Henley Town Council appears to have long since forgotten.
Placing a memorial is a heartfelt gesture representing significant emotional attachment, something that Henley’s councillors appear to experience extreme difficulty in comprehending.
I recognise that some councillors operate with genuine intentions, such as Councillor David Eggleton, who has established a reputation for always considering what is best for Henley and its residents, constantly making efforts above and beyond our expectations, along with Councillor Ken Arlett, the Mayor.
However, in the unlikely event they participated in concocting this policy, they also deserve public criticism.
The council notice placed on my mother’s and other benches states that they are to be removed as the owners did not obtain “special permission” and for “health and safety” reasons.
I have been visiting the cemetery for 40 years and have never seen a notification stipulating a requirement for “special permission”.
Moreover, my mother’s bench has been there nine years, so you would have thought that the council would have noticed and acted before now, although in their defence it does take your average councillor at least 10 years to notice anything.
I have browsed the council’s website and once again no notification for special permissions is published and, to my knowledge and that of those I consulted, never has been.
To state that some benches are unsafe and therefore represent a danger to users due to them being the worse for wear and no longer fit for purpose is in principle a legitimate argument, but it only applies to a small minority of benches.
Placing a removal order on all benches on the assumption that they all fail health and safety standards, void of any assessment, is disingenuous unless the council has indeed carried out such an inspection and determined that all the benches are in the same poor condition.
Surely the appropriate line of action would be to condemn those substandard benches, placing a notice on them stating this and that they require repair or they will be removed on safety grounds.
This would convey a legitimate and fair stance that would be accepted by all reasonably minded people.
Alternatively, if the council’s concerns revolve around the threat of litigation due to unsafe benches, it could place a notice in the cemetery stating that benches have been placed here by the public and are used at the public’s own risk, thereby indemnifying itself from injury claims.
Removing all benches due to a few being in a state of disrepair constitutes heavy-handedness. It is disproportionate amounting to authoritarianism.
I invite the council’s health and safety officials to meet me at the cemetery in order that my mother’s bench can be inspected.
Now here’s the so called good news.
I have learned that, in the event the council removes my mother’s bench (which, incidentally, is considered to be of best quality costing £600), I will be given the opportunity to purchase a replacement bench of lower quality direct from the council.
This makes a complete mockery of their nonsense health and safety reasoning, as how can an inferior quality bench possibly be safer than the well-maintained, better built bench they intend removing?
Common law supersedes any policy made by the council and was founded on the principle that, if you cause a man harm, loss or injury, you have broken the law.
Should the council remove and destroy memorial benches, it will be causing the owners “loss” (financial) and, in the majority of cases. “injury” (emotional) in the form of mental anguish, alarm and distress.
Land owned or managed by the council is funded via the public purse, thereby deeming it public property.
Consequently, can the council kindly direct me towards the legislation affirming that it has the right to impose this policy on publicly owned land irrespective of it contravening common law?
Furthermore, a policy cannot be introduced retrospectively, it must encompass a commencement date for the purpose of legitimacy.
The council has ordered owners to remove and relocate benches by September 30. It does this to portray a position of fairness, when in reality, councillors are fully aware that the benches were purchased for the cemetery and owners have nowhere else they can place them.
In the event the council decides to continue with this policy in its current format, I will co-ordinate legal proceedings in the form of a group action against it while conducting an extensive and consistent campaign across all media platforms, where all relevant councillors will be named and shamed.
Some may consider that I have been overly scathing of Henley councillors, but they deserve nothing less as on this occasion they have clearly ventured beyond the boundaries of their remit.
Why should I approach them meekly grovelling with cap in hand like some form of subservient minion, trying to appeal to their better judgment, when indeed it is their extremely poor judgement that has created this scenario? — Yours faithfully,
Reading Road, Henley
Henley Town Council responds: “An increasing number of benches at the Fairmile Cemetery have appeared without permission, many of which are unstable and unsafe.
“We have had incidents of vandalism and theft and benches are being placed on other grave plots, which is unacceptable and upsetting to others.
“If benches are not removed by September 30 then they will be removed by the town council and disposed of.
“However, we realise that many family and friends are keen to have a bench where they can sit and remember their loved ones.
“To that end, the council has put in place a new scheme for benches and trees.
“These will be maintained by the town council and put in an appropriate position to ensure everyone’s safety and for public use.
“We will, of course, work with the bereaved to make sure that what is put in place will be enduring, safe for everyone to use and won’t cause upset to others. Each of the existing benches will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and if it is in good condition and a suitable location can be found for it, we may be able to keep it in the cemetery.”
We still need a hospice
Enid Light’s letter headlined “Specious argument” (Standard, August 21) brought back many memories and still unanswered questions for me.
About 40 years ago I worked for a short time at the War Memorial Hospital in Henley, which I believe was bought and paid for by grateful residents of the town. At that time it was a busy, thriving hospital with two wards and a small operating theatre.
Minor operations were carried out there once or twice a week by surgeons from the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. There were daycare facilities as well as provision for patients requiring respite care after major surgery elsewhere.
Gradually, imperceptibly, the wards became less busy. The demand was still as great as ever but “someone” decided that the hospital should close, citing lack of use.
Thirty five years later, my husband needed respite care and was admitted for a 10-day stay to the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed.
I was told that despite the fact his condition was terminal, he could not stay longer.
He was in a three-bed unit and for the whole 10 days was on his own there. On my daily visits, I noticed that other beds were not being used and the only busy area appeared to be the day centre unit.
Yet I knew from a very reliable source that a local doctor was begging for bed placements for her patients but being refused.
After my husband’s death, I volunteered to work with the book sales team at Sue Ryder and every Thursday would sort and price books and then help to sell them at the very successful three weekly sales.
Then Sue Ryder decided to close the hospice, citing lack of use.
The volunteers, some of whom had worked there for many years, protested. Meetings were held but to no avail.
Volunteers suggested that the sales should continue until the building was sold but again were refused. Saleable and generously donated stock was thrown into skips.
The stock could have been a continuing valuable source of income.
The Thames Hospice is thriving and now building a second, much-needed hospice where I believe there will be only one bed available for Oxfordshire patients.
I was fortunate I had the support of family and friends to nurse my husband at home until he died but others may not be so lucky.
The Sue Ryder hospice at home service cannot be there 24 hours a day as I was. We needed the War Memorial Hospital and we need a local hospice.
I understand the colossal cost of running the beautiful Joyce Grove building so sell it to the highest bidder but then build us a small, purpose-built hospice on the edge of the grounds. This would bring some peace of mind to relatives struggling to care for terminally ill loved ones. — Yours faithfully,
Birch Close, Sonning Common
Beds musn’t just vanish
Sir, — I agree wholeheartedly with Enid Light.
I, too, am distressed by the lack of communication concerning the provision for palliative and end-of-life care in South Oxfordshire.
I have voiced my concerns over several years together with family members of former patients and numerous volunteers who worked tirelessly to raise funds for Sue Ryder.
The charity’s representatives constantly turn out the response that people would prefer to be looked after in their own homes as if that was somehow a radical new notion.
Sadly, there comes a time when that is not always possible or desirable for the patient even with increased levels of outside assistance, as I know from personal experience.
The top floor of the new Townlands Memorial Hospital was originally designed to take these hospice beds until Sue Ryder unexpectedly pulled out, leaving that floor empty for several years.
Fortunately, the NHS is now going to make use of it, at least for 12 months.
We cannot allow this essential service to just disappear so please could we know where these hospice beds are going to be provided for the people of the local area now that Joyce Grove has been taken away from us?
We would welcome your support and publicity in resolving this ongoing situation, which is even more important now that public meetings cannot be held safely. — Yours faithfully,
Hop Gardens, Henley
Now more for parking
Rejoice! At long last it looks like we have a resolution to the top floor of Townlands Memorial Hospital (Standard, August 21).
Initially, it may only be a 12-month lease, or a pilot costing circa £100,000 as an official spokesman for the Royal Berkshire Hospital stated, but I am sure that this is only a “prenuptial agreement” prior to the cementing of a mutually beneficial long-term relationship.
However, I am concerned that the devil will be in the detail and that detail is car parking.
More staff and more patients equals more cars and can only mean a surge in parking on the site, comprising surgeries, a nursing home and the hospital, will be a problem.
That problem inevitably will lead to local residents’ protests and resentment… but there is a solution.
The joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan, which was endorsed by 82 per cent of residents in the referendum in 2016, recommended additional parking in the shape of a multi-tier car park at the King’s Road car park. Our South Oxfordshire district councillors’ overtures to get on with this have been continuously rebuffed by the district council on the basis that they know better as to Henley’s requirements and do not see it as an investment with a good return.
We now have the perfect “Trojan Horse” to deal with the objections of South Oxfordshire District Council.
Let Henley Town Council, the Royal Berkshire Hospital and the Oxfordshire Health Authorities unite in requesting that a multi-tier car park is built, either above or below ground.
As a group, they should be focused on moving into a partnership with the district council to build a structure to solve not only the car parking needs of Henley but those of the newly envisioned hospital.
This co-operative approach would ensure that any shared funding would not be overly onerous on any one partner and should more easily receive the necessary investment and planning approvals.
This is a solution for the long term and we need the town council to immediately embrace the Royal Berks and show them how much we appreciate their presence in the town.
Together we can win and defeat the doubters and neigh-sayers for a future Henley. — Yours faithfully,
Stoke Row Road, Peppard
Leave parking charges alone
Sir, — Visitors to Henley currently enjoy free parking in all Henley car parks from 3pm on Saturday and all day on Sunday, which encourages people to visit Henley’s shops, restaurants, pubs and cinema.
At the moment, everyone — visitor and shop owner alike — benefits from this arrangement.
The proposal to introduce parking charges on Sundays and increase all fees by 20p is a retrograde step and will cost visitors (and, by association, shop owners) far more than giving certain traders a paltry free hour to use at any time of the day.
This “exchange” is hardly a quid pro quo and would seem to benefit the minority over the majority.
It will, of course, make far more money for South Oxfordshire District Council, which is why it is so keen to back this proposal.
Sunday is a popular shopping day, especially for people working full-time with so little time for such “luxuries”, and is the one day of the week when there is that little bit of spare time for pleasurable activities such as shopping, which brings money to the town.
If parking charges are re-introduced on Sundays, I will not be coming to Henley to shop and, I suspect. nor will many other potential shoppers.
Please can the district council leave Henley’s beneficial parking charges just as they are for the benefit of everyone. — Yours faithfully,
HGVs bad for our town
Sir, — I am writing in support of the campaign for a traffic regulation order to ban all heavy goods vehicles using Henley as a short cut.
These lorries pollute the environment, damage buildings and roads and make our pavements feel unsafe to use.
The number of HGVs short-cutting through Henley continues throughout the night, picking up noticeably from 4am.
These lorries are almost the only vehicles on the roads at these hours, creating very considerable noise pollution in addition to all the other problems.
They do nothing for Henley and the local economy but damage the environment and infrastructure.
The economic cost to Henley makes the town a less attractive place to live, shop and visit cafés and restaurants and ultimately deters visitors and tourists. — Yours faithfully,
Bell Street, Henley
Sir, — As a relatively new resident of Bell Street, Henley, I am increasingly concerned by the vast number of large lorries hurtling through the town.
This is an historic town with some wonderful buildings, which I fear will suffer structural damage from the constant vibrations caused by these vehicles.
I have watched as alarmed pedestrians scuttle to safety from the articulated lorries as they take the sharp corner into New Street. This isn’t the peaceful image Henley wants for its visitors.
Let Henley go back to a safe town with low noise and air pollution, safe for our residents and visitors, and let our ancient buildings survive another 500 to 600 years.
It would be a travesty if we failed to put a halt to this potential deterioration in our living circumstance.
I wholeheartedly urge the authorities to impose a weight restriction for lorries entering the town. — Yours faithfully,
Bell Street, Henley
Good job well done
Sir, — I have noted recent work by a contractor to clean the stone paving in Henley.
Walking round the other day, I was struck how different the stones now looked — clean, bright and showing the natural colouring and patterns that make it so attractive.
Congratulations to the town council and the contractor for a job well done. Long may it continue.
Now all we need to do is keep vehicles off it to avoid the unsightly tyre marks. — Yours faithfully,
Drays Lane, Peppard
Still plant some trees
Sir, — With regard to your article about the A4155 “ghost junction” to the mothballed construction site at the former Thames Farm (Standard, August 21), I have written to the developer Taylor Wimpey and made the following points:
• The recent application for an extension of time to begin construction has attracted a lot of attention locally and more than 50 objections were registered on South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning portal within the first week of publication.
•Residents generally have no issue in relation to the delay in construction but are deeply concerned about delays to the tree replanting programme.
•Many believe it very inconsiderate that the community should be subjected to viewing a fenced-off, mothballed building site for an unspecified period.
I urged Taylor Wimpey to reconsider its tree re-planting plans and confirm to the community that the re-planting will be completed by February next year, irrespective of delays in respect of the construction site itself.
The developer has undertaken to respond to me by September 4. — Yours faithfully,
Councillor David Bartholomew
Sonning Common division, Oxfordshire County Council
Cut speed limits now
I refer to your article concerning the continuing prevarication on the part of Oxfordshire County Council in relation to the implementation of the speed reduction on the roads through Crays Pond (Standard, August 14).
The limits are currently 40mph on the B471 and B4526.
Despite traffic surveys being undertaken previously, the council now wishes to carry out yet a further costly survey next month.
What was missing from your article is that there is absolutely no need for this to be undertaken, as in accordance with the Department for Transport circular 01/2013, the default position is that 30mph should be the norm in villages, in accordance with this national guidance.
In addition to the staggered B471/B4526 junction, where bumps and near misses are commonplace, there are real dangers to residents, walkers, cyclists and the local cub scouts due to poor lines of sight, no street lighting and the lack of footpaths.
Of particular concern is vehicular access on to the B4526 from Beechwood Close and the Oratory Preparatory School, plus further along the road at Flint House, the police rehabilitation centre.
There are no street lights nor any pavements or footpaths on the roads under discussion — all very dangerous on a 40mph road where drivers regularly exceed this. I believe a speed of more than 80mph has been previously recorded.
In 2017, I was the victim of an assault on the B4526.
While I was walking my dog, a vehicle approached west from the direction of the prep school on the B4526 travelling at what I thought to be over 60 mph.
I signalled to the driver to slow down and he screeched to a halt just before the junction.
I politely advised him that the speed limit was 40mph. He replied aggressively: “No, it’s not, it’s the national speed limit.”
I replied to the contrary and pointed to the 40mph signs.
He then lost it completely, tried to headbutt me and then he swore and racially abused me. His parting shot was, “I know where you live, you xxxxxxxx”.
I reported this to the police and the driver, who was local to Goring, was interviewed and subsequently cautioned.
I have already raised this matter with John Howell MP. His office just passes the matter on to the county council.
The additional traffic survey is not required and is a waste of council tax.
They should simply get on and do their job without further delay and procrastination. — Yours faithfully,
Water leak never fixed
Sir, — We are constantly being told we must save water to reduce costs and help save the planet.
There is a leaking pipe outside our property in Woodcote that has been going for probably three years or more.
Thames Water’s engineers turn up occasionally to look at it and sometimes even dig the road up in an attempt to mend it, in vain.
Each time the “backfill” gang turn up one or two days later to fill the hole in again with the leak still going.
Then the tarmac gang arrive a few days after that to resurface over the backfill.
I do not think we have ever had the same inspector or team of repair engineers twice.
I keep reporting the leak but to no avail. Apart from the huge loss of water and danger to road users, it is an extraordinary display of gross inefficiency.
Perhaps someone in charge at Thames Water reads your letters pages and might take action to resolve this important matter. — Yours faithfully,
South Stoke Road, Woodcote
A spokesman for Thames Water said: “The pipe is a private supply to properties on the road and not the responsibility of Thames Water.
“We have previously fixed a leak as a courtesy but subsequent leaks on the pipe, which is in a poor state of repair, will be the responsibility of the residents it supplies.
“We are contacting customers on the road to inform them that they will need to arrange the repair themselves.”
Help stop badger cull
Sir, — I am writing to make your readers aware that the Government is considering licensing badger culls in Oxfordshire from September.
This is to manage the spread of bovine tuberculosis, or bTB.
I would urge anyone who has concerns about this to email our MP, John Howell, as I have done.
Vaccination of badgers against bTB has proved a much more cost effective and humane method of managing bTB in these iconic and protected mammals.
I am hoping Mr Howell will review the science and vaccination trials to see that killing badgers is not the best way forward. — Yours faithfully,
Howe Hill, Watlington
Sir, — With all due respect to your correspondent William Fitzhugh (Standard, August 21), it would be a big ask to condense a near century of misdemeanours by the BBC into two paragraphs.
Furthermore, as an avid fan of your letters page, I believe the intellectual capacity of your readers and contributors will exceed that of a gnat.
And I don’t think the BBC bosses will be exactly chuffed at Mr Fitzhugh’s defence of the Beeb because he seemed to be saying “yes, we know all about its faults but so what, big deal, where is the story here?”
Well, if I can take a leaf out of Auntie’s book and blow my own trumpet, my letter wasn’t just “a moan about the BBC”. There have been plenty of these over the years in the press and elsewhere.
But as far as I know, this was the first time that a case was argued (and backed up by factual evidence) that the BBC is not only in breach of its charter obligations of impartial public service broadcasting, but it was actually set up as a bulwark against change to the status quo and especially of a leftist deviation.
So all the talk from Lord Reith to Lord Hall and his successor Tim Davie about the BBC’s role being to inform, educate and entertain with strict adherence to impartiality is strictly for the birds.
As, of course, is the mantra about it being a national broadcaster as it’s not state-funded when the TV licence — backed by legislation — is nothing but subterfuge to get round the charge that the BBC is nothing but the Establishment’s echo chamber.
On his appointment eight years ago, Lord Hall undertook to repair the BBC’s reputation following the Newsnight report which led to the late Lord McAlpine being accused of historical child abuse.
In September last year, after the BBC had doggedly defended its televising of the police raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s home in his absence, the corporation lost in the High Court and agreed to pay the singer £2million in final settlement.
The BBC also lost all its gender equality tribunal cases, thousands of jobs have been cut, there are no more free TV licences for the over-75s and the red button service was suspended but Lord Hall still claims to be leaving the BBC in a better position than when he took over. Quite frankly, he should be stepping down. — Yours faithfully,
Gosbrook Road, Caversham
Stop ruining the economy
Sir, — Although covid-19 cases may have risen slightly, the number of deaths has continued to decline and is now as close to zero as makes no difference.
Can anyone tell me why our government persists in measures that wreck the economy and make our lives a misery? — Yours faithfully,
Wootton Road, Henley
New car, but an old song
Sir, — The television advertisement by Ford promoting the qualities of its latest model concludes with music and the lines 21st Century Schizoid Man.
This is a track from a King Crimson album, Court of the Crimson King, which was published in, wait for it,1969! — Yours faithfully,
31 August 2020
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