Saturday, 23 January 2021

Your letters...

Don’t waste opportunity

Sir, — Once again we are in lockdown. Anyone who suggests this is not necessary is behaving irresponsibly. The rules need to be followed.

There are no easy solutions but the Government has made mistake after mistake. If it had listened to its expert advisers, it would have imposed a lockdown two weeks ago for a shorter period and almost certainly would have saved many lives.

Whether this was through incompetence or for ideological reasons, it will be for a future judicial inquiry to decide.

What is clear, according to the evidence provided by medical experts, epidemiologists and behavioural scientists represented on the SAGE group and on Independent SAGE, is that a number of steps should be taken immediately if we are not to be facing a continuing see-saw of rising deaths and lockdowns.

Firstly, the lockdown will not succeed in halting the pandemic unless it is accompanied by a serious determination to test, trace, isolate and provide support to those for whom isolation will mean a serious loss of income.

So far, the number of people who have been traced and are isolating is pitifully low.

The task must be taken away from private companies and individuals, many of whom have been awarded contracts without proper tendering and simply do not have the expertise for the task.

Instead, this crucial work should be devolved, with adequate resources, to our local health services which know their communities and can provide the personal interaction that is desperately needed.

They must be given adequate financial resources and the support they need to ensure those carrying the virus can be traced and helped to isolate.

Secondly, retired teachers should be recruited to assist existing staff and reduce class sizes.

At the same time public buildings and other suitable spaces could be temporally rented as provisional classrooms to allow children greater space and further reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

Secondary school pupils who are themselves at risk or who are living in vulnerable households should be immediately provided with the technology — laptops or tablets — they need for online learning.

Thirdly, university students should be given the choice to either work and live on campus or to study online from home again, reducing the risk of spreading the virus.

Fourthly, care home staff should be guaranteed adequate personal protective equipment and all the cleaning support they need to make care homes safe.

Testing should be made available to those visiting — it is inhuman and callous to forbid people from visiting elderly, lonely relatives in care homes.

Finally, how can it be fair to prevent people from visiting their elderly relatives while others fly into the country with no serious enforcement of quarantine? Either all unnecessary flights should be stopped or quarantine enforced.

Of course, this will cost money but to flip flop from crisis to crisis will cost even more. What we seem to have is a Government that makes decisions on the hoof, trying to please its supporters, favours private companies rather than our amazing NHS and allows irresponsible behaviour within its own ranks.

These are not my ideas but a summary of independent experts.

If it wishes to have any respect, the Government must not waste this lockdown but act in the public interest to halt the pandemic, — Yours faithfully,

Peter Luff

St Mark’s Road, Henley

Do you know frailty score?

Sir, — With coronavirus becoming more of a threat daily, the older generation might benefit from some help in deciding whether to go to hospital or stay at home if infected.

In the spring the NHS used the clinical frailty score to decide if patients over 65 should get specialised help.

As people aged, they could automatically score five points and with a couple of additional medical problems were soon up to eight points, meaning they just received ward care — presumably left to fade away and die.

So with more understanding of the disease are these guidelines still in place? Should not everyone be aware of their frailty score and hospitals regularly inform the local population of the current situation?

It benefits no one if people opt to use up a precious hospital bed in the belief they would be better cared for than at home if this is not the case.

By staying at home patients can at least be properly fed and not grow weak through malnutrition and dehydration, which can happen in hospitals at the best of times as overworked ward staff put food at the bedside and remove it hours later untouched. — Yours faithfully,

Name and address supplied

Misleading data slides

Sir, — It is a good thing that those responsible for producing the data slides that were presented at the lockdown briefing on Saturday, October 31 were not subject to the scrutiny of the Financial Conduct Authority.

If they had been they would probably be facing charges of mis-selling. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Fairweather

Rotherfield Greys

No one wants these homes

Sir, — Thank you for the invitation to write to you regarding Bloor Homes’ proposed development at Lucy’s Farm in Henley (Standard, October 30).

A number of people have discussed this matter and would like to submit the following points:

Bloor Homes already has a proposal to build approximately 85 houses on a Gillotts playing field. When this was discussed again a few weeks ago, many of us instantly realised it was likely to be the forerunner to a fresh proposal at Lucy’s Farm.

How right we were as the proposal to build 100 houses at Lucy’s Farm was discussed at the council meeting of October 26.

The Gillotts playing field is the “gateway” to the Harpsden Valley.

Both the above developments have met unfavourable public opinion in the past yet Bloor Homes keeps pushing.

The bridleway that runs from the top of Peppard Lane to Gillotts School was resurfaced last year in order to:

• Create a cycle path from the 180 new houses at Highlands Farm to Henley town.

• Improve conditions for walkers, dog walkers, the many children who use the path to go to school and horse riders (by consultation).

Are we seriously expected to believe that years of crossing this path with heavy construction vehicles would not cause maximum disruption to all?

The impact of these developments would cause huge destruction to the conservation of the varied wildlife this area has to offer.

It would have a disastrous effect on the infrastructure of a town already under severe pressure.

These developments are not urgent. In fact, many would argue they are solely about profit for the developer.

Therefore, until proper public meetings are permissible, the town council should postpone any further discussion and wait until the community is able to represent itself fairly. Anyone who has been to Shiplake from Henley recently will be aware of the urbanisation Shiplake has undergone. This has occurred after years of wrangling.

The Thames Farm development happened against the advice of every single authority which had been consulted and by the community at large.

A number of us are now ready to fight as a collective to see that this is not repeated at Harpsden.

In conclusion, not one of us has yet met the person who wishes to see the Harpsden Valley become a housing development. — Yours faithfully,

Domenic Bertelli, Peppard Lane, Henley, Justine and Stuart Hutchinson, Queen Street, Henley, Mary Imlay, Watlington, Jacqui Hughes, Fair Mile, Henley, Omer and Helen Karim, Peppard Lane, Henley, Muriel Quinsac, Greys Road, Henley, Peter and Steffen Collings, Stonor, Christine Wright, Fair Mile, Henley Stephen and Molly Val Dez, Peppard Lane, Henley, Madeleine Farmar, Ancastle Green, Henley, Beverley Thomas, Northfield End, Henley, Doreen Taylor, Fair Mile, Henley, Greg and Jo Reed, Peppard Lane, Henley, Jeremy Gaunt, Greys Road, Henley

Just stick to the plan

Sir, — I understand, through your pages, that Gillotts School in Henley want to raise money by selling off some of its land to a housing developer.

This will, of course, have the effect of bringing additional people into Henley, increasing pressure on our already busy surgeries and making town centre parking, roads and the sewage system (not to mention the unpalatable water supplied to my home at such low pressure that I require a pump in order to have a first floor shower) even worse.

We will also require more school places for the children of the extra families so Gillotts will have to build more classrooms.

But, whoops, as the governors have decided to sell the land they have nowhere to put said classrooms so won’t be able to accommodate the extra places they are responsible for creating.

Please can our neighbourhood plan, thought about in depth and voted on by Henley residents, be used as our planning blueprint? — Yours faithfully,

Sally Meadows

Vicarage Road, Henley

Worst option possible

Sir, — Along with, it appears, virtually every other resident of Shiplake, I am very concerned by the proposal of Taylor Wimpey, the prospective developer of the Thames Farm site, to run a stormwater drain right down through the middle of the village via Station Road and Mill Lane into the so-called Lash Brook.

I am glad to see that the decision upon the proposal has been delayed, albeit for the limited purpose of requiring the developer to carry out a flood risk assessment. That is surely tantamount to putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, isn’t it? The flood risk is but one of the potential problems. There surely needs to be a proper environmental assessment covering the risk of damage or disruption to wildlife, the substantial risk of pollution from chemicals used on the Thames Farm development — people washing their cars and cleaning their drives, etc — and the very considerable nuisance likely to be caused to us all over a long period of time, months I would guess, by the necessary construction work.

So far as the latter issue is concerned, what I find impossible to comprehend is the proposed route of the drain.

A cursory glance at a map makes it obvious the best and shortest route would be straight down Bolney Lane and thence directly into the river through one of the adjacent properties.

Bolney Lane, at present in a parlous state of disrepair, might benefit from reinstatement work and the construction work would cause virtually no inconvenience to the residents of the village.

If this route would cross private property, some altruism by the owners in permitting access for the work on reasonable terms would be appreciated by us all.

Is any such work really necessary? Surely the fact that the chalk structures of the Thames Valley is prone to sink holes is not new.

Has Taylor Wimpey properly and fully considered alternative forms of construction of the foundations of the proposed houses or alternative means of draining away the surface water?

The more one looks at the issue the more it seems that the solution proposed by Taylor Wimpey is the worst possible. We deserve better than that. — Yours faithfully,

Nick Blandy

Quarry Lane, Shiplake

Biased vision not wanted

Sir, — I write with reference to your articles on the very real drainage and flooding concerns arising from the Thames Farm development in Shiplake.

That development was caused by the changed national planning system for which John Howell claims part of the “credit” and by the planning problems at South Oxfordshire District Council under the previous Conservative administration.

That situation was aggravated by pressure at county council level for the bloated forecasts of the 2014 Strategic Housing Market Assessment and the habitual green flag given by the Conservative-controlled county council’s highways department’s assessments.

The development was rejected by the district council in 2016 but approved on appeal. It was forced through appeal using the “tilted balance” feature in the national regime in favour of developers.

Its approval was, however, subject to a number of conditions, including as regards drainage.

Now, years later, the original developer has sold on the land and the new owners Taylor Wimpey have discovered very serious voids, sinkholes and “solution pipes” in the subsoil of the site.

The developer is seeking permission to “discharge” the drainage condition with an extraordinary plan.

On discovering this, I wrote a strong response to the planning officer, raising serious concerns arising from this proposal and supporting residents and Shiplake Parish Council in asking for a thorough review.

Mr Howell knows the planning system well and is assisted by Angie Patterson, who also knows the planning procedures at the district council very well.

However, he sought to pass off responsibility with some gross misrepresentations (Standard, October 30).

Firstly, he suggested that a public meeting should have been organised by the district council on the matter as the first step.

He knows very well the rules under which beleaguered planning officers have to work, given his national regime for planning.

He also knows the constitution and process of the district council itself, which has certainly not changed in respect of the process for discharge of conditions.

Mr Howell implied that the absence of a different process was “cowardice” and a political matter rather that the procedural requirement of his regime.

The planning officers have to explore such matters and are required to do so on the basis of sound evidence. Neither they nor councillors can just divert the process at will.

He then went on to make a more generalised attack. In the past, he publicly opposed the Conservatives’ local plan and made it clear that it was not what he would have done and that immense opposition to it had filled his mailbox with complaints.

In the May 2019 local council elections, 32 district Conservatives were reduced to just nine — because of the local plan. Subsequently, after lobbying and input from vested interests, it seems Mr Howell was leaned upon by his whips and county colleagues and changed his stance.

The position of the Conservative group on the county council is that mass development, “Londonisation” and large-scale inward migration from elsewhere is the best plan for Oxfordshire, thereby increasing the population massively. This is a policy that fills landowners and developers with joy.

The influence of a range of interests then brought pressure to bear on the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick to use his extensive powers (by convention usually used sparingly and in accordance with precedents) to go over the heads of the elected councillors and dictate that the old Conservatives’ local plan should be forced through examination. This despite it having been crushed and rejected at the elections.

Actually, the councillors who were elected have done their damnedest to reduce the harm previously planned.

In respect of the Thames Farm drainage proposal, Mr Howell wrote to district council leader Sue Cooper.

In reply, he received a copy of my strong response to the planning officer.

I had already made sure that Councillor Cooper and Councillor Anne-Marie Simpson (cabinet member for planning) were appraised of the situation and had a copy of my material. To the full extent possible, under the imposed national regime, the district council will follow a proper process to ensure that residents’ proper concerns are thoroughly assessed.

Only once the facts are fully explored will decisions be made.

In making wild and groundless accusations, Mr Howell is not addressing the needs of Shiplake residents. Instead, he is playing petty party politics ahead of the county council elections in May next year.

Those elections will be substantially about whether the Conservative-controlled county council’s vision of Londonising Oxfordshire overall — and South Oxfordshire in particular — will be supported by the electorate.

Recently, Mr Howell commented on the Government White Paper called Planning for the Future, which proposes to:

• Make the planning system much more extreme

• Hike the already high housing targets for the South-East by a further 50 per cent

• Weigh things more in favour of developers

• Constrain input from residents and councillors.

In his comments, Mr Howell suggested that South Oxfordshire as we have known it is finished.

He said: “What is missing is any vision for the future apart from one where the area becomes a fossilised remnant of a long-lost rural idyll.”

He knows very well why the new district council has been blocked from putting together a local plan vision — it is precisely because of the diktat from Mr Jenrick.

In my eyes, that diktat took partisan intervention over local democracy to a new low. Of course South Oxfordshire should not be preserved in aspic as a caricature of “Midsomer”, but I suspect that the vast majority of us do not want the rural character and environment of South Oxfordshire to be trashed by some fast-buck Londonisation scheme.

The residents of Shiplake and elsewhere in South Oxfordshire have nothing to fear from its councillors or officers who are making every effort to do the right thing. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Leigh Rawlins (Liberal Democrat)

South Oxfordshire District Council, Woodlands Road, Sonning Coomon

Careful and considerate

Sir, — In your article on the Thames Farm development at Shiplake (Standard, October 30), John Howell MP was critical of South Oxfordshire District Council but his comments appear to demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of the planning process and the situation at hand.

For the benefit of our residents, let me clarify several facts around the current planning position on the Thames Farm site.

As many of your readers will know, the site has a long and complex planning history, which culminated in planning permission for housing being granted on appeal by an independent planning inspector.

We are now considering details submitted in line with the conditions imposed by the planning inspector.

Many local residents have expressed their concerns about drainage issues at the site. While we’re not required to carry out consultation or publish comments in this situation, we have published all the information we’ve received so far on our website in the interests of transparency and keeping local residents informed.

In your article, Mr Howell claimed the council had done “too little too late” and yet no decision has been taken on the acceptability of the drainage details.

We have asked for more information and a flood risk assessment from the developer. Once we’ve received the assessment, we will upload it on to our website and residents will be able to make comments for a minimum of 14 days.

We will then consider the drainage information, flood risk assessment and residents’ comments and continue to work closely with expert consultees from relevant organisations, including Oxfordshire County Council, the Environment Agency and Thames Water.

This seems to me like the process working exactly as it is supposed to, so I am unsure what Mr Howell is so unhappy about.

I trust this letter confirms that we are considering this matter very seriously, with appropriate care, and ensuring that our local residents are able to record their views and contribute to the process, which is consistent with the way conditions on all planning applications are dealt with. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Anne-Marie Simpson (Liberal Democrat)

Cabinet member for planning, South Oxfordshire District Council, Moulsford

Too late for debate now

M Reid correctly identifies science as the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence (Standard, November 6).

It is a shame that he immediately goes on to direct personal remarks at the chairman of Henley Town Council’s climate emergency working group. That is not scientific or helpful.

Returning to the science, it is correct practice to cite references when you use a fact or an idea that you obtained from that source.

M Reid states that the International Panel on Climate Change says that “there is no evidence to support climate change as the cause of extreme weather events.” No reference is provided.

My searches suggest the opposite is true. This IPPC paper is clear:

“There is evidence that some extremes have changed as a result of anthropogenic [man-made] influences, including increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.

“It is likely that anthropogenic influences have led to warming of extreme daily minimum and maximum temperatures at the global scale. There is medium confidence that anthropogenic influences have contributed to intensification of extreme precipitation at the global scale.”

The fact is that the science of climate change is no longer in doubt and is based on analysis of the evidence.

Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal:
evidence shows that whatever metric you use, recent changes from global temperatures, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, decreased snow cover, sea level rises, declining arctic ice sheets, extreme events and ocean acidification all show that the changes are real and represent a danger.

The science is also unequivocal that the changes are anthropogenic:

“Understanding global warming of 1.5C: Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8C to 1.2C.

“Global warming is likely to reach 1.5C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate (high confidence).”

The time for debate on the existence of climate change and its man-made causes is over.

The debate now is how we urgently respond to the impending disaster. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Ian Reissmann

Henley Town Council (and member of the climate emergency working group)

This climate must change

Editor, — I have read with great interest the debate around climate change in this paper.

However, as a scientist, I am dismayed about the unsubstantiated claims made on both sides of the argument without any references being provided for the reader to follow up and construct their own views. In the scientific method evidence hierarchy, opinion is always on the lowest tier.

Providing the sources would be of great service to Henley residents and would permit any radical claims to be verified.

This would be in the interest of all parties and perhaps should be a future editorial requirement and would inform the debate. — Yours faithfully,

Professor Gary Butler


Question of belief

Sir, — J Lacey says nothing about the physics of carbon dioxide and how it interacts with infrared radiation from the sun (Standard, November 6).

Instead she lists the usual authority figures and organisations that support her beliefs and uses second-hand, unsubstantiated character assassination of unnamed skeptics (not the pejorative “deniers”) of man-made global warming.

If you want to know who is destroying the planet and making a fortune out of it, then I suggest you watch Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans about the environmental destruction being caused by so-called renewable energy.

The increase in deforestation of the rainforests started in 2013, six years before President Bolsonaro took over. Although some deforestation continues, it is a fraction of the early millennia and there is still 80 per cent standing.

If you want to know more about the Brazilian rainforests then I suggest you read Michael Shellenberger’s meticulously referenced book Apocalypse Never.

I realise that climate alarm activists will refuse to believe any facts put before them that question their beliefs. However, I hope that my letters have at least assisted other readers. — Yours faithfully,

M Reid


Good deals jeopardised

Sir, — Now that the Prime Minister’s Internal Market Bill has been roundly defeated in the House of Lords, please would John Howell MP explain why (or whether) he considers it worth supporting when doing so will jeopardise any deals with the EU and America as well as the Good Friday Agreement and Britain’s international reputation? — Yours faithfully,

Helen Watson

Laureate Gardens, Henley

Don’t stop the bus

Sir, — I agree with John Williams that it would be a tragedy if the Henley bus service was to be withdrawn.

However, as under the current covid rules we are encouraged not to travel, I trust that usage levels of the service over the next few weeks will not be used to assess the long-term viability of the service. — Yours faithfully,

Peter C Stone

Blandy Road, Henley

Remember, pillar’s listed

With reference to the gate pillar at the former Sue Ryder hospice (Joyce Grove) in Nettlebed that was damaged when a van driven by an external contractor exited the grounds (Standard, November 6), I just wish to point out that the entrance gate is listed so do hope that the repair will be done sympathetically. — Yours faithfully,

Avril Bryant

Busgrove Lane, Stoke Row

Amazing run time...

Sir, — I should like to congratulate Tim Fundell who. as reported in last week’s edition, set a world-beating time of 27 minutes and 85 seconds for the Icehouse Hill Challenge.

I imagine that this achievement, which shattered the time barrier, will cause leading local firm Bremont to recalibrate all watches coming off their production line.

Keep up the accurate reporting, Henley Standard, otherwise I shall have to cancel my subscription. — Yours faithfully,

Geoff Thomas

Mill Road, Shiplake

The editor responds: “It should have read ‘...25 seconds...’.” Sorry.

True origin of bridge stones

Sir, — I wish politely to take issue with Thomas Octavius in Hidden Henley concerning the provenance of the stones lining Conway’s Bridge (Standard, November 6).

These stones are called sarsens. They came from Jersey and are part of what is called a “dolmen” to be found in the grounds of Templecombe.

A dolmen is a stone female monument, in several forms, dating back to the neolithic age. There are many of these monuments scattered over the Channel Islands and Jersey in particular.

In 1788 an entire dolmen was gifted to General Henry Seymour Conway of Park Place. He had been governor general of the Channel Islands at a very difficult time in their history and when he returned home he was gifted this monument in appreciation of his governorship.

He organised and paid for the shipment of the stones back to England and had the monument re-erected in his own grounds. However, there were some stones left over and these are the ones that now grace each side of his bridge on Wargrave Road.

Incidentally, I keep a watchful eye over these stones should Wokingham Borough Council be minded, in the name of health and safety, to remove them. — Yours faithfully,

Enid Light

Wargrave Road, Henley

Model behaviour

Sir, — I would like to thank the anonymous donor who posted a model Citroën 2CV through my letterbox.

In these darks times, it was a lovely example of thoughtfullness, which I hope will give all your readers as much pleasure as it did me. — Yours faithfully,

David Smewing

St Mark’s Road, Henley

P.S. If the donor contacts me, I will rename a resdesigned bonnet in the shape of a diving porpoise after them.

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