Tuesday, 02 March 2021

Your letters...

Destroying lovely town

Sir, — I am horrified by the proposals to build on both Drawback Hill and the Gillotts School sports field (Standard, February 12).

Like many people, I have wonderful memories of sledging on Drawback Hill and of participating in various sports and sponsored runs on fields owned by the school.

Neither of these sites is suitable for such development and if either proposal is permitted, this would widen the floodgates for continued development on greenfield sites (instead of on brownfield sites) in and around Henley.

These are some reasons why these proposals must be stopped:

1. Losing these beautiful green sites contradicts the Government’s own policy of environmental protection and would damage wildlife and further reduce threatened species. The green belt needs to be protected for future generations.

2. Not only those people living near these proposed developments would be negatively affected (their semi-countrified location would be gone forever) but all townspeople.

3. There is already a disproportionate amount of development taking place or planned in Henley, which has already changed the town for the worse.

4. These proposed developments would massively increase the amount of traffic going through Henley and cause even more congestion and air pollution.

5. There would be huge additional pressure on the schools, doctors’ surgeries and other public services.

6. If allowed, this would set a dangerous precedent for yet more building on fields, which would add to Henley’s diminution as an attractive town.

7. Access to the Gillotts site would mean destroying a protected copse and a bridleway and the school would lose far more in amenities than it would gain in money if it sells.

The sports field is a priceless asset and the sale of such an asset is short-sighted; once sold, that asset is gone forever.

When I attended Gillotts, the facilities were basic/acceptable, if not top-notch, but what of that? I benefited from excellent teaching and teachers, not showpiece classrooms. Why is there such a different, demanding attitude now?

Henley’s infrastructure is already creaking at the seams and this little market town cannot continue absorbing new-builds without damage to its very fabric and being.

The residents of Henley need to be aware that only the developers and landowners stand to benefit financially from these proposals — Henley will not benefit. — Yours faithfully,

Nicola Robinson

Sonning Common

Democracy or developer

Sir — Elizabeth McMurrugh’s letter opposing the application by Inspired Villages to build a so-called “retirement village” on the edge of Sonning Common (Standard, February 12) expressed the view of the village as well.

As a member of Sonning Common Parish Council and chairman of the working party that is revising our neighbourhood plan, I assure Elizabeth and everyone else that we will be doing our utmost to defeat the development company at the forthcoming planning inquiry, which is scheduled to begin on April 27.

To do so effectively means that we have had to secure what is known as Rule 6 status at the inquiry, enabling us to challenge the developer’s case through cross-examination.

And that — in the crazy world of planning — requires us to employ a professional consultant and a barrister.

The cost of all this is likely to exceed £30,000, money that the parish council would very much prefer to spend on improving the state of the village and enhancing its facilities.

So why do we feel so strongly that this battle must be fought whatever the cost?

The plan produced by Inspired Villages envisages putting 133 flats, known as extra-care or assisted living, in a complex on a large field beyond the eastern edge of the village.

The field is in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and building on it would have a devastating impact on a precious stretch of countryside that is visible across a wide area. The development would create a serious traffic problem on what is still a narrow country lane.

Given that it is designed for the over-65s, it would also impose a significant additional burden on our health centre, which is already facing challenging capacity issues.

We have nothing against providing specialised accommodation for this age group. Our neighbourhood plan working group is doing its best to allocate a site in a far more suitable location for a much smaller and more appropriate development and negotiations to achieve that are continuing.

But we also feel that our top priority is housing for younger people and families. That means smaller houses for those starting on the housing ladder and that is what we are focusing on.

To build in the AONB requires a developer to demonstrate that exceptional circumstances apply.

The key argument deployed by Inspired Villages to support its plan is that there is a shortage of this kind of accommodation in South Oxfordshire, which it is seeking to address, and that this “need” amounts to exceptional circumstances.

Many, including myself, believe that the real need in our society is for housing for people who don’t have it, not for those who own properties already and wish to downsize and are prepared to pay the £600,000-plus that these flats will cost.

The total housing allocation for Sonning Common in the South Oxfordshire District Counci’s new local plan is less than 100 and that is the target our working party is aiming for.

Given that Inspired Villages wants to put up 133 flats, it is pretty obvious that if it wins, our neighbourhood plan would become pretty well pointless. The district council quite rightly rejected these proposals and we are confident it will put up a very strong case at the inquiry.

We will be supporting this and making sure that the voice of Sonning Common and its people are heard.

To help meet the cost of the inquiry we have set up a crowdfunding appeal, urging our residents to back us financially as well as morally. Visit www.crowdfunder.co.uk/save-our-village-from-developer-greed

I would be delighted if your readers who share our belief that local democracy is worth standing up for felt able to contribute as well. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Tom Fort

Sonning Common Parish Council

Can’t afford lockdowns

Sir, — In my letter of January 29, I suggested that we need to be conscious of not going down the lockdown path again if a new virus is discovered.

The fact that we are now panicking over variants of the existing virus proves my point.

Again, the Government has failed to carry out proper risk assessment and respond accordingly to the actual risk of dying for the vast majority of people.

When you are more likely to die in a car crash as a healthy under 65-year-old, that really should be enough to get things in perspective, something we have suddenly lost all concept of, otherwise we should ban driving immediately.

The news that in December, excess deaths, non-covid related, exceeded the normal expected death rate by 650 people in one week (British Medical Journal www.bmj.com/content/372/
bmj.n44) further corroborates the fact that we are simply killing other people by these lockdown measures, not to mention the economic impact which will kill many more worldwide over the next five years.

Please can we get some perspective? On average, pre-pandemic, 1,762 people in this country die every day from all sorts of diseases and unfortunate circumstances, many before their time.

Some experts predict the actual death rate from covid-19 will be as low as 0.1 per cent, (i.e.. 99.9 per cent of people survive it), the same as common flu.

Even in July last year a study showed that at least 3,629 people would die unnecessarily from untreated cancers and that was only the statistic on the most common four cancers (The Lancet www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(20)30388-0/fulltext)

Now, eight months later, it is estimated that we have created 80,000 avoidable deaths which will happen in the coming months and years and this figure will continue to rise.

I hear people justify the lockdown because covid-19 affects younger people now.

In 2020, the death toll among the under-45s was still only 805 out of 80,830 (Office for National Statistics) and 88 per cent of those 805 people had serious underlying health issues.

That’s not to dismiss their deaths as inconsequential, but the fact is for a healthy under 45-year-old, the likelihood of dying from coronavirus is miniscule or, to put in layman’s terms, you’re 70 times more likely to die of cancer and, given that only four per cent of cancer deaths in the UK are attributed to the under-50s, that’s a pretty stark stat and an incredibly low risk.

The overall mortality rate is, at worst, 1.4 per cent (given that the most conservative model on actual number of infections versus positive tests is two times that actual) and, at best, will be the same as flu.

We cannot afford continual lockdowns. The world economy is almost at a standstill and if we don’t change our attitude to relatively low-risk viruses we will implode. — Yours faithfully,

G Hoff

Nettlebed

Take masks off outdoors

We read with much interest the letter from our friends and neighbours, Margaret Moola and Elaine Williams, and agree with them on every point (Standard, February 12).

Over the years, we have had many challenging and lively debates with them, all the more interesting and fun when we agree to disagree.

Regarding the use and misuse of masks, we would like to make the following observations.

In the middle of March last year, like most people of our age, we hunkered down, spring-cleaned the house, sorted out the garage, allowed our families, who were so frightened for us, to do our shopping and went for a walk round the block each day.

After a few weeks we realised our mental and physical health was suffering so we drove to walk by the river at Caversham or Henley, enjoying the river life, the birds and the trees.

At that time, back in April, nobody was wearing masks outside. Families, couples and individuals were out. People our age stopped at a safe distance to talk and exchange greetings.

During this last lockdown things have changed dramatically, the majority of people by the river are now wearing masks. They no longer stop to chat and you cannot see if they are smiling. Indeed, they avoid eye contact. The solidarity that was so evident seems to have gone.

We understand the need to wear masks in confined spaces, if only to reassure others, but wearing them outside is ridiculous, unnecessary and positively injurious to our health and wellbeing. — Yours faithfully,

Chrissie and Derek Godfrey

Birch Close, Sonning Common

Debate not allowed

Sir, — “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (Voltaire 1694-78)

A hundred years later that very idea was even enshrined in the American Constitution as freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech/expression is the way your mind is allowed to breathe, to evolve. It is the basis of the search for truth, the method of discovery, the way we can explore the efficacy of actions and ideas.

Yet in our society at the moment discourse and debate, the presentation and deliberation over actions and ideas, is being vilified, criminalised and purged.

If you have access to information you can make your own judgment.

A method of self-defence by authoritarian regimes is to stifle communication, disrupt discourse and analysis, prevent the discovery of facts and deny truth.

Right now if you ask a question in pursuit of truth, instead of an answer, you get criticised, condemned and censured. You get vilified and cancelled for not following the narrative, not taking part in the agreed story.

Why? Because those that create the narrative have too much too lose. They have grabbed fame, money and power and are afraid that when the surface patina is scratched, their fraud will be discovered.

The most dangerous thing you can do right now is ask questions and demand answers.

Stay safe and well and take care of each other. — Yours faithfully,

Edward Sierpowski

Henley

Questioning is essential

Sir — This is a relatively brief response, with thanks to G Hoff for his original, long letter (Standard, January 29) in which very real concerns about many aspects of the current crisis were expressed — relating to the UK’s economy and citizens and the world at large.

In his brief letter last week, he stated: “Such a serious matter cannot be summed up in two sentences, I am afraid.”

We would like to agree absolutely with this statement. There are many different concerns and issues arising that require investigation and discussion, none of which is seemingly being covered by the mainstream media.

Testing and data issues, which require very close examination and dissection, are being used as a basis for political decisions that are impacting negatively on our population and our economy.

It puzzled us that, given the seriousness of the situation in the UK (and the world) and the ruinous direction in which our country is being driven (aptly expressed in the House of Commons by Desmond Swayne MP in his rhetorical question to Boris Johnson “What is happening to our country?”), Stephanie Clarke was not prepared to read the whole of G Hoff’s letter of January 29 simply because it was long.

The world has never before faced such a dire situation so should we not all, at the very least, be curious about what is happening and seek answers to some of the many questions and anomalies that the situation exposes?

If this is not the case, then what personal responsibility should we take? In our opinion, simply doing what we are told is just not good enough anymore.

Surely history has taught us to be cautious about following instructions before we have considered what the end result might be. We are heading in a direction which has massive implications for future generations.

As the responsible adults of today, it is incumbent upon us to be actively involved by asking questions, seeking answers and raising concerns where we find discrepancies and/or misleading information — exactly as G Hoff did in his original letter.

Simply conforming to the instructions of the day, without undertaking an in-depth exploration of whether the basis for these is sound — and can be shown to be so — is no longer an option. — Yours faithfully,

Margaret Moola and Elaine Williams

Sonning Common

Covid rules for cyclists

Sir, — I’m not sure what point Paddy Jackson was trying to make in his letter headlined “Are cyclists exempt then?” (Standard, February 12).

Cyclists are currently allowed to exercise within their bubble or with one other in their local area (whatever that means) — no specific distance is specified. — Yours faithfully,

Colin Garnham

Rotherfield Peppard

Emotional and insulting

Sir, — It seems your Thought for the Week writer Rev Canon Kevin Davies experienced an emotional tsunami that swept away all reason while waiting in a hospital car park for two people who were visiting an elderly, vulnerable patient (Standard, February 12).

There is no other sensible explanation for his disgraceful comparison of a covid hospital ward to a “workhouse” where “state-sanctioned euthanasia” could occur, run by doctors, likened to those in the Third Reich, who exercise “raw power” of which Nietzsche (Hitler’s favourite philosopher) would have approved.

He concludes by claiming that there are “monsters” behind the whole situation.

One can only hope that when he is in a calmer state and re-reads his Thought for the Week he will be ashamed and write a letter of apology.

On a less emotional level, he asserts that no one should have to die in an institution but fails to address the practicalities of maintaining critical care at home. — Yours faithfully,

Yvonne Kedge

Lea Road, Sonning Common

Truth about trespassing

Sir, — Your article about trespassing on Loddon Drive, Wargrave, (Standard, February 12) was rather misleading.

Simply going on to someone else’s land without their permission is indeed a trespass but this is normally a civil offence, not a criminal offence, and if the problem persists it could involve the landowner suing the trespasser for the hypothetical value of any benefit and for the payment of any damage done to the land.

If this situation was to continue the landowner could seek an injunction against the trespasser to prevent further trespass but no fine would be imposed as it is a civil offence.

On the other hand there are more severe penalties for “aggravated trespass” but this only applies where the trespasser is intentionally disruptive and it’s unlikely that the social activities mentioned in the article would fall into this category.

While the laws of trespass are currently under review (the government consultation period ends on March 4), this remains an ongoing problem which requires everyone involved to show understanding and greater tolerance, particularly in these rather difficult times. — Yours faithfully,

Michael Dudley

Remenham Lane, Henley

Accused of ‘hate crime’

Sir, — My Thought for the Week contribution (Standard, July 17, 2020) was about the need for the protection of free speech.

I little thought then that I would be on the receiving end of a police investigation for an alleged “hate crime”.

On November 19 an article in The Times included a comment from a Mrs Mewes, stating that the inclusion in the script of the television show Emmerdale of the situation where a couple agree to terminate a pregnancy on account of Down’s syndrome being diagnosed, was “a deliberate attempt to perpetuate prejudice” against children with the syndrome.

I considered this a very unfair comment and politely wrote to Mrs Mewes at her Northumberland address to that effect.

On the evening of November 30 I received a phone call from a Thames Valley Police officer.

He informed me that the force had received a formal complaint from Mrs Mewes that my letter to her was a “hate crime” and requested police action.

He quickly went on to assure me that, after investigation, the police had concluded that no criminal offence of this nature was involved and that Mrs Mewes would be so informed.

However, he added that the investigation and the outcome had to be put on record by the police and asked me for my date of birth for this purpose.

To be fair, I gained the impression that he found the matter embarrassing. Apparently, the College of Policing, which is responsible for issuing guidance to police forces on dealing with allegations of hate crime under the Public Order Act 1986, has decided that full details have to be recorded, whatever the outcome, in case the originator of a communication escalated in the future to sending criminal hate messages. One is lost for words.

I contacted John Howell with the details, which he sent on to Baroness Williams of Trafford, minister of state for countering extremism. She replied expressing regret for my experience and said that her officials were keeping the whole issue “‘under regular review”.

In the light of the above, I suggest the following points need urgent consideration:

1. The certainty that the system will be and is abused by the over-sensitive, the stupid and the malevolent.

2. The considerable extra work occasioned for our badly pressed police, even when they know from first glance that many “hate crime” allegations are nonsense.

3. The concern and anger caused on being told that one’s details are permanently recorded by the police for a non-crime.

4. An urgent, radical overhaul of the relevant part of the Public Order Act 1986. I have asked John Howell whether he would agree to pursue this. — Yours faithfully,

Douglas Kedge

Lea Road, Sonning Common

Ban parking in this road

Sir, — I fully endorse the request by Ken Arlett for double yellow lines along Elizabeth Road, Henley, (Standard, February 5). I never enter Greys Road via Elizabeth Road at any time as it is so dangerous.

Secondly, I was surprised how little correspondence followed the news of David Eggleton’s resignation from Henley Residents Group.

He is such a hands-on guy, who gets it done etc. I do hope that he stands again when the time comes and I personally do not care which hat he may wear. — Yours faithfully,

Peter Entwisle

Nicholas Road, Henley

Take your bins back in

As a resident of Sonning Common who regularly walks on the pavements, it is clear to see that for about three weeks the brown bins (garden refuse) have been left outside people’s driveways, blocking the pavements.

This is despite it being well publicised that South Oxfordshire District Council’s waste contractor had suffered illness in its team and that until further notice brown bins will not be collected.

This begs the question whether people ever look on their local council website or social media sites to discover this information.

It really does make the village look very industrial and there is clearly no care for anyone walking dogs, pushing buggies or using mobility scooters. — Yours faithfully,

H W

Sonning Common

Let’s leave NATO too

Sir, — With the ongoing anti-UK shenanigans of the EU, is it not time to withdraw both our ambassador and military representative to the NATO headquarters in Brussels?

If this is the way they wish to behave towards a neighbouring nation which has spilt so much of its own blood on Europe’s behalf, then they can fight their next war on their own and save us trillions of pounds we can usefully use elsewhere.

I no longer see any reason for us to be in any alliance whereby our military are at the beck and call of a fractured EU sliding towards a self-inflicted implosion. With a pair of decent binoculars, they would still be able to see our Union flag at Dover Castle and remember the good times. — Yours faithfully,

Dirk Jones

Kennylands Road, Sonning Common

Right-wing nonsense

M Reid, in his (I assume it’s a man) latest Right-wing rant (Standard, February 12), makes the absurd claim that the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, should it be enacted, “would be a mortal blow to democracy”. Have readers ever read such rubbish?

What would have seen democracy dealt such a blow would have been Donald Trump retaining the White House, despite having lost the presidential vote by a considerable margin.

Had the result been closer, who’s to say Trump would not have succeeded?

Despite hundreds of his followers storming the Capitol, which our Prime Minister described as a “kerfuffle”, Trump was acquitted in his second impeachment trial.

Boris Johnson, interviewed on CBS’s Face the Nation, went on to say that this all demonstrated that American democracy was “strong and stable”.

This when a dangerous megalomaniac almost succeeded in stealing the election and because of his acquittal will continue to pose an ongoing threat to democracy. As Caroline Lucas noted when introducing her Bill to Parliament, the world is now hotter than at any time in the last 12,000 years and 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have taken place since the year 2000.

The reason for this Bill is that the Government is off course to meet its 80 per cent emissions reduction target by 2050. Only two of the Government’s 31 key policy milestones have been met.

The Bill is therefore a wake-up call to the Government to get back on track.

M Reid regularly appears in these columns denying that humanity is responsible for causing the climate emergency and questioning the overwhelming scientific evidence that our species is destroying the planet.

You don’t have to be an expert to appreciate that pumping 40 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year is going to cause catastrophic annihilation to all life on earth, in my opinion, by the end of the century.

Anyone or group that questions M Reid’s assertions is labelled “hard-core with a Marxist agenda” that threatens to “destroy capitalism”.

Occasionally, he likes to take a break from his regular topic to denigrate the BBC. The reason for this, I suspect, is that the BBC now, quite rightly, refuses to allow people with his controversial and dangerous opinions on climate change to be expressed on national television and radio.

It is my belief that the Henley Standard should also consider preventing its letters pages from being a platform for the airing of M Reid’s obnoxious and extremist views. — Yours faithfully,

Richard Rule

Church Avenue, Henley

Assemblies explained

Sir, — Following M Reid’s letter, I would like to set the record straight about the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill.

Mr Reid stated: “If the CEE Bill were passed, a citizens’ assembly could, for example, impose an immediate ban on the sale and use of petrol and diesel cars or make flying illegal or ban the sale of meat, despite opposition from the overwhelming majority of voters as well as government.”

This is incorrect. The Bill proposes a citizens’ assembly, which is a representative group of citizens who are selected at random from the population to learn about, deliberate upon and make recommendations in relation to a particular issue or set of issues.

The core purpose of a citizens’ assembly is to give decision-makers access to the informed and considered views of the public.

It would not in any way circumvent Parliament. MPs would still have the final say over recommendations from the assembly.

The Bill simply requires that the assembly’s recommendations are put before Parliament. Parliament would remain sovereign under the CEE Bill.

Citizens’ assemblies have been demonstrated around the world to be a very effective way to find consensus on difficult national challenges.

Rather than limiting our democracy, they are a way to enhance it and find a way forward that can complement the existing policy-making mechanisms and restore a bit of trust in our politics.

As long as government acts to take the recommendations seriously they can produce impactful, long-lasting results. For more information on citizens’ assemblies, watch the Economist’s short video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UcFQ-eDhTk&feature=emb_logo

Want to make a difference and take climate action? Sign Greener Henley’s petition asking John Howell to support the CEE Bill at www.change.org/petitionJohnHowellMP-CEEBill — Yours faithfully,

Kate Oldridge

Greener Henley

All welcome to our talks

Sir, — Your newspaper very kindly gave some coverage last week to the Henley Society’s forthcoming Zoom talk but unfortunately omitted to say that it is open to non-members as well as members.

The talk will be given by one of our new members, Michael Redley, and will be on the subject of “Aldermen and mayors: the life of Henley before the First World War”.

The talk will be on Wednesday, March 10 at 7pm and anyone who would like to attend should email chairman@thehenleysociety.org with “Redley ticket” in the title box. Joining instructions will then be sent a few days prior to the event. — Yours faithfully,

Geoff Luckett

Chairman, the Henley Society

Intrigued by secret caves

Sir, — I wonder if any of your readers are aware of the caves/tunnels which border the Wargrave Road less than a mile out of Henley?

They are not visible from the road and hold many secrets. In the Second World War they provided space for a munitions factory — making what?

Post-war this was secretly converted into a safe house as a regional seat of government in the event of nuclear war.

Needless to say, it was owned by the Ministry of Defence and in 1988, when the whole site was sold off, it was bought by a storage firm for business archives.

While the reconstruction was in progress, I walked over there and was shown round by a most obliging foreman. And what an amazing sight met my eyes!

At the entrance was an archway some 20ft or more high and enormous lorries were driving in and out of the hillside. On each side were walkways bordered by dozens of cells.

Does anyone have any knowledge of these tunnels and the wartime factory or who may have ancestors who worked there? Please make yourself known. — Yours faithfully,

Enid Light

Wargrave Road, Henley

P.S. I had been intending to write this letter for a while and then last week was actually contacted by someone researching the factory durng the war.

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