Thursday, 24 June 2021

Your letters...

Don’t drop your guard

In your article on the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan (Standard, April 23), the Save Henley’s Green Spaces campaign leaflet was criticised for stating that planning permissions were granted undemocratically in the 2016 plan referendum.

I believe this statement was in fact alluding to the pre-referendum public consultations on the sites that were shortlisted for inclusion in the plan.

In the first consultation, Lucy’s Farm came bottom of the list and was eventually excluded.

The Gillotts School playing field was the second least popular site but remained on the initial site list.

In the school’s own June 2014 consultation, local residents voted against inclusion by 53 per cent to 47 per cent but votes from other stakeholders, including parents and school governors, were used to achieve an overall “yes” vote.

In the final public consultation in early 2015 on the pre-submission draft of the plan just 41 per cent of responses supported Gillotts while 52 per cent did not.

Perversely, in a subsequent public meeting, Henley Council’s consultants Nexus decided, unchallenged, to ignore the public’s position because the margins were “not big enough to justify changing the plan”.

Your article reported that the Gillotts site cannot be removed from the proposed site list by dint of its inclusion in the 2016 referendum.

This then begs the question as to why the school was invited by the neighbourhood plan working party to present its case for inclusion in the revised plan.

Fast-forward to a hypothetical future when the Gillotts site has been developed.

One doesn’t require the wisdom of Solomon to predict that the development will be used as leverage to gain approval for building on Lucy’s Farm.

Otherwise, why would Bloor Homes, who admit to there being “marriage value” between the two sites, have continued to retain ownership of 55 Blandy Road next to the cut?

Campaigners against the development of Lucy’s Farm would therefore be well advised not to think “job done” or drop their guard prematurely. There’s many a slip between planners’ cup and lip.

A fundamental tenet of neighbourhood planning is that it should reflect the views of local people.

We must therefore insist on the right to have our say and that, more importantly, our wishes are respected — otherwise, what is the point? — Yours faithfully,

Trevor Howell

Blandy Road, Henley

Unacceptable development

Sonning Eye, where I live, is a small village that sits next to a series of lakes, which were previously gravel pits.

As part of the agreement with Tarmac (the landowner/developer), certain activities are permitted and/or encouraged on these lakes for the benefit of the community.

These activities are limited, as I understand it, and if they are undertaken — or any commercial venture is set up to provide these activities — certain conditions must be met, particularly in relation to the environmental aspect of the lakes.

I am sure that this agreements also limits the activities to what is appropriate for the locality, too.

Last year, a section of the lakes was “launched” as Caversham Lakes, a venture providing the opportunity to wild swim or undertake paddle boarding.

Pop-up catering facilities were also established there and these facilities were advertised, bringing in large numbers of customers.

This venture was set up without the necessary planning permissions. Damage was done to the environment of the lakes in the setting up of this venture and dangerous traffic situations at the entrance to the lakes were created. This is unacceptable.

Now an application has been made for retrospective planning permission for the swimming/stand up paddleboard activities.

While South Oxfordshire District Council considers whether to grant planning permission, the individuals responsible for the venture continue not only to provide the activities but also to offer further, more inappropriate and damaging activities.

Adverts on social media in recent weeks indicate that an inflatable water park — “the largest in the area” — is to be offered to customers.

Previous adverts have offered an island in the lake as a party venue, a suitable place for weddings and a glamping site.

I understand tree preservation orders have been issued in relation to some of the remaining trees on this island as it is a site of ancient woodland. Sadly, some trees had already been removed.

All these activities are being offered and advertised without planning permission. As well as enabling the venture owners to set up these activities with no regard for the environment, the locality, the noise created or the safety of the site, it also removes the ability of the residents to comment and, where appropriate, object to the activities.

This is unacceptable and cannot be allowed.

I am aware that there is a system for planning and that a process must be followed in relation to the planning application.

However, I cannot believe that while this process takes place, the individuals responsible for Caversham Lakes are allowed to continue providing further damaging activities unfettered.

If residents are to have any faith or confidence in the planning system, steps must be taken to require all activities outside of the planning application to be stopped. — Yours faithfully,

Deborah Simmons

Sonning Eye

Still no way into water

Sir, — Your report headlined “Slipway to be restored after row” (Standard, April 30) regrettably left our readers with the false impression that all is now well regarding the Friday Street slipway in Henley and that, according to the town clerk, Michael Shanly of Sorbon Estates deserves credit for “resolving the situation and ensuring that this important riverside amenity is restored”.

The definition of a public slipway is a space where people can freely slip their small boats, canoes, paddleboards, kayaks etc into the stream.

When Alf Parrott sold his riverside land and moorings to Sorbon Estates, the Parrott moorings and floating pontoons/walkways were in two separate layouts, leaving a gap of open water in front of the slipway, which was and still is unregistered land and riverbed out to the mid-stream.

Sorbon Estates simply closed this gap with a new continuous line of floating pontoons and moorings, thus rendering the slipway completely non-viable as a slipway. You have previously published a photograph clearly showing this blockage.

Sorbon Estates’ agreement to now “dig out the concrete” on the land of the slipway, which they do not own and should never have been disturbed without permission, does nothing to restore this public amenity as a viable slipway.

If the company really has a care for Henley’s riverside environment, they could easily rearrange their moorings to allow open water access again in front of the slipway. It wouldn't cost much. — Yours faithfully,

Tom Berman

Henley Road, Wargrave

Scum was harmless

Sir, — After sending you my photograph of the scum on Lash Brook in Shiplake (Standard, April 30), I made contact with the Environment Agency.

I am pleased to report that their response was very rapid and a visit to the site was made to inspect the river.

Their findings were that the scum was non-toxic and did not represent apparent pollution.

It was their opinion that the “scum atop the watercourse has been formed by natural organic debris created by plant life, animal life and so on”.

They added: “Often in hot temperatures some solid matter residing on the bottom of a river bed may detach and float to the top, a combination of the above is likely the main cause.”

I am relieved by this report but of course it is a very unpleasant sight and if that week was warm enough to create this debris then I hate to think what will happen when we get really high temperatures. — Yours faithfully,

Christopher Laing

Lashbrook Road, Shiplake

Impossible conservation

Sir, — I admire the courage of those who have attempted to enlighten us as to the truth about the red kite’s feeding habits because when a letter of mine on this subject was published in Country Life a few years ago, I received some thoroughly unpleasant hate mail.

Natural England and the RSPB remain insistent that red kites feed predominantly on carrion but will occasionally take small mammals and birds and it is conceivable that they believed this to be true when they initiated the kite’s reintroduction programme 25 years ago.

But, sadly, this is no longer the case and I speak from anecdotal evidence of my own and that gleaned from other farmers.

I have free range chickens and geese and when a hen disappears for three weeks to sit on some eggs, then reappears proudly with 12 chicks or more, I have to shut them up immediately to save them from the kites.

I last attempted to breed some replacement geese about five years ago but in spite of my best efforts to beat off a horde of kites with a long stick, they took all 11 goslings on the first day after hatching.

Ten years ago, at least eight mallard pairs and a similar number of moorhens would breed here but they have all but given up, such is the futility with the odds so against them.

Most of my grassland is devoted to conservation, abandoned if you like, to provide habitat for field voles to sustain a resident pair of barn owls and ground cover for nesting skylarks and hares. The now abundant anthills provide green woodpeckers with their staple. And if I am extremely lucky, a pair of lapwings might pay me a visit.

If the timing of haymaking isn’t difficult enough given the vagaries of our summer weather, I also have to consider the age of leverets in the hope that they might be big enough to escape the clutches of the red kites.

Within five minutes of my starting to mow I will have at least 25 kites circling and several times in the past kites have picked off unfortunate leverets.

They are also hoovering-up exposed field voles, which my barn owls need, and I also frequently observe them taking sparrows from beneath my garden bird feeders. It is all dreadfully depressing.

We can do nothing to redress the catastrophic decline in farmland bird populations of the last 60 years but we can, and must, arrest this decline by re-introducing the habitat they require.

The last thing conservationists need is a vast and ever-increasing population of predators with a voracious appetite for anything that moves.

Two years ago, I gleaned from the RSPB’s website that the kite population is increasing at a rate of 120 per cent per year but this information has since been removed.

None of the information I am providing is exaggerated or fabricated nor is it hearsay; it is based on my anecdotal evidence over 20 years and the problem is getting much worse year on year.

I have also observed that reasoned debate on this subject is almost impossible, in the main because the intransigent RSPB disingenuously sticks to its line that the reintroduction of the red kite is “the greatest conservation success story of the 20th century”.

It most certainly is not: the red kite has become the bane of conservationists’ lives. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Sargeantson

Lower Farm, Britwell Salome, Watlington

Kites imperil other species

Sir, — I, too, have been dismayed, not by letters to the Henley Standard about the red kite, but by the declining number of birds which normally inhabit the river where I live.

At this time of year, it used to be teeming with life — mallards, coots, moorhens and their families.

Now there is just one family of coots and very few visitors. Where have they all gone, or do they exist any more?

Certainly the red kite has flourished, if nothing else, partly due to humans feeding them in their gardens.

These birds have no predators, so they cannot be controlled. They hover menacingly overhead in pairs and fours, ever watchful.

It would be disastrous if their preservation contributes to the decline of the rest of the natural world. — Yours faithfully,

Enid Light

Wargrave Road, Henley

Calculating predators

Sir, — I do apologise for yet another letter regarding red kites.

However, I must correct Rosemary Ruane who incorrectly believes that “it is difficult for red kites to fly down”. (Standard, April 30).

I can assure her that this is most certainly not the case — far from it.

If it were so, then they would not be able to fly down into my garden and use my small fish pond for bathing purposes — so much so that I have now had to put a net over the pond to ensure that the fish have a chance to survive.

In addition, they regularly negotiate down through my large oak trees to land on the lawn, whereby they then spend some time enjoying whatever creature they have managed to catch, or steal... sandwich perchance? — Yours faithfully,

Joyce Marriott

Pyrton

Secure gates and fences

Sir, — I write with reference to the letter headlined “Use [dog] lead in countryside”, from Isobel Bretherton, of the NFU South-East (Standard, April 23).

I would like to say that this was based solely on unverified information from farmer David Hicks and bears no relation to my recollection of the event.

Isobel could have contacted me and heard what had happened from my viewpoint and the other verifiable witness who was with me at the time my giant schnauzer Freija was shot.

We were in the field at the time of the shot and heard no shouting.

All the sheep were on the opposite side of the field when the shot was fired.

This fact is supported by the vet’s autopsy report on Freija, which states: “No blood or foreign material was detected around the buccal aspect of her teeth and gums.”

Any fleece Mr Hicks claims was still on the ground cannot be related to this incident as there was fleece all over his fields.

I am a responsible dog owner and had stopped at the kissing gate to put my three dogs on their leads.

I put the two spaniels on first as I could see that they would be able to get through the unsecure kissing gate, through the bars or gap where the fence meets the gate.

Freija was able to get through as the gate is not secure, as did my witness’s dog who was at the gate at the same time as me.

I went back at a later date and took photos of the gate that I will send to Isobel with my police crime report that contains the witness details and the vet’s external autopsy report.

While photographing the gate, I timed the activities that happened from the moment I started to put the spaniels on leads.

It was 20 seconds rather than the 50 seconds I noted in my crime report. I was still traumatised at the time of writing and not thinking clearly.

I would be very keen to see a statement from the metal detectorists mentioned in Isobel’s letter because it would greatly ease my trauma if Freija had done what Mr Hicks alleges.

However, I cannot see how his account can possibly be true, when Freija was shot from behind, her body littered with shot which would also have injured any nearby sheep.

At no point did we see any sign of an injured sheep. None of the people wielding shotguns went to the herd to check the sheep.

Nor has Mr Hicks contacted me, although I passed on my details. I expected he would want to pass my contact details to the police.

I assume that he will have a vet’s bill for the treatment and verifiable photographs and be able to, quite rightly, claim the compensation that he would be due yet no claim has been made.

I will also provide photographs of the kissing gate with its gaps and showing that the gate does not close itself as kissing gates are designed to.

This means that unless specifically closed by the last user, the gate part can stay in the middle allowing ingress and egress without touching the gate.

My only hope with the Henley Standard article was to drive home the point that dogs do need to be on leads in a field with livestock but the farmer is responsible for making sure that their fences and gates are secure.

Shooting a dog should be a last resort, not the first. — Yours faithfully,

Mark Foster

Kidlington

Accounts do not tally

Mark Foster’s report of the killing of his dog does not tally with David Hicks’s. Surely he should have been shown the damage it was claimed his dog had done?

Perhaps we could see the statements from the three metal detectorists who witnessed the apparent attack.

In the many years I have lived in Checkendon, Mr Hicks is the only person who has found it necessary to shoot dogs.

It concerns me somewhat that there is a man wandering around fields with a loaded shotgun, especially near a footpath. — Yours faithfully,

Jeanette Campbell

Checkendon

New car is not cheap

Sir, — Michael Welfare and M Reid made some good points on both the cost of electric cars and their practicality for those who live in flats or terraced housing (Standard, April 23).

Air quality in Henley is a real issue and by getting drivers to move to electric we will see a positive impact on reducing pollution in the centre of our town.

I am in favour of more electric vehicle charging points in the town centre which will specifically benefit those people who don’t have driveways where they can charge their vehicle.

While I believe that the way forward lies with electric and hybrid vehicles, we must accept that it will take time to phase out diesel and petrol cars.

Let us remember not everyone can afford a new car.

That’s why I feel it is wrong to halve the price of parking for electric cars in our town centre car parks when they already have the benefit of cheaper fuel and road tax.

So now those who cannot afford a new electric car will have to pay more to subsidise those who can. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Harrison

Sonning Common

Pleasure of electric car

I guess that those correspondents writing against electric cars have not had the pleasure of driving one. I purchased an ex-demo Nissan Leaf 18 months ago and find it easier, more comfortable and nicer to drive.

An electric engine is much simpler and more efficient than a petrol or diesel one. Hence it is cheaper and easier to service and maintain. My service charge is between £150 and £210. This includes annual breakdown cover. The car has a 40kwh battery with a range of about 160 miles.

More and more charging points are being built so recharging should not be a problem. The satnav shows me the location of the nearest charging point.

I have no doubt that batteries will be developed using different chemicals before long and these may be lighter. It is a real pleasure not to go to a garage to fill up.

I charge my car in the garage from a 13amp plug at a cost of 5p a unit in winter at night when there is surplus electricity on the grid.

In summer, I use electricity from my solar panels at zero cost. In winter for about 160 miles the cost is about £2.

I have no trips to the garage to fill up with fossil fuel. The insurance is about the same as for my Honda. Hence the running costs are really low in comparison with any other type of car.

The batteries are heavy but then I am not carrying diesel or possibly explosive petrol which are heavy too.

When I stop at traffic lights, I am not churning out toxic fumes or wasting fuel. When I brake, much of the energy recharges the battery. The car is delightfully quiet, the ride is smooth and comfortable and the car is very easy to control.

But care is needed when passing pedestrians and cyclists as they may not hear me coming. It corners well, having a low centre of gravity.

The car has a number of safety features — adaptive cruise control, cameras all round for parking, tyre pressure that can be checked while you are still in the car, warning when crossing the central white line or going too close to anything.

I could not want more and am really pleased with my car. If you are at all interested, why not go and test drive one? — Yours faithfully,

Stella Kendall

Checkendon

P.S. I am in my late seventies.

Shocked by shouting man

Sir, — Shame on you. I was standing at a checkout at Tesco in Henley at 11.30am on April 28 when I heard a man screaming at the top of his voice at a member of staff.

He was in front of me. He shouted so loudly that the whole store could hear him. It was so shocking and I have never seen anything like it.

He was bullying this old lady right in front of me. She was terrified and shocked.

I went up to the man and told him to calm down and stop but he just carried on.

The management team took the man away for a discussion but I was concerned that they were not sticking up for their member of staff.

I would like to know from Tesco if that man has been banned from the store. Whoever the man was, shame on you. — Yours faithfully,

Mark Carroll

Newtown Gardens, Henley

A Tesco spokeswoman responded: “We do not tolerate abusive behaviour of any kind and we have measures in place to keep our colleagues safe.

“Following this isolated incident, our management team spoke to the individual involved who was required to leave the store.

“Our colleagues work hard to serve our customers every day and the vast majority of customers are appreciative of their efforts.”

How about book now?

Editor, — We were very sorry to read that the Field Kitchen has closed (Standard, April 30).

The quality of food offered there was amazing and arguably the best in the area outside London.

We wish Dave Field and Barb Grigor a very happy and well-deserved retirement.

However, if they are looking for a project, how about writing a Field Kitchen recipe book?

We have suggested it to them in the past and now they may have time. We are sure there would be many in the area and beyond who would love a copy. — Yours faithfully,

Lucy Montgomery and Emma Lerche Thomsen

Still magic hereabouts

Sir, — I well remember the Mill Lane railway bridge in Henley (Standard, April 23). I agree it needs some paint.

I spent some time in this area adding colour to the verges with some planting.

I was also there with my dear mum when Princess Margaret planted the tree in Fair Mile in 1953 (Standard, April 23).

Your pages of pictures of flowers are a real joy and those bluebells in the woods… what memories. There’s still magic hereabouts. — Yours faithfully,

Peter M Adams

Ramshill, Petersfield, Hants

Wombles remembered

During lockdown my children have often moaned about the lack of entertainment available across a myriad of on-demand satellite and internet options.

As a result, I showed them what passed for the pinnacle of entertainment when I was a boy.

It is a Thursday evening during the spring of 1974. The TV is warmed up and the two-pronged aerial on top has been adjusted just so.

Beside this are boxes of candles and matches in case the electricity goes off — a hangover from the rolling power cuts of the early Seventies. The family is spread over the sofa and floor because this is appointment television.

On screen a young hirsute Noel Edmonds is sardined between even younger teenage girls who chew and stare at the floor.

The camera appears to be looking up at him from crotch height so we can see his velvet jacket and shirt, which is open to the navel. Audience clothing is a kaleidoscope of polyester.

He says a number between 30 and 1 and we screech with delight as this is what we have been waiting for: it is Top Of The Pops and Noel has just introduced the Wombles.

We all start singing immediately as we know every word, having sung the tune all week in the playground, only taking a breath to point out and name our favourites from the Womble clan.

Simple. happy times and even the electricity held up.

As I revisit this in 2021 on YouTube, one Womble, who I won’t name, looks to be distinctly less enthusiastic than the rest as they all jig about under the hot studio lights.

I can imagine the occupant of the sweltering outfit was counting down the seconds for the hell to finish, get backstage and have a lovely 1974 fag break.

Remember, member, member, what a Womble, Womble, Womble you are. I’ve never forgotten. — Yours faithfully,

Damien DSouza

Henley

Friend who’s sadly missed

I had the pleasure of playing for Hambleden Cricket Club against Greys Green CC on Sunday, April 25.

All the players paid their respect to Michael Cusden, who sadly died in January, with a heartfelt hand clap.

I’d like to thank all the Greys Green players for a great game of cricket and especially Matthew Skilleter for an eloquent tribute to the memory of a great cricketer and friend who will be sadly missed and always remembered. — Yours faithfully,

Matt Murton

Chairman, Hambleden Cricket Club

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