Friday, 28 January 2022

Your letters...

Planning is such a mess

Sir, — Planning policy and development control at South Oxfordshire District Council is in a complete mess.

We can blame the politicians but they are only carrying out the mandate on which they were elected.

Unfortunately, this mandate is at odds with national planning policy and the result is we will continue to suffer from developments in the wrong place passed by government inspectors with no emotional attachment to the area we call home.

Only one year has passed since the council’s 2035 local plan was adopted.

This was supposed to give protection against development on unallocated sites such as Thames Farm in Shiplake but during the last year two separate planning inspectors (one evaluating a site in Sonning Common, the other a site in Didcot) have held that the council does not have a five-year housing supply.

The council challenged the inspector’s decision to allow the Inspired Villages development in Sonning Common through the High Court twice and lost twice. It has now thrown in the towel (Standard, December 17).

I’m sure people will be staggered that after all the time and money spent on the local plan it has been found not fit for purpose.

How can this be? It is, in fact, an easy question to answer and many people in the development industry warned during the consultation period that this would be the result.

Firstly, there has been significant under-delivery of the housing numbers set out in the council’s 2012 core strategy.

For example, Goring, one of the defined larger villages, was required to allocate land for 94 dwellings in addition to any infill sites.

In almost 10 years, only 10 of these have been built with an additional four currently under construction, all of which are on my company’s development at Ash Hurst, next door to the fire station.

Secondly, the political decision was made to “dump” the majority of the required housing numbers on five strategic sites.

It was known that, due to their size, these sites would take years to build and hopefully could be abandoned if housing need reduced in the future.

The problem with this strategy is that when it was proved that these sites could not be delivered in a five-year period, then they could not form part of the five-year land supply either.

One of the earlier draft versions of the local plan proposed delivering a significant supply of housing by increasing the population size of the defined smaller villages by 10 per cent.

These would be sites of around 20 dwellings that would have been delivered quickly by small developers bringing much-needed affordable housing and therefore revitalising these smaller villages, supporting the shops and pubs that still remain.

Regrettably, this policy did not make it into the final plan so instead we will now be faced with more unplanned large sites that only the national housebuilders can deliver with their homogenous standard boxes.

Unfortunately, there is no easy fix to this problem. The current local plan is not fit for purpose and it will take several years to replace it. — Yours faithfully,

Peter Neville

Managing director, Elegant Homes, Patrick Road, Caversham

Beneficial new policy

Sir, — It was disappointing, but not unexpected, to see Conservative councillors misinforming the public on planning enforcement (Standard, December 10).

Given the failure of previous Tory administrations to provide clarity and transparency to the council’s enforcement function and process, perhaps it is a reflection of guilt or simply an act for political or populist gain.

All residents can be confident that South Oxfordshire District Council will continue to review all reports made to the council and we will maintain our high level of enforcement action (in the top four per cent nationally).

Rather than welcoming the positive benefits for all residents from the changes, opposition councillors are suggesting we spend more public money to pursue cases where there is no unacceptable harm to public interest.

I would encourage them instead to familiarise themselves with the council policy so that they can help explain to their parish councils and residents how reported cases and planning breaches, minor and major, will be dealt with in a timely manner and in accordance with existing regulation and law. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Anne-Marie Simpson

Cholsey ward, South Oxfordshire District Council

Support the enforcers

This is an open letter to Councillor David Rouane, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council.

On behalf of residents of South Oxfordshire, we are urging you to reconsider the new policy on planning enforcement adopted by the cabinet on December 2.

When you first proposed to stop investigating and enforcing all but the gravest abuses of the planning system, we warned you about the impact it would have on faith in the planning system here in South Oxfordshire.

Since you’ve gone ahead, parish councils and residents in our wards have reacted with dismay.

Rather than protect the vast majority of law-abiding residents, as you are bound to do, your new policy rewards those who choose to cheat the system, with no regard to the impact their building projects might have on their neighbours and the wider community.

It’s a green light to build bigger with absolutely no fear of repercussions.

Residents see the enforcement of planning rules as an essential part of the planning regime here in South Oxfordshire.

We fear your new enforcement policy will erode trust in the whole planning system and we encourage you to rethink this misguided policy before it does.

We urge you to increase the number of officers within the enforcement team, supporting rather than undermining them. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Jane Murphy

Leader of the Conservative group on South Oxfordshire District Council

Allow this art studio

I truly feel that Clive Hemsley deserves to keep his amazing new art studio near Rotherfield Greys for people with a disability as part of their wellbeing journey.

I have been deaf since birth and I suffer with tinnitus, day and night, 24/7. For the last 10 years, I have tried to find a cure but, sadly, no GP or audiologist has been able to help me.

I have been told there is no cure. I have searched everywhere to find an answer to help me reduce the stress caused by tinnitus. Nothing has worked.

One day, my parents took me for a day out in Henley and there was an art exhibition showing Clive Hemsley’s work. We walked into his current studio and I couldn’t believe the incredible range of his artwork and the high standard of all his paintings that were on show.

I was filled with admiration for the artistic techniques and skills he had used, creating unique and amazing paintings with different styles and impressive results.

After we had finished viewing his paintings and looking around, I thought about Clive’s paintings and the deep impression that they had made on me.

I realised that as I looked at them, they had a very beneficial and harmonious effect on me.

Surprisingly, I found that my tinnitus had calmed down. Something about his style of work seemed to be working, giving me a sense of peacefulness and reducing my stress.

Clive was so pleased that his paintings had helped me in such a significant and therapeutic way.

I felt that I had connected with him through his art so was delighted to hear that Clive has been developing his lifelong ambition to create a new art studio, designed to help the disabled community achieve their dreams and learn how to paint.

They would learn how to create their own beautiful pieces of artwork, giving them a sense of pride, purpose and fulfilment.

Clive’s mission is to help the disabled community to fulfil their goals and make dreams come true for so many who would otherwise not have such an opportunity.

He invited me to see his brand new studio and I had a look around.

I felt this would be perfect for people with a disability to come and learn how to paint or draw, giving them goals and aspirations to achieve their dreams.

I was so impressed and I know the benefits, pleasure and satisfaction that this could bring to so many disabled people.

Clive told me about being refused planning permission and the subsequent inquiry as a result of his appealing the decision and the ongoing distressing situation he is experiencing. He has even been targeted by online trolls, which is horrible, very destructive and damaging.

I am extremely shocked and upset for him. He does not deserve any of this. Clive is a genuine, honourable man, full of compassion and decency, wanting to help those people who are disadvantaged and vulnerable and feel isolated. He has worked jolly hard to achieve his goal.

He is not doing any of this for himself. Clive’s mission is to establish his art studio to help others. It is unacceptable and undeserved that he is prevented from doing so.

Clive is a wonderful, warm and caring artist, who is very supportive of disabled people like me, despite the negative, unjustified and heartless comments that have been levelled against him.

I believe that he is not being treated fairly. There is no justice if Clive is not able to keep his studio, which would do so much good for so many disabled people. — Yours faithfully,

Spencer Collins


Downright vandalism

As usual, the Henley Standard appears to be unbalanced in its promotion of town development.

Unseemly it is to promote the downright vandalism of a Grade I listed bridge.

The tacky lighting (now removed) of the bridge is an insult to its architect and construction team, now hopefully resting in peace but probably turning in their graves.

You wouldn’t try to touch up a Rembrandt or add to a Picasso.

This obsession with creating a tinsel town is so tedious. Light pollution is a curse on the joy of the glorious night sky given freely to us all by the magnificence of creation.

Some of the supporters of this fanciful scheme are environmental campaigners too. Why can they not see their hypocrisy?

A masterpiece straddles the wonderful River Thames.

So after our forbears’ great achievement, is this the selfish sum total of our compliment to them?

Lighting is not necessary or desirable. The bridge looks great against the dark already.

The whim of a perfectly competent and admirable artist should not be forced upon us.

As A A Milne wrote in one of his marvellous poems: “Fashions have a way of changing from day to day.”

If the bridge must be lit, do not interfere with its fabric. There are other friendlier ways, such as projection.

The structure will still be there when we’re all long gone. Let future generations not look back in anger.

The purpose of a Grade I listing is, as I see it, not to tinker. We all make mistakes. The “nails” previously hammered in have left their scars. Let’s leave it at that. — Yours faithfully,

Jonathan Barter

Vicarage Road, Henley

The editor responds: “The Henley Standard is independent and impartial and has not expressed an opinion on lighting the bridge or indeed other developments.

“It has, quite rightly, reported on the previous and current plans to attach LED lights to the bridge and published the views of those both for and against the proposal and this it will continue to do.”

Fairground attraction

Henley has a magnificent bridge. When it was built it was classed as one of the finest in the country.

Ironically, the addition of LED lights all over it detracts from its splendour, and just turns it into a fairground attraction.

Yes, it should be lit but by floodlights showing off the beauty of the structure.

LED lights attached to the bridge ensure that, ironically, the focus is on the lights and not the bridge. — Yours faithfully,

Nick Richardson

Vicarage Road, Henley

Good job on slipway

Sir — All credit to Henley Town Council for restoring the slipway at the bottom of Friday Street and sending the bill to Sorbon Estates (Standard, December 17).

The temptation to deposit the concrete spoil at the main entrance to the company’s head office in Beaconsfield must have been overwhelming. — Yours faithfully,

Steve Ludlow

Station Road, Henley

Keep golf course green

Reading Golf Club once extolled the natural beauty of its course and proudly called it their “home”.

Why then, as a new year approaches, do I feel so troubled and sad as I listen to the owls call across the skies from distant trees?

This home to mature trees and valued species is under threat as developers attempt to erase it from public memory and continue in their efforts to diminish its worth, trying to convince Reading Borough Council’s planning committee it is somehow worth less because greens are treated and bunkers are man-made.

Quite how do they expect us to turn a blind eye to the bluebells stretching out under canopies of trees in spring and woodpeckers pecking at abundant insects? It’s like asking a child not to notice a rainbow.

Thankfully, this natural world is not so limiting and has continued to thrive alongside the 18 holes, generously accommodating the human intrusion more than graciously.

The daily screech of soaring kites and the busy chatter of birdsong carry on oblivious, remaining a constant joy to the many walkers, cyclists and riders who travel along the public path.

So many lives have been enriched by the sight and sounds that pervade the air.

And so it awaits fate — a golf course now hidden from most between county boundaries and behind closed gates.

Thankfully, there is no such division in the natural world, no man-made boundaries. The badgers and muntjacs, bats, red kites and owls can’t be kept out unless those holding the keys of power allow their eyes to close and their ears to shut. Only then will habitats, hunting grounds and dark and starry night skies be lost.

I hope that this course will continue to provide balance and harmony for all species.

Surely, after all this year has taught us (reinforced by world leaders and eminent scientists at COP26), someone of influence, integrity and vision must be listening.

Reading Golf Club and its natural surrounds surely deserve a far greater and greener vision so please act now to stop the developers. It is not too late to make a change. You can give your views to the council by emailing golfclubcomments. — Yours faithfully,

Jane Lawson

Emmer Green

Batteries not included

Sir, — Contrary to a suggestion by one of your correspondents, there are (regrettably) currently no battery-powered trains in Britain which would be suitable for use on the Henley branch line.

All the versions so far trialled or proposed have various shortcomings, the most common of which is the ratio between time spent running and time spent recharging, which means they could not meet the pattern of timetable on the branch line. I’m not sure which version of a particular train was demonstrated at COP26 but the version that works with a high charge unit has various requirements which would be difficult, if not actually prohibited, to meet on the branch.

The high charge unit itself occupies a 20ft long container and draws 1,000 amps when in use, which would hardly fit with recent electricity supply failures in our area.

Additionally, because of the high current draw involved, it can only recharge the train via third and fourth electrified rails (like the London Underground system) and there is at present a ban, on safety grounds, on installing these in areas where they don’t already exist.

The battery life is limited to seven years so less even than the life of the battery in an electric car.

Even when “re-engineered”, I seriously wonder what regular local rail travellers would make of the current Nineties design trains being replaced by trains designed in 1976 and which first entered service on the District line in London in 1978.

The various other, currently more practicable, UK designs of battery train all need considerable charging time in relation to the amount of time they can spend running on battery power.

Thus they are more suited to making part of their journey on an electrified line and then continuing beyond it on battery power rather than operating where there is no electrification at all, as is the case on our local branch line. — Yours faithfully,

Mike Romans

Cromwell Road, Henley

Where’s our compassion?

Sir, — How on earth has this country reached a point where 313 members of Parliament vote in favour of the Government’s push back policy against small boats of migrants attempting to cross the Channel?

More than 300 also voted specifically against the amendment “to ensure that maritime enforcement powers cannot be used in a manner that would endanger lives at sea”.

One of those was our local MP, John Howell, which means he accepts that some, maybe many, will drown. Not in my name, Mr Howell.

How can any person working for Border Control legitimately be ordered to endanger lives in this way? What has happened to us? — Yours faithfully,

Helen Watson

Laureate Gardens, Henley

John Howell MP responds: “I was deeply saddened by the tragic drownings and loss of life in the Channel.

“This awful incident highlights the danger of crossing the Channel by small boat and the ruthlessness of the criminals who are exploiting vulnerable people.

“I am determined to bring them to justice.

“Co-operation with France has already resulted in more than 20,000 crossings being stopped this year.

“Firm action is required to stop these crossings and we should not let people get off the hook so easily and naively.”

Memories of Robin Hood

Sir, — On reading your excellent newspaper cover to cover, in particular the review of Robin Hood at the Oxford Playhouse (Standard, December 10), I can say that I certainly do remember the theme tune to the Fifties and Sixties TV show.

I remember the actor who played Robin Hood was Richard Greene but I do not remember the other actors and actresses in it.

I also have no idea who composed the theme tune and wonder if any of your readers know. I might just be able to play it on my Sixties descant recorder! — Yours faithfully,

Kathleen Cosnett

Chaseside Avenue, Twyford

The editor responds: “Alan Wheatley played Robin Hood’s nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and the closing theme tune was composed by Carl Sigman and sung by Dick James. Come on, everybody, join in... “Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen...”

Christmas wish

Sir, — Is this a little whisper amid the noise?

On Christmas Day

Consider afresh the ancient story
The manifest present of
heavenly glory
Life and death, resurrection’s joy
Divinely present in the baby boy.

The day, born to you, a saviour king
Jesus — the answer to everything
This Christmas gift send with love and free
Is this God Almighty
speaking to me?

Have I heard that voice before,
When all was whirling, raw and sore?
When all I really need to do
Is believe the word of the way that’s true.

Was the answer born that day?
Is He truly a better way?
Can He be the one who
forgives every sin
If only I will let him in — on Christmas Day.

And may the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7) — Yours faithfully,

Geraldine M Radley

Vicarage Road, Henley

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