Friday, 21 January 2022

Your letters...

Needless gimmickry

Sir, — It is noticeable that the group formed to install lights on Henley Bridge comprises business people, who may have vested interests.

Despite hoping to raise “up to £150,000”, this group expects the town council to pay for the costs of running these new lights, so what is this money intended to pay for?

It is also inappropriate for this group to apply for charitable status for a project which has nothing to do with providing help to the needy or encouraging the arts.

To call fixing lights to a listed structure an “arts project” shows disrespect to genuine arts projects.

When this vanity project commenced without legal permission two years ago, the majority of letters to the Standard were not in favour.

What might look attractive in a massive city will just look ill-conceived in a small market town and gaudy bright lighting will not sit well with Henley’s heritage.

Henley does not have the level of crime which London or Florence have, which is clearly one reason for illuminating those cities’ bridges.

This type of lighting, on until 2am, would also impact massively on the river wildlife, which needs those hours of darkness just as much as people do.

The ethereal beauty of a starry and moonlit night sky is far more welcoming than reducing the bridge to a theme-park spectacle.

Another reason given for these lights is “to revitalise Henley and attract new visitors”. Does Henley need “revitalising” or “re-inventing”? I don’t think so.

On a practical level, Henley already has more visitors than it has parking spaces to accommodate them so where would all these additional people park?

Henley is (still) an attractive market town which does not need business people to market it — it does that for itself.

There is also the issue of private individuals seeking to take ownership of a public structure, even to the extent of taking control of the level of lighting on that structure (suggested by one of the group).

This group does not own the bridge and therefore should not be permitted to alter it in any way.

I very much hope that Oxfordshire County Council, which is responsible for the bridge, as well as South Oxfordshire District Council and Wokingham Borough Council, the two planning authorities, do not approve these plans — Henley shines already without such gimmickry.

The bridge does indeed need to be treated with the respect it deserves. I urge readers to oppose this diminution of Henley. — Yours faithfully,

Nicola Robinson

Sonning Common

Detrimental illumination

Editor, — Comparing Henley’s Georgian bridge with the illuminated bridges of London is a fallacy.

Of course, the latter are illuminated, as are all the buildings along both sides of the Thames Embankment, and, as far as I know, London’s bridges are mostly of 19th and 20th century dates, as befits traffic demands of the capital.

By contrast, Henley is a small, rural market town with an elegant stone bridge, which is Grade I listed (only two per cent of all listed buildings are of that grade).

The proposed fairy lights will look like Christmas illuminations all year round and will detract greatly from the look of the stonework, finely hand crafted by 18th century stonemasons.

This detrimental effect on the look of the bridge could be avoided by uplighting the piers, arches and balustrades, thus showing off the elegant details of this precious survival of the bygone coaching age, for which it was built, replacing its medieval predecessor. — Yours faithfully,

Ruth Gibson

Henley Archaeological & Historical Group, Vicarage Road, Henley

Now open up slipway

Sir, — We should congratulate Henley Town Council for restoring the Friday Street slipway without waiting any longer for the unco-operative Sorbon Estates to rectify its unlawful development.

Quite rightly, the council proposes to seek reimbursement from Sorbon for the costs incurred but, judging by the latter’s past performance, no one is holding their breath.

The excuses for its inaction from a “Sorbon Estates spokesman” were risible.

It is important now to set out the true fact of this case:

1. The previous owner of the moorings on Thames Side, near Friday Street, was Alf Parrott, whose floating pontoons (for the use of the moored boat owners) always left a gap opposite the slipway to facilitate public access to and out from the river.

2. Alf Parrott never owned the land of the slipway, nor the riverbed extension from the slipway to midstream, nor does Sorbon Estates have this ownership.

3. When Sorbon Estates acquired the Alf Parrott moorings, it submitted a planning application for “improved berthing facilities”. The record (and Sorbon’s own plans and drawings) clearly show that it was proposing to close the gap opposite the slipway with a fixed floating pontoon, thus rendering the slipway non-viable.

4. This loss of a public amenity should never have been agreed by South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority.

5. At the same time, the Environment Agency granted Sorbon Estates the accommodation licence required for its proposed new floating pontoons and finger jetties. It was also wrong to do this. Now the agency has the authority and all the necessary evidence to right this wrong.

Why is it important that the Environment Agency should act now to open up this slipway?

Firstly, it is a matter of principle: large public authorities should have a care for the public they are supposed to serve. Beyond this, there is a host of new, young river users on paddleboards and in canoes who, after this winter solstice, should be encouraged to look forward to warmer days in 2022 when they might enjoy the Friday Street slipway as their access to the River Thames. — Yours faithfully,

Tom Berman

Henley Road, Wargrave

Good policy on planning

In reply to Councillor Jane Murphy (Standard, December 24), I am sorry that the Conservative group on South Oxfordshire District Council has misinterpreted so badly the recently updated statement on planning enforcement, despite the all-councillor question and answer session and robust discussions at scrutiny and at cabinet.

We did undertake at the cabinet meeting to ask the communications team to turn the paper into a more user friendly document before sending it to towns and parishes and I am confident that this will be able to correct most of the misconceptions.

Cllr Murphy say that it is “proposed to stop investigating and enforcing all but the gravest abuses”.

This is not, and never was, what is being proposed. Officers will continue to review all reported cases as they always have.

We are introducing a triage system which will allow officers to prioritise their efforts. Judgements like this have always been made by enforcement officers.

What has changed is the clarity and timeliness brought to the process, in line with the council’s objective to be open and transparent.

Far from “rewarding those who choose to cheat the system”, by freeing up resources the policy will enable officers to carry out more effective enforcement by targeting those cases that impact most on “their neighbours and the wider community”.

Residents are right to “see the enforcement of planning rules as an essential part of the planning regime here in South Oxfordshire”.

As Cllr Murphy knows, we spend significantly more on enforcement than similar councils and our performance is ranked in the top four per cent in the country.

She says that we should be “supporting rather than undermining” enforcement officers when it is they who are asking for these changes.

It is disappointing that she is suggesting that we spend more public money on additional staff resources before allowing the new process and communications to bed in and be reviewed instead of recognising the immediate benefits the changes should bring to all residents.

I also fear that trust in the planning enforcement system will be eroded, not by these proposals but by the way that the Conservative group is portraying them in the press and in town and parish meetings.

Hopefully, when the towns and parishes see the proposals for themselves, they will realise that they have nothing to fear and much to gain. — Your faithfully,

Councillor David Rouane

Liberal Democrat leader, South Oxfordshire District Council

Benefits of defibrillator

We were interested to read about the challenges facing Millie’s Dream (Standard, December 24) and thought we would share our similar experience.

In 2017, a small group of residents of Emmer Green “saved” the phone box in Courtney Drive and repurposed it as a defibrillator kiosk.

We involved the local community from the start and raised donations to have the box fitted and training provided for using a defibrillator.

We collaborated with the Community Heartbeat Trust, which provides insurance, advice and support but not cash.

Maintaining a defibrillator is an ongoing commitment as it needs to be checked regularly.

We have a group of 24 volunteers working by rota who check the box every week — this only amounts to two checks each per year.

The result is reported to the trust by a co-ordinator in order to maintain the insurance. We are currently asking for donations so that we can replace the pads and batteries.

We have a WhatsApp group so that if any of us has a home emergency we can summon help quickly.

This is very important as one person must stay with the patient and administer CPR while someone else fetches the defib.

Since its installation, the defibrillator has been “out” twice but fortunately was not needed on either occasion.

If you would like advice on setting up a group or would like to make a donation, please email egphonebox@btinternet.com or send a donation to Community Heartbeat Trust, PO Box 168, Haverhill, CB9 1AX with the reference EMM001.

As well as providing emergency help to friends and neighbours, the project has been great for community cohesion and co-operation as well as being well worth the effort. — Yours faithfully,

Melanie White

Emmer Green

Hello, we’re still here too

Sir, — We are delighted you acknowledged Henley’s various independent shops as “elite” in your enjoyable article about our tremendous pet shop (Standard, December 10).

But didn’t you forget us? We have been trading since July 1978, at the bottom of Friday Street, beside the Anchor.

The business had been trading in books for five years before we took it over, so could we also qualify as a longstanding and “elite” trader alongside the others?

We trade in old, rare, vintage or selected second-hand books at every level of value. At times we have books from the 1550s to recent publications and maps, with everything in between, so the variations are endless, depending on what we find to buy from the public.

I wonder if we are the best trading recycler in the town as we sell generations of pre-loved and pre-owned books.

There used to be a shop like ours in every market town but we are one of the few left and draw people to our shop from far and wide. — Yours faithfully,

Diana Cook

Way’s Bookshop, Friday Street, Henley

No longer a ‘criminal’

Sir, — The landmark judgement by the Court of Appeal, following an appeal by Harry Miller, that the police recording of non-crime “hate” incidents is an unlawful interference with freedom of expression with a “chilling effect” on public debate is splendid news.

The Henley Standard was the first to publicise my particular case in February, followed by the Spectator, the Times, the Daily Mail and the Free Speech Union.

I have written to the Thames Valley chief constable asking for confirmation that my record has been expunged. — Yours faithfully,

Douglas Kedge

Lea Road, Sonning Common

More choice on menu

Sir, — The ruling Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green alliance councillors on Oxfordshire County Council have voted to serve only vegan (plant-based) meals at official events (Standard, December 24).

One wonders what these councillors would do if they controlled the government. Anything not in accordance with their personal convictions would be prohibited.

Do they not realise that democracy involves allowing controversial choice and reasonable divergence?

Their decision is a serious blow to a basic freedom and we should all be very concerned. — Yours faithfully,

Yvonne Kedge

Lea Road, Sonning Common

We’re going backwards

Sir, — A little while ago, I wrote on these pages how in little more than a week the rights of women had plummeted both in Afghanistan and America.

Since then the Taliban has hardly welcomed or encouraged the continuing education of girls and women but there have been some concessions and women are fighting back.

In America, however, the legal right to abortion, originally successfully argued by a young lawyer in the Roe versus Wade case and then upheld by the Supreme Court some 50 years ago, is now under threat.

So it could be back to those terrible backstreet abortions in some states.

On a lighter note, due to covid and the postponement of the Henley Regatta from July to August, we women attending at the more formal venues were at last allowed to wear trousers.

What an achievement. Surely in this the 21st century those restrictions will not be brought back in the future? — Yours faithfully,

Enid Light

Wargrave Road, Henley

P.S. Coincidence. As I write this letter, I see recorded in the Times that Sarah Weddington, that very same young lawyer, has just died.

Generous audience

Sir, — I would like to thank the capacity audience at the Henley Choral Society’s Christmas Concert at St Mary’s Church on Saturday, December 11 and to pay tribute to their generosity.

A collection for the Chiltern Centre raised almost £1,200, or nearly £1,450 when Gift Aid is included.

The concert was a wonderful way to commence the Christmas season and we are most grateful to all concerned at the Henley Choral Society for choosing the Chiltern Centre as their nominated charity for this event.

This year has been a challenging and difficult time for everyone and especially for charities and fundraising. However, thanks to the amazing and humbling support that the Chiltern Centre continues to receive from the people of Henley and the wider community locally, I am pleased to report that the charity enters 2022 in good financial health and is able to meet the increasing demand for its services.

May I wish all our friends and supporters a happy and healthy new year. — Yours faithfully.

Paul Barrett

Chair of trustees, Chiltern Centre, Henley

Thank you, everybody

Thank you to everyone who helped me during the pandemic, including the Henley Pharmacy, the Bell Surgery and Dr Reynolds.

Also my family, Kathryn and Tracy, who shopped for me to avoid too many people, some neighbours, especially Kevin, who I can call on any time, people who I didn’t know and live a little way from me, Paul, who brought my paper, Lydia, who kept me in a variety of home-made cakes, and all the people who wave as they go by.

Happy new year, everyone. — Yours faithfully,

Margaret Grant

Peppard Lane, Henley

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