Saturday, 13 August 2022

Your letters

Good effort all round

Sir, — Further to your leading article about the Henley Festival (Standard, July 18) and the letter from J Robinson last week, could I possibly add the following observations?

Three things seem pretty clear after canvassing quite a few people on their views:

1. There had obviously been a considerable effort to move things up a level and refresh the format throughout the festival. Overall I have heard very few people who did not think that this was successfully achieved. The new food offerings and venues were very good and the Lords of Lightning and one-tone fireworks were sensational. I was also delighted to see several local musicians playing — Rebecca Poole and JJ on the Saturday were both excellent.

2. The organisers clearly recognise that a classical night is essential, so no need to dwell on that! Opera concerts/events seem to sell out everywhere at the moment but I agree that if the right act is not available, that is an issue. I guess you either go local and relatively inexpensive or try to get someone like Jose Cura back. When he was here about 10 years ago I thought it was the most incredible performance I have seen on the floating stage. He may be out of budget reach nowadays but I really do hope that a top level classical/operatic night returns next year.

3. While I am sure that festival artistic director Stewart Collins would correctly point out that there is a world of difference between Burt Bacharach and Bryan Ferry, and Joss Stone and Rebecca Ferguson, for me (and several other people I know), there was a feeling that the former were both directed at one market and the latter at another. Perception is everything and I think that many people chose one or the other.

In addition, it should not be forgotten that the Sunday was the day of the World Cup final and unless you put the equivalent of Il Divo on again, then ticket sales were always likely to be slow.

It was possible, with a bit of legwork, to work out the level of advance grandstand ticket sales for each night from the festival website (which, sadly, I did). As of the Wednesday morning, and excluding Sunday, the grandstand was 87.5 per cent sold for the first four nights. I have no idea how that compares with previous years but it would be very interesting to find out.

On the ticket prices front, I appreciate that the festival organisers tried to keep prices down, even though it was £80 for a promenade ticket on the Saturday night and they sold out!

I think one should bear in mind that while the economy is recovering on a macro basis, and the top end of the Henley market is relatively unaffected, I know a lot of people in their forties and fifties around here who are still working and are not loaded and having to make economies on the social side. I am sure that has had an effect.

Finally, and rather sadly, I think there has been a small hangover effect after the events of last year and some people reduced the number of nights they attended.Indeed, there were people who were away who I have never known miss the festival. It all adds up. However, I am equally sure that even fewer would have attended if things had moved down to Henley Business School and that this is just a short-term effect.

So, bearing in mind all the above, I think overall the festival organisers did a pretty good job and should be congratulated. It was definitely the correct decision not to move and it is clear that they have listened to their audience, which is great.

I am sure the festival will go from strength to strength in future years. — Yours faithfully,
Rob Heginbotham
Sonning Common

Festival was fantastic

Sir, — I wanted to write to say what a fantastic Henley Festival we had this year.

Having been at the festival every evening (me and my husband’s company Studio 35 jewellers had a stand in the art market), I feel I am in a position to comment on your front-page article (Standard, July 18).

The festival organisers are delighted with how this year went: the atmosphere was fantastic, the sun shone, there was a great range of artists and everyone was having a lovely time.

The Henley Festival Youth Orchestra (involving about 100 local children), which is part of the festival trust charity’s outreach programme, in which I am also involved, goes from strength to strength and this, its sixth year, was a sell-out at the Saturday daytime event. Incidentally, this was a classical concert.

I always think it is such a shame that people criticise such a glorious local event, run by local people, for the community. Profits from the festival go towards the promotion of arts in various forms in our locality.

I for one would like to thank everyone in the festival office, and all involved, for a fantastic week, from which I am still recovering! — Yours faithfully,
Laura Reineke
Berkshire Road, Henley

You need to earn support

Sir, — My family has lived in Henley and Wargrave for more than 100 years and we have attended the Henley Festival whenever it has seemed worthwhile.

The organisers complain of a lack of loyalty. The problem is with them, not us. They lost our support with their deeply unpopular proposal to move to Henley Business School.

If they devise a programme which we want to attend, they will have our “loyalty”.

Please do better. Then we will be with you. — Yours faithfully,
Lord Remnant
Northfield End, Henley

Profligate councillors

Sir, — Since the last election in 2011 South Oxfordshire District Council’s share of council tax has decreased by 7.3 per cent.

For a typical band D property the charge has gone down from £123.73 to £114.68.

But have the hard-pressed residents of Sonning Common benefited during this time of austerity? Unfortunately not. In the same period the elected members of Sonning Common Parish Council have increased their proportion of the tax by 91.1 per cent from £33.43 to £63 for a band D property.

So for this increase what extra services has the parish council provided? Well, none but it has increased its staff costs by 105.9 per cent from £15,992 to £32,931.

Councillors also agreed to spend up to £1,360 on an advert in the Henley Standard criticising their district councillors in an ill-fated attempt to get the district council to ignore the recommendations of a working party on a boundary review.

They spent more public money on a questionnaire sent to every resident in Sonning Common.

So were they successful? No, not one district councillor supported them. In fact, even those councillors who had given Sonning Common some support in the past deserted them as the parish councillors had made their brand toxic.

The one major group they neglected to consult were the residents of Rotherfield Peppard whose properties they wished to “land grab”.

When I suggested that one of the reasons residents of Peppard did not want to come into Sonning Common was the difference in council tax of £33.67, I received the following reply from the Sonning Common parish clerk Philip Collings (a resident of Rotherfield Peppard): “ is impossible to spot any level of deprivation that would be made worse by a household having to find another £33.67 per annum.

“I suppose there might be someone who would have to forego one £32 lobster linguini at the new Ristorante Reno to pay for it but I have yet to meet him.”

This was sent to all councillors so he must have wanted this to be part of the public record.

I always thought council officers were meant to be impartial but this is obviously not the case with Mr Collings but then, as a resident of Peppard, he doesn’t have to pay the same council tax as those of us in Sonning Common. There is no getting away from the fact that Sonning Common Parish Council is a profligate council too eager to waste public money and is not working for the good of the community. — Yours faithfully,
Councillor Paul Harrison
South Oxfordshire District Council (Sonning Common ward), Orchard Avenue, Sonning Common

No need for confusion

Sir, — Your correspondent Ken Arlett appears confused in stating that he is not sure why I want to bring politics into the neighbourhood plan. Why so?

Because Ken himself did that when he very kindly informed me of UKIP’s policy to protect greenfield sites, although, on reflection, he might just have been talking out loud to himself… perhaps as a memory jogger?

Tipped off that there was an activist from a local political organisation in our midst with conceivably neighbourhood plan-relevant policies, it became relevant to follow up on possible impact.

Regular readers of your columns might, however, have been “reassured” that Ken is entirely correct in his claim to have completely ignored UKIP policy on this matter given that he is clearly perfectly happy to blanket neighbourhood plan-considered lovely greenfield sites with new houses, more especially when close to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. — Yours faithfully,
Jim Munro

Blandy Road, Henley

Contemptible accusations

Sir, — I am not sure whether to be flattered by Barry Wood’s comments concerning part of the Henley/Harpsden boundary (Standard, July 25).

However, I wish to clarify a few points. South Oxfordshire District Council’s deputy leader announced at the beginning of the debates that there would be a free vote on all reviews. A check on any recorded vote will show that Conservative councillors did not all vote the same way and this was the position with the other parties.

The Community Governance Review committee, with members drawn from all parties, recommended to the council that Highlands Farm should remain in Harpsden.

The two Henley Residents’ Group councillors, with every right, challenged this recommendation.

As district councillor for Harpsden, I put forward the views of that parish which wanted no change to the boundary. This view had overwhelming support from councillors of all parties.

I do not have contempt for HRG as Dr Wood states, but what I did find contemptible, and an insult to councillors, was his accusations about Conservative councillors’ way of voting.

This was a non-political debate which went against his views. Let us hope his “escape to the country” will have a calming effect on him! — Yours faithfully,
Councillor Malcolm Leonard (Conservative)
South Oxfordshire District Council, Badgers Walk, Shiplake

Follow view of residents

Sir, — Reading East MP Rob Wilson showed real leadership with his recent Caversham-wide residents’ survey regarding the proposed new school in Upper Warren Avenue, delivering many of them by himself by hand.

While delivering the leaflet, he rightly told residents that he wanted to hear their views before expressing his own view on the site.

The result of his survey could not have been more clear and it backed up the feelings expressed at the recent packed residents’ meeting on the subject of the school.

At the meeting hundreds made it clear that while a school was needed, the overwhelming majority thought the chosen school site totally inappropriate, especially because of the safety risk to the children. Indeed, so strong was the feeling against the school that hundreds could not get into the meeting and had to be turned away.

Backing up this opposition to the Highridge site, Mr Wilson’s survey showed a conclusive majority against the site.

So the residents of Caversham have now spoken and will expect their elected representatives to listen to the overwhelming view that they have expressed.

It is important that they now start representing the feelings of the residents both publicly and privately.

When I was a councillor myself (I gave more than 10 years’ service to Caversham), I always put representing the clear view of my residents first.

So it is now in Mapledurham that the residents will expect no less of their elected representatives. — Yours faithfully,
Andrew Cumpsty

Profits before customers

Sir, — In the light of last week’s profits surge announcement at the Royal Bank of Scotland (shares up 11 per cent on £2.65 billion half-year profits), it is disgraceful that NatWest will still be closing its Sonning Common branch on August 29.

A statement made by Gavin Owens, local NatWest chief executive, to the petitioners last Monday that “Sonning Common has had many years of subsidised banking and should understand that” is an insult. If this is the case, why did it not close the branch half a century ago?

There is no shortage of customers here, merely an excess of bankers and shareholders feeding from the public trough.

NatWest, which is 80 per cent owned by the taxpayers (us), pays out 100 per cent bonuses to its senior staff while pulling the rug out from beneath its elderly or non-computerised customers. This is a disgrace of the first order and ought to be illegal.

Private customers and local businesses will now be leaving NatWest in droves and who can blame them? Moving one’s accounts can now be done very efficiently in less than seven days.

NatWest Sonning Common is going to be very busy on August 29 with a lot more than its stated “only 29 regular customers” in the queue.

Will they all be given a conciliatory glass of champagne from the bank’s profits as a “thank you” for their decades of loyalty? — Yours faithfully,
Dirk Jones
Kennylands Road, Sonning Common

Let-off for travellers

Sir, — With reference to your report headlined “Football club counts cost of traveller pitch invasion” (Standard, July 25), the police did their job in removing these thugs but why “escort them to the M4”?

They should have all been escorted to police cells where they could have languished at Her Majesty’s pleasure while awaiting trial for all the damage they’d done.

Upon conviction, they should then have been made to cough up the required funds to compensate the owners, cover police time (seize their caravans if cash had run dry) and be made to apologise to the owners.

As it is, it appears that they have got off scot-free, leaving the poor football club owners having to sort out the mess. — Yours faithfully,
John Read

Happy to be appreciated

Sir, — We would like to thank your correspondent Lynda Thornton-Hunt for her kind words regarding the cleanliness of Henley market place (Standard, July 25).

It was the Henley Residents’ Group-controlled town council which “instructed” this work.

It is the responsibility of South Oxfordshire District Council to clean our pavements but it became evident that this meant sweeping the pavements and not washing them.

We agree with Lynda that the centre of our beautiful town was looking disgusting after last year’s royal regatta.

After the usual debate on spending residents’ money, we decided to put monies into the council’s budget sufficient to cover the washing of the town centre pavements three times a year, which includes the removal of chewing gum.

We are delighted that residents are appreciative of our efforts on their behalf. — Yours faithfully,
Councillors Pam Phillips and Stefan Gawrysiak (Henley Residents’ Group)
Henley Town Council

Perils of the pavement

Sir, — With reference to Patrick Chen’s photograph in the Diary (Standard, July 25), the chewing gum has, thankfully, been removed from the pavement.

Unfortunately, the original filling material/grouting has also been partially removed. Some pedestrians will have to tolerate loose “teeth”, sorry, paving slabs.

Please can Oxfordshire County Council ensure the fillings are soon replaced, thereby keeping Henley’s pavements safe and intact?

It would be too large a job for an actual dental surgeon, not least Mr Chen!

While on the subject of public safety, a well-earned thank you to the men who tackled the sink hole problem at the top of Greys Road near the mini-roundabout.

No more bent number plates and, hopefully, no fear of losing cars down a hole in future.

I asked the aforementioned men if they could demolish the offending broken black bollard near the shops. After several letters to the district council with no response, a quiet word with the men and the job was done.

There is, however, another stumbling block, namely a very old heap of tarmac rubble by the entrance to the Mackowers’ site. If vehicles are illegally parked and partly on the pavement, pedestrians have nowhere to go except by leaving the pavement and overtaking such vehicles.

Such a manoeuvre is not to be recommended by anyone and certainly not elderly folk, many of whom live at Sherwood Gardens. Council, please note.

The shaped paving slabs immediately in front of the shops (top of Greys Road) are uneven, wobble and could be dangerous. Perhaps this is the responsibility of the shop landlords? — Yours faithfully,
Jasmine Weaver
Sherwood Gardens, Henley

Good service otherwise

Sir, — Following the letter from David Butler headlined “Paying for poor service” (Standard, July 11), I am writing to assure your readers that South Oxfordshire District Council welcomes all feedback about our waste service, both positive and negative.

In this particular instance, we investigated what exactly had led to Mr Butler’s missed food waste collection to ensure that it doesn’t happen again and fed the details back to our contractor, Biffa.

As you can imagine, we never like to hear of residents receiving a less-than-excellent service from us.

However, our waste service was recently named as our most highly-rated service in our residents’ survey, so we can build upon what we’re getting right to avoid repeats of the case described by Mr Butler.

It’s worth noting that we collect an average of 126,000 bins across the district every week (not including our clinical and bulky waste collection services).

According to our last report from 2013, the average figure for missed collections meant that we were missing approximately 33 bins out of 100,000. While we acknowledge the reality of the situation and the possibility of human error, we must also acknowledge the success of the service week upon week.

We will continue to work towards even lower missed collection rates with improvements to our technology and our waste services overall. — Yours faithfully.
Councillor David Dodds
Cabinet member for finance, waste and parks, South Oxfordshire District Council

Irony of vote on separation

Sir, — I was watching the arrival of the athletes at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow: an eclectic and colourful mix of continents, countries, cultures and creeds but with one particular thing in common — they are all part of the family of the Commonwealth.

This is the great achievement of one small country and its peoples, all of its peoples.

The United Kingdom could not have achieved this without the Scots and Scotland most certainly would not have achieved it on its own. Yet at this precise moment the Scots are about to give themselves the option of going it alone.

The UK would be the poorer for it and so would Scotland. I cannot fail to see the irony. — Yours faithfully,
Peter Willis-Fleming
Park Corner, Nettlebed

Friendly and helpful staff

Sir, — I was very surprised and upset to read the letter from Deenagh M Reynolds about the staff at Henley post office (Standard, July 25).

I use the post office at least twice a week and have always found the staff friendly and helpful. On a Monday morning they deal with the elderly pensioners collecting their weekly money in a very kindly manner and with a lot of patience.

The post office has no outside windows and it must be a difficult environment to work in but the staff do not complain. The post office opens at 8.30am Monday to Friday and at 9am on a Saturday and if the staff are busy a young man from the shop comes along to help them.

I agree that there should be a notice about the use of mobile phones as they are intrusive when people are working and people’s voices are often too loud.

I have been involved with members of the public throughout my working life and believe that courtesy is two-way and a few cheerful words usually encourage a polite, friendly response. — Yours faithfully,
Susan Robson

Efficient and pleasant

Sir, — I could not disagree more vehemently with the letter criticising the staff at Henley post office. Firstly, the appearance of the office is out of their control (they did not decide to move it from the two previous sites).

Secondly, I am always impressed by the range of services offered by the staff, always in an efficient and pleasant manner.

How sad that some customers cannot be equally pleasant and understanding of staff working in such stressful conditions. — Yours faithfully,
A Watson
Wyndale Close, Henley

I avoid that post office

Sir, — I most heartily endorse Deenagh Reynolds’ opinion of the Reading Road post office in Henley. I stopped using it quite a few years ago and things there have obviously not changed.

I now use the Shiplake corner shop and post office where Carol the postmistress is exceptionally cheerful and helpful. I have never seen her eating porridge! — Yours faithfully,
Mrs S Wickenden
Periam Close, Henley

Personal view on Tesco plan

Sir, — In your report about various traffic and road safety surveys in relation to the attempt by Tesco to open an Express store in Goring (Standard, July 18), you quoted accurately from comments I had made to the planning authority.

Would you kindly make it clear that these comments were made in a personal capacity and not as a representative of the Mobility Issues Group for Goring and Streatley?

MIGGS has no formal view on the merits of the proposed Tesco store but has said that, should the store be opened, it should be accompanied by improvements to pedestrian and disabled access to the site. It should be noted that some such improvements are proposed by Tesco. — Yours faithfully,
John Boler

Chairman, Mobility Issues Group for Goring and Streatley

Origins of Stonor parish

Sir, — Your correspondent Martyn Read wonders if Stonor was originally Upper Assendon (Standard, July 25).

It seems that was the case. Certainly the Ordnance Survey 1:63 360 scale sheet of 1830 (reprinted by David and Charles in 1969) has Upper Assendon where today you would find the place name Stonor.

Then the only mention of Stonor is in Stonor Park. The area became a civil parish in 1896 when it was given the name Stonor. — Yours faithfully,
K B Atkinson
Red House Drive, Sonning Common

Thank you for generosity

Sir, — On behalf of the Henley food bank and Henley Lions Club, I would like to thank all the shoppers at Waitrose on Saturday, July 19 who donated so generously to the food bank appeal.

The Lighthouse food bank is operated by Sue Prior of Nomad from the d:two centre for local people who face very challenging circumstances. Its project partners are the Henley Baptist Church, Churches Together, Henley Lions Club and Waitrose.

The collection event was co-ordinated by Lion Liz Brent and ran for about three-and-a-half hours. During this time, items ranging from biscuits and food staples to toothpaste and washing-up liquid to the value of about £1,000 were placed in our trollies by the wonderful Waitrose shoppers.

Children in particular appeared incredibly enthusiastic when the reason for their donation was explained to them by parents and they were eager to place their items into our trollies.

Once again, thank you to our fabulous community for showing that you care. — Yours faithfully,
John Moore
Henley Lions Club

Grateful for assistance

Sir, — I don’t know who helped the crumpled lady who lay beside the entrance to the Bell and Hart Surgery on Monday, July 7 but I am very grateful for their help.

I had tripped and broken two ribs. I’m now back home and on the mend after receiving six days of excellent care at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.

Thank you very much to the person who called 999 together with the other three or four people who were so kind and looked after me until the ambulance arrived. — Yours faithfully,
Catherine Allan-Notaras
Elizabeth Road, Henley

Arguments over ‘hole’

Sir, — Your Hidden Henley item in the Diary (Standard, July 25) stirs up arguments I have heard for the last 40 years.

Since 1976 I have been a race commentator at Henley Royal Regatta based on the top deck of the floating stand on the finish line.

We have used the “hole in the wall” as an occasional unofficial marker on the course, particularly during close races, for the whole of that time and probably much longer.

From that vantage point we can’t see the hole in the Berkshire bank so we use the Phyllis Court inlet and bridge instead. — Yours faithfully,
John Friend
Wargrave Road, Henley

Rusty iron a blight on parish church

Sir, — No, I’m not being extra picky by criticising the building contractors who chose large sheets of the dirtiest and rustiest corrugated iron to clad their scaffolding on one of the most prominent buildings in Hart Street, St Mary’s Church, to say nothing of the tacky poster for the Hideaway Festival on one side of it. It’s a truly horrible sight for residents and visitors when neat, painted ply is the answer. — Yours faithfully,
Pat Doyle

Cyclists should not litter countryside

Sir, — Thank you to your correspondent Colin Garnham for pointing out that car drivers often offend when it comes to littering (Standard, July 25).

This is, of course, a national problem.

We already clear roadside litter weekly from the Stonor valley to the B480 near Russells Water but have noticed a sharp increase in litter following cycling activity in the area.

In addition, the state of the road is no excuse for jettisoning inner tubes and non-biodegradable foil energy gel packs. — Yours faithfully,
Mark and Joe Williams
Russells Water

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