Thursday, 24 June 2021

Your letters

Questions for politicians

Sir, — As a former member of the Henley and Harpsden joint neighbourhood plan working groups, I wrote to the Henley Standard in February laying out my concerns on what a “yes” vote in the referendum on March 10 would mean as South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning officers would still have the final say on any planning applications unless they went to appeal.

Regretfully, I have been proved correct.

Over the past few weeks we have had numerous articles and letters in your paper trying to find out why the plan is not worth the paper it is written on. This culminated in Barry Wood’s excellent letter last week.

So a few questions need answering (and hopefully there will be a response) as follows:

1 Rebecca Chandler-Wilde, chairman of the vote “yes” group, stated: “If there is a majority voting ‘yes’ the plan will become legally enforceable, putting Henley and Harpsden residents in control.” Where indeed did she get this information from?

2 If Mrs Chandler-Wilde’s comments were correct, would Adrian Duffield, head of planning at the district council, explain to the residents of Henley and Harpsden why the plan does not now hold water as the approval of the development at the old Jet service station shows?

3 Why did our Henley district councillors not vote on this application as, if they had, it could have been refused? The answer may well be that officers would not let them vote and, if so, who is running the district council — the officers or councillors?

4. Henley Town Council set up a neighbourhood plan steering group, which had its first meeting on May 16.

It has five members of the public, one of which is Mrs Chandler-Wilde.

The group is chaired by Dieter Hinke, who is an excellent chairman, but the group has no teeth and has become no more than a talking shop.

In Mr Hinke’s own words, the group should have been set up last year.

Perhaps the Mayor Julian Brookes would like to tell us why it wasn’t and also what it is meant to be achieving now other than taking up a large amount of council officers’ time?

5. Can our MP John Howell, that “well known architect of neighbourhood plan legislation”, as Mr Wood politely put it (and the same man who was going to make sure Townlands Memorial Hospital would get 14 beds), detail where either the district council or the Government have gone wrong with neighbourhood plans, or have we in Henley just been unlucky with our representatives?

It seems somewhere in the region of £150,000 has been wasted on a neighbourhood plan and a transport study, so who is accountable for this waste? Will we get some answers or will all those concerned just close ranks and hope it all goes away before the next local elections?

The common denominator is Henley Town Council, the district council, Oxfordshire County Council and the Government, which are all Conservative-run.

Far be it from me to get political, but perhaps we need to look no further as to why these problems have arisen. — Yours faithfully,

Ken Arlett

Elizabeth Road, Henley

Plan reduced to wish list

Sir, — We were told that the Henley and Harpsden joint neighbourhood plan would be a legal document.

It meant we would have responsibility, together with South Oxfordshire District Council, to shape our town. This would mean consultation and discussion.

It was approved by referendum, so if Brexit means Brexit then surely a neighbourhood plan means a neighbourhood plan. What’s the difference?

Yet it seems our legal document is now nothing more than a mere wish list.

We have not had any contact from the district council’s planning officers regarding any relevant planning application since the neighbourhood plan steering group was formed many months ago.

They make up their minds unilaterally and are nearly always supported by the district council’s planning committee.

The officers wrote recently that our plan was “outdated” due to their failure to identify a five-year land supply for housing.

If that is their opinion, then our plan is lost as they clearly do not need to consult it and they will revert to their local plan.

We have been thrown to the wolves. Why is everyone in authority silent and not supporting Henley and Harpsden, which have spent years and £100,000 of taxpayers’ money on this project?

Meanwhile, those younger people that need affordable homes in the town may as well look elsewhere.

Henley is open for business — as long as you are aged over 55! — Yours faithfully,

Dieter Hinke

Chairman, Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan steering group, Elizabeth Road, Henley

Clean air is our right

Sir, — This is an open letter to our local members of South Oxfordshire District Council and Oxfordshire County Council.

As councillors with different responsibilities for Henley, I thought it worth sharing my impressions of the district council’s air quality consultation event that took place at Henley town hall on Saturday.

Recommendations have been made as to how to improve air quality district-wide.

Although the exhibits said these ideas were being actioned, none is actually being delivered to improve air quality in Henley.

When asked why not by many Henley residents, the council representatives replied that none has been included in a budget by councillors.

So my question is why not and when will you get to do something that allows Henley residents, especially the children, to breathe clean air? They have a legal right to do this!

Now is the time to allocate funds in next year’s budget by diverting the £750,000 allocated for the stupid proposal to add a deck to the King’s Road car park.

In addition, the questionnaire was an extremely poor document. It made air quality claims that no one believes and asked questions about ethnic origins, home ownership etc rather than about air quality.

How someone expects to learn something from this I am not sure.

There was not even a count of the number of residents in attendance at the event but I am sure it was well over 100, with everyone showing that air quality is understood to be a key issue.

It was also sad that the consultation was not better publicised.

I look forward to your replies and the consultation feedback. — Yours faithfully,

David Dickie

St Katherine’s Road, Henley

Councilor David Nimmo Smith, a town, district and county councillor, responds: “I agree that the feedback form was long on collecting personal details and short on a feedback opportunity.

“As to ‘when will you get to do something that allows Henley residents, especially the children, to breathe clean air?, what the exhibition sought was ideas which the residents think will improve air quality in the centre of Henley. Mr Dickie has not put forward any solutions to me. In my county role I often get a myriad of emails from members of the public offering suggestions about highways issues across the county.

“The district and county council officers are looking at air quality and vehicle movements and I am frustrated that no proposals have been put forward.

“I am pursuing a blanket 20mph zone throughout Henley, which the county officers are promoting in a number of towns and villages but they are looking to Henley Town Council to fund this as there is not enough developer funding available at present. The Henley transport strategy group, which includes representatives of Harpsden and Remenham, is working up a strategy document, which I will soon be discussing with the relevant district and county officers.

“It is important to recognise that any air quality mitigation measures have to be fit for purpose, part of an overall plan and properly funded for construction running costs while keeping Henley open for business development and encouraging visitors, shoppers etc.

“Part of the answer may be a new river crossing at Reading but the traffic modelling and the impact on Henley — and on other roads in Oxfordshire — is not yet available.

“If there is to be a (partial?) ban on heavy goods vehicles it needs to be properly funded, have a simple mechanism and be as automated as possible to separate out long-distance rat-running from local business activity.”

Here’s my manifesto...

Sir, — I was interested to read the October e-briefing from our MP, John Howell, where he asserts that “clearly the reasons why the EU referendum was not advisory” are that “we had committed to honour the result whatever the outcome” because this was included “in the winning Conservative Party manifesto of 2015”.

Are we to conclude from this that the present government guarantees to honour every other aspect of the manifesto?

I am sure everyone can find many things they would like to be implemented but here are three of mine to kick off with:

l Everyone over 75 will get a same-day appointment with their GP

l Eliminate the deficit

l Make sure no one is forced to sell their home to pay for care.

However, since no one can honestly believe that everything in the manifesto will/can be implemented then someone has to decide which are and which are not.

John Howell’s vote seems to go for implementing the referendum result; some of us would not agree. — Yours faithfully,

Peter C Stone

Blandy Road, Henley

I want to keep noticeboards

Sir, — I would like to clarify your report on the meeting of Henley Town Council’s town and community committee (Standard, October 28) and say that I am very much in favour of retaining the town’s noticeboards.

What I objected to was a price being put on replacements. I said that we should vote on whether to replace them on principle (and the boards wouldn’t actually cost that much to replace anyway). — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Lorraine

Henley Town Council

Grave rules are upsetting

Sir, — I am responding to your article about Fairmile Cemetery in Henley having a problem with thefts of ornaments (Standard, October 21).

If Sheila Walker lived in Wargrave, these would be removed anyway, together with faded flowers and wreaths, as I found out recently on visiting Chalk Pit cemetery to tidy and tend the graves of my mother and my grandparents, which are side by side.

They were stripped bare of the silk flowers I had previously taken and placed tight up to the headstones and were only spoiled by the grass strimmer throwing cut grass over them.

I have been tending these two graves for 78 years as my mother died when I was five and I am now nearly 84.

I can only get there about four times a year as I now live in Caversham and can’t get there so often.

I wrote to the vicar of Wargrave who passed my letter on to the warden of Chalk Pit Cemetery who wrote back to me saying that the cemetery comes under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Oxford, which makes the rules.

The parochial church council is responsible for ensuring these rules are observed.

There was a letter on the cemetery gates stating this but as my graves were attended regularly and had no ornaments I was not concerned — until I saw the bare graves!

Henley is in Oxfordshire whereas Wargrave is in Berkshire, so why aren’t the same rules applied to the Henley cemetery?

I have spoken to the warden but I am still not sure what I can put on my graves — not much by the sound of it!

Rules are rules but they should apply to all and especially Henley, being in the Diocese of Oxford too.

This is upsetting to the people who own and look after their loved ones’ graves, never knowing when their flowers will be removed by someone else.

This has never happened before, so why now? — Yours faithfully,

Greta Edwards

Hemdean Road, Caversham

Fix potholes properly

Sir, — I hope the “dragon patcher” makes a better and longer lasting job than the similar method that was used to “fix” the potholes in Busgrove Lane and Wyfold Road a couple of years back.

That was a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. — Yours faithfully,

Colin Garnham

Rotherfield Peppard

Theatre’s too expensive

Sir, — The remarkable success of the Henley Fringe until it pulled in its horns a couple of years ago showed us all how to turn the most unlikely of spaces into a performance area and make it work.

Cafés, shops, the quite tiny space at Hot Gossip, an upstairs office: you can put on a show anywhere if you have the imagination.

So the innovation from HAODS — soon to be renamed, I hear — of turning its rehearsal studio into a performance area is hardly a surprise. In fact, it might even be long overdue.

Last week we were treated to a spirited production of The Innocents which made maximum use of the space and gave the actors freedom to move.

The result was an excellent amateur show for an audience of about 60 people each night — the perfect studio number.

I have long advocated thinking outside the four walls of the Kenton Theatre for local drama. It’s a fine space but becoming harder and harder to fill. It’s expensive and organisations struggle to break even without charging very high ticket prices.

Using the studio gives the flexibility to put on less obviously appealing works but will satisfy the performers and smaller audiences.

The real issue, though, is the pricing system at the Kenton.

I was recently in an amateur show there in which it was quite possible on some nights for a spectator to pay nearly £19 if they paid the society’s fee, a booking fee and then an imposed £1 surcharge just for the theatre.

Quite a few people commented to me about this. Some forthcoming amateur shows at the Kenton will be charging even more.

Potential customers are entitled to think where else that money might be spent. As a comparison, I see that £22.75 will buy a ticket for the very funny Nina Conti at the Wycombe Swan next week.

Certainly at other local societies it’s rare to pay more than £10 for an amateur show.

So, well done HAODS — or whatever you plan to be called soon — this was a great idea and a great performance.

Kenton take note: you’re taking liberties and eventually they may come back to bite you. — Yours faithfully,

Mike Rowbottom

Stoke Row

In defence of our cinema

Sir, — Further to the letter from Jan Kaye (Standard, October 28) I am writing in support of the Regal Picturehouse Cinema in Henley. Yes, I am sometimes disappointed that smaller “arthouse” films are not shown, or are shown late in the run but I understand this is down to the distributor.

Often only 90 prints of such films are made and they are not easy to acquire for smaller cinema chains.

I am sure most of us realise how lucky we are to have our cinema, with easy parking and comfortable seats, tea and coffee and even a glass of wine!

Not only do we get to see mainstream blockbusters but also opera, ballet and theatre (at a fraction of the price of going to London) with a mix of films for all interests and age groups.

How many other cinemas around the country hold special screenings for dementia patients, for mothers and babies, for the autistic and the Silver Screen for us many over-60s?

Our cinema is celebrating its 20th year in 2017.

I was the first person to sign up for membership and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Henley cinema for adding to the quality of the life in our town and for the entertainment it provides. — Yours faithfully,

Alvi Shaw

Where’s your humanity?

Sir, — I was shocked and saddened to read not one but two letters in last week’s Henley Standard complaining about Martin Allen, the homeless man currently “living” in Henley market square.

One writer questioned if this was what tourists ought to see in the heart of the town and to that I say, why not?

For our town to show that it has some humanity, that it cares for this chap who nobody knows but who is clearly down on his luck and that we don’t turn our backs on those in need, is in my opinion a wonderful way to show our town in a positive light.

I sincerely hope that the two residents who wrote to you never find themselves in need of a little help and sympathy as what goes around, comes around. — Yours faithfully,

Polly Kemp

Berkshire Road, Henley

Sending the wrong image

Sir, — I cannot help but agree with two of your correspondents last week.

There are, indeed, two residents of Henley that are, quite frankly, an embarrassment to the town. How we can continue to allow Henley to be stained in such a public way is beyond me.

I can only hope that Messrs Altenburg and James pack their bags and take their draconian, intolerant prejudices far away from here and stop adding fuel to the fire that Henley is nothing more than a stuck up, Daily Mail-reading, pavement-hoovering retirement village for the rich, who seem determined to live in some kind of Downton Abbey idyll, where the less fortunate should not be seen or heard... especially if they have radios!

Regrettably, we all know that this kind of attitude in Henley is not just reserved for Mr Altenburg and Mr James. Need I remind you of the “our streets look like a third world country” correspondent from some time ago?

Well, I’ve been to a third world country and I can assure you that the streets are not stained by the coffee-guzzling, consumer-led ways of the western world.

Unfortunately, there are the stupid ones (yes, gentlemen, stupid), who dare to stick their heads above the parapet and remind those of us who live in the real world what many people in the town think.

And it’s that kind of image, Henley, that we don’t want the tourists to see, or, indeed, read about. — Yours ashamedly,

Ian Howard

Gravel Hill, Henley

Halloween is so tasteless

Sir, — So it’s Halloween. I have been thinking about it over the last few days and perhaps since having kids my views on it go a little deeper...

I switch on the news and hear yet again about the suffering in Aleppo, of children with bloodstained clothing fleeing in fear.

I read about how a few weeks ago a group from the church refused to leave in order to serve those in need but they were eventually crucified, including a boy of 13.

Two women with the group refused to renounce their faith in Jesus and were beheaded and hung on a cross too... and then it’s Halloween here.

We walk into a shop that has (among other things) axes and fake blood for sale to dress our kids up in — but it’s okay, it’s just a bit of fun, it’s harmless right… it’s just Halloween.

What do we think this teaches our children or even us about how to relate to the world? Is it helpful?

I wonder if we would want to dress like that today if we were in a place where darkness has managed to succeed beyond a bit of fancy dress.

I wonder what refugee children who come here and have seen some unbearable things think about it all. All I know is the world needs light more than ever and kindness, not the celebration of darkness and fear.

I think our kids deserve better and should be encouraged to be respectful and to delight in things that are edifying and not based on fear as we have enough of that in the world already.

Then once they are dressed up we send them to knock on strangers’ doors and ask to get something or give out a trick — maybe I am getting old, but I just don’t get it.

I am all for building up ways of engaging with our community but I know we can do better and often do. — Yours faithfully,

Tom Girdler

Sonning Common

Interfering with nature

Sir, — Since I wrote my letter about the edible dormouse (Standard, October 28), quite a lot of attention has been given to this little animal thanks to the BBC’s Autumnwatch and Countryfile.

I was wrong in assuming these creatures are rare. Apparently there are more than a million glis glis in the Chilterns and doing damage by targeting eggs and chicks of tree nesting birds, woodpeckers etc.

Oddly, I had only seen two edible dormice until this week when I saw two in the woods at Woodcote. This is another example of man interfering with the balance of nature. — Yours faithfully,

David M Page

Bridle Path, Woodcote

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