Saturday, 24 July 2021

Upside of new timetable

Sir, — Your story headlined “Commuters claim new timetable ‘unworkable’” (Standard, November 4) raises a number of interesting points.

The first is that commuters generally travel at peak times and therefore would clearly benefit from a 30-minute service and since we know that at peak times all branch line trains would stop at Wargrave, this would be a benefit, not an inconvenience to Wargrave commuters.

Second, the issue of overcrowding is likely to be helped by more frequent services.

Third, once the main line is electrified, all branch line services will terminate at Twyford and mainline services will operate on a 30-minute timetable. So if the branch line service remains on a 45- minute timetable, branch line commuters will spend a lot more time standing on the platform at Twyford.

It is perhaps worth adding that it is much easier to remember the timing of a half hourly service, which might encourage more use of the line.

I have spent enough money on taxis from Twyford to Henley to understand the frustrations of those who have missed connections at Twyford but the branch line shuttle trains need to be off the line before the later through-train crosses over to the branch line.

If the Paddington-Henley through-train is stuck on the slow/relief line it holds up all the stopping trains behind it.

I would add that delays caused by signalling problems are down to Network Rail, not Great Western Railway.

In response to the remark that some Wargrave users would lose out to benefit Henley users, which appears to attribute a particular selfishness to Henley residents, might I point out that many branch line users journey to Henley and Henley, located at the end of the line, serves a wide hinterland.

Even as I wrote this letter, I received notification that the electrification of the Henley branch line is being deferred.

This is a severe blow to our hopes for the future of the line. We have always feared that if the branch line was not electrified, and continued to rely on diesel trains, the long- term future of the line would be in jeopardy once the owners and operators of the diesel trains decided they were too expensive/difficult to service.

We were not altogether surprised by the bad news because GWR managing director Mark Hopwood had hinted at it at a meeting with the Maidenhead and Marlow Passengers Association.

We therefore pressed for a meeting with him and this was cancelled at short notice, with a proposal that he would meet with a number of groups together.

HBUG will now press for that meeting to happen as soon as possible.

Branch line users need to understand the seriousness of this situation, which is a threat to the economic future of the line and the people it serves.

TV news interviews with Network Rail officials following the announcement seemed to hint that the decision was made by the Department for Transport on financial grounds and that future funding would be diverted to upgrade other regions. Another commentator suggested that it could be eight years before the Oxford/Didcot stretch would be electrified and the branch line would be unlikely to happen before that.

Henley Branch Line Users Group was formed to give a voice to train users up and down the line, to vent their frustrations and to negotiate improvements.

We hold meetings in Henley, Shiplake, Wargrave and Twyford. We are engaged with GWR, Network Rail and Crossrail. HBUG has successfully negotiated an extra early Sunday morning service and an extra late-night service which means you can go to the theatre in London and still get a train home.

We continue to press for better communication, especially at times of disruption.

GWR agreed to our request for draft timetables for the 30-minute branch line and concurrent main line services.

I would encourage anyone interested in seeing the detail to email us at henleybranch
usergroup@gmail.com or
follow us on Twitter
@HenleyBUG.

We have also prepared an e-survey which will be issued to members of the group, so do please join us and spread the word to your neighbours and fellow travellers. — Yours faithfully,

Patricia Mulcahy

Chair, Henley Branch Line Users Group

Shambolic management

Sir, — As I have said in these columns previously, dissatisfaction among Wargrave passengers is an inevitable consequence of having their off-peak service frequency reduced in order to improve that from Henley and Shiplake.

But this does not mean the proposed timetable is “unworkable”. In fact, the present peak period, broadly 30-minute, interval on the branch line shows that such a service is workable.

The real problem is connections at Twyford where the margin to hold branch trains will disappear if the 30-minute interval is to be maintained.

As yet we, and now probably even GWR, don’t know what the main line service will be like so we don’t know if connectional margins will be eased, thus improving the reliability of connections. Until we know that we have no information on which to make definitive comments.

Pertinent to the future, of course, is this week’s announcement about deferment of considerable parts of the Great Western main line electrification, including Oxford and the Henley branch.

Despite some less than honest nonsense from a junior minister that, and I quote, “this is because we can bring in the benefits expected by passengers — newer trains with more capacity — without requiring costly and disruptive electrification works”, it is plainly obvious that without the planned electrification that simply won’t happen and because of other “deferments” the whole train service between Oxford/Reading and Paddington will effectively be back in the melting pot.

Locally, we are well used to double talk and weasel words from MPs but this latest nonsense put some of what we have heard in the past into the shade.

Time perhaps for our commuter groups to show their teeth and make sure that the mismanaged shambles of the main line electrification is made known as widely as possible.

On another transport-related topic, it is reassuring to learn that at long last some thought is being given to the abysmal lack of town centre parking in Henley.

My only problem with this is that if I am able to rely on parking next to Waitrose for our weekly shop I will be deprived of the chance to shop in another branch and take advantage en route of car fuel which is 5p per litre cheaper than the over-priced situation we now face in Henley.

Another unintended consequence from the “planners” who not only land us with unwanted buildings for incoming old folk (for whom we have no hospital beds) but deprive us of competition in fuel prices which helped keep down the cost of living. — Yours faithfully,

Mike Romans

Cromwell Road, Henley

We’ve been here before...

Sir, — In 2002, then Henley town councillors Alan Follett and myself highlighted the poor air quality in Henley’s principle areas and tried to produce solutions.

We are now told that nationally there are 40,000 deaths per annum where poor air quality has contributed to an early death.

By my calculations, since 2002 in the catchment area served by Townlands Hospital there will have been some 300 premature deaths in our community. Very sobering!

I do not claim success in those days for eliminating the problem but we did have limited success.

We were frustrated at the time by blinkered Conservative members of the town council and South Oxfordshsire district and Oxfordshire county councils, who were in denial about any problem, and by vested powerful interests both inside and outside the town.

The district council is ultimately responsible for the air quality but it has seen its main priority over the last 13 years as producing air quality action plans with high-minded intentions. These were unenforceable by a multitude of innocent air quality officers who were cutting their teeth in local government. How times do not change!

First and foremost, it is essential to eliminate as much through traffic as possible. What happened to sending M40 traffic down the Marlow bypass through good signage or giving Reading-bound traffic an alternative route?

Why have we never been able to stop The Henley College buses from accessing Greys Road with more than 100 vehicle movements per day when we have car parks at either end of the town?

Why were the initiatives of walking primary school children to school not maintained?

Alan and I increased the number of children walking to school by more than 10 per cent, aided by the enthusiastic schools and county council.

Once vehicles have accessed the town it is important that we deal with them efficiently and effectively without increasing our air quality problems.

Why was the original principle for SCOOT traffic lights to hold traffic on the edge of town and at the appropriate moment allow it to flow through the town curtailed?

In subverting this principle we have allowed traffic to stand in the street “canyons”, discharging noxious gases and particles that are a danger to us all.

Now we are to have the arguments of the late Nineties all over again and replace traffic lights with flat roundabouts.

One of the biggest barriers to dealing efficiently with traffic is the lack of control of all the town car parks by only Henley Town Council. Currently, car park management is divided between the town council, the district council and Network Rail.

At no time have we been able to produce a co-ordinated car park strategy that works for the town rather than the benefit of others.

After all, the district council takes more than £700,000 per annum out of Henley and is certainly not going to give that up. With £1million per annum coming from the town’s car parks, Henley’s county councillor David Nimmo Smith might just be able to produce some road improvements.

Perhaps the issue of a tier on the King’s Road car park would be superfluous if we used what we have more effectively.

What happened to the website that the county council contributed £10,000 towards as a grant in 2004?

This gave out information on health implications and surgery campaigns, financial implications and ways to save money. In other words the air quality campaign had momentum and focus and was relevant to people’s lives.

Regretfully, we could never encourage the district council to be open and transparent on air quality data and today I do not know of anywhere locally where such data is readily accessible and up to date. The Mayor of London is about to implement a scheme to install meters giving out real time information on air quality conditions.

Now that will really focus on the problem and is a must for Henley too.

Yes, we achieved much back in “the good old days” but some achievements have been washed away with the passing of time. However, much time has been lost through our failure to prioritise this real threat to public health.

For 300 unknown souls in our community, we should apologise that they had to pay the ultimate price for those responsible civil servants and politicians on every level playing politics and failing to tackle this 21st century problem.

Perhaps some individual or even Henley Town Council would like to take legal action against the district council for failing to safeguard the health of local residents by not doing enough practically about our poor air quality.

That really would send a signal to our community that we are deadly serious about this problem. — Yours faithfully,

Barry Wood

Stoke Row Road, Peppard

Listen again, councillor

Sir, — In a week where the Government has lost again in the High Court, so demonstrating that its air quality action plans are inadequate, I should not be surprised that Councillor David Nimmo Smith implies that the problem lies with me having suggested no remedies (Standard, November 4).

Three years ago, when I began helping Henley Town Council to ask Oxfordshire County Council for a restriction on the movements of heavy goods vehicles, he stated that Henley was not a special place.

At about 15 town council meetings since then I have stood up during the public participation period and asked for actions to restrict the movement of diesel vehicles in the town centre.

With his head down, apparently wishing nothing was being said, Cllr Nimmo Smith had ample opportunity to ask how to start but never did.

I have responded to earlier consultations by the county council. Where is the feedback? Will we get feedback this time?

There are several possible actions to choose from on South Oxfordshire District Council’s list and most will need to be implemented to begin to solve the problem.

Announce a low emission zone, impose a 20 mph limit, keep the traffic moving by taking out traffic lights, increase car park charges for diesel vehicles, provide out-of -town centre car parking at lower charges and get buses and taxis to turn off their idling engines.

The Starbucks corner and outside Barclays bank give atrocious particulate readings in this damp, cold weather.

All these schemes are shown to be beneficial. When you do nothing, the list gets longer and then it becomes too difficult to make a decision.

Decreasing the hours of the district council’s air quality expert also does not make sense — at a district council meeting on March 29 it was stated the council did not have finance available for air pollution.

In 2017/18 please do something other than car park decking that would only increase the traffic. You have a legal responsibility to do so. — Yours faithfully,

David Dickie

St Katherine’s Road, Henley

GPs’ car park full... again

Sir, — I wish to echo the sentiments expressed by your correspondent Martin Akehurst (Standard, November 4).

I had cause to visit the Henley GPs’ surgery at 8.30am on Friday, one week after him, and I also found the car park to be full. I had no choice but to park in the King’s Road car park.

I am fortunate to be fit and this was no more than an inconvenience. It would be much more than that for the elderly and infirm. The same thought occurred to me — these cars cannot all belong to patients. — Yours faithfully,

Tony Norman

Gallowstree Road, Peppard Common

Housing plan is a farce

Sir, — I was very sorry to read that Henley Town Council-owned land near Tesco was to be sold with no provision for social housing (Standard, October 21).

I came across this entry made by Alan Bennett in an extract from his latest writing, Keeping On Keeping On, part of his diaries published by The Guardian.

“I wanted a Labour government so I could stop thinking politics, knowing that the nation’s affairs were in the hands of a party which even if often foolish was well-intentioned at least.

“Now we have another decade of the self-interested and self-seeking, ready to sell off liberal institutions and loot the rest to their own advantage. It is not a government of the nation but a government of half a nation, a ture legacy of Mrs Thatcher.”

I am afraid I have similar views.

Conservative town councillor Simon Smith was quoted as saying about the housing plan: “I work in a shop and most people who work in the shops already live in Henley anyway.”

I do not think that most shop workers can ever contemplate buying at affordable prices here in Henley but what about teachers, nurses and other ancillary staff at Townlands plus staff at the many nursing homes?

They will all need housing which is affordable and going to be built.

The neighbourhood plan has become a farce with many good and willing people putting hours in — all a waste of time, it seems to me, as South Oxfordshire District Council is spitting in their faces and I include residents in Henley as well who all spent time voting on sites. — Yours faithfully,

Anne Johnson

Blandy Road, Henley

Democracy? Not here

Sir, — Many local residents who attend planning committee meetings at South Oxfordshire District Council have been astonished to find that our local Henley ward councillors on that committee are not allowed to vote on applications in Henley.

They are allowed to speak in opposition or support but have been told that they are barred from voting.

It is solely because of this absurd position that, despite enormous, well-founded opposition from local people and valid planning policy grounds for refusal, the recent applications for the care home on the Newtown Road industrial estate and for a major development on the corner of Mill Lane were successful.

Our local Henley councillors were excluded and the decisions were made on the committee chairman’s casting vote i.e. by persons who were not our local representatives and who did not have a detailed knowledge of our neighbourhood plan.

Somehow the convention to forbid local councillors from voting on local issues has been approved into the district council’s constitution on page 170 of a 327-page document approved in August.

As far as I can discover, this matter has not been open to public consultation.

After all the careful work on preparing our neighbourhood plan, which was fully supported by both an independent examiner and the district council, decisions are still being made without local representatives who know what they are talking about being allowed to vote.

Surely one of the main reasons we elect our local councillors is so that they can vote on local issues and assert neighbourhood plan policies?

Of course they have to follow all the democratic framework of determining planning applications in accordance with the development plan, not pre-judging until they have heard the full case at committee etc, but as long as they start the committee with an open mind, they should be allowed to vote.

Despite presenting sound reasons for refusal based on neighbourhood plan objectives, which are now an integral part of the development plan, these can be and have been overridden by others.

Across the river in Windsor and Maidenhead, in Wokingham and Reading, where council constitutions allow true democracy, local councillors are allowed to vote on applications in their wards, so their votes are out there in the public domain where we can see them,and can really make a difference in decisions.

This is the case even when councillors are “twin hatted” as both town or parish council representatives and district councillors.

Discussions with senior democratic services officers confirm that there is nothing in law or best practice which requires councillors to be fettered in such an unreasonable way.

The constitution must be altered to enable local representatives to vote on local matters. At present, what we have is not democracy.

I would urge readers to demand that Henley Town Council insists this change to the district council’s constitution is made with all speed and also that the town council formally challenges the recent planning committee decisions before our town is changed out of all recognition by people outside our control.

Alan Pontin

Mill Lane, Henley

How about a new hotel?

Sir, — Having spent the last two weekends in a Premier Inn, may I suggest that we could perhaps approach the hotel group inviting them to develop in Henley?

Surely this would be more advantageous to the town than yet another care home. — Yours faithfully,

Pauline Fleming

Fair Mile, Henley

The jewel in our town

Sir, — What a pity that your correspondent Mike Rowbottom gave such a downbeat view of the Kenton Theatre (Standard, November 4).

In the past 12 months more people than ever have crossed our threshold.

They come to watch plays, listen to jazz, rock, pop and classical music, be entranced by a range of speakers ,from the Archbishop of York to Sebastian Faulks, at the literary festival and laugh with their families at our sell-out pantomime.

In between times, local amateur theatre groups are welcomed to put on whatever they wish.

Mr Rowbottom went on to complain about ticket prices over which the theatre has little or no control unless it is a show put on by our production company, such as the pantomime.

A family ticket for this year’s pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, is £62 for two adults and two children, £30 less than the Wycombe theatre, which your correspondent promoted so enthusiastically.

As for the £1 surcharge he referred to, that is in fact a restoration levy to ensure the fabric of our wonderful old theatre is maintained.

Come on, let’s enjoy our theatre, a jewel in our town, and let’s support it.

No one is taking liberties, merely ensuring the theatre remains a key part of the town’s life and, like Mr Rowbottom, we welcome all initiatives to create and increase the opportunities for performing in Henley. — Yours faithfully,

Rick White

Chairman of trustees, Kenton Theatre, New Street, Henley

Dwindling audiences

Sir, — I was interested to read Mike Rowbottom’s letter about ticket prices at the Kenton Theate for amateur shows.

It is a fact that, nationwide, the general public’s appetite for attending amateur theatricals is waning.

I suspect that even if the tickets were free many societies would still struggle to fill the 230 seats at the Kenton for a week.

It is certainly fortunate that the Kenton is no longer solely reliant on amateur performances and has broadened its appeal to include many more professional bookings. — Yours faithfully,

Simon Clarke

Goodleigh, Devon

I got actor into business

Sir, — It was good to read about Henley councillor David Eggleton’s career in films and television (Standard, October 14).

I am glad he got on as it was me who got him started in the business in the Eighties when I lived in Henley.

I was working full-time in the film business as an actor and Dave asked me how to get into the business so I took him down to the old central casting offices in Wardour Street, London, and got him signed with the agency.

A week later he had his first job at Kings Cross working on the feature film Chaplin, which I also was working on that week.

I hope he’s still keeping his hand in the business.

I also recommended a friend of David’s, at his request, as a children’s entertainer to Equity.

He received his card on the recommendation of me and my wife. — Yours faithfully,

Danny D’Arcy

Piggotts Road, Caversham

Lucky to have library help

Sir, — I attended the annual meeting of the Friends of Sonning Common Library. It was a well-attended meeting and the drive and enthusiasm behind the current running of the library was very apparent.

Four years ago our library was on the edge of the abyss of closure as a result of the financial cuts made by Oxfordshire County Council.

A group of concerned residents (the Friends) worked very hard to persuade the council to agree to a scheme whereby the library would be run by local volunteers, professionally supported by the librarian, Rosemary Dunstan.

It is to these volunteers and the on-site support they receive that we owe the continuation and development of what is an exceptionally attractive, well equipped, welcoming library.

Sonning Common residents have good reason to be very grateful to all involved, including the county council for its support in a number of areas. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Douglas Kedge

Chairman, Sonning Common Parish Council, Lea Road, Sonning Common

Dinner for a good cause

Sir — November is a great time to gather friends for a catch-up before the Christmas mayhem.

Last Friday I gathered seven friends for a “girls’ night in” dinner at my home.

Two of us cooked the three-course meal and our guests paid a donation to Cancer Research UK for their dinner. It was great fun and we raised £231 for this important charity.

I wanted to promote this to others as a great idea for a pre-Christmas fund-raising idea and to thank seven local friends for their kind generosity. — Yours faithfully,

Jill Grinsted

Kennylands Road, Sonning Common

Bellringers wanted

Sir, — There was an important omission from Jeremy Simon’s obituary (Standard, November 4).

The bells of St Bartholomew’s Church in Nettlebed had been refurbished in about 1979 but remained silent due to a shortage of ringers.

In mid-1980, a plea for learners was responded to by Jeremy and his next-door neighbour when news spread that two ringers were moving to the village.

Over the years more ringers came and some moved away but Jeremy continued to ring until two weeks before he died.

He is greatly missed by our small band of ringers, especially as another of our band died last January. We are, sadly, quite depleted and can only ring now if most us are there.

We would welcome any experienced ringers or prospective learners to swell our numbers on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings. — Yours faithfully,

Susan Byers and Ralph Elmes

Have you seen the centaur?

Sir, — Very late this Guy Fawkes night, my partner and I were driving home from Twyford, fatigued after having missed the last train from London and forced to take the protracted journey by rail replacement bus from Hayes and Harlington.

Just as we were heading down Wargrave Road towards Henley, we were alarmed to see a tall, pale beast, swaying on a bend at the side of the road about 10 metres ahead.

It seemed startled by the full beam from our car and I swerved to give it room in case it suddenly careered into the road. I thought that we had stumbled upon an exceptionally tall deer.

As our car passed the beast, however, it became clear that the two huge pale orbs staring at us belonged, in fact, to the backside of a man who was bent over, fully mooning us.

A second man, this one clothed properly in outerwear (sensibly so, given that the temperature was below freezing), stood just behind and to the left.

Having returned from visiting the ancient sites of Greece only days previously, the overall impression we got from this creature was that of a centaur, wriggling and startled in the cold light, unused to the sight of man at such an unsociable hour.

Indeed, borrowing aptly from the TV series, Girls, we encountered a true embodiment of the “Phantom Centaur Butt”.

I urge any other readers who have also had a chance sighting of the Twyford Centaur to write in too.

Our white show cat Smokey met his end on these very roads one year ago, as the Henley Standard kindly reported, and the Twyford Centaur is similarly a remarkable creature that risks being endangered by vehicle traffic as it strays home across unlit roads on Friday and Saturday nights. — Yours faithfully,

M Walley

Remenham

Plentiful hedgerows?

Sir, — I am experiencing a similar lack of birds as your correspondent Hilary Penrose (Standard, Octoober 28).

I am hoping this may be due to an abuncance of hedgerow food this autumn. — Yours faithfully,

Rosemary Daniel

Shiplake

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