Thursday, 24 June 2021

Council not obeying rules

Sir, — Thanks to your article about the new gates and walls at Camelid Veterinary Services in Goring Heath (Standard, November 11), the parish council has at last received a response from South Oxfordshire District Council.

The council has completely ignored the fact that these appalling, ugly, suburban gates and walls are in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Indeed there are pictures of very similar entrances in the council’s own design guide as bad examples of what should not be built.

The Chilterns design guide also shows other bad examples that are just like the ones that have been built here.

The district council has a statutory duty to protect and enhance the AONB but too often it ignores this duty, as it has done in this case.

The so-called enforcement officer who investigated our complaint seems to be utterly unaware of the planning legislation that was involved, made no reference to the site being in the AONB, and made no reference to the council’s own design guidelines or those of the Chilterns Conservation Board, which are a material consideration in planning terms.

The justification that the walls are needed to keep animals safely enclosed is completely bizarre.

There are many fields around here that contain alpacas which have perfectly normal field gates and which are accessed every day with vehicles.

The conclusion of the report is that, in the officer’s opinion, planning permission would be given anyway, so there was no need to apply.

Perhaps the district council would like to confirm that this is now an official policy, in that if permission is likely to be granted, there is no need to apply for it. Is it just one rule for some applicants and not for others?

When a local resident had a house wall rendered in error by a builder in a location that, being a close of modern bungalows, was completely innocuous, she was required to apply for planning permission.

The reason was: “In many cases, the proposed works would be possible under permitted development rights but planning permission is required in this case because the property falls within the AONB.”

Although Camelid owner Claire Whitehead may have had many positive comments about her gates and her walls, the parish council has had many negative comments, with people amazed that such an ugly and inappropriate development has been allowed. — Yours faithfully,

Peter Dragonetti

Chairman, Goring heath Parish Council

Fighting for principles

Sir, — I would just like to assure Henley residents that the Conservatives are as frustrated as others by the difficulty in implementing the neighbourhood plan.

I am a member of the Henley Conservatives and I know the hard work that both councillors and members put in to achieve recognition from South Oxfordshire District Council that our plan needs to be delivered.

We have more planning applications coming forward and need to be alert and proactive to make sure that these do not contradict the plan that the people of the town wanted.

We support the town wholeheartedly in insisting that our plan must be delivered.

Both previous applications, for care housing, went against us on the casting vote of the district council’s planning committee chairman.

We have to make sure that our views are presented and actioned by planning officers, thus negating the need to reach a committee whose chairman does not seem to understand what Henley needs.

We will all continue to fight every application that doesn't meet how Henley people voted, supported by our residents, irrespective of political colour. — Yours faithfully,

Dieter Hinke

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

Face masks to focus minds

Sir, — Air pollution in Henley has been a concern since 2012 (Standard, November 11) with little or no progress having been made in all that time.

I suspect we are no closer to the councils implementing a solution now than we were then.

To help remediate the problem, I suggest that the residents of Henley follow the lead taken by Asia and the Far East and don air pollution face masks.

Not only will they limit some of the pollution entering our lungs but they will also provide a warning to prospective visitors to the town that the town is a known health hazard.

This might also help focus the minds of the councils to finally do something that will improve air quality in our otherwise beautiful town. — Yours faithfully,

Roderick Whitlock

Reading Road, Henley

Staff should move cars

Sir, — Regarding the problems with parking at the Henley GP surgeries’ car park (Standard, November 4 and 11), I think the cars belong to the administrative staff at the surgeries.

Surely it would be more considerate of them to park in the Townlands Hospital car park as it’s not too far for them to walk. — Yours faithfully,

Mrs J Hadley

Leaver Road, Henley

P.S. Could someone please shorten Barry Wood’s letters? They are too long. We can’t be bothered, Barry, with you waffling on and on.

What about ‘no’ voters?

Sir, — In the light of Donald Trump’s victory and the consequent geopolitical uncertainty, it is surely more important than ever that Europe stands strongly together, both politically and economically.

This unexpected outcome must now be taken into account as the details of Brexit are considered.

I understand John Howell is obliged to toe the party line on triggering Article 50 but could he please let us know how he intends to continue to represent the voice of his own constituents who decisively rejected Brexit in the referendum? — Yours faithfully,

David Padmore

Henley

Bring back fairy lights

Sir, — Please can Henley Town Council arrange for the Christmas fairy lights to be restored to the trees in Station Park? The power cables in the tree branches were removed when the trees were pollarded but the power point box is still there.

The benches need restoring as well but that’s a job for the spring. – Yours faithfully,

Steve Ludlow

Station Road, Henley

Why neglect historic pubs?

Sir, — Could Brakspear chief executive Tom Davies provide the Henley Standard and its readers with a response to the question which has been posed over the last few weeks on these pages, including by Howard Poll, who said: “Why has Brakspear not bothered to maintain the various pubs, which it deems, by its own obscure standards, to be unviable?”

The pubs in question are the Crown in Nuffield, the Four Horseshoes in Checkendon and the Dog and Duck in Highmoor. You could also include the Rose and Crown in New Street, Henley.

Could Mr Davies also explain why the pubs are not offered as free houses as an alternative to Grade II listed derelict buildings? Brakspear likes to live off its reputation of being a Henley business steeped in the history of the town but is quite willing to neglect that history via the destruction of the beautiful listed buildings that it owns. — Yours faithfully,

James Lambert

Mill End

Tom Davies, chief of executive of Brakspear, responds: “Mr Lambert, Having spoken to you at length in the past and replied to many of your letters, it is clear to me that you do not, and have no desire to, understand the problems affecting the pub trade but instead prefer to spend your time writing and sending letters to try to discredit me, my family’s business and anyone else who happens to have crossed you that particular week.

“Despite my reservations as to whether you will accept and digest my response, my feedback to your various letters of the past weeks and months is as follows: Since 2000 total beer volume has dropped by 24 per cent and in the on-trade (pubs, restaurants and the many other licensed venues that have been established over that time) by more than 45 per cent, therefore less beer volume sold by increased retail outlets.

“Over the same period beer volume in the off-trade (consumed at home) has increased by 22 per cent and these ratios are exaggerated in rural areas.

“There are many reasons for this, including more obedience of the drink-drive laws, more creature comforts at home, such as large televisions, Sky TV and other pay-per-view services, an increasingly healthier society more aware of the impacts of alcohol, a smoking ban in all pubs, restaurants and many other public venues and a tougher uncertain economic environment, to name but a few.

“Since 2002 tax on beer has increased by 75 per cent, so the Treasury now takes, on average, £1.02 per pint, making going to the pub more of a treat than an everyday occurrence. In addition, VAT charged on food in pubs makes eating out significantly more expensive to the consumer than buying food at supermarkets which enjoy the benefit of zero VAT.

“During the same period pub operating costs have increased hugely. For example, the minimum wage increased by more than 35 per cent, employee taxes rose and now pension costs too, while the costs of utilities, business rates and business insurances have gone up significantly.

“All these issues have led to more than 10,000 (approximately 15 per cent) pubs closing nationally since 2002. Unfortunately, many of these are small rural pubs which are not large enough to sustain a destination food offer and do not have enough drinkers coming in on a regular basis to have a sustainable business.

“The Crown, the Dog and Duck and the Four Horseshoes were all scrutinised against the independent sustainability report which is supported by the Campaign for Real Ale and all failed these reviews due to their size and location.

“These pubs survived on large rural workforces who would all go to the pub every night and drink large quantities of beer. For many reasons, large rural workforces do not exist anymore.

“We live in a capitalist society which is governed by supply and demand. Our society and way of life is changing, resulting in fewer people visiting the pub and visiting less often than they used to and drinking less, so pubs are going to close.

“Should that trend reverse then more pubs will open, as pub operators and industry investors see the opportunity to generate a return on investment.

“I love pubs as do my team of 16 who work with me and our 120 tenanted pubs. We invest huge amounts of money in our estate each year, making our pubs better places to live near or visit.

“We spend money on things like the Henley Ale Trail and are currently working on a pub walks book, both of which are for locals to enjoy as well as to encourage tourists to visit the area for everyone’s benefit.

“We spent nearly £50,000 on a not-for-profit brewery at the back of the Bull on Bell Street so some Brakspear beers could be brewed in Henley again. We support local charities such as Sue Ryder for whom we have raised more than £40,000 so far this year as well as sponsoring Henley cricket, rugby and football clubs. Does that really sound like we are a large corporate business solely focused on profit?

“Sadly, rather than celebrate the positives of our business, you would rather find pubs which you most probably rarely visited when they were open and complain (repeatedly) about the fact that they have shut.

“Now that you have your new job working shifts in a pub a couple of nights a week you appear to believe you have advanced knowledge on the subject of rural pub viability. The Crown at Nuffield is still on the market for sale, so prove me wrong, buy it, use your knowledge and experience and turn it into the successful pub business you claim it could be. This would also give you the benefit of not having to endure any of our pubs which you so obviously dislike.

“I won’t hold my breath as I suspect it is rather easier for you to climb back on your sofa, get your laptop out and send more letters to your local paper. Please don’t expect another response from me as some of us do actually have pubs to run.

“To those people without personal vendettas our door is always open, whether you want to email, write, phone or even drop in. This response is to an individual who has contacted us many times and to whom we have responded many times.”

(All the figures are from the British Beer and Pub Association’s website).

Best location for school

Sir, — I write on behalf of a group of, first and foremost, homeowners in The Warren and district in Caversham.

Those in the group are also users of the recreational facilities in the area, members of the community and parents of current and future primary school children — children who would have been denied a place at any local primary schools if a new school had not been created.

Since it opened in 2014, The Heights Primary School has taken 50 children per year on to its roll.

This has eased the burden on waiting lists for Caversham schools and has been invaluable to families who otherwise would be facing lengthy, and potentially logistically impossible, school runs across Reading or into neighbouring South Oxfordshire.

Greater still, the school is giving young children an opportunity to be part of their community, interacting with peers outside school hours instead of spending that time stuck in cars simply to get from home to school.

It affords them the ability to walk to school, enjoying the outdoors and stretching legs and laying the foundation for independence and responsibility for when the journey can be done without an adult.

This positive interaction stretches beyond the school and into the surrounding community. The children have already engaged with the area around the current school location with activities such as litter-picking.

Last week there was a huge turnout for their harvest tea event which extended its invite to local residents.

The school has an impressive fund-raising ethic which can only keep growing.

These are additional benefits that a school situated within the community can bring.

They are not an “instead of”, nor is this a competition with current area groups but an opportunity to enhance and grow our community links and spirit even further.

The Education Funding Agency’s proposal to purchase land and build the school on 1.23 acres of Mapledurham playing fields is certainly lacking in detail and clarity, we all agree on that.

As homeowners we do not accept the proposal blindly, we have great concerns and demand that a number of points is clarified.

Nevertheless, here is an opportunity to enhance the area two-fold by providing a school that enables the education and social development of children in their own community while also improving recreational facilities and access to the fantastic resource of Mapledurham playing fields. It does not have to be one or the other.

Suggestions have recently been put forward by groups opposing the agency’s proposal for buying land as alternatives to the school.

One was to build two private houses and the other was a leisure centre. Both options would take the land away from being open space and have a narrow remit.

It certainly feels that the view is “anything but a school”.

We have been bombarded with the phrase that the action of proceeding with the agency’s proposal will amount to the “breaking of the trust” but, as has been explained a number of times, this is wholly incorrect.

To build a school on the playing fields would require a change to the scheme and this has already occurred with the location of the tennis club courts and clubhouse.

The legal process would be exactly the same, which fundamentally means the remaining land is as vulnerable now as it would be if a school was placed there.

There is no “slippery slope”. The new school is no more a trigger for further development than the tennis club provision was.

Yes, the topic is deemed controversial, prompting an arbitrary agree or disagree atmosphere in some cases, but our community is varied, as it should be in a healthy society, and it does not need to be divided.

We need to regain respect for and acceptance of differing opinions and stand strong against the term “divisive” because we all strive to do the best for the area in which we all live. — Yours faithfully,

Ruth Aitken

On behalf of 20 members of Warren and District Residents’ Association, Caversham

Was sexuality relevant?

Sir, — With reference to your story headlined “Gay housekeeper claims multi-millionaire couple dismissed him unfairly” (Standard, November 11), I would be very interested to hear your reasoning behind the decision to include the word “gay”. Of what relevance to the story is the person’s sexuality? — Yours faithfully,

Polly Kemp

Berkshire Road, Henley

The editor responds: “As the story made clear, part of the reason for the housekeeper’s dismissal was that he allowed his boyfriend to stay at the house without the owner’s knowledge and she was ‘uncomfortable with the situation’. Hence, the housekeeper’s sexuality was part of the evidence given to the tribunal and wholly relevant.”

US flag was back to front

Sir, — I was dismayed when I viewed the three photographs of the mock US presidential election on your front page (Standard, November 11).

Sadly, in each of the images, the United States flag is positioned incorrectly. While most Leander Club members in attendance at the mock debate probably didn’t know, or care, if the flag had been hung correctly, having it blazoned on your front page only serves to exacerbate the error. — Yours faithfully,

Dave Murray (an
American)

Henley

Missing you already

Sir, — The worst news of the couple of weeks — no, not Trump — but the departure of Paulo and Ana Gouveia and family from Smart’s, the best fish and chip shop in Oxfordshire (Standard, November 4).

It has been my pleasure on a Saturday lunchtime (when the Hawks are not playing at home) to share with family and friends the delicious fare on offer.

We will miss the so friendly service from our friends from Madeira who served us for 16 years with a very wholesome meal for the price of two fancy coffees!

I am sure all of Paulo and Ana’s customers will join us in wishing them a successful move to Southampton... and we shall look back and say, “those were the days”. — Yours faithfully,

Alan Pontin

Mill Lane, Henley

Thanks for generosity

Sir, — A very big thank-you to the lovely people who have responded to our call for donations to our winter fuel project fund, set up to help those in real need who cannot pay their fuel bill or are in debt with their fuel supplier and need to heat their home and prepare hot food.

Apologies if the telephone number on your leaflet does not work. It should read 0845 833 7387.

You can donate via our website www.henleylions.org.uk

Click on the “donate” button and you will be redirected to the Henley Lions Virgin Money giving account where under “support us” you can “make a donation” and follow the instructions. Please Gift Aid if you can.

Alternatively, email our treasurer at donate@henley
lions.org.uk who will send you details of how to donate.

Thank you again for your support and we assure you every penny of the money donated is solely for helping those in need who cannot pay their fuel bill.

Henley may appear a wealthy area but there are many families and individuals who will be very grateful for your help. — Yours faithfully,

Ian Tritton

On behalf of Henley Lions Club

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