Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Your letters

Empowered? You’re joking

Sir, — I continue to be utterly dismayed at John Howell’s stance on the Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan (Standard, November 18).

He claims the plan empowers our community. That is clearly not our experience. As disenfranchised residents, we have learnt that:

l South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee chairman considers our plan to be not detailed enough.

l The district council’s planners say our plan is no longer valid and that it carries insufficient weight.

l The officers tell the planning committee members to look only at the plan’s site-specific information and ignore its overarching policies.

l The same non-elected planners appear to encourage developers to build as many houses as possible in Henley to plug the district’s housing gap.

l Henley’s district councillors cannot defend their patch by voting on Henley planning applications, as was pointed out by your correspondent Alan Pontin (Standard, November 11).

l Planning decisions are therefore determined by people who neither live here nor care about what Henley looks like in 10 years’ time.

In the case of Thames Farm, Mr Howell claims our plan was the reason the planning application was refused. This stretches credulity.

The first application dates from 2013, when the district council was against it, as it has been ever since, so this latest application was bound to fail. Our plan was just one of a long list of reasons for refusal.

To help our cause, Henley Town Council has agreed a budget of £5,000 for a professional planning consultancy. This paltry sum will not stretch far. We need a top lawyer, shared with other at-risk neighbourhood plan areas, who will challenge:

l The voting rules that prohibit local representatives from voting on planning applications in their own towns.

l The legality of the planners’ actions in invalidating our plan.

Currently, all we have in our armoury is a potential majority on the district council’s planning committee, assuming Councillor David Nimmo Smith uses his vote. — Yours faithfully,

Trevor Howell

Blandy Road, Henley

Plan must be adhered to

Sir, — This week Sonning Common Parish Council had occasion to send the following letter to the planning services department at South Oxfordshire District Council:

“As you know, Sonning Common Parish Council’s planning committee is vehemently opposed to the outline application by Gallagher Estates to build up to 95 homes on land off Kennylands Road, Sonning Common, (application number: P16/S3142/O).

This application is in direct contravention of the adopted Sonning Common neighbourhood plan, which received overwhelming endorsement by 94 per cent of residents who voted in a referendum in September (based on a turnout of 48 per cent).

I took the opportunity to analyse the responses to the public consultation on the application, which ended on November 2, on the district council’s website.

I counted 168 responses from residents. Every one was an objection to the proposal; not a single one was in favour.

The responses were individual in nature and, in most cases, substantive. They came from residents from across the village.

In addition, Kidmore End Parish Council and Emmer Green Residents’ Association strongly objected to the proposal.

Almost without exception the adopted Sonning Common neighbourhood plan was cited as the key reason why this application must be refused.

The second most frequently mentioned concern was the potential additional strain on the village centre, particularly in traffic and parking terms.

The current traffic and parking problems in the village centre are of primary concern to many residents.

The anger and resentment felt by residents towards this application were palpable. Residents clearly expect the district council to use the adopted neigbourhood plan, drawn up after having been extensively consulted upon with residents, as the chief determining policy for local planning applications.

The plan allocates land for the provision of 195 new homes to be built in the village by 2027. This is over and above the village’s allocation under the core strategy of 138 homes.

A robust back-up plan exists for the provision of an additional 44 homes on reserve sites.

By wisely making provision for more new homes than had been allocated to the village, the plan-makers followed the district council’s advice by also considering what future new housing demands might arise in the district.

The independent examiner of our neighbourhood plan, Nigel McGurk, made the following remarks in his report: “By providing considerably more housing than that originally required by South Oxfordshire District Council, the neighbourhood plan takes into account relevant information relating to future housing need.”

Both Sonning Common Parish Council and our residents now expect the district council to recognise the commitment the village has made to meeting and exceeding its housing targets.

We expect the council to uphold the Sonning Common neighbourhood plan and give it full weight in the determination of new planning applications, in line with the Localism Act 2011.

Our plan should be adhered to regardless of the undermining of the district council’s Local Plan due to the failure to provide a five-year land supply for new housing.

The case of Crane v the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is taken by many to mean that a neighbourhood plan that has been made can still stand even if the Local Plan fails.

We call upon the district council to reject this application and fulfil its obligations to our residents, the parish council and to the neighbourhood plan working party who laboured for four-and-a-half years to draw up the plan on behalf of us all. I attach a snapshot of the residents’ comments, which provide a flavour of the level of opposition to this proposal.” — Yours faithfully,

Ros Varnes

Deputy clerk, Sonning Common Parish Council

New homes, more traffic

Sir, — After reading about the proposed development of 245 houses in Eye and Dunsden parish on the edge of Emmer Green that will result in incursion into the South Oxfordshire countryside and possible boundary changes in favour of Reading (Standard, November 18), I would like to draw your readers’ attention to a common “rat run” into Henley, known locally in Emmer Green as “the unofficial Reading by-pass”, which this development would greatly exacerbate.

For those readers not familiar with this route, it proceeds from Emmer Green via Kiln Road to Mays Green, going down Chalk Hill by the golf course, through Harpsden to Harpsden Way, along Vicarage Road, down Hamilton Avenue and out on to the Reading Road and Duke Street into the centre of Henley and over the bridge to the M4 and M40 beyond.

The main attraction of this route is that it cuts out the long 30mph section of the A4155 Reading to Henley Road through Shiplake, with its speed camera, and also the long queue from the Station Road traffic lights back to the Newtown Road roundabout.

If this development is given the green light, with an assumed 4,000-plus extra cars spilling on to Kiln Road at rush hour times, I believe extensive traffic-calming measures would have to be implemented in order to safeguard the very narrow lanes through Mays Green and Chalk Hill and through the affected residential roads in Henley. Quite what the solution would be to the added pollution problem that is already affecting Duke Street from the stationary traffic, I have no idea. — Yours faithfully,

Clive Leeke

Emmer Green

Mystery over old airfield

Sir, — Much has been said and written about Chalgrove airfield as a possible site for housing (Standard, November 18) but nothing regarding the whole site.

The plan of the airfield provided by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation outlines in red the part that has been transferred by the Ministry of Defence to the Homes and Communities Agency.

What has not been mentioned anywhere is the detached part outlined in green to the south side of the post-war Chalgrove bypass (B480) which the MoD is going to retain.

Since the construction of the bypass it is nothing more than an oddly shaped piece of land which once formed part of the airfield — on the face of it additional space for housing.

There is nothing in it and it is not used for any agricultural purpose.

It is surrounded by military airfield perimeter fencing, a large part of which was replaced by the MoD a few years ago. This was presumably to ensure there was no easy access since the substantial gate into the site is always firmly locked.

I have attempted to discover from the MoD just why it is kept in such a secure state — I also copied my request to South Oxfordshire District Council, Chalgrove Parish Council and John Howell MP since Chalgrove is part of his Henley constituency.

I have heard absolutely nothing so can only conclude that the site must contain something which is clearly invisible to the naked eye. But just what it is is a mystery and it looks set to stay that way.

I do have my own thoughts since I have an interest in the aeronautical history of the whole site and can remember it as it was during the Second World War but perhaps your readers are able to shed some more positive light on it. — Yours faithfully,

Peter Burton

Wallingford

Rail’s future excites me

Sir, — I would suggest that the statement on your front page regarding the future of the Henley branch line being in jeopardy is inaccurate and misleading (Standard, November 11).

Nationally over the last couple of decades passenger numbers have soared.

Many old lines have been revitalised and some that were closed re-opened.

Given this climate of regeneration, I think it highly unlikely that the deferral of the electrification programme threatens the Thames Valley branches.

Yes, it is disappointing that the decision has been made to defer and, yes, one can always find fault with massive infrastructure projects such as this.

But it is now several years since the initial planning stage and in that time technology has moved on rapidly.

Many of the Intercity Express Programme trains on order from Hitachi to replace the aging High Speed Trains will be bi-mode — able to draw power from the overhead wires and, where there are none, use diesel power.

It will be many years before the wires reach Penzance, for instance.

Similarly, advances in the technology of bi-mode battery/electric power for local units that is currently under development may well make the provision of overhead line equipment superfluous — especially for locations like the Henley branch line for which such a hybrid solution would be ideally suited.

Furthermore, Thameslink and Overground have revolutionised travel patterns in the Greater London area and beyond, a process that will take another huge leap forward when Crossrail (the Elizabeth line) is completed.

When this comes on stream, the potential for a whole range of travel routes across the region will open up — probably rendering such things as a Henley to Paddington through-service fairly pointless in the greater scheme of things.

Although I am now retired, I was once a regular commuter into Paddington.

If I was still doing so I would be excited and upbeat about the possibilities the future holds, not decrying the change and hankering for something that might have been. — Yours faithfully,

Simon Haynes

Watcombe Road, Watlington

What about the trains?

Sir, — I would think it fairly obvious that our branch line won’t close but the more immediate question, which our MP clearly hasn’t answered, is what about the trains?

We were promised new trains, in fact brand new Class 387 trains, with electrification and now we certainly won’t get them. In fact, if we ever get them they will be around six years old and no doubt starting to show their age.

The statement by the minister was, of course, grossly misleading as far as our branch line is concerned because the delay in electrification — if it ever happens — means we won’t get new trains, end of story.

Wargrave residents also face a much longer wait for their half hourly off-peak service frequency as it was stated that would come with electrification so the deal is in fact even worse for them — perhaps their MP might care to comment on that?

Meanwhile, we are fed a load of nonsense about the bi-mode trains, which, apart from being nothing at all to do with our branch line and unless altered at no doubt adverse financial impact on the lease contract, cannot maintain on diesel power the running times achieved by the 40-year-old high speed trains.

We’re not told how much it will cost to improve their performance.

I’m sorry but under the weasel word “disruption” we are being sold a dummy and brushed off with half-truths and downright nonsense.

We will still get the disruption between here and London, which is nothing to do with the Great Western main line scheme, and we won’t get new trains.

Our MP should be questioning the minister and not wasting his time on wild goose chases with Network Rail.

And a small hint to Mr Howell — don’t bother to even mention the overgrown underground trains with bench seats, without any toilets and with minimal draught screens, that Crossrail will be introducing in a few years’ time because they hardly represent keeping pace let alone a step forward in train comfort.

It is more than 50 years since travellers between Twyford and London last had local trains without toilets and a good 20 years since such anachronistic trains ceased to be used on our branch line. — Yours faithfully,

Mike Romans

Cromwell Road, Henley

Replace ugly shop sign too

Sir, — Now that the Co-operative store in Sonning Common is to be extended and refurbished (Standard, November 18) perhaps the changes could include replacing the huge black, white and green sign saying “The Co-operative Food” across the front of the store with something less intrusive.

Sonning Common is not a picture book village but the Village Gardeners and others have worked hard to improve its appearance.

It is hard to understand the mindset that approves such an unnessarily brashly dominant, visually unpleasing sign. — Yours faithfully,

Yvonne Kedge

Lea Road, Sonning Common

Not really the answer

Sir, — It was interesting to read the rant by Tom Davies, chief executive of Brakspear, in response to my letter (Standard, November 18).

However, he completely sidestepped answering the question that myself and other contributors to the letters page have been asking, which is: “Why has Brakspear not bothered to maintain the various pubs that it deems by its own obscure standards to be unviable?”

He refused to even acknowledge the issue or the question. Maybe you should be a politician, Mr Davies?

I’ll explain again, so maybe you get it this time. The pubs around Henley (the Crown in Nuffield, the Dog and Duck in Highmoor etc), which are listed buildings, have been left to the inevitable wrecking ball by having absolutely no maintenance carried out on them since they were “vacated”.

What has been left, in the case of the Crown, is the exterior walls. The interior is a bomb site, created by neglect. Ceilings are falling in, walls collapsing etc, making it totally uninhabitable and not a proposition for any interested tenant.

What are the reasons for this you may ask? I would say very lucrative development sites for housing but Brakspear can’t get a change of use planning permission for housing, so instead it lets the pubs rot and face the inevitable wrecking ball and then gets permission for lucrative housing developments.

Mr Davies, if you don’t agree with me, then answer the question but, alas, as you stated in your response, you are fed up of “answering” questions (when, in fact, you don’t answer them).

The Brakspear-owned Battle of Britain pub in Northfleet, Kent, was pulled down under the cover of darkness last month, prompting local people to insist it be rebuilt.

Mr Davies and Brakspear have consistently refused to comment to the media regarding the demolition of the pub, which has outraged the local population, including councillors. — Yours faithfully,

James Lambert

Mill End

Will old pub ever re-open?

Sir, — You gave no less than 21 column inches to Tom Davies in reply to my friend James Lambert’s letter concerning the neglect of historic pubs last week (Standard, November 18).

Despite Mr Davies’s cogent response concerning country pubs, he failed conspicuously to mention the Rose and Crown in New Street, Henley, which, with the right tenants and on the right terms, could easily become viable once more.

Many of its former locals, of which I am one, cannot understand why Brakspear will neither sell the property to the free trade (is he afraid of healthy competition?) nor re-open it. The authorities will not grant change of use permission.

The pub certainly has a part to play in the rich history of Henley and there’s plenty of room for another pub especially in New Street which once had three.

It would be interesting to many people to know Mr Davies’s intention for one of Henley’s many historic public houses. — Yours faithfully,

Rhodri Williams

Burchetts Green

Editor’s comment: “This correspondence is now closed.”

Please clear the drains

Sir, — During Monday’s rain showers the A4130 road through the centre of Stonor was flooded.

This was the result of poor maintenance of the drains which once again were blocked.

I have frequently cleared a substantial length of the roadside gutters of debris myself due to how little attention is given to them by the highways department at Oxfordshire County Council but now I am 70 I think it’s time it was done by those we pay to look after the roads.

Please could the drains be cleared before there is a collision between vehicles trying to avoid the excess water? This is an A class road after all. — Yours faithfully,

Martin Hoare

Stonor

Festive lights will be on

Sir, — I’m replying to your correspondent Steve Ludlow regarding the installation of Christmas lighting at Station Park in Henley over this upcoming festive period (Standard, November 18).

As readers may be aware, this year the town council has invested in a new festive festoon lighting scheme throughout the town centre. The various trees positioned around the periphery of the town centre will also be illuminated, as they have been in previous years.

The new lighting contractor, Light Angels, is also looking to install a set of lights at Station Park.

It is hoped that the electrics are all in order and the company will be making the necessary checks and repairs to ensure this area of town is illuminated as, due to the pollarding undertaken on the trees, the old lights were removed.

We are working with Light Angels to improve and enhance the festive lighting throughout the town and they are scheduled to start the work and installation from this weekend. — Yours faithfully,

Paula Price-Davies

Event & project co-ordinator, Henley Town Council

Recognising volunteers

Sir, — More decades ago than I want to remember, but nevertheless do, I was studying economics as part of my degree where I was introduced to the idea of Elasticity of Demand.

That’s summed up in simple terms by how much a person is prepared to pay for a service or goods before they start asking if it’s worth it.

Amateur drama groups in this area have hit upon the sum of £10 to £12 for a show which doesn’t appear to trouble the purses of audiences who are prepared to take the gamble at that price. I say gamble because I, as an enthusiastic am-drammer, know that not every show is good and only a very few can match professional standard.

The audience aren’t likely to know which it will be but they’ll lay out the tenner and bear the risk. In most cases they will get a good couple of hours of entertainment from talented people.

That is evidenced by occupancy at the Wokingham Theatre which manages to sell out its 130-seat capacity auditorium on a regular basis and an extraordinary 85 per cent take-up for the Wallingford Corn Exchange’s recent production of The Tempest by Sinodun Players.

But when amateur societies are forced to increase their prices because of the hire charge, as they have at the Kenton Theatre in Henley, and then pay a £2.50 booking charge and a £1 surcharge on top, then they may well question whether it’s worth it.

I know of people who had wanted to come to a show I was in there recently but, once they’d seen the ticket price of £14 and the additional charges, changed their minds.

Clearly amateur theatre continues to thrive in the right environment. The Kenton used to be that environment as well. In fact, there would be no theatre there today if it had not been for the dedication and diligence of volunteers from the various amateur groups over the last five decades. It was they who ran it, maintained it and preserved it.

It is a small-scale, professional receiving theatre precisely because of those people and that reservoir of volunteers continues to serve the theatre as support staff, ushers, house managers and so on.

I now understand, after discussions with the theatre, that the new board and management is looking again at its relationship with its amateur base. There seems to be a recognition of the amateur/ volunteer heritage and I hope there may well be a rethink on pricing.

But this is to respond to the two correspondents who did not answer my original issues on these pages two weeks ago. Ticket prices may be set by the society producing the show but they are directly influenced by the hire charges. And am-dram fills theatre spaces at the right price. — Yours faithfully,

Mike Rowbottom

Stoke Row

Marvellous concert

Sir, — We were lucky enough to get tickets for a marvellous concert at St Mary’s Church in Henley on Saturday. What a wonderful, wonderful sound the Aliquando Choir make, accompanied by the West Forest Sinfonia. Henley is blessed indeed to have such talent in music and the other arts and congratulations to Anne Evans and her team for raising so much money for Headway Thames Valley.

Mention must be made of the soloists in the choir, especially the fantastic soprano Meryl Davies.

The concert was entitled Towards the Light. Well, we all certainly felt light-hearted when we left even though outside it was very dark! — Yours faithfully,

Ann Spicer

Gallowstree Common

Thank you for publicity

Sir, — We were over the moon with your article about Jeux D’Esprit’s Something Old Something New, which opens at King’s Arms Barn in Henley this evening (Standard, November 8).

We had not expected such a splendid write-up. You got it absolutely right, especially in emphasising the charity aspect of the show. Let’s hope it will bring in the punters. — Yours faithfully,

Jill Richardson

Henley

Full house at bingo night

Sir, — Henley Rotary Club held its annual Christmas bingo evening at the town hall on Friday in aid of local charities.

Maurice Robins, chairman of community services, and his team would like to thank all the shops and businesses in the town for their kindness in donating such wonderful prizes.

The event was a sell-out, or should I say”‘full house”, and the club thanks the town council for the free use of the hall. It was so nice to see the people of Henley enjoying themselves for a worthwhile cause and using their town hall.

It was a great evening, so grateful thanks to everyone. — Yours faithfully,

John Grout

On behalf of Henley Rotary Club

Pet cat that thinks....

Sir, — I enjoyed the advertisement in your Lost and Found column (Standard, November 11): “Still missing all-ginger cat, fluffy with huge tail. Last seen two weeks ago in Shiplake so may have wondered. Reward.”

The ad would have read more poetically as: “Thoughtful ginger cat wondering about a life outside Shiplake. I still miss him.” — Yours faithfully,

Andy Smith

Crispin Close, Reading

We live in strange times

Sir, — Today the water level of the Thames in Henley has gone down by over a foot.

Is this the result of Brexit, Trump or the Supermoon? — Yours faithfully,

Michel de Nostradambust (aka Tim Meikle)

Peppard Common

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