Wednesday, 04 August 2021

Your letters

We could use battery trains

Sir, — I would like to remind the Henley Branch Users Group and Henley Standard readers that there is potentially a third way for the branch line.

On a short route such as this, it is viable to run batterypowered trains, recharged during the station stop at one or both ends.

You get quiet, pollution-free, electric running without the expensive ugly gantries and overhead wires.

In 2015 Network Rail, in association with train maker Bombardier and operator Abelio Greater Anglia, ran trials on the Harwich-Manningtree line in Essex using a Type 379 electric multiple unit modified to run on batteries.

That line is about twice as long as the Twyford-Henley line, so if it worked there, it would work here.

Last October I attended a lecture in Swindon given by the chief engineer in charge of that project who said it had been a success, the main limitation being that the “dwell time” in the end stations needed to be long enough to recharge the batteries.

On the current 45-minute Henley branch line schedule, there is 21 minutes of dwell time for every 24 minutes of run time — plenty to keep the batteries topped up.

To achieve a half-hourly schedule, as HBUG would like, there would not be enough recharge time.

In this case, two trains would be needed, one doing the round trip while the other charged. You’d still only need one crew.

The station at Henley or Twyford would have to be modified to accommodate two trains side by side, but the capital cost of an extra train plus station modifications would still be less than that of electifying the whole line.

Sadly, the train used for the trial was only on loan and at the end the batteries and charging equipment were stripped out and handed back to the operator.

Further progress depends on train manufacturers taking the initiative to develop the technology and Bombardier is now working with an operator in Germany on a new battery train design.

I would urge HBUG to pursue this option with Great Western Railway and Network Rail.

Just search the internet for “battery train UK trial” for links to a number of reports and videos.

Battery trains are not yet a reality, and it may require some pressure from us to make them happen, but they could be here sooner than overhead electrification. — Yours faithfully,

David Watson

Cold Harbour, Goring Heath

That wasn’t democracy 1

Sir, — I was so saddened by the events at the Wokingham Borough Council debate on the Hare Hatch Sheeplands planning dispute (Standard, November 25).

Most of the employees and concession staff from the garden centre site attended the debate, along with many customers (even though both the location and timing of the debate was very inconvenient for many of the supporters).

Many attended because they honestly felt that the council was, at last, going to offer an opportunity for them to be heard.

However, shortly into the debate it was realised by everyone that this was a complete farce, no, even worse, it was a set-up by the council to make unfounded and derogatory comments about Hare Hatch Sheeplands and, I would say, inflammatory remarks about its owner, Rob Scott.

Before the debate I was informed by one of the Conservative councillors that they had put together a speech in support of the garden centre but were told it had to be put to the council’s legal department. The councillor was subsequently informed that the speech could not be used at the debate.

On the night the councillor clearly felt “gagged” and consequently did not contribute to the debate.

Shortly into the first stages of the public question time the hopes of the many supporters were quickly dashed as each person read out their question, which had had to be put to the council in advance, only to find that the answers had been carefully orchestrated not to answer the legitimate concerns of these people but to show Hare Hatch Sheeplands in every possible bad light.

Not only that but after the first question the council used the excuse of time limits to refuse to answer supplementary questions (ones they hadn’t had in advance) on the night.

They were aware of the number of questions in advance of the evening so why hadn’t they put aside enough time to deal with the issue?

We have been promised written responses to the supplementary questions but these no doubt will be carefully worded to avoid direct answers and to give the slant they want to be put into the public domain.

Ordinary, everyday people sat in the bureaucratic setting of the council chamber in front of all the councillors and split up from their friends and supporters who were shown to side rooms to watch the events on a TV screen.

These disempowered people then listened in horror as their questions were turned one by one into attacks on their place of work or much-loved garden centre.

My question of what the council was going to do to help the employees who might find themselves out of work if Hare Hatch Sheeplands was made to go out of business was turned into an advertisement of the clubs and activities the council offers to the unemployed in Wokingham — and, incidentally, only in Wokingham and not in places such as Twyford.

How sad, with the Prime Minister being our local MP, that Wokingham Conservative councillors demonstrate this as their form of democracy in action. — Yours faithfully,

Gill Saxon

Human resources manager, Hare Hatch Sheeplands

Another view, councillors

Sir, — I write in reference to the meeting of Wokingham Borough Council to debate the petition signed by more 4,000 people that urged the council to “do everything it can to ensure Hare Hatch Sheeplands continues to operate as a financially viable enterprise”.

At this meeting my question was: “Why is Wokingham Borough Council refusing to acknowledge the democratic will of thousands of its residents who have signed petitions and sent hundreds of letters or emails of support clearly demonstrating that they wish to see Hare Hatch Sheeplands continue in its current form as the local community garden centre?”

The councillors’ withering response was that it was against the council’s principles to consider any amount of public opinion and that they must follow current law in order to protect the green belt.

The green belt policy was created to prevent the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas and is very important.

However, no demonstrable harm has been done to the green belt at Hare Hatch Sheeplands. In fact, the site has been improved and is a great asset to the local community.

By way of contrast, the North Wokingham major development site is an urban extension of Wokingham town, on land adjoining the Kentwood and Matthewsgreen neighbourhoods and Keephatch Beech.

The development will bring new homes, a primary school and a neighbourhood centre with shopping facilities.

Rob Scott, the owner of Hare Hatch Sheeplands, was told he is irresponsible and guilty of blatant disregard of planning laws.

This is not accurate. In fact, there were lengthy discussions between both parties which the council suddenly broke off just as an agreement seemed possible. It is clear, however, that Mr Scott is “guilty” of the following:

1. Transforming a formally derelict site containing broken glasshouses and poisonous giant hogweed into a beautifully landscaped area full of mature trees, shrubs and hedgerows.

2. Providing more than 100 jobs for people in the local area, including a large percentage of over-fifties, young adults gaining their first valuable experience of employment and the disabled.

3. Supporting local traders and suppliers, including giving a home to the farm shop and Pet Stop stores that had to leave the business across the road.

4. Supporting charities and actively assisting in many charitable events that benefit many organsations, including Age Concern, Pancreatic Cancer Action, Daisy’s Dream, Bloodwise, the Alzheimer’s Society and local charities such as the Twyford Charity Family Fun Run.

5. Providing a much-loved local amenity and service that are much appreciated by many people, including the elderly, infirm, the young and other groups and organisations that meet there regularly.

6. Being an ethical and respected local independent family business for more than 20 years.

The council is concerned that allowing Hare Hatch Sheeplands to continue in its current form would set a precedent and cannot be allowed. I am sure many will agree that if the above points set a precedent, this would be a welcome and positive result. — Yours faithfully,

Maria Lee

Shurlock Road, Waltham St Lawrence

Arrogant and contemptuous

Sir, — I attended the Wokingham Borough Council neeting on November 17 and like, I am sure, every other member of the public and Hare Hatch Sheeplands staff who were present, was disgusted and outraged at the manner in which the meeting was conducted and the quality of the answers to the questions posed.

The meeting, which should have been a democratic exercise, was nothing of the sort — it was clearly rigged in favour of the council’s position.

The answers given were in the main repeated statements of the council’s position and in very few instances did they actually address the specific subject matter of the question.

They were what any member of the public would recognise as “a politician’s answer” concocted in advance — very different, I suspect, to the responses that would have been received had the questions been impromptu.

In a similar manner, the Deputy Mayor’s refusal to allow supplementary questions to be answered was clearly a strategy to allow thinking time for the council employees to concoct further irrelevant answers which they would have had difficulty addressing at the time.

As for the “debate”, what debate? There was none. What we had, with a couple of notable exceptions, was a few councillors reiterating the council’s stance.

It appears that certain council employees, for reasons best known to themselves, are pursuing a vendetta against Hare Hatch Sheeplands and that this is the view, and the only view, that is being promulgated by the council to councillors and the media.

The council appears to be taking, by every means possible, measures to prevent the real facts of the dispute getting into the public domain.

By its refusal to acknowledge the will of the people, as expressed in two petitions, and the imposition of draconian measures to prevent councillors visiting the garden centre, it is doing all in its power to stifle local democracy.

Finally, in answers to a number of questions, it was implied that Hare Hatch Sheeplands was seeking to be dealt with in a favourable manner compared with other local businesses. Nothing could be further from the truth.

All the business and its supporters are seeking is a level playing field and to be dealt with in the same manner as other businesses in the locality — something which, despite protestations to the contrary, the council is refusing to do.

If it wasn’t obvious before. it is now blatantly obvious that the council is intent on using every means at its disposal to thwart the democratically expressed will of more than 11,000 members of the public and the staff and owner of Hare Hatch Sheeplands to achieve its aim of closing the business down. If ever there was an example of bad local government this is it.

The attitude conveyed by the respondents to the questions, and indeed all the correspondence I have had with the council regarding this matter, has been one of arrogance and contempt for the views of the public. — Yours faithfully,

Mike Shattock

Earley

That wasn’t democracy 2

Sir, — Alan Pontin has written to you highlighting the lack of representative democracy on South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee because ward councillors are forbidden from voting on applications in their area even though they are on the committee (Standard, November 11).

This travesty of justice is made worse because of a bizarre and unusual change to the constitution that allows the committee chairman two votes on any planning decision.

At the recent consideration of the application of Henthames to build a care home on the site of the former LA Fitness gym, the chairman Felix Bloomfield first voted in favour of the application, resulting in a tie even with the Henley ward councillors excluded.

The chairman then used his casting vote in favour, which resulted in the application being passed.

To any outside observer this would appear to be a fragrant denial of natural justice and risks undermining confidence in our local democratic processes. — Yours faithfully,

Karin Rutter

Mill Lane, Henley

Blame the Government

Sir, — Trevor Howell’s dismay with our MP John Howell for the way the Henley and Harpsden joint neighbourhood plan has been treated so far (Standard, November 25) is understandable but in my view misplaced.

The blame should fall on the Government and the South Oxfordshire District Council’s interpretation of its policies.

For his part, our MP has been a major contributor to the development of neighbourhood plans and has done what he can to defend our plan.

I blame the Government because it has yet to integrate two conflicting policies, namely localism and the maximisation of house-building.

Nor, it seems, has it made it clear to planning authorities like South Oxfordshire District Council that they must not pursue house-building without regard for localism.

Two apparent absurdities call for urgent attention: the first is the method used to calculate housing land supply, which I am assured is judged on the number of approvals that developers have used to start building, not on the number of approvals given by the planning authority.

That is to say on something that is at the discretion of the developer, who may deliberately stockpile land in a less commercially promising area in order to put pressure on one that offers quicker returns, thereby inducing a delay that is not the fault of the planning authority.

The second apparent absurdity is even more obvious, namely the confusion in the planning inspectorate and perhaps even in the relevant government department about the status of neighbourhood plans.

Are they, as our MP maintains, proof against any deficiency in the housing land supply of the relevant planning authority once the plan has been validated by government and a popular referendum? One legal test (the Crane case) supported this view but another did not. So where are we?

Like John Howell and Trevor Howell. I sincerely hope that the Government does not default on the promises it made in order to persuade Henley and Harpsden to go to the very considerable trouble and expense necessary to produce a neighbourhood plan good enough to win support from the government examiner, the district council and the public. — Yours faithfully,

Kester George

Chairman, Harpsden Parish Council

Oversized development

Sir, — Further to my letter published on October 21, an outline planning application has now been formally submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council for the proposed development of 30 homes on the area known as SON 5 in Kennylands Road, Sonning Common.

If approved, this will exceed the 22 homes included in the village’s neighbourhood plan by 36 per cent, ride roughshod over the wishes of the village community and cause considerable extra distress to those residents adjacent to the proposed development.

Accordingly, Sonning Common Parish Council is holding a single issue planning meeting to discuss this issue on Thursday (December 8) at 7.30pm in the village hall.

This is an important event to which all Sonning Common residents are invited to attend and demonstrate their full support for the neighbourhood plan. — Yours faithfully,

Alastair Morris

Kennylands Road, Sonning Common

Positive way to tidy pub

Sir, — We arranged a meeting at the Cherry Tree pub in Stoke Row with Brakspear chief executive Tom Davies. We then suggested that we used a local gardener to keep the place tidy.

We had the hours needed and price worked out in advance and Tom volunteered the money. He has sent us a cheque in advance for 30 hours’ work for the next year.

I would suggest to all those grumpy negative people that they might do the same in their villages.

Our only real aim is to keep the pub tidy, at least at the front as it lets our village down at the moment.

My main grouse is with those planners who live in a past age. The economy is far better served by releasing the capital tied up in so many redundant pubs. — Yours faithfully,

Tim Corbishley

Checkendon

NHS promise broken again

Sir, — I was overjoyed (if cycnical) when the Health Secretary pledged to invest £250million in NHS child and adolescent mental health services in the year to March next year.

However, it now appears that only £143million was allocated. The chair of the children and young people’s mental health commission recently commented: “It is a scandal that money pledged for these services is so often spent on other priorities.” Too damned right!

It’s a scandal but no surprise, just the same old story sadly. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Farmer

Wensley Road, Reading

Why all this NHS secrecy?

Sir, — Having just read the news about the new clinical lead for the rapid access care unit at Townlands Hospital (Standard, November 25) what is the health authorities’ problem with telling us their name?

Secrecy again… for what purpose? — Yours faithfully,

Sue Frayling-Cork

Sonning Common

Please keep them coming

Sir, — I was really pleased to see that we now have Visit Britain hosting foreign travel agents/tour operators in Henley (Standard, November 25).

I hope that both the tourist office and the town council are beating a path to their door to make this the first of many visits of various overseas agents able to bring their clients with their spending money to Henley.

The number of cafés, restaurants and shops in the town with the cost of rents and rates etc is not in itself the problem providing you have sufficient people coming into town to keep all our businesses in profit.

The only way to do that is to bring them via the overseas travel agents and tour operators, so well done Visit Britain and please don’t stop.

Hopefully, by the end of 2017, we will see new businesses opening in Henley confident that they can make a profit. — Yours faithfully,

Gloria Wright

Twyford

‘B’ road isn’t so important

Sir, — I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings for your correspondent Martin Hoare (Standard, November 25) but the main road through Stonor is the same as the main road in our village, the B480.

I’ve just driven along it, on my way home from town, and carried on to Stonor to check there had been no upgrade to A status in the seven days since I last visited Pishill on Friday. Alas, the status quo has been retained. In view of the road’s continued B classification it can scarcely be surprising that the authorities have taken a rather less robust attitude to the drains in Stonor than Mr Hoare would have liked. — Yours faithfully,

Dr Robert Treharne Jones

Middle Assendon

Such original entertainment

Sir, — I write to congratulate Jeux d’Esprit on their superb production of Bluebeard and The Last Prince staged at King’s Arms Barn in Henley over three days.

This was highly original entertainment — part radio play-part slide show — but utterly absorbing and captivating as well as frightening!

We are so fortunate to have such talent on our doorstep. Steve Allender surely has a hit on his hands with The Last Prince, which must be destined for greater things. Not only did these folk tales provide rich and unusual entertainment to many adults and children but they also raised £800 for the Chiltern Centre for disabled children for which we are most sincerely grateful.

Henley really is a great place to live. It has such kind- and talented people in it. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Barrett

Chairman of trustees, Chiltern Centre for disabled children, Henley

Robbers can’t hide there

Sir, — Regarding your Hidden Henley photograph of Ewelme church (Standard, November 18), the two pieces of curved metal set into the walls in an inlet were, I think, to stop robbers from hiding there at night in order to rob passers-by.

There are brick-shaped domes in similar inlets in Henley, such as the one in Hart Street. — Yours faithfully,

A P Light

Church Avenue, Henley

Can I come dine with you?

Sir, — I wanna be with Alice Whitehouse. Her restaurant review of the Bull on Bell Street in Henley (Standard, November 18) went beyond even Michelin’s three star ratings. Simply staggering.

The room was “friendly, blissful, warm, lively and enfolding”, the establishment “intimate yet spacious, fun, social (sic), lovely view, pretty fairy lights, tasteful upholstery, chic, historic class” and the staff “prompt, friendly, personable. A fantastic team”.

And you ain’t seen nothing yet. Now we get to the grub — “an eye-opener, beautifully presented, tasting magnificent, intriguing, heavenly, perfect, marvellous, wonderful, faultless”.

Crikey. Young Alice says she will be “excited to return” and that her dining companion on the day, Charlie, was dumbstruck with the “perfection”.

In the interests of reality, next time I’d love to substitute for Charlie, who was allegedly “quieter than usual”. Maybe I could be allowed to have an opinion. I wanna be with Alice. Actually Charlie can come too, but only if he speaks. Just asking. — Yours faithfully,

Richard Jones

Reading Road, Henley

Good and bad shoppers

Sir, — Can anyone explain to me why shoppers return their trollies to the correct places at the Tesco store in Henley yet leave them in the disabled bays at the Waitrose store?

I am sure other blue badge holders would like a little Christmas spirit shown. — Yours faithfully,

P Moore

Blandy Road, Henley

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