Tuesday, 21 September 2021

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Plan not fit for purpose

Plan not fit for purpose

Sir, — The latest incarnation of the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan states that it has to be in “general conformity with the strategic policies of the development plan for the area” and cites South Oxfordshire District Council’s core strategic policy HEN1.

This is significant since the document is not fit for purpose because it fails to address the problems of traffic congestion and through-traffic.

The solution to these problems is already long overdue as they are causing significant damage to the town’s environment and its attractiveness as a shopping and tourist destination, so solving them should be a precondition of any further development. Our MP promised infrastructure before development but that is not happening and the plan makes no effort on this. The document does recognise that “there is no by-pass or ring road around Henley and therefore through-traffic, which is estimated to account for about half of the overall traffic levels during peak hours, has to go through the town centre and one-way  system”. Its vision for Henley in 20 years’ time is: “

Pedestrians and cyclists will feel safe and traffic will be managed to minimise its impact.” The “traffic and transport vision” is for the town to have “a safe and efficiently functioning road network with sufficient town centre parking”, which would at least imply an improvement over what exists at present. But rather than offering a new river crossing and a by-pass — the only things that would make a significant impact on through-traffic — the head-in-the-clouds merchants responsible for the transport strategy can only offer an entirely inadequate solution.

Thus the plan will “promote walking, cycling and public transport as first choice modes for all residents…” This in a town where the bulk of residents live on a hillside and depend on doing their shopping in the bottom of the valley and in which, it is admitted, “residents in the 65- to 90-year age group are over-represented” in the town’s demographic. The plan hopes for “a park and stride” campaign to “encourage people to park out of town, where it is either free or considerably cheaper than town centre car parks” and a “cut your engine” campaign to “encourage drivers to switch off their engines when queuing at traffic lights”. The plan aims to “manage” traffic rather than solve the problem by diverting unnecessary traffic away from the town altogether. One has little confidence in Henley’s idea of “traffic management”, which has so far seemed to consist of using traffic lights to move congestion from the town centre to the town’s approaches, especially Remenham Hill and Reading Road. And rather than removing the through-traffic that blights the town, the plan opts for the easier and cheaper solution of trying to discourage residents from using their cars. Residents have a right to expect that they will be able to use their cars to get about, and to do their shopping, and for the problem of through- traffic to be addressed rather than having their own car use restricted or disincentivised. It is simply not on to try to make octogenarians (or even unfit 50- and 60-year-olds) “get on their bikes” or on to a bus service that will never be as convenient, comfortable or available as their own private vehicles.

The plan also includes a number of sites that are unpopular and unsuitable for housing development, while ignoring more suitable sites. I note that it has as the second component of its central strategy “support for the refurbishment and enhancement of Gillotts School, including the limited release of land for residential development of 50 dwellings as part of the 450, subject to reprovision of sports facilities”. I can just see any post-referendum opposition to this controversial move being airily dismissed on the basis that “people voted for it in the neighborhourhood plan”, with the assumption that every “yes” vote represented approval of the plan in its entirety as well as individual approval of the development of the Gillotts playing fields.

This is a good illustration of why it’s important for people with concerns to sign the petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/henley-neighbourhoodplan

Similarly, the plan allocates “additional employment or employment generating activities” rather than housing at the former Wyevale garden centre.

This is particularly unfortunate since that site and the adjacent Thames Farm are eminently suitable for housing, lying as they do on the main trunk road to Reading, on the Tesco side of the town, and within easy, flat walking distance of the station at Shiplake.

The proximity of influential people living in “millionaire’s row” (Woodlands Road), adjacent to Thames Farm, should not be allowed to block development of this vitally important site. It is unfortunate that the plan seems to endorse policy CSR1 of the core strategy, which aims to prevent new housing site allocations within “smaller villages” during the period up to 2027, excepting infill proposals of up to 0.2 hectares in size, or rural exception proposals (which comprise 100 per cent affordable housing to meet identified Harpsden affordable housing needs). This category includes Harpsden and Lower Shiplake. While one appreciates the need to protect the hearts of the actual villages, a distinction should be drawn between the built-up areas of the villages and their much larger, almost empty parish areas.

Looking at a map, you can see that Henley and Harpsden parishes are almost identical in size but that Henley is almost entirely built up, with hardly any green space, while Harpsden has hardly any built-up area but lots of empty green space. It would seem abundantly right and proper for scruffy brownfield and infill sites like Highlands Farm, Thames Farm and the former Wyevale garden centre (all in Harpsden parish) to be used for housing and for the Harpsden and Shiplake parish councils’ attempts to prevent development on Thames Farm to be recognised and rejected for the selfish and disingenuous “Nimbyism” that it is. Interestingly, early Harpsden concerns about Gillotts Lane becoming a rat run for traffic from any development on Highlands Farm do not seem to have been translated into any concrete actions or recommendations in the plan. There may be some unease with the fact that instead of providing the 400 houses originally required by the district council, the neighbourhood plan has identified space for 500 additional dwellings — perhaps no bad thing in itself, but a further burden if the need for meaningful infrastructure improvement continues to be ignored.

Again, I can only urge anyone who is worried about any of this to sign the petition. — Yours faithfully,

Jon Lake

Blandy Road,


Information to help you vote

Sir, — I’m writing following your front-page article headlined “Residents launch ‘Yes’ campaign for plan poll” (Standard, February 12).As I chair the “Say yes to the neighbourhood plan group”, I am writing to invite Henley and Harpsden residents who are keen to understand more about the plan before the referendum on March 10 to go to our  website, www.henley-yes.uk for an informative and colourful presentation.

We briefly discuss the benefits of the plan and how it was developed by residents, with many stages of consultation and amendment in the light of consultation.We also talk through key content of the full plan we are voting on and you can link to the full plan and see the very sensible things it has to say, for example, about the Highlands Farm site mentioned by several correspondents recently. As our MP John Howell says on the website: “The referendum on the neighbourhood plan is a critical decision for the future of both communities.” Do visit our website to find out more. — Yours faithfully, Dr Rebecca Chandler-Wilde Chair, “Say yes to the neighbourhood plan group”, St Andrew’s Road, Henley

Can we see final version?

Sir, — The voting cards have been delivered.

Where is the final neighbourhood plan so that we can read it, please? Otherwise how do we know what we are voting on? — Yours faithfully,

Mike Turnill

Blandy Road,


Where’s data for bus cuts?

Sir, — The Government has created a £300million fund to postpone a few council cuts by one year. This includes £9million for Oxfordshire County Council.On Tuesday last week the council revised its budget, using £4million of that fund to defer by 12 months the closure of some children’s centres and adult day care.

How will it spend the other £5million? Councillors very vaguely mentioned saving some care for homeless people and some subsidised buses. But with how much money for each? How many, or few, buses might the council save? In November the council’s cabinet voted to end all subsidised buses without even knowing how many passengers were using some of them.

When the council consulted the public in previous subsidy reviews it always published passenger totals for each route but in last year’s consultation, such data was absent. Bus Users Oxford has asked the council for passenger numbers for each route under threat.

We believe several routes each carry more than 50,000 passengers a year and several cost less than £1 per passenger to subsidise.

In Henley, the council will withdraw town routes 151, 152, 153 and 154 and all village routes to the town.

It will even withdraw route 139 to Wallingford, a vital  11-mile link between the two towns that more than 100 people use every day.More people will have to use cars, worsening congestion for everyone, and anyone without the use of a car will be left out.Last year’s bus review was ill-informed and hence flawed. The council should publish passenger totals for each route from at least the last five years.

Then anyone could see what their bus is up against and reach their own informed opinion. — Yours faithfully,

Hugh Jaeger

Chairman, Bus Users Oxford,

Park Close,


Ideal solution to third bridge

Sir, — To advocate the continued reliance on Sonning’s 18th century brick bridge as a major Thames crossing makes no more contribution to progress than when the bridge was first finished and put into use.

So we have the totally hopeless element of an 18th century transport link in our 21st century transport infrastructure, a thoroughly mind-bogglingly preposterous position with, it would appear, some genuine supporters, who, I seem to recall, don’t want more traffic entering Oxfordshire from Berkshire even though thousands of vehicles make their daily commute through Sonning into Berkshire from Oxfordshire.

While our domestic and commercial environment makes stratospheric progress, the hopeless daily grind of approximately 17,000 vehicle movements through Sonning and Sonning Eye crossing the ancient bridge looks set to continue and, frighteningly, to be increased as major developments in Wokingham borough totalling 13,230 homes by March 31, 2026 contribute at least two vehicles per household. Just do the maths and while those calculations are being worked out add in the many thousands of eight-wheeler lorries, each with a loaded weight of 32 tons, that are set to transport the best part of five and a half million tons of aggregate from the Sonning Eye processing plant following excavations alongside the A4155 that could take 40 years to complete. Having paid rapt attention over too many years to interminable views, discussions, presentations, talks, debates, meetings and arguments, most of which were supported by flip charts, plans, calculations, transport models, reports, computerised studies etc., it is readily apparent to me that the vital element of plain common sense is non-existent when the politicians, councillors and “consultants” contemplate “a third bridge”, as they have been for the best part of a century with zero result.

The rest of us, the “bored with it all” general public, only seem to take an interest when we’re inconvenienced by flooding and bridge closure. A perfect solution to our obvious problem would eliminate the usual spectre of grinding bureaucracy and all that entails in time and massive costs.

Which is why the construction of a beautiful, modern spec’ road bridge over the Redgrave Pinsent Rowing Lake, from the second roundabout on entering Thames Valley Business Park, linking on to a roadway emerging on to a roundabout replacing the traffic lights on the A4155 at Caversham Park Village, is so simple and obvious. Maybe too simple and obvious for some.The construction of such a bridge would not just avoid unnecessary demolition of property with attendant costs, it would not even require road closures during construction.

Additional benefits could be a vital park and ride service on the Caversham side adjacent to the bridge.

A separate feeder road from the rear of the gravel processing plant to the bridge could take heavy lorries over to the A4/M4 in minutes, thus avoiding tortuous routes through Caversham and  Henley. And the brave residents of Sonning and Sonning Eye would no longer host daily traffic convoys. Efficient 21st century traffic management would prevail. Where might the £60million bargain come from? Just stop Boris Johnson and Joanna Lumley blowing £175million on her daft garden bridge. — Yours  faithfully,

Pat Doyle

Thames Street,


MP has failed community

Sir, — When the Townlands Steering Group was set up in 2003 in response to the threat of imminent closure of Townlands Hospital, members were keen to be part of the movement to save and redevelop a new hospital.

From that moment they have worked tirelessly to safeguard our health services in Henley and secure the redeveloped hospital.

The group’s activities included campaigning and working with the various NHS bodies, such as the Oxfordshire NHS Primary Care Trust and, since 2013, the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group.The steering group comprises people with different skills, experience and powers.

From the start our MP was invited on to the group and until he left in 2008, Boris Johnson met members regularly to be briefed on the latest developments and to seek guidance and provide feedback from his contact with senior NHS officials and ministers.

As MP, he was uniquely positioned to represent the interests of the community, which he did.Since 2008 John Howell has carried out his role rather differently as our MP.

He made it clear recently in a letter to the Henley Standard that he is too busy to attend meetings locally about Townlands. Nor has he been able to ask questions in Parliament.Any meetings he holds with NHS figures are carried out without the knowledge of steering group members and no feedback is provided.

Since 2008 Mr Howell has attended one meeting of the group (plus a short appearance at another).

In 2013/2014 the contract to redevelop the hospital was held up due to the banks’ reluctance to enter into financial arrangements with the newly re-organised NHS.The steering group asked our MP to impress on the Health Secretary the need to press for a framework for Townlands (and the 50 or so other projects similarly delayed).

At the time, the Government was trying to stand up to the banks and as a result Mr Howell’s letter (written without discussion with the steering group) failed to state the seriousness and urgency of the case.

This placed the project in severe jeopardy and the steering group discussed this with NHS managers, GPs and others who were despairing and disparaging over the contents of this letter.Earlier this year, Mr Howell tried to take credit for forcing the commissioning group into consulting on the loss of the beds in the hospital. This “achievement” was inevitable, as was made very clear to chief executive David Smith at the steering group meeting in March, as it was a significant change of service. After the election, when the consultation took place, Mr Howell refused to speak out in support of the clearly expressed view of the community to maintain the beds from Peppard ward.

He refused to speak at the protest march in July until the streering group pressurised him but even then he made no expression of support for the aim to restore the beds.Since the consultation ended Mr Howell has worked behind the scenes with Mr Smith and the commissioning group. Very little has been gained by this process — the commissioning group made up its mind a year ago.

Mr Howell wrote to the Henley Standard boasting about the number of mentions of him in Mr Smith’s report. He and Mr Smith have praised each other repeatedly but the community’s interests are not served from Mr Smith’s pocket.

After the consultation ended in June, the steering group arranged meetings with the commissioning group.Mr Howell asked to merge these with his meetings. The steering group agreed but Mr Howell took over the chair and allowed commissioning group members to dominate the meetings while not allowing steering group members to express their views.

When the steering group requested a further meeting as a matter of urgency before the commissioning group’s board meeting on September 23 Mr Howell offered to arrange it but, despite reminders, nothing happened. Ian Reissmann, chairman of the steering group, contacted Mr Smith directly and received a reply with a date within 10 minutes.

It is clear that Mr Howell has failed to represent the interests of the community and has actively worked in support of the commissioning group’s proposals, frustrating those of us with serious concerns about the plans.

Although the decision on the beds has now been made, there are still important issues outstanding.

• Will the beds leased from the care home be in a single unit, staffed at a safe level to provide the services needed, and secure in the medium term?

• Will the failure to lease the top floor damage the financial viability of the new hospital and could the long-term future of Townlands again be under threat?

We need our MP to address these and other questions that have been published in your paper over the past few weeks.

I believe the community has a right to know the real facts behind what has happened to Townlands over the years. — Yours faithfully,

Ken Arlett

Elizabeth Road,


Stand up and be counted

Sir, — Last year, the Telegraph, Independent, Guardian and Mirror (among others) campaigned for the commissioning of more NHS child and adolescent services and staff as more reports reiterated that more than half of all mental health problems begin before the age of 14 and three-quarters before 18.

Currently the Times is running a similar campaign (Time to Mind).

However, after 12 years of unsuccessful campaigning, I fear the Times and the rest of us campaigners are “whistlin’ for the moon”, to quote an early Petula Clark hit.

Perhaps it is time for all of us to stand up and be counted on this issue. Surely children with mental health problems deserve this much from us. — Yours faithfully,

Paul Farmer

Wensley Road,


Disappointed by police Sir, — I felt I had to write regarding the Sonning Common police “service”.

Unfortunately, I lost my car and house keys somewhere in the Millennium Field in the village on Wednesday morning last week.

I had driven to the field as usual to walk my dog before work and only noticed the keys missing when I went to drive home.

I retraced my steps and several other dog walkers helped to try to find the keys but without any luck.

I then had to run home with my dog, approximately one mile, so one of the walkers lent me her dog’s lead. Another walker phoned my work for me to let them know the situation.Once home, I used a spare house key and found my spare car key and a stranger gave me a lift back to the field to collect my car so I could drive to work. All these people were incredibly helpful.

Once at work I tried to report the missing keys and discovered the police office in Sonning Common, very close to the Millennium Field, was not open until 10am.

At 10am I managed to make contact via the 101 service since there is no phone number to call the office directly. Unfortunately, the volunteer manning the police office was extremely reluctant to record the loss of my keys. She told me they were more likely to have been handed in at Reading or Henley without even asking me where I had been when I lost them! I pointed out that I was very close to the Sonning Common police office when they were lost. She replied that the police didn’t “do” lost property. I asked very politely if she could take down my details just in case somebody handed in the keys. She reluctantly took my name and I suggested that recording a description of the keys and where they were lost would be a good idea too. I was most unimpressed.

Upon leaving work, I called into the police station, hoping to speak to somebody else to ensure my details had been recorded but the same lady was still manning the desk.

The lady confirmed she had written down my details and showed me she had put a note in the biscuit tin containing other lost keys. I pointed out that they did seem to “do” lost property after all but she advised me: “no, not really.” By then she had completely baffled me.

She went on to say that from April 1 the police were “legally not allowed” to accept lost property because “police stations are closing down everywhere and there is just only so much they can do”. I was quite surprised that it has been deemed to be too taxing for a volunteer to put a note in a biscuit tin reporting lost property to enable the slight possibility of it matching up with some found property which might have been deposited within.

I asked the lady what I should do if I found somebody else’s lost keys while I was walking. She told me to “keep them”! I wonder what your readers think of this. Am I being unreasonable to have tried to report my lost car keys to the police? Where else could I have gone to report this? I wonder what these police offices actually can do for their communities if the biscuit tin lost property system has become too taxing? How would they handle anything more serious? I have now stuck a sign up in the field and if anyone finds my keys I would be extremely grateful to get them back.— Yours faithfully,

T Hirst

Sonning Common

Thames Valley Police responded: “While there may be a public expectation for the police to provide a lost property service and some stations do try to help when they feel they can, it is not a legal duty for us to do so. “At Sonning Common we have never recorded common, unidentifiable lost and found items, such as keys, walking sticks, glasses and the like.“

Found keys are retained in a tin for a period of six weeks and anyone reporting a loss is invited to look through them to see if their keys have been handed in. We may consider taking a report if there was something extremely identifiable about a set of keys but this would be an exception. “We’d suggest that asking local residents and businesses to help you find your keys is a good idea. Putting posters up in the local area, leaving details with local shops and using tools such as Facebook groups are all good ways to help.”

Stick to just local issues

Sir, — I was astonished to read the letter from Nick Brazil (Standard, February 19) and to see the number of column inches that you had given to it.

I do not buy my local paper in order to find out how people intend to vote in the forthcoming EU referendum. There are strong views held on both sides of this issue.

The same could be said of the letter from Dr Robert Irons on the junior doctors’ contract/NHS privatisation.

If you wish to address these issues it would be better to do so outside of the letters pages and to adopt a more unbiased approach. The Henley Standard is at its best when tackling matters of local concern. — Yours faithfully,

Ann Law

Heathfield Avenue,

Binfield Heath

We must fight for the NHSSir, — We would like to thank your correspondent Dr Robert Irons for his very clear account of how the present government is using the seven-day working issue to disguise its intention to privatise the NHS (Standard, February 19). The Government will reassure us time and again that the NHS will continue to be “free at the point of delivery”.

This disguises two major issues:

1. That public money is lining the pockets of cherry- picking private providers of NHS services, leaving less money for the development of better services overall.

2. It promotes the lie that privately provided services are better than publicly provided ones. This is contrary to all the evidence. Publicly provided NHS services have been shown by independent research to be the best in the world. We are in real danger of losing the NHS as we know it unless we fight for it. If readers share our concern they can lend their voices to the Keep Our NHS Public campaign at http://www.keepournhspublic.com — Yours faithfully,

Tony and Maggie Winters

Old Barn Close,


Stop making me wince!

Sir, — One realises that front page headlines are there to encourage impulse purchase but do they have to be as ungrammatical as last week’s? Children’s centres and death really don’t look well together.

Your use of “gifted” where the correct English word is “given” makes me wonder if your headline writer has been to the Donald Trump school of mangled language.

Still, not quite as wince- making as the now ubiquitous use of “years of age” as opposed to nothing (i.e. he is 33) or just old as in “93-year-old newspaper editor loses marbles…” — Yours faithfully,

Philip Collings


Alternative vision for Highlands Farm

Sir, — Indisputably there is a great deal of brownfield land at Highlands Farm — the former gravel pits and industrial buildings of Associated Asphalt.

However, the proposed 170 houses plus four light industry/office buildings spill over on to greenfield sites, all of which is agricultural land within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

All this land is of great archaeological as well as historic interest as documents from the Stonor Court Rolls of 1401 already mention the farm while the large number of flint tools of the Old Stone Age found here during gravel extractions takes us back thousands of years to the very beginning of human habitation.

The outline plan shows a suburban landscape with closes and cul-de-sacs, houses set within their gardens and parking spaces, separated from their neighbours, a large number of three-, four- and five-bedroom houses taking up a lot of space. The larger houses will certainly all need several cars.

Why not build a much larger number of small houses, in terraces, providing the one- and two-bedroom dwellings (to buy or rent) that Henley so urgently needs?

As long as we have 170 individual units it will fulfil the demands of the neighbourhood plan (and, most importantly, small units will need fewer cars).

Instead of yet another bland housing estate we will have something like a hamlet, where people can more easily feel connected because the neighbours are just one door away, not behind a garden hedge.

Do not demolish the old farmhouse of Highlands, part of which is timber-framed and dates back to the 16th century while the remainder is a taller brick and flint building and would have been added as the parlour wing in the 17th century.

This farmhouse is the essential historic link with the site and needs to be cherished, not demolished.

Although badly treated by its previous owners, it survives together with a large timber-framed barn and a brick and flint stable.

These buildings, standing on two sides of what used to be the farmyard, are part of the past land use and the only surviving real link with the agricultural past of Highlands.

This group of buildings and the farmyard are absolutely essential to form the welcoming entrance hub of the new hamlet to give it its identity with which its new inhabitants can identify.

However much we dislike the way the number of new dwellings has been imposed on us top down from central government, the neighbourhood plan — a ploy at appeasement by pretending that we have a say over these numbers — does give us the only chance to have an input on what happens on these sites.

I, for one, am very keen to shout loudly to ensure that the developers respect the archaeology and history of Highlands Farm as well as the setting of the Chilterns AONB.

So please vote for the neighbourhood plan, warts and all, or South Oxfordshire District Council will make all planning decisions for us. — Yours faithfully,

Ruth Gibson

Acting secretary, Henley Archaeological and Historical Group,

and planning field officer, Chiltern Society,

Vicarage Road,


Paul’s jewel in showbusiness crown

Sir, — I was so sad to read about Paul Daniels being diagnosed with a brain tumour.

He is a great man. When I started teaching in the Seventies, he accepted an invitation to open our school fete in Birmingham which was raising money for school funds.

He gave his services free and spent the whole afternoon encouraging parents and friends to spend their money.

After that, we kept in touch and he continued to accept invitations to visit my schools, which included the Downs School in Compton and my final post as head of drama at Chiltern Edge School in Sonning Common, from where I retired in 2010.

Paul communicates so well with young people and, of course, he always did some magic to keep them guessing.

He is a jewel in the showbusiness crown and there are a lot of schoolchildren with many happy memories of him. Thanks, Paul, you are truly a star! — Yours faithfully,

Stuart Jarvis

Pembroke Lane,



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