Monday, 20 September 2021

Your letters...

Why I had to swap parties

Why I had to swap parties

Sir, — Comments by the Henley Residents’ Group leader and others under the headline “Calls for by-election as Cllr switches to Tories” (Standard, April 29) really can’t go unanswered.

Perhaps the HRG executive, which has made this demand, should be more concerned about why their party is losing people.

I am not the first. There was the “Great Escape” of 2014 when six important figures left HRG.

Councillor Sarah Miller was quoted as accusing me of a “gigantic betrayal”, which puzzled me because I had a recent message from her in which she said she might also “cut the cord soon”.

The HRG executive seems surprised at my move, which is equally strange as I have had conversations with key HRG figures about my concerns since late last year and told them I was considering leaving — and why — in February.

The HRG executive should surely also know that it has been basic to British democracy for centuries that whether an MP, or humble town councillor, one is elected to represent the people, not as the delegate of a particular party.

There are many politicians who have changed parties over the years without  re-election, from Westminster MPs to Pippa Hare, who moved from Henley Conservatives to HRG as councillor in Henley 10 years ago.

The HRG leader complains that I was elected under their banner. I am proud that the HRG saw potential in me and I hope their faith will be justified as I fulfil my responsibility to serve the town, which is the whole point, surely?

It is true that I canvassed for HRG but once elected I soon realised that there is a disconnect between the current HRG’s stated position as a group of independents and the reality.

My policies and my aspirations for what can be achieved in Henley, for which I canvassed, haven’t changed one bit.

My move has nothing to do with policy differences between HRG and Henley Conservatives, which seem minimal anyway. We are talking about Henley Conservatives, not the national Conservative party; local issues not UK politics. In an ideal world all town councillors would be independent but I have learned, perhaps the hard way, that in practice I can serve the town best as part of a supportive and intelligent group where ideas can be expressed and differences of opinion seen as productive rather than  problematic.

For me, the Henley Conservatives provide a more competent and open-minded environment for best serving the town than the present manifestation of HRG.

Gill Dodds’s comment that differences of opinion within HRG are okay as long as they are explained and justified says it all. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Sara Abey

Henley Town Council, New Street, Henley

What about democracy?

Sir, — Am I alone in thinking that Henley suffers from a serious democratic deficit? I was saddened to read that a councillor has switched from Henley Residents’ Group to the Conservatives and doesn’t feel it necessary to stand for re-election.

Many locals will have voted for Sara Abey because of who she was standing for as a balance to offset the Conservatives.

By switching, she has made the composition of the council less even.

Dieter Hinke’s point that she cannot be made to resign may be within the letter of the law but surely it’s not in the spirit of it.

In addition, she does not appear to have explained the specific reasons for her switch.

Please take to the hustings again and tell us and then we can decide who should represent us. — Yours faithfully,

Tim Dickson

Greys Hill, Henley

Dedication of club coaches

Sir, — Rowing can be an all-absorbing, highly competitive sport. Several local clubs excel in various categories and we should rightly be proud of their achievements.

To be the best at any level requires technical skill, strength, stamina, the ability to work as a team, commitment and focus — hard enough for an adult but extremely difficult for a youngster.

To coach a child from as young as 12 years old up to international standard takes a great many hours of training both on and off the water.

Henley Rowing Club repeatedly turns out national champions who then go on to represent England and Great Britain in competitions.

The standard of coaching is simply fantastic. Coaches typically work several evenings each week, both days at weekends and often long weekends, while at national and international competitions. This is over a rowing season from September to July.

For this they are paid precisely nothing.

Can you imagine a scenario where throughout these times there isn’t the odd disagreement with teenagers who don’t do as asked, who let down their squad and coach or who don’t experience disappointment when they’re not picked for the best boat? Of course there’s the odd squabble, but that’s part of life.

It now seems that if someone disagrees with our experienced coaches then they have the ability to drag their reputations through the gutter.

While in no way condoning any abuse of juveniles, it seems to me that the “politically correct” brigade have had a field day at Henley Rowing Club.

I can’t help but feel that British Rowing has been backed into a corner and has taken this opportunity to make an example by hanging out to dry the three individuals at the club.

I have known and worked with Jeff Morgan, John Friend and David Lister over the last few years and know them to be extremely hard working, committed and capable individuals who have contributed enormously to many individuals, to Henley Rowing Club and to the sport of rowing over many, many years.

I find it appalling that such people can be so condemned with so little balancing argument to demonstrate their enormous positive input.

As the parent of a national champion rower from Henley Rowing Club, I, for one, would feel very fortunate to have these fine coaches involved with the training of my daughter. It will be to the benefit of all if they return to the sport as quickly as possible. — Yours faithfully,

Tony Cummings

Best policy on refugees

Sir, — Thank you for reporting on the immigration debate in relation to migrants (Standard, April 29).

By way of clarification, let me say that — contrary to your headline — the motion before the House was not simply to allow 3,000 Syrian refugee children into the UK. A motion on these lines would not have been necessary as the Government had already agreed to take 3,000 directly from the camps in Syria.

You cannot simply add or subtract words to a motion for the sake of convenience. What the motion did was ask us to take 3,000 children from Europe, not from Syria.

The essence of the Kindertransport set up before the Second World War was to take unaccompanied children from an unsafe area of the world and to give them sanctuary.

That is precisely what the Government has done in taking children from the refugee camps in the Middle East and North Africa and providing them with a safe haven as part of a resettlement scheme supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

It is not taking children from countries of Europe which are safe, although it is helping to care for them where they are.

We do not get anywhere in this debate by undermining countries in Europe which have the capacity to support refugees and should be doing so, although we are helping them financially.

Nowhere would this have relieved pressure on any country in the Middle East or North Africa which does not have the ability or the capacity to support them.

Not one child would have been prevented from dealing with the people smugglers of the Eastern Mediterranean.

As one Henley resident who wrote to me said, “how different the facts are when we search for clarification”. — Yours faithfully,

John Howell

MP for Henley, House of Commons

Better to find their families

Sir, — Well done John Howell in standing up against population increase.

Three thousand child refugees would quickly turn into 20,000 to 30,000 immigrants when their families miraculously found them once they were in Britain.

I received a letter from the Red Cross asking me for money for Syria.

This charity could really help by re-uniting the poor children with their families back in Syria or wherever the families may be. — Yours faithfully,

Soren Nielsen

Belle Vue Road, Henley

Don’t forget our children

Sir, — While I can see the point that your correspondent James Lambert is making regarding Syrian child refugees (Standard, April 29), the Joseph Rowntree Trust says that more than 300,000 children in the UK are destitute.

Perhaps the privileged and wealthy of Henley could help some of these children instead or is there not the same kudos from helping your own people? — Yours faithfully,

Mrs J Hadley

Leaver Road, Henley

Scared to speak out

Sir, — There is no doubt that the revised proposals for Thames Farm have sparked a great deal of interest among local residents. Of course, people are entitled to give their views, both for and against, but I am sure that the majority of your readers will find it very worrying that some residents of Shiplake who support the Thames Farm proposals feel intimidated about making their views public.

A number of residents has told me that they support the idea of new homes, particularly affordable homes for young people, but they cannot write in support because they fear “reprisals”.

As a long-standing local resident, I am proposing 95 well-designed new homes, of which 40 per cent would be affordable for the children and grandchildren of local residents, on a main road site with good transport connections and accessible to local shops. Why are local councillors so afraid of this? — Yours faithfully,

Claire Engbers

Owner, Thames Farm, Harpsden

Hold chiefs to account

Sir, — Barely has the ink dried on one newspaper telling us of a Townlands delay than you have to set up the ensuing newspaper to tell the long-suffering Henley public “Townlands delayed again”.

Your newspaper informs us that the rapid access care unit will be open possibly in August or even September (Standard, April 29).

I could take this more seriously if this putative timeline for the opening of the unit was announced by the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group and not by our very own councillor Stefan Gawrysiak. The commissioning group has never agreed this date.

I have the greatest respect for Stefan, who is a member of the Townlands Stakeholder Reference Group, but his date is purely a guesstimate developed by “joining up the dots” and from his own experience and intuition.

This date therefore has no significance or authority and is a suggested date that the commissioning group can easily put back again without any ownership or embarrassment.

Meanwhile, the Mayor Lorriane Hillier is telling the Friends of Townlands Hospital that the Bell and Hart Surgeries are still negotiating with the commissioning group — again an example of informal communications by a third party who is supposedly “in the know” and not by the commissioning group directly. Consequently, it is all deniable in the event of problems.

Why is it that only a nameless spokesman for the commissioning group gives your readers a glimpse of the muddled processes behind the recruitment (or lack of) of a consultant for the unit and of the aborted installation of X-ray facilities?

Never is a board member, chief executive or senior manager quoted, nor an apology uttered.

Hence, the masters of the universe can float around their corridors of power without being exposed to the ire of the Henley public.

Is anybody in the NHS ever held accountable for their incompetence and waste of public money or do those with formally defined responsibility consistently hide behind rent-a-mouth spokesmen who sedate the public with calming words?

Meanwhile, the Henley public is preoccupied with a name change for the hospital that should be a no-brainer – the Townlands Memorial Hospital.

The commissioning group is happy for the public to be diverted from more pressing matters by allowing these tangential issues to take place and give an illusion of public involvement but always having final control.

It is about time that the Townlands Steering Group called for an independent formal review of the Townlands Memorial Hospital project over the last seven years.

I think we would all be horrified by the lack of clear thinking and the sheer waste of precious money by the many organisations and senior managers that have held responsibility, albeit for short durations.

Only then might we be able to hold people and organisations to account. Or has the steering group run out of motivation and energy? Perhaps it is time for their swords and spears to be turned into plough shares.

So who can make formal communications and accountability happen or, as John Howell MP once famously said in a rare moment of bravery: “I shall hold their feet to the fire.”

Well John, we have an out-of-control fire, so “let’s be having you”. — Yours faithfully,

Barry Wood

Stoke Row Road, Peppard

New hospital is unwell

Sir, — Recently, I visited our new state-of-the-art (circa Sixties) hospital and was impressed by the murals of blue skies and fluffy clouds decorating the interior walls but quickly realised that these were only illusionary references to the environment as there was absolutely no ventilation, either natural or from old-fashioned and costly air conditioning, in the reception areas.

Had the “architect” no consideration for the fact that people would be working in the space or awaiting medical attention as he seems to have created the perfect test tube for incubating germs?

This is a “sick” building — nearly as sick as the suggestion that it be named after the War Memorial Hospital that was stolen from the people of Henley many years ago. — Yours faithfully,


Ancastle Green

Change for the better?

Sir, — For several years I have been attending appointments at the ophthalmology department at Townlands Hospital in Henley in the old prefabricated unit.

I was always seen on time and never had a cancellation until this year when, a few days before my appointment, I received a telephone call from a very pleasant person to say the appointment had been put back by a couple of months due to “emergencies”.

I received a second call a couple of days later to say the cancellation was due to problems with the apparatus.

I received confirmation by letter a few days later, which shows the support staff are doing their job efficiently but begs the question is it just adding to their workload?

My final thought on the new hospital is this: Was it just a coincidence my appointment was cancelled, or indicative of what the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group has brought about? — Yours faithfully,

Name & address supplied

Fighting to support NHS

Sir, — In view of the “GPs in crisis” letter sent out by the Hart Surgery earlier this year, people may be interested to know that a residents’ meeting supported by the pressure group 38 Degrees is to be held at the Bull on Bell Street, Henley, at 8pm on May 11.

This is an informal meeting to see how we can help our local NHS and the Townlands issues. So if you are passionate about the NHS in your community you are very welcome to come along and share your ideas. — Yours faithfully,

Richard Creed

Simmons Road, Henley

Hospital is the memorial

Sir, — I note that there is a campaign and petition to have the new building in Henley named “Townlands Memorial Hospital”.

May I respectfully suggest that a more fitting name for the medical centre would be “Townlands Hospital Memorial”? — Yours faithfully,

David Feary

Walton Avenue, Henley

Is my son’s bus going?

Sir, — My son catches the bus home from Henley to Peppard Common after attending lessons at The Henley College.

One day recently he went to get the 12.30pm bus home and was told by the driver that the bus was cancelled and that he had been told not to pick up from this stop at 12.30pm any more.

I was at work so my son had to phone a relative to come and get him from Henley.

There was no notice regarding this bus being cancelled. Can Whites Coaches please advise if this is for the foreseeable future? This spur-of-the-moment decision left my son and numerous other students high and dry.

On another matter, my two other children attend Gillotts School and use Whites Coaches services to get home at night to Peppard Common.

I know Oxfordshire County Council is removing the subsidies for this service from around July. Can the company please give me and other parents more information as to whether these buses from Gillotts School will even be running after July?

I am assuming they will as they are always full and we pay £40 each week for both children.

Local parents really need more information about whether this bus service will be running after the subsidies are removed.

The Henley Standard and the school’s website seem the best way of getting this vital information to parents.

Please can the company answer both of the above points as soon as possible? — Yours faithfully,


Rotherfield Peppard

No cash gain by leaving EU

Sir, — I have been privileged to be on the streets of Henley in recent weeks campaigning for the Remain campaign while also avidly reading the letters page of the Henley Standard.

Neither is an unusual activity for me but both highlight an interesting aspect to the current crucial debate preceding the forthcoming EU referendum.

I have been struck by the number of different reasons given by those who openly intend to vote “leave” as the basis for their choice.

These range from “Tony Blair” to the NHS to the Second World War and on your letters pages, potholes in the road and the phone at the police station.

Aside from those gruffly delivered points, there is an assumption that leaving the EU will provide a financial windfall which is going to solve pretty much everyone’s problem, be it funding for health, improvement in roads, or more police on duty.

It is our contention that this belief is misguided and none of the leaders of the Leave campaign has refuted this.

It is not a question of membership of the EU, it is a question of whether we wish to trade with the 500 million people of the EU.

Being outside the EU, as Norway is, requires it to pay 80-90 per cent of what we pay in order to gain access to trade.

The nearest the Leave campaign has come to offering an alternative is Michael Gove’s regrettable “Albanian model”.

The Norwegians accept the rules of the EU without being able to influence their formation — most of us would consider this a surrender of sovereignty — something the Leave campaign is ardently against, yet ironically ardently campaigning for.

So I make the point that there is no windfall accompanying a leave vote. There is a small saving which will be lost in the shock of the change involved.

If you believe that the change is minor and you won’t notice any difference, then be aware that a review by the Law Society highlighted that most employment contracts contain clauses which depend on EU law.

There are thus costs associated by the fundamental change that will swallow any and all benefits gained.

There is not one substantiated economic report that shows any financial gain to the UK for leaving the EU. It is that simple. — Yours faithfully,

David Thomas

Greys Hill, Henley

Let’s not lose sovereignty

Sir, — I echo Douglas Kedge’s desire to regain our sovereignty by leaving the EU (Standard, April 29).

Harking bark to the origins of the word “sovereignty”, for me it very much includes having a sovereign.

Maybe it defies logic and reason in this modern age but I very much want to retain our monarchy.

With the relentless progress towards a United States of Europe, how could the European monarchies continue to exist within an eventual republic?

We have always been the awkward squad within the EU and we should therefore enable our European mainland cousins to continue their path of “ever closer union” without us constantly getting in the way.

Let us leave the EU and thereafter be friendly and co-operative towards it. Better to be good neighbours than continue to be grumpy bedfellows! — Yours faithfully,

Ken Stevens

Red House Drive, Sonning Common

A word of warning...

Sir, — I have a blunt message for any Brexiters who might just be inadvertently (or otherwise) overlooking a small point of detail — the value of being within a seamless customs union.

Right now I am trying to repatriate from Honolulu an old family-owned writing desk of little value other than sentimental — my great aunt was governess to 10-year-old Elizabeth Lyon (and her brother David) at Glamis Castle back in 1910.

An extensive email trail bears witness to the limitations of a certain “special relationship” in facilitating this challenging “goods transfer”. — Yours faithfully,

Jim Munro

Blandy Road, Henley

Much better election result

Sir, — I didn’t vote yesterday (Thursday) for a new Thames Valley police and crime commissioner even though I had had my voting card for a long time.

I didn’t know who was standing. Perhaps no one was and they called the whole thing off.

Perhaps we don’t need a PCC — hooray! — Yours faithfully,

Dr A I Tiffin

Northfield End, Henley

Planners too powerful

Sir, — In her reply to my letter about Wokingham Borough Council’s treatment of Hare Hatch Sheeplands (Standard, April 15), Clare Lawrence, head of development management and regulatory services, stated that the council had received both a petition and emails in support of the garden centre and complaints about unauthorised development on the site.

She further said that if action was not taken the site could be changed to other retail uses such as a major superstore.

Taking these points one at a time, we are aware of hundreds of letters/emails sent to the council in support of our planning application. The petition we delivered had 8,000 signatures and gains more daily. At present it has more than 10,000.

But the council has a “get-out clause” in its constitution — it does not have to take any notice of a petition, no matter how many of its constituents have signed it, if it refers to a planning decision.

When we were invited by the council to deliver the petition, this was not mentioned.

Since the council does not have to take any notice of the petition is it advising that every one of those 10,000 people writes to them individually? I am sure that the majority of them would.

I have asked the council, via the Freedom of Information Act, how many complaints have been received and for a breakdown of complaints by month, year, postcode and complainant, i.e. business or individual.

I have also asked for the number of letters/emails in support of Hare Hatch Sheeplands it has received.

We are particularly interested to know if any of the complaints are from people who live in the area or if they are from our competitors! We do know that there are 120-plus letters about our latest planning application registered on the council’s website. Just one of these is not in support of us.Rob Scott, the owner, has given assurances that he will not sell the site for development by a supermarket and has suggested that restrictions can be written into any planning permission to stop this from happening.

As a candidate in the council elections commented, this concern could easily be dealt with by adding development restrictions to any planning permission.Hare Hatch Sheeplands was issued with an injunction on April 26. This was hand- delivered and is made up of about 100 pages. The cost of this to the council must run into many thousands of pounds.

The business had to appear in court yesterday (Thursday), incurring more expense (to both sides). It seems ridiculous to issue an injunction when a public inquiry is due to take place in September.

I wrote to the election candidates and, interestingly, one who replied said that of council planning departments in general “it may need some considerable patience and tact to ensure that one does not inadvertently cause any issues that may adversely affect the primary objective while waiting for the slow grind of the planning system to respond”.

Why should we have to be tactful? Do planning departments have too much power? Are they allowed to be judge, jury and executioner? Who manages and monitors this power?

Everyone I speak to who has any knowledge of, or interaction with, a planning department seems to consider that they are a law unto themselves and that they are too powerful. How is this allowed to happen? — Yours faithfully,

Gill Saxon

Human resources manager, Hare Hatch Sheeplands garden centre

Don’t destroy good business

Sir, — As a taxpayer and voter, I would like to ask Wokingham Borough Council why it is spending public money against the wishes of thousands of local people to effectively force Hare Hatch Sheeplands garden centre out of business.

This is a long-standing, established family business employing more than 100 local people and should be supported and encouraged to thrive as a popular hub of the community, not destroyed.

I will certainly not support any local councillor who ignores the wishes of their constituents. — Yours faithfully,

Maria Lee

Waltham St Lawrence

Improving meadow

Sir, — In response to your news item about Freeman’s Meadow in Henley (Standard, April 29), I write as one of the adjacent residents who attended the recent meeting of the town council’s parks sub-committee.

We are, of course, pleased with the outcome and it does indeed appear to be worthwhile attending such meetings if you want to have your voice heard.

Having said that, your readers may wish to be reassured that all the various suggestions arising from the consultation process were fully aired and discussed at meetings. The minutes of the latest meeting will no doubt appear on the council’s website shortly.

A particular point which did not appear in your item relates to the committee’s decision to try to improve access to Freeman’s Meadow as part of the process of encouraging more people to use it.

In that context a zebra crossing (with central island) by the southern entrance to the meadow has been suggested. This would have the double advantage of making access safer and slowing down the traffic in Fair Mile, which has been the subject of recent correspondence in your newspaper. — Yours faithfully,

Tony May

Leicester Close, Henley

Why didn’t you ask us?

Sir, — We edge towards sensible use of Freeman’s Meadow in Henley, a fresh air lung. But why, as promised in previous council minutes, was there no consultation with residents whose homes overlook the field and have much knowledge to impart? — Yours faithfully,

Lord Remnant,

Northfield End, Henley

Impressive performance

Sir, — I enjoyed reading your coverage of so many local runners’ successes in the London Marathon (Standard, April 29).

However, I noticed that the time of one runner was missing and hers was well worth mentioning (she’s clearly very modest!)

Carrie Hoskins may well be a veteran marathon runner but she runs rings around an awful lot of younger runners. Her time of 2:59:24 placed her sixth in her age group and she was the 81st female finisher with 92 per cent of male runners finishing after her!

I thought that other readers who run might be interested in reading her stats! — Yours faithfully,

Polly Kemp

Berkshire Road, Henley

Thank you for support

Sir, — The Friends of Trinity School team would like to express their sincere thanks to the following for their support of our recent charity ball.

Davis Tate estate agents (our primary sponsor), Henley Town Council for free use of the town hall and the information centre manager Louise Hastings for her advice and guidance.

All the local businesses, individuals and generous parents, family and friends for the support of the raffle and silent and noisy auctions.

We would also like to thank 81 Events (Sam Sidders and team) for the exceptional food, preparation and service prior to and throughout the event, Woods Wines for the fantastic choice of wines and support, the Michael Newfield three-piece band (Eight Ray Music) and all our volunteers.

The final total raised is not confirmed but currently stands at approximately £8,800.

The primary aim for this year is to raise £30,000 in order to refurbish the lower playground equipment and surface at Trinity Primary School. We are now within £6,000 of the target.

The Friends are a team of volunteers comprising parents and teachers striving (with the support of the community) to provide the best educational surroundings for local children that are not afforded by regular funding.

We are now planning some smaller but nevertheless important events based around the children including the children’s circus, Trinstock (camping event), glow in the dark disco and a Christmas bazaar. Thank you so much for your support. — Yours faithfully,

Spencer Sheppard

Friends of Trinity School,

Vicarage Road, Henley

Summer’s just around the corner...

Sir, — I took this photograph showing the Henley Royal Regatta boat tents going up and thought it might be of interest to your readers. I think it captures the start of summer. — Yours faithfully,

Hannah Galley

Bloomsbury, London

More News:

POLL: Have your say