Sunday, 20 April 2014

Open Day at Lambourn

On Good Friday, I visited the Lambourn Open Day to see the local racing yards and the events programme in the afternoon.  Nicky Henderson's yard was a real treat where we could look at the wonderful heroes of the racing world, including Bob's Worth, Long Run, Shakalakaboomboom and many others in their stables.  

During the afternoon, we were able to see the parade of the horses including Kauto Star (above middle), Sprinter Sacre, Present View and Toast of New York.  The Household Cavalry (above right) gave a stunning display immaculately performed which was then followed by schooling sessions on the gallops.  The afternoon ended with a show jumping competition with top jockeys and soldiers of The Household Cavalry battling against each other.  Mick Fitzgerald was on hand to provide some of the commentary too.  The weather stayed fine and everyone seemed to enjoy the day.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Full County Council Meeting Webcast

On Tuesday this week it was our full Council meeting which was held at Bodicote House in Banbury at the Cherwell District Council Offices.  You can view the full recorded meeting at the following  link which takes you to the district council website.  Items I spoke on included paying tribute to the late County Councillor and Alderman Charles Shouler, the recent recommendations on the remuneration panel which pays councillors' allowances, questions on the lack of bus services to connect to Didcot, Harwell, Milton Park, infrastructure issues generally including Grove station, the poor state of our roads due to potholes not being repaired, and paying tribute to the emergency services giving us the help in Grove during the flash flood of the Letcombe Brook in Cane Lane.

One of the remarkable events of the afternoon, was our Lib Dem motion about improving air quality under our new powers of public health.  This was successful due to all political groups voting with us, recognising the importance of this issue for Oxfordshire - all except the Conservatives, including the Cabinet Member for Public Health, who voted against it or changed their minds and abstained!  You can see the Chairman's hand go up to vote against, then his face changes as he looked at his group in disarray and his hand goes up in the abstentions.  Remarkable!  Then the Cabinet member  for Public Health walked out of the meeting altogether.  Now there is no overall control at the council, the ruling group will find it very difficult to have their own way.  This is a victory for Oxfordshire residents, as the high pollution levels we are all suffering this week makes air quality a very important public health matter.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Local School Strike Action

There are some local school closures tomorrow due to industrial action by some of the teachers.  Please take a look at the County Council website here.  I note that Millbrook Primary School will be closed all day, some other schools have partial closures, but make sure you check first.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

BBC Radio Oxford Coming to Grove!

I was delighted to join Clare Woodling (see photo above) in Millbrook Square this afternoon to talk about the hot topics in Grove.  The BBC are coming to the village this weekend for their Big Tour of Oxfordshire which will be launched LIVE from Millbrook Square this Saturday morning 22nd March between 8am - 10am.  The Tour’s visit will culminate with Malcolm Boyden bringing his show live from  Wheelers Butchers on Friday 28th March.  I do hope that residents will come along to have their say about our community here.

There are huge challenges on the horizon with all the extra housing developments which are planned around us, and I know that residents are rightly concerned about the delivery of infrastructure and how this will change our area.   We discussed the Grove Airfield and Monks Farm proposals, public transport (and lack of!),  the re-opening of the rail station, the effects of the works on the A338 bridge due to the rail electrification project, better broadband, our local businesses and community and voluntary groups.  There are lots more stories to tell, but please get in touch with Clare at her email: or telephone her on 01865 889099 (mobile 07850 785849) if you have any local issues you would like to discuss.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

New Layby in Charlton estate Wantage

I was pleased to see that the above lay-by has now been completed at Harcourt Road in the Charlton estate, Wantage.  Residents may recall that Cllr. Jenny Hannaby and I funded one of these from our Area Stewardship funding last year, and it was so popular that people asked for more!  The verges on the estate get so churned up by the parking of vehicles on the grass that it makes the whole area look very unsightly.  We are hoping that these lay-bys help with this by moving vehicles off the road and helping with road safety for those driving through.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Consultation on Public Rights of Way

The County Council is currently consulting on its draft Rights of Way Management Plan (Rights of Way Improvements Plan 2014 - 2024).  The consultation ends on 19th April 2014, so there is plenty of time to respond, but there are a lot of documents to look at so it will take some time to peruse them all.  The full list can be found here.

There is also a local consultation taking place on the Letcombe Regis Footpath No. 2 and West Challow Footpath No. 14, which is due to a diversion order request by the local landowner.  This particular consultation ends on 4th April and can be viewed here.

With the advent of the beautiful springlike weather over the weekend, I am sure that many of us will feel like heading for the countryside for the fresh air and sunshine.  Hopefully, any suggestions and improvements that can be made to our footpaths and bridleways will be looked at as part of the consultation exercise.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

New Housing Strategy for the Vale

I attended a local stakeholder event to hear about the new housing plans for the Vale this week.   This is a result of the latest govenment requirement to undertake a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) to assess the amount and type of housing needed in our district and across Oxfordshire.   This has identified a need for up to 20,560 new homes in the Vale between 2011 and 2031.  There is a need to find sites for another 7,430 more homes than originally planned in the previous Local Plan 2013. 

There is now a consultation exercise taking place for the Local Plan 2031 where you can have your say here.  There are a number of exhibitions next week at the following locations:

                        Tuesday 11 March - Abingdon Guildhall exhibition 4pm - 6pm
            Tuesday 11 March - Abingdon Guildhall public meeting 7pm - 9pm
            Wednesday 12 March - Cornertsone, Didcot exhibition 3pm - 7.30pm
            Saturday 15 March - Harwell Community Primary School exhibition 10am - 3pm
            Monday 17 March - St Blaise Primary School, Milton Heights exhibition 4pm - 6pm
            Monday 17 March - De Vere, Milton Hill House public meeting 7pm - 9pm
            Saturday 22 March - Abbey Shopping Centre, Bury St. Abingdon exhibition 10am - 3pm
            Monday 24 March - Shrivenham Memorial Hall exhibition 4pm - 6pm
            Monday 24 March - Shrivenham Memorial Hall public meeting 7pm - 9pm
           Tuesday 25 March - Faringdon Corn Exchange exhibition 3pm - 7.30pm
I hope residents will have a chance to see what is proposed for the area and make comments where necessary.  Fortunately, there has been no additional housing added in the Grove and Wantage area other than the developments already put forward.  I think it is acknowledged that we have reached saturation point!  Concerns were raised at the meeting about the ability of the infrastructure to cope, in particular our roads and schools.  It will be interesting to see the figures for the other districts in Oxfordshire, in particular, Oxford City, where much of the demand for housing is, but very little being built.  

Monday, 24 February 2014

Consultation on A34 Chilton Interchange

This is to inform residents that there is an opportunity to comment on the proposed A34 interchange at Chilton here.  This is expected to make it easier for those wishing to access the Harwell/Rutherford site for those travelling on the A34 from the north.   The consultation ends at the end of this week.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

A417 Temporary Road Closure on Sunday

A temporary road closure has been arranged to apply to a stretch of the A417, between the A4130 Rowstock Roundabout westwards to a point approx. 100m west of Featherbed Lane whilst urgent coring and survey works are carried out by Oxfordshire County Council.

A temporary notice has been made to implement the temporary closure and will operate from Sunday 23 February 2014, with a duration of 1 day, approximate working times of 8am to 6pm.

Note also that there is an associated closure of Featherbed Lane for the following 4 days,  whilst urgent coring and survey works are carried out by Oxfordshire County Council.

A temporary notice will be made to implement the closure and will operate from Monday 24 February 2014, with an anticipated duration of 5 days.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Crab Hill Development Approved

Last night I attended the Vale's Planning Committee to hear the debate and verdict on the Crab Hill development north east of Wantage.  The area spans both parishes of Grove and Wantage as well as Lockinge on the boundary.  The committee granted approval for the outline development of 1,500 houses which was really no surprise.  There is a package for infrastructure totalling around £32M, but questions still remain around the timely delivery of the Wantage Eastern Link Road which has been talked about so much recently. 

There is also uncertainty about the school places which will be needed because although the first primary school will have to be brought on stream after 350 dwellings are completed, we know there are already shortages of school places in the area now.  Added uncertainty over the delivery of the Grove Secondary School on the airfield site, means that until that is built the capacity of King Alfred's to cope with the extra demand is unknown.

My concern is that this development adds to the 3,000 already approved for our area and the pressure on our already congested roads, and our local facilities will all be stretched, because we know that infrastructure never comes first, but only after the homes are built.  Very challenging times ahead for us all!  The problem is that as long as there is no Local Plan in place, speculative development continues to happen.

There has now been an announcement that there is to be a consultation exercise on the emerging Local Plan with some meetings planned (unfortunately not in Grove or Wantage).  See this link to find out how you can make your comments.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

County Council Budget

Yesterday I spent the whole day at County Hall debating the council budget for the next year and the level of council tax which has been set at a 1.99% increase.  This is the amount which has been set by national government before there has to be a public referendum.  I did report the  Talking Oxfordshire events that took place last year, which gave people a chance to have their say and that did result in a U-turn on closing some of our Childrens' Centres.

County Liberal Democrats put forward a set of amendments which you can read in our press release here.  Unfortunately, our proposals were voted down, but it was interesting that the Conservative/Independent Alliance budget only scraped through by 3 votes!  A bit different at the county council now there is no overall control, and perhaps scope in the future for the ruling administration to listen.

There has been some coverage in the local media, but nothing very exciting to report!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Letcombe Brook Levels

At the weekend I took these photos of the Letcombe Brook by the bridge at The Green in Grove as we were anticipating more rain.  As you can see, the brook has been coping well so far given the amount of water which is continuing to pour in.  We did have an emergency situation in Cane Lane the week before when I was woken at 6am by residents who were trapped due to a flash flood.  A car had broken down in the water and this meant people were unable to get out of the lane until the locked barrier had been lifted.

Fortunately, I made a few telephone calls to alert the parish council, who hold the key to the gate and the fire & rescue crew from Wantage came to help elderly residents set up a wall of sandbags to keep them safe.  Fortunately, the brook levels came down, and I checked later both there and in Kingfishers and residents were coping well with the local sandbags provided by the county council.

We will all be keeping our eye on the weather situation on a regular basis.  Please check the county website for details of any local flooding and road closures and the Environment Agency for flood alerts.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Water Danger behind North Drive

I have been contacted by a concerned resident about the deep pools of water in the fields behind North Drive. These excavations were highlighted by our local PCSO in his report in the February issue of the Grove Parish Newsletter. This afternoon, I braved the rain and took a number of photographs including the ones above, which illustrate the problem. After all the recent torrential rain, these excavations have filled up with water and some of them could be very deep. These obviously pose a danger, especially to children, and I warn everyone to keep clear of the pools and not to climb on the surrounding mounds of soil and mud. I have reported this to the Vale of White Horse District Council, as the local planning authority, and requested that action is taken to either fill in the excavations or at least to fence them off as soon as possible with warning signs. 

Some years ago there was a similar problem with trenches that had been dug and, as a then district councillor, I contacted the developer to deal with the issue. The extent of the water this time is much more serious and I hope the council takes prompt action.

More photos can be be found here.   

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Grove Library Welcomes Volunteers

Last night I had the pleasure of welcoming over twenty volunteers who have come forward to help keep our library open in Grove following the proposals made by the County Council three years ago to close all but the 'core' libraries in Oxfordshire.  Many will remember the outcry by residents and the public meeting in Grove where the Friends of Grove Library group (FROGs) threw themselves back on the campaign trail.  The group was reformed and began the process of trying to save this valuable service to our community.  See the press story here.

Thankfully, the county backtracked on their proposals and came up with a 'community model' which meant that our branch libraries could stay open with the help of trained volunteers.   We were designated a 'Community Plus' Library which meant that there would always be a member of staff on duty with every volunteer. Thankfully, in Grove, we were fortunate to have many people put themselves forward to help, and last night was a 'training event' which  gave all volunteers a chance to meet one another and learn all aspects of helping in the library.

The event was a huge success and a very enjoyable occasion, as everyone was very excited about this new opportunity.  We have an excellent support team of staff at the County Council who are committed to making this work, offering help and advice all along the way.  Also, our active FROGs team are co-ordinating the rotas, if anyone else would like to get involved.   I think this shows the community spirit we have in Grove which makes us all proud!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Cinema Comes Back to Wantage

On Friday, I had an enjoyable evening at Wantage Civic Hall watching the showing of 'Gravity' on the big screen which had been set up with the support of the Vale of White Horse District Council and the Friends of Wantage Cinema Fund.   

It was in 2005 when the old Regent Cinema closed in the town and despite best efforts to keep it open, it was eventually converted into the Shush nightclub.  It has taken a long time, but finally, although not a replacement commercial cinema, we can hope that at least this venture of showing films once a month will succeed.

There is another Friday evening show on 14th February at 7pm to see 'Philomena' with a Saturday morning session for a children's film on 15th February at 10am.

To find out more, visit the website here and make sure you get your tickets early for the next showings to make sure you are not disappointed! 

Monday, 20 January 2014

A338 Closure at Frilford and Tubney

This is to alert residents that there is a temporary road closure coming up for 1 week from 3rd February 2014 on the A338 from Frilford to Tubney to enable carriageway maintenance works to be carried out.   The alternative route is via the A415 and the A420 and vice versa. 

Exemptions are included for police, fire and ambulance services and for vehicular access to adjacent premises. 

When I travelled through the route today, I noticed that the signs which have been erected there say the closure will only take 5 days, so hopefully not too much disruption.  The road surface in that area has been breaking up for some time, with the frequent temporary patching never lasting too long, so I expect something more substantial is being done.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Public Exhibition on Proposed Solar Park in Grove

There is a public exhibition for a proposed solar park at Elms Farm in Grove coming up on Tuesday 21 January 2014 in the St John the Baptist Church Hall in Grove.  The exhibition will run from 4pm to 7.30pm so do go along to see what is planned. 

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Have Your Say On The Buses!

I have had many complaints from residents about the lack of services from Thames Travel since they decommissioned their route to Grove.  This has caused an enormous amount of inconvenience to families who had previously used their buses not just for local services, but to Didcot, Milton Park and beyond.

There have also been problems with unreliability of their current services running from Wantage, with children arriving late for school and employees late for work. So, there will be an opportunity to have your say at a drop in session being held in Didcot on THURSDAY 23RD JANUARY from 10am until 3.30pm at the open-air Amphitheatre by Sainsburys at The Orchard Shopping Centre.  I hope that people can go along and ensure their voice is heard!

Saturday, 11 January 2014

A338 Closure for Six Months Rejected

I am pleased to report that the request from Network Rail to close the A338 for six months from February has been turned down by the County Council.  As many residents will recall, just before Christmas, Grove Parish Council called a meeting in the parish church to discuss the proposals which had been put forward by Network Rail.  Many people were angered by that meeting, because no firm answers were given to the questions posed, and there were no decisions taken.   I have continued to try to emphasise that there are no firm dates and times yet agreed for this road closure, but unfortunately this message is difficult to get across as the press keep publishing the initial request for a road closure!  All temporary road closure requests have a length of time attributed to them to allow the work to be done WITHIN that time frame, it does NOT mean that the road closure will last for that full amount of time.

I have also said many times both to the media and to those who have contacted me, that I have been calling for a temporary bridge to be installed during the duration of the work, and this has NOT been ruled out.  Indeed, the county council is continuing to have ongoing discussions with Network Rail about how to deal with the essential works needed to be done to the bridge by the Volunteer to allow the electrification works to go ahead.  However, county officers have told me that they have not seen any plans so far, and they cannot agree to any road closure until those plans have been agreed.  As soon as I have further information I shall post it here.

It was my first surgery of the year in Grove Library this morning and a couple of people turned up with some local issues.  My next surgery will be held on Saturday 8th February at Grove Library at the usual time.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Police Commissioner Coming to Wantage

The Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner is coming to Wantage Civic Hall on Monday 13th January from 7 - 9pm to hear what the public have to say.  This will be an opportunity for local residents to give their views on the work of the police and their chance to ask questions of their elected representative. 

Some of you may recall the poor election turnout in November 2012 when many people complained that they did not have enough information on how to vote.  Anthony Stansfeld, the Conservative candidate was duly elected, so now it is over a year since he has been in the job.  Refer to my blog post here for my report on that event.   As a local member of the Wantage West Neighbourhood Action Group I shall be attending to find out what issues will be discussed.