Saturday, 30 January 2016

Cow Lane Bridge Takes Shape

Today, it was bright and sunny, but also somewhat cold, so I decided to go for a local walk along Cow Lane in Grove. This is a popular green corridor for local residents, dog walkers and horse riders and will become an even more important amenity once all the future housing development is built. Using this route, I have walked all the way from Grove to the Hanneys a number of times and it it a great rural walk amongst the local wildlife. At the moment, however, you can only walk a limited distance along the lane because it is blocked due to a new bridge being built over the railway. This is, of course, all part of the electrification of the Great Western route and the old bridge was too low to accommodate the overhead lines.

Anyway, the photos above give an idea of how the new bridge is taking shape and what it looks like. One of the photos also shows the foundation for one of the supporting masts for the overhead line,  although it looks like most of the piling still remains to be done with pipes scattered along the side of the track. The latest status of work on the Oxfordshire section can be found at

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Update on County Council Matters


I presented my report to Grove Parish Council regarding my activities on Tuesday evening to the full council meeting.  I thought it would be useful to make it available here with more detail. Meetings that I have attended this year include the Wantage and Grove Traffic Advisory Committee (this includes issues raised by Grove Parish Council and Wantage Town Council on a regular basis). With no local highways budget now to do anything, everything is supposed to be reported to Fix My Street in order to get it done.   May I advise residents who wish to report a problem to use this link provided.  It will also keep track of what is reported.  I believe that this method means that someone will come out and assess the work and it will be prioritised.

I also attended the Wantage and Faringdon Locality meeting, where again, there was much said by the officers from the council attending the meeting, but with budget restrictions in the pipeline, very little is promised.  Cuts to services are happening as we speak, in particular, the Children’s Centres, Day Centres, bus subsidy withdrawals, roads and highways works etc.  However,  many residents already know about this and for this reason, parishes and towns are expected to take on more.  Fortunately, Grove Parish Council have agreed to take on some of the County Council's grass-cutting responsibilities, because they are already cutting grass to a high standard in the village, so I am pleased that this will continue.  Too often, when I get complaints about grass-cutting in Grove, it turns out to be due to a contractor doing the work on behalf of the district council.  Hopefully, in the future, all of this will be managed by the parish who have their own grounds staff and machinery.

Meanwhile, today saw the announcement by the Home Secretary regarding closer working and co-operation between all emergency services which means that the County Council will no longer be managing the local fire service.  This will now come under the local PCC (Police and Crime Commissioner).  I am sure more details on this will emerge, but locally as cuts in the police service continue, our police counter by the Library in Wantage has been closed.  If you will recall, this move was published on my blog several years ago, when the local police station in Wantage was closing and the County worked with Thames Valley Police to make available this counter space by the Library for their use.  I am sad that after fighting for this to happen and keep some police presence in the town, some years down the line, it has been closed anyway!

Meanwhile, I held my surgery in January and had many issues raised again, including parking on verges and grassed areas – an age old chestnut!  Some of the issues raised at my surgery do involve the police, especially where inconsiderate parking is involved.  It is worth noting that the PCSO surgery at Grove Library often follows on from my surgery on Saturday mornings, so please do come along to see our PCSO Tom Walcott Smith if your concern is regarding police matters.

The next meeting I shall attend at the County Council will be the February Budget Council meeting.  However, until the government recognises the problems they are causing local councils by reducing their settlement for local services, without allowing us to raise council tax without a costly referendum, then unfortunately this situation will continue.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Happy Christmas and New Year 2016

On my return from Midnight Mass at Grove Parish Church, I should like to wish all residents of Grove and Wantage a Happy Christmas and healthy New Year 2016.  This photograph (above) was taken earlier in December when I attended Maggies Christmas Carol service at Christchurch Cathedral in Oxford.  Maggies provides support for all those touched by cancer and is based at the Churchill Hospital site in Oxford.  All monies raised from this concert went to this very worthy cause.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Oxford Mail Hospital Heroes Team Award

Last night, I was delighted to attend the Annual Staff Recognition Awards ceremony for the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust at Oxford Town Hall.  As you will see from the photos shown above, the Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Ward of the Churchill Hospital won the Team Award for the Oxford Mail Hospital Heroes.

I nominated this magnificent team due to the excellent care they gave me during my 3 week stay on the ward whilst recovering from major surgery in May this year.  This was the icing on the cake following my recovery over the summer months, which allowed me to resume some of my council duties in September.  You can read the full story here.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Remembrance Sunday

This photograph (above) was taken in June at Court Hill, Wantage near Letcombe Regis and seems a beautiful and fitting display of wild poppies to commemorate today when we remember our fallen members of the armed forces.

This morning, I attended the Remembrance Day service at St. John's Parish Church in Grove, where we paid tribute to those who died in service during both World Wars and beyond.  It was a full house with many young Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Rainbows, Brownies and Guides all presenting their flags and standards in the church.  It was also good to catch up with members of the community after the service.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Budget Consultation and Children's Centres

The County Council is currently consulting on its budget proposals for 2016/17 until 2019/20 where £50m of savings will have to be made on top of those already announced in previous years' budgets.  This consultation has started on 20th October and details can be found at the County website at

Public events are being held from 7 - 8.30pm on the following dates and venues:

27th October at County Hall
2nd November at Banbury Town Hall
5th November at the Regal Centre, Wallingford

However, one of the proposals which I need to alert residents to, is the potential threat to our Children's Centres, especially those which are run locally to support families in the community.  Our Grove and Hanneys Children's Centre meet at St. John the Baptist Church meeting rooms and in Wantage meetings are held at the Butler Centre in Church Street.  If you wish to have your say on these services and how they will affect you please go to the following link.  
All details on the options proposed are available to read at the above link.  As you will see if you click on the appropriate file for our local centres, there are a considerable number of families using these services managed  by Action for Children on our behalf.  I am sure that these services will be sorely missed if we lose them now, especially as new families move into the area due to the housing development planned.  Please make sure you send in your comments whilst this consultation is live.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Cow Lane Closure

I should like to notify residents about the forthcoming closure of Cow Lane which is coming up on 13th October.  The duration of the closure is expected to be for about 35 weeks, which the notice (shown above) claims takes up until 15th June 2016.  I expect much will depend on the weather and the other works going on in the area by Network Rail.  

This work aims to replace the railway bridge at the Hanneys crossing because of the rail electrification project.  As I previously reported here, some time ago, the replacement bridge at the A338 is currently going ahead and due to be completed at the end of this year.  

As this by-way is currently only used by horse-riders, cyclists, dog walkers and pedestrians, I hope everyone manages to find alternative recreational routes in the area during the time of the closure.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Back to work!

I have been recuperating over the summer months after major surgery in May, and have returned to my duties at Oxfordshire County Council.  I made a commitment to attend Full Council  in September and last Tuesday I managed to do so (see photo above).  It was good to be welcomed back with a cheer and I was able to thank everyone for their good wishes and flowers which had been sent to me whilst recovering at home.

Main items for discussion at the meeting were the re-organisation of senior management after our Chief Executive leaves this month, followed by a debate on the Local Transport Plan 4.

We also saw a demonstration at the front of County Hall regarding the future of Children's Centres which is due to go out for public consultation after the Cabinet meeting yesterday.  I shall provide further details about these plans in a further post.

Some residents may be interested in the Local Transport Plan and the Connecting Oxfordshire document which was the subject of meetings around the county last year including one held in Wantage.  You can see my previous blog post of the event here.  Although Grove station got a mention in the latest transport plan, improved bus services in the area didn't.  Also, more cycling measures were included for urban areas, but nothing which helps us here in the more rural parts of Oxfordshire.

However, my main issue locally, regarding both LTP4/Connecting Oxfordshire and the recent bus subsidies consultation, is the lack of any connectivity between Grove and our main employment sites at Didcot/Milton Park and Harwell by public transport.  I did speak about this subject at the council meeting last week, and felt very strongly that although I had sent in my responses to all of these consultations, nothing appeared to have been taken on board in the final documents.  Very woolly references are made in the 'responses received' part of the document, which appear just to be added in as an afterthought, but whether or not anything will be done is yet to be seen.  I called for all comments made at the full council meeting to be taken on board.

I was pleased to see the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group making a statement at the beginning of the meeting, making similar points: that we are taking much of the new housing in the area, but without any added public transport infrastructure which is required, especially if we wish to see less cars on our surrounding congested road systems at peak commuter times.

It was also good to hold my first council surgery last Saturday after my illness.  Many old customers wished me well and lots of casework to keep me busy!  Next surgery will be held on Saturday 10th October in Grove Library from 10.30am - 11.30am.  As usual, no appointment necessary, just come along to discuss issues of concern.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Verdant Grove

As I won't be blogging for a while, I thought I would post this nice green and verdant view of Letcombe Brook near to Grove village green that I took on one of my recent walks around the village.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

New Defibrillator for Community First Responders

I was delighted to provide a donation of £2,000 from my County Councillor Community budget fund towards a new emergency medical kit and defibrillator for the Wantage and Grove Community First Responders.  The photographs above show the new kit on display on Grove Green.

The community first responders are a group of local volunteers who provide emergency life support to the local community, dispatched by the South Central Ambulance Service to '999' calls whilst an ambulance is also en route. The group currently consists of 12 responders, but there are currently only 6 medical kits which have to be constantly moved round.  This new kit means there will now be an extra one available to respond in an emergency, helping to save more lives within the local community.

The group currently respond to 40-50 emergency calls each month and rely solely on the generosity of local fundraising to support the group and buy new equipment and replace old kit. I was pleased that I was able to use funding from my last year's community fund before it was curtailed this February due to the current budget pressures at the County Council.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

St Ives Footbridge Repairs

I reported the repairs which needed doing to the bridge over Letcombe Brook on St. Ives footpath (shown above) after a resident came to my surgery to report it in December.  As you will see, it has now been done.  I used FixMyStreet, which is a good way of reporting problems as you receive updates and can check on their status. Alternatively, you can use Street Maintenance A-Z  on the County Council website.

I will only be posting sporadically to this blog for a while for health reasons, but will resume normal service as soon as I can.  Meanwhile, I hope to have my next surgery at the Library on 11th April, but after that I shall have a break from surgeries until further notice.  I shall inform the Libary once I know when I shall be able to come back again.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Happy Christmas to Everyone!

This year there were new lights in the tree outside County Hall as shown in the photo above, so I am taking the opportunity of sharing this with everyone at Christmas time.   They look prettier than the picture in reality as they have 'snowdrops' falling which is difficult to capture on my mobile 'phone!

I have only just recovered from a bout of 'flu and I know others have also been suffering, but hopefully now Christmas Eve is here, we can all relax and enjoy the festive spirit.

May I take this opportunity of wishing all residents of Grove and Wantage a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year 2015.  

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Hanneys Rail Bridge and Cow Lane Closure

The next bridge to be done by Network Rail for continuing the electrification programme in our area is the Hanneys rail crossing at Cow Lane which is the bridleway shown in the above photo (right).   There are several notices at the entrance to the by-way (photo above left), which explain the temporary closure of the bridge from 20th January until 2nd February 2015 whilst ground investigation works take place.  

The bridge will be reduced in width, but there will be no change to the usage of the bridleway for pedestrians, cyclists, horseriders and farm machinery in the future.  The main works to the bridge itself will take place later in the year.  Dates have not yet been confirmed.

I was delighted to be at the re-opening of the A417 last week after the successful completion of the Challow bridge which happened on schedule as I had posted here previously.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Grants Awarded to Scouts and Cornerstone

I am pleased to report that I have recently had two more small grants approved for local community groups in Grove.  Firstly, the Grove Scout Group has been awarded £250 towards painting the scout hut to preserve it against winter weather.    This means that hopefully the hut will be storm-proof allowing activities to continue without problems.  There are over 160 members of our community who enjoy scouting and we know how valued they are locally.

Indeed, as Christmas approaches, I am sure many of us use their well-used Christmas post service to the local area.  Post boxes are to be found at several locations in both Grove and Wantage including outside Smiths at  Millbrook Square.  This will also raise more funds for their activities throughout the year.

My most recent successful grant application has gone to the Cornerstone Christian Centre for the amount of £170 which will go towards providing a Christmas lunch for lonely, elderly and vulnerable people in the community which will take place in mid-December.   This is an excellent opportunity to provide company and hospitality in the Cornerstone in a friendly and welcoming 'family' environment, and again, I was delighted to support this venture.

There is still a small amount of funding still available in my remaining County Councillor Community budget fund, so please go online here and download a form.  This money will come to an end next February, so needs to be spent as soon as possible.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Challow Bridge Update

I think the photos above provided courtesy of Network Rail say it all.   They show that the old Challow bridge on the A417 (top photo) has been demolished and the second photo shows the new bridge in place.  This work has all been undertaken over weekends in the last few weeks, and I have been assured that progress is going well and re-opening the road still planned for 5th December. For the latest updates from Network Rail click here.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Vegetation Cutback Undertaken

I have been working for several months trying to get overgrown vegetation cut back from key areas around Grove since the summer.  Residents will recall how long it took to get Newlands Drive done as reported here earlier this year.    However, these areas had all been reported to me and County Highways several times, so it has been frustrating to have to wait several months for the work to be completed.

As you will see from the photos above, the route from Grove to Wantage alongside the SSE substation by the recreation ground has been a cause of concern for a long time, as has the footpath along the busy A338 near to the rail bridge.   These stretches, as well as the walkway through from the end of Evenlode Close have now been cleared with money used from my Area Stewardship Fund.

The reason given for these projects taking such a long time, is to try to establish land ownership issues, but in some cases, this is either unclear or unresolved.  Residents need to be aware that they are responsible for vegetation from their properties which overhang the highway or footpaths, and must keep them cut back or they may be recharged from the County Council for undertaking the work.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Electric Blanket Testing in Wantage

Oxfordshire Trading Standards will once again be offering free electric blanket checks to residents this year. Working in partnership with Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue & Age UK they will be testing for 10 days in October at 10 different locations across Oxfordshire.

They  will be testing at Wantage Fire Station on Thursday 23rd  October from 9am. Testing is offered on a first come first served appointment system and the number for booking an appointment is 0845 051 0845 option 4.

This has been a successful campaign for many years, and  up to 100 blankets are tested a day. Last year, 24% of the blankets that were checked were unsafe to use, therefore removing them from circulation and decreasing the risk of fires and injuries. 

I hope that residents will be able to take advantage of this excellent free service.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Freedom of the County

Yesterday, I was delighted to attend the Freedom of the County parade for 4624 Squadron, Royal Auxilliary Air Force, Brize Norton.  They were conferred this honour by the County Council last year in recognition of over thirty years of distinguished service, demonstrating sacrifice and commitment to the defence of the realm and for dedicated support to local charities and communities.

The parade began in St. Giles and ended at County Hall (see photos above), where we were there to welcome them to a reception.  I enjoyed meeting many of them and hearing their individual stories, and it was inspiring to understand how hard they work on behalf of us all.  As reservists, many of them rely on the support of their employers and these can range from the NHS to private companies.  You can read more about it here.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Review of Subsidised Bus Services in Wantage area

There is currently a review being undertaken on the subsidised bus routes in our area.  For full details of the services involved please see the link to the county website here.  The consultation is open now until 15th November, so there is time to ensure that you respond to the future changes which could be made.   With county budgets tight, the amount of money available to subsidise bus routes is decreasing, despite extra housing planned for the area.

Residents will be well aware that we lost our important links from Grove to the Harwell campus, Didcot and Milton Park at the end of last year, so I had tried to help the situation by providing some funding towards a local service as I reported on my blog here.  However, this service will also be under review as it is not clear if I shall have sufficient funds to continue to support this next year.

Looking at the list of the services affected by council subsidies in this review, we need to give our support for the evening and Sunday services run by Stagecoach no.31, and the Whites coaches shopper bus no. 38.  I know that residents greatly value these services and it will be a pity if we lose them because this will be a commercial decision made by the bus companies.  The original decision to abandon Grove was made by Thames Travel when they decided to run their services from Wantage leaving people in the village stranded or having to use other buses to get to the market place.   Please make sure you send in your responses if you value our local bus services.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Network Rail A338 Bridge Drop-in Session

Just a quick reminder for those who may have missed this on my previous blog post, on Thursday 2nd October Network Rail are holding a drop-in session for residents at The Old Mill Hall in Grove from 4 - 7pm.  This will be an opportunity to ask questions regarding the forthcoming works on the A338 bridge by the Volunteer (now an American Diner).

For some reason, the news that the A338 bridge work will not cause lengthy road closures like we are currently experiencing with the A417 has been recycled last week.  However, I reported it first here fresh from our county councillors' Network Rail briefing at County Hall in May.   It was also covered extensively in the local media. 

We had another briefing last week, where, the current programme has been updated, and then this news release was re-issued.  To keep up to date with the whole rail electrification programme, follow their website here.