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Cllr Dr.Paul Barrow - Report for Parishes - May 21st, 2021

on Fri, 21/05/2021 - 6:58pm

Report May 2021

Covid

The Vale has been exceedingly grateful for the support provided by the volunteer groups in the villages and also for the close cooperation with Vale officers. The Covid infection rate in Oxfordshire has now dropped to a very low level but still fluctuates between 5 and 20 cases per day (having said that we had two days, the 19th and 20th where there were no new cases in Oxfordshire). Many more than a third of the population of Oxfordshire have now been vaccinated.

 

The infection has resulted in a number of changes at the Vale with staff seconded to departments closely involved in Covid support. This has resulted in delays in a number of areas of Vale activity including planning application processing. It has also resulted in considerable financial losses at both district and county level which still has not be fully addressed as yet as we are unsure of the Covid situation this next winter.

Flooding

Flooding is an ongoing issue with one or two particular problems, such as Bablake’s Farm, Letcombe Regis which have been addressed in part. Others, including roadside drains, remain a problem. Ongoing problems include flooding on the B4507 at Golden Acre but flooding on all local roads affects us all.

Recutting drainage grips in the roads running down from the downs has not eliminated flooding completely since the biggest problems both for Letcombe Regis and Bassett lie at the bottom of Warborough and Gramps Hills respectively. I am in contact with OCC about this. I am also in touch with the Wasborough Estate about clearing the ditch running up Woodhill Lane and into Woodhill Brook to ease the persistent flooding that we get near Haynes on the A417. Inadequate drainage on Holborn Hill, Letcombe Bassett results in frequent discharge of silt into the Letcombe Brook spring which is ecologically unacceptable and some new grips need to be cut there to stop this happening.

Climate change is a fact and is likely to result in the heavy down-pours that we see increasingly. Maintenance of basic infrastructure that addresses this is absolutely necessary and is cost effective since it prevents degradation of road surfaces and reduce accidents and damage to vehicles. We will keep pressure on the county council about this after years of neglect. We are trying to have a serious conversation with Highways at OCC about long term strategy since much of their work seems more like fire-brigade activity.

Speeding

I have also been in touch with OCC about installation of SIDs on the A417 at East Challow, following (i) the introduction of Elan City equipment in the Hanneys and (ii) the certificate of conformity now obtained for this particular kit (which works well and is cheaper than the earlier approved make).

The B4507 at East Challow has been resurfaced in part. I had hoped that dragon’s teeth would be painted on to the B4507 between the turning to Letcombe Regis and East Challow which would have helped at these particular junctions. There are just SLOW signs painted on the road. I will chase up about this.

Full fibre broadband

We have had an initial update meeting with Craig Bower of Digital Infrastructure, OCC. We are hampered by the fact that our villages fall into Area 2, rather than 3, which means that we are not eligible for the Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme. Craig thinks that this is unfair and OCC are appealing against this decision. We have fixed up a second meeting for mid June for an update. Should the voucher scheme be reintroduced for us we can (again) begin to discuss with Airband and maybe other providers to ascertain the extent of interest in the villages to determine whether introduction of full fibre is economically viable for the companies.

This affects Sparsholt less since they have in good time made their own arrangements – excellent!

The odd thing is that Defra has provided money for introduction of full fibre to particular rural companies in our area and where it is thus already available.

Wantage Hospital

As a member of the county health scrutiny committee (HOSC) and also having taken over chairing the OX12 Task & Finish group from Mike Fox-Davies, a number of things have happened in the last year.

The OX12 health service provision review has been overtaken by a wider county-wide review so that the OX12 project was deemed to have been completed. The Task & Finish group produced a final report which was highly critical of the whole process including lack of clarity, poor treatment of residents’ groups and poor management by the OCCG. We are equally concerned that the county-wide review will go the same way and it is likely that a scrutiny group will be set up but no news yet on this.

We do know that the future of Wantage Hospital is safe but the future of in-patient beds remains unclear. Oxford Health have assured us that a number of services will be run from the hospital. My concern is that although the Home-First policy, which is aimed at discharging patients to their homes where they do better than remaining in acute beds, is being introduced, there has not been a comparison of Home-First with discharge to community hospital beds. This is however, a national policy and it is likely that it will be rolled out nationally.

Joint Local Plan

The current Local Plan runs out in 2031 and a new one taking us up to 2050 is being developed, now between the Vale and South Oxfordshire district councils. There is logic in this for policy, administrative reasons and for reasons of costs which must be taken in account in the present time. One thing that can be assured is that the current algorithm used to calculate housing need has been ditched for an earlier version which cuts the housing need quite considerably from 1028 p.a. in the Vale to 661 which will be used in the new plan. The present plan contains no additional housing developments in our villages and it is expected that this will continue into the new plan.

How this will be affected by the proposed changes outlined in the white paper remains to be seen.

Biodiversity and Nature Recovery

The biological environment provides recreation and generates well being for us all but is also valuable in its own right. The Vale and South Oxfordshire District Councils are setting up a Biodiversity Steering Group. Several parishes have already asked what can be done regarding Biodiversity and Nature Recovery in their own back yards. We are fortunate to lie, in part, within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which is a rich source of information and help into which we are tapping with the aim of logging areas which have been “set aside” for nature to return and setting up farmer groups where there is interest. More on this in due course.

Cllr Dr Paul Barrow
[email protected]
District Councillor for Ridgeway Ward