Local Issues

Local news, gossip, rants and more

£3K grant for high speed Business Broadband

If you have a business (even home based) you can get connection vouchers for up to £3,000 to cover the cost of installing high speed business broadband.  The voucher scheme can be used against a package from one of the registered suppliers in the area.

If I read it right, you can put multiple vouchers together from businesses on the same premises.  This could enable business parks or multi-occupancy offices the ability to collaborate on the cost of a much bigger internet pipe.

business broadband PCC logoThere is a page for Plymouth with the specialist providers listed.

Seems to be a rather overlooked opportunity for business to make the most of some free money to give them high speed business broadband.  So, make the most of it now and apply as soon as you can!


Carnival Float for St Neot Cornish Fairy Queen

Well, it’s been a hectic few weeks getting the carnival float together, but it is finally completed!   It’s looking darn good I have to say.  So here we are in Liskeard where we came first in the Fairy Queens category.

St Neot Carnival Fairy Queen


Not long after we have visited Lostwithiel carnival where we came second.  Brilliant to see the Rotary club running these events so well.  The streets were completely lined with people and the atmosphere was amazing.

St Neot Carnival Float

Another weekend and another carnival.  Does the party ever end in Cornwall?

Superfast Rural Broadband – is it really impractical? #ruralbroadband #the5percent

It will always be impractical to implement superfast broadband for every household, especially for those with rural broadband.  But why?

Roughly 5% of houses will not be covered by real superfast broadband.  This is commonly because they are geographically dispersed, have long lines to the exchange or have no BT fixed line service.  All of these premises, people and businesses are stuck in a time warp drying up their ability to use the digital world and preventing growth of smaller businesses.  The internet is now so pervasive, I would argue that it is far more important than traditional telephony, especially when it comes to  inclusivity of our society (leaving people behind), and inspiring the next generation.

High speed Internet is essential for our society going forward.  If we are to compete with the likes of the asia block, we must invest and bring real superfast speeds to every household.  Aiming for 100Mbit for each household should be a minimum; and not in 10 years but we need to start working now.

A world of connected devices, Internet of Things, real free sharing of information, open honesty from governments, financial transparency, all of these rely upon an open and inclusive Internet.  As the barriers between countries become lost into an electronic world, we should be at the forefront, the pioneers, the innovators.

But we are stuck in the international slower lane, and told that fixed telephone line is not always the answer to super fast internet.  We are told this as the 5% left are expensive, complicated or just not profitable to service.  Let’s first think of the alternatives:

  • Mobile providers are now slowly distributing faster data services, but for the 5%, they are not going to be anywhere near the top of the list of telecoms masts to upgrade to 4G.  When we can’t even get good mobile internet coverage on the train, how are we going to expect good rural coverage?
  • Satellite broadband services are available – offering up to the ‘slow’ end of the superfast spectrum (10Mbits), they are very expensive; bandwidth limited and they introduce large time lags making it virtually impossible for computer gaming and time sensitive security applications (VPN’s etc).
  • There are also a few wireless initiatives, but these are few and tend to focus on ‘slow’ speeds for defined communities (such as villages) and still backhaul over BT fixed line network.

In essence, whilst there are a few alternatives, none of them live up to a sustainable and high quality service that we have come to expect over the BT fixed line network in towns and cities.

If the answer is the fixed line network, there are a couple of scenarios that should be considered:

  • UK plc should invest heavily into this fixed line service to upgrade all lines to FTTP.  This will help bring us inline with our international competitors, allow the country to aim higher, facilitate home working and create a platform for sustainable business innovation.
  • UK plc should bring the fixed line network into public hands, take the cost/risk away from a public company and return an asset to the country.  Whilst some may consider this to be BT’s crown jewels, it is essentially run as a separate entity, it would allow BT to fairly compete and grow it’s business base.

The risk here is that the R&D investment BT has made into the broadband network would get lost.  That spark and driver for innovation forced by competition may be lost.

  • Perhaps the compromise is the formation of a UK Openreach – a publically owned shell organisation that distributes contracts to 3rd parties for the provision of a fixed line network.  This would have to ‘own’ the local loop connection from exchange/green cabinet; but not the back haul to the ISP’s network.  This should not stop at just BT though; Virgin Media’s fibre network etc should also have to give up their wares to competition.
  • Amend the universal service obligation to focus on broadband and Internet speeds and not calls – after all, mobile or IP telephony is simple with sufficient speed to the Internet.

What ever we do though, we cannot afford to lose world class technologies companies like BT. There needs to be enough incentive to be creative, exciting and excellent in their use of technology; innovative enough to provide them with a business platform that is sustainable; and produce companies that are internationally competitive and world leading.

Didcot A Power Station’s Towers Demolished

For a long time, anyone walking along the Ridgeway between Oxfordshire and Berkshire will have used the cooling towers from the Didcot Power Station as a clear landmark.  The first three of these from Didcot A’s coal guzzler were demolished Sunday.  There is lots of media coverage, so no need for me to waffle on, so here are some links to help you learn more:

The Guardian – Didcot power station demolition draws hundreds despite warnings to stay away

GetReading – Where to watch Didcot power station being demolished

Oxford Mail – Didcot’s tumbling towers


Planning permission – the route to more cash?

We’ve recently gone through planning for our house, to convert something run down into something useful to the community and hopefully attract families back into the village. Families help keep open the local schools, clubs and other facilities – something that is lost when childless and older people retire to villages. The planning process worked well, with the local typical nutty tory NIMBY’s failing on their attempt of character assignation and intimidation of my girls (how brave they were picking on girls).

Old Trees Elevations
Old Trees Elevations

What surprised me is the value that has been added to the house as a building plot. It’s a huge amount of money and we’ve had a large number of builders that want to buy the land and hope that they can build two or more properties. It’s tempting to take the money and run – with the increase in value we could certainly buy a very nice house and we would leave the NIMBY’s living next to a building plot.

Food for thought I think.

More face painting fun

Another batch of face painting this weekend. Hands stained in red paint now – not too professional for work Monday. Still good fun though and made loads of money for charity. Weather is good, so that always helps.

West Berks Environmental Health fix the stinking sewage problems at The Crab in Chieveley

Looks like West Berks Environmental Health people have stood up to the challenge of the sewage leaking from The Crab on the B4494 Newbury to Wantage road and have helped them to fix their problems. Many thanks to West Berkshire Environmental Health – great job!

"Good morning Mr Hollister

The Crab employed a drainage engineer who appears to have resolved the drainage issue. I visited the restaurant yesterday and the side of the road had no ponding water/effluent and has been dry for about a week. Hopefully that is the end of the matter.


Tony McEvoy

Senior Environmental Health Officer

Commercial Team

West Berkshire and Wokingham Environmental Health and Licensing Service"

Face painting for charity today

Had a bit of fun face painting for Brightwalton School today. Not sure how much I raised this time, but it was very busy and lots of people turned up (despite the snow). First time I’ve had to face paint whilst wearing wellies and many layers of clothes, but clearly the kids of the downlands here are made of sturdy stuff as none complained about the cold. Sprog 3 also won the Easter Bonnet competition – well done to her.

Brightwalton Easter Bonnet Winner 2013
Brightwalton Easter Bonnet Winner 2013

One the way back I snapped a nice picture of the church – snow melting fast but still looking amazing.

Brightwalton Church March 2013
Brightwalton Church March 2013

Raw sewage a health hazard near the Crab at Chieveley

It's been what seems like well over a year now since raw sewage smelling water is running from outside the Crab at Chieveley. It seems to have started from a drain directly outside with a foul smelling puddle on the road, to now where the whole road both lanes are covered in disgusting effluent. There is a distinctly cease pit smell to the water and the stench for passing cars is disgusting. There must be a health hazard here for anyone subject to direct spray – cyclists, walkers or motor bike riders; let alone the unaware motorist with any windows open. I can't quite understand how this clear health hazard has been allowed to continue for so long.

I am sure that if this was me I would be horrified and would seek to resolve the problem however I could immediately. The business that must be lost to the Crab at Chieveley by the smell must be massive. I would hope that no one gets ill from the effluent. In these days of no-win-no-fee I'm sure there would be potentially huge financial claims.

West Berkshire Council Public Health: http://www.westberks.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3964

WBC Public Health Team email address: EHadvice@westberks.gov.uk

Snow arrives in West Berkshire

Nice chunk of snow arrives in West Berkshire. Most roads have been cleared to a good enough standard, but a few drivers continue to drive at insane speeds. Loads of kids out on sledges and having great fun. My dogs are enjoying the snow too!

Snow in Brightwalton

Newbury Town a Christmas shopping delight

Spent most of the day today in Newbury shopping for Christmas. There is a great atmosphere around the town with brass bands, loads of artists, the charter market and loads of small stalls. Sprog 1 played with Berkshire Maestroes in Northcroft Band outside Camp Hopson's today, you can see a clip of them performing below.

Nice to finish off the day with a good cup of Lapsang and some soup from the Tea Shop by the Canal. Not sure I actually bought a lot, but for once this Christmas shopping experience was a good one – well done Newbury!

Review of Rapid Pest Control in Newbury

The super rats seem to have gone bonkers this year, the numbers caught by the dogs in the back garden are large (several a day) and they seem ever more desperate for sources of food and shelter. A couple of weeks ago we heard the tell tale scratching in the loft. In the garden the in the middle of the countryside it’s not unusual to find a fair few rats, but in the house and the loft – no thanks.

A quick call to Rapid Pest Control found their voice mail – not a great start eh – but hang on Graham Chapple called us back within a few minutes and came out the same day. Blimey. After a quick venture up the loft there was evidence of the little pests. He did a thorough job and went around the house to look for signs of entry, recommended a little pruning and identified rat runs under the neighbours sheds.

He put down some poison for the rats in the loft and agreed a weekly visit to clear up any dead and check progress. It’s been a couple of weeks now and all scratching has gone. No more bait has been eaten, so it looks like the problem has been solved.

So would I recommend Rapid Pest Control in Newbury? Too right – very friendly, professional, honest and thorough. If your looking for pest control in the Newbury area you should give Graham a call.

Link: www.rapid-pest-control.co.uk

£900 raised at Brightwalton’s Christmas Fayre

I was face painting again today at Brightwalton's Christmas Fayre, not too much call for it in the freezing cold, but it was good fun. Lot's of stalls and things for kids to do and there were some amazing cakes on offer too. Just seen an email suggesting that £700 was raised for Brightwalton Primary School – what an amazing amount.

Brightwalton Christmas Cakes
Brightwalton Christmas Cakes

0.8W LED light going well

We don't have working front or back lights in the house, just a single light down the side of the house. There are a couple of street lights in the village, but they are just for the old folk living in a couple of huge houses, not for the likes of us with families and busy lives; either way, we don't really have a need in the village. Most people have outside lights and many have those overpowering 500W halogen lights that flood huge areas with light.

Our single light is nothing in comparison and it's running a 0.8W LED light. Equivalent to a 35W conventional bulb, it's not bright, but it's a cold white light that does well at lighting the side of our house and stopping the kids/visitors etc from crashing into the gate or bikes. Last night was the first cold night we had since putting the light in and LED's have stood up well to the temperature. Our thermometer registered -3 C here so it was quite cold. The performance of the LED light seemed perfect. When I got back in with the dogs at about midnight last night it was giving good visibility and no noticeable heat either.

Even compared to a compact fluorescent bulb, we are talking 90% energy saving and it actually works just as well in the cold without the relatively high and slow start up cost of CFL bulbs too. What we need now is manufacturing plant in the UK making this type of bulb and investing in R&D for much lower energy lighting.

Fun Brightwalton School Disco

Had a great time face painting at Brightwalton School Disco this afternoon. There was a great disco, refreshments and an assortment of things to buy or do. Not quite sure how many kids I painted today, but it seemed like a lot! Good to see an event like this packed and raising money for the school – first tally looks like about £300 raised!

Power cuts and flooding in West Berkshire

Flooding again stops some train services to Newbury, the river Kennet is threatening to break it's banks and many roads in the area are flooded. The heavy rain and wind continues this evening and how part of West Berkshire have lost power. Parts of Newbury are blacked out alone with some rural areas. Be careful traveling out there and if you use candles be sensible by placing them on a non-flamable surface and away from any source of ignition (curtains, pets etc!).

Church of England out of touch, exclusive and irrelevant

The recent vote by the Church of England against women just show how out of touch with the real world this religious order has become. All people should be treated fairly and equally, there should be no exclusivity in our society and tolerance must be a cornerstone to which we all aspire and preach. I suspect the relevance of the Church of England in modern Britain has been so significantly diminished by this that it is now irrelevant on moral and society issues.

A34 traffic causes chaos again

The Ilsley's were mashed with traffic again today as the A34 continues it's woes. Traffic queues back from the M4 north to East Ilsley with many cars and big lorries diverting through the village of West Ilsley. The roads there are just not designed to cope with the large traffic volumes, residents get stuck on their driveways and it's a fearful place to try and walk or cycle. One day WBC, OCC and the HA will glue their heads together on this one.

About time we had cycle parking at the Job Centre in Newbury

It's frustrating for the people attempting to cycle to Newbury's Job Centre – there is just no where to leave bikes. It seems to encourage people to drive and be dropped off or at least drive into the town centre and walk; but either way this is an expensive burden for those on the least. There seems plenty of space in the gravel areas for a few bike stands. So come on DWP, WBC and NTC – get together and sort this out.

Great Leckhampsted Fete

Had a good time at Leckhampsted Fete today. Sprog 1 submitted her bread and our three year old Sprog 3 submitted her chick cup cakes – they both got second place so the Hollister clan did well. Music was great and there were good people to chat too and a good old village charm. I couldn't get the hang of the tuppence roll and I needed sprog 1 power's of deduction to win a bottle of wine. Bit of fun though eh.


25 years after Michael Ryan’s shootings in Hungerford

It's 25 years on from when Michael Ryan went on a shooting rampage in Hungerford. He killed 16 including himself. My thoughts are for his victims, the families impacted by his actions and the town of Hungerford.

Homelessness returns to West Berkshire

Newbury Today web site reports that rates in West Berkshire have climbed to 1,120 from 61. Quite how many of these people are doing this by choice and how many are transitory (passing through the region), it's not clear from the information; but it's a predictable result of the economy being depressed by ideological changes introduced by the Tories and Lib Dems and the general economic depression around the world. Whilst the Tories and Lib Dems were keen to hand out bits of government to their business chums, they failed to invest in the consequences and have not given any provision for local authorities to pick up the mess. The investment required by West Berks to house all of these people is significant and is likely to be unaffordable with the current reduced budget provision and targets. Seems a missed opportunity that the Bank of England continues to invest in the banks through QE and yet this investment funds could provide generations with facilities that can help with these problems and provide an encouraging way forward. One can only hope that they wake up and realise the damage that they have done and continue to do to our society and community – will our children and their children thank us?

Highways Agency admit safety problem on A34 & announce resurfacing

Finally the Highways Agency admit that there is safety problem with the A34 north of the M4. I welcome the move, and a little humility from the HA goes some of the way to fixing the problem, but now is not time to bodge the issue. Resurfacing is only part of the solution, enforced variable speed limits are the most effective way of resolving the safety problems on this road.

With the announcement of the works, I wonder how many vehicles or sat nav systems will respect the diversion routes? I'm betting Downland roads and villages will be packed with lorries diverting through Wantage – a traffic nightmare in the making. Are the local authorities joined up enough to ensure that the volumes of traffic diverting through the downland villages will be monitored for appropriate driving?

HA press release can be found here.

London Olympics 2012 – not a time for politicians to claim glory

It's disappointing to see that in the press, David Cameron and Borris Johnson are both claiming that it's the Tories that have made the UK such a success at the Olympics. What a load of tosh and how disparaging for the athletes who have put in so much effort.

Brightwalton pre-school ‘Save the Hedgehog’ campaign

Brightwalton pre-school hit the papers this week with their campaign to 'Save the Hedgehog'. Newbury Weekly News covered the story here. Hedgehogs are being caught up in cricket netting and in Brightwalton and other West Berkshire villages people are now checking and saving hedgehogs. The knowledge and awareness of their surrounding environment is essential for these children to appreciate our responsibilities to the environment. They have my support and I wish them all the best with their campaign.

Amazing beacon at the Ridgeway near Wantage

On the West Berks and Oxfordshire border, the Ridgeway beacon overlooking the Thames Valley and only a few miles from Wantage was a stunning event. The fireworks were amazing and the small crowd were brilliant.

Beacon at the Ridgeway
Fireworks too

Brightwalton Jubilee Street Party Today!

The village is looking amazing, bunting everywhere and kids all bouncing – it must be time for the Brightwalton Jubilee Street Party! Well, ok, it’s a couple of hours before it starts and it’s been raining cats and dogs all night; so it may be more of a village hall party, but who cares. It should be fun!

Pictures from the celebrations below:

Local farmer Russell Kilvington convicted

Local Brightwalton based farmer Russell Kilvington has been convicted of animal welfare issues and for passing off meat from an Essex farm as Royal Berkshire Pork. This is clearly disappointing and embarrassing for the farming community in West Berkshire. As part of our community here I cannot defend their actions leading up to this situation, but I can say that they are great people to know – warm, friendly with great kids. I do hope that they can treat this as a positive learning experience and can move on.

“I think that there is a very close connection between humility and patience. Humility involves having the capacity to take a more confrontational stance, having the capacity to retaliate if you wish, yet deliberately deciding not to do so. That is what I would call genuine humility.”, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Team v – volunteering for new young leaders

Check out the Team v web site – they are doing another campaign for 2011-12 for the next batch of volunteer leaders. It would be good to see some people from West Berkshire joining up!

"After the outstanding success of the Team v programme in 2011-2012, we're recruiting 100 new leaders for our second intake – want to join the team? We are on the look out for sparky, energetic 18-24 year olds who want to change the world, one campaign at a time. Read more about the programme.

Are you

-Passionate about making a difference?

-18-25 years old (from 11th October 2012 to 30th June 2013) and living in England?

-Able to commit to 4-6 hours per week of volunteering – spread flexibly across the month to accommodate other priorities?

The deadline for applications is 29th June."

Another fatality at Ufton Nervet level crossing

Sad to hear the news today that another person has died on the Ufton Nervet main train line crossing. A fast London to Taunton service has been reported striking a moped. It looks like the crossing gates were working correctly, but the moped rider seems to have ignored this and crossed anyway. This crossing has been in so much controversy over the years it's disappointing to see that nothing has been done to make it safer, but if people are going to ignore the safety features then it's going to be difficult to make the crossing safe. I am glad to hear though that the driver of the First Great Western train and all the passengers were unharmed.

Reporting for Newbury Today/Newbury Weekly News, Mark Taylor filed some coverage here.