Caffe Nero has come under devastating attack for its “cynical exploitation of the planning system” from Michael Fitzgerald QC, retired eminent leader of the Parliamentary Bar, who specialised in planning for more than 40 years.
He was the star independent witness at yesterday’s planning inquiry into Nero Holding’s appeal against Wiltshire Council’s rejection of a retrospective application for consent or its Marlborough High Street café.
Giving evidence after it had been revealed that the coffee chain company had paid rent of £62,000 a year for its prime retail site, 76-year-old Mr Fitzgerald described Caffe Nero as “a cuckoo in the nest.”
“This appeal is the result of Caffe Nero’s deliberate and cynical exploitation of the planning system,” he told planning inspector Phil Grainger sitting at Marlborough town hall.
“Instead of awaiting on their planning application for a change of use, they decided to take up occupation and challenge the planning authority.
“They have provided no explanation or justification for this precipitate and unauthorised action. The planning system would collapse if such action was widely used.
“It must be condemned and deterred. Whatever the result of this appeal, all the costs incurred should be ordered to be paid by Caffe Nero. It is essential that a clear deterrent message is sent out.”
Opening outlets across the country without seeking planning permission has been a familiar feature of the company’s operations, which has resulted in it winning all but one of 17 subsequent planning appeals.
And in Marlborough it opened just four days after the fashion chain Dash moved out of its retail premises having been in negotiation with its landlords since 2011 and the property not being put on the market.
But this action undermined the unique nature of the individuality of Marlborough’s spectacular High Street and went against planning policies.
“Marlborough is the ideal of the small English country town,” said Mr Fitzgerald, holder of the OBE. “This is a rare character which needs to be cherished.”
By appropriating the property, Caffe Nero had undermined the distinctive nature of Marlborough’s success by reducing the “choice and the comparison role” of its central shopping street.
The town’s success was due to the distinctive feature that it supported a high proportion of independent retailers and a high proportion of women’s and children’s clothing hops, which didn’t need Caffe Nero to stimulate its vitality and viability at a time of recession.
“Although Caffe Nero may well be popular and attract footfall to itself, this does not mean that it is making a positive contribution to the vitality and viability of the High Street as a whole,” added Mr Fitzgerald, who lives in Buttermere.
“It is not likely to attract significant if any new shoppers to Marlborough. Rather it will attract to itself existing visitors thereby undermining the viability of existing coffee shops and the vitality of those parts of Marlborough where they are located.
“In reality, far from making a positive contribution, Caffe Nero will simply prey on the existing popularity of Marlborough. It is a cuckoo in the nest.”
"Caffe Nero accused of being “parasitic” at major Marlborough planning inquiry into its future"
"Publish online all those companies like Caffe Nero who escape any taxes due, Chancellor is urged"
Quotes from the Inquiry
“Wiltshire Council recognises that money spent in independent retailers helps to keep the local economy buoyant and maintains thriving town centres,” said Marlborough town councillor and Transition Marlborough supporter Richard Pitts.
“As evidence of this, a study by the New Economics Foundation shows 25 per cent spent at independent retailer stays local, versus only 14 per cent spent in national chain.
“Our local businesses are predicated on Marlborough's unique High Street, which further attracts visitors and so ensures the town is kept vibrant.
“I don't not believe the corporate companies do this in Marlborough, they rarely get involved with the local Chamber of Commerce and put their hands in their pockets to fund things like the Christmas lights to promote the town.
“Given their attitude thus far, I can’t see Caffe Nero contributing to the viability and vitality in this way either.”
Councillor Margaret Rose, chairman of Marlborough town council’s Planning Committee: “This appeal, if allowed, will be in conflict with the national guidance and local policies that seek the safeguard and underpin the well-being of town centres.
“Allowing it would amount to opening up the floodgates to the likes of Caffe Nero to ride into any town and flaunt convention and planning regulations by just setting up shop and throwing down the gauntlet to the planning authorities.”
Calling for the appeal to be thwarted, she added: “Marlborough does not need to rely on Caffe Nero for its footfall. In fact it is the reverse. Caffe Nero hoovers up the trade because of its chosen position and this denies trade to the smaller cafes and independent businesses of the High Street, which consequently suffer.
“ It’s chain retailers such as Caffe Nero push out independents.”
Liz Rolph, a Marlborough High Street resident, told the inquiry: “Having this café in that position means that people are not moving past that point as much as they did when it was a clothes retailer. So it would be good to see it return to that type of use.
“I have noticed that the other end is given less footfall in many of the individual retailers. I don’t have any scientific evidence of this but, nevertheless, it is now noticeable.
“Having another chain store does take away from our High Street its attractiveness and uniqueness to visitors. So all the businesses do suffer as a consequence.
“Marlborough town council does have the support of many of the residents in this. So I hope the council will be able to keep out High Street attractive for as long as possible.”
Claire Perry clashes with Observer journalist, Miranda Sawyer on Sky NewsTory MP Claire Perry has given her support to a controversial proposal from a right-wing think tank that would allow private companies to run State school for a profit – an idea backed by Education Secretary Michael Gove.
And the local MP also backs plans for affordable homes on green belt land because, according to Planning Minister Nick Boles, it is “immoral” that young people are being forced out of the housing market by high prices.
Speaking at lightning speed, Mrs Perry forcibly expressed her views last night (Wednesday) on Sky TV’s late night newspaper review in which she clashed with Observer journalist Miranda Sawyer.
The “pay schools” plan, already vetoed by the Lib-Dems as a bid to privatise education, comes from Bright Blue, described as a modernising pressure group in an exclusive report in The Independent.
“There are all sorts of think tanks out there, some are in the middle, some are on the right wing, some of the left,” said Mrs Perry, who has three children attending private schools.
“This is one that is a Conservative leaning think tank and they have got a whole series of new ideas of how do we deliver better results in our public services for loss costs.”
“And I think we all want better results for less cost. This is an interesting idea. I am not ideologically opposed to anything. I just want great results from our schools for our children.”
“I am a governor of two academies in my constituency (Devizes), one of which has a link up with Wellington College, which is a very well known private school, which has taken on an Academy sponsorship role.”
“It’s not done on a financial basis, it’s being done from an improving results basis. There are such enormous opportunities to work together.”
“The other academy (St John’s, Marlborough) is working with some of the primary schools out there. You don’t have to have a procurement department in every school. You can share French teachers for example, there are all sorts of opportunities to work together.”
She equated the policy to the coalition government’s announcement on the privatisation of the probation service, allowing private firms to provide the basic services, and added: “If we want to keep people out of jail I have no ideological problem with letting a company that makes a profit to run it if they do it better and cheaper than a State entity.”
“I just don’t see why there is a problem. We cannot afford to have ideology when we have a huge public spending squeeze and we have to deliver results.”
Miranda Sawyer intervened: “How you can make money out of school if the children who go there don’t pay any money into it, it seems to me the only way you can make a profit is by cutting down on certain things such as a sports division… Children just won’t go there.”
Mrs Perry: “Parents have free choice now whereas, under a Labour government, if you had one empty school place in an area you couldn’t open a new school. Now we’ve allowed free schools to open and schools to become academies.”
“So there is no compulsion to go to a school if it provides a better service, a better result and it costs less money for the taxpayer. Why is that a problem?”
She mentioned the issue she had raised Prime Minister’s questions, pointing out although the UK has the best science and engineering universities in the world, yet there is a deficit of 60,000 per annum in terms of science and engineering graduates.
“Why is it? – it’s because we are not teaching children the right level of skills in the schools,” said Mrs Perry. “Let’s focus on the results and not the ideology. Forgive me, but I just think we can afford the ideology any more.”
Ms Sawyer protested: “I just think it is a very weird way to look at education. Since Thatcher’s years we’ve had to look at education as something that has to be evaluated in terms of money.”
“Obviously when a lot of people are educated or go through that system it has nothing to do with money. It is to do with being educated and the ideas..”
And Mrs Perry interjected: “That’s why it is so depressing about 13 years of a Labour government -- a huge amount of spending on schools and a precipitous decline in our global standard.”
The duo then debated a Daily Telegraph report warning that grandparents were threatened with “propping up their kids and grandkids” because of a shortage of affordable housing for them to move into.
“I represent a very big constituency with three towns and 150 villages where there is a huge amount of opposition to new housing,” said Mrs Perry. “It is a big beautiful green part of the world.”
“Every community could grow by a little bit. So there is nothing stopping a village growing two or three houses every year. The point the planning minister (Nick Boles) is trying to make is that if you oppose every development then where are your children and your grandchildren going to live?”
“In my constituency the house price to incomes ratio is now 12 times, one of the highest in the south west. Young people have to live with their parents because they can’t afford anything else.”
“What we are saying is that we have to start thinking in terms of the next generation. May be it is right that grandparents should voluntarily down-size and sell their house and move into houses built on the green belt.”
“The green belt is so controversial but I have to say…what people hate is big developments being plopped down from on high.”
Ms Sawyer said the problem equally was housing where the jobs existed. “You can build the houses you want up in the north east but if there is no work there it doesn’t make a difference.”
And Mrs Perry concluded: “Yes, it is jobs, infrastructure and housing. They all need to be put together. But we have very high house prices, we cannot afford to say No more development.”
The pianist for the third recital in the ground-breaking Brilliant Young Pianists series at St Peter’s Church is a young man whose career as a virtuoso performer is really taking off – and in several directions. John Paul Ekins will be playing Mozart, Schubert, Liszt, Ravel and Schumann in Marlborough on Sunday, 27 January.
However his career nearly didn’t begin at all. Having had his first piano lesson aged five, by his mid-teens he was fast running out of steam.
Then his piano teacher took him to hear the London Symphony Orchestra with a fired-up Mstislav Rostropovich conducting his old friend Shostakovich’s powerful if enigmatic fifth symphony. It was a turning point. And with a bear-hug from the great Slava he was back on his musical tracks – fast ones at that.
He graduated from the Royal College of Music with first class honours and completed his post-graduate studies at the Guildhall in 2011. He has played recitals, chamber and concerto concerts far and wide across Britain and continental Europe – and has won many prizes and competitions.
His diary is very full – the day after his Marlborough concert he’s giving a lunchtime recital at St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London. He looks after his own complex logistics. But, he told Marlborough News Online, the support “from my family and fiancée is really what helps keep me sane, grounded, and still utterly in love with music and the profession, despite its countless difficulties.”
Apart from his recitals, John Paul has been playing as the Atma Duo with violinist Michal Cwizewicz. More recently they’ve recruited the young Russian cellist Liubov Ulybysheva to form the Cremona Piano Trio – and with this chamber group they are winning a following of their own. Last year, after just a few months playing together, they won the Audience Prize at the St Martin’s-in-the-Fields Chamber Music Competition.
John Paul tries to keep as much variety as possible in his schedule of concerts – mixing solo recitals, chamber and concerto performances. But chamber music appears to be taking pride of place: “I find the combination of strings and piano the most satisfying of all chamber music, blessed as the pianist invariably is by rich, rewarding writing, while also being complemented by, aided by (or even battling with!) mighty and versatile instruments such as the violin or 'cello.”
“In chamber music, the performers are constantly spurring each other on, inspiring each other, and creating a combined energy and atmosphere in performance (on a good day!) When playing solo, the onus in obviously entirely on the individual to create all of the above, and this comes with its joys and troubles.”
On a more mundane level, how does he cope with the great variety of pianos he’s faced with as he travels from hall to hall? He has no fears about the grand in St Peter’s Church – he’s played on it before and describes it as a ‘gorgeous’ instrument. What’s more, Charles Owen, a recent performer at St Peter’s, has told him new work on the piano has produced an even better sound.
One assumes he’s not always so fortunate: “Yes, the sad truth is that owning and maintaining a piano at the highest of levels is a very expensive task, and we are at the mercy of the instruments we find. Therefore it can be very difficult to accept the limitations of the instrument on offer, particularly when one has played on 'dream' pianos.”
“The hardest part for me is the tone itself - if this is not pleasing to my ear then I find it very hard to get inspired and excited by the sounds which I am producing, which obviously means that sustaining a ninety minute recital becomes quite an ordeal.”
John Paul’s Marlborough recital includes five of the classical greats: “I feel a great affinity with Schubert and Liszt in particular, although this programme comprises some of my very favourite music that I've worked on in the last few years.”
“With both Schubert and Liszt, I find that the types of men they were comes over very strongly in their music, crammed as it is with their personalities, and delving into composers' lives and creating parallels with their works has long been a passion of mine.”
The audience at St Peter’s will hear more about John Paul’s feelings for this music as he likes to take an audience into his confidence about the pieces he’s playing for them.
How fortunate Marlborough is to have this brilliant music series which also gives the audience the opportunity to support St Peter’s Trust and the Marlborough Brandt Group.
For details about tickets see the entry in our What’s On calendar for 27 January.
Find out more at John Paul’s website.
Photographs copyright Paul Henry.
Leading the wassail, the mayor's ceremonial officer David Sherratt and beadle John YatesOrganisers were expecting a few brave souls to defy the wet winter weather, and hoped that members of the Marlborough Community Choir might boost the numbers, as well as leading the musical merrymaking.
In fact, around 200 people joined members of the Marlborough Community Orchard committee to revive the pagan tradition of wassailing the town's apple trees – heralding the end of an amazing couple of years for the community initiative, which has seen nearly 200 new fruit trees planted in the town.
Wassailing has its origins in pre-Christian Britain, when the Anglo Saxons would hold a mid-winter feast and offer toasts of 'waes haeil!', which loosely translates as 'be thou hale' or 'good health'.
In the middle ages, peasants would visit the house of the lord of the manor, hoping for a share of the fine food and drink he would be enjoying. Over time, the wassail became carolling.
Marlborough Community Choir sing a traditional wassailing song
Meanwhile, in the West of England, wassailers would toast the health of fruit trees, to ward off evil spirits and ensure a good harvest.
Cider would be poured over the roots of the trees and cider-dipped toast tied to the branches for the robins, tree guardians.
Those traditions were celebrated again on Saturday, at the insistence of mayor Edwina Fogg, who had made the revival of the wassail one of her mayor-making promises.
The town's vicar, the reverend Andrew Studdert-Kennedy, offered a Christian prayer for a fruitful harvest, while children duly attached pieces of toast to the branches of apple trees and the mayor offered her libation of cider.
The procession from orchard to orchard was led by the mayor's ceremonial officer David Sherratt, who waved his hoo-ha stick to command silence from the crowds, and beadle John Yates, who offered a call-and-response chant:
John Yates gets the crowd stomping and clapping to the wassail chant“Here's to thee, dear apple tree
May'st thou bud, may'st thou blow,
May'st thou bear apples enow.
Hats full; hats full,
Caps full; caps full
And my pockets full too
And my pockets full too.
Waes Haeil, Waes Haeil,
Waes Haeil, Waes Haeil.”
The ceremony started at Priory Gardens, where the wassailers were joined by Grace Denman, one of the town's oldest residents, who offered the first piece of toast to the robins at one of the first trees planted by the Marlborough Community Orchard team, as part of their effort to create A Town in an Orchard.
From there, the wassailers proceeded to Culvermead Close, once part of an ancient orchard, possibly belonging to the priory. There, the ceremony was performed before three of the town's oldest apple trees – trees which, unusually in a poor harvest year caused by a bee-bothering wet summer – actually produced an abundance of fruit.
And as dusk gave way to darkness, the candlelit procession wended its way to St Mary's churchyard, where another of the apple tree saplings had been planted.
Both the mayor and the renowned food writer Philippa Davenport, the founder of the Marlborough Community Orchard project, said they were delighted with the turnout.
Mayor Edwina Fogg offers a libation of cider
Max and Ben Murphy offer toast to the robins, the guardians of the apple trees
Rebecca Adlington OBE, Ronna Turley, head of conveyancing, at Awdry Bailey & Douglas, Alistair Everett, and Brad Marsh of the Safe Move Scheme
Marlborough law firm Awdry Bailey & Douglas have been named among the best small conveyancing teams in the UK.
The firm picked up the silver award in the category at the Sunday Times Estate Agency of the Year Awards, one of the longest running and most highly regarded events in the residential property industry.
The Conveyancer of the Year Awards are presented in recognition of the vital part that conveyancers play in the process of moving home.
Partner Alistair Everett said: “The success of our conveyancing team is based on their genuine interest and enthusiasm in helping our clients through what can be quite a stressful time.
“We have excellent systems and procedures but great service is really about having fantastic team members who genuinely care about clients and consistently work hard to improve the experience of moving home.”
The award was presented at The Lancaster London Hotel in London by Olympic medallist Rebecca Adlington.
The quiet fishing village of Gunjur, Marlborough’s twin on the West African coast, exploded with a mix and excitement and celebration last Friday (January 11) when Devizes MP Claire Perry arrived.
Mrs Perry is here to see the work being carried out by the Marlborough Brandt Group – which has been building links with Gunjur for the past 30 years.
Claire Perry's arrival in GunjurIt’s the first time an MP representing Marlborough has come to Gunjur and so many here are treating this as an extra special visit. Although Ms Perry is not on government business - this is a personal trip for her and her daughter Eliza - there has been a buzz in the village all week ahead of her arrival.
And so the day came.
It was like most Fridays here – a hot, sunny and clear day. Goats and donkeys wandered the sandy roads. Children marched home from school in their distinctive uniforms. Women in their bright, colourful dresses carried food, water or sticks of wood on their heads, and men – dressed in their best - filed to the mosque for Friday prayers. An important part of Fridays.
By late afternoon the excitement was building. A troop of women, dressed in striking green - one shouting into a megaphone, others carrying leafy branches from a mango tree - assembled by one of the main buildings in the village ready to perform a welcoming dance.
A group of drummers also arrived and started banging out a typical African rhythm. And a small, enthusiastic crowd of villagers gathered. The anticipation was building as the heat of the sun burnt down.
Then a repeated blast of a car horn signalled Claire Perry’s arrival in a small convoy.
This was the cue for the dance troop to up their volume, dance more vigorously and start loudly banging their drums.
The atmosphere exploded – it was met with the same enthusiasm a member of the royal family would receive at home.
As the MP stepped from her vehicle she was surrounded by the official greeting party and other well wishers.
She stood and watched a demonstration of African dance by the women, and even joined in.
Then after much dancing, drumming and cheering she was shepherded inside to be met by the village officials. As she passed me she said: “This is overwhelming, I don’t think I’m worth all this.”
Inside there were numerous welcome speeches followed by Ms Perry’s acceptance speech. She said: “I am so very touched by the warm welcome. After years of wanting to visit Gunjur I am really pleased to be here. And I am looking forward to finding out more about your village, culture and the work of the Marlborough Brandt Group.”
Her week here will be a busy one.
(Photos by Mark Jones)
For full background to the visit and Mrs Perry and Eliza's views see our earlier report
Marlborough’s Rector, the Rev Canon Andrew Studdert-KennedyWith the Church of England engulfed in controversy over gay celibate male Bishops and women Bishops -- as well as the issue of same sex marriage -- what it urgently needs is a better way for it to speak at a national level.
This is the advice that has come from Marlborough’s Rector, the Rev Canon Andrew Studdert-Kennedy, in response to a request from Marlborough News Online as to his views on the issues
And what he significantly points out too is that the Church of England remains steadfast at a local level with some 2,000 people attending local Christmas services, though inevitably the church is internally divided at the top.
“One thing on which all members of the Church of England can agree is that our publicity has been very poor in the past few weeks,” declares the Rector. “It is too early to say what effect this is having and whether it is going to turn people away or whether most people remain indifferent about it.”
“It is true to say that the church is at its best at the local level, so what was good about the church before the General Synod debate on women Bishops remains good about it, in just the same way that what was bad about the church remains bad about it.”
“What is good about the parish church is that it serves local communities, offers regular worship and endeavours to meet pastoral needs. This work carries on regardless of votes by the Synod or statements from the House of Bishops.”
He adds his hope that “in Marlborough all our churches manage to do this” and points out “we estimate that more than 2,000 people will have attended Christmas celebrations in Marlborough churches in December 2012.”
The Rector then adds: “Having said this, there are real problems with the way the Church of England speaks at a national level.”
“We used to pride ourselves on being a 'broad church' and being able to live with difference, but it seems we are no longer able to do this. The net result, as Bishop Peter Selby put it, is that everything becomes a problem and we end up in a place that satisfies no one.”
“For example, the General Synod agreed in principle that women should become Bishops but couldn't agree on the process and the House of Bishops issues a statement on Gay Clergy becoming Bishops so long as they remain celibate despite the consensus that there should be no distinction between laity and clergy.”
“All involved in debating these issues wish to do so with honesty and with a desire to seek truth. However, the truth appears to be unpalatable -- at present the Church of England, let alone the wider Anglican communion, is divided and that the attempt to maintain an appearance of unity is forlorn.”
Marlborough News Online has also asked for the views of the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Rev Nick Holtam, who has a reputation as a radical priest who supports both gay marriage in the church and women Bishops.
No response has so far been received.
Wiltshire's new Chief Constable, Patrick Geenty, being congratulated by the county's recently appointed Police and Crime Commissioner, Angus MacphersonWiltshire’s new Chief Constable is Patrick Geenty, who has held the post on a temporary basis since March last year, and is the very first police boss in the country to be appointed by a newly-elected Police and Crime Commissioner.
Angus Macpherson, the first on the country to be elected to the radical Commissioner role in November November, announced Mr Geenty’s permanent appointment at Wiltshire Police’s Devizes headquarters this morning (Tuesday).
And his debut, very much expected as a sign of continuity, marks the third first for the county, Wiltshire being the first county police force ever to be created.
“I am delighted to be appointing Patrick Geenty as the substantive Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police,” said Mr Macpherson, describing Mr Geenty as an “outstanding leader” to hold the £133,068 a year post.
“As it is such an important role, it was a priority for me to recruit for this post as soon as possible after taking office.”
“Mr Geenty has been the temporary chief constable since March last year. During that time, and throughout the recruitment process, he has shown a real commitment to leading the force effectively, working to ensure Wiltshire continues to be one of the safest counties in the country.”
“I look forward to continuing to work with him. He is an outstanding leader and I am very pleased that we will be working together to deliver my forthcoming police and crime plan.”
Mr Geenty has 30 years’ police service and has held a wide range of roles, including working in CID, with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary on a protective services review and he is currently the national police lead for missing people.
Mr Geenty, a former secondary school teacher before joining the police service in 1982, responded: “I am very proud to be appointed as the Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police.”
“I will continue to lead the force, working alongside Mr Macpherson and other colleagues, to continue to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour in the county and deliver his police and crime plan, due to be published by the end of March.”
“We are working within a challenging financial climate, however I am confident we will continue to provide an effective and efficient police service for the people of Wiltshire.”
Mr Geenty was one of three candidates interviewed by a panel yesterday (Monday) after four people, one of them a woman, applied for the post and were short-listed for interviews.
One candidate then withdrew from the selection process prior to interviews taking place.
Mr Macpherson added: “I would like to publicly thank all the candidates for their interest in this important post and for their input into the recruitment process. The applicants were all of a very high standard indeed.”
The Icicle Meet in the Savernake ForestFoggy, wet conditions this weekend led to one of the most disappointing Icicle Meets for years, for both pilots and spectators.
On the first weekend of the new year those in the know are treated to a free aerial spectacular, as the skies are filled with colourful hot air balloons.
Last year – the 40th anniversary of the air ballooning community's annual new year shindig – saw 30 aircraft take to the skies. But that's nothing compared to 1989, when a whopping 143 balloons ascended from Warren Farm in the Savernake Forest.
This year, a no more than a dozen made it up on Saturday, and none at all braved the ascent on Sunday, although a few crews inflated their crafts and treated themselves, and the crowds, to the spectacle of a tethered flight – a launch of a few feet while the basket remains attached to the ground via a rope.
The perfect conditions for ballooning, as explained to Marlborough News Online by event organiser Peter Bish last year, are clear blue skies and a hard ground. Sadly this year's conditions were the polar opposite.
On Friday morning (January 11) Devizes MP Claire Perry is flying to The Gambia for a week-long visit to the village of Gunjur which has been linked with Marlborough for over thirty years. Going with her is her thirteen year-old daughter, Eliza. They will live in a family compound in the village.
Mrs Perry first promised to visit Gunjur when she met the Marlborough Brandt Group (MBG) while she was still a Parliamentary candidate. Dr Nick Maurice
One of MBG’s founders and now its Director, Dr Nick Maurice, is already in Gunjur – his forty-fifth visit to the country. He will be showing Mrs Perry and Eliza what the Group have achieved, its plans for the future and how the link has affected both Gunjur and Marlborough.
Soon after MBG was founded in 1981, the Group inaugurated the link with Gunjur which is in the south of the country, a mile from the sea and although generally called a village is home to about twenty-five thousand people. They have no running water and no electricity beyond a few generators.
Over the years about fourteen hundred people from Gunjur and Marlborough have been on exchange visits. One of those who came on an MBG exchange and studied at Swindon College, Madi Jatta, has just been made head of Gambia’s civil service, and another ‘MBG graduate’, Bolong Touray, is headmaster of the country’s largest primary school.
While she’s on what is a ‘private visit’, Mrs Perry will formally open Gunjur’s new market. The construction of this building was the project undertaken by the group of St John’s and Marlborough College students who spent a month in Gunjur last summer under MBG’s auspices.
Eliza Perry, Claire Perry MP & Jess ShieldsSo it was very appropriate that when Mrs Perry and Eliza went to MBG’s Manton offices last week to be briefed, they met St John’s student Jess Shields. She was one of the summer visit group who built most of the market – and she was able to tell Eliza what to expect in Gunjur.
At the briefing were representatives from the Gambian community in Bristol – two of whom, Lamin Manjang and Malang Dabo, came originally from Gunjur. They told Mrs Perry about the village’s history and its religious communities. Gunjur is very largely a Muslim community.Lamin Manjang and Malang Dabo
Nick Maurice told Mrs Perry he was delighted she had made the time to go to Gunjur – at which point she laughed and added ‘finally’. He was especially glad she was taking Eliza and that she would, as a Governor of St John’s Academy, hear some of MBG’s proposals for future contacts between Marlborough’s international baccalaureate students and the village.
While she’s in Gunjur, Mrs Perry and Eliza will meet Lilli Loveday who’s from Marlborough and now lives in The Gambia. She’s working with a an American charity on education and women’s rights – a topic Mrs Perry has said she is very keen to find out about in Gunjur.
Dr Maurice, Mrs Perry and Eliza discuss the visitMrs Perry said she had decided to make the visit when she realised how important the relationship between Marlborough and Gunjur has been to both communities. She says she’s glad to give her daughter “the chance to experience a completely different way of life” and it would be good to give her time “off the exam treadmill”.
Far from dreading the visit, Eliza said she was excited and thought she was very lucky to be making the trip: “It will be specially interesting to experience life without running water.”
Also at the briefing was a BBC Television News reporter from Bristol and his report is scheduled to go out in BBC Points West (6.30pm – BBC1) on Friday, January 11.Eliza Perry and Jess Shields
Planning Inspector Phil GraingerCaffe Nero was accused at a planning inquiry in Marlborough town hall today (Tuesday) of being “parasitic” when took over the lease of the former Dash clothing retailer because of its peak position in the High Street.
And it was claimed that its decision to open last year without seeking planning consent has had a negative impact on the vitality and viability of trade in the town centre.
Sarah Clover, counsel for Wiltshire, outlined the reasons for the unitary council’s decision to issue an enforcement notice in August for Caffe Nero to stop trading after retrospective planning consent had been refused for mixed trading on the site as a café with a takeaway service.
She did so before planning inspector Phil Grainger and an audience of all but one of some 25 objectors to Caffe Nero’s arrival in Marlborough, which has been the target of a boycott campaign following revelations that it paid no corporation tax in the UK.
Referring to the Kennet local plan, she said: “The council does not believe that this adds positively to the vitality and viability of Marlborough because it does not support nor promote the individuality of Marlborough, which centres on its particular retail trade.
“This is one of the most important and prime units in relation to its location in the High Street. It is very central, very prominent, situated immediately adjacent to the vehicular and pedestrian entrance to the main town centre car parks.”
“It is essentially next to Waitrose which is a major draw to the town centre.”
And she declared: “Caffe Nero is parasitic of these two factors in this locality. Waitrose and car parking which has the tendency to concentrate footfall and pedestrian activity in one limited area of the High Street, which is a negative thing for Marlborough overall.”
Dash which occupied the premises did not leave because of any decline in fashion retail but due to a disagreement over the lease.
Caffe Nero, she pointed out, took over the Dash clothing outlet and was in before the unit had been marketed in any way. Dash, it subsequently being revealed, had quit the premises not because of poor trade but due to a disagreement over the lease.
“The council maintains that another clothing retailer would have quickly taken the lease if available,” said counsel. “And this is what would promote vitality and viability in the High Street.”
James Findlay QC, for Caffe Nero Holdings, surprised the inquiry by revealing that the company, which has won 16 of the 17 planning inquiries it has faced round the country, had a fallback position.
He said it would accept either single or mixed use of the ground and first floors of the property.
He also suggested that either of the two floors could be used for retail and/or takeaway services with separate bars or, conditionally, make use of just one of the planning permissions.
This was a significant element at the inquiry as the planning inspector had intimated in his opening remarks that dual use of the premises might not be considered a lawful situation.
In cross-examining Michael Muston, an independent planning consultant with 24 years experience working in local government, Mr Findlay said there was evidence that branded national café chains such as Starbucks and Costa Coffee were acknowledged for adding to the vitality and viability of town centres and for promoting competition.
He indicated that evidence to be given by Ben Price, the finance director of Caffe Nero Holdings, that he estimated that the 2,600 customers a week would rise to 3,000 and even 3,200.
And that the takeaway element too would increase from 22 per cent to 30 per cent making Caffe Nero a substantial business in the High Street.
Wiltshire County Council leader, Jane ScottJane Scott, the Tory leader of Wiltshire Council, has criticised Whitehall for the lateness in its local government funding review for the coming year, which will mean a three per cent cut in the council’s spending.
Despite the loss of £11 million in its £800 million odd budget, she insists Wiltshire will not raise council tax and has a strong business plan with which to cope with its reduced spending power.
But she denies that the council is directly involved in campaigning as part of a coalition of 120 rural councils, mostly Conservative-controlled, against Prime Minister David Cameron and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
And that local councils are considering seeking legal action by way of a judicial review against Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’ funding settlement decision.
The threat comes from SPARSE – Sparsity Partnership for Authorities Delivering Rural Services – which has confirmed that Wiltshire is indeed a member of the organisation.
Sparse has declared that the coming year’s spending settlement for local authorities hits rural areas much harder the urban ones and is considered “grossly unfair.”
A report in the Daily Telegraph revealed: “A revolt of the Tory shires is a further political headache for Mr Cameron, who is battling against rising support for UKIP and faces county council elections in May.”
In an exclusive statement to Marlborough News Online, 62-year-old Mrs Scott declared: “I can confirm Wiltshire Council is a member of SPARSE, an organisation that focuses on raising awareness about the issues and challenges that are unique to rural authorities.”
“We have not been involved in any specific campaigns but we are supportive of the collective struggle against the strain the new formula places on rural areas.”
“The new methods of setting funding are weighted towards cities and urban conurbations and it is vital that MPs are made aware of the specific challenges councils such as ours face in ensuring that vulnerable people, often living in relatively remote areas and without the means or ability to travel, have access to a full range of services and a good quality of life.”
Mrs Scott reveals: “Wiltshire’s funding has been reduced by £11 million, although we are still awaiting a few final grant announcements. The effect of this decrease in funding is confused by references to a reduction in total spending power, which includes council tax as well as spending on fire, police and parishes, and equates to a reduction on 2.1 per cent.”
“In fact the reduction we are facing, in terms of the year on year cash impact is 3 per cent. Whatever the final figure is, it will mean we have less money to spend and we are currently reviewing options to balance our budget and an announcement on this will follow shortly.”
And critically she adds: “The lateness of the government’s announcement of our funding has not been helpful to the council’s ability to plan for the future of our communities and to running such a complex business.”
“However, despite the reduction to come in our funding, we can say we will not be increasing council tax and thanks to our foresight we have a strong business plan which will see the most vulnerable protected while we will look to build strong communities right across the county.”
“Finally, in Wiltshire we are prudent and only hold reserves for what Mr Pickles says they should be held for – emergencies. As such we have one of the lowest reserves in the country, which presently stands at £12.5 million.”
Silbury HillA warning that illegal climbers are causing “spectacular” damage to Neolithic Silbury Hill, the largest man made mound in Europe, has come from English Heritage archaeologist Jim Leary.
He says that trespassers on the currently rain-soaked monument, part of the Avebury World Heritage site near Marlborough, are eroding the soft ground as they clamber up the sides of the 131 foot high mound.
Jim LearyMr Leary, who lead the last major excavation project on Silbury Hill, is concerned that climbers are "leaving some really rather hideous scars" on the hill, believed to date back to 2400 BC.
Access to the prehistoric mound has been prohibited for a number of decades and people should not be attempting to climb it but foreign tourists in particular are believed to be the culprits.
"They are going up and it is very wet and they are eroding the side of the hill," Mr Leary told BBC Radio Wiltshire. "I would really ask people not to go up the hill. It is leaving some really rather hideous scars and eroding our beautiful monument."
The purpose and significance of Silbury Hill, which is mostly made from chalk and is believed to have been altered by the Anglo-Saxons, remains a mystery.
The latest downpours in one of the wettest years on record has led to it being almost completely cut off by a moat with surrounding fields also underwater. But according to Mr Leary the flood water was nothing to worry about.
"It is not a very common phenomenon but it has happened before in 2007 when it was very wet, and also in 2000,” he pointed out.
"The mound has been there for 4,500 years and I'm sure it will continue to stand despite the weather."
Giles ChichesterGiles Chichester, one of the Tory Party’s senior MEPs, has added his powerful voice to Conservative stalwarts protesting at David Cameron’s insistence on pressing ahead with same sex marriage legislation.
As Mr Cameron and Lib Dem deputy coalition leader Nick Clegg renewed their political “marriage” vows of staying together at No 10 yesterday, Mr Chichester issued his own blast at the Prime Minister.
And the son of round the worlds yachtsman Sir Francis Chichester complained in particular that the equal marriage plans were never party of Tory or Lib-Dem election manifestos.
“David Cameron tells grass roots Tories to stop complaining,” declared 64-year-old Mr Chichester, one of the South West’s MEPs. “But I do complain, and will continue to complain, that the Government’s policies are departing from the promises made in the Conservative manifesto to support families and marriage.”
“I am a grass roots Tory. My membership of the Party spans nearly 50 years, including over18 years as a member of the European Parliament.”
“Throughout my career, I have followed the dictum that “when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change” and believe that we live not just for our own generation but also for those that have gone before and those who will come after us.”
Mr Chichester, a former chairman of the Carlton Club’s influential political committee, went on: “Yet, despite the fact that neither Conservative, Liberal Democrat nor coalition manifestos made mention of proposals to re-define traditional marriage by legislating to establish to right to same sex marriage, the Government has chosen to give this legislation their full and urgent support.”
“I must make clear that I support civil unions or partnerships having equal rights to traditional marriage as to legal status, taxation and inheritance rights, but cannot agree that being equal must mean being the same.”
“They are not the same, for marriage is about a man and a woman joined in matrimony for the procreation of children. However, the current system works well to the benefit of both homosexual and heterosexual couples.”
And he insisted: “It ain’t broke so why spend valuable parliamentary time trying to fix it -- time that is much needed to deal with the economic and social problems we inherited from the previous government.”
“This Government has ignored the views of over 600,000 people who signed a petition calling for the current definition of marriage to be retained.”
“The radical change in social policy which legislation for same sex marriage would bring about requires careful consideration and must be debated thoroughly before the decision to legislate to redefine marriage is taken.”
“Before Parliament is called upon to enact legislation for same sex marriage, it is my view that the issues should be discussed by a Royal Commission or, at the very least, parliamentary green and white papers should be provided to brief MPs on the full implications of the proposed legislation. “To date, the only Government information available is contained in an announcement made at the party conference!”
In the Conservative election manifesto, David Cameron pledged to make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe and stressed his belief that strong families are the bedrock of a strong society.
“He promised to support families in the tax and benefit system but the Government’s first efforts to reform child benefit have resulted in widespread anger. The Treasury has introduced a system which ignores the joint family earnings of couples and instead concentrates the benefit cut on a single parent’s earnings.”
“This is patently unfair. It appears that the Treasury claims they need more time to gather this joint family income information so one can only remind them that if you ‘act in haste then you will repent at leisure’.”
Mr Chichester pointed out that he favours reforming the benefits system but it should not nevertheless discriminate against the traditional family.
“We were promised positive recognition of families through the tax and benefit system with the introduction of transferable allowances,” he declared.
“It may well happen but I sincerely hope that it is not handled in the same ham-fisted way as the child benefit reform.”
“I welcomed the 2010 Conservative election manifesto as an honest programme which would provide fairness and opportunity for our society.”
“Its claims to support marriage and the family gave me reason to believe that we had re-established our core political values. Regrettably after two years of coalition government, it appears that the Conservative Party is now following a fashionable liberal political agenda that confuses the electorate as to who or what we represent.”
“I am a disillusioned grass roots Conservative and I will continue to complain.”
Cllr Peggy Dow (left), Claire Perry MP (right)Tory MP Claire Perry has been accused of living in “cloud cuckoo land” together with members of the her party’s hierarchy following the revelation of a radical set of new policies claimed to be the “blueprint” for the next general election.
The attack comes from former Marlborough mayor Peggy Dow, who has quit the Lib-Dems to stand as an independent in next May’s Wiltshire Council and Marlborough town council elections.
And it follows an exclusive report in the Sunday Telegraph outlining proposals from the 2020 Group of 70 Tory MPs who were asked by Chancellor George Osborne to highlight new policies for the next election.
“Cabinet ministers such as Michael Gove and Justine Greening, as well as rising stars within the party such as Caire Perry and Matthew Hancock, the Chancellor’s former chief of staff,” reports the newspaper.
And it reveals that the 2020 Groups’s “Agenda for Transformation” includes the abolition of the retirement age, paying lower welfare benefits according to whether people live in high or low cost areas of the country, extending the school day by up to three hours and encouraging more disabled people to work.
It suggests too that students who fail their exams be made to re-sit them during school holidays, the overall aim of the new ideas being the creation of a “more entrepreneurial economy” that “legitimises wealth creation” by a future Tory government in charge on its own.
Councillor Dow, 64, who has claimed before that Mrs Perry doesn’t live in the real world, told Marlborough News Online:
“This is yet another outrageous example of a government totally out of touch, Claire Perry in particular as she goes round her constituency smiling at people and telling them that all is well.”
“That’s despite the fact that the new tax credit system will badly hit those already in work and who are not the scroungers the Tories seem to believe they are. Indeed, with a one per cent increase in benefits the Chancellor proposes, they will now be worse off and in need of the Devizes food bank, which reports that it has reached a crisis in feeding the hungry.”
She added: “Ending the retirement age, making teachers work longer hours after slashing their wages and pensions, cutting benefits according to where you live, putting pressure on the disabled are all typical Tory ideas of attacking those who cannot hit back.”
“What’s more, the complexities involved in implementation, as has been revealed in ending family child allowance while reducing the tax on the rich will prove, yet again, to be self defeating.”
“If David Cameron – and Claire Perry – think people will vote for them next time round, then they are undoubtedly living in cloud cuckoo land.”
Councillor Dow’s outburst is significant as lack of trust in politicians, apart from the banks and utilities, has resulted in people either failing to vote or transferring their allegiance to extremist candidates and parties.
The evidence for this comes from the 15.8 percentage poll in Wiltshire – lower elsewhere – in the November vote for new Police and Crime Commissioners and the rise to 16 per cent of support for UKIP, which is demanding a referendum on Europe.
Locally in Wiltshire, UKIP has announced it will contest all the Wiltshire Council seats at the local elections in May and also field candidates against Mrs Perry and Wiltshire’s other MPs.
Marlborough News Online has sought Mrs Perry’s reply on this and other issues such as same sex marriage but has received no response.