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Democracy returns to The Gambia: new President meets Marlborough link delegation

President Barrow speaking at his ianuguration President Barrow speaking at his ianuguration Dr Nick Maurice has been back to Marlborough's long-standing link village of Gunjur in The Gambia to see the return of 'democracy, peace and harmony'.  As the leader of an opposition coalition, Adama Barrow was elected President in elections on December 1.   After six weeks of tension and the threat of violence, the defeated president - the despotic Yayha Jammeh - was finally forced to leave the country.   Dr Maurice reports:

All the signs in The Gambia from the many people I have spoken to are of relief, peace, joy, true happiness as expressed in all conversations, and a desire to move forward and forget the past.

The post election impasse was ended on January 20 following the armed intervention by troops from Senegal. This was not before Jammeh had called a state of emergency, sending many people fleeing the country fearing conflict and violence.

The violence thankfully never happened, the troops 'walked into' The Gambia in the presence of three Heads of State from surrounding countries and Jammeh was persuaded to leave State House.  But not before he had 'lined his pockets' with millions of dollars, leaving the country destitute - according to all I spoke to.

He is now in Equatorial Guinea as a 'guest' of that nation's equally notorious dictator. Friends tell me Jammeh will almost certainly face the International Criminal Court once sufficient evidence of his many human rights abuses has been gathered.

President Borrow's inauguration took place on the day Gambians celebrated their 52 years of independence from the British colonial rule.  It was a nine hour gathering in the National Stadium attended by 20 Heads of State, representatives of the armed forces of The Gambia and Senegal and a crowd of 25,000 adoring and wildly enthusiastic subjects.

One could not but feel what a privilege it was to be present at this extraordinary turning point in The Gambia's history. It was clear from the atmosphere in the stadium that there was an overwhelming feeling of relief and optimism and universal support for President Adama Barrow

The return to freedom of speech and the ability to talk freely to anyone, expressing views which might be controversial, but in the knowledge that one is not going to be reported to the National Intelligence Agency, is fundamental. One becomes aware that the breakdown of trust between individuals permeated every aspect of life under the Jammeh regime and this is now rapidly dissolving.

While President has limited qualifications for running a country (does this remind one of anyone else?) it is clear that he is gathering around him a team of Ministers with the right background, experience and qualifications who are clearly already guiding him.

Among the Ministerial team is Dr Isatou Touray who spoke at the 2015 Marlborough Brandt Group AGM in Marlborough Town Hall, on the problem of female genital mutilation  She is now the Minister of Trade and Industry.

Dr Isatou TourayDr Isatou Touray  The Marlborough link delegation meets President Barrow The Marlborough link delegation meets President Barrow   Dr Maurice presents the President with the gift from Marlborough's Town Mayor Dr Maurice presents the President with the gift from Marlborough's Town Mayor

Two days after his inauguration, I had the privilege of a private meeting with President Barrow in the company of three Gambian friends from Gunjur, Madi Jatta, Mankamang Touray and Nabani Darboe all of whom had received training in Marlborough in the late 1980s and early 1990s and now hold senior positions in the country.  

The President was aware of the 34 year relationship between Marlborough and Gunjur. We were able to describe the impact it had had on the two communities - not least on those young people from Marlborough who had lived and worked in Gunjur.   

The President was full of praise for what had been achieved and expressed his determination that his government should support the relationship in whatever way possible.

I was able to present the President with letters of congratulation and good wishes from Marlborough's MP Claire Perry who had spent a week in Gunjur in 2013 and from the Mayor of Marlborough, Councillor Noël Barrett-Morton, with a present from the latter in the form of a very fine paper weight containing the Marlborough crest.

I had been on the same flight to Banjul as Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson. The British Ambassador, Colin Crokin, who had been with Johnson at a meeting with President Barrow, told me the Foreign Secretary had expressed the desire of the UK Government to work closely with The Gambia not least in ensuring that The Gambia is welcomed back into the Commonwealth at the earliest opportunity.

In discussions with friends and colleagues on the change of regime it seems likely there will  only be a small reduction in the flow of migrants taking 'the back way' from The Gambia to Europe. Indeed, I was told of young men who had left since the appointment of President Barrow.

This is something that the Marlborough Brandt Group is helping to address by providing loans for young entrepreneurs in Gunjur to set up businesses - a highly successful programme which is creating wealth and employment.  Such schemes need to be rolled out across the country to give young people hope for the future.

However, I returned to Marlborough with a great sense of optimism on behalf of our many friends in Gunjur - and more widely in The Gambia - and the hope that the international community will recognise the new regime and give it all the support that it deserves after 22 years of cruel dictatorship.

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Sparks fly as repair work starts on Crofton’s boiler

Work has started to repair the historic 22 tonne Lancashire boiler at Crofton pumping station near Marlborough.

The coal-fired boiler generates the steam the powers the world’s oldest working beam engines, which pump water from Crofton Water up to the canal’s highest level – the section between Crofton and Burbage, which was above any reliable local water source.

The work to repair the boiler will take three weeks, during which time corroded rivets will be cut out and replaced by specialists from Keighley-based H A McEwen Ltd.

The boiler will then be pressure tested and the brickwork restored, ready to receive visitors in April.

Peter Turvey, chairman of the Crofton branch of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, which owns and operates the pumping station, said: “Thanks to funding from the Pewsey, Marlborough, and Devizes area boards, generous donors, and the efforts of our volunteers we have been able to start work on these vital repairs so that our wonderful old engines will be working under steam again this Spring.”

The traditional Easter steaming weekend is scheduled for Saturday, April 15 to Monday, April 17.

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Swindon press headline: "Housing developers to help fund social projects" - that's how Section 106 should work

Part of the Newland Homes development at Broad Blunsdon Heights near SwindonPart of the Newland Homes development at Broad Blunsdon Heights near SwindonIt's a news story for the Swindon press: "Housing developers to help fund social projects" - putting Section 106 payments into the headlines.  What is more this development will include affordable homes.

There was disbelief, condemnation and anger in Marlborough at the waiving altogether of the agreed £334,625:51 Section 106 charge towards affordable housing in the town to be paid by the developers of retirement apartments on the former garage site at the foot of Granham Hill.

The developers - McCarthy and Stone - escaped through a gap created by the government to speed up house building.  In the rush to try and hit their promised house building target, they once again forgot the needs for parallel improvements in infrastructure.

Wiltshire Council accepted McCarthy and Stone's figures showing that cleaning up the site had been more expensive than expected - making the development unviable.  But Section 106 charges can be negotiated properly - as this recent example from Swindon shows.

Broad Blunsdon Heights is a development of 57 homes - including seventeen affordable homes and community allotments - by Newland Homes in one of the expanding villages just north of Swindon.  The development is within walking distance of the centre of Blunsdon village.

Nine of the seventeen affordable homes will be part-buy-part-rent and the other eight will be for rent only.  These homes are being managed by Aster Housing.

The parish lies either side of the A419 and is just one of the sites targeted for Swindon's northern and eastward growth.  The company announced: "As part of our Section 106 development requirements, the funds are being passed to the local authority to deliver a range of services to benefit the wider community."

Newland Homes' Section 106 payment will provide over £364,000 to benefit the local community through schools, public amenities, public health contributions and public realm contributions.

Over £43,000 will be provided to support local schools' primary and secondary special educational needs, as well as learning for those aged 16 to 18 years.  Over £179,000 will go towards public landscaping, open space and improvements to Ermin Street.  

£75,000 will support Wiltshire Fire and Rescue, public library provision, public art, public games areas and other community requirements.  £48,000 has been earmarked as contributions towards the extra needs for health and social services.  The remaining money will be spent enabling these changes and improvements to happen.

Gail Remnant, associate sales director for Newland Homes, said: “Whilst Section 106 agreements are a standard part of planning agreements, we have worked closely with the relevant authorities to channel the contributions into areas that will bring the most benefits to all residents of Blunsdon."

The  development will have a mix of three, four and five bedroom homes.  Prices currently start at £375,000 for a four bedroom home.  Three bedroom properties will be available later in 2017.

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Brownies become official water quality testers on the River Kennet

Brownies from Marlborough will be monitoring water quality along a stretch of the River Kennet, on behalf of conservation group ARK.

Action for the River Kennet are working with 1st Marlborough Brownies to monitor the quality of the River Kennet at Stonebridge wild river reserve, using testing kits bought by the charitable fund of opticians Haine & Smith. ARK’s project officer Anna Forbes went along to meet the Brownies and present them with water quality testing kits, accompanied by Haine & Smith charitable trust clerk Janet Hartwell and Marlborough branch member of staff Rachel Mabutt.

The testing will give ARK valuable data on the quarterly nitrate and phosphate levels and turbidity at this designated Wildlife Site.

Meanwhile, the Brownies will gain experience towards the world and community parts of their programme. “We hope the Brownies have a great time using the kits and enjoy finding out more about their local river with ARK,” said Janet.

ARK have trained volunteer water quality testers at many sites along the Kennet.

“It will be really good to have the Brownies as our testers at Stonebridge Wild River Reserve,” said Anna.

“We are also looking forward to hosting a Tour & Explore for the Brownies later in the year at the reserve, to give them a hands on fun and educational session, where they’ll get to discover some of the site’s special wildlife, including those dependant on good water quality.”

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Marlborough’s hidden poverty problem to be discussed by Area Board

With its public school, posh shops and car parks dominated by high-end motors, it’s hard to imagine that Marlborough has a poverty problem.

But with families in rural isolation, few employment opportunities within walking distance and little public transport availability, hard-to-heat old houses, and the bottom rung of the property ladder well out of reach of many first-time buyers pockets of deprivation do exist in the town.

Poverty is the topic for discussion at Marlborough Area Board on Tuesday evening.

The meeting will be hearing from Marlborough Area Poverty Action Group about it’s work on tackling this situation and the projects it wishes to take forward.

Last summer, the group helped to fund children and young people to take part in leisure activities that they would otherwise not had the chance to enjoy, and this year they want to build on that.

The meeting will also hear about the extent of fuel poverty in the area with a presentation from the Centre for Sustainable Energy.

With a large number of older properties, often with poor insulation and off the gas-grid, it can be expensive and sometimes difficult to heat homes to the healthy minimum.

And Tesco’s FoodCloud programme – where surplus food is made available to different local charities and community groups on different nights to help feed people – will be introduced.

The meeting – which is open to the public – takes place on Tuesday, January 24 from 6.30pm at Marlborough Town Hall.

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Mayor pays tribute to carers at launch of £25,000 appeal

Jules Stambriadge and Jon Berridge from Carer Support Wiltshire with Richard Deacon and mayor Noel Barrett MortonJules Stambriadge and Jon Berridge from Carer Support Wiltshire with Richard Deacon and mayor Noel Barrett MortonThe mayor of Marlborough has paid tribute to the “unsung heroes” who care for a relative or friend at the launch of a £25,000 charity appeal to give unpaid carers a break.

Councillor Noel Barrett-Morton was at the launch of Carer Support Wiltshire’s Time for Carers appeal, which aims to raise £25,000 to help some of the county’s 45,000 unpaid carers win some time back for themselves – whether that’s to take an exercise class, see friends, have a pamper session or just enjoy some quality time.

“It’s very important to recognise the unsung heroes who go about the business of giving loving care or support to family members, children or friends day in, day out; sometimes without a break for themselves,” said the mayor.

Carer Support Wiltshire launched their appeal at jewellers and clockmakers Deacons in Marlborough to reinforce the message that carers need time.

And they chose the launch to coincide with national Young Carers Awareness Day – next Thursday, January 26 – an annual event to promote awareness of the particular difficulties young and young adult carers face.

Catharine Hurford, chief executive of Carer Support Wiltshire, said: “Here at CSW we support adult carers, working closely with our partners to improve the identification and recognition of young carers.

“One thing all carers say – whatever their age – is that they need a little time for themselves. Yet our research shows one in three carers never have a weekend or evening break from their caring role, and one in three feel guilty if they do.

“Many don’t have time to enjoy some of the things we all take for granted, like a trip to the cinema, taking part in a sporting activity or spending time with friends. This can affect their physical and mental wellbeing and lead to feelings of isolation.

“All the money we raise through this appeal will go directly to enabling carers to have a bit of time to themselves.”

Richard Deacon, director of Deacons, said: “We are very pleased to be able to support the Time for Carers Appeal – helping people who are all too often overlooked in this busy world of ours.”

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Marlborough's loss of affordable housing money was just the edge of a multi-million pound hole in housing policy

S106 Management - website home page S106 Management - website home page Has the government been serious about supporting the construction of affordable homes using Section 106 money paid by developers building normal residential housing?  Marlborough's recent experience and the past record of the Exeter-based consultancy, which boasts the name of "S106 Management", would suggest that it has not been very serious at all.

There has been a great deal of discussion, recrimination and anger over Wiltshire Council's decision to back down on the £334,624 contribution towards affordable housing in Marlborough that developers McCarthy and Stone had been required to pay as part of their planning permission to develop the Granham Hill garage site.

Agreeing to cut this Section 106 contribution has been seen as a slap in the face for Marlborough people who cannot find affordable homes.  Coming next will be debates over the Section 106 money due from the developers of the very much larger Salisbury Road housing scheme - for 175 homes and including 70 affordable homes.  

Section 106 money has been fixed for this development at the stage of Outline Planning Permission.  It includes a £700,000 investment in St John’s Academy, £80,000 towards the local GP surgery, highway enhancements including pedestrian crossings, cycle paths and footpaths to the town.

The Crown Estate is in the process of agreeing the sale of this large green-field site to a developer - whose name is yet to be announced.  It will be interesting to see whether the buyers of this site and of its outline planning permission will try to get the Section 106 payments reduced or cut. Perhaps they will use the consultancy S106 Management to help them.

A whole industry grew up around developers' challenges to 106 payments. S106 Management was set-up by Robin Furby - a solicitor who became a developer.  Their website says they could - in past months - "establish the profitability of your project and thereby reveal unviable Section 106 obligations."

Barrow loads of savings - how S106 MANAGEMENT explained their schemeBarrow loads of savings - how S106 MANAGEMENT explained their scheme

S106 Management reckon they have helped a developer avoid charges like the affordable homes contributions "If the profit margin for your scheme is pushed to below 17.5 per cent by Section 106 payments..."

There is a 'Case Studies' section on their website that proves what their worth has been to developers.  Among their successes for developers due to pay towards affordable homes they have saved: in Hackney a £1.8m payment, £500,000 in Wallingford, £4m at Redruth in Cornwall, £730,000 in Virginia Water in Surrey, £1m on a brown field site development at Grays in Essex, - and so on.  

Their latest case history is dated December 2015 - and the changes in government rules that allowed McCarthy and Stone's Section 106 appeal through have now lapsed.

The Section 106 charges should be being replaced by the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), which became law under the Planning Act of 2008 and came into force in April 2010 but only came into effect in Wiltshire in May 2015.

It is a non-negotiable fee based on a percentage of the development budget paid by developers to the local authority to help pay for infrastructure improvements that are required to cope with the increase in an area's population.  Eventually part of it will be payable directly to town councils.

With regard to the Salisbury Road 106 charges mentioned above, it is worth noting Wiltshire Council's draft Infrastructure Delivery Plan (2011-2016) for the Marlborough area, which was published in February 2016.

Among its list of 'essential' schemes is a 99-place extension to St John's Academy (priced at £2,162,522.)  There is mention of improvements and extensions to GP practices in the villages. But there is no mention of the Marlborough Medical Practice, which will have to cope with extra patients from the Granham Hill flats, the Salisbury Road and - perhaps - the future development north of Barton Park.

Speaking of the latter, the delivery plan does list the 'essential' spend of £1,789,587 for the relocation of Preshute Primary School.  Can anyone really build a new school for that sum of money?  Or is Wiltshire Council relying on someone else footing that bill?

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