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Ivy House future under spotlight again

The future of Marlborough's Ivy House Hotel will be considered by planners yet again on Thursday evening (July 14).

The owners of the hotel, originally built as a private school in 1707, want to sell the facility to exclusive public school Marlborough College for use as a boarding house for fifty sixth form girls.

But the contentious proposal has divided town and gown for months.

Back in February, Marlborough College had applied to Wiltshire Council for permission to change the use of the Grade II listed building – and the application to change the use of the 28-bedroom hotel looked set to be granted permission.

North Wiltshire Economic Partnership and the Chamber of Commerce stepped in after representations from the business community about the likely impact the hotel´s closure would have on the town´s economy.

 NWEP´s representations, which broadly echoed the points made in a letter by the Chamber of Commerce, were:

1. The loss of an amenity for business and leisure use.

2. The loss of income to the local economy – the hotel´s B&B package means visitors generally dine out in town, and are known to contribute to the retail economy too.

3. The loss of a potential future employment site, and the scarcity of alternative sites in Marlborough for a hotel or employment.

 Councillors were asked to delay a decision while an economic impact report was prepared. However, when the committee reconvened in April it was discovered that the consultant instructed by the council's Economic Regeneration Team had a potential interest in the property himself, and that - according to council papers - parts of the report lacked an evidential basis.

The application was therefore removed from the agenda and the Economic Regeneration Team sought a fresh report.

In the interim period, however, the Marlborough College has appealed against the Council’s failure to determine the planning application within the normal eight week period, which means the matter must now go before a government inspector, who is seeking views before July 27.

On Thursday, the council's East Area Planning Committee will decide whether to approve, or oppose, the application.

Planning officers are recommending that councillors give the application the nod. In a written report, they say: “The proposal will provide a viable and suitable use that will preserve the listed building and enable it to remain in good order.

“It will have no adverse impact on the character or appearance of the Conservation Area.

“Although in some respects the loss of the hotel use may be regretted, this is more a commercial matter than
one that can be opposed in planning terms as the development plan does not have any policies that would support a refusal.

“As the figures indicate, it is also evident that the College itself is an important part of the vitality and viability of the town and this proposal will enable this local business to continue to develop its facilities.”

However, objections are expected to be raised once again and, whatever the decision of planners, the final decision will rest with the government inspector.

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The future of Savernake Hospital and its finances raised in Parliament

Devizes MP Claire Perry raised the future of Savernake Hospital and its finances during health questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday, July 12.  She asked the Minister for Health, Simon Burns, “to look at all hospitals labouring under an uneconomic PFI burden and will he meet with me to discuss the Savernake situation specifically.”

In his reply Mr Burns said: “Can I tell the honourable lady that work is going on on the whole issue of PFI and the NHS to ensure value for money and given her concern, if she’d like to come and see me about this particular case, I’d be more than happy to see her.”

[PFI  or Private Finance Initiative is widely used to fund schools, hospitals and other infrastructure projects.  Repayments generally cover capital building and fit-out costs as well as maintenance over a contracted number of years.  It’s rather like taking out a mortgage and has the advantage of not increasing the government’s debt.]

Speaking afterwards, Mrs Perry said: “Tax payers are now shelling out almost one million pounds a year in PFI unitary charges for the Savernake redevelopment and yet we have seen a big reduction in our local services including the loss of our minor injuries unit.”

She went on: “The future for hospitals like Savernake is quite uncertain given the size of their PFI commitments…I am determined to get local services  back in our local hospitals and we need to get them on a sound financial footing for this to happen.”

The uncertainty about the future of hospital PFI contacts has arisen because of the coalition government’s major restructuring of the NHS.  At present the primary care trust (in this case NHS Wiltshire) pays the PFI charges.

Under Mr Lansley’s plans the primary care trust will disappear in 2013 and those costs can hardly be passed directly to the new GP-led clinical commissioning groups.  The Department of Health has so far given no indication as to which of the new or existing NHS bodies will pay these costs.

From 2005 the annual PFI charge for the new Savernake development was just over three-quarters of a million pounds a year.  For the year 2011-2012 it has risen to an estimated  £925,000.  This does not take into account payments to NHS Wiltshire by other health bodies that use the buildings.

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Lockeridge’s new school buildings opened

After a few months in the old school buildings at East Kennet, children were welcomed into their newly extended school at Lockeridge on Monday (July 11.)

The school now has state of the art facilities for all eighty pupils – including a new hall for assemblies and performances.

Children at the Church of England school were given high-visibility vests for the morning walk to their new school – a preventative measure to ensure safety at a busy time for the village’s main street.  Teachers and school governors were on hand to help parents.

In brilliant sunshine, head teacher Kim Spencer welcomed children and parents to the opening.  A short service in the playground was conducted by the Rev’d Maria Shepherdson, Upper Kennet’s priest in charge, and the area’s archdeacon, the Venerable John Wraw, blessed the new building.

The ribbon was cut by Joy Tubbs from the diocesan education board in Salisbury –with help from one of the youngest pupils.

Since 1991 the East Kennet and Lockeridge schools have been operating on a federal basis under one head.  This saved the schools from the threat of closure.  But running two buildings for such a small number of pupils proved difficult to manage, and it was decided that a single site was necessary.

The old buildings at East Kennet, some of which date from 1857, will be sold by the diocese.  That school was known as ‘an elementary school’ – a term that has long since faded from use.

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St John’s school’s war memorial is unveiled at its new site

Students at St John’s school have been joined by members of the Marlborough British Legion and the Marlborough Royal Naval Association at a ceremony to commemorate the unveiling of the war memorial which has been moved into the new buildings.

The memorial lists the seventeen ex-pupils of the old Marlborough Grammar School who died in the First World War.  In the 1960s, the memorial had been moved to the St John’s school’s war memorial is unveiled at its new site

Students at St John’s school have been joined by members of the Marlborough British Legion and the Marlborough Royal Naval Association at a ceremony to commemorate the unveiling of the war memorial which has been moved into the new buildings.

The memorial lists the seventeen ex-pupils of the old Marlborough Grammar School who died in the First World War.  In the 1960s, the memorial had been moved to the new Grammar School building, which later became the St John’s Stedman site.   

The memorial was taken down before the Stedman building was demolished last year. It is now in a prominent position in the new school’s atrium.  Many of the names it records are from local families – family names that are familiar to today’s St John’s students.

The ceremony came at the end of two days of events and activities organised by Mark Streeton and Peter Baldrey from the history department at St John’s.  Year 9 students took part in activities designed to bring the First World War period to life, including a meeting with a First World War re-enactor and a suffragette.

The head teacher, Dr Hazlewood, welcomed the guests and explained to students, staff and guests that the memorial is a very important part of the school’s connection with the past.  He pointed out that about a hundred years ago boys of a similar age to those at the ceremony would be preparing for a war in which many of them would die.

“We must never forget the sacrifices made for us in the past, and still being made for us today, to make the world a better place”, Dr Hazlewood said before unveiling the memorial.

World War One re-enactor Steve Williams explained that it is almost exactly 95 years since the British army took part in the Battle of the Somme.  He told students how the young men of Marlborough would have marched away from the town smiling, ready to fight for their country, but that for so many it ended in tragedy for them and their families . He then read out the names on the memorial.

History teacher Peter Baldrey told the students about the research he has done on the memorial’s names.  He was able to tell students about the young men, some only nineteen, who had lived in Marlborough High Street, in Burbage, and in other nearby villages.

Later this month, a group of Year 9 students will be heading off on a trip to visit World War One battlefields. They will also see cemeteries and war memorials which include some of those named on the school’s own memorial.

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Cygnet saved after being found with plastic tape wound round its tongue

A cygnet found on the River Kennet in Marlborough with a long piece of plastic tape wrapped round its tongue and down its throat was rushed to the Riverside Veterinary Practice yesterday (Wednesday).

Wildlife rescuer Val Compton managed to catch the cygnet and gently pull most of the plastic off.  But it then snapped with some in the cygnet’s throat.  So she took it to the vets for examination.

“They advised that the best case scenario was that the plastic would combine with grass and form a ball that would pass through the system naturally,” said Val, who was on her way to work with ARK volunteers when she saw the stricken cygnet.

“Cygnets do better when with their family.  So after an examination this one was quickly returned apparently unharmed.”

She added: “We found the plastic textile that caused the problem later on while clearing the river in Priory Gardens.  It is the sort of weed suppressant membrane that is laid under gravel.  There is a great deal of it in the river and I suspect this little cygnet will not be the only one to suffer.”

Anyone finding cygnets or any other creature in trouble are advised to alert Wild Things RES-Q on 07850 778752.

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Preshute primary school celebrates eco award

Preshute Primary School in Manton this week celebrated gaining a bronze ‘Ecoschool’ award for environmental performance.

An eco-council of pupils from the school, led by assistant head teacher Kelandie Ash, put together an environmental management plan looking at issues such as energy use, playground tidiness and sustainable transport.

The pupils then helped to raise awareness throughout the school by designing posters and displays to help meet their targets.

Celia Hicks, head of Preshute School said: “We are really pleased that the pupils have been able to contribute to creating a more sustainable future. The eco-council has learned a great deal from the process that we hope they can now pass on to others“.

Preshute used the plan to secure assistance from the North Wessex Downs AONB Sustainable Development Fund and Wiltshire Council to purchase composting bins for their nature garden and install bike racks to encourage more pupils to cycle.

The Mayor of Marlborough, Alexander Kirk-Wilson, himself a keen cyclist, officially unveiled the improvements at a ceremony on Tuesday morning.

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There will be no tourist information centre in Marlborough this year

After an informal meeting of councillors and those who have been working to set up a temporary tourist information centre (TIC) in the Mayor’s parlour of the town hall, it is clear that no new centre will be opening this year.  The project, said Councillor Rich Pitts, has been “kicked into the long grass.”

Town councillors are split between those who want to give urgent support to the town’s business life in these harsh economic times, and those who want to retain the parlour for robing and as a ‘thinking space’ for the Mayor.

Val Compton who has been working on plans to start the TIC quickly so as to catch at least some of this year’s tourists, told Marlborough News Online “Sadly, it is a golden opportunity missed.”  She said that back in May it looked as though a TIC could be set up in St Peter’s.

That scheme fell because of opposition from the craft shop there to the TIC’s retail plans to provide a revenue stream to fund salaries. When the scheme to use the Mayor’s parlour was put forward as a temporary alternative, the Chamber of Commerce gave its full support (read our story of June 28.)

Ms Compton believes crucial momentum has now been lost and some councillors are not making the needs of the town their priority.  And it looks as though her fall back scheme to provide ‘tourist folders’ of information in cafés and pubs will not happen either.

Councillor Pitts, who has been working to get the TIC up and running as fast as possible, gave his response: “Depressed is not the word.”  Now the aim is to get a TIC open by 1 April 2012.  But no one seems to have any idea where it could be based.

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PC Sarah Watts leaves Marlborough’s neighbourhood policing team

PC Sarah Watts, who’s been the community beat manager for the area for the past eighteenth months, has been posted to the staff office at Wiltshire police headquarters in Devizes.  She starts her new job there on Monday, July 11.

She’s handing over to PC David Tippetts (pictured below) who’s been based in Marlborough for the last four and a half years as a response officer covering Marlborough, Devizes and Pewsey.  He became a police officer five years ago.

Sarah Watts (pictured right) has been with Wiltshire police since 2005.  She started as a special constable and became a full time officer in 2007.

Before she was made community beat manager for the Marlborough neighbourhood policy team, she had worked as a patrol officer in Devizes and in Marlborough areas.  She says she’s sad to be leaving the Marlborough area, but is excited by her new job.

At last month’s meeting of the Marlborough area board, Inspector Ron Peach described Sarah as ‘a star’ and especially praised her work in partnership with other agencies in sorting out a long-term problem in Lockeridge.

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Police in Marlborough stamp down on teenagers sniffing nitrous oxide

A community support police officer has described how he found a group of eight teenagers in Priory Gardens, Marlborough, getting high on nitrous oxide, one of them sniffing it from a balloon.

“He was breathing in and out from a balloon filled with this gas and appeared to be having, in inverted commas, a bit of a fit,” PC Jon Mills told Marlborough News Online.

“His legs were twitching, his arms were twitching because the gas was having some sort of an affect on him.  The parent of one of the lads who turned up was utterly shocked.  She had never seen anything like it before.”

Now a warning has gone out from the police – and from a special assembly held at St John’s School -- telling teenagers how dangerous so-called laughing gas can be, that it is poisonous and can even kill.

The police have taken the names of the youngsters, aged between 14 and 16, and will be contacting their parents.

The nitrous oxide is obtained in cylinders normally used for whipped cream machines in the catering business that can be bought on the internet at a cost of around £140 for 600 canisters.

And these are now being found dumped in litter bins by Marlborough town council street cleaners.

“The websites do have a disclaimer on them saying they will not sell to persons under the age of 18,” explained PC Mills. “But there is no check on that, nobody is asked to produce driving licence details or anything like that.  So it makes the cylinders easy to obtain.”

“But what the teenagers don’t know is that it is illegal to possess nitrous oxide under the age of 18 and that it is dangerous too.”

“Inhaling pure nitrous oxide without it being diluted with oxygen means you can suffer from asphyxiation because you are starving the brain of oxygen and that the side effects include nerve damage, paralysis, sudden sniffing death syndrome, really horrific things.”

Balloons filled with nitrous oxide can often be bought for just £2.50 at festival sites and at the door of night clubs or the cylinders acquired by debit cards.

PC Mills, 26, who has served in Marlborough for five years, was first informed of the craze in Marlborough by Val Compton, who has researched the problem after being told by street cleaners of nitrous oxide cylinders being found dumped in waste bins.

Other sites in Marlborough where the cylinders have been discovered include Stoneybridge Lane, Elcot Lane playing fields and the Salisbury Road recreation ground.

Police will now patrol these areas at lunchtimes and after pupils head for home at 4pm.

“I have never come across this problem before,” added PC Mills. “I had a real feeling of disbelief that something like this could hit Marlborough.”

“You get a high, a euphoric feeling that lasts about two minutes inhaling this gas.  They did an experiment with it in a TV programme a while ago and they said it was the equivalent of having 10 gin and tonics.”

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High Street shops grab late night shopping initiative for Summer School students

Marlborough’s retailers have grabbed a chance to boost business this month by taking part in a new late night shopping initiative launched by Marlborough College’s unique Summer School.

And when the College opens its gates on Sunday for the arrival of the first of more than 3,000 students, local residents too will be welcome as well to attend evening lectures and an array of musical concerts without having to sign up for courses.  The two-way connection between the Summer School, the High Street and residents’ own interests is contrasted by the fact that scores of students fly in from 25 countries around the world to enjoy courses run over three weeks by some 200 expert tutors – and at the same time have money to spend.

But feedback from them shows that too often courses end too late for them to enjoy shopping.

“At least 500 cars a day are coming into our car park and we are very keen to bring our students into our wonderful High Street as well because it benefits the town,” Summer School director Jon Copp (pictured) told Marlborough News Online.

“We produced a flyer and handed it in to every shop.  We wanted to know how many retailers were interested in late night opening between 5 and 7pm on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays.”

“We said if we could find a core of retailers willing to do so then we would advertise them widely to our customers here at the Summer School and try to bring them together.”

“And we have had an avalanche of replies, some from shops we didn’t even approach.  We seem to have struck a new cord and so far we have 18 shops who will be taking part (click here for list) and more will follow.”

At the same time, the Summer School wants residents to feel free to enter the College gates, where strict security normally operates in term time, and become part of the event, whether or not they have signed up for a vast array of courses.

“We want to get the message out to residents that they can come after work to lectures at 5.15 pm and to musical recitals at 8pm paying £5 at the door,” said Mr Copp, now in his tenth season as director.

“They will be welcome here and won’t be stopped by any security. We have a little booklet we are putting around the town telling them what’s on.”

And that is apart from six featured gala concerts, which include An Evening with Blake, the eclectic group that mixes classical and pop music, which takes place in the College’s Memorial Hall on July 22, tickets costing £20.

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Minor injuries hospital treatment row explodes again

New serious concerns over the treatment of people suffering from minor injuries has resulted from an exchange of letters between Savernake Hospital champion Val Compton (pictured)and NHS Swindon.

(See letter of response from Sarah McLennan of NHS Wiltshire)

She is to challenge the decision of NHS Swindon to send some of  the cases that would previously have been treated by Clover Unit, in the Great Western Hospital, to the Carfax Street health centre, Swindon.  Patients from Marlborough and the surrounding villages will now be directed to go to a site three miles further on if their minor injuries are deemed to be non-urgent.

Before closure in 2007, more than 8,000 patients a year were treated at Savernake Hospital Minor Injury Unit (MIU).

The changes have happened in the wake of the failed High Court battle to prevent the MIU at Savernake closing down following a decision by Wiltshire PCT to close most MIUs in the county.

Mrs Compton is demanding to know in particular whether the changes fly in the face of Wilthsire PCT's, (now known as NHS Wiltshire) self-imposed condition in their High Court victory that MIU services should be available within a 15-mile limit of the homes of those living in the county.

 The only minor injury units remaining open within Wiltshire are in Chippenham and Trowbridge, NHS Wiltshire is relying upon surrounding areas to provide this service, for which they pay a pre-arranged national tariff rate.

And she is claiming this will raise important issues for patients:

 * confusion over which of the three categories their injuries may fall into and what action needs to be taken.

* travelling the extra distance, since the Carfax Street health centre is a further three miles away from Great Western Hospital in Swindon.   

* lack of communication -- most people do not even know Clover Unit has a new ruling on the definition of the urgent minor injury cases it can deal with, non-urgent cases being sent to Carfax Street.

* most patients will require a printed map to find Carfax Street and, on arrival, will be fortunate to park because of the confined space available.

* what action, if any, NHS Wiltshire has taken to inform patients of these significant changes -- and whether they satisfied they are fulfilling their own 15-mile limit availability of treatment for patients living in Marlborough and surrounding villages.

 * why is there no indication on NHS Wiltshire’s own website that Clover Unit and Carfax Street centre treat different categories of minor injuries.

“The situation is alarming,” Mrs Compton told Marlborough News Online. “The closure of the MIU at Savernake has created a real mess that must leave potential patients totally confused.  To add to this, we now have three categories of minor injury.”

"The most minor is treat at home or with pharmacy advice, the second to take to Carfax Sreet, Chippenham or Trowbridge, and the third category is an urgent minor injury that can be treated at the Clover Unit.  It is outrageous that patients should have to make all these decisions at a time they are injured, in pain and possibly not thinking straight.”

And she demands to know: “Who made these decisions and when?  Why on earth has no one issued information to the public about these changes affecting the Clover Unit?  Will other units in surrounding areas also change the rules?

“I understand the drive to keep all but life threatening emergencies out of A&E, but there now seems to be huge confusion over minor injuries.”

“Why hasn’t Swindon NHS or Wiltshire NHS explained the situation?  I have found nothing in the press and nothing on NHS Wiltshire's website.  I have asked questions of NHS Swindon but, as yet, I have had no satisfactory answers.”

“They seem unclear about what they are doing and the posters and press release they have now sent simply create further questions.”

Mrs Compton is writing to local MP Claire Perry and raising the issues with  the NHS bodies covering Wiltshire because of her concern that the proper procedures may not have been followed and the changes now operating made without any consultation taking place.

Following the judicial review, she explained, it would be a serious matter as the Department of Health has made it clear that consultation should take place, particularly with "hard to reach" groups of people such as minor injury patients.  There is a laid down procedure and it appears to have been ignored.

 “The question of consultation was one of the prime issues when the MIU and the day hospital at Savernake were closed and we sought a judicial review,” she pointed out.  “It seems we are again back to square one, but in a worse situation now, given the air of uncertainty created by the coalition government."

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