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News

Now River Kennet protectors put the pressure on Parliamentary Select Committee

ARK campaigners are going to Parliament next month to put pressure on the government to take urgent action to protect the endangered River Kennet that flows through Marlborough.

Action for the River Kennet – it is one of only three precious chalk streams in the country - is to give evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee on March 7.

The cross-party committee, chaired by Tory MP Anne McIntosh, is undertaking an inquiry into the Government’s new policy for the future of water resources in the UK, set out in its White Paper Water for Life.

The invitation to attend follows ARK's written evidence and in appearing before MPs there will be no lack of outspoken concern for a halt to the excessive extraction of water from the river by Thames Water to supply the people of Swindon.

 “While we welcome the Government’s new policy in principle as it will give a better balance to protecting the environment, we will be pressing for more urgent action to address problems like the Kennet’s,” ARK chairman Geoffrey Findley told Marlborough News Online.

“We will make sure that politicians hear how damaging the over-abstraction can be for a chalk stream like the River Kennet, and will show how policy could be changed to protect vulnerable rivers.”

ARK, a registered charity, has been campaigning for 20 years for water abstraction – it feeds residents of Marlborough too – to be reduced.

ARK director Charlotte Hitchmough protested: “It is very difficult to get existing abstraction licenses changed, even when there is good evidence to show that they cause environmental damage.”

“We hope Government will take this opportunity to change the rules.  That would help the Kennet and other rivers like it.”

This potential new legislation comes at a critical time for water resources across much of England.  In the last 18 months the Kennet Valley has had less rainfall and a drier river even than during the drought of 1976.

“Unless we get very heavy rainfall in the next two months a drought this summer is almost inevitable,” Charlotte pointed out.

She will be representing ARK at the select committee together with Geoffrey Findley and possibly a third member, John Lawson.

Information about Action for the River Kennet is available at www.riverkennet.org

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Clean-up to Marlborough’s railway path continues on Sunday

The Friends of the Railway Path have organised another workday on the site for Sunday (February 19), meeting point the Chiseldon Firs at 10am.

The outline plan for the day includes grassland management and scrub removal, planting fruiting trees, the removal of any debris from the path, as well as broken and over-hanging branches and cutting back vegetation.

Removing litter is also on the agenda together with installing posts and signage at intervals asking horse-riders to keep to the path edge.

Chairman Dick Millard suggests that volunteers wear suitable outdoor clothing and stout footwear, and bring Gardening gloves and any hand tools they would prefer to use.

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Marlborough town council still operates on a wing and a prayer

llllThe controversial High Court ban on local councils saying prayers before their meetings will not hit Marlborough town council after all.

This is because the appearance of the Rev Andrew Studdert-Kennedy, Marlborough's rural dean, takes place before the official council agenda begins.  And so is not considered – at least technically -- to be an actual part of the meeting.

This is the advice that numerous town and parish councils are now taking, Derek Wolfe, Marlborough’s new town clerk, revealed.

“Prayers at town council meetings here have never been part of the formal agenda,” he told Marlborough News Online.  “I take the view that it is perfectly legitimate for us to continue as we have in the past.”

“The issue at Bideford town council, where this issue arose, is because prayers are actually on the agenda.  It’s all been a bit of a storm in the hassock as far as Marlborough is concerned.”

And Marlborough’s atheist mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, agrees, though he has nevertheless accepted the Rev Studdert-Kennedy as his chaplain during his year of office.

“The whole controversy is completely crackers,” he said.  “Certainly as a non-believer I take a very dim view of the petulance and small-mindedness of the complainant.  It is the sort of behaviour that gives us atheists a bad name.”

“If in council meetings we were dealing with loopy religious fundamentalists, busy promoting God’s plans regarding birth control or abortion or some such, maybe there would be an issue.”

“But not in England or in Marlborough.”

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School leavers at St John’s given vital advice about apprenticeships

It is vital that school-leavers know more about apprenticeships – and further education - as they start seeking jobs and training for future careers, students at St John’s Marlborough, have been told by an expert in the field.

David Willett (pictured alongside John bowkett, Lucy wiltshire and Tom Daubney), director of the award-winning PDS Group, based in Fyfield, which is a national apprenticeship consultancy, visited the school to spread the message in a talk to sixth formers in their final year, all part of National Apprenticeship Week.

This aims to raise the profile of apprenticeships amongst employers, individuals, teachers, parents as well as the media as teenagers consider their options for the future, including further education.

“We feel that many schools overlook the very real benefits of apprenticeships when advising their sixth formers on career paths,” said Mr Willett.

“Apprenticeship Week is all about promoting the value of apprenticeships and letting people know how wide the range and opportunities are today.”

“There is real choice out there and an apprenticeship can give you a job, a qualification and very good career start with many top companies.”

“We always find there is huge enthusiasm and interest amongst students when apprenticeships are explained to them and we hope that more schools will follow the St John’s example.”

Mr Willett spoke to a large group of students, including 16 year-old Tom Daubney, who is applying to take up an apprenticeship after he completes his sixth form studies.  Accompanying Mr Willett was former St John’s student Lucy Wiltshire who left school in 2009 with three A-levels.  She explained how she had intended to go to university but instead she successfully applied for an apprenticeship at Vodafone, a choice which she has never regretted.

Later in the week, St John’s students  took part in a Skills Tasters day held in Chippenham, where more than 30 employers offered them the chance to have hands-on experience of a range of careers, and also to learn about the options open to them when they leave school.

Other activities during the week included a visit from Swindon College to discuss apprenticeship options for post 16 students and individual interviews for students interested in apprenticeships, with Connexions, the careers advice service due to be axed in spending cutbacks.

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Marlborough’s temperature dives to minus 13.8 degrees centigrade

 

Yes, you’re quite right. The sun may be shining but it is jolly cold – the temperature in Marlborough this morning diving to minus 13.8 degrees centigrade.

And that’s not far off the all-time record level of minus 14.1 degrees, which the Windrush weather station of Eric Gilbert noted on December 20. 1999.

“I have lived in Marlborough since 1964 and with the later prospect of being resident here for a considerable time I started my accurate collection of data in 1984 using a Stevenson screen holding the basic manually read instruments,” he told Marlborough News Online.

“An electronic, wired system installed in 1994 meant that data could be collected continuously via a computer, regardless of holidays.

“The most advanced and sophisticated wireless station was installed in 2009 allowing a slightly improved site for the equipment further from buildings and hard surfaces -- in my vegetable garden.

“From there it can relay live data to an indoor monitor and again be downloaded to a computer.”

He also has an anemometer with weather vain unit, which is sited on a restrained pole some four metres above the ridge height of the building.

“With data stretching back to 1984, the interest grows as meaningful comparisons can now be made over the last 28 years and with the standard 20-year period,” Mr Gilbert, whose interest in weather data began when he was a teenager, pointed out.

“And climate change also makes the hobby topical and relevant.”

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Change is on its way for the House of Lords pupils are told by Labour peer

Lord Rosser centre was welcomed to St Johns by Governors Neville Hobson and Lisa GygaxLord Rosser centre was welcomed to St Johns by Governors Neville Hobson and Lisa Gygax“It’s a case of when rather than if,” Labour peer and former trade union boss Lord Rosser told pupils at St John’s, Marlborough, when asked about proposed changes to the role of the House of Lords.

After being greeted by headteacher  Dr Patrick Hazlewood, St John’s governors Lisa Gygax and Neville Hobson, Lord Rosser met a group of sixth form law and politics students to talk about the work and role of the House of Lords.

And it was during a question and answer session that he was asked, “Do you think the role or makeup of the House of Lords will change anytime soon?” .

Lord Rosser who lives in Chippenham, was invited to St John’s as part of the Peers in Schools programme which is designed to encourage students to engage more with the political and parliamentary process.

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Wiltshire urged to act to protect Marlborough’s economy from disaster

Protection is on its way for Marlborough’s pub and hotel beds in the wake of the sale of the grade II listed Ivy House Hotel for conversion into a hostel for 50 girl students at Marlborough College.

But not soon enough, according to Councillor Nick Fogg, who led the battle against the loss to the local economy by the controversial sale of the hotel, labelled a local disaster.

Wiltshire Council, in its specific core strategy for the future of Marlborough, declares: “Proposals for the change of use of existing bed spaces in hotels or public houses to alternative uses will be resisted, unless it can be clearly demonstrated there is no longer a need for such a facility in its current use.”

That is due to come into operation later this year and possibly for the whole of the county following Councillor Fogg’s intervention at the last Wiltshire council meeting.

He believes Marlborough remains at the mercy of developers and making what he described as his own “personal gripe”, he protested: “I felt a certain sense of irony when I read this.  I’m afraid that it comes too late for Marlborough, which has just lost 40 per cent of its hotel beds with the closure of the Ivy House and its redevelopment for other uses.”

“With it goes an estimated annual benefit of £700,000 to the local economy and, with it, 18 jobs.”

He pointed out how the whole of the Marlborough community had fought the change of use proposal for the hotel and was supported by the council’s own economic team.

“I have to say that our own planning officer (Mike Wilmot) was, to put it kindly, singularly unhelpful and when the issue came to appeal, the inspector failed to hold a public inquiry, but, in the face of all the available facts, simply found in favour of the appellant.”

And he added: “Our Member of Parliament (Claire Perry) predicted that the inspector, in the spirit of localism, would simply refer the issue back to the planning committee.

“She’s right about many things, but, sadly, she was wrong about this.”

Wiltshire’s move also comes in the wake of the closure of the Castle and Ball Hotel for refurbishment – and added bedrooms – leaving Marlborough without any significant hotel available for tourists and/or the parents of Marlborough College students.

And it can now be revealed that one 16-strong group coming to Marlborough from Stafford to see 'The Overtures' play at Marlborough’s Theatre on the Hill on 31st March, and looking for nine rooms ideally in the same location have had to book accommodation in Hungerford.

Even the Castle and Ball, then due to be back in operation is fully booked and although there were odd rooms available in Marlborough's smaller hotels and pubs,  the group didn't want to be spread out across the whole town.

Mr Fogg, twice mayor of Marlborough and founder of its International Jazz Festival, believes Wiltshire should adopt a more pro-active planning strategy rather a purely defensive one, and also wants to have a necessary infrastructure in place to support local communities by October.

“We were caught with our pants down,” he told Marlborough News Online. “It was a failure to address the issue and abandoning the subject.”

“What is being proposed is all very good but we are still at the mercy of developers until this new strategy is endorsed, improved and hopefully extended to cover the whole of Wiltshire.”

And he refuted claims that the previous owners of the Ivy House Hotel were experienced hotel operators who found there wasn’t a big enough demand for the hotel to be profitable.

“They did run it down,” he declared.  “They didn’t put any money into the business and even closed the restaurant.  And they put the Ivy House on the market within a year of buying it.”

“That just didn’t give it much of a chance to succeed.”

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Devizes Lib Dems urge supporters to help dump the NHS Bill

In an emailed message, Devizes constituency Lib Dems have urged “members, friends and maybe supporters” to help get Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill withdrawn.  The message is signed by Fiona Hornby as chairman of Devizes Lib Dems.

Ms Hornby is urging Lib Dems to sign a petition against the Bill organised by the Winchester constituency party to give a voice to the “many in this party” who “believe the Bill is fundamentally flawed”: www.winld.org.uk/nhs-petition/

“The Bill remains a threat to the fundamental principles of the NHS, and is widely criticised as over-complex, expensive and failing to address the most important challenges facing health and social care. Many authoritative independent commentators are now calling for its withdrawal, while the Government has totally failed to convince either the public or NHS staff that the Bill will improve the NHS.”

“Such a top-down imposed re-organisation was specifically ruled out in the coalition agreement.”

Fiona HornbyFiona HornbyAsking people to sign the petition, Ms Hornby says, “It’s vital that we get as much support as possible as quickly as possible.”

Ms Hornby stood as the Lib Dem candidate for the Devizes constituency in the 2010 general election.
 

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Wiltshire remains safest county in the country as police costs rise 10p a week

 

A 10 pence a week increase in Wiltshire Police Authority’s precept demand will face band D council taxpayers in April following its decision to set a budget for the coming year of £108 million.

The authority set the annual policing precept for 2010-11 at a meeting held in its Devizes headquarters on Thursday, members agreeing a 3.40 per cent increase – equivalent to a demand for average households of a new annual policing precept of £157.77, which means an additional £5.19 for the year.

Chairman, Christopher Hoare, said afterwards: “Although we understand that any increase is unwelcome in today’s conditions, we firmly believe that this settlement represents good value for money for the people of Wiltshire and Swindon.”

“Again we received one of the lowest levels of central government grant in the country, but we are determined that the service improvements that Wiltshire Police are now achieving need to be secured for the future.”

“The precept we set enables the Force to continue to move forward with the Chief Constable’s aim of making Wiltshire the safest county in the country.”

Indeed, the performance of Wiltshire Police continues to improve as clearly shown by the latest  Home Office statistics, which reveal Wiltshire recording the lowest level of violence in the country.  

Wiltshire Police’s Chief Constable, Brian Moore (pictured), said: “Wiltshire Police is making sustained improvements in bringing crime down and raising people’s confidence in their police force.”

“I am pleased that, despite the difficult economic climate, our Police Authority on behalf of the public has made this investment in us.  We will be working even harder in the year ahead to make this the safest county in the country.”

Policing continues to operate within the tight financial constraints which followed the Government’s comprehensive spending review which, in Wiltshire’s case, meant reducing the costs of policing by £15 million by 2014/15.  

Wiltshire Police is making good progress in implementing the agreed plan formulated to deliver the financial targets and already savings of £4.493million have been achieved.  

This annual budget marks the last which the police authority will set before the election in November of the new Police and Crime Commissioners.

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Two “quick wins” to recycle plastic carrier bags and polystyrene

Positive suggestions  for “two obvious quick-wins” which would increase recycling and save landfill tax have been suggested to the Marlborough’s Transition Towns team.

They come from Marlborough town councillor Richard Pitts, who liaises with the group, and the first concerns carrier bags in which users of Hills' Business Park recycling facility typically bring paper, cardboard, glass and other waste.

Hills do provide bins for collecting carrier bags, but unfortunately these bins carry notices saying bags placed in them will be sent to landfill.

By contrast, the nearby Tesco supermarket -- and also Waitrose -- both have carrier bag recycling points.

“Wiltshire Council should ask Hills to do the same by arranging a carrier bag recycling as soon as possible and stop sending bags to landfill.” Mr Pitts told Marlborough News Online.

“Specifically, Hills should arrange short-term use of the Tesco/Waitrose carrier-bag recycling points, and subsequently arrange their own long-term solution.”

 His second idea concerns polystyrene, which is a common waste product not currently being recycled at the Salisbury Road facility.

“We have discovered there is a growing trend in polystyrene recycling, and the British Plastic Federation is working hard to encourage this,” Mr Pitts pointed out.

The federation’s website shows polystyrene recycling plants at locations including Northampton, Stafford and Torbay.  

“So Wiltshire should now ask Hills to set up a polystyrene recycling container at the Salisbury Road site, for disposal to one of these plants,” he added.

 “These two obvious quick-wins should be implemented as soon as possible by the council and its contractors.”

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PC Tracy and her police dog Tyler win a place in top dog finals

Tyler with his handler PC Tracy DoughtyTyler with his handler PC Tracy DoughtyTyler with his handler PC Tracy DoughtyPolice dog Tyler and his handler, PC Tracy Doughty, are celebrating after beating 10 other police dog teams to qualify for the National Police Dog Assessments due to be held in April.

The initial assessments took place at HMS Rayleigh and HMS Davenport in Plymouth with a total of 13 police dog teams from across Wales and the South West competing in series of tests.

Tyler and Tracy scored 766 points overall, some 138 points above the average score and only 22 points behind the winning team. This placed them third overall and second in the South West region.

This high score secured their place in the National Assessments, where the top 1.5 percent of all police dogs in the UK will compete.

“I am proud to be able to represent Wiltshire Police in this prestigious competition,” says PC Doughty, who is based in Devizes and operates in Marlborough whenever needed.

“And I am even more proud of Tyler for his performance which helped to secure our place in it.”

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