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That bridge opens at last but Marlborough still faces traffic chaos

With the new Pewsey Road bridge about to be opened after months of traffic chaos, Marlborough is to be hit by further turmoil as other road works are about to take place.

Traders who have complained bitterly about the loss of business, especially in the run up to Christmas, are now to face traffic queues again as new gas main work restarts on the London Road and roundabout improvements also take place.

“It’s heartbreaking,” says the mayor, Councillor Andy Ross. “We thought we had just got our roads back. Now the euphoria of having a new Pewsey Road bridge open to traffic at last has been dissipated."

“But it may well be a case where we should grin and bear it until it is all over, rather than seek further delays.”

Traders were specifically told six weeks ago by Dick Tonge, Wiltshire Council’s transport spokesman, that there were no further roads works in the pipeline.

But then the Traffic and Network Planning Department announced that gas main work in London Road and Salisbury Road, deliberately delayed when work on the new bridge began, will be resumed on May 3 and continue until May 30.

During the first weekend – and possibly others – a one-way order will operate on the eastern end of George Lane, allowing traffic to travel only westbound between Salisbury Road and Culvermead Close. This is because excavations at the mouth of George Lane to connect up the new gas mains.

And it revealed too that this would be followed by resurfacing and traffic island works at the A4/A346 mini roundabouts in Barn Street on June 6 and last for two to three weeks. This is part of the planning gain obtained when Tesco was given permission for its new out of town supermarket – and is being paid for by the store.

The “good and bad news” was revealed to members of Marlborough Town Council’s planning committee on Monday by its chairman, mayor-elect Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson.

“Unfortunately it is something Wiltshire Council can do nothing about as it has no control over the major utilities and when they carry out their works,” he explained.

An attempt to delay the works, which will clash with the freedom of the town being given to No 4 Military Intelligence Battalion in June, is to be made by town clerk Liam Costello, but there is a more general feeling that it is best for all outstanding works to be completed as soon as possible.

Councillor Nick Fogg, who is also a Wiltshire councillor, pointed out that that BT, gas and electricity companies, in this case the Wales & West Utilities, were given carte blanche by the last government to carry out essential works according to their own timetable, something necessary in cases of emergency but not always at other times.

Wiltshire Council has consulted other local authorities and is making representations to current coalition transport minister.

“Perhaps we should suffer all the pain in one go,” Mr Fogg told Marlborough News Online. “The problem is that everyone suffers because we have a two-way cross traffic system in the town, and if one route is closed or reduced then congestion becomes chaotic.  Perhaps it is better to get it all over with.”

One trader protested: “There is evidence that Wiltshire Council gave no consideration to the economic effects of the Pewsey Road bridge replacement in the first place. We ought to seek some form of compensation.”

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We’re being consulted about the future of the Marlborough area

The map of local responsibilities is changing under the coalition government’s legislation. At community level the Marlborough Area Board is commissioning a new plan for the whole Marlborough area.

This work is being done by the Marlborough Area Development Trust (MADT) and consultations with the public have begun. The plan will become part of the government’s localism and ‘Big Society’ strategies and feed into Wiltshire Council’s wider plan.

The new plan replaces the one published in 2004 that was supposed to run till 2014. But it had no proper way to measure results or anyone to monitor whether it was being effective.

MADT chairman, Martin Cook, describes the new plan as “a document that details the concerns, aspirations and priorities of everybody who lives in the community area.”

It must also take notice of those who come into the area to work, and of concerns that cross through the area – such as transport links, rivers and wider organisations.

The plan will not authorise policies or projects. It is advisory.

But Martin Cook stresses it is essential that people in our area do express their priorities so those higher up the chain of government, right up to Whitehall, can act on them and finance them. If an issue is not logged in the plan as a priority it may well be ignored and be denied the necessary resources.

However, it’s as well to note that this is not a ‘planning permission’ exercise. It will not decide where new housing or new roads will be. It’s not about someone’s plans to build a garage too close to your kitchen window. It is about overall priorities.

If you think Marlborough is big enough and needs no more housing – say so. If you think it needs a rail link – say so.

Martin Cook is passionate about the consultation process. Originally a farmer in south-west Australia, he’s taught at St John’s for twenty years and is now the school’s Director of Logistics. He not only knows the area very well indeed, he teaches geography so he’s well versed in the problems of rural communities.

The consultation’s main feature is its on-line survey www.marlborougharea.org. The site is now live. By using it your priorities are taken into account just as you enter them – without interference from anyone else.

You just log in with your name and e-mail address (the site is absolutely secure.) There are paper surveys available – from the library. And there will be three consultation meetings – at St John’s School, in Aldbourne and in Lockeridge. (See Marlborough News Online What’s On section for details.)

It is expected the plan will be published by the end of January 2012.

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Inflation busting price rises at Marlborough Leisure Centre

If you were tempted to smile – even faintly – at news that the nation’s inflation rate went down in March to 4% from February’s 4.4% rise, new price increases at Marlborough Leisure Centre might wipe that smile away.

Among the price rises, the members’ rate for a 45-minute fitness class went up this month by 20.5% - from £4.15 to £5.00. For non-members the price rise was a mere 7.5%.

Members will now be paying £3.50 for a 45-minute ‘Easy Line’ fitness session – that’s a rise of 29.5%. And non-members will now pay £4.10 – a rise of nearly 8%.

But at least the cost of the centre’s popular pay-as-you-go membership card remains fixed at £11 a year for adults and £5.50 for juniors.

A Wiltshire Council spokesperson told Marlboroughnewsonline:

“The council is in the process of standardising prices across all council-run leisure centres so charges are fair and consistent and reflect the cost of providing the facilities.”

“In order to align fees the price of some activities have increased slightly more than others but across the board they remain very competitive. Substantial discounts are still available at centres through the Leisure Card scheme.”

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Let’s take politics out of education demands Tory MP Claire Perry

Praise for today’s much maligned teachers has come from Tory MP Claire Perry – and with it a surprising plea for politics to be taken out of education.

Speaking at a conference held at Marlborough College, aimed at making the town a “leading international hotbed of learning by 2020”, Mrs Perry stepped out of party political lines when she referred to a conference suggestion that education should be taken out of political control.

“I don’t know if I have said that but I really agree with that,” she told an audience of 90 attending the Project Excalibur conference. “We have had far too much political manipulation of the education system, and indeed the NHS but that’s another story, where politicians think that they know better than teachers and education professionals.”

“I don’t think there should be a free-for-all but I think this notion of a scenario-planning session for what works for us -- not for what the government thinks works for us -- is incredibly important.”

“Also actively going out and trying to make these changes now rather than being told what to do in five or ten year’s time.”

She added: “I believe this conference is the first example of this sort of project in the country and I am so excited about it.”

“I have written to Michael Gove (the Education Secretary) because I think all schools should be doing this.”

“Clusters of schools should be coming together to do this. I think it is hugely, hugely valuable. I think it’s just front and centre of this change in attitude towards education and the role of education that our Government is trying to achieve.”

Mrs Perry, who went to a comprehensive school before becoming the first member of her family to go to university, and then on to Harvard Business School, praised the last Labour government for creating school academies.

“They just didn’t seem to have the political will to go far enough and I think we have got that and we are so supportive as a Government of what is actually happening here today,” she pointed out.

She posed the question - What is it that we want? for the audience, which included representatives of all Marlborough’s schools, plus the feeder schools that send pupils to St John’s Comprehensive, where she is a school governor.

And she answered: “Well I think we want...the education and learning...lives and again one of the quotes which may not be up here is the fact that learning should be exciting for the whole of your life.”

“If you are taught properly, if you are given a thirst for knowledge it is something that never leaves you and that is clearly an incredibly important thing to do.”

“But secondly we want an education to be a sort of an engine of social mobility through building skills and aptitudes from receptiveness towards new experiences and that sounds very mechanical.”

“I also wouldn’t want to suggest that social mobility is just entirely defined by money but giving the child who has never had the experience of playing a musical instrument or never read book or never seen a play.”

“All of those, the richness of that experience – I think that is part of social mobility as well and clearly we want our education system to do that.”

Mrs Perry, whose own children go to boarding school, totally supported the government’s vision to allow funding to follow the pupil as an “important part of opening up the landscape of school with extra support for the disadvantaged.”

It was part of a vision “where teaching is the most valuable professions,” she said. “I personally feel we have undervalued our teachers, we have accepted poor performance in our teaching profession in a way that we wouldn’t accept it in other professions.”

“We have not reached out enough to people who could be fantastic teachers but perhaps have not gone through the traditional route which is why things like TeachFirst and Troops into Teachers I think are incredibly important initiatives.”

“Again, it (politics) is the hardest thing I have ever done, I think it takes a certain sort of person to do it. And if we can get the teaching right, we can achieve so much.”

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Traders insist the Marlborough jazz festival gives them the financial blues

Traders in Marlborough, already hit by the closure of the Pewsey Road bridge, have protested that the forthcoming International Jazz Festival in the town will also cause an unwelcome financial hit to their business.

They banded together to ask Wiltshire Council’s highways department to prevent the closure of the High Street for the three day event in July, after carrying out a survey following last year’s jazz festival.

“Due to closing the A4 there were constant reminders on the radio advising motorists to say clear of the town,” jeweller David Dudley wrote on behalf of the traders. “By 11am on Saturday barriers were up closing the High Street, so that the Italian restaurant could lay its tables.

“We fully support the great atmosphere that was generated but suggest that this could all be set up down the Parade instead, and so keep the A4 open.”

Mr Dudley claims that takings for retailers were 50 per cent down, traders losing as much £500,000 in revenue during economically difficult times.

But that figure is challenged by former Marlborough mayor Nick Fogg, organiser of the Jazz Festival, which this year features performers from 24 countries and will be held on the weekend of 15, 16 and 17 July.

“We close only New Road, the top end of The Parade and the bottom end of Kingsbury Street,” says Mr Fogg. “The number of businesses directly affected are very, very few. And the businesses that are affected are almost all completely beneficiaries of the jazz festival.

“It’s a great opportunity for the various pubs, restaurants and other businesses to show their awareness of the hundreds of people who come into Marlborough, and will hopefully return to make use of its services.”

He points out that the Arts Council estimates the festival brings in an additional £700,000 into the town over just one weekend, and adds: “Yes, there are winners and losers in every situation, but it’s just shame they just don’t recognise the winners.

“It the traders haven’t got the initiative actually to capitalise on the large number of visitors thronging the town, then their businesses aren’t all that viable anyway.”

Wiltshire highways have insisted that the highway authority is “only a consultee” in the process of closing Marlborough High Street, the precedent having already been set over many years with road closures for the traditional Mop fairs.

But the traders believe a free Park and Ride scheme on the Common would be an “excellent” alternative. “We all support the jazz festival but the event must support us too,” insists Mr Dudley.

“We are asking Marlborough Town Council to help us keep the market town of Marlborough alive.”

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Your MP Claire Perry pinpoints your concerns

Do you want to tell your MP Claire Perry what you think?

You can do so now as she has launched a new application on her website which allows constituents to highlight and debate any local issues or concerns they might have in the constituency.

PinPoint Perry is an interactive map which allows users to start a discussion by placing a Perry Point on their map. Then other users can then add their comments.

 The Tory MP for Devizes says: “PinPoint Perry is an exciting opportunity for constituents who wish to interact directly with me and their community. The interactive map is not intended to replace the letters and emails that I already receive from constituents but act as an additional tool for people to have direct access to their MP."

 “Perry Points can be placed on the interactive map and can be about anything, whether it's parking issues, a construction proposal or an idea on how to improve local services. I can then reply directly on the website allowing me to better serve the constituents of Devizes."

www.claireperry.org.uk/pinpoint-perry/

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The cuts and Marlborough’s library – first the good news

The good news is that despite heavy cuts to Wiltshire Council’s budget, none of the county’s thirty-one libraries will be closed and none of its five mobile libraries taken off the road.

The not so good news is that it’s planned to cut the opening hours for Marlborough’s library from 42.5 hours per week to thirty-three hours – a reduction of 22 %. There will be late opening until 7 pm on two nights a week and Saturday opening will be restricted to 9.30 am-1 pm.

The cut in Marlborough library’s opening hours is the fourth biggest among Wiltshire’s 21 larger libraries.

In the last financial year Wiltshire’s library service made cuts of 16% largely through lower administration costs and losing some senior staff. But the council’s head of library services, Joan Davis, told the Marlborough Area Board that further cuts needed this year and next (12% more) could not be made “without affecting frontline services at all.”

There will be a substantial cut in the county’s book buying budget – down from £856,000 a year to £707,000. That’s a reduction of 17.5% even though focus groups on people’s priorities for their library made it plain that “continued investment in the book stock was absolutely essential.”

The plan calls for Wiltshire’s ten smallest libraries – including Aldbourne and Ramsbury – to be run by community volunteers with limited help from trained staff. But the aim is to open these libraries for a minimum of just three hours a week.

However, villagers in Aldbourne have decided they don’t want to lose their librarian and will raise the necessary funds through council tax. This should cost the average council tax payer in Aldbourne about £7 extra each year.

So far 400 volunteers have come forward for these small libraries and training will begin soon.

Ms Davis said the use of volunteers to extend opening hours in Marlborough could not be considered at the moment.

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Great Western Hospital takes over Savernake Hospital

It looks as though the government’s reorganisation of the NHS will not mean that Savernake Hospital’s minor injuries unit will be reopening in the near future.

The primary care trust’s decision to close the unit was taken to judicial review at the High Court by local activists. But their attempt to reverse the closure was unsuccessful.

The coalition’s NHS legislation has been taken off the parliamentary timetable for some surgery – whether it’s minor or major surgery remains to be seen. But already major changes are underway to the way our local health services are run.

From 1 June responsibility for Wiltshire’s community health services will move from the primary care trust to Great Western Hospitals. And for now their contract is still drawn up and funded by the primary care trust – known as NHS Wiltshire.

The £80million a year contract will see GWH running community health care for 433,000 people across Wiltshire and into parts of the Bath and North East Somerset health region. Two thousand staff are being transferred to GWH’s payroll.

The services GWH will be providing include maternity services in most of the county (some 9,000 births a year), services for children and young people, prison health, community dental services and general medical inpatient services at three community hospitals – including Savernake.

However, GWH’s head of business development, Helen Bourner, told this week’s Marlborough Area Board meeting that reopening Savernake’s minor injuries unit was not within their contract.

“We are certainly looking at Savernake and how we can use it differently, but I would put on a caveat – that does not at this stage include re-opening the minor injuries unit.”

When the current legislation has finally become law, NHS Wiltshire may still give way to a consortium of local GPs. It would then for them to make the commissioning decision on Savernake’s minor injuries unit – and to fund it.

These changes are taking place amidst great uncertainty as rules and guidance from the Department of Health change and develop. Assuming their contract passes the regulator, GWH will have access to Savernake from 1 June.

But GWH will not be taking over the public finance initiative that provided the funding to build the new Savernake Hospital. That remains – for now – with NHS Wiltshire. But, as Helen Bourner explained, “that may change.”

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No unique parade for three global mayors of Marlborough

A unique event – the simultaneous arrival in Marlborough of the mayors of Marlborough, New Zealand, and Marlborough, Massachusetts,  is not to happen after all.

The idea of a triumvirate of Marlborough mayors going on parade was the idea of Councillor Andy Ross, whose year of office ends next month, following his own civic visit to Massachusetts and the visit of former mayor Nick Fogg to New Zealand during his year in office.

He had initially invited Alistair Sowman to fly from New Zealand to attend mayor-making ceremony in Marlborough on May 9 and/or attend to freedom ceremony being staged in June for the No 4 Military Intelligence Battalion.

And it was to that event that he suggested Nancy Stevens, the American mayor, might also like to attend, bringing all three mayors of Marlborough together at the same time.

But Mayor Sowman has had to decline the first invitation as it clashes with her own council’s budget-setting session. And both he and Mayor Stevens are unable to make the second trip unless it is linked to some economic activity that helps their local industries.

“If there was something like a wine festival where Alistair could promote Marlborough wines, then that would justify the cost,” explained Councillor Ross. “And the same consideration is needed too for Nancy in America.

“Nancy is an absolutely charming person and it would have been an enormous pleasure to welcome her here in Marlborough, but today’s economics have to come first.”

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There’s nothing like a Grand National bet to blow away the recession

Betting on the Grand National on Saturday was one way to ease the recession blues, according to Ladbrokes in Marlborough.

“They poured through the door when we opened and we booked our first bet at 9.02,” revealed manager Jamie Mead.“We didn’t stop from then on. We were packed out with people all day with a really good atmosphere for the race when it hit the screens.

“It’s true that with the recession people do want to get away from what’s happening around them. They want to have a fun day, enjoy themselves and maybe win something for a change.”

“And it was good to interact with a lot of people you don’t normally see. They are once-a year gamblers, people who like to watch the race as a family and even get granny involved. It appeals to a very broad range of people – from those just old enough to start betting to those who have been betting for generations, who have been doing the Grand National since they can remember.”

It was also a different Grand National day for Jamie and his assistant Margaret, who has been at Ladbrokes for more than a decade. There were 10 fancied horses in the field this year, which meant most punters put on each-way bets for what was virtually a lottery as 40 horses took the assault course at sun-drenched Aintree.

But there were a handful who backed Ballabriggs to win while others chose top jockey Tony McCoy to claim victory for a second year on Don’t Push It, edging it with each-way bets, and some went for amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen on Oscar Time, who finished second.

“The biggest price winner was State of Play at 28 to one,” added Mr Mead. “Some people went home happy and some a little sad. The Grand National is the biggest race of the year for us with people doing everything from 50p each way bets to bigger sums.

“Marlborough is definitely a betting town because it has all these local racing stables in the area. That brings in a lot of customers who know about racing. It all helps to make it a great day all round.”

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Bigger, better and more diversity for Marlborough’s next Litfest

Michael HolroydMichael HolroydMichael Holroyd, appearing at the Marlborough Literary Festival

An emphasis on quality of every variety. That is the one consistent ingredient for Marlborough’s next literary festival, in the wake of the festival highly successful debut last year, writes Ben Budd.

When local bestselling author Mavis Cheek, the festival chairperson, conceived the festival it was in response to the prevailing celebrity-obsession that proliferated most events, often at the expense of the writing.
Marlborough Litfest is a huge success precisely because it refuses to conform to this template.
Some of the quality on offer this year…

Screenwriting.

Deborah Moggach wrote the screenplay for the BAFTA awarded Pride and Prejudice. As well as writing 15 novels, she’s masterminded  numerous screenplays for film and television including Anne Fine’s Goggle Eyes, Nancy Mitford’s Love in A Cold Climate and adaptations of her own bestselling books such as Porky and Tulip Fever.

Novelist of the next decade?

For each of the past four decades Granta and The BBC’s Culture Show have predicted the debut novelists who would go on to become our pre-eminent writers. Past selections have included the likes of Martin Amis, Kazuo Ishiguro and Julian Barnes. We’re delighted to welcome Evie Wyld, nominee from the recent list of the twelve to watch for the future, to speak about her new novel.

Youth and overseas cultures

Kerry Young is of Chinese-African parentage and is well known for her writing on youth including The Art of Youth Work, which has become a standard text in its field. Kerry’s first novel is the start of a trilogy influenced by her own childhood and explores aspects of race, class, love and philosophy on the mean streets of Kingston, Jamaica at the end of British rule.

Playwriting

David Edgar is one of the most prolific and important post-60s UK dramatists having written over sixty performed and published works since his first full length effort aged nine! A long association with the RSC included his Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby, directed by Trevor Nunn. Always inspired by the idealist spirit of the late 60’s, some if his most acclaimed and awarded works include Destiny and Maydays.
This is merely a soupcon of the talent and variety on offer this year.

There’s also Michael Holroyd, Anne Sebba, bestselling children’s writer Lauren Child and many others.  Topics including history, crime, Shakespeare, Orwell and ghost-writing take place at venues ranging from Marlborough College and the Theatre on The Hill to William Golding’s House.

As well as listening to authors, the four-day festival offers many chances to participate in workshops, poetry cafés and competitions.

That’s only a taster and we’ll bring you further updates as September -- the festival weekend runs from 22 to 25 September -- approaches. You can also find out more by visiting www.marlboroughlitfest.org.

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