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News

Tory MP Claire Perry accused of patronising voters in referendum ballot

As voters went to the polls to cast their referendum Yes or No yesterday, a resident in Marlborough threw his own spanner into the claims that AV is too confusing for the electorate to understand how it works.

In a letter in the Guardian, Mike Pitts wrote: “Yesterday I received some leaflets from my MP (Conservative Claire Perry) asking me to vote No to AV – it is ‘complex, obscure and unfair’ and ‘the government will have to spend millions of pounds explaining to voters’ how it works.”

“In a separate envelope from her, I am asked to rank each of two lists of national and local concerns ‘from 1-5 in order of importance’.”

“Judging whether schools are more important than jobs, or the NHS more than the police, may be matters beyond the mind of a humble voter such as me, but Ms Perry has apparently already decided I lack such comparative skills and would presumably ignore me if I was to reply.”

“Parliamentarians who patronise the electorate undermine democracy. What better reason to vote Yes?”

Claire Perry told Marlborough News Online: “My email back to him said that I was delighted to see constituents actively involved in this debate as the worst outcome of all would be an AV result based on a minority vote.”  

“I said that is was a little bit disingenuous to conflate my survey with the AV vote as his rankings of local and national interest just help me to serve my constituents better, not elect a government!”

“I've also invited him to sign up for my e-newsletter.”

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Dancing days are over for Marlborough’s British Legion as it sells off its HQ

In the doldrums due to declining membership, Marlborough’s branch of the Royal British Legion is selling  off its headquarters in St Martin’s, including the dance hall it added on to the rear of the grade II listed property.

Planning applications to revamp the former twin terrace houses on the frontage, one with an added extension, demolish the dance hall and snooker room and return the land to garden use were given consent by Marlborough town council’s planning committee on Tuesday.

But even when final formal consent comes from Wiltshire Council, it may take time before the property is sold and redeveloped, giving them -- and the site -- a potential value of up to £1 million.

“Any sale and completion is a long way off yet given that the market can go in many directions,” Julie Fellowes, of Marlborough agents Carter Jonas, told Marlborough News Online.

“There are developers out there willing to take on a big challenge, but this is a difficult job and, at the moment, it is not possible to put an overall value on the site. We shall have to wait and see how the market develops.”

The Legion, whose membership is now reduced to 60 mainly veterans of World War II, was formed in Marlborough in 1923. “We have had the premises in St Martin’s for 60 years, when we transformed two houses into our headquarters and then built the dance hall at the back in 1972,” said Legion chairman Bill Copeland.

“It is all very sad that we have had to close down after all this time, but we shall continue as a British Legion branch and now meet at the Conservative Club in the High Street.”

“What is vital is that we continue to look after the welfare of our members. That is the most important factor in our work. And that will continue.”

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Mayoral praise for all those who helped with Marlborough's Royal wedding romp

With the fun and frolics of the royal wedding receding, Marlborough’s mayor, Councillor Andrew Ross, heaped praise on the small army of town councillors and volunteers who made it a day to remember.

The party atmosphere was great and there was a real buzz about the place,” the Mayor told Marlborough News Online as the celebrations ended with a barn dance in Priory Gardens. “People seemed to know that the whole country was celebrating a royal event, one that for us had real local links with the town."

Few us ever thought that one of the students from Marlborough College might find herself marrying a royal prince, and perhaps one day take her place on the throne. But I doubt if Kate Middleton did when she was studying here in Marlborough before going to university and meeting Prince William.”

And he added: “Our events were very much a last-minute affair, led by  special committee set up by the Town Council, which has never done anything quite like this before. The result  was unbelievable because of the combined help of small band of people, who worked extremely hard."

“I want to thank everyone involved for their tremendous support and hard work in making the occasion such a success – a real day of romance, pageantry and fun to remember.”

The day began, writes Pete Davison, with life-sized effigies of Prince William and Kate Middleton greeting visitors to Marlborough Town Hall for the screening of the Royal Wedding and the start of the town's celebrations.

More than 100 members of the public chose to spend the occasion at the Town Hall – and for the town council the event marked the unveiling of its new state-of-the-art cinema screen and sound system.

Most dressed for the occasion - some ladies wore posh frocks and hats, other people were decked out in patriotic red, white and blue. There was much coo-ing at Kate's Sarah Burton dress and a few tears during the vows.

Like any wedding, there were pre-event nerves and a few hiccups – as guests started to arrive at Westminster Abbey, Marlborough's television reception decided to intermittently cut out.

Thankfully, by the time Kate was escorted through the Abbey door by her father, uninterrupted coverage had been resumed.

In town, those traders who had opened were reporting a sluggish trade, but many were doing what they could do entice shoppers through the doors.

In the afternoon, the attention turned to the Priory Gardens where a party was held for the town's children in a giant marquee, with a show by entertainer Roy's Magic.

More than 120 children soon arrived for a bonanza tea party, scoffing  Greggs sausage rolls, Tesco provided sandwiches and Waitrose cakes.

They proved more than anything that they had energy galore to go on a royal rampage as they enjoyed jumping down a huge helter skelter and were on their bottoms in a blown-up Bouncy Castle. And volunteer sixth form students from St John’s School helped to make the afternoon a hit. 

The same energy was evident in the evening as more than 100 people took part in a royal barn dance after consuming beef burger rolls and queuing for much in demand hog roast baps at a barbecue.

The delicious hog, which had been provided by the Austrian Count Konrad de Goethe, proprietor of Temple Farm, near Rockley, had been slowly roasted all afternoon in preparation for them.

Even the Mayor helped out behind the bar during the royal day. The last two barrels of Ramsbury brewed Will I Do beer were consumed, together with fizzy celebratory wine.

“I didn’t get home until well after midnight – and totally exhausted,” the Mayor revealed.

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A debate in the bar: Newsnight visits Marlborough

Main Pic:  L to R - Duncan Hames (LibDem, Chippenham)Claire Perry (Con, Devizes) Michael Crick (BBC Newsnight)

There was a BBC satellite uplink van parked outside the Wellington Arms in the High Street on Tuesday evening.  The pub was hosting a live section of BBC2’s Newsnight programme for a debate about the referendum on whether  voting in general elections should change from ‘first past the post’ to the ‘alternative vote’ or AV system.

The programme’s political editor, Michael Crick, presented a report and a live interview with Claire Perry (Conservative MP for Devizes – against AV) and Duncan Hames (LibDem MP for Chippenham (in favour of AV.)

Newsnight chose these Wiltshire constituency MPs because uniquely in Britain the county’s electors will be going to the polls solely to vote in the referendum.  In other parts of the country there are local government and regional assembly elections on the same day.

This means the turnout in Wiltshire on 5 May will be a clear barometer of interest in the decision on the voting system.

Earlier in the day Crick and his team had tested public opinion in Marlborough at the golf club, a pottery class in Wagon Yard and in the High Street.

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Legal clash puts Marlborough College bid for Ivy House Hotel into limbo

 The future of Marlborough’s grade two listed Ivy House Hotel is in limbo following a clash of views between Wiltshire Council’s top officers over whether it should become a boarding house for girls from nearby Marlborough College.

The result of a planning application by the College for change of use of the 28-bed High Street hotel, one of only three in the town, was to have been decided by the council’s Regulatory Committee last week.

The final decision had been adjourned in February to allow its economic impact assessment officer, Peter Wheelhouse, to prepare a report following protests by Marlborough’s jazz and literary festival organisations that it would be a disaster for the vitality of the town to lose essential tourist accommodation.

His report recommended the rejection of the planning application for the Georgian property to house 50 girl students from the College, in direct contradiction to the recommendation of planning officer Mike Wilmot to give the hostel project the go ahead.

The committee had agreed to seek an economic impact assessment following representations from Marlborough Chamber of Commerce and the North Wilts Economic Partnership.

But when the committee met in Devizes last Thursday committee chairman, Councillor Charles Howard, revealed that the application had been taken off the agenda on the advice of the council’s legal department and was now “in abeyance”.

Jazz festival founder Nick Fogg, a Marlborough town councillor and also a member of Wiltshire Council, had led the protests against the conversion, was present at the meeting.

“The planning application is in limbo for the moment, kicked into the long grass with little chance of its revival,” he told Marlborough News Online. “I suppose the College could take some form of legal action or go through the whole process again with a different planning officer involved. We shall have to wait and see.”

He revealed: “I talked to the committee chairman after the meeting and it appears that what has happened has put the application legally out of order. The council’s legal department has said that this is because there is a direct conflict of interest between the views of the two council officers involved.

“The chairman has asked Mr Wilmot to try to resolve the issue between himself and Mr Wheelhouse, but this can’t be done unless one of them backs down and suffers some humiliation to their professional status.”

And he added: “One of the difficulties is that Mr Wilmot is said to have passed on to the College the contents of the economic impact assessment report in advance of the meeting and allowed the College to put in an addendum to their application.”

At the previous hearing, Peter Bryan, director of corporate resources and deputy master at the College, had pointed out that Ivy House started life as a school. He said the purchase of the hotel was part of a plan to increase the size of the College, which would help the vitality of Marlborough.

Following last week’s meeting, Mr Bryan told Marlborough News Online:  “Clearly Marlborough College will need to consider its position and take advice before deciding upon what to do next.”

Mr Howard later told Marlborough News Online:
"Would you please note that the application to the Eastern Area planning committee has been deferred for consideration at a later date. The announcement that I made to the committee, as chairman, and word for word, was as follows:
 As many of you already know, item one on the list of applications has been deferred for consideration at a later date. This is following legal advice about some of the material in the report prepared by the council's economic development team.”

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Double joy for steam fans

Steam buffs gathered along the Bristol to London Paddington rail line on Easter Sunday to watch a former Great Western Railway express locomotive pass through the Marlborough area.

The Great Britain IV was pulled by various locomotives through Scotland, Wales and the west country as part of a nine-day tour of the UK.

It's final leg, from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington, saw it pulled by the 5029 Nunney Castle.

The Nunney Castle has a strong local heritage. It was built at the Swindon Works in 1934. When it retired from service in 1964 it became the last last steam loco delivered to Barry Scrapyard by rail. It was rescued in 1976 by the Great Western Society at Didcot.

It passed through the Marlborough area at lunchtime on Sunday, and was captured by our photographer at a local steam landmark – Crofton Beam Engines – which were pumping for the first time this year.

The beam engines, one of which is the oldest working beam engine in the world, will be in steam this coming weekend – April 30 to May 2 – too.

Both the 1812 Boulton and Watt and the 1846 Harvey engine are in working condition, and are steamed publicly on several weekends through the summer months from a coal-fired Lancashire boiler.

When the pumping station is in steam, it actually carries out the job for which it was built. The electrically powered pumps that now normally do the job are switched off.

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I knew American victims of bin Laden atrocities reveals Tory MP Claire Perry

Claire Perry, Tory MP for Devizes, has revealed her own personal link with victims of the terrorist attacks organised by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who has been shot dead in Pakistan.

She knew victims of the 9/11 disaster in New York, where she worked as a banker, and has written letters of condolence to the families of British soldiers who lost their lives fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“The death of bin Laden brings an enormous sense of relief for me,” she told Marlborough News Online. “Having lived in New York for so long, I knew many people who lost their lives in the 9/11 atrocity."  

“Since becoming an MP, and with over 10,000 soldiers living in my constituency, I have had to write several letters of condolence  to local families of those who have lost loved ones, or seen then returned badly hurt from the war on terror."

"Today's news shows that their sacrifices have not been in vain.   However, I am concerned that there will be reprisals as a result of this action and note that even at Ground Zero in New York City, police and civilians are warned to be on their highest alert today.”

Bin Laden was shot dead by American special forces in Pakistan on Sunday after its intelligence operation had spent two years tracking him down to a new hideaway.

Prime minister David Cameron has urged that Britain must remain vigilant against potential reprisals and has asked British embassies to review their security measures while the formal threat level in the UK remains unchanged.

Meanwhile, Wikileaks has alleged that Pakistani security forces helped bin Laden evade American troops for almost a decade, according to secret US government files. The leak of information follows the diplomatic furore caused by David Cameron last year when he told Pakistan that it could not “look both ways” on terrorism.

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Come and join in the fun for the royal romance says Marlborough's mayor

Come and enjoy yourself. That was the message put out today by Marlborough’s mayor, Councillor Andrew Ross, in a bid to boost the sale of tickets for the town council’s royal wedding celebrations.

So far 123 children are planning to attend the kid’s tea party in Priory Gardens on Friday afternoon and just 60 people have booked for the evening barbecue and barn dance at the same venue.

The town council has under-written the cost of the events but hoped that support for the celebrations would make them at least self-supporting, if not provide a small profit.

“This is a great day for Marlborough and now is the last time to buy tickets for these two events,” the mayor told Marlborough News Online.

“Do come along and celebrate a truly royal romance that has direct links with Marlborough, where Kate Middleton was a student at Marlborough College. You won’t be disappointed, no matter the weather.

The wedding will be shown on a big screen in the Assembly Room at Marlborough Town Hall from 10am to 1pm. Visitors will be able to purchase a glass of sparkling wine to toast the royal couple.

The children's tea party takes place from 2pm to 4pm in Priory Gardens. 

The Royal Wedding Barn Dance takes place from 6.30pm to 11pm in Priory Gardens, with entertainment from the Marlborough Ceilidh Band. 

Tickets are available at the Town Council offices in the High Street, the White Horse Bookshop and Sound Knowledge.

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Marlborough’s new petrol station is delayed but is still on its way

That new garage for Marlborough is on its way – but it is going to take longer than expected to arrive at the Business Park because of planning changes and delays.

The Fraser Garage Group, which has won the UK title of Forecourt Trader of the Year three times and been highly commended too, now hopes its pumps will be busy in the new year.

“We believe we can provide a fantastic service for the people of Marlborough and are looking forward to opening there,” Mark Wilson, the group operations manager of the family business, told Marlborough News Online.

“We have built our reputation in providing the best offer prices possible with the best customer service possible. We have not yet decided on our shop partner, but it is almost certain that the fuel brand will be BP or Esso.”

The company, launched more than half a century ago, already operates six garages, including one in Calne, Wiltshire. It first made a bid a decade ago to buy out Deans, Marlborough’s current sole petrol supplier, but has been consistently unsuccessful in taking it over.

“Many years ago I used to work for an oil company and Marlborough was part of my patch,” Mr Wilson recalled. “And I remember at least three petrol stations in the town. There used to be one where Majestic Wines are and another on the Vauxhall dealership, in George Lane."

“But the industry has been decimated in the last 10 years with the number of sites being reduced from 15,000 to 8,800 – and still dropping each year now. So a new industry site is a rare thing.”

The delays are partly due to changes in the size and design of the new petrol station, which will provide state of the art car wash facilities, jet and car vacuum services, and a slightly larger shop than the one originally proposed, which aims to compete with the new Tesco supermarket in the Salisbury Road Business Park.

“The whole planning process has taken longer than anticipated, which may have a knock on effect to when we open the site,” he explained. “It was all arranged for us to start building in the summer. Now we hope it will be before the end of the year.”

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EXCLUSIVE: The new NHS goes for bigger – will it be better?

The first details of how the proposed major – and highly controversial – changes to the NHS planned by the coalition government will affect this area have been revealed to Marlborough News Online in an exclusive interview with Dr Jonathan Glover of the Marlborough Medical Practice.

He says doctors in our region are being encouraged to set up a consortium covering most of East Kennet and North Wiltshire – on a ‘bigger the better’ basis. It will have a budget from NHS headquarters to commission hospital services and other treatments for at least 180,000 people.

The Wiltshire Primary Care Trust (PCT) which it is partly replacing, covers about 455,000 people.

This is despite the clear aim in the government’s health White Paper to bring the NHS closer to patients with “local consortia”. The slogan was to ensure the reorganisation put “patients at the heart of the NHS.”

Dr Glover is somewhat disappointed the consortium will be so large.

Dr Glover said his colleagues were told they had to go along with the plans to become commissioners for the NHS. These are not yet law, but they are continuing their planning even though the Bill’s progress through parliament was ‘paused’ by the prime minister so doubts can be heard.

No one knows if after this ‘pause’ major changes will be made to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s scheme. But Dr Glover expects people other than GPs to be drafted onto the consortia - councillors, other health care professionals or patients.

As yet there’s no mechanism for GPs to consult patients on the changes which include greater access to NHS funds by private companies. The fear expressed by many health professionals and politicians is that this is backdoor privatisation of the NHS.

In Dr Glover’s view this part of Lansley’s plan “needs reining in a little bit.”

Dr Glover also revealed that part of the costs of setting up the consortium will be met by a payment from central funds of £2 per patient. In addition some savings GPs are currently being required to make will pay for start-up admin costs.

Before the consortia take over the budgets from PCTs (scheduled for April 2013) they will have to have staff in place and find a headquarters. Some staff will come from GPs and their existing support staff, others will come from the PCTs.

On Savernake Hospital, Dr Glover confirms that no one knows yet what its future will be, but he and his practice colleagues want to see greater use made of it. He adds: “I don’t think we’re going to be given the free rein to run Savernake.”

Read the full interview with Dr Glover in Marlborough News Online – Features.

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No fuss, no fanfares as the million pound Pewsey Road bridge opens at last

No fanfares, no flags, no fun, no welcoming speeches of delight.

Marlborough’s new million pound Pewsey Road bridge, the bane of business and residents’ lives since May last year when traffic chaos hit the town, finally opened yesterday (Thursday) lunchtime.

More than 100 traders were emailed by the Chamber of Commerce and invited to be there at 8am when a BBC radio team was due to be present to record the occasion – and people’s reactions to a controversial scheme shopkeepers claimed to cost at least £200,000 a week.

Nick Fogg, former Marlborough mayor and a member of Wiltshire Council, which paid for the project, was there to welcome cars cross the River Kennet two-way once again and give it his local government blessing.

But he was politely told that the opening had been delayed – until 6pm.

Yet, when a reporter and photographer from Marlborough News Online returned 10 hours later, they again found the bridge deserted – because it had already quietly opened at lunch time  and traffic was running smoothly.

Perhaps Wiltshire didn’t want to make a fuss given all the ill-will the replacement project created.  It was carried out by contractors Osborne after the old bridge, built circa 1925, had been assessed as sub-standard because the steel reinforcement within its concrete frame had rusted badly.

Traders declared that the economic impact of the road’s closure had never been considered by Wiltshire Council, which said they could claim a reduction in their business rates, a fact that proved untrue.

And nobody had the nerve to challenge the council in court with a claim for compensation.

But, as Mr Fogg declared: “The council’s down in Trowbridge and to them this is some insignificant bridge in an obscure part of the county – and it’s been a bit of an embarrassment to them.

“They obviously didn’t want any more publicity. For them, it’s been something of a bridge too far.”

Meanwhile, we can reveal that this is not the first time that the Pewsey Road bridge has been the centre of..........

Dr Peter Davison, the celebrated George Orwell guru who lives in Marlborough, tells us:

“After almost a year of diversions, disturbance, and loss of trade to Marlborough, it looks as if Pewsey Road bridge is almost finished – at heaven knows what cost".

“It so happens that I am at this time reading Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, published last year.  His first chapter starts with an interesting story that makes a striking comparison with the bridge saga.  ‘In the autumn of 1850, in Hyde Park in London, there arose a most extraordinary structure’.  It covered nineteen acres and had ‘enough room for four St Paul’s Cathedrals’ and there was an avenue of full-grown elms within it".  

“At the time it was the biggest building on earth, so a mite larger and more imposing than Pewsey Road Bridge.  This was the Palace of the Great Exhibition, opened in 1851.  It was 1,851 feet in length, so celebarating the year of the opening of the Exhibition, 408 feet across and some 110 feet in height".

“It required nearly 300,000 panes of glass and its final cost was £80,000 – something like £4,500,000 in today’s inflated currency.  Punch dubbed it ‘The Crystal Palace’ and the name stuck".

“The exhibition ran for only six months and then the whole structure was taken down and rebuilt in a different configuration in south London, near Penge.  I am old enough to have seen it burn down in 1936 but, of course, the name given it by Punch has survived for that part of London and a football team.”

Dr Davison adds: “I don’t know what will be the cost of Pewsey Road bridge but at least in one important respect, in addition to its size and magnificence, the Crystal Palace can beat the building of the new bridge hands down".

“According to Mr Bryson, ‘It had taken just five months to build’”.

Wiltshire Council has never revealed in any of its progress and press reports on the bridge project actually how much it is costing – and whether delays have caused any additional fees.

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