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News

Police appeal for witnesses of Chiseldon gun raid on newsagents

An appeal for witnesses and information following a robbery at Chaplin’s newsagents in Chiseldon this morning (Monday) has been issued by Wiltshire Police.

At approximately 6.30am, two men entered the premises, threatened a member of staff with what was believed to be a handgun, and stole cigarettes and a small sum of money.

The suspects are described as white and aged in their 20s. One was approximately 5ft 9ins tall.

Acting Detective Sergeant Jo Northway told Marlborough News Online: “Fortunately no-one was hurt during this incident, nevertheless robbery is an extremely serious offence and the member of staff involved is understandably very distressed.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to appeal for help from the public. In particular, I am keen to speak to anyone who was in the area at the time and may have seen any vehicles or heard someone acting suspiciously.”

“I would also like to speak to anyone who has information on those involved.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact officer Jo Northway at Gablecross Police Station on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 where information may be left anonymously if preferred.

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St John’s appeals for £350,000 to give Marlborough its own Olympic legacy

 Olympics year is being targeted by St John’s School, Marlborough, to raise the final £350,000 needed to pay for the finest sports facilities for its students – and the local community – on its hilltop site.

The introduction of tennis and netball courts plus an artificial all-weather pitch are the heart of a fund-raising campaign aimed at completing the £27 million project launched a decade ago to create the unique secondary school.

“I never want to miss a single opportunity,” declared headmaster Dr Patrick Hazlewood.  “And with the Olympic torch passing through Marlborough in May, we will be looking to create some quite creative ideas to maximise fund-raising in Olympics year.”

“It provides the opportunities we need if we are to have a legacy for sport in this country and do something to raise the quality of the facilities available.  And St John’s wants to play its part in that.”

He pointed out: “At the moment our students miss out hugely by not having the finest sports facilities available.  The weather at the moment produces cold, rainy, wet and damp pitches that impedes our sport.”

“Without proper facilities it does restrict what we can achieve.  With the proper facilities, we can achieve anything we desire.”

The original St John’s plan was for a new school costing £22 million, paid for by the sell-off of land for housing.  But planning difficulties raised by the then Kennet District Council twice delayed its start until 2008, the time lag increasing the project costs to £27 million.

All but a million of that was raised but the shortfall meant delaying the new sports facilities costing £750,000.  An initial £300,000 was then donated, leaving a Phase II appeal to raise the remainder.

And in recent months almost £30,000 has been added to give an encouraging boost to the campaign.

“The reaction of local companies in these difficult times is very positive,” revealed Dr Hazlewood.  “In the run up to Christmas we had a couple of £5,000 donations, which was absolutely fantastic.”

“Our parents, local businesses, local charities and local groups have been phenomenally supportive of the school.  In our atrium area we have a ‘thank you board’ with something like 200 sets of names on it of people who have given very, very generously.”

“Our very active Friends of St John’s, an organisation a bit like a PTA, are an amazing group of people who put on big events, raise lots of money and put themselves out to ensure that our children get the sort of facilities they deserve.”

“More importantly, these facilities are not simply just for the children.  They are for the community to use as well.  What we have here is a community that sees that the entire community benefits.”

That includes the current use of St John’s sports hall, dance and drama facilities, conference room and its acclaimed Theatre on the Hill.

Planning permissions for the new facilities will be sought within six weeks with a target completion in June.  “And so I am hoping that by December we will have our planning permissions, raised the money and finally got everything sorted out,” said Dr Hazlewood.

To make donations and/or make offers of contact Kate Hunter, the school’s development officer, on 01672 519575 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Nineteen pence a month precept increase goes ahead for Marlborough residents

 Nineteen pence a month.  That is the increase residents of Marlborough face from an increase in the town council’s precept following the council’s annual budget making meeting last night.

The council approved a total budget of £406,980 for the coming financial year, which includes the proposed £65,000 cost of its controversial town hall improvements project, due now to be debated at a public meeting on March 26.

Details of the council’s public consultation exercise will by then have been transcribed on to a spread sheet, along with the comments of residents on the scheme, which could cost £1 million if paid for by way of a Public Works Loan Board funding.

But, as the Mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson (pictured), told protestors who packed the council chamber: “The consultation is not a plebiscite on what people want or do not want.”

But he gave an assurance that the council would take into consideration the fact that there might be a small minority who favoured the project or a large majority against it.

And he said that despite a petition presented at the council meeting by Ian Philpott signed by 1006 residents of the Manton area opposed to what he described as “non-essential” town hall improvements.  Mr Philpott , who is the lead administrator in Marlborough for the Devizes Conservative Association, attended the meeting as a local resident.

But the expected explosive debate on the town hall failed to materialise.  The Conservative councillors who have signalled their opposition to it instead changed tactics and called for £10,000 to be put into the budget as an initial payment for a CCTV installation to cut crime in the town.

Councillor Stewart Dobson, their leader, suggested cuts in committee budgets already agreed to pay for this, but the reductions were rejected as unattainable by finance committee chairman Councillor Andrew Ross.

He pointed out too that the budget had no specific funding commitment for either the introduction of CCTV or a new Tourist Information Centre. The budget had also set aside only £6,000 for a Kennet Place flood alleviation scheme due to go ahead this year.

But there is always a possibility that these initiatives might be funded out of the council’s reserves.

Derek Wolfe, Marlborough’s new acting town clerk, told the meeting that when CCTV was introduced into Keynsham whilst he was town clerk there, it had taken more than a year to finalise the scheme.  Putting £10,000 into the budget would not necessarily be required now.

The CCTV proposal was defeated by 11 votes to four.

Councillor Ross told the council that Marlborough’s precept accounted for only seven per cent of local taxation.  The 19 pence a month rise for a Band D householder was equivalent to just 1.93 per cent.

Town and parish councils, he pointed out, did not receive the two and a half percent grant increase available to local authorities and warned that the council had to be aware of rising inflation and cost creep.

He was insistent that the future of the town hall was not a liability for the town council but a basic responsibility, and added: “The campaign against the project has been fuelled by misinformation and misunderstanding.”

He referred to a meeting with two women opposed to the improvement project who, when they talked, showed that they had no understanding of the financial implications involved “and the financial savings that the scheme attracts.”

A separate report will follow on the CCTV debate.

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Christmas drink drive campaign reveals one per cent increase in offenders

Drivers testing positive for drink or drugs increased by one per cent on last year during the Christmas drink drive campaign carried out across the count by Wiltshire Police.

And too many of them were found to have “consciously” decided to take a gamble by driving while they were probably unfit.

Of a total of 2,760 drivers who were breath tested, 85 either tested positive or refused or failed to provide a sample of breath, some three per cent of the total.

Some 541 of the tests were conducted following road traffic collisions and of those, 25 either tested positive or refused or failed to provide a sample of breath, equivalent to four per cent.

Tests carried out on drivers under 25 totalled 618, of which 26 either tested positive or refused or failed to provide a sample of breath.

Officers also arrested 10 people on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs.  Six of these arrests were made following road traffic collisions.

Steve Cox, Inspector of for Roads Policing and the Serious Collision Investigation Team, told Marlborough News Online:

“This year’s figures show a one per cent increase in the number of those testing positive or failing to provide a sample of breath compared to last year.”

“Drink or drug driving and the possible consequences that can result have a devastating effect not just on individuals but on families, friends and entire communities.”

And he added: “Despite this, there are still those who consciously decide to take a risk and that is unacceptable.”

 “People can be assured that we will always take action against those who choose to take this risk and officers continue to test people every day of every week, not just at Christmas.”

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Popular village pub closes

Popular village pub The Three Tuns at Great Bedwyn called last orders for the final time on New Year's Eve, despite a campaign to save it.

Residents were shocked an dismayed when, it September, owners Jason and Amanda Gard announced their intention to seek to decommission the pub and convert it to residential use.

In a statement, the couple said: “We accept that this is a real blow to those who use the pub regularly and those who have been great supporters.

“The simple facts are that that pubs are finding it extremely difficult to survive. Thousands are closing all around the country as recession bites.

“The smoking ban, drink-driving, cheap supermarket booze all contribute to the reasons why less people are going to pubs but the overriding reason is that, in this economic climate, people just do not have the spare cash to spend it going out.

“We have put tens and tens of thousands of pounds every year for the last four years into keeping The Three Tuns afloat – we simply cannot continue to do so.

“We have tried to sell it as a pub but again nobody is buying them and at the present time the banks will not lend against pubs. People will fund loss making businesses for a while but, depressingly, the prospects look worse and not better for the next few years.”

The pub, which has been selling beer to thirsty residents since 1756 and was named by the Daily Telegraph as “One of Britain's best pubs”, remained open until New Year's Eve and closed as the last revellers left in the early hours of New Year's Day.

A campaign to stop conversion at GoPetition, started in November, attracted 207 signatures.

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An optimist who wants to help seeks to become Marlborough’s town clerk


 

An optimist who wants to improve Marlborough for its residents – that’s the description Derek Wolfe (pictured), the would-be new town clerk, gives himself.

He takes over as acting town clerk when Liam Costello leaves on Friday, a locum post that lasts for nine weeks until a new town clerk is chosen from nine candidates by the town council’s staff committee.

And 57-year-old Mr Wolfe, who has had prodigious experience in local government for 35 years, will be one of those seeking to become the permanent holder of the office.

“There will be five or six others involved, so my chances are only 20 per cent,” he told Marlborough News Online.  “You will have to wait to see what happens.”

“But I am definitely on the hopeful side for the future.  I am an optimist.  And at the end of the day I can only really work effectively somewhere where I believe those around me want improvements and future enhancement for the good of the local people.”

London born and educated, Mr Wolfe began his local government career with the London borough of Harrow in 1974 and subsequently worked for other London boroughs, notably Brent, Hammersmith & Fulham and the City of London Corporation.

His first appointment as town clerk was in Keynsham, Somerset, in 1994 and since then has served as town clerk for several town councils, ranging from Helston, in Cornwall, to Barry, in South Wales.

“I regard myself as semi-retired now,” explained Mr Wolfe, who lives in Axminster with his wife, and one of two step-children.  “But I would be very happy to get back into the fray just to stop brain rot setting in, basically, whether that is for the short term or some longer appointment.”

He heard of Marlborough’s search for a locum town clerk to fill Mr Costello’s shoes initially through his association with the Society of Local Council Clerks and having visited Marlborough in the past decided to apply for the permanent post too.

And he is fully aware of the cost-cutting and reduced services pressures under which local government is currently working. “Mainsteam local government has been badly hit,” he said.

“But the one big difference with town and parish councils is that they are not subject to rate-capping or expenditure restrictions by government.”

“In theory, town councils can precept and spend what they believe is best for the community.  If they can show they are acting responsibly and using the money for a good beneficial purpose it gives them a certain freedom that doesn’t exist for other tiers of local government.”

Mr Wolfe’s experience in handling budgets worth tens of millions to others as low as £80,000 will enable him to assess local needs.

“Here in Marlborough the town council does all manner of things for the benefit of the local population and, obviously, its annual expenditure of £400,000 is commensurate with that,” he added.

“So I am happy to come here and help in whatever way possible.”

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Fears allayed over “daily surge” in domestic burglaries in Marlborough

Police have revealed that the Marlborough is not suffering from an outbreak of domestic burglary and remains one of the safest towns in the country.

A claim that the introduction of a CCTV system was urgently needed because “we are being burgled on a daily basis in the town” came from Councillor Noel Barrett-Morton at Monday’s Marlborough town council meeting.

His appeal for action came during a debate calling for £10,000 to be added to next year’s budget and followed his plea during his successful by-election campaign last October that a CCTV system was vital.

And it received full backing from his Conservative colleagues on Monday when their plea for immediate funding was rejected.

However, Police Sergeant Vince Logue told Marlborough News Online that there had been only one domestic burglary in recent weeks, although rural farms and gardens had suffered from a series of thefts in the months leading up to Christmas when tools, machinery and quad bikes had been stolen. 

“There has been no surge in burglaries of domestic properties,” he said. “Crime in Marlborough is at a very low level.  The town has been described by the Chief Constable as one of the safest in Britain.”  Ironically, since last Monday's council meeting and the initial publication of this story there have been two separate domestic burglaries reported in the Barton Park area.

“The trouble is that when we do get a domestic burglary people do become agitated.  That is very understandable but it is not a cause for alarm.  There is no serious outbreak of crime.”

Councillor Barrett-Morton told Marlborough News Online: “The purpose of my comments was to persuade council to include a sum of money in next year's precept in order that we can consider introducing a suitable CCTV system in Marlborough in the forthcoming year.”

“The majority of Councillors are in favour of getting a system in place quickly.  At the regular Crime and Disorder item on council agendas, police officers attending have on occasion given details of crimes committed in the High Street and their belief that the presence of CCTV cameras would assist in either discouraging criminals from carrying out the crime in the first place, or assist in apprehending those responsible.”

“Of course details of such crimes would have to be obtained through normal police channels.  At the meeting, it was stated that the sub committee of Councillors Hannaford-Dobson, Dow and Dobson would continue to investigate details of possible schemes to enable full council at a later date to consider a financial contribution to a CCTV scheme in Marlborough.”

“I look forward to contributing to their research which will, hopefully, culminate in the installation of a suitable system.”

Marlborough police officers are to attend a special meeting of Marlborough Chamber of Commerce’s executive to discuss the installation of a CCTV system, to which a funding contribution could be voted from the town council’s reserves.

But the council still awaits a detailed report from its sub-committee investigating a CCTV installation, possibly controlled from the town hall itself.

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Pick up your tickets now for guru Neil Macdonald’s second Apple workshop

 Marlborough’s Apple Day organisers are putting on another Apple Workshop event in response to enthusiastic feedback from experienced and novice gardeners who attended one last year.

Apple guru Neil Macdonald has agreed to tutor another fruit-filled day of learning and fun in Marlborough on Saturday, January 21.

His workshop will cover choosing apple varieties and rootstocks for small gardens, planting fruit trees, after-care and pruning, including how to train espalier, fan and cordon trees.  

Illustrated talks will be followed by discussions and advice, question and answer sessions, hands-on demonstrations and the chance to put what you have learned into practice.  

The morning’s programme will take place in Wesley Hall, Oxford Street. After a buffet lunch, the class will move outdoors, first to winter-prune young apple trees newly planted in town, then to tackle mature trees in need of some rejuvenation in the Master’s orchard in the grounds of  Marlborough College.

And the day will end with tea in the Master’s Lodge.    

 The workshop begins at 10.00 am and runs until 4.00 pm. Tickets cost just £25 per person. Early booking is advised. Call Philippa on 01672 512 949 or Kate on 01672 514497.

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Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson heads this year’s Marlborough litfest stars

 

Two star performers – Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson and novelist/playwright Michael Frayn – have already been signed up for the third Marlborough Literary Festival, which is due in September.

And there will be more big names to be announced soon, says Mavis Cheek, the author from Aldbourne whose determination created the festival, now going from strength to strength.

This year’s festival takes place on the weekend of 28 to 30 September and, announces a litfest leaflet: “The range of writers, subjects and events continues to be of the highest quality. In 2012 our festival will concentrate on fiction – with a few little interesting asides on the way.”

Howard Jacobson heads the list so far. He won the Man Booker in 2010 for The Finkler Question, the first comic novel to scoop the prize since Kingsley Amis won it in 1986 for The Old Devils.

He has a new novel due out from Bloomsbury in the autumn called Zoo Time, which is set in doomed literary London and stars a downtrodden protagonist with a red-haired, highly strung wife plus a troubling mother-in-law too.

Former journalist Michael Frayn, whose much celebrated play Noises Off is currently running at the Old Vic in London, is one of only a handful of writers who have hit success writing both novels and plays.

He is a remarkable hard worker, who has created no fewer than 10 novels, 14 plays, seven translations, three films, as well as a clutch of TV documentaries and an opera libretto, which have won him international acclaim.

Also signed up for September is Aminatta Forna, born in Glasgow and raised in Sierra Leone and the UK, who is the award-winning author of The Memory of Love, Ancestor Stones and The Devil that Danced on the Water.

Her latest novel The Memory of Love, is a story about friendship, war and obsessive love. It has been selected as one of the Best Books of the Year by the Sunday Telegraph, Financial Times and Times.

The Devil that Danced on the Water, a memoir of her dissident father and of Sierra Leone, was runner up for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003, chosen for the Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers series and serialised on BBC Radio and in The Sunday Times newspaper.

And another name just announced is classic crime writer Nicola Upson, who has also worked as a journalist – she was the New Statesman’s crime reviewer - and in the theatre.

“There are many more to come, plus writing workshops, a poetry café and children’s events,” adds the litfest.

Brewin Dolphin are the festival’s lead sponsor.

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Ideas wanted for Friends of the Railway Path open meeting

The Friends of the Railway Path are holding an open meeting on January 25 to help firm up on plans for developing the Railway Path between Coate Water and Marlborough.  

Ideas and suggestions regarding the potential of the path will be invited from walkers, cyclists, horse riders and others at the meeting.

It aims to identify priorities for what the Friends we should aim to do and what to raise funds for, and it discuss the best ways to involve the community in helping to make it happen

“The meeting is open to all,” says chairman Dick Millard.  Everyone is welcome to come along and help us develop our vision for the future of the path.”

The meeting takes place between 7 and 9pm on Wednesday, January 25 at Calley Memorial Hall, Draycott Road, Chiseldon, SN4 0LS.

www.friendsofthepath.org.uk/index.htm

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Wiltshire’s full time workers suffer the south-west’s worst drop in living standards

For the past three months Marlborough News Online has been reporting the worsening unemployment figures for the Devizes constituency.  Now the GMB union has used official earnings figures to show how those in full time work across the whole of Wiltshire have been hit by falling living standards since April 2007.

The GMB’s analysis used earnings and inflation figures from before the banking crisis and the recession, into the first year of coalition government’s cuts programme right up to September 2011.  This showed that in Wiltshire the real value of earnings has fallen over the period by 14.3 per cent.

The equivalent figure for the whole of the south west area was a drop of eight per cent. And across The United Kingdom the fall was 5.9 per cent.

These percentages are reached by measuring the increase (or in some cases, the decrease) in each area’s mean gross annual pay levels between April 2007 and September 2011 and then seeing how far that increase was eroded by inflation.

In 2007 Wiltshire had the second highest mean gross annual pay level of the fifteen areas in the south west - £30,789.  By 2011 Wiltshire was sixth in the list with £31,102.

The difficulties in recent years experienced by workers at the Honda plant in Swindon are not to blame for Wiltshire’s poor figures.  Swindon was measured separately and showed a drop in the real value of earnings of just 1.1 per cent.

In two areas of the south west the GMB’s research showed up unusually stark results: in Cornwall the mean gross annual full time pay rose from £23,533 to £28,831 and saw a drop in real value of 8.8 per cent.

The lowest mean gross annual full time pay in the survey’s fifteen areas in the south west was Torbay: £21,969 in 2007, but up to £25,562 in 2011.  This gave Torbay the only rise in the real value of earnings over the period – a rise of 1.1 per cent.

The GMB’s Regional Secretary for the south west, Richard Ascough, said the government’s strategy for an economic revival was “in tatters”:  “Two thirds of the economy is consumer driven and [Chancellor of the Exchequer] Osborne must be the only person who does not get it. Squeezing wages, pay freezes and cutting jobs will not restart the economy.”

“Using the International Monetary Fund measures, his cuts will reduce real private consumption by 4 per cent and GDP by 3.4 per cent over the next few years.”

Wiltshire was fifteenth in the GMB’s table of the United Kingdom’s worst affected areas.  Hardest hit of all were the full time workers in Fulham and Hammersmith – the real value of their ages has dropped by a staggering 28.6 per cent. 

Next hardest hit was another rural county, Herefordshire. There the drop in the value of full time earnings was 22.7 per cent.  Among the fifteen worst hit areas across the nation, twelve showed decreases in mean annual pay between 2007 and 2011 – even before inflation had taken its toll on the value of that pay.

Responding to these new figures, Claire Perry, MP for the Devizes constituency, told Marlborough News Online: “I don’t recognise these figures at all and they totally fail to take into account the historically low interest rates the government’s economic policies have delivered that benefit every mortgage holder in Wiltshire, as well as the benefit of the council tax freeze, and the relief on fuel duty that benefited everyone filling up their cars.”

“Everyone knows we have to deal with the debts of the last government and get the economy growing again by helping businesses. It’s time the unions dragged themselves out of the past and dealt with the realities of today.”
 

[NOTE: the published (Office for National Statistics) figures for earnings ran from April 2007 to April 2011 and the GMB analysts uprated those earnings figures to take account of wage rises to September 2011.]
 

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