Who pays the £1.1 million annual cost of the private finance initiative (PFI) cost of Marlborough’s revamped Savernake Hospital is still yet to be decided by the coalition government.
That leaves the final fate of the hospital, which has served the Marlborough community since 1866, in limbo but nevertheless with little danger that it will disappear in the near future.
Yet serious problems remain as the government grapples with its controversial NHS reform legislation still to come into operation, which is aimed at putting GP consortiums in control of massive health expenditure.
That was the indecisive message that came out of a high level meeting at the Department of Health, in Whitehall, on Friday. It was set up by local Tory MP Claire Perry and attended by Savernake activist Val Compton, who fought – and lost – a High Court battle over Savernake continuing to operate as a minor injuries centre.
“We didn’t get real answers because there aren’t any available yet, and I came away from the meeting without any clear idea of a timescale of what happens in the future,” Mrs Compton told Marlborough News Online. “This is very much work in progress.”
“I don’t envisage closure of Savernake Hospital – I could never envisage that -- as it’s the stuff that nightmares are made of. I certainly didn’t get the impression there is any dawdling going on, more that there is an overwhelming amount of work for the department to get through.”
“However, somewhere along the line, the money will have to be found for PFI repayments for Savernake and many other much bigger projects. That’s the worry, but one which Claire Perry is far closer to and fully understands.”
The 45-minute meeting – PFI repayment was the sole subject on the agenda -- was with a team headed by Health Minister Simon Burns alongside representatives of relevant Department of Health and agency officials plus Jeff James, chief executive of NHS Wiltshire.
Claire Perry questioned the possibilities of re-negotiating the Savernake’s PFI contract in order to reduce repayment levels, the current cost being an annual £1.1 million on a 30-year contract, which has another 24 years to run.
The total figure in the end, though it has not been confirmed, could be £68 million.
Jeff James revealed that the repayment figure is £700,000 more per annum than the comparable operating cost of other hospitals.
He gave an assurance that services at Savernake were constantly under review, pointing out a scenario whereby some GPs may wish to expand specific medical services provided within their own practices, rather than clustering a service into a local community hospital like Savernake.
But the future is dependent on the new clinical commission groups covering the Marlborough area, which is working alongside Wiltshire PCT until the projected GP takeover in 2013.
Claire Perry continually quizzed the team on potential alternative solutions and creative ways of tackling the problem.
“She left no stone unturned, and I am convinced we did well in putting over our case at government level,” said Mrs Compton, whose fight for Savernake was mentioned in last week’s Commons debate on the future of the NHS.
“The answer is clearly that at the moment nothing has been decided and we are in a state of limbo.”
“The minister commented that PFIs were born out of a ‘Jam today’ culture. I mused about the irony of that. People in the Marlborough area have worked from 1990 to preserve and rebuild their Savernake hospital.”
“They received their ‘jam’ after 15 years of hard work and fund-raising only to find they had a hospital with a distinct lack of land surrounding it -- because a slice was sold off which reduced the PFI cost of £9.5 million by £3 million.”
London commuters who let the train take the strain are also causing a headache for Great Bedwyn residents, it has been claimed.
Now Wiltshire Council has devised a scheme which looks likely to split opinion in the village.
A recent meeting of Pewsey Area Board heard that people living in The Knapp, Brook Street, Farm Lane and Castle Road are delighted by proposals for extensive parking restrictions in their part of the village.
But other residents claim the introduction of double yellow lines around the popular railway station will simply drive commuters elsewhere in the village.
Now anyone with an opinion on the proposals is being urged to attend the parish council meeting at 7.30pm on Wednesday, September 14 at the Village Hall, which will be addressed by a traffic engineer from Wiltshire Council..
As our picture (which you can click to enlarge) shows, Wiltshire Council's proposals include extensive introduction of double yellow lines around the station, from the junction near the Cross Keys pub to the canal and beyond. In other areas waiting will be limited to two hours.
Twenty two trains travel to and from London from Bedwyn every day. The first train departs for London at 5.55am, and the small car park – which unlike other parking areas along the route is free to use – is known to fill up early, leaving rail passengers to park at along the roadsides.
Andrew Deuchar, who was brought up in Aldbourne and still has relatives living in the Marlborough area, is to succeed Dr Nick Maurice who is retiring as director of BUILD the national charity he founded and which is based in Marlborough.
Since 2002, BUILD (which stands for “building understanding through international links for development”) has worked with government, schools, hospitals and faith groups to create and sustain links between communities in the United Kingdom and developing countries.
Andrew Deuchar will take up his post on October 1. His career in the diplomatic service has been followed by ministry in the Church of England. He has long experience in international development, communications, management and project management.
After working as a parish priest, from 1994 to 2000 Andrew Deuchar was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Secretary for Anglican Communion Affairs, managing the Archbishop’s work as leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion. He returned to parish work in Nottingham and has most recently been working in the Highlands for the Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness.
The Archbishop of Canterbury for whom he worked, Lord Carey, said, “BUILD is looking for an outstanding leader. Andrew was one of my best officers. I have great confidence in him. He is a very wise and consensual leader.”
BUILD believes that global community partnerships make the world better. Working with community, national and global partners, BUILD promotes cross-cultural links and provides services to help communities to link and to develop their work in ways that increase global peace, prosperity and justice.
Andrew Deuchar spoke to Marlborough News Online about BUILD and his new role as leader of the organisation: “One thing I love about the potential for BUILD’s work is the possibility of people at each end of the linking process being able to tell their stories. These sort of linking projects should enable both sides to tell their own authentic stories.”
All too often, he says, stories and folk memories become obliterated or distorted by colonialism or local politics and giving people back their true identity is a worthy ideal. He has been most impressed by the practical moves in the Highlands of Scotland within schools and communities to bring alive the language, music and history of its people.
Andrew and his wife will be returning to live in the Marlborough area as soon aas they can find a suitable home.
Facing up to the current recession and all its pitfalls may be one challenge, but surviving the future is far more important – for Marlborough and the world.
That is the graphic message being sent out to all Marlborough residents -- together with an invitation to attend a major public meeting at the town hall on Monday.
It’s aim is to set up the structure for the market town to follow in the footsteps of Totnes, Ludlow, Scarborough, Perth and communities round the world by turning Marlborough into a transition town.
Councillor Richard Pitts (pictured) has been charged by the Mayor, Alexander Kirk Wilson, to work with the local Climate Pledge Group and other organisations for Marlborough to make the leap forward in finding positive ways to deal with life on the planet.
That means grappling with problems such as rapidly rising fuel and food prices, inadequate transport systems that may be restricting job and education opportunities for young people in one of the most urbanised countries on earth.
The dangers stem from the fact that by 2030 it is estimated that 92 per cent of us will be living an urban life in congested cities, which is why the future of market towns like Marlborough is so vital.
“We are extremely concerned about the rising cost of petrol and diesel, as well as electricity, oil and gas, which is used to heat our homes,” Councillor Pitts told Marlborough News Online. “We note that the government is planning to reduce carbon emissions by a colossal 50 per cent by 2025, which will mean further price rises.
“We are pleased that Wiltshire council has now come up with a community plan, which is aiming to tackle climate change over the next 15 years by creating green jobs, promoting energy efficiency, shifting to sustainable transport and improving food security at local level.”
This is why Marlborough wants to mobilise the town at all levels to hear what can be done positively by turning it into a transition town – Totnes has become the pioneering example – to survive the future.
Monday’s meeting starts at 7.30pm with the showing of extracts from the film End of Suburbia, which explores the issues to be addressed.
This will be followed by a short talk by Wiltshire’s senior climate change officer on Calculating Marlborough’s carbon footprint before discussion groups will be set up to consider subjects ranging from food sovereignty and sustainable transport to renewable energy and the three Rs – repair, re-use and recycle.
And it is hoped that current community groups such as ARK and the Marlborough Gardening Association will align themselves with the Transition Town objectives.
Then the transition hub committee, led by Dr Sam Page, will explain the opportunities that already exist to help people reduce their energy bills and ensuring that food is grown locally instead of being flown in from across the globe.
“All over Britain and around the world transition towns are forming in local communities, to help plan ahead for the end of cheap oil and to combat climate change,” said Councillor Pitts. “We want Marlborough to be there with them.”
He can be contacted on 01672 512087. There is a website were you can register your interest in contributing to the process in the plans www.transitionmarlborough.org and also a blog of the Transition Town Hub interim co-ordination team: transitiontownmarlborough.blogspot.com
A safer form of pedestrian crossing is to be installed by Wiltshire Council at the junction of George Lane and Figgins Lane, Marlborough, where children regularly cross to and from school.
The user-friendly Puffin control system will allow pedestrians to halt traffic and cross safely at the junction, where vehicles turn in and out of the major Waitrose car park.
“This is a proposal which this council very much welcomes,” Wiltshire councillor Peggy Dow told Marlborough town council on Monday.
One resident of George Lane told Marlborough News Online: “I hope this means that the present zebra crossing is going to be repainted and that the awful condition of this potentially dangerous road junction will also be repaired at the same time.”
Comments on the project – with reasons – should be sent in writing or via Wiltshire Council website by 26 September quoting the reference LJB/TRO/MARL/HY296. The address is: Sustainable Transport Group, County Hall, Bythesea Road, Trowbridge BA14 8JN.
A public consultation meeting will be held in Marlborough within the next two months to consider residents’ reaction to a proposed Environment Agency flood protection scheme for grade II listed Kennet Place.
2003 Flooding - Firemen at work
The Amenities and Open Spaces Committee of Marlborough town council decided last month to join with Wiltshire Council and the Agency in footing the bill for the project for the area on the edge of the River Kennet, which was badly flooded in 2003.
But concerns have now been raised about a proposed erection of a half-metre high wall on the river bank from the Town Mill bridge to the Old Ropeworks in Kennet Place, committee members fearing that young people will see it as a place to sit and congregate.
“Protecting that particular river bank is a complicated operation as there is also a spring running through the wall,” said committee chairman Councillor Richard Pitts. “There is technical work yet to be done so that the partners in the scheme can understand the true costs of the work involved in the project, including the building the wall.”
Mark Heelis, the Environment Agency’s flood risk management expert, also pointed out that flooding from the Kennet was only one of two risks facing the town. The other could come from a dramatic freak rainfall on the Common, which would pour down the slope into Marlborough and cause serious flooding.
“To guard against that – it’s a once in a century event -- we would have to install a far bigger and better drainage system,” said Mr Pitts. “The cost of that given the present economy is currently prohibitive.”
But what Mr Pitts would like to investigate is creation of a hydro electricity scheme on the Kennet millrace, a subject close to the heart of Marlborough’s newly formed Transition Town campaign group.
"Such a scheme would not be a council project," he explained. "It would require the setting up of a community company, in which the town council might be a partner."
According to the pop superstar Madonna, the late Wallis Simpson, the woman for whose love the besotted Edward VIII forfeited his throne and empire, was truly a romantic heroine.
That is how the scorned American divorcee, who thrust the British monarchy into the crisis abdication of the King, is portrayed in Madonna’s film, W.E, the first movie she has ever written and directed.
But ask Anne Sebba, author of the first full-scale biography by a woman writer of the girl from Baltimore who bewitched men, whether she would have invited the celebrated Duchess of Windsor into her own home, and you receive a surprising response.
“If she were my friend who I met occasionally at a party then I’d be amused by her sharp wit and banter,” says Anne, one of the stars of this month’s Marlborough Literary Festival.
“But I’d be sorry not to be able to discuss books and culture and music with her as she was not interested in any of that – she and the Duke never read proper books and several people commented on how their homes lacked all trace of a library or single book.”
“But inviting her to my home? Well I’m quite sure she wouldn’t want to come but, if she did, I’d have to make sure she did not make a beeline for my husband.”
“She’d be bound to flirt with him so perhaps a ladies lunch would be safer. And I’d ask her ‘If you did it all again, what would you do differently?’”
Anne, who spent four years delving into the life of That Woman –- the title of her biography -- probably knows more about the Duchess than anyone alive today, which is what makes her visit to Marlborough so exciting.
For it was undoubtedly the search for the truth that provided Anne with electric moments, none more so than when she unexpectedly found letters from Wallis to her second husband Ernest Simpson, the grandson of Polish-born Jews.
“Being handed the package of 15 letters from Wallis to Ernest tied up with ribbon never before made public still in their envelopes …so unexpected yet dynamite,” Anne tells me. “Wallis was not meant to be corresponding with Ernest at all during these months -- she was meant to hate him and was divorcing him. She was certainly not meant to be telling him how she missed him, loved him, thought of him and prayed for him.”
“And how the King was Peter Pan, who would never grow up and how she wished none of this mess had ever happened. Every biographer hopes to find some little new nuggets but this was a vast great treasure trove with real historical importance.”
Indeed, Anne, Reuter journalist turned biographer of Enid Bangnold, Mother Teresa and Jennie Churchill, dates her interest the royal saga that shook the nation to her own university days studying the history of the 1930s when Hitler came to power.
She also remembers visiting Schloss Enzesfeld, the fairytale castle outside Vienna where the Duke of Windsor stayed immediately after his abdication in 1936, waiting nervously for the woman he loved to arrive.
That, together with her researches into the life of Jennie Churchill, mother of Winston and another American who shocked the establishment, kept her switched on to the subject of iconic women like Wallis Simpson.
Yet, in those early days, she explains: “I had no idea what I would find, although I was convinced there must be another side and, after the Queen Mother’s death, there must be many who would talk more freely.”
“But it was just after a lot of detective work and digging that I found the new letters and diaries…I did not know of them when I started. I also knew that I would see things differently as a woman and ask different questions so I was confident it would produce something new but not sure what - four years ago when I started.”
In particular, she reveals that between her first and second marriages, her enemies claim, “she learnt from Chinese prostitutes some ancient oriental techniques for pleasuring men.”
So did Edward VIII forsake his throne for sexual satisfaction?
“No absolutely not,” insists Anne. “Wallis was an enigma and, at over 40, not especially beautiful or clever and twice married, no-one could understand what it was that Edward found in her that made him throw up a kingdom, a throne, as well as respect.
“So people assumed it must be sex and turned her into a sex demon. It was part of the whole process of making Wallis into a hate figure so that the next King and Queen -- George V1 and Elizabeth -- were seen as paragons of virtue compared with the American brash she-devil who had lured Edward to abdication.”
“Now we can see that Wallis was the hunted, not the hunter, it is time to re-evaluate all of this.”
However, she performed one tremendous task for which we can all be thankful. Her love of powerful men, her fascination with Mussolini and Hitler, did prevent England ending up with a King willing to capitulate to Fascism.
Anne Sebba, author of That Woman – The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20), speaks at Marlborough Town Hall at 5pm on Sunday, September 25.
Tickets priced at £10 at 01249 701628 and www.marlboroughlitfest.org
Two pieces of information on local traffic changes emerged from this week’s meeting of Marlborough Area Board in the Town Hall – neither as yet has firm dates:
First, the narrow part of the High Street that runs north of St Peter’s church is going to be made one-way for an experimental eighteen month period. This trial is being arranged in response to complaints from residents in the street which is too narrow for anything but small cars to pass each other and is often used as a ‘rat run’ by drivers trying to avoid queues at the Pewsey Road mini-roundabout.
The trial was backed by councillors Nick Fogg and Peggy Dow. But there was some strong opposition voiced from the floor of the meeting. It was said that traffic emerging onto the A4 by Hatto’s the barbers, close to the Pewsey Road mini-roundabout, would be dangerous. It was argued that it would much better to make this arm of the High Street one-way from west to east so drivers could then go up Hyde Lane and lessen the traffic on the main part of the High Street.
The Area Board Chairman, Chris Humphries, put the proposal to a vote it was narrowly agreed.
If there are no objections to the one-way scheme during the trial it would automatically become permanent. No date for the start of this trial has been set. We will bring you the date as soon as we know it.
Secondly, the A4 between Manton and Lockeridge is to be closed for eight nights – sometime in early October. The closure is to start at 7 pm and this start time worried representatives from Lockeridge who feared evening rush hour traffic would divert onto narrow country lanes and village streets. Watch this space for news of the actual closure dates.
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Kennet Valley Arts Trust, which encourages drama in local schools, is sponsoring a pre-school drama class in St. Mary's church hall, Marlborough, every Tuesday morning from September 20.
The first hour -- from10 to 11am -- will be devoted to reading with action for two and three year olds together with their mothers.
The second hour will be for four to five-year-olds. The teacher in charge is actress Lizzie Sigrist, director of Youth Development at the Newbury’s Watermill Theatre.
Those interested should contact 077950 56256.
Marlborough is a not high spending town council and is not guilty of persistent allegations that it is incompetent, reckless and even dishonest.
Its annual budget of £400,000, planned to stay in surplus, is among the lowest of market towns in Wiltshire, ended the last financial year £52,672 in the red compared with a loss of £125,555 a decade ago and other substantial losses until 2009.
And the council’s proposals to use low interest rate public loans to carry out further improvements to the town hall – aimed at raising its income level – is the same policy as that adopted by other town councils in the county.
“I think some members were quite shocked by the implied allegation that appeared to accuse this council of financial incompetence, reckless spending and even dishonesty at the annual meeting,” finance committee chairman and former mayor Councillor Andrew Ross (pictured) told last night’s town council meeting.
“Even more disturbing is that one of our councillors, Mrs Marian Hannaford-Dobson, is writing in the press challenging the financial governance of this council and raising concerns that really have little basis in fact.”
And he added that the council currently maintained reserves of £284,000.
Mr Ross was interrupted by Mrs Hannaford-Dobson, a Conservative member, who jumped up protesting that he was “being very rude and insulting” and repeatedly asking him to withdraw his remarks.
And her husband, Councillor Stewart Dobson, complained that councillors were not present to hear a lecture that made petty points and raised insulting issues but to hear details of a new and improved presentation of the council’s accounts.
“This (points scoring) is not the purpose of the item on the agenda,” he insisted.
But they were both slapped down by Councillor Edwina Fogg, the deputy mayor who was in the chair, and told to wait until question time to raise any matters they disagreed with.
And later in the meeting, Mrs Fogg said that the town’s precept for council tax payers was neutral last year and in the current year was below inflation.
“We are a high income generating council, attracting funds and donations of £250,000,” she declared, among them £75,000 for the town’s skate park, £50,000 to repair the steps and decorate the frontage of the town hall and £18,000 for disabled access to the Town Hall.
The row erupted following angry scenes at the council’s annual parish meeting earlier in the year when some members of the public challenged the council’s spending record and its proposals for further renovations to the town.
In the current issue of the Gazette & Herald, Mrs Hannaford-Dobson writes: “Marlborough town council is a high spending council with even larger plans to spend mega money later in the year.”
“Sadly councillors who dared to voice concerns over the £1.2 million projected spend and massive borrowing for the town that this expenditure would require, were swiftly removed from the committees.”
She complained that just a third of the councillors controlled the budget, and added: After all this is public money, yours and mine, and it is always easy to spend other people’s money.”
But those accounts were accepted by the 16-strong council and Mr Ross, a retired chartered accountant, has now produced easily understandable accounts. They reveal that last year’s overspend was on buying the Stonebridge Meadow in partnership deal with ARK plus equipment for the Salisbury Road play park, reducing the council’s reserves by £52,000.
The town council’s current budget –- each individual committee is responsible for its own budgeted spending -- is to end the year with a surplus of £7,950, the improvements to the town hall, which generates an income of £25,400, to be carried out over several years.
“Clearly it can be seen that council spending is not being controlled by one third of the council as Mrs Hannaford-Dobson alleged in the Gazette and Herald this week,” insisted Mr Ross.
“Council spending decision are not made behind closed doors. There are no secret cabals. All spending is determined by 16 members with the public present.”