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Cllr Dr.Paul Barrow - Report for Parishes - April 2023

on Mon, 27/03/2023 - 7:48am

Childrey Way – School Transport

Many residents will have heard that the County Council has proposed that the free school transport for children from Childrey to get to King Alfred’s be withdrawn. This has rightly caused huge indignation amongst parents since it will require either that (i) parents to drive their children to school, which is a problem because not all parents are able to do this, since some do not have the means and others work and the Principal of the school also does not want more vehicle traffic at the school dropping off children, or it will require (ii) that children walk/cycle along Childrey Way which runs from Childrey to East Challow. Most parents are unable to accompany their children since it would take more than 90 minutes out of their day. Childrey Way is an isolated Bridleway that no parents would allow their unaccompanied child to traverse during the day or in the dark during winter months. I took photos of how it looks in the early morning and late afternoon when children might be returning after after-school activities. 

After a number of protests last year a council officer inspected the route during late summer when it was dry and sunny (but nevertheless, still isolated) and I was told that child safety was not an issue to define policy!!!! The condition of the surface is also appalling in wet weather and almost impossible to walk along (see above), certainly not in school uniform! It is also narrow and, if a vehicle approaches, any pedestrian is required to stand on the grass/mud verge! When the children reach East Challow they need to cross Letcombe Hill which is a “rat run” where vehicles frequently drive too fast and where visibility is not good. Most parents have appealed officially against this proposal.

We managed to get publicity for this in the local paper.

But importantly, the photo in the paper suggests that the girl on the left is standing on solid ground. My photo of the photograph being taken suggests otherwise!

Interestingly, my understanding is that this has not resulted from a recent change in school policy since many non-local Oxfordshire County Councillors I approached were not even aware of this as a problem. It seems to be a standard school admissions policy introduced some years ago which is being administered rigidly to save money – but what price child safety?? David Johnson has also been appraised of this situation,

We are really hoping for withdrawal of this crazy proposal.

The Blowing Stone at Kingston Lisle
You may have seen in last month’s Sparsholt and Westcot Newsletter that there is an application to change The Blowing Stone pub to a house/dwelling. There is huge local concern about this as it has not being doing well, which is partly attributable to Covid but also to management and resource issues. It used to be busy, servicing the local racing industry and tourists, cyclists and walkers. There is little immediate competition since The Star in Sparsholt is now a rather up-market restaurant with no bar. A commissioned viability assessment is rather misleading so I have called it in for review by the full planning committee and the Vale and the parish have commissioned their own viability assessment. We don’t want to lose another pub! The Greyhound in Letcombe Regis, The Fox in Uffington and the Rose and Crown in Ashbury are the only real competitors now that the Hatchet in Childrey is not fully open as a comprehensive pub. More on this in due course, I am sure!
Council Tax
We have all just received our council tax bills! 
The Vale budget has been finalised and published. This forms a relatively minor component of the full bill most of which goes to Oxfordshire County Council. 
You may be surprised to know that the Vale continues to charge one of the lowest district council tax rates in the country. Our budget includes a below-inflation increase in Council Tax of 3.4 per cent for 2023-24. For a Band D property, this equates to £5 a year (just under 10p a week), bringing a total charge of £151.69 a year (£2.91 per week) - which is more than 25 per cent lower than the national average. 
Increases in Council Tax are never popular but we hope that this below-inflation increase in the Vale component is at least acceptable to most residents. The increase was approved at district council by all councillors from every party. 
Household help
The Vale Household Support Fund is now closed and no longer accepting new applications for this fund, help is still available for anyone struggling with the high cost of living.
Applications already received are currently being processed and all applicants will be informed about whether their application has been successful or not. As there are a high volume of applicants, anyone who has not yet heard back is advised not to contact the councils or advice centres about their applications so that teams can focus on working through the applications - these are being worked through on a first come, first served basis.  
Support is still available through the council’s Community Hub team who offer a wide range of advice, including information on free or affordable food banks and council tax support. The Community Hub Team can also help to signpost people for debt advice and other cost-of-living support and provide information on housing support as well as guidance on how people can look after their mental health and wellbeing. Anyone in need of support can contact our Community Hub team during office hours on 01235 422600 or they can email [email protected] Please let any neighbours know about this if they do not use the internet. 
We have spent £139,615 to help people with the rising cost of food and energy bills and added £60,000 to funds from the county council to boost the money available to provide support when it’s most needed. 
Vale EV charging points
The Vale District Council’s installation of Electric Vehicle chargers at its car parks has seen charging volumes double in its first six months. In June last year 62 EV chargers were installed across five of the council’s car parks in Abingdon, Faringdon and Wantage as part of the county-wide Park and Charge scheme. The number of charging sessions has gone up by 60 per cent in the first six months of installation. During the same period the average amount of electricity consumed has doubled, meaning that people are now using them for longer charges. Since the first chargers went live in summer 2022 there have been 3,631 charging sessions in the first full six months, which equates to around 169,000 EV miles. This represents a saving 45,863kg of CO2 if those miles had been driven in a petrol or diesel car. 
Community Bus Service
With s106 money from housing development, Wantage Town Council is exploring whether a community bus service might be restarted. In the first instance this will involve Wantage and Grove but the villages are included in the discussion and we would dearly like to see some form of service covering our villages once again. Certainly, don’t hold your breath but something is happening and I will (hopefully) update you on any progress in due course.
Wantage Hospital
Oxford Health and Wantage Town Council Health sub-committee are planning a co-produced workshop to discuss the future of Wantage Hospital. The future is assured but the exact nature and combination of the services provided remain uncertain and many would like to see a minor injuries unit based there. 
North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (NWD AONB)
This covers our parishes south of the B4507 and well into the downs. The Council of Partners (CoP), which has overall responsibility for its management, met on Match 14th in Great Bedwyn. I am currently the Vale representative on the CoP.
The meeting covered a number of topics including most importantly the drive towards inclusion of the NWD AONB in the IUCN Green List ( The NWD AONB would become part of a global campaign with a sustainability standard for how to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century. We are a pilot for the UK and would be the first area included.
Six goals for future engagement, which were developed at a number of recent workshops, were discussed further. These include:
  1. Supporting the rural economy
  2. Deliver for nature and climate
  3. Improve communications and advocacy
  4. Provide opportunities to improve health and wellbeing
  5. Improve spatial planning
  6. Align AONB policy across relevant authorities
I am particularly interested in goal 4 since there is huge scope for social prescribing involving working with farmer clusters which could improve mental health and physical wellbeing. A little of this is done already but much more could be done.
Alignment of Local Authorities in delivering on AONB goals is also seen as vital, including County authorities with Nature Recovery Plans which should align with those of the AONB.
GARD and the Abingdon reservoir
The consultation on the Thames Water WRMP (Water Resource Management Plan) has now ended but responses can be seen at
and you can see the draft Plan at
Check updates on the arguments at the GARD website     
Cllr Dr. Paul Barrow
[email protected] 
District Councillor for Ridgeway Ward