The NEW owl has arrived …


2 February 2020





East Devon could NEVER remain Owl-less …

As one departed another has taken its place …

The new Owl has arrived!

Talons sharpened, eyes trained …

A new light now shining into the darkest corners of East Devon

Contact us at

In the link below EDDC announces the launch on Monday 30 March 2020 of the East Devon District Council Coronavirus Community Support Hub and explains what  it will seek to do.

It also brings you up to date with a comprehensive range of local services appropriate to the Coronavirus  emergency.

It is too long to post but is a useful reference.

Rivals fiddle while UK burns

It’s the driest, hottest summer in 50 years, yet the Conservative leadership candidates appear to be fiddling while Britain burns.

Rowena Mason 

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have barely been asked anything about their plans for tackling the climate emergency in all their debates and hustings so far – and nor have they made it a leading campaign issue themselves.

Their main wisdom on the subject of the drought is putting water companies “on notice” that they need to fix leaks, to avoid the necessity of households facing hosepipe bans.

Although both have committed to the net zero target, neither has talked about the crisis facing the climate with much passion or interest.

Sunak has frequently characterised his young daughters as the experts on climate in his household – surely embarrassing for a former chancellor to admit – and does not like the idea of more onshore wind turbines.

He was once thought by environmentally conscious Tories to be the biggest risk to the government’s climate aspirations, as they believed he was blocking ambitious plans to transform the UK’s energy needs on the grounds of cost.

However, the signs are that Truss, a former environment secretary, could be even less committed to net zero. Her answer to soaring energy costs, worsened by extreme winter weather conditions caused by climate breakdown, is to remove green levies from household and business bills.

It is not yet clear whether she would pay for these instead out of general taxation or scrap initiatives to insulate homes and subsidise renewables altogether. In a hustings, she suggested that net zero was a problem for business rather than government to solve.

She also cut funding for solar farms while environment secretary, calling them a “blight on the landscape”, and in a hustings vowed to remove their “paraphernalia” from fields. At the same time, she is backing fracking – popular in theory with Tory activists and MPs, but not if it is planned for their own area.

Surprisingly, Chris Skidmore, a Tory MP and the founder of the Tories Net Zero Support Group, has switched sides from Sunak to Truss in recent days, but cited the former chancellor’s U-turns as the reason.

Two Tory MPs – Vicky Ford and Simon Clarke – have also cited Truss’s support for Cop26 as a reason for backing her. But Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, recalled meeting Truss at the climate crisis summit in Glasgow and said the main thing she wanted to discuss was how she could get into Vogue.

Among Conservative MPs, those opposing net zero policies – such as Steve Baker, a Truss supporter – have scented an opportunity to win back ground. One of Truss’s high-profile supporters, Lord Frost, said last week that there was no evidence of a climate “emergency” and urged the next prime minister to move away from “medieval technology” such as wind power.

In fairness, those questioning the candidates have not given the topic much airtime. Open Democracy calculated that just two minutes out of an hour of interviews on the day of the first heatwave were dedicated to the climate.

But neither candidate has been keen to portray themselves as a keen supporter of the fight against climate breakdown. A lukewarm stance on the climate may win cheers at hustings, and even sway some Tory members, but polls tell a different story about voters across the spectrum, including many Conservatives and swing voters, with the country deeply worried that politicians are not doing enough.

Britain’s wetlands are the key to saving us from drought, wildfires and even floods

Fresh water is the lifeblood of civilisation. It makes life on land possible. But we have lost touch with how the water cycle works. As Britain runs further into serious drought, people are asking if we are prepared and if we should have planned better, by building more reservoirs or plugging leaks in the water distribution system.

Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England 

These are hugely important subjects. What is not being discussed are the severe floods that may well arrive in a few months’ time. Climate change is leading to greater volatility in the water cycle. It’s time to stand back and examine our resilience to water extremes and start improving water quality.

One standout conclusion for me is that we need to have much more water in our environment. During the last 100 years, the UK has lost 90% of its wetlands. This has led to the drastic decline of wildlife and rendered the country more vulnerable to the effects of extreme conditions. Draining fens, desiccating peat bogs, drying floodplains and the claiming of coastal marshes has transformed how our land looks and works. Restoring some of those wetlands could deliver huge benefits.

Wetlands can help to keep rivers flowing, even when rain is scarce, thereby protecting the living, shimmering threads that bring life to the landscape. Water standing on the land also helps recharge the aquifers that underpin much of our public water supply. Holding more water in the environment through the restoration of wet ecosystems can reduce flood peaks and protect us from the misery of the flooding that periodically affects communities across the country.

During a recent visit to Norfolk, I saw a newly created beaver pond. The animals had been released by the farmer into a large wooded pen on the site of an old wartime base. A tiny stream had been impounded by the animals to create a quite substantial body of water topped up with winter rain. Since the rain stopped earlier this year, that pond has been sustaining a headwater stream of the Glaven, one of England’s precious chalk rivers. The new beaver pond has helped that wonderful watercourse remain in better shape than it would otherwise have been. When it does rain again, that stream will flow more evenly than if there were no beavers, therefore reducing the risk of floods.

Beaver ponds and wetlands in general are also excellent at catching carbon and other pollutants such as agricultural fertilisers, so they can play a role in meeting water-quality targets. That beaver pond was also a reminder of how wetlands can bring vibrant life back into otherwise degraded landscapes. Frogspawn, fish, birds and wetland plants had all found a home there.

Wetter conditions also diminish the risk and effect of major fires. For decades, many of our upland blanket bogs have been subject to drainage, rendering them more susceptible to fire. Making these bogs wetter can not only reduce that peril but also improve water quality, increase wildlife and reduce downstream flooding.

At Natural England, we are pleased to see lots of plans afoot to make more of wetlands. The new Environmental Land Management schemes that are replacing the EU’s common agricultural policy are a major opportunity. The new tool of biodiversity net gain, which will require developers to replace and increase habitat lost to housing and infrastructure, will add to the mix. So, too, will plans to create new wetlands to soak up nutrients from new housing developments. There is a national programme to improve peatlands and also a partnership with businesses, vigorously led by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, to create 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of new wetlands.

There are also opportunities for water companies in the development of nature-based solutions, which harness habitat creation as a natural partner and complement to hard infrastructure. There could also be huge benefits in the careful design of engineering infrastructure such as reservoirs. One example is the Abberton reservoir in Essex, which is not only a major strategic water supply asset, it is an internationally important habitat for many bird and amphibian species.

A more natural water cycle should be a strategic national priority. Winston Churchill famously once said that we should “never let a good crisis go to waste”. The current drought, and the floods that are likely to arrive later in the year, should be an opportunity to find a new way of looking at water.

‘Local government treated worse than any other part of public sector’

Clive Betts, chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, talks to Mike Thatcher about lack of progress on levelling up, pork-barrel politics and why local government finance cannot be reformed until social care funding is sorted. 

Is levelling up yesterday’s priority? With the cost-of-living crisis dominating the political agenda and the main levelling up evangelists – Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – going or gone, there’s certainly a feeling of old news about the phrase.

Johnson described levelling up as the “defining mission” of his government, while Gove, as levelling up secretary, set out in the levelling up white paper how undervalued communities could “take back control”.

But levelling up has been discussed rarely during the Conservative leadership hustings, and it has not been a differentiator between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. If Truss does become the next prime minister, as the polls suggest, it is hard to see levelling up being the focus of her speech outside No 10 as it was for Johnson three years ago.

So will levelling up go the way of David Cameron’s Big Society – a slogan that never really had any tangible impact and was then quietly forgotten?

Who better to ask than Clive Betts, the chair of the parliamentary Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee? Betts has chaired the committee in its different guises since 2010, and has conducted inquiries most recently into the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, long-term funding of adult social care, the regulation of social housing and the planning system.

The veteran Labour MP will be discussing levelling up at the Room151 Local Authority Treasurers Investment Forum and FDs’ Summit on 13 September. He tells Room151 that the next PM might not see levelling up as their top priority, but it would be hard for the government to abandon the philosophy altogether.

Has levelling up lost its lustre?

“The cost-of-living crisis may politically have to be top of the new PM’s in-tray. But they still have to address their red-wall seats and I don’t think they will let levelling up just go,” he says.

Betts expresses disappointment at the lack of progress on the levelling up agenda. He says that Gove succeeded in raising the profile of the concept, and helped it to be seen as a key challenge for the country. But he believes that there is no evidence to demonstrate that it has made a significant difference to the experience of those in the more deprived parts of the UK.

“There are far too many disparate pots of money that councils have to bid for and no linking up of those, no overall strategy and, essentially, no fundamental change in overall government departmental budgets towards the deprived areas.”

Both Gove and Neil O’Brien, the former levelling up minister, talked about moving away from what became known in local government as the “tyranny of competitive funding” to a more formula-based approach. O’Brien told Betts’ committee that what was needed was a “balanced diet” of funding.

Betts says now that ministers talked the talk, but there has been little sign of any change of emphasis. When asked if there is political manipulation of the funding for both the levelling up and towns funds, he says “it looks like it”.

Political manipulation

Opponents of levelling up have seen it as a move to US-style “pork-barrel politics”. It is tempting to agree, given that 40 out of 45 of the towns receiving funding from the towns fund had a Conservative MP. And, of course, Sunak openly admitted, in a campaign speech, that as chancellor he had started to change the formulas so that towns like Tunbridge Wells received funding rather than “deprived urban areas”.

Betts points out that Sunak’s leafy Richmond constituency was favoured over towns like Barnsley when it came to bids for the levelling up fund. And he admits to being depressed by the level of debate between Truss and Sunak.

“Local government has been treated worse than any other part of the public sector since 2010. It has had bigger reductions in its spending and there doesn’t seem to be any recognition that if there is spare money around at the Treasury, local government, and particularly priorities like social care, ought to be at the top of the list of spending rather than corporation tax cuts.”

Both Sunak and Truss have signed up to the four pledges put forward by the Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs. The four pledges are: a minister for the north; Voxbridge (two vocational institutions in the north of England); a right to devolution for all areas of the UK; and a levelling up formula to ensure that “forgotten areas” are no longer left behind.

Spending commitments on care

But Betts says he wants more than pledges. What is really missing are spending commitments, and particularly an appreciation of the urgent need for more social care funding.

“You are only going to get levelling up if you address the fundamental inequalities of government spending currently. Until you get core departmental budgets redirected, you won’t get levelling up.

“They have got to find a way of getting money to social care on a long-term basis with a degree of certainty. When we did our inquiry, it was said over and over to us by both Conservative leaders in local government and Labour leaders, until you sort social care funding out you can’t sort local government finance out.”

Social care is vital, he says, but the focus on care means that other local government services – libraries, parks, buses, street cleaning and environmental health – have had to face cuts of up to 50%.

“There is a real danger that many members of the public who don’t receive social care, and their families don’t, which is most of the public, are paying more and more council tax every year for less and less service. That is a real challenge to local democracy and to people’s willingness to support it.”

So what is the solution to that? “Sorting out social care funding,” he says.

Simon Jupp says he will talk about consumer energy bills in the Autumn

Under the heading: “Unlike households, businesses do not benefit from an energy price cap”

[Aren’t we householders are sooo lucky? – Owl]

Simon Jupp writes:

“I will be using future columns to talk again about consumer energy bills and more support this autumn.”

Stay calm and await announcements

Simon Jupp’s article can be found here

Protect the Green Wedge: bungalows are not what Seaton needs

Martin Shaw July 27, 2022

It is now official – East Devon is one of the top eight districts in the country for rising population (up 13 per cent up in a decade). The further you go from Exeter, the more the new arrivals are retirees. In town after town and village after village, housing estates catering partly for middle-aged incomers are changing the landscape. In Seaton this month, a developer has showcased a new scheme to build 130 dwellings, many of them bungalows, on the town’s outskirts.

Seaton Wetlands – increasingly surrounded by housing?

Urban growth is not necessarily a bad thing. Towns change and growing populations need housing. The shortage of housing for local people is one of our biggest scandals, made worse by the Conservatives’ low priority for social housing, the poor quality of some private rented accommodation, landlords switching to holiday lets, and the house price boom – artificially stimulated by the government – which prices younger people out of the market to buy while simultaneously pushing up rents.

More housing, but not any old housing – or any old place

So we need more housing, but not any old housing as the government believes. A town like Seaton with one of the most elderly populations in the country – 45 per cent are over 65 – needs more retirement bungalows like a hole in the head. We’ve already had one revolt over this issue, when developers wanted to divert a site earmarked for a hotel to build more retirement flats. The community stood firm and in due course the hotel was built. The developers making the current proposal, Baker Estates, say that bungalows will facilitate downsizing freeing up family homes ‘elsewhere’. It’s little consolation for Seaton to know that houses will be available in the Midlands or the Home Counties! 

The housing we need also can’t be in any old place. Planning policies exist for a reason – if they didn’t, the whole of the Devon coast would have wall-to-wall development, ruining the very beauty which draws people to the area. ‘Green wedges’ between towns and villages is another key policy, maintaining a rural edge for urban areas as well as the identities of distinct communities. People in Seaton and Colyford have shown over the last decade that they value the Green Wedge between the two, and have twice fought off attempts to build it over. The proposed development will further surround the precious Seaton Wetlands with housing, and threatens the bat and bird life which are so important to them.  

Baker Estates promise up to 25 per cent ‘affordable homes’, although even with shared ownership, properties at around £300,000 are hardly affordable for many, and these dwellings (if built) will doubtless end up in the least desirable corner of the estate, with the smallest gardens. I say ‘if built’ because Seatonians are familiar with the ‘vanishing affordable homes’ trick, since what is now the Pebble Beach estate was supposed to have 40 per cent of them, then 25 per cent, and ended up with precisely none. 

Mandatory targets for houses, but not services

East Devon’s planning policies are robust but the council is under the constant pressure of the government’s housing targets and its penalties for not meeting them. It’s noticeable that the government doesn’t enforce targets for social health provision with the same rigour, so if we accept scores more bungalows our extremely stretched health and social care services won’t automatically expand to match.

We cannot keep building over our countryside and allowing our communities to become more and more unbalanced in age terms. We don’t need a nationally imposed target for new dwellings, to be supplied in whichever form the developers find most profitable. We need more good quality social housing, fewer second homes (we should restrict those to the areas where there isn’t acute housing pressure), and a better balance between holiday lets (desirable for tourism) and private rentals (which are essential housing). Not everyone will like this, but we also need house prices to fall, to let young people back into the housing market.

No hosepipe ban at No 10, as ministers call for water restrictions

“While people all over the country were following the rules during Covid, you were partying in Downing Street. Now, while millions do the right thing and reduce their water use, can you confirm whether you will commit to doing so at Chequers? Will you rule out using hosepipes and stop refilling your private pool?

“It would stink of hypocrisy if you continue to maintain a private pool while gardens dry up, paddling pools remain empty and farmers are unable to water their crops.” – Tim Farron

Restrictions are only for the little people and bonuses for Water Execs. – Owl

Helena Horton 

Downing Street has no plan to put a hosepipe ban in place in and around the prime minister’s residence, the Guardian can reveal, despite ministers calling for water companies to enforce restrictions.

Thames Water, which supplies No 10, said on Tuesday it would be putting water rationing in place in the coming weeks due to the extended dry conditions.

When asked whether hosepipes would still be used in the No 10 garden, or to wash the cars used to ferry its residents around, a spokesperson for the prime minister said a ban was not currently in place, though they added that the household was “taking steps to reduce the water used across the Downing Street site”. This did not include a hosepipe ban, though, they said.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson on environment and rural affairs, has called for Boris Johnson to set an example to the rest of the country by reducing his water usage and draining the swimming pool at his countryside residence, Chequers, which is also supplied by Thames Water.

The spokesperson declined to comment on whether the pool would be drained, saying it was a matter for the Chequers Trust. However, the prime minister is in control of matters at Chequers, and Margaret Thatcher famously stopped heating the pool during an energy crisis that took place when she was prime minister.

In a letter to Johnson, Farron said: “Your grace-and-favour mansion, Chequers, is located in an area which will be subject to a hosepipe ban. At this moment when millions of people across the country are making sacrifices, it is vital that you show leadership.

“While people all over the country were following the rules during Covid, you were partying in Downing Street. Now, while millions do the right thing and reduce their water use, can you confirm whether you will commit to doing so at Chequers? Will you rule out using hosepipes and stop refilling your private pool?

“It would stink of hypocrisy if you continue to maintain a private pool while gardens dry up, paddling pools remain empty and farmers are unable to water their crops.”

The whole country is readying for water restrictions during the record-breaking dry weather, with some areas not seeing significant rainfall since June.

Leaked documents seen by the Guardian this week show that water companies serving areas from Yorkshire to Dorset have applied for drought permits, which would allow them to put bans in place.

At the weekend, the environment secretary, George Eustice urged water companies to put restrictions in place. On Wednesday, Eustice said he met the chief executives of water companies to discuss the measures being put in place to combat water shortages.

The National Drought Group, which would decide whether there is an official drought, meets on Friday.

Val Ranger, voluntary worker, teacher and Local Independent Councillor

It is with a sad and heavy heart that we have to announce that Val passed away on Tuesday 2nd August 2022. Val fought this awful disease with such courage and determination. She was an inspiration to us all. With a constant smile on her face to the end and a determination to never give up, we have much to learn from her life, values and spirit. A truly inspiring and loving person who will be so missed, she made our community a better place to live. We will never forget her.

Thank you to all of you who supported this appeal and gave Val precious time and hope.

Lesley Woolley and Liz Dowen


About Val

Val lived in Sidbury for a year in 1992 and did some voluntary work for WWII vets who were being denied disability benefits from injury sustained in the war effort. She moved to Harpford in 1993 and shortly after joined the Rainbow Playgroup committee as her boys attended there. She later joined NP school PTFA and became a school governor. She was also involved in admin for the Saturday sports club and became Treasurer of Sidmouth College PTFA. Around 2013 Val became interested in EDDC matters when it was proposed to move the council from the Knowle to new premises in Honiton. She also began to follow local development and was shocked by some of the tactics used by developers and what she saw as a very biased system, with promises made and broken, and different rules applied to different applicants. She joined the parish council in 2014 and subsequently ran as an independent councillor for EDDC in 2015 and was elected with a clear majority. She was re-elected in 2019 and has remained in post since then, now as Vice-Chariman of the Council. She became part of the Democratic Alliance which is a collaboration between independent councillors, Liberal democrats and Green candidates in a bid to put politics aside and work on behalf of residents regardless of their political alliance. Along the way she was involved in ensuring Harpford Hall was retained as a community asset, and has campaigned for the retention of the red bridge over the River Otter to ensure residents have a safe walking route to and from Newton Poppleford and Tipton, as well as safety improvement measures on Four Elms Hill which should finally complete in July.

Val taught at Exeter College from 1993 until going on sick leave in November 2020, mainly working with Access to Higher Education students across a range of pathways; these are mature students seeking a career change and access to university. She also taught first aid courses locally and shorthand to local newspaper reporters.

Her sons live and work locally and are a great support. Friends have been been amazing, accompanying her for treatment both locally and in London, providing food, hugs, mopping up tears, clearing up the house and garden, doing medical research on her behalf, walking and talking and ensuring there is still time for laughter.

A wonderful and inspiring person – Owl

Experts fear areas will be wiped off map as cliffs erode

The country is in the midst of yet another heatwave with temperatures set to hit the mid 30s this week as concerns surrounding global warming continue to grow. The fears have been heightened as large parts of the Jurassic coastline in Devon have plunged into the sea.

Alex Whilding 

It is likely that the warm weather is making the cliff fall and as a result cracks will form and then widen in the rocks. On Monday (August 8), walkers along the Sidmouth coastline watched in horror as part of the coastline hit the beach.

Witnesses in the area have said that several hours later, parts of the cliff were still falling into the sea. It was only last month that two more dramatic collapses took place at the same spot as the country basked in record breaking temperatures, reports The Mirror.

Experts say global warming is causing sea levels to rise and that is eroding a lot of the Jurassic coastline in Dorset. The coastline suffered its biggest rock fall in over 60 years in 2021.

Back then, around 300 metres of the cliff face was impacted when 4,000 tonnes came away and fell towards the beach in chunks with some of them the size of a car. This ongoing issue could see some homes completely wiped away.

Angela Terry, an environmental scientist and founder of One Home, warned: “Coastal communities are on the front line of climate change with little support available for those who face losing their homes or livelihoods. As we overheat, ice is melting faster and as a consequence sea levels are increasing by up to 5mm a year.

“More concerning is this rate continues to increase and we can not hold back the tide. Along with stronger winds, super storms are regularly battering British cliffs which are then falling into the sea as a result.

“With Europe’s longest coastline, we urgently need to start talking about how we will drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions and aid communities to transition to safer areas before their homes literally hang over a cliff edge.”

East Beach in Sidmouth where there was a dramatic cliff fall on Monday

East Beach in Sidmouth where there was a dramatic cliff fall on Monday (Image: Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror)

In its latest report, the Environment Agency has warned that by 2050 around 200,000 properties could be swallowed by floodwater or even plunge over a cliff.

Meanwhile, a study conducted by the Ocean and Coastal Management has found that a third of the country’s coastline will be under pressure as a result of the change in the sea levels. Paul Griew, who lives on Cliff Road in Sidmouth, lost his summerhouse back in 2017.

Paul was about to collect something from the summerhouse when it collapsed into the sea. Paul’s neighbour has lived in their house for 25 year and claimed that he lost 20 metres of his garden.

He added that he knew the cliffs were eroding when he moved in with his wife, but he said “it’s happening faster than I thought”. He added that the offshore sea defence islands for Sidmouth were causing the erosion at first, but the sea getting warmer and the rising sea levels are speeding up the process.