The NEW owl has arrived …

EAST DEVON WATCH

2 February 2020

 

STOP PRESS

OWL DEPARTED … NEW OWL IS HERE

NEW LIGHT NOW SHINING ON THE DARKEST CORNERS OF EAST DEVON

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 eastdevon.owl@gmail.com

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.

https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/UKEDDC/bulletins/2835613

Food poverty areas have Conservative MPs

Jacob Rees-Mogg is one of 50 Tory MPs representing areas where people suffer from the worst food poverty in Britain.

George Greenwood, Ryan Watts http://www.thetimes.co.uk

The Commons leader holds the seat of North East Somerset, which sits in a council area where 7 per cent of households experience hunger. He and 49 other Conservatives have seats that overlap with the top 10 per cent of local authorities for food poverty. Those areas include Salisbury, Rugby and Ashford in Kent.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is planning to cut universal credit by £20 a week by ending a temporary uplift introduced during the pandemic. Last month six former Tory work and pensions secretaries wrote to him demanding an extension.

There are about five million universal credit claimants, twice as many as before the pandemic, and more than a third are in work. A permanent uplift would cost about £6 billion a year.

In January academics at Sheffield University mapped the local authorities with the worst hunger. Of the 100 councils with the worst rates, wards within them are represented by 122 Conservative MPs compared with 76 Labour MPs, The Times found.

Hunger is defined as having skipped food for a whole day or longer in the previous month or someone indicating that they had not eaten because they could not access food.

Wycombe has the highest proportion of households experiencing this, at 14 per cent. Twenty-nine per cent have struggled for food, meaning they skipped meals or ate less, or found help from services such as food banks.

Steve Baker, a leading Conservative backbencher and MP for Wycombe, told ministers that his constituents’ finances had been “tipped over the edge” by the pandemic.

“This alarming report is a wake-up call for ministers,” he told The Guardian. “I have told colleagues time and again during my time in parliament that poverty extends into my constituency in south Buckinghamshire.”

A government spokesman said: “Universal credit has provided a vital safety net for six million people during the pandemic, and we announced the temporary uplift as part of a £400 billion package of measures put in place that will last well beyond the end of the road map. Our focus now is on our multibillion-pound Plan for Jobs.”

The usual suspects wring their hands over the A303 “Unlawful” decision

Earlier Owl reported yesterday’s Western Morning News report on the A 303 decision.

In today’s WMN Tim Jones, chairman of the South West Business Council (SWBC) and David Ralph, chief executive of Heart of the South West LEP join Peninsula Transport Group chair Councillor Andrea Davis in lamentation.

Too many groups of questionable accountability and effectiveness? – Owl

Extract from Today’s WMN:

Mr Justice Holgate, adjudicating on a challenge by Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site campaigners, ruled the minister’s decision was unlawful due to a lack of evidence regarding the impact on the historic site and a failure to consider alternatives. It means the future of the transport scheme is now unknown and the South West could miss out on what business groups were predicting as an investment bonanza.

Tim Jones, chairman of the South West Business Council (SWBC), said the Government’s own figures had predicted it leading to a £40 billion boost for the region over a 20-year period. “So the cost of this decision for the South West will be about £2 billion a year – negative,” he said. 

“That’s scary numbers. It’s a complete body blow.” The SWBC had predicted that just by completing the A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down scheme, including the tunnel, the Westcountry would gain a £4 billion boost. 

Further improvements to the A303, particularly by dualling the road between Honiton and the M3, would escalate this to £40 billion as it would ease access to Southampton and other south-coast destinations, and London and the South East.

Mr Jones said that is now all in jeopardy and added: “We thought a positive decision had been made and this would kickstart a new series of investments. That’s now put in doubt. There is no certainty that it will be possible to reverse this decision.”

The Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) called the High Court decision “a huge disappointment” and said it would be writing to the Government to find out how it plans to improve transport into the region.

David Ralph, chief executive of Heart of the South West LEP, said: “This is a huge disappointment for many South West businesses and constitutes yet again a failure of Government to deliver on its promises to address the inadequate infrastructure getting into and out of the South West and specifically the A303 over the last two decades.

“We will be writing to the Department of Transport and Highways England directly to clarify how they propose to move forward and deliver the connectivity that is so badly overdue and talk directly with our MPs to seek reassurances that progress can be made as soon as practically possible,” he added.

New role for NHS Nightingale, Exeter

The NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter is getting a new role with two new operating theatres and outpatient services.

Owl is losing track of all this repurposing. Just over a year ago, on July 1, 2020 Owl posted “Now for Plan C – Devon’s Nightingale hospital will not treat Coronavirus patients”. It started taking cancer patients on July 7. Then on 26 November Owl reported it was starting to treat Covid patients. So are we now on Plan E?

Radio Exe News www.radioexe.co.uk 

NHS Nightingale Exeter before taking covid patients

The service, at a former DIY shop on Sowton Industrial Estate, is going to provide a range of services from this autumn to help tackle waiting lists across Devon and the wider south west.

It was built to cope with an expected influx of covid patients at a time when the country was preparing for the worst. In the end, it treated 250 patients from three counties.

After being decommissioned as a covid hospital earlier this year, the Nightingale was bought by NHS organisations across the region and used to provide diagnostic scans to local people, host a covid vaccine trial and train overseas nurses.

Local health bosses say plans are well underway to extend services to include planned orthopaedic surgery, ophthalmology and rheumatology services, as well as increasing the range of diagnostic services such as MRI scans.   

It’s already been announced that Exeter’s Nightingale would receive funding from the National Accelerator Systems Programme to increase capacity so that waiting times for certain operations are cut.

From the autumn, the former covid inpatient hospital will provide:

  • two operating theatres for day case/ short stay elective (planned) orthopaedic procedures
  • high volume cataract and diagnostic hub for glaucoma and medical retina
  • a community diagnostic hub to include CT and MRI
  • an outpatient rheumatology and infusions centre

Dr Elizabeth Wilkinson, consultant medical ophthalmologist at Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust (NDHT) and clinical lead for ophthalmology at NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group said: “During the pandemic, many NHS organisations across the country had to postpone planned procedures so that we could care for patients with covid-19 and continue to treat those with urgent care needs.

“Ophthalmology, orthopaedic, rheumatology and diagnostic testing services have been particularly affected across Devon, and so despite our best efforts, our waiting lists have grown. This means that many of our patients are waiting longer for treatment now than before the pandemic.

“We know how difficult postponing or cancelling surgery can be for our patients and their loved ones, so developing new innovative services in the Nightingale will help us to better prioritise the most urgent patients and those who have been waiting the longest.”

Chris Tidman, deputy chief executive of the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust (RD&E) and NDHT said: “As well as caring for nearly 250 patients with COVID-19 from across three counties in the height of the pandemic, the NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter has also provided over 6,000 important diagnostic scans to local people, supported the delivery of two covid vaccine studies and hosted overseas nurse training for three local NHS Trusts. 

“Our staff and volunteers created an exceptional facility that was much needed to  manage COVID-19 demand, and we are delighted that the Nightingale’s legacy of outstanding care will now continue, helping us to find new ways of working to further reduce waiting times for patients across the south west.

“To support this work, we will be recruiting additional medical, nursing, AHP and support staff over the coming months to work across orthopaedics, ophthalmology and imaging, with opportunities across both the Nightingale and our main hospital sites.” 

Petition: ‘Give councils the authority to discipline disruptive members’, says Jackie Weaver

Jackie Weaver became a viral internet sensation when she removed the unruly chair of Handforth Parish Council in Cheshire from a virtual meeting back in December – along with two councillors who supported him.

Philippa Davies sidmouth.nub.news 

Jackie Weaver, who shot to fame for removing the chair of Handford Parish Council and two councillors from a meeting because of their disruptive behaviour.

Now, in her capacity as a local government adviser, she is urging people to sign a national petition pressing the government to amend legislation to enable councillors to be disqualified or suspended for breaching relevant codes of conduct.

So far around 6,100 signatures have been collected for the petition, but it needs 10,000 to trigger a response from the Government, and 100,000 for the issue to be considered for a parliamentary debate.

Jackie, who helped launch the petition and is Chief Officer of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils (ChALC), says it’s vital to the future of local councils if we are to continue attracting people to serve their community.

‘We are trying to promote diversity and equality’

She told Nub News exclusively: “The kind of sanctions we are looking at aren’t public flogging. It’s looking at the potential of mandatory training or being removed from office for a period of time.

“It’s important that we show the powers that be that we care about politics from the grass-roots level. It’s been like pulling teeth so far. There is a general apathy and lack of understanding of just what a difference this can make. We all need to do a little.

“We are trying very hard to promote diversity and equality in local councils and we have to be able to say to people that they will be safe in that environment.

“The least we can do is reassure them that they won’t have to deal with internal conflict. We are failing some councils who work extremely hard at representing their communities, yet councillors have to deal with a disruptive element.

“I cannot understand why people wouldn’t want to sign this petition which is designed to support local government and make sure fellow councillors and members of the public are protected from unacceptable behaviour within the operations of the council.”

A ‘significant minority’ of councillors behave unacceptably

The petition states: “Some councillors behave unacceptably, yet currently sanctions do not enable councillors to be disqualified or suspended for breaches of a Code of Conduct.

“Most councillors maintain high standards of conduct, but a significant minority engage in unacceptable behaviour, such as harassment and bullying including racist, sexist, ableist abuse.

“This activity would be grounds for dismissal in an employment setting, and equivalent sanctions should exist for councillors.”

The petition can be found here.

Court Rules A303 scheme unlawful

In 1971, the Conservative Environment SecretaryPeter Walker announced the entire length of the A303 would be upgraded as part of a new roads programme that would deliver 1,000 new miles of motorway by 1980!

Owl remembers that the 1980’s was when Margaret Thatcher insisted that the Ilminster by-pass should be limited to three lanes on cost grounds, despite safety and future-proofing concerns.

Theresa May, in January 2017 said that her government was “committed to creating a dual carriageway on the A303 from the M3 to the M5”.

Now the Tories are in trouble again with the £1.7bn Stonehenge “improvements” programme being declared unlawful. Clearly a number of major issues have been ducked and, once again, we are the victims of bad decision making.

Surely the Government should have regard to ensuring that its proposals didn’t cause permanent harm to the World Heritage Site? We have just lost Liverpool, will Stonehenge be next, and, closer to home, is the Ladram bay section of the Jurassic Coast safe in Carter hands?

Owl posted “Why you won’t be seeing an improved A 303 any time soon” in April last year!

Court Rules A303 scheme unlawful

Local opinion as reported in yesterday’s Western Morning News:

Councillors in the far South West have voiced their dismay after the High Court ruled plans to build an eight-mile road improvement scheme to ease the bottleneck at Stonehenge were unlawful.

As reported in Saturday’s Western Morning News, campaigners on Friday won a High Court battle over Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ decision to approve a controversial road project which includes a tunnel near Stonehenge.

Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) challenged his decision to back the £1.7 billion scheme to overhaul eight miles of the A303, including the two-mile tunnel.

But the Peninsula Transport Group, created to transform transport and boost economic growth in the South West, has said it is disappointed at the news and will back the Department of Transport if it challenges the ruling.

The group, which represents local authorities responsible for highways in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, had supported the plans as a way to improve journeys to and from the Westcountry.

Peninsula Transport chair Councillor Andrea Davis said: “Peninsula Transport remains firmly of the view that the A303 Stonehenge scheme is essential to delivering much needed improvements to the A303/A358/A30 corridor. The investment for this scheme is essential to the economic performance of the South West peninsula.

“We will be closely examining the judicial review report, and urging the government to ensure that any lessons that can be learnt will be done so quickly, as well as aiming to minimise the effect the results may have on other schemes in the region.

“Whilst the result of the judicial review is a disappointment, we will continue to support the Department for Transport and Highways England to ensure that they can deliver end-to-end improvement along this essential travel corridor.”

The go-ahead for the scheme was given in November last year, despite advice from Planning Inspectorate officials that it would cause “permanent, irreversible harm” to the Unesco World Heritage Site in Wiltshire.

In his ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Holgate found the decision was “unlawful” on two grounds.

He concluded that there was a “material error of law” in the decision-making process because there was no evidence of the impact on each individual asset at the historic site.

He also found that Mr Shapps failed to consider alternative schemes, in accordance with the World Heritage Convention and common law.

The judge said: “The relevant circumstances of the present case are wholly exceptional.

“In this case the relative merits of the alternative tunnel options compared to the western cutting and portals were an obviously material consideration which the (Transport Secretary) was required to assess.

“It was irrational not to do so. This was not merely a relevant consideration which the (Transport Secretary) could choose whether or not to take into account.

“I reach this conclusion for a number of reasons, the cumulative effect of which I judge to be overwhelming.”

John Adams, SSWHS director and acting chairman of the Stonehenge Alliance, said: “We could not be more pleased about the outcome of the legal challenge.

“The Stonehenge Alliance has campaigned from the start for a longer tunnel if a tunnel should be considered necessary.

“Ideally, such a tunnel would begin and end outside the WHS. But now that we are facing a climate emergency, it is all the more important that this ruling should be a wake-up call for the Government.

“It should look again at its roads programme and take action to reduce road traffic and eliminate any need to build new and wider roads that threaten the environment as well as our cultural heritage.”

Solicitor Rowan Smith, for the campaigners, said: “This is a huge victory, which means, for now, Stonehenge is safe. The judgment is a clear vindication of our client’s tremendous efforts in campaigning to protect the World Heritage Site.” She said ministers would have to go back to the drawing board.

The Great Co-ordination

Owl has received, from crime novelist Graham Hurley, this comparison of the Johnson regime to dark events in history:

The Great Co-ordination

Gleichshaltung is one of history’s most sinister euphemisms.  The word is German and it means ‘co-ordination’.  Hitler and other architects of the Third Reich used it to build a totalitarian state that purged Germany of all opposition.  From 1933 onwards, Das Volk, the people, were urged to march in perfect formation towards a future that would owe its very existence to a single leader, Der Fuhrer. You either co-ordinated, or you were lost.

Something similar, beneath the surface of our torpid democracy, is happening here and now.  The Johnson regime, moving cautiously step by step, is denying every opportunity for individuals to raise a voice, to question a fact, or to point out the plainest lies.

It began with the August 2019 bid to prorogue parliament in the interests of a quieter life in Downing Street.  Thanks to the Supreme Court, our new Prime Minister was put back in his constitutional box but our current regime has a long memory, and an equally long list of public enemies, hence the current moves to restrict judicial review, thus leaving care and control of the country in the laps of those who know best. 

The law, of course, has also been the friend and ally of individuals seeking redress, but thanks to the steady and deliberate withdrawl of funding for legal aid only those with the deepest pockets are any longer able to press their case.  The government argues that subsidising justice is a luxury the country can no longer afford.  Better that kids still have shoes on their feet than m’learned friends get yet another bung from the public purse.  On the surface this act of triage sounds both responsible and  – in some weird way – compassionate.  Joseph Goebbels would be the first to applaud.

It took Hitler and his tribal barons a matter of months to throttle opposition in the press and on the airwaves, leaving Germany at the mercy of a vigorous and on-message media brilliantly choreographed by that same Minister for Propaganda.  Here and now, Johnson has a steeper hill to climb but once you suss the endgame it doesn’t take long to spot his route to Gleichschaltung. 

Moves within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to approve every senior appointment within the BBC.  Threats to privatise Channel Four and thus set the storm troopers of uber-capitalism on those uppity journos at Channel Four News.  Dark mutterings about The Guardian needing to watch its step.  As for the rest of the print media – with the lone exception of the Daily Mirror – Johnson isn’t much bothered.  The Murdoch press and the Daily Mail have long understood the public’s indifference to anything demanding a moment’s serious thought, while the Daily Telegraph – think Volkischer Beobachter, mainstay of the Nazi presshas become an arm of Johnson’s purged Whitehall.   

The Civil Service was once a bulwark against ministerial caprice but senior civil servants like Sir Alex Allen, the Prime Minister’s adviser on Ministerial Standards, have quickly realised the folly of trying to stand in the way of the Johnson coup.  Priti Patel may well have broken the Ministerial Code of Conduct but Johnson quickly ordered his supplicant Ministers ‘to form a square around the Pritser’, and that was that.  This diktat was both a dare and a warning.  If anyone – anyone – dares to argue the toss with Number Ten, their career is toast.  Sir Alex, by resigning, even spared Johnson the chore of having him sacked.

In one sense, the current bid to grab every particle of usable power is a coup by stealth.  In another, it’s anything but.  When a careless government neglects to read the small print on an international treaty, you might assume they’d do their diplomatic best to make amends, but Johnson and his hapless speak-my-weight Cabinet colleagues have never had much use for diplomacy. Au contraire, they prefer confrontation to the hard and sweaty hours around the negotiating table, thus playing to the groundlings’ fondness for a good ruck. 

The crudeness of this calculation says a great deal about the contemporary culture, openly nurtured by the current administration.  Where are the votes in decency?  In respect for our international neighbours?  In keeping your pledged word when everyone can see that sausages are having a hard time making it to Northern Ireland?  Hitler did something similar when he abruptly left the League of Nations in October 1933 after a rigged referendum, and bathed in carefully orchestrated Volk-applause thereafter.  That paved the way to open re-armament, and – within a handful of years – to another world war.

As the sweaty weeks go by, the scale and sheer ambition of the Johnson coup slips ever more into focus.  Critics dismiss him as a clown and a narcissist.  They believe he lucked into Downing Street and hangs on there by his fingertips.  In this, they appear to have the support of Dominic Cummings, his ex-bag man and eminence grise, who was there to see it all happening, but an overlooked element in Cummings’ testimony are the three ‘C’s that have so far sustained this grab-everything government and may well take us somewhere deeply troubling:  cunning, calculation, and sheer chutzpah. 

The woeful array of talent around the Cabinet table is no accident.  These hapless lackeys owe their good luck and their careers to their blustering PM and they know it.  Likewise, the shire Tories who put him there are still bewitched by his magical ability to win elections and stay ahead in the opinion polls, regardless of personal scandals, billions of mis-spent public funds, and administrative incompetance at a truly breathtaking level.  Covid and Downing Street threaten to beggar a once-decent country but – to the government’s great satisfaction – no one appears to be taking much notice.

Thanks to Cummings, we know that Johnson is lazy, self-obsessed, and temperamentally incapable of sticking to any decision.  He craves the applause of a grateful nation, fancies himself as a latter-day Churchill, and is ruthless with those who call him out.  Hitler, for the record, rarely emerged before mid-morning, idolised Frederick the Great, and consigned his enemies – both actual or imagined – to outer darkness.  Some of them survived.  Most of them didn’t.

As a crime novelist, I embarked on a new series of historical WW2 thrillers in a spirit of genuine enquiry.  In the rubble of five long years, I discovered the crime scene of my dreams but little did I ever anticipate the current echoes of a Fuhrer and a Reich that we ignore at our peril.  Hitler had been Chancellor for a couple of years before it dawned on the bankers, and the industrialists, and the bien pensants that it might be harder than they thought to put the Austrian upstart back in his box.  Johnson makes much of his knowledge of history and I suspect that he, too, has carefully plotted his undisguised dismantling of the checks and balances on which any healthy democracy must rely. 

The darkest acts sometimes take place in the brightest sunshine.  Another line from the Goebbels’ playbook.

                                                               

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 19 July

Our seaside towns are worth saving

Letters to the Guardian www.theguardian.com 

Will Hutton is right to deplore the decline of coastal communities (“There is a way to save our coastal resorts… welcome to Zoomtown-on -Sea”, Comment).

Yes, our buildings are in dire need of renovation, but more crucially we need to retain skilled workers to ensure future prosperity. More equitable school funding might compensate for the years that the lion’s share has been gobbled up by inner cities. Well-resourced schools would attract and retain parents whose skills could increase local wealth and ensure students have the same career and educational prospects as in the suburbs.

The second-home market has been parasitical, creating silent communities for much of the year. Priced out of properties, condemned to extortionate rents, local workers have to make their living elsewhere. Our communities need affordable homes, not more executive homes to swell the profits of construction companies.

Yvonne Williams

Ryde, Isle of Wight

Will Hutton shines an overdue light on the desperate trouble our coastal towns are in. However, I’m not sure championing the exodus from metropolitan areas to the coast is the panacea for this.

The acceleration of this trend, partly fuelled by Covid, has become pronounced in the last six months. One damaging consequence is the rapid rise in rents and prices. The larger salaries and capital of incomers mean the housing crisis has worsened. The gap between average incomes and housing costs is growing rapidly and young people can no longer afford to live in the places they grew up in.

The crisis facing coastal towns requires the building of more affordable housing and a significant expansion in social housing. Addressing the appallingly low level of local wages must also be a priority. Unless this kind of overarching approach is taken, Zoomtown for some will mean Doomtown for others.

Roy Tomlinson

Velator, Braunton, Devon

Resorts can be sad, diminished towns, lacking their past coastal glories, but on a walk down our spacious and pleasant seafront, all I saw were happy families enjoying their staycations and queuing for a turn on our very own Great Yarmouth wheel. So, yes, there are inherent problems but, no, we will not let our truly golden sands disappear from under our feet for lack of striving for sustainable progress.

Judith A Daniels

Cobholm, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Cornwall is no longer top choice for Brits’ summer hols

It turns out people would rather be exploring North Wales and Cumbria than sunning it up by the sea in Cornwall this summer.

Taking the pressure off might be welcomed by some! – Owl

Lisa Letcher www.cornwalllive.com

That’s according to new research which says that says Cornwall is no longer Brits’ top choices for UK holidays this summer – along with Devon.

Sykes Holiday Cottages ‘ annual Staycation Index has unveiled the top 10 most popular UK regions for summer, and for the first time ever, neither of the South West hotspots have claimed the winning spot.

Instead, it’s North Wales and Cumbria that have become hits with Brits looking for a staycation, with countryside breaks seemingly reigning supreme over seaside escapes, reports the Mirror.

Of course that’s not to say Cornwall and Devon aren’t popular at all as they’re still firmly in the top 10 rankings taking the third and fourth places respectively.

Other popular staycation choices include the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and Dorset (you can see the full list below).

The Peak District was actually unveiled as one of the destinations seeing the biggest increase in popularity, followed by Somerset and East Anglia.

With ongoing uncertainty around travelling abroad due to countries’ individual restrictions, it’s not surprising that Brits are opting to stay in the UK for the summer.

It looks like families are willing to splurge too, with the research unveiling that people are willing to splash out an average of £940 for a summer holiday, which includes their accommodation, travel, food and drink.

As for holiday types? Glamping, pet-friendly holidays and hot tub holidays have been some of the most popular choices from those looking to enjoy a memorable break.

Undoubtedly when international travel becomes easier there will be people flocking back to sunnier shores for summer holidays, but Sykes’ research found that the pandemic has changed the way people look at holidays at home. In fact, 46% of those surveyed said they would are now more likely to consider a staycation than prior to the pandemic.

Graham Donoghue, CEO of Sykes Holiday Cottages, said: “More Brits than ever are getting to experience everything the UK has to offer – whether that’s beach breaks along the South coast or exploring the picture-perfect Peak District.

“The pandemic will have a lasting impact on us all, and this is especially true for how people holiday. We expect the shift towards holidays at home to stick and hope to continue to see staycation destinations outside of the usual honeypot locations grow in popularity in the years to come.”

Top 10 most popular UK regions for summer 2021

  1. North Wales
  2. Cumbria
  3. Cornwall
  4. Devon
  5. North Yorkshire
  6. Yorkshire Dales
  7. Peak District
  8. South Wales
  9. East Anglia
  10. Dorset

Lifeline for rural areas facing crippling broadband connection bills

When Richard Bunning needs to file reports on his cattle online, or do any of the other various bureaucratic tasks for his Devon farm, he uploads the information on to a hard drive and drives to the nearest town. From there he finds an open wifi hotspot and sends it via a tablet.

Shane Hickey www.theguardian.com 

The laborious effort is necessary because there is no broadband on his farm, and when he asked BT how much it would cost to connect him, he was quoted £70,000.

Now thousands of people like Bunning, who live in broadband black holes around the country, have been given a ray of hope when it comes to being able to get fully online without racking up crippling bills.

Last year the government launched the universal service obligation (USO), which gives households with poor internet access the right to demand “affordable” connectivity. But instead many were given high quotes, of up to £100,000, to get a minimum 10Mbps speed to their homes.

After an investigation by Ofcom, those bills should be cut substantially, and people like Bunning could end up getting connected for free.

At the centre of the problem was how BT administered the quote. Until recently, if someone applied for connection, they would be quoted the full amount, even if other houses stood to benefit from the same connection.

But Ofcom says BT is obliged to calculate how many eligible homes and companies could benefit from an installation, and divide the total cost accordingly before providing a quote to an applicant.

Tom Paton, of advice website Broadband Savvy, points out that BT and Ofcom had been operating on different wavelengths. He explains: “On the main USO website, operated by Ofcom, it says costs will be shared where possible. But when people contact BT to get a quote, it often tells them it’s an individual scheme, which has caused massive amounts of confusion for consumers.”

BT had insisted that shared costs were not permissible under USO rules, since only individual households can apply. Last October, Ofcom launched an investigation to consider whether BT was complying with its obligations. A recent update from the regulator says BT “will take steps to mitigate the consumer harm we have identified”.

“Ofcom’s recent finding is essentially it reminding BT of its obligations. Assuming BT keeps to its word and acts in good faith, it will now be possible for entire villages to get connected for a single price, which can be allocated to multiple households,” says Paton.

The news will be a boost to local communities which have been unable to get decent connectivity and whose economic productivity has lagged behind the national average as a result.

Installations that cost £3,400 or less are paid for by BT. In the case of a cluster of 10 houses, where the bill will be £10,000 to connect, previously the first person to ask to be connected would be given the bill.

Now BT will have to assume that 70% of the houses will request a connection, making the bill £1,430 each – which would be covered by BT as it would be under the £3,400 threshold.

Bunning says he thought at the time that it was very strange that it could cost more than £70,000. “I am waiting for BT to come back to me and make me a fair quote along with all the other people in my village who can’t get decent broadband,” he says.

BT has agreed to refund affected customers and reissue quotes it has previously provided.

Ofcom says: “As a result of our investigation, a number of people will receive lower quotes from BT in the future, and the company is refunding affected customers. However, some properties in very remote locations will always be expensive to connect.”

It is estimated that 190,000 premises still do not have access to decent broadband in the UK. But not all will benefit from the changes. Under proposed new rules from Ofcom, if the cost of connecting a property is less than £5,000 above the £3,400 threshold, once one customer pays, BT will start work. But if it is more than £5,000 per household over the threshold, the first customer must pay the full amount before BT starts work – meaning one customer could face one high overall bill before anyone gets connected.

BT says the company gives communities options to fund local infrastructure by sharing costs. “We’re committed to delivering connectivity to even more properties and welcome the recent constructive conversations with Ofcom, including their proposals to suspend their investigation while they seek to amend the scheme.

“Connecting homes in the most remote locations under the terms of the USO remains highly complex and extremely costly, and for these premises a different solution will be required.”

Paton says he expects BT’s phone to be ringing off the hook once people become aware of the changes. “It will soon become clear how BT plans to quote individual streets or villages,” he said.

“Faster broadband can increase the value of your home, so people are prepared to pay for an upgrade, as long as the quote is fair.”