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.

Michael Gove drops mandatory housebuilding targets in face of Tory rebellion

If the ground rules have changed isn’t it time to pause the Local Plan and re-assess the need? – Owl

Mandatory housebuilding targets have been scrapped by Michael Gove in the face of a Tory backbench rebellion, The Telegraph can disclose.

By Daniel Martin, Deputy Political Editor and Christopher Hope, Associate Editor (Politics)

He has agreed to change his landmark Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill to make clear that centrally-dictated targets are “advisory”.

The new rules will mean that town halls will be allowed to build fewer homes than Whitehall believes are needed if they can show that hitting the targets would significantly change the character of an area.

The Levelling-Up Secretary has also agreed to water down the powers of the Planning Inspectorate, making it harder for them to reject local development plans which have been agreed with the community.  

And he has pledged to make it clear that more homes will be built in urban areas and in the North as part of the Government’s vision to level up the country.

In another change, town halls will be allowed to introduce registration schemes for short-term holiday lets and there will be a consultation on allowing them to require a change of use planning application if there is a switch from residential to short-term ‘Airbnb-type’ use.

Campaigners say that the problem in places like Devon and Cornwall is that many people are turning homes into Airbnbs, which reduces the number of affordable houses available and in turn increases the pressure to build more.

60 Tory MPs called for target to be scrapped

The climb-down came after 60 Conservative MPs signed an amendment laid by Theresa Villiers and Bob Seely calling on the Government to scrap its target that 300,000 homes should be built each year.

Facing the threat of a huge loss of authority for Rishi Sunak, the Government last month pulled key votes on the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill.

Following talks with the rebels, Mr Gove has now agreed to make a series of changes to ensure the Bill can proceed.

The rebels say the changes will rebalance the planning system to give local communities a greater say in what is built in their neighbourhoods.

They include a crackdown on developers keeping land unused even though it has been granted planning permission – a trick which keeps prices high and pressures councils to find even more land to build on.

There will also be a series of government reviews, including one on making it easier to build on brownfield land.

‘These reforms will rebalance the planning system’

Ms Villiers, a former environment secretary, said: “These reforms will rebalance the planning system and give local communities a greater say over what is built in their neighbourhood.

“The Government has listened and will amend planning rules so that councils which are subject to genuine constraints will be permitted to reduce their target. This will apply if meeting the centrally determined target would significantly change the character of an area, for example from suburban to high-rise urban.

“The compromise we have secured shows that positive change can be achieved through backbench scrutiny of legislation.”

Mr Seely said: “We know how many communities have been battling against bad development. Supported by well over 100 Tory MPs, we have helped ministers shape a housing and planning agenda which is more conservative than the one we currently have.

“Targets will be advisory, not mandatory. The power of planning inspectors is weakened. Rules which have helped developers force councils to release land will be weakened.

“The new language we’ve agreed will work with communities, speaking to the character of areas and celebrating the beauty of good design. It understands the need for farmland, will significantly emphasise brownfield over greenfield development, and will help deliver homes for young people.”

Downgraded targets

Under the changes, local housebuilding targets will be downgraded – they will only be “advisory”. They become a “starting point, a guide that is not mandatory”.

Town halls will be allowed to depart from the central determination of local housing need if there are genuine constraints on delivering it. 

It means, for example, that if the centrally-determined target would involve building at a density that would lead to significant loss of rural or suburban character, the council can set a lower number.

The reforms will cut the powers of planning inspectors as part of a “rebalancing of the relationship between local councils and the Planning Inspectorate”.

Up to now, the Planning Inspectorate has in almost all cases refused to accept that exceptional circumstances are present and indicated that the full target must be met. Their power to do this will be curbed.

Inspectors will be required to take a more “reasonable” and “pragmatic” approach to “plans that take account of the concerns of the local community”.

Mr Gove has agreed there should be more housing in urban areas and the Midlands and North. Cities will not be able to palm housing off into neighbouring suburban and rural councils.

New government review

There will be a new government review on making it easier to build on brownfield land. Councils could be able to charge higher levies on greenfield sites to encourage developers not to use them.

Mr Gove promised a third review on allowing councils to refuse planning permission to developers who have in the past refused to build promptly on land for which they have planning permission.

There could also be a character test in planning to ensure that so-called “spiv” developers can be turned down.

And there could be a new beauty test for new developments, to prevent pretty areas being spoiled by new housing.

When it comes to individual planning applications, new design codes will give councils a greater say over them. They will give councils stronger powers to specify the type of housing they want, and put in place standards on matters such as scale, height, bulk and character.

Councils which have delivered well in past years can take this into account in the number they propose for the future in their plans. This will mitigate the problem whereby councils delivering many homes get hit by even higher targets.

Mr Gove has agreed that a consultation on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework will be published by Christmas.

Devon one of UK’s most at risk areas for flooding

But you’re on your own.

Self-help is going to be the order of the day.

Remember John Hart in February 2020:

“Council Leader, John Hart’s solution, however, is to encourage a modern day dad’s army of individuals, villages and Parish Councils, where they care, to do more for themselves. Self-help, he said, is going to be the order of the day.”

Alex Davis

Devon is one of the UK regions most at risk of flooding, a study has revealed. The research was conducted by Utility Bidder, who revealed the UK areas most at risk of flooding, as well as areas where risk of flooding has increased the most.

The research showed Devon to have the 9th highest percentage of properties at risk of flooding in the UK. According to the study, 6.7% of properties had a risk of flooding higher than 1%, 9% with a risk higher than 0.1% and 9.3% with a risk higher than 0.01%.

Kingston upon Hill, Hull, had the worst stats in the list, with 92.3% of properties having a flooding risk of 0.1%.

Since 2018, it was also revealed that the risk of flooding has increased by 1.35% – the ninth highest increase in the UK. Torbay was also featured as 10th on the list, with an increased risk of flooding of 0.61% since 2018.

It is estimated that 1 in 6 UK properties are at risk of flooding, with Utility Bidder reporting this figure is set to increase due to climate change.

Utility Bidder also published advice to residents on how to minimise risk of a flood, as well as give information on what to do if your home is flooded.

James Longely, Managing Director at Utility Bidder has commented on the steps homeowners should take in order to protect their properties in the event of a flood:

“In England, 1 in 5 properties are at risk of flooding, which goes to show the importance of being prepared for a flood and protecting your property as much as possible and there are a number of steps homeowners can take if a flood alert has been issued, which will help reduce the damage caused to the property and the contents within it.

It’s important to move all important documents and valuable possessions upstairs in order to keep them away from the incoming water, as well as unplugging any electrical items. It’s also advised that homeowners take pictures of their home before the flood happens, as you can easily prove which damage has been caused as a result of the flood.

Sadly, there’s only so much homeowners can do to protect their properties from flooding, so it’s crucial we all know what to do after a flood has occurred. To begin with, it’s important to ring your insurance company as well as the local council, to make them aware of what has happened. If the flooding is severe and water levels are high, you must stay in a high place until help arrives.”

Top 10 UK areas where properties have a flood risk greater than 1%

RankArea>1% risk>0.1% risk>0.01% risk
1Kingston upon Hull16.80%92.30%92.30%
2North Lincolnshire13.90%15.70%16.20%
5Windsor and Maidenhead11.20%24.20%26.30%
6East Riding of Yorkshire8.60%21.30%21.80%
8North East Lincolnshire6.80%18.20%45.60%

“Big Brother’s” Survey – the small print,

the very small print, and the even smaller print (hard to spot at the very bottom).

“The Conservative Party uses the information you provide for the purposes of democratic engagement. This covers a wide range of activities inside and outside election periods, including but not limited to: democratic representation; communicating with you: surveying and opinion gathering, campaigning activities; activities to increase voter turnout; supporting the work of elected representatives, prospective candidates and official candidates; and fundraising to support any of these activities.

“For full terms of use and how to exercise your rights see our Privacy Notice at”

Pretty wide ranging.

Can anyone spot the “I agree to the terms and conditions” tick box?

Neither can Owl.

“Your details are on the Register of Electors, provided to us for electoral purposes under the Representation of the People Act. You received this material because we believe you will be interested in its contents. You can request that we do not contact you in future or exercise your rights by visiting and selecting Data Protection/Stop Mailings.”

The Legal Eagles amongst you might like to consider the questions raised by Paul F.

 In full posted as comment here, but more briefly summarised below:

1. The Privacy web page referred to is for the Conservative Party (central office) and although this refers to “the wider Conservative Party” it clearly states that local associations “may be data controllers in their own right or data processors acting on behalf of the Party”. This survey strongly states that it is a local “Community” survey (local to a specific town, not even the entire constituency) and this is highly suggestive that the data processor is the local association, yet the Privacy Policy they refer to is the central Party one, suggesting that it will be the main Party that will be processing the data. I am therefore left entirely uncertain as to who the Data Processor for this particular survey, and I suspect that without this being made explicitly clear, any consent is void – not the least of which because who would you legally need to contact if you wanted to know what data was being held or to request that they delete it or change your communications preferences.

2. Section 4.1 of the Privacy policy is also somewhat worrying – because it allows them to Canvas and collect your political opinions and process this data without having explicit consent (first item in the table). Whilst it may be legal for them to communicate with you about their policies based on your entry in the electoral register (Public Task), I doubt very much that it is legal for them to collect specific personal data on your political opinions based on a Public Task consent (2nd 4th and 6th rows). I doubt that a party can claim a “Substantial Public Interest” because on that basis, any political party (i.e. a one-man band set up specifically for this purpose) could collect political opinion data for the entire country without requiring any consent whatsoever.

3. I am not quite sure what would happen if the survey was returned without this having been filled in as it contains personally identifiable data (name and address on the front) but the person has clearly not consented to the processing of the data.

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 21 November

Exeter car park demolition won’t become student flats

Councillors have backed plans that would see a well-known Exeter city centre car park demolished and turned into housing. Mary Arches Street car park is becoming obsolete according to Exeter City Council and would require a £3.8 million refurbishment to “extend its usable life.”

Ollie Heptinstall

The council’s executive, at its meeting on Tuesday, approved knocking it down and turned into a “residential-led mixed use scheme” of around 100 homes with commercial use on the ground floor. The decision will need to be rubber-stamped at a full council meeting in a fortnight but, if approved, the car park could close before January.

A report by council finance director Dave Hodgson says a public consultation on the site’s future will then start in the new year, followed by a planning submission next August and demolition of the car park in November. The brownfield site, for which the council has secured £1.3 million of government funding towards demolition and asbestos removal, is expected to be ready for redevelopment in January 2024.

A number of upgrades are required to Mary Arches including structural, surfacing, accessibility and decoration works. The lifts also haven’t worked for over five years; bringing them back into use would cost £240,000 alone.

The report said the proposed regeneration scheme “is in the public interest and will improve the wellbeing of residents in a number of ways,” including by increasing the city’s housing supply, removing the “unattractive and obsolete existing car park” and reducing anti-social behaviour.

“In addition, the site is a key gateway to and from the north of the city and a high-quality scheme will contribute towards the positive forward-looking image of Exeter ensuring it is an attractive place where people choose to live, work, study and visit.”

The closure of the car park will mean the loss of 481 parking spaces in the city centre. However, the report states: “Across the city, there is spare capacity to take up customers when Mary Arches Car Park closes down.”

Speaking at the meeting, Mr Hodgson said part of the site has “significant archaeological interest underneath,” adding: “Therefore it is highly unlikely that that [part] would be disposed of for residential use.”

Responding to questions about what the residential development will consist of, council leader, Cllr Phil Bialyk, said: “I can be clear, if it is the city council’s land, there will be no purpose-built student accommodation.”

He added the finer details were “all a matter that will come forward in a planning application of which we’ve got a consultation charter and we will fully consult with everybody else.” Councillors were told the date of the car park’s closure is still to be finalised, depending on its safety and the confirmed timetable for the project.

Simon Jupp and team want to record how you voted in 2019

A couple of correspondents have brought the latest Tory “Community Survey” to Owl’s attention.

The first tore it up in disgust, the second sent Owl a scan.

It is not clear how widely this has been distributed within Jupp’s constituency; it asks questions on both national and local issues.

Here is how Simon introduces it:

But these were the three personal questions that stuck in the craw of the correspondents:

This survey was personally addressed, using information from the electoral register for what are deemed to be electoral purposes.

Despite having their name printed on the survey, recipients were also asked to confirm their name, if they returned the survey in the prepaid envelope.

Interesting questions: under the data protection act how do you justify holding, and how do you store and for how long, information on how individuals voted in a secret ballot? What uses are you entitled to put it to? Who has access to it?- Owl

Planning at crisis point – Local plan gridlock

Local plans for 15 years of development in each area are the bedrock of Britain’s planning system. Despite a government deadline to have an up-to-date local plan by the end of this year, 59 per cent of the country still lacks one, according to Lichfields planning agency. Amid labyrinthine complexity the average time to sign off a local plan rose from 450 days in 2009 to 815 days in 2019, the government’s planning white paper found.

Martina Lees (Extract)

Uncertainty over whether the government will abandon top-down housing targets, famously called “Stalinist” by former prime minister Liz Truss, have caused many councils to abandon making local plans. In April almost 70,000 homes across eight stalled local plans were in jeopardy, according to Lichfields. By September at least 19 councils had put their plans on hold. Sam Stafford, planning director of the Home Builders Federation, believes the count is now well above 20. “The local plan making system has effectively collapsed this year,” he says.

The process of making local plans should consult residents from the start instead of allowing developers to suggest sites, says Rosie Pearson, who chairs the Community Planning Alliance of about 600 local campaign groups. The system makes residents feel “things are always dumped on you. You don’t get a chance to influence them positively,” she adds.

“Don’t propose a load of plans and then ask people what they think and carry on ignoring everyone. Get everyone in a room and say, ‘Write what you liked about your area. What don’t you like?’ Then propose things and then run them by people,” Pearson says. “It’s called ‘engage, deliberate, decide’. It’s the opposite that happens at the moment, which is ‘decide, announce, dissent’.”

Devon seaside resort deserted in winter could become ‘next St Ives’

Across Devon and Cornwall it’s a familiar story: towns and villages that are buzzing with life during the summer, but little more than ‘ghost towns’ during the winter, as second home owners retreat to their cities and Airbnbs are left vacant. Salcombe, St Ives, Falmouth, Padstow, Newquay, Bude; the list gets longer every year. And now the award-winning, much-loved seaside resort of Woolacombe could be next.

Becky Dickinson

The very nature of Woolacombe means that it has always been busier during summer. For decades, tourists have flocked to the jewel on North Devon’s coast to lap up the sun, surf and golden sand, while sustaining the local economy. In winter, locals have enjoyed the chance to rest and regroup before the madness resumes all over again the following year.

But in recent years, the tide has shifted. In summer, Woolacombe is as busy as ever, but in winter, it’s becoming increasingly abandoned. Locals say second home owners are to blame, sweeping up properties as soon as they become available and pushing up prices – often into the millions. The result is that locals are being driven away due to the lack of long-term affordable housing in the place in which they grew up.

Nicola Roberts has lived in Woolacombe for 40 years and works in Londis. She says: “When I first moved here there were a lot more locals. Second homes weren’t really a thing. But the village in the winter now, there’s very few lights on, most of the properties are empty because a lot have just been bought up as second homes.”

Nicola adds: “There’s less of a community, yet this village is full of empty properties. People can’t afford to live here, they can’t afford to rent here, there are very few properties to rent because it’s all AirBnB.”

And she fears it could spell the end of village life. “I think it’s coming to the point of saturation where it will spoil the village,” she says. “Eventually, if we’re not careful, Woolacombe will end up like Padstow or St Ives. It’s a slow progression but that is what is happening.”

Compared to a decade ago, the village has already changed beyond recognition. Gone are the butchers, bakers and newsagents, replaced by chain clothing stores and expensive art galleries – that locals can’t afford to shop in. And according to property website Zoopla, the average sold price for a property in Woolacombe in the last 12 months was £545,537 – that’s well over the national average house price of £294,559.

Like so many other locals, Nicola can’t afford to buy a property in Woolacombe. She lives in rented accommodation – and to add irony to insult, the house right next door was used as second home. “They would send their teenage daughters down, they’d be having a fabulous time, screaming and laughing and joking which you do at that age,” says Nicola, “but they don’t know who their neighbours are – they’re not bothered that they’ve been working all day.”

While Nicola can only dream of owning her own home, there are others who buy them like ice-creams. Someone she knows works in an estate agents. “She said a chap phoned up and bought two properties to the value of £2million. He didn’t even view them,” recounts Nicola.

The population of Woolacombe now stands at just 840 people. And fewer locals means fewer workers. “There aren’t people living here to staff the businesses,” says Nicola. “Staffing this summer has been an absolute nightmare. People can’t travel in to work very easily, they can’t park, on a busy day they can’t get in to the village.”

Nicola would like to see rules introduced to ensure people are only allowed to buy a property if they intend to live in it. “I’ve got nothing against holiday makers because that’s why we’re here,” she says, “but the second homes are a problem. The whole financial structure is causing a problem in the village for lots of people.”

Nicola’s concerns are echoed around the village. Richard Walden was ‘lucky’ enough to move to Woolacombe 18 years ago before prices rocketed. He says: “it’s tough for local people. There are people who have lived here all their lives, they can’t afford to buy property in the village, they’ve got to go to Ilfracombe or Barnstaple. It’s already having a detrimental effect on community.”

And he says the situation is creating a division in the village. “You’ve got people coming in buying up second homes for hundreds of thousands, they’re just out pricing everybody else. The village is becoming ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ “

In the Beachcomber cafe, John – the cafe’s most loyal and treasured customer – is enjoying his daily coffee. He loves coming to the cafe, with its ‘lovely staff’ and says he’d ‘be lost without it.’ But after more than 50 years in the village, John is no stranger to change. “The population has altered a lot since I’ve been here,” he says. “I don’t really agree with second homes when there’s so many people without a home at all. Seeing a lot of empty homes isn’t much fun and it’s a waste of a house if they only come occasionally.”

Maggie Parker is another one who has witnessed the insatiable demand for second homes. Now 61, she is Woolacombe born and bred. Her grandparents used to run a hotel on the front and she went to school in the village. “When I grew up it was lovely, there was a butchers, all the shops, everyone knew everyone,” she says. “Now there’s no community, nothing.”

The culprits, in her eyes, are the second home owners. “It doesn’t bring money into the village because they get their deliveries from Tesco or wherever,” she says. Maggie’s daughter, Stacey Phillips, agrees.

Stacey runs Captain Jacks, the last standing traditional pub in Woolacombe, as well the Chichester Arms in Morthoe. However, despite running two businesses, Stacey still can’t afford to buy a property in the village. She currently rents the rooms above the pub with her husband and three children. And of all the friends she grew up with, only one still lives in the village.

“It’s upsetting that you’re shoved out of the place you grew up because you just can’t afford to live here,” she says. “In a way you can’t blame people because it’s a fantastic part of the country to live in. But living here is one thing, owning multiple properties that are then left empty is another.” And she believes the rent on many holiday rentals is “obscene.”

Stacey is passionate about the need for affordable housing and has put her name down on the parish council. “It’s getting to the point where something needs to be done because there isn’t a community,” she stresses. On top of the housing crisis, Stacey also faces trying to keep two pubs afloat in the face of a dwindling local population and the escalating cost of living.

“We’ve never wanted to be a business that just opens from April through to October and then shuts up, it’s always been for the community,” she says. However, “it’s getting to the point where what’s the point in opening 12 months of the year?” she asks. “You’ve got people to pay, you’ve got massive energy costs, with just a few people coming through the doors.”

Add to that competition from chain pubs and you’ve got the perfect storm. “One of my biggest bug bears is overhearing ‘I can get this for less in Wetherspoons,’ “says Stacey, who endeavours to use local produce and suppliers wherever possible. “But they (chain pubs) buy huge volumes of everything so they can get a better price. When you’re an independent you don’t get those prices.”

For now, Captain Jacks remains open for the scattering of locals who come to sit by the fire with a pint of ale or a plate of chips. But for all its beauty, there is a dark side to Woolacombe. With summer a fast fading memory and winter a grim reality, it’s hard to escape the sense of doom and resentment that haunts the village like the marauding cry of seagulls. And unless second home owners rent or sell empty houses back to local people at an affordable price, there may be some difficult decisions ahead.

Letter: Marine Conservation Society and Good Law Project join forces to take Government to court over sewage dumping 

This from Maggie Nelmes, Ventnor. Ed

Islanders are up in arms against Southern Water’s constant release of raw sewage into our coastal waters.

Whether a surfer or wild swimmer, a fishing or tourism business owner, or simply an Island resident, we are all adversely affected by this shameless flouting of the regulations, this willful fouling of the rivers and seas we value and depend on.

Seven IW locations in top ten of dry spills

In a recent report, publicised by News OnTheWight, Surfers Against Sewage revealed that, “Southern Water was responsible for four times as many ‘dry spills’ as the next worst offender, South West Water, and the Isle of Wight has seven locations ranking in the top ten for ‘dry spills’”.

Dry spills are sewage discharges occurring when no rain fell. Yet regulations stipulate that discharges are only permitted during ‘unusually heavy rainfall’.”

All around the country, private water companies are now routinely dumping untreated sewage in our rivers and seas, endangering human and animal health, and killing freshwater and marine life.

Unfit-for-purpose Victorian sewerage systems

Rather than investing in new infrastructure, they are making do with unfit-for-purpose Victorian sewerage systems, to maximise their profits for the benefit of their directors and shareholders.

No wonder many people are calling for public utilities like water to be brought back into public ownership.

Storm overflows within 1km of Marine Protected Areas

There are 1,651 storm overflows within 1km of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in England, and they were spilling sewage into the sea for a shocking 263,654 hours in 2021.

Many people across the country worked hard to persuade the Government to set up these protected areas to shelter vulnerable marine life and provide nurseries for young fish to grow, reviving depleted stocks caused by overfishing.

Marine Conservation Society join the campaign

Now, as a last resort, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is joining forces with the Good Law Project (GLP) to take the Government to court for failing to stop this environmental pollution.

At their Great British Beach Clean in September this year, the MCS found sewage related pollution on 73 per cent of the beaches they surveyed in England.

Luk: A polluted, toxic soup

Sandy Luk of MCS writes,

“It hardly needs saying that this is not good for the health of our seas. Plastic, chemicals and bacteria are all part of the cocktail of pollution that makes up untreated sewage spills.

“It won’t matter if we have the most effective management of marine protected areas, or the most sustainable fisheries management in the world (both key Marine Conservation Society ocean goals) if the sea is a polluted, toxic soup.”

Plan fails to offer solution

In August, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published its new ‘Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan’ for England, but its proposals to tackle the problem fail to offer a solution to sewage spills from storm overflows.

Here are the MCS’s concerns about the Plan:

  • It virtually excludes most coastal waters (except for bathing waters), with some types of marine protected areas and shellfish waters totally excluded. This means around 600 storm overflows are not covered by the Plan and water companies will therefore continue to be able to dump uncontrolled amounts of sewage directly into English seas and onto beaches – completely legally.
  • The proposed time frames lack urgency, long-stop targets are being set for 2050, and the earliest, most urgent, targets will not have to be met until 2035.
  • There are no targets to implement upstream solutions or to stop harmful pollutants, including chemicals and microplastics, at source.

Sandy Luk of the MCS writes,

“In our consultation response in March, we pointed all of this out and proposed solutions.

“The plan has not been amended since the consultation.”

Government dismissed MCS’s concerns

In early August, the MCS met with DEFRA to draw their attention to the urgency of these issues and recommend strong action.

To their utter amazement, the Government dismissed its concerns, claiming that storm overflows don’t harm estuaries and coastal waters because the sea dilutes the sewage.

This is,

“A ridiculous statement showing either a complete lack of understanding of the impact of the cocktail of plastics, chemicals and pathogens in raw sewage on marine life, or a complete disregard and disrespect for the importance of that marine life.”

No response to open letter to DEFRA

Driven by frustration, the MCS wrote an open letter to DEFRA to highlight their concerns and demand more information on the impacts of the Plan on coastal communities, who had lobbied so hard for DEFRA to address coastal sewage spills.

“To date, we have had no response to our open letter.”

Legal action as last resort

Now, having run out of all other options, the MSC is having to resort to legal action. It is joining forces with the Good Law Project (GLP), an oyster business and a surfer. GLP is setting up a crowdfunding campaign. On its Website, it writes:

“This is one of the biggest environmental scandals of our times. But the Government is failing to put a stop to it.

“We need urgent action to protect our precious and biodiverse ecosystems and to safeguard everyone’s right to safely enjoy our beaches and waterways for generations to come.

“We are joining forces …to compel the Government to rewrite its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan to impose much tighter deadlines on water companies to clean up their act. We are also in discussions with other potential claimants, who may be added to the claim later.”

What is the Good Law Project?

Good Law Project (GLP) is a not for profit organization, independent of any commercial interests, and funded mainly by members of the public. Its mission is to protect the environment, uphold democracy and defend the interests of marginalized groups.

GLP recently succeeded in forcing the Government to totally rethink their Net Zero strategy.

Eleven gambles that went wrong for Liz Truss

In the autumn of 2022, Liz Truss bet her premiership on a so-called mini-budget that ripped up decades of economic orthodoxy. It did not pay off.

By Nick Robinson

I spoke to those involved about the thinking behind the biggest risks she took during her seven weeks as prime minister – and why they did not succeed.

1. Not heeding warnings of ‘fantasy economics’

At the start of Liz Truss’s leadership campaign, when I interviewed her on Radio 4’s Today programme, I put it to her that she was gambling with the British economy by preparing to borrow as much as Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies she had condemned.

She replied that the real gamble was to carry on as we were; condemned the economic ideas of the past 30 years pursued by both Conservative and Labour governments, which she called the “Treasury orthodoxy”; and told me she was prepared to “bulldoze” opposition to her plans.

During the campaign, her rival, the former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, called her ideas “fantasy economics”. His ally Michael Gove said they were a “holiday from reality”.

And, as it became ever more clear that she was going to win, her circle of advisers got smaller.

Then-cabinet minister and one-time Truss ally Simon Clarke describes the mood in the Truss campaign as “revolutionary”. He says: “You could definitely sense that she herself had resolved that it was do or die.”

2. Sacking a top Treasury official

Days after she moved into No 10, Truss sacked the Treasury Permanent Secretary Tom Scholar, a senior civil servant who had worked for chancellors from Gordon Brown to Rishi Sunak.

This had the effect of intimidating other officials.

Once it had become clear she would win the Tory leadership election, officials met her at Chevening – her official residence as foreign secretary – but they did not warn her about her plans.

They believed it was not their job to do so, given that Truss was not yet prime minister. But one political ally of Truss’s, who asked not to be named, told me that anyone who challenged her was “executed in that room”.

Indeed, very few of those who worked behind the scenes have been prepared to talk up until now. I’ve spoken to many off the record. Asa Bennett, Liz Truss’s speechwriter both before and after she became prime minister, did agree to talk in public.

“It’s safe to say that he [Scholar] would still have been in the job if he was deemed to be helpful,” says Bennett. “Certainly many saw him in the Tory Party as the personification of Treasury orthodoxy.”

3. Bypassing the budget watchdog

Truss did not trust the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) – the body set up by the former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne to make sure politicians could not fiddle official economic forecasts.

She believed its forecasts were usually wrong and that it did not share her belief that tax cuts could stimulate growth and, potentially, pay for themselves.

In order to bypass the OBR, she said her plans to spend billions on tax cuts were not a budget. They were instead what she initially called a fiscal event – language designed to ensure she could ignore the law that states that the OBR must issue forecasts whenever there is a budget.

This world view echoed what Truss was hearing from those around her during the summer leadership campaign.

Jon Moynihan, who was Liz Truss’s main fundraiser and spoke to her regularly throughout the campaign, says: “This whole idea that you have to get the tick of approval from the OBR, which has been consistently wrong in its financial forecasts is, in my view, anti-democratic.”

4. Not following some tax and spend advice

Truss’s allies in cabinet warned her that she needed to produce plans to cut spending to demonstrate how she intended to pay for tax cuts.

The minister who previously had been in charge of public spending at the Treasury, her new Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke, discussed plans with her to cut spending by five to 10%.

And while there remained ministers back at the Treasury arguing for the need to talk about spending restraint – a paragraph spelling that out was removed by No 10 from the Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget speech.

Truss told them that cuts would “distract from the message” about tax and growth and they could “worry later” about it.

People who raised worries were told that they had become part of the “Treasury orthodoxy”.

“We certainly discussed the importance of making sure tax and spend were in alignment,” says Clarke, who at one point was rumoured to be a candidate to be Liz Truss’s chancellor.

“The question which sits at the heart of all of this is at what moment in her mind she decided that was not necessary… I think her appetite for radicalism had only consolidated.”

5. Not having her ‘homework marked’

Truss had a trio of friendly economists who gave her advice. They were known as the Trussketeers.

One – Gerard Lyons – says that he warned her not to go further or faster than was expected by the financial markets and that he wrote a memo to the chancellor in the week of his mini-budget to repeat his warning.

“My view, both privately and publicly, was that any fiscal announcements needed to stick to what the markets had expected,” he says.

“I think all three outside economists stressed it was necessary to have a fully costed budget. The phrase I used: it was necessary to have your homework marked.”

6. Cutting the top rate of tax

Truss’s closest allies inside No 10 and in the cabinet did not know that she intended to cut the top rate of tax until the night before the mini-budget.

Although the cost was relatively small compared with other tax-cutting plans, it sent a signal to voters and the markets that the new prime minister was willing to ignore concerns about unfairness – and was ideological in her approach to economics.

Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor, sat opposite Kwasi Kwarteng as he announced the plan.

“There’s lots of things that we prepare for because we don’t know what the big surprise is going to be in the budget,” she says.

“We didn’t anticipate that happening. The reason that we didn’t anticipate that happening is that it was bad economics and bad politics.”

7. U-turning on 45p tax

In the fallout from the mini-budget, Truss hoped that reversing her plan to cut the top rate of tax would silence her critics. But she encouraged them to demand further changes – and also embarrassed and alienated her allies who, like the Daily Telegraph, had praised her as the lady who was not for turning.

When she did backtrack – in the middle of the Conservative Party conference – even her most ardent fans were worried.

“I thought: ‘It’s the beginning of the end,'” says Jon Moynihan. “Concede on one, you would end up conceding on all.”

8. Sacking her chancellor

Jon Moynihan was right. Days after the Tory Party conference, Truss sacked Kwasi Kwarteng, her friend, long-term ally and the man who had implemented her ideas.

She replaced him with Jeremy Hunt, who tore up almost every one of the policies in Kwarteng’s mini-budget.

Sir Graham Brady, Chair of the influential backbench 1922 Committee, could sense which way things were moving.

“I think at that point it was very difficult to see how the whole thing could just work,” he says.

“She could do everything possible to restore market confidence, but to do that she was ending up doing all of the opposite things to those that she promised to do.”

9. Making enemies in the party

Truss sacked almost all those who disagreed with her and promoted those who backed her.

She did nothing to reach out to Rishi Sunak and his supporters despite the fact that he had won the support of more MPs than she had.

Her allies accused her critics – like Michael Gove – of mounting a coup. They still believe that to be true.

Nadine Dorries, former Culture Secretary and an ally of Truss, is writing a book arguing that this was a case of conspiracy rather than cock-up.

“The moment she won the leadership competition, they were never going to let her stay. She was always going to be removed. I thought she may be there for six months. But I knew they weren’t going to let her survive until the next election.”

10. Fighting the financial establishment

Truss’s allies believe she was undermined by leaks from the Treasury and the hostility of the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which criticised her policies.

Truss’s supporters – and some of her critics too – believe the people she had sacked, ignored or belittled were happy to see her fail.

Some allege there was co-ordination between the Bank of England and the IMF in issuing critical statements which unnerved the markets. Senior officials in one organisation had previously worked in another or knew their counterparts well.

Her allies blame the Treasury for briefing news of a possible climbdown on corporation tax, that bounced her into making the U-turn, then forced her to sack her chancellor, and ultimately cost her her job.

The “forces against her” comprised “such a huge proportion of the British establishment or blob”, says Jon Moynihan.

“I don’t think the Bank of England was particularly well-disposed towards the Truss government.”

Asked if there were people in the Treasury and at the IMF who wanted Truss’s government to fail, Jon Moynihan says “certainly”.

11. Truss always believed in herself

Liz Truss was nicknamed “the human hand grenade” but embraced this as a compliment rather than criticism.

Officials say she always wanted to be the most radical person in any room – which was fine when she was not the ultimate decision-maker and could be overruled. But once she was prime minister there was no-one empowered to hold her back.

Her chief of staff was a political campaigner who openly admitted to having very limited knowledge about policy. Her chancellor was an old political friend and ally who said that he saw his job as delivering the PM’s wishes. Her cabinet secretary had been told she planned to sack him and, insiders believe, did not want to stand up to her whilst his position was insecure.

Truss was the Conservative Party members’ choice to be PM. MPs who were not her supporters rushed to endorse her once they saw she was going to win. The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph hailed her as Margaret Thatcher’s successor. Her most ardent supporters attacked Rishi Sunak as a socialist.

She, and they, gambled. Many would say, the country paid the price.

Additional reporting by Jack Fenwick and Stephanie Mitcalf