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.

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 13 March

Chainsaw massacre of trees at Winslade Park – Every picture tells a story

From A Correspondent:-

As a sequel to yesterday’s blog regarding tree loss in Armada Way, Plymouth entitled “Infighting, incompetence and lack of experience of local Tories – Plymouth” and the accompanying, supplementary comments on the significant tree loss/hedgerow at Winslade Park, Clyst St Mary – herewith are the actual ‘ugly images’ that evidence and corroborate the destruction of significant, mature trees by the developers of Winslade Park (abetted and supported by East Devon District Council planners) in their quest for economic benefits!

The first two images were taken in April 2022 and show tree/hedgerow loss (during the bird nesting season), in a long-established car park, to clear the way for the construction of 40 four storey flats, adjoining a TPO protected woodland- but crucially the chainsaws annihilated these mature car park trees/hedgerows even before any reserved matters, detailed planning permission had been granted!

The next two images were taken in January 2023, when contractors felled both mature and younger trees, cleared undergrowth and hedgerow for the on-going refurbishment of Clyst House, adjoining Church Lane.

The final March 2023 drone image link below incorporates a construction company advertising their workmanship on a newly completed 1600m2 car park, to accommodate the significant cars and traffic at present required for the multiple users of Winslade Park.

Sadly, a very significant quantity of native mature tree species and some historic trees imported from overseas by the Veitch family in previous centuries have now disappeared, being felled on the south side of Winslade Manor to accommodate this car park!

However, local people were unaware of any plans submitted for this newly-created car park that now boasts panoramic, open views across the Grindle Brook, over green fields towards the A376 (although there were 395 new car parking spaces approved adjoining Clyst House on green fields, in the hybrid application, in a different location – but these parking spaces have yet to materialise) – no doubt, when completed these will also incorporate even more tree and hedgerow loss for this once predominantly rural community!

Regrettably such large tree specimens would have been capable of sequestering the carbon emissions from the significant Winslade Park vehicle uses – but now that ‘ship has sailed’ because the felled trees have probably been sold for lumber, furniture, firewood, mulch and chippings – although perhaps some may argue that as they have been recycled, then that fulfils ‘the green environmentally-friendly tick-box’- but that argument holds no compensation for the innumerable, diverse wildlife species that have made this area their home for centuries.

Even though David Attenborough and other conservationists strive to persuade us that climate change is approaching too fast and we must protect our environment – there are those in East Devon decision-making roles who keep telling us that ‘the economic benefits outweigh the environmental factors’ – so, consequently, it seems we must all get used to the chainsaws and invest in protective ear-defenders and anti-pollution face masks to reduce the risk of exposure to harmful vehicle airborne particulates!

Grave concerns expressed over cuts to homelessness support

Paul Arnott writes to John Hart: 

He said referrals to Alexandra House and other temporary housing providers are ‘an integral part’ of the service East Devon District Council offers people at risk of homelessness, and asks: “What solutions we will actually be able to provide for people who present to us if we are not able to refer into these projects that provide the specialist support these vulnerable people need?”

Philippa Davies 

Exmouth’s Open Door centre says its services for homeless people ‘could be pushed to breaking point’ if Devon County Council cuts its funding to hostels including Alexandra House.

The county council is currently consulting on plans to remove around £1.5million in funding to various hostels and other services in Devon for vulnerable adults. Alexandra House in Exmouth currently receives nearly £108,000 a year.

Tim Chappell, head of operations at Open Door Exmouth, said: “Open Door Exmouth is very concerned about the impact these cuts will have on our homeless community and those in danger of homelessness. Their welfare is our highest priority.”

He said the last 12 months have seen a spike in the number of people seeking the help Open Door provides, which includes free meals and food, one-to-one support sessions, showers and sleeping bags.

He warned: “The additional pressure these cuts would put on our services, on top of the increase in need we are already experiencing, is very worrying. Our own funding is tight, and we rely on generous-hearted volunteers to run our services with a very small staff team.

“An increase in demand for our services that would inevitably come our way could push us to breaking point. This is not the time to be reducing funding for those most impacted and at risk of homelessness by the cost-of-living crisis.”

Meanwhile, ‘grave concerns’ are being raised by the leader of East Devon District Council about the proposed cuts.

In a letter to John Hart, leader of Devon County Council, Paul Arnott said referrals to Alexandra House and other temporary housing providers are ‘an integral part’ of the service East Devon District Council offers people at risk of homelessness, and asks: “What solutions we will actually be able to provide for people who present to us if we are not able to refer into these projects that provide the specialist support these vulnerable people need?”

He said the consultation on the cuts had been announced ‘with almost no notice, and we were shocked by its sudden appearance’. He warns that cuts to front-line homelessness support will lead to higher costs for the county council’s Adult Health and Social Care services.

Devon County Council said it is ‘committed to supporting vulnerable adults across the county and focusing on its statutory responsibilities to ensure that individual eligible social care needs are met’.

The consultation on ending its funding to the support services runs until April 19.

Infighting, incompetence and lack of experience of local Tories – Plymouth

“…the chainsaws were not the work of one man. The whole administration stands discredited ahead of May’s local elections. Even the two local Conservative MPs, Johnny Mercer and Sir Gary Streeter, believe that Labour should now take over the council………. The infighting and incompetence of local Tories lie behind this declaration of no confidence.”

The Guardian editorial on Plymouth’s lost trees: an act of vandalism 


The decision taken by Plymouth’s Tory council leader, Richard Bingley, to chop down more than 100 mature trees under cover of darkness earlier this month was damaging to the city as well as the horse chestnut, silver birch, pear, apple and other specimens that were removed. Armada Way, the pedestrianised boulevard that runs south through the city centre to the sea, is a rare postwar conservation area and ought to be a national showpiece. Instead, ugly images of debris strewn among the modern architecture have upset and angered local people and conservationists. They may also set back efforts to boost the city by attracting tourists.

The upset and anger are more than justified by events. A consultation regarding the proposed regeneration of the city centre showed that a majority of locals do not support it. A campaign group, Save the Trees of Armada Way (Straw), gathered a petition of more than 16,000 names. Yet the council ploughed on until it was served with a court injunction by campaigners. On Monday, Mr Bingley resigned, ahead of a council meeting.

But the chainsaws were not the work of one man. The whole administration stands discredited ahead of May’s local elections. Even the two local Conservative MPs, Johnny Mercer and Sir Gary Streeter, believe that Labour should now take over the council (so far Labour’s Tudor Evans has resisted this, saying that the decision should be made at the ballot box). The infighting and incompetence of local Tories lie behind this declaration of no confidence. Last year, one former councillor, David Downie, said that he was “very concerned” about the Conservative cabinet’s lack of experience. Mr Bingley is on record as having said that people shouldn’t “worry too much about climate change”.

Such cavalier attitudes are outdated. It is a sign of progress that so many people now recognise the importance of trees, not only as attractive local features but as wildlife habitats with a role in sequestering carbon and keeping streets cool. Developments for new housing or other infrastructure should work around them. Promises to plant new trees are no substitute for looking after those that already exist. Where developers present plans that are harmful to nature, councils must push back and demand alternatives.

In its dismissal of local people’s feedback, this council showed itself to be as high-handed with voters as with the environment. Just as happened in Sheffield, where a Labour council destroyed public trust through its handling of protests over the removal of street trees, Plymouth’s leaders adopted a bunker mentality. Spending £12.7m of levelling up funds within the allotted timeframe was what mattered. They believed their plan to be a good one, and that was that.

Except it wasn’t, and their poor stewardship of precious local assets has been shown up. Clearly there are lessons here for Plymouth, where control of the council has switched between Labour and the Tories, and previous regeneration projects have produced good results. But there are wider lessons too. Cambridgeshire county council, which is run by a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition, has just approved plans to cut down an orchard to make way for a road. In too many areas, and in local parties of different stripes, politicians’ actions are failing to live up to their climate pledges. Development that takes us further away from our climate and biodiversity goals should no longer be called by that misleading name.

No affordable housing for Sidmouth Knowle’s new plans

Surprise, surprise and there may be no Community Infrastructure Levy either.

Tory legacy for Sidmouth gets worse and worse! – Owl

Affordable housing axed from Council HQ plans

Daniel Clark

Revised plans for the controversial redevelopment of the Knowle in Sidmouth have been submitted. McCarthy Stone’s proposals, for the former HQ of East Devon District Council, consist of a purpose-built care home, as well as extra care and retirement living accommodation.

Plans in 2018 were previously given the go-ahead to turn the premises at the Knowle into a purpose-built care home, retirement living apartments and affordable housing. Property developer LifeStory though ‘reviewed the consented development’ before selling the site to McCarthy Stone.

The new owners have now formally submitted a revised planning application for the site. But unlike the first scheme, there is no affordable housing included in the fresh plans. The plans do include four semi-detached houses, three townhouses and two chalet bungalows.

A statement with the planning application says: “The new approach has enabled a more efficient use of layout, building form and mix of accommodation to meet a greater need and variety of care. The development remains care and older person’s accommodation needs led but includes a greater mix of accommodation including a small proportion that may not necessarily be aimed at the older generation.

“The proposal provides the opportunity to achieve a high quality development that would positively contribute to meeting demonstrable local housing needs. This scheme provides numerous wide ranging social and planning benefits, both for potential residents and the community as a whole.”

CGI artist impressions of the redevelopment of the Knowle in Sidmouth

On the loss of affordable housing, the statement says: “The extant appeal scheme for the assisted living community includes no affordable housing provision or Community Infrastructure Levy. The proposed scheme subject of the application does include a greater mix of older persons accommodation and open market housing.

“The Care Home and Extra Care elements of the scheme do not attract a need for affordable housing contribution. The Retirement Living element of the scheme and open market residential (42units) would need to be considered in the context of the affordable housing policy and vacant building credit which is also intrinsically linked to viability.

“The Knowle site is a classic situation where incentives are needed to get a scheme off the ground which have otherwise stalled to date and has the effect of reducing the actual level of affordable housing required, subject to viability considerations.

“With specialist private retirement housing, however, it is acknowledged that significant logistical and servicing issues arise from trying to mix different types and forms of housing alongside each other. The Local Plan identifies that the main thrust for affordable housing should be aimed at the young starter end of the market, however the site constraints do not lend to the efficient development of affordable housing on site other than that indicated within the viability considerations.

“McCarthy and Stone assert that the provision of onsite affordable housing units on a site such as this, within specialised housing for the elderly is both problematic and unviable and that an off-site contribution would be more suitable if viability considerations permit.

“When mixing low cost / heavily subsidised sheltered housing with open market retirement housing, one must bear in mind the significant use of the shared communal facilities within private retirement housing. The level of services provided to the residents of private retirement housing result in the level of service charge being a significantly larger proportion of total living costs than would apply to other forms of accommodation.

“It would be very difficult to set the service charge at a level that would cover the costs of the type of management that private purchasers expect, yet still be affordable to residents of affordable housing. It would also be difficult for the affordable housing provider to guarantee payment of a service charge in perpetuity that would be liable to change on an annual basis.

“Another consequence of trying to mix private retirement housing with low cost/ subsidised housing would be the significant potential for friction and animosity between those residents who pay a significant annual service charge for premium services and those who would occupy low cost or heavily subsidised apartments, but have use of the same services.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that some residents would resent the fact that their neighbours are enjoying the same level of services for a fraction of the cost, or that they may perceive themselves to be subsidising others. This situation would only serve to exacerbate management problems and disputes between neighbours and would ultimately undermine the success of the housing development.

“In Sidmouth as in many similar places, the need for affordable housing is identified in smaller starter family homes and young workers.”

CGI artist impressions of the redevelopment of the Knowle in Sidmouth

Shane Paull, Divisional Managing Director at McCarthy Stone Southern Division said: “Our proposals for Sidmouth have been shaped by public feedback, and we have provided residents with the opportunity to provide us with their views since we initially acquired an interest in the site last year.

“Our plans represent a sensitive, well-designed development that will help improve accommodation choice for older people in the local area and will help to address a local demand for retirement accommodation, providing housing choice for older people, whilst freeing up the wider housing market for local families and first-time buyers further down the chain.”

Changes to the masterplan include:

· Additional parking has been included within the centre of the site, that will be naturally screened by new tree planting.

· The provision of four houses on the north-western part of the Plateau

· The number of affordable apartments has been reduced from 21 to 17. This has also enabled the affordable apartment block to be relocated from the northeast part of the Plateau to the north-west, that is stepped away from neighbouring properties

· The reduction in the level of Retirement Living PLUS apartments, from 59 to 53

· Additional tree planting to provide an extension to the Arboretum, that provides a green corridor stepping down to the south part of the Plateau site.

· The provision of two houses along the southern grass verge of the Plateau.

The plans now include:

· In northern part of the site that currently comprises of a car park, to be developed by Porthaven, to provide a 68-bedroom care home

· A high-quality Retirement Living and Retirement Living PLUS (Extra Care) development to be developed by McCarthy Stone on The Plateau part of the site, featuring up to 27 one-and two-bedroom Retirement Living apartments as well as up to 53 one- and two- bedroom Retirement Living PLUS (Extra Care) apartments for private sale, part-rent part-buy and rental options

· The Plateau part of the site to also include up to 17 one-and two-bedroom affordable open market housing apartments, as well as four houses, in compliance with local authority guidance

· Tailored shared facilities within both the Retirement Living developments, including a communal lounge with a kitchenette and a hotel-style guest suite as well as an onsite bistro restaurant within the Retirement Living PLUS development.

· Principal vehicle access from Station Road, with secondary access from Knowle Drive for the use of emergency and refuse vehicles only.

· Sufficient levels of car parking onsite, including disabled and electric vehicle charging bays, in accordance with East Devon District Council’s standards, as well as an overflow parking area to the southwest of The Plateau part of the site, that will be accessed from Station Road.

East Devon District Council planners will determine the fate of the application at a later date

East Devon ‘warm spaces’ to stay open over the summer – as community centres

Community heated hubs across East Devon are to stay open across the summer after proving a hit amid the colder months.

East Devon District Council recently announced the warm spaces will remain as community centres after more than 200 people sought the support of the 10 hubs over the winter.

It has not been confirmed if the warm spaces’ service will be repeated during winter 2023.

Residents in East Devon will continue to be able to use community hubs after they proved a hit over the winter, writes local democracy reporter Rob Kershaw.

Late last year, East Devon District Council (EDDC) opened up hubs, or ‘warm spaces’, as a way to keep residents in touch with each other and avoid loneliness, while also providing warm meals and a heated communal space.

People can also receive advice about their bills and learn about benefits to which they may be entitled.

Some 221 people, aged eight months to 96-years-old, have used the 10 hubs across the district in the last four months.

This was more than council officers were expecting, so the hubs will now be kept open as community centres. While it is unconfirmed, they could still be in use next winter.

The council said the hubs, which will be volunteer-led going forward, will cost less than a thousand pounds per month including staff.

“The warm hubs cost around a total of £1,300 per month which includes all the supplies and activities,” said an EDDC spokesperson. “Moving forward, we are looking to adopt a new operating model and the costs during the summer will be circa £800 per month.”

At a recent poverty panel meeting, Independent Councillor Dan Ledger, who represents Seaton, described the centres as a ‘huge success’.

And Independent Cllr Marianne Rixson, said: “I think this has been a fantastic project and obviously it’s filled a gap which we didn’t know was there.

“It’s also, I think, helping people with their mental health because loneliness is a terrible thing. I imagine that this is helping to form new friendships which could be long-term as well.

“And so, all in all, I think this is just fantastic and I’m really pleased that it’s going to continue.”

Tiverton and Honiton MP, Richard Foord, writes to Barclays

It’s after the bank announced plans to close branches in the constituency

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter

A Devon MP is to write to the boss of Barclays after the bank announced it will close its branches in Tiverton and Honiton.

They will serve customers for the final time on Friday 23 June, meaning people could have to travel to Exeter or Taunton to access do their banking with the firm.

Justifying its decision, Barclays says when it opened both branches, “visiting us in person was one of the only ways to do your banking.

“Now, as there are lots of ways to manage your money without even leaving your home, we’re seeing many customers choosing to bank using our app, and online or telephone banking.

“This has had a big impact on the number of customers coming in to see us.”

However, Richard Foord (Lib Dem) says the decision is “very disappointing,” adding: “This is a huge blow, not just for many of those living in the towns, but also those in the surrounding area who rely on being able to access these services locally.

“This is just the latest in a swathe of bank closures which risk leaving our communities as banking deserts, devoid of any local branches, and leaving people having to travel all the way to Exeter or Taunton to access vital banking facilities.

“I will be writing to Barclays’ CEO to raise these concerns and demand answers on why this is happening now, especially since Barclays is making huge profits, raking in more than £2.5 billion last year.”

In notices to its Tiverton and Honiton customers, the bank said: “We’ll be working with the local community to understand the impact of closing this branch.”

It added: “We’ll stay in your community and you’ll be able to talk to us in person. We’re finalising the details of where we’ll be based, and when, to support you with your banking, and we‘ll share the details locally once confirmed.”

Barclays’ announcement comes after HSBC also said it would also be closing its Honiton branch this summer, while nearby Axminster lost its last remaining bank in November.

It led Mr Foord to call for more banking hubs, which allow customers from different banks to deposit and withdraw money.

Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate earlier this month, he claimed people  increasingly have less access to their own money because of the closures.

Mr Foord asked economic secretary to the treasury Andrew Griffith (Conservative) when Axminster will be getting a banking hub. Talks have been ongoing, but one has yet to materialise.

In response, Mr Griffith said: “There are 70 cash hubs on their way. Members throughout the House [of Commons], including a number of [Mr Foord’s] colleagues in Devon, have procured them.

“It sometimes takes a little while for them to appear because of planning issues or the need to get the right power arrangements and safe access in place for constituents.”

The government minister added that access to cash and the ability to deposit it will be protected by law.

Tim ponders what new information has caused EDDC to reopen the Humphreys investigation

Quite fascinating to ponder what this new information might be – and what it might say about the quality of the initial investigation in which so many declined to be interviewed, or as in the case of the Monitoring Officer, restricted what he was willing to share.

With luck, it might be something that would prompt Devon and Cornwall police to seek a review of their conduct, by another force, for what appear to be failures at the earliest stages of this matter. – Tim

(Originally posted as comment)

Two Barclays branches to close in Devon in latest shutdowns – Tiverton & Honiton

Barclays Bank has announced the closure of more of its branches across the country – including two in Devon. The banking giant revealed its plans to shut 14 more branches across England and Wales which is set to take place in June.

Chloe Parkman

According to The Mirror, the latest closures come on top of the 55 branches the bank had already announced would shut this year. This means that the bank will close at least 69 branches by the end of 2023.

The latest announcement has confirmed that both Tiverton and Honiton are set to lose their Barclays branches in June this year.

However, despite the upcoming closures, the bank – which runs pop-up sites – is set to open new ‘banking pods’. The ‘banking pods’ are semi-permanent sites that can be moved to different locations based on demand.

Barclays currently has 200 pop-up sites and has announced plans to increase this number by another 70, while it also has ten of its “banking pods”.

The bank also runs an educational and support van service for people who need financial advice on topics such as saving for a home or setting up a business. You can find your nearest service on the Barclays website.

Customers can also access certain facilities at Post Office branches including cash and cheque deposits, checking your balance and withdrawing cash.

Which branches are set to close as part of the latest announcement?

  • 46 Rhosmaen Street, Llandeilo, Wales, SA19 6HF – June 23, 2023
  • 38/42 High St, Mold, Wales, CH7 1BB – June 30, 2023
  • 12 Station Street, Saltburn-by-the-Sea, England, TS12 1AB – June 30, 2023
  • 24 Fore Street, Tiverton, England, EX16 6LE – June 28, 2023
  • 106 High Street, Honiton, England, EX14 1JW – June 23, 2023
  • 10 The Square, Caterham, England, CR3 6XH – June 23, 2023
  • 112 Woodcote Road, Wallington, England, SM6 0LY – June 28, 2023
  • 65/67 Sandgate Road, Folkestone, England, CT20 1RY – June 23, 2023
  • 66 Market Place, Chippenham, England, SN15 3JA- June 23, 2023
  • 1 The Square, Holmes Chapel, England, CW4 7AF- June 27, 2023
  • 13/15 Victoria Square, Holmfirth, England, HD9 2DW – June 23, 2023
  • 337/339 Stanley Road, Bootle, England, L20 3EB – June 30, 2023
  • 207 High Road, Loughton, England, IG10 1AZ – June 22, 2023
  • 28 Chesterton Road, Cambridge, England, CB4 3AZ – June 28, 2023

The Mirror claims it has contacted Barclays for comment.

I have a list of second jobs for MPs to consider:

From a correspondent:

I have a list of second jobs for MPs to consider:

Carer for Social Services

Community Police Officer

Any lowest-paid job in their local NHS hospital

Teaching assistant for children with special needs

Food Bank Worker

Toilet cleaner

Delivery driver

Road sweeper

Waiter or waitress in a local restaurant …

You get my drift

Watch the Kwasi Kwarteng job interview

Former chancellor boasts of his political career in hope of securing £10,000-a-day second job

Kwasi Kwarteng told representatives of a fake South Korean firm that he could introduce them to Boris Johnson – the “best campaigner you will ever see” – in the hope of securing a £10,000-a-day second job.

Kwarteng also indicated that Conservative whips would allow him to skip his parliamentary duties in order to further the interests of the fake firm, after apparently being duped by the campaign group Led By Donkeys.

Typo ….. yeah …..right

Seemingly ambitious Defra hedgerow targets actually due to typo

The UK environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has disappointed campaigners after revealing that an ambitious hedgerow plan for England was in fact a typographical error.

Helena Horton 

At the end of January, environment groups were delighted when Coffey revealed the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan would include aims to plant 30,000 miles of new hedgerows a year by 2037 and 45,000 a year by 2050.

Unlike many of the other pledges, this significantly outstripped recommendations by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and other experts.

However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has admitted that this was in fact a typo, and that the targets are for 30,000 miles altogether by 2037, and 45,000 altogether by 2050. This is significantly less than the first draft of the plan promised and about half of what the CCC recommends, which is 40% more hedgerows by 2050.

Expanding hedgerows has been seen as a relatively easy win for tackling the climate and biodiversity crisis, as they quite easily fit into the farmed environment while having many benefits for carbon storage and wildlife. Half of England’s hedgerows are estimated to have been ripped up since the second world war for farming purposes, and campaigners have been asking for them to be put back into the landscape.

The Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson, Tim Farron, said: “Defra should invest in a proof reader. Their accidental target was significantly better than the revised one.

“Once again, the government has failed to create a meaningful plan to recover our natural environment. Their targets lack ambition and without the proper systems in place are likely to be missed entirely.”

Environment groups called for more ambitious targets. Tom Fyans, the interim CEO of the countryside charity CPRE, said: “We need to see at least double the level of ambition. The Climate Change Committee’s recommendation was for 40% more hedgerows by 2050. We estimate that means around 100,000 miles by 2050 instead of the 45,000 miles ministers have included in the Environmental Improvement Plan – so less than half of what’s needed.

“But putting the target to one side, it’s also important that the government turns its mind to delivery. This target isn’t worth the paper it’s written on without more funding and support for farmers.”

Barnaby Coupe, the land use policy manager for The Wildlife Trusts, added: “We desperately need to replant lost hedgerows, as well as improving the quality of those that exist today. Government funding and ambition should reflect the importance of hedgerows in creating wildlife corridors – and planning and planting of this vital habitat should be a key priority.”

A Defra spokesperson admitted the error and said: “Hedgerows are important ecological building blocks across our landscapes. Our new farming schemes will continue to invest in incentives for maintenance and planting of hedgerows across the country.

“We set out our ambition in the Environment Improvement Plan that through the support of government schemes 65 to 80% of landowners and farmers will adopt nature friendly farming practices on at least 10 to 15% of their land by 2030. They will also be supported to create or restore 30,000 miles of hedgerows by 2037 and 45,000 miles of hedgerows by 2050.”

UK planning to launch watered down net zero strategy in oil capital Aberdeen

Tories “getting rid of the green crap” – to quote David Cameron, remember him? – Owl

Fiona Harvey 

The government is planning to launch its revamped net zero strategy from the UK’s oil and gas capital, Aberdeen, in a clear signal of its intention to boost the fossil fuel industry while cutting key green measures, the Guardian has learned.

Next week’s launch was originally called “green day” in Whitehall, but has been rebranded as “energy security day” and will focus on infrastructure. Campaigners have called the move a travesty.

Plans to extend offshore drilling for oil and gas will be cited as necessary to keep the lights on, and justified by investment in nascent carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which is as yet untested at scale.

The revamped net zero plans, including a green growth strategy, will contain major sops to the UK’s fossil fuel industries and will miss out on key green measures. The Guardian has learned that the plans, still under wraps before Thursday’s launch, will include the following:

  • Ministers will refuse to force oil and gas companies to stop flaring by 2025, as recommended in the review of net zero by Chris Skidmore earlier this year.
  • Ofgem will not gain important powers to include the net zero target in its regulation of the energy sector, effectively defanging the regulator.
  • No overarching new office for net zero, as recommended in the Skidmore review.
  • No compulsion on housebuilders to fit rooftop solar to new housing.
  • No comprehensive nationwide programme for insulation of the UK’s draughty housing stock, as green groups have been calling for. Instead, the strongest insulation measure is likely to be a consultation on the private rented sector.
  • The Treasury, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, and the Department for Business and Trade are at war over whether to introduce carbon border taxes.
  • Major roles for carbon capture and storage technology and hydrogen, which could boost the oil and gas industry with questionable gains for the environment.
  • The potential licensing of a massive new oilfield, Rosebank, under cover of investing in carbon capture and storage technology, which campaigners warn is “greenwash”.

Green experts and campaigners were “astounded” at the rebranding of what had been widely trailed as “green day”, and by the plans to unveil it in Aberdeen, the centre of the UK’s oil and gas industry.

Tom Burke, a co-founder of the E3G thinktank, said: “This is Fawlty Towers politics – don’t mention the environment! It’s a sop to the right wing. It’s clear this is not a strategy, just an assembly of lobby interests.”

He said the UK economy would suffer. “The real problem for the UK is that the US, with the Inflation Reduction Act, and the EU have started the race for a green economy. That race has gone off and we are not in the race. Green day was supposed to be an opportunity to get back in the green race, but this is just supporting [fossil fuel] lobbies.”

A last-minute change of venue is still possible, though Aberdeen is the favoured option, and rows are ongoing over whether the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, will lead the launch.

The launch next week will include several key elements and involve at least four government departments. Ministers are compelled to publish a revamped net zero strategy by the end of this month, after Friends of the Earth and other campaigners won a court case last year that found the previous strategy inadequate.

Green measures in the strategy are likely to include an expansion of renewable energy, includingoffshore and onshore wind – the latter currently in effect banned in England – and it will also include plans to produce green hydrogen. Electric vehicle manufacturing will be a focus, with the potential for a mandate requiring companies to sell more of them, as will heat pumps.

Ministers will also respond to each of the 130 recommendations of the net zero review, conducted by the Tory MP Chris Skidmore, and will publish a 70-page green growth strategy, and a green finance strategy from the Treasury. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will also make fresh commitments on the UK’s carbon footprint.

While the government sets out its energy security strategy, a decision on a licence for the massive new Rosebank oilfield has reached the desk of Grant Shapps, the energy secretary, the Guardian has learned. If it goes ahead, new estimates by the campaign group Uplift show that Rosebank, expected to cost £4.1bn to develop, could receive an effective taxpayer subsidy worth £3.75bn through tax breaks and the loophole in the government’s windfall tax that spares oil and gas investment.

This would mean that Equinor, the Norwegian state-owned company behind the potential field, would pay only £350m to develop Rosebank, which is three times the size of the Cambo oilfield. Equinor made £62bn last year, and about 80% of the oil from Rosebank is likely to be exported, rather than bolstering the UK’s energy security.

A spokesperson for Equinor said the company did not recognise the Uplift estimate, and cited a separate industry report that found the Rosebank project could bring £26.8bn to the UK through tax payments and investments into the UK economy. The spokesperson said: “Rosebank has the potential to strengthen energy security with oil and gas that is produced with a much lower carbon footprint than current UK production.”

Tessa Khan, the executive director of Uplift, said: “Approving Rosebank would be an unbelievably bad deal for Britain. UK taxpayers would effectively cover almost all the costs of developing Rosebank by giving Equinor billions in tax breaks. The oil would most likely be exported, and Norway would take the profit.”

Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change and net zero secretary, said: “The Conservatives’ latest energy relaunch is daylight robbery, a colossal waste of taxpayers money, and climate vandalism on an epic scale. Funnelling billions from the British people to foreign-owned oil and gas companies already making record profits is one of the worst deals in British history and an insult to millions facing the cost of living crisis.”

The potential Rosebank decision and the energy security launch proposals come after climate scientists issued their “final warning” this week that the world would breach the crucial threshold of 1.5C of global heating without urgent action. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, called for an end to new oil and gas development in response.

Relying on CCS technology to bring down emissions was “greenwash” and would benefit the oil and gas industry, said Greenpeace. “Carbon capture is not zero carbon; is unlikely to see dramatic cost reductions or be scalable; and is often used for greenwashing by oil and gas companies so they can carry on polluting. It doesn’t do what it says on the tin and certainly should not be prioritised as part of a green industrial strategy.”

Chris Venables, of the Green Alliance thinktank, said: “There can be no energy security while the UK remains dangerously reliant on volatile global oil and gas markets. A real plan to bring down eye-watering energy bills by protecting the public from expensive fossil fuels must have renewable energy at its heart. Luckily, the government has a whole range of incredibly simple tools at its disposal to speed up the rollout of cheap, clean power. If those remain collecting dust on the shelf next week, it will be almost impossible for industry and business, never mind environmentalists and fuel poverty groups, to take this new plan seriously at all.”

The Guardian has approached the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero for comment.

Top Tory MPs ask for £10,000 a day to work for fake Korean company

Watch the video

The former chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, and former health secretary, Matt Hancock, agreed to work for £10,000 a day to further the interests of a fake South Korean firm after apparently being duped by the campaign group Led by Donkeys.

Kwarteng attended a preliminary meeting at his parliamentary office and agreed in principle to be paid the daily rate after saying he did not require a “king’s ransom”. When Hancock was asked his daily rate, he responded: “It’s 10,000 sterling.”

Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee, also attended an online meeting for the fake foreign firm from his parliamentary office. When asked about the limits on arranging meetings, he made clear he could not advocate on behalf of the interest but said he may be able to advise the firm on who to approach in government. He said a rate of about £6,000 a day “feels about right” and any payments would be on a public register.

A fourth MP, former minister Stephen Hammond, who had been approached, said this weekend he considered he had been the victim of a “scam”. He said he thought he was engaged in a preliminary discussion with a company but “it turns out this company was fake, with a fake website”. Hancock’s spokesperson said he had acted “entirely properly” and criticised what he described as the “illegal publication of a private conversation”.

The senior politicians have complied with all relevant rules and referred to their obligation to their constituents during preliminary meetings. The Led by Donkeys project, conducted with investigative reporter Antony Barnett, comes at a time when people face a cost of living crisis. The campaign group released a report on its investigation on Twitter on Saturday , with recorded undercover footage.While they are not prohibited from such meetings and no arrangements were finalised, there is currently intense scrutiny of politicians’ outside earnings. Labour has said it will ban most second jobs for MPs if it wins power…… (Extract)

Who bats for his Devon constituents?

Photo of Richard FoordRichard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)  10:07 am, 22nd March 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Sharma. SEND services in Devon have been in serious crisis for a long time, probably three or four years, with the situation deteriorating lately. Last year, Devon County Council apologised for failing to improve SEND services, and promised that things would improve and that it would redouble its efforts. We are continuing to see a problem around a lack of political leadership and of oversight at the council. My postbag is heavy with correspondence from constituents who are at their wits’ end trying to get the support and educational placements that children need.

The wait times for assessments are far beyond the statutory 20 weeks. The lack of educational psychologists is leaving families uncertain, having to juggle work commitments and looking after their child at the same time. It is definitely leading to people being outside of the workforce who would otherwise be fulfilling an important role in it. The looming threat in Devon of these services being placed in special measures, or removed from the council’s remit, shows that things must change. The promise of more money in the forthcoming council budget is welcome. The Government’s recent announcement of a new SEND school at Cranbrook is again welcome, but we need to ensure that taxpayers’ money is being spent effectively to deliver the SEND placements that our children deserve.

I have had constituents contact me to highlight situations where a child is allocated a placement that is wholly unsuitable for them, and the child cannot take it up but remains on the school roll, with the funding also remaining assigned to that school. We need to ensure that money follows the child and that appropriate frontline services are delivered regardless of where the child then moves. I have seen for myself in East Devon that SEND pupils are being taught in cupboards and storage rooms, and I know that that is not unique to my part of Devon, because I have also seen it reported on the BBC. We should not allow that to continue. I cannot help but admire the parents who are pushing Devon County Council and the Government on this. Devon SEND Parents and Carers for Change staged a protest at county hall in Exeter last month, and they are trying to shine a spotlight on some of these failings.

It is not all gloom; there are some examples of best practice. My constituent, Danielle Punter, has written books and a blog——with tips on education and support in understanding neurodivergence. Danielle pointed out last month that when partial school closures happen as a result of lockdown or strikes, it is often special needs school pupils who are most affected, because those schools need to be fully staffed in order for children with a high level of SEND requirements to get the best possible care, otherwise they need to stay at home. In short, we need to get to grips with some of these repeated failures, particularly in Devon, and that will require political leadership and political oversight.

Croydon council prepares legal action against ex CEO over £430k payout

Owl can always dream!

(Councillors also agreed that evidence of alleged “misconduct, wrongdoing and failures” by previous senior leaders that led to its £1.6bn of “toxic” debt would be handed to the Met Police for investigation.)

A crisis-hit London town hall is preparing to take “unprecedented” legal action in a bid to claw back some of the £437k payoff its former chief executive received before the council was forced to declare bankruptcy.

Rachael Burford

Jo Negrini got the substantial payout when she was laid off as chief executive of Croydon Council in August 2020, just months before the local authority admitted it could not set a balanced budget and would need a Government bailout.

Since then it has issued three bankruptcy notices. Earlier this month the council signed-off a record 15 per cent council tax rise.

During a meeting on Thursday night–in what is thought to be a first for a British council–members backed instructing lawyers to recover as much of Ms Negrini’s payout “as is legally possible”.

Councillors also agreed that evidence of alleged “misconduct, wrongdoing and failures” by previous senior leaders that led to its £1.6bn of “toxic” debt would be handed to the Met Police for investigation.

This includes details of former cabinet members and their involvement in a botched refurbishment of Fairfield Halls, which was delayed and £37.5 million over budget.

Croydon’s Conservative Executive Mayor Jason Perry said he will write to Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove asking him to “urgently review councils’ powers to hold individuals to account for catastrophic failures in governance”.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life, the House of Commons Select Committee on Local Government and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) are also being asked to scrutinse the proposals.

Mr Perry, who became leader of the council last May, said: “Like so many residents I feel angry about what has happened to my hometown.

“The scale and severity of the financial collapse is unprecedented and that is why we are recommending unprecedented steps.

“The council has £1.6bn toxic debt in total and has had to seek permission to borrow £369m from government.

“It is completely unacceptable that individuals who held positions of trust should escape the consequences of their misconduct. Nor should they be rewarded for their failures while our residents, businesses and partners continue to pay the price.

“I will also be making the case to government that councils must have greater powers to hold former officers and members to account for misconduct – without risking further costs to the taxpayer.

“This is something that I will be asking government to look at as a matter of urgency.”

During the meeting, current chief executive Katherine Kerswell added: “What has occurred at Croydon has clearly been very damaging to our finances and ability to perform our key public service functions and most importantly undermined public trust in this council.

“As such, the council’s current leadership are duty bound to ensure that those responsible for the situation are fairly and properly held to account.”

The Conservative’s won control of the council from Labour last year.

Several internal investigations have been published into its financial collapse since then.

The Penn report, published last month, found that the council was a “highly dysfunctional organisation” under the previous Labour administration with a small number of cabinet members making decisions without appropriate scrutiny.

Workers interviewed for the probe described Ms Negrini as having a “bullying style”, the report said.

“The decision to take this unprecedented action was fully supported by Croydon’s Labour councillors. We understand entirely the public’s desire to see former senior leaders at the council properly held to account,”  Croydon Labour Group said in a statement.

A source from the previous administration told the Standard that Ms Negrini had always appeared to be “engaged” in council business and “competent” .

UK ‘less prepared for a pandemic now than before Covid’

This doctrinaire Government has flogged off the Vaccines and Manufacturing and Innovation Centre once fast tracked at the beginning of Covid to fill a strategic hole in our response capability.

Just think how successful water privatisation has been in serving public needs.

Next time we will be well and truly stuffed- Owl 

Britain is less prepared for a pandemic now than it was three years ago, thanks to the sale of a key vaccine manufacturing plant, leading scientists have warned.

Tom Whipple 

Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute, which was responsible for the Oxford Covid vaccine, said that the recent loss of the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) in Oxfordshire, which had been created to respond to outbreaks, showed that the UK had been going backwards since the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s less that we haven’t learnt the lessons — we’re aware of the lessons,” he said. “We just haven’t taken the action that’s required from those lessons. And we’re looking at our toes again, rather than doing something about it.”

Have we learnt any lessons from the dystopia of Covid lockdown?

The £200 million tax-payer-funded facility was set up as a not-for-profit company, partly in response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak. It was intended to help vaccines from a diverse set of technologies into manufacturing and quickly increase production during pandemics.

When coronavirus struck, the facility was repurposed with a view to mass manufacture, but now that the vaccines are being made by pharmaceutical companies, it has been sold to Catalent, a US company. This means that the UK is once again without a flexible manufacturing facility that can respond to outbreaks. A government spokesman said: “VMIC Limited has always been a private company and the government had no role in the sale of its manufacturing centre. Catalent is a highly-regarded global company and its expansion in the UK will further strengthen our biotherapeutics industry.”

Hill said the loss of control was baffling. “The man in the street thinks the UK is really good at this, thanks to all the publicity about what we did during the pandemic, and probably feels we’re in a relatively good place. Well, we’re actually in a worse place than we were three years ago.”

Professor Robin Shattock, from Imperial College, a former chair of VMIC’s board of directors, said he thought the decision to sell had been made on cost grounds. “Suddenly they were worried that they’d built this big white elephant, and they’d be on the hook for the next umpteen years with it ticking over. It probably would have cost £5 million a year — pretty small in defence terms, if you think of it as defence against infectious diseases rather than military defence. But I think that ship has sailed.”

The government recently announced a ten-year partnership with Moderna, the mRNA vaccines manufacturer, to include vaccine manufacturing.

Inside the lab preparing for the next pandemic

Professor Sandy Douglas, from the Jenner Institute, said that in the early stages of an outbreak, when it is not clear that it will spread, it is not enough to rely on pharmaceutical companies. In particular, he said, a system would be needed that took action when “there’s a 10 per cent chance it’s going to be a problem for the UK, rather than waiting until it’s a 99 per cent chance”.

He also said that to combat unknown future threats the UK needed to rely on more than mRNA. “In 2020, everyone was saying never again,” he said. “But entirely predictably, we’re back in the position where a pandemic is something which is probably not going to happen in this parliament and so it’s off the priority list.

“It’s not really clear to me whether the UK has any system for thinking about emergency commissioning. Is there someone in government who would say, ‘Hello, Oxford, we’d like you to make a vaccine against this quickly?’ I’ve no idea.”

Kate Bingham, former head of the Vaccines Task Force, said she still hoped that the government would seek an alternative mechanism. “The sale of VMIC was a definite loss. But I’m still hoping the government listens to these serious concerns and doubles down on advanced biomanufacturing,” she said. “The chancellor said that the UK life sciences sector could shape and define this century. To do this, we need to reinstate our commitment to working with innovators to scale-up and test new vaccines and biotherapeutics which needs leadership and funds.”

Probity in budgeting – then and now, here and there

In a letter sent to households in the past few days, signed by Conservative Group Leader Cllr Philip Skinner, he criticises EDDC’s current leadership for being “wasteful” with taxpayer money, and also for “increasing council tax significantly whilst doubling car parking charges and looking to close public toilets.”

Let us not forget our former Tory administration was prepared to make speculative developments on purchasing property “assets” at the same time as over-running costs of Knowle relocation and the sale of Knowle itself…

The independent-led council scuppered the risky investments (though it could do nothing about past risks) and, as a result, is the only council in Devon that has balanced its books without dipping deep into reserves. It also raised council tax by less than the permitted 5% and well below inflation. 

Here are a couple of posts from the run up to the 2019 election:

Oh-nooooo, 20m investment fund to be set up so East Devon can buy property and raise cash to balance books (Feb 2019)

More than £86.6 million in outstanding loans is owed by EDDC (April 2019)

The local council in deep trouble is Conservative run Devon County which raised council tax by the full whack.