“Electoral register loses estimated 800,000 people”

“An estimated 800,000 people have dropped off the electoral register since the government introduced changes to the system, with students in university towns at highest risk of being disenfranchised, the Guardian has learned.

… Overall 1.8% of voters are estimated to have dropped off the register across the population and figures compiled by the Labour party found the register had shrunk more dramatically in areas with a high population of students, such as Canterbury, which has seen a 13% drop, and Cambridge and Dundee West, both with an 11% fall.

Gloria De Piero, the shadow minister for electoral registration, said the data revealed an alarming reduction in students on the register, which is likely to raise fears that election results could be swayed by missing blocks of like-minded voters. …”

http://gu.com/p/4ga5d

Sidford Fields – questions, questions, questions

From a correspondent – views expressed are those of the correspondent:

Sidmouth Employment Land

Dspite a vote by full Council on 26 March to exclude the proposed new industrial site north of Sidford from the local plan, it remained listed in the Review as O41 at 5.97ha. The wording in the draft plan was for a site of “up to 5ha”. The table on page 154 showed 5.97ha as the area of the intended site.

It is now known that the Inspector was left to decide whether the Sidford site should stand. The case presented was that there is no proven need for it as there is ample scope on the Alexandria Road Industrial Estate.

The inclusion in the Local Plan of a “need to promote a new employment site on the northern edge of Sidmouth” is not, in my opinion, supported by any evidence of need over and above that available at far less cost and more suitable location at the Alexandria Road site which is not in the AONB. It should be rejected.

Recent history of Alexandria Road and Sidford Fields:

The Employment Land Review 2014 was sent to the planning inspector as supporting evidence for the revised Local Plan. On page 65 is the appraisal of the Alexandria Road Industrial Estate in Sidmouth. This appraisal is based solely on the Tyms Study(2011) with passing reference to the Atkins Report (2006). This evidence is years out of date and not a reflection of the current state of the area, particularly its description of the northern area presently accessed only via Pathworlands. But even the remark that “the southern area is occupied by builders merchants in an old railway premises” is couched in language designed to imply its unsuitability! In fact the yard is on the land of the former railway sidings so is flat and well suited to its use, as is the substantial old building now equipped as a store and a purpose built new brick building for stock and offices. The use of this appraisal will be very much criticised during the Public examination process.

The two most inaccurate comments are: “The northern area is being used for self storage shipping containers” and “The estate is made up of a number of plateaus and is quite densely developed. The majority of accommodation provided is relatively poor”.
Since those 2006/2011 reports the containers have been re-sited to a higher level secured area in a glen well out of sight from the rest of the estate (05/2722/FUL approved January 2006) so there is now also available a large empty area, part used just for the casual parking of assorted private vehicles and the dumping of rubbish.

In addition, the area formerly occupied by a gas holder is now available for use after the ground has been de-toxified and was purchased in 2013 by the majority owner of the rest of the site – a large mainly empty area presently being part used for a log business, storage of palletts and parking for Voluntary Service vehicles. An application is currently awaiting decision for a Certificate of Lawfulness for change of use to Business uses (14/1866/CPE).

Since Tyms, one of the site businesses, Sidmouth Tyres and Exhausts who own the freehold of their part of the site, has invested heavily in two large new buildings fully equipped with vehicle lifts (6!) and a rolling road for MoT testing after demolishing an old office and one of the old workshops. EDDC are fully aware of these developments as it was they who granted two separate planning applications (09/1377/FUL & 12/1978/FUL) for their construction. Yet they continue to present outdated information.

Many of the older buildings in the northern section are “relatively poor” as stated. But that is largely because the current owners have not invested in them in the same way, probably in anticipation of being the sponsors of a proposed new industrial estate at Sidford and a recent (2012) approach by a major retailer to buy part of the site which has subsequently been discontinued.

The site as it is today is far from being “densely developed” – it has masses of underused space which with suitable modest investment could meet the needs of growing or start-up businesses for Sidmouth for many years to come, especially now that there is a commitment to provide improved access directly from the main road.

It is surprising that EDDC officers appear not to have not troubled to check the validity of evidence they present to the Inspector but continued to rely on outdated reports – especially as they had a record of discarding these two particular reports in the past because they did not accord with the wishes of certain Councillors involved in the inordinately long period of preparation of the Local Plan.

Questions about Sidford Business Park

1. Did Mr Thickett actually visit Alexandria Ind estate or did he rely solely on the evidence submitted by EDDC in the Employment Land Review 2014 page 65? The evidence above shows that this was outdated and inaccurate. Was it considered?

2. On what criteria did Mr Thickett rule that Alexandria Industrial Estate was “unsuitable”?

3. EDDC has said that Mr Thickett “considered all the options and concludes Sidford is the best of a bad bunch.” The 5 additional options listed in the ELR 2014 in addition to Sidford were all remote from Sidmouth and totalled 7.29ha. But these are all existing sites already in use for employment so would not have figured in Mr Thickett’s consideration of “all the options” for additional employment land to serve the needs of the Sidmouth area. The only new site he was offered was Sidford.
Many many questions, no answers.

Is the Conservative Party just as split as Labour? Time for the Hogwarts Sorting Hat!

Now we hear different factions of the Conservative party disagree about education policies:

http://gu.com/p/4g9me

Add this to the Conservative splits on the EU, housing policy, rural issues (including broadband), tax evasion, freedom of information and austerity cuts and Labour’s splits on just about everything else and it seems we really have three or four or five or more parties all slugging it out in Parliament and getting nowhere fast.

Is it time to put our MPs through the Hogwarts Sorting Hat procedure? We could vote to give them positive or negative points and positive or negative bonus points and the one with the most points would be in charge next time!

Owl (a most revered bird at Hogwarts) knows who it would expect to be in Slytherin!

Lords allowance of £300 a day isn’t enough says donor Lord who has given £7m to Tory Party

Lord Farmer, a hedge-fund boss and Conservative donor with a reported personal fortune of around £150million, said the £300 daily allowance claimed by some House of Lords peers was ‘inadequate’.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3424001/Lords-300-day-allowance-isn-t-live-complains-Tory-peer-donated-7million-party.html

Why? He says: because many of them could be earning more money elsewhere so they are taking a hit in earnings if they attend

….

Sometimes you wonder if DCC and EDDC are on the same planet let alone run by the same party

From the blog of Independent DCC Councillor Claire Wright. My comparison, EDDC’s majority councillors from the same party seem to be rolling on their backs to be ticklec.

County councillors today overwhelmingly agreed to urge Devon MPs to speak and vote against the swingeing funding cuts that are set to be debated in the House of Commons in mid February – possibly on 10 February.

I made the proposal at today’s joint budget scrutiny meeting, which saw all four scrutiny committees come together to scrutinise the budget, which is set to have £28m shaved off it by central government.

I said (among other things) that if enough MPs actually voted against the settlement central government might think twice about imposing such draconian cuts, which affect the most vulnerable in society.

It comes on top of £174m of funding cuts since 2010.

This year’s cuts will mean the removal of funding for the arts, school crossing patrols and many many other cuts within services, which will mean a poorer service for vulnerable people.

The tenor and tone of today’s meeting from all parties was total exasperation, anger and frustration with central government – firstly for providing news of the final financial settlement so late as to be almost impossible to set a budget within the required timetable. The public health budget isn’t even available.

Voicing his own frustration, Conservative deputy leader, Cllr John Clatworthy said of the delay “It’s really not good enough.” And referring to the areas (most) where Devon is hugely underfunded compared with other parts of the country, Cllr Clatworthy pointed the finger at local MPs saying: “MPs are the guys who should be doing something about this.”

Leader, Cllr John Hart said “This has been the most difficult budget so far. We still don’t know what the final settlement will be. If it is lower, it will have to come out of our reserves.”

The council’s reserves are among the smallest in the country and would last for just a few days if relied on for austerity funding cuts.

Cllr Sara Randall Johnson – chair of people’s scrutiny said: “The people’s department (social services etc) is very very fragile. Just a small number of adults or children would topple that budget.”

And speaking generally about the people’s budget, she said: “The risks are massive…”

A briefing to all Devon MPs described the scale of the proposed funding cuts as “unprecedented.”

Chief executive, Phil Norrey, pointed out that this was the last budget of the first stage of austerity and next year the council would be not only planning for three years, but would be looking at the complete removal of the government grant, to be replaced with by a new distribution of business rates.

Devon County Council will have to rely on business rates and council tax income only in the coming years. John Hart commented that he was sceptical that any redistribution of business rates would see Devon better off.

The joint scrutiny committees voted in favour of the the proposed budget and in favour of the increase in council tax of four per cent, on the basis that there was simply no other choice given the unprecedented government funding cuts.

The criticism of central government’s cuts as well as the tardy financial settlement was powerfully made throughout each recommendation.

Devon MPs are set to receive the minute this afternoon, urging them to speak and vote against the huge funding cuts.

Here’s the webcast – http://www.devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/195910 (my speech is at 57 minutes)

http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/devon_county_council_to_urge_mps_to_speak_and_vote_against_funding_cuts

LGA fights further government attack on council finances

From a correspondent:

The Local Government Association is taking a strong stand against very damaging parts of Housing and Planning Bill currently in the Lords. Fundamentally, the proposal is to tax councils for a third of their most expensive council homes, expecting them to have been sold at a discount whenever vacant. Ministers Lewis, Clarke and presumably Osbourne are very intransigent on this issue, saying it was in the manifesto which 36.9 per cent of people voted for. They are dead set on a smaller public sector.

Under new legislation, councils will have to hand over the estimated equivalent sum for the sale of a third of their housing, whether they have sold them or not. Housing Associations will be expected to use that money towards building more housing somewhere in the country. It is hard to make it add up when substantial discounts are taken out along the way. It is also very discouraging for councils to build, knowing they will have to sell cheap. That pushes more people into the private rented sector. That is accompanied by an increase in the cost of welfare benefits and a greater risk of homelessness. Meanwhile the councils’ ability to assist is reduced.

Working with the Lords, the LGA has been clear that this legislation as it stands is very damaging. Crossbench Peers who have a great deal of expertise on this field and are working very hard on this, this week. They are proposing improvements in the legislation and hopefully some amendments will survive the course through the Lords and when it goes back to the Commons.

Next week, the Minister is considering our responses on the Finance Settlement 2016/17. The LGA submission is hefty and wide-ranging at nearly 30 pages long. It follows a series of direct meetings by leading members and officers to clarify each point. The Independent group members have played a substantial role in this. The reductions of 40 per cent in real terms is enough for some councils to be unable to set a budget at all, even with raising their council tax by 2 per cent. The additional 2 per cent care tax on top is a big help but will not cover the rising costs. Effectively there is a replacement of the income tax, in the government grants that comes to Councils in RSG, with council tax. This is less and being a property tax is a blunter tool.

The new business rates that are due to arrive are to be allocated to particular responsibilities of councils. For example, public health, capital development for transport in London, housing benefit administration and attendance allowance. This means the cuts we face now are long term. The effect of this is very harsh in some councils. For example, in one County Council it is currently proposed in this one year to use pretty well the remains of irs reserves to make the budget balance (£38m) and make cuts/savings of £42m, all on a budget of £476m. The council has also been selling off property as fast as possible, not looking for longer term gains, to help cover next year’s shortfall. However, it is now evident that the shortfall is not likely to be temporary.”

East Sussex Council: councillors of all parties condemn cuts

“A Conservative-controlled local council has written to David Cameron to tell him the cuts included in his budget are “unrealistic”.

East Sussex County Council, a Tory stronghold since its creation, said the Government’s fiscal policy would “significantly reduce the quality of life for many people in East Sussex”.

The letter to the PM was signed by Councillor Keith Glazier, who leads the council, and the leaders of the other political party groups in East Sussex.

… “The fact that leaders of all parties have put their names to this letter shows that this is an issue which transcends politics,” Mr Glazier said.

“We have done everything possible to ensure we bear our share of the burden of reducing the national deficit, and produce a balanced and responsible budget, but the savings we are now having to make will place a heavy burden on some of our residents.

“We’re calling on the Government to acknowledge the impact of funding cuts, particularly on social care authorities, to work more closely with local councils and to adopt a fairer approach to the way it allocates funding.

The letter was signed by Labour, Liberal Democrat and Ukip group leaders on the council, as well as the leader of the area’s independents group.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-council-david-cameron-letter-cuts-unrealistic-a6841951.html