BBC Inside Out – Exeter Fire and Hinkley safety concerns

When on iPlayer, worth watching tonight’s Inside Out (BBC)- a brief overview of the Royal Clarence Hotel fire and interviews about the safety of the current Hinkley nuclear reactors where there may well be serious cracks in the structure and graphite blocks weakening around the nuclear rods in a plant at the end of its useful life.

EDF says on the programme that cracks should be ok till “at least 2023” which is very reassuring! And that it wants to be allowed to work with 20% cracks and not the current 10%.

The debate on this will continue on Radio 4’s “Costing the Earth” at 3 pm tomorrow (Tuesday).

Make millions, pay peanuts … EDDC says that’s fine

“Town councillors have reiterated their opposition to Churchill Retirement Living’s plans to demolish Green Close, in Drakes Avenue, and build 36 sheltered housing apartments for the elderly.

They said the housing stock for older people cannot keep growing without also creating homes for nurses and carers to look after them – and argued the developer could cut into its 30 per cent operating profit margin to pay for it.

Planning committee members suggested Churchill should pay at least £360,000.

Councillor Ian Barlow, committee chairman, told the Herald: “Churchill’s profit margin is the one of the highest in the industry.

“They say they can’t pay more than £41,000 or it won’t be profitable – but those 36 homes are probably going to be worth £6-7million.

“Churchill is making a profit and taking it out of the town. They’re bringing in older people who will use the facilities, but they’re barely putting anything into the pot.”

The £41,000 referred to is a ‘section 106’ payment – cash that is meant to mitigate the impact of developments and fund improvements such as ‘affordable’ housing. The contribution depends on factors such as the size and number of dwellings being built.

Churchill is proposing to build 36 apartments in place of the 23-bed Green Close care home, which was run by Devon County Council until cutbacks brought about its closure in 2014.

The planning committee, which met last week, ruled: “Members noted that a contribution of £41,208 had been offered by the applicant towards affordable housing. Members expressed the view that this was an insult to the community of Sidmouth and urged the local planning authority not to accept the offer.”

Cllr Barlow compared the Green Close proposal with the Sanditon development, on the plot of the former Fortfield Hotel.

The developer there built 29 apartments and made a £1.5million ‘section 106’ payment – 36 times what Churchill is offering.

Cllr Barlow said the firm can avoid a larger payment because it is creating sheltered housing, adding: “We’re concerned that a lot of places are being provided for the elderly, but there’s nowhere being built for younger people.

“If there’s no provision at the same time for a nurse or a carer to live, who is going to look after them?”

Churchill’s planning director, Andrew Burgess, told the Herald: “We are disappointed by Sidmouth Town Council’s decision, since we have been consulting the community and working with the planning authorities for several months to develop plans for an attractive and sustainable new retirement community that will bring benefits to local people and the local economy.”

He said the proposed affordable housing contribution is based on a detailed viability assessment, industry best practice and factors such as the market value of the site.

Mr Burgess added: “We will continue to work with the council and the local community to ensure we can deliver the high-quality specialist retirement accommodation that is urgently needed by older people in Sidmouth.”

The application has been recommended for approval by EDDC’s planning officers, who noted the ‘comparatively modest’ financial contribution.

The authority’s development management committee will decide its fate on Tuesday (November 1).”

“Tory councils warn of £600m black hole after demise of education bill”

“Conservative council leaders are warning they face a £600m black hole in budgets to improve struggling schools after the government last week pulled the plug on its education bill.

With council budgets already under severe pressure after years of austerity, some say they may need maintained schools to contribute from their own shrinking budgets, while others may be forced to cut support services they provide to local schools, leaving them vulnerable to decline.

The threat to school improvement services comes as Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, described England’s schools as “mediocre but getting better”, giving the education system a rating of “6.5 out of 10”.

Local authorities – including Conservative-run county councils in Kent, Hampshire and Buckinghamshire – say they have been left in limbo by the government’s axing of educational services grants worth £600m ahead of passing the bill that would have curtailed the role of local authorities in maintaining community schools in England.

But the demise, announced to parliament by education secretary Justine Greening last Thursday, of the education for all bill, means councils will still be legally required to run school improvement services next year and meet other costs, such as maternity cover for teachers, but without funding from central government.

Martin Tett, the Conservative leader of Buckinghamshire county council, condemned the government’s failure to coordinate its funding and support for the many state schools that have not become academies.

“What we now have is a situation where the grant is being removed but the responsibilities will remain, particularly the statutory responsibility with regard to school improvement. And councils at the moment – particularly upper-tier councils, like county councils – are very financially stretched,” Tett said.

“This is a massive issue for us, because we have an important role in school improvement – not only supporting schools that require improvement or are in special measures, but actually stopping schools from reaching that stage in first place, by intervening early in a preventative approach.That costs money and, at the moment, that money is disappearing.”

The cuts will affect the bulk of the more than 20,000 state schools in England which are still maintained by their local authorities, rather than the fewer than 5,000 academies which are funded directly by central government.

Research by the County Councils Network – representing 37 unitary authorities and county councils – has found that more than two-thirds of academies choose to purchase school improvement services from their local authority, meaning that academies also rely on council support in many places. …”