Budleigh Salterton France-UK cable in doubt, so why the compulsory purchase notices?

“Two European Union-backed projects to export French electricity to Britain via subsea power cables have been thrown into doubt after officials in France raised concerns about the impact of Brexit on their profitability.

The projects to build 1,000 megawatt and 1,400 megawatt interconnectors running beneath the English Channel between Normandy to Hampshire and Devon [Budleigh Salterton] are a key plank of UK plans to ensure reliable future electricity supplies.

Once built, together they will supply Britain with the equivalent of the output of two Sizewell B nuclear power stations, enough to meet the needs of 2.5 million homes. The projects will cost more than £1 billion to build, for which they have received €13 million of EU funding. The links could also be used to export UK electricity to France.

However, Clive Moffatt, an energy consultant, said that there was “definite uncertainty” over how Brexit would affect the cost of importing or exporting electricity. He said that developers were increasingly concerned about possible trade restrictions that might make it “commercially unviable” to build the links. “These issues have not been resolved,” he said. “It’s going to take a while.”

A final decision was due by the end of December, with contracts awarded for the first 240km link to Fareham near Portsmouth, known as IFA2, by its developers, National Grid and RTE, the French electric grid operator. But National Grid has confirmed that a final decision on the £590 million scheme has been delayed until next year, after French officials expressed concern about the implications of Brexit for the terms of the project.

CRE, the French energy market regulator, said this month that it was launching a consultation on legal issues related to Brexit. “The approval of the IFA2 project will be the subject of a specific decision in January 2017,” CRE said.

National Grid said the IFA2 project was still expected to proceed, but it acknowledged that the French regulator had asked for more time to reach a decision.

“The UK vote to leave the EU in June 2016 happened after the incentive regulation application that RTE made for IFA2 and so it is understandable and reasonable that CRE, given its responsibilities, would now consult stakeholders on how Brexit could impact the regulatory incentives for the project in the coming years.” The IFA2 interconnector was due to enter operation by 2020.”

Meanwhile, a 220km scheme, FAB Link, will link France with Budleigh Salterton in east Devon via the Channel island of Alderney. It is due to enter service by 2022.

James Dickson, project director for FAB Link at Transmission Investment, the scheme’s UK developer, expressed confidence that the scheme would continue, but he acknowledged that Brexit had created an “unprecedented situation with all sorts of uncertainties”.

He said that the key question was whether or not the UK would remain inside the EU common energy market and, if so, what new terms would be introduced governing the cross-border trade in electricity. These will determine the profitability of the investment.

Mr Moffatt said that the British government had not yet reached a final decision.

Officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have identified the lack of legal clarity around interconnectors as one of their biggest challenges and the matter has been raised in meetings with ministers, The Times understands.

Mr Dickson played down the concerns, saying: “We expect there to be little impact. It’s business as usual.”

Source: The Times (paywall)

2017: the year the NHS dies (or gets murdered?)

“… And what about the money?

The frightening thing for ministers – and in particular the Treasury – is just how much cash the NHS is swallowing. Over £130bn is spent on the health service across the UK. In England, the budget was increased by 4% in real terms this year.

But still it hasn’t got enough. Hospitals continue to rack up deficits. And while the NHS will undoubtedly still manage to balance its books by year end in March because of surpluses elsewhere, the prospects for the next financial year are much gloomier.

The 2017-18 year will see a much smaller rise in the budget – under 1% once inflation is taken into account.

That – to borrow a phrase from former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson – really will be squeaky bum time. Yes you can always argue the Treasury will step in and provide more funds, but no area of government spending has had as generous a settlement as the NHS. Tough questions will be asked and cuts will undoubtedly have to follow.

Where is the axe falling?

Talking of cuts, isn’t there a whole host in the pipeline? Yes. In the coming months expect to hear plenty about the catchily named sustainability and transformation plans.

There are 44 of them covering the whole of England and some are pretty radical – involving closures of A&E and maternity units and, in some cases, whole hospitals. Consultations are likely to be getting under way over the next few months and these are bound to provoke local protests. …”


“Musical Council Boundaries”

“When the music stops, your local council leader will be here to tell you a story [1]

First, there was “devolution” for the Heart of the South West, which wasn’t devolution at all because it would have sucked powers upwards from localities to a vast “combined authority” covering all of Devon and Somerset, including Plymouth and Torbay [2].

Then came the idea for a Greater Exeter Growth and Development Board (the GEGDB), which would be a joint strategic authority made up of Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge Councils [3]. Joint authorities are in practice run by their officers, not councillors, because the officers negotiate a common acceptable position on a given issue and then serve it up the councillors as the only available option that the four councils will agree on.

Finally (or perhaps not), proposals for a “South Devon” unitary council leaked out last week. This would be an all-purpose council covering East Devon, Exeter, Teignbridge, Torbay and Plymouth and, possibly, South Hams (sorry, Mid Devon, you’re out), discharging all existing district council functions plus those of Devon County Council within the new unitary area. Such evidence as is there is suggests the prime movers appear to be Exeter and Plymouth, if only because they refused to back further moves to support the “devolution” proposals.

The Exeter Green Party has written to the leader of Exeter City Council asking the following questions:

What mandate does the City Council have from the residents it serves to:
(a) attempt to reorganise local government decision-making structures?

(b) propose arrangements which would suck key decisions upwards from the elected representatives

of the people of Exeter to a new superior authority – the GEGDB – which would not be directly elected?

(c) propose a strategic authority – the GEGDB – which on the evidence of the 8 November paper would focus solely on economic growth to the exclusion of social and environmental considerations?

When does the City Council plan to publicise its thinking and actively consult residents and businesses on whether they actually want new local government arrangements and, if so, on the form they should take and how any new body might be fully accountable to local people?

It seems clear that the option favoured by Exeter and Plymouth is the South Devon unitary authority. Central government is believed to be offering £1 billion if the unitary is established, complete with an elected mayor. We don’t know what the money would be targeted at – improving public services, infrastructure, or grants to businesses? But a bribe’s a bribe.

A directly elected authority – which is what the unitary would be – is certainly preferable in democratic terms to the other options. But it would be a huge area, currently represented by 237 councillors elected by 105 wards (and that’s without South Hams). So a workable sized council will require a massive cull of elected members (no wonder the leaderships have been playing their cards close to their chests), leading to a weakening of the links between people and their councillors. On present ward boundaries, based on the most recent election results, 123 of the councillors would be Tories – a small majority, which gives pause for thought as to why Labour-run Exeter is so keen on the idea? Of course the new council could be a pathfinder, to be elected by proportional representation, which would change the political balance considerably. Look it’s a pig up there.

Many, many more questions. And meanwhile energy is being diverted away from service improvements into a potentially massive reorganisation. It still feels like the “old politics”. For the time being, we have to await the answers to the Green Party’s highly pertinent questions.


[1] You have to have been an aficionado of BBC Radio Children’s Hour in the 1950s to understand the reference!

[2] See my post https://petercleasby.com/2016/09/30/devolution-is-not-control/

[3] The proposals adopted by Exeter City Council’s Executive are at http://committees.exeter.gov.uk/documents/g4903/Public%20reports%20pack%2008th-Nov-2016%2017.30%20Executive.pdf?T=10, page 73.”


Greendale business family accused of neglecting city centre pub

“A year has passed since a long-standing pub in Exeter city centre closed its doors. But the mystery continues as to the future of it.

The Mint on Fore Street has been shut since New Year’s Eve 2015, and has remained closed ever since, despite plans to reopen ‘soon’. …

… Owners Greendale Leisure Ltd, based at Woodbury Salterton, have remained tight-lipped about their plans for the venue.

It was initially thought that the pub closed over ‘management issues’.

David O’Callaghan, of Gentry barber shop, said: “There have been all sorts of rumours, but no one is any the wiser.

“We have seen people taking out pumps, coolers, chilling units, the fruit machine and pool table. So maybe they aren’t going to keep it as a pub.

It’s an eyesore, and I’m concerned squatters are going to get in there.”


Business must be going well for the Carter family if they can afford to leave a city centre property empty for a long period.

“Company boss who gave £930,000 to Tory party receives knighthood”

Owl wonders if it wins Euromillions it might be able to call itself “Croney Owl”? Hugo’s croney knighthood from old pal and Eton schoolfriend David Cameron is looking grubbier and grubbier.

“David Ord, who becomes a knight in the new year, is a co-owner of Bristol ports and a member of the Conservative party’s Leaders’ Group, who were granted exclusive access to cabinet ministers under David Cameron and George Osborne. He has given more than £930,000 to the party since 2013.

Ord, a major opponent of the Severn Barrage, was once embroiled in a donations row after it emerged in 2014 that Bristol North West MP Charlotte Leslie had failed to declare the port owner’s donations to her local party on time, despite making numerous parliamentary interventions about the project. She apologised and was cleared of wrongdoing by the parliamentary watchdog.

Jeremy Corbyn said the honours for Tory donors were an insult to those who had been rewarded for charitable work or achievements. “The Conservatives are making a mockery of our honours system,” the Labour leader’s spokesperson said. “Every crony appointment is an insult to the incredible people from right across Britain who are rewarded for the great contributions they make to our national life”.

A Downing Street source defended the honours for Conservative donors, saying: “Being involved in political parties is generally considered to be an important part of civic society, and the alternative is having state funding for political parties, which is not where the consensus lies. When people dedicate their time and service to civil society it’s appropriate they can be honoured.” …


More Knowle shenanigans- East Devon Alliance leader on the warpath

“Questions remain over East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) relocation project – amid rising costs and claims of a lack of transparency.

The authority has been accused of pushing ahead with the move away from Sidmouth to Honiton and Exmouth ‘at any cost’ after it approved adding nearly £700,000 to the bill.

Councillor Cathy Gardner last week argued proper scrutiny of the project cannot be achieved as long as documents are not made public. She also raised concerns about members being asked to endorse decisions relating to a contract – between the would-be developer of Knowle and the council – they have not even seen.

In response, EDDC leader Paul Diviani said the contract with PegasusLife is ‘commercially confidential’, but admitted that the developer could potentially ‘renegotiate’ a price for the site after its bid to build a retirement community was refused.

At a full council meeting last Wednesday, Cllr Gardner accused Cllr Diviani of failing to answer her questions and pressed for an answer on whether the contract with PegasusLife has an expiry date. Cllr Diviani said: “We have to wait to hear from PegasusLife. They have the option of coming through with re-submission, or appealing, and we will see what happens there.

“We will work to get the best possible result we can, but if it happens that the deal falls apart, then we will move forward.”

Cllr Gardner asked for reassurance that the £7.5million PegasusLife has agreed to pay could not be renegotiated.

Cllr Diviani said: “If the circumstances are such, then quite obviously they will be able to renegotiate, but let’s not have speculation about what’s going to happen, let’s have a decent dialogue with PegasusLife so we know exactly where we are going from here.”

Cllr Diviani refuted claims that EDDC’s approach to transparency involves releasing only documents relating to relocation that ‘no-one is interested in seeing and holding on to the rest’.

He said: “Documents will be released in due course. They are coming through on a fairly regular basis and it does take time to pull them all together, but they will be expedited as soon as they possibly can.”

Resident Richard Thurlow spoke out about increased costs relating to the refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall ahead of relocation – which, he says, would now cost more than renovating the existing Knowle offices.

He claimed that there was no detail or adequate rationale to explain the reasons for the increased costs.”


Funding cuts? No worries – Jill and Hugo will fix it!

Councillor Jill Elson responds to news that new “fairer funding” that will cut £79,000 from Exmouth College (and even bigger cuts at other East Devon schools):

Reacting to the ‘fairer funding’ proposals, college chair of governors Jill Elson said: “We are very disappointed at the loss of £79,000, because we were hoping for an increase, as Devon is one of the lower- funded councils and we have to find this from our budget.

“We are very concerned about the loss when we have been asked to increase our pupil numbers to 2,900 by 2020.”

And she writes to Swire, who responds:

“Mr Swire said: “I welcome that the Government is committed to reforming the school funding system. The current system is outdated and inefficient, meaning that schools in areas such as Devon have not received their fair share of funding.

“However, I am disappointed that, under the Government’s initial proposals, some schools in East Devon would lose funding.

“This would clearly be entirely unacceptable and I will be raising this matter in Parliament.

“It is important to remember that these proposals only mark the beginning of a lengthy consultation and I would encourage anyone with an interest in how our schools are funded to take part in this.”


High Court backs approach taken by East Devon District Council in standards case

“A decision taken by East Devon District Council as principal authority over a code of conduct breach by a town councillor and the sanctions it recommended – including a requirement for training – was lawful, a High Court judge has ruled.

However, in Taylor v Honiton Town Council & Anor [2016] EWHC 3307 Mr Justice Edis quashed additional sanctions imposed by Honiton on the claimant, Cllr John Taylor, over and above those recommended by the district.

The case arose after Cllr Taylor, a member of the town council since 2007, became concerned about the funding of a major project in Honiton, the building of the ‘Beehive Community Centre’.

The councillor published a letter in January 2015 about the town council’s extension of borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) by £98,000 to cover a shortfall. It included an allegation of impropriety and a request for a police investigation.

Honiton’s town clerk complained that she had been slandered in the letter, details of which had appeared in a local paper, and her professional reputation had been affected.

Attempts by East Devon’s monitoring officer to resolve the complaint informally were unsuccessful as Cllr Taylor refused to make an unreserved apology. East Devon therefore asked Tim Darsley to investigate.

Mr Darsley concluded on the facts that statements made by the councillor had been inaccurate and given a misleading account of what the town clerk had said at the meeting about the PWLB loan extension. His findings also included that there was no evidence that the loan application was in any way illegal and was used for an improper purpose.

In his report Mr Darsley also found that Cllr Taylor had publicly made claims of illegality and impropriety associated with the town clerk and that, in the absence of any reasonable justification for his claims, this constituted a failure to treat her with respect.

The standards hearings sub-committee at East Devon subsequently found Cllr Taylor to have breached a paragraph of the code of conduct because he had not treated the town clerk with respect in that he had publicly accused her of criminal behaviour, namely conspiracy to obtain a loan by deception in that its true purpose was misstated on the application.

On advice from its officers, the sub-committee recommended that the town council:

censure Cllr Taylor for his breach of the code of conduct;
publish the findings of the hearing sub-committee. (East Devon would anyway publish the findings on its own website as a matter of procedure).
instruct East Devon’s monitoring officer to arrange training for Cllr Taylor in respect of the code of conduct and councillor conduct – such training by the end of the current financial year (“the training requirement”).

Honiton went on to impose the sanctions recommended by East Devon and also applied a new policy on code of conduct sanctions it had adopted in October 2015.

These additional measures – to remain in place until Cllr Taylor had complied with the training requirement – involved:

(i) A restriction preventing the claimant/Cllr Taylor from speaking at any meeting including the council meeting.
(ii) The removal of Cllr Tayor from the five committees and working groups on which he served.
(iii) A restriction preventing him from attending any meeting as a member of the public together with a restriction from speaking as a member of the public at any meeting.
(iv) A restriction preventing Cllr Taylor from attending at the council offices unless accompanied by the mayor of the council.

Cllr Taylor brought judicial review proceedings on the following grounds: illegality; the sanctions not being imposed on a proper basis in the light of East Devon’s conclusions on the investigation; and the hearing before the standards sub-committee being procedurally unfair.

Honiton subsequently withdrew all sanctions imposed on Cllr Taylor but said it would consider the issue of sanctions again after any fresh decision by East Devon, and/or the outcome of the judicial review proceedings against the district.

In the end the proceedings were issued against the town council. (East Devon becoming an interested party because it wanted to establish that imposing a requirement for training on Cllr Taylor was lawful).

Honiton expressed the hope that the claim would be withdrawn because, amongst other things, it agreed that its decision of 14 December 2015 should be treated as never having been made. It also agreed that it would not seek to re-impose all of the sanctions that were imposed.

Mr Justice Edis decided, given Honiton’s approach, he would address two questions:

whether Honiton was bound by the findings of East Devon as to the facts and as to whether there was a breach of the code.

“This is because the Decision actually involves two stages: breach and sanction. Honiton has certainly withdrawn the second, but says that it is still bound by the first. The point is not academic to the Decision and to the order which should be made.

Whatever the outcome of this issue, I will quash the Decision. This does not mean that the route to that result is irrelevant. If the claimant is right I will quash the finding that there was a breach of the Code because no such finding was made by Honiton which wrongly simply adopted East Devon’s decision. If Honiton and East Devon are right I will quash the Decision because Honiton has conceded that it wrongly included sanctions which are beyond its powers.”

Mr Justice Edis decided that the effect of provisions in the Localism Act 2011 was to place the duty of investigation and decision of allegations against members of Honiton on East Devon as principal authority.

“The arrangements for decision making must involve independent persons and it would frustrate that important safeguard to hold that a parish council had a duty to reconsider the principal authority’s decision and substitute its own if it chose to do so,” he said.

The judge noted that in this case East Devon had decided the issue of breach but made recommendations to Honiton about what action it should take consequent on that finding. Honiton then took the decision on sanctions.

“The challenge in these proceedings is based on the proposition that East Devon’s role was limited to that of investigator and adviser on both questions and contends that Honiton was the ultimate decision maker on both issues. This appears to me to be clearly wrong….,” Mr Justice Edis said.
“A natural reading of the Act gives decision making power to the principal authority and requires it to have arrangements for the exercise of that power in place. It would make a nonsense of that scheme if the parish council were able to take its own decision without having any of those arrangements in place.”

The judge added: “The whole point of the scheme is to remove decision making powers and duties from very small authorities which do not have the resources to manage them effectively and who may be so small that any real independence is unattainable. I therefore reject the challenge.”

Mr Justice Edis added that in doing so, he declined to decide that the Act required the splitting of the decisions as between breach and sanction between the two relevant authorities in the way in which this happened in Cllr Taylor’s case.

On the imposition of a training requirement, Mr Justice Edis said Honiton was under a statutory duty to maintain high standards of conduct under s.27(1) of the Localism Act 2011 in relation to its members. Section 27(2) required it to have a code of its own or to adopt that of East Devon.
The judge said: “The existence of a code of conduct is regarded by Parliament as an important aspect of the maintenance of standards. It appears to me to be proportionate to a significant breach of it for a relevant authority to require the person in breach to be trained in its meaning and application.

“There is no point in having a code of conduct if members of the authority are not aware of its meaning and effect and where a member has demonstrated by his conduct that this is the case, a reasonable amount of training appears to be a sensible measure. A local authority should be able to require its members to undertake training which is designed to enable them to fulfil their public functions safely and effectively.”

Mr Justice Edis said it had been reasonably open to the decision maker to conclude that there had been a serious breach of the code.

He added: “There is no finding as to the claimant’s motives and it may be that he acted in good faith, believing that his statement about the town clerk was justified. However, it was not. He accused her of criminal conduct when there was not the slightest justification for doing so. This was a very serious error of judgement. Therefore, a requirement of training was proportionate.”

The judge noted that if such a requirement was made but the member refused to comply, the only sanction was publicity.

“Such conduct may reduce the confidence of the electorate in the member so that he or she is not re-elected. Equally, it may not,” he said. “That is a matter for the electorate to decide which it can do only if it has the relevant information. For these reasons I consider that it is open to a relevant authority exercising its power as contemplated by s.28(11) to take action following a failure to comply with a code of conduct to require the member to undertake training. That decision will usually be published and it will be open to the authority to publish what happens as a result of the requirement.”


“Don’t miss chance to have your say on plans to cut community hospital beds across East Devon”

“People are urged to have their say on plans to cut hospital beds across East Devon before the consultation closing date on January 6.

Proposals – that could see Sidmouth lose its inpatient unit – have met with widespread opposition and more than 5,000 residents have signed petitions opposing the changes.

Health bosses say a move towards a home-based model of care will help plug a predicted £384million deficit by 2020/21, and improve patient care.

Respond to the consultation at http://www.newdevonccg.nhs.uk, or paper copies are available at the town’s library, leisure centres, hospital and GP surgeries. Call 01392 267642 to request a copy.”


Sherford (and Cranbrook) slightly on the rocks?

One of the firms involved in building the huge new town at Sherford near Plymouth [and Cranbrook] has issued a profit warning causing concern that the construction sector is in decline

Bovis Homes, one of Britain’s biggest housebuilders, is part of the Sherford Consortium alongside Linden Homes, and Taylor Woodrow [as in Cranbrook].

… The announcement, which preceded a 4.8 per cent fall in the Bovis Homes share price, was seen by analysts as a blow for the construction sector as it heads into 2017.

Bovis Homes denied the slowdown was due to any Brexit effect following the UK’s referendum decision to leave the EU.

… But completions in the second half of 2016 fell by one per cent to two per cent, year-on-year.

Meanwhile, GDP data has shown that construction generally is now in a “technical recession” with output down 1.1 per cent in Q3 2016. … “


Heart of the South West LEP: where is OUR money going now?

It appears that the “Heart of the South West LEP is dead in the water now that three of its original members have refused to continue to back it and instead are considering their own grouping – the south-west “Golden Triangle” LEP.

Which brings us to that age-old concern: the money. Where did the HOTSW LEP money come from, where was it spent and now, more importantly, what is happening to it now that several big players – who originally underwrote it – have pulled out?

How do we find out [what little there is] – where is the paper trail and where does its “accountability” reside?

This correspondence with the National Audit Office gives some clues:

[Concerns have been raised] about lack of transparency around contracts and spending.

As part of the assurance framework each local enterprise partnership has a nominated local authority that acts as its accountable body, and Somerset County Council (the Council) is the accountable body for the Heart of the South West LEP.

You could therefore consider bringing the matters to the attention of the Council themselves.

Alternatively you may wish to consider bringing the matters to the attention of the Councils external auditor. For this Council, the appointed auditor is Grant Thornton UK LLP.

The engagement lead for the audit is Peter Barber, who can be contacted at peter.a.berber@uk.gt.com or on 0117 305 7897. You should be aware, however, that the NAO has no powers to direct the auditor take further action, as that is a matter of professional judgement to be exercised by the external auditor themselves.

If you are a local elector for the [Somerset?] Council, you also have rights in relation to inspecting and objecting to the Councils accounts, if you feel this appropriate. The NAO has produced Council accounts: A guide to your rights, which sets out these rights in more detail. The guide can be accessed from the link or from our website home page”.”

Council tax payers of Somerset – arise. You, and we, surely have many questions of the council (or better still its external auditors) as to where your (Somerset) and our (Devon and, in particular for us, East Devon) money is going now that the HOTSW LEP has had at least one of its legs cut off.

Have its fingers been cut off? Is the till snapped shut and locked?


“Local” Enterprise Partnerships

The Guardian view on English local identities: a clash of cash against community


A court case about whether Chesterfield can leave Derbyshire to become part of Sheffield [Local Enterprise Partnership] illuminates the inexorable wasting of English local government and identity.

Is Derbyshire in the north of England or the Midlands? The question is as old as the redrawing of the map of England following the Norman conquest. But it is no longer such a parochial or academic question as it may seem. Derbyshire’s dilemmas now illuminate what we mean by local democracy and local government in England more generally. That’s because the promotion of English city regions and the money being directed towards the northern powerhouse by the Treasury in London are making a nonsense of historic local identities as well as of England’s long but increasingly derelict traditions of locally rooted democratic municipalism.

Just before Christmas, the high court backed an objection by Derbyshire county council against efforts by Chesterfield, which is in the north of the county, to attach itself to the emerging city region of Sheffield, which comprises Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster, which are all historically part of the various iterations of Yorkshire, its ridings and its more modern subdivisions.

The court did this after Derbyshire complained that if Chesterfield were permitted to redefine itself as part of Sheffield, it would raise the question of whether the county of Derbyshire could be said to exist at all without its second largest town. The county’s case was reinforced by the fact that Chesterfield district has no actual border with Sheffield, from which it is separated by part of the North East Derbyshire district. If Chesterfield were to join Sheffield, it would become an enclave (or, from Sheffield’s viewpoint, an exclave) within its former county. It would be the Nagorno-Karabakh of the east Midlands, leaving the map of Derbyshire resembling nothing so much as a Barbara Hepworth sculpture.

From a financial rather than an identity perspective, Chesterfield’s move makes a certain sort of sense. Faced with continuing financial pressures to cut, sell off or simply abandon swaths of local government services that have existed for generations, English local authorities inevitably clutch at any cash straws they can. The city regions are one of the few straws on offer. They are due to receive £30m in new funding a year and to acquire new freedoms to shape local transport, planning and economic policy.

It is hardly surprising that Chesterfield’s defection was hatched and promoted at the council level, since councillors and council officers are in the frontline of struggling with these austerity-driven realities every day. While the councils did their deal, Chesterfield and Derbyshire opinion was barely considered, the high court ruled, so it must now be properly consulted and taken into account before any decision is taken. An online poll organised by the county council in August, five months after Chesterfield decided to join Sheffield, found 92% of respondents opposed to the move.

That is almost certainly because, for all its proximity to Sheffield, there has never been any serious tradition of Chesterfield regarding itself as part of Greater Sheffield, or of Sheffield seeing Chesterfield as part of South Yorkshire. Chesterfield is today what it has always been, an important town in north-east Derbyshire, famous for the twisted spire of its St Mary’s church, and for having had Tony Benn as its MP in the later period of his parliamentary career. Its possible marriage to the Sheffield city region is overwhelmingly rooted in perceived economic advantage rather than in history or public sentiment. The high court has therefore pitted economic survival against identity and democracy.

The Chesterfield-Sheffield question is of far more than local interest. Local identity matters everywhere. It is tenacious. It runs deeper than the economic or administrative convenience of a bureaucrat’s pen. County identities are medieval in origin but they lurk on in many modern consciousnesses. Ministers mess with them at their peril.

The argument about Derbyshire has only arisen because English local government is in such a desperate state. Austerity in the 2010s is completing the centralisation of local powers begun in the 1980s. Communities like Chesterfield are reduced to scrabbling for a share of the Treasury’s parachute drop of cash to the city regions.

Ministers may talk of a new era of municipal greatness, but it is a hollow sham as long as local authorities lack effective income-raising powers. Unless and until English devolution is reconceived as regions made up from existing counties, cities and boroughs, these arguments will continue, pitting community identity and democracy against economic inequalities and distortions enforced from Whitehall.”


Bay FM interview: Skinner (EDDC) v MacAllister (SES)

Louise MacAllister, Spokesperson, Save Exmouth Seafront gives her view on the contest. Owl will be happy to publish Councillor Skinner’s riposte if received:

  • SES’s core aim is for independent public consultation before any further work goes ahead on the seafront.
  • EDDC’s consultations have been inadequate.
  • Cllr Megan Armstrong’s survey that SES supported showed that a majority do not want to see wholesale development on the seafront.
  • EDDC’s incompetence around the project has led to the seafront becoming derelict.
  • The spiralling costs of the project further demonstrate the incompetence of the Exmouth Regeneration Board.
  • That the Regeneration Board meet in secret only increases frustration and as such Ms MacAllister has been trying to arrange a Q&A session with Cllr Skinner, the chair of the Exmouth Regeneration Board.
  • Cllr Skinner gatecrashed a SES meeting, this is not public engagement.

Cllr Skinner, Chair, Exmouth Regeneration Board:

  • It is a three-phase development, it’s very exciting, we should be excited!
  • Phase three is ‘open for consultation’ we may even have a hotel?!
  • Existing tenants are blamed for delays.
  • Skinner thinks they have consulted extensively but – he doesn’t know the numbers.
  • This is a SERIOUS investment (thank god it’s not a joke investment!).
  • Correction – the ‘recent consultation’ with over 1000 participants that Howard Witts mentioned is in fact the seafront survey undertaken by independent Cllr Megan Armstrong, and which the regeneration board have resolutely ignored.
  • [Seems Skinner finds it amusing that the regeneration board meets in secret as he can be heard laughing while Howard is asking him about this].
  • The Premier Inn and Ocean are apparently architecturally superior and successful, ‘raising the bar in architecture’.

Other points:

  • Everything Skinner claims about his gatecrashing of an SES meeting is untrue, he was unwelcome and people made it clear he was unwelcome. Unfortunately the meeting was not chaired well and so he was enabled to carry on despite this. He was certainly not thanked or clapped as he claims in the interview.
  • The post-march SES meeting was not an open public meeting nor was it advertised as such, it was advertised as a meeting for SES supporters.
  • Cllr Skinner does not think it is Ms MacAllister’s responsibility as SES spokesperson to say that he should hold an open public meeting. SHE AGREES! It is HIS responsibility and he alone should be held accountable for his lack of public engagement she says. As someone who represents a group seeking transparency and openness she will continue to press for this even though it is not her responsibility.

Listen to Louise MacAllister

Listen to Cllr Skinner’s Response

Has EDDC been spying on us? They won’t say

“Local councils, including Exeter and Mid Devon, have been authorised to conduct covert surveillance, a freedom of information request has revealed.

The request, sent to all local authorities in the country by the Liberal Democrats, found two-thirds of those that responded had used powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to gather evidence.

Designed to fight terrorism and serious crime, Ripa is not supposed to be used for trivial purposes and should only be utilised if criminal activity was suspected. …

… East Devon District Council was one of those that did not respond.”


Remember Diviani telling us his Tory council would be “clean, green and seen”? Seems it remains pale, male, stale – and secretive.

“Toshiba seeks financial help with £8bn UK nuclear project” – a knock-on for EDF/Hinkley C?

Our Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership has put almost all OUR eggs into its nuclear egg basket. Not surprising when several of its board members have direct or indirect nuclear interests.

“Toshiba, the technology company at the centre of plans to build more nuclear reactors in Britain, is looking for outside help to fund its £8bn programme after a collapse in its share price.

The Japanese group is in talks with local financial institutions to support the construction of an atomic plant near the Sellafield facility in Cumbria, after running up losses following an accounting scandal.

The emergence of Toshiba’s problems will add to worries over Britain’s nuclear plans after the French energy group EDF, which plans to build the Hinkley Point C station in Somerset, dropped out of France’s CAC 40 index of leading shares.

There is widening concern in the City about the escalating costs of huge nuclear projects, which are damaging company share valuations and undermining the government’s commitment to new nuclear at a time when it has promised to phase out coal-fired power stations.

“It has become difficult for Toshiba to do this (fund the NuGen programme in the north-west of England) on its own,” one source told Reuters, which reported that Toshiba had hired HSBC bank to help find new funds.

On Monday, the Japanese financial regulator recommended that Toshiba be fined 7.37bn yen (£40m) for overstating profits and the share price of the company is down 40% since the start of the year.

Toshiba is a 60% shareholder in the NuGen project to build 3.4 gigawatts (GW) of electricity generating capacity close to the Sellafield plant, where spent fuel is reprocessed.

Neither Toshiba nor NuGen, a partnership with Engie (formerly GDF Suez) of France, was available for comment. The cost of building three reactors designed by a Toshiba subsidiary, Westinghouse, was estimated two years ago at £8bn but experts believe that figure could have at least doubled. That is in line with the price tag for Hinkley, which EDF puts at £18bn.

The 3.2GW Somerset reactors, to be built by EDF with the help of Chinese state companies, have been given the go-ahead by the UK government but the project is awaiting the final investment decision from France.

This week EDF blamed the 85% holding by the French state and lack of free float shares for its removal from the CAC index. But many analysts in the City of London have released gloomy equity forecasts on EDF, fearing Hinkley might go over budget like the company’s Flamanville reactor project in Normandy.”


Nuclear watchdog to be investigated by – watchdog!

“Nuclear safety watchdog under review after series of accidents

Whitehall is investigating the nuclear regulator after The Times revealed that several serious accidents had been dismissed as posing no safety risk.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has come under fire from experts who argue it is too close to the industry to police it rigorously.

Yesterday an investigation disclosed that the inadvertent discharge of a torpedo at a nuclear submarine docks in Plymouth, a complete power cut at the country’s nuclear weapons base and the contamination of at least 15 workers with radioactive material were among the events it had said were of no concern.

Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions, which is responsible for the ONR, are understood to be looking into whether the regulator is doing enough to keep the country’s reactors, nuclear processing sites and military bases safe.

Although the number of publicly acknowledged accidents has been stable for more than a decade, the rate of incidents judged to be “of no nuclear safety significance” has crept up to more than one a day over the last five years.

Between 2012 and 2015 these included three road accidents involving nuclear material, a dozen leaks and at least 30 fires as well as 70 anomalies on the Atomic Weapons Establishment site at Aldermaston near Reading.

The ONR has said that all of its safety classifications followed international guidelines and insisted that it remained a robust and independent regulator.

Nuclear experts, however, called on the government to launch a review. Stephen Thomas, emeritus professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, said the news had reinforced his suspicions that “the first priority for the ONR is not to frighten the horses”.

He said the body had previously ignored warnings about the safety of extending the lifespan of the AGR, an old reactor design that is still in use at seven sites in the UK, as well as the reliability of the newer EPR model, the latest version of which is due to be installed at Hinkley Point C.

“Ironically, since they became an independent body rather than being part of the Health and Safety Executive [in 2014], they seem to have got worse,” Professor Thomas said. “Independence is just a cheap and easy way for government to wash its hands of its rightful responsibility.

“Independent regulators must be accountable to the public and if it is not through a democratically elected government, who is it through?”

Earlier this year the ONR appointed as its chief executive a career civil servant with no background in nuclear engineering. David Toke, reader in energy politics at the University of Aberdeen and a member of the Nuclear Consulting Group, said this suggested that nuclear safety issues were a “low priority” for the organisation.

“Of course there should be more attention to this issue and a discussion about whether the de facto slide towards less nuclear safety in the UK is a good one,” he said.”

© Times Newspapers Limited 2016

Sellafield nuclear power workers’ pension fight puts all plants at risk of strikes

Yet another problem for our beleaguered Local Enterprise Partnership?

“Serious industrial unrest” at Europe’s biggest nuclear site could threaten the Conservatives’ chances of winning a forthcoming byelection, unions have warned.

The byelection in the marginal Cumbrian seat of Copeland has been described as “Theresa May’s to lose”.

But the Conservative candidate hoping to overturn Labour’s 2,564 majority will have to explain to thousands of workers at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site why the government is trying to downgrade their final-salary pension scheme.

Trade unions representing many of Sellafield’s 10,000 workers have written to the government warning they cannot support either of the options being considered.

The Guardian has seen a letter sent shortly before Christmas to Lady Neville-Rolfe, minister of state at the business department. It comes from the Prospect union, which represents more than 5,000 Sellafield engineers and specialists.

The letter, signed by Prospect’s deputy general secretary, Dai Hudd, on behalf of his union, the GMB, Unite and Aslef, tells the minister “serious industrial unrest” cannot be ruled out by workers employed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

The NDA is the public body that owns Sellafield, a huge site in Copeland that processes nuclear waste from the old Windscale nuclear power station, where a fire in 1957 caused the UK’s worst nuclear accident.

It says: “Employees across the NDA estate fought hard to secure the statutory pension protections that currently apply. There will be an understandable adverse reaction with any proposals that trample over those protections.

“They will certainly not respond well to a raid on their pension benefits intended to achieve arbitrary savings agreed between the NDA and the Treasury, and agreement to which the workforce and their representatives played no part.

“If the NDA proceeds with its proposed consultation in its current form there will inevitably be a significant reaction from the members affected. The likelihood of serious industrial unrest cannot be ruled out. …”


East Devon Alliance: EDDC relocation “at any cost”

“East Devon District Council (EDDC) is leaving Sidmouth for new premises in Honiton and a renovated Exmouth Town Hall.

The latter is now vacant, but it will need work including a new boiler, rewiring and the removal of asbestos – renovations now estimated at £1,669,000, up from £1million in March 2015. [Mostly caused by EDDC doing their estimates and announcing projected estimated costs before commissioning a full structural survey which revealed nuerous expensive essential upgrades such as wiring, heating and insulation]

EDDC cabinet members last week agreed to accelerate the refurbishment so some key staff can relocate as early as November 2017.

Councillor Cathy Gardner told the Herald: “This truly is relocation at any price, because council tax payers will pick up the bill.”

The cabinet meeting heard that a new planning application to redevelop EDDC’s current HQ Knowle could be six months away or more after it refused PegasusLife’s bid for a 113-home retirement community earlier this month. The developer is yet to reveal if it will appeal the decision but the £7.5million it offered was intended to help fund the authority’s £9.2million [at the last estimate] relocation project.

Cllr Gardner said the project was initially sold to councillors as ‘cost neutral’ but is now costing taxpayers ‘over £2million and counting’ and cash will have to be borrowed. [This does not take into account building new offices for the EDDC Estates Department at Sidmouth’s Manstone Depot]

She added: “Proceeding with the refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall weakens the bargaining position of the council with any purchaser of the Knowle – they know that the council is desperate to secure a sale.

“The cabinet approved this extra cost for Exmouth Town Hall without seeing an up-to-date report on the budget for the project overall. They have approved an increase in ignorance of the total costs.”

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “The council remains committed to relocating the rest of its staff into fit-for-purpose offices as soon as possible, despite the recent planning application for Knowle being rejected. The current budget and income projections for the overall project – taking into account both Exmouth and Heathpark – remain balanced. The council has a continued and reasonable expectation that relocation from Knowle will show significant savings compared to remaining in Sidmouth.

“The financial case will be tested again, as it was in March 2015 when the council decided to relocate.”

The decision was ratified at a full council meeting on Wednesday.”


“Downbeat Bovis to fall short of home build target”

“Bovis Homes Group PLC (LON:BVS) has cautioned new house sales this year will be lower than expected due to completions in December falling short.

The total for the year will now be between 3,950 to 4,000, with slower than predicted building times pushing 180 homes due to complete into the next trading year.

Total revenue in 2016 will still top the £1bn mark, but now be in a range between £1.04bn and £1.06bn ((£945mln) with profits within the previous forecast range of £160mln to £170mln (2015:£160.1 mln).

Prices this year have risen 10% from 2015’s £231,600, driven by improved mix and increased underlying market pricing, Bovis added.

Shares fell 3.5% to 825p.”

Source: Proactive Investors newsletter