“‘Cameron’s Cronies’ backlash: Nominated peers could have to prove they have ‘record of significant achievement’ “

(Un)fortunately, this will not include Hugo Swire – Cameron’s Old Etonian contemporary and holiday companion – who was only given a knighthood. OK for impressing social climbers but offering no further political influence.

“Theresa May’s ethics adviser has suggested aides and party donors nominated for peerages should be forced to prove their suitability in the wake of the ‘Cameron’s Cronies’ scandal.

Lord Bew, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told The Telegraph the idea of putting political appointments through rigorous interviews should be considered.

The crossbench peer said his committee was “very interested” in tighter safeguards to ensure that only those suitable to enter the House of Lords are picked.

However he warned that peers selected by the Prime Minister should not face identical criteria to those picked for the crossbench and said parties must be consulted on any change.

The reforms – which would amount to the biggest shake-up in the selection of peers for a generation – have been gaining traction in Parliament in recent weeks. …”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/27/camerons-cronies-backlash-nominated-peers-could-have-prove-have/

Bend those rules till they break, Mrs May – get YOUR cronies into top jobs

“Theresa May’s government has been accused of changing the rules on public appointments to make it easier in future for ministers to pick their political allies for senior jobs at the BBC and regulators such as Ofsted.

The new code on public appointments will give ministers greater powers over who oversees a raft of agencies, watchdogs and advisory committees, while weakening the involvement of the independent commissioner for public appointments, who scrutinises the system.

Labour said the changes, which will come into force on 1 January, represent a “power grab” by ministers and risk returning to the days of patronage and cronyism in public life.

Ministers have always had the final say over appointments to senior public sector jobs, advised by a panel that shortlists “appointable” people. However, independent assessors, chosen by the commissioner to oversee the most important competitions, will be abolished in favour of independent senior panel members picked by ministers.

Labour warns of return to cronyism amid public appointments review
The members will have to be independent of the departments and not currently politically active, but the commissioner will only have a consultative role.

Ministers will also be able to overrule the panel by choosing candidates not deemed to be appointable and have the right to dispense with an open competition without the permission of the commissioner, although they will have to consult with the watchdog and openly justify the decision. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/dec/27/government-accused-power-grab-new-public-appointment-rules-bbc-ofsted

Hinkley C safety – can it be guaranteed? Who will guard the nuclear guards?

The watchdog that oversees nuclear safety has been accused of playing down the seriousness of hundreds of serious mistakes at power plants and military bases.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation [ONR] is responsible for the regulation of safety at nuclear sites and grades incidents with an International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) score.

Between 2012 and March 2015, the ONR gave 973 incidents a score of ‘zero’ – meaning there had been ‘no nuclear or radiological safety significance.’
This included an incident where a vehicle carrying nuclear material on the M1 hit a lorry and instances where workers at the main nuclear warhead base at Aldermaston in Berkshire were contaminated.

The ONR only issued an INES score of one – which amounts to ‘minor problems with safety components’ – 90 times during the same period. … “

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4068010/Nuclear-safety-watchdog-downplayed-hundreds-mistakes-including-road-crashes-involving-vehicles-carrying-radioactive-material-fires-power-stations.html

How will our Local Enterprise Partnership resolve this one – with so many of its board having conflicts of interest with their own nuclear interests!

AONB – pah, build, build, build!

“A loophole in planning rules is allowing developers to build housing estates in England’s finest countryside.

Ministers are waving through applications for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) despite promising to protect them.

The High Weald in Sussex, the North Wessex Downs and the Cotswolds are among the protected areas being built on.

Six hundred homes, a hospice and a school were approved last month near Pease Pottage in the High Weald despite objections from Natural England, the government’s advisory body on protecting the natural environment.

Campaigners said that the rules were being swept aside in the rush to meet housing targets. Ministers are threatening councils with a “presumption” in favour of development unless they allocate enough land.”

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/protected-beauty-spots-are-sacrificed-to-build-houses-tw2jjrk5r

Recall that, when EDDC dragged out its Local Plan process for years and years (abandoning the first secret attempts run by Councillors Brown and Skinner and starting again) developers had a free run in East Devon.

Should we find that we do NOT have a 5 year land supply when the Local Plan comes up for review (due every 5 years so we should be starting now) then, presumably, that will happen all over again.

Recently (November 2016) EDDC brought up the idea of external auditors being consultants for the review, but the auditors themselves quickly pointed out that they had no experience in such projects and it should be led by an organisation with proper expertise:

“Problem (page 134 of agenda papers):
“Undertake a Review of the process for writing the Local Plan in future”

The solution
“A meeting has been held with our external auditors to scope out this review but it was quickly determined that they are not the right people to undertake this review due to their lack of knowledge of the plan making process. Other options including using the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) are now being pursued.”

Click to access 241116-scrutiny-agenda-combined.pdf

Things seem to have gone quiet again since then, with no public announcement of a new consulting organisation.

Questions: Shouldn’t external auditors anyway be at “arms length” from council business? Which bright spark thought of offering them the job?

Home ownership statistics con?

It seems statistics count the percentage of people rather than the percentage of homes when calculating how many people rent or own. This then includes people like lodgers or, say three people sharing a mortgaged home as “home owners”. On that data the percentage of home ownership is said to be about 64%, renting 36%.

When you do it by HOUSEHOLD then the percentage drops to about 51%, with 49% renting.

“… The Resolution Foundation said conventional housing data, as measured by the ONS, missed 5.8 million families or individuals who lived in somebody else’s home. The vast majority of these (eight in 10) were adult children returning to live with their parents, it said.

The same think tank reported in August that major English cities – particularly Manchester – had seen the sharpest falls in home ownership since a peak in the early 2000s.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-38415213

The Swindon connection: Torquay United, Gaming International – and Moirai Capital

Owl sees that south Devon football team Torquay United have been taken over by Gaming International, a Swindon-based company thought to be keen to extract value from the development of their ground, Plainmoor. The freehold is owned by the local authority.

Moirai Capital of Exmouth fame/notoriety are also Swindon based. And have some interesting links with Gaming International, including the ill-fated Milton Keynes Bowl:

http://www.mkdevelopmentpartnership.co.uk/news/2015/aug/removal-preferred-bidder-status-moirai/

http://totalmk.co.uk/news/regret-that-development-plans-for-the-national-bowl-have-stalled

It’s been a tough time for Torquay fans recently … and they have their worries about their new owners:

“Torquay supporters are aware of Gaming International’s record at Reading and Swindon with respect to stadium redevelopment. There have been several online discussions amongst our supporters, the most recent being:

​http://torquayfans.c….php?f=3&t=8858

http://ww​w.torquayfansforum.co.uk/thread/11946/tufc-takeover-bid-gaming-international”

and a fan notes:

The man behind this company Clarke Osborne has now set up a new company “Riviera Stadium Limited”.

Gaming International Limited was once known as Bristol Stadium PLC.

Clarke Osborne was a director of Bristol Stadium PLC when Bristol Rovers could no longer afford to pay them the rent in 1986. Rovers were forced to play in exile in Bath for ten years.

Osborne was Chief Executive of Bristol Stadium PLC when Eastville was sold to Ikea for £19m. There were promises that a new greyhound site would be found in Bristol – but it did not happen. I think Reading has suffered a similar fate.

I am sure that the new owners will lend the football club enough money to keep those fans who don’t look beyond the end of their nose happy for a couple of years. My fear is that the day will come when they will want everything they lend back plus a return on investment. They are not fans and they are not a charity.”

http://www.torquayfansforum.co.uk/thread/11946/tufc-takeover-bid-gaming-international

but surely such illustrious connections can only make things, er, better?

According to BBC website:

“There has been talk of the club leaving their Plainmoor home for a new ground on the outskirts of the town, a plan which the Torquay United Supporters’ Trust has questioned.

“With GI, our biggest concern is that they are a property developer, they have very little interest in football apparently and they have very little connection with Torquay as a place,” TUST spokesman Alan Robinson told BBC Sport.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/38383226

Might we see Gaming International in Exmouth some time soon? Stranger things, much stranger things, have happened!

Rural broadband: “Just ****ing do it”, says farmer’s wife – who did it (Councillor Twiss please note)

Spoiler alert: it relies on farmers and other landowners being altruistic – many of ours talk only to developers who pay squillions for housing land – or they are developers (and sometimes councillor developers) themselves who know the price of everything and the value of nothing so would NEVER allow this solution to the rural broadband problem.

“I’m just a farmer’s wife,” says Christine Conder, modestly. But for 2,300 members of the rural communities of Lancashire she is also a revolutionary internet pioneer.

Her DIY solution to a neighbour’s internet connectivity problems in 2009 has evolved into B4RN, an internet service provider offering fast one gigabit per second broadband speeds to the parishes which nestle in the picturesque Lune Valley.

That is 35 times faster than the 28.9 Mbps average UK speed internet connection according to Ofcom.

It all began when the trees which separated Chris’s neighbouring farm from its nearest wireless mast – their only connection to the internet, provided by Lancaster University – grew too tall.

Something more robust was required, and no alternatives were available in the area, so Chris decided to take matters into her own hands.

She purchased a kilometre of fibre-optic cable and commandeered her farm tractor to dig a trench.

After lighting the cable, the two farms were connected, with hers feeding the one behind the trees.

“We dug it ourselves and we lit [the cable] ourselves and we proved that ordinary people could do it,” she says.

“It wasn’t rocket science. It was three days of hard work.”

Her motto, which she repeats often in conversation, is JFDI. Three of those letters stand for Just Do It. The fourth you can work out for yourself.

B4RN now claims to have laid 2,000 miles (3,218km) of cable and connected a string of local parishes to its network. It won’t connect a single household, so the entire parish has to be on board before it will begin to build.

Each household pays £30 per month with a £150 connection fee and larger businesses pay more. Households must also do some of the installation themselves.

The entire infrastructure is fibre-optic cable right to the property, rather than just to the cabinet, with existing copper phone lines running from that to the home, as generally offered by British Telecom.

The service is so popular that the company has work lined up for the next 10 years and people from as far as Sierra Leone have attended the open days it holds a couple of times a year.

The bulk of the work is done by volunteers, although there are now 15 paid staff also on board. Farmers give access to their land and those with equipment like diggers and tractors do the heavy work.

However other landowners can charge – B4RN has complained on its Facebook page about the price of cabling under a disused railway bridge owned by Highways England.

A spokesperson told the BBC these are “standard industry costs” which include a £4,500 fee for surveying, legal fees and a price per metre for the cable installation.

While B4RN has yet to make a profit, once it has paid back its shareholders it should be in good financial health – although one of the conditions is that profits must be ploughed back into the community.

Chris’s services to rural broadband have recognised by the Queen – she was awarded an MBE in 2015, alongside Barry Forde, a retired university lecturer who now leads the co-operative.

Incredibly, many B4RN customers had been surviving on dial-up services or paying high fees for satellite feeds. Chris says that some still are.

With farmers having to register online with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) within five days of every calf being born in order for it to enter the food chain, connectivity is vital.

“All the farmers who haven’t got broadband have to rely on land agents or auction marts or public wi-fi spaces which we haven’t got round here either, or paying somebody to do it,” says Chris.

“What the farmers were finding was the dial-up just couldn’t cope with it.
“They bought satellites, but then the children would use all the satellite feed to do their things and then they came to use it at night and there was no feed left, they’d gone over the data and they were being charged a fortune for what they then used.

“So the farmers have been incredibly supportive of this and that’s why they’ve given us free rein throughout the fields, which we go through to connect them and then we get to the villages which subsidise the farmers’ connections.

“You couldn’t do it just for the farmers alone, but you couldn’t get to the village without the farmers so it’s tit for tat. …”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-37974267

“Major flooding in UK now likely every year, warns lead climate adviser”

“Major flooding in the UK is now likely to happen every year but ministers still have no coherent long-term plan to deal with it, the government’s leading adviser on the impacts of climate change has warned. …

… Krebs also said ministers would regret cutting flood protection measures for new homes. New laws passed earlier in 2016 aim to drive the building of 1m new homes but Krebs, an independent member of the House of Lords, said he was disappointed ministers had rejected proposals to cut the risk of the homes flooding and make them cheap to heat.

“The imperative to build more homes was overriding anything that might get in the way and I think the housebuilders got at the Department for Communities and Local Government to say all of this is going to be costly and difficult,” he said.

“It isn’t [costly] really, but they just want to get on and build homes according to the bog-standard, simple template and not have to worry about whether the development is sustainable in terms of carbon footprint and flood risk. In 20 years time, people will look back and say, ‘What were they thinking?’”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/26/major-flooding-in-uk-now-likely-every-year-warns-lead-climate-adviser-storm-desmond

CEO of Greater Exeter (and former Regeneration supremo for East Devon looks forward to 2017

Karime Hassan:

” … “2017 will see us continuing to try to achieve a growth deal for Exeter. In collaboration with partners we are also going to be consulting on a Greater Exeter Strategic Plan. For the first time this will see four local authorities coming together to help shape things for the benefit of all for the next 20 years. … “

http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/2017-is-full-of-promise-read-exeter-city-council-chief-executive-s-christmas-message/story-30009328-detail/story.html

Oh dear.

Community housing groups get your act together quickly for funding

Use it or lose it.

… Money will be provided to 148 councils after the Department for Communities and Local Government announced regional allocations under the Community Housing Fund. The money is intended to provide backing for local housing groups to deliver homes aimed at first-time buyers.

One third of the funding – almost £20m – will be allocated directly to local authorities in the south west of England as this is the most popular region for second homes in the country. It accounts for 21% of all second homeownership, according to the government. …

… The first year of funding will be used to build capacity within local groups, for example improving technical skills, setting up support hubs to offer advice, business planning or providing staff to review local housing needs. Funding the following year must then be used to deliver housing on the ground for local people.

Councils will work closely with community-led housing groups to distribute the funding and ensure the right tools are in place to efficiently deliver new houses in subsequent years.”

http://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2016/12/barwell-boost-housebuilding-areas-dominated-second-homes

Totnes resident objects to planning application due to LEP board member involvement

Response to the resubmission of planning application 0412/15/F Brimhay by SDRHA.

Community, Consultation and Land

We strongly object to this application on the following grounds:

” … 2/ This application cannot be considered in an unbiased way for the following reasons.

This application was developed under the authority of Tim Jones, in his position as director in charge of property at Dartington Hall Trust. Tim Jones, or the Heart of the South West L.E.P., has not publicly disclosed any relationship or links to this Brimhay application.

Tim Jones was a founder, chairman and is a current a director or the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership. In this role he oversees creation of plans for “devolution” of powers to Devon County Council and South Hams District Council. In this position, Mr Jones has significant influence over both councils and their officers. In his other roles as major property developer, financer, founder and controller of Devon and Cornwall Business Council, vice chair of PACB, prominent with the chamber of commerce as well active in a number of non-transparent organisations, he exerts yet more influence. These influence are not disclosed, transparent, or accountable in this application.

The HOSW LEP documentation repeatedly states that they wish to “overcome barriers to planning”. However they do not give details on which barriers or how they intend to overcome them. Barriers to planning include local communities wishes, protected species laws, and environmental protection laws, and quotas for lower cost housing, to name but a few.

Therefore, due to the above mentioned, this application cannot be considered by officers in this council in an unbiased way. …”.

Awkward.

Exmouthians and the recent full council meeting – not happy …

Reports say …

Laura Freeman accused them of letting the people of Exmouth who voted in Town Poll and the March down. She promised they would see more action until they listened.

Sally Galsworthy said that East Devon strap line was “an area of outstanding natural beauty”. Yet they wanted to destroy the natural beauty of the Seafront. She said they ran the risk of building a road to nowhere that was now costing over £3m. She said they couldn’t be sure that Mark Dixon would stay the course. He was a rich man in his prime why would he want to be associated with incompetence, bad PR and spiralling costs? She said as someone who was born and bred in the town and whose parents and grandparents had businesses in the town she understood the temperament well. Exmouth likes to grumble but rarely takes action. She congratulated the council that they had managed to get nearly 5000 people to vote in the Poll and 400 to March. That they might well find if Dixon dropped out, they had built a road to nowhere.

Alex Huett reminded the Council when the Regeneration Board was set up in 2010 their main target was to regenerate the Town and the town was enthusiastic. Queens Drive was never mentioned.

Oh dear … and more than 2 years to go before people can show what they think by their votes …

Lost at Knowle … are there bodies buried in the “old” building?

Word reaches Owl that at December 21’s meeting of EDDC, Sidmouth resident Tony Green quizzed Chief Executive Mark Williams about comments made by a member of the crucial planning committee on December 6th which narrowly refused permission for Pegasus Life’s application for 113 apartments on the Knowle site.

Mr Green said impartiality was essential when councillors considered planning applications, especially ones in which the council had a vested interest.

This was clearly the case on December 6th, as the progress of the Council’s relocation project depended on planning permission being granted. But the council’s wishes should not have been a material consideration at this meeting, argued Mr Green, and so should not have been mentioned.

He said he was “surprised” that a veteran member of the DMC (the finger of suspicion points at Tory Cllr Mark Williamson) had commented that the existing Knowle offices were “not fit for purpose” and had gone on to tell a joke about people getting lost for years in the old hotel building.

The comments, and the fact that the councillor went on to vote against refusal, created the impression of bias said Mr Green.

He then asked the CEO:

1. Did he agree that the relocation project was not a material planning consideration on December 6th?
2. Would Mr Williams agree to caution planning committee members not to refer to it at any future meeting to determine an application to develop the Knowle site?

Neither question was answered. The reply was that, in Mr Williams’ experience, councillors said many things in planning meetings, some of which were “germane”! This, of course, implies that some are not – in which case, why make such comments.

Surprise! Surprise!

P.S. Avid followers of the long and winding road of the relocation project may remember that Cllr Williamson was Chair of the planning committee of March 1 2013 which refused the Council’s own application to develop the Knowle with 50 luxury houses.

He was criticised at the time for making disobliging comments about Sidmouth’s “dependence” on Council jobs, and other hints that he was biased in favour of the application. He voted for it.

Axminster and Cranbrook – slums of the future says Councillor Hull whilst Councillor Moulding says – nothing

At EDDC’s full Council Meeting on 21 December, venerable Axminster Lib Dem councillor Douglas Hull asked members to support a statement criticising the standards of the big national housebuilders.

He said the “little boxes” they were building in places like Axminster and Cranbrook were so appalling that they were creating “the slums of the future”

He circulated a local newspaper story of a young Axminster couple whose new purchase was so “ticky tacky” as to be virtually uninhabitable.

There was some tut tutting and the Chief Executive stepped in to say he would write to the offending companies, and Douglas was very grateful.

Interesting that Tory Axminster councillor Andrew Moulding had nothing to say about the problem.

But then he is a guiding light in Cloakham Lawns Social and Sports Club which has very cordial relations with Bovis!

Social housing lettings cut by 22,000 in past two years

Genuinely social housing requires little or no housing benefit subsidy for those in work. “Affordable housing” usually requires a larger housing benefit subsidy – paid to the landlord.

“More evidence of the challenges facing those seeing social housing. This story tells us: Councils and housing associations are letting nearly 22,000 fewer homes for social rent each year than they were two years ago, the latest Government figures show.

A statistical release put out by the Department for Communities and Local Government shows there were 261,163 social lettings by housing associations and 113,449 by councils in 2015/16 compared to 270,659 and 125,812 respectively in 2013/14.

The cut in genuinely affordable homes comes after a period of sustained cut in funding for building such dwellings, with grant funding for social rents all but abolished. The Government has also beefed up its Right To Buy scheme which has seen a sell-off of council housing to the private sector across the country.

Ministers have been directing house building funding towards building so-called “affordable” homes, which in fact cost tenants as much as 80 per cent of market rent; as well as discounted “starter” and shared ownership homes for people to buy.”

Source: Rural Services Network

Ukip fined by EU for election expenses scandal – no sign of Tories in UK being settled

So, that’s Labour, Lib Dems and Ukip sorted (and even an independent candidate fined by the Electoral Commission for forgetting to put an imprint (“published by”) on one leaflet).

Tory election voting scandal that was the first to be reported and includes investigation of our Police and Crime Commissioner?

Zilch, nada, nothing. Funny that.

Save our Sidmouth report on council flagrant and reckless overspending on relocation

“Richard Thurlow, who Chaired Save Our Sidmouth from the beginning, and is currently Chair of the Sid Vale Association’s Environment and Planning Committee, gave this speech to Full Council last night. He received no response to the issues he raised. Along with those of other speakers, they were neatly brushed under the carpet by the Mark Williams. Although all wrapped up in time for Christmas, so to say, these issues will inevitably be reopened and on view throughout the New Year.

This is what Richard Thurlow said:

” The first cost estimate for Exmouth Town Hall (ETH) in March 2015 was £0.96m. The report to council said “The proposal to refurbish ETH has been tested and supported by independent analysis”!!

The second cost estimate was £ 1.261m

The latest cost is £1.669m.

Thus in 18 months the cost has risen by about £700k, a rise of 70% over the original estimate, and it is now more than the cost for the refurbishment of the Knowle which was £1.566m.

To the estimate of £1.669m must be added, fitting out, moving costs, staff reimbursement for travel and inconvenience, (for three years), etc, probably nearer £2m.

Your Deputy Chief Executive has persuaded Cabinet to underwrite a spend of £1.669m without adequate rationale; there are NO reasons given in his Report other than a wish to occupy ETH more quickly; no economic breakdown, no total cost, no assessments of the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal which would have enabled you to base your decision on facts.
The project is out of control.

I say this based on my experience over 40 years on projects worldwide in a major Building and Civil Engineering Consultancy. I have seen a few dodgy projects in that time and this is one of them!

If you support the proposal, I have to say that this will come back to haunt you!”

EDDC relocation has hallmarks of a “dodgy project”, Full Council is advised.

Devolution deal quashed as people not consulted on whether they wanted it!

Surely this applies to Devon and Somerset where NONE OF US have been asked if we want it?

“A consultation on whether to expand the Sheffield City Region to include the Chesterfield area has been ruled unlawful by the High Court.

The judicial review was brought by Derbyshire County Council, which objects to the inclusion of Chesterfield – which lies within its administrative area – being included in the Sheffield City Region.

Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that the consultation failed to ask local people a direct question about whether or not they believed Chesterfield should become part of the Sheffield City Region. The judge said that this made the consultation unlawful and unfair and said that Sheffield City Region had provided no reasonable justification as to why it had not included such an obvious and fundamental question in the questionnaire.

The judgment does not quash the Sheffield City Region’s devolution consultation but further consultation is required before it can be considered by the Secretary of State. …”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=29471%3Acity-region-consultation-unlawful-high-court-rules&catid=59&Itemid=27

A relocation cost swept under the carpet?

A planning application for brand new offices at EDDC’s Manstone Depot turns out to be brand new accommodation for the Estates department. EDDC will now have new or refurbished offices in Exmouth, Honiton and Sidmouth.

Surely this is yet another relocation cost and likely to go over budget, just like every other project this year – some of which have been 70-100% over budget.