Swire worried about MPs being “taken down”

Hugo Swire MP
9 January 2017

Question in Parliament

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Many will be alarmed by the recent reports of attempts by a foreign Government to “take down” Members of this House, including a senior Minister. Given the very serious implications of this matter, what measures will you take to investigate it, not least because one party to the discussions, according to the press coverage, was, or is, at least partially a paid employee of this House?”


Catch up with Swire in London and hear his views about Palestine

Monday, January 23, 2017 from 6:00 PM to 6:45 PM (GMT)


Palestine: the case for recognition

The Rt Hon Sir Hugo Swire KCMG MP, CMEC Chairman

in conversation with

Sir Vincent Fean KCVO, former Consul General to Jerusalem

This discussion will be focused on Palestinian statehood and what impact British recognition of a Palestinian state might have.

The discussion will also consider the recent UN resolution against Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the potential impact of Donald Trump on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and the UK’s role in supporting a peaceful two-state settlement.

The event will include a Q&A session.

One reason (close to home) why Bovis CEO resigned?

Axminster councillor Douglas Hull recently went on a tirade against badly-built homes in the town, though he took on the monkey NHBC (the business that issues 10 year warranties for new homes, rather than the organ grinders – the developers who build the shoddy homes in the first place.

Now, news reaches us of a national protest group taking housebuilder Bovis (a major player in Axminster, Seaton and all over East Devon) to task:

“Disgruntled Bovis Homes customers are to protest outside the annual meeting of the housebuilder, whose chief executive David Ritchie was ousted this week.

The Bovis Homes Victims Group has swollen to 650 Facebook members with a litany of complaints, as well as a YouTube channel with more than 9000 views.

Spokesman Marc Holden’s £490,000 Bovis home in Milton Keynes was beset with defects, prompting a company review.

Holden said: “We are not going to stop our active campaign. There are a lot of unhappy people.”

The meeting will be in Tunbridge Wells in May. Bovis warned on profits last month after delays to sales, prompting Ritchie to resign.

A Bovis spokesman said: “Bovis Homes is aware of the issues experienced by a small number of customers and recently established a dedicated team of specialists to resolve them, and apologises to the customers impacted.”


To be an LEP or not to be an LEP – that is the question

Just before Christmas, we read that three local authorities ( including Plymouth and Exeter) were pulling out of the Heart of the Southwest Local Enterprise Partnership (comprising the whole of Devon and Somerset). They intended to form their own LEP – the so-called “Golden Triangle LEP”:

We assume that, partly, this was because those authorities were not convinced that a “Devset” super-mayor (a requirement for government funding – and quite possibly from Somerset) would not adequately represent their interests.

Since then we have heard absolutely nothing about the situation from either side.

Is the “Golden Triangle LEP” still on the cards?
Have the local authorities which want to break away formally withdrawn?
If not, do they intend to withdraw and when?
If so, what happens to current funds held by the LEP on their behalf?
Are we having a Devset super-mayor or not?
When (if ever) will electors be consulted – and about what?
Will Devon continue to subsidise heavy HOTSW LEP investment in Hinkley C that, despite promises, shows little knock-on benefit to our county?

And when will Somerset County Council (as the chosen lead authority for scrutiny – though chosen by whom we do not know) be subject to scrutiny (or scrutinising itself) about where our money has gone, is going, and will go?


EDDC leads the way in showing HMRC how to relocate!

Extra £600m needed to pay for taxman’s new offices

Britain’s tax authorities will spend nearly £600 million more than they promised on an “unrealistic” plan to modernise and streamline their offices, a critical report has concluded.

The National Audit Office (NAO) found that Revenue & Customs was operating out of 170 properties, costing £269 million a year to run. But it warned that the cost of plans to modernise and rationalise into 13 regional centres had been significantly underestimated and said that the reorganisation would disrupt services.

Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the public accounts committee, said the NAO’s findings showed that “early over-optimism” had once again resulted in increased costs to taxpayers. The committee is expected to call HMRC officials to explain how the forecasts were so wrong.

The NAO said that since HMRC first announced its relocation plans in the 2015 spending review, costs had risen and the project would now cost £594 million more over the next decade — a rise of about 22 per cent.

The organisation had also accepted that its current plans, that would involve moving all staff into new offices by 2020, carried “too high a risk of disruption to its business”.

An updated plan is yet to be published and relocating to regional centres will now happen later than the HMRC had planned.

It will take longer before savings from the new estate are realised, the NAO said.

An HMRC spokesman said: “Our most recent calculations now include updated day-to-day running costs, additional investment in two transitional sites which will ease the move for both staff and customers, and provision for more support for our staff with the travel costs of moving to a new office.”

Source” Times Newspapers Limited 2017 (paywall)

“No ‘independent consultation’ to be held on Exmouth seafront plans”


SPIN! SPIN! SPIN! Councillor Skinner must be dizzy!

Perhaps the “group of like-minded individuals” who are not the Exmouth Creative Group ( including any creative developers) would like to identify itself ….!

There will not be an ‘independent consultation’ on redeveloping Exmouth seafront, the man leading the project has said.

Councillor Philip Skinner made the comments at the most recent full East Devon District Council (EDDC) meeting, when asked by Councillor Megan Armstrong about the result of a town poll held last April.

The poll produced a 94.9 per cent vote for Exmouth Town Council writing to EDDC, which it subsequently did, asking that before any further planning applications were approved for Queen’s Drive, additional independent consultation should take place.

Cllr Armstrong said: “It seems as if you are going to ignore the poll and continue regardless. How are you going to explain to all the residents who voted that their views have been totally ignored?”

Responding, Cllr Skinner said: “What we are going to do is, the phase two [developer] is going to put their application in, there will be a consultation process for that, there will then be another consultation process which will take place through the planning process. Phase three is going to be absolutely a full consultation with the public, that’s what’s going to take place, that is quite clear.

“To answer the question about an independent consultation – no, that’s not going to take place. I’m sorry about that, but that’s the reality.”

Cllr Skinner has also been criticised by campaign group Save Exmouth Seafront, which said he had talked to an unknown Exmouth Creative Group in lieu of other consultation, though EDDC denied Cllr Skinner had spoken to a group of that name.

SES spokesperson Louise MacAllister said: “There are many established community groups in Exmouth with an interest in the seafront who have not been asked for their opinion. This is concerning as the public made themselves very clear through the poll that they want to be consulted, and yet the public are now being ignored in favour of this unknown group.”

An EDDC spokesperson said: “Cllr Skinner has met several groups and individuals about rejuvenating the town, including the seafront.

He recently met a group of like-minded individuals who have some great ideas for the town and they were enthused by what the council is doing. We are unaware of a specifically named group called Exmouth Creative Group.”

EDDC kicks out affordable housing on its own land in Sidmouth – using it for a third office site after relocation

Remember the old days, when EDDC said its move to a single new building in Honiton would save money?

Then it added an old, crumbling building in Exmouth (the Town Hall) neglecting to have a full survey before estimating the cost of refurbishment. Those refurbishment costs are now £1.669m, – £408,000 more than the original estimate.

Now we hear that, instead of providing 20 affordable houses on the Manstone Depot site in Sidmouth as set out in the local plan, EDDC has instead decided to build offices for its Estates Department and keep the Streetscene department there.

No costs appear to be in the public domain for this – which should form part of the relocation budget. And it begs the question: why is the Estates Department and Streetscene relocating to Manstone Depot rather than to the new site in Honiton? Is the Honiton site too small, or does EDDC have an antipathy to affordable housing in Sidmouth? Or is there some other more murky reason?

Or is it just that officers and councillors don’t want Streetscene vehicles and materials spoiling their view in Honiton?

Here is the story from Sidmouth Herald:

“East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Manstone Depot is allocated for 20 homes in its Local Plan – but now the authority wants to keep its estates department in Sidmouth when it relocates to Exmouth and Honiton.

Its development management committee (DMC) has been recommended to approve the plans for a single-storey office block when it meets on Tuesday (January 10).

Jeremy Woodward, who has campaigned for transparency in the relocation project, said: “I am dismayed about what seems to be EDDC’s disregard for its own Local Plan – and promises of affordable housing which is much-needed in Sidmouth.

“This application is clearly very sensitive.

“Firstly, it is on a site reserved for housing in the Local Plan; and secondly, it is clearly part of the ‘larger picture’ of the district council’s relocation project.”

Mr Woodward submitted a Freedom of Information request in 2014 which revealed that EDDC’s housing service had made two conditional offers to build 25 homes on the Manstone Depot site. One had a mix of market and ‘affordable’ homes; the other was fully ‘affordable’.

The report to DMC members says the offices will be limited to one section of the site and housing could still be delivered on the remaining area. It adds, the departure from the Local Plan is not grounds to refuse the application.

The office building would act as a ‘hub’ for operations that already largely take place from the depot, which is used by the StreetScene team and for storage, adds the report.

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “The consolidation of Knowle Depot activities to our existing site at Manstone is an opportunity that results as part of the relocation project.

“The transfer of depot activities is an existing costed element of the relocation project and, as such, included within the independent and positive cost modelling of relocation.

“Manstone Depot continues to provide a base for a range of important services to Sidmouth and the wider district.”