“Nuclear power stations could be forced to shut down …”

“Nuclear power stations would be forced to shut down if a new measures are not in place when Britain quits a European atomic power treaty in 2019, an expert has warned.

Rupert Cowen, a senior nuclear energy lawyer at Prospect Law, told MPs on Tuesday that leaving the Euratom treaty as the government has promised could see trade in nuclear fuel grind to a halt.

The UK government has said it will exit Euratom when article 50 is triggered. The treaty promotes cooperation and research into nuclear power, and uniform safety standards.

“Unlike other arrangements, if we don’t get this right, business stops. There will be no trade. If we can’t arrive at safeguards and other principles that allow compliance [with international nuclear standards] to be demonstrated, no nuclear trade will be able to continue.”

Asked by the chair of the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy select committee if that would see reactors switching off, he said: “Ultimately, when their fuels runs out, yes.” Cowen said that in his view there was no legal requirement for the UK to leave Euratom because of Brexit: “It’s a political issue, not a legal issue.”

The UK nuclear industry would be crippled if new nuclear cooperation deals are not agreed within two years, a former government adviser told the committee.”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/28/british-nuclear-power-stations-could-be-forced-to-close-after-brexit

Houses as commodities and not as homes

The UN special rapporteur for housing, Leilani Farha, will highlight the devastating human rights impact of society’s tendency to view houses as financial commodities rather than homes for people, in her report to the UN this week.

Farha, who has been UN special rapporteur for housing and human rights since May 2014, has published a hard-hitting report [pdf], which she presents to the UN in Geneva on 1 March. It details the shift in recent years that has seen massive amounts of global capital invested in housing as a commodity, particularly as security for financial instruments that are traded on global markets and as a means of accumulating wealth. As a result, she says, homes are often left empty – even in areas where housing is scarce.

“Shops are closing, restaurants are closing,” Farha has told the Guardian, in an exclusive interview. “You see immediately a loss of vibrancy.”

‘Housing should be seen as a human right. Not a commodity’ | Patrick Butler
Farha wants governments around the world to act. She is calling for them to redefine their relationship with private investors and international financial institutions, and reform the governance of financial markets, in order to reclaim housing as a social good, “and thus ensure the human right to a place to live in security and dignity”. Here are some of the report’s key findings.

Building homes to lie empty

The report warns about a rise in “dehumanised housing”: housing built as a high-yield commodity rather than for social use. A significant portion of investor-owned homes are simply left empty. In Melbourne, Australia, for example, 82,000 (or one fifth) of investor-owned units are unoccupied. In prime locations for wealthy foreign investors, such as the affluent boroughs of Chelsea and Kensington in the city of London, the number of vacant units increased by 40% between 2013 and 2014.

In such markets, the value of housing is no longer based on its social use. Properties are equally valuable regardless of whether they are vacant or occupied, so there is no pressure to ensure properties are lived in. They are built with the intention of lying empty and accumulating value, while at the same time, homelessness remains a persistent problem.

People’s homes are not commodities: cities need to rethink housing
The average income of local residents or kinds of housing they would like to inhabit is of little concern to financial investors, who cater to the desires of speculative markets. These are likely to replace affordable housing that is needed locally with luxury housing that sits vacant because that is how best to turn a profit quickly.

For instance, Kensington & Chelsea is a hotspot for building luxury housing, and yet the borough also has the fourth highest number of households in temporary accommodation in UK, as well as the highest rate of out-of-borough placements (meaning when people become homeless, they are moved to different boroughs entirely).

Farha’s report says escalating house prices have become key factors in the increase in wealth inequality. Those who own property in prime urban locations have become richer, while lower-income households become poorer. Surveys of ultra-high net-worth individuals show that over 50% have increased the proportion of their investments allocated to housing. The most common reasons are in order to sell at a later date and provide a safe return on investment, thus protecting wealth. The “economics of inequality” may be explained in large part by the inequalities of wealth generated by housing investments.

The impact of private investment has also contributed to spatial segregation and inequality within cities, Farha points out. In South Africa, private investment in cities has sustained many of the discriminatory patterns of the apartheid area, with wealthier, predominantly white households occupying areas close to the centre and poorer black South Africans living on the peripheries. That “spatial mismatch”, relegating poor black households to areas where employment opportunities are scarce, has entrenched poverty and cemented inequality.

Similar patterns of racial displacement from urban centres and segregation can be found in large cities in the US.

This also creates gender segregation: in Australia, analysis has shown that average-income single female workers can afford to live in only one suburb of Melbourne, and cannot afford to live anywhere in Sydney.

Farha’s report calls for action. She wants governments to provide housing for people affected by economic downturns and unemployment, but many have been hampered by austerity measures imposed by creditors. As a result, they have agreed to dramatically reduce or eliminate affordable housing programmes, privatise social housing and sell off real estate assets to private equity funds.

The report argues that many governments are too deferential to unregulated markets and have failed to protect the right to adequate housing. Tax subsidies for homeownership, tax breaks for investors, and bailouts for financial institutions have subsidised and encouraged the excessive financialisation of housing.

Farha concludes that all laws and policies related to foreclosure, indebtedness and housing should be examined to ensure the right to adequate housing is paramount, including the obligation to prevent any eviction resulting in homelessness.”

Exeter councillor goes Green because of “lack of transparency”

Swap Labour for Conservative and East Devon Alliance for Green in East Devon and you have a similar situation – an entrenched old-boys-and-girls power base that needs removing.

“Exeter has its first ever Green Party city councillor following the defection from Labour of Alphington councillor Chris Musgrave. And Cllr Musgrave says he has made the decision as he has become increasingly disillusioned with a ‘small clique making decisions behind closed doors’ and a refusal by the Labour group to accept proper scrutiny in decision making.

Cllr Musgrave says he has been drawn to the Green Party because of their deep-seated commitment to openness and transparency in local government, something he says is ‘in short supply with the current Labour administration.’

He added: “Openness and transparency is in short supply in the local Labour Party. Major decisions are increasingly made by a small clique behind closed doors with the majority of councillors locked out of the process. Whenever I have challenged the Labour Party and Labour-led council on major decisions – which is exactly what I believe I should be doing as an elected Councillor – I have been told in no uncertain terms to be quiet. …”

http://www.devonlive.com/exeter-city-councillor-defects-from-labour-to-join-the-green-party/story-30168791-detail/story.html

Community Hospital bed cuts: public consultation doesn’t give answers CCG wanted

Public consultation – ok for Brexit, not ok for NHS!

“A public consultation over which community beds health commissioners will axe in Exeter or East Devon has seen the majority of people vote for different oppositions, rather than the four being proposed.

NHS Northern, Eastern and Western (NEW) Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is planning to close 72 community hospital beds in Devon, and is due to make its decision this Thursday. In the options Tiverton hospital will definitely remain open, and Honiton and Okehampton will close. The fate of beds in Seaton, Exmouth, Sidmouth and Whipton remains uncertain.

The aim of the consultation document called Your Future Care is to provide care and support at home and in the community for the elderly and frail, where the various providers of services work together to promote the health and wellbeing of residents, preventing unnecessary hospital admissions and supporting a faster return home.

The Your Future Care survey results show 624 people voted for other options such as suggesting different three site hospitals such as Okehampton, Tiverton and Exmouth; having four site options such as Tiverton, Sidmouth, Seaton, and Exmouth; and retaining all existing beds which accounted for 168 of responses.

The second most popular choice was option A – 32 beds in Tiverton, 24 beds in Seaton and 16 beds in Exmouth – with 554 votes, followed by option B with 159 votes, and option C – 32 beds in Tiverton, 24 beds in Seaton and 16 beds in Whipton – with 65 votes. The least popular was option D – 32 beds in Tiverton, 24 in Sidmouth and 16 beds in Whipton – with 50 votes.

During the consultation, the CCG’s governing body received five petitions. They included one from Sidmouth Victoria Hospital Comforts Fund which was signed by 5,497 to prevent the closure of Sidmouth Hospital’s inpatient ward; a petition signed by 3,579 people to save Okehampton Hospital beds, and 3,227 people signed a Hands off Honiton Hospital petition.

Also opposing proposals to reduce community beds is Community Hospitals Association (CHA), and Devon County Council has called for a halt in the plans while it calls on the government and NHS England to provide fair funding for health services in Devon.

Hard to reach groups were consulted during focus groups organised by Healthwatch Devon. No one option was most preferred, and people said they wanted services to be as close to home as possible. Many people felt enabling patients to remain at home and avoid a hospital stay is a good thing.

During the consultation a significant number of questions relating to how the New Model of Integrated Care (NMOC) will work in practice was raised, including concerns about a possible decline in patient safety for vulnerable groups such as the frail, elderly, and dementia patients.

While there was noticeable support for the principle of care at home, many correspondents felt the NMOC had not been suitably or clearly explained, so they were unable to support the proposal.

A high number of people raised topics such as fear of isolation, strain on carers and worsening patient outcomes for individuals with more seriousness illness.

The final decision will be made by NEW Devon CCG’s governing body at a publicly held meeting of NEW Devon CCG’s governing body at Exeter Racecourse at 1pm. It has previously stated its preferred choice as being option A.

More changes are also on the way. Devon’s acute hospital stroke, maternity and urgent care services are the latest to come under scrutiny as part of ongoing plans to transform the regions health care. By this summer, NEW Devon CCG and South Devon and Torbay CCG aims to have drawn up proposals for the future delivery of the three services.”

http://www.devonlive.com/devon-residents-vote-for-other-options-than-those-proposed-over-community-beds-cuts/story-30168539-detail/story.html

When and how does devolution become a scam?

Georgina Allen:


“Looking at the papers at the moment, there is a stark contrast to be witnessed – on the one hand, local people out in the rain and cold, holding bedraggled posters, begging for hospitals to be saved, for school funds not to be cut, for councils to hold strong against insistent developers – while on the other hand, the self-congratulations of business people and the LEP, the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, on winning yet another enormous handout from the government – £43.56 million this time. This brings their total budget to over £200 million.

Where has this £43 million come from? If the government can’t find money to help keep local hospitals open, how can they suddenly produce this huge windfall? Council budgets here in the South West have been reduced on average by about 40%, forcing councils to cut back on essential services.

Local councils are having to make some very difficult decisions. They are being kept afloat by income from the New Homes Bonuses, money which they are given for every house built. This however, puts them at odds with their constituents, who see thousands of unaffordable new houses spreading over their fields, damaging agriculture, tourism and local infrastructure. Council taxes have gone up, business rates have gone up, services are being cut, yet suddenly this huge windfall has appeared.

The LEP, who have been given this bonanza to share out, are an interesting organisation to be responsible for this amount of public money. They are a self-elected group of business people and councillors. The majority of business represented are from the construction industry. There are also representatives from the arms industry, cyber technology, the nuclear industry and people with financial interests in house building. Their meetings are held in private, they are unaccountable and are not required to be transparent. They are responsible for the division of an enormous amount of public money and yet their board represents the construction industries who benefit the most from the windfall, leading to many awkward conflicts of interest.

Their choices on where to spend this money reflect their own interests too closely in my opinion. Money, which it can be argued, has been taken from council funds, is being sent to fund an upgrade to the train station in Plymouth, to help a proposed new town on the edge of Newton Abbot, to build a high technology centre in Torbay.

All of this investment is good of course, but if it comes at the expense of our hospitals, schools and roads, then questions need to be asked about who is making the decision on where that money goes. If money is being drained from council funds and the public purse to build massive new developments, developments which benefit the businesses that the people making the decisions are in charge of, then the public need to be a lot more informed than they are.

In light of the recent scandals shaking LEPs in other areas, as reported by the Times and the Mail, it would make a lot of sense to ask for a great deal more transparency. To quote the Times article, “Millions of pounds have been spent, however, on businesses run by board members of the partnerships or on the companies of people close to them.” I’m sure our LEP have done nothing wrong, so a little more openness in the way they function cannot hurt.

The lack of openness is especially worrying when you see how fundamentally the changes that the LEP are behind, are changing the face of Devon and Somerset. Housing for example – the LEP have come up with a figure of 169,000 new houses needed for Devon and Somerset.

How have they come up with this figure?

Nobody seems to know – several councillors in my local area of the South Hams have asked and as they put it, ‘have been fobbed off’. The LEP don’t need to answer questions and you can’t do a freedom of information on them as they are not a public body. It’s mentioned that this figure is possibly based on local housing needs assessments – so where do these housing assessments come from? How does a town like Newton Abbot, which has had a static or declining population for many years, suddenly need to double in size according to a ‘local housing need assessment’? I was told by a chief planning officer that he didn’t understand the way they were calculated. I would argue that they are based on market needs not local needs.

Who will benefit then from having a high housing figure? Well the people who develop the land will and it is unfortunate that so many of them are sitting on the board of the LEP. It doesn’t inspire confidence. Many of the houses that have been built are not selling, but that doesn’t seem to stop the LEP and various councils represented on its board, from producing larger and larger plans – the one for a Greater Exeter has just come out.

If they want local people to support them, they must explain where the money is going and why. They must put the money into supporting agriculture, tourism, the environment and services instead of just endless, huge infrastructural projects. They must consult and discuss properly and answer freedom of information requests, otherwise like the other scandal-ridden LEPs, it will just resemble a scam. A scam whereby local services are cut and public money is diverted into supporting private industry and how does that really help any of us.”

Public services unsustainable and will bounce from crisis to crisis say think-tanks

“The UK faces the prospect of failing public services and breached spending controls unless urgent action is taken, the Institute for Government and CIPFA have warned.

The think-tank has partnered with the accountancy body to deliver an assessment of key public services in light of increasing cuts imposed by central government.

The Performance Tracker review concludes that until recently, Whitehall was able to maintain the performance of public services while cutting spending. However, the report highlighted that the government’s own data indicates the existing approach has “run out of steam.”

The authors urged the chancellor Philip Hammond to demonstrate in next week’s Budget that his spending decisions were based on “realistic assessments”.

They added that, in the near future, the government risks “bouncing from spending crisis to crisis” against the backdrop of contentious and potentially divisive Brexit negotiations.

The report identified the key pressures on adult social care, hospitals and the prison services. It noted that people were waiting longer for critical hospital services such as A&E and cancer treatments, and highlighted delays in transferring people from hospitals into social care have risen by 40% since 2014. Meanwhile, violence in prisons has risen sharply, with assaults on staff increasing by 61% in two years.

Among the recommendations made by the report was for the assumptions behind government’s spending decisions to be subject to independent scrutiny. As such, Whitehall should consider creating an institution similar to the Office for Budget Responsibility for public spending, which could help “embed efficiency within public sector decision making and prevent wishful thinking.”

Rob Whiteman, chief executive of CIPFA, said: “We know that for some parts of the public sector resources are stretched and that those working to deliver services are up against it. What is crucial is that we make the best possible use of the funds available.”

A thorough understanding of how organisations are run and services provided was key, “using this information to think strategically and creatively about improving policy decision making, which will ultimately improve service delivery.”

Julian McCrae, deputy director of the IfG, added the government was entering a cycle of “crisis, cash, repeat.” He emphasised the new report was not a call for money but rather, “a call for better financial planning” and reforms robust enough to endure public scrutiny.

“It is fundamental to increasing the effectiveness of these public services that ministers, officials and the public know how well government is performing, and use this information to guide decisions,” he stated.

http://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2017/02/cipfa-and-ifg-issue-pre-budget-warning-over-public-service-sustainability

Government response to petition – “Give communities back the right to decide where houses are built.”.

OWL SAYS: if you believe this, you will believe anything. Have we been consulted about where our Local Enterprise Partnership is going to build extra houses? No. What say do we have about extra houses for Greater Exeter? Almost none. Do (favoured) developers get just about anything and everything they ask for in East Devon? Yes, they do.

Truly we live in a parallel universe to the government!


“Local communities are not forced to accept large housing developments. Communities are consulted throughout the Local Plan process and on individual planning applications.

Read the response in full

The National Planning Policy Framework strongly encourages all local planning authorities to get up-to-date Local Plans in place as soon as possible, in consultation with the local community. Up-to-date Local Plans ensure that communities get the right development, in the right place, at the right time, reflecting the principles of sustainable development. Through the White Paper we are ensuring that every part of the country produces, maintains and implements an up-to-date plan, yet with the flexibility for local areas to decide how to plan in a way that best meets their needs.

A wide section of the community should be proactively engaged so that Local Plans, as far as possible, reflect a collective vision and a set of agreed priorities for the sustainable development of the area, including those contained in any neighbourhood plans that have been made.

The Framework recognises the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside. That is why our proposals are focussed on development in built up areas.
We are also absolutely clear that Green Belt must be protected and that there are other areas that local authorities must pursue first, such as brownfield land and taking steps to increase density on urban sites. The Government is committed to maximising the use of brownfield land and has already embarked on an ambitious programme to bring brownfield land back into use.

We believe that developers should mitigate the impacts of development. This is vital to make it acceptable to the local community and to addresses the cumulative impact of development in an area. Both the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 agreements can be used by local planning authorities to help fund supporting infrastructure and address the cumulative demand that development places on infrastructure. Through the White Paper, the Government announced that it will examine the options for reforming the existing system of developer contributions to see how this can be simplified, with further announcements at Autumn Budget 2017.

The £2.3billion Housing Infrastructure Fund will deliver up to 100,000 new homes by putting in the right infrastructure, in the right place, at the right time. We expect the fund to be able to deliver a variety of types of infrastructure necessary to unlock housing growth in high demand areas.

There is nothing automatic about grants of planning permission where there is not yet an up-to-date Local Plan. It is still up to local decision-makers to interpret and apply national policy to local circumstances, alongside the views of the local community. Applications should not be approved if the adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits; or if specific policies in the Framework indicate that development should be restricted.

Communities are also able to make representations on individual planning applications and in response to most appeals by the applicant against a local authority decision. Interested parties can raise all the issues that concern them during the planning process, in the knowledge that the decision maker will take their views into account, along with other material considerations, in reaching a decision.

We therefore do not believe a right of appeal against the grant of planning permission for communities is necessary. It is considered that communities already have plenty of opportunity to have their say on local planning issues, and it would be wrong for them to be able to delay a development at the last minute, through a community right of appeal, when any issues they would raise at that point could have been raised and should have been considered during the earlier planning application process.

Department for Communities and Local Government”

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/177333