Another reason to have a breakaway eastern East Devon?

Very, very few people in the eastern part of East Devon will benefit from this, yet it is in the EDDC area.

“The Department for Transport (DfT) has confirmed funding for two major projects in Devon …

[One is £9 m at Sherford new town near Plymouth]

… east of Exeter, the continuing growth and development will receive a £4 million boost, which with £3 million developer contributions will deliver improvements to Moor Lane junction to provide more capacity for traffic using the A30 and from Sowton Industrial estate; extension of the higher quality cycle routes into the city; an additional multi-use car park at the Science Park; plus extension of the electric bike scheme.

The news has been welcomed by Devon County Council, which put in the bids for the DfT funding.

Councillor Andrea Davis, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, Development and Waste, said:

“This is great news for Devon. Great for Devon residents, and great for Devon businesses. The £9 million will bring with it improvements in Exeter, and much needed access, and High Street, to the new town of Sherford. Both schemes will be a boost for new housing, jobs and connectivity in Devon.”

Academy school group allegedly strips its assets before transfer

“Wakefield City Academies Trust now stands accused of “asset stripping” after it transferred millions of pounds of the schools’ savings to its own accounts before collapsing. On 8 September it released a statement announcing it would divest itself of its 21 schools as it could not undertake the “rapid improvement our academies need”. It said that new sponsors would be found to take them over.

… Hemsworth Arts and Community Academy, a mixed secondary school in Pontefract, had £220,000 of funds, raised by volunteers at Christmas markets and other school events, transferred to the trust’s accounts earlier this year. It also saw a further £216,000, which had been held back for capital investment, moved over. “It’s not the trust’s money. It’s our money,” said a former governor at the school, who did not want to be named. “It’s money for the people in the area, their children and their grandchildren. It wasn’t for them to take.”

Heath View primary school in Wakefield had £300,000 transferred to the trust in September 2016. Another school, Wakefield City Academy, had more than £800,000 transferred towards the end of 2015. In both cases the trust told the schools’ governors that the transfer was a loan. Wakefield City Academy even received a number of small repayments. However, since the trust’s collapse both schools have been told that it no longer acknowledges the transactions as loans.

For Wakefield City Academy, the money had been held back to provide a financial cushion for when a particularly large cohort of children – born during the early 2000s baby boom – arrive in the secondary school system. “This money was our rainy day money,” said Kevin Swift, chair of the school’s local governing body. “It wasn’t just left under the mattress. It was money that we had anticipated we would have a very definite need for.”

High Crags Academy primary school in Shipley was instructed by the DfE to join the trust in April 2016 after being put into special measures the previous year. When it joined it had a surplus of £178,000, which was immediately moved to centralised accounts….

… Parents, teachers and governors say the financial problems at the Wakefield City Academies Trust had been clear for nearly a year before it collapsed. In November 2016 a draft DfE report leaked to the Times Education Supplement stated that the trust was in an “extremely vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management”.

The draft raised concerns that the chief executive, Mike Ramsay, had been paid more than £82,000 for 15 weeks’ work, despite the fact that the trust was facing a large budget deficit. The DfE has so far refused freedom of information requests to see the final report.

The previous month, it had emerged that the trust had paid almost £440,000 to IT and clerking companies owned by Ramsay and his daughter. In a statement at the time, the trust said internal vetting procedures had found that the contracts represented the best value.

Although serious questions have been raised about financial managment, there is no suggestion of fraudulent activity….

While a spokesman for the Wakefield City Academies Trust declined to comment, the DfE said a failing academy trust could never profit from the transfer of its schools to new sponsors. A spokesman said: “We are working with the trust to ensure that there is minimal disruption for pupils.

“We are also working with the preferred trusts and schools to ensure they have the right support and resources they need to improve the outcomes for pupils as quickly as possible, which will include the necessary pupil funding.” … “

Telegraph: “Our new Bovis home is falling apart and our warranty is worthless’ “

Buying a new home from Bovis? Best read this first.

“Johanna Leonard was set to live the retirement dream. After 35 years the 57-year-old finance worker sold her north London home and bought in the small town of Chudleigh, Devon, with far-reaching views over Dartmoor.

The five-bedroom, three-storey property was part of a 48-strong scheme called Tors Reach, completed in 2015 by Bovis, one of Britain’s biggest housebuilders.

But Ms Leonard’s bucolic fantasy rapidly crumbled. She is about to spend her third winter in a cold house with a damp lower ground floor and faulty heating system. She has suffered a hotchpotch of building mistakes, bad practice and shortcuts, with brickwork scuffed by scaffolding, metal screws rammed into plastic pipes and gaps between the guttering and the outside wall that could allow water and insects to creep in.

The surface problems were apparent as soon as she moved in. “Doors weren’t shutting properly, including the front door, the garden wasn’t turfed, and it was very badly painted, but the Bovis site manager just told me to ‘make a list’,” Ms Leonard said.

She had bought off-plan but was reassured by the Buildmark warranty issued by the National House Building Council (NHBC).

The warranty – which is presented as a regulatory stamp of approval for the quality of most of Britain’s newbuild homes – dictates that any structural problems found in the first two years will be dealt with by the builder. From years three to 10 the NHBC takes over repairs.

When relations turned sour with Bovis Ms Leonard turned to the NHBC, which describes itself as the “leading standard setter for new homes”. Far from having her building defects rectified, however, she found her living conditions deteriorating further.

The NHBC first investigated Ms Leonard’s home in July 2016 after Bovis washed its hands of the case and agreed that there were 60 issues to be resolved. The first set included repair work to substandard brickwork using the NHBC’s contractor. But Ms Leonard said: “Due to poor workmanship I had to advise the NHBC that I no longer wanted them in my house. The brickwork looked better before they started to make good the damage.”

More repairs were agreed a month later. An NHBC report showed that coping stones on the balcony were marked and stained and very untidy in appearance. It wasn’t until April 2017 that the NHBC took the coping stones away and removed the glass barrier from the balcony. The stones and the barrier have not been replaced. “It’s an accident waiting to happen,” said Joe Ward, her ex-husband. Rather than a vista of rolling countryside, Ms Leonard now looks out over abandoned scaffolding.

“There are a lot of defects in my home and both the speed and skill of the NHBC contractors leave everything to be desired,” she said. “My health has been affected by this experience, I am on antidepressants and sleeping pills and have had counselling. I feel terribly let down by the whole rotten newbuild and regulatory system. The NHBC allowed a home with breaches of building regulations to be put on the market and sold.”

The public impression that the NHBC, which has 80pc of the warranty market, is an ombudsman of quality rather than an insurance company is compounded by the marketing of developers such as Taylor Wimpey. “The NHBC was established over 60 years ago and is the independent regulator for the new homes industry,” the firm’s website read until this summer, when the word “regulator” was suddenly dropped.

Despite its own branding as “dedicated to housebuilding standards”, the insurance mutual bounces culpability back to the builder. “Ultimately the quality of new homes is the responsibility of builders,” it said. “Our priority is to help builders minimise defects in the homes they build and to enable us to provide the 10-year Buildmark warranty to help when problems emerge.”

In a written statement apologising to Ms Leonard the NHBC said: “There are rare circumstances where complex cases can take longer to resolve than we would wish and unfortunately there have been delays in carrying out repairs. It is also clear that some of the remedial works have not been carried out to the high standards we expect of our contractors.”

Maria Miller, the MP for Basingstoke and vice chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the excellence of the built environment, has questioned both the role of the NHBC and its relationship with the construction industry.

“The warranty system is broken and the NHBC has failed the consumer year after year, leaving some buyers dissatisfied with the biggest purchase of their life. The only way to resolve a dispute now is to get an MP involved. We need to rectify the balance of power between customer and construction industry,” she said.

The Conservative MP called for a new ombudsman to regulate the warranty industry. Her concern followed reports this summer that payments flowed between developers and the NHBC.

The most significant of these “premium refunds” was £2.7m to one developer in 2012, while last year the biggest single payment was £750,000. This calls into question the independence of the warranty system, especially when nearly a fifth of the members of the NHBC governing council are also on the board of builders such as Bovis and Barratt.

The NHBC said premium refunds were a way to reward a developer’s good claims history and were not uncommon in the insurance industry.

Paula Higgins, chief executive of the HomeOwners Alliance, said: “There is a definite requirement for a new homes ombudsman or regulator that would act in the best interest of buyers – not the industry – to ensure that consumers are protected and our homes meet the standard that is expected.”

This month the NHBC offered Ms Leonard a £10,000 cash payment to fix the outstanding defects herself. But she said: “The only offer I will accept is for Bovis or the NHBC to buy back my home. For every mistake we uncover there are more behind it and repair costs could escalate quickly.”

A structural engineer agreed, saying: “If the site manager has allowed some of these errors, what else has been done or not done? There are a lot of hidden aspects to construction that will show over time.”

Old? Sick? Mentally ill? Disabled? Vulnerable? We’re cutting your benefits

“Plans to cap housing benefit for thousands of mentally ill, elderly and other vulnerable people in supported housing are to be re-examined after protests by MPs and charities.

The rethink, expected within weeks, also follows evidence from the National Housing Federation, which found that 85% of schemes to build new supported and sheltered homes for vulnerable people have been shelved by housing associations because of fears that the new funding system will make them unsustainable.

The move comes amid suggestions that ministers may cut the six-week waiting time for universal credit payments after an outcry from Tory MPs.

More than 700,000 people in supported housing usually have the accommodation element of their costs met entirely through housing benefit. But under plans announced by the government in 2015, and due to be introduced from next year, these payments would be capped in the same way as for people renting in the private sector.

As accommodation costs are higher in supported housing, because of the extra services and communal spaces provided, charities and others critics say the proposed system would leave residents facing big potential shortfalls. This is despite ministers saying that they could get help from special funds run by local authorities.

The plans have caused an outcry, with charities warning the system would be bureaucratic, unworkable and would leave people facing uncertainty and worry about whether they could afford to remain.

Supported housing provides a secure, safe place for the most vulnerable, the majority of whom are older people or those with long-term disabilities, as well as the mentally ill, people with disabilities, those at risk of homelessness and women fleeing domestic violence. An inquiry, by the communities and local government and work and pension committees in parliament, called for an urgent rethink, saying: “In particular, we have been concerned by reports of providers choosing to postpone or cancel investment decisions, as well as increased levels of anxiety among vulnerable tenants who fear they may no longer have the guarantee of a home for life.”

The communities secretary, Sajid Javid, told a recent session of the communities and local government committee the report had been “very helpful” and he expected to announce a decision soon that would show ministers had listened. Pressure for a climbdown is mounting before an opposition day debate on supported housing that will take place on Wednesday.

On Monday the charity Rethink Mental Illness will publish a report showing people with the highest needs, and the highest costs, are likely to suffer the biggest shortfalls in rent.

The charity says this will be most evident in parts of the country where rents are cheapest and therefore housing benefit payments will be lowest. Research has shown the cap will mean housing benefit will only cover about two-thirds of accommodation costs in some parts of the country. …”

Infrastructure: the forgotten need and M5 worst road for traffic jams in 2016

More and more houses, more and more and more cars … tipping point now reached.

“The UK has been confirmed as having more traffic jams than anywhere else in Europe. The Independent Transport Commission has found that the cost of these jams to the UK economy is a staggering £9 billion per year. That’s more than the cost to most European countries combined.

… Looking at vehicles per capita, the UK is 34th in the world. It comes behind France, Sweden, Italy, Luxembourg and Greece, so that doesn’t seem to be the problem. The UK has six million fewer cars than France on its roads. …

Additionally, research by traffic analytics company Inrix shows that, in 2016, drivers encountered 1.35 million traffic jams in the UK. That works out on average to 3,700 traffic jams every day. The estimated annual cost of £9 billion wasted is based on time, fuel spent while idling or starting vehicles in jams and the resultant cost of all that unnecessary pollution.

M5 wins title of “worst traffic jam” in 2016

On 4 August 2016 at the M5 near Somerset, two lorries collided. This created the worst traffic jam of last year, with a 36-mile tailback. It took workers 15 hours to clear the debris. This jam alone was estimated to have cost £2.4 million.

The northbound M6 has three serious traffic jams in the top five worst traffic jams of 2016, while a serious car accident on the A406 was the fourth worst jam of the year.

The causes of the worst queues ranged from fuel spills and emergency repairs to broken down lorries. November was the worst month in terms of the total number of traffic jams. There were 169,000 on the UK’s major roads during that month. April had the second highest number of jams recorded.

UK roads not fit for purpose

Investment has been made to update Britain’s main trunk roads. We are totally reliant on these to get up and down the country. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of traffic on them means that if anything causes the traffic flow to stop at all, there are no alternative road systems nearby for drivers to move across to. Many of the new “smart motorways” being built across the UK are exacerbating the problem because they are built with no hard shoulder in place, just emergency refuge bays provided at maximum intervals of 2,500 metres. …”

[The rest of the article consists of (a) the government saying it is working on the problem and (b) a plea for more roads which hardly seem worth commenting on]

Hammond’s threat to “hire builders” for green belt – conflict of interest?

[see post earlier today]

The question mark about conflict of interest is because, with this government, NOTHING EVER seems to conflict.

Is it a conflict of interest to threaten to put “government employed” builders on to the green belt if you are an MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer AND you own MASSES of land adjacent to said green belt?

If you are a Conservative MP and Chancellor, with the opportunity to get shedloads of money from it, apparently not. At least in their universe:

“Chancellor Philip Hammond could make millions of pounds if green belt land he owns gets planning permission for new homes in the future.

The Tory minister purchased three acres of greenbelt land neighbouring his family home in Surrey from housebuilder Martin Grant for £100,000.

He then came to an “option” agreement with the housebuilder in the 2008 sale that allows the housebuilder to buy the Chancellor’s land back in the future and any uplift in the value of the land would be split equally between the two.

A local property expert has estimated that should Hammond’s land get planning permission then it could be worth £2m an acre, netting him a potential £3million profit.”

“Dispatches discovered that one such landowner who could benefit from such a windfall is the Chancellor Philip Hammond. In 2008 Hammond bought 3 acres of greenbelt land neighbouring his family home in Surrey from housebuilder Martin Grant for £100,000. Martin Grant Homes is planning to build 1,700 homes on greenbelt land near Mr Hammond’s home which has already been rezoned for housing.”

“Help to buy has mostly helped housebuilders boost profitsl

“The chancellor, Philip Hammond, is lining up another £10bn to extend the “help to buy” programme first launched by George Osborne in 2013, which has already sucked up £10bn of taxpayers’ cash. Yet a report from Morgan Stanley – not usually the type to stick the knife into a flagship government policy – lays bare how this colossal sum has been almost entirely wasted.

Those billions have not helped buyers. The money has gone almost entirely into the pockets of the giant housebuilding firms, which have raised the price of developments by almost exactly the amount made available by the government. All it has meant for first-time buyers is more misery – by pushing up house prices.

Help to buy works by giving aspiring homeowners an interest-free government loan worth up to 20% of a property’s value – if the buyer opts for new-build. The idea was that it would provoke a wave of new building.

But the Morgan Stanley report, headlined “The help to buy premium – and its unintended consequences”, drily unpicks the data, revealing how the beneficiaries have been the major developers. Researchers compared the price of new-build houses in 2013, when the scheme began, with the price of existing or “second-hand” houses.

There has always been a small premium for new-build; people will pay extra for spanking-new kitchens and bathrooms. But since 2013, that premium has rocketed. “The divergence between new-build and second-hand prices is higher than it’s been since records began,” says the report.

It says that the price of new-build has outstripped second-hand by 15% since the start of help to buy. “We are now around 5% points away from the level at which new-build prices have diverged by the full amount of the government’s equity loan (20% of house price across England).”

Of course, Morgan Stanley didn’t produce this report for the likes of me to make a dig at the government. Its interest is in the share prices of the major housebuilders. It worries that the big builders won’t be able to get away with charging a premium of more than 20% for new-builds, and that the super- profits may be coming to a close.

Make no mistake about just how much help to buy has fuelled developers’ profits. The new-build market is increasingly reliant on help to buy, with the large builders – Barratt, Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon – suggesting that about half of their volumes are help-to-buy purchases. And what a brilliant money-making wheeze it has been. Morgan Stanley says: “Help to buy (and broader house price inflation, among other things) have helped housebuilder earnings triple since its launch.”

The builders will say the scheme has, indeed, provoked some supply, but evidence is thin. Morgan Stanley says: “Though it has helped drive supply, figures provide ammunition for critics who suggest it has pushed up prices, rather than making them more affordable.”

Despite this, Hammond is preparing to bung another £10bn at the developers – perhaps to “give clarity and certainty” about the scheme – which even the rightwing Adam Smith Institute says is “like throwing petrol on to a bonfire”.

But George Osborne didn’t need investment banks or thinktanks to tell him this back in 2013 when he launched this madness. Guardian Money at the time spoke to the people at the sharp end: young people excluded from the property market. Duncan Stott of the PricedOut group was particularly prescient: “Help to buy should really be called ‘help to sell’, as the main winners will be developers and existing homeowners who will find it easier to sell at inflated prices. Pumping more money into a housing market with chronic undersupply has one surefire outcome: house prices will go up.”

But the government chooses to listen to the developers instead. Britain’s housing market is broken, and help to buy is just making it worse.”