How much land does EDDC own? Answer: 2,302 acres

Answer to a Freedom of Information request:

1. The total amount of land (in acres) currently owned by your Council – 2302 acres

2. The total amount of land (in acres) currently owned by your Council that has been identified as surplus to requirements – 0 acres

3. The total amount of land (in acres) currently owned by your Council that is scheduled to be sold – 0.3 acres

4. The total amount of land (in acres) currently owned by your Council scheduled for joint venture housing development or where such development is already taking place – 0 acres

Date responded: 20 June 2018

“Company co-founded by Jeremy Hunt broke [tax] law”

A company co-founded by Jeremy Hunt breached company law before carrying out a restructuring designed to reduce the health secretary’s tax bill by about £100,000, it has emerged.

Hotcourses, which was at the time majority-owned by Hunt, failed to file crucial documents with Companies House for over three years, when the law says they must be filed within 15 days.

It was reported in 2012 that Hunt reduced his potential tax bill by around £100,000 by moving an office building out of the company before a change to the dividend rate.

The Hotcourses’ mistake is a further embarrassment for the health secretary, who recently had to apologise after being investigated by the standards commissioner for failing to report ownership of seven flats in Southampton through a company.

Hunt has admitted breaching money-laundering rules brought in by his government, having failed to declare his 50% interest in the property firm to Companies House.

Hunt’s accountant, Grunberg & Co, said their failure to file the documents was “regrettable” and an “administrative error”, but not Hunt’s error as at the time he was a shareholder and not a director. Hunt referred inquiries to his accountant.

As has been previously reported, Hunt and his business partner, Mike Elms, transferred an office building in 2010 worth £1.8m out of Hotcourses and into their own names. They then immediately started renting the building back to the company.

The two men had to pay dividend tax on this “dividend in specie”, which at the time was 32.5%.

The March 2010 transfer took place just before the tax rate for the transaction rose to 42.5% at the beginning of April 2010. By paying themselves the building as a dividend before the change in tax rules, the two men saved themselves an income tax bill of around £200,000 on the deal.

According to documents filed at Companies House, Hunt and other shareholders signed documents to vary the rules of the company in February 2010. However, it was not until May 2013 that the “articles of association” were sent to Companies House.

Hunt’s accountants said that the dividend in specie could have been paid under the old articles of association, so the tax position would not have been affected by the changes.

Hunt stopped being a director of Hotcourses in 2009 but remained the largest shareholder in the company. Grunberg said it was the responsibility of the directors to file the documents.

Hunt co-founded the educational listings company in 1990. In 2017, the company was sold for £30.1m to IDP Education, a Melbourne-based student placement company that co-owns the popular IELTS English language proficiency test. The sale netted Hunt around £14.5m, which made him one of the richest Conservative MPs. In the MPs’ register of interests, Hunt also declares a half-ownership of a house in Italy.

Hunt’s shares have been held in a blind trust since he became a cabinet minister in 2010.

Hotcourses runs a variety of education-search websites including Whatuni, Postgraduate Search and the Complete University Guide. It also operates sites under its own name.

Hunt, who recently became the longest serving health secretary in history, has said previously that the success of Hotcourses came only after he and Elms had pursued a string of failed ventures, including a scheme to export marmalade to Japan and building children’s playgrounds.

East Devon could get a (small?) slice of new homes pie

“The government has confirmed 23,000 new affordable homes will be delivered across England through a £1.7bn investment deal.

That will include at least 12,500 social rent homes in high-cost areas.

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire also confirmed councils could bid for a share of £1bn of extra borrowing to build houses.

The money will be allocated to areas with the greatest pressure on affordability.

Included in that list are: Cornwall; North, West, East and mid Devon, Plymouth, Exeter, the South Hams and Teignbridge.”

“The UK’s Urban Parks Could Store As Much Carbon As A Tropical Rainforest”

“London’s Hampstead Heath isn’t just a great place to hang out in during the summer, it’s also a vital tool for preventing global warming.

According to a new study by University College London, the UK’s urban forests such as Hampstead Heath can actually store the same amount of carbon as a tropical rainforest.

The remarkable findings will be vital for city planners who are hoping to create the next generation of sustainable cities.

The study was carried out using airborne LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data collected by the UK Environment Agency, combined with ground-based LiDAR measurements.

Together the University was able to generate a map of the carbon stored in an estimated 85,000 trees in the London Borough of Camden.

Using that data they found that green areas such as Hampstead Heath were able to store up to 178 tonnes of carbon per hectare. This is in comparison to the median value for rainforests which can store up to 190 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

“Urban trees are a vital resource for our cities that people walk past every day. We were able to map the size and shape of every tree in Camden, from forests in large parks to individual trees in back gardens.” Explained lead author of the study, Dr. Phil Wilkes….”

“UK democracy under threat and reform is urgent, says electoral regulator”

“The Electoral Commission has called for urgent reforms to electoral law after a series of online political campaign scandals, acknowledging concerns that British democracy “may be under threat”.

Following a series of revelations involving the likes of Cambridge Analytica, the elections regulator has asked Westminster and the devolved governments to change the law in order to combat misinformation, misuse of personal data and overseas interference in elections.

Among other recommendations, the Electoral Commission has called for:

A change in the law to require all digital political campaign material to state who paid for it, bringing online adverts in line with physical leaflets and adverts.

New legislation to make it clear that spending in UK elections and referendums by foreign organisations and individuals is not allowed.
An increase in the maximum fine, currently £20,000 per offence, that the Electoral Commission can impose on organisations and individuals who break the rules.

Tougher requirements for political campaigns to declare their spending soon after or during a campaign, rather than months later.

A requirement for all campaigners to provide more detailed paperwork on how they spent money online.

The intervention follows years of debate about the largely unregulated world of online political campaigning in the aftermath of the 2016 EU referendum and Donald Trump’s election as US president.

“Urgent action must be taken by the UK’s governments to ensure that the tools used to regulate political campaigning online continue to be fit for purpose in a digital age,” said Sir John Holmes, chair of the Electoral Commission.

“Implementing our package of recommendations will significantly increase transparency about who is seeking to influence voters online, and the money spent on this at UK elections and referendums.”

His organisation also backed proposals to publish a database of political advertisements that will enable the public “to see what adverts a campaigner has taken out and how much they paid”. Facebook is already due to launch such a facility for UK political adverts within the coming months.

The regulator, alluding to foreign governments such as Russia, also raised concerns that there is currently no explicit ban on overseas organisations buying online political ads aimed at a British audience. …

… A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The government is committed to increasing transparency in digital campaigning in order to maintain a fair and proportionate democratic process, and we will be consulting on proposals for new imprint requirements on electronic campaigning in due course.”

The Electoral Commission has also asked for the power to investigate individual political candidates if they have broken constituency spending limits in general elections. At the moment only the police can investigate such allegations, resulting in the long-running investigation into Tory candidates’ spending on battle buses, which was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service due to insufficient evidence.

Other proposals include pushing political parties to count online advertising targeted at local constituencies within individual candidate spending limits – which can be as low as £10,000 – rather than as part of national campaigns which are allowed to spend up to £19.5m. During the 2017 general election the Conservatives were able to target Facebook ads regarding local issues at individuals in specific constituencies and count it as national spending – just so long as they didn’t mention the name of the local Tory candidate.

Both Labour and the Conservatives spent substantial sums of money on online promotions during the last general election, with digital spending accounting for more than 40% of all advertising spending by political parties in 2017. …”