Spending a penny … who should pay for it?

“The British Toilet Association and the Local Government Association are right to point out budgetary pressures facing councils and innovative solutions as playing their part in helping halt the rapid rate of decline of public toilet provision (Cafes urged to let people use the loo without spending a penny, 8 August). But while the “Use Our Loos” campaign is admirable, what is urgently required is action by the government to exempt parish and town councils from paying business rates on the toilets they run and stop even more from closure. Parish and town councils are already saving our loos by taking them on from cash-strapped principal authorities. But at a price, with their small share of council tax increasing to cover costs which include business rates of around £16m levied on important and valued facilities which have an economic development as well as public health benefit.

Campaigning by NALC led to the government recognising this dilemma but so far it has failed to bring forward measures to help. What is now needed is renewed action to support communities by exempting local councils from paying business rates on their toilets and stopping more from being closed.

Cllr Sue Baxter
Chairman, National Association of Local Councils”


Fiddling while social housing burns

“When she first came to power Theresa May promised to address Britain’s “burning injustices”. A few weeks ago, MPs were asked to quietly drop the phrase. Tied up in the complications of Brexit, the government has done very little to help the poor and disadvantaged – those who voted in protest against their own circumstances in the referendum. Neglecting this group has not helped past governments, and this one seems to be making the same mistake.

A new green paper on social housing seems unlikely to buck the trend. It recognises that there is a problem with social housing, but fails to recognise the nature of that problem: that there simply needs to be more of it. Instead, it talks about making social housing “fairer”, and “better quality”, and “challenging the stereotypes that exist about residents and their communities”. It says, rather patronisingly, that no social housing tenant should feel a “stigma” about their situation. That is not the pressing issue.

There are almost 1.2 million people on the waiting list for social housing. As they wait, people are forced to pay rent they cannot afford, and as a consequence they cannot afford to buy food. It is no coincidence that the use of food banks in Britain is soaring. But the government is doing little to help. Experts say we need between 70,000 and 90,000 new homes for social housing a year to meet the need in England. Last year fewer than 6,000 were built – a record low. And there are no new funds in the offing to increase supply.

Instead, the green paper concentrates on initiatives such as league tables for social landlords, which it says will “rebalance the landlord/tenant relationship”. But even this is unlikely to work. With such a short supply of social housing, landlords at the bottom of the league aren’t going to suffer from a lack of interest. Neither is it going to be easy for social tenants to flit between houses, depending on their ratings. And social landlords aren’t really a problem either, as these tend to be housing associations or local councils, and bound by professional codes and regulations. Much more dubious are the amateur landlords in the private sector – able to chuck tenants out on a whim – which is where people end up when they cannot get social housing.

This is not the first time the government has tried to distract from a funding crisis by introducing new league tables: it has done this with universities, and rail operators, and lately with nursing and midwifery. It’s an underhand technique – an attempt to shift attention off the government and on to the competition, and to show that the system is at least working for some. But it’s time it started to address the real problems – and for houses that means more building.”


Cranbrook Town Council and EDDC at loggerheads over “country park resource centre”

“A bid has been launched by Cranbrook Town Council (CTC) to halt the building of the new country park resource centre.

The move comes a month after permission was granted by district planning chiefs for the 135sqm centre on land west of Stone Barton.

However, a report by CTC clerk Sarah Jenkins said East Devon District Council (EDDC) went back on an ‘understanding’ to adopt the country park resource centre, which its country park ranger would use it as a base.

However, EDDC cite the ‘economic climate’ and ‘availability of local authority funding’ as the reason it prefers to merge a number of facilities into a single building.

In her report, Mrs Jenkins said: “Under the section 106 agreement (private agreements made between local authorities and developers), the Consortium are required to provide a country park resource centre, hence the recent planning application.

“At the time, there was an understanding that EDDC would adopt the centre and their country park ranger would use it as a base. Since then, EDDC has decided that it does not want to adopt the centre.”

In January this year, councillors at CTC resolved to agree in principle that it would take ownership of the centre direct from the Consortium, once it is delivered.

They also resolved to enter negotiations with EDDC to determine the future role of the country park ranger and their future employment arrangements.

But in her report, Mrs Jenkins said: “The country park ranger has since left and EDDC has made the decision not to recruit a replacement ranger.

“Having been faced with the EDDC withdrawal, the town council has indicated to the Consortium and EDDC that it may not wish to have resource centre.”

At a meeting last month, CTC resolved to request the centre is not built and that the function of the facility and country park ranger be accommodated instead in Cranbrook’s future town hall.

Councillors also resolved to request that the section 106 funding for the country park centre be transferred to the town to provide other ‘much-needed’ facilities.

A spokesperson for EDDC said: “The section 106 agreement that secures developer contributions and obligations in relation to the country park resource centre and other infrastructure at Cranbrook was originally signed in 2010.

“At the time, it was envisaged that the town would be served by a number of individual buildings to accommodate civic and community uses.

“When the original legal agreement was approved, EDDC had been indicated as taking ownership of the country park resource centre.

“In the absence of having responsibility over any part of the country park, that now sits with Cranbrook Town Council, it was decided to offer the asset to the town council for adoption.

“From April 2018, Cranbrook Town Council adopted the country park in the town and is now responsible for its management and maintenance.

“A building housing the permanent offices of Cranbrook Town Council (as well as the library) is envisaged to be built on land immediately south of the country park in the town centre, a location where many of the functions of a country park resource centre could be accommodated.

“The community space element of the previously proposed country park resource centre could be accommodated in another community building and this could be part-funded by some of the monies that would have otherwise been spent on the centre.

“The Cranbrook country park ranger had been employed by East Devon District Council but the ranger left post earlier in 2018 and before the end of the developer funding for the position.

“A new legal agreement to pass the remaining funding to Cranbrook Town Council to enable them to employ a ranger to manage the land they have adopted is under way.

“In the interim there is currently no Cranbrook country park ranger in post.”


Does Swire fear “Islamic Republic of Britain?

Seems so from his Twitter account:

Just for balance:

5% of British people are Muslim (few of whom advocate the burka):

0.4% of the population of Devon (just over 3,000 people in the whole of Devon) is Muslim:

0.2% of East Devon residents (229 people in East Devon) are Muslim:

So many problems worrying the Electoral Reform Society …

Why it’s time to shine a light on ‘dark ads’ online:

In these divided times, a new consensus is emerging around our broken election laws:

Our democracy faces many threats – but the government has picked the wrong priority:

Campaign regulation is needed now before all trust is gone:

The new big out-of-town retail planning application near Cranbrook – the decision

The recommendation from officers, just announced, is for approval but councillors vote against that unanimously.

The application is REFUSED.

[However, it will almost certainly go to appeal/planning inquiry so this is not the last we have heard of it and there are three other similar schemes in the pipeline in the same area yet to come forward].

One of the objectors:

“Keith Lewis from Exeter Civic Society is speaking against the proposals.

“Many of the proposed retail outlets are too large,” he says. “We support the development of a local centre. These proposals seem to ignore established policy and the needs of local communities. “This application is worse than those you have refused before.

“Cranbrook has a planned town centre with development land in place. This jeopardises its establishment.

“A number of private bodies have asked you to refuse this application because it is not a local centre and we will also ask the same.”


“Cllr Percy Prowse expresses worry over the traffic impact “I’m trying to picture who would want to visit this new site,” Cllr Percy Prowse. “On Friday, I went to the environment department and asked them about how we had breached air quality results in the Heavitree corridor. “A new retail park would be very unsatisfactory.”

“Elderly should be housed in luxury developments with spas to keep them out of care home”

Owl says: Just one problem – in the whole glowing article the cost of these homes is never mentioned! You can be quite sure these homes will be out of reach for “ordinary” (ie not rich) people – rather like all other new housing.

“Traditional care homes will be increasingly replaced by luxury developments with spas, hairdressers and beauty salons in a bid to keep pensioners independent for longer, ministers say today.

The Government plans will see £76 million invested annually for the next three years in new homes specially designed for those who are frail, elderly or suffering from disabilities.

Health officials said the plans aim to keep people independent for longer – with their own front door, but more support on hand, with use of sensors and video monitoring to track the most vulnerable.

Housing developers will be able to bid for funds, from the programme which has already seen £315 million allocated to projects which design such homes. …”