893 gifts or hospitality from developers in 6 years did not influence councillor’s decisions says Monitoring Officer [insert hollow laugh here]

On average accepted gifts or hospitality 3 times a week, every week for 6 years! But he resigned anyway ….. deja vu, deja vu says Owl!

“The Deputy Leader of Westminster Council has resigned following an internal investigation into his conduct.

Deputy Leader Robert Davis announced today he is to resign “with immediate effect” after 36 years of service.

Mr Davis’s resignation comes after he reportedly accepted hospitality or gifts 893 times over six years. These gifts frequently came from property developers who were seeking planning permission, according to the Guardian.

In a statement, Mr Davis said: “I am very proud of my 36 years’ service in local government during which I made a major contribution to the wellbeing of the City and its people.

“Earlier this year there was some press coverage concerning the hospitality I received during the course of my duties. To avoid this becoming an issue in this year’s elections, I agreed to refer myself to the Monitoring Officer, and stand aside as Deputy Leader while an investigation was carried out.”

Mr Davis, who chaired the Conservative borough’s planning committee for 17 years, continued: “My approach to declarations has always been to be honest, open and transparent. I have nothing to hide.

“I registered all my hospitality and it was posted by officers on the Council’s website. I have been making such declarations since 2007 when the requirement was first introduced.

“I also declared any relevant interests at the beginning of every planning committee I chaired during this time. I have acted with the utmost transparency and probity at all times and have only ever taken decisions on the basis of what I thought was best for Westminster.

“An inquiry has been completed by the Council. They have confirmed that none of the declarations I made or hospitality I received influenced decisions I took as a councillor and that nothing I did was unlawful.”

He said his actions “created a perception that was negative to the Council.

“While I dispute this, I wish to draw a line under the matter. It is now time for me to move on to the next stage in my life, and for the next generation of councillors to lead Westminster.”


Is this why we now have a Minister for Suicide Prevention?

“Theresa May told to scrap fit-to-work assessments after nearly 50% of women attempted suicide during process:

Theresa May has been told to scrap “appalling” fit-to-work assessments after The Independent revealed nearly one in two women trying to claim benefits had attempted suicide.

SNP’s Ian Blackford grilled the prime minister on “the impact of her government’s own social security policies” on people’s mental health after she made a public commitment to reduce the number of self-inflicted deaths.

He pointed to an exclusive report by The Independent, which revealed that attempted suicides among out-of-work disability benefit claimants have more than doubled since the introduction of fit-to-work assessments in 2008.

Mr Blackford used the weekly prime minister’s questions clash to challenge Ms May to agree to “eradicate policies and circumstances that lead to people to believe that suicide is their only option”.

He told MPs: “I’m glad the prime minister agrees with me because, as reported by The Independent, nearly one in every two women taking part in the UK government’s work capability assessment say they have attempted suicide after or during the process.

“A series of secret internal enquiries into these reveal that Conservative ministers were repeatedly warned of the policies shortcomings.

“Will the prime minister commit today to ensuring that her new minister of suicide looks at the impact of her government’s own social security policies and at long last scrap the appalling work capability assessment?”

Ms May defended the assessments, which she said were regularly reviewed by the Department for Work and Pensions.

She said: “These were assessments that were introduced by a previous government [Labour in 2008].

“It is important that we get these assessments right. I think it is right that we are encouraging people into the workplace and wanting to ensure that those people are in the workplace – who are able to be in the workplace – are given the support to enable them to do that.

“That is what we want to do, I think it is right that we maintain assessments.”

The row came after Ms May appointed Jackie Doyle-Price as the first ever minister for suicide prevention as part of a £1.8 million push to reduce the number of people taking their own lives.”


“Policing at ‘tipping point’ over budget cuts, warns police chief”

“Policing has been left at a “tipping point” by government cuts, and on the verge of failing the public and struggling to detect crime, a senior police chief has warned.

Dave Thompson, the chief constable of the West Midlands force, said agreement was needed on what the police should stop doing. It is an idea discussed privately by police chiefs and done by stealth by some forces.

Thompson leads for the National Police Chiefs’ council on finance and resources and his comments accept standards of service have fallen so badly the police risk becoming ineffective. He said: “The public’s experience is policing that is less visible, less responsive and less proactive.

“Core aspects of policing – such as answering calls, attending emergencies, investigating crime, bringing offenders to justice and neighbourhood policing – are being pushed beyond sustainability, and are in danger of becoming ineffective to the detriment of confidence in the police.”

Thompson took aim at the Conservative government’s approach to policing since they came to power in 2010 to explain the crisis.

He said “the government has had a partial view of policing in the last few years” – very interested in terrorism and high-end threats, but less focused on local crimes.

Those have been left for forces and police and crime commissioners to manage locally amid steep budget cuts, as demands on the police rise. The chief constable said: “This more local agenda has many positives in setting priorities but it has come with steep budget reductions and a widening mission. There has been a real-term reduction of police budgets of 19% since 2010, but ranging between 11- 25% across forces.”

Thompson said the fight against terrorism and serious and organised crime had improved, but added: “The gains we’ve made have come at a cost to perhaps the most important parts of policing for the public.

“Crime is rising and so is the demand on our service. The calls do not get answered as quickly as they did. Officers are not as fast at responding to emergencies and more crimes are dealt with on the phone. Fewer high-volume crimes like thefts are investigated and as a result fewer offenders brought to justice. The visibility and proactivity of neighbourhood policing is much reduced.

“Bluntly our ability to manage the big threats and protect the vulnerable, yet still be the traditional police the public want and need, is becoming ever harder. We are in danger of pursuing efficiency to the point of ineffectiveness – where we can process the work but we’re not detecting crime as we should be and not meeting public expectations. …”


“Minicars” wow elderly in Tokyo

“TOKYO (Reuters) – When Honda Motor Co (7267.T) launched the latest version of its N-Box a year ago, it promoted features on the pint-sized minicar such as error-detecting pedals, automatic emergency braking and moveable seats, part of a push to market the vehicle to young families.

But a drastically different demographic has made the N-Box the country’s best-selling passenger vehicle: roughly half the owners of the most recent model are 50 or older.

Automakers had hoped high-tech options would attract younger buyers to minicars, or kei-cars, even as the number of Japanese drivers under 30 has slid nearly 40 percent since 2001.

Instead, with a price tag starting around $7,500 and low ownership taxes, minicars have gained a more loyal following among the rapidly growing population of Japanese elderly, many of whom are on fixed incomes.

“After their children are grown and leave home, more people are looking to downsize from larger family cars to more compact ones,” said Kiminori Murano, managing director at Tortoise, a dealership specializing in minicars in Yamato, Kanagawa prefecture, just south of Tokyo.

At Tortoise, seniors have overtaken young families as the biggest customer group in the past decade, making up more than 70 percent of its clientele.

Kei-cars represent nearly a third of all Japanese passenger car sales, and about one of every 20 cars sold this year has been an N-Box.

All of Japan’s major automakers sell the no-frills, fuel-sipping vehicles, almost exclusively for the domestic market. With their 660cc engines – a size more common in motorcycles than cars – minicars are considered too small for most overseas markets.

Many in the industry predict that eventually, automated cars, taxis and buses will keep the elderly mobile for longer.

Until that future arrives, demand for cheap, safe and easy-to-drive vehicles such as the N-Box is growing sharply among older Japanese in a country that is home to one the world’s most rapidly aging populations. The success of these cars could also provide a blueprint for marketing such vehicles to older drivers overseas.

When Yoshiyuki Imada’s car insurance expires early next year, the 68-year-old retired truck operator from Kagoshima Prefecture is planning to trade in the Toyota Mark II sedan he has been driving for nearly 20 years for a minicar.

“Smaller cars are easier to drive as you get older,” he said.”


Ageing-friendly cities [towns and villages]

Given East Devon’s demographic of a large elderly population, some of the points made in this article about designing ageing-friendly cities apply to our towns and villages too. There appear to be few (or no) design features for the older population in, say, Cranbrook, where it seems people are expected to move on if they grow older.

“…Getting out and about

The quality of the environment outside the home has a huge bearing on an older person’s quality of life. Joe Oldman, Age UK’s policy manager for housing and transport, says paying attention to the built environment can make the difference between someone participating in life, and them being isolated at home. “Accessible public transport, level pavements, places to sit, the removal of trip hazards, good street lighting and public toilets are all vital components to encouraging older people to stay engaged with their local community.”

New York City has added 1,500 new benches and 3,500 new or improved bus shelters in the last decade, in consultation with senior centres on their placement – such as within 250 metres from hospitals or community facilities. In the UK, 300 businesses in Nottingham have signed up to the city’s Take a Seat scheme, identifying shops where older and disabled people are welcome to rest with a “We are age-friendly” sticker.

With older people less likely to drive, affordable, accessible public transport is crucial to an age-friendly city. In January a UK study of 18,000 over-50s found that free public transport resulted in fewer cases of depression, after researchers tracked changes in mental health before and after people became eligible for free travel.

Natalie Turner of the UK charity, the Centre for Ageing Better, believes cities need inclusive transport strategies. “Good transport links help everyone, whatever their age, to access vital services such as doctors and social and cultural amenities, so that they can be involved in city life, stay independent and keep up social connections.”

Many cities, including Washington DC and Bilbao in northern Spain, have identified improving access to transport as a cornerstone of their ageing strategies. Proposals include making bus drivers aware of the needs of vulnerable community members, maintaining bus stops and pavements, and ensuring route information is accessible.

Innovative schemes are making cycling more accessible to older people. In south London, disability charity Wheels for Wellbeing offers sessions on specially adapted bikes, encouraging users to keep mobile, independent and fit. For those who no longer have the physical ability, Cycling Without Age – piloted in Copenhagen and now in 40 countries – enables the elderly to go out in tricycle rickshaws pedalled by volunteers.


An age-friendly city should provide opportunities for people to participate in public life and contribute to their communities, through paid or voluntary work. Evidence shows doing so increases social contact and good health. In Hong Kong the elder friendly employment practice helps older people to continue flexible employment post-retirement, through initiatives such as employment fairs and an online job-matching.

Roger Battersby, an architectural consultant to PRP Architects, specialising in age-friendly housing in China, says many members of the country’s growing population of over-65s are employed by local government in landscaping services. “One sees armies of older people tending the urban landscapes which, as a consequence, are generally of a high quality.”

But Professor Chris Phillipson says an age-friendly city needs to go far beyond work, housing and infrastructure to take in global factorssuch as climate change and pollution, to which older people are particularly vulnerable.

Unless the bigger picture is tackled, Phillipson says, we are likely to see an increasingly unequal society in the future, with the elderly among those bearing the brunt. “There will be a significant number of people in their 50s still renting. One-third of over 50s don’t own property. They will have rented for a long time and won’t have equity or savings. Gentrification has also had an appalling effect on older people.”

One example is Berlin, where low-income flats are being sold to private developers, leading to rent increases that have made many areas unaffordable to older people.

“We need policies that have a real impact on the urban development that is taking place,” says Phillipson. “If the environment is hostile to people on low incomes, that impacts disproportionally on older residents. Cities must not think about housing and town planning policies in isolation. Age-friendliness needs to be part of the debate about urban development.”


“Shoebox Britain: how shrinking homes are affecting our health and happiness”

“… Jenny pays £475 a month, excluding bills, for one of the smallest of nine flats carved out of a Victorian terraced house on a busy road. One of them is not more than a glorified shed crammed into the garden. She doesn’t know the floor area, but planning documents show that her room, which includes a double bed, kitchen sink, hob, oven, washing machine and a clothes rail, covers 15 sq metres. The tiny, windowless bathroom adds 3 sq m. Her whole home is barely bigger than the average living room and would fit 14 times on to a tennis court.

“When I come home I feel this sense of doom,” Jenny says. “I can’t have the window open because I’m on a noisy, polluted road, and I can’t have the blinds open because there’s a bus stop right there. I’ve had people weeing on my doorstep, doing crack outside my front door.” There are practical challenges. Jenny eats on her bed, which, like her clothes and everything else she owns, smells of whatever she cooks. Without proper storage, anything out of place can make the flat feel chaotic. The hum of the fridge keeps her awake at night.

“I think that even if someone didn’t suffer from anxiety or depression, living in this flat would affect them mentally,” she says, wondering how she might start to recover in a house like this. “You feel it – oh my God, the air is so … heavy.”

… But standards and ideals can get blurred in a vicious economic cycle. Ministers relax planning rules to enable more building and development. Developers and landlords find profitable loopholes in those changes. Local authorities, desperate for alternatives to their own dwindling housing stock, direct residents to those landlords, fuelling further exploitation at a time when councils also lack resources for planning and building control. Residents, often faced with homelessness, endure the cramped results, until society notices and someone writes another report.

“My concern is that people are becoming inured to something that they shouldn’t have to put up with,” says Julia Park, the head of housing research at architectural firm Levitt Bernstein. She has written a history of space standards and is surprised by how little we consider the effects of domestic confinement. “When you’re living in smaller and smaller flats, you reach a point where it makes sense to take out the walls because one big room feels nicer, but I think that implies a lot of compromise we’re not examining,” she says. “Some of these flats pose threats to physical health, but, in small spaces, it’s going to be mental health that is most affected.”

… Park, who advises local authorities, laments the way sleeping, cooking and washing are increasingly viewed as the only functions of a dwelling in a housing market where a living room is becoming a luxury. She is especially worried about the types of homes that have emerged in the gaps in policy. This summer, she noticed a seven-floor former office block in Croydon, in south London that had been divided into flats. Planning records showed that each of the six upper floors in the building had been converted into 10 studios, including single flats of just 13 sq m.

By current standards, these flats are barely a third of the recommended size. Park was instrumental in drawing up the “nationally described space standard”, a nationwide metric implemented by the government in 2015. It recommends 37 sq m for a one-person, one-bedroom flat; a two-person, one-bedroom flat should be 50 sq m.

Park was surprised that the government had agreed to the recommendations, given its austerity policies. “The compromise was that it is optional,” she adds, estimating that fewer than half of councils have adopted it. Even when they do, it only applies to new buildings or developments that go through the planning system, but not to a range of “permitted developments”. So, for a relatively small investment, the owner of an office building, for example, can convert it into self-contained flats with only “prior notification”.

Ben Clifford led a team that visited more than 500 converted office buildings for a report published last May by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. “We were shocked by how many of these flats were of a very poor quality,” says Clifford, a senior lecturer in spatial planning and government at University College London’s Bartlett school of planning. In one, Clifford called the fire brigade after spotting walls dividing flats made only of plywood. “We spoke to one resident who was in a tiny one-bed flat with two children and no balconies or open space,” he says. “Another woman, in an 80s office building, said it just wasn’t very nice to live in a flat with big tinted windows that don’t open.”

In the so-called “lockdown” model, meanwhile, rogue landlords are converting family homes into tiny studio flats specifically to attract tenants aged 35 or over who, like Jenny, claim the higher housing allowance for a self-contained dwelling. By including a token shared facility, such as a tiny kitchen – or by ignoring rules altogether – these landlords also bypass planning permission by treating such developments as flat-shares (another permitted development). The rental income from six cheaply built studios is multiples of that for a three-bed flat share in the same house – and it is the taxpayer who lines the landlord’s pockets. “It’s basically the warehousing of homelessness,” says Jon Knowles, a computer analyst and campaigner who has recorded hundreds of such developments.

… Few housing campaigners have much hope that conditions might soon improve for the occupants of our shrinking homes. Clifford says there is a minor backlash against abuses of the permitted development rules, and several local authorities are moving against them. “We have to be much tougher on landlords and on standards,” Park says. “There are going to be compromises because we are desperately short of housing, but we cannot give people a free pass.” … “


“Air pollution linked to greater risk of mouth cancer, finds study”

“High levels of air pollution are linked to an increased risk of mouth cancer, new research has revealed.

Scientists have previously linked high air pollution to a host of health problems, from an increased risk of dementia to asthma and even changes in the structure of the heart, with recent research suggesting there is no “safe level” of air pollution.

Now researchers say that at very high levels of air pollution, the risk of developing mouth cancer appears to rise.

Writing in the Journal of Investigative Medicine, researchers in Taiwan describe how they discovered the association by looking at air pollution data from 66 air quality monitoring stations around the country collected in 2009, and combing this with data from the health records of more than 480,000 men aged 40 and over from 2012/13. In total, there were 1,1617 cases of mouth cancer among participants.

The team focused on tiny particulates of pollution known as PM2.5s, and took the men’s exposure to this air pollution as being based on where they lived. They then sorted the participants into four groups, from lowest to highest levels of exposure.

After taking into account factors including age, exposure to ozone, levels of other particulates, age, smoking status and whether the men chewed betel quid – a mixture of ingredients that includes areca nut and betel leaf and is known to increase the risk of mouth cancer – the researchers found that men exposed to the highest levels of PM2.5s had an increased risk of mouth cancer. …”