“Flybe ‘up for sale’ weeks after profit warning”

“Flybe is reported to have put itself up for sale less than a month after issuing a dramatic profit warning.

The regional airline is expected to say on Wednesday that its board is exploring a sale or a merger with a rival, according to Sky News.
Last month, the airline warned full-year losses would reach £22m due to a combination of falling consumer demand, a weaker pound and higher fuel costs.

The airline’s shares have fallen by almost 75% since September.

The Exeter-based airline is now valued at around £25m, far below the £215m it was valued at when it floated on the stock exchange in 2010.

Stobart Group – which pulled out of a bid to buy Flybe earlier this year after the airline rejected its offer – could be a possible purchaser, according to Sky.

Flybe, whose roots date back to 1979, has 78 planes operating from smaller airports such as London City, Southampton and Norwich to destinations in the UK and Europe.

It serves around eight million passengers a year, but has been struggling to recover from a costly IT overhaul and has been trying to reduce costs.
Last month, Flybe’s chief executive Christine Ourmieres-Widener said it was reviewing “further capacity and cost-saving measures”.

“Stronger cost discipline is starting to have a positive impact across the business, but we aim to do more in the coming months, particularly against the headwinds of currency and fuel costs,” she said at the time.

The airline is due to issue its interim results on Wednesday. The company declined to comment on the sale reports.”


Tory county council failing vulnerable children – task force sent in

“Ministers are to send in a task force to crisis-hit Northamptonshire county council after it emerged hundreds of vulnerable children were being placed at greater risk of harm because of rapidly deteriorating frontline child protection services..

The move follows publication of a highly critical letter by Ofsted inspectors revealing that children referred to council social services were not effectively supported or protected, with 267 young people waiting up to four months to be assessed and allocated a social worker.

The watchdog said political and financial turbulence at the Tory-controlled council, which declared itself effectively bankrupt earlier this year, had contributed to safeguarding services being in a position where they could not effectively meet the needs of at-risk children.

A joint letter to Northamptonshire by the communities secretary, James Brokenshire, and the education secretary, Damian Hinds, said the government was “minded” to appoint a commissioner in the next few days to stabilise and improve the council’s child protection services.

The ministers were responding to a request by the council’s existing commissioners for help to turn around the service. They wrote to ministers earlier this month saying they had no confidence the children’s services management team was able to deliver adequate safeguarding services.

The commissioner’s letter said: “Despite the production of action plans designed to tackle accepted shortcomings, we have witnessed the failure of the leadership within the service to address the fundamental problems facing it, including its operational stability, performance and finance.”

The council’s children services underwent government intervention between 2013 and 2016 after Ofsted declared them “inadequate”. The government sent in two commissioners to oversee the entire council in May after a separate critical inspection report declared its problems were so entrenched it must be abolished.

The Ofsted letter highlighted poor oversight and management as a key factor in the decline of safeguarding services over the past two years. “Senior leaders are aware of these serious weaknesses and have taken remedial action to respond. However, this has not been effective or with sufficient urgency or rigour,” it said.

Child protection social workers had told inspectors they were “overwhelmed” and “drowning” under the pressure of rising demand, the letter said. Some professionals were juggling caseloads of between 30 and 50 children.

The letter is the latest blow for a council reeling from half a decade of mismanagement and funding cuts that have left it on the verge of collapse. The local authority is currently setting out drastic proposals to cut services back to a bare legal minimum in an attempt to balance the books.

Victoria Perry, Northamptonshire’s cabinet member for children, families and education, said: “We know that our children’s services are not working well and we will put this right. It is clear from the findings from Ofsted that these failures in the system have taken place over the last two years, and we are now completely focused on recovering from these failures.”

Ofsted’s letter, published on Tuesday after inspectors visited child protection services in Northampton last month, said safeguarding services had “significantly declined” since the previous full inspection in 2016.

It highlighted poor leadership, poor decision-making and a failure to identify risk in individual cases referred to the council. “This lack of oversight and poor management leaves children at potential risk of harm,” the watchdog said.

Some cases where children should have received support were closed prematurely, while less serious cases were wrongly escalated to a first-response team, the letter said. “This level of inconsistency regarding the application of thresholds not only means that children do not consistently receive the right service to meet their needs, but it also leads to additional pressure on the service.”

Although the council had reduced the number of unallocated cases from 551 at the beginning of the year, the overall number remained between 200 and 300, the letter said. “Although senior managers had taken action to review these cases either shortly before or during the focused visit, in cases sampled by inspectors there was no evidence of risk being identified, managed or robustly reviewed.”

The council will not be in a strong position to invest heavily to turn around child protection services. It has drained reserves in recent years in order to prop up services and needs to make about £60m of cuts before April to stave off bankruptcy.

The letter will increase the pressure on Northamptonshire’s leader, Matt Golby, who is leading the rescue plan designed to stabilise the council. In August, he promised that no children would be put in danger as a result of the proposed cuts.

Opposition Labour councillors said the county was failing in its legal duty to protect children. “The children of Northampton and Northamptonshire are being placed into positions where the county council is failing to protect them,” said Jane Birch, the deputy leader of the council’s Labour group.

“The priority is saving money rather than protecting those who need it most; I shudder to think what may happen.”


“Rule changes ‘risk new social housing black hole’ in England”

“A proposal designed to speed up the creation of new homes in England risks “supercharging” a get-out clause allowing developers to build properties without providing social housing, the charity Shelter has said.

The government has proposed new rules that would allow builders to buy and demolish commercial buildings and create new homes without planning permission.

The plan would extend permitted development rights, which allow the conversion of office buildings to homes.

The rules have also allowed developers to build tiny homes, some as small as 13 sq metres.

Almost one in 10 new homes created last year were created this way, but councils do not get the chance to see plans before the homes are built and miss out on planning fees, as well as contributions towards affordable homes.

Shelter said extending the right could create a new “social housing black hole” if they allowed more developers to avoid building affordable homes as part of their project.

The charity said in a handful of local authorities more than half of new homes had been delivered like this, despite the need for social housing in those areas.

In Stevenage, for example, 73% of new homes built last year came through permitted development rights, while in Nottingham 60% of its 975 new homes were created this way.

At the same time, 159 affordable homes were delivered in Stevenage, and its waiting list for social housing stood at 1,862 households. In Nottingham, 5,188 households were waiting for social housing, and 143 affordable homes were built.

Under the proposal in the consultation paper delivered on budget day, the government says the current system “may encourage an owner to change use rather than seek to redevelop the site, which is likely to allow for a higher density development”.

It also raises the question of contributions for affordable homes, asking for input on how this money could be secured for projects that do not need planning permission.

Polly Neate, the CEO of Shelter, said: “Anyone can see it’s wrong to give developers a licence to dodge social housing when hundreds of thousands of people are homeless.

“We need to raise the alarm so the government halt these plans and instead look to bring down the cost of land to build the social homes we need.”

The Town and Country Planning Association recently voiced its concerns about the plan to extend the permitted development rules, warning that it could deprive local authorities of essential funding and risked “creating poor living conditions for vulnerable people”.

“Under the existing system of permitted development, 1,000 new flats can be built in an old 1970s office building or industrial estate, and the local council can’t require a single square foot of play space for the children who live there – and the communities have effectively no say,” said its interim chief executive, Hugh Ellis. “This cannot become the norm.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said: “No one benefits from delays in planning applications. We expect these proposals to provide flexibility, reduce bureaucracy and make the most effective use of existing buildings.

“We are committed to delivering more affordable housing and we are investing £9bn.”


“Westminster council to ban ‘super-size’ new homes”

And lawyers will already be planning to find loopholes! In fact, one has already been “designed in” – any big home currently split into flats will be allowed to return to one dwelling. Watch the oligarchs use that one!

But, imagine if EDDC (or even Greater Exeter) had a new development plan to build only houses put up for sale at no more than 5 times the average annual local salary …..!

“Westminster city council is to ban new “super-size properties” built for oligarchs and other members of the global ultra-rich elite in order to free up space for more affordable homes.

The council, which includes Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Belgravia, said it would restrict new homes larger than 150 sq metres (1,615sq ft) because “Westminster’s position in the global housing market can create demand for super-size properties which underoptimise development of Westminster’s scarce land resource”.

Westminster said banning “Monopoly board-style” homes would help free up more space for affordable homes for Londoners. The new size ban is part of Westminster’s 2019-40 development plan released on Monday night, which also included a commitment to build more than 10,000 affordable units by 2040.

The council said 150 sq metres was 50% larger than the average private home in the borough and would “still enable generously sized homes to be developed to meet development from the prime market, but balances that against the other, more strategic housing need of the city”.

The size of the average home in the UK has been shrinking in recent years. Homes from the most recent decade have about 67.8 square metres of living space, according to LABC Warranty, which is not much more than both decks of a London bus, at 55 sq metres. The figure factors in living areas, kitchens and bathrooms, but does not include hallways or staircases.

The mega-mansion ban is the latest move in Westminster’s efforts to tackle growing inequality in the borough, where very few people can afford to buy or rent a home on the open market.

Earlier this year the council blocked a plan to create a 1,580 sq metre £40m home in Grade I-listed terrace overlooking Regent’s Park, telling the developer to “wake up” to the housing crisis. “Our city’s golden postcodes must not be used for Monopoly board-style investments to cater only for oligarchs and the most wealthy,” councillor Richard Beddoe, Westminster’s chairman of planning, said.

He wrote in the city plan: “As we set out to create our city of the future, there is one question that should be at the forefront of our minds in every development we undertake: Will this be an asset to people’s lives?”.

The proposals are subject to six weeks’ consultation. The ban would not apply to homes that had been split up into flats and were being converted back into a single family house.

Westminster has already introduced tight restrictions on homeowners digging large basements to create so-called “iceberg homes” with several underground storeys used for gyms, cinemas, swimming pools and car garages. …”


“Take business park land out of Local Plan say campaigners”

“Campaigners have called for land earmarked for a multi-million pound Sidford business park to be taken out of the Local Plan.

t follows East Devon District Council’s decision to throw out an application to build 8,445sqm of employment floor space on an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The proposed development for the Two Bridges site received 255 comments of objection and 111 in support. A campaign group also submitted a petition to the council with 1,400 signatures opposing the plans.

Now campaigners are calling on council bosses to look at removing the area, earmarked for development, out the Local Plan, claiming it should have never been there in their first place.

The Herald understands the application could once again go to appeal following a response from East Devon District Council saying it would not be appropriate to respond to the campaigners’ comments.

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “As we understand that this matter is now going to appeal, it would not be appropriate to make any comments about the status of the Local Plan.

“The campaigners can make their points direct to the Planning Inspector in support of the council’s decision to refuse.”

Councillor Marianne Rixson has spoken out on the reasons why the town should join her rallying call to pressure the authority to look at taking the site out of the Local Plan at the earliest opportunity.

The Local Plan

“When a Government inspector was examining the suitability of the site in 2014, county Highways failed to point out that the roads would not be able to cope with the traffic an industrial estate would bring. Highways only admitted their error in September 2016.

“After the draft Local Plan had been sent to the Inspector for final approval in 2015, district councillors realised they’d made a mistake and voted almost unanimously to try to remove it from the plan but no effort was made to explain to the Inspector the reasons why the site was unsuitable – consequently he had no option but to rule that the site should remain, subject to planning.”

Flooding issues:

“It is on a floodplain and flooding will inevitably get worse with climate change.

“The Two Bridges site is in zones 3A and two flood risk zones – yet another reason why this site is unsuitable.”

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB):

“England has 34 AONB all of which are supposed to have the highest rate of protection in law and Government policy.

“We should only build on AONB if there is an overwhelming need for a development. The owners’ plans for a business park were market driven so there isn’t any hard proof. Surely we need to know for sure that there is an overwhelming need for employment space in the Sid Valley before we destroy this AONB?

“I would advocate for the district and town councils to work together to look seriously at how we can attract good quality, well paid jobs into the valley and how we can most effectively locate them without encroaching into the AONB and where there is good transport infrastructure.

“We need to attract good quality, well paid jobs into the area. Surely we can do this without encroaching into the AONB and where there are better road links? Regrettably by mid November Sidmouth will have lost three banks and building societies. Far better to turn these buildings into offices, which would help to keep our town vibrant, rather than build new offices on the outskirts.


“Traffic cannot cope on this narrow road as it is due to the bottlenecks and number of HGVs already using the A375 – it will not be able to cope with more.

“Highways now agree this is not suitable for HGVs. “For two lorries to pass you need 6.5 metres. The main access for business park would be School Street which has a pinch point of 4.77 metres. There are several points through Sidbury too where the road is less than 5.5m, including Sidbury Mill and Cotford Bridge.

“Surely there should be a weight restriction on this road?

“According to an FOI submitted by the Say No Sidford Business Park campaigners some 30,000 cars travelled along the road in one off-peak week in April.

“I’d like to call for a weigh restriction on these struggling roads.

Endangered Bats and Japanese knotweed:

“The Two Bridges site is an important wildlife site for species that are protected such as horseshoe bats, otters and dormice.

“Knotweed exterminators have been seen on the site – it takes several years to get rid of.

Light Pollution

“The Norman Lockyer Observatory is both historical and the home to an active amateur astronomical society.

It also has plans to build a £70,000 extension so more experiments can take place than ever before.

“The light from any business park there will have an impact on the night sky, which currently has semi rural dark skies status at Sidford.”