“Persimmon Homes missing fire safety barriers confirmed in Cornwall as well as Devon”

“A Persimmon Homes family say their home is like living in a chimney, after discovering vital fire safety barriers were missing from their home.

The owner of the property, who wished to remain anonymous, asked for his property in Truro to be inspected after reading of the safety issues with homes in Exeter on Devon Live.

In January, a Persimmon Homes whistleblower urged all home owners to have their properties inspected after claiming the problem is widespread. Up until then, the building firm had only confirmed properties in one of its developments, Greenacres, and the Newcourt area near Topsham, had failed inspections.

The whistleblower – a Persimmon Homes employee – alleged the issue was not confined to the one development. Among other developments the employee claimed could also fail inspections were:

Coverdale, Paignton
Harford Mews, Ivybridge
Hill Barton Vale, Exeter
Agusta Park, Yeovil
Heathfield Gardens, Monkton Heathfield, Taunton
Chilmark Glade, Shaftesbury

Since then failures have also been reported at Persimmon Homes in East Devon new town Cranbrook, and now at Lowen Bre in Truro – which is the first confirmation the issue has been highlighted in Cornwall as well as Devon.

The issue was exposed following a ‘ferocious’ blaze which broke out in Trafalgar Road off Admiral Way and Topsham Road, last April, which spread into the roof spaces of two of the adjoining properties.

After reading the whistleblower’s recommendations on Devon Live, the owner of a house in Lowen Bre asked Persimmon Homes to inspect their five-year-old home, when cavity barriers were found to be missing, as well as stops and socks which prevent the spread of fire through walls and floors.

The owner, who asked not to be named, said: “My house is like a chimney because if there was a fire it would spread pretty quick through it. It’s negligence by Persimmon Homes and the National House Building Council (NHBC) who have signed the property off.

“After our home failed the inspection a few days later they returned and they were put in place, but I’m also missing about 50 per cent around the windows. We have 20 odd windows and doors.”

The development the owner lives on has about 160 homes and it is believed letters have been sent to some of its residents.

The home owner said: “I want to make everyone in the development aware of the issue so that they can get their home checked.

“As a national house builder, Persimmon Homes have a duty of care to ensure their homes are built correctly and I feel that this issue shows a lack of adhering to building regulations.

“We have lived in our property since October 2013. All this time we have been at constant risk due to the required fire safety details not being installed. With children in the house whose bedrooms are both on the top floor, it makes this situation even more unbelievable.”

The builder has already come under fire by residents after their voiced their frustrations after it took four years for work began on its promised as a condition of its planning permission.

Residents said they had to endure countless promises of start dates from Persimmon Homes for work at the playground to begin which were then broken the company.

A spokesperson for Persimmon Homes said: “The development as a whole is being inspected as part of the ongoing process. As Persimmon Homes has already confirmed it has committed to a thorough inspection process to ensure the required standards are met and is undertaking remedial work wherever the need is identified.

“Persimmon Homes has a dedicated team in place to deal with any remedial work that is required, and customers on any of our developments can make contact at any time if they have concerns.”

Persimmon Homes did not provide a response to the following questions:

1. Of those inspected so far in Lowen Bre how many ave passed?

2. A list of development where inspections are being carried out in Cornwall, Devon and across the country.

3. The results of those inspections so far.

A spokesman for the NHBC said it had not received any contacts or claims concerning fire safety barriers at Lowen Bre in Truro.

He said: “Any homeowners with an NHBC Buildmark policy who have concerns about this issue can contact our claims team who will be happy to provide them with advice and support. As the UK’s leading warranty provider we care passionately about the quality of new homes.

“We work with builders to help them improve the construction quality of the homes they build for the benefit of our policyholders, the homeowners.

“NHBC’s inspection regime is not a replacement for the builder’s own quality control checks and obligations to build in accordance with building regulations.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/persimmon-homes-missing-fire-safety-2633631

Retiring National Audit Office Chief: ministers with no qualifications and “inappropriate bravado when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money”

“The relationship between ministers, accounting officers and civil servants is currently not working, the outgoing auditor general of UK’s spending watchdog has said in his last speech in the role.

Some ministers “see themselves more or less as chief executive officers but without the qualifications”, National Audit Office head Amyas Morse told an event on accountability at the Institute for Government think-tank’s offices this morning.

The comptroller said this meant ministers sometimes made decisions prioritising a project “close to their hearts” – when they should be held accountable but are not – which “has led to the abandonment of good practice”, he said.

The problem rests with the “interaction between ministers, accounting officers and civil servants,” Morse said. “That really needs to be addressed. I don’t think the relationship is where it ought to be at the moment.”

He said he did not see ministers having a say in the appointment of accounting officers as producing a “healthy result”.

Accounting officers can only ensure value for money for the public purse “if they are in a position where they are sufficiently influential to assert the importance of public value”, he added, suggesting they currently do not have this influence.

Morse said the civil service had become much more professional over the past few years, partly through initiatives like the Infrastructure and Projects Authority. The authority is a centre of expertise for delivering infrastructure and major projects.

But he added civil servants, who he noted often feel they need to defend ministerial decisions, required “greater clarity” on how they were was supposed to work alongside those decisions.

Morse talked of the importance of transparency in public life and the “outbreak of secrecy” in government over Brexit.

This secrecy had “slowed down the ability of the civil service to react and may have helped create an element of distrust more widely in parliament,” Morse said.

He suggested there was currently “inappropriate bravado when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money”. He highlighted Crossrail and the probation service’s contracting as examples of where government had recently overspent. “I didn’t have to go far into my in-tray to find those,” he said.

Morse will hand over the reins as auditor general and comptroller to CIPFA fellow Gareth Davies on 1 June.”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2019/03/outgoing-nao-chief-questions-ministerial-accountability-over-public-spending1

Cranbrook suffering from Exeter traffic congestion

“… Exeter has been named as the slowest city in the country in a report published by Sport England in January. In its active lifestyle pilot for Exeter and Cranbrook it states:

“Exeter and Cranbrook is an area of rapid population growth with 22,000 new homes and 12,000 new jobs forecast by 2026. Despite this growth there are some big strategic challenges, namely traffic congestion, with Exeter being the slowest moving city in the country averaging just 4.6mph during rush hour.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/exeter-roadworks-helps-countrys-slowest-2635854

Shock news: ‘Government Agency ‘U-turn’ puts Axminster relief road at risk…’

EDDC press release:

“The £17m relief road and 850 homes, in the Masterplan for the east of Axminster, have been put at risk by a late change in Homes England funding.

East Devon District Council has reacted with dismay to news that government agency Homes England has changed how it is assessing the council’s £10 million bid for Axminster relief road.

The council bid for a non-repayable grant in 2017. This bid was accepted in February 2018, to be used to help fund the delivery of the crucial new relief road and associated homes, employment land and community facilities.

The council has now been told by Homes England that a new condition of the funding is that the money must be repaid by the development.

Council leader Cllr Ian Thomas is enormously concerned that the decision potentially puts the Axminster Masterplan in jeopardy.

He said: “We are dismayed by this fundamental change of mind. It throws the whole Axminster scheme up in the air and means that the effort we and our partners have put into this critical scheme over the last 12 months may have been completely wasted.

“Since I was first elected leader, I have been absolutely consistent that we don’t simply build homes, we build sustainable communities. The Axminster Masterplan is an excellent example of such a community. It would bring enormous social and economic benefit to Axminster, by delivering high quality affordable housing and employment land, together with other essential community facilities. After this decision from Homes England, it feels like we are back to square one. It’s bitterly disappointing.

“We understand that our scheme is one of a number across the country where similar funding decision changes are being made, as Homes England assesses the viability of schemes on a fundamentally different basis, to that applied in our original agreement with them.

“Our council is now considering its options. This includes taking legal advice to investigate whether we may have strong grounds to challenge Homes England’s decision.

The masterplan for 850 homes with employment land, open spaces and community facilities was endorsed by the council’s strategic planning committee in January. The plan was based on the money from Homes England not being repaid and even then, the development could only be made viable by expanding the site area and increasing the number of homes proposed to around 850. The amount of affordable housing required from the additional 200 homes was also reduced from 50% to 25%.

Following a decision by Homes England last week, it would appear that the development will have to repay the £10 million of government “grant” and the masterplan is no longer viable in its current form.

The council must also consider revisiting the masterplan to understand the consequences of the decision for the amount of affordable housing, employment land and community facilities to make the development viable again.

Throughout the masterplan process, the council has always been clear that the urban extension of Axminster is not just about delivering housing and the relief road but is about helping the town grow as a community in a sustainable way supported by the services and facilities that it needs.

The council is frustrated that Homes England’s change in approach puts this all at significant risk and could make the development undeliverable. It will be seeking an urgent meeting with Homes England to discuss this case and other implications for investment in the district.”

“Axed Devon, Cornwall and Dorset police merger saw [another] £380k ‘wasted’

… not to mention the millions wasted on a Police and Crime Commissioner …

“Almost £380,000 was “wasted” on a failed merger between two police forces, figures have revealed.

Plans to merge Devon and Cornwall Police with Dorset Police were called off in October after a police and crime commissioner (PCC) opposed the move.
The Police Federation said it was “horrified” such a “large amount of money has been wasted”.

Both police forces said work to create a “robust business case” for the merger could be used in the future.
The £376,798 included consultant fees of more than £190,000, police officer pay totalling almost £119,000 and more than £26,000 on equipment and advertising, a BBC Freedom of Information request has revealed. …

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-47471442

Local elections: Many independents throw their hats into ring in Sid Valley

“Sid Valley Democracy is calling for residents to stand as councillors in May for the 19 seats available.

The initiative says it wishes to ensure enough candidates for the seats to be contested after previous elections where there were not enough people, resulting in automatic appointment.

The informal group says 17 people have expressed an interest so far and have hosted meetings for prospective candidates to meet and find out more about the role.

On its Facebook page, the group said: “In most recent elections, so few candidates came forward, they were all automatically appointed – this has been the same for many town councils.

“The people behind this initiative believe that this is wrong.

“So without passing any judgement on the effectiveness of Sidmouth’s current town council, or indeed how democratically it operates, we have started the initiative to see if more people are interested in standing for election, giving Sid Valley residents a real choice come May 2.

“As well as candidates we’re also keen to get more people to vote, turnout at local elections is usually very low.”

The page has announced Charissa Evans, Peter Blackmore, Deidre Hounsom, John Loudoun, Denise Bickley, Cathy Gardner and Marianne Rixson plan to stand for seats.

Nomination packs are now available from the district council for those wishing to stand in district, town and parish elections.

Candidates must complete the forms and send them to the returning officer of East Devon District Council by 4pm on Wednesday, April 3.

The electorate will head to the polls to vote in district and town and parish elections on May 2.

The counting of the votes will take place in two locations at EDDC’s headquarters at Blackdown House, Honiton, and at Exmouth Town Hall.

District council votes will be counted and the results declared on Friday May 3, with contested town and parish elections, counted and announced on Saturday May 4.

If you would like a nomination pack, please contact the electoral services team on 01395 517402.”

https://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/sid-valley-democracy-launches-to-find-candidates-for-town-council-election-1-5925851

New audit watchdog will watch audit watchdogs!

Owl says: Alas, it seems the smaller audit companies will remain unaudited!

“The accounting watchdog will be shut down and replaced by a stronger regulator after a government-backed review deemed it a “hangover from a different era”.

Greg Clark, 51, the business secretary, said the government would move ahead with the recommendations of a review of the Financial Reporting Council last year by Sir John Kingman, 49, the chairman of Legal & General.

Sir John said it was “seriously inappropriate” that the FRC, formed in 1990, was funded by a voluntary industry levy and criticised it for hiring executives from the alumni networks of the Big Four firms. Consultation on its 48 recommendations will run until June.

The FRC will be dismantled as part of an effort to restore trust in the audit market after a string of accounting scandals and the failure of large businesses such as Carillion, the outsourcer, and BHS, the department stores chain.

It will be replaced by a new, more powerful watchdog called the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority that will be accountable to parliament. Arga will be able to issue harsher penalties against companies and auditors after corporate failures and will be able to intervene directly in company accounts. It will be run by a new board, recruitment of which will begin immediately.

Arga will regulate the large firms of Deloitte, PWC, EY and KPMG, as well as supervising their audit work. It will have new powers to force companies and their directors to explain why a company failed and to publish reports on their conduct.

“The new body will build on our status as a great place to do business and will form an important part of strengthened public trust in businesses and the regulations that govern them,” Mr Clark said. He commissioned the Kingman review after the FRC was accused of being too close to the largest firms, too slow to investigate allegations of misconduct and not tough enough in punishing audit failings. …”

Source: Times (pay wall)