Cranbrook – Town Council tries to explain why it has no town centre

Cranbrook Town Council Facebook page – the first major headache for the 3 new district councillors:


The Town Council is very aware that there is considerable interest in the town centre and many demands to deliver it. There is an assumption that the Town Council, East Devon District Council and the Developer Consortium should be delivering shops and cafes.

But this is not how a town centre is delivered. The Developer Consortium owns the land but beyond that delivery of commercial activity and some buildings depends on commercial interest. With around 1,900 occupied dwellings in the town we understand there is not yet the level of footfall to attract a great deal of commercial interest from large stores, supermarkets and others with the ability to build commercial properties.

In addition the Consortium are not currently required to have provided such development as the triggers have not yet been reached which are set out in the legal agreements which were signed when Cranbrook first received planning permission.

So the question is what is being done?

Members of the Town Council are meeting weekly with East Devon District Council’s planning team, the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point, the Developer Consortium and their architect.

The aim is to identify particular uses which can be delivered and strategies for their delivery. Importantly uses which are being discussed are the town hall, health and wellbeing hub, children’s centre, youth centre, town square and a market hall.

The work will lead on to ways of unlocking funding for this infrastructure and that is very much linked to the development of the expansion areas. Without that investment there would not be sufficient funding within the current legal agreement (“Section 106”) terms to deliver what the town requires in key buildings.

The challenge is to design and create a town for the 21st century. We are all aware of the pressures on high streets, especially from competition by on-line retailers. What we do not want is a town centre which is designed on traditional grounds which could result in empty premises.

Cranbrook is a 21st century town and we need a town centre which delivers what we cannot do online and a town centre which complements and enhances online business rather than competes with it. The town centre should incorporate social and green space as well. This is a massive challenge but one which we are meeting.

We will communicate updates when progress has been made.”

Government to foot bill to replace Grenfell-type cladding because developers refuse to do it

Well,you can’t upset your mega-millionairedonors can you?

“Ministers are believed to be poised to release hundreds of millions of pounds to fix private tower blocks wrapped in combustible Grenfell-style cladding after mounting public anger that dozens of freeholders and developers have refused to pay to make them safe.

About 20,000 people living in private leasehold homes are estimated to be affected by the risk caused by the now-banned plastic-filled panels, similar to those which helped spread the fire at Grenfell that killed 72 people.

Having spent months trying to persuade property companies to pay with only limited success, housing ministers appear to be convinced of the need to step in with public funds and are believed to be awaiting approval from the chancellor, Philip Hammond. An announcement is expected imminently, according to sources close to negotiations.

Some leaseholders have been forced to mount their own 24-hour patrols to make sure fires don’t break out, while others’ homes have become unsaleable. A survey of the impact on residents last month found some had turned to drink and drugs and others were suffering bouts of depression and suicidal feelings. The greatest number of affected buildings are in London and Greater Manchester and many belong to first-time buyers.

The standoff between leaseholders who say they cannot afford to pay bills of up to £80,000 each and freeholders and developers who say they are not obliged to pay under law has caused growing anger and frustration as next month’s second anniversary of the Grenfell disaster looms. Grenfell survivors have warned that a delay in tackling the problem means a second disaster is “in the post”.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said on Wednesday that the lack of action by some private building owners was “completely unacceptable”.

“Due to lack of progress the government is looking at a range of new additional measures to get building owners to do the right thing,” they said.

Ministers have told campaigners that the decision lies with the Treasury. Those who have lobbied Hammond to release funds include Kevin Hollinrake, a Conservative member of the Commons housing select committee. He said on Wednesday: “We need to step in and provide a solution. That is going to include money and we are in conversation with the Treasury.”

Pressure has been growing on ministers to step in. The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, the housing charity Shelter and the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents town halls, have backed a national campaign fronted by leaseholders calling for public funds to strip off and replace the dangerous cladding on private apartment blocks over 18m in height.

Lord Porter, a Conservative peer and the LGA chairman, said: “Too many leaseholders are suffering stress on a daily basis because it is still not clear who will pay to fix their homes. This cannot and must not continue.”

Checks found 176 private residential towers were wrapped in the same aluminium composite material fitted to Grenfell Tower partly as a cosmetic improvement in a £10m refurbishment concluding in 2016.

But according to the government’s own figures, leaseholders in 93 private towers are not protected from remediation costs and works have been completed on just 10. The communities secretary, James Brokenshire, made £400m available to fix social housing blocks a year ago, moving money from an existing fund for affordable homes. As a result work on fixing council and housing association towers has progressed much faster.

However, there is concern any new money will only be made available to remove the aluminium composite cladding and not to fix other fire safety problems including high-pressure laminate panels which are also combustible and buildings where fire breaks supposed to stop fires spreading through cladding are missing or faulty.

Last week, the housing minister Kit Malthouse told parliament: “We have been engaged across government to consider additional interventions, so that progress can be made more swiftly.” He said he hoped to announce specific measures shortly.

He said leaseholders were currently protected from remediation costs in 83 out of 176 residential buildings. “The growing list of owners and developers who have stepped in includes Barratt Developments, Mace Group, Legal & General, Peabody, Aberdeen Asset Management and Frasers Property,” he said.

“In the social sector we are making good progress,” he added. “In the private sector, progress is slower; I absolutely admit that. We need to do something to speed that up, and we hope to increase the pace quite soon. Discussions are ongoing.”

EDDC external auditors rapped on knuckles – again!

The suggestion when you move home is to change the locks. This lock can’t be changed so maybe an independent locksmith should examine the locks …

“KPMG has been fined £5m and “severely reprimanded” by the financial regulator for a series of failings in its audit of the Co-operative Bank at the height of the financial crisis a decade ago.

Andrew Walker, a partner at the big four accountancy firm who still works there, was fined £125,000 and also severely reprimanded. The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) issued both fines for misconduct that occurred shortly after the Co-op Bank’s disastrous takeover of the Britannia building society in 2009, which ultimately led to the discovery in 2013 of a £1.5bn black hole in the bank’s accounts.

In the second penalty imposed on KPMG in just over a week, it will only pay £4m of the fine as it did not fight the penalty, as well as £500,000 for the FRC’s legal costs. Walker’s fine has been reduced, to £100,000 in the settlement.

The Co-op Bank’s acquisition of Britannia and its risky loan book a decade ago brought the Co-op Bank close to collapse. It ended its 40-year auditing relationship with KPMG in 2014 and appointed EY – another big four firm along with PwC and Deloitte.

KPMG and Walker both admitted that their conduct “fell significantly short” of auditing standards in two areas – valuations of commercial loans acquired from Britannia and the audit of valuations and liabilities under a series of loan notes purchased from Britannia.

The FRC said KPMG and Walker did not obtain enough audit evidence, failed to show “sufficient professional scepticism” and failed to tell Co-op Bank that the disclosure of the expected lives of the loan notes was not adequate.

KPMG said: “We regret that some of our audit work around specific elements of the bank’s fair value adjustments did not meet the appropriate standards. The work in question was conducted almost a decade ago and we have significantly enhanced our procedures and training around the areas in question since then.”

Barry Tootell, the former chief financial officer and chief executive of the Co-op Bank, admitted misconduct in 2016 and was excluded from membership of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales for six years. He agreed to pay £20,000 for the FRC’s investigation.

Last week KPMG received a £6m fine and a severe reprimand from the FRC for its audit of an insurance firm, Equity Syndicate Management, more than a decade ago. KPMG’s audits of firms and institutions this year and in 2020 and 2021 will be subject to to an additional review by its internal audit quality team, who will report back to the FRC.”

Role model independent talks about independents

“What kind of independents are these?

Given that these numbers record only district level and above, they won’t include many of the grassroots independents that have succeeded in record numbers at the community level: town councils and parishes. Notable exceptions will include Herefordshire County and East Devon District Council – the first fully independent council. The majority are more likely to be disillusioned and ashamed Tory and Labour councillors, unwilling to go down with their national party.

However, they are a broadening gateway to something else quite remarkable, and now moving into the space of people’s politics. A new wave of local people who are taking it upon themselves to be responsible for what happens in their local community, how the money is spent and how decisions are made.

Given that over the past three years turnout for local elections has fallen to 33%, leaving 67% technically open to persuasion, the margin for an upset is always large. In 2013 this was the entry point for UKIP. With only one MP and later 2 MPs in the UK Parliament to represent them, they used the power of narrative and social media to characterise this localism as a people’s vote in favour of leaving the EU.

Yet there was no new mechanisms on offer to give people any more agency in the political sphere – even locally – it was all coming from above. After the Brexit referendum they were more or less deserted by their leaders and are now heavily regarded as a spent force.

In hindsight, nevertheless, it is possible to see UKIP and the Leave vote as important moments in the revolution of UK democracy. Not only has there been a weakening of the long-standing duopoly in British politics but it has stirred ambition for a better expressed people’s politics – a genuine alternative to the current political system and culture. Amongst other things, even as a phenomenon to grapple with, it gave birth to The Alternative UK.

The degree to which such a democratic emergency dovetails with the environmental emergency cannot be underplayed. They depend upon each other to achieve the transformation of our society we need to survive. Our own deep dive into this arena for over two years has revealed a substantial movement – appearing in multiple guises – of a new socio-political sensibility that links people to power to planet (I, We, World).

Frome Frome! The Flatpack model picks up speed

Within this, the “values-based” independents inspired by Flatpack Democracy in Frome are causing a storm right now.

The readers of the Daily Alternative, know this political model of citizen-led and participatory politics. The Independents from Frome were also one of the first towns to declare a Climate Emergency. But unlike the UK government, this came with a report of how to get Frome to zero carbon by 2030 and a commitment to deliver locally.

With the added phenomenon of Extinction Rebellion, leading a national and international campaign, becoming independent suddenly takes on another dimension – that of citizens stepping up to save our future, in the face of national-level failure to do so.

How many of the wave of newly elected independents below the district level were Flatpack Democracy aligned candidates, we won’t know for another day or so. In Frome where Flatpack was birthed, former Mayor Peter Macfadyen stood back after two terms to see a resounding 17/17 seats retained for IfF.

In Devon where we have been closely watching and working to create the conditions for the rise of Flatpack politics, remarkable gains were made at District, Town and Parish levels, many of them taking control of their councils.

I spoke to Pam Barrett, former Mayor of Buckfastleigh who reported winning 10 out of 12 councillors; 11/16 in Dartmouth, 9/13 in Chudleigh, 7/14 in Bovey (taking control with 2 non-aligned independents), Portishead 15/16. East Devon has become the first ever independent District Council in the country.

Meantime, members of the Torridge Common Ground, co-founded by XR initiator Jamie Kelsey-Fry, won two further District Council seats alongside their 6 at town level.

Says Jamie: “I’m somewhat rocked in my soul today.. we have a foot in the door and can start to change the way local power operates. We have people’s assemblies, listening, radical inclusivity and the consciousness of acting with the next seven generations in mind, all at the heart of how we do things. It’s impossible not to have hope right now”.

Standing where we have been for the past two and a half years, steadily charting and helping to generate the rise of a new politics, this month feels like a Mexican wave. With first Greta, then the school strike, then Extinction Rebellion, then the Parliaments, then the local independents, all rising to take the headlines in turn. Together they’re generating the sense of something genuinely alternative in the making.

Link rising movements to better practice

But knowing how these waves are designed to start up and gradually fall away, how do we embed them more deeply in the rhythm of our daily lives? How can we maintain the excitement in ways that not only keep the connection between these movements going, but open the door to many more? …”

“Expenses watchdog hushed up revelation 377 MPs had credit cards suspended”

“The parliamentary expenses watchdog tried to cover up data showing 377 MPs, including nine cabinet ministers, have had their credit cards suspended for wrong, incomplete or late claims.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), set up in the wake of the expenses scandal 10 years ago, initially tried to claim the information should not be released because it could hinder the operation of the expenses system.

However, a former high court judge reversed the decision and released the information to the Daily Telegraph on appeal, saying that the risk of “embarrassing” MPs was no reason to keep the information secret.

It mirrors the initial reluctance of parliamentary authorities to release information on MPs’ expenses 10 years ago, when the scandal was uncovered only when it was leaked to the same newspaper.

The release of the credit card data showed MPs are regularly having their credit cards suspended for failing to provide receipts in a timely fashion or claiming for disallowed items, with 377 MPs sanctioned since 2015.

Claire Perry, the energy and climate change minister who attends cabinet, admitted wrongly using her parliamentary credit card to pay for her Amazon Prime subscription.

Since the 2015 election, 377 MPs have all had their credit cards suspended, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show.

Repeat offenders include Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, and nine MPs who have had their card suspended more than 10 times over the past three years. Damian Collins, the chair of the Commons media committee, and Chloe Smith, a Cabinet Office minister, have each both had their credit cards suspended 14 times.

Other cabinet ministers subject to suspensions include Stephen Barclay, Greg Clark, Chris Grayling, Robert Buckland, Rory Stewart, Jeremy Wright and David Mundell.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, Tom Watson, the deputy leader, and Boris Johnson, the Tory leadership contender, were also among those to have had their cards suspended.

A spokesman for Rudd said: “Some payment deadlines were missed by the member of staff responsible for these matters. These issues were subsequently resolved.”

Collins said one case was to do with removal costs being challenged and otherwise “it was simply a case of being late in getting the reconciliation of the card payments back to Ipsa”.

A Labour spokesman said: “Our MPs’ offices rectify all such administrative issues as soon as they are identified.”

What is our Local Enterprise Partnership up to?

Well, if you strip out the projects that are actually “stand alone” and directly-funded by its members from its latest newsletter – not very much at all – and all funded by money that used to go directly to local authorities (and not a murmer about their biggest project – Hinkley C nuclear power station: