Big developer CEOs offloading large blocks of their shares …

“Barratt Developments’ boss follows Berkeley founder’s lead and sells more than a third of his shares for £3.3m.

Barratt Developments’ boss has sold more than a third of his shares for £3.3 million.

David Thomas sold 500,000 shares for 660p each. He still has 823,000 Barratt shares worth £5.3 million.

The move came just weeks after Berkeley founder Tony Pidgley cut his stake in his company by a fifth – cashing in £37.2 million of shares.

The sales raise concerns that housing bosses believe the market has peaked.

And Taylor Wimpey warned rising costs and ‘flat’ house prices were putting pressure on its profits.

It reported first half sales of £1.7 billion, almost unchanged from the previous year, and said profits fell from £301 million to £299.8 million. The firm has proposed a 2019 dividend of 18.34p per share.”

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/markets/article-7306879/Barratt-Developments-boss-sells-shares-3-3m.html

EDDC CEO tries to slither out of responsibility (NOT successfully!) for his planning advice to developer in private meeting

Owl has SO many questions!

First, Mr Williams’ ‘explanation’ defies belief, he basically accuses the developer of lying about the meeting. Then, he issues his denial of the circumstances of the event to the press, rather than to the councillor who asked him for an explanation. THEN, there appears to have been a totally undocumented meeting between him, Stuart Hughes and the developer – something that is extremely worrying – how many other such meetings with developers and hand-picked councillors have occurred? How do they happen?

But judge for yourself from the full text of the DevonLive article.

Owl thinks the very least EDDC majority councillors should do is suspend him until this is satisfactorily sorted.

“Calls have been made for an independent investigation after East Devon District Council’s chief executive allegedly told developers to appeal his own council’s refusal of planning permission for the Sidford Business Park.

East Devon District Council in 2018, on the grounds of harm to highway safety, relating to increased heavy goods vehicle usage of the area’s narrow roads, refused the plans for land, currently used for agriculture, the east of Two Bridges Road in Sidford.

A larger scheme submitted by the applicants was rejected previously by the council in 2016.

Applicants Tim and Mike Ford challenged the 2018 refusal of the council and three days of arguments for and against the development took place in July.

At the planning inquiry though, Richard Kimblin QC, on behalf of the applicants OG Holdings Retirement Benefit Scheme, and Joseph Marchant, their planning agent, said that following the refusal of the 2016 scheme, Mark Williams, the council’s chief executive, advised them they should appeal.

The claims, made both in writing and verbally, were unchallenged by East Devon District Council during the inquiry.

Paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Mr Kimblin QC’s final closing arguments at the Inquiry said: “After the 2016 application was refused, there was a meeting with Councillor Stuart Hughes and the CEO of the Council. The CEO advised that the way to progress was to appeal. That is an extraordinary state of affairs.”

Following a request for comment from the Local Democracy Reporting Service on the remarks allegedly made by Mr Williams, an East Devon District Council spokesman said that the he did not advise the appellant of anything, the applicant chose to interpret the comments he did make as encouraging an appeal, and the comments were made in a ‘situation where a degree of hyperbole and exaggeration is not unusual’.

Cllr John Loudoun, who represents the Sidmouth Rural ward, though has called for an independent inquiry into the meeting and the comments, saying that the while the council says there was a ‘misinterpretation of events’, “misinterpretation is a nice way of calling someone a liar.”

The claim that was made by Mr Marchant was set out in his written evidence to the inquiry, which said: “Subsequent to the refusal of the 2016 application, an approach was made to Members, including Councillor Stuart Hughes and the CEO (Chief Executive) of EDDC, Mark Williams.”

The following paragraph added: “We were advised by Mark Williams….that in his opinion, the applicant (Fords) may make more advance in progress towards delivery through appealing the Council’s decision to refuse the 2016 planning application rather than resubmission.

Paragraphs 13 and 14 of Mr Kimblin’s final closing arguments at the Inquiry added: “After the 2016 application was refused, there was a meeting with Councillor Hughes and the CEO of the Council. The CEO advised that the way to progress was to appeal. That is an extraordinary state of affairs.”

Asked to comment on the claims made at the inquiry, an East Devon District Council spokesman said: “The council officers and legal representative, acting on behalf of the local planning authority, did not consider the comments made by Mr Marchant or the appellant’s QC as material in specifically defending the reason for refusal, which is of course their role in the inquiry.

“The simple point is that the circumstances described have no bearing or relevance to the local planning authority’s decision and nor therefore to the focussing of all of their efforts in seeking to persuade the Inspector that the proposed development was unacceptable.

“As for the meeting itself, as was made clear at the inquiry the CEO was asked by the applicant/appellant to facilitate a meeting between them and Cllr Hughes to ascertain what options there might be available to them in the light of the refusal of planning permission.

“At the meeting, as reflected in Mr Marchant’s proof of evidence, Cllr Hughes expressed his opinion that he could not foresee any circumstances under which planning permission would be acceptable, notwithstanding the Local Plan allocation.

“The CEO did not advise the appellant of anything, but expressed the view that there were therefore three potential options open to the applicants: resubmit with changes to the proposed scheme; appeal the decision; or walk away from the site.

“The applicant appears to have chosen to interpret this as encouraging an appeal and we would note that the comments from their QC were in the context of also making an application for costs against the council – a situation where a degree of hyperbole and exaggeration is not unusual.”

However Cllr Loudoun said that having read the council’s response, he was even more convinced of the need for what he originally asked for, a genuinely independent inquiry in these issues, and he was appalled that the response to his concerns was sent to the press and not him.

He added: “Evidence provided at the Inquiry was fully tested by both the Council and the applicants’ representatives because this is the way in which facts are established or challenged. The statements made verbally and in writing by Mr Marchant for the appellants are, according to the District Council statement, misinterpretations of the events and comments at the meeting involving the Chief Executive.

“This is an extraordinary state of affairs as we now have a challenge to Mr Marchant’s evidence at a point where he cannot defend himself and after the point when the Council allowed the statements to be accepted as fact. It would appear that the Council is now saying that Mr Marchant spoke untruths and that these were untruths were in turn repeated by the applicants’ QC.

“They are essentially accusing them of lying. When it was raised in the inquiry, no-one complained about it and or questioned it. To me, saying it was a misinterpretation is a nice way of calling them a liar.”

He added: “The Council’s statement is disingenuous in that it tries to down play the quotes of what the Chief Executive said as put forward by the applicants’ QC as “hyperbole and exaggeration” whilst pursuing a costs order. This ignores the fact that Mr Marchant made the claims whilst giving evidence and that the appellants’ QC repeated them not only in his arguments for costs but also, and more importantly, in his broader closing submissions in support of the applicants’ case.

“It was not a throwaway comment as it was in the both written and verbal statements and made by two people.

“I am even more concerned having read the Council’s public response to these matters and I am now even more convinced of the need for what I originally asked for, a genuinely independent inquiry in these issues.

“If he did say that they should appeal then he has it then he was undermined the officers, the council and his role on a very serious issues, and if not, then why wasn’t it challenged at the inquiry?

“I am bemused at the response from the council to this matter which seems to be now turning into as much a focal point as the planning application and subsequent Inquiry.”

A decision on whether to allow the appeal to allow the plans for 8,445sqm of employment space built on the outskirts of the village is set to be made by the Autumn. If the appeal was allowed, then a further planning application would need to be submitted for the details of the scheme.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/independent-inquiry-calls-after-claims-3158474

“One in 10 [South West Water] pollution incidents in 2018 happened in East Devon, figures reveal”

“An Environment Agency (EA) report on the performance of water companies at managing pollution levels said South West Water (SWW) had a total of 98 incidents in 2018 per 10,000km of sewer.

An FOI request made by the Journal has revealed that 14 of those happened in East Devon.

Four of these incidents happened in Honiton – three of them over a 20 day spell in January 2018.

Axminster had four relating to the River Axe and the River Yarty.

Exmouth and Ottery St Mary had two each while Sidmouth and Woodbury had one.

SWW, which had the most pollution incidents in 2018 of nine companies across the UK, said it achieved the best wastewater performance last year but recognised there is still more work to do. …”

https://www.exmouthjournal.co.uk/news/locations-of-2018-pollution-incidents-revealed-1-6191933

“The [privatised] market” in higher education crumbles, 3,500 students and 247 staff lose out

“GSM London, one of the biggest private higher education providers in England, has gone into administration – and will stop teaching students in September.

The college says it has not been able to “recruit and retain sufficient numbers of students to generate enough revenue to be sustainable”.

It teaches about 3,500 students – with degree courses validated by the University of Plymouth.

The college, based in Greenwich and Greenford, says 247 jobs are at risk. …

It was not a university – and not regulated by the higher education watchdog, the Office for Students (OFS).

But a spokesman for the OFS said its “overarching priority is to ensure that students are able to complete their studies”.

“We understand that some students who are nearing the end of their studies will be able to stay at GSM but it is likely that most will need to transfer to another higher education provider.”

The OFS says in 2017-18 the college had 5,440 students, with the latest figures showing 3,500.

A statement from GSM London says that “discussions are under way with other higher education providers to identify alternative courses for our students and we will be supporting them in the application process”.

The college, owned by a private equity firm, says it could not remain financially viable and had been unable to find a buyer to ensure its “longer-term future”.

It says it will teach until September – which for some courses will be the end of term – ahead of an “orderly wind-down and closure of the college”.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We want a broad, sustainable market in higher education, which offers students flexibility and a wide range of high-quality choices for where and what they study.

“Whilst the vast majority of institutions are in good financial health, the Department for Education and the Office for Students have been clear that neither will bail out failing providers.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-49181654

“Accountancy fines double to record £32m as regulator gets tough”

“Fines against accountants more than doubled to a record £32m last year as the regulator cracked down on auditors in an attempt to repair its reputation in the wake of Carillion’s controversial collapse.

The penalties imposed mark a significant rise from the £13m in fines handed out by the Financial Reporting Council over the 2017-18 financial year.

The total would have reached £42.9m in the year to March 2019 if the FRC hadn’t offered discounts to firms that volunteered to settle cases early.

The rise in fines follows a series of accounting scandals at companies, such as Patisserie Valerie, which has put the work of auditors under heightened scrutiny and attracted criticism from politicians and regulators.

The accounting watchdog said the rise in penalties last year was partly due to more cases coming to a close over the period, as well as a rise in serious misconduct by accountants and the size of the auditing firms involved. The “big four” accounting firms – KPMG, Deloitte, PwC and EY – accounted for six of the nine fines imposed.

The big four have attracted heavy criticism over the quality of their audit work, particularly following the Carillion collapse.

Critics said KPMG should have spotted the construction firm’s problems sooner, and claimed auditors were prioritising profits over proper company scrutiny.

The FRC itself has been criticised for failing to keep close enough tabs on the industry, and is now set to be replaced with a new regulator.

The FRC’s executive counsel, Elizabeth Barrett, said: “The clarity and accuracy of financial reporting is of critical importance to us all. The significant increase in the number, range and severity of sanctions sends a clear message that where behaviour falls short of what is required, we will hold those responsible to account.”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jul/31/accountancy-fines-double-to-record-32m-as-regulator-gets-tough?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

“Young Britons believe dream of owning home is over, survey says”

“One of Britain’s biggest mortgage lenders has found that 70% of young people now believe that the homeownership dream is over for their generation.

Having carried out the largest-ever survey of potential first-time buyers, Santander said its own figures suggest less than 25% of 18- to 34-year-olds will be in a position to buy a home by the year 2026.

The Spanish-owned bank said that while 91% of the young people interviewed still aspire to own a home, over two-thirds said it was unlikely to happen unless they received the deposit from their parents. Back in 2006, around half of those under 34 were able to get on the property ladder, the bank said.

The study found that the sharpest fall in first-time buyer homeownership has been among those on middle-incomes – those earning between £20,000 and £30,000 this year. Of the new buyers who had been able to buy, two-thirds reported having household incomes of more than £40,000….”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/jul/31/young-britons-believe-dream-of-owning-home-is-over-survey-says?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Greater Exeter Strategic Plan delayed

“A document that was set to reveal the possible locations for more than 57,000 new homes across four districts has been delayed.

The paper, which details sites put forward for developments of 500 homes or more in East Devon, Mid Devon, Teignbridge and Exeter (Greater Exeter) was due to be published in June.

More than 700 parcels of land were proposed by agents, developers and landowners during the ‘call for sites’ for the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP). Details of these options were due to be published in June.

However following the elections, a review of the timetable is ‘likely’ be needed, according to the GESP website.

Four councils are involved in the development of the plan – Exeter City Council, East Devon District Council, Mid Devon District Council and Teignbridge District Council.

But, in May’s elections the Conservative leadership at three of the district councils lost control.

The Local Housing Need Assessment for the Greater Exeter Area, published in November 2018, quotes an annual housing need figure in East Devon of 844. It states that the GESP authorities must plan to deliver at least 2,593 homes per annum between them up to 2040.

The assessment of larger strategic sites is being undertaken and the results will be published in a housing and economic land availability assessment (HELAA) alongside the draft Greater Exeter Strategic Plan.

The assessment of smaller sites will be undertaken by the four individual councils (as relevant). And, the results in HELAA will support the respective local plans.

The timetable is:

The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan timetable:

– Issues Consultation – February 2017 (completed).

– Draft policies and site options – June 2019 (Now under review).

– Draft Plan Consultation – November 2019 (Now under review).

– Publication (Proposed Submission) – February 2021.

– Submission – July 2021.

– Hearings – September 2021.

– Adoption – April 2022.

If approved, then the GESP would supersede and sit above the existing local plans, but they would not be scrapped.”

https://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/greater-exeter-strategic-plan-document-is-delayed-1-6190128

Possible new East Devon “villages” (mostly extensions to current ones) are detailed here:

https://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/possible-locations-for-new-devon-villages-set-to-be-released-1-6061225

“UK reclaims place as world’s second largest arms exporter”

Swire will be pleased – he’s spent many happy hours in Saudi Arabia with representatives of BAE Systems.

“British defence exports rose to a record £14bn in 2018, with sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and other countries in the Middle East accounting for nearly 80% of that figure, official figures reveal.

Campaigners said the statistics, released on Tuesday, showed that Britain was “arming and supporting repressive regimes”, while the Department for International Trade (DIT) said they demonstrated that the UK had returned to its position as the world’s second largest arms exporter after the US.

Defence orders rose by £5bn to £14bn, making it the biggest year since records began in 1983. That increase was helped by a £5bn order for Typhoon fighters made by BAE Systems, plus Paveway missiles from Raytheon that are partly made in the UK.

Campaign Against Arms Trade said the figures “exposed the rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy. The government claims to stand for human rights and democracy, but it is arming and supporting repressive regimes and dictatorships around the world.”

Britain’s sales to Saudi Arabia – believed to be the largest arms buyer – are the subject of an ongoing legal battle. Ministers have asked the supreme court to overturn a lower court’s judgment that some of the arms sales to Riyadh were conducted illegally.

In June, the court of appeal concluded the sales of arms that could have been used by Saudi Arabia’s air force in Yemen were unlawful because ministers had failed to examine whether, in targeting civilians, the country was in breach of international humanitarian law.

The DIT estimates the UK’s share of the defence export industry to be about 19%, placing it second for the first time since 2014, pushing Russia into third place and sitting comfortably ahead of fourth-ranked France.

The world leader is the US, which has a share of about 40%, according to the British estimates in the annual statistics published by the DIT, which is the licensing authority for arms exports.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/30/uk-reclaims-place-as-worlds-second-largest-arms-exporter?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

“Rip Off Britain” asks for information from Cranbrook residents on district heating problems

“Hello Cranbrook. Can you help? My Name’s Ian Griffiths and I work for the BBC on the consumer programme Rip Off Britain. We have been contacted by some people regarding their experiences with the District Heating Scheme in Cranbrook. We are looking to hear from others about what they think about the DHS. If interested please drop us a line at ripoffbritain@bbc.co.uk with your story and contact details or leave us note under this message and we’ll contact you back via Facebook Messenger. Bst wishes and thanks again Ian”