Developer paid Boris Johnson’s aide Sir Edward Lister £480,000


Possible conflict of interest over payments from property developer to PM’s chief adviser. The immediate context of this story concerns the missing, unaffordable, affordable housing. However as reported earlier, a white paper on planning reform is expected in the coming weeks. Johnson is clearly in the mood for bold, high-risk policies, with few controls. Councils could be reduced to mere administrators of the system, banned from taking a view on any scheme no matter how awful. With advisers like this, it doesn’t look good to Owl.

George Greenwood, Emanuele Midolo, Lucy Fisher 

Boris Johnson’s chief adviser has been accused of a possible conflict of interest over payments of nearly half a million pounds he received from a luxury property developer, The Times can reveal.

Sir Edward Lister, the prime minister’s chief strategic adviser in Downing Street, was paid the six-figure sum by the Malaysian property company EcoWorld between 2016 and 2019 while he was also chairman of Homes England, a government body that funds affordable housing projects.

Despite Sir Edward’s role at the quango, just 7 per cent of EcoWorld’s UK properties were classified as affordable, according to its latest annual report. Affordable housing is cheaper than market rates, but more expensive than council housing.

Sir Edward’s consultancy fees, totalling £487,000, far exceeded the annual salary of £68,000 he was paid by Homes England. Sir Edward, 70, resigned from both roles when he entered No 10 with Boris Johnson last July.

While senior civil service appointees are required to declare their outside interests, they are not legally bound to disclose payments received from these interests.

Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said the payments looked “like a major conflict of interest”.

“[Sir Edward] had a duty not to put himself in a conflict of interest situation,” he said.

Clive Betts, chairman-elect of the House of Commons’ housing select committee, said: “There are a lot of questions to be asked. It feels very wrong that someone in charge of allocating resources to build housing, including affordable housing, has this arrangement with a developer.

Known as “Steady Eddie,” Sir Edward has long been a Johnson ally, having been appointed as Mr Johnson’s chief of staff during his tenure as mayor of London. He also served as deputy mayor for planning.

Sir Edward was appointed chairman of Homes England on June 17, 2016. Two weeks later he became a director of the EcoWorld subsidiary, Eco World Management & Advisory Services (UK). He declared his directorship of EcoWorld and a consultancy through which he received payments, but not the amount he was given. There is no legal requirement to declare income from declared interests.


As London’s deputy mayor, Sir Edward approved a development at Barking Wharf despite City Hall officers raising concerns that it included no affordable housing, in breach of London guidelines. Payments were made by the developer in lieu of affordable housing, a common practice. Barking Wharf was owned by the developer Willmott Dixon when it received the green light. It was bought by EcoWorld in 2017.

The forthcoming directorship with EcoWorld was not discussed during Sir Edward’s appraisal by the housing select committee before his appointment as chairman of Homes England. When asked about potential conflicts of interests, he responded that he had “always been close” to the property industry, “so conflicts can arise”.

“I know how to handle that,” Sir Edward said, adding: “I understand what I should do, how I should do it and to declare everything properly.”

A government spokesman said: “Edward Lister followed all the appropriate processes when declaring his interests as the chair of Homes England including his consultancy payments.”

EcoWorld said Sir Edward’s directorship and involvement were fully recorded in the Homes England register of interests, that it met all of its planning requirements, and that it had not been formed when permission was granted on the Barking site.

Homes England said Sir Edward declared his interest in EcoWorld appropriately and it was not considered to be a conflict of interest as it concerned housing in London, which it said was mainly the responsibility of City Hall.

Behind the story

Britain has had eleven housing ministers in ten years (Oliver Wright writes). This is perhaps not ideal for an issue that all parties believe is critical but which has proved stubbornly difficult to address.

The Conservative manifesto commits the government to building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s. It is still a long way off meeting the target. In the last full year for which figures are available, 169,000 homes were completed, of which about 30,000 were social housing.

It was this discrepancy that led to a public row between Robert Jenrick, the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, and Esther McVey, who was dismissed as housing minister this month.

They clashed over whether government money should be spent helping people get onto the housing ladder or on building rentable social housing.

In what was billed as a “class war”, Mr Jenrick, a multimillionaire, favoured the former while Ms McVey, who spent time in care in her childhood, argued for the latter on the basis that investing in social housing was more important to new Conservative voters in the north and Midlands.

Private developers are obliged to provide a proportion of affordable homes in any new development. This is meant to be 30 per cent but many developers use “viability assessments” to negotiate down the number by arguing that the requirement would adversely affect their profit margins.


Airbnb: you can pay the mortgage but it means fewer home for locals


Is this the future for East Devon seaside towns or more likely the small picturesque villages – Owl? Two sides of the argument.

Woolacombe used to be a place of old-fashioned bed and breakfasts and a handful of hotels for those wanting a little more luxury. Now it is the land of Airbnb.

Steven Morris .

There is a dizzying selection of properties on offer, ranging from single rooms in locals’ houses to snazzy beachside apartments with hot tubs.

You can rent a hut aimed at the budget surfer, a yurt with a compost toilet or a £1m house with stunning views of the waves crashing on to miles and miles of north Devon beaches.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Emma Ward, who works for Gulfstream Surfboards in the village. “We rely on tourism in this area. Anything that gives more people the chance to come here has to be good for the area.”

When Ward packs up her board and wetsuit and heads for warmer climes she sometimes rents her home out through Airbnb – and finds a place to stay through the site at the other end. “It helps me fund trips and find good places to stay,” she said.

In years gone by, Woolacombe would have been pretty much deserted in the winter. Many of the B&Bs and hotels would have been closed and the restaurants and cafes shuttered.

This February half-term, however, it has been busy. The Red Barn, which looks out over the crashing waves, has been heaving with surfers and families. The cafes and fast-food restaurants have done good business.

It’s down, partly, to the fact that modern winter wetsuits allow surfing all year round. But most agree it’s also down to the likes of Airbnb, which provides flexible, affordable accommodation.

Steve Woodman, who runs the Londis store and sits on the parish council, said there were positives and negatives of Airnbnb.

“It’s good for the businesses that we have people coming here all year and it’s very good for those people who make money out of Airbnb. There are some locals here who rent their homes out for a few weeks in the summer and make enough to pay off that year’s mortgage.”

But houses and flats that might have made homes for locals are being snapped up by investors who can make a profit by renting them out via Airbnb and other sites.

“That means there are fewer places for local people to live,” said Woodman. “Property prices are extraordinary.” Houses on the esplanade with the finest views go for £1m or more. A tiny two-bedroom flat goes for around £200,000.

Woodman’s son, Andrew, let a room out in his home via Airbnb until he had children. “It went really well,” he said. “It was nice to have a bit of extra money. In the winter the locals used to have the place to ourselves. Now people come all year, which is good for the village.”

Others are more sceptical.

Debbie Hollin said she had used Airbnb for trips but did not think it was good for Woolacombe and the surrounding villages. “The community is dying because so many properties are holiday homes. The houses around me are all deserted for weeks on end. This used to be a lovely community but you don’t see that many local children around now.”

The spec in some of the Airbnb listings appears faultless. The feedback for an Airbnb in the Byron complex, for example, includes praise for the welcoming concierge team. Some Airbnbs in the Narracott block are advertised by a business based in Chelsea.

Malcolm Wilkinson, the lead member for coastal communities on North Devon council and a Woolacombe resident, said the face of tourism in the village had changed dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years.

“We have around 1,400 to 1,500 residents. In the summer that population swells to around 15,000.” He likes the concept of Airbnb. “Traditional B&Bs have just about died here. Airbnb fills that niche”

But he is sad it makes it harder for local people to stay in the village. “If you have a flat you don’t let it out to a local person earning £10 an hour – you rent it out for £1,000 a week.”

 The council is trying to help. The developers of Byron provided a pot of money for affordable houses – but so far no plot of land has been found to build those homes on.

It is not just down to Airbnb but Wilkinson regrets that the nature of the community has changed. For many years there was a sporting competition between Woolacombe and a neighbouring village. Residents competed at basketball, golf, swimming, surfing. “Now it’s hard to get a skittles team of six together,” said Wilkinson. “That is a shame.”


Flybe chief warns on regional routes if airline collapses

Flybe has renewed a plea to ministers to cut aviation taxes in next month’s Budget, warning that most of its routes were likely to be abandoned if the company collapsed. Flybe is understood to have sufficient financial resources to keep it operating until the end of March, but the company’s existence is likely to be imperilled at that stage if no deal has been secured.

Mark Kleinman

Flybe has renewed a plea to ministers to cut aviation taxes in next month’s Budget, warning that most of its routes were likely to be abandoned if the company collapsed.

Sky News has obtained a letter sent by Mark Anderson, chief executive of Flybe’s parent company, Connect Airways, hailing the “crucial role” played by the airline in ensuring regional connectivity across the UK.

In the letter to the new business secretary, Alok Sharma, Mr Anderson says he is “doing everything possible to secure our long-term future – addressing our cost base and working with our key partners including UK airports that depend on our survival”.

His latest plea comes weeks before Rishi Sunak, the new chancellor, presents his first Budget, with reforms to Air Passenger Duty (APD) promised by Sajid Javid, Mr Sunak’s predecessor.

A source close to Flybe said that Mr Anderson’s letter had been prompted by concerns that the Treasury was “backsliding” away from an overhaul of APD.

The regional airline, which is responsible for almost 40% of all domestic UK flights and carries more than 9 million passengers annually, believes it is unfairly penalised by the APD system because the duty is levied on both legs of a regional flight.

Mr Anderson told the business secretary that 88 of its 120 routes are not flown by any other airline.

“If Flybe were to cease trading, only a small number of our routes are likely to be taken up by another carrier, almost certainly at reduced frequencies,” he wrote.

“Over 50% of our customers are business travellers who depend on a regular, convenient schedule.”

Flybe also employs more than 2,000 people.

The letter to Mr Sharma was sent last Friday, with separate negotiations between Connect and the government about a £100m loan on commercial terms appearing to have stalled.

Sky News revealed earlier this month that government officials were to present a range of options for the loan during talks with the company and its shareholders, led by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic.

One idea is for the government’s loan to rank above that of existing investors’ capital, while another would give the taxpayer security over many of the airline’s remaining unencumbered assets.

A third idea, comprising warrants that would convert the government loan into equity in a rejuvenated Flybe, is unlikely to materialise.

Flybe is understood to have sufficient financial resources to keep it operating until the end of March, but the company’s existence is likely to be imperilled at that stage if no deal has been secured.

“The likelihood of survival depends firstly on the APD reform,” said one source on Friday.

Contingency plans that would allow the government to continue operating Flybe routes seen as critical to preserving vital regional connections are being drawn up, according to rival airline executives.

In his letter to Mr Sharma, Mr Anderson said that Flybe had proposed “introducing a new domestic APD band set at £6.50 (half the current band A rate)”.

He added that adding new Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes, which receive public subsidy to make them viable, was also necessary.

Mr Anderson said Connect had “proposed that government apply PSOs to a range of existing intra-regional routes, providing immediate support for their continued viability through a new fund”.

The Flybe chief has insisted that the company is not seeking a bailout, and any deal agreed with ministers would require the airline’s shareholders to commit tens of millions of pounds in new equity.

However, the talks have sparked controversy across the industry, with Ryanair and British Airways’ parent, International Airlines Group, threatening legal action against the government for breaching state aid law.

Earlier this month, BA said it would step in to operate a Heathrow-Newquay route recently – and contentiously – vacated by Flybe.

Heathrow Airport’s chief executive has also intervened in the row over Flybe’s future, demanding urgent government action to preserve “lifeline routes” from Britain’s busiest airport.

Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s chief executive, accused the Treasury of being “blindsided by billionaires”, asking him: “If these billionaire shareholders are not willing to put their hand in their own deep pockets to bail out the loss-making Flybe, then why is your government and HMRC [the tax authorities] giving them a bailout?”

The restructuring experts Alvarez & Marsal have been drafted in to advise the government on the terms of any loan.

Flybe’s inability to access a loan from commercial lenders has, however, provoked criticism that a loan from the government could be on such terms.


Now row erupts in EDDC over Council Tax rise and potential future borrowing. 


East Devon District Council has approved a £5 rise in council tax for next year as political slanging matches broke over possible future borrowing proposals to upgrade council homes to tackle the climate emergency.

Daniel Clark

Following previous debates by the council’s overview, scrutiny, housing review board and cabinet committees, the proposed 2020/21 budget was almost unanimously supported at Wednesday night’s full council meeting.

The budget proposals will result in a Council Tax Band D amount of £146.78, an increase of £5 a year (3.53%), on last year

Putting forward the budget, Cllr Ian Thomas, portfolio holder for finance, said that it was a balanced budget, while Cllr Ben Ingham, leader of the council, described it as robust, and Cllr Andrew Moulding, leader of the Conservative Group, said he wasn’t suggesting his group vote against the budget because of the implications of not having one.

All councillors other than Cllr Mike Allen voted for the budget, with Cllr Allen stating that the capital investment strategy of the council was not sound.

His comments followed the council having budgeted for £10,000 to be spent on each of its 4,200 council homes, but latest estimates suggesting that between £25,000 and £40,000, if not more, may be needed to ensure all council homes are of the required standard to make them carbon neutral.

Rather than having to spend £42m upgrading the council housing stock to reduce carbon emissions, and £20 million to replace the houses the council has to sell under right-to-buy, it could cost the council between £81 million to £141 million by 2041 as debt they would have to borrow.

He also had put forward a motion which said that the council had no confidence in the future financial plans and that no approval of the 2021/22 budget expenditures shall occur until the Council is presented with an updated budget and forward plan for 2021-2026, but this was defeat by 35 votes to 15.

Cllr Allen added: “The latest estimate per house of upgrades necessary, presented to Cabinet and Overview, is £25,000, while independent estimates from Government suggest that £40,000 may be needed to raise standards to the required levels. So if we add this in to the budget for our 4,200 properties, we will need to spend a further £15,000 to £30,000 per property, so we will have an additional debt of between £63 million and £126 million to factor in.

“This administration is looking at just one year at a time, but for capital spending, you have to look at three years as a minimum. They are not doing the job properly. It is time for them to stop taking short-term measures and that we do not have the confidence of the cabinet in terms of their financial decisions.”

Cllr Moulding added: “These escalating costs could decimate the financial position. We have no confidence in the finances of the council and the future programme is in very serious jeopardy.”

Cllr Phil Twiss added that the motion may have been ‘making a protest’ but was putting the administration on notice that ‘if you haven’t got your house in order next year, we will say we told you so’.

But he added: “The cash potentially spent on adapting the homes in admirable and the proper thing to do, but what about those who don’t live in EDDC housing stock? It is a kneejerk reaction and trendy to jump on the bandwagon. I’m a glad it is trendy and we should carry on with it, but we need a larger conversation and to look at a much bigger picture than throwing cash at our housing estates.”

Cllr Philip Skinner added: “We are trying to ensure the council is robust in its finances which key to the success of the council, and some of the revelations will put the council in a pretty bad place. I am not prepared to stand by and watch this authority borrow millions of pounds for something that they cannot afford to do, climate change or not. We could spend £50,000 on a house and then have to sell under right to buy, so what would we have gained then?

But Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the East Devon Alliance group, said that as the Conservatives voted for the 2020/21 budget, the issue must be with the 2021/22 budget but there is time for the council to address it. He added: “This has been hijacked by the Conservatives to make a point at the expense of the Independent cabinet and don’t think they deserve it.”

Cllr Eleanor Rylance said that there may be notions of truth in the motion but that it had been ruined by the ‘crass political point scoring in it’, while Cllr Olly Davey said that as the council has declared a climate emergency, it requires action. He said: “We need to do something and we have control over our housing stock. If we decide to improve insulation in the buildings then it is to be commended and if it requires borrowing to do so, then so be it.”

And Cllr Thomas said that he didn’t think the Conservatives understood the HRB papers as the finances produced were ‘a series of models and scenarios as to what sort of sums we would be talking about’.

He said: “The finances were handed over in an excellent state and they are still there and we should be congratulated for looking at putting these sums in as direct steps to take action.

“These figures were possibilities. They are not in the budget or the forward plan. It shows the scale of funds we need and if we chose to invest £105m in our housing stock, we don’t need to find that in the first year.

“We know exactly what we are doing and how we will manage the budget.  What makes anyone think we won’t do anything other than produce a balanced budget in 12 months’ time? What is the point of the motion as it doesn’t say anything?”

Cllr Ingham added: “Cllr Allen said he had no confidence in the cabinet and the budget we have just approved. This is fascinating because I believe they don’t understand the budget. This is an idea, not part of a fixed budget, and recognises what we may have to spend.”

Summing up his motion, Cllr Allen said that some councillors had missed the point. He said: “No one is against the climate adaptation strategy but we need to take a look at the whole investment strategy. The financial plans are not thought through beyond the upcoming year.”

But his motion that the council had no confidence in the future financial plans and that no approval of 2021/22 budget expenditures should occur until the full implications to the Housing Revenue Account and General Fund account can be shown to be funded was lost by 35 votes to 15, with the Conservatives voting in favour of it and everyone else against.


Shortage of hospital beds makes coronavirus MORE deadly – NHS is among worst in EU


With the deadly new coronavirus spreading faster than SARS, it’s little surprise that people are questioning how deadly it could become.

Experts warn its lethality will depend on how patients are cared for and treated – and in particular, the availability of critical care beds.

A shortage of hospital beds makes coronavirus more deadly, experts warn.

Gemma Mullin, Digital Health Reporter

Scientists writing in The Lancet suggested the variability in the death rate in China came down to differences in local healthcare capacity.

They said: “The rapid escalation in the number of infections around the epicentre of the outbreak… resulted in an insufficiency of health-care resources… negatively affecting patient outcomes.”

To put it simply, Wuhan – where the outbreak started – ran out of doctors and beds, according to Paul Nuki, the Telegraph’s global health security editor.

The NHS has some of the fewest critical care beds in Europe – about seven per 100,000 people.

If a sudden spike in case numbers and a rush on critical care beds can be avoided, we will avoid the higher death rates recorded in Wuhan

Paul Nukiglobal health security editor

That’s compared with Germany, which has 29 beds per 100,000 people.

The only European countries worse off than the UK are Portugal, Sweden, Greece, Finland, Slovenia, The Netherlands and Ireland.

“This is just one of the reasons why the government’s strategy of ‘contain, delay, research and mitigate’ is so important,” writes Nuki.

“If a sudden spike in case numbers and a rush on critical care beds can be avoided, we will avoid the higher death rates recorded in Wuhan.”

Impossible to predict

While there have only been 19 cases of the coronavirus, called Covid-19, in the UK it’s impossible to know if and when the virus will turn into a major outbreak here.

So far the new virus appears to be less deadly than its cousins SARS and MERS but the spread has been much quicker.

The death rate is two to four per cent in Wuhan and 0.7 per cent in the rest of China and beyond.

Dr Dominic Pimenta, an NHS medical registrar, told the Huffington Post that even a “modest rise in demand” for intensive care will “completely overwhelm” the health service.

He said: “We already have one of the lowest numbers of intensive care beds in the developed world at around 4,000 adult beds in England, and some of the fewest doctors and nurses.

“Many of these departments are run at 80 per cent capacity routinely and regularly utilise ‘bank’ nurses and doctors to fill long-term staff gaps.

“We can’t fly them in, we can’t train them ‘quick’, we can’t magic them up. There is no cavalry coming. The cavalry has been propping us up for years already.”

Worrying stats

Dr Pimenta said that some estimates suggest up to 60 per cent of the UK could be infected with Covid-19.

That’s the equivalent of 42 million people with 2.1 million needing intensive care.

More optimistic studies predict one per cent, or 700,000, could be infected and 35,000 needing intensive care.

Dr Pimenta warned that is still nine times as many beds as we have available now.

We aren’t ready for coronavirus and we never would have been

Dr Dominic Pimenta

He added that the only way the NHS could be “ready” is if we “went back in time” and rebuilt our infrastructure.

“We aren’t ready for coronavirus and we never would have been,” he warned.

Helen Buckingham, director of strategy and operations at the Nuffield Trust think thank, told the BBC the 2009 swine flu pandemic showed the NHS was good at dealing with new illnesses.

However, she said it would far more difficult now because the health service has “very little in the tank” when it comes to staff numbers and hospital beds.

She said: “If there was a short, sharp surge in pressure that would be much more difficult to manage.

“It’s not easy to stand up a critical care bed at short notice. It’s partly staffing but it’s also about the equipment.”

The Department of Health says “surge plans” coronavirus patients will be sent to five specialist centres in Sheffield, Liverpool, Newcastle and London which has two units.

Other NHS hospitals will only take patients if those units are full, the government said.


Taylor Wimpey looks to build margins rather than more homes


So, the truth finally revealed?  ‘Sell fewer homes to improve margins’. Owl bets they are not the only developers thinking this, just the first to actually say it.

Louisa Clarence-Smith 

One of Britain’s biggest housebuilders has said that it will sell fewer homes this year as it focuses on improving margins.

Taylor Wimpey sold 16,042 homes last year, the most since it was formed in 2007 from the merger of Taylor Woodrow and George Wimpey.

It said that volumes this year were “expected to be slightly lower” and that it would be “targeting a slightly lower sales rate as we focus on capturing value”, despite reporting “improved” customer confidence since the general election.

Taylor Wimpey has the largest land bank of any listed housebuilder, with about 140,000 plots, of which 76,000 have some form of planning consent and about 36,800 have implementable consent and are being developed.

Pete Redfern, chief executive, said that the business had set out to accelerate delivery on sites “by as much as can reasonably be managed, both by the market in terms of building and building to quality”.

He said that the company could not deliver more homes as it needed to “build in a high-quality way . . . to get the resources and have the sites open and be able to deliver those homes properly and build the infrastructure”.

Taylor Wimpey’s profit margin fell to 19.6 per cent in 2019 from 21.6 per cent a year earlier as average prices remained flat — at about £305,000 — while build cost inflation rose from 3.5 per cent to about 4.5 per cent. Mr Redfern, 49, said that the inflation comprised a mixture of higher material costs and higher spending on labour, including introducing managers to oversee quality at each division and giving staff more time and resources to get things right.

The company expect its operating margin for the first half of 2020 to be affected by pressures from last year, including long-term investment in quality and business improvement, before improving in the second half.

This week Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, said that builders that wanted to access the government’s Help to Buy loan scheme from April 2021 would have to sign up to a new homes ombudsman to ensure that buyers can seek redress for shoddy building work. About 34 per cent of Taylor Wimpey sales involved Help to Buy last year. The company’s shares fell 6½p, or 3 per cent, to 212½p, last night.


Much good in draft Environment Bill but I think it can be more ambitious still


Neil Parish MP’s thoughts on the environment bill.

Neil Parish

“Yesterday I spoke in the second reading of the Environment Bill. This is the first Environment Bill since 1995 and a great opportunity to shape the future of our landscapes, biodiversity and human health. 

Broadly, this Environment Bill sets out the Government’s 25 Year Environmental Plan, announced when Michael Gove was Secretary of State. Its ambitions are commendable and urgently needed.

For instance, I welcome the introduction of the new framework for Local Nature Recovery Strategies, which will direct investment into green infrastructure projects across the country. Projects such as this can help areas rich in natural capital, like ours.

I also welcome clarity on the waste and resource strategy – including the setting up of deposit return schemes, charging for plastic bags and commercial waste. The government has grasped the nettle on these issues.

But outside the EU, we will also need a domestic enforcement agency to ensure targets are met. The Bill rightly introduces a new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which will hold public bodies to account for breaking environmental law.

With this in mind, it’s vital the  right  long-term targets, structures and incentives are set in law. On the environment, successive governments need to work towards common objectives because businesses, who will make the real difference, need to plan effectively. Whether it is plastic packaging, nitrogen dioxide from cars or gas boilers in homes – we need clear and achievable targets in place with a route to get there.

My hope is this Bill becomes a landmark ‘25 Year Environment Act’ – implementing the principles of the 25 Year Environment Plan for decades to come.

Let’s not forget, only last year we became the first country to make a legally binding commitment to ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions by 2050. As a result, businesses are already making changes. The same clear targets are needed in this Environment Bill.

For example, the Environment Bill should include commitments to adopting 2005 World Health Organization guideline limits for tiny particulate matter, which are harmful to human health. This key recommendation was made in the 2018 Joint Select Committee report, “Improving Air Quality”, which I chaired. The Government has already carried out a feasibility study which shows this target can be met, so let’s get on and put it in law.

I also believe the new OEP should have a wider remit and stronger teeth. It must be sufficiently independent of government, with a multi-annual budget, like the Environment Agency or Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). If we are to build on our Conservative record for strong action on the environment, the setting up of the OEP will be crucial.

Over the coming weeks, I will be putting forward my amendments to strengthen the Environment Bill. The Government has done well to include so much good in the draft Bill – but I think it can be more ambitious still.”


Budleigh car park to be resurfaced with 48,000 plastic bottles 


Innovation in Budleigh? Whatever next – Owl.

A Budleigh Salterton car park is being resurfaced by East Devon District Council this week using an innovative new material.

Callum Lawton

Instead of conventional asphalt, an alternative type of surface incorporating non-recyclable plastic waste, in place of a portion of bituminous binder material, will be used.

This product, which is produced by MacRebur, has several advantages.

From an environmental perspective, incorporation of ground-up non-recyclable plastics into the surfacing removes the need to incinerate these materials or send them to landfill by giving them further use.

The addition of these plastics to the bitmac reduces the amount of bitumen (a material obtained from crude oil and used to bind aggregate in road surfacing) required. When the surfacing reaches the end of its life, the surface can be excavated and recycled into a new surface.

The addition of plastic is also beneficial to the surfaces’ properties, making it more flexible and durable, and extending its life.

Independent laboratory testing has proved that MacRebur does not leech microplastics into the environment, and does not produce additional hazardous fumes in comparison to regular surfacing. The manufacturing process also ensures that no plastic granules, sometimes known as ‘nurdles’ enter the environment during construction.

Plastic granules produced at MacRebur’s factory are sealed in bags for transportation to the local asphalt manufacturer, who then add the granules to the bitumen in controlled factory conditions, where it is heated and blended into the mixture.

As a result, the granules are already melted by the time that they reach site, and there is no loose plastic present on site. This resurfacing project will recycle 600kg of waste plastic – the equivalent weight of 48,000 plastic bottles – which would otherwise be disposed of, will reduce fossil fuel extraction for the surfacing by 6 per cent, and save 580kg of carbon emissions which is the equivalent of either:

Councillor Geoff Pook, East Devon’s portfolio holder for asset management, said: “Construction activities contribute over 10 per cent of the UK’s carbon emission and so this is a key area to cut down on.

“We will continue to research, trial and use more sustainable materials wherever possible.”


Persimmon chief executive to stand down from company

The boss of homebuilder Persimmons – which has worked on sites across Devon and Cornwall – has confirmed he will be leaving the role after just a year in charge.

George Thorpe

The Financial Times reports that chief executive David Jenkinson has told the company that he will step down in “due course” but will stay in the position while the board searches for his replacement.

Jenkinson took the job in February last year and has been at the firm for 23 years.

“I will remain fully committed to both the chief executive role and to our programme of change until my last day in the job,” Mr Jenkinson said.

Following the announcement, shares in Persimmon dropped by 4% in early trading.

In recent years, the homebuilder has been at a number of issues with an independent review, which was launched after complaints about the company’s work and pay, saying Persimmon needed a “fundamental change in culture”.

The report also highlighted problems including insufficient fire protection at its properties, which affected some of its homes built in Truro which had safety barriers missing.

Yesterday (February 26), it was reported that Torbay Council had ordered the company to stop work on a controversial building site after claims that an ancient Devon bank, trees and parts of their gardens had been removed.

A spokesman for Persimmon Homes said they were working with the council to review the situation at Kings Ash Hill, where it has planning permission to build 68 properties.

On top of this, a number of complaints have been made by residents in Devon about the overall quality of their homes built by the firm.

Meanwhile, Plymouth Trading Standards launched an investigation in October over claims Persimmon Homes were “mis-selling” homes on estates in Plymstock and Ivybridge.

The company strongly refuted these claims.

See also:

Persimmon shareholders have dodged a bullet

Nils Pratley 

David Jenkinson will depart housebuilder Persimmon with shares in the company worth roughly £45m, his prize from the same absurd incentive scheme that bestowed £75m on his predecessor as chief executive, Jeff Fairburn.

Perhaps Jenkinson, only a year after replacing Fairburn, wants to spend more time with his winnings. Or perhaps he’s just recognised what was blindingly obvious to outsiders: Persimmon’s claims to cultural reform, and its pledge to improve the quality of its houses, lacked credibility while a veteran of the old regime was at the helm.

Any doubt on the latter point evaporated with the damning independent report that the board, to its credit, published last December: in short, Persimmon had been building too many shoddy homes that had fire risks; box-tickers ruled the roost; and the company saw itself as “land assembler and house-seller rather than a housebuilder”.

Customers now come first, says chairman Roger Devlin, and, if you look closely at Thursday’s full-year numbers, there is circumstantial evidence to support the boast. An extra £213m was invested in “work in progress”, the cost of actually finishing the job, rather the handing homes to buyers when they’re full of snags.

Harder evidence of true reform, and commitment to reputational improvement, can only judged over time. It is why Devlin would do well to appoint a non-insider to replace Jenkinson. Better still, go for somebody from outside the housebuilding industry, an insular sector that enjoys nothing more than marking its own homework.

In the meantime, Persimmon’s shareholders should count themselves lucky. In a normally functioning market, there would be a heavy price to pay for pursuing a strategy that short-changed customers but made executives as rich as Croesus. Instead, Persimmon is still achieving pre-tax profits of £1bn and still has a return on capital employed of 37%. Help to buy has a lot to answer for.


Fair Society, Healthy Lives


Owl has tracked down the sources of the recent press comment on declining health and health inequality.This post places these on the record, with summaries below. (Serious read, not for the faint hearted).

In 2010 Sir Michael Marmot’s strategic review of health inequalities in England post- 2010 was published under the title “Fair Society, Healthy Lives” . In the review, recommendations were made in six domains:

  • Give every child the best start in life 
  • Enable all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control of their lives
  • Create fair employment and good work for all
  • Ensure a healthy standard of living for all 
  • Create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities
  • Strengthen the role and impact of ill health prevention

This February a “ten years on”  report has just been published which shows that, in England, health is getting worse for people living in more deprived districts and regions, health inequalities are increasing and, for the population as a whole, health is declining. The data that this report brings together also show that for almost of all the recommendations made in the original Marmot Review, the country has been moving in the wrong direction. 


Report Conclusions and Summary of Recommendations

In 2008 the Commission on Social Determinants of Health, with Sir Michael Marmot as chair, published Closing the Gap in a Generation. The title was meant to reflect the fact that the Commission’s assembled evidence showed that, if acted on, the health gap – inequalities in health within and between countries – could indeed be closed within a single generation. The cover of the report read: “Social injustice is killing on a grand scale”. It was the Commission’s firm view that not acting on the evidence was deeply unjust to the billions of people whose health was made worse by social conditions they had no part in creating.

It was in this spirit that the Marmot Review team approached the task of assembling the evidence to show how the conclusions of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health could lead to recommendations for reducing health inequalities in England. Because we judged that social justice should be at the heart of policies to improve health, we gave the 2010 Marmot Review the title, Fair Society, Healthy Lives. Put fairness – social justice – at the heart of all policy-making and health would improve and health inequalities diminish.

This ’10 years on’ report shows that, in England, health is getting worse for people living in more deprived districts and regions, health inequalities are increasing and, for the population as a whole, health is declining. The data that this report brings together also show that for almost of all the recommendations made in the original Marmot Review, the country has been moving in the wrong direction. In particular, lives for people towards the bottom of the social hierarchy have been made more difficult. Some of these difficulties have been the direct result of government policies, some have resulted from failure to counter adverse trends such as increased economic inequalities or market failures. 

The purpose of this report is to show what can be done, in a spirit of social justice, to take action on the social determinants of health to reduce these avoidable health inequalities. It is not enough for the Government simply to declare that austerity is over. Actions are needed in the social determinants to improve the lives people are able to lead and hence achieve a greater degree of health equity and better health and wellbeing for all. While our approach emphasises the social determinants of health, there is much that the NHS can do to address the social needs of patients. Similarly, Public Health England should be taking a lead not only in action on traditional public health concerns but on the causes of inequalities that we have highlighted in this report.

But efforts to reduce health inequalities will require more than the NHS and Public Health England. Experience shows that action, across the whole of society, will require the commitment of the Prime Minister and the whole of government. The justification for whole-of-government action is that it is the route to reduction of health inequalities. There are two further reasons for the whole of government to act. First, as we said at the outset, health and health inequalities are good measures of how well society is doing: how well it is creating the conditions for people to lead lives they have reason to value. Second, there will be other benefits from the actions we recommend here. Investment in improving early child development, and reducing exposure to adverse child experiences, will reduce antisocial behaviour and crime in addition to its beneficial effects on mental and physical health. Improving education will lead to more capable citizens as well as a more qualified workforce. Creating healthy environments will be good for meeting climate change targets. Reduction of poverty is a good thing in itself, quite apart from its beneficial effect on reducing health inequalities. A more equal, cohesive society is simply a better, healthier place to live.

Although we have had much to say on the increasing levels of poverty in England – in some areas of England more than one child in two is growing up in poverty – the social gradient in health must remain in focus. The gradient has become steeper. Action must be taken not only to improve living conditions for the worst off, but also for those who are relatively disadvantaged. The aim of all policies should be to level up, for everyone to enjoy the good health and wellbeing of those at the top of the social hierarchy – hence our reiteration of proportionate universalism: universalist policies with effort proportionate to need. We extend this to include investment – over the last decade government allocations of funding have declined most in poorer areas and this must be reversed. Funding should be allocated in a proportionate way – those areas that have lost the most and are more deprived must receive renewed investment first and at higher levels. 

We repeat: we neither desire nor can envisage a society without social and economic inequalities. But the public thinks that inequalities have gone too far, and evidence from across the world suggests that the level of health inequality we see in England, is unnecessary. We welcome action from local and regional governments to tackle social determinants of health. More action of the type we have described here will be necessary. It is not, though, a matter of action by either central government or local government: we need both and we need leadership. If we leave this for another 10 years, we risk losing a generation. 

Our main recommendation is to the Prime Minister – to initiate an ambitious and world-leading health inequalities strategy and lead a Cabinet-level cross-departmental committee charged with its development and implementation. We suggest that the new strategy is highly visible to the public and that clear targets are set.

As we write the final words of this report, the world is demanding urgent action on climate change. It is of grave concern that such actions to mitigate climate change should not lead to wider socioeconomic inequalities. We need to bring the agendas of climate change and of social determinants of health and health equity together.

In effect, this report is calling for a reordering of national priorities. Making wellbeing rather than straightforward economic performance the central goal of policy will create a better society with better health and greater health equity. [Owl’s emphasis]

Building new homes on land prone to flooding ‘making damage worse’


At last Conservative MPs get it, but what about the planners and EDDC DMC? The building of tens of thousands of homes on flood-prone land is worsening the damage to surrounding areas, Conservative MPs have said, as the head of the Environment Agency warned against new developments on floodplains.

Lisa O’Carroll

Tory backbenchers called on Boris Johnson to review the government’s housing policy over concerns that new homes were either not flood-proof or were exacerbating issues in neighbouring communities.

John Redwood, the MP for Wokingham, said building on land most at risk of flooding was “a very foolish thing to do and it’s obviously making the problem considerably worse”.

He said the risk to residents had been “greatly increased” by building on floodplains in his Berkshire constituency, and added: “I think [the government] should certainly review their planning policy and I think they should take the Environment Agency’s advice more seriously on appeal and regard it as a very important factor.”

Two severe flood warnings remained in place on Tuesday night, in Hereford and Ironbridge where homes were evacuated as the River Severn was expected to reach near-record levels. Residents were also evacuated in the town of Snaith, east Yorkshire, after the River Aire burst its banks.

There were 250 flood warnings and alerts in place across England, from Devon to Cumbria, with a further 10 in Wales following one of the wettest Februarys in 254 years of records.

The government has come under pressure over its aims to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s to help ease a chronic shortage across the UK. Local authorities say they are struggling to meet these demands because of a shortage of available land, leading to one in 10 of new homes in England being built on high-risk flood sites since 2013.

The Guardian revealed on Sunday that more than 11,000 homes were planned in areas the government considers a high flood risk in the seven English regions swamped by Storms Ciara and Dennis.

The government says its planning policy is clear that housing should be located in the areas least at risk of flooding and, when development in a risk area is absolutely necessary, “sufficient measures should be taken to make sure homes are safe, resilient and protected from flooding”.

However, a series of experts, MPs and local authorities have said that these new developments often increase the flood risk to surrounding areas because water that would be otherwise absorbed by the land instead runs off more quickly into rivers that then burst their banks.

The Tory MP Laurence Robertson said two huge housing developments were under construction in his Tewkesbury constituency, comprising 2,500 homes, and that one of them was currently under water.

“All of that [new housing] is just going to make [the flooding] so much worse,” he said. “I don’t think there’s been any adequate demonstration that they can contain the water in the new buildingwork. I’ve got other examples in my constituency where houses have been built, particularly on slightly elevated land, which throw the water downhill. They suffer [in surrounding areas] and that’s what I fear.”

Kieran Mullan, the newly elected Conservative MP for Crewe and Nantwich, said housebuilding on floodplains was “asking for trouble and I would need a lot of convincing to find that is ever justified”. He said a recently built housing estate had caused a road in his constituency to flood and that residents’ concerns about the dangers had been ignored. “It is no surprise concreting over fields can make localised water drainage worse,” he said.

Ahead of a speech in London on Tuesday, the head of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, said properties should not be built on the floodplain “as far as possible” and that some developments should never have been approved.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Bevan also raised the possibility that some vulnerable communities on the coast and in river valleys may have to move to avoid repeated flooding.

He said those communities should not be “forced out” but that there needed to be a conversation about how they can be protected in the long term.

In a speech at the World Water-Tech Innovation summit in central London, Bevan said it was unrealistic to ban all housebuilding on floodplains given England’s geography.

However, he added: “The clue is in the name: floodplain. So we can and should insist that development only happens there if there is no real alternative, that any such development doesn’t increase other people’s flood risk … and that properties built on the floodplain are flood resilient, for example with the garages on the ground floor and the people higher up.”

Labour has called for an immediate end to building on land considered to be at high risk of flooding, which equates to 10% of land in England. Analysis by the Guardian found that more than 84,000 homes had been built in these high-risk flood zones between 2013 and 2018, with the annual total having doubled in that time.

The government also came under fire from the National Farmers’ Union, which blamed a “third world” approach to water management for the devastation.

The NFU president, Minette Batters, said the government had done “nothing” in the last eight years to act on its 2012 manifesto involving more reservoirs and a national plan to transport water elsewhere to the country to meet needs.

“Years of neglect has created an urgent problem,” she said, adding that farmers’ efforts with wood dams or the introduction of beavers to naturally manage water flow were part of the solution.


Call for English councils to be given powers to regulate Airbnb


As Caroline Lucas calls for councils to be given powers to regulate Airbnb, Owl intends running a couple of posts on the subject. It is one many may regard as controversial but in Owl’s eyes looks to have the potential to wreak havoc, particularly in small communities. Although East Devon is not yet as badly affected as North Devon or the South Hams, Owl believes Airbnb has almost wiped out the traditional b&b . The crucial difference between the two is that the b&b owner lives on site and is a permanent member of the local community.

Helen Pidd

Local councils in England must be given powers to regulate Airbnb and other short-term letting sites in order to alleviate the “intolerable” pressure they put on the availability of local housing, the Green party MP, Caroline Lucas, has said.

Her intervention followed a Guardian investigation that found one Airbnb listing for every four residential properties in some hotspots across Britain. Airbnb has disputed the finding.

Meanwhile, an organisation representing landlords has warned that imminent tax changes will drive an increasing number of landlords towards Airbnb and its rivals, depriving renters of long-term, stable tenancies.

Last month Lucas asked the government to make it easier for councils to impose a 90-day cap on homes let out on Airbnb and other online platforms. Airbnb says the vast majority of properties on the platform are already rented for less than 90 days a year.

She wants the UK government to follow Scotland’s lead. In January Holyrood announced new measures giving local authorities in Scotland powers to regulate short-term lets. This includes a licensing scheme with health and safety stipulations, which would also allow councils to address the concerns of local residents. A tax on short-term lets is also being considered.

“Brighton and Hove city council should be given the powers to regulate this industry, which is having such a serious impact on an already overstretched private rental sector and on more highly regulated hotels and B&Bs, which are being undercut. There needs to be a level playing field,” said Lucas.

“The pressure put on the availability of local housing by Airbnb in some areas of UK is intolerable. Local councils must be given powers to regulate this, so local housing needs are not squeezed out,” she tweeted on Friday.

Airbnb said the Guardian’s data was flawed and that some listings were for hotel rooms, single rooms in homes, and unusual properties such as caravans, meaning their rental did not affect housing stock.

Patrick Robinson, the company’s director of public policy, said: “Airbnb is a good partner to cities and we were the first platform to limit how often hosts in London can share their homes. We are also working with cities across the UK on proposals for a host registration system that we will proactively put to the government later this year to help ensure that rules work for everyone.”

But some critics of the company in hotspot areas say the saturation of their neighbourhoods is changing their way of life. Chris Hayes, a 55-year-old train driver who lives in the North Laine area of Brighton, said his life was being made a misery because five of the 29 cottages in his row were being advertised on Airbnb and similar sites.

“Residents have no way of stopping noise without confrontation. The owners are unknown or uncontactable, the ‘hosts’ do not have contact numbers for out-of-office hours, the council does not have noise abatement officers at night, the police treat it as very low priority,” he said, complaining of being woken by parties and the sound of suitcases being trundled along the alleyway in the middle of the night.

He added: “Airbnbs should be a planning change of use from residential. You need a change of use to convert a home to an office, hotel or shop. Why not to Airbnb?”

In 2018, up to 2,000 homes were being used as short-term holiday lets in Brighton, according to the council – a figure that is likely to have increased since. Between May 2019 and January 2020, the number of active UK listings on the website increased by 14% to 257,000.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) warned on Friday that renters were finding it harder to access long-term homes to rent because taxation changes are driving landlords to move into the holiday lettings market.

Last month, research from ARLA Propertymark found that nearly half a million UK properties could be left unavailable for longer-term rent as more landlords exit the market in favour of short-term lettings. Many landlords blame the government for restricting mortgage interest relief to the basic rate of income tax, claiming they will be significantly worse off or even unable to make a profit on their lettings.

The change does not apply to short-term lets, encouraging more landlords to move into that market, according to the RLA. Anyone buying a second home or buy-to-let property has also been hit with a 3% stamp duty surcharge since April 2016 under changes introduced by George Osborne as chancellor.

David Smith, the RLA’s policy director, said: “Government policy is actively encouraging the growth of holiday homes at the expense of long-term homes to rent, which many families need. This is completely counterproductive, making renting more expensive and undermining efforts to help tenants save for a house of their own.

“The chancellor must use his budget to give tenants a better deal by supporting good landlords to provide the homes to rent that they want to live in.”

Anguished cry from a Friend of Shandford

Owl has received a communication from a clearly anguished “Friend of Shandford”. Here is a resume:

Abbeyfield gets lots of lovely press coverage even while doing the dirty (causing extreme distress) to residents, family, friends and most of all its 35 staff. As a ‘Friend of Shandford’ I have watched Abbeyfield and its antics, and all I can say is that no wonder they are in financial difficulties because they appear so incompetent. The excuses for closure have rained down on us all. 

We believe we can refute all of them for it seems that the C.Q.C is not good enough for the likes of Abbeyfield who now quote standards that don’t appear to exist. Then they even apparently challenged the fire survey completed in September 2019 in which Shandford came out with a glowing report on which NO, yes NO, black marks were issued.

No expenditure needed in the foreseeable future.  No more fire doors, evacuation procedure fully implemented and acceptable.

Yes, the new group of business people did consider the situation, but with Abbeyfield saying that over a £1million needed to be spent on infrastructure, almost certainly untrue, and then being told the new committee would have to be held liable for any losses, there was always going to be only one answer from them. 

There is probably never going to be a huge profit percentage here but with good management and no fees of £2,000 a week being handed over to Abbeyfield management  for which they have never appeared on site. 

 Why, when Abbeyfield have finally admitted it cannot benefit financially from the sale of Shandford, is it running headlong at great pace to remove the residents entirely, even to the employment of a new  (presumably very well paid, very short-term) ‘Project Manager’ ? 

 Many questionable actions appear to have been taken – Owl 

Developers invited to reveal their vision for Cranbrook town centre


Owl recalls, when much younger, being given presentations by the special EDDC team of planners designing this new green town of Cranbrook. It included a wonderful town centre with all the latest mod cons. It wasn’t to be. All that money and effort wasted. Developers, we were told, knew best and should be allowed to design and build to their own vision. Look what has happened! 

Daniel Clark 

A special meeting over the future of Cranbrook will see a consortium of developers put forward their vision for its town centre. 

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Strategic Planning Committee this week agreed to the move to see if members can support the concept behind any proposals.

It was recently announced that plans for a new Morrisons supermarket and significant extra retail, commercial and residential spaces had been put forward by the Cranbrook Consortium.

The Cranberry Farm pub is so far the only building in the ‘town centre’ that has been constructed.

Proposals the consortium are putting forward may not conform to what was originally envisaged for the town centre and would be smaller than initially suggested, councillors were told.

Ed Freeman, service lead for planning strategy and development, said the authority therefore wished to produce its own ‘masterplan’ for the town centre.

This would be in the form of a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) which could take up to six months to complete.

Councillor Kevin Blakey, portfolio holder for economy, urged the committee not to go down this route as it runs the risk of leaving the town centre empty for many years.

He added: “The Cranbrook Delivery Board has been in discussions with the Cranbrook Consortium with the object of coordinating delivery of the town centre.

“It has led to a plan which was prepared by the consortium and includes a major brand supermarket and commercial and public space, which is in excess of what is required by the Section 106 agreements and will deliver some of those well before the trigger points that they are legally due.

“The balance of the deal comes from release of extra land for housing development, but the belief is that the town centre does not need to be as big as initially envisaged and otherwise parts of it could be left undeveloped.

“We are on the brink of a deal but it is time limited. The anchor tenant [Morrisons] has six sites they are looking at, but only three will go forward, so they have the option to walk away from anything that is too difficult or lengthy.

“If the discussions collapse, they will move on and a viable town centre for Cranbrook will stall.

“The consortium wish to present full proposals for the committee to consider at the earliest possible date.

“Don’t go down the route of an SPD as it will result in a delay for sure, and runs the risk of leaving the centre of Cranbrook empty for many years to come.”

Cllr Sam Hawkins added: “If we keep taking our time, Cranbrook town centre will be the greenest in the country, because it will just be a field.”

Councillors unanimously agreed that a special meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee needed to be held as soon as possible.

This will enable the consortium’s proposals for the town centre to be assessed and members can decide whether they are strategically right for the town.

A formal planning application would still need to be submitted and approved for any ideas which are backed.

EDDC can still go down the route of preparing a SPD outlining how it would like to see the town centre developed.


MP will ‘bang down the door’ to ensure Axminster Masterplan has viable future


Axminster’s MP Neil Parish said he will be ‘banging down the door’ to ensure that the Masterplan for the town has a viable future. Action man Simon Jupp MP is refusing to vote for HS2 whilst the two rail lines into Devon remain unfit for purpose. He is also trying to resolve the Budleigh Shandford care home crisis. Are witnessing a concerted “Charm Offensive”?

Daniel Clark

Axminster’s MP Neil Parish said he will be ‘banging down the door’ to ensure that the Masterplan for the town has a viable future.

The Axminster Masterplan for 800 new homes and the long-awaiting relief road was agreed last January, only for Homes England’s Housing Infrastructure Funding of £10m to be turned from a grant to a loan.

Homes England state that they believe that the development could afford to repay the HIF monies, but East Devon District Council are convinced that the development cannot afford to repay the monies and the developers have no interest in progressing down the route of a repayable loan.

The funding would have been used to forward fund the new £16.7m north-south relief road that aims to end the severe congestion, pollution and HGVs having to travel on the existing road that runs through the centre of the town.

East Devon District Council’s Strategic Planning Committee on Tuesday morning agreed to send a letter to Neil Parish, the MP for Tiverton and Honiton, to seek his further assistance in securing funding towards the masterplan, as the council are now under threat of the monies being withdrawn by Homes England and lost forever.

Having been shown a copy of the letter, Mr Parish told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I will continue to support EDDC in getting the funding they need for the Axminster Relief Road. Together with our excellent local councillors in Axminster, we will be banging down the door of the Housing Minister and Homes England to ensure the Axminster Masterplan has a viable future.

“We met with Homes England last year on this matter – but it is clear further discussions must take place to get this sorted.”

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, Cllr Ian Hall said that it was imperative to get help from the MP so forward delivery of the relief road happens and the funding position is revisited by Homes England, as ‘doing nothing is not acceptable’.

He added: “I want the best for Axminster and for it to be a resilient town in the future. We must unlock Axminster’s potential. I believe that the agreed masterplan was nailed on the best for Axminster and East Devon. We have already wasted too much time and I will not watch Axminster stagnate and die, or at best we a reteriment area. Can we hurry up and get this done.”

Fellow ward member Cllr Andrew Moulding added: “We have concerns over the masterplan at the moment as it is not deliverable as we don’t have the grants for the upfront delivery of the relief road. The case for us is very clear as delivery of the masterplan and relief road is essential for Axminster.”

He said that he was concerned that plans for the southern parcel of land could be permitted soon, and that unless the relief road was forward-funded, that would be delivered without the infrastructure needed.

Cllr Moulding added: “It is essential to get upfront delivery of the relief road, stop the gridlock and get the cars out of the town.”

But the third Axminster ward member, Cllr Sarah Jackson, disagreed with the wording and the content of the letter as it heavily leans on the discrepancy in the land values between the parties and that the committee had not been privy to the land valuations and viability assessments.

She said: “I would hope that members seriously consider if they have the information in front of them before they send the letter and what we ask the MP on our behalf to do.”

Cllr Paul Hayward added that the committee were being asked to agree the text and tone of the letter which alludes to report that they haven’t seen.

But Cllr Philip Skinner though said he was happy to trust the judgment of the people who had been the valuations and that they were trying to do their best for Axminster, and called for the letter to be sent to get him on board, as everyone was ‘rolling in the same direction’.

The letter outlines the background, why delivering of the homes is important, what may happen if the relief road is not delivered in advance of development, and why the council would not happy with the consequences of it, as well as the reasons why the council does not agree with the Homes England position on the land values.

It says: “Expecting the developers to pay the full cost of the road does not leave a reasonable incentive for the land owners because the costs of the relief road are so great. The relief road is also not just about servicing the proposed development but about addressing a wider issue of resilience in the road network and current congestion and air pollution in the centre of Axminster. To expect the development to cover the full cost of the road is unrealistic and unreasonable.

“In Axminster we have a project to deliver an urban extension of 850 homes which has already been master planned with planning applications that will be ready to be determined by Easter 2020. The developers could be on-site within a year and delivering these homes if only we could deliver the relief road. All we need is for Homes England to release the money as traditional grant funding as originally indicated they would.

“All we are asking is that the viability work undertaken by Homes England reflects the values previously negotiated with land owners on the evidence now provided which shows that these are reasonable.

“Without this public investment the relief road will not be delivered but we are in real danger that some of the housing will have to come forward without it

“We may soon be in a position where we cannot resist the applications for the southern part of the site and are forced to allow this to proceed despite the communities’ clear requirement that the relief road be delivered first.”

Councillors voted by eight votes to four, with two abstentions, to send the letter.


Speaking of fundraisers: 


The Mirror’s Mikey Smith has filed a deliciously colorful piece on some of the hardworking folk whose deep pockets made the “People’s Government” a reality. He reports that “a handful of millionaires and billionaires” pumped hundreds of thousands of pounds into the Tory campaign to topple Labour’s red wall seats across the north of England. “One secretive group of donors has historic links to the Freemasons,” Smith writes. “Another is a millionaire motor racing mogul who has treated Boris Johnson to a chummy photo op in a sports car.” Best of all, however, is the retired investment banker who lists his occupation on official documents simply as “Gentleman.” Something for us all to aspire to there.

Source, which includes a full list of donors, can be found :

Seagulls prefer food touched by humans

They are the scourge of the seaside, the bandits of the beachfront. Now scientists have gleaned an insight into why seagulls are drawn to stealing holidaymakers’ chips: they actively prefer food that has been handled by humans.

Researchers from Exeter University’s Penryn campus in Cornwall presented herring gulls in several Cornish towns with two identical flapjacks, one of which the gulls had seen in a person’s hand. Of the 38 gulls that were tested, 24 pecked at one of the flapjacks and 19 of these — nearly 80 per cent — chose the one that had been handled.

The birds are kleptoparasites, which means they pilfer food from other animals. The strategy has allowed them to adapt to new environments, including seaside tourist hotspots.

“UK herring gull numbers are declining, but urban populations have increased,” Madeleine Goumas, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at Penryn campus, who led the latest study, said.

Despite increasing interactions between humans and gulls, little is known about the cognitive underpinnings of urban gull behaviour, she added. “We wanted to find out if gulls are simply attracted by the sight of food, or if people’s actions can draw their attention.”

Laura Kelly, a co-author of the study published today in the Royal Society Open Science, said the findings highlighted the need to dispose of food waste properly.

The same researchers reported last year that fixing a seagull with a hard stare was often effective in scaring them off. The UK population of herring gulls fell by 60 per cent from 1969 to 2015, putting the birds on the red list of Birds of Conservation Concern. Nevertheless, a YouGov poll in 2016 found that 44 per cent of people backed a cull.

For the Exeter study, a researcher approached individual gulls and placed two buckets on the ground in front of them, each covering a wrapped flapjack taped to a piece of slate to stop the gulls making off with it.

The buckets were then removed, and the researcher picked up one of the flapjacks, handled it for 20 seconds, and then placed it back on the ground.

To see if gulls were responding to human handling alone, the experiment was repeated with two non-food items, sponges cut to be the same size and shape as the flapjacks. The gulls showed no extra interest in the handled sponge. This suggests, the researchers said, that handling draws their attention to food in particular.

From The Times Science Correspondent /edition/news/seagulls-prefer-food-touched-by-humans-lpf0hz5db

Owl notes the research was conducted on Cornish Herring Gulls but thinks their Devon cousins behave the same way.

Council orders Persimmon Homes to halt work on controversial site


Council dares to order Persimmon Homes to halt work on a building site but it’s not EDDC.

Torbay Council has ordered Persimmon Homes to halt work on a controversial building site after claims that an ancient Devon bank, trees and parts of their gardens had been removed.

And angry residents say trees are still being felled despite the enforcement notice.

The site for 68 new homes off Kings Ash Hill has long been contentious in the area. It was approved in December 2018 and work began last summer. The new homes are being built on a picturesque former horse paddock in Luscombe Lane.

The residents raised fears that parts of an ancient Devon bank’s trees and hedges have been removed. They also claimed the building work has undermined their back gardens causing landslides.

Local councillors Jackie Thomas and John Kavanah, raised their concerns with Torbay Council’s head of legal planning and an enforcement notice has now been served.

A spokesman for Persimmon Homes has confirmed that they are aware of the enforcement notice and are working with Torbay Council ‘reviewing the situation’. The housebuilding company added in a statement: “Persimmon Homes believes it is acting in accordance with planning approved site plans.”

Full story here 


Angry scenes as tempers boil over at Honiton Town Council meeting


Owl catches up on Honiton: Angry members of the public heckled Honiton Town councillors as tempers flared at last night’s meeting. [Monday 25 Feb]

There were noisy exchanges between councillors and the packed public benches before one well-known member of the community stormed out while hurling abuse at Mayor John Zarczynski.

Almost 4,500 social media users have since viewed Honiton Nub News’ Facebook Live coverage of the meeting, held at the The Beehive.

Hannah Corfield 

Angry members of the public heckled Honiton Town councillors as tempers flared at last night’s meeting.

There were noisy exchanges between councillors and the packed public benches before one well-known member of the community stormed out while hurling abuse at Mayor John Zarczynski.

Almost 4,500 social media users have since viewed Honiton Nub News’ Facebook Live coverage of the meeting, held at the The Beehive.

Trouble erupted when councillors agreed to move several items on the agenda into the private Part B section of the meeting.

Earlier, it had addressed items which had been included on the previous agenda and funding was agreed for two charitable organisations – Honiton Scouts and The Air Cadets – along with a consideration of Honiton’s Fairtrade status, an update on Gate2Plate 2020 and a discussion regarding VE/VJ Day commemorations.

Mayor, Cllr John Zarczynski, announced that the following four items – 18, 19, 20 and 21 – were of a ‘confidential nature’ and the clerk had ‘recommended’ they be moved to Part B.

Part B excludes the public from council debate, usually for the reason of financial sensitivity.

Cllr Vera Howard then proposed the motion, which was seconded by Cllr Philip Carrigan.

Frequent use of Part B has caused many to question the council’s transparency.

Cllr Jason Hannay spoke out to address this concern stating that a lot of what is ‘confidential’ is already ‘in the public domain through the Freedom Of Information Act’ and ‘that it was what a lot of people wanted to listen to as it was their town’.

Cllr Zarczynski responded that he ‘could only go by the agenda prepared by the clerk’ however conceded that two votes take place on whether the items be moved to Part B.

Following a vote on the initial motion that the items be moved to Part B, Cllr Caroline Kolek spoke out saying that she was ‘conscious’ of the large volume of people who had showed up and whether time be set aside for some questions.

The mayor rejected the proposal, stating that public question time had been part of the previous meeting and would only be permitted again at the next full council meeting.

He acknowledged that there were issues that people wanted answers to and that there ‘was a lot going around on social media’ however members of the public were invited to submit their questions for the meeting in two weeks time.

Someone sitting in the public gallery shouted: “What are you afraid of?” to which Cllr Zarczynski responded “nothing”.

At this point, well respected member of the Honiton community Joseph Furneaux-Gotch, spoke up to say that he ‘rejected the decision as a member of the public’.

Addressing the mayor directly, he said: “What you’ve just done is to move stuff into Part B, and all these people who live and work in Honiton deserve to know what’s going on.

“And do you know why they’re not going to hear it? Because an unelected group of people are pushing stuff into a secret meeting.”

This was met by a loud round of applause and people expressing their support.

He went on to say: “Hardly anyone uses Part B, except for financial matters, but you use it all the time.”

The mayor defended his position, stating that he was ‘following the agenda’, however Mr Furneaux-Gotch left the meeting calling the mayor ‘horrific’ and ‘horrendous’ and ‘why didn’t he put himself up for election to see what the people voted’.

Another member of the public gallery, Steve Keene, called on everyone to ‘keep it level’ and ‘not to become a mob’.

He said: “Let’s just leave and we’ll come back on the 9th.”

This morning it emerged that a councillor later resigned – click below for more.


Poor areas lose a decade to deprivation

From the Times: Boris Johnson’s voters are dying off. The stark conclusion of a report published today is that some of the key groups that swung behind the Conservatives in December are bearing the brunt of falling life expectancy.

Sir Michael Marmot, author of the study, said: “England has lost a decade . . . Health is telling us a great deal about how well society is doing. If health has stopped improving, then society has stopped improving.”

Although the life expectancy of wealthier people has increased, for the poorest citizens in the north it has stagnated or even declined. With the Tories taking seats in the north and Midlands with 47 per cent of the vote among the lowest social classes, this is not a problem they can ignore. In 2001 the richest tenth of men lived 7.4 years longer than the poorest; that has increased to 7.7 years. For women, the gap has grown from 5 years in 2011 to 6.1 in 2017.

Mr Johnson wants to boost skills, infrastructure and employment in left-behind communities. Sir Michael Marmot wants higher quality, better-paid jobs, a reduction in child poverty, improved housing and a focus on “ignored areas”. Pointing out the similarities between the two programmes is more likely to engage the government than hectoring.

The heads of 21 royal colleges and health faculties in the UK write to Boris Johnson in an unprecedented plea today urging him to focus his government’s efforts on closing the gap in life expectancy between the country’s most deprived and privileged areas.

The letter, seen by The Times, calls on Downing Street to accept and exceed the recommendations made in a damning report on the nation’s health. 

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