Deadline for comments on update Newton Poppleford neighbourhood plan extended to May 29

Following the public consultation which took place between 1st November and 14th December 2019 the Newton Poppleford and Harpford Neighbourhood Plan was updated and has now been submitted to East Devon District Council (EDDC).

You can find the updated Neighbourhood Plan and all its supporting documents on the East Devon District Council website by clicking here. You can also find all the public consultation comments which were received within Appendixes 14 and 15. If you’re part of a parish group or committee could you forward this email to other members please?

Due to the current circumstances regarding the coronavirus outbreak, visits to inspect hard copies of the documents at the District or Parish Council Offices will not be possible. However, EDDC will endeavour to make hard copies of the Neighbourhood Plan available on request. To arrange please contact EDDC on email or call 01395 571740, or alternatively contact Newton Poppleford and Harpford Parish Council via the Clerk, Mr Paul Hayward, 07711 929227 /

East Devon District Council are inviting comments on the updated Neighbourhood Plan. If you would like to make a representation, please send your comments by email (preferably using a separate response form per policy or issue) (see template form attached) to This is EDDC’s preference in the current circumstances.

However, if you are unable to respond by email, please send your comments in writing to Angela King, Planning Policy Section, East Devon District Council, Blackdown House, Border Road, Honiton, EX14 1EJ. She will endeavour to monitor post received but please note this cannot be guaranteed due to the current situation where staff are primarily working from home. Please therefore also call 01395 571740 to notify them of your written submission and send a copy to Paul Haywood (Clerk), Newton Poppleford and Harpford Parish Council, Plumtree, Old North Street, Axminster, EX13 5QF.

The consultation runs from 18th March 2020 to  New Date of 29th May 2020

Please call or email Angela King if you if you wish to discuss any of the above (, Direct Tel: 01395 571740)


Don’t buy the lockdown lie – this is a government of business as usual

“Stay home”, Boris Johnson told us when he announced the lockdown a month ago. Only travel to work “where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.”

But who defines what’s “absolutely necessary”? Unless you work for a non-essential shop or leisure facility (that was closed by order on 23rd March) the answer is always, “your boss”.

Caroline Molloy 

Everyone agrees we’re in lockdown. Coronavirus has “shut down the whole economy”, the BBC’s Coronavirus Newscast told us last week.

The BBC’s World at One contrasts the situation in the UK, with that of a “different approach” in Sweden, where “not all businesses have closed”. The only debate now is between the hawks and doves on when we allow “a partial reopening of businesses”, the national broadcaster’s daily news email told me on Monday.

Meanwhile Britain seems headed towards the worst death rate in Europe.

Undoubtedly part of the reason for this is that we moved too late to enforce a “lockdown”.

But the other reason is that we don’t actually have a lockdown. The government has allowed people to continue to go to work – and allowed bosses to make people continue to go to work – far more than we’re being led to believe, and far more than most of the media seem to have noticed.

And as openDemocracy has just exposed, across large sections of the economy, many workers in ‘non essential’ jobs are being forced to show up to potentially dangerous workplaces. And some have already got sick. And some have already died.

“Stay home”, Boris Johnson told us when he announced the lockdown a month ago. Only travel to work “where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.”

Whose rules?

But who defines what’s “absolutely necessary”? Unless you work for a non-essential shop or leisure facility (that was closed by order on 23rd March) the answer is always, “your boss”.

Offices, factories, warehouses and (in England) construction sites may all remain open. None have been designated as ‘non-essential’. It’s also been left entirely up to the bosses to decide whether it’s “possible” to do a job from home, and whether to take the government cash to furlough some or all of their workers. Or whether it’s “absolutely necessary” for some or all of its workers to come in. Call centre workers and numerous other groups of workers, meanwhile, have been labelled “key workers” at the stroke of a ministerial pen, irrespective of what they are actually doing – leading to reports of deaths from suspected COVID-19.

It’s not even really accurate to talk about ‘loopholes’ that employers are exploiting. More like a legal void, that the government hopes the media class won’t notice. The baristas and bookshops aren’t there, and who really knows anyone who works in a call centre, factory, or warehouse? When Patrick Vallance’s slides at last Thursday’s Covid press conference revealed that 49% of those still working, are working from home, no-one piped up on Zoom to ask where the other 51% were, or why the government’s official survey hadn’t asked that question.

Earlier this week, an academic at Strathclyde university gave me advance sight of a major survey he’s done of call centre workers. As my colleague and I reported yesterday, it makes for harrowing reading. Many, particularly low paid, workers are still being made to go to work. And it’s not only call centres. There are cleaners, security guards, office staff, construction and warehouse workers.

As the survey showed, many are deeply worried about catching coronavirus either at work or on their journey in. Some are particularly concerned as they, or members of their households, are classed as “vulnerable”, and advised to be particularly careful to maintain social distancing, or even one of the 1.5 million classed as “extremely vulnerable” and instructed to “self-shield” entirely for 12 weeks.

But the government has given them little or no additional protection from unscrupulous employers. I called the Cabinet Office, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Department of Work and Pensions, and Ministry of Justice, to try to get to the bottom of this matter. What legal sanctions were there against employers who threatened to withhold all pay, or even sack, non-essential employees, if they asked not to come in because of concerns about catching the virus?

Such bosses “won’t exactly be breaking a law”, a BEIS spokesperson told me. “There’s nothing [employees] can prosecute people with, but you can point to guidance.”

Even if someone in the employee’s household was defined as “vulnerable”, or “extremely vulnerable”?

There were no new legal protections, the spokesperson confirmed. But workers could go to their union, to Citizens Advice, or to the conciliation service, ACAS, he suggested. “There’s a lot of that going on”.

What if a worker themselves were classified as “vulnerable” or “extremely vulnerable”?

Even here, the BEIS spokesperson offered little reassurance. “There are so many extenuating circumstances in these things.”

Invisible rights

In fact, although neither BEIS nor any of the other departments I spoke to were prepared to tell me, even when I prompted them by asking about health and safety law, there is some legal protection for employees in these kinds of situations. Under existing health and safety legislation, employees who believe their health or indeed that of their family would be put in imminent and serious danger may leave, or refuse to attend the workplace. And employment lawyers like Stuart Brittenden, writing on the website of the Institute of Employment Rights, suggests that if as a result of leaving, or refusing to attend under these current circumstances, someone was dismissed, or had their pay withheld, they’d have a decent chance of success at an Employment Tribunal.

The trouble is, even if employees know about these rights, how many will dare exercise them, when any legal remedy might take months or even years of fighting for, and they could face being sacked and thrown into the inadequate safety net in the meantime? Not to mention those who have looser employment relationships that mean they don’t have these rights at all? Unions are trying to help, of course – but are hobbled by some of the most restrictive anti-union laws in the developed world.

No new laws

And it gets worse. In England, unlike in Scotland and Wales, the government has not even introduced any new legal sanctions if offices, call centres, factories, construction sites, warehouses, and so on, don’t enable social distancing in the workplace. English bosses are expected to “make every effort to comply” with social distancing, but not legally mandated to do anything. Indeed, as “lockdown” progresses, the non-binding guidance has been watered down, so that for example bosses who can’t enable construction workers to stay 2 metres apart are advised to set them to work “side to side” or “back to back” instead. If even that’s not possible, they’re asked to limit close face to face working to 15 minutes.

The Opposition appear to have dropped the demand by then shadow employment minister Rachael Maskell on 31st March for “strict and enforceable closure” of non-essential workplaces, but continue to call for the current guidance around safety at work to be “strictly implemented and enforced” with the help of trade unions.

Meanwhile, the right wing hawks, in particular, seem to have discovered a new concern about the abuse, exclusion and poor conditions that are the reality of many people’s home lives – and are invoking it as a reason to end the lockdown. But the vulnerability and exploitation that is the reality of many people’s working lives is given scant attention.

The media debate when people will feel ready to “decide” to “return” to work, and the Ministry of Justice tells me that people can simply “follow the guidance on the website” to “negotiate with their employers” if there’s any disagreement on that matter. There seems to be a fond fantasy of a world where there’s no such thing as unequal power relations. A world where we haven’t endured 40 years of attacks on workers’ rights, trade unions and social security.

The key worker con

And if the financial pressures on many workers weren’t bad enough, the government has also given employers some handy moral pressure to add into the mix.

The terms “key workers”, “critical workers” and “essential workers” are being thrown around like confetti, workers report – though there’s absolutely no legal basis to use these terms to compel people to come to work. At least no legal basis that the four relevant government department press offices could tell me about when I asked them.

As openDemocracy reported yesterday, this has caused particular anger amongst many such workers. “I do low value personal injury and property damage claims – how could I possibly be an essential worker?! Seems like they are exploiting the system, I am disgusted” was typical of the responses we have seen.

BEIS confirmed that the reference to “key workers” that employers were relying on, was the non-binding, rushed guidance from the Cabinet Office about whose children could keep going to school, and which appears to include the entire financial and telecoms sectors, and many others. Announcing this list as the basis for “key worker” testing, government last week briefed that there were 10 million workers who’d been designated as “essential”, “key workers”, which in reality is between half and a third of all workers.

A BEIS spokesperson told openDemocracy, “I imagine that there will be a number of legal cases when this is all over about whether a job was essential or if it was right for a company to remain open.”

But “when this is all over” will be too late for the workers currently terrified of bosses “playing Russian Roulette with our lives”, the workers who are already sick, and the workers who’ve already died.

“Easing” the lockdown?

And there’s more to come. Whilst firms have applied to furlough 3.2 million people according to figures released last week, some employers seem to be interpreting the 3 week minimum as a maximum, and are now demanding workers return.

One accountant told us:

“They have literally given us the minimum three weeks per the government scheme. There was no discussion or consultation. I did express my worries but that was ignored.” She’s since had a text telling her “My furlough is cancelled. I’m expected back in the office next week….”

“I have asthma and have been hospitalised twice in the last few years with pneumonia…If I get any kind of chest or lung infection, I am always very ill. I also have a tremor condition similar to Parkinsons which is made much worse by stress…My bosses [are] ignoring my concerns and health issues, and ignoring the fact I could easily work from home… There’s no company sick pay during the pandemic…I can’t see any way out of it right now…”

Is this what “getting Britain back on her feet” looks like?


Revealed: Thousands at risk from COVID-19 in ‘dangerous’ UK call centres

Thousands of low-paid call-centre workers are still being forced to work in ‘dangerous’ jobs – even in centres where colleagues have already died or fallen ill with coronavirus, according to new research seen by openDemocracy. 

Adam Ramsay 

Thousands of low-paid call-centre workers are still being forced to work in ‘dangerous’ jobs – even in centres where colleagues have already died or fallen ill with coronavirus, according to new research seen by openDemocracy. 

Labour Shadow Minister for Employment Rights Andy McDonald has described the new findings as “deeply concerning”, and Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran has demanded the government urgently clarify whether laws allow unsafe premises to remain open in England.

Researchers at Strathclyde University, who surveyed 2,700 call centre workers, told openDemocracy about “harrowing stories of death… and illness” from respondents, and reported that “huge numbers of call handlers are justifiably fearful”. 

While 52% of survey respondents had been classed as “essential or emergency” workers by their bosses, fewer than one in five believed that their role was in fact essential or emergency. Meanwhile 78% of respondents expressed fear that they would catch Covid-19. 

Call centre workers have been designated ‘key workers’ under the government’s lockdown guidance. However MPs are now calling for the government to close loopholes in England which allow dangerous or unnecessary workplaces to remain open.

In Scotland and Wales emergency laws enforce social distancing measures at work, and the Scottish government has instructed a wider range of non-essential workplaces (such as most construction sites) to close. 

But in England, there are no new laws requiring bosses to comply with social distancing guidelines, nor to close many non-essential workplaces.

The Strathclyde University survey, which included workers at a number of major telecoms and financial services businesses, has been described by Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, as “grim reading”. 

She added: “Bosses who refuse to take steps to protect their workforces should be prosecuted.”

Professor Philip Taylor, who led the research, told openDemocracy of receiving phonecalls from workers in one call centre where a staff member has already died of COVID-19, and two more are in intensive care.

Meanwhile Dominic Hook, who organises financial and legal sector workers at the trade union Unite, told openDemocracy that numerous cases of coronavirus deaths have been reported to him by call centre workers.

Transcripts of interviews seen by openDemocracy show that many of the workers surveyed do not understand why they are being required to keep working. “I do low value personal injury and property damage claims – how could I possibly be an essential worker?” one respondent asked, adding: “It seems like they are exploiting the system, I am disgusted.” 

Many of the interviews show workers afraid of contracting coronavirus after being forced to show up for work. “I’m 58 and have high blood pressure,” said one respondent who sells small investment products. “I just don’t want to die for £9.30 an hour.”

‘‘Only a few months ago I was ‘low skilled’’’

Many respondents expressed cynicism about the reasons they were being required to work.

“I’m going to work during a national lockdown as I am now described by the government as ‘essential’ when only a few months ago I was ‘low skilled’… it’s a joke,” said one respondent. 

A number also described dealing with queries they could do nothing about because other parts of the economy had shut down. Many said they had little or no work, but were still being made to come in, describing being assigned non-urgent tasks such as “tidying up spreadsheets” and “admin work from 8 years ago”.

“All we are saying to customers is ‘I am sorry your engineer cannot come out to your property due to the virus’. We are not actually helping people with necessary issues at this moment,” said one respondent.

“I have spoken with no vulnerable customers, and I haven’t helped anyone with their service,” added another.

Others expressed frustration at being asked to defend the behaviour of their employers. “Customers call up distressed because we have cut off their phone and they need to contact vulnerable family members,” said one. “I have cried and had to leave my desk because I felt so ashamed that we had barred their phone”.

The research also indicates that people with underlying health conditions, whom the NHS has deemed at ‘high risk’ from coronavirus, are continuing to show up for work.

“We are scared,” one respondent said. “There are people who fall in the 12 week [‘high risk’]  isolation bracket who are being told to come into work.”

Another said: “They’re playing Russian roulette with our lives”. 

‘Invisible front line’

Professor Taylor at Strathclyde University said: “Call centre workers work on a largely invisible front line, many now providing essential services – but many not.”

“Hidden from public view too are the serious hazards that so very many are now facing from potential exposure to Covid-19.”

“Even where social distancing is in place it is virtually impossible to implement effectively – and profound concerns exist over sanitisation and cleanliness; most acutely manifest in that perennial bugbear of hot desking.” 

“Combining these hazards with air conditioning systems in sealed buildings circulating re-used air leads huge numbers of call-handlers to be justifiably fearful.”

He added that most call centre work could be done from home, but few firms have adopted this. “There is some best practice where organisations have been seriously committed to making their workers secure through homeworking,” he said, urging that these measures be “widely emulated”. 

‘Urgent letter’ to the Business Secretary

Responding to this research, Liberal Democracy leadership contender Layla Moran has written to Business Secretary Alok Sharma. In a letter seen by openDemocracy, the Oxford West MP asks:

“What action is being taken by the government to protect call centre workers”; “what sanctions has the government introduced for those companies which fail to follow social distancing guidelines in such premises?” and “Will you commit to looking specifically at the question of call centres and their workers and what can be done to stop them becoming major centres of transmission?”.

Shadow worker rights minister Andy McDonald said: “The government’s guidance must be strictly implemented and enforced, in the interests of workers’ safety and to protect public health”. He called for union representatives to be involved to ensure “workplaces are safe to work in now and when we emerge from this crisis.”

Labour MP Clive Lewis MP also commented on the survey, saying: “This research demonstrates what many call centre workers already knew: that many work for companies with little regard for their well being.” 

“Hardly surprising in a sector where major trade unions to this day still campaign ‘for easy access to drinking water’ for call centre staff, where ‘surveillance capitalism’ in the form of software programs monitor everything from toilet breaks to time spent on a call.” 

“This government should give the health and safety executive real teeth and real resources to close any non-essential operations down and force them to furlough their workers on full pay. Anything less fails to take the COVID-19 threat seriously.”

Responding to questions from openDemocracy about unsafe workplaces, a UK government spokesman said there was no intention to follow the Welsh and Scottish government’s example to legislate to enforce social distancing at work, and that “there is no guidance that implies only essential work can continue.”

“I imagine that there will be a number of legal cases when this is all over”, he added.

The Strathclyde University research is ongoing. Any call centre workers can complete the survey here


East Devon beaches dog ban comes into force despite pleas to suspend it

According to an East Devon spokesperson: “A particularly successful control has been the one which requires all dogs to be on leads on roads and pavements, and this has led to a decline in incidents where dogs worry walkers, runners and cyclists.”

Owl understands this but would like to point out that in the current pandemic crisis, walkers can also be worried by thoughtless runners and cyclists weaving in and out of them in well used pedestrian areas.

See: Lawrence Ostlere   “Analysis of exhaled droplets in wind tunnels, conducted by universities in Belgium and Netherlands, concluded that the typical guidance to keep 2m apart is “very effective” when standing still, either indoors or in calm weather, but is inadequate when exercising in the direct path of other members of the public.

The paper, entitled Social Distancing v2.0: During Walking, Running and Cycling, found walkers should keep at least 4m clear when following others, runners should stay 10m from one another other, and fast cyclists should ride as much as 20m apart, in order to avoid passing through “droplet clouds” from others exercising.”

East Devon Reporter 

A dog ban has come into force on East Devon beaches today (Friday, May 1) – despite pleas for the restrictions to be suspended during coronavirus lockdown.

District council bosses say ‘a number’ of residents had asked for the move to be delayed, however, legislation does not allow for it.

They added that coastlines had been ‘very quiet’ during April and the views of those who do not wish to be bothered by canines also had to be considered.

Four-legged friends are now not allowed on parts of beaches in Exmouth, Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Seaton and Beer. 

The seasonal dog ban, which runs until September 30,  is part of East Devon District Council’s Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs).

These have been renewed as of today and will last for a further three years.

The PSPOs also prohibit the feeding of seagulls on beaches and seafronts and help police tackle antisocial behaviour in the centres of Exmouth and Sidmouth.

An EDDC spokesperson said: “A number of local residents have asked if parts of the orders can be suspended during the coronavirus lockdown, particularly the part relating to the beach bans.

“The council has considered this request, but the legislation does not permit suspensions and officers have noted that the beaches have been very quiet during April, when dogs are not banned.

“The council also must consider the view of the many members of the public who like to come to the beaches without worrying about being bothered by dogs.

“Therefore, suspending this part of the order would have no effect, and would lead to confusion when the lockdown is relaxed or lifted.

“Since the orders were introduced, the Environmental Health team has noticed a very high level of compliance and the numbers of enquiries about nuisance dogs, dogs on beaches, dog fouling and worries about seagulls have declined over the past three years.

“Where necessary, fixed penalty notices have been issued and formal legal action has been taken against three offenders.

“A particularly successful control has been the one which requires all dogs to be on leads on roads and pavements, and this has led to a decline in incidents where dogs worry walkers, runners and cyclists.”



More mixed Covid-19 messages from the leaders in the US


Following President Trump’s “sarcastic” suggestions on injecting disinfectant, we have Vice President Pence threatening to punish the reporter who proved his office ignored the rule that he needed a mask to visit the Mayo Clinic.

Tom Porter

US Vice President Mike Pence’s office threatened to punish a reporter who exposed that it knew Pence was supposed to wear a face mask for his visit to the Mayo Clinic on Tuesday.

Pence, who leads the White House’s coronavirus task force, has been widely criticized for flouting official guidance and not wearing a mask during his visit to the renowned clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Karen Pence, the vice president’s wife, has defended her husband, saying in a Fox News interview on Thursday that he was unaware of the clinic’s rule requiring visitors to wear a mask or face covering.

But in a tweet on Thursday, the Voice of America reporter Steve Herman said Pence’s office knew all along about the face-mask rule.

“All of us who traveled with him were notified by the office of @VP the day before the trip that wearing of masks was required by the @MayoClinic and to prepare accordingly,” he wrote.

Herman later told The Washington Post that the White House Correspondents’ Association told him Pence’s office had barred him from traveling on Air Force Two, the vice president’s plane.

The Post reported that Pence’s office alleged Herman had violated an off-the-record agreement by publicizing a planning document for the visit; for security purposes, such documents are not typically made public.

Pence’s office later told VOA that it had not finalized the ban but was considering imposing punishment if Herman or VOA did not apologize for sharing the information, The Post reported.

Brett Bruen, the White House director of global engagement in the Obama administration, tweeted that the planning information for the hospital visit was in the public domain and not off the record.

Amid the fallout from his Mayo Clinic visit, Pence was pictured wearing a mask during a visit to a hospital in Indiana on Thursday.


Jeremy Hunt wants more money for social care now, but he was in charge for years

The UK’s longest serving Secretary of State for Health says the coronavirus pandemic has brought home the importance of social care to all.

Many people were aware of this before the pandemic, Mr Hunt, yet nothing was done., 1st May 2020, 

As Jeremy Hunt took to the airwaves on Friday morning and praised care workers for looking after the 410,000 people who live in care homes, one can imagine what everyone working in the sector listening to his comments made of them.

When asked whether he would support increased spending in social care, Mr Hunt said: “I will certainly be asking for a proper settlement for the social care sector, because I think that’s something that we all recognise needs to happen, but I also think the Government will want to do that.”

Mr Hunt is, of course, the man who put “Social Care” into the Department of Health and Social Care, when it was renamed in January 2018 – in recent times it always has been technically responsible for social care but the change was supposed to be more than symbolic. As a result, he took over the preparation of the government’s policy paper (known as a green paper) on social care, announced in the March 2017 Budget and due in the summer of 2018.

In the UK, publicly funded social care is mainly paid for by local councils, not the NHS. Local authority spending on adult social care in England fell 8 per cent in real terms between 2009–10 and 2016–17, according to a report by the Institute for Financial Studies, but was protected relative to spending on other local authority services.

The population has been growing, so spending on adult social services per adult fell by 13.5 per cent in England over the same period. This does not take into account that the population is ageing, which will have put additional pressure on adult social care services.

‘Some cuts went too far’

In June last year, as Foreign Secretary and standing against Boris Johnson for the Tory leadership, Mr Hunt admitted during a live debate that “some of the cuts in social care did go too far”. Now he wants a “proper settlement” for the sector.

“One thing that this terrible crisis has brought home to us is the importance of the social care sector,” he said on Friday morning, going on to describe how care workers “put their lives at risk to do incredibly important work, often at very low pay”.

Many people were aware of this before the pandemic, Mr Hunt, yet nothing was done.


A cavalier Tory leader and a botched pandemic response? It must be 1957 

Is Boris following the same script? Haven’t we avoided the worst-case scenario of 500,000 dead by burrowing under the alpine mountain? Aren’t things definitely getting better? Lesson here for the Opposition.

Some of Owl’s followers will remember the Asian ‘flu pandemic.

Andy Beckett 

Harold Macmillan was British prime minister from 1957 to 1963. A charming Tory with a patchy record, he’s usually remembered for saying that during his government Britons had “never had it so good” in their standard of living. What has been forgotten, almost completely, is that he said this in the middle of a pandemic.

Macmillan made his claim on 20 July 1957, at a party rally in Bedford. Like Boris Johnson, he was a new premier with a preference for optimistic public statements. In 1957, the British economy was actually quite fragile, and Macmillan acknowledged this in his speech, but the idea that Tory rule kept Britain prosperous and safe was central to his premiership. As now, the party had already been in power for years, and needed to present a Labour government as a terrible risk.

The pandemic, of a new strain of flu, had started in China the previous winter. During the first half of 1957 it steadily moved across Asia and then the rest of the world, killing hundreds of thousands of people, to the alarm of the world’s media, including the British press. In June, the first cases appeared in Britain. Yet that month, and again in July, Macmillan’s health secretary, Dennis Vosper, refused to make a public statement setting out the threat the flu posed, arguing that it was not spreading in the UK.

By August, the virus was all over north-west England. Macmillan finally began to pay attention. He asked another health minister, John Vaughan-Morgan, for his department’s view of the situation. Vaughan-Morgan replied: “The general assessment seems to be that eventually [the flu] will affect up to 20% of the population.” But he insisted that the virus was more a public relations than a medical problem: “This is a heaven-sent topic for the press during the ‘silly season’.”

The government advised those with symptoms to stay at home, but otherwise took little national action as the flu spread right across the country during the autumn, instead leaving it to local medical officials to work out what to do. In some areas, schools were closed, but few sporting events or other mass gatherings were cancelled. In October, the peak of the outbreak in Britain, the Conservative party conference went ahead as usual. Macmillan’s speech didn’t mention the pandemic.

The outbreak continued into the winter, and ultimately may have killed more than 30,000 Britons. Senior medical figures were horrified at Britain’s performance. John Corbett McDonald of the public health laboratory service wrote to Ian Watson of the Royal College of General Practitioners: “Although we have had [over] 30 years to prepare for what should be done in the event of an influenza pandemic” – since the previous one in 1918 – “we have all been rushing around trying to improvise [solutions]. We can only hope that … at the end it may be possible to construct an adequate explanation of what happened.”

Many critics of Johnson over coronavirus are hoping for a similar reckoning. The government is expecting one, too, judging by its goalpost-shifting rhetoric, such as the prime minister’s highly selective boast this week that Britain had “defied so many predictions” about the impact of the virus.

But for Johnson’s critics, the fate of Macmillan’s government in the aftermath of the 1957 pandemic is not a reassuring precedent. During the later months of the crisis – not a point the government has reached yet – the Tories’ poll ratings did fall sharply. But by the time the next general election came, in 1959, the pandemic had receded. The Labour manifesto didn’t even raise the government’s handling of it. The Conservatives talked up their economic record instead, and won easily, increasing their Commons majority to 100.

In Britain, it remains disconcertingly easy – and a sign of how lopsided our democracy is – for Tory governments responsible for disasters to change the subject. The rightwing bias of the press, worse now than in the 1950s, as there are fewer left-leaning papers, is the obvious villain. But equally important is a reluctance from voters to face up to the sheer scale of what the Conservatives have sometimes got wrong.

The 1957 flu catastrophe came the year after the disastrous British military intervention at Suez – also under the Conservatives, and supported by Macmillan – which destroyed much of Britain’s credibility as a world power. Similarly, the British coronavirus failure closely follows the Tories’ chaotic Brexit U-turns and hugely counterproductive austerity. Yet in both eras, many voters have avoided coming to the unsettling conclusion that, quite often, their default ruling class simply isn’t up to the job. It’s more comforting to believe, as Johnson promised this week, that after its latest calamity, “the UK will emerge stronger than ever before”.

Our national myth often revolves around recovery from disaster. In this narrative, failures by the state – such as the second world war setbacks that led to Dunkirk – just create opportunities for future, greater successes. As a politician preoccupied by history, and not very good at governing, Johnson understands this well. His much-admired optimism is really a form of cynicism: as he blunders through the present, he keeps the possibility of better times for Britain in the future floating perpetually in the distance, like a mirage.

Can the Tories’ cynical optimism and evasions of responsibility ever be effectively pointed out? They can if Labour has a sharp enough leader. In 1957, Macmillan was mocked in parliament for his “never had it so good” speech by the shadow chancellor. With deft sarcasm, Harold Wilson called the speech “remarkable”. Wilson became Labour leader in 1963, as Macmillan’s supposed economic miracle finally petered out, and won four of the next five elections. Keir Starmer might do well to get some old tapes of him out.


Sidmouth’s Rock Armour exposed by the wrong sort of wind.

The rock armour installed in the 1990s to help protect Sidmouth’s fragile coastline was exposed last week by the easterlies.

Time to call in King Canute or will Sidmouth have to make do with Stuart Hughes?

How Sidmouth seafront has changed to try and stop flooding and erosion

Daniel Clark – Local Democracy Reporter 

Easterly storm conditions over the Winter led to a drop in beach levels and saw shingle moved from the beach to completely cover the slipway at the York Steps, blocking access to the beach. The large boulders, installed in the 1990’s to help protect the sea wall, had subsequently become exposed.

Following storms in the early 1990s which washed away much of the shingle beach protecting the sea wall, the rock armour was part of a package of measures to protect the town from flooding and erosion, with two rock breakwaters, three rock groynes, and tons of pebbles were trucked in to replace the beach.

But the winter storms that caused the bizarre phenomenon and frequent cliff falls which have seen large chunks of the cliff at Pennington Point on the town’s East Beach give way have highlighted the need for more protection.

Plans are being developed to try and protect the cliffs and the town, with the preferred beach management scheme consisting of adding a new rock groyne on East Beach and importing new shingle onto Sidmouth Beach, as well as increasing the height of the splash wall on the seafront.

However, a £1m funding gap has still not been met – and if the funds cannot be found by August 2020 – or December 2020 at the very latest – a cheaper, and perhaps inferior scheme will have to be worked up instead.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service takes a look at what work has already been carried out to protect Sidmouth and what the future plans include.

The history of flood events and erosion on Sidmouth dates all the way back to the 1820s, with literature reviewed as part of the Devon Tidal Flood Warning Report showing Sidmouth was affected by the “great gale” that affected large parts of the south coast of England in November 1824; with both coastal erosion and flooding of properties reported at Sidmouth.

As a result, between 1825-1826, timber groynes and breastwork were built, and in 1835, the first seawall followed. Further work took place in 1917 where the seawall was repaired and extended, and the following year, the River Sid training wall was replaced with a structure that acted as terminal groyne, and in 1957, a seawall and promenade built to protect Connaught Gardens.

But in addition to wave overtopping impacts and associated flooding, coastal erosion has been a regular occurrence over the years, and along the Sidmouth town frontage, this resulted in the seawall failing at various times; including incidents over the winter 1989/90 which precipitated the construction of the 1990s current coastal defence scheme

Phase 1, in 1991, saw work on the Sidmouth Coast Protection Scheme begin, with the encasing of the old seawall, the building of a low level rock apron and removal of the timber groynes.

A rock revetment was placed along the frontage as emergency works in 1993, while 1994 saw the rock revetment placed in front of the 1957 Connaught Gardens seawall.

Then, in 1995, Phase 2 of the work began. This included the two offshore breakwaters, two rock groynes (York and East), and the Beach recharge which buried the rock revetment built in 1993 – the revetment that this week was revealed again.

The Clifton Walkway built which connects the main beach with Jacobs Ladder was built in 1999, and in 2000, Phase 3 was completed with the Bedford groyne and some beach sediment recycling along the frontage. More beach recycling took place in 2015 to re-distribute beach sediment along the Sidmouth Town beach.

But while, bar occasional instances of wave overtopping, the frontage of the town has been mainly been protected, the erosion at Pennington Point has continued apace with cliff falls aplenty.

A pair of massive landslips in the space of a few weeks in 2013 decimated around 15 metres of gardens along Cliff Road, while storms of February 2017 saw a garden shed fall off the cliff and smash onto the beach during a devastating landslip.

April 2018 saw five cliff falls in a week, while 2020 has seen ‘frequent and unprecedented’ amounts, according to Cllr Stuart Hughes.

Resident Paul Griew, of the Cliff Road Action Group, had previously said: “If Pennington Point goes another four or five metres, the River Sid will become the sea.

“If we then have a high tide and a south-easterly gale, water will rush over the river wall and flood across the Ham – and Sidmouth will be under water.

“It is estimated that such a flood will cause £72million of damage to people’s homes and businesses which won’t be able to run.

“Something needs to be done or Sidmouth is going to be flooded.”


Along the East Beach part of the frontage, there are no existing defences, and as the erosion is now posing a risk to the eastern side of Sidmouth, the Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan was developed.

It has three aims – to maintain the 1990’s Sidmouth Coastal Defence Scheme Standard of Service, to reduce the rate of beach and cliff erosion to the east of the River Sid (East Beach), and carry out them in an integrated, justifiable and sustainable way.

The plans would not stop cliff falls but would reduce the erosion from the toe of the cliffs, which would reduce the erosion rates.

The preferred plan for Sidmouth would involve beach replenishment, periodic beach recycling, a new rock groyne on East Beach, raising the height of the splash wall, and repairs to the River Sid training wall.

The groyne will help keep shingle from being moved eastwards away from the vulnerable cliffs and the higher splash wall will capture water coming over the sea wall to prevent flooding in the town centre.

The splash wall would have to be raised by around 1m, but local residents had called the initial stone wall design ‘hideous’ and ‘an eyesore that would mean the picturesque view of the Esplanade would disappear’.

As a result East Devon District Council had been exploring the possible use of a ‘glass sea wall’. The temporary glass panel was installed on Sidmouth seafront in February and survived both Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis, but failed to survive ‘Storm Vandal’ when it was smashed with a sledgehammer.

A council spokesman said that the new act of vandalism jeopardises the trial and has implications for the installation of a glass panel along the entire seafront to help protect Sidmouth from coastal flooding.

They added: “The damage has been reported and we will work with the Police and seek a prosecution if possible.

“The trial of the panel is due to finish at the end of April and the glass appeared to be holding up well, having weathered the impact of three major storms. In light of its robustness to date it is therefore disappointing and immensely frustrating that it has succumbed to this malicious and destructive act.

“This new act of vandalism jeopardises an important part of the Sidmouth Beach Management Scheme, and sadly has implications for the installation of a glass panel along the entire seafront to help protect Sidmouth from coastal flooding.

“If a glass panel is going to be subject to repeated damage by vandals, then it will not be sustainable. We will now have to consider very carefully, whether the use of glass panels to minimise the visual impact of the splash defence is a material option that the council can take forward.”

Cllr Geoff Jung, portfolio holder for the environment at East Devon, added: “The test panel of glass may have provided a possible solution to the required protection for the Sidmouth and East Beach management plan that would have protected residents and properties from serious overtopping along the seafront.

“It is clear the panel was up to the task of resisting shingle and storms, but sadly failed to withstand vandalism. The vandalism of the panel now casts doubt on its use in the final scheme.”


Constant Easterly storms over the winter, rather than the usual South-Westerly storms, had led to the breakwaters and rock groynes being less effective than planned and saw the shingle transported along the beach and up the slipway.

Over the weekend East Devon District Council officers had taped off the slipway, but access to the beach has since been restored following the StreetScene team clearing away shingle.

An East Devon District Council spokesman said what happened was as a result of a ‘natural process’ which had exposed the rock armour, but that they expected to see the shingle re-established on the beach.

Explaining what had caused the shingle to cover the slipway, the council spokesman said: “The shingle on the slipway was brought in during storms, which moved the shingle off the beach and up on to the concrete slipway.

“This natural process has exposed the rock armour, which acts as a secondary defence to protect the sea wall. Our StreetScene team moved the shingle this morning, so bar some stormy weather, we’re hoping the slipway should stay clear now.

“Over the winter shingle has been drawn down off the beach due to easterly storm conditions, which has resulted in a drop in beach levels. Now that the prevailing wind direction is returning to the normal south westerly direction, we expect to see shingle re-established on the beach.

“We urge people to take care when using the slipway to access the beach, as the shingle cover is still lower than normal and the rock armour is clearly in evidence.

“The long standing Sidmouth BMP is seeking to establish improved protection in the longer term Including some beach recharge.”


The draft outline business case has already been prepared, but needs full funding information before it can be submitted, and a deadline of August 2020 was agreed by the Steering Group in which to source the outstanding finance.

After which time an alternative plan, involving only the town frontage, would be worked up and submitted for funding approval.

Costs for construction of the scheme are estimated at £8.9million, with around £1 million still needed to be found.

If the funding cannot be raised after December 2020, the council will have to review the project aims and possible management scheme options.


Additional offshore breakwaters had been discussed as part of the project and although the breakwaters they may present a more robust solution technically, they would come at almost double the cost.

Two previous attempts for a rock revetment on East Beach had also been proposed but planning applications were subsequently withdrawn following recommendation for refusal.

Objections from multiple agencies, including Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Jurassic Coast Team and the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, had been registered, as the BMP has been undertaken to consider theoptions which are more likely to receive planning and marine consents.

Rock armouring had been considered and while the design itself of the rock armour may be simpler, it’s unlikely to significantly reduce the programme going forwards and there is the additional risk for a rock armouring scheme because the Outline Business Case may not be approved, as the Environment Agency may have insufficient confidence that the scheme would get planning (and marine planning) consent.