Keeping planning democratic: planning for a pandemic, planning for beyond – CPRE,

CPRE calls for action to keep planning democratic – EDDC is operating behind closed doors – Owl

In the wake of new measures brought in to help build quickly during the coronavirus pandemic, we’re calling on the government to make sure local communities are still able to play their role in our planning system.

The government recently made some changes to the way local planning works to make sure it can respond quickly to public health needs during the coronavirus pandemic. This has enabled buildings such as the Nightingale hospitals to be set up within a fortnight. Naturally, these unusual times called for unusual measures – but we want to make sure that changes made to the planning system aren’t abused in the short term or undermine community-led planning in the future.

A robust, functional planning system is important because it ensures we build quality infrastructure in the places we need, use land efficiently and safeguard the countryside for all of us.

‘Planning ensures that the right development happens in the right place at the right time, benefitting communities and the economy. It plays a critical role in identifying what development is needed and where, what areas need to be protected or enhanced and in assessing whether proposed development is suitable.’ (Plain English Guide to the Planning System,

Planning for a post-pandemic world

Right now, people’s health has quite rightly been put first. But there are already signs that these new powers are being misused in some areas. Some planning meetings have been closed to the public (as reported by CPRE London) and large decisions that would normally be made by a panel of elected councillors are instead being taken behind closed doors by officers. Unless the government moves quickly to make sure the public can still engage with planning committees on major decisions, there’s a risk of undermining our planning system permanently.

The government’s new rules do give opportunities to help open ‘virtual planning committees’ to more people by taking them online. We’d like to see the government direct councils to take advantage of that technology to give them the best chance of making decisions that are best for communities. Normally, people can engage with the planning system to help positively shape the future of their area by providing insight and expertise on things such as proposed developments happening nearby.

Take action

This public oversight is the heartbeat of our democratic planning system. We’re calling on the government to make sure all major planning decisions can be scrutinised as normal, with members of the public given the right and opportunities to speak up. Doing this well will require an increased effort to include those who might not have access to digital technology.

We’d really like it if you can add your voice to ours. Please click here now to ask your MP to defend our democratic planning system.


Second home owners told to stay away from Exmouth this weekend

The Leader of East Devon District Council, councillor Ben Ingham, is asking second home owners, day trippers and holiday makers to stay away from Exmouth and the rest of East Devon over the Spring Bank Holiday.

Joseph Bulmer 

He is concerned that visitors and day trippers may be tempted to visit East Devon on the bank holiday and create a spike in Coronavirus cases in the South West, which has so far been spared the high number of cases seen elsewhere.

He is also reaching out to East Devon residents to ask them to continue to respect Government guidance, which is:

-To only leave or be away from your home for very limited purposes, such as shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible

-One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household

-Any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid injury or illness, escape risk of harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person

-For travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home.

The government has stressed that even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent away from the home and ensuring that you are two metres apart from anyone outside of your household.

Councillor Ingham’s message: “I would personally like to thank all the people who have so far been respecting the lock down guidance. It is clearly paying off as we have not seen the large number of cases here, which other parts of the country have experienced.

“I’d like to thank all the second home owners and tourists who, by staying away during the previous bank holiday, have helped protect our communities, our vulnerable residents and kept the pressure off our local services.

“But I must ask you again to please keep up the good work and to continue to stay at home in your primary residence, in your home county. Doing this will prevent the spread of coronavirus, it will protect your health and the health of loved ones and it will save lives.

“We will see you again when it is safe for us and you, but in the meantime please don’t come to East Devon. Thank you.

“For our local residents, my message is clear. Don’t be tempted to break the rules, please keep local and take your daily exercise close to your home.

“We are fortunate to have many parks and open spaces, which are now open again, bar a number of small parks which we feel will be difficult for the public to maintain robust social distancing within. However, parks should be used for essential exercise and not for sunbathing, picnics, barbeques or sports – doing this puts everyone’s health at risk.

“If you are exercising, please stay local and avoid areas when busy. Always maintain a 2metre distance from others. If you don’t observe social distancing or congregate in our parks, we may be forced to close them again. So please don’t be tempted to break the rules.”


The Comforting and Misleading Political Response to Britain’s Coronavirus Disaster

Yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald – so today for comparison (if you’re not entirely done with reading history in the making) the take from the New Yorker – very different style.

Sam Knight 

On Sunday, the toll from Britain’s outbreak of COVID-19 surpassed twenty-eight thousand deaths. You don’t need a graph, or to argue about the methodological niceties of how governments count their dead, to understand that the United Kingdom has had a terrible encounter with the virus. Britain has an internationally respected public-health apparatus. In October, 2016, the government ran Exercise Cygnus, a simulation of how a global influenza pandemic would overwhelm the nation’s health system and ravage the economy. Last year, Britain’s National Security Risk Assessment highlighted the risk of a mutated-flu outbreak as one of the worst—and most likely—risks facing the country, as well as the possibility of “an emerging respiratory coronavirus infection” arriving in the U.K. The Department of Health continues to describe Britain as “one of the most prepared countries in the world for pandemics.” And yet. In the weeks after December 30th, last year, when Chinese officials first informed the World Health Organization of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, the U.K. made no striking plans to respond. Even as the virus tore through Northern Italy, and the British authorities had a chance to see, at relatively close quarters, what COVID-19 could do to a prosperous European society, they dithered. Countries such as Germany, South Korea, and Singapore, which have responded well to the virus, all appear to have followed a similar playbook of mass testing, contact tracing, and collective vigilance. Each nation that has failed is more likely to have its own particular story of what went wrong. We are unhappy in our own way.

In Britain, the most obvious misstep by Boris Johnson’s government was its hesitation to implement a national lockdown to slow the spread of the virus. During February and the early part of March, Johnson and his Cabinet embraced and then abandoned the concept of herd immunity. On March 13th, Graham Medley, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who is the government’s chief modeller of the pandemic, told the BBC that in an ideal world there would be “a nice big epidemic” among the healthy part of the population. “What we are going to have to try and do, ideally, is . . . manage this acquisition of herd immunity and minimize the exposure of people who are vulnerable,” he said. Ministers quickly denied that this was the strategy, because it entailed the risk of two hundred and fifty thousand deaths, but Johnson did not switch to stringent quarantine measures until March 23rd. There was a directionless, ten-day period in which the virus was able to circulate more or less freely. Soccer matches and horse-racing festivals went ahead. Johnson joked about shaking people’s hands. Thousands of people became infected and later died. The reasons behind this drift are complex and contested. Since the start of the crisis, Britain’s politicians have sworn that they were following “the science,” even when it was clear that they were latching onto concepts, such as herd immunity and behavioral fatigue (in which people would supposedly tire of social-distancing measures), because they liked the sound of them. At the same time, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, a revolving panel of some twenty experts, and its various specialist subcommittees, also appears to have given advice that was politically viable rather than aimed solely at saving lives.

But Britain’s slow lockdown offers only a partial explanation for what has followed. Germany shut down one day earlier but has had around a quarter of the deaths from COVID-19, among a larger and older population. On March 12th, the U.K. gave up on testing for the coronavirus outside hospitals. By April 1st, of the National Health Service’s half a million front-line health-care workers, only two thousand had been tested. (More than a hundred have now died.) In late March, Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, told reporters that large-scale testing and tracing—as was being practiced successfully in South Korea and Singapore—was not suitable for the U.K. “There comes a point in a pandemic where that is not an appropriate intervention,” she said.

There has been a curious mixture of superiority and fatalism about Britain’s entire response to COVID-19. Officials have maintained that the country has “a perfectly adequate supply” of personal protective equipment, but this has never been the case. Last week, the Royal College of Physicians reported that about a third of doctors performing “aerosol-generating procedures” did not always have access to either visors or surgical gowns. On May 3rd, a survey of sixteen thousand doctors found that forty-eight per cent had bought or obtained pieces of P.P.E. outside official channels. Among the wider population, polls show that around eighty per cent of people believe that the lockdown should continue. This is sometimes taken as approval of the government’s handling of the crisis. But it is unclear how much support for the lockdown derives from fear. During March, the number of patients coming to emergency rooms across England fell by twenty-nine per cent. The number of people who were treated for suspected heart attacks fell by half.

As in other countries, the death toll from COVID-19 has been mapped onto existing inequalities. Residents of the most deprived communities in England and Wales have died from the disease at more than twice the rate of those who live in the wealthiest. Once age and geography have been taken into consideration, patients with Pakistani or black African heritage who have been treated for COVID-19 have died at roughly three times the rate of white patients. While the N.H.S. has not been overwhelmed by the outbreak, in April the country’s care-home system reported three thousand and ninety-six deaths in the space of seven days. After the 2008 financial crisis, public funding for adult social care in England fell by about fifteen per cent and has still not recovered. “We only knew about the first case because there was a sign on the door saying not to go in without a mask on,” an elder-care assistant told the Manchester Evening News last week, about an outbreak in her facility. When she started a recent shift, there were two masks for six carers. The other four wore towels on their faces. “We have to lie to families and tell them they were settled, comfortable and peaceful. We can’t tell the truth because it will break their hearts even more,” another nurse told the newspaper. “They have temperatures which create hallucinations, they are extremely agitated. They see people, animals, they try to grab out.”

Johnson’s government has done its utmost to frame the coronavirus like any other political challenge. Since the election of Tony Blair’s media-savvy New Labour administration, in the late nineties, there has been a sort of manual that British politicians have followed when faced with an insuperable problem. One technique is to invent objective-sounding “tests” for awkward decisions. In 1997, Blair’s chancellor, Gordon Brown, devised “five tests” for joining Europe’s single currency, which Britain somehow never quite passed. Another approach is to declare a bold, eye-catching target and make that the story. In 2010, David Cameron promised that he would reduce the number of migrants coming to the U.K. to fewer than a hundred thousand per year, something that he had neither the means nor the inclination to achieve. On April 16th, Johnson’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, duly set out the five tests for easing the lockdown, at least one of which—avoiding a second wave of infections that swamps the N.H.S.—seems like a hopeful guess, at best. Last week, the British media feverishly covered the race to perform a hundred thousand coronavirus tests per day by the end of April, the distracting goal set by Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary. (The target was met by putting some fifty thousand tests in the mail on April 30th.) When outlets have investigated the government’s poor handling of the pandemic, they have been accused of bias and misreading the public mood. Last weekend, the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, complained to the BBC about its reporting on the shortage of P.P.E.


VIDEO: Hembury Fort captured by drone

Now for something different. You can get an Owl’s view of one of the most spectacular Iron age “hill forts” in East Devon, though in the daylight.

Hembury is the most northern of s series of Iron Age “forts” or “high status” sites straddling the Otter which run from: High Peak, Woodbury, Sidbury,  Belbury to Hembury. View the site and enjoy a virtual day out by clicking the link below to Honiton nub news 

VIDEO: Hembury Fort captured by drone

Hannah Corfield 


Quicker testing would have been ‘beneficial’ says chief scientific adviser

The UK’s chief scientific adviser has told MPs it would have been “beneficial” to have ramped up testing for coronavirus quicker.

Understatement – Owl?

Angharad Carrick 

Sir Patrick Vallance told the Commons Health Select Committee that testing alone would not control the virus. The UK government moved away from contact tracing and testing in the community before lockdown started.

Instead, ministers focused their efforts on testing patients with symptoms of coronavirus in hospitals, care homes and prisons.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said that “things would have been done differently” if testing capacity had not been limited.

Speaking to MPs, Vallance said: “I think that probably we, in the early phases, and I’ve said this before, I think if we’d managed to ramp testing capacity quicker it would have been beneficial.”

“And, you know, for all sorts of reasons that didn’t happen. “I think it’s clear you need lots of testing for this, but to echo what Jenny Harries has said, it’s completely wrong to think of testing as the answer.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock today announced a goal of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April. The government initially succeeded but has struggled to hit the target in recent days.

It came as the government rolled out the NHS contact-tracing app for the first time today. Key workers on the Isle of Wight are the first to trial the new smartphone app from today, and will be made available to the rest of the island on Thursday.

The app is an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19 by informing people if they have been in contact with someone who later reports they have virus symptoms.

The technology relies on a large uptake by the population, so the government will be encouraging as many smartphone users as possible to download the contact-tracing app.


This is what a return to the office will be like when the lockdown lifts

Right now, offices around the UK are sitting empty while most of us work from home. But when lockdown lifts and workplaces are told they can start bringing employees back, they will return to a very strange environment.

Francesca Perry

Government guidelines shared with businesses and unions this weekend gave a glimpse of what is yet to come. Hot desking will be curtailed and employees will be kept two meters away from each other with sticky tape on the floor; lifts will remain half empty and face-to-face meetings will be banned. Working hours will be staggered to reduce the amount of people in the office at any given time, and office canteens will be kept shut.

After coronavirus, the open-plan office format has suddenly become more risky than revolutionary; especially in light of previous studies which suggest the format results in a 62 per cent increase in sick leave. A recent survey from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) reported that 39 per cent of workers are concerned about not being able to socially distance from colleagues when back at work. Now that barriers have become synonymous with protection from infection, could we see a return of the cubicle-style office – or are there other ways to achieve workplace safety?

The open-plan layout was designed for collaboration, not isolation. Rising to prominence in the early 2000s and spurred on by young tech firms like Google, the open office signalled an end to the ‘cubicle farm’ era. Though some companies still use cubicle working, most abandoned it; according to a 2019 Savills survey, 73 per cent of UK workers use an open-plan office. And over the years, the open-plan office has become denser. According to the British Council of Offices (BCO), the average space per workstation in the UK has dropped from 11.8 square metres in 2008 to 9.6 square metres in 2018, meaning employee proximity has only increased.

Although the government has yet to confirm when a post-coronavirus return to the office might happen, companies and workplaces have started strategising. WeWork produced a slick video and announcement outlining “what the future of work looks like as we face the new realities of a post Covid-19 world”. The co-working provider’s measures include increased cleaning, PPE for members, touch-free soap dispensers, behavioural and wayfinding signage, professional distancing standards and limitation of capacity in its lounges, working nooks and meeting rooms – but no cubicles.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has said employees will not return to offices until June at the earliest, and even then will do so in a staggered way. He also suggested the pandemic creates “an opportunity to reimagine how we work,” though Google has not announced details on what this entails.

Ken Cooper, Bloomberg LP’s global head of HR, says the majority of his company’s global workforce – including more than 95 per cent of UK-based employees – has been working from home since mid-March. “In London, we have introduced non-contact infrared temperature screening and are planning to adopt a gradual, phased approach to office return based on guidance from local authorities and our own risk assessment procedures.” Key considerations in Bloomberg’s operational strategy, Cooper explains, include re-configuring office movement, implementing social distancing across office floors and enhanced cleaning procedures.

Perkins + Will, a global architectural firm, recently announced its strategy for safer workplaces post-Covid, including a phased return to work, office capacity limits and distancing signage. “Instead of transitioning to a cubicle style of working, we will be using simple and cost-effective measures such as replanning our existing open-plan desks and re-organising circulation routes to allow for social distancing,” explains Linzi Cassels, principal and design director at its London studio. Some desks will be removed to reduce density and circulation routes will be redesigned to allow for one-way directional movement. “Adaptability will be key, with the ability for spaces to flex to accommodate future waves of pandemic,” says Cassels, “but this should be achievable through creative, yet uncomplicated, office design solutions.”

Global commercial real estate services firm Cushman and Wakefield has introduced the “6 Feet Office” concept to help its clients prepare for a return to the office that maintains physical distancing. Is this costly? “Clients are implementing different levels [of it],” says Nicola Gillen, head of total workplace EMEA. “Most are working with signage and graphics which is the cheapest approach with least intervention. Some are installing screens. Some are moving furniture out which involves labour costs and storage. Fewer are changing physical environments, which is the most costly.”

In fact, changes need not be physical at all. Using generative algorithms, global design firm Gensler has developed a digital tool for post-Covid workplace occupancy planning. Named ReRun, it uses the existing layout of a workplace to identify an optimal plan for assigning seating in order to accommodate safe physical distancing.

In April, the British Council of Offices released a briefing note on office design and operation after Covid-19. Its suggestions include automatic doors, reception screens, reconfigured meeting rooms, enhanced fresh air and touch-free devices. “Touchless devices do require investment,” explains Richard Kauntze, chief executive of BCO. “However, many of the immediate measures our paper suggests can be delivered for relatively little cost. Good hygiene practices are vitally important, however these can be enforced without significant cost – they’re more a question of effort and discipline.”

Office density is perhaps the biggest challenge for businesses returning to work. As fewer people are allowed to be in an office at any one time, companies will need to deploy rotas, explains Rosie Haslem, director at London-based design and research studio Spacelab, which has shaped workplaces for clients such as Virgin and Bauer Media. “In the shorter term for the return to work, we will need to ensure people can socially distance. This can be achieved through both management of people – such as flexible hours and rotas for how many people come into the office each day – and management of space, including reconfiguration or removal of desks and the closure of certain communal spaces. These things are low-cost ways of getting people back into work, quickly. Investment in technology to assist in the management of people flow and space occupancy, and to enable things to be ‘contactless’ may indeed follow – but arguably this is just an acceleration of pre-existing proptech trends.”

Regardless of what companies’ strategies are, we will not see a dramatic return to the cubicle, says corporate real estate consultant Anthony Slumbers, “at least not by anyone that wants a productive, effective workplace. The smart companies will use the Covid-19 tragedy to update and improve their workplaces. The worst companies will build cubicles.”

Some companies, however, have been buying in partitions and desk dividers – though none so far are announcing it. UK firm Panelscreens, which supplies office screens and partitions, has seen a 86 per cent month-on-month increase in revenue after the UK lockdown began. What’s more, its MOM average order value increased by 426 per cent. “The orders and enquiries we are getting are from large-scale businesses, who want quotes for multiple sites, where the volume of screens we’re being asked to quote on is over 5,000,” a representative explains. “These are not a cheap purchase on the volumes we are dealing with.”

The major change will be companies admitting that it is possible for their workforce to work remotely , says Matthew Blain, principle at design firm Hassell, which has designed offices for GSK and Sky. Preliminary findings from Spacelab show a large majority of workers (59 per cent) want to work from home at least two days per week in future. When asked their views on the most important future design considerations for the office, respondents prioritised the provision of technology that would enable “work anywhere” collaboration.

“Covid-19 has enforced a global working from home experiment which has accelerated long-term underlying trends in several areas,” says Gillen. “One of these is rethinking how and where we work and the idea that work has to be tied to an office. Many businesses are now fundamentally asking ‘Why do we go to the office?’ and therefore ‘What is the office for?’ It doesn’t make much sense for people or the planet for everyone to travel into city centres in order to work alone, two metres away from each other, at desks or in cubicles, every single day of the working week.

“The office should be a place we choose to come to for activities that are better done in person such as building relationships, learning, socialising, personal conversations and serendipitous interaction. That trend was already underway and we see it accelerating.”