PM ‘Helping Property Developer Mates’ With New Planning Reforms

Boris Johnson faced fresh claims that the Tory party is doing favours for its “housing developer mates” after he unveiled sweeping planning reforms to allow high street shops to be turned into housing.

Both Labour and the Council for the Protection of Rural England hit out after the prime minister used a speech in the West Midlands to set out “the most radical reforms of our planning system since the end of the second world war.” 

Under new rules, existing commercial premises including empty shops can be converted into residential housing without the need for permission, and local councils’ role in the planning system will be cut back.

As well as allowing more shops to be turned into homes in city centres, the changes will allow retail premises to be turned permanently into cafes or offices without a planning application or local authority approval.

Pubs, libraries, village shops and other categories essential to the lifeblood of communities will not be covered by the new “flexibilities” to Planning Use Orders.

Builders will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes.

Property owners will also be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.

The government argues that the changes, which are planned to come into effect by September, will both support the high street by allowing empty commercial properties to be quickly repurposed and also reduce the pressure to build on green field land.

In his speech, Johnson said “we are more slow” in housebuilding than in Germany or the Netherlands.

He said: “Covid has taught us the cost of delay. Why are we so slow at building homes by comparison with other European countries? In 2018 we built 2.25 homes per 1000 people. Germany managed 3.6, the Netherlands 3.8, France 6.8.

“I tell you why – because time is money, and the newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and the prosperity of this country and so we will build better and build greener but we will also build faster.”

The “newt-counting” remark appeared to be a reference to some housebuilding plans being delayed by wildlife habitat reviews.

Asked if he was prepared to take on ‘Nimby’ opponents of his planning changes, the PM replied: “Yes I can imagine there will be some people who want to object to this or that, but there always are. This country took 35 years to get Crossrail done. We need pace.”

But Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire said that the “land grab” away from councils and affordable homes towards developers could harm rather than help the struggling high street.

Affordable homes are typically added to developments so they comply with local planning regulations, but where councils no longer have a say over whether developments go ahead there is little incentive for this to continue.

A joint report by charity Shelter and estate agent Savills today warned that just 4,300 social homes were set to be built annually as the country recovered from coronavirus – not even enough to clear the waiting list in Wakefield, never mind nationwide.

And the reforms were all the more stark in the light of the Westferry “cash for favours” planning scandal involving housing secretary Robert Jenrick and tycoon Richard Desmond.

“The arrogance of Robert ‘three-homes’ Jenrick proposing a roll-out of ill-adapted rabbit hutches is staggering – permitted development has been shown to be a failure and this is just another example of the Tories doing favours for their property developer mates,” the shadow housing secretary said.

“Meanwhile, our climate change targets are urgent, and there are millions of existing homes which need insulation and energy efficiency.”

Johnson revealed that a new “policy paper” would be produced next month setting out comprehensive reform of England’s seven-decade old planning system, “to introduce a new approach that works better for our modern economy and society”.

Tom Fyans, policy and campaigns director at CPRE, the countryside charity, said deregulating planning and cutting up red tape would not deliver better quality housing.

“Our research has shown that three quarters of large housing developments are mediocre or poor in terms of their design and should not have been granted planning permission. Transferring decision making power from local councils and communities and handing them to developers is the exact opposite of building back better,” he said.

“The best way to deliver the places that we need, at the pace we need them, is to make it easier for local councils to get local plans in place, and then to hold developers to those plans. We need to make sure the voices of local communities are strengthened in shaping the homes and places that they will inherit.”

Is Boris the modern-day FDR? Not really.

The PM is not expected to set out a new approach to managing the British economy or to abandon the fixation with endless growth in favour of focusing on health and well-being.

Boris Johnson says he’ll tear up planning regulations in a bid to help Britain build its way out of the coronavirus crisis.

The Prime Minister will change the rules to allow commercial properties including office blocks to be converted into flats more easily.

But the move follows “horror stories” about tiny, cramped homes being created through office conversions – some less than 14 square metres.

Last year homelessness charity Shelter highlighted a property in Balham, South London – where a developer submitted an application to turn a two storey building into 26 ‘flats’.

Some of the homes shared an industrial skylight – but had no windows looking outwards.

Another building in Ilford was converted into 60 flats – with 42 of them described as “double studios” – but started at under 15 square metres.

And a converted block in Harlow was described as a “human warehouse” in a BBC report last year.

Changes to planning laws gave developers the power to turn offices into residential premises without seeking permission from local planning officers.

Unless there are demonstrable concerns about issues such as flooding or contamination, local councils have no power to stop them.

But the PM wants to make it even easier promising to “scythe through red tape and get things done.”

He added: “Time is money – and the newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and and the prosperity of our country.”

In his speech, Mr Johnson announced more buildings will be allowed to be converted into residential properties without applying for planning permission.

Builders will no longer be required to seek permission to demolish and rebuild vacant buildings, as long as they are rebuilt as homes.

And property owners will be able to ‘fast track’ approval to build upwards, above their properties – subject to “neighbour consultation.”

Number 10 say the new rules are planned to be in place by September, and will require a change in the law.

Lib Dem leadership candidate Layla Moran said: “The Tories are creating the homes but driving out employment, which is perverse, and it just means you are getting terribly unbalanced development, yet again.”

Here’s what else he promised in his speech

He pledged £5bn on capital investment projects, supporting jobs and economic recovery this financial year.

In comparison, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced £640bn of gross capital investment in the UK’s roads, railways, schools, hospitals and power networks over the next five years at the Budget in March.

The furlough scheme has already cost £22.9bn and the three main Covid-19 loan schemes for businesses have already cost more than £40bn.

Breakdown of the £5bn promises in full

  • ‘£1.5bn this year for hospital maintenance’ including to scrap mental health dorms and improve A&E capacity.
  • ‘£100m this year for 29 road network projects’ including bridge repairs in Sandwell, the A15 in the Humber and £10m for “development work” to unblock the Manchester rail bottleneck.
  • £1bn to fund first 50 projects in a ten-year school rebuilding programme .
  • ‘£560m and £200m for repairs and upgrades to schools and FE colleges respectively this year’.
  • ‘£142m for digital upgrades and maintenance to around 100 courts this year’
  • ‘£83m for maintenance of prisons’
  • ‘£60m for temporary prison places’
  • ‘£900m for a range of ‘shovel ready’ local growth projects in England over the course of this year and next’
  • ‘£96m for the Towns Fund this year’ – between £500,000 to £1m for each of the 101 towns selected for town deals with £500k-£1m to spend on projects such as improvements to parks, high streets, and transport.
  • ‘Further projects to be announced in due course’

Lockdown changes in England from July 4

What have we yet to hear about?


The £5bn is only a fraction of what the Government has said it wants to invest in infrastructure over the course of this Parliament.

There is little so far on planning and house-building – although we expect to hear more on this on Tuesday.

There is an urgent need for more focus on employment.

What about jobs?

With unemployment at a its highest level in a generation and the UK suffering the worst economic hit of all industrialised nations, it is essential the PM prioritises a plan for jobs.

It needs to include concrete action preventing further job losses and supporting future employment.

Labour leader Keir Starmer warned the country faced unemployment “the likes of which we haven’t seen for a generation” unless the Government acted urgently.

He called on the PM to introduce an emergency July budget as part of its “duty” to the thousands of people who have already lost their jobs amid the crisis.

Is it enough?

It’s an important start but many will argue that the £5bn doesn’t go far enough.

Of the money announced, £1bn has already been allocated to a ten-year schools rebuilding programme.

But the first projects will only start spadework in September 2021 and headteachers warn that there is a £6.7bn repairs backlog in England.

Another £1.5billion to be allocated this year to hospital maintenance – even though official figures suggest more than four times that is needed.

The PM may have more announcements up his sleeve but if not, critics will argue that he has failed to understand the size and the scale of the targeted investment needed at this pivotal moment.

Is he the modern-day FDR?

Not really.

As well as stimulating the economy after the Great Depression, FDR rewrote the economic rules of the US.

The PM is not expected to set out a new approach to managing the British economy or to abandon the fixation with endless growth in favour of focusing on health and well-being.

Hoping to boost the economy, UK PM Johnson unveils new planning rules

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled new planning rules on Tuesday to boost the number of homes and allow commercial premises to be repurposed more easily, part of a package to spur the coronavirus-hit economy. 

Johnson, whose popularity has flagged over his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, earlier promised to fast track 5-billion pound ($6.14 billion) of infrastructure spending to jump start the economy, which has been largely shut for three months.

Returning to the promises he made at last year’s election, he is targeting much of the spending at those areas in northern and central England, where many traditionally opposition Labour-supporters voted for the governing Conservatives.

The new planning regulations will give greater freedom for buildings and land in town centres to change use without planning permission and create new homes from vacant and redundant buildings.

The changes, which are planned to come into effect by September through changes to the law, include:

— More types of commercial premises having total flexibility to be repurposed through reform of the Use Classes Order.

— A building used for retail, for instance, would be able to be permanently used as a café or office without requiring a planning application and local authority approval.

— Pubs, libraries, village shops and other types of uses essential to communities will not be covered by these flexibilities.

— A wider range of commercial buildings will be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application.

— Builders will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes.

— Property owners will be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.

— Work will begin to look at how land owned by the government can be managed more effectively.

A temporary one-way system running the entire length of Budleigh Salterton High Street has been backed by town councillors.

A temporary one-way system running the entire length of Budleigh Salterton High Street has been backed by town councillors.

Looks a bold experiment to Owl creating a “Mons Circuit” around the town. Will “conservative” Budleigh be up for it? Perhaps the real problem is the lack of social distancing shown by visitors. Has yet to be agreed by Devon County Council.

 Becca Gliddon
The measure, flowing east to west from Rolle Road to the junction of West Hill and Station Road, aims to  keep shoppers safe and boost social distancing.

It will also see 14 High Street parking spaces, between its Rolle Road and Ragg Lane junctions, removed.

Barriers will be used to widen the south-side pavement from Hays Travel to Top Notch.

Vehicles entering the town from West Hill will be diverted along Station Road and Upper Stoneborough Lane and then onto East Budleigh Road, Coastguard Road, Marine Parade and Fore Street.

Traffic entering High Street from side streets such as Cliff Road and The Lawn will only be able to travel in a westerly direction.

High Street traffic will flow one-way, from east to west, from the junction of Rolle Road to the junction of West Hill/Station Road. Image: Budleigh Town Council/Google Maps

High Street traffic will flow one-way, from east to west, from the junction of Rolle Road to the junction of West Hill/Station Road. Image: Budleigh Town Council/Google Maps

More barriers will be installed next to the pavement on the northern side of High Street from the former Royal Mail sorting office to the junction of Station Road.

Town councillors voted eight to two in favour of the Temporary Traffic Regulations Order (TTRO) last night (Monday).

Their plan will be amended with a request to close Cricketfield Lane and Chapel Hill to through-traffic – making it accessible to residents only – and for extra signage.

The proposed scheme will now go back to Devon County Council (DCC) and, once formally approved, would take around a fortnight to implement.

Budleigh Salterton High Street will become one-way.

Budleigh Salterton High Street will become one-way. Image: Town council/Google Maps

The diversion route. Image Budleigh Town Council/Google Maps

The diversion route. Image: Budleigh Town Council/Google Maps

A one-way system has been devised as town councillors feel it will ‘allow for a safe reopening of the High Street to residents and visitors’.

District councillor Tom Wright told last night’s meeting the scheme was ‘for the greater good’ – the safety of pedestrians.

“We have to accept we are going to inconvenience some people,” he said.

“It’s not going to be acceptable to everyone.”

Councillor Penny Lewis said: “I’m disappointed that people think a one-way system is the first aim and not to widen pavements.

“We are slow of the mark and it [High Street] isn’t a safe place at the moment.

“I would love to magic a wider High Street, but it isn’t possible.

“What we’re trying to do is get wider pavements so people can move along High Street and use the shops safely.

“It’s not to impose a one-way system, it’s to get wider pavements.”

The view from the traffic lights in Station road.

A mock-up of the view from the traffic lights in Station road. Image: Town council/Google Maps

The view from the traffic lights looking towards High Street.

The view from the traffic lights looking towards High Street. Image: Town council/Google Maps

Where barriers will be placed in High Street.

Where barriers will be placed in High Street. Image: Town council/Google Maps

Where parking will be suspended in High Street.

Where parking will be suspended in High Street.Image: Town council/Google Maps

“It is to create a safer shopping environment in the town,” said Cllr Henry Riddell.

He added that procrastinating over the cost and other elements ‘is not going to cut it for someone who has been hit by a car’.

District councillor Alan Dent added: “This is about safety of pedestrians.

“I believe this is going to improve the shopping experience for people – whether residents or visitors – and in the long-term will be of benefit to the traders in the High Street.”

He warned that ‘Coivd-19 has not gone away’ with an ‘influx of visitors’ set to head to the area.

Budleigh Town Council will review the TTRO in three months and will ask for it to be removed if social distancing restrictions end sooner than this.

The view of High Street from The Lawn.

A mock-up of the view of High Street from The Lawn. Image: Town council/Google Maps

The view from The Lawn looking towards West Hill.

The view from The Lawn looking towards West Hill. Image: Town council/Google Maps

A report by town clerk Jo Vanstone said social distancing has seen pedestrians have to walk in the road – posing a danger to them and motorists.

Her report adds: “The town council would like to encourage visitors and residents to use its High Street by showing that Budleigh Salterton is safe to visit whilst still allowing shoppers to follow social distancing restrictions.

“Members feel that by allowing more space for people to walk freely and browse, it will be a more enjoyable atmosphere with the knock-on effect of helping the town’s traders.”

The council has worked with Devon highways officers, district and county representatives and held talks with the chamber of commerce on finding a solution.

Councillors believe that the loss of some on-street parking in High Street will be ‘cancelled out’ by the 123 free and 505 pay-and-display spaces across the town’s five car parks.

“Safety of all those wishing to shop in the town is the main purpose of this system and if at any time the situation changes in the future the town council will review the situation to see if the one-way system can be lifted or changed,” the report adds.

Ragg Lane looking towards Brook Road.

A mock-up of Ragg Lane looking towards Brook Road. Image: Budleigh Town Council/Google Maps

The view of High Street from Cliff Road.

The view of High Street from Cliff Road. Image: Budleigh Town Council/Google Maps

Last night’s meeting heard concern from one resident that Chapel Hill and Cricketfield Lane would be used as a shortcut to the High Street by delivery vehicles.

She said the scheme was unintentionally ‘protecting one set of pedestrians while putting a different set elsewhere at risk’.

Dad-of-two Tom Dixon asked for a pedestrian crossing to be installed in Upper Stoneborough Lane and expressed concern about ‘general safety’ with more vehicles using the road.

“Cars come winging down that road often in excess of 30mph,” he said.

His request will not be included in the one-way scheme, but will be considered at a later date by the council’s traffic group.

Cyclists will have to observe the one-way system.

Popular Cornish holiday towns to ban cars this summer to help social distancing

TOURIST hotspots across Cornwall will ban cars and close roads this summer to allow visitors to social distance. Will this be needed in Devon?

Kara Godfrey 

St Ives, along with areas in Falmouth and Truro, are just some of the locations introducing new measures ahead of the holiday season.

Falmouth has already closed a number of streets in the busy town centre for a set number of hours since June 15, along with Truro, following the announcement that non-essential shops could open.

Truro Mayor Bert Biscoe said he hoped that it would allow locals to return as well as “encourage others to come,” according to the Telegraph.

Closing the roads will allow visitors more room to visit the region, with many of the small towns having narrow pathways and thin streets which often become overcrowded during peak holiday seasons.

St Ives looks to be the next tourist town to follow in their footsteps, after new plans introduced by the town council to stop road traffic between 11am and 4pm from today.

The road closures will be marshalled, while permits will be issued for certain cases and emergency services can continue to drive through. Deliveries will have to operate at the beginning or end of the day.

St Ives Town Council and the St Ives Business Improvement District (BID) Helen Tripconey told local media that the measures were “temporary” until things returned to normal.

Ron Johns, who owns a bookshop in St Ives, said he had “no idea” it it would work but was needed as the “streets are very narrow in Cornwall”.

It comes after Boris Johnson announced that Britain’s 2m social distancing rule would be reduced to 1m+ in places where 2m was not possible.

Locals fear that without the new measures, a situation similar to Bournemouth beach could happen.

Last week, tens of thousands of Brits descended to Bournemouth as temperatures soured, with little social distancing and tons of litter left behind.

Roads were blocked and emergency services were unable to get through to the beach after a major alert was declared.

Visit Cornwall’s Malcom Bell said they were “fully in support of traffic restrictions” across the region, adding: “It provides a step change in the space available for local and visitors to access and enjoy our wonderful towns.”

Other areas in the UK such as Norfolk, Oxford, Cambridge and Whitby are also looking at closing a number of roads in the busy towns and cities as well.

Mr Bell previously said that Cornwall would allow tourists to social distance due to the large number of beaches compared to the rest of the country.

He said, according to Cornwall Live: “We are in a fortunate position due to our location, with the number of beaches we’ve got and with the right information we should avoid the Brighton, Southend and Bournemouth problem, which is sheer volume and lack of beaches.”

A holiday to Cornwall is likely to be very different compared to previous years, he added.

He told Sun Online Travel: “The bulk of popular attractions will be doing timed ticketing and all restaurants will be doing reservations.

“We need to also avoid people turning up and queuing at places, so for takeaway food like fish and chips, people will need to order their food online and then wait to be told when to collect it.”

Used tampons and human poo dumped on Exmouth beach

Members from ‘Plastic Free Exmouth‘ (PFE), as well as independent volunteers, all clubbed together in order to remove the waste that had been discarded along the seafront following the busy crowds which gathered in Exmouth last week.

Chloe Parkman

Bottles, beers cans, used sanitary products and even human faeces are among many other things that were discovered by volunteers who carried out a beach clean in Exmouth yesterday (June 28).

Members from ‘Plastic Free Exmouth‘ (PFE), as well as independent volunteers, all clubbed together in order to remove the waste that had been discarded along the seafront following the busy crowds which gathered in Exmouth last week.

Following the discovery of human faeces, PFE member Lucy Oakes-Ash, 33 said: “If you know you are going out to the beach for the day and there is no toilets, take a doggy bag and dispose of it. There is no excuse.”

East Devon District Council (EDDC) who are regularly emptying the bins were also present at Orcombe Point.

Used sanitary products (Image: Transition Exmouth)

Lucy said: “This all came about following the warm weather which encouraged people to go to the beach.

“People from the Plastic Free Exmouth team went down on Friday morning (June 26) originally.

“They cleaned up huge volumes of rubbish and waste, the Council were also there, they’re doing a great job.”

Non-profit organisation, Plastic Free Exmouth, is an active group who work with Exmouth Council, businesses, schools, and individuals to gain certification for a Plastic Free Community with Surfers Against Sewage.

Following their beach clean on Friday, the group posted images and details of their discoveries onto social media which generated a huge response.

The organisation then arranged another beach clean which was to take place on Sunday, June 28, at around 7:30am.

Lucy adds: “The David Attenborough effect had been reduced but this bought it back into the public eye.

Overflowing bins in Exmouth (Image: Jamie Forster)

“A group of us met yesterday (June 28) completely independent of one another.”

With many members of the team conducting the clean on the beach itself, Lucy decided to venture into the shrubbery behind the beach to see if there was anything buried in the trees and so on.

She said: “The main thing we found was bottles and cans.

“Both of those things are so easily recyclable. You could see they had been so obviously thrown into the hedge.”

Despite much of the waste being relatively new, Lucy stresses that a large number of the bottles, cans and so forth had been there for quite some time.

She adds: “When some people blame the youths of today throwing their rubbish away, this wasn’t new stuff we were finding.

“We had to basically dig one bottle out as it had been buried for quite some time.”

However, the worst discovery was yet to come for Lucy.

As she made her way up the “zig zag” path behind the beach, Lucy checked behind one of the benches to see if anything had been discarded only to discover a “whole load of used tampons.”

“It made me feel very sick.

“We safely removed them using gloves, a litter picker and bags.”

The rubbish was dumped around the bin provided (Image: Jamie Forster)

On top of this, the volunteers discovered human poo which had been dumped in the hedges behind the bins at Orcombe Point.

Lucy adds: “It looked relatively fresh.

“The toilets are open by the Lifeboat Station which are only around 200 yards away.

“I have two young children and when they tell me they need to go to the loo whilst on the beach we walk that little bit further in order to use the facilities.

“There is no excuse in my mind.”

Over 20 seagulls were spotted snacking on the rubbish (Image: Alison Laxton)

Despite the heaps of litter that have been dumped along Exmouth seafront over the last week, Lucy adds: “The Council have been doing an amazing job the whole way through.

Plastic Free Exmouth have now arranged in informal beach clean which is due to take place every Sunday morning at 7:30am.

“We don’t want Exmouth painted in a bad light, it’s an absolutely beautiful beach.

A beach mat was spotted hanging out of the bin (Image: Jamie Forster)

“If we make this informal beach clean a regular thing we will stay on top of it and keep it as pristine and beautiful as possible.”

For those who wish to join in on the Sunday Morning beach clean, must ensure that they arrive at Orcombe Point with all of the appropriate equipment such as a litter picker, gloves, and bags (reusable if possible).

For further information visit Plastic Free Exmouth here.


Trusting local government: if not now, when?

“If post-lockdown England is to navigate its way through the next period, Boris Johnson and his senior ministers must shake off their centralising instincts and finally learn to trust local knowledge and experience. There must be no more Leicester-style fiascos.”

The Guardian view on trusting local government: if not now, when?

On 18 June, the day before Britain’s Covid-19 alert level was lowered, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that there had been a spike of infections in Leicester. Mr Hancock said a speedy response was well under way, thanks to what he described as good collaboration with the city’s local authorities.

Not for the first time, this turned out to be a blithe ministerial assertion that was soon disproved by events. Over the weekend, confusion reigned over what to do about Leicester’s surge of cases and who was responsible for doing it. The home secretary, Priti Patel, suggested on national television that a stricter lockdown was imminent in the city; Leicester’s mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, said such talk was simply speculation. Sir Peter said there had been no discussions with the government on the subject and that the council had no powers to implement a lockdown. In the early hours of Monday, the mayor received a peremptory government email which, he said, looked like it had been “cobbled together very hastily”. It recommended that present restrictions be extended for two weeks beyond 4 July.

Miscommunication was followed by misunderstanding and mutual incomprehension. Far from collaborating effectively with Leicester’s local authorities, the government appears to have failed adequately to either liaise with, inform or empower them.

Efficient local lockdowns could be crucial in preventing a second wave of Covid-19, so this desperate muddle has worrying implications. It is also part of a pattern of disregard and highhandedness in Whitehall’s dealings with the regions. From the beginning of this crisis, the government has ignored, bypassed and undervalued the expertise of councils. Private companies have been deployed to carry out testing, the results of which were often delayed. The contact-tracing experience of local authority public health teams has been underutilised, as Serco was awarded a contract to hire teams of tracers from scratch.

Earlier this month, Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, had described the idea of local lockdowns as a “recipe for chaos”. In a joint statement with the mayor of Liverpool, Mr Burnham lamented the lack of information on how shutdowns would be enforced and pleaded for local directors of public health to be given far more real-time data on local infections.

The sense of neglect extends to a financial black hole in town hall finances. Having been promised that the government would do “whatever it takes” to support them through the crisis, it emerged last week that many councils were on the verge of going bankrupt.

As ever during this epidemic, comparisons with Germany, where regions have more power and more responsibility, are instructive. Last week, the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia swiftly reimposed lockdown in two neighbouring communities, after a surge in cases related to a local meat-packing factory. Stricter physical-distancing rules were enforced, schools closed and the hospitality sector shut down. The state’s response came against the backdrop of an agreed national containment threshold of 50 new infections per 100,000 people over a seven-day period. Contrast that with this country, as it prepares to reopen pubs, restaurants and hotels on Saturday. At this crucial stage, there should not be a lack of clarity over what happens if things go wrong.

If post-lockdown England is to navigate its way through the next period, Boris Johnson and his senior ministers must shake off their centralising instincts and finally learn to trust local knowledge and experience. There must be no more Leicester-style fiascos.

The 36 cities and counties where Covid cases are rising – risking more local lockdowns

Did Boris/Dominic unlock too soon? Did they get the messaging wrong? Surely this wasn’t meant to happen quite so quickly? The Telegraph article contains detailed tables and graphics. Locally, Tim Spector’s symptom tracker app indicates 0.2% incidence in East Devon – i.e. falling. – Owl

Leicester looks set to be the first city where a local lockdown could be imposed – with new confirmed cases on the rise.

But it is by no means an isolated case, with 36 cities or counties across England now seeing a fresh surge in cases.

By Dominic Gilbert 29 June 2020 

Leicester looks set to be the first city where a local lockdown could be imposed – with new confirmed cases on the rise.

But it is by no means an isolated case, with 36 cities or counties across England now seeing a fresh surge in cases.

Some, such as Doncaster, have seen a larger week-on week increase in new cases, and many of the areas seeing new upticks in Covid-19 are those in urban, densely populated areas.

The Government has consistently said it will consider regional and local lockdowns if necessary, and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has deployed four mobile testing sites to Leicester and made thousands of home testing kits available.

Cases on the rise

New confirmed cases are rising in 36 of the 151 upper-tier local authorities in England as the nation has begun emerging from lockdown.

Some, such as Sunderland, York and the Isle of Wight, detected just a single case in the week to June 26, but had not picked up any cases the week prior.

Others are seeing much higher numbers of new cases, including Leicester.

And cases are rising week-on-week in the city – from 39 cases in the week to June 19 to 41 cases in the week to June 26.

It is one of the epicentres of the virus in the country, with the second highest number of new cases in the week to June 26.

Doncaster has also seen a worrying spike in new cases – from 11 in the week to June 19 to 32 last week.

Derbyshire saw 25 new cases in the week to June 26, up from 23 the week before.

It is set against a general trend across the UK of falling cases, including in some of the worst-affected areas.

In Lancashire weekly cases fell from 42 to 16 in the same period, and in Essex, from 68 to 14.

The data is likely to be an underestimate, as figures published by Public Health England relate only to cases confirmed in NHS or PHE labs, not those carried out by commercial partners.

Cases rising in half of the most densely populated areas

Amid the general downturn in the virus, more than three-quarters of lower-tier local authorities (district councils and London boroughs) are seeing cases fall week-on-week.

But among the most densely-populated areas, more than half are now seeing a rise in weekly cases.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics and Public Health England, 12 of the 23 areas with more than 5,000 residents per square kilometre are seeing rises in new cases.

In total, 15 of the 33 London boroughs are experiencing rises in new confirmed cases, suggesting the virus has not yet been eliminated in the capital.

With Covid-19 disproportionately affected BAME households, some of the most ethnically diverse areas of England are those experiencing upticks in case numbers.

Eight of ten of local authorities with the lowest proportion of white residents are seeing a week-on-week rise in cases.

They include Leicester and London boroughs Ealing and Brent.

In response to the news that a local lockdown could be imposed on Leicester “within days”, an expert has said that defining the specific area for local lockdowns will be one of the “largest problems”.

Professor Keith Neal, Emeritus Professor of the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases at University of Nottingham, said: “One of the biggest problems is deciding who is in the lockdown area and who is not.  This needs to be understandable to both the people who are inside and the people on the outside.”

He added: “Defining the specific area will be one of the largest problems.  Local authority boundaries can run down the middle of the street with one side in one local authority and the opposite another.

“Urban sprawl has allowed towns and cities to expand resulting in these areas often joining other areas who identify differently and do not see themselves as part of the expanding town or city.

“Locking down at the regional level would be seen as unfair or worse as Leicester City has really very little to do with rural Lincolnshire.  People do not identify with their regional boundaries and many would not actually know where they are.”

Prof Neal added that even islands are not necessarily simple, as some are linked by bridges and communities interact “significantly”.

Residents ‘appalled’ over behaviour at Sidmouth beach

Dartmoor Chief Executive recently described every day on the moor as being like a Bank Holiday on steroids. Owl understands Exmouth and Budleigh beaches could have been described similarly ever since Boris Johnson took the cork out of the bottle. But Sidmouth – surely not! – Bring on the rain! – Owl

Chloe Parkman 

A councillor is calling for two bylaws to be brought in to prevent anti-social behaviour at Clifton Beach in Sidmouth.

Cllr Stuart Hughes is calling for bylaws following numerous complaints he has received from local residents who have been “appalled at the behaviour of young people who have been congregating there [Clifton Beach] during the heatwave.”

It is understood that up to 100 people have been gathering with small portable BBQ’s as well as lighting fires along the beach.

Cllr Stuart Hughes said: “The complaints I’ve received have expressed concerns over the behaviour and foul language from some of those gathered on the beach.

“They have also been lining empty bottles up and throwing stones smashing them which is also a potential hazard for children and other beach users.

“I contacted Alison Hernandez and asked if the police could keep a watchful eye on what’s happening, however I know they are stretched especially with lockdown being relaxed.

“I am therefore asking East Devon to see if bylaws can be fast tracked to prevent drinking and use of loud beat box radios along with a dedicated area being introduced for BBQ’s.”

The Councillor adds: “With hotels reopening [at a later date], need to show Sidmouth in its best light.

“As we come out of lockdown it’s important that we do everything we can to kick start the local economy.

“Unfortunately, the type of recent behaviour does nothing for our image.”

No 10 will ‘build, build, build’ its own grave with this blinkered revival strategy – Telegraph

“Downing Street is clinging to a fundamentally bad strategy. Since day one, its overwhelming political priority has been to get through the Covid crisis with Red Wall support intact. It believes it can do this by following the polls in its response to the pandemic, while following through on its manifesto pledges. It is in denial that these two parallel strategies have spectacularly collided.”

Sherelle Jacobs Daily Telegraph Columnist

The Tories want you to think they are back. In truth, they are stuck on a loop. Granted, the departure of Sir Mark Sedwill and the demise of Dfid are strong opening riffs to the Whitehall Revolution. All the right noises are coming out of Brexit negotiations. And now, a multi-billion spending pledge to restore the ‘health of the nation’ falls to the energetic beat of the party’s levelling up agenda.

And yet something feels very, very wrong. The momentum is robotic. No 10’s demeanour is steely but the eyes are dead. From pledging new school buildings when children are still yet to return to their lessons, to doubling down on a travel infrastructure drive at a time when the future of commuting has never looked more uncertain, it is strategising and spinning as if lockdown has changed nothing. And yet lockdown has changed everything.

Downing Street is clinging to a fundamentally bad strategy. Since day one, its overwhelming political priority has been to get through the Covid crisis with Red Wall support intact. It believes it can do this by following the polls in its response to the pandemic, while following through on its manifesto pledges. It is in denial that these two parallel strategies have spectacularly collided.

Not least because public opinion, quite understandably, failed to see into the future. In spring, support for lockdown was highest in the Midlands and North East. Polling showed the majority of Brits believed Covid-19 would not economically affect them. Early analysis suggested that London was seeing the sharpest drop in business activity caused by retail, hospitality and venue closures, a sentiment relayed in Northern media, encouraging a false sense of security.

But so it goes that ex-industrial towns are the worst hit by lockdown job losses, according to the Institute for Employment Studies. These regions are expected to see an average fall of 12 per cent in output over the next five years, more than double that in the South East, at 5 per cent.  The myth that the Government could somehow put the economy on ice and then unfreeze looks absurd in retrospect. Unfortunately for the Red Wall though, the lockdown lie has taken on a life of its own. Boris Johnson’s refusal to explicitly pursue a strategy of business as usual while shielding the vulnerable means that economically ruinous local lockdowns in certain Red Wall provinces now look inevitable.

The Tories are stuck in a similar rut with their levelling up agenda. This flagstone policy was always all about making simple, visible improvements in deprived towns by the next election: gleaming new hospitals and schools, spruced-up high streets and “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects. Perhaps this would have been just enough to create a sense of progress in normal circumstances. But, in the middle of an unprecedented economic crisis, it looks like window dressing when the house is on fire.

If ‘Jobsageddon’  is coming to Britain, one would be forgiven for expecting a Conservative government to try and douse its flames with authentically conservative policies. It should be slashing employment red tape, particularly around the hiring of agency workers, and freezing the minimum wage to encourage employers to keep on staff. It should be driving a tank through planning regulations, and aggressively pursuing tax cuts.

Instead, Boris Johnson continues to pursue strongman statism, pouring billions into road and rail connections, and flashy housing developments. Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak runs scared of tax cuts, even dithering over a temporary reduction VAT. In fact, from paying people not to work through lockdown, to effectively renationalising the railways in a cap-tip to Corbyn, it is difficult to discern anything particularly conservative about this government, or its response to the pandemic.

Perhaps the so-called party of business has forgotten how much politics resembles the economy it continues to trash. Parties that lack a strong USP are easily undercut by cheap imitations. Just as voters traded in trite Blarite passion in favour of cuddly Cameroonism, the avuncular and meticulous Keir Starmer might yet outmanoeuvre Boris Johnson’s pitch as the command-and-control father of the nation.

Times Radio launches with Boris Johnson and Malawi mix-up

Those who asked Amazon’s smart speakers, Alexa, to tune in to the new Times Radio yesterday to listen to extensive interviews with Boris Johnson were treated to a Chichewa-language discussion of Malawi’s politics and some upbeat music instead. Much more uplifting – Owl

Jim Waterson

Times Radio launched with a large budget, high-profile presenters and an exclusive interview with Boris Johnson.

Unfortunately, the new national speech radio station from Rupert Murdoch’s News UK had not banked on its big unveiling being disrupted by an outlet with a similar name in Malawi.

Many of those trying to tune in to the station via Amazon’s smart speakers, Alexa, were baffled to be directed instead to Times Radio Malawi, a music and talk station based in the east African country.

Rather than hearing the Times Radio breakfast show hosts, Aasmah Mir and Stig Abell, hold in-depth discussions on the prime minister’s education policies, listeners were treated to a Chichewa-language discussion of Malawi’s politics and some upbeat music.

Smart speakers are a crucial way of reaching new radio audiences as a fifth of British homes have one, with them often replacing radios in kitchens. However, the issue highlights the lack of control local broadcasters have over interfaces designed by international tech companies that struggle to adapt to local needs.

Users of Google’s smart speakers also reported problems hearing Times Radio, with the voice assistant redirecting listeners to Chris Moyles on Radio X – after mistaking the word “Times” for the multiplication sign. Times Radio is also broadcast on DAB radio, online and via an app.

The new station, which is heavily staffed by former BBC presenters and producers, is being run without adverts as a promotion for the Times’s digital subscriptions, in the knowledge it will make a hefty loss for the first few years.

There are signs the government is supportive of the challenge to the BBC’s dominance of speech radio. Johnson granted the station his first live broadcast interview in months, having not appeared on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme since last October.

Ironically, the new British listeners to Times Radio Malawi – which describes itself as “the radio experience that engages all Malawians at different social economic levels” – will have tuned in at a crucial time in the African nation’s politics.

On Sunday, Lazarus Chakwera was sworn in as Malawi’s president following a bitter election, held after a previous election result was declared void by the country’s courts.

Government “slow” to share data with first local lockdown authority

Mayor for Leicester: “We don’t know if there is anything there at all,” he said. The DHSC shared more data on test results from the city with the council on Thursday, he said, but this did not include information on people’s ethnicity or place of work, which would help target interventions.

The process has been “incredibly frustrating”, he added. “Almost every day last week, we had to argue for them to keep on doing testing here.”

Leicester council chiefs ‘surprised’ by plan to put city in local lockdown

Caroline Wheeler, Deputy Political Editor | Kat Lay, Health Correspondent 

Plans for Leicester to be the first area to go into local lockdown after a surge in coronavirus cases were a shock to the city’s council chiefs.

Sir Peter Soulsby, the mayor of Leicester, said his team had been “taken by surprise” by the idea, because that “certainly wasn’t the terms in which we’ve been talking”.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, confirmed the plan, as reported in The Sunday Times, on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning.

Government sources said that Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has been examining the legislation required for the shutdown after it was revealed that there have been 658 coronavirus cases in the Leicester area in the fortnight to June 16.

A source close to Hancock said he is “quite worried” and is considering “all options” for how to respond to the spike in cases, including imposing a localised lockdown.

Sir Peter said that the Department of Health and Social Care had been slow to share the figures on which they were basing their decision, with hospital admissions and the number of fatalities going down “exactly in proportion to the decline elsewhere in the country”.

“We don’t know if there is anything there at all,” he said. The DHSC shared more data on test results from the city with the council on Thursday, he said, but this did not include information on people’s ethnicity or place of work, which would help target interventions.

The process has been “incredibly frustrating”, he added. “Almost every day last week, we had to argue for them to keep on doing testing here.

“They were talking about pulling out one of the [mobile] testing stations.

“We’ve been diverted by an enormous amount of time spent just persuading them to do what I would have thought was the obvious, which was to up the level of testing in the city, not withdraw it.”

Asked by Mr Marr whether the reports on lockdown plans for Leicester were accurate, Ms Patel said: “Well, that is correct.”

She added: “There will be support going into Leicester and in fact the health secretary was in touch with many of us over the weekend explaining some of the measures, the support on testing, resources that will go into the local authority as well.”

Yesterday Samworth Brothers, which runs one of the UK’s largest sandwich production operations, confirmed that a “handful” of staff at its Leicester factory had contracted the virus, and there have been reports of large gatherings outside takeaway restaurants.

There are also concerns that the virus has been spreading throughout the city’s large Asian community, who are more likely to live in multigenerational households.

It is understood that the government has the power to take action under the 1984 Public Health Act. However, it is unlikely that action will be taken before the middle of this week.

“So far local action has been taken to lock down individual hospitals and GP surgeries where there has been an outbreak but this situation is more serious than that, although no decision has yet been taken,” a government source said.

Separately, an expert in infectious diseases has said there were questions over how a localised lockdown would work. Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said: “Defining the specific area will be one of the largest problems. Local authority boundaries can run down the middle of the street with one side in one local authority and the opposite another.

“Urban sprawl has allowed towns and cities to expand resulting in these areas often joining other areas who identify differently and do not see themselves as part of the expanding town or city.

“Locking down at the regional level would be seen as unfair or worse as Leicester City has really very little to do with rural Lincolnshire. People do not identify with their regional boundaries and many would not actually know where they are.

“If Leicester is locked down, how much of the surrounding area do you include. A quick view at the satellite picture demonstrates this problem. Much of the surrounding area probably does not identify as part of Leicester City itself.”

Andrew Bridgen, the Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, said: “Unfortunately the fact that the government is having to contemplate specific measures to control the spread of the virus in Leicester is now unavoidable in order to protect the rest of the country.”

A spokesman for the DHSC said: “We are supporting the council and local partners in Leicester to help prevent further transmission of the virus. We have deployed four mobile testing sites and made thousands of home testing kits available, to ensure anyone in the area who needs a test can get one.

“NHS Test and Trace will contact anyone testing positive to help them identify their recent contacts, and advise who may have been near to someone with the virus to stay at home to prevent the spread.

“We urge the people of Leicester to continue to practise social distancing, wash their hands regularly, get tested immediately if they have symptoms and follow the advice they receive if contacted by NHS Test and Trace. This advice is there to protect communities and save lives.”

Britain Spent So Much On Two Giant Aircraft Carriers, It Can’t Afford Planes Or Escorts

A US view of the consequences of MoD’s attempts to “punch above our weight”, drawing on a recent National Audit Office report. The decision to acquire these two Aircraft Carriers goes back decades and is a classic example of how taxpayers can get locked in to major projects that then become too big to cancel. HS2 and Hinkley Point C also spring to mind.  It’s only “our” money! – Owl

“But there’s a problem. Having blown billions of dollars building the ships, the U.K. government no longer can afford the aircraft, escorts and support ships that help the flattops deploy, protect them and give them striking power.”

  David Axe 

The United Kingdom is spending nearly $8 billion building two new large, conventionally-fueled aircraft carriers and equipping them with F-35B Lightning II stealth jump jets.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to deploy for the first time in 2021, ending a seven-year carrier gap that began in 2014 when the Royal Navy decommissioned the last of its three, Cold War-vintage light carriers.

The U.K. military by then had already sold off the carriers’ Harrier jump jets.

Queen Elizabeth and her sister Prince of Wales are impressive vessels. More than 930 feet long and displacing around 70,000 tons, they are bigger and more modern than every other flattop in the world except the U.S. Navy’s 11 nuclear-powered supercarriers.

The carriers in theory are the steely core of a revitalized and reorganized Royal Navy. “Carrier strike provides the ability to launch fixed-wing aircraft from a ship to undertake a rang-e of military tasks,” the U.K. National Audit Office explained in a June report. “It is central to the government’s plans for the country’s armed forces.”

But there’s a problem. Having blown billions of dollars building the ships, the U.K. government no longer can afford the aircraft, escorts and support ships that help the flattops deploy, protect them and give them striking power.

Nor can the government afford to modify Queen Elizabeth or Prince of Wales to support amphibious landings, one of the early justifications for cutting existing ships—such as the assault ship HMS Ocean—in order to free up money for the carriers.

The new British carrier force is hollow. And at least one analyst believes the Brits would have been better off without.

The shortfalls are myriad, according to the NAO. The carriers’ air wings at a minimum should include a dozen F-35Bs plus a dozen Merlin helicopters, some of which would carry the Lockheed Martin LMT -made Crowsnest early-warning radar in order to provide sensor coverage over the carrier group.

Guess what. “The new Crowsnest system is 18 months late, which will affect carrier strike’s capabilities in its first two years,” according to the NAO. “The [Ministry of Defense] did not oversee its contract with Lockheed Martin effectively and, despite earlier problems on the project, neither was aware of the sub-contractor’s lack of progress until it was too late to meet the target delivery date.”

“It subsequently concluded that the sub-contractor working on the project, Thales, failed to meet its contractual commitments to develop the equipment and had not provided sufficient information on the project’s progress. The [ministry] and its industry partners have since implemented a recovery plan and enhanced monitoring arrangements. However, further delays mean that it does not expect to have full airborne radar capability until May 2023.”

Meanwhile, the ministry also has been slow to buy F-35s. “From 2015, its intention has been to buy 138 Lightning II jets, which will sustain carrier strike operations to the 2060s. The [ministry] initially ordered 48 jets but has not yet committed to buying any more. In response to wider financial pressures, it will also receive seven of the 48 jets in 2025, a year later than planned.”

A single Queen Elizabeth-class flattop could carry as many as 24 F-35s. But a total force of 48 F-35s probably wouldn’t allow for a 24-plane air wing after taking into account training and maintenance needs. As a rule, usually no more than third of a particular fighter fleet can deploy at any given time.

Equally vexing, the Royal Navy has laid up all but one of its solid support ships, which sail along with front-line vessels in order to keep them stocked with food, parts and weapons. The defense ministry “has long been aware that this will restrict the operational freedom of carrier strike but has not yet developed a solution,” the NAO warned.

“In November 2019, the [ministry] stopped the competition to build three new support ships due to concerns about value for money. It believes this will delay the introduction of new ships by between 18 and 36 months, making it uncertain the first new ship will be operational before the existing support ship leaves service in 2028.”

The list of shortfalls continues. A British carrier group at a minimum should include one frigate for anti-submarine protection plus a destroyer for air-defense. But the Royal Navy operates just 13 aging Type 23 frigates and six Type 45 destroyers. The former are slated to leave the fleet starting in 2023. Their replacement, the new Type 26, won’t start joining the fleet until 2027.

The navy expects to buy just eight Type 26s. At least five new Type 31 frigates will replace the balance of the Type 23 force, but the Type 31s lack major anti-submarine systems. All that is to say that, from the mid-2020s on, the carriers could be vulnerable to submarines.

Don’t expect some sudden cash windfall to save the Royal Navy from its carrier problems. If anything, the budgetary problems could get worse. The defense ministry already is cutting back on its investment in Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales.

The government had planned to spend $75 million modifying one of the new flattops with extra accommodations in order for the ship to double as an amphibious assault ship. But according to the NAO, the ministry in March 2020 quietly dropped the amphibious requirement.

The bitter irony for the navy is that it sacrificed the assault ship Ocean back in 2018 in order to free up money and manpower for the carriers and eventually claw back the lost amphibious capability by way of modifications to at least one of the newer ships.

Now it appears the fleet gave up Ocean for nothing.

So are the new flattops worth it? As costs rise and budgets shrink, the carriers gobble up a growing proportion of the Royal Navy’s resources while at the same time falling far short of their operational potential owing to cuts at the margins of their capabilities.

“Given that what the Royal Navy has become in return for its two carriers, and given how at present this investment has delivered a part-time carrier force with a small number of available fast jets, significant spares shortages, reduced escort fleet numbers and a lack of longer-term support ships or escort elements,” one commentator wrote, “then perhaps the answer to the question ‘was it all worth it’ is ‘no, it was not worth the pain for the gain’—at least not in the short term.”


Revealed: Developers PM backed when London mayor give almost £1m to Tories

Property developers connected to major construction projects approved by Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London have donated almost £1m to the Conservative party over the past year, the Guardian can reveal.

Analysis of public records shows a significant cash injection from property tycoons linked to developments, including blocks of luxury flats with no affordable housing, which were signed off by Johnson and his deputy, Sir Edward Lister, who oversaw planning.

Richard Desmond, the former owner of the Daily Express, is among the donors, along with the billionaire Reuben family and the Mayfair-based property firm Delancey owned by Eton-educated Jamie Ritblat.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing, but the fallout over a decision by the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, to approve Desmond’s controversial £1bn development in east London has attracted scrutiny of the relationship between wealthy property developers and senior Tories.

Details of the donations have emerged as both Johnson and Lister, now a senior Downing Street adviser who is reportedly in the running for a peerage, face questions about their ties to Desmond amid “cash for favours” allegations.

Downing Street has refused to disclose Johnson’s contact with Desmond since becoming prime minister after it emerged the tycoon had donated £12,000 to the Tories, two weeks after Jenrick approved his proposed development. Jenrick has since reversed his decision after conceding it was “unlawful by reason of apparent bias”. Desmond has said the donation was too small to be significant.

A spokesperson for the Conservatives insisted all donations were transparently declared and complied fully with the law. A Downing Street spokesman said all planning decisions by Johnson and Lister “were made with due process and a fair hearing in line with public law principles” and “any of suggestion of improper conduct is untrue”. “Party political matters are never a material consideration in planning,” he said.

City Hall originally approved Desmond’s proposed development on the Isle of Dogs in May 2016 after Johnson took control of the application, which Tower Hamlets council had rejected. Applications for the other developments connected to the latest crop of Tory donors were not formally taken over by the mayor, but proposals were referred to City Hall by local planning authorities for his approval.

In April 2016, for example, Lister signed off on the redevelopment of Millbank Tower in Westminster, backed by David and Simon Reuben. The brothers, who made much of their fortune trading metals before building a property empire, are the second richest family in the UK with an estimated £16bn fortune, according to the Sunday Times.

In November 2019, shortly before the general election, the Conservatives received £200,000 from a company co-owned by the brothers, European Land & Property, latest Electoral Commission data shows. The company was behind a separate development in Paddington, a 34-storey tower offering “the height of luxury living” that Lister progressed in 2011.

David Reuben’s son Jamie Reuben who is involved with the brothers’ business affairs, donated around £580,000 to the Tories between October 2019 and March 2020.

A spokesman for the Reuben family said the brothers did not discuss either application with Johnson or Lister. The family’s donations “were made long after planning decisions had been made and were completely unrelated to them”, he said.

The Electoral Commission data also shows Ritblat’s Delancey donated £100,000 to the Tories in December. Ritblat is the son of another high-profile property magnate, Sir John Ritblat.

Delancey held several meetings with Johnson’s City Hall over a range of developments. The firm and its partners, Qatari Diar, bought the former Olympic athletes’ village in Stratford in 2011 as part of a reported £500m deal that Johnson championed. Lister signed off on Delancey’s plans for the former Olympic media centre in 2014.

Internal emails obtained by the Guardian through a freedom of information request show Delancey met Lister a number of times to discuss their projects, including the Elephant and Castle shopping centre.

In September 2013, two days after a dinner with Delancey, Lister set up a meeting between officials and senior executives at the firm to provide it with reassurance about the tube station at the site, the emails show.

“I have agreed a meeting in two weeks’ time to try and push them to make the commitment!” Lister wrote. “This will be good news if we can pull it off.”

Three months later, Delancey and its investment partners completed a deal to acquire the shopping centre. The scheme, which has received significant opposition from local businesses and residents, was eventually signed off by the current mayor, Sadiq Khan, in 2018.

A lawyer for Delancey said there was “no connection whatsoever” between any decision taken by City Hall and the company’s recent donation. He said there was nothing improper about any of the company’s interactions with the Greater London Authority.

He insisted discussions with planners were in line with normal practice for any developer considering a major regeneration project. Irrespective of the political affiliations of the mayor “it is incumbent upon Delancey to deal with and have a working relationship with whoever is in office”, he said.

Asked whether Ritblat had spoken to Lister since he entered Downing Street, the lawyer said: “Jamie Ritblat has spoken to Sir Edward a number of times during lockdown. He was asked to provide Sir Edward with some practical insight into the issues facing the real estate market in light of government lockdown because of the current pandemic.”

Other developments Johnson gave the green light to include 22 Bishopsgate, a skyscraper in the City of London developed by a property business co-owned by Sir Stuart Lipton. Lipton donated £8,500 to the Tories in January. A spokesman for Lipton said the donation was “made entirely in a personal capacity and had nothing to do with his wider business interests”.

Separately, the data also shows a return to political giving by Nick Candy, one of the wealthy Candy brothers, who contributed £100,000 to Tory coffers in March 2020. The Candy brothers have worked together in London’s high-end property market for decades.

A spokeswoman for Nick Candy said, however, that contrary to reports in 2013 he was not involved in a proposed luxury development near the Tower of London that Johnson had signed off in May 2013. She said SQ Guernsey, the company which bought the site for £34m, was a subsidiary of CPC Group which is 100% owned by Christian Candy, and that “any suggestion that Nick Candy has anything to do with the Sugar Quay project, despite previous media reports, is false”.

She also said: “It is entirely false to state Nick Candy’s donation to the Conservative party in March 2020 was in any way connected to City Hall’s planning approval for Sugar Quay over seven years ago, or that it was connected to any other development project that was granted planning permission while Mr Johnson was mayor of London.”

Intended cuts of £400million to Devon’s healthcare budget

“Service improvements and service changes.” Just look at the list!

Owl thinks readers of East Devon Watch might be interested in this communication from Torrington which contrasts the action taken by East Devon County Councillors Martin Shaw and Claire Wright with theirs. Then calls for action.

At the meeting of the Devon County Council’s Health and Adult Care scrutiny committee that took place on 12th March, there was a proposal put forward by the CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) to cut £400million from Devon’s health budget over the next 4 years, up until 2024. This follows cuts of £557 million that have been made in the previous 5 years which saw amongst other things the loss of 71% of Devon’s community hospital beds, and many acute beds, maternity, A&E services and staff.

In a presentation on 12th March from the Sustainability and Transformation Plan’s chief executive, Philippa Slinger,**

It was stated that to make the £400 million funding cuts, there were plans for the following:

  • A reduction in agency staff
  • More efficiency relating to the number of surgical procedures
  • Reducing hospital lengths of stay
  • Fewer admissions
  • Reducing overnight stays after surgery
  • Capping referrals
  • Trying to source less expensive pharmaceuticals
  • Reducing the cost of procurement, such as replacement hips
  • Reducing the number of outpatient appointments by between 60 and 70 per cent
  • Doing less work in the independent sector
  • Reducing overseas recruitment
  • Improving staff retention
  • E-consultations in primary care (GP surgeries)

There are also plans to reduce the number of hospital beds further.

Apparently, these cuts are now euphemistically being called “service improvements and service changes.”!

At this meeting Cllr. Claire Wright Independent councillor from Ottery St. Mary put forward a proposal to suspend the requirement for Devon’s NHS to make hundreds of millions of savings, until after the end of the Covid-19 outbreak.*

The motion was defeated by the Conservative majority on this scrutiny committee, at a time when Britain was, and is, going through the worst pandemic since the Black Death.

These cuts have not been reversed and are still pending, with every possibility there will be efforts to extend the scale of these cuts, in a coming recession, resulting in even further healthcare deprivation for the population of Devon.


An SOHS (Barnstaple) zoom meeting was held on Wednesday 24th June with the cuts as the key discussion topic. A follow up meeting is being held on Wednesday 1st June with the sole topic ‘Action to stop the cuts’. In my own town of Torrington STITCH*** supporters across our town are angry and perplexed that our own county councillor on the scrutiny committee Cllr. Andrew Saywell did not support Cllr. Wrights proposal, and was therefore not effectively representing the people of Torrington’s future health interests on this issue. We are putting pressure on him to do everything possible to challenge and oppose any healthcare cuts, and that he will report progress on this issue and his representation and voting, to Torrington Council and in the local  monthly newssheet the ‘Torrington Crier’. He has recently written ( 24th June), “Rest assured I will rigorously oppose any cuts to local services by the CCG should they announce any.” Which is great, except he doesn’t regard  £400million reduction as cuts. The usual Tory duplicity , smoke and mirrors.

Can you spread the word of the cuts to your contacts, and hopefully we can all get together in future on an SOHS zoom meeting to develop a cross-Devon campaign of coordinated action.

Yours in the forthcoming struggle,

From: john wardman <>

(STITCH) Save The Irreplaceable Torrington Community Hospital


**You can view Ms Slinger’s presentation and watch the debate from this link. It’s agenda item 7.

Property tycoons gave Tories £11m in past year

The Tories have received more than £11m from property developers since Boris Johnson became prime minister, an investigation has found.

Jon Stone Policy Correspondent 
The revelation comes amid a donor scandal that threatens the career of the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick.

Concerns have been raised about the apparent increased influence property developers have over the Conservative government. Their contributions make up nearly a quarter of the £47.5m in donations received by the party from last July to March, up from 7.9 per cent of the total two years ago.

The latest analysis by the OpenDemocracy website found that the Conservatives’ top 10 property donors have given more than £5.7m to the party since Mr Johnson took the helm in July – up from around £1.5million for the equivalent top 10 in the final 12 months of Theresa May’s premiership, a three-fold increase. In total, around 120 individuals and companies from the sector have donated since July last year.

Mr Jenrick is facing calls to resign over his unlawful intervention in the planning of a luxury East London property development being submitted for approval by Tory donor Richard Desmond.

Electoral Commission figures show major Tory donors include luxury property developer Nick Candy and West Ham United owner David Sullivan, who donated £75,000 ahead of last year’s general election through a small property company he controls. There is no suggestion that any donors are involved in any wrongdoing.

The largest donors include Malcolm and Eddie Healey – dubbed “East Yorkshire’s richest men” – who have donated more than £1.2 million to the party between them since Mr Johnson took office. Others include property developer and longtime Tory donor Tony Gallagher, who has given the Conservatives almost three-quarters of a million pounds through his company Countywide Developments Ltd since the same date.

In January, Mr Jenrick gave the green light to Mr Desmond’s 1,500-home luxury development on the Isle of Dogs, near the Canary Wharf financial centre. The decision went against the advice of the planning inspector, and came a day before a change in regulations would have meant the developer had to pay around £45m in extra developers’ contributions to the Labour-run Tower Hamlets council. The borough is one of the country’s most deprived.

Labour accused the housing minister of taking the decision following a “glitzy fundraising dinner” with Mr Desmond in November 2019, during which the pair were reportedly sat next to each other and the minister was shown a promotional video for the development on his phone.

Text messages later showed Mr Desmond told Mr Jenrick: “we appreciate the speed as we don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe [sic] for nothing”. He also personally gave £12,000 to the Conservatives two weeks after the scheme was approved. Mr Jenrick says he acted in ”good faith” and “within the rules”.

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Boris Johnson has so far resisted calls to sack Mr Jenrick. Another Tory this week responded to the scandal by encouraging people to attend Conservative party fundraisers if they wanted similar access to ministers.

Business minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “They will be sitting next to MPs and other people in their local authorities and can interact with different parts of the authority.”

The government this week, however, announced it was pausing planning reforms that would have put more powers to approve large developments in the hands of the housing secretary, currently Mr Jenrick.

But the Jenrick affair may not be an isolated incident. Former planning minister Bob Neill is under investigation by parliament’s standards watchdog for failing to mention that he was a paid consultant for a luxury hotel development that he lobbied for in his Kent constituency. Mr Neill denies any wrongdoing.

The £11m figure is a huge increase compared to older figures. An investigation by the Daily Telegraph in 2011 found that the Conservatives had raised £3.3m from similar sources in the three years to that date. In the two years following the 2015 election, property magnates donated £3.6m, 7.9 per cent of the total given.

For comparison, £8.4m million was raised by the party from hedge funds, bankers and other finance industry sources in that period, as reported by The Independent in 2017.

Steve Goodrich of Transparency International said: “The corrupting influence of big money from UK politics must be removed before it irreparably damages trust in our democracy.”

Sue Hawley of Spotlight on Corruption said: “It’s time for a serious review of conflicts of interest in UK planning.

“It is entirely wrong that those with money can gain access to politicians that puts their interests above the rest of us.”

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “All reportable donations are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.”

Robert Jenrick overruled civil servants to push through Tory donor’s £1bn housing plan

A very long and detailed analysis of the Robert Jenrick affair by the Times. Will Jenrick now get power to decide on planning applications by creating a new system of development corporations? – Owl

Gabriel Pogrund, Emanuele Midolo and George Greenwood 

Senior officials “begged” Robert Jenrick to block a £1bn property deal backed by the Tory donor Richard Desmond, it emerged last night. But the housing secretary overruled the objections from civil servants and lawyers to push it through.

A Whitehall whistleblower said Jenrick dismissed their advice over the luxury housing plan in London’s Docklands via text messages to a junior aide.

He also failed to inform his most senior planning officials that he had met and texted Desmond, the former Daily Express owner, when he overruled them.

According to the source, civil servants warned Jenrick that the development violated planning rules and was “70% to 80%” likely to be judicially reviewed.

But Jenrick told officials via text messages that there was “no point” in arguing with his decision to approve the Westferry luxury housing project in east London the day before a new tax kicked in that would have cost Desmond £30-£50m.

Using the WhatsApp messaging service, he instructed his private secretary to tell staff gathered in his departmental headquarters on the afternoon of January 13 , the day before his decision, that it was “final”.

Months earlier, Jenrick watched a promotional video of the Westferry scheme on Desmond’s iPhone at a Tory fundraiser at the Savoy Hotel and agreed to a site tour.

The unsuspecting official, who was at the heart of the decision, said they were shocked by Jenrick’s urgency as they warned him of the legal risks of the scheme and a likely judicial review.

The minister is also accused of adopting a generally “arrogant and gung ho” approach to planning law in making other decisions.

They left with the impression: “We had to get with the programme or go away.”

The source’s claim that Jenrick showed “total disregard” for the law in the run up to the decision will reignite calls for his resignation.

Those present on the fourth floor of 2 Marsham Street, a government building in Westminster, included Steve Quartermain, England’s most senior planner, planning officials and civil service lawyers. None was aware of Jenrick’s potential conflicts of interest.

Jenrick withdrew his approval in response to a legal challenge from Tower Hamlets council last month, accepting that it was “unlawful” due to “apparent bias”.

Steve Reed, the shadow housing secretary, said: “These explosive revelations show Mr Jenrick has new and very serious questions to answer.”

He added: “Labour last night called on the government halt its plans to move housebuilding powers from local councils to the housing secretary.”

The latest revelation comes amid fresh evidence of Boris Johnson’s own contact with Desmond, who also avoided paying £106m after the government waived affordable housing rules.

In an interview, the tycoon reveals that Johnson told him that he would change gambling rules to help his business after he lobbied him at a Downing Street event.

According to Desmond, Johnson “ran up to him” and said he would raise the maximum legal jackpot for his Health Lottery to £1m. He said: “He [Johnson] agreed it . . . He said, ‘Right, good news for you. We’re gonna do it.’”

Their conversation at a reception for business leaders took place on September 17, as the government considered whether to approve the Westferry plan. Desmond insisted that they did not discuss it at the event.

Last week, Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, said Johnson considered the Westferry case “closed”.

However, the detailed account of Jenrick’s conduct in the run-up to the decision will raise fresh questions of the minister. Jenrick has only stated that he “told” his private office of his meeting with Desmond.

Alex Thomas, a programme director at the Institute for Government, said it would have been appropriate for Jenrick to put his potential conflict in writing given that he decided not to recuse himself from the process.

He said such a document would have been a “note or an email to his principal private secretary” and that it would outline “what happened at the event, why he felt no substantial discussion had taken place, and that no further contact with the applicant would occur.”

Last night, a government spokesman said: “As made clear in the secretary of state’s letter to the [housing, communities and local government] select committee, this was a thorough decision-making process, approached with an open mind, with no question of bias. The secretary of state read the [planning] inspector’s report and representations from parties and took advice from officials throughout the process.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said:“A full account has been sent to the HCLG select committee by the secretary of state and the department has published relevant documents online. We have nothing further to add.”

A spokesman for 10 Downing Street said: “The government’s position on society lottery rules has been set out by DCMS and the Gambling Commission, following open public consultation by both.”

Minister in a hurry told officials: It’s my way or the highway

Jenrick was a man in a hurry. It was less than a week after MPs had returned to parliament following their Christmas recess when the 38-year-old housing secretary dispatched his private secretary to relay orders to some of his most senior civil servants.

On the afternoon of January 13 they huddled in a breakout area on the fourth floor of 2 Marsham Street, the glass building in Westminster that is home to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which Jenrick heads.

Jenrick’s aide quickly got to the point. The secretary of state wanted to issue a decision letter the next day approving the Westferry scheme on the Isle of Dogs.

According to a civil servant at the meeting, his aide was texting to Jenrick on WhatsApp as the meeting unfolded. The source, who has come forward to detail the minister’s “disregard for due process and accountability”, said that officials were left in no doubt that their views were not welcome.

The aide is claimed to have said: “We’re going ahead with this. It’s the secretary of state’s decision. It’s final.”

Those gathered around a table near the fourth-floor atrium included Steve Quartermain, England’s most senior planning official, communications advisers and government lawyers.

None knew Jenrick had a potential conflict of interest that would soon imperil his career: he had sat next to Desmond at a £900-a-head fundraising dinner just eight weeks earlier at the Savoy in London, where the tycoon had shown him a promotional video of the scheme. Desmond had later implored Jenrick to act quickly, so he would avoid a £30m-£50m Tower Hamlets council community infrastructure levy that would come into force in mid-January, joking in a text: “We don’t want to give the Marxists loads of doe [sic] for nothing!”

The civil service source is insistent that key officials on the case were not informed of Jenrick’s contacts with Desmond. They also allege that Quartermain and Richard Watson, head of the national planning casework unit, practically “begged” him to think again about the decision. Both are said to have been met with indifference.

At the meeting, Quartermain, a moustachioed Durham University graduate who has since left the civil service after several decades, raised his objections one last time. “Look,” he is said to have remarked. “The visual impact of it is terrible. There are policies around tall buildings in that particular area. It’s too big. It’s too tall. It’s too dense.” One of the lawyers weighed in, too, saying the scheme did not comply with affordable housing rules and warning there was a “70% to 80%” chance of a judicial review.

Others expressed concern that Jenrick wanted to blame the delays in Westferry on the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, and Tower Hamlets, while touting his approval as a victory for the Conservative government’s housebuilding programme. His aide then delivered the coup de grâce. “Look, guys,” she said. “The secretary of state has made his mind up . . . Let’s get this letter sorted out.” The source recalled: “We all sort of went away.”

In the months building up to the decision, civil servants had argued that Jenrick should reject the Westferry scheme, saying it violated planning rules on several counts and would be dead on arrival if challenged in court.

Not only had he ignored them. He had asked them during purdah — the pre-election period when civil service activity is restricted — to prepare for a decision in the first days of a new government, owing to “sensitivity with timing”.

Why did Jenrick refuse to listen? Why was he in such a rush? And why did officials not know about his dinner with Desmond?

Last month the minister performed a U-turn and consented to his approval being quashed in court, acknowledging that his decision had been “unlawful” as a result of his own “apparent bias”.

But questions have not gone away. First, it emerged that Jenrick approved the plan 24 hours before the levy would have kicked in, saving Desmond millions. Then it transpired that Desmond had donated £12,000 to the Tory party shortly after the decision.

On Wednesday the release of heavily redacted documents shed fresh light on the circumstances of the “cash for favours” scandal.

They showed that Jenrick swiftly texted Desmond after the dinner and agreed to go on a site tour of Westferry and that he also knew about the levy. The documents provide no evidence that Jenrick declared a conflict of interest or detailed his conversations with the billionaire to departmental officials. In Jenrick’s favour, he did not go for the tour, texting Desmond: “I think it is best that we don’t meet until after the matter has been decided.”

For Johnson, this text was enough to conclude that the matter was closed and Jenrick’s seat at the cabinet table was safe. Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, announced that there would be no further investigation.

It is a decision that both reflects Boris Johnson’s authority, given his majority of 80, and his disdain for the vicissitudes of life in the Westminster bubble, having ridden out many scandals himself. It also shows the minister’s proximity to No 10 and his circle of friendships in the upper echelons of the Johnson government.

Jenrick, a father of three and a former director of the auction house Christie’s, was one of three young MPs to back Johnson early in the Tory leadership contest. The others were Rishi Sunak and Oliver Dowden. All were rewarded with plum cabinet posts. Jenrick also boasts of his friendship with Carrie Symonds, Johnson’s fiancée.

Some MPs bristle at his obvious ambition and refer to him as “Robert Generic”. One MP said: “There’s a suspicion that he doesn’t actually believe in anything. He just wants to move up the ladder.” They added that unlike Sajid Javid, the former chancellor, there were “few” points of principle over which he would plausibly resign.

Few doubt Jenrick’s networking skills. He is one of the best-connected ministers in the cabinet, having served as parliamentary private secretary to the then home secretary Amber Rudd and to three leading Brexiteers — Michael Gove, Liz Truss and Esther McVey.

Such friendships may have helped when he faced calls to resign after travelling 150 miles to his manor in Herefordshire at the height of lockdown in April. Jenrick, who is married to Michal Berkner, a wealthy corporate lawyer nine years his senior, claimed that the grade I listed mansion was his family home, although neighbours quickly disputed the claim — as did his own website, which said he lived in London and at his constituency of Newark, Nottinghamshire.

Others believe that Johnson may be protecting Jenrick because of his own links to Westferry. As mayor of London, he gave an earlier, less ambitious version of the Westferry plan his approval in 2016. Sir Edward Lister, now the prime minister’s chief strategic adviser and then deputy mayor for planning, was the person behind the decision, and is said to retain a keen interested in planning.

The disclosure that Johnson and Desmond met on September 17 at Downing Street will do little to quell claims that Desmond enjoys preferential access to No 10, despite his later denial that he lobbied Johnson about the development on this occasion.

Few believe that Jenrick is as “unsackable” as Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s chief aide. One minister said that talk of a reshuffle had returned over the past week, with Jenrick, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, and Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, the most likely to be demoted. Coffey is said to have challenged Johnson in a cabinet meeting over the rumour, telling him that civil servants went on a “go slow” every time there was speculation about her future. Another source claimed to have spotted a reshuffle whiteboard on a recent visit to No 10.

For the moment, though, the government has shown it will spend considerable political capital on protecting the housing secretary.

It was reported last week that the prime minister had excised an announcement on key planning reforms from a upcoming speech on rebuilding Britain after Covid-19, with the express aim of sparing Jenrick further scrutiny.

The move, if it goes ahead, would give Jenrick greater power to decide on planning applications by creating a new system of development corporations.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has not yet called for Jenrick to be sacked and would instead prefer for the scandal to go on as long as possible, leading to more scrutiny, revelations and damaging headlines. In the meantime, Steve Reed, the shadow communities secretary, has referred Jenrick to the parliamentary commissioner for standards.

One of the core issues any inquiry will address is how much Jenrick told civil servants about his contact with Desmond.

The fact that no such documents were forthcoming last week is why a senior civil servant who was at the heart of the Westferry decision has come forward today to explain Jenrick’s approach to the development and the civil service generally. The whistleblower said: “Robert Jenrick has pretty much been the worst secretary of state that I’ve had the pleasure of working for.”

They claimed Jenrick had ignored or rejected advice on other occasions and expressed little appreciation of his quasi-judicial role as housing secretary — that is, someone who must make decisions based on planning law, rather than politics.

Any hint of bias can derail a project, which is why planning decisions are usually announced in sober and legalistic letters. But Jenrick is said to have overruled officials and demanded politically charged announcements on controversial plans, including a proposed Holocaust memorial in Westminster and an Indian museum in Camden, north London.

Civil servants are said to have expressed their displeasure to Tom Kennedy, his special adviser, only to be told that Jenrick had “made his decision”. He now faces another High Court battle and judicial review over his decision on the Holocaust memorial.

The whistleblower said Jenrick further infuriated civil servants during the general election campaign, when he insisted the department spend taxpayers’ money buying Facebook ads to promote the Towns Fund, a communities initiative.

The ads apparently violated purdah rules by pledging Tory investment in “red wall” seats. In a “standoffish” meeting about the Towns Fund attended by his special advisers, Jenrick is said to have told a senior civil servant that it was, in effect, “My way or the highway . . . We had to get with the programme or piss off. It was that simple.”

The source said: “The arrogance of the man was just astounding. He wouldn’t listen to anything the civil servants were saying to him. He really had a political ambition, which he was trying to use us to support.”

April 2016

Sir Edward Lister, Boris Johnson’s deputy mayor for planning, approves a plan from Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell to build 722 homes at Westferry Printworks in London’s Docklands. The proposed scheme includes 20% affordable homes.

July 2018

Northern & Shell submit a revised planning application which doubles the number of flats from 722 to 1,524. It includes an offer to make 35% of them affordable.

March 2019

The developer, arguing Tower Hamlets council was taking too long to decide, lodges an appeal and revises the amount of affordable housing down to 21%.

August 2019

Robert Jenrick “calls in” the scheme, taking control of it personally.

September 2019

Jenrick’s planning inspector publishes a 140-page report arguing for the scheme to be refused.

November 2019

Jenrick sits next to Desmond at a Tory fundraiser at the Carlton club, where Desmond raised the issue of the development. Four other people involved in the Westferry development were at the same table.

January 2020

Jenrick goes against his planning advisor’s advice and approves the Westferry scheme a day before the introduction of a local tax, which would have cost Desmond more than £40m.

March 2020

Tower Hamlets takes legal action against Jenrick.

May 2020

Jenrick accepts that his decision was unlawful and showed “apparent bias”. He agrees that the development should be redetermined by a different minister.


Government’s dithering risks unleashing a second Covid-19 wave in England 

“The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has promised the NHS will have everything it needs to tackle coronavirus, but what it really needs is an effective public health response to keep it at bay. By failing to face up to its failures, the government risks unleashing a second wave.”….

“One of the most baffling aspects of the government’s response to the pandemic is its obsession with setting up new structures from scratch rather than working with what they already have.”…

Richard Vize is a public policy commentator and analyst 

Local communities – not the NHS – are the frontline in the battle against Covid-19. Each hospital admission means the virus has already broken through.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has promised the NHS will have everything it needs to tackle coronavirus, but what it really needs is an effective public health response to keep it at bay. By failing to face up to its failures, the government risks unleashing a second wave.

The experiences of countries with an impressive record in controlling the pandemic, such as Germany, New Zealand and South Korea, show that even the best prepared systems can experience major flare-ups that are difficult to control. But still the UK government has not put in place the systems to identify local outbreaks quickly and come down on them hard.

joint statement in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) signed by healthcare leaders including the presidents of 11 royal colleges and the Faculty of Public Health articulates widespread concern that England simply isn’t ready. Areas of weakness it identifies include coordination of national, regional and local bodies – such as councils and Public Health England’s regional health protection teams, the bedrock of any communicable disease response.

Even after more than 50,000 deaths and a daily infection rate that still far exceeds countries such as Spain, Germany, France and Italy, the government is failing to ensure local public health teams have everything they need to keep their communities safe.

There have been improvements in recent weeks. Evidence to the housing, communities and local government select committee shows councils are finally being listened to and their concerns understood.

But, as the Guardian has revealed, the government’s failure to share full details of who has caught the disease with local public health teams risks wrecking their ability to contain an outbreak.

The entire edifice of the test and trace system – our bulwark against a second wave of the pandemic – begins to collapse without this vital local intelligence. If council teams don’t know where the infections are they can’t control them.

This highlights the chasm between government rhetoric and its ability to deliver. A week ago, Hancock promised the Commons that data-sharing rules would not be allowed to get in the way of saving lives. No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings, meanwhile, has routinely touted his own supposed brilliance with data, writing excitedly about cognitive technologies and superforecasting. But faced with the first real-world data challenge of his reign, he has failed.

Public health teams don’t need a superforecast or cutting edge AI. They just need to know where people with infections live and work and where they have been.

At the heart of the government’s data operation is the new Joint Biosecurity Centre. At the beginning of June, Hancock admitted that it did not yet exist, but it is already on its second leader. It will be responsible for getting information to councils, but there is confusion about how it will work with both local government and Public Health England.

One of the most baffling aspects of the government’s response to the pandemic is its obsession with setting up new structures from scratch rather than working with what they already have. It caused confusion and has wasted effort and, above all, precious time, in setting up testing centres, laboratories, supply chains and contact tracing, all divorced from existing local government and NHS operations and dependent on a maze of private sector contracts.

The Joint Biosecurity Centre looks set to continue this folly. It won’t be fully operational until at least the end of the summer, and it seems foolhardy to insert a new, untested body into the pandemic machinery at precisely the time when a potential increase in infections from the relaxation of restrictions and the return of schools will put the system under huge stress.

Meanwhile, councils are preparing their local outbreak management plans. Trading standards, environmental health, social care and many more people besides are collaborating with the public health teams to ensure their response to any flare-ups is quick and robust. But they need the data.

  • Richard Vize is a public policy commentator and analyst

Why did Ministers let Flybe go bust then save the giants?

A former owner of Flybe has criticised the Government for failing to bail out the regional airline in January – just months before issuing hundreds of millions of pounds to a rival that opposed the rescue deal.

Flybe investors said the airline could have played a key role in Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ strategy for the regions. They included Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, Southend Airport’s owner Stobart Group, and the hedge fund Cyrus Capital.

The sentiment appeared to have been shared by then Business Minister Andrea Leadsom, who announced on Twitter that she was ‘delighted’ a rescue had been agreed to ensure ‘UK regions remain connected’.

Grounded: Warwick Brady says regional airlines and airports are vital to the Prime Minister’s plan to ‘level up’ Britain

But, speaking out for the first time since Flybe’s collapse in early March, Stobart’s chief executive Warwick Brady said the ‘politics of Branson got in the way’ of a deal, which subsequently failed to materialise.

Brady said it ‘does grate’ that Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways’ owner IAG, complained the proposed £100million commercial loan was ‘unfair’ a day after Leadsom’s announcement – and just a few months before IAG was granted a £300million Government loan. IAG was also granted £900million of Spanish aid for its Iberia and Vueling divisions.

Branson, who has repeatedly clashed with Walsh, has yet to agree a state loan for his beleaguered Virgin Atlantic, in which his Virgin Group has a 51 per cent stake. The rest is owned by Delta.

Brady spoke to The Mail on Sunday during an exclusive tour of Southend Airport, which is due to restart flights next month. Stobart has spent the past months installing new safety measures for the reopening. It is set to become Britain’s first airport where no passenger will have to remove liquids or laptops from their carry-on bags while going through security.

IAG filed a complaint with the EU in January over the planned rescue of Flybe, arguing it breached state aid rules, giving Flybe an unfair advantage. A string of carriers have since been bailed out.

Brady said: ‘The Government did agree to a £100million commercial loan. Then I think the politics of Branson got in the way. I think it changed the sentiment and then the politicians changed their minds.’

He added: ‘I think he’s been scuppered because people just don’t like bailing out a billionaire.’

Virgin Atlantic held a 30 per cent stake in Flybe, Stobart also held 30 per cent and Cyrus 40 per cent. The three shareholders had agreed to invest more money in Flybe if the Government bailout went ahead.

Brady called Flybe ‘a strategic asset for the country’ and the rescue deal ‘the right thing to do’.

‘Now there’s no one flying from Newquay,’ he said. ‘Southampton was decimated, Belfast is decimated. All those airports had 80 per cent of Flybe traffic.’ He said a delay in EU approval for the loan also caused problems.

‘If we had our time again we’d probably try to work out how to avoid an EU competition delay of six months and then accelerate the restructuring plan,’ he said. ‘There’s a core, good business.’ Brady also criticised the Government’s current quarantine demands on travellers coming to the UK for their holidays and on Britons when they return from trips overseas.

The Government is set to introduce so-called ‘air bridges’ tomorrow – bilateral agreements allowing travel to popular destinations such as France and Spain, without tourists having to go into quarantine.

But Stobart, which is raising up to £100million through new and existing investors, wants Ministers to let people travel freely to a wider range of countries – not just the most popular summer hotspots.

Glyn Jones, chief executive of Southend Airport, said the five most popular destinations being considered at the time accounted for just 51 per cent of Southend’s passenger traffic. He would like to see countries in central and eastern Europe, which have seen low rates of Covid-19 infections, included.

Brady added: ‘If you’re going to lock down and do the 14-day quarantine, they should have done that at the beginning. It’s like they woke up halfway through a bad dream.’

At an eerily quiet Southend Airport, vending machines selling personal protective equipment (PPE) and Perspex screens at check-in desks have been installed.

Passengers’ temperatures will be tested before security in case other countries decide this is necessary.

There is currently just one new ‘touch-free’ X-ray machine in place, but with reduced passenger numbers, no one should have to remove liquids or laptops from bags.

Some two million passengers used Southend last year, but Stobart is planning for five million, helped by a new arrivals terminal, security route and more space for shops.

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