Planning rules could be changed in an attempt to help the high street (and development led growth)

“……On Friday a committee of experts assembled by the duo [Cummings and Jenrick] met for the first time to “think about very substantive changes” to planning rules. ……Cummings and Jenrick are also backing a new fast-track system for developers of high-quality, well-designed buildings. And they will move to a zonal planning system where key decisions will be taken from local councils and handed to development corporations...”

Owl reproduces the section on Planning taken from a longer Sunday Times article: “The sectionCoronavirus lockdown: now it’s the economy, stupid”

Tim Shipman,

Planning rules could be changed in an attempt to help the high street

Jenrick has also worked up changes to planning rules to speed up approvals, from weeks to days, for restaurants and pubs to put socially distanced tables on pavements. He will announce this week that the government is doubling the time marquees can be put up by a pub from 28 days to 56 — making it easier for beer gardens to operate in changeable weather.

Non-essential shops will reopen from June 15. Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, is also pushing for hair and beauty salons to open as soon as possible to help people’s “general wellbeing”, urging the business department to act without sign-off from the scientists. He told one ministerial meeting last week: “Just crack on.”

Johnson’s change of approach is seen as evidence of a power shift in No 10 away from his senior aide Dominic Cummings, who has been the most outspoken advocate of a tough lockdown and the most conspicuous flouter of it with his notorious trip to Durham.

Simon Case, the private secretary to Prince William, has been made permanent secretary in No 10 to drive through the next moves. Insiders said Case sees every paper that crosses Johnson’s desk and is supporting ministers who fear for the economy. “Case seems to be an enthusiast for getting on with things now,” one Tory adviser said.

In a sign that Johnson is prepared to water down another Cummings project — the 14-day quarantine rules for new arrivals at Britain’s borders that come into force tomorrow — the PM told Shapps to negotiate “travel corridors” with holiday destination countries such as France, Spain and Greece by June 28. “That’s how the quarantine stuff becomes irrelevant,” a source with knowledge of the conversations said.

One area where Cummings does remain influential is planning, where he and Jenrick are working together to kickstart housebuilding and infrastructure spending as part of a Johnson-Sunak plan to stimulate the economy. On Friday a committee of experts assembled by the duo met for the first time to “think about very substantive changes” to planning rules. The experts included Bridget Rosewell, the national infrastructure commissioner; property developer Sir Stuart Lipton; and Christopher Katkowski, Britain’s leading planning QC.

In an attempt to help the high street, businesses will be able to change their use “with complete flexibility”. Cummings and Jenrick are also backing a new fast-track system for developers of high-quality, well-designed buildings. And they will move to a zonal planning system where key decisions will be taken from local councils and handed to development corporations — though building on the green belt will not be permitted.

The economic plan will also include a “bad bank” to swallow up the debts of companies who default on the government’s bounce back loans. A “cash for clunkers” car scrappage scheme, where motorists would be encouraged to trade in their old vehicles for a new electric or hybrid car, is also on the table.

While Johnson has come around to Sunak’s position that the economy should now be the priority, divisions remain between No 10 and No 11 over how to pay for the economic stimulus package.

Johnson is keen to load most of the costs on to borrowing, while Treasury officials fear that would spook the markets and lead to inflation. Civil servants in the Treasury are calling the prime minister “the blue socialist” and “Jeremy Corbyn on steroids”.

Local Lockdowns not possible without more powers and money, warn local councils

This article specifically mentions North Somerset and Bristol. Note Matt Hancock’s “misleading” statements – Owl

Councils in areas at increased risk of coronavirus outbreaks have warned they have neither the powers nor the resources to impose local lockdowns, despite the government insisting the infrastructure is in place to deal with regional flare-ups.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said last week that the government planned to increasingly target the source of outbreaks with local lockdowns. But councils in regions where the latest estimates indicate the virus may be starting to spread again have told the Observer they are in no position to order people to stay at home. 

Modelling by Public Health England and Cambridge University reveals that the reproduction rate [R number] of the virus in the north-west has reached 1.1, which could mean the number of new infections is growing in the region. Blackburn and Darwen Council, which runs 85 schools in Lancashire, contacted heads this weekend to advise them not to reopen on Monday due to concerns over the local R rate. Many have now contacted parents to say they will be keeping their doors closed to all but children of key workers.

The Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, said the government had eased restrictions too soon, without a fully operational test and trace system in place. “It is very worrying,” he said. “There has been a significant rise [in the R rate]. It is heading in the wrong direction.”

However, he said councils wouldn’t be able to ask people in Greater Manchester, where there are over 10,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases, to stay at home without a local furlough scheme to ensure families had enough to live on. “You can’t just say to people in a designated area ‘you cannot go to work’. A lot of people would not be able to afford to do that,” he said. “That is just one of the implications of a local lockdown policy. We need clear answers quickly. All the government has done is throw an idea out there without the accompanying detail.”

Burnham added he would only consider such a measure if all else had failed and ministers demonstrated they were not trying to pass the buck. “I would need to be convinced that it isn’t just a lazy way for national government to dump its problems on local government, he said.”

The other region in England where the virus infection rate is growing is the south-west. Although it has the lowest number of cases in the country, the PHE and Cambridge University team calculated it might currently have a reproduction rate of one.

North Somerset Council has experienced a recent spike in infections, following an outbreak in Weston General Hospital in Weston-super-Mare, although PHE analysis suggests this has not spread into the wider community. Hancock twice claimed on Friday that a successful local lockdown had been in place in the seaside town over “the past weeks”. But Mike Bell, the council’s deputy leader, said Hancock was being misleading because only the hospital was shut, with new patients sent elsewhere since the 25 May. “What most people understand by a local or regional lockdown is that we go back to the days when we can’t go out and we can’t travel freely. That absolutely did not happen in Weston-super-Mare,” he said.

He added he did not have powers to impose a local lockdown in the town if it ever became necessary. “In terms of forcing people to stay at home, forcing businesses to close, we haven’t got the powers to do that,” he said.

Bristol’s deputy mayor, Asher Craig, said the council would be prepared to lock down the city if the threat increased substantially. Despite a rising R rate, Bristol has a lower than average number of cases, with 153 infections per 100,000 people. “If it worsened, we would have to lock down,” she said. But she added that the city lacked the necessary powers and was facing a growing deficit amid falling revenues.

Sunderland has the highest rate of infection in the country, with 448 cases per 100,000 residents. Although the latest reproduction rate suggests the virus is starting to recede in the north-east and Yorkshire, many fear a resurgence. The council leader, Graeme Miller, said : “How can we possibly be opening society up when this this infection rate is so stubbornly high across the country?”

A government spokesperson said that the new test and trace service would play an important role in limiting the spread of the virus.

 “As always has been the case, a specialist team from the local authority or PHE manages any local outbreaks and we are making £300 million available to local authorities to develop local outbreak control plans.”

Cabinet unrest over U-turn on animal welfare in US trade talks

Cabinet split as No 10 appears to ditch high environmental protection and animal welfare standards.

Where does this leave the Farming Community and Neil Parish MP?

A letter from No 10 states that the ministerial mandate for the US negotiations was “being updated to reflect” the fact that the UK was to have no policy position on animal welfare.

Michael Savage

Downing Street has been accused of reopening the door to imports of chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef, after a leaked memo instructed ministers to have “no specific policy” on animal welfare in US trade talks.

The letter from No 10 states that the ministerial mandate for the US negotiations was “being updated to reflect” the fact that the UK was to have no policy position on animal welfare. The revelation will raise more concerns about the government’s commitment to upholding “high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”.

The note, seen by the Observer and dispatched at the start of last month, gave approval for the US trade talks to go ahead and set out the conditions of engagement. It reveals serious cabinet unrest over the shape of a US deal and appears to suggest UK regulations could be changed to accommodate an agreement. It also makes clear that talks were to be used to “maximise leverage” in trade negotiations with the EU.

“Consultation and agreement from relevant colleagues is sought before agreeing to change domestic policy or regulations as part of the negotiations,” it states. “In the context of preserving the integrity of UK domestic law, any decisions taken in sensitive areas … must take into account the potential legal implications for the UK and be agreed by the relevant ministers.”

The memo reveals how contentious the US trade talks are regarded as being within the cabinet. Issues were raised by 11 cabinet ministers, including health secretary Matt Hancock, environment secretary George Eustice and Mark Spencer, the chief whip.

“Written responses were received from the health secretary, foreign secretary, the chief whip, the business secretary, the environment secretary, the chancellor of the exchequer, the justice secretary, the defence secretary, the culture secretary, the Welsh secretary and the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster,” it states. “All other members of the committee were content.”

The briefing also states that a cabinet committee would return to the animal welfare issue “in June to settle all outstanding agriculture issues”, suggesting an unresolved split. Meanwhile, it demands that “ministers receive regular progress reports of concurrent EU and US negotiations to help maximise leverage and allow policy tensions to be resolved as they emerge”.

A government spokesperson said that it had been “very clear since the outset that we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”.

Campaigners want legal guarantees on those standards to be enshrined in an agriculture bill currently being debated in parliament. The issue has already prompted a Tory rebellion in the Commons.

It comes after reports last week that the government was proposing a “dual scheme” that would see higher tariffs on US foods with lower animal welfare standards. It is not clear whether higher tariffs would also be linked to environmental standards.

Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dem Brexit spokesperson, said: “People can now see that promises made by Johnson and Gove were worthless.”

Luke Pollard, the shadow environment secretary, said: “It is unacceptable for the government to allow our high food standards to be compromised and our farmers undercut in any future trade deals. Attempts by ministers to use tariffs and tax rates to get around their manifesto commitment on food standards won’t wash.”

Nick von Westenholz, director of EU exit and international trade for the National Farmers Union, said: “The government made a manifesto commitment not to compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in trade negotiations, and this commitment is explicitly stated in the government’s specific objectives for the US negotiations. We would expect UK trade negotiators to be rigorous in upholding these commitments.”

A government spokesman said: “We will always stand up for British farming and are determined to use trade negotiations to secure new opportunities for farmers.

“Having left the EU, we will get to decide how we set and maintain our own laws, standards and regulations, upholding our food, environmental and animal welfare standards. Our food regulators will continue to provide independent advice to ensure that all food imports into the UK comply with those standards.”

Coronavirus: seven in ten testing positive show no symptoms

There has been a lot of speculation that the level of asymptomatic Covid -19 cases is surprisingly high. If it is it would have a big impact on all the modelling work, estimation of he R value etc.

By its nature it is difficult to estimate.

It also suggests that a significant proportion of the population may have some immune resilience. The human immune response it a lot more complicated than Owl thought.

This article was published a week or so ago.

Chris Smyth, Whitehall Editor 

More than two thirds of those who tested positive for coronavirus had no symptoms, in the first nationally representative sample.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the figure underlined the importance of social distancing to avoid catching the virus from those who felt well, amid warnings that the scale of infection without symptoms could make the NHS contact tracing system much less effective.

However, other experts cautioned that many of the test results could be false positives, caused by the inherent difficulties of checking people at random for a disease that fewer than one in 400 people has at present.

The results also show that only one in 15 people had antibodies, indicating that they had recovered from corona–virus, dealing another blow to hopes that herd immunity would end the epidemic without the need for a vaccine or treatments.

Weekly figures from the ONS show that just under 8,000 people a day are becoming infected with coronavirus and about 133,000 in England have the virus. These are “relatively stable” compared with previous weeks. Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said that 54,000 people being infected each week was “not a low number”, adding: “It’s worth remembering that we still have a significant burden of infection. We are still seeing new infections every day at quite a significant rate. There’s not a lot of room to do things, and things need to be done cautiously.”

Seventy-nine per cent of those who tested positive reported no symptoms on the day, and 70 per cent reported no symptoms at all in the weeks before and after being swabbed. Peter Benton, of the ONS, said: “If 70 per cent of people are asymptomatic that probably means there are people who are infectious and don’t know it, and therefore continuing with social distancing is important.”

The study cannot tell if these people were infectious but Mr Benton said: “I could be positive and not know and I don’t want to pass it on to others. If I was asymptomatic I may not be very infectious but I don’t want to take the chance. We don’t know for sure what’s going on but I would rather be cautious.”

Only 87 people out of 19,000 tested positive overall and Mr Benton acknowledged that the results were preliminary. Even with tests that are more than 95 per cent accurate, testing at random is known to be likely to produce false positives when few people have the disease, which is why the NHS is cautious about screening for ilnesses such as dementia and cancer.

Sarah Walker of Oxford University, who worked with the ONS on the survey, argued that even with so many people tested “we’ve only had 87 who have ever tested positive. So that does give some confidence that the test is pretty good on the false positives.”

She said the findings were consistent with studies from other countries, with a sample in pregnant women in New York finding that 89 per cent testing positive had no symptoms and 81 per cent on a cruise ship in Uruguay. Professor Walker aims to see whether those who tested positive without symptoms go on to develop antibodies, which would be a sign that they really had the disease.

The ONS study found that 6.8 per cent of 885 people tested were positive for antibodies, suggesting they had recovered from the disease, in line with estimates elsewhere. Professor Walker said: “If you were seeing 40 or 50 per cent of people who had had it you would be very excited about the prospect of herd immunity. But at 6.7 per cent that’s not worth talking about.”

Sir Patrick added: “The vast majority of us have not had the infection. And this is a virus to which all of us are susceptible. So this set of figures urges caution in terms of the measures we take.”

Carl Heneghan, of Oxford University, said of the asymptomatic figures: “If this is a true phenomenon it is hugely important. But you have to ask, is it a false positive problem? When someone says ‘I didn’t have any symptoms’ is that true or is that a false positive? Right now they are both equally likely.”

He said that if most infected people did not have symptoms “this could be hugely important in the test-and-trace strategy. The asymptomatic spread is the most significant thing about this virus.”

More ‘age-appropriate’ homes needed in the UK, says report

The key to unlocking the UK’s housing crisis lies in reversing decades of underinvestment in purpose-built housing for older people, according to new research published on Wednesday.

The report, titled Too little, Too late? Housing for an ageing population, by the Cass Business School, the Association of Retirement Community Operators and the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation, said investing in homes for the elderly would encourage downsizing and free up family homes.

The research found there are 15m bedrooms surplus to requirements across UK homes. This will exceed 20m by 2040, with nearly 13 million people above the age of 65 living in largely unsuitable households. The report also found that nearly 9m households aged over 65 live in a house with ‘surplus’ bedrooms.

Only 2.5% of the UK’s 29m dwellings are defined as retirement housing, but the number of purpose-built homes offering care services is far less, at around 0.7% of UK housing stock.

The report found that just 7,000 new homes built each year are designed for older people. This, it concludes, is “insufficient to serve the 180,000, 65-plus households that will be created each year over the next decade”. 

Eugene Marchese, co-founder of Guild Living, which is developing purpose-built housing for older people in town centres, said: “This welcome report lays bare some stark figures on how much housing is being wasted and how far behind Britain is when it comes to providing the right amount of age-appropriate accommodation.

“This is about one thing: helping older people live better,. Most people have no real understanding of ‘later living’ – but the Covid-19 crisis has woken everyone up to what happens when we ignore the question of ‘how do we want our parents to live?’”

Félicie Krikler, director at Assael Architecture, said: “As this report makes clear, households have been shrinking in size for four decades, but the way we design new homes has failed to keep pace. Our planning system must recognise that well-designed later living housing can transform our lives as we get older by allowing us to age better.

“This is not only by supporting mobility but also by creating aspirational housing that people choose to move to, not because they have to, and intergenerational places with shared services that sit at the heart of their community.”

A statement from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We are ensuring more people than ever before can access a safe, secure, affordable place to call home. This includes helping older people make informed choices about the sort of housing that meets their aspirations. 

“Many older people are already benefiting from the more than 460,000 affordable homes we have delivered since 2010. Others are being supported to stay in their own homes. We have also strengthened planning policy to make it clear that we expect all councils to have policies in place for addressing the housing needs of older people.”

Third of firms getting special virus loans ‘linked to tax havens’

Nearly a third of companies in receipt of coronavirus loans from the Bank of England have links to tax havens, new research suggests.

Ewan Somerville

Some 14 of the 53 businesses which have benefited from help are either based in or substantially owned by a tax haven resident, analysis by TaxWatch, an investigative think tank, claimed.

They have received more than £5 billion in loans as part of the coronavirus corporate financing facility (CCFF), a Bank of England scheme designed for large firms with credit ratings.

Among recipients of the scheme are British Airways, which has received £300 million and is owned by a company based in Spain and the UK with financial links to Jersey.

Digger-making JCB has a parent company located in the Netherlands, and fashion brand Chanel has its parent company in the Cayman Islands, both of which have won loans of £600 million.

TaxWatch said one company receiving a loan is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office while another is nine months late in filing its UK accounts.

The analysis comes after calls for the Government to deny coronavirus loans to companies deemed risky by HMRC.

The Treasury said it had “robust measures in place to tackle profit shifting arrangements”.

A spokesman added: “That is the right way to challenge rule-breaking, rather than punishing British workers who pay their taxes by denying access to measures that support the British economy.”