Site of formerly proposed Newton Poppleford doctors’ surgery put on sale.

“”I think this is an appalling slap in the face for the residents of this parish.” 

“Although hundreds of people objected to the development, Clinton Devon Estates and the Coleridge Medical Centre lobbied EDDC’s development management committee aggressively for permission to build the 40 houses outside of the built-up area boundary, contrary to the Local Plan, at the time permission was given.” – Val Ranger District Councillor for Newton Poppleford.

The residents of “sustainable” Newton Poppleford are now suffering from another inexplicably bad decision. They have been assigned by the Clinical Commissioning Group to the Ottery St Mary practice. As the crow flies the two are only about 3½ miles apart (but you wouldn’t want to walk the busy narrow lanes, let alone take a child in a push chair). There is no direct bus route, patients have to travel into Exeter and out again, a distance of around 23 miles, standard return adult plus child is £23.50, with a round trip time of 2hrs 30 mins plus connection time (pre-Covid,  2019 schedules and prices). There is a surgery in Sidmouth on a direct route with journey time of 5 mins but it is closed to Newton Popp. residents. – Owl –  Oh and beware of developers making promises (Greeks bearing gifts)!

The land at King Alfred Way is on sale with a guide price of £250,000 through Sidmouth-based estate agents Harrison Lavers & Potburys.

The land was the subject of local controversy last year following a row over the site being earmarked for a new GP practice as part of a wider application for a 40-home development by Clinton Devon Estates (CDE).

The original planning application for King Alfred Way was approved in 2014.

But CDE was unable to find a tenant, so instead applied to build two more homes.

The parish council expressed an interest in running the surgery, so East Devon District Council (EDDC) delayed a decision on the application twice to allow the parish council to meet the developer to find a solution.

The developer instead lodged an appeal in 2019 with the planning inspector, who could have made EDDC pay costs, so it decided not to fight the appeal.

At the time, Councillor Paul Arnott said the application was the most ‘spectacular orbit of deceit and betrayal’ and the council should mount a challenge despite the costs. He said: “It’s so mired in lies and deceit going back years, betrayal, treachery, accusations of wording.”

At the time, councillors claimed the application for the 40 homes would have never been given the go-ahead if the doctors’ surgery had not been included.

A CDE spokesman said: “CDE’s land at King Alfred Way was identified as a preferred housing site in 2012 in consultation with Newton Poppleford Parish Council and in response to EDDC’s call for sites for new homes to help meet a critical shortfall of housing and affordable housing – and to provide a new doctors’ surgery.

“This was never a speculative development.”

They added that when the original application was first approved in 2014, Coleridge Medical Centre had committed to being the operators of the new surgery.

But, after a catalogue of delays caused by legal challenges, appeals, objections and planning refusals, the NHS funding was no longer available to operate the surgery.

The spokesman said the development at King Alfred Way was completed earlier this year, and that 40 per cent was affordable housing, with 11 being affordable rented homes and five shared ownership.

They added: “Not only do these very well-designed, energy efficient new houses provide modern comfortable homes, they have significantly helped the district council meet its housing shortfall, particularly in affordable housing supply.

“The land that had been set aside for a doctors’ surgery now has planning consent for two homes following a review by the planning inspector.

“It will be sold, and the proceeds will be reinvested in the many environmental and community initiatives that CDE is responsible for in towns and villages across East Devon, including Newton Poppleford.”

Reacting to the sale of the site, Newton Poppleford and Harpford Councillor Val Ranger said: “I think this is an appalling slap in the face for the residents of this parish.

“Although hundreds of people objected to the development, Clinton Devon Estates and the Coleridge Medical Centre lobbied EDDC’s development management committee aggressively for permission to build the 40 houses outside of the built-up area boundary, contrary to the Local Plan, at the time permission was given.

“Some residents bought the new houses believing they were going to have a doctors’ surgery on site and they too have been disappointed.

“Residents were also promised a ‘community orchard’ but no one has found that yet either.”

A CDE spokesman said: “We consider Cllr Ranger’s comments to be disingenuous.

“From meetings and correspondence with the CDE team over a number of years she is fully aware of the background to this case and the efforts that have been made to deliver the GP surgery.”


Four more public toilets set to reopen in East Devon

More public toilets are to re-open in East Devon with extended opening hours.

East Devon District Council’s cabinet on Thursday evening unanimously agreed that from Monday, June 29, a further four toilets, in addition to the ten facilities across the district that opened up a month ago, would be unlocked to give better access for the public.

[Owl would add to this report from devonlive that from the video, the Cabinet appeared to be  minded to continue to review further options such as proposed by Cllr. Mike Howe in slower time, and possibly for these to be considered by the full Council. Funding the agreed and urgent re-opening will come from other budgets. The Cabinet also agreed to ask local MP for a meeting to discuss the funding problem brought on by Covid-19.]

Daniel Clark 

Opening hours for all 14 toilets will be extended from 8am to 8pm during the summer at a cost of almost £77,000 to ensure they are cleaned to stringent Covid-19 standards.

The toilets will be cleaned four times a day in the summer with viracidal cleaning products and three times a day in the winter. Every week the toilets will have a full site disinfected deep clean.

The council’s street cleaning summer budget of £62,000 is also restored to help deal with the expected influx of visitors in the coming weeks, and the cabinet also agreed to lobby its three district MPs for more funding to help the district through the pandemic.

But calls from Conservative councillors for all 27 public toilets in the district to reopen were rejected as it would ‘cost somewhere between a lot of money and a hell of a lot of money’.

The chosen scheme whereby toilets close at 8pm in the summer and 5pm in the winter would cost £76,962 rather than the £213,135 to reopen all 17 currently closed toilets.

Cllr Paul Arnott, Leader of the council, told the meeting: “Our coastal towns and major shopping areas must have safe Covid-19 compliant lavatories restored as a matter of extreme urgency. The problem is that this will cost somewhere between a lot of money and a hell of a lot of money.

The toilets that will re-open from Monday, June 29, with opening hours from 8am to 8pm in the summer months are:

Cliff Path (West End, Steamer Steps), Budleigh Salterton

Magnolia Centre, Exmouth

Phear Park, Exmouth

Market Place, Sidmouth

Toilets that re-opened from May and will have opening times extended from 8am to 8pm during the summer months from next Monday are:

West Street Car Park, Axminster

East End (Lime Kiln), Budleigh Salterton

Jubilee Gardens, Beer

Foxholes Car Park, Exmouth

Manor Gardens, Exmouth

Queens Drive/Old Lifeboat, Exmouth

King Street, Honiton

West Walk, Seaton

Connaught Gardens, Sidmouth

Triangle, Sidmouth

Calling for additional toilets to be reopen, Cllr Ian Barlow, chairman of Sidmouth town council, said: “Now the town is open, we have no toilets in the town and that is not acceptable, and people are reliving themselves outside of the toilets and that has to be more of a health hazard. If you want people to come to the town, you have to give them the facilities.”

Cllr Andrew Moulding, leader of the Conservative Group, said that the need to reopen all the toilets was extremely important and vital to help support businesses. He said: “People will go where they can get the best service and we should give the service the people of East Devon expect.”

Cllr Ian Hall added: “This is our best opportunity to support the economy and give East Devon the best chance to recover, and we don’t want to be in a position where we regret not doing the best we could in the circumstances.”

Cllr Mike Howe said that reopening all the toilets was the best option for the economy, but said that a compromise option whereby all the toilets were reopened but with reduced opening hours in the winter should be looked at as well. He added: “It would cost less as only extending the opening hours in the summer and gives the business the best chance to recover, as if the businesses don’t survive, we will be in an even worse situation then we are now.”

But Cllr John Loudoun said that while he would love to see all 27 toilets open, but the council would have to find another £140,000 to do so, while Cllr Paul Hayward said that is the council isn’t pragmatic then it faces running out of money.

Cllr Jack Rowland, portfolio holder for finance, added: “I would love to see all the toilets open to support business and industry, but we are not in an ideal situation and have to face some realities. We have to face reality as if we reopen all the toilets, where does the money come from?”

Cllr Jess Bailey added over the opening of the additional four toilets: “This strikes the balance between opening up additional toilets and extra hours in the summer and recognising our finances”.

Following the meeting Cllr Geoff Jung, the council’s portfolio holder for the Coast, Countryside and Environment, said: “I am really pleased that we are able to re-open and extend the hours for our public toilet offering. As we come out of these most challenging of times we will be aiming to return to our normal high standard of services and facilities, albeit in some places reduced coverage as services have to be Covid-19 compliant which is costing more.”

But skateparks, playgrounds, and multi-use areas in the district will remain closed, with a council spokesman saying: “While we understand the eagerness by some to use these much-loved facilities, government guidance has advised that playgrounds and similar facilities must remain closed for the time being until we are told otherwise.

“These facilities attract large numbers of people and the activities they are used for would, by their nature, lead to breaches of social distancing. The council would be unable to regulate social distancing at these sites or clean all surfaces to the frequency needed to prevent the potential for the virus to be present.”

Cllr Jung added: “I appreciate that young people want to use our skateparks and multi-use game areas, and this is something we hope can be achieved in the near future. We are constantly reviewing all our facilities and it is hoped all play areas will be considered safe to be used shortly as the government further relaxes the emergency measures.”

Boris Johnson loves U-turns. Let’s hope this extends to a no-deal Brexit

Britain could be the first developed economy to be sabotaged by maths. Not by war, ideology or disease, but maths. The prime minister is said to be mesmerised by models.

Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist 

One is the coronavirus model of a “second spike” and half a million deaths, creation of Imperial College London statisticians, led by the epidemiologist Neil Ferguson. The other is the Brexit model of Professor Patrick Minford, forecasting a surge of 4% in British growth in the event of a hard Brexit. Both modellers have their critics. But no matter. To Boris Johnson, the model is god. Forget common sense. Maths cannot lie. The models hover over today’s Downing Street like two swords of Damocles.

Johnson can reasonably argue that he was not alone in following Imperial College to blanket lockdown. He meant well. But now he is trapped by it. Despite his project fear and its poll approval, lockdown failed to stem Europe’s second worst death rate. According to the OECD, it is also about to inflict on Britain Europe’s worst recession – an 11.5% fall in GDP, compared with Germany’s 6.6%. Unemployment without equal since the 1930s may result.

One might think that, having cut off the economy’s two legs, Johnson might be kind to its arms. But no. This week he and his Brexiter colleague Michael Gove indicated that talks with the EU on a trade deal had stalled. There was no way they would seek the extension on offer at the end of this month. They are putting it about that, with the economy in ruins anyway, no one will actually notice more blood spilt over stalled EU trade.

Like many half-hearted remainers, I have accepted Brexit as a new reality. But I could never imagine no trade deal with the EU. It was and is barking mad. As with blanket lockdown, no-deal Brexit is treated by Johnson and Gove as undergraduate psychology – of bluff, double-bluff and debating points. They regard the EU’s Michel Barnier as the cad of the lower fifth. Put him against the wall, they jeer, and he will fold.

There is absolutely no reason for failing to extend the current EU talks, at least until heads on both sides can clear. The British economy, partly through the government’s own fault, faces appalling contraction. The economy’s second biggest sector, hospitality and tourism, has been devastated.

Johnson may think Britons are so bound up in the horrors of his first model that they will not notice the horrors of the second. Apart from such irresponsibility, that cannot apply to businesses and their employees. British exporters face an instant tariff wall from January. Farmers may have to slaughter animals. Aviation, policing, and food and medicine supply chains will choke. Banking arrangements may be cobbled together, but the trickle of financial emigration to Europe’s capitals will become a flood. And for what? So Johnson can keep his appointment with his own chosen date.

Searchers after comfort may find some in the prime minister’s addiction to U-turns. He made a significant one last year when he agreed to an unavoidable customs border with Northern Ireland. Peering through the murk, we can see the hope of a compromise on fish, where at least Britain has right on its side.

Other EU concessions are harder to discern. A grownup arrangement should be possible on trade arbitration. One is less plausible on common trading standards. Compliance to such standards is the essence of a sophisticated free market between adjacent economies, but Johnson seems averse. The idea that a deal with the US might ever compensate for the EU, let alone now, is fantastical.

In other words, a version of the old single-market option of sharing Europe’s “economic area” should make as much sense to a Eurosceptic as to a former remainer. It is said that the necessary concessions – or U-turns – could be cobbled together by Christmas. But this involves Downing Street genuinely wanting it.

Why Johnson should want to put British businesses and their workers through the hell of yet more uncertainty is a mystery. He says he must keep faith with those who voted for Brexit, but this is infantile. They were a narrow majority, and were never asked to vote for no deal. A poll last month was emphatic. Three-quarters of respondents do not want to leave the EU without a deal. That includes 64% of Tories and 57% of leavers.

There cannot be a majority for no deal in parliament. Keir Starmer and the opposition have a duty to do all they can to force Downing Street to reverse its intransigence. They must stop Johnson doubling-down on insanity, and declare death to the models and the maths.


Construction safety is ‘broken’ say fire chiefs

Some construction firms still can’t be trusted to make buildings that are safe from fire, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has warned.

By Roger Harrabin BBC environment analyst 

Its safety head Nick Coombe said some building firms had barely improved since the Grenfell disaster in 2017.

The Federation of Master Builders, which represents small contractors, said it was trying to create a safer industry, with licensed firms.

Build UK, which represents the wider industry, declined to comment.

The National Fire Chiefs Council said the construction industry was “broken” and couldn’t be trusted to follow rules.

Mr Coombe said many reforms were needed, especially to building regulations, which allow builders to choose an inspector to certify their building safety.

The current inspection system was devised by the government in the 1980s to speed up the timetable for buildings.

Ministers were concerned that local council inspectors were delaying projects, so they allowed private inspectors to compete on speed of approval and cost.

Tower block “free-for-all”

The builder effectively employs the safety inspector: critics say it’s like students choosing who they’ll pay to mark their exams – except people’s lives are risk.

Mr Coombe said: “This doesn’t drive standards up. It means the developer controls the amount of visits from a building inspector. We have had people shopping around for building controllers who would accept their work.

“If you build a house extension the local authority are all over you. If you build a tower block or a shopping centre there’s a free-for-all.”

Mr Coombe’s comments amplify a recent NFCC submission to a post-Grenfell review of building regulations.

In that document the fire council warn: “It is our opinion that some within the wider industry are not acting responsibly when designing and approving buildings.

“Banning things [such as flammable cladding] is no guarantee that people will follow the rules, and it is our view that much of the combustible cladding on the side of buildings is already banned under the current regime.

“To date, there is little evidence of a culture change [since Grenfell]. There is much more to be done to ensure the safety of building occupants, now and in the future.

“NFCC advocates that the current building control system is overhauled to ensure that it is robust, independent of client and market influence, and has sufficient teeth to enforce appropriate fire safety standards as necessary.”

Safety disagreements

The response to the horrific Grenfell fire has had some side-effects. Some building firms report huge delays to construction, while developers, architects and builders argue over liability for safety.

The owner of one building firm, who didn’t want to be named, said: “Building projects are being dictated to now by the insurers. Premiums have shot up. There’s a passing of responsibility right down the food chain [from developers to architects to contractors to sub-contractors].”

The Grenfell effect has also deterred architects from designing buildings with wood in the wall construction.

Governments in the USA, Canada and Europe are promoting the use of timber in buildings to help combat climate change, because it locks in CO2 that trees have taken from the atmosphere.

The USA, for instance, has certified 17-storey wood framed buildings after extensive fire testing.

Meanwhile in the UK the government proposes that the maximum height of buildings with wood in the walls to be no more than four storeys.

Fires tests needed

Mr Coombe said the NFCC didn’t want to block the use of wood in buildings, but insisted that fire safety tests should be done in the UK to prove the safety of design.

A government spokesperson said: “The Grenfell Tower fire was a devastating tragedy and we are as determined as ever to ensure this can never happen again.

“Safety is paramount – that’s why we’ve announced the biggest changes to building safety in a generation which will deliver meaningful and lasting change for residents.

“We are carefully considering the responses to our consultation and will respond in due course.”

Brian Berry from the Federation of Master Builders said: “Our members, the vast majority of whom work in domestic repair and maintenance or are small house builders, know that quality and safety must be at the heart of building projects.

“We are leading moves to create a more professionalised industry and advocate licensing of all UK construction companies.”

BuildUK has a very broad membership across the industry and on some issues its members find it difficult to reach a consensus.

Every day on Dartmoor is like a ‘summer bank holiday on steroids’ says national park boss

Like our seaside towns, Dartmoor has been under pressure from people seeking release from lockdown by travelling to beautiful places. The National Park Chief Executive says every day is like a ‘summer bank holiday on steroids’.

The downside is that the managing organisations have to deal with the costs of cleaning up with no extra revenue.  The Dartmoor National Park says it can cope, but this Thursday EDDC Cabinet decided to spend nearly £77K in order to extend the opening of toilets to 14 sites. These will be open until 8pm in the summer only, closing toilets at 5pm in the winter. Covid-19 means toilets that are open require extra cleaning.

Closing toilets was part of  economy measures put in place for this year’s budget and the money will have to be found from cuts elsewhere. There was general support from Council members that something had to be done urgently and the Cabinet also agreed to seek a meeting with local MPs .

The Chief Executive also talks about how the National Park intends to respond to the Glover Landscape Review (that proposed the Government consider creating a new “East Devon and Dorset” National Park ). 

Unprecedented numbers of visitors have made their way to Dartmoor National Park over the last month, with every day like a ‘summer bank holiday on steroids’.

The majority of the visitors have come, enjoyed themselves and respected Dartmoor, Dr Kevin Bishop, chief executive of the National Park, told Friday’s Authority meeting, but he added that sadly there is a minority that have not.

“How we seek to tackle the anti-social behaviour of this minority is one of key challenges going forward,” he added, saying: “The verbal abuse of our staff is unacceptable as is the damage to sensitive habitats and the impact on local communities.”

Dr Bishop was providing the meeting with an update on how Dartmoor National Park has responded to the coronavirus crisis and the impacts, challenges and the opportunities it can bring them in the future.

He said that while the pandemic is having a financial impact on the work of the Authority, at this current time they believe that they can manage through this crisis without the need for additional support during this year, adding: “We have always been prudent in our budget setting in terms of forecasts of external income generation and this prudence is helping us to manage the current situation.

“This is obviously dependent on how the pandemic develops, but our key concern is the longer term implications for our core funding. Given that we have had real terms cuts to our core funding in eight of the last 10 years austerity never really ended for the Authority.

“COVID-19 is having an impact on our revenue budget for 2020/21 but we are seeking to manage this through limited use of the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and in-year savings. Unlike some other National Park Authorities, who are able to generate significant sums of income from assets that they own, we have few assets from which to trade and thus have more limited exposure to loss of commercial income.

“We are losing income through sales in visitor centres, lack of car park charges and the waiving of vending licence charges, and these losses then need to be balanced against savings from project spend, stock acquisition, travel etc.”

Donna Healy, Head of Business Support, added that the 2019/20 budget saw a revenue surplus for the Authority of £179,957 against the target budget, up from the estimated £116,998 surplus forecast at month 9, partly because stock for resale in the Visitor Centres was been deferred until they are able to re-open.

But she said that because of the enforced closure of the visitor centres and the decision to suspend parking charges, until they resumed charging on June 9, the Authority had brought in no income from these sources in the first two months of 2020/21.

Initially visitors were strongly encouraged not to travel to Dartmoor as part of the lockdown restrictions, but following the Government announcement to allow unlimited outdoor exercise and driving to do this from May 13, Dr Bishop said: “Since then we have seen unprecedented levels of visitors to the National Park. It has seemed as if every day has been a ‘summer bank holiday on steroids’.

“During lock-down the benefits of less motorised traffic were enjoyed across the UK, but with returning visitors we have been quickly reminded of the negative impact of numbers of cars on Dartmoor.”

Plans to support the further development of sustainable travel, including exploring options and funding opportunities for cycling & walking provision along the A38 corridor, and enhancing the existing network and to develop new cycles routes into and around the National Park, are being developed, with Dr Bishop adding: “We are now exploring whether there might be funding for these as part of the Government’s commitment to promote more walking and cycling and wider green recovery.”

Dr Bishop added: “The Coronavirus pandemic has provided significant challenges for the way the Authority operates and for Dartmoor communities. We were, and are, determined to do our best to ensure we maintain service provision and help ‘look after’ Dartmoor: its people, heritage, wildlife and landscapes.

“There are some opportunities through this pandemic that we need to build upon, such as sustaining the community spirit and volunteer activity that we have witnessed in our towns, villages and communities.

“We also sense that since the easing of lockdown we have seen more first time visitors to Dartmoor – people seeking a ‘safe place’ to relax and exercise. This provides an opportunity to ensure that these people develop a ‘love and respect’ of the National Park and its communities; and to help them lead healthier and happier lives

“The COVID-19 outbreak is having a profound effect on rural economies. Some of this could be positive – the move towards local shopping and collaborative working, but other elements could be challenging – the rise of the cashless society and online shopping which will potentially threaten local services.

“We may see increased demand for rural housing as people seek to move out of cities, potentially inflating house prices and increasing the affordability gap. The move away from public transport could threaten remaining bus services, while the hospitality and leisure sector faces real challenges especially if there is no 2020 summer season.”

Philip Sanders added: “There is lots of house building taking place around in the area around the Park and that will put pressure on the Park. While the idea is to encourage people to use it, the Park has a finite capacity. I don’t want to encourage people not to visit Dartmoor but we have to be conscious of the impact that they have on the very thing they are going to see.”

The Authority meeting noted the report on the response to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2019/20 budget, and the key proposals contained in the Glover Landscapes Review.

The Landscapes Review outlines a compelling ambition to make our National Parks and AONBs better for nature and better for people, with Dr Bishop adding: “This is an ambition that the Authority supports but our concern is that this ambition is not matched with a rigorous, evidence based analysis of what is required to turn ambition into reality.

“If the ambition outlined by the Landscapes Review is to be delivered then the National Park Authority needs to be provided with the tools and powers to meet forthcoming challenges and make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead. We are keen to work with Government to ensure that the Landscapes Review does lead to lasting, positive change that enhances Dartmoor and other National Parks for the benefit of all – local communities, existing visitors and potential new visitors.”

Mr Sanders added: “The Government will have to tell us how they want it to be achieved and they will have to fund it as we don’t have sufficient money to implement most of the recommendations.”