Another view of “Three Homes” Jenrick’s re-think of planning “from first principles”

“Ministers are expecting a wide-ranging government reshuffle in September in which Boris Johnson will sack key figures who are judged to have underperformed in the Covid-19 crisis….

….Among those seen as vulnerable are education secretary Gavin Williamson, communities secretary Robert Jenrick and work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey.” www.theguardian.com 

(Doesn’t mean he can’t do a lot of damage before he goes -Owl)

Housing secretary calls for ‘first principles’ reform of planning system

By Joey Gardiner  10 June www.bdonline.co.uk 

Jenrick’s comments come after reports he is working on radical reform package with Dominic Cummings

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has said it is time to re-think the planning system “from first principles” following reports at the weekend that the government is considering the introduction of US-style zonal planning in the UK.

Jenrick, commenting on the release of a collection of essays on the planning system by right wing think tank Policy Exchange, said: “The time has come to speed up and simplify this country’s overly bureaucratic planning process”, adding that the government was “thinking boldly and creatively about the planning system to make it fit for the future.”

His comments come after the Sunday Times reported at the weekend that Jenrick has been working with the prime minister’s controversial chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, on a package of radical planning reforms.

Jenrick said: “I want everyone, no matter where in the country they live, to have access to affordable, safe, and high-quality housing, and to live in communities with a real sense of place. It’s time to re-think planning from first principles.”

The changes being discussed are reported to include a move to zonal planning – a system used in some other countries including the US whereby certain uses get automatic right to planning permission in certain areas – alongside a radical deregulation of use classes designed to allow high streets and town centres to adapt to changing uses.

In addition, it was reported that there will be a new fast-track planning system for developers of high quality, well-designed buildings. The changes are seen as part of an economic stimulus package designed to reboot the economy in the wake of the covid-19 crisis.

While Jenrick last night insisted that “high-quality design and sensitivity to the local vernacular must be at the very heart of the process,” his comments are likely to alarm those worried about the impact on development quality of further deregulation of the planning process.

Jenrick has previously called for a “first principles” reform of the planning system, when in March he published a policy paper detailing proposed reforms in advance of a forthcoming white paper, still not published. However, the proposals at that time were not widely seen as radical.

The suggestion from weekend press reports is of reforms that are closer to proposals aired by Policy Exchange in a January paper authored by Jack Airey, who was shortly after appointed as Boris Johnson’s housing advisor in Number 10 Downing Street.

The essays published yesterday by Policy Exchange include contributions from a series of experts seen as influential in the government, including economist Bridget Rosewell, who sits on the National Infrastructure Commission and recently chaired the Independent Review into Planning Appeal Inquiries.

The Sunday Times said that she was part of a panel of experts convened at the weekend to discuss the forthcoming proposals, alongside property developer Stuart Lipton. In her Policy Exchange essay Rosewell proposes abandoning the current “plan-led” planning system, which she says acts as a “straightjacket” on development.

She says: “We must abolish the Plan as a shibboleth, a straitjacket and an industry. […] Abolishing the current planning edifice does not remove the need for frameworks for permissions. Tensions still exist and must be resolved.”

While she says she doesn’t propose moving to a “free-for-all”, with major strategic priorities planned for, nevertheless, “in detail, local interests and local people can fight it out.”

>> Also read: Jenrick vows to implement ‘as much of beauty report as we can’

Jenrick’s March policy paper laid out plans for a modest trial of zonal planning alongside a further expansion of permitted development rights, including over use classes. But even when this was announced, Royal Town Planning Institute chief executive Victoria Hills described it as likely to encourage a piecemeal, short-term approach which “risk poorly designed and inappropriately located housing and will make it more difficult for communities to have a say on development.”

Then Labour housing minister John Healey said the paper was a “threat to give big developers a freer hand to do what they want, ignoring quality, affordability and sustainability”.

Dr Cathy Gardner’s statement to Devon Health Scrutiny

From the Seaton and Colyton Matters blog of County Councillor Martin Shaw. 

[Dr Cathy Gardner is funding a Judicial Review against the Health Secretary through crowdfunding. She has met her first target of £10K, her second target of £50K and has now set a new extended target of £75K. Her action is very much in the public interest please help her to hold the Government to account – Owl]

Dr Cathy Gardner’s statement, which she was unable to make to Devon Health Scrutiny yesterday because of technical difficulties

Posted on June 17, 2020 Updated on June 17, 2020

Here are the notes for the statement which Dr Cathy Gardner tried to make to yesterday’s [16 June] Health & Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting. Due to problems with Microsoft Teams, she couldn’t be heard, and the statement was read out much later in the meeting. This lost much of its impact, although I and other committee members raised some of the issues.

Good morning, my name is Dr Cathy Gardner. I am speaking today because my father died of probable COVID-19 in an Oxfordshire care home

  • Here in Devon, we may have had a lower number of COVID-19 deaths than elsewhere, but it’s still a scandal that we had ANY deaths in care homes 
  • It’s a scandal that half of all recorded COVID-19 deaths in Devon have been in care homes
  • Some of these were people who were infected when patients were discharged from hospital, without any regard for the consequences. Around the country, some patients were discharged to care homes with proven COVID, others had not even been tested.
  • Did this Council act to protect residents rather than simply complying with government orders?  
  • How will the Council respond if it’s challenged by the relatives of those who died?
  • Outbreaks have continued to develop since new guidelines were published on April 15th , why is this?
  • Care homes should be relaxed, secure places – they shouldn’t be used for treatment and recuperation of people with highly infectious diseases.
  • It is not difficult to isolate care homes to protect residents. Regular testing of staff is essential, including agency workers.  Has this Council done all that it can to ensure that this is happening in Devon?
  • The NHS should provide separate ‘step-down’ care for people who need to be discharged from hospital: has the Council helped with this?
  • What is being done to ensure that care home residents are protected NOW and in the future so that no more COVID-19 infected people are moved into care homes? This virus is not going away anytime soon but we can protect the most vulnerable in our society if we want to.
  • Thank you

 

Mystery over abandoned car filled with rotting food and Christmas decorations in Budleigh Salterton

An abandoned car full of rotting food and Christmas decorations in Budleigh Salterton has sparked concern for the welfare of its owner.

“A visitor to Budleigh who spotted the car, and wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I just find it astonishing that there’s a car been there for months full of rotting food and someone’s possessions and the council simply treat it as abandoned and the police have nothing to say. It’s absolutely incredible.”

Becca Gliddon eastdevonnews.co.uk 

The silver Citroen C4 has been left in a car park near Station Road for more than six months, according to notifications left on it.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) says its officers have been unable to contact the vehicle’s registered keeper and it was due to be removed late last week.

Devon and Cornwall Police said its officers were not aware of any logs relating to the car or its owner.

Notifications left on the abandoned car by EDDC warned the vehicle’s owner of its ‘poor state’, calling the condition of the possessions inside ‘hazardous’.

Inside, the car has bags of coloured Christmas baubles, packets of food, minced meat – turned rotten months after it was bought – a carton of milk, festive sweets, and cobwebs

EDDC’s StreetScene team says in its notice that it has made ‘repeated enquiries’ to contact the last-known owner, and any phone calls made were ‘ignored’.

An EDDC spokeswoman said last week: “We are aware of the abandoned vehicle but we have been unable to contact the owner despite following all relevant protocols including, of course, contact with the last registered keeper.

“The vehicle should be removed this week.”

A visitor to Budleigh who spotted the car, and wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I just find it astonishing that there’s a car been there for months full of rotting food and someone’s possessions and the council simply treat it as abandoned and the police have nothing to say. It’s absolutely incredible.

“No-one goes food shopping then abandons their car. It’s not a very old car.

“It looks roadworthy and contains food shopping, Christmas decorations and various possessions.

“The council may be following their procedures for an abandoned car but clearly there is more to it – where is the car’s owner?”

Budleigh

The car seen here with the EDDC notices attached.

Cobwebs, a carton of milk and other items can be seen here inside the car.

 

EDDC

EDDC left notices on the car warning its owner the vehicle was deemed ‘hazardous’.

Government Under Pressure to Cut VAT on Retrofits

www.homebuilding.co.uk 

The government needs to reduce its 20% VAT rate on retrofitting old homes, according to the chief executive of Historic England.

Duncan Wilson was speaking at the Architects Journal’s AJ100 breakfast event, where he questioned retrofitting being taxed at 20% while VAT on new build projects is 0%.

“We have been speaking to the government for quite a long time [about] changing the VAT regime,” said Wilson. “That is something we need all to keep battering away at, because it is somewhat crazy to have 0% on new build and 20% on repair, refurbishment and maintenance.”

Retrofitting a home helps to improve its energy efficiency by adding new technology or features. This process differs from renovating a house or conducting home improvements to make a home more aesthetic.

Wilson’s comments follow an industry-wide push to amend the policy. Green Alliance published a report last week stating the government should cut VAT on retrofits, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) wants VAT to be reduced to a maximum limit of 5-10%, and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors urged the government earlier this month to reduce VAT to 5%.

The Importance of Retrofitting

Wilson said that around 21% of UK homes are more than 100 years old, and retrofitting homes built before 1990 could be particularly important because these homes have been reported to be four times more likely to require repairs.

He also argued that refurbishing ageing homes to increase their energy efficiency was key to tackling climate change – making your home eco-friendly means you will pump less harmful carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere – and meeting the government’s net zero carbon economy by 2050.

However, Wilson acknowledged that planning rules may have to be altered to ensure retrofitting measures successfully enable energy efficiency.

“There may be planning rules that will get in the way of making buildings significantly more energy-efficient – such as on glazing or curtilage. We are going to have to be more flexible and consider greater degrees of alteration than we previously have,” he said.

How to Make Your Home Energy Efficient

One of the main benefits of retrofitting for homeowners is that it can help to reduce energy bills. And you can retrofit your home in a variety of ways.

Installing insulation and upgrading your boiler to improve your home’s energy rating can increase its value by £25,000. Even quick jobs such as replacing your light bulbs with energy-efficient light bulbs can make a difference.

Insulating your loft and cavity wall can also help to keep heat in, and both external and internal wall insulation could save up to £455 on annual heating bills (according to the Energy Saving Trust).

Build, build, build! Boris Johnson is planning measures to boost the construction industry

“Housing Secretary “Three Homes” Robert Jenrick MP said building the homes the country needs is central to the Government’s mission.”

Would this be what the community needs or the developer needs?

Owl believes that the Government should end the VAT anomaly of zero for new build and 20% for retrofit/refurbishment. There are a whole lot of reasons, especially green ones,  for favouring rather than penalising refurbishment. See next post “Government Under Pressure to Cut VAT on Retrofits”

Planning permission deadlines will be extended to save hundreds of construction projects from delays, ministers will announce today.

Longer hours will also be allowed on work sites to help with social distancing and planning appeals could be speeded up.

Boris Johnson is expected to promise to ‘build, build, build’ in a speech next week that he hopes will redefine his premiership.

Planning permission deadlines will be extended to save hundreds of construction projects from delays, ministers will announce today

He will promise a huge programme of investment to revive the pandemic-ravaged economy.

Planning permission usually expires after three years if work has not been started. But sites that have an expiry date between the start of lockdown and the end of this year will now see their consent extended to next April.

This will prevent work that has been disrupted by the pandemic from stopping altogether.

A developer will not need to submit a new application where permission or consent expires in this period, reducing costs and time delays for firms and local planning authorities.

The Government estimates that by the end of this month alone, more than 400 residential permissions providing more than 24,000 new homes would have expired.

Developers will not need to submit new planning applications where permission or constent expires from the start of lockdown until the end of the year

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP said: ‘Building the homes the country needs is central to the mission of this Government and is an important part of our plans to recover from the impact of the coronavirus.

‘New laws will enable us to speed up the pace of planning appeals and save hundreds of construction sites from being cancelled before they have a chance to get spades in the ground, helping to protect hundreds of thousands of jobs and create many others.

‘Taken together, these measures will help to keep workers safe and our economy moving as we work together to bounce back from the pandemic.’

New measures will also be brought in to speed up the appeals process.

The Planning Inspectorate will be given the power to run more than one procedure – written representations, hearings and inquiries – at the same time when dealing with a planning appeal.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP said building the homes the country needs is central to the Government’s mission

This will allow appeals to conclude more quickly.

Last year a pilot programme found that this more than halved the time taken for appeal inquiries, from 47 weeks to 23 weeks.

The measures will also help builders to negotiate more flexible working hours with their local councils for a temporary period.

This should make it easier to follow public health guidance and, by staggering builders’ arrival times, public transport will be less busy and the risk of infection reduced.

Did you know that our town and countryside may be changed forever by outside forces? 

Owl has received this communication from from Save Colyton Countryside:

Did you know that our town and countryside may be changed forever by outside forces? 

Please take five minutes to find out why…

THE PROBLEM

Like everywhere in the UK, Colyton and Colyford has a shortage of affordable housing. We need around 30 extra homes for local families.

WHO IS TACKLING THE PROBLEM?

The process of creating affordable homes is handled by a group of local volunteers called the Colyford and Colyton Community Land Trust (C&CCLT). It’s a difficult job and they are doing their best to resolve the housing problem in our town.

THE WRONG SOLUTION?

In an attempt to find an easy solution, a site for a 20 house development has been identified in some of our loveliest and most fragile countryside. The proposed site is a field known as Lewis Haye (formerly Seller’s Grave) on the corner of Love Lane and Old Sidmouth Road, above Hillhead.

When combined with the neighbouring Seaway Head community, this would create a huge 40 house estate on Green Wedge land, on the highest point for miles around.

A development of this size would change the face of our landscape forever, devastating wildlife, bringing many extra cars along rural lanes, and creating a precedent for sprawl into the countryside.

It seems obvious that concentrating all these homes in one fragile area would be completely disproportionate…

And yet we need houses for our families.

So what can we do?

THE RIGHT SOLUTION?

Official guidance from every available source – from EDDC to Central Government, recommends that the preferred solution is to create many small clusters of affordable homes. This is known as ‘pepper-potting’.

In this way, our families are properly integrated in the community, and the environmental impact is massively reduced.

So, for example:  it might be fine to build 3-5 new homes on the Lewis Haye site along the Old Sidmouth Road. The rest of the Lewis Haye field could then be turned into a communal green space, with trees and a play area.

Some houses will go on the former CeramTec site, and the remaining homes could be scattered in small clusters throughout Colyton and Colyford – on brownfield sites wherever possible. In this way, we create homes for our families and protect our countryside too.

That’s common sense, isn’t it?

Read on to understand why is this NOT happening…

A SCARY FACT

In the same way as the government employs ‘Special Advisers’, our CLT is advised at every stage by a ‘silent’ team of professional planning consultants called Wessex Community Assets.

This means that huge decisions about the future of our community, and our green spaces are heavily influenced by outside forces.

Wessex Community Assets (also known as Middlemarch Associates) make money by steering through affordable housing developments, often employing an ‘exceptional clause’ to build on protected land.

This is happening at an alarming rate across the country. By exploiting loopholes in planning law, affordable housing estates are springing up even on National Parks like Dartmoor. In theory this should only be allowed when all other sites have been excluded, but that’s very hard to disprove. Yes, families get homes, but at what cost?

Obviously, the larger the estate, the bigger the commission the planning consultants receive. Putting all these houses in one place like Lewis Haye is more lucrative and a lot less hassle than finding several smaller sites.

Wessex Community Assets do not live in our town, but they are making these huge decisions on our behalf. Is that what we want?

The proposed Lewis Haye estate appears to be a quick-fix solution, but it would have profound consequences for Colyton residents, and a permanent impact on the environment for future generations.

HOW THE DEMOCRATIC VOICE IS SILENCED

Here are a few of the ways in which objectors’ voices are currently being suppressed –

1)    We all know that it’s common courtesy to inform our neighbours if we plan to put up so much as a garden shed. But Wessex deliberately kept the proposal for a 20-house development quiet. They didn’t speak to the immediate neighbours at all. Or invite them to the Town Hall presentation last October. They say this was ‘to prevent the circulation of incorrect and possibly distracting rumours.’

Is that democratic? Is that polite?

2)    The Town Hall presentation, which was all approved by Wessex, offered a vague, biased, one-sided story. In fact most people at the meeting had no idea where the site actually was, especially as the name had been changed from Seller’s Grave to Lewis Haye. The presentation failed to reflect any possible negatives, such as the impact on the environment, drainage, traffic, light pollution, or height above sea level. There was no allowance for a counter presentation. And, as they arrived at the door, the public were encouraged to vote in favour of the proposal!

Is that democratic? Is that community minded?

3)    The presentation also omitted the fact that a ‘Heads of Terms’ deal had already been agreed with the owner of the Lewis Haye site! Wessex says that none of this breaks the rules. But it is Wessex who make the rules.

Is this democratic? Is this transparent?

4)    Although Community Land Trusts are meant to represent the whole community, Wessex only allows people who agree with their proposal to become members. When people with opposing views try to join, their membership forms are returned. No reason is given except that ‘your membership has been unanimously refused.’

Is that democratic? Is that fair?

5)    Already, dozens of people have written passionate letters objecting to the proposed development. If you are one of them, you will probably have received a standard response saying that ‘the matter will be raised at the next board meeting’ or referring you to the C&CCLT website. In fact your letter will be filed away and probably never see the light of day. In other words there is no official forum for debate.

Is that democratic? Is that respectful?

6)    The C&CCLT website appears to invite comments, but like the town hall presentation, it only reflects one side of the story. We all have a right to be heard, so why not publish ALL letters on the website, even if names are redacted? Then everyone can see the consensus of opinion. Why don’t C&CCLT publish THIS letter on their website?

Is this democratic? Is it reflective of our views?

7)    People who object to the development care hugely about the environment and about housing for local families too. But Wessex Community Assets refer to objectors as ‘wreckers.’ The advice they give is that there will always be people who ‘object stridently’… just ignore them and they’ll go away!

Is that democratic? Is that ethical?

Professional planning consultants push developments through by stealth. Like all ‘Special Advisers’ they give advice behind closed doors, ignore objections, create division within communities, and rarely enter into debate themselves.

But all the time they steadily accelerate like bulldozers towards their goal. And the process becomes increasingly hard to stop.

Right now they are using public funds to carry out a ‘feasibility study’. Shortly afterwards they will use public money to go to planning. One day these Advisers will take their money and move on to the next development… while we wake up to find that our countryside has gone.

That’s why YOU need to ACT NOW.

Write to C&CCLT today. If you’ve written before, write again. Tell your friends to write too:

candcclt@gmail.com

Copy in Save Colyton Countryside:

SaveColytonCountryside@gmail.com

You could even write to Dominic, chair of Wessex Community Assets:

dominic.acland@wessexca.co.uk

Ask awkward questions: How much will these professional planning consultants receive? Why are no opposing views being presented on the Community Land Trust website? Why does the C&CCLT not include people with different opinions, and the families who will live in these houses? So far we have only heard one side of the argument, where is the public debate about the future of OUR town? Above all, why are we not looking for a grown up compromise?

Let them know what you feel about having decisions within our community dictated by professional consultants from elsewhere. Do not accept a standard response. Whatever opinions you have, insist that they are heard and shared for all to see.

Whether you are FOR or AGAINST the proposed development, we all have a democratic right to be heard.

Releasing English hospital patients into care homes ‘not illegal’ – Guardian on Cathy Gardner’s Judicial Review

Releasing hospital patients into care homes without Covid-19 tests was not illegal, lawyers for the UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, have said in a rebuttal of a high court challenge to the government’s handling of the pandemic in care homes.

Dr Cathy Gardner is funding this action through crowd funding.

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com

Dr Cathy Gardner, who lost her father, Michael Gibson, to Covid-19 in a care home that accepted discharges, claims that Hancock misled the public when he said the government threw “a protective ring” around care homes where more than 16,000 have died across the UK.

Earlier this month, she requested a judicial review of the government’s strategy, alleging that it broke the law. She claimed that Hancock, NHS England and Public Health England “failed to take into account the vulnerability of care home residents and staff to infection and death, the inadequacy of testing and PPE availability”.

Prioritising expanding NHS hospital capacity to deal with critically ill Covid-19 patients was “disproportionate, discriminatory and irrational”, she said.

The government has countered by telling Gardner’s legal team that Hancock and the other defendants took “extensive measures to protect the people who live and work in care homes in response to the risks posed by Covid-19”.

“The challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic have been unprecedented,” it said in a response seen by the Guardian. “Those involved in government have been working tirelessly to find the best ways of dealing with these challenges, and taking steps to protect the lives of all those present in the UK.”

It was appropriate, the government said, to adapt policies as new information emerged during the pandemic. “Guidance and other material are often developed at extremely short notice,” it said.

The government specifically denied the claim that it breached obligations under the European convention on human rights to manage risks posed by the virus to care home staff and residents and said the convention must not be used to enforce an “impossible or disproportionate burden on the authorities”.

It denied breaching the NHS Act 2006, which obliges the health secretary to take steps to protect the public in England “from disease or other dangers to health”.

Lawyers for NHS England separately urged the courts to block the legal challenge, saying that while it does not dispute the importance of learning lessons, public interest is not served by “diverting NHS England’s attention and resources from the management of the ongoing response to the Covid-19 crisis to expensive and time-consuming high court litigation”.

Dr Gardner said the responses were “shameful” and that she would continue to press for the judicial review “so that the plight of residents and staff at care homes is not allowed to be given low priority again”.

“There is no acknowledgment of any responsibility, nor is there any explanation as to why hospitals were advised to discharge patients into care homes without testing,” she said. “Patients with a positive Covid test were even discharged from hospital back to care homes without consideration of the consequential risk.”

It was only on 15 April, after the death toll peaked, that the government committed to testing all people being discharged from hospitals into care homes prior to admission.

On 15 May, Hancock told the daily Downing Street briefing that “right from the start we have tried to throw a proactive ring around our care homes”. Dr Gardner said this claim made her “very angry” as she believed it was “simply not true”.

Her 88-year old father died on 3 April at a care home in Oxfordshire.

Coronavirus: Daughter of suspected COVID-19 victim begins legal action against Matt Hancock

“The daughter of an 88-year-old man who died of suspected COVID-19 in a care home has formally begun legal action against the health secretary.”

Dr Cathy Gardner is funding this action through crowd funding. She has met her first target of £10K and she is within 95% of achieving a new target of £50K introduced a week or so ago. Now the costs get serious.

In simple terms there are three significant phases to seeking a judicial review: the issuing of a pre-action protocol letter to the defendant, giving them an opportunity to address the complaint; if the reply is not satisfactory, seeking the “permission” of the High Court to proceed to Judicial Review (a paper review by a Judge to weed out cases that do not have sufficient merit); if permission is granted (and an earlier sky news  report thought this likely) there is the final hearing in the High Court..

Litigants have to be able to cover the costs of losing and with 11 days crowd funding to go the target has been extended to £75K. Her action is very much in the public interest and deserves as much support as we can give. – Owl

By Lisa Holland news.sky.com

Sky News revealed earlier this month that Dr Cathy Gardner had served a pre-action letter on Matt Hancock demanding he retract his claim that he placed a “protective ring” around care homes, giving him 14 days to reply.

She says that after failing to receive an adequate response, legal action for judicial review has begun against the health secretary, NHS England and Public Health England.

Dr Gardner said: “The defendants have failed to engage with my concerns, failed to disclose relevant documents and have sought to hide behind procedural objections.

“This is a shameful reply when thousands of very vulnerable people have lost their lives as well as members of staff.”

Dr Gardner’s father  Michael Gibson died on 3 April in a care home in Oxfordshire. On his death certificate it said “COVID probable”.

Dr Gardner wants an acknowledgement that the treatment of care homes up to and during the pandemic was unlawful.

She also wants an admission that guidelines allowing coronavirus patients to be discharged from hospitals into care homes untested was unlawful.

Dr Gardner says her solicitors wrote to the health secretary, Public Health England and NHS England on 3 June to ask that they accept responsibility for their actions, in particular:

  • The failure to take pro-active measures to protect the vulnerable residents of care homes
  • The discharge of patients from hospitals, without any requirement for testing, into care homes
  • The failure to provide PPE and testing
  • The disruption of PPE supply lines at a critical time of need

Dr Gardner is crowdfunding to support her case.

She said: “The defendants have now replied. There is no acknowledgement of any responsibility, nor is there any explanation as to why hospitals were advised to discharge patients into care homes without testing.

“Patients with a positive COVID test were even discharged from hospital back to care homes without consideration of the consequential risk.

“My solicitors requested documents that explain what policies were put in place to ensure a ‘protective ring’ was cast around care homes right from the start. No documents have been provided.

“I have therefore instructed my solicitors to proceed with the litigation. I am bringing this case now so that the plight of residents and staff at care homes is not allowed to be given low priority again.”

Dr Gardner’s solicitor Paul Conrathe said: “It is surprising and disappointing that the secretary of state, NHS England and Public Health England have failed to provide any explanation as to why they advised hospitals to discharge patients to care homes without testing for COVID.

“We simply have no answers as to why this advice was given, and especially at a time when PPE was scarce and community testing virtually non-existent.

“The state is under a legal duty to protect the lives of its citizens, and especially the most vulnerable.

“We will now proceed with litigation that seeks a ruling from the High Court that the advice given and approach adopted was unlawful and violated the human rights of Dr Gardner and the many people who lost their lives.”

Responding to Dr Gardner’s concerns in May, a Department of Health spokesperson said: “This virus can sadly have a devastating effect on some of our most vulnerable people and our deepest sympathies go out to the families who have lost relatives.

“The government is working around the clock to make sure care homes and our frontline social care workforce are getting the support they need to protect residents and tackle coronavirus.

“We have put in place a policy to ensure all people are tested when being discharged from hospitals into care homes and we have allocated £1.3bn of additional funding to enhance the NHS discharge process, as well as a new £600m infection control fund for care homes to tackle the spread of COVID-19.

“As a result of all this – and the work of so many people – two thirds of England’s care homes have had no outbreak at all.”

Jenrick under growing pressure after fresh Desmond revelation

Labour will step up the pressure this week on the embattled communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, after it emerged that he viewed a promotional video for a £1bn property development before overruling officials to approve it.

Heather Stewart www.theguardian.com 

According to a report in the Sunday Times, the property developer Richard Desmond showed Jenrick the video on his phone when the pair sat next to each other at a Conservative party fundraising dinner.

“What I did was I showed him the video,” Desmond told the Sunday Times, adding that Jenrick had watched it for “three or four minutes”, and adding: “It’s quite long, so he got the gist.”

Jenrick subsequently overturned a decision by a local council and the government’s planning inspectorate in order to approve a 500-apartment, 44-storey development at Westferry Printworks, a former printing plan in east London.

Labour will use the opportunity of a three-hour opposition day debate on Wednesday to discuss the controversy.

The shadow communities secretary, Steve Reed, is expected to press Jenrick on whether officials asked him to recuse himself from the decision, since viewing the video would appear to constitute lobbying by Desmond, potentially giving rise to a conflict of interest.

It was the prospect of an opposition day debate last week, and the accompanying vote, that helped force Boris Johnson to extend free school meals vouchers over the school summer holidays, after a campaign from the footballer Marcus Rashford.

Jenrick’s move to approve the Westferry development in January came a day before the introduction of the community infrastructure levy, to be used for local education and health projects, which would have cost Desmond’s company at least £40m.

It later emerged the property developer had made a £12,000 donation to the Tory party, two weeks after the planning decision in his favour was made.

When the local council, Tower Hamlets, sought a judicial review of Jenrick’s decision, he conceded the case, admitting he had acted unlawfully – and reversed the decision.

Asked about his contact with Desmond at the fundraising event, Jenrick told MPs last Monday: “The department was fully informed of my attendance at the event. I discussed with my officials that the applicant had raised the matter. I advised the applicant that I was not able to discuss it.” He said he was “inadvertently” seated next to Desmond.

The cabinet secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, is examining details of the case provided by Jenrick, but No 10 has denied this amounts to a formal investigation. Downing Street has been pressed on whether the prime minister or any of his team had met Desmond.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, defended his cabinet colleague on Sunday, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Mr Jenrick answered questions for an hour in the House of Commons this week; he’s put out a statement about this which is perfectly reasonable.”

Jenrick declined to answer an urgent question tabled by Reed, sending a junior minister, Paul Scully, in his place: but MPs took the opportunity to quiz him about the issue when he appeared for regular departmental questions last Monday.

A spokesperson for the communities secretary said: “Mr Jenrick and the applicants were put on the same table for the dinner, although Mr Jenrick was not aware of this prior to arriving at the venue. The planning application was raised, but Mr Jenrick said it would not be appropriate to discuss the matter or for him to pass comment on it.”