The New EDDC Administration inherits a Poisoned Chalice on Derisory numbers of Affordable Houses

From a Budleigh Correspondent:

As an onlooker from Budleigh Salterton I have been surprised that there has been little outcry from Exmouth to date at the derisory number of affordable houses which Eagle Investments propose for the Goodmores Farm site. After all, this is meant to be a green wedge and five and half acre farmland is being lost so there must be exceptional reasons to build here. I would have thought that the most compelling reason is to provide affordable housing. But only 5% of the proposed housing will be affordable, only 16 out of a total of 317 houses .This is a great reduction to the 49% Plan requirement ie 88 and 33 less than the original 14/0330/MOUT approved application. This site is the largest allocated site in Exmouth in the EDDC Local Plan so the remaining 5 sites will have to provide a total of 591 affordable homes (i.e. requirement 607 less the 16 Goodmores’ proposed affordable homes).

This has been brought to my attention by the recent Local Government Association report that states that at least 100,000 homes should be built every year to rent to key workers who have helped fight coronavirus and to the families of those who have lost loved ones in the pandemic. The 100,000 target should become part of the government’s wider ambition for building 300,000 homes a year. The 16 houses proposed for Goodmores Farm site will not go very far to alleviate Exmouth’s need.

Will we be concreting over more of Exmouth’s few remaining green fields?

The EDDC new administration have inherited many poison chalices, including this application. Eagle Investments Ltd has already secured outline permission for up to 350 homes on the site after its original blueprints were NARROWLY APPROVED by East Devon District Council’s Development Management Committee in July 2018.  But who is now to get the blame on this one? Not the old DMC chaired by Tory Mike Howe but the Democratic Alliance.

As a contributor to EDDC’s website writes “I understand the developer has been let off the requirement to provide the usual proportion of affordable homes to protect his profit margin due to the high value of his S.106 obligations. This is difficult to defend in my opinion. It is the affordable homes that are needed not yet more speculative housing which will largely be occupied by incomers rather than locals. If this site is considered uneconomical to develop then don’t develop it. That would please many more people than it upsets.

Why am I from BS so interested in this problem? Well, of course we have had the same fiddle. BS Town Council agreed to release land at the time of the start of the EDDC Local Plan in 2011 as 50% of the housing was allocated for affordable housing needs even though the site was outside the BUAB and in the AONB, a designated protected area. The land was owned by a retired local GP who, to quote, “would like to see housing for local people and he had found a developer with the experience and the FUNDING to achieve such a project”. Planning permission was granted for 30 affordable homes -50% – in a development of 59.

Of course the DMC reduced this to 21 affordable homes in 2016.

And, of course, this they reduced this to FIVE in 2018. Yes, I repeat 5 reduced from 30!

The Housing Strategy Officer Melissa Wall was unhappy

“This application seeks to reduce the amount of affordable housing provided which is obviously disappointing. Under the current S106 agreement (as varied) this site was going to provide 50% affordable housing. The applicant has submitted viability evidence claiming that it is only viable to provide 5 units (8.5%) of affordable housing in phase 1. It is proposed that phase 2 will contain no affordable housing. An affordable housing provider has been found for this site and is due to take the 5 already completed units in phase 1. 2. This variation is contrary to Strategy 34 of the East Devon Local Plan which requires 50% affordable housing in Budleigh Salterton.”

The local councillors were deeply unhappy quoting BS Neighbourhood Plan policies and EDDC Strategies 21 and 34. Words such as “the original application was reckless” “If this developer can’t go some way to honour the undertakings given when planning was approved let someone else try.” “This application to vary the conditions to me smacks of developer greed.”

Perhaps I should let the local Tory councillor sum up

“I strongly abject to the application that will blow a hole in the policies intended to protect the AONB. This site is in a sensitive location, on a rise to the south of the approach road from the north east. The only justification for such an encroachment was the provision of a high level of affordable homes for local people.”

But of course, the Tory dominated DMC approved the application. It was called the Development Management Committee for a reason!

Revealed: The elite dining club behind £130m+ donations to the Tories

Guess who’s coming to dinner? A correspondent has been digging:

Revealed: The elite dining club behind £130m+ donations to the Tories

Correction, 26 November 2019: Dominic Johnson is no longer the chair of the Chancellor’s Group.

Peter Geoghegan www.opendemocracy.net 

An elite Tory dining club that enjoys direct access to Boris Johnson has given more than £130 million to the Conservative Party since 2010, openDemocracy can reveal today.

More than 80% of funds raised by the Conservatives for the general election so far has come from the secretive Leader’s Group. For the past eighteen months, the Tories have failed to honour a pledge to publish details of the controversial club, after previous scandals.

Labour shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett has today written to Conservative chairman James Cleverly calling for “much greater transparency in how the Conservative Party handles its political donations and relationships with rich and powerful elites”.

The Leader’s Group, which has included wealthy individuals linked to Russia, the fossil fuel industry and climate denial, is open only to those prepared to give the Conservatives at least £50,000 a year. In return, they receive regular private dinners, lunches and drinks receptions with the prime minister and other senior Tory figures, including leading cabinet ministers.

openDemocracy’s in-depth analysis of this top donors’ club has found that the Tory party is increasingly dependent on a handful of funders involved in finance and, particularly, the hedge fund industry, with many of the party’s pro-EU donors fleeing since 2016.

openDemocracy’s research has also found that:

  • Boris Johnson has attended at least six Leader’s Group meetings since 2016, as have dozens of present and former senior government ministers, often at official government residences.
  • Sixty Leader’s Group donors are collectively worth at least £45.7 billion.
  • Leader’s Group donors tied to the City of London have given more than £50 million since 2010, and just five wealthy hedge fund backers have collectively given more than £18 million.
  • Senior Leader’s Group donors have received honours, including controversial knighthoods and peerages.
  • Pro-EU donors have fled the Tories since the 2016 Brexit vote, while a number of Brexit Party donors have also attended Leader’s Group dinners.

Opposition MPs and transparency campaigners have called for the Conservatives to “urgently” publish full details of their leading donors, amid growing concerns about corporate influence on British politics ahead of the general election on 12 December.

“This is very serious. It shows how the rich and powerful can buy influence with the British government,” said Scottish National Party MP Tommy Sheppard. “What are they getting in return?”

Transparency International’s Steve Goodrich said: “Wealthy donors securing access to government ministers has continued to be a worrying practice throughout a series of governments over the years. Such a transactional approach to rewarding donors can easily give rise to the perception of some form of quid pro quo.”

David Cameron agreed to publish limited data about the Leader’s Group, following a controversy in 2012 when it emerged that the then prime minister had hosted secret dinners for major donors at his Downing Street flat and at his official country retreat, Chequers.

Cameron had promised to come “clean about who is buying power and influence“. But since 2018, the Tories have not published any details about the elite donors who provide millions to the party every month.

A staff member in the Conservative Treasurer’s Department told openDemocracy that they thought publishing details of Leader’s Group donors was “a directive of David Cameron’s, many years back” that had since ceased. No such lists have been produced in the six weeks since openDemocracy’s request was made.

‘Over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules’

In recent years the Tories have relied increasingly on a small number of wealthy individuals. Last month, the prime minister was reported to have been seeking to raise £30 million mostly from City funders, to counter Labour’s donations from grassroots activists and trade unions.

In the first week of the 2019 general election, the Tories raised more than £5.6 million in large donations. Labour took in under £220,000 over the same period.

In that week, just fifteen wealthy individuals gave the Conservatives £4.4 million – more than 80% of the funds that the party has raised so far for the campaign. Billionaire theatre impresario John Gore gave the party £1 million.

Boris Johnson has proved particularly popular with donors. Donations to the Tories, which fell away dramatically towards the end of Theresa May’s premiership, have reportedly risen sharply since he took over as leader in June.

Earlier this year, the prime minister was judged to have exhibited an “over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules” on declaring financial interests as an MP, and in recent months there has been a string of high-profile conflict-of-interest scandals in which Conservative MPs and ministers have come under scrutiny.

Premier supporters

Set up in 2003, the Leader’s Group is the top of a network of Tory donor clubs – a network that grew dramatically under David Cameron. According to the party’s website, the Leader’s Group is “is the premier supporter Group of the Conservative Party. Members are invited to join the Leader and other senior figures from the Conservative Party at dinners, post-PMQ lunches, drinks receptions, election result events and important campaign launches.”

openDemocracy’s analysis of the most recent data for top Tory donors – from the end of 2013 to the middle of 2018 – as well as Electoral Commission filings shows how successful the Conservative Party has been securing donations from wealthy individuals.

It has been an open secret for many years that the annual Sunday Times Rich List provides a ‘hit list’ for fundraisers of all causes – and the conspicuous success of the Conservative Party treasurer’s department can be measured by no fewer than sixty Leader’s Group members featuring in this year’s Rich List. Collectively, these sixty donors are worth £45.7 billion. A 61st Leader’s Group donor had previously been on the Rich List, but no longer qualifies – they are worth only an estimated £88 million.

Some 200 donors attended Leader’s Group events from 2013-8, including some of the UK’s richest business people. Some 97% of attendees were male.

Henry Keswick, who has attended at least eight Leader’s Group meetings, is chairman of international conglomerate Jardine Matheson, and is worth more than £6 billion.

Anthony Bamford of the JCB construction empire has given more than £5 million to the Conservatives since 2010. The Ferrari-driving, private-jet-owning, yacht-sailing billionaire, who has personally donated £80,000 to Boris Johnson in the last year, is estimated to be worth over £4 billion.

The Tory’s elite donors include the Russian businessman Alexander Temerko, who calls himself a “friend” of Johnson’s, and Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of a former Kremlin government minister. In 2014, Chernukhin paid £160,000 to play tennis with Johnson and David Cameron.

This month, openDemocracy revealed that the Conservatives had become increasingly dependent on money from Russia-linked donors. Since the start of November, Chernukhin has donated £200,000 to the party, taking her gifts to the Conservatives this year to over half a million pounds.

Other regular guests at Leader’s Group meetings including Rosemary Said, who has given almost £200,000 to the Tories in 2019. Ms Said’s husband, Syrian-born Wafic Said, helped broker the UK’s biggest arms sale – the Al-Yamamah deal – signed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1985.

A number of senior Conservative donors have received honours including knighthoods and peerages. In September, Tory treasurer Ehud Sheleg received a knighthood, as did outgoing Tory treasurer Mick Davis. Sheleg, an art dealer, has given the party more than £3 million.

One of the Conservatives’ most generous donors, taxi millionaire John Griffin, has criticised the party’s reliance on wealthy benefactors, and urged a “more energetic” approach to soliciting small donations from ordinary members. But there is no sign of any change in direction.

Off-the-record soirées with the Tory top table

The Leader’s Group meets at least once each quarter. Soirées have been held at the homes or corporate dining suites of big donors and key party figures. No records are kept of any discussions that take place at these events, but they frequently attract the top table of the Conservative Party.

As well as Theresa May, David Cameron and George Osborne, frequent attendees at Leader’s Group events have included important figures in the recent Conservative administrations. Michael Gove, Ian Duncan Smith and Sajid Javid were all present at numerous Leader’s Group meetings between 2013 and 2018.

One Leader’s Group donor, Neil Record, chairman of the think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, previously said of the group: “The donors are treated like an intelligent fan club. If there is a businessman who wants to have a chat with a future prime minister then this is his opportunity.”

The previous Labour government was dogged by donations controversies. In 2006, Labour peer Lord Levy was arrested but not charged during the ‘cash for honours’ scandal, in which businessmen who gave loans to the party were subsequently recommended for peerages. Levy denied wrongdoing.

Hedge funds and pheasant shoots

In early February 2018, leading Conservative lights gathered among the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum in London for the party’s Black and White fundraising ball. Guests dined on slow-cooked beef and drank expensive wine.

The highlight of the night was the auction. As well as dinner with Michael Gove and Sarah Vine for £120,000, guests could also bid for a 500-bird pheasant and partridge shoot at Maristow & Bickleigh estate near Plymouth, sponsored by Andrew Law and his wife.

Law, who is one of the hedge fund industry’s most successful money managers, has given almost £3 million to the Conservatives since 2010, and attended at least fourteen Leader’s Group meetings. He is one of a number of successful hedge fund managers among the Tories’ biggest donors.

More than 40 per cent of the Leader’s Group donors owe their wealth to investment firms – a combination of finance, hedge funds, private banking and private equity.

Collectively these donors have given more than £50 million to the Conservatives since 2010. Firms that describe themselves as hedge funds are particularly influential – just five wealthy donors who have been involved with hedge funds have donated more than £18m over the last decade.

Lord Michael Farmer, co-founder of hedge fund Red Kite and one of the most regular attendees at Leader’s Group meetings, has donated over £6.4 million. His son, George, is also a member of the elite group of Tory donors. George Farmer has also donated to the Brexit Party and headed up the British wing of the controversial right-wing US student group Turning Point.

Former Tory party co-treasurer Stanley Fink – nicknamed the ‘godfather’ of the UK hedge fund industry – has given the party more than £1.75 million.

Another Tory donor is Michael Hintze, one of Britain’s wealthiest hedge fund managers, who is worth about £1.4 billion. He has donated £4.1 million to the Tories since 2002. Hintze, a major donor of the Vote Leave campaign, is one of the few known funders of the climate change-denying Global Warming Policy Foundation.

The Conservatives’ growing dependence on hedge fund donors has not gone unnoticed. In September, former chancellor Philip Hammond declared that Boris Johnson was in league with financiers who, he said, stood to profit handsomely from a no-deal Brexit. The prime minister’s sister, Rachel Johnson, agreed.

Economist Frances Coppola says that the Conservatives’ reliance on hedge fund donors is not an orchestrated attempt to make money from Brexit but shows that the interests of a very small subset of the financial industry now have a hugely disproportionate influence on the Conservative Party.

“The Tory party is now wholly unrepresentative in any way of the UK population – its source of funds is so restricted,” said Coppola. “And because they are so dependent on this small group of donors, Tory party policy is going to be skewed.”

“These are all people who want to see a bonfire of regulation, a Singapore-on-Thames,” added Coppolla. “They want to dismantle all state regulation, lower taxes to zero.”

Such views are not a secret. Months before the referendum, over a hundred City executives including former Conservative treasurer Peter Cruddas signed an open letter that called for a slashing of red tape and divergence from EU standards after a Brexit vote.

Another Tory donor group, the Chancellor’s Group, for those who give £25,000 a year, was formerly chaired by Dominic Johnson, a donor and party treasurer who founded the Somerset Capital investment firm in 2007 with Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Big oil and ‘unsavoury’ regimes

Energy companies are also heavily represented among Tory Leader’s Group donors. All but one firm is involved in fossil fuels.

Ian Taylor, boss of the world’s largest oil trader Vitol, has given almost £2.5 million. As the Financial Times noted in a 2018 profile, Taylor “has done business with some of the least savoury regimes in the world, from Castro’s Cuba to Saddam’s Iraq, via Africa, the Balkans and Central Asia”.

Ayman Asfari, chief executive of UK oil and gas firm Petrofac, has given the Tories nearly nearly three-quarters of a million pounds. Both David Cameron and Theresa May were criticised previously for lobbying the Bahraini government on Petrofac’s behalf.

Asfari was questioned by the Serious Fraud Office over allegations of bribery and corruption at the Jersey-based company. Earlier this year it emerged that the British government had underwritten a £750 million loan to Petrofac following meetings between Asfari and two cabinet ministers in 2016. The company said the meetings were in a personal capacity and related to the humanitarian crisis in Syra.

There is no evidence that the hedge fund bosses, property magnates, oil executives and others involved have ever tried to, or succeeded in influencing government policy. But critics warn that the secrecy surrounding the Leader’s Group events will inevitably raise suspicions.

Public concern

Labour shadow cabinet minister Jon Trickett has written to Tory chairman James Cleverly calling on the party to publish all the details of the Leader’s Group.

“Your party has failed to honour previous promises to publish details of the Leader’s Group dinners on a quarterly basis. The last Leader’s Group update on your website is from the second quarter of 2018 – 18 months ago,” Trickett wrote.

“Your party’s secrecy on this matter adds to what is a deeply disturbing set of affairs and highlights the need for much greater transparency in how the Conservative Party handles its political donations and relationships with rich and powerful elites.”

Liberal Democrat Tom Brake said: “‘Nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ has long been an ill-judged Conservative mantra, so you can only really draw one conclusion from the fact that they’ve stopped declaring attendees at donors’ dinners, despite David Cameron’s promise to come clean.

“Complete transparency is critically important for a functioning democracy, and it’s vital that all parties uphold this.”

Sarah Clarke from campaign group Unlock Democracy called the Leader’s Group “just the latest example of the UK’s pay-to-play politics, which enables the super rich to buy power and influence.

“While money is pumped through the veins of our political system, our collective future will be determined by the highest bidder. That is not democracy, that is plutocracy.”

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “The Conservative Party is funded by membership, fundraising and donations, including over 600 local associations across the country and it is this small-scale, grassroots support which is the bedrock of the Party. The Electoral Commission figures exclude the significant sums we have received from small donations.

“All reportable donations are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.”


Additional research by Adam Ramsay

 

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick mired in new planning row – Owl struggles to keep up!

This one also involves prominent Conservatives and party donors as well! – Owl.

“The housing secretary is facing fresh scrutiny over his use of planning powers after he intervened in a development project backed by prominent Conservatives and party donors.”

Louisa Clarence-Smith, Billy Kenber, George Greenwood www.thetimes.co.uk 
Robert Jenrick has used his ministerial planning powers to recover an appeal by Britain’s largest horse-racing organisation, the Jockey Club, for its development of 318 homes and a hotel at the Sandown Park Racecourse in Esher, Surrey.The Jockey Club launched its appeal after Elmbridge borough council rejected the application because it was on green-belt land and would deliver only 20 per cent affordable housing, against its target of between 40 and 50 per cent.

Normally, an appeal would be decided by the government’s planning inspectorate. Mr Jenrick has intervened to recover the appeal and determine it. In a letter to the local authority, seen by The Times, the reason given was that the appeal related to proposals for significant development within the green belt. That means that instead of a government planning inspector writing a decision, the inspector will prepare a report, which will be forwarded to the minister to inform his decision.

The intervention has raised concerns about conflicts of interest given the Jockey Club’s links to senior Conservative figures and donors. The club’s board includes Baroness Harding, the Conservative peer in charge of the government’s Covid-19 tracing app, and Rose Paterson, wife of the Conservative MP Owen Paterson. It also includes Peter Stanley, who donated £5,000 to Matt Hancock’s constituency office in Newmarket, home to the Jockey Club’s headquarters, last year.

Tim Syder, a racehorse owner, gave the Conservative Party £12,500 last November, shortly before he joined the Jockey Club board. Councillor Richard Williams, of Esher residents’ association, said that it was “alarming” that the future of the site was being taken out of local people’s hands. “We should be convincing the inspector of our case, not a minister,” he said.

Mr Jenrick is embroiled in a “cash-for-favours” planning row over his decision to approve a £1 billion development proposed by Richard Desmond, a Tory donor. He overruled a planning inspector and gave the scheme the go-ahead in January, one day before Tower Hamlets council was due to vote on a rule change that would have left Mr Desmond with a £40 million community charge bill. In that case, it emerged yesterday, government lawyers tried to dismiss the council’s legal challenge to Mr Jenrick’s decision weeks before he conceded that he had acted unlawfully.

The Jockey Club has argued that the Sandown scheme constitutes appropriate development. A spokesman said: “We trust that whoever determines the appeal will do so based on planning considerations only. We believe that our application has considerable merit and offers local social and economic benefits.” The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Each planning appeal is taken on its own merits.”

Dear Shielder, your time is up. No more sick pay. No more bunking off.Lots of Love, Matt

Hancock lifts Covid-19 restrictions in line with economy – sorry, science

John Crace Sketch  www.theguardian.com 
How much does Boris Johnson hate Matt Hancock? I’m asking because it’s clear the health secretary is completely burnt out. The smiles and the Tigger-like warmth are all gone. All that’s left is a desiccated shell that could crumble at any minute. A man reduced to muttering platitudes while scowling at the television cameras.

A kinder, more sensitive boss – the type that Matt was about to insist were omnipresent and would be falling over themselves to welcome back staff who had been shielding – would have told Hancock to take some time off a while ago. A chance to catch up on lost sleep and reacquaint himself with his family. After all, it’s not exactly as if he would be missed.

Instead, Matt found himself sent out on another hospital pass of a Downing Street press conference. After the usual nonsense about “our plan is working”, Hancock got down to the nitty-gritty.

He wanted to say a huge thank-you to the 2.2m people who had been shielding for the past three months, but would shortly be writing to them all individually to tell them their time was up.

“Dear Shielder,

“As of 6 July, we want you to reacquaint yourself with the outside world, so feel free to hang out in groups of up to six people. Have someone to stay overnight if you like. Because from August 1, the fun stops. That’s when the food boxes, the medicine drops and the statutory sick pay will end. Anyone found bunking off from then will be on their own. So prepare to get your compromised immune systems back to work. Lots of love, Matt.”

Predictably, most of the questioners were sceptical that not all those who were shielding would be quite so thrilled by the news. Not because they weren’t keen to meet up with friends and families again, but because they didn’t trust the government to relax the guidelines in a sensible way.

Matt just glared his disapproval. Though it might have looked as if the government was deciding policy by focus group, it was actually committed to doing everything in line with the science. And to prove his point, he handed over to deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries. “Thank you for guiding us through this crisis, Jenny,” he added. Which was a bit like thanking a wonky satellite that had been transmitting faulty data for the past three months.

But Harries was determined to do her best to help. The infection rates had now fallen from 1 in 400 to 1 in 1,700, so you could meet 1,700 people before you were in danger of getting the coronavirus. Even my basic maths could see the logical problem with that. Then Jenny became positively Ayn Rand.

“Work is good for you,” she continued, so it was the government’s job to push shielders through the pain barrier. Yes, some people might still think that a 1 in 1,700 chance of catching a disease that could kill you if you had underlying health issues was a risk they were unwilling to take, but once they had re-experienced the joys of stacking shelves at night, they would see the error of their ways.

Things really began to fall apart, though, when it was gently pointed out that this was all a bit previous. Announcing the end of the shielding programme the day before the government was about to make wholesale changes to other lockdown guidelines really didn’t make sense.

Given that many people were already treating the 2-metre rule as a 1-metre rule, a switch to a 1-metre rule would be the end of any kind of social distancing for some. And with travel restrictions being eased in line with the focus groups and the economy – sorry, the science, there was clearly no way of anyone knowing if the changes would lead to an increase in the rate and number of infections. So the end of shielding could be a death sentence for the shielders.

Now Matt’s eyes narrowed. A man on the edge of a nervous breakdown. This was supposed to be a “good news” press conference and he was sick and tired of everyone being so negative. He didn’t care if the director of the World Health Organisation thought some countries were being too cavalier in unlocking too quickly. He was always guided by the science. And where the science disagreed, he was all in favour of following the science that took him places he wanted to go.

He was fed up with people laughing at the UK’s mishandling of the coronavirus, so he was willing to take a punt on relaxing the rules to make us more like other countries. And if people started dying, then we could always lock down again. By the end, Matt looked as if he was going to crack completely.

Just as well no one asked him about his nonexistent “world-beating” app.

UK public ‘supports green recovery from coronavirus crisis’

People would be prepared to continue many of the lifestyle changes enforced by the coronavirus lockdown to help tackle the climate emergency, and the government would have broad support for a green economic recovery from the crisis, according to a report.

Fiona Harvey www.theguardian.com 

Working from home is a popular option, along with changes to how people travel, and the government should take the opportunity to rethink investment in infrastructure and support low-carbon industries, the report found.

The findings come from Climate Assembly UK, a group of 108 members of the public chosen to be representative of the UK population and to help shape future climate policy by discussing options to reach net zero carbon emissions, in line with the government’s 2050 target.

Nearly eight in ten of the members said the measures taken by the government to help the economic recovery from Covid-19 should be designed to help reach net zero, and an even bigger proportion – 93% – said that, as the lockdown eased, the government and employers should encourage lifestyle changes to cut emissions.

“It was quite clear that many of the assembly members felt this period should be taken as an opportunity to encourage a green economic recovery with a focus on promoting cleaner, greener lifestyles, and an economy that prizes sustainability over short-term benefits that would harm the planet,” said Ibrahim, an assembly member who is a GP from Surrey.

“It feels that climate change is as big a crisis as Covid,” said one respondent. “[We] don’t want the government to put climate change on the back burner because of Covid.”

Another unnamed member said: “It would be too easy to just carry on as before and take advantage of cheap oil and other special offers, [such as] cheap travel, cheap clothes, factories turning out cheap goods, to get the economy going. We need incentives to reduce emissions … and penalties for people who do not consider the environment when building or rebuilding businesses.”

The chairs of the six select committees of MPs who commissioned the Climate Assembly wrote to the prime minister on Monday to say the experience of the coronavirus crisis was likely to make people more receptive to green messages from government.

“In recent months, the UK public has demonstrated its capacity to respond positively and responsibly when they understand the risks posed to them by an invisible threat that demands collective action. We believe that a similar approach, based on securing public support for ambitious policies through open dialogue around the science, is a sound basis for the net zero journey,” they told Boris Johnson in a letter.

Jim Watson, a professor of energy policy at University College London, who spoke to the assembly as an expert, said he was struck by what a “very very strong result” the questions produced. “People are prepared to change,” he said. “[But] they don’t see lifestyle changes in isolation from policy change and what businesses are doing. There is very strong support for the government shaping and directing the economy [towards net zero emissions].”

Their opinions carry no legal weight or official recognition, but the organisers said the assembly members’ views were significant because “there is no other group that is at once a representative sample of the UK population, and well-acquainted with the sorts of measures required to reach net zero”. The assembly met for three weekends in Birmingham early this year, before lockdown, and since then attended three online meetings in April and May.

Citizens’ assemblies have been used in other countries to help guide government decisions on tricky or controversial policy issues, most notably on the 2018 referendum on abortion in Ireland.

Their full findings will be released in September, but an interim report on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis is being published on Tuesday because the government is engaged in working out its economic response to the pandemic. The interim findings will also figure in a report by the committee on climate change this Thursday, which does carry statutory weight, as the government must make a formal response.

Campaigners called on ministers to take note, and plan for a green recovery that would be “mind-blowingly popular”. Muna Suleiman, a climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “It’s time to push the reset button on our carbon-guzzling and dysfunctional economic system, and prioritise the health and wellbeing of our planet and its people.”

“Now the government has been given an overwhelming mandate for action from the informed public,” said Rosie Rogers of Greenpeace. “[If ministers fail to act] it will be glaringly obvious who they’ve been listening to behind the scenes.”

I’ll take axe to planning laws, says Cummings

Dominic Cummings pledged last night to overhaul the “appalling” planning system as Britain emerges from the coronavirus crisis and heaped praise on Rishi Sunak.

The unelected , unaccountable, “one rule for you, another for me”,  “Disruptor – in – Chief” Dominic Cummings  (who is “focused on developing the policy to respond to the coronavirus crisis” which has been so  successful!) – Owl

Steven Swinford, Deputy Political Editor www.thetimes.co.uk
The prime minister’s most senior adviser said that there would be no return to austerity and that the government would address “long-term problems” such as the planning system. He denied that there would be a reshuffle and dismissed suggestions that Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, could be moved on as “invented bollocks”.

He repeatedly singled out Mr Sunak, the chancellor, for praise, saying that he has done an “amazing job”.

In his first conference call with government advisers since his alleged breach of lockdown rules, Mr Cummings criticised the media and described Sir Keir Starmer as a “Remainer lawyer”. Mr Cummings criticised positive coverage of Sir Keir since he became the Labour leader. He said that the media had split into the “old Leave and Remain camps”. “They are pissed off we won,” he added.

Cummings also said that Conservative MPs should not believe what they read in the newspapers after a series of backbench revolts, including over his 500-mile round trip to Durham at the height of the lockdown.

He said that he is detatched from day-to-day politics and focused on developing the policy to respond to the coronavirus crisis. As an example, he said that he recently had to ask colleagues in Number 10 who the Liberal Democrat leader is. He said that they did not know either.

Tory ex-planning minister ‘faces probe’ over links to hotel plan firm

An interesting example of “strategic consultancy advice”, another example of “questionable” behaviour. – Owl

Mikey Smith www.mirror.co.uk 

A Tory former planning minister is reportedly under investigation for failing to declare an interest in a hotel development in his constituency.

Sir Bob Neill wrote a letter to his local council in December 2018, urging them to approve the redevelopment of The Royal Bell – a neglected hotel in his Bromley Constituency.

But he failed to mention in his letter that he was on the payroll of the Substantia Group – the firm handling the planning application for the hotel.

Sir Bob has been paid £50,000 by the firm for “strategic consultancy advice” since 2016, according to the register of members’ interests.

But his links to the firm were not explicitly outlined in the letter.

The code of conduct for MPs says they must be “open and frank in drawing attention to any relevant interest” in any communications with officials or members of the public.

It comes as Boris Johnson is reportedly gearing up to relax planning laws and extend building site hours in a bid to restart the stalled construction industry.

Sir Bob’s letter to Bromley’s chief planning officer

The PM is expected to back extending building hours and extend planning permission deadlines – which usually expire after three years if work hasn’t begun in a project.

Developers won’t need to submit a new application where permission has expired during the lockdown period. It’s thought up to 400 permissions for more than 24,000 homes would have expired by the end of this month.

MPs voted in 2018 for investigations by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to remain secret.

But it’s been reported the Commissioner has launched an investigation into Sir Bob’s involvement in the project after receiving a complaint.

Shadow Housing Minister Mike Amesbury said: “It beggars belief that a former planning minister would not be aware of the obvious conflict of interest in this case.”

And the Telegraph today reported Sir Bob had intervened in another planning application being handled by the same firm – again without mentioning his paid position.

Sir Bob wrote to London Mayor Sadiq Khan in 2018, backing Substantia client Cray Wanderers FC’s application to build a football stadium and residential housing complex in Flamingo Park, just off of the Sidcup bypass.

Sir Bob said: “Any representations that I have made in constituency planning cases have solely related to my role as the local MP and what I believe to be on the public interest.

“I have declared all outside interests [in the MPs’ Register of Interests] and acted to ensure that no conflict arises.”

There’s no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of Substantia Group.

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