Blowing $600 million on the wrong satellites

The UK may be about to blow $600 million on the wrong satellites as it tries to solve losing access to the EU’s satellite navigation system

  • The UK may be about to blow £500 million ($616 million) on the wrong kind of satellites as it seeks to solve the problem of losing access to the EU’s satellite navigation system after Brexit.
  • The UK is poised to take up to a 20% stake in collapsed satellite broadband provider OneWeb to create its own navigation system.
  • But experts told The Guardian that OneWeb doesn’t use the right kind of satellite for a navigation system and the idea was “nonsensical.”
  • London-based OneWeb didn’t focus on satellite navigation, but on global internet access through its satellites, but filed for bankruptcy in March.

The UK may be set to invest £500 million ($616 million) of taxpayer funds on the wrong kind of satellites as it tries to mitigate against losing access to the EU’s satellite navigation system after Brexit.

The UK is expected to take a stake of up to 20% in London-based satellite internet firm OneWeb, which collapsed in March, with an eye to building its own satellite navigation network following the transition period.

In the increasingly likely event of a no-deal Brexit, the country will lose access to the EU’s Galileo satellite system for defense and critical infrastructure, though it will still be available to users.

The Financial Times reported on Thursday that the UK government had signed off on a multimillion-pound bid for a stake in OneWeb.

But space experts speaking to The Guardian say that OneWeb’s satellites can’t be repurposed for a navigation system.

The company offers something similar to Elon Musk’s Starlink, planning mega-constellations of satellites at low orbit to provide broadband internet access to Earth. The company has 74 satellites in orbit, with plans to expand to 650.

“The fundamental starting point is, yes, we’ve bought the wrong satellites,” Dr Bleddyn Bowen, a space policy expert at the University of Leicester, told the newspaper.

The problem is that OneWeb’s satellites are too small to be re-engineered to carry the appropriate hardware required to turn them into a navigation system. The satellites are also too low, being 1,200km above Earth. The satellites for other big positioning systems, including that of the US, are in medium orbit around 20,000km from Earth.

Jeffries research analyst Giles Thorne told The Guardian: “This situation is nonsensical to me” but added that it might make more sense for the UK to “smash the square peg of OneWeb into the round hole of a Galileo replacement” than to attempt to build a new system from ground zero.


Paul Arnott’s pivotal role in HOTSW governance change – Yesterday

Owl’s Somerset “little birdie” cousins are reporting that Val Keitch, LibDem Leader of South Somerset, has been elected as the Chair of the Heart of the South West (HotSW) Joint Steering Committee to replace Conservative David Fothergill, Leader Somerset County Council.

This move not only represents another defeat for the “entitled” party but also reduces the undue influence of the “Upper Tier” authorities in the governance of our Local Enterprise Partnership to date.

Owl understands that at yesterday’s Joint Steering Group Meeting someone proposed Val Keitch’s nomination where the sitting Chair, David Fothergill, was expected to be a shoo-in. The members are drawn from all the planning authorities in the two Counties (including the unitary ones and the two National Parks) and are widely dispersed (totalling 18). At this point in the virtual meeting there was a chilling silence. Owl understands that this was broken by a quick thinking Paul Arnott, attending his first meeting of this committee as EDDC Leader, who saw an opportunity, seized the moment and seconded her nomination. At that, Owl understands that David Fothergill withdrew his nomination rather than face a vote.  

Game, Set and Match!

At the May 2019 local elections the Conservatives lost control of many local district councils – they retain one in Somerset and only a couple in Devon but hold the two Counties. Plymouth is Labour and Torbay Libdem. So the result was obvious and a lot of Conservatives abstained as they did in the recent EDDC EGMs.

Somerset County Council is the administering authority responsible for providing support to this Joint Committee . There is also a Joint Committee “micro site” but this is woefully out of date. From a public perspective it is not very transparent and Friday’s meeting, with an opportunity for publicspeaking, not well publicised .

Owl has written at length on the inadequate democratic oversight and input to Local Enterprise Partnership, the last was this.

For the moment the “Joint Committee” is as good as it gets, let us hope that the new Chair can make it work for us. (There is a Joint Scrutiny Meeting but it is poorly attended and struggles to be quorate).

Joint Committee Aims

The aim is to provide a single strategic public sector partnership that covers the entire area and provides cohesive, coherent leadership and governance to ensure delivery of the Productivity Strategy for the HotSW area. The specific objectives of the Joint Committee are to:

 (a) Improve the economy and the prospects for the region by bringing together the public, private and education sectors;

 (b) Increase our understanding of the economy and what needs to be done to make it stronger; 

(c) Improve the efficiency and productivity of the public sector; 

(d) Identify and remove barriers to progress and maximise the opportunities /benefits available to the area from current and future government policy. 

Prime Minister urged to build 30,000 retirement homes 

Boris Johnson looks set to prioritise house building to help boost economic recovery.

But in a letter to the Prime Minister, policy group Homes for Later Living warns that “the recovery drive will be running on empty if the Government doesn’t take urgent action to help the millions of people who want to downsize”.

The letter signed by John Tonkiss (McCarthy & Stone), Spencer J McCarthy (Churchill Retirement Living) and Mark Dickinson (Lifestory Group) sets out the social and economic benefits of building 30,000 new retirement properties a year.

It argues specialist retirement housing must be central to efforts to get the housing market restarted, while also helping ensure that vulnerable people are better protected against future pandemics.

Prioritising a proportion of new homes for an ageing population would stimulate transactions throughout the housing market, helping young families and first-time buyers move onto and up the ladder.

It would also generate savings to the NHS and social care services of £3,500 per person per year as people in specialist retirement properties are less likely to be admitted to hospital and require further care than people in mainstream housing.

This means that building 30,000 more retirement housing dwellings every year for the next 10 years would generate estimated savings across the NHS and social services of £1.4bn per year within a decade.

“Building more specialist retirement housing would be a win-win for the Government.

“It would unlock the housing market, helping older people, young families and first-time buyers. It would also assist with attempts to fix the social care crisis once and for all,” say the housing bosses.

“With the number of older people in England growing significantly, the time to act is now.

“The Government has given the housing market the green light to get moving again and we welcome this. But the risk is that the recovery drive will be running on empty if we don’t take urgent action to help the millions of people who actively want to downsize.”

Documents cast doubt on Robert Jenrick’s defence

Robert Jenrick’s claim that he did not breach ministerial rules appeared to unravel last night as it emerged that he had instructed planning officials to fast-track a development without declaring a conflict of interest.

Oliver Wright Policy Editor | Billy Kenber (yesterday) 
Documents show that the housing secretary told his department to prioritise advice so he could make a decision on the £1 billion housing scheme two days after he had met the Tory donor behind the plan at a Conservative fundraising dinner.

However, he failed to declare the potential conflict of interest until nearly a month later in apparent breach of the ministerial code that requires significant information to be disclosed “as soon as possible” .

Mr Jenrick’s aides have previously claimed that the delay was due to the general election. The document reveals, however, that Mr Jenrick was prepared to intervene in the case during the election period while not disclosing his interest.

The intervention was critical in helping Richard Desmond, the former newspaper owner, to save paying a £40 million fee that he might otherwise have incurred if planning permission had been delayed.

Yesterday Downing Street continued to defend Mr Jenrick despite unease on the back benches. The prime minister’s official spokesman said that Boris Johnson had “full confidence” in him.

Nadhim Zahawi, the business minister, said the documents released on Wednesday proved there was no overt influence exerted by Mr Desmond. Mr Zahawi indicated that anybody could deploy similar tactics to the wealthy businessman. “If people go to a fundraiser in their area for the Conservative Party, they will be sitting next to MPs and people in their local authorities and can interact with different parts of the authority,” he said. He insisted that “the access did not buy this billionaire a decision”.

Yet the emails show that until Mr Jenrick’s intervention, the department had hardly known of the case, with one official tasked with looking into the application stating that “for the life of me I can’t find it on any of our forward look [planning] stuff”.

They disclose that Mr Jenrick was keen for his department to speed up its formal process for reviewing the development plans so it was ready for him to make a decision when the government won the election. It also hints at Mr Desmond’s desire for a decision before January 15 when the local council was due to vote on changes to a community charge that would result in the £40 million fee being levied.

Written by an unnamed official in Mr Jenrick’s office it expresses surprise that a case has been raised with officials during the election purdah period when ministers usually only conduct essential business in the departments. “Morning ( you thought you wouldn’t hear from me over purdah!!!)!” it says. “[The minister] has asked that advice be prepared for the first few days of the new Gov so a decision can be communicated before Xmas. Does this all sound ok?”

Last night Labour demanded Mr Jenrick return to the Commons to explain the discrepancy, warning that “this matter is far from closed”.

Polling for the Times Red Box by Redfield and Wilton Strategies revealed that nearly half of voters believe Mr Jenrick should quit over the saga. Some 46 per cent of all voters believe his position has become untenable, as do 37 per cent of Tory voters.

Questions for the minister

What involvement did No 10 have in Robert Jenrick’s decision to give the go-ahead to the project?
One of Boris Johnson’s last acts as mayor was to give the go-ahead to an earlier development by Richard Desmond. The government has refused to release any documents that may have passed through No 10 that led to Mr Jenrick’s decision.

Who organised the seating plan for the Tory fundraising dinner?
It seems an odd coincidence that the housing secretary happened to be seated next to a Tory donor who was looking for development approval a month later. Yet Tory HQ has refused to give an explanation.

Why did he not declare meeting Mr Desmond immediately?
Mr Jenrick claimed that he raised the issue as soon as he was reconfirmed as housing secretary. During the election campaign, he asked his private office to speed up the application process.

The Jenrick-Desmond row lays bare the rotten heart of the UK planning system

“The law was broken. There is no argument. At a dinner, a planning minister, Robert Jenrick, sat next to a developer who attempted to lobby him to allow a gigantic £1bn project in London’s Docklands. He then reversed a public decision of his own department, and he expedited it to save the developer, Richard Desmond, some £40m in local levy. His party then accepted an admittedly paltry sum of money from Desmond.”

Simon Jenkins

To be fair to Jenrick, he denies none of this and, on legal advice, reversed his decision with lightning speed.

Ministers have resigned for less and have survived far worse. Jenrick’s boss, Boris Johnson, was lobbied by Desmond like mad and backed his scheme. He has since shown he regards sackings as nothing to do with ethics and everything to do with politics. Be loyal and you can do anything you like. In that at least, Johnson is consistent with his own behaviour. To sack Jenrick would be arrant hypocrisy. For Jenrick to go would be merely dignified.

The trouble with planning decisions is that they can seem arbitrary, which means merely matters of opinion. Possibly corrupting factors can always be at play. Jenrick’s Labour critics might reflect on an earlier Docklands development, in which a Labour cabinet minister overrode the grade-one listing of the finest historic docks in Europe, London Docks. He outrageously saw them demolished to favour a developer who also owned the (then) Labour-supporting Sun. The minister was Peter Shore, the docks were in Wapping, and the favour was to a certain Rupert Murdoch.

There is nothing new in the politics of property. Desmond and Jenrick might ask how the Vauxhall Tower got approved, or the Shard, or the Walkie Talkie, in many cases against strong local opposition. Centre Point was the result of a murky LCC deal over a roundabout. Conrad Hilton threatened Harold Macmillan that he would boycott London if prevented from breaking rules against towers around Hyde Park.

Civic vanity is the most potent of planning motives. At present not just London but Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Middlesbrough and even Norwich are promised random luxury towers that bear no relation to historic setting or social planning, any more than they relieve local housing need. The London property market, in particular, is now chaotic, massively distorted by money laundering and its status as a depository of the world’s spare cash. I am all for a vigorous London economy, but not this way.

Though figures remain wild guesses, it is estimated that 5% of central London homes may now lie empty. Industry experts estimate one-third of high-end flats in central London go to overseas buyers. The Guardian found just 30 of 214 flats in Vauxhall’s Tower had anyone on the electoral roll. This is the market at which Desmond and Jenrick were aiming, either second-home pieds-à-terre or empty investments for overseas buyers. They are about profits, not homes. This is not planning but anti-planning.

Tower Hamlets council can hardly complain. It has accepted the projected Spire London just up Westferry Road from Desmond’s nine-tower scheme, planned to be 67 storeys of more than 800 luxury apartments. The key to the scheme’s approval was a £50m payment by the developer to the council. Desmond, anxious to avoid making such a payment himself, texted Jenrick to say “we don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe [sic] for nothing!” London developers call such sweeteners “legalised bribes”, as they do not go to individuals. After a decade of austerity, hard-pressed councils find it hard to say no. That Tower Hamlets resisted Desmond is the true measure of his project’s monstrosity.

Such banana-republic antics are why planning has always been layered. It begins with local democracy – now the last real discretion left to local people. Local decisions are no less vulnerable to corruption than national ones, but at least they are accountable locally.

Overseeing them is an appeal structure to a Whitehall inspectorate. But this is polluted by ever more intrusive centralised direction, typified by the Jenrick saga. In the case of London tall buildings, it is further complicated by the London mayor being able to overrule a borough decision, even if then overruled by a minister.

The bottom is now falling out of the luxury market. Prices are estimated to be 20% below the peak and declining fast. The huge Earls Court development in west London went belly-up. If the London Spire is also on hold, it may be that Desmond has been saved from a white elephant.

Either way, this affair has exposed the decay of Britain’s urban planning. Central and local government should long ago have called a halt to the reckless boom in foreign investment, one that had nothing to do with domestic housing supply. Absentee owners should have been stopped from building London properties and leaving them empty. If Jenrick really meant his decision was to get “more homes built”, he would have insisted Desmond ensured they were only for UK occupiers in perpetuity. He did not, as it would have wrecked profitability. So he can’t have meant it. Aesthetic and skyline control should have been established for historic centres.

Rumours are now that Jenrick – on the instructions of Dominic Cummings – is proposing to introduce centrally imposed commissions with no local control. It is recipe for planning by legal appeal. The best argument for Jenrick to go is perhaps not what he did, but what he is about to do.

• This article was amended on 26 June 2020 to remove “UK” from a headline reference to “the UK planning system”. Planning is a devolved function.

Virus patients less likely to die now than at peak of crisis

The death rate for coronavirus patients in English hospitals has fallen to a quarter of the level at the peak of the outbreak, which may mean that doctors are getting better at treating it.

See other explanations here. – Owl

Tom Whipple, Science Editor 

Researchers said it was also possible that the data had a less optimistic explanation, possibly reflecting changes in those being admitted to hospital.

At the beginning of April, when there were 15,000 people in hospital with Covid-19, about 6 per cent died. Since then, the number in hospital has fallen by 2.4 per cent a day, meaning numbers have halved every 29 days.

At the same time the number of deaths has reduced by 4.3 per cent a day, meaning that it has halved every 16 days. As a consequence, in the latest figures the hospital death rate has fallen to 1.5 per cent.

Statisticians are struggling to explain the findings, which imply that patients are more likely to survive today than they were three months ago.

Jason Oke, from the University of Oxford, is one of the statisticians behind the UK analysis. He said that they had initially held off from releasing the figures.

“We sat on it. We had a good discussion about it to try and work out all the different ways we could be wrong,” he said. “Then we thought we should put it out there — it’s what we’ve observed. The caveat is, we don’t really understand why this is happening. But it’s happening.”

While one explanation is better treatment, another is that the patients are different. At the beginning of the outbreak, there is evidence that hospitals were more selective about who was admitted. “Maybe early on the pandemic, when we thought we would be overrun, we took only the severest cases.” This would lead to an apparent improvement in the hospital death rate, even if there was no difference in the actual death rate.

Another way in which the make up of coronavirus wards differs is that at the start many of those people infected caught the virus in the hospital itself, meaning they were already sick and vulnerable.

Whether these explain all the findings, said Dr Oke, is impossible to say at the moment. To add to the mystery, the trend matches that in other countries. The US appears to have a falling death rate, while in Italy a study found a significant rise in the likelihood of patients surviving hospital treatment, even after taking account of their age and previous illnesses.

The author of that research was sceptical of the idea that the virus itself had weakened, but suggested that in the unproven cocktail of drugs given to patients might be the basis for an effective treatment.

Dr Oke said the discovery that a commonly-used steroid, dexamethasone, reduced the death rate in severe cases supported the idea that treatment had improved. But, he said, he did not think it could be the whole explanation.

Even so, he added, we should still take hope from the figures. “It would be a lot worse if it was the other way round, and we were having to find ways to explain a trend towards a higher death rate.”

Planning Applications East Devon week commencing 15 June

Owl mentioned last time the planning applications were listed on the Watch that it is best to wait until well into the following week as the EDDC web list is often not finalised until mid the week following.


Jenrick affair exposes a financialised planning system

“The planning system has historically cast developers and politicians in poacher and gamekeeper roles. But in recent years an increased focus on financial negotiations between public authorities and developers has made simple yes/no decisions into more complex transactions, sparking concerns the system lacks transparency and is vulnerable to corruption.”

The moment the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, took his place at a Tory fundraising dinner at London’s Savoy hotel alongside Richard Desmond – and watched a promotional video of a planned £1bn development on Desmond’s phone – was not the first time a wealthy developer had become close to a politician with the power to block or approve plans.

The planning system has historically cast developers and politicians in poacher and gamekeeper roles. But in recent years an increased focus on financial negotiations between public authorities and developers has made simple yes/no decisions into more complex transactions, sparking concerns the system lacks transparency and is vulnerable to corruption.

After years of austerity, cash-strapped councils have become more reliant on using planning deals with developers to provide affordable housing and funds for community infrastructure such as schools and play centres.

It was this financialisation of planning, in the form of the community infrastructure levy (CIL), that snared Jenrick and Desmond over the latter’s plan to turn a redundant printworks in east London into a £1bn housing-led development. The CIL is a per-square-metre charge which councils have been able to apply to large projects since 2010.

Jenrick’s decision to overrule the local council’s rejection of the plan and intervention to affect how much Desmond’s company would have to pay towards local infrastructure, tied him up in knots. At one point he had to tell Desmond by text that they could not meet because it was important “not to give any appearance of being influenced by applicants of cases that I may have a role in”, documents revealed.

But he also urged civil servants to expedite the decision, to apparently help Desmond avoid an additional £45m cost from the CIL. He eventually had to quash his own approval, conceding the decision was unlawful.

Multimillion-pound negotiations such as over Desmond’s CIL payment now form the centrepiece of many planning applications. Section 106 agreements – deals over how much affordable housing and other community benefits developers will fund – have long been standard. But since planning changes by the coalition government in 2012, developers have also been able to complain to planners that their demands are eating too much into their profits. They are allowed to present financial viability studies, essentially spreadsheets based on often speculative and hard-to-check numbers which argue that if they spend too much on affordable housing, they won’t make enough money. These have often not been made public.

All in all, a planning system that used to be concerned primarily with land use has become much more about land value.

Each side appoints financial consultants to probe the other’s workings, creating “an arms race”, according to Bob Colenutt, author of The Property Lobby, an investigation into the housing crisis.

“The negotiations go on behind closed doors and thousands of units of affordable housing are at risk,” he said. “It is murky and not transparent. It also causes delay when the developers argue about not being able to provide policy-compliant schemes.”

The desire of developers to win support from politicians and public officials outside of the public forums of planning committee meetings has also spawned lobbying consultancies dedicated to persuading planning committee members and other politicians to back their clients’ plans.

Desmond, for example, used the Thorncliffe lobbying firm for his east London scheme. It promises to “build support among politicians” for planning applications and claims a 95% success rate in getting approval. Its website declares that it employs elected councillors and says its team adhere to the highest ethical standards.

An investigation by the Guardian in 2018 found nearly 100 councillors in the capital worked for property companies or lobbying and communications consultancies involved in planning. Some also sat on planning committees.

One politician to often meet with these consultants as well as their clients was Robert Davis, the former chairman of Westminster city council’s planning committee, who was entertained or received gifts almost 900 times, often from property industry figures including lobbying companies, between 2012 and 2017. He once registered two lunches on one day.

He denied any impropriety before quitting as deputy leader of the council following the Guardian’s disclosures.

Boris Johnson, who believes the Jenrick matter is “closed”, knows the planning system well from his eight years as mayor of London, when he had the power to approve or veto major developments and to negotiate levels of affordable housing.

“The system is one of negotiation,” said a major developer speaking on condition of anonymity. “When Ken Livingstone was mayor of London, everyone knew he wanted to do the last part of the deal. You would turn up in front of Ken and he would do business.”

One scheme Johnson considered when he was mayor was a plan by the billionaire Reuben brothers to turn Westminster’s Millbank Tower into 200 apartments and a 150-bedroom five-star hotel. He approved it in April 2016, concluding that “the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing in this instance is zero”.

Developers have raised their eyebrows at Desmond’s admission that he directly lobbied Jenrick – seeing it as something of an own goal.

“As a developer the last thing you do is talk to the secretary of state because you get into exactly this [controversy],” said one. “You know not to get anywhere near the politicians.”

At a council level, it is different. Council leaders and planning committee chairmen can be approached before planning applications are submitted. Developers know they have something councils badly need: cash.

The pressure on councils to use planning to deliver funds to invest in public services had only been increased by austerity, said Nick Johnson, a former director of the Manchester-based property developer Urban Splash, making them “alert to the opportunity of planning deals to prop up their finances”.

“There’s a real tension,” he said. “You have to question whether they are being completely objective about the decisions they are taking.”

Spelthorne council’s secret rent deal will cost £4.5m

In Nov 2019 Cllr Paul Arnott expressed concern about EDDC becoming a “Casino Council” with its attempts to ‘actively assess commercial investment opportunities’

East Devon District Council  completed the acquisition of the Ocean Blue leisure complex on Exmouth seafront in March 2020 for £2,700,000 using the council’s Commercial Investment Fund.

This is the first investment that the council has made using its £20,000,000 Commercial Investment Fund.

The fund is designed to generate £450,000 nett income per annum to support council services and activities going forward. This will help address future budget challenges for the council and contribute to wider growth and prosperity for residents, businesses and visitors to East Devon. See East Devon Watch and EDDC publicity.

(And then there is Skypark – owl)

Here is cautionary tale about council investment deals that the new administration might note.

Andrew Ellson | Gareth Davies 

A council that has bet more than £1 billion of taxpayers’ cash on commercial property has secretly let a key tenant put off paying millions of pounds in rent because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Spelthorne council in Surrey is said to have agreed an 18-month rent deferral with WeWork, the troubled property management company, amounting to a £4.5 million short-term loss for the authority.

The deal is likely to add to fears that families across the country face higher council tax bills and reduced public services as local authorities’ multibillion-pound bets on commercial property turn sour.

Councils across the country have borrowed £6.6 billion since 2016 to buy shopping centres and office blocks to replace revenue lost by government cuts. Council finances, however, are now taking a hammering as tenants default on rent.

A report leaked to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a non-profit organisation based in London, and seen by The Times, claims that three senior councillors at Spelthorne agreed to the company’s request to help it “absorb difficulties brought about by the Covid crisis”.

The deal calls into question the council’s investment strategy. With other tenants struggling to pay rents owed to the council, the provision of local services is threatened. In the past five years Spelthorne has borrowed more than £1 billion to buy offices and shops so it can use the rental income to help fund local services.

The purchases include £40 million spent on a shopping centre weeks before the lockdown.

Nearly £10 million of Spelthorne’s annual spending on services is now funded by its investments — more than the money from council tax, business rates and government grants.

The report claims that senior councillors agreed to the plan with WeWork.

The councillors admitted that they would struggle to find another tenant for the Hammersmith Grove offices in west London. They would face significant costs if WeWork had to leave the building. The council bought the building for £170 million in January 2018.

In exchange for the rent deferral, WeWork is said to have agreed to extend its 20-year lease by a further five years. This effectively means that Spelthorne council would only start recouping the lost income from 2037.

WeWork is itself facing great financial difficulty. The US company, which sublets space to freelancers and small companies, has laid off 2,400 staff around the world after its stock market flotation failed. It is undergoing a second round of redundancies in Britain.

The council is also believed to have granted a rent deferral, for 13 months, to a tenant at another of its investment properties, the £73 million Porter Building in Slough.

It is unclear whether the council can afford to offer deals to its other tenants. It had 41 “commercial clients” connected to its property portfolio in June last year. Before the crisis the net return on the council’s property investments was less than 1 per cent after costs and reserve funding.

The WeWork deal was allegedly voted through behind closed doors on Monday morning by a special investment committee that only has three voting members.

The committee included Ian Harvey, who had been the council leader who led the £1 billion investment programme, and his wife, Helen, who was appointed by her husband as the council’s cabinet member for investments.

Mr Harvey resigned as council leader at a meeting last night, however, before a motion was brought calling for him to be removed.

John Boughtflower, a Conservative councillor, was voted in as his replacement. He pledged to launch an investigation into the £1 billion investment programme.

He said that his first action as leader would be to introduce a spending limit so “no single person will ever again have authority to spend tens of millions of pounds without the scrutiny that residents expect and deserve”.

Cabinet members barred from sitting on planning and licensing committees – Press report Act V

Perceptions over conflict of interests have led to changes to East Devon District Council’s constitution to bar Cabinet members from sitting on planning and licensing committees.

Daniel Clark 

Wednesday night’s full council meeting saw councillors vote by 29 votes to 27 to change the constitution, following the nominations made by the ruling Democratic Alliance to appoint cabinet members to the committees.

The meeting heard that while there was nothing legally to preclude cabinet members from being appointed, successive administrations had previously chosen against ‘taking the risk’ and the council’s legal advisor had advised against it.

The constitution changes mean that the Democratic Alliance will need to nominate alternative appointments to replace of Cllrs Paul Millar and Jack Rowland on the Licensing & Enforcement committee, and for Cllrs Rowland, Paul Hayward, and Eilleen Wragg on the Planning Committee.

Cllr Wragg was due to be the chairman of the committee, and while Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the Democratic Alliance said they had a Plan B, it would mean him having to appoint two working mothers of school age children and a key worker to the Planning Committee to fill the three vacant spots.

Putting forward his amendment, Cllr Ian Thomas, a former leader of the council, said it was straight forward and consistent with practice followed by recent administrations and to ensure serving members of cabinet are not eligible for appointment to the two committees.

He said that while there was no formal legal restriction, the advice is clear and unequivocal in judging the wisdom against such a move, and added: “The reason is perception. People believe they may lead a particular outcome, intentionally or unintentionally. The risk to the council is that this may be used in appeals or judicial review, and can avoid avoidable complaints to the council.

“I am deeply concerned the constitution does not offer adequate protection against an ill-advised move, and any appointment would be dangerously against the long standing advice.”

Cllr Ben Ingham, the previous leader of the council, added: “This issue is of grave concern and we have always avoiding taking this risk, whether it is low, medium or high. Last year the subject was broached and I discussed it and the advice that was not to appoint any portfolio holders to licensing or planning, so I would be reticent to take the risk when there is an alternative. Why would we want to take an unnecessary risk?”

Cllr Susie Bond added that it looked like Cllr Arnott ‘selective shopped around until he got the advice that he wanted’, adding: “Perception is key and by packing with regulatory committees with cabinet members is a move that will be widely interrupted as seeking to exert undue influence. The people of East Devon deserve open and transparent governance, not the equivalent of some Orwellian nightmare.”

Leader of the Conservative Group, Cllr Andrew Moulding, said that while it may be legally permissible, there will be a perception by the public that could open up additional risk for the council, adding: “There is no doubt that in time it will bring the council into disrepute and there will be regular conflicts of interest for portfolio holders.”

Cllr Philip Skinner raised his concerns over the ‘dangerous precedent’ and was worried about the portfolio holder for economy sitting on planning, saying: “They should be pushing the economic agenda but then are voting on those issues if these agendas are coming back through the planning process. I can see nothing but problems coming from this.”

Cllr Mike Howe, the previous chairman of the Development Management Committee, said having cabinet members sitting on quasi-judicial boards is not the best plan. He said: “It is a perception issue. The public perception is that cabinet will be controlling these committees, irrespective of whether they are, and that is the danger of what could happen.”

And two members of the cabinet – Cllrs Jess Bailey and Megan Armstrong – also added their concerns about the proposals, with Cllr Bailey saying: “The key question is, does the filling of committees in this way increase the risk of decisions being challenged, and I think it does, and the head of legal does advise against it.”

But Cllr Millar, portfolio holder for Democracy, called the amendment ‘stupid’, and said that there was no occasion when appointing cabinet members to committee had caused an issue anywhere in the country. He added: “This complies with the national guidelines and I urge you to vote against the amendment as it is rubbish and been brought by members who seek to undermine the new administration.”

Cllr Wragg said that four members of the executive sit on the planning committee at Teignbridge and there have been no problems whatsoever in the time they have been serving. She added: “There is nothing illegal about what is being proposed,” and questioned who would pay for the childcare or to compensate those with work commitments who cannot afford to sit in planning meetings all day.

Cllr Arnott said that the people who he had proposed were the people who were the best for the council and to serve the public interest. He said: “If this amendment passes, for planning, for there are no others available, we would have to put forward two working mothers of school age children and a full-time female worker in a key British industry. These are not retired gentlemen who can afford to spend all day on planning. The people put forward are the best for the council and the public interest is best served by them being on the planning committee.

“I have every confidence that if there is a perceived conflict of interest then they will simply recuse themselves. If the leader of strategic planning portfolio holder where on planning then there would be an interest. This is not a question of the Democratic Alliance not having the talent to serve on committees, but a committee that sits all day, is a very difficult thing for councillors of a certain age to do.”

And Cllr Hayward, the portfolio holder for economy and assets, said that he found the hypocrisy of some councillors staggering given the scandals that the Conservative Party have been embroiled in.

He said: “Some councillors have failed to disclose interests in the past, but they still sit on the committees, and I find the hypocrisy staggering. The opposition is judging the new administration by its own insidious standards. There is the housing minister embroiled in scandal after scandal of planning.”

Cllr Hayward also referred to the scandal involved the disgraced former councillor Graham Brown who was secretly filmed by the Daily Telegraph claiming he had access to all the right people for the right clients and said ‘”If I can’t get planning, nobody will.”

He was recorded as saying: “I don’t come cheap. If I’m turning a green field into a housing estate and I’m earning the developer two or three millions, then I’m not doing it for peanuts – especially if I’m the difference between winning and losing it.”

Cllr Hayward added: “He caused more harm to this council than anyone else in its history and the public perception of this council was dragged through the mud by a councillor who did not sit on planning.

“I don’t support the amendment as we have put the right people in the right roles for the benefit of East Devon. If we just stuck to tradition we’d still be washing our clothes on a rock by the river, but we don’t, we have washing machines now, and we have moved on.”

But councillors voted by 29 votes to 27, with one abstention, to amend the constitution to prohibit cabinet members from serving on either the planning or licensing committees.

Nominations for the councillors to replace those who were set to be appointed to the committees will be made subsequently by Cllr Arnott with delegated authority to officers to confirm them.

Small village faced with yet another example of creeping urbanisation within an AONB

Owl has received this open call for help from a correspondent in a small village faced with yet another example of creeping urbanisation within an AONB where developers appear to have “strong influence” over the elected decision makers. Owl hopes that the two Conservative Ward Councillors Colin Brown and David Key ask for the decision to be taken by the Planning Committee as 38 objections have been submitted from a village of only 250.

In some LPAs such a level of objection would automatically trigger a referral to the committee. If you want to see an example of poor delegated decision making in a highly protected setting in historic East Budleigh see this previous post. The decision was made in spite of the deep concerns expressed to planning officers by Historic England three times. The result is now clearly visible from Pynes Close East Budleigh.

Pandemic of Planning – Developers Denying Devon Democracy?
Glorious-Devon-postcard.jpg (1749×1241)
(Postcard CPRE Devon)
1. General.   I hope you are keeping safe and well in these difficult times?  We hope you can help and advise us to protect our historic village from harm to its historic character.
2. Issue.  I invite you, please, to note that:
a.English planning policy explicitly favours the ambitions of developers before the Devon public.
b.Developers may be seeking to avoid scrutiny during the Coronavirus pandemic.
b. Devon’s cultural and natural environment is at risk from unsustainable cumulative urbanisation.
c.The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) gives undue weight for impact on highways to quantitative impact assessments, rather than qualitative judgements.
d.Your advice is sought on how to ensure that a planning proposal in our Village is given fair scrutiny, rather than being passed by default?
3. Policy Background.  Planning policy changes before and potentially after the Covid-19 pandemic, risk favouring property developers and shutting the public out from the planning system.  We fear small groups of senior councillors may make decisions on controversial developments, with little or no involvement from members of the public or opposition councillors.  A number of our more elderly villagers are disenfranchised when online consultation replaces Parish meetings as now.  These meetings are important for village democracy and the greatest happiness of the greatest number.  We fear that some development proposals, like the one in our Village below, may be allowed to progress, after online-only public consultation.
What will it mean for Devon’s character if HMG eases up planning even more to encourage a ‘bounce-back’ after COVID?
4. Planning Pandemic.   The Prior Notification for the Change of Use of an existing Agricultural building at St Isidore Farm, opposite the medieval listed St Nicholas Church and Lych Gate, in the tiny historic village of Combe Raleigh is the latest in a constant stream of, what we consider, to be undesirable applications in our village, Combe Raleigh.   This tiny village is situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).  The proposal, which was refused permission about 2 years ago, was submitted very conveniently only a few days after the lockdown, when the Parish Meeting had been suspended due to Covid-19. We suspect the developers are deliberately evading engagement.  Anecdotally, we hear that many developers are taking advantage of Covid-19 to avoid scrutiny of planning applications.  To make matters worse, since the Devon Structure Plan was replaced by the National Planning Policy Framework in 2012, change of use for this agricultural building does not require a detailed application.  Prior Approval permission means that the owners/developers would then be free to operate within the existing structure. In this case the ‘deadline for determination’ is 23rd June.
5. Cumulative Urbanisation.  In our view, our Village, like many others, is being ruined by cumulative suburbanisation and East Devon District Council is permitting a steady stream of unsuitable development, including agricultural change of use, without due regard for the AONB, Grade 1 and Grade 2 buildings etc. The farm, formerly known as ‘Barton Farm’, divided in the last few years into ‘The Barton’ and ‘St Isidore Farm’, is, in the words of the AONB Management Plan,  an example of the ‘on-going trend towards amalgamation of farm units, separation of farmhouse from the land, and cumulative development of agricultural buildings.  As such many farms are becoming essentially residential, for keeping horses or as small holdings, there is a risk of our countryside taking on a suburban appearance with increased houses, people, traffic, noise and light.  The distinctiveness of Combe Raleigh, as part of the Blackdown Hills AONB, has a timelessness and tranquillity. Its very character relies on retaining a natural feeling without being over managed. Although hard to quantify it is all too easily lost through, for example, increasing standardisation, creeping suburbanisation, changing agricultural practices and loss of distinctive elements of the natural and historic environment’ (Blackdown Hills AONB Management Plan). Each individual application may not have a significant impact on our Village as a whole, but cumulatively they are eroding the area’s distinctive character.
6. Hamstrung Highways.  The really regrettable matter is that Devon Highways Department can do nothing in the face of the National Planning Policy Framework (para 109).  Before 2012, the Devon County Structure Plan provided Standard Highway Reasons and Conditions (Planning – Highways Development Management › sites › _layouts › guestaccess ) for refusing applications which previously would have included: Access; Inadequacy of Submitted Information; Access Gradient; Access Alignment; Pedestrian Access; Access Width; Access Route; Traffic Conflict – Commercial Use; Piecemeal Development; Isolated Land; Footway Deficiency; Off-street Parking; Turning Space; Loss of Parking; Surface Water; Precedent for Conversion to Multiple Occupation; Green Lanes and Sustainable Development.  None of these qualitative judgements are currently admissible to stop development.  For example, in respect of Green Lanes, Highways could no longer refuse a proposed development on the grounds that it ‘is likely to result in an increase in vehicular traffic using a road/ roads which is / are considered unsuitable for that purpose, due to its / their condition and the standard to which it is / they are maintained, contrary to Policy TR10 of the Devon County Structure Plan.’  National Planning Policy Framework requires quantitative evidence such as formulae that “assume” numbers of movements for an agricultural undertaking and for a shop rather than an assessment of the authentic situation and qualitative judgement. Devon Highways is forced to prefer artificial intelligence over human intelligence and common-sense!
7. Disingenuous Development.   Despite the localism agenda, it is difficult for members of a small rural parish to defend against wealthy and experienced developers or their apparent political influence. Michael Groombridge  (85) (British but registered as resident in Switzerland) and his wife Ms Adriana Lozinska (50+?) (Polish but registered as resident at Isla Canela Golf Resort in Spain), the owners of St Isidore, are experienced business people with a closely guarded extensive incremental development plan.  We believe that their longterm interests are to “sell up and go”, having, in their wake, permanently changed the vista of a historic Devon village after achieving their planning ambitions.  We do not think their “heart” is in the village or that their development proposal is for the “wider public good”.  We are broad minded people not NIMBYs.
8. Conflict of Interests?   Coincidentally Adriana Lozinska has influential advisers and friends including Andrew Leadbetter, Leader of the Conservative Group on Exeter City Council, Cabinet Member for Economy, Growth & Cabinet Liaison for Exeter in Devon County Council and Director of Visit Devon ( and  Leadbetter is a Co-Director with her of HQ Cross Border Services Ltd, a Management Consultancy, registered at St Isidore Farm and presumably supports the development agenda.  The Groombridges have been lobbying the village to canvas support and defend their proposal by sending an e-mail recently, following the publication of 38 objections on the East Devon Planning portal.  Approximately 25% of central village households have written to the planning portal to object to their plans.
9. Conclusion.  Despite our village, Combe Raleigh, being in the Blackdown Hills AONB and despite a previous planning application for change of use being turned down a few years ago, despite around a quarter of households in the Village centre publicly objecting, our Village is struggling to prevent this and other proposed developments from destroying our tranquil Devon environment.  We would, therefore, be grateful for your advice and support, please.

What preoccupies our PCC – Ms Hernandez?

From a Correspondent:

Black Lives Matter police investigation of police officers for hate crime and the death of a black man in custody – none of them seem to worry our Police and Crime Commissioner as pointed out a few days ago.

So, what does preoccupy her on her official PCC Twitter account?  Asking us to play detective to spot “modern slavery” and “mate crime” – no not “HATE” crime – mate crime – people pretending to befriend us and rip us off.

Should I report her party’s austerity policy under modern slavery?  Or maybe Robert Jenrick for mate crime?

Cliff collapse ‘like thunder’ as stunned beachgoers look on below

The incident happened at Jacob’s Ladder in Sidmouth at about 4.10pm today, Thursday.

Joel Cooper

This picture shows the dramatic moment a cliff collapsed at a Devon beach – while beachgoers looked on in shock.

The incident happened at Jacob’s Ladder in Sidmouth at about 4.10pm today, Thursday.

Glen Lear captured the picture above which shows a huge plume of dust coming from the base of the cliffs as it collapses.

You can also see people on the beach watching the spectacle intently.

Paul Clay also saw it happen while he was out on his kayak in the area. He said the landslide sounded like thunder.

Paul said: “It just missed people walking on shoreline at 4.16pm today.

“It happened at the cliff’s highest point with the narrowest (stretch of) beach.

The landslide near Jacobs Ladder, Sidmouth, which happened around 4.10pm (Image: Glen Lear)

“The second photo (below) shows the rubble when dust had cleared.”

The fall is the latest of many to have occurred at Sidmouth in the past few months.

Earlier this month we reported that East Devon County Council had warned people to stay off beach after five cliff falls in a month.

The aftermath of the cliff fall today at Sidmouth (Image: Paul Clay)

Last month, Sidmouth experienced three falls in the space of 24 hours, in addition to a further two which took place the following week.

The council complete annual cliff inspections at Beer, Budleigh Salterton, Seaton and Sidmouth which include removing loose material and additional safety works such as installation of rock netting.

The Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan (BMP) scheme aims to reduce the risk of flooding to Sidmouth by maintaining the standard of defences along Sidmouth Beach, and to reduce the rate of erosion to the cliffs to the East of the town (and therefore the rate of exposure of the East side of Sidmouth to coastal conditions).

In response to whether or not there has been an increase in landslides, a council spokesman said: “It is difficult to say.”

Speaking earlier this month they said: “Cliff falls are a natural and unpredictable occurrence along the East Devon coast, this is because the rock from which the cliffs are formed is soft and therefore prone to rock falls and landslides, which can happen at any time, although heavy rainfall can trigger incidences.

“The BMP cannot, however, stop cliff falls. In fact, many of the recent cliff falls are beyond the area the BMP will protect, occurring further East on National Trust land.”

Despite the glorious sunshine the county has experience over the last few weeks, it is this warm and dry weather that has played a key role in the cause of the landslides.

A spokesperson added: “The main reason [for the cliff falls] is the prolonged dry weather we have had, which followed the wettest February on record.

“The extreme wet to dry condition of the cliff is the likely cause of the falls.

“However there are other factors in place such as the climate emergency and sea level rise.

“On land we own and manage there hasn’t been any increase in cliff falls compared to previous years.

“Along the whole coast there is likely to be a rise in the recording of cliff falls due to the good weather and increase in staycations, there are more people around the coast to witness any fall.

“In a normal year, plenty of falls would go unnoticed.”

“It is good practice when on the beach to stay well clear of the cliff base and to keep an eye out for fresh fall material or water running down the cliffs, which may indicate an area that is weakened and loose.”

The Coastguard advises that walkers should keep a distance away from the cliff, that is equivalent to the cliff’s height.

For example, if a cliff is 20 metres in height, pedestrians should keep 20 metres away.

Speaking earlier this month a Coastguard spokesman said: “Through the Sidmouth and East Beach BMP, we have plans to reduce the rate of erosion of the cliffs where property is threatened.

“The Sidmouth and East Beach BMP is a long term plan, and construction is likely to be a year or so away, we all hope the Covid-19 situation will be over by then, so it should not affect the scheme.”

Regardless of whether or not the cliffs are displaying signs that it may crumble, EDDC urge the public to keep their distance.

A spokesperson said: “You would be putting yours and the emergency services lives at risk.

“Please do not access Sidmouth East beach at all, and at Jacobs Ladder ensure you stay at least the same height the cliff is vertical away from the base.”

If a cliff fall does occur and you suspect that someone has been injured, call 999 immediately.

A Comment on amendment passed to EDDC Constitution during Act V

From a Correspondent:

“This now needs an immediate review of all the previous Conservative Cabinet members who were on the Planning and Licensing committees, and of the decisions they made – with all previous conflicts of interest highlighted and publicised to the greatest possible extent.

If the Conservatives find that they get embarrassed when they profess their new found scrutiny role, perhaps they will think twice in future about such games playing.”

Beach ban for Exmouth party people

“…Radio Exe received reports of 11 police vehicles at Orcombe Point and some armed officers. Devon and Cornwall Police haven’t commented on that scale of response, but say “a large number of units” did attend around 7pm….”

Youths partying in the sunshine at Orcombe Point, Exmouth on Wednesday resulted in police attending at several points through the afternoon – and  dozens of officers arriving in the evening after reports of multiple fights. Dispersal orders have been issued to a small number of people, which means they can’t go back to that bit of the beach today or overnight. They’ll have to wait till Friday at 7am.

Lockdown was largely ignored by many Exmouth young people early in the pandemic. With the lifting of many restrictions and the return of hot weather on Wednesday, booze, boom-boxes and burgers came out early.

Two special constables and one or two regular officers couldn’t do much other than offer advice in the late afternoon. One off-duty police worker said that all the resources in East Devon wouldn’t be able to handle the number of generally good-natured young people, but it was clear that a mix of youth, sun and alcohol wasn’t going to end prettily.

By 9pm Radio Exe received reports of 11 police vehicles at Orcombe Point and some armed officers. Devon and Cornwall Police haven’t commented on that scale of response, but say “a large number of units” did attend around 7pm after reports of a large-scale altercation, a number of fights, and anti-social behaviour through Tuesday afternoon. They say officers issued a small number of dispersal orders, preventing those people going back to the area covered by the order before 7am on Friday. Other people “dispersed of their own accord.”

Holiday home owners claimed £71m in lockdown support cash – only 40% stays in the County

“New figures reveal that holiday home owners received £71 million of coronavirus business grants paid out in Cornwall…

…Of that just under £71m went to “holiday let business premises” – and Cllr Olivier said that £42m of that went to people living outside of Cornwall.”

Owl believes that similar or greater “leakage” occurs with many “Investing in the Region” projects such as  Hinkley Point C (where did all the EC “deprived region” grants to Cornwall go – could this explain why the Cornish voted leave?).

Not to mention the loophole which allows holiday home owners to avoid paying council tax or business rates on their properties.

Richard Whitehouse 

New figures reveal that holiday home owners received £71 million of coronavirus business grants paid out in Cornwall.

The Government provided cash to be paid to businesses which had been hit by the lockdown so that they could keep afloat.

It has previously been revealed that £50m went to holiday let owners but now updated figures show that they received much more than that.

Cornwall Councillor Cornelius Olivier has been highlighting the issue saying that it was “scanadlous” that so much of the money was going to holiday home owners.

Cornwall Council has been administering grants for businesses with funding provided by the Government – those grants are for either £10,000 or £25,000 subject to criteria set by the Government.

In information he received from Cornwall Council the Penzance East councillor said that by June 9 the council had paid out £177m in £10,000 grants to businesses.

Of that just under £71m went to “holiday let business premises” – and Cllr Olivier said that £42m of that went to people living outside of Cornwall.

The Labour councillor has been a longstanding campaigner against a loophole which allows holiday let owners avoid paying both council tax and business rates on their properties. By registering their holiday homes as businesses which have a rateable value less than that eligible to pay rates they avoid paying any tax or rates at all.

Cllr Olivier said that, of the money paid out to holiday home owners, £60m had gone to those which pay no council tax or rates – with £32m going to people outside the Duchy. 

The Penzance Central councillor, writing on his Facebook page, said: “It is scandalous that at a time when so many local businesses are struggling to survive and not getting the support they need, second homeowners who rent their properties out for a few months a year, (or less) as well as using it themselves and who receive a tax subsidy for doing so, are getting £10,000 to compensate them for their ‘financial hardship’.

“A second home is a combination of valuable investment, personal luxury and potential secondary income, they should not be treated as struggling local businesses in need of financial help.

“Even when ‘holiday let business premises’ are locally, or at least Cornish owned, I do not accept that ‘a holiday let’, unoccupied for a large part of the year, is a small local business in the normal sense of the word and that their owners are in desperate need of government financial support.

“A combination of the £10,000 grant and even a partial visitor season means that, regardless of the pandemic, this could be a bumper year financially for ‘holiday let business premises’.”

Cllr Olivier said that the issue further supported calls for the Government to close the loophole which allows holiday home owners to avoid paying council tax or business rates on their properties.

He said that he had written to his local MP Derek Thomas calling on him to help with getting the loophole closed and to help ensure more grants are available for businesses in Cornwall.

Could Flybe, which went bust in March, take to the skies again?

Despite the headline this is a pessimistic article – Owl

Simon Calder Travel Correspondent 
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, my lad,” says Eric Praline, in Monty Python’s immortal Parrot Sketch. The character played by John Cleese continued: “He’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it.”

That, sadly, is what’s wrong with Flybe, too.

Until the early hours of 5 March, the Exeter-based airline was the biggest regional carrier in Europe.

You may recall that it connected the UK’s cities, great and small, with some ventures into “near Europe”: Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and Paris.

But Flybe slumped from a brief post-IPO market capitalisation of £250m to a machine that devoured cash from its rescuers – Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Air and US hedge fund Cyrus Capital – by the million, until they gave up the struggle and stumbled away.

Flybe briefly hit the headlines last week, when one of its Q400 aircraft was being prepared to leave Aberdeen airport but crumpled into an Embraer jet belonging to Loganair – its erstwhile partner turned foe.

“Haunting us from beyond the grave,” one Loganair insider said.

Then, just as all aviation eyes were on the mesmerising spectacle of a parade of ministers announcing that an announcement about the quarantine announcement was impending, they just couldn’t say when, Flybe popped up again.

In an interview with The Australian, Jonathan Peachey – adviser to Cyrus Capital – said: “We are doing everything we can to ensure that the business can emerge in some form from administration.”

Oh dear. It was awful for more than 2,000 Flybe staff when the airline collapsed, and dismal for the travellers who depended on it – especially at airports such as Belfast City and Southampton, where Flybe was the dominant carrier.

But reinventing the same airline would be as much of a failure as Laker Airways mark 2 and 3 turned out to be – the buccaneering Sir Freddie had two more goes at cheap-and-cheerful travel after Skytrain, but the magic had gone and the market had changed.

When the wretched coronavirus crisis eases and regional flying resumes, Flybe’s former rivals will pick up the profitable pieces. Loganair is already connecting Glasgow and Edinburgh with Southampton, and will shortly launch a link between Belfast City and Glasgow.

The previously lucrative links from Birmingham to Scotland’s two biggest cities may not be so profitable in an age of austerity and Zoom meetings – but easyJet will find out soon enough how much demand remains. And since Manchester airport has direct trains to the centres of both Edinburgh and Glasgow, the demise of these sub-200-mile routes is a reasonable outcome.

The triumvirate who tried to turn Flybe into Virgin Connect pumped £100m-plus into an airline that was haemorrhaging cash.

According to a leaked message to staff from Mark Anderson, the unfortunate chief executive at the time of the failure, all but £27m of the rescue fund “was gone before we even really started … we were in worse shape than even the shareholders thought we were”.

Flybe had the right kind of staff but the wrong kind of fleet (a muddle of unloved Q400s and ungainly Embraer jets), and a network that strayed dangerously beyond its potentially profitable UK core. Leeds Bradford to Dusseldorf and Cardiff to Milan were among the expensive aberrations.

Bereft of life, Flybe rests in peace. And that is where it should stay.

Cranbrook town centre plans put forward – residents asked for views

Residents of Cranbrook are being asked to have their say over how they want the town centre to be developed.

Two competing outline schemes have been proposed for how the new town can be delivered, with East Devon District Council’s Strategic Planning Committee set to decide between the two at an upcoming meeting.

Daniel Clark 

The Cranbrook Consortium of developers have outlined plans which would see a range of town centre facilities begin to come forward in the near future, with the aim to deliver the majority of the scheme by the end of 2021.

The Cranbrook Consortium proposals for the town centre

The Cranbrook Consortium proposals for the town centre

An alternative proposal would see a masterplan covering the town centre development created which would aim to deliver a more ambitious town centre, including a leisure centre and a hotel, but would take longer before development takes place and without the guarantee of being delivered or the funding for it.

Cllr Les Bayliss, Chairman of Cranbrook Town Council and Chairman of the Council’s Planning Committee said: “The discussions which are taking place include an identified supermarket provider but if the consortium’s proposals are not taken forward, that provider would fall away and there would be a need to wait for another to come forward. The situation is finely balanced and requires a significant decision to be made.

“There is a chance now to deliver a comprehensive and holistic town centre in the near future – or wait for another number of years before anything is delivered, if at all. Over the next few days and weeks the Town Council will be sharing more details about the two proposals, and residents are invited to comment and, most importantly, to vote in our Facebook poll.”

The proposal from the consortium of developers includes:

  • A 2,500 square metres Morrisons supermarket with an additional 1,000 square metres of retail space on Tillhouse Road (around 10 to 12 shops);
  • A town square
  • A nursery
  • Around 350 town centre homes
  • Town hall with café, meeting spaces and around 15 rentable office units (including land and around one-third of the construction costs)
  • Children’s centre, youth centre and library in a single building (including land and the construction costs to the Section 106 value)
  • A skate park
  • Land for extra care facilities delivered by Devon County Council
  • Land for a “blue light” facility to house fire, police and ambulance services
  • Opportunities to provide additional retail outlets

If this proposal is accepted by the Strategic Planning Committee, a planning application is expected to be submitted very soon with construction work going ahead within the year and the supermarket, shops and town square to be delivered during 2021.

Devon County Council have already put forward outline plans for a new community building for the town, which would include a Library, Children’s Centre with Public Health Nursing provision and a Youth Centre with outdoor recreational space.

Located just off Tillhouse Road and Cedar Close, the proposed building would house four of Devon County Council’s Service Providers for the community within the one building.

The Children’s Centre and Public Health Nursing would share facilities, the Youth Centre will provide indoor recreational spaces and external recreational space including a MUGA, while the library will also include a small café.

The other approach being considered by EDDC planning officers is to develop a “supplementary planning document” (SPD) for the town centre in Cranbrook – which is essentially a masterplan covering the town centre development.

It would include very similar facilities to those listed in the consortium’s proposal above as well as some workshops and light industrial units, a hotel, and possibly a leisure centre, although the final detailed plans have not been made public.

A Cranbrook town council spokesman said: “We have today launched a consultation for residents to state their preference relating to the development of the town centre in Cranbrook and the town council has been pressing for the delivery of the town centre for some considerable time.

“In short there is a choice between delivering a range of town centre facilities now. Or an alternative approach which seeks to deliver a more ambitious town centre at some undetermined time in the future without certainty over what can be delivered, how it’s going to be funded and how long it’s going to take.

“The masterplan proposal might deliver a more ambitious town centre, but we don’t know how long it would take EDDC to develop the town centre masterplan, there is no funding for those extra items and no timescale for delivery – it may take five years, possibly ten, or even longer and there is no guarantee that anything will be delivered at all. The consortium is not obligated to provide these extra facilities and the process would rely on take-up from other potential investors.”

The consultation can be accessed via, with the town council wanting to know the views of residents before they submit their response to EDDC.

Revealed: The Government Isn’t Certain The Coronavirus R Rate Is Below 1 In England

The government is not certain that the coronavirus R rate is below 1 in England, meaning the disease may not be under control even as lockdown restrictions are being lifted, HuffPost UK can reveal. 

According to a classified daily document released by Public Health England to health professionals across the UK, there is “uncertainty” around the figure published by the government, which has been used to justify the lowering of the UK’s “alert level”.

Publicly, the government last stated the R was 0.7 to 0.9 on June 17. If R – short for the reproduction rate of the virus – is greater than 1, the epidemic is generally seen to be growing. If R is less than 1, the epidemic is shrinking.

But a copy of last Thursday’s document, titled “COVID-19 Situation Report” and marked “OFFICIAL SENSITIVE”, states that because of uncertainty in how accurate the figure is “we cannot preclude R being above 1” in England.

It adds that the rate is believed to have risen recently, and explains: “We believe that this is likely to be due to increasing mobility and mixing between households and in public and workplace settings.”

On Tuesday Boris Johnson announced further easing of the lockdown restrictions including allowing two households of any size to meet inside and stay overnight from July 4.

The report also includes other data that have not been made public – most notably that the daily estimate of the number of daily new infections last Thursday stood at 7,000.

This is in contrast to the figure of actual positive tests reported for the same day, which was 1,346.

One health professional, who wished to remain anonymous, told HuffPost UK the information in the PHE report should be made public.

He said: “It really gets my goat – they really should be in the public domain. There’s nothing in it that justifies secrecy and it’s not as though the virus is listening into what we’re saying so it could adapt its strategy.

“The fact that we have to ask if we can share these things is crazy. It’s even crazier that we might be told no.

“There’s a whole other level of pain that this government has made PHE, a civil service body, unable to publish anything, even if it’s in the public interest, until the Cabinet Office and Number 10 have said that they may.”

A government spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “SAGE was totally clear when the most recent UK R rate was released last Friday that it stood at 0.7-0.9.

“The rate for England was also 0.7-0.9.“The latest ONS figures also show that the number of infections is declining.

“Most significantly, the “growth rate” for England alone is at -4 to -1. That means the number of infections is declining daily by between 4 and 1 per cent.”

“All of these figures were signed off by SAGE, on which PHE representatives sit.”

Robert Jenrick under pressure to resign after donor-row documents released

The housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, is under pressure to resign after newly released documents indicated that he “insisted” a planning decision for a £1bn property development should be rushed through so a Tory donor’s company could reduce costs by £45m.

In one document, a civil servant in the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government wrote that the secretary of state (SoS) wanted the Westferry development in east London to be signed off the following day so that Richard Desmond’s company would avoid the community infrastructure levy (CIL).

“On timing, my understanding is that SoS is/was insistent that decision issued this week ie tomorrow – as next week the viability of the scheme is impacted by a change in the London CIL regime,” the official wrote.

Text message exchanges reveal how Desmond, the former Express titles newspaper owner and pornographer, lobbied Jenrick to expedite the development to avoid the need to pay an extra £45m to Labour-run Tower Hamlets council, the poorest borough in London, saying: “We don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe [sic] for nothing!”

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

The documents were released on Wednesday after Jenrick faced a debate and vote, and was accused by critics of potentially breaking the ministerial code. The code instructs all ministers to “declare and resolve any interests and relationships” and “take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias”.

Following the documents’ release the cabinet secretary, Mark Sedwill, responded to an urgent query from Labour by stating: “The prime minister considers that the matter is closed.”

The housing secretary has faced accusations of “cash for favours” after it emerged Desmond had personally given the Conservative party £12,000 two weeks after the scheme for 1,500 homes was approved. Jenrick has since had to quash his own approval, conceding the decision was unlawful.

Labour has now raised a point of order in the Commons, claiming there were discrepancies in his account to the House and those that appear in the documents.

Jenrick sat next to Desmond at a Tory fundraising dinner on 18 November. Afterwards he sent the tycoon a text saying it was “good to spend time” with him.

Two days later, Desmond lobbied Jenrick via text message about the deal and arranged a site visit for him.

He wrote: “Your efficient PA … has arranged a meeting for 19th December at 1030am for meet and site visit … we appreciate the speed as we don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe [sic] for nothing!” The message was signed off: “Thanks again, all my best Richard.”

Jenrick, apparently recognising that he was being lobbied, replied: “Richard. As secretary of State it is important not to give any appearance of being influenced by applicants of cases that I may have a role in or to have predetermined them and so I think it is best if we don’t meet until the matter has been decided, one way of [sic] another … I hope that is okay and we can meet to discuss other matters soon, hopefully the 19th. Robert.”

Desmond replied: “Absolutely understood Look forward to meeting on 19th to celebrate the big majority. Best Richard.”

On the same day, emails appear to show that Jenrick asked officials in his department to prepare a ministerial decision.

A housing department official wrote: “SoS has flagged a case in Westferry Docklands (redevelopment of a printworks or something like that?) He understands a ministerial decision on this is likely to be coming up soon and also that there may be some sensitivity with timing on final decision.”

Layla Moran, the Lib Dem MP, said Jenrick’s position is “completely untenable”. “These documents are further evidence that he rushed through this planning decision to help a Tory donor avoid paying millions in tax. This whole grubby saga netted the Tory party only £12,000, but could have helped Richard Desmond save up to £40m. The public will be appalled at what looks like a clear abuse of power. Robert Jenrick should go and the Conservative party should hand back this donation,” she said.

Andrew Wood, a Tory councillor in Tower Hamlets who resigned from the party over Jenrick’s handling of Westferry, issues a five word statement: “I was right to resign.”

The released documents are part of a tranche of 129 pages relating to Westferry Printworks . They come after Jenrick admitted to MPs that he saw promotional images of the development on Desmond’s mobile phone at the fundraiser, as revealed by the Sunday Times.

Jenrick told MPs: “I recognise that there are higher standards of transparency expected in the quasi-judicial planning process, which is why I will also release discussions and correspondence which the government would not normally release.”

He added: “This was a decision taken with an open mind on the merits of the case after a thorough decision-making process.”

During the debate Clive Betts, the chair of the housing, communities and local government committee, questioned why Jenrick had waited until Labour tabled a debate on his role in the development to release the documents. “I think it might have been helpful if we had had it before the debate today,” he said.

Steve Reed, the shadow housing secretary, asked about the Conservative party fundraising dinner in November, attended by both Jenrick and Desmond.

“I understand Mr Desmond’s lobbyists, a company called Thorncliffe, had been busy selling tickets to the event to people who wanted access to the secretary of state,” he said.

“Ministers are not allowed to take planning decisions if they have been lobbied by the applicant and, under the ministerial code, ministers are required not to place themselves under an obligation by, for instance, helping to raise funds from a donor who stands to benefit from the decisions they make because it raises questions about cash for favours – which would be a serious abuse of power.”

Sedwill wrote in response to Labour: “The secretary of state has today written to the housing, communities and local government select committee stating that he has set out a full and factual account. I understand that he has also published a number of documents in support of this account. In light of this account, the prime minister considers that the matter is closed.”

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