Is ‘build build build’ really the best way forward for England’s planning system?

Rip up planning red tape to spur house building,” says housing secretary Robert Jenrick, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson argues for a radical shake-up to the planning system to deliver on his “build build build” mantra. There’s a clear political message that England’s planning system is broken and needs change.

Alister Scott

Such change should not be based on simply building more, but on an accurate diagnosis of the problems the planning system is experiencing and trying to solve. If it isn’t, there is a risk of a future prime minister saying again that the planning system is broken and in need of urgent reform.

After all, David Cameron in 2011 attacked the planning system as “the enemy of enterprise” and similarly embarked on a package of reforms to speed up housing delivery and economic growth and cut red tape. Yet consistently over 80% of planning applications are approved, challenging any simplistic presumptions that planning inhibits growth.

Political change has been a constant in England’s planning system. Since the landmark 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, some 360 pieces of planning legislation have been enacted. What’s more, since 1997 there have been 18 housing ministers, hindering policy consistency.

Managing change has been made more difficult with significant cuts to planning departments under austerity, compounded by incremental legislative changes that create the very complexity and delays that the government now complains about.

Today, calls for reform have been fuelled by a report by the right-wing thinktank Policy Exchange. With the country needing to build many more houses, the argument goes that replacing our plan-led system that assesses every application with a zoning system would reduce bureaucracy and help speed up decision-making.

There have already been some moves in this direction, with enterprise zones and brownfield “permission in principle” orders. Permitted development rights have enabled the government to fast-track more commercial-to-residential developments and housing extensions. Boris Johnson has just announced further loosening of the rules on converting other commercial establishments, shops and redundant premises into homes.

But these changes have already been criticised due to the growth of poor quality houses and flats with no windows, isolated from key services and infrastructure. Such homes would never have been given approval in the regular planning system, and also conflict with other policy considerations such as those of the advisory Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.

Diagnosing the planning challenges

“Build build build” is the wrong starting point. Planning is dominated by a target of building 300,000 homes each year, and the prime minister’s rhetoric reinforces that narrative. But one simple quantity metric on housing is dangerous and limiting when planning encompasses so much more.

The planning system should instead be designed to address the long-term challenges and opportunities our society faces. And that means a more integrated quality-based approach based on a shared vision of the kind of places we want to live in. Let’s identify these challenges in more detail:

  1. There is a housing challenge. Plenty of luxury flats are built but not enough affordable family homes. The key national priorities do not match the types of housing now being built and wanted by developers.
  2. There is a climate challenge. We are not doing anything like enough to meet the 1.5℃ Paris target, with 3℃ or more of warming now more likely. The planning system needs to have strong policies that help the transition to a greener lower carbon future with higher priority given to retrofitting of existing housing stock.
  3. There is a biodiversity challenge. The state of UK nature is declining year on year with many species on the brink of extinction. Biodiversity forms the backbone of viable ecosystems on which we depend on for basic necessities, security and health. This diversity makes us more resilient to change and uncertainty in much the same way as investing in a diverse range of stocks protects a financial portfolio from uncertainty.
  4. There is a health challenge. Poor housing stock and noise and air pollution, along with a lack of access to key services, all affect physical and mental health.
  5. There is a poverty and social justice challenge. The gap between the haves and have-nots is widening. Here child poverty is a major issue. The planning system was founded on the need for improved social justice, yet in recent years this has been conspicuously absent from policy.
  6. There is a public engagement challenge. Ordinary people should be able to understand and engage with planning more effectively and help co-produce the kinds of sustainable places they want to live, work and play in. The current system is too complex and too adversarial. A key opportunity is for the public to be more involved in planning processes which should be based on modern interactive “e-planning” and not dense and static PDF files.

These challenges are all interlinked and collectively should form the key principles on which a better and more joined-up planning system should be built. However, what that planning system looks like is not for me or anyone to dictate in a top-down fashion. We urgently need better diagnoses of these challenges and integrated interventions, so that then we can then design better governance and delivery frameworks that are less complex and fragmented.

I fear that the government will continue on its present trajectory, based on the populist but fallacious presumption that planning is restricting housebuilding, and impose yet more change on a public sector ill-equipped to deal with it. In effect, the country lurches from one crisis to another. And that is definitely not good planning.

Heinz 57+1 point plan to rebuild Devon’s economy! Phew!

The 58 point plan to rebuild Devon’s economy

We have the Heart of the South West, the Official Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), supposedly driving our local economy through productivity improvements. Then there have been a couple of organisations Owl describes as Provisional LEPs such as the “Golden Triangle” and the “South West Group Charter” which didn’t seem to last very long but made a lot of noise. Lately, we have also had a new entrant the Real LEP (or the LEP’s LEP ) “The Great South West” pitching to Sajid Javid on behalf of the three peninsular LEPs just before he resigned as Chancellor.

Now we have “Team Devon” proposing their Heinz 57+1 point plan to re-build the county’s post Covid-19 economy.

Owl doesn’t quite know what to make of it all. Certainly Owl has been unimpressed by all economic “planning” to date and thinks it might be helpful, in the short term, to focus on a County approach.

But 58 aims of: seeking, securing, lobbying, pursuing, working, establishing, enhancing, engaging, supporting, developing, implementing, confirming, improving, championing and taking forward is all a bit confusing for an Owl. (Apparently it has great potential to create 30,000 new jobs, 80,000 new training places and secure investment of £550 million, generating £2.8 billion of additional economic output. Let’s start counting!)


Daniel Clark 

A recovery plan to enable Devon to re-build the county’s economy to be stronger, more inclusive and sustainable has been unveiled.

The programmes and projects listed in the prospectus for its COVID-19 Economy and Business Recovery Plan have the potential to create 30,000 new jobs, 80,000 new training places and secure investment of £550 million, generating £2.8 billion of additional economic output.

Devon’s economy is predicted to shrink by around 8 per cent this year, roughly 1 per cent more than the rest of the UK, according to a new impact assessment commissioned by Team Devon, which suggests that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic will continue in the medium term with recovery likely to be slow through to 2023.

But the prospectus outlines the vision of how the county can level up its economy in response to the crisis with immediate priorities to seek an initial investment package of £56m to support the hardest hit communities and sustain 6,500 local jobs, deliver 5,000 training opportunities and support 7,500 enterprises to assist businesses to re-open, adapt and grow, help young people and those at risk of redundancy find or keep a job, and invest in Devon’s hardest hit communities and sectors.

Team Devon, a public and private sector partnership drawing in expertise from business, education, skills and public sector organisations, has developed the plan with the backing of business representatives, Devon’s County, District and City Councils, the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, Dartmoor National Park and Devon’s MP’s.

Cllr Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills, said: “COVID 19 has had a disproportionate impact on Devon’s businesses and residents, and it’s likely that the next two years may be among the most challenging in living memory for our local economy.

“All of the partners in Team Devon are united in the belief that there is now an opportunity to restart, regrow and reset our economy to enable Devon to emerge a stronger, more dynamic place to live and work. With the right support at national and local level we can achieve our ambition for a more inclusive and sustainable economy that benefits us all.”

The impact of the economic downturn across Devon has varied depending on sector and location. In the tourism and hospitality sector, 92 per cent of Devon businesses were disrupted by the crisis between March and June, but only 5 per cent of business in the digital sector faced the same level of disruption.

The unemployment claimant count in Exeter doubled in the three months to June, while in the South Hams it increased by 400 per cent, while unemployment among those aged between 18-25 and over 50 tripled in the same period, almost twice as fast as the Devon average.

Recovery is also predicted to vary greatly, with forecast of a two-year dip and recovery period in Exeter, through to a 10 per cent reduction and five-year recovery for some other areas of the county such as Mid Devon and Torridge. For some sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, it may take a decade to return to levels of income and employment experienced in 2019.

The Team Devon COVID-19 Economy and Business Recovery Prospectus aims to achieve thriving and successful city, town and rural communities attracting residents, visitors, businesses and students to live, work, learn and visit safely and feel connected, to ensure economic performance and employment reaches pre-COVID-19 levels by 2022, and that every individual can access a worthwhile job, undertake relevant and meaningful training and progress in learning or secure employment providing the income they need to thrive.


  • Pursue the allocation of a Great South West Tourism Zone to include Devon, providing support towards new visitor attractions and features, activity that can extend the tourism season and support for improving transport and the visitor experience.
  • Seek £10m of additional grant funding to support the tourism sector in Devon, providing up to £5,000 per business to support adaption and reopening costs, marketing and communications and other projects which benefit trade and the visitor experience.
  • Implement a regional certificated scheme on opening safely,seeking to utilise the well-received Better Business for All Toolkit approach and Buy with Confidence approved trader scheme.
  • Lobby for a sector specific extension to the furlough scheme and VAT payment deferral – support the sector with extensions to these two national support measures and other potential costs around reopening safely. Seek a relaxation of furlough regulations taking account of specific issues for seasonal and part time workers.
  • Working closely with DWP, take forward an accelerated approach to redeployment / rapid retraining of staff members made redundant within the tourism sector, including providing access to short retraining courses and tailored employability support into other sectors, such as Digital or Health and Care
  • Seek £500,000 to provide up to 500 additional training places for the Tourism sector, including additional support in leadership and management, customer service, business administration and sector specific skills (catering, hospitality)
  • Establish an enhanced business support offer for the Tourism sector, including hospitality and leisure leadership and management This would include a ‘Be the Business’ training programme to support business planning, rebuilding and embed learning around COVID-19 impacts.
  • Enhance the resilience of the sector through grant support for projects which look to extend the tourism season and reinforce local supply chains, including support for diversification of individual offers (around health, environmental and accessible tourism) and which encourage local buying / purchasing. This includes a ‘Made in Devon’ quality approval scheme linked to Buy with Confidence.
  • Pursue Town Funding for regeneration projects which contribute to the visitor economy in 8 coastal and rural locations, including town centre renewal in Ilfracombe and Dawlish.
  • Seek additional support for our Destination Management Organisations, to sustain their operations and take forward additional joint destination marketing activity over the next year
  • Seek an additional £10m of grant support towards assisting agriculture and food & drink sector to restart within Devon, providing £5,000 per business towards adaption, mitigation and diversification activity.
  • Engage additional staff resources to support producers to diversify and access new markets. To include support and grants for accessing new markets; product promotion, realising export opportunities, assistance with diversification, and bringing together suppliers and buyers in line with the South West Food Hub Model
  • Seek £150,000 to support 150 additional training places in the agricultural sector, including in farm management, engineering and livestock and animal health certifications
  • Seek support for additional technical and higher skill training opportunities in agriculture, food & drink including across engineering, science based and management competencies and Agri-tech
  • Become an active partner in the South West Good Food Network,seeking to drive forward new collaborations around logistics and digital solutions, with the aim of utilising more of the food we produce close to
  • Implement a ‘Made in Devon’ campaign aligned with Buy with Confidence, seeking to promote the region as a food destination /quality supplier, and promoting local consumption and buying.
  • Seek additional grant support for retail businesses facing the double whammy of lockdown and now modification costs to operate, building on existing Government led programmes to enable stores within our hardest hit high streets to manage costs and supporting essential COVID-19 modifications
  • Seek to support existing Business Improvement Districts to enhance their offer, working with local BID teams and District / Town Councils to enhance, re-purpose and future proof the high street experience and our retail hubs as destinations.
  • Working closely with DWP, take forward an accelerated approach to redeployment of staff members made redundant by the retail sector, including providing access to short retraining courses and tailored employability support.
  • Implement a regional quality assurance scheme which promotes consumer confidence in safety on the high streetby building on the Buy with Confidence, approved trader scheme
  • Develop and implement a specific digital skills and support programme to capitalise on the online trading and digital opportunities for the sector.
  • Develop a ‘Late Payment’ pilot to support small business with cashflow,seeking to use small grants and a better approach to online invoicing to improve payment terms
  • Provide support for 150 additional sector skills places through the Sector Skills Training approach, with a focus on site operations, civils, trades, modern methods of construction and wider new and high demand construction
  • Take forward an enhanced programme around supporting businesses to champion sustainable construction, including additional training around sustainable supply chains and community wealth, new building skills and future building methods and materials and supply chains choices.
  • Public Sector Stimulus – Consider how local government can support the sector to grow through simplifying and streamlining procurementand planning This would include the publication of the public sector’s 3 year construction programme across Devon, providing an opportunity for construction businesses and other interested parties to align their supply chain offer
  • Support smaller construction business and trades to access support, new markets and supply chains by bringing together suppliers and SMEs with tier 1 construction companies and consider how local government can support the sector to grow through simplifying and streamlining procurement and planning policies
  • Support local employment and training – Work with the sector to maximise the value of existing projects for Devon, through agreeing local labour agreements to support employment and skills goals, and local procurement approaches to best utilise the local supply chain.
  • Ensure early delivery of housing schemes funded from the Housing Infrastructure Fund (South West Exeter, Tiverton, Cullompton, Barnstaple and Ilfracombe, Dawlish) to support the construction sector and provide new homes
  • Secure at least £15m additional town and high street funding to restart our hardest hit communities, making a case for new capital and revenue funding to support a number of our rural, coastal and market town communities.
  • Confirm and accelerate Future High Street Fund indicative awards to our towns, and sign off business cases for Bideford, Barnstaple and Newton Abbot
  • Improve consumer confidence through a coordinated approach to promoting our high streets, towns and communities, facilities, services and businesses, building local confidence to shop and visit safely and develop our digital retail offer
  • Extend the Work Hub Programme, securing £1m to build on the successful work hubs network and enable rural communities and smaller towns to grow their own local service provision, including options to develop community assets and hubs
  • Digital infrastructure investment – improve mobile and digital connectivity in rural areas through working with communities to maximise the national Rural Gigabit Voucher Programme and local Mobile Boost Voucher scheme, in addition to piloting new solutions where poor coverage still remains.
  • Transport Connectivity and Housing – develop community, town and city transport initiatives and infrastructure, including for cycling, buses, rail and other forms of sustainable transport – between and within communities. We will support the housing sector by accelerating Housing Infrastructure Fund supported projects and increasing affordable homes.
  • Seek increased investment to facilitate city / town centre living, with partners seeking to secure £1.5m for investment in and development of vacant high street property in 3 pilot locations, including Exeter and utilise local apprenticeship programmes to improve construction skills
  • Develop and secure investment for a city / town set of renewal plans – including sharing best practice and ideas develop proposals for future funding opportunities including One Public Estate, Land Release Fund, Coastal Community Funding, Zero-carbon pilots and Garden Communities programme.
  • Natural Capital Programme – secure £15m to develop projects to support flood prevention, landscape management, carbon sequestration and develop a Woodland Enterprise Zone including an Enterprise Hub, apprenticeship and skills programme.
  • Energy Infrastructure – £20m investment to enable smart energy management and renewable energy generation through upgrading the national grid network.
  • Work with Government to accelerate funding for Dawlish sea wall / rail infrastructure and A303 upgrades.
  • Bring together a Devon Skills Recovery Partnership, responsible for the delivery of relevant actions within the County’s Implementation Plan and instituting a “no wrong door” approach across core services
  • Support the campaign for a September / Opportunity Guarantee for Young People, seeking to ensure that every young person between 16-25 has access to a training or vocational learning place next academic year if they wish to take it.
  • Implement an enhanced Careers, Information, Advice and Guidance Service across Devon for Autumn 2020, covering both Young People and Displaced Adults. The partnership will be supported by an additional £75,000 towards communications and marketing costs.
  • Work with DWP, District Councils, CABs and other local economic and community partners to take forward a joined-up approach to redeployment into opportunities sectors such as Health and Social Care, building on the Sector Based Work Academy model to support individuals, in particular young people to retrain / redeploy into new / relevant roles
  • Seek £1m of additional resources towards a Sector Skills Response Package, focused on working with those leaving Tourism, Retail and other hard-hit sectors to train and remobilise. Where return isn’t an option, seek opportunities to career jump into opportunity sectors such as health, digital or engineering
  • Seek £500,000 of funding to implement an enhanced Volunteering / Traineeship / Apprenticeship approach, supporting partners to fast track development of traineeship / pre-apprenticeship opportunities for young people and adults alike. Seek to maximise opportunities in growth sectors such as health or digital roles.
  • Work with Government to secure an initial £1.5m of additional support towards employability / adult basic skills provision for Autumn 2020, including additional support for digital literacy, outreach and ‘career jumping’ opportunities (supporting those being displaced from or requiring upskilling in the Tourism, Retail and Construction sectors)
  • Seek funding for and implement a new £8m Technical Skills Development Programme across Devon, providing new opportunities within growth and foundation sectors (including digital, advanced engineering and manufacturing, health, tourism, construction and retail).
  • Seek to secure up to £7.5m of additional resources to increase the sustainability of apprenticeships, traineeships and wider learning, including through bursaries / maintenance support, wage subsidies, assistance with rural and access to education transport costs, support for digital equipment and connectivity; and other measures.
  • Secure additional support for Devon’s Training Provider Network and network of Employment and Skills Boards, supporting their ability to act as a first point of contact and support with Devon’s business community and training providers, and empowering them to support implementation of new programmes.
  • Work with the ESFA and wider partners to support measures around provider sustainability and growth, including support with financial hardship amongst training providers, and costs around modification and diversification linked to COVID-19
  • Seek up to £90m of resources from the Further Education Capital Programme, including resources to enhance digital capacity within our College and Provider Network to provide virtual learning and further modernise and grow the local FE estate
  • Seek to secure £10m towards a Green Skills Development Package for Devon, incorporating capital and revenue programme to be spent over the next three years to Fast-track relevant sector and employment opportunities
  • Secure up to £20m of additional innovation and skills development opportunities working with the County’s Universities and Colleges, with a focus on high growth and clean growth innovation and high value employment in opportunity areas such as health, green economy and advanced manufacturing and engineering.
  • Roll out an ambitious Domestic Energy efficiency and Energy Generation Pilot – a council tax pilot with an ask of £77.5m to support 37,000 households over 3 years to invest in energy efficiency and energy generation measures, stimulating demand for environmental technologies and construction sectors
  • Carbon In-setting Pilot – Working alongside Government, develop an appropriate regulatory framework for a pilot carbon in-setting approach, seeking to reduce / offset carbon emissions back through supply
  • Establish a Centre for Clean Mobility at Exeter Science Park – £3.75m – create a high-specification collaboration laboratory to be used for research, development and innovation, with strong industrial engagement to test autonomy within marine, off-highway, HGV, rail, and defence sectors.
  • Champion a SMART Aviation Cluster and Freeport Proposal – working with Exeter Airport and other partners – support the development of new classes of electrical and autonomous air vehicles, such as drones, 3 to 5 person green aircraft and commercial green aircraft, and linking together with the new Future Skills Academy led by Exeter College and additional innovation capacity within the local area.
  • Seek Government support of £1.83m for a comprehensive and future proofed Electric Vehicle and Shared Mobility infrastructure network across 58 of Devon’s communities with a population of over 1,100

Cllr Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council and Chair of Devon Districts Forum, added: “We are only now beginning to realise what the economic impact of the pandemic will be for Devon. This prospectus is exactly what we need, it outlines a clear way forward for job creation and investment.

“As Chair of the Devon Districts Forum, I am pleased to be able to say that all of the District Authorities in Devon have committed to working together and delivering this plan. As the fourth worst impacted county in the country, this prospectus will be central to Devon’s recovery and future growth.”

Melanie Squires, Regional Director, South West NFU, said: “Despite often being unseen down farm lanes or behind hedges, like the rest of the economy the farming community has had a significant shock from Covid-19 and will continue to deal with the after effects for some time, with the double whammy of so many having also diversified into the tourism and hospitality sector.”

Anthony Mangnall, MP for Totnes, said: “We have faced an unforeseen challenge in the form of Covid-19 and we now face the monumental challenge of rebuilding our economy. This document represents the views and thoughts of local leaders from politicians to business owners to college principles.

“It is focused on the many strengths of Devon’s economy as well as developing and expanding clean green growth opportunities, improving our digital and transport networks all with the aim of encouraging new jobs and business investment to our special and unique part of the United Kingdom.”

Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, said: “It’s vital that we work together to help our communities through this crisis, as well as taking the opportunity to build on the lessons we’ve learned. I’m pleased to support Team Devon’s plan for a sustainable recovery.”

A more detailed plan and investment strategy is being developed by Team Devon to support the delivery of its actions, and it will be working in partnership with Government, Heart of the South West LEP and other agencies to implement the plan.

“Build Back Better” – a Covid-19 supplement to town Centres – Bill Gimsey Report

“Build Back Better” is an overused phrase at the moment bur Owl spotted this report a few weeks ago and now seems the right moment to post it. Its Author, Bill Gimsey, is a convert from cloning town centres (he has been CEO of Iceland) to something more individual. More reading for the new EDDC administration perhaps?

In 2013 he published a report on the state of the high street retail sector, The Grimsey Review, which led the Labour party to appoint him as an advisor. This was updated in July 2018 with a second edition of the review. The review highlighted the problem of the UK having too much retail space and suggested that the centres of cities and towns should focus on becoming community spaces.

Executive Summary

When our Prime Minister emerged from hospital after spending several days in intensive care being treated for Covid-19, he signaled a change in priorities. Quoting the Roman statesman, Cicero, he said, “the health of the nation should be the supreme law”.

 As this paper will argue, this ought to be put to the test in restoring our nation’s high streets and town centres. They are arguably the most symbolic representation of community wellbeing, yet shuttered shops and urban decay blight far too many areas. Rather than lift communities and strengthen social capital, they hold them back and breed isolation. Instead of acting as a catalyst for good health and neighbourliness, they’ve become a frontline for ill health and crime.

Faced with the huge challenge of rebuilding our high streets, we are presented with a golden opportunity to repair their neglected social fabric, lead a values-led period of social renewal and deliver lasting change.

Given the state of our battered local economies, this is no small task, yet this Grimsey Review COVID-19 supplement is optimistic we can rise to the challenge.

Out of the ashes and pandemic rubble will eventually emerge signs of recovery in every town up and down the country. Brave entrepreneurs will create businesses that reflect a new value system as people are appreciating spending less money, breathing cleaner air, noticing more wildlife and sharing a stronger sense of community. What is needed is a call to action, which encourages that process, removes the barriers to progress and facilitates change quickly.

This will require a huge shift in power from central government to local communities, putting the people best able to lead that change in charge. It will also require an understanding that the challenges facing our towns and high streets are simply too big for Westminster. They cannot be solved by pulling big levers in Whitehall. Our politicians’ job is to provide policies that empower communities to come up with solutions that are unique to their needs.The pandemic has changed everything in the sense that people have had to adapt to a life threatening crisis, change their behaviours quickly and a new normal is emerging. This paper examines the harsh economic facts largely exacerbated by an obsession to build more shops against a background where more people were switching to online shopping. Incredibly, this obsession still continues and more investment is going to end up misplaced and irrelevant. A recent YouGov poll revealed that only 9% of Britons want life to return to ‘normal’ after the coronavirus outbreak is over. People have noticed significant changes during the lockdown and they know a better life is possible – and our high streets have to be part of this. 

To achieve this better life, it will be incumbent on government to blow away some of the restrictions of the past and put in place devolved powers that enable local communities to act. Business rates on retail and hospitality premises, for example, which have been waived for a year, can easily be dumped and replaced with a simpler system during this time. Literally all parts of the economy will change; global supply chains will be challenged, local tourism will become even more important, the commercial property sector will need to wake up as home working or working closer to home becomes accepted practice. Manufacturing should return in a big way as we start to reject global sourcing, exploitation of cheap labour and environmental damage. We will also need to re-examine pay structures, understanding that a prosperous society needs to recognize and reward essential workers in a fairer way.

We can only hope the leaders of our towns have used the lockdown opportunity to pause and reflect – and that decisive action will follow. We need to see ambitious plans to give all communities a proper stake in their economy. Old consumption driven thinking must make way for healthier driven strategies that meet the desires of a younger generation, embracing seasonality, community and unique experiences.

This change has little to do with shops and everything to do with the community spirit and togetherness kindled by this pandemic. Unique places will emerge embracing the ‘new normal’, using technologies in very different ways. Climate change, which has not gone away, will climb back up the agenda and become the priority of the next generation who will also inherit the biggest public debt since World War Two. 

If we are going to come out of this period in better shape, then it will be because we have recognised the old model is broken. An exciting new model is now ready to be developed and implemented by inspired local leaders…

 This is a model that:

  1. Sees a massive shift in power away from central government to local communities to give everyone a stake in their town centres
  2. Puts sustainability and the environment at the heart of everything
  3. Is based on quality of life, experiences and not blind mass consumerism 
  4. Recognises and rewards great local leadership accordingly 
  5. Devolves power locally, removes constraints and allows local communities to develop their places to compete for people to live, work, play and visit
  6. Removes old taxation that has become inappropriate
  7. Encourages sectors to jointly manage risk in order to prosper 

Progress has been made since the Grimsey Reviews of 2013 and 2018 but it has not been as fast or as radical as it needs to be. Everyone has had a different experience during lockdown and many have recognised that the most important thing is our health. Collectively, we’ve had a real wake up and smell the coffee moment, except, ironically, it was a wake up and smell the ‘fresh air’ moment. 

Turning this precious realization into a better future will require a lot of hard work and determined rebuilding. The following recommendations are a good place to start.

Government report on climate change to guide East Devon strategy

A central government report issuing a ‘now do it’ plea over climate change will be used to help form East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) strategy.

[Here is a link to the report referred to – Owl]

EDDC said it ‘remains committed’ to reducing its carbon footprint after the government’s ‘committee of climate change’ report was issued.

The foreword to the report said the UK government must ‘seize the opportunity to make the Covid-19 recovery a defining moment in tackling the climate crisis’ and said ‘act courageously – it’s there for the taking’. Newly appointed portfolio holder for climate change at EDDC, Cllr Marianne Rixson, and her deputy Cllr Denise Bickley said they will be using the report to guide the council’s plans.

In summer 2019, EDDC became a signatory to the Devon Climate Emergency Declaration.

A spokesman for EDDC said: “Whilst recognising that it has set itself a challenging ambition, (the council) is determined to make positive changes over the next 20 years to reach this goal for the benefit of the planet, its communities, and residents’ health and wellbeing.”

In a joint statement, Cllrs Rixson and Bickley said: “Whilst this report is primarily for government, we intend to use the Committee on Climate Change report as a guide to help develop and enhance our own strategy. “Initial low-cost projects include tree planting and re-wilding.

“However, in order to achieve a substantial change in emissions, changes will be required to both housing and transport, which together contribute substantially to greenhouse gases.

“We must ensure that future housing is built to meet high environmental standards.

“Also, that transport emissions are reduced through behavioural change such as walking, where possible, cycling and car sharing. Increased use of public transport will play a significant role, once public confidence has been restored.

“As a rural area, we recognise too that investment will be essential in electric car charging networks.

“However, schemes such as these will require significant investment and government funding.

“Therefore, climate change projects should be on the top of the government’s agenda.

“In the meantime, we will play our part in encouraging green transport through electrification of our own white vehicle fleet.”


Budleigh beach clean-up crew ‘devastated’ by rubbish left in beauty spot

Volunteer litter pickers were left ‘devastated’ by the amount of rubbish found at a Budleigh Salterton beach in their first clean-up operation since lockdown restrictions were eased.

Volunteers helping in the Clean Beach Budleigh. Picture: Marta MarcotaVolunteers helping in the Clean Beach Budleigh. Picture: Marta Marcota

Usually Clean Beach Budleigh members and supporters take around an hour to remove the rubbish from a stretch of the beach from Lime Kiln Car Park to Otter Head.

According to group coordinator Marta Marcote, during the first clean-up since the lockdown restrictions were relaxed, it took volunteers an hour and a half to clean that section of the beach.

“Even so, we were only able to clean up the higher part of the beach – just 100 metres long,” said Marcota.

“We were devastated by what we found.

Items found during a beach clean in Budleigh. Picture: Marta MarcotaItems found during a beach clean in Budleigh. Picture: Marta Marcota

“We found several fire pits remaining from barbecues on the beach.

“Most of them had been loosely covered with a few clean pebbles, thereby obscuring what was underneath and making the hazard below even harder to see.

“Once we removed the pebbles, we could see what was below.”


Itesm found during a beach clean in Budleigh. Picture: Marta MarcotaItesm found during a beach clean in Budleigh. Picture: Marta Marcota

Marcota, who is a marine and environmental scientist, said they also found rusty nails and broken glass.

She added: “It was very dangerous because nails were pointing in all directions.

“It would have been very easy to stand on them, and for the nails to push through the sole of a shoe, sandal or flip-flop.

“It is easy to imagine what could happened to a bare foot – whether that of an adult, a child or a dog.

“Such metals and glass remain hidden in the surface of the beach unless someone bothers to pick them up.”

Clean Beach Budleigh was established with the help of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) in 2018, organising its first beach clean in September of that year.

Since then, Budleigh resident Marcota has organised 12 beach cleans at Budleigh and the events normally cover 500 metres of the beach.

She organised the clean-up in June by advertising the event on Facebook and via the MCS website ‘to have a small group of people who would respect government rules about social distancing’.

Results of the clean-ups are sent to MCS which analyses the data and uses the results to raise awareness of pollution and tackle it at source in the UK.

Principal reassures parents after Exmouth college student tests positive for COVID-19

An Exmouth Community College student has tested positive for coronavirus, and their classmates and teachers told to stay at home.

This is where we need a “world class” test, track, trace and isolate system Boris! – Owl

 Becca Gliddon 
College principal Andrew Davis alerted parents and carers by writing on the school’s website today, July 3, saying the student tested positive for COVID-19 after going to hospital for an unrelated injury.

Mr Davis said the student’s tutors and classmates had all been contacted and asked not to attend Exmouth Community College as a precaution until Public Health England (PHE) advises the next steps.

The college said it had contacted PHE as soon as it had been made aware of the test result.

The principal said the student had been into college twice towards the end of June, once for a face-to-face socially-distanced classroom session with other students and a tutor, and again for a one-to-one meeting with a member of staff.

The college said there had been no other opportunity for the student to mix with other pupils while on the Exmouth campus, other than their classmates.

Mr Davis said the student was asymptomatic and had not shown any symptoms associated with coronavirus that would have led to them being told to stay away.

Writing to parents and carers, Mr Davis said: “The person concerned was an older student who had last attended college for a face-to-face session on Thursday 25th June.

“The teacher concerned, who maintained social distancing throughout the lesson by teaching from the front, and students, whose entry was managed by a member of staff to keep them two metres apart and sat at desks two metres apart, have all been contacted and asked not to attend college today as a precaution.

“It is our understanding that the student presented as asymptomatic and so there are no reports of, for example, coughing, which would have led to their removal from the session.”

He added: “The student also came into college on Tuesday 30th June for a socially distanced one-to-one session with a member of staff.

“These meetings take place in a large ventilated classroom with individual students allocated clean desks for each meeting.

“The member of staff has also been contacted and asked to not attend college until we receive further advice.

“For one-to-one meetings students are collected by staff from different entrances depending on the year group and walked off site at the end of the meeting.

“As the student was the last one-to-one meeting of the day no other students in the one-to-one sessions on that day will have been affected.”

The sessions for Year 10, Year 12, Key Stage 3 and Year 10 one-to-one meetings and keyworker/priority student sessions all take place in different areas of the college with students barred from going from one area to another.

Mr Davis said: “There was no opportunity for this student, while in college, to mix with other students apart from those who he was taught with who, as I say, have all now been contacted.

“As soon as we were made aware of the test result, we contacted Public Health England.

“Depending on the circumstances of when the infectious period was, we may then be advised that no action is required if they have not been onsite during the infectious period or alternatively children may have to remain at home and isolated.

“We are currently waiting for advice for Public Health England and have been advised that this could take up to 48 hours.

“While we await that advice and, at the risk of being overcautious, we have contacted all the students in the same class and anyone else who we think might have had any indirect contact with the student as a precaution to ask them to remain at home for now.”

The principal said the college has been following a number of measures to safeguard students and staff, and stop the spread of the virus.

These include staggered starts, regular handwashing, supervised staggered breaks and lunches, one-way systems, areas for different groups to socialise, and regular cleaning of equipment – such as chairs, tables, PE kit, keyboards – between each student use, well-ventilated rooms, and small student groups.

The college said Year 10 and 12 teaching groups were by invite only so that groupings could be managed, students were supervised by staff between lessons to maintain social distancing as far as possible, and staff and students were briefed each day at the start of the sessions to remind them about the importance of the safety measures in place.

Met police urged to investigate Dominic Cummings’ trip during Covid-19 lockdown

The former chief prosecutor for north-west England has urged the Metropolitan police to launch an immediate investigation into Dominic Cummings’ trip from London to Durham at the height of the coronavirus outbreak.

Matthew Weaver

Lawyers for Nazir Afzal have written to the Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, arguing that the behaviour of Boris Johnson’s chief adviser during the lockdown warrants a “thorough investigation”.

They say the “continuing pressing public imperative to ensure strict compliance” with advice about the pandemic “makes this matter urgent”.

Afzal’s lawyers point out that a three-day investigation by Durham police was confined to Cummings’ movement in County Durham and made no finding on why he left London when his wife was suffering coronavirus symptoms and a day before he fell ill with a suspected case.

The letter to Dick says: “The apparent wrongdoing included actions in London, including Mr Cummings leaving his home without reasonable excuse on 27 March.”

Afzal, whose brother Umar died of coronavirus on 8 April when he was self-isolating at home, has become the figurehead of a legal campaign to ensure that Cummings’ alleged lockdown breaches are fully investigated.

As well as writing to Dick, his lawyers, Hodge Jones & Allen, have also written to the chief constable of Durham olice, Jo Farrell, and the director of public prosecutions, Max Hill, calling for further investigation of Cummings’ behaviour.

All three letters say the information will enable Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service and the public “to understand whether Dominic Cummings should be charged and prosecuted for breach of the health protection [coronavirus, restrictions] regulations 2020 and/or related offences”.

They point out that a number of public authorities, including the police, have suggested Cummings’ bending of the rules had “undermined the importance of compliance and the made the task of police enforcement with the public more difficult across the country”.

The investigation by Durham police found Cummings had probably breached health protection regulations when he took a 52-mile round trip to Barnard Castle with his wife and son on her birthday.

The force decided to take no further action and made no finding in relation to the government’s “stay at home” guidance and Cummings’ initial decision to leave London for Durham.

The letter to Hill says Durham police’s investigation was “short, narrow and limited” and “did not consider the lawfulness of Mr Cummings leaving London, or other alleged wrongdoing”.

It said: “We emphasise on behalf of Mr Afzal that it would be misconceived for the police or the Crown Prosecution Service to approach Mr Cummings’ conduct as if it were insufficiently serious to warrant prosecution at this stage … The seriousness of Mr Cummings’ wrongdoing is an assessment for prosecutors to make, once they have been given the relevant evidence by police and other investigators.”

Each of the letters includes a nine-page annex setting out what is known so far about Cummings’ movement during the lockdown alongside the relevant rules at the time. It also includes a list of the “further information required”. Dick, Farrell and Hill have been given 14 days to respond.

Afzal is worried that the Cummings affair has damaged public confidence in the law. He said: “I am concerned that the police and prosecutors have not received all the relevant information and their decision making will be incomplete as a result. I am troubled that previous correspondence from people, including MPs, has gone unanswered.”

He also encouraged anyone with information about Cummings’ movements during the lockdown to email his solicitor, Mike Schwarz, at

Schwarz said: “It is Mr Afzal’s simple wish and expectation that current senior police investigators and prosecutors are reminded of their responsibilities and carry out their during in Mr Cummings’ case. By failing to do so they would perpetuate the public’s perception that there is one rule for those in positions of power and another for ordinary citizens.”

A spokeswoman for No 10 said it was not commenting on the issue. A CPS spokesman said: “It is not the function of the CPS to investigate allegations of crime. Investigations into alleged criminal conduct are a matter for the relevant police force.”

The letters will add pressure on Johnson over the behaviour of his chief adviser.

On a LBC phone-in on Friday, Gurvinder from Slough asked the prime minister why he could not see his mother before she died while Cummings could drive 264 miles to stay at his parents’ property at the height of the pandemic.

“How do you expect the public to follow the rules if the people setting the rules don’t really care about them themselves?” he asked.

Johnson said he “really, really” understood public concern about the issue, and added: “Most people in this country have shown huge forbearance and sacrifice, the overwhelming majority.”

Petition started to save ‘vital’ bridge as time runs out for repair works

The petition was started by East Devon District Councillor Val Ranger whose ward, Newton Poppleford and Harpford, the bridge resides in.


Harpford Red Bridge

Harpford Red Bridge


Cllr Ranger has said the bridge is in need of repairs and has been told by Devon County Council (DCC) that if repair works are not completed by September, it will have to close for safety reasons.

She said: “The reason we are doing the petition is not in a combative way, we don’t want that message to come across.

“It is to support the council because they have to justify why they have spent money on a certain thing so then they can say there is huge community support.”

The bridge is part of the East Devon Way which is a 40-mile walking route through the area and Cllr Ranger believes more people have been using the bridge since lockdown began.

She said: “The bridge has always been really well used but now more than ever people are enjoying their outdoor environment and the Government are encouraging people to do so. We’re trying to get people to use their cars less so that bridge is just such a vital link.”

“There’s no doubt that usage has increased [since lockdown began] but equally you can see this bridge is held dear by many people. People have said things like ‘I proposed on that bridge’ or ‘I ran across that bridge when I got married’.

“It’s really held in great affection. It’s a fantastic point for spotting wildlife on the river, the number of birds we see as well as otter and beaver sightings.

“I live near and people walk past my window all the time. I would say in the summer people are running over that bridge at about 5.30 in the morning and you even see running groups coming in the dark with their lights bobbing. It’s probably used 19 hours a day, it is extraordinary.”

If you wish to read more or to sign the petition, visit

[If the link above doesn’t  work try  ]

UK waste firm Biffa loses appeal after exporting dirty waste to China

One of the UK’s biggest waste firms has lost a case in the court of appeal to overturn a criminal conviction for exporting dirty waste to China.

Diane Taylor

The Environment Agency, which brought a successful criminal prosecution a year ago against Biffa Waste Services Ltd, which was convicted of trying to send used nappies and other contaminated materials illegally to China, welcomed Friday’s ruling and said exports of this kind of illegal waste “blighted the lives and environment of people overseas”.

The ruling has clarified the rules about exporting waste overseas.

The case focused on an incident in May 2015, in which Biffa dispatched 175 tonnes of waste from its recycling plant in Edmonton, north London, destined for two reprocessing plants in China.

Biffa had said that the unsorted household waste was paper. The company was prosecuted by the Environment Agency after investigators stopped seven 25-tonne containers from leaving Felixstowe in Suffolk over suspicions about the content.

Instead of waste paper, investigators discovered a mix of used nappies, sanitary towels and incontinence pads, sealed bags containing faeces, hot water bottles, hi-vis jackets and food packaging. Biffa was fined £350,000.

In the 1970s and 80s it was common for the UK to dump waste in developing countries, but regulations around shipment of waste were brought in to stop the west dumping this detritus on other countries.

In 2018, China banned imports of plastic and other waste materials from the west, including all mixed paper, amid growing anger at the way the west exported its rubbish.

Biffa appealed to the court of appeal against last year’s criminal conviction, arguing that further consideration should have been given in that case to whether the waste the company planned to export met China’s environmental standards for recycling and processing waste.

It also highlighted in last year’s case charitable work it had carried out, but complained when negative issues about its track record were made known to the jury to balance the positive points.

Friday’s judgment refers to 18 previous offences committed by Biffa, four involving health and safety, three of which involved deaths.

The three judges hearing the case rejected Biffa’s arguments. Their judgment has clarified the law around export of waste to other countries. The case is likely to be noted with interest not only by UK waste exporters but also by those from other European countries.

Household waste cannot be exported for paper recycling and the court of appeal judges said that waste must be categorised at the outset of its journey rather than at its final destination – in this case in Edmonton rather than China.

In any criminal prosecutions of waste companies, neither the destination of any waste nor any standards applied by the receiving country should be relevant to a jury, the judges said. Opinions of mill owners in foreign countries, foreign laws or environment agencies are “irrelevant to the application of that standard”, according to today’s ruling.

Sailesh Mehta, a human rights and environmental barrister who represented the Environment Agency in the court of appeal case, welcomed the judgment.

He said: “The court of appeal has helped to clarify the law on the export of our household waste, masquerading as waste paper. This is a Europe-wide problem and this case will have far-reaching and beneficial consequences. The Environment Agency sought to enforce our legal and moral obligations, and to protect the environments of developing nations who receive our harmful waste. The export of our unwanted waste is a multimillion pound business, here and in Europe. The court of appeal has confirmed and clarified the law and given valuable guidance that will help in our fight to save the environment,” he said.

Sarah Mills, the enforcement manager at the Environment Agency, said: “The court of appeal’s judgement in upholding Biffa’s conviction for exporting waste collected from households, labelled as paper, justifies our decision to prosecute the company. Illegal waste exports blight the lives and environment of people overseas. We continue to treat illegal waste exports as a priority and will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those found to break the rules.”

A spokesperson for Biffa said:“We are disappointed with this outcome and are now considering our options.”

Local officials kept in the dark by Whitehall on Covid-19 testing data

Boris Johnson’s adherence to Thatcherite  “public sector bad, private sector good” dogma lies behind much of what has gone wrong in his handling of the pandemic. – Owl

“A senior director of public health, speaking anonymously, said: “The government says data is now flowing, but that’s just spin. It’s not granular enough, it’s not quick enough and it’s not frequent enough. What we’ve been told is that the commercial company operating pillar two didn’t set the data up so it can shared easily, and that the quality was poor as well.”

Local health officials are being “kept in the dark” about Covid-19 infections in their area by Whitehall’s refusal to share all of its data, Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, has warned.

Public health officials and council leaders also told the Observer that they were receiving only partial postcode data, which prevents them from precisely monitoring local areas, and could allow the virus to spread.

Burnham has urged ministers to change their approach after a week that saw Boris Johnson impose a local lockdown on Leicester when health secretary Matt Hancock, revealed that the city had seen a surge of 944 Covid-19 cases over two weeks.

Amid a public row between ministers and Leicester’s mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, health officials finally began sharing more data with the city authorities last Wednesday. Previously, all councils had to wait for official Public Health England data to be published, which meant a two-week lag.

Yet significant problems remain, Burnham told the Observer. “We need a new principle going forward: everything the government knows, we should know – and at the same time that they know it. Because we cannot contain this virus if people at a local level are being kept in the dark.”

Public Health England (PHE) wrote to councils’ directors of public health last Monday with details of how to access “pillar two” data – that taken from home testing kits and mobile testing sites set up by Deloitte. Until that point, local authorities had only “pillar one” data – how many people in hospitals had tested positive. In Manchester, there had been 78 pillar one cases, but that jumped to 465 when pillar two figures were revealed.

“We get pillar two data once a week, on a Monday morning,” Burnham said. “But a lot can happen in seven days. So if we’re going to manage and chase this virus down on the ground, we need the same daily data that the government gets.

“They also won’t provide patient-identifiable data. Our teams tell me that is crucial, but the government cites patient confidentiality. Our teams are experienced public health staff – they know how to deal with data confidentially. It’s as if the government doesn’t trust the professionals working at local level.”

Government health sources insist that “data protection” issues limit who can access postcode-level data, since if the information were to leak beyond councils and the NHS, it could be used to identify individuals.

This week, the government is expected to publish an “outbreak framework” as guidance on what might trigger further local lockdowns. Ministers are understood not to be following the approach used in Germany, where local lockdowns are considered whenever the number of cases reaches a threshold of 50 per 100,000 people.

A further problem for local health teams is that there is a huge quantity of testing data to decipher, including hospital admissions, contact-tracing data from the NHS system and their own local intelligence.

Louise Jackson, portfolio holder for public health and wellbeing at Bedford Council, said her teams were still not getting good-quality information.

“They tell me there are duplicates – for example, if there are four results in one postcode area, does that mean you’ve got four cases, or one person who has been tested four times? They just don’t know. The local data dashboards only give the number of tests, not how many were positive or where they are. It’s very, very messy.”

A senior director of public health, speaking anonymously, said: “The government says data is now flowing, but that’s just spin. It’s not granular enough, it’s not quick enough and it’s not frequent enough. What we’ve been told is that the commercial company operating pillar two didn’t set the data up so it can shared easily, and that the quality was poor as well.”

MPs have raised questions about the role of Deloitte, which was appointed to run testing centres in March. In a written answer last week, health minister Nadine Dorries admitted that the government contract “does not require the company to report positive cases” to PHE.Stella Creasy, the MP for Walthamstow who tabled the question, said: “This is a mess. Local authorities need clear data about positive tests: where they’ve happened, who’s involved and who is isolating. And that should be what the government has commissioned. It’s becoming very clear that’s not the case.”

Deenan Pillay, a professor of virology at University College London and a member of the Independent Sage group of scientists, said he was consulted by Deloitte about setting up the testing sites in March.

“I told them one of the key things would be data flow, since that is critical to optimal use of the data for individual clinical care and pandemic control,” he said.

“Health data is a very complex area, and the problems we are seeing are some of the consequences of this being set up as a structure separate from the NHS, rather than being linked to the NHS’s laboratory and data systems.”He said that testing did not just happen in a lab but was a whole process that began with collecting the right patient information. NHS tests use patients’ NHS numbers, allowing results to go to their GP, Pillay said.

“We are now seeing the consequences of this lack of data integration with primary and secondary care, PHE and local directors of public health, which needs a lot of behind-the-scenes retrofitting.”

Whitehall did not respond to questions from the Observer about the sharing of data.

Deloitte said that the consultancy had designed the online form used to book and register tests and had commissioned testing sites, but did not run either them or the testing labs. Test results are sent from labs to the National Pathology Exchange, which connects NHS labs with other parts of the NHS, including NHS Digital.