Rockfish owner calls for help to ease rural ‘debt mountain’

Rural firms ‘need help to ease debt mountain’ and stave off further job losses

Would this be: “Nationalising the Hospitality Industry”? Was this idea on the Heinz 57+1 list? Is this an appeal over the heads of Team Devon and HotSW? – Owl

Harriet Dennys 

Rural firms need Government help to deal with their coronavirus ‘debt mountain’ to prevent further job losses, Devon restaurateur and campaigner Mitch Tonks has warned.

Tonks, who owns the Rockfish chain of seafood restaurants on the South Coast, said the VAT cut and dining discount announced last week would help hospitality firms but many will still struggle to repay loans taken on to survive the crisis.

He said the Government must allow pubs and restaurants to make repayments linked to profits, with lower payments in the winter when tourist trade slumps.

Tonks also suggested the Government could become a shareholder in regional hospitality firms by buying some of their debt.

He said: ‘Our business will take five years to pay off its coronavirus loan but if our loan was converted to equity, this would help us grow.’ Tonks and other regional business owners recently had a call with Boris Johnson, whose response he described as ‘supportive’.

He added: ‘It would be wise for the Government to consider the next challenge which is the debt mountain we’ve taken on to survive.’

National Parks help improve young people’s health and life chances

Leader Cllr Paul Arnott in his acceptance speech mentioned the need for EDDC to consider the relationship with the potential National Park with Dorset. He did this whilst announcing the new Climate Action portfolio with its portfolio holder Cllr Marianne Rixon and her assistant portfolio holder Cllr Denise Bickley. But National Parks are about more than this as the latest Newsletter from the Dorset National Park team explains.

Oh – Owl should add that this becomes more compelling if you start to contemplate what the GESP might do to our quality of lives.

National Parks help improve young people’s health and life chances

There is compelling evidence of a growing disconnect between people and the natural environment, and yet now, more than ever before, our natural landscapes provide a vital resource in supporting the health and wellbeing of all young people” says Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive, South Downs National Park.

A discussion paper from the Dorset National Park team shows how National Parks help young people connect with nature and so support their mental and physical health, and how they help improve fitness, educational experience and life chances. It offers ideas and examples of what can be achieved.

The discussion paper notes how a new Dorset National Park partnership at the heart of Southern England could be part of a positive and restorative vision for the future of this area with its outstanding environment and range of recreational opportunities. This would chime with the Government’s manifesto commitment to create new National Parks. A Dorset National Park, as a key partner for councils, communities, the health sector and others, would build on the experiences and successes achieved by other National Parks and support a thriving, healthy, greener future for everyone including Dorset’s communities, economy and environment.

 Dame Fiona Reynolds says: “This report is packed full of evidence about what can be done, is being done and could be done so much more widely and systematically if we really cared about young people’s lives.  Let’s seize the moment to put nature, and access to it, at the heart of our plans for the future.”

Julian Glover says: “Walking long-distance routes with friends and family was one of the highlights of my childhood. I can still remember how steep the path along the Jurassic coast seemed when I was about 10.  I want everyone to get the chance to gain from experiences like that which is why we made it a central part of the recent Landscapes Review which I led. This excellent report underlines just how much it matters.”

We look forward to the Government signalling its intention to create a Dorset National Park. First proposed by John Dower in 1945 as part of a post-war vision for the nation, this could now be part of a national drive to secure a healthy, successful and sustainable future.

We hope you enjoy this paper with its inspiring and positive examples of National Parks’ work with young people.

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Is your closed cash machine ever going to come back?

Cash use in some parts of Britain has fallen 90 per cent as ATMs were switched off or ran out of money and consumers rejected notes and coins over fears that they could carry Covid-19. Data compiled by The Sunday Times shows that 7,200 cash machines were shut down in April and May, with 5,040 still out of action, raising fears that many may never reopen.

Kenza Bryan and Tom Calver 

Dozens of communities were left without a cash machine within three miles. Many ATMs were turned off as they ran out of money and others were closed because the premises they were in was forced to shut under the rules of lockdown. About one in eight of the terminals in Britain’s network of 60,000 machines was shut at the peak of lockdown, according to the network operator Link.

An estimated 2,280 bank and building society branches — about one in eight — also closed, although many are now open again. Senior banking executives are discussing the widespread closure of branches, according to our sources.

Sunday Times Money understands that the situation has become so critical that the Treasury is preparing legislation that would force banks to provide all customers with free-to-use ATMs within a reasonable distance from their homes.

Cash withdrawals in May fell by half compared with the same month last year, Link data shows, after reaching a record low of £945 million in the last week of March, the first time withdrawals fell below £1 billion since 2005.

Some of the most deprived regions in the country had the smallest declines in cash withdrawals, including constituencies such as Birmingham Hodge Hill and Liverpool Walton. The drop was most pronounced in city centres — central Glasgow fell 80 per cent, and the figure hit 89 per cent in Westminster and the City of London.

Some ATMs were closed because operators were unable to get access to the safe behind machines located on the wall of shops or petrol stations that had to shut.

Those in locations such as cinemas, theme parks, bingo halls and holiday parks are still unavailable and cannot be accessed by security vans for refills. In many cases the switch to contactless card payments means that usage is expected to fall to the point where the machines will become unsustainable.

In pubs, garden centres and convenience stores that have reopened, hundreds of ATMs lie empty because they rely on the premises’ owners to fill them. Normally retailers would use money from their tills to keep the machine stocked up, but thanks to a surge in digital and card payments rather than cash, they do not have enough.

Even as the hospitality sector reopened in England last week, consumers took out a third less cash than usual, with £1.6 billion withdrawn compared with £2.4 billion this time last year.

Natalie Ceeney, who led a government-commissioned review into access to cash in 2018, said that she is regularly contacted by communities where the loss of a free ATM has caused serious hardship. She said: “Before lockdown our cash infrastructure was already on a knife edge. We know that the places most dependent on cash are the most rural and poorest communities across the UK.

“The loss of thousands of cash machines during the past three months shows just how urgently we need action from the government and banks.

“Quite simply, digital payments don’t yet work for everyone, and maintaining the UK’s cash infrastructure is essential to stop millions being left behind.”

Between July and December last year 1,670 cash machines closed permanently. The town of Bungay in Norfolk lost its last bank branch when Lloyds closed two years ago and the council hashad to install a cash machine at the town hall.

The town’s recently elected mayor, Bob Prior, 71, said that he rarely uses cash, but the high proportion of elderly residents in the village rely on it. Market stalls that visit the town every Thursday find that the mobile and internet signal is too poor to make their portable contactless machines work and still do much of their transactions in cash.

Towns such as Durness in Scotland, Tywyn in Wales, and Deal and Margate in Kent have also had to fight to keep a cash machine.

John Howells, the chief executive of Link, said: “Link is expecting some ATMs not to reopen, mainly where the locations that they are in do not reopen, or where machines next to others are removed to maintain social distancing.

“In all cases the public can be reassured that Link will take action to maintain overall coverage and that all high streets large and small will continue to have free access to cash.”

The Treasury said: “We know that many individuals and businesses still rely on cash, which is why we’re co-ordinating work across government, regulators and industry, so we can protect access for everyone who needs it, and have committed to bring forward legislation. Part of this work includes investing over £2 billion in the Post Office since 2010, giving people across the country local access to everyday banking services.”

Revealed: 20 areas of England at most risk of coronavirus resurgence

The government has drawn up a list of 20 councils facing the worst coronavirus outbreaks in England, with Bradford, Sheffield and Kirklees identified as areas needing “enhanced support”, according to a classified document leaked to the Observer and the Guardian.

Juliette Garside

As evidence mounts that the relaxation of lockdown rules is leading to a resurgence of Covid-19 in some of England’s most deprived and ethnically mixed areas, officials have ordered the army to deploy extra mobile testing units, which will be sent into a series of hotspots around the country from this weekend.

Public Health England (PHE), the country’s lead infection control agency, briefed local government health chiefs last week that ministers were considering publishing a ranking of the 10 councils most affected by new outbreaks, which could be released within days. Councils fear the data will be used to enforce more local lockdowns of the kind imposed in Leicester, where all but essential shops must stay shut, schoolchildren have been sent home, and pubs and restaurants remain closed.

The top 10 ranking is likely to be based on a document circulated to local health chiefs on Thursday, headed “official sensitive”. The chart, compiled by PHE and reproduced here, ranks the 20 councils with the highest proportion of positive cases. Leicester remains at its head, with 5.7% of individuals who underwent a test found to have the virus. Kirklees, in West Yorkshire, was not far behind, with a 5% rate. Bradford, and Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire, were the next highest.

Titled “local authority areas of interest”, the table is based on testing between 21 June and 4 July. It identifies six areas of “concern”. More serious cases are labelled as needing “enhanced support”, with three councils in this category. One – Leicester – is listed as requiring “intervention”.

The document states “these areas are currently under investigation by the local public health protection teams”. “Testing access is being increased in areas including Bradford”, it says, and the areas listed are “associated with workplace outbreaks which have contributed to the increase in infection rates”.

Last month, 164 workers at a meat factory in Kirklees tested positive, and at the beginning of July, a bed factory in Batley, which is administered by Kirklees Council, was closed after eight workers were found to have the virus.The communities most affected have several factors in common: poverty, poor health and a high proportion of non-white residents.

The top 10 is likely to change daily, although some areas will remain severely affected for weeks, health directors believe.

“Those on the list are going to be characterised by higher deprivation, higher black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and denser housing,” said a public health director briefed on the plans.

“Some are going to be in the list for the whole period of the pandemic. The drivers are structural and demographic, so the pattern of spread will reflect the inequalities that already existed. Some of the most strapped-for-cash councils are going to be dealing with some of the worst outbreaks.”

Areas with large south Asian populations, particularly where several generations may share a home and live in crowded conditions, are among those emerging as particularly at risk.

Bradford has the highest proportion of people of Pakistani origin in England.

The council has today deployed testing units, staffed by the armed forces, to its Bowling and Keighley districts. Residents will be able to be tested without an appointment. Similar units will be deployed in Blackburn and Sheffield.

“Bradford has a higher infection rate than most but it’s coming down due to action we’ve taken,” said council leader Susan Hinchcliffe. “We welcome the dialogue with government. We’re already doing more testing than any other authority in the region, but want to do more.”

Bradford has asked for its own mobile testing units, more environmental health officers, support to pay full wages to low-paid workers having to self-isolate, and funding to develop its own local test-and-trace system.

Officials have not yet outlined what metrics will be used to impose further lockdowns, but it is understood a system based on the German model is under discussion. This would involve a threshold of 50 weekly positive tests per 100,000 of the population in any given council. Once that is breached, special measures could be triggered.

Data made public on Thursday shows Leicester is currently on 116 new cases per 100,000 of population per week, down from 140 two weeks ago.

Rochdale is in second place, with nearly 33 cases, down from over 50 three weeks ago. Kirklees is also suffering high rates, as are Bradford, Blackburn with Darwen, Rotherham and Bedford.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced the UK’s first local lockdown on 29 June as Leicester reported 944 new cases in a fortnight. Non-essential shops and schools were shut, and pubs and restaurants were unable to reopen. Legislation to enforce the restrictions was pushed through parliament.

Desperate to avoid Leicester’s fate, councils are lobbying for a “graded response”, the local public health director said, with a rolling back of some elements of lockdown, such as larger gatherings, rather than closure of whole sectors. “What we want to avoid is the secretary of state making clumsy, unhelpful interventions, so we are getting ahead of the curve, understanding what our problem is and acting to address it. But we are hampered by slow reporting of data and absence of data,” they added.

Councils have only just begun to receive a breakdown of new cases by postcode, and this is arriving weekly. Health chiefs say they need the information daily if they are to spot outbreaks in time to stop them spreading.

The plans to publish a top 10 were discussed on a regional call with Public Health England, two public health directors confirmed. “They seem to be intent on putting it into the public domain,” said one of those on the call. “We have expressed some concerns over how they do it, as the data does need to be interpreted. Nonetheless, I welcome transparency.”

The classified list of 20 at-risk councils uses six metrics including number of cases per 100,000 of population per week and per day, percentage of individuals testing positive as a proportion of all tests, and “exceedances”. This is where councils are issued with a red light because they consistently have more positive cases than forecast by a government algorithm. A slightly lower number of exceedances leads to an amber light.

The chart also shows the number of community outbreaks per council over the last week. Outbreaks are classed as two or more positive tests in a single setting, such as a workplace, school or prison.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it did not have a set trigger, but would use a range of data to decide where and how to act, stating: “We have been transparent about our response to coronavirus and are always looking to improve the data we publish, including the way we update testing statistics.

“The list of the 10 local authorities with the highest weekly incidence of coronavirus is already publicly available in PHE’s weekly surveillance report.

“All councils in England now have the ability to access testing data, right down to an individual and postcode level. If councils feel they require more assistance with data, of course, PHE is able to help them.”

Kirklees and Sheffield councils were approached for comment.

Boris Johnson is wrong to blame the housing crisis on overregulation

The government’s promise to ‘build build build’ shows a frightening misunderstanding of planning and infrastructure.

Finn Williams is co-founder of the Public Practice, a non-profit social enterprise building the public sector’s capacity for proactive planning. David Chipperfield is founder and design principal of David Chipperfield Architects 

Much of this week has been spent discussing Rishi Sunak’s summer statement and attempts to revive the economy amid the pandemic. But in a month of big government plans, the pronouncement that may well leave a more permanent mark on the post-Covid-19-landscape was Boris Johnson’s promise to “build build build”.

The prime minister’s supposed “new deal” to build our way out of a dire economic situation has been widely dismissed as an empty statement that depends mostly on the repackaging of existing funding with few tangible changes. But for those of us concerned with the built environment – whether in the public or private sector – the speech has huge implications precisely because of what the government is opting not to do. The ideological ambitions to deregulate, reduce control and to willingly weaken environmental standards are frightening and deepen the misunderstanding of the real issues of planning and infrastructure in our country.

We have a housing crisis. This crisis is not because we have an over-regulated planning system but because we have a disenfranchised and dismantled one (funding for running this system has been cut by 42% over 10 years). The rhetoric of “Project Speed”, of “scything through red tape” and poking fun at “newt counting” takes us back to an unfounded and outmoded attitude that planning is the problem. After decades of experience building in cities around the world, it is evident that the opposite is true: planning is the central part of the solution and we need more of it. We’ve also seen evidence through Public Practice that if you celebrate planning, and give authorities the remit and resources to be creative and ambitious, you will have a genuine route to rebuilding the UK’s infrastructure.

Infrastructure does not simply mean technical engineering projects – it also encompasses the basic human right to good housing, which, when planned with skill and to encourage a sense of community, forms the foundations of a civil society.

Focusing on quantity, the prime minister asks why the UK is so slow at building homes? As the government’s own Letwin review of build-out rates identified in 2018, we are too dependent on too few house-builders, all delivering the same kind of homes. We need to diversify this process by funding small builders, community-led housing, housing associations and most critically of all, council housing. Over the past 10 years the planning system approved more than 2.5m homes, but only 1.5m of these have been built. Developers complain of delays in the planning system, but there are more than a million homes with permission that we’re waiting on those same developers to complete.

As far as investment in the built environment and infrastructure is concerned, speed and quantity have to be aligned with quality. Diluting standards will result in lower quality and lower costs for developers but not lower prices, in a housing market where supply continues to trail far behind demand. Deregulation does not guarantee more homes. After three years of unpicking the trail of deregulation that led to the Grenfell Tower fire, and three months of seeing the impacts of existing housing inequalities deepened by the lockdown, it’s shocking that the government is not only loosening planning rules, but continuing to allow homes to be built outside the planning system.

Permitted development rights were first expanded to allow the conversion of offices to homes without planning permission in 2013. Since then, only 30% of the homes built this way have met national space requirements. The government’s 2019 Building Better, Building Beautiful commission came to the conclusion that “beauty should be an essential condition for the grant of planning permission”. None of these homes meet that standard – but then, none of them needed to be granted planning permission either.

Last year the government promised to carry out a review of the quality of homes created through permitted development. Yet before the review has seen the light of day, permitted development rights have been extended further. Most ironically, this building process makes no contributions to local infrastructure, affordable housing or planning fees – all serving to create an infrastructure deficit. Thus the only tangible proposal in Johnson’s great infrastructure speech this week actively reduces our infrastructure capacity.

The government has also opted not to be ambitious about raising environmental standards broadly enough to really confront the challenges of a climate crisis in part caused by the construction industry – such as the problem of embodied carbon in building materials. Nor has the government made any clear attempts to encourage biodiversity, just as many people have gained a renewed appreciation for nature in their living surroundings – even for newts.

The final, most significant aspect of Johnson’s speech was another absence. He promised “the most radical changes to our planning system since the second world war” without explaining what they would be. A planning policy statement is expected this month, and is anticipated to include proposals for zoning, development corporations and a “fast track for beauty”. There is an opportunity to put public planning back on the front foot, but only if it is not undermined by deregulation.

We need changes that could help communities to engage with planning earlier; where they can influence the big decisions instead of being presented with fait-accomplis. We need reforms that empower planners to be proactive and creative, to demand quality and shape development before the market forms its own expectations and fixes its own price. We need to give the public sector the structures and strength to get back into building good homes at scale.

But none of this will happen if planning continues to be vilified as a tick-box process, if local authorities aren’t given the resources to plan proactively, and if the government sees its role as simply getting out of the way.