Wood pile blaze at trading estate being tackled by East Devon firefighters

Owl could smell burning this morning many miles from Clyst St Mary and thought it must be a fire on the commons. Sounds like a lot of potentially combustible wood all in one place. No doubt it had an environmental permit and fire prevention plan (Owl understands these aim to extinguish fires within 4 hours).

A fire involving 500 tonnes of waste wood at an East Devon trading estate is being tackled by firefighters from across the district.

Crews from Topsham, Sidmouth, Ottery and Exmouth were all called out to extinguish the fire at Hill Barton Trading Estate in Clyst St Mary.

The blaze was first reported shortly after midnight (Friday, July 17) and the incident commander unit from Honiton was also called out.

Firefighters initially used compressed air foam jets before requesting a high-volume pump to be mobilised from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service HQ in Clyst St George.

Crews also used two aerial ladder platforms, two monitors, two jets and the high-volume pump.

The fire service said nearby buildings were kept cool by using safety jets.

A second high-volume pump was mobilised from Taunton and at 6.45am crews were making ‘steady progress’ tackling the fire.

At 9am, the crews were rotated with others from across the Devon and Somerset area including Colyton and Seaton.

As of 10am, the wood pile was still alight and crews are still tackling the fire.

Coronavirus: Third of Rishi Sunak’s £30bn was ‘old money passed off as new’

Rishi Sunak has been accused of twisting the figures in his summer statement by repackaging £10 billion of previously committed spending as a new deal to save jobs.

Philip Aldrick, Economics Editor www.thetimes.co.uk 
The Institute for Fiscal Studies said the chancellor’s attempt to pass off old money as new spending was “corrosive to trust”. After analysing last week’s mini-budget, the public finance think-tank found that up to £10 billion of investment in public works and skills would be funded by savings as other projects were cancelled.

The £5.5 billion announced by Boris Johnson for transport and infrastructure before the summer statement, which he presented as a new deal in the vein of the US president Franklin Roosevelt, is not new money at all, it said.

“All that extra money is not quite what it seems,” Paul Johnson, the IFS director, said. “The ‘Rooseveltian’ additional £5.5 billion of capital spending represents an increase of precisely zero this year on budget plans. It is a reallocation from one set of projects to another.”

Last week the chancellor unveiled a package of measures to support jobs, including temporary cuts to VAT and stamp duty and a £1,000 job retention bonus for every furloughed worker that an employer rehires.

The Treasury said the package was worth “up to £30 billion” but the Office for Budget Responsibility, the government’s independent fiscal watchdog, said this week that it was more likely to cost £20 billion because not every employer would claim the bonus.

The IFS said that at least £8 billion and possibly as much as £10 billion of the smaller £20 billion estimate were also recycled funds. A spokesman for the Treasury said the claim was “wrong”.

David Phillips, associate director at the IFS, said: “So the £30 billion package turns out to be more like £12 billion of additional spending plus some £8 billion or so reallocated from previously planned projects. And capital spending is actually left no higher overall than was planned back in March.”

He called on the Treasury to be more upfront in future by declaring where it expected to make savings rather than simply announcing new spending.

“It makes scrutiny of plans more difficult and is corrosive to trust,” Mr Phillips said. “While governments of all stripes will, of course, want to follow the adage of ‘repetition, repetition, repetition’ when it comes to highlighting the goodies they are funding, official policy documents should also be clear about when and where spending is expected to be lower than previously planned too.”

The main saving is on the £5.5 billion infrastructure package. The government did say the investment represented an “acceleration” of previous spending plans but did not disclose that the immediate funds would come from “newly anticipated underspends on other capital projects rather than an increase in overall investment spending this year”, Mr Phillips said.

The IFS also claimed that the £2 billion “green homes grant” announced by the chancellor to help insulate homes had been allocated from previously announced spending, and that £400 million for traineeships, apprenticeships, school leavers and careers advice was from an existing pot.

“It can make sense to re-prioritise and re-profile spending in this way: some of the spending originally planned may no longer represent value for money or could even be infeasible, for example. But it’s important to make clear what is being cancelled or postponed so that politicians, the media and public can scrutinise these decisions,” Mr Phillips said.

A spokesman for the Treasury said: “This suggestion is wrong. The Treasury has approved additional activity by departments as part of the Plan for Jobs.” The summer statement figures were not final and would be properly costed as part of a normal budget forecast process in the autumn, the Treasury said.

Tired of being Boris Johnson’s patsy, Patrick Vallance fights back

Yesterday Boris Johnson committed himself to a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus. He didn’t say when, though he gave the distinct impression that the ideal time would be a long way into the future. By when he would have had time to line up any number of patsies to take the rap for his own failures. One of whom is sure to be the government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance.

John Crace The Politics Sketch www.theguardian.com 

It’s fair to say that Vallance has been a little slow off the mark right from the very start of the pandemic. Not so much with the science – though he’s hardly excelled at that – but with PR management. For a long time, he was under the impressions that his prime role was to provide the government with independent scientific advice; it’s only over the course of the last few weeks he’s realised his real function was to be a human shield for Boris. And he’s clearly not happy about having been suckered in this way.

So for Vallance, a two-hour appearance before the science and technology select committee was an ideal opportunity to lay the foundations of his fightback. A chance to redirect the blame to where it really lay. And in Greg Clark, the committee chair and former cabinet minister, he had someone who was only too happy to indulge him. Boris is only just beginning to realise that, for all his acolytes who fawn over every Latin word, he has some powerful enemies on the Tory backbenches.

Satisfied that he was a full two metres away from the nearest committee member – there were only three of them in the room, the rest were virtual – Vallance ostentatiously removed his face mask and began to let rip. Was it still true that there had never been any significant occasions when the government had ignored the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advice, Clark asked?

The chief scientific adviser smiled benignly. His only job was to provide the government with the scientific evidence. What idiotic decisions happened to be taken as a result of that advice was completely up to the government. To suggest there was any correlation between the advice Sage might have given and government policy was absurd. Any overlap could only ever be a coincidence.

Clark then gently tiptoed into trickier areas. The UK hadn’t had particularly good coronavirus outcomes – a euphemism for the highest mortality rate in the world – and it was hard to find any country that particularly admired the standard of our science. How did he account for that?

“The outcomes have not been good,” Vallance agreed. But that was entirely because the UK’s data flow had been poor and because our test and trace systems were hopelessly inadequate. He and other members of Sage had been complaining to Public Health England and the Department for Health and Social Care about this for months, but neither body had taken a blind piece of notice. Just as he had flagged up concerns about the risk of transmission in care homes and been totally ignored.

Not that Vallance wanted to lay all the blame at the government’s door. He was far too polite for that. Or possibly passive aggressive. When you’ve been taken for a fool for so long, it’s hard not to take some pleasure from exacting revenge. Face masks? He’d been all in favour of them long before the World Health Organization had jumped on the bandwagon. It was just that Boris hadn’t been that interested in what he had had to say. But then the prime minister did have a lot of other things on his mind at the time.

The killer line came when Vallance insisted Sage had recommended an immediate total lockdown on 16 March. A bit late in the day possibly, given the rate of infection in the UK was increasing exponentially and that dozens of other countries had already introduced lockdowns, but still a good week before Boris could be bothered to getting round to doing anything about it. But then jockey club director, Dido Harding – soon to be chief executive of the track and trace system – had wanted the Cheltenham festival to go ahead and it would have been a shame for Carrie Symonds to have had to cancel her baby shower at Chequers. So all in all, it was probably worth the 20,000 extra deaths the week’s delay entailed.

By now Vallance, normally one of the dourest, most-defensive of men, looked as if he was beginning to enjoy himself. The session was developing into gestalt therapy and he was on the brink of catharsis. All that pent-up hurt and resentment finally being allowed an outlet. Yes, things still were basically a bit shit. He couldn’t understand why the government’s testing programme was still so rubbish as on current evidence Matt Hancock didn’t have a prayer of reaching his winter targets. And yes, he knew that Boris was due to give a speech the following day encouraging people to go back to work, but his advice was for everyone to stay put at home.

Back in No 10, Dominic Cummings was having a hissy fit as he wondered how to rephrase the government advice, but Vallance was on a schadenfreude high. All he had ever done was present the evidence as he saw it – even if he had been a bit slow on the uptake at times – and if the government had acted irresponsibly then it was nothing to do with him, guv. Over to you Boris and Matt.

Hancock had been down to appear before the committee immediately after Vallance, but Matt had wisely excused himself by giving a statement to the Commons on extending the Leicester lockdown instead. Anything to buy himself a bit of time. Because after Vallance’s evidence, Mattbeth is going to need to come up with some creative answers next Tuesday. The blame game is only just beginning. And it could be the only fun thing to come out of the whole coronavirus pandemic.

UK government orders halt to Randox Covid-19 tests over safety issues

The UK government has instructed care homes and members of the public to immediately stop using coronavirus testing kits produced by a healthcare firm after safety problems were discovered.

Randox was awarded a £133m contract in March to produce the testing kits for England, Wales and Northern Ireland without any other firms being given the opportunity to bid for the work.

Juliette Garside www.theguardian.com 

Under the contract, the kits are sent to the public and places such as care homes and then delivered back to Randox to check swabs to see if individuals have the virus.

On Thursday the health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, told MPs: “We’ve identified some swabs that are not up to the usual high standard that we expect, and we’ll be carrying out further testing of this batch as a precautionary measure.

“And while we investigate further, we’re requesting that the use of these Randox swab test kits is paused in all settings until further notice. Clinical advice is that there is no evidence of any harm, the test results are not affected.”

The Department of Health and Social Care did not explain the nature of the problem or say how many testing kits have been affected.

In a statement, the department said its instruction only “applies to unused Randox test kits, which are clearly marked with that name. Used Randox test kits can still be collected for processing as normal.”

Randox said: “As an immediate precautionary measure we have temporarily suspended distribution of home sample collection kits using one particular batch/supplier of swabs. This is a temporary measure and does not apply to our private business which uses a different supplier of swabs.”

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health minister, tweeted: “Ministers overstated testing figures by 200,000 & now home testing kits don’t meet safety standards with use of all Randox test kits paused. Test & Trace costs £10 billion & increasingly chaotic with private firm after private firm failing to deliver.”

The owner of one care home received an email from the NHS on Thursday morning asking them to “store all of your unused Randox kits in a safe place to ensure that they are not used or mixed with other test kits, and one of our team will be in contact over the next week to confirm next steps.”

In May the Guardian revealed that Randox had been awarded the contract under fast-track arrangements. These enable public bodies dealing with the coronavirus to urgently award commercial contracts without asking other firms to bid for them.

Randox employs the Conservative politician Owen Paterson as a £100,000-a-year consultant. The former cabinet minister and leading Brexit supporter has been a consultant since 2015.

Previously Randox has not responded to questions about whether Paterson was involved in securing the contract. The Guardian did not receive a response when it asked Paterson for a response.

In May, Mark Menzies, the Conservative MP for Fylde in Lancashire, raised the issue of the Randox testing kits in parliament. He said a care home in his constituency where half of the residents had died from coronavirus could not secure testing for other residents.

Menzies said: “Six of the remaining residents are displaying symptoms, but they are being told that they will have to wait until mid-June for further tests, following errors made by Randox a few weeks ago.” Hancock said at the time that he would try to resolve the problem.


Exeter’s “assaulting” Devon claim

“The GESP is a plan that was dreamt up in a pre-covid world. It was ill thought out and does not represent the very best interests of the residents. The purpose of it is to shoulder the weight of Exeter’s ambitious growth targets – more ambitious than China’s – and for those housing to be foisted onto Exeter, East Devon and Mid Devon.”


Exeter’s “assaulting” Devon claim www.radioexe.co.uk 

Teignbridge outrage at city’s growth


Proposals that could see huge swathes of development across the Devon countryside have been slammed as a “dreadful assault on Devon.”

Teignbridge District Council’s overview and scrutiny committee has discussed a draft document for the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan, which will provide the overall strategy and level of housing and employment land required across Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge up to 2040.

A minimum target of 2,663 homes per year, or 53,260 homes over the 20 year period is proposed, with the overall need for development sites equating to 63,912 homes.

The committee recommended to next Tuesday’s executive meeting that Teignbridge agrees to consult on the document, but some councillors were angry at the “all-out attack” on the area. But senior officials said that the housing targets would still be foisted on the district irrespective of whether Teignbridge was part of the GESP or not, and that being a part of it could reduce the 760 new homes a year required to be built inside the boundaries of the authority.

As well as outlining policies for how development should take place, it includes 39 sites where major housing or employment land could be allocated, although not all of the sites will be taken forward to the final version of the GESP.

Cllr Gary Taylor, portfolio holder for planning, said the sites in Teignbridge would allocate 5,250 homes, with the majority in and around South West Exeter, with two sites in Newton Abbot, to the west of Houghton Barton and to the south of Wolborough. But Cllr Liam Mullone, leader of the Newton Says No group, said that the GESP was an unmitigated catastrophe for everyone involved and for the environment and hoped that East Devon’s new administration when they debate the document do pull out of it.

Cllr Richard Daws added: “The GESP is a plan that was dreamt up in a pre-covid world. It was ill thought out and does not represent the very best interests of the residents. The purpose of it is to shoulder the weight of Exeter’s ambitious growth targets – more ambitious than China’s – and for those housing to be foisted onto Exeter, East Devon and Mid Devon.

“I cannot see it is in the best interest of the residents and the district deserved a better plan that builds the right houses in the right location. I would implore Teignbridge to recognise and set about a plan once the initial pandemic has settled down and we understand the new situation and one that halts the dreadful assault of Devon over the last ten years.”

Cllr Mike Hocking said that he was ‘in the awkward position’ of agreeing with Newton Says No over something. He added: “I have always been worried that Teignbridge will have something imposed on it that Teignbridge doesn’t want or need and that has been proved correct. Newton Abbot has been singled out for a huge development to bolt onto the Houghton Barton and we cannot take anymore houses.

“We should not accept any more houses other than what is already in the plan. We are at saturation point and I shall be voting against this. It is ill thought out, ill prepared, and not wanted.”

But Cllr Taylor said that the GESP doesn’t mean any more homes would be needed if the council weren’t part of GESP, with Cllr Jackie Hook added: “Whether or not we are part of GESP, the Government is demanding that we build houses. Teignbridge and its environmental situation and constraints are recognised in the GESP team, so the chances are, Teignbridge doesn’t have to take the full 760 homes each year and they could be built elsewhere. Given those facts, why would you not want be a part of GESP?”

Michelle Luscombe, principal planning policy officer, added: “Exeter does have a very ambitious brownfield regeneration plan for 12,000 houses in the area, and the whole premise is that people and places don’t stop at geographical boundaries and Teignbridge has fewer sites due to our constraints and sensitivities. We do have a high housing need and if we went on our own or collectively, we will have to meet that need, and we feel the best way to do it is strategically across the region to get the infrastructure and the funding.”

The overview and scrutiny committee recommended to next Tuesday’s executive meeting that Teignbridge does go ahead and take part in the consultation, with three councillors voting against.

Exeter City Council has already approved going to consultation, and subject to approval by East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge councils, the eight week consultation will take place between September 21 and November 16, with the responses feeding into a recommendations over which sites to take forward.

It comes as Cllr Claire Wright, who represents the Otter Valley ward on Devon County Council has expressed her concerns over the plans to build thousands of homes in the East Devon countryside, with the areas around Clyst St Mary, Feniton, Whimple, Cranbrook, and Hill Barton slated for development.

She said: “Ministers have theorised that the more houses that are built the more that prices will be brought down… so each planning authority is instructed to apply a percentage increase to the ONS figures, based on people’s average incomes versus average house prices.

“In East Devon this gap has historically been very wide, so, East Devon District Council has had a comparatively high affordability uplift applied. This might sound sensible except that the theory is surely flawed.  I have not seen a shred of evidence that building lots of houses brings down prices. It simply makes more money for landowners and developers.

“As yet, affordable housing ratios have not been agreed and will emerge through the consultation process, assuming the document is approved for consultation in each authority. We need more housing, especially social housing, but what so often happens with these sorts of plans is that the intention is there by the planning authority, but the reality differs once developers use national planning policy loopholes to their advantage and claim the scheme is unviable once they are granted consent by the cash strapped planning authority.

“For employment land there is acknowledgement that there are long term vacancies at many existing sites, such as at Skypark, near Exeter Airport, which is barely developed despite being heavily marketed as a flagship business park for years If Skypark can’t attract occupants, with its J30/M5 prime location, how can less prominent allocations possibly?

“The employment land policy doesn’t take account of home working (especially now), online working or the change in working practices over recent years. Or that many people do not work in business parks or industrial estates in any case.  It’s blindingly obvious that the ‘employment land’ planning model is outdated and outmoded. And seems little more than a vehicle for many landowners to increase the price of their fields with an eye on the ultimate prize of housing.”

The GESP allocates 39 sites for development, although not all sites will be included in the final document. While 63,912 homes are required over the life of the plan, existing planning commitments – either unbuilt homes with planning permission or sites in local plans – amount to about 33,390 homes.

The GESP proposes that about 18,500 of the homes are provided on strategic scale GESP allocations, with 12,000 to be allocated on smaller sites via local plan reviews and also potentially in neighbourhood development plans.

Micropub plan for Axminster town centre approved

Plans for a new micropub in the centre of Axminster have been approved – subject to them being able to overcome safety concerns

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 

East Devon District Council’s planning committee on Wednesday morning granted planning permission to allow a vacant shop in the centre of the town to be turned into a micro-pub.

The unit on Chard Street has been empty September since September 2019 and was most recently a women’s clothing store, and councillors heard that the micropub plans would give an active use to the vacant building.

Mathew Dalton-Aram, agent for the applicant, said: “The UK High Street was facing difficulties before coronavirus for retail businesses to remain viable. Micropubs though are bucking the trend and this pub is intended to be a space for conversation and socialising over a drink where the community can meet on a localised and personalised basis. This will give an active use for the vacant building.”

Questions were raised about how social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic would be applied in the premises, as well as the fact that the premises only have one entrance and exit.

But Chris Rose, the council’s development manager, said the concerns about the size and constrained layout of the unit and its ability to function as a micro-pub without adverse effect on amenity and the safety of both customers and members of the public could be addressed by means of appropriate planning conditions, with the other issues raised are covered by separate legislative regimes and as such should not be sought to be controlled by the planning system.

The empty unit in Chard Street in Axminster which will become a micropub (Image shown to the EDDC DMC)

The empty unit in Chard Street in Axminster which will become a micropub (Image shown to the EDDC DMC)

Recommending approval, he added: “The proposal would bring a vacant commercial unit within the town centre back into active use and against the background of wider changes in the retail market and its declining role in the town centre, it is considered this is likely to retain activity in the town centre will have benefit in supporting its overall function.”

Cllr Andrew Moulding said that this would be bringing a vacant shop into good use and he thought that a micropub will be very popular, while Cllr Ian Hall added: “Axminster has far too many units left empty. The High Streets are struggling and we are trying to get people into the town, and just around the corner is something similar – Costa Coffee – but they serve coffee and not alcohol.”

Cllr Mike Howe added: “If they cannot overcome the risk assessment issues, they cannot open, so it is their problem to overcome and not ours as none of it relates to planning. This is brilliant and let us try and reinvigorate it, and I hope they can overcome the safety issues that I am sure the fire brigade will have.”

Councillors voted by 10 votes to three abstentions to approve the change of use plans.

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