A Correspondent doubts LEP interest in, or consideration for, small-to-medium businesses

From a local correspondent who keeps a close eye on our LEP and doubts its interest in, or consideration for, small-to-medium businesses in the area:

“I instinctively feel that both the Heart of South West [LEP] + Great South West [`Powerhouse`]  have political influence  – I know [this] has featured in your East Devon blog, along with the fact that at their public meetings  – which are mainly PR + media –friendly – very little info is given out `commercial confidentiality`.  Here`s the composition of HotSW`s present Board:  https://heartofswlep.co.uk/about-the-lep/our-board/ – so Exeter City + Torbay & Plymouth unitaries are represented.

It all goes back to 2016 when Savid Javid was Secretary of State for Communities etc   https://www.backthesouthwest.co.uk/  and he was discreetly `banging LEP heads together` to cajole them to put in collective bids for funding instead of burdening his office with dozens of separate bids. 

With the ERDF money  https://heartofswlep.co.uk/european-regional-development-fund-erdf/  – coming to a close [thanks to Brexit] and Covid-19 distracting HMG`s focus it`s difficult to see where the next tranch of funding is coming from. 

Recently, the day Boris had announced his wonder £5bn for various infrastructure improvements he had in mind for schools, hospitals, roads and housing ]  that same evening on BBC tv Spotlight S.W., Tim Jones [Chair: S.W. Business Council] was frantic about the possibility of the Gt South West only getting `a few crumbs of cash from No.10`s table` after W. Midlands + Northern Powerhouse mopping up the bulk of Boris` bounty.

So now, somehow between the LEPs and the two Powerhouses [The Great South West + Western Gateway  ] they try to draw down funds from HMG, while at the same time demonstrating that they are `working with government`

https://greatsouthwest.co.uk/   

Three Local Enterprise Partnerships, seven county and unitary authorities [so a lot of Tory etc input there, along with so many Tory MPs within that geographical area], six universities and major businesses – all working together. and `working with government` – https://greatsouthwest.co.uk/pages/working-with-government/112– is one of its key priorities.

For people living within the   https://western-gateway.co.uk/   [half of it, formerly part of the E.U. parliamentary constituency for the South West of England]   they also, presumably, have concerns about political implications. 

But is `working with government` just part of the political significance of these vehicles ?  –  there is, of course a considerable democratic deficit, as neither The Great South West + Western Gateway  has public elections.

Confusingly, although the West Midlands Combined Authority has an elected Chair [Andy Street] as also has Greater Manchester [Andy Burnham], but the gigantic `Midlands Engine` does not, nor does the Northern Powerhouse [of which Gt Manchester is part].

Also, there are environmental concerns that Powerhouse/Leps may become victims of the priority for economic growth and post Covid recovery.

I also have in mind political activists and the dilemma that they themselves may know little or nothing about LEPs & Powerhouses, nor might the folk whose votes they are canvassing.

I am aware that the China General Nuclear Power Group is a part owner of the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, which is a major project within HotSW`s fiefdom[its `jewel in the crown`].”

Environment groups unconvinced by government claims of ‘green recovery policy’ Plus Youtube link to debate

Environmental groups have branded the government’s efforts to build a so-called “green recovery” after the coronavirus pandemic “a real failure”, with nowhere near enough action to make the UK a world-leader on the environment.

[Youtube link to speech, questions and answers included at the end of this post]

Harry Cockburn www.independent.co.uk

Environment secretary George Eustice told reporters and conservationists on Monday that nature was “at the heart” of the government’s efforts to reboot the economy, but did little to allay fears held by many groups concerned about the potential for existing environmental protections to be watered down as the government pursues a “build, build, build” policy.

During the speech, organised by think-tank Green Alliance, Mr Eustice announced a £4m trial for “green prescribing”, where people are prescribed time in out in natural environments as a means of boosting their physical and mental health.

He also announced a new £5m pilot for a new “natural capital and ecosystem assessment”.

“We can improve the baseline understanding of habitats and species abundance across the country in every planning authority and we can make better decisions towards achieving our vision to leave the environment in a better condition than we found it,” Mr Eustice said.

This would “ensure that new developments really do deliver a net gain for people and for nature.”

But the announcements are not of the scale environment groups were hoping to see.

Speaking to Mr Eustice, RSPB chief executive, Beccy Speight welcomed measures to collect improved data on ecosystems and how humans are impacting them, but she said overall the government’s efforts don’t feel like a “turning point” and warned against a lifting of regulations which could see a return to the “bad days of the 70s and 80s when we had concreting over of really important mudflats for breeding birds just to create more carparks.”

“This should feel like a turning point, where everything is pointing in the direction of really putting nature at the heart of this resilient recovery, and actually it feels like more of the same, or in fact going backwards,” she said.

She said: “Today’s speech was an opportunity for Mr Eustice to guarantee to match the government’s ambitious rhetoric with action. Instead we heard a welcome but frankly tiny announcement of new money – well short of the investment that is needed – and a commitment to change the planning system where the purpose and details of that review remain opaque at best or catastrophic for nature at worst.

She added: “In the run up to the UK’s hosting of the forthcoming global conference on climate change, long promised legislation to ban burning on our precious peat bogs is nowhere to be seen, demonstrating a real failure to tie our domestic performance to global leadership, and while a number of countries have already committed to protecting 30 per cent of their land and sea for nature by 2030 ahead of an upcoming global nature conference, there is no sign of the Westminster government joining the ranks of the genuinely world-leading.“

Tanya Steele, chief executive of WWF-UK also raised concerns about the apparently low level of ambition the government has for moving towards a green economy, and questioned commitments to infrastructure projects which will not help the UK hit its legally binding 2050 net zero emissions target.

“Is this a path to recovery, or actually a crossroads where that path isn’t ambitious enough?, she asked.

Following Mr Eustice’s speech she said: “While it’s always welcome to hear the government talking seriously about its commitment to a green recovery and world-leading farming and environmental standards, we are now at the point where we need to see those words converted into urgent action.

“A credible green recovery must have our nature and climate commitments fully integrated with spending, planning and trade decisions.”

Greenpeace UK’s executive director, John Sauven, also said the amount of money the government had earmarked was not enough and voiced concerns over plans to review and “simplify” the Environmental Impact Assessments currently required for some developments.

“George Eustice may have pledged to build back better and greener, but now is the time for action, not just warm words masking backdoor attempts to deregulate. Over £900m of additional funding per year is needed for a UK-wide programme of nature recovery and protection projects on land and at sea.

“Simply ripping up the rulebook is no route to recovery.”

Breaking news: Oxford coronavirus vaccine can train immune system

www.bbc.co.uk /news/uk-53469839

Oxford coronavirus vaccine can train immune system

By James Gallagher Health and science correspondent

Breaking News image

A coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford appears safe and trains the immune system.

Trials involving 1,077 people showed the injection led to them making antibodies and white blood cells that can fight coronavirus.

The findings are hugely promising, but it is still too soon to know if this is enough to offer protection and larger trials are under way.

The UK has already ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine.

How does the vaccine work?

The vaccine – called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 – is being developed at unprecedented speed.

It is made from a genetically engineered virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees.

It has been heavily modified, first so it cannot cause infections in people and also to make it “look” more like coronavirus.

Scientists did this by transferring the genetic instructions for the coronavirus’s “spike protein” – the crucial tool it uses to invade our cells – to the vaccine they were developing.

This means the vaccine resembles the coronavirus and the immune system can learn how to attack it.

What are antibodies and T-cells?

Much of the focus on coronavirus so far has been about antibodies, but these are only one part of our immune defence.

Antibodies are small proteins made by the immune system that stick onto the surface of viruses.

Neutralising antibodies can disable the coronavirus.

T-cells, a type of white blood cell, help coordinate the immune system and are able to spot which of the body’s cells have been infected and destroy them.

Nearly all effective vaccines induce both an antibody and a T-cell response.

Levels of T cells peaked 14 days after vaccination and antibody levels peaked after 28 days. The study has not run for long enough to understand what long-term immunity may look like.

Is it safe?

Yes, but there are side-effects.

There were no dangerous side-effects from taking the vaccine, however, 70% of people on the trial developed either fever or headache.

The researchers say this could be managed with paracetamol.

Prof Sarah Gilbert, form the University of Oxford, UK, says: “There is still much work to be done before we can confirm if our vaccine will help manage the COVID-19 pandemic, but these early results hold promise.”

Follow James on Twitter

Concerns farmers could struggle to compete post-Brexit

BBC Radio Cornwall

Concerns have been raised farmers in the South West could struggle to compete with cheap food imports as a result of post Brexit trade deals.

New legislation, the Agriculture Bill, described as the most important farming legislation in generations, is currently being scrutinised in the House of Lords.

But Alex Stevens, the regional policy manager for the South West at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said there were also concerns the bill would put some farmers at a disadvantage, and also affect standards of food and other products.

It’s about the standards, it’s also about things like access to products that are perhaps banned over here – sprays and herbicides, and things like that … The fear is that it could get much worse in some of these free trade deals that are being talked about.”

Alex StevensNFU

The government said it remained firmly committed to upholding our high environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards.

A Warning from the US as coronavirus surges

Coronavirus surge: ‘It’s a failure of national leadership’

Even as countries in Europe and Asia appear to have had some success in taming coronavirus, it is now surging uncontrollably in large swaths of the US. Just over 4 per cent of the world’s population lives in the US, but it accounts for a quarter of confirmed cases globally.

David Crow and Hannah Kuchler in New York July 17 www.ft.com 

When the LA Surge Hospital closed its doors on June 1 — just nine weeks after it was opened as an emergency facility to treat coronavirus patients — it was a bittersweet moment for Chad Ricks, an associate chief nursing officer who managed the site.

Although he had to say goodbye to his colleagues, the hospital’s closure was a sign that Los Angeles — and the country at large — might be returning to something like normal. “Cases were starting to stabilise and the county was better able to manage its intensive care capacity,” says Mr Ricks, who is currently recovering from the virus after contracting it while working at another facility.

However, he feared California was reopening its economy too quickly and that officials had shut the facility prematurely. “Many of us thought we might need to keep it open a little longer, but no one asked our opinion,” adds Mr Ricks.

He was right to be worried. Coronavirus is now spreading rampantly in Los Angeles and throughout California, as well as in other sunbelt states including Texas, Florida and Arizona. On Thursday, the US reported 71,000 new cases of the virus, setting another daily record, and 977 additional deaths.

Even as countries in Europe and Asia appear to have had some success in taming coronavirus, it is now surging uncontrollably in large swaths of the US. Just over 4 per cent of the world’s population lives in the US, but it accounts for a quarter of confirmed cases globally.

Public health experts blame the latest wave of infections on governors who hastily reopened their states despite the risks, as well as crippling testing delays, and a toxic political backdrop in a polarised country where the use of face masks has become a divisive issue.

“This is the greatest public health catastrophe in the US since the 1918 influenza, and the principal difference is that we knew enough to stop this from happening to this extent,” says Barry Bloom, a professor of public health at Harvard University.

Prof Bloom says the experience of New York and other places that were hit hard earlier in the pandemic should have served as a clarion call to other states. “They had a head start, but the political attitude was that the only thing that counted was keeping the economy going. They paid a big price for that. It is so frustrating because it didn’t have to happen.”

Opening and closing the economy

When coronavirus first erupted in the US in early March, states in the north of the country such as New York, Michigan and Washington bore the brunt of hospitalisations and deaths. Now the crisis is at its most acute in states such as Texas and Florida, where residents are trapped in a horror movie that will feel familiar to New Yorkers, replete with the constant wail of ambulance sirens, hospitals at breaking point and makeshift morgues.

Although mortality rates are still lower in the sunbelt states than in places like New York, doctors predict the national death toll — which currently stands at more than 138,000 — will climb significantly. “I guarantee it will continue to go up for several weeks as it inevitably spreads to older and more at-risk patients,” says Leora Horwitz, an associate professor of population health at the NYU Langone Health medical centre.

Public health experts say the recent surge in virus cases is a direct result of the reopening in April and May of several states where the coronavirus case count was still climbing, albeit from a relatively low base.

“The reason there is an incredibly gigantic rise in multiple states is because they decided to go back to life as usual before they reduced the number of cases to a low enough level that they could trace people’s contacts,” says Prof Bloom.

Bob Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, describes the political leadership in these states as “cavalier”, adding: “There were too many people who thought it was a hoax. [Those places] are doing very badly.”

Most state governors have responded to the latest infections by pausing or reversing their reopening plans. Several school districts, including Los Angeles, have said they will not allow pupils to attend school in person when the term starts again in August. But almost no one is countenancing the kind of full-scale lockdown that proved so effective in suppressing the virus in the spring.

Some argue that Donald Trump is culpable because he encouraged states to lift coronavirus restrictions quickly in a misguided attempt to boost the US economy ahead of November’s presidential election. “There was a lot of pressure from the White House for a lot of states to reopen,” says Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease specialist at George Mason University, adding that the reopening in May of Arizona, which is experiencing a resurgence of cases, coincided with a high-profile visit from Mr Trump.

“It’s a failure of leadership in the national government,” Prof Bloom says. “Our president effectively said, ‘let’s forget about the epidemic, we have to get the economy back on track so we can win the election’. That is killing a lot of people.”

Exacerbating the problem in some parts of the US are the long delays in processing test results, with many states reporting waiting times of seven days or more. There are more test kits available than there were at the start of the crisis — more than 4m people are being tested a week — but laboratories are struggling to keep up with demand.

“No one expected that the lag time would go from a day or two to seven or, in some cases, 14 days,” says Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which this week published a plan calling for the country to spend $75bn on a mass testing programme.

“With the seven-day lead time you basically aren’t testing at all, it’s the structural equivalent of doing zero tests,” says Dr Shah, explaining that people are at their most contagious during the earlier stages of the disease. If someone finds out they are positive a week or more after being tested, they might have already stopped shedding enough virus to infect someone else, he adds.

Dr Shah says the delays are a product of the private testing laboratory industry in the US, which is dominated by two large players: Quest and LabCorp. “As monopoly companies . . . they don’t have enough capacity in their central processing systems for the volumes that are necessary right now,” he says.

Quest said it was “broadening access” to coronavirus testing by outsourcing samples to independent labs, but warned that “demand for diagnostic testing is growing even faster”. The company said it was able to process 125,000 tests a day and expected to increase this to 150,000 by the end of July. LabCorp said the average time to deliver results was now four-six days as a result of “significant increases in testing demand and constraints in the availability of supplies and equipment”.

The testing delays — which mean the true case count is probably much higher — also threaten to erase hard-won gains in states that have managed to bring the virus under control, such as New York and Massachusetts. This week, City MD, a chain of urgent care clinics in New York City, warned customers it would take a minimum of seven days to return results.

‘Stream of misinformation’

Others argue that the politicisation of the virus is encouraging some Americans to ignore the risks. Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed his opponents are exaggerating the severity of the crisis in an attempt to discredit his presidency.

Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, says a “very strong stream of misinformation” is being spread on social networks such as Facebook, and amplified by Mr Trump.

This week, the president retweeted a post from Chuck Woolery, a retired game show host, which claimed that Democrats, the media and public health officials were telling “outrageous lies” about the virus. “I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election,” he wrote. A few days later, Mr Woolery deleted his Twitter account after his son contracted the virus.

Masks in particular have become a divisive issue, with some Trump supporters refusing to wear them to show solidarity with the president. This week, the Republican governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, suspended state rules that mandate mask-wearing, overturning decisions taken by other elected officials including the mayor of Atlanta. In Texas, several sheriffs have said they will not enforce a statewide mask mandate.

“We’re having absolutely insane debates about whether masks are mind control,” Prof Jha says. “This is not what a serious country does.”

Meanwhile, the White House has been distracted by infighting. This week, some members of the administration waged a briefing campaign against Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases doctor and a member of the White House coronavirus task force. The attempt to discredit Dr Fauci was prompted by an interview in the Financial Times, in which he revealed he had not briefed the president on the virus for two months despite the recent surge in cases.

A long-running battle between two other members of the task force — Robert Redfield, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response co-ordinator, has also burst into the open. On Wednesday, Dr Redfield’s agency was stripped of its role in collecting coronavirus data from hospitals, following a campaign by Dr Birx, who felt the CDC was bungling the task, according to one person briefed on the struggle.

“This administration is literally fighting with each other about who is right and who is wrong in meetings, when they’re supposed to be working as a team to figure out what the hell’s going on,” the person adds.

Senior doctors warn second coronavirus wave could ‘devastate’ NHS

“People might think Covid is over with, why do I have to wear a face mask,” she said. “But it isn’t over. We still have Covid patients in intensive care. If the public don’t physically distance and don’t wear face coverings we could very quickly get back to where we were earlier this year.”

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com

Senior doctors are pleading with the public to help prevent a second wave of coronavirus that could “devastate” the NHS, amid concern at mixed government messages about face masks and returning to work.

Prof Carrie MacEwen, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said medics and healthcare workers felt “totally reliant on the public understanding that this has certainly not disappeared and could come back and cause even more suffering for the population.”

Dr Alison Pittard, head of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, also warned the NHS could be “overwhelmed” by a second wave coinciding with seasonal flu and the consequences of the backlog of treatment for serious illnesses including cancer.

“People might think Covid is over with, why do I have to wear a face mask,” she said. “But it isn’t over. We still have Covid patients in intensive care. If the public don’t physically distance and don’t wear face coverings we could very quickly get back to where we were earlier this year.”

Downing Street has said its scientific advice is that new infections are falling at a rate between 1% and 5% a day across the UK. But on Sunday, the Scottish government confirmed a rise in new cases for the fifth consecutive day with 23 people testing positive – the highest daily rate since 21 June. Meanwhile in Blackburn and Darwen, where health officials last week ordered new restrictions to reduce virus spread, Dominic Harrison, the director of public health, has said the national tracing system was only managing to reach half of those who had been in close contact with a coronavirus patient.

The British Medical Association said a second peak, combined with a seasonal flu outbreak, could be “devastating for the NHS” and voiced criticism of government guidance on the use of face coverings.

Masks will be compulsory in shops in England from this Friday, with a £100 fine for those who flout the law. But they are not being required in offices.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said: “When you’re in close proximity with somebody that you have to work closely to, if you’re there for a long time with them, then a mask doesn’t offer that protection.”

“Everyone has their role to play, but there needs to be clear, concise public messaging,” said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair of the BMA, the trade union and professional body for doctors in the UK. “To introduce measures for shops, but not other situations where physical distancing is not possible – including some workplaces – is illogical and adds to confusion and the risk of the virus spreading.”

The medics’ warnings came as the government continued to signal easing of national restrictions with the reproduction rate standing at between 0.7 and 0.9, which means the virus is not growing exponentially.

On Sunday Boris Johnson said he did not believe a second national lockdown would be necessary in the latest of a series of bullish statements about the UK’s progress in handling a pandemic that has so far claimed more than 45,000 lives according to government figures.

Last week, senior doctors and scientists convened by the Academy of Medical Sciences said a second wave could kill 120,000 people in a worst-case scenario. Three days later, the prime minister floated the possibility of a return to normality by Christmas and announced that from 1 August the instruction to work from home where possible will be lifted, in apparent conflict with the chief scientific officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, who told MPs he could see “absolutely no reason to change”.

Asked to clarify the position by reporters, Johnson said: “We want to encourage people to think it is safe to come into work, provided employers have done the work … to make their premises Covid-secure.”

Over the weekend it emerged that the test-and-trace programme which is considered essential for the government strategy of using local lockdowns to quell outbreaks, has only been finding 37% of people with Covid-19 when it needs to be tracking down 50% of them to work effectively. The latest official figures for the week ending 8 July, also show that 22% of people with Covid-19 were not contacted and of those who were, the close contacts of 29% of them could not be reached.

Nevertheless, the Department of Health and Social Care defended the system.

“It has already helped test and isolate more than 180,000 cases – helping us control the spread of the virus, prevent a second wave and save lives,” a spokesperson said.

The government is set to allow local councils to access the names and data of people in their areas who have returned positive Covid-19 tests, which may improve performance.

MacEwen said doctors were now relying on the public to help avert a “perfect storm” hitting the health system this winter.

“If we get a second surge it could be bigger than the last one and economically that could cripple us and it could damage the NHS in the long-term, especially with the backlog [of elective care, including cancer care] and flu,” she said.

“Going into winter the situation is much bleaker [than handling a pandemic in spring] and against a background of economic disaster. The public has begun to think we are free of this, but we are not.”

She added: “The most important thing about being prepared for this winter is the population gets the flu vaccine if they need it and they behave in a way that reduces the risk of them catching Covid which is to socially distance, wash hands, wear masks and isolate if symptomatic or told to do so by test and trace.”

“It is down to the public again,” said Pittard. “They are vital in this.”

Planning proposals a ‘race to the bottom’

Eighteen charities, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, Woodland Trust and RSPB, have written to the prime minister to call for “locally accountable and democratic” planning rather than further deregulation.

Conservationists warn that Boris Johnson’s proposed planning laws could be a “deregulatory race to the bottom” with more changes due to the way that the impact on green areas is assessed.

Eighteen charities, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, Woodland Trust and RSPB, have written to the prime minister to call for “locally accountable and democratic” planning rather than further deregulation.

The letter says: “Further deregulation of the planning system would erode the foundations of any green and just recovery long before the first brick is laid. Nowhere else in the world is such a deregulatory race to the bottom being considered.

“It would be completely out of touch with the public mood, when two thirds of people reported wanting to see greater protection and investment in local green spaces after lockdown. This surge of appreciation for quality local green spaces is just one indicator of the increased appetite for action to tackle the housing, climate and nature crises head on.”

In a speech today George Eustice, the environment secretary, is expected to announce changes to the environmental impact assessment system, which is part of the planning process.

Mr Eustice will say: “Nature rightly deserves protection, so if we are to protect species and habitats and also deliver biodiversity net gain, we need to properly understand the science to inform crucial decisions.

“We should ask ourselves, for example, whether the current environmental impact assessment processes are as effective or efficient as they could be.

“There is scope to consolidate and simplify the process. We can set out which habitats and species will always be off limits, so everyone knows where they stand.

A government source said: “It’s not a deregulatory agenda but just about building better, faster and greener.”

Crispin Truman, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Environmental impact assessments are the foundations for this, protecting not only vulnerable wildlife and nature but landscapes, our built heritage and our health.

“Critically, they are the means of scrutinising the potential air quality impact of proposed developments. They give planners the evidence to refuse schemes that would make air quality problems worse. This has never been more important.”

Mr Truman said that the public were getting too many developments that left families dependent on cars and created more air pollution.

He added: “Access to green space and low carbon travel like walking and cycling are a mere afterthought. Any new environmental impact assessment process must be stronger, not weaker, than what we already have.”

CPRE Devon: Planning reforms risk rural free-for-all

“Even in these truly extraordinary circumstances, we believe the planning system must remain transparent, democratic and fair, and be seen to be so. Weeks ago, I wrote to all of Devon’s Conservative MPs to express the charity’s concerns. So far, only one of our Tory representatives at Westminster – Anne-Marie Morris MP [Newton Abbot]-has properly responded.”

The PM’s plans to Build, Build, Build, could spell disaster says Penny Mills, Devon Director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England – Western Morning News

HERE in the Westcountry, we are lucky to have some of the most stunning landscapes anywhere in Britain. The green fields and rolling hills we may have taken for granted before lockdown are now appreciated as a vital resource – for our health and wellbeing, and for food production in these uncertain times.

But our countryside is facing an unseen threat: Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently announced the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War when he outlined the. Government’s plans to kickstart the construction industry and, quite literally, build Britain out of a recession.

Make no mistake, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild the UK economy, its homes and infrastructure in a way that priori-uses people and the planet.

However, the Devon branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) fears this opportunity is about to be squandered, with potentially disastrous consequences both for our countryside and for local democracy.

The PM’s proposals would prioritise the speedy re-purposing of redundant town-centre premises and brownfield sites, something CPRE Devon has long campaigned for. We are not anti-development. We welcome moves to adapt empty commercial properties, providing new homes without increasing the pressure to build on greenfield land. So far, so good.

However, we are worried that the rapid changes made to the way the planning system works, brought in at the start of lockdown to respond to public health needs during the pandemic, now look set to be expanded.

This month the Government intends to set out its plans for a comprehensive overhaul of Eng land’s seven-decade-old planning system. We fear that the rush to remove appropriate checks and balances on how planning decisions are made could have a disastrous effect on our countryside, our communities and local democracy, without providing the affordable, sustainable homes Devon badly needs.

The Government claims this new, pared-back approach to planning will work better for our modem economy and society. But will it? Even before coronavirus reared its ugly head, there was evidence that community involvement in planning decisions was being undermined. More recently, there have been worrying signs that the relaxed planning approach introduced in response to the pandemic is being misused. We’ve heard of local planning meetings being shut off to the public, meaning important decisions are being made behind closed doors and without proper public consultation.

CPRE Devon believes that local people have an important role to play in shaping the future of the places where they live.

Removing red tape presents a very real threat – allowing profit-driven developers the opportunity to silence communities and fast track bad planning decisions. The Government says developers will still need to adhere to high standards and regulations “just without the unnecessary red tape’: How so? Who will make sure developers do what they promise without the necessary checks and balances in place? Who will hold the less scrupulous house builders to account?

CPRE Devon may have been quieter than usual during lockdown, but planning issues have remained firmly at the top of our agenda throughout.

Even in these truly extraordinary circumstances, we believe the planning system must remain transparent, democratic and fair, and be seen to be so. Weeks ago, I wrote to all of Devon’s Conservative MPs to express the charity’s concerns. So far, only one of our Tory representatives at Westminster – Anne-Marie Morris MP -has properly responded.

The jury is still out on some of the Prime Minister’s other pledges, for example, the announcement that work will begin to look at how government-owned land can be managed more effectively.
We’re told “a new, ambitious cross-government strategy will look at how public sector land can be managed and released so it can be put to better use. This would include home building, improving the environment, contributing to net-zero goals and injecting growth opportunities into communities across the country?’

The Government has also confirmed that a national programme will inject £12bn to support new affordable homes for ownership and rent over the next 8 years, and the Home Building -Fund will receive a boost to help smaller developers access finance for new housing projects.

These measures appear to be a step in the right direction to tackle some of the most pressing issues of our time, but – dare we say? – we have heard similar promises before, which a merry-go-round of housing ministers over the years have spectacularly failed to deliver on.

 

George Eustice: “UK wildlife to get better protection outside EU” – Boris complains of “newt counting”

However, the RSPB’s chief executive Beccy Speight said the Government had not met its promises for a tough independent green watchdog after Brexit, new ambitious nature recovery targets or billions of pounds of investment into nature-friendly farming.

Mr Eustice’s speech again fails to deliver, she warned.

“Instead we have a welcome but frankly tiny announcement of new money, well short of the investment that is needed, and a commitment to change the planning system where the purpose and details of that review remain opaque at best or frankly disingenuous. She said reality needed to match what she called ‘green rhetoric’

 

EMILY BEAMENT – Western Morning News

‘NATURE will be at the heart of the efforts to reboot the economy following the coronavirus pandemic, Environment Secretary George Eustice will insist in a speech to be delivered online today.

The MP for Camborne and Redruth will set out Government plans to boost the environment after Brexit, but he will also warn of the negative impacts that European Union environmental law has had on protecting nature.

And he will announce plans to “simplify” the environmental impact assessments some developments have to undertake, in the wake of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s promise to “build, build, build” out of the economic crisis.

There have been widespread calls for a green recovery from the pandemic, with investment in everything from tree planting to insulating homes to create jobs, but concerns that the Government has so far not delivered at scale.

Mr Eustice set to tell listeners at the Green Alliance event that leaving the EU does not mean retreating from, the UK’s role in the world when it comes to the environment, and the country should “redouble our efforts globally’:

But in the face of concerns among environmental groups that leaving the EU could erode UK environmental protections, he will say: “EU environmental law always has good intentions but there are negative consequences to attempting to legislate for these matters at a supranational level?’

He said it led to a situation where national governments became reluctant to make new commitments in the face of legal risks, not enough scientists were involved and there were “too many reports but not enough action’:

“Our approach must create ‘the space for more experimentation and innovation;’ he said.

The Environment Secretary will announce £4 million to trial green prescribing, where people are prescribed time in nature as part of efforts to boost their physical or mental health.

And he will also seek to reassure the groups that the efforts to rebuild after the pandemic will be sustainable and protect important habitats.

He will announce a consultation on environmental impact assessments, saying: “There is scope to consolidate and simplify the process.

“We can set out which habitats and species will always be off-limits, so everyone knows where they stand.

“And we can add to that list where we want better protection for species that are characteristic of our country and critical to our ecosystems that EU ignored, things like veteran trees, ancient woodland, water voles, red squirrels, adders, and pine martens?’

His comments come after the PM complained of “newt-counting” delays holding up development, referencing problems with protecting great crested newts that conservationists say have been resolved with a new approach.

But it prompted concerns that the Government was seeking to weaken environmental protections to boost house building and construction, with a shake up of the planning rules due shortly.

The RSPB’s chief executive Beccy Speight said the Government had not met its promises for a tough independent green watchdog after Brexit, new ambitious nature recovery targets or billions of pounds of investment into nature-friendly farming.

Mr Eustice’s speech again fails to deliver, she warned.

“Instead we have a welcome but frankly tiny announcement of new money, well short of the investment that is needed, and a commitment to change the planning system where the purpose and details of that review remain opaque at best or frankly disingenuous. She said reality needed to match what she called ‘green rhetoric’

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