“The family of a businessman who helped shape the future of development in South Devon are set to make hundreds of thousands of pounds after a plot they bought at a knock-down price was designated for housing. Paignton residents have expressed concerns over the future of the land in Waterside Road.
They are unhappy that the space, which backs onto Dartmouth Road, has been cleared of trees and identified for housing in the latest draft of the Brixham Peninsula Neighbourhood Plan.
The land is owned by the family of the neighbourhood plan forum’s vice-chair Adam Billings and was bought at auction from Torbay Council as amenity land in 2014.
Neighbours say the plot would have generated far more money for the taxpayer if it has been sold with planning permission rather being designed to be a green space….
Interesting to compare the “officially confirmed” cases quoted in the article below with the estimates of active cases coming from Tim Spector’s symptom tracking app based on daily reporting (see table below). As you can see these fluctuate substantially week by week and suggest North Devon currently is a bit of a hot spot, where the article claims zero cases. However, it is also interesting to note that for the first time the symptom tracker is estimating zero cases in West Devon, Mid Devon, West Somerset and Sedgemoor. Does this suggest that many people could be exhibiting mild symptoms and not bothering to go to a test centre? Is it all statistical noise? Or is the symptom tracker wrong?
Estimated active case/million people under revised calculation methods (prevalence) Aged 20-69
Three areas in Devon have been found to be ‘coronavirus-free’ after the infection rate for the past seven days dropped to zero.
The districts include North Devon, West Devon and Torridge, each of which have seen no new confirmed cases in the past seven days.
The regions are three of just 18 across the country that have been declared seen no new cases in the past week.
The figures are based on tests carried out in laboratories and in the wider community, reports The Mirror.
The rate is indicated as the number of new cases per 100,000 people.
Although the figure is 0.0 there is a chance that some people are infected with the new strain of coronavirus, however they haven’t been tested or aren’t displaying symptoms.
Data for the most recent three days (July 20-22) has been excluded as it is incomplete and likely to be revised.
The Mirror reports, these are the 18 local authorities with a rate of 0.0:
Isle of Wight
King’s Lynn and West Norfolk
Yesterday (July 24), Devon Live reports that in the last seven days, there have been five cases confirmed in Plymouth, and three in Torbay, although two historical duplicates for Torbay have been removed.
Across the rest of Devon, 15 cases have been confirmed.
During prime minister’s questions in the Commons, Mr Johnson was told by Clive Betts MP that the recent report had found studio flats “of just 16 square metres… a space as small as his ministerial car”
Convinced by the answer?
This Indy article has a link to the House of Commons clip of the video exchange
Approximately a third of England’s public leisure centres will remain closed on Saturday as a widespread picture of financial distress among community leisure operators overshadows the long-awaited reopening of gyms and indoor swimming pools.
While privately owned chains such as PureGym, David Lloyd and Virgin Active are eager to proceed with opening plans, the charitable trusts behind the country’s 2,116 council-owned sites, are being circumspect as coronavirus restrictions tip their finances into the red.
Jane Parish, the chief executive of Sencio, which runs three leisure centres and a golf course in Kent, said the future of its facilities was hanging in the balance after it ran out of cash during the quarantine period.
“We’ve been losing £100,000 a week of income but have still been incurring costs maintaining our buildings,” she said. “We’ve got no reserves left whatsoever.”
Parish said the need to limit visitor numbers meant Sencio would be making a loss when it opens its centres on 3 August.
Sencio has 11,500 members but its gyms and pools are popular with over-70s, some of whom were reluctant to return yet. It will take until early 2021 for income to reach even two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels, she predicts and is applying for a £700,000 emergency loan to tide it over.
“We applied for a business interruption loan with our bank but didn’t get it because they wanted security, which our council wouldn’t give us,” said Parish. “I employ 343 staff. That’s a lot of staff and livelihoods could be in jeopardy.”
She said “we won’t survive” if the loan request was later declined.
The UK has about 7,200 gyms and leisure centres, with approximately two-thirds run privately and the rest by councils or operators on their behalf.
Before the pandemic 10.4 million people had memberships but some of the large chains have reported losing up to a fifth of their clientele as Britons reined in spending during lockdown.
After a frustrating delay – gyms had hoped to reopen alongside England’s pubs and hotels – popular chains such as PureGym, David Lloyd and Virgin Active are champing at the bit despite the financial implications of half empty gyms, smaller exercise classes and expensive cleaning regimes. A date is yet to be set for gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools in Scotland and Wales to open, while facilities in Northern Ireland were allowed to open on 10 July.
The sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, said: “Given the huge benefits exercise has for physical and mental health, I know people across the country can’t wait to get back to the gym.
“But it’s vital that users feel safe. That’s why we have worked hard with the sector to make sure they have the guidance they need to put strict safety measures in place.”
Glenn Earlam, the chief executive of the David Lloyd chain, said he was hopeful gym usage would return to normal by the end of the year. The firm has lost about 10% of its 600,000 members mainly because it has been unable to offset the usual rate of attrition.
“Fitness is a successful growth business but this has been an enormous shock,” Earlam said. “We have survived four months of closure and we will be fine, providing people come back come back in normal numbers, even if it takes us a while to build back the volume we have lost.”
The shift to working from home is also creating opportunities for the upmarket chain, with its spacious centres and free wifi. Several companies have inquired about corporate memberships whereby staff could base themselves at a David Lloyd club.
However, there is a concern that nearly half of Britain’s public leisure centres will not be able to stay the course, meaning even those that open their doors in the coming days could be forced to close again.
UK Active and Community Leisure UK, the industry trade bodies, estimate 1,300 of the 2,727 leisure centres funded by local authorities and 20% of the UK’s swimming pools could go under by Christmas unless the government steps in to help.
“We have acute cashflow issues and are totally and utterly dependent on support from a council facing its own challenges,” said Chris Rushton, the chief executive of Active Tameside, which runs eight leisure centres in Greater Manchester. “We will open on a vastly restricted capacity and lose money as the furlough scheme winds down.”
Rushton added: “Swathes of our sector are at risk. Not everything will reopen, and not everything that opens will be the same as it was previously. We are a sector that is delivering untold health and social impact and that is what is in danger here.”
Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish has called on the government to provide evidence to his committee’s inquiry into flooding.
Mr Parish chairs the The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) which has asked for further evidence from the government as the committee continues an inquiry into flooding to help MPs fully scrutinise the effectiveness of the current approaches to flood risk..
Last week, the government unveiled a £5.2 billion plan to tackle flooding which would see 336,00 properties in England better protected by 2027.
The EFRA committee has set the government a deadline of Friday, August 28 to answer seven questions, including how the new strategy will meet the challenge posed by climate change, how housing can be made more resilient to flooding, and whether the current arrangements for flooding in England are effective.
Mr Parish said: “Last Tuesday’s evidence session underlined the shift in focus over the near-decade since the Environment Agency’s last strategy.
“As devastating floods as recently as this March have shown us, the immediate effects of climate change are becoming ever more real.
“The Environment Agency told us that Government policy will have to adapt faster than the climate crisis progresses. There is clearly much to be thoroughly investigated over the course of our flooding inquiry. In order to do justice to all of us who have been – or will be- affected by flooding, we are today asking for further evidence to be submitted.”
In March this year, regions across the country were battered by rain caused by successive storms Ciara and Dennis which led to increased flooding.
When the flooding enquiry was first launched in March, Mr Parish said: “Recent extreme weather has wrought devastating damage on peoples’ homes, livelihoods and health.
“Our climate is changing rapidly, and we need to prepare ourselves for what could be a turbulent new normal. That’s why it’s crucial that the Government’s approach to managing flood risk holds up to scrutiny.”
“As the last month has shown us, this isn’t a problem that’s going to go away. Our communities need the necessary support to adapt, so that in the future , those who remain at risk will be better prepared.”
Many commuter trains may have to be scrapped in favour of a “Swiss-style” network that relies on fewer but more punctual services, according to a rail watchdog.
Transport Focus said that Britain’s railways would “look different” within the next two years as bosses adapted to a sharp drop in passengers combined with the need to social distance.
In a study published today, it said that half of people who previously classified themselves as regular rail commuters were expecting to work mainly from home for the foreseeable future, with their travel into towns and cities being limited.
Boris Johnson has signalled the end from next month of government advice that people work from home but the research indicated that this would have little impact, with commuting into offices “seen by many to be inefficient in terms of time and cost”.
Anthony Smith, the chief executive of Transport Focus, said the shift would signal the death of annual season tickets, with people refusing to spend thousands of pounds for a five-day pass that largely went unused. Great Western is introducing a three-day part-time season ticket and flexible fares are being trialled on commuter lines in the north and southeast of England.
It is possible that the long-term drop in passengers will mean that regular services, including those operating into London every few minutes at peak times, will no longer be sustainable.
In a briefing, Mr Smith said that Britain’s railway would increasingly mirror those in Switzerland, with trains a “little bit slower” and less frequent but with more carriages being used to maintain social distancing. It would also improve reliability by reducing crowding on the network, he indicated. The Swiss network is held up as one of the best. In the past year 92 per cent of Swiss trains arrived within three minutes of their scheduled time compared with less than 85 per cent in Britain.
Mr Smith said: “The only certainty at the moment is that we are all going to travel less for work than we did in the past. How much less and when; that’s going to be a moot point.”
The government has handed emergency contracts to train companies to run services until the end of September, with the taxpayer subsidising loss-making lines. It is likely that a similar arrangement will be put in place for a further 18 months. Industry sources have told The Times that extensive cuts will probably have to be made to make them sustainable.
Transport Focus, an independent body set up by the government to represent passengers, found that public transport use “remains very low” despite the reopening of the economy. In a survey of 2,000 people, it found that only 3 per cent travelled by train last week. It said that many had “avoided public transport because of safety concerns”, with three in ten saying they “don’t feel safe using public transport”.
The Conservative government has a known mistrust of experts, but rarely do ministers fly in the face of their own commissioned research as starkly as the housing secretary did this week. On the very same day that Robert Jenrick triumphantly extended permitted development rights (PDR), allowing a range of building types to be converted into housing without planning permission, his own ministry published a report condemning the same rules for leading to “worse quality” homes.
After studying hundreds of new homes carved out from converted offices, shops, warehouses and industrial buildings, created between 2015 and 2018 through permitted development, a team of academics from University College London and the University of Liverpool found predictably grim results. The planning loophole had unleashed a new breed of tiny, dingy apartments, many barely fit for human habitation, with rooms accessed from long corridors, windows looking across internal atriums into other people’s rooms, and some bedrooms with no windows at all.
The research found that only 22% of dwellings created through permitted development met the nationally described space standards, compared with 73% of units created with full planning permission. They frequently came across studio apartments of as little as 16 square metres, less than half the size of the national standard of 37 sq m. Their research also found that the homes were eight times more likely to be located in the middle of a business park or industrial estate, while only 3.5% had access to outdoor space. Buildings converted to homes through permitted development, the researchers concluded, “do seem to create worse quality residential environments than planning permission conversions in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers”.
The academics submitted their findings in January, so it has come as a surprise that, six months later, the housing secretary has decided not to rein in permitted development rights, but extended them even further. It is particularly charged timing, given that planning rules are being relaxed in the name of “delivering additional homes more easily as part of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic”. At a time when the need for decent quality domestic space has been amplified, and the dangers of overcrowding magnified, the government is only making it easier for cramped, substandard homes to be built. Adding to frustrations over the delay, the new measures were announced one day before the parliamentary summer recess, and buried by the news of a damning report on Russia’s possible interference in the Brexit referendum.
“The new legislation fundamentally undermines the notion of a democratic, professional and accountable planning system,” says Dr Ben Clifford, professor at UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning, who co-led the research. “Not only will it continue to produce more tiny flats with poor living conditions, but it also means the developers are not required to provide any affordable housing or make any contributions to local infrastructure, like parks and playgrounds. It’s placing a huge burden on local communities, while at the same time making more profit for developers.”
Since 2015 more than 60,000 flats have been created through permitted development in England, with almost 90% coming from office conversions, representing a loss of tens of thousands of affordable homes, according to Shelter. “We were astounded,” says Robin White of the housing charity, in response to the new legislation. “This is a far cry from the prime minister’s promise to Build Back Better. And a far cry from the good quality, affordable social homes that this country so desperately needs.” Even the government’s own Building Better, Building Beautiful commission concluded that permitted development had inadvertently created “future slums”.
The president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Alan Jones, describes the extensions of the policy as “disgraceful”, leading to more homes with rooms that will be “smaller than in budget hotels”. “There is no evidence that the planning system is to blame for the shortage of housing,” he says, “and plenty to suggest that leaving local communities powerless in the face of developers seeking short-term returns will lead to poor results.”
In what represents the most drastic change to permitted development rights since the planning system was introduced after the second world war, the legislation opens the door for a new generation of rabbit-hutch homes to proliferate unchecked. If an office or industrial building built before 1990 has been vacant for six months, it may now be demolished and replaced with a house or apartment block, without any planning scrutiny. Another amendment allows an additional two residential storeys to be added on top of existing buildings, while a third change combines everything from shops and restaurants, to gyms, health facilities, nurseries, offices and light industrial buildings into a single use class. As Rob McNicol, principal strategic planer at the Greater London Authority, tweeted: “This matters because you will now no longer need planning permission to change between these uses. The changes unpick a decades-long approach to planning for town centre uses. It is an untested nationwide experiment in laissez-faire town centre management.”
As Guardian investigations have shown, the substandard homes created by permitted development are often used to house society’s most vulnerable members, including as temporary accommodation for families on housing waiting lists. Harlow in Essex, where half the new homes created in 2018/19 came from office conversions, has become a particular flashpoint for the planning loophole. The buildings have seen incidents of domestic abuse, suspected drug dealing, alcohol-fuelled bad behaviour and reports of children who are frightened to go home and can’t sleep at night because they are “petrified”. Harlow’s Conservative MP, Robert Halfon, has described the policy as “a disaster”. “If there are not proper controls on quality,” he said, “and developers are allowed to build ghettos for people on the lowest incomes then we will have a repeat of what we’ve had in the first wave of permitted development.”
Harlow is not alone. Clifford’s research has highlighted a range of shocking examples, such as Central House and Maplehurst House in Crawley, which both contain 16-sq-m studio flats, some with no windows. Then there are the converted business parks, including New Horizons Court in Brentford, where 25 flats have windows just facing the central atrium space, 10m across from their neighbours, or the Central Business Centre in Neasden, with 20 studio flats sandwiched between a cement works and the North Circular Road. The largest permitted development project in the country is currently under way at the Parkview office campus in Bristol, which will see 467 flats created in a former supermarket headquarters, one building described on the architects’ own website as “doomed to be the housing complex”.
Julia Park, head of housing research at Levitt Bernstein architects, produced a report last year documenting a number of the worst examples of housing spawned by permitted development. She despairs at the latest legislation. “The government hasn’t learned anything from what office-to-residential conversions have produced so far,” she says. “The new rights will just lead to more of the same”. While the latest amendments include a requirement for “adequate natural light” in all habitable rooms, there’s no detail on what that actually means. “We’ve seen whole flats, and hundreds of habitable rooms that only have borrowed light from an internal atrium so have no view to the outside. Is that ‘adequate’?” As Park’s report noted: “Building regulations have never required a living space to have a window, not because it doesn’t matter, but because no one imagined that anyone would offer a home without one.” The regulations, it seems, were written in more innocent times, before the planning system was dismantled and our cities opened up to the market at any cost. Even the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, a powerful lobby group for the development sector, concurs: “Overall, office to residential PDR has been a fiscal giveaway from the state to the private real estate interests,” their 2018 report concluded (Pdf), “while leaving a legacy of a high quantum of poor quality housing.”
Park points out that permitted development rights have created a Kafkaesque situation whereby local authorities do not have the power to stop substandard homes being built, but they may be able to have them shut down once they are occupied. Through existing powers set out in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, councils can serve an enforcement notice on any home that poses a severe risk to health, with insufficient internal space being among the recognised hazards. Park, who has been working with Leeds City Council to clamp down on a spate of very small flats, also has no doubt that a significant number of the new homes created through permitted development pose a serious hazard to mental health, and are therefore unfit for human habitation under the Fitness for Human Habitation Act, which came into force in March 2019. Shelter has also been advocating use of the act, although it cautions that it is not the solution. “We should not be relying on this act to fix fundamental quality and safety issues with housing that was created at most six years ago,” the charity said. “It goes without saying that these houses should have been up to scratch in the first place – which they would have been if they had the proper quality checks from the outset.”