Council leader Paul Arnott explains the reasoning behind the change of policy of withdrawing from GESP


A new Local Plan for East Devon will be formed in ‘the full light of scrutiny’ says council leader Paul Arnott

Midweek Herald publishes a longer version of Council Leader Paul Arnott’s explanation of the reasoning behind the policy change than the brief  press release Owl published here. (Enough is enough seems to be the refrain of the day.)

PUBLISHED: 08:00 31 August 2020 

East Devon District Council has voted to pull out of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan. Here, Council leader Paul Arnott explains the reasoning behind the change of policy.

A meeting of full council at East Devon District Council (EDDC) has voted to leave the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan.

Little more than a third of our 60 councillors favoured staying in, mainly Conservatives.

Readers could reasonably ask, what was the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) anyway? And why should they care?

So, the GESP was an attempt to combine planning strategies for four district councils: East Devon, Exeter, Mid-Devon, and Teignbridge.

It had been rumbling on for about three years almost entirely out of sight.

Remarkably, there had never been a single debate about it at full council – until last Thursday!

GESP was meant in theory to help the four districts work together to find future land to be developed into 500 home-plus sites.

The thinking was that if all four knew what each other were doing, other exciting policies for transport infrastructure and so on could be developed together, leading perhaps to dualling of the Axminster to Exeter railway line, or great improvements to the A3052.

Given those aspirations, any sensible democratic collaboration would see transport, ecological and economic aims agreed first in the full light of scrutiny.

That could have been brilliant and very productive.

Then, and only then, might there be consideration given to where we might wish to build the homes which – in theory – would help fund much of that through the Community Infrastructure Levy on new builds.

With that all parcelled up neatly, the four could then appeal to Government for the funds needed for the massive new transport network necessary to sustain all this.

Instead, with the landowner and developer lobby – as is all too familiar in East Devon – setting the agenda, the officers of the four districts wanted to ‘consult’ on sites first, the other key policies lagging way behind.

The developer cart was, as usual, running way ahead of the public interest horse.

Your elected members at East Devon said ‘enough is enough’ last week.

Now we move on to develop our new Local Plan as urgently as possible – and you can be sure that this time we will do this in the full light of day.


How the long tail of the coronavirus crisis ‘threatens survival’ of Britain’s already-battered seaside towns

But amid potential pandemic ruin is historic opportunity, experts say, to transform long-overlooked communities – to benefit of whole country

[Owl recalls that the House of Commons, Communities and Local Government committee devising a strategy for Coastal Towns visited Exmouth in 2006 text of visit report here. Eileen Wragg, Exmouth Town Mayor at the time, was very much out-numbered by a roll call (interesting reading in itself) of the usual suspects. So Owl doesn’t expect transformational miracles] 

Back in the Fifties, during what was still the golden age of the British seaside, Brian O’Connor used to earn pocket money working as a barrow boy in his home town of Skegness.

Every Saturday of high season from the age of nine he would take his father’s wheelbarrow to the train station where, all day long, tens of thousands of visitors were disgorged for a week’s holiday.

The tourists – in good mood and with spending money to hand – would pay local kids two or three shillings a time to wheel their luggage to hotels and guest houses.

“If you were quick, you could make yourself a quid on a good day,” remembers O’Connor. “I had a wheelbarrow, but some lads would use the family pram.”

The town was a daily carnival, he says: “You’ve never seen somewhere so busy, and in the evenings, three shows a night, the biggest stars. Tommy Cooper, Sid James, they all played here.”

Today, Skegness, a town of 20,000 people on the Lincolnshire coast, is a much-changed place.

While the resort and surrounding area still attract 4 million visitors every year, its slow decline following the advent of cheap air travel and overseas package holidays is a well told – and well replicated – story.

Like numerous seaside towns, it has become a ballroom shadow of what it once was. Deprivation here, as in places such Blackpool, Clacton and Cleethorpes, is rife. Educational attainment is below the national average; drug addiction and mental health issues well above. A lack of opportunity has seen young people leave in droves.

Now, there are fears this slow decline of our coastal regions could be turned into catastrophic freefall by the long tail of coronavirus.

Research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last week found three of the 10 UK areas most at risk from a Covid-19 poverty surge are coastal: Blackpool, South Tyneside and Thanet.

Already the national lockdown – which wiped out three crucial bank holidays – has cost seaside towns across the country some £10.3bn in lost revenue according to estimates by the National Coastal Tourism Academy.

But it is what is happening now – and what comes next – that has become the real concern.

Ongoing social distancing rules have meant that, while people are once again heading to such resorts, the hospitality industries there cannot cater for them in the numbers needed to make business viable.

Bars, hotels, restaurants and attractions have all had to reduce capacity, while taking on extra costs for things like cleaning and signage. Across the board, they say, even with a good late summer – and even taking the government’s £10,000 business grant into account – there is no way they can turn a profit this year. On an individual level, staff have been let go or seasonal workers simply not taken on.

To compound matters is the fact the UK has now entered the most severe recession currently being experienced by any G7 country off the back of coronavirus. Should this downturn be as deep and entrenched as many economists increasingly fear, the consequences will almost certainly hit resort towns with particular savagery: people who have just lost their jobs tend not to spend money on day trips and weekends away.

“What these communities are facing,” says Mike Hill, MP for Hartlepool and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coastal Communities, “is a perfect economic storm.”

At worst, he reckons, businesses could fail in significant numbers, unemployment will skyrocket and social services already stretched to the bone after a decade of austerity will face collapse.

It is, he tells The Independent, “no exaggeration to say the survival of these places in the way we know them is under threat.”

On a beautiful August morning in Skegness, it feels bizarre such concerns exist.

The pier, beach and shopping lanes are all throbbing with life. There are no real-time visitor numbers available but those who know the region best say it is as popular as ever in recent years.

“Since the reopening we have been inundated with visitors,” says Colin Davie, Lincolnshire County Council’s cabinet member for economy and place, which includes responsibility for tourism. “I have never seen the coast so busy … the other day every car park of every resort was full by 8 or 9am.”

A similar picture has emerged elsewhere. With people wary of air travel and amid confusion over quarantine rules, domestic travel has seen a mini boom. Hoseasons, and Cool Camping all report periods of record bookings since the end of lockdown, while the term “UK staycation” has been Googled 500 per cent more this year than last.

So popular have some resorts been, indeed, that many locals are less worried about economic collapse and more concerned with the NHS being able to cope should visitors bring in coronavirus.

Such numbers come as no surprise to that one-time barrow boy, Brian O’Connor, a man who – even in the midst of global pandemic and historic recession – refuses to be anything other than positive.

Since his school days running wheelbarrows, the now grandfather-of-five has become something of an institution in Skegness.

For the last 42 years he has owned the popular boating lake, adding an adjacent fish and chip stall and seafood restaurant to his empire along the way. A couple of years ago, he splashed out £260,000 on upgrades which included building a two-storey model light-house. It doesn’t do anything, he says. “But doesn’t it look great?” he beams proudly. He is shoeless and tanned and infectiously enthusiastic.

He is also bullish about the future. “We’re a two-hour drive from 12 major cities,” he says. “And almost everyone in those cities will want to spend time by the sea in summer so all we have to do is make sure this is the place they come. We need to be ambitious and make sure what we offer is so good they keep coming back.”

Boldness is imperative, he asserts: “Let’s be Las Vegas on the Lincolnshire coast.”

Such positivity is not, to be clear, without foundation.

Long-term decline or not, tourism still generates huge amounts of money for coastal resorts. The visitor economy was worth £699m to East Lindsey District Council – the authority which includes Skegness – last year. The corresponding figure in Blackpool was £1.58bn. “It is a goose,” as one councillor tells The Independent, “repeatedly laying a golden egg.”

The problem is that, using the same analogy, it is often the only goose in town. The reliance on this single economic strand makes coastal resorts uniquely vulnerable to contractions. Here in Skegness, some 54 per cent of workers have jobs directly reliant on visitors, according to an April study by the Centre for Towns. In Newquay, that goes up to 56 per cent – the highest in the UK.

Worse still, decades of both public and private under-investment have left these among the most challenged places in the country. To borrow a phrase, few areas have been quite so left behind as coastal resorts.

In East Lindsey, some 34 per cent of people live in areas classed as deprived, according to the Office for National Statistics. The same 2019 study found eight of England’s top 10 most deprived council wards were, astonishingly, in a single town: Blackpool.

Wages in coastal communities are £4,700 a year lower than the UK average. The jobs themselves tend to be less secure with fewer opportunities for career development. Disadvantaged school pupils in towns by the sea achieve three grades lower at GCSE than those in a similar socioeconomic bracket living in inland cities, the Department for Education estimates. And austerity had a greater impact: while the country’s economy as a whole grew 17.1 per cent between 2010 and 2017, the coastal economies achieved just 7.5 per cent.

All of which is to highlight the reasons behind what may be one of the bitterest ironies of the pandemic: while coastal resorts have, by and large, succeeded in keeping Covid-19 infections relatively low – there have been 59 deaths in East Lindsey and no reported cases for the last fortnight – these areas appear, ultimately, to be the ones which will be the most devastated by the fallout.

Perry Remblance is bent over a stationary go-cart and elbow deep in oil when we speak.

The entrepreneur runs a variety of attractions along the east coast, including this race track in Skegness, an inflatable park up in Hornsea and a couple of amusement arcades.

But this morning he has a screwdriver in one hand, a spanner in the other and 14-year-old son Harry holding his toolbox as he attempts fix one of his carts.

“I’d normally have a mechanic in doing this,” he says with a shrug. “But these are the times.”

To some extent, this is the coal face of the coastal coronavirus crisis. Remblance has been unable to take on his usual seasonal staff, while customer numbers at his indoor attractions have fallen off a cliff.

“We’ve made them as safe as we can,” he says. “Sanitiser, screens, social distancing – but people are still nervous. They’re coming here but, even on holiday, I think they’re looking for ways to reduce risk, and I suppose arcades fall into that for now.”

He had hoped to open two new attractions next year but has shelved those plans. His fear is not just that visitor numbers will continue to be limited by distancing rules and people’s own apprehensions but that a wider recession is coming.

“There are so many jobs being lost,” he explains. “We could easily be talking about mass unemployment before things get better. And less jobs means less people taking holidays. As a business built on holidays, we need to be aware of that.”

It is a warning that is similarly made by Danny Brookes, a town councillor, district councillor and owner of the Indulgence homemade ice cream parlour in town.

New guidelines means he has had to take out a third of tables at his cafe. “Which is basically the profit margin,” the father-of-two says.

He’s had to let five of his nine staff go and is running a limited menu. During lockdown he lost £25,000 and has no hope of making it up this year, even with a good long summer.

The result is, at 54 and after almost 25 years running such parlours, he is now considering something he would never have imagined just a few months ago: what he might do if has to wind up the business.

“I’m not exactly making a contingency plan,” he says. “But I’m aware I may have to make one if things don’t get better. You can’t run a business – even one you’re passionate about – when it’s losing money.”

Pertinently, neither he nor Remblance – nor almost anyone The Independent speaks to – are critical of social distancing measures. Uniformly, they say they believe it remains necessary for public health.

Yet neither of the pair are exaggerating the precariousness of their own situation either, wider evidence suggests. The Coastal Tourism Academy predicts a quarter of such tourist businesses nationwide could eventually fold as a result of the pandemic. In East Lindsey, where 17,300 workers out of 51,300, were still on furlough when the government last published figures at the end of June, the job losses would be demonstrably devastating.

The answer, says Brookes, is to urgently diversify their economies, and for the government to prove it was serious about its levelling up agenda by investing in education, transport and digital infrastructure. This in turn would allow such places to move away from over-reliance on visitors and begin attracting talent here.

“But that has been the answer for decades,” he says ruefully. “And it still hasn’t happened.”

In the days before coronavirus existed – April 2019 to be exact – a House of Lords select committee highlighted many of the issues facing seaside towns.

In a scathing analysis criticising perpetual underinvestment, the peers recommended a whole raft of measures should be taken: better transport links; faster broadband; increased educational opportunities; and greater funding for local services; and recognised the unique issues – poverty, crime, drug use and mental health – that are often rife.

In our new Covid age, the necessity of such action is starker than ever, analysts suggest.

But, conversely, there is also hope the pandemic may just provide the much-needed spur required for such long-term change regeneration.

Two reasons for this optimism run parallel.

The first is the idea staycations may be on the cusp of a new golden age. With people already looking to reduce their carbon footprint, the new health implications of air travel have arguably made domestic tourism more appealing than ever.

“We’re predicting a massive move towards homegrown tourism in the coming years,” says Colin Davie of Lincolnshire County Council. “This is something we’re already seeing but more people are going to visit the UK’s resorts and coastlines than ever. So, our job is to help our business prepare for that and be ready to take advantage of it.”

The windfall of such a boom, so the argument goes, should then be used to help deliver a more diverse and more resilient future economy.

The second reason for optimism is that if, as seems likely, the UK is now about to enter an era of increased remote working, it is our small towns which look likely to be the biggest winners.

Freed from the shackles of big city offices, so the theory goes, workers will escape to more liveable, more scenic communities.

“Where could be more scenic than the coast?” asks MP Mike Hill. “There is a real opportunity now to use increased remote working to drive the regeneration of long-neglected areas. If the government is serious about levelling up – if this isn’t just Tory rhetoric – now is the time to invest in the infrastructure that can help bring that change.”

It is a point Will Jennings, co-director of the Centre for Towns and professor of political science and public policy at the University of Southampton, agrees with.

He was co-author of an April study which found coastal communities, along with ex-industrial towns, were the most likely to be affected by lockdowns.

“One of the issues we face as a country is that, because of the dominance of London and other regional cities, people wanting to get on in the world in smaller towns can face quite tough decisions about having to relocate themselves,” he tells The Independent. “So, if you use the new impetus for remote working to invest in physical and technological infrastructure in these areas – faster broadband and more connected transport but also investment in schools and social care provisions – that would give people more options for where they choose to live.”

Crucially, he reckons, a country where professional development can be routinely progressed in small towns would be a country that is healthier, wealthier, happier and more environmentally sustainable.

Among the wider benefits – apart from the greater geographical spread of prosperity – would be that businesses have a greater talent pool to choose from (because it is no longer constrained by geography); congestion in big cities would be reduced; pressure on high-use public transport eased and individual wellbeing boosted.

The conclusion, says Jennings, is simple: “If these are things we value, there is now a real opportunity to reimagine how the economy could work better for everyone.”

Back on the Skegness seafront, the Mansell family are here from Willenhall in the West Midlands for the week.

Mum Sarah is a schoolteacher, dad Adam is a welder, and the two lads – Jack, 10, and seven-year-old Blake – are currently having the time of their lives on the pier’s mini motorbike track.

As a family, they alternate holidays between one year abroad and one year in the UK. Why Skegness this time? “Well,” says Sarah, “it was available at quite short notice.”

Not perhaps the ringing endorsement the tourist board hope for – but the four have thoroughly enjoyed themselves since arriving.

“It’s been really lovely actually,” she says. “The beach is beautiful. It’s so big. No need to worry [about social distancing] there.”

They may, they say, stay in the UK next year too if the situation with coronavirus has not settled – further proof perhaps that a staycation era may be beckoning.

Brian O’Connor, that one-time barrow boy, nods when The Independent tells him about the family a little later. “The pandemic has happened and we all wish it hadn’t but we can’t change that,” he says. “What we have to do now – all resorts, in fact everyone really – we have to find the best way to make the most of it.”


Beachgoers climbing on rocks after massive landslide urged to stay away

Visitors have been urged to stay away from part of the Jurassic Coast after a huge cliff fall which sent tonnes of rock onto a beach.

The warning comes after people were seen getting close to, and even clambering on, the rocks which came crashing down onto the coast between Hive Beach and Freshwater Beach, Burton Bradstock.

Local residents say visitors to the coast are unaware of the dangers and do not realise that cliff falls can happen at any time.

Recent heavy rainfall has made cliffs along unstable and further rockfalls are likely.

Geologists have previously warned that the Jurassic Coast’s cliffs ‘remain totally unpredictable.’

The spot where the rocks fell on Saturday around 6.30am is close to where holidaymaker Charlotte Blackman, 22, was tragically killed by a rockfall in 2012 as she walked along the beach.

Rescuers raced to Burton Bradstock on Saturday due to fears people may be trapped under the rocks. Firefighters were called to help police as there were concerns people may have been underneath the rubble.

Nothing was found however people were advised to contact the police if they believe someone they know may have been on the beach at that time.

West Bay Coastguard Rescue Team were also at the scene. They liaised with the other emergency services, and took photos and grid references of both sides of the cliff fall which were sent to Solent Coastguard.

Dorset Echo:

Picture: James Loveridge Photography

Cynthia Justham, from Burton Bradstock, said she saw people climbing on the rocks a few hours after they came crashing down and said it just wasn’t worth the risk.

Mrs Justham said it was one of the biggest rockfalls she had seen since living in the area, with rocks reaching about a third of the way up the cliff.

She said: “We often see people sitting right under these cliffs.

“The National Trust (which manages the site) do their best to warn people, but quite often get ignored or abused. People seem to think they will get a warning when rockfalls are about to happen.”

She added: “It makes me feel physically sick when I see young children and families sitting directly under the cliffs. We won’t even walk along to Freshwater at low tide as the falls often reach into the sea.”

Dorset Council said it was a ‘substantial’ rockfall and said recent heavy rain has made cliffs along Dorset’s coastline unstable.

The authority said: “Rock falls can happen at any time. Stay away from cliff edges and the tops of cliffs. Dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard in any coastal emergency.”

A spokesman for Bridport Fire Station said: “One appliance from Bridport was mobilised to Hive Beach, Burton Bradstock after reports of a cliff fall. The police were in attendance and required our specialist equipment to ascertain whether any casualties might be underneath.

“Crews carried out a visual inspection and used a thermal imaging camera to check for any possible casualties around the edge. Nothing was found.

“The coastguard also attended and the incident was handed back to the police.”

The spokesman added: “If you have concerns and believe someone you know may have been on the beach at that time please call 101 and report it to the police.

“Please keep away from the cliffs and do not climb over the rock fall.

“We have had a lot of rain and strong stormy seas battering the cliffs making them very unstable.

“Cliff falls can happen at anytime without warning.

“Enjoy the the bank holiday weekend and stay safe.”

Dorset Echo:

Picture: West Bay Coastguard

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 17 August

‘Enough is enough’ say villagers over landscape-changing development

Villagers have said ‘enough is enough’ over development that has transformed the character of a small rural parish on the edge of Exeter.

Daniel Clark 

Farringdon – a rural parish of 593 hectares in East Devon – lies between the A3052 and Exeter Airport, and includes the dispersed village of Farringdon and parts of Perkins Village and Rosamondford, as well as other scattered houses and farms.

The parish only has 140 dwellings and an estimated population of 368, not dissimilar to that in 1851 of 395, and is more akin to a collection of small hamlets, each with their own distinct appearance and rural character, than a village.

But despite being one of the smallest populated parishes in the district, thousands of people visit the parish daily, as it is home to both Crealy Adventure Park and the Hill Barton Business Park, both of which developed from previous farmsteads.

Over the last 20 years, nearly 15 per cent of the agriculture area of the Parish has changed to industrial or commercial, with the growth of employment activity both in and around the Parish having ‘not been without problems’.

The Farringdon parish map

                                                      The Farringdon parish map

Now, with the community feels that ‘enough is enough’, and in the Farringdon Neighbourhood Plan, for which consultation on is about to begin, the further ‘industrialisation’ of land within the Parish will not be supported and further change should be resisted.

Laura Fricker, chairman of, Farringdon Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, said: “It has been made clear that we are preparing a plan for an area that is vulnerable to change, much of which should be resisted. Our purpose has been to develop planning policies that allow for some change to take place, but not at the cost of everything that makes the area special.

“The parish of Farringdon is a countryside asset for East Devon and is protected as such by the Local Plan. The Neighbourhood Plan for Farringdon endeavours to accommodate necessary change, whilst maintaining the healthy and harmonious rural environment that has for so long prevailed.

“For our own and for future generations, we serve as the guardians of a historic rural environment: not just for the benefit of the people and wildlife who are fortunate to inhabit the area, but for the many who appreciate and get value from having the countryside close-by, and for those who enjoy its rural character whenever they visit or pass through.”


The Parish has a dispersed pattern of human settlement that has been largely unchanged for many centuries, with the estimated population in 2017 of 368, not dissimilar to that in 1851 of 395.

Despite being a tranquil rural area, Farringdon Parish is merely five miles from Exeter. This has meant that parishioners are able to enjoy ready access to the City and all it has to offer, whilst still enjoying the rural character and setting of the Parish.

Farringdon only has its Church and Village Hall as facilities, with no ‘local’ shops or pubs within the Parish, but proposals for additional community services and facilities within the core area of the village, will be supported provided they would not have significant harmful impacts.

What the parish does now have though is several business/commercial zones that have established themselves during second half of the twentieth century. The largest business park in the area is that at Hill Barton Business Park, which straddles the parish boundary, and employs over 1,000 people daily, while completely within the parish area is Crealy Theme Park and Resort and the business areas at The Drive and Waldrons Farm.


Crealy Theme Park and Resort attracts over half a million visitors a year. It is a family business that was founded in 1989 on the site of the family’s farm, but has grown massively since it first opened. Its initial aim was “to recreate a country childhood” and enable youngsters to get close to farming activities, but has since broadened its activities dramatically and now has over 60 rides, attractions and live shows, including rollercoasters and splashing water rides, indoor play zones and outdoor adventure play areas.

In 2012 the park opened accommodation nearby at Crealy Meadows, on a site that now offers camping and caravan pitches, themed tents, and luxury lodges and glamping and serves to put the area on the tourist map and creates opportunities for other tourism development

It has around 65 permanent employees and engages a further 250 temporary workers during the tourist season, but its impact on the Parish is ameliorated by the fact that it is situated on the south side of the A3052, away from residential areas, and by strong perimeter landscaping and screening.

As a ‘major visitor attraction’, any changes would be subject to the policies of the Local Plan, including policies E19 ‘Holiday Accommodation Parks’ and E20 ‘Provision of Visitor Attractions’, but the Neighbourhood Plan says that It is hoped that its future evolution will continue to sustain its original ethos and ‘Crealy’ remains a celebration of the countryside located in a sensitive rural setting.


Hill Barton Business Park is the base for several substantial businesses and in total there are over 1,000 persons working at a site, that straddles the parish boundary, and like Crealy, it has been developed on the site of the owning family’s farm.

But the plan says that the rapid growth and incursion into the countryside of Hill Barton and the extended impact this has on the natural and living environment, are continuing matters of community concern, as is Waldrons Farm Business Area, the other industrialised farmstead area within the Parish.

Beyond the boundary of the Parish, but in close proximity, are other major business/commercial areas at Exeter Airport, Greendale Farm and Greendale Business Park, all of which have all experienced significant growth over the past few years and undoubtedly impinge on the Parish

The plan says: “The growth of employment activity both in and around the Parish has not been without problems. It is estimated that nearly 15 per cent of the agriculture area of the Parish has changed to industrial or commercial use last 20 years.

“The convenience of a location alongside the A3052 should not outweigh the loss of farming land and adverse impact such development has on the local landscape character and residential amenity. The community feels that enough is enough. It should also be noted that the majority of employees on the main business areas in the Parish do not live in the Parish.”

It adds: “There are several working farms in the Parish, especially beef, sheep and arable. The farming business is not standing still and there seems to be a continued interest amongst farm owners in diversification opportunities. Upham Farm Fishing is a long-established diversified farm business which is popular with both locals and tourists. The community believes that farming should remain a mainstay of the local economy and is fully behind sustainable farming practices

“Business and commercial development or redevelopment for business and commercial uses on the sites at Hill Barton Business Park, Waldrons Farm Business Area, and The Drive, will be supported, provided it is in keeping with those uses and business activity already on the site and does not lead to the outward expansion of the site.

“We do not support the further ‘industrialisation’ of land within the Parish. This will also apply to any development proposal to provide for growth of a business or change of use for employment purposes on sites within the Parish. The expansion/incursion of business areas outside the Parish on to land within the Parish will be resisted.”


The Local Plan regards Farringdon Parish as a non-sustainable development area for housing, by virtue of it lacking local services and having inadequate infrastructure.

The Housing Needs Survey 2019 and consultations on the Neighbourhood Plan has established that the community is not opposed to a ‘small number’ of dwellings being built for local people, but any future housing development needs to be small in scale and should be aimed at satisfying a discernible local need that cannot be met within the neighbourhood area or a reasonable distance from it.

The plan adds: “It has been concluded that there is no overwhelming case to justify promoting major housing development in the Neighbourhood Plan or diverging significantly from the housing policies in the Local Plan. Any development proposal that comes forward for affordable housing will need to be supported by robust evidence of local need.”

With a housing need of 12 new homes in neighbourhood area, housing plans will be supported if they are self-built, the new dwelling, including access and outside space, are located within the curtilage of an existing dwellinghouse, and limited to one dwelling, it is single storey, has a maximum 100m2 gross internal area, and does not exceed three bedrooms.

It adds: “The Survey identified a need for small dwellings from local households that want to down-size or anticipate the need for more suitable accommodation as they enter old age. The Parish has an ageing population. This need therefore is likely to continue as long as local households wish to remain in the Farringdon area. For this reason, the policy supports, where appropriate, the development of a single dwelling on a current residential plot; thereby enabling existing households to downsize to more suitable housing and free up one family house per new dwelling.”


The Parish is intersected by two main roads, the A3052 and B3184, both of which carry a high volume and high proportion of through traffic, as well as providing parishioners and visitors with access to a network of narrow rural roads within the Parish, which are mainly single track.

The B3184, known colloquially by many as the ‘Airport Road’, runs through the Parish from the A3052 at Nine Oaks to Exeter Airport, and despite its importance for many airport visitors and users of the Sky Park Business Estate, it is a relatively minor road which is only wide enough for a single vehicle in some places.

On transport, the plan says: “The scale of traffic on both roads seems to be ever-increasing and ever more disturbing to life in the Parish. The main roads carry regular bus services to and from Exeter, Sidmouth, Honiton, the Jurassic Coast, Exeter Airport, and their distance from the settlement areas and a largely unsuitable timetable, means local people still find the motor car to be the most convenient mode of transport for most trips. In 2011 two thirds of local households had daily access to two or more cars.

“On several counts many of the roads of Farringdon could be considered not to be fit for purpose. The A3052 is too often congested at peak periods or when major events are taking place at Westpoint Exeter and is generally regarded as a hazardous environment because of the volume and/or speed of traffic. Too often serious traffic accidents occur on the stretch of A3052 through the Parish.

“The B3184 remains essentially a country lane, narrow in several places, that is used daily by a considerable number of buses, coaches and other large vehicles. The other unclassified roads within Parish are almost all single track, often with soft verges and unofficial passing places only

“Community consultation indicates that the community is not particularly keen on seeing its roads upgraded. This would likely lead to even higher numbers of vehicles, higher speeds, and more safety issues. Rather, the community of Farringdon would welcome traffic restrictions and control that made our roads safer and quieter

“Development proposals to improve accessibility and extend local footpaths, bridleways and cycle-paths and strengthens links with the wider transport networks will be supported.”


Consultation is now open for people to have their say on Farringdon’s neighbourhood plan which has been submitted to East Devon District Council by the parish council.

The district council is inviting people to comment on the plan up until Tuesday, October 20, before the plan goes to an independent examiner, who will inspect the plan against a series of ‘basic conditions’ that the plan must meet. Should the examiner conclude that the plan meets the basic conditions it will proceed as soon as possible to a local community referendum.

However, under the Coronavirus Act 2020, no referendums are currently allowed to be held before May 5, 2021, so unless the law is repealed or amended, residents won’t have their chance to vote on the Plan until next year.

If more than half of the electors in the local area vote in favour of the plan, it will become part of the statutory development plan for East Devon.

Cllr Dan Ledger, the district council’s portfolio holder for strategic planning said: “I am delighted to see the progress made by the Farringdon community on the production of their Neighbourhood Plan and encourage interested parties to respond to the current consultation. The submission version of the Neighbourhood Plan is the result of a great deal of hard work by volunteer steering group members, working with the Parish Council to deliver local objectives, informed by extensive public engagement and consultation.

“I congratulate the steering group on the production of a Neighbourhood Plan that, with the support of the local community, will serve Farringdon Parish for many years to come.”

People can comment on the Farringdon plan on the district council’s website at where the plan and supporting documents are also available to view.

If you wish to comment by email send your message to or by post to Angela King, Planning Policy Section, East Devon District Council, Blackdown House, Border Road, Honiton, EX14 1EJ. Hard copies of the plan can be viewed by arrangement with Farringdon Parish Council by contacting the Clerk, Alana Sayers by email to or by calling 01395 232439. The plan can also be sent out on request by contacting by email or by calling 01395 571740.

Latest interactive map shows Covid-19 deaths in East Devon and Exeter

A new interactive map has shown no coronavirus-related deaths were recorded in East Devon or Exeter in July.

East Devon Reporter 

Latest statistics show fatalities due to the virus have been logged in 16 of the district’s 20 wards and all but one of the city’s 14 areas.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has analysed all deaths involving Covid-19 that occurred between March 1 and July 31, and were registered by August 15.

A total of six coronavirus deaths – in the Budleigh Salterton, Sidmouth, Seaton, Cranbrook, Broadclyst and Stoke Canon, Feniton and Whimple and

Exeter St Thomas West wards – were recorded in June.

 In East Devon, statistics show there have been 11 confirmed fatalities in Seaton.

There have also been ten in in Axminster – five of which occurred in April and five in May.

Nine deaths have been recorded in Exmouth, six of which have been in the Littleham area, two in Halsdon and one in the town ward.

Six deaths have occurred in Sidmouth Town – all of them in April – with one recorded in Sidford in May, and a single fatality in Sidbury, Offwell and Beer.

There have been a total of three deaths in Honiton, three in Budleigh Salterton and one in each of the Ottery St Mary and West Hill; Feniton and Whimple; and Cranbrook, Broadclyst and Stoke Canon wards.

The number is zero in Newton Poppleford, Otterton and Woodbury; Dunkeswell, Upottery and Stockland; and Exmouth Brixington.

The figures are based on coronavirus being confirmed as the underlying cause or mentioned on the death certificate as a contributory factor.

In Exeter, a total of 13 deaths have been recorded in St Thomas, and nine in the Pennsylvania and University ward.

Only Heavitree West and Polsloe has had no fatalities.

Coronavirus-related deaths in East Devon by area

  • Axminster – 10
  • Budleigh Salterton – 3
  • Clyst, Exton and Lympstone – 1
  • Cranbrook, Broadclyst and Stoke Canon  – 1
  • Dunkeswell, Upottery and Stockland – 0
  • Exmouth Town – 1
  • Exmouth Littleham  – 6
  • Exmouth Halsdon – 2
  • Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh – 0
  • Exmouth Brixington  – 0
  • Feniton and Whimple – 1
  • Honiton South and West – 2
  • Honiton North and East – 1
  • Kilmington, Colyton and Uplyme – 1
  • Ottery St Mary and West Hill – 1
  • Poppleford, Otterton and Woodbury – 0
  • Seaton – 11
  • Sidbury, Offwell and Beer – 1
  • Sidmouth/Sidford – 1
  • Sidmouth Town – 6

Coronavirus-related deaths in Exeter by area

  • Alphington and Marsh Barton – 4
  • Countess Wear and Topsham – 1
  • Central Exeter – 1
  • Exwick and Foxhayes – 1
  • Heavitree East and Whipton South – 1
  • Heavitree West and Polsloe – 0
  • Middlemoor and Sowton – 2
  • Mincinglake and Beacon Heath – 1
  • Pennsylvania and University – 9
  • Pinhoe and Whipton North – 1
  • St James’s Park and Hoopern – 2
  • St Leonard’s – 1
  • St Thomas West – 13
  • St Thomas East – 1

Points on the map are placed at the centre of the local area they represent and do not show the actual location of deaths.

The size of the circle is proportional to the number of deaths.

The ONS says that, to protect confidentiality, a small number of deaths have been reallocated between neighbouring areas.

Figures exclude deaths of non-residents and are based on May 2020 boundaries.

Latest Government map shows new COVID cluster in Devon

One new cluster of people with lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 has emerged in the Government’s latest official map of Devon.

Colleen Smith

The newest cluster of three cases is in the Clyst, Exton and Lympstone area on the outskirts of Exeter, while the updated map also shows a rise to five cases in Wellswood, Torquay.

There are currently six clusters in Devon with the other four in Teignmouth (three cases), Cullompton (three), Mutley in Plymouth (three) and the combined mid Devon patch of Bradninch, Silverton and Thorverton.

Each of the Middle Super Output Areas (MSOA) across England has a population of roughly 7,200 people and they are updated daily on the Government’s coronavirus map of England.

Last week, there were 102 new coronavirus cases in Devon and Cornwall – with 83 in Devon and 19 in Cornwall.

The Devon cases were: nine in East Devon, nine in Exeter, nine in Mid Devon, six in North Devon, 21 in Plymouth, seven in the South Hams, seven in Teignbridge, 14 in Torbay and one in West Devon. Torridge saw no new cases confirmed.

Three MSOA clusters from last week have dropped off the daily map due to the cases having occurred more than 10 days ago in Honicknowle and Manadon; Peverell and Seaton.

The map shows no clusters in Cornwall.

Devon’s largest cluster is in Wellswood, Torquay

The Wellswood area today on the government MSOA map of positive Covid-19 cases map (Image: Middle Super Output Area (MSOA) in England)

Numbers of confirmed cases in the Wellswood area have been slowly rising from three cases earlier this week and now contains five people. It is not known if all the cases are known to each other.

Newest cluster in Clyst, Exton & Lympstone

Three new cases added to the map in Clyst, Exton & Lympstone

Three new cases added to the map in Clyst, Exton & Lympstone (Image: MSOA)

This new cluster of three cases is on the outskirts of Exeter.


Teignmouth North (Image: MSOA)

The map divides Teignmouth into two areas – the smaller, more heavily populated Teignmouth South and the larger rural fringes of Teignmouth North where there are now three cases.

Three cases in Cullompton

Cullompton has three cases (Image: MSOA)

The more populus Cullompton Middle Super Output Area is contained within the larger and more rural area of Bradninch, Silverton and Thorverton (below). Both areas now have clusters of three cases.

Bradninch, Silverton & Thorverton

Bradninch, Silverton & Thorverton (Image: MSOA)

There are actually six cases listed in this geographical area – but statistically it is divided into two areas with Cullompton inside it. Both MSOAs (roughly 7,200 people in each) have three cases.

Cases are down in Mutley, Plymouth

Mutley, Plymouth (Image: MSOA)

The number of lab-confirmed cases in Mutley has dropped from four to three and the cluster in neighbouring Peverll has now been removed from the map.

It follows an outbreak in Plymouth linked to as many as 30 teenagers who may have contracted coronavirus after a holiday to the Greek island of Zante.

Health officials said at least 11 of a group of 18 and 19-year-olds in Plymouth have tested positive for COVID-19.

Plymouth City Council leader Tudor Evans added: “We cannot afford to be complacent. If you are going out you must follow the guidance.

“This is our wake-up call. We have been fortunate so far in Plymouth that we have had a low number of cases, but coronavirus has not gone away.

“Wash your hands as often as possible, keep your distance and wear a mask or face covering when you are told to. Be a good Janner – look out for Nanna.”

In total, 574 deaths from coronavirus have been registered across Devon and Cornwall, with 306 in hospitals, 224 in care homes, 43 at home, and one in a hospice.

Of the deaths, 210 have been registered in Cornwall, 91 in Plymouth, 58 in Torbay, 50 in East Devon, 39 in Exeter, 33 in Teignbridge, 26 in North Devon, 20 in Torridge, 18 in Mid Devon, 17 in West Devon, 12 in the South Hams and none in the Isles of Scilly.

Coastal towns call for their own minster to aid recovery

A coalition of struggling seaside towns and cross-party MPs has urged Boris Johnson to appoint a minister dedicated to coastal communities to kick-start their economic revival.

By Tom Rees 29 August 2020 

The letter asked the Prime Minister to create a post ahead of an expected autumn Cabinet reshuffle as coastal areas are pushed to “breaking point” by the pandemic. Mr Johnson was warned coastal areas were in a “dire situation” and were “falling through the gaps”.

The letter was signed by the LGA Coastal Special Interest Group, National Coastal Tourism Academy and Coastal Communities Alliance, with their calls being backed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Coastal Communities. The LGA group represents 57 local authorities along the coastline.

They argued that a dedicated coastal communities minister needed a remit that “cuts across departments” and would signal the Government’s commitment to levelling up the economy.

Many coastal communities have suffered a huge decline over the past 50 years as international travel boomed and a number of important industries, such as shipbuilding, vanished. Struggling seaside towns have become some of the most deprived areas in the UK.

“We feel having a minister for coastal communities would be a really significant first step,” said Emily Cunningham, lead officer for the LGA Coastal Special Interest Group. “We can’t turn our back on them. It can’t wait, we need action now.”

However, the “staycation” boom has boosted some seaside towns this summer. Blackpool and Bournemouth have seen the strongest recovery in footfall after the Covid-19 hit, while the latter and Southend have seen the biggest bounce back in spending, Centre for Cities found.

“That’s primarily about visitors going to those places because they are not going abroad,” said Andrew Carter of Centre for Cities. “Bournemouth and Blackpool are [also] benefiting from more of the residents in those two towns staying there.”

Simon Clarke, Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, said: “When the Prime Minister announced the New Deal, he made it clear that the Government is determined to change the country for the better, uniting and levelling up our regions – including coastal communities such as those in my own constituency.

“Last month I was pleased to announce £10 million in new funding for small businesses in tourist destinations – bringing jobs, investment, and financial support to the communities that need it most. Since 2012 the Government has awarded over £229 million to projects delivering sustainable growth and jobs in coastal areas.”


Topical question: When is an Indie not an Indie?

Four Stoke-on-Trent city councillors defect to the Tories

Phil Corrigan 

Four councillors have defected from their groups to join the Conservatives on Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Lesley Adams, Shaun Bennett and cabinet member Janine Bridges have left the City Independents – the Tories’ coalition partners – while Ally Simcock has crossed the floor from the opposition Labour group.

The defections mean the Conservatives are now the single largest group on the council, with 19 elected members.

Labour have 14 councillors and the City Independents have eight, with two non-aligned members and one vacant seat. The Tories are still short of an overall majority on the 44-seat authority.

These are the latest gains for the local Conservatives, which up until 2015 had just two elected members on the council. The party has also gained all three parliamentary seats in Stoke-on-Trent since 2017.

Ms Simcock was only elected as a Labour councillor for Sandford Hill in May 2019, but she said a ‘divided Labour Party’ was one of the reasons for her defection to the Tories.

She said: “I want to be part of the team that is getting things done.

“What I’ve seen in the local Conservatives is a group of people who are determined to deliver a better future for our community.”

This is the second time that Ms Bridges has left the City Independent group, following her first departure in 2010.

The long-serving councillor for Great Chell & Packmoor and cabinet member for education and economy had also previously served as a Labour councillor and cabinet member, but rejoined the City Independents in 2015.

She said: “Over the past few months it has become increasingly clear that only one party is delivering for our city and that if we want to achieve the change we need for our community, I have to be part of the team who are delivering.”

Lesley Adams and Shaun Bennett were both elected as City Independents in last year’s local elections.

Mr Bennett, councillor for Hollybush & Longton West, said: “Locally, Conservatives have secured £35 million to resurface our roads and pavements, they’ve secured over £18 million worth of investment into our heritage buildings, and through the Ceramics Valley Enterprise Zone they’ve worked with the government to secure over 2000 new jobs – I want to help them continue to deliver for Stoke-on-Trent.”

Ms Adams, of Burslem Park ward said: “Having seen the dedication of local Conservatives, and the attention our area is receiving since we’ve had three Conservative MPs elected in our area last year I’m delighted to be joining the Conservatives to continue to see the change that we all want to see for our city.”

Council leader Abi Brown welcomed the councillors to the Conservative group.

She said: “I’m excited that these four talented councillors recognise the work we’ve been doing across the city and are now going to be part of that positive change.

“Lesley, Shaun, Janine and Ally will each bring new expertise and I’m delighted to welcome them into the Conservative Group.”

The city council has been run by a Conservative and City Independent coalition since 2015, with the Tories becoming the larger of the two groups following last year’s elections.

Mrs Brown believes the coalition can continue, despite the defection of three City Independents to her group.

She added: “We have been working in coalition with the City Independent group since 2015, and I hope that we continue that relationship moving forward. I would like us to work together for the good of the city.

“Ultimately it is up to individual councillors to decide which political group they want to work with.”

Acting Labour group leader Paul Shotton said he was ‘disappointed’ by Ms Simcock’s decision to join the Tories.

He said: “It is disappointing that someone who was elected as a Labour councillor by the voters of Sandford Hill just over a year ago can now join a totally opposing political party.

“Ally Simcock claimed to be a staunch socialist who opposed the imposition of food banks and austerity, and yet now she has joined the party responsible for those things.

“The increase in support for the Conservatives was mainly driven by Brexit and the previous party leader. Now we have a new leader in Keir Starmer and our support is rising nationally.”

The defection of the three City Independents follows the departure of former deputy group leader Randy Conteh earlier this year. He now sits as a non-aligned councillor.

City Independent group leader Ann James said: “It is disappointing that these three councillors have joined the Conservatives after being elected as City Independents. This is the second time that Janine Bridges has left the group. She was a City Indepdendent, then Community Voice, then Labour, then she came back to us, and now she’s left again.”


Housing News – Private Eye Robert Jenrick’s plan ignores the disabled

Housing News – Private Eye

SCANDALOUSLY, housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s new 84-page planning white paper entirely ignores the housing needs of disabled people. Even though the shortage of homes for wheelchair users and those with reduced mobility has long been recognised, the document makes no mention of disabled people or accessible housing.

Due to the obstacles they face in securing homes they can manage, disabled and elderly people have lost their independence, having been forced into unsuitable care homes or becoming hospital “bed-blockers” (Eyes passim). Two years ago, a damning report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission highlighted how many disabled people suffered serious deterioration in mental wellbeing because of unsuitable accommodation.

Even though the government insists existing rules provide for some accessible housing, housebuilders have long engaged in trade-off battles with local authorities not to provide it. Now, thanks to Jenrick’s desire to help developers “bounce back” from the economic impact of coronavirus, at many sites it looks as if they won’t even have to consider investing a tiny proportion of their profits in accessible — or even affordable — housing.

Yet again, the government’s Disability Unit has remained silent on the matter (see last Eye). Baroness Brinton, the disabled Liberal Democrat peer and the party’s social-care spokesperson in the Lords, said ignoring the needs of disabled people and their families was “utterly shameful”. She called on disabled people to protest in the consultation on the white paper, which asks for “views on the potential impact of the proposals raised in this consultation on people with protected characteristics” under the Equality Act.


Housebuilders hold the key to homes crisis

“The galling truth is that the big, powerful developers which hoover up most new planning permissions have long staged a deliberate go-slow, making higher profits overall by producing fewer homes so prices keep rising. Unless ministers acknowledge and tackle this massive market failure, our chronic housing shortage will remain – with all the social and political fallout that entails.”

[And this is from the “Torygraph”! – Owl]

Liam Halligan 29 August 2020 

‘We need more new housing,” as Boris Johnson has argued, “to correct this generational injustice that young people often can’t buy a home, as their parents did”. Yet the Government’s “radical planning system shake-up”, unveiled earlier this month, is inadequate and misses the point.

Britain has built around three million too few homes over the last three decades. That’s why property prices have spiralled, with today’s young adults spending a higher share of their income on rent, and less likely to be owner-occupiers, than at any time since the Thirties.

Across much of the country, even professional youngsters are often “priced-out” – with the average home costing eight times average annual earnings, compared to four times during the Nineties.

The share of 25-34-year-old owner-occupiers has since plunged from 67pc to 38pc, with well over half a generation denied property ownership at this crucial family-forming age. And lower down the income scale, an endemic shortage of social housing has driven a rise in overcrowding and homelessness.

Britain’s often tortuous “case-by-case” planning system certainly needs reform. That means more “zoning”, with clear and predictable residential building rules – which, to some extent, is what this new white paper proposes.

The fundamental problem isn’t, though, as the Government suggests, “a lack of land with planning permissions” – for around 80pc of residential planning applications made are already being approved. The real issue is the ever-lengthening delays between permissions being granted and houses actually being built.

The galling truth is that the big, powerful developers which hoover up most new planning permissions have long staged a deliberate go-slow, making higher profits overall by producing fewer homes so prices keep rising. Unless ministers acknowledge and tackle this massive market failure, our chronic housing shortage will remain – with all the social and political fallout that entails.

Between 2010 and 2015, an earlier planning shake-up saw the number of permissions granted each year increase by 75pc. But the number of homes completed annually was just 33pc up. Similarly, between 2015 and 2017, as permissions granted per annum increased 36pc, homes built rose just 15pc. The growing delay in build-out rates is significant and undeniable.

Evidence I submitted to a recent Parliamentary inquiry demonstrated that between 2010 and 2017, of 1,943,125 new permissions granted in England, some 932,335 – almost half – remained unbuilt. Over a seven-year period, then, during which the UK’s housing shortage became chronic and unaffordability spiralled, our housebuilders applied for and were granted clearance to construct almost one million new homes they chose not to build.

Back in 2008, countless small and medium-sized firms which convert permissions into marketable homes relatively quickly, to aid cash flow – built over two-thirds of all new homes. Many were then wiped out by the financial crisis and lots more have since been stymied by an inability to raise finance to access building land.

That’s why the housebuilding industry is now far more concentrated, with the top ten developers accounting for around 70pc of new supply. These over-dominant players use their well-resourced legal departments to obtain planning permissions, some of which provide a legitimate “building pipeline”, but many of which they won’t use. Such permissions still bolster their balance sheet, boosting share prices and related executive bonuses. And once “captured”, they aren’t available for smaller firms.

So the big boys control the rate at which homes come to market in certain localities, boosting profit margins way higher than they should be, while keeping smaller rivals at bay. And that’s why our housing market is “broken” – because the industry is largely controlled by a few large players deliberately restricting supply.

A 2016 House of Lords investigation concluded the UK housebuilding industry “has all the characteristics of an oligopoly”. A full Competition and Markets Authority inquiry into an industry imposing “contrived scarcity” on homebuyers, limiting the number of new homes to artificially boost profits, is long overdue.

But even bolder measures are needed. In my book Home Truths, I propose that if a home isn’t completed, ready for sale, within two years of permission granted, developers should pay full council tax on unfinished properties, rising to double then triple council tax in subsequent years.

Planning permission should be a contract to build, between developers and the community, not an option to build if developers feel like it. Altering financial incentives would address the worst excesses of deliberately slow build-out.

We need to free-up parts of the greenbelt – much of which is urban scrub. Far from being “concreted over”, it has doubled in size since the Seventies – and now covers 13pc of England’s land mass while housing, including gardens, accounts for little more than 1pc. This white paper flunks that challenge too, preserving all greenbelt land.

We must recognise, also, that “zonal” planning in some areas won’t much help smaller builders, or tackle unaffordability, when land prices, driven by speculation, remain sky high. When agricultural land is granted planning permission, its value can jump an astonishing 200-fold or more.

But the right to land ownership should not include the right to capture almost the entire value uplift when planning permission is granted – given that the uplift reflects state spending on local infrastructure and the efforts of local businesses to create amenities.

Uplift should be split 50-50 between landowners and local authorities. That would rein-in speculative pressure by making it less attractive to sit on land as prices rise, bringing more acreage to market. Plus, it would raise serious cash to provide schools, hospitals and other local public services, revolutionising the fraught local politics of planning.

“Solving our housing problem … requires confrontation with vested interests,” observed the late Roger Scruton last year, in one of his final interviews. “And an awful lot of those vested interests are, it has to be said, connected to the Conservative Party”.

Has Johnson got the intellectual grit and political determination to inject some genuine competition into our moribund housebuilding industry? Will he fight for capitalism or protect “crony capitalism” instead?

Read more: Dominic Cummings’ planning overhaul will provoke Tory shires into outright rebellion


‘My dad died from coronavirus in a care home. Now I’m taking legal action against the government that made it a death trap’

 The Independent Lifestyle Features

‘My dad died from coronavirus in a care home. Now I’m taking legal action against the government that made it a death trap’

Cathy Gardner’s 88-year-old father was supposed to be safe. But he died from “probable Covid-19” after a fellow care home resident was discharged from hospital. Now she tells Sophie Gallagher she wants answers 

Between March and June, coronavirus became the leading cause of death in male care home residents in England and Wales, and the second leading cause of death in female residents. Since March, there have been at least 30,000 excess deaths in care homes due to the coronavirus, impacting thousands of families up and down the country.

“Our care homes were effectively thrown to the wolves,” concluded Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which published a damning report on 29 July. It ruled that government policy to clear NHS hospital beds, which meant patients were discharged to care homes until mid-April without ever having a Covid-test, had been an “appalling error”.

Not only were visitors allowed to visit care homes till 2 April (after lockdown), but it wasn’t until 15 April that the Department of Health began Covid-testing all residents before re-admitting them from hospital to care homes. Prior to that, there had been no requirement to do so. This led to care homes feeling pressured to take residents back with no knowledge of whether they were now carrying the virus. Approximately 25,000 people were discharged with no test.

Cathy Gardner’s father was in one of those homes.

On Thursday 2 April, a week after lockdown began, Dr Cathy Gardner drove the 161 miles from her home in Sidmouth, Devon, to see her father in an Oxfordshire care home just before he died. Because of Covid-19, Gardner was not allowed inside and instead was taken to the back of the building to watch her sleeping dad, Michael Gibson, through a ground-floor window. He didn’t know she was there in the dark. He died the next day.

The GP who treated the 88-year-old told Gardner that her father was killed by coronavirus, which was likely brought into the home by another resident discharged from hospital. So despite Gibson never leaving the home himself, he became a sitting duck. But without a test to prove he had the virus (there were no widely available tests in care homes till 16 April, 13 days after his death), the death certificate could only record “probable Covid”.

Gardner, who has a PhD in virology, was angry; she hadn’t seen her father – who had advanced dementia – since February and she had believed he would be kept safe in a care home setting (on 16 May, health secretary Matt Hancock said a “protective ring” had been thrown around care homes since the start). To make matters worse she also felt guilty for travelling to see him during lockdown in his last hours of life when (it would later emerge) Dominic Cummings had been in Durham.

Michael Gibson was born in 1931. A child during the Second World War he went on to a career as a superintendent registrar of birth marriages and deaths. “He was a very meticulous person, because doing that kind of job is all about accurate records,” Gardner tells The Independent. “During his working life he registered thousands of events”. His own marriage lasted 65 years. He raised his family in Northamptonshire and took an interest in aviation history, even writing a book on planes. Later he developed dementia and was moved to Cherwood House in late 2019.

Although his dementia was advanced, Gardner says “he still recognised me, I could see the love in his eyes, that love between a father and daughter”. “[His death] was heartbreaking, it’s not how I imagined his last days. I could not hold his hand and give him a smile near the end. I knew that losing my father would be tough, losing him in these circumstances is truly devastating.

“It hadn’t even occurred to me that my father would be at risk of Covid-19, he was meant to be safe there.” Of course Gibson was not the only one to die in a home. But, unlike the thousands of other families, Gardner has taken action against the government in a bid to get answers.

In was in late January when the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) held its first meeting about the Covid-19 threat to the UK, the day before the Wuhan lockdown. It was decided by members, including Patrick Vallance and Chris Witty, that NHS facilities need only “consider” how they “might respond to potential cases” if the virus were to arrive on UK shores.

At a meeting just 18 days later, the group concluded there was now a “realistic probability” that there was “already sustained transmission in the UK” or that there would be soon (analysis by the University of Nottingham released on 25 August now suggests the first positive Covid test was on 21 February). Despite this by the end of February, Public Health England still said it was “very unlikely” that anyone receiving care in a care home, would become infected. The first death of a care home resident in England from Covid-19 came days later on 6 March.

Even after residents started contracting, and dying from, Covid-19, visitors were still permitted in care homes. For anyone feeling unwell or recently returned from abroad, it was up to individual discretion.

On 13 March the government said no one who believed they had the virus should be visiting a home, but continued to let friends and family visit, actively encouraging homes to consider the “positive impact” of seeing these people. Boris Johnson did allude to not making “unnecessary visits” on 16 March, but when Reuters questioned number 10, it was told he was referring to the 13 March advice, not stricter rules.

By this point Gardner’s father, Michael Gibson, was already unwell. The GP told her the suspected Covid-19 diagnosis over the phone. “I was shocked and hadn’t even occurred to me he would be at risk, he was in a home and should have been safe,” Gardner explains. Over the next three weeks he deteriorated and died on 3 April.

Ironically on the final day before Gibson’s death, 2 April, the Department of Health finally revised its visitor policy, saying: “Family and friends should be advised not to visit care homes, except next of kin in exceptional situations such as end of life.” But as the nationwide lockdown was already in place, many were not travelling anyway.

Gardner has now begun legal action against the government. Her case hinges on the accusation that the government treatment of care homes was unlawful because it exposed residents to serious harm. Legally the state is required to protect citizens and Gardner’s lawyers say government policy breached this legal duty to residents and workers in the advice and guidance it gave, particularly that it allowed patients back into homes without testing.

She is incensed by the hospital discharge policy which she says made care homes a “death trap”. “Because of my virology background I have an understanding of spread, and I know you cannot bring someone with an infection like that into a care home,” says Gardner. “If hospitals cannot control spread, a care home is never going to be able to. It seemed there was not one iota of thought about that.” (On 13 March PHE still said “no PPE is required above and beyond normal good hygiene practices” if neither the care worker or resident was showing symptoms).

“At the same time they were telling the rest of us to lockdown, they were discharging these people into care homes. That struck me as insane, negligent, irresponsible. How on earth can that be right?” says Gardner. “It was so essential to protect the NHS and clear beds that they didn’t care about what happened”.

On 2 June Gardner’s team served a pre-action letter to Matt Hancock, NHS England and Public Health England, demanding they admit the policies were unlawful and requesting Hancock’s “protective ring” claim be retracted. But after an “inadequate response”, and no acceptance of wrongdoing, Gardner filed for a judicial review at the High Court. A judicial review is when a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision made by a public body. It is not about whether the decision was right or wrong but whether the right procedures were followed.

The DHSC told The Independent that it was unable to comment on potential or ongoing legal action (but it is worth noting the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report, said: “The department says that it took rational decisions based on the information it had at the time, but acknowledges that it would not necessarily do the same thing again.”)

I remain outraged that [its] dithering, incompetence and outright failure to lead has caused the premature death of my father and thousands of other vulnerable care home residents…

On 14 August Gardner published a statement detailing the government response to her case, which again denied wrongdoing. It’s defence relies on four main points: that it is wrong in principle to consider the full scope of its failings in respect of care homes, that Gardner is not allowed to challenge policies because they were introduced after her father’s death, that she has not brought the claim soon enough (just over three months since his death), and that much of her claim is “academic” because the policies being critiqued have now been withdrawn.

“Amazingly, the government’s focus has been to try to knock out my claim on procedural grounds rather than to provide a full and transparent explanation for its handling of the crisis,” says Gardner. “I remain outraged that [its] dithering, incompetence and outright failure to lead has caused the premature death of my father and thousands of other vulnerable care home residents. I will continue to fight for justice for him, and for them, for as a long as I can.”

It is not known, and likely never will be, how many discharged hospital patients were carrying Covid and were responsible for care home outbreaks (between 9 March and 17 May, around 5,900 homes in England reported an outbreak). Gardner still wants answers: “I am doing this on the behalf of other people who cannot. Somebody has to hold the government to account.”

On 6 May Mr Johnson conceded there is an “epidemic going on in care homes, which I bitterly regret” but he tried to push the blame onto care homes, saying: “We discovered too many didn’t really follow the procedures.” A statement he later clarified but did not apologise for. Instead he doubled down, claiming asymptomatic transmission was not known about early on. This has also been refuted by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which found: “It was already becoming clear in late March, and certainly from the beginning of April, that the Covid-19 infection had an asymptomatic phase, when people could be infectious.”

Despite the acceptance of much fault by the committee, senior government leaders remain steadfast. On 22 July, for the first time in months, Matt Hancock, permitted care homes in England to reopen their doors, telling visitors to exercise caution and not “undo all the hard work” done during the pandemic. It might be the end of lockdown, but for Gardner and thousands of families supporting her case, the real battle is only just beginning.

[Dr Cathy Gardner is crowd funding her case]

Voice of the People: Care homes on brink of collapse – Government must step in

Voice of the People

The care home system on which thousands of our ­elderly loved ones depend is on the brink of collapse.

A decade of cuts, the Covid crisis and now a massive £80million rise in insurance premiums because of the pandemic have brought the sector to its knees.

The network of homes across the country is the cornerstone of how we look after our elderly, frail and vulnerable – of how we give them the dignity that they deserve in their later, sometimes difficult, years.

It is broken. A first priority for the Government must be to indemnify care homes against being sued and restore insurers’ confidence to bring down premiums.

Boris Johnson and his ministers know only too well the plight of this vital part of the national fabric.

But in spite of explicit promises to “fix” the system, they have produced nothing – no plans, no alternative.

The Prime Minister is once again failing the nation.

Three years ago the ­­Government – of which he was part – pledged to bring forward a Green Paper with plans for funding an already creaking system. We are still waiting.

In his very first words as Prime Minister, Johnson promised on the steps of Downing Street to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all”.

He said he would “take personal responsibility for the change I want to see”. We are still waiting.

The virus exposed a service unfit for purpose. The only way forward is a national care service integrated into the NHS.

It will cost. But you cannot put a price on the dignity of life.


Memo to Simon Jupp on what his predecessor thought about “build, build,build” in East Devon

Memo to Simon Jupp MP.

Here’s what your usually silent predecessor said when he attended the CPRE Symposium in 2018 where they unveiled their report into Devon’s Housing needs. This showed that  the Government figures imposed unrealistic and unjustifiable targets. [Owl has to find the time to summarise CPRE’s latest report]

(Sir Hugo gave his apologies for leaving at noon as he had a lunch appointment with John Varley, Estates Director, Clinton Devon Estates)


CPRE symposium 12 October 2018

‘Really, the Government should follow the evidence, not try and create the evidence to suit whatever pre thoughts they may have about volume house building to meet manifesto commitments.’

 Cranbrook is due to expand ‘I would not support Cranbrook. Indeed I would help try and resist the spread of Cranbrook across the A30 to absorb independent communities in Broadclyst , Rockbeare, Marsh Green and so forth.’

 ‘We do have huge pressure in East Devon, not least because we have as I say our most congenial neighbours, which are the Exe estuary on one side and the sea on the other. We are surrounded by AONB, and the pressure on withstanding existing conurbations such as Sidmouth and Budleigh are very difficult to do.’

Great dilemma.  ‘If you are going for economic growth, which is what Exeter and East Devon want to do, you therefore need to, in order to fuel that growth, you need to provide houses, if you provide that housing you get more people and in turn it becomes a self-fulfilling circle of more and more demand and more and more economic expansion.’


Planning algorithm may destroy suburbia, Tory MPs warn Boris Johnson

No mention of the damage to our countryside. No mention of Simon Jupp MP or Neil Parish MP lobbying the Prime Minister. Owl is very interested in their views especially those of Simon Jupp who we now know sits on the secretive Liveable Exeter Place Board

Steven Swinford, Deputy Political Editor | George Greenwood 

Boris Johnson has been warned by Tory MPs that an algorithm at the heart of his planning reforms risks “destroying suburbia” and “creating the slums of the future”.

The prime minister held a video conference call on Wednesday with 17 Tory MPs from the greater London area about the government’s white paper on planning. He was joined by Mark Spencer, the chief whip, and Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary.

The MPs, who included four serving ministers, were “unanimous” in raising concerns about the reforms, which will treble the number of homes built in London to 93,532 a year. They warned that the reforms would “do real harm to the suburbs” and “real harm to the Conservative vote”.

Some of the MPs raised concerns that Labour local authorities would build tower blocks in suburban areas to fulfil the target and “fundamentally change the nature of the constituency”.

One MP said: “Labour wants to build us out of London. We’ll end up with low-quality homes, rabbit hutch houses, not the family homes we need.”

Another said: “There’s already huge pressure in the planning system to urbanise the suburbs. The housing targets produced by this new algorithm are completely undeliverable and would make an already difficult situation far worse. They would force high rise, high-density development on local communities. There is a real danger that this would lead to the creation of the slums of the future.”

All the London Tory MPs and councillors are planning to make a joint response to the consultation raising their concerns.

Mr Johnson told MPs that he understood their concerns and was in “listening mode”. He stressed the need to build more homes in areas where people wanted to live.

Pushed on the algorithm at the heart of the reforms, the prime minister joked: “Algorithms are banned,” a reference to the exams chaos caused by an algorithm developed by the regulator.

Tory MPs flagged to Mr Johnson the strain that the planning reforms would place on his own constituency in Uxbridge. “He understood where we were coming from,” one said.

However, Mr Jenrick was said to be far more “defensive” about the algorithm.

“Jenrick was talking about how he understood the concerns but we need to build more housing,” one of the MPs said. “He said that everyone had to take their fair share.”

Under the changes to planning laws, local discretion over the rate of housebuilding will be removed and central government will “distribute” an annual target, at present 337,000 a year, among local councils. They will then be required to designate enough land to meet the target.

Analysis by Lichfields, a planning consultancy, has suggested that much of the new housing will be concentrated in Conservative local authority areas in the suburbs and the shires, rather than in town centres.

Tory constituencies will have housing targets raised by 52 per cent, from 81,200 to 123,400. On average, each Conservative-held local authority will have a rise of about 370 homes, compared with 250 for Labour-held areas.

A total of 25 Labour-held council areas would have their housing requirements slashed, with Manchester falling by nearly 1,000, Leicester by 600, Birmingham and Bradford by 500 each, and Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield by 400 each.

Neil O’Brien, the Tory MP for Harborough, Leicestershire, said: “Lots of our large cities have brownfield land and capacity to take more housing and it seems strange when planning to ‘level up’ to be levelling down their housing targets to rates even lower than they have been delivering. It would be quite difficult to explain to Conservative voters why they should take more housing in their areas to allow large Labour-run cities nearby to continue to stagnate rather than regenerate.”

A government source said: “This is not something we’re going to step away from. We’ve got a duty to do this for the next generation.”


20/1504/MOUT Application on Thorne Farm, Ottery St. Mary, Claire Wright Objects

Councillor Claire Wright (Objects)

Comment submitted date: Mon 17 Aug 2020

Tipton St John Primary School is in flood zone 3 and needs to be replaced, I am in no doubt of that.

I have seen the damage caused at clear up events that I helped with, alongside the community and fire and rescue service when the school grounds were filled with mud, sewage and silt.

While I am opposed to this planning application I would like to outline some of the history that has led up to this point, as I believe it is fair to put it into context.

The Environment Agency retains its position, held since 2015, that there is a risk to life related to a potential flood.

Last year rope fastenings at either side of the road between the two school buildings were fixed so that children crossing the road to safety during sudden flood events, were able to hold onto something secure.

I am fully aware of the ongoing stress and worry that this situation has caused headteacher, Colin Butler and his staff for many years as flood prevention measures must be every day be a top priority in order to keep the children safe.

In 2015, the Diocese of Exeter, supported by Devon County Council, applied for government funding under the Priority Schools Programme, to rebuild the school on a piece of land in the village, outside the flood zone.

This application was accompanied by the Environment Agency’s assessment that there was a risk to the lives of the children, if it was not relocated.

During that time, an in-principle agreement with a landowner at Tipton St John had been arranged, to purchase a piece of land on the edge of the village – and various planning suitability investigations were carried out.

After a number of positive meetings with ministers and many hopes raised, the application was finally and disappointingly rejected.

Plugging a financial hole of around £5m is the background that led to a planning application for 150 houses in Ottery St Mary, on a piece of land outside the built up area boundary.

This land, adjacent to Cadhay Lane, is allocated for community and education in EDDC’s Local Plan and also in Ottery St Mary and West Hill’s Neighbourhood Plan, so this application is contrary to the current EDDC Local Plan, as well as Ottery St Mary and West Hill’s Neighbourhood Plan.

Such a significant development would also place additional pressure on the town’s roads and health services.

Any large development on this land could cause problems with water run-off and potentially increase the risk of flooding to lower lying properties on Cadhay Lane and the Thorne Farm estate.

Ottery St Mary has been one of the fastest growing towns (in terms of housing) in East Devon over the past 10 years and should not be expected to cope with more housing at this time.

The government has recently announced a new £1bn school building programme and I have asked the Devon County Council portfolio holder for education, James McInnes, that the council applies for this funding in order to fully fund the rebuild of the school, preferably on land at Tipton St John.

While I fully support the need for a new Tipton St John school, it should be built in Tipton St John, with government funding, not in Ottery St Mary, funded by 150 houses.

[The three District Councillors have yet to comment – Owl]

More on: Ottery housing plan ‘flies in the face of’ public vote to safeguard land 

The layout plan for a new school and houses at Thorne Farm, presented in October's public consultation. Picture: Devon County Council

The layout plan for a new school and houses at Thorne Farm, presented in October’s public consultation. Picture: Devon County Council

A planning application that ‘flies in the face of’ local democracy is to be debated by Ottery Town Council next week.

Devon County Council wants to build up to 150 homes on land that local people had voted to safeguard from development.

The site opposite Barrack Farm is allocated for educational and community use only in the Ottery and West Hill Neighbourhood Plan, and the application is also contrary to the Local Plan adopted by East Devon District Council.

Ottery Town Council is due to discuss its response on Thursday, September 3, with the final decision to be made by East Devon District Council.

The county council says the housing development is needed to pay for a new school to replace Tipton St John Primary, which would be built on another part of the site.

A spokesman for the council said: “We are well aware of the very complex issues surrounding this application and the difficult decision that planners will have to make.”

But he said there is a ‘clear and demonstrable need’ for Tipton St John primary school to be relocated, and for a new primary school in Ottery St Mary to tackle a shortage of places.

He added that nearly a third of the new houses would be affordable and a large part of the site would be set aside for public green space.

He said: “The agreed plan for the area allocates land for education and community use and it is our contention that all of these benefits should be taken into account in deciding the application.”

The application for the school and homes has attracted 131 objections and 17 expressions of support.

People in both camps agree that the existing school needs to be replaced, as it is housed in out-of-date buildings and has frequently flooded in the past.

But while there is some disagreement over whether a relocation to Ottery is right, the vast majority of the objectors are united against the housing development.

One person commented: “This plan flies in the face of the democratic District and Neighbourhood planning process.”

Another said: “The people of Ottery St Mary voted overwhelmingly to support and adopt a Local Plan which excluded the area in question from development. Therefore residential development cannot happen.”

Half of patients struggling to book an appointment with GP

As Paul F pointed out on a previous post concerning hidden waiting lists for follow-up appointments in hospital:

“To put this in context 15m people is 25% – YES a quarter – of the UK population.

That is the state of the NHS – with a quarter of the population on a waiting list – and the government is keeping it secret.”

Now we have: half of patients struggling to book an appointment with GP

Kat Lay, Health Correspondent | Arthi Nachiappan 

More than half of people who have tried to book a GP appointment since coronavirus hit Britain have struggled, according to a poll.

The results from a YouGov survey for The Times showed that 53 per cent reported it had been harder to book a GP appointment, whether in person or over the phone.

Latest NHS figures on GP appointments show there were about 22.8 million in July, 85 per cent of the number during the same month last year.

Appointments have increased substantially from a slump at the height of the pandemic and many patients report satisfaction with GP services. Some 16 per cent of people in the poll said they had found it easier to book a GP appointment during the pandemic.

Patient advocates said, however, that they were concerned by persistent reports of people struggling to access care.

Paula Hooper, 66, said she had been forced to call paramedics after she was unable to arrange a home visit from her mother’s GP. Her mother, who has dementia, was moving in and out of consciousness and complaining of a pain in the back of her head. She said: “We don’t phone the GP willy-nilly. I think we just need a little bit more care locally.”

Linda Millband, head of clinical negligence at Thompsons Solicitors, said many claims dealt with by her practice in the past three months related to health conditions that worsened through patients not being able to get an appointment to see their GP, including cancer cases. “There will be serious issues as a result of this,” she said.

The pandemic has driven a rapid uptake of technology to enable remote consultation in primary care. In July last year 80 per cent of appointments were face-to-face, while this year the figure was 50 per cent.

Imelda Redmond, national director of Healthwatch England, said: “The feedback we have indicates remote consultations are working relatively well for patients who are able to access them but it’s concerning if significant numbers of people are still finding it difficult to make an appointment .”

John Kell, head of policy at the Patients Association, said that for patients where remote appointments were not suitable, GPs should be “making efforts to see them in a way that works for the patient, including face to face if necessary”.

In a letter sent out at the end of July, Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “All GP practices must offer face-to-face appointments at surgeries as well as continuing to use remote triage and video, online and telephone consultation where appropriate, while considering those who are unable to access or engage with digital services.” Health teams should also work to expand the range of services to which patients could refer themselves, freeing up GP time, he said.

Although appointments appear to be below usual levels, GPs said their workload was higher. Senior figures at the British Medical Association have said that hospitals are pushing work back to community practices inappropriately, including requests to write prescriptions or arrange blood tests.

“General practice is open and has been throughout the pandemic,” said Dr Jonathan Leach, honorary secretary for the Royal College of GPs. The college’s data showed that routine GP appointments were back to normal levels, and personal appointments were being facilitated “where necessary”.

“The pandemic isn’t over and we need to remain cautious,” he said. “We’re taking steps to ensure patients who need to come to the surgery are as safe as possible, but it is sensible to limit footfall where possible, in line with official guidance.” He said issues around shortages of GPs and lack of resources that had “understandably taken a back seat in the crisis” remained important.

An NHS spokesman said: “Although this poll is only a snapshot, it shows that of people who tried to book an appointment about the same number found it easier or saw no difference in how they accessed a GP appointment during Covid-19 — a remarkable achievement in the middle of a pandemic.”


New town councillors sought for Budleigh Salterton

Another Council seeking more members. – Owl 

Daniel Wilkins 

Budleigh Salterton Town Council is looking to co-opt two new councillors and is inviting residents to come forward.

The town council currently has 10 councillors and is led by town mayor Michael Hilliar and deputy mayor Roger Sheriff.

Town councillors make decisions on a variety of issues in the town including grant aid funding requests and is consultee on planning applications made in the town.

Meetings are currently conducted via Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Anyone interested in becoming a town councillor should fill out an application form and return it to town clerk Jo Vanstone by Monday, September 7.

Applications should be posted to Mrs J E Vanstone, town clerk, Budleigh Salterton Town Council, Council Offices, Station Road, Budleigh Salterton, EX9 6RJ.

Alternatively email or ring 01395 442245


The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and healthcare services in Devon

Executive Summary

Health and hospital services in Devon were already run-down and over capacity when the COVID-19 crisis struck.

Devon has had a relatively low rate of infections. Despite this, more people have undoubtedly contracted COVID than would have been the case if the Government had acted more promptly and according to the advice of public health experts.

Local health, care and community workers responded heroically to the crisis. But they were hampered by centralised decision-making, especially over testing, tracing, and PPE procurement, that undermined local planning and side-lined the expertise of local bodies.

Outsourcing of key functions to private sector contractors has led to inefficiencies, duplication, confusion, poor communication, and worse outcomes than if existing NHS and local authority capacity had been extended.

We offer urgent recommendations to ensure that Devon healthcare and hospital services are fit for purpose in the case of a second wave of COVID-19 infections, or a similar public health crisis in the future.

Full report can be found here.