New planning rules will ‘silence local voices’ 

New planning laws for England will “silence local voices and kill off our high streets”, Labour said as it urged Tory MPs to vote them down.

Labour says the new rules would allow developers to convert shops into homes without planning permission.

It is the first stage of sweeping changes to the planning system aimed at speeding up development.

The government insisted its plans would make the system “more democratic” while building the “homes communities need”.

Labour has secured a vote in the Commons on Wednesday in a bid to overturn the first stage of the reforms, made by ministers before the summer recess.

Under these changes, empty high street shops could be converted into housing and up to two storeys added to blocks of flats without the need for planning permission.

Labour’s shadow housing minister Mike Amesbury said: “This is the first stage of an atrocious new developers’ charter, which will wrench power away from local people and into the hands of the developers that bankroll the Tories.

“Passing this legislation will kill off our high streets, hobble leaseholders and create a new generation of slum housing – and there will be nothing local people can do to stop it.”


Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley has described the new rules as “crackers”, adding: “It allows landlords to shove a two storey block on top of a building with total disregard for how inappropriate it might be in the local neighbourhood.”

The government wants to make it quicker and easier to build new homes in what it has described as the biggest shake-up of England’s planning system in a generation.

But there is widespread concern among many Conservative MPs about the government’s proposed planning reforms.

Speaking last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the changes would help developers complete projects in a “more timely way” and help young people onto the housing ladder.

Under the government’s wider proposals, which have gone out to consultation, land will be divided into three categories – “growth”, “renewal” or “protected”.

If land is designated for “renewal” councils would have to look favourably on new developments. In “growth” areas, new homes, hospitals and schools will be allowed automatically.

Areas of outstanding natural beauty and the green belt will come under the “protected” category and “beautiful buildings” will be fast-tracked through the system.

A spokesperson for the Housing, Communities and Local Government Department described Labour’s claims as “misguided”.

“We’re overhauling the country’s outdated planning system to deliver the high-quality, sustainable homes communities need,” the spokesperson said.

“Community involvement and control is at the centre of our proposals so local people will be consulted from the very beginning when local plans are developed – making the system more democratic.

“They will also help our economy recover from the pandemic by supporting our high streets to adapt and encouraging the regeneration of disused buildings.”


“Jumping Jupp Flash” keeps Bojo at “safe distance” during Exeter “unencumbered” photo opportunity

“The hastily organised visit, to which local media including Radio Exe were excluded, allowed the PM to take advantage of photo opportunities unencumbered by the nuisance of Devon journalists being allowed to question him on his Devon visit.” 

“Build, build, build” was not likely to be a message well received here just a few days before the “Changes to the current planning system” consultation  on the mutant algorithm ends. – Owl

PM at Exeter College  

Announces free courses for adults without A levels

Prime minister Boris Johnson took to a podium at Exeter College on Tuesday for a major government policy announcement.

The hastily organised visit, to which local media including Radio Exe were excluded, allowed the PM to take advantage of photo opportunities unencumbered by the nuisance of Devon journalists being allowed to question him on his Devon visit. He was at the college’s vocational training centre to announce plans to allow adults without A-Levels or equivalent qualifications to get a free, fully-funded courses from next April, paid for  through the National Skills Fund. A full list of available courses will be set out shortly.

The prime minister said higher education loans will also be made more flexible, allowing people to space out their study across their lifetimes, take more high-quality vocational courses in further education colleges and universities, and to support people to retrain for jobs of the future. The reforms will be backed by continued investment in college buildings and facilities – including over £1.5 billion in capital funding. More details will be set out in a further education white paper later this year.

Along with students and staff at the college, East Devon Tory MP Simon Jupp kept the prime minister at a safe distance. Mr Johnson had a go at planing wood and cementing bricks. His hero Sir Winston Churchill, about whom Mr Johnson has written a witty biography, used to revel in manual work such as bricklaying. Mr Johnson’s other political friend, President Trump, is also known to like building walls.


‘We’re gonna build a wall’: East Devon MP Simon Jupp (pictured right, but  not included in this post) at Exeter College


Brexit: warnings for care sector in pandemic as freedom of movement ends

Wages should rise to make jobs more attractive to UK staff, say government advisers

Jamie Grierson 

The end of freedom of movement after Brexit will increase pressure on the social care sector in the midst of a pandemic unless ministers make jobs more attractive to UK workers by increasing salaries, government advisers have said.

The migration advisory committee (Mac) warned of the “stark consequences” of low wages in social care with most frontline roles ineligible for the post-Brexit skilled worker immigration route or on the official list for job shortages in the UK.

Senior care workers and nursing assistants are among healthcare roles that can be added to the shortage occupation list to relieve pressure when freedom of movements ends on 1 January, the committee said in a report.

But many of the roles in social care do not qualify and the advisers said “it therefore remains crucial that the government implements a more sustainable and generous funding model”.

“The risks of this not happening in a timely manner are stark,” the report reads. “If that does not occur, or occurs with substantial delay, we would expect the end of freedom of movement to increase the pressure on the social care sector, something that would be particularly difficult to understand at a time when so many care occupations are central to the Covid-19 pandemic frontline response.”

The vulnerable state of the UK care sector was brought into stark focus by thecoronavirus pandemic with 18,000 care home residents dying from confirmed or suspected Covid-19 in UK care facilities during the first wave of the outbreak.

Senior care workers constitute only about 10% of the UK social care workforce, said the chair of Mac, Prof Brian Bell, and that adding the role to the shortage occupation list would have only a small impact on the more than 100,000 vacancies in the UK.

The committee’s call for evidence heard that employers in the sector felt strongly that the worth of their staff was not recognised.

Bell said: “There needs to be a better funding model for social care that makes work in that sector better rewarded, and that’s the right way not only to attract resident workers and not to have to rely on migrants but also to deal with the turnover of the staff which is very high.

“But part of that is because workers don’t feel they’re valued appropriately. We think the way you value workers is you pay them better.”

Bell said he hoped the Department of Health and Social Care would soon come forward with proposals for improving the salaries for care workers.

He added that care workers should be paid “significantly higher” than £10 an hour. The national living wage for workers aged 25 or over is £8.72.

A median full-time salary for a care worker is £19,100, the Mac report said, which is below the minimum shortage occupation list salary threshold of £20,480.

The committee said there was potential for a rise in labour supply to the care sector as a result of job losses elsewhere due to the impact of Covid-19, but cautioned that “this cannot be predicted with any certainty”.

Mac said other occupations that should be added to the UK-wide list include butchers, bricklayers and welders, “where there is clear evidence of staff and skills shortages which could be filled by overseas workers”.

A government spokesperson said: “The Migration Advisory Committee has again been very clear that immigration is not the solution to addressing staffing levels in the social care sector.

“We’re helping the sector in a number of ways, including £1.5bn more funding for adults and children’s social care in 2020-21 and a national recruitment scheme.”


Sasha Swire’s ‘Jewish Lobby’ trope is so very revealing

But not as she intends, says Jan Shure

Jan Shure 

So, Sasha Swire, wife of top Tory Sir Hugo Swire, thinks there’s a “Jewish Lobby” and refers disparagingly to its members in her book, Diary of an MP’s Wife. She also refers – approvingly it seems – to a putative investigation into “the Jewish Lobby infiltrating parliament” before noting that “they” (members of the “Jewish Lobby”) will be “cringing with embarrassment.”

What is especially interesting here is that, nestling amid the farrago of trifling political gossip and social tittle-tattle, is a quite open, clear reference to a sinister-sounding “Jewish Lobby” that was not picked up by any of the numerous publications which ran pieces on the book. 

It is close to a month since publication yet despite an avalanche of words on this “wickedly funny” book (as one reviewer called it), not a single newspaper or magazine has noticed Lady Swire’s antisemitic-sounding comments. Or if they noticed, they didn’t think it worth commenting on. That is ironic if you think about it as, according to antisemitic tropes, we Jews “control the media.” 

You’d think we might have ensured at least a little exposure for those antisemitic allusions…But nada, zilch. 

I only learned about them from a pre-Yom Kippur Tweet by JC editor Stephen Pollard, who seems to have been the first journalist to have mentioned them. 

Nor has any review or feature mentioned the book’s pejorative description of Israel’s former ambassador to the UK as “the appalling Mark Regev.” In Swire’s milieu, of course, “appalling” is an all-purpose term of abuse indicating anything from a lack of dexterity with fish-forks to convicted “kiddie-fiddler.” But her use of it at a time of significant sensitivity over the perception of Israel may reveal a deep-seated, um, lack of empathy for Jews.

But then there’s nothing new about casual antisemitism among aristos and the upper middle classes. 

Obviously, I find her assertion about a “Jewish Lobby” chilling, possibly implying acceptance of certain antisemitic tropes. (Again, this is mildly ironic as, according to Wikipedia, Swire’s mother Miloska Vlahović, is of “Slovenian-Jewish” descent). But more than that, I find the whole notion of a “Jewish Lobby” completely hilarious; the idea that the UK Jewish community is sufficiently cohesive (or sufficiently bold or sufficiently rich) to establish a “Jewish Lobby” makes me, literally, laugh out loud. It is almost as funny as the assertion by Corbyn-supporters that those of us calling out Labour over Israel-hate were being “paid by the Israeli Government.”

Lady Swire demonstrates a lamentable ignorance of UK Jewry by suggesting that there is a “Jewish Lobby.” Jewish organisations, such as the Board of Deputies, the United Synagogue and the Jewish Leadership Council are involved in a certain amount of lobbying. And, of course, there’s an Israeli Ambassador who lobbies for Israel, though it’s called “Diplomacy” rather than lobbying at that level.
And then there are single-issue groups such as BICOM (British Israel Communications and Research Centre), and the newly-minted Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), both of which are involved in education and in combating hate. But neither  constitute a “Jewish Lobby.” 

The JC is influential in the community, as we saw when it hit choppy financial waters earlier this year, but a newspaper – even one as assiduous on Jewish issues as this – does not constitute a “Jewish Lobby.”  

Yes, the Jewish community punches well above its weight in media, arts, entertainment, etc, so it often appears there are more of us and that we wield more influence – especially when some high-profile Jew takes to Twitter or TV to declares his or her outrage over something antisemitic.
But that is about it. 

Finally, Lady Swire, if there truly was a “Jewish Lobby,” do you really think that Jeremy Corbyn would have become Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition? Surely, the “Jewish Lobby.” would have ensured Labour’s leader was someone more acceptable; someone who wouldn’t make our community shudder collectively in fear… 


Some of the Questions Bojo ducked in Exeter

Why is he “Frit”? (one of Maggie T’s favourite derogatory descriptions.) – Owl

Questions we wanted to ask Boris during his Exeter visit – DevonLive

Paul Greaves 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in Exeter today [Tuesday] to deliver an important speech about the Government’s plans to boost training and education.

He stopped off at Exeter College where he was photographed laying a brick in a wall and looking busy during a construction class.

He even had time to ‘misspeak’ when incorrectly explaining the ‘Rule of Six’ to a question about the North East local lockdown.

DevonLive brought you the latest updates as they happened in our live blog and photo gallery.

What might not have been apparent to the watching and reading public was the fact that DevonLive was not one of the news organisations invited to attend.

In fact, the guest list was restricted to a select few, primarily London-based, outlets chosen by Number 10.

You can make up your own minds whether closing the doors to local media – not just DevonLive – at a time when trust is in Government is more important than ever is the appropriate way to conduct such an important visit.

There is no shortage of important issues in a city and region where students are in a ‘targeted’ lockdown, children are isolating and businesses are crying out for help.

Here is a selection of questions we would have asked on your behalf if we had been given the chance.

Prime Minister:

  • Given the much lower prevalence of Covid-19 in Devon compared to other parts of the country, can you explain why the same rules need to apply?
  • If the number of cases in Devon remains low will some of the restrictions be lifted soon? And if not, why not?
  • What extra support will you be offering businesses that will be adversely affected by the new rules and restrictions?
  • Given that students have now arrived at University of Exeter, can you assure people that they will be able to return home for Christmas, or whenever they wish? And that they won’t spend months confined to their halls of residences?
  • Explain why it is safe for me and five friends to sit down in a pub with lots of people we don’t know and watch a game of football, but we can’t stand in an outdoor stadium and watch the match?
  • When is he going to review the 10pm curfew for hospitality businesses?
  • Should the Government convert the loans given to businesses into equity?
  • What extra help can the Government give to the South West businesses, as it is the worst hit region economically from the pandemic?
  • Should the Government be doing more to assist commercial landlords who are facing problems collecting rent from tenants?
  • Should the Government set up a special task force to look at the future of UK city centres as they now face becoming wastelands?
  • What help can the Government give to the estimated 3million UK businesses, including many in the SW, that have not been able to access support packages so far?
  • Should the Government be preparing a financial support package for football clubs outside the Premier League which face having no income until fans are allowed to attend matches?


Extraordinary Parish Council Meeting – Clyst St Mary – Tonight 7:30 pm

Winslade Manor planning application 

Owl has been made aware that the Parish Council is holding an online meeting to discuss the objection that Charlie Hopkins has written on behalf of the Parish Council. They will also be discussing the latest amendments to the planning application at Winslade Manor and surrounding buildings.

Details of how to join the Zoom meeting are given below. Owl understands that If you want to speak you are more than welcome to in the “Open Session” when the Chairman asks.

Topic: Extraordinary Parish Council Meeting

Time: Sep 29, 2020 07:30 PM London

Join Zoom Meeting

 Meeting ID: 561 537 5088

Passcode: 425992  


Sasha Swire’s diaries reveal the crass elitism of the Cameron government

Just in case you haven’t got it yet – Owl

I felt a scintilla of pity for David Cameron plugging the paperback of his memoirs in recent weeks. In his eager, smoothie-chops interviews, he cradled the hope that enough time had passed and the current government was so dreadful that he might surf a ripple of coalition nostalgia. Oh, remember Nick and Dave in the rose garden; lovely Sam; all so courteous and collegiate in those halcyon pre-culture wars days…

By Janice Turner 

Yet not only does Cameron remain solidly unforgiven, but up popped a book to make his No 10 tenure look worse than we ever thought. I recommend Sasha Swire’s diaries to my jaded fellow centrists. Like a chili pepper inserted into a racehorse’s anus, this book is guaranteed to get your class war dander up.

At a dinner party in 2011, I met a woman related to a key player in Swire’s book who said she fancied being an MP and Dave was going to get her on the candidate list. I asked if she’d always been interested in politics. “Not really,” she shrugged. Was she driven by a particular cause? “No,” she said, “I just think it would be a fun thing to do next.” Flabbergasted by her insouciance and entitlement, I spent the rest of the evening in silent rage. But that’s the thing about being on the left: we tend to forget not everyone’s politics are powered by injustice or even a basic altruistic desire. Some people just want a nice job.

Sasha Swire’s book begins after the 2010 election when her Tory MP husband Hugo gets a pretty nice job. He’s made Northern Ireland minister, so the Swires get to live in Hillsborough Castle with a butler and a gazillion rooms. Although they have to share it with Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State, whose wife pinches the Swires’s curtains and replaces them with ghastly chintz. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg and George Osborne, who have even nicer jobs, fight over who gets Dorneywood House, the latter driving down to plant his toothbrush so Cleggers has to share Chevening with William Hague. No doubt New Labour thrilled over grace and favour furbelows too. Indeed, Swire notes the Dorneywood guest book brims with John Prescott’s family jokes about Jags. But the Cameroons treated government like a luxury holiday villa, with couples vying for the best room.

Swire is not unaware of the failings of her clique. “The closeness of this circle is unprecedented,” she writes. “They are all here… intimately interlocked, some from university days, some from the research unit… We text each other bypassing the civil servants… This is a very particular, narrow tribe of Britain and their hangers-on. It’s enough to repulse the ordinary man.”

Not that the “ordinary man” enters the Swire sphere. Rather, it is peopled with the extraordinarily rich, like the Rothermeres: Claudia in her Jilly Cooper heroine white jodhpurs striding around their flawless country house, surrounded on all sides by land bought to protect their privacy, except for one unobtainable hill. Or the eccentric oligarch Evgeny Lebedev who, having bought himself into the inner-most establishment, seems not to know what he wants from it. He chats about the Bolshoi and obsesses about honey produced in the Swire hives, getting flunkies to email for more jars.

The first half of the book is the more entertaining since Sasha is inside the power tent, squirrelling away anecdotes so ten years later she can piss in on her friends. The post-referendum second half revolves around “Old Ma May” (as Swire calls the new PM), so material is gleaned from gossip rather than witnessed, and mainly concerns the Brexit machinations which, like the plot of Game of Thrones, I once followed avidly but now can’t bear to think about at all.

Brexit is the only political issue ever mentioned, since it affects the allocation of the nice jobs. A cameo from Rachel Johnson, furious about plans to privatise the Forestry Commission, is an exception. (Sasha mocks her conviction.) Having just read Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire’s book Left Out, I kept thinking: well, Project Corbyn harboured anti-Semites, was creepily pro-Putin, authoritarian, crank-ridden and tragically incompetent, but it saw politics as a mechanism to improve the world. It believed in things.

At the height of austerity, as libraries closed and benefits froze, you might think Tories on Polzeath beach or hiking in the hills near Chequers might fleetingly discuss the impact of their policies. Once, Swire remarks to Cameron that “women are at the coalface of the cuts” and he mutters a bit. But mainly Dave is enjoying nursery food and fixating on Keira Knightley’s nipples in Atonement. After Gaddafi falls in Libya, DC is childishly ebullient: “What more do I want? A great day on the beach, I’m with my old friends the Swires and I’ve just won a war.”

Yet besides her sharp eye for backstage detail, Swire has a shrewd political mind – she is, after all, a Tory thoroughbred, the daughter of Thatcher’s defence minister John Nott. (“Sir John”, as she always calls him, bemoaning he was never ennobled.) She finds the Cameroons obsessed with branding over substance, moving MPs around the government chessboard according to shallow criteria such as “good back story”, “woman”, “ethnic” or “good on TV”, rather than how well they’ll fulfil a ministerial brief. This, she believes, is why Hugo – although “brilliant”, as Osborne puts it, at “swanking around the embassies” – never gets a position in the cabinet. Too male, white and posh to offset the PM.

Swire is best at portraying the trials and dilemmas of a modern political wife. She stands outside her kitchen window alone in the dark, looking in at Hugo bent over his red box: “Our marriage is in a difficult place. I barely see him any more.” After some unexplained crisis, she rings the Camerons, who give her sanctuary at Chequers, while Dave bollocks Hugo on the phone.

Her generation of professional women thought they’d escaped being unpaid constituency dinner plus-ones. But such are the demands of political life that they must choose between tagging along or never seeing their husbands at all. What, asks Swire, should these women do, being “deeply involved but [having] no official status. Do we play submissive? Do we play supportive? Do we get lippy?”

Frances Osborne has to be cajoled into living in Downing Street, ignores Dorneywood visitors, and when George declares he’s going to hold a birthday party, says: “What on earth for? It will be just like you having a wedding to yourself.” Sam Cam and Sarah Vine, Michael Gove’s wife, bond over babies and share school runs, but their husbands’ hierarchy always defines their relationship: Sarah toils over fish pie for a Downing Street do, while Sam titivates upstairs. When Gove backs Brexit, not only he but Sarah and their children are banished forever from the Cameron house. These political break-ups are infused with real human hurt.

Sasha, who worked as Hugo’s assistant (before family members were forbidden to do so), is both supportive and lippy. She insists on being driven home after an official function while Hugo goes off to vote, although this breaks ministerial rules. “Do they really expect me to find my own way, in a long dress and painful heels, to… sit next to some Godawful bore,” she rants, “pay for the taxi to get there, and then get left stranded on some dark corner trying to find a non-existent taxi home.” Her predicament evokes both sympathy and disdain.

Much has been said about how gleefully Swire has dobbed on her mates, how no one will speak to her ever again. But she is careful about her proper friends – like Amber Rudd and Cameron’s adviser Kate Fall – and you suspect she never really liked the rest. Especially Dave, who, as with her husband, can’t overcome his upbringing and education to see women as equal minds. She sneers at his downward tumble out of power into podgy, golf-playing, stay-at-home dad, now just second banana to fashion designer Sam.

Crucially, she notes he is so bored writing his memoir that he simply speaks it into a Dictaphone, with no care for its literary merit. Was this the catalyst for Swire – a former journalist who writes very well, not just on politics, but about marriage, social mores and the English countryside – to publish her diaries? A political era is too often defined by cautious male dullards. About time sharp, funny, indiscrete women had a go.

Janice Turner writes for the Times


‘No community wants this’: Sussex new town plans anger local Tories

“Local opponents say the project – which could ultimately create a town of around 10,000 people – threatens rare wildlife, an increase in car congestion and risks becoming a dormitory [for London commuters].”

Been there, done that in EDDC!

Ultimate size of 10,000 people looks small to Owl, how about 22,000 like Cranbrook?

Robert Booth

Plans for a new town in rural Sussex backed by one of the Conservative party’s biggest donors and close allies of Prince Charles, are exposing a split in the Tory party over how to rapidly accelerate housebuilding.

Kingswood, a scheme for 2,850 homes, is being proposed on open fields at Adversane near Horsham which have been assembled by hedge fund billionaire Sir Michael Hintze who has given £4.6m to the Conservatives. Its design is partly inspired by Poundbury, the ersatz Georgian town in Dorset created by Prince Charles, and Sir Michael Peat, the Prince of Wales’s former private secretary is a director of the development company.

But it is being opposed by local Conservative MP Andrew Griffith, who said it is “the wrong type of development in the wrong place” and local Tory councillors who have warned: “No community wants this on their doorstep.” It looks set to be a test case for the government’s controversial new planning strategy announced last month which is set to relax national planning rules and set significantly higher local housebuilding targets in areas including Horsham.

John Halsall, the Tory leader of Wokingham borough council in Berkshire, which is also facing central government demands to build significantly more homes warned of a high political cost telling the Guardian: “You won’t have a Tory left in the south or south-east of England.”

Some of the land is owned by Eton College, the alma mater of the prime minister, Boris Johnson. The largest parcel which would be built over is a farm purchased by Hintze for £10m from Mike Stock, the songwriter behind a string of 1980s hits by Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley and Bananarama.

Local opponents say the project – which could ultimately create a town of around 10,000 people – threatens rare wildlife, an increase in car congestion and risks becoming a dormitory for London commuters.

“There is an enormous amount of antipathy to this scheme,” said Julian Trumper, a local resident organising opposition. “Horsham has already taken enough of Sussex’s requirement to build housing and this potential growth is unsustainable. Infrastructure and road and rail links are insufficient. The displacement to wildlife and established ecosystems by building a new town in open countryside is incalculable.”

The website says the project “focuses on building a community for people of all ages and providing a platform for economic opportunity and sustainable growth” and will champion the principle of “beauty” in town planning identified by Sir Roger Scruton in his report to the government on planning and architecture.

It promises a “socially inclusive, mixed-income development” with “community at the heart of our plans”.

But the row over whether it should go ahead exposes a growing schism in Conservative ranks over two proposed reforms to accelerate housebuilding.

The first is a new planning system that will make it easier and quicker for developers to build on greenfield sites, which Conservative councillors have complained undermines local democratic involvement by proposing zones where detailed planning consents would not be required.

The second is new inflated house building targets which backbench Conservative MPs and council leaders have criticised as too high and ignoring local needs. The new target for Horsham would see the area required to deliver 1,715 new homes a year, more than double the current target of 800.

The high status of Kingswood’s backers – with close links to the top of government and the monarchy – has also sparked fears that local influence could be further undermined, with opponents citing the planning scandal earlier this year in which it emerged that the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, backed a project by party donor Richard Desmond against the advice of officials.

“After what we saw with Jenrick and Desmond, we have the impression that the property developers are doing all this with barely any local democracy at all,” said Trumper.

The developers and landowners declined to comment to the Guardian, but a spokesperson for Horsham district council said: “Any site that is allocated in the next step of the local plan process will be subject to full public scrutiny at a public examination conducted by an independent planning inspector. Each site will be assessed to determine whether it is suitable, achievable and available, in a public arena.”

The local Conservative MP, Andrew Griffith, said: “We are building on greenfield, we’re not using brownfield land. This is the wrong type of development in the wrong place. The identity of the landowner is not important. I am giving voice to constituent concerns.”

He told a Commons debate earlier this month: “So many of my constituents from Adversane to West Grinstead, Barnham to Wineham, and in villages of every letter of the alphabet in between, are having their lives blighted by the prospect of inappropriate and unsustainable development”.

Philip Circus, a Conservative member of Horsham council in whose ward the development is proposed, added: “I am not interested that people are connected with royalty or people that donate to the Conservative party. It cuts no ice with me. We don’t feel any compulsion to doff our caps to anyone other than the residents. This is a rural community which in infrastructure terms does not look like an area for a major housing development.”

The Kingswood masterplan has been submitted for inclusion in Horsham district council’s local plan, which is currently out to public consultation. It features traditional terraces of houses which seek to avoid the identikit housing of many modern housing estates and promises schools, a town centre, woodlands and allotments. The director of the development company, Dominic Richards, was formerly a director at the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community – the heir to the throne’s architecture and planning charity which promotes traditional urbanism.


Abolish district councils to help shore up ‘red wall’, suggests top Tory

Gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish an unfair political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries, which is most commonly used in first-past-the-post electoral systems – Owl

Robert Booth 

Letter to PM from Hertfordshire county council leader says move would cut opposition in former Labour strongholds

Nottinghamshire. Bassetlaw was captured by the Tories but has a Labour-controlled district council. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Abolishing district councils could help bolster Conservative MPs in former Labour strongholds by reducing local opposition, a leading Tory has suggested to the prime minister in a leaked letter.

Boris Johnson has been urged to scrap the midsized local government bodies in part to help Conservatives in the so-called “red wall” seats that were gained in the December 2019 general election from Labour in its former northern strongholds.

The call comes from David Williams, the leader of Hertfordshire county council, who heads the Conservative group at the County Councils Network. It reveals a party political dimension to plans to simplify local government by removing district and borough councils, leaving only very local parish and town councils and larger unitary authorities like county councils. Williams is among local government leaders frustrated at government delays to reforms.

In the letter, seen by the Guardian, Williams told Johnson not to “ignore the political implications [of reform] for both Conservative councillors and MPs … and in particular our new red wall MPs”.

Williams said: “It is no surprise to me that many of those celebrating reports of delays are Labour and Liberal Democrat district councillors who regard the prospect of strong county based unitaries as threats to their strongholds.”

Seats such as Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire and Burnley in Lancashire, gained by the Conservatives last year, overlap with Labour-controlled district councils, providing the party with a base from which to fight back, Conservative activists fear.

Williams said: “Conservative representation at the county level remains strong but even in solidly Conservative counties like Surrey, only just over a third of local councillors within district and borough councils are Conservatives.”

Prof Tony Travers, from the LSE Department of Government, said there was “no question” that abolishing opposition local councillors would help some MPs retain power, but he pointed out that sacrificing district councils would also mean losing thousands of Conservative local politicians in the south of England, many of whom form the backbone of campaigning operations at national elections.

Conservatives are in a stronger position on county councils, where they control two-thirds of seats, than they are on district councils where they have 48% of seats.

Williams urged the PM to ignore resistance to the abolition of district councils from district councillors themselves, saying they are “interested in self-preservation”.

“It is no surprise that so much of the vitriol aimed at Robert Jenrick [the housing secretary] for driving a unitary agenda has come from those sources obsessed with self-protection above good governance and a chance to transform our society for the better.”


Tory MP claims Boris Johnson is ‘under the spell’ of his advisers

A senior Tory MP today claimed Boris Johnson is ‘under the spell’ of his advisers as he compared the Prime Minister to King Theoden from The Lord of the Rings. 

Jack Maidment

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker said Mr Johnson needs to be ‘woken up’ from his ‘slumber’ as he suggested the PM’s aides like Dominic Cummings are in control of the Government’s coronavirus response. 

The comments came amid a growing Tory rebellion over ministers imposing Covid-19 rules without first putting them to a vote in the House of Commons.  

Senior Tory MP Steve Baker today compared Boris Johnson to a character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings who is put under a spell and controlled by his advisers

Mr Baker likened Mr Johnson to King Theoden and said ‘at the moment somebody needs to wake’ the Prime Minister ‘from his slumber’

Conservative backbenchers have accused the Government of ‘ruling by decree’ during the crisis. 

This week they will try to secure votes in Parliament on any future measures before they are rolled out. 

Mr Baker is one of the leaders of the Tory revolt and he warned yesterday that ‘liberty dies’ when governments are allowed to ‘exercise draconian powers without parliamentary scrutiny in advance’.

Today he went further as he compared the PM to King Theoden – a character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings who is put under a spell and controlled by his advisers. 

Mr Baker told Times Radio: ‘People have got a great deal of faith in Boris Johnson. 

‘But, I’ll push the boat out, many of us will have seen Lord of the Rings and there is a scene in Lord of the Rings where Theoden, the king, is under the spell of his advisers. 

‘And he has to be woken up from that spell and when he wakes from that spell joy comes to pass in the kingdom.

‘And I am afraid at the moment somebody needs to wake Theoden from his slumber. 

‘When Theoden awakes, and I mean Boris, everything will come right.’ 

Downing Street dismissed Mr Baker’s claims. 

Asked if Mr Johnson is ‘under the spell’ of his advisers, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: ‘As he has said in the past, he is responsible for all the decisions that he takes as Prime Minister.’ 

Mr Johnson is under mounting pressure to give Parliament greater power to debate and vote on coronavirus restrictions with more than 50 Tory MPs signalling they could revolt on the matter. 

Conservative rebels seized upon an assessment by academics at University College London (UCL) which concluded that ‘Parliament has been consistently sidelined during the pandemic’.

MPs will vote on Wednesday on whether to renew the Coronavirus Act, and dozens of Conservatives have signed up to an amendment tabled by Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential Tory backbench 1922 Committee, calling for ministers to consult Parliament before introducing new curbs on people’s freedoms.

The size of the rebellion could see the Government facing defeat if the amendment is selected for a vote and opposition parties join forces with Sir Graham.


Outrage works!

Parliament’s bars will not serve alcohol after 10pm, Commons confirms

Another U-Turn – Owl

Simon Murphy 

Alcohol will not be served after 10pm in parliament in an apparent U-turn, after it emerged that Commons bars would be exempt from strict early closing rules imposed across the country.

Facilities serving alcohol on the parliamentary estate would not have to abide by the earlier closing time because they fell under the description of “a workplace canteen”, the Times reported on Monday.

But after the development was immediately condemned by some MPs, the Commons was forced clarify that alcohol would not be served after 10pm.

Exemptions to the rules introduced last Thursday state that “workplace canteens may remain open where there is no practical alternative for staff at that workplace to obtain food”.

Bar staff and customers in the Palace of Westminster reportedly would not have had to follow new stricter rules on face coverings introduced for other licensed premises, and visitors to parliamentary bars would not be asked to supply their details on entry for test and trace.

Within hours, the apparent move was criticised by MPs. Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, tweeted: “Not good, so many in the hospitality sector on the verge of collapse or struggling to cope, they will be rightly very angry to read this. We should get our own house in order before demanding others follow regulations, people are fed up with this nonsense.”

Wes Streeting, the shadow exchequer secretary to the Treasury, wrote: “This is ridiculous and makes parliament look ridiculous. This has got to change immediately. We can’t have one rule for parliament and one rule for everyone else.”

The Labour MP Sarah Owen called the apparent move “absolutely ridiculous”, tweeting: “I know the Govt have got used to setting one rule for some and another for everyone else but this is another level.”

However, in a change effective immediately, a House of Commons spokesman said on Monday: “Alcohol will not be sold after 10pm anywhere on the parliamentary estate.”

Commons catering facilities will remain open later to serve food when the Commons is sitting, with all measures kept under review.

Johnson announced new restrictions in England last week including the 10pm closing time for pubs, bars and restaurants, with hospitality venues only allowed to offer table service. Masks were also made mandatory for retail and hospitality staff.

The Pugin Room, Strangers’ Dining Room, the Adjournment and the Members’ Smoking Room are reportedly among parliament bars that reopened before the summer recess.

Parliament’s website boasts that Strangers’ is “a magnificently decorated event venue”, saying: “Combined with the intricate wood carvings, the elaborate red flock wallpaper – designed and favoured by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52) – provides an elegant setting for your event.”

Earlier, a spokesperson for the Commons had reportedly said: “As catering outlets providing a workplace service for over 3,100 people working on the estate, the current regulations on hospitality venues do not apply to Commons facilities.”


Importance of thriving local press to democratic engagement in elections

Local papers pledge

Short article in The Times 28 September – Owl, so far, has been unable to track down the original source:


“Ministers pledged to do more to help the local press after research found that election turnout was higher in towns with thriving local papers. For every one percentage point increase in daily circulation of a local paper, local election turnout rose by 0.37 percentage points, according to the government-commissioned study. Areas served by more than one local paper saw greater democratic engagement.

Planning applications validated by EDDC week beginning 14 September

The Boys Are Back In Town – A Singalong with Swire 

>> Boys club <<
A singalong with Swire
 Sasha Swire’s tell-all diaries have caused a bit of a splash in Westminster this week, embarrassing almost every top-flight Tory minister of the last ten years – with the notable exception of her husband. So allow us.

In 2012, Hugo Swire (then-Minister Of State for Northern Ireland) was invited as a guest of honour to attend an Old Etonians In Ireland lunch. Those present have a very vivid memory of the speech he gave.

Using a portable CD player, kitted out with tinny-sounding speakers, Hugo began blasting out Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town. Then, as the chorus kicked in, he started calling out the names of prominent Old Etonians and listing their current positions in public life, all while singing along to the refrain.

“David Cameron, Prime Minister… The boys are back in town! / Boris Johnson, Mayor of London… The boys are back in town! / Prince William and Prince Harry… The boys are back in town! (The boys are back in town!) / Tom Hiddleston… The boys are back in town!”

Congratulations to Sasha for out-Popbitching Popbitch by getting the following description of Michael Gove’s knob in print: “Like a slinky that comes down the stairs before the rest of the body”.

Sasha Swire dazzled men – but can MP’s wife survive social Siberia?

Owl posts this review because it focuses on the Swires and their way of life. To Owl it raises the question as to why on earth the local Tory activists “dotty as the stalwarts in the Vicar of Dibley” chose Hugo Swire as the candidate for East Devon in 2001? It also raises the question as why the electorate thought that he would do anything for the constituency and consistently voted for him? His interests were always elsewhere.

Richard Kay 

14-18 minutes

How frightfully unfair it is on gorgeous, glamorous Sasha Swire to judge her by her conversations with those famous politicians — royals, too — after she jotted down every lip-smacking detail night after night in her secret diary.

How much fairer to remember the willowy beauty who mesmerised men — such as David Cameron — with a sway of her slim hips and a whiff of her expensive perfume. Or flirting with a plutocrat at a Buckingham Palace banquet and noting approvingly to herself — after he offers to whisk her to Corsica on his superyacht — that it’s ‘nice my husband thinks I can still pull’.

Sex, discussing it and complaining about the lack of it is a constant feature of Sasha’s newly published Diary Of An MP’s Wife. ‘David talks a lot about sex,’ she says of our former prime minister in one Bridget Jones-style entry.

But he’s not the only one. At a Chequers dinner party Lady Swire, 57, whose father Sir John Nott was Defence Secretary at the time of the Falklands War, enlivens the company by announcing: ‘I enjoy sex much more in my 50s than in my 40s.’

Perhaps this, then, is how she should be recognised, as a towering show-off and attention-seeker. As well as someone with a fear of losing her allure and an obsession with money — although thanks to the staggering indiscretions in her diary, she will now be having it delivered by the sackful.

Financial reward may, however, be the one compensation for putting pen to paper. Friendships have been broken and bridges burned on such an epic scale that all those glossy invitations to the smartest house parties are likely to vanish.

As one Tory grandee who entertained Sasha and her husband, former MP Sir Hugo Swire, at his country home said: ‘When she came to stay we had no idea she was keeping copious notes so we could appear in her diaries. They are a lovely couple but Sasha has a ruthless streak in her.’

Sasha Swire was a willowy beauty who mesmerised men — such as David Cameron — with a sway of her slim hips and a whiff of her expensive perfume

Another ‘victim’, a former Cabinet minister with whom she used to exchange intimacies, recalled how in recent years, whenever she saw Sasha, she was bombarded with questions about her sex life. ‘I now think she was looking for nuggets for her bloody book,’ she says.

‘I feel very used. She goes out of her way to get you to open up emotionally. And I know others feel the same way.’

One figure says he and his wife came to dread going to dinner with the Swires. ‘The first thing she’ll say is, ‘Do you still sleep with your wife?’ It’s so disarming.

‘She seeks to be friendly but it’s actually humiliating and it comes across as sheer bloody rudeness.’

For ten years at the epicentre of a social salon at the top of the political tree, Sasha Swire had a ringside seat in the management of Britain thanks to her husband’s friendship and support of David Cameron.

And all that time she was scratching away in the room at her Devon manor house she calls her ‘writing tower’, overlooking the landscaped gardens she designed herself.

Her name is on the book and the words are certainly hers, but it has been a joint enterprise. Sir Hugo, a former debs’ delight who once dated Jerry Hall (when the Texan model was on the rebound from serially unfaithful Mick Jagger), was no mere passive observer.

It must, therefore, have been that much harder to include — amid all the lewd banter, cruel mockery, Negronis at dawn and withering put-downs — a reference to a suspected affair between her husband and an unnamed woman.

As the Mail reported yesterday, this was one social indiscretion Lady Swire was reluctant to enlarge upon.

Many wonder if this book will be the equivalent of the Alan Clark diaries of the Thatcher and Major years of the Eighties and Nineties? Clark, of course, found himself an object of contempt and derision over his sordid, and to many people, repulsive revelations about his sexual depravity.

Lady Swire’s wicked disclosures are, so far, only registering shock and dismay but the final judgment could yet be merciless. All the same, the Clark parallel does resonate. There is nothing in her memoir to match the grubbiness of Clark’s ‘coven’ — a mother and her two daughters with whom he slept. But some will see in this undoubtedly gripping diary an example of the seediness of life at the top of Britain.

And there is also the possibility that her diaries might one day be televised as Clark’s were. ‘She’s imagining a little mini-series,’ says a Devon friend.

Such chutzpah suggests that she feels she has done nothing to be ashamed of. ‘Yes, of course there were a few tears when the criticism began rolling in, but not for long and not very many,’ says a confidante. ‘Sasha’s very pragmatic. She’s looked at what’s been said about the diaries and concluded that it’s mainly of a political nature.’

The journalist Petronella Wyatt, whose father Woodrow published a posthumous and outrageous account of private conversations with the great and the good, says Lady Swire — a friend of more than 20 years — had initially been upset at the reaction. ‘She doesn’t think the criticism is justified,’ adds Wyatt. ‘It’s a fun book. It’s not nasty. No one should take offence.’

Others may disagree. Mr Cameron, for example, was left squirming over Lady Swire’s tales detailing his personal feuds, drinking and sexual innuendos.

Of the incident in which he allegedly joked that her perfume made him want to push her ‘into the bushes and give you one’, he prudently said he had no memory.

However, the former prime minister and his wife, Samantha, who in one passage is described as having ‘gin-sodden breath’ following her husband’s resignation after the EU referendum, are said to have been ‘astonished’ by the betrayal of so many friends and confidences. They were aware that the diaries were coming. Others were not so fortunate.

At the same time it does seem extraordinary that the Camerons hosted the couple at their home in Cornwall for a weekend only a fortnight ago.

And that just last Saturday — 24 hours before the first instalment appeared in a Sunday newspaper and in which the ex-PM was said to have made smutty jokes about dogging and mocked for his fitness fads — he and Sir Hugo, 60, were shooting grouse together in Yorkshire with other senior Tories.

‘This actually tells you more about the Swires than the Camerons,’ says a figure. ‘Sasha is shameless and has this breathtaking confidence that Hugo is swept along by. It was the same when they met.’ Their meeting in 1996 had something of a coup de foudre about it says the friend. ‘Hugo had been a dashing army officer in the Grenadier Guards and was making his way at Sotheby’s and there were no shortage of girlfriends.’

At one stage he was a ‘walker’ for the separated Duchess of York. ‘Along came Sasha, this leggy blonde with a mind of her own and he was smitten.’

With Sasha pregnant with their first daughter — not a good look for a Tory seeking a parliamentary seat — they were married quickly.

Only five people were at the ceremony at the Royal Hospital chapel in Chelsea in 1996 where the best man was Lord Michael Cecil, youngest brother of the Marquess of Salisbury.

A church service in Kensington was followed by a reception in the Long Room at Lord’s cricket ground. Among the guests were the Tory donor Anthony Bamford, owner of the JCB digger company and now a member of the House of Lords.

The Swires’ daughter Saffron was born five months later and a second daughter, Siena, came along in 2001, shortly after Hugo’s election as MP for East Devon. (He had contested the hopeless Labour seat of Greenock in 1997, the year of Tony Blair’s landslide.)

Cameron was also part of that 2001 intake and, although Hugo is seven years his senior, he saw leadership qualities in his fellow old Etonian and the two became friends.

‘Despite that, Sasha was always gunning for Dave,’ says a former minister. ‘She feels to this day that Hugo should have been given a job in the Cabinet. She thinks the only reason he isn’t is because of the Eton connection and that it didn’t fit in with the Cameron modernising agenda.’

The source adds: ‘It actually had nothing to do with that; the truth is Hugo wasn’t good enough, which is why he was sent to Northern Ireland as minister of state.’

An old friend says: ‘She was fantastically glamorous and one always felt she was looking for a suitable husband. Hugo was good looking and funny and, though they were not an obvious pairing, they hit it off’

But then the outspoken Sasha not only knew her mind, she was also from a political family herself, and her school years had often been spent on the campaign trail supporting her father.

During elections she would turn up for lessons sporting a blue rosette, and out of school delivered leaflets.

She grew up in Cornwall and her father was friends with the former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, who is said to have dedicated two poems to Sasha. She used to go fishing with Hughes and her father.

With two brothers — Julian, a musician who later made millions composing the scores for Wallace And Gromit and Peppa Pig animated films, and William who is in the oil business — Sasha was determined to win the approval of her father, to whom she was devoted.

‘She was like the pupil who always has their hand up in class trying to catch the teacher’s eye,’ says a Nott family friend. ‘She always wanted to impress her father.’

Her book, of course, will do just that. Nott cared little for party political sensibilities, once walking out of a TV interview with Robin Day who had accused him of being a ‘here today, gone tomorrow politician’.

And he also walked out on Margaret Thatcher by quitting the Commons to her dismay — though she refused to accept his resignation after the Argentine invasion of the Falklands and he oversaw the huge success of the British task force to liberate the islands.

‘He’s chomping at the bit to read the book,’ says the friend. ‘His attitude is ‘that’s my girl’ and he won’t give a fig if it has upset some people in the Tory Party.’

Strikingly good looking, his adored daughter was sent to Cranborne Chase, the fee-paying girls’ school near Tisbury, Wilts, which has since closed and was never noted for its academic qualities.

Sasha is remembered as being ‘a cracker’ and the prettiest girl of her year.

If John Nott provided her political education, she inherited her sense of outrage from her Slovenian mother Miloska, whose own background is heroic.

In the war, her father was a partisan, running a hotel where the Gestapo liked to eat by day, and smuggling Jews and others wanted by the Nazis to safety by night. Five months before the end of the war, he was caught and sent to Dachau concentration camp where he died.

Miloska met her husband in Cambridge, where she had been sent to learn English — at her engagement party to someone else.

In Nott’s memoir, Memorable Encounters, she recounted his exact words to her. ‘He said ‘I love you and I am going to marry you’, and then he went. I went home and wrote in my diary: ‘What a cheek, what a conceit, what a presumptuous male.’ ‘

Nevertheless they were married in 1959, the year Nott was president of the Cambridge Union. ‘Miloska is unbelievably frank, strong-minded, impetuous and forthright,’ says an acquaintance. ‘It’s clear that’s where Sasha gets it all from.’

After leaving school, she launched herself with gusto on the London social scene. ‘She was always the life and soul of a party with a drink in one hand, cigarette in the other, having fun — and, with her looks, she had a queue of boys wanting to take her out,’ remembers a friend.

One event fondly recalled is a party at Admiralty Arch — which her father had the use of — at the time of the wedding of Charles and Diana, a venue which overlooked the route. She was also a regular at the then achingly hip Camden Palace party venue in North London.

But though portrayed as a dippy aristocrat — her title comes from Swire’s knighthood, his consolation prize for not making the Cabinet — she was determined to make her own way and trained as a journalist, first in Lincolnshire and then at the Nottingham Post, where an admirer was known as ‘Forest’ because of his love of the local football team.

By the early 1990s she was in Hong Kong where one article for the South China Morning Post had the headline: ‘Would you sleep with a stranger for $1 million?’ Notable citizens were asked for their opinions, including the late socialite David Tang.

Back in London she became interested in political reporting and was often to be spotted with some of the livelier lobby correspondents. Another admirer was the architect and interior design guru Willie Nickerson, but until meeting Swire there were no serious love matches.

An old friend says: ‘She was fantastically glamorous and one always felt she was looking for a suitable husband. Hugo was good looking and funny and, though they were not an obvious pairing, they hit it off.’

But money was always an issue. A businessman who sat next to her at a dinner recalls: ‘She was extremely cross about the fact that politicians did not get enough money, saying that they should be paid more.’

Despite sharing his name with the famous Swire business conglomerate, which owns Cathay Pacific, her husband is only distantly related and has no financial connection.

Two years ago she confided to friends she had been keeping a diary and that she had written more than a million words since 2010. When Swire stood down as an MP last year, she sought a publishing deal.

Not everyone is surprised by what she has done. One well-placed Tory source said: ‘She came to dinner once with a video camera wanting to record the evening. We had to tell her to switch it off. I thought then: ‘How odd. Is she doing a documentary about us?’ ‘

A former Tory backbench colleague of Swire told us: ‘Sasha used to have a favourite phrase at the end of a week in Westminster: ‘What contributions do you have for our pension fund?’ In other words, she wanted Swire to reveal joyous indiscretions about life in the Cameron camp. He duly obliged.’

Her diaries may be unfair for their searing portrayal of the Cameron era as a frivolous, privileged elite playing at government but being more interested in sex and drinking. And for those who feature in the book’s pages it will be chiefly remembered for her grotesque breach of the etiquette of politics.

Frances Osborne, ex-wife of former Chancellor George Osborne, is understood to be dismayed at her depiction as a dull, downtrodden spouse. Both women grew up in the South West. She considered Sasha a friend.

The diaries, however, with their mix of treachery and snobbery, will provide gleeful pleasure for readers. As for Sasha Swire, she is already planning her next publishing sensation — a novel she hopes to complete by Christmas.


Reliable broadband? Certainly, sir. That’ll be £500,000

All David Roberts wanted was a broadband service fast enough for making uninterrupted video calls to his family and to watch All Creatures Great and Small without the picture constantly freezing.

Ali Hussain, Chief Money Reporter

He asked BT, Britain’s largest broadband provider, how much it would cost to upgrade the service to his home in the hamlet of Isel, near Cockermouth in Cumbria.

BT took a look and sent him a quote for the work: £502,586 to fix him up with a reliable connection.

Two other residents have been quoted similar amounts to access the basic broadband service all British homeowners are now entitled to under what is known as BT’s universal service obligation (USO).

“There is nothing universal about a scheme that requires people to pay £500,000,” said Roberts, 65, a retired lawyer. “These figures are wholly inconsistent and ridiculous. They seem designed to put people off.”

The experience of Roberts and his Lake District neighbours has highlighted a serious imbalance in the government’s plans to roll out superfast internet services to rural areas, a programme that has become a priority since the coronavirus forced so many routine activities online. Superfast internet access for all by 2025 was a key promise in the Tory manifesto last year.

Since March, BT has been obliged to offer upgraded services to anyone who asks and who is unable to receive a speed of at least a 10Mbps (megabits per second) — enough to watch Netflix and browse the internet without it constantly pausing to download.

Yet applicants from deeply rural areas — arguably the most in need of decent lockdown connections — are routinely quoted six-figure sums for installation, making the scheme useless for all but the wealthiest.

The average UK download speed is about 64Mbps. Roberts pays about £70 a month to BT for a service that stutters along at 1Mbps.

“It just buffers, so it’s impossible to watch,” he said. “A cousin wanted to send me a 20-minute video of a trip he had in Germany, but this took three hours to download.”

Roberts has also given up trying to do video calls with his family as the connection is so unreliable.

Under the USO scheme, launched on March 20, applicants can ask BT to conduct a survey to establish how much it might cost to connect their property to faster internet. If the cost is £3,400 or less, it will be covered by the company. Anything above this must be paid for by the applicant, leaving Roberts with a huge bill if he wants to upgrade.

BT blames the high cost on “challenging terrain such as rivers, forests, roads and railway lines” that make co-ordination “complex” in remote areas. It said the work required in such areas might involve “up to 30 people working over a number of months with heavy equipment to dig deep trenches”.

Isel has about 30 homes within the Lake District national park. Its residents are served by an ageing copper-wire service that often needs repairing. They receive only intermittent mobile phone signals.

Elaine Church, 60, another Isel resident, has seen her internet speeds drop as low as 0.2Mbps. She has also been quoted £502,000 for a faster connection. “I was naively optimistic that we might finally get something sorted for Isel,” said Church. “When I was told how much I must contribute, I just laughed. Who do they think can afford this?”

It hasn’t helped that the village of Blindcrake, 2½ miles away, has already been upgraded to full-fibre broadband as part of the national rollout — and residents did not have to pay a penny. “Why should it cost so much simply to connect us to a hub already installed there?” Church asked.

Lana Norman, 65, a retired gardener and farmer who lives in nearby Setmurthy, has no internet and was also quoted £500,000 for a connection. “Living with no internet and a poor mobile signal is not easy, especially with local bank branches closing,” she said. “When we use the mobile phone, you have to stand in the right place for it to work. I recently used it to watch my daughter at a sheep auction, but it’s intermittent. My mother, who is 91 and lives in Canada, has faster internet than me.”

Up to 590,000 UK properties do not receive the minimum 10Mbps speeds and so may be eligible for an upgrade under the USO. This is about 2% of all premises, according to Ofcom, the communications regulator. It has asked BT to address the question of six-figure installation costs “as a matter of urgency”.

The regulator said: “We’re concerned about the high amounts BT has quoted some people who request a broadband connection under the new universal service — particularly those who could share the connection costs with other homes in their area.”

BT acknowledged the costs under USO “can sometimes be significant”. Although separate estimates of £500,000 were provided to three Isel homes, the company said, it was looking at ways of sharing costs across the community. “We’re sorry for the disappointment the quotes have caused the residents,” BT added.

Other communities have raised funds to upgrade their own broadband, without the help of BT. Residents of Michaelston-y-Fedw, near Newport in Wales, clubbed together to boost speeds from about 8Mbps to 940Mbps, which is among the fastest in the UK.

The idea was hatched by David Schofield, 56, a retired repairer of electrical devices, and four other residents at a local pub. “We did everything ourselves, all the cabling, digging up the roads and connecting the cables to a Newport hub,” Schofield said.

They started digging in February 2018 and had their first connection in June that year. They now have about 240 customers who each pay about £30 a month. The freezing that afflicts Roberts’s television reception, however, is likely to extend deep into winter.


More on: Tory councillors in revolt over plans to accelerate housebuilding

A growing rebellion among Conservative councillors is threatening government plans to accelerate housebuilding in England with six out of 10 believing reforms will make planning less democratic.

Robert Booth

A survey across Tory heartlands has revealed party representatives are baulking at ministers’ plans to sharply increase housing targets in electoral strongholds like Hampshire and Surrey and are rejecting attempts to cut planning committees out of routine decision-making.

Conservative leaders in councils are becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to the plans which they fear could result in countryside being concreted over for housing and core voters deserting them in disgust.

Martin Tett, the Conservative leader of Buckinghamshire council told the Guardian demands for an extra 1,000 homes to be built a year in his country were “undesirable and undeliverable” while John Halsall, leader of Wokingham council said the proposals were “a huge political danger”. An internal presentation from Winchester council seen by the Guardian warns the proposals are “clearly designed to reduce [the] number and type of decisions taken locally”.

The concern is reflected in a poll this month by Savanta Comres of Conservative councillors, weighted towards those who sit on planning committees, which found 61% believe proposed reforms announced in August would make planning less democratic.

It was carried out on behalf of BECG, a planning communications firm, and showed that 70% of Tory councillors want to increase the size of the greenbelt, which appears to run contrary to government proposals that otherwise unprotected farm and open land could be zoned for construction.

Andrew Howard, the firm’s managing director, said: “If the government is going to deliver on its commitment to fundamentally reform the planning system, it is going to have to put in some serious spade work, to win round those Conservative councillors who provide the bedrock of their member of parliament’s constituency association and who clearly value their role in controlling development.”

The survey also found that two thirds of all councillors, including Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens and independents, believe the majority of consultation with the public should happen on a proposal-by-proposal basis rather than when broad local plans are devised, as the planning white paper published last month proposes.

The planning reforms were unveiled in August by the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, and immediately drew sharp criticism. Under the proposals, planning applications based on pre-approved “design codes” would get an automatic green light – eliminating a whole stage of local oversight within designated zones. Land across England would be divided into three categories – for growth, renewal or protection – under what Jenrick, described as “once in a generation” changes to sweep away an outdated planning system and boost building.

But the proposals were immediately condemned by The Town and Country Planning Association as disruptive and rushed, and described as creating the “the next generation of slum housing” by the president of RIBA, Alan Jones.

The government’s parallel proposal to use an algorithm to set new housing targets for local areas in order to meet a national annual housebuilding target of 333,000 new homes has caused widespread concern. Analysis by Lichfields, a planning consultancy, of the proposed method has shown that sharp increases are expected in many Tory heartlands. In Chichester, West Sussex the annual target would rise from 425 to 1,120, in Reigate, Surrey it would rise from 460 to 1,091 while in Tonbridge in Kent it would rise from 425 to 1,440.

“If they stick with the algorithm they are using at the moment there will be more building on greenfield and less on brownfield in northern cities and that’s a real concern,” said Cllr David Renard, Conservative leader of Swindon council and planning spokesman for the Local Government Association planning spokesman. “What local government would like to see is numbers based on local needs rather than some algorithm imposing numbers from above. We are hopeful the government will reshape their proposals. The planning system can be improved and we don’t think this is the right way to do it.”

The algorithm has proposed cuts to housing targets in many northern areas such as Lancaster, Preston and Blackburn with Darwen.

Halsall’s area in Wokingham, Berkshire, has been told its current target of 600 new homes per year will rise to 1,635 which he said was “very unpopular”.

“We are a rural and semi-rural area and our population has doubled in the last 20 years so everyone is suffering from congestion, development noise, medical services being rationed which [voters] attribute to the volume of development,” he said. “It’s nuts in planning terms and it’s nuts in political terms.”

A spokesperson for the ministry of housing, communities and local government described the opposition as “misguided”, saying community involvement and control is at the centre of its overhaul of an “outdated planning system”.

“While local housing need proposals provide a guide for councils they will still need to consider local circumstances to decide how many homes should be delivered in their areas,” they said. “We’re consulting on the proposals and will reflect on the feedback we receive so we can deliver the homes we need, where we need them.”

On Wednesday parliament is set to vote on a Labour motion against a planning rule change to allow owners of blocks of flats to extend without seeking full planning permission.


Tory heartlands will have to find space for 1.5m new homes

Before reading this article Owl reminds readers that there are TWO consultations on planning reform. Closing dates are October 1 for “Changes to the current planning system” and October 31 for the White Paper “Planning for the Future”. The mutant algorithm features in the first. These are very technical consultations but a handful of questions are really crucial.

Anyone thinking of making a response, and Owl encourages this, might like to draw on the excellent briefing paper prepared for the EDDC Strategic Planning Committee of 16 September (starts at page 12 and gives proposed answers to questions). The Committee, with cross party support, agreed to reject the “ludicrous” algorithm.

By Christopher Hope, Chief Political Correspondent and Dominic Penna 

Communities in large parts of the Conservatives’ traditional heartlands will have to find space for 1.5 million new homes under a “mutant” planning algorithm being considered by the Government.

The plans, reportedly the brainchild of Boris Johnson‘s chief adviser Dominic Cummings, will deliver an additional five million homes across England over the next 15 years, with nearly a third in rural counties.

The five million target is two million more than the targets already set out in local plans that had been democratically agreed by local councils, according to analysis by the House of Commons library.

Urban areas and communities largely in the north of England are largely let off the requirement for new homes, with shire counties hardest hit by the need for overbuilding, raising fears of a “concreting” over the South.

The analysis shows increases in annual housing forecasts compared to local plans of 181 per cent in east Sussex, 119 per cent in Kent, and 115 per cent in both Surrey and Gloucestershire.

The changes mean tens of thousands of extra homes over the next 15 years will be needed in rural counties like Kent (69,127 extra homes), Surrey (45,465 more homes) and Devon (32,782 additional homes).

The 34 local authorities with local plans that cover the Home Counties will see an average increase of 104 per cent compared with their already agreed local plans, some of which were already imposing stretching housing targets.

There is a different picture in urban centres and parts of northern England, with fewer homes required in Scarborough, Barnsley, Rotherham, Leeds, Nottingham and Lancaster.

Thirteen of the 20 areas that will see the biggest increases compared with the current local plans are represented by Conservative MPs. Tory Cabinet ministers whose constituencies have local plans will see an average increase in housing need of 84 per cent compared with current local plans, if the algorithm is adopted.

The ‘mutant algorithm’

The plans have already caused consternation among Tory MPs with a number lining up in the House of Commons pinning the blame on a “mutant algorithm” in a Commons debate two weeks ago.

Writing for the Telegraph, Tory MP Bob Seely, whose Isle of Wight constituency is seeing its housing target increase by 101 per cent compared to its local plan, said: “We all agree we need to build housing, but we need to build the right housing in the right places.

“The key fact is this: cities across England are being asked to build relatively less compared with the rural and suburban areas around them. Instead of levelling up the North, I fear we are concreting out the South”.

He added: “The algorithm row, which will worsen the more our constituents across England know about it, is an unnecessary, self-inflicted wound.

“Britons in the Red Wall seats will see little change in their communities as infrastructure cash goes to the shires. Shire voters will react with anger at swathes of greenfield planning.”

Fall of the Red Wall

Mr Seely said the plans would backfire adding: “Labour in the North will accuse Red Wall Tories of failure to deliver. Lib Dems in the South will claim to champion local democracy.

“As policies go, it’s a double-whammy of lose-lose. Only an algorithm could be this dumb.”

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, added: “Governing by algorithm simply doesn’t work. We are in the midst of a housing crisis, and we need many more well designed, genuinely affordable homes, including in rural areas. 

“But combining this algorithm with far reaching, untested reforms to local planning, could result in irreparable harm to our countryside, without delivering the housing we actually need. 

“Local authorities could be powerless to prevent developers cherry-picking green field sites whilst leaving brownfield land unused.”

Speculative figures

A Government source said: “These figures are purely speculative. We are consulting on the new proposed formula, which will only be the starting point in the process of planning new homes. 

“Councils will still consider local circumstances in deciding how many homes can be delivered in their areas including protecting the green belt, but we owe it to the next generation to build the homes that are needed across the country. 

“We won’t be deterred from meeting this challenge, but we’ll do it in a fair and sensitive way.”

In a Commons debate earlier this month, Andrew Griffith, Tory MP for Arundel and South Downs and a former Number 10 adviser to Mr Johnson, said that “well-meaning ministerial intent has been sabotaged by a ‘mutant algorithm’ cooked up in the wet market of Whitehall”.

A Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman, added: “Local housing need proposals provide a guide for councils on how many homes may be needed in their area. Councils will still need to consider local circumstances to decide how many homes should be delivered.

“We’re consulting on the proposals and will reflect on the feedback we receive so we can deliver the homes we need, where we need them.”

How does the algorithm work?

The new algorithm will be introduced to counter what the Government calls “fundamental” issues with the current planning system, the basis of which was designed in 1947.

The algorithm will change the method used to assess each area’s local housing need in line with the Government’s target of delivering 300,000 new homes per year.

The baseline for the new method is either 0.5 per cent of the current housing stock in a local authority, or the most up-to-date projection for annual household growth in the next 10 years, whichever is higher.

The method is then adjusted to consider changes in how affordable houses have been in the last 10 years.

This is to reflect the aim of the algorithm, essentially to create more homes in areas where they are currently less affordable.

Unlike the previous method, the new algorithm does not put a limit on the increase that can take place in a local authority. Instead, the documents argue that a “step change” is needed to create as many homes as it deems necessary.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the system is “unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War”.


Downing Street facing 70-strong rebellion over planning reforms to boost house building

Senior Conservatives are poised to ambush the Government with a series of backbench debates over the coming weeks

By Richard Vaughan, September 18 

Downing Street is facing a furious rebellion of up to 70 Tory MPs over plans to overhaul the planning system in a bid to radically boost house building across England.

Senior Conservatives are poised to ambush the Government with a series of backbench debates on planning reform in the coming weeks that will provide dozens of MPs the opportunity to attack the proposals.

The move is to send a signal to No10 over its plans to introduce an algorithm into the heart of the planning system that will determine how many houses should be built in each area in order to meet the Government’s promise to build 300,000 new houses a year.

Johnson warnings

Several analyses of the algorithm have shown it will lead to a major increase in housing in Tory-held shires and suburbs, as well as rural parts of the north, but force a decrease in housing in more Labour dominated urban areas.

Boris Johnson is now facing warnings that the proposals, which are currently at consultation stage, will not get through the Commons as the opposition on the Tory benches is “bigger than his majority”.

Tory MPs are expected to stage a debate on planning reform in the coming weeks to display the level of anger to Downing Street with the aim of forcing a fresh u-turn.

This will then be followed up by a series of debates on local planning in the counties staged by individual MPs to ram the point home.

One Tory backbencher, who described themselves as a government loyalist, said the anger over the plans runs “deeper than No10 realises” and laid the blame at the door of Mr Johnson’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings.

“There are 40 of us regularly meeting about the issue, but easily  70 are opposed to it, including ministers and government whips.”

Downing Street is eager to push through the policy as part of sweeping reforms to the planning system, which it sees as vital to consolidating its control in former Red Wall seats. But MPs fear it could backfire in local elections next year and in the general election in four years time.

“This is being driven by Cummings and No10. [Housing Secretary] Robert Jenrick doesn’t have the political leeway to push back because he is on borrowed time. No10 is determined to push it through because Cummings hates the Conservative Party, he hates Conservative MPs and he hates Conservative members,” the source added.

Change to come

The Prime Minister and Mr Jenrick have been listening to MPs’ concerns, but no changes have yet been forthcoming.

Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, said he was “optimistic” the plans would be dropped following meetings with the Housing Secretary last week.

“The algorithm is flawed,” Mr Bridgen said. “And I think they are aware of this. If they do not reconsider then the plans will not get through the Commons. The number of MPs concerned by this is bigger than the Government’s majority.”

A Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “Local housing need proposals provide a guide for councils on how many homes may be needed in their area and councils will still need to consider local circumstances to decide how many homes should be delivered.

“We are consulting on the proposals and will reflect on the feedback.”