Ottery St Mary sends their views on “Planning For The Future” to Simon Jupp MP

Owl posts below the letter that Ottery St Mary Town Council planning committee have sent to Simon Jupp MP. The letter ask him to do everything that he possibly can to persuade the Government to withdraw the White Paper and to abandon its unnecessary and highly damaging proposals.

Owl wonders how many other Town and Parish Councils (and individuals) feel the same way and, if they do, Owl would encourage them to follow Ottery St Mary’s example.

After all, how is Simon Jupp supposed to know your views if you don’t tell him?

Owl remembers that for years EDDC Tory councillors quoted the “silent majority” to justify “Build, build, build”. It wasn’t until last year’s council elections that this fallacy was exposed.

http://www.otterystmary-tc.gov.uk/Ottery-St-Mary-Town-Council/Default.aspx

27th August, 2020

Dear Mr Jupp,

Re: “Planning For The Future” – White Paper. 

I am chairman of the planning committee of Ottery St Mary Town Council and am writing to you following our meeting of  Monday, 24th August when we considered the Government’s Planning For The Future document. 

At the meeting there was strong and unanimous condemnation of the Government’s proposals. Councillors were highly critical of many aspects of the White Paper. The proposal which drew the strongest criticism – and it would be no exaggeration to say that councillors were outraged – was the proposal to remove the opportunity for the general public and councillors to comment on, and seek to influence, planning applications. This takes away one of the fundamental rights of local democracy. 

Ottery St Mary Town Council considers that this proposal is nothing less than an attack on the democratic principles that underpin our system of government. The Town Council therefore calls on you, as a matter of urgency, to do everything that you possibly can to persuade the Government to withdraw the White Paper and to abandon these unnecessary and highly damaging proposals.

Yours sincerely, 

Cllr Richard Copus 

Chairman Ottery St Mary Town Council Planning Committee

We’re turning into a nation of wreckers

[“We’re turning”, surely Mathew Parris means “the Government is turning” but can’t quite say it – Owl]

There’s one passage I’ve never forgotten in Robert Bolt’s play A Man For All Seasons, about the martyrdom of Henry VIII’s lord chancellor, Sir Thomas More. More confronts his future son-in-law, Will Roper, who has suggested he’d “cut down every law in England to get after the Devil”.

Matthew Parris www.thetimes.co.uk /

“Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? . . . D’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”

There’s something in the wind today, something poisonous; and though it’s hard to put a finger on, I think it matters. We seem to have entered an era of popular hostility to accepted and familiar institutions. Our leaders wish not to preserve but to destroy. This is dangerous.

“Disruption” has become the mantra. “Change” and “reform” are thought good in themselves. Apple carts must be upset, established rules and structures of governance “challenged”, trusted brands trashed. There’s a fine line between usefully critical vigilance over institutions we cherish, and a habit of scorn towards the organisations and systems that time has shaped and which, over time, have shaped us. I fear we’re crossing that line.

Take Roper’s frustration with being tripped up by the law as he chases the Devil. A case can be made for trimming back legal aid, or resisting the advance of the Supreme Court and judicial review as brakes on the exuberance of politicians. But if we don’t start from the massive respect for the rule of law that (though she was often impatient) Margaret Thatcher always showed, then we risk disaster. Few can have missed the dog-whistles of Conservative politicians all but condemning judges as enemies of the people.

Yes, Minister was Thatcher’s favourite TV satire. She found the Sir Humphreys of the Whitehall mandarinate maddening, as would any prime minister restless for action. But there was also deference: a clear understanding that Westminster and Whitehall are great and permanent estates. I don’t hear that respect today, as politicians and their media claque routinely refer to the civil service as some kind of fifth column to be subdued, broken.

I detect a similarly threatening attitude to the BBC. God knows the corporation can infuriate but when we’re cross, it should be because we love and feel proud of a corporation that’s a model to the whole world’s media.

The same is true of the fabric of our planning laws and procedures. Labour’s 1947 Town and Country Planning Act laid the foundations for the way we shape our urban and rural landscapes, and I return from driving across the Continent with a renewed sense of what Britain has achieved. Of course reviews and reform are needed but voices in government today almost hint that all planning constraint is regrettable. I know from living in a national park that constraint can be life-enhancing.

Then there’s the constitution. Our Union faces appalling strains already, and to talk as if the casual loss of Scotland or Northern Ireland would be just a bit of collateral damage in the Brexit wars is horrifying. At the other end of the scale are institutions outside government but which government should see as part of our national life. British Airways was bound to take a hit from the pandemic but are we just going to shrug and let it go? The National Trust has been badly shaken by outside attack.

I must not blame politicians alone. I could include newspaper columnists. We love tilting at things. But the critics of our institutions ought to be terriers yapping at the heels of lumbering giants. Often it now feels as though the giants have fallen and it is the jugular for which mastiffs are aiming. Likewise the Black Lives Matter movement should aim to correct and critique, not destroy, and should never forget what a great, free and civilised country we live in: here, and in the United States too. The national motto of the Republic of Colombia is Libertad y Orden — Liberty, but Order too. At its heart must stand institutions, procedures, structures and — yes — bureaucracy. These should not be dirty words.

I’ve mentioned the confusion, bordering on self-dislike, in private and public institutions. Some of this must be traceable to social media. In the past complaints were stopped at the door. There were filters. Now unvarnished harangues skip the post box and the PA and are delivered straight into the chief executive’s hand. In my experience, people at the top are unprofessionally neuralgic about complaints that come to them direct, forgetting that silence from most may mean most are content. Chief executives’ phones, like ours, make the professional personal. By letting so much coalesce in one device, we have stripped back barriers that gave pause for thought, or let tempers cool, or took away the private edge. The mob isn’t at the chief executive’s door. It’s just in his pocket. Public-facing executives, in national institutions and private-sector corporations alike, take fright and panic.

Great newspapers — institutions too — are not immune to this confidence-sapping virus. Some risk ancient reputations in the search for online clicks, as has the BBC news website. Dispensing with editorial judgment in pursuit of mere traffic betrays an institution’s failure of confidence in us, its customers, whom in a less jittery age it thought it knew. Media companies lose their nerve, deferring to what the data says, wrongly, about us. Collapse in internal self-belief is as much a cause of shakiness in our institutions as an external attack.

I’m far from saying that reformist assaults upon our institutions haven’t forever been with us, or shouldn’t be. We will always rail against committees, protocol and fustiness, the stick-in-the-muds and bells-and-whistles of venerable institutions. This is healthy. But if a balance is to be struck between critical vigilance and a near-anarchic destructiveness, then there needs to be pushback. The party of which I was a member used to provide it. It was called the Conservative Party. We knew the value of dragging our feet. Today, I almost feel the Tories are on the side of the wreckers.

There’s a war on. The pandemic threatens. Our economy staggers. Unemployment rises. The whole international order is under siege from the Putins, Xis and Trumps of this world. Not disruption but protection, not upheaval but steadiness, not the sweeping aside but continuity: this should be the call: the call of the known, the tried and tested, the familiar. Conservatives, of all people, should hear it.

Sir Kim Darroch: I told Johnson he was to blame, says fallen envoy

Sir Kim Darroch told Boris Johnson that he shared the blame for his resignation as Britain’s ambassador in Washington after a leak of diplomatic cables disparaging President Trump.

Francis Elliott, Political Editor www.thetimes.co.uk 

The former ambassador takes his revenge on the prime minister in The Times Magazine today with the first part of a serialisation detailing his abrupt exit 14 months ago from Britain’s most important diplomatic posting.

He urges Mr Johnson to call off “unprecedented” attacks on senior civil servants and questions Dominic Cummings’s efforts to shake up Whitehall at a time when the UK faces the twin challenges of Brexit and the coronavirus.

In his book, Collateral Damage, Lord Darroch of Kew reveals Mr Johnson’s desperate attempts to evade the blame for his departure from the Washington post. He says Mr Johnson was “fascinated” by the president’s political techniques.

For his part Mr Trump regarded Mr Johnson as a “kindred spirit”, according to the former ambassador. Lord Darroch’s most damaging claim is that Mr Johnson helped to force him out of his job at a time when he was under attack from Mr Trump, whom the envoy had termed “inept” in a diplomatic cable.

Mr Johnson, then running for the Conservative leadership, repeatedly refused to say that he would keep him in post during a TV debate between rival candidates on July 9, 2019, in contrast to Jeremy Hunt, his opponent.

The civil servant, who resigned the following day, told Mr Johnson that he was in part to blame after the politician called to question why he had quit.

In an interview with The Times Magazine Lord Darroch says: “He sounded just like Boris Johnson sounds — starting and then restarting sentences. Very Boris. He said, ‘But why did you resign? Wouldn’t it all have blown over after a few weeks?’ ” In answer to Mr Johnson’s question as to whether the resignation was his fault, he told him that “in part it was”.

Lord Darroch says that Mr Johnson was “intrigued by Trump’s limited vocabulary, the simplicity of the messaging, the disdain for political correctness, the sometimes incendiary imagery, and the at best intermittent relationship with facts and the truth”.

Asked if Mr Johnson has modelled himself on the US president, the former ambassador said: “If you go back through the current prime minister’s history, he’s often said quite striking things. And he never apologises. So, Boris might have done this anyway, but certainly, having watched Trump in action, he wouldn’t have been put off.”

Mr Johnson was “warm” towards Steve Bannon during visits to Washington as foreign secretary, exchanging numbers and emails with the aide, who left Mr Trump’s White House and faces trial on fraud charges, which he denies.

Lord Darroch relates that on one visit Mr Johnson’s then press aide came back in high spirits and, after a problem with his key, attempted to break into the ambassador’s residence via a flat roof. He was spotted on CCTV, apprehended by security and escorted to his room, where he vomited on the carpet.

Lord Darroch, who took his seat in the Lords as a crossbencher in January, was national security adviser in 2012-15. Sir Mark Sedwill, a successor in the role, has left government along with several other senior civil servants after “a sort of trial by briefing to newspapers”, he says.

“Civil servants can’t go out and say what they think, so it’s a free hit for those doing the briefing. I believe it could be stopped if senior ministers were to say, ‘You have to stop doing this.’ With all the challenges in this period in history — Brexit on top of the virus on top of other stuff — is civil service reform really the biggest priority? We’ll see how it looks in three or four years.”

Warnings from a whitewashed room as Dominic Cummings launches new mission

We all know this is going to end in tears and we are running out of scapegoats to blame – Owl

Dominic Cummings, addressing staff gathered in “mission control” on Tuesday morning, was blunt about the motivation behind Downing Street’s new outpost in the heart of the Cabinet Office.

The response to the Covid-19 crisis had too often been a “shitshow”, he said. This new unit would try to put an end to any “miscommunication” between the political and administrative arms of government.

Francis Elliott, Political Editor | Steven Swinford, Deputy Political Editor | Ross Kempsell, Special Correspondent, Times Radio www.thetimes.co.uk 

In roughly equal numbers, political aides and civil servants stood in the whitewashed room with rows of desks and TV screens to listen to his version of the future.

After Mr Cummings had finished, Boris Johnson spoke briefly. He joked at one point that the “mission control centre” reminded him of a newsroom. Other inhabitants of Room 38, 70 Whitehall, had a different take. Some thought the atmospherics were more Ricky Gervais’s The Office than Nasa.

The screens, which in time will display data-tracking progress against key challenges such as coronavirus, were showing a Powerpoint presentation of government priorities.

Further down Whitehall in the Treasury, one metric above all is flashing red — Britain’s ever-growing mountain of debt. Government borrowing has ballooned over the past few months to pay for an additional £190 billion spending since March.

While millions of diners were Eating Out to Help Out last month, the man picking up some of the bill was wondering how to pay. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, commissioned work on a slew of tax rises but he and his team were aghast to see their deliberations splashed across the newspapers as MPs were about to return to parliament.

Seven major tax rises were modelled over the summer, including increases to capital gains tax, corporation tax, fuel duty and national insurance contributions for the self-employed. Cuts to pension tax relief for high earners are being mooted along with a simplification of inheritance tax rules.

In normal times, any one of the tax changes would be deemed politically toxic, as previous chancellors such as George Osborne found to their cost.

Without context or other explanations many, if not all, of the rises looked unappealing, including to Mr Johnson. The extent to which the prime minister is prepared to increase taxes in the budget this autumn remains unclear but some of his cabinet believe that he is determined to resist his chancellor.

“It’s not going to happen,” one senior ally said. “It’s the wrong solution. It goes against fundamental Tory principles. It’s not what Downing Street wants to do. The prime minister is not into it at all. This is a Treasury position, not a No 10 position. These briefings are all about softening up No 10.”

Details of the Treasury’s proposals infuriated some cabinet ministers.

“If you raise taxes at this stage you will choke off the economic growth that will pay off the debt in the long term,” one said. “There’s no support for this on the back benches. If we wanted Jeremy Corbyn and his tax rises we would have voted for him. We didn’t.”

Alok Sharma, the business secretary, and Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, are said to be more accepting of the idea of tax rises. One cabinet minister said: “The issue will be that because Boris is not Mr Austerity, where are we going to get the money? I’d be absolutely against direct tax rises but we do have to look at indirect taxes. At the moment we’re addicted to the low cost of borrowing and it looks like that is going to continue for some time.”

There is a continuing debate around the Tory manifesto pledges, particularly the pensions triple lock. Under the mechanism, the state pension rises in line with wages, inflation or 2.5 per cent, whichever is higher.

Mr Sunak is understood to be pushing for the lock to be suspended next year to ditch the 2.5 per cent element.

This would save the Treasury £2 billion a year and avoid a significant rise in state pensions at a time when wages are expected to stagnate. Mr Johnson is said to hate the idea of abandoning a manifesto pledge.

Of the tax rises under consideration, the Treasury is understood to believe that pensions tax relief is the most ripe for reform. Higher earners now get tax relief at their marginal rate of 40 per cent when making pensions contributions, while lower earners have relief of just 20 per cent. “It’s inherently unfair,” one Treasury source said. “Why should the rich get such a huge benefit compared to those on lower earnings?”

Mr Sunak is understood to be considering introducing a flat rate of relief for all saving into their pensions. Sajid Javid, Mr Sunak’s predecessor, considered adopting a flat rate of 30 per cent. The move would provide a boost to lower earners saving into their pensions while cutting relief for higher earners.

Treasury modelling suggests that it would save the government £3 billion to £4 billion. Mr Sunak is considering a flat rate of tax relief of 20 per cent, saving about £10 billion a year. While the savings may be significant, introducing the measures would be complex and require Revenue & Customs to devise a new system, taking up to five years to implement. Whatever the private tensions, the prime minister and chancellor stood together as they addressed MPs on Wednesday. “If we don’t approach the next election with there being some clear blue water on spending, borrowing and of course, tax, then we will have removed one of the most important reasons that people vote Conservative,” Mr Sunak told a meeting of last year’s intake of Tory MPs. “If that’s what the British people believe in — that none of this stuff matters, sound finances don’t matter — then they would have voted Labour at the last election. But they didn’t. So it is important we set up that distinction, you can’t just show up three months before the next election and say this stuff is important. You’ve got to prove it.”

Mr Johnson warned the new intake that things were going to get worse before they got better — widely interpreted as an acknowledgement that the budget would be politically painful.

Mr Sunak is said to be determined that the budget proves to the markets that he is prepared to set public finances on a course towards sustainability.

Downing Street sources said that Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak were in “lock step” over plans for the budget. The vehemence of the response to some of the proposals caught Mr Sunak off guard, however. Rises to fuel duty are now almost out of the question. He is sympathetic, also, to the argument that faced with Brexit uncertainty a rise in corporation tax may be best postponed.

Meanwhile, Mr Cummings presses ahead with his rewiring efforts behind a bank of desks that includes his data supremo, Ben Warner, and officials.

The key figure apart from Mr Cummings is Munira Mirza, the head of the policy unit. Also in the room is the prime minister’s implementation unit and the No 10 legislation team.

Insiders say that Mr Johnson prefers to remain in No 10, along with Martin Reynolds, his principal private secretary. Lord Frost’s Brexit unit has not moved to mission control, nor has Mr Sunak’s team. Sir Ed Lister, the chief strategic adviser, is also absent.

“It’s like a sort of data boy’s frat house,” one official said after visiting Room 38. “Dom sits there with the people he thinks are clever enough to be there. It’s like that film about Facebook, The Social Network. You know, where they sit around in a Harvard dorm trying to build some software. Except they’re trying to run a country.”

Simon Case, the new cabinet secretary, retains an office almost equidistant from both power centres.

Coronavirus cases falling in Devon and Cornwall – except in Plymouth

The number of coronavirus cases confirmed in the last seven days has fallen across Devon and Cornwall – except in Plymouth where they have risen.

[This is why test, track, and trace is best directed and managed locally. The broader context is that cases are rising nationally and not all those with symptoms get tested – Owl]

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 

Government statistics show that 96 new cases have been confirmed across the region in the past seven days in both pillar 1 data from tests carried out by the NHS and pillar 2 data from commercial partners, compared to 102 new cases confirmed last week.

Nearly half of the new cases were in Plymouth, with 40 cases confirmed this week, with 16 in Cornwall, four in Torbay, and 35 across the rest of Devon.

Cases have almost doubled in Plymouth – from 21 to 40 – as the track and trace operation catches those who had been in contact with the ‘Zante 11’, but cases in Cornwall have fallen to 16 to 19, in Torbay they have dropped from 14 to four, and across the rest of Devon, have dropped from 48 to 34.

And the number of people in hospital in the whole of the South West has fallen to just 10 – the lowest number since figures began to be recorded in April.

Of the 96 new cases, 16 were in Cornwall, with eight in East Devon, seven in Exeter, seven in Mid Devon, two in North Devon,40 in Plymouth, six in the South Hams, five in Teignbridge, four in Torbay, and one in Torridge. No new cases were confirmed in West Devon.

However, not all of the 96 cases related to specimen dates from the last week, with 78 of the cases having a specimen date of between August 28 and September 3, with one of the cases in Teignbridge dating back to July 16.

Only 78 of the cases had a specimen date of between August 28-September 3, 14 of Cornwall cases occurred in that period, with five in East Devon, four in Exeter, six in Mid Devon, two in North Devon, four in the South Hams, four in Teignbridge, 35 in Plymouth, four in Torbay, and one in Torridge.

The remaining cases dated back to earlier in August, and in one instance, as far back as July 16.

By specimen date, the most recent case in Cornwall, Plymouth, East Devon, Mid Devon, North Devon Torbay, Torridge, and the South Hams, is September 2, from September 1 in Exeter and Teignbridge, and August 10 in West Devon.

And based on cases by specimen date, the number is falling in Plymouth as well. After 14 cases occurred on August 29, subsequent days have so far seen five, three, five, two and zero cases.

Of the cases with a specimen date of between August 25 and 31, there are currently eight clusters where three of more cases have been confirmed in a Middle Super Output Area – four in Devon and four in Plymouth.

There is a cluster of three cases in Clyst, Exton and Lympstone in East Devon, three cases in Middlemoor and Sowton in Exeter, and three in both Dartington and Loddiswell, and Ivybridge, in the South Hams.

Plymouth currently has a cluster of five cases in Plympton Underwood and Plymstock Hooe and Oreston, and four cases in North Prospect and Mannamead and Hartley.

Clusters in Mutley and Peverell in Plymouth, Wellswood in Torbay, Teignmouth North in Teignbridge, Bradninch, Silverton and Thorverton, Cullompton, and Morchard Bishop, Copplestone & Newton St Cyres have dropped off the map in the most recent week. Every other MSOA region of Devon and Cornwall – small patches of around 7,200 average population – have had two or fewer cases in that time period, with it now been eight weeks since the last cluster was registered in Cornwall.

The majority of the cases confirmed in the most recent week in the Devon County Council area, as was the week before, and from groups of people travelled abroad on holiday, some of them returned with coronavirus, who were picked up immediately by NHS Test and Trace on their return and they and their contacts advised to self-isolate.

A spokesman for Devon County Council added: “The numbers currently stand at around 30 cases in Devon, about the same last week. As those earlier returns come out of self-isolation, we’ve got equal numbers going in. With August behind us, we expect the numbers will start to fall again.

“We’ll continue to monitor the data really closely, so we’re able to respond immediately to any significant rise. But it’s a reminder that we’ve all still got to play our part and take care when travelling abroad and at home. Remember the precautions and continue to heed the advice.

“The numbers though are still comparatively very low compared to elsewhere in the country, and the risk of spread within communities in Devon is also still very low. “

However, despite the rise in cases across the region from previous figures, the number of people in hospital with coronavirus has continued to fall, and in the South West, the figure has dropped from 13 last Friday, to 10 today – the lowest figure since April when numbers began to be collated.

The last death in a hospital in Devon and Cornwall occurred on June 29, and latest figures produced today from the ONS showed that only four people in the two counties had COVID-19 mentioned on the death certificate in July. That was down from 20 in June, 118 in May, 373 in April, and 53 in March.

The R Rate for the South West is now being estimated as between 0.8 and 1.1, down from 0.9 to 1.1,as of last week but it covers a large geographical area and low case numbers mean the estimates is insufficiently robust to inform policy decisions.

In total, Torridge has had 58 positive cases, West Devon 76, with 116 in the South Hams, 133 in North Devon, 229 in Teignbridge, 231 in Mid Devon, 256 in East Devon, 274 in Exeter, 306 in Torbay, 754 in Plymouth and 996 in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Torridge remains the place in England with the lowest overall positivity rate, and is 3rd in the overall table behind Na h-Eileanan Siar (Outer Hebrides) and the Orkney Islands.

Including Scotland and Wales as well, the South Hams is 7th, West Devon 8 th , North Devon 9th, Teignbridge 13 th , Cornwall 14 th , East Devon 15th, Exeter 23rd, Torbay 31st, Mid Devon 51st and Plymouth 55th of the 369 regions.

The COVID-19 cases are identified by taking specimens from people and sending these specimens to laboratories around the UK to be tested. If the test is positive, this is a referred to as a lab-confirmed case.

Confirmed positive cases are matched to ONS geographical area codes using the home postcode of the person tested.

The data is now shown by the date the specimen was taken from the person being tested and while it gives a useful analysis of the progression of cases over time, it does mean that the latest days’ figures may be incomplete.

Cases received from laboratories by 12:30am are included in the counts published that day. While there may have been new cases of coronavirus confirmed or people having tested positive, those test results either yet to reach PHE for adding to the dataset or were not received in time for the latest daily figures to be published.

Our elections watchdog needs strengthening, not scrapping

You’d think given the rising tide of disinformation, dodgy donations and dark ads online, the government might be getting serious about empowering our elections watchdog.

Author: Darren Hughes www.electoral-reform.org.uk 

Instead, the Conservative Party has actually issued a call to abolish our regulator, the Electoral Commission.

The Electoral Commission is responsible for overseeing elections, regulating political finance and registering political parties in the UK (find out more about its role here). More broadly, its remit is to promote public confidence and participation in our democratic processes and to ensure their integrity. And it does that job very well on the whole.

Yet rather than giving the Commission the powers it needs to tackle fears over potential Russian interference and rule-breaking, the governing party is proposing to scrap the Electoral Commission, in a submission to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. (We’ve set out our response to the inquiry).

A Dangerous Move

This dangerous move would do nothing to serve the needs of our democracy, at a time when it is already under threat and is suffering a collapse in political trust.

Instead of providing much-needed reform to our out of date and inadequate system of electoral regulation, scrapping the Commission will weaken our electoral integrity, risking a free-for-all in campaigning that will put a free and fair debate under threat. With it, our ability to tackle growing threats posed by online political campaigning will be severely undermined.

More Powers, Not Less

What the Electoral Commission needs is the increased powers and resources, befitting a 21st regulator – to be able to tackle the challenges of the modern age.

What the Electoral Commission needs is the increased powers and resources, befitting a 21st regulator – to be able to tackle the challenges of the modern age. Click To Tweet

The governing party raises the fact that the Commission is forced to pass on cases to the police for investigation. However, this is down to its own lack of investigatory powers – powers already available to other regulators like the Information Commissioner.

It is striking that we now have a regulator with substantial powers to protect data privacy, but no such resources have been granted to the regulator entrusted with protecting our democracy.

The government has shown some commitment to protecting the integrity of our elections through the proposed introduction of online imprints but the success of this is dependent on a strong electoral regulator to enforce these reforms.

Any move to abolish the Electoral Commission would be a dangerous backwards step, undoing much of this positive work. This call – however churlish it may be – should be nipped in the bud now, for the bizarre backwards step it would represent. In the vacuum created by the lack of effective body overseeing our elections, significant wrongdoing would emerge, and go unnoticed.

Funding ‘stalemate’ frustrates Ottery Town Council

A funding ‘stalemate’ is delaying much-needed improvement projects in Ottery St Mary.

Philippa Davies www.sidmouthherald.co.uk

Work on the Winters Lane play park and Land of Canaan car park is due to be paid for with Section 106 funding – the cash provided by housing developers to pay for community improvements.

But although the houses have been built and the developers have paid up, Ottery Town Council has yet to see the money.

Ottery town councillor Dean Stewart said around £88,000 was collected from the developers by East Devon District Council (EDDC) 18 months ago – enough to pay for both projects.

He said: “We’re at a stalemate at the moment, we’re trying to get these things done, the money is in EDDC’s bank account and we would very much like to move forward.”

EDDC has confirmed that both projects meet the criteria to be funded through Section 106 payments.

Around £22,500 of the money is earmarked for buying new equipment for the Winters Lane play park, and nearly £55,000 for a new bridge over the river at Land of Canaan, plus other facilities there.

Town councillor Dean Stewart said a further £200,000 owed to Ottery in Section 106 contributions has still not been collected from the developers by EDDC, although there are many other sports and open spaces projects awaiting the funding.

They include a multi-use games area including tennis and netball courts at Strawberry Lane, a new fence at the cricket club, repairs to the football club’s facilities, and a roof for Ottery Primary School’s outdoor swimming pool; this would enable the school to offer public access outside teaching hours.

Cllr Stewart said the process of claiming payments due from housing developers had been halted while council workers were furloughed, but no progress appears to have been made since the end of lockdown

He said: “We have not yet heard from EDDC on why these payments have not been collected, or when they will be.”

An EDDC spokesman said:

“We are working closely with Ottery St Mary Town Council to ensure the appropriate spend of Section 106 monies currently available for play areas and open space in the town. We are discussing the Land of Canaan and Winters Lane play area projects with them, working through relevant processes. These processes ensure that the money is spent on appropriate projects that meet the needs of the community and secure the provision of those projects well into the future for the people of Ottery. There are also a number of practical considerations that our Streetscene team are working through with the Town Council as the projects would be delivered on land owned and managed by EDDC.

“Alongside this we’re chasing up the outstanding monies that are owed from other developments in the town and hope that this money can also be added to the pot for spend in the town in the near future.”

The leader of EDDC, Cllr Paul Arnott, said: “The new administration is determined to fully analyse for communities across East Devon why there have been such protracted delays in recouping funds promised by developers at the time that planning permission was granted. Indeed, without S106 conditions these permissions would have been denied. I have asked for an initial officer report to Cabinet at the end of this month. We will see what the lie of the land is then, and set a decisive course from there.”

Vulnerable children ‘at risk’ as councils cut services in Covid crisis

Vulnerable children are facing a dangerous reduction in support as councils axe services in an attempt to fill a multibillion-pound black hole left by the Covid crisis, Labour has warned.

Town halls across England, including Luton, Oxfordshire and Croydon, have tabled emergency budgets involving cuts to spending on children and young people, sparking warnings that unless ministers add to the £3.7bn in emergency coronavirus funding so far provided to councils, children will suffer.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that soaring costs and slumping income will result in a £2bn deficit for councils this year. Luton council, which is proposing to cut £3.2m from its children and families budget, said Covid-19 had had a “catastrophic impact” on its finances, not least with income from its airport company plummeting.

It is due to close four “Flying Start” children’s centres across the town and from next spring cease the provision of services helping mothers feed their newborns, cafes for parents of infants, as well as sessions of baby massage, baby talk, stay and play, messy play, and sing and sign. It is proposing an alternative “model of support that encourages families to access and build upon existing family, friends and community networks”.

Oxfordshire county council is proposing a similar £3.5m saving from children’s services. And at the London borough of Croydon, proposed savings in children’s services have been put at £4.1m with the reduction of 36 full-time equivalent staff positions.

“The possibility of a second wave of the virus later this year, particularly if combined with a flu epidemic, would also place a huge strain on existing resources, especially if lockdown is required and services have to be stood down again,” said Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Conservative leader of Oxfordshire county council.

“There may well be significant costs in future years arising from Covid as a result of reduced business rates and council tax. When we get to winter and need to set a budget for 2021-22 and beyond, it is likely to be extremely challenging.”

“This government promised to fund councils to do whatever it takes to get communities through the Covid-19 crisis, but ministers have broken their pledge, putting vulnerable children at risk as councils are already being forced to make emergency cuts,” said Steve Reed, the shadow communities and local government secretary. “Children should not be punished because the government is forcing cuts on to cash-strapped councils. It’s still not too late for ministers to do another U-turn and stick to their original promises.”

“Cuts to children’s social care would be the opposite of ‘levelling up’,” said Ruth Allen, the chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers. “With clear evidence of more domestic abuse, mental health pressures, rising unemployment and disruption to schooling in the pandemic, we should be reversing the real-time cuts seen over a decade in children’s services.” The association’s survey of over 2,300 social workers has also found the most common fear is increased likelihood of children being exposed to domestic violence, abuse and poor parental mental health as a result of lockdown.

“Councils continue to work all day and night to lead communities through this pandemic but are being stretched to the maximum as a result,” said a spokesman for the Local Government Association. “Many are facing increased cost and demand pressures as a result, while at the same time seeing a significant drop in income. It is vital that councils receive the funding they need to support children, young people and families both during the current phase of the crisis, and through the recovery period. The impact of the pandemic on some children will be far-reaching, and it will be essential that the right services are there to support them.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “These misleading claims ignore the unprecedented support the government has provided local councils during the pandemic with a £4.3bn package, including £3.7bn which is not ringfenced to help them support their communities, including vulnerable children.

“Councils also have access to £49.1bn this financial year, a £2.9bn – or an estimated 4.4% real terms increase – to help them deliver essential services for local communities. We will continue to work closely with councils as they support their communities through the pandemic.”

Competition watchdog investigates major housebuilders over leaseholds

Barratt, Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Countryside face action from CMA

Hilary Osborne www.theguardian.com 

The competition watchdog is investigating four of the UK’s biggest housebuilders after uncovering evidence that buyers of leasehold properties were misled and charged excessive fees.

Barratt, Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Countryside Properties all face action after the Competition and Markets Authority found “troubling evidence” of unfair practices.

The CMA said the developers may have broken consumer protection laws and has started enforcement action against them.

“It is unacceptable for housing developers to mislead or take advantage of homebuyers,” said Andrea Coscelli, the chief executive of the CMA. “Everyone involved in selling leasehold homes should take note: if our investigation demonstrates that there has been mis-selling or unfair contract terms, these will not be tolerated.”

Among the practices highlighted by the watchdog were housebuilders charging escalating ground rents to buyers of new-build houses and flats – which in some cases were planned to double every 10 years – and people being told properties on an estate would only be sold as leasehold homes when they were later sold on a freehold basis to other buyers.

Other issues raised included leaseholders being told that converting to freehold ownership would be cheap, only for them to be told later and without warning that it would cost thousands of pounds.

There was also evidence of unfair selling practices, such as unnecessarily short deadlines to complete purchases to put pressure on people to make deals they may not have done with more time.

The CMA said that at this stage it should not be assumed that the developers have been involved in “any or all of the outlined practices”.

The leasehold scandal started to emerge several years ago as homeowners who had bought new-build properties discovered catches in the small print of their leases.

One couple told the Guardian their flat was worthless as a result of a clause that doubled ground rent, which meant banks and building societies were refusing to offer a mortgage on it. Others said they had been quoted tens of thousands of pounds to buy their freehold.

Sir Peter Bottomley, the co-chair of a parliamentary group on leasehold reform, said “fast and full” compensation was needed for those caught up in the scandal.

“This is a bad case of consumer injustice with housing barons exploiting mis-selling, unfair terms, inadequate law and developers’ lawyers being complicit in robbing leaseholders of quiet enjoyment of their homes and the prospect of fair prices on resale,” he said.

The housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, welcomed the CMA’s action and said he wanted “to see homeowners who have been affected by crippling ground rents obtain the justice and redress they deserve”.

He said: “Shameful practices of this kind have no place in our housing market and we are going to put an end to them.”

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The CMA has written to the housebuilders outlining its concerns and requesting information.

The watchdog can demand legal commitments from the housing developers to change the way they conduct business or, if necessary, take the firms to court.

It is also investigating unnamed firms which bought freeholds from the four developers and have continued to use the same unfair leasehold contract terms, and has written to other builders telling them to check that they are treating their customers fairly.

The housebuilders said they would cooperate with the CMA’s investigation.

Shares in Barratt fell 3% in early trading, making it the biggest faller in the FTSE 100 index, and Persimmon fell by just over 2%.

Tories give themselves powers to build 29 Brexit lorry parks – list in full

Tory ministers this week gave themselves wide-ranging powers to build lorry parks in 29 council areas across the UK – without asking local councils.

[Including Devon and Plymouth]

Oliver Milne www.mirror.co.uk

As Britain counts down to our exit from the EU on January 1, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick set out plans to give himself the authority to start the construction of the facilities.

But local residents will have no say over the construction of the sites – as the powers, unveiled after MPs had left Westminster, put all the authority over the building of the sites in the hands of ministers.

The mover comes after the Road Haulage Association and other transport organisations warned that the flow of medicine and food could be disrupted if Britain left its transition period with the EU without a deal.

Traders fear the flow of food and vital medicines will be disrupted, even as the UK risks a second spike of

The government is already building one massive lorry pen in Kent – but this plan could see sites spring up the length and breadth of England.

Asked if they planned to build on lorry park in each of the areas mentioned in the document, a spokesman for the Prime Minister refused to offer details.

An explanatory note with document reads: “This Order grants temporary planning permission for development consisting of the use of land for the stationing and processing of vehicles (particularly goods vehicles) entering or leaving Great Britain.”

Transport bosses have called for an “urgent” meeting with Cabinet ministers over concerns there are “significant gaps” in the UK’s Brexit border preparations.

Eight logistics organisations, including the Road Haulage Association (RHA), have written to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove to highlight fears the UK-EU supply chain “will be severely disrupted” next year if issues are not resolved before Brexit.

The group seeks a roundtable meeting with Mr Gove, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to discuss areas including IT systems and physical border infrastructure.

The letter states: “As key participants in the supply chain who will be required to deliver a functional operating border for GB and EU traders next year, we have visibility of the current state of preparedness which as it stands has significant gaps.

“If these issues are not addressed disruption to UK business and the supply chain that we all rely so heavily on will be severely disrupted.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he would meet haulage bosses.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday that he has “very, very regular contact” with “people like the Road Haulage Association”.

A Government spokesperson said: “The border operating model sets out in significant detail the approach to UK border controls after the transition period.

“We worked closely with industry in its development and will continue to do so as we move towards the end of the transition period.”

The spokesperson said the Government was investing £705 million in “jobs, infrastructure and technology at the border” and had announced a new £50 million support package “to boost the capacity of the customs intermediary sector, ensuring we are ready for the changes and opportunities ahead”.

List of proposed areas for lorry parks – in full

  • Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council
  • Cheshire East Council
  • Cheshire West and Chester Council
  • Devon County Council
  • Dorset Council
  • East Riding of Yorkshire Council
  • East Sussex County Council
  • Essex County Council
  • Halton Borough Council
  • Hampshire County Council
  • Hull City Council
  • Kent County Council
  • Lancashire County Council
  • Leicestershire County Council
  • Liverpool City Council
  • Medway Council
  • North East Lincolnshire Council
  • North Lincolnshire Council
  • Plymouth City Council
  • Portsmouth City Council
  • Salford City Council
  • Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Somerset County Council
  • Southampton City Council
  • Suffolk County Council
  • Thurrock Council
  • Trafford Council
  • Warrington Borough Council
  • Warwickshire County Council