‘Festival of Brexit’ organisers launch application process

“Critics have dubbed it a “festival of Brexit” and pilloried it as a waste of £120m of public money, but the first plans for the festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – announced by Theresa May in 2018 – will officially launch on Wednesday.”

? – Owl

The festival’s boss, Martin Green, insists it is not about Brexit but about bringing people together

Critics have dubbed it a “festival of Brexit” and pilloried it as a waste of £120m of public money, but the first plans for the festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – announced by Theresa May in 2018 – will officially launch on Wednesday.

Using the working title Festival UK * 2022 organisers have opened applications for teams who wish to be commissioned to come up with ideas for the event.

As the asterisk suggests, the event’s final title is yet to be decided, said the festival’s boss Martin Green, formerly in charge of the Olympic ceremonies and Hull’s year as UK City of Culture. “We don’t want to name and brand the festival until we know its content.”

Green is the chief creative officer for an event which has been widely ridiculed since it was announced by May’s government – who made comparisons to the Festival of Britain in 1951 and the Great Exhibition of 1851 – and given the go-ahead by Boris Johnson last year.

But it is not about Brexit, insisted Green. It is about bringing people together for a national celebration of creativity and innovation and surely that is a good thing, he said.

“A lot of people, and I know some of them very well, were quite alarmed about the project when it was first launched because of what people said it might be. Now people can see what the project actually is, I hope those fears will dissipate.”

The title of the festival is important, with one recent report suggesting that the Scottish National party wanted the word UK dropped from the branding.

“To be honest, we absolutely don’t know where that came from,” said Green. “We have been working with the UK government and the governments of the other three nations really successfully from the outset. They have all signed up to do the project … the same project in the same way.”

The festival will open applications on Wednesday for individuals and organisations to create teams which will then be commissioned to come up with ideas for the event. Thirty teams, each receiving £100,000, will be chosen.

“This is the phase which is usually hidden from view because most of the time people go out and directly commission,” said Green. One reason was to ensure “we are reaching out to new talent and new blood and widen the pool”.

The teams can be between three and eight and could include organisations and individuals, whether artists, scientists, mathematicians or engineers. Green gave the example of “an AI company from Wales working with a biochemist from Cornwall and a visual artist from the Scotland”.

Crucially they are not yet pitching ideas. “We see too much of that happening. I don’t like artists and creatives not to be paid for what they are doing.

“It is possibly the most important work you will ever do on a project, yet sometimes you do see ‘tell us your idea and if we like it we’ll fund it’”.

The eventual plan is for 10 ideas to be chosen which will then become the festival.

“We are trying not to pre-determine things but to absolutely let the experts, the creatives, respond to a challenge and see what happens. Ultimately we are about new, exciting, very different ways of engaging with people creatively”.

Green acknowledged there was still a way to go in convincing people of the festival’s worth.

Before Covid-19, Green said he and his team talked to nearly 300 individuals and organisations across the UK: “Once you get the opportunity to sit down with people and say this is what we are thinking about doing, they engage with it.

“There is always a journey and different people and different sets of people come on board at different times. Why would I expect everybody to come on board just because I say so? This is about us proving that this is going to be a great and valuable world-beating project.”

Tories fear building spree in the shires – but not a pipsqueak from our local MPs.

The government’s planning reforms would lead to a 45 per cent increase in housebuilding under Tory councils outside London whereas the number of new homes in Labour areas would fall.

[Note for East Devon that will be 74 per cent. Owl would like to know what Simon Jupp and Neil Parish are doing about it]

Steven Swinford, Deputy Political Editor, George Greenwood www.thetimes.co.uk 

Conservative MPs have warned Boris Johnson that a “mutant” algorithm at the heart of the planning reforms would lead to overbuilding in the southeast and “permanently disadvantage” the North and the Midlands.

Under the changes, local discretion over the rate of building would be removed and central government would “distribute” an annual target, at present 337,000 a year, among councils using an algorithm. An analysis of data provided by Lichfields, a planning consultancy, shows that much of the new housing would be concentrated in Conservative local authority areas in the suburbs and shires, rather than in town centres.

Nearly 100,000 homes would be built in Conservative local authorities outside London, a rise of 45 per cent. In Labour-held local authorities the number of new homes would fall by 3 per cent, from 57,148 to 55,500.

The analysis was released as Tory MPs criticised the plans during a Commons debate late on Monday. Andrew Griffith, Tory MP for Arundel & South Downs, said that the algorithm was “blind to geography” and called for exemptions for green corridors. He said: “By piling on even more growth in the southeast, the algorithm is locking the North and Midlands into permanent disadvantage. Despite the government’s stated intent, the new formula is levelling down, not levelling up.”

James Sunderland, the Tory MP for Bracknell, said that the government had to apply “some form of judgment” on the science behind the algorithm.

“Many of my constituents are very sensitive about unsustainable house building,” he said.

Tory MPs in the Greater London area were also critical of the algorithm. The prime minister held a Zoom conference last month with 17 MPs, who warned him that the reforms risked “creating the slums of the future”.

The MPs, who included four ministers, said that the proposal to treble the number of homes built in London to 93,532 a year would do “real harm to the Conservative vote”.

A Ministry of Housing spokesman said: “The Planning for the Future white paper sets out longer term reforms which will bring forward a simpler, more transparent planning system. In addition, the consultation on changes to the current planning system sets out the elements we want to balance when determining local housing need, including meeting our target of delivering 300,000 homes, tackling affordability challenges in the places people most want to live and renewing and levelling up our towns and cities.”

How to get a Covid test in Devon if the system doesn’t give you a local slot – and news about local contact tracing


seatonmatters.org Posted on 

From statement by Cllr John Hart, Leader of Devon County Council: ‘There have been some recent problems with access to COVID-19 testing. This is not unique to Devon and is a result of national laboratory capacity being stretched and having to prioritise analysing tests for areas with a higher prevalence of COVID-19 cases. We have put additional local arrangements in place to boost local testing availability until national capacity can be increased. We are asking Devon residents to book a test as normal via the government website. However, if they are unable to book a local slot then they can email d-cg.devon.urgenttesting@nhs.net and they will be supported to access local testing.

The Devon contact tracing system

‘Currently some local authorities are piloting local contact tracing services (for example Swindon) but the approach in Devon has been to second three members of its public health team part-time to Public Health England to support their contact tracing, which is working well.

‘At present, the national NHS led Test & Trace system is performing well for Devon. For Devon, since its launch to 16th August, 86% of people were reached by Test & Trace which is one of the best in the country (15th out of 150 nationally), and 68% of close contacts were identified (21st out of 150 nationally).

‘These rates have improved locally and nationally in recent weeks, so the figures for Devon will be higher again although they are not available yet. Complex cases are referred to the Public Health England Local Health Protection Team for follow-up: they are currently reaching 100% of cases.’


Jill Dando memorial tree cut down by housing developer in ‘tragic’ mistake 

From a correspondent:

The destruction of the Jill Dando memorial tree at the former BBC studios has just come to my attention through the news, though it actually happened in August.

There is always a sadness when trees are cut down. It does seem that trees are common casualties, along with other wildlife, in planning developments. This case does seem extraordinary as the new building was designed around this tree.

But what caught my eye was that this is yet more student accommodation in the city. Why has the city approved:

“Luxury boutique student accommodation in Exeter”?

“Is an elegant private studio or a luxury en-suite serviced apartment your choice? With a friendly team available 24/7, and a cinema, games room and gym on hand, there is no need to look elsewhere, we have it all!!”

Exeter City has a current local plan requirement of 3058 houses per year and a proposed new standard requirement of 5116 and any brownfield land is needed for the people of the city, not for the university. After all the university has a large campus where it can build for its own students.

But the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) would have picked up the pieces/land for the city. The neighbouring districts were going to help solve their land requirement problem with East Devon taking the lion’s share. Thank heavens the council had the courage to pull out.

Here is the article referred to:

Jill Dando memorial tree cut down by housing developer in ‘tragic’ mistake 


Bungling developers building posh student homes have caused fury after cutting down a memorial tree for murdered television presenter Jill Dando by mistake.

The former BBC studios, where the tragic Crimewatch star started her career, are being replaced by a new student complex.

The scheme was only approved after the developers agreed to keep the beautiful Acer tree that had become a spot where her friends and former colleagues went to remember her.

But it has now emerged the developers preserved the wrong tree at Walnut Gardens in Exeter, Devon – and cut down Jill’s memorial last month.

It is understood a planning report identified the wrong tree to developers, leaving former colleagues and friends “devastated” by the “tragic” mistake.


Blundering student housing developers mistakenly cut down the memorial while preserving the wrong one (Image: GOOGLE/APEX)

The developers StudyInn have now apologised and pledged to plant a fresh memorial tree and commission a sculpture of her on the site instead.

Exeter City Council said the memorial Acer tree was “not clearly marked” and a walnut tree that was more than 100-years old was instead identified as the one that needed saving.

Ms Dando’s former colleague at BBC Radio Devon Sarah Harris was among the friends who decided to plant the memorial tree where Ms Dando first worked for the corporation.

Sarah told the BBC she felt “upset and very, very let down”.

She said she had been communicating with the council and developers since February 2019 to ensure the tree was saved and was given several assurances it would be.

She added: “I’m devastated, but to think the walnut tree was the memorial – I mean she died in 1999, not 1899.

“You can’t have an old tree as a memorial tree – you plant a tree for somebody. I cannot believe it happened.”

Ms Harris added she did not blame the new developers who were given the wrong information.

Journalist and presenter Jill, who was murdered in 1999 outside her home, started her career working for the BBC in Devon.

Planning application images of how the resited memorial tree should have looked after completion of the development. (Image: APEX)

She became a newsreader for BBC Radio Devon in 1985 and that year, she transferred to BBC South West, where she presented a regional news magazine programme, Spotlight South West.

In 1987, she worked for Television South West, then BBC Spotlight before being transferred to London the following year where she went on to achieve national fame.

The tree was cut down in August and was noticed by another former colleague, Charles Eden, who went to look at the site to find “bare earth”.

He said it was “tragic” but he hoped the new tree and statue will be “something Exeter can be proud of.”

The surviving Walnut tree in the grounds of the former BBC studios (Image: APEX)

Developer StudyInn confirmed the wrong tree was marked on a planning report.

A spokesperson said the company had been aware a memorial tree was on site which had to be preserved and relocated.

“There was a tree survey commissioned by the applicant and it identified some important tress for retention in their current position and one tree for relocation,” the spokesperson said.

“The only reference we had to go on as to the identification of the Jill Dando Memorial tree was in the Planning Inspectors approval notice condition 7, which identifies the Jill Dando Memorial tree as T98 in the tree report which accompanied the Planning Application.

Walnut Gardens in Exeter, Devon (Image: SWNS)

“The tree report itself does not mention the Jill Dando Memorial Tree and T98 is a Walnut Tree. So we protected the trees identified for retention and used a tree specialist to remove the Walnut tree (T98) and keep it safe and preserved for re-planting in the re-developed site.

“Unfortunately the actual Jill Dando Memorial tree was a small tree which because of its size was not marked to be retained on the tree survey and it was removed before we knew its identity.

“We are very sorry that this has happened and appreciate that this has caused distress, particularly to those people who were close to Jill Dando and had planted the original tree.

“We can only look forward from this point and do what we can to facilitate the new memorial.”

New owner for newspaper group

The company that owns the Exmouth Journal, Sidmouth Herald and Midweek Herald has announced it is to come under new ownership.

Beth Sharp www.sidmouthherald.co.uk

Norwich-based Archant has been acquired by Rcapital. It takes a controlling share, with a minority holding for the Pension Protection Fund, into which Archant’s long-defunct company pension has been transferred.

Chris Campbell, partner at Rcapital, said: “We are incredibly pleased to have worked alongside Archant’s management team and KPMG to put forward a plan that will restructure finances and inject fresh capital into one of Britain’s oldest local newspaper brands. We are hopeful, that with the support of its creditors, Archant will emerge from this challenging period as a stronger business that continues to provide a vital service to its clients and readership.”

There is no interruption to publishing in the business, which continues to trade as before.


Keir Starmer warns UK’s test-and-trace system on ‘verge of collapse’

Keir Starmer has warned the coronavirus test-and-trace system is “on the verge of collapse”, as ministers conceded that a lack of laboratory capacity which has prevented many people getting a test could take a fortnight to be resolved.

The hold-up in processing Covid results, which has seen some people asked to travel from London to Scotland for tests, prompted alarm from council leaders who said it could be calamitous in the period that pupils and students return to education.

With some care homes also warning about a lack of tests for staff and residents, the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, urged the government to get a grip, saying the country faced “a critical moment” in avoiding a full-scale resurgence in the virus.

Addressing the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, Boris Johnson reiterated warnings for young people to socially distance after daily infection numbers shot up to nearly 3,000 for two consecutive days.

While the latest daily UK total, released later on Tuesday, fell slightly to just over 2,400, ministers announced new measures in Bolton following a surge in infections including restaurants and pubs being restricted to takeaways.

But efforts to prevent the UK following countries such as Spain and France in experiencing wider growth in cases risk being scuppered by persistent problems with the test-and-trace system.

After several days in which people reported being told the only available test was hundreds of miles away, or being unable to get one at all, a senior NHS official issued a “heartfelt” apology on Tuesday morning.

Sarah-Jane Marsh, the director of testing, tweeted: “All of our testing sites have capacity, which is why they don’t look overcrowded, it’s our laboratory processing that is the critical pinch-point. We are doing all we can to expand quickly.”

Prof Alan McNally, who helped set up the Milton Keynes Lighthouse Lab, one of three “megalabs” created to support the testing initiative, called on ministers to clarify the problems labs face.

“If we have genuinely hit the peak of what we can handle in terms of requests for tests, then make that public and issue a call to arms to labs to help in any way they can,” he said.

“Clearly we are looking at the beginning of another exponential increase in virus cases and the beginning of another large epidemic wave. Everything I’m looking at at the moment points towards that.”

Sir Chris Ham, former chief executive of the Kings Fund, said something appeared to have gone “badly wrong” at the Lighthouse labs in recent days. “This is a real canary in the mine moment for us as we begin to approach autumn and winter, that the numbers are moving absolutely in the wrong direction,” he said.

Answering questions from the Commons health and social care committee, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said there had been “operational issues” connected to contracts to carry out tests, adding: “It’s a matter of a couple of weeks until we can get all of that sorted in the short term.”

Hancock highlighted that the government had moved to ensure that no one had to travel more than 75 miles for a test, but conceded: “I appreciate 75 miles is far longer than you’d want to go.”

Starmer said that while he accepted the full return of schools would bring some risks of higher infection levels, ministers should have got the testing system properly operational beforehand.

“What we’re now seeing is stories over the past few days that is showing the testing regime is on the verge of collapse,” he told the BBC. “Heartbreaking stories from people who need a test being told no tests are available, or the website is crashing, or people are being told to go miles and miles for a test. Nobody can argue that that is good governance.”

In a parallel warning, Khan said the government risked squandering its “window of opportunity over the summer” to put in place an effective test-and-trace system before schools and universities returned, and questioned why ministers were still focused on encouraging workers back to offices.

“To prevent this turning into a tragic second wave of Covid deaths, the government need to urgently get a grip on the test-and-trace system and level with the public about the severity of the situation,” Khan said.

“Sending out confusing mixed messages and berating people into returning to the office is the wrong approach approach given the current state of the virus.”

Another Labour local leader, Danny Thorpe, who heads Greenwich council in south-east London, said he was still waiting to be told by central government why many locals were first asked to go to Dundee, Leicester or Cardiff for tests, or told none were available.

“Government incompetence is going to cost lives,” he said. “It’s a week where we as a council have been flat out getting kids back to school, supporting local businesses and working with local universities and colleges, and for them to be asleep on the job is unforgivable.”

Teaching unions also warned that delays in testing could hamper the return of schools, with students and teachers who would test negative staying off unnecessarily.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “The government assured us that this would be ready, but at the first sign of stress it seems to be falling over. This will put the successful and sustainable return to school at serious risk.

“It is unacceptable for this to happen when schools have put so much effort into getting their part of the plan right, and when pupils have had to endure so much uncertainty and disruption already.”

There are also worries that care homes in many areas are unable to have the mandated weekly testing for staff, and monthly tests for residents.

Nadra Ahmed, the chair of National Care Association, which represents many care homes, said many members had been in touch over a lack of tests or delays in receiving results.

“They are worried,” she said. “It does seem to be almost like a postcode lottery at the moment, which is even more alarming, because outbreaks may not be picked up. By now we were supposed to be doing daily testing by now.”

Addressing the Commons on Tuesday afternoon, Hancock stressed that the government was working “flat out” to expand testing capacity.

Referencing the worsening situation in Spain and France, Hancock also warned that the virus remains a threat. “This is not over. Just because we have come through one peak, it doesn’t mean we can’t see another one coming towards our shores,” he said.

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