The future of planning in rural areas – West Country Bylines

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.

Mike Chapman 

Rural communities in the recently created unitary Dorset Council area are working hard and democratically to make Neighbourhood Plans. The bases of these plans lie in the traditions and desire for continuity of small rural towns and villages. This cultural heritage is under attack now and is further threatened by proposed changes to the planning system. The threat is from top-down development targets to be set in Whitehall, then from the probable long-term failure of Dorset Council (and others like it across the nation) to meet those targets. Such a failure will accelerate a developer free-for-all under the terms of the policies enshrined in the new Planning White Paper, issued for comment at the beginning of August.

‘Planning for the Future’ was issued with an accompanying fanfare from the Prime Minister: “Build, Build, Build”, he said.  This particular three-word slogan supposedly heralds a ‘New Deal on jobs, skills and new infrastructure’ and promises to ‘build back better’ in the wake of coronavirus, for the benefit of ‘every corner of the country.’

The essence of the White Paper is to:

  • improve the content of, and process to produce, Local Plans and thereby support national strategic environmental, economic and societal goals;
  • simplify the categorisation of areas of land into (a) ‘Growth’ areas – yes, you can build; (b) ‘Protected’ areas – no, you can’t build; (c) ‘Renewal’ areas – it depends on what you want to build;
  • extensively digitise the whole system from Local Plan to Planning Application and Approval so as to accelerate and automate many aspects of decision-making.
  • standardise a Community Infrastructure Levy, payable on all housing developments.

The changes laid out in the White Paper predate the onset of the virus. At their heart is the desire of this government to ‘level up’ nationwide. The White Paper proposes an enhanced central government grip through the setting of targets and national benchmarks. This centralisation will come at the expense of local decision-making on priorities and the diverse wants and needs of individual communities. The changes also risk becoming a developers’ charter by creating a free-for-all as and when local authorities fail to meet targets.

Why might such a free-for-all happen? Current government policy requires Local Authorities to demonstrate that they have identified specific sites for building to meet local housing need or other strategies they’ve adopted. New, standardised national projections of housing need imposed on Local Authorities mean many will fail to meet targets for actual construction and the forward availability of land for development, the so-called housing land supply. If this happens, under the current National Planning Policy Framework, local plans including all neighbourhood plans will be shorn of authority as the weighting of assessments switches to favour developers.

Is this likely to happen? It is happening in Dorset now and it is a racing certainty it will continue so to do. According to CPRE – The Countryside Charity (formerly known as the Council for the Protection of Rural England), the government’s algorithm for housing need in the county is almost 50 per cent greater than that defined in Dorset’s existing Local Plans and 100 per cent greater than the average number of houses actually being built. There is no chance the county will meet the required targets. Also, so-called affordable housing (housing offered at less than the local market median price) is currently a requirement of any development of 10 houses or more. It is disliked by developers because it lowers the attractiveness of the balance of a development. Developers go out of their way to avoid it. As the drive to ‘build, build, build’ comes on, there is a danger that affordable housing remains a necessary evil in the eyes of the developers resulting in concentrations of lower quality construction.

Aren’t we just being NIMBYs? No. There is a hard edge to this. Much of Dorset’s economic activity comes from its environment: agriculture, rural industries and tourism. If you pave it over, create larger centres of population, more dormitory towns and longer travel-to-work times, you start to destroy the fabric of the place. There will be promises, too – promises that the services and amenities, transport and communication improvements will follow. As they say in the aviation industry down here, “Pigs fuelled and ready to fly.”

But isn’t digitisation a good thing, using digital maps and electronic documentation instead of creaking paper-based systems? Having our house sale in the hands of an e-based Amazon equivalent is one thing; seeing our landscape and way of life forced to meet standards set by distant and unknowing hands with decisions being made automatically according to an algorithm is quite another. Digitisation should benefit communities as well as developers and must not supplant local democratic controls. There is widespread discontent about the impact of yet another algorithmic approach with some 70 Conservative backbenchers already demanding clarification.

Bourton in Dorset is a village of about 800 souls. It is 15 miles from any large town. It offers no employment opportunities, is on the edge of services and has made an environmentally focused, properly sustainable Neighbourhood Plan. Just because the new unitary Dorset Council is failing to meet its housing land supply target, should Bourton be greatly increased in size? Will this help solve the national housing shortage or just add to the local carbon footprint? Will the changes in the White Paper improve our decision-making or just create a developers’ paradise? Real progress will happen when communities are enabled and empowered to plan their futures by differentiating rather than homogenising.

So, what should be done instead of the White Paper proposals? The existing system does need an overhaul. Local Plans take too long to produce and are out of date the moment they are published. Planning applications and approvals are cumbersome and expensive. There is a need for digitisation, but not at the expense of local inputs and assessments and certainly not at the expense of local democratic accountability. In Dorset, many believe there is a good case to be made for Local Plans that:

  • truly take input from local people and reflect differing needs and conditions. There should not be a one-size-fits-all approach applied across towns as diverse as Weymouth, Lyme Regis, Sturminster Newton, Poundbury and Shaftesbury, for example;
  • strengthen key aspects of the rural way of life: agriculture and other rural industry, sustainable village communities and properly served market towns. There should be opportunities for investment in innovation, new industries and workplaces and a reduced reliance on carbon-intensive transportation;
  • deliver protection to our heritage of beautiful places and our environment. Plans are needed that apply a rigorous brownfield-first approach, require quality before quantity and reflect the joined-up needs of housing, communications, amenities and services.

In the policies and judgements that are applied to community infrastructure, we should see local democratic control that ensures:

  • targeted investment and appropriate partnerships that can address the housing needs of all in a community more effectively than the formulaic ‘affordable’ housing requirement or any successor scheme;
  • interventions that ensure the young or disadvantaged are not priced out by second home-owning or driven into low quality, dense housing with few amenities or services.;
  • priority is given to climate and environmental considerations to reduce travel-to-work, improve the efficiency of new buildings and create carbon neutral homes and communities;
  • pump-priming policies and partnerships to support new local business locations and other workplaces.

The government is consulting on these matters. The White Paper consultation closes at the end of October. The document contains the questions to which the consultation wants the answers – but many important questions are not asked. We need to find a balance between efficiency and effectiveness. ‘Efficiency’ as digital, automated, algorithmic management of our landscapes, and populated spaces will predominantly benefit those able to capitalise on the technology. ‘Effectiveness’ means that whilst contributing to national needs tempered by local factors, continuities and priorities, there is local democratic responsibility and accountability in our planning system: we need more of that, not less. As a nation we need to ‘level up’ by targeting investment rather than investing in targets.


Swire diary shows how Hugo’s fear of Claire Wright drove Tory about-turn on community hospitals 

Now that the diary of Sasha Swire, wife of Hugo, the former East Devon MP, is out (not just extracts in the press), it’s even clearer (see below) that the sudden Tory shift on community hospitals in 2018, after Matt Hancock became Health Secretary, was primarily driven by Claire Wright’s campaign to save East Devon’s community hospitals and Ottery St. Mary in particular.

Sasha Swire is completely wrong, however, to say that there was no threat to close the hospitals. The reason for closing beds in Axminster, Seaton, Ottery and Honiton was not only to save money on ward costs, but also to prepare the way for selling some of the sites for property development.

Remember that in 2017-18, CCG was constantly threatening to publish a Local Estates Strategy as a follow-up to the bed closures, and the Government commissioned the Naylor Review which proposed incentives to local NHS organisations for selling off ‘surplus’ property.

However the huge resistance to these plans from communities across East Devon caused the CCG and the local Tories to hit pause. After Swire was finally motivated to save Ottery (he had been prepared to sacrifice Seaton’s beds, because it was no longer in his constituency), Hancock was pushed into telling the Tory conference that ‘the era of blindly closing community hospitals is over’.

This doesn’t mean our hospitals are safe. Some like Seaton are still partly empty because the NHS has never put in the money to use them fully for local services. But it does mean that voting against the Tories remains the most reliable way to keep them.

(PS Hugo really does come through as a B’stard, and after reading his wife’s account, how could anyone possibly believe he deserved his knighthood?)

[Owl recommends visiting the Seaton & Colyton Matters site to see clear images and read the three relevant “diary” pages]


Something missing from the sensational Sasha Swire diaries?

Sasha Swire left out claims her husband had an affair

The wife of ex-minister Hugo Swire fled to David Cameron in ‘distress’ after claiming her ‘pig’ of a husband had an affair. 

Simon Walters 

Sasha Swire, who has lifted the lid on sex and political shenanigans in the Tory party, reveals in her new book that she dashed to Chequers, the prime minister’s official country residence, when her marriage was in crisis. 

Her ‘world was falling apart’ because of her husband but Mr Cameron and wife Samantha ‘slowly brought me back to life’, she writes. Mr Cameron even allegedly gave Sir Hugo a ‘ticking off’. 

The former Prime Minister and his wife Samantha ‘slowly brought me back to life’, Lady Swire writes

Lady Swire, 57, does not state in her explosive book, Diary of an MP’s Wife, that this incident related to an alleged affair involving her husband, 60. However, the Mail has been told by multiple reliable sources that she has said Sir Hugo had an extramarital relationship when he was a minister in Mr Cameron’s government. 

Invited to respond, Lady Swire told the Mail cryptically last night: ‘Three sauces [sic]? Is that Bearnaise? Peppercorn? Or Marie Rose?’ Asked for a more detailed response, she did not reply. 

In her book, Lady Swire lavishes praise on ‘family man’ Mr Cameron for saving her marriage. She salutes his ‘integrity’, arguing he will be judged well by history, before adding pointedly, ‘But he has been a good friend to me as well.’ 

This is the preface to her moving account of the day she fled to Chequers as a result of her ‘pig’ of a husband. 

She writes: ‘When in 2013 I felt my carefully constructed world was falling apart around me – ‘H’ [her name for Sir Hugo] being a pig and always away – I remember ringing him up in a distressed state and he told me to just get in a car and come down to Chequers, where Sam and he slowly brought me back to life. I can hear him now, ringing up ‘H’ to give him a severe ticking off, with me smiling on in gratitude.’ 

Lady Swire’s book describes a series of blazing marital rows between the couple – and flirtatious behaviour by both. A year before she turned to the Camerons in despair, the couple’s marriage was ‘in a difficult place’ and she ‘barely saw’ her husband, Lady Swire writes. 

Sir Hugo told Mr Cameron he feared his wife would to divorce him. Lady Swire says her husband joked he had ‘fallen in love’ with a ‘gorgeous’ 30-year-old female South American diplomat. 

Mr Cameron yesterday admitted that Lady Swire’s diaries, recounting his political rivalries and alleged sexualised comments, were ‘kind of embarrassing’. 

The new book recounts a series of marital disputes beween Lady Swire and her husband. She says that in July 2012: ‘I barely see him any more; he’s always in Ireland or the House or working in the constituency, and when he’s home he hardly speaks to me. It is midnight when he finally comes to hide in the corner of my cage, but it’s not from calm, it’s from exhaustion. 

Lady Swire’s book describes a series of blazing marital rows between the couple – and flirtatious behaviour by both

‘I flare up. It has an effect, because the next day he texts Kate [Baroness Kate Fall, Mr Cameron’s Number 10 ‘gatekeeper’] saying if he is not brought back from exile [a reference to his job as Northern Ireland minister] at the next reshuffle his wife is going to divorce him.’ Number 10 promised Sir Hugo he will get a new job. 

When the Camerons and Swires holidayed together in Cornwall in 2012, Mr Cameron asked Sir Hugo over dinner, ‘How do you cope? With her? Your wife I mean?’ 

Sir Hugo was duly promoted to Foreign Office minister in the same month. 

Lady Swire also recounted how in October 2012 her husband ‘looked guilty’ and declared to her: ‘I’ve fallen in love.’ 

‘Oh yes, who is it this time?’ she asked. ‘The Panamanian ambassador – she’s gorgeous, and just 30,’ he replied. ‘Thirty! Am I getting old?’ exclaimed Lady Swire, who was then aged 51. ‘Yes, Hasta la vista, baby!’ he said. 

Lady Swire says she was ‘due to meet’ the Panamanian ambassador but her husband told his wife her attendance was ‘cancelled’ on the grounds that it was ‘inappropriate’ because they would be ‘conducting bilateral talks’. 

‘Fine, I say, carry on flirting,’ she writes. 

Later, Sir Hugo was invited to Buckingham Palace by Prince Andrew, where ‘somehow conversation comes around to the Panamanian ambassador’. 

‘Have you met her?’ asked the Prince. ‘Have I!’ replied Sir Hugo. On another occasion, Lady Swire flirted at a Palace banquet during a Mexican state visit in March 2015, the diaries recount. 

Mr Cameron admitted that Lady Swire’s diaries, recounting his political rivalries and alleged sexualised comments, were ‘kind of embarrassing’

She tells an unnamed ‘smoothie’ that she is ‘a very fed up MP’s wife’ because her husband is too busy to take her on holiday. 

She talks of ‘getting a lover to take me’, and they exchange banter about him taking her to Corsica. The ‘smoothie’ offers to take her there in his private plane. When she says she hates flying he says she can go in his ‘super yacht’. 

When Sir Hugo asked her what she was saying ‘to that man,’ she replied: ‘He’s taking me to Corsica.’ She jokes she doesn’t care if he ‘bangs her up in his harem,’ she is going. 

Meanwhile, at a dinner hosted by the Camerons in November 2015 Lady Swire tells shocked guests: ‘I enjoy sex much more in my 50s than in my 40s.’ 

In 2015, during the ‘Sexminster scandal’, she notes: ‘Looking back on my own younger days the only person who patted me on the bum on greeting me was one David Cameron.’ 

At the time when a number of MPs were being accused of sexual misdemeanours, Lady Swire says she was ‘assured’ by Sir Hugo ‘he has not partaken in any groping himself’. 

Sir Hugo was invited to Buckingham Palace by Prince Andrew, where ‘somehow conversation comes around to the Panamanian ambassador’

‘Time will tell,’ she reflects, adding lightheartedly: ‘He is that age where he needs more of it and is getting less.’ 

But despite all their sniping, Lady Swire says her husband is the hero of her book for ‘riding the political tiger’. 

Elsewhere in the book, Lady Swire claims she was propositioned by Mr Cameron in 2011 when their families were on holiday in Cornwall. ‘At one point, on the coastal path, he (Cameron) asks me not to walk ahead of him. 

‘Why?’ I ask, and he says: ‘Because that scent you are wearing is affecting my pheromones. It makes me want to grab you and push you into the bushes and give you one!’ 

When the Mail went to her home in Devon last night, she declined to comment. 

When asked for a comment on the claims that Lady Swire had included a coded reference to an alleged affair involving her husband in her book, her literary agent Caroline Dawnay replied, ‘Have fun’, and put the phone down. 

Sir Hugo did not reply to requests for a response. 

More bitchy jibes from Sasha the slasher…

Cameron’s black dog:

Lady Swire describes how the ‘black dog’ of despair ‘descended upon David Cameron’ as his premiership hit trouble in 2012, when he and George Osborne were ‘at their lowest ebb’. 

The then-prime minister could ‘see it all unravelling before his eyes’ and said it was ‘like watching a version of (computer game) Angry Birds: all governments in Europe falling. He’s wondering whether his is next’. 

Mr Cameron backed a bizarre plan to use IKEA to stop marital rows over flat-pack furniture, the book claims. The idea was part of a Number 10 ‘relationship agenda’ dreamed up by his ex-aide Steve Hilton. 

The plan was to print ‘ten top tips on relationships in IKEA flat packs’ to help couples deal with the stress of putting up their wardrobes, says Lady Swire. 

Cameron was ‘genuinely excited’ by the proposal but an aide told him he was in danger of ‘looking like Prince Charles talking to plants’. 

Wives’ curtain spat 

The ex-minister’s wife risks being accused of poor taste for saying she was ‘p***ed off’ by Rose Paterson, the late wife of former cabinet member Owen Paterson, in a row over curtains. 

Mrs Paterson, 63, was found dead in woodlands near her family home in June on her husband’s birthday. Lady Swire said she was ‘fuming’ with Mrs Paterson’s ‘removal of two sets of curtains’ from the Swires’ flat at Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland in 2011. 

As fellow Northern Ireland ministers, Sir Hugo and Mr Paterson had grace and favour apartments at the castle. 

‘She decided ours would be better suited to her sitting room and promptly took them without a by your leave. We now have a frothing Colefax and Fowler floral confection completely out of keeping with our interiors. I rant at ‘H’ (her term for Sir Hugo).’ 

When Sir Hugo tells her ‘calm down, dear!’ and reminds her Rose was the husband of his boss, Lady Swire spits: ‘I don’t care who she is, it’s bloody bad manners! I’m going straight to the top on this one.’ 

Incredibly, she complained to David Cameron about ‘the curtain spat’. She protests: ‘The truth is those Patersons really p*** me off.’ 

Rachel the ‘tornado’ 

Lady Swire complains that Boris Johnson’s sister, journalist Rachel, ‘the equivalent of a human tornado’, came over to ‘harangue’ her over government plans to shake up the forestry industry when she was dining at a ‘Notting Hill eaterie’ with David Cameron’s Number 10 aide Kate [now Baroness] Fall. 

When Fall played down the issue, Miss Johnson said: ‘That’s a complete lie, Kate.’ 

Miss Johnson is ‘a violent dangerous rotating column of air that’ threatens to ‘lift us off our seats’, says Lady Swire in the book. 

‘Oily’ Hunt 

She mocks ‘oily’ ex-foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt for being the first to give up his official car in ‘in his usual mad PR dash’. 

Lady Swire says sports minister Hugh Robertson said of Mr Hunt: ‘It’s alright for him, he’s rich. He can get a taxi home.’ 

Brad Pitt’s ears 

When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt attended a 2014 Foreign Office seminar hosted by foreign secretary William Hague, Sir Hugo was distracted by Pitt’s ears. 

He claims ‘one of Pitt’s ears doesn’t match the other – and he wears high heels, so there! He’s not perfect’. 

When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt attended a 2014 Foreign Office seminar hosted by foreign secretary William Hague, Sir Hugo was distracted by Pitt’s ears.

‘Swivel hips’ envoy 

China’s ambassador in London is cruelly mocked as ‘Old Swivel Hips’ in the book. 

Lady Swire says she and her Foreign Office minister husband gave Liu Xiaoming the nickname because of ‘his ability to turn between two opposing systems’. 

She says ‘Swivel Hips’ had Downing Street officials ‘screaming at the walls’ over his threat to scrap a visit by Chinese premier Li Keqiang unless he met the Queen during his 2014 trip to the UK. 

When Mr Li arrived at Heathrow he demanded the red carpet, which Lady Swire says was more like a ‘bath mat,’ was replaced by an ‘Oscar-night carpet stretching all the way up to the plane. 

Sir Hugo told Downing Street ‘Swivel Hips needed taking down a peg or two’. 

More brandy, bishop? 

The ex-archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said David Cameron ‘lacked backbone’ as he drank brandy with Sir Hugo during a stay at Hillsborough Castle in Belfast in 2012. 

Lady Swire says: ‘As the brandy takes effect the dog-collarless Archbishop becomes increasingly robust. 

Dr Sentamu asks for another brandy to take to bed and ‘rolls down the corridor glass in hand’. 

‘Puffed-up’ Fellowes 

Lady Swire scorns ‘puffed-up’ Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes and his ‘eccentric’ wife Emma at a shooting weekend. 

Lord Fellowes was ‘eloquent and intelligent but faintly ridiculous’ and ‘obsessed with social hierarchy and nostalgia’. 

She said his ‘turban-wearing’ wife was ‘ Julian’s add-on and sticks up her hand to seek permission from him to interrupt’. 

‘Sad’ Hezza 

At a gathering of Tory grandees at Michael Heseltine’s home in 2012, the former deputy prime minister plays a prank by claiming the Queen has asked him to replace David Cameron as PM. 

He goes round the dinner table handing out ‘cabinet jobs’ to guests, including Lady Swire’s father, Sir John Nott, defence secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s administration. Her father said it was ‘all a bit sad’. 

‘Mad’ Dorries

Nadine Dorries, now minister for mental health, was branded ‘mad’ after she attacked ‘arrogant posh boys’ David Cameron and George Osborne in 2012. 

‘The old criticism is back to haunt them,’ says Lady Swire. 

‘This time it’s promoted by Mad Nad Dorries who accuses DC and GO of being ‘arrogant posh boys’ (yes, and the news is?) 


New coronavirus cases confirmed across Devon and Cornwall double

The total number of new coronavirus cases confirmed in the last seven days has more than double across Devon and Cornwall – but some areas have seen a fall.

Daniel Clark 

Government statistics show that 365 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 155 new cases confirmed last week.

The number of new cases confirmed in Cornwall has tripled, going from 60 to 179, while Plymouth has seen a small rise from 45 to 74. In Torbay, cases have increased ninefold, although from a 2 to 18, while in the Devon County Council area, they have nearly doubled, from 48 to 96.

Of the 365 new cases, 179 were in Cornwall, with 11 in East Devon, 50 in Exeter, 2 in Mid Devon, 6 in North Devon, 74 in Plymouth, 15 in the South Hams, 7 in Teignbridge, 18 in Torbay, 1 in Torridge, and 2 in West Devon.

Mid Devon and Torridge have seen a fall in cases compared to the previous week, while numbers for Teignbridge and West Devon have remained the same.

Those four areas, plus North Devon, are among the lowest ten places in the country in terms of cases per 100,000 population.

Of the 365 new cases confirmed, 303 of the cases have a specimen date of between September 18 and September 24, with some of the other 62 cases dated back to August, although the majority had a specimen date between September 14-17.

Of the 303 of the cases had a specimen date of between September 18 and September 24, 147 of Cornwall cases occurred in that period, with 9 in East Devon, 47 in Exeter, 5 in North Devon, 14 in the South Hams, 6 in Teignbridge, 61 in Plymouth, 12 in Torbay, 1 in Torridge, and 1 in West Devon. Mid Devon has not seen a case by specimen date since September 17.

By specimen date, the most recent case in Torbay is September 24, Cornwall, Plymouth, Exeter, North Devon, the South Hams, Teignbridge and Torridge from September 23, East Devon and West Devon September 21, and September 17 for Mid Devon.

While the number of cases in Devon have significantly risen, more than half of the cases are linked to students at the University of Exeter, who recently arrived for the start of term already having the virus, and who have inadvertently passed it on to their housemates.

All of the Exeter cases, and their households, are self-isolating and following public health advice, and there is no evidence at this stage of the virus spreading into the wider community.

While in Cornwall, a large number of the cases, up to 88, are believed to be linked to an outbreak last week at the Pilgrim’s Pride factory in Pool.

Of the cases with a specimen date of between September 15 to 21, there are currently 23 clusters where three of more cases have been confirmed in a Middle Super Output Area – three in Devon, eight in Plymouth, and 12 in Cornwall.

There is a cluster of four cases in Totnes Town and three in Yealmpton, Modbury & Aveton Gifford in the South Hams, and 23 in Pennsylvania and University in Exeter.

In Plymouth, Plympton Chaddlewood, St Budeaux, Cattedown & Prince Rock, City Centre, Barbican & Sutton Harbour have clusters of 3, with Southway and Derriford and Estover 4, Keyham 5, and Mutley 11.

In Cornwall, there is a cluster of 3 in Bodmin East and St Agnes & Mount Hawke , 4 in Redruth North, Lanreath, Pelynt & Polraun, Crowan, Wendron & Stithians, and Illogan & Portreath, 6 in Camborne South, 7 in Camborne West and Redruth South, 13 in Camborne East, 16 in Kingsand, Antony & Maryfield, and 23 in Pool & Illogan Highway.

And while there has been a rise in cases across the region from previous figures, the number of people in hospital with coronavirus has continued to remain relatively low compared to the rest of the country.

In the South West, the figure has risen from 15 as of last Friday to 34 as of today, with only three patients on ventilation. That figure on Wednesday had risen to 36, and new admissions have fallen from numbers earlier in the week.

No new deaths across Devon and Cornwall were recorded in the most weekly ONS figures.

The R Rate for the South West is now being estimated as between 1.1 and 1.4,

In total, Torridge has had 71 positive cases, West Devon 81, with 142 in the South Hams, 153 in North Devon, 241 in Mid Devon, 256 in Teignbridge, 294 in East Devon, 338 in Torbay 353 in Exeter, 912 in Plymouth and 1265 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, West Devon is 6th, North Devon 8th, South Hams 9th, Teignbridge 11 th , East Devon 14 th , Cornwall 16 th , Torbay 24th, Exeter 32 nd Mid Devon 43rd and Plymouth 63rd 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.


Rapid rise in cases takes numbers back to May levels in just 3 weeks /post/incidence-update-sept-25

According to the latest COVID Symptom Study app figures, there are currently,16,130 daily new symptomatic cases of COVID in the UK on average over the two weeks up to 20 September (excluding care homes). The number of daily new cases continues to climb in the UK, with the highest numbers still in the North of England and the Midlands with London playing catch up.

The R values for the UK are currently England 1.4, Scotland 1.3 and Wales 1.4.

The latest figures were based on the data from 6,847 swab tests done between 7 September to 20 September.

Prevalence figures

The latest prevalence figures estimate that 147,498 people currently have symptomatic COVID in the UK, this figure has more than doubled since last week (69,686), for the second week in a row. This figure does not include long term COVID sufferers. Worryingly, in the North West, numbers have tripled in the last seven days from 12,544 to 36,316 estimated cases. In the North East and Yorkshire numbers have more than doubled from 12,916 to 27,731. This doubling of cases is also seen in London where cases have gone from 9,291 to 18,200 a significant jump in numbers. A full regional breakdown can be found here.

COVID Symptom Study Watch List

The COVID Symptom Study app’s Watch List this week has been extended to include 25 regions of the UK. All 25 regions have seen a huge increase in the number of COVID cases, meaning that all areas are of concern with many like Manchester and Glasgow affecting 1 % of the population. As COVID-19 continues to spread widely across the UK the COVID Symptom Study app Watch List will become less relevant.

Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, comments: 

“The number of cases in the UK continues to rise at an alarming rate as we are seeing figures doubling weekly across the country, in particular we are worried about places like London and other major cities like Manchester, Belfast and Glasgow where cases are surging and the R value is around 1.4.

The government has confirmed that our data from our loyal app users  is playing a critical role and currently providing the most up-to-date figures. This is down to the way our app works, as a survey with millions of data points, we are able to produce data approximately 3 days ahead of the ONS’s household survey. We also have a greater number of positive swab tests, 151 positive tests in two weeks, around three times more than the ONS survey.

Having more positive swab tests and millions of people logging in everyday builds a clearer picture of what is happening in the different regions. We need as many people as possible logging in  the app right now, the more we have the better our data will be. We are urging people who want to help us track the progress of this second wave to download the app and log for themselves and their families.”

Algorithms? No just calculus this time!

Rishi Sunak’s Job Support Scheme took two minutes to unravel 

Tom Peck 

As all five feet six of Rishi Sunak rose to his feet at the despatch box of the House of Commons, gaining no perceptible altitude as he did so, it was as fine a moment as any to take stock of how we got here.

The empty air weighed heavy upon him. The hazard tape still stuck down to the floor of the chamber a reminder that these remain very dangerous times.

Can it really be a mere six months ago, in this room, that he was delivering his first Budget? Back then, a government minister, Nadine Dorries, had tested positive for Covid-19 a matter of hours before. Makeshift police tape had been placed over the door to her office, but everyone just crammed in regardless.

Sunak announced, to genuine cheers, that he had allocated fully £12bn to sort out this coronavirus business. This has turned out not to be enough, by somewhere in the region of £379bn.

Perhaps, in hindsight, it might have been then that it should have become clear that the government didn’t really have a clue what it was doing. But then, it’s easy to say with hindsight. Of course, many people said as much with foresight as well, but let’s not get too bogged down in all that.

He wasn’t delivering a Budget today. That quite rightly had to be cancelled. A “Budget” is just not the right word for the days in which we now live. Budgeting involves setting a spending limit and sticking to it. Budget hotels and budget car rentals tend to imply value for money.

There’s nothing budget about Covid-19. Oh no. That’s why this had been called merely a Winter Economic Plan, and it served to remind that, oh yes, winter is coming.

The furlough scheme, coming in at £4bn a month for the last seven months, was coming to an end, to be replaced by the Job Support Scheme. This was radical, in that it would involve actual employers paying their own staff to do actual work, rather than the government. Well, it would in theory.

For those of us whose job it is to attempt to find humour in chafingly dry fiscal statements like this, the smart move for some years now has been not to worry too much about the speech itself, but just wait for the aftermath. For most of the last 10 years, it has been possible to time, almost in seconds, how long it takes for a Budget to unravel, once the economists and the financial analysts get hold of it, clear out the smoke and shatter the mirrors.

The Job Support Scheme took about two minutes to collapse as a viable proposal. Its central premise is that companies can pay their staff a third of their wages to work a third of their hours, and then the remaining two-thirds, or 66 per cent of the cash, will be borne in equal 22 per cent chunks by the employee, who’ll simply lose it, the employer and the government.

It means that companies will be required to pay staff 55 per cent of their wages to do 33 per cent of their work. Alternatively, they can sack them, and hire somebody else on a part-time basis. It is hard to see this not happening. It is even harder to see how a waiter, a DJ, an airline pilot, a shop worker or anyone involved in, say, the events industry, can even hope to do 33 per cent of their job, when a pandemic has made it close to impossible to provide their services to customers who don’t want them anyway.

It was, however, good while it lasted. Some months ago, one of Sunak’s predecessors, George Osborne, pointed out that a popular chancellor is a chancellor who’s not doing his job properly.

If the halo slips on Sunak, it will also mark the daylight being let in on the magic. The magic money tree, to be precise, which has a decidedly autumnal look about it, and we all know what comes next.