From a Correspondent:


There is, no doubt, that such vast developmental proposals by Burrington Estates for live, work and leisure facilities at Winslade Park, Clyst St Mary will arouse impassioned feelings within this small, rural community. This is an opportunity to create a revered, innovative development that could be admired not only in the South West but nationwide – but there are serious elements attached to this development that are causing ‘a stumbling block’ and creating barriers restricting the development from moving forward.

Although there is much support from the community for sustainable employment numbers, for the renovation of the historic buildings, the introduction of cafes, bars, retail outlets and services, the reinstatement of the outdoor and indoor sports, leisure and fitness facilities and the swimming pool for use by the community – there are other plans for building on protected green fields (Zone A), on flood plain areas (Zone B & J) and incongruous three-storey 40 -apartment container-shipping design models (Zone D) overlooking existing residential areas and an historic Manor House, that are proving inappropriate and insupportable. This has resulted in 155 objections to the original submission and continuing growing numbers of objections (well over 200) to the recent amendments.

Local public trust was lost after Burringtons made major changes to the original planning application after the Public Consultation, which left residents with a sense of betrayal that what Burringtons had shown them differed so markedly to what they submitted to East Devon Planners. Their revised proposals contained elements that were detrimental to many in the community (e.g. replacing 14 traditional homes in Zone D with a three-storey 40 apartment block)!

The National Planning Policy Framework states that the planning system should be genuinely plan-led and should provide a positive vision for the future and a framework for addressing housing needs and other economic, social and environmental priorities. Local district development planning sets out the local authority’s policies relating to the development and use of land in their area and neighbourhood planning is where communities aspire to meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations within their communities. Therefore, it is very difficult for this community to accept proposals that do not conform to national, district and neighbourhood planning.

So it is no surprise that by planning unsustainable employment, creating an immense development which will pressurise existing oversubscribed infrastructure (particularly highways), building  on protected green fields and flood risk areas and designing obtrusive structures – all of which are contrary to countless policies in national, local and neighbourhood plans for the protection of communities on what is potentially one of the most  fantastic development sites in this area  – that this will result in differences of opinion!

Since April/May 2020, when the application was submitted, there have only been very few supporters (single digit numbers) for this development – but in the last 24/48 hrs there has suddenly been an influx of supporters which begs the question – who are they and why are they in support at this late stage after 5 months?

These last- minute supporters now include the Development Manager and the Management Accountant of Burrington Estates, the Group Managing Director and another Associate of the Coreus Group (the Construction Group for the Winslade Park proposed development), two former Exeter Chiefs rugby players (one who transferred to Burrington Estates Group as the Group Relationships Director, whose job is to encourage business  space uptake at Winslade Park) and other associated firms and personalities directly involved on this site. They appear to have collectively been summoned to support this application in a last-ditch attempt for Burringtons to gain some credibility. Many of their supporting posts appeared late yesterday on EDDC’s website as though they were all in the same room connected to the planning portal?

Burringtons will, no doubt, argue that many of the 200 objections from residents were in template-letter formats produced enmasse. The crucial and important difference is that each and every resident (some of whom felt their lives and homes would be impacted detrimentally by these proposals) asked for assistance to be able to submit an objection, the vast majority live in this village, added their names and addresses to their objection in an effort to achieve quality not quantity in the village that they have made their home.

Are Burrington Estates getting so desperate for support that they are now employing questionable tactics?

MP Simon Jupp responds to concerns over Sidmouth business closures

Struggling Sidmouth businesses are being urged to contact the East Devon MP.

We now know, thanks to certain secret diaries, that our previous MP, Sir Hugo Swire, was bosom pals with “Dave” (Cameron) and had ready access to the PM’s private phone – yet Owl cannot think of anything that Hugo did for East Devon. 

We also now know that the character Sasha Swire calls “Jumping Jupp Flash” who succeeded him, spent a large part of Tuesday in ear- bending distance of Bojo. Yet all he is promising to do is “to stay in touch” with Sidmouth businesses. Everyone in Sidmouth happy with that? – Owl  

Beth Sharp www.sidmouthherald.co.uk

Simon Jupp said he is doing all he can to stay in touch with the town’s businesses and asked residents in the town to continue to support Sidmouth, by shopping locally.

It comes after Sidmouth resident Dennis Barrington, 77, raised concerns over the number of businesses closing down on the town’s high street.

Speaking to the Herald, Mr Barrington said: “I was brought up in Sidmouth and have spent most of my life in Sidmouth and am most concerned about what is happening to this lovely little town.

“Something drastic needs to be done to stop the businesses closing down.

“Sidmouth used to be the most prosperous town in East Devon, nobody ever had to go to Exeter for anything because you could get it here.

“A cut in business rates is most essential, we have a newly elected MP, most people don’t know his name.

“He is the one that should be doing something about this…

“We now need incentives and something to kickstart the Sidmouth economy.

“I feel very sorry for young people, they have to have a future. I’ve argued until I’m blue in the face about online shopping.

“I’m most against these big online companies are ruining the high street, if we keep going like this, we will kill all our local trade.

“Sidmouth is becoming a cultural desert which will be tragic – we have some marvellous businesses, shops and people. If we don’t wake up now it will be too late.”

Mr Jupp said: “As a fellow Sidmouth resident, we all want to ensure our fantastic shops and high street get through the pandemic.

“The Government scrapped business rates for shops back in March and responded with extra funding to concerns I raised about access to business grants which helped open up support to more businesses across East Devon.

“I’ve held regular discussions with Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce and Sidmouth Town Council who are brilliant advocates for our town and I regularly visit local businesses too.

“I’d urge businesses who are struggling to get in touch with me and I’ll continue to raise their concerns directly with the government.

“Crucially, we must all play our part and continue to support our local shops to help secure jobs and protect our high streets.”

Curse of the mutant algorithm – Housebuilding in Cotswolds and Cumbria will soar under reforms

…..“Conservative backbenchers are increasingly mutinous over the reforms, with one rebel calling it symptomatic of a “wider lack of engagement” that No 10 is not allowing MPs to vote on it.

Next Thursday dozens of rebels will be able to speak during a debate on the algorithm. About 50 Conservative MPs are part of a Whatsapp group that opposes the housing targets.”….

Do they include “jumping Jupp Flash”? – His voting record and choice as the “safe” option to act a Bojo’s minder ensuring an “unencumbered” visit on Tuesday to Exeter (where the Prime Minister failed to make any announcement about funding in the Great South West), suggest not. – Owl

George Grylls | George Greenwood www.thetimes.co.uk 

Housebuilding will more than double in the Cotswolds and almost triple in Cumbria under the government’s planning reforms, analysis has revealed.

In August ministers published details of an algorithm — described by one Tory MP as a “mutant” — that calculates which parts of the country are earmarked for development as part of a government drive to build 300,000 homes a year.

The countryside charity CPRE found that the plans would lead to vast construction projects in rural areas, whereas cities and towns outside London would escape the boom.

In Cumbria, home to the Lake District, housebuilding would increase by 178 per cent, and in the Cotswolds there would be 148 per cent more development. Rural parts of Hampshire, Leicestershire and Gloucestershire also face huge rises in construction, and areas such as Richmondshire in North Yorkshire would be hit by a tenfold increase. Richmondshire includes part of the Yorkshire Dales.

However, cities outside London would be asked to build fewer houses. Development is set to shrink by 37 per cent in Greater Manchester and 15 per cent in Birmingham.

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, said that “governing by algorithm” did not work. He added: “Our analysis has shown the government’s far-reaching and untested changes to local planning could lead to the worst of all possible worlds — gobbling up our countryside without delivering the affordable homes our rural communities are crying out for.”

Conservative backbenchers are increasingly mutinous over the reforms, with one rebel calling it symptomatic of a “wider lack of engagement” that No 10 is not allowing MPs to vote on it.

Next Thursday dozens of rebels will be able to speak during a debate on the algorithm. About 50 Conservative MPs are part of a Whatsapp group that opposes the housing targets.

Last month Andrew Griffith, the MP for Arundel & South Downs, called it a “mutant algorithm cooked up in the wet market of Whitehall”. This week Harriett Baldwin, MP for West Worcestershire, said the government was “concreting down rather than levelling up”.

Boris Johnson said the government was giving young people the chance of home ownership “for the first time in a generation” and that the construction would avoid “desecrating our beautiful countryside”.

Analysis by The Times found that seats in the traditional Tory shires faced a huge rise in development. The Cotswolds constituency would have an extra 739 homes a year. Arundel & South Downs would receive 4,510 homes over ten years — the equivalent of a small town. London would be hit hardest, with a fivefold rise in Sir Keir Starmer’s seat of Holborn & St Pancras.

Outside the capital housebuilding in urban areas would go into reverse, with a reduction of 260 homes a year in Manchester Central.

John Fuller, chairman of the District Councils’ Network, said that councillors were “enraged” by the targets. “We’ve got to have a formula — but, please God, not this one,” he said.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that ministers would “reflect on the feedback received” from a public consultation, which closed yesterday.

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

Building inspector ‘truly heartbroken’ for Grenfell Tower victims

John Hoban, who missed key defects, criticises council over cuts to building control service

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com 

The building inspector who missed key defects in the disastrous refurbishment of Grenfell Tower has told the public inquiry into the fire he was “truly heartbroken” for the victims during a tearful speech in which he also pointed the finger at his former employer, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

John Hoban, a senior building control surveyor at the council which owned the high-rise in west London, sobbed as he described his pain at the deaths of 72 people after the 2017 fire that was fuelled by the cladding system it was his job to inspect.

But he expressed anger at his former employer, condemning the deep austerity cuts that he said led to 10 building inspectors with 230 years of experience between them being replaced with a single new graduate at about the time the refurbishment was taking place. “I don’t believe that was the correct way to run a department,” he said.

After two days of evidence in which Hoban admitted not checking drawings properly, failing to read the specification and not understanding the combustibility of proposed materials, he said he was heartbroken “for those that lost their lives that night, particularly the children, the brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers”.

He also addressed the survivors and the bereaved, some watching the socially distanced proceedings online, saying he knew their lives would never be the same.

Hoban earlier described being overwhelmed by a workload of up to 130 projects at a time and told the inquiry that the culture of the department at the Conservative-controlled council was such that he did not feel he could say no to work.

He said he would come into the office on weekends to “keep on top of my work”, adding: “I used to go to bed with a notebook thinking about jobs, and some nights I wasn’t sleeping at all.”

Hoban said the cuts to staff between 2013 and 2017, which the inquiry heard were signed off by council leaders, were not the correct way to run a department. His remarks represent a push back against the council’s statement to the inquiry in January in which it apologised unreservedly for failings in its building control service. That was taken by some survivors and bereaved as an attempt to limit the blame assigned to the council.

During his evidence, Hoban pointed to the expertise of the design team and fire engineers who were employed as reasons he felt comfortable with what they were doing. Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry, repeatedly reminded Hoban it was his responsibility as a building inspector to check their work. He asked Hoban: “Are you saying because Grenfell had a team of experienced professionals, you were less ruthless and rigorous than you would have been had they not been there?” Hoban denied he was “relying” on them, but said: “I can only do so much in a day, Mr Millett, and I have to prioritise my work, I have to make judgments.”

In his final tearful remarks, Hoban tried to set the failures that led to Grenfell in the context of wider deregulation of building standards.

He said: “If we had a regulatory body like we had with the Greater London council and the regulations and building act and bylaws we had at the time, and a support network of experts that administered the regulations, I don’t think we would be … here talking about people that lost their lives and all these buildings with flammable cladding and the stress and uncertainty that leaves with people living in those buildings now.”

The inquiry continues on Monday.

A cautionary tale from Mid Devon – council dabbles in development

Owl was intrigued by the cryptic reference to “3 River development” from yesterday’s report on the latest “goings on” in Mid Devon. Here are the details.

Council’s development company 3 Rivers “a haemorrhage” to taxpayer funds

Lewis Clarke www.devonlive.com

Mid Devon District Council’s (MDDC) development company 3Rivers Development Ltd (3RDL) “will not be getting a green light to go forward” after questions were asked about its performance.

Leader of the Council, Councillor Bob Deed (Cadbury, Independent), blasted 3RDL following questions from a member of the public and a response from Deputy Chief Executive, Andrew Jarratt at the Full Council meeting held on Wednesday, July 1.

The discussion was held openly, prior to a private meeting held on Thursday, July 2, with councillors and 3RDL directors.

In a letter to the Council read at Democratic Period, Tiverton resident, Roger Davey questioned the current 3RDL construction behind Tiverton Town Hall. It was previous reported that the site, which is currently being transformed into 39 flats and houses, will overspend by around £757,000.

Mr Davey, a founder of the Angel Project, which aimed to turn the land into public recreational use, also pointed out that previous developers who attempted to develop the area Russell Harrison and McCarthy and Stone, had abandoned their schemes, as they could see “no profit.”

“Was a proper cost-profit analysis carried out by an independent consultancy, i.e., not the council or its architects?” he asked.

“Given that 3RDL was set up by the Council largely as a result of a report by a finance director to develop this and other sites and has not and is unlikely to make a profit, is it not time to liquidate 3RDL, go back to the drawing board and consult with groups like the Angel Project to try to salvage from this disaster a better scheme which improves the area and enhances the riverside?”

Mr Davey added that the estimated overspend was a “gross under-estimate.”

He added: “I believe that a £1,250,000 overspend is more realistic given the fact that despite nearly three years since start of work on this site, all of the groundworks are still not complete. What does the Council intend to do as a matter of urgency, to stop the haemorrhage of our, the council taxpayers money?”

He added: “Given that most of the discussions around 3RDL and this scheme have been held in secret, to, I believe, save embarrassment of the Council and some of the top-level management rather than any commercial considerations, when will the Council hold a proper open meeting to discuss this fiasco and the implications for services in the future given the debt that will be incurred?”

Deputy Chief Executive, Andrew Jarratt responded, and explained the process, and why Mid Devon had decided to develop the site themselves.

He said: “After a national advert to find an architect capable to deliver an exemplar scheme to fit such a prominent site in Tiverton, the Council instructed Randall Simmonds LLP (professional construction consultants) to provide a budget cost sum analysis for the scheme. This value was very close to the final tendered price received by 3RDL after entering into a negotiated contract with the current contractor.

“As many of you are aware, this scheme, designed by Mikhail Riches, a London based architect, has already won a national design award, Housing Design.

“This scheme was carefully selected by the Council in order to see the delivery of a project that would be of a very high design and build quality, maximising the site’s location and vistas and would help to add increased footfall to that area of the town centre. For clarification, 3RDL has already returned significant sums to the Council over the past two years and delivered its only completed scheme to date, on time and at its budgeted level of profit. I can confirm that the Council will continue to provide regular and diligent oversight on all current and future projects.”

Mr Jarratt said the Council was aware of a potential loss on development behind Tiverton Town Hall, but that it was working with its development company, in order to be assured that the project is completed without further budgetary implications of time delay.

“Clearly, the whole commercial property market has been significantly impacted by Covid19, but it is encouraging to see a return to “business as normal” for most areas of the construction industry,” Mr Jarratt added.

“The Council continues to work with its development company and maintains an ongoing level of support for its operations. It has recently commissioned some external reports into the ongoing governance and financial viability of the company and has made a number of recommendations that will be implemented at the earliest possible opportunity. If lessons need to be learned from this one specific development, rest assured we will learn from them and then move forwards.”

However, Leader of the Council, Bob Deed said it was time to “lift the veil” on the “considerable mystery around the performance of 3RDL and the oversight of the company by the responsible officers at the Council.”

He said: “You have heard in Mr Jarrett’s response that 3RDL has already returned significant sums to the Council over the past two years and delivered its only completed scheme to date on time at its level of profit.

“This is opaque speak in that, not one penny has been returned to the Council by 3RDL over the past two years, every penny of interest due from 3RDL to the Council has had to be lent by the Council to 3RDL and remains outstanding within its total loan figure due to the Council.

“With regard to the completed scheme, although 3RDL should have paid the profit on that scheme of around £100,000 to the Council, in fact, that sum was not repaid as it should have been, but was retained by 3RDL, effectively reducing their borrowing requirement by that amount.

“Also as part of the response, it has been said that a number of recommendations emanate from recent commissioned reports on the ongoing governance and financial viability of 3RDL will be implemented at the earliest possible opportunity.

“It is the view of myself, supported by the Cabinet, that where practicable, all of the recommendations, not just a number, will be implemented. In terms of the ongoing performance of 3RDL, we would trust that these recommendations will be implemented at the earliest possible opportunity as until they are, the company will not be getting a green light to go forward.”

His statement was criticised by Leader of the Conservative Party on MDDC, Councillor Bob Evans (Lower Culm, Conservative).

“I wasn’t aware that there was then an opportunity to make a speech,” he said. “That was public question time, not an opportunity for the leader of this Council to make another speech on a subject that has been the detail of many meetings in the last few weeks, and will be subject of future meetings.

“I think there is a right time and a right place, and I don’t think that was it.” 

However, Councillor Ashley Wilces (Independent, Cullompton North) criticised Council’s leadership for not being getting a handle on the situation earlier.

He said: “This administration has said many times that it wants to be open and transparent in its affairs, but I would say there remains significant room for improvement, especially in relation to the matters of 3RDL. To that end, I commend the Leader, for stating the questions publicly, rather than take to them to a private meeting.

“Transparency should always be the starting point and not secrecy. Will you commit to taking action to ensure that all future reports are presented to Council, in such a way that only information that is considered to be exempt from publication is withheld from the public, and not the entire context of those reports?

“Will you also commit to ensuring that the minutes of confidential meetings comply with the Local Government Act in that they provide the public with sufficient information as to know what business was transacted in private without releasing confidential information?”

Cllr Deed responded saying: “I can assure all members I will be in discussion with the monitoring officer to discuss how all future reports presented to Council can be more fulsome and transparent. It will mean discussions, whatever subject, can be held in Part I, and that Part II discussions can be held to the absolute minimum.

“The lack of open discussion at public meetings has lead to frustration on the part of both members and the public, and that feeds false rumours which cannot be of benefit to this Council or to the public’s perception in the way that this Council operates. I can assure members that my discussions with the monitoring officer will also cover the extent of minutes of confidential meetings and their compliance with the Local Government Act.”

Cllr Wilces continued to express his dismay following audit reports detailing governance issues with the running of 3RDL.

Addressing the Leader, he continued: “Such reports do not go into the detail of how and why these issues came about, nor who is responsible for them. This should not be taken to mean there has not been any mistakes made, nor deliberate act or omissions that gave rise to these issues.

“As yet, we don’t know why or how these things happened, because nobody has elected to provide that information, and so we’re obliged to carry out that further piece of work if we are to do our jobs properly.

“In doing so, we must be mindful that the actions of others have also had a deleterious effect on governance, such as the delegation of shareholder responsibility to the Chief Executive, by the previous Cabinet.

“I have also heard criticism that you have contributed the problem by not acting as swiftly as you might have once you became aware of these issues.”

“Ouch,” Cllr Deed responded.

“I would have thought that question would have come from the Conservative group, but never mind, it’s part of my own group.” 

Cllr Deed then explained what had happened during his time as Leader in regards to 3RDL to “set the record straight.”

He said: “On May 23 2019, the day after I was appointed as your Leader, I sat in the Chief Executive’s office and one of the topics discussed as you would expect, was 3RDL. I did request at that meeting that I wished to be told of any problems before the end of May 2019, and any such disclosures would be dealt with as appropriate on a non-blame basis. I could give no guarantees on how I would respond if problems came to light subsequently.

“Over the next five months, I regularly requested that an external report be commissioned in order that we might have an assessment of any remedial action which may be necessary to take in respect of 3RDL.

“Members, you will be aware, that over the previous 12 months, both the chair of Audit, Cllr Evans, myself, and many other members have had concern about the potential conflict of interest by individual directors. These conversations came to nothing until November 2019. At that point, it was admitted that it was thought it was only me, Cllr Bob Deed, was interested in finding out about 3RDL, and by definition, I did not have the support of my Cabinet.

“In November 2019, Anthony Collins Solicitors were commissioned to write the report that I wanted, except that when this was produced in December 2019, the report only addressed a question in relation to winding up 3RDL. That narrow commission did not reflect what I had been asking for in the previous six months.

“Anthony Collins Solicitors were then commissioned to review 3RDL in light of my constant request, i.e., what would the recommendation regarding the company to support continuing with 3RDL with the existing directors, continuing 3RDL with a new board of directors, winding down the company – that is to say, completing existing projects but not starting any new projects – and winding up the company.

“Members, you have seen the report of Anthony Collins Solicitors, which was produced in February 2020, and at their recommendation, a further report was commissioned from Bishop Flemming, which was received in May 2020.

“Unlike my previous life in the City of London in international banking, where matters such as 3RDL would have been dealt with within 13 days, in the local authority world it takes 13 months and counting.

“Tomorrow, you are all invited to discuss with the three existing directors of 3RDL, the company’s performance since its inception. I trust we can put this matter to bed as soon as possible and allow 3RDL to continue along the path that was originally envisaged for it.

“If members feel frustrated, and members of the public feel frustrated, your collective frustration is less than mine.”

He added that the 3RDL “debacle” was non-political.

“I don’t see any future in it becoming a political issue. With the support of my Cabinet, I have been trying to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. Without six months of delay, 3RDL would now be up and running, and we would all know how they were going to perform going forward.

“Unfortunately, not only has the delay held up 3RDL activity, but COVID-19 has not assisted. I am very sorry for that, but I will not accept any liability for this unconscionable delay.”

Government’s latest U-turn is too late – thousands of substandard homes have already been built

Office-to-residential conversions built under permitted development rights allowed for the creation of ‘rabbit hutch homes’ and ‘slums of the future’

By Vicky SprattOctober 1, 2020 inews.co.uk

On Wednesday, the Government made another U-turn. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced that all new homes produced through a controversial planning policy known as permitted development rights (PDR) will have to “meet minimum space standards”. You might reasonably think this ought to be a given, but for too long, it has not.

What is the point of having a planning system? Is it solely to facilitate the growth of towns and cities? Or is it to make sure that decent homes are built and ensure the functional social and economic wellbeing of communities? If changes to planning over the last decade – particularly the introduction of PDR – are anything to go by, it’s the former.

Permitted development rights (PDR) allow changes to be made to an existing building – such as an empty office block – without planning permission. The flats resulting from such conversions did not have to meet minimum space standards of 37m² for a one-bedroom, one-person flat or 61m² for a two-bedroom flat.

It was a political experiment in deregulation and cutting red tape which was embraced by the Conservatives as they found themselves under pressure to deliver new homes quickly amid a growing housing crisis which, they decided, was being caused by a supply shortage and not affordability – despite evidence to the contrary. As with so many policies, PDR was cooked up by a think tank. The rightwing ideas generator Policy Exchange published various reports in the early 2010s advocating for its expansion.

According to a new report from the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) and the London School of Economics over 100,000 homes have been produced in England in this way. However, quantity does not equal quality and PDR has caused more problems than it has solved. “Slums of the future”, “human warehouses” and “rabbit hutch homes” are just a few of the ways in which office-to-residential conversions created through the controversial planning policy have been described.

In 2019 an investigation into PDR by i found microflats as small as 9m2 and revealed that tiny, poor quality flats in Croydon (a London borough where there are a particularly high number of PDR conversions) had been sold through the Government’s Help to Buy scheme.

PDR has allowed developers to avoid minimum standards for access to light which has meant some conversions, such as Astra House in Harlow, have tiny windows which do not open fully, leading to poor ventilation while others, like Green Dragon House in Croydon, had boilers that did not work for months because they were never intended to service a residential property.

A recent paper assessing the policy from academics at UCL concluded: “a focus on housing numbers is eclipsing problems of housing quality, the type of housing being made available and whether it is in sustainable locations.” On top of that, it points out that because those behind PDR conversions did not have to make the usual contributions to local authorities through Section 106 of the Town and Country Act, the policy has cost local authorities money and meant they have missed out on opportunities to secure affordable housing in PDR developments as well as overseeing the implementation of proper infrastructure that normal planning processes allow for.

The Government’s change of heart comes after they doubled down on PDR in late June as part of their response to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Amid heavy criticism from the likes of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) who have long opposed the policy, they announced that from September it would be expanded again to include a wider range of commercial-to-residential conversions as well as the demolition and rebuilding of vacant offices or blocks of flats as housing.

The irony of using a crisis that has emphasised the importance of quality housing, access to green spaces and decent local services to justify a policy that actively impedes these things was lost on few. The lessons of this pandemic are manifold and will be unfolding for some time yet. One of the most immediate has been the renewed focus on home and the importance of having somewhere safe, spacious, light and airy enough to live.

They are often maligned, but U-turns can be good – if a policy is bad politicians should reassess it. However, questions remain over whether this decision goes far enough, suggesting the Government hasn’t quite learned its lesson.

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) spokesperson told i: “We have acted to ensure that new homes delivered through PDRs provide for natural light, and now we’re going further, tackling the minority of developers delivering substandard homes by ensuring they meet space standards.”

For the thousands of people who are currently renting or paying mortgages on substandard homes delivered through PDR there is little cause for celebration. When pressed on how it would be enforced the spokesperson confirmed that this would not “apply retrospectively” to existing buildings and said that the intention was to legislate via Statutory Instruments which allow for new laws to be put in place without having to pass an Act of Parliament.

However, for the thousands of people who are currently renting or paying mortgages on substandard homes delivered through PDR there is little cause for celebration.

Fiona Howie, the Town and Country Planning Association’s Chief Executive said: “While we are pleased that the Government has responded to our concerns and committed to minimum space standards for homes delivered through permitted development rights, significantly further steps are required to make sure all new homes meet basic standards and support rather than undermine people’s health, wellbeing and life chances.”

Vicky Spratt is i‘s Housing Correspondent

Axminster urged ‘keep our community centre alive’ with £10K crowdfund launch

The gauntlet has been thrown down to help ‘future-proof’ Pippins community centre in Axminster, challenging the town to raise £10,000 in little over three weeks.

Author Becca Gliddon eastdevonnews.co.uk

Pippins, in Lyme Road, needs the cash to ‘winter-proof, weather-proof and future-proof’ the Grade II listed building and repair its rotten sash windows.

The crowdfunding campaign for help comes in the same week as the launch of the community centre’s new website.

A spokeswoman for Pippins said the centre was home to more than 40 support and community groups who relied on using the building as a base.

She said: “We are looking to raise £10,000 this year to get this place painted to weatherproof it ready for the winter and then start building up some money to replace our sash windows next year.

“We hope the community will help keep our centre alive and kicking. We’re so proud of all the work that takes place at our community centre.”

She added: “We are really excited about this campaign because we have done everything with our volunteers – thousands and thousands of man and woman hours.

“They have been looking after our building and now we need to get the tradesmen in, that’s what we need the money for.

“We want to future-proof Pippins so that all our groups can continue having a home here.

“So we are going to be painting, we are going to be repairing and putting money towards our sash windows.”

The support groups include Job Club, East Devon Benefits Service, Axminster Memory Café, the town’s youth club, mental health services for young people and church groups.

The campaign hopes to raise funds to pay for for painting, decorating and repair costs to maintain the building for the future and fix ‘quite a lot’ of the rotten windows at the back of the building.

It is hoped East Devon District Council will match fund the sum if at least 25 per cent of the £10,000 target is raised by the October 25 deadline.

“Pippins is in desperate need of a full exterior and interior re-paint, with additional mending and repairs along the way,” the spokeswoman said.

“Funds are needed to foot the cost of painting, scaffolding and essential works so that we can secure our building not just for the winter ahead, but for the future too, to safeguard our vital community facility for years to come.

“Our first crowdfunding campaign focusses on the exterior painting project – with potential to extend to repairs to our windows, fascias, guttering and some interior areas if we hit our target.”

She added: “Pippins was born as a dedicated community centre in 2016, and has come a long way since, growing its usage from just two community user groups to the 40-plus initiatives that are now based out of the centre, each doing amazing work in the community.

“We aim to keep our building a warm, welcoming and safe place for all – and to keep our room hire prices very accessible so that financing should never be a barrier to good things happening in our town. All while on a shoe-string budget ourselves.”

To donate to Pippin’s Crowdfunder campaign, see here.

Deloitte selling contact tracing services to local UK health officials

This article highlights the difference between the public sector ethos to work for the benefit of the public and private sector motivations which are quite different. From the start of the pandemic, the government has turned its back on the public sector and favoured out-sourcing to firms like Deloitte. Could this explain why the test and trace system is failing so badly? Are we being ripped-off – Owl

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com 

Deloitte, the consultancy giant hired by the government to help run the NHS test-and-trace programme, is involved in selling separate contact-tracing services directly to local health officials in the UK.

Directors of public health have been invited to a demonstration of a local test-and-trace system developed by Deloitte and Salesforce, a US software company with which it has a business partnership.

It offers “a secure local contact-tracing solution which has been implemented by public authorities in the USA, Australia and New Zealand”.

The pitch, circulated this week by a Salesforce salesperson, promises: “This solution can be deployed very quickly, is totally paperless, meets UK government security requirements and can be used by local partners too.”

It follows widespread criticism by directors of public health of the national test-and-trace system, which Deloitte has been a key part of. The contact-tracing part of the national system is carried out by Serco and Sitel.

One director said the marketing approach felt like an attempt to profit from weaknesses in the national system. Approximately 22% of people transferred to the contact-tracing system between 10 September and 16 September were not reached by tracers, an increase on 16% the previous week, according to latest official figures.

Deloitte confirmed it had developed a digital tool to support local health authorities with local contact tracing. It said it was separate to Deloitte’s work on the national testing programme and that it was not involved in building the new national tracing system that is part of NHS test and trace.

But a director of public health who received the email pitch on Tuesday said: “The ongoing failure of NHS test and trace is being turned into an opportunity for one of the companies engaged in it to profit. This is not a coherent world-beating system. It is a worsening fiasco. While test and trace talk about working in partnership with us and fail to deliver, one of the providers of testing comes round the back door to profit from councils trying to pick up the pieces.”

Deloitte has already been awarded central government contracts to set up testing facilities and it coordinated the set-up of home testing, testing at NHS trust locations and in care homes. It hosts and maintains the NHS test tracking digital platform, manages appointment bookings and holds data captured by the registration system and makes it available to the NHS.

The pitch claims that its local system is designed to integrate with the national system “so that, once live, data can be transferred seamlessly from the national to local system for more complex local testing, or where a personal visit or local knowledge is required”.

It adds that “many different approaches have been used to contact people with positive tests, and then to trace their families and close contacts” but that “often these are reliant on paper-based recording”.

Earlier this month Jeanelle de Gruchy, president of the Association of Public Health criticised the NHS test-and-trace system for limited or no testing capacity in some areas, delays in requests for mobile testing units, cases and outbreaks being missed by the system, poor quality and missing data and slow or inadequate contact tracing.

Deloitte was named as a key consultant in leaked documents about “Operation Moonshot”, a supposed £100bn government mass testing project.

Growth in Covid cases may be slowing

By James Gallagher Health and science correspondent www.bbc.co.uk 

The growth in cases of coronavirus may be slowing down, the largest study of the infection in England suggests.

A team at Imperial College London analysed samples from 84,000 people chosen at random from across the country.

They said the R number, the virus’s reproduction number, appears to have fallen since measures including the “rule of six” were introduced.

However, they warn cases are high, with one in every 200 people infected.

They say this shows a rise from an estimated one in every 800 people infected with the virus at the end of August and beginning of September, when they last reported their findings.

The React study is highly influential, both due to its size and because it gives an up-to-date picture of how the virus is spreading. The last samples used in the analysis were collected as recently as Saturday.

It was the previous React report that found infections were doubling every seven to eight days in late August and early September.

This, in turn, led to warnings that there could be 50,000 cases a day by mid-October if that pattern continued.

Then the research group estimated the R number for their study – the average number of people each infected person is passing the virus on to – was 1.7.

The latest analysis, of swab samples collected between 19 and 26 September, suggests the R number has fallen to about 1.1 – although the precise figure is uncertain.

However this is not the same as the official R number produced by Sage, the government’s scientific advisers, every week. That is put together using estimates from a wide range of data sources and studies, including this one.

The researchers said it was the first hint that measures such as the “rule of six”, and heightened public concern about coronavirus, “may be having an impact on transmission”.

But many areas of the UK still have extra restrictions in place due to local spikes of the virus, including areas in the Midlands, the north west and the north east.

Stricter measures are also being introduced in Liverpool, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.

Extra restrictions have also been applied across the whole of Scotland, Northern Ireland and parts of Wales.

Prof Paul Elliott from Imperial College London said: “This is a very critical period, we know in an exponential phase you very quickly get to a very large number of cases.

“There does appear to be a downturn in the rate of increase, the R number appears to have come down.

“Clearly nobody wants a full lockdown, but if we pay attention to public health messages on social distance, hand washing, face covering and testing and isolating, then I think we can turn the virus down.”

However, Prof Oliver Johnson, from the University of Bristol, said the conclusion that cases were slowing down was “wrong and dangerous”.

And he doubts both the old and the new estimates of the R value.

He said: “I suspect they were both wrong, and it was actually more like R=1.4 each time.”

2px presentational grey line
Analysis box by Nick Triggle, health correspondent

How can R number be falling and cases going up?

The blizzard of data can make it difficult to see clearly what is going on.

One minute cases seem to be rising quickly – we saw that when the daily confirmed cases topped 7,000 on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday.

Now we are told the R number has fallen. How can this be?

The first thing to say is the R is still above 1, so that means the number of cases will continue to go up, but the rise will be more gradual.

Secondly, the number of daily confirmed cases does fluctuate quite a bit. It is more important to look at the seven-day average, which shows a more gradual rise.

Certainly more gradual than the doomsday scenario of a doubling every week that was going to lead to the 50,000 cases by mid-October that government advisers warned about last week.

The daily cases are also affected by the ability of the testing system to identify cases.

Monitoring suggests there may be two to three times as many infections than are being identified.

Once the new labs open this month we could see a jump in daily cases that do not necessarily spell a worsening of infection levels.

The bottom line is cases are going up, but at a slower rate than feared a month ago – and certainly no where near the surge of the spring.

That period when cases were doubling every week means there is now far more of the virus around.

“What we found is the prevalence has gone up markedly, one in 200 people walking the streets on any one day has measurable virus,” Prof Elliott added.

As the study tests people at random, not everyone who tests positive will go on to develop symptoms.

However, the increase was noted in all regions of the country and in all age groups.

Infection rates were highest among 18 to 24-year-olds, with one in every 100 testing positive for the virus.

Infection rates were much lower among the over-65s, but have increased seven-fold since the last report (from 0.04% to 0.29%).

This is only one of many sources of information – alongside the Office for National Statistics, disease modelling groups, hospital data and NHS Test and Trace – that the government relies on to assess the situation.

Financial package agreed to support Exeter Airport to help avoid ‘worse case scenario’

Financial package agreed to support Exeter Airport to help avoid ‘worse case scenario’

A package of measures was agreed by East Devon District Council’s cabinet to support Exeter Airport

Daniel Clark LDRS www.midweekherald.co.uk 

A package of financial support designed to ensure Exeter Airport can avoid the ‘worst case scenario’ of closure has been unanimously backed.

The combination of the collapse of Flybe, as well as the coronavirus pandemic, has led to the airport facing an existential threat to its future, with passenger numbers down 90 per cent year-on-year.

East Devon District Council’s cabinet, when they met on Wednesday night, approved a package of measures to support the airport which included a further deferral of £180,000 of business rate relief, forward-funding the airport’s share of the Long Lane enhancement scheme to the tune of nearly £750,000 and to endorse the concept of a sustainable aviation cluster centred on Exeter Airport.

Project director Andrew Wood, in his report to the cabinet putting forward the recommendation, said that Exeter Airport had probably been the business most impacted of any in the district by coronavirus, particularly given the collapse of Flybe that happened right before the lockdown.

He said: “The package of support is in place for the airport to help counteract the impact of the lockdown, promote recovery and chart a course to a more sustainable future.

“It is not possible to say categorically that the package of support outlined in this report will stave off the threat facing the airport, is not a cure, and won’t address in totality of issues they face, but it will help to cushion the impact of the pandemic and we hope it is more than a gesture.

“The most obvious alternative option would be not to provide any form of public sector backed support. The airport does though face an existential threat currently. In the worst case scenario the airport would close. This would lead to further large scale job closures, reduce business rate revenues and also diminish the connectivity of the region.”

When Flybe, which accounted for 75 per cent of the passenger numbers at the airport, went into administration on the March 5, it led to the loss of 931 jobs locally. This was then followed by the coronavirus crisis with passenger numbers down by 94 per cent during August.

Mr Wood added: “The package of support is in place for the Airport to help counteract the impact of the lockdown, promote recovery and chart a course to a more sustainable future.

“Passenger numbers at the airport in May 2019 were 97,000 and in May 2020 the equivalent figure was just nine. From the beginning of the financial year to the end of the July,passenger numbers dropped by 99.5 per cent compared to the same period last year.

“As we emerge from lockdown, commercial flights have now recommenced from the airport. But this is nowhere near the scale that might otherwise have been expected with passenger numbers down by 94 per cent during August.

“While some former Flybe routes have been picked up by alternative operators such as Logan Air and Blue Island, other key routes including to Paris and Amsterdam are not currently being operated. The flying programme continues to be further impacted by the uncertainties around quarantine restrictions.”

The package of measures to support the airport, which the cabinet unanimously backed, included a further deferral of £180,000 business rate relief, forward-funding the airport’s share of the Long Lane enhancement scheme to the tune of nearly £750,000, and to endorse the concept of a sustainable aviation cluster centred on Exeter Airport.

In total, £580,000 of the Long Lane works will be secured by a guarantee by the airport’s parent company, and Cllr Paul Hayward, portfolio holder for economy and assets, said that as it was tax payers’ money that was being put on the line, it was only right there was security, and that if the council share’s the risks of the bad times, they share the benefits of the good times.

But he said that while the council could offer business rate relief of £180,000 of the £600,000 bill they offer as it was the right thing to do, the Government should step in and offer a year-long relief from business rates for all airports in England and Wales and bring them in line with their Scottish and Northern Irish counterparts.

“This is a national issue and for every regional airport, and the Government putting money where its mouth is for this vital economic activity,” he said, adding that Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, had also made this call.

Mr Jupp had said: “The Government needs to cut business rates entirely for the airport and reimburse councils who would be affected.”

Simon Davey, the council’s strategic lead for finance, said that if the Government put a national scheme in place, then that would override any decision made by East Devon, and the contribution would come back to the council.

Cllr John Loudoun, portfolio holder for policy co-ordination and regional engagement, proposing the council goes ahead with the package, said: “This demonstrates the confidence we have in and around the airport.”

The range of the measures that the cabinet agreed will aid short term recovery, ensure infrastructure improvements can continue to be progressed and work towards the strategic objective of developing a sustainable aviation cluster can be completed.

As well as the proposed business rate relief request within State Aid limits to be funded through the Enterprise Zone programme, the cabinet endorses increasing the budget for the Long Lane project by £1.1m, and recommended to council the borrowing of up to £3.7m against ring fenced business rate income to implement the scheme.

The Long Lane Enhancement Scheme will widen the road that runs past Exeter Airport and down to Hampton by Hilton hotel, which will enable a new Airpark – one of the four planned ‘Enterprise Zones’ – to come forward, as the current ‘unfit for purpose’ road prohibits its development

The Long Lane scheme includes the construction of a T-junction, rather than an initially proposed roundabout, at car park one at the airport. The carriageway between car park one and the Flybe Academy/Hampton by Hilton hotel will then be widened to ensure a road width of 6.5m and footway is achieved and to ensure tie-in to the proposed roundabout junction.

And while Long Lane is being widened, a new road to connect Silverdown Office Park to the FlyBe Academy access road, known as the ‘Silverdown Link’, will be built. Once the Long Lane works are finished, the Silverdown Link will become a permanent bus and cycle only link.

The previous £2.55m budget for the Long Lane scheme was agreed by the cabinet in March – on the same night that Flybe’s collapse was confirmed.

The Airport was due to fund South West Water to the tune of nearly £800,000 for the installation of a proposed deep sewer system, with work to take place at the same time as the Long Lane enhancement.

Those works will still take place, but would be funded by the Enterprise Zone Board, with the airport to repay the cash at a later date.