Plans to hand contact tracing to England’s local authorities ‘too late’

Plans to hand greater control of Covid-19 contact tracing to town halls will come too late to affect the second wave of the virus in some of the worst affected parts of England, public health experts have warned.

Nazia Parveen 

Officials in Yorkshire and Newcastle said plans floated by ministers at the weekend to boost local resources to track outbreaks might only help stem a later third wave.

The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, on Sunday appeared to confirm reports the government will empower councils in England to employ more people to knock on doors to get contacts of Covid-infected people to self-isolate and give them greater control over testing.

“We want to work very closely with the local mayors and with the councils,” he told Sky News. “We are going to be ensuring that the national testing infrastructure … works in harmony with what’s happening locally. Because local councils and local communities are very good at contact tracing.”

The move is seen as an admission that the national NHS test and trace system has been failing. It follows months of lobbying by local directors of public health, mayors and council leaders for more power to track the virus locally. Local leaders caution, however, that the additional responsibility, and potential for blame, must be backed by resources.

Boris Johnson is expected to address local roles in an announcement on Monday about lockdown restrictions. The Local Government Association says local contact tracing systems have a 97% success rate at finding close contacts and advising them to self-isolate. The latest figure for reaching contacts within 24 hours of them being identified by NHS test and trace is 67%.

However, Eugene Milne, the director of public health in Newcastle-upon-Tyne – where there were 487 infections per 100,000 people last week, one of the highest levels in the UK – said additional local test and trace will not, of itself, suppress the current second wave, but preparations now would ensure a working system for once the wave has passed.

Another public health director, in Yorkshire, added: “It may be too late in the university towns in the north.”

Newcastle wants to create about 15 local contact tracing teams, using the existing national call centres only as a backup. Each team would be able to track down at least eight case chains a day, with details logged on a single computer system. It also wants money to hire behavioural scientists to guide its effectiveness and fund regional advertising campaigns.

More than 90 councils have already launched or are close to launching their own locally supported contact tracing arrangements, according to the LGA. These use call centres, redeployed environmental health and sexual health officials and door knocking to trace contacts. Birmingham city council has been using members of the military to offer tests door-to-door in infection hotspots.

Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, said: “We’ve always known that there was a need for a local element of test and trace, as a centralised system does not have local expertise and is not able to cut through the harder to reach communities. In the West Midlands our local councils have been leading the way on this for months.”

Privately, some local officials have voiced fury at the weaknesses of the privately run national system. One director of public health in north-west England said it was “still so bad and poor quality in the data being provided”.

“We asked for [local powers] since day one,” they said. “Shame it’s taken so long for them to realise we were right.”

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, said the government had finally acknowledged it would be better for test and trace to be handled locally.

“They now need to back this with serious resources,” he said. “Council leaders in many regions have been relying on volunteers but this cannot continue. It can’t be done on the cheap – councils have to be given more resources to employ expanded, trained teams.”

One local contact-tracing system in Hertfordshire has already cost £1m. Access to accurate data from the national system remains a key problem. The national contact tracing database, CTAS, remains unavailable to some local district councils, said one senior director of public health who described the system as “creaking”.

“Too many contacts are coming through without phone numbers and about a third don’t have occupations [which hinders efforts to quell workplace outbreaks],” he said.

Downing Street and the Department of Health and Social Care said they did not wish to comment ahead of Monday’s statement by the prime minister.

Sidmouth café owner threatens compensation claim citing ‘loss of business’ after Highway Authority decision

A decision by Devon County Council to prevent a town centre café in Sidmouth using a section of pavement opposite the premises for outdoor seating has been strongly disputed.

Hannah Corfield 

The Dairy Shops’s alfresco set up, which was given permission with a special ‘street café’ license back in July, was a crucial factor in enabling the business to remain viable during the coronavirus crisis – which continues to blight the hospitality sector.

Read the original story here.

Many have queried the risk involved with having tables and chairs positioned in Church Street, due to the area being predominantly pedestrianised.

Owner John Hammond responded: “As part of our complaint against the actions of Devon County Council removing permission for our three tables and six chairs (six covers) we are now looking at loss of business caused by the decision from the Highway Authority.

“We ask that you pass any objective evidence for the reasons that the tables have been removed onto your legal team as our estimated loss of business up until the end of December will be in the region of 6k.

“While this might not seem a lot of money to DCC, as a small business operating at 60% of last year’s turnover due to Covid-19 restrictions, this is a significant amount.

“We are trying to survive the current pandemic and decisions which are detrimental to our business will be followed through to the highest level.

“In light of ‘loss of business’ we will be looking at a compensation claim should our tables not be reinstated in line with the original agreement.”

The position of the Highways Management Team at Devon County Council, who are responsible for granting outdoor seating permits, is that the arrangement was initially allowed to support the business coming out of lockdown.

Now that the temporary license has expired it no longer meets certain requirements and, following complaints made, it has been deemed to ‘impact on adjacent businesses, whilst putting pedestrians at risk’.

A Devon County Council spokesman said: “The footway in this location is restricted and it’s unusual to grant a licence on the opposite side of the road from a premises.

“But, because it was within social distancing measures being promoted by the Town Council and had the support of the local member Councillor Stuart Hughes we made an exception in this case and a provisional licence was granted until the end of September.

“Unfortunately, the applicant then placed additional seating outside the agreed area. We advised him that further breaches would lead to the licence being revoked and asked that the extra seating be removed.

“Then, outside of what was agreed, the removed seating was put back and additional parasols were added to the tables.

“This resulted in several complaints being received by the Authority, which impacted on adjacent businesses and effectively reduced the width of the highway.

“It is not a ‘right’ to occupy the highway, but a concession granted by the Highway Authority for community benefit.”

The Tories’ Uber Eats habit is funny – the truth about money in British politics isn’t

Peter Geoghegan 

Journalists love election spending returns – and with good reason. How else would we know that the Lib Dems paid out £2,795 to Disney to cancel a Caribbean cruise in 2017 after Theresa May called a snap general election, or that last year the Tories racked up more than £22,000 on Uber Eats deliveries to their Millbank Tower campaign headquarters. (Sushi was particularly popular, apparently.)

But electoral returns are not just easy fodder for diary columns and disposable news stories. The spending data for December’s general election – partly released by the Electoral Commission earlier this week – gives a rare glimpse into how deeply money and power are entwined in British politics, and the inadequacy of transparency rules that are supposed to protect our democracy.

In general, the latest figures add texture to what we already know. The Conservatives ran a highly effective campaign in 2019, spending more than £16m to deliver a “stonking” 80-seat majority in December. (The publication of Labour’s spending has been delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak.)

The Tories’ spending last year was slightly down on 2017. Unlike the United States, British elections run on quite meagre amounts of cash – but drill down into this week’s figures and you’ll find a small world of political consultants, profiting from their access to power, that would rival anything in Washington DC.

After the cost of mailing unsolicited electoral bumf, the Tories’ biggest outlay was the more than £1.6m paid to Australian election guru Lynton Crobsy’s polling firm CTF. Not a bad return for the firm that had earlier given an interest-free loan worth over £20,000 to Boris Johnson’s successful leadership campaign.

It is striking, too, how many of those on the Conservatives’ general election payroll in December were subsequently brought in to spearhead the coronavirus response. Crosby’s protege Isaac Levido – the main credited with coining the phrase “get Brexit done” – was hired by Tory HQ at the start of the pandemic to work on government messaging.

Others were paid directly out of the public purse. During the election, Conservatives spent £458,688 with Topham Guerin. A few months later the New Zealand-based PR firm was given a £3m government contract, without any competition, for coronavirus work.

They are not the only ones. Electoral Commission data shows the Conservatives paid £700,000 to Hanbury Strategy, which is run by the former Vote Leave executive Paul Stephenson. The strategic advisory firm was subsequently handed a contract to research public opinion during the pandemic, again without any tendering process.

The latest spending figures attest to how political campaigning is changing. Back in 2017, the Conservatives spent more than £2m on Facebook and barely half a million on Google. This time around the Tories spent almost the same amount on advertising on both platforms. (The £879,091.32 outlay on Google includes the cost of promoting a fake website targeted at voters searching for Labour’s election manifesto.)

The Electoral Commission data also reveals the growing reach of so-called “third party campaigners” in general elections. Between them, Labour’s Momentum initative, pro-EU campaigners, Brexit-backing hedge fund tycoon Jeremy Hosking, and a plethora of almost anonymous Conservative-aligned websites with names such as Capitalist Worker and the Campaign Against Corbynism spent millions of pounds, often with very little transparency about where the money came from.

That’s because Britain’s electoral laws are outdated and ineffective. We have tight restrictions on political finance. Each candidate for parliament has a spending ceiling of around £15,000 (the exact limit varies by constituency size). The impetus behind these strict limits is to provide a level playing field and prevent the kind of spending wars that can characterise even minor contests in the US.

So, if a candidate can only spend £15,000, how come the average Tory seat cost the party more than 10 times that? That’s because “national” and “constituency” spending is supposedly separate. But it seldom is. Digital campaigning is almost always recorded as national spending, but is often highly targeted.

You have to go back to the 1920s to find the last time a general election candidate was actually convicted of breaking spending limits, but only the most optimistic would believe that constituency overspending has died out. Instead candidates are incentivised to work around the artificially low local spending limits.

It is remarkable how many MPs report spending almost all of their allocated allowance, without breaching the limits. (Jeremy Hunt reported spending 99.88% of his limit in the last general election.)

There is another, even bigger, problem. Spending returns are based on the idea that the political campaigns only take place over a few weeks in the runup to general elections. But with a Vote Leave government in continuous election mode, campaigning is now a constant feature of the British politics. Surely then spending outside of brief windows should all be recorded, too?

There are no shortage of demands to reform Britain’s electoral law. In June, the committee on standards in public life launched a review of electoral regulation. The public administration and constitutional affairs committee recently called for evidence for an investigation into the work of the Electoral Commission.

But the chances of meaningful change are negligible. Rather than giving new powers to the Electoral Commission, the Conservatives’ co-chair Amanda Milling has said that the regulator should become “more targeted” – or be abolished entirely.

If the government gets its way, election spending returns will continue to tell us how much parties spent on pizza and beer, but remain silent on some of the most important ways that British politics is really paid for.

• Peter Geogheghan is investigations editor at openDemocracy and the author of Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics

Tories Fail To Account For Three BILLION Spent On Coronavirus Contracts

Owl is reminded of Margaret Thatcher’s quote: “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

Chris York /

The government has failed to account for £3 billion spent on private contracts since the start of lockdown, new figures have shown.

It comes as three cross-party MPs and the Good Law Project, a non-profit-making organisation, have launched legal action against the government over its failure to disclose details of its spending on contracts related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Green MP Caroline Lucas, Labour’s Debbie Abrahams and Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran have filed a judicial review against the government for breaching the law and its own guidance and argue that there are mounting concerns over the government’s coronavirus procurement processes.

They say that, despite the Department of Health and Social Care disclosing in September that at least £11 billion worth of contracts have been awarded by the department since April, related predominantly to coronavirus, new analysis by Tussell shows that over £3 billion worth of these contracts have not been made public.

The Department of Health and Social Care has said due diligence was carried out on all government contracts which have been awarded.

The government has 21 days to respond to the judicial review proceedings.

Jolyon Maugham QC, director of Good Law Project said: “What we know about the government’s procurement practices during this pandemic gives real cause for concern. Huge sums of public money have been awarded to companies with no discernible expertise.

“Sometimes the main qualification seems to be a political connection with key government figures. And I have seen evidence that government is sometimes paying more to buy the same product from those with political connections.

“We don’t know what else there is to discover because the government is deliberately keeping the public in the dark. We are left with no option but to push for transparency through the courts.”

Lucas added: “When billions of pounds of public money is handed out to private companies, some of them with political connections but no experience in delivering medical supplies, ministers should be explaining why those companies were awarded the contracts.

“It’s completely unacceptable that, as an MP, I’m prevented from being able to scrutinise those decisions.”

Abrahams said: “Transparency is crucial for effective scrutiny and will only improve our response to this crisis.

“The persistent failure to publish the details of Covid contracts leads you to wonder what this government has got to hide.”

Moran added: “It is totally unacceptable for the government to avoid scrutiny during a public health crisis. 

“As we enter a predicted second wave we need to be able to take stock of what has worked and what hasn’t to protect as many lives as possible.

“Government must let Parliament do its job and properly scrutinise their decisions.”

The legal challenge is being crowdfunded with the support of 38 Degrees and Good Law Project and the three MPs have instructed Deighton Pierce Glynn and Jason Coppel QC and Christopher Knight of 11KBW to act in the judicial review proceedings

Campaigns director of 38 Degrees, Ellie Gellard said: “The public needs to know where taxpayers’ money has been spent in our ongoing battle against coronavirus so that we can be sure those who have been paid, deliver what they promised.

“That’s why thousands of members of the public have chipped in to help get the answers we deserve, transparency is needed to restore public trust in the government’s approach.”

Sidmouth beach management plan … a new (and welcome) approach

9 October 2020 – Progress update on storm event protection discussed at Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan meeting – East Devon 

Sidmouth and East Beach

For the first time since March, East Devon District Council hosted a Sidmouth Beach Management Plan (BMP) steering group of local organisations, interested parties and councillors to discuss the progress being made to protect the town and East Beach from flooding.

The meeting was a held ‘virtually’ due to Covid-19 restrictions and progress updates came from district council officers working on a proposed scheme.

Cllr Geoff Jung, the council’s portfolio holder for Coast, Country & the Environment, chaired the steering group meeting and explained that following policy changes of the council’s new administration that in future all meetings will be held in public and the minutes be published.

He also proposed that all the main project documents relating to the BMP will be published and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) will be reviewed on the council’s website to demonstrate the new administration’s policy of openness and transparency.

The BMP’s terms of reference will be reviewed to reflect these changes and brought before the next meeting of the group for discussion in December. Councillor Jung also proposed that because of Covid -19 restrictions, the next few meetings will be held virtually via Zoom and future public meetings will be broadcast through the council’s YouTube channel when they are held every other month.

East Devon District Council’s Engineer Tom Buxton-Smith provided the steering group with an update and progress of the proposed scheme which includes a splash defence and recharged beach along the main town frontage along with a super groyne on East Beach. The steering group discussed options for carrying out a public exhibition on the scheme and splash defence options so that residents and businesses can give their views. With Covid-19 restrictions, the group will discuss this further at its next meeting.

The scheme is now fully funded and is estimated to cost £8.7m. The funding is dependent on the Environment Agency approving the submission of the council’s Outline Business Case. Following approval, consultants and contractors will be appointed to develop the final design during 2021. A planning application will be submitted with a proposed start to the long-awaited scheme in the Autumn 2022.

Following a number of cliff-falls at Pennington Point in early Spring a review had been undertaken to consider emergency measures to protect properties in the town from the perceived sea overtopping of the Sid river wall. However, the Environment Agency advised that the works did not meet the definition of emergency works. It was concluded that the emergency works could not proceed at this time and it would be kept under review. Engineers will provide a definition of ‘trigger’ points when it may be considered that emergency works were appropriate.

Following a proposal by Devon County Councillor Stuart Hughes to consider a “recurve” to be fitted to the esplanade sea wall, it was agreed that further evidence was required to understand if this would be providing extra protection for the town. It was concluded that an additional recurve would increase the impact load on the seawall and would probably not remove the need for a splash barrier, but further assessments will be undertaken.

Mr Buxton-Smith then discussed the need for the most controversial element to the whole scheme which was referred to in earlier reports as a ‘Splash Wall’. It had always been recognised that a 1-metre high wall would not be appropriate along such an important and historic esplanade of Sidmouth, so alternative solutions are under investigation. Glass panels, removable sections, benches with raising seats to act as barriers, together with flood gates are all being considered which will be part of the public exhibition and consultations prior to the planning application being submitted.

Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce has recently proposed that Offshore Rock Islands should again be considered. Mr Buxton-Smith reported that he was in discussions with their representative and awaiting on the pricing and engineering specifications to their proposal.

In the meantime, Mr Buxton-Smith has had costings produced for the large offshore breakwater based on engineering drawings costing £13.1m – more than the total funding available for the project making this proposal unviable. Mr Buxton-Smith said he would discuss the variance of the costings with the Chamber.

• Over the last few days, a fresh report made public by Plymouth University, is estimating future rates of coastal erosion over the next 100 years in the eastern half of the district.

– The report indicates that some parts of the coastline in East Devon will erode more quickly than had previously been estimated, while some will erode less than previously thought.

– However, the university research does not take into account the mitigating protection to be provided by schemes such as Sidmouth’s BMP, discussed by the BMP steering group.

– The university’s research also shows the reasonable worse-case scenario erosion rates, whereas the erosion rates in the council’s beach management plans are the most likely scenario.

– The council’s strategic planning committee will consider a planning policy briefing paper on the university’s findings related to coastal changes at its meeting later this month. The issue will also be discussed at the next BMP steering group meeting in December.

“Three Homes” Jenrick’s £25m government funding for his constituency – Part 3

Robert Jenrick admits approving funds for town in Jake Berry’s constituency

Rajeev Syal 

Robert Jenrick has admitted that he and a junior minister approved payments to towns in each other’s constituencies from a government fund earmarked for deprived areas.

The communities secretary confirmed that communities minister Jake Berry gave the go-ahead for Jenrick’s Newark constituency to be selected for a £25m fund award even though it was 270th on the list of the UK’s most deprived areas.

Jenrick said he signed off the decision for money to be allocated to Darwen, a town in Berry’s Rossendale and Darwen constituency.

On Sunday, Jenrick insisted there was a “robust and fair” methodology behind the government’s towns fund and dismissed as “completely baseless” allegations that he had any involvement in Newark’s selection.

Last year, Jenrick announced details of a £3.6bn towns fund to be shared between 101 left-behind areas.

Under the scheme, select towns were able to bid for up to £25m each from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Jenrick and Berry, his junior minister, were allegedly responsible for choosing 61 of the towns.

At a hustings during the election last year, Jenrick told voters: “I helped to secure a £25m town deal which I hope will improve the public realm and make the town centre a more attractive place to spend time in.”

After the election, Jenrick sat on a board convened by Newark and Sherwood district council that petitioned his own department for the maximum amount available of £25m.

Jenrick told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “If the question you’re coming to is was I involved in selecting my own community, absolutely not. Ministers do not get involved in their own constituencies. That decision was made by another minister in my department.”

Asked which minister made the decision, Jenrick replied: “It was made by Jake Berry.”

When Marr pointed out that a town in Berry’s constituency also received money from the fund, Jenrick confirmed that he was the individual to have given that decision the go-ahead.

Earlier this year, Jenrick rebuffed calls for his resignation after he ensured a controversial housing development was agreed before a levy was introduced that would have cost its backer millions.

Documents showed that the former porn baron and Conservative party donor Richard Desmond urged Jenrick to approve his Westferry Printworks development in east London before a new community infrastructure levy was introduced, a move which, it is believed, would have saved Desmond £50m.

Desmond had given the Conservatives £12,000 two weeks after the scheme for 1,500 homes was approved, and the housing secretary had sat next to him at a fundraising event.

Jenrick denied any wrongdoing but expressed regrets for sitting next to Desmond and exchanging messages with him.

Labour is demanding an inquiry into the way money was allocated from the towns fund.

The shadow communities secretary, Steve Reed, has written to Simon Case, the head of the civil service, requesting a cabinet office investigation.

“Three Homes” Jenrick’s £25m government funding for his constituency – Part 2

Minister dismisses call for constituency fund probe

BBC News

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has dismissed Labour’s call for an investigation into the award of a £25m regeneration grant to his constituency.

He told BBC One’s Andrew Marr show the decision to give the money to Newark, Nottinghamshire, had been taken by fellow minister Jake Berry.

Mr Jenrick said he had himself decided to grant funds to a town in Mr Berry’s constituency under the same scheme.

He called this “perfectly normal” and accused Labour of “distraction”.

But Labour described the allocation of the money “murky” and urged Mr Jenrick to submit himself to a “full” investigation.

The £25m was awarded to Newark under the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s £3.6bn Towns Fund, set up last year to help places that had “not always benefitted from economic growth in the same way as more prosperous areas”.

Newark and Sherwood District Council submitted its town investment plan – including better transport, training and digital connectivity – in July.

Mr Jenrick, Conservative MP for Newark since 2014, supported the bid.

For Labour, shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds told Sky News’s Ridge on Sunday: “The whole question has always been quite a murky one as to how this money was allocated.

“The secretary of state has questions to answer and an investigation is the right way forwards.”

‘Robust system’

But Mr Jenrick said the government had a “robust” system in place for choosing which places would benefit from the Towns Fund and that the rules had been created before he became communities secretary.

He added that Mr Berry, who oversees local growth in England as a minister within Mr Jenrick’s department, had made the decision following advice from civil servants.

Darwen, a town in Mr Berry’s Rossendale and Darwen constituency, was also allocated money from the Towns Fund.

The decision, Mr Jenrick said, had been “made by myself”.

He added: “This is perfectly normal. Ministers don’t get involved in making decisions for their own constituency.

“But neither should their constituencies be victims of the fact that their MP is a minister.”

Mr Jenrick also said: “The Labour Party front bench need to get beyond the M25 and see what’s happening in our constituencies.”

Earlier, he told Sky News that Labour’s accusations were “completely baseless”.

But, following the interviews, shadow communities secretary Steve Reed insisted that, if “Robert Jenrick has nothing to hide, he should submit himself to a full investigation”.

In August, Mr Jenrick said he regretted sitting next to property developer Richard Desmond at a Conservative Party fundraising event last year.

Mr Desmond donated £12,000 to the Conservatives in January, 12 days after the minister overruled government planning inspectors to approve a development at the former Westferry print works in east London.

Labour said this had raised suggestions of “cash for favours”.

But Mr Jenrick has always insisted he had no knowledge of the donation and was motivated by a desire to see more homes built.

“Three Homes” Jenrick’s £25m government funding for his constituency – Part 1

Labour demands probe into £25m government funding for housing secretary’s constituency

Shaun Connelly 

Labour has demanded a top-level investigation into communities secretary Robert Jenrick, over how government funding was allocated to his Newark constituency.

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed has written to the head of the civil service requesting a Cabinet Office investigation into Mr Jenrick, concerning how recipients of the multibillion-pound Towns Fund were decided.

The move comes in the wake of Mr Jenrick’s Newark constituency being selected for a £25m funding award.

It follows a report in The Times alleging Mr Jenrick helped select Newark for the allocation.

Mr Jenrick has insisted he was not part of the decision-making process regarding Newark as funding for the town was determined by another minister.

Labour wants an inquiry to see how Newark was chosen for inclusion in the Towns Fund, and whether officials advised against such a move.

Mr Reed also wants to know if Tory-held seats were prioritised under the initiative.

The £3.6bn Towns Fund was a high-profile government scheme in the run-up to the last general election, which ministers said was aimed at “levelling-up” so-called left behind towns.

Earlier this year Mr Jenrick rebuffed calls for his resignation after he ensured a controversial housing development was agreed before a new levy was introduced which would have cost millions for its backer.

Documents released after pressure from Labour showed multimillionaire Conservative Party donor Richard Desmond urged Mr Jenrick to approve his Westferry Printworks development in east London before a new community infrastructure levy was introduced which, it is believed, would have saved Mr Desmond £50m.

Mr Jenrick faced accusations of “cash for favours” after it emerged that Mr Desmond had given the Conservatives £12,000 two weeks after the scheme for 1,500 homes was approved, and that the housing secretary had sat next to him and viewed a video at a fundraising event.

The minister originally approved the development plan in January, overruling Tower Hamlets Council and a planning inspector.

Mr Reed said: “Hot on the heels of the Westferry scandal, Robert Jenrick yet again has serious questions to answer about allegations that he used the Towns Fund to channel public money to help Conservative Party candidates ahead of the general election.

“Mr Jenrick has made an unfortunate habit of overruling officials’s advice to get his own way, just as he did during the Westferry cash-for-favours scandal.

“Now he has done the same with this blatant example of pork-barrel politics, with public money making its way to help his own re-election campaign. Misuse of public funds is a very serious abuse of public trust.

“Robert Jenrick must come to the House urgently to make a statement on how this money was awarded and submit himself to a full Cabinet Office investigation.”

Mr Reed has called for the communities secretary to appear before the Commons on Monday to make a statement on the issue.

A spokesman for Mr Jenrick said: “This reporting is incorrect as the secretary of state did not select his constituency for Towns Fund money.

“To suggest otherwise is misleading, and another minister in the department is responsible for decisions around Newark’s Towns Fund bid, as is normal practice.

“As made clear in the National Audit Office report, the process was comprehensive, robust and fair – and the Towns Fund will help level up the country.

“Delivering the Towns Fund was a manifesto commitment that the Labour Party opposed and offered no alternative to, so it was not surprising that Conservative candidates mentioned it during their campaigns.

“Conservatives in government are investing in our towns to improve the life chances of local people, Labour are resorting to baseless political point-scoring.”

Lower Otter Restoration Project – the details

One of the most interesting and environmentally significant planning applications for decades appeared in the applications posted by Owl yesterday:

Proposed breach of the River Otter embankment, Little Bank and Big Bank to restore the historic floodplain creating intertidal saltmarsh, mudflats and freshwater habitat at Big Marsh, and new freshwater habitat at Little Marsh. Associated works including development of a new footbridge, realignment of South Farm Road, and creation of a new car park. (The Lower Otter Restoration Project) Open for comment icon151 Hectares Of Land Within The Parishes Of East Budleigh, Budleigh Salterton And Otterton From Lime Kiln Car Park (SY072819) To South Of Frogmore House (SY074850) (The Lower Otter Valley)Ref. No: 20/2089/MFUL | Validated: Mon 28 Sep 2020 | Status: Awaiting decision

The application comprises 128 documents, though “The Design and Access Statement” is the document to read to give the overall picture. The extract below gives a good summary of what is proposed. Other documents are likely to provide interesting supporting ecological and historical studies.

Before that, Owl copies a paragraph from the Planning Statement which discusses the motivation driving the project. This talks about the need to provide compensating habitat for losses in the Exe Estuary. Owl suggests these habitat losses haven’t occurred because of climate change, that’s for the future, but because of overdevelopment and increasing use of the estuary for leisure activities.

“The original motivation for the LORP arose from a desire by the landowner, Clinton Devon Estates (the Estate), to manage the lower Otter valley as sustainably as possible in the face of a rapidly changing climate. The Environment Agency’s involvement in the project arose from a statutory need to provide compensatory habitat for habitat losses in the Exe Estuary. The desire of these project partners is to improve the natural functioning, ecological health and environmental status of the river, demonstrate climate change adaptation and reduce risk to wildlife and public infrastructure under future climate change.”

Planning application 20/2089 MFUL Design and Access Statement

Submitted by the Environment Agency

The Lower Otter Restoration Project (LORP) will restore the historic floodplain of the River Otter to a condition similar to that found prior to the construction of the 19th century embankments alongside the river and within the floodplain. It will retain most of the embankments and create breaches in Little Bank, Big Bank and the River Otter embankment to allow water from the River Otter and Otter Estuary to inundate the site, creating intertidal saltmarsh and mudflats. South Farm Road will be raised, and the existing Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club moved off site to another location. Development of the new Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club has been approved by successful determination of a separate planning application (reference 19/1521/MFUL) due to a need to progress the cricket pitch sooner than the rest of the LORP. The Scheme includes the elements shown in Figure 1.1

Bishop’s Clyst Parish Council meeting on Winslade Manor – the outcome

From a participating correspondent:

“A number of residents dialled in to listen and spoke at the open session. Prior to the Open Session Peter Cain read a pre prepared statement to clarify his position. The Parish Council listened to what we had to say, both Mike Howe and Peter Cain declared an interest, correctly, and took part in the discussion. The Parish Council then unanimously agreed to submit the objection that Charlie Hopkins had written with two very minor amendments.” 

[EDDC will make the final decision.]