‘Don’t come to Devon’ plea to tourists from ‘high-risk areas’

Devon’s council leaders have issued a joint message calling on anyone currently in a high-risk area to follow national guidance, and to stay away from the county this half-term.

[A sensible message, but is the national “guidance” strong enough? – Owl]

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 

Those living under the highest level of restrictions in England are advised by the Government not to travel out of their areas except under exceptional circumstances.

Cllr John Hart, leader of Devon County Council, said: “That is why we are calling on anyone currently in a high-risk area to follow national guidance, and to stay away for now.”

He said that for anyone thinking of coming to or travelling in and around the South West this half-term that ‘coronavirus won’t be taking a holiday, and a new social media campaign specifically targeting anyone coming into the region has been launched with the message that if you’re visiting Devon this half term, please remember the rules still apply while you’re on holiday.

While coronavirus rates in Devon are below the national average, Cllr Hart said that now is the time to be extra careful and he has urged anyone coming on holiday to Devon to consider the potential impact of their visit and to respect and help protect our local communities.

He said: “People may well be considering taking a break this half term but unfortunately coronavirus won’t be taking a holiday.

“Clearly, our top priority is to keep our residents safe. I urge everyone who is thinking of going away or even travelling within the area to think carefully about where they might be going and to continue to follow the rules.

“Equally, we are asking anyone thinking of coming into the region to consider the potential impact of their visit and to respect and help protect our local communities.

“The number of coronavirus cases here is rising but still much lower than most of the rest of the country and we want to keep it that way, so now is the time to be extra careful and extra vigilant.

“That is why we are calling on anyone currently in a high-risk area to follow national guidance, and to stay away for now.

“And if people do travel here from other areas then we urge them to be extra careful and follow all the extra rules that may relate to their own local area.”

The message comes as all authorities across the region come together to launch a joint social media campaign via the South West Local Resilience Forum to target visitors, reminding them to keep following the basic rules – space, face and hands – and not to think they can relax just because they are away.

Honiton Town Council issues statement addressing ‘misconceptions within the community’

Honiton Town Council has issued a statement in which it seeks to address ‘current misperceptions within the community’.

[Not sure that Owl is much wiser as a result]

Hannah Corfield honiton.nub.news 

It states that the Council is ‘aware of a petition requesting that Councillors resign and accepts that those who have signed are exercising their democratic rights but that it does not agree with the arguments raised’.

It goes on to confirm that ‘Councillors will continue to work for the best interests of the Town, and will not be resigning’.

“The claim brought by Honiton Town Council against Bailey Partnership was based on legal advice received,” the statement continues.

“The decision not to pursue further litigation against Bailey Partnership was made by Full Council at their meeting on Monday, 12 October.

“Honiton Town Council has always supported Honiton Community Complex (the Beehive). The Beehive building is there, built by the Council and it has been positive for the Town.

“The funding of the Beehive is a complex issue, but one which Honiton Town Council is endeavouring to resolve.

“Honiton Town Council is working on projects for the benefit of Honiton.

“Honiton Town Council acknowledges there have been problems related to staffing, but we anticipate many of those problems will be resolved in the next few months.

“Actions were further delayed for a variety of reasons, mainly Covid-19, but we are now moving ahead at speed to resolve these issues.

“At all times, should any person have any queries or wishes to discuss in detail any action taken by Honiton Town Council, they should not hesitate to contact either the Deputy Town Clerk or any one of the Town Councillors, whose contact details can be found here on the Honiton Town Council website.

The magic money tree erupts with autumn fruit

The government moves in mysterious ways. Only on Tuesday, it had been unable to find an extra £5m to secure a deal with Andy Burnham and other local leaders to take Greater Manchester into tier 3. And on Wednesday there had been no money available for the poorest children, who will tiresomely insist on still wanting to be fed when not in school, to get free meals during the holidays up until next Easter. But on Thursday the Magic Money Tree was dripping with cash.

John Crace www.theguardian.com 

Rishi Sunak has only been chancellor for about eight months, but I’ve already lost count of how many budgets he’s delivered since March. We must be into double figures by now. His winter economy plan that was announced at the tail end of last month hasn’t even survived till the end of autumn – and is now on to its third iteration.

Some may see this as a weakness in strategic planning. A failure to predict what was only too obvious to most of the rest of the country. But Sunak prefers to give his policies a more positive spin. He likes to see himself as the Man in the Know; someone who can react to fast-changing events at speed. After all, who could possibly have guessed that the UK – along with the rest of Europe – was heading for a second wave of coronavirus? Other than the government scientists who had been saying just that for months.

So Sunak was back in the Commons to deliver yet another round of financial help for businesses affected by Covid-19. The costings could wait for another day, as Sunak prefers not to let the details of how he will eventually pay for things – austerity or higher taxes – take the gloss off his moment in the limelight. First was a bailout for all businesses affected by being in tier 2. This was backdated to August just to prove that he wasn’t just bothered about London and the West Midlands, but really, really cared about the north-west too. If he’d announced all this just a week ago, he could have saved the government a world of pain.

Then there was going to be more help for businesses who would now only have to pay 5% of the wages of employees who only worked one day per week. This wouldn’t make the worker any better off and more likely to be able to pay the bills, but it would at least make it more likely they still had a job. Which was something. And finally the government was going to double the support for the self-employed from 20% to 40%, so they would also go broke a little less quickly.

The shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about the new proposals as Sunak seemed to expect. She called them “too little, too late” and observed that the best part of a million jobs had already been lost as a result of the government not having acted sooner. Nor did she wholly buy the idea that the measures weren’t being driven by London and the West Midlands and that the north-west had been tacked on as an expedient afterthought.

What was required, she concluded, wasn’t the whole country gradually edging its way into tier 3: it was a “circuit breaker” to halt the rise in infections. Though this did rather presume that the government could introduce an effective test-and-trace system. Even as she spoke, the latest statistics were published showing performance going from bad to worse.

But Rishi wasn’t here to listen to any of the naysayers. He is a man with the effortless self-belief and thin-skinned vanity of a multimillionaire who is never likely to experience financial hardship and just wanted to lap up the plaudits of the crowd. He got unexpectedly tetchy when accused of going for a cheap photo opportunity in Wagamama – Sunak doesn’t do anything on the cheap – and instead chose to wallow in the love of his own benches. This was his day. His moment in the sun and nobody was going to spoil it. At times like this, he gives the impression he believes his brand is bigger than that of his own party.

The fawning proved far too much for Boris Johnson, who had appeared for the opening half-hour, and he sloped off just as Andrew Mitchell was declaring his undying love for the chancellor. There’s only space for one narcissist in the room when Boris is around. So just as well the prime minister had gone awol, otherwise he would have had to listen to Tory Matt Vickers describe Rishi as “the man, the myth, the legend”. Sunak could only nod in agreement.

What no one mentioned of course, was that we had been here countless times before. Each of Sunak’s previous recent budget statements, which had proved to be hopelessly inadequate, had been received with nothing but adulation. But that was then and this is now. The past wasn’t just a foreign country it was a nonexistent country. And when, in a month or so’s time, Sunak came to the Commons to announce yet more measures, they too would be greeted with the excitement and shock of the new.

The battle of the egos was resumed later in the afternoon when Johnson and Sunak combined to give a joint Downing Street press conference. And though neither had anything new to say, it was Sunak who was the clear winner on points. Boris merely repeated his shtick of mumbling incoherently while casually mixing in the odd lie about anything that caught his fancy – he looks increasingly fed up with the job and only capable of dealing with a reality that he would like to exist – while Rishi sounded totally confident and at ease. Even when he is having to explain why his previous measures have been inadequate, he manages to maintain the pretence that his mistakes were deliberate.

Still, Sunak shouldn’t get too relaxed about being top dog. Because the person showing most sincerity was Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser and the third person in the room. And though he was doing his best to be optimistic, he didn’t have much cheer on offer. The test-and trace system was still a mess and that was really the only way out of the current situation. We were stuck with the virus, and we were stuck with a government committed to a tiering system from which no region was likely to escape downwards anytime soon. It was going to be a long winter.

‘Firm and concerted action’ needed to improve [local] governance

The pandemic has presented a unique challenge for governance in local authorities. Geoff Wild examines how leadership, employees, politics and finances should come together in good governance.

www.room151.co.uk/ 

Governance is about the way in which we work together to make good decisions. Good governance is necessary for us to know that we are providing the services and support that people need and expect. Good governance is also necessary to ensure that the insights and perspectives of a range of people are used to inform decision-making, and to ensure that decisions are made transparently, consistently and on the basis of evidence, by people with the legitimacy to make those decisions—whether they are councillors or officers.

For these reasons, good governance is central to local democracy and to the business of local authorities. But with the postponement of the 2020 election and the impact on decision-making of the pandemic, it is even more crucial to take firm and concerted action to improve governance.

Dynamic

The fluid nature of the pandemic and the response that it demands means a more dynamic approach than usual is required.

For councils to be effective in providing the services and support that local people expect in these challenging times, good governance is essential. Without strong and effective decision-making in place, a council’s actions will be muddled and fragmented. It will not reflect the vision that councillors have for the future of the area, and raises the likelihood that the authority will be poor at managing the external and internal risks which it is likely to experience—the pandemic being a key example.

There are typically four core issues that serve to weaken a council’s overall governance position:

Leadership: The failure to assert a clear set of priorities and objectives for the council make political accountability difficult to discern.

Workforce: Uncertainty about roles and responsibilities of members and officers.

Politics: Significant political tension coupled with a lack of political nous from some senior officers; a failure on the part of some senior members to come to terms with changing political winds and the comparative inexperience of new councillors who become increasingly frustrated because they are unable to navigate a council’s systems.

Finances: Uncertainty around a council’s medium-term budget position and real member oversight of the budget development process, with members of all groups being involved in tough conversations about prioritisation, focus and organisational direction. This is exacerbated by the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, good governance requires that:

  • Individual responsibility is clear. Councillors and officers must understand where their respective duties and accountabilities lie. Importantly, ownership of action on risk is a key part of this.
  • Collective responsibility is clear. Within a functioning governance system there has to be a collective responsibility for good governance, held by everybody.

The constitution (including the scheme of delegation) may set out the legal foundation within which such roles and responsibilities should be exercised, but behaviours do not always reflect this.

Structures

No one person is responsible for overall stewardship of the governance system. A tendency to focus on the structures and systems of governance, rather than its core objectives, can lead to a lack of interest from members of the leadership.

Councils with good governance have clear objectives and a sense of how governance connects to their objectives. Governance isn’t seen as a distraction to delivery. Because of this, governance is thought about and reflected upon in the planning of major activity, meaning that time is not wasted unproductively in post-hoc discussions and disagreements when things don’t go as expected.

Good governance is framed by the making of decisions based on evidence, and on the use of information to drive accountability and responsibility. Well-governed authorities understand how important the flow of accurate information is to their effective functioning. The principle of equality of access to information underpins the way that such councils approach this matter.

It is therefore important that all councillors (administration, opposition, scrutiny) have between them open access to information and a range of ways to informally and formally influence decision-making in a variety of meetings and forums. The governance framework should provide the context within which these can be facilitated and sustained.

But alongside this comes the expectation that information will be used productively and in the service of constructive debate on the authority and its business. Protocols need to incorporate behavioural expectations around the confidentiality of certain information, its access and use. The important thing is that they collectively form a consistent and transparent framework, which does not privilege any one group—a necessary component of governance in any council.

Councils can use the Annual Governance Statement (AGS) as a way to manage and champion good governance and improvement. The aim should for the AGS to provide a road map for governance improvement. This should be accompanied by clear lines of accountability and mechanisms for member oversight and ownership of key objectives, projects and decisions.

The purpose of the AGS is to provide public assurance on the extent to which the authority’s governance systems and processes conform with local expectations, and with wider sector norms—as well as taking account of emerging risks and pressures which could lead to a need for change. It is only possible for the AGS to provide this assurance if it is informed by a meaningful review. In many councils this need has not been acknowledged, and the AGS has reflected more the need to produce and sign off a decontextualised document rather than presenting the culmination of a reflective review on the council’s governance position.

Behaviour

So, what does good governance in local government look like? Some think of it as only being about structures, systems, and processes. But equally important are the behavioural elements of good governance: The way that personal relationships and trust influence accountability and transparency, and the way that individuals operate within, and interpret, the governance framework. It also involves understanding how political and organisational risk intersect, and how an awareness of risk should be used to define and refine the organisation’s priorities.

Geoff Wild is a local government legal and governance specialist, and currently interim monitoring officer at the Isle of Wight Council.

Sewage samples ‘can detect local spikes in coronavirus cases’

South West leads the rest of the country down the drain! – Owl

Andy Phillips www.plymouthherald.co.uk 

Sewage samples can detect whether a community is experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases, according to a new programme which has been successfully tested in the South West.

An Environment Agency laboratory at Starcross near Exeter led the testing of the project which the Government say could become an early warning system for local outbreaks, and a ‘vital step’ in the national Test and Trace programme.

Samples from five areas across the region, including sewage treatment works in Plymouth and Cornwall, are now being used to detect a potential spike in coronavirus cases.

Organisers say the results of the programme, which began in July, have revealed that fragments of genetic material from the virus can be detected in wastewater.

This can provide health professionals with a clearer idea of infection rates within a community as it will show results from asymptomatic carriers or even those who have yet to experience symptoms.

Those behind the project say it has already worked successfully in the South West and will now be rolled out across 80 wastewater treatment sites across the UK.

Among five sites in the region now being sampled are St Ives and Penzance sewage treatment works and Plymouth Central STW as well as sites in Bristol, Trowbridge and Weymouth.

Sewage samples can detect whether a community is experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases

Sewage samples can detect whether a community is experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases (Image: Paul Slater)

Data from sampling will be shared with the NHS Test and Trace programme and prompt health professionals and councils to issue warnings in areas of infection.

The £1m scheme involves a host of organisations including Defra, the Environment Agency, the Joint-Biosecurity Centre as well as university departments in Cardiff, Bangor, Edinburgh, London and Middlesex as well as water companies and the Office for National Statistics.

The Government say testing sewage for diseases has been done for many years, but this is the first time that molecular science has been used in the fight against coronavirus.

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, said: “Sewage is a rich source of information about community health. I recently visited Starcross laboratory and saw the testing, monitoring and analysis carried out by the Environment Agency’s wastewater experts.

“I was inspired by their collaborative approach with academics, industry, government to help provide an early warning system for local coronavirus outbreaks.”

Dr Davey Jones, Professor of Soil & Environmental Science at Bangor University, said: “We have been monitoring viruses like Norovirus and Hepatitis in human sewage for the last decade, as part of a programme to evaluate levels of these viruses in the community. We added Covid-19 to the surveillance list in March this year.

“We showed that viral levels in wastewater mapped really well onto the success of lockdown measures in the first Covid-19 wave and to the emergence of the second wave. We are now using it to track the emergence and control of Covid-19 cases and working on new pilots to map the virus at both the local and the regional scale.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice, who is also MP for Camborne and Redruth, said: “This is a significant step forward in giving us a clearer idea of infection rates both nationally and locally, particularly in areas where there may be large numbers of people who aren’t showing any symptoms and therefore aren’t seeking tests.

“NHS Test and Trace is able to use the science to ensure local health leads are alerted and can take action.

“We are continuing to look at how this programme can be refined as one of the many measures we’re using to slow the spread of the virus and protect local communities.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This initiative is just one example of how we are working across government and with local partners to find innovative, new ways to track the outbreak, slow the spread of the virus and save lives.

“Monitoring and sampling wastewater offers another tool to help us identify outbreaks early on – helping NHS Test and Trace and local authorities target hotspots quickly and effectively.”

Net Cost

The Times view on the damage caused by trawling to marine habitats 

By Football Index www.thetimes.co.uk 

Few of Brexit’s opportunities are freighted with as much political expectation as the promise of coastal independence for Britain. Though the fishing industry may only offer a modest contribution to the economy, to many of those who voted for Brexit there is no starker illustration of sovereignty surrendered than the presence of foreign trawlers in British territorial waters.

Yet the ecological riches of Britain’s seas are just as precious a national inheritance, and one threatened by destructive fishing practices in the 350 marine protection areas (MPAs) that ring its coasts. Moves by ministers to create new regulations to protect them from plunder by trawlers are a welcome start, but there is much more work to do.

Of course, the most diverse ocean habitats in British waters ought to be safeguarded already. Yet too many marine protected areas exist on paper alone. In the 71 sites situated in Britain’s offshore zone, the vast area of sea between 12 and 200 nautical miles from the coast, there is scant protection for critically endangered species and the delicate ecosystems that sustain them.

By far the most egregious enterprise is bottom trawling. Boats drag weighted nets across the ocean floor without heed for the ecological destruction left in their wake. Some 97 per cent of marine protected areas have fallen victim. While British vessels are among the culprits, French, Dutch and Danish trawlermen are the worst offenders. Indeed, the time foreign supertrawlers spent fishing in the UK’s marine protected areas doubled in the first six months of this year.

As long as Britain remains a signatory to the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy, there is no straightforward recourse to restrict bottom trawling or dredging, the impact of which is similarly destructive. That can be done only with the agreement of other nations whose vessels fish in marine protected areas that fall inside offshore zones: for obvious reasons, it has not been forthcoming.

Yet a bar to similar ecological vandalism is desperately needed lest notionally protected havens for marine life like Dogger Bank, the largest shallow sandbank in British waters and home to a host of imperilled species, be lost for ever. Action by the likes of Greenpeace, which dropped dozens of boulders on part of Dogger last month to deter trawlers, is no substitute for robust strategy from ministers to protect the area and others like it.

Moves to introduce new restrictions on harmful fishing in five marine protection areas, including Dogger Bank, thus deserve measured welcome. No other European nation has taken the initiative. But it is only a start. Even if bottom trawling and dredging were banned altogether in the first five MPAs, the vast majority, amounting to an area not far shy of the size of England and Wales, would remain vulnerable to degradation by unscrupulous trawling.

For the government to shirk bolder action to protect every marine protected area would make a mockery of its commitment to protect 30 per cent of ocean biodiversity by 2030. It would squander a Brexit dividend, too. From January, any new licensing regime for fishing fleets of any flag, be they British or European, must include protections to ban destructive trawling in every marine protected area. Unless diverse and unique ecosystems are preserved, taking back control of Britain’s waters will be no prize at all.

Coronavirus: 100,000 people not contacted as tracing system hits new low

Professor James Naismith of the University of Oxford said the figures show “a system struggling to make any difference to the epidemic”.

Baroness Harding of Winscombe, head of Test and Trace:  “Reducing turnaround times is our absolute priority …..” [Hope readers are reassured by Dido’s words- Owl]

Chris Smyth, Whitehall Editor www.thetimes.co.uk 

The Test and Trace system has hit a new low with less than 60 per cent of contacts being reached for the first time and waiting times for results up 60 per cent in a week.

Contact tracers are struggling to cope with efforts to return to normal life as weekly cases have risen to 101,494 and 7.1 per cent of all tests are coming back positive, a sign that the system is losing track of the epidemic.

Experts questioned whether the system was salvageable as cases continue to rise, but testing chiefs are bullish that more capacity and thousands more clinical contact tracers can keep pace.

Despite a recovery from the back-to-school rush last month, waits for results are now getting longer with only 15.1 per cent of drive-through and walk-in tests back within 24 hours in the week to October 14, under half the figure of the previous week.

At a press conference in Downing Street Boris Johnson said he “shares people’s frustration” with the performance of NHS Test and Trace. “We do need to improve it,” he said.

In the summer the prime minister promised all such tests would be returned within 24 hours. However, one in 12 drive-through results now take more than three days, five times the proportion of the previous week. Average waits for results for drive-through tests are now 45 hours, up from 28 hours the previous week.

Nick Ville, of the NHS Confederation, said this was “leaving people in limbo as they wait for results”, while the proportion of contacts of positive cases successfully reached fell to 59.6 per cent.

“This is well below the 80 per cent said to be needed for an effective system,” Mr Ville said.

“Without significant improvements, the situation will simply deteriorate: case numbers will rise; more cases will be transferred to the tracing system; tracers will not be able to keep up with the volume; lower percentages of people will be reached and asked to isolate; the spread of the virus will not be controlled; and unfortunately more lives will be lost.”

When the system was set up in May, 91 per cent of contacts were traced but the proportion has slipped as more contacts are made at work and in social life rather than as part of outbreaks in institutions such as care homes, where tracing has proved easier.

Infected people had 238,093 contacts in everyday life, more than ten times the figure at the start of August.

Justin Madders, the shadow health minister, pointed out that this meant 101,690 confirmed contacts were not traced. “To have over 40 per cent of people not even being contacted by the test and trace system is an interstellar-sized black hole in the government’s plan to reduce transmission,” he said.

Professor James Naismith of the University of Oxford said the figures show “a system struggling to make any difference to the epidemic”.

He said: “Getting an effective system over the summer was much easier than doing so now. It is not enough to say ‘we will work harder’ or ‘I alone can fix it’. If the system is to be made effective, and I have my doubts if this now possible, it will need a clear set of plans that explain what changes are being made and how these will fill in the holes that I and many others have spelt out.”

Baroness Harding of Winscombe, head of Test and Trace, said that capacity had increased by 30,000 a day in a week and insisted: “Reducing turnaround times is our absolute priority to make sure we are reaching people as soon as possible. We always need to balance ensuring as many people as possible can get a test alongside ensuring test results are delivered as quickly as possible, and as capacity continues to grow at pace, we expect to see improvements.”

Lord Bethell, the testing minister, acknowledged: “We do know that more needs to be done.”

Social care on brink of collapse as it faces £7bn-a-year shortfall

The English social care system urgently needs £7 billion a year to prevent a collapse as the pandemic pushes the sector further into a funding crisis, MPs have warned.

[Look at penultimate paragraph – Owl]

Katie Gibbons www.thetimes.co.uk

The emergency boost would be a “starting point” to avoid a disaster and is not enough fully to address unmet need, according to a report by the Commons health and social care committee.

If £7 billion were provided for social care it would help to avert a market collapse caused by providers prioritising people who can pay, it said.

The sector will face further pressure from new legislation, reported last night, that will ban care homes from employing staff across multiple sites to limit the spread of Covid-19.

The MPs said in their report to ministers that the social care system perpetuated a profound unfairness because some conditions were ineligible for basic social care. Budget cuts have meant that local authorities restrict funding to those in the most severe need, leaving others to pay for themselves, rely on family or go without.

The committee has called for the social care reform package to be brought forward before the end of the financial year and for the government to publish a ten-year plan for the sector. It also supports a cap of £46,000 on how much a person pays for care during their life. It estimates that this would cost about £3.1 billion by 2023-24.

The charity Age UK understands that 1.4 million older people are not getting the care and support they need, up by 19 per cent in two years. The report said that the means-tested system should be scrapped as it was unfair, confusing, demeaning and frightening for people in need of care and their families.

Anyone with assets of more than £14,250 has to pay for their own social care. The wife of one patient, who had dementia diagnosed in his sixties and found himself without financial support, told MPs: “It is like picking up a random card from a pack and saying, ‘Oh, you’ve got this particular one. Tough. That’s the disease the NHS isn’t going to pay for.’”

Jeremy Hunt, the committee chairman, said: “The government must use the spending review to raise the annual adult social care budget [to] meet the catastrophic care costs faced by people with dementia or other neurological conditions. To address wider issues the sector needs a ten-year plan and a people plan just like the NHS.”

Nick Ville, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “The government must urgently provide the funding the sector needs, to avoid leaving hundreds of thousands of people without care and keep those who look after them in work.”

The plans to restrict where care staff work would mean that they had to sign exclusive contracts for one home, The Daily Telegraph said. Helen Whateley, the care minister, said last week that there was evidence the virus had been spread in April by staff working at several sites. The practice is discouraged.

There have been concerns, however, that such restrictions could exacerbate a staffing crisis. A quarter of staff are on zero-hour contracts and low wages mean many take on multiple jobs.

Leaked documents also show that care homes have been asked to volunteer beds for discharged Covid-19 patients, despite no independent assurance of safety. Councils sent a questionnaire to care homes last week, according to papers seen by Amnesty International.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Our priority is to prevent infections in care homes and we are working with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the NHS to ensure everyone discharged to a care home has an up-to-date Covid-19 test result and anyone positive is discharged to a care home CQC has assured is able to provide safe care.”

STUDY: Sidmouth’s crumbling seafront could claim clifftop homes ‘within 20 years’

Heavy erosion could claim clifftop homes in Sidmouth within the next 20 years, a research paper has warned.

The news could be devastating to the smattering of home owners in Cliff Road, which lines the top of Sidmouth’s crumbling cliffs over East Beach.

[East Devon District Council Planning Policy Coastal change extensive briefing paper can be found here.]

Beth Sharp sidmouth.nub.news

Heavy erosion could claim clifftop homes in Sidmouth within the next 20 years, a research paper has warned.

The news could be devastating to the smattering of home owners in Cliff Road, which lines the top of Sidmouth’s crumbling cliffs over East Beach.

Several huge cliff falls have been reported in Sidmouth in recent years, and now a research paper published by Plymouth University has indicated the homes could be at risk of falling into the sea within two decades.

However, residents have been told the report is based on a ‘worst case scenario’, which includes an additional 10 metre buffer zone.

This also means erosion is likely to be lower than the rate predicted by the university, especially if a multi-million sea defence scheme – Sidmouth Beach Management Plan (BMP) – is put into force.

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Strategic Planning Committee met on Tuesday (October 20) and considered a report on a pilot study undertaken by the university in partnership with the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Marine Management Organisation.

The university’s report estimates erosion occurring at roughly ten times the rate previously envisioned by EDDC, with an erosion rate of at least two metres per year.

It indicates the path to the new Alma Bridge could disappear in about five years, that houses in Beatlands Road, Laskeys Lane and Southway may be lost in 30 or 40 years, and that Hillside Road residences will come under threat in less than 100 years.

The report said that within less than 50 years the sea will have reached beyond the weir at the northern end of The Ham, and beyond the old boatpark and Sensory Garden.

However, the study has used a new method – an algorithm using recent data – for predicting coastal change.

East Devon has been used as a case study.

The new algorithmic method gives a more detailed assessment than that included in the Shoreline Management Plan adopted by EDDC in 2011, which predicted the Cliff Road homes would not be at risk for 100 years, notwithstanding the loss of nearly all of their gardens.

Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce (CoC) attended Tuesday’s Meeting and said a report using previously untried mathematical techniques was not something to be relied upon, urging people to not put too much faith in the document.

A CoC spokesperson said: “We are suspicious of this document and its methodology; we think it is misrepresenting the situation and needs to be treated with great caution.

“So we urge everyone not to become alarmed or over-react…

“Nevertheless, we understand its significance and its implications for the Beach Management Plan.

“The chamber called for the current BMP ‘Preferred Option’ to be abandoned and other options considered.

“We described the proposed groyne at the end of East Beach as ‘feeble’ and not designed to cope with the scale of erosion envisaged by the Plymouth paper.”

The Strategic Planning Committee noted the new report and recommended that householders in the relevant areas be advised of the university’s work, and its possible implications.

This report will form part of the evidence for East Devon’s new Local Plan and will only be used as a planning ‘tool’ to assist planners in assessing development in coastal areas in the future.

Recommendations have been made for the council’s cabinet to consider the wider implications of the research as soon as possible.

Cllr Dan Ledger, who is responsible for strategic planning at EDDC, said: “The study has far reaching implications for many property owners and users of the coastline that will need further consideration in the future.

“In the meantime it is good to know that we have up-to-date information on this important issue for many communities in East Devon to inform the new Local Plan for the district.

“This is an opportunity for us to debate and plan how we need to prepare.

“We will be talking to our partners, including the Environment Agency, seeking their help in adapting for future coastal change.”

What is the Sidmouth Beach Management Plan preferred option?

The preferred option for the Sidmouth BMP would see a new groyne installed on East Beach, 200 metres east of the River Sid, and the splash wall raised to up to a metre along the promenade.

The £9million project would also incorporate importing shingle on both East and Sidmouth beach.

How data from intensive care units shows second wave won’t be as deadly as the first

Chance of surviving Covid-19 for at least 28 days in intensive care has risen from 61 per cent to 72 per cent between the two virus waves.

By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor 21 October 2020 www.telegraph.co.uk 

With coronavirus cases rising and hospitals filling up, it might be tempting to worry that Britain is heading for a second wave as deadly as the first – but new data from intensive care units is telling an altogether different story.

According to the most recent Intensive Care National Audit and Research Center report (Icnarc), the chance of surviving Covid for at least 28 days has risen from 61 per cent to 72 per cent between the two waves.

The fall is seen across all ages, although the news is even better for the under-70s. For those aged between 50 and 69, the risk of death in intensive care has almost halved, dropping from around 38 per cent to just over 20 per cent.

For the under-50s, the mortality risk has fallen from around 18 per cent to below 10 per cent.

Experts believe treatment improvements are starting to have a major impact – particularly the steroid dexamethasone, which prevents the devastating immune system overload that can trigger organ failure. 

The drug – commonly used to treat arthritis, severe allergies and asthma – was rolled out across the NHS in June following successful trials by Oxford University, and was expected to have a major impact on the virus pandemic.

“I reckon about half of the improvement in the deaths was probably down to dexamethasone,” said Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia.

“It’s really interesting. The thing that got me is that although there is not much difference in the people going in, what really jumped out is the decline in the probability of deaths. For anyone under 70, deaths have nearly halved.

“If you’re under 70 and go into intensive care now, you’ve got a good chance of surviving.” 

The team at Icnarc has compared 10,900 patients admitted up to August 31 with 1,233 who entered intensive care on September 1 or later.

In the second wave so far, of the 643 people whose outcomes are known, 14.1 per cent have died and 38 per cent discharged, with 47.9 per cent still receiving care.

Icnarc has warned that the figures are slightly skewed towards those who recover or die early. But at a similar point in the first wave in April, where the outcomes of 690 people were known, 15 per cent had died and just 15 per cent had been discharged, with 70 per cent still needing critical care. 

The report also shows that far fewer people are needing intensive breathing or organ support compared to the first wave. While 58 per cent of those up to September 1 needed mechanical ventilation within the first 24 hours of admission, that number is now just 26 per cent – less than half.

Just 28 per cent now need advanced respiratory support, compared to 78 per cent in the first wave, and only 13 per cent require advanced cardiovascular support – fewer than half of those earlier in the year. Almost four times fewer people need kidney support, and three times fewer require neurological help.

Experts say it is possible that doctors have set a lower clinical threshold for admission to intensive care because the system is not as overloaded as during the first wave. 

Yet the improvements have come even though patients are entering intensive care with roughly the same “Apache” score as the first wave – an indicator of the probability of dying based on age, oxygen levels, blood pressure, heart rate and blood cell counts.

So although patients are just as sick, they are far less likely to die.

The hopeful findings are not just positive news for lives saved but could also impact lockdown decisions. The average time spent in intensive care is now just five days, compared with 12 in the first wave, which should free up beds (the graphic below shows the locations of critically ill patients since September).

“There are significant differences in ICU admissions, outcomes and survival in those admitted since September 1 compared with the outbreak in spring,” said Professor Carl Heneghan of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University.

“For every 100 people admitted to intensive care units after September 1, 12 more will survive to 28 days compared with before this date. In those admitted, their need for mechanically ventilatory support, their length of stay and need for renal support are all significantly lower. These improved outcomes are highly reassuring and leading to lower overall mortality of Covid-19.

“There is an urgent need to place the hospital data into context of what normally happens at this time of year. The lack of transparent data and the tendency to over predict and exaggerate the problems is not helping decision-makers and affecting policy.”

Experts say it is crucial to match the admissions data to the discharge data to get a true picture of the pandemic. 

Once we do, we will realise we are doing better than we think.

There is still a long way to go but, rather than wringing our hands, we should be celebrating the ingenuity of our scientists and doctors and realise just how far we have come.