Former mayor of Exmouth denies sexual assault of two boys

A former mayor has appeared at Exeter Crown Court charged with the sexual assault of two boys.

BBC News

John Humphreys, 58, of Hartley Road, Exmouth, denied three counts of a serious sexual assault and two of indecent assault on a boy aged 12 to 13 between 1990 and 1991.

He also denied five counts of indecent assault of a second boy, aged 14 to 15, between 2000 and 2002.

Mr Humphreys was the mayor of Exmouth between 2012 and 2014.

He also served as an East Devon councillor for 12 years until 2019.

He has been released on bail and is due to appear for trial on 9 August.

Winslade Manor: application amended yet again, these to be discussed at Parish Council Monday 2 Nov

Owl has heard  from the Chairman of Save Clyst St Mary that the applicant has submitted further amendments to the controversial Winslade Manor development. These are to be discussed by the Bishop’s Court Parish Council next Monday 2 November.

The Chairman writes:

Despite all the amendments that the applicant has submitted it has many areas that don’t appear to follow the National Planning Policy Framework Guidance. The Burrington Estates Chairman was one of the four significant people that wrote the guidance and advised the Government on its contents. It’s a real pity that the company he works for doesn’t follow the guidance that he wrote!

The latest amendments have removed the commercial units that were planned for zone B and replaced the area with car parking in a high risk flood zone. We wonder where everyone will park when the area floods!

Zone D (the area backing on to the bottom of Clyst Valley Road) has been split into two buildings enlarged in length and partillary reduced in height. The number of apartments still remains the same at 40. Should this be approved the houses at the bottom of Clyst Valley Road will become significantly overlooked and there remains the possibility that applicants can use Government legislation to increase the height by a further two storeys with permitted development.

The Parish Council has arranged to discuss the latest amendments on Monday 2nd of November at 7.30. Should you want to listen or to/// speak you will need to register with the Parish Clerk (The details are on the Parish Council website) 

The amendments for Planning Application 20/1001/MOUT can be viewed on EDDC’s Planning website here.

Tiers for Fears – most data looks dire – but how worried should we be?

This week there has been a dramatic change in the number of deaths caused by coronavirus in England – with dire predictions for the winter ahead.

So what’s going on?

Nicola Davis

Last week, a report from Public Health England suggested new cases might be flattening off, but they now seem to be soaring: Why?

The latest figures from PHE showed that in week 42, ending 18 October, there were 101,887 cases, compared with 91,501 cases reported the week before. This amounts to an 11% increase, compared to a 30% increase in the previous week, and a 76% increase in the week before that.

These figures have been revised upwards since last week due to delays in turnaround time, but they appear to show the rise in new Covid-19 cases is slowing.

But there are important factors to consider: while national capacity for testing has increased over time, local capacity varies, which could influence the trend in some results.

In addition, the PHE data largely reflects people who have been tested for Covid because they had symptoms: surveys from the Office for National Statistics and the React-1 study by researchers at Imperial College London involve taking samples from randomly selected members of the public, meaning they are not affected by fluctuations in testing capacity, and pick up asymptomatic cases.

Both of these studies focus on cases in the community – so do not include hospital data – but vary in participant numbers and timing of data collection.

Models by the MRC Biostatistics Unit in Cambridge, meanwhile, use a number of existing datasets to model infections including those in hospitals and care homes.

All of these studies contain levels of uncertainty, but they suggest new cases are rising in most, if not all, parts of the country.

That message is backed up by data on Covid hospital admissions and deaths, which follow a similar, albeit delayed, trajectory compared with infections.

Is there any evidence that the tiered system has slowed the rate of infections?

According to Prof Steven Riley, a co-author of the React-1 study, there is evidence of a slowing in the uptick in new infections in the north-west while the epidemic may no longer be growing in the north-east – although prevalence remains high.

That may suggest tier 3 restrictions are having some impact – but infections are rising in most parts of the country.

Some reports have suggested the death rate will flatten out and not reach the peaks of the first wave, although more may die overall. What is the science behind that?

Experts say it is perfectly possible that this may happen, with the second wave more prolonged than the first.

One reason is that unlike the first wave, when there was a national lockdown, the tiered system means infections may continue to grow in regions below tier 3. They could end up escalating through the tiers, until they reach the highest level.

At that point, restrictions may be tight enough to reduce R, but once restrictions are relaxed, infections could climb once more. The upshot is that the tier system could act rather like a thermostat, with incidence (and therefore deaths), ending up roughly steady.

Has the R gone up significantly?

Possibly. The MRC data suggests R is almost certainly above 1 in all parts of England, with the possible exception of London, although there has been a decrease in R over the past few weeks in most regions – but this is based on data that is, overall, less up to date than that of the React-1 study. The latter puts the R for England at 1.27-1.88, up from 1.05-1.27 two weeks ago.

Riley said the React study found a small dip in R a few weeks ago, suggesting the difference may be down to time lags in data used by the MRC. “We only need small changes in the average behaviour to go from 1.1 to 1.6,” he said, adding that just an extra one or two risky contacts per person might make the difference.

Importantly, R remains above 1 for most, if not all, of the country. That means new infections are growing.

What’s the most reliable picture? How worried should we be?

The ONS and React-1 surveys are the most reliable for a snapshot of the situation, while the daily PHE data is most up to date but prone to biases in sampling. To get a true picture of the situation, it is worth considering all the data, from the different infection studies to numbers for hospital admissions and deaths. But the outlook is very concerning.

“From our data there is a very real threat to the hospital system across the UK over the next two months,” said Riley.

Additional reporting by Niamh McIntyre.

Covid outbreak at Lympstone marine camp

Commando training continues though

Radio Exe News

The Ministry of Defence says the Royal Marines’ Commando Training Centre at Lympstone has been affected by an outbreak of covid-19. Although they haven’t confirmed numbers, separate government figures show a cluster of 26 people confirmed with the virus in the Lympstone and Clyst St Mary area.

A Royal Navy spokesperson says: “We can confirm that a number of personnel at the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM) have tested positive for covid-19. Personnel who have been in contact with those testing positive are self-isolating in line with Public Health England guidance.

“There is no impact on other trainees at CTCRM. The safety and welfare of our people remains paramount.”

Devon 20-somethings are covid magnets

The figures, concerning positive cases reported in the week to 27 October, reveal that in the Devon County Council area, which excludes Torbay and Plymouth, the 20-29 age group has the highest number of cases.

Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter

Devon 20-somethings are covid magnets

They account for most cases

New statistics have been released showing the breakdown of positive covid-19 cases by age group and local authority area.

The figures, concerning positive cases reported in the week to 27 October, reveal that in the Devon County Council area, which excludes Torbay and Plymouth, the 20-29 age group has the highest number of cases.

Torbay has a higher number of new cases being reported in the 70-79 age group than the 10-19 age group, the only area in Devon to do so, and the Bay has the highest rate of cases for the 80-89 and 90+ age groups.

Torbay has the highest percentage of cases in the 60+ age range (17 per cent) and the lowest in the 10-19 age range (just six per cent), with 16 per cent of cases in the 20-29, 40-49 and 50-59 age ranges and 23 per cent in the 30-39 range.

In the Devon County Council area, 14.5 per cent of the cases confirmed are from the 60+ age group, with another 14 per cent in the 50-59 age group, with the 20-29 (28 per cent) and 10-19 (19 per cent) with the highest amount.

In Plymouth, just 13 per cent of cases are in the 60+ age group, with 32 per cent of cases in the 20-29 age range, and 13 per cent in the 10-19 age group.

Croydon council on verge of bankruptcy after risky investments

Ministers have sent in a taskforce to oversee Croydon council after an audit report revealed the Labour-run authority is on the verge of bankruptcy following a string of risky property investments and a failure to keep control of social care budgets.

Patrick Butler 

Auditors heavily criticised the south London council for ignoring more than three years of internal warnings over its finances, accusing it of “collective corporate blindness” and fostering a governance culture in which poor spending decisions were not robustly challenged or scrutinised by councillors.

The council has a £60m black hole in its budget, and only £10m of financial reserves, auditors revealed, in a report that carried strong echoes of similarly deep-rooted corporate failings at Tory-run Northamptonshire county council, which declared itself effectively bankrupt in 2018.

The auditors, Grant Thornton, said Covid-19 had “ruthlessly exposed” the council’s fragile underlying financial position. “Whilst the … pandemic has created significant financial pressures for local government, the depth of the issues facing Croydon existed prior to the pandemic.”

The report’s other findings include:

  • Croydon borrowed £545m during the past three years to invest in housing and commercial property. This included a £200m loan to its own housing development arm Brick By Brick, which has yet to return a dividend. The council has capital borrowings of nearly £2bn.
  • It invested £30m in the local Croydon Park Hotel in 2018-19. This went into administration in June. It also spent £46m on a shopping centre. The council’s strategy of “invest[ing] its way out of financial challenge” was “inherently flawed”, as councillors did not properly understand the retail and leisure markets, auditors said.
  • It allowed a £39m overspend on adult and children’s social care to spin out of control after 2017 when an Ofsted inspection branded its children’s services “inadequate”, and subsequently used accounting tricks to mask its failure to control costs in these departments.

The audit report revealed that Croydon’s top finance official drafted a formal section 114 letter to council bosses in September signalling the council was effectively bankrupt but this was not published following discussions with the former leader, and other senior managers.

There has been a clearout of Croydon’s top management in recent weeks with the former council leader Tony Newman, the deputy leader Alison Butler and the former chief executive Jo Negrini all leaving their posts. The new leader, Hamida Ali, has promised “decisive action” to bring the council’s finances under control.

On Thursday the local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, confirmed that Croydon had approached the government for special financial help, and announced that a rapid review of the council’s governance, culture and risk management would be carried out.

He said: “The public interest report published this week is damning about the dysfunctional governance within Croydon council, who have been entirely irresponsible with their spending and investments. There are serious questions [for] local leaders to answer, and we are stepping in to get the situation under control.”

Although it stops short of a full Northamptonshire-style statutory intervention in the day-to-day running of Croydon’s affairs for now, the review will closely examine the council’s financial plans and commercial investment strategies to see if more formal involvement is required in the future.

Ali said: “While a decade of austerity and the Covid-19 crisis have had a major impact on our finances they do not excuse the issues this report has laid bare. The council fully accepts the findings and recommendations of this report and the council’s new leadership will take swift and decisive action to stabilise the council’s finances and governance.”

Croydon’s parlous financial state, while pre-dating the pandemic, has highlighted the increasingly fragile state of council finances across the UK. Manchester city council warned on Thursday it faced “unpalatable cuts” to services if the government did not step in with extra funds to tackle an anticipated £105m budget shortfall in 2021-22.

Manchester’s leader, Sir Richard Leese, said: “At the start of this crisis the clear message from government to local authorities was ‘spend what you need to’ but since then they have changed their tune. We need them to honour that original commitment. Failure to do so would mean that we will be forced into totally unpalatable cuts.”

Concrete desert warning from National Trust over new planning rules

Boris Johnson’s planning reforms risk creating “concrete deserts” that are “devoid of green space”, the director of the National Trust has warned.

George Grylls, Melissa York

Hilary McGrady said that she had “significant concerns” about the scale and pace of the plans, calling them “too dismissive of what currently works”.

In August, No 10 announced the biggest shake-up in planning laws in 70 years with Mr Johnson determined to construct 300,000 homes a year as part of his “Build, Build, Build” agenda.

Rural land in the green belt and in Areas of Outstanding National Beauty will fall into protected zones — where applications will probably face rejection. In areas marked for renewal, most proposals will be approved. Permission will automatically be granted for development in growth areas.

The basis for the present system is the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, has said the planning process is broken and Mr Johnson has said that “newt-counting delays” prevent greater housebuilding.

Ms McGrady, who represents 5.6 million National Trust members, said that reforms would not work without “genuine public scrutiny”. “What should we make of the proposed growth, recovery and protected areas? Certainly they must not lead to concrete deserts devoid of green space, lacking corridors for nature and sustainable travel.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “These claims are entirely wrong, and ignore the fact that our reforms to the outdated planning system protect green spaces and will create beautiful and well-designed communities, with green spaces and tree-lined streets as the norm. Local communities will be able to choose land for ‘protection’, helping them pass on valued green spaces for future generations.”

Under existing rules, the public can object to developments at two points in the planning process: when the council draws up a local plan and when a specific building applies for permission.

The government argues that the second part of the process is too often dominated by “a small minority of voices” and wants to minimise consultation at this phase.

Ms McGrady questioned the government’s plan to enshrine beauty in new design codes after Mr Jenrick said that he would legally enforce tree-planting in new developments and demand that future buildings take architectural inspiration from “Bath, Belgravia and Bournville”.

She said: “More tree-lined streets and a ‘fast track for beauty’ sound good, but how will this happen?’ We must not take a skin-deep approach when nature is in meltdown and we are in the teeth of the climate crisis.”

Tory backbenchers including the former cabinet ministers Jeremy Hunt and Chris Grayling have reservations about the reforms. About 80 Tory MPs are in a Whatsapp group that is co-ordinating opposition to the changes.

One MP said: “The government is not listening. Dominic Cummings holds parliament in contempt and he’s just bulldozing these plans through.”

A source of contention is an algorithm that calculates where the 300,000 houses will be built each year. The formula will concentrate building in London and rural areas, but scale back projects in northern cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.

In the Commons this month, Theresa May said the algorithmic approach was “mechanistic and ill-conceived”. Ministers would not reform the system by removing local democracy and cutting the number of affordable homes that are built, she said.