Where are England’s coronavirus hotspots among older people?

Controversial restrictions came into place in England this week, as a month-long lockdown ended. Areas have been placed in one of three tiers.

[Exeter in the top 20 areas where there is the greatest difference in cases between older and younger people]

By Rob England www.bbc.co.uk

But how was it decided which tier was right for which area? One of the key factors is the rate of coronavirus cases among people over the age of 60.

The BBC has analysed the latest figures for areas with both the highest infection rates among the over-60s, and places where the virus is more common in older people than those younger.

Where are the hotspots?

In the week to 29 November Boston, in Lincolnshire, had the highest number of coronavirus cases among the over-60s, at about 564 per 100,000 people.

This was higher than the rate among people under 60, which was about 515 per 100,000 over the same period.

Among all cases, the area had the third highest infection rate in England. Lincolnshire moved into Tier 3 when the England-wide lockdown ended on Wednesday.

Chart showing areas with highest case rates in over-60s

The county seeing the most areas with the highest infection rates in over-60s was Kent.

Swale, Gravesham, Thanet and Medway all had more than 300 cases per 100,000 among the over-60s, with Maidstone recording a rate of 247.

Most of the areas seeing the highest infection rates in older people have even higher rates in those under 60.

However, there have been some places where the opposite was true.

East Northamptonshire had the largest gap between its infection rates among older and younger people.

The rate in older people in the week to 28 November was about 207 cases per 100,000 people, nearly double the rate in under-60s of about 106.

Areas which had a higher case rate in over-60s

How does the virus spread across age groups?

It is hard to say what causes the virus to spread from one age group to another, as causes can be unique to different parts of the country.

Officials said outbreaks in care homes could account for some spikes in older populations but community transmission has also played a large role.

The virus has been said to move from younger people to older more often. This could be partly explained by the high number of people over 60 receiving care from those in younger age groups.

However, public health teams said the current figures broadly reflected infections acquired as England entered the second national lockdown and could have been a result of last-minute excursions before venues such as pubs and non-essential shops closed.

Why is the government concerned about cases in older people?

The NHS has said although coronavirus can make anyone seriously ill, the risk would increase as patients were older.

Older people tend to have more underlying health conditions, or have received treatment that could make them vulnerable.

Graph of deaths by age

Officials have also voiced concerns about the potential impact on hospital capacity if cases rose among the over-60s.

Since the pandemic began many hospitals have had fewer beds available for patients, because of extra safety precautious taken to limit the spread of the virus. In many facilities treatment has been divided into Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 zones.

Higher numbers of cases among older people in particular would usually mean increased critical care admissions.

The knock-on effect of this would be to further reduce hospital capacity to treat non-Covid-19 patients, as hospitals adjusted to cope with the additional strain.

The government’s recent coronavirus impact assessment said if the NHS in a part of the country were to be overwhelmed – if an area had more patients that needed critical care than it had capacity for – this could result in deaths that may have been prevented, had there been fewer patients.

How has this affected the tiers system?

The government has said it looked at several criteria when deciding on what tiers to put each part of England in following the second national lockdown:

  • Total number of Covid-19 cases in an area
  • The number of cases among over-60s
  • The rate at which cases were rising or falling
  • The proportion of test results coming back positive
  • Pressure on the NHS

In its assessment of each area it outlined places where it was concerned about the number of infections among older people.

Of the 46 county and wider areas used to assign tiers, 23 were highlighted as having “high” or “very high” case rates in the over-60s.

It based its research on figures covering the two weeks up to 19 November.

Can I see older friends or relatives at Christmas?

Coronavirus restrictions are set to be eased around Christmas, allowing people in all tiers to mix with slightly wider circles of family and friends.

“Christmas bubbles”, limited to three households, are due to last from 23-27 December in England.

Academics have said seeing friends and family at Christmas may be a real benefit to the mental health of older people during an already difficult time.

But the UK government’s chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty, has warned people “have to have sense” this year and avoid hugging and kissing older relatives “if you want them to survive to be hugged again”.

“It’s not against the law, and that’s the whole point. You can do it within the rules that are there,” he said. “But it does not make sense because you could be carrying the virus.”

Petition calling for ‘fresh start’ at Honiton Town Council to be handed to authorities

A petition calling upon East Devon District Council to undertake a community governance review of Honiton Town Council will officially be handed in next Tuesday (Dec 8).

Hannah Corfield honiton.nub.news

It is hoped that the community governance review will dissolve the current council following numerous unsuccessful requests by Honiton residents for the remaining incumbents to resign.

It will then be possible for all candidates wishing to join, or re-join, the council to present their manifestos to the residents of Honiton, who can vote for the candidates they feel have the town’s best interests at heart.

There has been no contested election for the council since 2015 and some councillors have never stood for election.

With a newly elected town council, it will be possible to embrace new ways of working, engage with a larger cross section of our community and encourage new projects that will help create an environmentally sustainable future.

Honiton Forward, who are presenting the petition to EDDC authorities, are a group formed by members of the community who want to see Honiton thrive.

They wish to see properly laid to rest, the negativity that has thwarted the town council, which has been notorious for adversarial behaviour, secrecy, disrupted meetings and allegations of bullying for most of the last decade.

A significant proportion of the town, as demonstrated in over 1,400 signatures on the petition, are unhappy with how Honiton Town Council has and continues to conduct itself and want to see real change and a fresh start for the Honiton community.

Honiton Forward have stressed that their campaign is not specifically political. They believe that current councillors have let the community down and are seeking to bring about an election so that the people of the town can decide who they want representing them.

How the UK will unroll its ‘biggest vaccine programme in history’

More on how the government is tackling the logistical problems.

Sarah Neville, Anna Gross and Helen Warrell in London December 2 2020 www.ft.com

Care homes and the over-80s will be in the vanguard of the UK’s coronavirus vaccination programme, after Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved the first vaccine against Covid-19, firing the starting gun on one of the biggest and most consequential public health drives since the second world war.

The vaccine developed by BioNTech, a German biotechnology company, in partnership with US pharma giant Pfizer, can now be rolled out in the UK under an emergency use authorisation, but the need to keep it at ultra-low temperatures underlines the huge logistical challenge involved in reaching enough Britons to quell the spread of the virus.

Two other vaccines, one developed by Oxford university and AstraZeneca, and another from the US biotech Moderna, have also proved effective in late stage trials. Both are expected to win approval from regulators in the coming weeks. 

“It’s the biggest vaccine programme in history and the logistics are enormous,” said Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of the Wessex Local Medical Committees.

David Salisbury, until 2013 the senior official in charge of immunisation for the UK government, said the whole world was attempting something without precedent: to persuade large numbers of healthy adults to be vaccinated in order to halt transmission — and the “big unknown” was how the under-65s would respond.

Under current plans, vaccines will be distributed via three main routes. The largest is likely to be GP clinics around the UK, which will offer doses to the roughly 17m “high risk” people who usually receive an annual flu vaccination from their local practice.

Second, several hundred hospital trusts will be responsible for vaccinating healthcare staff and some inpatients. Finally, mass vaccination centres will be used to vaccinate the wider community at a range of venues including the London Excel centre, Epsom racecourse, Manchester tennis club, Ashton Gate stadium in Bristol and the Centre for Life science venue in Newcastle.

The armed forces have stepped in to provide support, sending 56 military personnel to help set up seven sites. Two military planners have also been dispatched to each NHS trust in the country to advise on vaccination logistics.

The NHS plans to take on thousands of extra staff to help with the programme. One person briefed on the process said the full-time equivalent of about 10,000 extra people were being recruited via a health service portal. The insider said successful candidates were likely to only need “first aid skills” rather than full-blown clinical expertise. 

As well as paid staff, volunteers will be crucial to rolling out the vaccine. Lynn Thomas, medical director for St John Ambulance, a charity, said the organisation had been asked to supply 30,500 people to support up to 100 mass vaccination centres. About 10,000 of that group would be trained under NHS supervision to deliver the vaccine directly, with the remainder providing first aid and other support. 

Under the government plans, vaccinations will first be made available to care home residents and staff, those aged over 80 and to frontline health workers. The first phase will then be extended to younger age groups eventually including all those over 50, and those aged between 16 and 64 with underlying health conditions.

But while age is the principal criterion for when and whether people will receive the vaccine, Wei Shen Lim, who chairs the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation or JCVI, added on Wednesday that decisions about how to allocate the vaccine in local areas should pay attention to “mitigating health inequalities”. Societal factors such as occupation, household size, deprivation and access to healthcare have all been shown to increase susceptibility to Covid-19, with members of some minority groups at greater risk of developing serious symptoms.

Some public health professionals have raised concerns that the logistics of distributing the Pfizer vaccine — which has to be stored at -70C, transported on dry ice, and used within 5 days of being removed from the ultra-cold freezer — may be too onerous for GPs and care homes.

Martin Marshall, chair of the royal college of GPs, said there was still considerable uncertainty around which vaccines doctors would be allowed to administer, and when. “At the moment we’re hearing it’s too complicated and there are too many risks,” he said, pointing to concerns that the vaccine might diminish in effectiveness after being taken out of ultra cold storage. “You risk wasting a lot and we can’t afford to waste any.

“The general feeling is, why would you take those risks when all you have to do is wait a bit longer and get a vaccine without the same requirements,” Prof Marshall added, alluding to the Oxford university and AstraZeneca vaccine, which is stored at between 2C and 8C and has a six-month shelf life.

Prof Lim at the JCVI acknowledged that the storage requirements for the vaccine could affect the ability to use it in care homes. The JCVI has said that every effort must be made to supply the shot to care home residents but “whether that is actually do-able is dependent on deployment and implementation”, he added.

Speaking alongside Prof Lim, Munir Pirmohamed, who chairs the Commission on Human Medicine Expert Working Group, said the fact that the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine was stable for five days when refrigerated at between 2C and 8C would allow doses to be “transported to the relevant implementation sites”.

A further challenge for the UK government is that some people may press for the most protective vaccinations. Prof Salisbury, the former immunisation official, pointed to the 62 per cent efficacy shown in all-age trials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, compared with about 95 per cent for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna versions. It was “unfortunate” that the vaccine the UK had bought in the largest quantities “appears to be from the lower efficacy product”, he said.

“If you protect 95 per cent of those vaccinated, that’s great. If you only protect less than two-thirds of those you vaccinate that’s not so good. You are protecting a third fewer people and therefore the challenge to interrupt transmission with a lower efficacy vaccine is even higher,” Prof Salisbury added. 

15,000 Devon children to get food vouchers

After the government stumped up £2 million, more than 15,000 children across Devon will receive food vouchers this Christmas from the county council.

Radio Exe News www.radioexe.co.uk

Children who currently get free school meals and their families can redeem the vouchers  in major supermarkets over the school holidays. Arrangements are being made for families who cannot get to a supermarket. Eligible children in pre-school and young people in sixth form colleges will also receive the vouchers.

One million pounds is being spent on the scheme at Christmas, and a further million in the February half-term and at Easter. The government caved into providing cash to councils for food vouchers after a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford.

Devon’s Cabinet member for communities, Roger Croad, said: “We are enlisting the help of our schools in publicising this to families and alerting us to anyone they feel might miss out and I am very grateful to them for their help and support.

“In addition to issuing the vouchers to families directly, we’ll also be providing them to our Early Help teams, children’s centres, food networks and district councils who will be able to help vulnerable families who may not be eligible for free school meals.”

Mr Croad said the county council was working with local council partners in Team Devon to ensure vulnerable families do not slip through the net.

In addition, the council is working with the Devon Community Foundation to set up food networks across the county with at least one in every district. Food networks will include community kitchens, charities, cafes and pubs who will be asked to provide food for those in need.

Mr Croad said: “We have seen an overwhelming response from communities and voluntary and community organisations already this year.

“An investment in these emerging networks and the great organisations within them will provide timely and much-needed funding and co-ordination.”

Mr Croad said Devon had received just over £2 million from the Government to fund the operation. He said 80 per cent of that was being spent on food with funding also available to support household costs such as heating, cooking and lighting for the most vulnerable families.

The county had already committed £1.7 million towards combating hardship, particularly for those families who had been worst affected by the pandemic, and this fund was being administered by Devon’s district councils.

He praised officers who had worked swiftly with partners to bring the programme together and he said he was hoping most vouchers would be issued by the second week of December. Parents and carers of children currently receiving free school meals will be sent letters and emails from 7 December) with information about how to access their vouchers. 

Many families in Devon have seen their financial circumstances change due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. People who didn’t previously qualify for free school meals but whose income has recently reduced or stopped, can apply online through the Devon County Council website which can also be used to check eligibility. The council’s education helpline is on 0345 155 1019.

Durham police assessing file on Dominic Cummings’ lockdown trip

Durham police have confirmed for the first time they are assessing a dossier from a former senior prosecutor that says Dominic Cummings should face charges over his account of his movements during lockdown.

Matthew Weaver www.theguardian.com

For months Durham constabulary has refused to investigate the prime minister’s former chief aide beyond the three-day inquiry it conducted in May. But on Friday it said officers were examining new evidence submitted in a 225-page dossier more than a month ago.

The documents, compiled by lawyers for the former north-west chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal, allege that Cummings perverted the course of justice in relation to his Downing Street rose garden statement about his journeys to the north-east of England in March and April.

The Met police, which also received the dossier and was urged to investigate, told Afzal’s lawyers that the issues raised were matters for Durham constabulary – “notably the allegation of perverting the course of justice”.

Durham police has not ruled out charging Cummings for perverting the course of justice. A spokesman for Durham constabulary said: “A report was submitted to Durham constabulary at the end of October and we are continuing to consider its contents.” It is understood that a senior investigating officer has been appointed.

This marks a change in approach from the force, which had said nothing publicly about Cummings since a 391-word press release issued on 28 May following a three-day investigation in to Cummings’s movements.

That statement said Cummings may have breached lockdown rules by travelling to Barnard Castle on 12 April, but the force decided to take no further action and it made no finding on his decision to leave London for Durham.

At the time the force also said there was “insufficient evidence” that Cummings travelled to Durham a second time on 19 April, as initially one witness told the Guardian and the Mirror. In his rose garden statement Cummings claimed he had evidence that proved he was in London that day. Boris Johnson told MPs that he had seen that evidence, but No 10 has refused repeated requests to release it.

In August the Guardian and the Mirror revealed that four people had claimed seeing someone they believed to be Cummings in woods near Durham on the morning of 19 April. They included Dave and Clare Edwards, who gave statements to the police about the sighting at the same time Cummings was giving his rose garden statement.

The submissions from Afzal’s lawyers said Cummings’ account appeared to have influenced Durham constabulary’s initial investigation. It included statements from witnesses, including the Edwardses, which questioned the conclusions of Durham police about Cummings’ movements. It also included statements from at least three people in Barnard Castle, which raised doubts about Cummings’ claim that he was only there for 15 minutes and strayed no more than 15 metres from his car.

The dossier also accuses Cummings and his wife, Mary Wakefield, of multiple offences under the coronavirus regulations for leaving their primary home in London and their second home in Durham without, it says, a reasonable excuse.

Afzal said: “It appears that, to their credit, Durham police have taken seriously the evidence and allegations contained within our report, including the very serious allegation that he perverted the course of justice. We remain concerned that nobody should be above the law and police and prosecutors should follow wherever the evidence takes them.”

Last month Cummings resigned as Boris Johnson’s chief aide, following an internal Downing Street feud about his influence.

Dominic Cummings has been contacted for comment.

GPs in England told to prepare vaccination sites for mid-December

GP surgeries have been told to be ready to start staffing Covid-19 vaccination centres by 14 December.

PA Media www.theguardian.com

In a letter sent out across England’s primary care networks, NHS England and NHS Improvement warned the “scale and complexity” of the immunisation programme would make it “one of the greatest challenges the NHS has ever faced”.

The letter was signed by Dr Nikita Kanani, medical director for primary care at NHS England and NHS Improvement, and Ed Waller, director of primary care. “It is crucial we start to activate local vaccination services to allow priority patient cohorts to start accessing the vaccine,” it said.

The vaccination sites must be ready to administer 975 doses of the vaccine to priority patients within three and a half days of delivery on 14 December.

Speed is of the essence with the vaccine, as it is usually stored at -70C and will only remain stable at fridge temperatures of between 2C-8C for a limited period. There are 975 doses in each of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine packs, which has posed a logistical problem of how they can be broken up and distributed to other key sites, such as care homes.

The first people to receive the vaccine in the centres will be those aged 80 and over, as long as their other risk factors, “clinical or otherwise”, have been taken into account.

NHS England and NHS Improvement said the number of vaccination sites in each clinical commissioning group (CCG) area will vary according to the number of residents it has who are over 80. CCGs have been asked to consider inequalities and deprivation – some of the biggest Covid-19 risk factors – when choosing the sites.

Each centre will also be supplied with “IT equipment necessary to deliver the programme and a fridge”, the letter said.

It added: “We will be writing to sites identified as part of wave 1 on Monday, setting out full details of vaccine supply dates, delivery of other consumables and equipment to the site, and the process for assuring readiness before delivery of vaccines.”

It said staff at the vaccination sites would be provided with training, and be “given full support to mobilise within the timescale”.

The staff at the first sites to open are due to get login details for the IT system set up to deliver the vaccination programme “as soon as possible”.

CCGs were told they must “offer all possible assistance” to the vaccine sites as the programme gets under way, including helping them with logistics and setting up clinical waste arrangements.

They were also warned that while urgent care must be provided by GPs even when the vaccine is being delivered, the vaccination programme must be their top priority.

‘High-value’ business travellers to be exempt from quarantine in England

The Government now seems to think the virus can draw a distinction between the “elite” and the common plebs. 

Simon Murphy www.theguardian.com

Senior company executives are among travellers set to be exempt from Covid-19 quarantine restrictions for international arrivals in England, meaning they will not have to self-isolate for up to a fortnight.

Recently signed elite sportspeople, performing arts professionals, TV production staff and journalists will also not have to abide by quarantine restrictions if arriving from a country outside of England’s travel corridor from 4am on Saturday.

Announcing the move on Twitter, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said “high-value business travellers” would be exempt from quarantine rules in an effort to boost the economy, “subject to specific criteria being met”.

It is understood that the exemption will apply to senior company executives, such as directors or their equivalents, either returning or travelling to England who can deliver “significant” economic benefit. They will only qualify for the exemption if their work requires them to be there in person.

Currently, travellers coming from non-exempt nations have to quarantine for two weeks, but as of 15 December people will be able to pay for a private coronavirus test to reduce their isolation time to as little as five days, as long as they return a negative result. The new “test to release” regime comes after months of lobbying by the struggling airline industry.

Senior executives classed as bringing “significant” economic benefit are understood to include those whose work creates or preserves 50 or more jobs for either an existing UK-based business or a new UK business within one year of their arrival.

Shapps tweeted: “New Business Traveller exemption: From 4am on Sat 5th Dec high-value business travellers … will no longer need to self-isolate when returning to ENGLAND from a country NOT in a travel corridor, allowing more travel to support the economy and jobs. Conditions apply.”

He added: “From 4am on Sat 5th Dec certain performing arts professionals … TV production staff … journalists and recently signed elite sportspersons will also be exempt, subject to specific criteria being met.”

Giving additional detail, the Department for Transport published information on the government’s website stating that from 4am on Saturday “individuals undertaking specific business activity which would deliver a significant benefit to the UK economy – including activity that creates or preserves 50+ UK jobs – will no longer need to self-isolate when travelling or returning from non-exempt countries. Individuals will only be exempt when undertaking the specific business activity and will only be able to meet with others as required by that specific activity.”

It added: “Exemptions will also come into force at the same time for domestic and international performing arts professionals, TV production staff, journalists and recently signed elite sportspersons, ensuring that industries which require specific, high-talent individuals who rely on international connections can continue to complete their work.”

The DfT said Public Health England “do not anticipate these changes will raise the risk of domestic transmission, due to the protocols being put in place around these exemptions, however all exemptions will remain under review.”

All travellers would still be required to show and complete a passenger locator form when arriving, the DfT added.

Going wild? A radical green plan for Nottingham’s unloved shopping centre

An empty 1970s shopping centre in Nottingham could be transformed into wetlands, pocket woodlands and a wildflower meadow as part of a post-pandemic urban rewilding project.

Phoebe Weston www.theguardian.com 

The debate about Broadmarsh shopping centre, considered an eyesore by many, has rumbled on for years. This year it was undergoing a £86m revamp by real estate investment trust Intu when the firm went into administration.

The number of empty shops on UK high streets has risen to its highest level in six years, and as retail giants such as Debenhams and Arcadia Group falter, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has come up with a new model of inner city regeneration: urban rewilding.

The trust wants to bulldoze the already half-demolished Broadmarsh building and turn it into 2.5 hectares (6 acres) of scruffy green space at an estimated cost of £3-4m. The designs were created with Influence Landscape Architects and could set a precedent for what to do with the growing amount of vacant retail space in other cities. “It’s unbelievable to hear that stores like Debenhams are in the position they are in – they’re stalwarts of the city, but it does put out an opportunity,” said Sara Boland, managing director of Influence.

vision to rewild the heart of Nottingham

The Broadmarsh post-Covid rewilding scheme would fit in with Nottingham’s ambition to become the UK’s first carbon-neutral city. Photograph: The Wildlife Trusts

Ponds surrounded by reeds, crocus meadows and wet grasslands would attract butterflies, dragonflies and a range of birds including reed warblers and black redstarts, according to the Wildlife Trust, which is calling on people to back its green vision. It will put its plans to Nottingham city council in the coming weeks as the authority canvasses views on what Broadmarsh could become as part of a 10-week consultation process.

The proposed scheme would run counter to the conventional idea of urban parks and instead hark back to what Broadmarsh would have looked like in centuries gone by. “Often open spaces in cities can be manicured and a bit formal,” said Boland. “The idea of this was to have more rewilding, restoring, protecting – this kind of connectivity, so the zones we then developed were about foraging, pond dipping and protecting species.”

Nineteenth-century maps helped architects get a clear picture of what this part of Nottinghamshire once looked like – a fertile garden area covered in fruit trees. Old street names include Pear Street and Peach Street; those fruits would be grown in the park to reflect its heritage. Crisscrossing the park would be walkways based on centuries-old street layouts.

Nottingham Wildlife Trust has long wanted to create green corridors in this area of the city to connect it to Sherwood Forest to the north. It has put up nest boxes on many buildings close to Broadmarsh to encourage black redstarts, which used to live in the city but are now rarely seen.

“We’ve actually spent quite a bit of time over the past 20 or 30 years looking at various redevelopment proposals for this part of the city and for the Broadmarsh centre. We’ve submitted ideas for roof gardens and new avenues, all sorts of greener features,” said Erin McDaid, head of communications and marketing at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. “We feel this could be a real opportunity for the city to stand out from the crowd as cities across the UK look to recover their economies and find a new direction for urban centres.”

The Broadmarsh centre was opened in 1975, in an area of the city designed with drivers in mind. Now times are changing, said Nottingham resident Ewan Cameron. “I don’t think people really want [a shopping centre]. It’s kind of a 90s style of thinking … Broadmarsh felt like a place that people used to walk through, but there was no sense of community, no sense of life.

“Anyone coming into Nottingham on the train would have to pass by it before they reached the city centre, and it was just this horrible, ugly building with no windows. It was very unwelcoming,” he said. When Intu went into administration five months ago, Cameron started a petition to turn the unloved shopping centre into green space. It struck a chord with many people, and already has 10,000 signatures.

The demolished Broadmarsh Centre in Nottingham

The Broadmarsh centre was in the process of being demolished but work had to stop when the company developing the site went into administration. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian

Last year Nottingham city council won the Guardian’s public service award for its ambitious policies to become the UK’s first carbon-neutral city. The city met its 2020 target to reduce carbon emissions by 26% four years early and the energy consumption of council buildings has fallen by 39%. A green development would show the city’s commitment to securing 30% of land for nature by 2030, the Wildlife Trust says.

David Mellen, Nottingham city council leader, said the conversation about the Broadmarsh site had captured people’s imagination. He said: “It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine a significant space right in the heart of one of the country’s core cities and build a new vision for urban areas following the coronavirus pandemic that is people centred and green but also leads to jobs and housing, improving quality of life.”

Cameron said he was “blown away” by the new designs. “It’s a chance for people to rethink how cities work and how we can design cities to make people’s lives better, rather than a place to shop,” he said.

“I hope the council will genuinely listen to people and I hope they haven’t made their mind up already and this isn’t a box-ticking exercise.”

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson arrested in fraud investigation

The mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, has been arrested as part of a fraud investigation and suspended from the Labour party.

What a contrast to the Graham Brown case! – Owl

Josh Halliday www.theguardian.com 

Anderson, who has led Liverpool for a decade, was one of five men arrested across Merseyside on Friday in an investigation into building and development contracts in the city. He is being interviewed by police on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation.

Merseyside police have not named any of the men arrested, but the Guardian has been told by several sources that the 62-year-old mayor is one of those being held.

A Liverpool city council spokeswoman said: “Liverpool city council is cooperating with Merseyside police in relation to its ongoing investigation. We do not comment on matters relating to individuals.”

The others arrested are: a 72-year-old man from Aigburth, on suspicion of witness intimidation; a 33-year-old man from West Derby, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation; a 46-year-old man from Ainsdale, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation; and a 25-year-old man from Ormskirk, on suspicion of witness intimidation.

Sources said Anderson had been suspended from the Labour party in light of his arrest. A former social worker and publican, he has led the city since 2010 and has been mayor since 2012. He has been a councillor in Liverpool for 22 years and leader of the Labour group since 2003.

He ran unsuccessfully to be the mayor of the Liverpool city region, a post won by the former Labour MP Steve Rotheram, and to be an MP for Liverpool Walton in 2017. Last year he secured the Labour party selection to run to be mayor of the city for a third term in May’s delayed elections.

Anderson’s eldest brother, Bill, died in October after contracting coronavirus. The mayor has spent most of 2020 shielding at home due to underlying health conditions.

Rishi Sunak imposes austerity on railway infrastructure investment with £1bn cuts

The government has quietly cut £1 billion from the rail infrastructure investment budget, effectively cancelling improvement schemes across the country.

www.independent.co.uk 

The austerity comes after the Chancellor promised “record” infrastructure investment, and casts doubt on Tory claims to be “levelling up”.

The rail industry warned that the austerity meant it was now “unclear what schemes will be going ahead and what will not be”.

Network Rail’s budget for 2019-24 had been set at £10.4bn but it has now fallen to just £9.4 billion, rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris announced this week.

The government did not mention the cuts in the spending review documentation unveiled by Rishi Sunak earlier this month.

The reductions come at a time of record low interest rates on government borrowing, meaning investment is cheaper than ever.

But some small-state Conservatives are concerned about the level of spending and investment during the coronavirus crisis and want the government to reduce its spending.

Despite reducing public investment in the network, since the start of the pandemic government has spent £3.5 billion in day-to-day support for private train operating companies to keep the trains running.

The cuts, which was only revealed in a reply to a parliamentary written question, will affect smaller local schemes and are unlikely to land on projects like HS2 or Northern Powerhouse Rail, which are government priorities.

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, said: “Recent confirmation, following the Spending Review, that rail enhancements investment will reduce by more than £1 billion over the current five year funding period, is very disappointing.

“Rail enhancements are essential in ensuring our rail network is fit for the future, improving reliability, connectivity, customer experience and helping to reduce carbon emissions. 

“Taking our foot off the pedal now on rail investment will not help for when passengers return following the Coronavirus pandemic.

“The rail industry still doesn’t have sight of what rail enhancement projects are coming up – we were told earlier this year that there are more than 80 projects in the Government’s Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline, yet with the news today that there is over £1 billion less in the funding pot, it is unclear what schemes will be going ahead and what will not be.”

In a written answer to a parliamentary question about Network Rail’s budget, Mr Heaton Harris, the rail minister, said: “Network Rail’s operations, maintenance and renewals budgets have not been changed as a result of Spending Review 2020 and workbanks will continue to be based on the five-year regulatory funding settlement for 2019-2024.

“The Spending Review settlement means that the comparable figure for the enhancements budget over the same period would now be £9.4bn. As part of SR2020 over £2 billion of funding has been confirmed in 2021-22 for rail services and builds on the estimated £12.8 billion of support for transport services that the government has already committed to provide in 2020-21

“The Spending Review Settlement includes over £58 billion of investment confirmed for road and rail transport between 2021-22 and 2024-25, delivering some of government’s largest capital portfolios and levelling up across the country. This includes record investment in strategic roads and rail.”