Tomorrow is “Super Wednesday”: EDDC planning committee to determine two applications that have divided communities

The first is the Lower Otter Restoration project and the second is the Tipton St John primary school relocation to Ottery St. Mary and associated 150 new homes.

Both have been recommended for approval by planning officers.

Youtube link to virtual meeting which starts 10am:

St. Isidore Farm, Combe Raleigh,Planning Application 20/2563/FUL – time running out for comments

This application seeks associated operational development in conjunction with the approval 20/0686/PDR for the change of use of an existing agricultural building to a shop. The prior approval was granted on the basis of permitted development. However, the impact on this small village will be considerable as is described by Dunkeswell and Otterhead District Councillors Colin Brown and David Key. The current “operational development” proposals are not considered in keeping with the relevant AONB and Local Plan policies. 

Is this another example of the thin edge of a development wedge of which Owl has seen and is seeing too often in East Devon’s AONBs? Barn to shop to …… 

Tomorrow is the deadline for comments.

Link to previous post.

Covid: Can we really jab our way out of lockdown?

“Fill and finish” is the catch phrase – Owl

[Your place in the queue can be found at the bottom of this post.]

Nick Triggle

With the country in lockdown and a new faster-spreading variant of coronavirus rampant, it’s clear the UK is in a race to vaccinate.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants all the over-70s, the most clinically vulnerable and front-line health and care workers to be offered a jab by mid-February, to allow the restrictions to be eased.

That requires about 13 million people to be given the opportunity to be vaccinated – but so far only one million have been.

And ensuring a quick rollout to the rest is fraught with difficulties.

There is enough vaccine in the country, BBC News has learned, but getting it into people’s arms could be hampered by:

  • a global shortage of glass vials to package up the vaccines
  • long waits for safety checks
  • the process of ensuring there are enough vaccinators

How could a shortage of glass disrupt supply?

Two Covid vaccines have now been approved – one produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and another made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.

The UK government has ordered 140 million doses – enough for the whole population.

The first hurdle is manufacture of the vaccine.

This involves two crucial stages – the production of the substance and then a process called fill and finish whereby the vaccine is put into vials and packaged up for use.

And there is already a concern about the latter stage, with the availability of key ingredients and equipment including glass vials a key issue.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam says fill and finish was a “critically short resource across the globe”.

That is part of the reason why the amount of the two vaccines ready to go is more limited than ministers had hoped.

UK plants have made somewhere around 15 million or so doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine – that in itself is less than ministers said would be made at this stage (early in the pandemic they said there would be 30 million by the autumn).

But only four million have been through the fill-and-finish process.

The UK has used plants in Germany and the Netherlands to do some of this for the early batches.

But the government has also invested in a plant in Wrexham to ensure there is domestic capacity.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, meanwhile, is made outside of the UK – it comes from a plant in Belgium.

When it arrives in the UK, it has already been placed into vials.

But so far, fewer than five million doses have been delivered – less than half the number that should have been – because of problems with manufacture, including the fill-and-finish process.

Are the final checks taking too long?

Even once a vaccine is in the vials though, there is still one more step before the NHS can start using it.

Each batch has to be checked and certified by the Medicines and Healthcare Products regulatory Agency.

And it can be several weeks before the vaccine can be given to the NHS to put in people’s arms.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called this a “rate-limiting factor”.

About four million doses of the Oxford vaccine have been available for some weeks – they were put into vials last year – but as yet only just over 500,000 have been certified as safe to use.

Sources close to the NHS vaccination programme said this had been one of the key frustrations – saying it was taking up to 20 days for batches to be tested and released.

The MHRA said each batch had to be biologically tested for quality, while the manufacturer’s documentation describing its production and quality-control testing process was reviewed.

Those close to the process say it does take a couple of weeks – and with more vaccine being produced, there is increased demand on the labs that do the work.

“You have to remember this is being injected into people,” they said. “We cannot rush this.”

Both vaccines have to go through this process.

What have hospitals, GP practices and racecourses got to do with it?

Once batches have been certified, they are ready to be distributed to the NHS vaccination centres.

Eventually, there will be a network of more than 1,000 local centres across the UK.

Currently, just over 700 are up and running.

These are being run from a wide variety of venues, from hospitals and large GP centres to community venues, racecourses and, perhaps in the future, conference centres and sports stadiums.

The instability of the Pfizer-BioNTech has been well documented.

It has to be kept in ultra-cold storage and, once thawed, used within five days.

This has meant it is stored at major hospitals and gives the local vaccination centres just days to use up batches after they are delivered.

The Oxford vaccine, meanwhile, can be stored at fridge temperature, which makes it easier to distribute.

But even once they are at these vaccination centres, delivery of both vaccines is dependent on having the right numbers of staff available.

Currently, GPs, nurses, healthcare assistants and pharmacists are giving the vaccines.

But as the vaccination campaign ramps up, these will need to be supplemented by additional vaccinators.

Provision has been made to train other health professionals, from physiotherapists and dentists to dieticians.

But there are reports an “overload of bureaucracy” – including mandatory courses in fire safety and preventing radicalisation – is slowing down this training.

Ministers have said they will try to reduce the bureaucracy – amid warnings by the National Audit Office an army of nearly 50,000 vaccinators will be needed.

Although at the moment, there are thought to be enough staff to cope with the limited amount of vaccines available.

British Medical Association GP leader Dr Richard Vautrey said: “We will need support eventually but not now.

“At the moment, the biggest issue is the NHS having enough supply of the vaccine to give.”

Can the UK hit its mid-February target?

Nearly a million doses have been given since people started to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, in early December, which puts the UK third globally in the most vaccinations done per head.

And with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine being used from this week, the NHS is hoping to double that number in the next seven days.

Government sources said there would be disappointment if it did not reach two million doses a week by late January.

That – and a little bit more – will be needed to hit the mid-February target.

But even then, and assuming most people in these priority groups have come forward, the impact would not be immediate.

It takes a few weeks for the immune response to kick in.

So it would be early March before the full impact of the vaccination of these priority groups is felt.

Then, however, it could have a significant effect.

Close to nine in 10 Covid deaths have been in these priority groups.

They will have had only one dose, which, for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, is effective at preventing 70% of infections.

But the evidence suggests this will be enough to stop serious illness.

So if all goes to plan, the pathway to significantly easing restrictions comes into view.

But the complex nature of the supply chain coupled with the complexity of delivering vaccines to large numbers of people means it will take just one thing to go wrong to cause serious problems getting the UK out of this lockdown in the timeframe hoped.

Paul Arnott: What does 2021 hold for East Devon?

“Actions in 2021 need to speak louder than words.

East Devon District Council leader Paul Arnott writes about the challenges ahead.

So here we are, Christmas has come and gone and we are hurtling towards 2021. It all feels like we have been on a bumpy spaceship ride across the solar system, can’t quite now find somewhere to land, and despite this have to fly on for another year in the slightly damaged craft we’ve been steering since March.

The patch of this country which I feel responsibility for – East Devon – faces the same extremely tough questions as the rest of the nation. Schools – open or close? Vaccinations – do we have the capacity, and is it going quickly enough? Food – supply chains are holding, but more and more people are genuinely going hungry. How can we all expand and co-ordinate campaigns to help?

Sports and Leisure Centres – ours have been hammered by Covid-19, and everyone wants to support them. But with one a quarter million pounds of district council money needed to support them up to Easter, can we afford to, when the government is only helping us to the tune of a quarter of a million? That’s a £1 million shortfall.

What about climate change? The clock is ticking, but can we move fast enough to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and move to greener energies? What more must we do to conserve our local environment?

And that’s before we start to worry about the local economy. Most people want to work to support themselves and their families, and to fulfil their potential. Yet we are looking at an awful contraction of the economy this year, and for many new jobs will not exist. So how do we get our heads together to support new endeavours and to skill up and train our local people?

Where, too, will we all live? The need for genuinely affordable, attainable homes is more marked than ever. How do we structure our strategic planning efforts at the district council to put this at the forefront of our efforts? Could we use publically owned land, should we go into partnerships with small or medium building companies to deliver it, and perhaps also encourage self-building? Or are we doomed to have massive developments pushed upon us against our will by stock market listed developers?

What will next year’s tourist season look like? If vaccination has been rolled out to cover most people by June, will we have an amazing three and four months of greater visitor numbers than ever? And can we cope with that, do we have the vision and the joined up infra-structure?

If anyone is interested in what keeps a council leader awake at night, I offer you the above for starters.

But in spite of it all, I have always been a glass half full person. For good things to happen, however, there are two crucial words we need our ruling government class to abide by – Good Faith.

National politicians of the governing party have made a series of promises on the Brexit-dividend, a Green-led economic recovery, a vastly better-resourced National Health Service. On the basis of those promises, just over a year ago the Prime Minister was given an eighty seat majority in the House of Commons.

Those voters were not stupid – they put a cross on the names of Simon Jupp, Neil Parish and Mel Stride (our MPs covering various parts of East Devon) in Good Faith. We all understand the extraordinary headwinds of the year just gone, and how some shocking mistakes were made from the man at the helm.

Our MPs, however, are meant to represent our needs and views to the national body politic. I have no reason to doubt that all three men are characters of Good Faith. In 2021, in all of the issues above, I will be seeking confirmation of that in the interests of the people of East Devon.

Actions in 2021 need to speak louder than words.

What do we know about vaccine supply and is it rate-limiting?

There is,as yet, little official information on some of the critical factors in the vaccine roll-out.

Owl has been scouring the press to try to find out what is known about vaccine supply when it became clear that the Government’s original target had not been met. 

This comes from a longer article in the Telegraph: 

Robert Mendick, 3 January 2021

On Vaccine Supply: 

“Mr Johnson has blamed a lack of vaccine supply for the current take-up. “The rate-limiting factor at the moment, as they say, is supply not distribution,” he told a Downing Street press conference. Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has said “vaccine shortage is a reality that cannot be wished away”.

But the pharmaceutical companies disagree. There are officially 530,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine ready to go from Monday, along with an additional 450,000 arriving in the next 24 hours, according to Professor Sir John Bell, the Oxford University regius professor of medicine and a Government adviser. 

On top of that, a further three million Oxford doses are in vials awaiting safety checks – a process that should take a few days – with 15 million more waiting for “fill and finish”, the process of filling vials and packaging the vaccine for distribution. AstraZeneca says that process is straightforward and also should take only days. 

Each batch, according to Government sources, needs to pass a 20-day sterility test and randomised quality checks before it can be used, requiring a staggered delivery.

Meanwhile, Pfizer has shipped “millions” of doses to the UK in 21 shipments, the first of which contained 800,000 doses. The Telegraph understands there are about five million Pfizer doses in vials ready for use in the UK. 

Added up, there are close to 24 million doses of vaccine either ready for use or available in a short space of time. 

The Government has committed to buy 40 million Pfizer doses and 100 million from Oxford/AstraZeneca. Both firms say they are on track to deliver the vaccines to the Government’s agreed timetable.”

Lockdown and schools to close in England – Lockdown 3

What Boris Johnson’s announcement means.

Eve Watson 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has placed England into a third national lockdown from midnight.

Mr Johnson said earlier today that “further steps must now be taken” to stop the spread of the virus and save lives.

A No 10 spokesman said: “The spread of the new variant of Covid-19 has led to rapidly escalating case numbers across the country.

“The Prime Minister is clear that further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the NHS and save lives.”

The new strain of the virus means cases are rapidly increasing. There were 26,626 Covid patients in hospital in England recorded on January 4, which is an increase of over 30% on the same day just one week earlier.

The peak of admissions in first wave of coronavirus was 18,974 on April 12, but the nation is now 40% above the highest level of the first wave.

It has been confirmed that the UK has increased from Alert Level 4 to 5, which is the highest level. This means there is a real risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed within 21 days without urgent action.

This comes after an announcement earlier today by Nicola Sturgeon, who said mainland Scotland will be plunged into a new national lockdown from midnight tonight for the rest of January – with schools closed.

The First Minister unveiled tougher measures to curb spiralling infection rates.

Schools across the mainland will stay closed until at least February.

The Christmas holidays had been extended until January 11, with online learning until January 15 – but children were expected to resume face-to-face lessons on January 18.

Ms Sturgeon confirmed schools will now be shut to the majority of pupils – all those except vulnerable kids and key workers’ children – until February 1.

That includes nurseries, primary and secondary schools.

Devon is currently in Tier 3 restrictions, after moving up from Tier 2 in December.

Six hospital patients in Devon who tested positive for coronavirus have died according to today’s NHS England figures.

The figures, taking into account deaths reported in the 24 hours up to 4pm on January 3, show that six deaths were confirmed across Devon and Cornwall’s hospitals.

Four were recorded at Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital (RD&E) and two at North Devon District Hospital.

This brings the total deaths of patients with coronavirus at RD&E hospital to 165.

The announcement this evening is to try and combat the rising number of deaths and cases nationwide.

These are all the things you can and can’t do in Devon, and the rest of the nation, in lockdown.

What can I do?

You can leave the house to:

Go to work if it’s impossible to work from home, e.g. construction or critical worker who can’t work from home

To shop for necessities including food and medicine

To exercise, which can be with up to one other person from outside your household or bubble. The exercise should ideally be limited to once per day.

To provide care or help to a vulnerable person

To attend medical appointments or seek medical care or fleeing the threat of harm or violence.

Police will have legal powers to enforce through fines and dispersing orders.

All primaries, secondaries and colleges will move to remote provision from tomorrow except children of key workers and vulnerable kids who can attend in person.

Early years – e.g. nurseries, alt provision and special schools – remain open.

Childcare and support bubbles – existing rules will apply.

Nursery age, vulnerable and kids of critical workers over 5 can still attend childcare.

Students will not be able to return to uni and will be expected to study from their current residence where possible until at least mid February.

In person teaching at university only for a small number of critical courses previously announced such as those studying to work in the health service.

Business and hospitality

All non essential retail hospitality and personal care services must shut if not already/remain closed.

Restaurants and similar can continue delivery or takeaway – BUT takeaway or click and collect of alcohol will no longer be allowed.

Essential retailers e.g. supermarkets, pharmacies, garden centres, builders merchants may stay open.

Places of worship open for individual prayer and communal worship but obey social contact rules and only attend with household and support bubble.

Zoos and other animal attractions have to close.

Playgrounds remain open.

Outdoor sports venues including gyms, tennis courts and golf courses must close.

Outdoor team sports will not be permitted.

Elite sport – Premier League etc – that will continue as can PE lessons and sports clubs for children attending school (i.e. critical workers / vulnerable kids).


Stay at home as much as possible and should only leave for exercise and health appointments.

Don’t go to work even if you cannot work from home, and avoid busy places including shops and pharmacies.

International travel

Essential journeys are permitted

Jenrick must stop this race for houses at all costs

Phillip Inman, writing in the Observer, discussed the division between those who want to rethink their lives after Covid and those wanting to return to “normality”.

Top of the list for change in his opinion is the need to re-examine housing:

“ …… Inside the Treasury, there is a conviction that only volume matters. It rules all other considerations and leads the housing, communities and local government secretary, Robert Jenrick, to side with developers at every turn. He has torn up the plans of countless local authorities on the grounds that they don’t include enough housing.

Jenrick cares little about the size of the homes and whether the abundance of pokey one- and two-bedroom flats with open-plan kitchen/dining/living areas is fit for a 21st century in which at least one person may be working from home.

It only takes one graph revealing a decline in the annual rise in commuting to a city – any city – from the surrounding area for all the profits from a major housing development to evaporate.

There are still projects across the south-east being promoted by Jenrick that need extra public transport links to be viable. How will these work when many people say they will refuse to travel on public transport until the vaccine has done its work, and maybe not even then?

Hopefully, a Labour government would begin to see towns as places that people should want to live and work in, and would aim to reduce the number who commute, going with the grain of modern urban ideas. The party should challenge the outmoded view that large cities are the only routes to growth and say that a reassessment of what an economy needs to be successful – GDP growth is not necessarily the measure – is a priority……”

Phillip Inman

‘Impossibly high number’ of new homes for East Devon scrapped by government

There is good news! – Owl

The Government has announced a U-turn decision on the number of new homes that must be built annually in East Devon.

Becca Gliddon 

Proposals to build 1,614 houses in the district each year have been cut by almost 700 after The Government announced its decision to shelve original plans.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) today (January 4) welcomed the changes, which will see an annual reduction of 686 new builds – a 42.5 per cent decrease.

The district council had raised concerns with The Government over the proposed numbers – similar to other authorities – with councillors saying the proposals ‘lacked any rhyme or reason’ and would have been ‘impossible’ to achieve without putting pressure on East Devon’s protected landscapes and habitats.

The council also raised fears of the ‘immense pressure’ original numbers would put on services and infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and roads to accommodate the increase in population.

In a report to the council’s strategic planning committee meeting, on 16 September 2020, councillors declared ‘no logic’ to The Government’s proposed approach other than to deliver the 300,000 homes nationally per year and reach targets.

Councillor Dan Ledger, EDDC portfolio holder for strategic planning, said: “This is great news and I am massively relieved that we do not now need to plan for an impossibly high number of new homes in the district for no good reason.

“Instead, we can focus on delivering a new Local Plan which delivers an appropriate balance between protecting everything that makes East Devon so special while delivering the new homes and jobs that our communities need.”

Last August The Government consulted councils across the country on the changes to the way it calculated the number of new homes that must be built.

The Government has now published a response to the findings, taking EDDC’s comments on board, along with that of other local authorities.

Consultation results included deciding to scrap the proposed changes and keeping unchanged the way Westminster calculates the number of homes that must be built in each area.

In a bid to deliver more homes, numbers are to increase by 35 per cent on previously-developed or brownfield land

As a result of The Government’s findings, more homes will be built in Plymouth and Bristol.

Beggars Belief

Best Western hotels could be turned into hundreds of ‘cottage hospitals’ to ease NHS Covid strain

But what about the staff? – Owl

Alex Winter

HUNDREDS of Best Western hotels could be turned into ‘cottage hospitals’ to ease the strain of the pandemic on the NHS.

The chain has offered to hand over as many as 500 of its inns to support the health service as another strict lockdown begins in England.