Over 300,000 of us tell government: don’t push through bad planning changes – CPRE

As we hand in a huge petition against planning changes, our campaigns officer Sam Keyte takes a look at the campaign – and what happens next.

By Sam Keyte 8th December 2020 www.cpre.org.uk

CPRE has today partnered with campaigners from Sum of Us and 38 Degrees to head to Westminster, where we handed in our petitions showing your calls for the government to stop disastrous plans to change our planning laws.

We’ve worked with these other campaigning organisations to offer up a chance for people to have their say on the government’s damaging new ideas for our planning system, and the numbers of you signing our petition says it loud and clear: we won’t be silenced.

We launched this campaign in August 2020, when the government published unnecessary and damaging plans that would dismantle the planning rules (if you want to know more about what impact these laws and systems have on our lives, our potted guide will explain all).

‘The numbers of you signing our petition says it loud and clear: we won’t be silenced.’

The ideas that the government had come up with would hand power over to developers, taking it away from local councils and communities – leading to untold levels of damage to the countryside and the people living and working in it.

Local people weren’t happy – our local county groups told us in overwhelming numbers of the grave concerns they had – and our campaign was born. We launched our petition demanding that the government doesn’t silence communities when deciding what gets built and where – and we were delighted to see so many of you getting mobilised and adding your names.

Strength in numbers… big numbers

The combined total number of signatures on the petitions was a whopping 310,265 people. This is an amazing number, demonstrating the huge level of opposition the government is facing from the public in trying to push through changes – changes that can only stand to harm local democracy and our countryside.

A bright graphic image showing people celebrating the number 310,265

We were delighted to see so many of you add your voices and stand up for local democracy

People raising their voices has been a crucial way to build pressure against the government’s ideas and boost momentum since the campaign launched in August. We’re celebrating this brilliant moment for local democracy: rather than let our voices be squeezed out of plans for local building and development, you’ve helped us to assert that local people are here and won’t be silenced.

‘We want to take a moment to celebrate what we have achieved together.’

And so we wanted to thank everyone for being involved in this journey so far. There will be more twists and turns to come, but this is a momentous point of the campaign, and we want to take a moment to celebrate what we have achieved together over the past few months.

In good company

It’s been great to see that we’ve not been alone in realising that the big changes that the Minister for Housing first announced in the summer of 2020 included some very bad ideas. As well as the overwhelming public opposition shown by the petitions, there’s been huge pushback from politicians, including from the government’s own party.

We commissioned a poll of MPs and found that over half of Conservative MPs weren’t happy with the proposals – the same proposals that had come from their own party! So it came as no surprise to us to see a fiery debate in the House of Commons where 46 MPs spoke out against the plans – and even more wanted to, but the debate simply ran out of time.

Of these 46 MPs publicly voicing their unhappiness with the suggested changes, a huge 33 were from the Conservative Party – including former Prime Minister Theresa May. The issues that they were raising were just as we’ve been saying for many months: that the plans would lead to building on green spaces near to where people live (the very local green spaces that have been so important to so many of us during the pandemic year); that fewer homes that people could actually afford to live in would be built; and that the chances for people to get involved in shaping the future of where they live would be eroded.

And it’s not just the government’s own MPs who have problems with the plans. Organisations from across the environmental, housing and planning sectors have come together to say a big NO to the existing proposals. We were one of more than 30 groups who sent a letter to the Prime Minister warning of the disastrous impacts on nature and people if he dismantled the planning system.

We feel like winners

So, after months of intense campaigning (and more to come), where are we now? Here at CPRE, we’re feeling positive and excited about winning this campaign. We know these plans can be changed. We’ve done it all before – we helped local people to stop fracking in its tracks.

And just a week or so ago, the government looked like they are starting to take our concerns seriously, and may be rethinking one of the most damaging parts of the proposals. We’ll be keeping a close eye on these changes and will keep you informed.

2021 is coming. We’ll continue to demonstrate better ways that things can be done and push the government to change these ill-advised plans. The petition we handed in today is a big moment and a great milestone in the campaign. We’re proud to have been able to raise our voices together – and we’ll keep doing it.

Be a part of it. Join us now, or sign up for our emails to hear the latest news on the campaign each month.

Free School Meal vouchers to return after backlash over ‘disgraceful’ food hampers – how to claim them and who is eligible

Marcus Rashford scores another goal! – Owl

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has branded some of the free school meal offerings sent to families as “disgraceful” after images of the meagre food parcels went viral online.

www.portsmouth.co.uk

Speaking to the Commons Education Select Committee, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that he was “absolutely disgusted” after seeing a picture of one of the food packages sent to a disabled mother of two.

Williamson said that the national voucher scheme for free school meals will be re-launched next week after the government faced urgent calls to bring back the programme.

He said: “All schools still have the option of doing locally procured vouchers if that is the route they want to do, but the national scheme will be available from next week.”

‘They’re appalling’

Johnson told the Commons: “I don’t think anybody in this House is happy with the disgraceful images that we’ve seen of the food parcels being offered. They’re appalling, they’re an insult to the families that have received them.”

The Prime Minister added: “It’s not good enough. You can’t assume households have other ingredients to make the lunches, and clearly the packages were totally and woefully inaccurate.”

His comments come after Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford tweeted that he had spoken to the Prime Minister in regards to the parcels.

He wrote: “Just had a good conversation with the prime minister. He assured me that he is committed to correcting the issue with the food hampers and that a full review of the supply chain is taking place.

“He agrees that images of hampers being shared on Twitter are unacceptable.”

Rashford has long campaigned to keep children fed during the pandemic with free school meals.

‘Government response has been far too slow’

Tulip Siddiq, Shadow Children and Early Years Minister, criticised how long it has taken for the government to take action.

She said: “The government’s response has yet again been far too slow, with national food vouchers only becoming available from next week – two weeks after schools moved to remote learning.

“Children are going hungry now – this cannot wait.”

Your child may be able to get free school meals if you receive any of the following:

Income supportIncome-based Jobseeker’s AllowanceIncome-related Employment and Support AllowanceSupport under Part IV of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999The guaranteed element of Pension CreditChild Tax Credit (provided you’re not also entitled to Working Tax Credit, and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190)Working Tax Credit run-on – paid for four weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax CreditUniversal Credit – if you apply on or after 1 April 2018 your household income must be less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get)

Children who get these benefits directly, instead of through a parent or guardian, can also get free school meals.

Additionally, your child may be able to get free school meals if you get any of these benefits and your child is both:

Younger than the compulsory age for starting schoolIn full time education

In regards to infant free school meals, your child will be able to get free school meals in they’re in a government funded school and in:

Reception classYear 1Year 2

Tell your local authority if you also get any of the qualifying benefits. Your child’s school can get extra funding if you do.

How to apply

To apply for the free school meals, you’ll need to enter your postcode into the postcode checker on the government website here.

Based on your postcode, the checker will direct you to the relevant page on your local authorities website.

Different councils have different methods of application – for example, some websites will require you to fill out an online form, whereas others might need you to fill out an application form and email it to the relevant person.

You’ll be able to find all the details to apply on your local councils website.

Whitehall snubbing offers from local councils to help with Covid vaccinations

Two aspects of this article caught Owl’s eye, the main one is yet another example of councils being sidelined:

“Offers to transform thousands of leisure centres, libraries and civic buildings into vaccination hubs are being rebuffed by Whitehall and NHS chiefs, The Times can disclose.”

And, in the detail, there is this quote from a London council source which Owl reads in the context of Monday’s announcement that  96% of the population is within 10 miles of a vaccine service.

“London leaders say that the promise of a vaccination centre within ten miles of a household was unsuitable in the capital. “Ten miles is a long way across in pandemic-stricken London,” “

If ten miles is a long way in London, what is it like in rural Devon?

Sean O’Neill, Chief Reporter | Neil Johnston www.thetimes.co.uk 

English councils are ready to open buildings, redeploy staff and arrange community minibuses to transport elderly people to receive their jabs. Conservative and Labour council leaders are frustrated that they are being bypassed and say that the vaccine programme is run by “national edict”.

Concerns about the government’s strategy include the emergence of vaccine blindspots such as Spalding, Lincolnshire, where no vaccination centres are yet open and the first injections are expected this weekend. Elderly and vulnerable people have been left to queue in the cold because small centres have no waiting facilities.

Steve Reed, the shadow local government secretary, said last night that it was “mission critical” that ministers used local government expertise to speed up vaccinations. He said: “The government must not repeat the earlier mistakes of overcentralising the response to the pandemic which led to failures on PPE distribution, contact tracing and testing.” Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, will repeat that call today and urge the use of more than 11,000 community pharmacies.

Lord Porter of Spalding, Conservative leader of South Holland council in Lincolnshire, said that he was “massively concerned” at the lack of provision for his largely rural area. “We’ve offered redundant buildings, we’ve got a community hospital they are not using. The answer we get back is ‘No thanks, we don’t need it, we are all sorted.’ ”

The Labour leaders of Waltham Forest and Greenwich boroughs in London have written to Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine minister, saying that councils are ready to take some of the pressure off the overstretched NHS. Clare Coghill, of Waltham Forest, who offered the use of five leisure centres, said: “I believe a failure to harness our collective strength fully could lead to more unnecessary deaths.”

London leaders say that the promise of a vaccination centre within ten miles of a household was unsuitable in the capital. “Ten miles is a long way across in pandemic-stricken London,” said one council source.

Louise Gittins, Labour leader of Cheshire West and Chester council, said provision in her borough ranged from small GP surgeries, where people queued in the street, to a wedding venue only accessible by car. “This is a top down approach again when it should be bottom up,” she said. “We have good relations with our local NHS but their hands are tied by national edicts.”

A spokesman said the government was “hugely grateful for all offers of support and assistance as we continue to expand the biggest vaccination programme in this country’s history. This is a huge national effort and the NHS is putting into practice the decades of experience it has in delivering large-scale vaccination programmes.”

Great South West Tourism Partnership: Covid – 19 Business Impact Survey

www.sogosurvey.com /survey.aspx

This survey aims to gather further evidence and continue to evaluate the effects of COVID-19 on tourism and hospitality businesses across the Great South West area of Cornwall, Devon, Plymouth, Torbay, Somerset and Dorset.  The survey will also help us identify your business priorities for the next 12 months to allow us to support you to recover and grow after the current lockdown.  The results will also be used to continue to lobby the Government for support for our sector.

It should only take a few minutes for you to answer the questions.

The survey has been commissioned by the organisations whose logos are shown above – [see online].

The survey is being undertaken by The South West Research Company.  Your answers will be treated as strictly confidential and will be combined with those from other businesses in your area to provide overall results.  Should you have any problem in completing this survey online please email info@tswrc.co.uk

Does Boris Johnson Now Have Blood On His Hands Over His Covid Christmas Relaxation?

Is Boris Johnson now relying on the vaccine to provide him with the “Dick Barton” gambit:

“With one bound he was free……”? – Owl

Paul Waugh www.huffingtonpost.co.uk extract

“……In evidence to the liaison committee of senior MPs, Boris Johnson admitted there was a “very substantial risk” that the NHS’s intensive care unit capacity nationwide could be “overtopped”. Yes, that was the prime minister himself conceding just how much more dire the situation could get.

That note of fatalism made it sound as though Johnson had done all he could and was now just waiting for the virus pattern to play out. Yet as Keir Starmer suggested in PMQs, the PM had it in his power to get ahead of the Covid curve, rather than merely watch it rise. Starmer was at his forensic best as he laid the most sombre charge at Johnson’s feet: 17,000 people had died since their last PMQs, mainly because the PM delayed for 17 days between being alerted of the new variant and imposing a tough national lockdown.

This, as well as the claim that Johnson could have saved thousands of lives by imposing a lockdown earlier last spring, felt like a preview of the public inquiry to come. If dithering over Covid once could be classed as misfortune, and dithering twice was carelessness, the sheer size of this third wave looks like a sheer recklessness with other people’s lives.

UCL professor of medicine Hugh Montgomery suggested before Christmas that people who failed to obey Covid rules would “have blood on their hands”. But that will be the very charge laid at Johnson’s door if the next few days and weeks provides evidence that the spike in deaths was linked not just to the new variant but to his crucial refusal to “cancel Christmas” for England outside London and the south east.Starmer didn’t quite go that far in PMQs, but he came close, saying we are now seeing “the tragic consequences” of the PM’s delay. It certainly sounded like a central plank in the case for the prosecution, and if nothing else Starmer knows how to prosecute. The Sage minutes of December 22 – when the PM was explicitly warned by scientists that a November-style lockdown simply would not be “sufficient to maintain R below one in the presence of the new variant” – are sure to be Exhibit A……”

Paul Waugh www.huffingtonpost.co.uk extract

“……In evidence to the liaison committee of senior MPs, Boris Johnson admitted there was a “very substantial risk” that the NHS’s intensive care unit capacity nationwide could be “overtopped”. Yes, that was the prime minister himself conceding just how much more dire the situation could get.

That note of fatalism made it sound as though Johnson had done all he could and was now just waiting for the virus pattern to play out. Yet as Keir Starmer suggested in PMQs, the PM had it in his power to get ahead of the Covid curve, rather than merely watch it rise. Starmer was at his forensic best as he laid the most sombre charge at Johnson’s feet: 17,000 people had died since their last PMQs, mainly because the PM delayed for 17 days between being alerted of the new variant and imposing a tough national lockdown.

This, as well as the claim that Johnson could have saved thousands of lives by imposing a lockdown earlier last spring, felt like a preview of the public inquiry to come. If dithering over Covid once could be classed as misfortune, and dithering twice was carelessness, the sheer size of this third wave looks like a sheer recklessness with other people’s lives.

UCL professor of medicine Hugh Montgomery suggested before Christmas that people who failed to obey Covid rules would “have blood on their hands”. But that will be the very charge laid at Johnson’s door if the next few days and weeks provides evidence that the spike in deaths was linked not just to the new variant but to his crucial refusal to “cancel Christmas” for England outside London and the south east.

Starmer didn’t quite go that far in PMQs, but he came close, saying we are now seeing “the tragic consequences” of the PM’s delay. It certainly sounded like a central plank in the case for the prosecution, and if nothing else Starmer knows how to prosecute. The Sage minutes of December 22 – when the PM was explicitly warned by scientists that a November-style lockdown simply would not be “sufficient to maintain R below one in the presence of the new variant” – are sure to be Exhibit A……”

Westcountry’s Covid-19 hospital occupancy

From today’s Western Morning News:

Three of the Westcountry’s five hospital trusts currently have the lowest percentage of beds occupied by Covid-19 patients anywhere in England.Figures from NHS England and the Health Service Journal based on the position as of Monday, January 11, show that the Northern Devon Healthcare Trust, which runs North Devon District Hospital, has the lowest percentage of adult acute beds occupied by Covid-positive patients at just three per cent.

Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust has just five per cent of beds occupied, while University Hospitals Plymouth (Derriford Hospital) had eight per cent of beds occupied – the only three trusts in England where the number was below 10 per cent.

In contrast, at least ten hospital trusts of the 123 in England have half or more of their adult acute beds occupied by Covid-positive patients, with 45 of them having at least a third of their adult general and acute beds occupied by patients with coronavirus.

The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust is currently seeing 17% of its beds occupied, with the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust at 12%. But Plymouth rose by 6.8% and Cornwall by 6.7% in a week, showing there is no room for complacency.

Meanwhile twelve more people with coronavirus have died at Westcountry hospitals, the latest NHS data shows.

Figures released on Wednesday confirmed that there were three Covid-19 fatalities in North Devon, one at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, and one at Derriford Hospital.

Seven more deaths were recorded at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust.

In total 600 people have died in hospitals across Devon and Cornwall with coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

Free meals firm was run by Conservative party donor

The companies at the centre of the outcry over the “disgusting” free meals provided to struggling families while schools remain closed have links to the Conservatives, it has emerged.

www.independent.co.uk

Compass Group and its subsidiary Chartwells are under fire after football star and campaigner Marcus Rashford shared photos of Chartwells’ meagre parcels – saying they were “just not good enough”.

Electoral Commission records show Paul Walsh – chairman of Compass Group until he stepped down last month – has given more than £10,000 to the Tory party.

Mr Walsh, who had been at the helm of Compass since 2014, was a member of No 10’s business advisory group during the early years of David Cameron’s time as prime minister. 

Boris Johnson’s government has promised to urgently investigate the inadequate food parcels sent to parents, which education secretary Gavin Williamson admitted on Wednesday were “absolutely disgusting.” 

However, ministers are facing fresh questions on the contracts awarded to Compass Group and Chartwells to provide the school meals.

The food catering giant and its subsidiary have been awarded almost £350m in school meal catering contracts since 2016, according to analysts at Tussell. The public procurement experts said Compass and Chartwells remain the biggest providers of school meals in the UK.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked on Twitter: “Where is the money going? This needs sorting immediately so families don’t go hungry through lockdown.”

Chartwells and other catering contractors have been forced to adapt to the pandemic by providing food at home to families eligible for free school meals.

The packages shared by frustrated parents on Twitter have recently replaced the weekly £15 food vouchers given to low-income parents when lockdown first forced schools to close. Eligible families were given £30 in vouchers over the recent Christmas holidays.

After the latest incident, a Chartwells spokesperson said: “We have had time to investigate the picture circulated on Twitter. For clarity this shows five days of free school lunches (not 10 days) and the charge for food, packing and distribution was actually £10.50 and not £30 as suggested.

“However, in our efforts to provide thousands of food parcels a week at extremely short notice we are very sorry the quantity has fallen short in this instance.”

Children’s minister Vicky Ford said caterers must “urgently” improve the quality of the packages now being provided to low-income families. Ms Ford has said anyone experiencing problems should give details to the Department of Education (DfE) for investigation.

The DfE has also said its national voucher scheme, which offered stand-ins for cash to be used at supermarkets during the first coronavirus lockdown, would resume “shortly”.

The Independent has contacted Compass Group and Chartwells for more information on its school catering contracts with government.