Man made, not the work of Nature

Is it a landmark or eyesore? – Owl

Devon’s new landmark takes shape

Chloe Parkman 

New pictures show the transformation of Exmouth’s new Sideshore development – which is almost complete.

The water sports complex at Exmouth sea front was due to open last summer, however it was delayed by the pandemic.

In November, Devon Live reported that local developer Grenadier indicated it will be a phased opening beginning with local operator Edge Watersports opening first back in October.

Sideshore development in Exmouth

It is being run by four-times world champion kite-surfer Steph Bridge – It is anticipated Steph and two of her three sons will qualify for the next Olympics, meaning Sideshore will become a world-renowned watersports destination in the UK.

As well as offering a watersports centre, the development includes a restaurant run by Exeter celebrity chef Michael Caines.

It will feature a terrace with a retractable glass canopy to ensure the dining area can be used all-year-round – an opening date for the restaurant is yet to be confirmed.

Michael Caines’ plans for Sideshore are set to be quite different to the fine dining experience available at nearby Lympstone Manor and include a range of offers to suit all tastes, from a casual dining restaurant complete with an upstairs terrace, to a dog-friendly cafe offering a lighter menu and serving homemade ice-creams, local coffee and healthy takeaway snacks, and a beach bar.

It was due to open in the summer of 2020 but delayed due to coronavirus

Last year, a look inside the Mickeys Beach Bar and Restaurant alongside Sylvain Peltier and Michael’s Café Patisserie Glacerie was revealed.

The project will incorporate a casual bar complete with resident weekend DJs, first floor destination restaurant with a glasshouse and outdoor terraces alongside neighbouring Café Patisserie Glacerie which will serve serve artisan pastries and ice-creams.

The development looks over the seafront

Aiden Johnson-Hugill, director of Grenadier, said last year: “Together we have built an exciting community hub where visitors can learn how to safely stand-up paddleboard, kitesurf, power kite, and sea swim.

“Sideshore will also help distinguish Exmouth as a leading Watersports destination on the national and international stage.”

Nature sends a message

A correspondent writes:

Just three weeks [correction two weeks] after the unanimous EDDC Planning Committee decision to grant planning permission for the Lower Otter Restoration Project, South Farm road flooded, as did the Budleigh Salterton cricket pitch and pavilion. The result of overnight rainfall from storm Christophe.

As a passer-by remarked to this correspondent: “Yet again”. 

To understand why this happens you only have to look at the current Google Earth image of the northern end of “Big Banks” to see how “permeable” these 200 year old earth embankments have become.

Once the water gets inside the embankments, the historic flood plain, it takes time to drain as the the cricket field is now one metre below the level of the estuary.

Examples of “essential” journeys: going for kebabs, fish and chips and now

‘Casanova’ fined for travelling to Plymouth to see girlfriend

Lee Trewhela 

A man has been issued with a Covid fine after travelling from London to Plymouth … to see his girlfriend.

Posting an emoji of a man facepalming, PC Tom Ottley took to Twitter to say “this is exactly why we are in this situation”.

Posting last night, PC Ottley wrote: “Tonight I’ve issued a Covid fine to a Casanova that decided to ignore all restrictions and travel from London to Plymouth to visit his girlfriend.”

Earlier this week, a father with his kids in the back of his car was around 350 miles into a trip from Exeter to Coventry and back when he crashed his white BMW on the motorway near Portishead, according to Avon and Somerset police.

The family told officers they had made the trip to pick up a kebab, and were on their way home when the smash occurred.

Officers fined the motorist for various offences, including driving with no licence or insurance, and coronavirus breaches.

But he was not the only one. Over the weekend, a group who had travelled from Torquay to Teignmouth to enjoy some fish and chips were caught by police.

Officers said they were having to deal with a surge of rule-breakers in the Teignmouth and Dawlish area carrying out non-essential journeys during this lockdown.

Last week, Devon and Cornwall Police stopped a car with two men inside in Brixham after they noticed it was registered in Wolverhampton.

After learning it had travelled almost 200 miles without a good reason and writing out Covid fines for both, they realised they could smell alcohol on the breath of the driver.

He failed a breath test too and is now facing a potential ban from driving.

Reasons why Covid variant could kill more people are uncertain

Those who may have been comforted in recent weeks by the evolutionary theory of virus mutation – that the more transmissible they become, the less lethal they are – may now be pondering the news that the variant that originated in Kent not only spreads more easily but may kill more people too.

Sarah Boseley

Britain’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, at the Downing Street press briefing, said it could be that in people over 60 with Covid, 13 or 14 might die in every 1000, instead of 10 as has been the case. The reasons still seem to be uncertain.

The theory of the tradeoff between infectivity and lethality goes that a virus is programmed for survival. If it is too deadly, it will kill off its hosts. So if it starts to spread more, the lethality reduces, because if it didn’t, there would be nobody left to infect.

Sars-CoV-2 has a way around that conundrum. It infects people before they know they are ill. So anyone carrying the virus could be walking around feeling fine and spreading it. By the time someone has been admitted to hospital and is fighting for their life on a ventilator, transmission to other people has already happened.

“The fact the people die is almost like a side-effect,” said Prof Deenan Pillay, a virologist at University College London.

One possible reason is that the increased transmissibility that we have been seeing in the virus is a result of people having a higher viral load – more of the virus in their respiratory system.

“It would then follow if that is the mechanism, then, with more viral replication going on, you can imagine that could correlate with worse disease,” said Pillay.

Until now, that has not been documented, he says. Vallance said they did not think a higher viral load was responsible. He said it may be that the new variant binds more solidly to the receptor and gets into cells more easily or grows more readily in certain cell types.

There is clearly a lot more work to do before they get real answers and the data may not be sufficient yet for that. Pillay points out that the results come from people tested in the community. These are not people with severe illness in hospital so the sample size of those who die is smaller.

Undoubtedly, this discovery is going to make other countries pull up the drawbridge on people wanting to visit from the UK. And that’s the right thing to happen, says Pillay. Border control has worked well in many places, such as Australia and New Zealand.

In fact, what this really tells us is just that we have got to use all the measures to control the virus that we know about already. There is no new way to deal with it. Increased lethality just means we have to try even harder not to catch it. Pillay points out that the first lockdown was more restrictive and better observed than the current one. There is more mobility, for one thing.

The news will strengthen hopes that we can be delivered from our sorry plight through mass vaccination, yet even that now looks less certain. There are suggestions that the variants originally found in South Africa and Brazil may be less susceptible to the vaccines we are now using.

The Mail reported remarks apparently made by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, at a webinar for travel agents. He said there was “evidence in the public domain” that the South African variant reduces vaccine efficacy by “about 50%”. Although he followed up by saying: “We are not sure of this data so I wouldn’t say this in public.”

The good news is that the vaccine manufacturers have consistently said they can tweak the vaccines to deal with variants – and there are indications that they are working out whether and how to do exactly that right now.

Government finances at ‘significant risk’ from debt-laden councils due to Covid

Local authorities who are taking on risky levels of debt to shore up dwindling resources during the pandemic present a “significant risk” to the government’s finances, MPs have warned.

Rajeev Syal 

The Commons’ public accounts committee urged the Treasury on Friday to detail how it will manage the risk to the nation’s finances as the extra pressures of dealing with coronavirus adds to the pressure on councils.

Meg Hillier, the committee’s chair, criticised the department as having a “worryingly laissez-faire attitude” to the issue as the MPs predicted more authorities will soon be unable to balance their books.

In its government accounts report, the committee urged the Treasury to ensure it has sufficient oversight of local finances as the “funder of last resort” if they go bust.

Hillier said that “some local authorities have taken on extremely risky levels of debt in recent years in an effort to shore up dwindling finances”, particularly in commercial property investments such as office blocks, industrial sites or retail premises.

“The pandemic has doubly exposed that risk – in the huge extra demands and duties it is placing on local authorities, and in the hit to returns on commercial investments.

“The Treasury has a worryingly laissez-faire attitude to what now presents a significant risk to the whole of government.

“It must step firmly back into the driving seat, demonstrating that it has a clear handle on significant risks in our public finances and is managing them – and that it’s ready to take on the unprecedented additional impact of Covid-19 and EU exit,” she said.

Over the past decade, Westminster has cut a fifth – £15bn – of central funding to councils without designing effective means for them to raise equivalent sums locally.

A Guardian analysis of finances in July indicated that councils were set to shed thousands of jobs and cut services following a collapse in income.

The committee also highlighted an “apparent lack of ownership” by the Treasury of analysis and scenario planning to manage the impact of coronavirus on Government finances.

The MPs said the Treasury has not explained how the disease will impact investments and projects nor has it set out which programmes would be priorities if some need delaying or cancelling.

Croydon council in south London imposed emergency spending restrictions in November – the first council to declare a Section 114 order, effectively saying it was bankrupt, since Northamptonshire council in 2018.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “We provided a significant funding uplift for councils at the spending review last year to support local services, on top of funding to ensure they can continue to deliver essential local services as we tackle the impacts of the pandemic.”

No need to go to the races: Devon’s mass vaccine centres open next week

East Devon has one of the oldest populations in the Country (if not the oldest) so must pose one of the country’s biggest vaccination challenges.

9% of the population is over 80, 6% of the population is aged 75 – 79 and 8% are in the 70 – 74 bracket. In total 23% are over 70. (Comparable figures for Inner London are 2.5%, 1.7% and 2.4% – total 6.6%).

So Owl is pleased to see that Exeter is now getting a mass vaccination centre which will be a lot easier for East Devon residents to get to than Taunton racecourse.

The NHS has confirmed that two mass vaccine centres will be opening in Devon next week.

Anita Merritt

Event venue Westpoint in Exeter, and The Mayflower Grandstand at Plymouth Argyle Football Club’s Home Park Stadium will be welcoming their first booked appointments to people aged 80 and above from next Tuesday, January 26.

The two new large-scale vaccination centres will enable thousands more vaccinations to be given every week in Devon, and will provide local people have a wider choice of options when they receive their invitation for an appointment.

Anyone who cannot or does not want to travel to one of the sites can be vaccinated by their local GP service.

Westpoint will be managed by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust (RD&E). The site was established by the NHS with support from a team of volunteers from Network Rail, whose volunteers also pitched in to help set up the NHS Nightingale Hospital in Exeter last year.

Suzanne Tracey, chief executive of the RD&E and Northern Devon Healthcare Trust said: “If you are invited to attend an appointment here, I can reassure you that measures are in place to keep everyone safe, and our brilliant staff and volunteers will look after you while you’re with us.”

Steve Brown, director of Public Health at Devon County Council, added: “We’re very proud to be part of this key project. Vaccination is the way of out lockdown and the pandemic and the new centre in Exeter will give us more capacity to vaccinate local people in the weeks and months to come.”

The Home Park site will be managed by University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust,which runs the city’s Derriford Hospital. Plymouth Argyle FC has been supporting the NHS since the beginning of the pandemic, with the Mayflower Grandstand temporarily hosting health services such as phlebotomy and antenatal services to relieve pressure on Derriford Hospital.

A reminder has been issued that there is no need to contact the NHS for a vaccination as people will be invited when it is their turn and people cannot get vaccinated by just turning up.

Appointments, which are offered by letter via a nationally-run booking system, are staggered to allow for social distancing and people are urged not to turn up early to avoid queues.

In northern Devon, vaccinations are taking place at GP-led centres in Barnstaple and Holsworthy, as well as North Devon District Hospital.

The site at Barnstaple Leisure Centre, which is capable of vaccinating a similar number of people to the large-scale vaccination centres, can be scaled up as further supplies come in, with around 8,000 vaccinations expected over the next week.

Two pharmacy sites will also begin delivering vaccinations to northern Devon residents in the coming days.

The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, which is easier to transport and store, is also enabling GPs to run day clinics at selected individual practice sites in northern Devon and across the county, to bring vaccination facilities closer to people in places where the location of the local vaccination centre makes it difficult for people to access it.

North Devon District Hospital is scaling up clinics to vaccinate frontline health and social care workers from across the northern Devon area, with around 7,000 vaccinations expected over the next few weeks.