This year it is wholly implausible that local elections will take place

Owl has posted views on either side of the argument for and against holding the Local elections in May.

Here is the view from Paul Arnott:

Extract from: A view from East Devon District Council leader Paul Arnott, Exmouth Journal       

In the first week of May, we are due to hold elections for county councillors, the police & crime commissioner, any casual vacancies for town and parish councils, and some local referenda on things like Neighbourhood Plans.

Or, to express this more directly, the people who are responsible for your public health policy, adult social care, roads, education, policing, allotments, town halls, and community responses to how you want the place where you live to be planned.

The problem is the pandemic. All of you who have voted will have noticed the many lovely people staffing polling stations, whose numbers are multiplied at the count, and at the daily opening and verification of incoming postal votes. That is before we even consider the eager candidates who  are meant to knock on doors, put leaflets through letterboxes and, of course, hold hustings or public meetings.

Campaigning would have to start in March, as the first postal votes go out in early April. Many people will not appreciate a shiny-faced candidate with a rosette coming up their garden path when it is highly likely that most of us still have not completed our vaccinations.

Some say that democracy delayed is democracy denied, which is often true. There is a slightly unappealing push from non-Tory national parties to insist we press on with these elections anyway; they sense blue blood and want to hit the Conservatives when they’re down.

To me, and forgive the pun, this is all trumped by public health and safety. These elections will be best held in the autumn. Our next local Kamala Harris moment will have to wait till then.

New Owner for Shandford, former Abbeyfield care home Budleigh?

As previously reported, the Shandford Care Home, returned to auction in December and was sold.

Who bought it?

Owl has since received reports from reliable sources that it was purchased by Julie Rhodes of Agency Assistance. However, Owl has been unable to confirm these reports.

Agency Assistance is CQC registered to provide personal care.

From the CQC report (May 2019):

Agency Assistance provides care and support to people living in ‘supported living’ settings, so that they can live as independently as possible. People’s care and housing are provided under separate contractual agreements. CQC does not regulate premises used for supported living; this inspection looked at people’s personal care and support. At the time of our inspection there were 46 people receiving personal care from the service in 20 locations in Exmouth, Exeter, Budleigh Salterton and Bridgewater. Some of these were in shared houses and some in individual homes. People’s ages ranged from 18 to 80 and they were living with a range of needs which included, learning disability, physical disability, mental health, autism, epilepsy and sensory impairment.

To recapitulate the history of Shandford:

Shandford started as a care home in 1958 for local people funded by the people of Budleigh Salterton. In 2012, the trustees ceded it to Abbeyfield.

The closure is based on Abbeyfield’s declared aim of “freeing up assets” as it changes its business model to concentrate on larger homes; and County Councillor Christine Channon’s handpicked adviser, Chris Davis, who claims that Shandford was no longer viable. Owl understands Chris Davis’ report has never been made public.

A local community effort to take back control, failed despite the intervention of newly elected Simon Jupp MP.

During this process Owl received plausible arguments that showed that there were grounds to challenge the case for non-viability.

So will it be used for assisted living rather than fall into the hands of developers?

UK plan to build 24,000 homes faces legal challenge

A plan to build more than 20,000 homes in rural Oxfordshire, championed by secretary of state for housing Robert Jenrick, is facing a legal challenge from residents who say it is incompatible with the government’s legally binding commitments to tackle the climate emergency.

Claims that Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) “threatened to withhold promised infrastructure funding for several other projects unless the local plan was adopted” etc. This argument sound familiar? -Owl

Matthew Taylor

Campaigners have issued a legal claim against South Oxfordshire district council’s decision to go ahead with the local plan – which sets out proposals to build 24,000 new homes in the area by 2035.

Jenrick, is accused of “massive intervention” to push the scheme through after he ordered South Oxfordshire district council to go ahead with the development in March.

Sue Roberts, director of Bioabundance which is taking the legal case, said: “This is the first time a local plan has ever been challenged because of our climate and ecological crisis. This pioneering action by Bioabundance is our last chance to put our environment before housebuilder profit in South Oxfordshire.”

The legal challenge is the latest attempt to stop major infrastructure projects – from a new runway at Heathrow to Europe’s biggest gas fired power station – which campaigners argue fail to meet the government’s legally binding commitments to tackle the climate emergency. Both challenges have faced recent setbacks in the courts.

Campaigners are challenging the Oxfordshire plan on the grounds that Jenrick’s intervention was inappropriate and that the proposed number of houses breaches the government’s legally binding commitment to hit net zero by 2050.

Leigh Day solicitor Tom Short, who is representing Bioabundance, said the claimants were concerned about both “the manner in which the plan has been forced through under enormous pressure from the secretary of state, and the detrimental environmental impacts it will lead to.”

“It is important that decisions of local authorities that have significant ramifications for the environment for years to come be taken in a free and fair manner, not dictated by central government as appears to have happened here,” he said.

Many of the new houses would be built on the outskirts of Oxford, and there are also plans to develop an old airfield into a ‘new town’.

Ian Ashley, director of Bioabundance, said: “The plan would destroy the countryside and a large part of the green belt around Oxford.”

The proposals were originally developed by a Conservative led council that was replaced in May 2019 by a Lib Dem-Green coalition that had campaigned to end “over-development”.

However, over a period of 21 months, the applicants say the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) put “severe pressure” on South Oxfordshire district council and threatened to withhold promised infrastructure funding for several other projects unless the local plan was adopted.

Final approval was given at the South Oxfordshire district council in December. But some councillors who abstained said Jenrick’s “massive intervention” meant it was not a free vote.

Roberts, who is also a local councillor, said there was no demand for new housing in the area. She argued the new developments would simply provide second homes, or international investment opportunities for the already wealthy, as well as worsening the climate crisis and “hastening the collapse of the natural world.”

However, Caroline Newton, a Conservative member on South Oxfordshire district council said new homes were desperately needed.

“There is a directly assessed need for houses in this area … we have got incredibly expensive house prices, first-time buyers are getting older and older and young families are being forced out of the area.”

The MHCLG declined to comment. A spokesperson for South Oxfordshire district council said: “We can confirm we’ve received a challenge by Bioabundance to the council’s decision to adopt the Local Plan 2035. We will be responding accordingly but we can’t comment further at this stage as this is a legal matter.”

‘High demand’ sending staycation prices through the roof

Families planning a post-lockdown Easter staycation in Devon face soaring prices as the cost of some holiday accommodation is three times higher than a fortnight earlier in the season – with companies saying it is down to “high demand”.

Colleen Smith

Price increases from firms including Haven, Butlin’s, Airbnb and Centre Parcs come amid concern that the national lockdown may still be in place in March.

Easter Sunday is on April 4 and the price of a standard three-bed caravan more than doubles at the Haven Devon Cliffs holiday park in East Devon.

It will cost £801 for seven days from Saturday April 3 – an increase of 152 per cent from a fortnight earlier, when the same holiday would cost £317 a week.

At the height of the holiday season, the same three-bed standard caravan for a family of six will be £1,564 during the summer – assuming Covid restrictions are lifted.

The park in Sandy Bay is one of the biggest in the region and employs 500 people. Last year it had to make redundancies due to the impact of Covid-19 on tourism.

Haven, which also operates Perran Sands and Riviere Sands holiday parks in Cornwall, said that it has seen a particularly high demand for holidays for May half term, July, August and next October half term, with the demand for visits to Devon and Cornwall higher than elsewhere in the UK.

It has sold 40,000 more holidays than it would normally expect to at this point in the year, with Devon and Cornwall proving a particularly popular for people seeking to get away at a time where it is hoped the coronavirus vaccines will bring the pandemic under control and a path back to normality.

On Airbnb, many properties are already almost fully booked but in North Devon one cottage on the coast at Buck’s Mill costs £684 for a week at the end of March, rising to £853 over Easter week.

Meanwhile, a Woolacombe flat for four people is £1,462 a week at Easter.

In South Devon a bungalow at Salcombe costs £1,146 at Easter and in Okehampton town centre, a renovated cottage is £996 for Easter week.

In North Devon, at Clovelly a Grade II listed barn is £931.

Even the traditionally cheaper Butlin’s holiday has significantly risen in price for Easter 2021.

Some of the prices of Butlin’s stays across the UK have been tripled as people begin to look at booking domestic holidays in 2021.

Butlin’s has said its decision to raise prices is the result of “high demand”, but it would refund the difference on any booked holiday where the price drops after booking.

Holiday resorts and tourism businesses often raise prices during holidays and peak periods, and the continuing effects of the coronavirus pandemic has left many businesses financially damaged.

The prices at Butlin’s resorts across the country, including the site in Minehead in Somerset, have been raised in the same way this year, but in some cases they have been risen by more than would be expected in previous years.

On the resort chain’s website as of this morning (January 28), a three-day stay in a Standard Apartment at Butlin’s in Minehead for two adults and two children starts from £170 when the break begins on March 19, during the school term.

However, just two weeks later, the same package beginning on April 2 – the day after schools break up and covering the Easter weekend – the price starts from £581, more than three times the term-time price.

On the same dates, people can stay in a Gold Apartment in Minehead from £207 during term time, but on April 2 that price climbs to a minimum of £611.

A spokesperson for Haven confirmed the sudden bookings rush, saying: “We are seeing that Devon and Cornwall are outperforming other regions at the moment and it looks like at this stage it will continue to be a popular holiday destination in 2021 with many people still opting for staycations.”

A Centre Parcs spokesperson said: “We have seen a significant increase in bookings and interest in Center Parcs breaks recently.

“Our bookings for 2021, in particular from May onwards, are very strong and ahead of the same time last year. Whilst we expect demand for a UK break to remain high, it is clear that people want reassurance about the flexibility to cancel or change dates.

“Our Book with Confidence guarantee allows our guests to book their break now, safe in the knowledge that they will be able to change dates with no fee or receive a full no quibbles refund should they no longer be able to, or feel comfortable to, go ahead with their break when the time arrives.”

She added that Centre Parcs’ five UK villages were closed until at least February 18, but this was not a confirmed reopening date.

House rents in Devon and Cornwall soar as City dwellers escape urban lockdowns for sea air

Cities such as Edinburgh, London and Manchester have seen rents plummet but south west seaside resorts of Exmouth, Falmouth and Torquay welcome influx of townies

By David Parsley

City dwellers seeking to escape the claustrophobia of Covid-19 lockdowns in places like Edinburgh, London and Manchester have caused rents to rocket in Devon and Cornwall as they seek the space and fresh air of the South West of England.

According to property portal Rightmove, while asking rents in the UK’s biggest cities plummeted 12 per cent during 2020, rents in towns and villages of Devon and Cornwall have risen by as much as 7 per cent as tenants use working from home instructions as an opportunity to ride out the pandemic in one to the UK’s most popular tourist spots.

As rents in London slumped by 12.4 per cent last year, they rocketed by 7.3 per cent in the Cornish town of St Austell. Rents in Edinburgh and Manchester saw falls of 10 per cent and 5.3 per cent, but tenants had to pay almost 7 per cent more in Devon’s Torquay and Cornwall’s Falmouth.

Working from home by the sea

Other areas in the two counties experiencing strong rent rises include Exmouth, where tenants now have to pay 6.3 per cent more than a year ago to live by the sea, Plymouth (5.9 per cent), and Exeter (3 per cent more).

Caroline Hill, a partner-C&J Home Rentals in Exmouth, said: “The demand for rental properties in Exmouth is huge at present. Rental prices remain at the highest level I have seen in ten years of being in business with currently no signs of decreasing.

“It’s easy to see why so many people are moving out of the cities and choosing to move down to beautiful Exmouth, when it has so much to offer. We have a stunning coastline with our two-mile-long sandy beach, a new water sports centre, excellent sailing, and I am especially excited about the imminent opening of Michelin Star chef Michael Caines’ new venture Mickey’s Beach Bar, Restaurant and cafe. This will be a welcome addition to Michael’s fabulous restaurant at Lympstone Manor, just minutes away from Exmouth.”

Rightmove said the pandemic led to falling asking rents and a flood of properties coming into the market in a number of the UK’s biggest city centres, as some tenants rethink where they want to live.

More tenants seeking the seaside views and country walks has also led to a large jump in the number of properties available for rent in these city centres.

City rental stocks rises as tenant flock to the country

Tim Bannister, director of property data at Rightmove, said: “A number of areas of the South West saw a jump in demand in 2020 as people looked to move to areas with more green space and areas by the seaside, and this has helped to support and increase rents.

“In contrast to some of the big city centres where stock is much higher than before, a number of towns in Cornwall and Devon have seen available stock drop annually because of the increased demand from tenants and how quickly the places are getting snapped up.”

Marc von Grundherr, director of Benham and Reeves in London, added: “With Covid continuing to pose a problem on an ongoing basis, many tenants simply aren’t committing to the high cost of renting in central London. This has been largely driven by the fact that many can now work remotely but this isn’t the only reason. Living in central London is as much about the social aspect, as it is about the convenient commute, and at present, the vast majority of the capital remains closed for business.”

Most vaccines in South West delivered in Devon

More than 150,000 vaccinations in Devon have been carried out, more than anywhere else in the South West.

Daniel Clark 

Latest NHS England figures, which provide the position as of January 24, shows that 157,181 vaccinations in the county had taken place, with 145,148 of them being the first dose.

The figures for Devon, which will have risen in the most recent days, are the highest number of vaccinations for any of the regions within the South West, and they show that 14.5 per cent of the population had received their first jab.

The statistics show that as of Sunday, of the 79,525 over 80s within Devon, 63,305 of them had received the first vaccine – a total of 79.6%, with 10,743 – 13.5% – having also had the second dose.

While the 79.6% figure is lower as a percentage of the total cohort than anywhere else in the South West other than Cornwall, Devon’s population of over 80s is significantly higher than every other region, more than double in some instances.

A total of 63,305 over 80s, and 81,835 under 80s, primarily those employed in health and social care settings, had received the first dose of the vaccination as of Sunday.

With the population of the Devon STP area being 999,049, the 145,148 who had received their first dose, means that as of Sunday, 14.5% of Devon’s residents had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Those numbers will have risen since.

And 95.4% of those in a care home have also had their first dose of the vaccine, with the only residents who haven’t being those in one of the 12 settings where an outbreak of Covid-19 currently exists.

Nick Ball, vice-chairman of the Devon CCG, told their board meeting on Thursday morning that ‘Devon was really strong in terms of the vaccination programme’.

He added: “I want to give thanks to all the staff across the CCG who have done a fantastic job in coping with the Covid crisis and standing up the massive task of the vaccine programme.”

Simon Tapley, Interim accountable officer for the CCG, added: “Even without the mass vaccination centres have been up and running, we recorded record numbers on Saturday.

“We are on schedule to hit the trajectory for the first four cohorts by the mid-February target and we are ahead of trajectory, so we are fairly confident we will hit that.”

While data only exists at a STP level at present, Dr Phil Norrey, Devon County Council’s chief executive, said that they had been promised that it would eventually be delivered down to a district level, and hopefully even the MSOA level as well.

Figures for each individual district have not been released, but at the Devon CCG board meeting, numbers for some of the vaccination centres were revealed, as well as progress in moving through the at risk groups.

Dr Simon Kerr, chair of the East Devon Locality, said that he was part of the team who had done several thousand vaccinations at the Exmouth Tennis Centre, and that they were through most of the over 80s and now onto those who are housebound, vulnerable and the over 75s.

He added that at the GP hub in St Thomas, they had done 4,100 jabs in the last 10 days, while in the Culm Valley area, they had issued around 5,000 vaccinations.

Dr David Greenwell, Clinical representative (southern), added that in his region, the vaccination programme going well, with them also into the over 75s with the Riviera International Conference Centre in Torquay doing around 1,100 vaccines a day.

Devon’s Director of Public Health, Steve Brown, had welcomed the success of the rollout of the vaccination, but has reminded people that they still need to follow the public health measures.

Mr Brown said: “I’ve heard various heart-warming stories of gratitude from people in the first priority groups who have recently had their initial coronavirus vaccination – descriptions of the relief they feel, and the promise of getting back to a normal life.

“It is indeed excellent news, but we need to remember that the vaccination is just part of the solution, rather than the cure itself.

“The vaccination protects those who have had it from becoming seriously ill with coronavirus. However, there is no evidence yet to suggest that the vaccination stops a person from actually catching the virus, nor therefore prevents them from transmitting the virus to others.

“Even when you have had the vaccination, you still need to follow the public health measures and continue to take steps to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.

“That means, keep up with social distancing, wearing of face coverings when in public spaces, and washing your hands properly and regularly.

“Please continue to stay at home and avoid unnecessary journeys out of the house.

“Remember if you are identified as a close contact of a person who has tested positive you will still need to self-isolate for 10 days, even if you have had the vaccine.

“If you’ve been vaccinated because you work in health or social care, you still need to be tested regularly to ensure that you’re not infectious, even if you show no symptoms.”

There are now five methods by which the vaccine is being rolled out across Devon.

All four of the county’s main hospitals – in Plymouth, Exeter, Torquay and Barnstaple – are giving the vaccination to priority groups in line with national guidance, while GP practices are working together in groups to set up local vaccination centres, and across the county, 20 centres are now in operation, serving all of Devon practices.

GP-led facilities are delivering the vaccine to residents and staff in care homes, while pharmacies have started to deliver the vaccine, with Westward Ho! being the first to come online.

And on Tuesday, the mass vaccination sites at Home Park in Plymouth, and Westpoint Arena just outside Exeter became operational with thousands of vaccines a day to be delivered.