East Devon house growth will be outside main towns

Most of East Devon’s future housing growth will have to be built on sites outside of existing town centres, councillors have been told.

Simon Jupp talking up the possibility of Exmouth getting a slice of the “levelling-up” fund. In reality towns are being asked to gamble scarce money in preparing expensive glossy bids in what amounts to a national “Beauty Contest” – Owl

Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

With the council currently producing a new Local Plan, an urban capacity study was commissioned to assess the potential for development within existing town centres

East Devon District Council’s strategic planning committee has heard that in the eight main towns in the district, a maximum of 766 homes could theoretically be built, fewer than the 928 currently required by the government to be built each year.

The meeting heard therefore that most of the housing would have to come outside of town centres, although increases in home working and thus the repurposing of office space for residential is something that may come forward further down the line.

The committee says in future, developments will probably have to be of a higher density than currently, and with in some cases to built up rather than out. Further work needs to be undertaken to examine how redevelopment of some town centres areas can be achieved.

Cllr Mike Howe suggested that a complete redevelopment of Exmouth’s Magnolia shopping centre, using money that the council has been awarded as part of the Levelling Up Fund, could provide a significant number of houses in the town centres, as well as helping to redevelop areas.

The fund is open for applications of up to £20 million to regenerate and improve High Streets in places like Exmouth, and tbuilds on the work of smaller schemes which predate the pandemic, including the Future High Streets Fund.

Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, had said: “I have spoken up for Exmouth in parliament and now funding which can be used to develop plans to improve our town is on the way. East Devon District Council needs to submit a strong bid to be considered for up to £20 million for Exmouth’s High Street. I hope the council will work with me to grasp this opportunity for the good of our town.”

Under the Welcome Back Fund, which aims to prepare towns for the safe return of shoppers and tourists, East Devon District Council will also receive £230,992 from the government.

Ed Freeman, service lead for planning strategy and development management, said that the aim of the urban capacity study was to understand how many possible housing sites with a capacity of five homes or more may be located in urban areas.

He said: “It would be ideal to meet the needs from brownfield sites but sadly it is not going to be anywhere near possible based on our assessment. We have looked at what is physically and practically possible but not the willingness of landowners and details of layout of sites

“There is a potential supply of 766 homes and that is a maximum as some may never come forward as there may not be a willing landowner or more specific constraints than the high level assessment suggests. It can form a component of housing supply going forward, won’t be a significant element.”

Cllr Olly Davey said that it was a salutary reminder that cannot rely on going inside the built-up boundary to meet the housing needs, adding: “This is 766 in total, not per year, as if it was, we wouldn’t have a problem. People want to see towns developed before open countryside is, but we have to recognise that may not satisfy all our future housing needs.”

Cllr Eleanor Rylance said that there is going to need to be higher density living in urban areas in the future. She said: “If we don’t have the land, then the only solution is to go up, and Britain has to get used to living in flats. Crucially, it stops town centres from dying out as there are people around to use the businesses, as without it, a lot of the shops won’t recover.”

Cllr Howe added: “We know the Levelling Up fund is open to us and we have seed money to put together a plan for Exmouth, and I have always thought the Magnolia Centre needs a bulldozer and a redevelopment. If you did that properly and did it well, you would have lovely office and shopping units and then like Princesshay in Exeter, 3/4/5 stories of flats above.

“It would be getting people living in the centre and working in the centre, so I think we need to be ambitious on this and don’t think that the full impacts of the Levelling Up fund have been added to the equation and we need to use it, and we do have the MPs support, so we have to get a move on.

“500 homes for Exmouth on that Magnolia site would be lovely and wouldn’t it just do the goods for the town centre? I think we can achieve more than the numbers here but need to look more cleverly.”

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, said that there was a meeting between senior members and MPs on April 14 to talk about how to work together with the Levelling Up fund, and added: “The idea of the Magnolia Centre is fantastic and anything we can do with the opportunities to maximise the use of the footprint is a really smart idea, and that would be promising.”

Cllr Kevin Blakey put forward a recommendation that that members note the limited capacity available within the existing built-up area boundaries of the main towns and the potential need to find land outside of these areas to meet the future development needs of the district when other opportunities are exhausted, which was unanimously accepted by the committee.

The urban capacity study identified all undeveloped land within the study area, although the vast majority of the sites, such as playing fields, leisure facilities, and green spaces were discounted due to their recreational importance, and were only included for completeness rather than any indication they were being considered.

Mr Freeman told the meeting that inclusion within this final list of sites should not be considered a substitute for planning permission and the study makes no judgement on whether permission would be granted, adding that it was likely that some sites included will not be appropriate for development as a result of detailed factors not assessed though the remit of the study.

A total of 60 sites in the eight main towns were identified through the study, with a capacity for 766 homes to be built on them, but Mr Freeman added: “Even in the unlikely event that all of these sites were brought forward, the potential supply of 766 homes represents significantly less than one years housing supply coming from land within the existing built up area boundaries of the towns.

“A proactive approach to their delivery is likely to be highly resource intensive and is potentially fraught with difficulties in terms of tracking down and approaching owners to discuss these sites without being seen to be encouraging an application that may ultimately not be accepted.

“The work is however useful evidence to inform plan production and also any estimate of the likely numbers of windfall sites that may come forward in the future.”

The meeting also agreed to the provisional timetable to produce a new draft local plan, with the aim for the committee to consider it in December.


AXMINSTER (140 homes)

Land At Millbrook Valley, Stoney Lane, Axminster – south of Hallets Way – 10 homes

Axe Vale Social Club, Chard Street, Axminster, EX13 5EB – 5 homes

Land off and north of St Andrews Drive – 10 homes

Land off St David’s Close/St David’s Drive – 5 homes

Former football pitch site at Millwey – 30 homes

Millwey Community Gardens and Community Centre – 15 homes

Land south of monkstone and west of St Mary’s church – 10 homes

Land to the east of Lyme Close – 5 homes

Parking courtyard and garages at Ridgway Court – 5 homes

Axminster Community Hospital site – 10 homes

Land north of cemetery at Millwey – 10 homes

Websters Garage site and adjoining land and buildings – 25 homes


Land forming part of former railway line, Knowle, Budleigh Salterton – 10 homes

CRANBROOK (0 homes)

No sites considered suitable

EXMOUTH (427 homes)

Car park at Margret St/north of Lower Fore Street – 20 homes

Vacant/underused land north of Fore Street – 20 homes

Open space south of Kay Close – 6 homes

Green Close northern triangle area – 5 homes

Green Close southern triangle area – 5 homes

Open land west of Bradham Lane – 6 homes

Open land alongside Moorfield Road – 5 homes

Land at Burnside – 5 homes

Open land north of Jubilee Drive – 20 homes

Open space at junction of Bradham Lane and Salterton Road – 10 homes

Open space west of The Green/at Lestock Close – 6 homes

Open space area east of The Green /south of Village Close – 5 homes

Former waste tip site west of Dinan Way – 110 homes

Withycombe Health Centre – 5 homes

Vacant/underused industrial premises western side of Pankhurst Close – 42 homes

Green space north west of the end of Liverton Close – 5 homes

Open space north of St John’s Road – 7 homes

Open space area west of Fraser Road – 9 homes

Open space area south of Fraser Road – 5 homes

Open space area at Cedar Close – 5 homes

Open space area east of Jubilee Drive – 5 homes

Play area at the end of Betjeman Drive – 5 homes

Open space area at Jubilee Close – 5 homes

Former industrial site on Albion Hill – 12 homes

British Red Cross Hall South Street Exmouth EX8 2SA – 5 homes

28 Cranford Avenue Exmouth EX8 2PZ – 20 homes

22 And 24 Albion Hill Exmouth EX8 1JS – 14 homes

Land at Withycombe Brook, Exmouth – 50 homes

Buildings at the Deaf Academy – 30 homes

HONITON (74 homes)

Land at Dower Street, west of Lee Close development and south of A30 – 5 homes

Garages south of Pale Gate, Honiton – 5 homes

Former Millwater School, Honiton Bottom Road – 23 homes

Garage block at northern end of Marker Way – 5 homes

Land adjoining and north of beggars Lane – 13 homes

Triangular grass area south of Monkton Road adjacent to Harts garage  – 5 homes

Land north of Chapel Street – 18 homes

OTTERY ST MARY (20 homes)

Car Park and land off Brook Street, EX11 1EZ – 5 homes

Field adjacent to Cadhay Lane, EX11 1QZ – 5 homes

Field adjacent to Longdogs Close, EX11 1JN – 5 homes

Old Fire Station, Batts Lane, EX11 1EY – 5 homes

SEATON (55 homes)

Former St Johns Ambulance Depot – 8 homes

Seaton Town FC Football Ground – 28 homes

Grass triangular area beyond the eastern end of Summersby Close. – 5 homes

Seaton Community Hospital – 14 homes

SIDMOUTH (40 homes)

Grass area west of Fairmead road – 5 homes

Land at Alexandria Trading Estate – 10 homes

Land north of Peasland road – 15 homes

Sidmouth Health Centre – 10 homes

How did the man with no self-control swallow the words ‘Barnard Castle’? 

How did he do it? How, in the name of everything he takes unseriously, did Boris Johnson announce that up to 60m doses of the Novavax vaccine will be bottled and finished by GlaxoSmithKline, but somehow stop himself looking straight down the camera to add: “And they’ll do it at their plant in … [Roger Moore-style eyebrow raise] … Barnard Castle”? There are few scarcer commodities than Johnsonian self-control, but having overcome that particular urge, the prime minister now surely has no personal restraint left for the rest of the year. Lock up your infosec entrepreneurs, parents…………..

Marina Hyde www.theguardian.com extract

Councillor punished for Facebook post mocking curfew on men

The Plymouth councillor who published a picture of himself in a wig and dress mocking a proposal for a curfew on men following the death of Sarah Everard has been disciplined by the Conservatives.

Edward Oldfield www.plymouthherald.co.uk

The Facebook post by Mark Deacon, councillor for Southway, was criticised during a period of intense public discussion about violence towards women and girls.

He removed the post after an outcry and apologised for causing offence.

Cllr Deacon was suspended by the city council Conservative group pending an investigation. That has now found he broke group rules on councillor conduct.

Tory leader Nick Kelly said in a statement that Cllr Deacon would be punished by serving a 21-day suspension from the group and a warning about use of social media would stay on his file.

Cllr Kelly said the councillor had confirmed he “deeply regrets” his “error of judgement” and was “completely remorseful to those he has offended”.

A petition was later set up in support of the Tory councillor for his achievements in the Southway ward.

Cllr Deacon published a picture of himself wearing a dress and wig, with the message: “If the Green Party and some Labour Party politicians get their way and impose this ridiculous 6pm curfew on men, then I’m going to wear my dress more often.”

He later removed the post and apologised. He wrote: “I didn’t intend any offence that my comments might have caused to a section of the public.”

Cllr Kelly said the councillor had not made the connection until after he made the post between the disappearance and death of Sarah Everard and the suggestion from Baroness Jones that men should face a 6pm curfew.

The marketing executive disappeared after walking home from a friend’s house in London in early March. A week later her remains were found in Kent and a police officer has been charged with her kidnap and murder.

Cllr Kelly said the Southway councillor would refresh his understanding of the Nolan Principles, also known as the Seven Principles of Public Live, which refer to the ethical standards public figures are expected to show of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. He would also complete the city council’s online equality and diversity training.

Cllr Deacon has represented the Southway ward since 2015 and his current term of office ends in 2023. A petition was started by a Southway resident in support of the councillor following his initial suspension, acknowledging his work in the area.

The statement from the Conservative group leader on Monday said: “Following a thorough internal investigation into the conduct of Cllr Mark Deacon as a result of a post he made on Facebook on Saturday 13th March 2021, regarding the statement from Baroness Jones that all men should face a 6pm curfew, Cllr Deacon was found to have breached the Plymouth Conservative Councillor Group’s Rules.

“The investigation found that upon realising his error of judgement, Cllr Deacon immediately removed the post that generated a number of adverse comments from the public and issued two apologies on his social media page.

“Subsequently, Cllr Deacon has confirmed that he deeply regrets his actions and is completely remorseful to those he has offended. Cllr Deacon wishes to unequivocally apologise for his actions and has learnt from this incident.

“Cllr Kelly confirmed that the post was insensitive regarding both content and timing after the tragic murder of Sarah Everard and the comments from the Baroness were made in light of this murder.

“Unfortunately, Cllr Deacon did not make this connection until after his offending post had been made public. Mark was mortified once he realised this link.

“In view of this breach, Councillor Deacon will serve a 21 day suspension from the Conservative Group. A warning will remain on Cllr Deacon’s file regarding his conduct, with specific regard to his use of social media.

“Cllr Deacon has agreed to be more mindful of expressing his views on social media in the future, especially in his capacity as a Plymouth City Councillor. Cllr Deacon will re-acquaint himself with the Nolan Principles regarding Public Life.

“Cllr Deacon will also complete the online Equality and Diversity Training provided by Plymouth City Council.

“Cllr Nick Kelly wishes to acknowledge all those who have contacted him regarding this incident, including the many offering their support to Cllr Deacon and highlighting the great work he has done since serving as a Conservative Councillor in the Southway Ward from May 2015.

“Hopefully, Mark will learn from this regrettable incident and will now once again be able to focus all his efforts into working on behalf of the residents of Southway Ward.”

Sidmouth care home probe focuses on ‘infection control’

A police investigation into Covid-19 deaths at a care home is now focusing on “infection control and management”.

BBC News www.bbc.co.uk 

A woman, 57, from Sidmouth, and a man, 30, from Exeter, who were arrested last week by police on suspicion of wilful neglect have been released on bail.

Both are members of staff at Holmesley Care Home in Sidmouth, Devon.

Nine deaths have been reported at the home since 25 February. All are thought to be related to an outbreak of the virus, Devon and Cornwall Police said.

“The police investigation is currently focusing on infection control and management within the home,” the force said in a statement.

“It is not currently related in any way to the vaccination of residents,” it added.

Holmesley Care Home said it is treating the allegations “with the utmost seriousness”.

It said it is grateful to “those diligent members of staff who brought concerns to light” adding that “the police have our full cooperation in their investigation”.

Police have previously said no other arrests were “currently planned” as investigations continued.

Officers are leading the investigation in partnership with health watchdog the Care Quality Commission.

Lifelong Tory voters abandoning party over cladding crisis

Lifelong Conservative voters caught up in the building safety crisis are abandoning the party after its MPs voted against protecting leaseholders from potentially crippling costs to fix fire risks discovered after the Grenfell Tower fire.

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com 

Apartment owners, some of whom have supported the Tories since Margaret Thatcher set out her vision of a “property-owning democracy”, said they could no longer vote for a party which they argued was placing the interests of property developers and freeholders above homeowners.

One who had voted Tory for 50 years said he was “incensed” at seeing young people just climbing on to the housing ladder getting “kicked in the teeth”. Another, who supported the party for 30 years said “they are abandoning the people working hard to own their homes”.

The affected voters include middle-aged people who have invested in one or two apartments as a pension, people who have helped their children on to the housing ladder, owner occupiers and people who have bought a minority share of their home under shared ownership schemes but who are now being asked to pay all of the remediation bill.

The grassroots anger boiled over this week after Conservative MPs voted down an amendment to the fire safety bill, which would have ensured hundreds of thousands of leaseholders were protected from paying billions of pounds to fix apartment blocks found to be defective after the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster.

Thirty-three Conservatives rebelled, voting in favour of the protection, including Stephen McPartland, who have led minority Conservative calls to protect leaseholders, but 320 did not.

McPartland, who proposed the amendment in the first place, has described his party’s position as “morally unacceptable”.

“What we are doing today is shameful,” he told the Commons this week. “If this bill goes through even more leaseholders are going to face bankruptcy, even more are going to face huge issues around homelessness.”

McPartland said the debate was set to return to the House of Lords and he was still hoping for a government compromise. But since the vote, a stream of angry Conservatives voters have contacted the Guardian to say the government’s policy has forced them to rethink their lifelong support for the party.

“I am a lifelong Tory voter, but I am incensed at the clear injustice of how this is affecting so many young people,” said Peter Barnfield, 69, who owns a flat in the Decks complex in Runcorn, which has missing fire breaks set to cost up to £25,000 per leaseholder. “I cannot see this is justifiable. I’ll vote Labour. There are young people who have just got on the ladder and have been kicked in the teeth.”

Jacky Herger, 59, an accounts manager who cannot sell her flat at Ingress Park in Kent because of problems with firebreaks and render, said she feared she would lose her property if forced to pay.

“I have voted Tory all my life but after the fiasco of the vote I will not be voting for them again,” she said.

Sally Ann Burton, a company director in Portishead who owns apartments facing remediation costs of £60,000 each, said: “They are telling us you are better off to rent a home. They are abandoning the people working hard to own their homes.”

David Davis, the former shadow home secretary who also rebelled and voted to protect leaseholders, said his party’s position was burdening homeowners “which is a group we should approve of”.

“This is a regulatory failure on a sizeable scale and the state should shoulder the burden and not allow it to fall on anybody whether they vote Conservative or Communist,” he said.

The government has argued that forcing freeholders to pay could trigger legal action by building owners against the government to reclaim costs, while others could “walk away” from their ownership, making the problem worse. It has also launched £5bn in grants, but only to fix dangerous cladding and not other fire safety defects, and only on buildings more than 18 metres in height.

But its position is leaving some voters feeling “politically homeless”.

“The Conservatives are making themselves look like they’re not the party of homeownership, they are the party that don’t care,” said Alex Kubiakowska-Welch, 30, a Tory voter whose faulty block of flats in north-west London will not qualify for government funding. She said the issue had “absolutely” changed who she would vote for.

Tom Marshall, 31, faces costs of about £30,000 on his flat in the London borough of Bexley and will now vote against the party he has always supported.

“I’ve always taken the Conservative party at their word about being the party of homeownership,” he said. “I’ve had to do a bit of soul-searching. I know the Conservative party has a reputation for looking after its own, but it looks like they’re more keen on hanging on to party donors than protecting leaseholders.”

The Conservative party has been contacted for comment.

Honiton councillor acted ‘maliciously’ damning report finds

Latest twist in the long running saga of Honiton Town Council – East Devon’s answer to Handforth PC

Hannah Corfield honiton.nub.news

A Honiton councillor has been found in breach of the Code of Conduct, specifically related to treating people with respect and bullying.

Following a six-hour Standards Hearing conducted by a sub committee at East Devon District Council (EDDC) on March 12, three separate complaints made against Cllr John Taylor were upheld and sanctions imposed.

Concerns were raised following Cllr Taylor’s actions in relation to Tony McCollum in May 2020 when Honiton Street Market was undergoing Covid risk assessments. At the time, Mr McCollum was employed by Honiton Town Council as Town Development Manager.

Cllr Taylor’s comments submitted within a Covid compliance document were used as evidence.

Examples are detailed below:

• “No effort has been made by either Mr McCullum [sic] or Cllr Wyatt to consider measurements

*NB. Cllr Taylor misspells McCollum as McCullum

• Mr McCullum was there but was engrossed in consecutive phone calls

• Cllr Wyatt has not dealt with facts at all save cursory non-critical reference to three pages of documents provided by not authored by Mr McCullum

• That accords with the failure of Mr McCullum to pursue any of the above described work

• Mr McCullum and Cllr Wyatt mentioned the Cattle Market…it is astounding that such a dumb proposal has been made”

In a report issued yesterday (March 25) it said: “The Sub Committee found that Cllr Taylor’s conduct as set out above was a pattern of behaviour which amounted to bullying of Mr McCollum.

It went on: “The Sub-Committee found that in there was an imbalance of power in the Member/Officer relationship and that Cllr Taylor sought to sideline and undermine Mr McCollum including purporting to be acting on behalf of the Council.

“This exacerbated the impact of Cllr Taylor’s behaviour and the impact that it had on Mr McCollum.

“The Sub Committee felt that the undermining of Mr McCollum in relation to the work undertaken to consider and evaluate the re-opening of Honiton Street Market was malicious and insulting and undermined his standing and his work.

“The Sub Committee found that Cllr Taylor was misusing his power and that the impact of that behaviour was detrimental to Mr McCollum’s confidence and ability to perform his role.”

In mitigation Cllr Taylor asserted that he was acting to “save lives”, a claim that was not upheld by the Sub Committee.

As recommended by the Monitoring Officer, the following three sanctions have been imposed:

1. Censure of Cllr Taylor.

2. Cllr Taylor undertakes training organised by the Monitoring Officer in relation to the Code of Conduct and very specifically related to bullying and the impact of behaviour upon others and the relationships between officers and members.

3. That following that training Cllr Taylor is asked to issue a written apology to Mr McCollum with the wording to be agreed with the Monitoring Officer.

The report added: “The Sub Committee wished it to be noted that they are particularly concerned about the behaviour of Cllr Taylor, as set out in this decision and also as demonstrated during the Standards Sub Committee hearing.”

A recording of the Standards Hearing can be accessed here.

Huge plans to totally change the way National Parks and AONBs are run

Plans to shake-up the way the national parks of the Westcountry are run, scrapping the national park authorities for Exmoor and Dartmoor and handing control to a national body in London are being considered by ministers.

Philip Bowern www.devonlive.com

As part of a wholesale change across England, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is proposing to bring all of the statutory functions and responsibilities of England’s protected landscapes together into a single organisational structure.

That would leave the 10 national parks in England, including Dartmoor and Exmoor, and the nation’s 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, (AONB) without local management or input, critics of the plan fear.

BBC Countryfile’s reporter Tom Heap says he has seen documents which suggest the Government want to merge England’s AONBs and national parks under a single National Landscape Service – cutting at a stroke the local input that currently comes from councillors and other members of the national park authorities.

The plan follows a review, by Julian Glover, carried out 18 months ago. He suggested a better coordinated management of England’s places of natural beauty was needed. But critics fear a one-sized fits all approach to landscapes as diverse as the Lake District, the South Downs and Dartmoor, for example, would be counterproductive, with powers transferred away from grassroots communities to Westminster.

Mr Glover has denied he envisaged scrapping local management of the parks. His plan for a National Landscape Service was one of around 25 recommendations made in his report. He told the BBC. “This isn’t about everything being run central. This is about common goals, done locally.”

At the moment the national parks of the Westcountry, like those across the country, are managed by a small team of professionals, led on Dartmoor by chief executive Kevin Bishop and on Exmoor by Sarah Bryan. They are answerable to a committee, made up of local people including councillors and other representatives, who set policy, decide on planning applications and help to manage the parks in line with the needs of those who live and work on them, as well as those who come to visit.

Opposition to the plan is building across the country. Richard Leafe, chief executive of the Lake District national park, told Countryfile: “I think the power really does need to be focused locally because this is where we need to go to work. We are from here, our families all live and work around here, we know the people of the Lake District very well.”

Those same arguments are being made on Exmoor and Dartmoor.

Kevin Bishop, chief executive of Dartmoor National Park Authority, told the WMN: “We still await a formal Government response to the Landscapes Review but if the BBC Countryfile story of ministers being minded to merge the 10 National Park Authorities and 34 AONBs into a single organisation is correct, then is it deeply concerning.

“For 70 years the management of Dartmoor National Park has involved the local community and other stakeholders. Establishing a central quango is a potential reform in the wrong direction: it would reduce or remove local accountability; remove a powerful champion for Dartmoor and its communities; weaken the local partnership working that is essential to almost everything we do; hamper our ability to respond quickly to meet Dartmoor’s needs; and reduce the resources available for Dartmoor National Park.”

He said the national park authorities were not against reform and there was merit in a National Landscapes Service as a “small but powerful advocate, at the heart of Government, for our most treasured landscapes.”

He suggested a ‘Landscapes Commissioner’ akin to the Children’s Commissioner could be a possible solution.

He went on: “Many of the report’s other recommendations are of more practical value than organisational change and would go further in helping us ensure that Dartmoor is even better for people and nature.”

Defra said: “The Landscapes Review set out a compelling vision for more beautiful, more biodiverse and more accessible National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“We welcome this ambition, and we have been actively engaging with stakeholders to inform our response to the Review, which we intend to publish in due course.”

Environment minister pledges laws to cut dumping of sewage in English rivers

The environment minister, Rebecca Pow, has promised to bring in legislation to reduce discharge of raw sewage into rivers. Pow said that she would be placing a legal duty on government to come up with a plan to cut dumping by water companies by September 2022.

Sandra Laville www.theguardian.com 

Pressure has been growing on water companies and ministers as evidence grows of the scale of the issue and amid increasing evidence of the poor state of rivers.

The Guardian revealed that in 2019, water companies discharged raw sewage from storm overflows for 1.5m hours in 204,000 incidents. These releases are permitted after extreme weather events, but the data revealed the frequent nature of the spills. None of England’s rivers meet quality tests for pollution, and just 14% are deemed to be of a good ecological standard.

Pow said the legal duty would mean that government would have to report to parliament on its progress on reducing sewage discharges. She said that she would also place a legal duty on water companies to publish data every year on their storm overflows.

The Environment Agency issues permits to allow water companies to release untreated human waste – which includes excrement, condoms and toilet paper – from storm overflows after extreme weather events, such as torrential rain, to stop water backing up and flooding homes. More than 60 discharges a year from a storm overflow should trigger an investigation by the agency.

Pow said: “Putting new commitments to improve our rivers into law is an important step forward to cut down the water sector’s reliance on storm overflows. This step is one of many – but an important one nonetheless – to provide greater protection for our water environment and the wildlife that relies on it.”

The government has been in discussion with Philip Dunne, chair of the environmental audit committee, who had been pursuing a private members’ bill to outlaw the discharge of raw sewage into rivers. The bill has now been withdrawn.

Dunne said: “I am delighted that the environment minister has honoured her pledge to seek a legislative route to give effect to the main objectives: from the government updating parliament on the progress it is making in reducing sewage discharges, to placing a duty on water companies to publish storm overflow data.”

Campaigners welcomed the focus on sewage pollution in rivers but questioned the delays in taking action to tackle the problem.

Hugo Tagholm, of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “For the first time since the 1990s, sewage pollution is back at the top of public and political consciousness … They must now manage and measure progress – and get as close to zero sewage emissions as possible.

“The evidence is already clear – water companies treat UK rivers like open sewers whilst making huge profits. Their actions, coupled with the impacts of agriculture, are destroying the blue arteries of our country. This simply isn’t good enough in this decade of ecosystem restoration.”

River campaigner Johnny Palmer, who is attempting to get a stretch of the River Avon outside Bath designated as bathing water to stop sewage discharges, said: “It’s great this is on the agenda. But agendas alone don’t create action.

“The problem is clear – shit is being pumped into our rivers by privately held monopolies. The solution is simple – water companies need to stop paying out such vast dividends to their offshore investors and put that money into infrastructure improvements. These can range from simple things like CSO ultraviolet treatment and attenuator tanks, through to larger and longer-term solutions like separate rainwater and sewage connections.”

The government refused to say whether the legislation would be included in the environment bill currently going through parliament – which would potentially provide the quickest route.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We are identifying a suitable legislative vehicle to put these important measures on to the statute book as soon as possible.”

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Rivers Trust, said: “We welcome this further announcement from the government, which includes legal duties on the government and water companies. We look forward to understanding specific details on how this legislation will be introduced.”

Controversial works at The Knowle put on hold

The developers behind the controversial scheme to redevelop the former East Devon District Council HQ into an assisting living community are now ‘considering their options’ for the site.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

Planning permission, after an appeal against the initial refusal, was granted in January 2018 to convert the Knowle in Sidmouth into a 113-apartment assisted living community.

Lifestory eventually completed the purchase of the site in January 2020 – a month later than the legal agreement stipulated they were required to – but 14 months on, little in the way of substantial works at the site have been carried out.

And while Lifestory have confirmed that they have carried out some ‘initial works’ on the site and thus the planning permission for the redevelopment has been implemented, they are currently ‘reviewing the consented development’.

Marc Evans, regional managing director for Lifestory, said: “We’ve been carrying out some initial works on site lately and whilst the permission has been implemented, we’ve also been reviewing the consented development.

“For a number of reasons, including our experience elsewhere, we’re changing our focus in terms of the types of later living schemes we’re likely to be developing in future. As a result, we’re now considering options for the site’s redevelopment, which we’ve spoken to the Council about.

“We’ll continue to talk to the Council over the coming weeks and we’re keen to make sure that the site’s redevelopment is successfully achieved.”

In 2015, the council decided to relocate from its current headquarters at the Knowle in Sidmouth to new offices in Honiton and Exmouth. And to finance the move, the council agreed to sell its Knowle headquarters to Pegasus Life Ltd for £7.5million.

But those plans were initially thrown into jeopardy when a planning application by Pegasus Life for a 113-apartment assisted-living community for older people was refused by the council’s planning committee, only for panning inspector Michael Boniface to allow the appeal.

A CGI showing Pegasus Life's planned development of retirement apartments at the Knowle in Sidmouth, which was refused planning permission by East Devon District Council in December

A CGI showing Pegasus Life’s planned development of retirement apartments at the Knowle in Sidmouth, which was refused planning permission by East Devon District Council in December

East Devon District Council then moved out of the Knowle in February 2019, with two thirds of the staff moving to the new Heathpark HQ in Honiton, and one third to the refurbished Exmouth town hall.

The Heathpark HQ cost the council £8.7m, while an additional £1.5m was spent on upgrading Exmouth town hall where one third of the council staff are to be based.

In January 2020, East Devon received the full purchase price of £9,019,605 from Lifestory for the site, plus an additional £38,000 as a penalty for the late payment.

The Knowle, Sidmouth

The Knowle, Sidmouth

The site was handed over to Lifestory in 2020 for them to begin works to convert the former HQ into an assisted living community for older people, comprising of extra care units, staff accommodation and communal facilities, including a kitchen, restaurant, bar, café, a well-being suite, a gym, treatment rooms and pool, comprehensive landscaping and groundworks.

Construction phasing plans – a condition of the initial planning permission – were submitted and approved in November 2020, but after starting initial works to implement the planning permission, Lifestory are now considering the options for the site’s redevelopment.

Owl reviews the Omnishambles of March 2020 locally and nationally: Remember this when you vote in May

The events of last March show time and again our politicians in Central Government, in Devon County and East Devon failing to rise to the challenge and show leadership, with a few shining exceptions.

Around a week ago we marked the anniversary of the start of the first Lockdown and, as this March ends, we begin to emerge from the third.

Owl has been looking back at what was being posted on the “Watch” during March 2020. The posts record local events being overtaken by a faltering National and Local response to the Covid-19 pandemic as it emerged.

Local events start with the collapse of Flybe and a couple of examples of EDDC making massive “investments” of taxpayers money, despite recently having incurred the cost of the “cost neutral” move to Blackdown House. Support for “Independent” EDDC Leader Ben Ingham drains away and a new power group begins to emerge.

Very quickly the local shortage of hospital beds, particularly ICUs becomes evident, but Conservative Councillors stick their heads in the sand. Cllrs Martin Shaw and Claire Wright are among a very small group who continue to speak out.

Even after Lockdown when all the vulnerable are instructed to self-isolate by staying at home and not to move outside for any reason, Abbeyfield continues to close the Shandford Care Home in order to “free up assets”. 

Readers may recall the seemingly deliberate ambiguity of instructions and guidance being issued from No 10. This is reflected in the local response to closing holiday lets etc. Essentially Cornwall and North Devon take the lead but DCC and EDDC drag their feet. Indeed we have the bizarre situation at the end of the month when DCC says enforcement will be removed from many parking places including coastal and tourist destinations. Whilst the Police, having declared a major emergency, have been discouraging people from travelling to just these places as being “not in the spirit” of government emergency legislation.

Below Owl has extracted the more interesting headlines from the EDW March 2020 archive. In most cases they are self explanatory, but in some cases Owl has added further comment. Readers should remember that the EDW posting date may lag the original event report by a day or so which may be significant as events gather pace towards the end of the month. Owl has flagged up some of the nationally important key events to help place things in perspective.

Owl wonders how prospective County Councillors’ electioneering material will stand scrutiny against this body of evidence? 

Where were we at the beginning of March 2020?

March started in the “Contain” phase of a Coronavirus strategy summarised as: Contain, Delay, Research, Mitigate. In other words the government was pursuing a “Herd Immunity” strategy. However, we don’t have an adequate contact track and trace system. Conservative governments have allowed it to wither, and Public Health suffered under the Lansley reforms.

March 2 Boris Johnson attends his first Covid COBRA meeting, having missed the previous five.

(Too busy arranging his divorce amongst other things)

EDW March 3

“When states sell out to developers, housing is no longer a human right” (We need to be reminded where priorities lie, even in a pandemic)

EDW March 4 

“Where has the money come from for the new road?” (Eileen Wragg asks where the money for the “Queen’s Drive” realignment is coming from – gets same “No answer” from Ben Ingham as from previous Tory administration)

“Breaking news: Standard claims Flybe loan has been rejected”  (Flybe collapses a couple of days later)

March 5 We can no longer contain Covid-19, so move into the delay phase

Prof Chris Witty told MPs that the country is moving into the ‘delay phase’ of the government’s battle plan, which sets out action that would be considered as: ‘Distancing strategies – such as school closures, encouraging greater home working, reducing the number of large-scale gatherings – to slow the spread of the disease throughout the population’. Prof Whitty told MPs it is now ‘highly likely’ there is ‘community transmission’ of coronavirus in the country. He said: ‘I’m expecting the number only to go up, and there are now several – not large numbers – but several cases where we cannot see where this has come from in terms of a clear transmission, either because someone has come directly from overseas or because they’ve had a close contact with someone who has recently returned from overseas.

EDW March 6

Flybe’s owners did not put their money where their mouths were” 

“District council completes £2.7m purchase of Ocean” (Another major investment of “our” money made by the Ingham regime, more to come) 

“Axminster Carpets has been bought out of administration” 

“Flybe employees at risk of losing entire pensions” 

EDW March 7

Breaking News suspected Coronavirus EDDC HQ in lockdown” 

EDW March 8

“East Devon District Council offices to reopen after Coronavirus scare” (After “deep cleaning” )

“Coronavirus will brutally expose the effect of a decade of public service cuts ” (Warnings about the impact of a pandemic begin to circulate)

“MPs asked to solve social care crisis after Johnson admits he has no plan” 

EDW March 9

“More deep cuts loom as Devon’s NHS must save over £400m by 2024” (Money matters more than lives – how can we take this seriously in the knowledge of the cash later splashed around cronies and consultants?)

“Budget: cash for flood defences to be doubled – County Leader John Hart “off message”?” (Devon County Council Leader, John Hart’s solution to flooding, is to encourage a modern day dad’s army of individuals, villages and Parish Councils, where they care, to do more for themselves. Self-help, he said, is going to be the order of the day. Just weeks before the government announces a doubling of money in the budget!)

“£2.5m road improvements boost for East Devon ‘Airpark’ agreed by EDDC hours before Flybe collapse” 

March 10 Cheltenham Festival starts

The Festival opened on 10 March with at least 60,000 racegoers in attendance each afternoon, while 68,500 were at the track to see the Cheltenham Gold Cup on 13 March. Regarded in retrospect as a super spreading event 

EDW Same Day

“Coronavirus: Devon emerges as disease hotspot as first regional  breakdown of cases revealed” ( Related to skiing trips but ultimately contained) 

EDW March 11

“Villagers in Devon hotspot ‘going stir crazy’” (St Mary the Virgin church, Churston Ferrers, closed when a member of its 50-strong congregation tested positive on March 1. The Grammar School also closed for a week when one of its pupils who returned from a holiday in northern Italy tested positive for the virus. The villagers go “stir crazy”. A foretaste of what is to come.)

“National Park Update – Don’t mention it to EDDC” (Business as usual?)

“District council worker no longer displaying symptoms after Coronavirus scare” 

March 12 – We move into the “Delay” phase aka “Squash the Sombrero”

Boris Johnson announced new measures, including asking people with a cough or a temperature to stay at home.“I must level with you, I must level with the British public. Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”. Public health ceases testing in the community and retreats to testing principally within hospitals. We are now fighting the infection blind.

EDW March 14

“Johnson’s egocentric budget gives him everything and local councils nothing ” 

“Four County Councillors urge the Government to bring forward social distancing measures to reduce the impact of the Coronavirus” (County Councillors Claire Wright and Martin Shaw with two other members of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee issue a statement, starting: We are gravely concerned that the people of Devon are being excessively exposed to the threat of death through the coronavirus, because the Government is failing to introduce the social distancing measures needed to contain the epidemic. Going on th draw attention to the elderly population and shortage of ICU beds)

“Breaking news: Fifth Councillor joins plea to bring forward social distancing ” (They are now joined by a fifth councillor – the remaining County Councillors DO NOTHING)

EDW March 15

“Robert Jenrick plans for the future to get Britain building” (Another virus starts to spread)

“In the coronavirus crisis, our leaders are failing us – Gordon Brown” 

“Herd immunity: will the UK’s coronavirus strategy work?”

EDW March 16

“Coronavirus: health experts fear epidemic will ‘let rip’ through UK” 

“What’s happening with the Exmouth seafront redevelopment?” 

March 17 NHS cancels all non-emergency surgery

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveils a package of financial measures, including loans worth £330 billion, to help businesses through the coronavirus crisis and furlough.

EDW Same day

“The five County Councillors’ intervention on Coronavirus last week now looks prophetic.” 

These five were doing their job, scrutinising Health and Well-Being policies as they affect our lives locally on our behalf. Until now the Government has been following a strategy at odds with WHO advice and markedly different from the rest of the world. This has now changed as that strategy has been subject to expert scrutiny and in the face of reality.

Proper and fearless scrutiny is an entirely constructive process.

Although this group stressed they were acting in a personal capacity, Owl notices that not one of the majority Conservative members of the committee joined them.

March 18 Schools close

EDW Same day

“A glimpse of hope in dark times? A new power grouping in EDDC” Councillors from the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Independent East Devon Alliance, and an Independent come together to form a new political group. – The Democratic Alliance. They are now the largest group in EDDC

“Coronavirus sees councils cancel meetings and ask public not to go to offices” 

March 19 A second super spreading event takes place

Liverpool v Atletico Madrid bringing 54,000 people into the old atmospheric streets, pubs, bars, shops, chippies and stadium, with 3,000 from Madrid,

EDW Same Day

“How huge regional differences in intensive care bed numbers threaten coronavirus postcode lottery” “The south west looks most vulnerable in terms of ratios. It has the oldest population (so highest expected mortality) and lowest number of critical care beds per head of population. The modelling suggests it needs six times more than currently exists there (600 per cent).”

“Blackdown House – Old Owl makes an observation” Open office working …. well, no door handles but a long way for a sneeze to travel – and that narrow, tall, council chamber has people sitting cheek to cheek …..!

“Scientists have been sounding the alarm on coronavirus for months. Why did Britain fail to act? ” 

March 20 Mr Johnson orders pubs and restaurants to close.

Cinemas, nightclubs, theatres, gyms and leisure centres are also told to shut their doors. But the government declined to go further – for example, forcing non-essential businesses to close. Instead, the prime minister announces a new programme to “shield” the 1.5 million people at highest risk – who will be asked to stay at home for 12 weeks.

EDW same day

“When this coronavirus crisis is over, the people won’t forget who tried to destroy the NHS” 

“Unintended consequences of mixed messages” (Concerning the hospitality sector – stay open or shut). Our two MP’s (and County leaders) have been silent on this.

EDW March 21

“Cornwall tells tourists to ‘stay away’ during coronavirus outbreak” 

“Devon and Cornwall Police have just declared a ‘major incident’” 

“If coronavirus really is a war, shouldn’t opposition parties be invited to join the effort?”

EDW March 22

“The NHS is not being “overwhelmed”.  It is paying the price for 10 years of austerity” 

“Coronavirus update: cabinet squabble over who is to be Leader’s ‘designated survivor’” (The significance of this will become apparent before the end of the month)

“Devon Council asks Government to address concerns over holiday parks” (In this case the North Devon District Council Chief Executive takes the lead, not until 6 April can Owl report that Devon County and East Devon join in – “better late than never”)

March 23: First lockdown announced 

Mr Johnson tells the UK public that they will only be allowed to leave their homes for limited reasons, including food shopping, exercise once per day, medical need and travelling for work when absolutely necessary. All shops selling non-essential goods are told to close, gatherings of more than two people in public are banned.

EDW Same Day

“Food banks are under threat due to coronavirus stockpiling and government inaction” 

“No 10 denies claim Dominic Cummings argued to ‘let old people die’” 

“‘These are not normal times’: MPs across Devon and Cornwall back #ComeBackLater”

EDW March 24

“Britain had a head start on Covid-19, but our leaders squandered it ” 

“East Devon libraries shut after U-turn on keeping self-service facilities open” 

EDW March 25

“A Tory MP Makes £100,000 A Year From A Company That Is Selling Private Coronavirus Tests For £120 Each” (Just the start!)

“The middle class are about to discover the cruelty of Britain’s benefits system ”

“NHS now likely to cope with coronavirus, says key scientist – Neil Ferguson” 

“Closure of East Devon’s offices and amenities” 

“Not too soon to make a provisional verdict: too little, too late” 

EDW March 26

“Coronavirus: Tracking app aims for one million downloads” (Ah – the first of the high tech, and high risk, “panaceas” announced)

“Scientific modelling is valuable – but remember the limitations – only we didn’t.” 

“Mixed messages from EDDC – shopping encouraged but parks, toilets and play areas shut! ” 

“Is EDDC the most irresponsible council in the country?” (Winter car parking rates extended until May across East Devon “in order to better support town centre businesses”.Owl wonders whether LINO (Leader in name only) Ben Ingham and his “Independent” sidekick Geoff Pook have completely lost their marbles.)

EDW March 27

“Coronavirus: Prime Minister Boris Johnson tests positive (tested very quickly – unlike other self-isolaters)”(But there is no designated survivor. The country is in great peril as he becomes severely ill. )

“Pandemic psychologist explains lavatory roll panic” 

EDW March 28

“Motorhome owner sent home from Devon after driving from Birmingham” 

“Despite a national lockdown care home residents are being shuffled from one home to another.” 

As the most vulnerable  in society were sent a letter instructing them to stay at home and not to move outside for any reason, the Shandford closure accelerated..

This relates to the closure of the Shandford Care Home in Budleigh. Owl found following this story through February and March, with some deeply personal accounts, utterly unbearable. Closing the home in normal circumstances was bad enough but to persist as the pandemic accelerated verges on the irresponsible. None of those involved: at Abbeyfield or County Councillor Christine Channon and her handpicked adviser Chris Davies intervened. To give him credit Simon Jupp tried, but to use a phrase coined by Sasha Swire: “Jumping Jupp Flash” jumped but failed to flash. 

The closure results from Abbeyfield’s declared aim of “freeing up assets” as it changes its business model to concentrate on larger homes. County Councillor Christine Channon tried to intervene during the autumn 2019 but her handpicked adviser Chris Davis claimed that Shandford was no longer viable in a report never made public. Owl received plausible arguments that there are grounds to challenge the case for non-viability. This heart wrenching saga can easily be followed by using “Shandford” in the EDW search box.

“Advice on protective gear for NHS staff was rejected owing to cost” 

EDW March 29

“Guided by the science – interview with No 10’s Infection guru” 

Although Professor Neil Ferguson is the man we can credit for persuading the government to make the screeching U-turn a couple of weeks ago. This passage from this interview with him by the Science Editor of the Times, worries Owl:

“Yet for other scientists the big problem with Ferguson’s model is that they cannot tell how it works. It consists of several thousand lines of dense computer code, with no description of which bits of code do what. Ferguson agreed this is a problem.

“For me the code is not a mess, but it’s all in my head, completely undocumented. Nobody would be able to use it . . . and I don’t have the bandwidth to support individual users.”

“‘We lobbied to stem the flow’ – MP praises efforts to ward off holidaymakers” Some of our MP’s did and some of ours didn’t. Owl has heard nothing about Neil Parish ‘s  views on this issue. Certainly EDDC didn’t take the firm lead shown by North Devon and North Norfolk District Council. More interested in business than in people? 

“Care homes refusing to take in patients ready to leave NHS hospitals” 

“Mass testing is the fastest route back to normal life” Jeremy Hunt, previous Health Secretary starts to criticise the government – the irony seem lost on him!

EDW March 30

“Mixed messages again, coronavirus crisis: Parking enforcement relaxed in Devon to help residents” 

DCC says enforcement will be removed from many parking places including coastal and tourist destinations.

Police seem to have other ideas and have declared a major incident.

Police have also been discouraging people from travelling to just these places as being “not in the spirit” of government emergency legislation. Does Cllr Stuart Hughes know what is going on?

“Government in talks over state takeover of Flybe?” False hopes – Collapsed airline Flybe’s administrator EY has denied reports that it is in negotiations with the government to buy the regional carrier out of bankruptcy in order to protect the UK’s battered aviation sector.

EDW March 31

Our social distancing is working, says Sir Patrick Vallance” Early indications that infection rates may no longer be doubling every three to four days. The infection rate peaks two weeks later. But the real pressure on the NHS has yet to come. There is a delay between patients becoming infected with Covid-19 and becoming sick enough to need hospital treatment. Sadly, many of those sick enough to be admitted to hospital then need intensive treatment lasting many weeks. The crunch comes in April.

Post Script

It is now estimated that the dithering and delays during March 2020 cost 21,000 lives compared to acting just one week earlier.

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 15 March

Certificate of lawfulness for the construction of a single storey rear extension

5 Church Lane Payhembury Honiton EX14 3HS

Ref. No: 20/2007/CPL | Validated: Fri 19 Mar 2021 | Status: Awaiting decision

Grassroots campaign maps – stronger together. Very few in South West


Astonishingly, the grassroots map already has 275 campaigns! It has been viewed 12,000 times.

List of campaign headings

For those campaigning against unsustainable housing, the pie chart below shows the number of houses proposed. 67% of campaigners are fighting developments of more than 500 houses. (Some of these results may be the local plan housing target as a whole):

No alt text provided for this image

Revealed: Political Parties Used Loophole To Claim Covid Bailouts While Millions Got Nothing

A legal loophole in England has allowed branches of political parties to claim hundreds of thousands of pounds of public cash during the Covid crisis – even as millions of ordinary people were frozen out of help.

Rachel Wearmouth www.huffingtonpost.co.uk

A Freedom of Information investigation by HuffPost UK has revealed more than 22 local branches of political parties were handed £10,000 grants to pay their business rates for high street campaign offices. 

Branches of the ruling Tory Party claimed by far the most, a total of £150,000, with 15 Conservative Associations (CAs) applying to town halls for money. Seven Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) claimed £70,000 in total. One branch of each party subsequently repaid their share of the cash.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak set up a series of support schemes last year, giving councils the job of handing out money. 

No political party has been found yet to have successfully claimed in Scotland or Wales, where devolved governments issued stricter guidance to town halls. 

The Scottish government told councils: “No part of the grant shall be used to fund any activity or material which is party political in intention, use, or presentation, or appears to be designed to affect support for a political party.” 

In Wales, it was underlined to councils that grants were “targeted at supporting hospitality, leisure, retail, tourism and supply chain businesses”, adding: “Applicants have had to demonstrate a material impact on their business to be eligible for funding.” 

In England, however, the guidelines were more open, with organisations asked only to show they were forced to close during lockdown, and that their premises were subject to business rates.

The Conservative Party has said associations are “no different from other organisations in facing challenging times”. 

But it comes as small businesses complain of long delays to their grant applications to councils, and as millions of hard-pressed self-employed people remain cut off from government support altogether. 

Excluded UK, a campaign group set up to support those frozen out of state aid during Covid, said handing cash to political parties while businesses were folding was “very unjust”.

Rachel Flower, founder of the campaign, said there had been a “postcode lottery”, with different councils “applying the rules differently” for businesses, with a “large number” of Excluded members refused any grant. 

She said: “It seems very unfair that grants are being used in this way yet not for the small businesses for which we were all led to believe that they were intended.” 

The local parties who claimed include: 

  • Conservative Associations of serving ministers, attorney general Suella Braverman, foreign office minister Nigel Adams and solicitor general Michael Ellis;
  • The local Tory Party branch of Esther McVey, the former work and pensions secretary who has campaigned against supermarkets claiming rates relief;
  • The Tory Party branch of first secretary of state Damian Green and David Davis, though HuffPost understands the latter was returned;
  • Ten Conservative Associations who claimed from a Tory-led town hall, with five who claimed from Labour, Lib Dem or hung councils; 
  • Seven local Labour Party branches, including Stella Creasy’s Walthamstow, though HuffPost understands Walthamstow CLP subsequently returned the payment.

Our Freedom of Information requests also uncovered that grants and supports were handed to clubs that may raise cash for parties, including £162,000 that went to various Conservative clubs and £68,000 to Labour clubs. Parties do not run these organisations, however, and not all will be involved in raising political funds. 

Democracy campaigners have hit out at the trend of local party branches claiming public cash. 

Steve Goodrich, senior research manger with anti-corruption group Transparency International UK, said: “There are heightened sensitivities about the use of public funds during the current crisis, and especially so when they are received by political parties.

“Whilst it may be permissible for constituency parties to accept government support, doing so may risk appearing as self-serving, especially by those who have not been eligible for assistance.

“Given the current low levels of trust in politics, it would be prudent for them to think carefully about the broader impacts of them applying for this funding, especially when these organisations would be ineligible for similar relief in other parts of the UK.” 

Tom Brake, director of Unlock Democracy, a non-partisan pressure group campaigning for a written UK constitution, said: “People will be really unimpressed to learn that politicians, often already in receipt of taxpayers’ support, have seen their parties benefit from covid business grants too. 

“The UK government would have been well advised to look over the border to Scotland, where such payments were prohibited.”  

A Conservative Party spokeswoman said that councils decide whether a CA is eligible.  

They added: “Local political associations are no different from other organisations in facing challenging times. The purpose of the coronavirus support schemes is to protect small organisations and prevent local job losses.

“The funding from these schemes is in line with government guidance.”

The Labour Party declined to comment. 

Labour MP Stella Creasy said her CLP did not apply for the cash but was paid the grant automatically by the local authority. The money was repaid by the CLP last year, when this became apparent.  

Creasy said: ‘’Walthamstow CLP pays rates as a small business and so was automatically given this grant, without applying for it, by the local authority.

“When the officers of the CLP realised what had happened, they took steps to repay it.’

Covid grants handed out to Tory associations

Local associations select and campaign for parliamentary candidates.

Ashford Conservative Association (Tory MP Damien Green): £10,000

Bassetlaw Conservative Association (Tory MP Brendan Clarke-Smith): £10,000

Beverley and Holderness Conservative Association (Tory MP Graham Stewart): £10,000

Haltemprice Conservative Association (Tory MP David Davis): £10,000, later returned

Tatton Conservative Association (Tory MP Esther McVey): £10,000

Crewe and Nantwich Conservative Association (Tory MP Kieran Mullan): £10,000

Westmorland and Lonsdale Conservative Association (no local Tory MP): £10,000

Fareham Conservative Association (Tory MP Suella Braverman): £10,000 

Harrogate and Knaresborough Conservative Association (Tory MP Andrew Jones): £10,00

Hemel Hempstead Conservative Association (Tory MP Mike Penning): £10,000 

Romford Conservative Association (Tory MP Andrew Rosindell): £10,000 

Selby and Ainsty Constituency Conservative Association (Tory MP Nigel Adams): £10,000

Shipley Conservative Association (Tory MP Philip Davies): £10,000 

Northampton Central Conservative Association (Tory MPs Michael Ellis, Andrew Lewer and Andrea Leadsom), £10,000

South Suffolk Conservative Association (Tory MP James Cartlidge): £10,000 

Covid grants handed to Constituency Labour Parties 

Dartford Labour Party £10,000 (no Labour MP) 

Ipswich Labour Party £10,000  (no Labour MP) 

St Albans Labour Party £10,000 (no Labour MP) 

South Suffolk Labour Party £10,000 (no Labour MP) 

Suffolk County Labour Party £10,000 (no Labour MP

Walthamstow Labour Party £10,000 (Stella Creasy, payment returned)

Workington Labour Party £10,000 (no Labour MP) 

Retirement apartments scheme is rejected by planning inspector

Plans for a four-storey high development of retirement flats have been thrown out at appeal.

Kerry Ashdown www.stokesentinel.co.uk

Permission had previously been granted for 26 apartments in two blocks on the site at the corner of Stone Road and Cooperative Street in Stafford.

But Stafford Borough Council refused permission for a revised application that sought consent for 30 owner-occupied retired living flats. It followed concerns that the development would be overbearing to surrounding homes.

Now an appeal against the council’s decision has been dismissed by planning inspector Helen Hockenhull.

In her decision notice, she said: “The appeal proposal seeks to construct an additional four apartments by adding a third floor and roof garden to both blocks. The additional floor would be set back on the roof and feature railings would be provided around the roof gardens matching that of the balconies to the individual apartments below.

“The appellant has stated that the 26 approved apartments are not financially viable and the further four apartments proposed in the appeal scheme are required to assist overall scheme viability.

“No substantial evidence has been provided, however, such as a viability appraisal, to confirm and demonstrate this position. I am therefore unable to give this matter any weight in my decision.

“The appeal scheme, a four-storey development, would be out of character with the predominantly two-storey residential properties in the vicinity of the site. A development of this scale and height would form a visually dominant addition to the street scene, causing harm to the character and appearance of the area.

“The appellant has advised that the original property on the site was, in effect, four-storey, with three floors and a basement. However, the existing building had a smaller footprint and was centrally located within the site.

“The appeal proposal is not only higher by approximately 900 mm, but has a greater visual impact as it extends closer to the site frontages following the building line of properties on Cooperative Street.

“I acknowledge that there are four-storey buildings near to the appeal site. However, these are set back from Stone Road and form the backdrop to two-storey development fronting Stone Road and Cooperative Street. They do not therefore have the same visual impact and prominence in the locality.”

Stafford Borough Council’s planning committee considered the appeal decision at its meeting on Wednesday (March 17).

Councillor Bryan Cross said: “This was on the corner, just next to the railway bridge, where there was quite a substantial house which has been knocked down. They’ve flattened the house and there is just a pile of rubble there and the site is surrounded by a high wooden fence.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it progresses from there. Had it been built, it certainly would have overshadowed the houses opposite in Cooperative Street.”

Councillor Jack Kemp said: “There was some history attached to two of those villas. One of them was for a councillor Anderson and the other one was for Mr Hollins, who started from Railway Cottages and became a very important person in the town.

“They were really well-built, they had a lot of character. It was a shame it was knocked down, because I don’t think anybody thought that was going to happen.”

Robert Jenrick: We need to build on green fields

More homes will have to be built on greenfield land if the government is to hit its target of building one million homes before the next general election, the housing secretary has admitted.

Tim Shipman, Political Editor www.thetimes.co.uk

In a private call last week with MPs and donors, Robert Jenrick also suggested that there might need to be building on the protected green belt as well.

Jenrick made the comments in a video call with members of the Conservative Friends of India.

He stressed that the government wanted to “build on brownfield sites first”, but added: “We also know that we will have to build on some greenfield sites as well if we want to meet our overall housing targets, which are very significant.”

It was a “Conservative mission” to help “young people and those on low incomes back onto the housing ladder”, he said.

Where possible the government did not build on the green belt or protected places, Jenrick said.

But he added: “Where we do build on green fields, we are making sure that we are enhancing the natural environment with biodiversity net gain, which we are legislating for in the environment bill.”

Tom Fyans, the deputy chief executive of the CPRE, the countryside charity, seized on the comments and pointed out that the number of homes being built on the green belt was already rising.

The charity’s recent annual report, State of the Green Belt 2021, reveals that 257,944 homes are proposed for land removed from the green belt, nearly five times as many as in 2013.

Fyans said: “We support the brownfield-first approach. The huge increases in the pressure to release green-belt land for housing have been driven by the government forcing the hand of local authorities to meet unrealistic housing targets.”

In his talk Jenrick also said he wanted to “use the opportunity of Covid to convert more offices” in high streets “to bring more life into town and city centres”.

On Wednesday, Jenrick will unveil new planning rules that will make it easier to convert empty and derelict commercial properties into residential properties. The rules will also enable schools, colleges, universities and hospitals to add extensions without going through lengthy planning processes.

The housing department said: “We are prioritising building on brownfield land and revitalising town and city centres. Where there is home building in more rural areas, it needs to be sensitive and proportionate, and protect the local environment.”

UK government scraps green homes grant after six months

The government has scrapped its flagship green homes grant scheme, the centrepiece of Boris Johnson’s promise to “build back greener” from the Covid-19 pandemic, just over six months after its launch.

Fiona Harvey www.theguardian.com

The abandonment of the £1.5bn programme, which offered households grants of up to £5,000 or £10,000 to put in insulation or low-carbon heating, leaves the UK without a plan for tackling one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

People who have had their applications for vouchers under the scheme accepted will receive any money owed, but no new applications will be accepted after the end of this month.

Green campaigners said the scrapping of the programme – the only major green stimulus policy yet announced by the government and originally expected to create tens of thousands of green jobs – came as a serious blow as the government prepares to host vital UN climate talks, called Cop26, this November.

Ed Matthew, campaigns director at the E3G thinktank, told the Observer: “The demise of the green homes grant is an embarrassment [before Cop26], and a disaster in terms of the UK getting on track to net zero [carbon emissions]. Emissions from buildings and transport have flatlined over the last 10 years. If we don’t have programmes to tackle this, we have no hope of meeting the net zero target.”

The green homes grant has been troubled since its launch last September, after it was announced in July as the central plank of the government’s bid to “build back better” and create new green jobs to help the economy recover from the pandemic. There were more than 123,000 applications for the grant by the end of February, but only 28,000 vouchers had been issued and only 5,800 energy efficiency measures had been installed.

Builders complained of excessive red tape in registering for the scheme, while households found it difficult to access. A US company was awarded the contract to administer the grants, but a Guardian investigation found numerous people unable to get a response. Many people were given conflicting advice, while builders have complained that heat pump installations in particular have been stymied by the rules.

Last week, a select committee of MPs delivered a damning assessment that found the scheme “botched [in] implementation … the administration seems nothing short of disastrous”. Far from creating new green jobs as had been promised, the environmental audit committee found some builders had laid off staff owing to problems with the scheme. The MPs recommended an urgent overhaul.

The government said on Saturday that an extra £300m would be directed towards helping people on low-incomes gain access to energy efficiency improvements, through local authorities.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the secretary of state for business and energy, said: “Upgrading the country’s homes with energy efficiency measures means we can cut emissions and save people money on their energy bills. Today’s funding boost will mean even more households across England are able to access these vital grants through their local authority. This latest announcement takes our total energy efficiency spending to over £1.3bn in the next financial year, giving installers the certainty they need to plan ahead, create new jobs and train the next generation of builders, plumbers and tradespeople.”

However, overall the amount of money earmarked for greening homes is being reduced from the £2.5bn announced with fanfare last summer. Of that, £1bn was earmarked last year for local authorities to improve homes for people on low incomes, now raised to £1.3bn. But the green homes grant was meant to disburse an additional £1.5bn, most of which remains unspent.

Scrapping the green homes grants leaves the 20m households on moderate incomes without any government help to undertake the improvements necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Heating the UK’s draughty homes makes up about 14% of the country’s carbon emissions, according to the Committee on Climate Change, and successive efforts to tackle the problem have run into problems. The failure of the green homes grant follows the abandonment in 2015 of the previous scheme, the green deal loan scheme.

Kate Blagojevic, head of climate at Greenpeace UK, said: “We’re just seven months away from hosting a global climate conference at which we’re supposed to be leading the world on climate action. But we cannot expect anyone to think we’re a credible leader when our own policies on climate action are going in the wrong direction.”

The government on Saturday said the scheme was only ever intended to be a short-term stimulus. However, Matthew said that was part of the problem. “There has been a stop-start approach [to home energy efficiency] which has stopped businesses investing in skills, and has failed to give households confidence,” he said.

“They [the government] must pick themselves up and create a new green programme that works, and has long-term funding in place from the beginning. It is surely not beyond the capability of this government to give money away at a time of economic crisis.”

‘You did what you were told’ – the inside story of Liverpool City Council’s collapse into scandal

Despite suspicions, these things seldom see the light of day. Compulsive reading – Owl

(All this in a week when a General has been jailed for falsely claiming almost £50,000 in allowances; and two members of staff at a Sidmouth care home have been arrested on suspicion of wilful neglect in connection with a Covid-19 outbreak after a multi-agency investigation.)


In an interview given in 2020, Joe Anderson, the then mayor of Liverpool, was asked what the biggest misconception about him was.

“Things like the brown envelope comments,” he told the Trailblazer website. “I live in a terrace house in Old Swan… I’m a scouser that wants the best for his people.”

This week, the city council which he led for a decade until December was found to be mired in scandal so rotten it will now be partially taken over by government commissioners.

In an eviscerating report following a three-month investigation, inspectors described an authority where “dubious” contracts were regularly handed out, key records were routinely destroyed and staff who dared voice concerns – or even ask questions – were intimidated. “Those who did not comply,” the report states, “did not last”.

Among major issues highlighted were senior councillors benefiting financially from funding decisions, a scrutiny process described as “sketchy”, and the handing of at least one major contract to a direct family member in breach of all regulations. Insiders suggest as much as £100m of public money may have been squandered.

“It could hardly be more damning,” says Jonathan Tonge, professor of politics at Liverpool University. “You could hardly get a more excoriating report. It is page after page of the most shameful stuff.”

Now, with Anderson himself under police investigation following his arrest on suspicion of bribery in December, the civic soul-searching is beginning: how could England’s 10th biggest authority – one that serves a metropolis of half a million people – fail so badly?

Part of the answer to that, it now seems, may lie in nothing more obscure than a couple of city centre flyovers.

The Churchill Way – a pair of brutalist 240-metre long road bridges – carried four lanes of traffic up and above Liverpool for almost 50 years until their much-welcomed demolition in 2019.

Now, two years on, they are at the centre of one of the most eyebrow-raising sections of the new report.

Specifically, it is said that, during their demolition, Amey – the company charged with the £6.75m job – was given a “direct instruction” by council officials to contract out part of the work to a small Liverpool venture called Safety Support Consultants.

While bosses at the infrastructure giant questioned this – SCC had “no published highways experience” – it ultimately did as it was told. Over a four month period, some £250,000 was paid out to the smaller firm for safety work.

Why is this significant? Because the director of SSC, it turned out, was none other than David Anderson, the 33-year-old son of the mayor.

“This action exposed the site teams to considerable health and safety risk,” says the report, which was written by government inspector Max Caller. “It also increased the commercial risk to the council of budget overrun.”

Any allegations of wrong doing have quickly been denied by both Anderson senior and junior.

In a statement released on Thursday, the latter described the 69-page report as “slanderous, unfounded, biased, tactical and politically motivated” as well as “factually incorrect”.

Yet it was his company’s involvement with the Churchill Way that perhaps first truly set alarm bells ringing about wider issues at the authority, insiders tell The Independent today.

By 2019, backbench councillors and officials were already becoming concerned about the way the regeneration, planning and highways departments were being run. Deputy mayor, Ann O’Byrne, had quit her role in May 2018 with a blistering attack: “The mayor isn’t listening to the Labour group, wider party and, most importantly, to the people of Liverpool”. Six months after Anderson himself was questioned by Lancashire Police in connection with a fraud inquiry.

Yet, up until the flyover demolition, there remained a widespread belief that, if the methods being deployed were unorthodox, they were not without their benefits. What the new report has judged to be “intimidation”, many saw as the forthrightness required to get Liverpool moving. What it has called “dubious” contracts were widely considered a way of ensuring local companies got local jobs; that money came into the city and stayed here.

The old government maxim was regularly thrown about: what’s right is what works. And on some level, it did work. According to Anderson himself, some £10bn was pumped into Liverpool during his tenure and 31,000 jobs were created.

“You have to remember Joe got things done,” says one Labour backbench councillor today. “He promised to bring development and jobs and he did that, so when people heard about corners being cut, there was a willingness to give the benefit of the doubt and accept it was being done for the right reasons. Which I think, to some extent, it probably was.”


“But then SSC happened, and it was just one contract too many that was difficult to justify,” comes the reply. “People looked at that and it didn’t pass any kind of smell test.”

Indeed, it was by no means the only dealing that failed to meet such standards, according to the Caller report.

In total, inspectors analysed 65 sample property transactions entered into by the council between 2015 and 2020. Not a single one was found to be entirely satisfactory. “When selling land,” communities secretary Robert Jenrick told parliament after assessing the findings, “Liverpool City Council’s best interests were not on the agenda.”

The report itself goes back no further than 2015 but arguably a more key date in all this was 2010 and what some have called Liverpool’s Night of the Long Knives.

Within six months of Anderson sweeping to victory in that year’s local elections, the council’s chief executive Colin Hilton along with six or seven of its most senior directors and officers had either retired, moved on to other authorities or been asked to step down.

“It was a major clear out of the stables and, in effect, what ought to have been a neutral civil service was replaced by senior figures that were far closer to the politicians leading the authority than perhaps they should have been,” says Tonge today.

Key among the replacements was new interim CEO David McElhinney, a man with a reputation as an enforcer so ruthless he had the nickname Mack The Knife. His appointment, the Liverpool Echo reported at the time, would “send shivers down the spines of staff”.

A message, one insider says, soon started coming down the food: “You did what you were told or you started looking for a new job.”

The problem was – and still is – that there was no real opposition to scrutinise such manoeuvres. Liverpool is all but a one-party state. Of 90 councillors here, some 72 are Labour. Every single one of the city’s MPs is red.

“The Liberal Democrats are energetic, but they don’t have the volume or resources to engage in full scrutiny,” says Tonge. “There were a lot of Labour backbenchers who were brassed off with what was happening, but they have no mechanism to change things. Those that did speak out were marginalised. They were sent to political Siberia.”

None of this was in anyway illegal, or even necessarily improper, it should be said. It is the same political power plays that go on everywhere.

But it does offer context as to how, from then on in, certain council departments were able to operate, as Caller’s report notes, with minimal transparency.

Indeed, that opaqueness was only compounded in 2012 when the council shifted to a directly elected mayor system – a post which Anderson himself duly won in a city-wide election.

“It was a new system so there was confusion about who had what authority,” says one backbench councillor. “The consequence was that there was significant overreach that went effectively unchecked.”

Thereafter, power became increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few. In one of the bombshell lines from his report, Caller acknowledged this. He suggested the council’s leadership became not altogether different from a “secret cabal”.

Where exactly Liverpool goes now from here is not immediately clear. No other city of this size had ever had government officials move in like this. It is unprecedented territory.

What is already clear is that – excluding some on the hard left who talk of a Tory takeover – there appears some political agreement that communities secretary Robert Jenrick had little choice but to appoint commissioners to oversee change.

“We’ve got to be big enough to own [what has happened],” said Paula Barker, MP for Liverpool Wavertree. “If we expect any moral authority to call out alleged government corruption and cronyism, we’ve got to have the bravery and integrity to investigate it out in our own ranks.”

Sir Kier Starmer, too, supported the move.

The commissioners, it is understood, will now work alongside the council’s chief executive, Tony Reeves –acknowledged in the report for beginning to turn things round – to implement a plan for action in the authority’s planning, highways, regeneration and property management departments. They will likely stay in position for three years.

The police investigation into Anderson and at least four other men remains ongoing, meanwhile. All strenuously deny any wrongdoing. Anderson released a statement this week saying of the Caller report that “success brings jealousy”.

And, then, just to throw an extra ingredient into the pot, there’s the upcoming mayoral election in May.

Labour are still to pick a candidate – a process which has already been the subject of infighting – yet, whoever they do choose, their ultimate victory retains an air of inevitability.

“Will it all have an impact politically?” ponders Tonge. “The report is so damning, it could hardly fail to have some impact but I can’t see this staying anything other than a Labour city. The movement away would need to be too big. What it might mean is that we now have a contest rather than a coronation.”

Plea for tourists to not visit Devon too soon and ruin summer

Would-be holiday makers are being warned ‘not to put the summer at risk’ by travelling down to Devon this Easter before lockdown restrictions ease.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

Under the government’s roadmap, Monday, April 12, is the earliest date outdoor attractions and self-contained accommodation such as campsites and holiday lets, where indoor facilities are not shared with other households, are allowed to open.

Until then, many facilities, shops and hospitality venues will not be fully open with food and drink only available from essential shops or takeaways.

Visitors are being warned it is illegal and could be dangerous to travel before Government restrictions are lifted.

With Easter approaching, there are fears a minority of tourists might be tempted to travel early and before facilities are ready or attractions are open, Thursday’s Devon County Council corporate infrastructure and regulatory services scrutiny committee meeting heard, with the potential that the ‘false start’ to the tourist season would risk spreading Covid-19 and put unnecessary extra strain on the emergency services.

Keri Denton, Devon County Council’s head of economy, skills and enterprise said: “We will give people a warm welcome when the guidelines allow but not before.

“We are not ready for visitors yet and we do not want to put the summer at risk for the sake of a few more weeks.

“After all our hard work to keep Covid-19 cases in Devon so low we do not want to risk things now.

“We ask everyone thinking of coming to Devon after April 12, to behave responsibly and make sure you book the sort of accommodation and experiences you can enjoy safely in advance.

“We also ask potential visitors, as well as our own residents thinking of travelling within Devon, to take extra care and to show our local communities respect and courtesy. This includes the simple things like parking responsibly, respecting the countryside and taking litter away.”

But Dr Phil Norrey, Devon County Council’s chief executive, added: “Last year we saw little evidence of transmission of the disease in outdoor settings so even if there is the usual or enhanced number of visitors, it won’t pose an increased risk based on what happened last year.”

The council is also urging Devon residents and potential visitors after Monday, April 12, to take extra care, to act responsibly and to show local communities courtesy and respect at all times, and with them being urged to ‘find a bin or take it home’ in a new county-wide anti-littering campaign.

As lockdown eases and the warmer months beckon, the multi-agency partnership Clean Devon wants to encourage everyone to take more responsibility for their rubbish whilst enjoying the beautiful moors, beaches, wildlife, countryside, towns and villages.

Littering is an increasing burden on society, both financially and environmentally and the partnership aims to improve the issue through preventing, detecting and deterring this type of behaviour in Devon.

Principal waste manager from Devon County Council and Clean Devon co-ordinator, Annette Dentith, says: “One of our key priorities is to protect and enhance Devon’s wonderful environment. Local authorities do their best to keep bins emptied however with increased visitors over the warmer months we must take responsibility for our own rubbish.

“If bins are full, bring your own bag and dispose of it when you return home. Please don’t leave it next to an already full bin as this contributes to littering and is considered fly-tipping for which you could be fined. It’s really important we protect our beautiful county, not only for ourselves but for future generations.”

Infection rates in the county are down to 15.3/100,000 – the lowest on the mainland of England with only the Isle of Wight lower – with North Devon, the South Hams, Teignbridge, Torridge and West Devon is the bottom ten for lower tier authorities.

Dr Norrey told councillors on Thursday that cases were still declining – and have dropped by 25 per cent in the last week – but that at the lower levels they are currently seeing, further declines will be slower and bumpier.

Steve Brown, director of Public Health Devon, added that we are all going to have to learn to live safely with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, and that a key part of that is for us to keep the infection rates as low as possible.

Mr Brown said: “Please continue to maintain your social distance, wear your face coverings when you’re indoors in a public place, and remember to wash your hands frequently and properly.

“If you are somebody who has to leave home to work or volunteer, or you’re a carer for somebody, or you happen to be in a family, household or maybe a bubble with somebody who attends a nursery or education, please access regular testing twice a week.”