Party politics cast aside as East Devon tackles poverty problem

Every now and then in the pushing-boulder-uphill world of local government, the stars align and a really good thing is enabled which creates a brilliant outcome.

Paul Arnott

At this week’s Poverty Working Group at East Devon District Council, I listened in as our officers set out the wonderful new beginning for a new project addressing both our climate action and poverty relief agendas.

Just last August, our officers put in a bid for £500,000 from the government’s “Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery Scheme”.

This scheme is one of the early manifestations of the universally desired idea that as we recover from the pandemic a large part of that fresh start should be to deliver on the green agenda.

There is agreement on this across the political spectrum

Our East Devon officers’ bid to the scheme was successful, one of 55 such local authorities in the country, and as a result they will have been able between January this year and the end of March to have installed no fewer than 100 council-owned homes with air-source heat pumps, an amazing effort.

These are, in essence, retro-fitted units mounted on outside walls which take atmospheric warmth and, through a process akin to reverse refrigeration, create heating warmth and hot water for homes.

This has two permanent positive effects. Firstly, it will drive down the fuel bills for council tenants hugely.

They won’t go to zero, of course, as you still need some electricity to drive the pumps. But, heating and hot water bills will hugely decrease.

That is why this was reported at the Poverty Working Group meeting, chaired excellently by Cllr Megan Armstrong, because of the most pernicious forms of real poverty, that around fuel has been on the increase for many years.

We will all know someone who has to choose between turning a radiator on and affording the ingredients for a meal. It’s grinding, Dickensian, and there should be no place for this in the twenty-first century.

Alongside the implications for lowering costs to tenants, this also fits into our council’s climate change agenda. Only ten months ago,

I was able as new Leader to create a specific Cabinet role for a Portfolio Holder for Climate Action, Cllr Marianne Rixson. We are committed as a council to carbon neutrality by 2040, and the time for action is now. This is a great start.

However, there is a long way to go. We also need to do a lot of work to seal homes against heat loss, easier said than done in some of our older housing stock, and begin to look at what we can do with photo-voltaic panels.

The reality is, it may be even more productive to strive for net zero by making sure that new housing stock being built – whether for the public or private sector – is as compliant with the aims of carbon neutrality as possible, that it exceeds current standards where at all possible.

For example, there is an increasing argument for timber framed new builds, allowing for different types of wall construction more ambitious than just rendered breeze block.

There is a desire to source materials as locally as possible, reducing the air/lorry/sea miles incurred in transporting them to site. With new builds, it is possible to look at ground source heat pumps too, perhaps serving multiple units of accommodation, and larger solar/pv schemes.

Happily, all of this is right at the centre of the government’s agenda. Signals are being sent that very serious money will be made available for councils and companies who are seeking to join forces in this. It’s no cakewalk – councils may have to find matched funding for huge grants, as may companies, but it’s a start.

And the political weather for all of this seems to have changed permanently. At the Poverty Working Group meeting, there was accord across councillors of all parties and none. Long may this last.

Parts of Cornwall to get fastest broadband on Earth (and Dorset but not Devon)

Government launches new £5bn ‘Project Gigabit’

More than one million hard to reach homes and businesses will have next generation gigabit broadband built to them in the first phase of a £5 billion government infrastructure project.

Up to 510,000 homes and businesses in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley will be the first to benefit as part of ‘Project Gigabit’.

Chloe Parkman

Up to 110,000 homes in Cornwall are set to be connected to the fastest broadband in the world.

Cornwall – along with the Isles of Scilly – will be among the first areas to benefit from Project Gigabit, the Government’s new £5 billion scheme to bring the fastest broadband on Earth to hard-to-reach areas.

The government-funded projects will prioritise buildings that currently have the slowest connections and which would otherwise have been left behind in broadband companies’ rollout plans.

The areas include Launceston, Callington, Looe, Camborne-Pool-Redruth and Penzance.

Their available speeds will rocket to more than 1,000 megabits – or one gigabit – per second, meaning families will no longer have to ‘battle’ over bandwidth and will give people in rural areas the freedom to live and work more flexibly.

Gigabit-capable broadband connections offer the fastest and most reliable speeds available.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: ”Our £5 billion Project Gigabit will dismantle the digital divide and level up rural communities in every corner of the nation, and I’m thrilled that Cornwall will be one of the first areas to benefit.

“As we build back better from coronavirus these lightning-fast internet speeds will level up Cornish communities making them more attractive places to live, raise families and start businesses.”

Up to 510,000 homes and businesses are set to benefit across the UK, with Cornwall down as one of eight areas announced as the first in line for procurement alongside Cambridgeshire, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley.

This will rise to a million in June.

Project Gigabit will invest a record £5 billion to incentivise network providers to build to areas deemed “commercially unviable”.

Areas with the largest proportion of premises identified as hard-to-reach or connected to slow speeds will be first in line for support.

The successful Gigabit Broadband Voucher scheme is also being extended with a £210 million cash injection to give people in rural areas immediate financial help to get gigabit speeds.

Additionally, the government is making £110 million available to connect public sector buildings in the countryside – such as GP surgeries, libraries and schools – with this revolutionary infrastructure.

Tim Dwelly, Cornwall Council Cabinet member for culture, economy and planning, said: ”As we have seen during the coronavirus emergency, the importance of good, reliable and fast broadband connections has never been more vital.

“Cornwall being earmarked as one of the first places to benefit from Project Gigabit will have a positive impact for local businesses and enable thousands more to reach out to new customers and revolutionise the way they operate.

“But it’s also the connections between families and communities, as well as enabling many to work efficiently from home in these difficult times, that is welcomed.

”Our great connectivity is one of the reasons global leaders will be coming to Cornwall for the G7 and this will further our reputation as a great place to do business and connect with the world.”

The first areas will see spades in the ground in the first half of 2022.

Council urges G7 Cornwall hotel to stop ‘unauthorised’ works

Cornwall Council has called on the hotel which is set to host the G7 summit to halt “unauthorised” works.

[What chance for what Whitehall probably regards as a ” National Strategic Infrastructure”, and how are they going to get President Biden’s “The Beast” around those winding lanes? – Owl]

Richard Whitehouse

The Carbis Bay Hotel has started work on building three pods which will provide nine meeting rooms.

However it started work before submitting a planning application to Cornwall Council, which led to a number of protests from people unhappy about the works which have seen some trees removed.

Cornwall Council said that its enforcement officers were investigating the works and has now called on the hotel to stop the works.

The council said in a statement: “Cornwall Council have investigated these works and determined that planning permission is needed.

“We can confirm that a planning application has been registered and publicised on our web site. Members of the public are invited to make comments in respect of the proposed development which comprises ground works and the stationing of three single storey buildings to be used as meeting rooms.

“When buildings works are being carried out that need planning permission, we advise owners that they may have to remove the buildings if they do not gain permission.

“Planning legislation does not give us powers to stop works whilst we determine the application, but we urge owners to do so.”

It added: “The council is seeking urgent discussions with the owners of the hotel and continues to investigate tree loss. The council will be discussing with the owner mitigation for the impact that the works have already had upon the environment.”

Concerns have been raised by local residents over ongoing development at the Carbis Bay Hotel complex, after a number of trees were felled.

Tim Dwelly, Cabinet member for economy and planning, said: “As a council, we say to any landowner that they should cease unauthorised works and only go ahead if/when the works have planning permission.

“We always urge landowners to respect this request. I had expected Carbis Bay Hotel to do exactly this, in response to the enforcement case triggered by complaints about tree felling and laying of concrete foundations without planning permission.”

Pictured on Saturday, March 13, the controversial ongoing development work at the Carbis Bay Hote ahead of the G7 Summit in June,l which has seen an area of trees cleared.

He added: ““I hope the hotel now takes note. Local people should have their comments considered through the transparent planning process, one which weighs up the pros and cons of development at this site in an objective, considered manner.

“This will be much harder should any further unauthorised and permanent works continue.”

Supreme court to hear challenge to UK’s voter ID trial in 2019 election

The supreme court is to hear a challenge to the government’s decision to hold voter ID trials in 2019 in a case that could have implications for the wider rollout of the scheme.

Haroon Siddique 

The government is expected to introduce a bill in the spring to make photo ID mandatory from 2023 for all UK-wide and English elections despite warnings it would disenfranchise working class and minority ethnic communities.

Neil Coughlan was unsuccessful in a legal challenge to prevent pilots at 10 local authorities at the May 2019 elections but has now been granted permission to take his claim to the UK’s highest court.

The LGBT Foundation and Stonewall, representing the interests of individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or trans, and the Runnymede Trust, Operation Black Vote and Voice4Change, representing the interests of black, Asian and minority ethnic voters, have also been allowed to take part in the supreme court case.

Coughlan, 68, a retired voluntary worker who lives in Witham, Essex, one of the areas where the 2019 pilots took place, said: “I am hopeful that the supreme court judges will agree that when hundreds of individuals were denied their vote in the 2019 local elections because of voter ID pilots, that should have been only as a result of an act of parliament following proper scrutiny.

Neil Coughlan: ‘Requiring individuals to produce identity documents is going to deprive legitimate members of the electorate of the vote.’

“Requiring individuals to produce identity documents is going to deprive legitimate members of the electorate of the vote and I believe it will disproportionately affect the poor and marginalised members of our society.”

Coughlan, who is raising his legal fees through CrowdJustice, lost his case at the court of appeal last year, although one judge said the arguments were “finely balanced”.

Among the arguments Coughlan’s lawyers, from Leigh Day, will make, is that the court was wrong to say measures to combat electoral fraud were consistent with what parliament intended because they would encourage and facilitate voting in the longer term. He says a demand for ID such as a passport, driving licence or utility bill at the polling station “frustrates the facilitation and encouragement to vote”.

Cat Smith, shadow minister for democracy, said: “Voting is a fundamental democratic right, not a privilege for those with the right form of photo ID.

“The range of different civil rights and charity groups supporting this case is testament to the widespread impact this policy will have of suppressing voters across all sections of society.”

The trials at English council elections in 2018 and 2019 permitted voters in different areas to show a variety of documents, but the proposed law is expected to mandate photo ID such as a passport or driving licence. Approximately 11 million electors (24% of the electorate) hold neither of these items.

Tessa Gregory, a solicitor with Leigh Day, said Coughlan hoped that the appeal would show how mandating voter ID “will exclude those at the margins of society whom our democratic institutions need to work the hardest to engage”.

A date has yet to be fixed for the supreme court hearing.

Chloe Smith, minister of state for the constitution and devolution, said: “A local electoral card will be available free of charge from their local council for anyone who wants it.”

UK’s first electric commuter flight will depart from Exeter Airport

The UK’s first electric commuter flight is to depart from Exeter Airport and land at Newquay Airport.

[But don’t book your tickets just yet – this is early stage research/development – Owl]

Anita Merritt

If the test flights are successful it could lead to hybrid-electric aircraft zipping about the region.

It follows a successful bid to UK Research and Innovation’s £30 [M?] Future Flight Challenge from a consortium led by electric aviation firm Ampaire.

The consortium – which also includes Rolls-Royce Electrical, University of Nottingham, Loganair Ltd, Exeter and Devon Airport Ltd, Cornwall Airport Ltd, Heart of the South West LEP, and UK Power Network Services – has received £2.4m from the Future Flight Challenge for its £5m 2ZERO (Towards Zero Emissions in Regional Aircraft Operations) programme.

It involves putting in place and testing the infrastructure needed to enable electric planes to operate within existing airport and airline operations.

The 2ZERO project is running from December 2020 to May 2022. It will see electric aircraft test flights taking off at Exeter Airport and flying to Newquay Airport.

The demonstration flights will be carried out using Ampaire’s six-seat Electric EEL aircraft and, in a later phase, with a 19-seat Eco Otter, hybrid-electric retrofit of the workhorse Twin Otter commuter aircraft. These test aircraft will be used to develop and evaluate requirements for a fully integrated electric aviation infrastructure.

The 2ZERO team believes an effective demonstration of hybrid-electric aircraft in an integrated system, including the necessary charging and battery storage infrastructure, could lead to a fundamental shift in regional airline operations.

Emissions would be reduced by up to 70% with hybrid-electric aircraft and entirely with a subsequent generation of all-electric aircraft.

Successful demonstration up to 19 seats and 1 MW of power will help to shape regulations and standards which currently have gaps for these new classes of aircraft and airport operations.

2ZERO is seen as an important step towards being part of an exciting new market, forecast by UBS to be worth US$178billion to US$192billion globally between 2028 and 2040.

Andrew Bell, chief executive of Regional and City Airports, the owner of Exeter Airport, said: “Our 2ZERO programme is incredibly exciting for us and the South West region.

“Exeter is an important regional airport and this project really puts us on the map as a forward-looking airport and demonstrates our commitment, along with our partners, to making the future of aviation a sustainable one.”

Karl Tucker, chair of HotSW LEP, said: “We’re delighted to be part of this successful consortium bid to UKRI. The South West has so much to offer, including boasting the most highly skilled workforce in the aerospace sector and our smart aviation cluster.

“This programme is a huge step forwards in transforming the future of air travel and helping the UK to achieve its target of net carbon flights by 2050.”

Susan Ying, Ampaire senior vice president for Global Partnerships, said: “For electric aviation to become commonplace, and play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gases, we need to look at not only electric aircraft but the entire ecosystem to support electric aviation. That will be a key aim of the 2ZERO programme.”