Covid: Plan unveiled to ‘spruce up’ coastal areas and high streets

All coastal towns in England will be eligible for government funding to help them reopen as restrictions are eased, under new plans set out by ministers.

BBC News

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the £56m fund would also “spruce up” high streets and help councils welcome visitors back safely.

Closed shop on Blackpool promenade

Pubs can erect marquees in their gardens for longer and there will be a crackdown on “cowboy parking firms”.

Labour said it was a “drop in the ocean” in terms of what areas needed.

England’s current “stay at home” regulations are expected to be lifted on 29 March, with most restrictions eased in various steps by the 21 June, based on certain conditions being met at each stage.

Announcing the latest tranche of funding, Mr Jenrick acknowledged it had been “an incredibly difficult period for retail and hospitality”.

He said the government would do everything it could to help businesses reopen safely.

There has been concern about how coastal areas in particular will cope with an expected influx of visitors.

When the first lockdown was eased last June, seaside resorts were gridlocked, with Bournemouth declaring a “major incident” as people flocked to the beach.

Mr Jenrick said that this time, £6m of the £56m Welcome Back fund would be specifically allocated to support coastal areas.

The remaining £50m will be distributed by central government to councils for things such as improving green spaces and providing more outdoor seating areas, markets and food pop-ups.

He also announced the government would be “cutting red tape” to allow pubs to erect marquees in their gardens for “the whole of the spring and summer”, rather than the 28 days currently permitted, so people can meet up with their family and friends “whatever the weather”.

And in a bid to attract more shoppers to the high street, ministers have announced a crackdown on cowboy parking firms.

There will be a new appeals process to try to curb unfair tickets and caps will be introduced on private parking fines.

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Analysis box by Katy Austin, Business correspondent

The struggles of the hospitality sector amid multiple lockdowns have been well documented. And the independent retailers’ trade body Bira says the past 12 months have been the worst of its members’ lives – with crucial in-person Easter and pre-Christmas trade lost.

Once non-essential shops can open again, from 12 April in England, and any help to attract people back will no doubt be welcome. Businesses will want to make the most of pent-up demand in a safe way.

The same goes for hospitality. Assuming social distancing will still be in place at least to start with, maximising outdoor space will be crucial for venues which have it – especially during the first phase of their reopening when only outdoor service will be permitted.

Packages like these for high streets and towns won’t fix the long-term challenges facing town centres: shoppers going online, leaving big high street stores increasingly empty. Some customers have grown so used to internet shopping during a year of lockdowns that the habit will stick.

The hope will be, however, to make this a summer to remember after a winter to forget.

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Government officials say this will “give drivers more confidence in heading into town knowing they won’t be unfairly penalised by rogue operators”.

Mr Jenrick said: “As we move to the next stage on the road map out of lockdown, we are all looking forward to being reunited with friends and family outdoors and making a safe and happy return to our favourite shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants.

“Our Welcome Back Fund gives every city, town and high street support to prepare for a great summer. This funding will help councils and businesses to welcome shoppers, diners and tourists back safely.

“As soon as the road map allows, we need to get behind our local businesses and enjoy all that this country has to offer and that we’ve been missing so much.”

But Labour has accused the Conservatives of presiding over “decades of decline”.

The shadow communities secretary, Steve Reed, said: “This is just a drop in the ocean compared to how much the Conservatives took away over a decade when they pushed our high streets and seaside towns into deep decline – and it’s not clear which areas will benefit.

“The Conservatives have done nothing to level the playing field between high street shops and online retailers. Now they want to hollow high streets out by selling off temporarily closed shops to wealthy developers so they can never reopen as shops again. “

Police investigate Teignbridge Tory son’s alleged threats

“Last year I wrote about chocolate cake at a planning meeting on Facebook. Someone commented ‘I hope they choke on their cake’ and I ‘liked’ that comment. That was enough for the executive and officers to pursue me for six months, subjecting me to a standards hearing and splashing my name in all the papers saying that I had ‘incited violence’.

“They pretended to feel threatened by my cake story they spent £5,000 of public money and concluded that I’d brought the office of councillor into disrepute. So it’s hilarious that now the leader of Teignbridge Conservatives is standing squarely behind the comment ‘I know where you live… we are going to literally f*** you lot up you bull****ing thieving b****rds’.”

Cllr Liam Mullone who leads the Newton Says No party

A recommended read, draw your own conclusions – Owl

Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter

Teignbridge District Council’s HQ [Compare Blackdown House – Owl]

Conservative leader asked to denounce “intimidation”

Police are investigating reports that the son of a prominent Teignbridge politician sent threatening messages to a councillor.

Cllr Liam Mullone (Newton Says No party) has reported comments allegedly left on Cllr Mullone’s Facebook page by Andrew Bullivant, the son of Conservative leader on Teignbridge District Council, Phil Bullivant.

The comments are understood to have involved allegations of unfounded criminal behaviour by the ‘Newton Says No Group’ that Cllr Mullone leads, as well as threats towards him. One comment is believed to have said: ‘I know where you live… we are going to literally f*** you lot up you bull****ing thieving b****rds.’

Cllr Mullone has said that he takes the threats seriously and has called for Cllr Bullivant to step down from his role because he hasn’t condemned the action and harassment allegedly made against him.

He said: “Cllr Bullivant, when asked to simply disavow his son’s lies and threats, merely said that I was ‘reaping the whirlwind’. By which he seems to mean that you should expect threats and intimidation if you question his tactics.

“We raised a legitimate concern: that his son was friends with the lead developer and the lawyer advocating for NA3 – people the council had to fight, at massive public expense, in judicial review – and asked whether this was healthy. We did it through the proper channels. And the price for asking questions, apparently, is sanctioned intimidation.

“My problem, and that of my group, was entirely with Cllr Bullivant and the fact that you advocated for, and voted on, a development that would directly benefit your son and his friends. We had the right to raise this conflict of interest and we did it via the proper channels. We reluctantly accepted that you are allowed to do that. We left it there.”

He added: “It was your son who decided to spring to your defence and take this into all-out war, and to continue with it, and you seem to think that this is all right and proper, because we dared to question you in the chamber?

“I have to take threats seriously because I have a family, but I’m not bothered about the insults. I showed them to the whole council mostly because I find the hypocrisy sort of funny.

“Last year I wrote about chocolate cake at a planning meeting on Facebook. Someone commented ‘I hope they choke on their cake’ and I ‘liked’ that comment. That was enough for the executive and officers to pursue me for six months, subjecting me to a standards hearing and splashing my name in all the papers saying that I had ‘incited violence’.

“They pretended to feel threatened by my cake story they spent £5,000 of public money and concluded that I’d brought the office of councillor into disrepute. So it’s hilarious that now the leader of Teignbridge Conservatives is standing squarely behind the comment ‘I know where you live… we are going to literally f*** you lot up you bull****ing thieving b****rds’.”

But Cllr Bullivant said that he had no plans to step down from his role, the allegations of impropriety by him have not been proven, and that Cllr Mullone and his colleagues have previously resorted to attacks on those in favour of the NA3 development, including the ‘Rogues Gallery’ set up on their website before their election to the council.

Cllr Liam Mullone leads the Newton Says No party

He said: “In his attempt to justify fighting the NA3 development, Liam Mullone and his colleagues have resorted to a series of attacks against anyone who has a different opinion or believes in delivering the homes approved under the neighbourhood plan approved in 2013.

“The often vicious and malicious attacks have been made without recognition or acknowledgement of the facts and seem designed to vilify Teignbridge District Councillors, Teignbridge Officers and anyone who dares to question the NSN narrative.

“The allegations have been treated very seriously by Teignbridge who have incurred considerable costs in having independent examination of the facts and in every case found that the tactics employed by the NSN group have lacked credibility and have never been based on the true facts.”

He added: “In my case, they tried to implicate my family and I in a planning issue affecting part of NA3.

“Despite my adhering strictly to the full code of conduct and taking no part in any debate over the application and withdrawing from discussions during the debate, NSN then accused me of taking part in a debate over a different application, from a different land owner with a different team of advisers that had or has no connection with me or my family. This issue, because of the serious nature of the allegation was referred by me to the legal team of Teignbridge to conduct an independent review and establish the true facts.

“The resulting investigation carried out by a qualified person with no association with Teignbridge or any political party was completed last year and found that there were no conflicts of interest, and that the correct declaration of interest and actions had been taken and I had fully met the requirements of the Council.

“The matter was also passed by NSN to the police who confirmed no offence had been committed.”

Cllr Phil Bullivant is the opposition Conservative leader on Teignbridge District Council

Cllr Bullivant continued: “Despite the evidence, the in depth investigation, the lack of any link between the two planning applications the latest desperate moves by NSN and their supporters to move attention away from their actions is very concerning, particularly to anyone who believes in the truth.

“Their latest attacks seek to implicate my son, an estate agent who practices in Plymouth and Bristol because he has an unconnected professional relationship with one of the parties that brought forward the application that I declared an interest in and therefore took no part in discussions or decisions is not worthy of comment as the fact speak for themselves.

“NSN would do better to look after the interests of College and Ambrook wards rather than pursue their vindictive and aggressive agenda designed to sully the reputation of and bring down Teignbridge District Council.”

A police spokesman said: “Police are investigating reports that threatening messages were sent to an individual in Newton Abbot between November 11, 2020, and January 25, 2021. Police enquiries continue.”

Insight into how RD&E coped with Covid outbreaks

At a time when the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital was battling Covid outbreaks, experiencing severe pressures and working with a significant number of staff absences, an announced visit by inspectors was carried out.

Anita Merritt

A focused inspection was carried out at the hospital by independent health and social care regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) on January 19, because the trust had experienced more than one outbreak of hospital transmitted Covid-19.

The aim was to observe infection prevention and control measures, and speak to staff.

Just days before, the hospital revealed it was currently in the midst of its biggest surge of coronavirus patients since the pandemic began, with numbers expected to keep rising over the next few weeks.

At that stage, 186 people had died of the virus at the hospital as of January 12, and the total number of beds occupied with Covid-19 patients was 94, as of January 7. The total number of Covid related absences was 300 on January 6.

At the time of the CQC inspection, more than 7,000 of the 8,000 hospital site staff had been vaccinated, and patients were being vaccinated in line with the government directed vaccine program.

Also more staff had been given influenza vaccines than ever before.

The results of the inspection have been published today and the hospital has been praised for the ‘effective’ way it has been dealing with the pandemic.

It was also acknowledged the toll that dealing with the virus has placed upon staff, but that they have continued to deliver great care.

Amanda Williams, CQC’s head of hospital inspection for the South West, said: “I am pleased to report that Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital had effective processes in place to support standards of infection prevention and control, including managing cleanliness and creating a suitable environment.

“Staff received training in safe infection prevention and control procedures in line with national guidance and were aware of the trust’s IPC (infection prevention control) policies.

“In addition, the trust was focused on learning from mistakes and continuously improving IPC practices. There was an action plan in place to meet identified goals. Auditing of all infections had taken place and learnings had been shared across the trust.

“However, there were isolated occasions, particularly during busy periods, when some infection prevention control measures were not being followed according to recommended guidance.

“We have asked the trust to monitor this and take action to assure themselves of compliance regarding the appropriate levels of personal protective equipment, including enhanced personal protective equipment, to ensure its use is in line with national guidance.”

It was confirmed that all frontline staff were Covid-19 tested twice a week, and agency and bank staff were tested on their arrival to the ward, with results provided in minutes.

During the pandemic it was noted elevated levels of staff sickness had been experienced by the trust and it had created increased risk during the ongoing pandemic.

In December 2020 it had caused the trust to raise an internal incident alert.

The report said: “The strain of this was raised during our inspection by staff and leaders and was recognised by all as a strain on staff wellbeing.

“We were provided with data which showed that some improvement in staff sickness levels was evident. Senior team leaders considered this was due in part to improved testing of staff and improved infection prevention and control procedures within the trust.

“We observed support material and access to support services within the hospital. These included posters,leaflets, and screensavers. Staff told us they were able to raise concerns they may have about their physical and mental wellbeing and felt they would be heard.”

It added: “It was evident from speaking with staff that the challenges created by the pandemic had a physical and mental effect on their wellbeing, but they remained passionate about providing quality care to patients.

“We saw staff provide care in a compassionate way regardless of the difficulties created by Covid-19, and patients were comforted and reassured by kind and caring staff.”

Hospital leaders were praised for recognising staff fatigue by making wellbeing a major focus, such as having additional annual leave, rewards, and a full suite of support for staff psychological and physical health.

In terms of combating the numbers of patients with Covid-19, it was reported that all patients were tested for Covid-19 with a test on admission to the hospital, and then on their third and fifth day.

It was noted there was a plan to increase the frequency of patient testing to every other day.

It was added patients were tested 24 hours prior to being discharged to a care home, to their home with a package of care or if going home to a member of the family who was vulnerable.

Key points noted during the inspection included:

  • Leaders operated effective governance processes. Staff at all levels were clear about their roles and accountabilities. Governance structures and the communication within them were effective to ensure that changes and learning supported patient safety across the trust.
  • Leaders understood and managed the priorities and issues the service faced. They were visible and approachable in the service for both patients and staff.
  • Staff felt respected, supported and valued. The service had an open culture where staff could raise concerns without fear.
  • It was evident from speaking with staff that the challenges caused by the pandemic were both physically and mentally challenging, but they remained passionate about providing quality care to their patients.
  • The service collected reliable data and analysed it. Staff could find the data they needed, in easily accessible formats. The information systems were integrated and secure.
  • Leaders and teams used systems to manage performance effectively. They identified and escalated relevant risks and issues and identified actions to reduce their impact.
  • All staff were committed to continually learning and improving services. There were systems and processes for learning, continuous improvement, and innovation. Leaders and staff also collaborated with partner organisations to help improve services for patients.

RD&E chief executive Suzanne Tracey said: “We welcome the CQC inspection and report that underlines the excellent work that has gone on across the Trust to keep our patients and staff safe, during one of the most challenging periods ever experienced by the NHS.

“We have worked very hard to ensure that we have followed – and at times gone above and beyond – the national guidelines recommended by PHE in our drive to be safe. As we move into a lower prevalence period we must continue to be vigilant, and we will continue to review our infection control measures to ensure that they are proportionate and effective.”

Budget spending cuts ‘deeper than thought’

IFS research economist uncovers unbalanced application of inflation estimates leading to deeper “real” cuts than appear from a superficial look at the budget – Owl

Philip Aldrick, Economics Editor

Rishi Sunak’s departmental spending cuts in the budget were deeper than thought, analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows.

The chancellor took advantage of a change in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s inflation outlook to cut everyday spending budgets by £4 billion in cash terms from 2022-23 onwards while holding fast to the government’s principle that it is ending austerity.

However, the IFS found that he did not apply the same principle to the OBR’s higher inflation forecast for 2021-22. Rather than raise cash spending, he held it.

Ben Zaranko, an IFS research economist, said the double standards showed that the claim that the cut was a response to the altered inflation outlook did not stand up to scrutiny.

“Describing this as simply a ‘mechanical change’ is misleading. It’s a choice,” he said.

As the higher inflation estimate for 2021-22 more than offset the lower estimate for 2022-23, the price level in 2022-23 is higher than previously forecast, which makes the cut even deeper in real terms, he added.

The overall impact of the November spending round and the March budget was to reduce spending by £14 billion from 2022-23 compared with plans before the pandemic.

As protected departments such as health and schools have separate cash deals, unprotected departments including justice and local government face an ever deeper squeeze.

“The plans in the budget mean spending 8 per cent less on unprotected services in 2022-23 than the government was planning prior to Covid — despite the extra demands caused by the pandemic,” Zaranko said.

Sunak unveiled a significant increase in public service spending in the budget. Day-to-day spending on public services is on course to grow 3 per cent above inflation over the parliament.

A Treasury spokesman said: “This is categorically not a return to austerity. We are significantly increasing public spending with a £72 billion rise over this year and next. We remain committed to investing in our vital public services.”

Residents quash holiday park AONB expansion  in High Court

Even under the “New Guard” EDDC has been granting planning permission to extend caravan sites within the AONB e.g most recently Pooh Cottage, Budleigh Salterton and there seems to be never ending expansions at Ladram Bay.

If this sets a precedent then such permissions would seem to be open to successful legal challenge – Owl

“Even if I only take into consideration the development of the Service Field, that is a significant intrusion into the AONB, contrary to a host of local and national policies. This case is in my view a more extreme version of Thornton Hall – the interests of the credibility of the planning system weighs heavily in favour of quashing the permission.” Mrs Justice Lieven

Alex Davis

A campaign group in North Devon has succeeded in quashing planning permission to allow a holiday park to extend land into an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Croyde Area Residents Association (CARA) filed the lawsuit against Parkdean Resorts and North Devon District Council to reverse planning permission from January 2014, granting Ruda Holiday Park expansion into green field areas around Croyde Bay.

The group claimed that North Devon Council unknowingly gave Parkdean permission to place an unlimited amount of caravans on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty after approving a change to the resort’s opening dates.

The case was heard in the High Court of Justice on March 4 and 5, with a decision being made by Mrs Justice Lieven.

Mrs Justice Lieven stated in her judgement: “Even if I only take into consideration the development of the Service Field, that is a significant intrusion into the AONB, contrary to a host of local and national policies. This case is in my view a more extreme version of Thornton Hall – the interests of the credibility of the planning system weighs heavily in favour of quashing the permission.”

“It would be very hard to explain to a member of the public why a permission which was granted in complete error and where the developer has now got a permission which gives him what he originally sought, i.e. the extension of operating times, should not be quashed.”

Croyde Area Residents Association was set up in response to increasing tourism in the Georgeham area. The association raised over £40,000 from local backers to file the lawsuit, in what they named a ‘David v Goliath’ fight.

Service field to be used for holiday park expansion

A spokesperson for CARA said: “CARA is delighted that Mrs Justice Lieven has quashed the harmful 2014 planning decision that unlawfully permitted expansion of Ruda Holiday Park into green undeveloped fields in the area of outstanding natural beauty in the Croyde Bay area.”

“This is the right decision for this beautiful natural landscape and the environment. We are relieved that this result has, for now, put the AONB and environment back at the forefront when it comes to proposals for any development in this precious area.”

“We want to thank our legal advisers Richard Turney and Alex Shattock of Landmark Chambers and Lisa Foster and her team at Richard Buxton Solicitors for their patience, commitment, expertise and practical approach to this important legal action.”

“Finally, and not least, we are hugely grateful to all those who have supported us from near and far. The funds we needed to raise to bring this legal action were substantial and the time and effort required pursue this case, considerable.”

“We could not have done this without the generosity, good spirit and good will provided by so many along the way. This decision represents a significant achievement for the many hundreds of people who have contributed in so many ways.”

“Whilst CARA fronted this action, it has been buoyed up by a much wider community of people who care about preserving protections to ensure that beautiful areas like this continue to be there for everyone not only now but in the future as well.”

Parkdean resorts, who own Ruda Holiday Park, currently own 67 holiday parks across the country, with four in Devon and eight in Cornwall.

In October 2013, the park applied for an “extension of the time limits during which the holiday park may be open”, using a site location plan which extended into unused land, as well as 12 hectares of land owned by third parties.

In November 2016, Parkdean Resorts submitted a planning application to station 50 within the Service Field to the North East of the park, meeting objection from the National Trust and regional AONB Partnership Officer.

After withdrawing the application in December 2017, the resort applied for a Lawful Development Certificate for siting caravans in the Service Field, claiming that the 2014 permission permitted the use of the entire red-lined area of the site location plan. After an appeals process, this was granted in February 2020 and challenged by CARA in July 2020.

A Parkdean Resorts Spokesperson stated: “We have been in frequent contact with the local parish council and local planning authority and have followed all the appropriate legal procedures.

“Our relationship with residents in the local area is very important to us and we look to maintain an open dialogue with the local community.”

North Devon District Council are yet to comment.

Plans for 59 ‘extra care’ retirement apartments in Exmouth are rejected

A bid to build 59 retirement apartments and an office block off Salterton Road in Exmouth has been rejected.

East Devon Reporter 

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Planning Committee turned down blueprints for the four-storey ‘extra care’ facility – exclusively for over-70s – earmarked for a plot next to Tesco.

They also panned the inclusion of a two-floor employment space as a ‘sweetener’.

Previous blueprints for just retirement apartments on the two-and-a-half-acre site were turned down by EDDC in 2017 – with a subsequent appeal also rejected on 2019.

The site is allocated as employment in the council’s Local Plan and applicant YourLife Management Services Ltd – a joint-venture by McCarthy and Stone and Somerset Care – changed its proposals to include office space.

The site off Salterton Road in Exmouth.

The site off Salterton Road in Exmouth.

EDDC planning officers had recommended that the scheme be approved.

But Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh representative Councillor Brenda Taylor said: “This has gone on for far too long. We don’t need another block on Salterton Road and we have plenty of care homes.”

Fellow ward member Cllr Steve Gazzard, who proposed refusal, added: “This revised plan is slightly amended and a sweetener offered to the council by the four business units.

“But the plan hasn’t addressed the issues of the marketing for the site and is snubbing the Neighbourhood Plan and we either agree that they are important and take note or we might as well have not bothered.

“We have more than enough of care facilities in Exmouth, and we have one around the corner.”

Cllr Philip Skinner said: “We are desperate to have flat employment space for Exmouth and the clear lack of employment space is evident for everyone to see.

“I cannot support this and it throws against everything that we do.”

Cllr Olly Davey added: “They have just tagged on four industrial units which is not enough to compensate the loss of the employment land. We have lost so much employment land and there is an overprovision of care homes.”

Exmouth From the planning application - an artist's impression of the proposed building.

From the planning application – an artist’s impression of the proposed building.

EDDC officers had recommended that the scheme for approval.

Development manager Chris Rose said in a report to the committee: “On balance, while the proposal would conflict with certain elements of the development plan, the economic benefits and the creation of additional jobs, particularly in this time of significant economic difficulty, is considered to outweigh the loss of a relatively small area of allocated employment land.”

Councillors voted to reject the application on the grounds of the loss of employment land.

McCarthy and Stone last year responded to criticism of its plans, saying the ‘much-needed’ scheme could inject £10.9million into the local economy.

‘Extra care’ is described as ‘suitable for tenants with a heightened level of assisted care requirement’.