More from the Duncan Diaries

Education secretary described as ‘venomous’ and ‘self-serving’ by Alan Duncan in newly released diary entries.

And Boris as Foriegn Secretary was: “Harold Wilson’s George Brown without the alcohol.”

(But no one yet described as “Toilet Seats”)

Kevin Rawlinson

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has been described as self-serving, venomous and in a rush to ascend the greasy pole by the former Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan in the latest extracts from his diaries.

“In quite the most extraordinary cabinet appointment I can think of, Gavin Williamson has been appointed defence secretary. It is absolutely absurd. He seems to have pushed himself forward for this undeserved promotion. It is a brazenly self-serving manoeuvre that will further embed the view of him as a sly schemer, which he undoubtedly is,” Duncan wrote in November 2017.

“He is also ludicrously unqualified for the heavyweight job of defence secretary, having never run anything. His experience amounts to having been a fireplace salesman, then bag-carrier for two PMs, then chief whip for a year. What on earth was the PM thinking?

“If I were more precious, I’d be pretty damned annoyed that I didn’t get it myself. But, as ever, scheming triumphs over loyalty and suitability.”

In other passages, Duncan says Williamson is suspected of briefing journalists against Conservative colleagues for his own gain and says he is “universally detested” as defence secretary – a role from which he was sacked in 2019 – having “seriously overplayed his hand” as he rushed to “ascend the greasy pole” and get the job.

Duncan calls Williamson “over-ambitious, claiming he was pushing for the position of home secretary when Amber Rudd resigned over the Windrush scandal, and denounces him as a “venomous, self-seeking little shit” as he accuses him of working against the then prime minister, Theresa May.

Elsewhere in the diaries, published by the Daily Mail, Duncan says the Foreign Office in which he served had “lost its way” and the man leading it – Boris Johnson, now the prime minister – “adds nothing to it”.

Duncan writes: “Amid a long succession of characterful foreign secretaries, he is Harold Wilson’s George Brown without the alcohol.”

While he insists May must be supported by MPs, he offers a pessimistic assessment of her character, saying she lacks charisma and, even in private conversation, appears “frightened to express an opinion on anything in case it comes back at her later”.

He writes: “Nothing illustrates the weakness of the prime minister more than the visual awkwardness with which she joined [a] photo op [for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage]. Gangly, looking around as if lost, no poise or presence. Charisma bypass. No personality.”

• This article was amended on 6 April 2021 to correct Gavin Williamson’s title.

Development at Winslade Manor – Consultation on “Reserved Matters”

From a correspondent:

You may be aware that Burrington Estates are in the process of a submission of the Reserved Matters application to East Devon District Council, with an expectation of a determination in the summer of 2021 and commencement on site towards autumn/winter 2021, for the new 80 homes (40 houses in Zone A (ex Plymouth Brethren field) and the 40 apartments in Zone D (Car park next to Winslade Manor).

It is baffling to see such vague plans accompanying the consultation that creates far more questions than answers! The plans are so unclear and obscure that they are not fit for the purpose of a consultation on this density of 80 more homes in a small, rural village. At present, these plans continue to represent indicative, outline proposals not detailed, reserved matters plans which is, surely, the next stage in the planning process?

The plans for Zone A are missing crucial information such as the heights of the ridge line of the roof, the location of the windows etc. The plans displayed for Zone D have already been likened by residents to 3 ‘blocks of Lego’, giving no details of design, height, layout and appearance, making it impossible to make any constructive comments. There now appears to be more than two storeys shown on the ‘sketch plan’ for Zone D (the outline application approved 3 storeys in the central apartment block and two storeys on the two blocks either side)

The woodland has a Tree Preservation Order but is primarily deciduous, so for 6 months of year Zone D homes will overlook existing houses in Clyst Valley Road. Unlike traditional homes with first floor bedrooms (usually only used for sleeping) – 40 apartments will have all main living areas at each level, resulting in greater over-looking and loss of privacy. 

We have already seen Burringtons plans are possible to change having been shown 14 traditional homes in Zone D at the Public Consultation in the Village Hall which were replaced with 40 two-three storey apartment blocks resembling ‘container shipping units’!

Consequently, at this stage we can only make you aware of this consultation and await full information on Zones A and D that we are able to read and understand. I have attached the link below to the consultation for you to see what has been submitted.

Create national parks around UK coastline, conservation group says

In Plymouth, the city council is setting up what would be the UK’s first national marine park, covering 400 sq km (154 sq miles), with 70 groups involved and a lottery bid for £12m. More than 1,000 species have been identified in Plymouth Sound.

But no mention of Lyme Bay which was used as a case study in another report last year.

Is this another example of the continuing legacy of the  lack of interest in “Conservation” from past “Conservative” administrations in EDDC? – Owl

Fiona Harvey 

National parks should be created in the waters around the UK coast to help conserve fragile marine habitats and give people access to more of Britain’s natural heritage, a marine conservation group has said.

Blue Marine Foundation has identified 10 areas around the coast that it said could be designated national parks within the next 10 years. Designation could bring greater protections for habitats, help attract funding, and would require local authorities to make access easier for people.

Charles Clover, executive director of the charity, said: “It is remarkable that we have no parks in the sea, after 70 years of national parks on land. Our natural heritage is right there, just off the beach, but paradoxically the public is hardly involved in the enjoyment or the stewardship of this island nation’s greatest asset.”

The first national park was created on land in 1951, in the Peak District. The designation imposes rules on what can be done within the national park boundaries, and guarantees access for people. In law, national parks in England and Wales have a duty to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area, and to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the public.

England’s 10 national parks on land contribute up to £4bn to the economy, with 90 million visitors a year and 22,500 businesses employing 140,000 people.

Clover said creating national parks at sea would bring similar benefits. He pointed to a project in Plymouth, where the city council is setting up what would be the UK’s first national marine park, covering 400 sq km (154 sq miles), with 70 groups involved and a lottery bid for £12m. More than 1,000 species have been identified in Plymouth Sound, which also boasts a significant maritime history, as the launch place of the Mayflower and the Beagle.

In Plymouth, the amenities planned include an underwater webcam network, including a virtual underwater tour showcasing marine life; wild swimming and snorkelling trails; land-based marine observation posts; and improved public access to the sea. There will be community involvement in marine rewilding projects, such as seagrass restoration, while local young people will be trained as marine park rangers, and an involvement campaign will be launched in the most deprived wards of the city.

Tudor Evans, leader of Plymouth city council, said: “It’s not about more regulation, it’s about users and stakeholders working collaboratively to increase knowledge, opportunities and understanding of the sea.”

Luke Pollard, the shadow environment secretary who is the Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said: “Just as the postwar government was ambitious to establish national parks, so too must we be ambitious for more national marine parks. In the middle of a climate crisis, this is a perfect response to growing public interest in our oceans.”

Blue Marine Foundation said marine parks could pay for themselves through attracting visitors. It has estimated that seed funding of about £200,000 to £500,000 would be enough to get a national marine park started in the other areas it has identified, which are: the greater Thames London Gateway; East Anglia Suffolk, the Wash and north Norfolk; north-east England, Tyne to Tees, Northumberland and Berwickshire; north-west England, Cumbria and the Solway Firth; the Severn estuary; Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly; Wales, Pembrokeshire; the Argyll coast and islands in Scotland; and the crown dependency of Jersey.

The conservation group said marine parks would complement the marine protected areas that the government has set up around the coast. These have attracted controversy as a Guardian investigation established that damaging fishing methods such as bottom trawling was being used in nearly all such areas, with supertrawlers also given access, though some protections have since been proposed. In marine national parks, trawling could still be allowed in some areas.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Our seas provide great economic opportunities for our world-leading marine sector, but they also need our protection. We are already leading the rest of the world by protecting over 30% of our waters around the UK and our overseas territories. We’ve also created 91 marine protected areas, expanding the national ‘blue belt’ so that it protects more than 40% of English waters.”

Government facing legal challenge over ‘pork-barrel’ levelling-up fund funnelling cash to Tory areas

The government is facing a legal challenge over claims it funnelled cash to Tory areas with its “levelling-up” fund.

The leafy market town constituencies of Rishi Sunak and Robert Jenrick are among areas to benefit from an unusual funding formula that critics accused of amounting to “pork parallel politics”.

Now legal campaigners from the the Good Law Project will take the government to court contending that the design of the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund is unlawful.

They cite an investigation by the National Audit Office, which found that the government’s list of targets for the cash had been published without supporting information to explain why they had been chosen.

The House of Commons’ cross party Public Accounts Committee had also said the lack of transparency had left to concerns of “political bias” in the allocation of funds.

Forty out of the first 45 schemes to be approved in March had at least one Conservative MP.

In a letter of claim sent last week, the campaigners argue that the project is unlawful on four counts.

They say ministers appear to have breached their duty under the equality act to carry out an equalities impact assessment, breached their common law duty of transparency, acted irrationally because of flaws in their methodology, and that “decisions were tainted by irrelevant considerations/improper purpose, namely the electoral advantage (or potential electoral advantage) of the Conservative party”.

Jolyon Maugham, the barrister who founded the campaign group, said: “If you think that it’s coincidence that Tory marginals are huge beneficiaries I have a fine bridge to sell you. To ensure the Tories don’t use public money for party purposes, the Good Law Project is suing.”

The campaigners cite Chris Hanretty, Professor of Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London, who looked at the funding formula and evidence presented by the National Audit Office and government.

“On the basis of the data collated by the ministry and published by the NAO, there is robust evidence that ministers chose towns so as to benefit the Conservatives in marginal Westminster seats,” he wrote.

“This evidence is robust in the sense that the effects persists even when controlling for other town characteristics that might justifiably affect selection.

“Choosing towns to benefit a particular party goes against the seven principles of public life (the ‘Nolan principles’), and in particular the obligation to ‘take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias’.”

The Good Law Project has previously challenged the government to court over alleged cronyism in PPE contacts, clean air, and access to remote education during the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “The £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund is open to all places in Great Britain and will play a vital role in helping to support and regenerate communities.

“The published methodology makes clear the metrics used to identify places judged to be most in need. It would not be appropriate to comment on potential legal action.”