Overwhelming support for Newton Poppleford Neighbourhood Plan

Residents of Newton Poppleford and Harpford have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a set of locally drawn up policies to help decide planning applications.

Philippa Davies sidmouth.nub.news

The referendum on the Neighbourhood Plan – held at the same time as this month’s local elections – resulted in 652 ‘yes’ votes and just 83 who said ‘no’.

The Plan will now be considered by East Devon District Council’s Cabinet on June 9, and if they agree to formally ‘adopt’ it, the council will be guided by the Plan when making decisions on applications for new developments in the parish.

The Neighbourhood Plan has the general aim of ensuring that ‘Newton Poppleford and Harpford will continue to be a thriving and vibrant village community which protects and enhances its distinctive character, rich heritage and its East Devon AONB setting, and should become an even better place for residents of all ages to live.’

Development applications will be looked at to see if they support that aim, for example by providing adequate parking, not generating extra traffic, retaining public rights of way, conserving the natural environment and incorporating road safety measures.

A consultation on the architectural style of potential new homes was carried out, and the preference was for traditional designs using similar materials to the existing properties.

A summary of the Neighbourhood Plan can be found here.

Today in Court: PPE Legal Challenge

Good Law Project 18 May us15.campaign-archive.com /

Dear Friend,

Today was the first day of our High Court legal challenge over Government’s award of PPE contracts. Here are three of the most shocking revelations from Court.

1) Government prioritised companies because of who they knew and not what they could deliver. Take Pestfix and Multibrands. Both suppliers emailed the senior official in charge of NHS procurement explaining their ability to supply PPE. Multibrands did so on 20th March 2020, a week before Pestfix. Multibrands received no response. 

By contrast, Pestfix’s email resulted in their allocation to the “VIP lane”, where companies were fast-tracked to lucrative contracts. Why? An ex-director of PestFix was an “old school friend” of the official’s father-in-law. 

2) Ministers did not want their political contacts to have to wait in line with everyone else. Evidence read out in Court revealed “…ministers and senior officials sometimes introduce offers of PPE and want them personally handled rather than going through surveys and bulk routes. Some of these contacts simply flatly refuse to proceed via a webform…..”  

3) The banks were so concerned about Government’s lack of due diligence on  companies who had been handed huge contracts that they halted payments. An email from a civil servant stated “It is… imperative that we rectify the with supplier due diligence to ensure we do not leave ourselves at unacceptable risk of fraud/loss

Thank you as ever for your support. There will be more from Court tomorrow. If you’re interested, our skeleton can be read here.

Jo Maugham

Director of Good Law Project

Covid laid bare existing weaknesses in UK government, says NAO

Coronavirus has exposed decades-long weaknesses in government and divisions in wider society, an official parliamentary watchdog has said, including neglect of social care and chronic underfunding in local government.

Peter Walker www.theguardian.com

Amid renewed questions over the reopening timetable, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned that from the very start of the pandemic a lack of planning had left ministers without a “playbook” on how to respond.

In the report released on Wednesday that pulls together lessons from more than a dozen more sector-specific reports into the handling of Covid, the NAO said the virus “laid bare existing fault lines within society, such as the risk of widening inequalities, and within public service delivery and government itself”.

Coronavirus had “stress-tested the government’s ability to deal with unforeseen events”, said Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, noting that it had shown the need for government to be “systematic” in planning for emergencies, and to learn lessons at speed.

Boris Johnson has told his cabinet that he intends to proceed with the roadmap for lifting England’s lockdown despite concerns over a new coronavirus variant, but said the government would monitor the data over the coming days.

The prime minister told reporters on Tuesday he saw no conclusive evidence to delay the full reopening of the economy on 21 June, though sources have suggested it may not be as comprehensive a lifting of restrictions as previously billed.

“I don’t see anything conclusive at the moment to say that we need to deviate from the roadmap,” Johnson said, adding that more would be known “in a few days’ time.”

A number of cabinet ministers are understood to be reluctant to allow the roadmap to slip unless there is compelling evidence that the spread of the variant could pose a threat to NHS capacity. A Whitehall source said ministers were keeping their counsel while a few more days of data is analysed.

One cabinet source said they expected government to throw “the kitchen sink” at hotspot areas to try to stem the spread of the new variant, expected to become the dominant variant within days. Another cabinet minister said the next few days would be “a race against the virus.”

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is understood to be keen to proceed with the roadmap as planned but is prepared to be convinced otherwise if the data is overwhelming.

Other ministers with a particular vested interest in keeping to the 21 June plan if possible include Oliver Dowden, with his culture department in daily talks with sports organisations, theatre owners and others about whether a long-anticipated return of crowds can still happen.

Theatres have given the message that it is “bums on seats or bust” for their profession, a source said, adding: “We completely understand that plans might have to change, but it’s also important to know that we can’t keep the sort of emergency support we’ve offered to the sector going into the long term. Part of our job is to set out the case that more delay could mean the end for some venues.”

Johnson is charged with making the call on whether to proceed with the roadmap, with intense scrutiny over the early weeks of the pandemic, and the charge he allowed the B.1.617.2 variant to establish itself in the UK by delaying curbing arrivals from India, jeopardising a planned summer timetable for reopening the economy.

The NAO report highlighted the need for long-term solutions across areas including the disconnect between adult social care and the NHS, failings in data and IT systems, workforce shortages and ongoing monetary shortfalls, with a warning that already-struggling local government finances had been “scarred by the pandemic”.

The report also collated the total government extra spend on Covid-related measures, putting it at an estimated £372bn by the end of this March, taking in the full lifetime of all policies.

Johnson’s former senior adviser Dominic Cummings is also expected to lay out his view of the early weeks of the pandemic next Wednesday when he appears before a parliamentary committee which is also examining the lessons of the pandemic.

In a Twitter thread, Cummings argued that the early process had been over-secretive, and promised to release what he described as “a crucial historical document from Covid decision-making”.

The NAO report laid out wider failures in planning for a pandemic, noting that Exercise Cygnus, a 2016 modelling of a flu-based outbreak, did not properly consider the issue of shielding clinically vulnerable people. “Government lacked a playbook for many aspects of its response,” the report concluded.

This led to gaps in data, it found, saying that when it was decided last spring that clinically vulnerable people should shield, it took three weeks to identify more than 400,000 of them because of the “challenge of extracting usable data from different NHS and GP IT systems”.

On social care, a lack of integration between care services and the NHS “has been challenging for decades”, the report said, citing 12 government consultations and five independent reviews in the past 20 years.

An impact of this was a better response to the pandemic for health services than for care. From March to July last year, NHS trusts received 80% of their estimated requirements for protective equipment, with the equivalent figure for care providers being just 10%, the NAO said.

It also set out the effects of underfunding, often due to a decade of austerity policies, in areas including councils, the NHS and social care.

The NAO also highlighted findings from its earlier reports about staffing shortages, with 11% vacancy rates in nursing just before the pandemic, and one-third of social care providers saying they needed extra staff.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow heath secretary, said Covid had “exposed the NHS and social care to extreme pressure like never before”.

He said: “We entered the pandemic with a weakened NHS with growing waiting list, fewer beds and desperately short of staff. We cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes. We need both an NHS rescue plan to bring waiting lists down and a plan for social care reform. Our NHS and care system cannot be left exposed in the same way again.”

A government spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic, our approach has been guided by data and the advice of scientific and medical experts. As new evidence emerged, we acted quickly and decisively to protect lives and livelihoods.

“We have committed to a full public independent inquiry to look at what lessons we can learn from our response to this unprecedented global challenge.”

Chances of June 21 end of lockdown now ‘close to nil’

But Boris han’t seen “anything conclusive at the moment to say that we need to deviate from the road map”.

Max Channon www.devonlive.com

A Government source has reportedly claimed the likelihood of full Covid lockdown restrictions being lifted on June 21 in England is ‘close to nil’.

However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has today said he has not seen “anything conclusive at the moment to say that we need to deviate from the road map”.

Nonetheless, ITV’s Robert Peston reports “the prospect of the final easing of lockdown restrictions in England going ahead precisely as planned on June 21 are close to nil… according to ministers and officials.”

ITV quotes a government adviser as saying: “It is clear some social distancing will have to be retained, not everything we’ve set out for June 21 is likely to happen.

“But it is also possible some of the easing we’ve done will have to be reversed.”

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reports that “one Cabinet minister” has said that missing the June 21 milestone could become Mr Johnson’s ‘Theresa May moment’ – a reference to her failed Brexit deadline.

The Mail quotes its source as saying: “This freedom date is burned on people’s brains in the same way as her date for leaving the EU,’ the source said. ‘When she missed it, she was finished.'”

However, Boris Johnson has told senior ministers that he still wants to work through the road map for lifting coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England.

And, on a visit to a vaccine centre in London, he said: “I don’t see anything conclusive at the moment to say that we need to deviate from the road map.

“We’ve got to be cautious and we are keeping everything under very close observation. We’ll know a lot more in a few days’ time.”

The PM’s official spokesman said that he told the weekly meeting of the Cabinet that they would need to monitor the data closely.

“The Prime Minister set out the Government’s desire to continue to work through the road map following the move to step three yesterday,” the spokesman said.

“He concluded Cabinet by re-stating the important need to closely watch the data in the coming days ahead of making decisions on step four.”

The spokesman said that Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the meeting that “comprehensive work” to provide more vaccines and “surge” testing in outbreak areas was continuing.

Sidmouth Town Council has Excelled itself

Stephen Pemberton has sent Owl the text of his letter, as recently published, in the Sidmouth Herald.

[Owl thinks it shows “counter-intuitive” attitudes to late night noise between Exmouth and Sidmouth.]

“Sidmouth Town Clerk, The Leader and Sidmouth Town Councillors have excelled themselves.

They have allowed the proposed Sidmouth Jazz and Blues Festival in June 2022 to apply for a drink and entertainment license from midnight until 2.30am each morning of the week.

This is a residential area.

Recent years has seen events on The Ham close by 9.30pm, and be placed at the sea end of The Ham, except the Folk Festival which ends and is cleared by 11.00pm, and the Fun Fair.

All this continues decades long lack of consideration of the needs of local residents. It compounds a recent imposition of groundworks which falsely claims it has the Agreement of Glenisla Terrace residents, and the sudden (despite assurance by the Town Clerk as to otherwise) removal of the shielding of trees and bushes for some of the houses from The Ham playground.

Events on The Ham are why many residents moved here: complete disregard for residents’ needs and of reasonable behaviour perpetuates the long held poor reputation of Sidmouth Town Council and how it is run, apparently again with complete disregard for local residents.”

Stephen Pemberton

Border policy is a joke, says Dominic Cummings amid Indian variant row

A teaser of what to expect next week from Boris Johnson’s “Disrupter-in-Chief”.

Henry Zeffman Tuesday May 18 2021 www.thetimes.co.uk 

The UK’s border policy is a “joke”, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser has said as the row intensifies over whether the Indian coronavirus variant could have been stopped before it entered Britain.

Dominic Cummings accused the government of being “totally hostile to learning from east Asia” over the course of the pandemic, resulting in a reluctance to close the UK’s borders.

Writing on Twitter, Cummings, who left Downing Street during a power struggle late last year, said that “one of the biggest misunderstandings” was that there is a trade-off between locking down to stop Covid and protecting the economy. “Fact: evidence clear that fast hard effective action best policy for economy AND for reducing deaths/suffering,” he wrote. “Best example: Taiwan. Also shows that if you really get your act together not only is econ largely unscathed but life is ~ normal.”

He continued: “There’s a general western problem based on nonsense memes like ‘asians all do as they’re told it won’t work here’. This is what many behavioural science ‘experts’/charlatans argued, disastrously, in Feb2020. This nonsense is STILL influencing policy, eg our joke borders policy.”

Cummings will give evidence to MPs next week about his role in the government’s response to the pandemic.

There has been increasing criticism of the UK’s decision not to close down travel from India earlier. At least 20,000 passengers who may have been infected with the variant were allowed to enter Britain before India was added to the red list on April 23, according to a Sunday Times analysis.

Johnson had been hoping to fly to Delhi on April 25 to discuss a post-Brexit trade deal with Narendra Modi, the prime minister; something opposition figures blame for the government’s delay in blocking travel from India.

In the Commons yesterday Yvette Cooper, Labour head of the home affairs select committee, said that people would be “angry” that “the government’s border measures have failed to prevent the spread of a new variant”.

UK farmers sound alarm over Australia trade talks

UK farmers have sounded the alarm over reports the government plans a trade deal with Australia that would make its food and farming imports cheaper.

Government about to abandon the farmers as well as the fishermen? – Owl

BBC News  www.bbc.co.uk

The move is being considered as part of a free trade pact with Australia the UK government hopes will be a springboard for similar deals with other countries.

But UK farming unions have warned of “irreversible damage” from a bad deal.

There is speculation the Cabinet is split over the move, and Labour has accused the government of a “sell-out”.

As with many countries, farming imports from Australia face tariffs – or taxes – making lamb and beef, for example, more expensive.

But in a post-Brexit world, the UK government is keen to strike free trade deals and has now indicated that farmers may have to prepare for the lowering of tariffs on agricultural imports.

The Department for International Trade (DIT) would not be drawn directly on reports it is willing to concede to zero tariffs in return for an Australia deal.

Struggle to compete

However, it said a deal would be “an important stepping stone” to joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sprawling trade group that includes New Zealand, China, Japan, Vietnam, as well as Australia.

A deal would “allow UK farmers even greater access to growing consumer markets in Asia”, the DIT said, adding that it would not allow importers to undercut the farming industry or food standards.

However, the National Farmers’ Union warned that its members will struggle to compete if zero-tariff trade on lamb and beef goes ahead.

NFU president Minette Batters said: “We know that if we’re to open up the opportunities of new markets overseas for UK farmers, we will have to offer greater access to our own markets in return.

“However, this trade-off needs to be balanced, and we need to make sure concessions to our hugely valuable home market are not given away lightly.

“There is a very real risk that, if we get it wrong, UK farming will suffer irreversible damage rather than flourish in the way we all desire, to the detriment of our environment, our food security and our rural communities.”

Farmers’ concerns are reportedly shared by some members of the Cabinet.

The Financial Times reported that Environment Secretary George Eustice and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove are at loggerheads with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Brexit minister Lord Frost over granting tariff-free access to Australian, and possibly New Zealand, farmers.

Asked about the rift by the Press Association, Mr Eustice said: “I’m not going to get into discussions that are going on in government about individual trade agreements.

“In any discussion on any part of government policy, and trade agreements are no exception, there’s a discussion and there’s a consensus.

“At the moment there’s a very clear consensus in government that we want to do a trade agreement with countries like Australia, but obviously on the right terms.”

However, sources did not deny to the BBC that there were Cabinet divisions over the issue.

Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow international trade secretary, accused Ms Truss of selling out British farmers.

“It’s perfectly normal that the Australian government should try to get the best possible deal for its agricultural mega-corporations,” she said.

“But British family farmers have a right to expect that Liz Truss will do the same for them, not sell out their livelihoods for the price of a quick trade deal, and a cheap headline at the G7 summit.”

Ms Truss was hoping to secure an Australia deal ahead of the G7 summit in June. She is about to start official trade talks with Canada and Mexico, adding to those under way with India and New Zealand.

Analysis box by Dharshini David, global trade correspondent

Trade deals are about countries trying to secure the best for their businesses and people. When working down the menu of issues, the hardest to digest – typically, agriculture – is normally left to the last.

Australia aims to get tariffs and quotas dropped for all goods, which on the UK government’s own estimates could boost imports from that country by 83% – mainly due to beef and lamb.

That’s worrying for some farmers – but the government says any liberalisation would take years, and Australia isn’t taking full advantage of the tariff free quotas it’s got now.

But the key is what it signals for other trade deals and policy. An agreement with Australia will likely be the first one struck by the UK with a nation with which it didn’t have an agreement while part of the EU. And Trade Secretary Liz Truss is keen to strike it fast, as a springboard for membership of a wider trans-pacific trading bloc.


Devon’s best beaches awarded Blue Flag status for 2021

Fourteen beaches in Devon have been awarded Blue Flag status for 2021.

These include Exmouth, Sandy Bay and Sidmouth Town but not Budleigh Salterton! – Owl

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

The independently assessed seal of approval is awarded to beaches which achieve very high quality standards of excellent cleanliness, safe access and appropriate signage.

Blue Flag awards also look at the beaches which meet high environmental standards and tough international bathing water quality standards.

Winning beaches also had to run a minimum of five educational activities for the local community and visitors.

Across Devon, 14 beaches were given the prestigious award, the same number as in 2020.

The beaches in Devon given the blue flag award are:

  • Blackpool Sands
  • Sandy Bay (Exmouth)
  • Exmouth
  • Sidmouth Town
  • Challaborough Bay
  • Dawlish Warren
  • Teignmouth Town
  • Breakwater Beach (Brixham)
  • Broadsands (Paignton)
  • Meadfoot Beach
  • Oddicombe Beach
  • Preston Sands
  • Torre Abbey Sands
  • Westward Ho!

The Blue Flag is widely considered to be the gold standard for beaches and as such is internationally recognised. While most people are aware that the certification guarantees the quality of the bathing water this is only part of the criteria on which beaches are judged.

To qualify to fly the Blue Flag the beach must satisfy standards in four categories and against 33 individual targets covering environmental education and information, water quality, environmental management, safety and services.

Cllr Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin, lead member for community, culture and leisure for Torridge District Council, said: “We’re very lucky in Torridge to have such a fantastic beach at Westward Ho! that has consistently achieved the Blue Flag award for over 18 years in a row. It also backs onto Northam Burrows which is another important asset for rare Wildlife and Plant species.

“A better awareness of plastic issues in our marine environment has only increased interest in beaches that meet the strict criteria for cleanliness and the partnerships with community group initiatives are something we can all be proud of.”

Keep Britain Tidy’s chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton said: “This year, more than ever, we are going to be relying on our country’s beautiful beaches to escape for a much-needed break after all the stresses and strains of the past year.

“Whether it’s camping in Cornwall, renting a cottage in North Yorkshire or simply having a day out at the seaside in Sussex, a fantastic beach is an essential part of a holiday for so many of us.

“From environmental education for the local community and ensuring responsible beach use, to cleaning regimes and an increasing number of recycling facilities, it is a full-time commitment to create beaches worthy of these awards.

“As we all plan our 2021 holidays much closer to home, thanks to the Blue Flag and Seaside Award those choosing to holiday at a destination with an award-winning beach can be assured it will be clean and safe and meet the highest standards for water quality and management.”