What is happening with Covid infection rates?

As the ONS publishes its latest COVID – 19 insights Owl tries to make sense of what, superficially, appear to be conflicting data from: the ONS; daily published case rates from the government dashboard and the Zoe symptom app.

From the ONS:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases continued to increase in England and have increased in Wales and Northern Ireland in the week ending 24 July 2021, but decreased in Scotland.

The estimated percentage of the community population (those not in hospitals, care homes or other institutional settings) that had COVID-19 was:

  • 1.57% (1 in 65 people) in England, up from 1.36% (1 in 75 people) last week
  • 0.62% (1 in 160 people) in Wales, up from 0.47% (1 in 210 people) last week
  • 1.48% (1 in 65 people) in Northern Ireland, up from 0.59% (1 in 170 people) last week
  • 0.94% (1 in 110 people) in Scotland, down from 1.24% (1 in 80 people) last week

From daily case rates:

Since the end of April, daily case rates (the data given most publicity via the government dashboard) have been volatile, swinging up and then down, best illustrated graphically:

From the Zoe symptom tracker app:

This is now showing, as with the ONS data, much higher prevalence than the current reported case rates but in the past few days has indicated a turning point, again best illustrated graphically:

How might we interpret all this?

The first point to make is that there is no perfect measure of the extent of infection in the population. All  these are good data sources but each has its strengths and limitations.

For example, the ONS data come from a randomised sample i.e. includes those who are showing no symptoms but it is a lagging indicator in that it takes time to collect the samples and collate the information. So it is a week or so behind. 

Case rate reporting has a shorter time lag but is a record of those coming forward for testing i.e it misses asymptomatic and mild cases. The government list of symptoms is also regarded by many experts as being too restrictive. With all the publicity given to the “pingdemic” it is possible that some may be less likely to present for testing. It is worth pointing out that both the ONS and Zoe data indicate much higher rates (about twice for the Zoe data). 

The Zoe data has the advantage of daily reporting from a very large sample, about a million contributors, but it uses symptoms as proxy measures and the sample, although large, is self-selecting.

Pandemic data doesn’t usually move in such dramatic fashion as shown by the case rate data without an underlying intervention or event such as a lockdown. As a community moves towards herd immunity, one would expect infection rates gradually to plateau, then gradually to fall.

Big swings most likely reflect some sort of behavioural change. The problem with interpretation is that we have had a number of these, some positive, some negative: school closure; a heat wave; people gathering to watch Euro 2021 etc. There are other changes stemming from “Freedom Day” which may only just be beginning to affect the data: opening up of enclosed spaces to large gatherings such as nightclubs, pubs and cinemas.

Summary

Owl’s interpretation, for what it’s worth, is that, despite the publicity given to case rates, there is a high level of Covid in circulation. The implication of this is that incautious behaviour could trigger a rapid surge in cases, a superspreading event. However, there now seems to be evidence that, all else being equal, we may be on the threshold of some sort of herd immunity and could see a sustained gradual decline. The ONS shows numbers declining in Scotland.

More on the impact of second homes – Hope Cove where hope is fading

The Devon village where 80% of properties are second homes

Will Humphries, Southwest Correspondent www.thetimes.co.uk

In the picturesque seaside village of Hope Cove, second home ownership is running at an alarming 80 per cent.

The ageing residents who remain in the south Devon parish, close to Salcombe, fear the march of the holiday home is increasing after their objections to two hotels being converted into holiday homes and apartments have been dismissed by the local council.

“Out of 400 homes only about 80 have permanent residents and the rest are second homes,” said Tom Windle, a retired oil exploration geologist from London who moved to the parish in 2009.

In winter the dark streets are often only punctuated by lights in the windows of every third or fourth house in a row.

Windle, who at 70 describes himself as “one of the younger ones”, said: “There has been no attempt to bring in young families or anything that is affordable. It has always been a question of ‘let’s knock down and build holiday homes’.”

South Hams district council has granted planning permission in recent years for the demolition or conversion of two local hotels in favour of holiday apartments and residential flats which locals believe will quickly become yet more second homes.

The parish council opposed both projects.

Lantern Lodge Hotel, which had 14 guest bedrooms, is being demolished to make way for nine holiday apartments, five residential homes and a staff residence in a £3.3 million redevelopment project.

In 2016, the council refused planning permission for the demolition of the hotel and construction of five homes because it would cause the “loss of a valued tourist facility in a prime location” and didn’t “provide affordable housing provision in an area with an exceptional and demonstrable local need”.

Trinity Square Developments said the approved holiday apartment, with uninterrupted views over the English Channel, would be aimed at the UK’s growing “staycation” market.

Further up the hill from the Lantern Lodge is the ten-bedroom Sand Pebbles Hotel, which was sold earlier this year with planning permission for conversion into five holiday cottages, plus owners’ accommodation.

Paul Green, 79, a parish councillor and former aircraft technician who retired to the parish from Coventry 16 years ago, said the present owners of the Sand Pebbles “wanted to do something different than is in the plans”.

“They called a meeting of the parish council and asked us what we wanted to see there and we said we wanted it back as a hotel again because we are losing so many in the area,” Green said.

“The two hotels we have left in Hope Cove are fully booked and so they are clearly viable businesses. It appears, as far as money making goes, that developers think it’s easier to make money from holiday flats than from hotels.”

Green said second homes were vital for the local economy, with those who spend about six months a year in the village helping to raise funds for the local lifeboat station from their permanent homes in places like Bournemouth.

But he said the sheer number of second homes had left too few residents to run village organisations and associations.

“Locals don’t think the hotels should be converted unless they can be proven to be operating at a loss and they haven’t done that,” Green said.

The South Huish neighbourhood plan, passed in May this year, states that a hotel or tourism-related site should only be deemed no longer viable and granted permission for a change of use if it can be determined through an independent assessment that the vacant unit has been actively marketed and offered at a reasonable sale price for at least two years.

The Sand Pebbles Hotel said in its planning application that there had been a steady fall in turnover from £208,000 in 2015 to £150,000 in 2019.

“It is clear that the demand for the hotel has been falling over several years,” its agent said in a report.

The South Hams planning officer agreed, adding in his final report: “It is also relevant that trends in this sector are changing, with a shift towards family accommodation that cannot be met through single hotel rooms which often do not cater for families of four and more.”

Green said he believes it is now “too late” for government legislation to save villages such as Hope Cove from being swallowed by second homes and holiday apartments.

Labour calls for PM to explain ‘advisory board’ for wealthy Tory donors

Labour has called for Boris Johnson to explain the existence of a secretive “advisory board” for wealthy Conservative donors who have received regular access to the prime minister and Rishi Sunak.

Heather Stewart www.theguardian.com 

The Financial Times reported that party chair Ben Elliot, charged with beefing up Tory fundraising efforts, had created the club for some of the party’s most generous donors, some giving £250,000 a year or more.

The Conservative party confirmed the existence of the board, and the fact that its members meet with senior party figures for “political updates”.

News that the chancellor and prime minister have been holding discussions with super-rich donors comes as the government is facing a series of key decisions on tax and spending, including how to pay for rebuilding the creaking social care system.

Elliot founded Quintessentially, a concierge service for the rich, as well as PR firm Hawthorn. The FT reported he had hosted a drinks party at one donor’s home, at which Johnson was present.

Mohamed Amersi, a businessman and Tory donor, told the paper the club was “like the very elite Quintessentially clients membership: one needs to cough up £250,000 per annum or be a friend of Ben”.

Labour party chair Anneliese Dodds said: “This appears to be less of an advisory board than a means for a select group of elite donors to gain privileged access to the prime minister and the chancellor.

“The Conservative party needs to explain what access this group had, what they have used that access to lobby for, and why they think it’s OK for there to be one rule for high-ranking Conservatives and another rule for everyone else.”

A Conservative party spokesperson said: “Donations are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.

“Fundraising is a legitimate part of the democratic process. The alternative is more taxpayer-funding of political campaigning, which would mean less money for frontline services like schools, police and hospitals.”

Johnson was recently criticised for defying the House of Lords appointments commission by giving a peerage to Peter Cruddas, a former Conservative co-treasurer involved in a previous cash-for-access scandal.

Cruddas resigned as Conservative co-treasurer in 2012 after the Sunday Times claimed he was offering access to the prime minister for up to £250,000. A year later Cruddas won £180,000 in damages in a libel action, although that was subsequently reduced to £50,000 after aspects of the original allegations were upheld when the paper appealed.

Boris Johnson ‘regularly complains he can’t afford to do his job’

Claims have again surfaced that Boris Johnson often moans his £157,000 salary is not enough to get by on.

Sam Courtney-Guy metro.co.uk 

The PM had to give up several lucrative gigs when he took office including £275,000 a year to write a weekly column for the Daily Telegraph, slashing his total earnings from a reported £830,000.

Meanwhile his expenses have ramped up, including a divorce settlement with ex-wife Marina Wheeler which is rumoured to have left him ‘cleaned out’.

It is now commonplace to hear Boris complain about money problems, according to Downing Street insiders interviewed for a new investigation into the PM’s personal finances.

Mr Johnson is said to occasionally come out with tear-jerkers such as: ‘I just can’t afford to do this job’.

Rumours of his financial difficulties crystallised around the ‘Wallpapergate’ scandal earlier this year, when it emerged that a refurbishment of the Downing Street had been paid for by Tory donors and that tens of thousands of pounds of costs had not been declared – though the party insists it was registered ‘correctly’.

Although the PM eventually picked up the tab, the report, by the Financial Times, now indicates was initially advised to pay for the work with a loan.

One Downing Street staffer told the newspaper: ‘Boris would come down and complain about how much it was all going to cost.’

The recommendation is said to have come from the Conservative party’s co-chair, Ben Elliot, who, in contrast to his close friend Boris, is known in Tory circles as a fundraising virtuoso who is never short of cash or wealthy connections.

Mr Johnson then briefly explored setting up a charitable trust to make the works more financially efficient, but the idea collapsed as the flat was a private space.

The PM’s property portfolio also appears to have shrunk in recent years.

While divorce proceedings with Ms Wheeler, his second wife, were underway in 2019, the pair sold their Islington townhouse for £3.35 million.

Mr Johnson then bought a house with his future wife Carrie Symonds in Camberwell, south London, for £1.2 million.

His other properties are his Grade II cottage in Oxfordshire, which is now rented out for £4,250 a month, and a 20 per cent share of the Johnson family home in Exmoor.

Property donors provide one-quarter of funds given to Tory party

The Conservative party has received almost £18m in donations from 154 donors with property interests since Boris Johnson became UK prime minister two years ago, according to Financial Times analysis.

“Build, build, build” – Owl

Kadhim Shubber, Jim Pickard and Max Harlow www.ft.com 

The donations made by individuals and companies in the property sector — which account for a quarter of total donations made to the Tory party since July 2019 — come as Johnson pushes ahead with a contentious liberalisation of England’s planning system which critics say could benefit housing developers.

An FT analysis of data published by the Electoral Commission, the UK watchdog for election and party finance, found that at least £17.9m has been given to the Conservative party from property sector donors since July 24, 2019 — when Johnson entered Downing Street. The analysis includes all company donors and those who have given over £100,000 but excludes hundreds of individuals who gave smaller amounts, meaning the true figure could be higher.

Annual property sector donations to the Conservative party under Johnson’s predecessors — Theresa May and David Cameron — ranged from 4 per cent to 12 per cent of the party’s income in the years 2010 to 2018, according to Transparency International UK. The majority of the party’s income comes from donations.

The new FT analysis of donations includes property developers, financiers and investors, as well as hotel tycoons and residential care home developers and operators.

The most generous property donor since Johnson took power in 2019 was Sir Tony Gallagher, the billionaire property developer, who has given £1.5m through his company Countywide Developments. Gallagher was knighted in 2020 for services to land development and property. Gallagher Developments did not respond to a request for comment.

Steve Morgan, former chair of Redrow, one of the UK’s biggest housebuilders, gave £1.25m through Bridgemere UK PLC, his development and investment group. The group is controlled by a Morgan family trust.

On its website Bridgemere says it owns the single biggest stake in Redrow but does not itself do any “direct residential development in the UK”.

Ashley Lewis, Bridgemere’s finance director, said: “The Bridgemere donation to the Conservative party has nothing whatsoever to do with any possible changes to the planning system or any government policy.” He added that any suggestion to the contrary would be false.

The third biggest donor was John Stuart Bloor — owner of Bloor Homes, one of the biggest private housebuilders in the UK — who has donated £1.1m through his JS Bloor Services and Bloor Holdings entities.

A £150,000 donation in March this year by Bloor Holdings was made just 48 hours after a government minister approved a controversial housing scheme for his company, the Sunday Times recently revealed.

Bloor said: “I have never met Boris Johnson, or spoken to him or his ministers, neither have I employed lobbyists. We donate money to the Conservative party and charities because we agree with their ethos of aspiration and hope for individuals and children and expect nothing in return for these donations.”

Many Tory MPs want Boris Johnson to reconsider planning reforms, which many of them see as being to blame for their by-election defeat by the Liberal Democrats in Chesham & Amersham in June © Charlie Bibby/FT

Johnson has said he wants to “transform the sclerotic planning system” by forcing all councils to rewrite their local development plans, changes he hopes will encourage the development of 300,000 new homes every year.

However, many Tory MPs want him to reconsider the reforms, which they blame for the dramatic by-election defeat by the Liberal Democrats in Chesham & Amersham in June. Tory MP Roger Gale has called the planning bill a “developer’s charter”. 

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said: “It will come as a shock to nobody that the very same developers who have the most to gain out of these reforms are piling money into the Tory party.”

Daniel Bruce, chief executive of Transparency International, added that the government needed to show “no favours in policymaking” to those who make political donations. 

“It is clear that the current party of government increasingly relies on a relatively small number of wealthy backers often with substantial interests in the property market. This unhealthy dependence . . . increases the risk of policy becoming captured — putting the interests of donors ahead of the public.”

A Conservative party spokesman said: “Government policy is in no way influenced by donations the party receives. They are entirely separate.”

One senior Tory went further, suggesting that some of the government’s policies were unlikely to be welcomed by the property sector. “If you look at what the Tory party is doing at the moment the property industry are not exactly fans of them, stuff like not allowing you to turn out tenants if they’re not paying rent during the pandemic,” the senior Tory said.

Dominic Cummings pushed through award of £580k Covid deal to Vote Leave ally

Covid “gravy train” keeps growing – Owl

David Conn www.theguardian.com 

Dominic Cummings personally called a former colleague on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign and asked if his company would work for the government on its response to the Covid pandemic, leading to the award of a £580,000 Cabinet Office contract with no competitive process.

In an email on 20 March 2020, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser asked the most senior civil servant responsible for contracts to sign off the budget immediately, and that if “anybody in CABOFF [the Cabinet Office] whines”, to tell them Cummings had “ordered it” from the prime minister.

The company, Hanbury Strategy, was founded by Paul Stephenson shortly after the 2016 Brexit referendum, during which he worked alongside Cummings as the Vote Leave director of communications. Hanbury also worked for the Conservative party on the 2019 general election campaign, with Cummings and Ben Warner, a data specialist who worked for Vote Leave before becoming an adviser at No 10.

The contract with Hanbury, to conduct opinion polls on the public’s view of the government’s Covid response, is subject to a legal challenge by the Good Law Project (GLP), which argues that it shows “apparent bias”, particularly given the company’s close connection to Cummings and the Conservative party.

A witness statement by Cummings and other documents including internal Cabinet Office emails were made public at a court hearing last Friday. They show that concerns were expressed among civil servants that some work Hanbury did with public money, such as polling opinion on opposition politicians, including the Labour party leader, Keir Starmer, and Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, was carried out for the political advantage of the Conservative party.

On 26 May 2020, a Cabinet Office official emailed a colleague saying: “Hanbury measures attitudes towards political figures, which they shouldn’t do using government money, but they’ve been asked to and it’s a battle that I think is hard to fight.”

Cummings said in his witness statement that “my expert opinion” was that Hanbury would provide world-class polling work, and was the only firm who could do what was needed, start immediately and “we can trust to give their all and be honest”.

Cummings said that, on Sunday 15 March 2020, “I called many people to ask for help – epidemiologists, project managers etc. I also asked Paul Stephenson, a partner at Hanbury, if he would help with polling, data collection and modelling.”

Stephenson said they could start straight away. Cummings said in his statement: “Following my call to Paul Stephenson … I requested that Hanbury be engaged urgently to start conducting frequent large-scale polls immediately.”

On 20 March, Cummings emailed Alex Aiken, the head of government communications at the Cabinet Office, saying: “URGENT: Alex pls sign off immediately budget so Paul S can get out our large scale polls into field TODAY. Anybody in CABOFF whines tell them I ordered it from PM [OFFICIAL].”

Normal legal requirements for government contracts to be opened out to a full competitive tender were suspended due to the emergency of the pandemic, and the contract was directly awarded to Hanbury.

In a similar judicial review challenge to a direct contract – awarded to Public First, a research company with longstanding connections to Cummings – Mrs Justice O’Farrell ruled in GLP’s favour in June, saying that even in the pandemic the government should have conducted an exercise to consider other potential companies.

Aiken said in his witness statement that Cummings’ email was not “an instruction to me or my team to appoint Hanbury … this was purely an idea we were being asked to consider and I have pushed back on such requests before”. Aiken said he decided to hire Hanbury after it provided a good proposal for opinion polling, and its work was of high quality which had “left a legacy” for Cabinet Office opinion polling.

He said he would have preferred the questions about Starmer and Khan not to have been asked, but explained it was not to seek political advantage; they were testing an idea for joint press conferences with government ministers, and to “benchmark” the credibility of government spokespeople. It was “well-intentioned but ill-considered”, Aiken said. Cummings also said that polling was to see if the politicians “could help public health communication, it had no political purpose of any kind”.

A Hanbury spokesperson said the company agreed to do the work “at extremely short notice” although it involved reputational risk.

They said: “Our work contributed to what was a hugely successful public health communications campaign which undoubtedly prevented many deaths. For that reason, if we had to make the choice again we would still agree to step up and help in this time of crisis.”

The Cabinet Office has appealed against the judgment in the Public First case, and is also defending the GLP’s challenge to the Hanbury contract, arguing it was awarded lawfully.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “In response to an unprecedented global pandemic, the government acted with urgency to undertake vital research into public attitudes and behaviours. This research shaped crucial public health messages, helping us to protect the NHS and save lives.”

NHS Covid-19 app pings rise by over 70,000 to new record

One has to conclude that there must still be a high level of Covid in circulation. – Owl

The number of self-isolation alerts sent by the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales has risen to a new record of 689,313 in the week up to 21 July.

BBC News www.bbc.co.uk

The figures represent an increase of over 70,000 compared with the previous week.

But the rate of increase was lower than the previous week, rising by 11% compared to 17%.

If you are “pinged” by the app you are advised – but not legally obliged – to self-isolate for 10 days.

However the government has said it is crucial for people to do so.

Number of check ins to venues on the app is down

In recent weeks, there has been widespread criticism that the app has been sending out so many alerts that hundreds of thousands of people are self-isolating and missing work, causing widespread disruption.

It led to the government allowing some key workers – such as those working in food distribution – to be exempt from having to self-isolate if pinged. Instead they have to take daily tests.

There are currently 260 testing sites open for these workers, Downing Street said on Thursday – and they are working to set up another 800. After that, 1,200 more sites will be opened “over the coming days”.

From 16 August, all fully-vaccinated people will not need to self-isolate if pinged by the app, although they will be encouraged to book a Covid PCR test.

The impact on businesses has resulted in calls for the 16 August deadline to be brought forward.

Number of pings rising

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is asking for urgent assistance to exempt staff pinged by the NHS Covid app saying pings are affecting production.

Many in the hospitality industry also complained of shortages as staff had to self-isolate. Some bar staff have told the BBC that they’ve lost a lot of money by missing shifts, while others say they have been told to delete the app by their manager.

The app alert is advisory only and not enforceable by law, unlike a phone call from the NHS Test and Trace team.

Latest data from Test and Trace shows that 14% of cases transferred to contact-tracers in the week to 21 July were not reached and so were unable to provide details of close contacts.

This is the highest proportion of people not reached since October last year.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van Tam said separate figures from Public Health England showed the vaccines have now prevented 22 million Covid cases and 60,000 deaths. He added it was “truly massive”.

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Analysis box by Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent

If you were looking for evidence that the “pingdemic” is over you will struggle to find it in these statistics. The figure of nearly 690,000 contact tracing alerts – or pings – is a new record, up 11% on the previous week. They were triggered by nearly 148,000 positive test results entered in the app, up 25%.

Despite the anecdotal evidence of people switching off or getting rid of the app, there is no sign yet of mass deletions.

But there are a few straws in the wind suggesting things might be changing. The rate of increase in pings slowed, and the number of alerts triggered by each positive test result was down. That suggests that people who later became infected had fewer close contacts – either because they were socialising less or because those they encountered did not have the app.

In the week when restrictions in England were relaxed so that venues did not need to record visitors’ details, check-ins via the app were sharply lower.

As they find they don’t need it to check in, more people may decide the app is more trouble than it’s worth.

But the team which designed it believes the NHS Covid-19 app is changing behaviour in useful ways – even if someone ignores a ping’s instruction to self isolate they may become more cautious, and anyone who has a holiday planned may be nudged into staying at home for a few days beforehand rather than having their plans spoiled by an alert.

At first, it was criticised for being ineffective, in recent weeks it’s been accused of disrupting thousands of businesses, but its designers believe this experimental technology is finally proving that it can be a useful weapon in controlling the pandemic.

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Breakdown of where the self isolation alerts come from

After a week of falling cases the number of people testing positive for coronavirus rose on Wednesday, when 27,734 new daily cases were reported.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The truth is, when it comes to case numbers no one really knows where they are going to go next”.

Science Park creates 100 new jobs with huge new building

This must be in addition to the 150 jobs expected for the Ada Lovelace building started in February 2020 (100 jobs). Yet there is still room for the 300 space car park. – Owl

Chloe Parkman http://www.devonlive.com

Exeter Science Park’s new £5m ‘Grow-Out’ building is set to house up to 100 jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine sectors (STEMM), helping to drive the South West’s economic recovery post-Covid.

Funding for the £5m project, which is due to for completion in November, was secured in August 2020, from the Government’s ‘Getting Building Fund’ and allocated to Exeter Science Park by the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSW LEP) from their £35.4 million share of the national pot.

The 14,000 sq ft building has been designed to provide flexible office and laboratory space for up to 11 firms. It will be net-zero carbon for operational energy and BREEAM Excellent, a method used to assess its sustainability.

Construction work began at the Park just five months ago and the project has seen the fastest turnaround of any building scheme undertaken there.

Dr Sally Basker, CEO of Exeter Science Park, said: “Getting to this point has required outstanding collaboration.

“Everyone has played their part and the hard work of colleagues at Exeter Science Park, Morgan Sindall, NPS South West Limited and the Southern Construction Framework, has really made this happen.

“This quick turnaround has seen us save up to 33% of the time involved, compared to a conventional build programme.

“Exeter Science Park helps innovative STEMM companies to deliver extraordinary growth and these are exactly the kinds of businesses that will help accelerate economic recovery and drive the economy forward as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was one of the first Getting Building Fund projects to begin construction in the area and this was made possible thanks to collaboration between client, consultants, contractors and designers.

Within a few months of funding being secured, detailed designs were drawn up, a planning application submitted and contractor Morgan Sindall procured through the Southern Construction Framework and appointed in October 2020.

Nearly three quarters of the men and women involved during the construction phase are from the Greater Exeter area.

Brian Rice, Morgan Sindall Construction Area Director, said: “The Grow-Out Space will provide a place for innovation-led businesses to thrive. Its design and unerring focus on sustainability sets a new precedent for the standards fast-growing companies can expect.

“As with all of our schemes, we have looked to boost the regional economy by routing work through the local supply chain wherever possible.

“Our team and project partners have worked collaboratively and tirelessly to ensure this project is delivered quickly. The Southern Construction Framework has been a key enabler; working with Exeter Science Park to reduce lead times significantly.

“We’re excited to see this key asset for the region’s knowledge economy coming to life and to mark this topping out milestone on schedule.”

David Ralph, Chief Executive of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “It’s fantastic to see this innovative new facility preparing to open at Exeter Science Park.

“It will provide valuable innovation space for STEMM businesses, supporting them to grow and boosting employment for the city and region.

“We’re delighted to support it with funding from HotSW LEP’s Getting Building Fund. Exeter Science Park is a thriving business location and has an important role to play as we look to rebuild local economies and build back better with a cleaner and more inclusive economy.”

Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, Luke Hall MP, said : “I’m delighted that £5 million Government investment has helped the construction of the Exeter Science Park Grow-out Building.

“By creating up to 100 new jobs and helping to attract further investment, this project will support the long-term prosperity of Devon and bring many opportunities to the community.”

You can stay up to date on the top news near you with DevonLive’s FREE newsletters – enter your email address at the top of the page or go here.

The Grow-out Building 3 has been designed by architects LHC Design, working for NPS South West Property Consultants, and procured using the Southern Construction Framework.

Morgan Sindall Construction’s supply chain includes own design team includes Grainge Architects, SDS mechanical & engineering consultants, and structural engineer Clarke Bond.

Exeter Science Park Limited is the Park developer and has four shareholders: Devon County Council, the University of Exeter, East Devon District Council and Exeter City Council.

Small East Devon houses could harm athletes

East Devon District Council (EDDC) could be preventing rugby stars of the future from achieving their potential because new houses in the area are too small.

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

A councillor leading a campaign to make East Devon homes larger, Councillor Peter Faithful, also fears for the future of basketball players.

The independent councillor for Ottery St Mary told a council meeting: “With younger residents getting taller by the year I feel it is our duty to build residential units large enough for the next generation to live in. 

“If we want to support our rugby players and our basketball players the least we can offer is rooms large enough for them to live in.”

So he’s proposed a motion so that will stop housebuilders cramming as many dwellings as possible on new developments, leading to homes too small for comfort.

Cllr Faithfull said that because of a lack of a policy, the council can’t reject residential planning applications based on size. And he argued that landlords take advantage by building more homes than there is space for, in the interests of profitability.

Cllr Faithful said: “Within my own ward I know of three applications which should have been rejected due to them being under the nationally recognised size.”

In 2015 the government published space standards but left it to councils to enforce them through policies in their local plans.

Despite attempts by some members of the council, no action has yet been taken in East Devon to put these standards in place.

With 41 votes in favour, the motion was recommended for approval to officers. This temporary decision-making framework was launched on Monday after the council decided to make its meetings virtual again because of fears over current covid risks. For the time being,  senior East Devon Council officers now have to rubber-stamp councillor’s recommendations.

Councillor Mike Allen (Conservative, Honiton St. Michael’s), who supported the motion, said lack of action had resulted in some houses being built to substandard sizes, something, he argues, “should never have happened.” 

Seconding the motion, Councillor Vicky Johns (Independent Progressive Group, Ottery St Mary)  said: “It’s a shame that developers do get away with doing this kind of thing and hopefully if we do put the policy place it will nip in the bud.”

But Councillor Faithfull’s worries for the future of British sport if East Devon District Council keeps allowing small homes may be mitigated now that the motion is agreed. The council will seek to implement the national space standards as part of its updated local plan (2021-2040) which is currently being drafted.

Beach-goers spotted lounging under crumbling cliffs

A number of beach-goers have been pictured sitting directly under East Devon’s crumbling cliffs, despite an enormous sign warning them of the potential dangers.

Chloe Parkman www.devonlive.com (see online article for photo)

The photograph was taken last week near Sandy Bay as many people across the county raced to the coast in order to take advantage of the heatwave.

Beaches across the county were packed full as temperatures hit highs of around 30C in some areas of Devon.

The image which shows the beach-goers located right next to a yellow sign which reads: “DANGER – beware of falling rocks” has sparked upset in local residents to the area.

Following the scene, eye-witness Raymond Loades, said: “[This happened] at Sandy Bay Wednesday (July, 21).]

“Having seen this every time we go there for the last five or six years I felt it was time to try and get something done as when I usually point out what the notice says, the majority of the replies are unprintable.”

Raymond says that he posted the image on a local community Facebook page, raising awareness regarding the unstable cliffs.

In response to the photograph, one person wrote: “If people can’t read a simple notice surely we should leave them to the consequences. Maybe a lucky day.”

Another said: “That buggy right near the danger sign is a shocker too!”

Over the course of the year there have been a number of cliff falls along along East Devon’s coastline, particularly in Sidmouth.

DevonLive has reported on numerous cliff falls in Sidmouth, with four taking place last month alone.

A spokesperson for East Devon District Council said: “Cliff falls are a natural and unpredictable occurrence along the East Devon coast, this is because the rock from which the cliffs are formed is soft and therefore prone to rock falls and landslides, which can happen at any time, although heavy rainfall can trigger incidences.

“East Devon’s cliffs are a key part of the scenery that attracts visitors to the area, however the cliffs pose a very real danger and caution must be exercised when visiting them.

“Rock falls and landslides are unpredictable events, occurring without warning, and can cause serious injury or death.

“Warning signs can be found in areas managed by us.

“The absence of a sign does not indicate there is no risk and you should always take care around the cliffs of East Devon as all are made of soft rock and pose a cliff fall danger.

“Heavy rainfall can trigger cliff falls – but cliff falls are a normal occurrence along the East Devon coastline.

“It is good practice when on the beach to stay well clear of the cliff base and to keep an eye out for fresh fall material or water running down the cliffs, which may indicate an area that is weakened and loose. If in doubt, don’t walk under or near the cliffs.

“The Coastguard advises that beach users stay at least the height of the cliff away. For example, if a cliff is 20 metres high, a distance of 20 metres should be kept.

“If a cliff fall does occur and you suspect that someone has been injured, call 999 immediately.

“Do not explore recent cliff falls as there is a risk of further falls. A comprehensive guide to staying safe around beaches and cliffs is available from the Coastguard.

“We complete annual cliff inspections at sites we believe pose a risk in our land ownership/area of responsibility.

“This includes sites at Beer, Budleigh Salterton, Seaton and Sidmouth, as well as an inland cliff site in Exmouth at Plantation Walk.

“These inspections include removing loose material and additional safety works such as installation of rock netting.

“If you notice a recent cliff fall or any issues with our stabilisation interventions at any of the above locations, please get in touch with our Customer Service Centre.

“While this work aims to reduce the risk of incidents, we cannot guarantee incidents will not occur at these locations.

“We therefore recommend that where possible, you enjoy the cliffs from a distance and do not climb or sit directly beneath them.”

[Owl received eyewitness reports of a cliff fall in Budleigh a week ago towards Sandy Bay]