800,000 fewer homes zero-carbon due to Tory planning deregulation

Around 800,000 homes have been built to lower emissions standards or without carbon offsets because the government scrapped tough environmental rules six years ago, it can be revealed.

www.independent.co.uk 

Ministers were accused of wasting “years of vital progress” in the fight against the climate emergency, baking in high-carbon housing stock for decades, and driving up energy bills for families.

The last Labour government introduced a legal requirement for new homes to be made net zero carbon by 2016, but in 2015 the Conservative government scrapped the plan at the last minute.

796,710 new dwellings have been built since then, according to official figures – practically none of them net zero and all expected to last well beyond when the whole economy must hit net zero.

It comes amid concern about the influence of property developers on the Conservative party, with the party having taken £891,000 in donations from the sector in the first quarter of 2021 alone.

Companies linked to property developers have donated over £10 million to the governing party since the start of 2019 and Labour says Tories have consistently put the interests of donors ahead of the public.

Approached about the policy change, the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government said the net zero requirement’s inclusion of “carbon offsetting” as a possible way for homes to hit net zero justified ending the requirement altogether.

However, the government could have changed the rules of the schemes to simply not allow carbon offsetting.

Offsetting, which involves strategies like planting trees to reduce the net emissions of a project, is also used in other areas of government policy, including as part of the government’s own national net zero emissions target.

Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said: “The Government’s dither and delay means we’ve lost six years of vital progress in reducing emissions and lowering energy bills.

“Sadly this mistake isn’t just a one-off but part of a damaging pattern. Just this year, the Government axed the Green Homes Grant scheme which could have helped households insulate their homes, reduce their emissions, and save money on bills.

“800,000 households could have had lower energy bills and zero carbon homes by now if the zero carbon hones standard had not been abolished. Hundreds of thousands more homes will also be built before this standard comes in.

“The Conservatives cannot be trusted to deliver, whether it’s on reducing emissions or protecting family finances.”

The government has now said it will require homes to be made net zero by 2025, with higher emissions standards phased in. Offsets will also be used as part of the government’s plan to eventually make homes net zero.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government said: “The Zero Carbon Homes policy involved carbon offsetting, rather than making homes zero carbon, and would have would have provided limited benefits to consumers as it wouldn’t necessarily have increased the efficiency of their homes.

“By delivering carbon reductions through the fabric and building services in a home, rather than relying on wider carbon offsetting, the Future Homes Standard ensures new homes will have a smaller carbon footprint than any previous government policy.”

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 2 August

‘Lost samples and late results’: the Tory donor, his son and their travel-test firms

A Tory donor and his son are facing questions about two private companies they run offering Covid-19 PCR tests for travellers, amid complaints about poor service.

Rob Davies www.theguardian.com 

Dr Ashraf Chohan, founder and chair of Conservative Friends of the NHS, which aims to forge ties between politicians and healthcare workers in the private and public sectors, is the sole director of 1Rapid Clinics, a government-approved Covid-19 testing company that some customers have claimed sent results back late, lost samples and refused refunds.

Chohan’s testing company is just one of a number of private firms with links to the Conservatives. Details of his involvement have emerged amid concern that the for-profit Covid testing regime put in place by the government is on the brink of collapse.

The industry has left a trail of unhappy holidaymakers complaining that the testing kits, or the results from those kits, often failed to arrive as promised, ultimately placing an extra burden on the NHS, which is supplying free tests for those let down by private providers.

The firms typically charge £80-£200 for pre-bought PCR tests that are mandatory for people arriving in the UK, almost twice the price that passengers pay in Europe. It is thought travellers to the UK have spent at least £500m on PCR tests from private companies since mid-May.

According to Companies House, Chohan’s 1Rapid Clinics was set up in December 2020 to offer traveller-testing including PCR tests for £70. The company received a string of negative ratings on the customer review website Trustpilot in May, the month that international leisure travel became legal again. At some point, the company’s name on Trustpilot was changed to 92 Workbooks. More than half of the ratings are marked “bad”, a worse performance than other testing companies’ Trustpilot ratings reviewed by the Observer. More recent reviews, which appear on Google against the 1Rapid Clinics name, are much more positive.

The doctor-turned-businessman, who owns a care home company, was previously a significant Labour donor but began giving money to the Conservative party in 2019 and has since given £20,000, as well as sending a £750 hamper to Boris Johnson.

The tweet, since deleted, of Dr Ashfraf Chohan meeting the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab.

The tweet, since deleted, of Dr Ashfraf Chohan meeting the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab. Photograph: @DrAshrafChohn Twitter account

At the start of August, Chohan posted a picture of himself on Twitter – deleted last week after the Observer contacted him – with the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, saying he had discussed “red lists”. This is thought to be a reference to coronavirus travel restrictions. Raab’s office did not return a request for comment.

Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, which has launched legal action against the government over its handling of contracts with private companies, raised concerns about the testing provided by private firms.

“When things (inevitably) go wrong, it’s the NHS and the public paying the price. Has this government learned nothing 18 months on?”

1Rapid told the Observer it had only been added to the list of approved Covid testing companies after “following the defined normal standard process”. It said complaints were dealt with through normal procedures, and suggested the conversation between the businessman and Raab concerned a “visit to Pakistan for a bereavement”. Chohan has not responded personally to requests for comment.

Chohan is not the only family member with an approved Covid testing company. In April, his son Jamal Chohan set up Quick Clinics to offer tests to returning holidaymakers. His company, previously called Quick Translate, used to offer translation services to people making personal injury claims. Reviewers of Quick Clinics on Trustpilot have complained that test results from the company were delayed or lost, while test kits were missing swabs, with 67% of reviews deemed “bad”.

The company also received positive reviews but some appear to have been added by people connected to it. One positive review was posted on 30 July by a user who shares a name with a person whose LinkedIn profile states that they are an intern at Quick Reporting, also controlled by Jamal Chohan.

Jamal Chohan did not respond to a request for comment.

Negative headlines about the testing system reached fever pitch last week when photos surfaced online showing drop-off boxes run by Randox, the UK’s largest PCR testing provider, overflowing with unprocessed swabs. The Conservative MP Owen Paterson is a £100,000 a year consultant to Randox.

The Department of Health was approached for comment.

The cost of Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up’: £2tn, says UK thinktank

All we are likely to get is more “magic sauce” warm words. – Owl

Josh Halliday www.theguardian.com 

Boris Johnson’s plan to “level up” the UK will require a similar scale of funding to the near-£2tn reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a leading thinktank has said.

Centre for Cities said the schemes outlined so far by the government were a “drop in the ocean” and that closing the north-south divide would cost hundreds of billions of pounds over decades if done properly.

In a stark analysis shared with the Guardian, the non-partisan research group said England’s biggest cities, including Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, have the lowest productivity and life expectancy in western Europe.

In Madrid, the average person can expect to live nearly a decade longer than someone in Glasgow or Liverpool, where life expectancy is four years below the European average. People in Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham live on average two years less than those on the continent, the figures show.

Paul Swinney, the policy director of Centre for Cities, said: “We’ve had this north-south divide for at least 85 years now. It’s a huge challenge [to address].”

Levelling up has been a keystone of Johnson’s domestic policy since his election in 2019 but there has been scant new policy to match the rhetoric. The government is expected to offer more policies in a white paper in autumn but experts have been underwhelmed by what they describe as a lack of coherence, urgency or ambition in the prime minister’s announcements so far.

Swinney said the scale of funding needed to be similar to that spent by the German government on the rehabilitation of East Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. That cost is estimated to have reached €2tn (£1.7tn), met partly by a solidarity surcharge (Solidaritätszuschlag) tax on all German adults.

“At the moment we’re in the rounds of a couple of small pots of funding and some nice warm words about some places and free ports,” he said.

“The East German example gives you a peg to [assess] how far we are away from that. If we’re absolutely miles away, which we are currently, that feels uncomfortable. But if there’s something more comprehensive that gets you closer to that, then that’s pretty close to where you need to be.”

A government spokeswoman said it was investing billions of pounds to regenerate parts of Britain, including the £4.8bn levelling up fund and £2.4bn distributed to 101 areas through the towns fund.

The spokeswoman said the white paper would show how “bold new policy interventions will improve livelihoods across the country” and added: “We are taking decisive action to level up health inequalities across the country, providing extensive support to protect and improve the public’s health and wellbeing during the pandemic and beyond.”

Research has shown that the UK has higher levels of regional inequality than any other large wealthy country. Analysis by the University of Sheffield two years ago found that the UK was more inter-regionally unequal than 28 other advanced Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Slovakia and Ireland were the only wealthy nations with worse inequality between regions, it found.

Analysis by Centre for Cities shows all major British cities outside London at the bottom of the western European league table for productivity. In Newcastle, Sheffield, Nottingham and Glasgow, the gross value added (GVA) per head – a measure of what is generated by economic activity in an area – is almost half that in Brussels, Amsterdam and Munich.

Life expectancy in UK cities is also among the lowest in western Europe. Female life expectancy in the UK is the 17th lowest when ranked against EU countries (83.1 years), higher only than Denmark, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. A woman in Glasgow will on average live to nearly 80, compared with 88 in Madrid and 87 in Lyon, Toulouse and Nantes.

Jo Bibby, the director of heath at the Health Foundation, said the UK’s generally poor health was holding back the country’s economic performance. Mental health issues are the biggest cause of people being out of work, she said, and are an “obvious place to start” in the levelling-up agenda. “You won’t level up the economy unless you level up health,” she added.

Henri Murison, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, the business and civic group chaired by George Osborne, urged the government to commit urgently to the rail projects HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail and address deep inequalities in health and education, “otherwise levelling up will be nothing more than rhetoric – not the serious economic rebalancing we were promised”.

94% of adults now have antibodies, why are Covid cases increasing?

Will we reach herd immunity for the new coronavirus? 

David Spiegelhalter is chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at Cambridge. Anthony Masters is statistical ambassador for the Royal Statistical Society www.theguardian.com

The Office for National Statistics Covid infection survey estimates that, either through vaccination or infection, an extraordinary 94% of adults now have antibodies to Sars-CoV-2.

So why are cases increasing and why does vaccine star Prof Sir Andrew Pollard say herd immunity for Covid-19 is “mythical”?

The reproduction number “R” is the average number of people infected by someone infected with Sars-CoV-2. If everyone in the population were susceptible, as in the start of an epidemic, this is labelled R0 (the basic reproduction number). For “vanilla” Sars-CoV-2, R0 was about three; with the Delta variant, it is about seven.

Suppose that among these seven people who would – on average – be infected, six were immune, the virus would only get passed on to one new person and the epidemic would stop growing. In this scenario, R would be effectively one. So, in theory, when 1 – 1/R0 of the population are immune, we reach herd immunity, which for Sars-CoV-2 is 6/7 = 86% of the population.

So what’s the problem? First, the neat formula does not describe real life: immunity is not uniformly spread and people do not mix evenly. Second, including children, the proportion of the population with antibodies is likely to be less than 94%. Third, the formula requires sterilising immunity: stopping infection in potential hosts. For this kind of virus, vaccinations reduce but do not eliminate the risk of infection, subsequent transmission and severe disease.

Sars-CoV-2 differs from measles, which has a very high R0 of about 16, but for which full vaccination or survived infections probably bestow lifelong immunity. Of course, measles can still spread when those lacking immunity are close, such as when young people who had not been vaccinated following the MMR scare in the early 00s grew up and started gathering at music festivals.

Sars-CoV-2 is becoming endemic, meaning continued recurrent outbreaks, especially in communities with low levels of immunity. We shall all remain at some risk, which is a difficult message for those with extreme anxiety about Covid-19. But while herd immunity may be an unattainable goal, every step towards it helps.