Ministers slated for ‘unacceptable’ delivery of Green Homes Grant

“Set up to fail” – Meg Hillier MP, Chair  Public Accounts Committee

By Joey Gardiner www.bdonline.co.uk 

National Audit Office says abandoned £1.5bn domestic retrofit discount scheme will help less than a tenth of the homes originally targeted

Government auditors have slammed the ‘unacceptable’ delivery of the £1.5bn Green Homes Grant scheme designed to help fund 600,000 green domestic retrofits, but which was ultimately closed this spring after paying out just £36m in vouchers.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report released today concluded the scheme was delivered to an over-ambitious timetable and “not executed to an acceptable standard”, with NAO head Gareth Davies describing it as “rushed”.

MP Meg Hiller, chair of the cross-party Public Accounts Committee, said the scheme was “set up to fail”, with its design taking “little account of supplier and homeowners’ needs”.

The NAO report said the scheme, delivered by the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), was currently estimated as likely to fund just 47,500 energy improvement measures, less than 10% of the 600,000 forecast, with a total scheme spend of £256m.

The report blamed the failure on the rushed implementation of the scheme, which was opened just 12 weeks after being announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak as a post-lockdown stimulus measure.

Sunak had said the whole £1.5bn of subsidy should be spent in just six months.

This gave the department just three months in which to design the Scheme, consult with stakeholders and procure a grant administrator. The report found that none of the potential grant administrators approached by the department felt the timetable for setting up a digital voucher system was deliverable, however the one chosen, ICF Consulting Services, said it could have a system up and running in the quickest timeframe. In the event, the system was not fully functioning at the point the scheme was closed in March this year.

The average time the administrator took to issue a voucher under the scheme, following application, was 137 days, with more than half of applicants either failing the application process or withdrawing their application before a decision was taken.

The NAO also revealed that the department’s accounting officer decided to go ahead with the scheme despite the department’s investment committee having rejected it as too risky. This was justified on the basis the scheme was “intended to play a key part in the government’s response to mitigating the pandemic’s economic impacts”, and would deliver value for money in any event, even if not all the cash was spent.

However, ultimately, the scheme incurred administration costs of more than £50m – equating to more than £1,000 per house, a number Hiller described as “astonishing”.

Hillier added: “The government cannot hope to achieve its net zero ambitions if it doesn’t learn the lessons from this botched scheme.”

The report found that despite one of the lessons from previous energy schemes being that schemes should be designed following a proper evaluation of stakeholders’ views, the scheme was announced in July 2020 without any consultation at all, with the department only consulting with installers afterwards.

Given the scheme design and rapid timetable, the NAO found that some installers were reluctant to invest in gaining the appropriate accreditation to take part in the scheme, meaning some homeowners were unable to find installers.

A BEIS spokesperson said the Green Homes Grant was designed as a short-term economic stimulus and delivered during an ongoing pandemic. “Despite this, and challenges with delivery, 99.9% of applications have now been processed, meaning almost 80,000 upgrades to homes,” the spokesperson said.

The department said the UK had a strong track record in improving the energy performance of its homes, with 40% now above Energy Performance (EPC) Band C, up from just 9% in 2008, with the government having committed £9 billion of investment in improving the energy efficiency of buildings.

NHS hiring army of new £270,000 bosses who’ll check how £36bn is being spent

The NHS is hiring 42 new chief executives who will be paid up to £270,000 each, raising fears about how the new health and social care tax will be spent.

Tom Williams metro.co.uk 

Job adverts for CEOs who will lead new integrated care boards across the country were posted at the start of the month.

The NHS has defended the move, saying it is reducing the number of boards from more than 100 and the new recruits will be responsible for the health of hundreds of thousands of people.

But MPs have expressed concerns about the appointments, who will all earn £233,000 on average – more than the Prime Minister – and collectively cost around £9million.

This week all working people were asked to foot the £36bn bill to cover the increased costs of caring for sick and elderly people over the next three years.

A 1.25% hike on national insurance will raise an extra £12bn but broke a Conservative manifesto commitment. It is intended to fix a massive backlog in the NHS caused by Covid.

MPs passed the new legislation in the Commons last night despite widespread discontent among the Tory backbenches.

The new roles will be required to lead the delivery of ‘joined-up’ services across the NHS and social care.

Adverts posted online say successful candidates will need to be ‘politically astute’ and ‘actively champion diversity, inclusion, and equality of opportunity for all’.

Experts have warned there may be little money left for social care as the NHS could ‘swallow up’ much of the extra £12bn being made available.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said the health service would continue to require most of the new revenue in the coming years, despite plans to divert much of the cash to social care after October 2023.

The health secretary Sajid Javid promised MPs yesterday that he will be ‘watchful for any waste or wokery’ from the NHS, according to the Daily Telegraph.

But criticising the new CEO positions, one Tory MP told the paper: ‘People on low salaries will have difficulty understanding why they are having to pay significantly more tax partly to pay mega salaries for these new posts.’

Care minister Helen Whately has promised the Government will be keeping a ‘really close eye’ on how extra funding will be spent by the NHS.

Asked on Sky News about the new CEO roles, Ms Whately said: ‘People working in the NHS in those kinds of roles are taking on a lot of responsibility, they’re big jobs, and they’re moving from having more senior managers in the NHS to fewer through doing this, the NHS reckons that it needs to have that level of pay to have the right people in those jobs.

‘But I do think the Government keeps a really close eye on making sure that NHS money is spent carefully and appropriately because we want as much of the funding as possible to go to the front line.’

An NHS spokesperson said: ‘Overall, there will be fewer statutory boards – going from over 100 to 42 – and so the people in these roles will have responsibility for the health of thousands more people.’

Massive 820 homes plan for Devon approved

The tyranny of the five-year land supply, land-banking and outline planning permissions  – Owl

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 

Plans for 820 new homes to be built on the outskirts of Barnstaple have been given the go-ahead by planners.

North Devon Council’s planning committee on Wednesday morning unanimously backed the outline scheme for Landkey, with planning officer Jean Watkins telling the committee that the potential ramifications of denying planning permission were “catastrophic.”

Officers had recommended that the scheme, which could eventually take 11 years to complete, be given the go-ahead, and councillors at the meeting backed the recommendation despite concerns over how the site would be accessed, and the low level of affordable housing, described as ‘disappointing’.

Access into the site is set to be from a roundabout at the Landkey junction on the A361, but a planned secondary access through neighbouring Westacott Park was stopped by the council last month following an outcry from local residents, and the council voting not to sell the land.

Some nearby residents fear a build up of traffic in the area that will lead to the 820 new home becoming a cul-de-sac, but the council decided to approve the project despite being unsure of what, if any, secondary access road can be delivered.

Artist impression of the completed project and the new roundabout at Landkey. Credit: North Devon Council

Artist impression of the completed project and the new roundabout at Landkey. Credit: North Devon Council

Cllr Malcolm Prowse had described the lack of a link road as a “tragedy.” He said: It ain’t gonna work – we have got to sort out sustainable links for this site to the rest of Barnstaple.”

He argued the public would criticise the council for not insisting on more affordable housing in the plans, a concern shared by several members of the planning committee.

But officers had recommended the plans be approved, and the councillors voting in favour, as without the scheme, the council would not be able to demonstrate a five year land supply, and thus would be at risk of hostile and unwelcome applications on sites not allocated or wanted for development.

The development by East Midlands company Barwood Land will include at least 82 affordable homes, with a potential for up to 25 more. It will include a new primary school and community hub and is believed it could create between 600 to 650 new jobs around Barnstaple.

The report of officers, recommending approval, said: “The scheme will deliver much needed housing including affordable housing in the form of a new community with a school and neighbourhood hub at its heart. There is a new employment zone planned with good access to the A361.

“Cycle and pedestrian links will connect the site back to the Whiddon Valley area and onwards to the links to the town centre and the Community Hub has been planned to contain recreational, social and business facilities and is at the heart of this new development.”

It added: “The key issue is how to deliver the Local Plan’s aspiration of a secondary access back into Whiddon Valley. It is not within this applicant’s control to deliver this link but routes to the site boundary will be provided to allow for onward connection should this link be agreed in time. It is also recognised that it will take between 500-600 units to be constructed before such a link is feasible for safety reasons and to ensure that frontage development is planned.

“The link to Westacott road in whatever form will not be an instant requirement which will allow other options, and if a secondary access is not agreed, then in highway terms the use of a sole point of access from the A361 does not result in safety issues, but in sustainability terms the layout does not connect one community well to another.

“It is not considered to be good place making without such a link, but this application is not considered to fail without a link, particularly as Devon County Council now advise that a bus service can be provided which will support the Park and Change.”

Artist impression of a bird\'s-eye view of the completed project. Credit: North Devon Council

Artist impression of a bird\’s-eye view of the completed project. Credit: North Devon Council

It concluded: “On balance, it is considered that the outline application is acceptable and will provide sustainable development, deliver much needed housing using a well-conceived Masterplan which emphases green infrastructure and a balance of facilities.”

Planning officer Jean Watkins described the potential ramifications of denying planning permission in one word: “catastrophic.”

Councillors voted in favour of the scheme, with a reserved matters application of the detail of the application needed to be submitted and approved before construction can begin.

NEW: A rare and vital win for the future of our planet – Good Law Project

goodlawproject

We’ve won. Government has today announced its new policy for the future of energy production in the UK following our legal challenge last year. We are pleased to say that the proposed new policy is better for our planet, for our children and for our grandchildren. 

Coal and oil-fired generation are out. Gas is being phased out. 

Fewer fossil fuel projects will now be rubber-stamped. 

It’s not perfect yet. And we know more can and must be done. For example, there is scope for Government to be pushed yet further on the timetable for phasing out gas in the public consultation. But in terms of using the law as a tool for social change, this is a win of real substance. 

Thanks to the support of hundreds of you, we’ve proven Government can be made to take the right steps to tackle the impending climate catastrophe and protect our children’s futures. It’s never too late. 

Since forcing Government to review the Energy National Policy Statement we have turned our attention to the out of date and polluting Airports National Policy Statement. Government has announced it won’t review that NPS and we think it needs to do so to meet its NetZero by 2050 obligation in the Climate Change Act. We’ve assembled a strong team to work on the case – and we will deploy the same legal arguments as we did on the Energy NPS. We hope they will achieve the same result. 

As COP26 draws closer, we’re challenging Government to prove to people, both here and around the world, that it means what it says on climate change.

If you are in a position to do so you can support the legal challenge here. Thank you so much for your backing to date. We couldn’t do it without you.

We are grateful too, to our co-claimants Dale Vince and George Monbiot, without whom this challenge would not have been possible. 


It is only with your support that we can continue to hold Government to account. If you would like to make a donation, you can do so here.

Anger over ‘egotism and discrimination’ on Mid Devon’s planning processes

Mid Devon’s planning committee has elements of ‘egotism and discrimination’ a councillor has claimed.

Lewis Clarke www.devonlive.com

At Mid Devon District Council’s full meeting on Wednesday, August 25, Councillor Ashley Wilces (Cullompton North, Unaffiliated) put forward a motion stating: “Any councillor may attend any meeting of a committee of the council and may speak on any agenda item for that meeting.

“However, in relation to the planning committee, the right to speak on a planning application, enforcement item, or other report relating to a particular ward of the council shall be limited to the rights of a ward member to speak as set out in the Protocol of Good Practice for Councillors Dealing in Planning Matters; in addition, the chairman will also permit the following to speak for no more than three minutes, without prior notice being required: adjacent ward members, and any member having previously submitted a comment to that application that permission to speak being limited solely to the raising of material planning considerations relating to directly their ward, or else to any relevant planning policy or plan appertaining to this Council.”

Mr Wilces explained: “What this motion is seeking to do is to put in writing the practices that the chairman of the planning committee uses on occasions and doesn’t use on all occasions as I know myself.

“Members should always be treated in a fair and consistent manner when they speak at any committee, and I wasn’t. It’s wrong that one member can arbitrarily present another from speaking at the planning committee by invoking a non-existent rule without even establishing if there is a good reason for the member to be able to speak at that meeting.

“My motion doesn’t seek to give any rights to members they would not have if they were able to speak as members of the public, which it’s been decided they are not able to do.

“This motion merely seeks to set down in writing a right to speak where there is a good reason to do so. A right that does not rest upon the whim of any contrary individual.

“If discretion was being consistently and fairly applied, there is no reason to bring forward this motion. What I’ve witnessed at a meeting was an exercise in egotism and discrimination.”

His motion was backed by Councillor Graeme Barnell (Newbrooke, Liberal Democrats) who said: “Planning applications cannot be taken in isolation on the ward by ward basis.

“For example, the planning decisions around Crediton involve wards like my own in Newton St Cyres.

“These towns are spreading out and the developments are taking place in other wards. The adjacent ward issue is an essential part of the planning decision making that members from adjacent wards are often key to a voice for local people in understanding the impact of developments.”

As an example, he said that impact of developments in Crediton would affect roads through his ward.

“The way things stand, the chair has the discretion to refuse members in adjacent wards from speaking on issues to the planning committee.

“That is not right and I think we need to be very clear that members should have the right to address issues in neighbouring wards.”

He said it was also an issue across authorities.

“Another issue hit me with East Devon. We’ve had a digestate lagoon bio energy digestate ten yards the wrong side of the road. All the traffic is going to go through a village in my ward.

“East Devon kindly allowed me to speak, but it was an issue of discretion. It can happen the other way round, and I think it’s very important that we get these issues straight.

“Planning decisions and planning applications have much wider implications, particularly as we now have extensive developments taking place under the umbrella of the adopted local plan.

“I think we need to do this on the basis that planning decisions cannot be compartmentalised on a ward-by-ward basis.”

However, members of the council opted to remain the status quo and refuse the motion.

Current chair of the Mid Devon planning committee, Councillor Polly Colthorpe (Way, Conservative) added: “At present chairmen of committees, including the planning committee, have discretion to allow anyone to speak as an adjacent ward member and indeed others if they ask and have a very good reason to do so.

“That gives the chairman some control over the lengths of a meeting.

“I could not accept this motion because it gives an open book to anyone who wishes to claim the right to speak in relation to a planning application.

“Planning has a habit of running for some time. You can see from the four sets of minutes that I have to present to you tonight that one of those meetings went on till gone 7pm.

“If we have to accept anybody the right to speak, the chairman will not be able to control how long the meeting runs. The result of that could be poor decision making from members who’ve been sitting there for a very long time and just want to get it over with.”

Councillor Clive Eginton (Taw Vale, Conservative) agreed. He said: “Those of us that are on the planning committee are fully aware of the length of time that we can be debating any individual application. Some applications are very much quicker than others, and others can drag on indefinitely.

“My concern regarding this is that where you have a situation where it is an application that has a lot of surrounding wards you could conceivably be talking well in excess of half an hour getting on to goodness knows how long for members from those adjacent wards speaking on an application.”

More on Council Blunders

Coincidentally having just posted “Council Blunders”, Owl has also received this correspondence from “Ms. B”:

Owl has written many times on openness and transparency both in central and local government. Without truth and honesty from those who govern us all confidence is lost in our lawmakers. In my own small way I cannot find what has happened to an enforcement number issued by EDDC’s Central Planning Team over a year ago. I have now lost all confidence in EDDC’s planning and monitoring staff and the Local Government Ombudsman who police local authorities as questions remain unanswered.

An enforcement number was issued following an unauthorised demolition in a conservation area. I was told I would be kept informed as to the outcome. I had an e-mail after 8 months from a Chief Planning Officer saying that a retrospective planning application would be forthcoming in a couple of weeks. No application then appeared, no information on the planning portal and no replies to my e-mails.

My only solution was a formal complaint. Stage 1 revealed an explanation from the Service Lead Planning Strategy and Development Manager which said a decision had been made at the time the enforcement number was issued not to proceed with enforcement. This puzzled me, given the e-mail from the Chief Planning Officer referred to above. Also, in my opinion, the reasons given were not in accordance with permitted development. 

Unhappy with these two different stories I proceeded to Stage 2 of the formal complaint. The  Monitoring Officer wrote saying that he dismissed my complaint because he couldn’t “corroborate” the contradiction because the Chief Planning Officer had left the council. Planning is a quasi-legal process; were no records kept? Why didn’t he ask me for copies of e-mails?

I then tried the Ombudsman thinking that, apart from finding out the truth; mistakes and errors can be used constructively to improve services to the public. I was told by many people that the Ombudsman was a “waste of time” but I pressed on.

Every complaint is assessed using an ‘Assessment Code’ with four inter-related tests: All four tests may be considered when deciding to investigate, but the get-out clause is they may just consider one particular test. In my case the officer only assessed the “Injustice Test” and decided I had not suffered “a significant personal injustice” and did not proceed further to investigate any other test.  

For example, the “Fault Test” applies where “the type and scale of the fault amounts to a particularly serious failure to meet normally expected standards of public service.” Inexplicably, this was not applied to my complaint.

So, in conclusion I do not know who or what to believe. EDDC’s dodgy record keeping remains their own secret and an enforcement number has vanished into thin air!  

Council officials’ blunder over ‘proper whack’ planning decisions

Council officials have published planning decisions containing derogatory remarks, which now have to be reviewed by a court.

By Lizzie Massey www.bbc.co.uk

The notice from Swale Borough Council regarding Happy Pants

The notice was published to Swale Borough Council’s website and is legally binding, despite being issued in error

image source: Swale Borough Council 

Owner of The Happy Pants Ranch in Kent, Amey James, has been waiting for a change of use decision for six months.

She was “shocked” when it was rejected on the grounds that: “Your proposal is whack. No mate, proper whack.”

Swale Borough Council said the published decisions are legally binding and must be officially overturned.

Despite being an “administrative error”, the decisions must now go through judicial review.

In a statement the authority said: “This language was used by a junior officer with no knowledge of any of the applications, who believed they were working solely in a test environment and that the comments would never be published.”

It means a delay of about three months before the correct decisions on each of the five applications can be considered.

One application, to partially demolish The Wheatsheaf in East Street, Sittingbourne, to build flats and a micropub, was approved on the grounds of “Incy. Wincy. Spider”.

A third was approved with the text “why am I doing this am I the chosen one”, and the fourth simply listed numbers one to 20.

Ms James said she “nearly had a heart attack” when she read the decision as “the whole future of the charity hangs on that”, and now the development of the ranch faces further delays.

The sanctuary cares for 350 rescued or special needs animals on farmland, and was recently served with noise abatement notices over its loud cockerels.

Ms James said the blunder showed the “constant poor management, security and communication of the council”.

The error by the Mid Kent Planning Support team also affected a sixth application from Maidstone Borough Council.

An application for a farm in Marden to convert an outbuilding into a holiday let was refused with the explanation “Don’t even bother re-applying lol. Not even joking lmao”.

This application from Maidstone council in relation to Marden

This application was also rejected, after being issued in error

image source Swale Borough Council

Leader of Maidstone Borough Council David Burton said the error was “regrettable” and added: “I would like to apologise for any offence caused.”

Swale Borough Council has made no public apology for the error, but did offer an explanation: “Officers for Mid Kent Planning Support team were testing a solution for issues with the software behind the public access site.

“During this testing an error occurred, which published dummy decision notices on five randomly selected Swale applications on the live system.

“Legal advice has subsequently confirmed they are legally binding and must be overturned before the correct decisions are made.”

Swale Borough Council estimates it will cost £8,000 to overturn the five decisions.