Messages on Covid: infection rate may have stabilised but at a high level

More than 8,000 people in the UK were in hospital with Covid on Wednesday – the highest figure for nearly six months – leading to fears of a resurgence in the virus’ ability to cause serious illness and death among the population.

And:

COVID cases no longer climbing as feared

Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app, comments on the latest data:

“It’s great to see the return to schools and summer festivals haven’t yet resulted in a spike in cases as feared. However, the picture is worse in Scotland, where rates are still rising and our figures indicate that Scottish hospitals could soon be overwhelmed. The Scottish situation makes it clear we can’t be complacent about COVID as winter approaches. We are still producing far too many Long Covid cases and hospitalisations unnecessarily. For 521 days, ZOE and King’s College London have demanded cold and flu-like symptoms be recognised as common COVID-19 symptoms and communicated widely as in other countries. With UK rates the highest in Europe, if the government continues with no restrictions, surely we should at least help people to recognise the symptoms early and know when to stay at home.”

Cranbrook plans including Morrisons supermarket submitted

Long-awaited plans for the start of Cranbrook’s town centre which includes a Morrisons supermarket have been submitted.

[Owl is always bowled over by the sense of space given in “artists impressions”]

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

It is more than ten years since construction on the new town in East Devon began, and nearly and getting on for nine years since a sign saying ‘coming soon – your new town centre’ was erected.

To date, around 2,500 homes have been built and occupied at Cranbrook, with the new town growing to a population of over 5,500 people, but eventually will expand to around 8,000 new homes with around 20,000 residents.

As well as the new homes, a community building, some retail units, play areas, the country park, two schools, the pub, and the first of two railway stations have been built – but some of the town centre infrastructure needed has yet to get off the ground.

Now though, plans have been submitted for Cranbrook Town Centre, with three separate, but linked, applications for the supermarket with associated car parking and landscaping, the southern side of the High Street comprising retail and residential dwellings above; and a childcare day nursery.

The Cranbrook town centre masterplan

The Cranbrook town centre masterplan

It follows the agreement reached by councillors earlier in 2021 as to how the town centre will be developed and delivered and the demands made for officers to get on with the scheme.

The applications will be located in the parcel of land within Cranbrook Town Centre which lies immediately to the south of the “High Street” section of Tillhouse Road, bounded by Court Royal to the west and Badger Way to the south. A new road is to be built to the east to access the proposed nursery.

A statement with the application, submitted to East Devon District Council, said: “The application seeks permission for a Morrisons supermarket comprising 2,324sqm and the opening and delivery hours of 6.30am – 11pm, Monday to Saturday, and 10am-4pm Sunday. The store has been designed to include 15,000 products and is aimed at providing for a weekly shop.”

It adds: “The store will front onto a 160 space car park which will provide parking for both the store and the wider town centre. Within the store itself, the company’s trademark ‘market street’ concept will be included which has put Morrisons at the forefront of grocery retailing. This minimises the extent to which Morrisons stores compete with traditional town centre comparison goods shops and maximises the complementary role that Morrisons stores play in their relationship with the retail offer in town centres.

“In the store, Morrisons Market Street will have fresh food every day, a bakery, hot and cold ‘food to go’, a fresh meat counter, a barista coffee bar; a ‘free from’ range including vegan, free from dairy, wheat and gluten, and services such as Amazon lockers, Coinstar and a photo booth.

“Customers will also be able to choose to shop online at Morrisons.com and have their groceries delivered to their home or use our Click & Collect service to pick them up from a store. The store will also generate employment opportunities for residents of Cranbrook.”

The application also includes the proposed Cranbrook Town Square, immediately to the south of Tillhouse Road, which has been located in the heart of the town centre and carefully designed to deliver a vibrant and attractive space for social gathering, markets, and outdoor events.

Retail units will front onto the square and deliver a vibrant, active frontage along the southern side of the town’s high street, the northern end of Court Royal and around the town square.

Artist impression of the proposed Cranbrook High Street

Artist impression of the proposed Cranbrook High Street

The statement adds: “The proposed development will deliver eleven retail units on the ground floor of varying sizes and a range of apartments and duplex units on the upper two floors to be built in two phases. The units fronting onto the square will be able to spill out onto the square with outdoor seating areas and canopies to provide shade in the summer months, making them attractive units for restaurants or cafes.

“Marketing has already commenced for these units and a significant amount of interest has already been received from a wide range of occupiers, including a number of local businesses wishing to be represented in the heart of Cranbrook.

“The three storey retail and duplex units have dual frontages: the modern shop fronts face onto the high street from where the retail units are serviced, whilst at the rear the two storey residential duplex apartments have their canopied entrance doors, approached through private garden areas, and linking to private courtyard parking and landscape.”

The application seeks permission for 11 retail units and 26 two bedroom dwellings comprising single storey apartments and two storey duplexes.

The third application is for a vibrant nursery providing childcare for around 100 children, which will be accessed from a new street off Tillhouse Road and include parking provision for staff and parent drop off.

It is hoped that if planning permission is granted before the end of 2021, construction work could begin and be completed in time to allow the foodstore and car park to be open by the last quarter of 2022. The first phase of the high street retail and residential and the nursery would follow and be completed in the first quarter of 2023.

Artist impression of the proposed Cranbrook Morrisons

Artist impression of the proposed Cranbrook Morrisons

The statement concludes: “The High Street south eleven retail units and 26 dwellings, the supermarket and town square, and the childcare day nursery that together comprise the three reserved matters application all therefore formed part of the outline planning application proposals and consents in terms of their use, the quantum of development and their geographical locations.

“Each of the three applications for reserved matters demonstrates the proposals are in conformity with the outline consent and policy requirements and permission should be granted.

“Timely approval of the applications would deliver a national supermarket to the heart of Cranbrook by the end of next year as part of an integrated mixed use scheme for the first phase of the town centre, including the southern side of the High Street.

“The benefits of all three applications are substantial and deliver key aspects of the vision for Cranbrook town centre, including a range of uses that are easily accessible by pedestrian, cycle and bus, and are centred around the market square, an attractive space for social gathering, markets and outdoor events”.

Artist impression of the proposed Cranbrook town square and town centre

Artist impression of the proposed Cranbrook town square and town centre

It comes as last month, East Devon District Council’s cabinet has made an in-principle agreement to borrow up to £40million to help developers build much-needed infrastructure in Cranbrook – with full council needed to rubber stamp the decision.

Council officers admitted that the loan was high risk, but said any dangers are outweighed by potential problems in not creating the infrastructure that East Devon needs to meet its housing obligations.

The money would be used as a ‘revolving’ infrastructure fund – essentially a loan that’s loaned out again. The council would lend the money to developers who might otherwise be put off by high-interest repayments if they sought loans independently.

They would then invest in improving Cranbrook’s infrastructure as the town grows – whilst saving themselves around £8 million.

Council officers believe Cranbrook needs to fund an additional primary school quickly, alongside health and wellbeing provision and, potentially, a new special educational needs school and highway upgrade works on London Road.

Housing crisis sees firms quit Devon

‘There’s a massive effect on tourism and the hospitality sector because there’s just nowhere for staff to live’

Owl draws attention to this paragraph from the conclusions of the Onward report on Levelling-up the South West:

Much of the employment in the South West is reliant on a few low-paying industry groups, namely accommodation and food services and retail. These industries are sources of pride for the region and its flourishing tourism sector, but it’s inescapable that both of them are also sources of lowpay and low productivity. This is paired with a skills shortage amongst young people, especially in Devon and Cornwall.

Lewis Clarke www.devonlive.com 

Businesses are pulling out of North Devon over the housing crisis, the council leader has warned.

At North Devon Council’s strategy and resources committee on Monday, September 6, members agreed to put together an informal panel, inviting relevant organisations and individuals to make representations with a view to preparing a set of actions and recommendations.

The meeting on Monday followed a public meeting organised by North Devon and Torridge Housing Crisis group in Barnstaple held on Thursday, September 2 in which they launched a manifesto with action points for both local and national government.

In his report, the chief executive of North Devon Council, Ken Miles said: “There is little doubt that the housing market in North Devon has changed significantly over the past 12-18 months. House prices have increased substantially and the permanent rental market has significantly reduced, partly as a result of the increase in the short term holiday let market. Many buyers from outside of the area have also been attracted during the pandemic. At the same time, the number of people presenting as homeless has increased significantly.

“Impacts are being felt by individuals, businesses, communities and by public services.

“The issues around the current housing crisis are complex and go beyond the holiday market. Issues such as empty properties, housing standards, energy efficiency, housing supply, affordability, national and local policies are all also relevant and need examination.

“For that reason, it is recommended that councillors and officers engage with the relevant agencies and organisations and those affected by the issues through an informal panel which will draw together a report setting out recommendations on actions that the district council can take and points on which government assistance is required.”

Speaking at the meeting he added: “We need to make it clear what we can do as an authority, what’s within our powers and what we’re going to ask of government. The purpose of the panel meeting is to make that clear.

“That then makes it clear to the public where the control is and where we’ve got to make representations and gives officers a clear steer on where we want to go.

“The panel group can also start setting the agenda; whether we want to look at empty homes, look at building properties, and so forth.”

He said all Devon district authorities had put together a paper which is being sent to Devon MPs raising several issues.

“It’s not just what we are talking about, but also the impact on the local economy as well,” Mr Miles said.

“There are businesses here in North Devon who are not investing in the region due to the lack of housing for their staff. It’s a situation we cannot allow to continue. We’ve got to raise that with government and do whatever we can to resolve it.”

Councillor Malcolm Wilkinson (Mortehoe, Liberal Democrats) said it had a massive effect where he lived in Woolacombe.

“There’s a massive effect on tourism and the hospitality sector because there’s just nowhere for staff to live,” he explained.

“When they pay a minimal wage in Woolacombe and £1.2million is almost the average price for a house, you can forget it when it comes to supporting hospitality.

“If you’ve got a place and you can let it out at £100 a day, it gives those working in the area no chance.”

Jeremy Mann, North Devon Council’s officer for planning, housing and health said the panel was ‘a commendable way forward’,

“The issues are extremely complex,” he said. “The nature of the council’s responsibilities are quite broad and I think the opportunity to look at the whole of it in batches and putting a report together at the end seems a positive way forward.

“It’s important also for our community to understand our care for them.

“A number of the representations that I received after the meeting last week was that as an organisation, we are not telling our story enough. This will be a really good way of showing that we have that care for our community and we are as anxious as anyone to balance the market.”

Councillors then discussed various other implications of the housing crisis and their thoughts.

Councillor Malcolm Prowse (Bratton Flemming, Independent) said: “Every parish council you talk to all agree that we should be allowed to build council houses again. That is the overwhelming feeling of people in North Devon. The old system used to provide the right sort of houses, with the right size and decent gardens in the right communities across North Devon.

“We are now in a situation where we’re relying only on the planning process to deliver housing and it isn’t quite working.”

He added: “I believe this authority should use its corporate powers more to intervene. We should be taking money, buying land, and do all those things people want us to do.

“I’m not saying turn it back to the days of the 1950s when council houses were often built in quite unsustainable positions, but there are plots of land around that we should get involved in.

“I think a lot of developers would be happier about doing a straightforward financial deal rather than getting involved in long complicated S106 agreements. We need that flexibility to do something soon.

“We need to get a move on in the next few weeks and get a policy which can make a difference soon.”

Councillor Netti Pearson (Ilfracombe West, Independent) said that land owned by the authority should be utilised and that they should take every opportunity to build council housing.

“We need to push to make sure it stays as council housing and doesn’t get sold,” she said.

“We need a lobby aspect to whatever decisions we make as there’s not much point in building homes only to see them go.

“As far as affordability is concerned, we should also be looking for a different definition. Affordability in this locale is not affordable to people on the average income.

She added: “I’d quite like us to have some sort of influence on estate agents and what they say in their adverts. They boast about how people can get 30 per cent more than the asking price, which simply fuels the inflation in the area.

“It’s a perfect storm at the moment.”

Councillor John Patrinos (Lynton & Lynmouth, Independent) said a lot of issues were outside of the remit of the authority.

“I know a lot of people don’t understand that and say what the council should do,” he said, “so we need to tell our story effectively.

“We can’t go and build council houses even though we want to, and we can’t provide lots of social rented housing as we just aren’t legally allowed to.

He continued: “At the meeting on Thursday, one of the leading campaigners Emma Hookway said she had spoken to the two local MPs. Unfortunately, she didn’t say what they had said, although I can guess.

“The only people with an opportunity to shape the damage being done in this particular area by current government policy are members of the current government’s party.

“We need to tell the story of what we are doing. Decide what additional things we can do, and then explain why we can’t do everything we’d want and then point the finger appropriately.”

However, Glynn Lane (Landkey Independent) said that it felt like a ‘political movement’.

He said: “I think you’ve got a situation here which is major. I don’t know if this district council can sort it out on itself, but it’s got to come down to government.

“When you talk about housing and all the rest it of it, it was this committee which turned around and tried to restrict housing in North Devon. Now you’re trying to get housing in North Devon. You can’t have it both ways. You either want housing or you don’t.

“You can’t turn around one minute and say you don’t want housing in one location and the next there is a crisis with housing.

“What do you actually physically want? I think personally, you need to take a broad look at yourself and what you really want in North Devon.

“The reality of life is, if you want somebody to have affordable housing in North Devon, you need to build houses people can afford to buy, or even purchase.

“I’ve seen in the last few months decisions made here is not right, and I think you need to look at yourself. It’s all very well trying to blame the government, but you can’t even organise yourself in here.”