Cornwall rages as outsiders cash in on second homes

Second-home owners in Cornwall accessed funds to the tune of £170 million intended to help businesses weather the Covid crisis — and almost 62 per cent of the cash went to people who live outside the county.

Plus the Council and local community miss out on council tax and business rates.

Also don’t forget the lack of accommodation for long-term rent and the whole question of affordability. – Owl

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

Tensions between Cornish locals and wealthy out-of-towners who own second homes in the county have been steadily rising — and the influx of tourists this summer has not helped relations.

The row has intensified after it emerged yesterday that second-home owners in Cornwall accessed funds to the tune of £170 million intended to help businesses weather the Covid crisis — and almost 62 per cent of the cash went to people who live outside the county.

Second-home ownership has resulted in many locals being priced out of the area and at a council meeting yesterday Andrew George, a Liberal Democrat councillor, demanded that £100 million of Covid grants that went to those living outside the county should be paid back.

He said the money should be returned by those who use their second homes in Cornwall as an “investment or leisure toy” and instead be used to tackle the “housing emergency” in Cornwall.

“It is time the government sought to recover these monies and ensured they are deployed to address the shocking circumstances of local families suffering the housing emergency,” he added.

Malcolm Bell, chief executive of Visit Cornwall, said he was “not happy with it … a minority did return their money but it’s such a minority it’s not worth commenting about.”

To further ruffle feathers, second-home owners who put their properties up for rent as registered holiday lets can separately apply for small business rates relief and as a result do not end up paying business rates or council tax.

David Harris, deputy leader of Cornwall council, said yesterday that this benefit was “just wrong and unfair”.

During the meeting it was revealed that there are 13,255 second homes recorded on its council tax database with 11,081 holiday lets registered for business rates and 8,953 getting business rates relief.

It was also revealed that 61.8 per cent of the holiday lets in Cornwall that claim small business rates relief and received Covid grants were registered to people living outside Cornwall.

Harris told the meeting he had made “very strong representations” to the government that the Covid grants should not “just be paid out automatically to these holiday let businesses”.

But, he added: “Unfortunately civil servants in London didn’t agree with me and I got nowhere.”

It has previously been claimed that Cornwall misses out on as much as £10 million a year as a result of holiday homes not paying council tax or business rates.

The government announced this year that it would close a loophole that enables second-home and holiday let owners to avoid paying council tax and business rates.

The growth in popularity of homes in Cornwall shows no signs of abating. Among the celebrities to own property are Dame Judi Dench, who owns a house near St Ives.

The seaside town of Fowey this month voted to ban people buying new-build homes as second properties.

Jo Ashby, a director at estate agent John Bray and Partners, said at the time there has been an “explosion” in interest in the past 18 months.

Rebecca Hemingway, from Fowey Folk Museum, added: “There’s nobody with a view of the sea that’s local — maybe one.

“It’s too late to do anything about the second homes situation now — it would be nice for the community if there were more affordable homes.

“There’s a handful at the top, but not enough.”

Carry on and Cover up

Don’t say ‘panic’ amid fuel crisis, Cabinet Office warns councils

By Ben Weisz www.bbc.co.uk

The government has advised councils not to use the phrases “panic” or “panic buying” about fuel supply problems, documents seen by the BBC reveal.

Slides prepared by the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Science Team also advised against using language that morally judges people buying petrol.

A Green Party council leader called the recommendations “nonsensical”.

The government said it worked “closely with councils… on communications to encourage a co-ordinated response.”

The advice sent to local authorities from central government comes after days of long queues at petrol stations which began after fears a lorry driver shortage would hit fuel supplies triggered a surge in demand.

On Wednesday the government deployed a reserve tanker feet to boost deliveries and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng insisted the situation was “stabilising”.

In a power point presentation marked “official sensitive” the Cabinet Office warns against using the terms “panic”, “panic buying” and “stockpiling”.

The document – labelled “considerations for local authorities” – explains that people don’t recognise their own behaviour as “panic buying” and that the use of such phrases can cause panic which can become contagious.

Instead it recommends using phrases like “filling up earlier than usual” or “changed patterns in demand”.

Other tips include avoiding language that morally judges those queuing for petrol as “framing all individuals who stock up as ‘selfish’ or ‘irrational’ is likely to receive some backlash”.

“Framing people buying excess fuel as ‘taking away from those who need it/ the NHS etc.’ is likely to lead to them feeling like their freedom has been threatened, leading them to more readily engage in ‘panic buying’ behaviour,” the document says.

The advice also says councils could encourage petrol stations to take down signs saying “abuse will not be tolerated” – which could lead customers to expect confrontation on arrival.

Speaking to BBC Radio Sussex, Phélim Mac Cafferty, the Green Party leader of Brighton and Hove City Council said the recommendations amounted to asking councils to “help the government cover up the fuel crisis”.

“Instead of guidance to help us, help our communities navigate the fuel crisis, we have been given platitudes.

“This is beyond not good enough. It’s a disgrace.”

Devon covid starts to rise again

Covid cases have risen in some parts of Devon, ending weeks of gradual falls in infections.

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

In the week to Thursday 23 September, infecitons increased by 20 per cent in both the Devon County Council area and Plymouth, but fell slightly in Torbay.

Devon’s number of cases per 100,000 people now stands at 258, while the respective figures for Torquay and Plymouth are 275 and 319. By comparison, the UK average is now 351.

Whilst that means at ‘top tier’ level, all three parts of Devon are below the national average, it masks the picture at district council level. Of the county’s eight district areas, South Hams recorded the biggest rise of 75 per cent, putting the area’s infection rate above the national average at 378 cases per 100,000.

Teignbridge and West Devon also had increases of around 35 per cent, but their infection rates remain below the UK-wide figure. East Devon mirrored the county with cases here going up by a fifth.

Elsewhere, Torridge and Mid Devon registered the only falls in Devon, and even these were modest drops of 13 and five per cent respectively. Mid Devon’s infection rate of 169 is now the lowest in the county and around half that of the national average.

Last week, Devon’s director of public health said there had been an increase in infections in educational settings, which was being replicated across the country. Secondary school and college students are being instructed to wear face coverings in communal areas for a further two weeks.

However, Steve Brown added there is unlikely to be an extension to the current covid enhanced response area for Devon and Cornwall, which ends this Friday [1 October].

HOSPITALISATIONS

Prior to this update there had been a steady drop in infections, leading to a slight reduction in the number of people being treated for covid in Devon’s hospitals. That number is again down on last week – by 31.

Latest figures for Tuesday 21 September show 97 covid patients in the county’s hospitals, 41 of which are at Derriford in Plymouth, 28 at the RD&E, 16 in Torbay and 12 in North Devon. Of the total number of patients, ten are on mechanical ventilation beds.

DEATHS

Fourteen more people died in the county within 28 days of testing positive for covid in the latest complete weekly period (up to Wednesday 22 September). Eleven were in the Devon County Council area, two in Plymouth and one in Torbay.

A total of 1,210 people in Devon (including Plymouth and Torbay) have died within 28 days of a positive test since the pandemic began.

VACCINATIONS

Government figures for vaccinations now include people aged 16 and over.

The number of people who have received at least one dose of a vaccine is now 87 per cent in the Devon County Council area, 86 per cent in Torbay and 84 per cent in Plymouth.

The proportion of people who are now fully vaccinated with both jabs is now 82 per cent in Devon, 79 per cent in Torbay and 77 per cent in Plymouth.

Concerns expressed over reserved matter proposals for Zone A and D Winslade Park

Owl has received these considered observations on the latest planning details submitted on the reserved matters on the Winslade Park development: 

We have carefully worked through the detailed planning applications for Zone A (old Plymouth Brethren field) and Zone D (the 3 x blocks of flats).

Having been part of the campaign team for seven years, this was far from what we fought for and was contrary to the Local Plan, Neighbourhood Plan and Strategy 26B of East Devon’s Plan.

However, as we know, the Councillors that make up the Planning Committee voted to accept the outline planning application for Winslade Park on the economic and employment benefits that it will bring to the area. So far we haven’t heard or seen too much evidence of this, however the Manor House has been beautifully refurbished, although a little pricey.

We remain concerned for residents that have houses that back onto Zone A. Should the proposals get the go ahead the roofs of the new houses will tower above the bungalows, with the chimneys above the ridge lines. The backs of the proposed houses will overlook the properties in Clyst Valley Road. These proposed houses don’t meet and are contrary to the Bishops Clyst Neighbourhood Plan.

Some of the proposed gardens appear to encroach into and beyond the tree line. We believe these areas need amending or at least objecting to.

Zone D appears to totally contradict the Bishops Clyst Neighbourhood Plan. There appears that little design has gone into these apartments and they still appear to resemble Lego blocks, far from the quality development that should be adjacent to a Grade II* listed Manor. The apartment blocks are planned to be four storeys tall and will significantly tower over the backs of the houses in Clyst Valley Road, resulting in loss of privacy for a number of residents within our estate. This cannot be claimed to be, in any way, appropriate for a village in the countryside and more akin to the likes of Exeter City centre.

The Parish Council have arranged a meeting on Wednesday 6 th October at 19.30 for any residents that want to attend. It’s going to be held in Clyst St Mary Church (due to Covid we can’t use the school hall and the village hall is unavailable.) Please come along and give your views to the Parish Council.

Formal comments to  planningwest@eastdevon.gov.uk by 14 th October quoting reference 21/2235/MRES for Zone A, and 21/2217/MRES for Zone D. It is always important that you state clearly whether your comment is in support, an objection or neutral.

Torbay Council’s verbal punch-up leaves clerk in tears

It’s all kicking off in Torbay

Fierce row about who should be on committee

[If anyone can track down the Zoom recording, please drop Owl a link].

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

A Torbay Council meeting desended into disarray this week as councillors took an hour to decide not to have a vote.

Along the way, they created a procedural row that left one clerk too upset to continue with their duties.

In a meeting which had echoes of the famous ‘Jackie Weaver’ incident at Handforth Parish Council that went viral earlier this year, Torbay members engaged in a fierce hour-long debate over who could or could not be a member of a new group set up to scrutinise the council’s efforts at addressing its housing crisis. 

The argument arose over a disagreement over how politically balanced the committee should be.

Councillors had been sent an email inviting them to join the committee, but problems began when the response turned out better than expected.  Normally, scrutiny panels struggle to attract enough councillors to join up, but with housing being such a key issue in the Bay, many councillors were eager to take part. 

This meant that an agenda listed three Liberal Democrats, two independents and seven Conservative councillors as members. 

Fearing that the panel would be politically unbalanced (the overall council is run by a coalition of Lib Dems and independents, although the Conservatives have the largest number of councillors), Lib Dem overview and scrutiny co-ordinator Margaret Douglas-Dunbar (Clifton with Maidenway) held discussions and told group leaders to put forward a limited number of candidates of their choosing. 

The measure was meant to create a political balance reflecting the makeup of the council with three Liberal Democrat nominees, three Conservative nominees and two independents. The move was rejected by the Conservatives, who felt it was an unfair attempt to move the goalposts and that it would give their members too little input into the scrutiny process. Leader of the Conservative group councillor David Thomas (Preston), said the request was sent too late and did not put forward any nominees. 

Panel chairwoman Councillor Hazel Foster (Conservative) attempted to start the meeting with a vote to ratify the membership as printed on the agenda. Liberal Democrats were up in arms, arguing that such a move should not go ahead, given the request to form a politically balanced council.

A vote was started by Cllr Foster but was quickly interrupted when Councillor Mandy Darling (Liberal Democrat, Tormohun) questioned the democratic process saying: “I don’t recognise this and I will not be a part of this.”

It was to set the tone of a fierce back-and-forth between councillors which quickly spiralled out of control.  Chris Lewis (Conservative, Preston) said: “If this went public people would be amazed that we’re arguing about this. All members want to do the best for our community in Torbay.”

At one point, a council clerk, who is not allowed to be involved in political debates, was put in the crossfire when she was asked to weigh in. After being placed in an impossible position, the clerk became visibly distressed and was granted permission to step out of the meeting. 

The moment sparked even more bitterness. When Councillor Foster attempted again to proceed with the vote, Cllr Karen Kennedy (Independent Group, Churston with Galmpton), who wanted the meeting to be reconvened, was furious. She said: “I think it’s totally and utterly unacceptable to put a member of the council staff in a situation like this where they clearly are very very upset.

“This is out of order and it’s close to bullying and harassment. I don’t agree with what’s going on at all. It’s unfair, it’s unkind.”

Council chief executive Anne-Marie Bond was eventually drafted into the meeting, held over Zoom, to help councillors reach a consensus.

As the hour mark approached it was decided the meeting could carry on without a panel and that group leaders would agree on the make-up of the scrutiny panel before the next meeting.

Only then did invited guests finally get to discuss the housing crisis, but by then the subject had been largely overshadowed.

It’s thought more than 1,400 households are awaiting affordable accommodation in the Bay, with demand quickly outstripping any new supply. Earlier this month, the council rented all 47 rooms of The Richmond Hotel in Torquay to provide a ‘circuit breaker’ for some of its housing pressures. 

In August, the council’s leadership split opinion in its coalition when said it would not directly provide housing to Afghan refugees because of the Bay’s accommodation shortage. It subsequently launched a campaign trying to encourage landlords to provide homes but still says it won’t provide council homes to refugees fleeing the Taliban.

Torbay Council has yet to release the footage of the Zoom meeting, but is expected to do so as it generally publishes all public meetings after a few days.