Revealed: a third of England’s vital flood defences are in private hands

A third of England’s most important flood defences are in private hands, an investigation has found, with more than 1,000 found to be in a poor state and some at risk of “complete performance failure”.

Helen Pidd 

Private owners cannot be forced to make upgrades to the defences, which can involve bills of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The government admits it can only “encourage” third-party owners to do maintainance, though the Environment Agency can carry out emergency repairs if there is a risk to people, property or environment, and try to bill the freeholders afterwards.

Data obtained under freedom of information laws by Unearthed, the investigative arm of Greenpeace UK, and shared with the Guardian, show that privately owned assets classed as “high consequence” are twice as likely to be in a poor condition as those maintained by the Environment Agency, with 8% or 1,109 of private defences rated as sub-par.

The defences range from flood walls or embankments to weirs and piers, though many are outfall pipes or culverts – enclosed watercourses that run underneath roads, railways or other property.

Some are owned by major landowners such as the crown estate or Network Rail. Others run under private houses and businesses, often unnoticed until something goes wrong. In 2014 a father and son in Waterlooville, Hampshire, were faced with a £150,000 bill to repair a culvert that went underneath their properties.

High-consequence flood defences are the most important because they “contribute to managing flood risk in a location where the consequence on people and property of an asset failing is high”, according to the Environment Agency.

Defences are inspected and then rated from condition 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “very good”. Four is “poor”, with “defects that would significantly reduce the performance of the asset”, and 5 is “very poor” – “severe defects resulting in complete performance failure”.

There is no public record of who owns or maintains private flood defences in England, and local authorities are often unaware. To build a partial picture of private ownership, Unearthed took Environment Agency data and overlaid it with data from the Land Registry and other sources.

Kirklees council in West Yorkshire, which dealt with bad flooding during Storm Ciara in 2020, said it did not know who owned the 23 privately owned defences in its area that were rated as poor or very poor. The local authority in Carlisle, which has seen repeated flooding in recent years, said the same about the 30 poorly rated private defences in the city.

Even when local authorities do know the owners, they cannot compel them to carry out repairs. “All we can do is ask nicely,” said James Mead, a flood and water manager at Sheffield city council, who said he contacted private owners by looking on Google Maps and cross-referencing with Environment Agency data.

Some 29 defences rated poor or very poor across England are on land owned by the crown estate, the Queen’s property manager. A spokesperson said the estate did not own the defences nor have responsibility for their upkeep, but did not respond when asked was responsible.

“Where flood defences have been installed by third parties on crown estate land we will always work with the relevant authorities to offer any assistance we can to ensure they are able to access and maintain as required,” the spokesperson said.

Last year the National Audit Office said the Environment Agency’s plan to beef up England’s flood defences was being undermined by a lack of coordination between the various bodies tasked with maintaining them.

With increased flooding one of the greatest risks facing the UK as a result of the climate crisis, this year the government announced £5.2bn to build 2,000 new flood and coastal risk management schemes. Private defence owners will not be eligible to receive any of this money.

The Environment Agency estimates that 5.2m homes and businesses in England are at risk of flooding and that about 700 properties are vulnerable to coastal erosion over the next 20 years.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We routinely inspect both Environment Agency and third-party flood assets. Repairs are prioritised where there is threat to lives and livelihoods. We work closely with third party asset owners to encourage them to undertake repairs.

“Since 2015, more than 300,000 homes have been better protected from flooding on time and on budget. We’ve also made extensive preparations for the winter months, with thousands of frontline staff ready to respond to a flooding incident should it occur.”

Olivia Blake, the shadow flooding minister, said the government must do more to make sure private defences are up to scratch. “As our winters get wetter, the climate emergency will put flood defences under greater strain,” she said. “The government must act to ensure there are clear responsibilities and adequate measures in place so that any flood defences which are privately owned and critically important to the protection of the public are properly inspected and maintained.”

Tory councillor pocketed £86k of taxpayer cash to send one email a week for nearly five years

A Tory councillor received more than £86,000 of taxpayer cash to send just one email a week for nearly five years.

By Redrow Homes 

Councillor Margaret George has not carried out a single surgery in four-and-a-half years of sitting on North Ayrshire Council and has been absent from community-focused meetings expected from elected members.

The financial advisor, who represents Irvine South, has not formally logged a single piece of casework since she was elected in 2017, the Irvine Times reported.

According to records from North Ayrshire Council’s customer relationship management system, Cllr George has logged zero cases between May 1, 2017 and August 16, 2021 in the time she has been an elected member.

She defended her work ethic and claimed she “met people in the street” and made phone calls which would not be formally logged.

In comparison, Tory colleague Todd Ferguson has logged 289 cases with the software designed to track interactions between councillor and the local authority service provision.

A case is logged when councillors contact the council to request to access a service, however, non-service interactions are not taken into consideration.

However, Cllr George has sent just 427 emails between May 1, 2017, and September 6, 2021 – averaging one email a week for four and a half years.

According to a Freedom of Information request submitted to North Ayrshire Council, the Conservative and Unionist members sent 26,786 emails in this time, with the top performer sending 9,886 emails, 30 emails a week, in a similar time period.

In addition to a £18,604 annual salary, councillors receive a salary and access to expenses as remuneration for their role in public office.

Over the last five years, councillors’ salaries have increased from £14,654.61 to £18,604.

In total, it is understood Cllr George has been paid around £86,000 in salary and claimed £213.15 in expenses during her time with the council.

Fellow Irvine South elected members from SNP and Labour have blasted the apparent lack of work by Cllr George and urged her to re-consider her position.

SNP councillor Christina Larsen, said: “I am not in the habit of criticising councillors, even if they are from another party, however, I have had constituents remark on Cllr George’s absence since she was elected in 2017.

“These remarks have not only been in regards to her lack of holding any constituency surgeries, but also her lack of engagement in constituency casework and her absence at the Irvine Locality Partnership.

Breathtaking laziness

“I don’t think she has properly represented her constituents and I think she should think about her position and whether or not she should stand for office in the elections next year.”

Labour councillor Robert Foster added: “To serve the people of North Ayrshire as a councillor is a real privilege, to spend almost five years in that role and not help a single constituent is breathtaking laziness.

“The contempt that the Tories have for working people is clear for all to see, I would have asked for Margaret George to resign but a by-election would only cost the taxpayer even more money.

“For Margaret George to sit in the house and pocket a wage every month for doing absolutely nothing is disgraceful.

“I hope the people of Irvine send a clear message to the Tories at the council election next May and kick them out.”

The Conservative group for North Ayrshire released a statement on behalf of Cllr George.

Cllr George said: “A lot of the case work that we do it’s not necessarily logged on the council’s Laggan system as, for example, in my case I do a lot of that by phone and by direct email to heads of service so it’s not always logged.

“So one cannot imply from zero case work from the council that there has been no case work.

“In terms of emails, I would’ve expected a councillor to have used the email system more frequently but also as in my case it is possible that many of the contacts were done either through community councils, or by telephone, or by meeting people in the street.”

In response, David Rocks, chairman for the Conservatives in North Ayrshire, added: “We are currently going through the selection process for candidates for next year.

“We are looking to assess and vet the best team to go forward to the elections.”

Tory Council’s ‘culture of complacency’ in managing ‘reinvigoration’ project.

Grandiose reinvigoration/regeneration Tory project goes wrong. Does this ring any bells in East Devon, in Seaton or Exmouth say? – Owl

Marble Arch Mound: call to review ‘culture of complacency’ at council

Patrick Butler 

Councillors have called for an independent review of a “culture of complacency” at a flagship Tory-run council that ran up a £3m overspend on a much-derided new visitor attraction in London’s West End labelled “Teletubby hill”.

An internal Westminster council report, discussed at a council scrutiny meeting on Wednesday evening, admitted the Marble Arch Mound had been badly mismanaged by officials – with unacceptable errors of judgment caused by the desire to rush it through at speed.

There were “devastating” failures in the management of the project, the report concluded, including corner-cutting and cover-ups by officials desperate to keep massive overspends and design problems hidden from councillors, and a lack of overall “grip and oversight”.

Labour’s opposition group said the report did not go far enough in scrutinising the role of senior elected council leaders, who it said missed several opportunities to challenge and track the progress of the controversial scheme, which it said showed a culture of complacency in the council and a lack of political leadership.

“It’s evidence of a Conservative administration on Westminster council that has been in power for far too long. They have become arrogant, out of touch and incompetent and it’s time for a change,” said the Labour group leader, Adam Hug.

The mound – a 25-metre high artificial hill built on the corner of Oxford Street and Hyde Park with views across the city – became a laughing stock soon after opening in July. The Daily Telegraph referred to it as a “rather silly hillock” while the New York Times called it “a pile of scaffolding”.

Within weeks, a project intended to help reinvigorate the area’s battered retail and hospitality economy had also become a political disaster: the then deputy leader, Melvyn Caplan, resigned after it emerged the original £3m cost had spiralled to £6m, and it came under fire from residents and political opponents.

Hug said oral evidence heard at the scrutiny meeting showed Westminster’s political leaders had failed in their responsibility to ask key questions and challenge “optimistic assumptions” about the scheme over a period of several months, despite insisting on big cost reductions early on.

The council said the review found no evidence the problems associated with the mound “have occurred or are occurring” elsewhere in the council.

Westminster managed projects worth hundreds of millions of pounds a year, it said, and had an “excellent record of delivering to a high standard and within the agreed budget”.

The leader of the council, Rachael Robathan, and Caplan – who remains a councillor – were formally requested to give evidence to the meeting, but neither attended and questions were fielded by council officers. The council has previously rejected calls for an independent investigation.

Hug said: “We continue to believe the council should undertake an independent review of the failings of the council’s political culture and leadership as evidenced by the mistakes made with the £6m Marble Arch Mound.”

The mound was originally intended to recoup £2m of its costs through the sale of visitor tickets priced between £4 and £8, but access was made free in August. The attraction remains open until 9 January next year.


From a correspondent concerned about the Burrington Estates’ development proposals for Winslade Park:

When deciding on the best ways of using land and buildings in our communities, undoubtedly, development planners hold significant power in their hands. However, in recent years, local people feel they have become the losers – whilst property speculators have reaped huge profits from many, valued neighbourhoods. 

Are those who actually live in our communities being restricted in their say over its future shape? Locally-led, quality design is vital for new developments to avoid the loss of distinctive characteristics and the destruction of environments from over-development. Should Local and Neighbourhood Plans be ignored and dismissed in favour of developers’ offers of unproven, economic benefits? 

Those within East Devon District Council (EDDC) who recommend and make decisions on development planning must realise the huge impact their resolutions have on other people’s lives. Large-scale development planning results in significant, major transformations to East Devon neighbourhoods; it does not merely involve viewing architectural drawings, plans and imagery via a virtual zoom meeting in disconnected home kitchens, lounges or offices and then by alphabetical roll call voting in favour, against or abstaining – the reality is that these all-important decisions will influence and transform entire communities and the future lives of the numerous residents who have made their homes in them. 

This was reflected recently by the following emotive sentiments (published on the EDDC planning portal), which were made by residents whose existing homes will adjoin Burrington Estates’ proposed development of 39 houses and 40 four-storey flats on two sites at Winslade Park in Clyst St Mary.  

Objections – Zone A – 39 homes 

‘Our family have had the privilege of living in Winslade Park Avenue since 1977. Four generations of our family have been lucky enough to live in this wonderful village and actively participate and engage with all aspects of life within it. . . . We are very disappointed by the proposals in which the bungalows that were proposed are now much higher and comprising of one and a half storeys. These properties are not in keeping with the bungalows and houses of Winslade Park Avenue that border them. They have large chimneys and the properties overlook and encroach on the neighbouring properties that will lead to a loss of privacy. I am also concerned that the public consultation was arranged in a way that the residents could not fully participate in. If the proposals go through in their current format the reality is we will be looking to sell our property and move from a village we love and a community we have always been part of.’ 

It is still difficult for this local community to accept the loss of this valued, green field that was specifically protected against development in the East Devon Local and the Bishops Clyst Neighbourhood Plans. 

The fear is that the Applicants will prioritise and move forward immediately with the housing elements but the promised local jobs, social and environmental benefits for the community of Clyst St Mary will be pushed into the background……Although 39 homes in Zone A are considered low-density; when they are considered with the 40 four-storey flats in Zone D and proposals for around 2,000 jobs, then the entire proposals are viewed as an overdevelopment in this village location.’ 

‘My property backs onto the location of the proposed application . . . The impact on my amenity and loss of privacy to the main living areas of my property (Main bedroom, Lounge, kitchen, patio area and garden) is unacceptable.  

 Objections – Zone D – 40 four-storey flats 

‘The new development proposes 40 apartments of 4 storeys in height which will dominate our 2 storey house with a loss to our privacy and will change the character of our quiet estate. ….. When the deciduous trees shed their leaves the development will be seen in its entirety and occupants will be able to look over our gardens and homes in Clyst Valley Road. We are concerned about levels of air pollution from traffic and the effects this will have on ourselves and our children’s healththe development will add another 80 or so vehicles in this locality. 

We oppose the proposed development which is out of proportion to existing properties and the character of the historical village of Clyst St Mary and the Winslade Park estate’.  

‘The density of housing on this confined spot seems very high; 80 -100 people packed into this relatively small area, with their cars and associated traffic, is bound to have a detrimental effect in terms of pollution and noise on the houses closest to them. Clyst St Mary is a small village. .. . We are not a town. The designs of the blocks are unattractive and appear to be full of windows, which will make existing residents feel uncomfortably exposed to a loss of privacy.  

 I was particularly alarmed by the comment that the removal/lopping of some trees “may not significantly affect the amenity value of the site”. It would most certainly affect the amenity value of my existing site if this screen is diminished, and given the prominence currently given to preserving trees, this should be a red flag.’ 

‘We must build back better in future and not create ‘eyesores’ that will scar and stigmatise small communities. The Zone D apartment blocks have no architectural integrity….displaying overwhelmingly mediocre, low-quality, volume homebuilding. 

Zone D car parking proposals fail to consider the harm to the lives and amenities that existing local residents in Clyst Valley Road enjoy in their homes and gardens and is unneighbourly and inappropriate.’ 

These are selected contributions from genuine householders in this community who trust that their elected representatives will be attentive to their voices and not just pay lip service to residents’ aims and objectives; they request support and representation on key issues that significantly affect their lives and valued homes and ultimately they expect protection of their physical and mental wellbeing.  

For instance, to date there appears no proposals or provision for safe pedestrian access at the bottom of Winslade Park Avenue? Therefore, potentially 2,000 Winslade Park new business employees, families from 79 new homes (including children) and all existing residents will be required to walk on a heavily-trafficked narrow road, around blind bends with no pavements or adequate lighting to access the village amenities of the school, shop, post office, village hall, garage and pub or alternatively walk to the facilities at Winslade Manor. 

The two Reserved Matters housing applications are silent on this subject, ignoring the lack of crucial, highway upgrades that are imperative in this area; to date no comments or plans have been published by Devon Highways, when most would consider this to be a pivotal decision – a focal point affecting public safety? Do decision-makers intend getting substantial contributions from developers to widen the road to allow for pedestrian pavements – or will their decision be to completely block all vehicular access for existing Winslade Park householders merely to allow the 79 new-builds to progress in a village with no local housing need? 

Surely, this is of paramount importance to alleviate future serious injuries or fatalities that will, undoubtedly, occur in this area without the implementation of significant, enhanced highway safety measures? Are priorities getting skewed in favour of economic gains rather than the safety of real people?  Could decision-makers potentially recommend and approve sizeable commercial and housing developments, without significant highway safety improvements in this area that could risk life and limb? 

Consequently, when making planning decisions on large-scale developments that will have huge repercussions for so many people, the community urges planners to appreciate and acknowledge the viewpoints and perspectives of those who have made their homes in this East Devon village by opting to support people before profits

Morning Simon: Here is today’s news

Raw sewage released into the sea around Devon (With spotlight on Budleigh Salterton )

When you toed the line and voted down the Lord’s amendment you were condoning regulation that most of us know is ineffective. You have described subsequent criticisms as: “ludicrous and misleading accusations”. Are you sure that the u-turn proposals now being considered by the government will actually work?

A little thought for you to ponder Simon: why are South West Water renewing the main overflow discharge in association with  the Otter Regeneration Project?

Edward Oldfield

Heavy rain has led to raw sewage being discharged into the sea near a Devon river where £15million is being spent to restore the natural environment.

An online map published by Surfers Against Sewage reports a storm overflow incident at Budleigh Salterton, near the mouth of the River Otter.

It says there are three discharge pipes in the area, part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site.

One sewer overflow discharges directly onto the beach, another is 400m east and another discharges 1.3km away into the sea.

The estuary and cliffs form a nationally important site for biodiversity and the area is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The discharge of raw sewage into rivers and seas hit the headlines after the government rejected a plan from the House of Lords to end storm overflows.

The government voted down an amendment to the Environment Bill, then did a U-turn after an outcry and announced it will tighten the law to put a legal duty on water firms to reduce the harm from storm overflows.

Water companies are allowed to discharge a mixture of rainwater and sewage in extreme weather to stop the mostly Victorian sewerage system backing up.

There 400,000 sewage discharges last year, with 42,000 by South West Water, which operates in Devon and Cornwall. Concerns have been raised by the poor quality of river water, but the company says bathing waters have improved.

Environment groups including Surfers Against Sewage are campaigning for an end to the discharges, which they say risk the health of water users.

But government supporters say it is already taking action and the investment needed of at least £150billion would increase bills.

The Surfers Against Sewage map also showed storm overflows of raw sewage in the last 48 hours in south Devon at Exmouth, Dawlish, Holcombe, Teignmouth, Meadfoot and Abbey Sands at Torquay, Preston and Goodrington at Paignton, and in North Devon at Combe Martin, Wollacombe, Croyde and Westward Ho!

South West Water says it is “absolutely committed to improving river quality and protecting bathing waters in our region.” It said so far this year there has been a 60 per cent reduction in pollution incidents and 97 per cent of bathing waters are rated good or excellent, compared to 28.6 per cent in 1991.

The River Otter estuary is at the eastern end of the beach, and a £15million EU-backed project started in the summer to restore a floodplain on land previously reclaimed from the sea.

Downpours have caused flooding alongside the river and construction vehicles being used in the project were caught by the rising waters last week, which closed South Farm Road and halted work.

A statement from the Lower Otter Restoration Project said: “As soon as the floodwater started to subside our contractors moved the equipment and vehicles.

“Most machines could be restarted and driven out of the floodwaters when water levels allowed. South Farm Road is now open and has been swept clear for residents and access to South Farm businesses as usual.

“Environment Agency pollution staff closely monitored the site clear up to ensure that the river has not been adversely affected following the flooding. We are pleased to confirm that no material pollutant release was identified.

“We are working with our contractor to learn from the event and understand why the construction plant was not moved ahead of the flooding. We are already making improvements to ensure this does not happen again at LORP or any of our other sites.”

New £14m Sidmouth Beach Management Scheme takes major step forward 

Following a meeting of the Sidmouth Beach Management Advisory Group, on Monday 25 October, Owl became aware of “mixed messages” in reports of what was decided.

An amended EDDC press release seems to be a reasonable record of the outcome of the meeting which Owl understands now corresponds with Vision Group for Sidmouth’s recollection.

AMENDED release: New £14m Sidmouth Beach Management Scheme takes major step forward – East Devon

The general outline for the new outline: Dark blue line – Splash wall to be raised along the majority of the Esplanade by approximately 10cm. Light blue line – this section will still have to be raised to about one metre. Yellow line – This is where the beach with be replenished with new beach material. Red circle – General locations of where the additional offshore island(s) can go. Green line – Where the rock groyne will be located.

A new and improved multi-million Sidmouth Beach Management Scheme (BMS) could eliminate the need for a controversial raised splash wall on the seafront.

And, it would help to future proof the town against increased storminess due to climate change for decades to come.

The news comes following a meeting of the Sidmouth Beach Management Advisory Group, on Monday 25 October, which approved a new outline scheme costing up to £14million – providing the vital sea defences and coast protection the town needs, thereby better protecting the Esplanade and the town’s crumbling cliffs above East Beach.

An increase in DEFRA funding has allowed the group to spend the past six months to consider options previously dismissed because of a lack of funding.

The new funding has meant the group could look at new options that eliminate the need for a one-metre high splash wall to replace the current dwarf wall along the Esplanade, which some feared would be an eyesore and divide the town from the sea.

In the last six months, consultants Royal Haskoning DVH has looked at various options to see what is now feasible with the new funding.

This has included adding a further rock island or islands similar to the two already near the seafront, which were part of a short-list of options considered by residents in public consultations in 2016.

The current islands have provided good protection from westerly storms and have also created a large pebble beach at Clifton, which protects the west of the town. As a bonus a sandy beach has also appeared.

Having learnt from how well they work, the new outline scheme includes one, or possibly two extra rock islands, to the east of the current rock groynes – this would reduce the wave action during storms and help to protect the beaches. There will be further work to look at this in the detailed design stage.

On East Beach, the best option for the moment, is to build a large rock groyne and to recharge the beach – which is the process of repleshing it with pebbles to recreate a beach which has been lost.

Previous schemes:

Prior to EDDC taking on this challenging project, residents had asked for a rock revetment scheme to protect East Cliff. However, following Natural England’s concerns about the effects of a revetment on the World Heritage Site these earlier schemes were abandoned.

Next steps:

Once the outline scheme has been approved by EDDC’s Cabinet an ‘outline business case’ will be prepared and endorsed by the advisory group. It will then be submitted to the Environment Agency for the approval for the funds to be released. The detailed design stage can then begin and will include more studies and modelling – as part of this phase EDDC intend to hold public exhibitions to gain feedback on the designs. It is expected that some changes will be made to the current outline proposal at that stage. If the changes are substantial, the scheme may have to go through a ‘technical review’ before the finalised designs are put forward for planning permission. At this stage, further consultations with the public and official bodies will be carried out.

EDDC Councillor Geoff Jung, chair of the Sidmouth Beach Management Advisory Group, said:

I am really pleased that the advisory group today supported the recommendation to move onto the next stage for this important and critical project. This scheme has been very challenging for many years and agreeing to move on to the next stage is brilliant news.

We are more aware now, than ever before, of the  effects of climate change on the sea and weather and how it could have serious detrimental consequences on Sidmouth, but this scheme is designed to help future-proof Sidmouth and its community by protecting properties and residents of Sidmouth, to retain its character and unique charm for the next 100 years.

I would like to personally thank the officers, consultants, and advisory group members for their diligence and hours of work to finally move on to the next stage.

COVID: increased restrictions in the UK look inevitable as winter arrives

COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths have been rising in the UK, pressurising a health service that’s already working hard to treat the backlog of non-COVID patients that have accumulated since March 2020.

Peter Sivey 

While some modellers suggest that cases have peaked and are now set to fall, the overall number of new infections isn’t the only trend to pay attention to. More cases in older age groups and rising hospitalisations are causes for concern, with both possibly driven by two other worrying trends: waning immunity and the vaccine booster programme rolling out too slowly.

The government is taking notice, holding a COVID press conference in response to the recent rise in cases, but is yet to change course. Its strategy for controlling COVID currently still depends mainly on vaccination.

It is resisting calls for the stricter “plan B” control measures, outlined in its COVID winter plan, to be implemented now. These measures include, in certain situations, introducing vaccine certificates and reintroducing mandatory face coverings, together with suggesting that people work from home.

But looking closely at the current data, the plan B measures – or even other, more effective steps – seem inevitable in the coming weeks and months.

Vulnerable people are getting COVID

In the second half of October, reported new cases of COVID surpassed 50,000 a day for the first time since July. However, the current situation is substantially more concerning than in July. Back then, cases were only high in the young. Now cases have risen substantially in the older half of the population.

The case rate among the over-60s is the highest it’s been since late January. We know this is especially important, because despite making up less than a quarter of the population, the over-60s make up more than half of all COVID hospital admissions. Rising cases in this age group disproportionately leads to people getting severely ill with COVID and hospitals coming under pressure.

COVID cases in England in people aged over 60, October 2020-October 2021. Author provided

The number of COVID patients in hospital in England reached 6,801 on October 25, the highest figure since mid-March. It’s worth noting that a year ago in October 2020, the government called a national lockdown when hospital occupancy reached approximately 10,000. At the current trajectory, it seems likely we’ll reach this milestone sooner or later this winter. If we’re to avoid it, we don’t just need cases to come down, but cases in the older age groups to fall in particular.

Patients in hospital with COVID in England, October 2020-October 2021. Author provided

Boosters, passports – and more?

Due to vaccination, we won’t see hospital occupancy shoot up as rapidly as it did in October 2020. So even if we do reach 10,000 COVID patients in hospital, a lockdown is unlikely. Admissions increasing more slowly means there’s far less risk of the NHS suddenly becoming overwhelmed, which is what in the past necessitated drastic lockdown measures being introduced. However, it is likely we will see strain on the NHS rise to a level that justifies more action.

Pressures on the NHS are already very serious, especially in emergency care, where A&E waiting times are the worst since records began. Around 25% of people attending A&E aren’t seen within the target time of four hours, and people are routinely waiting 45 minutes for an emergency ambulance. This pressure is not primarily due to COVID, but the return of normal levels of attendance at A&E, together with increased severity of patients, staffing issues and infection control measures making life harder in A&E departments.

The government therefore is right to be pursuing a policy of booster vaccinations for over-50s. Older groups in the population are highly vaccinated – over 90% of 60- to 69-year-olds are double vaccinated and over 95% of over-70s – but the fact that we’re seeing increased cases and hospitalisations in this older cohort suggests vaccine-based immunity is waning. Emerging research also suggests this is the case (though its findings still need to be formally reviewed by other scientists).

Prompt deployment of these extra vaccines should reduce cases and hospitalisations substantially. Data released by Pfizer – whose vaccine is the booster of choice in the UK – suggests that a third dose restores immunity to highly protective levels (though these findings are also still awaiting review).

The problem is that the booster programme appears to be behind schedule in getting third doses to people as they become eligible six months after their second. We also don’t know if the take-up of boosters will be as high as for the initial two doses. If it’s not, many people may end up vulnerable to hospitalisation and death from COVID this winter.

The health secretary, Sajid Javid, has conceded that the government’s plan B may be necessary if pressures on the NHS become unsustainable, but the components of this plan seem quite weak compared to restrictions that were used earlier this year. Would these measures bring down transmission and reduce cases – and therefore hospitalisations – in older, more vulnerable age groups? Possibly not. The Cabinet Office’s COVID-19 Taskforce estimates that the impact of these measures on transmission might only be “moderate”.

Some experts have pointed to less invasive measures that could also be introduced. Improving the targeting of testing through revising the list of symptoms that allow people to book a PCR test, or even dropping large-scale PCR testing in favour of cheaper rapid lateral flow tests, might make finding and isolating cases quicker. However, such changes remain unlikely for now. This means plan B, if implemented, may struggle to achieve its goals of relieving pressure on the NHS.

Nevertheless, further measures to limit the spread of the virus, such as those in plan B, seem inevitable unless progress can be made on reducing cases in older age groups. If cases among these groups remain high, more drastic restrictions – such as imposing social distancing in hospitality venues at some point this winter – remain a strong possibility.

Exmouth’s lifeboat ramp to be fixed

Owl thought that the move of the Lifeboat station in 2009 from the old site next to the “Ocean” was to solve the problem of launching into the sea! It required realignment of the road etc. etc.

Is this an example of poor decision making or the just “wrong sort of erosion”?

Coastal erosion means it doesn’t reach beach

Sections of Exmouth beach will be closed next month as the RNLI proceeds with long-awaited improvements to its launching ramp.

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter

Exmouth lifeboat station (courtesy: Google Maps)

In November the charity will build a 10-metre extension to the ramp from the lifeboat station to improve access to the sea. Although it’s only around 12 years old, the current ramp no longer reachers the sand because of erosion, meaning there’s a drop at the end. 

It’s not clear whether Exmouth’s all-weather lifeboat has been able recently to use the boathouse, which was built in 2009 at a cost of £1.75 million. Shortly after opening, the ramp had to close again because of problems with its construction. Once that issue was fixed, the RNLI housed both an inshore lifeboat and the larger ‘D’ class vessel.

Half of the ramp’s new extension will be buried in the beach to ensure against further erosion and sand loss. It should make it easier and safer to get the lifeboats in and out of the water, whatever the conditions.

Planning for the RNLI ramp extension at Exmouth Beach. The public won\’t be able to access the areas marked by red lines

The construction work will effectively close sections of the beach around the lifeboat station for the majority of the tide. 

The RNLI has been waiting a long time to fix the issue. Planning permission for the ramp extension was granted by East Devon District Council in late 2018 after erosion forced the ramp to be temporarily made the ramp unusable for lifeboats.

In addition to the extension, the lifesaving charity will also repair a piece of the sea wall that recently snapped off.  They are worried the damaged concrete could be a danger if thrown around in the sea in a storm or heavy seas. 

They will remove the broken concrete and repair the damaged structure, adding extra depth to the concrete defence so that water doesn’t scour the wall beneath the promenade.

Speaking at East Devon District Council’s Exmouth beach management plan steering group, Max Underhill, an estate engineer for the RNLI, said: “This wasn’t originally part of our beach work, but it’s something we don’t really want to leave.”

An officer report written around the time planning permission was granted states the ramp extension works could take three to six months.

Concrete broken away from the sea wall near Exmouth’s lifeboat station (courtesy: East Devon District Council)

No more development along River Camel without pollution mitigation

Seems an appropriate post following a night of heavy rainfall and flood alerts on all East Devon rivers.

Does Owl need to spell out where sewers discharge when this happens? 

High phosphate levels in Cornwall’s River Camel being monitored

Phosphate levels in a river in Cornwall are being monitored after recent high readings, Cornwall Council says.

The authority said it was using a chemical calculator to measure and monitor levels in the River Camel after an alert by Natural England.

The move has resulted in all planning and development proposals in the area being put on hold, the council said. 

The main source of phosphates was agriculture, with some coming via sewage from homes and other developments that generated waste water, it added. 

The River Camel is part of a Special Area of Conservation.

High levels of phosphates in land can encourage weeds and choke rivers.

Phosphate neutrality

The council said it was notified by Natural England “that the area was at risk from adverse effects due to excessive phosphates and that further development could exacerbate this unless mitigation measures were put in place”.

It said the pause in planning work in the area had primarily impacted housing applications.

But some commercial and agricultural development had also been impacted, and it “could also affect other schemes”, the authority added .

It said it had introduced a phosphate calculator, external to allow planning applicants to calculate whether their development would be phosphate-neutral as a “first step” in keeping levels under control.

But it said: “Until longer-term solutions are found, the council will only be able to approve applications that can show that they meet this [phosphate-neutral] requirement, or can propose mitigation measures to the same effect.”

The council said it was working with Natural England, the Environment Agency and South West Water “to find a solution as quickly as possible”.

Rishi Sunack accused of undermining the UK’s response to the climate emergency

Rishi Sunak cuts taxes on domestic flights days before Cop26 climate summit

[At the specific request of Simon Jupp MP and Andrew Bowie, MP (Aberdeen) in the Times “Red Box”]

Rishi Sunak has been accused of undermining the UK’s response to the climate emergency, after his Budget included measures to make it cheaper to take internal flights and drive cars that emit greenhouse gases.

The moves – branded “astonishing” and “retrograde” by Friends of the Earth – were unveiled just days ahead of the crucial Cop26 global warming summit in Glasgow, at which Boris Johnson will plead with the international community to cut carbon emissions.

And they came just a day after the government’s own Climate Change Committee (CCC) told the prime minister that his administration’s net zero strategy had “nothing to say” on aviation and must take further action to discourage people from flying.

Environmentalists said that a Budget statement that spent longer on the reform of alcohol duty than the government’s net zero targets would effectively “extend the age of fossil fuels” in the UK.

In a Budget that he said would lay the foundations for an “economy fit for a new age of optimism”, the chancellor said he wanted to make internal air travel cheaper in order to “cut the cost of living”.

From April 2023, air passenger duty (APD) on flights between airports in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be reduced from £13 to £6.50 per leg, offset by increased rates for long-haul routes.

Mr Sunak claimed the policy – costing the Treasury £275m between now and 2026-27 – would “help cut the cost of living, with 9 million passengers seeing their duty cut by half”.

“It will bring people together across the United Kingdom, and – because they tend to have a greater proportion of domestic passengers – it is a boost to regional airports like Aberdeen, Inverness and Southampton, which are major regional employers,” he said.

But the policy effectively pushes passengers to switch from rail to flying, by cutting the price of internal flights at a time when rail fares are set to see their biggest rise in a decade.

It is the polar opposite of what is being done in some other European countries, which have increasingly moved to restrict domestic air travel where rail alternatives are available.

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast it would result in around 410,000 more passenger journeys a year (a 3.5 per cent rise).

And the new £91 “ultra-long-haul band” of APD will affect just 5 per cent of passengers, as it applies only to flights over 5,500 miles.

The chancellor also confirmed he would extend state support to English airports for a further six months to “help them get through the winter”.

And he continued the practice of all Conservative chancellors since 2010 by freezing fuel duty, a policy that has made it increasingly cheaper to travel by car than to use more environmentally sustainable alternatives.

The twelfth successive year of frozen taxes on petrol and diesel will cost the Treasury £1.6bn annually and a total of £7.9bn by 2026-27.

According to the OBR, motorists have benefitted to the tune of £65bn from the freeze since 2010, compared to a rise in line with inflation, making it one of the government’s most generous tax cuts. Mr Sunak said it had saved the average car driver £1,600 over the period.

This year’s freeze alone was predicted by the OBR to increase purchases of fossil fuels by 450 million litres over the next five years.

In a statement earlier this week, the CCC – a statutory body that advises the government on its climate change targets – said options for reining in the growth in aviation should be “explored further with a view to early action”.

The CCC said: “The government does not include an explicit ambition on … reductions in the growth of aviation, and policies for managing travel demand have not been developed to match the funding that has been committed.”

Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs responded with horror to the Budget package.

“Cutting APD on domestic flights is an astonishing move that completely flies in the face of the climate emergency,” he said. “The chancellor should be making it cheaper for people to travel around the country by train, not carbon-guzzling planes.

“APD for all flights should have been increased, or even better, replaced with a frequent flyers levy, aimed at curbing multiple flights taken by a minority of people each year.

“As the prime minister prepares to host next week’s crucial climate summit, this retrograde step is another illustration that the government’s carbon reduction plans don’t add up.”

Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said Mr Sunak was “actively making things worse by making it cheaper to fly between UK cities”, while James Thornton, chief executive of environmental law charity ClientEarth, said the announcement on fuel and domestic flight duties “goes against everything we know about climate change” and warned that the UK had “missed a crucial chance to lead by example”.

Luke Murphy, head of the environmental justice commission at the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank, said Mr Sunak had “used the Budget to extend the age of fossil fuels”.

“Cutting air passenger duty was the most significant new policy mentioned in the Budget speech today, which will have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions – and it will increase them. Rishi Sunak talked for longer about beer duty than our duty to future generations to address the climate and nature crises,” he said.

“The truth is, this climate-void, fossil-fuel-heavy Budget failed to deliver the necessary £30bn of investment needed each year to meet our climate and nature targets.”

And Sam Alvis, head of green renewal at Green Alliance, said the chancellor’s approach to climate was “increasingly difficult to understand”.

“Just days away from a vital climate conference championed by the prime minister, Rishi Sunak barely mentions net zero and encourages people to fly around the UK rather than take the train. The measure on air passenger duty will even cost the Treasury money rather than boost its revenue,” he said.

Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow energy and climate secretary, said: “Another Budget from the chancellor which failed on both the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis.

“No green recovery, no plan to save families £400 on bills, no plan for green steel. Working people will pay the price of Tory climate delay.”

Sir Patrick: UK in ‘very uncertain phase’ of Covid pandemic

The UK is still in a “very uncertain phase” of the pandemic, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser has said.

Max Channon

Sir Patrick Vallance told the Today programme: “There is considerable uncertainty into which direction this goes,” he said.

“It’s wrong to think that the build up of immunity is an all or nothing – it’s a sort of protective barrier that will reduce the spread of the virus so we need to monitor this carefully over the next weeks and months.

He added: “You need to absolutely be prepared (for plan B) and as soon as you start thinking ‘am I, or am I not going to do this? It looks close’ is the time you need to push beyond your natural reluctance to do it and do it.

“This is obviously something the government will have to consider carefully but we need to be ready to move fast if that occurs.”

The Government’s chief scientific adviser said the models around what will happen with Covid-19 are “quite uncertain at the moment” and there is a lot of variability.

Sir Patrick Vallance told BBC Breakfast: “Nobody is really clear which direction this is going in, but they are clear about the two big variables that could change that.

“One is waning immunity, so if immunity wanes faster than expected, you’ll see a bigger increase, and that’s why it’s so important to get booster shots going in the vulnerable and the elderly in particular.

“The second is the behavioural change, how quickly we return to pre-pandemic behaviours… if you aggregate the models, most are saying ‘Actually, it looks fairly flat, don’t expect the very big peaks we’ve had in the past, it looks fairly flat, but at a very high level at the moment.’

“So the high level remains a concern and from a high level you can go up quite quickly.”

He said that, as immunity builds from vaccination and infection in children, “there will be a resistance to transmissions (and) you may expect that (surge in children) to level off”.

Asked if more than 40,000 Covid cases a day is a level that can be dealt with and is acceptable, he said: “Well, that’s a societal question.

“There are high levels, and those high levels, of course, translate into levels of hospitalisation, but the levels of hospitalisation are very much reduced by vaccination.

“The lower the levels, the better in terms of overall overall outcome, but there are costs and consequences of decisions in both directions there.

“So that’s a societal question about what levels are acceptable.

“I will say though – and it’s an important point to make – that, as this infection becomes gradually becomes endemic, it will occur year on year, we will see this circulating every winter, I suspect, in particular.

“And so, gradually, as immunity builds, the protection will be there, the consequences will be reduced, but we’re not not there yet.

“We’ve still got, clearly, people going into hospital, it’s still a significant risk.”

Yesterday, the Government said a further 207 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the UK total to 140,041.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 165,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

As of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 43,941 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, the Government said.

Meanwhile Sir Keir Starmer is the fourth MP to test positive in the past week. Masks are compulsory for staff but optional for MPs. Jacob Rees-Mogg pointedly didn’t wear one during the budget speech. – Owl

Coronavirus: Case rates in Devon and Cornwall

Here are the latest rates of cases of Covid-19 in Devon and Cornwall.

The figures show the number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the seven days up to and including 23 October, with the previous week’s numbers in brackets.

The breakdown of the figures by local authority area is:

  • Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – 495 (down from 550)
  • Plymouth – 528 (up from 465)
  • Exeter – 432 (up from 326)
  • Mid Devon – 592 (down from 635)
  • East Devon – 567 (up from 501)
  • Torbay – 490 (up from 423)
  • Teignbridge – 510 (up from 413)
  • South Hams – 517 (up from 408)
  • West Devon – 622 (no change)
  • North Devon – 500 (up from 463)
  • Torridge – 493 (down from 540)

For comparison, the figure for England is 480.

Owl adds a screenshot of the latest Devon Covid Dashboard for interest. This shows the confirmed case rates in East Devon by age from the beginning of the pandemic. Please remember that testing was very limited at the start, and despite the criticism of “test and trace”, testing has become more widespread.

“Muddled, overstated, eye-wateringly expensive”: PAC damning on Test & Trace

The government’s flagship test-and-trace system has failed to achieve “its main objective” to cut infection levels and help Britain return to normal despite being handed an “eye-watering” £37bn in taxpayers’ cash, the Commons spending watchdog has warned.

Owl thinks that “Operation Moonshot” – remember that, the much hyped same day mass testing? – was subsumed into NHS test and trace in October 2020.

Andrew Gregory 

NHS test and trace was set up in May last year as the UK emerged from the first lockdown. It was led by Dido Harding, a Conservative peer and businesswoman who previously worked for Tesco and TalkTalk. She was appointed by the then health secretary, Matt Hancock, who praised her “brilliant” work on the pandemic.

In a damning report, the public accounts committee concluded that NHS test and trace “has not achieved its main objective to help break chains of Covid-19 transmission and enable people to return towards a more normal way of life” despite receiving about 20% of the NHS’s entire annual budget – £37 bn – over two years.

Instead, the report said, since the end of October 2020 “the country has had two more national lockdowns and case numbers have risen dramatically”. At the time of its launch, Boris Johnson claimed NHS test and trace would be “world-beating”. However, the 26-page report found that its aims had been “overstated or not achieved”.

The timing of the report’s conclusions is hugely embarrassing for the government as it continues to resist introducing measures to stem the rise in Covid cases. NHS test and trace is a key pillar of its “plan A” approach to autumn and winter, which ministers say is sufficient to avoid a crisis.

Even now, uptake of NHS test and trace is still “variable” as some vulnerable people are much less likely to take a test than others, the report says. Urgent improvements are needed in public outreach, with more than 60% of people who experience Covid-19 symptoms reporting that they have not been tested, and certain groups, such as older people, men, and some ethnic minorities, less likely to engage with the service.

The programme is also “still not flexible enough to meet changing demand and risks wasting public money”, the report adds. MPs on the cross-party committee warned that NHS test and trace desperately needs a “proper long-term strategy”.

The report also criticised the handling of the cash awarded to NHS test and trace. It said the programme has still not managed to cut the number of expensive contractors paid an average of £1,100 a day. Some have been paid rates of more than £6,000 a day.

Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said: “The national test-and-trace programme was allocated eye-watering sums of taxpayers’ money in the midst of a global health and economic crisis. It set out bold ambitions but has failed to achieve them despite the vast sums thrown at it.

“Only 14% of 691m lateral flow tests sent out had results reported, and who knows how many took the necessary action based on the results they got, or how many were never used. The continued reliance on the over-priced consultants who ‘delivered’ this state of affairs will by itself cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds.”

Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said the MPs’ report exposed “a great many shortcomings in the NHS test and trace service”.

“Harding previously boasted that the operation was [the] size of Tesco, without conceding that the supermarket chain actually works,” he said. “Greater attention seems to have been paid to headline-grabbing initiatives to build up the system than to ensuring it actually did its job.”

He added: “Failure to cut infections could mean that we suffered more sickness and death, and longer time spent living under restrictions than would otherwise have been the case.”

Michael Hopkins, professor of innovation management at the University of Sussex business school, warned that the report “comes at a crucial time, with Covid cases and scepticism of NHS test and trace both rising”.

A government spokesperson said: “We have rightly drawn on the extensive expertise of a number of public and private sector partners who have been invaluable in helping us tackle the virus.

“We have built a testing network from scratch that can process millions of tests a day – more than any European country – providing a free LFD (lateral flow device) or PCR test to anybody who needs one.

“The new UK Health Security Agency will consolidate the knowledge that now exists across our health system to help us tackle future pandemics and threats.”

Almost £2bn slashed from ‘levelling up’ funding in poor areas despite PM’s pledge

Almost £2bn has been slashed from promised development spending in poorer areas of the UK, despite Boris Johnson’s vow to “level up” the country. 

The government had pledged to match lost EU funding – to “tackle inequality and deprivation” – which would have required at least £4.5bn over the next three years.

But Rishi Sunak’s Budget reveals just £2.6bn has been allocated and reallocates the fund to improving “functional numeracy skills”, to boost job prospects.

The move will provoke fury in many ‘Red Wall’ areas of England and in Scotland and Wales – which were big recipients of EU structural funds before Brexit cut off the flow.

The Conservative party manifesto at the 2019 general election promised to “at a minimum match” the lost funds in each nation of the UK.

Rebecca Evans, the Welsh Government’s finance minister, protested at “clear gaps in funding where the UK government should be investing in Wales”.

“Arrangements for replacing EU structural funds remain unclear, but what we do know is it falls well short of the £375m we were receiving – these are funds that support skills, businesses and decarbonisation.”

Alexander Rose, a public funding lawyer and secondee at the European Commission, tweeted that the announcement “breaks the promise” that the EU funds would be replaced.

“Furthermore, the new fund is heavily centralised with no guarantees the funding on offer will go to the areas which need it most,” he warned.

The long-promised UK Shared Prosperity Fund was already mired in controversy, after being delayed until next year – already costing poorer areas around £1.5bn.

The government promised to match the pre-Brexit grants, to build local economies by attracting businesses and jobs, and said they would flow from next April.

But the spending review document, for the three years from 2022 until 2025, states it will be “worth over £2.6bn”, over that period.

It says funding will only “rise to £1.5bn a year by 2024-25” and says the pot must no pay for “a new UK-wide programme to equip hundreds of thousands of adults with functional numeracy skills”.

Mr Sunak did not mention the disguised cut in his Budget speech, in which he argued the government was “levelling up communities, restoring the pride people feel in the places they call home”.

“For too long, far too long, the location of your birth has determined too much of your future,” the chancellor said, announcing a separate £1.7bn for better infrastructure in more than 100 areas.

Economic experts have also warned that ministers are ignoring where “need is greatest” in the allocation of the limited funds available.

It came after The Independent revealed that seats held by 7 Cabinet ministers are likely winners from the prosperity fund, despite previously being judged as not needing the grants.

The constituencies of Mr Sunak, the foreign secretary Liz Truss, and Stephen Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, are on a list of “priority places”.

Rishi Sunak “blanked” Simon Jupp in his budget speech

A sharp-eyed correspondent noticed an article posted on the Times “Red Box” column on Tuesday authored by Simon Jupp and Andrew Bowie, MP for Aberdeen.

Both the correspondent and Owl thought it looked suspisciously like a “planted” story.

These two MPs were arguing for the Chancellor to cut air passenger duty on domestic flights as “a bold step towards supporting connectivity across all parts of the Union, as well as boosting our domestic aviation industry which has been at the forefront of the economic impact of coronavirus.”

With COP 26 about to start, arguing for cuts in air passenger duty (when aviation kerosene used by the commercial aviation sector is already exempt from tax) would not seem to be a clever way to support regional aviation. This is an industry that has to be rethought; it can’t just be reset to the “BP” (Before Pandemic) era. 

“Cheap domestic flights might seem a good deal when you buy them, but they are a climate disaster, generating seven times more harmful greenhouse emissions than the equivalent train journey. Making the train cheaper will boost passenger numbers and help reduce emissions from aviation, but any cut to air passenger duty – coupled with a rise in rail fares in January – will send the wrong message about how the government wants people to travel and mean more people choosing to fly.” Paul Tuohy, Campaign for Better Transport’s chief executive.

Nevertheless, the Chancellor obliged by rebalancing the duty, reducing it on domestic flights and increasing it on long flights. 

Obviously Rishi Sunak was expected to name check Aberdeen and Exeter in his speech, illustrating the range of UK domestic flights. Except that Exeter/Devon/Newquay/The South West (and Simon Jupp) must be so beyond his metropolitan radar he forgot to mention it/them.

What he actually said was:

“But today I can announce that flights between airports in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will…

…from April 2023, be subject to a new lower rate of Air Passenger Duty.

This will help cut the cost of living, with 9 million passengers seeing their duty cut by half.

It will bring people together across the UK.

And because they tend to have a greater proportion of domestic passengers…

…it is a boost to regional airports like Aberdeen, Belfast, Inverness and Southampton”

With Exmouth failing to get the Dinan Way grant from the “Leveling up” fund, and Simon having to deny he supported continuing with the tame water quality policy that results, for example, in sewage spewing into the Otter from Honiton, on average, every two or three days, it’s been a mixed week. [Owl repeats “a ludicrous and misleading accusation”.]

Owl believes Simon Jupp has serious questions to answer with regard to his green credentials.

Exmouth misses out on multi-million-pound Dinan Way bid, Simon Jupp MP ‘deeply disappointed’

First Axminster was led up the garden path of disappointment and broken “promises”, now it’s Exmouth’s turn. In Owl’s opinion, Westminster isn’t going to take any  notice of Devon until it returns to its radical roots.

A discussion of the timeline of Simon Jupp’s pre-election regeneration promise can be found in this March post.

Will Goddard 

Simon Jupp MP said that he is ‘deeply disappointed’ that the multi-million pound bid to extend Dinan Way and improve the area around Exmouth railway station has been unsuccessful in the first round of the government’s Levelling Up Fund.

The bid was submitted earlier this year by Devon County Council and East Devon District Council.

It comes despite Exmouth being described as ‘exactly the kind of place that these funds were designed to support’ by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick in Parliament in July, and the Dinan Way extension being Devon County Council’s priority application.

The extension would have seen Dinan Way connected with the A376 to reduce traffic, and has had planning permission since 2017.

East Devon MP Simon Jupp said: “Whilst it is disappointing that our councils’ bid did not succeed in the first round of the Levelling Up Fund, I hope local leaders will continue to work together with me and the government ahead of future opportunities.

“I will be seeking an explanation as to why the bid was unsuccessful which I hope will help further applications, if the council decide to reapply. I have called for a meeting of local council leaders once feedback is received from the government on the councils’ bid.

“I have campaigned hard in Parliament for East Devon, securing on-going support for Exeter Airport and many local businesses. I will continue to work with local councils to back bids for investment.”

Carry on camping

Simon Jupp appears to continue to champion the hospitality sector, in this case a very marginal one. What about the impacts on the AONB where these sites are?

In terms of “levelling up” looks to Owl like “for the few not the many”.

Photo of Simon JuppSimon Jupp Conservative, East Devon

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, whether he plans to extend the 56 day rule for temporary campsites into 2022.

Photo of Christopher PincherChristopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Nationally set permitted development rights allow for temporary use of land. To support businesses during the COVID-19 restrictions we introduced a new right which increased the length of time during which land can be temporarily used for other purposes, and for moveable structures to be set up on the land. The time was increased from the existing allowances of 28 days generally, and 14 days for particular uses such as motorsports, to 56 days and 28 days respectively.

The right allowing for additional days is due to end on 31 December 2021. This decision was taken on balance, considering the wide nature of the right to allow for the use of land for any purpose and the impacts that this can have on communities.

Covid Plan B ‘could cost up to £18bn’ according to leak

Boris Johnson has been told that a five-month move to his “Plan B” to control the spread of coronavirus could cost the economy up to £18 billion, leaked Government documents show.

One of the main lessons learned so far in the pandemic is that delay in taking action costs both money and lives. So you can’t really use cost as an excuse for delay, or can you? – Owl

Rachel Hains

The Prime Minister has so far resisted pressure from health leaders to implement his back-up measures to slow the spread of Covid-19 and ease the pressure on the NHS this autumn and winter.

Papers drawn up by the Cabinet Office’s coronavirus task force and the Treasury detail the potential cost of mandatory mask wearing and vaccine passports, along with the return of work from home guidance.

Obtained by the Politico news website, the internal Treasury impact assessment suggests the measures lasting throughout winter until the end of March would cost the economy between £11 billion and £18 billion.

However, the Government insisted there is “no planned five-month timeline” as it disputed the assumptions in the document and maintained there is currently no need for Plan B.

While scientists believe working from home will have the greatest effect on transmission, the leaked documents suggested mandatory vaccine certification at large venues would have a “moderate” impact.

The assessment said the move for venues such as nightclubs and music venues could reduce transmission at large events by 40-45% and in the wider community by between 1% and 5%.

A Government spokesman said: “We knew the coming months would be challenging, which is why we set out our autumn and winter plan last month.

“Plan B ensures we are ready, should we need to act, to avoid an unsustainable rise in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.

“The presumptions put forward here are untrue, and do not reflect Government policy. The data does not currently show that Plan B is necessary – and there is no planned five-month timeline.”

Meanwhile, a separate impact assessment raised concerns over possible knock-on effects of the introduction of mandatory vaccine passports.

The Telegraph reported that the document from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport warned the move could encourage people to instead go to poorly ventilated pubs and therefore be “counter-intuitive and potentially counter-productive”.

It also suggested that the turnover of venues hit by the move could drop between £345 million and £2 billion.

Greg Parmley, the chief executive of the Live music industry body, said the leak shows the move to mandatory use of passports “would be a mistake”.

“These passports would cost the live music industry billions of pounds while aspects of the rollout would be impractical and potentially dangerous,” he said.

Downing Street has defended its Plan B measures with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman saying it is not a timeline that is “Government policy and is not something we’re planning to”.

He said Plan B would only be bought in when “pressure on the NHS is unsustainable”, which he said “is not the case currently”.

“If it were to become the case, the Plan B measures would allow venues to remain open and remain trading,” he added.

“We are confident the Plan B measures taken as a package will help curb Covid cases while also striking that important balance of allowing parts of the economy to remain open that will otherwise face severe restrictions or even closure.”