Otter valley residents urged to back beavers 

Devon Wildlife Trust is advising East Devon residents on how they can have a say on the future of beavers in our countryside.

The government has launched a public consultation on the future of beaver introductions in England.

male beaver on River Otter by David White 

The way the consultation is designed means the most likely responses will be from stakeholders who have a particular interest in how the presence of beavers in our rivers could affect them directly – anglers and farmers, for example.

But every resident of villages and towns along the River Otter and its tributaries also deserves a voice in this consultation on the future of beavers. Local people have been living alongside beavers for around a decade now.

The science and evidence gained from the 5-year River Otter Beaver Trial demonstrated the benefits beavers have brought to the River Otter. Beaver activity has helped reduce flood risk in villages downstream of their dams, has increased diversity and abundance of other wildlife and has also improved water quality, thanks to beaver dams trapping sediment washed into watercourses.

Where beaver dams have caused localised problems for landowners, DWT has demonstrated practical solutions to reducing water levels so the landscape can continue to be shared by beavers and people without conflict.

Beaver-watching near Otterton has become an annual summer activity, with locals and visitors enjoying the experience of being among the first people to see beavers in an English river for hundreds of years. Many such visitors also spend money with local businesses on food, drinks and accommodation.

It is important that all these aspects of local people’s experience of living alongside beavers is featured in responses to the government’s consultation.

But as the online consultation is not especially easy to navigate, Devon Wildlife Trust has produced the following guidance on submitting a response, so the government hears the voices of East Devon residents who have lived alongside beavers for years.

DWT’s Director of Nature Recovery Pete Burgess said: “It is vitally important that we reintroduce beavers in a planned, responsible way, and that we have a toolkit of management techniques available, so we know exactly how to deal with issues if they arise. To maximise the benefits beavers can bring, we need to continue to provide advice and support for farmers and landowners and provide grants for those who allow more space for water on their land. The launch of the public consultation is the start of a vitally important conversation about the future of these once widespread animals, and we would urge everyone to share their views about the future of beavers in the English landscape.”

DWT is asking everyone to respond to the consultation around four key asks which we believe are necessary for the safe return of beavers in the wild.

  • To formally recognise beavers as a resident native species in England, as has already been done in Scotland.
  • To ensure beaver populations thrive in the wild by supporting carefully targeted reintroduction projects, bolstering populations where necessary to ensure their long-term health.
  • To help landowners to make space for watercourses and wetlands created by beavers by providing appropriate schemes and funding programmes.
  • To support local beaver management groups who can provide advice, support and practical solutions to ensure beavers and people can share our landscape once again.

The government consultation runs until 17 November and is online at Consultation on approach to beaver reintroduction and management in England

For more information on beavers in Devon and on the government’s consultation see Beavers or contact DWT on beavers@devonwildlifetrust.org

Michael Gove on the sauce again, overdosing on the “catchup ketchup”

Michael Gove has just shown that ‘levelling up’ is still no more than a slogan

Vicky-spratt  inews.co.uk 

The substance of Michael Gove’s first Conservative Party Conference speech as the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities was conspicuous by its absence. He repeated the “levelling up” slogan religiously but offered very little to back it up.

“Life expectancy for men in Glasgow is years lower than in Surrey,” Gove said. “That’s wrong.” Nobody would argue with this statement, reflective as it is of Britain’s geographic socioeconomic inequality. But after hearing his speech they might ask what, exactly, Gove plans to do about it?

Like his newly rebranded department for “Levelling Up”, it seems that Gove is a minister with an agenda in search of policies.

Boris Johnson has decided that “levelling up” is the standard by which he wants his government to be judged but offered no detail on how it will work in practice. In Manchester, Gove shed no further light beyond saying, rather vaguely, that “Levelling Up” means strengthening local leadership, raising living standards, improving public services and enhancing people’s pride in the place they live.

Perhaps the lack of clarity should not come as a surprise. Despite indicators that Britain faces a tough winter – pig farmers protesting because a combination of Brexit and Covid-19 means they cannot have their livestock slaughtered and processed properly, benefit cuts, tax hikes, energy price hikes and a petrol shortage – no big policy announcements are expected at this conference. Meanwhile, the “Levelling Up” white paper is expected by the end of the year.

But even if we put that aside, there were glaring gaps in Gove’s speech. He has taken over the housing brief at a time when thousands of worried homeowners are stuck in unsafe and unsellable homes because of the building safety crisis that has unravelled since the Grenfell Tower Fire. He did not address those impacted directly but, instead, said: “our mission will also mean…making everyone’s home safer and greener….and sharing the cost of that work more fairly.”

Could this signal a change in approach? Will the state take more responsibility for building safety remediation costs? We cannot know because Gove did not expand.

Beyond that, the housing crisis was not mentioned once nor was planning reform. Instead, Gove briefly mentioned his intention to build “new homes on neglected brownfield sites,” and ensure “a better deal for those in social housing”. How will he do this? Your guess is as good as mine.

Gove reiterated Johnson’s perennial commitment to increasing homeownership. “Making opportunity more equal is what Margaret Thatcher did when she allowed working people to buy their own homes,” Gove said, alluding to her flagship Right to Buy policy which is now widely thought to be responsible for this country’s social housing shortage. Gove’s modern plan for increasing homeownership today? He did not say.

The Conservative “levelling up” mission, according to Gove, is that everyone should have “the chance to choose their own future… own their OWN home…and live their BEST life”. It sounds like a motivational Instagram aphorism: you want to like it, but you’re not sure what it means.

Since 2016, the government department Gove now heads up has had four different secretaries of state and undergone two name changes. But one thing remains the same: Britain still has a housing emergency.

Exeter’s future thrown in the spotlight

Consultation on a huge new dossier that will shape Exeter’s future has begun – and people are being urged to have their say.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

Exeter City Council has launched the first round of public consultation on a new Local Plan for the city which sets out to provide a vision for the city’s future up to 2040.

The Local Plan will need to address a raft of important planning issues including how the city responds to the climate emergency, where new homes are built and how new jobs are provided.

The Plan will also look at how to protect and enhance the city’s historic and natural environments, how high streets and communities can continue to thrive and how everyone gets about the city.

Cllr Emma Morse, Lead Councillor for City Development, said: “I’m excited to see launch of the consultation. The Local Plan lies at the heart of the planning system and will guide the development of housing, the economy, community facilities, and infrastructure in Exeter for the next twenty years.

“It will also set out clear messages for how we combat climate change and improve our environment. It’s vital that local people, businesses, community groups and stakeholders have their say in shaping the Local Plan and Statement of Community Involvement, so that the documents reflect what you want our city to look like and how you want to engage with the planning process in order to achieve that.”

Each council is required to have an up to date Local Plan to guide development so that it meets the needs of the community and the local area.

Exeter’s current plans (the Core Strategy and Local Plan First Review) are becoming older and as along with neighbouring partners, they are no longer progressing the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan, the city needs a new Local Plan.

The new Local Plan will eventually replace the existing plans and will cover the years between 2020 and 2040, and will allow the council, the community and other organisations to make the most of the opportunities in Exeter, tackle our key issues and help ensure a thriving city going forward.

The first stage of the Local Plan review on the issues – with a second stage around site options for development and specific policies– to follow in the future.

Climate emergency

Exeter City Council have declared a Climate Emergency and pledged to work towards creating a carbon neutral city by 2030. They have adopted the Net Zero Exeter 2030 Plan which sets out what Exeter will need to put in place in order to be net zero carbon by 2030.

The new Local Plan will include policies and proposals that contribute to meeting this challenging ambition and to make the most of the opportunities of a net zero carbon city.

Health and wellbeing

Generally, Exeter is a healthy city with high levels of walking and cycling, large areas of green space and access to a range of health facilities. However, people living in its more disadvantaged areas can have comparatively poor health, lower literacy and may experience frailty earlier. Traffic has led to increases in air pollution and noise in some areas. Crime and anti-social behaviour can be a concern. Housing quality can also significantly affect health.

The new Local Plan will play a part in improving health and wellbeing by supporting ambitions to achieve increases in physical activity to get 50 per cent of people walking or cycling to work, improving air quality and providing quality housing.

Homes

The Government requires around 630 new homes in Exeter each year and Covid-19 has underlined just how much good quality housing is needed

The new Local Plan will need to help address the shortage of affordable homes in the city and consider how best to provide the good quality accommodation we all need. Young adults, families, older people, those with disabilities, students and gypsies and travellers all have specific housing needs.

Economy and jobs

The city is at the heart of the Greater Exeter area and has one of the fastest growing economies in the UK. Whilst Exeter has like all cites been significantly impacted by Covid-19, predictions are that it will be one of the quickest to bounce back. There is a strong ambition to grow the economy with a focus on innovative business sectors, making the most of a skilled workforce.

The new Local Plan needs to support the economy and green growth by identifying the employment sites and infrastructure needed. This will help to increase prosperity and wellbeing.

The future of high streets

A vibrant and prosperous city centre with complementary bustling neighbourhood shopping areas is central to the success of the city. However, traditional high streets are under pressure through the growth of online shopping, a trend accelerated by Covid-19, and so we need to re-think how they function.

Leisure, cultural attractions and the night-time economy are likely to play an increasingly important role in attracting people to our high streets and will help support our offer for tourists.

The new Local Plan will support the high street as it evolves and continues to play a central part in our lives.

High quality places and design

The quality of the places in which we live and work is fundamental for so many reasons, including to support our health and well-being, attract investment and generate pride in our city. Development offers opportunities to create high quality places that respond to Exeter’s distinct characteristics, reflect local culture and integrate with existing communities, promoting social cohesion and healthy lifestyles.

The Local Plan must ensure that development is located in the right place and provides well-designed buildings and spaces.

Historic environment and culture

Exeter’s rich historic environment is part of what makes the city unique and special and helps to shape the city’s culture today. It improves our communities’ quality of life and pride in the city and helps to support our economic prosperity.

New development inevitably raises challenges for the historic environment, but the new Local Plan provides an opportunity for us to protect and enhance our historic assets whilst celebrating and exploring the culture of the city and our communities as they evolve.

Natural environment

The city enjoys a high quality natural environment, with valley and city parks, public rights of way and the Exe Estuary. The hills to the north and north-west of the city give Exeter a distinctive character while the city also contains a rich variety of wildlife habitats.

The new Local Plan will need to manage development pressures on our local environment to provide benefits for landscape character, wildlife, flood risk and air quality and to help us to combat climate change.

Sustainable transport and communication

The way people travel will be vital to the success of Exeter. It will be central to achieving net zero carbon, growing prosperity, healthy lifestyles and improvements to our environment. In future, travel won’t just be about whether we walk or drive – digital communications will also be key.

The new Local Plan will need to ensure that Exeter is resilient to changes in travel, supporting innovative development in the right places show-casing real options and fresh approaches to transport.

Infrastructure and community facilities

Communities rely on local infrastructure to function and prosper; transport infrastructure helps us to get around, doctors surgeries provide our health care, schools educate our young people, digital infrastructure helps us to communicate and greenspace and leisure facilities provide us with the opportunity to relax.

The new Local Plan will be vital to identify the infrastructure which we need, ensuring it is provided in the right way, at the right time and in the right place.

The pattern and quality of future development in Exeter

A key role for the new Local Plan will be to set out a sustainable pattern of development for Exeter which will help to deal with the issues we have identified and achieve the vision for the city.

Planning for development proactively will mean we can steer it to appropriate locations where impacts can be managed and where it will have the most significant benefit.

The current planning documents include a strategy for meeting our development needs in terms of housing, jobs, shopping, community facilities and infrastructure, but this is being reviewed to make sure the approach will be appropriate for the future.

The key strands of the current approach to meeting the city’s development needs are:

· Focus on the city centre, existing centres and previously developed land, including the regeneration of the Grecian Quarter (around Sidwell Street and the bus station) and the Water Lane area (around the canal in the Haven Banks area)

· Provide for additional development in sustainable urban extensions on the edges of the city

· Steer development away from the hills to the north and north west – the important landscape areas for the city

Some of this development strategy will need to be looked at again to reflect that times have changed, as there are more limited opportunities for large scale urban extensions now given that the developments at Newcourt and Monkerton are nearly complete.

The council is also now looking at the key regeneration benefits which development on brownfield sites can provide. This evolving situation has led the Council to start a housing delivery programme called Liveable Exeter, which will create new homes for the city through a series of eight, high quality development sites.

On the back of this work, Exeter has been recognised as a ‘Garden Community’ which brings support from Government to make sure that the city grows in a sustainable way with a real focus on high quality development working well for local communities.

This approach will play a key part in steering the pattern and quality of development for the city in future.

Some potential ideas which could be used to shape a future development strategy for Exeter are:

· Redevelopment of brownfield land in the city

· Higher density development in the city centre and close by

· Smaller developments on the edge of the city

· Steering development away from sensitive environmental areas such as the Exe Estuary and hills to the north and north west of the city

· Locating development to maximise walking and cycling and to make use of public transport

· Build distinctive development with local identity n Ensure well-designed, vibrant places with a mixture of uses

· Support healthy lifestyles n Provide a variety of high quality and flexible homes

· Deliver appropriately designed infrastructure when it’s needed

· Provide developments for local employment, education and skills

· Enhance the natural and historic environment

· Provide green infrastructure such parks and open space

· Ensure that development will produce ‘net zero’ carbon emissions

· Deliver high quality active travel and low carbon transport

· Make sure that development is resilient to future change

The vision

Exeter has a vision for growth as a connected city region consisting of thriving linked communities set within an exceptional environmental setting. This clear vision represents a commitment to strengthen neighbourhoods; create new communities; invest in sustainable transport; and deliver the infrastructure needed to attract investment and improve quality of life.

Exeter aims to be recognised as a leading sustainable city and global leader in addressing the social, economic and environmental challenges of climate change and urbanisation. The plan strives to make Exeter the most active and accessible city in England.

The vision has seven key elements:

· An innovative and analytical city

· A healthy and inclusive city

· The most active city in the UK

· Accessible world class education

· A liveable and connected city

· A leading sustainable city

· Culture

What happens next?

The issues consultation is the first step in preparing the new Local Plan. The council will then use the responses to the consultation alongside evidence on a range of topics to shape a draft of the new Local Plan which will be consulted on in 2022.

After that, a final draft document will be published for comment before it is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for Examination. A Planning Inspector will use a series of Examination discussions to decide whether the plan needs any changes and then if it can be adopted by the Council

To get involved in the consultations, local residents, businesses, community groups and statutory consultees are encouraged to:

  • Visit https://exeter.gov.uk/localplan/ and https://exeter.gov.uk/sci/ where the Local Plan Issues Consultation Document and draft Statement of Community Involvement can be viewed and responded to online;
  • Find out more information by attending public exhibitions to be held on: Thursday 30 September from 1pm to 7pm at Exeter Central Library, Rougemont Room, Castle Street, Exeter, EX4 3PQ; and Wednesday 13 October from 1pm to 7pm at the Guildhall, 203 High Street, Exeter, EX4 3EB.

The consultation documents can also be viewed during opening hours at Exeter City Council’s Customer Service Centre in the Civic Centre (Paris Street, Exeter, EX1 1JN) and Exeter Central Library (Castle Street, Exeter, EX4 3PQ).

For more information, or to respond to the consultations in a different way from online, please email planning.policy@exeter.gov.uk or telephone 01392 265080. Please also use these contacts to be kept informed of progress on the new Local Plan without responding to the current consultations.

The consultations run until November 15. Further rounds of public consultation on the new Local Plan are planned for 2022 and 2023, before it is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for Examination.

The Pandora Papers for Dummies (only 12 million documents)

Pandora Papers: A simple guide to the Pandora Papers leak

The Pandora Papers is a leak of almost 12 million documents that reveals hidden wealth, tax avoidance and, in some cases, money laundering by some of the world’s rich and powerful.

Owl summarises official reaction so far: “Move along please. Nothing to see here!”

By Pandora Papers reporting team www.bbc.co.uk

More than 600 journalists in 117 countries have been trawling through the files from 14 sources for months, finding stories that are being published this week.

The data was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington DC, which has been working with more than 140 media organisations on its biggest ever global investigation.

BBC Panorama and the Guardian have led the investigation in the UK.

What has been uncovered?

The Pandora Papers leak includes 6.4 million documents, almost three million images, more than a million emails and almost half-a-million spreadsheets.

Stories revealed so far include:

The files expose how some of the most powerful people in the world – including more than 330 politicians from 90 countries – use secret offshore companies to hide their wealth.

Lakshmi Kumar from US think-tank Global Financial Integrity explained that these people “are able to funnel and siphon money away and hide it,” often through the use of anonymous companies.

How big is the Pandora Papers leak graphic

What do we mean by ‘offshore’?

The Pandora Papers reveal complex networks of companies that are set up across borders, often resulting in hidden ownership of money and assets.

For example, someone may have a property in the UK, but own it via a chain of companies based in other countries, or “offshore”.

These offshore countries or territories are where:

  • it’s easy to set up companies
  • there are laws that make it difficult to identify owners of companies
  • there is low or no corporation tax

The destinations are often called tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions. There is no definitive list of tax havens, but the most well known destinations include British Overseas Territories such as the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, as well as countries such as Switzerland and Singapore.

Is it illegal to use a tax haven?

Loopholes in the law allow people to legally avoid paying some taxes by moving their money or setting up companies in tax havens, but it is often seen as unethical. The UK government says tax avoidance “involves operating within the letter, but not the spirit, of the law”.

There are also a number of legitimate reasons people may want to hold money and assets in different countries, such as protection from criminal attacks or guarding against unstable governments.

Although having secretive offshore assets is not illegal, using a complex network of secret companies to move around money and assets is the perfect way to hide the proceeds of criminality.

There have been repeated calls for politicians to make it harder to avoid tax or hide assets, particularly following previous leaks such as the Panama Papers.

But Mr Ryle said the Pandora Papers show that “the people that could end the secrecy offshore… are themselves benefiting from it. So there’s no incentive for them to end it”.

How easy is it to hide money offshore?

All you need to do is set up a shell company in one of the countries or jurisdictions with high levels of secrecy. This is a company that exists in name only, with no staff or office.

It costs money though. Specialist firms are paid to set up and run shell companies on your behalf. These firms can provide an address and names of paid directors, therefore leaving no trail of who is ultimately behind the business.

How much money is hidden offshore?

It is impossible to say for sure, but estimates have ranged from $5.6 trillion to $32 trillion, according to the ICIJ. The International Monetary Fund has said the use of tax havens costs governments worldwide up to $600bn in lost taxes each year.

Ms Kumar said it is detrimental to the rest of society: “The ability to hide money has a direct impact on your life… it affects your child’s access to education, access to health, access to a home.”

What is the UK doing about it?

The UK has been criticised for allowing property to be owned by anonymous companies overseas.

The government published draft legislation in 2018 that would require the ultimate owners of UK properties to be declared. But it is still waiting to be presented to MPs.

A 2019 parliamentary report said the UK system attracts people “such as money launderers, who may wish to use property to conceal illicit funds”.

It said criminal investigations are often “hindered” because police cannot see who ultimately owns properties.

The government recently raised the risk of money laundering through property from “medium” to “high”.

It says it’s cracking down on money laundering with tougher laws and enforcement, and that it will introduce a register of offshore companies owning UK property when parliamentary time allows.

Pandora Papers banner

The Pandora Papers is a leak of almost 12 million documents and files exposing the secret wealth and dealings of world leaders, politicians and billionaires. The data was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington DC and has led to one of the biggest ever global investigations. More than 600 journalists from 117 countries have looked at the hidden fortunes of some of the most powerful people on the planet. BBC Panorama and the Guardian have led the investigation in the UK.