Devon town centre ‘not a nice place to be’

Barnstaple town centre has been described as ‘messy,’ ‘unsafe,’ and ‘not a nice place to be’ in emails sent to a local MP.

Ami Wyllie

The revelation comes as Conservative MP Selaine Saxby announced findings from a months long survey asking where locals would like to see £6.5 million spent in North Devon’s ‘retail capital.’

Results from the survey showed that locals were in support of a budget dedicated solely to restoring, cleaning and maintaining Barnstaple town centre.

Constituents have told Ms. Saxby that they actively avoid the town’s centre due to its run down appearance.

Ms. Saxby said the ‘Broken Window Theory,’ which suggests that scruffy and unkempt neighbourhoods lead to crime and disorder due to their ‘social neglect,’ summarises the rapid decline of Barnstaple.

Work with Barnstaple in Bloom has been a short-term solution to the issue and Devon County Council and North Devon Council have both been invited to see the positive impact a ‘small amount’ of money can do.

Ms. Saxby hopes the Government’s investment will help put the centre of North Devon back on track as thriving hub, but know that financial backing is only the beginning.

She said: “This will not solve all the problems we are currently seeing like littering and anti-social behaviour”.

She added: “Barnstaple town centre needs to adapt and be a social destination, a place to spend time and not just money.”

While her survey found a lack of interest in pedestrianisation of the town centre, there was overwhelming support for improved public transport links, including the Barnstaple to Exeter train link.

Having a visible ‘front desk’ for the NHS, local Police and North Devon Council in the centre of town was also a highly supported idea.

Ranked as the most ‘economically vulnerable’ neighbourhood out of all 457 that Devon County Council look after, Barnstaple was awarded the funds as part of the Government’s ‘Future High Street Fund.’

Ms. Saxby has welcomed this funding, and wants to find creative ways to best spent the money and ‘build back better,’ while warning that a one-time lump sum is not a total fix.

She said: “The Pannier Market, Butchers Row, and the Boutport Street entrance to Queen Street car park are the current focuses of the Government and North Devon Council’s investment.

“These should not, however, be the only focuses.

“Investment and changes need to encompass and benefit the whole of the town centre and while I am encouraged with what is happening, we cannot wait around for the next big funding round.

“I will continue to lobby for government investment, but we do need our councils to do more, and we can all play our part by supporting the town centre, buying local when we can, helping keep Barnstaple clean and tidy, and reporting anti-social behaviour.”

New Look for EDW posts

Owl posted this comment yesterday:

“I really enjoy East Devon Watch, but please could it be in darker type – I find the grey print really hard to read. I have mentioned this before and was told it was up to the designer, so please could you mention it to him or her. Thank you. Best wishes, Liz Rhodes”

This is beyond Owl’s skills set, but help was volunteered by one of the original site designers who has “tweaked” the type appearance. For which Owl is very grateful.

Liz reports that the changes are “fantastic”.

Plan for £34 million boost to Devon’s buses

A bit more “joined up” thinking might help as well. 

Owl recalls that the “promised”  GP surgery site on the Alfred’s Way development in Newton Poppleford was used by Clinton Devon Estates to build a couple more houses instead. The NHS, in its wisdom, however, insists that Newton Poppleford inhabitants must use Ottery St Mary GP facilities. The only way to get to the surgery by public transport is to go into Exeter and out again. A short journey as the crow flies takes all day by bus. There is a surgery on the Exeter to Sidmouth route!

Real sustainability should be a prerequisite of major planning decisions.

Plan for £34 million boost to Devon’s buses

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter

Devon could get a £34 million boost to its bus services, if the county council’s bid for a pot of government funding is successful.

The council’s ruling cabinet has agreed to bid for the cash from the government’s £3 billion ‘bus back better’ programme to improve local bus services across England.

But whilst the plan was broadly welcomed by councillors from across the political spectrum, one Lib Dem thought transporting people in “huge buses” was a blast from the fifties and that more people should be hitchhiking.

The county’s proposals, being developed in partnership with Devon’s bus companies, aim to make buses cheaper to use, greener, more frequent and more reliable. A public consultation will start across Devon in November.

Also included are plans for regional zone tickets to simplify fares, by working with neighbouring councils, and bringing in ‘young person’ tickets for 16 to 18 -year-olds, one of the age groups most heavily reliant on buses.

An additional £7.5 million could also be spent on bus priority measures to speed up journey times in urban areas such as Exeter, Exmouth, Barnstaple and Newton Abbot, as well as improving bus stops and other infrastructure in the rest of the county.

A council report said: “Bus is the main form of public transport in Devon, providing services to a large range of people, many of whom have no alternative means of transport. The opportunity provided by the government to bid for extra funding will provide a quantum leap in how the bus service operates in the future.”

Councillor Andrea Davis (Conservative, Combe Martin), cabinet member for climate change, environment and transport told the meeting: “It’s very ambitious, it supports Devon County Council’s carbon reduction. It’s about operating services, cutting fares, lots more services and frequent services so that residents have the choice over the mode of transport that they use.”

Councillor Alan Connett (Lib Dem, Exminster & Haldon), opposition leader on the council, said it was a “very exciting set of proposals” and added: “If successful it would bring an enormous benefit to Devon and for the bus passengers across the county who use them. There’s much to be applauded here and I really do hope the bid is successful.”

Leader of the Labour group Councillor Rob Hannaford (Exwick & St Thomas), while saying the “proposals to make buses greener, cheaper and more reliable is really welcome,” pointed to the current problems at Stagecoach South West, including a shortage of drivers and industrial action, as reasons for why the council should look into public ownership of buses, as has recently happened in Manchester.

RMT union members are currently set to walk out over pay for 24 hours on Monday 18 October. Stagecoach has offered drivers a 9.7 per cent increase, linked to productivity changes. It says passenger numbers are below pre-covid levels, with fares insufficient to cover day-to-day costs of running the serice. The RMT says the offer comes with strings attached which equate to “savage cuts.”

Devon County Council’s new plan calls for greater integration with the rail and coach network in Devon and better cooperation with other neighbouring councils to recognise that journeys often cross county boundaries.

The strategy also sets out targets for moving towards zero-emission vehicles. The council has been involved in two previous unsuccessful bids for reduced emission or electric vehicles. The report says: “The challenge in a county like Devon is the range of the vehicles versus the length of the routes operated.”

However, Councillor Julian Brazil (Lib Dem, Kingsbridge) said the report was a “massive, missed opportunity,” and claimed the council should be doing more to get people sharing smaller vehicles and even hitchhike.

“The old fashioned idea of transporting people in huge buses around rural lanes, or indeed on roads that were built for horse and coaches and not for double decker buses, I think is going back to the fifties.

“Instead, we should be looking to introduce some kind of hybrid bus-taxi service using the information technology that’s available to us, using people carriers. Looking to introduce things like a hitchhiking app that encourages more people to hitchhike, car-sharing…

“That’s what this report should be encouraging. More innovative, forward-thinking and ground-breaking ways of delivering truly public transport to all areas – not just towns, but to rural areas as well.”

The cabinet unanimously agreed the main principles of the plan, to submit the bid and to launch a public consultation. From the start of November, the Department for Transport will assess the bids submitted by each authority and respond with a funding package for the next three years.


Improvement to rural services

  • Provision of at least four return journeys Monday to Saturday for all communities with a population of over 500.
  • Exploration of alternative models of delivery including Demand Responsive Transport (DRT), expansion of Fare Cars or fixed routes

Evening and Sunday services

  • On improved inter urban and city corridors; a service of at least three journeys per evening and on Sunday.
  • Expansion of hourly night-time services for routes carrying over 2 million passengers* per annum. Inter-urban services
  • Improvements to services identified in the Exeter Transport Strategy up to a maximum frequency of 15 minutes.
  • Other services into Exeter to gain an additional journey per hour, plus those to strategic towns such as Barnstaple, Newton Abbot or Plymouth currently carrying over 100,000 passengers* per annum.

Devon “Lynx” services

  • Strategic links improved between centres of population.
  • Better connections with the strategic rail and coach network. Examples of possible links included in Appendix A.

City and town services

  • Towns with a population of 20,000 to gain an additional journey per hour if carrying over 100,000 passengers* per annum.
  • Towns with a population of between 5,000 and 15,000 to gain a minimum provision of an hourly off-peak service.

Current state of the local NHS overstretch

From a correspondent:

A friend fell in the centre of Exeter at about 8.30 pm on Saturday evening.  It was a bad fall and she had obviously hurt her arm and her collar-bone and was in great pain.  A local shopkeeper called an ambulance and 30 minutes later called again and was told there were none available. 

After one and a half hours lying on the concrete pavement the ambulance service sent a local taxi to pick her up.  The lady’s partner had to get her into the taxi for the journey to RD&E A&E and had to help her out when they got there as the taxi driver was not allowed to touch her.  

She had dislocated her shoulder and spent 12 hours in A&E before she was allowed home.

“Government by WhatsApp” set for legal challenge

Ministers and civil servants are required by policy to set instant messaging chats to delete automatically, it has been revealed, as a judicial review over the government’s use of self-destructing messages was given the go-ahead.

Cabinet policy obliges ministers to delete instant messages

Haroon Siddique 

The not-profit organisation the Citizens says the use of disappearing messages, which has been described as “government by WhatsApp”, violates British law on public records and freedom of information.

Its legal challenge comes amid concerns that the likes of WhatsApp and Signal, which have a disappearing messages option, are being used to avoid scrutiny of decision-making processes, including on significant issues such as the government’s coronavirus response.

At a high court hearing in London on Tuesday, it was revealed that the Cabinet Office’s “information and records retention and destruction policy”, disclosed in response to the Citizens application for a judicial review, obliges officials to delete instant chats.

The policy says: “Instant messaging is provided to all staff and should be used in preference to email for routine communications where there is no need to retain a record of the communication. Instant messages history in individual and group chats must be switched off and should not be retained once a session is finished. If the content of an instant message is required for the record or as an audit trail, a note for the record should be created and the message content saved in that.”

The Citizens says making a separate note, as opposed to preserving the actual message, is insufficient to comply with the law. Other documents disclosed ban the use of personal phones, email and WhatsApp by ministers and civil servants. The Citizens, which is being supported by the campaigning law group Foxglove, says the policies are “a confusing, contradictory mess”.

It is challenging the lawfulness of:

  • Use for government business of instant messaging services that allow messages to be automatically deleted, permanently, within a short period of receipt by ministers, civil servants and special advisers.
  • Cabinet Office policy requiring the use of automatic deletion within all instant messaging services.
  • Use for government business of personal devices, email and communications applications in breach, it says, of the government’s own policies.

After Mrs Justice Lang granted permission for the case to go to full judicial review, Clara Maguire, the director of the Citizens, said: “This is a good day for democracy. Lack of transparency has been at the heart of the UK government’s disastrous handling of the Covid catastrophe as today’s parliamentary report points out so clearly.

“It says that a culture of secrecy contributed to tens of thousands of excess deaths. We believe this case goes to the very heart of this problem and we look forward to proving government by WhatsApp is not only dangerous but also unlawful.”

The non-profit organisation argues the use of instant messaging makes it impossible to carry out required legal checks about whether a message should be archived for posterity. Information that could be useful to a public inquiry, or otherwise fall within the scope of a freedom of information request, may be lost as a result.

Cori Crider, the director of Foxglove, said: “Government by WhatsApp is an existential threat to Britain’s historical record. From people in positions of public trust, the law – and the country – require more.”

In July, the information commissioner announced an investigation into the use of private correspondence channels at the Department of Health and Social Care.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Ministers will use a range of modern forms of communication for discussions, in line with legislative requirements, and taking into account government guidance.”