Ottery: Controversial 100-acre quarry plans near Ottery set to be approved

A controversial 100-acre quarry in Ottery St Mary is set to be approved this week at Devon County Council (DCC).

Joe Ives, Local Democracy Reporter

Officers have recommended approval for plans which would see up to 1.5 million tonnes of sand and gravel dug up at Straitgate Farm on Exeter Road over the course of 10 to 12 years. The materials would be transported 23 miles by road to Hillhead Quarry near Uffculme, Mid Devon for processing.

The plans, sent out for public consultation in 2017, have been a source of major controversy.

Some local residents are concerned about the impact of the new quarry on the local environment. There is also anger over the amount of CO2 that could be released to transport the materials.

DCC’s development management committee will meet this Wednesday (1 December) to make a decision.

Otter Valley councillor Jess Bailey (Independent) said she is “horrified” by the current recommendation for approval and is urging her colleagues to reject the application.

Hillhead Quarry, Uffculme. Credit: Devon County Council

Cllr Bailey said: “If the quarry proposal is approved, it will have a devastating impact on our community. As the ward member, I shall be strongly urging the planning committee to reject the officials’ recommendation and vote against the quarry.”

She argues that the quarry “flies in the face of the climate change emergency,” adding, “It is hard to believe that in this day and age we are still contemplating such a level of environmental destruction.”

Straitgate Action Group, a campaign group against the plans, says it will be protesting outside of County Hall ahead of the vote.

The application is being made by Aggregate Industries UK Ltd, a Leicestershire-based building material manufacturer and supplier.

The processing plant at Hillhead was built in 2018 with planning permission granted for processing material within its 91-hectare quarry area. Further planning permission is needed when bringing in material from elsewhere such as Straitgate Farm.

Councillor Jess Bailey stands on Birdcage lane, near the planned entrance to the new quarry. Credit: Jess Bailey

One of the proposed conditions for planning permission is to widen Clay Lane near Hillhead Quarry to allow two-way traffic. If given the go-ahead the operation will lead to up to 86 loads of gravel and sand being transported between the sites each day.

Hillhead Quarry is open between 6am and 10pm on weekdays and 6am to 6pm on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays and bank holidays. The same hours would be maintained if the new planning application is approved.

The decision is going to DCC as it is the ‘mineral planning authority’ for the area. A mineral planning authority can be an upper-tier council, a unitary authority, or a national park authority.

If granted planning permission Aggregate Industries will have three years to start the operation.

Special education overspend rises

A further £36 million expected to be added to the debt

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter

Leading Devon councillors are urging the government to clarify funding for special education after the county’s overspend on the service was projected to rise to £85 million.

Councils have been told to put overspends for supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) into separate accounts for three years until April 2023. It means the shortfall doesn’t currently count towards Devon’s main revenue figures.

The county council entered this financial year with a total overspend of £49 million in its ring-fenced SEND account. It expects to add a further £36 million to the debt in 2021/22, according to the latest budget report.

But it is still not known what wiill happen to the debt when the arrangement ends. At a meeting of the council’s ruling cabinet this week, councillors from all sides expressed concern at the situation.

Opposition leader Councillor Alan Connett (Lib Dem, Exminster & Haldon) said it was “real money that the county council’s spent,” while leader of the Labour group Councillor Rob Hannaford (Exwick & St Thomas) called it a “huge concern” and demanded action.

“There still is a concern, despite all the work that’s going on within children’s services and the treasury, that at some point already overstretched budgets might see resources sucked in to fill that black hole if we’re not careful,” Cllr Hannaford said.

“That’s definitely not what we need. We want more money for schools, more money for children’s services and this debt paid off. I know it’s a big ask but that’s what we’ve got to ask for and I hope that’s actually what we’re going to get.”

In response, cabinet member for children’s services Councillor Andrew Leadbetter (Conservative, Weirside & Topsham) told them: “We have to address this money that’s been put to one side at some point, and that is very much at the top of my agenda.”

He recently spoke to officials from the Department for Education about the matter and invited the under secretary of state to visit.

“We’re going to lobby. I’m going to lobby Devon MPs for their support. I’m already lobbying the government that they have to help us out with that.

“They told us to put it to one side. I think it would be unfair if they then expected us to deal with the whole issue ourselves, so there’s an awful lot of work going on … top of the agenda is to work out how to deal with this deficit.”

Presenting the budget figures to the cabinet, Councillor Phil Twiss (Conservative, Feniton & Honiton) said this year’s projected overspend on SEND of £36 million had increased by almost £3 million from the last update in September, due mainly to increasing demand in new requests for education and health care plans (EHCPs).

The plans set out the needs of a child or young person for whom extra support is needed, beyond that which the school can provide. As a result of the extra demand, the budget report said it has “had a significant impact on the ability … to reduce the demand for EHCPs by supporting children within mainstream [schools].”

According to the report, education officers have developed a “shared management plan which seeks to ensure children with special educational needs receive the support they need, whilst also addressing the [overspend].”

But it warned: “Through this process and [the Department of Education’s] feedback, we have all recognised that the original financial assumptions underlying the savings identified were ambitious. These assumptions are therefore being reviewed.”

The updated projections come after the county council’s deputy leader wrote to the government last month to ask for more money for Devon’s schools and  SEND services.

In his letter, Councillor James McInnes (Conservative, Hatherleigh & Chagford) said about the SEND issue: “This continues to be a major concern. The number of children with special educational needs, and their complexity of need, continues to grow, with demand far outstripping budgets.

“While we appreciate the increase in SEND funding during the last two or three years, significant additional funding is required for both mainstream and special schools. We urge the government to publish the long-overdue SEND review and to overhaul the SEND system to ensure it is fit for purpose.”

Reacting to the letter, Cllr Connett said the SEND funding is a “national scandal” adding “In effect, this is the county council’s credit card being bent backwards to maintain really important services for the most vulnerable children with special needs.”

Pensioner defeats plans to build 4,000 new homes after using map reading skills to find ‘errors’

“On one of the maps, they showed that water was running up-hill.” 

A retired army Major pensioner has defeated plans for 4,000 new homes on his doorstep after raising £30,000 from residents for High Court battle.

Former paratrooper Tom Lynch, 83, used his map reading skills to find errors in the plans to build on 550 acres of countryside and fertile farmland outside his home in Kent.

Planning permission for the controversial Mountfield Park scheme, Canterbury’s biggest housing development project, has now been revoked following a high court ruling.

Construction for the so-called ‘garden city’ was scheduled to begin soon and would have been completed within the next 15-years.

But the project has faced fierce opposition from residents since it was first presented in December 2016.

Now, developers Corinthian are back to square one after Canterbury City Council U-turned on their decision to green light the project, and all thank to Mr Lynch.

The former paratrooper and army major says he found a number of obvious errors in the construction plans after reviewing hundreds of documents with his friends.

Mr Lynch said: “In 2016, a plan to build 4,000 houses was proposed at the local school hall.

“It was quite obvious from the reaction of the local residents that it was not acceptable.

“I stood up and said from the mood in the room, there must be a plan-B, but they said there wasn’t.

“He said, don’t worry Mr Lynch it won’t happen in my time, which I just thought was just outrageous.

“That wasn’t the point. The point was I wanted my children and grandchildren to enjoy walking around the area.”

Mr Lynch, who started looking into legal action years ago, is planning on paying people back once the council has reimbursed the fees.

He said: “They presented a plan-B two years ago just before Christmas, thinking nobody would be turning up.

“But I’ve always been a fighter and one just thought, wait a minute what’s going down here?

“I’d already had a look at their plans with my friends – well over 700 documents.

“Being an ex-military man, I scrutinised their maps and found a number of errors.

“On one of the maps, they showed that water was running up-hill.

Legal battle

“We formed a committee and managed to raise £30,000 to fight our legal battle.

“At the end of course, at the High Court the judge said the council had erred in law.

“The council agreed to withdraw the plan to avoid embarrassment and a lot of extra costs.”

The original planning permission for the scheme lapsed last year due to continual delays, so the proposals had to be brought back before councillors

It was again voted through last December, with Corinthian planning on building around 300 properties every 12 months, starting from this year.

But the company has not thrown in the towel quite yet.

A spokesman for the firm said: “Elected councillors have now voted twice for affordable, sustainable and beautiful new homes in Canterbury, and it is disappointing to see those much-needed homes delayed again.

“The application will be considered by committee for a third time in the next few months.

“In the meantime we will continue to work closely with residents and with Canterbury City Council, who are determined to see sustainable, affordable homes built for local people in east Kent.

“This development is vital for Canterbury’s future – vital for the people of Canterbury, vital for the historic city centre, and vital for the sustainable future of the city.

New roads

“We are more determined than ever to create a beautiful and sustainable community, and are confident that we will be able to get going with making this wonderful new place in the new year.”

Shops, office space, sports pitches and two primary schools were to be built alongside the scheme’s 4,000 proposed new homes, 30 per cent of which going to be affordable.

A system of new roads had also been drawn up, along with a 1,000-space park and ride scheme and a new junction off the A2.

The city council has issued a brief statement, confirming the plans will again be brought back before councillors.

Spokesman Rob Davies said: “Following recent legal action, the planning application for the South Canterbury urban extension will be considered afresh by our planning committee.

“We expect this to be early next year.”

Three people evicted from women’s loo, Seaton

Three rough sleeper’s have been evicted from a women’s public toilet in Seaton.

Anita Merritt

East Devon District Council has confirmed an eviction notice was put on the outside door of the public toilet in West Walk after three ‘heavy drinkers’ were reported to have been causing a disturbance and people were being prevented from being able to use the toilet.

The council said help was offered to three individuals but they did not want to take up the offer of support.

The notice states: “The land is in private ownership and persons in unauthorised occupation of it are advised that they are required to vacate the land by Tuesday, November 2, at 9.30am.

“Failing this, legal proceedings will be taken to gain possession and a certified bailiff will be instructed to remove all vehicles, unauthorised personal belongings and persons from the land.

“These will be stored and kept for seven days from the date of the notice.”

The notice, signed on November 1, also offered a contact number for housing support.

A spokesperson for East Devon District Council said: “The eviction notice is from last month. Housing engaged with the rough sleepers on a few occasions to offer assistance, but they refused to engage.

“It was a group of three heavy drinkers, who were causing a disturbance to members of the public, and blocking access to the toilet.

“We instructed Devon Investigations to evict them after carrying out all of the appropriate welfare checks. The sign will be removed as soon as possible to avoid any further confusion.”

Proposal to overhaul Westminster standards includes extending Nolan principles to eight

[But Boris Johnson is said to be “uncomfortable” with numbers. – Owl]

Alexandra Rogers

MPs could be investigated if they launch “excessive” personal attacks as part of a recommended package of reforms to overhaul standards in Westminster.

The Committee on Standards, which looks into the behaviour of MPs and ministers, has suggested adding a new rule to the code of conduct which would ban members from attacking others in any medium.

The rules around ministers’ gifts and hospitality could also be tightened under the proposed reforms to standards, which have garnered interest in the wake of the Owen Paterson lobbying row.

Under the proposed draft new rules, which are out for consultation, a loophole which allows ministers to not declare on the Commons register gifts and hospitality what they receive in a ministerial capacity would be ended — a move that would force Boris Johnson to declare a recent holiday he enjoyed in Spain.

Under the current rules, the prime minister was not forced to declare the cost of his stay at the luxury Spanish villa of personal friend Lord Goldsmith, because it was logged under the minister’s register of interests rather than the Commons register for MPs.

Meanwhile, the standards committee has also proposed extending the seven principles of public life to include an eighth principle of respect, whereby MPs must “abide by the parliamentary behaviour code and demonstrate anti-discriminatory attitudes and behaviours through the promotion of anti-racism, inclusion and diversity”.

The debate around MPs’ standards was ignited in the wake of the Paterson scandal, in which the former Cabinet minister was found guilty by the standards committee of an “egregious” breach of parliamentary rules by lobbying ministers on behalf of two firms that were paying him more than £100,000 between them.

The government initially tried to put the committee’s recommended 30-day suspension of Paterson on hold on the grounds it believed that parts of the process that found him guilty was unfair.

However, it then abandoned its support for Paterson, triggering his resignation as an MP.

Paterson’s actions led to heightened scrutiny around MPs’ work outside parliament and calls to tighten the rules around second jobs.

The committee said there should be an outright ban on MPs providing paid parliamentary advice, consultancy or strategy services.

It also recommended a new requirement that an MP must have a written contract for any outside work which makes clear that their duties cannot include lobbying ministers, members or public officials, or providing advice about how to lobby or influence parliament.

Following the report’s publication, Chris Bryant, chair of the standards committee, said: “The past few weeks have seen a number of issues raised about MP’s standards, but the key overarching issue here is about conflict of interest.

“The evidence-based report published by my committee sets out a package of reforms to bolster the rules around lobbying and conflicts of interest.

“These aren’t the final proposals we’re putting to the House. This report is the committee’s informed view on what changes we need to tighten up the rules and crack down on conflicts of interests following a detailed evidence-led inquiry.”

He added: “We will consult and hear wider views on what we’ve published today before putting a final report to the House for a decision in the New Year. If approved, these robust proposals will empower the standards system in parliament to better hold MPs who break the rules to account.”

Earlier in the day Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner proposed her own overhaul of the standards system regulating MPs, and argued that ministers should be banned from work relating to their past job for five years after leaving government.

She also said Labour would set up an “independent integrity and ethics commission” that could launch investigations into ministers’ conduct without the permission of the prime minister, as is the case currently.

Ministers ‘dragging feet’ over leasehold house ban, 2017 promise unfulfilled

Mustn’t upset the developer lobby by hasty action, must we? – Owl

Melissa York

The government has been accused of dragging its feet over a ban on “outrageous” new leasehold houses as its reforms to property ownership are set to be debated by MPs.

A long-awaited bill to effectively restrict ground rents to zero on new leasehold properties arrives in the Commons for its second reading today.

This would protect future homeowners from having to pay exorbitant ground rents that double every 10 to 15 years, a practice that the Competition and Markets Authority has clamped down on in the past two years.

Whitehall has promised to outlaw new leasehold houses since 2017 but the pledge does not appear in the new bill.

Lucy Powell, the shadow housing secretary, said: “There is no justification for a house to be sold as leasehold.

“It is an outrageous practice that allows developers to scam homeowners out of thousands of pounds a month.

“Half a million people have already been trapped in leasehold houses under the Tories’ watch, yet they have chosen not to use this bill to fix this obvious injustice.” Leasehold house owners have also complained of being charged extortionate estate management fees, which has led to the nickname “fleecehold” for these types of properties.

Of the 480,567 leasehold houses that have been sold in the last ten years, 287,434 of them were situated in the northwest of England.

Tracy Whittle, 60, bought a four-bedroom detached leasehold house in Northwich, Cheshire, in May 2016.

The housebuilder David Wilson Homes told her she could buy the freehold of the property for £5,500.

A few months after the sale Whittle tried to buy it, but her solicitor told her that the freehold had been sold to Aviva Investors and it now cost £11,000, and she would have to pay their legal fees.

Whittle pays £250 a year in ground rent and £150 in estate management fees. Her lease only allows her to have certain pets and forbids roof aerials.

The Department of Levelling Up Housing and Communities said: “We remain committed to banning the sale of new leasehold houses. We will set out further . . . reforms in due course.”

Crackdown on second home owners exploiting tax loophole on coast

Conservative dominated (38% of seats) East Suffolk Council, tired of waiting for promised government action, have agreed to take immediate measures against second home owners exploiting loopholes.

Will “Team Devon” be following their lead, or is it just a “talking shop”? – Owl

Jason Noble Local Democracy Reporter 

Free council services including waste collections may be taken away from second home owners exploiting a loophole to escape paying council tax or business rates.

A legislation loophole currently exists where people who own a second home register as a holiday let business to avoid paying council tax, but then make no efforts to let the home.

As businesses with a rateable value of less than £12,000 get a business rates relief of 100pc, it means the homeowner effectively gets away with paying neither council tax or business rates.

The problem has been a key one in east Suffolk’s coastal hotspots, including Southwold, exacerbated by people travelling from London to their second homes during the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the Government said it is aware of the loophole and is working to close it down, East Suffolk Council on Wednesday night unanimously agreed a motion for immediate measures.

That motion will mean any home registered as a business will be required to pay commercial waste collection and not be allowed free household bin collections, as well as barred from using resident parking spaces and household waste recycling centres.

Conservative council leader Steve Gallant, who bolstered a motion by Southwold’s Liberal Democrat ward member David Beavan, said: “I am aware of the behaviour of some individuals who seek to use a loophole in the current legislation to line their own pockets with scant regard for the effect this has on both our council and our residents.

“Those that choose to opt out of council tax should not avail themselves of the services that we as a council provide to our council taxpayers.

“If an individual home is registered as a business then it should be treated as a business, for instance if they want waste collection then they should be paying a commercial rate – they are a business.”

Other areas which could be used to clampdown on those seeking to subvert the system could be food standards visits or fire inspections.

Cllr Beavan, who has long campaigned for progress, highlighted one example where a London resident regularly travelled to Southwold during Covid, where he has a home registered as a holiday let that had no customers last summer.

Cllr Beavan said: “If he wants to escape rates, he should register with HMRC as a furnished holiday let and show evidence of actually letting.

“This is not a party political matter, it is about decency and fairness.

The loophole reflects badly on all second homers and divides our communities.

“This is going to be hard enough winter for local people, many of whom can’t afford one home, without having to subsidise these fraudsters with two homes.”

A neighbourhood plan being drawn up in Southwold and Reydon includes provision to ensure that all new homes are for principal residents only, meaning new homes will not be allowed to be used as second homes.

Missing Colyton woman found ‘safe’ by police

A 22-year-old woman who was reported missing has been found “safe” by police.

Sam Beamish 

Devon and Cornwall Police have announced that Hannah Widger has been found after concern was raised for her welfare.

She had last been seen in the Colyton area at around 6pm on Thursday, November 25.

Today (Monday, November 29) a spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police revealed that Hannah has been found ‘safe’.

He said: “Hannah Widger, 22, who had been reported missing from the Colyton area today (November 29), has been found safe by police.

“We would like to thank members of the public for their help.”

Urgent appeal to find woman last seen four days ago: from Colyton

A young woman has been reported missing from the Colyton area of Devon.

Clare Busch

Devon and Cornwall Police said they are “increasingly concerned” for Hannah Widger’s welfare.

The 22-year-old was last seen in the Colyton area around 6pm on Thursday, November 25.

The police describe Hannah as “being white, of slim build, with long blonde hair and is 5ft 4ins tall.”

Hannah may be wearing blue jeans, a black coat and black and white Adidas trainers.

She may be driving a white Vauxhall Corsa with the registration number CX09YLR.

Hannah Widger, 22, was last seen in the Colyton area

Hannah Widger, 22, was last seen in the Colyton area (Image: Devon and Cornwall Police)

Police ask that anyone who has seen Hannah or knows of her whereabouts contact officers immediately on 999. The log number is 0192 of 29/11/21.

BREAKING : Masks to be worn in two places Tory MPs don’t go from 4pm Tuesday 

“This is because the crafty little virus really only targets places where poor people go,” newly promoted Tory Minister for Infections, Basil Toilet-Brush MP told LCD Views 

PICK ANY VARIANT YOU LIKE : GREAT NEWS TODAY FOR WORRIED BRITONS that the geniuses governing them will not see any appreciable impact on their own lifestyles by the changes to the rules in the tantric pandemic.

Designing the rules around the lifestyles of Tory MPs and donors has been a key plank of pandemic policy, especially when it comes to the time to discard the rules. Now from 4pm Tuesday masks will have to be worn on public transport and in the supermarket, but not anywhere fun, so that’s alright.

“This is because the crafty little virus really only targets places where poor people go,” newly promoted Tory Minister for Infections, Basil Toilet-Brush MP told LCD Views. “You know, those little crowded cans they shuffle back and forward in to the mill. Or to mill as a low value economic unit may say. Also to market. But fine dining, the pub and the sweaty private rooms of private members clubs will be immune from the inconveniences.”

The decision to give the new variant several days grace before the change in the rules has also been seen as displaying the PM’s sense of “sportsmanship” and “fair play”.

“There’s no suggestion we will need until late Tuesday to pick donors to throw lucrative contracts at,” the minister reassured.

Fears about non-compliance with the new rules have been eased too, especially in the knowledge that Tory MPs are incapable of adhering to basic rules which safeguard other people.

“There are two places Tory MPs simply do not go,” Toilet-Brush MP stated. “That’s the supermarket and on public transport. So there is no need to fear any of us being fined for non-compliance. We will be in full compliance with the law. The drones who serve us will have to fight for themselves in Tesco. Or on the tube. But that’s fine by us because we don’t care. Now. Another glass of pandemic? It’s a very good vintage this year.”