Rules don’t apply to Tories # 3

Boris Johnson has said that anyone “prioritising outside interests” and neglecting their constituents should face investigation.

Geoffrey Cox again found working as lawyer while parliament sits

Rowena Mason www.theguardian.com 

Geoffrey Cox has again appeared as a lawyer for the British Virgin Islands (BVI) inquiry while parliament is sitting, calling into question whether he is meeting the prime minister’s demands for MPs to put their duty to their constituents first.

Cox, who has earned about £1m from legal work over the last year, joined the BVI commission of inquiry into allegations of corruption for two hours while the House of Commons was sitting on Wednesday afternoon.

Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, said Cox was “taking the mick” and called it a “test of leadership” for the prime minister. “The prime minister is letting him get away with it,” she added.

Cox has come under scrutiny over his outside earnings since it emerged that he had been voting by proxy in parliament from the BVI during the pandemic. It subsequently became clear he had skipped at least 12 votes on days when he was doing paid legal work, after the proxy voting allowances ended.

Since then, Boris Johnson has backed the idea of banning MPs from working as paid parliamentary consultants or advisers and said that anyone “prioritising outside interests” and neglecting their constituents should face investigation.

However, it is not clear exactly how many MPs and their second jobs this could cover. A Guardian analysis found it would be likely to affect fewer than 10 of those with outside interests if the limit were set at 20 hours a week as suggested by the cabinet minister Ann-Marie Trevelyan.

Cox’s average time spent on legal work is only slightly more than that amount, raising the prospect that he could just reduce his hours by a bit.

Cox has been approached for comment. He previously defended his outside interests by arguing that “it is up to the electors of Torridge and West Devon whether or not they vote for someone who is a senior and distinguished professional in his field and who still practises that profession”.

He was asked to advise the BVI government and has described his role at the hearings as being “to assist the public inquiry in getting to the truth”.

The most recent update to the MPs’ register of interests shows that Cox earned £54,404.49 in August for approximately 45 hours of legal work. His salary as an MP is £81,932 a year.

The Commons standards committee is conducting a review of the MPs’ code of conduct rules, including the rules around outside work, and is due to publish a report on the issue on Monday, according to its chair, Chris Bryant.

Rules don’t apply to Tories # 2

Labour has accused the government of not being serious about tackling sleaze after ministers declined to punish or reprimand the Conservative former chancellor Philip Hammond for using his government connections to help a bank he is paid to advise.

Letting Hammond off shows PM won’t tackle corruption, says Labour

Peter Walker www.theguardian.com

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said the government had “muzzled its own watchdog” after it emerged that no action would be taken against Hammond despite an official ruling that his actions had not been “in keeping with the letter or the spirit” of rules for ex-ministers.

In August, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), which looks at jobs taken by former ministers, said it was an “unwise step” for Hammond to contact a senior Treasury official about a project developed by OakNorth.

Hammond argued he emailed Charles Roxburgh, the second permanent secretary at the Treasury (HMT), to establish that senior officials in the department were aware the bank was offering free support to aid the Covid pandemic national response.

The chair of Acoba, Eric Pickles – who like Hammond is a former Tory MP and now a peer – ruled that Hammond should not have sought to use contacts made in government.

“I do not consider it was in keeping with the letter or the spirit of the government’s rules for the former chancellor to contact HMT on behalf of a bank which pays for his advice,” Pickles wrote to Michael Gove, who at the time was the lead Cabinet Office minister.

Pickles said it would be up to Gove, who has since moved to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to decide what sanctions would be appropriate in the case.

After Pickles’ letter to Gove on 31 August there was no update until Rayner submitted a written parliamentary question to the Cabinet Office this week, asking whether any action was being taken.

The reply, from Michael Ellis, who as paymaster general holds a more junior Cabinet Office title, told Rayner that “although we concur with the committee’s conclusion, we do not believe further sanctions should be taken given the particular circumstances of this case”.

In a letter to Pickles yet another Cabinet Office minister, Tory peer Nicholas True, argued that Hammond had stated he was not seeking to lobby for commercial gain, and that there was also the “broader context” of the Covid pandemic.

But Rayner said the response was “just the latest evidence that Boris Johnson will not tackle the corruption that has engulfed his government and the Conservative party”.

She said: “By letting Hammond off the hook, the government has muzzled its own watchdog. Even when their own hand-picked anti-corruption tsar, a former Tory cabinet minister, asks them to take action over a flagrant breach of the rules they have outright refused.”

Rules don’t apply to Tories # 1

Labour is calling for an investigation into the conduct and honesty of the Conservative peer Michelle Mone after she repeatedly denied any association with a PPE (personal protective equipment) company it has since emerged she recommended to the government.

Labour calls for inquiry into Tory peer Michelle Mone over PPE contract

David Conn www.theguardian.com 

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) recently revealed that Lady Mone referred the company, PPE Medpro Ltd, as a potential supplier during the coronavirus pandemic. It was then entered into a “VIP” fast-track, high priority lane for firms with political connections before being awarded two contracts, for face masks and surgical gowns, valued in total at £203m.

Formed on 12 May last year, PPE Medpro was administered and provided with directors by Knox House Trust (KHT), an Isle of Man corporate services firm run by Mone’s husband, Douglas Barrowman.

In extensive correspondence over six weeks last year, the Guardian repeatedly asked Mone about her connection to PPE Medpro. She was also asked whether she had had any discussions with government officials about the firm.

Meanwhile, PPE Medpro was asked if anybody involved in the company had discussions with any peers as part of its approach to the government.

In their responses, neither Mone nor PPE Medpro disclosed that she had referred the company to Lord Agnew, a Cabinet Office minister.

At the time of the correspondence, Mone’s lawyers repeatedly denied that she had any connection or association with the company, or any role in how it secured the contracts.

One of the responses stated Mone and Barrowman “never had any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded to PPE Medpro”. Her lawyers said Mone was “not connected in any way with PPE Medpro” and added “any suggestion of an association” between their client and PPE Medpro would be “both inaccurate and misleading”.

The lawyers also said that “with reference to the ‘high priority lane’ … any suggestion that either [Mone or Barrowman] played any role in how the PPE Medpro contract was processed would be wholly inaccurate and misleading”.

However, last week the DHSC disclosed that Mone had played a seemingly crucial role in the process, by making the initial recommendation to Agnew.

After her referral, Agnew recommended the company to the “VIP” lane for companies referred by ministers, MPs or peers. At that time, the government was awarding contracts with no competitive tender under emergency Covid regulations. Companies referred to the VIP lane were 10 times more likely to be awarded a contract, according to a National Audit Office report.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, called for the government – or the cabinet secretary if the government declined – to publish all correspondence, documents, meeting minutes and notes related to all contracts awarded through the VIP process.

Rayner said: “There are serious questions that Baroness Mone must answer about whether she was telling the truth when she said that she played no role in the awarding of £200m of taxpayers’ money to PPE Medpro. Boris Johnson and the Conservative party also have serious questions to answer about Baroness Mone’s position if she is found to have lied about her role in these contracts and the VIP fast-track lane.

“If Baroness Mone wasn’t telling the truth about her role in these contracts, then she has clearly failed to uphold the Nolan principles and there are further questions to answer about whether she has breached the House of Lords code of conduct. Baroness Mone should refer herself to the House of Lords commissioners for investigation if she is confident she has done nothing wrong and has nothing to hide.”

The code of conduct for members of the House of Lords states that they “should observe the seven general principles of conduct identified by the Committee on Standards in Public Life”, known as the Nolan principles. These include integrity, accountability, openness and honesty, and a positive duty of leadership, which requires members to “actively promote and robustly support the principles”.

Mone’s role in the process was revealed after the DHSC published the list of 47 companies awarded contracts through the VIP lane after a freedom of information request pursued by the Good Law Project, which is challenging the propriety of some government contracts.

There is no evidence that Mone played any part in PPE Medpro securing its contracts last year, beyond her initial referral.

However, this week the Financial Times reported that Mone had also lobbied officials working for the government’s test-and-trace programme, apparently on behalf of PPE Medpro. Jacqui Rock, a senior official, emailed colleagues on 10 February, saying: “Baroness Mone is going to Michael Gove and Matt Hancock today as she is incandescent with rage on the way she believes Medpro have been treating [sic] in the matter.”

Mone’s representatives told the FT that: “In relation to test and trace, she has advocated to government that all companies tendering for UK contracts be treated fairly and that a transparent process is adopted by DHSC in the award of contracts.”

In response to questions from the Guardian, Mone’s lawyers said: “Baroness Mone does not deny the simple act of referring PPE Medpro as a potential supplier of PPE to the office of Lord Agnew.”.

However, they said Mone strongly denied that any of her previous statements were untrue or misleading, saying that they denied her being connected, associated or having a role in PPE Medpro, in the “commercial meaning” of those words. They described Mone’s referral of the company to Agnew as a “very simple, solitary and brief step”, which she did as a contribution to the Covid emergency response.

The Guardian is still awaiting a response from Mone’s lawyers about why the peer initially chose not to disclose her referral of PPE Medpro.

Opportunity knocks for Michael Gove – but will he take it?

Gove has been asked to recast non-metropolitan Britain.

The trouble began with Margaret Thatcher “weaponising” housing subsidy as a middle-class vote-winner, with property developers piling in as her party’s leading financial backers, pressing at every turn for planning decontrol...”

Simon Jenkins www.theguardian.com 

The whale is wounded. The sharks smell blood and start to circle. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is in the lead. The rest thrash about, still disoriented by Covid.That is, except for Michael Gove. Last September, in an unguarded moment, Boris Johnson handed Gove the opportunity of a lifetime: to chart a path out of the ideological chaos of lockdown towards a 21st-century Tory dawn, and, with it, a claim to the succession.

Gove has been asked in effect to recast non-metropolitan Britain. He must revive local democracy and reverse the centralist planning regime of his predecessor, Robert Jenrick – the regime that so enraged Chesham’s Tories in the June byelection. Gove must sort out the intellectual vacuum that is Conservative housing policy, with its casual pledge of 300,000 new homes. He must also reveal what Johnson really meant by “levelling-up” the north. He has even been told to rescue the union with Scotland in his spare time. If he can pull all this off, Gove will be a hard man to beat.

At the heart of Jenrick’s planning fiasco lay a confusion over housing. A true Tory would leave houses to the marketplace and concentrate on homelessness among poor people. The trouble began with Margaret Thatcher “weaponising” housing subsidy as a middle-class vote-winner, with property developers piling in as her party’s leading financial backers, pressing at every turn for planning decontrol. Jenrick was putty in their hands.

This reached its nadir with this year’s algorithmic targets for new development. This defined housing “need” as demand represented by price. New estates were imposed on every town and village, wherever prices were rising fastest: a developer’s dream. First-time-buyer subsidies merely pushed up prices – overwhelmingly in London and the south-east. Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire began to go the way of Middlesex. Johnson even found himself protesting over new estates in his own constituency. As of today, about 400,000 houses granted permissions remain unbuilt, their builders fearing too many houses might damage profits.

Appearing last month before a Commons committee, Gove signalled a radical change of gear. He ordered a “complete rethink” of Jenrick’s planning reforms. He promised that communities would be re-empowered to “take back control” of their future development. He wanted to see brownfield sites developed and opposed carbon-guzzling “concrete and steel” materials. He was also sceptical of housing policy as being only about new-build. The supply of properties to the market is overwhelming existing buildings.

Britain has some of the most inefficient and underoccupied houses in Europe, largely through longstanding undertaxing of living space. A luxury London flat may pay barely a tenth of the tax on one in New York City. This combined with high stamp duty is a tax against downsizing, and has led the Resolution Foundation to argue that fiscal policy should hold the key to housing policy. Half a million homes lie empty as “savings”. About 600,000 houses could be nudged back on to the market “without the need to lift a single brick”. London’s half-vacant luxury towers and Georgian terraces make a mockery of housing targets. Whether Gove has the clout to take on the Treasury’s aversion to fiscal reform remains to be seen but is a real test of his seriousness.

Gove seems determined to reset the balance between Whitehall and local communities on the future of land use. His advisers are tending towards urban densification and renewal rather than clear-and-build. The champion of more traditionally planned towns, Nicholas Boys Smith of the thinktank Create Streets, has been appointed head of Gove’s new Office for Place. This is intended to promote a popular, perhaps more aesthetic, kind of planning, in contrast with Whitehall’s powerful and developer-led Homes UK agency.

Meanwhile, Britain’s local government is in turmoil. Public services have been devastated by 11 years of austerity halving their budgets. The much-publicised cuts in care homes are the tip of an iceberg that includes police, youth services, older people and childcare, local transport, arts and museums. When confronted with this reality, “levelling up” by splurging on infrastructure is meaningless.

The real threat to the north has long been the magnetism of the south, rather than a lack of public investment. I recently attended a meeting of business leaders in Manchester at which the overwhelming cry had nothing to do with infrastructure or HS2. It was: “Why can’t the south stop stealing our best young people?”

A truly radical levelling-up agenda would ban new greenfield housing in the south, pleasing Tory voters and making house-buying there even more expensive. Southern flight should be discouraged by waiving student loans for all graduates who work in the north. Every penny of cultural and skills investment should go north for a decade. Move the Royal Opera to Manchester and the National Theatre to Leeds. Dump the House of Lords in York. Drive HS2 north from Birmingham, not south from it. Put London’s Crossrail into mothballs. The reality is that levelling up the north can only work with levelling down the south.

The answer to northern decline lies in the re-empowerment of its cities, which long ago revived those of industrial Germany and France. A relentless hollowing out of local democracy has been the defining feature of the Cameron-May-Johnson years. Gove has been given a truly radical opportunity. But his motto should not be “take back control”; it should be “give back control”. Will he do it?

  • Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist

UK spends six times more on burning wood than planting trees, MPs warn

Ministers have been accused of lacking a “joined up strategy” on woodlands, as one government department spends six times more on a timber-burning power station than another spends on tree planting.

www.independent.co.uk

Annual subsidies for Drax power station in North Yorkshire, a former coal-fired power station which now runs on “biomass” made up of imported waste wood, reached £832m in 2020, while the budget for tree planting and peatland works out at just £130m a year.

Drax was recently named the UK’s biggest single source of CO2 emissions. It releases over 13 million tonnes of CO2 a year, using around 7 million tonnes of wood pellets, the equivalent of about 25 million trees, scientists have said.

Meanwhile, environment minister Zac Goldsmith admitted this week just 2,000 hectares of trees had been planted in England this year. The government has said it is aiming to plant 30,000 hectares of new woodland across the UK each year by 2024, including 7,000-10,000 hectares in England by the end of this parliamentary term.

Labour MPs claimed the “massive subsidies” for burning imported wood at Drax, combined with the low level of tree planting, meant the government’s plan to tackle the climate crisis through planting trees “is in flames”.

Lord Goldsmith has been quizzed by MPs from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee over why the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was on one hand providing such large subsidies to Drax, while the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), was given less than this one company for expanding forests and peatlands.

He told the hearing: “Drax is a huge beast which requires feeding.”

Though he said he needed to further study the environmental impact of the power station, he added that he “would question the model which requires the import of a vast amount of timber”.

Pressed on this issue, he suggested it was a matter for BEIS. But the chair of the committee, Conservative MP Neil Parish, suggested the environmental impact of the plant was something Defra could comment on.

Labour MP Geraint Davies, who sits on the committee and asked Lord Goldsmith for clarity on the logic of providing greater subsidies to Drax than for tree planting, told The Independent that as the host of the recent Cop26 climate summit, the UK “should hold its head in shame”.

He said: “It is clear that there is no joined up government strategy on climate change, with budgets to plant more sapling trees dwarfed by massive subsidies for burning imported wood leading to the UK making wood more of a problem than a solution for climate change and encouraging deforestation.

“The government’s plan to tackle climate change through planting trees is in flames as it gives over £800m a year to Drax to be the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions from burning imported wood, compared to £650m over five years on tree planting and woodlands.”

He added: “BEIS is in the hands of big business, burning imported wood as if there’s no tomorrow. Meanwhile Defra is not empowered to counteract the impact of wood burning on climate change by protecting and growing forests.”

Luke Pollard, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, told The Independent: “Lord Goldsmith’s evidence made clearer than ever how the Tories are utterly failing on tree planting. Last year, ministers managed to deliver less than half their target of 5,000 hectares of new trees in England. Now he has revealed they will do little better this year or next.

“Not only are they failing spectacularly to plant trees, their planned spending on tree planting is dwarfed by subsidies to Drax to ship and burn timber from around the world with few checks to make sure it’s not from virgin forest. How can the public expect them to deliver the promises they made at Cop26 let alone the faster action required to cut carbon?”

When asked by the Efra Committee about England’s role in reaching the 30,000 hectares of trees which will need to be planted every year by 2050 to reach the UK’s legally binding net-zero target, Lord Goldsmith said Covid had disrupted planting in England.

“Last year we planted around 2,000 hectares, which in truth is less than we’d hoped for,” he said. “Things were heavily disrupted as a consequence of Covid.”

Lord Goldsmith said that although £650m was available for tree planting, it was not the case that the money would be allocated to a tree-planting drive resulting in 7,000-10,000 hectares of trees being planted each year over the five years, but would be used more sparingly to begin with, with an ultimate goal at the end of the five-year period for tree planting to reach that level, with more spending towards the end of this timeframe.

Speaking about the low level of existing planting, Lord Goldsmith said: “The reason that I’m not concerned about the fact that we’re starting at a much lower level than the 7,000 hectares is that we’re trying new things.”

He said: “We are the second-biggest importer of timber in the world, and have been for a long time. And we are one of the most nature-denuded countries on Earth, so we are starting from a pretty low point.”

A spokesperson for BEIS told The Independent: “We are totally committed to eliminating our contribution to climate change by 2050, which is why we only support biomass which complies with strict sustainability criteria. In 2020, sustainable biomass made up around 12.6 per cent of the UK’s total electricity generation.

“Our tree planting plans complement our strictly regulated biomass commitments as part of this government’s wider strategy to slash carbon emissions, and we are proud to have pledged to treble tree planting rates by the end of this parliament, allowing us to protect our peatlands and boost biodiversity as we build back greener from the pandemic.”

Despite concerns about the disconnect between the two government departments raised by Labour, and though The Independent made several requests for comment from Lord Goldsmith and Defra officials, neither Defra, nor the environment minister offered a response, with a spokesperson saying the BEIS statement incorporated Defra input.

A Drax spokesperson told The Independent: “The world’s leading climate scientists at the UN’s IPCC and the UK’s Climate Change Committee agree that sustainable biomass has an important role to play in the decarbonisation of energy systems globally – both by displacing coal and in conjunction with carbon capture and storage to deliver negative emissions.

“Converting Drax power station to use sustainable biomass instead of coal has transformed the business. Drax is the biggest renewable power producer in the UK, generating 12 per cent of the country’s renewable electricity – enough for four million homes. Drax plays a crucial role in supporting the energy system, enabling more renewables to come online, as well as supporting thousands of jobs throughout our supply chains in the north. The conversion has also paved the way for us to deploy the vital negative emissions technology bioenergy with carbon capture and storage – by 2030 we could be permanently removing 8 million tonnes of CO2 each year.”

Water profits surge even as leaks and spills wash away public trust

The last of Britain’s three FTSE-listed water companies is due to report its financial results this week, but there’s little doubt any news on the performance of Pennon will be drowned out by a wider crisis in the industry.

Jillian Ambrose www.theguardian.com 

Pennon, which owns South West Water and Bournemouth Water, is expected to set out an increase in revenues following a boom in holidaymakers to the West Country over the last year that bolstered water volumes. But beyond the regulated returns a set of troubling, but familiar, issues have welled up for the sector.

Water companies have faced calls to be renationalised for years because of ongoing concerns over their financial engineering, tax avoidance, hefty investor payouts and a long list of crimes against the environment.

In simple terms, they are regional monopolies whose prices are set by regulator, Ofwat, every five years to make sure water is readily available at an affordable price. This allows well-run water companies to achieve reasonable and fairly predictable financial returns, and has helped to make listed water companies a favourite of utility and infrastructure investors.

In return, water companies are expected to be responsible custodians of the beaches, reservoirs and waterways they manage. But this fundamental element of the social contract between water companies and the communities in which they work has been repeatedly soiled by the pollution, leaks and spills that have marked their record in the UK.

Following each moment of reckoning the industry has promised a watershed moment of accountability that will result in a more sustainable future. But each time, as sure as the tides, water companies plunge back into scandal.

A recent report, by Surfers Against Sewage, found earlier this month that water companies spilled raw sewage into the coastal bathing waters used by holidaymakers and families over 5,500 times in the last year, a surge of more than 87% from the year before.

Just weeks later water companies were plunged into the centre of a major investigation by the financial and environmental watchdogs after several of them admitted they may have illegally released untreated sewage into rivers and waterways.

The investigation by Environment Agency and Ofwat is expected to demand that water companies reveal the scale of any illegal releases of sewage from their treatment plants, and to explain how environmental performance and compliance has been taken into account when deciding on paying out dividends and executive bonuses.

The companies included in the investigation have not yet been named. But they are likely to include Southern Water – the supplier for 4.2 million customers in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight – which was fined a record £90m over the summer for deliberately dumping billions of litres of raw sewage into protected seas over several years for its own financial gain.

A month later Southern announced what it called “good news for our customers, the local environment and the regional economy” in the form of the return of Australian infrastructure investor Macquarie. It promised Southern a £1bn emergency equity injection and setting plans to invest £2bn over the next four years, or the equivalent of £1,000 per Southern Water household, on upgrades of half the company’s treatment and sewage networks.

Macquarie is best known in the water industry as the owner of Thames Water between 2006 and 2016, a period in which it raised Thames’s debt and earned billions from the company through dividends while paying next to no corporation tax. Macquarie also oversaw a series of pollution failings, culminating in a £20m fine for tipping raw sewage into the River Thames which was a record at the time.

Why the water regulator allowed an investor like Macquarie another chance to play a major role in England’s critical national infrastructure is unclear, but it is likely to further erode public trust in this vital sector. It is in the regulator’s hands to take action, or watch another chance to reform the industry drain away.

Chardstock Eco Group monitor River Kit

Owl wonders if any other of our rivers have volunteer pollution monitoring teams

Green team monitor water quality levels after pollution fear

Tim Dixon www.midweekherald.co.uk

A team of volunteers has started monitoring water quality levels in the River Kit in Chardstock, following nationwide concerns about the discharge of pollutants into rivers. 

Chardstock Eco Group is co-ordinating the project with the guidance of the Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT), which aims to restore and protect the rivers, lakes, and estuaries of the region for the benefit of nature, people, and local economies. 

Local residents in Chardstock have been following the recent parliamentary debates about discharging raw sewage into rivers and the sea, and have been wondering how clean is the River Kit. 

“A rural river like the Kit has its sewage problems mainly from faulty septic tanks.  But the main concern is run-off from fields when it rains heavily. 

“We decided to start a citizens’ science monitoring project to find out what’s going on,” said Vicky Whitworth who is co-ordinating the volunteers. 

“We’ll be carrying out monthly monitoring along the Kit. This will look at the water quality, the wildlife in and around the river, phosphate content and try to spot any pollution incidents – like sewage smells which need investigation. 

“We need answers about the state of our river to alleviate concerns about possible health risks, and the impact on fish and other aquatic life. Monitoring the river quality is just one of the things we can do to make things better for both humans and nature.”

WRT has been running its leading Westcountry Citizen Science Investigations volunteer project since 2016. 

Simon Browning, senior monitoring officer at WRT, said: “We are always delighted when people want to take a proactive approach to looking after their local rivers and waterways and we are looking forward to supporting the River Kit Monitoring Project in surveying the river habitat and testing water quality. 

“With more than 850 waterbodies across the West Country, our active citizen scientists make a vital contribution to our understanding of the pressures they face, with data informing our work and having the potential to influence policy.” 

The River Kit Monitoring Project will be using test kits partly funded by the Blackdown Hills AONB and Chardstock Parish Council. 

To kick-start the Monitoring Project volunteers were led on a walk along the river by members of the Axe Vale Rivers Association who showed the team how to spot places where sea trout are spawning at this time of year. 

“It is the first time I feel that I have really looked at the river to understand what is going on…we are so fortunate to have such a feature in our valley and there is real hope for improvements to be made,” said Chardstock resident Paul Hughes who joined the walk.   

Anyone interested in learning more about the project should email Chardstock Eco Group member Vicky Whitworth @ vicky@essenceconsulting.co.uk