Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 28 February

New homes and Travellers site plan for Cranbrook

Huge plans have been submitted to build more new homes in Cranbrook, along with a primary school, neighbourhood centre, a site for gypsies and travellers and a cemetery.

Anita Merritt www.devonlive.com

The proposals also include the creation of public open space and allotments.

The application for outline planning permission has been submitted this week by Persimmon Homes. It is hoping to build nearly 1,500 homes on land at Cobdens bounded to the north by the railway line, to the south by the existing ‘old’ A30 and now B3174 London Road.

The proposal includes:

  • Up to 1,435 new homes
  • A neighbourhood centre with a maximum of 750 sqm gross ground floor space (with uses including hot food takeaways and pubs/bars
  • Primary School with nursery provision, community room and a 50-place special educational needs school
  • Public open space
  • Allotments
  • Suitable alternative natural green space
  • Place of worship
  • Cemetery,
  • 10 serviced pitches for gypsies and travellers
Huge plans for news homes at at Cobdens in Cranbrook

Huge plans for news homes at at Cobdens in Cranbrook (Image: Still Imaging)

The application includes the demolition of four barns and associated infrastructure. Principal vehicular access will be off London Road. The precise mix of homes is yet to be confirmed.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) has launched a consultation on the plans which form an important part of the planned expansion of Cranbrook and its ‘masterplan’.

In the Cobdens design and access statement it states: “The proposed expansion of Cranbrook will increase demand and footfall for the town centre facilities when they are built out.”

It added: “5km to the west of the site, is the adjacent Redhayes development site. The site follows similar built street principles to Cranbrook, albeit with a more contemporary building appearance.”

Regarding its impact on the landscape and environment it said: “It will create a distinctive and high-quality place which respects and enhances the character and assets of Cranbrook while ensuring connectivity with the existing community

“A ground-up approach that retains and protects the landscape framework of existing trees and hedgerows, and places them within public green Infrastructure for their longevity.

The site plan at Cobdens in Cranbrook

The site plan at Cobdens in Cranbrook

“The creation of complimentary new habitats will build upon the existing landscape framework and enhance site wide biodiversity. This will include new structural native species woodland planting, species rich hedgerows, native species trees, as well as a matrix of long meadow, wet meadow, and amenity grassland.”

For more details on the application – reference 22/0406/MOUT – please click here.

Countering Russian kleptocrats: What the West’s response to assault should look like

www.transparency.org 

In the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the international community is scrambling to deter President Vladimir Putin and his cronies – and to help end the military aggression as soon as possible.

Among other measures, European Union member countries, Canada, United Kingdom and the United States have all announced targeted sanctions against Kremlin-linked individuals and businesses – many of whom are suspected of large-scale corruption.

In a kleptocratic system such as today’s Russia, going after the elites can be meaningful. The vast wealth that Russian kleptocrats have amassed – and continue to enjoy – has helped President Putin tighten his grip on power and exert illicit influence over the affairs of other nations, as well as emboldened his geopolitical ambitions.

And while forceful and hard-hitting, such sanctions do not always hurt as much as they’re meant to, considering that targeted individuals usually conceal their money and influence. So these measures will achieve little unless authorities are able to track down the assets purchased with dirty money – that they should have never welcomed in the first place.

It should not have taken the tragedy of this scale to prompt governments in the West to wake up to the dangers of enabling kleptocracy; we are seeing its devastating consequences now in Ukraine. To prevent future suffering, decision-makers in advanced economies need to urgently fast-track key anti-corruption policies. Many of these should have been adopted a long time ago.

Russian kleptocrats and their yachts

Corrupt officials and business people usually don’t own yachts and luxury goods in their own names. Instead, they make such lavish purchases through anonymous companies which are often registered in secrecy jurisdictions.

This week, Financial Times reported that Credit Suisse – Switzerland’s one of largest banks and subject of the recent Suisse Secrets investigations – tried to avoid information leaking out about loans to oligarchs who were later sanctioned by asking investors to destroy documents related to their assets, including yachts and private jets.

It is then not surprising that German authorities have yet to seize the Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s super yacht, reportedly worth US$600 million. Officials stated that its ownership needs to be clarified as the yacht is registered in the Cayman Islands and owned by a holding company with a complex ownership spanning different jurisdictions.

Some progress has been made in France, however. On 2 March, customs officers seized a yacht reportedly belonging to Igor Sechin – former deputy prime minister and CEO of state-owned oil company Rosneft, who was included in the EU sactions list. The authorities in France confirmed that Sechin had been identified as the main shareholder of an entity that owns the yacht. This connection was originally exposed by a Russian investigative journalist, Roman Anin in 2016. Last year, as the Russian authorities scaled up their crackdown on civil society and independent media, Roman was interrogated for his reporting about that very yacht.

How countries in the West enabled kleptocracy in Russia

Corrupt officials prefer countries with strong rule of law and good governance to park their ill-gotten gains. This is especially true for corrupt officials and businesspeople from Russia. Transparency International Russia found that in the years 2008 to 2020 current and former officials have had 28,000 properties in 85 countries, including in EU member states.

The vast majority of Russian-owned foreign assets, however, are shrouded in secrecy. It has been estimated that the offshore wealth owned by Russians is equal to the country’s entire household wealth.

Thanks to financial data leaks, courageous investigative journalists and civil society activists have been able to track down some of this money and follow its movement across borders. Investigations such as the Panama Papers, the Russian and Troika laundromats, and the Pandora Papers have helped expose the extent of kleptocracy in Russia. The Pandora Papers investigations, in particular, have shed light on the alleged riches of Russian President Vladimir Putin – believed to be held for him by his inner circle.

These scandals have laid bare Russian kleptocrats’ reliance on the global financial system and intermediaries, such as banks based in leading democracies, to sustain and increase their illicit wealth.

The revelations from the past decade have helped Transparency International and other advocates to advance crucial anti-corruption policies in key countries and globally. But the speed of progress has been unacceptably slow.

Law enforcement authorities and courts in Western countries – where money is most often laundered, invested or parked – often do not have the technical resources, access to the right type of information, or lack rigour in clamping down on dirty money.

No checks or balances

Corruption is endemic in Russia. With a score of just 29 out of 100, Russia is the lowest-ranking country in Europe on Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Public institutions in Russia are almost completely captured by the executive government, failing to hold power accountable. State-sponsored propaganda shapes the public discourse as independent media and civil society exposing corruption and other abuses face increasingly harsh measures of repression – further limiting social checks on power.

Amendments to Russia’s “foreign agent law” have extended its use to target journalists and activists investigating government corruption. The government also used the COVID-19 pandemic to further tighten control and ban protests.

Kleptocrats should have nowhere to hide, no one help

The disregard to the rule of law and international norms demonstrated by Russia is an important reminder of the need to keep power in check. Transparency International and our national chapters across the world have been repeating, year after year, that the loopholes of the global financial system enable abuse of power and are a threat to democracy. Today, more than ever, this is a reality.

It is about time that countries in the Western fast-track important policies and finally act on issues where they had been dragging their feet.

We urge them to prioritise the adoption of key policies and strengthen enforcement in the following areas:

  1. Identify and freeze the assets of corrupt officials and complicit elites. The recently established Transatlantic Task Force is a step in the right direction. The Task Force should consider broadening its membership to include other key financial centers, map networks of nominees, proxies and family members and utilise and share available data on company and asset ownership, suspicious transactions reports, among others to trace assets. In the future, the task force should evolve into an effective model to deal with cross-border corruption and hold kleptocrats to account everywhere.
  2. End anonymous companies. Establish central, public registers with verified information of the real owners of companies, including on foreign companies.
  3. Increase transparency of trusts. Require the registration of trusts, requiring all parties to the trust to be disclosed and recorded in a register accessible to authorities as well as to the public.
  4. Improve transparency and checks in the real estate sector. Companies investing in the real estate sector should be required to disclose their beneficial owners and this information should be available in a publicly accessible register. Businesses and professionals involved in real estate deals, such as real estate agents, lawyers, notaries, should be required to identify the beneficial owner of customers, screen for politically exposed persons, and report suspicious transactions to authorities. Supervision should be the responsibility of independent and well-resourced public agencies instead of self-regulatory bodies.
  5. Open the black box of hedge funds, private equity and other investment funds. Investment fund managers should be required to undertake checks on customers and report suspicious transaction to authorities. All beneficiaries of investment funds, the real natural persons who are the end-investors, should be accurately identified, disclosed and recorded in registers.
  6. Increase transparency in luxury goods ownership. Information about the real owners of yachts and private jets should be recorded by governments and disclosed to the public. Luxury good dealers should conduct anti-money laundering checks.
  7. Ban EU golden passports and regulate golden visas. Citizenship-by-investment schemes should be phased out and passports issued to Russian oligarchs under these programmes should be revoked. Residency-by-investment schemes should be regulated and adequate checks should be put in place.
  8. Hold professional enablers to account. Banks, corporate service providers, lawyers, accountants and real estate agents that have been enabling Russian oligarchs and other kleptocrats to set up companies, move suspicious funds and purchase assets should be held to account. Dissuasive sanctions should apply to firms and senior management.
  9. Stronger mechanism for seizing, confiscating and returning assets. Going beyond sanctions, countries should ensure they have civil and criminal mechanisms to seize and confiscate assets, including, for example, unexplained wealth orders or non-conviction based forfeiture. Confiscated assets should be returned to the victims of corruption.
  10. Support civil society organisations, independent journalists, activists and whistleblowers. Especially in countries facing democratic decline or suffering from authoritarian kleptocracy, the support to civil society and whistleblowers is essential to turn the tide. Countries should invest in programmes combining investigative journalism with civil society advocacy for systemic change and provide support to anti-corruption fighters through learning exchanges, improvements to security protocols and use of diplomatic leverage to deter threats against them.

Dismay as funding for UK’s ‘world-beating’ Covid trackers is axed

In 2020 Covid caught us ill prepared, with no stockpile of PPE and no functioning test track and trace system. These had all fallen victim to “cuts” (as had our strategic gas reserves).

Johnson’s cavalier approach to serious matters and inability to grasp detail, is sending us down the same path again, penny wise and pound foolish.

Covid hospital cases in Devon are rising – Owl

James Tapper www.theguardian.com 

If anything about the UK’s response to Covid-19 was world-beating, it was our surveillance system. From the World Health Organization to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), public health teams around the world have praised the UK’s infection-tracking capability, and used our data to plan their own pandemic measures.

Despite this health ministers have cancelled future funding for the React-1 study and other research projects. The decision has been met with dismay among leading scientists and researchers worldwide, who have questioned the UK’s ability to respond to future Covid threats.

Last week, researchers from Imperial College London revealed the latest turn in the pandemic with the finding that infections had begun to rise in people aged 55 and over. Imperial’s scientists work with Ipsos Mori to analyse PCR test results from more than 100,000 people a month .

The results from React-1, alongside the weekly Covid infection survey from the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) have given precise snapshots of how many people are infected and which areas are worst affected. The surveys are much more reliable than self-selecting community testing data, which misses many asymptomatic cases.

Yet Professor Paul Elliott, director of the React (Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission) study at Imperial, said last week its future depended on funding from the Department of Health and Social Care – and that funding would cease this month.

“We have one more round,” he said, at the announcement of the 18th set of findings last week. “So we’re going to be in the field from now till the end of March, but we’re not funded beyond that.”

Other research, including the Zoe Covid app, which tracks people’s symptoms and has cost £5m over the past two years, is also being defunded. Professor Tim Spector, who leads the research, said they had received “only a few weeks’ notice” of the “disappointing news”, after being assured by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) that it was almost certain that funding would continue. “We strongly believe that decision is a really bad mistake,” he said, adding that it cost only 1% of the funding needed for the ONS study.

The UKHSA’s own Siren study, which tracks infections in health workers and found that vaccine protection begins after two weeks, is ending recruitment on 31 March, although the body’s chief medical adviser, Susan Hopkins, said in a blogpost it would “continue to answer the most important questions about Covid-19 infection, reinfection and antibodies”.

University College London’s £4m Vivaldi study, tracking infections in care homes since May 2020, runs only until April 2022, according to UCL’s website.

And the CoMix social contacts survey, run by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which asks people how many direct contacts they have had with other people, stopped collecting data on 2 March and has published its final routine report.

The ONS weekly survey is to continue, after Sajid Javid, the health secretary, reportedly lobbied to keep it, in the face of Treasury cuts.

Professor Marc Lipsitch, director of science for the CDC’s Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics, visited the UK last month to speak to researchers at the ONS and Imperial with a view to setting up a similar system in the US.

“I think the UK can be justifiably proud of the system that it had, and it would be wise to try to build on that for future preparedness,” he said. “From a scientific perspective, React, together with the ONS Covid infection survey, provided the UK with a level of awareness of the pandemic that was really exceptionally good.“A proper random sample of the population is a very much superior way to understand the number of people who have the virus and the number of people who have had the virus, which are the two most critical things in understanding the progress.

“[It] is a gold standard for how to understand the pandemic. And certainly one way to be prepared for future waves or other viruses is to keep some capacity going.”

The UKHSA itself praised the work of the React-1 team in a blogpost in December, describing its work as “crucial in helping the government’s response to the pandemic”. It highlighted as one of React’s “key achievements” the discovery that a third of cases are asymptomatic.

Professor Sylvia Richardson, president of the Royal Statistical Society, said: “These two studies, the ONS survey and React, are unique in the world in my opinion. We should be proud of them. React picked up very early, in December 2020, that infections in the London area were not decreasing as expected. Now they’re picking up that cases are rising in the older population. They are picking up trends and we can trust those trends because of the robust way the study is done.

“The government says we have to learn to live with Covid, but to learn to do that we need data which is agile enough and trustworthy enough. The ONS survey and React have been very good examples of agile and trustworthy programmes.

“We know immunity is going to wane and health authorities have to decide how to deal with that, with recommendations for boosters, for example. So they need reliable information about what is going on to target their strategy.

“React has given very good information about the effectiveness of vaccines and can monitor the waning of immunity. The pandemic is not yet in a stable equilibrium. Many factors are still changing and we need to keep monitoring basic epidemiological quantities such as prevalence in a reliable way.

“I would like to see a strategic plan for preparedness in terms of what type of studies and resources they are going to keep. So far, myself and other experts at the Royal Statistical Society haven’t been consulted, and there seems to be a lack of strategy – we don’t know how they are going to monitor new variants, for example.”

Should Cornwall follow Wales on Second Homes?

From today’s Western Morning News:

Wales’ plans to increase tax for second-home owners should be implemented in Cornwall, some residents have said.

The Welsh government announced last week that it would change the maximum council tax premium which local authorities can charge on a second home, putting it up from 100% of the usual charge for full-time residents to 300%

The change comes into force in Wales from April 2023.

The premiums, which are an additional charge on top of council tax, will mean second home owners can be charged up to four times the amount that a regular, year-round resident would pay.

The idea, brought in by the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition which runs the Welsh Assembly, is designed to curb second-home ownership and prevent locals from being priced out of their home town or village.

Many people in Cornwall have since described the measure as a “good idea” and said the county should follow suit.

Taking to the WMN’s sister website, CornwallLive, on Facebook, Rose Lankston wrote: “Best thing that could ever happen. Need that to happen everywhere.” Fiona Davie added: “Cornwall should do the same”, while John Arthur said: “Well done Wales.”

Loveday Jenkin, a Mebyon Kernow Cornwall councillor, said there needs to be a rise of council tax on empty or under-utilised properties, including places rented out on the global website Airbnb.

Landlords who have been evicting full-time tenants and then selling their houses for a substantial profit or turning them into Airbnbs to cash in on the staycation boom are contributing to the county’s housing emergency, she explained.

“We need to do something in Cornwall,” she said. “That would be one tool. Other tools would be having a change of use from residential letting to holiday letting.

“Cornwall Council doesn’t have the power to increase the council tax either, that’s central government. We need to have more power.”

Landlords currently do not need to submit a planning application to turn a home into a holiday let, but Ms Jenkin said that could be one option to reduce the loss of homes for full-time residents to either rent or buy at a reasonable cost.

And she said it was ridiculous that people were challenging the measure in Wales. “If you can afford to buy a second home in Cornwall you’re likely to be able to pay a bit more council tax,” she said. “Just factor it into your budget.

“Wales is in a similar housing emergency as Cornwall.

“I’ve been dealing with people being evicted, this week actually a whole family who’s been living in the same home for 15 years are now in temporary accommodation in a caravan. What about the right of people in Cornwall to have a first home? What about the right not to be driven out of their home land?

“People are having to move away from Cornwall and are put in temporary accommodation. That’s wrong. It’s against their human rights.”

Second-home owners defend themselves pointing out the boost they and their holiday renters bring to the local tourist economy.