Local council by-election: Tories hit with big loss in Michael Gove’s constituency

True Blue Tory Heath Council by-election falls to Lib Dem 2:1 landslide (thanks to “George Dixon” for spotting this one) – Owl

Ninian Wilson  www.thenational.scot 

THE Tories have been hit with a big loss in a local council by-election where Michael Gove is the MP.

As the Tories suffer a relentless barrage of scandals following Boris Johnson’s partygate fine, voters in the traditionally Tory area of Bisley and West End (Surrey Heath) have turned away from the Conservative party.

The Liberal Democrats managed to win almost twice as many votes as the Tories in what Gove will be hoping is not a forecast of things to come for his party in the upcoming May elections.

One Twitter user wrote: “Having lived in this area for a number of years and knowing how true blue it was, take it from me, this is a colossal result”

While the turnout for the election was relatively low, Tories may fear that an election result like this -and those coming up in May – could be seen by voters as an opportunity to voice their anger over the partygate scandal and the controversial Rwanda asylum scheme.

Rishi Sunak to court City heavyweights at £10,000-a-table Tory fundraiser

Rishi Sunak will this week attempt to put his recent political troubles behind him when he courts City figures at a Conservative donors’ dinner designed to bolster party finances.

Mark Kleinman news.sky.com 

Sky News has learnt that the chancellor will speak at the event in central London on Tuesday evening, with guests being charged £10,000 for a 10-person table.

Sources said the dinner had been organised by Malik Karim, the investment banker who was appointed as a Tory treasurer last September.

He is said to be keen to broaden the party’s donor base in an industry that has historically provided a reliable source of funding, and wants this week’s inaugural City dinner to become an annual event.

Ironically, major Tory donors who are members of the House of Lords will be unable to attend Tuesday’s dinner because they have been told to be available to vote in the chamber.

Mr Sunak is understood to have been promoted as the event’s guest of honour, with tickets costing £1,000-a-head.

Buyers of individual tickets would not be required to disclose their purchase, although anyone buying an entire table would, because of the £7,500 threshold for declaring political donations to national parties.

The chancellor has endured the toughest month of his political career amid scrutiny of his family’s tax affairs and the fixed penalty notice he received, alongside the prime minister, for attending a Downing Street gathering during one of the pandemic lockdowns.

Mr Sunak has asked the government’s independent ministerial standards adviser to investigate whether he has adequately disclosed his financial interests since joining the front benches.

The Treasury declined to comment.

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 11 April

Protesters call out South West Water over sewage pollution

“South West Water needs Potty Training” read one placard held by a two year old. More “cut the crap” images on Cornwall Live

People have had enough of sewage pollution

Greg Martin www.cornwalllive.com

Campaigners were joined on Fistral Beach by everyone from local swimmers to national TV presenters, from toddlers to silver surfers

Around 150 people gathered in Newquay today, Saturday April 23, to demand an end to sewage pollution by South West Water. The protest was one of 12 taking place simultaneously around the country, targeting UK water companies on a ‘National Day of Action on Water Quality’.

Representatives from ocean conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) who teamed up with clean water campaign groups to organise the protests were joined on Fistral Beach at 1pm by everyone from local swimmers to national TV presenters, from toddlers to silver surfers.

The protests come after data was released by the Environment Agency (EA) on 31 March, revealing that in 2021 water companies discharged raw sewage into UK rivers 372,533 times, for a combined total of more than 2.7m hours – prompting outcry from the public and campaigners.

Matt Hancock’s stay at mansion of Randox founder revealed by FoI request

The former health secretary Matt Hancock was given an overnight stay at a country estate owned by the head of Randox, the healthcare firm that had hired the MP Owen Paterson as a consultant.

Rob Evans www.theguardian.com 

During a two-day visit to Northern Ireland as health secretary in 2019, Hancock had a private dinner and stayed overnight at the Dundarave country estate in County Antrim, which is owned by Peter Fitzgerald, Randox’s founder.

The overnight stay was disclosed in documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. It was not included in the official register of hospitality received by ministers.

Through a spokesperson, Hancock said he did not need to declare the hospitality as he had not accepted it in a ministerial capacity. However, transparency campaigners disagreed and said there was a “clear expectation” that ministers should declare such hospitality and follow the spirit of the rules.

Questions have been raised about the relationship between Randox and the Conservative party after the firm was awarded almost £500m of public funds during the Covid pandemic for testing.

Randox also hired Paterson as a consultant, paying him £100,000 a year. Paterson resigned from parliament last year after he exploited his position as an MP to lobby for his clients, including Randox.

Randox donated £160,000 to the Conservative party between 2010 and 2018. Paterson directly lobbied Hancock on behalf of Randox during the pandemic. After Paterson’s lobbying, Hancock chased his officials, saying he was “very worried” about how his department was treating Randox and other firms.

During the Northern Ireland visit in 2019, Hancock met three firms, including Randox, that at that time were paying Paterson to be their consultant. Official documents obtained by Transparency International UK under the Freedom of Information Act suggest Paterson was partially involved in organising Hancock’s visit.

They also show how Hancock was invited by Randox to have dinner and stay overnight at Fitzgerald’s Dundarave estate during his visit.

The County Antrim estate is described as “magnificent … in a glorious setting” with “a fine Italianate mansion at its heart.”

On 21 March 2019, Hancock toured Randox’s laboratories in Belfast. An email sent to the health department, which appears to have been written by a Randox employee, said: “Understand SoS [secretary of state] will be with us, Randox Science Park … Then SoS goes to other visits before joining us for a private dinner and overnight that evening.”

On the same day, Hancock carried out a number of other official visits, including at Ulster hospital. He also attended a forum to discuss health and food. Two of the speakers were from Devenish, a firm that makes animal feed, and Lynn’s Country Foods, a firm that makes meat products.

The two firms were at that time paying Paterson a total of £61,000 a year to be their consultant.

The rules governing the conduct of ministers, known as the ministerial code, state that when politicians accept hospitality in a ministerial capacity, details should be made public through a register that is published regularly. Official guidance identifies dinners given by companies as the type of hospitality that should be declared if received in a ministerial capacity.

Hancock’s spokesperson, James Davies, said there had been no need to declare the private dinner and overnight stay at the Randox founder’s estate because it was political rather than departmental.

“Everything was declared properly and appropriately,” Davies said, adding that the relevant paragraphs of the ministerial code were “a departmental responsibility. If they judge an event political, then this doesn’t apply. Perhaps you should be speaking to [the Department of Health and Social Care], rather than Mr Hancock.”

He continued: “Staying overnight is absolutely fine. It was a political dinner, and Mr Hancock met many [Northern Ireland] politicians including Robin Swann, another relationship that became critical in responding to the pandemic. It’s absurd to say there was anything wrong with this.”

That interpretation of the rules was disputed by Rose Whiffen, a research officer at Transparency International UK, which obtained the documents. She said: “When ministers accept hospitality, especially from political donors, there is a clear expectation this should be declared and a matter of public record.

“When a secretary of state is uncertain over whether they have to report being wined and dined under the ministerial code, it is always better for them to err on the side of caution and follow the overriding spirit of the rules by doing so.”

Latest plans for Winslade Park, reposted in case you missed it over Easter.

Bank Holidays are traditional times for Developers to submit controversial plans. No exception this year as Burrington’s submitted further amendments to the 40 four-storey flats proposed on Winslade Park. These amendments are in the Documents file dated 11th April 2022 – see link below

21/2217/MRES | Reserved matters application pursuant to outline application 20/1001/MOUT seeking details of layout, appearance, scale and landscaping for a residential development of 40 apartments (Zone D) | Winslade Park Winslade Park Clyst St Mary (eastdevon.gov.uk)

Comment from Clyst St Mary Residents Association:

Burringtons have only slightly reduced the height of two blocks (by lowering their increased ground level plans) by 90cm for Block A and 45cm for Block B and moved Block B (1.8 metres)  and Block C (1.6 metres) further south away from some  tree roots, with a few other minimal differences that are also inconsequential for us all and so insignificant that they will make no difference to our previous objections. 

These amendments are so insignificant that they fail to address the concerns and objections on the detrimental issues of overlooking, privacy and intrusion on Clyst Valley Road residents’ existing 7-metre-high 2-storey homes by these proposed approx. 15-metre-high 4.5-storey apartment blocks.

The Parish Council considered the new application last Wednesday but there is still time for individuals to make their comments direct to EDDC.

Veto plans for ugly homes, councils urged

Could this apply to Clyst St Mary and the Winslade proposals? – Owl

Tom Wall www.theguardian.com 

Housebuilders are churning out substandard housing schemes with poor living conditions despite councils having the power to block them, according to new research.

The National Planning Policy Framework was amended in July to allow councils to refuse “development that is not well designed”. A study by University College London found that the Planning Inspectorate, which hears housebuilders’ appeals, is now three times as likely to back councils who reject developments on design grounds. But it also found that the vast majority of those blocked were in the south-east, suggesting that elsewhere councils were not using the new powers.

Professor Matthew Carmona, who carried out the research, said councils depleted by austerity often lacked the in-house design expertise to take on large, well-resourced developers.

“Local authorities in the south-east generally deal with more development and are more likely to have their own local design policies and employ urban designers. They are simply more geared up to challenge developers,” he said. “Councils in the south-west, Midlands and north tend to see fewer developments and are more reluctant, and perhaps a little nervous, to call out bad design.”

A survey revealed last year that 41% of councils do not employ any urban designers, and 76% lack access to any advice on architecture.

The change to the country’s planning rules was part of a package of measures that ministers claimed would ensure new housing was “beautiful and well-designed”. The government is setting up an “Office for Place” to help “communities encourage development they find beautiful, and refuse what they find ugly”.

The report, published by the UCL-based Place Alliance, highlights 12 schemes rejected on design grounds since last July. The inspectorate found proposals for an unattractive block of 15 flats on the site of a demolished car park in Crawley in West Sussex would offer “unsatisfactory living conditions”. Some flats had limited natural light and the outside spaces were close to roads and railway lines. Others lacked privacy as windows were next to people passing on a walkway and close to cars queueing on a traffic gyratory system.

The inspectorate also backed Braintree district council’s efforts to block two estates on the edges of villages in Essex, where developers were trying to squeeze in large numbers of houses, jarring with houses nearby. Officials also turned down an appeal relating to five tower blocks on the former Westferry newspaper printworks site in east London. It was ruled the scheme – which led to a row about media mogul Richard Desmond’s contact with ministers tasked with planning decisions – would harm appreciation of the Greenwich world heritage site.

Carmona said big developers had been getting their way for decades but the tables were starting to turn. “Volume housebuilders have been able to get a lot of poor-quality development past local authorities. But this research shows councils can now be far more confident in their exercise of quality control,” he said.

Profits for Britain’s biggest housebuilders have continued to rise despite routinely producing low-quality homes and failing to meet the UK’s estimated housing needs. The UCL researchers rated three-quarters of large developments in England as “mediocre” or “poor” in 2020.

They found bland architecture, with estates dominated by access roads and parking spaces at the expense of green areas and playgrounds. Other failings included few public transport links and a lack of amenities such as shops, pubs and cafes.

Carmona said it was possible to increase the number of houses built without compromising on the design factors that allow a new community to flourish.

“We are in desperate need of housing but it doesn’t mean we should build poorly designed, unsustainable places,” he said.