Picture the squalid scene that confronted the cleaning staff on the morning after a night before of drunken delinquency by the denizens of Downing Street. Wine stains on walls. Pools of sick. Empties spilling out of bins. Mounds of party detritus on the floor. The heart of government, the place where you’d most hope for sobriety in the middle of a pandemic, turned into a vomit-splattered nightclub. The only heroes in Sue Gray’s investigation into Partygate are the security staff who suffered abuse when they tried to break up illegal gatherings and the cleaners who had to mop up.
Now try to picture scenes of all-night boozing, puking, punch-ups, vandalism and law-breaking at Number 10 under any other prime minister. You can’t. Nothing like this happened under any of Boris Johnson’s predecessors. The character of organisations is immensely influenced by the example set by the person at the top. When that person is Mr Johnson, you get a culture of selfish, arrogant, entitled, amoral, narcissistic rule-breaking that combines, in the true spirit of the Bullingdon Club, snobbery with yobbery…..
Ben Bradshaw – who was culture secretary between 2009 and 2010 – said his party should fight for every vote in the seat.
But, in what some will regard as a coded message, he added: “What some Labour members and activists don’t always appreciate is that a lot of Conservative voters, if they want to give the government a kicking will vote Liberal Democrat but they wouldn’t vote Labour…
“So if we have a joint purpose of wanting to send the prime minister a message and ultimately defeat this government in a general election then I think there are very good prospects of a Lib Dem victory there.”
The race for Tiverton and Honiton – a sprawling, largely rural Devon constituency – prompted by the resignation of Neil Parish who admitted watching porn in the House of Commons, is being widely touted as a two-horse race.
The Tories currently enjoy a 24,239 majority and have held the seat since it was created in 1997 but the Lib Dems believe they could steal it on the back of anger about Partygate and rising living costs.
Suggestions have been made that Labour will fight only a bare minimum campaign here to allow yellow candidate Richard Foord a clear run, with the Lib Dems returning the favour in Wakefield where another by-election is being held the same day.
Both parties have denied such a pact.
But Mr Bradshaw’s comments – initially made on Radio 4’s The Week In Westminster – will be seen as a tacit endorsement of voting tactically.
On Friday, he went further when he compared Tiverton and Honiton to North Shropshire – where the Lib Dems won a by-election in December.
The MP for neighbouring Exeter told The Independent: “The figures are very much like the figures in North Shropshire, and, as there, people are furious with the Tories not just because of parties and the cost of living crisis, but because of the way the government’s treated rural areas and farming and fishing industry in particular.
“Johnson’s Brexit deal is an absolute disaster for our farmers so, you know, I would hope for the people of Tiverton and Honiton will send a clear message to the government.”
Asked if he was recommending tactical voting, he said: “If you look at by-elections in North Shropshire, Chesham and Amersham, and Batley and Spen, the voters didn’t need to be told how to vote.”
Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Lib Dems, said: “There is no doubt the Lib Dems are the only party that can beat the Conservatives here… This by-election is a unique opportunity to send Boris Johnson a message and that’s why supporters of all parties are backing us.”
Downing Street officials have been accused of attempting to dilute Sue Gray’s report into the Partygate scandal, with demands to anonymise staff who broke coronavirus rules and to change how the so-called “Abba party” was reported.
Partial drafts of the findings were allegedly circulating in No 10 the day before the final report was handed over on Wednesday, the Sunday Times reported.
Sources told the newspaper that Gray was urged by three senior civil servants not to publish the names of some of those who had attended the 12 events under investigation.
“On Tuesday night, one last attempt was made to persuade her [Gray] to omit names from the report, but she made it plain to them the only way that was going to happen was if they issued her with an instruction,” a Whitehall source said.
A government source told the Guardian that Barclay did not edit or influence the report in any way.
The Cabinet Office rejected claims that the report was edited due to pressure or that any events were not investigated because of requests made by senior figures.
They referred back to the wording of the report where Gray explained her rationale for halting her probe into what happened in the flat Johnson shares with his wife, Carrie. Gray said she halted her work having only collected “limited” information about the gathering when the Metropolitan police began their own investigation.
Gray’s 37-page report on the party culture in Downing Street ultimately included nine photographs and named some senior civil servants.
The findings detailed how each event unfolded including a leaving party on 18 June 2020 at which “one individual was sick” and “there was a minor altercation between two other individuals”.
The report included security logs revealing some staff carried on partying until 4am after the leaving do for the director of communications, James Slack, cleaners giving evidence of spilled wine on the walls on another occasion, and messages warning drunken staff to leave via the back entrance to avoid being seen by journalists.
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Gray also highlighted a number of occasions in which members of No 10 staff raised questions about whether events should go ahead, or about drunkenness in Downing Street, and had their concerns dismissed.
Johnson issued an apology to MPs for the culture that developed in Downing Street during the pandemic on Wednesday, saying he took “full responsibility”.
However, the prime minister insisted he regarded it as “one of the essential duties of leadership” to attend leaving events and thank departing staff, because “it was appropriate to recognise and to thank them for the work that they had done”.
He also told a press briefing on Wednesday: “The first I saw the report and read it in its entirety – and, to the best of my knowledge, the first any of my team saw it – was when we got it shortly after 10am this morning.”
The call for “ethical consideration” of the potential negative impact of short-term lets comes as figures showed 3,000 new holiday and second homes were registered in the south-west during the pandemic while homes listed for normal letting halved and rents jumped.
The housing campaign group Generation Rent also found that in Wales, over the same period, the number of second homes and commercial holiday lets increased from 31,779 to 33,474, with the average weekly rent rising from £155 to £181, based on analysis of figures from Zoopla.
As thousands of families prepare to descend on coastal hotspots for half-term, the former St Ives MP Andrew George, who now builds affordable housing, said people renting holiday lets should consider challenging landlords over the impact.
In parishes around Padstow on the north coast, as many as one in four properties are second homes, according to Cornwall council, which has about 22,000 households on its social and affordable housing waiting list.
In March, graffiti appeared in St Agnes, Cornwall, which read: “No more investment properties. Second homeowners give something back. Rent or sell your empty houses to local people at a fair price.”
Gwynedd in Wales, which includes most of Snowdonia national park, is a hotspot for holiday lets and, according to research by the estate agency Hamptons, 16% of sales in the year to May 2022 were second homes.
George, the chief executive of the Cornwall Community Land Trust, which builds affordable housing, said the people were not at the point of “superglueing the locks or burning [second homes] down” but “anger is directed at the legislature that allows this to happen”.
He is calling for a new planning class for second homes that would allow town halls to cap their numbers. Asked what holidaymakers should do if they are renting, he said: “They should ask [the landlord] before they come: ‘can you assure me this accommodation is not having a negative impact on housing need?’”
He added that if they found, while on holiday, thattheir rental was causing problems they should complain at being “mis-sold”. If holiday renters “find the housing needs of people in the area are being overlooked they could write to the owner of the property and say they are never coming again”.
He said the acute shortage of affordable homes means low-income renters too often have to endure damp, cramped and energy-inefficient homes from private landlords who enjoy an imbalance of power.
The incentive to offer properties as short-term lets is huge. A small two-bedroom house in St Ives was this week offered for more than £3,000 for half-term on Airbnb, while a four-bedroom house on Vrbo cost £668 a night.
Merryn Voysey, 33, moved from Cornwall to Portugal in part to escape the stress of the housing crisis, he told the Guardian. While working as a gardener he had to live in his van for 18 months. Average weekly private rents in the south-west rose from £206 to £238 from February 2020 to July 2021.
“One of the reasons I am here [in Portugal] is that the housing crisis is not right in front of me and I am not driving around feeling like a victim,” he said. “I am feeling the benefits. My peace of mind and wellbeing has improved.”
Generation Rent is calling for government action to bring properties back into the residential market, including scrapping mortgage tax relief for holiday lets, plus powers for councils to license and cap holiday lets.
“We have heard countless stories of people being evicted so their landlord could start renting to tourists,” said Dan Wilson Craw, the campaign’s deputy director. “Taking homes out of the residential market prices out people who want to settle down in the place they grew up. That destroys communities and starves local businesses of workers.”
Earlier this month, the government announced a new bill that will allow councils to apply a discretionary council tax premium of up to 100% on second homes, as defined by “periodically occupied”.
Paula Higgins, the chief executive of the Home Owners Alliance, predicted some second homeowners would pass on the cost to holiday renters, but said: “It might put people off purchasing extra homes because it’s an extra cost. That combined with the increasing stamp duty on second homes, I think it could have an effect.”
Council tax on a band E home in Cornwall is £2,577, so a doubling would push the annual bill above £5,000.
A group of Cornish tourist bodies this month began consulting on a compulsory registration system for holiday lets. The Welsh government has said it will increase the council tax premium that councils can charge on second homes and long-term empty properties to 300% from April 2023.
Despite the excellent choice of Liz Pole for Labour this columnist concludes this will be a two horse race.
This is without discussing the additional headache the Tories face from the four right wing cum populist cum re-branded Brexit candidates:
Jordan Donoghue-Morgan, Heritage Party
Andy Foan – Reform UK
Frankie Rufolo – The For Britain Movement
Ben Walker – UK Independence Party
Porn, parties, petrol prices: True blue Tories consider Lib Dem switch in Tiverton and Honiton by-election
It was the afternoon of the Sue Gray report and, stood under the historic Tiverton Clock Tower, life-long Tories Andrew and Heather Barlow had already decided how they would vote in next month’s by-election here.
This was, he made clear, not a decision taken lightly.
The couple, both retired teachers, had gone blue at almost every election since they turned 18. As a student, Andrew had been a member of the Oxford University Conservative Association. He once had dreams of being a politician – until Heather told him that she had no dreams of being a politician’s wife.
Yet this near lifelong loyalty will be broken after the prime minister refused to resign over revelations he broke coronavirus lockdown rules by attending boozy Downing Street parties.
“He wouldn’t know integrity if it was looking him in the face,” said Heather. “I cannot understand how other Conservatives are not embarrassed to be associated with him. I think they are. They just don’t say it. And I’m not sure which is worse.”
Tiverton and Honiton – a sprawling, largely rural constituency in Devon – may feel a million miles from the machinations of Westminster but next month this agricultural heartland will find itself at the centre of the UK’s political universe.
A by-election is to be held here on 23 June after former Tory MP Neil Parish stood down following an admission that, while Googling tractors, he had ended up watching pornography in parliament. Twice.
It means that people here will be the first to ever go to the polls with a prime minister who has broken the law while in office.
And, if a former minister’s observation earlier this month is correct – that the longer the gravel drive the greater the anger about Partygate – the Tories may have good reason to be worried: while this is a constituency with pockets of considerable deprivation, it is also one with plenty of long, gravel drives.
“You get a lot of Tories here,” said Annie Hargreaves, a Northern Irish woman who settled in Tiverton 23 years ago and now runs Leela, a sustainable lifestyle store, in the town. “But it doesn’t feel like any of them are especially proud to be Tory at the moment. They feel let down by what’s happened.”
On paper, Tiverton and Honiton should still be a safe blue seat.
It has been Tory ever since it was created in 1997. In 2019, Parrish won a majority of 24, 239. For good measure, the Conservatives are the largest parties on the county, district and town councils here too. In 2016, it voted Brexit.
Yet voters here are openly debating if they are prepared to give their backing once more to a party so bogged down in sleaze and which – perhaps more significantly – is increasingly seen as taking the area for granted.
In an uncanny echo of last year’s North Shropshire by-election, the Lib Dems – third place in 2019 – have emerged as the unlikely frontrunners. “It’s a tougher gig [than North Shropshire],” party leader Sir Ed Davey said in an early campaign visit to the area. “But the Tories know we’re on their case.”
It was a sentiment reiterated by candidate Richard Foord in a Tiverton coffee shop this week.
“It’s clear to people that the Tories don’t feel they need to work for votes,” the 44-year-old said. “They’ve been complacent for years – and people are fed up of that. Absolutely fed up. Just like they were in North Shropshire.”
The evidence of complacency? Brexit trade deals have more or less ignored the region’s farmers; no action has been taken to address the fact that Devon has England’s longest ambulance waiting times; and a perceived lack of investment across the constituency.
“There’s been no levelling up money,” said Foord, who works for the University of Oxford but lives in Uffculme. “Tiverton has got a high school that’s simply not big enough for the town anymore – we’ve needed a new one for years – and the hospital now closes through the night because of cuts.”
There is, he says, a joke that people know when it’s election time here because local Conservatives start talking about building an Axminster bypass or a Cullompton train station. “These have been the same promises going back 20 years,” the father of three says. “They will still be making them in another 20 years, I expect.”
The cost of living crisis, too, is hurting people here in a way the government doesn’t recognise, he reckons. Fuel intensive sectors – like farming – are being devastated. In a place where people are reliant on their cars to get between small towns and villages, ever-rising petrol prices are adding to hardship. A cut on national insurance is needed, he says. A windfall tax on energy companies announced on Thursday doesn’t go far enough.
Against this backdrop of grievances, it has been suggested the Conservative contender here – that’s Helen Hurford, the deputy mayor of Honiton – has been selected, ultimately, as an “electoral sacrifice”.
“I asked in the tea room this morning if we had actually selected an electoral sacrifice,” Sir Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet, told BBC Newsthis week. “And I’m told that we have.”
What Hurford herself makes of this is anyone’s guess.
As has become the norm with Conservative by-election candidates, the former headteacher is said to have been ordered not to talk to media during the campaign. The fear, apparently, is that she will not be capable of answering questions about Partygate in any satisfactory manner.
Safe to say, a request by The Independent to speak with her went firstly unanswered and then got declined.
More unusual, perhaps, is the fact that it is not just the candidate who appears silenced.
Local Conservative councillors, too, are said to have been informally told to go to ground in the wake of the Sue Gray report this week. One, the mayor of Tiverton, Sue Griggs, pulled out of a planned interview literally minutes after the document was published.
To add to the possible Tory woes, meanwhile, is the suggestion Labour – represented by local businesswoman Liz Pole – appear set to run a minimal campaign.
Sir Keir Starmer has insisted he wants to win this seat but, self-evidently, it makes sense for the party to focus resources on Wakefield, in West Yorkshire, where another by-election is being held the same day and where there is a greater chance of red victory.
And yet and yet.
Despite such a host of issues, it is by no means beyond the Conservatives to retain this seat. The fact is there are still plenty of people here who believe the government has served them well enough – not least in keeping them safe and financially secure through the pandemic.
“What’s he [Johnson] ever done for me?” pondered Carole King, in her eponymous Tiverton lifestyle shop. “He kept my business alive during the pandemic. He got a vaccine out before anyone else in Europe.”
It’s a popular point.
In a region with a large portion of independent businesses, there is a sense that whatever the prime minister’s faults, he had got a lot right.
“The cheques he signed off saved people from going under, including me,” said Tom Hirst, who runs Tivvy Cobblers. “We’ve got a lot to thank him for.”
He has, he admitted, a “soft spot” for Mr Johnson. “He’s different, isn’t he?” the 36-year-old said. “I think the parties just show he’s like the rest of us, really. I can’t feel angry about them.”
Pertinently, too, while senior Conservatives MPs may have questioned Hurford as a candidate, there are plenty in the constituency who think she is a wise choice. The fact she is local appears especially popular.
“She certainly will get my vote,” said Honiton’s mayor Serena Sexton, who herself sits as an independent. “I vote for the person, not the party and Helen is extremely capable. Compassionate, analytical, trustworthy. She would do an excellent job, just like she has done during her year sitting on the town council.”
Which brings us back, perhaps, to Annie Hargreaves in her Tiverton shop, surrounded by plants.
She herself will vote Lib Dems but she thinks, whatever the result, the by-election is already doing some good for the constituency.
“It’s so blue that people can be quite apathetic at election time, because they don’t think their vote will matter,” she said. “But this is different – it’s a real contest – and that’s invigorating people a little bit. It feels like our voice can make a difference for once.”
And Alison Hernandez, our PCC, doesn’t miss a photo opportunity to be snapped with her, and the Tory candidate, whilst reopening a desk in Tiverton police station. See photograph below which looks like it has been taken by the PCC herself. (Problem is that it’s a mirror image and describes the police station as belonging to the Llawnroc & Noved force, but shows her best side!).
A couple of days earlier, she was photographed with newly chosen Helen Hurford also outside what looks like Tiverton police station, see: Police Commissioner photographed with new Tory candidate raises question. Makes Owl wonder just how many times the front desk at Tiverton policed station has been reopened by the PCC. Perhaps this is the only example the Tories can find of what they have done for Tiverton.
Is Owl the only one to find such blatant political posturing by a Police and Crime Commissioner, supposedly “the voice of the people”, at odds with the Nolan principles? These are the seven principles governing those in public service and include: integrity, objectivity and leadership.
Is this another example of how the Conservatives under the leadership of Boris Johnson have lost all sense of integrity? How are we supposed to believe in the political neutrality of the police knowing they are accountable to, and the Chief Constable appointed by, such an overtly political PCC?
The Home Secretary is quoted as saying “I’m absolutely thrilled that the station will be reopened again. It speaks to the Conservative Party in government, the party of law and order being focused on delivery, delivering for local residents and delivering for the British public because we do believe in our police, we back the police.”
Wasn’t it the Osborne Tory austerity programme that caused the closures in the first palace? “Law and order”, what a joke. Expect a succession of Cabinet Ministers making their first visit to Devon. – Owl
The Home Secretary Priti Patel has been in Devon this morning, talking about policing, the crisis in Ukraine and the shocking murder of Bobbi Anne McLeod.
She spent time speaking to campaigners on May 25 ahead of the upcoming by-election on June 23, backing their Conservative candidate Helen Hurford. She also headed to Tiverton Police Station to meet Alison Hernandez, the Police Crime Commissioner, as well as the town’s police force.
Speaking exclusively to Devon Live she said: “I’ve had a fantastic visit this morning. It’s a privilege to be here supporting in Helen and the great Conservative team. Actually just having the opportunity to get out and about, meeting activists, but I’ve also been with our Police and Crime Commissioner, Alison Hernandez today, down to the police station speaking to the front line and the officers that do everything that they can day in, day out, to keep local streets safe.”
Speaking about Helen Hurford, the Tiverton & Honiton Conservative candidate she said: “Helen is a great candidate and local. A local lady who’s absolutely dedicated to public service. Her professional background as a teacher, but also someone that’s been active in the community for the last 12 months as well.
“She’s going to be a fantastic member of parliament for this constituency. I think residents will be blessed to have her as the MP, but I think importantly as well, she will go on to serve and represent the local area in an exceptional way.”
Priti Patel, Helen Hurford and Alison Hernandez
This week it was announced by Alison Hernandez that the front desk of Tiverton police station was among those planned for reopening this year. These offices will be staffed by Police Enquiry Officers from Monday to Saturday, from 10am to 3pm, while the existing nine operated by the force will operate extended opening hours of 8am to 6pm on the same days. Officers staffing the offices will be able to support the 101 contact centre too when not dealing with people person.
The Home Secretary welcomed the move: “I’m absolutely thrilled that the station will be reopened again. It speaks to the Conservative Party in government, the party of law and order being focused on delivery, delivering for local residents and delivering for the British public because we do believe in our police, we back the police……
Ford Oaks Solar and Green Infrastructure says its proposed ‘facility’, near the hamlet of Westcott and Marsh Green village, made up of 45 hectares of ‘green infrastructure improvements’, could power up to 18,500 homes across East Devon and Exeter.
The area outlined in red shows where the proposed solar ‘facility’ will be built.
The project manager of charity Devon Communities Together, leading the community consultation process which began in autumn 2021, will attend the Aylesbeare Annual Parish Meeting on Wednesday, May 25.
The Taiyo Power and Storage team, promoting the development, will attend the Aylesbeare Parish Council meeting on Wednesday, June 1, to answer questions and outline the plans through an exhibition.
A date with Rockbeare Parish Council is to be confirmed.
Ford Oaks Solar and Green Infrastructure said the site, located next to the A30 close to Exeter Airport, East Devon, is a ‘solar development that would provide renewable energy that will help to deliver East Devon District Council’s target for being net zero by 2040 and meet Devon County Council’s net zero target for 2050 after having declared a climate emergency in 2019’.
The proposed site would be near Westcott Lane, pictured.
A planning application setting out the details and design has been submitted to East Devon District Council.
If it is approved, it will be the first solar development in the UK to apply for the Building with Nature Accreditation.
A Taiyo Power and Storage spokesperson said: “In practice, this will lead to the delivery of approximately 45 hectares of green infrastructure improvements that would increase wildlife in the valley and reduce existing flooding issues. The plans will result in a biodiversity net gain of 121% across the site.”
45 hectares of green infrastructure improvements, in line with the Devon Green Infrastructure Strategy.
Delivery of 121% biodiversity net gain, achieved through creating grasslands habitats with species-rich seed mixes, Devon traditional meadows, a mosaic of wetland habitats, and beetle and butterfly banks.
Flood mitigation, with new leaky dams and scrapes designed into the scheme to keep surface waters in the fields to reduce flows both onto local lanes and downstream under the A30.
29 hectares of solar arrays designed to permit extensive sheep grazing.
In addition, the proposal states of the intended solar panels:
The arrays will be a maximum of 3.15m in height and will be mounted on a south facing axis, except in two fields adjacent to identified properties where the orientation has been realigned to the southeast, thus reducing potential glare to a minimum.
The proposed development also requires the following supporting infrastructure:
Substations and transformers which will be held in containers of 3.5m in height.
CCTV on poles between 2.5m and 4m high directed away from residential property.
A 2m deer fence.
Distribution Network Operator (DNO) and client substation, including internal connective cable routes.
Internal access tracks.
The plans say: “In addition to the solar arrays, the proposed development will provide an expansive network of ecological and landscape enhancements.” Image of some of the proposed schemes: with permission.
Simon Crowe, Director at Taiyo, said: “Ford Oaks will be a fantastic opportunity for East Devon to progress its ambitious climate strategy.
“At a local level, we are providing a renewable energy source for 18,500 homes for the area. At a national level, we need five times as much renewable energy as we are currently producing if we are to be net zero by 2050.
“Ford Oaks marks an important first step in Taiyo’s journey in supporting the UK’s commitment.”
He added: “If we are to truly make East Devon a greener district, we must go beyond renewable energy provision to also enhance the local area’s biodiversity. That’s why we are excited to make this the UK’s first solar park to apply for the Building with Nature accreditation, with vast amounts of biodiversity and nature improvements to the local area.”
Ford Oaks is a joint venture between Kajima and Low Carbon Alliance Limited in partnership with local landowners, including Devon County Council.
The energy produced will be used to power homes across East Devon and Exeter.
A spokesperson for Tayo Power and Storage said: “By providing a renewable energy source that will export 30MW of power to local electricity circuits and power 18,500 homes, 7,430 tonnes of CO2 emissions will be saved – the equivalent of taking 1,600 petrol cars off Devon’s roads for one year.”
They added: “This will be a secure energy source for residents in the Exeter and East Devon area, while positively contributing towards the climate emergency by aligning with Devon County Green Infrastructure Strategy, the Devon Climate Declaration and government targets to increase solar power capacity to 50GW by 2030.”
I recently read a letter from the business and energy secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, in which he tries to justify government plans to encourage investment in new North Sea oil and gas. He says it would “protect Britain’s energy security” and smooth the “transition to cheap, clean, home-grown energy”, as well as cutting energy bills.
But expanding North Sea oil will do none of those things, for several reasons.
We don’t own the oil and gas, which we give away to energy companies together with substantial subsidies. They sell the oil and gas to the highest bidder on international markets, keep all the revenue, and are currently making eye-watering profits on which they pay almost no tax. Almost 80 per cent of UK production of crude oil is exported and plays no part in our domestic energy security.
We don’t own the companies that exploit this oil and gas. According to one study, more than a third of the licence blocks in the North Sea now have a private or state-backed controlling interest, with fossil fuel firms from China, Russia and the Middle East playing an increasingly dominant role. As well as being unaccountable to UK shareholders, these businesses have no strategic interest in UK energy security or in keeping bills low for UK households.
We don’t own the refineries. They are owned by private companies like Essar (Indian-owned, and reportedly had links to Russian company Lukoil), Petroineos (Chinese joint venture) and Exxon Mobil. To make money these refineries must run close to full capacity with specific types of crude oil not found in the UK. Reconfiguring is expensive, so the refineries have a strong interest in tying us into foreign crude imports.
We have no control over the price of oil and gas. Producing our own oil and gas does not guarantee that it is available to UK consumers at a price they can afford, as the recent energy price crunch has demonstrated. We pay the international price of oil no matter where it comes from. Fluctuations in the oil price both up and down are felt directly by us.
We can’t just turn on a tap. Allowing new UK oil and gas production is not a quick fix to plug the small gaps caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The new licences in the North Sea will take years to come on stream – an average of 28 years from the licence being granted to production, says the Climate Change Committee. Even the “easy” stuff can take up to 8 years depending on the geology.
As for smoothing “the transition to cheap, clean, home-grown energy”. What kind of clean energy investment signal is the government sending by continuing to subsidise fossil fuels?
By refusing to recognise and incentivise investment in the most cost-effective opportunities to cut carbon – solar and wind energy, insulation and free public transport – it is destroying jobs and ensuring higher and more volatile energy bills are baked in.
The only way to be truly secure is to exit fossil fuels and invest in the alternatives.
Environmental groups have criticised the National Farmers Union for helping hundreds of agricultural businesses to push back against measures designed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to protect vulnerable rivers in the UK.
Working with the specialist consultancy Hafren Water, the NFU has helped at least 200 land users in nearly 40 river basins and groundwater catchments to fight against “nitrate vulnerable zone” designations, according to documents made available to the union’s members.
Farmers operating in areas of the UK that are designated as nitrate vulnerable zones are required to comply with restrictions related to the use of fertilisers and the storage of organic manure, designed to reduce the risk of pollution leaching into waterways.
In a video made available to union members, the NFU announced that its legal board had agreed to make special financial support available to agricultural businesses that wanted to appeal against these designations through its legal assistance scheme.
In the video, which was obtained by the investigative journalism organisation Point Source, an in-house solicitor for the NFU said the organisation’s legal assistance scheme would fund the entire cost of preliminary research and consultations before the formal appeals process.
The solicitor also said the scheme would provide subscribers with financial contributions towards costs during the formal appeal proceedings.
The NFU encouraged members to form groups to share costs and work with Hafren Water to challenge designations, saying the consultancy could be trusted and had previously “fought really hard on behalf of members”.
In a document accompanying the video, the NFU said it had “enjoyed a good degree of success” working on nitrate vulnerable zone appeals with Hafren Water in the past.
The NFU declined to tell the Guardian how much money it had already provided to support appeals against designations.
Under the existing system farmers are given an opportunity to appeal against designations every four years.
During the last round of appeals, which started in 2017, 94 of 135 were successful.
The appeals that the NFU and Hafren Water helped farmers to win included removing designations from the River Calder in Lancashire and the River Dove in the Midlands. Together their catchments cover an area of about 1,500 sq km (580 sq miles).
Runoff from agriculture is the biggest single polluter of English rivers, responsible for 40% of damage to waterways.
The chief executive of Salmon & Trout Conservation, Nick Measham, said: “The NFU’s efforts to reduce the number of designated nitrate vulnerable zones in the UK is part of a broader push to deregulate farming.
“The organisation is pushing to remove designations even if it is clear that their removal will result in worsening ecological conditions for already degraded waterways.
“What the NFU should be doing is using its resources to make members true stewards of the countryside instead of seeking to game regulations so that farmers can increase their profits at the expense of the environment.”
The head of science and policy at the Rivers Trust, Rob Collins, said: “Nitrate vulnerable zones are designed to prevent excessive levels of nitrate from polluting surface and groundwaters, causing eutrophication and requiring costly water treatment.
“Rather than challenging designations, funds would be better spent supporting farmers to optimise fertiliser application through nutrient management plans and improving slurry management.”
During the latest round of appeals the Environment Agency has received 55 applications across nine river basin districts, according to information obtained by Point Source using freedom of information legislation.
Defra said Hafren Water was named as the representative acting on behalf of owners or occupiers for 14 appeals.
None of the appeals have been heard yet in the current round, which is the first since Britain left the EU.
David Baldock, a senior fellow at the Brussels-based Institute for European Environmental Policy, said organisations that opposed restrictions on fertiliser use could achieve significant change during the forthcoming appeal hearings.
“The NFU has always had its sights set on trying to push back against these nitrate regulations,” he said. “Previously Defra was under pressure from the European Commission to report back and demonstrate that they were complying with the EU nitrate directive, but now that Britain has left the EU this is no longer necessary.
“Defra’s reaction to these appeals is going to be one of the tests of its resolve to maintain standards of environmental legislation after Brexit.”
Nitrate vulnerable zones covered about 69% of England in 2009. Over the past decade, this figure has been eroded and during the last round of appeals it was reduced from about 58% to 55% of the country.
In a statement the NFU said: “Farmers are perfectly entitled to follow that appeals process to ensure that the designation is correct and has been applied fairly. NFU members are able to seek guidance and support from our legal assistance scheme to help with the appeals process.”
Hafren Water said: “The decision as to whether an area should be designated as a nitrate vulnerable zone is entirely objective and determined using catchment-specific data and Defra-derived methodology.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “We are committed to working with farmers to improve water quality through advice, incentives and effective regulation. Our goal in the agricultural transition plan is for a modern approach where farmers and regulators work together to improve standards, underpinned by credible deterrents for severe or serial harm.”