Owl asks “With a yellow weather warning of heavy rain in place for today, what can we expect to be vented into our rivers and onto our beaches?”
Just visit the Safer Seas Service Interactive Map on Safer Seas Service Interactive Map • Surfers Against Sewage (sas.org.uk) and you will find that Budleigh Salterton beach still has a Pollution Alert. Storm sewage has been discharged from a sewer overflow in this location within the past 48 hours. Sidmouth, Exmouth and Seaton discharges remain a secret held by South West Water.
But don’t worry Budleigh Salterton, the new sewage overflow pipe being constructed will enable this practice to continue for the next 100 years. A great boost for the tourist industry.
At least 17 ‘major incidents’ have been declared at hospitals across the UK within the last 48 hours. A&E departments, ambulance services, and healthcare groups are all facing extreme pressure – and some health experts fear the very worst has already happened for the NHS. Tom Head www.thelondoneconomic.com
Has the NHS all but collapsed? The signs aren’t good
So far, seven hospitals have announced they are dealing with critical incidents. Others are operating at the next-highest emergency response level of OPEL 4, and some have categorised the situation as a ‘business continuity issue’.
Either way, the list makes for a horrifying read. Shaun Lintern, the Health Editor for The Times, has filed most of these in a Twitter thread. If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can dip into the facts and figures here:
‘In many parts of the country, the NHS has collapsed’
Concerns of a full-scale NHS collapse have already been raised by The Telegraph this week, and more health experts are starting to believe this is now the case. Health policy expert Sam Freedman fears there will be ‘significant excess deaths’, and he’s calling for a full inquiry.
“A few days ago I said the NHS had never been closer to collapsing. I think it’s fair to say it has now collapsed in many parts of the country. There will be significant excess deaths as a result. There needs to be a full inquiry into how this could have been avoided”| Sam Freedman
Who has declared a critical incident this week?
University of Derby Hospital Trust: All meetings and training courses have been cancelled, to shore-up available staff numbers.
University Hospitals Dorset: ‘Severe and sustained operational pressures’ have caused chaos throughout the week.
Portsmouth Hospitals University: After declaring yesterday, members of the public have been asked to ‘help clear occupied beds’.
Nottingham University Hospitals: Over 160 patients have waited more than 24 hours to be discharged.
NHS Devon: Ambulance response times have been at ‘over four hours’, for a period of more than 72 hours.
Surrey Heartlands Healthcare: General pressure on local NHS services has rendered the situation critical.
Royal United Hospitals of Bath: High volumes of patients and long waiting times are causing misery in emergency departments.
‘Many other emergency services’ at breaking point
Northern Care Alliance: A Business Continuity Incident has been declared, with ‘extremely high numbers’ of A&E patients cited.
Oxford University Hospitals: Chronic staff shortages have left the institution operating at OPEL 4.
Barnsley Hospital: A Full Capacity Protocol has been activated, as wards are being asked to host more patients.
University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire: Full Capacity Protocol declared on Thursday, due to issues with patient discharge.
NHS West Yorkshire: GPs have been warned about a ‘dire situation’ in local A&E departments.
Newcastle Hospitals: Moved to OPEL 4 on Thursday, cancelling all non-urgent appointments in the process.
West Midlands Ambulance Services: On Wednesday, a total of 561 patients were left waiting for an ambulance.
East England Ambulance Services: A ‘Business Continuity Incident’ was declared, as 161 ambulances were delayed outside hospitals.
Greater Manchester Hospitals: Patients have been urged to avoid A&E ‘unless they are in a life-threatening state’.
York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals: There was a 40-hour wait for beds at the peak of the crisis on Thursday.
The fractured bridge expansion joint plate was detected by a monitoring system on the Exe viaduct, leading to lane one of the southbound carriageway between junctions 30 and 31 near Exeter being closed for safety reasons.
The lane closure has caused significant delays during peak travel times so National Highways is advising drivers to allow extra time for their journeys.
Terry Robinson, National Highways’ engineering manager for the south west, said: “The bridge joint requires specialist contractors and materials to repair and given the safety critical nature of the defect, we have to keep the lane closure in place to protect the travelling public, prevent vehicle damage and protect the structure against further damage.
“We’re working to organise the repair as quickly as possible, we apologise for any inconvenience and thank drivers for their patience. In the meantime we ask people to be aware of delays, particularly around peak times, and to plan ahead and allow extra time for their journeys between junctions 29 and 31.”
There was an average of nearly three million hours of sewage discharge into waterways and sea during Therese Coffey’s tenure as a junior minister, the analysis of Environment Agency (EA) data obtained by Labour under freedom of information laws suggests.
This equates to more than 321 years’ worth of sewage dumped in England and Wales over Ms Coffey’s three years in the job between 2016 and 2019.
Labour said the fresh revelations about Ms Coffey’s “sewage-infested” record in office raised questions about Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to move her to Environment Secretary.
The party revealed last month that sewage discharges more than doubled during the Environment Secretary’s previous role as a junior minister, coinciding with her decision to cut a key environment protection “grant in aid” fund for the EA by around a third (£24m).
Ms Coffey was also forced to admit in October the Government was breaching its own Environment Act by delaying the publication of clean water and biodiversity targets beyond the end of that month.
Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon said: “It’s not clear which is worse, Coffey’s sewage-infested environmental record, or Rishi Sunak’s judgement in bringing back Dr Dolittle.
“Families across the country should be able to just enjoy where they live, work or holiday, and businesses should not have to worry about the Tory sewage scandal hitting their trade.
“Britain deserves better.
“A Labour government will use the levers of power to introduce mandatory monitoring with automatic fines, ensure regulators properly enforce the rules and hold water bosses who repeatedly break the rules personally accountable for sewage pollution.”
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: “We have been clear that the amount of untreated sewage which enters our waterways and pollutes our beaches is unacceptable, and that water companies must do much more to protect our environment.
“Our Storm Overflows Reduction Plan has brought in the strictest targets on sewage pollution and requires water companies to deliver their largest ever infrastructure investment – £56bn capital investment over 25 years – into a long term programme to tackle storm sewage discharges by 2050.
“We have also boosted funding for the Environment Agency with £2.2m per year specifically for water company enforcement activity so that robust action is taken against illegal breaches of storm overflow permits.”
On Thursday, The Times reported that the only two stretches of river in England designated for bathing – in Oxford and Ilkley, West Yorkshire – were hit by sewage discharges over the Christmas weekend.
Feargal Sharkey, the former Undertones singer, pointed to recent tests showing e-coli levels at the Ilkley site exceeding safe limits and told the newspaper: “Like a Christmas tree festooned with demonic Christmas baubles, e-coli levels in Yorkshire are above the safe level for bathing.
“Coupled with warnings to bathers on the Thames, it seems like it’s a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the water industry.”
Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, which has urged people to only call 999 or visit A&E for life-threatening illnesses and injuries, advised people to pack pain relief, flu and cold remedy and rehydration powders, as well as any prescription medicines.
The trust tweeted the advice: “Heading to #Cornwall this #NewYear? Just in case, be wise and bring these three self-care kings! Pain relief, flu and cold remedy and rehydration powders. And don’t forget to pack any prescription medicines, too. #HelpUsHelpYou.”
The trust attached an image detailing what people should have in a first aid kit, including bandages, dressings, tweezers, scissors, antiseptic and medical tape.
On Wednesday morning, it said there were 482 patients waiting for ambulances, with 106 patients awaiting handover at hospitals across the region.
Adrian Harris, chief medical officer of Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, described how emergency departments were under “incredible pressure”.
“I’m asking all of the public to think very carefully before attending, to think about using 111 either online or on a telephone, to think about going to their pharmacy, and when necessary contacting their general practitioner,” he said.
“We are very, very busy so please don’t attend unless absolutely necessary. If you’re in doubt and you think you need help, please come and see us. We’re open but we are very, very busy.”
Other trusts to declare a critical incident include Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which said there was “significant ongoing pressure on local NHS services”.
The trust has seen “record numbers” of people attending accident and emergency departments, calling 111, accessing GP services and calling 999, it said.
There are also “ongoing challenges in discharging patients who are well enough to leave hospital”, as well as an increase in staff sickness.
It said there were “significant delays” for more than 100 patients waiting for an ambulance, together with a reduction in ambulance crew availability to respond due to delays handing over patients at hospitals.
One in 10 Conservative peers are big donors to the party, giving almost £50m in total, new analysis shows, amid controversy over more financial backers believed to have been put forward on Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list.
After speculation about more donors due to get peerages within the coming weeks, figures compiled by the Guardian show 27 out of the party’s 274 peers have given more than £100,000 to the Conservatives.
The rate of donors being given peerages appears to have picked up over the last six years, during the tenures of Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
The new year honours list giving out knighthoods and damehoods is due to be published on Friday, with Rishi Sunak under pressure to clean up politics by cutting out big donors. Last year under Johnson, David Winton Harding, a billionaire hedge fund manager who had given £1.5m to the Tories, was given a knighthood.
During his three years in power, Johnson submitted the names of six major donors for peerages, including three financiers: Sir Michael Hintze, who has given £4.5m to the Conservatives; Michael Spencer, who together with his company has given about £7m; and Peter Cruddas, who has donated £3.4m.
At least two more donors – David Ross, the Carphone Warehouse founder who arranged Johnson’s £15,000 holiday in Mustique in 2020, and Stuart Marks, a technology entrepreneur – have been tipped for a peerages in his resignation honours list. The list has been expected for some time, but it appears to have been held up during the vetting process, with Sunak facing calls from Labour to block it.
There has also been a growing trend of big donor peers being given jobs as ministers. Most recently, Liz Truss requested a peerage for Dominic Johnson, a former party vice-chairman who has given more than £300,000 and was the business partner of her then business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg. He was subsequently appointed as a trade minister, a job he then retained under Rishi Sunak.
At least six big donor peers have been given government jobs in the last decade, including two schools ministers (Theodore Agnew and John Nash), a Scotland Office minister (Malcolm Offord) and a business minister (Jonathan Marland). Dolar Popat served as a government whip.
The 274 peers who take the Conservative whip include those on a leave of absence but intending to return. However, the total does not include two more major donors put forward for peerages by David Cameron – James Lupton and Jitesh Gadhia, who are now non-affliated but often vote with the party bloc.
Three more donors given peerages by the Tories since records on party funding began in 2001 – Robert Edmiston, Michael Ashcroft and Irvine Laidlaw – have retired, meaning they still get to keep their titles without sitting in the House of Lords. In total, at least 40 Conservative donors have been put forward for peerages since John Major’s time in office.
The Conservatives have long argued that peerages to donors are given on the basis of their other achievements including business successes and charity work. A Conservative party spokesperson said: “Peerages are for contributions to civic life and also a willingness to further contribute to public life as a legislator in the second chamber.
“It is wrong to criticise individuals being honoured just because they happen to have supported or donated to a political party. Donations should be transparent, but that is not an excuse to knock people for broader philanthropy, enterprise and public service. Volunteering and supporting a political party is part of our civic democracy.”
House of Lords appointments commission guidance says the key criteria when considering the vetting of political donors put forward for peerage is their other work for the party.
“The overarching consideration for commission members should be whether the level of donation is matched by other work done for or on behalf of the party. In other words, would this be a credible nomination even if donations had not been made?” the guidance says.
Research in 2015 by the University of Oxford academics showed that statistically it could be said that the “relationship between donations and nominations [for peerages] has been found to be significant”.
Duncan Hames, the policy director of Transparency International UK, said: “We are of the view that political party leaders shouldn’t be nominating and effectively appointing members of the House of Lords. Their need to raise funds for their political campaigns creates a serious risk of corruption when they are also in a position to be able to offer that kind of patronage.
“We have a House of Lords that is already full and we also have a process by which people can be chosen because of their expertise and merit via a House of Lords appointment commission. There is no need to continue this arrangement which is bringing British politics into disrepute.”
Hames highlighted the resignation honours lists of Cameron and May, plus expected ones from Johnson and potentially Truss, as sources of nominations of major donors. “Resignation honours are not a constitutional obligation. It is an excess that has been exploited in recent years and the faster we turn over prime ministers, the more often it happens,” he said.
With increasing scrutiny of the House of Lords, particularly in light of the investigations into the Tory peer Michelle Mone, Labour has made clear it would abolish it and is consulting on replacing it with an elected second chamber. The party has also put forward donors for peerages but Keir Starmer, the party leader, has said Labour would get rid of the “indefensible” second chamber if he were in charge.
Jess Garland, the director of policy and research for the Electoral Reform Society, said it was “questionable that peers who are personally appointed by the prime minister are more independent and less partisan than someone elected by the public”.
She said: “Political patronage does not create independence of thought and expertise, and this is especially true when a vast number of appointees are party donors and friends of the prime minister of the day. It is the structures and culture of the chamber that matter most and these can be built into an elected upper house.
“For instance, a proportional electoral system, such as the single transferable vote (STV) already in use in Scotland and Ireland, would encourage a diverse range of representatives, more independents and a greater range of parties represented. An elected chamber can also be an expert and independent body and we can rely on the public to make those choices rather than departing prime ministers.”
Anneliese Dodds, the Labour party chair, said Sunak had “delivered sleaze, scandal and cronyism”.
“He is too weak to stand up to the energy companies, his home secretary or his backbenchers. Does anyone truly believe he can stand up to those who bankroll his party?” she said. “Labour will replace the unelected House of Lords with a democratically elected second chamber to restore trust in public office and end the revolving door between Conservative donors and positions of power once and for all.”
Impressive on “Natural Wonders” but poor on “Peace and Quiet”
The Daily Telegraph released a list of the top ten counties in England – and it is no surprise that Devon was far and away at the top of the list. Devon amassed a score of 828 points which meant an impressive 79 point lead beyond second place Cumbria.
The list was based on ‘science’ as each of the 48 counties was compared across 33 criteria over four main categories: ‘Natural Wonders’, ‘History & Culture’, ‘Luxuries’, and ‘Peace & Quiet’. Devon came in at the top of the ‘Natural Wonders’ category and third in ‘History & Culture’.
The top ten were: 1. Devon, 2. Cumbria, 3. North Yorkshire, 4. Somerset, 5. Cornwall, 6. Kent, 7. Hampshire, 8. Greater London, 9. Norfolk, 10, Dorset.
Devon boasts an impressive 369 points to win the ‘Natural Wonders’ category thanks to, The Telegraph reports, two national parks and five AONBs, 13 Blue Flag beaches along its 495km of coast (this alone meant 46 points, second only to Cornwall). Nine RSPB reserves, an RHS garden and a vast 9.9% woodland coverage across the county mean, as the Telegraph says, Devon: “Simply put, it has everything.”
In the next category ‘History and Culture’ Devon secured third with 212 points. The list says there are 177 museums and galleries in the county, 34 National Trust listings, 13 English Heritage properties. In Exeter alone there is the beautiful Cathedral as well as Premiership Rugby to enjoy. Greater London managed to top this category with 323 points.
Devon was still ranked pretty well for the ‘Luxuries’ category coming in at seventh with 98 points. There are 4 Michelin-starred restaurants which lend themselves to this score as well as two 5 AA Red Star hotels: Gidleigh Park in Chagford and Bovey Castle in Moretonhampstead. Greater London also won this category, however, with 153 points.
In the final category ‘Peace & Quiet’ Devon did not do so well coming in at 24th with 79 points. This particular category was based on population density, the number of Certified IDA International Dark Sky Parks and Reserves and bonuses for having smaller towns and airports and no motorways. Tourism has made Devon a busier place so even the best county in England cannot be entirely perfect.
Given what the world has been through in the last three years, it seems curious that, in some places, there seems no great sense of urgency about the spike in Covid cases in China. The parallels, superficially at least, with the early stages of what we came to know as Covid are striking.
The epicentre of the surge is China. A principal conduit to Europe is via northern Italy and public health authorities outside are unsure how to respond. As in the original outbreaks, Italy and China’s immediate neighbours are imposing travel restrictions on visitors from China quickly, and the United States has followed suit. However, most of Europe – including the UK – is taking longer to respond.
The danger is that this does indeed turn out to be a rerun of the mistakes made in January, February and March of 2020, and the UK imports a potentially deadly disease almost absent-mindedly. Early in 2020, the scientists in the Sage advisory committee eventually took the view that it was too late to stop the infection spreading because it was already circulating internally.
In due course, that advice was to change, and eventually bans on flights to or from China and testing requirements for most of the world became mandatory. Such tests as have been undertaken suggest very high rates of infection among visitors from China, as is to be expected given the rapid spread of Covid after the sudden move out of lockdown in the country. With exponential spread, they could add unhelpfully to the queues for treatment.
The question now is what is being imported. If it is the same mix of variants and subvariants in the UK already, the concerns are lessened. The main consequence, though, would still be unwelcome – an increase in the incidence of the disease and a corresponding increase in the pace of hospitalisations, long Covid and fatalities. At a time of obvious extreme pressure on the NHS, some controls on visitors from high-risk countries, mainly China, would be in order.
There seems good reason to impose some system of testing and “vaccine passports” now at airports, both to slow the import of the existing Omicron variants, and, more crucially, to monitor for the emergence of more variants of concern. Indeed, there should be more precautionary and voluntary random testing of schoolchildren and adults to make sure the authorities can be prepared for future outbreaks, and that any individuals carrying or in contact with high-risk viruses can be traced and protected from passing it on. Sewage testing can also provide early warnings. There is no room for complacency, whatever the presentational difficulties for politicians.
The ruling assumption seems to be that the Chinese, like everyone else, are suffering from a relatively mild Omicron variant; but we need to know for sure, and we don’t. We need to find out.
Perhaps a more lethal, infectious and vaccine-evasive iteration of the coronavirus has already reached Britain or elsewhere. If so, then the sooner it is discovered, the better. If not, then we should ensure that it is kept out of the UK for as long as possible – and a testing regime is one of the best ways of doing so. A further push to get more people to take the new bivalent vaccine booster would also be prudent.
At the moment, it’s hard to know which is the more worrisome – the epidemic of anti-vaxxer misinformation or a new variant. Our defences need a boost, and so does reliable public information. Those who deliberately spread lies and confusion should be confronted and social media platforms should moderate their propaganda.
In the modern world, no virus can be contained for long, but its spread can be slowed. The alternative, as we know from experience, is not the gradual return to normalcy we’ve experienced in 2022, but a far more draconian regime of social distancing next year.
Socially and economically, it is difficult to see how Britain can support another period of extensive lockdowns, though it may be left with no alternative. This is a moment to apply the precautionary principle, and quickly.
The Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly wants residents of the force area to tell her if they think the police deliver value for money.
The question is one of several posed by Alison Hernandez who today (Thursday, December 23) launched her 2022/23 budget survey. It comes a week after Home Secretary Priti Patel announced an increase in the amount forces will receive from central Government.
The additional money will in part pay for an uplift in police numbers that is due to boost officer numbers in Devon and Cornwall by 188 in the 2022/23 financial year. The provisional settlement also included plans to boost investigations into serious and organised crime and tackle fraud.
The Commissioner is now faced with a decision on setting police precepts – the amount households pay locally towards policing through their council tax bills. Police and Crime Commissioners have been given flexibility to increase this by up to £10 a year for a Band D Property for the next three years. Currently those in band D households in Devon and Cornwall pay £236.56 a year in their policing precept.
The survey, which can be completed online here, also asks a number of questions relating to police contact and seeks to understand levels of support for plans to open more police stations to the public in Devon and Cornwall.
“We have had what appears to be a reasonable settlement from central Government for Devon and Cornwall,” the Commissioner said. “It will allow us to continue on our upwards trajectory in police officer numbers that was already being funded by local taxpayers here before the Prime Minister announced the national uplift. This has enabled budgeted force strength to grow by 498 officers since 2016/17 to 3,422 officers this financial year. The force is set to grow by another 188 officers in 2022/23, taking force strength to a record high.
“This increase is helping to keep Devon and Cornwall as counties with some of the lowest recorded crime rates in the country, but there are still significant challenges ahead. Inflation means the force is facing significant additional costs, crime types like domestic abuse are now being reported and recorded more effectively – this is an extremely welcome development but it means our force is dealing with more calls for help than ever before.”
The Commissioner said her focus was now on strengthening, sustaining and stabilising the police force so it was fit to deliver on priorities laid out in the 2021-25 Police and Crime Plan of reducing antisocial behaviour, drugs crime and deaths and serious injuries on the roads.
“We have to ensure that people are served by a force that is responsive to their needs and victims of crime have swift access to justice and the services they need to help them recover,” she added.
People have until midnight on Monday, January 9, to complete the survey. Results will be published in a report to the January 28 meeting of the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel.
As of 11.30am on Wednesday, 482 patients were waiting for ambulances across the South West, with 106 patients awaiting handover at hospitals.
Declaring a critical incident allows trusts to prioritise the patients most in need and to instigate additional measures to protect patient safety.
Yesterday, North East Ambulance Service also declared a critical incident for the second time in just over a week due to “unprecedented” pressure following the Christmas break.
The majority of ambulance services in England declared critical incidents on 20 December ahead of strikes over the Christmas period.
South Western Ambulance Service covers 10,000 square miles, including Bristol and counties such as Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Cornwall and Somerset.
People have been urged to only call 999 if someone’s life is in danger and in other cases call 111 or their GP.
“If the condition of a patient is not life-threatening we may direct them to an alternative service. So please help us by accessing the right service for the care you need,” said deputy director of operations Wayne Darch.
“Please do not call back simply to ask for an estimated time of arrival of an ambulance. We cannot provide one, and it blocks our lines for other callers,” he added.
About 25,000 ambulance workers went on strike on 21 December and two further strike days have been announced for England in January amid a dispute over pay and staffing.
Two hospital trusts also declared critical incidents on Wednesday.
Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust said there was “immense pressure” and “exceptionally high numbers” of people waiting for treatment in A&E departments.
Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust took the same action due to “record numbers” at A&E, calling 999 and 111 and accessing GP services.
I hope you’ve had a good Christmas and are getting ready to celebrate New Year. When the country is in such a mess, we need the good cheer of family and friends all the more.
Just don’t get too relaxed, and above all do your best not to get ill or have an accident. Our NHS trust’s chief medical officer has urged the public to “think very carefully whether it’s the right thing to do” before going to the A&E in Exeter. Similarly the South Western Ambulance Service is urging us “to think carefully before dialling 999”.
These depressing appeals were made before the recent beginning of NHS industrial action. For weeks and months, A&E had already suffered ever longer delays and the SW ambulance service has been the worst-performing in the country.
Strikes will make things even more difficult in the short term, but nurses and ambulance workers are right say that the NHS was already broken. It is outrageous of the government to blame the strikers for problems that have been festering on their watch for a very long time.
I have no special brief for the last Labour government but the figures show that the NHS was healthier – and nurses ’pay improved – until the Conservatives took over 12 years ago. Since then, funding has not kept pace with the needs of an older population, while a decade of below-inflation pay rises has led to chronic staff shortages.
Paying staff properly is part of the solution and it is nonsense to say that the country can’t afford it. Close down the tax havens, end the scandal of “non-doms”, introduce full windfall taxes on energy firms, tax wealth properly, and you’ll be able to afford proper public services once again.
Another problem throughout the public services is deteriorating buildings. You may have seen Tiverton & Honiton’s MP, Richard Foord, being shown the leaking roof of Tiverton High School on TV – repairs have been promised, but failed to materialise, for years. Likewise in Exmouth, they waited years for the tennis centre roof to be repaired.
The government has been content to allow the public sector to rot, and Conservatives in local councils have connived in this. At East Devon District Council, when a new coalition of East Devon Alliance, Lib Dems and Greens took over two and a half years ago, they discovered just how much the Tories had let things slide.
Nowhere was this clearer than in social housing. The council’s housing stock had been hollowed out by the Right to Buy, since the council didn’t get enough money to replace the homes sold on. Today EDDC has over 4700 individuals and families on its waiting list, and there have been 70 new requests to buy already this year, so even fewer homes will be available. Recently there were 170 applications for a single council home in Seaton.
Under its new leadership, EDDC is at last helping to address this scandal. On the initiative of Seaton councillor Dan Ledger, EDDC is now working to deliver more truly affordable, secure and sustainable homes for the residents who need them most. The first site of 25 units will be delivered late next year in Honiton, subject to planning.
To fully solve the housing problem we need a national scheme to build social housing. Sadly that’s unlikely to happen under the Conservatives, but hopefully 2023 will be the last full year we have to put up with their travesty of a government.
Second home owners in some of Devon’s most desirable hotspots are to be clobbered with a double Council Tax bill. The move has been passed unanimously by councillors in the South Hams, a district which includes Dartmouth, Salcombe, Hope Cove and other sought-after seaside destinations.
The former Brexit Opportunities minister, an ardent critic of Rishi Sunak, is also understood to have considered running to replace his friend and ally Boris Johnson in the summer leadership contest.
But after 24 hours, Mr Rees-Mogg decided not to run as he was not sufficiently prepared compared to frontrunners Liz Truss and Mr Sunak, who had set the wheels in motion months before Mr Johnson was forced to quit.
A source close to Mr Rees-Mogg told the Daily Express: “Jacob thought about it overnight but decided that his loyalty to Boris meant that he had not put a team in place to be able to win a contest while others had.
“Also, Liz Truss was quick out of the blocks which meant it was difficult for him to run against her.”
The Tory MP for North East Somerset decided instead to back Ms Truss for the leadership. He was joined by other loyalists of Mr Johnson, including former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.
Since Mr Sunak replaced her as Prime Minister after she lasted just 44 days in office, Mr Rees-Mogg has proved to be a strident critic of her replacement.
He said rebellions are “ill-advised” as they will ultimately tarnish the party’s electability.
Though Mr Rees-Mogg already appears to have conceded defeat at the next election, according to the Express.
Friends of the Brexit minister told the newspaper that he thinks the Tories may even need an election defeat, suggesting if they win “what would they have to offer the country?”
Though former PM Theresa May is more optimistic, and told BBC Radio 4 that while there is “no doubt” the party’s brand took a knock under Ms Truss, Mr Sunak has shown “can turn it round and we can win that election.”
Sources also said Mr Rees-Mogg is mulling a leadership run if the Conservatives lose the next election and Mr Sunak is forced to resign.
He is said to believe “the right needs to have a candidate after what appears to be an inevitable election defeat”, according to the paper.
Mr Rees-Mogg denied the reports, telling i: “Although the current polling is not great two years is a long time and it is simply to early to say.”
It’s an odd thing that the more all-consuming your work, the more just two or three days off from it can restore the spirits. In previous articles, I have mentioned what a tiny allowance district councillors receive for work which, for the hard-working majority, consumes at least two and a half working days per week.
For that, a councillor can claim £4,360 per annum, taxed. Before tax, they are lucky if this amounts to more than £4 per hour.
And this is proper work. Perhaps in the old days a district council role was part of an elderly member of a community’s retirement, the allowance perhaps allowing a cabin upgrade for their annual cruise.
That’s not how it is these days. The work is technical, and challenging. Meetings are long with agendas are often the length of a short novel.
Nobody can remember when these allowances were last raised, although in the coming year an independent review will have a look. East Devon’s are, I understand, just about the lowest in the south west. Despite this, I have not heard any special pleading. Councillors understand it is an honour to serve.
As leader of the council, I was back to the desk on the 27th, in preparation for the first cabinet of the year next week. If you have a moment, may I please suggest a glance at the agenda, published on the website. There are a couple of items in particular which show how my administration and our officers are doing all we can to help those especially struggling at the moment.
We are discussing a “Cost of Living Hardship Fund”, to replace the fund running during Covid-19. In particular this will target homes, especially those with poor insulation and low energy ratings, whose energy bills are a great worry this winter.
Then we discuss the Council Tax Reduction Scheme for 2023/24. From the work we have been doing on poverty and financial resilience since 2020, we have recognised that low-income households are being disproportionately impacted by the cost-of-living crisis. In addition, welfare reform over the last 10 years has seen real term cuts in benefit payments.,
As a result, more and more people are becoming reliant on foodbanks or accessing emergency support funds. These proposed changes will provide real term benefits to those households on low incomes, and the two largest groups to gain will be families with children and households where there is a disabled resident living.
I mention all this because I want readers to know that our work is not just about planning. These proposed changes support the work the Council is doing as part of its poverty strategy by building financial resilience, and helping to lift people out of repeat financial crises.
The consideration given to devising these schemes, ensuring that they are both lawful and affordable, is highly complex. This is many hours of work, and many meetings, for councillors. The burden of administering it all then falls on our deeply committed officers. The relationship between councillor and officer must never be complicated by politics, but my sense is that these sensible, centrist measures strike a chord with our staff.
Which brings me to conclude with a matter I often forget to mention! What is the political identity at EDDC? Well, about a third of councillors are Conservative and since 2019 they are the opposition.
But the council is actually governed by what we ended up calling a “Democratic Alliance” of Independents (mainly East Devon Alliance Indies), Lib Dems and Greens.
We get all sorts thrown at us, and with district councils up for election in May, this will probably escalate. But we govern from the centre in the most transparent way EDDC has ever managed. I hope that, acknowledging imperfections, this matches most of your wishes too. Happy New Year.
In early December the Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove announced that councils would be allowed to build fewer homes than the number originally allocated to them. Rather than facing mandatory targets based on national algorithms, local planning authorities will have more flexibility to decide what is right for their areas.
East Devon District Council had been told to build more than 900 new homes every year, and the Local Plan currently under public consultation is based upon this number.
But the chairman of the council’s scrutiny committee, Cllr Mike Allen, has called in the Local Plan for review at the meeting of the committee in February.
He said: “Michael Gove’s announcement changes everything. Our population is declining, so the only reason we’re supposed to build new houses is to allow people to come into the East Devon area.
“If we don’t have to because the rules have changed, we need to look at the Local Plan again.”
Cllr Allen (Conservative, Honiton St Michael’s) said East Devon, with its larger-than-average population of over-65s, needs many more homes that are suitable for elderly people, and more wheelchair-friendly houses for people of all ages. A review of the Local Plan would enable East Devon District Council to make sure the right number, and the right type, of houses are built, where they are most needed.
And he emphasised that it is ‘critical’ that parish and town councils, and members of the public, should have their voices heard in this decision-making process.
He said that, while many people have been finding it difficult to submit their comments to the district council’s online consultation which closes on January 15, anyone can make their views known to February’s Scrutiny Committee meeting where the review of the Local Plan will be discussed. They can contact the committee through their own district councillor, contact any member of the committee, or contact Cllr Allen directly by writing to him at the council’s HQ or emailing email@example.com
The Scrutiny Committee meeting will discuss what changes are needed to the Local Plan and how these could be made, and its recommendation will go before the full council at a later stage.
Delay after delay has beset the Queen’s Drive site. Several visions have gone forward, been proposed, and then dropped.
It was back in 2012 when plans to redevelop the area between the old lifeboat station and the Maer first came forward, with the intervening period seeing several iterations of the plans not coming to fruition – with the scheme being referred to as ‘Exmouth’s Brexit’. Another year will soon get under way, without any clear long term knowledge of what the seafront will eventually look like.
While phase 1 – the relocation of the Queen’s Drive road – and phase 2 – the watersports centre – have been completed and are open, phase 3, the longer term vision for the site remains in doubt.
The attractions currently on the Queen’s Drive space – the replacement for the former Fun Park now have planning permission to stay on the site permanently after two temporary were granted – but ultimately may not be the final use for the stretch of land.
The 2023 summer is set to see the events space at Queen’s Drive once again tendered to attract an operator for the season. LED are once again set to use the fitness space, as no longer term vision is likely to have been agreed.
Residents’ and visitors’ to the seaside town were last summer asked what they wanted ultimately as the long term plans for the seafront. The results of the consultation will be used to appoint a professional team to develop a terms of reference and a plan for a Placemaking Strategy for Exmouth Town and Seafront – but that won’t be happening until later in the year.
THE LONG HISTORY OF THE EXMOUTH SEAFRONT SAGA
In 2012, plans to redevelop the area between the old lifeboat station and the Maer, known as the Splash Zone, formed part of the Exmouth Masterplan which sets out future regeneration in the town The controversial plans divided opinion in the town in 2013 when more than 500 people completed questionnaires about the authority’s intention to redevelop the area between the old lifeboat station and the Maer, known as the Splash Zone.
When asked for a general opinion, 52 per cent of respondents of the questionnaires were in favour of the overall proposals with 41 per cent against. The remaining seven per cent did not express a preference. In December 2013, East Devon District Council’s Development Management Committee gave the go-ahead for the development of the Queen’s Drive area in Exmouth.
But at the same time, a new action group was launched to ‘save’ Exmouth seafront from developers, with Save Exmouth Seafront concerned that the £18m redevelopment would mean some of the town’s oldest most popular businesses closing. In October 2015, the Carriage Café on the seafront left the town. It had been open for nearly 50 years and the restored 1956 carriage business’s closing brought an end to an era for residents.
At around the same time, more than 1,000 residents and visitors took part in the Exmouth Seafront Survey, initiated by Cllr Megan Armstrong. Led by author and analyst Louise MacAllister, the survey aimed to discover if plans for a multi-screen cinema, outdoor water splash zone and adventure golf park were wanted by those who would be using the facilities.
East Devon District Council were then working with Moirai Capital Investments of Bournemouth to put forward proposals to “breathe new life into the nine acre council-owned seafront site at Queen’s Drive with a range of exciting leisure facilities”.
Exmouth seafront Splash Zone plans
Organisers said the survey showed 95 per cent were against the redevelopment, it showed widespread support for the businesses at the time occupying the seafront and that many Exmouth residents felt their concerns regarding the plans had been ignored.
In April 2016, Exmouth residents went to the polls, and around 95 per cent of those who turned out to vote want more consultation on multi-million-pound plans for Queen’s Drive. Called by concerned residents, the parish poll saw 4,754 people – 17.8 per cent of the electorate – take part. But the summer of 2016 saw Moirai Capital Investments sacked as the developer due to the length of time it had taken for them to bring more plans.
September 2016 saw the Jungle Fun attraction and Arnold Palmer Putting Course closed for the last time. Hours earlier, locals and tourists had flocked to the attraction for one last round. The crazy golf course was established around 40 years ago.
In November 2016, campaigners in Exmouth staged a protest march calling for further consultation on controversial seafront redevelopment plans. The Save Exmouth Seafront protesters set off from the lorry park in Marine Way and marched through Imperial Road, The Strand and Alexandra Terrace before finishing on the seafront.
April 2017 saw the reserved matters application for the seafront redevelopment approved. It meant the council could now go ahead and build the £18million redevelopment of a 3.6-hectare swathe of Queen’s Drive, but had no plans to do so. Had the application been rejected, it would have meant the outline permission for redevelopment would have no longer been extant and sent the project back to the drawing board. The Fun Park, run by the Wright family, closed after more than 40 years at the end of August 2017, with a vigil held and floral tributes presented.
A last gasp bid to reprieve the Fun Park from closure failed two weeks later, when East Devon councillors voted 26 to 21 against extending the lease of the Fun Park. The contents of the Fun Park were auctioned off the following day. The Harbour View café was also due to close at the same time, but has seen its lease extended, and is still operating now.
October 2017 saw Grenadier reveal their plans for the Watersports Centre, before submitting the formal planning application in February 2018, which was then approved in June 2018 by eight votes to five, with a full opening taking place in the early part of 2021.
The temporary attractions for the seafront at the Queen’s Drive Space, which include the food and drink area and the dinosaur-themed play park opened in May 2018, having been given planning permission in March 2018. Permission was initially granted for one year, followed by a second permission for a further three years. That expired in March 2022, but the council agreed to make that use permanent earlier in 2022.
Work began at the end of 2018 to realign the Queen’s Drive road, which was completed in June 2019, although questions have been raised about where the funding for the road, which East Devon District Council paid for, actually came from.
At the end of 2019, HemingwayDesign and Lambert Smith Hampton submitted their vision for Phase Three for Exmouth Seafront to East Devon District Council. The suggested uses for the site include a new two storey café/restaurant on the existing Harbour View café site to the south of Queen’s Drive, a mix of playspace (including free play) and open public space on the remainder of the site, and a 60–80 bed 3–4 star hotel of high design quality.
East Devon District Council’s cabinet, when they met on Wednesday, February 5, 2020, agreed to launch a formal marketing exercise to identify developer/operator partners for the Queen’s Drive site. But the council’s scrutiny committee then unanimously agreed that the panel for the purpose of agreeing the selection criteria for the commercial development was not properly balanced, and expressed their anger at how they felt Exmouth residents were not being listened to.
That process was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and a change of administration, in August, full council accepted that recommendation and sent it back to cabinet, who are now able to make the decision they wish over the future of Queen’s Drive, although as of yet, no firm plans have come forward.
That meeting saw councillors agree and express a desire to ‘Get Seafront Done’, as Cllr Joe Whibley put it, but that as Exmouth is the biggest town in East Devon, it was critically important to the economy and the reputation of the council that they do the right thing and get a scheme that is both popular with the residents and viable in the long term.
The ultimate decision over what happens with Phase 3 will lie with the council’s cabinet, as under the council’s constitution, it falls within their remit rather than that of full council. They have now launched this latest consultation to once again gauge the views of residents in the town ahead of more concrete plans coming forward.
In 2022, the fairground provider took up occupancy of the Queen’s Drive Space on July 7, 2022 and then departed three weeks later without any notice or contact, impacting negatively on other traders due to the loss of footfall. The Events Team tried to find a replacement but the lack of lead-time proved challenging.
The dinosaur park once again proved very popular and councillors agreed that they would like to see it maintained and extended, perhaps using CIL money. The park is free to use and important for the community particularly in the context of the cost of living crisis, and needs to be maintained well for reasons of health and safety.
There is a firm proposal for LED to take on the Fitness Space at Queen’s Drive for the 2023 and 2024 seasons, but not immediately post-Christmas. Following a debrief meeting with the traders at Queen’s Drive Space, all the current traders have submitted interest in taking the pitches for the 2023 season.
Planning consent is being prepared for the fitness area as the temporary permission expires in July 2023 and needs to be renewed. The Events Space has been marketed as agreed to see if a reliable operator can be secured either for the whole season or for the summer holidays.
In terms of the development options that were provided to respondents, the top two responses were that developments should provide income and jobs for a variety of different business types, not just one type and there should be improvements to the unoccupied and derelict areas of Exmouth.
A further report will come back to the Placemaking in Exmouth Town and Seafront Delivery Group and then Cabinet setting out Terms of Reference for Placemaking in Exmouth in the first half of 2023. Following this, it is then hoped that eventually there will be some progress in finally coming up with a long term vision for the seafront.
“I think there is a chance if the polls keep sliding by this time next year we will see Boris Johnson back in Downing Street,” she said.
Mr Johnson was forced out of the top job by his own MPs after a series of scandals, including Partygate.
But Ms Dorries, a key ally, suggested that Conservative politicians could again rally around their former leader, to save their own skins.
“Many of the people who were anti-Boris realise they are nothing without their seat (in the House of Commons),” she said.
And she warned that life post politics would prove very difficult for the dozens of Tory MPs set to lose their jobs at the next general election.
“They have no voice, no one is interested in what they will have to say, not even down at the job centre,” she said.
Mr Johnson was finally forced to resign after months of criticism over the Partygate scandal, which even saw claims at one point that he had been “ambushed by a cake”.
But he attempted a comeback just weeks later when his successor Liz Truss announced she was resigning after 44 days in the post.
He flew home from holiday to mount a campaign, but withdrew after it emerged that Mr Sunak had the support of more MPs.
However, he did not rule out another tilt at the job, saying “this is simply not the right time”.
And he still faces a Commons privileges investigation into claims he misled MPs over Partygate.
But some have warned Mr Sunak will face questions over his political future in May after the local elections, the first time voters will be able to give their verdict on the party since the turmoil.
But in the interview, Ms Dorries said: “It will take a little bit longer than that”. “I think the local elections in May are going to be absolutely difficult for us but Rishi won’t walk,” she told the Express.
Mr Dorries is expected to be awarded a peerage as part of Mr Johnson’s resignation honours list.