Marsh Green – Massive solar farm plans have been rejected

Six councillors believed the issues of flooding, visual impacts on the landscape and visual impact on heritage sites was insurmountable, while four did not, meaning the controversial proposal was rejected. In the summer, East Devon approved plans for a solar farm to be built in Clyst Hydon and more solar farm applications are on the horizon.

Rob Kershaw

Campaigners who opposed plans for a huge solar farm on farmland in East Devon were celebrating an early Christmas present after planners rejected the scheme. Devon CPRE, the Devon branch of the countryside charity, feared councillors in East Devon would back the proposal for the development south of the settlement at Marsh Green to the East of Rockbeare alongside the A30.

Some 60,000 panels were proposed covering more than 200 acres of land across a total of 27 farm fields. Planning officers recommended the scheme go ahead. But councillors voted to refuse permission following a two-hour debate on Tuesday. The 6-4 decision – with one abstention – came as a welcome surprise to opponents of the scheme, including residents in and around Marsh Green.

It followed a site visit by councillors earlier in the day who found the proposed construction area waterlogged after all the recent rain – a fact that backed up the argument that the land at Marsh Green was not suitable for such a development. Taking flooding and other factors into account, namely concerns over visual impact, land classification and impact on a designated heritage asset, East Devon’s planning committee voted against their own officer’s recommendation.

Devon CPRE director Penny Mills was among the opponents allowed to give a statement to the committee. Commenting on the decision to refuse the scheme, she said: “It’s a great Christmas present! We’d like to thank the councillors who voted to refuse it for having the courage of their convictions, for supporting the local community and for standing up for Devon’s countryside.

“We are all incredibly grateful, particularly coming so soon after the disappointing decision by the Secretary of State to permit the Langford solar farm, near Cullompton, on appeal. We hope East Devon District Council shows the same resolve should the applicant in this case decide to appeal.”

She added: “There are currently another two solar farm applications in planning in East Devon and who knows how many more in the pipeline? It’s encouraging that this one at least has been turned down for the right reasons.”

Resident Cyril Emmett, who farmed at nearby Rockbeare for 50 years, also spoke against the plans. He told councillors Marsh Green was not the right place to put a solar farm because it’s a flood valley. He said increased run-off would damage the village and building on the fields would also be a waste of good farmland.

He said: “It’s the right decision. A soil assessment carried out by independent consultants challenged the applicant’s claim that the proposed site was low-grade agricultural land.

“The assessment I commissioned concluded that the applicant’s report was incorrect and should not be relied upon. I’m not totally against solar but panels should be put on rooftops. If there were panels on every roof in the new town of Cranbrook, there would be no need to sacrifice productive farmland for such developments. Food security is paramount.”

Aylesbeare Parish Council had supported the plans due to the need for more sources of renewable energy but they wanted to see some refinements to the proposal. Drainage in the flood-prone area, dirt on the roads from HGVs passing through during the construction process and possible damage to a gas pipeline were among the concerns raised by the council. They also suggested a “more sensible” speed limit on Marwood Road, a narrow route which will be used during construction, fencing which accommodates easy passage for sheep and consultations with the RSPB.

But Rockbeare Parish Council objected to the proposal in the “strongest terms” partly due to the “unsuitability” of the development area. They claimed a solar farm would harm the pre-existing agricultural land and would not be conducive to the grazing of sheep. They raised concerns surrounding the lack of parking spaces around the site and said parking on private roads, driveways and verges would not be “permissible.”

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Richard Lawrence (Conservative, Whimple & Rockbeare) said the proposal went against a part of East Devon’s local plan, which encourages the approval of renewable energy projects as long as “any cumulative landscape and visual impacts” are “satisfactorily addressed.”

He said this had not been adhered to, nor was he convinced by the proposed measures to mitigate flooding. His view was shared by Cllr Philip Skinner (Conservative, Tale Vale) and Cllr Geoff Pratt (Independent, Ottery St Mary).

Cllr Lawrence rubbished suggestions the farm would power over 18,000 homes and predicted the figure would be closer to 5,000. He also raised concerns about the restoration of land which would be temporarily altered during construction and highlighted a lack of clarity as to who would pay for the maintenance of the solar farm. Cllr Pratt added that a solar farm would “destroy the natural environment” and lead to the loss of “extremely productive farmland.”

However, Cllr Olly Davey (Green, Exmouth Town) claimed “no unacceptable harm” would be caused as a result of the proposal being approved and pointed to a report by a conservation officer which stated the effects the development would have on heritage assets would be “less than substantial.”

He agreed the landscape would be altered by the construction of solar panels, but said the “applicants have gone to a lot of trouble to minimise the effect on the landscape.”

“I’m not denying it will change the character of the landscape,” said Cllr Davey. “I think that’s a given, but it is for us to decide whether that is acceptable or not.”

He argued there is “no evidence that there is a carbon deficit in solar panels,” and that they “put a considerable amount of energy into the national grid.” Therefore, he felt that there were no “strong enough reasons” to reject the plan, given the need for renewable energy.

But six councillors believed the issues of flooding, visual impacts on the landscape and visual impact on heritage sites was insurmountable, while four did not, meaning the controversial proposal was rejected. In the summer, East Devon approved plans for a solar farm to be built in Clyst Hydon and more solar farm applications are on the horizon.

Controversial “Build, build, build” Exeter council boss to step down after ‘golden decade’

Owl will not mourn the loss of Karime Hassan, the architect and facilitator of excessive development on the green fields of East Devon.

Karime Hassan joined EDDC from Exeter City Council in 2002.

In 2005 he was appointed Corporate Director and set up the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point. He also established regeneration programmes for Exmouth and Seaton. This was the same year that the influential (and infamous) East Devon Business Forum was created. He was also the main driving force behind “setting Devon’s first free-standing settlement to be built in Devon since the Middle Ages on its way” (Cranbrook).

In February 2011 he joined Exeter City Council as the Director of Economy and Development after about six months of sharing his time between Exeter and East Devon.

In 2013, controversially, he was appointed both Chief Executive and Growth Director of Exeter City Council.

He was the chief architect of the “Greater Exeter Strategic Plan” (GESP) described by Paul Arnott as: “a devil’s pact between a Labour controlled Exeter City council, which had lost control of its five year land supply, and three neighbouring Conservative controlled districts eager for growth. It goes far beyond their legal duty to cooperate.”

In 2016 Karime Hassan was named Property Personality of the Year at the Insider’s annual South West Property Awards in Bristol (sponsored by the ill fated Midas Group). (Same year he was snapped sitting next to Alison Hernandez at her swearing in).

Interesting to re-read this comment made on East Devon Watch in 2014:

“The case for Exeter taking control of the growth point area is strong, and we know that Exeter is ambitious for expansion both economically and politically. They wanted to become a unitary council, and also had aspirations to absorb Exmouth. EDDC, in political turmoil, having made a colossal mess of the Local Plan, and now proposing a very unpopular relocation, look like sitting ducks.”

Exeter council boss to step down after ‘golden decade’

Anita Merritt

After what is being hailed as a ‘golden decade’, Exeter City Council’s chief executive and growth director Karime Hassan has announced he will be retiring next year. He will step down from the role at the end of March marking the end of a challenging and fast-changing decade in the city.

The interim chief executive from April 1, 2023, will be the council’s current deputy chief executive Bindu Arjoon. Karime certainly has big shoes to fill due to the contribution he has made to Exeter during his time in the role.

Last year Karime was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to government in the Queen’s New Year Honours 2021. The 60-year-old has overseen huge growth in the economy and expansion which has seen Exeter become an internationally recognised city of culture.

He said the time was right to step down after almost 10 years as chief executive and overseeing a series of high-profile successes which have transformed the city.

Karime said: “My decision to retire from the council has been very difficult but I think the time is right for me personally and for the organisation.

“I have undertaken a number of roles connected with the city of Exeter for 23 years, during this time I have worked with some outstanding colleagues, leaders and institutions, and I have witnessed the amazing progress of the city.

“It has been a privilege to be part of the collective endeavour and to play a small part in building a stronger city.

“I am delighted that Bindu will now continue this work and despite the considerable challenges that government austerity has caused for local government finance, I know that Exeter can look forward to a bright future if we continue to work together to deliver our common goals.”

Karime’s work with partners across the city is said to have developed a strong culture of collaboration in support of Exeter’s vision for a healthy, inclusive and sustainable city. Likewise, his work with partners across the region has seen Exeter’s economy grow faster than anywhere else in the South West and among the fastest growing in the UK.

Exeter’s reputation as a major retail destination is said to have seen the likes of Ikea and John Lewis attracted to the city after careful negotiation. Karime has also been credited with advancing the city’s sustainability goals with the low carbon task force and Exeter City Futures Community Interest Company.

He has overseen the council’s pioneering Passivhaus building programme and celebrated the city’s numerous national successes including being a host city for the Rugby World Cup.

Council leader Phil Bialyk said: “I want to thank Karime for everything that he has done for Exeter. He has helped to transform the city in recent years and had the vision, when working with previous leader Pete Edwards and most recently with myself, to take the big decisions which have made such a difference to Exeter.

“The successes we’ve enjoyed are too numerous to mention here, but I have to highlight the building of the UK’s first Passivhaus leisure centre and the UK’s first Passivhaus extra care facility. These are really significant achievements which have put Exeter on the map internationally. Neither project would have been possible without the vision, drive and energy that Karime has brought to the role.

“His work through the Place Board has brought together all the key organisations in Exeter and it is his leadership of place which has been truly unique. He leaves a significant legacy to build on and he will be sorely missed by everyone in the city.”

Cllr Bialyk added: “I am delighted that we can announce that Bindu will become our interim chief executive. She has been part of our leadership team here at the council for many years and brings a wealth of experience, skills and expertise to the job at what is a challenging time for local government.

“I know Bindu will be a great success and I very much look forward to starting a new chapter in the successful story of our great city.”

Bindu’s academic background is in economics and has been in local government leadership for 19 years. In her current role as the council’s deputy chief executive, she has been responsible for its transformation programme and has held leadership responsibility for the council’s housing stock, strategic housing, planning, housing needs and homelessness, customer services, welfare reform, revenues, benefits and business rates.

Bindu [Bindu Arjoon] is passionate about supporting young people to achieve their potential, volunteering her time to be chair of the Governing Body of St Leonards Primary School and St Peter’s Secondary School. Bindu is currently chair of the corporation of Exeter College.

She has recently led the transformational One Exeter work programme, designed to enable the council to provide better and more efficient services and deliver the financial savings that need to be made by April 2025. One Exeter aims to transform the way we work, support and develop staff, and ensure a fit for purpose council.

Bindu is leading on the current budget setting process which will be particularly challenging this year in light of the significant financial pressures currently faced by all local authorities.

Bindu said: “I want to thank Karime for everything he has done to make Exeter such a successful, thriving city with a brilliant quality of life and a city where people can reach their full potential.

“I am delighted and very proud to have been appointed interim chief executive and I look forward to continuing the work that has made Exeter so successful in recent years.

“We also know that we face a number of significant challenges, which I will be working hard to overcome together with everyone at the council. Not least of which is the very challenging budget that we will need to set next year to balance the books and ensure the Council remains on a sound financial footing.

“Against a backdrop of significantly reduced Government funding in recent years and the spiralling costs of energy, together with the very significant inflationary pressures, the budget will be tough.

“But we will maintain and improve our frontline and statutory services and by making difficult decisions now we will ensure that we are well-placed to continue to thrive as a city in the future. I am committed to continuing to work with our partners locally to ensure that we are all playing our role in continuing to deliver successes for the city.

“I want to thank all the staff at the council for their continued support and hard work day in, day out, in providing services for our residents.”

I’ve never seen the NHS pushed so hard. It’s not the system that’s breaking now, it’s the people

The Secret Consultant – The writer is an NHS respiratory consultant who works across a number of hospitals. 

This week, the chair of the General Medical Council offered an extraordinary message of support to doctors. What was striking about this was not its tone, but its content. Nowhere was anything said about how to do our jobs, or how to be better doctors; the message was simple. It asked us to be compassionate and to be kind, to ourselves and to one another.

We will need that compassion. This Christmas period promises to be awful, just as tough in some ways as the worst of Covid, and this is what has moved me to write this.

Winter pressures are a feature of life in the NHS. Circulating winter viruses – flu, RSV etc – cause disease spikes each year and result in large numbers of admissions and often deaths. Hospitals fill up.

It has been obvious for months that this would be the case – the “twindemic” of flu and Covid was always going to hit hard – but I’ve been shocked by how unwell patients are, including the young and otherwise healthy, and how our wider immunity has dropped during the pandemic.

There are so many factors combining this year that cumulatively the system is pushed harder than I’ve ever seen it before. There are massively more emergency attendances than usual, with a recurring theme of how unsupported patients feel by their own GPs, even when this is often not the case.

Social care and community mental health provision is wholly inadequate and we are unable to discharge well patients for many days or weeks, leaving patients who do need to come on to a ward waiting in A&E for hours or days at a time.

Ambulances are then unable to unload or respond to new calls, and the patients they do bring in are often sicker after their long wait outside.

In the last few weeks we have been on the highest alert level 4 at least every few days. This usually signifies more than 40 sick patients stuck in A&E, usually for more than 24 hours, all needing urgent treatment but with no ward beds to put them into.

To my knowledge we have not been below alert level 3 since early summer. What used to be a relative rarity even in winter is now depressingly normal. And to add to this situation, we are now facing unprecedented strike action.

Nurses are already striking. In A&E they soak up stress, abuse, staff shortages 24 hours a day; on the wards they are told to take an extra patient here or open up another bay there with no extra staff and no way of closing those beds once they open.

And all of that without anywhere near adequate respect or recompense for what they do.

And our junior doctors will also soon go to a ballot. Their pay on qualification is woeful, given the degree of training and responsibility they carry. Covid disruption and the current pressures mean they are often denied the mentorship, teaching and camaraderie that cemented my love of medicine, and as a result their job satisfaction has plummeted.

I have seen a marked deterioration in their mental health and I hear about their financial worries much more than I ever used to. More and more of them are taking career breaks. I would be amazed if they did not vote for further industrial action.

And how does NHS England suggest we respond to these strikes?

They suggest that hospitals move patients out of emergency departments in preparation, or open extra beds. Oh, and try not to cancel any planned care while you’re at it.

To say I find this insulting is an understatement. It shows a total lack of understanding of what things are like in the average hospital and how hard we work, every day, to move patients onwards and protect planned care.

Do you not think we’ve already thought of that? It deflects responsibility for the problems back to individual teams and implies we’ve not already been doing everything we can. If only we would stop being so sluggish then it would all be fine. I found that statement as notable for its lack of compassion towards the workforce as the GMC’s one was for its warmth.

We are told that the NHS is at “breaking point” and has been for years, underfunded and poorly planned by successive Conservative governments.

But this is different. What is breaking now is not the system, but its people, and in a rapid, tangible way.

I regularly see colleagues in tears. Every few weeks I hear of someone else I know who is leaving, retiring early, going part-time, moving to a less stressful area.

All the time I hear how things have changed, that the pressure is too much now, that we wouldn’t recommend our children to do the jobs we do.

The pandemic has accelerated this and we need compassion more than ever. While I regularly see this from our patients and the public, it is notably absent from our leaders.

Most of all, though, we feel taken for granted. The expectation seems to be that we should just continue doing what we do – without proper appreciation or support – because we are the NHS heroes and that our work is some noble vocation that should sustain us regardless of how hard it may be.

And so these strikes are not just about pay. They are also a cry for help, a critical symptom of a stressed and failing workforce. Perhaps, if we were shown a little more kindness by those in charge, there would be a way forward.