Hugo Swire – 2023 Speech on the Australia/New Zealand Trade Bill and Maiden Speech in the House of Lords (Baron Swire) 

Business as usual for the Baron, too grand to do anything parochial for his constituency or Devon, even when he had David Cameron on speed dial.  The maiden speech made by Hugo Swire, Baron Swire, in the House of Lords on 9 January 2023.

Instead of reading his speech Owl thought readers might prefer to cheer themselves up with a singalong to this little ditty (original lyrics composed in Torquay).

“Jolly voting weather,

The toffs are on their knees,

Labour forever,

Down with moats and sleaze!

Swing, swing together,

The election will be a breeze!

Swing, swing together,

The election will be a breeze!” [lyrics Ron Scuttle]

Floreat Etona!

[Correspondents are invited to produce their own version.]

Exmouth Leisure centre highlight rising energy costs as Simon Jupp visits

Remember that in March 2022 Tory councillors circulated a nauseating newsletter which proclaimed:

“EDDC owned leisure facilities have taken a huge financial hit during the Covid pandemic with the Council subsidising the activities of LED, a standalone company. Conservative councillors are concerned about these costs and are questioning the use of tax payers money to subsidise one business over another. This money could have been spent on keeping our public toilets open and prevent car parking increases.”

Remember also that as a charitable trust LED was unable to claim 75 per cent of lost income under a central government scheme, introduced during the pandemic in 2020, whereas leisure facilities operated directly by Local Authorities can do so.  

What did Simon Jupp say about all this?

Swimmers, if you have a problem with meeting the cost of heating pools, don’t count on the Tories to come to your aid

LED, a “not for profit” company spun off  by the Tory administration to manage its leisure facilities until 2036 but now manages facilities in Somerset, presents enormous legacy problems for EDDC. – Owl

On Friday East Devon MP Simon Jupp visited Exmouth Leisure Centre to support its Big Swim Day.

Adam Manning

Big Swim Day on Friday, February 24 was part of a national campaign to highlight the impact of the Government’s decision to reduce support for gyms, pools and leisure centres from rising energy costs.

In November, UK Active published figures showing that 40 per cent of council areas are at risk of losing leisure centres or seeing reduced services before March 31 prior to the decision to significantly reduce the support available.

LED Community Leisure Ltd (LED) is a not-for-profit charitable trust that runs East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) leisure facilities.

Like all public sector leisure facilities, EDDC’s have been hard hit by, firstly, the COVID pandemic and, more lately, the huge rise in energy costs caused by the war in Ukraine.

This is a ‘double whammy’ for the industry as it has yet to see a return to pre-pandemic attendance and revenue levels, exacerbated by the increase in utility costs.

LED’s CEO, Peter Gilpin, explained to Mr Jupp the crisis facing public leisure facilities, particularly swimming pools, stressing that it is imperative that the Government urgently reconsider the decision to reduce support for leisure facilities in the Energy Bill Discount Scheme, as well as including swimming pools within those industries selected for additional support.

EDDC has had to provide over £2million in additional funding to LED over the last 3 years to keep their facilities open, particularly the swimming pools, vital during the pandemic for the health benefits for residents.

LED say their utility costs have increased by over £300,000 since 2020 with nearly £100,000 attributed to Exmouth Leisure Centre, EDDC’s largest facility with both a 6-lane 25m swimming pool as well as a teaching pool.

To reduce its energy costs and carbon footprint LED has installed a Pool Sentry system that includes variable speed drive pool pumps, pool covers, LED and sensor lighting, reduced volume shower heads and a new state-of-the-art heat recovery system that is due to be commissioned imminently. Air source heat pumps, solar panels and a new pool disinfectant system are also being considered.

Scorched earth, Mid Devon set to scrap cabinet system – 10 weeks before elections

“[The Council] is again suffering the instability of hirings and firings and a cabinet which made decisions which were not in accordance with recommendations and advice from its committees and even full council – from disproportionate parking fee increases to ignoring member concerns over particular investments.”

Is this the right time to be binding a new administration? – Owl

Mid Devon District Council set to scrap cabinet system –

Ollie Heptinstall

Mid Devon has voted to begin the process of scrapping its cabinet system, amid a claim the district council is in “disarray”. Cabinets are the most common form by which local councils are run. A leader appoints a number of cabinet members – usually from the same party – to take charge of different departments.

However, the system favours parties that have a majority of council seats. Mid Devon has been under no overall control since the last full elections in 2019. As a result, it has been run by Independent-Lib Dem and Independent-Conservative coalitions but was recently plunged into chaos when several cabinet members left their roles. Leader Bob Deed (Independent, Cadbury) then resigned.

Full council elections are due to be held in less than three months, with independent councillor Barry Warren (Lower Culm) appointed to succeed Cllr Deed until then in a ‘caretaker’ capacity. The upheaval prompted independent councillor Nikki Woollatt (Cullompton North), who has since been appointed to Cllr Warren’s cabinet, to call for a “modernised committee system to be implemented from the annual meeting of 2024.”

Presenting her motion at a full council meeting last week, she said: “I’ve brought this motion forward at this particular time because this council is in disarray.”

“It is again suffering the instability of hirings and firings and a cabinet which made decisions which were not in accordance with recommendations and advice from its committees and even full council – from disproportionate parking fee increases to ignoring member concerns over particular investments.”

She described the cabinet system as “undemocratic” despite now sitting on it, adding: “I truly believe this council would not be suffering its current turmoil and instability if we were working within a modern committee system.”

Asking members to back the motion, she concluded: “The staff of the council and the people of Mid Devon need a stable council. We cannot go on like this.”

Backing the proposal, Liberal Democrat councillor Luke Taylor (Bradninch) said: “In the last four years the cabinet system has been a mockery with 10 sackings, or six depending on which version of events you listen to,” a reference to four Tory councillors recently claiming they resigned rather than were pushed.

He added: “There are alternative opportunities and hybrid councils which have proved successful in other districts. We need to move away from the current failing system to implement something better for the residents of Mid Devon.”

However, some members were uneasy about voting to change the system weeks before full elections. Councillor Colin Slade (Conservative, Lowman) said: “I don’t think that those of us here should impose upon an incoming council their method of governance.”

Councillor Bob Evans (Independent, Lower Culm) agreed: “There are members sat round this table tonight that know they are going to stand for election, and there are members that will stand for election that may not get elected. It is not for us in the last 10 weeks to dictate to the next administration what they should or should not be doing.”

They were later told any final decision would need to come back to a future full council meeting for another vote, leading supporter Graeme Barnell (Independent, Newbrooke) to say: “I don’t think this resolution binds anybody to anything.”

He admitted old-style committee systems were “chaotic” but said: “That doesn’t mean we have to go back to the polarity of the old-style committee systems. What’s being proposed is we move away from the cabinet system to a new system that many councils have devised, which is a hybrid system.”

The motion was narrowly approved. Any new system will require a confirmatory vote of councillors and will not come into place until 2024.

UK government is hiding £28bn of ‘stealth cuts’ to public services, says report

Rishi Sunak’s government is hiding £28bn of “stealth cuts” to public services over the next five years, according to a report warning that a renewed austerity drive at next month’s budget would further damage the economy.

Richard Partington 

Calling on the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, to change course at next month’s tax and spending set-piece speech to the House of Commons, the Trades Union Congress said a boost for public spending could help keep Britain out of a recession this year.

Paul Nowak, the general secretary of the TUC, said: “With a recession already expected this year, a new round of austerity would make a bad situation worse. The chancellor should instead use the power of government to lift us up and out of Britain’s economic slump.

“Good schools, hospitals, childcare and transport are vital, not only for families but for businesses, too. But the Tories keep attacking them – that’s a big part of why our whole economy is falling behind.”

The report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), a leftwing thinktank, showed that Hunt’s spending plans outlined at the autumn statement in November included cuts to public services worth £1,000 a household by 2027-28.

Hunt promised in the autumn statement to increase spending by 1% a year after inflation. However, this was underpinned by Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, which had assumed inflation would fall below zero.

The thinktank said this was unlikely to happen because the Bank of England would be expected to intervene to keep inflation close to its 2% target rate. NEF said that if inflation remained close to 2%, this would imply real-terms cuts – not growth – to spending worth £28bn.

Alfie Stirling, the chief economist and director of research at NEF, said the government was “exploiting a curious feature of the OBR’s forecast” to make its promise. “It allowed the chancellor to play smoke and mirrors with the future of public services last autumn,” he said.

“There is no serious or credible justification for the government’s current plans. Consecutive UK chancellors have already put the country through a decade of austerity, which means we know exactly how it ends: near-stagnant earnings growth, threadbare public safety nets and the first stall in life expectancy on modern record.”

A Treasury spokesperson said: “Total departmental spending will continue to grow in real terms over the spending review period. The efficiency and savings review announced at the autumn statement will help departments manage pressures where necessary.”

Devon’s doomed plan for luxury Dubai-style resort in Seaton, Philip Skinners “Big Stage”

And some of the other more bonkers plans over the years have been recalled from the archive by Daniel Clark

Two of these are of particular interest to East Devon see devonlive for the others.

AN INDOOR SPORTING AND CONCERT ARENA – Cllr Philip Skinner’s big idea to bring in the crowds

At one stage, there were tentative plans for an indoor sports stadium and concert arena with a capacity for 20,000 people to be built in the Greater Exeter area. At the time, East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon and Teignbridge councils were preparing the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan to cover matters for their area.

The plan would have seen 57,000 new homes built across the four council areas by 2040, as well as infrastructure improvements. But during discussions, the idea of developing a regionally or nationally significant sports arena and concert venue was floated.

The idea was initially suggested by the then East Devon District Council’s deputy leader Cllr Phil Skinner and was supported by the then leader of Teignbridge District Council Cllr Jeremy Christophers.

Cllr Christophers at the time said: “We are seeing what we can provide around an indoor sports facility and a concert arena and to see if it is deliverable to have one in the area. We are looking at the evidence of need for a sport zone and a concert venue that could host 10-20,000 in the area. We would need to make sure it stacks up financially, but it is welcomed and we think there is a need for it.

“There is nothing this side of Bristol like it that can give a year-round audience in a stadium of about 10-20,000 people. We feel that there is a need for this, but we will have to see whether it is what the people want.”

However the plans never came to anything. And then GESP collapsed in 2020 when first East Devon District Council, and then the rest of the councils, pulled out of the plan.


Now it was always questionable how legitimate this plan actually was. But the ambitious Dubai-style development off the coast of Seaton never happened.

Back in 2017, the plans, which included luxury floating holiday accommodation pod, a 2,000 berth marina, and a showpiece viewing platform, were hosted on the Feniton Park Ltd website.

They were part of ‘The Future Vision For East Devon Marina’ and the scheme which was in the early design and research stage, would have seen luxury floating holiday accommodation pods, water sports, a 2,000 berth marina, as well as new coastal defences and would incorporate wave and wind energy.

An artist impression of the East Devon Marina project (Image: Feniton Park Ltd)

At the time, a statement about the East Devon Marina scheme said: “This environmentally sensitive scheme will incorporate wind/solar and wave energy as part of an exciting holistic approach to improving the coastal defences for the stunning Jurassic Coast of Devon and Dorset.

“The master plan visualises a variety of uses to supplement the proposed 2.5km of new coastal defence works including a new 2000+ berth marina, luxury floating holiday accommodation pods with private berths, water sports and training area and potential fish farm along side retail and leisure space on the central promenade together with a showpiece viewing platform.

“Early design research stages are underway to ensure any proposed scheme enhances the local environment as well as providing enhanced coastal defence and economic gains to the area both in the short and long term.”

Councillors in Seaton at the time described the scheme as ‘highly speculative’ – and they seem to have been proven right, as the plans were removed from the ‘future projects’ section of the Feniton Park Ltd website several months later.

Would this have been Seaton’s answer to Exmouth’s “Ocean”? – Owl

More on the legacy problems balancing the books in Mid Devon

Angry residents halt parking rises

A review after plans lasted two weeks

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter

Huge hikes planned for parking charges in Mid Devon will be reviewed following an angry public backlash.

The changes, announced a fortnight ago to help balance the council’s coffers by £120,000 for the next financial year, would have seen some charges more than double from Tuesday 7 March.

An annual allocated space permit in one of the council’s car parks, for example, was set to rise from £425 to £912.50, while standard hourly tariffs were also set to go up at varying levels.

Defending the increases when they were announced, the council said it was due to government cuts, its “continued recovery” from the pandemic and the “rise in costs of materials.”

A spokesperson added: “We fully understand the need to encourage people to visit and shop in our towns but we feel this rise, which for many will be an 80 pence increase for a two-hour parking period, will allow us to offset some of our rising costs and still allow people to park at a reasonable rate.”

But after several public speakers hit out at the move during a heated full council meeting on Wednesday [22 February], councillors decided to halt the process and review the increases.

Charges are instead now likely to rise in line with inflation. However this will be agreed by councillors at a meeting in the near future.

One of the speakers, Kate Clayton-White, told councillors: “We’ve faced inflation-busting increases in food and energy bills, so the decision to raise car parking charges by eye-watering amounts is very hard to swallow and, for some people, unaffordable.

“We rent an allocated space because we live on a town centre street with limited parking. Our annual rents will be increasing by 115 per cent – from £425 to £912.50. We cannot identify the meetings where this increase was discussed and who agreed it.”

She slammed the council’s communication on the issue as “dire,” adding: “We only found out through a chance conversation with a neighbour.

“The council uses email to remind us that fees are due, yet can’t seem to use the same simple system to inform us of the increases. We suspect there will be many people who do not even know.

“Last week’s press release stated that ‘material costs have escalated.’ Our car-sized piece of tarmac is not swept or tended in any other way by council employees.

“We cannot see how the ‘higher material costs’ could possibly lead to this huge increase which will, by the way, generate an extra £28,000 per year from 51 spaces.”

Ms Clayton-White claimed the council is using motorists as a “cash cow” whose “secretive decisions would seem fit to propel them head-long into the Rotten Boroughs section of a future edition of Private Eye.”

Jo Webber, the owner of long-running Tiverton store Jo Amor, also criticised the rises, telling councillors: “Is Mid Devon totally unaware that the UK is going through a cost-of-living crisis? A car park is the first port of call for any tourist or new shoppers to Tiverton. What sort of welcome is that?

“Our local population, that have stood by our local independents to shop local through these past covid years. What sort of thank you is that?

“The local businesses owned and employing local people will risk reduced footfall due to the higher cost of parking. This will have a domino effect and Mid Devon will have more empty units. Is that your plan?”

Ms Webber asked the council if it had consulted with businesses and residents, adding: “Mid Devon, have you realised everyone who lives and works in and around Tiverton will be effected by this outrageous proposal?”

Business owner Sophia Beard, speaking as a representative of the Tiverton Town Centre partnership, continued along the same lines. “Having had many, many, many conversations with people – both residents, business owners, members of the town council – over the past week, there is no way for me to impress upon you the strength of feeling that there has been since this news arrived – all to the negative.”

She slammed the lack of a consultation and notice period for those affected and questioned the “scattergun” approach to the increases – as some fees had planned to go up by more than others.

“If your budget needs to be balanced then that is something that you need to look at. But I tell you what – we are not the ones that are going to pay for it in this way.”

Ms Beard added: “Every single time someone from any surrounding villages gets in their car they have a choice. They have a choice whether they come into our town centre and support our local businesses, or whether they head off to Taunton … or Exeter … or anywhere else.

“The fight that we have, ladies and gentleman, is to keep them here in town. Your proposal with these increase in charges is so disgustingly, disproportionately, arrogantly, counter-productive and counter-intuitive to that aim, that we really need you to listen.”

She said a petition, containing 1,000 signatures collected in less than a week, would be presented to councillors at the meeting.

After hearing residents’ concerns, later in the meeting Cllr Richard Chesterton (Conservative, Lowe Culm) asked for officers to stop the planned parking increases.

Councillor John Downes (Lib Dem, Boniface), chair of the council’s economy policy development group, agreed. He also reminded his colleagues that his group had recommended parking fees rise in line with inflation – and suggested that would guide a review.

Members agreed to halt the planned increases subject to the review, meaning much of the expected £120,000 additional income for the budget could now have to be found elsewhere.

Tory Plymouth leader took 42 days off

He’d told council it was “two-to-three” days

Philip Churm, local democracy reporter

The leader of Plymouth City Council has come under fire after it emerged he was on leave for 42 days last summer, despite him publicly stating he had only absent for “two-to-three days.” 

It follows a question by Labour leader Tudor Evans during a full council meeting last September in which he asked Cllr Richard Bingley: “Could you give us a rundown of how many council meetings you attended during your five week absence from the city this summer?”

Mr Bingley, the Conservative leader who represents Southway, insisted: “I was not absent from the city for five weeks this summer.” 

However, following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request into Cllr Bingley’s official diary submitted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, it has emerged there were 42 days in which it was marked “Leaders leave – Uncontactable” including the whole of August and an 11-day stretch from 25 June to 5 July.  

While there is no indication whether Cllr Bingley was out of the city during this time, opposition councillors say his statement that “I had a pre-arranged vacation and then a very, very short trip; two to three days” was misleading and failed to truly reflect his “uncontactable” status. 

Responding to the details in the FOI, Ham councillor Mr Evans said: “The reason I asked the original question in full council was because I think it’s important that the residents of Plymouth know whether the city’s Conservative administration is putting proper effort into their extremely responsible jobs. 

“That’s what we in Plymouth Labour do when we are in charge.

“No one begrudges anyone a holiday, but to be uncontactable for an entire month is simply not acceptable when you have the huge responsibility – and privilege – of running our city.

“That’s why I challenged Cllr Bingley about his absence and it looks as though he wasn’t being entirely open with me when he replied.”

Leader of the Independent Alliance and councillor for Compton, Nick Kelly – a former Conservative leader of the council – also suggested Cllr Bingley had been dishonest.

“This FOI has revealed the truth and I’m pleased the facts are now in the public domain,” he said.

“Cllr Bingley’s response to full council showed a distinct lack of honesty, clarity and the truth regarding his questioned absence this summer.”

Cllr Kelly also said there were several high-profile events from which the leader had been absent. 

“This is not an isolated incident. Cllr Bingley in his capacity as leader has other notable absences at key civic events, such as the King’s Proclamation, the Keyham anniversary memorial, 40th anniversary of the Falklands Veterans and, only last week, at the first year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine. 

“To many this shows a complete lack of leadership, respect and commitment to the people of Plymouth. 

“Cllr Bingley’s past conduct, in addition to this latest revelation seriously questions his character and capability to lead Plymouth.”

However, Cllr Bingley insisted the official diary was not an indication of the work he was doing throughout the summer months.  

“This council diary only outlines council-organised meetings,” he said. “The role of council leader is that they are also a political party leader and, thus, the majority of political meetings, mentoring, telephone calls, meetings with helpers and candidates, party policy-reading and deliberation, campaigning, delivery, are not provided within this diary.

“Indeed, it is unlawful for local government officials to handle party political campaign business. 

“Finally, it is worth reflecting that elected councillors are not full-time members of parliament, we do not have private offices to support us, and our community duties must be managed alongside other aspects of family and working life. 

“It is an honour to be a Plymouth city councillor and to lead PCC, but it is important to acknowledge that this single, official diary is just a single part of the engagements and communications that a council leader undertakes.”

The Tories control Plymouth City Council but have fewer seats than Labour.  The Conservatives hold 25 seats, Labour have 23 and the Independent Alliance have five.

A third of the city’s seats will be contested in May’s local elections.  

Some 42 GP practices were ranked ‘inadequate’ by the CQC including Cranbrook

Interactive map lays bare all 264 of England’s worst-performing GP practices

Emily Stearn 

All of England’s worst performing GP practices were today named and shamed by a damning analysis.

MailOnline can reveal that 264 practices across the country are giving patients sub-standard care.

Every single one has now been flagged on our fascinating interactive map that links to all the inspection reports — allowing you to read, for yourself, exactly how they’re judged by regulators.

Some 42 GP practices — marked red on our map — were ranked ‘inadequate’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). 


The CQC report can be found here

BBC Chairman Donated Tens of Thousands of Pounds to Right-Wing Group Funding Criticism of BBC – Byline Times

Richard Sharp has pumped money into a group that funds organisations like the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Eurosceptics and the BBC-bashing News-Watch. Was this known at the time of his appointment?

Despite this he seems to have the resilience of a turnip, rather than a lettuce. – Owl

Josiah Mortimer 

The Chairman of the BBC gave tens of thousands of pounds through his personal charity to an organisation that funds right-wing organisations in the UK – several of which back the privatisation of the BBC. 

Richard Sharp – who has donated more than £400,000 to the Conservatives – gave the money to the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) think tank, Byline Times can reveal. 

There is already growing internal opposition from staff at the BBC and an investigation into Sharp’s alleged role in helping to arrange a £800,000 loan for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson before he was appointed as the corporation’s Chairman by Johnson in February 2021.

Sharp has denied all wrongdoing but is cooperating with the BBC’s investigation. 

The IPR does not have a website but is run by several prominent Conservative backers. Sharp’s donations, via his personal charity the Sharp Foundation, include £20,000 in 2017 and the same amount in 2018.

In 2018, the IPR funded analysis critical of the BBC’s coverage of Brexit, as newly-unearthed Charity Commission records reveal.

The IPR has also given money to an organisation, News-Watch, which produces content almost exclusively targeted at the BBC, as well as the Centre for Policy Studies and the TaxPayers’ Alliance – the latter of which campaigns for tax cuts and rails against “wasteful” government spending.

It is not clear if Richard Sharp disclosed these donations to the BBC upon his appointment as Chairman. They were not mentioned to parliamentarians when he was quizzed by MPs last month over the Johnson loan scandal.

Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee found that Sharp’s “omissions” relating to the Johnson loan “denied MPs the opportunity to fulfil their scrutiny role, as they were left without the full facts to make a judgement on his suitability” when he appeared before the Committee for a pre-appointment hearing in January 2021.

The Committee called on Sharp to “reflect on the potential damage caused to trust in the corporation”.

Richard Sharp refused to comment when approached with several questions from Byline Times but he is understood to argue that he donates to a range of organisations in the spirit of “lively debate”. 

In 2018 – the year Sharp’s foundation donated to the IPR – the think tank gave £30,000 to News-Watch.

News-Watch’s coverage is almost exclusively targeted at the BBC, accusing it of bias against Brexit and Conservatives. In January 2018, it published ‘The Brussels Broadcasting Corporation’ which was heavily critical of the BBC – one of many publications and articles it published that year criticising the corporation.

In the report, News-Watch said it had “conducted around 40 separate reports into elements of the BBC’s output, including for the Centre for Policy Studies”.

Sharp sat on the board of the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), which calls itself Britain’s “leading centre-right think tank” – a claim Johnson and Rishi Sunak have endorsed. 

Other pieces on the News-Watch site at the time claimed that “the reality is that the BBC has a skewed agenda” on climate change, Brexit and other issues. Other reports – including one published jointly with a Tufton Street think tank – alleged that the BBC was highly partial and sat on the left of politics. 

One ‘study’ by the group claimed that the BBC over-cited left-wing think tanks – but the methodology described the free-market capitalist think tank the Institute for Economic Affairs as left-wing; alongside climate-sceptic group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, headed up by Thatcher’s former Chancellor Lord Lawson. 

In 2017 and 2018, IPR also gave the TaxPayers’ Alliance nearly £130,000 – making it the third-largest recipient of IPR funds after the CPS and Open Europe.

The following year, it gave the TaxPayers’ Alliance £180,000, accounting for its largest grant at 39% of its total gifts that year.

Between 2016 and 2019, the TaxPayers’ Alliance ran social media posts including: “Do you agree that the BBC licence fee should be abolished?” Many of its comments in the media in this time pushed its campaign to scrap the licence fee. 

Sharp also gave £42,400 directly to Robert Colville, co-author of the 2019 Conservative Manifesto, chair of the CPS, and editor-in-chief of the right-leaning publication CapX

Colvile told Byline Times: “Richard was a CPS Board member at the time and was deeply affected by the death of my wife. The money went into a trust to support my children as they grew up, and help ensure that I wouldn’t have to worry so much about education and living costs as a widower. It was an incredibly kind gesture on his part and I will always be extraordinarily grateful to him for it.”

He added that his work on the Conservative Manifesto was “purely voluntary” and that he took a leave of absence from the CPS to do it. “I was only brought in late in the process, during the campaign itself,” he added. “So I didn’t receive any money for doing so or any quid pro quo payments via an indirect route.”

The CPS has published several reports criticising the so-called bias at the BBC against Brexiters and the right.   

In the same time period, CapX published articles calling for abolition of the licence fee, with one headed “the licence fee model worked in 1946 – but it is now outdated and should be overhauled”. Several pieces also hit out at the BBC’s coverage on Russia. 

Byline Times columnist Peter York – co-author of The War Against The BBC with Professor Patrick Barwise – has charted many of the organisations undermining the BBC, including News-Watch. 

“I hadn’t realised Mr Sharp was so involved with organisations that are clearly hostile to the BBC,” he said. “Did the various organisations involved with scrutinising his appointment know all this or is it the first anyone’s seen of it? Did the BBC Board and senior management know all this? Not that they could’ve done anything about it.”

He added: “The issues relating to Richard Sharp’s appointment are not of the BBC’s making. They don’t appoint him – they have no say in it. The Government does: he was imposed on the BBC.”

The BBC did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment.

Sharp is the subject of two investigations into allegations he helped Boris Johnson secure a loan of up to £800,000. Industry figures such as Jonathan Dimbleby and Baroness Patience Wheatcroft have called on him to resign, while Labour and the Scottish National Party have described his position as “increasingly untenable”.

A Labour source told Byline Times: “These reports raise further questions about how much pertinent information Richard Sharp disclosed to Parliament and to the BBC ahead of his appointment as BBC Chair.

“The Select Committee has already ruled that Sharp made significant errors of judgement when failing to declare his role in the facilitation of a loan to the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Tory cronyism is dragging down the BBC when we should be promoting it as the cornerstone of our creative economy.”

National Union of Journalist members working for the BBC believe Sharp must immediately resign, according to a snapshot poll carried out over the past week with just over 1,000 respondents.

Paul Siegert, the NUJ’s national broadcasting organiser, said Byline Times’ findings are “yet another reason which explains why our members say they no longer have faith in Richard Sharp to remain as Chairman of the BBC”.

“Impartiality is so important for everyone who works at the BBC and Richard Sharp can’t argue he is impartial,” he added. “The longer he stays in post, and the more stories like this come to light, then the more damage he is doing to the reputation of the BBC.”

Seaton Tory District Cllr Hartnell supports Green Wedge development then does a “reverse ferret”

On the ten year anniversary of Graham Brown’s exposure as a development facilitator for hire, Tories are still pushing “Build, build, build” regardless.


At the beginning of the week over 150 residents protested against a Green Wedge housing estate in Seaton. 

After years of opposing building on this site, the Seaton Town Council has been persuaded to change its mind and approve [Owl’s phrase for this is “bounced”, as three members were absent] by District Tory Cllr Marcus Hartnell. 

Not only do local residents object en masse, but the Environment Agency also objects on the grounds of its inadequate Flood Risk Assessment.

A week is a long time in politics. 

By the end of the week the Seaton Town Council had agreed to reconsider the matter. 

Cllr Marcus Hartnell says: “Since the meeting … further information has been received from the Environment Agency (EA) concerning flood risk. This is of concern to me, and recognising the overwhelming consensus from those who attended the public meeting, and to ensure the response from Seaton Town Council is robust, I have put forward a motion that the planning application is reconsidered and debated at the Full Council meeting on 6th March…”

Read the saga below:


Over 150 residents protest against Green Wedge housing estate

On Tuesday night I chaired a meeting in the Gateway of over 150 Seaton and Colyford residents who were virtually unanimous in their opposition to the proposal for up to 130 houses to be built on a site in the Green Wedge between the two communities, and very near to Seaton Wetlands.

The odd man out was Conservative councillor Marcus Hartnell, who had persuaded four members of Seaton Town Council’s planning committee (three others were absent) to approve the development in principle.

The meeting asked me to write to the Town Clerk protesting against this move, which is contrary to the Town Council’s longstanding policy of opposition to building on this site. The meeting also asked me to write to Cllr Eileen Wragg, chair of EDDC’s Planning Committee.

The meeting urged everyone to send individual objections to EDDC as soon as possible: the reference number is 22/2781/MOUT and you can LINK TO IT HERE.


Seaton Town Council to reconsider Green Wedge planning application – after public meeting’s request 

After Tuesday’s public meeting attended by over 150 residents – which almost unanimously opposed application 22/2781/MOUT – on Thursday I wrote (as the meeting had asked me to) to the Town Mayor, Town Clerk and councillors asking the full Council to reconsider their planning committee’s support for the bid. I drew their attention to the Environment Agency’s objection on grounds of flood risk (see the text of my email below).

I didn’t get a reply but on Friday, the Council posted on the planning portal: “In light of comments submitted by the Environment Agency on 20 February the Town Council would like to reconsider the application. It is hoped that a meeting can be held on Monday 6 March and any comments could be submitted by the end of that week or the beginning of the following week.”

I also got an email from Cllr Marcus Hartnell saying: “Since the meeting … further information has been received from the Environment Agency (EA) concerning flood risk. This is of concern to me, and recognising the overwhelming consensus from those who attended the public meeting, and to ensure the response from Seaton Town Council is robust, I have put forward a motion that the planning application is reconsidered and debated at the Full Council meeting on 6th March. My motion was sent to the Town Clerk yesterday and is now confirmed to be included on the agenda.” 

THE MEETING ON 6th MARCH IS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC – the agenda is still to be published.


Dear Amrik, Jules and councillors,

I write at the request of a public meeting about this development, held on Tuesday 21st February in the Gateway, which I chaired. The meeting of over 150 Seaton and Colyford residents was unanimous, apart from Cllr Marcus Hartnell, in opposing this development. 

The meeting expressed its disappointment that Seaton Town Council’s Planning Committee, attended by only four out of its seven members, had voted to recommend approving the development in principle (subject only to Highways concerns), despite strong opposition from the public. Our meeting was reminded by several former town councillors that the Town Council had consistently opposed applications for development on this site in the past, in line with the vast majority of local opinion as well as the adopted Local Plan. 

We feel that the Planning Committee did not fully consider the range of issues that are raised by this proposal. Indeed I am informed that apart from Cllr Hartnell no member actually spoke to the issues. The Committee was unaware, for example, that concerns about flooding due to the development, raised by local residents, have been reinforced by the Environment Agency’s objection to it on grounds of its inadequate Flood Risk Assessment.

As I recall previous proposals for this site (and other major developments), in view of their importance to the town and the strength of public feeling, have been considered by the full Town Council. I therefore assume that in line with usual practice, the Planning Committee’s minutes will be on the agenda of the next Town Council meeting for its consideration, before any response is submitted to EDDC. 

We request that the full Council then take that opportunity to revise the Town Council’s recommendation. I wish to notify you that I and other participants in Tuesday’s meeting intend to attend the Council to speak on this matter.

Please confirm that time will be provided in your next full Council for proper consideration of this matter which has aroused wide public concern.

Best regards,


‘Ten years since Feniton councillor caught planning influence claims’

But was he a lone wolf? – Owl

Chair of the East Devon Alliance, Martin Shaw, writes for the Herald. 

Ten years ago this month, a journalist from the Daily Telegraph secretly recorded the Conservative councillor for Feniton, Graham Brown, boasting that he could obtain planning permission in return for a substantial payment. “If I can’t get planning, nobody will,” he claimed. “If I turn a green field into a housing estate and I’m earning a developer two or three millions, then I’m not doing it for peanuts.”

Brown was forced to resign and the Tory-controlled council washed their hands of him. However it was obvious that he couldn’t have been acting alone. Since he wasn’t on the planning committee at the time, his claims only stacked up if other councillors or officers were in on the act. Indeed Brown was chair of the East Devon Business Forum, a body that linked councillors with development interests, from which EDDC had to withdraw its support after he was exposed.

Brown’s disgrace made East Devon a national byword for dodgy dealings in local government. It also brought to a head the disquiet with planning in local communities. Thousands of people had protested in Sidmouth the previous autumn and there was a battle to save the Seaton-Colyford Green Wedge. In these circumstances a group of local activists set up the East Devon Alliance (EDA) – then a protest group, but now, a decade on, a key part of the new ruling coalition at EDDC, with its co-founder Paul Arnott leader of the council.

In 2013, even EDA thought that the Tory-run EDDC was an extreme case and didn’t actually call it “corrupt”. What a difference a decade makes.

In 2023, according to polling, the majority of voters think the whole Conservative Party is ‘institutionally corrupt’ and Transparency International, which measures corruption in different countries, has rated the UK as a country which has rapidly become more corrupt under the Tories.

Indeed Tory corruption is now so commonplace it’s difficult to keep track of. This week, it’s Nadhim Zahawi trying to breeze off the huge penalty he had to pay to the tax authorities for being ‘careless’ about millions of pounds of tax he owed. He thinks he’s hard done by and the fault lies with the media for exposing him (funnily enough, that was Graham Brown’s line back in 2013, too). Last week, it was the Chair of the BBC governors who got the job after he helped fix an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson. Obviously Johnson thought that was all above board.

Rishi Sunak reluctantly sacked Zahawi but his own record is hardly spotless. As Chancellor, he presided over the ‘Fast Lane’ which allowed Tory cronies priority access to Covid PPE contracts. It’s now been established that £15 billion was wasted in the PPE operation, money which could have been used to restore the NHS and pay the nurses properly.

Corruption, once accepted as a way of doing things, can be difficult to root out. When the East Devon Alliance set out, in the wake of the Brown scandal, to restore standards to our district’s local government, no one knew quite how it would be done. Serious work on reform could only begin in 2020 when Liberal Democrat and Green councillors joined EDA in a coalition to run EDDC. Local residents should not underestimate its achievements – it’s no small thing to turn things round after 45 years of one-party control.

Ending corruption in national politics will be a much bigger job. Some of our institutions are deeply contaminated – the House of Lords is stuffed with peers appointed because they have given hundreds of thousands to the Conservative Party. Powerful monied interests have got used to the idea that they can literally purchase influence at the highest levels. Yet with an election due in less than two years, we can start to prepare.

East Devon council tax increase will see households fork out extra £5 a year for district authority’s slice of overall bill

This 3.19% increase can be compared to the 6% rise in the Police budget and 4.99% for County – Owl

The average East Devon household will have to fork out an extra £5 a year for the district council’s slice of their overall council tax bills.

East Devon Reporter 

The authority has agreed a 3.19 per cent increase it says will balance its budget, protect frontline services and ‘help with the inflationary pressures’.

Some of the cash will be used to provide extra support will also be given to the leisure sector.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) provides services including rubbish and recycling collection, maintaining parks and open spaces, and leisure centres.

EDDC takes seven pence in every pound from residents’ overall council tax bills.

The rest is made up of contributions to police and fire services and county, town and parish authorities.

Councillor Jack Rowland, EDDC portfolio holder for finance said: “Whilst any increase in the EDDC element of council tax is regrettable in the current inflationary period, the increase is 3.19 per cent and £5 per annum for the average Band D rate payer.

“That is less than a 10p per week increase and despite, in real terms, losing over £50million over the last decade in central government grants, this EDDC budget for 2023/24 is providing the required balanced budget required by law as well as preserving services.

“For 2023/24 the average Band D ratepayer will be paying £161.78 per annum to EDDC, which is equivalent to just over £3 per week for services such as the waste and recycling collections, the StreetScene service in maintaining many parks and open spaces, the contract with LED Community Leisure to operate the swimming pools, gymnasiums and other sport and leisure activities in the district as just a few examples of the services provided by EDDC.”

Tim comments on firearms certificates and Alison Hernandez 2017 thoughts on gun owners helping to fight terror.

Breathtaking incompetence and failings by police allowed a gunman to kill five people during a mass shooting in Plymouth, victims’ families have said.

This was the headline from the BBC a couple of days ago.

Under the heading: Alison Hernandez and her thoughts on guns from 2017, Owl recalled how our Police and Crime Commissioner caused alarm by suggesting that members of the public who own guns could help defend rural areas against terror attacks. 

What sort of example was she setting?

With hindsight, it looks like this was the first example of the trivial and populist way in which she exercises her responsibilities, epitomised by her predilection for “selfies” at every trivial opportunity.

Yet she controls about 12% of your council tax, compared to 7% for the, arguably more visible, services provided by East Devon.

By far the biggest spender is County at around 72% under the beady eyes of our recent correspondent Cllr Phil Twiss, Cabinet Member for Finance, the rest covers Fire and parish services.

Here is what Tim wrote in his comment .yesterday:

I gather Ms Hernandez is calling for someone to be disciplined over the Keyham tragedy-but not her.

These 2017 comments gave us a great insight into what sort of Commissioner she might become. Sadly she was plainly ignorant in a number of areas that she should have mastered.

Her job is to support the police and fire service, to equip both with adequate staff and the resources needed to perform their duties.

Is it not common sense to have some knowledge of the police roles that one overseas, especially topical serious issues?

In relation to her giving consideration to Firearm Certificate Holders (FAC) perhaps having a role alongside the police response to terrorism, she demonstrated how dangerously little she knows about firearms law and police practices. Thankfully senior officers dismissed the notion-and far more gently than she deserved.

The Firearms Act ’68 is one of many Acts that lays down duties but does little or nothing to enable those duties to be supported with funding the appropriate resources. The Act, and to my mind this is one of its greatest failings, effectively requires a chief officer (or now a nominated deputy) to issue a FAC unless he/she can show it is inappropriate. It does not require the individual to prove he/she is an appropriate person . I think it’s time to reverse that onus from the police to the applicant.

When certificates are issued there are inevitably conditions attached as well as restrictions from other laws that may apply in certain circumstances. For example you cannot simply take a firearm anywhere to use it, its use will be limited to say a particular shooting club or specified farmland. Unless a FAC holder had an additional condition allowing him/her to use when assisting police (an absolute non-starter), to do what Ms Hernandez contemplates, and all other issues aside, it would in itself be a criminal offence resulting in a court hearing, likely conviction and seizure of the firearms held. That is a measure of how naïve she is on the subject.

Davison may not have been processed properly but we all know from history that people can change and quickly become dangerous. I was loosely connected with the Hungerford incident in 1987 when 16 innocents were killed by a man, Michael Ryan, who held firearms 100% lawfully under the law as applied at that time.

Managing the response was immensely challenging and I dread to think how much worse it would be if civvie armed FAC holders had also been present. And, like it or not, the police must consider the shooter and in GB terms, so very differently from that seen on US TV. The force sniper on that Hungerford occasion, now sadly no longer with us, had Ryan in his sights but didn’t shoot him. Asked why he gave a powerful reply revealing what an expert and remarkable man he was, ‘I am not an executioner. At the time he was in my sights but he was not a threat to anyone else”. Can you imagine any civvie FAC holder being so well-informed and so disciplined to properly assess and apply the law?

The Keyham case has made plain, again, the need for sufficient resources to apply the Act (as it stands today), and that such resources have not been available for many a year. Ms Hernandez must bear a good deal of responsibility for that.

The PCC says she has given more resources to the department but are we are not entitled to ask what additional resources she made available to the D&C FAC dept before Keyham?

River pollution goes unspotted under flawed testing

Water companies often release illegal levels of a toxic pollutant into rivers in breaches that go undetected because of a flawed “self-monitoring” system, analysis for The Times suggests.

Rhys Blakely 

The research indicates that the Environment Agency (EA) has told the companies to test the treated sewage they release into watercourses during the hours of the day when they are most likely to comply with their permits.

Outside the hours when testing happens, levels of ammonia in the treated sewage, which can wreck river ecosystems, often appear to exceed legal limits.

The findings raise serious doubts over how the EA has directed water companies to monitor their own performance. They also raise the possibility that households are being overcharged because Ofwat, the water regulator, is using flawed pollution data provided by the companies when it carries out price reviews that control consumer bills.

The Times has launched the Clean It Up campaign to press for more action on cleaner rivers, lakes and beaches. It calls for water companies to be stripped of self-monitoring powers and the job handed to a beefed-up EA.

Under what is known as operator self monitoring (OSM), companies are asked to test their own treated sewage. They typically take samples from treatment works either 12 or 24 times a year. They test for a variety of pollutants and report the results to the EA, which passes the information to Ofwat.

The analysis focuses on ammonia, which can fuel algal blooms that choke river wildlife. Official guidance from the EA says that most OSM samples should be taken between 9am and 3pm, Monday to Friday, with one in every 12 samples taken outside of these “office hours”. The readings generated by the OSM scheme suggest that more than 97 per cent of treatment works comply with their permits.

However, another set of testing data generated for internal company use — not reported to the EA and not usually made public — gives a much more detailed picture of how the plants are performing, by collecting information on ammonia levels in treated sewage every 15 minutes around the clock.

These “continuous’ readings were obtained for more than 500 treatment works, operated by six companies, by the campaign group Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (Wasp) using freedom of information laws.

The more detailed data shows that ammonia levels often dip to their lowest concentrations between about 8am and 2pm — which coincides with when the vast majority of OSM samples are taken. Outside of this testing window, ammonia concentrations are often far higher.

The OSM data suggests that less than 3 per cent of treatment works break their permits for ammonia. By contrast, the continuous data suggests that 105 out of the 531 sewage works included in the analysis — about 20 per cent of them — are in breach.

For example, in 2020 OSM samples were taken from the Chelmsford sewage works, which is run by Anglian Water, only between about 10am and 2pm. The more detailed continuous monitoring data suggests that ammonia levels often breached the permitted levels outside of this window.

The analysis is the latest to be produced by Professor Peter Hammond, of Wasp. He has previously used water company data to detect thousands of spills of untreated sewage, including many that were illegal and not picked up by the EA.

Hammond said: “If rivers are to return to at least good chemical status and customers are to pay fair charges, then Defra must stop operator self-monitoring in the water industry and replace it with well-funded, technically savvy and independent regulation.”

Penny Gane, the head of practice at Fish Legal, an advocacy group, said: “The reality is that a water company employee taking a final effluent sample once a month during a small window does not give a full picture of what’s going on at a treatment works.

“While the water companies may technically be compliant with OSM conditions in their permits, they miss peak usage times in the morning and evening when everyone is flushing their toilets, washing their clothes and showering. Breaches can go undetected by the regulator with the current approach.”

Data was supplied by Wessex Water, Thames Water, Southern Water, Yorkshire Water, Anglian Water and Welsh Water. The companies stressed that they carry out their OSM testing in line with government instructions. They strongly denied deliberately timing samples to meet their permits.

A spokesman for Water UK, which represents water companies, said: “Testing regimes are approved by the Environment Agency. Crucially, this includes the timing and frequency of samples and the rules about how they should be taken.

“In addition, water company sampling teams do not have access to the sampling programmes so they physically cannot advise operational teams of when samples are going to be taken.”

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “The Operator Self-Monitoring approach is independently accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service – and practically it is only water companies that can do this level of monitoring. Under the ‘polluter pays’ principle they should also be the ones paying for it. Many other industries use similar self-monitoring, including oil and gas and the chemicals industry.

“This is not the only way we check that water companies are complying with their permits — we also do our own monitoring and on-site inspections, both announced and unannounced.”

Wessex Water took issue with Hammond’s analysis, saying that it was not possible to make “a meaningful comparison” between the data from continuous monitoring and the OSM data. In response, Hammond pointed out that OSM readings for ammonia levels at Wessex treatment plants looked at in his analysis closely match those from continuous monitoring.

Sir Dieter Helm, professor of economic policy at the University of Oxford, said: “Peter Hammond’s work is excellent. The fact that it takes a retired mathematics academic to reveal what’s going on is itself a damning indictment of what the EA and the water companies have been up to. Worse still is the fact that companies like Severn Trent refused to release the data to Peter that others at least provided. No one seems to want to take responsibility. No heads have rolled.

“Public trust is now so low that only a transparent publicly available data monitoring system will do. Defra and the EA and the water companies should finally make the shift from the analogue self-reporting farce to a 21st-century digital real-time monitoring of the sad state of our rivers.”

Severn Trent Water, South West Water and United Utilities declined the freedom of information request and withheld data.

The Times is demanding faster action to improve the country’s waterways. Find out more about the Clean It Up campaign.

What’s the water like in your area?

Is there a story that we need to cover? Tell us about the lakes, rivers and beaches near you.

EDDC votes to apply a 100% premium on Second Home Council Tax when legislation comes into force

At the full council meeting on Wednesday the recommendation from cabinet was passed in what looked to Owl to be a unanimous decision but may more accurately be described as “nem con”. [Agenda item 10]

Cllr Eleanor Rylance declared an interest and withdrew from the chamber before the agenda item. The Tories had pointedly abstained from the vote on the budget under then previous agenda item.

Is that so they can campaign that Tories didn’t vote for tax increases? Like Simon Jupp’s claim: “I didn’t vote to pollute our water”

Re: Council Tax Charges for Second Homes & Empty Properties

The recommendation agreed was to implement the following upon the legislative provisions coming into force:

 a) The application of a premium of 100% for all dwellings which are unoccupied and substantially unfurnished (empty dwellings) after a period of one year rather than the current 2 with effect from 1st April 2024;

 b) The application of a premium of 100% for all dwellings which are unoccupied but substantially furnished (second homes) with effect from 1st April 2024; and 

c) That the Service Lead for Revenues, Benefits, Corporate Customer Access is given delegated powers to implement the policy in line with the Council’s requirements and having regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State. 

d) That a letter is written to our local MPs to ensure their support for the bill so it receives royal assent prior to April 2023. To communicate to all other councils in Devon to encourage a unified Devon policy on the increase in rates for empty or second homes.

Plymouth: People asked to wear face masks as Covid cases rise 24% in a week

People have been asked to consider wearing face masks once again following a sharp rise in Covid-19 rates. Following a national trend, Plymouth has also seen a nearly 25 percent increase of people who have reported testing positive with the virus.

Shannon Brown

This is the fourth week in a row hospital admission rates have increased for the virus, rising to an average of 9.4 admissions per 100,000 people in the week ending February 19, up from 7.9 per 100,000 in the previous week, according to NHS data. A total of 8,015 people were in hospital in England on February 22 who had tested positive for Covid-19, up 11% on the previous week and the highest since January 10.

Plymouth has seen an increase of 24.2 percent in the week ending February 18, according to the government’s coronavirus tracker. Over the seven days last week, 195 people in the city reported testing positive for the virus- an increase 38 on the previous week – with a case rate per 100,000 people in the city is 74.2.

Recent national rates of Covid hospitalisation over Christmas 2022 peaked at 11.8 per 100,000. 9,535 people were in hospital will the virus on December 29. Experts at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) have asked people to reconsider wearing face masks to protect against airborne infection.

Across Devon, there are currently around 479 total Covid cases as of the week ending February 18. This is an increase of 16, or 3.5 percent. Per 100,000 residents in the county, there is an average of 59.1 new cases every week – Plymouth average rate is significantly higher.

Christmas Covid cases was one of the factors adding extra pressure on the NHS this winter, along with a sharp increase in cases of flu, a bed shortage, and staff sickness. Flu levels have fallen since early January, with an average of 638 flu patients in hospital beds each day last week, down from 738 over the previous week, and significantly reduced from the 5,441 people in hospital at the start of the year.

However, this is still well above the average of 29 patients at the same point last year. Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “Covid-19 and flu are still in circulation. Hospital admission rates for Covid-19 are continuing to increase, particularly among those aged 65 and over.

“Although flu case rates remain relatively low, we have also seen a rise in hospital admission rates among the over-85s, who are at greater risk of severe illness. Simple actions can make a big difference in reducing the spread of these viruses.

“You can help by regularly washing your hands or staying at home and avoiding vulnerable people if you are unwell. If you do have to leave the house, please consider wearing a face covering, which can help prevent you passing respiratory viruses on.”

Cllr Mike Howe quits EDDC Tory group.  He ‘can’t defend the indefensible’

Owl thinks many Tories will see the writing on the wall and claim to be “Independent” to try to save their skins in May, 

Cllr Mike Howe says he still gives his full backing to East Devon MP Simon Jupp. 

Remember: A blue rose by any other name would smell as stinky! (Ben Ingham led a so called “Independent” EDDC administration when, in reality, he was just a puppet on a string to the Tories, hoodwinking a number of quite reasonable independent minded councillors along the way.)

Or maybe Mike Howe has just had his fill of turnip rations from Tory group leader Cllr Philip Skinner. – Owl

Rob Kershaw

An East Devon councillor has quit the Conservative group to sit as an independent after growing tired with the party’s stance on some issues. Cllr Mike Howe (Independent, Clyst Valley) said he has been considering the move for a while, but a full council meeting on Wednesday [22 February] was the final straw.has had his fil

Cllr Howe sat on the opposite side of the room to his now former Tory colleagues. He vocally disagreed with them on a number of points.

“I’ve just had enough. I’m just worn out and last night’s full council just pushed me over the edge,” he said. “I thought I need to be a bit more distant and a bit more independent and do what I can for my ward and the district as a whole. And I feel the best place to do that is not in the Conservative Party locally. I think the party was wrong from start to finish last night, and it just gets to the point where you can’t defend the indefensible.”

While no longer a Conservative on council level, Cllr Howe still gives his full backing to East Devon MP Simon Jupp. Conservative leader Cllr Philip Skinner (Tale Vale) said he respected Cllr Howe’s decision to part ways with the group.

“Councillors obviously have their views on certain issues,” he said. “And they’ve got to make the decisions they take on their own merit. It’s just one of those things I guess, where people are in their lives, the views they have on different issues.

“We’ve just got to respect other peoples’ viewpoints of people and decisions they make in life, and the consequences to the actions and the decisions that they make are their own.”

Cllr Howe’s decision comes less than three months before the next election in May.

His decision leaves the composition of the council with 21 Conservatives, 16 Independents, 12 from the East Devon Alliance, 7 Liberal Democrats, 2 Greens and 1 Labour councillor. There is also one seat vacant as former Labour councillor Paul Millar, who represented the Exmouth Halsdon ward, is no longer listed as being a member of the council.

Boris Johnson: Taxpayers’ bill for Partygate defence set to soar as MPs make ‘site visit’ to No 10

Boris Johnson’s legal defence fees for the upcoming Partygate, covered by the taxpayer, are expected to soar again as the government prepares to extend the contract.

Adam Forrest

The taxpayer is already set to contribute more than £222,000 in legal fees for the former PM as he faces a grilling over whether he lied to parliament on Covid parties.

But the government contract with legal firm is to be renewed again before expiring 28 February, upping the bill by another five-figure sum, according to The Guardian.

It comes as it emerged investigating MPs on the privilege committee made a “site visit” to No 10 to see where rule-breaking parties were held during the pandemic.

The committee led by senior Labour MP Harriet Harman wanted to get a sense of the layout in the building to better understand how the gatherings happened, ITV reported.

MPs have not yet set a date for the public hearings for the Partygate, which is trying to establish whether Mr Johnson misled the Commons about what he knew of illicit gatherings.

But the televised sessions are expected to begin sometime in March. Mr Johnson denies misleading MPs – recently telling his staunch ally Nadine Dorries that anyone who suspects he deliberately covered up lockdown parties was “out of their mind”.

The decision to give so much taxpayers’ money to cover Mr Johnson’s legal fees for the is being looked into by officials at the National Audit Office (NAO).

The NAO has not yet decided to launch a formal investigation, but a letter last month revealed one of the spending watchdog’s top officials will speak to the Cabinet Office about the matter.

Solicitors firm Peters and Peters was awarded a contract worth £129,700 in August to provide Mr Johnson with advice during the investigation. An extension of the contract, costing another £90,000, was approved in December.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said voters “will be justly outraged at the prospect of having to foot the bill yet again for Boris Johnson’s Partygate defence fund”, adding: “Rishi Sunak is showing once again that he’s too weak to put a stop to it.”

Mr Johnson has been accused of “treachery” after intervening on the Northern Ireland Protocol row and other issues, with ex-Tory Chancellor George Osborne claiming the ex-PM wants to “bring down” Mr Sunak and return to No 10.

The former Tory leader will “100 per cent” condemn any agreement reached in the coming days if he feels it means closer alignment with the EU, allies have said. Mr Johnson has made known that dropping the unilateral protocol bill would be a “great mistake”.

He is one of 57 Tory MPs who has signed a letter urging Mr Sunak to boost nuclear energy capacity. He and the group want to see two more large-scale projects before the next general election.

Topsham Gap to get smaller as more housing plans approved

Up to 30 new homes will be built on the outskirts of Topsham, despite concerns about road safety. Heritage Developments’ outline application for a green field site along Newcourt Road was approved by Exeter City Council’s planning committee on Monday, which will see the Topsham Gap get even smaller.

Ollie Heptinstall 

35 per cent of the properties will be classed as ‘affordable,’ while the meeting was told the homes will be ‘net zero.’ This includes triple glazing throughout, air source heat pumps, solar panels and electric car charging points.

Located between the M5 and the Avocet railway line, Newcourt Road is currently the location of a number of new developments and recently-granted planning applications, leading local resident Ben Fitzpatrick to raise concerns about safety.

“Newcourt Road is a narrow, single track, country-style lane, with extremely restricted blind corners,” he said. “Worse than this – [there are] no footways along the majority of it, including at the worst end.”

Mr Fitzpatrick said the road was “dangerous” and “clogged at peak times.” He criticised the use of 2018 traffic data – before the recent housing developments were built – to help to assess road safety.

Councillors were told another survey had been carried out by an objector, showing significantly higher levels of traffic along the road, less than a week before the meeting. It came with a request to defer the application.

However, an officer for Devon County Council, which concluded it was “satisfied that safe and suitable access can be achieved to the site,” said the 2018 traffic survey was “perfectly applicable” given it had “taken into account future developments.”

Applicant David Lovell, from Heritage Developments, questioned the veracity of the objector’s survey, adding: “After allowing for this development and all other existing planning permissions, traffic movements on Newcourt Road will still be less than half the maximum threshold set out in national guidance.”

But he committed to adding pavements around the front of the site “to futureproof Newcourt Road for any future further developments.”

Mr Lovell also reminded councillors that the properties will be net zero homes and said he had no problem with including a play park in the development’s open space.

Council leader Phil Bialyk (Labour, Exwick) suggested the principle of housing at the location was broadly accepted, but called on the county council to “step up” and put in a “proper traffic management plan” as a condition for outline planning approval. However, he was told this was outside of the committee’s powers.

Councillor Rob Hannaford (Labour, St Thomas) said he would raise the issue of road safety at a future meeting of the Exeter highways and traffic orders committee (HATOC), on which he also sits.

Backing the scheme, Cllr Hannaford concluded: “We have a housing shortage. We need more housing across the board. These are family homes and there’s good provision of affordable and social housing.”

The application was approved by 11 votes to three. A final stage ‘reserved matters’ application containing the finer details will be brought back to the committee at a later date.