Barrage of housebuilding sparks urgent trains plea

Maybe Selaine Saxby MP should speak to Simon Jupp MP, PPS to Secretary of State for Transport?

Too much to ask? – Owl

Daniel Clark

North Devon would ‘benefit considerably’ from the restoration of rail links to the region, the MP has said. The region currently only has the rail line that trundles down to Exeter, with no trains running at all in Torridge.

The area used to have far more rail links but the area was decimated by the Beeching Axe. Routes from Okehampton to Bude, Halwill Junction to Torrington, Barnstaple to Torrington, the Ilfracombe branch line, and the Exe Valley railway all disappeared.

But speaking in a Restoring Your Railway Fund debate last month, Selaine Saxby MP for North Devon, spoke passionately about the need for better rail links. She said that with thousands of new homes being built in the region, improved and revitalised railway links would be absolutely vital for the area.

She also added that the dream is also to see the service frequency from Exeter to North Devon doubled from hourly to half-hourly, as well as an additional express service connecting Exeter Central with Barnstaple in 50 minutes rather than the present 75 minutes.

She said: “In 1964, northern Devon lost the train line between Bideford and Barnstaple. The area now boasts the fantastic Tarka trail for walkers and cyclists. While the trail is a great resource for local communities and visitors alike, the distances across rural areas and the changeable weather mean that it is not a practical commute for all but the most hardy and fit commuters.

“Over the past few years, hundreds of homes have been built between Bideford and Barnstaple, with hundreds more planned. We absolutely need that housing, but it puts pressure on our infrastructure. In rural North Devon, our transport infrastructure is limited; for the ten-mile route between Bideford and Barnstaple, it essentially consists of the B3233 through Fremington or the single-carriageway A39.

“Without traffic, the journey should take 15 to 20 minutes by car or 29 minutes on the bus, but commuter traffic often pushes those times up to well over an hour, causing much frustration and clogging the roads on a daily basis. Bringing back a train connection between Bideford and Barnstaple would do much to prevent that congestion, and it would give communities affordable and environmentally friendly ways to reach Barnstaple and further afield by connecting the route all the way to Exeter.”

The nine mile railway from Barnstaple to Bideford closed to regular scheduled passenger services in October 1965. While the tracks remained until 1985 attempts were made to reopen the line, but campaigners say that with some relatively modest Tarka Line upgrading, a 70-minute journey time between Exeter Central and Bideford could be possible.

Barnstaple Town Council has previously unanimously backed calls to reinstate the town’s rail link with Bideford. The council voted to support the Tarka Rail Association and ACE Rail project.

Furthermore, campaigners are seeking a transformational rail service linking northern Devon with the county capital. They wish to see the service frequency doubled from hourly to half-hourly and increasing the speed of journeys to compete with cars. They also wish to see an additional limited-stop express service connecting Exeter Central with Barnstaple in 50 minutes rather than the present 75 minutes.

The MP added: “The difference that the development of the line would bring cannot be understated. While it would obviously lessen congestion, it would go further by connecting the area with opportunities that are currently out of reach. We already know that limited transport options limit rural productivity. If we support rural productivity and improve connections to these areas, we could add an estimated £43 billion to our economy.

“Due to the narrow nature of a few pinch points on the route, it would not be possible to maintain the Tarka trail as it is and to develop a new rail line. I am keen that, instead of sticking to the historical, mainly coastal route, we look at a different line that more directly links Barnstaple to Bideford.

“Having previously submitted a bid for Combe Rail, which would have connected Barnstaple to Braunton—sadly, that bid did not move forward—I know that there is huge support in North Devon for expanding our rail network. That previous bid lacked a viable connection to the main Barnstaple station, but the Bideford connection would directly join the two largest towns in northern Devon and go on to Exeter. We need to find ways to ensure that rural Britain’s connectivity does not lag even further behind our more urban constituencies.

“I hope that the Department considers reopening the restoring your railway fund to new bids. My North Devon constituency would benefit considerably from the route I mentioned. I hope that the Minister takes that ask seriously—he is also very welcome in North Devon, and I would always bring wellies—so that my community can reduce its reliance on cars and take advantage of the many benefits that the train line could bring.”

Journey numbers on the Dartmoor Line have passed 250,000 a year after re-opening to regular passenger trains. The line reopened on November 20, 2021, restoring a regular, year-round service for the first time in almost 50 years following more than £40m of Government investment.

The previously mothballed rail line, which runs between Okehampton and Exeter, was restored in just nine months and was the first former line to reopen under the Government’s £500m Restoring Your Railway programme.

Exeter ‘housing crisis’ sparked by ‘too many students’

Councillors on Monday will vote on whether to approve plans to build student flats and co-living blocks on the site of Exeter’s former Heavitree Road police station and magistrates court. Exeter City Council officers are recommending that the scheme – which was been refused once before – is this time given the go-ahead. 

This latest student flats scheme consists of 646 units. There is also a co-living element of 381 units, both of which have been reduced from the originial iteration of the plans.

It is one of several schemes currently going through the planning process. At the end of last month, detailed plans for a huge student bed development on Streatham Campus for the University of Exeter were submitted.

The University’s plans for the development of the Clydesdale, Nash and Birks Grange Village Halls of Residence site off Stocker Road, could deliver an additional 1,250 bedrooms.

But it comes as no surprise that not everyone in Exeter is in favour of purpose built student accommodation, even if the plans are often designed to free up housing in the city centre for locals rather than students to live in. One letter writer into our sister print title the Express and Echo says that the increasing number of students in the city is leading to a housing crisis for locals.

Read the letter by Andrew Bovey below

“The current population of Exeter is approximately 133,000. Of that number, 30,000-plus are University of Exeter students, 23 per cent of the total population.

They occupy 75 per cent of the private rented sector in the city centre wards, in addition to a multitude of unfilled purpose-built student complexes we all know so well! They are exempt from council tax so in effect contribute net zero to the maintenance of local services.

The oversubscribed student occupancy in the private rented sector has pushed the demand and prices way beyond the pockets of ordinary working families and low-income households. Buying is simply not an option for so many these days and social housing placement in Exeter has been a bad joke since jurassic times.

More bizarrely, the situation is not treated as a housing crisis by either the council leaders or the university.Our MP, by his own admission, prefers ‘not to meddle in council affairs’ as it seemingly only reveals what it wants him to know on specific questions anyway.

It’s down to local people to make the leaders accountable for their actions, challenge untenable situations and make their voice heard for the greater good of others.

We are looking at a wholesale exclusion of the local renting workforce who are being forced out to an expensive and frustrating existence as commuters. Whole areas of the city have lost their sense of community and are being systematically replaced by a cohort of night revellers who fail to integrate and stand aloof (frequently knee deep in their bottles and takeaway wrappers).

Commercially students bring income to private landlords and retailers, yet socially the city’s infrastructure and local facilities – like health services and the new sports complex, funded by taxpayers – are overwhelmed and locals excluded by the sheer weight of numbers.”

Simon Jupp “the farmers’ friend”

Could elections be coming up, does Simon have designer boots?

But wait: Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers’ Union, accused ministers of a “dereliction of duty” in failing to ensure food and other agricultural imports were safe. She said the government had failed to learn the lessons of the horsemeat scandal of 2013

Looks like an uphill battle for hearts and minds on this front. – Owl

East Devon MP seeks reassurances for farmers on seasonal worker scheme

Lewis Clarke

Assurances have been sought that seasonal workers will continue to find work in Devon beyond 2024.

East Devon MP, Simon Jupp spoke in Parliament, raising the question with Robert Jenrick MP, the Minister for Education. He asked: “East Devon’s farmers rely on a skilled domestic and foreign workforce to put their fantastic produce on our tables all year round. What reassurances can my right hon. Friend give that he will work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that the seasonal agricultural worker scheme will be extended beyond 2024?”

Mr Jenrick responded saying: “We review the seasonal agricultural worker scheme every year, working closely with DEFRA. We have extended it for this year, as my hon. Friend knows, and increased the numbers permitted under that scheme. That is quite right, but it is important to balance that against the need to ensure that British workers find their way into the workplace and are trained, and the need to invest in British farming, so that we do not need to reach in the first instance for foreign labour.”

Sewage in rivers, sewage in the sea, now sewage in hospitals

As we go down the drain, does the government care a “SHIT”? 

The environment secretary has insisted that she does “give a shit” about water pollution. But the evidence speaks against. – Owl 

Sewage leak figures prompt warning over state of England’s hospitals

Andrew Gregory

Hospitals in England have recorded more than 450 sewage leaks in the last 12 months, data shows, putting patients and staff in danger and prompting warnings that the NHS estate is “falling apart” after a decade of underinvestment.

Freedom of information requests to NHS trusts by the Liberal Democrats found alarming examples of sewage leaking on to cancer wards, maternity units and A&E departments. The investigation also uncovered multiple cases of urine and faeces flowing into hospital rooms and on to general wards.

Health officials called the revelations shocking. In some instances, sewage leaks made entire hospital departments unsafe for patients and led to staff struggling to work because they felt nauseous and had headaches.

In total, there were 456 sewage leaks reported in the last year, although only 55 trusts responded, suggesting the true scale of the problem is much higher. It comes as the cost of overdue maintenance work on the NHS estate has soared to more than £10bn.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “This is a national scandal. Our country’s hospitals are falling apart after years of underinvestment and neglect. Patients should not be treated in these conditions and heroic nurses should not have the indignity of mopping up foul sewage.”

He said there was still no sign of the 40 new hospitals promised by the government four years ago, and said the sewage leaks pointed to a wider neglect of the health service.

“At every turn, our treasured NHS is crumbling, from hospital buildings to dangerous ambulance wait times. The government needs to find urgent funds to fix hospitals overflowing with sewage. Patient and staff safety is a risk if ministers fail to act,” he said.

Leeds teaching hospitals NHS trust reported the highest number of sewage leaks in the last year, at 105, followed by North Tees and Hartlepool NHS foundation trust, which recorded 80.

At the Princess Alexandra hospital NHS trust in Harlow, Essex, where 40 sewage leaks occurred, staff detailed cases in written data logs. “Raw sewage smell is still ongoing and staff are struggling to work in these conditions,” one report said. “They are all experiencing feeling nauseous, having headaches and feeling very tired.”

Another staff member raised the alarm that one part of the hospital had become unsafe as a result of a sewage leak, adding: “It was embarrassing to run a department that has sewage leaking everywhere and offensive odour.”

The cost of repairs and maintenance to NHS buildings that should have already been carried out – which does not include planned maintenance work – has reached £10.2bn, according to NHS Digital.

It has said £1.8bn needs to be spent on the “high-risk” backlog, classified as needed “in order to prevent catastrophic failure, major disruption to clinical services or deficiencies in safety liable to cause serious injury and/or prosecution”.

Rory Deighton, of the NHS Confederation, said: “Health leaders are clear that many of their hospitals are in desperate need of repair, as these shocking findings demonstrate further. No one working in the NHS wants this for their patients or staff.

“It is no wonder that nine in 10 of our members recently told us a lack of capital investment is undermining their efforts to reduce their waiting lists and is putting patient safety at risk. This has been building up over the last 12 years where UK capital funding has lagged behind peer countries, and the government needs to demonstrate it is gripping on to the problem as a matter of urgency.”

A spokesperson for Leeds teaching hospitals NHS trust said: “As one of the largest teaching hospitals in the country, we have a huge estate spanning from Victorian to state-of-the-art – over 520,000 square metres and across seven hospital sites.

“While we have a comprehensive capital programme in place to ensure ongoing investment in our infrastructure, much of our estate is ageing. This causes a significant maintenance backlog, which inevitably leads to incidents such as leaks that require regular upkeep.”

Many of the leaks were minor, the spokesperson added, and a large proportion were caused by misuse, with inappropriate items being flushed into the system.

A spokesperson for the North Tees and Hartlepool trust said: “Staff reported 80 minor leaks to our estates and facilities team and there are no recorded major leaks to sewage.”

Michael Meredith, the director of strategy and estates at the Princess Alexandra hospital trust, said: “Sewage leaks occur across the site on a regular basis including below the ground, above the ground and in our basement. These are managed quickly and efficiently but they are unpleasant, especially where they occur in areas accessed by patients, our people or the public.”

He said the trust employs a 24-hour rapid response team to manage estate issues, and has a plan to deal with its maintenance backlog. “However, given the age and complexity of the estate and the delay in a decision around the funding for our new hospital, our backlog will continue to grow and will inevitably have an impact on service delivery.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “While individual NHS organisations are legally responsible for maintaining their estates, we are investing record sums to upgrade and modernise NHS buildings so staff have the facilities needed to provide world-class care – including £4.2bn this year and £8.4bn over the next two years.

“More widely, we have invested £3.7bn for the first four years of the new hospital programme and remain committed to all schemes that have been announced as part of it.”