‘Sewage pollution in the River Exe is unacceptable’ in Blue Flag Exmouth

The owner of Exmouth Watersports company has written to South West Water claiming that sewage pollution in the sea is damaging his business.

Exmouth has been a  “Blue Flag” beach for five years. Despite this, a correspondent recently added up all the sewage discharges recorded by the rivers trust for their latest annual report. This found that Exmouth had over 2,000 hours of outfall into Lyme Bay and the Exe. 

2,000 hours of sewage discharge merits a “Blue Flag”- how come? – Owl

Adam Manning www.exmouthjournal.co.uk 

Stephen Rollason Managing Director of Red Rock Leisure Ltd, which owns PrattsHayes campsite and Exmouth Water sports has written the letter to South West Water in reference to the sewage spills into the estuary, river and seas over the past year. 

Stephen said in the letter: “We work hard to encourage in the region of 20 thousands visitors to our campsite, wedding venue and watersports/activity centre. To then have received so much bad feed back and complaints due to the closure of bathing and watersports is surely unacceptable. There is also an obvious financial loss as we have to refund customers who cannot go out out on the water and the loss we have suffered from guests no longer wishing to return to East Devon.

“In our times when the environment is such and issue, should we not be leading the way and showing care to our environment and protect our resources for the future generations? As a company we have planted thousands of trees and support green levies. We teach our customers about sustainability and about protecting nature.

“We pay out extra for green energy and environmentally green waste collections. And we are in the process of possible large scale solar system, we are trying to do our bit for the environment.”

In response, a South West Water spokesman told the Journal: “We want everyone to feel confident about water quality across our region and proud of the performance of their water company.

“We continue to reduce our use of storm overflows but we know there is more to do. We are investing in several schemes in Exmouth to prevent surface water entering the sewer network and to reduce spills.

“All overflows in Exmouth are currently included in plans to be improved by the end of 2030.”

They concluded: “We have a plan, it is working and we won’t stop until everyone can feel proud about the performance of their water company in the South West.”

Olly Davey becomes first Green Party mayor of Exmouth

Exmouth Town Councillors have voted in a new mayor – Green Party councillor Olly Davey.

Adam Manning www.exmouthjournal.co.uk 

At the Exmouth Town meeting held on Monday, May 22, Cllr Davey became the new mayor, with independent councillor Jo Whibley as his deputy mayor.

Cllr Davey takes over the mayorial role from Cllr Steve Gazzard, an independent who represents Exmouth Withycombe, who had been the mayor since May 2019.

Cllr Davey said: “I am honoured to be the first Green mayor of Exmouth and thank Exmouth Town councillors for nominating and electing me to this position. I shall aim to represent Exmouth and its people to the best of my ability”.

Olly has served as a district councillor and town councillor for the last four years and has been re elected as a district councillor for Exmouth town ward.

As a member of the EDDC strategic planning committee  he has been involved in the development of the draft new local plan for East Devon. He is now in a key role to ensure that the views of Exmouth Town are considered by the district council.

Following the district council elections in May, councillor Steve Gazzard was re-elected for another term.

He spoke to the Journal at the count: “I’m delighted to be re-elected, whether people voted for me or not we are here to serve the community and we will do what we can for residents until the next election.

“We did not set out specific aims in our manifesto but if any residents what to come and raise something with us we can do what we can to help.”

After an election, councillors agree at the next council meeting a new mayor and deputy. 

Apologies – Owl gets the giggles in the Annual Meeting

Outgoing Council Chair Ian Thomas did not seek re-election. 

However, his retirement was delayed as he was required to return to the “colours” to preside over the nomination and election of the new Chair, Cllr Eleanor Rylance.

Thereafter, protocol apparently required that he be described as the “Dowager Councillor” Thomas.

The new Chair, in her words recalling and thanking him for his long service in EDDC, culminating in deftly chairing the past couple of years of the coalition, struggled with that.

(So did Owl)

Civil servants ‘have to fact-check’ Suella Braverman’s claims to cabinet

Suella Braverman is facing fresh controversy after it was claimed civil servants in her department were forced to “fact-check” the home secretary’s statements to cabinet on up to six occasions.

Aubrey Allegretti www.theguardian.com 

Concerns have been raised about the under-fire minister’s competence, as Downing Street denied Rishi Sunak was dithering about whether to launch an investigation into a potential breach of the ministerial code over her bid to avoid a speeding fine.

Government sources told the Guardian Braverman has repeatedly got things wrong, including during cabinet talks about King Charles’s coronation in March and in meetings held this week on migration, in which she overstated the number of Ukrainians and Hongkongers who had come to the UK by tens of thousands.

One insider said she made “basic errors”, while another said she “keeps getting facts wrong”. After meetings with other senior ministers, the Cabinet Office was said to have had to contact officials from the Home Office, who were asked to “factcheck” her claims.

There was no such similar problem when her predecessor, Priti Patel, ran the Home Office, the Guardian was told.

A source close to Braverman disputed the suggestions and claimed they had no awareness of such issues.

Sunak has not yet decided whether to ask his ethics adviser to look into Braverman’s attempt to arrange a private speed awareness course and concerns about her attempt to draw on civil servants to help her.

He has asked her for “further information”, according to the Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin, who fielded questions in the Commons on Tuesday.

Despite no firm decision having been publicly announced, No 10 insiders suggested that Braverman could be in the clear because they felt there had not been enough of a public outcry for her to face a severe sanction.

Tory MPs are in a “mutinous” mood, with government frontbenchers understood to have spoken to figures in the whips’ office to voice their frustration with a lack of action being taken against Braverman.

Braverman’s special adviser, who is accused of having told a journalist who asked whether she had been caught speeding that it was “nonsense” before the story became public, is also coming under scrutiny. Sunak’s spokesperson confirmed they were being looked at “in the round”.

Some Whitehall experts and former civil servants have downplayed a potential breach of the rules by Baverman.

Gus O’Donnell, a former head of the civil service, told an event at the Institute for Government on Tuesday morning: “One of the things that was wrong about the ministerial code [is] that people thought, journalists in particular, about this, ‘A-ha, gotcha! You broke the ministerial code, therefore you must resign’, which is not true.

“It shouldn’t be true. It should be, ‘You broke the ministerial code, it is actually a relatively minor offence, I am going to give you a yellow card and we’ll move on’.”

Jill Rutter, a former No 10 civil servant and government expert at UK in a Changing Europe and the Institute for Government, also said it might fall into the category of a bad judgment for which she is in “final, final warning territory”.

She said the context and tone of the incident was important, including how strongly she had asked civil servants to look into a private course. “Should she have asked? Probably not. That’s bad judgment and an inappropriate thing to do. But if people said they couldn’t help her, and in terms of ordering the civil service around, it looks as if she desisted. If she was just inquiring whether this was possible, it is different from saying: ‘Look, I’m the home secretary, don’t you know who I am?’ It’s all bad, but Sunak will have to decide: is it worth sacking her over?”

She said in a more functioning system the ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, would be able to order his own investigation rather than relying on Sunak as the person to trigger an inquiry.

Braverman has defenders within politics, particularly on the Eurosceptic right of the party. One political aide who has worked with Braverman said she was steely and extremely clever, as well as persistently underestimated by her colleagues.

They said she was still very well-regarded by the European Research Group wing of the party and Sunak would not be strong enough to move against her, even if he wanted to.

South West Water’s apology for sewage dumping deemed “too little, too late”

MP Richard Foord has called for South West Water to be overhauled following an overdue apology for sewage dumping. In a statement issued through Water UK, water and sewage companies admitted to dragging their heels on taking action to stop sewage discharges into our coastlines, rivers and lakes.

Lewis Clarke www.devonlive.com 

In the wake of this announcement, Tiverton & Honiton MP Richard Foord has said the apology is far too late, and that it is meaningless unless the firm is completely reformed.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for water firms to become “public benefit companies,” making environmental goals more important than profits, and making it compulsory for environmental experts to sit on their company boards.

They say this would put an end to billions of pounds being wasted in dividends whilst sewage destroys waterways.

Devon Liberal Democrats are also demanding an apology from the region’s Conservative MPs, saying they repeatedly voted down tougher action on water firms.

Commenting, MP Richard Foord said: “This announcement is too little too late after years of putting public health at risk and large-scale environmental damage, which has previously been arrogantly dismissed by the water industry.

“This apology means nothing unless the firm is completely reformed from top to bottom. Protecting the environment should be more important than making overseas investors rich. Sadly, South West Water still has their priorities all wrong.

“To add insult to injury, this Conservative MPs across the West Country have spent recent years voting down tougher action on polluting water firms. They too owe people an apology.”

Mr Foord has welcomed the announcement that Ofwat has launched an investigation into South West Water, warning that the company has ‘serious failings’ that need to be addressed. Commenting, Richard Foord said: “The fact that Ofwat has launched this investigation into South West Water reinforces what we already knew – that there are serious failings in the way some of our utility companies are being run.

“This action is overdue, as it’s clear that South West Water is being run for the benefit of shareholders; our local communities are an afterthought. Their negligence has seen a stream of sewage dumped in our rivers and on our beaches, while communities are left facing burst pipes and hosepipe bans.

“The Government has repeatedly rebuffed Liberal Democrats’ efforts to clamp down on this behaviour, claiming that Ofwat has the ability to properly regulate the actions of water companies. Sadly, to date we’ve seen little tangible action.

“Now is their chance to prove they mean business and reassure the public that water company bosses will not be allowed to get away with this shockingly poor performance.”

A South West Water spokesperson said: “We agree with the messages shared by Water UK. As we have said, we know there is more to do. We are investing more than ever before, we have a plan and it is working. We take our responsibilities to customers, the environment and society as a whole extremely seriously. We won’t give up until people have a water company they are proud of.”

Matt Hall to resign Sherborne West seat on Dorset Council

A Dorset Council councillor is to resign his seat after winning an election at Exmouth in Devon.

[He not only won in Exmouth but has been appointed to the EDDC cabinet on the basis of his experience! – Owl]

Trevor Bevins www.dorsetecho.co.uk 

Cllr Matt Hall had moved to the neighbouring county to take up a job as a planning officer after recently qualifying.

His move is likely to lead to an election for his Sherborne West seat on Dorset Council in the coming weeks.

He had been criticised by Conservative councillors for moving away from the area, whilst retaining his Dorset seat which he has held since spring 2019.

In a statement Mr Hall says it came as a surprise to be elected in Exmouth and it had always been his intention to step down from his Dorset Council role before next May’s elections. He will now resign formally at the next council meeting.

He said: “I had agreed to stand as a paper candidate in Exmouth ahead of a move to the town. However last week Exmouth, like much of the UK, voted overwhelmingly to reject the nasty politics of the Conservative Party and I now find myself a councillor on two different councils. It had always been my intention to step down from Dorset Council at the elections next year, but it isn’t fair to constituents in either place to try and do both jobs. So with great sadness I have decided to give up my Sherborne seat early.”

Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Dorset Council Nick Ireland paid tribute to Cllr Hall saying: “Exmouth’s gain is very much Dorset’s loss. Matt has been an outstanding councillor for Dorset and is a prime example of why electing Liberal Democrats is good for local communities. He works tirelessly for residents of Sherborne and a raft of local charities. He champions local causes and is always available to help constituents with their problems.

“Matt will be sorely missed by his fellow councillors and by the many hundreds of Sherborne residents he has personally helped. We look forward to putting forward a candidate who can carry on his good work.”

Matt Hall added: “I am extremely sad to be leaving Sherborne. It has been my home for over 20 years and I’ve been a councillor here in many different guises for 12 years. I am enormously proud of what I and my fellow Liberal Democrats have achieved; from dealing with blocked drains, trip hazards and potholes, to getting funding from the various councils to help fund highway improvements and supporting local groups and organisations.

“The success of Liberal Democrat candidates across the country in last week’s local elections shows that people are tired of being taken for granted and want elected officials who are going to work for them rather than themselves.”

Virgin Orbit: Branson’s space mission ends after rocket failure

Sir Richard Branson’s rocket company Virgin Orbit has shut down, just months after a major mission failure.

Where now for Cornwall’s space port? – Owl

By Peter Hoskins www.bbc.co.uk

The firm’s converted jet and leases on properties have been sold for $36m (£29m), just a fraction of the $3.7bn the company was valued at in 2021.

In March, Virgin Orbit said it would make most of its workforce redundant after failing to secure new investment.

The California-based firm filed for bankruptcy protection in the US early last month.

It came just weeks after the company paused operations in an apparent attempt to shore up its finances.

Earlier this year, a Virgin Orbit rocket failed to complete the first ever satellite launch from UK soil.

Virgin Orbit’s headquarters rocket factory and equipment were bought by rival start-up, Rocket Lab, for $16.1m.

Its converted Boeing 747 jet, called Cosmic Girl, was sold for $17m to aerospace firm Stratolaunch.

Another space company, Launcher Inc, bought Virgin Orbit’s launch site and lease in the Mojave desert for $2.7m.

Virgin Orbit, which was founded in 2017, never turned a profit as a public company.

It developed rockets to carry small satellites and is part of Sir Richard’s business empire, which includes airline Virgin Atlantic and space tourism company Virgin Galactic.

The company’s LauncherOne rocket reached space but fell short of reaching its target orbit.

The mission was billed as a milestone for UK space exploration. It had been hoped it would mark a major step forward to fulfilling an ambition to turn the country into a global player – from manufacturing satellites to building rockets and creating new spaceports.

King Charles and Prince William face fight over taxpayer funds on Dartmoor

Much of Dartmoor, and in particular the areas owned by the duchy are classed as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). These special areas are designated because they are nationally important for wildlife, and in need of protection. Yet despite 10 years of environmental subsidies much of the land is still in poor condition, according to the latest surveys by Natural England, the most recent of which were undertaken in 2019. Some date back to 2011.

King Charles and Prince William could be dragged into a bitter fight over £13m of taxpayer funds paid over the past decade for nature restoration on Dartmoor national park.

Helena Horton www.theguardian.com

The funds have partly been paid to tenants farming land in the national park that is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, a land and property estate controlled by the heir to the throne.

The subsidies were intended to help preserve and restore Dartmoor as an important national wildlife ecosystem. Yet despite the government funding little improvement has been seen.

Last month the government regulator, Natural England, stepped in and threatened to stop the subsidy payments unless farmers significantly reduced livestock grazing, a key contributor to the degradation of the land. This controversial move caused a local and parliamentary backlash, which has thrown into question the regulator’s powers.

Some have criticised the duchy, suggesting that Prince William, and previously the king, as the landowners are ultimately responsible.

The duchy has developed a plan with farmers to help improve the land and recently committed £700,000 to land restoration. But the area is failing on virtually every government environmental measure.

Much of Dartmoor, and in particular the areas owned by the duchy are classed as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). These special areas are designated because they are nationally important for wildlife, and in need of protection. Yet despite 10 years of environmental subsidies much of the land is still in poor condition, according to the latest surveys by Natural England, the most recent of which were undertaken in 2019. Some date back to 2011.

Most worryingly, peat bogs on the SSSIs are in terrible condition. These bogs are a significant store of carbon in the UK as well as being invaluable for wildlife.

Much of the damage to the environment has been put down to increased grazing. Though grazing is a traditional part of life on Dartmoor, in recent years there has been an increase in animals stocked on the land, stripping vegetation from the peat bogs which cover the national park, according to Natural England.

Wes Smyth, Natural England’s area manager for Dartmoor, said landowners who did not improve the areas they looked after, would cease to get government funding unless they changed their ways.

He said: “It’s become clear over the recent years that the relationship between farming, nature and other impacts like climate change are not in balance and nature is declining in a way that may jeopardise the huge value that Dartmoor brings to local communities and visitors.

“Despite the protection these designations provided, and the huge investment of public money in agri-environment schemes, wildlife has declined. Breeding populations of golden plover, red grouse and ring ouzels have now gone or are on the verge of being lost.

“Dartmoor’s precious peatlands, its blanket bogs on the highest ground and mires in the valley bottoms are still suffering from historic management affecting their ability to store carbon and regulate river flows.”

The lack of improvement led Natural England to write to tenant farmers saying subsidy payments would be stopped unless they reduced their livestock on Dartmoor. At stake is more than £1.3m paid annually to farmers to improve the condition of peatland and plants as well as increase numbers of rare birds on the SSSI.

As the largest landowner Prince William could find himself dragged into the debate over these payments. Some of the farmers who received letters are tenants of the duchy.

Campaigners believe that it is ultimately the responsibility of the duchy to ensure tenant farmers are deploying farming methods that give the land the best chance to recover.

A spokesperson for the Duchy of Cornwall said: “As a responsible landowner who prioritises sustainability, we work closely with our partners on Dartmoor – particularly our tenants, the wider farming community, conservation groups, Dartmoor National Park Authority and Natural England – on the management and condition of the commons.”

Environmental campaigner and Devon resident Guy Shrubsole said: “King Charles and Prince William have both spoken passionately about environmental issues for decades, but their rhetoric hasn’t always been matched by action when it comes to their Duchy of Cornwall landholdings. Large swathes of duchy land on Dartmoor have the right climate for temperate rainforest, but only tiny fragments now remain. Prince William has supported the restoration of temperate rainforest in the Pacific north-west – let’s hope he now does so on his own estate.”

Tom Usher, of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, added: “The Duchy of Cornwall are in a unique position to show leadership by properly managing Dartmoor’s degraded SSSIs. They have a duty to the land they claim to care for and the people that live and work there.

“To fix it the duchy needs to have tightly and regularly monitored outcomes that are key to success. The collaborative approach of the last decade with farmers and those that work the land should continue and now also involve local community groups.”