Now the SH*T hits the fan

Imagine! – Owl

Therese Coffey Faces Calls To Resign Following 300,000 Sewage Spills In Rivers

Ned Simons 

Therese Coffey is facing calls to resign after figures showed water companies dumped sewage into waterways over 300,000 times last year.

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said it was a “national scandal” and accused the environment secretary of ignoring “environmental crimes” on her watch.

“Therese Coffey must now resign or be sacked so we can have an environment secretary who actually cares about saving our rivers from destruction,” he said.

“Her plans to solve this crisis would allow sewage dumping to happen for decades to come, poisoning more animals and destroying precious chalk streams.”

Data from the Environment Agency showed sewage was spilled 301,091 times in 2022, equivalent to 824 times every day.

This is lower than the 370,000 spills in 2021, but the agency said this was due to dry weather, not the actions of water companies.

Pop star and environment campaigner Feargal Sharkey also backed the calls for Coffey to resign.

The Lib Dems have made tackling sewage a key part of their local election campaign.

Speaking at the party’s spring conference earlier this month, Davey predicted it would cost the Conservatives “dozens of seats” at the next general election.

The party also made water pollution a central part of its successful bid to overturn a huge 24,000 majority at the Tiverton and Honiton by-election last June.

Figures recently revealed that pay and bonus packages for water firm bosses soared by a fifth in 2021-22, despite significantly sewage spills in Britain’s waterways.

The average pay for executives at 10 firms across England and Wales jumped to £1.1 million in 2021-22, up by £193,000 on average.

SWW turd count just published

There were more than 37,000 monitored sewage spills in the South West Water area last year.

Note the word “monitored”. The longer period of October to mid-May, when sewage discharges and spills are also more likely in the wetter months, are “unmonitored”.

So this is a gross understatement of the real situation. – Owl

The Environment Agency figures show that the number of incidents in 2022 were actually fewer than in 2021.

However, the agency said this was largely the result of dry weather and a subsequent drought.

Meanwhile, North Devon MP Selaine Saxby has called for year-round testing of bathing water quality.

The Conservative MP said a reduction in storm overflows in her constituency had led to “good” or “excellent” water quality.

But in the Commons Ms Saxby said testing only took place between 15 May and 30 September, and called for an extension.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said water companies would, by the end of the year, be required to provide water “year-round” water quality information in the event of a discharge.

She added: “And all water companies will also have to install new flow monitors on more than 2,000 waste water treatment works.”

John Halsall, South West Water’s chief operating officer, said they were reducing the use of storm overflows and had already installed “100% monitoring” on storm overflows, ahead of the government target.

He added: “We want everyone to feel confident about the water quality at their favourite beaches and to know that we are serious about reducing the use of storm overflows.

“We need to stop the overuse of storm overflows.”

In the Commons, Ms Saxby asked: “Will (the minister) consider extending the testing season for the increasing number of all-year-round bathers and surfers, or at least look for waters to be tested after a storm overflow has discharged?”

Ms Pow responded: “We are using powers in the Environment Act, and under those we require companies to make discharge data available in near real time to the public, if there has been a discharge which would affect water quality, and to monitor water quality upstream and downstream of their assets.”

Under the current system, each classification given to bathing waters has a symbol that councils must display. The classifications are: excellent, good, sufficient, and poor.

Figures published in November showed just over 97% of England’s designated bathing sites met minimum standards in 2022, down slightly on the previous year.

Could water company bosses’ bonuses be flushed down the pan?

Ofwat publishes new “guidance”: “Water firms will be expected to take full account of their record on customer service and waterways pollution, as well as company performance overall, when deciding whether to award bonuses to senior executives.

Another example of light touch government.

What about Susan Davey’s bonus, £1.6m last year?

Susan Davy, who is chief executive of South West Water’s parent company Pennon, is paid a base salary of £456,000, but with her bonus, incentives and benefits the company’s latest set of accounts show her total pay was bumped up to £1.6m. See: South West Water boss trebles pay with huge bonus as beaches are shut due to raw sewage in sea.

She should fogo any bonus for 2023 right now. – Owl

Water firms set for tougher rules on bonuses for top bosses 

Water companies are facing tougher rules on bonuses for top bosses under plans outlined by the industry watchdog to ensure payouts are only made when environmental and customer service targets are met.

Ofwat said its new plans “ensure customers do not fund executive bonus payments” for poor performance.

As part of new guidance published on Thursday, water firms will be expected to take full account of their record on customer service and waterways pollution, as well as company performance overall, when deciding whether to award bonuses to senior executives.

The regulator’s review of company decisions on pay awards will be based on a wide range of criteria, including environmental performance, delivery for customers, overall financial health, and compliance issues.

It comes after figures recently revealed that pay and bonus packages for water firm bosses soared by a fifth in 2021-22, despite significantly sewage spills in Britain’s waterways.

Analysis of data by the Liberal Democrats – which is calling for a ban on bonuses for water bosses – showed the average pay for executives at 10 firms across England and Wales jumped to £1.1 million in 2021-22, up by £193,000 on average.

This comes in spite of more than 370,000 sewage spills from storm overflows in England in 2021, according to Environment Agency data.

David Black, chief executive at Ofwat, said: “In too many cases, bonuses paid do not reflect the reality of company performance.

“Customer trust is damaged when executive bonuses are not aligned to water company performance for customers and the environment.

“We said that if companies did not address this we would take action, and that is exactly what we are doing.”

Ofwat is getting tough on water firms after a raft of high-profile sewage spills and environmental performance failures in recent years.

It also announced earlier this month new powers to be able to stop suppliers paying out shareholder dividends if they fail to meet performance standards.

On the new bonus plans, Ofwat said: “Water companies are monopolies established to provide an essential service.

“They have a range of obligations to customers, communities and the environment and, through their appointments, a privileged status.

“Remuneration, whether that be for investors through their returns or executives through their performance-related executive pay, should closely reflect and take account of these responsibilities, reward excellence and, importantly, should not reward poor performance or failure.

“In a context where the performance of the sector continues to be called into question, particularly with regard to environmental performance, we do not consider that all companies are applying performance-related pay in a way that lives up to the standards that we all expect.”

The new proposals are now open for consultation until May 1.

The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) said it would be “examining the detail”.

Emma Clancy, chief executive of the CCW, said: “Customers will want to see this making a clear difference.

“Our research shows that people want to see evidence bonuses have been earned by companies delivering on commitments to their customers and the environment.

“People also want far greater transparency on pay. We want chief executives to explain to their customers – who are not able to switch supplier – why their salaries are justified.”

Stagecoach announces sudden bus fares hikes in Devon

Bus passengers in Devon and across the South West will have to pay more to travel on Stagecoach buses from the end of this week. Unknown to many public transport users, the bus company has recently added to its website that there will be changes to bus fares from Sunday, April 2, for both adults and children.

Anita Merritt

It is believed many prices will rise from around eight to 15 per cent for commuters whether they purchase tickets online, on the bus or via the mobile app. Fees for single and return journeys are not affected and customers can still benefit from the £2 single tickets fare through the Bus Fare Cap scheme until June 30.

Stagecoach says the new prices are being introduced due to ‘cost increases’ to run services, and adds it has previously ‘frozen prices’ for three years for mobile tickets. As part of the new fares, Flexible Ticket Bundles across North Devon, Torbay and Plymouth zones will enable passengers to save up to 30 per cent.

The news comes the same week that Exeter Green Party announced it recently met with new Stagecoach South West managing director boss Peter Knight and says he shared a commitment with them for low-cost travel for children and young people and restructuring fares to make them fairer for Exeter passengers.

The new bus fares bring introduced in Exeter will see an adult Exeter DayRider paper ticket increase from £4.50 to £5, the equivalent of more than a 10 per increase. A child DayRider will rise from £3.40 to £3.90, a 14 per cent increase. NightRider tickets will go from £3.50 to £4, also a 14 per cent increase.

When it comes to weekly tickets, an Exeter seven-day MegaRider will change from £16.50 to £19, a hike of 15 per cent. An Exeter 28-day MegaRider will rise from £60.50 to £69.50, an increase of around 14 per cent.

An Exeter annual MegaRider, currently £737.60, will rise to £850, a 15 per cent increase. Families, or those travelling in groups, also face higher travel costs. A group day rider will change from £9.20 to £10, a hike of eight per cent. Other areas of Devon will face similar increases.

The new fares being introduced by Stagecoach as of April 2 (Image: Stagecoach)

On the Stagecoach website, it states: “We’ve worked to absorb significant cost increases to keep fares increases as low as possible for as long as possible for our passengers. Last year we froze prices, for the third year, across our popular mobile tickets, allowing customers to continue to enjoy daily and weekly unlimited travel for the same price as introduced in 2019.

“As part of the new fare structure, we’re rolling out Flexible Ticket Bundles across North Devon, Torbay and Plymouth zones, allowing passengers to save up to 30 per cent on the cost of daily unlimited travel. Just like the popular DayRider tickets, travel is unlimited across the day, and available via the Stagecoach Bus App.

“When you choose Flexi in bundles of FIVE or 10 you have 12 months to choose which day to use your bus ticket all while saving up to 30 per cent on the cost. The new bundles come in options of five or 10, the Flexi5 – Five DayRiders for the price of four offers customers 20 per cent off the RRP, while the Flexi10 – 10 DayRiders for the price of seven offers a saving of 30 per cent off.”

The news has not been welcomed by many bus users. On The Exeter Area Bus Action Group (TEABAG) Facebook page one member said: “So we are paying more for a crap service? Sounds about right.”

Another added: “A lesser service for a huge increase. How is that right?”

Worried about the impact the fare increase will have on bus drivers, Lady Sarah Ruth told DevonLive: “My husband is a bus driver and they received the new bus fares news yesterday [March 29]. Come Sunday/ Monday, no one will know and him and his colleagues will face days of abuse from the public for this.

“Life is stressful enough and people need to be aware fares are going up.”

Peter Knight, managing director for Stagecoach South West told DevonLive: “Stagecoach has consistently delivered some of the lowest ticket prices in the country and we are committed to continuing to keep fares as low as possible for our passengers. Prices for single and return journey’s are not affected by this change and customers can continue to benefit from the £2 fare through the Bus Fare Cap scheme until the end of June.

“Businesses such as Stagecoach have been facing significantly increased costs which continue to put pressure on fares. We have worked hard to absorb as many of these costs as possible to keep fares increases as low as possible.

“We have all seen prices rising across all areas of society in our everyday lives. Having held our prices since March 2022 for our tickets brought on the bus and those brought on our app for nearly four years, we now, unfortunately, need to review some of our bus fares from April 2.

“The money from fares goes towards paying for the day-to-day running of services as well as investing in our bus fleet and other customer improvements. Changes we’re needing to introduce to our fares reflect the rising costs of running bus services, which have increased by up to 30 per cent.

“With bus passenger numbers still needing to return to the pre-pandemic levels, it is vital that as a commercial bus operator, Stagecoach South West make decisions that will future-proof the viability of its network for our customers and colleagues.

“The money from fares goes towards paying for the day-to-day running of services, as well as securing the viability of our network of services in the South West. We want to make sure, that as far as possible, we keep our communities connected to the people and places they need to get to the most.”

This week Stagecoach has also been asked by DevonLive to confirm whether claims made by Exeter Green Party about fairer fares in Exeter is being looked into, what the new fares could be, when they might be introduced and if it will just be Exeter or other areas?

Stagecoach did not provide answers to the questions. Instead, a Stagecoach Spokesperson responded: “We are pleased to say that 99.5 per cent of our buses are operating as scheduled. We also continue to recruit across the region to ensure we maintain a full staffing quota.

“It is great to see people across the region taking advantage of the £2 fare cap initiative. However, with bus passenger numbers still needing to return to the pre-pandemic levels, it is vital that commercial bus operators make decisions that will future-proof the viability of networks for customers and colleagues.

‘The money from fares goes towards paying for the day-to-day running of services, as well as securing the viability of our network of services in the South West. We want to make sure, that as far as possible, we keep our communities connected to the people and places they need to get to the most. With the right public policies and investment, buses have a positive long-term future.”

Exeter Green Party councillors said earlier this week that they are hopeful ‘buses are moving in the right direction’ in the city following a meeting with Stagecoach boss Peter Knight. However, they expressed their disappointment to Stagecoach over the cuts to evening and Sunday services which has left routes in the city with only hourly frequencies.

Green councillor Amy Sparling, who is a member of the joint Councils’ Highways and Traffic Orders Committee, said: “We were pleased to hear Stagecoach report that their recruitment difficulties have been largely overcome and that they are now running the vast majority of services according to the timetable. This shows that buses are moving in the right direction in Exeter.

“What is needed now is an increase in service frequency. Stagecoach acknowledged that where frequencies increase, to every 20 minutes on the A route for example, passenger numbers also rise. It also seems clear that the £2 single fare cap has helped boost passenger numbers. Higher frequencies and lower fares are key to driving up passenger numbers.”

Fellow Exeter Green councillor Diana Moore added: “Mr Knight made clear his commitment to low fares for young people. As someone who has joined Stagecoach South West from Scotland, he pointed to the Scottish Greens policy, adopted by the Scottish government, where under 22’s travel free on buses.

“Greens successfully campaigned for a £1 add-on fare for children travelling with an adult in Exeter a number of years ago. It would be great to see this re-introduced to help families struggling with the cost of living and who do not own cars.

“There was also an acknowledgement that fairer fares in Exeter are needed as and when the £2 single fare cap introduced by the government comes to an end.”

£3.5m of Tory donations linked to pollution and climate denial, says report

The Conservative party received £3.5m from individuals and entities linked to climate denial, fossil fuels and high-pollution industries last year, according to new analysis.

Helena Horton 

The climate website DeSmog analysed Electoral Commission records, which show that the party and its MPs received funds from the aviation and construction industries, mining and oil interests, and individuals linked to the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a thinktank which has denied the legitimacy of climate science.

The analysis comes after the government announced an underwhelming suite of energy policies, which rely on carbon capture and storage and which campaigners have said lack the ambition to properly phase out fossil fuels.

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said the government’s so-called green day “couldn’t be any more of a misnomer, when the Conservative party is raking in millions of pounds’ worth of dirty donations from fossil fuel interests and climate deniers”.

The Tories gained large sums from those with direct ties to fossil fuels, including more than £62,000 from Nova Venture Holdings, a firm wholly owned by Jacques Tohme, who describes himself as an “energy investor” on LinkedIn and lists his current role as co-founder and director of Tailwind Energy, an oil and gas company.

The party also received £10,000 from Alan Lusty, the CEO of Adi Group, a “leading supplier of engineering services to the petrochemical industry”, while Centrax, a firm that manufactures gas turbines, gave £35,000 to the party.

The party received £23,900 from Amjad Bseisu, CEO of the oil and gas firm EnQuest, who has argued that the North Sea could still yield further discoveries to extend its lifespan.

The largest donor to the Conservative party last year was the aviation entrepreneur Christopher Harborne, who gave £1.5m. The entrepreneur is CEO of a private jet company and also runs AML Global, an aviation fuel supplier operating in 1,200 locations across the globe with a distribution network that includes “main and regional oil companies”, according to its website.

Harborne has previously provided gifts to the Conservative MP Steve Baker, who co-founded the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, and was once a GWPF trustee. Harborne has previously given £6.5m to the Brexit party – now Reform UK – whose co-founder Nigel Farage has called for a referendum on the government’s net zero targets. The entrepreneur hasn’t publicly spoken out on the climate crisis.

The largest single donation to the party – £973,000 – came from Mark Bamford, who is part of the JCB construction empire. According to the government’s environmental audit committee, the UK’s built environment is responsible for 25% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, and “there has been a lack of government impetus or policy levers to assess and reduce these emissions”.

The Bamfords have also invested in hydrogen power, a form of energy which could help to decarbonise heavy industry if it is produced sustainably. The government has been trialling the use of hydrogen to heat homes, but a comprehensive review of scientific papers has concluded that it is unsuitable for use in home heating, and likely to remain so, despite the hopes of the UK government and plumbing industry.

Sir Michael Hintze, who was one of the early funders of the GWPF, donated £17,500 to the party.

The Conservative party and all companies and individuals mentioned have been contacted for comment.

Hasty changes to Sunak’s climate strategy reveal a warring Tory party

Does the UK’s new energy and climate package measure up to what other countries are planning? For most of the experts and campaigners delivering their verdict on Thursday, the answer was a clear no.

If you are concerned about reaching net zero – don’t vote Tory, their hearts aren’t in it. – Owl   

Fiona Harvey 

Rishi Sunak, the UK prime minister, headed to Oxfordshire on Thursday to visit a development facility for nuclear fusion, the early-stage concept that promises unlimited clean energy at an unspecified future point, if only some hefty physical constraints can be overcome.

He was accompanied by Grant Shapps, energy and net zero secretary, for the biggest energy and climate change announcement of his premiership, a comprehensive package of measures encompassing everything from onshore wind and solar power to carbon taxes and heat pumps.

“When global energy supplies are disrupted and weaponised by the likes of Putin, we have seen household bills soar and economic growth slow around the world,” said Sunak, of the “powering up Britain” energy package. “We have stepped in to shield people from its worst impacts by helping to pay around half the typical energy bill. But we are also stepping up to power Britain and ensure our energy security in the long term, with more affordable, clean energy from Britain, so we can drive down energy prices and grow our economy.”

Yet, only a few days before, the plan was to hold the launch in Aberdeen, the oil and gas capital of the UK. Local businesses had been primed, oil and gas specialists were ready, shoving their minor interests in green alternatives – such as hydrogen – hastily to the fore, for an event to be hailed as “energy security day”. Fossil fuels would be a necessary part of that energy security, they had been assured.

And, only a few days before that, the plan was not to foreground energy security at all – the event was to be called “green day”, and the focus would be clearly on renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling the climate crisis, as well as bringing down household bills through supporting clean power.

Tom Burke, co-founder of the thinktank E3G, and a veteran government adviser, said the whirl of changes in the run-up to the launch were both bewildering and revealing. “This is a level of chaos that reveals the extent of the internal unresolved disputes within the party on these issues,” he said. “There is an anti-green faction in the Tory party, and this chaos has been all about them.”

The energy strategy, running to well over a thousand pages across its reams of documents, covers everything from nuclear fusion – which some experts regard as an unconvincing distraction, when technology to cut emissions today should be the priority – to electric vehicle charging points.

Sunak had little choice but to publish some form of strategy this week, as last year the high court ruled that the government’s existing strategy to meet its legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050 was inadequate. The judge in the case, brought by Friends of the Earth and other campaigners, ordered a revamp by the end of this month, also the deadline for the government to publish its response to the review of net zero by Tory MP Chris Skidmore, published in January.

To complete the package, the chancellor of the exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, decided to publish his strategy for green investment at the same time, setting out how the private sector is expected to fund the comprehensive overhaul of the UK’s economy needed to reach the net zero target.

For the government, this marks a major cross-Whitehall operation, encompassing policy that spans the Department for Transport, Department for Levelling Up, Department for Business and Trade, and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as well as the Treasury and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, and Downing Street.

The government’s focus is timely, given rapidly growing concerns that the UK is falling behind internationally, which have been given new urgency by the war in Ukraine and the soaring price of energy. The US is pushing forward strongly with its $369bn Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to make America a superpower for clean energy technologies and offers tax breaks to manufacturers.

Europe, after initial outrage that it was losing its green leadership status, is now hard at work on its response. Hundreds of billions of euros of investment are at stake, and the sacred cow of state aid rules is likely to be slaughtered in pursuing them.

So the key question is: does the UK’s new energy and climate package measure up to what other countries are planning? For most of the experts and campaigners delivering their verdict on Thursday, the answer was a clear no.

Mel Evans, head of climate at Greenpeace UK, summed it up: “Ministers talk about leading the world, but the UK is not even making it to the starting blocks of the green tech race. A good government would go all in on renewable, efficient energy to give millions of people warm homes, clean air, lower bills and a safe climate – but powering Up Britain is a far cry from what this country needs.”

Despite the support for offshore wind, the talk of electric vehicles and the focus on carbon capture, there were too many misses. Plans to insulate 300,000 homes were dismissed as puny, compared with the 14m that need upgrades. Onshore wind turbines are still, in effect, banned, despite small changes to the planning rules. Hydrogen is still being touted for home heating, despite studies showing it will not work. Solar panels will not be mandated on new-build housing, and the heat pump scheme is still flawed.

Burke laid the blame at the door of a prime minister besieged by a warring party. “This feels like a party that is internally divided, that can’t come up with a coherent story, that can’t even agree what the story is,” he told the Guardian. “And this is what is spooking investors: this anti-green faction of losers who are going to turn the UK into a loser, in the global race for green prosperity.”

Huge flames seen engulfing derelict former council offices

Oh, how convenient! – Owl

Firefighters are currently attending a huge fire in Sidmouth in Devon this morning (Thursday, March 30). The blaze has broken out at a derelict building on Knowle Drive, Sidmouth and residents in the area have been told to close all their windows due to a large amount of smoke.

Zhara Simpson

Crews from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue attended the fire at around 4:11am on Thursday, and have reported the incident is currently ongoing. A photo from the scene, shared on Twitter, shows huge flames coming from the building, along with big plumes of smoke.

The fire service also advised people to ‘avoid the area’ this morning following the fire. In a statement on the website, it added that the fire is at the former East Devon District Council offices and that when crews arrived at the scene, the building was ‘well alight.’

The force’s statement says: “Fire Control received a call to reports of smoke in the area along with a small glow in the area of the above property. Control immediately mobilised 1 Fire Appliance from Sidmouth to investigate.

“Once on scene crews confirmed a fire involving the former council offices in Knowle well alight and made up for 6 Pumping Appliances and 1 Aerial Ladder Platform. Crews are at work tackling the fire and we currently have 8 Fire Appliances 2 Aerial Ladder Platforms 1 Water Bowser Supporting Appliances and Supporting Officers.”

At 6:50am on Thursday, it added: “Currently on scene we have 8 Fire Appliances, 2 Aerial Ladder Platforms, 2 Water Bowsers, An Environmental Protection Unit, A Crew Welfare Unit, High Volume Pump Module, and supporting officers. At this time crews are at work tackling a fire within a disused building that consists of several linked buildings where approximately 1/3 of the building is involved in fire, this incident has been sectorised and crews are actively firefighting currently.

“We ask at this time for all residents to keep windows and doors closed and to avoid the local area, we expect the local water supply to be disrupted. This incident is ongoing at this time and will be updated in due course.”

Wrong sort of rain in Budleigh Salterton

South West Water are renewing the Victorian combined sewer outfall connecting the untreated sewage system to the sea off Otter Head.

From a Correspondent:

“Unfortunately Kier aren’t able to undertake the sewer connection works due in Lime Kiln car park this week due to storm tank levels and the rainy weather forecast.” 

What does this tell us about Budleigh’s sewage system’s ability to cope with a spot of rain? There have been constant sewage alerts on most East Devon beaches for days.

Source: current Surfers against Sewage map

As a result they won’t be able to reduce the “land take” in Lime Kiln car park in time for the Easter weekend. 

About half the car park is currently used as a “hard hat” work site.

The Lime Kiln car park attracts visitors to the sea in all weather conditions over the weekends, especially as we enter Spring. 

“Apologies for the inconvenience because as you know, we were hoping to be able to free up some space in the car park over Easter. Unfortunately the weather has had other ideas and we can’t risk the storm tank overflowing.”

Apologies don’t really do it, do they?

Will SWW be fully compensating EDDC and the BS Town Council for the losses suffered?

Mencap begins legal process against Devon County Council

Plans to cut adult day and respite services by Devon County Council are being legally challenged by a local charity.

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter 

The council is consulting on proposals to close most of its disability day centres, as well as one of its respite centres in either Exeter or Honiton.

It forms part of an overall package of cuts that would save Devon more than £30 million from its adult care budget, with the council previously saying it needs to find total savings of £45 million so it can prioritise spending on what it is legally obliged to provide.

Now the Exeter & District Mencap Society is calling on the council to halt its consultations, which it believes are “seriously flawed” and could be unlawful, or it will launch a judicial review.

A 27-page ‘letter before claim’ challenges whether the council is carrying out the public consultations lawfully and if it hasn’t complied with a section of the Equality Act 2010.

Bob Gaiger, trustee of the charity said: “We are extremely concerned that the consultations appear to be designed to justify the proposals to cut in-house services.

“The consultations and proposals are seriously flawed and provide no evidence to support the decisions that Devon County Council have taken so far.

“Parents and carers are being asked to complete the consultation documents and make impossible choices without any supporting information to help them in their decisions.”

The council says it will be considering its response.

The challenge comes after other parts of the adult care savings plan were criticised at a council scrutiny committee meeting, including a planned scrapping of the council’s £1.5 million contribution towards homelessness prevention.

An Exeter councillor said it would “massively increase the number of rough sleepers,” while local charities also hit out at the plan.

The county council also proposes to close its North Devon link mental health and wellbeing service, to stop its funding contribution towards the Wellbeing Exeter programme, and to consult on its carer offer.

Devon’s cabinet member for adult social care Cllr James McInnes (Conservative, Hatherleigh & Chagford) told last week’s scrutiny meeting that “these are very difficult decisions.”

He added: “It’s really important … we make a decision to make sure we are supporting the most vulnerable people in Devon and that Devon County Council is sustainable for the future.”

New figures show gender pay divide in East Devon council

New government figures show that women working for East Devon District Council (EDDC) earn 0.6 per cent less than their male colleagues. [National average for local authorities is 3.0%]

Adam Manning

The figures show the median hourly salaries for women and men working at EDDC. 

The average local authority paid women three per cent less than their male colleagues – a small improvement from 3.3 per cent the year before. 

Employers with more than 250 workers must publish figures on differences in pay between their employees through the government’s gender pay gap service.

A spokesman for East Devon District Council (EDDC) said: “East Devon District’s Council’s last publicly reported Gender Pay Gap figure as at March 31 was that the median gender pay gap showed that women were paid 0.67 per cent lower than men within the council. This was because there were more males in the upper quartile (highest hourly rate) compared to females.

“However, since then the Council has implemented a revised pay and grading structure in response to recruitment and retention challenges and its aspiration to become a Real Living Wage employer. Starting salaries for the lowest paid roles are now £11.59 per hour.

“Indicative analysis, undertaken as part of the impact assessment during the consultation process, showed an improvement in the median gender pay gap, reducing it to 0% per cent. This reflected the proposed salary changes in grades that are predominantly held by females (now new grades 2-4).  

“The actual analysis showing the gender pay gap figure as at March 31 is to be undertaken and will be published on the Council’s website in due course. Alongside this, the Council is starting work to review entry levels in and progression routes through the Council, as part of its wish to further develop and grow its own staff.”

Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, urged employers to publish plans on how to tackle their pay gaps, recommending that local authorities share knowledge with those that ‘need to up their game.’

Rishi Sunak’s wife owns shares in childcare agency that benefits from Budget policy

Rishi Sunak is facing questions over a possible conflict of interest after it emerged his wife is a shareholder in a childcare agency that will directly benefit from policies announced in the Budget.

As Politico’s afternoon newsletter put it: “Rishi Sunak was asked a direct question at his liaison committee hearing this week: did he have an interest to declare about childcare? The PM swerved it without declaring an interest.“ 

Conservatives do seem to have a reluctance to err on the safe side when it comes to things like full transparency and declaration of interests, knowing when to step aside from debates etc. Here is a local example from just over a year ago. – Owl

Richard Vaughan, Paul Waugh

The Prime Minister and his wife, Akshata Murty, the daughter of a billionaire Indian businessman, are facing fresh scrutiny over Ms Murty’s financial interest in the private childcare agency, Koru Kids.

The agency is one of six private providers being consulted on a pilot scheme as part of the Government’s major overhaul of childcare announced in this month’s Budget.

According to Companies House, Ms Murty was listed as a shareholder in Koru Kids as recently as 6 March, 2023 and has been since March 2021.

The childcare reforms were announced in the Budget on 15 March.

Under the childcare reforms, Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, announced that the Government will pilot incentive payments of £600 for childminders joining the profession and £1,200 if they join through an agency.

Agencies such as Koru Kids can expect to see a major increase in business as a result of the pilot, as it will drive prospective childminders to sign up via agencies.

During his appearance in front of Parliament’s Liaison Committee yesterday, Mr Sunak was quizzed about the logic behind the double bonus for childminders who sign up through one of six private childcare agencies.

Labour chair of the Commons Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell, asked whether Mr Sunak wanted to declare an interest about the policy.

Mr Sunak replied: “No, all my disclosures are declared in the normal way.”

The Prime Minister added during the exchange that he would “happily write back to you and the committee on exactly what conversations were had and the rationale” behind giving a double bonus for childminders coming through agencies.

Pressed on why private providers were being given a double bonus, he replied: “I think it’s a reflection of the fact that they are through intermediaries. So there are additional costs. And ultimately, we want to make sure the policy is effective in bringing additional people into the system.”

At no point did Mr Sunak state that his wife is a shareholder in Koru Kids. His latest register of ministerial interests dating from May 2022 does not declare that his wife owns shares in Koru Kids, despite Companies House records showing she is listed as a shareholder from March 2021.

Downing Street declined to comment on the business arrangements of Ms Murty, saying that she is a private individual.

Asked whether Mr Sunak was concerned that there might be a conflict of interest in regards to his wife’s investments, a source close to him said: “As the PM said, all interests are declared in the usual way.”

i understands the Prime Minister has declared the interests with the Cabinet Office. The source added that it was up to the Prime Minister’s independent ethics adviser and the Cabinet Office’s Proprietary and Ethics Team to “decide if there are any conflict of interests”.

The latest register of ministerial interests is due to be published in the coming weeks.

According to the Commons guide to procedure, MPs are expected to declare any interests, including of their family members, if they are deemed relevant.

On a page about the Budget on its website, Koru Kids praises the new incentives open to childminders, describing them as “great”.

The site states that trainees will be given £600 “if you apply to be a childminder directly (independently)” but later adds that the incentive is “£1,200 – yes double – if you come through an agency like Koru Kids who offer community, training and ongoing support”.

Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “There are serious questions for Rishi Sunak to answer over any potential conflict of interest, and any extra income his family could receive from his own government’s policy.

“Too often we have seen Conservative sleaze run amok. The public must be reassured that any breach of the ministerial code by the Prime Minister will be fully investigated.”

Koru Kids was contacted for comment.

i has contacted Ms Murty’s representatives.

Work to start on 69 ‘affordable’ homes on East Devon/Exeter border

Building work on 69 new ‘affordable’ homes at West Clyst on the East Devon and Exeter border is due to get under way.

Housing association Sovereign bagged planning permission for the development at Taverners Field at the end of last year.

The land was formerly used for grazing livestock, writes Local Democracy Reporter Ollie Heptinstall.

In an update, the company – one of the country’s largest such associations–  says ‘contractors are expected to be on site shortly’ and work could be completed by summer 2026.

The homes include a mix of one- and two-bed maisonettes, bungalows and two-four bed houses.

They will be 100 per cent ‘affordable’ with 36 available for social rent and the remaining 33 for shared ownership.

The development also includes a mix of green infrastructure and public open space, plus a play area.

West Clyst, which comes under East Devon District Council’s jurisdiction, has had a considerable amount of housing growth recently.

Most of it is in the local plan, but this site is not part of the allocation.

Sovereign says the properties will be the first built to its ‘new house specification’ which includes each having its own air source heat pump and sustainable heating system, improved insulation and solar panels.

Isabel Keppel, Sovereign’s planning manager, said: “This new range of house types really showcases our commitment to put the customer at the heart of everything we do.

“It also shows how we strive to design high-quality homes which exceed standards and norms, wherever possible.”

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 13 March

Chainsaw massacre of trees at Winslade Park – Every picture tells a story

From A Correspondent:-

As a sequel to yesterday’s blog regarding tree loss in Armada Way, Plymouth entitled “Infighting, incompetence and lack of experience of local Tories – Plymouth” and the accompanying, supplementary comments on the significant tree loss/hedgerow at Winslade Park, Clyst St Mary – herewith are the actual ‘ugly images’ that evidence and corroborate the destruction of significant, mature trees by the developers of Winslade Park (abetted and supported by East Devon District Council planners) in their quest for economic benefits!

The first two images were taken in April 2022 and show tree/hedgerow loss (during the bird nesting season), in a long-established car park, to clear the way for the construction of 40 four storey flats, adjoining a TPO protected woodland- but crucially the chainsaws annihilated these mature car park trees/hedgerows even before any reserved matters, detailed planning permission had been granted!

The next two images were taken in January 2023, when contractors felled both mature and younger trees, cleared undergrowth and hedgerow for the on-going refurbishment of Clyst House, adjoining Church Lane.

The final March 2023 drone image link below incorporates a construction company advertising their workmanship on a newly completed 1600m2 car park, to accommodate the significant cars and traffic at present required for the multiple users of Winslade Park.

Sadly, a very significant quantity of native mature tree species and some historic trees imported from overseas by the Veitch family in previous centuries have now disappeared, being felled on the south side of Winslade Manor to accommodate this car park!

However, local people were unaware of any plans submitted for this newly-created car park that now boasts panoramic, open views across the Grindle Brook, over green fields towards the A376 (although there were 395 new car parking spaces approved adjoining Clyst House on green fields, in the hybrid application, in a different location – but these parking spaces have yet to materialise) – no doubt, when completed these will also incorporate even more tree and hedgerow loss for this once predominantly rural community!

Regrettably such large tree specimens would have been capable of sequestering the carbon emissions from the significant Winslade Park vehicle uses – but now that ‘ship has sailed’ because the felled trees have probably been sold for lumber, furniture, firewood, mulch and chippings – although perhaps some may argue that as they have been recycled, then that fulfils ‘the green environmentally-friendly tick-box’- but that argument holds no compensation for the innumerable, diverse wildlife species that have made this area their home for centuries.

Even though David Attenborough and other conservationists strive to persuade us that climate change is approaching too fast and we must protect our environment – there are those in East Devon decision-making roles who keep telling us that ‘the economic benefits outweigh the environmental factors’ – so, consequently, it seems we must all get used to the chainsaws and invest in protective ear-defenders and anti-pollution face masks to reduce the risk of exposure to harmful vehicle airborne particulates!

Grave concerns expressed over cuts to homelessness support

Paul Arnott writes to John Hart: 

He said referrals to Alexandra House and other temporary housing providers are ‘an integral part’ of the service East Devon District Council offers people at risk of homelessness, and asks: “What solutions we will actually be able to provide for people who present to us if we are not able to refer into these projects that provide the specialist support these vulnerable people need?”

Philippa Davies 

Exmouth’s Open Door centre says its services for homeless people ‘could be pushed to breaking point’ if Devon County Council cuts its funding to hostels including Alexandra House.

The county council is currently consulting on plans to remove around £1.5million in funding to various hostels and other services in Devon for vulnerable adults. Alexandra House in Exmouth currently receives nearly £108,000 a year.

Tim Chappell, head of operations at Open Door Exmouth, said: “Open Door Exmouth is very concerned about the impact these cuts will have on our homeless community and those in danger of homelessness. Their welfare is our highest priority.”

He said the last 12 months have seen a spike in the number of people seeking the help Open Door provides, which includes free meals and food, one-to-one support sessions, showers and sleeping bags.

He warned: “The additional pressure these cuts would put on our services, on top of the increase in need we are already experiencing, is very worrying. Our own funding is tight, and we rely on generous-hearted volunteers to run our services with a very small staff team.

“An increase in demand for our services that would inevitably come our way could push us to breaking point. This is not the time to be reducing funding for those most impacted and at risk of homelessness by the cost-of-living crisis.”

Meanwhile, ‘grave concerns’ are being raised by the leader of East Devon District Council about the proposed cuts.

In a letter to John Hart, leader of Devon County Council, Paul Arnott said referrals to Alexandra House and other temporary housing providers are ‘an integral part’ of the service East Devon District Council offers people at risk of homelessness, and asks: “What solutions we will actually be able to provide for people who present to us if we are not able to refer into these projects that provide the specialist support these vulnerable people need?”

He said the consultation on the cuts had been announced ‘with almost no notice, and we were shocked by its sudden appearance’. He warns that cuts to front-line homelessness support will lead to higher costs for the county council’s Adult Health and Social Care services.

Devon County Council said it is ‘committed to supporting vulnerable adults across the county and focusing on its statutory responsibilities to ensure that individual eligible social care needs are met’.

The consultation on ending its funding to the support services runs until April 19.

Infighting, incompetence and lack of experience of local Tories – Plymouth

“…the chainsaws were not the work of one man. The whole administration stands discredited ahead of May’s local elections. Even the two local Conservative MPs, Johnny Mercer and Sir Gary Streeter, believe that Labour should now take over the council………. The infighting and incompetence of local Tories lie behind this declaration of no confidence.”

The Guardian editorial on Plymouth’s lost trees: an act of vandalism 


The decision taken by Plymouth’s Tory council leader, Richard Bingley, to chop down more than 100 mature trees under cover of darkness earlier this month was damaging to the city as well as the horse chestnut, silver birch, pear, apple and other specimens that were removed. Armada Way, the pedestrianised boulevard that runs south through the city centre to the sea, is a rare postwar conservation area and ought to be a national showpiece. Instead, ugly images of debris strewn among the modern architecture have upset and angered local people and conservationists. They may also set back efforts to boost the city by attracting tourists.

The upset and anger are more than justified by events. A consultation regarding the proposed regeneration of the city centre showed that a majority of locals do not support it. A campaign group, Save the Trees of Armada Way (Straw), gathered a petition of more than 16,000 names. Yet the council ploughed on until it was served with a court injunction by campaigners. On Monday, Mr Bingley resigned, ahead of a council meeting.

But the chainsaws were not the work of one man. The whole administration stands discredited ahead of May’s local elections. Even the two local Conservative MPs, Johnny Mercer and Sir Gary Streeter, believe that Labour should now take over the council (so far Labour’s Tudor Evans has resisted this, saying that the decision should be made at the ballot box). The infighting and incompetence of local Tories lie behind this declaration of no confidence. Last year, one former councillor, David Downie, said that he was “very concerned” about the Conservative cabinet’s lack of experience. Mr Bingley is on record as having said that people shouldn’t “worry too much about climate change”.

Such cavalier attitudes are outdated. It is a sign of progress that so many people now recognise the importance of trees, not only as attractive local features but as wildlife habitats with a role in sequestering carbon and keeping streets cool. Developments for new housing or other infrastructure should work around them. Promises to plant new trees are no substitute for looking after those that already exist. Where developers present plans that are harmful to nature, councils must push back and demand alternatives.

In its dismissal of local people’s feedback, this council showed itself to be as high-handed with voters as with the environment. Just as happened in Sheffield, where a Labour council destroyed public trust through its handling of protests over the removal of street trees, Plymouth’s leaders adopted a bunker mentality. Spending £12.7m of levelling up funds within the allotted timeframe was what mattered. They believed their plan to be a good one, and that was that.

Except it wasn’t, and their poor stewardship of precious local assets has been shown up. Clearly there are lessons here for Plymouth, where control of the council has switched between Labour and the Tories, and previous regeneration projects have produced good results. But there are wider lessons too. Cambridgeshire county council, which is run by a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition, has just approved plans to cut down an orchard to make way for a road. In too many areas, and in local parties of different stripes, politicians’ actions are failing to live up to their climate pledges. Development that takes us further away from our climate and biodiversity goals should no longer be called by that misleading name.

No affordable housing for Sidmouth Knowle’s new plans

Surprise, surprise and there may be no Community Infrastructure Levy either.

Tory legacy for Sidmouth gets worse and worse! – Owl

Affordable housing axed from Council HQ plans

Daniel Clark

Revised plans for the controversial redevelopment of the Knowle in Sidmouth have been submitted. McCarthy Stone’s proposals, for the former HQ of East Devon District Council, consist of a purpose-built care home, as well as extra care and retirement living accommodation.

Plans in 2018 were previously given the go-ahead to turn the premises at the Knowle into a purpose-built care home, retirement living apartments and affordable housing. Property developer LifeStory though ‘reviewed the consented development’ before selling the site to McCarthy Stone.

The new owners have now formally submitted a revised planning application for the site. But unlike the first scheme, there is no affordable housing included in the fresh plans. The plans do include four semi-detached houses, three townhouses and two chalet bungalows.

A statement with the planning application says: “The new approach has enabled a more efficient use of layout, building form and mix of accommodation to meet a greater need and variety of care. The development remains care and older person’s accommodation needs led but includes a greater mix of accommodation including a small proportion that may not necessarily be aimed at the older generation.

“The proposal provides the opportunity to achieve a high quality development that would positively contribute to meeting demonstrable local housing needs. This scheme provides numerous wide ranging social and planning benefits, both for potential residents and the community as a whole.”

CGI artist impressions of the redevelopment of the Knowle in Sidmouth

On the loss of affordable housing, the statement says: “The extant appeal scheme for the assisted living community includes no affordable housing provision or Community Infrastructure Levy. The proposed scheme subject of the application does include a greater mix of older persons accommodation and open market housing.

“The Care Home and Extra Care elements of the scheme do not attract a need for affordable housing contribution. The Retirement Living element of the scheme and open market residential (42units) would need to be considered in the context of the affordable housing policy and vacant building credit which is also intrinsically linked to viability.

“The Knowle site is a classic situation where incentives are needed to get a scheme off the ground which have otherwise stalled to date and has the effect of reducing the actual level of affordable housing required, subject to viability considerations.

“With specialist private retirement housing, however, it is acknowledged that significant logistical and servicing issues arise from trying to mix different types and forms of housing alongside each other. The Local Plan identifies that the main thrust for affordable housing should be aimed at the young starter end of the market, however the site constraints do not lend to the efficient development of affordable housing on site other than that indicated within the viability considerations.

“McCarthy and Stone assert that the provision of onsite affordable housing units on a site such as this, within specialised housing for the elderly is both problematic and unviable and that an off-site contribution would be more suitable if viability considerations permit.

“When mixing low cost / heavily subsidised sheltered housing with open market retirement housing, one must bear in mind the significant use of the shared communal facilities within private retirement housing. The level of services provided to the residents of private retirement housing result in the level of service charge being a significantly larger proportion of total living costs than would apply to other forms of accommodation.

“It would be very difficult to set the service charge at a level that would cover the costs of the type of management that private purchasers expect, yet still be affordable to residents of affordable housing. It would also be difficult for the affordable housing provider to guarantee payment of a service charge in perpetuity that would be liable to change on an annual basis.

“Another consequence of trying to mix private retirement housing with low cost/ subsidised housing would be the significant potential for friction and animosity between those residents who pay a significant annual service charge for premium services and those who would occupy low cost or heavily subsidised apartments, but have use of the same services.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that some residents would resent the fact that their neighbours are enjoying the same level of services for a fraction of the cost, or that they may perceive themselves to be subsidising others. This situation would only serve to exacerbate management problems and disputes between neighbours and would ultimately undermine the success of the housing development.

“In Sidmouth as in many similar places, the need for affordable housing is identified in smaller starter family homes and young workers.”

CGI artist impressions of the redevelopment of the Knowle in Sidmouth

Shane Paull, Divisional Managing Director at McCarthy Stone Southern Division said: “Our proposals for Sidmouth have been shaped by public feedback, and we have provided residents with the opportunity to provide us with their views since we initially acquired an interest in the site last year.

“Our plans represent a sensitive, well-designed development that will help improve accommodation choice for older people in the local area and will help to address a local demand for retirement accommodation, providing housing choice for older people, whilst freeing up the wider housing market for local families and first-time buyers further down the chain.”

Changes to the masterplan include:

· Additional parking has been included within the centre of the site, that will be naturally screened by new tree planting.

· The provision of four houses on the north-western part of the Plateau

· The number of affordable apartments has been reduced from 21 to 17. This has also enabled the affordable apartment block to be relocated from the northeast part of the Plateau to the north-west, that is stepped away from neighbouring properties

· The reduction in the level of Retirement Living PLUS apartments, from 59 to 53

· Additional tree planting to provide an extension to the Arboretum, that provides a green corridor stepping down to the south part of the Plateau site.

· The provision of two houses along the southern grass verge of the Plateau.

The plans now include:

· In northern part of the site that currently comprises of a car park, to be developed by Porthaven, to provide a 68-bedroom care home

· A high-quality Retirement Living and Retirement Living PLUS (Extra Care) development to be developed by McCarthy Stone on The Plateau part of the site, featuring up to 27 one-and two-bedroom Retirement Living apartments as well as up to 53 one- and two- bedroom Retirement Living PLUS (Extra Care) apartments for private sale, part-rent part-buy and rental options

· The Plateau part of the site to also include up to 17 one-and two-bedroom affordable open market housing apartments, as well as four houses, in compliance with local authority guidance

· Tailored shared facilities within both the Retirement Living developments, including a communal lounge with a kitchenette and a hotel-style guest suite as well as an onsite bistro restaurant within the Retirement Living PLUS development.

· Principal vehicle access from Station Road, with secondary access from Knowle Drive for the use of emergency and refuse vehicles only.

· Sufficient levels of car parking onsite, including disabled and electric vehicle charging bays, in accordance with East Devon District Council’s standards, as well as an overflow parking area to the southwest of The Plateau part of the site, that will be accessed from Station Road.

East Devon District Council planners will determine the fate of the application at a later date

East Devon ‘warm spaces’ to stay open over the summer – as community centres

Community heated hubs across East Devon are to stay open across the summer after proving a hit amid the colder months.

East Devon District Council recently announced the warm spaces will remain as community centres after more than 200 people sought the support of the 10 hubs over the winter.

It has not been confirmed if the warm spaces’ service will be repeated during winter 2023.

Residents in East Devon will continue to be able to use community hubs after they proved a hit over the winter, writes local democracy reporter Rob Kershaw.

Late last year, East Devon District Council (EDDC) opened up hubs, or ‘warm spaces’, as a way to keep residents in touch with each other and avoid loneliness, while also providing warm meals and a heated communal space.

People can also receive advice about their bills and learn about benefits to which they may be entitled.

Some 221 people, aged eight months to 96-years-old, have used the 10 hubs across the district in the last four months.

This was more than council officers were expecting, so the hubs will now be kept open as community centres. While it is unconfirmed, they could still be in use next winter.

The council said the hubs, which will be volunteer-led going forward, will cost less than a thousand pounds per month including staff.

“The warm hubs cost around a total of £1,300 per month which includes all the supplies and activities,” said an EDDC spokesperson. “Moving forward, we are looking to adopt a new operating model and the costs during the summer will be circa £800 per month.”

At a recent poverty panel meeting, Independent Councillor Dan Ledger, who represents Seaton, described the centres as a ‘huge success’.

And Independent Cllr Marianne Rixson, said: “I think this has been a fantastic project and obviously it’s filled a gap which we didn’t know was there.

“It’s also, I think, helping people with their mental health because loneliness is a terrible thing. I imagine that this is helping to form new friendships which could be long-term as well.

“And so, all in all, I think this is just fantastic and I’m really pleased that it’s going to continue.”