“A303 and A358 plans to go ahead despite national press reports”

“Plans to dual two key routes through the West Country remain on course despite reports in the national press that they may be scrapped.

Highways England, which is responsible for England’s motorways and major A-roads, has put forward schemes for a new tunnel for the A303 at Stonehenge, the dualling of the A303 between Podimore and Sparkford, and the dualling of the A358 between Taunton and Ilminster.

National press reports on April 24 indicated that 11 schemes currently being considered by the body could be paused “indefinitely”, following concerns that they would not provide value for money. …”


That extra £50bn promised by Javid for housing? Forget it, says Hammond

“Hammond has dismissed suggestions that it is now government policy to borrow £50bn to invest in housing. Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, has suggested borrowing more to invest in housing, with some reports claiming that Javid has been pushing the Treasury for an investment of £50bn.

But when Sir Vince Cable, the Lib Dem leader, told Hammond at Treasury questions that he was glad to see the government has agreed to increase borrowing by £50bn, Hammond said this was not government policy. He went on:

That was not what [Javid] said, as he knows. I would, however, agree with him that increasing activity in the construction sector is a very good way of creating jobs.”


Lies, damned lies and a minority government on fire (lack of) safety

“… Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, pledged in July that any lack of financial resources would not prevent necessary works going ahead.

The housing minister, Alok Sharma, has declined Nottingham city council’s request for help to install sprinklers inside flats and communal areas in 13 towers at a cost of £6.2m. Sharma told the council: “The fire safety measures you outline are additional rather than essential.”
He has told the London borough of Croydon, which wants to spend £10m on retrofitting sprinklers to 25 tall residential blocks: “It is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that people are safe.”

Wandsworth wants to spend up to £30m on sprinklers in 100 towers but has been told: “Support will not include general improvement and enhancements to buildings.”

All the councils said they had been advised to carry out works by their local fire brigades.

The tension over who should foot the fire safety bill follows a pledge in July by the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, that any lack of financial resources would not prevent necessary works going ahead. However, the government appears determined not to fund or allow additional borrowing for any improvements that go beyond essential safety works. The necessity of sprinklers is proving a key faultline.

Dany Cotton, commissioner of the LFB, has said retrofitting sprinklers in tower blocks “can’t be optional, it can’t be a nice-to-have”. Since 2007 they have been compulsory in new-build high-rises over 30 metres tall in England, but those building regulations do not apply to older blocks.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) argues that an appropriate level of fire safety can be achieved without the need to retrofit sprinklers, and fitting them is a matter for landlords to consider for themselves.

A recent study of 677 fires where sprinklers were activated found they controlled or extinguished the fire in 99% of cases.

The nationwide bill for replacing flammable cladding and retrofitting sprinklers is already likely to run into hundreds of millions of pounds. Southwark has previously estimated that the bill for installing sprinklers in its towers could be as high as £100m, and it is currently finalising its bid for funding. The council leader, Peter John, has told Javid: “Fire safety is a national issue and the financial burden for these works must not fall on already stretched councils.”

Birmingham city council, the UK’s largest council landlord, is yet to submit a request for retrofitting sprinklers in up to 213 blocks.

So far, 31 town halls have asked for government help to make high-rise flats safe. The DCLG said it was in detailed discussions with six, and others had been invited to provide further information about how the work they wished to undertake was essential.

In Salford, the city council has borrowed £25m to fund works to remove potentially flammable cladding from nine towers, and leaders have accused the government of “failing to live up to its responsibility”.

“Like many other councils, Salford is lobbying the government to recognise the huge financial cost of this national issue and provide funding to us and other local authorities to deal with it,” said the deputy city mayor, John Merry.

Pressed on funding at the Conservative party conference in Manchester this week, Theresa May said: “We have said we would work with local authorities on any adaptations and changes they needed to make to ensure the safety of those tower blocks.”

But asked about funding sprinklers, she said: “There’s a number of issues that can improve the safety of tower blocks. It is not just one answer.”

Adam Hug, leader of the Labour opposition at Westminster city council, said he had seen correspondence with the government detailing the council’s request for financial aid or better flexibility on borrowing.

“Both were being asked for,” he said. “They were told: only in exceptional circumstances. Yet again it will be council tenants and people who desperately need new homes who are left to pay the price of this Tory government washing their hands of their responsibilities.” …”


Government fiddles with litter while NHS burns

Yes, dealing with litter IS important- but not as important as our NHS. Yet there is time and manpower for litter but not our NHS.

This is what a minister had to say about litter:

Communities Minister Marcus Jones said:

It’s time we consigned litter louts and fly-tippers to the scrap heap of history. Through our first ever National Litter Strategy we plan to do exactly that.

Our plans include targeting the worst litter hotspots, cracking down on litter louts with increased fines and getting people to bin their rubbish properly.

For too long a selfish minority have got away with spoiling our streets. It’s time we sent them a clear message – clean up or face having to cough up.”


Now imagine this re-formed as a comment about the NHS:

Health Minister Xs said:

It’s time we consigned CCG’s and Sustainability and Transformation Plans to the scrap heap of history. Through our first ever commin sense decision we plan to do exactly that.

Our plans include targeting the worst CCGs, cracking down on overpaid managers and consultancy companies with increased fines and getting people to design our health service properly.”

For too long a selfish minority have got away with spoiling our NHS. It’s time we sent them a clear message – clean up or face having to cough up.”!

MP criticises his own government on neighbourhood plan hypocrisy

“Responding to the decision by the Secretary of State on Thursday (16 March) to allow up to 97 houses at Hassocks, in contravention of the village’s emerging neighbourhood plan, Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert said:

“I am dismayed by the Government’s decision, which actually admits that it will erode local confidence in neighbourhood planning, and I simply cannot reconcile it with what I was told in December when Ministers agreed to give more protection to neighbourhood plans.

“While the Government rightly wants to see more housing, they are now undermining the very policy of neighbourhood planning which they championed and which has delivered more homes than expected.

“Until the Government decides to protect neighbourhood plans properly, communities will see little point in going ahead with them. Ministers had better decide whether they want neighbourhood planning or not.

“The Government cannot go on encouraging volunteers in local communities to invest time and money in neighbourhood plans, going to all the trouble of holding a local referendum, if their plans are then torn up in front of their eyes.”


National planning campaigners month of action

“A national group representing community groups throughout England launches its “Month of Action” in April with a big rally in Manchester on April 1st.

CoVoP, which represents more than 100 campaigning groups, was formed to protect green spaces perceived to be under threat throughout the country.
Last year CoVoP members held a “Day of Action” but this year April has been designated the “Month of Action”.

Affiliated groups throughout England will be participating in various activities and the launch event on April 1st will be in Manchester. It is expected that thousands will attend a rally organised by the Save Greater Manchester Greenbelt alliance.

Cheryl Tyler, Chairman of Community Voice on Planning (CoVoP), attacked the long-awaited white paper, “Fixing Our Broken Housing Market” as short on detail and soft on developers.

“It is very disappointing that having waited so long for a sensible document this falls far short of our hoped-for expectations. It does not address the fundamental issues people up and down the country are experiencing, leaving them vulnerable to unscrupulous developers”. She added that “members are extremely frustrated” by the lack of understanding of the concerns of communities”.

These issues include:

• Local Plans failing to take into account empty properties sometimes abandoned for years that could be put back into use.
• Permissions being granted on appeal for greenfield sites outside of local plans
• Not doing enough for urban regeneration but allowing green fields and the greenbelt to be developed preferentially.

Cheryl Tyler says “The government must listen to the voice of the people and realise that the National Planning Policy Framework requires urgent reform to rebalance the needs of communities and the interests of developers”.

For more information about CoVoP: http://www.covop.org”

“Surrey council received boost in budget after ‘sweetheart deal’ claims”

“Analysis by Labour shows that out of the £2bn of new money for social care in England announced in Wednesday’s budget, Surrey will see the biggest increase in the share of funding by the 2019/20 financial year.

The analysis says that Surrey will get 1.66% of the money, rising from 0.75% in 2017/18, an increase of 0.91 percentage points in the three-year period – more than double the increase of the second council, Hertfordshire.

Theresa May has repeatedly denied Surrey will receive any form of funding not available to other local authorities, after the council last month called off a planned referendum on increasing council tax by 15% to pay for what it said was a crisis in social care funding.

But soon after the postponement, leaked text messages about a supposed “memorandum of understanding” between the council and government prompted Jeremy Corbyn to accuse May of buying off Surrey with a special deal, which she denied.

The Labour leader reiterated the accusation this week after the release of an audio recording in which the council leader, David Hodge, told fellow Surrey Conservatives about a “gentleman’s agreement” with ministers.

Hodge revealed in the recording that there had been a “series of conversations” with the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, in a car outside Downing Street. That was followed by a second meeting with the chancellor, Philip Hammond, he said.

Later that day, documents released by Surrey under freedom of information rules showed Hammond was among a series of Surrey Conservative MPs who lobbied Javid over the issue.

A new set of correspondence released by Javid’s department shows that on the morning of 7 February, the day Hodge announced he was backing down from the referendum, frantic negotiations were still going on.

At 8.23am Surrey’s director of finance, Sheila Little, messaged Matthew Style, head of local government finance at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), one document showed.

“The leader [Hodge] has just shown me a note from a Surrey MP about a conversation late last night with SJ,” she wrote. SJ refers to Javid.

“Seems to indicate government are willing to get us some extra funding from 2018. V interested in whether this is sincere. As it stands isn’t enough to call the ref [referendum] off? But could it be?”

May’s official spokesman was adamant when asked whether the exchange indicated the prime minister might have misled the Commons over the issue. “No,” he said. “There is absolutely no change in our position.”

A DCLG note released with the freedom of information documents made the same point.

“Whilst the final settlement has yet to be approved, the government is not proposing extra funding to Surrey county council that is not otherwise provided or offered to other councils generally,” it read.

“There is no ‘memorandum of understanding’ between government and Surrey county council.”

However, Labour’s Teresa Pearce, the shadow communities secretary, said the analysis of the extra social care money showed ministers “are busy playing political games with funding allocations in a desperate attempt to hide their sweetheart deal”.

She said: “This week’s budget won’t fix the issues facing social care. What we need from the Tories is a long-term sustainable plan, rather than cosy deals for Tory councils.

“Theresa May has failed to come clean about the terms of the deal offered to Surrey, failed to apologise for her government’s misleading suggestion that there had been no such deal and would not give the assurance that other local councils will get the same treatment.”

Late on Friday night, Labour MP Andy Burnham tweeted that he would raise the question of whether the ministerial code had been broken.

A DCLG spokesman said: “To suggest that any local authority is being given preferential treatment is simply not true.

“The majority of the £2bn of additional funding for adult social care announced at the budget will be allocated in the same way as the Better Care Fund, ensuring those who can raise less through the social care precept benefit most. The remainder will be allocated according to relative need in recognition of the additional challenges which social care places on certain councils.

“This is entirely fair, transparent and consistent with how we already fund adult social care.”


Communities and Local Government boss is now in “less prominent role”

“Conservative lawmaker Sajid Javid was removed from his position as business secretary by new Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday, taking up a less prominent role leading the department responsible for local government.”

Source: Reuters

Well, that’s planning given its priority!

Local Government Department agrees 30% cuts over four years

“Four government departments have provisionally agreed to cut their spending by an average of 30% over the next four years, Chancellor George Osborne is to announce later.

The transport, local government and environment departments, plus the Treasury, have all agreed deals ahead of the spending review on 25 November.
The cuts will help the public finances back into surplus, he will say.

A Treasury source told BBC News the agreements were “really good progress”.


But no doubt our council taxes will remain the same or increase as costs are offloaded from county and district and loaded on to town and parish council precepts.

And there no doubt will still be money to build a new council HQ in Honiton, subsidise the Thelma Hulbert Gallery, pay consultants exorbitant fees and continue to offer free parking to councillors and officers at Knowle.

Some assets won’t sweat quite as much as others.

Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw on south-west politics

” ..Ben Bradshaw, one the Labour Party’s few MPs in the south of England, is convinced the only route back to power is to win back people who are “not die hard Tories”.

Many Jeremy Corbyn backers believe rather than appealing to “soft” Conservatives, the party can regain office by winning back disillusioned Labour supporters, Green Party voters and millions of people who don’t vote.

But Mr Bradshaw, Culture Secretary under Gordon Brown, argues “miraculously persuading persistent non-voters to vote is not based on any political or psephological evidence”.

The Exeter, Devon MP will tomorrow host a fringe event at the Labour party conference in Brighton called Southern Discomfort, underlining how the party cannot ignore the south of England.

He will say Labour is “suffering from worse Southern Discomfort” than at “any time in our recent history”, and only “fantastic organisation” in places like Oxford East and Exeter have helped avoid a deficit as heavy as 1983.

But he will continue:

“In most of those constituencies where we needed to beat the Tories we went backwards and the challenge is now greater than it was after 1983. We should also not assume things can’t get worse.

“As Lewis Baston has pointed out in his recent analysis for Progress, the South is moving north – in that employment and demographic patterns that are common in the south are becoming more common across the country and if the Tories push through their boundary changes, relatively more seats will be created in southern England outside London.

“It is vital we have a clear headed understanding of why we lost the election based on the evidence, rather than emotion or conjecture.”

He will point out the Fabian Society, ex-Labour policy chief John Cruddas and the TUC have all done “in depth analysis” and “their conclusions are clear and the same”.

“We lost because we suffered from massive deficits on economic trust and leadership. This is what the new leadership must address.

“Four of the five voters Labour must win back in England and Wales to have any chance of forming the next Government voted Conservative on May 7th.

“These are not die hard Tories, but people who have voted Labour in recent history. Our Party and our new leadership must appeal to them.”

He adds the claim that Labour can win “by picking up a few more voters from the Greens on the left and miraculously persuading persistent non voters to vote is not based on any political or psephological evidence. Nor is it supported by our experience”.

He goes on:

“Anyone who has done any campaigning knows that the problem with non voters is – they don’t vote. Great ground campaigning can motivate a small number to on the margins, but most non voters have never voted and never will.

“To base an electoral strategy in them is wishful thinking. Far more productive and the only way for Labour to win is to persuade people who do vote to vote for us. That’s the challenge facing the new leadership. It’s not rocket science. We’ve shown in places like Exeter and Hove how it’s done. Let’s get on and do it.”

Source: Huffington Post UK