Clinton Devon Estates and Budleigh Salterton “health hub” have an unhealthy relationship

Readers will recall an earlier Owl story of landowners Clinton Devon Estates grabbing a large part of the garden to Budleigh Hospital for development, considering the garden surplus to the requirements of the new “health hub” and much more suitable for their plans for two houses:

The Budleigh Neighbourhood Plan designated the Hospital garden as open green space. Neighbourhood plans can do this and this space ticks all the NPPF criteria boxes. The garden was considered an essential part of the psychological and therapeutic welfare of patients at the “health hub”.

Bell Cornwell for CDE only commented at the very last minute of the very last stage. They made a number of general comments to EDDC on 16 February 2017 suggesting a loosening of a number of policy phrases and a general comment that too many green spaces were being designated. No mention of Hospital Hubs or development of that site at all.

An application to build two houses on the hospital garden was then submitted and validated on 27 February 2017 It takes about two-thirds of the garden, rather than the half suggested.

The Plan Inspector asked the steering group for clarification of criteria used in each green space case on 18 April 2017. The steering group responded, and its response was published on the internet.

The Inspector in her report sided with CDE.

The Neighbourhood Plan steering group unanimously agreed to accept all the Inspector’s recommendations except the one where she agreed with Bell Cornwell who, of course, had no medical evidence to draw on!

The decision to accept or reject Inspector’s recommendations now lies with EDDC.

The question now is – how brave will EDDC councillors they be? There is a track record of rolling over for tummy tickles when CDE engages with them. CDE has fingers in many East Devon pies and held restrictive covenants on the seafront at Exmouth that it relinquished to allow EDDC to approve the Grenadier development and has everything from large landholdings to small ransom strips all over the district.

Strong administrative pressure will be to do the easy thing and to get the plan to Cabinet in July with no controversy and no action against CDE.

Local opinion is running strongly against “droit de seigneur” ( medeival feudal rights) in this case.

If it looks like everyone is rolling over without a fight, the plan may well be rejected at referendum.

“Health and safety professionals urge deregulation rethink”

But it goes hand-in-glove with the Tory policy of the smaller state and the hands-off approach to development and developers!

“The government has been urged to rethink the deregulation of health and safety legislation in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, which is believed to have killed at least 79 people.

In an open letter to prime minister Theresa May, more than 70 leading organisations and figures from the UK’s health and safety professions have called for a change in attitude to health and safety regulation and fire risk management.

The signatories have also called on the government to complete its review of Part B of the Building Regulations 2010, which cover fire safety within and around buildings in England, as a matter of urgency.

The letter, whose signatories include the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), Park Health & Safety, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and the British Safety Council, states: “We believe it is totally unacceptable for residents, members of the public and our emergency services to be exposed to this level of preventable risk in modern-day Britain.”

East Devon bursting at the seams – official!

Owl says: all these extra residents accessing fewer and fewer services. Let’s hope most of them are young and going to Cranbrook, Exmouth and Sidmouth – because there will be no maternity services or community hospitals in Axminster, Seaton, Honiton or Ottery St Mary.

“People moving to East Devon increased the population by almost 2,500 people – more than almost anywhere else in England and Wales.

An estimated 8,316 people moved to East Devon from elsewhere in the UK between July 2015 and June 2016.

This compared to 5,848 who went the other way during this time, new figures from the Office for National Statistics show.

This meant that an extra 2,468 people moved to East Devon than left – the second highest figure anywhere out of almost 350 counties and districts around England and Wales.

As of June 2016 there were 139,908 people in East Devon, meaning that 1.8 per cent of the population was made up of people who had just moved to the county from elsewhere within Britain.

This was the highest share out of anywhere in England and Wales.

The most popular destination for people to move to East Devon from was Exeter.

… A total of 700 people were estimated to have moved from East Devon to Exeter after subtracting those that went the other way, more than anywhere else.

On the other hand, Taunton Deane was the number one destination away from the area.

A net total of 54 people moved to Taunton Deane from East Devon in 2015/16.”

Local government property investment – the auditors’ roles

“Are these the magic money trees? The office blocks, shopping centres and petrol stations currently filling up the local government property portfolio with their promise of a harvest abundant enough to keep the fruit bowl full for years to come? Quite possibly, with a good soil for rooting, plenty of sunshine and lots of green-fingered attention. But also quite possibly not. Which is why you can expect a visit from your auditors, once they have remembered where they put their wellies.

It is a common scenario for auditors to have no knowledge of a substantial and risky project until it is too late for them to have any influence over it. Commercial sensitivities often lead to projects being run on a “need to know” basis, with external auditors joining internal auditors, scrutiny committees and sometimes even the section 151 officer on the other side of a firmly locked door.

The auditor may only find out about a project when the ink is drying on the contract, when there doesn’t seem much more to do than offer a sheet of blotting paper.

However, there is still a lot that the auditor can do that would be of benefit, even if there is nothing to be critical about.

For instance, the Spelthorne Borough Council £360m purchase of the BP campus with new borrowings of £377m against a budget requirement of around £13m is such a huge transaction that its mere existence surely justifies a public interest report from the auditors to reassure the local population that their new role as BP’s landlords will not weigh heavy upon them. There is no reason why public interest reports have to be reserved for bad news.

Unfortunately, auditors are not particularly keen on bringing good news. The best you will get is “negative assurance”: a declaration that, based on the investigations carried out, there is nothing that provokes the need for criticism. But this would still be a valuable contribution and is arguably what is required by the reporting duties in Schedule 7 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.

The least that we can expect is that auditors will eventually say enough to manage their reputation risk – limiting the possibility that someone at some point in the future could ask “where were the auditors?”. A couple of paragraphs in the audit letter affirming that it is an authority’s responsibility to make its own investment decisions and summarising the less reliable judgements by which those decisions have been taken.

So what will the auditors be particularly interested in?

Legal Powers

Since the introduction of the general power of competence, people seem more relaxed about identifying the legal powers supporting a decision. However, it is still important to know what powers are being exercised, particularly in understanding the implications of the limitations on those powers for a particular proposal.

For instance, the general power comes with restrictions on charging other than to recover costs and requires commercial activity to be run via a company. And the investment powers in the Local Government Act 2003 only extend to purposes relevant to an authority’s functions or the prudent management of its financial affairs. Advice confirming legality will be expected.

It is sometimes forgotten, by those without a legal background, that even if a power can be identified, then that power has to be exercised reasonably under the Wednesbury rules. Auditors will look for legal advice being properly grounded.

If an authority is borrowing to fund its purchases, there may also be questions about the propriety of borrowing to invest. Not so long ago this is something that would have rung alarm bells across the audit community. Judging by their appearance before the Public Accounts Committee in 2016, though, it does not seem a matter that DCLG and the Treasury are overly concerned by.

Finally, how are these projects integrated into the Prudential Framework? Arguments can be put that asset prices will rise to more than cover the cost of acquiring property and making good its depreciation, such that Minimum Revenue Provision (MRP) is not needed. But this is risking a potentially major funding problem if the value/cost relationship shifts adversely in the future. How can an authority demonstrate its legal duty to act prudently?

Value for Money

Auditors will be concerned to examine all the significant judgements, estimates and projections involved in a decision to invest. They will also review accounting treatments to ensure they align costs and benefits appropriately and look critically at funding and financing arrangements.

Exit strategies will also be relevant, particularly noting that if rental income falls sale of a property will only generate a capital receipt rather than revenue income that might fill the gap in the budget.

Any reporting in this area will be restricted to the adequacy of the arrangements put in place by the authority to achieve value for money and will not provide any comfort that it has actually been achieved.

Decision Making

Auditors will check that the authority has complied with its democratic framework and schemes of delegation, particularly if the proposal has proceeded on a “need to know” basis.

So, if you are in the process of bulking up your property portfolio, prepare for the muddy tread of your auditors as they come to gaze sceptically upon your magic money tree.

Stephen Sheen is the managing director of Ichabod’s Industries, a consultancy providing technical accounting support to local government.

Affordable homes in Budleigh Salterton? You’re having a laugh!

Owl says: two totally different plans? A new planning application called for. Show your mettle EDDC!

“The number of affordable homes in a 59-dwelling development being built south of the B3178 is set to be slashed by nearly half under altered plans.

At a meeting of the town council’s planning committee, it was also revealed that the amount of one- and two-bedroom ‘starter’ houses could be reduced from 39 to 12.

Town councillors raised concerns over the change while discussing plans to move plots due to the costs of relocating a foul drain on the site, which will be known as Evans Field when it is built.

The council backed plans to move the plots in phase one of the project, but expressed ‘disquiet’ about the changes lined up for phase two.

Planning committee chairman Councillor Courtney Richards said that changes, which could see the amount of people living on the new site increase, did not ‘sit easy’ with him.

He added: “It’s exactly the same number of dwellings; however, there’s one extra five-bedroom house, 11 extra four-bedroom houses, 15 extra three-bedroom houses, 22 fewer two-bedroom houses and five fewer one-bedroom houses.

“I find that a very significant change in the plan to what has been previously agreed. The two sets of plans are very, very different.”

Previously, an application to reduce the amount of affordable homes on the site from 50 per cent to 40 was rejected.

Thirty affordable homes were originally planned for the site, but under the variation proposal, this could be reduced to 16. The requirement for 50 per cent affordable homes would still be met as shared-ownership homes would make up the other 14 needed.

Deputy mayor and district councillor Tom Wright added: “We’re keen to have starter homes for people. The need in Budleigh is for young families to move into smaller homes to get onto the housing ladder.”

Telegraph: planning permissions being granted in wrong places

Planning permissions granted for new homes are being concentrated in the wrong areas, where there is less need for housing, according to new research by Savills.

It found that there is a lack of 90,000 planning consents for homes in the least affordable and most in-demand areas of the country.

Only 20pc of planning consents in 2016 were in the most unaffordable places, where the lowest priced homes are at least 11.4 times income. However, 40pc of the country’s total need for new homes is in these markets, while there is a surplus of consents in the most affordable locations.

Research found that in areas where the house price to earnings ratio is over 11.4, which includes London and much of the South East, there is a shortfall of 73,000 planning consents for homes.

Since the National Planning Policy Framework was launched four years ago, with the aim of simplifying the system, there has been a 56pc increase in the number of consents granted.

But analysis shows that there has not been any increase in the areas where affordability is most stretched and where housing need is the greatest.

The Savills report said: “This means we are not building enough homes in areas where they are most needed to improve affordability and support economic productivity.”

Only 41pc of local authorities have a housing plan which sets out housing need and a five-year plan of how to cater for it.

Savills also modelled the potential impact of the Housing Delivery Test, which was announced in the Housing White Paper last February and would assess need based on market strength in an attempt to build “homes in the right places”. It found that it would double London’s housing need to more than 100,000 homes.

Chris Buckle, Savills research director, said: “There continues to be a massive shortfall in London and its surrounds and it is this misalignment of housing need versus delivery which could ultimately hinder economic growth.”

Money versus safety: money always wins out

” …The Observer has learned that successive governments have commissioned and paid for – over the past 12 years – a series of reports into the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of sprinkler systems in the construction of new buildings, including schools and care homes. All have concluded beyond any doubt that they should be used.

Yet last year fire experts were enraged when ministers decided to loosen, not tighten, regulations to allow new schools to be built without sprinkler systems at all. The need to build more schools fast and cheaply appeared to have prevailed. “Everybody bombarded the ministers in education,” says King. “Meetings took place with ministers and they went back to have another look at their guidance and it is still pending today, because they are still trying to hedge their bets.”

It is understood that in March or April this year Barwell [last Housing Minister before the election] agreed in principle to meet the all-parliamentary group for the first time, but the meeting never happened because May called a general election and Barwell, no longer a member of parliament, moved to Downing Street to advise her. …”