Building new homes on land prone to flooding ‘making damage worse’


At last Conservative MPs get it, but what about the planners and EDDC DMC? The building of tens of thousands of homes on flood-prone land is worsening the damage to surrounding areas, Conservative MPs have said, as the head of the Environment Agency warned against new developments on floodplains.

Lisa O’Carroll

Tory backbenchers called on Boris Johnson to review the government’s housing policy over concerns that new homes were either not flood-proof or were exacerbating issues in neighbouring communities.

John Redwood, the MP for Wokingham, said building on land most at risk of flooding was “a very foolish thing to do and it’s obviously making the problem considerably worse”.

He said the risk to residents had been “greatly increased” by building on floodplains in his Berkshire constituency, and added: “I think [the government] should certainly review their planning policy and I think they should take the Environment Agency’s advice more seriously on appeal and regard it as a very important factor.”

Two severe flood warnings remained in place on Tuesday night, in Hereford and Ironbridge where homes were evacuated as the River Severn was expected to reach near-record levels. Residents were also evacuated in the town of Snaith, east Yorkshire, after the River Aire burst its banks.

There were 250 flood warnings and alerts in place across England, from Devon to Cumbria, with a further 10 in Wales following one of the wettest Februarys in 254 years of records.

The government has come under pressure over its aims to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s to help ease a chronic shortage across the UK. Local authorities say they are struggling to meet these demands because of a shortage of available land, leading to one in 10 of new homes in England being built on high-risk flood sites since 2013.

The Guardian revealed on Sunday that more than 11,000 homes were planned in areas the government considers a high flood risk in the seven English regions swamped by Storms Ciara and Dennis.

The government says its planning policy is clear that housing should be located in the areas least at risk of flooding and, when development in a risk area is absolutely necessary, “sufficient measures should be taken to make sure homes are safe, resilient and protected from flooding”.

However, a series of experts, MPs and local authorities have said that these new developments often increase the flood risk to surrounding areas because water that would be otherwise absorbed by the land instead runs off more quickly into rivers that then burst their banks.

The Tory MP Laurence Robertson said two huge housing developments were under construction in his Tewkesbury constituency, comprising 2,500 homes, and that one of them was currently under water.

“All of that [new housing] is just going to make [the flooding] so much worse,” he said. “I don’t think there’s been any adequate demonstration that they can contain the water in the new buildingwork. I’ve got other examples in my constituency where houses have been built, particularly on slightly elevated land, which throw the water downhill. They suffer [in surrounding areas] and that’s what I fear.”

Kieran Mullan, the newly elected Conservative MP for Crewe and Nantwich, said housebuilding on floodplains was “asking for trouble and I would need a lot of convincing to find that is ever justified”. He said a recently built housing estate had caused a road in his constituency to flood and that residents’ concerns about the dangers had been ignored. “It is no surprise concreting over fields can make localised water drainage worse,” he said.

Ahead of a speech in London on Tuesday, the head of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, said properties should not be built on the floodplain “as far as possible” and that some developments should never have been approved.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Bevan also raised the possibility that some vulnerable communities on the coast and in river valleys may have to move to avoid repeated flooding.

He said those communities should not be “forced out” but that there needed to be a conversation about how they can be protected in the long term.

In a speech at the World Water-Tech Innovation summit in central London, Bevan said it was unrealistic to ban all housebuilding on floodplains given England’s geography.

However, he added: “The clue is in the name: floodplain. So we can and should insist that development only happens there if there is no real alternative, that any such development doesn’t increase other people’s flood risk … and that properties built on the floodplain are flood resilient, for example with the garages on the ground floor and the people higher up.”

Labour has called for an immediate end to building on land considered to be at high risk of flooding, which equates to 10% of land in England. Analysis by the Guardian found that more than 84,000 homes had been built in these high-risk flood zones between 2013 and 2018, with the annual total having doubled in that time.

The government also came under fire from the National Farmers’ Union, which blamed a “third world” approach to water management for the devastation.

The NFU president, Minette Batters, said the government had done “nothing” in the last eight years to act on its 2012 manifesto involving more reservoirs and a national plan to transport water elsewhere to the country to meet needs.

“Years of neglect has created an urgent problem,” she said, adding that farmers’ efforts with wood dams or the introduction of beavers to naturally manage water flow were part of the solution.


Call for English councils to be given powers to regulate Airbnb


As Caroline Lucas calls for councils to be given powers to regulate Airbnb, Owl intends running a couple of posts on the subject. It is one many may regard as controversial but in Owl’s eyes looks to have the potential to wreak havoc, particularly in small communities. Although East Devon is not yet as badly affected as North Devon or the South Hams, Owl believes Airbnb has almost wiped out the traditional b&b . The crucial difference between the two is that the b&b owner lives on site and is a permanent member of the local community.

Helen Pidd

Local councils in England must be given powers to regulate Airbnb and other short-term letting sites in order to alleviate the “intolerable” pressure they put on the availability of local housing, the Green party MP, Caroline Lucas, has said.

Her intervention followed a Guardian investigation that found one Airbnb listing for every four residential properties in some hotspots across Britain. Airbnb has disputed the finding.

Meanwhile, an organisation representing landlords has warned that imminent tax changes will drive an increasing number of landlords towards Airbnb and its rivals, depriving renters of long-term, stable tenancies.

Last month Lucas asked the government to make it easier for councils to impose a 90-day cap on homes let out on Airbnb and other online platforms. Airbnb says the vast majority of properties on the platform are already rented for less than 90 days a year.

She wants the UK government to follow Scotland’s lead. In January Holyrood announced new measures giving local authorities in Scotland powers to regulate short-term lets. This includes a licensing scheme with health and safety stipulations, which would also allow councils to address the concerns of local residents. A tax on short-term lets is also being considered.

“Brighton and Hove city council should be given the powers to regulate this industry, which is having such a serious impact on an already overstretched private rental sector and on more highly regulated hotels and B&Bs, which are being undercut. There needs to be a level playing field,” said Lucas.

“The pressure put on the availability of local housing by Airbnb in some areas of UK is intolerable. Local councils must be given powers to regulate this, so local housing needs are not squeezed out,” she tweeted on Friday.

Airbnb said the Guardian’s data was flawed and that some listings were for hotel rooms, single rooms in homes, and unusual properties such as caravans, meaning their rental did not affect housing stock.

Patrick Robinson, the company’s director of public policy, said: “Airbnb is a good partner to cities and we were the first platform to limit how often hosts in London can share their homes. We are also working with cities across the UK on proposals for a host registration system that we will proactively put to the government later this year to help ensure that rules work for everyone.”

But some critics of the company in hotspot areas say the saturation of their neighbourhoods is changing their way of life. Chris Hayes, a 55-year-old train driver who lives in the North Laine area of Brighton, said his life was being made a misery because five of the 29 cottages in his row were being advertised on Airbnb and similar sites.

“Residents have no way of stopping noise without confrontation. The owners are unknown or uncontactable, the ‘hosts’ do not have contact numbers for out-of-office hours, the council does not have noise abatement officers at night, the police treat it as very low priority,” he said, complaining of being woken by parties and the sound of suitcases being trundled along the alleyway in the middle of the night.

He added: “Airbnbs should be a planning change of use from residential. You need a change of use to convert a home to an office, hotel or shop. Why not to Airbnb?”

In 2018, up to 2,000 homes were being used as short-term holiday lets in Brighton, according to the council – a figure that is likely to have increased since. Between May 2019 and January 2020, the number of active UK listings on the website increased by 14% to 257,000.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) warned on Friday that renters were finding it harder to access long-term homes to rent because taxation changes are driving landlords to move into the holiday lettings market.

Last month, research from ARLA Propertymark found that nearly half a million UK properties could be left unavailable for longer-term rent as more landlords exit the market in favour of short-term lettings. Many landlords blame the government for restricting mortgage interest relief to the basic rate of income tax, claiming they will be significantly worse off or even unable to make a profit on their lettings.

The change does not apply to short-term lets, encouraging more landlords to move into that market, according to the RLA. Anyone buying a second home or buy-to-let property has also been hit with a 3% stamp duty surcharge since April 2016 under changes introduced by George Osborne as chancellor.

David Smith, the RLA’s policy director, said: “Government policy is actively encouraging the growth of holiday homes at the expense of long-term homes to rent, which many families need. This is completely counterproductive, making renting more expensive and undermining efforts to help tenants save for a house of their own.

“The chancellor must use his budget to give tenants a better deal by supporting good landlords to provide the homes to rent that they want to live in.”

Anguished cry from a Friend of Shandford

Owl has received a communication from a clearly anguished “Friend of Shandford”. Here is a resume:

Abbeyfield gets lots of lovely press coverage even while doing the dirty (causing extreme distress) to residents, family, friends and most of all its 35 staff. As a ‘Friend of Shandford’ I have watched Abbeyfield and its antics, and all I can say is that no wonder they are in financial difficulties because they appear so incompetent. The excuses for closure have rained down on us all. 

We believe we can refute all of them for it seems that the C.Q.C is not good enough for the likes of Abbeyfield who now quote standards that don’t appear to exist. Then they even apparently challenged the fire survey completed in September 2019 in which Shandford came out with a glowing report on which NO, yes NO, black marks were issued.

No expenditure needed in the foreseeable future.  No more fire doors, evacuation procedure fully implemented and acceptable.

Yes, the new group of business people did consider the situation, but with Abbeyfield saying that over a £1million needed to be spent on infrastructure, almost certainly untrue, and then being told the new committee would have to be held liable for any losses, there was always going to be only one answer from them. 

There is probably never going to be a huge profit percentage here but with good management and no fees of £2,000 a week being handed over to Abbeyfield management  for which they have never appeared on site. 

 Why, when Abbeyfield have finally admitted it cannot benefit financially from the sale of Shandford, is it running headlong at great pace to remove the residents entirely, even to the employment of a new  (presumably very well paid, very short-term) ‘Project Manager’ ? 

 Many questionable actions appear to have been taken – Owl 

Developers invited to reveal their vision for Cranbrook town centre


Owl recalls, when much younger, being given presentations by the special EDDC team of planners designing this new green town of Cranbrook. It included a wonderful town centre with all the latest mod cons. It wasn’t to be. All that money and effort wasted. Developers, we were told, knew best and should be allowed to design and build to their own vision. Look what has happened! 

Daniel Clark 

A special meeting over the future of Cranbrook will see a consortium of developers put forward their vision for its town centre. 

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Strategic Planning Committee this week agreed to the move to see if members can support the concept behind any proposals.

It was recently announced that plans for a new Morrisons supermarket and significant extra retail, commercial and residential spaces had been put forward by the Cranbrook Consortium.

The Cranberry Farm pub is so far the only building in the ‘town centre’ that has been constructed.

Proposals the consortium are putting forward may not conform to what was originally envisaged for the town centre and would be smaller than initially suggested, councillors were told.

Ed Freeman, service lead for planning strategy and development, said the authority therefore wished to produce its own ‘masterplan’ for the town centre.

This would be in the form of a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) which could take up to six months to complete.

Councillor Kevin Blakey, portfolio holder for economy, urged the committee not to go down this route as it runs the risk of leaving the town centre empty for many years.

He added: “The Cranbrook Delivery Board has been in discussions with the Cranbrook Consortium with the object of coordinating delivery of the town centre.

“It has led to a plan which was prepared by the consortium and includes a major brand supermarket and commercial and public space, which is in excess of what is required by the Section 106 agreements and will deliver some of those well before the trigger points that they are legally due.

“The balance of the deal comes from release of extra land for housing development, but the belief is that the town centre does not need to be as big as initially envisaged and otherwise parts of it could be left undeveloped.

“We are on the brink of a deal but it is time limited. The anchor tenant [Morrisons] has six sites they are looking at, but only three will go forward, so they have the option to walk away from anything that is too difficult or lengthy.

“If the discussions collapse, they will move on and a viable town centre for Cranbrook will stall.

“The consortium wish to present full proposals for the committee to consider at the earliest possible date.

“Don’t go down the route of an SPD as it will result in a delay for sure, and runs the risk of leaving the centre of Cranbrook empty for many years to come.”

Cllr Sam Hawkins added: “If we keep taking our time, Cranbrook town centre will be the greenest in the country, because it will just be a field.”

Councillors unanimously agreed that a special meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee needed to be held as soon as possible.

This will enable the consortium’s proposals for the town centre to be assessed and members can decide whether they are strategically right for the town.

A formal planning application would still need to be submitted and approved for any ideas which are backed.

EDDC can still go down the route of preparing a SPD outlining how it would like to see the town centre developed.


MP will ‘bang down the door’ to ensure Axminster Masterplan has viable future


Axminster’s MP Neil Parish said he will be ‘banging down the door’ to ensure that the Masterplan for the town has a viable future. Action man Simon Jupp MP is refusing to vote for HS2 whilst the two rail lines into Devon remain unfit for purpose. He is also trying to resolve the Budleigh Shandford care home crisis. Are witnessing a concerted “Charm Offensive”?

Daniel Clark

Axminster’s MP Neil Parish said he will be ‘banging down the door’ to ensure that the Masterplan for the town has a viable future.

The Axminster Masterplan for 800 new homes and the long-awaiting relief road was agreed last January, only for Homes England’s Housing Infrastructure Funding of £10m to be turned from a grant to a loan.

Homes England state that they believe that the development could afford to repay the HIF monies, but East Devon District Council are convinced that the development cannot afford to repay the monies and the developers have no interest in progressing down the route of a repayable loan.

The funding would have been used to forward fund the new £16.7m north-south relief road that aims to end the severe congestion, pollution and HGVs having to travel on the existing road that runs through the centre of the town.

East Devon District Council’s Strategic Planning Committee on Tuesday morning agreed to send a letter to Neil Parish, the MP for Tiverton and Honiton, to seek his further assistance in securing funding towards the masterplan, as the council are now under threat of the monies being withdrawn by Homes England and lost forever.

Having been shown a copy of the letter, Mr Parish told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I will continue to support EDDC in getting the funding they need for the Axminster Relief Road. Together with our excellent local councillors in Axminster, we will be banging down the door of the Housing Minister and Homes England to ensure the Axminster Masterplan has a viable future.

“We met with Homes England last year on this matter – but it is clear further discussions must take place to get this sorted.”

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, Cllr Ian Hall said that it was imperative to get help from the MP so forward delivery of the relief road happens and the funding position is revisited by Homes England, as ‘doing nothing is not acceptable’.

He added: “I want the best for Axminster and for it to be a resilient town in the future. We must unlock Axminster’s potential. I believe that the agreed masterplan was nailed on the best for Axminster and East Devon. We have already wasted too much time and I will not watch Axminster stagnate and die, or at best we a reteriment area. Can we hurry up and get this done.”

Fellow ward member Cllr Andrew Moulding added: “We have concerns over the masterplan at the moment as it is not deliverable as we don’t have the grants for the upfront delivery of the relief road. The case for us is very clear as delivery of the masterplan and relief road is essential for Axminster.”

He said that he was concerned that plans for the southern parcel of land could be permitted soon, and that unless the relief road was forward-funded, that would be delivered without the infrastructure needed.

Cllr Moulding added: “It is essential to get upfront delivery of the relief road, stop the gridlock and get the cars out of the town.”

But the third Axminster ward member, Cllr Sarah Jackson, disagreed with the wording and the content of the letter as it heavily leans on the discrepancy in the land values between the parties and that the committee had not been privy to the land valuations and viability assessments.

She said: “I would hope that members seriously consider if they have the information in front of them before they send the letter and what we ask the MP on our behalf to do.”

Cllr Paul Hayward added that the committee were being asked to agree the text and tone of the letter which alludes to report that they haven’t seen.

But Cllr Philip Skinner though said he was happy to trust the judgment of the people who had been the valuations and that they were trying to do their best for Axminster, and called for the letter to be sent to get him on board, as everyone was ‘rolling in the same direction’.

The letter outlines the background, why delivering of the homes is important, what may happen if the relief road is not delivered in advance of development, and why the council would not happy with the consequences of it, as well as the reasons why the council does not agree with the Homes England position on the land values.

It says: “Expecting the developers to pay the full cost of the road does not leave a reasonable incentive for the land owners because the costs of the relief road are so great. The relief road is also not just about servicing the proposed development but about addressing a wider issue of resilience in the road network and current congestion and air pollution in the centre of Axminster. To expect the development to cover the full cost of the road is unrealistic and unreasonable.

“In Axminster we have a project to deliver an urban extension of 850 homes which has already been master planned with planning applications that will be ready to be determined by Easter 2020. The developers could be on-site within a year and delivering these homes if only we could deliver the relief road. All we need is for Homes England to release the money as traditional grant funding as originally indicated they would.

“All we are asking is that the viability work undertaken by Homes England reflects the values previously negotiated with land owners on the evidence now provided which shows that these are reasonable.

“Without this public investment the relief road will not be delivered but we are in real danger that some of the housing will have to come forward without it

“We may soon be in a position where we cannot resist the applications for the southern part of the site and are forced to allow this to proceed despite the communities’ clear requirement that the relief road be delivered first.”

Councillors voted by eight votes to four, with two abstentions, to send the letter.


Speaking of fundraisers: 


The Mirror’s Mikey Smith has filed a deliciously colorful piece on some of the hardworking folk whose deep pockets made the “People’s Government” a reality. He reports that “a handful of millionaires and billionaires” pumped hundreds of thousands of pounds into the Tory campaign to topple Labour’s red wall seats across the north of England. “One secretive group of donors has historic links to the Freemasons,” Smith writes. “Another is a millionaire motor racing mogul who has treated Boris Johnson to a chummy photo op in a sports car.” Best of all, however, is the retired investment banker who lists his occupation on official documents simply as “Gentleman.” Something for us all to aspire to there.

Source, which includes a full list of donors, can be found :

Seagulls prefer food touched by humans

They are the scourge of the seaside, the bandits of the beachfront. Now scientists have gleaned an insight into why seagulls are drawn to stealing holidaymakers’ chips: they actively prefer food that has been handled by humans.

Researchers from Exeter University’s Penryn campus in Cornwall presented herring gulls in several Cornish towns with two identical flapjacks, one of which the gulls had seen in a person’s hand. Of the 38 gulls that were tested, 24 pecked at one of the flapjacks and 19 of these — nearly 80 per cent — chose the one that had been handled.

The birds are kleptoparasites, which means they pilfer food from other animals. The strategy has allowed them to adapt to new environments, including seaside tourist hotspots.

“UK herring gull numbers are declining, but urban populations have increased,” Madeleine Goumas, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at Penryn campus, who led the latest study, said.

Despite increasing interactions between humans and gulls, little is known about the cognitive underpinnings of urban gull behaviour, she added. “We wanted to find out if gulls are simply attracted by the sight of food, or if people’s actions can draw their attention.”

Laura Kelly, a co-author of the study published today in the Royal Society Open Science, said the findings highlighted the need to dispose of food waste properly.

The same researchers reported last year that fixing a seagull with a hard stare was often effective in scaring them off. The UK population of herring gulls fell by 60 per cent from 1969 to 2015, putting the birds on the red list of Birds of Conservation Concern. Nevertheless, a YouGov poll in 2016 found that 44 per cent of people backed a cull.

For the Exeter study, a researcher approached individual gulls and placed two buckets on the ground in front of them, each covering a wrapped flapjack taped to a piece of slate to stop the gulls making off with it.

The buckets were then removed, and the researcher picked up one of the flapjacks, handled it for 20 seconds, and then placed it back on the ground.

To see if gulls were responding to human handling alone, the experiment was repeated with two non-food items, sponges cut to be the same size and shape as the flapjacks. The gulls showed no extra interest in the handled sponge. This suggests, the researchers said, that handling draws their attention to food in particular.

From The Times Science Correspondent /edition/news/seagulls-prefer-food-touched-by-humans-lpf0hz5db

Owl notes the research was conducted on Cornish Herring Gulls but thinks their Devon cousins behave the same way.

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