Pollution alert. Unsafe to swim at popular beach

One of North Devon’s most popular beaches, Saunton Sands, has been classified as unsafe to swim in due to pollution. A pollution warning has been issued by the Environment Agency today. [Sunday 14 August]

www.msn.com

The Environment Agency website reads: “Bathing is not advised, due to pollution from sewage. Incident started August 14 2022 10:43, affected water: Saunton Sands.”

Other no go swimming spots due to pollution include Wildersmouth at Ilfracombe and Instow.

It’s not the first time a sewage leak has impacted Devon swimmers. Earlier this year DevonLive reported on pollution warnings having been issued for two Devon beaches by an environmental charity. According to the Surfers’ Against Sewage water quality map, sewers had been emptied into the water at Salcombe North Sands and in Seaton.

Read more: Raw sewage pours into the sea at two Devon beaches

Saunton Sands, which lies on North Devon’s golden coast, has gained a reputation as Devon’s most famous beach for its popularity with residents, visitors, filmmakers and musicians. Its iconic 3 1/2 mile beach makes up a large part of North Devon’s World Surfing Reserve and is overlooked by Braunton Burrows, the core of the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere.

South West Water introduces hosepipe ban aka a “TUB”

Our update on the hosepipe ban also known as a Temporary Use Ban

[You couldn’t make this up, could you? – Owl]

From 00:01am on 23 August 2022, customers who get their water from us in Cornwall and a small part of Devon will not be allowed to use a hosepipe.

[Looks like this may still not apply to Owl’s patch]

www.southwestwater.co.uk

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It’s the first time in 26 years but we’ve been left with no other choice. We need to have a hosepipe ban now to protect our precious water.

We’ve done our best to avoid this ban. We’ve increased the amount of water we can store – doubling it since the last drought in 1976. We’ve opened reservoirs, installed a new borehole, and improved the way we can move water across the region to help keep everyone’s taps running. At the same time, we’ve reduced the amount of water lost through our own pipes. In the last two years we’ve doubled the amount of leak detection staff and now fix about 2,000 leaks a month. 30% of leaks happen on customer supply pipes, we’ve offered to fix these leaks for free. But all of this hasn’t been enough.

Updates will be regularly made to this page. Updated 07:00 on 15 August 2022.

Check if the ban is in your area

Use this tool to enter your postcode and check if the ban applies to your property.

Enter your postcode to see results:

You don’t live in an area with a hosepipe ban. You may use your hosepipe but please try to save water.

A hosepipe uses 1,000 litres an hour which is more than what a family of four uses in a week. Pick up a watering can and water your plants at the root. Together, let’s save water and keep the South West flowing this summer. For water-saving top tips and free water-saving goodies, click here.

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Why is this happening?

We’ve had very little rain for the last eight months and we’ve had the driest July for nearly a century. In the South West we get most of our drinking water from surface water sources, that’s our rivers and reservoirs. Right now, those levels across the South West are much lower than usual for this time of year.

We’ve also seen demand for water rocket this summer. We plan for increases in demand over summer but in one day we treated over 70 million litres extra of water, which is the equivalent of supplying an extra three cities the size of Exeter. Although we’ve seen demand go down, it’s still much higher than normal for the time of year.

Looking ahead, the weather is forecast to remain warm throughout August and September. Combining that with high levels of demand and the risk of the increase in wildfires across the region means we must take action now.

A big thank you to everyone for taking action and saving water already. It’s a team effort and through small changes in water use we can make a big difference. Together, let’s save water and keep the South West flowing.

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There’s no risk to drinking water supplies for customers. But having a hosepipe ban now will help save water in our rivers and reservoirs because we won’t need to take so much water from them. Protecting our water supply will also help safeguard the precious environment which relies on it. It also means our reservoirs will be able to fill up more over the winter months.

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What can’t you do with a hosepipe….

WaterFillClean
Water a garden using a hosepipeFill or maintain an ornamental fountainClean a private vehicle using a hosepipe
Water plants on domestic or other non-commercial premises using a hosepipeFill or maintain a domestic pond using a hosepipeClean walls, or windows of domestic premises using a hosepipe
Draw water, using a hosepipe, for domestic recreational useFill or maintain a domestic swimming, paddling pool or hot tubClean paths, patios or other artificial outdoor surfaces, such as decking using a hosepipe
  Clean a private leisure boat using a hosepipe
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This hasn’t happened for a long time. For some customers this will be the first time experiencing restrictions on water use. We know you might have questions for us so we’ve answered some key ones below.

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 1 August

Mirror, Express and local journalists vote to strike in pay dispute

Journalists at the Mirror, Express and dozens of regional newspapers have voted to go on strike in a dispute over pay.

Jim Waterson www.theguardian.com 

They will stop work for four days over the next month, severely disrupting production of the newspapers and their websites. Staff turned down bosses’ offer of a 3% pay rise, arguing it is not enough to cope with the cost of living crisis.

Local outlets that will be affected include the Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo, and many websites operating under the “Live” banner. All are owned by publishing group Reach, whose profits boomed in the pandemic but which recently warned of tougher trading conditions.

Its chief executive, Jim Mullen, who earned £4m last year, responded to the strike ballot by saying there would be no further increase on the existing pay offer and “industrial action will not change our position”.

In an email to staff, Mullen said he knew “pay is an important issue to our people” but could not offer more than a 3% increase without risking the company’s sustainability.

One journalist who voted to strike said pay levels were driving people out of the company: “I’m consistently in my overdraft working at Reach. I love my reporting role but if we are only going to get 3% it makes me question if I will move into comms instead.”

In addition to the strikes – which will start at the end of August – there will be a two-week period of work to rule, where staff refuse to take on additional tasks.

Many local journalists may struggle to picket their workplace as Reach has closed most of its regional newspaper offices. The shift to permanent working from home means staff face having to pick up extra heating costs this winter as prices rise.

Backing for the strike was overwhelming among members of the National Union of Journalists, with 79% voting in favour. Staff have complained that the enormous pay gap between Mullen and his journalists is the sort of “fat cat” behaviour the Mirror often campaigns against.

A strike at the Express also creates the prospect of a newspaper that has recently warned about the threat of “militant unions” itself being affected by industrial action. The Mirror is likely to be less affected, as many news journalists are members of the rival British Association of Journalists union, which has accepted the pay offer.

Three in four Tory voters back Labour’s energy plan

Three quarters of Tory voters back Sir Keir Starmer’s plan to freeze energy bills as ministers come under pressure to do more to address the “national emergency” of living costs.

Chris Smyth www.thetimes.co.uk

The Labour leader will set out a £29 billion plan today to prevent energy bills rising for six months, as polling indicates big majorities in favour of this idea and windfall taxes that Liz Truss’s team said would raise the risk of recession.

Dozens of charities also warned yesterday that children would go hungry if ministers did not double their existing support package to cover energy bills.

Greg Hands, the energy minister, said the government was “working up further options for this winter” to present to a new prime minister and acknowledged that “more is going to have to be done”. Both the Tory leadership contenders — Truss, the foreign secretary, and the former chancellor Rishi Sunak — have rejected freezing bills completely.

Hands criticised Labour’s “magical solution to just wish it all away”, saying price increases could not be “abolished” and that freezing bills would “inevitably lead to higher taxes”.

A winter freeze on bills is understood to be one of the measures being examined by officials but government sources said they would “be surprised if the Treasury recommend that” when options are given to Nadhim Zahawi, the chancellor, this week. He is understood to favour a plan to cut bills by £400 through government-backed loans replacing some extra charges to consumers.

Truss is prioritising tax cuts and has promised targeted help for the poorest, and Sunak is planning higher payments to pensioners and those on benefits as well as scrapping VAT on energy bills.

YouGov polling for The Times suggests a public appetite for more radical measures, with only one in eight people saying that they can afford rising energy bills without reducing their standard of living.

Seventy-five per cent support fixing the cap on energy bills even if it means more government borrowing, with 8 per cent opposing. This includes 75 per cent of those who voted Tory in 2019, with 12 per cent opposed. Big majorities in all parts of the country and all age groups back the plan, with little difference between Leavers and Remainers.

Starmer will promote a similar plan in media interviews today and a visit to the southwest of England designed to put pressure on Truss, Sunak and Boris Johnson. He is promising to cancel October’s price cap rise as well as one due in January, arguing it will save households £1,000 in the winter. At present bills are capped at an average of £1,971 a year but this has been forecast to exceed £4,000 over the colder months.

Starmer said people were “scared about how they’ll get through the winter” arguing that his plan was “a direct response to the national economic emergency that is leaving families fearing for the future”.

Labour says that it would pay for the plan by backdating the windfall tax imposed in May to January, closing loopholes in it and scrapping £400 payments to all households that would no longer be needed. The party also argues the freeze would save £7 billion in debt interest payments by reducing inflation driven by rising energy bills.

Critics say the proposals would mean big handouts to wealthy voters, but Labour sources argue that bills are rising so much there are now relatively few families who will not need help.

Voters are split on whether support should be means-tested, backed by 40 per cent, or applied equally to all households, favoured by 47 per cent, according to polling of 1,781 adults on Thursday and Friday.

Ranil Jayawardene, the trade minister who is backing Truss, told Times Radio: “If we don’t stop calls for windfall taxes . . . we will head for the recession that the current economic model is set out to deliver right now.”

Hands, who is backing Sunak, said that the former chancellor was “not afraid to commit big numbers”, but insisted he would not be “showering money around”.

Save the Children, Age UK and Macmillan Cancer Support are among 70 charities urging the next prime minister to increase the help available. In a letter to Truss and Sunak, they say that three quarters of those on benefits have already had to choose between heating and eating and that means-tested support “should be at least doubled” from the £1,200 pledged in May. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that rising bills mean another £12 billion will be needed to keep the promises made in the spring.

Boris Johnson spotted in Greece on second holiday in two weeks amid cost of living crisis

Boris Johnson has been spotted in Greece enjoying his second summer holiday in two weeks despite the deepening cost of living crisis.

Adam Forrest www.independent.co.uk

The prime minister has been accused of leading a “zombie” government and failing to provide reassurance to families anxious about soaring energy bills expected to hit almost £3,600 this October.

Labour accused Johnson of treating his final weeks in office as “one big party” after he was filmed shopping for groceries in a supermarket in Greece.

Greek news websites reported that Johnson and his wife Carrie were in Nea Makri, a coastal town near Athens, and only a few hours away from where his father Stanley has a villa.

The prime minister returned from a holiday in Slovenia only last week, having enjoyed a break at a mountain resort which offered “healing energies”.

A Labour spokesperson said: “On the evidence of the last few months it seems to make little difference if the prime minister is in the office or on holiday.”

The Labour official added: “It’s all just one big party for Boris Johnson while the country struggles with the Tory cost of living crisis.”

Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson said the PM and his “zombie government” had shown “a complete failure of leadership” in recent weeks.

“As the country is gripped with drought, our health service collapses, and the cost of living emergency turns into a cost of living catastrophe, Boris Johnson puts his out of office on for the second time in two weeks.”

Speaking on Thursday, Johnson said he could not offer any new help on energy bills now – but the public can expect the next PM to provide extra financial support in September to tackle spiralling living costs.

A large majority of Tory members still prefer the current prime minister to either Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss, according to latest poll showing “Johnson nostalgia”.

The latest Opinium survey shows Truss has a healthy lead over Sunak in the Tory leadership race, ahead 61 per cent to 39 per cent among Tory members.

But the poll shows signs of regret at the PM’s political demise over the Partygate scandal, and an apparent lack of enthusiasm for either of his would-be successors.

In a head-to-head contest between Johnson and Truss, 63 per cent of Tory members would opt for the caretaker PM, compared with 22 per cent support for the foreign secretary.

Results were even starker in a Johnson versus Sunak contest. Some 68 per cent of Tory members prefer the PM over the ex-chancellor.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also been accused of going “missing” during the cost of living crisis as he took a summer break.

Starmer, who insisted this week that his party has been “leading” on the cost of living, is setting out his party’s plans to freeze October’s energy price cap rise as part of a “comprehensive” cost of living plan on Monday.

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey – who proposed a price cap freeze a week ago – tweeted Labour: “Glad you liked my proposal to cancel the energy price rise. I also have some thoughts on electoral reform that you’re welcome to adopt.”

Devon councils urged to merge in drive for efficiency

Devon should merge its councils into a small number of unitary authorities, the county council’s opposition leader suggests. Currently, Devon’s local government consists of three top-tier authorities – Devon County, Torbay and Plymouth – and eight lower-tier (district, borough or city) councils, including Exeter.

Ollie Heptinstall www.devonlive.com

Plymouth and Torbay became unitaries in 1998, meaning those councils are responsible for all local services, including education, children’s services and adult social care, as well as those delivered at district level elsewhere in Devon, such as refuse collection. The setup is different to Devon’s neighbouring counties. Cornwall has been a single unitary authority since 2009, while Somerset becomes one next year, when its five councils merge.

Cllr Julian Brazil, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group at Devon County Council, claims that adopting a similar approach in Devon is likely to save money and reduce bureaucracy. “Unitary to me, in this day and age, the efficiencies you get out of it outweigh any of the disbenefits,” he said.

As an example, Mr Brazil, who represents Kingsbridge, explains how district councils currently operate their own car parks but the county is responsible for on-street parking, meaning they employ separate traffic wardens. However, Cllr Brazil admitted the county’s size may prevent it from becoming one single council: “Maybe it will be the whole of Devon, I don’t know, but I think it’s more likely that we’d probably be split into three, as other counties have been.”

The Devon unitary debate has been ongoing for years. Between 2007 and 2010, significant energy was put into attempts to reorganise the county’s two-tier structure. The two options on the table then included a ‘super council’ unitary authority for Devon, apart from Torbay and Plymouth, and promoting Exeter to unitary status like Torbay and Plymouth.

The Exeter option was given the green light by the-then Labour government only to be scrapped when the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition came to power in 2010. But the issue is still bubbling away, and Cllr Brazil doesn’t think “we should rule anything out.”

He added: “With Zoom and Teams meetings, [the county] is suddenly a lot smaller … in the sense that I can now have a face-to-face meeting with somebody who lives in Barnstaple and I’m down in Kingsbridge and they’re there in the room. It’s not ideal and it’s not perfect, but it makes it easier.” However, the county council’s long-serving leader, John Hart (Conservative, Bickleigh and Wembury), opposes reorganisation and questions whether savings would be made.

“I could see advantages for a dictatorship,” he said. “But [not] once you’ve got politics involved.”

“Some things that we do as a county are right for Devon. A lot of things that the districts do are right for smaller areas. If you’re going to create a county and then split it up into the areas, you’re not really going to save very much anyway.

“I don’t see massive savings. There could be some savings, I’ll be honest, but the government would not let us be big enough to produce the savings in my view.”

“I’ve always been against on the grounds that if you go for unitary, it would have to be a united front or we would have blood on the table. [If you] go for unitary with the districts opposing you, you finish up with district members all running the council. The first thing they will do is fall out amongst themselves, because north and south won’t agree on what is required, so I would hesitate completely.”

Cllr Hart believes any attempt to split Devon into two will result in one poor and one rich area. He also suggests that were Devon “ordered to go down the unitary route, I’m sure Plymouth and Torbay would be thrown in the mix whether they like it or not, which would mean three [authorities].”

Sidmouth Saturday: massive cliff fall rumbles along coast

Sidmouth has seen another cliff fall this morning. The eroding cliff was crashed onto the beach below at around 9:30am in front of sun-worshippers on the seafront.

[See devonlive for video]

Lili Stebbings www.devonlive.com 

An eyewitness said: “[I heard] a low rumble and then the fall followed by a good 10 mins of dust cloud. Fingers crossed no one was on the beach.”

It comes just days after emergency services were called to the same spot as pictures showing clouds of dust and rubble emerged from the scene as the cliffs broke away. Coastguards and Police were called to the scene as people were being told to stay away.

Rural East Devon Police tweeted at the time: “Another large cliff fall this morning. Reminder to beach users not to walk on the beach East of #Sidmouth due to unstable cliffs which could fall at any time.”

One eyewitness, Lynda, told Devon Live that there were a number of cliff falls in the area before the ‘large’ one took place on the morning of August 8. She said: “There were about five or six cliff falls leading up to the large on this morning in Sidmouth.”

Sidmouth sees another cliff fall

Sidmouth sees another cliff fall (Image: Caroline Montgomery)

It comes after it was announced that it would cost £19million to save Sidmouth’s crumbling coastline. Vital sea defences to save Sidmouth’s crumbling coastline and protect the Esplanade has now gone up by £5million increasing the estimated cost to a total of £19million.

Last October, East Devon District Council (EDDC) and the Sidmouth and East Beach Beach Management Plan Project Advisory Group approved a new and improved £14 million outline proposal.

It is now proposing to proceed to the next stage, with plans to secure the extra funding from government or by bridging the shortfall if required. The aim is to start work on the scheme in spring 2025, giving Sidmouth seafront and East Beach the coastal defences it needs.

Rivals fiddle while UK burns

It’s the driest, hottest summer in 50 years, yet the Conservative leadership candidates appear to be fiddling while Britain burns.

Rowena Mason www.theguardian.com 

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have barely been asked anything about their plans for tackling the climate emergency in all their debates and hustings so far – and nor have they made it a leading campaign issue themselves.

Their main wisdom on the subject of the drought is putting water companies “on notice” that they need to fix leaks, to avoid the necessity of households facing hosepipe bans.

Although both have committed to the net zero target, neither has talked about the crisis facing the climate with much passion or interest.

Sunak has frequently characterised his young daughters as the experts on climate in his household – surely embarrassing for a former chancellor to admit – and does not like the idea of more onshore wind turbines.

He was once thought by environmentally conscious Tories to be the biggest risk to the government’s climate aspirations, as they believed he was blocking ambitious plans to transform the UK’s energy needs on the grounds of cost.

However, the signs are that Truss, a former environment secretary, could be even less committed to net zero. Her answer to soaring energy costs, worsened by extreme winter weather conditions caused by climate breakdown, is to remove green levies from household and business bills.

It is not yet clear whether she would pay for these instead out of general taxation or scrap initiatives to insulate homes and subsidise renewables altogether. In a hustings, she suggested that net zero was a problem for business rather than government to solve.

She also cut funding for solar farms while environment secretary, calling them a “blight on the landscape”, and in a hustings vowed to remove their “paraphernalia” from fields. At the same time, she is backing fracking – popular in theory with Tory activists and MPs, but not if it is planned for their own area.

Surprisingly, Chris Skidmore, a Tory MP and the founder of the Tories Net Zero Support Group, has switched sides from Sunak to Truss in recent days, but cited the former chancellor’s U-turns as the reason.

Two Tory MPs – Vicky Ford and Simon Clarke – have also cited Truss’s support for Cop26 as a reason for backing her. But Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, recalled meeting Truss at the climate crisis summit in Glasgow and said the main thing she wanted to discuss was how she could get into Vogue.

Among Conservative MPs, those opposing net zero policies – such as Steve Baker, a Truss supporter – have scented an opportunity to win back ground. One of Truss’s high-profile supporters, Lord Frost, said last week that there was no evidence of a climate “emergency” and urged the next prime minister to move away from “medieval technology” such as wind power.

In fairness, those questioning the candidates have not given the topic much airtime. Open Democracy calculated that just two minutes out of an hour of interviews on the day of the first heatwave were dedicated to the climate.

But neither candidate has been keen to portray themselves as a keen supporter of the fight against climate breakdown. A lukewarm stance on the climate may win cheers at hustings, and even sway some Tory members, but polls tell a different story about voters across the spectrum, including many Conservatives and swing voters, with the country deeply worried that politicians are not doing enough.

Britain’s wetlands are the key to saving us from drought, wildfires and even floods

Fresh water is the lifeblood of civilisation. It makes life on land possible. But we have lost touch with how the water cycle works. As Britain runs further into serious drought, people are asking if we are prepared and if we should have planned better, by building more reservoirs or plugging leaks in the water distribution system.

Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England  www.theguardian.com 

These are hugely important subjects. What is not being discussed are the severe floods that may well arrive in a few months’ time. Climate change is leading to greater volatility in the water cycle. It’s time to stand back and examine our resilience to water extremes and start improving water quality.

One standout conclusion for me is that we need to have much more water in our environment. During the last 100 years, the UK has lost 90% of its wetlands. This has led to the drastic decline of wildlife and rendered the country more vulnerable to the effects of extreme conditions. Draining fens, desiccating peat bogs, drying floodplains and the claiming of coastal marshes has transformed how our land looks and works. Restoring some of those wetlands could deliver huge benefits.

Wetlands can help to keep rivers flowing, even when rain is scarce, thereby protecting the living, shimmering threads that bring life to the landscape. Water standing on the land also helps recharge the aquifers that underpin much of our public water supply. Holding more water in the environment through the restoration of wet ecosystems can reduce flood peaks and protect us from the misery of the flooding that periodically affects communities across the country.

During a recent visit to Norfolk, I saw a newly created beaver pond. The animals had been released by the farmer into a large wooded pen on the site of an old wartime base. A tiny stream had been impounded by the animals to create a quite substantial body of water topped up with winter rain. Since the rain stopped earlier this year, that pond has been sustaining a headwater stream of the Glaven, one of England’s precious chalk rivers. The new beaver pond has helped that wonderful watercourse remain in better shape than it would otherwise have been. When it does rain again, that stream will flow more evenly than if there were no beavers, therefore reducing the risk of floods.

Beaver ponds and wetlands in general are also excellent at catching carbon and other pollutants such as agricultural fertilisers, so they can play a role in meeting water-quality targets. That beaver pond was also a reminder of how wetlands can bring vibrant life back into otherwise degraded landscapes. Frogspawn, fish, birds and wetland plants had all found a home there.

Wetter conditions also diminish the risk and effect of major fires. For decades, many of our upland blanket bogs have been subject to drainage, rendering them more susceptible to fire. Making these bogs wetter can not only reduce that peril but also improve water quality, increase wildlife and reduce downstream flooding.

At Natural England, we are pleased to see lots of plans afoot to make more of wetlands. The new Environmental Land Management schemes that are replacing the EU’s common agricultural policy are a major opportunity. The new tool of biodiversity net gain, which will require developers to replace and increase habitat lost to housing and infrastructure, will add to the mix. So, too, will plans to create new wetlands to soak up nutrients from new housing developments. There is a national programme to improve peatlands and also a partnership with businesses, vigorously led by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, to create 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of new wetlands.

There are also opportunities for water companies in the development of nature-based solutions, which harness habitat creation as a natural partner and complement to hard infrastructure. There could also be huge benefits in the careful design of engineering infrastructure such as reservoirs. One example is the Abberton reservoir in Essex, which is not only a major strategic water supply asset, it is an internationally important habitat for many bird and amphibian species.

A more natural water cycle should be a strategic national priority. Winston Churchill famously once said that we should “never let a good crisis go to waste”. The current drought, and the floods that are likely to arrive later in the year, should be an opportunity to find a new way of looking at water.