The scandal of the Wilmington crossings, agreed in 2015, removed from Highways England plans for the A35

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The most shocking thing I found when I first became County Councillor for the Seaton and Colyton division in 2017 was the miserable situation of people living close to the A35 in Wilmington, and the fact that they didn’t have a single crossing to get safely across the road anywhere in the village.

Then I then discovered that Highways England, the quango which runs the road, had dropped plans for two crossings and other measures, agreed in 2015 based on a consultants’ report in 2014. So in 2017-18, together with the A35 Action Group and Widworthy Parish Council, we tried to hold HE to account. They said they couldn’t justify the crossings financially because no one had been killed or seriously injured within the village – but agreed to include them in a wider scheme for the A35, justifying the cost by the regular serious accidents just outside the village.

This scheme, based on average speed cameras between Honiton and Charmouth, may now, at last, be nearing approval. But guess what – apparently the crossings are no longer part of the scheme.

This is a complete scandal. A small community, exposed to awful traffic, promised mitigation, the promises kicked down the road for year after year, which appears now to have been utterly betrayed by the unaccountable quango which runs the road.

Neil Parish MP and Councillor Marcus Hartnell should be on this instantly, to make sure that Highways England live up to their earlier promises and push through the Wilmington (and Kilmington) crossings as soon as possible. The cost will be small beer for HE, and is the absolute minimum that should be done for the villagers who have waited so long.

Congratulations to Labour’s Jake Bonetta for Honiton win

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Jake Bonetta (photo: DevonLive)

Jake Bonetta (left) has become the first Labour candidate to be elected to East Devon District Council in decades. Jake beat the Tory, Jenny Brown, decisively, by 807 to 522, with the Lib Dem trailing on 63.

In the other by-election, in Feniton, the Tories took over from Tory-leaning Independent, Susie Bond, who has left the area. The overall result of these two by-elections is therefore to leave the balance on EDDC essentially unchanged.

Progressive alliance

These results show that voters will respond to a strong progressive candidate with an energetic campaign. Especially in a by-election, when turnout is low (only 25 per cent in Honiton, 21 per cent in Feniton) and many Tories stay at home, seats can be taken from the Tories. In Feniton, neither Labour nor Lib Dems seriously challenged.

Labour will rightly feel encouraged, but in a full Council election, in the glare of national campaigns, when more voters turn out and they like other parties will be stretched to challenge across a wide range of seats, no one party is the answer. We will need a progressive alliance to achieve the best results across the district, building on the cooperation between East Devon Alliance, Lib Dems and Greens at EDDC, in which I hope Labour will now also be involved.

In 2019, after all, a stronger Lib Dem candidate had won the Honiton seat. Progressive voters will rally around the best candidate and party in each situation. I am sure that many, like me, will have voted for all the main alternatives to the Tories. Obviously, I have supported good Independents from EDA in recent local elections, but in national elections over the last decade I have voted Lib Dem, Green and Labour, depending on the situation.

In 2023, we face new elections for EDDC, but Johnson could also call a general election. Finding strong progressive challengers for the new East Devon constituencies, Honiton and Exmouth, will need to be addressed over the next year.

A reply to a reader – why I will keep going on about Covid

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A reader has contacted me to suggest that I should spend less time commenting on Covid, because it can’t be eradicated, and is no longer a top killer or driver of hospital visits, ‘but cancer and heart failure have never not been, and the backlog of “minor” ops like hip replacements has a massive impact on both the individual and understaffed supporting services.’ I thought my reply might be of interest to other followers of this blog, so here it is:

‘I do accept that Covid is unlikely to be eradicated, and certainly not any time soon, and that in many ways the country needs to open up. I don’t want to go back to a lockdown, and one of the reasons I oppose what the government is currently doing is the fear that it may go so badly wrong that there will be a screeching U-turn when the NHS is overwhelmed – as there has been 3 times before.

‘1. Covid still is a killer. Double vaccination is protecting people a lot, but it was never 100 per cent effective and it seems to be only about 60 per cent against the Delta variant. So even vaccinated people are still becoming ill (a fully vaccinated 70-year-old friend of mine is still unwell over a month after contracting it) and some are dying. Half the population (mostly under-40s and children) are still not fully vaccinated and some of them will become seriously ill and die. 

‘2. The scale of the new wave, if we drop all restrictions, could therefore still be massive. If we have millions of cases (and with 100,000 a day which Javid has talked of as likely, that will come), then even if only 1 in 1000 die, instead of around 1 in 200 in the previous waves, then tens of thousands will still die.

‘3. Covid is starting to drive hospital admissions. They are currently going up 45% a week. After a few weeks, they will have trebled, quadrupled or more. As the RD&E case shows, even a hospital which currently has few Covid patients is not in a position to cope, and cannot afford a big increase in cases. We could be back to people not getting treated as happened in other parts of the country last year.

‘4. This scenario is the worst possible one for people with cancer (Leeds is already cancelling cancer operations) and other problems. As more Covid patients are hospitalised, there will be fewer beds for others. If there is a massive wave, more NHS staff will get Covid or have to isolate (which they need to do because you can’t have infection spreading in hospitals), and there will be even fewer to treat the others.

‘5. This situation should not have arisen, because Johnson could have stopped travellers from India bringing Delta in during March and April. But it has, which is why his road map doesn’t work any more. We need to keep masks in all indoor settings, including schools. We need laws and inspections to ensure adequate ventilation in indoor settings. We need to cut back on gatherings which can be superspreader events. We need to accelerate vaccination of all over-18s and introduce it for 12-18 year olds, as other countries are doing. We will need booster vaccines for older people. With all this, we can hopefully get this back under control. 

‘6. Without it, we risk a massive wave which could help the virus mutate further so that the vaccines work even less. Then we will be in trouble. The economy will go backwards because a lot of people like me will not go into shops or pubs, and a lot of people will have to take time off work because they or their family members are ill.’

RD&E crisis shows how reckless and irresponsible Johnson’s opening up is

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It’s summer, and it has only ‘a small number’ of Covid patients, but the RD&E is on the highest possible level; of alert. Yet Covid cases are rising in Devon as they are across the country, and everywhere cases are STILL translating into hospitalisations. Because of the vaccines, there are fewer hospitalisations proportionally than before, BUT with cases increasing exponentially, the absolute number of hospitalisations is increasing nationally by 50 per cent per week.

Imagine the effects of a few more weeks of this trend on our hospital which is already asking patients’ families to take them home if they can, because it is so seriously understaffed.

Another success for ‘Global Britain’

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This is now 12 days old so the level has shot up further – and sadly other countries are beginning to see the Delta wave, too. Just as Johnson did his bit by bringing this variant here from India, we have helped to export it (as we did with the ‘Kent’ variant – to other countries).

Sadly, the growth of the third wave vindicates the concerns I expressed in my Midweek Herald article

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Covid cases are rising, with a dozen cases in Seaton a week ago and a class in the primary school sent home. Hospital admissions for Covid are also rising in the South West.

Sadly, my warning about the third Covid wave on this blog weeks ago, which I repeated in this article in the Midweek Herald ten days ago (not previously posted here) have been vindicated.

This remains a dangerous disease. Even double vaccinated people can become really unwell, although crucially, the vaccine is likely to keep them out of hospital. Younger, unvaccinated people make up a substantial proportion of those in hospital. For everyone over 18 the message is – get vaccinated!

I remain very concerned about schools. In echoes of the ‘herd immunity’ strategy, the Government is effectively allowing the virus to sweep through our child population. Why is there no nation-wide ventilation programme, and why have masks not been reintroduced – both of which could seriously reduce the risks of transmission? Why are vaccinations not available to 12-18 year olds who need them? A small minority of children will suffer seriously and transmission in schools is helping pass the virus – via parents and teachers – into the wider population. As ever in this pandemic, the Government seems astonishingly complacent.

The housing market is out of control: time to remove subsidies for speculation, and focus on real need

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The Royal College of Nursing points out that house prices have risen by 6 times the rate of increases in nurses’ pay over the last 6 years.

If older readers are tempted to congratulate themselves on the (unearned) increases in wealth this is bringing them, you should just remember the younger people squeezed out of the market altogether by never-ending price inflation, deliberately stoked by the Tory government as an alternative to sustainable economic growth (and to reward its voting base).

This latest frenzy is the result of a topsy-turvy system which encourages wealthy people to invest more and more money in property – unneeded extensions which increase the value of their homes, second homes, rental properties, holiday homes to rent. Yet however many 4-bedroom villas are built, it doesn’t produce better-quality, affordable housing either to buy or to rent, which the people shut out of the market need.

The housing market needs radical change and I am waiting for the first national party to grasp the nettle. As a mininum:

  1. Put capital gains tax on ALL property gains, including first homes – nurses’ pay is taxed, so why not unearned property gains?
  2. No schemes like stamp duty holidays which simply send the market crazy.
  3. Increase council tax on second homes and make local bans easier where communities want them.
  4. Stop developers land banking – force them to build where permission has been given, or remove the permission.
  5. A national plan to ensure adequate housing for all – not a planning free-for-all which rewards landowners and developers while harming our environment.