Objections to Wetlands CPO withdrawn – Stop Line Way link will finally go ahead!

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Devon County Council have told me today that the last objection to the Compulsory Purchase Order has been withdrawn, and the Department of Transport have confirmed to me that the inquiry which was due on Friday has now been cancelled. This means that the missing link in the Stop Line Way in the Wetlands will now be completed! Funds for both the purchase and the completion of the route are in the County’s budget.

Congratulations are due to all those in Seaton, Colyford and beyond who have campaigned for this over the whole of the last decade, to County Council officers for their tireless work, and to the Council’s leadership for pursuing this (although we’d like them to back the rest of the route, to Axminster, too). This was one of the subjects on which I got most correspondence during my term as county councillor and it is a great satisfaction to see it coming to fruition.

Devon is in denial about the pandemic – we must all quickly change our behaviour

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Devon is seeing the highest rates of Covid cases of any time in the pandemic. For the first time, our region is the forefront of the wave, Exeter is a major hotspot, and our hospitals and ambulance services are under acute stress. The brief dip in infections after schools closed has now ended and all the signs point to a new surge early next month when they go back.

Yet people are behaving as though the pandemic has gone away. Elementary precautions are being abandoned – masking has all but stopped in many situations, there is little effort to secure proper ventilation, and no one seems to mind that our older children, almost alone among 12-15 year olds in Western countries, are not being offered the vaccination.

The pandemic is rising despite the fact that around 80 per cent of adults locally (70 per cent nationally) have been vaccinated. This is partly because, including children, well over a third of the population haven’t been vaccinated.

However it’s also because people really haven’t understood that the Delta variant is twice or three times as transmissible as the original variant. Be indoors in an inadequately ventilated space with an infected person, especially if people aren’t masking, even if it’s just for a few minutes, and you’ll almost certainly catch it.

You’re less likely to catch it if you’re vaccinated, and you’re much less likely to be seriously ill, but you can pass it on if you do. In these circumstances, it is hugely irresponsible of the Government to end isolation for people who are pinged or have been in touch with someone infectious.

Indeed the Government’s neglect of the public health risks has once again become outrageous. We have to do it for ourselves, for our families, our friends, our work colleaguesMASK, VENTILATE, SOCIALLY DISTANCE (AND VACCINATE)!

Town Council consultation – a chance to flag the urgency of progressing Seafront Enhancement

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Image: Devon Live

Seaton Town Council is running a consultation until 31st August asking residents how they would like the Council to prioritise its future spending and strategy.  

The imaginative Seafront Enhancement scheme -which residents have repeatedly given their support to, which received planning approval in 2017, and has already cost over £60,000 – is not mentioned in the questionnaire.

The town has waited many years to see this project come to fruition. The Town Council needs to resubmit the planning application which was allowed to lapse last year.

Funding is in place for a first phase – which would greatly improve Fishermen’s Gap – to commence. However the Town Council is in discussions with EDDC about the best way to bring it forward, and any route which will get it moving would be very welcome.

If you want to see the Seafront Enhancement proceed, you can add your comments on the Council’s questionnaire (question 4) – available via the link above, at www.seaton.gov.uk or (in hard copy) from the Council Offices at Marshlands, Harbour Road. 

As Covid surges in Devon, it’s important to prepare for next month’s school reopening

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Exeter now has one of the highest Covid rates in the UK and large clusters exist across Devon, especially in urban areas where the population is younger. Covid is becoming a disease of young people, including children – nationwide, over 1000 children were hospitalised with Covid in July, more than three times the rate earlier in the pandemic. The County Council should be helping schools to prepare for the return in September, to stop a new explosion of the pandemic.

The new vaccination programme for 16 and 17 year olds is welcome but it is too little – if vulnerable 12-15 year olds can be vaccinated, why not others? – and too late to make a difference to the situation next month.

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.’