Month: October 2020

They’re turning England’s green and pleasant land into a parking lot: new aerial image of Brexit

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Who’d be a lorry driver? (Mind you, it’s our food and medicines which could be held up.)

Seaton community group Re:store Axe Valley launches scheme to provide school meals for children in holidays

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Since the Government and the County Council have refused to guarantee free school meals for Devon children who need them this half-term, Seaton community group Re:store Axe Valley has set up a scheme to provide them, with the aim of operating at Christmas too. A crowdfunding page has been set up, which is on course to raise £1,000 – PLEASE DONATE.

I have given the scheme £1,500 from my County Councillor’s Locality Budget, as I can think of few things more important than ensuring that all children are properly fed during the current crisis.

Minister claims councils given money to support families – but Devon says it can’t afford to provide school meals

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I’ve asked the Leader of Devon County Council, John Hart, to provide school meals for children in need of them during the half-term holiday.

Cabinet Minister Brandon Lewis said yesterday that the Government had given councils £63m to support families, but Cllr Hart tells me that Devon has been given the smallest amount of new Covid funding of any County Council and some Devon districts including East Devon have been given only the minimum amount. ‘We were expecting a lot more money’, he says. ‘Our finances are already under pressure for the rest of this year with even more pressure for next year. Therefore with demands on funds I do not think it would be right to consider funding this scheme.’

I’ve replied urging him to reconsider. The cost of providing this support at half term and Christmas would not be huge, in the big scheme of things, but there are children in every area of Devon who really need this support.

Exeter Labour Party are being very short-sighted over Proportional Representation

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The Progressive Group on Exeter City Council, made up of two Lib Dems, a Green and an Independent, asked it to support moving to a system of proportional representation (PR) for electing councillors in future, but the Labour majority as well as the Tories rejected this.

While it may be understandable for Labour not to want to abandon a system which gives them sole control of Exeter, from a broader point of view this is a big mistake. Nationally, Johnson is running his cruel and incompetent ‘elective dictatorship’ because 43 per cent of the vote gave him a thumping majority of 80 seats. On the County Council, which makes major decisions for Exeter, the Tories have 70 per cent of the seats but won with only 45 per cent of the votes in 2017.

As Keir Starmer has said, ‘We’ve got to address the fact that millions of votes don’t count.’ In most general and local elections, that includes the majority of people in Devon! Voters in Seaton and Colyton have NEVER been represented by a non-Conservative MP. During the general election, I met a 90-year-old woman who was supporting Claire Wright whose vote had never once counted!

PR changes this, making all votes count, either by electing members in multi-member constituencies – like they do in Ireland and in Scottish local elections – or by continuing with single-member constituencies but adding additional members to represent parties which are under-represented in constituency results – like they do in New Zealand.

If Exeter Labour want to run the city alone – get a majority of votes! Otherwise, work with other progressives in a coalition, like Independents, EDA, Lib Dems and Greens do in East Devon. But don’t block national reform to cling on to an ill-gotten advantage in one city!

Important report on coastal erosion from Sidmouth to Seaton discussed at EDDC

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A new study from Plymouth University, covering the coast from Sidmouth to Lyme Regis, has shown that the ‘broad brush’ predictions of coastal erosion in the regional Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), approved in 2011, need to be updated in the light of a more sophisticated analysis of the threats to different sections of the coast. An EDDC paper summarises the findings, the key points being these areas are predicted to have less erosion than projected in the SMP:

  • The section of coast from Seaton to Lyme Regis.
  • Much of the coast west of Highcliffe Close in Seaton, through Beer to the east of Branscombe mouth; and
  • The majority of the coast from Branscombe mouth to the cliffs east of Sidmouth (roughly south of ‘Southdown’)

However these areas are predicted to see more erosion:

  • In Seaton including some properties accessed off Beer Road and the Highcliffe Close area;
  • Two small areas either side of Branscombe mouth; and
  • Land in Sidmouth east of the River Sid including many properties accessed off Cliff Road, Beatlands Road, Southway, Laskeys Lane and Alma Road.

The key maps for Seaton in the paper are 10A Seaton Hole, and 10B. While some properties which were within the old erosion prediction zones are now outside them, others are now included for the first time or are in a shorter-timescale zone.

What can/will be done?

  1. EDDC’s Strategic Planning Committee considered the report today, and recommended that the report should be taken into account in revising East Devon’s Local Plan, and also that ‘further specialist combined work’ should be undertaken on the issues.
  2. EDDC’s Cabinet will consider the report (I guess this will be in November).
  3. I spoke today (I’m not an EDDC councillor, though) and said that in the light of the 100-year threat to Beer Road, the assumption of the SMP that the West Seaton coast should be subject to a policy of ‘managed realignment’ should now be questioned. In my view, this side of Seaton should be defended as well as the town centre.
  4. I also said that the proposals of the Seaton Beach Management Plan (BMP), which EDDC is developing, need to be reconsidered in the light of this new evidence.
  5. EDDC needs to communicate about the issues with residents in the affected areas. I mentioned today that the West Seaton and Seaton Hole Association (WSSHA) could help to facilitate this. The Association will be considering how to respond.
  6. I have asked for the Seaton BMP Stakeholder Group to meet.
  7. Seaton Town Council should discuss this at the earliest opportunity.

Axminster’s bid for towns fund was sidelined as ministers helped each other target money – at each other’s constituencies!

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We’ve known for some time that Axminster – nominated last year by the old ‘Tory-lite’ administration at EDDC for the Government’s fund to support ailing town centres – was unsuccessful in its bid. But recently a House of Commons committee discovered that funding had been targeted (this was before the general election) at marginal seats that the Tories aimed to take or hold, with towns in safe seats like ours losing out.

Yesterday the Housing secretary, Robert Jenrick – already notorious for breaking lockdown rules by going to his second or third home, and for helping Tory donors avoid tax – yielding an even more staggering revelation. He told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “If the question you’re coming to is was I involved in selecting my own community, absolutely not. Ministers do not get involved in their own constituencies. That decision was made by another minister in my department.”

Asked which minister made the decision, Jenrick replied: “It was made by Jake Berry.” When Marr pointed out that a town in Berry’s constituency also received money from the fund, Jenrick confirmed that he was the individual to have given that decision the go-ahead.

And people think that we are exaggerating when we say the Tories are corrupt!

County hears compelling pleas from young people to recognise that ‘Black Lives Matter’, but culture-war Tories can’t help spoiling the Council’s response

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Diversity in Devon activists at Ottery St. Mary

Yesterday the County Council heard moving speeches from students at the King’s School, Ottery, supported by Development Education Devon, who explained how the Black Lives Matters movement had spurred them to speak out about the abuse and constant micro-aggressions suffered by young black people in Devon. The students, who have set up a group called Diversity in Devon, worked with Cllr Claire Wright to present a motion calling for the Council to engage with the black and minority-ethnic (BAME) community in the County and press the Government to recognise the history of black oppression in the school curriculum.

Along with a similar motion from the Lib Dems, Claire’s motion went (following the Council’s normal arcane and undemocratic procedure) to DCC’s Conservative-controlled Cabinet before being discussed by Council. The Cabinet approved a slimmed-down set of recommendations which -while not including all the points requested – represented real progress and all parties and groups (Labour, Lib Dems, Green and Independent) were able to support them. The first Cabinet amendment was therefore passed unanimously.

However the Conservative Group couldn’t help spoiling the response and disrupting the unity of purpose. Once the Group saw the Cabinet recommendations, it insisted on diluting the commitment to ‘engage with BAME people and organisations’. Embarrassingly for the Leader, Cllr Hart, he was forced to introduce an extra amendment saying the Council should ‘engage with all residents in Devon’. This was an echo of the racist All Lives Matter movement which has attacked the idea of Black Lives Matter.

In my comments, I explained why this was unacceptable. I am over 70 and white, and I have never experienced racist abuse or even micro aggressions in my life. The young black woman who spoke to the Council, like most other black people, has experienced them regularly from an early age. Obviously it is black and ethnic minority people who personally experience the problem of racism, so it’s them we should specially engage with.

It’s a shame that some Devon Tories – like one yesterday who started ranting about ‘Marxists’ and ‘Antifa’ (an American name for ‘anti-fascists’) – see any attempt to engage with young people about racism as a signal for a culture war. There’s little that’s conservative about Boris Johnson’s Tories, but as we have seen time and time over Brexit, Conservative moderates like those in Devon’s Cabinet are not prepared to stand up to the culture warriors.

New 20 mph policy still some way off, County Council told, but waiting list of requests to be kept

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In response to a request from me, Cllr Stuart Hughes, Cabinet member for Highways, presented a written report on the current state of the 20 mph policy (see p. 17). The long-awaited Newton Abbott trial may begin soon and policy will not be reconsidered until after this. It was announced that in the meanwhile, a waiting list of requested proposals will be kept. I welcomed this development and will be writing to Cllr Hughes and the director of Highways to lodge the interest in 20 mph zones in Seaton, Colyton, Colyford, Beer and Offwell.

General uncertainty and fears over ports, Leader tells County Council, as our irresponsible Government fails to extend final Brexit deadline

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Councillor John Hart presented a depressing report to Council (see p. 11) about the effects of the rapidly nearing end of the Brexit transition period on 31st December. I had requested the report, and it became clear that despite the best efforts of the Council and its officers, they remain basically in the dark about what will happen when the UK leaves the European Single Market and Customs Union in less than 3 months time. Responding to my comments, Cllr Hart said there was particular concern about ports, i.e. Plymouth. It has been announced that a giant lorry park has been prepared – as in Kent, where drivers will have to get a permit to cross the county border!

I told the Council that it is utterly irresponsible of the Government to proceed with this Brexit disruption, not asking for an extension to the transition, when the economy has already been badly hit by the pandemic. The Council estimates an 8 per cent hit to Devon this year will rise to 10 per cent if there is no trade deal with the EU. The Government’s own estimates show continuing damage over many years. Cllr Hart no longer bothers with the previously obligatory talk about the ‘opportunities’ as well as risks of Brexit. It is clearly recognised that that will now fool no one.