Month: April 2021

Claire Wright’s final plea to ban bee-harming chemicals blocked by the Conservative machine on the County Council

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Claire addresses DCC over Zoom yesterday

Claire Wright, who has done more than any politician in East Devon to protect wildlife and our natural environment, used her final meeting as a county councillor to get the Council to call on the government to reverse its recent lifting of the ban on neonicotinoids. This type of insecticide has proved hugely damaging to bees and other pollinators, as well as to birds and water courses.

Devon County Council’s Conservative cabinet proposed their usual watering-down amendment, to merely ask the government to ‘carefully review its consideration of emergency use applications’ of the chemicals.

This was then steamrollered through by the Tory machine despite a passionate – and at time despairing – plea from Claire.

There could be no more eloquent demonstration of why we need to vote out the Conservatives next Thursday. Let’s hope Claire’s legacy will be a new generation of Independent and other opposition county councillors from East Devon and the rest of the County.

Claire has been an inspiration to all of us, and to me as the only other non-Tory county councillor from our district on the current Council, an indispensable colleague for me. She will be sorely missed.

Devon Conservatives use procedural means to block discussion of Proportional Representation

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In the last County Council elections in 2017, the Conservatives gained 44 per cent of the vote in Devon – 56 per cent went to other parties and Independents. Yet because of the first-past-the-post electoral system, they gained 70 per cent of the seats. This has given them an overwhelming majority on the Council and all its committees, which they use ruthlessly – even to ditch Seaton’s hospital beds a couple of years ago.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, this system has been replaced by the Single Transferable Vote system, which enables voters to rank all candidates (thus voting for the individual as well as the party), and leads to second preferences being distributed so that you get a more balanced representation – with more encouragement for cooperation between councillors of different parties.

It also means that instead of most votes being cast for unsuccessful candidates, and thus wasted, ALL votes count towards the election of councillors. This encourages more people to vote.

This year, the Welsh Assembly has voted to allow local councils to choose this system for their elections, too. Only in England are we forced to stick with first-past-the-post. At yesterday’s Council meeting, I asked the Council to request legislation for England, too, so that Devon could choose its own system.

In response, the Conservative Cabinet produced a meaningless amendment, which simply removed all references to the voting system for Council elections from the motion. They then used their large majority to force this through. We must hope the new Council is more favourable to democracy and reform.

When is a pothole not a pothole? Devon County Council can tell you – but its policy leaves many genuine problems unfixed

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‘We will not ignore any reports, however, we do have to prioritise our funding on safety and we cannot afford to fix all of the problems that are reported to us.

‘We will repair potholes that have a 40mm vertical edge and are 300mm wide.’

This is DCC’s policy. It means that many genuine problems don’t get fixed, or not until they’ve deteriorated.

In particular, this policy means that one hole is fixed, while the next one is left. It’s wasteful of time and effort, as well as damaging to people’s cars.

It results from the outsourcing of Highways maintenance, which requires that contractors meet precise specifications rather than using their common sense.

This policy infuriates many residents. I have repeatedly criticised it at County Hall. If we get a change of administration, a change in this policy will be one of my priorities.

I’ve signed Cycling UK’s pledges to support investment in active travel – including real routes like Colyford-Axminster which the current DCC administration refuses to back

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picture from Cycling UK

I’ve signed a commitment to support Cycling UK’s campaign for investment in active travel, and specifically:

1 The investment needed in active travel to achieve the 2025 target to double levels of cycling, making active travel a priority in all transport and neighbourhood decision-making.

2 The development and delivery of an active travel network of safe, accessible and direct routes including cycling infrastructure networks designed to national standards in every town and city, and rural routes to link these.

This is particularly relevant to our area – as the current Conservative administration at DCC is refusing to back rural routes like the Stop Line Way between Colyford and Axminster, and this must be one of our big asks of a new administration.

Independent EDA candidates’ statement on climate and environment

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Seaton Wetlands

The Independent East Devon Alliance candidates for Axminster (Paul Hayward), Seaton and Colyton (Martin Shaw), and Sidmouth (Louise MacAllister) aim for the County to develop the widest possible range of policies to tackle not just the climate crisis, but the broader environmental damage which our society is causing.

Devon Carbon Plan

We support the ongoing project to develop a Devon Carbon Plan aiming to make the county carbon-neutral by 2030. Green and Independent councillors, including Martin, originally proposed the 2030 target when the Conservatives were insisting on 2050. However even if this is achieved, Devon will not be fully carbon-neutral as Devon consumers are responsible for emissions elsewhere, so more radical action will be needed.

Wider environmental agenda

The Carbon Plan must not be a reason to bypass the wider environmental agenda. We support the action plan proposed to DCC by retiring Independent councillor Claire Wright, which includes full legal protection for all pollinators; stopping the sale of bee-harming pesticides; and the council phasing out glyphosate pesticides. It also aims to encourage the Council’s tenant farmers to phase out the use of inorganic fertilisers, develop soil-health good practice, and set aside part of their land for tree planting and for wildlife and/or wildflower mixes for pollinators.

Environmental issues in all policy-making

Environmental aims must be recognised in all policy-making, e.g. developing public transport, promoting local cycle/walking routes, providing health services at the most local level so as to minimise travel, reducing street lighting to minimise harm to insects, and increasing take up of the ‘Life on the Verge’ scheme across Devon.

United action by progressive, environmentalist councillors

We believe that the progressive, environmentalist forces must unite against the complacent local Conservatives, as has happened at EDDC where EDA, the Lib Dems and Greens have combined to form a new administration (of which Paul is a part). EDDC now has a cabinet member responsible for Climate Action. We aim to foster similar developments at the County Council.

We welcome the Green Party’s decisions not to stand against us in the three divisions, and will work with their councillors as Martin and other Independents have on the County Council for the last four years. 

Cooperation with the local movement

Last but not least, we recognise that we don’t have all the answers. We aim to work with local groups like Seaton Environmental Action, Sidmouth Plastic Warriors and the Axe Vale Conservation Society, as well as broader bodies like the Devon Wildlife Trust, CPRE and the Woodland Trust, to develop solutions for our areas and for Devon.

Complacent Conservatives continue to deny the threat to Seaton Hospital

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Public protest meeting for Seaton Hospital, 2017

The complacent Conservative candidate for Seaton and Colyton, Marcus Hartnell, has posted his view of the future of Seaton Hospital on Facebook, repeating the slur about ‘scaremongering’ over its future. I’ve responded on the same page:

‘I welcome the fact that local Conservatives are addressing the future of Seaton Hospital – indeed I suspect my recent Seaton Nub News article may have spurred them to do so. Marcus is right that there is some common ground. We all want the hospital to continue to thrive, providing services to people from the Seaton area and beyond. I too support the Triangular Health Forum, chaired by my Independent colleague Jack Rowland.

‘Speculation and scaremongering’

However Marcus is wrong to criticise ‘speculation and scaremongering’. Seaton Hospital HAS definitely been at risk for the last four years. The removal of the beds left it officially 38 per cent empty. That was clearly not a viable long-term situation, especially since part of the remainder is the office suite of the Seaton, Axminster and Sidmouth community team – which clearly does not have to be based in Seaton. The Covid vaccination programme is hugely welcome, but unless it becomes permanent, it just postpones the day when the hospital is once again almost half-empty. 

‘There are no plans to build houses on it’, says Marcus. However his Conservative government handed the hospital over to NHS Property Services, a government-owned company charged with maximising revenue by selling off ‘surplus’ buildings. This company put 50 per cent of the Seaton Hospital site forward for building 14 houses. That offer is still on the table – NHS PS have not withdrawn it – in the review of housing capacity currently being discussed by EDDC. It is obvious that losing 50 per cent of the site would mean knocking down the hospital. These are simple facts, not scaremongering.

‘A positive and pragmatic approach’

Marcus prefers to ‘take a positive and pragmatic approach’. He says we must influence the decisions of the CCG. Well some of us have been trying to do that for the last 4 years. I tried to get them to introduce new services locally, like chemotherapy – but they sent it first to Honiton, then to Ottery St. Mary. They preferred to leave Seaton 38 per cent empty.

Marcus should know (but he failed to attend most of the committee meetings) that Seaton Area Health Matters, also chaired by Jack, has tried for over two years to interest NHS PS in selling the hospital to a community-based charity, to continue the existing NHS services and introduce a wider range of health and wellbeing activities. NHS PS have so far failed to engage seriously with this proposal. They prefer to keep their options open.

‘No powers to make decisions about the NHS’

Marcus says ‘a County Councillor has no powers to make decisions on NHS matters’. Not true. As a member of Devon County Council’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee, I was able to vote recently to use our legal power to refer the proposed closure of Teignmouth Community Hospital to the Secretary of State, for examination by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, which could lead to saving the hospital. 

In 2017, members of the same Committee were able to vote on the same proposal concerning Seaton Hospital beds. It was the last option open to save them, and to secure the future of the hospital. Seven Tory councillors, four of them from East Devon, voted against this, thereby condemning our beds – and the hospital itself to the limbo it’s been in for 4 years now. So it isn’t that councillors have no powers. It’s that you can’t rely on Conservative councillors to use them for the benefit of their communities. 

Sharing services – you have been warned

Sharing health services across the Axe Valley is a good idea, provided that basic services are available in Seaton as well as Axminster. However the Teignmouth experience provides a warning. In that case, the CCG decided it was OK to move services to Dawlish. Many people in Teignmouth didn’t want to have to travel to Dawlish for services that used to be based in Teignmouth.

Unless we are wary, we’ll end up with everything being based in Axminster or Lyme, while NHS PS build their 14 houses on the Seaton Hospital site.Yes, we need to work collaboratively. But we need County Councillors who acknowledge worrying facts rather than trying to brush them under the carpet, and who are aware of the powers that they have and will use them to defend the local NHS – not capitulate because of misguided loyalty to a government which is forcing the CCG to make ever-greater cuts.’

Is this a spoof account? ‘Everywhere I go I see the police’, says Alison Hernandez as she finally turns up in Seaton: ‘Visibility has begun’.

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I don’t normally reproduce Conservative propaganda, but their local candidates Marcus Hartnell and Ian Hall must be squirming with embarrassment today after the police commissioner, Alison Hernandez – last spotted in Seaton in September 2016 (!) – turned up for election photo-ops with them.

The hapless Hernandez tweeted about her visit, ‘Everywhere I go I see the police’, and even continued, ‘Visibility has begun …’ . Let’s hope that this doesn’t mean that police were bused from all over Devon for a party-political event. Since the wider Seaton area has been reduced to one Police Constable and one Police Community Support Officer, it would have been simply impossible for her to have seen police ‘everywhere’ on a normal day.

Hernandez’ claims will be greeted with derision, if not anger, by people in the Colyford and Seaton Down Hill areas, who have been trying to get police enforcement of speed limits for years now. The police have been all but invisible locally throughout Hernandez’ term – time for her to go.

Axminster Conservative says I’m ‘scaremongering’, but he knows that Seaton Hospital has remained in limbo ever since his colleagues ditched our beds

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In a tweet responding to my Nub News article about NHS Property Services’ offering the Seaton Hospital site for housing development, Axminster Conservative candidate Ian Hall has accused me of ‘scaremongering’.

However Ian was present at County Hall three and a half years ago, when his Tory colleagues voted down our last chance to block the closure of Seaton’s beds – in the full knowledge that the CCG together with NHS Property Services, which owns all East Devon’s community hospitals, was preparing an ‘estates strategy’ to identify surplus sites to be sold off. He also knows that at the time, his Conservative government was offering incentives to NHS organisations to identify such sites.

So Ian should not be surprised that it has now emerged, via the Midweek Herald, that NHS Property Services offered our site for development and that this offer is even now being presented to EDDC’s Strategic Planning Committee as one of the options for meeting the excessive house-building targets which his Government has, on top of everything, imposed on East Devon.

Ian may not be worried that NHS PS were also offering up a quarter of the Axminster site, but I expect many of the people of Axminster, who like us in Seaton actually paid for their hospital, will have different ideas – and may well turn to Independent candidate Paul Hayward, who will actually stick up for them, instead.

in Seaton, where NHS PS put up half the site, everyone understands that if 14 houses are built, the Hospital will no longer exist. As I made clear in my article, there is no specific closure proposal. But the information confirms that we have been right all along to be alarmed. Perhaps if there is no scare, NHS Property Services will officially take the offer off the table?

Ian is right of course that we need to cooperate in a health plan for the Axe Valley, also involving Lyme Regis, with both Axminster and Seaton hospitals. But the Triangular Health Forum he mentions has hardly got off the ground despite years of intermittent talk. Meanwhile, until the vaccination programme, Seaton Hospital remained in limbo, almost half empty, still all too ripe for the asset-strippers.

Minister tells Neil Parish community hospitals should have a ‘central role’ – will he give the CCG the message and, more importantly, the funding?

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The Minister of State for Health, Edward Argar MP said in response to a question from Parish:

‘Community hospitals are a hugely valuable and valued part of our health and care system. As we have seen during the pandemic, they have played a vital role in providing intermediate care for patients not yet well enough to return home and play a much broader role year-in year-out to the communities they serve. While it is for local communities to make decisions on specific local services, we are clear that our community hospitals should continue to play a central role in healthcare provision for many years to come.’

NHS Property Services offered Seaton Hospital as a site for housing development – the threat to local services continues

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A new report shows Seaton Hospital’s owners, the government-owned company NHS Property Services, offered it as a possible site for housing development.

My Nub News article explains the context and the threat the community faces.

Photo: protest at County Hall in 2017 when the Conservatives on Devon Health Scrutiny Committee voted down an attempt to protect the hospital’s beds.