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Proposed new Honiton constituency offers the opposition a chance – let’s have an open Progressive Primary to select a candidate

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The Boundary Commission’s proposal of a new Honiton parliamentary constituency (name in red, red boundaries in above map), stretching from Axmouth to Cullompton and Sidmouth to Yarcombe, and including the Seaton and Colyton area, gives the opposition to Conservative misrule an opportunity to get its act together and send Neil Parish on his way to early retirement.

Because the new constituency is more compact and (apart from Cullompton) it is all in East Devon district, it will be easier to campaign in, and the various opposition forces know each other through local politics. On the record of recent general elections in the Tiverton and Honiton constituency, it should be very safe for the Tories, and it is not obvious that any of the opposition forces, by themselves, can defeat them. Labour have been second in the last three elections in Tiv & Hon, but very far behind.

HOWEVER the constituency includes Ottery St Mary and Sidmouth, the base from which Claire Wright ran the Tories ever closer between 2015 and 2019, and all the constituency’s towns – Seaton, Axminster, Sidmouth, Ottery, Honiton and Cullompton – are represented by opposition councillors at district level, while in several the Tories were run close in the recent county elections.

If the opposition parties and Independents stand against each other at the next General Election, a Tory victory is a foregone conclusion. But what if we have a Progressive Alliance between the main opposition forces, and an open PROGRESSIVE PRIMARY in which supporters of a united opposition candidate sign up to vote for the best person to stand against the Tory candidate?

This would be a fair and democratic way to decide who the standard-bearer should be. The person who’s voted in will have the wider legitimacy of being chosen by several thousand local people and supported by all the parties and groups which have signed up to the project. There will be none of the divisive arguments about tactical voting that marred Claire Wright’s campaign.

What’s not to like? Obviously, this goes against current Labour, Lib Dem and Green approaches to elections. But we have two years, perhaps, to persuade the parties to change.

To those who say this is unrealistic – how else can we dislodge the Tories under First Past The Post in areas like this?

(PERSONAL DISCLAIMER: I am NOT interested in standing.)

The reopening is now under threat, after Johnson made the same mistake yet again

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Everyone who is looking forward to further relaxation of restrictions could be in for a big shock, it seems, as the new Delta (Indian) variant of Covid is spreading rapidly and has caused the beginnings of a surge in cases nationwide – not just in Bolton.

It is beyond mind-boggling that Boris Johnson could have yet again made the same mistake of not controlling entry to the UK from places where the virus is widespread – this time from India. It was clear in March that there was a huge epidemic there, and on 1st April the UK knew that the new variant was arriving. But it was only on 23rd April that the Government put India on the red list.

In those 22 days, and indeed over the previous month, travellers were arriving in numbers from India and as a result the new variant started to spread in parts of the UK. Now it has become dominant in lots of places – not yet in East Devon, but it is in Teignbridge and Exeter, among others.

The surge is small at the moment but the current level of restrictions does not appear to be slowing it much. All this points to tightening, not lifting, as the Government’s next move. Moreover, if the vaccinations do not protect so fully against this variant, which has been suggested by experts, these decisions will have put the gains of the programme at risk.

People talk as though Johnson’s pandemic mistakes, which Dominic Cummings highlighted last week, were in the past. But they are still threatening our safety and our chances of resuming normal life.

RD&E gave no information in response to FoI request about patients who caught Covid in hospital

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Hospitals have been accused of “unnecessary secrecy” for refusing to disclose how many of their patients died after catching Covid on their wards.

The Patients Association, doctors’ leaders and the campaign group Transparency International have criticised the 42 NHS acute trusts in England that did not comply fully with freedom of information request for hospital-acquired Covid infections and deaths. 26 trusts, including the RD&E, did not give any information at all.

The Guardian revealed on Monday that up to 8,700 patients lost their lives after probably or definitely becoming infected during the pandemic while in hospital for surgery or other treatment. That was based on responses from 81 of the 126 trusts from which it sought figures. Clearly with figures from all trusts, the total is likely to have exceeded 10,000.

The British Medical Association, the main doctors’ trade union, said the 42 trusts that did not reveal how many such deaths had occurred in their hospitals were denying the bereaved crucial information.

“No one should come into hospital with one condition, only to be made incredibly ill with, or even die from, a dangerous infectious disease,” Dr Rob Harwood, chair of the BMA’s hospital consultants committee, said.

Analysis of DCC results shows the challenge facing the opposition in East Devon

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Analysis of the 6th May election results shows the challenge facing the opposition in future elections in East Devon. The bottom line, reported here before, is that the Tories got 83.3 per cent of the seats for 43.8 per cent of the vote. The non-Conservative parties and Independents between them got 16.7 per cent of the seats for 56.2 per cent of the vote.

These figures make an overwhelming case for (1) proportional representation and (2), so long as we’ve got the First Past The Post system, a Progressive Alliance, if the opposition is to win under the existing system.

Indeed a serious worry emerges. The Tory share of the vote which gave them this majority of seats, 43.8, was 7.6 per cent higher than their vote in the EDDC elections of 2019 – when they lost control of the council for the first time (see bottom line of the table). The Tory vote in 2019 was exceptionally low (the result of the pre-Brexit confusion), meaning that even with split opposition votes, they lost a lot of seats.

If the Tories consolidate their return to their normal 40-45 per cent range in 2021, the current progressive majority at EDDC will lose ground unless more serious steps are taken towards a Progressive Alliance strategy.

ConLabIndInd EDALib DemGreenOtherturnout %
AXMINSTER1672498143920938.7
BROADCLIYST*31591170535896199232
EXMOUTH & BUDLEIGH230747846074750314638.7
EXMOUTH*5412273323731844121430.2
FENITON & HONITON2094149132134.1
OTTER VALLEY128113432248020443.5
SEATON & COLYTON2321306217616017942.5
SIDMOUTH2601209243142.8
WHIMPLE253562469052339.9
Total votes2338276436592604649474436325
Average vote per candidate19486371648201549588781
Per cent43.814.312.411.39.38.30.6
Average % per division43.814.332.74110.1121.7
Per cent EDDC 201936.26.31415.315.33.41.1

The opposition could have sharply reduced the Tory majority in the Devon County Council elections, with a Progressive Alliance

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My analysis on West Country Bylines shows how the undemocratic First Past The Post system gave the Tories 39 seats out of 60, when they deserved only 26 based on their share of the vote (42 per cent). For the fourth successive election, the majority of Devon voters showed that they are NOT Tory, but the electoral system gave the Tories a very comfortable win.

In 11 seats, listed in the article, the split in the opposition vote let the Tories win. With a Progressive Alliance, opposition parties or Independents could have taken many of these seats from the Tories, producing a narrow opposition majority or in the worst case, a sharply reduced Tory majority.

As the table below shows, all sectors of the opposition, Liberal Democrats, Labour, Greens and Independents, were underrepresented compared to their shares of the vote.


 
VOTESPER CENTSEATSProportionalFPTP
  (2017 resultsin brackets)distributionadvantage
Conservatives10869242.4 (44.4)39 (42)2613
Liberal Democrats4539517.7 (21.7)9 (7)11-2
Labour4064015.9 (15.2)7 (7)10-3
Green Party2850111.0 (5.4)2 (1)7-5
Independents2743610.8 (9.8)3 (3)6-3
Other parties31841.2 (1.5)0 (0)00

Overall results of the 2021 Devon County Council elections

Report shows it IS worth objecting: ‘The value of the site is clearly demonstrated by the strength of feeling expressed by the numerous objectors.’

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Some detail from the officer report on the field planning application:

Coastal Preservation Area

‘The site lies in the CPA as defined in the LP . Strategy 44 states:

Land around the coast and estuaries of East Devon, as identified on the Proposals Map, is designated as a Coastal Preservation Area. Development or any change of use will not be allowed if it would damage the undeveloped/open status of the designated area or where visually connected to any adjoining areas. The coastal Preservation Area is defined on the basis of visual openness and views to and from the sea.

‘The Planning Statement (para 6.2.5) disagrees with not just one but both Planning Inspectors decisions on the adjoining site. It downplays the quality of the character of the site, being poor quality agricultural land and surrounded by existing residential development. The Planning Statement is considered to be completely wrong in this respect and the value of the character of the site is clearly demonstrated by the strength of feeling expressed by the numerous objectors. The Council does not in any way disagree with the appeal decisions and there is no basis to do so.

‘The agent suggests that as a fall-back position a 2 metre high fence could be erected along the site boundary (set back from the highway) under permitted development rights and that this would in itself obscure the views over the site from the highway. To that end the applicant has recently obtained a Certificate of Lawfulness for such a development (21/1086/CPL).

‘To be a proper fall-back position regard must be had to whether such a development is likely to ever be implemented, otherwise it is not a meaningful comparison. The proposed fence serves no obvious purpose and the site appears to be fenced already along this boundary with a post and wire fence which affords views across it. Erecting a fence as proposed is not impossible but were planning permission refused, it is not considered likely that a 2m high closed boarded fence would subsequently be erected being that it serves no additional purpose and would be expensive to erect.

‘Furthermore, the erection of a fence is likely to require the retention of some form of access to the land, through which views would still be possible. Although the applicant has suggested a low level house could be used so that it remains below the height of the 2m fence and is therefore not visible, if a dwelling were erected on site, views of it would still be possible through the access point and other domestic items would

‘The issue of a potential fall-back position is premised on the basis of a misunderstanding of Strategy 44 by the applicant. Development is not allowed in the CPA if it would damage the undeveloped/open status of the designated area. There is no requirement in the policy that this test relies on it being publicly visible. And even if it were held to be so, the second part of the Strategy clearly states that the CPA is defined on the basis of visual openness and views to and from the sea. Fence along the roadside will do nothing to obscure views of the site from the sea. There are also views of the site from the Coastal Footpath leading from Seaton Hole to Beer which can clearly be seen running along the clifftops in the photograph below. Again, a fence along the road will have no bearing on these views as compared to a dwelling.’

Beer Road field: planning application refused

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EDDC planners have now refused the application to build a house in this field, which offers important views to the sea for residents and walkers on the SW Coastal Path. The delegated report gives three reasons:

  1. The site is in the countryside, outside the Built Up Area Boundary.
  2. The development would conflict with the Coastal Protection policy.
  3. Without further surveys, it conflicts with policies to protect the habitat of protected bat species from Beer Caves.

Planners also state that the owners’ proposed 2-metre fence would not enable them to get round the Coastal Protection policy (which they have misunderstood).

Beer Road field decision coming soon – proposed fence could harm their prospects on appeal

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The controversial planning application to build a house in the field at the top of Beer Road (20/1775/OUT) is likely to be decided soon, Planning tell me.

I have been reflecting further on the owners’ outrageous additional proposal, to erect a 2-metre-high fence along the Beer Road frontage and block the view, about which many people have expressed concern.

As reported here before, they have obtained a certificate that they can lawfully do this as ‘permitted development’.

However it seems to me that the impact of carrying this out could be to make planners – and, if they refuse, appeal inspectors – even more likely to reject their case. It is not at all clear what they would hope to gain by implementing this proposal.

As a first step, the West Seaton and Seaton Hole Association should now write to the owners to ask them not to go ahead with this, as should the Coastal Path Association. We should exhaust these steps before residents chain themselves to the fence! (Let me have your thoughts by email.)

Spotlight on Burrows’ role in Hartnell’s win, after new tweet from ‘TIC’ account which he was asked to delete

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East Devon Watch has an interesting new report on a tweet sent out from the same account which former Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Burrows used when, in a case of mistaken identity, he attacked the owner of The Hat micropub two years ago.

The account is the same, with the handle @SeatonTIC – referring to the Seaton Tourist Information Centre – although it has now been renamed ‘Seaton Information Point’.

Burrows, then town Mayor, had to resign after that incident. The Town Council asked him to stop using this account – he had never been authorised to open a Twitter account on behalf of the TIC or to use its name.

I think East Devon Watch is right to say that after this tweet, Burrows has questions to answer about his role in the election, in particular the Lib Dems’ mysterious change of heart about stepping down their candidate.

The Lib Dems too might now want to explain that decision, which also led to their original candidate being removed.

The new Lib Dem candidate took 160 votes, while Marcus Hartnell won the election by 145. There is of course no reason to think that Marcus was involved in any of this.

Jack Rowland reports on seafront, hospital, & current EDDC administration, to Seaton’s annual town meeting

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Seaton’s Annual Town Meeting will be held outdoors, in the car park at Marshlands, at 7 pm on Thursday. I have sent my report on my last year as County Councillor for inclusion with the papers.

Jack Rowland’s district report is not currently available on the website, but I have been sent a copy and reprint it below:

EDDC Councillor report for Seaton Town Council Annual Town meeting on 13 May 2021

Report produced by Jack Rowland on 9 May 2021

Seaton specific subjects that I am involved with 

Seafront Enhancement Scheme

In order to resuscitate the scheme where the stumbling block has always been the necessary funding I have been working with EDDC Cabinet colleagues, EDDC Officers and the local MP’s.

This work is in connection with making a bid under the Central Government Levelling Up where the prospectus was issued in late March. Any bids require the written support of the relevant MP at the time of submission and the first bid target date is 18 June. We have agreed tactically that the first bid will be submitted from Exmouth with the support of the MP, Simon Jupp. An Axe Valley bid that will incorporate the Seaton scheme will be submitted in the second round of bids that will open later this year and will require the support of MP Neil Parish who has verbally indicated that he would support the bid.

However, for such a bid to have any chance of success it really needs to have an approved planning application to underpin the bid and demonstrate that the project is “shovel ready”. In view of my opinion and the information given I urge Seaton Town Council to put an item on a Council agenda as soon as possible to consider resubmitting the planning application to mirror the expired approval.

Seaton Hospital 

In my role as Chair of Seaton Area Health Matters (SAHM) and an EDDC Cabinet member I continue to fight to secure the future of the hospital. I am still having discussions with NHS Property Services who are legally the owners of the site.

Many readers will recall that a business plan was submitted by SAHM in June 2019 where SAHM, via the setting up of a CIC, would purchase the hospital via EDDC taking out a Public Works Loan and the CIC becoming the legal owners and being responsible for making the loan repayments to EDDC to enable them to meet the PWL obligation. For SAHM to have the funds to meet the repayments involved having the existing NHS services as an anchor tenant plus concluding the negotiations with a third party dementia care service that had progressed at the time as another anchor tenant. The remaining space would then be available for use by community based health and wellbeing related activities. 

Unfortunately, the EDDC Cabinet of the time, in January 2020, did not vote in favour of the recommendation to take out the PWL. However, as I am now a Cabinet member I am revisiting this possibility, hence my ongoing conversations with NHS Property Services at the moment.    

District wide subjects

Business support

Due to the Covid 19 pandemic and the associated lock downs and restrictions over the past year EDDC, by the end of this month, will have paid out £80m in various support grants where the Government has supplied the funds, but relied on Local Government to set up the systems and administer the payments. Some of the grants have been of a discretionary nature, albeit still within rules governing the types of business etc, and I have been a member of the grant panel in view of my finance portfolio responsibilities.

EDDC Partnership Administration

The current administration, since last June, is formed of a partnership of Councillors:

  • 12 East Devon Alliance (EDA) 
  • 7 Liberal Democrats
  • 7 Independents 
  • 2 Greens

 A total of 28 Cllrs from the total of 60. The remaining 32 is made up of 21 Conservatives, 10 Independents and 1 vacancy.

Since last June the administration have achieved the following (not an exhaustive list):

  • Despite the financial challenges produced as a result of Covid 19 that affected both income and expenditure a balanced budget was produced for 2021/22 although challenges lie ahead for future budget years.
  • Withdrew from the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) and started work on a new Local Plan that has undergone public consultation.
  • Supported Leisure East Devon (LED) financially to the tune of £1.3m to the end of the 2020/21 financial year. Of the £1.3m EDDC has received £299k from Central Government support, but of this £90k can be used to offset the £1.3m and the remaining £209k has to be used towards the re-opening costs for April to June this year where EDDC will be filling the expected gap above that amount. A LED Monitoring Forum has been set up to meet monthly and a strategic review of LED services looking at future provision is also underway.
  • The climate emergency has resulted in a strategy and action plan to meet the carbon neutral targets.
  • A poverty action plan is also nearing completion where the issues confronting the district have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
  • Exploring the options to be able to build more council housing in the district despite the current constraints that exist due to the right to buy existing stock and how the proceeds can be used.   

Jack Rowland

EDDC Councillor – Seaton Ward

Portfolio Holder – Finance  JRowland@eastdevon.gov.uk