Electoral Reform Society says Government’s plan for the local elections is unfair towards smaller parties (and Independents)

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The Government has decided to go ahead with local elections in May, but proposes to ban leafletting and canvassing by candidates. The Electoral Reform Society, an independent body, says: ‘One row likely to grow is this: in-person leafletting by volunteers remains banned under England’s lockdown. That means smaller parties – who rely on door-to-door campaigning more than paid leafletting services (which is still legal) will lose out. This is an issue of fairness we must all be aware of in the coming month or two.

It’s even more unfair to Independents. The Conservatives will draw on their huge funds donated by hedge fund bosses and Russian oligarchs’ wives to send leaflets out by post which they would struggle to find supporters to deliver themselves. Independents who have the commitment to deliver their own leaflets will struggle to find the funds to have them commercially delivered. It’s just not acceptable for the Government to skew the electoral process towards their own party.

REGISTER TO VOTE AND TO GET A POSTAL VOTE, NOW!

The Government has also failed to make postal voting easier, which is essential to enable people to vote safely and take the pressure off polling station workers. They could have created a fully online application system. At present you can download a form which you print off and return by post. But some people don’t have printers or even computers – the only way then is to phone East Devon Electoral Services on 01395 517402.

You must of course be on the electoral register before you can apply for a postal vote! If you’re not on at your current address, you can apply online here.

Get on the register now, and get a postal vote now – you don’t have to wait until the election!

Closing community hospitals in a pandemic – the CCG hasn’t learnt, and Health Scrutiny lets down another local community

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CCG Chair, Dr Paul Johnson

Yesterday’s Devon Health Scrutiny Committee faced a decision on the Devon Clinical Commissioning Group’s proposals for Teignmouth and Dawlish. These involved 3 key proposals to move services from Teignmouth Community Hospital (TCH) to either Dawlish Community Hospital or a new health hub in Teignmouth which will include one of the GP practices. A 12-bed rehabilitation ward which the CCG previously promised for TCH would be scrapped. The plan would leave TCH empty and ripe for its owners, an NHS Trust, to re-develop the site.

Health Scrutiny received strong representations against the plan from the local community in November, and in December held a Spotlight Review at which it was agreed that the CCG’s consultation – held during the pandemic – had been flawed. Even despite a skewed questionnaire, none of the 3 proposals to move services had majority support among respondents – most were opposed or unsure. Even on its own terms, the CCG had failed to convince the local community.

What is more, it had failed to produce evidence that community care was an adequate replacement for, rather than complement to, bedded intermediate care in community hospitals, evidence for whose benefits had been provided by Dr Helen Tucker, chair of the Community Hospitals Association, and others. The Committee’s Labour Vice-Chair, Cllr Hilary Ackland, strongly emphasised this point, and was the main author of a paper Health Scrutiny sent to the CCG explaining its reservations.

The CCG then met, but ignored the Committee’s views – the only point in its recommendations which addressed them was a plea for the district council to look into parking for the new hub, a serious issue (as anyone who’s driven around Teignmouth town centre will know), but a secondary one.

Health Scrutiny therefore had to decide whether to follow through and use its key statutory power to refer the proposals to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) which reports to the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock – who incidentally has said that he’s a fan of community hospitals. However 7 Tories including East Devon councillors Sara Randall-Johnson (Chair), Phil Twiss, Richard Scott and Jeff Trail, plus (disappointingly) Hilary Ackland, voted against my proposal to do this. I got the support of Independent Claire Wright (of course), Lib Dem Nick Way, and Tories Sylvia Russell (Teignmouth) and Andrew Saywell, so this was lost 8-5. (For Claire and me, this was all very deja vu.)

Instead the Committee voted to try to monitor the development and have informal discussions with the IRP. Given the advanced stage of these proposals and the CCG’s dismissal of the Committee’s views, I’m afraid this will be taken as a green light. I find it astounding that in the midst of a pandemic which has exposed the beds crisis in the NHS, in Devon as across the country, the CCG should continue mechanically with this pre-pandemic scheme and Health Scrutiny should fail to stand up for the need to keep our community hospitals – or at least insist on postponing a decision until we can look properly at what the needs will be – in the post-pandemic world.

CCG Chair Dr Paul Johnson even referred to Long Covid, believed to affect up many Covid sufferers, the full scale of which is very much unknown. Yet at a time when the NHS in Devon and elsewhere is turning patients out of hospitals and in many cases into care homes (which continue to suffer more outbreaks), a possible role for the rehabilitation ward in Teignmouth was dismissed out of hand.

Perhaps the most depressing thing about this meeting, indeed, was that Dr Johnson suggested that as soon as the pandemic declines, the extra money for the NHS will be turned off, and Devon NHS will be back in the world of endless cost-cutting in which it was a year ago, when the pandemic hit. Either he has learned nothing, or he’s expecting the Government to have learnt nothing, or both.

Seaton Seafront Enhancement – a personal view and explanation of this week’s crisis

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Photographs of the model for the plan – to see the documents click HERE

It has been a tumultuous week as far as Seaton’s longstanding Seafront Enhancement Scheme is concerned, and because of widespread public concern I feel that I should explain the situation from my point of view.

The scheme aims to completely revamp the built seafront between (and including) Fishermans Gap and the Moridunum. After years of work by Seaton Town Council, with the backing of EDDC, an attractive final version of the scheme – the fruit of excellent design work by Architectural Thread – was overwhelmingly supported in a public consultation in 2016 (the third consultation to support it) and received planning permission in 2017.

It was always envisaged that the scheme would be implemented in at least two stages, and between 2016 and 2018 it seemed as though the scheme would best be started in conjunction with the redevelopment of the Moridunum (owned by EDDC), probably in conjunction with the private redevelopment of Fosseway Court. However negotiations about this dragged on (they are still not concluded), and in 2019 the Town Council realised that it needed an alternative start to secure its planning permission.

This switched to Fisherman’s Gap and plans were finalised for a partial commencement, which would have greatly improved the links between the town centre and the seafront. The plans stalled for a considerable time in 2019 and early 2020 for various bureaucratic reasons, which Carl Northcott, working pro bono, the Town Clerk and I worked to resolve. Although further Covid delays meant we were running up against a 3-year deadline for the planning permission in August 2020, we were assured that a Covid-related legal extension meant that we could still start in early 2021.

Meanwhile, with changes in the membership of the Town Council, although a meeting in September had agreed to proceed, a special meeting in late December decided not to. When this became widely known after New Year, there was much criticism, and the Council called an open Zoom meeting, shown on Facebook, at which many members of the public showed their continuing support for the scheme.

After this, a very constructive meeting of the Town Council working group, with EDDC councillors and myself, put the scheme back on track – maybe in a better position than at any point in the last year – only this Monday.

Then – the bombshell. EDDC officers informed us that the extension to planning permission only applied to schemes whose permission ran to 19 August 2020 or after. The Seafront permission had expired on 8 August 2020. For the sake of 11 days, we had lost the possibility of a successful start, and the Town Council would have to reapply.

Councillors on all sides are now discussing where to go next. In my view, we still have a great scheme, and recent events have confirmed a general desire to make it happen. Let’s now develop a new plan for it to succeed.

Compulsory Purchase Order made for land for cycle route in Seaton Wetlands

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I’m pleased to be able to report that the County Council has now made a CPO for the land needed for the ‘missing link’ on the Stop Line Way cycle route through the Wetlands. The order, The Devon County Council (Seaton to Colyford Multi-Use Path) Compulsory Purchase Order 2021, will be published in the Midweek Herald on Wednesday; the land concerned is shown on this map.

I’m disappointed that negotiations with the landowner did not produce a result, and I should warn that the CPO process could still take some months, but this is progress. I wish to pay tribute to the officers who have pursued this. I know that many people in Seaton, Colyford and the entire area will be pleased.

Ted Gosling to be one of first people to receive the Covid vaccine – in Seaton Hospital!

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91-year-old Ted Gosling, Curator of Seaton Museum and Freeman of Seaton, tells me that he will receive his first dose next Tuesday, 15th December. It’s excellent news that the Pfizer vaccine – developed in Germany by scientists who are Turkish immigrants and made in Belgium – is being rolled out to the over-80s in the Seaton area. This is the first step towards eliminating the virus – if you’re offered it, follow Ted’s example and take it up like a shot.

It’s equally good news that Seaton Hospital is being used for the vaccinations. This is a good demonstration of why we will need to keep ALL our community hospitals in the post-Covid world. We suggested earlier this year that Seaton Hospital could be used for step-down care from the acute hospital, at the time when the NHS were tragically following the Government recommendation to send patients into care homes. Now at last the NHS are putting our hospital to good use.

Sadly Tier 2 reflects the reality that East Devon has more cases – we need a consistent effort to suppress Covid until vaccines are available

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Covid has been gradually working its way around East Devon in recent weeks, so it is not surprising that the Government’s scientific advice has put us into Tier 2. It is in everyone’s interests to keep this pandemic down. It’s not just reducing the pressure on our hospitals, important though that is – many more people are dying and suffering lasting complications from this disease and we need to protect everyone in our community.

The problem is that the Government hasn’t been consistent in its goals or its messaging, and there’s still some of that in the new rules – why allow 1000 people at an indoor sporting event when you’re closing pubs? – but we all just need to persevere in the hope that a vaccine will be widely available in the new year.

Tories overlooked Axminster, targeted marginal seats for Government funding/ advertising just before election – formal complaint made

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Axminster high street Photo: Midweek Herald

Remember when the old EDDC administration proposed Axminster for funding from the Towns Fund (Seaton was not nominated), but the Government overlooked it? And then it turned out that they had concentrated on marginal seats of interest to the Conservatives in the 2019 election? And then, even worse, that local government secretary Robert Jenrick and his junior minister Jake Berry had nominated each other’s seats (both marginals) to benefit for the funding?

Well in a further twist, it appears that Government had paid for Facebook advertising about the funding, targeted at the marginal seats, just before the General Election. And now the Labour Party has asked the Electoral Commission to investigate the possible misuse of public funds in this campaign.

It’s difficult to believe how blatant this all is. And another reason not to support the Tories in Seaton or Axminster. This area isn’t marginal enough – voting Conservative is a vote to be ignored.

Our local news media are reviving – I’m delighted to be playing my part

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While Facebook, Twitter and blogs like Seaton Matters are good ways of spreading local news, nothing can replace professional journalism. The Axe valley suffered badly when the View From papers stopped publishing, but there have been two positive developments in local media this year.

First, the online Seaton Nub News was set up, providing regular coverage of the local area. Second, the Midweek Herald and its sister-titles have been seriously revamped with new community editors, including opening up its pages to Independent councillors like Claire Wright and EDDC leader Paul Arnott, who represents Colyton.

I’ve been delighted to write a column for Seaton Nub News over recent months – here’s my last one – and I’m now also writing every month for the Midweek Herald. It’s seems that my column is only available in the print edition, but you can view this via their website by clicking on ‘E-Edition’ – my first piece was in the 11th November issue.

Seaton Nub News has now developed a partnership with the Co-op including a ‘Community Chat’ page where you can post local activities. All power to the elbows of both local titles!