Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The year ahead...

A useful summary of what to expect in the District from Ottery's Independent Cllr Claire Wright:

2014 will be a full and tough year

Feniton triple public inquiry appeal for 230 houses
The government’s national planning policy framework with its powerful presumption in favour of development is mostly responsible for developers encircling Feniton like hawks hoping for a kill. The triple inquiry kicks off on Tuesday 7 January and is expected to last for around two weeks. I will be arguing against the plans, on behalf of the community, as will Feniton Parish Council, Fight for Feniton’s Future and Cllr Susie Bond.
It will be held at Exeter Airport’s Flybe training academy. For more details see Cllr Susie Bond’s blog here - http://susiebond.wordpress.com/author/susiebond/
The decision of the planning inspector is expected in February.

EDDC local plan examination in public
Then, we are straight into EDDC’s local plan examination in public, which Mr Anthony Thickett, planning inspector, will carry out over three weeks or so, starting on Tuesday 11 February. The event will take place at the Knowle, Sidmouth.
EDDC has been asked to produce a series of topic papers, including on housing and employment, due to be published shortly. Sessions will be broken down in line with various sections of the local plan. Evidence will be heard from both developers (who are largely demanding higher levels of development) and residents (who are mostly requesting lower levels of development).  I will be presenting evidence in several areas.
Mr Thickett is expected to submit a report on how sound EDDC’s plan is, whether it needs much or not very much work, shortly afterwards.
This report will be scrutinised intensely by developers and residents. If significant changes are required, the current climate of major speculative planning applications being submitted, is likely to continue.  Hopefully, this won’t happen.  We will see.
Some time in January or February, the decision of the planning appeal for around 170 houses between Colyford and Seaton, will be published.  This is pivotal and is likely to have implications for other major appeals and planning decisions around the district, including at Feniton.

Consultation and decision on a large quarry at Straitgate Farm, between West Hill and Ottery St Mary
Devon County Council will consult residents for the final time before a decision is made on plans for a large sand and gravel quarry of up to around 80-100 acres at Straitgate Farm, being included in the minerals plan. 
The Environment Agency and Natural England have both asked for more information on Aggregate Industries proposals to limit the damage that would be caused by disturbing an underground watercourse that is crucial to the survival of ancient woodland at Cadhay Wood and Cadhay Bog.  The woodland at Cadhay Bog in particular, is thought could date back to the ice age and may be one of very few examples in the country of “wildwood.”
Currently, there is no date for a consultation or decision, which will be made by Devon County Council’s planning committee, only that it will be this spring.
I will keep you posted….and you can keep up-to-date with quarry news athttp://straitgateactiongroup.blogspot.co.uk/

Changes to local health services
There are major changes afoot to our community hospitals in Devon. Plans are being worked up for consultation on new ways of using community hospitals, which are likely to include a loss of beds and perhaps more services. There is less money in the NHS as everywhere else, as it is expected to make high levels of “savings,” despite ministers peddling rhetoric on a “ringfence” around NHS funding.
I am a member of Devon County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee so again, I will keep you posted.

Cuts to youth services
Last autumn we heard broad proposals for youth service funding to be cut, as part of the “tough choices” budget cuts by Devon County Council, which has lost around £110m to the government, in addition to a similar amount being lost in the last council term.
The government appears to be keen to remove money from services that help people – and that are very much needed by people – instead preferring to pour billions of OUR money down the drain on big infrastructure projects such as high speed rail two, which is almost universally opposed … hmm ….  oh yes, and on ineffective and cruel badger extermination programmes, which have already cost millions in policing alone.
Firm proposals of where and what the cuts will look like, which will be subject to a short period of consultation, will be announced in the next few weeks. I will publish the news on this blog.
For more information on Devon County Council’s proposals on what and how to slash its budgets see this link - http://www.toughchoices.co.uk/
The list of services to be cut, will no doubt be added to, as the year progresses….
EDDC is also facing a deficit, following government withdrawals of funding, and is currently working up proposals for budget cuts. The overview and scrutiny committee will examine the budget for 2014/15 on Wednesday 15 January, starting at 9am.

The badger cull
The infamous and appalling badger cull could be coming to Devon next, after doing terrible damage in Somerset to community relations.  And after wiping out an estimated two thirds of badgers in the county. 
DEFRA says that 940 badgers were shot in total, but many others could have been illegally killed.
Bovine TB is a dreadful disease, but culling badgers is ineffective and wrong.
According to the Guardian – article below - illegal shooting, poisoning and gassing of badgers has been reported to police in the counties where official culls are taking place -http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/23/badger-cull-illegal-shooting-poisoning-gassing
Badgers are highly protected (well at least they are unless you have a licence to shoot them from DEFRA as part of the so-called cull), but the licence to kill seems to have encouraged those who enjoy slaughtering wildlife, to go out and do so, with considerable enthusiasm.
The NFU chief has today been quoted in the Western Daily Press as saying that the current method of the cull should not be replicated elsewhere. But the last line of the article is chilling in its implication – see story here - http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/Madness-extend-badger-cull/story-20356785-detail/story.html
On Twitter earlier this week, a photograph was circulated, which appeared to show live chickens being gassed using chemical foam, as an experimental new way of more “efficiently” killing badgers.  The process was being watched by people in white hooded suits from behind a glass screen. I cannot vouch for the veracity of the photo, but I have no reason to believe it was a forgery.
It was the most sinister picture I have seen in a long time.
Motion on banning the badger cull from Devon County Council land
Devon County Council labour councillor, Jill Owen, has lodged an excellent motion urging councillors not to allow any badger cull to take place on Devon County Council owned land. The council owns many farms.
The motion will be discussed at cabinet on 8 January and will be referred to full council for a decision on Thursday 20 February.

A repeal of the hunting ban?
While we are on the subject, some campaign groups are gearing up to battle what appears to be a desire to overturn the hunting ban. Certainly, some MPs, including Neil Parish, have been lobbying hard for the ban to be repealed, as per the wishes of the Countryside Alliance, which claims to speak for people living in rural areas. 
I really really hope that the government does not repeal the ban. Bloodsports have always sickened me. But I am worried that they have every intention of doing so, and if their track record continues, they will do so amid claims that wildlife will be protected, just as they pretended that they were protecting our countryside and weren’t gagging charities.

And all the while, the numbers of people visiting foodbanks is rocketing. In Ottery, the demand has doubled in just over one year and is expected to increase further as the welfare reform bill bites.
Donations of non-perishable food products can be made at any of the parish’s churches and Roberts Hardware.

Claire Wright - Your Independent East Devon District Councillor for Ottery Rural

Independent politicians - independent voices

Following on from
Futures Forum: Independent Councillors - independent voices
here's an interesting piece on how to 'encourage more conviction politicians and fewer party-political clones.'

Dominic Raab is MP for Esher & Walton
First, select more candidates by open primary, preferably by postal ballot to maximise local involvement. This allows anyone who registers – not just members of the political party – to come to the final selection meeting and have their say on the candidate. Having gone through the process, I know it leaves an indelible mark. People don’t necessarily want a maverick or compulsive rebel. But they do want to be persuaded that – if push comes to shove – you will back your conscience and constituents, not just roll over and ape the party line.
Second, a robust right to recall an MP, who behaves improperly or neglects his duties, would strengthen public confidence, and focus MPs’ minds on their local accountability. The coalition has introduced recall-lite, which lets Parliament filter the decision. This month, Zac Goldsmith MP proposed beefing it up, by allowing 20 per cent of the local electorate to trigger a formal vote directly. Backbench MPs backed the idea by 127 to 17. Now would be a good time for the Government to take it up.
Third, having strengthened the independence of MPs, Parliament as a whole needs to push back on the creeping power of government. That includes greater Parliamentary control over its own business, so the Whips (the party political enforcers in Parliament) can’t shove awkward issues off the agenda. For years, the Whips have honed the French philosopher Paul ValĂ©ry’s definition of politics as “the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them”. In my own experience, they assiduously ensured there has never been Parliamentary time to debate any amendment to legislation I have tabled, from extradition to deportation reform, despite strong cross-party support in each case.
Likewise, Bill committees – which consider the nuts and bolts of new laws – should be elected by the House, not hand-picked by Whips for their malleability. And, by cutting the number of MPs on the government’s payroll – and scything off the number of posts outside ministerial rank, which are nonetheless offered on condition of voting loyalty – we could reduce political patronage, leaving Parliament a commensurably stronger bulwark against an overbearing executive.

Dominic Raab MP: We need more conviction MPs – and fewer political clones | Conservative Home

However, whilst Select Committees at Westminster have been beefed up to some degree
Committees - UK Parliament
the committee system at East Devon is still very much under the behest of the executive and tends not to show too much 'conviction':
SWAT-South West Audit Travesty | Sidmouth Independent News
Angry Hughes brands own Tory leaders ‘spineless and arrogant’ - News - Sidmouth Herald
Scrutiny councillors probing East Devon Business Forum are GAGGED! | Exeter Express and Echo

Although the Development Management (or planning) Committee showed considerable independence over the controversial application for developing Knowle:

See also: Futures Forum: Probity, accountability and transparency
Futures Forum: Transparency and process in East Devon... a summary
Futures Forum: "Over-representing parties through the voting system"

Thanks to Claire Wright - Your Independent East Devon District Councillor for Ottery Rural              for the link.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Migration, Sidmouth and East Devon

On 1st January the UK will be expecting between 20 thousand
About Us | Migration Matters Trust
and 70 thousand Romanian and Bulgarian migrants a year:
MigrationWatchUK | An independent, voluntary, non-political body concerned about the scale of immigration into the UK.

However, many of the larger hotels in Sidmouth have been employing Romanians and Bulgarians for the past seven years:

Bulgarians and Romanians gained the right to visa-free travel to the UK in 2007, when their countries joined the EU. 
BBC News - Q&A: Bulgarian and Romanian immigration

And most of the care homes in Sidmouth employ nurses and care workers from the EU and beyond
www.southwest-ra.gov.uk/media/SWRA/Scrutiny/Migrant Workers/Scrutiny_Report_-_Migrant_Workers_final.pdf

Like many non-UK workers, they will have found jobs through employment agencies:
Jobs in Devon - Sidmouth – find and apply for jobs in Devon - Sidmouth with UKStaffsearch

Earlier this year, Channel 4 News took the leader of UKIP to Bulgaria "to find out if his fears about an influx of immigrants, when EU restrictions are lifted, are justified."

▶ Nigel Farage visits Bulgaria - full video - YouTube

Evan Davis asked the question what would happen 'the day the immigrants left':

The Day the Immigrants Left, Part-4/6 - YouTube

Evan Davis presents a program exploring the effects of immigration in the UK by focusing on Wisbech, a town in Cambridgeshire.
Since 2004 this once prosperous market town has received up to 9,000 immigrants seeking work - the majority from Eastern Europe. But with nearly 2,000 locals unemployed and claiming benefits, many of them blame the foreign workers for their predicament.
To test if the town needs so many foreign workers, immigrant employees are temporarily removed from their jobs, and the work given to the local unemployed. Now the town's British workers have a chance to prove they can do it.
Eleven British unemployed workers are recruited to go into a range of different Wisbech workplaces including a potato company, an asparagus farm, an Indian restaurant and a building site run by a local landlord.
Moving beyond the workplace, Evan Davis investigates how the town's local public services, such as schools and the NHS, are coping with the demands of the new arrivals.
As the British unemployed workers get to grips with their new jobs, this documentary examines the facts and dispels the myths around the subject of immigration.

BBC One - The Day the Immigrants Left

Boris Johnson asked the same questions in the Telegraph last year:

Why are immigrants to UK employed more than Brits? (07May12) - YouTube
Why do foreigners get all the jobs, asks Boris Johnson - Telegraph
Boris Johnson calls for investigation into why so many British jobs are being given to foreign workers | Mail Online

Looking, then, at Sidmouth and East Devon, the issues might be:
> low pay in the hospitality industry - which does not attract enough local workers:
Futures Forum: Jobs and services: the hospitality industry
> and in the caring industry - which also employs a lot of non-UK workers:

Futures Forum: Jobs and services: caring for the elderly
> the lack of training for local youngsters:
Futures Forum: Apprenticeships in Sidmouth
> and the unavailability of affordable housing for local families- especially in Sidmouth:
Futures Forum: Affordable housing in Sidmouth: DCH and EDDC
Futures Forum: “We need the Government to address the chronic lack of affordable housing, take real steps to improve the private rented sector and to urgently consider the impact its cuts to housing benefit are having.”

East Devon has a very low unemployment record:
BBC News - Devon unemployment rate fell in September
Jobseeker's Allowance claimant count continues to fall in Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon & Teignbridge, ONS figures show | Exeter Express and Echo

And in fact has a good record in educational achievement:

The proportion of the working age resident population qualified to NVQ level 3 in East Devon is very high, with the area ranking in the top 20% of districts nationally.

But the population is ageing, which begs the question of who will look after the elderly:

The labour market in East Devon is good with low levels of unemployment and good qualification levels. However we have to remain aware of the impact that the aging population will have on the labour market and the levels of those who are economically active. 

Where is the pressure coming from for housing?
Is it simply the fact that a lot of people from anywhere outside Devon want to move to the county?
Futures Forum: Housing: "it would be impossible to build to meet demand because there is a never-ending queue of people who want to move to Devon."
Futures Forum: Devon County and national planning policy: "The NPPF has been sufficiently poisonous a development that 38 Conservative MPs expressed their misgivings about it as long ago as March last year in a letter to the Telegraph."
And is it not an important factor in the demand for housing that many wish to retire to Sidmouth and East Devon?
Futures Forum: Elderly to blame for housing crisis...?

Affordability of homes is an issue in the district with East Devon being in the top 25% of all Local Authority areas for house prices but one of the lowest nationally in terms of wages.
East Devon is in the top 25% of all Local Authority areas for house prices. Alongside this the average weekly wage for those living in the district is £471.60⁶ making East Devon one of the lowest wage areas in England. This discrepancy between wages and house prices puts us in the bottom 25% of districts in the affordability index which is the ratio between average earnings and average house prices. 

There have been all sorts of rumours about who will be taking up residence in the new town:
Manchester Housing. - a Freedom of Information request to Manchester City Council - WhatDoTheyKnow
Cranbrook rumours ‘categorically untrue’ - News - Midweek Herald
East Devon families move into cheap Cranbrook homes - News - Sidmouth Herald

The deputy leader of East Devon District Council Andrew Moulding  has hotly denied rumours circulating around Devon that  people from Nottingham, Bradford and Birmingham have first pick  of some of the affordable homes.
Mr Moulding talked to our reporter Wendy Buckingham about the allegations and allocations  CLICK HERE
Devon Homes For Devon People - Heart Exeter News

How do we determine that someone is a 'local'? 
Ottery ensures that participants of its Tar Barrels event come from 'local families':
▶ Flaming Tar Barrels of Ottery St. Mary, November 5th 2012 - YouTube

The fact, however, is that Sidmouth is largely made up of 'migrants' from elsewhere in the UK,           for example:
Sidmouth and District Lancastrian Association 50th anniversary - Places - Lancashire Life
Sidmouth Yorkshire society seeks members - News - Sidmouth Herald

With Britain's oldest civic society having been founded by concerned 'outsiders':
Sid Vale Association - About the Sid Vale Association

... the town has long been a retirement haven for the well-heeled.
BBC - h2g2 - Sidmouth and The Sid Valley, Devon, England. - A6092480

In fact, it seems that East Devon has always attracted people from outside the area:

The migration of population into East Devon from other parts of the UK show that in 2011 there were 1130 more people moving into the area than out.

"Tourism rises" ... VisitSidmouth

It seems clear from earlier postings:
Futures Forum: "Tourism rises" ... "Loving Sidmouth"
Futures Forum: "Tourism rises" ... but questions remain for Sidmouth
Futures Forum: "Tourism rises" ... but questions remain for East Devon
that people are attracted to Sidmouth because it’s all here in this lovely seaside town, that nestles beneath majestic red cliffs and the green hills of the glorious Sid Valley. 

Welcome to Visit Sidmouth

'A town caught still in a timeless charm’

That was the Sidmouth that captivated the Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, and it will captivate you, too. Beautiful gardens and leisurely walks, Regency history and fine hotels, clean beaches and friendly shops…. 

It’s all here in this lovely seaside town that nestles beneath majestic red cliffs and the green hills of the glorious Sid Valley. Look through the Visit Sidmouth website to discover why so many ‘Select Sidmouth’ to relax and unwind through all the seasons of the year. You will discover, too, why so many return.

Visit Sidmouth - information on where to stay, places to visit, events and a Sidmouth shopping directory - Visit Sidmouth

With other websites offering choices and insights:
Select Sidmouth - Visit Sidmouth
Sidmouth - Jurassic Coast

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Independent Councillors - independent voices

There are several 'independent' sources of information, as cited in previous entries:
Sidmouth Independent News | aims to lift the lid on the plans to develop the Sid Valley, and publish the views of the good folk of Sidmouth and beyond
Save Our Sidmouth
East Devon Alliance

And the local press gives voice to 'independent' opinion:
Home - Sidmouth Herald
View From Online - News from West Dorset, East Devon & South Somerset
Exeter Express and Echo news, views & business listings from Exeter Express and Echo's Community | Exeter Express and Echo

Several District Councillors have very useful, informative blogs which endeavour to 'connect' with the wider electorate. 

There are two Independent Councillors with blogs -  which also provide a lot of regular comment from readers:

Another blog comes from Cllr Stuart Hughes, who is from the majority party but presents a distinctive and often independent voice:

The question remains as to how 'independent' voices can make themselves heard. 

Whilst councillors will not seek to 'bring their office or the council into disrepute'
it is perhaps a matter of interpretation as to how this might occur:
Councillor suspended over planning influence allegations - News - Sidmouth Herald
EDDC brings itself into disrepute, yet again
Couincillors who have been refered to the Standards committee - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow
What brings a council into disrepute? | Sidmouth Independent News

Ideally, councillors will endeavour to be 'collegiate' and to provide 'counsel':
Councillor - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

And yet it can be refreshing if a councillor 'steps out of line'...
Courageous councillors call for Knowle move to be shelved. | Sidmouth Independent News
“Conservative councillors are free to express their own views..”, says East Devon Party Whip | Sidmouth Independent News
although the consequences can be unpleasant:
Angry Hughes brands own Tory leaders ‘spineless and arrogant’ - News - Sidmouth Herald
“Spineless and arrogant” - East Devon councillor slams party leaders | Exeter Express and Echo

It is interesting to see how councillors 'took a different line' on the proposed solar farm at East Hill, for example. 
Whilst the Town Council opposed the application:
Futures Forum: Solar Plan for Sidmouth: Town Council decision
the chair of the Planning Committee had an 'independent' take on things:

‘Although the application for the solar farm on Sidbury Strips was rejected today, one strong supporter was John Dyson, who stated at the EDDC meeting that he was chairman of the Sidmouth Town Council (STC) Planning Committee and although they ,the STC, voted against it he thought that they had made the wrong decision.  At the Development Management Committee (DMC) meeting today he supported the solar farm very strongly.
Sidbury Solar Farm plans rejected | Sidmouth Independent News

And whilst most submissions to the application were against the solar farm, Cllr Chris Wale provided an 'independent' voice:
Futures Forum: Solar Plan for Sidmouth: supporting comments


Exmouth Independent News

Recently launched, a very useful news blog from Exmouth:


East Devon Alliance