Royal Fail [5]

Regular councillor roundup

Hello… Steve here.

Welcome to another newsletter. This issue is dominated by the prospect of a second wave of COVID-19 infections… but there is really only one place to start.


Royal Mail and Yatton Post Office

On Saturday Yatton Post Office received written confirmation Royal Mail will move out of the sorting office at the back of the branch by 18th March next year.

Royal Mail wrote to me again earlier this month and I have written back to ask they rethink the move to Sixways in Clevedon - and demanded certain reassurances.

I made my feelings known in a blog post last week. We fight on.

Leave a comment

Everyday hero - Richard by Arnhel de Serra

This photo is taken from a gallery called Hold Still - a portrait of our nation in 2020.


Planning

  • If you missed the online public meeting I hosted on 25th August, here’s a link to my slides and map of current and anticipated planning applications for large residential development in Yatton and Claverham.

  • CPRE Yorkshire shared a pretty good video primer to the Planning White Paper.

  • A planning inspector has dismissed the appeal submitted by DoubleTree By Hilton for a new staff car park at Cadbury House. The reasons given were (1.) harm to the Green Belt location and the landscape character and appearance of the area, and (2.) the appellant has “not adequately demonstrated that more sustainable alternatives [to the car] have been appropriately considered or implemented, such as staff shuttle services, to then justify the need for the proposed staff car park.”

  • Not forgetting the Strawberry Line to Clevedon project, which inches forward…


“In the foothills of the second wave”

I admit I am worried it’ll be a long winter.

The Council has been keeping a close eye on COVID-19 case numbers in North Somerset. While the number of new confirmed cases has fallen slightly to 36 in the last week (down from 40 the previous week) - given the issues many people are having booking a test, this doesn't mean that the virus isn't spreading in our area.

The number of reported cases per day has risen from typically around 2 per day in July and most of August to a higher incidence of about 5-10 per day in recent weeks. Our rate, as measured through the PHE daily alert report, shows North Somerset at 16.7 cases per 100,000 (down from 20.5 two weeks ago). Our relatively low population base means our rate can rise rapidly based on a smaller number of cases but clearly the relative increase is still important and something we need to manage as proactively as possible.

Nationally, reported cases of infection are pretty much doubling every seven to eight days. The R number is somewhere between 1.1 and 1.4 (0.9 - 1.6 in the South West).

Though the fatality rates remain mercifully low many now believe we are on the foothills of a second wave and fear a possible spike in hospital admissions from mid-October. Hospitals are already preparing for a major incident rise. One ICU doctor tweeted…

It’s worth reading the whole thread.

While the upwards gradient is not as severe as in March, winter will soon be upon us. The coming months will bring not only the traditional winter weather pressures, but is of course the season for colds and flu - with possible symptoms broadly similar to those experienced by people who have caught the coronavirus and may be at risk of spreading it.

The key stat

I’m no expert but believe the key stat we need to watch is % test ‘positivity’ per age group (% of tests that come back positive). Hospitalisation rates have not been rising significantly because the virus has not been circulating in ‘at risk’ groups; the spike was predominantly among young people. There are signs infections are now spreading to more vulnerable groups as well.

When older age groups ‘turn red’ we’ll be in trouble. In the last week in North Somerset I understand there is much more of an even spread.

Professor Christina Pagel of Independent SAGE points out that hospital admissions will reach the levels of March 17th by next weekend and those reached by lockdown in early October if nothing is done!

The emphasis definitely needs to be on keeping schools open. The SAGE committee of science advisors is urging the Government to order a two-week national lockdown next month timed to coincide with half-term - including a reversal of the opening of restaurants and pubs, where the virus is thought to be spreading fastest. “Independent SAGE” suggest that would be too little, too late. Experience shows that countries who act early do best. Within a few weeks we may have lost the opportunity to act to prevent many more hospitalisations.

Testing

We must move away from the centralised and privatised approach that has failed to respond to local changes in need making it a test appointment lottery.

Yatton residents have been in touch with me to report they are being directed miles away for testing - i.e. Exeter and London - due to a "lack of capacity". The Government has been blaming a lack of lab capacity, which has meant tests have been rationed even though we have three testing centres in North Somerset - in WSM, Clevedon and at Bristol Airport - each with plenty of capacity.

Professor Allyson Pollock, another member of Independent SAGE, said it was “beyond belief” and “extraordinary” that despite “clear evidence of the extraordinary failures of the privatised test and trace system”, the Government wasn’t “terminating these contracts and reinvesting it into public health services and labs” who have been working effectively with one hand tied behind their backs.

The Government should not waste any more money outsourcing to huge private companies like Serco who are making such a mess of things and redeploy resources to local public health teams.

We don't need a world-class testing system; we need one that works.

One of the most important discoveries about COVID-19 is that 70% of those infected are asymptomatic. In and of itself, this is good news… but it also means that without an effective testing regime, those with the virus have no idea that they may be spreading the infection everywhere they go.

At the Health and Wellbeing Board on 17th September, Matt Lenny, Director of Public Health at North Somerset Council gave a six-minute update of the situation in North Somerset (NB this link and information is time-sensitive).

Leave a comment

“Long COVID”

I’m also mindful there is a gap in recognising and quantifying COVID-related illness in those who are not hospitalised and who do not present with severe disease at the outset. The possible long-term effects are still poorly understood, but is important as some people - especially the healthy - might not see a need to follow preventive measures, because they expect only a few days of flu-like symptoms at worst.

Trust will become centre stage

I know some argue we are making too much of a fuss over this and we should simply learn to live with the virus. I do not share that view but I do think infections are rising again not so much because the public are behaving badly (save for a small minority)… but because they are following bad policy set by the Government.

To get the community transmission rate down the Government should act now to limit exposure and stop pushing people into places where they are more likely to get infected. We should remember that a vaccine (when it comes) will solve nothing; getting people vaccinated will. Unfortunately, public trust in Government is low and according to The Guardian, engagement with anti-vaccine Facebook posts trebled over a one month period in the summer.

We are seeing increasing divisions between those who want restrictions and those who don’t. It’s essential we pivot from a blame culture that implies you've done something wrong if you get the infection to a culture which says “How can we support you?”
- Professor Stephen Reicher, Independent SAGE

Finally, the PM’s announcement on the introduction of new “COVID Marshals” (to help councils support social distancing in town centres) caused confusion and councils responded calling for clarity on how it should work on the ground. As with most things these days, we’d be a lot clearer if the Government would actually talk to local councils before making such announcements. In North Somerset we may look at this if the Government define what powers they would have and commit extra resources to finance them.

Bonus links


Strawberry Gardens

Housing 21’s 60-apartment extra care scheme is on course to receive its first residents at the end of October.

Photo with permission | credit: Vistry Partnerships


Letting of steam

Local resident Andrew Kiefir beautifully captured the LMS Black passing through Yatton station on Sunday 30th August. The Locomotive was one of the last to be withdrawn from service and hauled the Fifteen Guinea Special - the last main-line passenger train to be hauled by steam locomotive power on British Rail on 11th August 1968 before the introduction of a steam ban that started the following day.

Photo with permission | credit: Andrew Kiefir



Thank you for reading this far. I think I’ll finish with a quote.

Looking at life from a different perspective makes you realise that it’s not the deer that is crossing the road, rather it’s the road that is crossing the forest.
-
Muhammad Ali

Steve

ps you can also find me on InstagramTwitterFacebook and my website.