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‘This is not democracy’: Tories accused of selling out to developers


‘This is not democracy’: Tories accused of selling out to developers

The prominent role played by a large developers company and Tory donor in last week’s Conservative party conference has been called “terrifying” by a leading environmentalist who founded one of the most successful rewilding projects in England.

Isabella Tree, co-owner of the Knepp estate in West Sussex and author of Wilding, her 2018 book about how turning loss-making farmland into the largest rewilding experiment in lowland England, said the “cosy” relationship between developers such as Thakeham, which in effect sponsored parts of the conference, and the Tory party, was deeply worrying and threatening to green causes.

Addressing a fringe meeting at the conference in Manchester last week, Tree said it was “very troubling” that Thakeham, which has given more than £500,000 to the Conservatives since 2017, had the most prominent stand at the entrance to the event, sponsored a meeting, hosted a drinks party and had its name on lanyards worn by everyone with a pass to the four-day event.

At the meeting, where she spoke about the Knepp project and the government’s green agenda, much of which she enthusiastically supports, she pointed to the lanyard and said: “What’s this? This isn’t democracy. It feels like a noose round my neck. There is a lot of money in this room shouting for more housebuilding. Where is the money shouting for nature?”

Thakeham is hoping to build 3,500 homes right next to the Knepp estate – a move that environmentalists say would threaten the rewilding scheme and the ambition to create a protected wildlife corridor between the estate and the St Leonard’s and Ashdown forests. “It will destroy our ability to connect with nature for ever,” said Tree.

Talking to the Observer she pointed to the way Thakeham has expanded its influence into local politics and life in West Sussex. “My son plays for the local rugby club and he has to wear a shirt with Thakeham Homes written on it,” she said. “It is extraordinary.”

Last week, as controversy over Thakeham’s role grew, Adrian Lee stepped down as chairman of the local Horsham Conservative Association over concerns that a job he has had in Thakeham’s external affairs team since August might be seen as a conflict of interest.

Electoral Commission figures show that 13% of Tory donations now come from developers – at a time when Boris Johnson is encouraging the building of more houses, while at the same time emphasising his commitment to green causes and the battle against climate change.

In his conference speech last Wednesday, Johnson said he was keen to “rewild” more rural places and welcomed the return of beavers and otters to rivers in areas where natural habitats had been restored. The prime minister declared: “If that isn’t Conservative, my friends, I don’t know what is – build back beaver, I say.”

The row over Thakeham’s plans for Buck Barn, a development of 3,500 homes in West Sussex, is one of many difficult issues facing Michael Gove in his new cabinet role in charge of housing. Johnson has promised 300,000 new homes a year, to make housing more affordable for young people. But this, along with planning reforms already paused by Gove, has alarmed many Conservatives in southern seats, and caused dismay among environmentalists, who fear damage to wildlife sites.

Thakeham Homes said it had also paid to attend the Labour party conference in Brighton and had attended the virtual Liberal Democrat conference.

“At the Conservative party conference,” it said, “we pay to exhibit in the main hall, alongside other businesses and charities such as Royal Mail, the NFU and Guide Dogs for the Blind. As previously, we sponsored the conference lanyards, which are free for attenders to use.

“At all conferences in 2021, Thakeham has hosted fringe events to support sustainable community creation with our industry-leading zero carbon placemaking. Conference fringe events are held on a wide range of subjects, covering the environment, through to defence, through to education to help stimulate debate and share ideas for the future. These fringe events are open to all conference attenders – similarly as Isabella Tree was a panellist on Conservative Environment Network fringe events.

“In 2021, Thakeham has donated £100,000 to the Conservative and Unionist Party. These donations have been registered with the Electoral Commission.”

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Supreme Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Adeleke’s Candidacy

The Supreme Court has affirmed Ademola Adeleke as the authentic candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the just concluded Osun State Governorship Election.

This has laid to rest the suit filed by Dotun Babayemi, a governorship aspirant of the party who sought the invalidation of Adeleke’s victory.

In a judgement delivered by Justice Amina Augie, the five-member panel held that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the suit after counsel for the appellant, Adebayo Adelodun, withdrew the earlier notice of appeal that was filed within time.

At the resumed hearing, Adelodun, who represented the appellant and Babayemi informed the court that he sought to withdraw the earlier notice of appeal to replace it with the fresh application he filed.

But the panel held that Section 285(11) of the constitution stipulated that an appeal on a pre-election matter must be filed within 14 days from the day of the decision, and that having filed the second appeal out of time, the apex court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter.

Justice Augie, therefore, dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Babayemi had asked the court to invalidate the primary election that produced the governor-elect, citing non-compliance with a court order.

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400 Staff To Lose Jobs As BBC Goes Digital

The British Broadcasting Corporation BBC world service has on Thursday disclosed that about 400 of its staff will lose their jobs as part of a cost-cutting programme and move to digital platforms,

The BBC said its international services needed to make savings of £28.5 million ($31 million) as part of wider reductions of £500 million.

In July it detailed plans to merge BBC World News television and its domestic UK equivalent into a single channel to launch in April next year.

BBC World Service currently operates in 40 languages around the world with a weekly audience of some 364 million people.

But the corporation said audience habits were changing and more people were accessing news online, which along with a freeze on BBC funding and increased operating costs meant a move to “digital-first” made financial sense.

BBC World Service director Liliane Landor said there was a “compelling case” for expanding digital services, as audiences had more than doubled since 2018.

“The way audiences are accessing news and content is changing and the challenge of reaching and engaging people around the world with quality, trusted journalism is growing,” she added.


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Hurricane Ian: Cities flooded and power cut as storm crosses Florida

Hurricane Ian: Cities flooded and power cut as storm crosses Florida

Hurricane Ian made landfall at around 15:10 local time (19:10 GMT) on Wednesday, smashing into the coast with wind speeds of up to 241km/h (150mph).

Dramatic scenes saw a hospital roof blown off, cars submerged and trees ripped out of the ground.

The category four hurricane was later downgraded to a tropical storm.

However, Floridians were warned that the most dangerous 24 hours lay ahead and the mayor of Tampa urged people to shelter in place through the night into Thursday morning.

“We are going to get the majority of the rain and the higher winds starting about 20:00, and they are going to last throughout the night,” Jane Castor said during a Wednesday evening briefing.

In a message posted on Facebook, the Weather Prediction Center told residents in the Central Florida Peninsula to expect “widespread life-threatening, catastrophic flash and urban flooding” continuing into Friday morning, with potentially up to 76cm (30ins) of rain falling locally.

Residents were ordered to leave their homes, but many have decided to remain and seek shelter indoors.

Mark Pritchett, who lives in the city of Venice, some 95km (60 miles) south of Tampa, described the “terrifying” moment he stepped outside his home as the hurricane made its way across the Gulf of Mexico.

“Rain shooting like needles. My street is a river,” he said in a text message to the Associated Press news agency.

In Lee County – the south-west region where Ian made landfall – police were prevented from responding to reports of looting at a petrol station because of the storm damage.

As a result, a curfew has been declared “until further notice”.

Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais said that the Fort Myers community had “been – to some extent – decimated”. According to news agency AFP, some neighbourhoods in the city of 80,000 had been left resembling lakes.

State Governor Ron DeSantis described Ian as the “biggest flood event” south-west Florida had ever seen, and announced that 7,000 National Guard troops are ready to lead rescue operations in flood zones.

President Joe Biden will receive a briefing on Thursday from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Ian is now continuing to move north through Florida. Jacksonville International Airport, based in north-east Florida, cancelled all flights scheduled for Thursday.

The storm is forecast to emerge into the Atlantic by Thursday morning.

It is expected to reach Georgia and South Carolina on Friday. Virginia has also joined Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida by declaring a state of emergency.

Cuba’s western coast was hit by Hurricane Ian on Tuesday. Power has now been restored in some areas after the island was plunged into a total blackout. Two people are understood to have been killed in Cuba and more than 20 Cuban migrants are believed to be missing at sea.

Predicted path of Hurricane Ian. Updated 27 September

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