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

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‘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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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

The head of the United Nations warned Friday that the world faces “catastrophe” because of the growing shortage of food around the globe.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war in Ukraine has added to the disruptions caused by climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and inequality to produce an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” already affecting hundreds of millions of people.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” he said in a video message to officials from dozens of rich and developing countries gathered in Berlin. “And 2023 could be even worse.”

Guterres noted that harvests across Asia, Africa and the Americas will take a hit as farmers around the world struggle to cope with rising fertilizer and energy prices.

“This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage,” he said. “No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe.”

Guterres said U.N. negotiators were working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.

He also called for debt relief for poor countries to help keep their economies afloat and for the private sector to help stabilize global food markets.

The Berlin meeting’s host, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, said Moscow’s claim that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were to blame for food shortages was “completely untenable.”

Russia exported as much wheat in May and June this year as in the same months of 2021, Baerbock said.

She echoed Guterres’ comments that several factors underlie the growing hunger crisis around the world.

“But it was Russia’s war of attack against Ukraine that turned a wave into a tsunami,” Baerbock said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russia has no excuse for holding back vital goods from world markets.

“The sanctions that we’ve imposed on Russia collectively and with many other countries exempt food, exempt food products, exempt fertilizers, exempt insurers, exempt shippers,” he said.

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

Local and federal highways in the North-west have become vulnerable as bandits continue to ambush and abduct travellers.

The gunmen who abducted 29 people returning to Zamfara State from Sokoto State where they had gone to attend the wedding of colleagues have released them after the payment of an unspecified ransom.

The victims, who were mostly dealers of mobile phones and phone accessories at Bebeji Communication Market (Bebeji Plaza) in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State were abducted in Sokoto 13 days ago.

Secretary of the GSM Dealers Association in the state, Ashiru Zurmi, confirmed the release of the victims but didn’t give details.

One of the victims reportedly died in captivity.

Though the amount paid as ransom to secure the release of the hostages has not been revealed, Abdullahi Lawal, whose brother was among those abducted, said their relatives were asked to make donations. He said his family raised N33,000 while the phone sellers’ association “provided the remaining money.”

“Every family was told to gather N400,000 while the members of the plaza and their colleagues in the state provided the remaining money. Some family members were able to raise the money in full, but we couldn’t. I took the money to the plaza and I was told that they were still negotiating with the bandits” he said.

He said he didn’t know how much was given to the bandits “but I’m happy that my brother is okay,” he said.

From N5m to N700,000

A phone accessories seller, Sharhabilu Muhammad, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that the officials of the phone dealers association negotiated with the bandits to reduce the ransom they originally demanded to release the captives.

“You know that the initial money they said was N5m for each of the captives but our officials kept negotiating with them (bandits) until they reduced the money to N700k,” he said.

When asked about the person who reportedly died in captivity, Mr Muhammed said his identity has not been revealed.

“We don’t know because even the bandits didn’t tell but we’ll surely find out when they (captives) arrive at Gusau tonight,” he added.

The police command spokesman, Mohammed Shehu, didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to him on the development.

Backstory

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the wedding guests were abducted when bandits opened fire on the two buses they were travelling in a few kilometres after Bimasa in the Dogon Awo junction, Sokoto State.

They were returning from Tambuwal town in Sokoto State where they had attended the wedding of a colleague, Jamil Umar.

The captives were travelling on a Toyota Coaster bus belonging to the Universal Basic Education Commission UBEC and another bus owned by Gusau Local Government.

The bandits had demanded a ransom of N145 million to release the 29 hostages.

Bandits have been terrorising North-west states and a part of North-central Nigeria, killing and displacing hundreds of people and rustling domestic animals.

Travelling on federal and local highways is becoming dangerous as bandits block roads, abduct and kill motorists.

Major federal highways including Abuja-Kaduna, Gusau-Sokoto-Birnin Kebbi, and Birnin Gwari-Kaduna have become travellers’ nightmares with attacks and abduction or killing of travellers becoming a daily occurrence.

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

A motion seeking the intervention of the House of Representatives in the conflict between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, and Justices of the Supreme Court, over issues bordering on welfare and working conditions suffered a setback on Thursday.

While the House called for a general review of salaries and allowances of all political office holders and public servants, the members were divided over which committees should handle the task.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, had moved a motion to seek the intervention of the chamber in the crisis rocking the apex court and better welfare package for judicial officers across the courts.

Luke, who moved the motion titled, ‘Need to Address the Deteriorating Working Conditions of Judicial Officers,’ prayed the House to urge the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to upwardly review the remuneration of judicial officers in line with present economic realities.

The lawmaker prayed the House to urge the Federal Government to increase the budgetary allocation of the judiciary for the upcoming fiscal year and provide special intervention funds for the development of the arm

He further prayed the House to mandate the Committee on Judiciary to ensure compliance and report back within six weeks for further legislative action.

While the lawmakers were making amendments to the prayers, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, called for an upward review of the welfare package of all public office holders.

Wase, who stated that he appreciated the memo from the Justices to the CJN, noted that only the RMAFC had the responsibility to review remuneration of government officials.

The Deputy Speaker made reference to a part of the motion that read, ‘The remuneration of judicial officers was last reviewed in 2008 by the RMAFC when the official exchange rate was N117.74 to $1, whereas the naira has considerably depreciated.’

Wase partly said, “I think this particular element does not affect just judicial officers, maybe because they cried out now. I don’t think it is right that we have to wait every time until people write letters of complaints and there is protest before we begin to do the right thing.”

Rephrasing Wase’s proposed amendment, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said: “The DSP’s amendment is that we should not isolate the Judiciary and all those enumerated constitutional bodies and public office holders. They should be reviewed; a comprehensive review based on all the things that Hon Luke said – the exchange rates and this and that.”

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