Research by the Local Government Association (LGA) suggests that communities have potentially lost out on 13,500 affordable homes in the past four years as a result of permitted development rules.

Office conversions carried out under rules that mean they can be converted into housing without being subject to a planning application amount to almost half of all new housing in some areas of the country, says the LGA.

Concerns have been raised by many organisations as well as the LGA that this means communities do not have the opportunity to ensure that the developments are of a high-quality, provide affordable homes as part of the development, or guarantee that supporting infrastructure such as health services are in place.

Councils are also worried about the safety of housing converted under permitted development, as well as the location of new homes.

The LGA highlighted the Government's latest figures, which show that since 2015, there were 54,162 new homes converted from offices under permitted development in England. They estimate that this has potentially led to the loss of 13,540 affordable homes.

Nationally, this is 6% of all new homes, but in some areas, the figure is much higher. In 2018/19 this included:

  • Harlow - 51%;
  • Norwich - 48%;
  • Three Rivers - 43%;
  • Spelthorne - 39%;
  • Slough - 35%.

David Renard, the housing spokesman for the LGA, said: "serious concerns remain over the high numbers of homes which continue to be converted from offices without planning permission".

Permitted development rules are resulting in the alarming potential loss of thousands of desperately needed affordable homes.

"Planning is not a barrier to housebuilding, with councils approving nine in 10 planning applications. It is vital that councils and local communities have a voice in the planning process and are able to oversee all local developments".

"By scrapping permitted development rules, the Government can give councils and local communities the ability to shape the area they live in and ensure homes are built to high standards with the necessary infrastructure in place".

The Environment Agency has published two regulatory position statements (RPSs), for collection of:

The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations SI 2016/1154 require a permit for a waste operation if you treat and store waste that you are collecting. The Environment Agency currently is reviewing the provisions contained in the Full Text of Schedule 3 to those Regulations and, as a result, produced the following interim measures for the collection of certain waste, which, if the conditions of the RPS's are complied with, do not require a permit.

These RPS's will be reviewed by December 2020.

Collecting non-hazardous, non-food waste from different premises at a single site

This RPS only applies to waste that is:

  • produced, treated and stored on the same site, owned or operated by (or on behalf of) a single owner or occupier;
  • collected by contractors employed by (or on behalf of) the owner or operator of the site.

It only applies to treating waste:

  • so that you can make its further transportation easier;
  • in a way that it does not change any of the composition of the waste (chemical or biological).

The allowed treatment operations in this case are:

  • compacting or shredding paper or cardboard to increase the amount of waste you can collect within a container;
  • reducing the size of large items to allow easier loading;
  • separating recyclables from mixed wastes and putting them into separate storage containers for recycling.

This RPS does not apply to hazardous waste or food waste.

Such waste must be stored in a secured location and only collected for further transportation. Any organic matter must be stored in an enclosed container to minimise odour and access by vermin or pests. Liquid waste must be stored in a leak-proof container with secondary containment. Different types of waste must not be mixed.

The storage limits are:

  • 1000 litres of liquid waste; and
  • 200 mof other types of waste.

This type of waste must not be stored for longer than a week for organic matter, and a month for non-organic matter that will not decompose.

Collecting food waste from different premises at a single site

This RPS only applies to:

  • food waste;
  • gathering and storing food waste without any treatment;
  • waste that is produced and stored on the same site, owned or operated by (or on behalf of) a single owner or occupier;
  • waste collected by contractors employed by (or on behalf of) the owner or operator of the site.

In terms of the storage of food waste, you must:

  • gather and store food waste separately from other types of waste;
  • store it in a secure place to ensure waste is not escaping and it cannot be accessed by members of the public;
  • store organic matter that will decompose in a fully enclosed container to prevent and minimise odour and access by vermin and pests; and
  • store liquid waste in a suitable leak-proof container with secondary containment.

The storage is limited up to a maximum of 50 m3 of food waste at any one time on the same site. The waste must be only stored for onward transportation. Food waste can be kept on-site for up to seven days.

For more information on this subject, see:

A 41-year-old former law student from Dewsbury was sentenced to 21 months for pretending to trip over a crate of orange juice cartons in a supermarket, and claim for her injuries.

The case is believed to be the first private prosecution in the UK by an insurance company against a so-called 'slip-and-trip' fraudster. The deliberate and premeditated plan, which involved two other women, was aimed at obtaining money from a supermarket in Bradford. The fraudster waited eight months after her 'accident' before making her claim, in the hope that CCTV footage would have been erased.

The case was taken by Aviva after the fraudster's original claim was thrown out of court in 2016, when CCTV footage revealed two female accomplices placing a crate of orange juice cartons on the floor of Al-Halal supermarket in Bradford, so the fraudster could pretend to stumble over. She then, eight months later, sent a letter to the supermarket claiming for injuries that would have cost Aviva up to £60,000. Her claim included injuries to her right wrist even though the video showed her falling onto her left wrist.

The judge on the original case found that the fraudster had put forward a wholly fraudulent and dishonest claim. Determined to bring her to justice, Aviva, which represented the supermarket, took out a private prosecution on the basis of fraud by misrepresentation.

Bradford Crown Court gave the fraudster a suspended jail sentence of 21 months. She will also be electronically tagged and placed under a curfew.

Praising insurer Aviva for pursuing the case, the judge said "fraudulent insurance claims are rife currently – certainly in this city. There has to be a deterrent in the form of a sentence of imprisonment. Employees of the supermarket were caused stress and anxiety as a finger was pointed at them for having been negligent when they clearly were not".

"This is a case properly and responsibly brought by the insurance company".

Richard Hiscocks, Aviva's director of casualty claims, said "this staged accident is a clear example of a fraudster trying to claim some easy cash – and she now has a criminal conviction to show for it. Aviva takes a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and we’ll do everything we can to defend our customers against such claims".

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) reported that insurers had detected 113,000 fraudulent insurance claims in 2017 worth £1.3bn. In 2015, insurers noted a 36% rise in fraudulent slip-and-trip claims on the previous year to 27,000, worth £351m.

Damian Rourke, partner with global law firm Clyde & Co, which acted for Aviva, said "figures clearly show a significant increase in so-called slip-and-trip fraud. It’s important that businesses and the public know that insurers like Aviva will take proactive steps to deter and punish criminals who harm businesses and ultimately can cost staff their jobs".

"There is a perception that nobody is doing anything about fraud – and I think it’s important that businesses know that insurers like Aviva are standing up for them".

The heat in the world's oceans reached a new record level in 2019, showing "irrefutable and accelerating" heating of the planet.

The world's oceans are the clearest measure of the climate emergency as they absorb more than 90% of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuel burning, forest destruction and other human activities.

The new analysis shows the past five years are the top five warmest years recorded in the ocean, and the past 10 years are also the top 10 years on record. The amount of heat being added to the oceans is equivalent to every person on the planet running 100 microwave ovens all day and all night.

Hotter oceans lead to more severe storms and disrupt the water cycle, meaning more floods, droughts and wildfires, as well as an unavoidable rise in sea level. Higher temperatures are also harming life in the seas, with number of marine heatwaves increasing sharply.

The most common measure of global heating is the average surface air temperature, as this is where people live. But natural climate phenomena events mean this can be quite variable from year to year.

Prof John Abraham, from the University of St Thomas, Minnesota, one of the team behind the new analysis, said "using the oceans, we see a continued, uninterrupted and accelerating warming rate of planet Earth. This is dire news".

Another team member, Prof Michael Mann, at Penn State University, added "we found that 2019 was not only the warmest year on record, it displayed the largest single-year increase of the entire decade, a sobering reminder that human-caused heating of our planet continues unabated".

The analysis, published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, uses ocean data from every available source. Most data is from the 3,800 free-drifting Argo floats dispersed across the oceans, but also from torpedo-like bathythermographs dropped from ships in the past.

The results show heat increasing at an accelerating rate as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere. The rate from 1987 to 2019 is four and a half times faster than that from 1955 to 1986. The vast majority of oceans regions are showing an increase in thermal energy.

Abraham discussed that this energy drives bigger storms and more extreme weather.

"When the world and the oceans heat up, it changes the way rain falls and evaporates. There’s a general rule of thumb that drier areas are going to become drier and wetter areas are going to become wetter, and rainfall will happen in bigger downbursts".

Hotter oceans also expand and melt ice, causing sea levels to rise. The past 10 years also show the highest sea level measured in records dating back to 1900. Scientists expect about one metre of sea-level rise by the end of the century, enough to displace 150 million people worldwide.

Dan Smale, Marine Biological Association in the UK, said "the take-home message is that the heat content of the upper layers of the global ocean, particularly to 300 metre depth, is rapidly increasing, and will continue to increase as the oceans suck up more heat from the atmosphere".

"The upper layers of the ocean are vital for marine biodiversity, as they support some of the most productive and rich ecosystems on Earth, and warming of this magnitude will dramatically impact on marine life".

The new analysis assesses the heat in the top 2,000m of the ocean, as that is where most of the data is collected. It is also where the vast majority of the heat accumulates and where most marine life lives.

The analysis method was developed by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and uses statistical methods to insert heat levels in the few places where there was no data, such as under the Arctic ice cap. An independent analysis of the same data by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration shows that same increasing heat trend.

Reliable ocean heat measurements stretch back to the middle of the 20th century. But Abraham said "even before that, we know the oceans were not hotter".

"The data we have is irrefutable, but we still have hope because humans can still take action.

Birmingham City council have published their new transport plan which proposes banning private cars from taking journeys through the city centre.

Private vehicles would be able to drive into the city from certain areas, but would have to drive back out and join the ring road to access a different part, rather than driving through the city centre.

Also outlined in the transport plan are the council's plans to introduce a clean air zone to the city from 1 July 2020. This will include all roads within the A4540 Middleway Ring Road, and be in 24 hour operation all year around, with vehicles that are pre-Euro 4 petrol or pre-Euro 6 diesel having to pay a fee.

As well as this the council have plans to encourage the greater use of public transport, walking and cycling by:

  • introducing a Workplace Parking Levy;
  • extending the city’s Controlled Parking Zones, which remove all free parking in certain areas;
  • increasing Park and Ride provisions around the city;
  • the pedestrianisation of city centre streets and better public transport integration.

There are also plans proposed to reduce speed limits in residential areas to 20mph as well as restricting lorries making daytime deliveries.

The council said they're 'prioritising people over cars' as they aim to make the city carbon neutral by 2030.

Cabinet member for transport and the environment at Birmingham City Council, Councillor Waseem Zaffar, said: ''Overdependence on private cars is bad for the health of ourselves and our families, bad for our communities and bad for business as measured by the millions of pounds of lost productivity caused by congestion. Ultimately, it is bad for the future because of the very significant damage caused by vehicle emissions and their impact on climate change.''

If the council's cabinet approve the plan on 21 January then public consultation on the new transport plan will begin on 28 January.

The automotive industry has warned that post Brexit, carmakers could pull higher polluting models from the UK market in a bid to meet stricter carbon dioxide limits.

New European rules state that the average CO2 emissions of cars sold in 2020 and 2021 across the single market must fall below 95g of CO2 per kilometre. Carmakers who miss these targets will face major fines.

Currently more polluting larger cars are offset across Europe by smaller less polluting cars. Typically the UK market has favoured more polluting SUV vehicles compared to some of its European counterparts.

However after Brexit the UK will no longer be in the EU, but the UK Government has said they intend to copy EU rules, with targets 'at least as ambitious as current EU CO2 emissions targets'. This will make a UK only limit harder to achieve for car manufacturers.

Last year CO2 emissions of cars sold in the UK rose for the third year in a row. Average UK emissions were 127.9g per kilometre in 2019, 35% higher than the new targets of 95g.

Carmakers who breach their individual CO2 targets will pay fines of £83 (€95) for every gram over their limit, multiplied by the number of cars sold that year.

Chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), Mike Hawes, said: "Carmakers will have to look at their model mix... you've got to see whether that's economic. The fines are going to be severe and all of them will do everything they can to avoid that. It could be that you see a reduction in consumer choice through the removal of higher-emitting vehicles from not just the top end, but particular segments."

Pulling models from the UK market would be a huge blow to the automotive industry but could prove to be environmentally beneficial as it could reduce the sale of the most polluting cars.

Government figures state cars account for over 18% of UK emissions, so action needs to be taken if the UK is to cut emissions to 51% of 1990 levels by 2025 and reach net zero by 2050.

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