Sunday, 30 September 2018

Knowle relocation project: latest on FOI request for PegasusLife viability report

There have been several Freedom of Information requests over recent months asking questions about the District Council's relocation project:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: latest FOI request on costs
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Freedom of Information requests > and questions of money, process and viability
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: "The true cost of relocation is almost certainly at least £20 million."

One of the key issues has been whether the District Council has really got a good deal: one recent FOI request asked how it was that the developer would end up with a property worth £50m - compared to the current £7m value of the site:
Who knew that The Knowle had a reported developable value of £50 million pounds? - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

Another key issue has been 'viability' - and not just from the point of view of the developer:
Futures Forum: How viability assessments allow developers to break promises made to get planning permission and cut the number of affordable houses by half

And so another FOI request asked to see the complete, unredacted version of the 'viablity appraisal' put together by the developer to justify not spending on affordable housing:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: new FOI request for PegasusLife viability report

The District Council refused to provide the full report - and so the FOI request went to the Information Commissioner to consider - again, on the WDTK website:
PegasusLife viability report - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow 

The ICO has now issued a Decision Notice, stating that the redacted information is indeed commercially sensitive - at least in March of this year when the FOI request was made - although things might well have changed since then.

To view the report, go to the ICO's search pages and look for Ref: FS50734088
| Search | ICO

Meanwhile, another FOI request has asked what's up with the new HQ:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: new FOI request for a full list of those 'involved in the construction of the new office block' in Honiton.

Sidmouth Science Festival >>> Unkindest Cut: an exploration of the mind's inner workings >>> Saturday 6th October

The Science Festival starts in earnest next weekend:
Futures Forum: Sidmouth Science Festival >>> "science in our lives" >>> Friday 5th to Sunday 14th October

It is very much about 'science in our lives' - the theme of this year's event:
Sidmouth Science Festival - Home | Facebook
Sidmouth Science Festival: Thursday 27 September to Sunday 14 October 2018 inclusive | Sidmouth Science Festival

This includes our inner lives - and one event will address the issue of young people and mental health - which is very much a current issue:
Futures Forum: Urgent calls for a long-term mental health programme to provide preventative action and ongoing support for young people in the Sid Valley

With details of a very different kind of event on the Festival's website: 

Unkindest Cut: an exploration of the mind's inner workings - at 11am, 1pm and 3pm

Saturday 6th October 2018 11:00 AM
Location/Venue: The Ham Sidmouth EX10 8XR

Outside it seems to be a shipping container much like any other. Inside though, it’s a fortress of ideas – intimate and intense, alluring but alarming, contained yet spilling over.
Unkindest Cut confines and entwines dance, performance, text, film and an intricate light installation to explore how our own minds cope – and sometimes don’t – with modern life, confronting audiences at close quarters with complex issues around young people and mental health.
The shows take place at the following times:

  • show 1:  11.00-11.30am
  • show 2:  13.00-13.30pm
  • show 3:  15.00-15.30pm
Unkindest Cut: an exploration of the mind's inner workings - at 11am, 1pm and 3pm | Sidmouth Science Festival

And an excellent piece in the Herald on-line today: 

Unkindest Cut dance show staged at Sidmouth Science Festival

PUBLISHED: 08:30 30 September 2018
Unkindest Cut explores the mind's workings, through expressive dance. Picture: Kathy Hinde

Unkindest Cut explores the mind's workings, through expressive dance. Picture: Kathy Hinde

Students take part in creative workshops before the show, to explore emotions and record words and phrases for the soundtrack

Experiences and emotions of local young people will be woven into the soundtrack of an expressive dance performance, to be staged during the Sidmouth Science Festival.
While much of the festival is all about the outside world, the show Unkindest Cut focuses on the human mind and explores how it copes, or sometimes fails to cope, with modern life.
The show is touring science festivals around the UK, starting with Sidmouth. Before each festival, its producers invite young people from the area to take part in creative workshops, exploring how to express emotions through movement, using a traditional Indian dance technique called Bharata Natyam.
Artistic director and choreographer Subathra Subramaniam said:
“I teach some Bharata Natyam gestures and basic movements. We then have a discussion about what it is like to be a young person in the world today. We pick out words and phrases, and think about how we could express them through creative movement, also using music, rhythm and words if they would like to.”
Recordings of some of those words and phrases are then digitally altered and used as part of the soundtrack of the dance performance, played through special speakers giving the effect of words whispered in the ear.
As well as providing dramatic sound effects for the dance performances, different for each festival, the workshops aim to give young people the freedom to explore their feelings, including negative or frightening ones, in a creative and safe environment. Students from Sidmouth College were among those invited to take part in the sessions leading up to the science festival performances, which take place on Thursday, October 4 until Sunday 7th.
Unkindest Cut aims to raise awareness of some of the issues troubling young people. But fittingly, the performances themselves are also part of a scientific project. Subathra Subramaniam believes that dance can help people understand scientific concepts. The reactions of audiences, particularly their emotional responses to the show, is being researched by a senior fellow in science communication from the University of the West of England, who will publish her paper on it next year.

Unkindest Cut dance show staged at Sidmouth Science Festival | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

Sidmouth Science Festival >>> "science in our lives" >>> Friday 5th to Sunday 14th October

The Science Festival preview started this weekend - and takes off in earnest on Friday 5th October:

Sidmouth Science Festival: Thursday 27 September to Sunday 14 October 2018 inclusive

The 2018 Festival will run from Thursday 27 September to Sunday 14 October 2018 with over 100 events including walks, talks, hands-on activities and exhibitions.
For an At-A-Glance downloadable version of the programme follow the link in this sentence.
Our 2017 photo albums are available for you to view by clicking on the link and any videos will be available on our Youtube Channel.
See our Festival Reports page for an overview of the 2017 Science Festival, plus event reports and videos on what happened.
Our Festivals depend on the generosity of donors and on grants. We make every effort not to charge for events so that they are accessible to all. If you wish to donate please click on our Virgin Money Giving link.  If you enjoy and support the Festival you can also become a Friend of the Sidmouth Science Festival.  Follow the link to find out more.
The Festival theme will continue as “Science in our Lives” to reflect how important the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Maths and Engineering) are to everything we do nowadays. We aim to promote curiosity in the young, to inspire them to consider a STEM career in a rapidly changing employment market, in addition to encouraging self-confessed nonscientists to engage with science in fun ways, including art, drama and music and hands-on activities. We also provide talks by experts in their fields for those looking for something more technically challenging. 
Sidmouth Science Festival: Thursday 27 September to Sunday 14 October 2018 inclusive | Sidmouth Science Festival 

Sidmouth Science Festival - Home | Facebook

With a very nice overview of the event from the Herald:
Sidmouth Science Festival 2018 | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

And from the Visit Sidmouth site: 

Sidmouth Science Festival- October 5th - 14th 2018


The seventh Sidmouth Science Festival runs from Friday 4th to Sunday 14th October 2018 with the theme of “Science in our Lives”.

The events during the week will cater for all ages and abilities with projects and demonstrations taking place in schools and colleges and throughout the town. Serious science talks and fun hands-on events take place on Super Science Saturday13th and at the Family Fun Day on Sunday 14th at the Norman Lockyer Observatory.

Ada Lovelace Day on Tuesday 9th October, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, will feature eminent female scientists.

Various community groups will contribute events during the week, too.

In 2017 guest speakers included Dame Julia Slingo FRS and Prof Julian Dowdeswell from the Scott Polar Research Institute, as well as TV personalities Adam Hart Davis and Dallas Campbell. There was a dedicated Earth Science Hall, visit to a brewery and bat identification. The Family Fun Day included two model jet car races as well as many other activities for young people. Two weather balloons were launched and tracked with data being relayed back to the Observatory. The interactive Science trail along the seafront proved popular with families, too.

So there is something for everyone!

Sidmouth Science Festival - Visit Sidmouth

With a pretty cool example here from last year:

sidmouth science festival high altitude balloon flight - YouTube

Meanwhile, the Festival is getting more and more mentions - for example:
New perspective on planting plans in Sid Valley | Sidmouth Herald
Norman Lockyer Observatory gets council loan for classroom | Sidmouth Herald

'Living with Buildings' > how architecture affects our lives, our health, our wellbeing

The Wellcome Collection in London is looking at how architecture affects our lives, our health, our wellbeing in its new exhibition 'Living with Buildings':
Living with Buildings | Wellcome Collection
Living With Buildings: And Walking With Ghosts review – healthy building, healthy mind? | Books | The Guardian

The Financial Times tours the show: 

The architecture of health: how buildings are designed for wellbeing

We have moved on from sterile clinics to centres that blur health, hearth and home

© 2017 Philip Durrant

How much of our lives do we spend indoors? 80 per cent? 90? More? Sure, there are farmers and gardeners and road builders but for most of us, our lives are lived inside buildings; the homes where we sleep but also schools, offices, airports and the rest. So the question of whether architecture can affect our lives, our health, our wellbeing, is idiotic. The question is not if, but how much it affects us. It’s a subject London’s Wellcome Collection is looking at in its new exhibition Living with Buildings. It’s also one which is increasingly preoccupying not only architects but managers and doctors alongside hygge quacks and lifestyle gurus.

From the Victorian slums via the modernist health centres of the inter-war years to new ideas about what constitutes wellbeing, the Wellcome show spans a transformation in ideas, science and the popular imagination; it leavens architecture and urbanism with artworks from Andreas Gursky to Rachel Whiteread.

It shows how we have historically navigated successive waves of hysteria about the health of our cities, the condition of our homes, the future of buildings. From panics about plagues and fire through the moral repulsion against the Victorian slums, the history of architecture can seem like a series of reactions to health crises embodied in buildings. The most recent of these, the awful black tombstone of Grenfell Tower, is still fomenting reactions. Yet Grenfell Tower was itself a manifestation of another reaction, the modernist tower set in green space, a reaction to the dark slums of Victorian London.

We believe that we are increasingly aware of a healthy environment, of the problems of pollution, obesity, global warming, loneliness, the destruction of species and the emergence of superbugs. We are aware of the need for exercise, sunlight, vitamins, contact with nature and social bonds. Even governments are shifting from their two-dimensional measuring of national life from GDP to wellbeing, the notoriously vague “happiness index”. Health has been commodified, commercialised, personalised and politicised.

But are our buildings responding to this new consciousness? The Ancient Greeks were well in advance of where are now. Epidaurus was a total landscape of wellbeing, built around a health centre dating from the third or fourth century BC. It embraced temples, clinics, houses for sleeping and dream cures as well as an athletics stadium and, of course, a theatre for cultural, spiritual and physical catharsis. The views out to sea and the awe-inspiring landscape were as much a part of the healing process as were the surgeries.

Purkersdorf sanatorium, 1905 © Getty

The Roman architect Vitruvius wrote of the importance of site, light, the winds and the waters; a house was not an object to be imposed on the landscape but a dwelling working with it. From Hindu traditions of vastu shastra and Chinese feng shui, every civilisation treasured foundational texts on how to build for health and wealth, some of which was superstitious nonsense but much of which was common sense that has been forgotten.

With the medicalisation of the pivotal moments of life — birth, old age and death, the idea of an architecture for health was extracted from the mainstream of construction and ghettoised into the modern hospital, a sterile environment which accommodates an ever larger portion of our lives. But has this ghettoisation of the architecture of health led to a wholesale forgetting of the importance of wellbeing in the architecture of the everyday?

The modern movement was a kind of revival of those classical ideals of a healthy city. A visceral reaction to the slums, the confinement, the miasma and the treeless darkness of the dense city centre, the early modernists created an architecture of clinical precision, light and air, in which the interior merged into an exterior framed by trees and greenery. Health was at the heart of the project. A curious parallel evolved between the architecture of the clinic and the domestic, a hygiene fetishism which led to some of the key monuments of early modernism adopting the white-tiled, white enamel, chrome and glass aesthetic of the hospital. Or, perhaps more precisely, the sanatorium.

Paimio Sanatorium, 1933 © Ben Gilbert for Wellcome Collection

Josef Hoffmann may be best known for his delicate, decorative designs for the Wiener Werkstätte but his first major architectural work was the Purkersdorf Sanatorium, built in 1904-05 to soothe the jangling nerves of the Viennese intelligentsia who feared the edge of the precipice. Patients included Mahler, Schnitzler, Schoenberg and Hofmannsthal. Otto Wagner’s incredible chapel for the Hospital am Steinhof just outside the city, meanwhile, managed to combine obsessive, minimalist hygiene with a fantastical domed and subtly-decorated building.

Alvar Aalto’s 1933 Paimio Sanatorium in Finland (featuring in the Wellcome show and currently for sale) developed the aesthetic, the white cruiser in the woods, and kitted it out with fittings and furniture that remain unsurpassed, including a bent plywood chair, easy to wipe down and wonderfully comfortable, a metaphor for the bigger idea. In the UK it was Berthold Lubetkin’s Finsbury Health Centre that achieved something similar, not in the woods but in the city slums, a white-tiled, elevated spaceship of a structure that embodied an idea of freely accessible healthcare.

Chapel at Hospital am Steinhof built by Otto Wagner in 1904-07 © Getty

Those ideas also seeped into the domestic. Even in its name, Richard Neutra’s “Lovell Health House” (1929) embodies those contemporary concerns but this was an émigré Austrian architect exporting Viennese neuroses to the world’s new cultural and quack capital, Los Angeles. This remarkable house was dedicated to the health benefits of West Coast living with the pool and panoramic terraces, the warm ocean air an antidote to central Europe’s history-burdened, smoke-clogged atmosphere. It had terraces for sunbathing and outdoor sleeping, an outdoor gym and rooms dedicated to diet and therapies. Contemporary to this was Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre, one of Modernism’s pivotal spaces, stuffed into a Parisian courtyard. Built for a gynaecologist, it is a truly odd mix of consulting room and private apartment in which the technics of obstetrics, the machines and chairs, the shiny tools, speculums and surgical lights begin to dictate an interior language in which architecture’s relation to the (female) body is made eerily manifest.

Both these houses illustrate the blurring between health, hearth and home. What has happened in recent years is, perhaps, a reversal of this fetishisation of the language of hygiene and surgical precision. The High Tech pioneered by Chareau has become the language of the non-space, the anonymous airport or data centre and both domestic and healthcare architecture have reacted to that anonymity through a reassertion of the language of home.

The clearest illustration of the phenomenon are Maggie’s Centres, which are neither quite medical nor domestic but a hybrid space of wellbeing framed by ambitious architecture. Instigated by Charles and Maggie Jencks and exhibited at the Wellcome Collection, the centres are focused around a kitchen table and are intended to facilitate conversation over a mug of tea. Yet their architecture is often radical, surprising and theatrical, challenging those with cancer and their families to think about architecture and engage with it rather than providing a neutral or clinical space.

Maggie’s, North East London © NAARO photos

Architects from Frank Gehry to Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas have designed sometimes strange, sometimes brilliant, sometimes soothing spaces that attempt to redefine what an architecture addressing health might be. They use everything from light and art to gardens and library nooks to experiment with some of the most difficult physical and psychological states humans encounter.

You might also look to De Vylder Vinck Taillieu’s Caritas psychiatric centre in Melle near Ghent. Here the architects revivified a ruined building and inhabited it with smaller structures — greenhouses, seating areas, courtyards, a protected but outdoor space like an adventure playground for the mind. It is complex, intriguing and full of traces of history and ideas about architecture. A place for the mind as well as the body.

Alvar Aalto, Paimio Chair, 1932 © Alvar Aalto Foundation

Understanding of health has progressed into an appreciation of “wellbeing”. In architecture this transition could not be more pronounced; it is the move away from the functionalist fetishisation of an aesthetic of hygiene — effectively the medicalisation of the domestic, to a contemporary situation in which it is the overtly domestic that is celebrated as an architecture of comfort and conviviality. Interiors now emulate cosy boutique hotels, huddling around wood-burning stoves. Contemporary furniture is a throwback to a familiar mid-century modernity, as if we were scared of envisaging a future too different from our present. At the same time, the distinction between spaces is collapsing. Workplaces become something between industrial lifestyle lofts and kindergartens while homes are being condensed and becoming more like hotels. Architects are attempting to deinstitutionalise space just as, a century ago, they were moving towards institutionalising it.

The understanding of what makes a healthy architecture has changed radically. What used to be about hygiene and health is now more about psychological wellbeing. But it is also difficult to measure and is driven very much by fashion. Apart from a few vague studies about the health benefits of being able to see a tree from your window, there is little research or solid information of what exactly makes a healthy home and, until there is, we have to use our intuition and common sense. We are steadily and surely ruining our planet so what we have left are the interiors to which we can retreat, which now need to be about so much more than mere shelter.

‘Living with Buildings’, wellcomecollection.org, October 4 2018–March 3 2019

The architecture of health: how buildings are designed for wellbeing | Financial Times

Saturday, 29 September 2018

UK public finance: councils building a credit bubble >>> >>> In October 2008, UK councils lost heavily from speculative investments. Could this happen again?

Eighteen months ago, the District Council announced that it had done a bit of financial wizardry:
Futures Forum: District Council sets up its own Local Housing Company

As covered at the time:
EDDC takes innovative step towards setting up local housing company | The Exeter Daily
New housing company set up by East Devon District Council 'to provide decent homes for everyone' - Devon Live

However, this had very little to do with actually building 'local housing' in East Devon - but was a ruse to plug the ever-increasing financial holes: 

Establishing a Local Housing Company for East Devon District Council

The Chief Executive presented this report which set out the business case for setting up a Local Housing Company to be wholly owned by the Council with the purpose, amongst others, of providing housing in the general market (so outside of the Housing Revenue Account) and to generate a profit to provide income to the Council’s general fund.

EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL - Minutes of the meeting of Cabinet held at Knowle, Sidmouth on 8 March 2017

Although it might indeed magic up some affordables...
Futures Forum: Local Housing Companies >>> 'It is early days for this new model of house-building, but with their seeming commitment to quality design, the omens are promising for architects seeking work in the sector. Whether this model can bridge the gap in affordable housing provision remains to be seen."

This is a potentially very tricky investment indeed:
Futures Forum: District Council local housing company >>> "the ‘huge risk’ in speculating on the property market"

As warned at the time: 

‘EDDC housing company could develop anywhere in country’, warns Sidmouth councillor

21 March 2017

Cabinet members backed the creation of East Devon Homes last week and officers will now prepare an initial business plan, identify the first projects and report back to the council.

If approved, the company will be financed by EDDC and any profits would come back to the authority. It could sell land to the company at market value – or potentially gift it – and then borrow money to finance projects.

The report says the company, run by a board of directors, will be able to operate on commercial terms, free of the ‘continual interference’ from central government.

‘EDDC housing company could develop anywhere in country’, warns Sidmouth councillor | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

Its website might well make the operation sound quite innocuous:
East Devon Homes - East Devon

But such 'independent entities' can operate very nicely in the financial and property markets: 

UK public finance: councils build a credit bubble

Fuelled by cheap state loans, local authorities are trying to plug the funding gap with property investments

John Plender APRIL 25, 2017

If local authorities can outbid almost all other participants in the commercial property market, it is because they have access to cheap and flexible funding from the Public Works Loan Board, an arm of the Treasury that has been helping finance capital spending by local government since 1793.

UK public finance: councils build a credit bubble | Financial Times

And this has a very uncomfortable sense of déjà vu: 

Bankruptcy risk as ‘desperate’ councils play the property market

Desperate councils risk being plunged into an Icelandic-style financial crisis after investing £1.5bn in the commercial property market

Bankruptcy risk as ‘desperate’ councils play the property market | Society | The Guardian 

“Local authorities have a long and inglorious history of gambling in the financial and property markets,” the former business secretary Vince Cable told The Guardian. For example, in the 1980s Hammersmith & Fulham, a local authority in west London, was one of several councils that landed in financial chaos after getting involved in complex bets on interest rates. “In some cases they may succeed,” reckons Cable, “but there is a very high risk of bankrupting their local authorities” if the property market turns and the investments turn sour. That, in turn, could threaten a serious systemic risk to the property market and UK financial stability.

And this did not escape notice here in East Devon at the time:

It was ten years ago this coming week when councils lost spectacularly in their 'investments':

Rewilding: the return of nature to Knepp >>> >>> >>> "Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm"

Earlier in the year, one half of the Knepp rewilding project brought out book:
Futures Forum: Rewilding: the return of nature to Knepp

The project has been a real hit:
Futures Forum: Rewilding Britain > restoring intensive farmland back to it's natural and uncultivated state - and becoming financially sustainable

The FT went in search this weekend:

Rewilding revives a country estate

The Knepp Estate ceased farming to become a natural habitat that attracts wildlife, environmentalists and campers

Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell © Alexander Christopher Fleming


How best to describe Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree? The custodians of the 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex, home to the UK’s largest lowland rewilding project, are certainly landowners — although they consider themselves primarily environmentalists — but they are also educators, entrepreneurs and, perhaps increasingly, impresarios.
In 2000, the couple took the radical decision to give up on Knepp’s arable and dairy farm, which they had tried and failed for years to keep profitable, to pursue an experimental process of habitat creation. They laid off 11 staff, removed 70 miles of internal fences and introduced English Longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs, Exmoor ponies and fallow and red deer to roam freely. Cultivation of the land was stopped over a period of six years and the transformation was dramatic — the landscape changed from monotonous fields to grass plains, copses and scrubland, harbouring a rich diversity of plant, insect and bird life — and public interest bloomed.
While Tree prepares me a glass of homemade elderflower cordial in the kitchen at Knepp Castle she lists the stream of farmers, environmentalists, government advisers and NGOs that have been knocking at their door this summer. Then there are the tourists booking into Knepp’s glamping site and others who go on “safari” tours of the estate. “We’ve sold over £100,000 worth of safaris,” Burrell explains later, “and the season’s not even over.”
There are good reasons for this summer’s crowd. As the UK hurtles towards Brexit, the environment secretary Michael Gove and his policymakers are racing to replace the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP), while farmers and landowners — aware that support payments are likely to be reduced — are looking at alternative uses for farmland. There is also the recent publication of Tree’s book, Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm. But perhaps, above all, amid the seemingly relentless bad news Knepp offers something positive: the flourishing of imperilled species such as turtle doves, nightingales and purple emperor butterflies.

Patchwork landscape in the Southern Block © Alexander Christopher Fleming

From the kitchen, where an open doorway frames views towards an enormous lake, Tree leads the way through a dining room and into the central hallway of the house. “This is where it gets a bit like the Pitt Rivers,” she says, pointing to displays of arrows, each with different heads — for catching fish, birds, pigs, humans — that the couple collected in Papua New Guinea, where they were married in 1993. We duck into the library, a relaxed space decorated with 20th-century art, and meet Burrell in his office, where huge maps of the estate are arranged across dusty-green walls.
Knepp Castle, designed by John Nash in the early 19th century, has been in Burrell’s family for more than 200 years and he took over the estate in 1987. Selling was not an option, but the couple’s decision to cease farming coincided with the English publication of Grazing Ecology and Forest History by the Dutch ecologist Frans Vera, in which he argues that Europe was not historically a closed-canopy forest but a dynamic landscape shaped by roaming megafauna including oryx and wild boar. It inspired them to recreate the grazing effects of these animals — which in turn encourage plant and insect life — by releasing semi-wild animals. “If you release free-roaming animals into an area, give them enough space and freedom on a big enough scale, you can generate habitat that will be of benefit — rocket fuel, in fact — to biodiversity,” Tree explains.
Although lynx and wolves have been discussed as possible introductions elsewhere in the UK, no predators have been brought into Knepp. The populations of the new introductions are managed artificially; ponies are neutered and pigs, cattle and deer are slaughtered to produce 75 tonnes of meat (at a value of £120,000) a year.
I ask if the experiment has caused the unintended decline of any species. “We don’t think we’ve lost anything,” Burrell replies. “We may have lost biomass of stuff, so there may not be as many bluebells but we haven’t lost them, [they’re] now in the fields, they’re in the scrubland, they’re in the hedges.”
Knepp has always received the CAP Basic Payment, but the rewilding project was given a kick-start with a Countryside Stewardship Scheme grant and more latterly the whole estate has benefited from CAP Higher Level Stewardship funding. So why haven’t more landowners followed their example?
“I think what we’ve both learnt is the level of knowledge actually out there, both in rural and urban populations, is so low. So, when you’re describing loose ideas to people, how it’s going to happen or what the changes will mean, they have no ability to visualise any of it,” Burrell says. “I think we were also surprised by people’s reluctance to consider change when it seemed to us there was this huge opportunity,” Tree adds. “We just assumed that our neighbours would be interested. We had visions initially of a 10,000-acre block that would be naturally bordered by rivers and roads, and that our neighbours would join in.”
Although certain farming practices have been destructive to wildlife, Burrell says many farmers are too distracted by the challenge of making a living to consider alternatives. “When I was farming, all you ever thought about was your margin per hectare, and nature was irrelevant; it was just trying to struggle through, trying to keep the show on the road.” Yet there is no question that Knepp is unusually well-suited to this sort of project. Unlike many farms that are sprawling or fragmented, the estate is a block of land, and its location just 40 miles from central London means there is a strong rental market for converted farm buildings, providing another income stream.
To see the rewilding in action, we jump into a 1960s Austrian troop carrier and roar off across the old park. This was the first section of Knepp to be rewilded (the arable ground was reseeded with grasses before the animals were introduced) and we pass herds of red and fallow deer grazing among ancient oaks.

Red deer in the Southern Block © Alexander Christopher Fleming

Burrell continues to the largest and wildest part of the estate, known as the Southern Block, which was simply left to revert after the final harvests. This area is now a patchwork of sallow (hybridised willow) groves, thorny scrub (protecting oak and other saplings), water meadows, ephemeral ponds, woodland and floodplain.
We disembark to inspect a dry patch of earth under a thicket where pigs have nested, and then watch as Longhorns emerge from the undergrowth and amble around a pond. “You’re playing with all these different species of animals and the effects of their nutrient transference,” Burrell explains, “the way they carry seeds within their guts, on their fur, on their body. Seed transference for cattle is 230 different plants, whereas a roe deer is 23 . . . ” He is interrupted by the piercing “peep-peep” of a kingfisher as it darts across the water.
Fourteen years ago, the dense vegetation around us was a wheat field. Today, there is a rich carpet of grasses under our feet and speckled wood butterflies drift between the sallow leaves that provide the perfect habit for purple emperor butterflies. “We had no idea we would become the greatest site for purple emperor butterflies in the country,” Burrell says. “The record last year was 143, and that was the biggest [number] anyone has ever recorded in a day in Britain. This year it was 388.”

Safari vehicle © Alexander Christopher Fleming

The regeneration that started with the soil has worked upwards: as well as 19 species of earthworm, Knepp now attracts all five species of UK owls, 13 out of 18 species of UK bats and growing (and breeding) populations of migratory nightingales and turtle doves. These are uplifting figures but, according to Burrell and Tree, it is the speed of transformation that offers real hope for the future of the British countryside.
“I’m not saying this is going to be a solution to a lot of situations but it’s an option that has bubbled to the surface,” Burrell says. “It now holds a position of strength and interest, because you can have a very positive story after 10, 20 years, for nature — and that was believed to be impossible.”
‘Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm’ by Isabella Tree, Picador, £20
Laura Battle is deputy editor of House & Home

Rewilding revives a country estate | Financial Times

Inclusive Ownership Funds > from the New Economics Foundation

The latest newsletter from the NEF is dominated by their ideas on company ownership, which has been very much part of the political agenda this week:

Inclusive ownership funds will build better businesses
Labour has announced plans for worker ownership based on our proposals, writes Andrew Pendleton. Will other parties rise to the challenge? Read more


Workers with a stake in their companies
The Labour Party has announced proposals for new ownership funds, which we first proposed in our Cooperatives Unleashed report. Our contributions towards this policy were covered in New Statesman and Left Foot Forward.

“If you give workers a greater stake, it makes for better business”
Our Chief Exec, Miatta Fahnbulleh, appeared on Sky News to discuss inclusive ownership funds.

Inclusive ownership funds will build better businesses | New Economics Foundation

There's been quite a response in the media:
Row erupts over Labour’s 10% shares plan for UK workers | Financial Times
Labour’s inclusive ownership plan | Tax Journal
Employees to be handed stake in firms under Labour plan | Politics | The Guardian
The Labour Party’s Inclusive Ownership Fund Is a Good Idea - Jacobin

It's an idea which has caught some attention in the States:
A Powerful, Under-Used Tool for Addressing the Roots of Inequality: Inclusive Ownership
A Powerful, Under-Used Tool for Addressing the Roots of Inequality: Inclusive Ownership | democracycollaborative.org

Although a similar idea was mooted in the UK by the previous Chancellor:
Osborne's 'employee-owner' proposal gets mixed reaction | Inclusive Employers
George Osborne: workers of the world unite...and give up your employment rights - Telegraph
Osborne's 'shares for rights' scheme full of holes, say unions | Politics | The Guardian

The four-day week and 'flexibility', "the evil cousin of the shortened workweek"

Last weekend's i newspaper looked at the four-day week:
Futures Forum: The four-day week on full pay

But be careful what you wish for:
The hidden dangers of a four-day workweek — Quartz
Workers don't like being forced to be flexible by employers, study finds - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

This week the Nation magazine welcomed the four-day week but urged for further safeguards:

How Would You Feel About a 4-Day Workweek?

As productivity has soared, time off has not kept pace. It’s time to change that.

By Michelle Chen
SEPTEMBER 25, 2018

If you’ve ever come back from a three-day weekend and wondered why you can’t have that time off every week—imagine if you could. Around the world, workers, politicians, and economists are asking why we can’t all afford an extra day off every week.

Recently the United Kingdom Trades Union Conference (TUC) laid out a platform for overhauling the entire structure of work and production in the UK to shorten the workweek. The idea, which the union frames as a workplace modernization, is a weekly schedule of about 32 hours that would give workers a fairer, freer work-life balance. Reduced worktime would also guard against the rising threats of displacement, extreme stress, and exploitation as the economic transitions wrought by technology and globalization threaten to displace or destabilize employment.

The UK workers’ demands are echoed in the experiment of Perpetual Guardian, an estate-planning firm in Auckland, New Zealand. Its 240-person staff shifted onto a four-day schedule (roughly 32 hours) for two months. Subsequent surveys indicate stress levels dropped from 45 percent to 38 percent. Workers’ sense of work-life balance rose from 54 to 78 percent. Similarly, the staff’s self-reported perceptions of “commitment,” “stimulation,” and “empowerment” also jumped during the trial.

Just as unions of yesteryear fought for generations to win a weekend and eight-hour day, labor advocates argue that in advanced economies today, both employers and workers have already earned a less-intense, reduced workweek. By lowering hours or adding days off—without sacrificing productivity and, as TUC proposes, “with no reduction to living standards”—labor could wrest some of the workday from capitalism’s grip, while yielding dividends not just for the economy but also for public health and the environment.

Overall, Perpetual Guardian staff found the shorter workweek opened meaningful opportunities both on and off the job. Workers reported, for instance, that by gaining a whole extra day, “I could be really productive in my volunteer work, because I can get so much done,” or they pursued educational programs, or freed up rest time to indulge in “headspace,” or saved money with reduced weekly childcare needs. Though there were some concerns about feeling pressure to do more work in less time, often collaborations were strengthened by the four-day week. “If I was learning someone else’s responsibilities then it’s equally they were learning mine,” one interviewee observed. “I didn’t think for a minute, I’m doing extra work. I was just thinking we’re helping each other.”

Perpetual Guardian’s experiment isn’t necessarily representative; the staff was relatively privileged, as a white-collar firm in an affluent Western economy. But according to Jarrod Haar, the professor of Human Resource Management at Auckland University of Technology who conducted the study, the system is viable for many types of jobs, given the reality that, typically, “We ‘waste’ time through meetings, talking, surfing the web,” and other modern distractions that often consume most of our work hours. By contrast, he says via e-mail, “the reduction in work days is to encourage and motivate workers to be more focused and do more WORK on their eight- or seven-hour workday.”

The community outside the workplace could also gain from shorter hours. When the work week is shortened, work becomes more environmentally sustainable, as workers’ carbon footprints shrink through reduced commutes and fewer carbon-consuming hours of office or factory operation. On the lengthened off hours, a generally slower pace of life lets workers opt for transit options like cycling instead of driving.

Moreover, employers might see a fair trade in cutting a day of face time or useless busy work in exchange for a more balanced, happier staff, with less turnover. In Haar’s view, “If workers can do it in less time then they should be rewarded and given that time off. Keeps them motivated! Enhances their well-being, and [they will want] to stay with their employer and keep performing well.”

But shorter workweeks are a good deal for workers only if coupled with regulation and culture change, in tandem with social, public-health, and environmental priorities.

There are reasons to be wary of deregulating the workweek without establishing a more equitable structure in its place. Today, many corporations push for scheduling “flexibility,” the evil cousin of the shortened workweek. As a masked attempt to erode work standards through open-ended scheduling, deregulating hours perversely incentivizes “voluntary” overwork.

According to Gregor Gall, professor of Industrial Relations at University of Bradford, given employers’ tendency to intensify work in response to a more condensed schedule, workers need a “combination of punitive fines, punitive overtime rates, and strong union organization” to enforce collectively bargained contracts and bolster their right to refuse abusive conditions. “If the working week was reduced so that a baseline was established—some would move down in hours and others up so they had more work…this would also require legislation to set out what minimum and maximum hours should be.”