This is a very serious public health crisis

I’m sure that most people are already aware of this, but just in case please allow me to really push this warning home: This Covid pandemic presents a very serious public health situation. On Friday afternoon I ‘attended’ two events that really underlined the this message, a briefing for Dorset councillors from Sam Crowe, the Director of Public Health Dorset, and the monthly meeting Dorset councillors in West Dorset have with our MP, Chris Loder. Two particular messages emerged from these meetings: The situation is more serious than many people realise; and many people are not even taking the same precautions as they did during the first lockdown back March. Certainly from my perspective it is nowhere near as quiet out there as is was first time round when, on going out for my daily walk, I remember being struck by just how quiet it was. The A35 was practically empty of traffic, even in the middle of the day, with the sound of bird song replacing the constant background rumble of traffic.

The most recent figures for the number of Covid cases in Dorset are really quite alarming. The number of cases per 100,000 people in the seven days up to 4th January was 347.7, up from 161.7 the previous week. That’s an increase of 115% in a week! And just to underline the severity of the situation further, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, has today warned that hospitals face their “worst crisis in living memory”. What this means is that if you or a loved one contract the virus and are unfortunate enough to be one of the unlucky one that requires hospital treatment, or that you require other, non-Covid related urgent treatment, that treatment may not be immediately available. And please, let us not distract ourselves by starting an argument about underfunding or the creeping privatisation of the NHS. These arguments can, and have to wait until after the crisis is over. Our priority at the moment must be to prevent the spread of the virus and ease the pressure on our hospitals.

Changing topic completely, for me, one of the big political battles waiting to break out concerns planning permission for listed buildings. I sit on both Bridport Town Council’s Planning Committee and Dorset Council’s Area Planning Committee for west and south Dorset, and am getting increasingly frustrated by our inability to approve necessary energy efficiency and generation measures for listed buildings. In particular my concerns relate to the siting of solar panels on roofs and the replacement of old windows with double glazing. I fully accept that all applications must be taken on merit and assessed as individual cases, but in general the reason often given for refusal of permission is that the appearance is not in keeping with the historical nature of the building or the conservation area. There must come a point when we regard making buildings, all buildings, as energy efficient as possible, and taking every opportunity to locally generate electricity from renewable sources, more important than the historic appearance. If the latter was our main concern we should be restoring outside toilets and open fires / removing inside toilets and central heating from many building in Bridport. Put bluntly, what’s the point of admiring the aesthetics of old buildings if in doing so we risk allowing our climate to make the environment in which they are situated unliveable?

Unfortunately, some of the fears I expressed last week about Donald Trump and his ‘army’ of loyal (and armed) supporters came true this week when, at his incitement, they stormed the Capitol building in Washington during the Congressional process of confirming Joe Biden as President. My positive spin on this is that Trump’s behaviour has caused so many people to distance themselves from him that although five people were killed this was nowhere near as bad as things could have got if widespread open revolt had broken out – revolt that I now think increasingly unlikely. I am by no means a fan of the US politics, but I have been feeling genuinely sorry for them this week. Trump has been a global embarrassment. Just imagine how Peking or Moscow have viewed these events. Just imagine their reactions when, in 10 days time, their television screens are full of images of him being escorted from the White House in a straight-jacket!

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