Devonwall constituency: dialogue of the deaf

Here’s my correspondence with my MP about the devonwall constituency. It would be interesting to see examples of replies other people have had from our other Conservative MPs on this issue.

Letter of October 20th to George Eustice MP

Dear George Eustice,

I’m writing to you in relation to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill of 2011. As a result of this legislation, and in pursuit of the aim of relatively equally-sized constituencies, a cross-border Bideford, Bude and Launceston constituency is being proposed by the Boundary Commission. This will combine 43% of its electors from Cornwall with 57% from Devon. As you are no doubt aware, this has caused bemusement, dismay, anger and even outrage across Cornwall. For the first time since the Commons was elected in the 13th century, a constituency will straddle the administrative border of Cornwall.

Attempts by parliamentarians to amend this legislation in both Commons and Lords in order to exclude Cornwall from its provisions unfortunately failed. This was despite other places – Orkney and Shetland, Na h-Eileanan an Iar and the Isle of Wight – being exempted from its provisions.

Unlike the Scottish island constituencies, which will have electorates after the Act of around 21-22,000 and 33-34,000, or the Isle of Wight (with two constituencies of 52-53,000 each), the people of Cornwall are not asking for greater representation. Indeed, they would be perfectly content with lesser representation in order to maintain the integrity of Cornwall for the purpose of elections to the House of Commons.

On the basis of electorate statistics in December 2015, five Cornish constituencies would average 78,775 electors. This is just 268 voters above the Boundary Commission’s window of 71,031 to 78,507. For the sake of just 1,340 voters the historical integrity of the Cornish border, critical for maintaining and enhancing the sense of place of the Cornish people, is being consigned to history by the arbitrary 5% variation limit in the legislation.

However, since the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act was passed, a completely new context has arisen. In April 2014, the Government ‘fully recognised’ the Cornish as a national minority under the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. At the time the Chief Secretary to the Treasury stated explicitly that this gave the Cornish ‘the same status … as the UK’s other Celtic people [sic], the Scots, Welsh and the Irish’. []

The proposed cross-border constituency rides roughshod over the fundamental guarantee provided by the Government as recently as 2014 that the Cornish would henceforth be treated on an equal basis. The territories of the other four indigenous nations of these islands are being respected in this boundary revision and not breached. It is entirely unjust and illogical therefore not to treat the Cornish in the same manner.

Moreover, the imposition of this constituency will directly and indirectly violate

a) Article 5, paras 1 and 2 of the Framework Convention

as well as
b) Article 15

There are four immediate possibilities therefore.
First, the Government repeals this Act and instead seeks ways to reform democratic processes in the UK in order to bring them up to date with practice in other European states.

Second, the Government recognises the very marginal exception necessary to provide five constituencies for Cornwall, thus respecting its historical boundary, and amends the Act accordingly, following the precedent of the treatment of Orkney and Shetland, Na h-Eileanan an Iar and the Isle of Wight.

Third, the Government redraws Cornwall’s administrative boundary with Devon to include the areas of north west Devon that are proposed to lie within the Bideford, Bude and Launceston constituency, thus bringing the administrative and representational boundaries again into line with each other.

Fourth, the Government changes (or recognises) the constitutional status of Cornwall so that it becomes a Crown Dependency, like the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. This would obviate the need for representation at Westminster.

Which of these options will you be urging on the Government? Or is there an alternative possibility I have not considered?

I note that one of the slogans at the recent Conservative Party conference was ‘A democracy that works for everyone’. For this laudable aim to be translated into reality, more tolerance and sensitivity towards the special case of Cornwall’s border and its significance for Cornish people must be displayed.

I look forward to your response.

Bernard Deacon

Letter of November 7th from George Eustice MP

Dear Dr Deacon,

Thank you for your letter regarding the proposed Boundary Change and your concerns about a cross border constituency.

As you know, all Cornish MPs including myself argued that there should not be a cross border “Devonwall” constituency in the last parliament when this was discussed.  We tabled an amendment and tried to get the legislation changed.  However, we were unsuccessful in doing so and the final plan to emerge for boundary changes therefore included a cross border constituency in North Cornwall and North Devon.

I will follow this issue but the time to change it was when the original legislation went through four years ago. We tried to do so but were ultimately unsuccessful.

While it would be preferable not to have a cross border constituency, it is not new. Constituency boundaries before 1974 reflected the old county boundary which meant that North Petherwin and Werrington included were in Devon seats on historical maps. The constituency boundaries were realigned with the new county boundary following the Second Periodical Review of constituencies. This was completed in 1969 but not implemented until after the 1970 General Election, meaning that constituency boundaries took effect in the February 1974 election.

It meant that the Parliamentary constituency of Tavistock that existed from 1955-1974 would have included parts of Cornwall from the time North Petherwin and Werrington were transferred to Cornwall until the constituency boundaries were realigned with the new county boundary in 1974.
Additionally, The European Parliament seat of Cornwall and Plymouth existed from 1979-94 and Cornwall and West Plymouth from 1994-99. In 1999 all constituencies were abolished as the UK moved to the closed list PR system of electing regional Members.

Before the current regional list system the UK was divided into large European Parliament constituencies. In England these were constructed by combining UK Parliamentary constituencies into larger EP constituencies. The Boundary Commission for England was constrained by the number of seats allowed – 66. It was also constrained by the legislation – the European Assembly Elections Act 1978 – which stipulated that EP constituencies should comprise two or more Parliamentary constituencies and should be as close to the electoral quota (the English electorate divided by 66).

As I said, it would be preferable not to have a cross border constituency, but there is a precedent for it and I have no doubt that we can make it a success.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Kind regards,
George Eustice

Letter of November 10th to George Eustice MP

Dear Mr Eustice,

Thankyou for your reply regarding the above. While you didn’t directly answer the questions I posed at the end, I take it to mean that you favour the establishment of a cross-border Devon/Cornwall constituency and are unprepared to support calls to amend or repeal the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act.

Your arguments for precedent in relation to a cross-border constituency were ingenious but reminded me of someone grasping a little desperately at straws. First, as you say, the transfer of North Petherwin and Werrington was ‘not implemented’ until after the 1970 general election. (To be precise I think it was 1973). So no general election was ever actually held under conditions where a parish or parishes within Cornwall (either pre or post-1973 boundary revision) was part of a majority Devonian constituency.

Second, arrangements for elections to the European Parliament are hardly relevant to UK parliamentary elections, as I’m sure you would agree. Moreover, there is a fundamental difference. In the European elections Cornwall comprised an entire unit, albeit attached to parts of England. In the next Westminster elections the territorial integrity of Cornwall will be compromised and a part of Cornwall hived off for electoral purposes.

Putting precedent, or the lack of it, aside, sadly you appear to have ignored the main thrust of my letter. I’ll repeat it. Since the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act was passed in 2011 the context has completely changed. In 2014 the UK Government ‘fully’ recognised the national minority status of the Cornish under the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Proceeding with the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act as originally passed clearly breaches this Convention, as it does not give the Cornish the ‘same status’ as the Scots, Welsh or (northern) Irish, as was explicitly promised by the Government in 2014.

I assume you’re saying that signing the Framework Convention was a completely meaningless exercise. Is the Government therefore intending to withdraw from its commitments under that Convention? And if so, when?

Bernard Deacon

There has been no further reply

Posted in devonwall | Tagged | 1 Comment

Corporate Local Plan adopted: dismal day at Lys Kernow

On Tuesday Cornwall Council’s leadership got what they’ve been wanting – an ‘overwhelming’ vote by councillors to adopt the Council’s Corporate (so-called Local) Plan. The green light has been now been given to the Plan’s target of a minimum of 52,500 houses in 20 years, thereby increasing the housebuilding rate in Cornwall by 16% over and above its recent levels. Surrounded by a deceptive cloud of references to local needs, and underpinned by dodgy data that have consistently and grossly overestimated population and household projections for Cornwall, the Corporate Plan embeds Cornwall’s status as a developers’ paradise. It projects a build rate that runs, pro rata, 50% higher than that in England and Wales well into the future.

Cornwall's population growth in context. Enough is enough?

Cornwall’s population growth in context. Enough is enough?

Faced by a choice that was no choice – between developer-led transformation with no Council input and developer-led transformation with the Council’s collaboration – the assembled turkeys did the decent thing and voted for Christmas. Even MK and Ukip signed up, leaving just a few brave mavericks such as Lib Dem Mario Fonk of Gulval and Heamoor, together with Tories Steve Chamberlain and Vivian Hall, to vote against. As their officers beamed on approvingly, most councillors could barely summon up the energy to moan about how constrained they were (by those devils up in London) and how misunderstood they are by the public, poor dears.

Many of those misunderstood councillors were of course the same ones who voted against demanding a Cornish Assembly or the devolution of planning powers to Cornwall when the Council was negotiating its first devolution ‘deal’ with the Tory Government. But then, consistency has never been their strong suit.

One of Ukip’s shrinking band, Steph McWilliam, proclaimed her conversion. She was now ‘educated’ into the need to legitimate the Corporate Plan and hoped others outside the Council chamber would be ‘quicker on the uptake’. For those who stubbornly refuse to understand why their elected representatives have been so ineffective, unorganised and unwilling to work with campaigners outside, ‘re-education’ will plainly be the next step. So if any men in black come knocking at your door be wary.

Spot the developers' paradise

Spot the developers’ paradise

Cornwall Council’s leadership can finally put its Corporate Plan in place, having wasted several years on pointless ‘consultations’, coincidentally and, some might say, conveniently in the meantime allowing developers to exploit the absence of a strategic plan. Behind the protestations of injured innocence and lack of autonomy we find the same gnarled old People-Led Growth policy that has gripped our policy-makers since the 1980s. This places the aspirations and demands of future residents of Cornwall over and above the needs of existing residents, local communities, the Cornish environment and our Cornish heritage.

Worried? Who, me?

Worried? Who, me?

What a pity however that apologists for the unsustainable suburbanisation of our land find it so necessary to resort to nonsensical claims to justify their strategy. These amount to deception at best, sheer brazen lies at worst. Take Council Leader John Pollard’s disgracefully disingenuous and complacent words when interviewed on Radio Cornwall on the day the Corporate Plan was nodded through by the automatons (Interview at 5.37pm, 22nd November). He made two statements which inevitably went totally unchallenged by the journalist who was supposedly interviewing him.

First, he claimed that there was a ‘lobby from the developers for over 90,000 houses’, so a minimum 52,500 figure wasn’t that bad at all. Unfortunately for Cllr Pollard, at the Corporate Plan ‘examination’ earlier this year, developers were actually calling for a target range of between 57,000 and 78,000. Not one explicitly called for a figure as high as 90,000. In fact, their mean demand was somewhere between 60,000 and 65,000. Compare that with the vast majority of Cornwall’s parish and town councils which, back in 2011, wanted no more than 38,000 and ask yourself which the 52,500 minimum figure is closest to.

The last survey of land use showed that greenspace decline in Cornwall was twice as high as in England

The last survey of land use showed that greenspace decline in Cornwall was twice as high as in England

Second, Cllr Pollard claimed that ‘we know that the housing development in Cornwall will only add 0.25% to the built environment’. In 2011, according to the Census, there were 259,346 household spaces in Cornwall. Adding a minimum of 52,500 more in 20 years equates to a 20.24% increase in the housing stock. Yet, according to John Pollard this will result in a miniscule 0.25% extension of the built up area. This outcome is nothing short of miraculous. Except of course that it’s fatuous and illogical nonsense. Unless the plan is to pack all the new household spaces into tower blocks at Lys Kernow. Hmmm, not a bad idea, come to think of it.

We have to understand how these factoids (statements that look like facts but are fictional) are generated. The Council’s planning officers dream up ‘advice’ for Council spokespersons, advice which is then dutifully transmitted to the public, even though the person uttering the purported ‘facts’ doesn’t check them and doesn’t entirely understand them, often in the process delivering a garbled version. No matter. The officers can be confident that journalists don’t possess the wit to question what looks like hard statistical evidence. For example, Cornwall Council’s Planning portfolio holder, Cllr Hannaford, has a long and sad record of repeating apparent ‘facts’ given to her by planning officers, facts which on examination prove to be utterly spurious.

As were Cllr Pollard’s on Tuesday. In reality, painting a picture of a minimum 20% growth in Cornwall’s housing stock and associated in-migration as ‘not an imposing number’ betrays a stunningly complacent and philistine attitude. As the countryside next to our towns and villages becomes home to an infestation of diggers, traffic cones and signs breathlessly announcing the next ‘exciting’ urban extension, while any remaining wildlife is perfunctorily ordered to pack up and move out, people are also being told not to worry by the avuncular Cllr Pollard. There’s plenty of fields where those came from.

What the Corporate Plan has in store for your town.

What the Corporate Plan has in store for your town.

Yet what unimaginative robots such as Pollard fail to understand is that it’s precisely those landscapes familiar to us, the fields, lanes, woods and hedgerows next to our towns and villages, the places we knew as children, that have meaning for us. Trashing those fields feels like our very memories are being ripped up and thrown away. And for what?

Their ready resort to false statistics masks the real intent of the Corporate Plan, which is to reinvigorate the failed policy of People-Led Growth. And the reason for that can be seen in the two debates at Tuesday’s Council meeting. Although technically separate issues, the Council’s budget and its Corporate Plan are inextricably intertwined.

As central government removes the revenue support grant over the next four years, local authorities will become wholly dependent on council tax, business rates and other income for their finances. In that context, the buoyant demand to build houses in Cornwall is seen by the Council’s leadership not as a problem at all but as an ‘arc of opportunity’. They want more houses. And lots of them. More houses, whether occupied or not, bring more council tax. More people will lead to more businesses and then more business rates. And that’s as far as their feeble ‘vision’ goes.

The Corporate Plan embeds the ‘growth’ that the Council’s Cabinet views as its only means of salvation. However, instead of coming clean and admitting openly that this is their intention, they hide behind weasel words. False claims are made that ‘local needs are uppermost’ (Cllr Pollard), even though the only ‘local needs’ that are ‘uppermost’ are the Council’s finances. Doubletalk is dribbled out. According to Cllr Hannaford at the Council’s meeting, its Corporate Plan will mean the Council can now ‘create sustainable, viable communities and not just housing estates’, ‘safeguard our precious environment’ and ‘begin to lead development rather than be led by it’. Now, these truly would be miraculous outcomes.

As would the emergence of a properly organised campaign of resistance against the Council’s unsustainable plans to transform Cornwall into a replica of south east England. But we can always live in hope. We may have lost a battle but the war can still be won.

Posted in Cornwall Council;, councillors, Local Plan, official statistics, planning system, population growth | 7 Comments

The Devonwall Connection 4: Their business plan for us.

We’ve seen how the devonwall agenda is driven by the corporate interests of devonwall institutions – principally Pennon/South West Water and the Plymouth newspaper the Western Morning News. It’s then given legitimacy by academics at Exeter and Plymouth Universities and other business interests. Moreover, its missionaries have penetrated Cornwall-based institutions, particularly the unelected Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

These corporate interests demand more handouts in the shape of spending on digital and physical infrastructure and training in order to maximise their incomes. That also means maximising the number of consumers for their products. Cornwall and its communities become collateral damage in this project, earmarked in their business plan as a leisure refuge and a site for massive population growth. The actual aim of social transformation is masked by a lot of windy rhetoric about software companies and lifestyle economics.

Cornwall LEP's Mark Duddridge lines up with devonwallers at Exeter conference

Cornwall LEP’s Mark Duddridge lines up with devonwallers at Exeter conference

Their economic project needs to open up political and cultural fronts in order to succeed. Politically, this can be partially achieved by relying on the devonwall apologists embedded deep within Cornwall-based institutions such as the LEP and Cornwall Council. But it also requires the power of central government to be brought into play on its behalf. For this, they can always depend on the Conservative and Unionist Party, which needs little urging to fall into line behind the regional corporate agenda.

In order for Cornwall to be made safe for business, any pretensions to self-government or democratic devolution to Cornwall have to be quashed. Unlike the first phase of devonwall back in the 1980s and 90s, Cornish devolution and an assembly are now live issues and even get some limited support in the corridors of power. Their greater salience demands more effort from the devonwall elite to destroy such ambitions before they get out of hand and become ‘practical politics’. This is why Sajid Javid’s hostility to the possibility of meaningful devolution to Cornwall was so welcome to the devonwallers.

Is it just a coincidence  that this devonwall move coincides with the way in which funding for the revived Cornish language was brutally binned earlier this year? Anything that might potentially enhance Cornish self-confidence is best snuffed out, anything that undermines Cornish self-belief must be encouraged. This is why Tory MPs and the Government adopt such a hard line on the cross-border constituency. Border-blurring is a key element in helping to efface the cultural integrity of Cornwall.

From the devonwallers’ perspective the asset of the Cornish heritage and Cornwall’s case for special treatment are threats that could potentially weaken their corporate campaign for devonwall. In the long-run Cornish ‘difference’ must be erased or sanitised and domesticated, so that it’s safe for tourism but drained of any insurrectionary potential.

Look beyond the fine, if vague, words and the PR hype that surrounded the South West Growth Summit and we find an altogether blunter real world agenda. This demands never-ending material growth and population expansion in order to feed never-ending profits, profits for the devonwall companies and for their corporate house-building chums. Is this why South West Water, which enjoys the unique privilege for a private sector organisation of being a statutory consultee on every planning application, appears never to object to any of those applications, however much they overload the sewerage system or increase the risk of flooding?

In pursuit of this aim South West Water’s carefully crafted image as a ‘really good corporate citizen’, according to Exeter University Chancellor Lord Myners, dissolves into the seedier reality of being the bully on the block. Just before he was ignominiously ejected from the Commons by the electorate in 2015, Lib Dem MP Steve Gilbert tabled an early day motion. In full, it read as follows:

That this House notes that residents of Brooks Corner, Par, Cornwall, have suffered from flooding on scores of occasions over more than a decade; further notes that South West Water Limited has failed to resolve the flooding issues in the area; acknowledges that South West Water Limited has paid a settlement to some residents in return for a non-disclosure agreement; is concerned that South West Water Limited’s parent company, the Pennon Group Plc, has subsequently sought to prevent residents from raising concerns about South West Water Limited’s handling of the issues at Brooks Corner with their elected representatives and legal representatives; is deeply concerned that lawyers at the Pennon Group Plc have sought to apply pressure on both the residents and their legal counsel; and encourages South West Water Limited to take the necessary steps to fulfil promises made to residents to resolve the flooding issues and to desist from threatening residents and their legal representatives from sanctions subsequent to raising their concerns.

It comes as little surprise that this long-running scandal at Par has received sparse coverage in the local media. What coverage it did get in the Cornish Guardian is now suspiciously difficult to access or has disappeared from the paper’s website.

It can’t be a coincidence that the Cornish Guardian (and the West Briton) is part of the same media group as the Western Morning News. Always keen to publicise devonwall events where those attending pat each other on the backs and tell each other what grand chaps (and chapesses) they are, they’re less willing to investigate and expose their everyday activities on the ground.

Do we want to be part of a devonwall run by the likes of South West Water? Or do we want a Cornwall run by people who live and work here in Cornwall, people who put its communities first? The answer seems obvious.

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The Devonwall Connection 3: devonwall and Cornwall

On October 21st the Cornish were told, in no uncertain terms, and by a Cabinet Minister no less, to buck themselves up and stop thinking they were ‘distinct’. There was absolutely no prospect of Cornwall being recognised as a region. So stop whinging about it and get on board the glorious devonwall project being launched from its HQs at Exeter and Plymouth.

In reality however, there is no rational reason why the territory of Cornwall could not be an efficient container for the sort of vague statements and even the vacuous ‘vision’ that was laid out at the Exeter devonwall conference. With its own institutions in place, ones that held out the prospect of a genuinely democratic response to its communities, a Cornish region could unleash the talent, energies and creativity of its residents a lot better than a remote, undemocratic region based in Exeter.

But there’s the rub. Such a region might end up putting its own communities first, building a properly sustainable Cornwall, making the retention of home-grown talent its first priority, using the cultural resources provided by its heritage and culture rather than replacing that culture with metropolitan myths of lifestyle and gentrification by the sea. Those peddling devonwall can’t allow a region like that to emerge.

The reason is mundane and simple. It’s money. The key drivers of devonwall – South West Water, the Western Morning News, Exeter University – want a political and economic region that suits their own purposes and their own marketing areas. They’re organised on a devonwall basis. So devonwall it has to be.

If we look again at their words, the speakers at last month’s ‘growth summit’ said little that could not be applied to a Cornish region just as easily as a devonwall region. There was a lot of waffle about ‘connectivity’ and being ‘outward-looking’. But that’s hardly a function of size. Indeed, a lot of the comments they made would seem to fit a Cornish regional context much more neatly than devonwall.

For example, Chris Loughlin, Chief Executive at Pennon and South West Water said that living in the ‘south west’ was like ‘living on the edge’. It was ‘slightly controversial, slightly away from the mainstream … taking a few more risks, feeling independent’. This was an argument for a Cornish region surely, not devonwall. Mark Duddridge, chair of the Cornwall & Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), added that devolution was ‘in our DNA’. ‘If you go back 500-600 years ago, we had an independence of governance, and language and culture. So it may be inbred in us’. The ‘us’ here is plainly Cornwall, not devonwall, isn’t it?

Deborah Waddell of the CBI said that ‘regions are different … You can’t have a blanket approach’. Except when it comes to Cornwall it seems. Even Sajid Javid said that devolution deals had ‘to come from local communities’. Devolved powers ‘which may be different, have to be suited to the region’. And yet he also told the Cornish to throw away the strengths of cultural distinctiveness and merge seamlessly into a devonwall region. Don’t these people read their own speeches, or the speeches their civil servants write for them in Javid’s case?

Would you buy a used car from them?

But would you buy a used car from them?

Some speakers implied that the bigger the region, the louder the voice, and the greater the ‘clout’, another reason for Cornwall and Devon to join together. Except that it isn’t. If that’s the case, then a Devon, Somerset and Dorset region would have more ‘clout’ and make more sense, as well as better reflect local identities. And a six-county South West region would have even more ‘clout’. Their assumption of a devonwall template is fundamentally nonsensical, based merely on cultural frameworks reproduced by the media to reflect their broadcasting reach and the institutional geographies of corporate interests.

Our task in Cornwall has to be to point out the irrationality of this thinking and make the case for more coherent – economically, socially and culturally – and more democratic Cornish regional institutions. It’s unfortunate therefore that we have a fifth column in our midst. At least three representatives from the Cornwall & Scilly LEP made the trip to Exeter to join the ‘Growth Summit’. As well as proudly proclaiming that one of their few big ideas for Cornwall was to make more housing a priority, not one of the three challenged the devonwall project.

That outcome would have been as likely as President-elect Trump joining Greenpeace. Chris Loughlin of South West Water and Pennon said he had ‘great confidence the LEPs and others will pull that [‘a unified voice for devonwall] together’. He had cause for confidence, as Chris turns out also to be the vice-chair of the Cornwall & Scilly LEP. It seems that the LEP has already been captured by the devonwall corporate agenda. How long before Cornwall Council’s leadership falls into line? After all, they’ve swallowed the housing growth myth, hook, line and sinker.

Tomorrow, you’ll be able to read the final blog in this series, which will sum up the corporate agenda for Cornwall and note in passing the shoddier real world record of South West Water in Cornwall.

Posted in devonwall, discourses and ideologies | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Devonwall Connection 2: Vision or nightmare?

What did the self-selected and undemocratic mandarins meeting at the ‘South West Growth Summit’ in October actually want? Having spent a tedious few hours wading through the transcription of the proceedings, I have to say the conclusion is ‘nothing earth-shatteringly novel’. An awful lot of badly-expressed and semi-literate waffle was heard. On the other hand, detailed policy prescriptions were few and far between. There was the usual peppering of meaningless managerialist gibberish of course. ‘Going forward’ made its inevitable appearance six times in the course of the morning for instance.

The demand seems to be for more investment in infrastructure and training and more devolution. In short, the speakers want more money to be spent on ‘the region’ and more power to decide where that money should be spent in ‘the region’.

You’d think you ought  to define your region first. However, that was something the meeting didn’t waste time on. Speakers avoided the question of why the ‘south west’ and instead regaled their listeners with a set of platitudes. ‘When a region speaks with one voice central government listens’, ‘a unified voice’, ‘ a clear, unified voice’, a ‘more collaborative coherent voice as a region’. Bill Martin, editor of the Western Morning News, summed it up as a ‘more co-operative and more proactive future as a region rather than as a collection of individual authorities, areas, whatever you want to describe us as’.

The rather important question of which region or regions should be speaking with this unified voice was definitely not up for discussion. Should it be Cornwall or devonwall? Perhaps Devon, Dorset & Somerset makes more sense. Or what about the seven-‘county’ South West? The unstated assumption – one that not one person present challenged – was that this had to be a devonwall region, the preferred option of the organisers of the conference, Pennon/South West Water and the Western Morning News. But why? We weren’t told.

The region was taken for granted. As was the necessity for growth. Here another slightly  important question was left hanging. How could infinite economic growth be reconciled with environmental protection? A handful of questions about quality of life and conflicts between economic growth and the environment were either met with the soothing mantra of ‘balance’, ignored entirely and quickly passed over, or brutally kicked into touch as unimportant compared with ‘productivity’ (this last another Gradgrind-like contribution from Sajid Javid).

Devolution and investment in infrastructure sound unremarkable. But what do they mean in practice? If we look at the few statements made at the ‘summit’ that went beyond woolly references to ‘skills uplift’, ‘the grid’ or ‘digital revolutions’ we find they boil down to lifestyle and housing. Why is investment in infrastructure needed? ‘To attract and retain more people’.

map-of-cornwallSince the 1990s the devonwall elite has embraced a lifestyle image of Cornwall and the ‘South West’. This involves fatuous and cringe-inducing comparisons with California, as they conjure up a Kernowfornia, ‘a great place to live’, ‘a fantastic place to bring your families up’, according to Chris Loughlin, Chief Executive Officer at Exeter-based Pennon (and formerly Chief Executive of South West Water). For Chris, it’s all about ‘lifestyle and so forth’. This was echoed by Mark Duddridge, Chair of Cornwall and Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). His aim is to make Cornwall ‘a great place to both do work and live’. He wants ‘an economy that allows more people to be able to live and prosper in our part of the world’.

More people have to be attracted by more housing. Tim Jones, the lugubrious chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council and a career devonwaller, explained that a ‘viable and affordable housing delivery market [sic]’ was needed so as not to ‘choke off inward investors’, adding an obscure sideswipe at those who want to choke off second home ownership in Cornwall. The Chief Executive of Exeter City Council claimed that everywhere she went, there was an ‘appetite to deliver housing’ from local government leaders.

Nowhere more so than in Cornwall it seems. Sadly, speakers from the Cornwall and Scilly LEP were the most forthright in declaring their commitment to housing growth. Sandra Rothwell, Chief Executive of the Cornwall LEP, stated that one of the (only) two ‘opportunities for growth’ in Cornwall was ‘housing’. Meanwhile, Mark Duddridge waxed lyrical about the need for more road, rail and air investment in order to bring more people ‘down here’.

Underlying the rhetoric of digital infrastructural investment and the like therefore, we discover the same old worm-eaten ‘solution’ of the past – provide more housing, purportedly for migrants attracted by lifestyle marketing and keen on going surfing after a day selling to the global market, but in reality for anyone with the cash. It’s a combination of gentrification and endless population growth with no thought given to capacity issues.

When it comes to Cornwall, the devonwall message is merely ‘provide more houses, import more people, cross your fingers and hope’. It’s essentially the same thing we heard from the devonwall elite in the 1980s and 1990s. Housing is always an opportunity; population growth never has any costs, only benefits. It may look that way for the folk in their modernist offices in Exeter or Truro, or the half a million pound house overlooking the estuary, or from the golf course. But then, these are not the people who have to pay the brunt of the costs of transforming Cornwall into an extension of south east England. For the implications for the Cornish of their selfish agenda you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Posted in devonwall, population growth | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Devonwall Connection 1: The zombies wake

There was a predictable outburst of indignation when Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid sternly ticked off the Cornish for seeing ‘their county [sic] as distinct from the rest of the region, a special case that should be handled separately’. For him, this is a ‘problem’ and an attitude that ‘has to change’. Of course, we’ve got used to such displays of Tory arrogance. Who doesn’t fondly recall David Cameron’s irritated and patronising dismissal of opposition to the devonwall constituency: ‘It’s the Tamar not the Amazon, for heaven’s sake’.

Yet, this latest rudeness is more significant, coming as it does as part of renewed pressure for devonwall. Javid’s words need to be understood in the context of that wider project. As for Javid himself, I’ll leave the question of whether he merely served as a useful dupe for other interests or whether his party is part of the project, until the last in this series of four blogs on the devonwall connection, its origins and agents, its agenda and its implications.

Javid was a student at Exeter University from 1988 to 1991, studying economics. But he clearly didn’t learn much about the contemporary economic history of the western part of devonwall. Neither did his post-university career, as a member of the global banking elite, earning a reputed £3 million a year before joining the Commons in 2010, do much to enhance his knowledge of Cornwall. Had it done so, he might have noticed that a classic policy folly (a policy that has the opposite outcomes to those intended) was unfolding in the west back in the 1990s.

Powerful interests in Devon were quietly pushing a devonwall agenda from the mid-1980s, if not earlier. They succeeded all too easily in co-opting local government and business elites in Cornwall. Yet devonwall development institutions did nothing to cure Cornwall’s then endemic unemployment problems, or its lagging economy. In fact, the link to Devon held back the construction of Cornish institutions that could begin to tackle Cornwall’s problems. Moreover, for years it stymied the possibility of Cornwall accessing the top level of EU regional grant aid.

After years of this policy failure, the Labour Government’s adoption of the seven-‘county’ South West regional template in 1997 and the recognition of Cornwall as a level 2 region separate from Devon led to Objective One grant funding. It also left the devonwall project dead in the water. Politicians in Cornwall who had earlier been keen enthusiasts for devonwall now desperately jumped ship. Abandoned and friendless, the policy folly of devonwall seemed to have been consigned to a curious and forgotten footnote in Cornwall’s history.

Quick, where's that beddy stake?

Quick, where’s that bleddy stake?

Not so. The devonwall zombie has been reawakened, has risen from its grave and once more walks among us. On October 21st a South West Growth Summit was held at Exeter, this being the context for Javid’s thoughtless remarks on Cornwall. The idea of the conference was hatched up by Sarah Heald, Director of Corporate Affairs and Investor Relations at Exeter-based Pennon, and Bill Martin, editor of the Western Morning News, a Plymouth newspaper. Martin boasted to the Conference how he’d begun a ‘Back the South West’ campaign in an effort to grab the post-Brexit agenda. Just as neo-liberal ideologues use crises (as in 2008) to further their cause, the devonwallers were using the confusion of Brexit and the ending of EU grant aid to revive the idea of devonwall.

Back in the 1990s the main movers and shakers behind the devonwall project were South West Water, privatised in 1989, the Western Morning News, the CBI, academics at Plymouth University, Conservative politicians and the Duchy of Cornwall. With the exception of the Duchy and the addition of Local Enterprise Partnerships, the personnel this time around turns out be virtually identical. Speakers at the ‘Growth Summit’ included representatives from Pennon, which owns South West Water, the Western Morning News, Exeter University and the CBI, together with a gaggle of Devon’s Tory MPs. There’s nothing new here. We’re seeing the restoration of the devonwall project temporarily abandoned in 1997, but now apparently alive and kicking again.

The first task the assembled speakers had was to construct their own legitimacy and that of their region. To an extent, the banal use of ‘south west’ to describe their conference, together with the constant repetition of the phrase in the media, had done the latter job for them. Moreover, the conference was, they crowed, a ‘coming together of the leaders’ of the economies of Devon and Cornwall. Those attending could preen themselves on being part of this self-appointed regional leadership elite. Here were the masters (and a few mistresses) of the little universe of the ‘south west’, fit and proper persons to make decisions for the rest of us, even though the vast majority of those attending have never been elected by anyone. Of course, it helps a lot if you can wheel in a Cabinet Minister to give your undemocratic cabal an extra lustre.

The ‘new’ devonwall project turns out to be driven by the same old devonwallers. But what is it they want? What’s their vision? For answers to those questions see tomorrow’s blog.

Posted in devonwall, discourses and ideologies | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Can we take back our country Cornish-style?

The clock is ticking. Time is running out. Time, that is, before we’re granted our four-yearly chance to have our ‘democratic say’ on Cornwall Council in next May’s elections.

Since the last election in 2013 our elected representatives have shown little ability or desire to confront the developers who flock to the developers’ paradise Cornwall has become. On the contrary, with some honourable exceptions the majority of councillors seem paralysed into inaction. Or willingly acquiesce in the Council leadership’s strategy.

Relative population growth since the 1960s: time for a fair deal?

Relative population growth since the 1960s: time for a fair deal?

What does that strategy boil down to? Cornwall’s population, having grown three times faster in relative terms than that of England since the 1960s, is in their view not expanding fast enough. So they’ve decided to up the house building rate by at least 15-20%, even though that rate is already 50% higher pro rata than places across the Tamar. While quietly working hand in glove with the big upcountry developers, our Lib Dem/Independent controlled Cornwall Council hides behind the Tory Government’s National Planning Policy Framework. Instead of challenging it at any and every turn, they use it as a convenient excuse. Bucks are rapidly and regularly passed to distract and confuse.

More people, more congestion, more pressure on care services, the NHS and the schools, more countryside sacrificed to urban sprawl and the developers’ profit margins. This is the extent of their ‘vision’ as they cross their fingers and pray that this time it’ll bring that elusive utopia that always lies just around the next corner but strangely never arrives. The same strategy – relying on boosting in-migration – didn’t work in the past, but we’re assured it’ll work in the future. What was it Einstein said? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

Who gains? Who loses?

Who gains? Who loses?

Meanwhile, Cornwall Council’s planners cosy up to developers well beyond democratic control. Most major plans are stitched up well before councillors are allowed their say. Statistical data are shamelessly manipulated. Community opposition is cynically and ruthlessly steamrollered. Meanwhile, estate agents sell off our housing stock as second homes. Local people watch, unable to afford the prices and rents inflated by asset speculation.

Next May we have a chance to replace the current councillors with a more active set who can challenge this agenda and come up with a genuinely sustainable future for Cornwall. But why are we not organising to produce this outcome? Who do we vote for? Which candidates and which parties will be calling for

  • genuinely affordable housing for local people
  • action on second homes
  • an end to the steady destruction of our countryside, landscape and heritage

These are issues that could potentially galvanise the electorate to demand real change. But will they even be mentioned as the future of Cornwall gets drowned in the personality contests of tweedledum/tweedledee Westminster-centric politics?

Posted in alternatives, councillors | Tagged | 7 Comments