Cornwall for Change Conference, Saturday, 10 March

Planning in Cornwall, for People or Profit?
A debate and questions.

Cornwall for Change (C4C) and Community Voice on Planning (CoVoP) are holding a conference on 10th March 2018, 2pm – 5pm

The venue is Crossroads Conference Centre, Scorrier, Redruth, Cornwall TR16 5BP

If you’re interested in going along they’re asking you to register at
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/planning-in-cornwall-for-people-or-profit-tickets-42983249055

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Confused, complacent or just kidding us? The environmental costs of Cornwall Council’s ‘environmental growth strategy’

In Cornwall we don’t have any old growth strategy. No, we have an ‘environmental growth strategy’. Back in December 2016, the Council’s ‘vision’ was launched. And what a vision it is. Cunningly pitched far enough in the future so that the majority of us won’t be around to judge how successful it’s been, the Council, presumably in all seriousness, promises us that ‘In 2065, Cornwall’s environment will be naturally diverse, beautiful and healthy, supporting a thriving society, prosperous economy and abundance of wildlife.

This is truly have our cake and eat it time (plus several more cakes and throw in a few pasties).

Does this amount to anything more than the by now predictable doublespeak? Growth is always ‘environmental growth’, more population and houses become ‘strategic job strategies’, externally driven demand is always ‘local need’, unaffordable housing is transformed into ‘affordable’, empty second houses are ‘homes’ etc., etc.

The definition of ‘environmental growth’ is somewhat vague, to say the least – ‘the net gain of our natural systems’. This will be achieved by, among other things, ‘increasing natural capital’ and designing ‘new developments to enhance and support our natural systems’. Unfortunately, the fact that the Council’s housing target is quietly hidden away on page 13, where it briefly states ‘integrating the development of 52,500 houses by 2030’, in print difficult to distinguish from the background colour, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

And then there’s the curious sentence in the Foreword. This states (correctly) that ‘we continue to witness the decline of nature in Cornwall as climate change, population pressure and modern day life impact on our surroundings.’ So logically we should expect the Council’s ‘environmental growth strategy’ to do all it can to challenge climate change and population pressure and reduce their impact. Except that logic is the last thing we should expect. As the Council also wants to ‘accelerate housing delivery’ and is very keen to build the 52,500 (soon to be 57,000) houses of its ‘target’.

The one growth we can be certain we’ll get is not that of nature but of houses and people. And therefore greenhouse gas emissions. While paying lip service and rightly identifying the problems as climate change and population growth on the one hand, on the other the Council’s own policies make those problems worse. Is such a startling contradiction merely the result of dysfunctional policy-making and crass stupidity, or is it mind-boggling complacency? Or two-faced mendacity?

For the other thing the Council’s hyper-growth population-led strategy will bring is a massive annual increase in greenhouse gas emissions in Cornwall. Look at the facts. The carbon cost of building a new house is estimated to be somewhere between 60 and 80 tonnes. Each house then has to be furnished, carpeted and filled with the usual gadgetry. Then there’s the associated extra infrastructure – roads, schools and the like – that are needed. Let’s conservatively assume the carbon cost of that lot adds another 30% to the building cost. Once the new residents have arrived they’ll also add to Cornwall’s greenhouse gas emissions, through their everyday consumption.

Here are the sums:

Building 2,625 houses a year x 70 tonnes = 183,750 tonnes

  • Add 30% for furnishings and infrastructure = 55,000 tonnes
  • And the greenhouse gas emissions of 4,000 more folk @ 5.5 T per person = 22,000 tonnes
  • Which gives us a current total of 260,750 tonnes every year.

That’s the equivalent of the average carbon emission of around 47,000 people, or almost the population of Camborne-Redruth, or nearly three Truros, or two Penzances, or two Newquays, or two St Austells. Every year.

And yet we’re also told we have to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 to stand any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Could Cornwall Council please tell us how it intends to square that with its hyper-growth strategy, one that’s adding 8-9% to our carbon footprint each and every year?

Concerns about the loss of Cornish heritage or its countryside have so far fallen on deaf ears and been insufficient to slow the juggernaut of growth the Council’s leadership clique has jumped onto. Maybe the glaring contradictions and potential implications of its disastrous housing and population growth strategy on its own ‘environmental growth’ vision will penetrate the frozen, sleepy intellectual wasteland that is Lys Kernow. Surely, there must be someone there, either elected or unelected, prepared to stand up, point out the absence of the emperor’s new clothes, work with campaigners and expose the patently unsustainable direction the Council is leading us?

Posted in Cornwall Council;, councillors, discourses and ideologies, environment, population growth | 2 Comments

Delusional disorder? Cornwall’s housing growth summit

A collective mania firmly grips political and economic elites. Symptoms manifest themselves in the delusion that we live on an elastically extendable planet, with infinite resources available to plunder at will. The escalator of never-ending ‘growth’, infinite consumption and all-devouring greed has no end, no limits.

Unfortunately, in the real world there is only one world. This has finite resources. Two centuries and more of fossil-fuel based industrialisation and rapid population growth have resulted in the unparalleled extinction of animal and plant species. Meanwhile, the globe steadily heats up. But 99% of those who make our decisions for us seem either blissfully unaware or couldn’t care less about the earth or future generations.

Nothing is permitted to disrupt business as usual. Note the anguish that surrounded yesterday’s announcement in the Budget that growth rates were lower than expected. Predictions of 2% a year were downgraded to 1.5%. Cue shock and outrage from assorted journalists and Labour MPs. Yet simple mathematics tell us that a 2% growth rate equates to a doubling of the economy in just 35 years. Even 1.5% means it will double in 47 years. Which in turn means we have to reduce pollution, waste, carbon emissions and the like by a half just to stay on our current disastrous trajectory.

Forget about absolute decoupling (of growth and greenhouse gas emissions). It’s not happening. And it’s not going to happen.

While at the state level complacent politicians bury their collective heads in the sand, we have our own home-grown, or at least home-based, growth obsessives. Cornwall Council’s rhetoric is peppered with gung-ho statements about the ‘need’ for ‘growth’. Although in good Orwellian fashion, they call it ‘environmental growth’, a meaningless oxymoron, which at least justifies the ‘moron’ part of that word.

The growth fetishists at Lys Kernow are frantically trying to ‘grow’ more houses and more people. As if one of the highest regional population growth rates since the 1960s isn’t enough. For these people the transformation of our communities and environment has to be ramped up. We need more. More houses. More roads. More cars. More shops and more jobs for all those extra people who will come and live in the extra houses, to enjoy their ‘Cornwall lifestyle’ in a suburbanised wasteland.

Last year only a handful of English counties had a higher housebuilding rate than Cornwall

Having dumped us onto this merry-go-round they have no idea how to stop it. Even if they wanted to. On the contrary, not content with a new build rate in Cornwall of 2,600 houses a year in 2016-17, equal to an extra Truro every four years or so, these impossibilists are still not satisfied. To that end, tomorrow Cornwall Council hosts a ‘housing growth summit’ at St Austell. This will seek ways to ‘accelerate housing delivery’. The inhabitants of this little ‘growth at all costs’ bubble will meet to breezily reassure themselves that their new suit is not in actuality just more of the same old emperor’s new clothes.

All the usual suspects will be there. The portfolio holder for homes [sic] will welcome the assorted ideologues and give a democratic veneer to the gathering. Then it’s over to the unelected and the bureaucrats. Various senior council officers will be in attendance. Housing associations will be present. They’ll all eagerly listen to the ‘Head of Accelerated Delivery’ (I kid you not) at the Government’s South West Homes quango as he brings the latest orders from London.

‘Lord’ Matthew Taylor will have the easy job of convincing them more houses will lead to ‘vibrant communities’, to replace the boring old lifeless and apathetic communities that give Cornwall such a bad name. John Betty, director of economic growth at Cornwall Council, will tell them how to get more ‘strategic growth’, much better than any old growth, presumably. LEP Chief Executive Sandra Rothwell will proudly assure the delegates that Cornwall ‘leads housing growth’.

Strangely, no-one is scheduled to talk about maximising profits for the big upcountry developers, although someone from the Private Sector Developers’ Forum will be on the ‘expert panel’. As is Phil Mason, Head of planning and population growth at Cornwall Council.

For these people Cornwall is infinitely expandable (or should that be expendible?). The hyper-growth of the past 50 years may not have produced prosperity, unalloyed joy or universal happiness. But no worry. There are no limits. There is no capacity crisis. Just keep taking the medicine, folks. In fact, let’s up the dose considerably, while persuading the masses it’s all in their own best interests. And, most depressing of all, that’s not too difficult a task these days.

Posted in Cornwall Council;, discourses and ideologies, environment, population growth | 3 Comments

New land use data puncture myth of ‘deep rural’ Cornwall

The next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam trying to get into a quaint olde Cornish town console yourself with the thought that only 5% of Cornwall’s land area is built on. Throw in another 2% for parks, gardens, sports pitches and other ‘urban green spaces’ (too often aka sad bits of grass and wasteland used for dog toilets and temporary litter depositories) and 7% of Cornwall is within what might be classed as a built-up envelope.

That’s a relief then. Or is it? Because only 12% of the total is classed as ‘natural’, with the rest being farmland. To a greater or lesser degree, some of this is now industrialised, drenched with chemicals, with any insects and birds having long ago fled to the shrinking safe zones for wildlife.

These stats come from some clever mapping carried out by the Urban Studies and Planning Department of the University of Sheffield. Their research has been simplistically presented by the BBC to ‘prove’ how little of the UK is built on, presumably in order to ease any trauma caused by plans to build on bits of the rest. It also of course conveniently serves to dull opposition to the large housebuilding companies set to profit by building on that surplus-to-requirement farmland and natural land.

But the research also allows us to draw a few interesting conclusions that you won’t read about in the local or London press. It contains some uncomfortable truths for those of our political elite intent on continuing Cornwall’s relatively high housing and population growth for as long as possible.

Lots of areas seem to be less built-up than Cornwall

For a start bin the myth that Cornwall is somehow ‘under-populated’ or deeply rural. It’s actually more built-up than either Wales (6%), Northern Ireland (5%) or Scotland (3%). Furthermore, large swathes of the English countryside and even larger areas in the other countries are less built up than Cornwall. Moreover, if the Cornish data could be broken down into smaller units (something we’re unable to do because of the baleful effect of the unitary authority) then mid and west Cornwall would be very likely to be as built-up as the English average.

Second, these statistics of land use show that Cornwall Council’s planners and councillors have been a little economical with the truth in the past when claiming what a tiny amount of Cornwall was built on. For example, Independent Cllr Andrew Wallis claimed in 2014 that only 1% of Cornwall ‘has development’. Former Council Leader John Pollard said back in February that only ‘3% is built on’. A few weeks later Lib Dem Joyce Duffin said only 5% was developed. Even this last complacent assertion was not quite the case, as it turns out the area built on together with ‘urban green space’ is 7%. They should really begin to check the ‘facts’ their officers feed them.

Where to find ‘natural’ land in the UK

Third, note the damage already wrought on the natural world. Recent studies reveal massive drops in the numbers of flying insects, to add to the animal extinctions now occurring on a scale unseen since the days of the dinosaurs. This has been produced by building on ‘only’ 8-9% of the UK’s land area. Imagine what it will be like when we have 10% or 15% built on. Unfortunately a constantly growing proportion of land built on is precisely the sad ‘vision’ being peddled by our economic and political elites. Never-ending ‘growth’, never-ending greed.

In his State of Cornwall message back in July Cornwall Council’s Leader, Liberal Democrat Adam Paynter identified a ‘challenge’ as the prospect that Cornwall’s population will grow to 633,000 by 2035. That’s the equivalent of more than an extra four Truros in less than 20 years. Don’t expect any council officer to inform their ‘Leader’ any time soon that the Council’s own policies of hyper-growth to cater for external demand are hardly the solution, but a major part of the problem.

Posted in Cornwall Council;, environment, population growth | Tagged | 1 Comment

Bring us your huddled masses: housing target rises yet again

So the Government has come up with yet another cunning plan to encourage more housebuilding. Communities Minister Sajid Javid is consulting on a new, simpler method of calculating housing targets to be applied across the board for housing targets to ensure that the ‘right homes [sic]’ get built in the ‘right places’. Bizarrely, in the newspeak that the political class is so keen on, this new centralised system of imposing housing targets will ‘give local communities greater control’.

In reality of course, as well as doing nothing of the kind, it also won’t result in the ‘right homes’ in the ‘right places’. This is because the Tories are still trapped by their ideological obsession with private market delivery. They cherish the delusion that their developer chums and their mates in the construction companies will ‘solve’ the housing crisis once and for all. If only they build enough new houses prices will plummet and everyone will then miraculously be able to afford a home.

The imposition of local targets, carefully calibrated for every local authority, implies that the Government thinks there are lots of tiny housing markets scattered across the land that respond solely to local supply and demand. The consultation document is backed up with technical reports that are in turn littered with questionable counter-factual data based on unproven assumptions. One such is the assertion that increasing housing stock by X% will then produce a X% price fall. If that were the case then Cornwall, which has seen a huge increase in its housing stock, at a faster rate than virtually all English counties since the 1960s, should have rock-bottom house prices.

We don’t. Because the Tories fail to take into account supply-side factors or the wider effects of local price changes. They prefer instead to put their faith in a naive neo-classical market model where house prices respond solely to demand (equated to number of people + income) and supply (planning permissions granted). Nothing to do with political decisions, interest rates, mortgage company policies, marketing strategies etc. then.

Even if prices were to fall by pushing the number of houses built in Cornwall through the (yet to be constructed) roof, this would merely result in an increased demand from the ‘let’s buy our Cornwall [sic] lifestyle’ brigade. Especially as estate agents, developers and construction companies aggressively market the surplus supply to exactly that lifestyle market. To prevent this, and incidentally begin to protect the Cornish environment and heritage, the market has to be regulated, while massively extending public provision of social housing to meet genuine local need. But that’s not on offer.

So how does all the fiddling with the figures involved in Sajid’s new simple sums apply to Cornwall?

Let’s remind ourselves where we are. In 2015 Cornwall’s planners finally convinced councillors not to contest the Government’s (and their) wishes, throw in the towel and feebly accept a 20 year housing target of 47,500. This was already around 34-35,000 more than was needed to meet the demand for extra housing arising from within existing Cornish communities. The majority was to go to meet external demand, thereby locking us into the continuing spiral of rapid population growth required in order to fill the houses and meet this disastrous target.

This was then bumped up to 52,500 by the Government’s hatchet-man Inspector. Now we have this latest wheeze and – surprise, surprise – up goes the target by another 5,000 or so, to a staggeringly irresponsible 57,780. Sajid is giving the screw yet another turn, even though there’s precious few pips willing to squeak about it any more.

How does Cornwall compare with other places?

If we look at the percentage change now proposed when compared with the previous ‘locally [sic’] assessed need’ figures we find that the uplift of 10.1% in Cornwall is above the average but not the highest. Two groups of English counties, in the westcountry and in the south east, will see increases higher than Cornwall’s. The largest is in Greater London, where the Government wants to increase the target by an unlikely 62%. Wherever will they fit all those houses? Hyde Park perhaps? Or the under-occupied housing and grounds at Buckingham Palace?

More usefully, we can calculate how many houses the Government want to see built in relation to the existing population. As we can see from the map, apart from Somerset (which is only very, very slightly higher than Cornwall), all the areas with a greater proposed housing target in relation to population are found in the over-heated and already over-populated south east of England.


Cornwall stands out. We seem to be part of South East England in housing terms, except that that we’re geographically distant and a hell of a lot poorer. This unusual combination – high population and housing growth together with economic deprivation – needs unique policies and special treatment. But we’re not going to get that either, just more centralization, more population growth and more colonialism. Maybe Cornwall Council will begin to demand that special treatment and respect for the national minority status of the Cornish. [Joke?]

Posted in Cornwall Council;, discourses and ideologies, environment, Local Plan, official statistics, planning system, population growth | 3 Comments

Cornwall Council elections to bring little change

So we’ve voted in the local elections. Or some of us. Most people didn’t bother. Others  voted along tribal party lines, not knowing or caring what their preferred party is actually saying about the future of Cornwall. And for the most part, they’re not saying that much. Meanwhile the majority of voters are mired in collective resignation.

Few candidates seem aware of Cornwall’s recent past

Whoever comes out of the elections with the largest number of councillors – Tories, Lib Dems or Independents – it matters little. We can be 100% certain that the devoloper-led coalition of chaos that drives Cornwall Council’s unsustainable growth strategy will still be in charge. The Charter for Cornwall campaign was a last-ditch effort to make the future of Cornwall an election issue. It’s fair to say it was a flop.

The Charter got the explicit support of around 250 individuals and organisations, including a handful of parish and town councils. But most parish and town councils ignored its call for a more balanced, sustainable, less developer-led strategy for Cornwall. Moreover, the hoped-for snowballing of support never really took off. Some early publicity was gained but then the announcement of a general election diverted attention from the ongoing transformation of Cornwall.

Around 75 of Cornwall’s 448 candidates at tomorrow’s election did sign up to the Charter pledges, and if you’re interested you can find out their stances here. But we might be forgiven if we ask how many seriously care about the issues of environmental degradation, unsustainable population growth or colonialism in Cornwall. By the evidence of their election leaflets not many. And of that 75, only a dozen or so took the next step and posted something on the Charter website.

Few candidates are demanding some really fair treatment for the Cornish

Moreover, 348 of the 448 candidates couldn’t even be bothered to reply to the politely worded request asking them if they supported the pledges or not. This was a level of boorish rudeness that hardly augers well for the responsiveness of the next Council. Almost 90% of Tory and Lib Dem candidates and almost 80% of Independents and Labour candidates didn’t stir themselves to respond. Around a third of Ukip candidates did, half of the Greens and almost all MK candidates.

What also struck the campaigners was the political illiteracy of many candidates, who seemed to have little clue about how the political system works, let alone grasp the current details of housing and planning policy. Early on one candidate asked if supporting the Charter would mean he was ‘being party political’. Later, it turned out he was a candidate for that apolitical organisation, the Conservative Party.

The most hostile reaction came from some Liberal Democrat candidates. Although one or two Lib Dems have an excellent record of opposing speculative housing and signed up with no qualms, others with equally sound records got extremely defensive when asked to commit themselves in future to oppose the excessive housing target they and the Government have lumbered us with. It’s clear that most Lib Dems are now lining up behind the 52,500 target. Worse, they’re refusing to commit themselves to lowering it in future, thus locking Cornwall into a spiral of unsustainable housing and population growth.

One Lib Dem candidate, in a bizarre example of petty tribalism, told campaigners that one reason she couldn’t sign up to the pledges was because they were ‘not something I or my party have come up with.’ Another sitting councillor aggressively threatened to make a fairly innocuous email exchange ‘public which I feel will harm your campaign more than my election prospects’, unless the Charter group agreed to remove a statement of fact that she couldn’t sign up to the four pledges. They called her bluff. She backed off.

The Tories are no better. All they say is ‘we understand the need for more homes for local people’, while saying nothing about all the housing that is patently not for local people. This is the local equivalent of the robotic parroting of ‘strong and stable’ that we’re seeing at the UK level. It’s basically meaningless drivel. Meanwhile most Independents seem to think they’re fighting a parish council election. They’re about as likely ever to come up with strategic policies for Cornwall’s voters are of giving up electing Tories.

Not much evidence of innovative policies to reduce the number of 2nd (and 3rd, and 4th) ‘homes’

In short, the vast majority of Cornwall’s candidates are ignoring the big issues facing Cornwall. The fact that on current trends our population will be nudging a million by the end of the century doesn’t seem to concern them. Any vision of the kind of Cornwall we should be building, any alternative to developer-led planning, any practical policies that might reverse the growth fetish of Cornwall Council and protect our heritage are, for most centrist and centralist politicians, just absent.

So, whoever you voted for, the planners and developers will still effectively control our future. Until a well-focused and better-organised grassroots opposition emerges, sadly this election is likely to make very little difference to Cornwall’s steady drift into post-democracy. A dumbed-down, resigned electorate will continue to get the representatives it deserves.

Posted in Charter for Cornwall, Cornwall Council;, councillors, planning system, population growth, second homes | 3 Comments

How did we get into this mess?: 11 Conclusions

So how did we get ourselves into this mess? Let’s sum up. During the ‘debate’ in the final meeting to rubber-stamp a housing target of 52,500 houses last November, a succession of councillors lectured campaigners on their ‘lack of understanding’ of how ‘constrained the Council was’. But could councillors have done anything different?

It’s clear councillors weren’t entirely constrained by central government. They had some choices at certain stages of the long process of producing the ‘Local’ Plan. The critical lost opportunity came in the early days of the Plan, when a genuinely ‘robust’ case for a lower target might have been mounted and consistently stuck to. So why didn’t this happen? A number of factors can be suggested.

The planning officers were clearly captured from the beginning by the developers’ lobby and persistently peddled dubious data to undermine arguments for a lower housing target. Their arguments for higher housing targets of up to 54,000 gave the developers a weapon that could be turned back against the Council to undermine arguments for a lower target. Basically, councillors allowed their officers to shoot themselves in the foot.

Those councillors who were concerned enough to work hard for a lower target didn’t coordinate their opposition early enough across party group lines or make use of campaigners outside the Council. At the start the initiative was left to Cllrs Cole and Biggs and the Planning Policy Advisory Panel, while those Conservatives who later argued for a lower target built no bridges to others to persuade them to take up Sarah Newton MP’s claim that the Council could come up with a lower target and call the Government’s bluff.

By the winter of 2013/14, when it was becoming apparent the Government was pressing hard for higher housing numbers and rejecting Local Plans right, left and centre, the only option for the Council was to construct a case for special treatment. The later Framework Convention status granted to the Cornish could have greatly strengthened this. The Council could also have worked with campaigners to challenge the flawed datasets used by the Government. It could have been a lot more forthright in pointing out their inaccuracies when applied to Cornwall. It chose to do none of this. Having effectively thrown in the towel at this point it was then vulnerable to central government bullying.

Is this Cornwall Council’s ‘vision’?

Any arguments against a higher housing target were also fundamentally compromised by the Council’s embrace of a high economic growth strategy. If the latter goes unquestioned, then the former will inevitably follow. This was particularly the case in the 2009-13 Tory/Ind-led Council but did not change markedly when Lib Dems took over, again with the help of Independents.

The developers’ brave new (old) world – more fast food outlets for the extra people attracted by the new houses and supermarkets

As a postscript, a lot more honesty from the Council wouldn’t go amiss. This Plan is a disaster for Cornwall, for Cornishness and for our environment as it guarantees the continuation of a culturally, economically and environmentally unsustainable growth rate. Yet, instead of admitting this openly, the Council assures us the Plan will ‘allow a more sustainable Cornwall to be built’, ‘create sustainable viable communities’. ‘support economic development and the environment while meeting the needs of residents’. People can see this is hogwash. So it’s hardly surprising they blame the Council for the crisis of hyper-‘development’ in Cornwall.

Stop making a banquet from a pig’s ear. If the Government has forced an excessive housing target on us then make that clear. If this housing target meets the demand for profits from developers rather than local needs then admit the truth. The flannel about sustainability fools nobody.

Net migration is on the rise again. The Plan is working!

Posted in Cornwall Council;, councillors, discourses and ideologies, Local Plan | 2 Comments