Cornwall Council and the climate emergency

Following Cornwall Councillors’ recognition of a climate emergency back in January the Council has begun work on its ‘Climate Change Programme Plan’, preparing a report for Cabinet due in late July. Tomorrow, a report on progress is being discussed at the Council’s Neighbourhoods Overview and Scrutiny Committee where members will note it and help identify how Cornwall can become carbon neutral by 2030

Council officers clearly haven’t been idle since January. They’ve come up with an approach that contains a ‘discovery’ phase followed by a ‘define’ phase and established a framework for delivery. The report also includes some preliminary data.

What is the precise challenge the Council faces? Let’s look at the position as recorded by the UK Government’s ‘Local authority CO2 emissions estimates 2005-16’. This only includes CO2, as do the Council’s figures. Carbon dioxide contributes around 80% of greenhouse gases. (Although the overall headline figures in the Council’s interim report look similar there are some unexplained differences between Council and Government data. Moreover, the presentation of the Council’s data in bar chart form does not make for easy or direct comparison with the actual numbers in the Government dataset.)

What are central and local government telling us? First, the good news. In Cornwall CO2 emissions fell from around 4,200 kilotons a year in 2006 to 3,000 in 2016, a near 30% fall in a decade. This is movement in the right direction.

However, we have to factor in three bits of bad news.

First, the maths. While the fall in ten years looks impressive, in order to achieve zero emissions by 2030 that rate of change has to speed up. On current trends even assuming the absolute fall in CO2 emissions can be maintained, we’re on track for zero emissions no earlier than the early 2040s. Even this will require a rising proportional decline each and every year, which looks a lot more challenging, just in terms of the maths.

Speeding up the rate of decline of CO2 emissions seems over-optimistic in the light of the second piece of bad news. The low-hanging fruit has already been plucked. Almost all of the fall in CO2 emissions in the past decade came from two sectors, industry and domestic. This was caused by a switch to renewable energy sources and more efficient heating of houses. Conservative Government policy has now jammed the brakes on the switch to renewables.

Third, there a number of elephants in the room about which at this stage the Council’s interim report chooses to be rather coy. The first, and most troubling, is the Council’s own obsession with hyper-housing and population growth. This is akin to trying to put out a fire with petrol. The report admits that another 44,000 houses by 2030 (houses it mysteriously prefers to describe as ‘Cornish homes’) will add another 25 kilotons of CO2 a year. It also notes that new houses are still being built with an EPC rating of only C.

Meanwhile, carbon emissions from road transport have hardly fallen at all in the last decade (just 4%). This is now the biggest greenhouse gas producing sector. Only Cornwall Council planners and councillors can seriously believe that all those extra people will walk and cycle everywhere.

And some elephants are completely invisible. For example, emissions from aviation are not included at all in the official figures at either level. In fact, as I have already shown, emissions from flights to and from Newquay airport have grown around four-fold in the past decade to 55-60 kilotons a year. While this is from a low base its growth is also exponential. It’s more worrying that Cornwall Council has not been bothering to collect data on the greenhouse gasses emitted from its own airport and claims to have no forecasts for future growth.

These rather major caveats aside, the Council has made a promising start to its climate emergency plan. The difficulties arise when it begins to identify the radical actions needed and councillors and other local elites wake up to what the implications are. The necessary remedies require a major re-think of the Council’s own growth strategy. But will the Council’s leadership be capable of doing that?

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A tick-box for the Cornish? Surely not too much to ask for?

The submission below will be sent to the Minister for the Constitution and copied to my MP. Anyone also wishing to write to them is welcome to adopt, adapt, plagiarise, support any of the arguments here as they see fit. More factual background can be found at Dick Cole’s blog.

The Government White Paper Help Shape our Future: The 2021 Census of Population and Housing in England and Wales again fails to support the inclusion of a tick-box for people to express a Cornish national identity. I am writing to add my support to those who are demanding this oversight be rectified when the statutory order for the Census is laid before Parliament in the autumn. I also refer you to a submission I made to the ONS in August 2015.

It is tiresome in the extreme to have to repeat arguments that have been rehearsed since the late 1990s when a well-supported campaign was launched for the Cornish to be recognised as a national minority within the UK. It is frankly disgraceful to be still making those arguments 20 years later and five years after that campaign belatedly achieved success.

In 2014 the Cornish were recognised as a national minority under the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. This was supposed to have led to the same status as ‘the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish’. So why do these other minorities have a tick-box option while the Cornish do not? Why do we continue to be discriminated against in this manner even after 2014?

 Article 4.2 of the Convention clearly states the responsibility of states to “undertake to adopt, where necessary, adequate measures in order to promote, in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life, full and effective equality between persons belonging to a national minority and those belonging to the majority. In this respect, they shall take due account of the specific conditions of the persons belonging to national minorities.”

This can only be done if comprehensive and accurate data on the socio-economic conditions of the Cornish are collected. The Census is the obvious best means to achieve this. The Office for National Statistics states in the White Paper that it “fully recognises the need of the Cornish community for data on the socio-economic, educational, health and housing conditions of those who identify as Cornish”. Yet, bizarrely, by illogically denying the right to a tick-box option it also prevents the collection and analysis of such data.

The need for robust statistics and therefore a Cornish tick-box is increasingly pressing as a two-tier Cornwall emerges and growing levels of inequality blight our land. This is a result of central and local government planning policy and a local government high population growth strategy which indirectly breaches Article 16 of the FCPNM: “The Parties shall refrain from measures which alter the proportions of the population in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities …”. Continuing this strategy also conveniently further marginalises the Cornish by exacerbating our minority status even within the historic territory which we have inhabited since a time before the English arrived and before the English state existed.

The existing write-in option is clearly unfit for the purpose of collecting good quality data. This can be illustrated from the case of Wales. There, in 2001 when only a write-in option was offered, only 14% of the population took that opportunity. In 2011 a tick-box was provided and this proportion leapt to 66%. This proves that the write-in option is useless in terms of identifying the Cornish as a group. In Cornwall almost 14% wrote in their national identity as Cornish in 2011. It is likely that with an explicit tick-box this proportion would, as in Wales, be much higher.

Article 4.1 of the Framework Convention states that the parties “undertake to guarantee to persons belonging to national minorities the right of equality before the law and of equal protection of the law. In this respect, any discrimination based on belonging to a national minority shall be prohibited.” By denying the Cornish a tick-box and granting that right to the Scots, Welsh and Irish the Cornish are plainly not enjoying the same rights as those other national minorities or the majority, as was promised in 2014. The Government will therefore be discriminating against the Cornish on the basis of belonging to a national minority and thus in breach of article 4.1.

Unfortunately, despite the Framework Convention, there is little sign that ether the central or local state is taking its responsibilities seriously. The snub delivered by this White Paper is only the latest in a long line of similar insults. It’s time to move beyond lamenting the failure of government to take the Cornish seriously and begging for equality and ask why this discrimination, at times amounting to institutional racism, proceeds unchecked.

In recent years academics have been increasingly prone to describe Cornwall and the Cornish as being subject to colonialism, especially of the cultural kind, as Cornwall fulfils a function of being a leisure periphery and retirement zone for better-off permanent and temporary migrants from England. This analysis might be extended to the economic and the political fields.

For some the refusal to provide a Cornish tick-box is clear evidence of a long-term de-facto project finally to eliminate the embarrassing issue of the Cornish, embarrassing as we are the only case of an indigenous national minority living within the political boundaries of ‘England’. This cannot entirely be left to processes of demographic change engineered through the planning system and by the agents of central government in the local state.

This is being pursued in parallel with that of de-democratisation. Since 2009 and the imposition of a unitary local authority on Cornwall the voters of Cornwall have been among the worst represented in quantitative terms anywhere in western Europe. This is now being made even worse by the proposed cut of 29% in the number of Cornwall Councillors, from 123 to 87. Let’s compare this with the boundary reviews of other unitary authorities carried out by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) since 2015.

The mean reduction in councillors across these authorities has been 5.6%. Yet in Cornwall it is 29%. Why was Cornwall treated so differently? Look particularly at the numbers for the rural unitary authorities of Wiltshire (established at the same time as Cornwall UA) and the new unitary authority of Dorset. Both of these have far more councillors in proportion to population than does Cornwall and the people of Wiltshire, despite their fewer numbers, now have 11 more councillors. Why?

There is also a massive difference between the way Cornwall is being treated and the decision of the LGBCE in 2012 to maintain the number of councillors in the County of Durham unitary authority at 126. At the time the LGBCE rejected calls in Durham to reduce the Council’s size to 85 members in order to provide ‘efficient and convenient local government’. The LGBCE disgracefully failed to answer a letter sent in September 2017 asking for their views on this differential treatment and have offered no reason to justify this strikingly differential treatment.

Moreover, whereas so-called devolution deals with other regions in England have resulted in an elected mayor and an extra layer of democratic government, this has also not occurred in Cornwall. It’s necessary to repeat that the Cornish are the least well represented community in the UK in quantitative terms. De-democratisation is resulting in an atrophying political culture in Cornwall, a democratic deficit and a poverty of civic debate about what is happening to our land. It must be assumed that this outcome is a convenient one that suits certain interests.

The absence of a tick-box is merely the latest small but critical step in a long line of actions (or inactions) that the UK Government and its agents have undertaken to guarantee the continuation of their plans for Cornwall. As part of that they have little choice but to engage in what can only be described as institutional racism and discriminatory policies against the Cornish.

A tick-box is no magic answer to counteract centuries of colonial subjection or to end the post-democratic experiment being carried out in Cornwall. those who. There is a growing sense that the Cornish left in Cornwall are the last generation of an ethnicity that has inhabited these islands since at least the time of the Romans.  If even the small concession of a tick-box to express our identity is not forthcoming then, sadly, those fears will be entirely confirmed.

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Climate emergency: is Cornwall Council hiding relevant data?

Three months ago, Cornwall Councillors voted ‘almost unanimously’ to declare a climate emergency. In the supporting documents for the agenda item, the Council’s leadership boasted that it had already ‘shown foresight and leadership when it comes to addressing the issue of climate breakdown’. Within the next three months Cornwall Council has to produce a report spelling out how it intends to reduce Cornwall’s carbon emissions to the level required to restrain temperature rise to 1.5oC or achieve zero emissions by 2030. (These targets are not quite the same.)

It’s not clear whether councillors were actually aware of the implications of what they were voting on as there was little hard discussion of the technical details of Cornwall’s carbon budget. In order to assess what will be required a team of Cornish experts has been asked to collate the details of Cornwall’s carbon footprint in advance of the Council’s eagerly awaited report.

So what is the current state of affairs? The UK Government produces annual data on CO2 emissions by local authority, the latest available being for 2016. However, this excludes aviation.

Aviation is important for three reasons. First, its contribution to carbon emissions is rising, rather than falling. It’s been estimated that the 33m tons of CO2 emitted in the UK by departing flights in 2011 will rise to between 35 and 52m by 2050 (Cornwall Airport Masterplan 2015-2030, p.23). Second, greenhouse gases emitted by planes do more damage than emissions at surface. In 2001 the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that carbon emitted by planes at altitude has a warming effect 2.7 times higher than the equivalent amount produced at surface. Finally, as Cornwall Council owns Newquay airport, this is one area where it has a direct responsibility.

Publicly available data on greenhouse gas emissions from Newquay airport is surprisingly scarce and hard to find. In 2008 a Greenhouse Gas Inventory for Cornwall and Scilly was published which included detailed data on the emissions from flights to and from Newquay airport. This amounted then to 15.25 ktons of CO2 a year. This was relatively small compared to emissions from road transport, but we need to know what it is now, ten years or more on.

In order to obtain more data on aviation emissions a freedom of information request was sent to Cornwall Council on the 22nd March. This asked three questions.

1) How many tons of CO2, CH4 and N2O were emitted last year (or the most recent year for which data are available) from flights to and from Newquay airport?
2) How many tons of CO2, CH4 and N20 have been emitted per year since 2008, which is the most recent year’s data I can find?
3) What are the forecast emissions of CO2, CH4 and N2O from flights to and from Newquay airport over the next ten years in tons per year?

After waiting a month, an answer was received on 23rd April. This read as follows …

Cornwall Council/ Cornwall Airport Limited

  1. have no data available on CO2, CH4 and N2O emissions from flights to/away from Cornwall Airport Newquay from last year.
  2. do not hold data on the CO2, CH4 and N2O emissions that have been emitted per year from flights to/away from Cornwall Airport Newquay since 2008.  It is however expected that the CO2e (CO2, CH4 and N2O) emissions from flights to/away from Cornwall Airport Newquay since 2008 will be calculated by Cornwall Council and Cornwall Airport Limited and then made public when the Cornwall Greenhouse Gas Inventory is updated during the 2019/2020 financial year.
  3. do not hold data forecasting the CO2e (CO2, CH4 and N2O) emissions for flights to/away from Cornwall Airport Newquay per year over the next ten years.

Here is a local authority that proclaims its ‘foresight and leadership’ on this issue. Yet, it beggars belief that it holds no data on carbon emissions from its own airport. And let’s not ask why it’s taken 11 years to produce another detailed greenhouse gas inventory for Cornwall. A strange kind of ‘foresight and leadership’ that is so lackadaisical about monitoring the evidence.

At best this is incompetent; at worst downright complacent.

However, while Cornwall Council disclaims all knowledge of what CO2 emissions from Newquay are or what they are forecast to be, it’s not that difficult to work these out. Back in 2009 CoSERG produced a report that provided a detailed analysis of the then forecast greenhouse gas contribution of the airport. This spelt out the consequences for climate change a decade ago and can be downloaded below. It cites a consultants’ report that clearly stated CO2 emissions from the airport were forecast to rise from the then 16 ktons to 57 ktons by 2030 (Carbon Impact Study, ENTEC, 2008), a four-fold increase.

Although the Council is apparently unable to produce data on actual CO2 emissions from its own airport, it’s also not difficult to come up with an estimate. Annual statistics of aircraft movement are available from the Civil Aviation Authority. These report that activity has risen fourfold at Newquay since 2008, although with a fall to 2012 and then a sharp rise.

Assuming that a small increase in efficiency has been offset by more high level flights, we can therefore expect a four-fold increase or thereabouts in emissions. That’s to around 60 ktons a year at present. This implies that carbon emissions from Newquay airport have already reached the level being forecast for 2030 and are on target to overshoot that by a wide margin on current trends.

The fact is that Newquay airport must have the detailed data on emissions and even if they don’t it wouldn’t take that long to calculate them. So the question becomes why isn’t Cornwall Council doing more to collate and publicise the evidence on an annual basis. Failure to do so suggests a dereliction of duty which sits very uneasily with claims to ‘foresight and leadership’ on the issue of climate change.

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Cornwall Council’s cunning plan

While we’re all distracted by the slow-motion train crash of Brexit, closer to home Cornwall Council is quietly putting the finishing touches to its place-shaping agenda. In order to understand this we first need some context.

Two elements combined in the 2010s to provide the opportunity to return Cornwall to the failed and discredited strategy of housing and population growth of the 1980s. First, the disastrous unitary authority was foisted on us in 2009 by a combination of Lib Dem County Council and Labour central government. This centralised local power and sharply reduced the influence of elected representatives and through them the people. Second, a decade of austerity from Conservative and Lib Dem Governments has hollowed out local government through massive cuts to their budgets.

But crisis for some becomes opportunity for others. The unitary authority was staffed by chief executives and senior officers who aggressively embraced the privatisation agenda that was being pushed through by central government. PFI contracts saddled schools and other public services with debt for a generation, culminating in the wretched incinerator scheme at St Dennis. This was neither environmentally nor economically efficient, but provided a nice little money-spinner for the French utility firm Suez.

Privatisation went hand in hand with a renewed emphasis on making use of Cornwall’s tourism ‘offer’ to attract housing developers. Demand to consume the ‘Cornwall lifestyle’ meant that Cornwall was lucrative territory for the big housing developers. The more houses were built, the more residents there’d be and the more council tax (and central government bribes to allow developers to build houses) could be hoovered up to fill the gaping black hole appearing in local government finances. Meanwhile, the hope was that by encouraging more unaffordable (for the Cornish) housing, more ‘affordable’ housing would be built and the local housing crisis could be mopped up as a by-product. The latter didn’t happen but housebuilding rates that are, pro rata, higher than anywhere else in the UK, have succeeded in pushing in-migration and population growth rates back to the record levels seen in the 1980s.

But even an aggressive population growth strategy, ‘place-shaping’ Cornwall to fit the Home Counties mould familiar to many of the newly arrived project class who staff its institutions, is insufficient. Income from central government is falling faster than council tax is rising and austerity is really beginning to bite. Faced by a threat to its own future as an institution cue stage two of the ruling clique’s cunning plan.

Now fronted by a chief executive who had fled the shipwreck of Barnet Council’s ‘easy-council’ outsourcing shambles, Cornwall’s ruling class has come up with another idea. This involves borrowing £600 million to spend on housing and infrastructure projects. The point of this is NOT primarily to benefit Cornwall’s communities; it’s to make a profit – return rates of 4-8% have been bandied around – to keep Cornwall Council afloat. In other words, adopting the maxim of ‘if you can’t beat them join them’, Cornwall Council has taken the decision to become a developer and siphon off some of the profit developers are making.

All this might remind us of that American major who said of a village in Vietnam ‘it became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it’, except that Cornwall Council is destroying Cornwall in order to save themselves. In a sane universe, if the only elected authority becomes merely another developer, then questions would surely be raised concerning democratic accountability. There are also serious conflicts of interest flowing from the bizarre situation when a developer asks itself for planning permission.

Meanwhile, the people clearly have little say in this process of population-led growth as their place gets ‘shaped’ whether they like it or not. Most Cornish towns now face unprecedented projected growth rates. Opposition to this from the mass of elected councillors has been feeble to say the least. Indeed, the ideal role of elected representatives is reversed, to represent the Council’s actions to their voters rather than channel the wishes of their voters to the Council.

Moreover, to ensure opposition remains feeble Cornwall has been subjected since the 2000s to a steady diminution of representative democracy. Cornish communities already have one of the lowest number of elected representatives in relation to population of anywhere in the UK. This is set to decline even further as councillor numbers are due to be cut from 123 to 87. We might be forgiven for concluding that Cornwall is being singled out for some sort of post-democratic neo-liberal experiment. Note the conclusion of the Local Government Boundary Commission in 2012 when it decided to maintain the size of Durham Council, another unitary authority. It found that its 126 councillors were still required in order to provide ‘efficient and convenient local government’. Now contrast that with its stubborn refusal, despite a number of requests, to tell us why and how Cornwall is different and why the reduction of councillor numbers in Cornwall is on a scale unseen in other local boundary reviews.

All this comes together in the final piece of Cornwall Council’s place-shaping jigsaw. To oversee its population growth agenda and manage its £600 million spending spree, Cornwall Council is now ‘building a team that can bring development expertise from the commercial world to create the blueprint for a new way of living, working and thriving in Cornwall’. It’s seeking a Chair to establish a Cornwall Investment Delivery Company and oversee the spending of the £600 million that it intends to borrow. Job adverts are also out for a managing director and a commercial director as well as an unstated number of non-executive directors. No post specifies a salary, instead offering a ‘remuneration consistent with the challenge’. Revealingly, on the Local Government jobs site all are tagged £100,000+. So that’s probably one of the £600 million accounted for.

What’s the cunning plan? The job specs come littered with the usual, faintly ridiculous testosterone-fuelled hyperbole that these days regularly spews out from the Council’s bunker. Increasingly adrift from reality, the Lilliputians of Lys Kernow ludicrously picture themselves as fearsome colossuses of commerce. Their ‘game-changing plans’ will have an ‘extraordinary and transformative impact on Cornwall’s future’. Yet the real transformation is that of Cornwall Council, from an elected institution of governance funded out of taxation to a provider of services relying on profits and the market.

Unfortunately, the braggadocio deflates rapidly when it comes to the actual plan. The £600 million will be ‘invested in new housing and workspace’. It’s about building even more houses, providing workspace for the incoming residents and the familiar old flannel of ‘mixed-use regeneration schemes’. Ironically, only today it’s being reported that the houses built for the local market will have to be smaller, cheaper and tackier than intended.

In fact, there’s nothing new here at all. A continuing focus on the tried, tested and increasingly stale policy of population-led growth is masked by a scattered detritus of pompous and wordy discourse. Cornwall Council’s ambition turns out to be to become ‘one of the largest developers in the region’.

Its fundamental aim is exposed in its desire to ‘promote the benefits of Cornwall as a great place to live and work.’ This is the quintessential outsider view. Existing residents, native or otherwise, hardly need convincing of those benefits so, stripped of the windy rhetoric, the central aim lies nakedly exposed – attract more people to come and live in Cornwall. The Cornwall Investment Delivery Company, as its name implies, is just the final phase of the colonising project that’s become all too familiar and ever more transparent since the turn of the millennium.

The process of attracting even more people to come to ‘live and work’ in Cornwall begins by appointing people to come and oversee the project. A Cornish connection is no specific advantage for applicants to the posts of managing director or commercial director. We’re also told that ‘whilst the Chair should have direct links with Cornwall or the South West, non-executives need not necessarily have local connections’. It’s just as important, if not more important, that they ‘bring a national [sic] network of contacts’ with them. Even the requirement of the Chair to have such connections dissolves further when we read in the job specification that ‘it may [my emphasis] be beneficial for applicants to have direct links to Cornwall and the South West’.

Lip service is paid to the need for the Chair to be ‘attuned to politics’, which presumably means working closely with the Council’s Cabinet and the LEP, and understanding the ‘uniqueness of Cornwall’, unlikely to go much further than being aware of the unique drag on the Cornish economy imposed by the tourist sector. But the main emphasis is on ‘strong private sector experience’. Applicants should possess a ‘strong development background, real commercial credentials and … entrepreneurial spirit … to spot opportunities, make markets and change the whole mindset about how we approach development in Cornwall’. Those with experience with housing developers, construction companies, property investment, with PFI and with ‘placemaking’ will be especially joyously welcomed. To sum up, the Council is handing over £600 million of public money to people with ‘strong private sector experience ideally from a development background’.

Incidentally, there’s no mention anywhere in this of the Council’s recent declaration of a climate emergency, the genuine ‘game-changer’ that threatens to blow a very large hole in its backward-looking growth agenda.

Righteous anger should be blazing across Cornish communities. We ought to be out in the streets in our thousands complaining about this ongoing coup and the colonisation of our land. Sadly, we’re not. Perhaps dreckly though.

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Living in the end times? The Cornish crisis ramps up.

Are we living through the end times in Cornwall, doomed to survive into what Neil Kennedy has called Kernowland? This is a post-Cornish Cornwall, stripped of its indigenous, native cultures, even as token signage in re-written medieval Cornish proliferates and St Piran’s flag flies proudly up and down the land. Neil’s warning that we are headed for a ‘Cornish pastiche’, where cultural nationalism has been co-opted into a lightly green-washed Lifestyle Cornwall marketed to outsiders, takes on more urgency when we consider the latest in-migration statistics.

These show conclusively that we are now living through another period of crisis, another phase of the social transformation that got under way back in the 1960s. This has quickened pace again as policy-makers in Cornwall resort to failed policies of population-led growth, this time to save their own sorry skins, rather than the Cornish economy, as was the case in the 1980s.

The latest data for 2016-17 show net in-migration running at a rate unparalleled since the 1980s. Cornwall last year experienced a pro-rata in-migration rate three times higher than that into England, Scotland or Wales. Moreover, not one English county came close to the Cornish rate.
If you think this has always been the case, then think again. Here’s a map of the same measure for the years 2006-11, before the unitary authority was imposed, with its Tory and then Lib Dem administrations, both backed by the Independents and all of them committed to a frenzied building spree. Rates of in-migration were high back in the 2000s, but not by any means the highest in the British Isles.

What’s changed? Cornwall Council will deny it until they’re blue in the face but the coincidence between record levels of in-migration and record levels of housebuilding is interesting to say the least. Of course, the Council refuses to gather data on the origins of the residents of all the new houses they’re encouraging. Councillors and planners know  full well what the answer will be, even as they proudly bleat about meeting ‘local need’.

People might be forgiven if they throw their hands up in despair at this unprecedented level of in-migration. Actually, a lot could be done if only the tools were available, the long-term thinking indulged in, and the political will in place.

For a start we don’t have to stop all migration or end so-called ‘freedom of movement’. This is a lazy distraction touted by those who defend and/or profit from mass in-migration. Gross out-migration is running at something over 20,000 a year, with gross in-migration at 27,000. To restore a balance to net migration we either have to encourage more out-migration or discourage in-migration, not stop the process completely.

To discourage in-migration we must ask what causes it. Clearly, there are two main factors, one short-term and the other longer-term. First is the speculative building of a surplus of the wrong kind of housing which is then aggressively marketed upcountry. The second is the insidious role of tourism in Cornwall, which encourages temporary residence that often induces the desire for permanent.

Perranporth: where tourism and speculation meet

Therefore, the answers logically have to include all or some of:
• Reducing the housing target to a total that supplies the right kind of housing for local residents
• Local taxes on non-resident house purchasers (similar to the extra stamp duty levied on buy-to-rent purchases)
• Punitive taxes on second home ownership and the holiday let business
• A cap on tourist numbers, via some kind of tourist tax
• Changes to the labour market in Cornwall, introducing some form of positive discrimination for local residents
• A radical change in marketing policy for Cornwall, reversing the cultural colonialist and Lifestyle Cornwall values that pervade it.

Some may point out these modest suggestions are hardly defined as practical politics at present, so in the long-term they require a degree of political autonomy or a considerable measure of independence.

Others might argue it’s time to write off the Cornish people as a historical dodo and focus on the global end times of species extinction and planetary suicide that we’re all causing. But if you’re prepared to casually write off one of Europe’s oldest indigenous peoples, then what hope is there for the planet?

Posted in alternatives, Cornwall Council;, official statistics, planning system, population growth, second homes | 2 Comments

Are we building for local need? The data updated.

The ONS recently produced some new household projections. What are the implications for the number of houses we ‘need’ to build in Cornwall? Across England and Wales, the revised projections reduce estimates of future growth by up to 25%. In Cornwall the reduction is somewhat less, but still significant. The broad implications of the new projections are obvious. We don’t need as many houses as the political consensus claims we do. Not that this has received a great deal of attention in the media, London or Truro-based. Nonetheless, this seems an opportune time to revisit the data and sum up where we are. This blog updates the summary I wrote back in June.

What is the actual ‘local need’? The data are quite clear and are as follows.

Over the past decade (2006-16) deaths in Cornwall have outnumbered births by 4051. This means that with no net in-migration the population would be falling.

But as we know it isn’t. Population growth in the last decade is estimated to have been 35,703.

Therefore, net in-migration must be 39,754 (at most, as in 2001-11 the mid-year estimates exaggerated growth in Cornwall by about 15% – for more on the tendency to exaggerate growth in Cornwall see here, pages 20-21).

Any extra housing needed by the current resident population results from a falling household size (resulting in more houses for the same number of households). But the fall in household size has now slowed considerably and in Cornwall is predicted to fall only from 2.28 in 2016 to 2.26 in 2026. If the population were stable this would result in a requirement for an extra 2,150 houses over the next 10 years, or 215 houses a year, plus the replacement of any housing demolished as sub-standard.

But as natural change is negative then if net migration was zero there would be no need at all for any extra houses. In fact, we’d have a surplus of around 1,000 after 10 years. On that assumption and on an aggregate basis all the extra housing is for in-migrants, for second homes and for holiday lets.

But it doesn’t rest there. Most people would define ‘local need’ as need arising from the existing resident population. But the Council’s planners define it as demand arising in Cornwall from the current population AND from future migrants. This then relies on projections of migration, which have been notoriously inaccurate in the past.

At present the latest ONS household projections forecast an increase of 19,000 households over the next 10 years. (As we have seen, only 10% of that stems from the current resident population: 90% arises from in-migration.) This results in a requirement for at least 1,900 houses a year to accommodate this level of migration. Which produces a theoretical Local Plan figure of 38,000 over 20 years, which is what most parish councils and many of us in Cornwall were calling for back in 2012.

The Council’s build as many as possible irrespective of the demand strategy is already ramping up migration levels to record highs.

Instead, the current Local Plan has a figure of 2,625 a year, the last official net addition to stock figure for 2016-17 was just over 3,000 and Council leader, Lib Dem Adam Paynter recently boasted of an extra 3,400 houses ‘last year’. But who will live in all those surplus houses? Will they lie empty, be sold as second homes, or be aggressively marketed as speculative schemes for upcountry buyers, thus encouraging an uplift in net migration and irresponsibly locking us into a vicious circle of growth?

As a postscript, those intent on protecting developers’ profits will no doubt wheel out the familiar Trojan horse of ‘affordable housing’. Put aside the fact that changing Government definitions result in the word ‘affordable’ now being bizarrely applied to unaffordable housing. Any demand for affordable housing is more an issue of quality of housing, not quantity. Don’t be fooled by their double counting of ‘affordables’. Despite simplistic media coverage, well over 90% of those on the housing register are already living in houses, not caravans, tents, caves or cardboard boxes. If a household on the register moves into a new property it vacates an old one, which then becomes available for another household unless it’s immediately knocked down or converted to another use.

Posted in affordability, Cornwall Council;, Local Plan, official statistics, population growth | 3 Comments

In-migration running at record level

Don’t be surprised if you’ve heard the sound of popping champagne bottles from the Cornwall Council leadership bunker in recent weeks. For it seems that at least one of their policies is working. At the end of June the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released its latest internal migration statistics. These tell us how many people move between each local authority in the UK. It revealed the shocking news that net in-migration to Cornwall in 2016-17 was up to 7,092, equivalent to a town the size of Wadebridge.

net migration 2012-17

Just four years ago in 2012-13 it was 3,087, but numbers have steadily risen since and are now at levels not seen for almost two decades. It’s no coincidence that this more than doubling of the in-migration rate has been accompanied by a 35% growth in the number of speculative houses being built in Cornwall. But I forget, in Cornwall Council’s dream world these are all being sold or rented to ‘local residents’, who then walk or cycle to work and the shops.

Strangely, this news seems not to have been reported by our fearless local media. Even if it had they’d have probably have spun this unsustainable growth as a great success story.

The only slight hope is that the ONS has got it wrong again. In the 2000s their statisticians exaggerated migration to Cornwall. But we won’t know until the next Census. In the meantime, expect Cornwall Council and central government to carry on merrily wreaking havoc on our communities, our Cornishness and our environment.

Posted in official statistics, population growth | 1 Comment