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.

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Posted in official statistics, population growth | Leave a comment

Cornwall Council’s housing target and ‘local demand’

This blog uses the latest data to show how

  • claims that Cornwall’s high housing target (equal to more than five Truros in just 20 years) is merely to meet ‘local demand’ are false
  • instead the majority of the additional housing is to meet demand from in-migrants, second home owners and tourism
  • but the target actually adds more housing than even this demand warrants

Having climbed the ladder to the dizzy heights of Chief Executive of one of the largest local authorities in the UK, Kate Kennally is, one assumes, an intelligent person. Which makes it all the more strange that a week or so back she trotted out the same tired old justification for the highest housebuilding target in Cornish history. The current target of 52,500 houses was required, she claimed, ‘in order to meet local demand’.

Oh dear: whatever can we make of this? Does she and the Council’s leadership cabal really believe that local residents follow most councillors and readily swallow this guff about ‘local demand’? Or should we be more charitable and presume she was fed this by one of her planning officers, who have consistently peddled this line for years. Except that the number needed to meet ‘local demand’ seems to be slowly and inexorably rising.

Cornwall’s population has been growing a lot faster than the rest of the UK for some time.

Let’s assume that Kate, who may be unaware of the details of Cornwall’s recent demographic history, is impressed by the wizardry of Cornwall’s planners and really does believe what they tell her, that 52,500 houses are required merely to meet ‘local demand’. The rest of this blog explains why this is not the case. Even using flawed official data, it demonstrates how Cornwall’s housing target not only meets any conceivable genuine local demand, but also meets externally generated demand from in-migrants, plus demand from second ‘home’ and holiday let buyers. Not content with that, a few thousand more houses are thrown in for good measure, just to ensure the housing target is so ridiculously high that developers have no problem at all getting permission to build houses if and when they feel driven to do so. And now that Cornwall Council is itself a developer it’s even more important that it has no reason to refuse to grant planning permission to itself (!?)

So what exactly lies behind this constantly inflating ‘local demand’? For a start, not a little disingenuity lurks behind the simple phrase ‘local demand’. The person in the street would no doubt guess that this means demand that arises locally, from Cornish residents.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

For decades now, the demand for extra housing stemming from demographic change within Cornwall has been miniscule. Apart from just two years (2010-11 and 2011-12), when there was a small temporary excess of births over deaths, natural population change in Cornwall (births minus deaths) has been negative for decades. In other words, left to its own devices, the resident population would be shrinking – by around 700 people a year at the moment.

Even allowing for a falling household size the demand arising from local, natural change could be met by building just a few thousand houses. But, as we know, the population is not falling. It’s rising. This is entirely due to an excess of in-migrants over out-migrants.

‘Local demand’ for planners doesn’t mean what it means to the rest of us. It means demand that originates elsewhere but is fulfilled in Cornwall. It’s ‘demand in Cornwall’ rather than ‘demand from Cornwall’.

Since 2011 the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimates that population growth in Cornwall has been running at around 4,000 a year. This is considerably higher than in the 2000s, when it averaged 3,380 a year, already unsustainably high as it meant expanding the urban footprint by something like the equivalent of two Truros every decade. There are 14 years left to the 2010-30 Plan so at the current rate we might expect the population to rise by another 56,000 by 2030 (or just over three Truros).

Housing targets are supposed to be based on official projections of population and household change. The latest ONS population projection forecasts a rise of 3,900 a year to 2030 (or 54,600), which is pretty close to the current purported rate of growth. ‘Purported’ because in the 2000s the ONS overestimated Cornwall’s population growth by 13.6%. They may well be doing the same again, but for the purpose of this exercise I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Past projections of household and population growth in Cornwall have also consistently exaggerated growth, but we’ll ignore that for now as well.

We need to translate this growth of people into a growth of houses. First, let’s look at the Local Plan. This has a current target of 52,500 houses. If we again ignore the years of the Plan that have already passed, this equates to 36,750 houses in the 14 years left. However, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government formula that the Tory Government is threatening to impose on local authorities will add 5,000 to this target. In addition, Cornwall Council, far from resisting this increasingly unsustainable rate, is boasting that it wants to hit a target of 3,000 a year (New Frontiers, p.42). (This is feasible as 3,074 dwellings were added to stock in the last year of available data 2016-17).

A de-facto 60,000 20 year target equates to 42,000 houses in 14 years. So we have

predicted population change of 56,000         planned housing change of 42,000

Notice anything odd here? It seems that we’re building a house for every 1.33 people. That’s strange, as the household size in Cornwall is much higher, at 2.2 persons per house. Even on the projected unsustainable (and most probably inflated) population growth rate, that ought to equate to 25,500 houses over the next 14 years. Nothing like as many as the 42,000 the Council is now pushing for.

So who are all these surplus (to demand) houses being built for? There are two possibilities.

First, some of them will be bought as second homes or holiday lets. If we take these groups into account, the average number of permanent residents per house in Cornwall falls to 2.0. At that rate a population growth of 56,000 will require 28,000 houses. But this is still well below the 42,000 the Council wants to see built.

Second, the Council’s planners will no doubt draw out of their hat extra housing required to meet a ‘backlog’ of insufficient supply that is wrongly supposed to be the reason for people seeking housing on the Council’s Homechoice Register (HCR). Yet again the Council is supremely disingenuous about this, giving the impression that all those on the HCR are homeless. As the Housing Register before 2017 was approaching 30,000 this would have accounted for a good chunk of the 18,500 houses over and above demand from in-migrants, second home buyers and tourism investors.

Except that it doesn’t. Even the Council’s pet consultants concluded in 2014, when the HCR was 27,000, that the actual backlog of housing to meet the needs of those on the Register was 5,480 (Strategic Housing Market Needs Assessment). The last available figure for the number on the register – for 2017 – was 18,758. As there have been changes since then it’s now lower, although details of the current number have mysteriously disappeared from the Council’s website.

We can therefore take the 5,480 figure as the maximum required to meet the backlog of housing need caused by insecurity, substandard properties or unaffordability. If we add that to the figures above then the total demand becomes

28,000 + 5,500 = 33,500 houses

The Council’s planners reckon yet another 1,000 houses are needed every year to meet the annually arising need for affordable houses (most of it from in-migrants). But it’s illogical to add this to a calculation already based on population growth, as that would be double counting. Providing the right proportion of ‘affordable’ housing is an issue of ensuring that housing of the right tenure is provided, not quantity.

The 33,500 houses required is STILL 13,500 (or 32%) fewer than the Council/Government target. Even though our calculation here is based on ‘official’ projections which, if the evidence of the past is anything to go by, are likely to have exaggerated Cornwall’s growth rates. More realistic assumptions taking into account the forecasting errors of the past would no doubt generate a lower figure.

More houses are being built in relation to population in Cornwall than anywhere else

We can now see why Kate Kennally’s assertion that 52,500 houses are needed to meet ‘local demand’ is ludicrous. The vast majority of the housing target accommodates demand from in-migrants, not local demand. Even after doing this and building to meet demand from second home owners and the tourist industry, the housing target, if met, will produce a surplus supply. Given the way Cornwall is marketed, those who believe this will result in price falls are living in cloud-cuckoo land. It will merely stimulate even more in-migration through speculative housing schemes. More worryingly, this will then ensure that the constantly inflated official projections become reality.

Make no mistake about it. Cornwall Council is entirely complicit in a housing target that is excessive and irresponsible by any reasonable criteria. Now its leaders have decided to become developers themselves and are hell-bent on building over and above any reasonable target based on actual demand, both local and external. This is now a central strand in their increasingly desperate scrabbling around to boost their income at a time of falling central government grants.

There are no signs that Cornwall Council’s leadership will rethink their plans, the consequences of which will be to boost unsustainable population growth, irrevocably transforming Cornwall’s environment, landscapes and culture. Indeed, quite the reverse. The Council has become a parasite, leeching off Cornwall, its host organism, to keep itself alive. It will blindly continue to do this until Cornwall has been thoroughly drained of both its distinctiveness and Cornishness, leaving behind a desiccated husk.

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

Fantasy and reality

Yesterday, I remarked in a tweet that it was getting ever more difficult to distinguish fantasy from reality these days. Fake news, doctored data, elusive surveys, selective citations, downright lies all jostle noisily with the facts for our attention. Moreover, we hardly need to look across the Atlantic to Trump’s Amerikka for examples.

Take the grand vision our ruling elite has for our economy. Central to this is the creation of not just more jobs, although there’s going to be lots, but better, more fulfilling jobs. Thus the ‘Local’ Plan tells us that a ’key target’ is ‘supporting the provision of better paid full-time employment opportunities’.

More recently, the New Frontiers document laid out the vision of Cornwall Council and the Cornwall and Scilly Local Enterprise Board …

Is this what they mean?

Of course, it would be churlish to deny that some well-paid jobs have been conjured up since the 1990s. Yet oddly, given the national minority status gained by the Cornish in 2014, Cornwall Council and its partners haven’t seen fit to collect or publish any ethnicity data on the destination of these jobs.

We therefore have to rely on anecdotal evidence. I can only offer first-hand knowledge of one example. At the university campus at Tremough, the vast majority of the better-paid, new managerial and academic jobs created in the noughties certainly did not go to local residents. It’s also a safe bet to assume that most of the project class who were employed to manage European funding were not local residents either.

Never mind though. Pool is fast becoming the fast food centre of Cornwall. Behind the flannel, is that what their ‘vision’ really amounts to? Is this it? Is this all we have to look forward to? An endless, shallow future of ever more mindless consumption, traffic, congestion, and corporate placelessness?

Posted in Cornwall Council; | 1 Comment

More on those surveys that never were. Cornwall Council still insists world is flat

You have to give Cornwall Council’s planners full credit for being as slippery as a set of eels. First, they concede that they have no actual contemporary survey data to back up their regular claims that 80%+ of new housing in Cornwall goes to existing residents. But they still deny that their assertions were groundless.

Like a rabbit from a hat, they’re now suddenly remembering another survey which completely proves their point. Of course, it was a ‘few years old’, but it surveyed 2,000 houses across Cornwall, or so a councillor claims. Or perhaps not, as an officer pipes up and says it was a ‘possibly pre-unitary’ District Council piece of research, which makes it pre-2009. They don’t know where it is though and it was never published.

So we now have a ten year-old (at least) survey, gathering dust somewhere in a drawer, which is supposed to be the sole source of the Council’s fatuous claims that all new housing in Cornwall meets ‘local need’, while none of it goes to in-migrants. We don’t know exactly where and when it was conducted or by whom. And they can’t tell us what type of housing it covered or what its methodology was. And they can’t actually produce it (but promise they will).

Land now being built on at Perranporth to provide houses, four out of five of which will go to local folk, according to Cornwall Council.

Something about this mysterious survey just isn’t adding up. If it was such a genuinely robust and comprehensive piece of research then why didn’t the planners dig it out well before now in order to staunch the stubborn ‘myth’ (as they see it) that most new housing goes to in-migrants? Why didn’t they cite it in the various documents produced as ‘evidence’ for the Local Plan, if it ‘proves’ that all new housing merely meets local need?

Is a single ten-year old survey really all that underlies the various assertions by councillors, planners and others that 80%+ of new houses go to local people? This doesn’t say much for their ‘evidence base’. Now, they’re trying to distract from the pathetic quality of their own ‘evidence’ by instead demanding that campaigners produce evidence that the majority of new housing is occupied by in-migrants. This is the usual brazen tactic of creating a red herring to hide their own sorry paucity of evidence.

Will 80% of the houses built on this land at Newquay really go to locals?

What amazing lengths to go to in order to cover up a reckless and irresponsible policy of housing and population growth, one that’s re-engineering Cornish communities, transforming our landscape and blighting our environment.

Posted in Cornwall Council;, environment, official statistics, planning system, population growth | 3 Comments

The curious case of the Cornwall Council housing surveys that never were

Back in 2015 Phil Mason, Cornwall Council’s planning chief, announced at a meeting about housing that new housing projects attracted no in-migrants. Instead, all new houses were actually being built for current residents. It’s fair to say that this was met with some scepticism and not a little derision from those present.

Population growth in Cornwall arises entirely from net in-migration (natural change – births minus deaths – is negative). Therefore, anyone can see that the vast majority of any net additional housing is only ‘needed’ to meet demand from migrants. The only explanation for Mason’s astonishing claim was that all those in-migrants bought older houses, the displaced residents of which used the dosh to buy that nice new house.

The journalists present did not feel it necessary to probe Mr Mason’s assertion. Maybe they felt the Head of Planning and Regeneration must have had some evidence lurking behind his claim. The strong implication was that Cornwall Council had surveyed residents of new housing projects. After all, such a survey had been undertaken and the results published back in 1987.

Yet that survey, conducted with a genuinely robust methodology, discovered that 44% of residents of new private housing had moved directly to Cornwall, while another 10% had only had a short stay in rented or other housing here before buying their properties. Mason’s revelation therefore looked strangely at odds with the picture a generation earlier, despite continuing high levels of in-migration.

Surrounded by beauty? Oddly the developers don’t add that this land near Truro is earmarked for a 2,700 house suburb

It also begged the question of why, if all new open market houses were being sold to existing residents, estate agents and developers market their houses in the way they do. Why do they always emphasise the proximity of the M5 and Newquay airport? Why do they describe bog-standard soulless commuter villages as ‘idyllic, small and rural village communities’, or Truro as a ‘charming Georgian city … surrounded by beauty’? Why do they emphasise the ‘Cornwall countryside’ and invite prospective purchasers to ‘explore the heart of Cornwall’? This doesn’t look like the best strategy for selling to local people.

This hasn’t been the only time over the past few years when planners and councillors have assured campaigners they are mistaken and that uncited surveys exist which back up the notion that the vast majority of new housing goes to local residents. For instance, in 2012 the then Cornwall Council portfolio holder for planning (Cllr Kaczmarek) stated that most residents of new housing had moved no more than two miles. Suspiciously however, on being invited to produce a source for this, he declined to answer.

Then in January 2016 a peer review of Cornwall Council’s planning department concluded that ‘post-building surveys have shown that the vast majority of market homes are lived in by people from the surrounding area.’ No details were offered about these mysterious ‘post-building surveys’ and it was left ambiguous whether they were conducted by the Council or by developers. But it was enough for the authors of the report, which laughably described Cornwall Council as ‘anti-development’, to confidently state that ‘the common perception that new homes are bought by people outside the area’ was just a ‘myth’.

Finally, this March Cllr Tim Dwelly (formerly Labour, now Independent) wrote to a housing campaigner with the very specific information that ‘The housing department at the council has tracked this with large surveys. The figure is something like 80% local … It’s a myth that newly developed homes [sic] are mainly bought by ‘incomers’ … all made up stories that people fall for’.

All of which certainly sounds as if the Council has been conducting research into the destination of new housing and is able to back up its claims with solid evidence. Yet it’s strange, to say the least, that this major body of evidence, especially given its purported findings, hasn’t been published, in contrast to the 1987 survey. To clarify things, at the end of March a freedom of infomation request was sent to Cornwall Council asking whether survey research had been undertaken on the origins of residents of new housing in Cornwall, details of its methodology and a source or reference to such work.

Although it took the Council the full 20 working days to respond, the answer was blunt. ‘We have not been conducting ‘survey research’ on the destination of new housing in Cornwall’.

Now, things begin to get a bit murky. Cornwall Council’s planners are not exactly renowned for their cautious and responsible handling of data. Selective use of evidence, a cavalier approach to statistics, economising with the truth, gratuitously ignoring or dismissing counter-evidence have been their stock-in-trade for years. Officers have been adept at generating factoids (statements that look like facts but are in practice fictional or partial). These are then distributed to gullible councillors who act as their mouthpiece and disseminate them via an uncritical media.

It now turns out that the various claims that almost all new housing goes to local residents is merely another insubstantial factoid. There is no survey. There is no body of evidence behind these assertions. Planners and councillors are, wittingly or unwittingly, perpetrating a myth, a made-up story that people fall for.

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it appears that Cornwall Council hasn’t a clue where the residents of new housing come from, and probably doesn’t care. Which raises three questions.

First, who initiated the, sometimes quite precise, claims made over the past few years, claims that now turn out to be yet another groundless myth? Are they entirely spurious or were they perhaps recycled from unverifiable developers’ assertions? This would hardly be surprising given the cosy relationship between the planning department and the volume housebuilders.

Second, apologies are now surely in order. Will planning officers apologise to councillors who they plainly appear to have misled? Will those councillors in turn apologise to those who elect them for making statements in public that are not based on a shred of evidence and failing to check the simplistic myths they’re offered?

Third, why isn’t the Council collating data on the origins of residents of new housing? Could it be that such data would only prove the blindingly obvious fact that a large proportion of new houses is indeed sold or rented to newcomers attracted to Cornwall by the marketing of the developers and estate agents?

Posted in Cornwall Council;, official statistics, planning system | Tagged | 2 Comments

A walk down memory lane. Although there’ll soon be 2,700 houses (at least) there.

Here’s a blog below that I posted back in December 2014, three months before what was possibly the most shambolic planning meeting in the history of Cornwall Council. It brings shivers down the spine to recall it, but that was the one where councillors, in a fit of absent-mindedness, managed to approve not one, not two, but three massive private house-building projects along the A390 at Truro.

Planners and councillors are now admitting that these permissions were disastrous, resulting in chaotic, unconnected and poor quality ribbon development. Not that they have yet, as no developer has yet managed to build a single house in four years. The only problem is that some on the Council are now using this as an excuse to dream up plans for a new town. No doubt, in some back pocket somewhere, there are plans to expand this ‘new town’ over even more acres of the pleasant countryside to the west of Truro.

In any sensible universe of course, the whole mad idea of plonking 2,700 houses along the most congested road in Cornwall would be abandoned in double-quick time. But we don’t live in a rational universe, especially not in Cornwall, where a hyper-growth fetish grips the ruling clique. Which all makes the blog below still seem relevant somehow. For a stroll down memory lane, re-read it. I hate to say it, but some of us would seem to have been predicting exactly what the planners are now belatedly concluding.

Truro: Council allows developers to take us forward to the 1930s

When I was last in Truro in the late 1960s (or was it the 1860s?) it was not unlike other Cornish towns. Slightly more pretentious perhaps, with that great big church thing in the middle of town and a new brutalist County Hall rearing up in the fields to the south of the town. But it was basically a typical friendly small Cornish town.

No more. Truro has become the Great Wen of Cornwall, sucking in commuters from far and wide and leaching the life blood out of anything within 25 miles or so (Falmouth excepted). It now sprawls for six miles along the A390 like an over-indulged beached whale.

Truro in 1960

Truro in 1960

Future Truro

Future Truro

(The original blog discussed at length the various other proposals in Truro for housing surplus to requirements. You can read it here if you’re a serious masochist.) It’s on the north side of A390 that we find the real action. Five proposals threaten to take Truro down into the valley of the River Kenwyn, where small-scale fields, trees, and quiet, narrow lanes in an incised landscape eagerly await the joys of urbanisation.

Maiden Green

Maiden Green

Two massive applications have been made at Maiden Green, next to Treliske, and further along on open countryside at Willow Green. At Maiden Green, Walker Developments of Plymouth are proposing 650 houses, a school, workshops, a district centre (with supermarket, petrol station, community hall, hotel, crèche, medical centre and parking for the mobile library that will soon fall victim to government cuts), a community pavilion and public open spaces. This, they claim, is ‘a natural, sustainable extension’ which will ‘encourage living, working and playing without the need for a car’! So what’s the point of the petrol station then?

Willow Green

Willow Green

Next to this another gargantuan new settlement is being pushed by Channel Islands based LXB. This one is no cuddly ‘community farm’ but will have 435 houses, a nursery, school, Asda, petrol station, pub, community hall and more public open spaces on 70 acres of fields. LXB just want to help us ‘meet the chronic housing land supply shortage in the city’. That’s ‘shortage’ as in insufficient land to build houses on in order to meet demand from upcountry, demand stimulated by the companies who profit from building the houses.

Willow Green soon?

Willow Green soon?

Which barminess magically becomes pure common sense when viewed from Cornwall Council’s planning department. In the autumn those planners faced a dilemma as both the Maiden Green and Willow Green applications were coming forward plus another at Hendra, between Willow Green and the park and ride. This, from Marsh and Baxter Developments of London, was for a supermarket, another petrol station which will presumably just gather dust as we’re told no-one will be driving anywhere, and a community hub (including those essentials for any self-respecting community – a coffee shop, restaurant and pub.)

The planners were transfixed by all the goodies on offer, So they decided to play safe and recommended approval for both Maiden Green and Willow Green, though they weren’t so keen on Hendra, possibly because it doesn’t involve any more housing.

Their problem was solved by the sudden appearance, or rather re-appearance, of a fourth supplicant. This was Inox and its planning agents PCL Planning, both of Exeter. They want to build yet another supermarket, more space for those mythical mobile libraries and a nursery even further west, at West Langarth, well beyond the park and ride. Oh, and another 130 houses would be nice. This will take Truro halfway to Redruth.

West Langarth

West Langarth

The crazy notion of dumping a supermarket and 130 houses in open countryside is coupled with a very large carrot. Inox is dangling a stadium for Cornwall in front of us. They duly used campaigners for a stadium, who seem to have lost all critical faculties, to deluge councillors with heartfelt pleas to defer a decision on the other applications.

Those who support a stadium in this totally unsuitable location, nowhere near a railway station, on what’s already the busiest road in Cornwall and distant from the heartland of Cornish rugby at Camborne-Redruth, seem willing to pay any price for their stadium. The developers want a supermarket; give them a supermarket. They want another settlement; give them another settlement. They want to build on greenfield land; give them the greenfield land.

No houses yet at Langarth

No houses yet at Langarth

They want a 1,500 house settlement next to the park and ride at Langarth? They’ve already been given the bleddy thing. Along with shops, restaurant, hotel, care home, primary school and community space. This was agreed in September 2012 by Cornwall’s Strategic Planning Committee by 13 votes to 5, swayed by the promises that it would make the stadium a reality. After a legal challenge failed in October 2013, the local press was confident the stadium would be built.

It wasn’t. More than a year on and apparently it now needs another 130 houses and a supermarket to seal the deal. And still no houses have have been built at Langarth. Exactly how gullible are we supposed to be? Especially as the state of the art 10,000 seater stadium (necessary for top-flight rugby we were told)) has now become a stadium that will seat only 6,000. As the houses and population rises so the stadium amazingly shrinks.

The councillors at the Strategic Planning Committee in September, heavily lobbied by the stadium/supermarket/settlement campaigners, caved in and decided to defer discussion of Maiden Green, Willow Green and Hendra until they could be joined by West Langarth next February.

Bit of a Hobson’s choice there. Having got itself into this complete mess, the Council is now facing two appeals from LXB and Marsh and Baxter for non-determination of their applications. It’s now staring at the real possibility of having all three mega-housing projects forced on it. Or is that what some wanted from the start?

To justify all this, the planners come up with the absurd argument that all the commuters will sell up their houses elsewhere and come and live near Truro. But this isn’t planning; it’s ribbon development led by developers. George Osborne might be taking us back to the 1930s with his austerity plans. Eric Pickles has already done so. All in all, it’s a shambles produced by the need to appease greed and sell Cornwall to in-migrants.

But wait. Truro’s housing target in the Local Plan is 3,000 houses by 2030, a 26% rise on the housing stock of 2010. As of March 2014, 2,789 of these had either been given permission or been built. With Higher Newham almost certain to get approval this coming Thursday, Cornwall Council will have just 56 permissions left to find. So is it going to turn down all the new applications to the west of Truro in February? Or will it drive a coach and horses through its own excessive target, as it rides the tiger of development to its own doom?

Posted in Cornwall Council;, Local Plan, population growth | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cornwall Council: protecting place-shaping from democracy

Unfortunately, there’s no happy ending to this series of blogs. Opposition to the increasingly desperate and out-of-touch hyper-growth strategy of our ruling elite is fragmented and weak. Organisation is absent. Although many people are vaguely concerned about the direction the Council and its partners are taking us, levels of disaffection from ‘politics’ and the democratic process work to numb many of them into helpless passivity. If they do get involved they’re all too easily captured by an English/British nationalist populism or celebrity socialism and unable to engage their critical faculties. Are there any silver linings? Maybe one or two, which I’ll return to at the end of this. For now though, let’s just nail the way the Council’s leadership has been cynically complicit in making Cornwall safe from democracy.

Cornwall Council’s self-appointed ‘opinion-formers’ live in a little bubble where nothing is allowed to disrupt their growth plans. The biggest potential hazard they face is democracy. And there is a minority, though growing, collection of cynics and sceptics out there in the real world who harbour one or two doubts about the grand plan. They see their local townscape and environment being irrevocably changed and ask in whose interests this might be happening. Either getting no answer or finding the answers they get unsatisfactory or fatuous, they begin to question the Council’s old-fashioned growth fetish. If that sort of subversive thinking is allowed to get out of hand, the Council’s plans might well go up in smoke, burnt to a crisp by the flames of democracy.

We’ve already seen the de-democratization of local government against the wishes of its people in 2009. Now, we have a further culling of elected representation on the horizon, making Cornish communities the least represented, in quantitative terms, anywhere in the UK. We’ve also had the creeping process of privatisation and PFI contracts. This has the added advantage from the Council leadership’s perspective, of hiding accountability under a veil of commercial confidentiality.

The final piece of the jigsaw comes in removing money and decision-making from elected to unaccountable, non-elected bodies. One such is the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which gained the most out of the first undemocratic ‘devolution deal’. Now, we are seeing a further extension of that process. While focusing on saving its own bacon, Cornwall Council has endeavoured to share the responsibility (and blame) for its unsustainable and irresponsible growth strategy with some fellow-travellers. This was done through establishing the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Leadership Board, which couples unthinking commitment to a short-sighted market-led growth strategy with immunity from any direct democratic accountability. A clever wheeze indeed. It first met last November. The agendas of its meetings are on the Council website but the minutes, although promised, are missing.

So who’s on this Board? First, there are those who are in theory directly answerable to the people, although strangely reluctant to involve the people of the communities that require more resilience in planning how to become more ‘resilient’. Cornwall Council, the Isles of Scilly Council and the Cornwall Association of Local Councils have seven members. Along with these, we have Cornwall’s six MPs plus the Devonwall Police and Crime Commissioner, all these of course being Conservatives. The second group comprises the chairs of a bunch of quangos – NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group, the Cornwall Health and Welfare Board, Cornwall & IOS Local Nature Partnership and the Cornwall & IOS Local Enterprise Partnership, none of which have any democratic accountability. Finally, neither does the President of the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, who has been brought along to pull the business sector on board.

According to New Frontiers the Board provides ‘the collective leadership we need to increase our environmental, economic and social resilience, and flourish beyond Brexit’ (p.1) One assumes this clique agrees with the ominous promise of the New Frontiers authors that ‘Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is a natural test-bed for new approaches to the grand challenges facing our society’. Watch out, as your community may well soon be in line to be a test-bed for these latter-day Frankensteins intent on giving us a good dose of place-shaping.

Not many areas have seen a bigger population growth than Cornwall since 1961. But our ‘leaders’ don’t think it’s enough and want more.

For Cornwall’s Leadership Board, a reliance on unsustainable housing and population growth as the tired old core of the Council’s strategic policy is no problem at all. After all, the Council’s New Frontiers bid for a second devolution deal shamefully says not one word about Cornish culture or Cornish heritage, so we can hardly expect assorted quangoites and Conservatives, many of whom have a fairly superficial knowledge of such things, to bring up those embarrassing topics.

The Council and their partners say they have no alternative. But let’s imagine for a moment that Cornwall and Scilly really were test-beds for a genuinely new approach. Then we might see other plans. For example, there might be suggestions of how to create a properly sustainable and balanced stable state economy, or signposts for developing a genuinely democratic, participatory governance structure, or details of the local efforts required to achieve the near 100% cut in greenhouse gas emissions we need by 2040 to have a snowflake’s chance in hell of avoiding dangerous climate change. Such a document might ask central government for serious planning powers to reduce the numbers of second homes rather than powers to compulsorily purchase farmland for population growth. It might propose measures aimed at building a cohesive and self-confident regional identity, or put culture at the centre of its strategy. Then Cornwall and Scilly would really become a test-bed for new approaches, and we’d have a chance of conserving that ‘beautiful and fragile eco-system’, instead of wilfully and complacently destroying it in the name of profit and ‘resilience’.

We can only dream. What we need to make those dreams a reality is some organisation to channel the growing anger. We’ve already seen the collapse of one political party – Ukip – and sooner or later the surge in Labour’s membership will implode under the weight of its own contradictions and the efforts of the press, BBC and a large chunk of its own MPs. Then we’ll have a whole load of people wandering around looking for a home. Are we preparing for it? Is there any mileage in a left populist vehicle that can focus people’s frustration in Cornwall? Or is the answer a catch-all organisation committed to meaningful devolution?

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