ORIGINALLY POSTED ON APRIL 29, 2013
In the dying days of the old Council, councillors voted for a strategic plan for Cornwall – the Local Plan – which included a house building target of 42,250 houses over the next 20 years. This was 1,000 higher than the Council claims were built in the previous 20 years.Campaigners pointedout that the long-term population growth trend in Cornwall was in fact falling. They asked why we seem to need twice as much countryside to accommodate our immigrants than they do in England. And they discovered that a large proportion of the growth in housing stock appeared to have been snapped up as second or holiday homes.
But all to no avail. A mindless ‘growth’ fetish, with no environmental or cultural cost being too great to pay, had councillors in its grip. They were steered towards ‘business as usual’ by a ‘Can-Do’ Tory/Independent Council leadership and canny planning officers. The latter made sure councillors were massaged by selective data and guilt-ridden by constant repetition of the words ‘affordable housing’, while ‘second homes’ were kept primly out of sight. Meanwhile, massive long-term population growth in both past and future were surgically excised from the agenda.
To some extent attitudes to the ongoing suburbanisation of Cornwall cut across party lines. (see What your councillors voted for. Some Conservative councillors, for example at Wadebridge and Newquay, were very pro-growth; others, as at Chacewater or Camborne-Redruth, anti-housing growth. Some Lib Dem councillors, especially at Bodmin, were gung-ho for more houses; others, particularly at Truro and Penzance, more sceptical. Some Independents, notably at Falmouth and Redruth, were keen to see a lot more houses, which in their universe only ever bring jobs, never job-seekers. Other Independents, for example at St Austell, recognised the long-term unsustainability of this strategy.
The most consistent party on the issue was MK who opposed the Local Plan target as too high from an early stage. When we look at party manifestos we find that MK and Ukip take the clearest position against the developers’ free-for-all that Cornwall is fast becoming.
MK calls for a ‘lower and more sustainable housing target’ in the Local Plan, with the emphasis on local needs, ‘not large amounts of open market housing to benefit speculative builders’. In the longer-term, MK wants legislation to ‘stop and reverse the spread of second homes’, although it doesn’t spell out exactly how the reversal will be achieved.
Ukip is also explicitly campaigning against ‘unwanted housing developments’ and ‘out of town supermarkets’. The party calls for local referenda on major housing schemes, such as those we have seen at Truro and Newquay. Intriguingly, it also wants to remove ‘developers’ rights to appeal against local planning decisions’, which would be a complete reversal of current Tory/Lib Dem planning policy.
However, Ukip says nothing specifically about the second homes blight that is transforming our coastal areas. And it seems to think that half the new houses will be occupied by Bulgarians and Romanians. Which doesn’t quite explain to whom all the houses already built (doubled since 1960) have been sold to.
The other parties say little on housing apart from wanting more ‘affordable housing’, which is about as controversial as saying they’d prefer to have better weather this coming summer. The Greens call for a 50% affordable housing policy for local people and agree with MK in calling for a legal cap on the number of second homes. But they are strangely reticent when it comes to the Local Plan and its housing target, which get no mention in their manifesto.
Labour is also mute when it comes to the Local Plan. It recognises second homes ‘are a real problem for Cornwall’, but merely supports 100% council tax on such houses, something that has already happened, and an ‘additional levy’ to be ringfenced for social housing. Labour desperately balances the mistaken view that ‘residential and commercial growth is both a reality and an economic necessity to ensure a vibrant local economy’, (thus ignoring the evidence of the past 50 years) with ‘we must preserve the natural beauty of our county [sic]’. It’s left merely providing ‘green corridors’ in an increasingly suburban Cornwall while it completely sidesteps the housing target in the Local Plan or the long-term sustainability of current growth strategies.
Which leaves us with the Tories and Lib Dems. As they’re the architects of the Government’s pro-developer policies that are whittling away even the limited powers local communities have to object to housing growth and biasing the planning process even more blatantly towards the developer, they might be expected to say little about the Local Plan.
And they don’t. The Lib Dems as a party don’t mention unaffordable housing or second homes. Or not that I can find. While fence-sitting is a well-practiced art among Lib Dems, the Tories want to ‘safeguard our precious landscape by ensuring that development and is [sic] done in a sensitive and sustainable way’. While they insist there is a ‘need’ for both new housing and new infrastructure, in a convoluted sentence local Tories express concern that the necessity of a five year supply of land may adversely affect parts of Cornwall.
But, as with the Greens, Lib Dems and Labour, when it comes to the actual housing target (most of which are open market and therefore unaffordable to locals) in the Local Plan, we find nothing. And on the issue of second homes, like the Lib Dems we also encounter a vacuum. Which shouldn’t be a surprise when we remember that eight of the 12 councillors who declared an interest as second home owners in 2012 when the full council discussed the council tax rebate, were Conservatives.