The political parties in Cornwall and the coming housing bubble

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED OCT 16, 2013

There is exasperating continuity when it comes to the new Cornwall Council elected in May. Those councillors who are concerned at unsustainable housing and population growth in Cornwall are still unable to get together and organise themselves on this issue. It’s seemingly impossible to cross tribal party lines. So, as the planners negotiate, largely in secret, with the developers, where do the political parties stand on the ongoing sale of Cornwall?

A few individual Tory and Liberal Democrat councillors have, to their credit, retained some of their critical faculties and gone on record as opposing the upwards hike in housing numbers. The problem is that they are fatally compromised by remaining members of political parties that at Westminster bend the rules ever further in favour of developers, parties relying on another housing bubble to drag the British economy out of its austerity-led torpor.

At least we know where the Labour Party stands, united behind a ‘pro-housing’ policy. Pro-housing note, rather than pro-affordable housing. This acceptance that ‘affordable’ houses can only be built if we build a lot more unaffordable houses looks to be several light years short of a radical solution to the market failure that is housing in the UK. When it come to details Labour’s policy locally is even dafter.

Penzance’s two Labour councillors have been buoyed up by their landslide victories at the May elections, when they were backed by 31% of the voters, or 11-12% of those on the electoral register, with massive majorities of 44 and 20. They’re taking this to be a mandate for building more houses rather than a mandate to press for a redirection of investment into directly subsidised social housing.

Moreover, they’ve called for new housing to be shared out in relation to the existing population. This makes a mockery of the notion of planning and would fossilise the existing population distribution. For ever!? It also mistakes quantity for quality, believing that simply building more houses will somehow meet the need for affordable homes in Penzance rather then the demand from people to go and live there.

Or stop the steady rise in second homes and holiday lets in the town. The numbers of these rose by around 500 in the 2000s. Make no mistake about it; simply bleating about ‘more houses’ is basically a call for more in-migration and more second homes. It most certainly isn’t a solution to our housing problems. If it were as simple as this, then why are there similar problems in other parts of Cornwall where lots more houses have been built?

The real reason for more housing at PZ?

The real reason for more housing at PZ?

And what about the new kids on the block – Ukip? Last year Ukip in Cornwall were quick to support the campaign for a reduction in the Council’s housing target. In their council election manifesto this year they promised to ‘stand up for local decision-making’ and fight proposals like ‘unwanted housing developments, unwanted out-of-town supermarkets’ etc. But it seems they’ve stumbled at the very first hurdle.

At an informal councillors’ brainwashing briefing on housing numbers in early September Ukip councillors were among the keenest to accept the officers’ argument. They supported a target of 47,500 houses, thus reversing the welcome recent downward trend in Cornwall’s rate of population growth, on the grounds it was the minimum that can get past the Tory/Lib Dem Government.

Having caved in so limply on this issue, how exactly do Ukip councillors think they’ll be able to stop the developers in future, given central government’s desire for more housing at any cost? The only solution lies in devolving power over strategic planning to a Cornish level. That might allow us to de-couple boosting affordable housing from the insane merry-go-round of urban expansion and excessive in-migration. But this is a solution the four conservative Westminster parties are unable to contemplate.

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