On the 16th of this month Cornwall Councillors are expected to rubber stamp Cornwall Council’s Local Plan, which then gets submitted to the Government so that Pickles’ inspectors can push the housing target even higher. This thinly veiled developers’ charter contains a housing target of a minimum 47,500 houses. That could mean a population rise of 90,000+, for the period between 2010 and 2030.
As the population actually only rose by 32,000 from 2001 to 2011, this is clearly excessive and designed to boost population growth in Cornwall. Although deliberately couched in an impenetrable, jargon-ridden, technical language in order to deter public and press interest, this ‘plan’/charter has major implications for the environment of every Cornish town. The towns we grew up in will not be the towns our grandchildren grow up in.
It seems an appropriate time therefore to take a quick tour around Cornwall’s building sites. Let’s start in the far east, at Cornwall’s ‘gateway’ of Saltash. Currently coyly hidden from the A30, Saltash is about to get bigger. A lot bigger. To the west, once the Carkeel roundabout is negotiated, the landscape opens out to rolling countryside, fields, farmland and woods undulating eastwards with Caradon Hill in the distance.
Can’t have that though. Far too rural. Cornwall Council’s planners have been beavering away tirelessly to create a better ‘gateway’ to Cornwall. They’ve been working with their partners Commercial Estates Group (CEG) of London, to get rid of the boring old fields next to the A30. Instead of embarrassingly empty green space, sadly devoid of economic growth, the 350 acres and 30 odd fields of Broadmoor Farm will be home to 1,000 houses, plus a hotel, school, parks, allotments, roundabouts, even ‘community orchards’ (as opposed to boring old ordinary orchards) and ‘semi-natural green spaces’.
Cornwall Council’s Strategic Planning Committee gave CEG approval to plant their new suburb on this fertile ground last month by 14 votes to five. Permission was proposed by Councillor David Hughes (Lib Dem, Fowey) and seconded by Cllr Jim Candy (Lib Dem, Trelawny). Councillor Hughes claimed it would meet the ‘demand for housing in this area‘. In fact in 2013 the number of bids for social housing in Saltash was amongst the lowest in Cornwall, which suggests demand here is relatively low.
CEG’s agents – Nathaniel Lichfield, also of London – seem less certain about the project only meeting the demand ‘in this area’. Broadmoor Farm, they gush, will have a ‘balanced mix of high quality housing and diverse employment opportunities for local people.’ But it will stimulate investment ‘via new residents’. We can guarantee that the majority of the new residents of this utopia will not be from Saltash. And probably not from Plymouth either.
Saltash has more than doubled in size since the 1960s. Already, it’s the least ‘Cornish’ town in Cornwall, with only 4.9% of its residents bothering to go to the trouble of claiming a Cornish ‘national identity’ in the 2011 Census. This
blatant land grab sustainable urban extension is set to reduce that even further.
If it happens that is. CEG has a fine record of promising much yet delivering little, while it pursues its allotted role of transforming live nature into dead commodities. For these are the same people who brought us ‘The Beach’ at Crinnis, or Carlyon Bay. Having got permission for 511 second homes there in 2011 (also supported by Cllr Hughes incidentally), they duly turned the beach into a derelict wreck, guarded by fearsome private property notices and heavy-handed security. Although, coincidentally (ahem) CEG have now applied to start work on their Beach, having thought about it for three years or more first.
CEG’s chairman is Gerard Versteegh, the Swedish property developer and billionaire, whose company was challenged successfully last year by the Inland Revenue over a complex tax avoidance scam. Strapped for cash, CEG are reportedly working with Cornwall Councillors to ask the Council for a £15 million loan towards their construction costs at The Beach. So that’s public money to be used to reduce their risk and facilitate their profits, which they then use tax avoidance schemes to minimise.
The cooperation between Cornwall’s planners and CEG and its planning agents has a long history. It turns out that Nathaniel Lichfield was invited by the planners to be a member of the panel that decided which bits of Cornwall were most suitable for flogging off to developers. Meanwhile, CEG believes that the Council’s already excessive housing target is ‘not justified’. In their view it’s far too low. The company would prefer a range from 55,000 to 69,000 houses and specifically an increase at Saltash, funnily enough. This would be a great benefit to its profits.
As it stands, the Broadmoor Farm extension takes up all of Saltash’s 1,000 house allocation in the Local Plan, thus crowding out any more smaller scale projects in the town. Which is odd as around 200 houses have already been built or received permission. But Saltash Town Council, which supported CEG’s plans as they saw a ‘host of opportunities’ in it, need not worry. The 47,500 is a minimum. I’m sure the planners would be happy to find a few more. And more. And more.