Launceston: from ancient capital to growth hotspot

Launceston, or Lanson in the vernacular, was Cornwall’s capital before the 1830s. Its castle, perched on the hill overlooking the border with England, had been built by the Normans to keep an eye on the Celts to the west. Now it overlooks a growing sprawl of housing. For Launceston is setting the standard for population growth. The future is Launceston.

launceston_castleLike the other, formerly small and human-scale east Cornish market towns, it’s seen some of the fastest growth rates in Cornwall. Since the 1960s the population has more than doubled. And the planners are eager for more. They assure us that ‘the town wants to deliver a range of housing stock and mixed communities that will provide for existing and future needs of the local community’.

Maybe so. But 1,500 houses, up from the originally proposed 1,100, a whopping 37% growth in just 20 years, seems somewhat excessive if the aim is merely to cater for the needs of the local community. Unless locals have a need for three or four houses each, that is. It’s the second fastest planned growth in Cornwall, only surpassed by poor old Bodmin.

In practice of course, anybody with any sense can see that this rate of growth is nothing to do with the needs of the local community, but the demands of communities elsewhere, most probably currently in the south east corner of these islands. At least any lingering pretensions to Cornishness should be well and truly seen off by this rate of growth and Cornwall’s second gateway made safe for resettlement.

lanson wainh

In the next decade Lanson will begin to spill southwards across the A30 and A388. To the east Devon based housebuilders WainHomes and mega-construction outfit Taylor Wimpey are feasting their eyes on Hay Common and Withnoe. Here, the land is open, sloping southwards to the Lowley Brook, with panoramic views towards the eastern fringe of Bodmin Moor. Three hundred and thirty houses have already been approved here with another 130 in the pipeline.

The first plan for 330 houses was unanimously approved in outline back in 2011, with local councillors Adam Paynter (Lib Dem) and David Parsons (Lib Dem) supporting and approval being moved by Cllrs Flashman (Con, St Dominick) and Duffin (Lib Dem, Mount Hawke).

pennygillam1

To the west, a local applicant has got permission for 275 houses plus those absolutely mandatory accessories – a hotel, a pub/restaurant, a fast food restaurant and a coffee shop – to ensure the new residents and those just passing through are suitably sedated/drugged up. If anything, the landscape here south of Pennygillam looks more fragile, a steep sided hillside falling to a river plain.

Not that ‘introducing high scale urban development into a green field site beyond the current urban edge’ caused much pause for thought. In July 2013 the Strategic Planning Committee approved this plan almost unanimously by 20 votes to just one dissident. Approval was moved and seconded by Councillors Long (MK, Callington) and Hughes (Lib Dem, Fowey). There was some concern locally about a few trees near the main road but not many tears were shed over the 14 fields and the 20 hectares of the rest of the site. Local councillor Jade Farrington (Lib Dem) welcomed the ‘hybrid development’ as it would bring jobs. Someone really should have informed him about all the job-seekers it will also bring to fill them however.

Boosting an already rapid population growth in Launceston is made a lot easier by the presence of WainHomes and Taylor Wimpey on the Council’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment panel, working closely with planners to identify those bits of Cornwall where houses must be built. Their invitation to join this panel came despite both companies lobbying against the Council’s housing target and demanding a minimum of 57,000 houses instead during the Local Plan’s consultation. WainHomes is also a member of the Council’s Private Developers Forum, set up in 2010 by the Tory/Independent run Council to facilitate housing delivery.

Taylor Wimpey’s profits jumped 64% to £178 million in the first half of 2014.

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