Recovering from Bodmin, all aglow with its aspirations for growth, and rested after an overnight stay in the town’s excellent An Gwella Tavarn/Premier Inn, I’ve arrived in Wadebridge. Bodmin and Wadebridge were once linked by Cornwall’s first passenger railway. Now they’re linked by relatively high housing targets.
This comes as rather more of a surprise in Wadebridge than Bodmin however. Because in 2012 the planners were assuring us that in the wider Wadebridge Community Network Area ‘the population … could decrease by around 200 over the next 20 years’. Population falls are as rare as snow in modern Cornwall.
Yet, despite a falling population, Wadebridge somewhat mysteriously ‘needed’ 800 more houses. Panicking at the prospect of a population fall, since 2012 the planners have bumped the 800 houses up to 1,000, with another 1,000 thrown in for good measure in the surrounding area. They are now looking to double the rate of population growth in Wadebridge – to at least 25% in 20 years. Relief all round in the corridors of Lys Kernow.
Have we stumbled across yet another mystery in the land of mystery and magic? For a town in a district where the population was forecast to fall, a 32% growth in the housing stock in 20 years seems a mite over the top. In an unusual burst of transparency, in the Wadebridge Area Neighbourhood Plan Evidence Report, the planners admit that ‘ The growth of our population will in part be determined by the policies of the Local Plan’.
But perhaps the population won’t in fact rise as fast as this. For the Council’s Local Plan draft for Wadebridge states that ‘Local residents face significant levels of competition from prospective second home owners … as four out of ten homes are already occupied by temporary residents’. Although of course the ‘homes’ aren’t ‘occupied’, which is the point.
In fact, Wadebridge is an oasis in a desert of second home owners. Although these have now been re-branded by the Council as cuddlier ‘temporary residents’. Just a few minutes by Range Rover from Wadebridge, we find that levels of second and holiday home ownership are the highest in Cornwall. Over half the houses in St Minver and St Merryn were second homes or holiday lets at the end of 2012, over 40% in St Endellion and St Tudy, over a third in Padstow and St Issey. In total a shocking 3,846 houses with no permanent occupiers, or nearly double the 2,000 houses we’re told are ‘needed’ in the district.
So how many of the extra 2,000 houses in the district are being built purely to feed the second home market? And how many of the 1,000 houses in Wadebridge are intended for refugees from the deserted rural parishes, thus freeing up their current homes for tourist use?
The planners and their developer chums on the Housing Land Availability panel identify several potential building sites around the town. To the west Tesco has thoughtfully built well away from the town, leaving lots of land for housing its future shoppers. Or there’s land to the north along the riverside, perfect for some of those second homes.
And land to the east as well. Here Stride Treglown, planning agents of Bristol, were in August working closely with an unnamed applicant (although the builders were reported to be Taylor Wimpey) and with ‘multi-disciplinary consultancies, incorporating masterplanning, town planning, transportation, landscape, environmental, engineering, ecological, arboricultural and archaeological skills’.
Sounds ominous, especially as they forged a Planning Performance Agreement (PPA) with Cornwall’s planners to push through their plan for 225 houses to the west of Trevarner Farm. A PPA results in planners and developers ‘working together as a team’, respecting ‘confidentiality’, and with the Council advising the developers on ‘community consultation’.
As Stride Treglown seems to regard the Binhamy episode at Bude as a good model of consultation to follow be afraid. Be very afraid.
Other plans are in the pipeline even for areas not originally identified by the Council’s developer-led land assessment as suitable for housing. Such as the scheme at Bodieve from Merriman of Leicester, whose logo is ‘transforming land and building for the future‘. When are we going to see a logo from a developer that more honestly states ‘Transforming land and building for us to make a bit of money’?