It’s difficult to know where to start at St Austell. If the developers are gathering on the horizon at Bodmin then here they have the place surrounded.
To the north we have the mammoth 2,000 house eco-community at West Carclaze and Baal. This has been cobbled together by Eco-Bos, a partnership of French multinational corporation Imerys, the cash-strapped benefit-dependent Eden Project and Swiss-Egyptian developer Orascom, whose previous expertise seems limited to decidedly less eco-friendly luxury projects in the Middle East and on the Red Sea.
Now, they’re promising that the mica and quartz wastelands will sprout tender shoots of sustainability. ‘Truly sustainable communities‘ will rise from the current chaos of Cornishness in the clay country.
We’re told, with no obvious sense of irony or contradiction, that the new houses and the people who will arrive to live in them, will ‘respect the existing heritage’. A list of key themes presents Eco-Bos’s ‘vision’. Strangely this omits to mention making money for Imerys (profits up 3% in 2014), Orascom (profits down by 70% in 2014), or the Eden Project (broke). And, despite all the fine words about ‘sustainability’, Eco-Bos were lobbying Cornwall Council in 2012 to increase its housing target from 47,500 to 57,000 houses. Higher numbers have to be more to be ‘sustainable’ you see.
Just down the hill from this dream of a community of post-materialist peasants cycling to work and growing their own turnips, we find another 1,300 or so (at least) somewhat less ecological houses are on the cards for St Austell’s ‘northern extension’. This extends the existing extension around the brewery and the old sixth form college site.
Not that the developers – Wainhomes – have had it all their own way. Their plan to build 1,000+ houses on the hillside north west of Treverbyn Road and up to Scredda has met with solid resistance from St Austell’s campaign group SOUL (Save Our Unspoilt Land).
Sadly, resistance has not been so evident in Cornwall Council’s planning department. On the contrary, planners have worked tirelessly to ensure the northern extension stays in the draft Neighbourhood Plan. Wainhomes’ membership of the strategic panel deciding which sites are ripe for development and their presence at the Council’s ‘partnership’ Private Developers’ Forum has given them a helpful inside track for persuading the planners of the wisdom of keeping the northern extension option open.
Not content with extending St Austell northwards, Wainhomes has also been busy extending it southwards. It managed to get approval in July 2013 from Cornwall’s Strategic Planning Committee for 126 houses off the Porthpean Road south of Asda. A call by Councillors Ellis (Con, Menheniot) and King (Ind, St Austell) for refusal was rejected 8-11 with one councillor abstaining. The committee eventually voted 13-5 with one abstention to approve. This was proposed and seconded by Cllrs Kaczmarek (Ind, Carharrack) and Fitter (Con, St Mawgan).
Yet, on bringing forward the next phase and another 131 houses, Wainhomes received a rude shock in July this year. Despite support from the planning officers, the Central Area planning committee threw the plan out by 14 votes to one, refusal being moved by Cllrs Bunney (Labour, Mevagissey) and Long (MK, Callington).
In the longer term however, St Austell looks set to sprawl southwards. Land in Sawle’s Valley south of the by-pass [see photo] is earmarked for 1,000+ houses in the Council’s Land Availability Assessment. No doubt Wainhomes will be first in the queue.
To the west, plans for housing come via the Trojan Horses of out-of-town supermarkets and ‘hybrid developments’ complete with all the normal paraphernalia of the consumer dream. Plans for a claimed £110 million investment on fields at Coyte Farm, to be followed up by 300 houses, were lodged by Mercian Developments of Shrewsbury and Metric Properties of London, whose profits in the half year to September were £70 million. So they have a lot of spare cash for fighting planning appeals and influencing people.
Nonetheless, the Coyte Farm scheme was still only narrowly rejected by the casting vote of the chairman in January this year. Because of the public interest the committee couldn’t avoid a recorded vote. For the record it went as follows ….
|For refusal||Against refusal|
|Candy (LD)||Batters (LD)|
|Chamberlain (Con)||Brown (LD)|
|Elliott (Ukip)||Bull (LD)|
|Ellis (Con)||Coombe (Ind)|
|Harris (Ind)||Curnow (Ind)|
|Hughes (LD)||Fitter (Con)|
|Jewell (Con)||Greenslade (Ind)|
|Long (MK)||Hatton (Con)|
|Nolan (LD)||Kaczmarek (Ind)|
|Webber (Labr)||May (Ind)|
The decision against Coyte Farm was condemned as a ‘huge disappointment’ by Steve Double, prospective Tory candidate for St Austell & Newquay. Meanwhile, the sitting Lib Dem MP, Steve Gilbert, sat on the fence, terrified of annoying one side or the other. In the end he probably annoyed both.
Mercian Developments are now claiming the support of a ‘silent majority’ who said ‘yes’ to more shops. Although if they are silent then how do Mercian Developments know? Especially as they had to listen hard all the way from Shrewsbury.
‘Local St Austell people have asked us not to walk away but to stand and fight for what they want’, says Simon Hoare of Mercian Developments. Is this the same Simon Hoare, planning consultant, who was a member of David Cameron’s Conservative constituency executive in Oxfordshire? He’s now neatly translated Mercian’s desire for profits into St Austell folk’s desire for more shops. Full marks for ingenuity. Shoppers win; the planet loses.
Just down the road from Coyte Farm, home-grown developer Westcountry Land is proposing something very similar at Trewhiddle. This comes with 500 houses attached. And that’s not to mention the Crinnis Beach CEG leisure complex, with its 511 units, which councillors argued in 2011 would ‘alleviate the second home problem’. How building the equivalent of 2.2% of the number of Cornwall’s second and holiday homes was supposed to do that remains a puzzle.
All in all, including the ‘eco-community’, St Austell is looking forward to an extra 4,300 houses by 2030. That’s the second biggest building target in Cornwall – involving a massive 36% growth of the town in the two decades from 2010 to 2030. All those new residents will no doubt improve the case for more supermarkets. That can’t be the idea, can it?
Meanwhile, a few miles away at Fowey, the Tristan stone is being moved. There’s nothing particularly unusual about moving this inscribed stone, reminder of a sixth century prince who gave his name to Cornwall’s best known literary gift to Europe. It’s been moved at least twice before. But why is it being moved again? To make room for yet another Wainhomes settlement. This speaks volumes for the sense of priorities at Cornwall Council.
How far has our once proud nation fallen?