When I was last in Truro in the late 1960s (or was it the 1860s?) it was not unlike other Cornish towns. Slightly more pretentious perhaps, with that great big church thing in the middle of town and a new brutalist County Hall rearing up in the fields to the south of the town. But it was basically a typical friendly small Cornish town.
No more. Truro has become the Great Wen of Cornwall, sucking in commuters from far and wide and leaching the life blood out of anything within 25 miles or so (Falmouth excepted). It now sprawls for six miles along the A390 like an over-indulged beached whale.
Travelling westwards past the town we’re able to spot the plethora of building sites – real and imagined only in the daydreams of developers – that mark our route. To the east there’s the Tregurra Valley. This used to be pleasant countryside providing visitors with a welcome respite before diving into the shopping hell of the town centre. Now cows graze no longer as the bulldozers tear up the greenness (surplus to requirements) in order to make room for a Waitrose supermarket, a Cornish food centre, a recycling facility and 97 houses. But rest assured, one of the partners in this senseless destruction of the (quasi-)natural environment is again the Duchy. And they’re experts at the job.
Another partner is Cornwall Council which had the interesting and unusual idea of sticking a park and ride within walking distance of the town and then inviting developers to build houses beyond it. As the Council applied to itself for planning permission, it looked a forgone conclusion. But there was determined opposition. Not enough however to prevent the Strategic Planning Committee voting by 11 to 8 to give themselves permission in March 2012. This gave great heart to all the other developers queueing up along the A390.
Here’s the vote on Tregurra …
|For approval||Against approval|
|G.Brown (LD)||Bull (LD)|
|Ellis (Con)||Hatton (Con)|
|Fitter (Con)||Lewarne (LD)|
|Flashman (Con)||May (Ind)|
|Greenslade (Ind)||Nolan (LD)|
|Mann (Con)||Pascoe (Ind)|
|Pugh (Con)||Pearce (LD)|
|Stoneman (Con)||Plummer (MK)|
As we flog the Morris Minor up the by-pass towards Arch Hill we discover that the by-pass will soon go through the town instead. For there’s a plan to build south of it at Higher Newham This was rejected once before, and by Pickles’ inspectorate no less, for its impact on the nearby AONB as it would allow Truro to come roaring over the hill into the calm landscape of the Fal estuary. This time however, the developers – LXB and their planning agents Origin3 of Bristol, have come up with a clever wheeze. This is no ordinary suburban housing estate; this is a ‘sustainable community farm and village‘, with educational use, holiday lets and farm animals. Oh, and 155 houses too.
LXB, who actually invest in ‘out of town and edge of town retail assets’, say the Higher Newham village will be a place ‘where people can live, work, learn, laugh, eat, drink and share the stories that make us what we are’. Are these stories going to include the one about how LXB is registered in Jersey? Or the one about how they persuaded Matthew Taylor, former Lib Dem MP now comfortably ensconced in the House of Lords, to act as their consultant? Their planning application has attracted 518 public comments, almost unanimously in support. Except that they all seem to have almost identical wording. What’s the story there?
Just across the road to Falmouth another 320 houses are about to be built by Persimmons in 72 acres of fields. In December 2012 councillors had the cheek to turn this one down. Persimmons appealed. Even the Government’s planning inspector admitted that the proposal would mean Truro ‘spilling over’ its natural boundaries and involve a ‘deep incursion’ into the countryside. But she was swayed by the promised 35% ‘affordable’ housing, Cornwall’s ‘serious housing supply position’ (??) and a
bribe planning gain of £1.6 million towards Truro’s ‘Transport Strategy’. On present evidence, this can be summed up as ‘build for congestion’.
This is hardly the first building site taking Truro over the brow of the hill into the valley south of the town. There are potentially three others being built and in the pipeline. At Dudman Farm, 71 acres were sold by Scott Burridge Commercial of Truro to Sunningdale Investments of Great Yarmouth a year or two ago. Sunningdale’s planning agents (AXIS of Manchester) are now applying for outline permission to build 380 houses on the site, which rolls down and across the railway line.
At the neighbouring former Richard Lander school site Taylor Wimpey is well on the way to completing its 226 houses. The developers originally named their project Woodleigh Grange. This Home Counties moniker was hastily switched to the equally inappropriate Penn an Dre when it became apparent some people would prefer the new settlement to be named in Cornish. Nonetheless, displaying their sensitivity to local feeling, Taylor Wimpey is now marketing their houses to buyers as ideal for ‘enjoying the countryside’ (which they and their chums are rapidly diminishing) or assuring them they can ‘head for Truro city’. It’s appealing to buyers to [come and] ‘enjoy some of England’s most dramatic coastline and beaches’. Grrr.
Further west there were plans from Barratt Homes for 175 houses at Higher Besore. They were assuring the Council, not that it needed assuring, that new housing at Besore would ease Truro’s traffic problems. Before withdrawing their plans last July, that is. Maybe they’d realised the claims for easing traffic were just too ridiculous even for Cornwall Council when coupled with the planned 315 parking spaces on the proposed development. Or were those meant just for bikes and roller skates?
But it’s on the north side of A390 that we find the real action. Five proposals threaten to take Truro down into the valley of the River Kenwyn, where small-scale fields, trees, and quiet, narrow lanes in an incised landscape eagerly await the joys of urbanisation.
Two massive applications have been made at Maiden Green, next to Treliske, and further along on open countryside at Willow Green. At Maiden Green, Walker Developments of Plymouth are proposing 650 houses, a school, workshops, a district centre (with supermarket, petrol station, community hall, hotel, crèche, medical centre and parking for the mobile library that will soon fall victim to government cuts), a community pavilion and public open spaces. This, they claim, is ‘a natural, sustainable extension’ which will ‘encourage living, working and playing without the need for a car’! So what’s the point of the petrol station then?
Next to this another gargantuan new settlement is being pushed by Channel Islands based LXB. This one is no cuddly ‘community farm’ but will have 435 houses, a nursery, school, Asda, petrol station, pub, community hall and more public open spaces on 70 acres of fields. LXB just want to help us ‘meet the chronic housing land supply shortage in the city’. That’s ‘shortage’ as in insufficient land to build houses on in order to meet demand from upcountry, demand stimulated by the companies who profit from building the houses.
Which barminess magically becomes pure common sense when viewed from Cornwall Council’s planning department. In the autumn those planners faced a dilemma as both the Maiden Green and Willow Green applications were coming forward plus another at Hendra, between Willow Green and the park and ride. This, from Marsh and Baxter Developments of London, was for a supermarket, another petrol station which will presumably just gather dust as we’re told no-one will be driving anywhere, and a community hub (including those essentials for any self-respecting community – a coffee shop, restaurant and pub.)
The planners were transfixed by all the goodies on offer, So they decided to play safe and recommended approval for both Maiden Green and Willow Green, though they weren’t so keen on Hendra, possibly because it doesn’t involve any more housing.
Their problem was solved by the sudden appearance, or rather re-appearance, of a fourth supplicant. This was Inox and its planning agents PCL Planning, both of Exeter. They want to build yet another supermarket, more space for those mythical mobile libraries and a nursery even further west, at West Langarth, well beyond the park and ride. Oh, and another 130 houses would be nice. This will take Truro halfway to Redruth.
The crazy notion of dumping a supermarket and 130 houses in open countryside is coupled with a very large carrot. Inox is dangling a stadium for Cornwall in front of us. They duly used campaigners for a stadium, who seem to have lost all critical faculties, to deluge councillors with heartfelt pleas to defer a decision on the other applications.
Those who support a stadium in this totally unsuitable location, nowhere near a railway station, on what’s already the busiest road in Cornwall and distant from the heartland of Cornish rugby at Camborne-Redruth, seem willing to pay any price for their stadium. The developers want a supermarket; give them a supermarket. They want another settlement; give them another settlement. They want to build on greenfield land; give them the greenfield land.
They want a 1,500 house settlement next to the park and ride at Langarth? They’ve already been given the bleddy thing. Along with shops, restaurant, hotel, care home, primary school and community space. This was agreed in September 2012 by Cornwall’s Strategic Planning Committee by 13 votes to 5, swayed by the promises that it would make the stadium a reality. After a legal challenge failed in October 2013, the local press was confident the stadium would be built.
It wasn’t. More than a year on and apparently it now needs another 130 houses and a supermarket to seal the deal. And still no houses have have been built at Langarth. Exactly how gullible are we supposed to be? Especially as the state of the art 10,000 seater stadium (necessary for top-flight rugby we were told)) has now become a stadium that will seat only 6,000. As the houses and population rises so the stadium amazingly shrinks.
The councillors at the Strategic Planning Committee in September, heavily lobbied by the stadium/supermarket/settlement campaigners, caved in and decided to defer discussion of Maiden Green, Willow Green and Hendra until they could be joined by West Langarth next February. Here’s the vote ….
|For waiting to consider West Langarth along with Maiden Green and Willow Green and Hendra||For not waiting and permitting either Maiden Green or Willow Green or both|
|Bull (LD)||Austin (LD)|
|Candy (LD)||Batters (LD)|
|Chamberlain (Con)||M.Brown (LD)|
|Ellis (Con)||Coombe (Ind)|
|Evans (Con)||Curnow (Ind)|
|Harris (Ind)||Dolley (Ind)|
|Jenkin (MK)||Fitter (Con)|
|May (Ind)||Greenslade (Ind)|
|McWilliam (Ukip)||Jewell (Con)|
|Nolan (LD)||Parsons (LD)|
Bit of a Hobson’s choice there. Having got itself into this complete mess, the Council is now facing two appeals from LXB and Marsh and Baxter for non-determination of their applications. It’s now staring at the real possibility of having all three mega-housing projects forced on it. Or is that what some wanted from the start?
To justify all this, the planners come up with the absurd argument that all the commuters will sell up their houses elsewhere and come and live near Truro. But this isn’t planning; it’s ribbon development led by developers. George Osborne might be taking us back to the 1930s with his austerity plans. Eric Pickles has already done so. All in all, it’s a shambles produced by the need to appease greed and sell Cornwall to in-migrants.
But wait. Truro’s housing target in the Local Plan is 3,000 houses by 2030, a 26% rise on the housing stock of 2010. As of March 2014, 2,789 of these had either been given permission or been built. With Higher Newham almost certain to get approval this coming Thursday, Cornwall Council will have just 56 permissions left to find. So is it going to turn down all the new applications to the west of Truro in February? Or will it drive a coach and horses through its own excessive target, as it rides the tiger of development to its own doom?