In the old council before the 2013 elections, Falmouth was represented by a couple of councillors who looked extremely favourably on developers, rarely opposing their plans. In fact, so keen were they that they demanded more houses for Falmouth. And a higher housing target was what they got in the horse trading that passed for strategic planning at Cornwall Council.
But since the elections, Falmouth’s councillors have been a little less developer-friendly. And so the housing target in Falmouth/Penryn has been trimmed back again from 3,200 to 2,600. This still implies a 19% rise in 20 years, but it’s now around the Cornish average. Falmouth clearly needs some housing. Soaring demand for student accommodation created problems as Falmouth and Exeter Universities expanded up at Tremough.
Plus of course, a lot more people would like to come and live in Falmouth to experience the ‘Cornwall lifestyle’ of the London weekend supplements (actually a London-lifestyle lived in Cornwall.) The rapid recent growth in the number of eating places between the church and the Maritime Museum attest to this as Falmouth joins the coastal gourmet revolution first experienced in Padstow and St Ives. Where top-end restaurants appear, second homes soon follow. And sure enough the number of houses with no permanent resident rose by 500 in a decade from 2001. One in ten of Falmouth’s houses now have no permanent occupier.
The problem in Falmouth/Penryn is that there’s not a lot of room to build these 2,600 houses. Falmouth is surrounded on three sides by water, which is bad news for the village of Budock Water as the obvious direction for expansion is westwards into Budock. Short of building out into the estuary that is. Shouldn’t have suggested that as it’ll probably appear in the next Council plan.
Taylor Wimpey and Persimmons have already prised permission out of the Council for 300 houses, a local centre, shops and public open space on a large chunk (40 acres) of farmland north east of Budock Water. Local Cornwall Councillors Hatton (Con) and Jewell (Con) weren’t too keen but the Strategic Planning Committee voted it through in July 2013 by 14 votes to 6, with one abstention. Approval was moved by Cllr Kaczmarek (Ind, Carharrack) and seconded by Cllr Fitter (Con, St Mawgan).
Volume UK housebuilder Midas Homes (profits up 73% in 2014 and already quids in from its mega-contract to build the Tremough campus), then stuck in an outline application for another 154 houses to the south east of Budock Water. This was again vigorously opposed by local councillors Hatton, Jewell and Saunby (Ind) and by residents. The West Area Planning Committee duly refused it by eight votes to five last February, with one abstention.
This was despite a strong recommendation in favour of approval from planning officers. However, councillors ‘flagrantly disregarded the comprehensive and balanced advice of its professional officers‘. That’s ‘comprehensive and balanced’ according to Russell Dodge, managing director of BLS Estates, commercial property consultants of Truro. Russell also just happened to be the planning agent for Midas Homes’ application. So no possible vested interest in those remarks then.
The date for this appeal was December 9th so we should hear very soon whether localism has triumphed or not. Of course, by the Government’s definition it will triumph whichever way the decision goes.
Meanwhile, over at Penryn Walker Developments is pushing a plan for up to 500 houses. It’s cleverly doing this bit by bit rather than in one huge application. Richard Walker of Walker Developments said that ‘Cornwall as a whole’ has to provide ‘houses for future generations’. It’s a pity that at Penryn they have to build in the Glasney Valley, with its historical resonance, ancient woodland and used as a green lung by folk in Penryn for generations. But, according to Mr Walker, ‘where will the houses needed for Falmouth and Penryn go’ if not here? ‘It’s a lesser of all the evils’ he explained.
Once councillors fall for the line that houses are ‘needed’ they’ll find it very difficult to argue against this. Anyway, the last phase of the plan – 41 houses at College Farm – never even reached a committee of elected councillors. Officers approved it, as it was a ‘well designed, sustainable development‘. There’s a lesson here.
Planning Giving permission is so much easier when the democratic element is cut out entirely.