As I wend my increasingly weary way westwards, Carn Brea looms into sight. Icon of Cornwall for those who hail from the west, Carn Brea stares over a landscape in the throes of ‘regeneration’, no doubt silently pondering WTF is going on down there. Camborne-Redruth offers us a classic example of how the regeneration project class operates. Since the noughties communities here have been plagued by these pests.
When the planners in the 2000s noticed Camborne-Redruth they saw that there was a rather big problem in the making. The population was only rising at the general Cornish average, 6.3% in the 2000s. Admittedly, this was faster than most parts of the UK but it just wasn’t enough. If population growth on the scale Cornwall’s planners dream of is going to be ‘sustainable’ then it has to be forced into the towns, whether those towns want it or not.
This becomes even more urgent in Cornwall. The rural, coastal fringe must be reserved for second home purchasers and gentrified in pursuit of Lifestyle Cornwall. So the current residents of the rural areas who can’t afford Lifestyle Cornwall plus less well-off in-migrants have to be shunted into areas more traditionally associated with Lifestruggle Cornwall.
Where better than Camborne-Redruth, where the housing is just about the cheapest in Cornwall? So the logic runs like this. Build a shedload more houses there in order to try to keep the prices relatively low.
There’s only one problem. Well, two actually – I’ll come to the second one later. First, the market-driven house delivery system we have in the UK depends on developers making profits. And developers can’t spot too many profit opportunities in providing housing for underpaid locals in Camborne-Redruth. The planners had two ways to persuade reluctant developers to come on board. First, go for quantity not quality. Don’t only build enough for local need but add in several thousand more to attract new residents. This might also have a spin-off effect of improving the tone of the place by attracting a new, less stubborn bunch of people who might not grumble all the bleddy time.
The second solution was to use public money to provide infrastructure in what is in effect a subsidy for the volume housebuilders attracted to places like Camborne-Redruth, builders like Linden Homes, part of Galliford Try (pre-tax profits up by 28% this year). So first invest £27 million of mainly Euro-cash in a new distributor road from Dolcoath in Camborne to Pool and the Heartlands project. Heartlands itself depended on a Heritage Lottery grant of £22 million with another £7 million thrown in from Cornwall Council, Europe and central government’s house building quango.
The road was a key element as its purpose was, according to the Convergence office, to ‘enable 7,660 new homes‘. The road would unlock all that lovely land for the builders to build on. Meanwhile, over at Redruth, work is now under way looking for public money for a ‘Redruth gateway’. This will ‘facilitate’ 650 houses at Tolgus and take Redruth beyond the inner by-pass. Cornwall Council paid global corporation Parsons Brinckerhoff to produce a business case for this in March of this year.
All that was needed in the meantime was to push up the housing target so that plans could be swept through quickly and easily.
The project class first used the undemocratic Regional Development Agency to propose a target of 11,000 houses for Camborne-Redruth in the next 20 years. This tripled the building rate of the 2000s, which was equivalent to 3,600 houses in the same period. But here they met their second problem. The proposed housing target was going a little too far. (Come to think of it, maybe that was the intention from the start – suggest a ridiculously high and utterly impractical target in order to make a high target look relatively ‘reasonable’.)
Some folk in Camborne and Redruth began to realise the planners were having a laugh at their expense. There was no way local demand warranted such a huge ramping up of the housing target. When the RDA bit the dust, unloved and lonely, it fell to the CPR Urban
Regeneration Degeneration Company to come up with the lower figure of 6,000 houses. This involved a 28% rise in the local housing stock in just 20 years, well up on the former rate of growth and still designed to attract people into the area.
But by now even this wasn’t enough to mollify some suspicious locals. Something more was needed. This is where the project class comes in. Their function is to wage ideological war on the local population, softening them up for the new settlements and the social engineering being planned for them. The ideological con-trick basically works by taking attention away from the outrageous housing and population growth and conjuring up all sorts of smokescreens to distract folk.
First, vacuous slogans are employed. For instance ‘Pool is the Future’. Or inflated and grandiose claims are scattered like litter in the lanes around Camborne-Redruth – the Heartlands project wasn’t just a ruse to help Linden Homes build 300 houses; it was a ‘truly inspirational cultural landscape‘. Local people were promised that the social engineering would ‘revitalise community spirit’. Proper job.
Then, shift the emphasis from the houses to the creation of jobs. Everybody likes a good job. So the carrot of jobs is dangled constantly in front of us. The road would ‘deliver new jobs’ and various job creation figures were plucked out of thin air to seduce local politicians. You might as well use the local Gypsy fortune-teller or take a peek at Granny’s tea leaves if you want to forecast job creation. As no-one ever seems to check whether these promises are ever achieved, any old nonsense suffices. And it did, as the job forecasts rose and fell like the tide.
While all this goes on, keep relentlessly telling people how all this building will make their lives so much better. Learn the lesson provided by Goebbels; repeat it often enough and they start to believe. The new road, despite only running half the way to Redruth as if it seems to lose all will to live somewhere in Pool, is supposed to improve the environment for those unfortunates living along the existing road. Not that it does a lot for people living along the new road, as the storm of protests when the road was opened from those living in the Dolcoath area of Camborne might indicate. Probably teething problems.
Finally, make sure you peddle the myth of brownfield land. The road will unlock ‘large areas of brownfield land’. Mind you, much of this ‘brownfield land’ is old mining land, not the derelict, rusting factories the phrase tends to bring to mind. Last used as recently as the 1880s, much of the land referred to in Camborne-Redruth as ‘brownfield’ has been re-vegetated for decades and looks green to any person with normal sight. In fact, even Cornwall Council’s own Sustainability Appraisal of its Local Plan admits that brownfield land ‘can often be more biologically diverse, or can provide a niche habitat for rare species’. More diverse that is than the chemical-ridden green fields of industrialised agri-business.
No matter, suckering the local media and elected representatives of all parties proved to be a simple task.
Take the sitting MP George Eustice. George called the original plan for 11,000 houses ‘barking‘. Instead, he supported the Trelawney Alliance-led campaign in Camborne against mass housing. That was before the 2010 election though. After it, he thought that a target of 300 houses a year, ‘most on derelict brownfield sites‘ was fine. Apparently having difficulty multiplying 300 by 20, George was in effect supporting the same 6,000 figure that was pushing up the build rate in the area by 67%.
His Labour opponent at the election – Jude Robinson – was an early convert to the plan for 6,000 houses and the new road, which she rather under-whelmingly described as ‘decent‘. Strangely, she also seemed to believe that Pool would become a ‘tourism venue’. The Lib Dems’ Julia Goldsworthy had also in Parliament welcomed the original plan for 11,000 houses, although she changed her mind when she came back to visit.
Not to be outdone, local councillors climbed on board the bandwagon. Camborne’s Cllr Stoneman (Con) thought the road would create jobs and ‘some housing’. Bert Biscoe, Independent councillor from Truro, felt that the road would work a miracle as now ‘Camborne and Redruth will have a much better chance to build the future they each desire‘. In your dreams, Bert.
The project class’s ideological offensive was backed up by bringing in the heavy artillery of the great and the good who would provide local housing with their seal of approval. Sir John Banham felt the affordable flats at Trevithick Road, Camborne were ‘wonderful’. He wanted them ‘built in every town’. Oddly enough though, Sir John hasn’t sold his house way down to Lamorna and come to live in Camborne.
Sir John went further, saying we have a ‘unique opportunity’ to treble the number of houses built in the UK. In Cornwall on current rates that equates to 7,125 houses a year. Which is a mind-boggling 142,500 houses over the next 20 years, increasing the population by a staggering 54%. Is this the same Sir John Banham who lives at Treen and opposed plans to build a house on a neighbouring property in 2008? And then took the old Penwith District Council to court? But the case was thrown out. Isn’t it just wonderful to be lectured on the ‘need’ to accept ever more ridiculous levels of housing in Cornwall by people who live in very pleasant, rural locations with not a Wainhome in sight?
This kind of support loses a little credibility and might backfire on the project class therefore. And they haven’t had it all their own way, as people get a little perturbed at seeing their heritage casually ‘transformed’ and nearby open spaces lost. In consequence, the Council’s housing target for Camborne-Redruth has now been scaled back to 4,500, although this is still a good bit higher than the historic rate.
The contradictions of the project constantly threaten to collapse the gap between rhetoric and reality. For instance, developers and regenerators wax lyrical these days about ‘gateways’. At Heartlands, Linden Homes has a ‘stately gateway’, entrance to ‘a contemporary, sustainable and forward looking environment that makes a special reference to the history of the area’. Thanks for that, pard.
Down the road, according to Parsons Brinckerhoff, the ‘new gateway into Pool’ will be a ‘showcase’. Although it turns out it was intended to include the same old houses, offices and a ‘landmark hotel’, the limits of the corporate vision. In any case, the reality turned out to be rather different. When permission was granted to developers for a ‘gateway feature for Camborne’ at the East Hill crossroads, they promised ‘important local facilities’ that would ‘help to meet unmet needs’. So what were the ‘important facilities’ and the ‘unmet needs’? Turns out to be a handful of fast food outlets to add to the McDonalds just across the road!
Scratch the brave new world of regeneration and rejuvenation and what do we find? A somewhat tawdrier world where public money is being used to encourage the same old population growth and embed the corporate vision of a world safe for consumption.