Helston: Dancing with the developers

Helston should really be in east Cornwall. Surrounded by countryside which has a high number of second homes and with one of Cornwall’s highest growth rates since the 1960s (second only to Bodmin) it resembles Liskeard or Launceston more than its bigger neighbours. Moreover, like its eastern cousins, the ‘quaint old town’ of the furry dance has for years been led a merry old dance by the developers.

Large chunks of countryside to the north and east of the town have already disappeared under bland suburban housing. This reminds me of one of the more ridiculous arguments put forward by the increasingly desperate supporters of high population growth. This was that most new housing estates in Cornwall were populated by people who’d only moved a few miles. Requests for the source for this ‘research’ strangely met with no response.

It’s not difficult to see why. Estates of unaffordable (for locals) open market houses are marketed to people outside Cornwall. If all the people living in these new houses had only moved from down the road then why is it that the proportion of those claiming a Cornish national identity in the 2011 Census in Helston was the lowest in the Lowertown, Trenethick and Hellis Wartha areas of the town – precisely the areas with a lot of new housing?

Now, although Helston has grown very quickly in the past half century the planners have kindly decided to give it a bit of a respite. Not much of one admittedly and hardly a sufficient breathing space to acculturate those new to town. Nonetheless, a planned housing growth no higher than the general rate for Cornwall is something I guess.

Fields to east of Helston

Fields to east of Helston

The problem is that the flat and open landscape to the north and east of the town offers tempting attractions to developers. Indeed, while reducing the housing growth rate a little, Cornwall’s planners simultaneously open the door to potential developers. They assure them that Helston has a ‘capacity for growth’, with land to accommodate 2,200 more houses. That’ll involve a massive 46% increase in the size of the town. And just when the local community was beginning to relax too.

The Council-led Helston Town Framework adopts a spuriously technical method to investigate where to put all these new houses. It comes up with three options for its ‘urban extension’, as it sets out its ‘vision and aspirations for the area‘. And what are those ‘aspirations’? In fact, the planners had already decided in their Local Plan documentation that ‘growth will help to deliver many of the aspirations communities have in this area’. So Helston can have what it wants, but it can’t possibly have no growth for a bit. That would be a disaster and lead to the inhabitants eating each other.

The next areas for housing (marked in green!?)

The next areas for housing (marked in green!?)

Of course, the planners don’t seem to have bothered to ask the folk of Helston whether the town’s rapid growth over the last two generations hasn’t already delivered their ‘aspirations’. And if not, why not?

The housing options are first to the east towards Trewennack, second between Flambards and what was the bypass but not for much longer as housing spills south of it, and third in the grounds of the Nansloe Hotel. Oddly enough, despite all those ‘aspirations’ most of the comments made in the consultation on the Framework Plan in 2013 were not exactly positive. Problems of infrastructure, the visual impact and the effects on the historic environment, local ecology and biodiversity were raised. The planners duly ‘noted’ these responses before consigning them to a filing cabinet on a planet orbiting the system Apha Betelgeuse.

trewennack helston mapThis year the first fruits of the Council’s aspirations have flowered, as a local farmer’s development company has proposed 400 houses to the east of the town, with shops, infrastructure and a public open space. The reaction of local councillors speaks volumes for their impotence. Judith Haycock (Ind, Helston) said that large developments were preferable as ‘we can get more from developers from planning gain’. Even Loveday Jenkin (MK, Crowan), while expressing some disquiet about ‘building on the outskirts of the town’, claimed that ‘the majority would be in favour of it, if it led to the creation of a new road to bypass Trewennack’.

A road, a road, my kingdom for a road. Like the one out of Helston.

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