So are we in a position to sketch out this as yet non-existent organisation, one that would fill the political gap between tribalist Westminster-orientated party politics and local campaigning groups? For a start, it would have to foster an image of being a decidedly non-political political group. Eschewing traditional behaviour, it would look more like a movement or a network than a political party. Its broad aim would be to change or influence current policy and provide a vision, or visions, of a Cornwall where the end-game involves something more than shopping, urbanisation and getting past the million residents mark as quickly as possible. It would emphasise positive rather than negative goals. One obvious objective would be to provide decent housing at genuinely affordable prices for local people, rather than be led by a developers’ feeding frenzy that pillages the Cornish countryside in a random quest for profits and sites to house the massive potential demand for the Cornwall lifestyle [sic] of the weekend broadsheet supplements.
The enemy must be their ‘plan’ and the commitment to mindless growth at any cost, not individual planners or councillors. Recently, there’s been a tendency to personalise the issues, calling for the heads of this councillor or that planning officer. No doubt many of them fully deserve a well-earned, or rather not so well-earned, rest from their labours, but attacking them in this way can be counter-productive. Indeed, nothing is more likely to get other councillors and planners rallying behind the besieged victim in solidarity and from a vague herd instinct.
Our yet-to-be-born movement shouldn’t waste its energy on personal attacks or in the equally futile exercise of trying to change the minds of those who are trapped in a blinkered mind-set incapable of looking beyond government-imposed rules and developer-led planning. Instead, it must use humour and ridicule to highlight the patent lunacy of their ‘solutions’. It should also be alert to the possibility of divide and rule, probing at weak points in what appears to be a local authority monolith. In fact, it isn’t. There will be planners uneasy with the cosy working relationship with developers, councillors aghast at the ongoing project to transform Cornwall into a replica of south-eastern England. Those voices need to be encouraged to speak out, the many contradictions in the official line exposed, divisions within the ruling clique widened out.
To do all that requires a movement united in its aims and informed about the planning process. The latter implies an educational and agitational function, ensuring that campaigners are clear about the overriding influence of the National Planning Policy Framework, the role of central government, the way the determination process and the appeals system work. Moreover, the strategic Local Plan has to be dragged out from its over-technical bunker. Its short-term approach has to be contrasted with its long-term consequences, as it cuts its swathe across a ravaged and wrecked landscape littered by the bones of communities sacrificed to Mammon. A Local Plan that involved developers rather than communities at its early stages has to be exposed as a sham, anything but ‘local’: in reality a developers’ charter. The call must be for a genuinely community-led and locally-directed planning system.
Indeed, this could be at the heart of a core set of simple demands, for example
- Cornish issues decided democratically in Cornwall
- genuinely affordable housing for local needs
- real action on second homes
These demands could be part of a broader call for the re-democratisation of Cornwall. The underwhelming news this week that decisions on EU grant spending will be handed from central government to an unelected quango (the LEP), plus the decision of Cornwall Council to cave in to the Government’s insistence it discuss its ‘Case for Cornwall’ deal in private session, combine to reinforce the conclusion that some re-insertion of democratic accountability and transparency is sorely overdue.
The demands are also not that far from those of Cornwall Council in its ‘Case for Cornwall’ and can therefore hardly be represented as unreasonable. However, their ‘case’ is riddled with contradictions, paying lip service to these aims while actually embedding developer-led growth at its heart and insisting devolution can be delivered without the necessary democratic and institutional reforms. In fact, demands such as these are more radical than they look, as they are difficult to attain within the constraints of a market-led and centralist structure that regards Cornwall as merely another part of England rather than a territory with a distinct non-English identity and the home of the Cornish people. This latter status has to be placed at the centre of local politics and no longer regarded, as at present, as something to be ignored, resisted or denied.
With its aims and goals in place, such a movement would work on short-term objectives. The main objective would be to put Cornwall Council on the defensive by declaring the intention to oppose all councillors who haven’t publicly resisted the developer-led planning process or rejected the future being mapped out in the Council’s Local Plan. While the 2017 local elections have to remain the immediate focus, the movement would work to establish better communication horizontally, between that handful of councillors who can sense the pointlessness of developer-led planning and the dismal future it holds out for us, and campaigners for change and a better Cornwall. It should also do all it can to encourage and support local campaigners against inappropriate building projects. Yet it shouldn’t lose sight of its overall objective and not get deflected into energy-sapping day-to-day battles against developers.
This not-yet-invented network/movement would need an action plan. This might include
– an event, for instance a public meeting to launch it
– regular stunts such as demonstrations, marches, media actions to capture public attention, for example community planning meetings to provide space for a people’s examination of the Local Plan to parallel the ‘examination’ by a single individual inspector appointed by the Government
– action like petitions, letter-writing campaigns to MPs and/or councillors, press releases
These would be accompanied by communication through all media with as many people as possible in the time left before the 2017 local elections.
The immediate necessity is a secure forum where ideas such as those above can be discussed, revised, moulded, dismissed and issues such as aims and objectives, priority of tactics, organisational structure, relationship with political parties such as MK and the Greens thought through.
Or do we just go on moaning?