The Council is now claiming that it is being bullied by a ruthless Tory Government into increasing the housing target even further and have little choice. Yes, the Government is hell-bent on delivering profits for developers and landlords rather than decent and affordable housing for all and is trapped by its narrow ideological project. But the Council’s attempt to argue that it has resisted excessive growth is disingenuous and pathetic. We might have more sympathy for the Council if it had consistently argued for a lower housing target over the past few years and a breathing space for Cornish communities, which have exoperienced a growth rate more than twice that of England since the 1960s.
We might also agree with these poor, ‘bullied’ councillors if they had not been consistently ignoring the arguments generated by this site, CoSERG, the CPRE, MK councillors and others for years. We have been pointing out the flaws in government projections since at least 2012. The planners told us the Government’s population and housing projections for Cornwall had to be right, even though they had proved to be disastrously wrong in the past, because the computer model was ‘right’! The Council might have worked with campaigners to produce a robust case for special treatment and get the communities of Cornwall behind them in order to counter the propaganda of the Government. They chose not to. On the contrary, Cornwall’s planners have strenuously resisted arguments for a lower growth rate at every turn and fed their councillors deliberately misleading statistics. And instead of collaboratng with the local communities they are supposed to represent, Council Council invited developers into the heart of policy making.
Going to the Government with a target of 47,500 was always a recipe for disaster. The Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government’s inspectors were already consistently forcing up local authorities’ housing targets even before the 2015 election.. They did this whenever such targets were lower than the old Regional Strategy (RS) or the demographic projections of the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In Cornwall’s case the proposed RS numbers were 67,000. Similarly, the Strategic Housing Market Needs Assessment (SHMNA), commissioned by the Council, proposed a housing target range of from 47,500 to 70,000. This was based on the ONS projections, which it defined as indicating ‘objectively assessed need’. Accepting the logic of the ONS and SHMNA totally undermined the Council’s case for 47,500 from the outset by meekly and uncritically accepting these projections. This produced an appallingly weak negotiating position.
In Cornwall’s case, ONS projections have been consistently wrong. In the 2000s, they exaggerated Cornwall’s population growth – and by a very large margin. Yet amazingly, Cornwall Council persisted in accepting this as ‘robust’ evidence. By doing so, it opened the door for the Government to argue for a target much nearer the higher end of the range. The truth is that the Government’s ‘objective’ and ‘robust’ evidence is anything but; it’s a farrago of unsubstantiated guesswork that serves no purpose other than to intimidate councillors into continuing to accept the same housing and population-led growth that has failed Cornwall since the 1960s.
Furthermore, why does the Council refuse to argue a special case for Cornwall? A handful of local authorities have been able to avoid an increase in their housing targets. Even the developers’ charter that is the National Planning Policy Framework states in paragraph 14 that ‘objectively assessed needs’ do not have to be met if ‘any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits’. However, despite having three years to work up a case for special treatment for Cornwall, the Council failed to do so. This is despite a multitude of factors – economic, social, environmental and cultural – that could support such a case. The planners’ lame response was that if Cornwall made a special case every other place would. The result has been predictable – the Government inspector tells them to bump up the already excessive growth even higher and councillors lie down and meekly accept it.
Has not Cornwall Council and Cornish councillors since 2010 clearly failed to protect communities in Cornwall from excessive so-called ‘development’? And is this not a clear dereliction of their duty to the people of Cornwall?
For arguments against housing-led growth see here.