Albert Einstein is supposed to have said ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results’.
This is probably apocryphal, but even if Einstein didn’t say it, if he’d visited Bodmin he would surely have come up with something very similar. For Bodmin seems fated to re-live its past, trapped in a never-ending spiral of frantic growth that ends up going nowhere. It was the only town back in the 1960s to welcome planned population growth (as opposed to the unplanned variety that happened in most Cornish towns). Councillors thought it was a great idea. Just the ticket for creating hundreds of jobs, wealth and prosperity for all. Bodmin would become a shining beacon of hope for all those other benighted Cornish communities that had rejected this manna for heaven, then known by the acronym GLC.
As I pointed out at more length in my blog about Bodmin a year ago, there was only one tiny problem with this plan – it didn’t work. Bodmin’s not visibly any more prosperous, happy or contented than any other place. Cornwall Council’s planners, various over-paid consultants and Bodmin’s Lib Dem councillors all pondered long and hard why this could possibly be the case.
And then they came up with something really clever. How about building thousands more houses and giving the population a big boost. That’s bound to create hundreds of jobs, wealth and prosperity for all. Apparently learning nothing for their own local history, they’re hell-bent on forcing the folk of Bodmin to swallow even more of the same failed medicine.
Now the town’s set to grow by 46% in just 20 years, pipping Lanson to become Cornwall’s fastest growing town. As a result, its CNA has leapt from Number 6 in Cornwall’s growth league in 1990-2010 back to the number 1 spot. This is where its ‘opinion-formers’ obviously hope and expect it to remain.
The first fruit of this have been seen over the past year when Cornwall Council gave the go-ahead for 570 houses around Priory Road on the east side of town. This is only the first instalment of the 3,000 houses planned for the next 15 years.
At this rate, Bodmin’s housing is doubling every 40 years or so, having already more than doubled since the 1960s. But when will this excessive growth stop? What’s the endgame? Is there an endgame? When Cornwall Council’s leaders are asked this, they’ll look at you blankly. Planners and politicians alike will resort to the line that ‘the Plan is only for 20 years; we can’t think beyond that’. For can’t, read won’t.
Councillors appear to be equally incapable of contemplating the long-term consequences of current policy. As an example, Cllr Egerton of Probus replied to a question about housing targets in 2012 with the comment that it was ‘not helpful’ to point out that current growth rates would double Cornwall’s population by the end of the century. Why? Not helpful to whom? The planners, councillors, MPs and developers who refuse to think beyond the short-term and would much prefer it if none of us raised such awkward long-term questions?