Last year, the Government dispatched its inspector to have a look at Cornwall’s Local Plan and ensure that its already excessive housing target was bumped up a bit more in order to meet the needs of developers. Cornwall Council, over-influenced by the developers’ lobby, had caved in years ago and had nicely prepared the ground by generating lots of arguments for developers to use. At the same time, it had firmly set its face against calling for a much-needed breathing space for Cornish communities or demanding a degree of fairness when expanding the built-up area of Cornwall.
Perish the thought. Instead, it ignored those who pointed out that demographic projections were fictitious, or that in-migration was actually on a downward trend. Determined to defend developers’ freedom to build at all costs, irrespective of its effects on the Cornish economy, society or culture, Cornwall Council threw in the towel and prepared a housing target of 47,500. This maintained the unsustainable building rates of the previous half-century. In doing that, the Council preferred not to inform the people that population in Cornwall had already grown since the 1960s at a rate three times that of England, four times that of Wales and 26 times that of Scotland. Instead, communities were to be asked to go on coping with this rate of growth into the foreseeable future and well beyond.
Even this wasn’t enough however for the Government. Faced by a phalanx of planning agents all eagerly demanding 57,000 or more houses, the planning inspector conveniently and predictably discovered that Cornwall Council needed an ‘uplift’ in its housing target. Not content with building the equivalent of five Truros in just two decades, we now have to find room for more. Since last summer, developers’ planning applications have been busy plagiarising each other and routinely parroting the ‘fact’ that Cornwall Council isn’t meeting the ‘full objectively assessed need’ (more on this in a future blog). For example, Wainhomes, seeking permission for almost 200 houses at Par, claims there is ‘a serious and significant under supply of both open market and affordable housing’.
None of the gang of circling and ravenous sharks dares to compare the level of housebuilding in Cornwall with elsewhere. For the truth is that, far from there being an ‘under-supply’, the growth in housing in Cornwall has been running at levels considerably higher than in England, once the difference in size is taken into account. Last year, 2,700 houses were added to Cornwall’s stock. This is a small number when compared to England’s 170,690. However, the population of Cornwall is almost exactly 1% of that of England. But the number of houses built in Cornwall was 1.6% of the total. In other words, last year the Cornish housing stock was expanded at a rate 60% faster than in England.
Moreover, this is not just a recent phenomenon. If we compare Cornwall’s housebuilding story with that of England, we find there’s been a consistent over-supply of housing in Cornwall for the past ten years at least. Here are the detailed stats (from the DCLG’s Live Table 122: Net additional dwellings by local authority).
Net additional dwellings: 2005-2015
|England||Cornwall||Cornwall as % of England|
Far from failing to meet Government pleas to build more houses, in Cornwall that objective has been not only met but surpassed. Yet, while Cornwall councillors congratulate themselves on loyally doing the Government’s bidding, curiously we still have a housing crisis and an insufficient supply of housing that local people can afford. The reason is nothing to do with the numbers being built. The reason is that we have a dysfunctional housing market geared solely to meeting the need of developers, construction companies, landlords, estate agents and the like for profit.
This fact is masked by simplistic calls just to build more houses. This demand is being cynically created by those interests that stand to gain from building more houses. It’s then re-echoed by a political class and a media that hardly ever critically examine the way the housing market works in practice. Instead, these elites promote the impression that all we need to do is build more. If the solution were that simple, then Cornwall should be doing really well. Unfortunately, leaving housing to be provided by developers is a recipe for disaster, managing only to perform the trick of providing fewer decent, genuinely affordable homes at the same time as boosting the profits of developers and others and, at least in Cornwall but also places like London, ensuring an increase in the supply of empty and unaffordable housing.