On the day when the Local Plan examination discussed Cornwall Council’s housing target, 15 men and two women sat around a table at the Atlantic Hotel, Newquay. Their task was not a difficult one. They were in the main planning agents setting out to convince a planning inspector that the target of 47,500 houses, the equivalent of building more than five more Truros in just two decades, was a ridiculously low figure. They rolled out three main reasons to push the number up. First, there’s Cornwall’s bloated (and strangely still not updated) Homechoice Register, on which all those registered are assumed to be currently living in cardboard boxes or other temporary accommodation and need extra houses. Second, there’s the growing number of second homes. And third, we mustn’t forget those elusive market signals that invariably signal more houses rather than fewer. The planning agents present had it easy. It’s a simple matter to churn out the same tired old ‘arguments’ already produced by Cornwall Council’s planners over the years and then echo them smugly back at them. To make it even easier, the developers and landlords behind them had coughed up the cash for two or three barristers to bully and hector the inspector.
So who comprised this group of fairly anonymous people who are allowed to decide our fate for us in backrooms at iconic Victorian grand hotels? Which planning agencies were present, where did they come from and who did they represent?
- We can start with the Home [sic] Builders Federation, who’d dispatched down to Cornwall their strategic planner for London and the South.
- Persimmon Homes (whose profits jumped in 2014 by 44% to £475 million, on a rise in housing completions of only 17%) was the only developer representing themselves directly. All the other developers and landlords seeking to enhance their income by transforming Cornwall into a developers’ paradise and thereby speeding up the implicit race to increase Cornwall’s population to a million by the end of the century, had paid planning agents to represent them. Let’s see who they were …
- The Managing Director of D2 Planning based at Westbury, near Bristol, was putting the case for the North East Helston Partnership.
- Boyer Planning’s man had travelled from Cardiff to represent another group of landowners – the North and Middle Pill Landowners of Saltash.
- The megabuilder Taylor Wimpey and Merlion Capital Corporation of Winchester had employed Savills, who sent their Bristol-based Director of Planning all the way to Newquay to do the job.
- The Technical Director at Terence O’Rourke (London), based in Bournemouth was making a case for Eco-Bos during the representations on the Local Plan, favouring an increase to 57,000 houses.
- Barton Willmore’s HQ is at Reading and its nearest offices are again Bristol and Cardiff. It sent a planning associate from the latter office.
- A senior associate at David Lock Associates (Milton Keynes) was representing Hallam Land Management, a Sheffield based company which is the land and planning arm of the Henry Boot Group, which made £9.2 million profits in 2014 on a turnover of £88 million in its construction activities.
- It’s not just upcountry developers who are circling Cornwall avidly, drooling in anticipation. We have our own home-grown predators sniffing at the decaying carcass of Cornishness. Two such are the Enys Estate at Penryn and the Tregothnan Estate, here represented by the Taunton-based partner and Head of Panning at Smiths Gore.
- Principal Planner at Tetlow King‘s Bristol office represented the South West HARP Planning Consortium, which brings together housing associations.
- Stride Treglown at Bristol was representing another local landowner – the Coode Estate based at Lanhydrock, which owns land at Launceston as well as in mid-Cornwall. In its previous representation, Stride Treglown had argued for between 60,000 and 70,000 houses.
- A director of Emery Planning Partnership, although found a fair distance from Cornwall at Macclesfield, apparently knows that Cornwall ‘needs’ 66,000 houses, not 47,500. This company was making the case for Wainhomes.
- Commercial Estates Group of London, Crinnis Beach Second Home City and the Broadmoor Farm suburb at Saltash, thought the Council’s target was ‘deeply flawed’, ‘not robust’ and based on ‘no reliable evidence’. Instead, their demand for a range from 54,500 to 81,000 houses was put forward by Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners’ London office.
- Finally, Origin3, yet another planning agency based at Bristol, was acting on behalf of Jersey-based LXB Properties (Willow Green and Higher Newham at Truro), Comparo of Cirencester, who own land and property at Holywell Bay and Watergate Bay, and Terrace Hill, which wanted to build hundreds of houses at Gulval while ‘caring passionately’ and ‘crafting places’ for the long-term.
- Origin3 had earlier found Cornwall Council’s Local Plan to be, what a surprise, ‘wholly inadequate’ and ‘unsound’. In a bizarre argument, they concluded that 37,723 houses were needed just to meet those waiting for affordable housing. In order to deliver this amount there would have to be an ‘increased provision of market housing’. But, even at an affordability ratio of 40%, unanimously regarded by developers as far too high, this would mean building 94,000 houses, not 47,500.
The final unreal absurdity, doubling even the present unsustainable rate, is likely to have found a sympathetic ear in the Government’s planning inspector, Simon Emerson. This is the man who forced Bath and North East Somerset to build more houses in 2012/13 by backing developers’ concerns. It took him 30 months to do so however. He’s already postponed the rest of Cornwall Council’s examination to the spring of this year. This conveniently gives speculative developers plenty of opportunity to bang in their planning applications in the absence of a strategic plan, thus increasing their likelihood of success.
Not one of those who were deciding the fate of Cornwall and Cornish communities seem to have any detectable link to Cornwall, let alone be of Cornish origin.