The Cornish, state housing policy and the FCPNM

Below is a copy of a report submitted to the Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities to the United Kingdom. You can download the pdf here: The FCPNM and the Cornish

1. Demographic change

1.1 From 1961 to 2011 the population of Cornwall rose by 57%. This compares with a 14% rise in England, 11% in Wales and 2% in Scotland over the same half-century. The increase in Cornwall is entirely the result of in-migration. Natural change has been and continues to be negative, with deaths exceeding births. While some returning Cornish will be among the in-migrants, the bulk, perhaps two thirds, are not members of the Cornish national minority.

1.2 As a result of this demographic change, the proportion of native-born, a proxy for the Cornish, has declined from 75% in the 1950s to somewhere between 40-50% now. (The exact proportion is unknown as the Government does not investigate this aspect in its decennial census. Moreover, unlike the Scots and Welsh, no explicit tick box questions are provided relating to Cornish ethnicity or national identity, thus rendering comparison of these features impossible.)

1.3 All sources, however, agree that the proportion of the Cornish in the population of Cornwall has reduced and is being reduced. This has had a negative impact on a sense of residual Cornishness, which academic research concludes has been devalued and ignored. Elements of traditional cultural identity have atrophied, while a ‘classic’ or ‘proper’ Cornishness is in stasis. Unremitting and continuous demographic change of this magnitude creates a background where the resilience of the Cornish national minority and its ‘aspirational vision … rooted in community values’ is compromised and constrained, too often replaced by cynicism, fatalism and defeatism (Kennedy, 2013, 121).

2. Local state policy and demographic change

2.1 In the 1960s and 1970s Cornwall County Council policy was effectively to encourage population-led growth. The assumption underlying this was that ‘dynamic’ in-migrants would trigger entrepreneurial activity and uplift the economy. In reality however, the in-migration stream has displayed ‘low levels of economic dynamism’ (Burley, 2007, abstract).

2.2 By the 1990s the economic problems of low GDP per capita, low household income and under-employment were sufficiently chronic for Cornwall to qualify for the highest grade of EU structural funding. A strategy of population-led growth had comprehensively failed. Indeed, in-migration, by adding to labour supply, was acting to dampen wage levels even further and was part of the problem, not the solution.

2.3 In 2010 the new unitary authority adopted an aggressive policy of housing led growth, responding to central government blandishments. In effect, this returned to the policies of the 1970s. Council planners called for a housing target of over 50,000 houses in 20 years, a sharp rise on the most recent historic building rate of 42-45,000 over 20 years. This was subsequently lowered somewhat by elected representatives although the Local Plan process and interference by central government has now restored the target to a minimum of 52,500.

3. The housing market and the policy regime

3.1 The aim of increasing the supply of open market housing, the only way of achieving greater housing supply in a context of restricted spending on socialised housing, has to rely on demand from in-migrants. Cornwall Council admits that ‘the nature of Cornwall as a housing market’ means that housing growth is ‘dependent upon significant increases in past rates of net migration’ (Appendix 2, Cornwall’s Full Objectively Assessed Need, 2015, p.24). Council policy is therefore effectively to increase the net in-migration rate and indirectly to speed up the attrition of the Cornish national minority in Cornwall.

3.2 However, the Council’s public statements mask this intention behind various disingenuous pronouncements. Head of Planning Phil Mason, for example, asserted on BBC Radio Cornwall in 2015 that new housing created no net in-migration at all, as it was all sold to local residents. This claim is not supported by evidence. In fact, the last major survey of new private housing developments across Cornwall in 1986/87 found that almost a half (44%) of households on those estates had moved directly from outside Cornwall. It is most unlikely that this pattern has changed radically over the past generation, especially given the marketing strategies of the volume housebuilders, which is transparently aimed at buyers in the south-east of England.

3.3 Considerable evidence has been produced that raises questions about the official datasets used to project future growth rates in Cornwall. These have been found to be grossly inaccurate in their predictions and have consistently exaggerated net in-migration rates to Cornwall by at least 1,000 per year. (See Section 2 of Housing, migration and population in Cornwall, 2014 for the technical details. The report can be accessed here.) Cornwall Council has refused to consider this evidence or use it to compose a robust argument for lower housing/population targets. Instead, it continues to pursue a high housing and population growth strategy, despite the dire implications of that strategy for the Cornish national minority.

4. The implications of housing and demographic change: social exclusion and discrimination

4.1 In-migration is highest when price differentials between Cornwall and the south east of England are greatest (for example Burley, 2007, 327). Two thirds of migrants to Cornwall are from that region and tend to have access to more resources and equity than Cornish residents. As early as the 1980s academic studies were noting the ‘middle class, middle aged, middle browed city dwellers who effectively imposed their standards upon local society’ (Perry et al, 1986, 129), although in reality migrants are more likely to originate from the suburbs of those cities.

4.2 In Cornwall disadvantaged groups include the Cornish. Long term residents, a proxy for this group, are more likely to be in manual work, earn less, are in poorer health and have greater housing need than the non-Cornish element of the population (Husk, 2011 and 2012, 92-93 and 154-55). In consequence, the Cornish bring less effective demand to the housing market than do in-migrants. Kowalczuk (2010) concludes that recent decades have seen rising inequalities in Cornwall and growing social polarisation as a result of demographic change (pp.267/68).

4.3 Thus, a reliance on the provision of open market housing to encourage more in-migration to Cornwall not only alters the proportions of the ethnic groups within Cornwall to the disadvantage of the Cornish national minority. It also exacerbates affordability problems by pressing down on wage levels yet increasing demand for housing, This impacts more on the Cornish than the non-Cornish. (See Section 3 of Housing, migration and population in Cornwall, 2014 for the details of this process.)

4.4 Moreover, central government policy, as in its Housing and Planning Bill, is aimed at reducing the rented sector and increasing owner-occupation. This is combined with growing restrictions on those living in social housing, reduced investment in social rented housing, extension of right to buy legislation to housing associations and redefining ‘affordable’ to include unaffordable housing. These policy changes impact on the poor and those in the rented sector while leaving house-owners untouched. As the Cornish national minority are more likely to be in housing need, they also amount to discrimination against that minority.

4.5 Given these circumstances, where in-migration is intricately linked to the housing market and the Cornish are a disadvantaged group within that market, it is surprising and regrettable that Cornwall Council does not address this issue in its strategic planning documents.

5. Cornwall Council’s strategic planning and references to the Cornish national minority

5.1 In the original Core Strategy documentation in 2012 there was not one mention of the Cornish people in 366 pages. Indeed, the word ‘Cornish’ only appeared as a descriptive adjective four times. Its superficial Equality Impact Assessment. amounting to a mere 12 pages, dismissed the Cornish by the vague assertion that the Plan would have a ‘positive impact’ by providing ‘more community facilities’. Given the effects of its overall housing and growth policies, this puerile and pathetic response was widely viewed as an insult.

5.2 In the 236 pages of the Councils’ Strategic Housing Market Needs Assessment there is also not one mention of the Cornish people.

5.3 In the revised Local Plan about to be submitted to the DCLG, the Council claims that ‘in preparing the Local Plan, the Council has had regard to the principles set out in the framework convention’. There was indeed an explicit mention. Para 1.17 states that ‘the formal recognition of the Cornish as a national minority reinforces the distinctive character of Cornwall both as a place and its cultural identity. The designation also brings with it responsibilities under the FCPNM’. Unfortunately, those sentences stand in glorious isolation as no further reference to the Convention is made in the 177 pages of the revised Local Plan.

6. The state and the Framework Convention

6.1 Campaigners in Cornwall had high hopes that the UK state’s recognition of the Cornish as a national minority would help to alleviate the discriminatory practices outlined above and trigger an explicit recognition of the plight of the Cornish. They have been sadly disillusioned.

6.2 The Cornish were granted minority status under the FCPNM in April 2014. At the time Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, stated that this would ‘afford the Cornish people the same status as other minorities in the UK’. The Government press release went on to repeat this; recognition ‘affords them the same status … as the UK’s other Celtic people [sic], the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish’.

6.3 Cornwall Council duly placed the same wording on their website, adding that ‘Government departments and public bodies will be required to take Cornish views into account when making decisions that have an impact on Cornwall’. They went on to state that ‘Public bodies are already beginning to review their policies and responses to the Cornish to ensure that a level playing field exists for them in comparison with other minority cultural groups’. This rather missed the point that the comparison should be with the majority group rather than ‘other minority groups’.

6.4 Despite this, it took Cornwall Council almost a year and a half to produce a draft Action Plan. This eventually appeared in September 2015 and was accompanied by a Members’ Working Group to be responsible for the Council’s response to the Convention. ( However, the draft Action Plan, still under discussion five months later, contains serious lacunae and glosses over key strategic issues of concern. The Working Group seems designed to restrict the Framework Convention to cultural and linguistic matters relating to that small minority who champion the revived Cornish language.

6.5 Hopes in Cornwall were particularly raised by Article 16, the intention of which is to prevent a deliberate alteration in the ethnic balance. Cornwall Council’s response has been very revealing. First, it points out that Article 16 ‘needed to be considered in the whole, rather than in part’ (draft Action Plan). This implies that any change in the Cornish proportion of the population of Cornwall has not been a deliberate policy aim. Is the Council really unaware of the consequences of encouraging open-market housing growth and therefore in-migration? Are we expected to believe that it has no prior understanding of the effects of its own policies? This flies against its own analysis of the workings of the housing market as set out in its ‘Cornwall’s Full Objectively Assessed Need’ paper of 2015.

6.6 In contrast, in May 2015 the Council claimed that the Local Plan meets the ‘needs of everyone’. This is an endearing but hopelessly naive and simplistic response. It is most unlikely that the Council really believes that policy decisions are always neutral and never have differential impacts on different groups, either witting or unwitting. While resolutely avoiding discussion of the consequences of its planning policies, the Council went on to point out that the Cornish, instead of demanding equal treatment and safeguards for their future, needed to respect the ‘rights of others, in particular those of persons belonging to the majority’, citing Article 20. The authors of this ploy to use the FCPNM against Cornish demands presumably belong to that majority (see below, section 7).

6.7 Cornwall Council’s second response has been to deny the status and importance of the Convention. In its evidence to the Local Plan Examination in May 2015 the Council stated that, as there was no specific legislation relating to the FCPNM, ‘it does not have the same force as the European Convention on Human Rights’. Therefore the ‘primary responsibility’ for meeting the principles enshrined in the Convention rests with central government and not local government.

6.8 Such obfuscation and passing the buck is best seen as part of the deliberate ideological warfare being waged to justify high housing and population growth in Cornwall (and therefore an alteration in the ethnic balance). The other elements in this rhetorical engineering involve the refusal to admit openly that most new housing is destined to meet demand from in-migrants, masking this by constant reference to ‘local needs’, shunting the FCPNM into purely cultural and linguistic concerns and ignoring its socio-economic dimensions.

7 Lifestyle Cornwall, Lifestruggle Cornwall and policy-making elites

7.1 Three wider structural factors can help us explain why Cornwall Council has been so reluctant to address the socio-economic and cultural impacts of its policies on the Cornish as a group. First, state policy takes place in a context of a two-tier Cornwall. This can be characterised as, on the one hand, Lifestyle Cornwall, focused on the regional image and the coastal areas and encouraging permanent and temporary in-migration. On the other hand, we have Lifestruggle Cornwall. This comprises the long-term residents and the native population, with their traditional heritage and identity.

7.2 Neo-liberal state policy is geared towards facilitating Lifestyle Cornwall rather than protecting and safeguarding Lifestruggle Cornwall and Cornishness. The clearest example of this occurred last year when the Government Inspector tasked to examine Cornwall Council’s Local Plan ordered the Council to add 3,600 houses to its housing target to accommodate the demand for second or third houses from potential buyers outside Cornwall.

7.3 More indirectly, legislation such as the Housing and Planning Bill also impacts disproportionately on the Cornish population. Meanwhile, decisions on state spending, prioritising and subsidising prestige projects such as Newquay airport, stimulate further second house ownership and ultimately in-migration, at the expense of spending on community facilities such as public toilets, libraries and social care. This also has its ethnic dimension, one ignored by neo-liberal policy-makers.

7.4 The second element in the broader context of policy-making is both caused by and reproduces a reliance on in-migration and the de-facto shrinkage of the ethnically Cornish population. In-migration is skewed towards the higher socio-economic groups. The percentage of in-migrants in the top socio-economic occupations is ‘far higher’ than non-migrants (Burley 2007, 328). This creates a cultural division of labour within Cornwall as local elites are staffed by the non-Cornish.

7.5 ‘Empowered institutional decision-makers’ have been accused of treating local narratives with disdain, failing to recognise, let alone empathise with, the concerns of the native population (Kennedy, 2013). Other academic research finds that regional development elites, ‘all in-migrants’, who ‘dismiss’ Cornish ethnicity are a major part of the problem and ‘more harmful than helpful’ to regional development discourses (Willett, 2013). This is echoed by Husk and Williams (2012), who noted the role of external elites in de-legitimating the Cornish identity. On a more basic note, it is hardly surprising that a controlling class dominated by the non-Cornish favour policies that encourage more in-migration of those like themselves and will resist efforts to bring such policies into the light of day.

7.6 While there are obviously individual exceptions, the disdain of a policy-making and institutionally embedded elites can easily spill over into lazy stereotyping or even overtly racist attitudes. Husk’s interviews with ‘knowledgeable individuals’ in the voluntary and community sectors in Cornwall bear this out (Husk, 2012, 197-203). Some of them described the Cornish as ‘lazy’ or lacking aspirations, while the Cornish were accused of harbouring an attitude of ‘entitlement’. A proportion of policy-makers clearly see their privileges threatened by any instance of self-assertion on the part of the Cornish. Unable to transcend the myths that circulate within the project class, they then interpret demands for parity and equal treatment of the Cornish as a group as an unacceptable ‘attitude of entitlement’.

7.7 Such low-level disdain and implicit racism within an institutional elite remains a barrier to Cornish aspirations. It is further exacerbated by a policy imbalance that favours a Lifestyle Cornwall geared to the needs of the non-Cornish and an over-reliance of the Cornish economy on tourism. Tresidder (2010) has described tourism development as ‘just another form of cultural colonialism’, one that ‘marginalises not only the landscapes of Cornwall, but also the history, heritage, culture and society of the destination’. Given these structural and institutional constraints it is easy to see why an outdated colonialist mentality might fester among elite actors.

7.8 The final contextual element explaining the refusal to grant equality to the Cornish population of Cornwall is the place of Cornwall in the spatial consciousness of wider British society. This also works to marginalise the non-Cornish population resident in Cornwall. Administered as an English county, Cornwall is denied the rights ceded by the state to Wales and Scotland. This means that the Cornish national minority within the UK is treated differently in its home territory than are the Welsh or Scottish national minorities.

7.9 One instance will suffice. The Government’s Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act was passed in 2011 but not activated. It is now being activated in time for the next parliamentary elections due in 2020. While treating Scotland and Wales as discrete geographical units for the purpose of redrawing boundaries, Cornwall is seen as an indistinguishable part of south-west England. In consequence, its current six parliamentary seats will be reduced to five, while a sixth seat will draw a quarter of its electorate from Cornwall and the rest from England. Those Cornish living in this sixth hybrid constituency will thus be gerrymandered into minority status in an English-dominated constituency. This appears to be in breach of Article 16 of the Convention. As the explanatory report explains: ‘redrawing administrative borders with a view to restricting the enjoyment of such rights and freedoms (‘gerrymandering’)’.

8 Conclusion

8.1 The Council’s tactics in response to Article 16 have failed to take the spirit and intentions of the Convention into consideration. The UK government and its local state are in breach of Articles 4.2 and 5.1 of the FCPNM. Not only are they not promoting the conditions for the Cornish to ‘preserve the essential elements of their identity’, namely their ‘traditions and cultural heritage’, they are acquiescing in a situation where there exists no ‘full and effective equality’ between the Cornish in Cornwall and the non-Cornish.

8.2 Cornwall Council’s continuing reluctance to address key issues of planning, housing and population growth in relation to the Convention means that it is in breach of its articles, as is the UK Government, which refuses to give the Cornish parity with the UK’s other indigenous minorities and treat the territory of Cornwall as it does that of Wales or Scotland.

Burley, Stuart (2007), ‘Migration and economy in Cornwall’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Plymouth).

Kennedy, Neil (2013), ‘Employing Cornish Cultures for Community Resilience’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Exeter).

Husk, Kerryn (2011), ‘Ethnicity and Social Exclusion: Research and Policy Implications in a Cornish Case Study’, Social and Public Policy Review, 5, 7-25.

Husk, Kerryn (2012), ‘Ethnic group affiliation and social exclusion in Cornwall; analysis, adjustment and extension of the 2001 England and Wales Census data’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Plymouth).

Husk, Kerryn and Malcolm Williams (2012), ‘The Legitimation of Ethnicity: The Case of the Cornish’, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 12, 249-267.

Kowalczuk, Katarzyna (2010), ‘Population growth in a high amenity area: Migration and socio-economic change in Cornwall’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Plymouth).

Perry, Ronald, Ken Dean and Bryan Brown (1986), Counterurbanisation: International Case studies of Socio-Economic Change in Rural Areas (Norwich: Geo Books).

Willett, Joanie (2013), ‘Liberal Ethnic Nationalism, Universality, and Cornish Identity’, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 13, 201-217.

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One Response to The Cornish, state housing policy and the FCPNM

  1. Pingback: Cornwall’s failure to support Mebyon Kernow ensures the policies of London can trump the decisions of local people | CORNOVIA

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