Curious capers at Cornwall Council

Last week strange lights were reported in the sky over west Cornwall. They turned out to be stars rather than UFOs. But meanwhile, even odder things were happening at County [sic] Hall. Perhaps those alien robots had already landed.

Back in November/December a ‘peer review’ of the planning process at Cornwall Council had swung into action. A group of assorted councillors and officers was dispatched from upcountry by the Local Government Association (LGA). Their task was to bestow their collective wisdom on the planners of West Barbary and tell them how they might ‘improve’ their planning process.

Early reports of this visit confirmed that it was a bizarre stitch-up. The biggest problem Cornwall Council’s planning process apparently suffers from turns out not be a planning department thoroughly captured by the developers’ lobby. Neither is it the inability to contain or reduce the highest rate of housebuilding pro rata in the UK. No, the ludicrous and amazing conclusion the wise men (and women?) from the east reached was that Cornwall Councillors were ‘anti-development’. They felt councillors needed to act as ambassadors for development and represent developers rather than the communities who elect them.

Sometime over the last month the long-promised report duly surfaced. This appeared online in the Cornish Guardian as early as March 9th but only in the pages of the West Briton on the 30th. The press has focused on a few anecdotal pub-rumour type accusations of bullying but repeated the thoroughly mendacious idea that Cornwall is somehow ‘closed for business’ because so few planning applications are being granted. In the face of this truly monstrous lie let’s repeat the facts. Yet again.

  • Since the 1960s the housing stock and population of Cornwall has grown three times faster than in England.
  • More houses are being built in relation to the resident population in Cornwall than anywhere else in the UK.
  • The current plan for 52,500 houses is a 16% hike on the recent historical rate, already among the highest in the UK.

What more do developers and their chums at the Council and in central government want?

'Closed for business'? Pull the other one.

‘Closed for business’? Pull the other one.

And who exactly are those secretive chums at County Hall? Apparently, the LGA report is being treated as highly confidential and kept under wraps by the Council. An unpublicised meeting of a small cabal of senior councillors and officers is taking place today (Monday) to discuss how to ‘improve’ planning in the light of this  report, which they seem to be taking seriously rather than as the preposterous joke it is.

However, while the Cornish public, to whom the Council’s Cabinet seem to forget it is accountable, is being denied access to the report, it’s been plastered across the press for at least two or three weeks. Indeed, the West Briton contains a photo of a page of it and describes it as 20 pages long, so we must assume the full report was handed over to reporters weeks ago by someone, presumably at the Council or the LGA.

So who leaked it? And why isn’t the Council’s Cabinet vigorously condemning this leak and pursuing its source? In whose interests is it to spread what can only be described as a bare-faced falsehood about the rate of housebuilding in Cornwall plus distracting tales of officers being bullied and abused?

Murky goings-on indeed and surely the opposite of the open and transparent local government that Cornwall and its communities should aspire to.

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