There’s a tendency on social media to claim that development pressures in Cornwall are nothing unique or out of the ordinary. ‘It’s the same everywhere’ and ‘no different here’ are the refrains. Sometimes, this can meld into a more vituperative, anti-Cornish rhetoric, as we see in the tide of trolling that inevitably accompanies issues such as the lack of funding for the Cornish language. The latter flows from a desperate, almost pathological in some cases, desire to deny difference to Cornwall and/or a stubborn refusal to understand what the words ‘national minority’ mean. However, let’s not dwell on the psychological problems of those who feel so threatened by Cornish demands for equal treatment.
It’s difficult to see what claims that Cornwall is ‘no different’ from anywhere else are supposed to imply. So what? Are we supposed to respond by saying ‘oh, well, that’s OK then, I’ll get back to Britain’s Got Talent‘. It’s irrelevant, as we’re living in Cornwall, not ‘anywhere else’. Clearly, many communities in rural England will also face the prospect of mass housing on nearby countryside However, let’s look at this in perspective and seek out evidence rather than rely on anecdotes and assertions that we’re the ‘same’ as everyone else.
If we do that we’ll soon discover that in practice the claim just doesn’t stack up. On many levels Cornwall is different from everywhere else, most obviously in the historic traces of its non-English language, a sense of national identity and its Celtic connections. But it’s different even in terms of mundane ‘development’ pressures, which are actually a lot greater in Cornwall than in most parts of England, both currently and historically.
Let’s take population growth since 1961. Here’s a map of population change in England and Wales. Cornwall ranks 8th. The areas with higher growth tend to be economic powerhouses in the east and south English Midlands or places with new towns. Neither of these factors were found in Cornwall, which in contrast is a region with chronic economic issues. In 56 English and Welsh counties, population growth was lower than in Cornwall.
What about the increase in the housing stock since the Tories and Lib Dems imposed their build-at-all-costs planning framework in 2010? In this case, only four English counties outstrip Cornwall – Beds, Bucks, Cambs and Somerset. In the other 42 counties relative growth has been slower, in many cases a lot slower. And yet Cornwall is singled out by developers as being ‘closed for business’!
If we relate the growth in housing to the resident population, things get even worse. Not one English county has a rate of housebuilding as high as Cornwall in relation to its population. In comparable areas such as Cumbria, development pressures on this criterion are running more than 10 times lower.
Then, there’s the number of planning permissions granted last year in relation to the resident population. Again, only four out of 46 English counties had a higher rate than Cornwall – Shropshire, Herefordshire, Warwickshire and Somerset.
And finally, we come to the real scandal. Here’s the change in housing waiting lists since 2010. Mysteriously, while Cornwall is at the top of the housebuilding league, the number of people on its waiting lists spiralled by 9,358 from 2011 to 2015. Yet, in English counties with similar high rates of house building, such as Somereset, Bucks and Cambs, waiting lists have been dramatically cut – by over a half. Across England as a whole, they’ve collapsed by a third since 2010.
So why is Cornwall so different? Despite being congratulated on building a lot of so-called ‘affordable homes’, why is ours one of the few waiting lists to have grown, while virtually all the rest have fallen? Does this means that Cornwall Council’s affordable housing policy has been an abysmal failure compared with most English counties? Or could waiting lists in Cornwall be a political tool, not a technical measure of housing need at all? In whose interests is it to maintain an artificially inflated waiting list, and indeed add to it in this way?
For all the above reasons, Cornwall is hardly the ‘same as everywhere else’. We’re paying a considerably higher environmental, economic and cultural price than anywhere else and Cornish communities shoulder an excessive burden in coping with rapid social change. And that’s before even factoring in the status of the Cornish people as a national minority and our non-English credentials.
Time for that much-touted but never delivered ‘fair deal for Cornwall’ perhaps.