The cynicism of power is now blatant and direct. Those who arrogate the right to decide for us openly and shamelessly parade their interests for all to see. Take the ‘examination’ of Cornwall Council’s Local Plan, which charade resumes its merry course for another couple of weeks starting next Monday – the 16th May.
In the old days of the 1980s structure plans were also subjected to ‘examinations in public’. But the proceedings were conducted in an atmosphere redolent of a relatively equal playing field. The House Builders Federation on the one side would argue for a higher housing target, campaigners would make their case for a lower figure, with all of them, at least on the surface, being treated with equal consideration.
No more. Many objected to ramping up the rate of housing and population growth in Cornwall, already three times higher than in England. They pointed out how an increase of 16% over recent (and falling) historic trend rates was insupportable and unsustainable. They asked why there has been a glaring failure to audit the accuracy of the official projections which underpin the increase in the housing target to 52,500.
Their representations have been casually defined by the government inspector, Simon Emerson, as ‘virtually identical’. Brusquely ordered to provide one spokesperson for all these ‘identical’ representations, a few brave campaigners for a sustainable Cornwall are being provided with a short slot in which to make their case.
They’ll be joined at the table on Tuesday morning, when the discussion turns to the housing target, by a gang of well-paid, hired mercenaries. These are the planning agents, paid to make a case for the big upcountry developers and local landlords, the boys (and a few girls) who helped ‘convince’ Emerson to add 5,000 to Cornwall Council’s figure last year at the beginning of this (deliberately?) long-drawn out process. Most of them seem to be based in Bristol but distance doesn’t prevent them knowing exactly what Cornwall ‘requires’. They’ve all provided pages of well-financed and attractively designed ‘evidence’ and will all be listened to attentively.
In contrast to those calling for a lower and more appropriate target, their representations, which can be read here, are not defined as ‘virtually identical’. Yet, what exactly are these non-identical representations saying?
- Persimmon, unusual in that this developer makes a direct representation rather than hiding behind agents, feels a target of 52,500, only involving building the equivalent of more than five Truros in 20 years, just isn’t enough, It ‘falls short of the level of housing need required in Cornwall’ and should be raised to somewhere between 57,000 and 75,000.
HouseHome [sic] Builders Federation disagrees. It thinks 52,500 is ‘on the low side’ and 60,000 would be more appropriate.
And then there’s all the planning agents, who are in no way making virtually identical representations.
- Tetlow King, shedding copious crocodile tears over Cornwall’s ludicrously inflated Home Choice Register (which we are being asked to believe has grown by 50% in 5 years while in rural areas in England waiting lists have shrunk by a third over thee same period) want ‘a more robust figure’.
- Origin3, representing Taylor Wimpey, LBX Properties, Comparo Ltd, Terrace Hill and the Tregothnan Estate, think the target should be ‘at least 52,500’. ‘An increase … is required’, they conclude.
- Emery Planning, working for Wainhomes, are not having that and don’t agree. 52,500 is ‘a minimum’ and the target should be ‘at least 77,780’.
- Barton Willmore, for Merriman Ltd, on the other hand, concludes that 52,500 is ‘not sufficient’ and has to be replaced by a ‘robust higher housing requirement figure’.
- Collier Planning, for Linden Homes, feels differently. For them, a higher target of 58,000 to 66,000 is needed, even though this is based on a ‘conservative’ assessment.
- Redrow Homes, which seems to have employed three different agents to ensure its case is heard among all these very different representations, conclude that 52,500 is ‘too conservative’ and ‘should be higher’.
- D2 Planning, for Jackamax at Helston, Barrett David Wilson Homes, Porthminster View Developments, Gonwin Developments and Bovis Homes, blusters that 52,500 ‘cannot be accepted’. This veiled threat is accompanied by the unique conclusion that a figure ‘in excess of 60,000’ would be ‘more appropriate’.
- PCL Planning meanwhile reaches the innovative finding, found nowhere else, that the target ‘should and could be higher’, ‘at least 62,000’.
As we can see, the only different conclusions in the pages and pages of professionally and expensively produced technical supporting data with which they’re deluging the inspector revolve around the precise rise in the housing target. Should it be 10,000? Or perhaps 25,000? But, very oddly, according to the government’s planning inspector, who’s already boosted the Local Plan target by 5,000, these virtually identical conclusions are not virtually identical at all but completely and utterly different. So much so that all their authors have to be given their say at next week’s rigged ‘examination’
All this wasteful tomfoolery can be boiled to one simple sentence – ‘Give us more money’. In any rational world, the representations of the developers and landlords and their planning agents would be given short shrift and immediately excluded from consideration. This would be on the grounds that they have a massive vested interest in the outcome, as screwing an even higher housing target out of Cornwall Council means their plans stand even more chance of acceptance. Instead, in the farce that will be played out at Newquay next week their greed will be deferred to with all due pomp and ceremony.