Cornwall Councillors should really stop taking the pills being peddled to them by their planning officers. This morning on Radio Cornwall there was Joyce Duffin, Liberal Democrat housing portfolio holder, claiming that ‘only about 5% of Cornwall is developed’. The implication is that there’s plenty of space for all the extra housing, in-migrants and population growth they’re planning for us (a 16% increase on recent building rates incidentally).
As well as being stunningly complacent, refusing to acknowledge the long-term consequences of such a growth rate or consider its implications for Cornwall’s environment, heritage or culture, councillors seem unable to make up their minds. A few weeks ago Leader John Pollard was telling us only 3% of Cornwall was built on. And back in 2014 Councillor Andrew Wallis confidently asserted that only 1% ‘has development’.
Come on guys, if you’re going to trade in false facts at least be consistent. In truth, these claims are extremely misleading to say the least. They are more weapons to confuse and defuse campaigns for a more balanced and genuinely sustainable strategy rather than unambiguous ‘facts’.
Rather than invent the wheel yet again, it’s worth repeating here part of a blog written back in February 2015. Here it is again in the weary hope that Cornwall Councillors might eventually read it and understand.
Only 1% of Cornwall is ‘covered with houses’
The second curiosity in the world of Cornwall’s planners is the statistic the Council’s leading lights are keen to repeat at every opportunity – that less than 1% of Cornwall’s land surface is ‘used for housing‘. This is a factoid, in the sense of being ‘a briefly stated and usually trivial fact’. It’s technically true but there’s something very, very odd about it that undermines the image the Council wishes to convey when it wheels it out.
The source for what supporters of high housing growth think is their killer fact is the Generalised Land Use Database (GLUD) of 2005. This does indeed inform us that of 3.6 million square meters of Cornish land surface (some of that being water), only 22,464 square meters (or 0.62%) are accounted for by the ‘area of domestic buildings’.
Councillors have played fast and loose with this one. Take Councillor Andrew Wallis’s blog of 24th November. He confidently stated ‘that ‘currently roughly 1% of Cornwall has development‘. This is not at all the same thing. He is mischievously misleading his readers as he makes his point as part of an argument that the Local Plan is not ‘concreting over’ Cornwall. The clear implication is that the other 99% of Cornwall is not developed, which to most people would imply green fields and countryside. Sadly, this is not the case. We have to add a few little things to the GLUD statistic for ‘area of domestic buildings’ to reach the total of ‘developed land’. Things such as other non-domestic buildings, shops, offices, public buildings, roads, car parks, domestic gardens, industrial land, clay tips and the like. In fact 91% of Cornwall is classified as ‘greenspace’, not 99%, or 97% or 95. This means that 9% isn’t greenspace.
It’s a pity that neither Cllr Wallis nor Cllr Polard or Cllr Duffin ever ask their officers for the source of the data and then spend a few moments quietly reflecting on them before rushing into print or onto the radio. A pity too that no journalist seems capable of challenging these statistics. If they had done, they would have discovered a very strange thing.
If we return to the area covered by domestic housing, from the same GLUD source we can easily work out this proportion in other regions and local authorities. Let’s take Plymouth for example, which most people would agree is an urban local authority. According to these statistics the proportion of land covered by houses in Plymouth is just 7.8%. So apparently plenty of room in Plymouth for expansion. Or what about Bristol? There, the proportion covered by houses is slightly bigger at 8.3%. There must be a lot of fields and countryside there though if 92% is undeveloped.
And what about Greater London? There isn’t a vast amount of countryside left in London apart from the royal parks. But the same statistic reveals that the area of London covered by houses is a mere 8.7%. How much of the remaining 91.3% is rural though? Think about it.