On Monday, 6th March, the Charter for Cornwall steering group sent a message to all 123 sitting Cornwall Councillors. Apart from the handful of councillors with no email address, it was sent in two forms, email and hard copy delivered personally to their pigeon holes at Lys Kernow. The letter informed them of the Charter for Cornwall and asked for their views on the four pledges.
Sadly, the response has been less than overwhelming. Seven sitting councillors have signed up to the four pledges of the Charter. Another handful of Liberal Democrats have told the Charter group they’re happy with the demand for fewer second homes, more social rented housing and the devolution of planning powers to Cornwall. But they’re unwilling to work for a reduction in the excessive housing target Cornwall Council is saddled with. (More on this in the postscript below). Another brace of councillors indicated that they do not support the pledges.
Meanwhile, the silence from the other 111 councillors has been deafening. How might we explain this appalling lack of interest in the issues highlighted in the Charter pledges? Is it that they just can’t be bothered? Too arrogant or too contemptuous of the campaign to waste time replying? Unable to understand why this is an issue for so many or empathise with their concerns?
Such tactics do little to dispel the widespread view that councillors are complacently accepting the transformation of Cornwall in the interests of a non-Cornish agenda. Or the notion that councillors are not prepared to be transparent about their complicity in the Council’s unsustainable housing and population growth strategy by refusing to debate it publicly, or even acknowledge it. Or the argument from some that they have a complete absence of vision and are unable to work together to hammer out a more balanced strategy that can better protect and enhance our heritage and environment. Or the claim they are actively colluding in the destruction of Cornwall while passing the buck back to an equally useless bunch of MPs. Or the accusation that they have been thoroughly captured by the developers’ lobby.
Whatever the reason, the failure of the vast majority of Cornwall Councillors to respond to the Charter for Cornwall is a shocking indictment of their willingness to engage with these issues. When we get our chance to vote in May we must remember this.
Some councillors have told the Charter group it’s ‘dishonest’ to pretend the Council is able to do anything about its housing target. Yet this is itself a dishonest stance.
It’s dishonest because councillors could have done and still could do several things to increase pressure for a lower target. They could have challenged the faulty projections the housing targets are based on and told their officers to work with campaigners to generate a robust case for a lower target. They didn’t. They could have made the Government’s refusal to consider devolving strategic planning powers to Cornwall in the so-called ‘devolution deal’ a deal breaker. They didn’t.
Furthermore, it’s dishonest in that the majority of councillors have either made light of or wholeheartedly supported the Council leadership’s high housing and population growth strategy, as packaged in their ‘growth deals‘. Lectures about being ‘honest’ are surely a little misplaced coming from councillors who have kept quiet about the implications of this unsustainable strategy. ‘Honesty’ might have involved making the explicit case for the advantages of such a policy. They didn’t. Or by encouraging a genuine public debate over the future direction of Cornwall and its communities. They haven’t.