People are worried and anxious, dismayed and appalled, angry and even fuming about the massive transformations they’re seeing around them. With the local elections fast approaching, several of them have been asking which councillors voted to turn Cornwall into a replica of the suburban Home Counties.
A good question to ask but one that’s not so easy to answer. The first reason is practical. While all votes in the House of Commons have been recorded since the eighteenth century, such a new-fangled notion is still not mandatory for local government. Although we’re told who proposes and seconds resolutions and amendments, the vast majority of votes at Cornwall Council go unrecorded. Unless you’re there, you’re not told who votes which way. Occasionally, enough councillors will demand a recorded vote and sometimes individual councillors ask for their votes to be recorded. But these instances are rare. How, in that case, voters are supposed to make informed choices about who to vote for remains somewhat mysterious.
The second reason is that resolutions and amendments are often less than clear-cut. For example, councillors have not been directly asked to vote for or against the high growth policy pursued by Cornwall Council’s leadership in the past two councils. Perhaps, hidden in the minutes, there’s a recorded vote on the Council’s economic strategy, with a more sustainable option on offer, but I haven’t found it. If councillors know of one then do tell.
People would particularly like to know how their councillors voted on the housing target that is now part of the amusingly titled ‘Local’ Plan. But the torrid tale of how we got to a target of building a minimum of 52,500 houses in 20 years is a complex one, with U-turns, plot twists, behind the scenes manoeuvrings, misuse of statistics and farcical confusion. Moreover, this target is embedded in a more general high growth economic strategy which fuels ‘growth deals‘ and the like. The core of this strategy (and a large chunk of the ‘growth deal’ dosh) is about building infrastructure (mainly new roads, but other services too) in order to ‘unlock’ land and ‘accelerate’ housing delivery.
It’s possible to pick over the scattered evidence for how councillors’ voted on the housing target. That’s what I’ll be doing here over the next ten days. You’ll come across examples of votes by councillors and names of movers and seconders of resolutions or amendments related to the housing target. But these also come with a very large health warning. The evidence in the Council’s minutes provides us merely with the tip of the iceberg. There may be councillors who consistently voted one way or the other, either for the highest target under debate, or the lowest, but their votes have gone unrecorded and unnoticed. Some will have put in hours behind the scenes working on more genuinely sustainable options, time that of necessity we know nothing about. Others will have done little but turn up and vote.
So, with those caveats in mind, over the next week or two we can unravel the road to 52,500 houses and thus provide a little information that could come in handy to help you decide who to vote for on May 4th. But first, we need to establish some background. The next two blogs provide the slightly bigger picture.