As we’ll see, the opportunity to bin the mindless reliance on high housing and population growth and put in place more balanced policies was not seized upon by Cornwall Council. To understand why not it’ll help to understand the course of the debates over the housing target.
The road to the final adoption of the ‘Local Plan’, with its excessive housing target of 52,500 minimum, has been a long and rocky one. Way back in the spring of 2011 planning officers had come up with three options for the first round of consultation on what was then called the Core Strategy. One involved 38,000 houses, one was for 57,000, while the ‘medium’ option, was 48,000. Even that was around 7% to 14% higher (depending on which figures you believe) than the most recent rate of housing growth.
Almost half of the 369 written responses went for the low option. Two thirds of individuals who responded favoured 38,000 or fewer. No voluntary organisation plumped for more than 38,000 while most of the parish and town councils preferred 38,000 and none went for the high option. In contrast 87% of businesses, most of them with a vested interest in housebuilding, wanted to increase the build rate to 57,000 or even higher.
The 750 people who responded to public displays at supermarkets and the like were more evenly split. Here, the greatest number (43%) went for the medium option. This bears out the normal response to exercises like this. When faced with a decision based on superficial information, people will more often opt for the middle of three options, the seemingly less extreme and safer choice.
After the consultation the officers worked up a recommendation. This went first to the Planning Policy Advisory Panel (PPAP) in August 2011. The planning officers’ recommendation to the PPAP was for 54,000, close to the figure favoured by the developers’ lobby, but well above that wanted by local organisations and town and parish councils.
At the PPAP support for 52,000 was proposed. This was seconded by Cllr Dolley (Ind, Redruth North). Cllr Cole (MK, St Enoder) and Cllr Biggs (Con, Camborne West,), moved an amendment for 40,000. Councillors who have since retired then moved another amendment for 48,000, which was accepted by the proposers of 52,000. The vote on 48,000 was lost six to five. While most of the councillors on the PPAP are no longer on the Council, and in any case the vote went unrecorded, the group breakdown is revealing. Along with Dick Cole, one of the four Tories voted for 40,000, the other three for 48,000. The two Liberal Democrats were split down the middle, one going for 40,000, the other for 48,000. Finally, the four Independents came down three to one for 40,000.
It was all irrelevant. The Cabinet, then controlled by Conservatives and Independents, ignored the PPAP’s advice. Housing and Planning portfolio holder Cllr Kaczmarek (Ind, Carharrack) proposed 48,000 to the Cabinet, saying, rather selectively, ‘this reflects the feedback of the earlier options consultation public events’.
Others wanted the lower figure. Cllr German (Ind, Roseland) and Cllr Burden (Ind, Stokeclimsland) moved an amendment for 40,000. During the discussion ‘concerns were expressed that the lower target would be insufficient to meet Cornwall’s housing needs’ even though a figure very close to it had been sufficient in the previous 20 years. No matter, as 40,000 was rejected five votes to three, with Cllr Kaczmarek and Cllr Toms (now Ind, then Con, Looe East) proposing 48,000 houses as the basis for the second round of consultation.
The first round had ended up with a figure higher than the recent growth trend but not as high as the planning officers or the developers had wanted. Or perhaps the officers’ initial 54,000 was just a negotiating ploy. Whatever the case, the stage was set, as debate then centred on whether 48,000 was enough or too many.