The Government’s Inspector arrived at Newquay to ‘examine’ the Council’s ‘Local’ Plan, which included a housing target of 47,500. Surrounded by a pack of planning agents all baying loudly for a higher target, he was never likely to reduce this target. Indeed, the arguments generated by its own planning officers to justify their earlier preference for anything up to 54,000 houses were thrown back at Cornwall Council by the assembled developers’ agents. There was little place to hide. The only question was how far the Inspector would increase the target.
Having somehow managed to delay the adoption of the Plan by another year, much to the benefit of developers queueing up to get their plans approved, at the end of the day the Inspector told the Council to add 7% to allow for more second homes, plus another 1,800 houses to ‘meet the aspirations for economic growth and updated demographic projections’, according to a planning officer. As always, the flawed projections escaped unscathed. The Inspector had airily dismissed the observation that projections were especially inaccurate in the Cornish case by asserting, on no credible evidence, that ONS projections were now ‘more robust’ and that inaccuracies for Cornwall were no greater than anywhere else. This latter was a downright untruth.
By the winter of 2014/15 the Council was never going to challenge the Government. At the Planning Policy Advisory Committee (PPAC) Cllr Dwelly (Lab, Penzance East) and Cllr Malcolm Brown (LD, St Austell Bethel) recommended accepting the new 52,500 figure. Cllr Nolan (LD, Truro Redannick) and Cllr Cole (MK, St Enoder) recorded their votes against.
At the Cabinet meeting in December 2015, the ‘risks of challenging the government’s advice was [sic] recognised’, while it was ‘important to remember that as of April 2015 31,900 out of the 52,500 homes had already been permitted or built already’ and had supposedly disappeared into thin air. Cllr Hannaford (LD, Looe West) and Cllr German (Ind, Roseland) recommended approval. At this meeting, in a last rearguard action, Cllr Cole urged the Cabinet to remove the St Austell ‘eco-community’ from the Plan. No-one took up his offer.
At the full council meeting of 15 December 2015 it was a foregone conclusion. The MK amendment to remove the eco-community and redistribute the 1,200 houses across Cornwall was inevitably lost, with only four other councillors supporting it. They were Cllrs Biscoe (Ind, Truro Boscawen), Cllr Curnow (Ind, St Stephen), Cllr Heyward (Ind, St Austell Gover) and Cllr Rich (Ind, Truro Tregolls).
The meeting almost unanimously resolved to consult on this final version and a target of 52,500. Only two voted against, with another one abstaining, but as usual we don’t know who they were.
The final chapter was predictable. In October 2016 the PPAC accepted the Plan, with only Cllr Chamberlain (Con, Feock) recording his opposition. He carried this into the final full council meeting in November 2015, being one of three councillors recording their votes against the Plan, with its final tally of 52,500 houses, a 16% increase on the recent growth rate. The Tory opposition had by now shrunk to two councillors – Cllr Chamberlain, who had energetically opposed the target and Cllr Eddowes (Con, Redruth Central), with support from the persistent critic Cllr Fonk (LD, Gulval).
As it’s a minimum, the 52,500 target is likely to lock Cornwall more tightly into a spiral of housing growth and set us up nicely for a population of around a million by the end of the century. Many councillors are now claiming there was little they could have done to prevent this. But tomorrow’s final blog in this series will suggest that was not the case.