The next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam trying to get into a quaint olde Cornish town console yourself with the thought that only 5% of Cornwall’s land area is built on. Throw in another 2% for parks, gardens, sports pitches and other ‘urban green spaces’ (too often aka sad bits of grass and wasteland used for dog toilets and temporary litter depositories) and 7% of Cornwall is within what might be classed as a built-up envelope.
That’s a relief then. Or is it? Because only 12% of the total is classed as ‘natural’, with the rest being farmland. To a greater or lesser degree, some of this is now industrialised, drenched with chemicals, with any insects and birds having long ago fled to the shrinking safe zones for wildlife.
These stats come from some clever mapping carried out by the Urban Studies and Planning Department of the University of Sheffield. Their research has been simplistically presented by the BBC to ‘prove’ how little of the UK is built on, presumably in order to ease any trauma caused by plans to build on bits of the rest. It also of course conveniently serves to dull opposition to the large housebuilding companies set to profit by building on that surplus-to-requirement farmland and natural land.
But the research also allows us to draw a few interesting conclusions that you won’t read about in the local or London press. It contains some uncomfortable truths for those of our political elite intent on continuing Cornwall’s relatively high housing and population growth for as long as possible.
For a start bin the myth that Cornwall is somehow ‘under-populated’ or deeply rural. It’s actually more built-up than either Wales (6%), Northern Ireland (5%) or Scotland (3%). Furthermore, large swathes of the English countryside and even larger areas in the other countries are less built up than Cornwall. Moreover, if the Cornish data could be broken down into smaller units (something we’re unable to do because of the baleful effect of the unitary authority) then mid and west Cornwall would be very likely to be as built-up as the English average.
Second, these statistics of land use show that Cornwall Council’s planners and councillors have been a little economical with the truth in the past when claiming what a tiny amount of Cornwall was built on. For example, Independent Cllr Andrew Wallis claimed in 2014 that only 1% of Cornwall ‘has development’. Former Council Leader John Pollard said back in February that only ‘3% is built on’. A few weeks later Lib Dem Joyce Duffin said only 5% was developed. Even this last complacent assertion was not quite the case, as it turns out the area built on together with ‘urban green space’ is 7%. They should really begin to check the ‘facts’ their officers feed them.
Third, note the damage already wrought on the natural world. Recent studies reveal massive drops in the numbers of flying insects, to add to the animal extinctions now occurring on a scale unseen since the days of the dinosaurs. This has been produced by building on ‘only’ 8-9% of the UK’s land area. Imagine what it will be like when we have 10% or 15% built on. Unfortunately a constantly growing proportion of land built on is precisely the sad ‘vision’ being peddled by our economic and political elites. Never-ending ‘growth’, never-ending greed.
In his State of Cornwall message back in July Cornwall Council’s Leader, Liberal Democrat Adam Paynter identified a ‘challenge’ as the prospect that Cornwall’s population will grow to 633,000 by 2035. That’s the equivalent of more than an extra four Truros in less than 20 years. Don’t expect any council officer to inform their ‘Leader’ any time soon that the Council’s own policies of hyper-growth to cater for external demand are hardly the solution, but a major part of the problem.