A collective mania firmly grips political and economic elites. Symptoms manifest themselves in the delusion that we live on an elastically extendable planet, with infinite resources available to plunder at will. The escalator of never-ending ‘growth’, infinite consumption and all-devouring greed has no end, no limits.
Unfortunately, in the real world there is only one world. This has finite resources. Two centuries and more of fossil-fuel based industrialisation and rapid population growth have resulted in the unparalleled extinction of animal and plant species. Meanwhile, the globe steadily heats up. But 99% of those who make our decisions for us seem either blissfully unaware or couldn’t care less about the earth or future generations.
Nothing is permitted to disrupt business as usual. Note the anguish that surrounded yesterday’s announcement in the Budget that growth rates were lower than expected. Predictions of 2% a year were downgraded to 1.5%. Cue shock and outrage from assorted journalists and Labour MPs. Yet simple mathematics tell us that a 2% growth rate equates to a doubling of the economy in just 35 years. Even 1.5% means it will double in 47 years. Which in turn means we have to reduce pollution, waste, carbon emissions and the like by a half just to stay on our current disastrous trajectory.
While at the state level complacent politicians bury their collective heads in the sand, we have our own home-grown, or at least home-based, growth obsessives. Cornwall Council’s rhetoric is peppered with gung-ho statements about the ‘need’ for ‘growth’. Although in good Orwellian fashion, they call it ‘environmental growth’, a meaningless oxymoron, which at least justifies the ‘moron’ part of that word.
The growth fetishists at Lys Kernow are frantically trying to ‘grow’ more houses and more people. As if one of the highest regional population growth rates since the 1960s isn’t enough. For these people the transformation of our communities and environment has to be ramped up. We need more. More houses. More roads. More cars. More shops and more jobs for all those extra people who will come and live in the extra houses, to enjoy their ‘Cornwall lifestyle’ in a suburbanised wasteland.
Having dumped us onto this merry-go-round they have no idea how to stop it. Even if they wanted to. On the contrary, not content with a new build rate in Cornwall of 2,600 houses a year in 2016-17, equal to an extra Truro every four years or so, these impossibilists are still not satisfied. To that end, tomorrow Cornwall Council hosts a ‘housing growth summit’ at St Austell. This will seek ways to ‘accelerate housing delivery’. The inhabitants of this little ‘growth at all costs’ bubble will meet to breezily reassure themselves that their new suit is not in actuality just more of the same old emperor’s new clothes.
All the usual suspects will be there. The portfolio holder for homes [sic] will welcome the assorted ideologues and give a democratic veneer to the gathering. Then it’s over to the unelected and the bureaucrats. Various senior council officers will be in attendance. Housing associations will be present. They’ll all eagerly listen to the ‘Head of Accelerated Delivery’ (I kid you not) at the Government’s South West Homes quango as he brings the latest orders from London.
‘Lord’ Matthew Taylor will have the easy job of convincing them more houses will lead to ‘vibrant communities’, to replace the boring old lifeless and apathetic communities that give Cornwall such a bad name. John Betty, director of economic growth at Cornwall Council, will tell them how to get more ‘strategic growth’, much better than any old growth, presumably. LEP Chief Executive Sandra Rothwell will proudly assure the delegates that Cornwall ‘leads housing growth’.
Strangely, no-one is scheduled to talk about maximising profits for the big upcountry developers, although someone from the Private Sector Developers’ Forum will be on the ‘expert panel’. As is Phil Mason, Head of planning and population growth at Cornwall Council.
For these people Cornwall is infinitely expandable (or should that be expendible?). The hyper-growth of the past 50 years may not have produced prosperity, unalloyed joy or universal happiness. But no worry. There are no limits. There is no capacity crisis. Just keep taking the medicine, folks. In fact, let’s up the dose considerably, while persuading the masses it’s all in their own best interests. And, most depressing of all, that’s not too difficult a task these days.