In Cornwall we don’t have any old growth strategy. No, we have an ‘environmental growth strategy’. Back in December 2016, the Council’s ‘vision’ was launched. And what a vision it is. Cunningly pitched far enough in the future so that the majority of us won’t be around to judge how successful it’s been, the Council, presumably in all seriousness, promises us that ‘In 2065, Cornwall’s environment will be naturally diverse, beautiful and healthy, supporting a thriving society, prosperous economy and abundance of wildlife.’
This is truly have our cake and eat it time (plus several more cakes and throw in a few pasties).
Does this amount to anything more than the by now predictable doublespeak? Growth is always ‘environmental growth’, more population and houses become ‘strategic job strategies’, externally driven demand is always ‘local need’, unaffordable housing is transformed into ‘affordable’, empty second houses are ‘homes’ etc., etc.
The definition of ‘environmental growth’ is somewhat vague, to say the least – ‘the net gain of our natural systems’. This will be achieved by, among other things, ‘increasing natural capital’ and designing ‘new developments to enhance and support our natural systems’. Unfortunately, the fact that the Council’s housing target is quietly hidden away on page 13, where it briefly states ‘integrating the development of 52,500 houses by 2030’, in print difficult to distinguish from the background colour, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
And then there’s the curious sentence in the Foreword. This states (correctly) that ‘we continue to witness the decline of nature in Cornwall as climate change, population pressure and modern day life impact on our surroundings.’ So logically we should expect the Council’s ‘environmental growth strategy’ to do all it can to challenge climate change and population pressure and reduce their impact. Except that logic is the last thing we should expect. As the Council also wants to ‘accelerate housing delivery’ and is very keen to build the 52,500 (soon to be 57,000) houses of its ‘target’.
The one growth we can be certain we’ll get is not that of nature but of houses and people. And therefore greenhouse gas emissions. While paying lip service and rightly identifying the problems as climate change and population growth on the one hand, on the other the Council’s own policies make those problems worse. Is such a startling contradiction merely the result of dysfunctional policy-making and crass stupidity, or is it mind-boggling complacency? Or two-faced mendacity?
For the other thing the Council’s hyper-growth population-led strategy will bring is a massive annual increase in greenhouse gas emissions in Cornwall. Look at the facts. The carbon cost of building a new house is estimated to be somewhere between 60 and 80 tonnes. Each house then has to be furnished, carpeted and filled with the usual gadgetry. Then there’s the associated extra infrastructure – roads, schools and the like – that are needed. Let’s conservatively assume the carbon cost of that lot adds another 30% to the building cost. Once the new residents have arrived they’ll also add to Cornwall’s greenhouse gas emissions, through their everyday consumption.
Here are the sums:
Building 2,625 houses a year x 70 tonnes = 183,750 tonnes
- Add 30% for furnishings and infrastructure = 55,000 tonnes
- And the greenhouse gas emissions of 4,000 more folk @ 5.5 T per person = 22,000 tonnes
- Which gives us a current total of 260,750 tonnes every year.
That’s the equivalent of the average carbon emission of around 47,000 people, or almost the population of Camborne-Redruth, or nearly three Truros, or two Penzances, or two Newquays, or two St Austells. Every year.
And yet we’re also told we have to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 to stand any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Could Cornwall Council please tell us how it intends to square that with its hyper-growth strategy, one that’s adding 8-9% to our carbon footprint each and every year?
Concerns about the loss of Cornish heritage or its countryside have so far fallen on deaf ears and been insufficient to slow the juggernaut of growth the Council’s leadership clique has jumped onto. Maybe the glaring contradictions and potential implications of its disastrous housing and population growth strategy on its own ‘environmental growth’ vision will penetrate the frozen, sleepy intellectual wasteland that is Lys Kernow. Surely, there must be someone there, either elected or unelected, prepared to stand up, point out the absence of the emperor’s new clothes, work with campaigners and expose the patently unsustainable direction the Council is leading us?