Go beyond the vision in New Frontiers, the Council’s bid to central government for a second ‘devolution deal’. What do we find? As we have seen, it turns out that the document contains no new approach at all, just more of the same old approach. Admittedly, there’s some new bits and pieces, like references to spaceports, satellites, post-Brexit regulatory powers, data hubs and lithium mining. However, at its heart lies the same old, endless ‘growth’.
Perhaps this is a new sort of growth that doesn’t rest on mass population movement. Maybe our innovative, cutting-edge Council has discovered how to achieve growth that doesn’t have to rely fundamentally on the construction industry. Unfortunately, this is not the case. We read why growth is supposedly under threat. ‘The shortage of new homes is one of the major barriers to achieving sustainable economic growth in the region’. Oh dear, the actual objective turns out to be to build lots of housing for all those in-migrants we need to achieve ‘growth’, although we’re now informed this will be for ‘inclusive workforce growth’ (p.16). As opposed to what exactly?
Not that the officers were exactly honest about this aim. When councillors were permitted to discuss the New Frontiers document at the obscure Customer Services and Support Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee last week, they were told funding from central government was needed to ‘provide more affordable homes for local people’. The only problem is that this means that many, many more unaffordable houses have to be built.
Although the Council doesn’t see this as a problem at all. In fact, it proudly boasts that it can deliver ‘at least 3,000 homes [sic]’ a year. It admits this will ‘exceed (on a proportionate basis) the Government’s national basis for the increased supply of new homes’ (p.43). Note that this equates to a 20-year target of 60,000 houses, equal to six new Truros, well above even the official target of 52,500. From the Council’s standpoint, injected with liberal amounts of testosterone when it comes to housing and population growth, this pathetically low target is one it confidently expects to surpass with no trouble at all.
If you’re uneasy, worried or downright alarmed by the current level of building activity going on around Cornish towns then just wait until the Council’s plans come to fruition. It’s asking central government for £60 million to ‘accelerate’ housing delivery through a string of ‘garden villages’. It wants compulsory purchase powers to buy farmland to push these new settlements forward, over the heads of any local opposition presumably. The new utopia of ‘clean’ and ‘sustainable’ growth seemingly involves increased dictatorial powers to ‘place-shape’. The market and dictatorship march together, hand in hand.
Furthermore, this growth agenda is driven forward with an over the top, in your face attitude. The Council’s inner Cabinet and senior officers seem to have become dizzy with machismo, striving to prove their masculinity by building houses. ‘You want 52,500. Nah, we’ll give you 60,000. Go on punk, make my day.’ (The genius who dreamed up the title New Frontiers was clearly contemplating the wild west at the time. Pursue this further and you begin to wonder how soon we’ll suffer the same fate as the native Americans.)
Perhaps over-compensating for fears of inadequacy, Council statements become ever more boastful. As the Council’s real powers shrink, so its leadership resorts to self-glorification and braggadocio. As people’s cynicism mounts, so the flood of magniloquent and vain-glorious claims spews forth at regular intervals. This is certainly one area where growth can clearly be proven.
Oddly, all this frenetic macho ‘growth’ is predicted to have no effect at all on what the Council describes as the ‘beautiful and fragile eco-system’ of Cornwall (p.1). We’re told it’s needed to increase the ‘resilience of our communities’, at present presumably hopelessly vulnerable. They’re certainly vulnerable, or at least the councillors they elect seem to be, to the same old policy follies familiar from the 1980s, now dusted down again and foisted on them in a new guise. Yet growth brings with it costs and problems, many of which are causing growing alarm among scientists and others. But not at County Hall it seems.