Here’s a blog below that I posted back in December 2014, three months before what was possibly the most shambolic planning meeting in the history of Cornwall Council. It brings shivers down the spine to recall it, but that was the one where councillors, in a fit of absent-mindedness, managed to approve not one, not two, but three massive private house-building projects along the A390 at Truro.
Planners and councillors are now admitting that these permissions were disastrous, resulting in chaotic, unconnected and poor quality ribbon development. Not that they have yet, as no developer has yet managed to build a single house in four years. The only problem is that some on the Council are now using this as an excuse to dream up plans for a new town. No doubt, in some back pocket somewhere, there are plans to expand this ‘new town’ over even more acres of the pleasant countryside to the west of Truro.
In any sensible universe of course, the whole mad idea of plonking 2,700 houses along the most congested road in Cornwall would be abandoned in double-quick time. But we don’t live in a rational universe, especially not in Cornwall, where a hyper-growth fetish grips the ruling clique. Which all makes the blog below still seem relevant somehow. For a stroll down memory lane, re-read it. I hate to say it, but some of us would seem to have been predicting exactly what the planners are now belatedly concluding.
Truro: Council allows developers to take us forward to the 1930s
When I was last in Truro in the late 1960s (or was it the 1860s?) it was not unlike other Cornish towns. Slightly more pretentious perhaps, with that great big church thing in the middle of town and a new brutalist County Hall rearing up in the fields to the south of the town. But it was basically a typical friendly small Cornish town.
No more. Truro has become the Great Wen of Cornwall, sucking in commuters from far and wide and leaching the life blood out of anything within 25 miles or so (Falmouth excepted). It now sprawls for six miles along the A390 like an over-indulged beached whale.
(The original blog discussed at length the various other proposals in Truro for housing surplus to requirements. You can read it here if you’re a serious masochist.) It’s on the north side of A390 that we find the real action. Five proposals threaten to take Truro down into the valley of the River Kenwyn, where small-scale fields, trees, and quiet, narrow lanes in an incised landscape eagerly await the joys of urbanisation.
Two massive applications have been made at Maiden Green, next to Treliske, and further along on open countryside at Willow Green. At Maiden Green, Walker Developments of Plymouth are proposing 650 houses, a school, workshops, a district centre (with supermarket, petrol station, community hall, hotel, crèche, medical centre and parking for the mobile library that will soon fall victim to government cuts), a community pavilion and public open spaces. This, they claim, is ‘a natural, sustainable extension’ which will ‘encourage living, working and playing without the need for a car’! So what’s the point of the petrol station then?
Next to this another gargantuan new settlement is being pushed by Channel Islands based LXB. This one is no cuddly ‘community farm’ but will have 435 houses, a nursery, school, Asda, petrol station, pub, community hall and more public open spaces on 70 acres of fields. LXB just want to help us ‘meet the chronic housing land supply shortage in the city’. That’s ‘shortage’ as in insufficient land to build houses on in order to meet demand from upcountry, demand stimulated by the companies who profit from building the houses.
Which barminess magically becomes pure common sense when viewed from Cornwall Council’s planning department. In the autumn those planners faced a dilemma as both the Maiden Green and Willow Green applications were coming forward plus another at Hendra, between Willow Green and the park and ride. This, from Marsh and Baxter Developments of London, was for a supermarket, another petrol station which will presumably just gather dust as we’re told no-one will be driving anywhere, and a community hub (including those essentials for any self-respecting community – a coffee shop, restaurant and pub.)
The planners were transfixed by all the goodies on offer, So they decided to play safe and recommended approval for both Maiden Green and Willow Green, though they weren’t so keen on Hendra, possibly because it doesn’t involve any more housing.
Their problem was solved by the sudden appearance, or rather re-appearance, of a fourth supplicant. This was Inox and its planning agents PCL Planning, both of Exeter. They want to build yet another supermarket, more space for those mythical mobile libraries and a nursery even further west, at West Langarth, well beyond the park and ride. Oh, and another 130 houses would be nice. This will take Truro halfway to Redruth.
The crazy notion of dumping a supermarket and 130 houses in open countryside is coupled with a very large carrot. Inox is dangling a stadium for Cornwall in front of us. They duly used campaigners for a stadium, who seem to have lost all critical faculties, to deluge councillors with heartfelt pleas to defer a decision on the other applications.
Those who support a stadium in this totally unsuitable location, nowhere near a railway station, on what’s already the busiest road in Cornwall and distant from the heartland of Cornish rugby at Camborne-Redruth, seem willing to pay any price for their stadium. The developers want a supermarket; give them a supermarket. They want another settlement; give them another settlement. They want to build on greenfield land; give them the greenfield land.
They want a 1,500 house settlement next to the park and ride at Langarth? They’ve already been given the bleddy thing. Along with shops, restaurant, hotel, care home, primary school and community space. This was agreed in September 2012 by Cornwall’s Strategic Planning Committee by 13 votes to 5, swayed by the promises that it would make the stadium a reality. After a legal challenge failed in October 2013, the local press was confident the stadium would be built.
It wasn’t. More than a year on and apparently it now needs another 130 houses and a supermarket to seal the deal. And still no houses have have been built at Langarth. Exactly how gullible are we supposed to be? Especially as the state of the art 10,000 seater stadium (necessary for top-flight rugby we were told)) has now become a stadium that will seat only 6,000. As the houses and population rises so the stadium amazingly shrinks.
The councillors at the Strategic Planning Committee in September, heavily lobbied by the stadium/supermarket/settlement campaigners, caved in and decided to defer discussion of Maiden Green, Willow Green and Hendra until they could be joined by West Langarth next February.
Bit of a Hobson’s choice there. Having got itself into this complete mess, the Council is now facing two appeals from LXB and Marsh and Baxter for non-determination of their applications. It’s now staring at the real possibility of having all three mega-housing projects forced on it. Or is that what some wanted from the start?
To justify all this, the planners come up with the absurd argument that all the commuters will sell up their houses elsewhere and come and live near Truro. But this isn’t planning; it’s ribbon development led by developers. George Osborne might be taking us back to the 1930s with his austerity plans. Eric Pickles has already done so. All in all, it’s a shambles produced by the need to appease greed and sell Cornwall to in-migrants.
But wait. Truro’s housing target in the Local Plan is 3,000 houses by 2030, a 26% rise on the housing stock of 2010. As of March 2014, 2,789 of these had either been given permission or been built. With Higher Newham almost certain to get approval this coming Thursday, Cornwall Council will have just 56 permissions left to find. So is it going to turn down all the new applications to the west of Truro in February? Or will it drive a coach and horses through its own excessive target, as it rides the tiger of development to its own doom?