At the end of 2011, Cornwall Council’s leadership overruled the advice of its own Planning Policy Advisory Panel (PPAP) and opted for a housing target that exceeded the trend rate of building in Cornwall. But even this was not enough for some.
Over the next year, the Core Strategy was renamed by the Tory/Lib Dem Government, with a fine Orwellian flourish, as a ‘Local’ Plan, just as it was becoming patently obvious that it was anything but. The draft submission document re-appeared at the PPAP in September 2012. By now the target had crept up by another 1,000 to 49,000. According to the planning officers this met ‘Cornwall’s position for employment, the balance of homes in the individual communities, the health and wellbeing of the population and the character of Cornwall’.
Others were less sure that an increase in the building rate did this. Meanwhile, in the interim the first results of the 2011 Census had revealed that Cornwall’s population hadn’t risen at anything like the rate the ONS had predicted and planning officers confidently forecast. In addition, the fall in household size had stalled. Panicking, at first officers suggested that the Census was faulty, as their computer model had ‘sophisticated’ inputs and therefore couldn’t be wrong.
At the PPAP meeting Cllr Wood (Ind, Roche) and Cllr Dolley (Ind, Redruth North) moved that the Panel accept the officers’ report and recommend the Cabinet approve 49,000. The logic of increasing the housing target at a time the data was showing a large decrease in the forecast in-migration was lost on the rest of the Panel. Cllr Cole (MK, St Enoder) and Cllr Biggs (Con, Camborne West) therefore moved 38,000 houses as an amendment. In the end the Panel passed this lower target, by a more convincing margin than a year earlier, six to three with one abstention. The vote was again unrecorded. There was still a chance the opportunity could be taken to put a virtuous circle of declining population growth in place.
But again, the PPAP’s more sustainable recommendation got short shrift from the portfolio holder for Housing. At the Cabinet meeting of November 2012, Cllr Kaczmarek (Ind, Carharrack) put forward 48,500, preferring to concentrate on a disingenuous comparison with the previous Labour Government’s Regional Spatial Strategy, which had suggested a 68,000 target. Yet that target had never been subjected to a consultation or examination process or ever become reality. Despite its fictional status, Cllr Kaczmarek argued that there was ‘a robust justification to reduce the housing target of 68,000 as set out in the RSS, to this proposal for 49,000 [sic] houses’.
The draft Plan, containing a target of 48,500, was duly passed, but only narrowly, by four to three. Again, no voting details are available.
When the draft came to full council in December 2012, there was a flurry of amendments. Worried by moves to re-instate the 38,000, it was agreed to pass the Plan back to the PPAP, before discussing it again in the new year. Cllr Nolan (LD, Truro Redannick), Cllr German (Ind, Roseland) and Cllr Pearce (LD, Bude) recorded their votes against the deferral.
The issue eventually returned to the PPAP at the end of January, 2013. Three proposals were on the table – the Cabinet’s 48,500, the Panel’s 38,000 and another for 29,000. Sensing the way the wind was blowing, officers reluctantly conceded that the Cabinet figure might be reduced to 45,400. Cllr Cole moved the 38,000, Cllr Bull (LD, St Austell Poltair) and Cllr George (LD, Liskeard West) moved an amendment for 29,000. This was lost four votes to seven. Cllr Wood and Cllr Dolley moved an amendment for 45,400. This was also lost three to eight. In the end the Panel voted again, by six to four, for 38,000 houses, with one abstention. (The only current councillor not mentioned above who was a member of that committee was Cllr Maddern (Con, St Buryan)).
The Plan then trundled back to full council. The scene was set for a critical meeting that took place in February 2013.