The story of the housing target. Or who do we vote for?

People are worried and anxious, dismayed and appalled, angry and even fuming about the massive transformations they’re seeing around them. With the local elections fast approaching, several of them have been asking which councillors voted to turn Cornwall into a replica of the suburban Home Counties.

One of the many ‘development’ sites now found around Cornwall as the suburbanisation plan unfolds.

A good question to ask but one that’s not so easy to answer. The first reason is practical. While all votes in the House of Commons have been recorded since the eighteenth century, such a new-fangled notion is still not mandatory for local government. Although we’re told who proposes and seconds resolutions and amendments, the vast majority of votes at Cornwall Council go unrecorded. Unless you’re there, you’re not told who votes which way. Occasionally, enough councillors will demand a recorded vote and sometimes individual councillors ask for their votes to be recorded. But these instances are rare. How, in that case, voters are supposed to make informed choices about who to vote for remains somewhat mysterious.

The second reason is that resolutions and amendments are often less than clear-cut. For example, councillors have not been directly asked to vote for or against the high growth policy pursued by Cornwall Council’s leadership in the past two councils. Perhaps, hidden in the minutes, there’s a recorded vote on the Council’s economic strategy, with a more sustainable option on offer, but I haven’t found it. If councillors know of one then do tell.

People would particularly like to know how their councillors voted on the housing target that is now part of the amusingly titled ‘Local’ Plan. But the torrid tale of how we got to a target of building a minimum of 52,500 houses in 20 years is a complex one, with U-turns, plot twists, behind the scenes manoeuvrings, misuse of statistics and farcical confusion. Moreover, this target is embedded in a more general high growth economic strategy which fuels ‘growth deals‘ and the like. The core of this strategy (and a large chunk of the ‘growth deal’ dosh) is about building infrastructure (mainly new roads, but other services too) in order to ‘unlock’ land and ‘accelerate’ housing delivery.

It’s possible to pick over the scattered evidence for how councillors’ voted on the housing target. That’s what I’ll be doing here over the next ten days. You’ll come across examples of votes by councillors and names of movers and seconders of resolutions or amendments related to the housing target. But these also come with a very large health warning. The evidence in the Council’s minutes provides us merely with the tip of the iceberg. There may be councillors who consistently voted one way or the other, either for the highest target under debate, or the lowest, but their votes have gone unrecorded and unnoticed. Some will have put in hours behind the scenes working on more genuinely sustainable options, time that of necessity we know nothing about. Others will have done little but turn up and vote.

So, with those caveats in mind, let’s unravel the road to 52,500 houses and thus provide a little information that could come in handy to help you decide who to vote for on May 4th. But first, we need to establish some background.

The aim of this series of blogs is to unearth the limited evidence available that might allow us to assess which councillors to re-elect next month. However, first we’ll need to spend a couple of days establishing a context for this, before moving on to the more exciting history of the 52,500 minimum target. As Cornwall’s foremost economist, the late Ron Perry, was keen to observe, Cornwall has enjoyed a series of ‘false dawns’. These were times when things seemed to be taking a turn for the better, only to grind to a halt as opportunities are then left ungrasped. One such dawn came at the end of the 1990s.

In the two decades before 2011 Cornwall’s population growth rate fell substantially.

The 1990s had seen population growth fall from its peak of over 10% a decade in the 1970s and 1980s to 6.4%. This was still one of the highest growth rates in the UK, but it was less unsustainable than that of the 70s and 80s. In those decades, counter-urban flows had appeared to many to be wreaking havoc on Cornwall’s environment and heritage. But in the 1990s there were glimmers of hope. For a start Cornwall’s chronic unemployment seemed to be easing. This was associated with the slowdown in inwards migration.

Cornish towns and villages began to experience the full brunt of counter-urbanisation in the 1960s and 70s.

As Ron had pointed out in the 1980s, jobs growth accompanied by rapid population growth meant that we’d been running fast only to stay in the same spot. New jobs were promptly filled by newcomers. Competition for jobs meant that wage levels in Cornwall remained stubbornly among the lowest in the UK, as counter-urbanisers ‘downshifting’ and seeking a ‘Cornwall lifestyle’ were not deterred from moving. In 1999, the Government finally recognised Cornwall’s predicament, uncoupling it from better-off Devon. The EU duly obliged and delivered Cornwall the highest level of regional aid.

Some saw the counter-urban flows as heralding the end of days for the Cornish

With a slowing population growth rate and the possibility of using grant aid to diversify the Cornish economy away from its over-reliance on tourism, here was an opportunity. All that was needed were consistent policies to build on this and provide a breathing space for communities that had seen massive growth since the 1960s. They could restore their sense of place, community resilience could be nurtured and flower, while a more sustainable economy fit for a post-fossil fuel era could be created.

As the 2010s approached Cornwall Council set about revising its Core Strategy. Here was the opportunity to reduce the housing target to match the demographic trends, wind down population growth further and set a virtuous cycle in motion? But would the Council grasp it?

Given the falling population growth rate of the 1990s, Cornwall’s Core Strategy, on which the Council began working in 2010, provided a perfect opportunity to put in place a lower housing target and establish the conditions for a more balanced demographic framework for the future.

In the previous 20 year period, from 1990 to 2010, Cornwall’s housing stock had grown by around 45,000. This was unsustainably high. But the hope was that the next Plan, covering the 20 years from 2010 to 2030, would dampen that growth rate further and build in a virtuous cycle. This hope was to be sorely disappointed as the housing target in the ‘Local Plan’ finally agreed last November ended up as a 52,500 minimum. Far from reducing the rate of growth of the previous two decades, this upped it by 16%.

Some councillors and others have argued this isn’t important and we shouldn’t worry. Even putting aside the cultural and environmental consequences, of which they seem unaware, they are wrong. We should. For three reasons. The first is rather obvious. A target of 52,500 means building the equivalent of over two Camborne-Redruths, or four Falmouth/Penryns or St Austells, or five Truros, Penzances or Newquays, or seven Saltashes, or eight Bodmins, or 12 Liskeards or Launcestons in just 20 years. It also means that some towns – Bodmin, Hayle and Launceston for example – will see expansion of 40% or even more in two decades. By any definition, these are plainly unsustainable growth rates.

Cornwall experience a far higgher population growth rate in the half-century from 1961 than the the other countries of the UK

Second, it’s manifestly unfair. Between 1961 and 2010 Cornish communities had to cope with one of the fastest growth rates in the UK. It was three times faster than in England, four times faster than Wales and 26 times the rate of Scotland. If that weren’t enough, we’re now being asked to go on shouldering this burden. Both main political parties in Cornwall – Tories and Lib Dems – assure us they want a fairer country or a fair deal for Cornwall. This seems a very odd way to go about it.

Third, this rate locks us into an unsustainable spiral of growth. Basically, a housing target that exceeds recent historic rates of growth will produce a surplus of supply, over and above the aggregate requirements of local communities and incoming migrants. (The issue of affordability is separate from the total quantity of houses and involves distributional policies rather then merely building more houses).

Properties in Cornwll are aggressively marketed in London. ‘Local needs’ anyone?

The excess supply in Cornwall will then be marketed upcountry by housebuilders, developers and estate agents, appealing to and helping create a demand for a ‘Cornwall lifestyle’ fuelled by the media and not consistently challenged by decision-makers in Cornwall. This generates further in-migration which pushes up population growth. The ‘projections’ the excessive target is based on, projections that been convincingly shown to be grossly exaggerated in recent decades, then become reality.

Population growth rates are predicted to be on the rise. Their Plan is working

This can be seen in the most recent ONS predictions of decadal population growth. It was 6.4% in the 1990s, rising slightly to 6.6% in the 2000s. It’s now predicted to be 7.1% in this decade, and then 8.1% in the 2020s. Even if this rising rate of growth is then stabilised we are looking at a population of well over a million by the end of the century. (It’s currently 557,000).

So how did we get in this mess? Why wasn’t the opportunity presented by a falling growth rate seized on? In the next few blogs we’ll trace the genealogy of the Council’s growth fetish.

As we’ll see, the opportunity to bin the mindless reliance on high housing and population growth and put in place more balanced policies was not seized upon by Cornwall Council. To understand why not it’ll help to understand the course of the debates over the housing target.

The road to the final adoption of the ‘Local Plan’, with its excessive housing target of 52,500 minimum, has been a long and rocky one. Way back in the spring of 2011 planning officers had come up with three options for the first round of consultation on what was then called the Core Strategy. One involved 38,000 houses, one was for 57,000, while the ‘medium’ option, was 48,000. Even that was around 7% to 14% higher (depending on which figures you believe) than the most recent rate of housing growth.

Developers were very active calling for far higher housing targets than the trend rate warranted

Almost half of the 369 written responses went for the low option. Two thirds of individuals who responded favoured 38,000 or fewer. No voluntary organisation plumped for more than 38,000 while most of the parish and town councils preferred 38,000 and none went for the high option. In contrast 87% of businesses, most of them with a vested interest in housebuilding, wanted to increase the build rate to 57,000 or even higher.

The 750 people who responded to public displays at supermarkets and the like were more evenly split. Here, the greatest number (43%) went for the medium option. This bears out the normal response to exercises like this. When faced with a decision based on superficial information, people will more often opt for the middle of three options, the seemingly less extreme and safer choice.

More house building was clearly good news for some

After the consultation the officers worked up a recommendation. This went first to the Planning Policy Advisory Panel (PPAP) in August 2011. The planning officers’ recommendation to the PPAP was for 54,000, close to the figure favoured by the developers’ lobby, but well above that wanted by local organisations and town and parish councils.

At the PPAP support for 52,000 was proposed. This was seconded by Cllr Dolley (Ind, Redruth North). Cllr Cole (MK, St Enoder) and Cllr Biggs (Con, Camborne West,), moved an amendment for 40,000. Councillors who have since retired then moved another amendment for 48,000, which was accepted by the proposers of 52,000. The vote on 48,000 was lost six to five. While most of the councillors on the PPAP are no longer on the Council, and in any case the vote went unrecorded, the group breakdown is revealing. Along with Dick Cole, one of the four Tories voted for 40,000, the other three for 48,000. The two Liberal Democrats were split down the middle, one going for 40,000, the other for 48,000. Finally, the four Independents came down three to one for 40,000.

It was all irrelevant. The Cabinet, then controlled by Conservatives and Independents, ignored the PPAP’s advice. Housing and Planning portfolio holder Cllr Kaczmarek (Ind, Carharrack) proposed 48,000 to the Cabinet, saying, rather selectively, ‘this reflects the feedback of the earlier options consultation public events’.

Others wanted the lower figure. Cllr German (Ind, Roseland) and Cllr Burden (Ind, Stokeclimsland) moved an amendment for 40,000. During the discussion ‘concerns were expressed that the lower target would be insufficient to meet Cornwall’s housing needs’ even though a figure very close to it had been sufficient in the previous 20 years. No matter, as 40,000 was rejected five votes to three, with Cllr Kaczmarek and Cllr Toms (now Ind, then Con, Looe East) proposing 48,000 houses as the basis for the second round of consultation.

The first round had ended up with a figure higher than the recent growth trend but not as high as the planning officers or the developers had wanted. Or perhaps the officers’ initial 54,000 was just a negotiating ploy. Whatever the case, the stage was set, as debate then centred on whether 48,000 was enough or too many.

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’.

Council and Government predictions of population growth In Cornwall have consistently over-shot reality. Both prefer to ignore this fact.

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.

Countryside at Helston destined to be the site of another new settlement

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.

As 2013 began the Planning Policy Advisory Panel (PPAP) had re-affirmed its advice for a target of 38,000 houses. As the full council meeting began on 12 February 2013 the chances of a less unsustainable 38,000 house target in the Local Plan looked at their rosiest. While still far too high, here was the chance to kick-start a virtuous circle during which excessive population growth rates could begin to be encouraged to fall back to more manageable levels. But it was not to be.

The Head of Planning sombrely warned the assembled councillors of the risks of going for 38,000 and ignoring his advice for 45,400. Cllr Kaczmarek (Ind, Carharrack) reinforced this, adding that ‘senior planning officers were professionals and should be listened to if they said that the current plan for housing numbers could not be defended with robust evidence’. He didn’t add that the advice of those same senior planning officers on demographic change had been proved to be seriously flawed by the 2011 Census.

Cllr Cole (MK, St Enoder) and Cllr Biggs (Con, Camborne West) moved the PPAP recommendation of 38,000. An amendment supported by Cllr Dolley (Ind, Redruth North) for 45,400 was lost by 42 votes to 60. As the Council leadership and senior officers began to sweat, Plan B was wheeled out. Some councillors wanted more housing for their communities, some under the mistaken impression this would solve the affordability crisis. A bizarre interlude of horse trading then took place.

First, Cllr Rogerson (LD, Bodmin St Leonard) moved for 1,900 more houses for Bodmin, taking the overall total to 39,900. Councillors from Falmouth (since departed) then pitched in with an amendment for 41,000, in order to add in another 1,100 houses for Falmouth/Penryn. They were followed by Cllr Lambshead (Con, Newquay Tretherras) who moved 1,300 more for Newquay. The amendment now totalled 42,250. Meanwhile, Cllr Biscoe (Ind, Truro Boscawen) and Cllr Nolan (LD, Truro Redannick) had moved an amendment for 29,000 houses.

Cllrs Biscoe and Nolan’s amendment for 29,000 was lost ‘overwhelmingly’. Sadly, we’re not told who voted for this. Then, the amendment for 42,250 houses was passed by 58 votes to 33. As many as 42 councillors either abstained or were ab

One major Newquay developer happy to see the amendment for more houses there

sent from this important vote. Disgracefully, again there was no record of the vote although the following councillors (who are still sitting members in 2017) asked for their names to be recorded against the resolution containing a 42,250 target – Cllr Biscoe, Cllr Bull (LD, St Austell Poltair), Cllr Dolphin (LD, Grenville), Cllr Eddowes (Con, Redruth Central), Cllr Fitter (Con, St Mawgan), Cllr George (LD, Liskeard West), Cllr Hannaford (LD, Looe West), Cllr Jenkin (MK, Crowan), Cllr Maddern (Con, St Buryan), Cllr Nolan, Cllr Pascoe (Con, Gwinear-Gwithian). It’s not known whether they felt the numbers were too high or too low, although from other evidence most were clearly of the opinion it was too high.

The Plan then went out for consultation once again, with a headline target of 42,250 houses. While failing to take advantage of the opportunity to present a case for a lower figure, councillors were at least not endorsing the increase in population growth implied by the Cabinet’s option of 48-49,000 houses or the officers’ preference for something over 50,000. But that state of affairs was not to survive the new Council elected in May 2013.

Giving sustainability a bad name. Some Cornish towns are expected to grow by 40% or more in just 20 years.

The revised Local Plan had gone out for consultation with a housing target of 42,250. It re-surfaced in late 2013 with one of 47,500. Planning officers now wanted to add another 5,000 houses, boosting the target to 47,500. The re-named Environment, Heritage and Planning Portfolio Advisory Committee reviewed this in October 2013. By now there was a new Council and some new councillors. Cllr Olivier (Lab, Penzance Central) and Cllr Candy (LD, Trelawny) moved to increase the target to 47,500. They lost. A compromise was however reached and the committee agreed to offer both 47,500 and 42,250 to the Cabinet and full council meetings.

In November 2013 the Cabinet considered the target once more. This time officers produced alarming findings that targets elsewhere that were not based on ‘national’ guidance were being rejected by the Government. The officers ‘strongly advised’ that the target ‘reflect national demographic projections so as to be robust’. The Cabinet had an alternative. They could have stood up to central government diktat, decided to stick to a lower target and produce a ‘robust’ case for special treatment for Cornwall, given its fragile heritage, environmental pressures and the experience of the previous half century. Or they could have challenged the Government on its hopelessly flawed demographic projections. They did neither. Cllr Hannaford (LD, Looe West) and Cllr Wallis (Ind, Porthleven) moved that full council consider both target options.

Cornwall Council denied Cornwall had become a developers’ paradise, despite the evidence that more aplications for major schemes were received per head in Cornwall than anywhere else

Having decided not to make a special case, from this point on the issue became not so much what growth rate would be best for Cornish communities, but what the Government was likely to support and what the Council could get away with. This was a stance that left the Council fundamentally defenceless. Any aspirations to exchange the spiral of growth with a much-needed breathing space had been replaced by the politics of fear as councillors haggled over how high they dared to go.

At the full council meeting in January 2014, Cllr Hannaford stated that ”unless there was a robust alternative the set of population projections produced by the ONS was a key component’. Shamefully, no mention was made of the considerably less than robust past performance of these same official projections when it came to Cornwall, where the level of over-estimation has been amongst the highest anywhere.

Cllr Hannaford and Cllr Geoff Brown (LD, Newquay Central) moved a target of 47,500 houses. It’s at this point that the curious argument that the ‘real figure’ was considerably lower than the headline figure appeared. According to Cllr Hannaford, as 7,000 houses had already been built and another 20,000 given planning permission, ‘the real figure was 27,500 houses’. Magically, the 20,000 houses yet to be built had been spirited away into thin air. By this logic, if the Council had got on with it and granted all 47,500 permissions the ‘real’ target would have been zero and everybody would have been happy. Although this, and other arguments, verged on the ludicrous, they were regularly deployed thereafter to mollify worried councillors.

There was uproar when planners suggested moving the Tristan stone to make way for a Wainhomes project at Fowey

Moreover, in the election of 2013, control of the Council had shifted. From being Tory/Independent it became Lib Dem/Independent. With a new leader, the Conservatives now suddenly revealed themselves to be supporters of a much lower housing target, not the enthusiasts for a high growth strategy they had been before 2013. Cllr Chamberlain (Con, Feock) and Cllr Keeling (Con, Breage) moved an amendment for 33,000 houses. Unfortunately this had neither been worked up in detail nor discussed beforehand with potential supporters in other political groups.

While the proposal for 33,000 came as a surprise to many, the proposers were forced to admit that consents already given over the lower target in some community areas would remain, while community network areas could always demand more if councillors wanted them. As several did, the 33,000 in reality probably amounted to far more than the 38,000 rejected in early 2013.

By early 2014 councillors, having failed to support a housing target of 38,000, were being heavily leant on to go for 47,500. The full council meeting of January 2014 marked the beginning of the end for any chance of a more sensible and balanced housing target in the Local Plan as the Council hauled up the white flag. However, this meeting, along with a later meeting in December 2014, produced the only recorded votes in the whole five-year shambolic process.

Few outside the Tory ranks were convinced by their sudden U-turn on the housing target. Their amendment for 33,000 (though effectively nearer 40,000) was lost by 28 to 78, with only Tory and Ukip councillors voting for it. The sole other enthusiast for a lower target was Cllr Fonk (LD, Gulval and Heamoor).

A couple of other amendments – for 150 fewer at St Ives, moved by Cllr Andrewes (Green, St Ives East) and Cllr Penhaligon (Con, Carbis Bay) and 1,350 more at Penzance, from Cllr Olivier (Lab, Penzance Central) and Cllr Dwelly (Lab, Penzance East) – were also defeated. At the end of the day the substantive motion, containing a target of 47,500 houses, was approved, by 62-31, with 10 abstentions. For once, the vote was recorded and here’s how councillors voted.

Then, the Plan was agreed by 62 votes to 31, with 10 abstentions and 20 councillors absent. Here are the details of councillors’ voting on the substantive motion at that point, organised by political party. You can jump down to the party here …

Independents
Liberal Democrats
Conservatives
Labour
Ukip
MK
Green Party

Independents
The majority of Independents voted for the Plan with a minority of around a quarter abstaining or voting against.

Voted for Voted for Abstained or voted against Not present
Callan Coombe Biscoe Burden
Dolley Eathorne-Gibbons Curnow Deeble
Egerton Ellison Hawken Harvey
German Greenslade Holmes Rule
Harris Haycock King J.Thomas
Hayward Holley P.Martin A.Toms
Kaczmarek Lugg Rich
May McKenna Saunby
A.Mitchell Penny I.Thomas
Pollard Trubody
Wallis Wood

Liberal Democrats
The Lib Dems voted overwhelmingly for the Plan, 83% voting for and just two councillors abstaining or voting against

Voted for Voted for Abstained or voted against Not present
Austin Geoff Brown Fonk Batters
M.Brown Bull Nolan Glenton Brown
Buscombe Candy Dolphin
Chopak Duffin Pearce
Farrington Folkes
Frank George
Hannaford Hobbs
Hughes James
Kenny Kerridge
P.Mitchell Parsons
Paynter Rix
P.Rogerson S.Rogerson
Rotchell Rowe
Scrafton Sleeman
Taylor Watson

Conservatives
Two thirds of Tory councillors voted against the Plan or abstained. However, there was some scepticism and suspicion from the other parties at this. Conservatives in the previous ruling administration from 2009 to 2013 had been among the most vociferous in favour of a very high housing target and massive ‘growth’. And of course, the Conservative/Lib Dem Government’s new centralised planning framework had made it much more difficult (though hardly impossible) to argue for a lower target. Furthermore, the proportion of Conservatives who absented themselves from this vote was higher than the other parties, indicating that there was not exactly unanimity about the new line.

Voted for Voted for Abstained or voted against Not present
S.Mann Pugh Chamberlain Bay
Sanger Eddowes Dyer
Ellis Evans
Ferguson Flashman
Fitter Gorman
French R.Mann
Hall T.Martin
Harding
Hatton
Jewell
Keeling
Lambshead
Maddern
Nicholas
Pascoe
Pearn
Penhaligon
Shuttlewood
Stoneman
White
Wilkins

Labour

Voted for Voted for Abstained or voted against Not present
Atherton Bunney Kirk
Dwelly Olivier Moyle
H.Toms Webber

Ukip

Voted for Voted for Abstained or voted against Not present
Blakeley Keogh
Elliott
Hicks
Lewis
McWilliams

MK

Voted for Voted for Abstained or voted against Not present
Cole
Jenkin
Long
Luke

Green Party

Voted for Voted for Abstained or voted against Not present
Andrewes

The Plan then wearily went out for a third round of consultation before being submitted to the Government.

During 2014 there were no further attempts to push the housing target up and it remained at 47,500. By November 2014 the Local Plan was again back before the Cabinet. Cllr Hannaford (LD, Looe West) and Cllr Rowe (LD, St Issey) recommended approval for the draft Plan that would be submitted to the Government, together with its target of 47,500 houses.

The signs always stress employment, never housing.

It then went to full council in December 2014. By this time, only the Conservatives were left opposing the Plan and its 47,500 house target and only just over half of them voted against or abstained. A very high proportion – almost a third – did not vote or were absent. Ukip’s councillors were split, while all the other groups – Independents, Lib Dems, Labour, MK and Green – voted solidly for the Plan’s submission to the Secretary of State. Three Lib Dems voted against or abstained: Cllrs Fonk (Gulval), Farrington (Launceston South) and Glenton Brown (Tintagel). The rest of the councillors had thrown in the towel and were desperate to get some sort of Plan, any sort of Plan, agreed to bolster up the defences against the hordes of rapacious developers flocking to Cornwall for some easy pickings.

Having refused to make a case for special treatment or work up a ‘robust’ challenge to the dubious projections used by the Government, councillors had little choice but to cave in. The vote was unsurprising, 76 to 19 in favour of the Plan, with five abstentions. Another 23 councillors were absent.

Here’s how they voted. You can jump down to the party here …

Independents
Liberal Democrats
Conservatives
Labour
Ukip
MK
Green Party

Independents

Voted for Voted for Voted against Abstained
Biscoe Callan Rich
Coombe Curnow
Dolley Eathorne-Gibbons
Egerton Ellison
German Greenslade
Harris Hawken
Haycock Hayward
Holmes Kaczmarek
King Lugg
May McKenna
A. Mitchell Penny
Pollard Saunby
I. Thomas J. Thomas
A. Toms H. Toms
Trubody Wallis
Wood

Liberal Democrats

Voted for Voted for Voted against Abstained
Austin Batters Fonk Glenton Brown
M. Brown Bull
Buscombe Candy
Chopak Ekinsmyth
Frank George
Hannaford Hobbs
Hughes James
Kenny Kerridge
Knightley P. Mitchell
Nolan Parsons
Paynter Pearce
P. Rogerson S. Rogerson
Rowe Scrafton
Sleeman Watson

Conservatives

Voted for Voted for Abstained or voted against Not present
Eddowes Lambshead Bay Harding
Pascoe Chamberlain Maddern
Dyer R. Mann
Ellis
Ferguson
Fitter
French
Gorman
Hall
Jewell
S. Mann
Mustoe
Pearn
Pugh
Sanger
White

Labour

Voted for Voted for Abstained or voted against Not present
Atherton Dwelly
Kirk Moyle
Olivier Webber

Ukip

Voted for Voted for Abstained or voted against Not present
Blakeley Lewis Elliott

MK

Voted for Voted for Abstained or voted against Not present
Cole Jenkin
Long

Green Party

Voted for Voted for Abstained or voted against Not present
Andrewes

Unfortunately however, there was one more hurdle to surmount – the so-called ‘examination’ of the Plan by a Government Inspector.

The Government’s Inspector arrived at Newquay to ‘examine’ the Council’s ‘Local’ Plan, which included a housing target of 47,500. Surrounded by a pack of planning agents all baying loudly for a higher target, he was never likely to reduce this target. Indeed, the arguments generated by its own planning officers to justify their earlier preference for anything up to 54,000 houses were thrown back at Cornwall Council by the assembled developers’ agents. There was little place to hide. The only question was how far the Inspector would increase the target.

Cornwall Council has been ordered to build more new houses to allow existing stock to be sold off as second ‘homes’

Having somehow managed to delay the adoption of the Plan by another year, much to the benefit of developers queueing up to get their plans approved, at the end of the day the Inspector told the Council to add 7% to allow for more second homes, plus another 1,800 houses to ‘meet the aspirations for economic growth and updated demographic projections’, according to a planning officer. As always, the flawed projections escaped unscathed. The Inspector had airily dismissed the observation that projections were especially inaccurate in the Cornish case by asserting, on no credible evidence, that ONS projections were now ‘more robust’ and that inaccuracies for Cornwall were no greater than anywhere else. This latter was a downright untruth.

By the winter of 2014/15 the Council was never going to challenge the Government. At the Planning Policy Advisory Committee (PPAC) Cllr Dwelly (Lab, Penzance East) and Cllr Malcolm Brown (LD, St Austell Bethel) recommended accepting the new 52,500 figure. Cllr Nolan (LD, Truro Redannick) and Cllr Cole (MK, St Enoder) recorded their votes against.

At the Cabinet meeting in December 2015, the ‘risks of challenging the government’s advice was [sic] recognised’, while it was ‘important to remember that as of April 2015 31,900 out of the 52,500 homes had already been permitted or built already’ and had supposedly disappeared into thin air. Cllr Hannaford (LD, Looe West) and Cllr German (Ind, Roseland) recommended approval. At this meeting, in a last rearguard action, Cllr Cole urged the Cabinet to remove the St Austell ‘eco-community’ from the Plan. No-one took up his offer.

At the full council meeting of 15 December 2015 it was a foregone conclusion. The MK amendment to remove the eco-community and redistribute the 1,200 houses across Cornwall was inevitably lost, with only four other councillors supporting it. They were Cllrs Biscoe (Ind, Truro Boscawen), Cllr Curnow (Ind, St Stephen), Cllr Heyward (Ind, St Austell Gover) and Cllr Rich (Ind, Truro Tregolls).

The meeting almost unanimously resolved to consult on this final version and a target of 52,500. Only two voted against, with another one abstaining, but as usual we don’t know who they were.

The final chapter was predictable. In October 2016 the PPAC accepted the Plan, with only Cllr Chamberlain (Con, Feock) recording his opposition. He carried this into the final full council meeting in November 2015, being one of three councillors recording their votes against the Plan, with its final tally of 52,500 houses, a 16% increase on the recent growth rate. The Tory opposition had by now shrunk to two councillors – Cllr Chamberlain, who had energetically opposed the target and Cllr Eddowes (Con, Redruth Central), with support from the persistent critic Cllr Fonk (LD, Gulval).

Imagine how our creaking infrastructure will cope with a doubled population

As it’s a minimum, the 52,500 target is likely to lock Cornwall more tightly into a spiral of housing growth and set us up nicely for a population of around a million by the end of the century. Many councillors are now claiming there was little they could have done to prevent this. But that was not the case.

So how did we get ourselves into this mess? Let’s sum up. During the ‘debate’ in the final meeting to rubber-stamp a housing target of 52,500 houses last November, a succession of councillors lectured campaigners on their ‘lack of understanding’ of how ‘constrained the Council was’. But could councillors have done anything different?

It’s clear councillors weren’t entirely constrained by central government. They had some choices at certain stages of the long process of producing the ‘Local’ Plan. The critical lost opportunity came in the early days of the Plan, when a genuinely ‘robust’ case for a lower target might have been mounted and consistently stuck to. So why didn’t this happen? A number of factors can be suggested.

The planning officers were clearly captured from the beginning by the developers’ lobby and persistently peddled dubious data to undermine arguments for a lower housing target. Their arguments for higher housing targets of up to 54,000 gave the developers a weapon that could be turned back against the Council to undermine arguments for a lower target. Basically, councillors allowed their officers to shoot themselves in the foot.

Those councillors who were concerned enough to work hard for a lower target didn’t coordinate their opposition early enough across party group lines or make use of campaigners outside the Council. At the start the initiative was left to Cllrs Cole and Biggs and the Planning Policy Advisory Panel, while those Conservatives who later argued for a lower target built no bridges to others to persuade them to take up Sarah Newton MP’s claim that the Council could come up with a lower target and call the Government’s bluff.

By the winter of 2013/14, when it was becoming apparent the Government was pressing hard for higher housing numbers and rejecting Local Plans right, left and centre, the only option for the Council was to construct a case for special treatment. The later Framework Convention status granted to the Cornish could have greatly strengthened this. The Council could also have worked with campaigners to challenge the flawed datasets used by the Government. It could have been a lot more forthright in pointing out their inaccuracies when applied to Cornwall. It chose to do none of this. Having effectively thrown in the towel at this point it was then vulnerable to central government bullying.

Is this Cornwall Council’s ‘vision’?

Any arguments against a higher housing target were also fundamentally compromised by the Council’s embrace of a high economic growth strategy. If the latter goes unquestioned, then the former will inevitably follow. This was particularly the case in the 2009-13 Tory/Ind-led Council but did not change markedly when Lib Dems took over, again with the help of Independents.

The developers’ brave new (old) world – more fast food outlets for the extra people attracted by the new houses and supermarkets

As a postscript, a lot more honesty from the Council wouldn’t go amiss. This Plan is a disaster for Cornwall, for Cornishness and for our environment as it guarantees the continuation of a culturally, economically and environmentally unsustainable growth rate. Yet, instead of admitting this openly, the Council assures us the Plan will ‘allow a more sustainable Cornwall to be built’, ‘create sustainable viable communities’. ‘support economic development and the environment while meeting the needs of residents’. People can see this is hogwash. So it’s hardly surprising they blame the Council for the crisis of hyper-‘development’ in Cornwall.

Stop making a banquet from a pig’s ear. If the Government has forced an excessive housing target on us then make that clear. If this housing target meets the demand for profits from developers rather than local needs then admit the truth. The flannel about sustainability fools nobody.

Net migration is on the rise again. The Plan is working!