How did we get into this mess?: 11 Conclusions

The final part of the analysis of how we ended up with a ‘Local Plan’ that is not fit for purpose!

Material from ‘Cornwall a developers’ paradise’

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.

The ‘Local plan’ – flawed data, unfounded assertions, a lack of councillor concern and underlined by a pro-growth agenda!

‘Cornwall – a developers’s paradise’ has set out the history so far of the long-drawn out process of the ‘local plan’ process that culminated in an unsustainable and unnecessary housing target.

What do we learn?

1) The lack of a coordinated and coherent opposition to higher numbers;

2) The use of flawed data to support the plan;

3) Rejection of the lower numbers largely supported by community groups and individuals;

4) Persistent push for higher numbers at officer level;

5) An underlying pro-growth agenda which sees housing and population growth as a ‘good thing’, in some bizarre way aiding the economy.

Brexitland: People can’t find homes. No wonder they were angry sayes Owen Jones

In his travels around ‘Brexitland’ Owen Jones analyses the issues that influenced people to vote Leave. His assessment of Barking and Dagenham contains the following points.

Britain’s housing crisis has all sorts of consequences: it damages the health and education prospects of young people; it puts strains on families; and it inflames tensions by making locals feel they are in competition with one another. These tensions were part of what led to many communities voting to leave the European Union: in Barking and Dagenham 62% backed Brexit.

The government’s failure on housing is catastrophic: apart from the years when the Luftwaffe pounded Britain, you’d have to revert to the 1920s for a time when so few homes were being built.

In a pokey office near Dagenham East tube station, councillor Margaret Mullane tells me that housing is the top issue in local surgeries, and the number one issue on the doorstep.

Owen Jones rightly criticises Government policy over the impact of ‘Right to Buy’ [Four of 10 council flats sold under right-to-buy are now rented out more expensively by private landlords], yet there is a serious omission in the article. Nowhere is population increase mentioned. More people in an area results in greater housing need.

BArking and Dagenham saw the number of households increase by 4.3% between 2001 and 2011 with numbers rising more recently with a projected increase of 21% between 2011 and 2021.

It’s hardly surprising that there is a housing crisis in the Borough – but why not mention population increase as a major cause? Probably because for commentators on the left (and many on the right), population increase is regarded as normal or even a good thing!

Until attitudes change, the UK will continue to see housing as a major issue.

Why do we have such a mess in planning?

If you want to see how Cornwall ended up with such a ridiculous housing target then keep up with the incisive analysis of why more sustainable lower housing targets were rejected and we ended up with one which is irrelevant to the needs of Cornwall and environmentally damaging.

More bad news!

As if things could not get worse. ‘It’s Our Cornwall’ has highlighted a change in planning in Cornwall.

Unbelievable. On Tuesday a full Cornwall Council meeting voted to move some applications which currently go before planning committees to be decided by officers. Moreover, if a local councillor is on a planning committee and there is an application in their area they will not be able to take part in the debate, not vote and only speak as a local member. Aren’t the odds already stacked enough against communities and in favour of developers?

Some granted some not (but for how long?)

Last week Cornwall Council’s Strategic Planning Committee gave the green light to the West Carclaze 1,500 house ‘eco-community’ suburb. Yet at the same meeting they did turn down Wainhomes’ plan for 300 houses at Tregonissey Rd, St Austell and Gallfiord Try’s attempt to get 226 houses at Menehay Fields, Falmouth. Meanwhile, Redrow withdrew its application for 150 houses at Coyte Farm, St Austell, You can count on them coming back however. Or appealing, which will then test the power of the Council’s vaunted ‘Local’ Plan.