Monday, 17 November 2014

Extracts from my Conference speech


For those people who were unable to attend the recent MK Conference, I focused quite strongly on the need for democratic reform and the devolution of greater powers to Cornwall. The relevant extracts from my speech are as follows:

Westminster politics

Confidence in Westminster politics is at an all-time low.

And is it any wonder?

The House of Commons and the House of Lords are still dominated by the same old establishment parties.

And their placemen control all manner of unelected and accountable quangos that litter the very core of the civic life of Britain.

A political elite – career politicians – they are far removed from the reality of what happens in our lives. They put the needs of the powerful, the banks and big business ahead of ordinary people like you and I.

In their cynical politics, they have little idea about the day-to-day struggles of ordinary people, who are working hard to get by, battling to make ends meet, sometimes juggling multiple jobs to simply pay the bills.

The present London-centred political system – with its top-down politics – is well and truly broken. It is not working. And more and more people are coming to that obvious conclusion.

St Piran’s Oratory and National Minority status

The uncovering of the historic chapel of our national saint is truly symbolic – and it is fitting that it is also happening in the very same year that central government bowed to years of pressure to recognise the Cornish as a national minority through the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection for National Minorities.

Doesn’t that last statement sound just wonderful.

It is indeed wonderful that all the Celtic peoples of the United Kingdom– the Cornish, the Irish, the Scottish and the Welsh – will be afforded equal protection through the Framework Convention.

Hundreds and hundreds of people – from all aspects of Cornish life – have played their part in this campaign. I see many of you here today.

And make no mistake – this formal recognition of the Cornish is a landmark decision of momentous political significance and it could – and should – help shape the very future of our nation.

Government departments and public bodies will now be required to take the specific needs of Cornwall into account when formulating policy and making decisions.

And we have to find a way to ensure that the cultural recognition embodied in minority status is followed by a wider acceptance of our right to greater control over our political, civic, and economic lives through the creation of a legislative National Assembly of Cornwall.

Scotland

We certainly owe a great debt to the people of Scotland for the manner in which they have debated the future governance of their country over the last two years.

And how the process has energised voters and shown that “politics as usual” is no longer acceptable.

Some months ago, Colin Fox from the Scottish Socialist Party wrote:

"No country in the world is more engaged in the democratic debate over self-determination than Scotland today. The referendum has energised people to a remarkable extent with debates on the 'democratic deficit' at the heart of Scottish politics now taking place in households, schools, workplaces, village halls and community centres from one end of the country to the other.”

The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, rightly described the whole process as a “triumph for democracy,” while even the Better Together campaign acknowledged that there was a “cry for change,” which was likely to be “echoed in every part of the UK.

Alex Salmond is also right that the “real guardians of progress are not the politicians at Westminster … but the energised activism of tens of thousands of people” who he predicted “will refuse to go back into the political shadows.”

Friends, it is up to us to ensure that the echo from Cornwall reverberates across the length and breadth of the whole United Kingdom, and we must – with confidence – put our case for Cornwall into the political spotlight, and build the momentum to bring home significant political and economic powers to our local communities.

Four nations or five nations?

Many Westminster politicians are now talking about devolution or new democratic settlements for the “four nations” of the United Kingdom.

David Cameron pledged “a balanced settlement – fair to people in Scotland, and … to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.”

Kirsty Williams of the Welsh Liberal Democrats has talked about "four distinct nations” with their “own ambitions, own needs and own outlooks." Nations, which she said, all needed a “place at the table.”

Gordon Brown has spoken of the specific rights and needs of the “minority nations” of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. He has also expressed his concern at the “disregard” shown to the “smaller nations” of the UK by Westminster Governments.

That is all a bit fine from the man who was Chancellor, when we presented 50,000 declarations demanding a Cornish Assembly to 10 Downing Street in 2001.

And whose Government dismissed the declarations and refused to consider our calls for greater powers for Cornwall.

The truth is that the Westminster parties have a blind spot when it comes to the historic Celtic nation of Cornwall.

To them - when it comes to democratic reforms – we are the invisible nation that cannot be mentioned.

Well – I have a message for the establishment in London.

We will not be silent. We will not meekly stand in the political shadows. We will make the case for greater Cornish self government and we will be heard.

Westminster politics in Cornwall

Now, I am not surprised at the noises coming out of the London HQs of the Westminster parties.

But what I find most unforgivable is the attitude of their local representatives here in Cornwall.

The local Conservative Party has set out its opposition to a Cornish Assembly – with their normal disregard for the facts.

Tory MPs have been busy scaremongering away.

And their arguments have been heroically inconsistent.

Sarah Newton MP described a Cornish Assembly as a “tokenistic institution …” But she has gone on to argue that the devolution of more powers to Cornwall, as a constituent part of the UK, would lead to the break up of the United Kingdom.

And yet, David Cameron says that more powers to Scotland will actually strengthen the UK!

Candy Atherton meanwhile, speaking on behalf of the Cornwall Labour Party, said that a Cornish Assembly would be just “another layer of bureaucrats.”

What a shameful statement. And how galling for all those Labour MSPs and AMs serving in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly – their national legislatures – to be dismissed as “bureaucrats.”

And then there are the Liberal Democrats. Well …

One minute, they are claiming that they are leading the campaign for a Cornish Assembly – demanding “real devolution … like Wales.”

The next moment, they are clearly only seeking a few additional powers for local government.

Liberal Democrat MPs who previously argued for a powerful Cornish Assembly and warned the previous Labour Government that it would not “get away” with “fobbing us off with a rearrangement of deckchairs on the Titanic of local government” … are saying and doing the opposite now that they are in Government.

I am also particularly disappointed at the lack of ambition being shown by the leadership of the unitary authority. There is flowery language aplenty, but instead of showing real ambition for Cornwall, they are timidly seeking greater “freedoms and flexibilities” for the unitary authority.

Those of us who are serious about greater Cornish self-government must reiterate time and time again that our nation must be considered on a par with Wales and Scotland.

It is not about local government reform but delivering a new democratic settlement that matches those which have been won east of Offa’s Dyke and to the north of the Solway Firth.

Monday, 10 November 2014

One and all invited to MK Conference: Sunday 16th November

Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall will be holding its 2014 Conference on Sunday 16th November at New County Hall in Truro.

I would like to extend an invitation to members of the public to attend the afternoon session, which will start at 2.00. Anyone interested in finding out more about MK would be extremely welcome, and we would be delighted to see you there and to hear your viewpoints.”

The morning session will consist of a series of debates proposed by members of the party, as well as the Annual General Meeting.

The afternoon session will include a keynote speech from myself as Party Leader, as well as two roundtable discussions with MK's parliametary candidates. The subjects for the two discussions will be (i) the implications of the recent Scottish referendum vote and the campaign for a Cornish Assembly and (ii) MK’s campaign priorities for the 2015 General Election.

I hope to see you there.

Remembrance Day commemorations

My article in this week's Cornish Guardian will be as follows:

It is my strong belief that everyone needs to fully understand the horror of war, and to know more about the tragic loss of millions of lives in the two World Wars and other subsequent conflicts.

I believe that we should welcome the wide-ranging array of exhibitions, events and television/radio programmes that have commemorated the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War.

And, as well as marking the bravery and sacrifice of those who served, there has also been a considerable exploration of the wider issues about the enormity of the conflict.

Like many others, I was particularly impressed by the display at the Tower of London, where 888,246 ceramic poppies were installed as an artwork.

Each poppy represented a British or Commonwealth death during the Great War and it was an important and truly poignant display.

I nonetheless feel that many people – myself included – do not have the capacity to comprehend the loss of 888,246 men and women between 1914 and 1918.

And I think we equally struggle to comprehend the magnitude of the overall losses of the First World War, in which ten million service personnel and some six million civilians died. Or indeed, the casualties in the Second World War, when over 50 million individuals lost their lives – the vast majority of them civilians.

The extent of suffering is truly terrifying, but each loss was also intensely personal.

Thousands of people attended recent Remembrance Day commemorations across Cornwall, and I was pleased to lay a wreath at my local war memorial in St Enoder Churchtown.

At this memorial, just like others across the whole of the country, the names that were read out were members of those communities - sons, husbands, brothers, workmates and friends – who left behind children, wives, parents and siblings.

And whether they focus on the big picture or the individual experience, it is essential that politicians and opinion formers, present and future, learn from past wars and do all in their power to prevent further conflicts around the globe.

Second update on biogas plant

Since I wrote my article for the Cornish Guardian, I have continued to plug away at County Hall to try to get answers, and to encourage the Council to take action.

Printed below is an update I circulated to local residents at the end of last week.

On 5th November, I had a meeting with Phil Mason and Nigel Doyle (Head and Assistant Head of Planning & Regeneration) for over three hours, and I have the following to report back.

Sorry for the length and that much of the information is of a very technical nature.

I formally remade the following requests:

- A formal letter clarifying the Council’s position on the (i) first non-material amendment (NMA) and whether the Council will be challenging what was agreed about vehicle movements, and (ii) how the authority will be dealing with further changes to the traffic movements (that agreed within the original consent and the initial NMA).

- A formal letter clarifying the Council’s position on the second NMA (downsizing of tanks) and the failure of Greener for Life to build the tanks in compliance to any agreed plans, as well as what action the Council will be taking.

- A decision from the Council about the latest statement from Greener for Life (about increased lorry movements between 7th and 14th November), which would not be in compliance with the construction management plan or the conditions for the consent, and what action it will be taking.

- An update on what progress has been made with regard to Cornwall Council investigating the possibility of an access directly off the A30.

- An update on what progress has been made with regard to Cornwall Council Highways, reviewing the state of the roads through Higher Fraddon (and surrounding areas) and what can be done.

- A decision from the Council about the constraints for both the construction and operational phases for the biogas plant, because it is clear to me that their present operations are not in compliance with either the construction management plan for the build or the actual planning consent.

- A census of existing traffic movements through Higher Fraddon and surrounding areas.

The main part of the discussion focussed on the failure of Greener for Life to build the three tanks in compliance with agreed plans.

Phil Mason confirmed that two members of the Council’s enforcement team were on site all-day on Monday surveying the site and what has been built. They are presently working on all the data and will have submitted all the information to senior officers by the end of the week.

However, Phil Mason and Nigel Doyle already accept that the tanks are not in compliance with the planning consent (or the subsequent NMA). This is very significant for us, as it means that the tanks do not have the benefit of planning permission and the biogas plant will, I believe, need to be revisited through the planning process. I understand it could also mean that the NMAs are also no longer valid.

Phil Mason and Nigel Doyle contacted Greener for Life to tell them about the situation and informed them that they were about to send a letter to them setting out the Council’s concerns and seeking an immediate meeting.

This meeting has been agreed for 5.00 on Monday (10th November). I will be present at this meeting.

The letter sent yesterday was as follows:

Dear Sirs

Biogas Plant at Penare Farm, Higher Fraddon

I refer to the above development that was granted planning permission under reference number PA12/01700. Subsequent to that permission two non-material amendments were granted under application numbers PA13/09571 and PA14/06189.

As you are aware two enforcement cases were raised following complaints about breaches of the construction management plan and the more fundamental issue that was being raised that the Digesters were not being built in accordance with either the approved plans or those granted under PA14/06189.

The provisional results of the site survey that was undertaken on 4 November 2014 indicate that the Digesters are not being built in accordance with the approved plans. They therefore do not have the benefit of planning permission. As such the Digesters are being erected at your own risk and may be liable to enforcement action.

Following the results of the full site survey the Council will need to determine what course of action to take and whether specifically to issue a Temporary Stop Notice in advance of an Enforcement Notice.

I have been made aware that there is an intention to transport waste to the site from 6 November 2014 to prime the Digesters. Given the results of the provisional site survey and the implications this has for the planning position I would recommend that you delay this activity until the full results of the survey are known. This would give us an opportunity to determine the facts and consider appropriate remedies and actions together.

I would therefore recommend that we meet at 5.00pm New County Hall, Truro on Monday 10 November 2014 or at a mutually convenient time.

If the waste is transported onto the site in advance of our meeting and it proves disruptive then the likelihood that a Temporary Stop Notice would be issued will increase.

I trust the above is satisfactory and look forward to meeting you next week.

Yours sincerely,
Nigel Doyle (Assistant Head of Planning & Regeneration)

As you will see, the Council is still considering how it can use its powers to address or revisit issues relating to the biogas plant. I can confirm that the Council is also seeking legal clarification on some points.

It is all extremely complex situation, both for the validity of the planning permission but also related “conditions.” I will report back further, next week, when I have greater clarity.

In advance of the meeting next Monday, it is also my intention to meet with key representatives of the Higher Fraddon Residents Action Group to talk through the technical / legal matters relating to the biogas site, so that I can push forward local views.

I have the following additional updates to report.

At yesterday’s meeting, Phil Mason acknowledged that the Council’s Highways Officers were stretched and he agreed that, instead of using in-house staff, he would commission a highways expert to review the state of the roads through Higher Fraddon, etc, and investigate the technical possibilities for an access directly off the A30.

Phil Mason also agreed that he would sanction a census of existing traffic movements through Higher Fraddon and surrounding areas, as background data to aid future discussions around the biogas plant, etc.

Update on development of biogas plant at Fraddon

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian covered the issues facing the people of Higher Fraddon because of the construction of a biogas plant and the redevelopment of a pig farm. It was as follows:

In my time as a Cornwall Councillor, I have been involved with a wide range of planning matters in my local area and across Cornwall as a whole. Sadly, many of my recent experiences have left me extremely jaded.

One debacle is still unfolding at Higher Fraddon, where an AD (anaerobic digestion) or biogas plant is being developed next to a pig farm. The plant will create gas from pig slurry mixed with other organic materials.

There is a great deal of anger in the area, as shown by the fact that more than 120 residents crammed into Kingsley Village, last Thursday, for a public meeting that I had organised and which was attended by senior representatives of Cornwall Council, as well as spokespeople for both the company developing the biogas plant and the actual pig farm.

Some editions of the Cornish Guardian have covered the dispute in recent weeks, but I wanted to further outline some aspects of what has happened in this column.

The original planning permission for the biogas plant was granted in early 2009 by the old County Council. I was not involved in the deliberations, (as I was not a county councillor at the time), but I do recall some of the local discussions.

Concerns were raised about the poor road access through Higher Fraddon to the pig farm, but it was claimed that the plant would take all the pig slurry from farm – which would no longer be spread on local fields – reducing odour, while the number of vehicle movements would be reduced.

Work started on the construction of the biogas plant in the summer, while the redevelopment of the pig farm – now in a separate ownership – was also commenced (but without planning permission). The biogas plant even decided to dig up the road to lay a gas pipe along the road – instead of through a field as previously agreed.

And as a consequence of three different lots of construction traffic, local residents have had a nightmare of a summer – with traffic, noise, dust and flies amongst the problems.

The original consent restricted the number of vehicle movements (to the pig farm and plant, once operational) to no more than 51 “two-way” traffic movements each week. But it has recently transpired that Cornwall Council had agreed a “non-material amendment” (NMA) in 2013, on which I, the Parish Council and local residents had not been consulted.

The NMA basically allowed some of the vehicles to be larger. For example, the original conditions set out there would be five 44-tonne lorries each week, but the NMA allowed this to be increased to 13.

The original application also stated that 6,150 tonnes of bakery and brewery waste would be brought in to mix with the slurry, but the developer is now stating that he intends to bring in 38,700 tonnes of feedstock, a six-fold increase – much of it specially grown maize silage. 

I consider all this to be extremely “material” and I am challenging how such changes were allowed to be made.

I also understand that the developer wishes to again modify the nature of his agreed 51 vehicle movements, by further increasing the number of 40-tonne or 44-tonne lorries – something which fills me and local residents with great trepidation.

Residents are extremely worried about the devastating impact of such large vehicles on the road past their properties – which everyone considers to be a “lane” – and we are now campaigning for an alternative access off the A30 running past Fraddon, in order to protect the amenity of local residents.

And earlier this year, the developer asked the Council to agree a further NMA which reduced the size of the three large tanks on the site. But when they were completed in October, it became apparent that the tanks were taller than agreed and had not been constructed in compliance with the agreed plans.

I could go on and on, but it would take many thousands of words to fully detail what has been happening at Higher Fraddon.

But I trust that what I have written this week does help to explain why I feel very despairing at the moment and why many residents of St Enoder Parish feel let down by Cornwall Council and the developers working on the pig farm and biogas plant at Higher Fraddon.